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General musings

One of the things that I have always loved about this blog is that it gives me a venue to try out some ideas/theories here before doing anything further with them. If people laugh, then that’s the end of it. However, if people say, “hey, there’s something to that”, then it’s worth taking it a step further. This post is one of those experiments. Let’s see how it goes.

By way of introduction, back in October, I was the keynote speaker at Ohio Day at Antietam. I did a talk on the role played by Ohio troops in the Battle of Antietam. In the process of researching it, I realized that there is no book on the subject to be found anywhere other than the book published by the Ohio Monuments Commission pertaining to the monuments to Ohio troops erected at Antietam, so I decided to do a book on the subject. My project actually covers Ohio troops in the entire 1862 Maryland Campaign, meaning that it covers the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam, and the Ohio troops (three regiments and two brigade commanders) involved in the Harpers Ferry debacle. There are four parts to the book: the units and the roles they played, the roles played by the two future presidents of the United States (Hayes and McKinley), profiles of other prominent Ohio officers (including Ohio-born Confederate Brig. Gen. Roswell S. Ripley) in the campaign, including profiles of the regimental commanders (two of whom were killed in the fighting on the Otto Farm or at Burnside’s Bridge), and finally, the three Medal of Honor recipients from Ohio. The book will be titled Buckeyes Forward: Ohio Troops in the 1862 Maryland Campaign. It will feature lots of maps and photos and should appeal to the general public, which is the intended audience.

220px-George_B_McClellan_-_retouchedOne of the prominent commanders profiled is George B. McClellan. While a native Philadelphian, Little Mac was living in Cincinnati when war came, and his initial commission as an officer during the Civil War was by Ohio Gov. William Dennison, who placed him in command of all of Ohio’s troops. McClellan’s initial campaigns in West Virginia primarily involved Ohio troops, so it’s a legitimate connection. McClellan is, of course, a terribly controversial fellow. Stephen Sears has made a career of vilifying McClellan, to the point of being unfair about it. Ethan Rafuse has written a very balanced and fair study of McClellan’s role in the Civil War that I believe is probably the definitive word on the subject.

As I was assessing Little Mac’s career with the Army of the Potomac, I was suddenly struck by its similarities to the career of Douglas MacArthur. Specifically, I was struck by the problems that both generals had with their commanders in chief, which problems led to the ends of both of their careers commanding troops in the field. Let’s explore those parallels a bit.

George B. McClellan was a Democrat who believed that the Civil War was primarily about preserving the Union, and not about abolishing slavery. He did not believe in total war, and tended to be cautious and conservative. He served under an administration of the other party, meaning that many of his political beliefs were squarely at odds with those of the Commander-in-Chief. There is no doubt that McClellan disdained Lincoln, and made a poor decision by snubbing the President of the United States in November 1861 by making Lincoln wait for half an hour when Lincoln called upon him. Their relationship only went downhill from there. McClellan’s letters to his wife Ellen, which were not intended to be read by the public, were extremely insulting of Lincoln, calling him a baboon and other such unflattering names. The posthumous publication of these letters has undoubtedly tainted the perceptions of McClellan of many modern historians, which is unfortunate.

In a draft of his memoirs, McClellan made the following statement, which does not appear in the final version of the book, which perhaps describes his military career better than any other statement I have yet read: “It has always been my opinion that the true course in conducting military operations, is to make no movement until the preparations are as complete as circumstances permit, & never to fight a battle without some definite object worth the probable loss.”

Sears, who is not only Little Mac’s harshest critic but also the leader of the anti-McClellan movement, says of him:

There is indeed ample evidence that the terrible stresses of commanding men in battle, especially the beloved men of his beloved Army of the Potomac, left his moral courage in tatters. Under the pressure of his ultimate soldier’s responsibility, the will to command deserted him. Glendale and Malvern Hill found him at the peak of his anguish during the Seven Days, and he fled those fields to escape the responsibility. At Antietam, where there was nowhere for him to flee to, he fell into a paralysis of indecision. Seen from a longer perspective, General McClellan could be both comfortable and successful performing as executive officer, and also, if somewhat less successfully, as grand strategist; as battlefield commander, however, he was simply in the wrong profession.

At the same time, when asked who was his ablest foe during the Civil War, Robert E. Lee declared, “McClellan, by all odds!” Certainly, Lee’s opinion counts. McClellan had some real talents. He was an outstanding organization and trainer of men; the Army of the Potomac as we know it is largely the result of his efforts. He was an outstanding strategist and an able tactician. He had a really rare gift for motivating men and for earning their love and trust; just the rumor that he was returning to take command of the Army of the Potomac in the days just before the Battle of Gettysburg had a genuinely electric impact on the men in the ranks, who loved him dearly.

However, there can be little doubt or dispute that the following statements are true:

McClellan was a child of privilege who achieved great accomplishments at a precocious age; he became general-in-chief of the Union armies at the age of just 36. He had an oversized ego that seems to have gotten in the way of his making good decisions for his career path. He graduated at the top of his West Point class and had the support of high-ranking officers (such as Winfield Scott) who helped advance his career path. He was a Democrat whose personal political beliefs and philosophies were at odds with those of the Republican President. He disagreed with Lincoln’s decision to issue the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in the wake of McClellan’s close victory at Antietam, and McClellan did not keep his displeasure with this political decision to himself. Indeed, there were times where McClellan was plainly insubordinate of Lincoln. His refusal to comply with the orders of the Commander in Chief led directly to his dismissal as commander of the Army of the Potomac on November 7, 1862. He never led troops in the field again, and he ran for President on a peace platform that was diametrically opposed to the policies of the Lincoln Administration.

The parallels with MacArthur’s life and career in numerous ways are striking.

240px-MacArthur_ManilaDouglas MacArthur was also a child of privilege. His mother came from a prominent Virginia family, and his father was a Medal of Honor recipient who achieved the rank of lieutenant general in the United States Army (in fact, Arthur MacArthur and Douglas MacArthur are one of only two father-son combinations to be awarded the Medal of Honor). MacArthur graduated first in his class at West Point, and was fortunate to be appointed to serve on his father’s staff early in his career. He performed outstanding service in World War I, and received rapid promotions as a result. In 1925, at the very young age of 44, he became the Army’s youngest major general, and eventually became its youngest chief of staff.

During World War II, MacArthur became Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations, and is one of only a handful of men to wear the five stars of a General of the Armies. He developed the strategy that won the war in the Pacific and deserves recognition for being an able strategist. He eventually became the military governor of Japan after the end of World War II and is rightfully credited as one of the architects of the robust parliamentary democracy that succeeded the militaristic imperial regime that brought about World War II.

When war broke out on the Korean Peninsula, MacArthur was the first commander of the U.N. troops sent there, and his refusal to obey the orders of President Harry S. Truman led to his being relieved of command and ordered to return home to the United States. MacArthur never commanded troops in the field again. He was given the honor of addressing Congress, and gave a legendary speech that included the oft-quoted line, “I am closing my 52 years of military service. When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that “old soldiers never die; they just fade away. And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good Bye.” MacArthur, a conservative Republican, toyed with running for President, but ultimately decided not to do so, clearing the way for the nomination of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served two terms as President of the United States.

Let’s recap: MacArthur was a child of privilege who accomplished great things at a young age, including becoming chief of staff of the Army. He had an immense ego that was often the subject of jokes and disdain, and which got in the way of his military career. He graduated at the top of his West Point class, and had the support of high ranking officers in important positions that allowed his career to thrive early on. He was a conservative Republican whose political views ran counter to those of Democratic President Harry S. Truman that brought him into open conflict with the commander-in-chief of the United States. His refusal to obey a direct order of that commander-in-chief led to his relief from command of the armies, and he never commanded troops in the field again. He toyed with running for President on a platform that would have been diametrically opposed to many of the policies of the Truman Administration.

Like McClellan, MacArthur is not remembered as a great battlefield commander. Instead, his defeat in the Philippines in the early days of World War II is, perhaps, the most crushing defeat ever suffered by the United States of America. The fact that the most renowned biography of him is titled American Caesar speaks volumes for the nature of his personality and of his legacy. Like McClellan, MacArthur is not fondly remembered or considered to be one of the greats of American military history.

I wonder what you all think of this comparison. I just found the similarities and parallels striking. Please feel free to weigh in.

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Apparently, Georges Santayana was correct when he wrote “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Thousands of whiny morons, unhappy that more than 50% of Americans voted to re-elect Barack Obama as president, are now filing secession petitions. Like a bunch of whiny children who didn’t get their way, these imbeciles are now threatening to take their toys and go home. WAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!

From today’s edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Disgruntled voters petition White House for their states to secede from the Union
Edward Colimore, Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2012, 6:16 AM

The petitions on the White House website won’t be granted. They’re the aftereffects of a heated presidential election season, folks simply blowing off steam, historians and scholars say.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans unhappy with the result of last week’s voting have signed petitions on behalf of at least 35 states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

What do they want?

For the Obama administration to “peacefully grant” the states permission to “withdraw from the United States of America” and create new governments.

Secession.

“We did fight a Civil War over this issue,” said Perry Dane, a professor at the Rutgers School of Law in Camden who clerked at the U.S. Supreme Court. “The White House will respond and will say as considerately as it can that secession is off the table.

“You win some, you lose some,” he said.

The petitions, located on the White House’s “We the People” website (https://petitions.whitehouse.gov), are “very likely an expression of alienation and frustration,” said Randall Miller, a professor of history at St. Joseph’s University. “People question the legitimacy of the election and it’s their way of saying, ‘I’m taking myself out of this.’ ”

By late Tuesday, a total of more than 13,000 people had signed two petitions seeking nation status for Pennsylvania, where Obama defeated Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by a 52-47 percentage ratio. For the more Democratic-leaning New Jersey, nearly 11,000 had signed a similar petition. At least 5,400 others had signed one for Delaware, where Obama also was the victor. The number of signatures had doubled, even tripled, since the beginning of the week.

Texas and Louisiana – where Romney won – had about 82,000 and 30,000 signatures, respectively. Petitions that attract 25,000 signatures in 30 days will receive a “response” from the White House, the website says.

On the flip side, there are petitions on the White House site that call for the Obama administration to deport or exile everyone who has signed a secession petition.

One asks the administration to permit the left-leaning city of Austin to secede from Texas but remain part of the United States.

“The Internet allows you to find like-minded people. And in this faceless anonymity, you can egg each other on,” said Andrew Shankman, an associate professor of history at Rutgers-Camden. “It doesn’t take much to sign a petition.”

The secession petitions are “not a serious political proposal,” he said. “This is the last expression of rage because [the petitioners] didn’t get what they wanted on Election Day. They’re sounding off.”

The “We the People” website allows citizens to create and sign petitions. They provide first names but not the last, just initials.

Many – like one created by Karen G. of Hazleton, Pa., and another by Joe. R. of Sewell – quote from the Declaration of Independence: “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands . . . ”

Others, such as a petition seeking Oregon’s secession, take another tack: “The people of Oregon would like the chance to vote on leaving the Union immediately. The Federal Government has imposed policies on Oregon that are not in Oregon’s best interests, and we as citizens would respectively [sic] and peaceably separate ourselves from a tyrannical Government. . . . ”

The White House lacks constitutional authority to let states secede, but that hasn’t stopped disgruntled voters.

The issue of secession was not confined to the Civil War. New Jersey grappled with it about 40 years ago, when the southern part of the state attempted to split from the north.

“There was a big movement, with petitions drawn,” said Paul Schopp, a historian who lives in Riverton. “The south was upset that most of the tax dollars were going to the north.”

The postelection petitions are “an effort by average citizens to exercise their constitutional rights,” he said. “It’s a peaceful form of redress.”

Other countries have faced similar issues. A referendum will be held in 2014 to determine whether the people of Scotland wish to withdraw from the United Kingdom, Dane said. Quebec has occasionally sought to secede from Canada and the country’s Supreme Court has said that’s not out of the question.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who often has expressed frustration with the federal government, did not endorse the secession petitions and has said he did not want the Lone Star State to break away.

“The Civil War showed once and for all and forever that secession is illegal,” said Andy Waskie, a Temple University professor, historian, and author. “The combat, effusion of blood, and sacrifice ended that question.”

Citizens “have to seek other means of redressing their grievances,” he said. “The Union is permanent.”

Obviously, these self-centered whiners have lost sight of the fact that the last time someone tried to secede, 600,000 Americans died. These whiners don’t like President Obama or his policies, so they want to secede. They’re just not willing to accept the idea that a majority of U.S. citizens voted for the man and that their guy lost. WAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!

This issue was resolved in Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869), wherein the United States Supreme Court determined that there is no right of secession and that the Union is forever. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, writing for the Court, observed:

The Union of the States never was a purely artificial and arbitrary relation. It began among the Colonies, and grew out of common origin, mutual sympathies, kindred principles, similar interests, and geographical relations. It was confirmed and strengthened by the necessities of war, and received definite form and character and sanction from the Articles of Confederation. By these, the Union was solemnly declared to ‘be perpetual.’ And when these Articles were found to be inadequate to the exigencies of the country, the Constitution was ordained ‘to form a more perfect Union.’ It is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words. What can be indissoluble if a perpetual Union, made more perfect, is not.

He continued:

When, therefore, Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State. The act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.

Chase continued:

Considered therefore as transactions under the Constitution, the ordinance of secession, adopted by the convention and ratified by a majority of the citizens of Texas, and all the acts of her legislature intended to give effect to that ordinance, were absolutely null. They were utterly without operation in law. The obligations of the State, as a member of the Union, and of every citizen of the State, as a citizen of the United States, remained perfect and unimpaired. It certainly follows that the State did not cease to be a State, nor her citizens to be citizens of the Union. If this were otherwise, the State must have become foreign, and her citizens foreigners. The war must have ceased to be a war for the suppression of rebellion, and must have become a war for conquest and subjugation.

Resolving the issue once and for all, the Supreme Court held:

It is not necessary to attempt any exact definitions within which the acts of such a State government must be treated as valid or invalid. It may be said, perhaps with sufficient accuracy, that acts necessary to peace and good order among citizens, such for example, as acts sanctioning and protecting marriage and the domestic relations, governing the course of descents, regulating the conveyance and transfer of property, real and personal, and providing remedies for injuries to person and estate, and other similar acts, which would be valid if emanating from a lawful government must be regarded in general as valid when proceeding from an actual, though unlawful, government, and that acts in furtherance or support of rebellion against the United States, or intended to defeat the just rights of citizens, and other acts of like nature, must, in general, be regarded as invalid and void.

And that, as they say, is that. There is no right of secession. These whiners need to just suck it up and move on. The country survived George W. Bush’s eight years. It will also survive Barack Obama’s. Get over it. Shut up and quit whining.

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7 Nov 2012, by

A journey ends

Many of you have been on this journey with me since its beginning in 2005. I have often said how important this blog is to me and how much I cherish my interactions with you here. I try to keep things on-topic most of the time, but those of you have been with me for a long time know that writing—and this blog—are often my personal therapy. In the end, I am a writer. It’s what I am, and it’s who I am. Often, my writing feels like it’s the one and only thing that is completely my own. That means that sometimes I deviate from that which is on topic for this blog because I have the need to talk about what’s going on in my life. I apologize for that, but it really does help me, and I appreciate your perpetual patience with that.

Earlier this year, I did just that, discussing the ordeal that Susan and I faced with the ultimate decline of my parents’ health. That was, without doubt, the most stressful and most horrendous time of my life. As an only child, I was backed into a corner and forced to make the sorts of decisions that nobody ever wants to make, especially where one’s parents are involved. Although it was deeply personal, all of you did so much to help to ease the blow and to help me feel a little bit better about the awfulness of it all. And for that, I am and will be eternally grateful.

Part of that terrible journey has now reached its inevitable end, and I am writing this just to try to comprehend it and to try to process the unthinkable. As is my wont, I will share it with you, my extended family.

On Sunday, I flew out to Los Angeles to try a case. It’s been a while since I’ve done so, and I faced a real challenge. I am the sixth lawyer on this case, and the first three screwed it up royally, perhaps even irretrievably. I am left to try to fix the mess, even though it may be too screwed up to fix. I spent the day yesterday preparing a witness for his testimony and defending a last minute deposition of a critical witness. I did some legal research for a pretrial motion that I intended to make, watched the Eagles lose on Monday night football, and then I turned out the light and tried to get some rest before what promised to be a long and tiring day (trial work is exhausting—you have to pay very close attention to every single word being said, and being “on” for hours at a time is very mentally tiring).

When I go to California and it’s usually only for a few days, and I do my level best to keep myself on east coast time, as it makes the jet lag on the return trip a lot easier to take. That meant that I woke up at 4:30 this morning with a real sense of unease, that something was wrong. Realizing that while my body’s internal clock was telling me that it was my normal time to wake up, I rolled back over and slept for another hour. I got up at 5:30, went through my normal morning routine, and put on my navy blue suit. I had just finished tying my tie when my cell phone rang. Knowing it was 6:00 in the morning in L.A., I knew it had to be someone back east calling. I picked up the phone, saw the number of the nursing station at the nursing home where my parents now live, and gulped, knowing that this was not going to be good news.

The nurse—a kind soul—told me that my father had vomited during the night, and that when they tried to rouse him this morning, he was completely non-responsive. She indicated that the staff physician wanted to have him transported to the hospital to determine what was wrong, which I authorized. I explained my circumstances, and asked her to deal with Susan, as I figured I would not be able to take a call in court. I then proceeded to finish my trial preparation and make the long trek into downtown L.A. for the court appearance. My co-counsel and I got there with an hour to spare, so we went to the courthouse cafeteria for something to drink and so I could put some cases he had printed out for me into my trial notebook.

I had no sooner finished doing that when the phone rang. This time it was Susan, calling to tell me that my father had suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage, that there was nothing that could be done, and that he would not survive 24 more hours. Stunned, I asked her to set the wheels in motion to handle funeral arrangements, etc., that I would have to rely upon her since I was tied up and unavailable. My wife is a rock. She is probably the strongest person I know, and she is at her very best in a crisis. With that, and to my eternal gratitude, she took charge.

Now numb and desperately trying to process what I had just heard, I told my co-counsel that if there was any way that I could get there to say goodbye, I wanted to do so. He understood—Jim is a kind and very decent man for whom I have nothing but the utmost admiration and fondness—so we went and sought out opposing counsel. She nodded understanding, but would not agree to a continuance—something for which I can never forgive her—and said she would leave it to the court. Fortunately, the judge showed some compassion and granted my request for a continuance for one week.

I then fielded the call nobody should ever have to take. It was the doctor from the ER at the hospital, telling me that there was nothing that could be done, and did I want any heroic measures taken. I said no, make him comfortable, give him some dignity, and just let him slip away. And with that, it was done. I stood on the street in Los Angeles across from the courthouse, weeping. Poor Jim—he didn’t know what to say or do, so he just stood there, with his hand on my shoulder, not saying a word. It was what I needed at that moment—just a decent, compassionate human being letting me know that I wasn’t alone, and for that I will always be grateful.

I went back to the hotel, quickly changed into more comfortable clothing, stuffed my other belongings into my carry-on, and called my very few relatives to tell them the bad news. And then it was time to commence a race that I cannot win: the race with the grim reaper.

Jim drove me to LAX, and $700 later, I am writing this on a plane to Philadelphia. Susan is driving there, and will pick me up at the airport. There is no Internet access on this flight, and I have no way of knowing whether I will get there in time to say goodbye to him. I just won’t know until I land.

As we flew east, I got to witness one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. As I watched it, all I could think was that God had given me a gift: a final beautiful sunset for my dad. Perhaps it was his spirit leaving—I just don’t know. As I sat there with tears running down my face, I was immensely grateful for this fleeting gift of nature’s beauty.

I don’t know precisely what awaits me when I land in Philadelphia, but it’s only a question of when and not if. I will have to tell my mother that her husband of 54+ years is gone. I will then have to explain to her why the medical providers do not think that she is capable of attending his funeral, prospects that chill me to the very fiber of my being. And now, at the age of 51, I face life without my dad. I knew that this day would come sooner than later; when I saw him for his birthday in August I had a very strong feeling that it would be his last. I have viewed the last five+ years since his first stroke as borrowed time, and I am grateful for every minute of that borrowed time. And now that borrowed time has run out, as it inevitably must for each and every one of us.

My dad was my first and best friend. Some of my earliest, happiest memories are of watching ball games with him, and he was always my favorite golfing buddy. I will miss his easy, mischievous grin and his big, outgoing salesman’s personality that I could never match. I will miss his ability to find fun in almost any situation. I will miss him terribly for the rest of my days, and I can only hope that he is proud of the man that I have grown into.

UPDATE: I am now on the ground in Philadelphia, awaiting Susan’s arrival. There was an accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that held her up. My father is still alive. I have a hunch that he’s waiting for me to get there, which I desperately want to do.

ADDITIONAL UPDATE: He’s gone. I did not get there in time. Joseph Wittenberg, August 10, 1920-November 7, 2012. I will miss him for the rest of my days.

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In his 1948 Pulitzer Prize winning novel Intruder in the Dust, William Faulkner left us a brilliant reflection on Pickett’s Charge that still resonates to this day:

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago….

149 years ago today…..

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Mother Mother Ocean, I have heard your call….

So wrote Jimmy Buffett nearly forty years ago in my favorite song of his, “A Pirate Looks at Forty.”

I have heard its call too. I’ve heard it for my whole life. My favorite sound in the world is the sound of the surf crashing against the beach. My favorite sensation is having sand and ocean water between my toes. My favorite sight is the horizon where the sky meets the ocean in the distance, with the vast expanse of water in between. I feel at home at the beach. More importantly, I feel happiest when I am at the beach. And I feel most at peace here. There is nothing more therapeutic for me than standing on the beach, flying my kite, with the ocean waves lapping at my feet. It’s sheer joy. Nothing beats the tranquility of watching my kite ride the waves of the sky while the ocean waves cover my feet. It’s the one time when I truly feel completely at peace. I spent nearly 90 minutes doing that today, and it seemed as if just a few minutes had passed. And for those nearly 90 minutes, all was right with the world. For those nearly 90 minutes, I forgot all about the stresses and pressures of my job, and for those nearly 90 minutes, I was immune from the toll that the ordeal with my parents has taken on me.

Susan and I are presently in Kure Beach, North Carolina for the week. We’re here with our friends Tom and Debbie and their daughter Elizabeth. This is our second summer vacationing with them, but it’s certainly not our first visit to the Cape Fear region. Susan and I first started coming to the Wilmington area in 2002, when I was first invited to speak to the Cape Fear Civil War Roundtable by my friend Chris Fonvielle. We’ve been coming here for at least a week for nearly every year for the last ten years. It brings about the intersection of two things that are near and dear to me: the Civil War and the beach, so I always savor these visits. Some years, we’ve come here twice. We love this area, and I can easily see ourselves retiring here someday. That’s the dream, anyway.

Kure Beach is at the southern end of Pleasure Island. The southern tip of the island is where the remains of Fort Fisher are. Fort Fisher was a behemoth fort made entirely of sand. Its purpose was to keep the vital Cape Fear River open to Wilmington, about 17 miles upriver, so that blockade runners could continue to supply the Confederacy. When Fort Fisher finally fell in January 1865, the final ocean going port available to the dying Confederacy was closed, and the beginning of the end came. For those interested, Chris Fonvielle has written THE definitive work on the Wilmington Campaign, which I highly and strongly recommend to you.

The years have not been kind to Fort Fisher. The entire eastern face of the fort is gone, devoured by the hungry waves and the destructive forces of the many hurricanes that have battered Cape Fear since 1865. A segment of the northern face of the fort remains, but it’s incomplete. Part of it was lost to the waves, and another part of it was lost to World War II, when a grass runway for coast watching aircraft was developed at the cost of some of the fort’s sand ramparts. Battle Acre, where the monument to the Union soldiers who fought and died to capture Fort Fisher stands, now sits nestled among a major recreation area. The southernmost battery, Battery Buchanan, also remains, but there is very little left. Although there is very little of Fort Fisher left, what remains is the most heavily visited historic site in North Carolina.

We paid a brief visit there yesterday upon our arrival in the area. I collect pins from Civil War battlefields that festoon my old Civil War Preservation Trust hat, and I needed one for Fort Fisher, so we headed there to get one. When Susan and I got there, we were pleased to find fellow Civil War historian, author, and blogger Michael C. Hardy. Susan took this photo of Michael and me, and I used the opportunity to purchase a copy of Michael’s new book on North Carolina in the Civil War for my burgeoning collection of books on the subject.

We have rented a house in Kure Beach for our week here. It sits just over two miles due north of the northern face of Fort Fisher, just across Fort Fisher Boulevard from the ocean. In 1865, this area was wide open sand dunes, covered only by the maritime forest and the occasional shack. Today, it’s a very popular beach resort area filled with upscale homes that are rented to folks like us. In 1865, this area was certainly within the range of the huge guns that peppered Fort Fisher. The land-based Union assaults on Fort Fisher staged here and kicked off from here, and this area was surely struck by shells from the Confederate guns at Fort Fisher. In short, the house we have rented for the week sits on a Civil War battlefield.

And that causes me to suffer the terribly mixed emotions that I am now feeling. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this is where I feel most at peace with the world and most happy. But the fact that all but a small portion of the Confederate goliath at Fort Fisher has been destroyed bothers me a great deal. I completely understand that this is some of the most desirable and most expensive real estate in the United States, and I completely understand that the inexorable march of progress dictates that not every inch of every battlefield can be preserved. I get that. And I am grateful that the small surviving piece of Fort Fisher is preserved and is in good hands. But my time here in Kure Beach is marked by terribly mixed emotions. The development really irks the battlefield preservationist in me. The rest of me adores the beach and the ocean and the fact that I am where I should be in the universe. I have learned to balance those mixed emotions, but they nevertheless rear their ugly head from time to time. Today happens to be one of them.

The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothing to plunder, I’m an over-forty victim of fate…

That’s “A Pirate Looks at Forty” again. And I think it sums me up best of all. I was born more than 150 years too late to have been a Civil War cavalryman, but I feel drawn to their stories, and I feel compelled to share them. Jimmy Buffett often says that this song is to ease people’s pain. It works for me. And it helps me to balance my mixed emotions.

My occupational hazard is my occupation’s just not around…

No, it’s not. And so, I lawyer on. But I will keep fighting the good fight of battlefield preservation, and I will continue to tell the stories of the men who fought, died, and gave the last full measure of their devotion. And I hope that all of you will accompany me on that journey a bit longer.

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Today, on Memorial Day, a day when we remember and commemorate the sacrifices of the men and women who gave the last full measure of their devotion to allow us to live in a free country, we have a guest post by Scott Mahaskey. Scott has done some yeoman work to set the record straight on a forgotten member of my favorite regiment, the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry, and when Scott shared his findings with me, I asked him if he would be willing to allow me to publish them here. What follows is what he sent along:

While paying respects at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday, I made the following photograph. Nice light, but thought nothing of it until I realized while editing that the flag obscured Christian Gross date of death. Could it be found online? I cobbled together the following tale after 2 hours of research.

Meet Private Christian Gross of Company K, 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry. This historic cavalry unit earned the named “rush lancers” after their early use of 15 foot lances, replaced with carbines in 1863. Organized from companies raised in Philadelphia and Berks counties, Richard H. Rush was appointed colonel of the regiment upon authorization of Governor Andrew Curtin.

Private Gross mustered into service September 24, 1861, died June 8, 1864, of wounds received during battle May 30, 1864. The battle was likely the Battle of Old Church and part of Grant’s Overland Campaign against Lee. There, just south to Totopotomoy Creek in Hanover County, Virginia, the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry narrowly survived an outflanking maneuver to be drawn into heavy dismounted hand-to-hand combat with South Carolinians.

A random ray of light lead to a rewarding Memorial Day epic. Thank you, Private Gross. Thank you all. — at Arlington National Cemetery.

After even further research, I updated the post to include the following:

Oh my – a Memorial Day mystery: Who is buried in the grave of Christian Gross? In his book, Rush’s Lancers, historian Eric Wittenberg published a roster of the 6th Cav in 2007. In it, the roster lists CHRISTOPHER GROSS as the soldier whose story is above. CHRISTIAN GROSS, the name of the tombstone and also part of the 6th Cav, is listed as ‘not accounted for’. I’ve reached out to the author for assistance. Maybe this ray of light wasn’t so random after all. Creepy.

Thank you, Scott, for both setting the record straight and for your allowing us to highlight a forgotten enlisted man otherwise lost to history. And thank you Pvt. Christian Gross for making the ultimate sacrifice to save the Union.

And thank you to all of the veterans, both living and dead, for your sacrifices as well. May they never be forgotten, and may they never be in vain.

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2012 is a memorable year for the commemoration of historical events. The sesquicentennial of the Civil War continues. The bicentennial of the war of 1812 is celebrated this year. And today marks the centennial of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. Given my lifelong fascination with the sinking of the Titanic, I would be remiss if I did not at least mention it here, off topic as it may be.

I’ve long been fascinated by shipwrecks. Perhaps it stems from the fact that the anchor of the U.S.S. Maine rests in my hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, and I went on a childhood search to learn the story of that big anchor in the park. I have a small shelf full of books on the sinking of the Titanic, and we made a special trip to Chicago to see the traveling museum exhibit of artifacts from the sunken liner. The arson fire that destroyed the Morro Castle in 1934 has long fascinated me. I have several books on the sinking of the Andrea Doria in 1959. Even the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald intrigues me. I have read several books on its tragic ending. I’m sure that when the books begin to appear on the wreck of the Costa Concordia, I will invest in them too.

None, however, hold sway over the public’s imagination like the Titanic. Certainly, James Cameron’s movie stirred another generation’s fascination. Personally, I could have done without the distracting love story, but the footage of the shipwreck and Cameron’s slavishly and eerily accurate recreation of the ship made the mawkish story of Jack and Rose tolerable. The scene at the beginning of the movie where the image transitions from the shipwreck to the promenade deck of the recreated ocean liner alone was worth the price of admission.

I’ve read a bunch of books about the tragic ship and her only voyage, and I find myself just as drawn to it today as I did the first time I ever read A Night to Remember as a boy. The story of the bravery of the musicians, as one example, as they continued to play even as they knew they were doomed, has always been very moving to me. The courage, bravery and dignity of the male first-class passengers, such as John Jacob Astor, one of the wealthiest men alive, as they stepped aside to allow women and children to board the lifeboats awes me. The quiet dignity of these men changing into their finest clothes so that they could die like gentlemen inspires me. The story of Isadore and Ida Strauss choosing to die together even though Ida could have taken a spot in a lifeboat has always moved me too. The story of the cowardice of Bruce Ismay, who refused to do the honorable thing and go down with his ship equally repels me. The human toll is what I find most fascinating. And being a dog lover, the story of the dogs of the Titanic is equally compelling. I have always wanted to visit the cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where so many of the victims of the disaster were buried, and it’s on my bucket list of places to go.

Often overlooked in the tragedy of the Titanic is the eerily similar fate of her sister ship, the R.M.S. Britannic. Britannic was the largest of the three sister ships, and she also sank. She was launched just before the outbreak of World War I, and was used as a hospital ship during the Great War. In that role she struck a mine off the Greek island of Kea, in the Kea Channel on November 21, 1916, and sank with the loss of 30 lives. Only the R.M.S. Olympic, the third sister ship, managed to avoid the fate of her sisters.

Let’s not forget the 1,514 souls that departed this earth one hundred years ago today when the Titanic sank.

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25 Dec 2011, by

Happy holidays!

To all of my readers, I wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year. I hope that 2012 is a better year for all of us.

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Reader Gordon Ponsford, a sculpture conservator, is apparently also a poet. He forwarded this poem about battlefield monuments at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chickamauga to me, and I have decided to share it with all of you, as I find it moving. Enjoy.

The Sentinels of Hallowed Ground

On Battlefields across our land
Flags raised high, sword in hand
Standing guard over fallen dead
Where history dwells, now tourists tread

Gazing upon the open fields
Where valor stood and didn’t yield
These statues are more than bronze and stone
They’re bought with blood, by boys from home

Now a century and a half have gone
Since the silence of the drums and guns
Etched in stones are their epitaphs
Told to those who this way pass

So remember those who heard the call
They fought the fight, and gave it all
The cannons salute with a solemn round
To the Sentinels of Hallowed Ground

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My old friend Terry Johnston approached me last year to talk about an idea he had. I’ve know Terry for fifteen years now, and he’s a good guy and an excellent historian in his own right. That he’s a Philadelphia sports fan doesn’t hurt any either. I had a lot of interactions with Terry while he was the editor of North & South before Keith Poulter ran it into the ground, and Terry did an excellent job in that role.

Terry came to me last year and said that he was thinking about starting his own, new mass market Civil War magazine. We talked about lots of things, and I failed to talk him out of it. I’ve been consulting with him all along, and Im pleased to announce that the first issue of the magazine is out.

The new magazine is called The Civil War Monitor, and it’s intended to be a new look at the Civil War. The first issue has a number of good articles, with a nice blend of tactical detail, political history, and social history. The presentation is handsome, and I’m very impressed with the first issue. Congratulations, Terry.

I also introduced Terry to a client of mine, Blind Acre Media, and together, the folks at Blind Acre and Terry have created an excellent website to go along with the print edition of the magazine.The website includes some additional content from the magazine, and will grow as the magazine does.

The Civil War Monitor is off to a great start, and I can only hope that it will hammer the last nails into the moldy corpse of North & South, which has been dying a long, slow, painful death for a long time now. Good luck to Terry with his new venture, and I hope you will check it out. I’m honored to have played a small role in its launch. I’ve added a link to the magazine’s website.

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