In the aftermath of defeat at Fredericksburg… One of Lincoln’s chief Congressional critics, Copperhead from Ohio, Clement Vallandigham gave a fiery speech before the House:
“The war for the Union is, in your hands, a most bloody and costly failure. The President confessed it on the 22d of September…. War for the Union was abandoned; war for the negro openly begun, and with stronger battalions than before. With what success? Let the dead at Fredericksburg and Vicksburg answer….”
Most wily agitator
No soldiers were waiting to arrest him… Vallandigham left Congress with little fanfare and was able to travel to Ohio to seek the Governor’s office without interference. Yet, revisionists argue that Vallandigham was the victim of Lincoln’s systematic assault on civil rights. Similar to the absurd argument of Lincoln’s belief in white supremacy, desperate historians seeking to leave their mark on his legacy attack his record on civil liberties while comparing him to Stalin.
Clement Vallandigham was arrested… but not for criticizing the Lincoln administration. Vallandigham did that on a daily basis on public record. Denouncing the war effort while encouraging recruits to desert in a hostile region (Cincinnati area) clearly violated government edicts handed down by a military Governor. Leave it to Lincoln to sum it up nicely:
“Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wiley agitator who induces him to desert? I think that in such a case, to silence the agitator, and save the boy, is not only constitutional, but, withal, a great mercy.”
“I think the time not unlikely to come when I shall be blamed for having made too few arrests rather than too many.”
Filed under Ephemera, News
Ambrose Burnside had done it…. he outmaneuvered Robert E. Lee. The reluctant commander guided the massive Army of the Potomac down the Rappahannock river to Fredericksburg, Virginia. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was scrambling to catch up, but Burnside’s path to Richmond temporarily lay open. He needed pontoon bridges to get his lengthy supply trains across the river- but they were nowhere to be found- Burnside sat on the Eastern shore waiting. The bridges arrived a week later, but so did Lee’s army.
Reluctant commander with great whiskers
There was still an opportunity to move… against Lee before his forces could dig in. Burnside weighed his options and formed a plan to cross the river quickly at fords south of town. Mother Nature wasn’t playing fair that week, a heavy storm dropped six inches of snow on December 5, forcing Burnside to reconsider. Lee’s men dug in on the heights west of town and covered the fords to the north and south. With Winter closing in, Burnside decided to build his bridges and cross at Fredericksburg.
Soldiers do their duty, but… Burnside’s subordinates were not happy with his decision. Joseph Hooker let it be known in the council-of-war on December 10. Burnside responded,
“I have heard your criticisms, gentlemen, and your complaints. You know how reluctantly I assumed the responsibility of command. I was conscious of what I lacked; but still I have been placed here where I am and will do my best. I rely on God for wisdom and strength. Your duty is not to throw cold water, but to aid me loyally with your advice and hearty service.”
Colonel Samuel Zook minced no words when he learned of the advance, “I expect to be sacrificed tomorrow, Goodbye old Boy & if tomorrow night finds me dead remember me kindly as a soldier who meant to do his whole duty.”
Could see the writing on the wall at Fredericksburg
**special thanks to Don Pfanz for the sources.
Minutes into Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”…. it is clear this is not an ordinary biopic. Abraham Lincoln, (the uncanny Daniel Day-Lewis) casually chats with departing Union soldiers on a cold, damp January evening. Some of the soldiers are black, others are white, all are drawn to their Commander-in-Chief; he inspires while he charms, and the audience is shown the essential Lincoln. Spielberg’s film triumphs on all levels, avoiding the pitfalls of preachy biographical films, while achieving justice for historical figures portrayed by a stellar cast.
Focusing only on the tumultuous final… four months of Lincoln’s life, Tony Kushner’s script (heavily influenced by Doris Goodwin’s Team of Rivals) artfully illustrates the bitter process of pushing the 13th amendment through the House of Representatives; as well as, Lincoln’s tireless efforts to bring the War to an end. 19th century politics are on full display as Thaddeus Stevens (the scene stealing Tommy Lee Jones) wages a spirited battle with Democrats and Conservative Republicans on the House floor. If only our current Representatives were this passionate about anything. Historical perspectives are not only respected by the filmmakers, they are ingeniously integrated into the script. Suspense is not manufactured, but presented by the powerful nature of the subject matter. Kushner and Spielberg bring the complex political battle over ending slavery to life in Congress and in the smoke-filled rooms of Washington. Actors effortlessly meld into roles, many are unrecognizable (James Spader has a hilarious cameo as a political operative) with the aid of an entertaining and historically accurate script.
Steals every scene
Daniel Day-Lewis leaves no doubt he is… the greatest living actor. His performance is nothing short of Oscar-worthy. Bringing iconic historical figures to life typically leads to posturing and overacting, but Day-Lewis’s portrayal is understated, humorous, and heartfelt. He perfectly captures the frontier wit of the country lawyer, and the keen political craftmanship that won over the famed team of rivals. Lincoln’s humor provides several laugh-out-loud moments, with Day-Lewis’s skillful delivery bringing depth to the performance. Sally Field brings genuine emotion to Mary Lincoln. The death of Willie in 1862 haunts the troubled couple, as displayed in the most heartbreaking scene. A complete portrait of Lincoln emerges and is the backbone of the film. Whenever characters, scenery, or events threaten to weigh down the story, Day-Lewis commands the screen- not in caricature- he brings Lincoln to life. This stands as the greatest historical performance since George C. Scott in “Patton.”
Breathing life in to the icon
Historical films are often plagued by… unnecessary narration, overly ambitious scripts, and cheesy performances. Biopics fall victim to rambling storylines and politically correct history lessons. “Lincoln” is a focused and historically disciplined piece of filmmaking. Spielberg never allows the film to become a civics lesson, nor does the script preach its message. As the roll call vote is called during the climactic scene, Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax breaks tradition and casts his vote, “This is history” he proclaims to Democratic opposition. Spielberg’s film is indeed history crafted as a political thriller that brings our most beloved President to life. The limited focus of the film could have fallen on any part of Lincoln’s presidency with the same effect. The strength of the performances and earnest telling of a pivotal moment in history make this one of the best historical films of all time. Steven Spielberg now joins Ken Burns as great chronicler of American history.
While some conspiracy theories possess real merit…. the persistent thesis that high-ranking government officials had prior knowledge of the Japanese intention to attack Pearl Harbor warrant little consideration. Here are some of the worst offenders:
- The causes of the attack have never been fully investigated… To the contrary, there have been ten separate government inquiries into the events; the earliest in 1941 and the last coming in 1995. All the findings indicate poor strategic planning, lack of proper intelligence channels, inconsistent code-breaking, and a failure of the Army and Navy to coordinate strategic troop disbursements. Sadly, no conspiracies were discovered.
Japanese movements in 1941
- Many people heard Japanese radio traffic discussing the attack… As American as apple pie, this yarn never seems to get old. Trouble is, only Americans will swear to it. Japanese military records indicate strict radio silence was a general order during the journey to Hawaiian waters. The speculation predictably returns to the discovery that Japanese forces were moving. American intelligence located strategic Japanese movements throughout 1941.
An attack of rare precision
- American code-breakers cracked the Japanese codes and knew the attack was coming… What a confusing mess of hearsay, half-truths, and misinformation this theory holds. Some codes were broken, including the diplomatic code and some minor military codes. No decoded messages were linked to an attack on Hawaii. The true controversy can be found in American intelligence channels.
Mr. Roosevelt and his ardent Lieutenant
Winston Churchill knew about the attack, but wanted it to happen…. Pure poppycock. Churchill wanted America to enter the war sooner rather than later. He was frustrated with Roosevelt’s hedging, but the Lend-Lease Act provided more than enough incentive for patience. Roosevelt did not change his belief that Germany posed the greater threat after Pearl Harbor. Revisionists drive most of this debate and sadly, Nazi-sympathizer and Holocaust denier David Irving is the most prominent. Irving and his cohorts are so desperate to redeem Hitler’s image, they have forged documentary evidence.
December 7, 1941 lives in infamy… Historical study provides the necessary remembrance as well as an opportunity to learn the lessons of our past. Conspiracy theories are part of the discourse, but must be held to the same scholarly standards as other research.
Filed under Ephemera, News
The Pacific (2010) blu-ray combo pack; Hugh Ambrose follows in the lofty footsteps of his father as WW2 historian- HBO’s epic miniseries provides much deserved (and overdue) recognition to the Marines who won the war against Japan. This DVD/blu-ray pack is loaded with extras and will make a worthy addition to any collection.
Landing on Iwo this Christmas
The Civil War News; A monthly publication with its finger on the pulse of Civil War history- living history updates, book reviews, preservation news- information any Civil War buff can use.
Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book; Get gardening advice from one of our best- eternally a young gardener, Jefferson’s meticulous journal is a blueprint for building the perfect garden.
Build at your own risk
Revell US Constitution 1/96 model; Spend the long winter nights building the mother of all models- America’s greatest warship on your fireplace mantle! Detailed rigging plans help bring the mightiest ship of the age of sail to life…’Old Iron-sides lives on.
America seemed to represent the future… yet by the end of the 19th century, we became a people obsessed with our past. A paradox not easily explained, and frankly, not wholly considered either. The recent passing of historian Michael Kammen received little fanfare nationally, but to younger academics everywhere, it represented a melancholy turning point.
Kammen’s epic study, “Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture” … was standard reading for first year grad students across academia in the mid-1990′s. The difficult task of explaining why Americans simplify and revere their past was at the core of Kammen’s research- historians agreed with his thesis, students were primed for future frustration. The Civil War was indeed a transformative event, radically shifting our traditions of remembrance and honor. Prior to the war, argued Kammen, Americans viewed their past with casual indifference- the Civil War democratized our past- the masses wanted a story worthy of the sacrifices made in that most bloody struggle…American mythology began.
The good academic he was… Kammen was troubled by the wave of popular history that emerged in the 20th century. His analysis at times bordered on whining- why don’t ordinary folks pay more attention to academic history? To his credit, he never looked to assign blame- his study maintained an analytical approach- and his conclusions are if nothing else, valid. But, like many writers of his background, he misses the true point of historical remembrance- pride. Trying to explain it away with abstract concepts understood only in academic circles is manipulative. Our story is a complex, yet inspiring one, and the American people truly feel a part of it. The study of history is so compartmentalized that it cannot contemplate this collective remembrance. There is room for all types of historical study- academic, public, and popular history alike…. Kammen’s work proved it to be so… though it may not have been his intention.