Stephen Vincent Benet
A scene from the classic movie, The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), based upon the short story by Stephen Vincent Benet, in which Daniel Webster bests Satan in a jury trial to save the soul of New Hampshireman Jabez Stone. In this scene Daniel Webster addresses a jury of the damned, all villains of American history. I have always thought this speech one of the most eloquent statements of what it means to be an American. Go here to read the passage in Stephen Vincet Benet’s short story. Below is the scene as written in the screenplay: Continue reading
On the birthday of the Father of Our Country it is proper to take a moment and reflect that in all likelihood the United States of America would not exist today but for the leadership shown by George Washington during the Revolution. The poets Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet explored long ago some of the many different paths the life of Washington might have taken which would have altered our history so profoundly. We call Washington the Father of Our Country not to honor him, but as a simple statement of fact. Continue reading
Fate has a way of picking unlikely material,
Greasy-haired second lieutenants of French artillery,
And bald-headed, dubious, Roman rake-politicians.
Her stiff hands were busy now with an odd piece of wood,
Sometime Westpointer, by accident more than choice,
Sometime brevet-captain in the old Fourth Infantry,
Mentioned in Mexican orders for gallant service
And, six years later, forced to resign from the Army
Without enough money to pay for a stateroom home.
Turned farmer on Hardscrabble Farm, turned bill-collector,
Turned clerk in the country-store that his brothers ran,
The eldest-born of the lot, but the family-failure,
Unloading frozen hides from a farmer’s sleigh
With stoop-shouldered strength, whittling beside the stove,
And now and then turning to whiskey to take the sting
From winter and certain memories.
It didn’t take much. A glass or two would thicken the dogged tongue
And flush the fair skin beneath the ragged brown beard.
Poor and shabby–old “Cap” Grant of Galena,
Who should have amounted to something but hadn’t so far
Though he worked hard and was honest.
A middle-aged clerk,
A stumpy, mute man in a faded army overcoat,
Who wrote the War Department after Fort Sumter,
Offering them such service as he could give
And saying he thought that he was fit to command
As much as a regiment, but getting no answer.
So many letters come to a War Department,
One can hardly bother the clerks to answer them all–
Then a Volunteer colonel, drilling recruits with a stick,
A red bandanna instead of an officer’s sash;
A brigadier-general, one of thirty-seven,
Snubbed by Halleck and slighted by fussy Frémont;
And then the frozen February gale
Over Fort Henry and Fort Donelson,
The gunboats on the cold river–the brief siege–
“Unconditional surrender”–and the newspapers.
Stephen Vincent Benet
The taking of Fort Henry by Ulysses S. Grant on February 6, 1862, was important for a number of reasons:
1. It opened the Tennessee River to Union gunboats and transports down through northern Alabama, effectively allowing the Union to outflank Confederate
defenses in Memphis and throughout eastern Tennessee. Continue reading
I feel that we are on the eve of a new era, when there is to be great harmony between the Federal and Confederate. I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy; but I feel it within me that it is to be so. The universally kind feeling expressed for me at a time when it was supposed that each day would prove my last, seemed to me the beginning of the answer to “Let us have peace.”
Ulysses S. Grant, written just before his death
Something for the weekend. Quotations from Ulysses S. Grant to the Beatles song In My Life. A follow up to my post on Robert E. Lee, the Beatles and the Internet. Another demonstration of what a wild and wacky place the internet truly is!
Few men in American history have gone from complete obscurity to being a central figure in the life of the nation faster than Ulysses Simpson Grant. Known as Sam Grant by his West Point friends, his first two initials making Sam an inevitable nickname, Grant had an unerring ability to fail at everything he put his hand to, except for war, his marriage and his last gallant race against the Grim Reaper, as he was dying of cancer, to finish his memoirs and provide financially for his wife and children. Most great figures in our history have known success more than failure. Not so Sam Grant. He would encounter humiliating defeats throughout his life, from beginning to end.
At the beginning of the Civil War, he was a clerk, barely able to support his family. Seemingly a dull plodder, but possessed of iron determination and an uncanny ability to never let the trees obscure the forest; happily married and a firm believer in God, but subject to bouts of depression when he would grasp for the bottle; the shabby little man who, incredibly, ended up winning the greatest war in American history.
His men didn’t hold him in awe as Lee’s men did Lee; Grant was far too common and prosaic a figure for that. However, they did respect him, as this section of Stephen Vincent Benet’s epic poem on the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, indicates: Continue reading
A scene from the classic movie, The Devil and Daniel Webster, based upon the short story by Stephen Vincent Benet, in which Daniel Webster bests Satan in a jury trial to save the soul of New Hampshireman Jabez Stone. Prior to the trial, Daniel Webster attempts to get Jabez Stone out of the contract on the ground that the Devil is a foreign prince. Satan denies this:
Foreign!” said the stranger. “And who calls me a foreigner”? ”Well, I never yet heard of the dev?? of your claiming American citizenship,” said Dan’l Webster with surprise. “And who with better right?” said the stranger, with one of his terrible smiles. “When the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there. When the first slaver put out for the Congo, I stood on her deck. Am I not in your books and stories and beliefs, from the first settlements on? Am I not spoken of, still, in every church in New England? ‘Tis true the North claims me for a Southerner and the South for a Northerner, but I am neither. I am merely an honest American, like yourself and of the best descent for, to tell the truth Mr . Webster, though I don’t like to boast of it, my name is older in this country than yours.” “Aha!” said Dan’l Webster, with the veins standing out in his forehead. “Then I stand on the Constitution! I demand a trial for my client!”
This story is actually cited in a federal legal opinion which may be read here, and which is riotously funny in a very dry sense. I submit it to establish that some judges do have a sense of humor, at least of a sort.
Returning to the short story, I have always treasured this passage: the closing argument of Daniel Webster to the Jury of the Damned, which I think contains wisdom about patriotism and the human condition: Continue reading
Some of our readers south of the Mason-Dixon line no doubt have perhaps felt left out in my many posts regarding Abraham Lincoln. I am fully aware that great Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War, and one of the greatest of Americans, of his time or any time, was Robert E. Lee.