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General musings

Time for a good afternoon chuckle.

Famed Columbus humorist James Thurber wrote a whimsical article lampooning so-called “alternative history” (I call it fiction, but that’s just me) in 1930 that was published in Scribner’s Magazine. This little gem is titled “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox”. Enjoy!

IF GRANT HAD BEEN DRINKING AT APPOMATTOX -James Thurber

The morning of the ninth of April, 1865, dawned beautifully. General Meade was up with the first streaks of crimson in the sky. General Hooker and General Burnside were up and had breakfasted, by a quarter after eight. The day continued beautiful. It drew on. toward eleven o’clock. General Ulysses S. Grant was still not up. He was asleep in his famous old navy hammock, swung high above the floor of his headquarters’ bedroom. Headquarters was distressingly disarranged: papers were strewn on the floor; confidential notes from spies scurried here and there in the breeze from an open window; the dregs of an overturned bottle of wine flowed pinkly across an important military map.

Corporal Shultz, of the Sixty-fifth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, aide to General Grant, came into the outer room, looked around him, and sighed. He entered the bedroom and shook the General’s hammock roughly. General Ulysses S. Grant opened one eye.

“Pardon, sir,” said Corporal Shultz, “but this is the day of surrender. You ought to be up, sir.”

“Don’t swing me,” said Grant, sharply, for his aide was making the hammock sway gently. “I feel terrible,” he added, and he turned over and closed his eye again.

“General Lee will be here any minute now,” said the Corporal firmly, swinging the hammock again.

“Will you cut that out?” roared Grant. “D’ya want to make me sick, or what?” Shultz clicked his heels and saluted. “What’s he coming here for?” asked the General.

“This is the day of surrender, sir,” said Shultz. Grant grunted bitterly.

“Three hundred and fifty generals in the Northern armies,” said Grant, “and he has to come to me about this. What time is it?”. “You’re the Commander-in-Chief, that’s why,” said Corporal Shultz. “It’s eleven twenty, sir.”

“Don’t be crazy,” said Grant. “Lincoln is the Commander-in-Chief. Nobody in the history of the world ever surrendered before lunch. Doesn’t he know that an army surrenders on its stomach?” He pulled a blanket up over his head and settled himself again.

“The generals of the Confederacy will be here any minute now,” said the Corporal. “You really ought to be up, sir.” Grant stretched his arms above his head and yawned. “All right, all right,” he said. He rose to a sitting position and stared about the room. “This place looks awful,” he growled. “You must have had quite a time of it last night, sir,” ventured Shultz. “Yeh,” said General Grant, looking around for his clothes. “I was wrassling some general. Some general with a beard.”

Shultz helped the commander of the Northern armies in the field to find his clothes. “Where’s my other sock?” demanded Grant. Shultz began to look around for it. The General walked uncertainly to a table and poured a drink from a bottle. “I don’t think it wise to drink, sir,” said Shultz. Nev’ mind about me,” said Grant, helping himself to a second, “I can take it or let it alone. Didn’ ya ever hear the story about the fella went to. Lincoln to complain about me drinking too much? ‘So-and-So says Grant drinks too much,’ this fella said. ‘So-and-So is a fool,’ said Lincoln. So this fella went to What’s-His-Name and told him what Lincoln said and he came roarin’ to Lincoln about it. ‘Did you tell So-and-So was a fool?’ he said. ‘No,’ said Lincoln, ‘I thought he knew it.'” The’General smiled, reminiscently, and had another drink. “”That’s how I stand with Lincoln,” he said, proudly,

The soft thudding sound of horses’ hooves came through the open window. Shultz hurriedly walked over and looked out. “Hoof steps,” said Grant, with a curious chortle. “It is General Lee and his staff,” said Shultz. “Show him in,” said the General, taking another drink. “And see what the boys in the back room will have.” Shultz walked smartly over to the door, opened it, saluted, and stood aside.

General Lee, dignified against the blue of the April sky, magnificent in his dress uniform, stood for a moment framed in the doorway. He walked in, followed by his staff. They bowed, and stood silent. General Grant stared at them. He only had one boot on and his jacket was unbuttoned.

“I know who you are,” said Grant.’You’re Robert Browning, the poet.” “This is General Robert E. Lee,” said one of his staff, coldly. “Oh,” said Grant. “I thought he was Robert Browning. He certainly looks like Robert Browning. There was a poet for you. Lee: Browning. Did ya ever read ‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’? ‘Up Derek, to saddle, up Derek, away; up Dunder, up Blitzen, up, Prancer, up Dancer, up Bouncer, up Vixen, up -‘”.

“Shall we proceed at once to the matter in hand?” asked General Lee, his eyes disdainfully taking in the disordered room. “Some of the boys was wrassling here last night,” explained Grant. “I threw Sherman, or some general a whole lot like Sherman. It was pretty dark.” He handed a bottle of Scotch to the commanding officer of the Southern armies, who stood holding it, in amazement and discomfiture. “Get a glass, somebody,” said Grant, .looking straight at General Longstreet. “Didn’t I meet you at Cold Harbor?” he asked. General Longstreet did not answer.

“I should like to have this over with as soon as possible,” said Lee. Grant looked vaguely at Shultz, who walked up close to him , frowning. “The surrender, sir, the surrender,” said Corporal Shultz in a whisper. “Oh sure, sure,” said Grant. He took another drink. “All right,” he said. “Here we go.” Slowly, sadly, he unbuckled his sword. Then he handed it to the astonished Lee. “There you are. General,” said Grant. “We dam’ near licked you. If I’d been feeling better we would of licked you.”

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hh9d5Yesterday, I was one of the presenters at the “Gettysburg Before and After” conference put on by Hagerstown Community College. Dennis Frye, the chief historian at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, gave a very interesting talk on the role that Harpers Ferry played in the Gettysburg Campaign.

Part of what he discussed caught my attention, as it lends some fascinating new insight into the decisions made by the Army of the Potomac’s high command on July 12, 1863. These insights have caused me to re-evaluate some of those decisions. The facts are worthy of presenting here.

By way of background, the Army of the Potomac’s high command considered throwing a pontoon bridge across the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry because the river was too flooded to ford. Doing so could allow Union troops to get around behind the Army of Northern Virginia’s position. The question was when. Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, the army’s chief engineer, had this responsibility. He corresponded with Lt. Col. Ira Spaulding, the chief engineer at Harpers Ferry, who was responsible for the pontoons. The exchange between Warren and Spaulding is worth repeating here.

Here is the first, sent by Warren:

HEADQUARTERS ENGINEERS, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC
July 10, 1863–10:30 a.m.

Colonel Spaulding, Engineer,
Harpers Ferry:

Sir:

Events are yet to determine where we shall want the bridge across the Potomac and when. Directions will be sent to you in time. I have ordered the transportation train to join you, and to load up to 200 feet of bridge, which we may require on the Antietam Creek.

By order:

G. K. Warren,
Brigadier General of Volunteers, Chief Engineer

O.R. vol. 27, part 3, p. 628. Spaulding responded the next day.

SANDY HOOK,
July 11, 1863–11:45 a.m.

General G. K. Warren:

Lieutenant [Ranald S.] MacKenzie is absent with General Naglee, and I opened your dispatch to him.

The Potomac above the railroad bridge at this point has fallen 4 feet within the past forty-eight hours, and is still falling slowly. It is still 4 to 5 feet above the stage of water which renders it fordable here.

The troops of the Engineer Brigade under my command now here have been constantly at work or making forced marches ever since the army left Falmouth, and I take it for granted they are liable at any moment to be called up for extraordinary exertions. Is it desirable that they should be kept incessantly at work here by General Naglee upon work not indispensable to the efficiency and success of the army?

I. Spaulding,
Lieutenant-Colonel, Volunteer Engineers

O.R. vol. 27, part 3, p. 646. The emphasis is mine. This is a critical piece of intelligence. If the river had fallen 4 feet in 48 hours, and it had only another 4-5 feet to drop in order to be fordable, then at the very latest, the river would be fordable within 48 hours, and probably much less if it continued to be dry. In other words, at that rate of dropping, the Potomac would be fordable no later than July 13. And the Williamsport crossings are upriver from Harpers Ferry, meaning that they would fordable before the crossings at Harpers Ferry.

On July 13, as the Army of Northern Virginia was preparing to cross that night, Warren wrote:

HEADQUARTERS ENGINEERS
July 13, 1863–5 p.m.

Colonel Spaulding:

We may want a bridge across the river before long. If sending away the 100 men to repair the canal will not interfere with laying the bridge, it is desirable to have it done.

G. K. Warren,
Brig. Gen. of Vols., Chief Engineer, Army of the Potomac

O.R. vol. 27, part 3, p. 672. The pontoon bridge was laid the next day, AFTER the Army of Northern Virginia had already made it to safety across the Potomac. Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s Second Cavalry Division had a major engagement with Confederate cavalry at Sandy Hook, near Harpers Ferry, the next day.

There’s some real food for thought here. Specifically, on July 11, Spaulding advised Warren–the Army of the Potomac’s chief engineer–that the Potomac River was dropping and would be fordable no later than July 13, assuming no more rain fell. Once the Potomac could be forded at Williamsport, which is 15 or so miles upstream from Harpers Ferry, the Army of Northern Virginia could cross to safety. This means that Lee could escape unless the Army of the Potomac moved quickly to attack it.

On the night of July 12, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, held a council of war with his officers. Meade was anxious about whether to attack the Army of Northern Virginia’s entrenched positions along the Potomac, the strength of which was obvious to anyone caring to look. Meade, his chief of staff, Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys, and his corps commanders all attended. They included: Gens. James Wadsworth (filling in for an ill Gen. John Newton, temporary commander of the 1st Corps), William Hays (in temporary command of the Second Corps), William H. French (commanding the 3rd Corps after Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles was severely wounded at Gettysburg), George Sykes (5th Corps), John Sedgwick (6th Corps), O. O. Howard (11th Corps), Henry W. Slocum (12th Corps), and Alfred Pleasonton (Cavalry Corps). Also attending were Gen. William F. “Baldy” Smith, who commanded a division of emergency militia troops that had joined the Army of the Potomac, and chief engineer Warren.

Meade strongly favored an attack on July 13, but he wanted the support of his corps commanders before issuing the orders to do so. Wadsworth, Howard, and Pleasonton favored an attack. So did Warren. Sedgwick, Slocum, Sykes, French, and Hays opposed it. However, none of Humphreys, Pleasonton, or Warren were permitted to vote, meaning that a majority of the commanders with a vote opposed the attack. While Meade could have overridden the vote and could have ordered the attack anyway, he reluctantly took the advice of his commanders, which was to spend the 13th probing the Confederate lines and to attack on the 14th. Nobody knew that Lee’s army would steal away on the night of the 13th and that the general advance of the Army of the Potomac on the morning of the 14th would find the trenches empty and the Confederates gone.

The record fails to indicate whether Warren advised the council of war of the critical intelligence forwarded by Colonel Spaulding–that the Potomac was steadily dropping and would be fordable the next day if the rains continued to hold off. Warren was a conscientious officer, and presumably he did pass on that important piece of information. But we do not know for sure. Had he failed to do so, one cannot help but wonder whether that critical piece of information might have changed the outcome of the July 12 council of war.

Conversely, if Warren did, indeed, pass along that critical intelligence, that makes the vote of the five corps commanders who opposed an attack all the more puzzling. And it also makes Meade’s decision not to override their vote and order the attack anyway all the more perplexing. It is a cliche that councils of war never vote to fight, so the outcome of the July 12 council was somewhat predictable. Another cliche comes to mind: for want of a nail, a kingdom was lost.

In the end, I remain convinced that short of ordering the attack on July 13–an attack that had no guarantee of success, given the incredibly strong position held by the Confederates–there is little, if anything, that Meade could have done to prevent the Army of Northern Virginia from making its escape once the depth of the Potomac River dropped enough for it to become fordable. And, in the end, I cannot fault Meade for not wanting to attack that incredibly strong position–bristling with artillery behind earthworks–without having a better idea of its make-up and without having some idea if there were any weak spots to exploit or particularly strong points to avoid. A good army commander would not make such decisions rashly, and Meade was not a rash man. It’s entirely possible, then, that this critical piece of intelligence might have made no difference whatsoever in the big scheme of things. But it is tantalizing.

This is an incredibly fascinating twist, and it demonstrates how the smallest scrap of information can have far-reaching and unforeseen consequences. Thanks to Dennis Frye for passing this information along.

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battle-of-kellys-fordToday marks the Sesquicentennial of the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, fought March 17, 1863, along the banks of the Rappahannock River in Culpeper County, Virginia. Please click on the image to see a larger version of this contemporary depiction of the fighting at Kelly’s Ford that St. Patrick’s Day.

That day, Brig. Gen. William Woods Averell’s Second Cavalry Division of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac forced its way across the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford and brought the Confederate cavalry brigade of Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee to battle. The fight lasted for most of the day. First, Averell’s men had to force a crossing of the river, pushing through Confederate rifle pits. They then had to force their way through felled trees that blocked the road. Once they Union horse soldiers forced their way across the river and through the abatis, Averell then ordered his men to charge. Mounted charges met by mounted countercharges by Fitz Lee’s horsemen went back and forth for much of the afternoon. Maj. John Pelham, Jeb Stuart’s gifted chief of horse artillery, foolishly joined a charge by the 5th Virginia Cavalry near the Wheatley farm, and received a mortal wound when a Union artillery shell burst on a stone wall, spraying deadly shrapnel. One of those pieces of shrapnel took Pelham’s life.

Daniel Davis has written a nice account of the battle that appears over at Emerging Civil War. I recommend it to you.

kellys-ford-march-17-1863Averell pushed the Confederate horsemen back a mile or two, and then he paused to dress his lines. The final charges too place on the property just preserved by the Civil War Trust. Incorrectly believing that the Confederate cavalry had received infantry reinforcements, and with his force alone and behind enemy lines, Averell broke off and withdrew from the battlefield, leaving it in Fitz Lee’s hands. By all measures, Kelly’s Ford was a Confederate victory. Lee’s troopers held the battlefield at the end of the day, and Averell failed to accomplish his strategic goal, which was to disperse the Confederate cavalry in Culpeper County. However, that victory cost the Confederacy the services of John Pelham.

For a larger version of Steve Stanley’s excellent battle map (which shows the recently preserved battlefield land in yellow), please click on the map. As always, I am grateful to the Civil War Trust for allowing me to borrow its extremely useful interpretive maps.

My friend Craig Swain has a post on his blog today about the commemoration of the battle that took place today, including some photos of the battlefield as it appears today. It includes photos of the new pullover and new interpretive markers that have just been placed on the land preserved by the Civil War Trust. Please check them out.

There are some interesting quotes by participants in the Battle of Kelly’s Ford that provide insight into the fierce fighting there. “A cavalry charge is a terrible thing. Almost before you can think, the shock of horse against horse, the clash of steel against steel, crack of pistols, yells of some poor lost one, as he lost his seat and went down under those iron shod hoofs that knew no mercy, or the shriek of some horse overturned and cut to pieces by his own kind,” recalled Pvt. William Henry Ware of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry. “It is Hell while it lasts, but when man meets his fellow man, face to face, foot to foot, knee to knee, and looks him in the eye, the rich red blood flows through his veins like liquid lightning. There is blood in his eye, Hell in his heart, and he is a different man from what he is in the time of peace.” One of Averell’s men left a parallel description. “It was like the coming together of two mighty railroad trains at full speed. The yelling of men, the clashing of sabers, a few empty saddles, a few wounded and dying, and the charge is over. One side or the other is victorious, perhaps, only for a few minutes, and then the contest is renewed,” observed Sgt. George Reeve of the 6th Ohio Cavalry. “A charge of this kind is over almost before one has time to think of the danger he is in.”

Moreover, the Battle of Kelly’s Ford proved to be a real turning point in the evolution of the Union cavalry. For the first time, the Federal horsemen stood and fought the very best that the Army of Northern Virginia’s Cavalry Division had to offer, and the Federals gave as good as they got. Lt. Joseph A. Chedell of the 1st Rhode Island, wrote that Kelly’s Ford was the “first real, and perhaps the most brilliant, cavalry fight of the whole war.” From that moment forward, the Union horsemen believed that they were the equals of Stuart’s vaunted troopers, and from that moment forward, the blueclad horse soldiers went into battle with confidence and skill. Just three months later, those same troopers–no longer commanded by Averell–fought Stuart’s troopers to a standstill on nearby Fleetwood Hill during the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station.

That evolution–and its implications for the rest of the Civil War in the east–make this day of brutal combat worth commemorating. Today, we pay tribute to the brave men of both sides who crossed sabers during the Battle of Kelly’s Ford.

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Grant's_horsesThis past spring, I was asked to write a short article (about 1000 words) on horses in the Civil War for The History Channel Magazine. I had less than a week to do so, but I got it done. It was supposed to appear in the January/February 2013 issue, but there has been a regime change at the magazine, and the new editorial staff decided not to use any of the articles that it had in the hopper, including my article. Lest it go to waste, I’ve decided to run it here. Enjoy.

The photo is of U.S. Grant’s three horses, Egypt (on the left), Cincinnati (in the center) and Jeff Davis (on the right), taken at Cold Harbor, Virginia in the spring of 1864.

THE LOYAL STEEDS: HORSES IN THE CIVIL WAR
By: Eric J. Wittenberg

During the era of the Civil War, 1861-1865, there were no internal combustion engines fueled by gasoline, so there were only three ways to transport men, equipment and supplies: by boat, by train, or by horse. Horses were the primary means for logistics. Horses were used by artillery, by cavalry, by infantry, and by teamsters to move men and equipment. When the Civil War broke out in the spring of 1861, there were approximately 3.4 million horses in the Northern states, and 1.7 million in the Confederate states. The border states of Missouri and Kentucky had an additional 800,000 horses. During the Civil War, the Union used over 825,000 horses for the purposes described above.

More than 1,000,000 horses and mules were killed during the Civil War. In the early days of the conflict, more horses than men were killed. Just at the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg alone, the number of horses killed was about 1,500—881 horses and mules for the Union, and 619 for the Confederacy. The toll taken on these loyal animals—upon which both sides relied heavily—was staggering, and is all too often overlooked.

Napoleon once wrote, quite correctly, that “an army moves on its stomach,” meaning that logistics are the key to the success of an army in the field. The great Union general, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, understood this well, prompting him to write, “Every opportunity at a halt during a march should be taken advantage of to cut grass, wheat, or oats and extraordinary care be taken of the horses upon which everything depends.”

The artillery relied heavily on horses, which were the primary means of moving heavy cannons from place to place. In so-called “mounted artillery”, which typically served with the infantry, the men who served those cannons either walked or rode on the caissons or limber chests, while horses and mules pulled the guns. The horses involved were usually big draft animals that were capable of bearing heavy weights. Maj. Gen. John Gibbon, who wrote the standard treatise for artillerists in the Civil War, The Artillerist’s Manual, described the ideal artillery horse:

The horse for artillery service should be from fifteen to sixteen hands high … should stand erect on his legs, be strongly built, but free in his movements; his shoulders should be large enough to give support to the collar but not too heavy; his body full, but not too long; the sides well rounded; the limbs solid with rather strong shanks, and the feet in good condition. To these qualities he should unite, as much as possible, the qualities of the saddle horse; should trot and gallop easily, have even gaits and not be skittish.

When artillery served with cavalry, it was called horse artillery, and each man had his own horse, so that the artillery could keep pace with fast-moving cavalry.

Draft animals also served to move the army’s vast wagon trains of supplies. Typically six horses or mules drew each wagon, which could be full of supplies, personal baggage, or medical supplies. Draft animals and mules also pulled ambulances, which carried wounded men from battlefields. As just one example, after the Battle of Gettysburg, a seventeen-mile long wagon train of wounded men was needed to remove the most seriously injured Confederate soldiers from the battlefield. But for the horses and mules that made it possible, these men probably would not have made it back to safety.

The most obvious use of horses in the Civil War was to carry cavalry. Cavalry featured mounted men who used their horses to move from place to place, and who could fight either mounted or dismounted. A cavalryman and his horse became a team, and men often developed deep bonds with their horses. Those horses often faced stern tasks.

Capt. George Baylor of the 12th Virginia Cavalry left this description of that close bond:

The cavalryman and his horse got very close to each other, not only physically, but also heart to heart. They ate together, slept together, marched, fought and often died together. While the rider slept, the horse cropped the grass around him and got as close up to his rider’s body as he could get. The loyal steed pushed the trooper’s head gently aside with his nose to get at the grass beneath it. By the thousands, men reposed in fields fast asleep from arduous campaigns with their horses quietly grazing beside them, and nary a cavalier was trod upon or injured by his steed.

They were so faithful and unfaltering. When the bugle sounded, they were always ready to respond, for they knew all the bugle calls. If it were saddle up, or the feed, or the water call, they were as ready to answer one as the other. And they were so noble and so brave in battle. They seemed to love the sound of the guns. The cavalryman might lie low on the neck of his horse as the missiles of death hissed about him. But the horse never flinched, except when struck.

Lo! As we should, we build monuments for our dead soldiers, for those we know, and for the unknown dead. So with the ultimate sacrifice of our lamented fallen honored upon their noble deaths, is it not also just that we recall their valiant steeds? What would you think of a monument some day, somewhere in Virginia, in honor of Lee’s noble horses?

Without the horse, there could be no cavalryman.

The lore of the Civil War is replete with famous horses. Confederate commander Gen. Robert E. Lee had his beloved Traveler. Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson had his Little Sorrel. Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, who made a legendary 22-mile dash from Winchester to the battlefield at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, rode his warhorse Rienzi. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had his Cincinnati. Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest had his King Philip, and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, the victor at Gettysburg, had his Old Baldy. These famous mounts carried their masters into battle and into legend.

In some ways, the horses that suffered and died during the Civil War were more important than the men who rode them. The Union certainly could not have prevailed in the Civil War without the horses that it relied upon so heavily.

horsestatjAs a student of cavalry operations, I’ve come to understand that a cavalryman is effectively two indivisible parts: man and horse. As stated above, without the horse, there could be no cavalryman. In many instances, the loyal horses did their duty until the could do more, collapsed and died. And for the cavalryman, it was akin to losing his best friend. The photo is of the cavalry horse monument in Middleburg, Virginia. It depicts a played out horse, weary and worn to a nub, still doing his duty.

It’s easy to forget about the sacrifices of the loyal steeds during the Civil War, and I hope that this brief article helps people to remember those sacrifices.

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To each and every one of you who takes the time to indulge my rantings, Susan, Nero, Aurora, Jet, and I all wish each and every one of you a joyous holiday season, a merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2013. Personally, I will not miss 2012 in the least, and can only hope that 2013 is a better year for all of us.

Thank you for indulging me. I appreciate all of you.

And for those who are traveling: please be safe. There’s a big winter storm coming, so please exercise caution as you travel to see your loved ones.

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After all of the horror of the events in Connecticut last week, I thought it might be fun to lighten things up a bit.

With thanks to my friend Dan Mallock, the party responsible for this idea, we’re going to discuss the ugliest/worst Civil War monuments in America. Specifically, I want everyone to chime in and let me know which you think is the ugliest/worst Civil War monument that you’ve ever seen. I will gladly post photos if anyone wants me to do so. Just send them along.

nbfs2Here’s my nominee: the Nathan Bedford Forrest action figure along I-65 in Brentwood, Tennessee. This is, without doubt, THE most hideous, stupid-looking thing I have ever seen. It’s a horror.

Longstreet-4c_0410Dan, on the other hand, believes that the James Longstreet carousel horse monument wins the prize. It’s definitely my second choice, and it’s really pretty horrific too. From my perspective, however, it cannot hold a candle to just how horrendous that Forrest action figure is.

So, those are the first two entries in the competition. What do the rest of you think?

UPDATE, DECEMBER 21: Since it was nominated by Brian, here is the Stonewall Schwarzenegger statue on Henry House Hill on the Bull Run battlefield.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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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