Tag Archives: Civil War

Happy Birthday Uncle Billy

William T. Sherman was born on this day… in 1820.  Reviled by southerners to this day, nonetheless, Sherman stands as an American military icon.  His doctrine of total war has been tossed aside as an aberration, American military personnel have been paying the steep price for ‘partial war’ ever since.  Sherman realized that fighting a war in enemy territory meant not only facing the rival combatants, but also the hostile populace as well.  Sherman knew an army had to ‘Go Roman’ or go home, ” You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it”   

“My aim then was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us”

 

Sherman also hated politics and never blurred the line… between civilian and military authority,  “The carping and bickering of political factions in the nation’s capital reminds me of two pelicans quarreling over a dead fish.”   Several efforts were made to get Sherman onto a presidential ticket following the war, but he always resisted.  Unlike many of his peers, Sherman accepted his place as a soldier,  “I hereby state, and mean all that I say, that I never have been and never will be a candidate for President; that if nominated by either party, I should peremptorily decline; and even if unanimously elected I should decline to serve.”   

This proclamation has been quoted by politicians from Lyndon Johnson to Dick Cheney.

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We Are Not Enemies

Inauguration Day 2017 finds Americans deeply divided… and a President-Elect taking office with little interest in healing the nation’s wounds.  Donald Trump has the opportunity, and in a larger sense the responsibility, to accept the power of the Presidency and work faithfully to bring his people together.  His Twitter account shows a very different plan….

How have we come this far?

How have we come this far?

Lincoln offered such an effort to his dissatisfied countrymen in 1861… appealing to common history, faith, and sense…such a momentous task required more than 140 characters…

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. “

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Facts in Five

Daniel Webster edition

  • Webster is one of two men to serve as United States Secretary of State under three Presidents: Harrison, Tyler, and Fillmore.
  • Webster represented New Hampshire in the House of Representatives and Massachusetts in the Senate.
  • The leading Constitutional scholar of his day, Webster argued 223 cases in front of the Supreme Court.
  • Support for Clay’s Compromise of 1850 led to his resignation from the Senate that same year. 
  • Webster sought the Whig Party nomination for President three times… he never secured it. 
"I wish to speak today not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man but as an American..."

“I wish to speak today not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man but as an American…”

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Movie Review- 12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen is obsessed with startling… visuals, the kind that grab an audience and rarely let go.  His first historical film detailed with nauseating frankness the hunger strike of IRA dissident, Bobby Sands.  In his latest effort, 12 Years a Slave, McQueen brings to the screen the brutal captivity of freeman Solomon Northup.  Based on Northup’s memoir of the same name, McQueen’s interpretation is far too concerned with shock value to capture the deeper messages of Northup’s writing.  John Ridley’s conscientious script is at times  sacrificed to the director’s need to visualize brutality even his subject could not describe.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Historians have been divided over... the academy award winning film.  John Ridley’s script faithfully follows Northup’s memoir but McQueen wastes little time extrapolating the narrative with visceral images designed to enlighten, but often deliver little more than wincing.  Events Northup leaves to the readers’ imaginations, McQueen brutally visualizes- primarily the whipping of Patsey.  McQueen was more than willing to leave Northup’s story to show a fictional murder aboard a slave ship, again for effect, rather than plot.  What saves the film from being a bloody mess are the performances.  Much attention was awarded to Lupita Nyong’o for her harrowing portrayal of Patsey- but Chiwetel Ejiofor is a revelation as Northup; haunting and tragic, his performance is the real soul of the film.

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender

Scenery, dialect, and costuming were …all well researched- this is not the glorified plantation living of Gone With the Wind, rather a dank, crumbling, stagnate world teetering on the edge of collapse.  Michael Fassbender’s psychotic turn as Edwin Epps is symbolic of the self destructive nature of chattel slavery.  Many critics cite McQueen’s ambivalence to religion as a weakness in the script- Northup spoke strongly of faith as well as the good Christian nature of his first master, William Ford(an understated Benedict Cumberbatch.)   Strong performances, gritty scenery and cinematography, and a historically accurate script make 12 Years a Slave a must see experience.  The film’s horrific depictions of violence are considered necessary by some, will be lamented by all- one has to consider whether McQueen could have told the story without as many scare tactics.

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No Better Place to Die

Winter clash in Tennessee

Stones River is a forgotten battle of the Civil War… The battle raged along the banks of the Stones River near Murfreesboro, Tennessee from December 31, 1862-January 2, 1863.  Union Army of the Cumberland under William S. Rosecrans repulsed Confederate Army of Tennessee commanded by Braxton Bragg, over three days of bloody fighting.  The Union victory secured Kentucky and Middle Tennessee from Confederate invasion.

The fighting on December 31 was some of the worst of the war… Union lines were hard pressed all day by rolling waves of the Confederate onslaught.  Rosecrans rallied his troops in the thick of the fighting at several key locations.  The fiercest fighting took place on Hell’s Half Acre, defended by the brigade of William B. Hazen.  Hazen’s men were the only Union troops not to give ground that day.  Rosecrans held a council of war that evening and several of his generals proposed retreat.  Rosecrans was opposed, and so was his trusted subordinate, George H. Thomas.  Thomas responded that “There’s no better place to die.”  The fighting resumed on January 2, where Union forces bloodily repulsed another Confederate attack.  Thomas’ men sealed the victory with a successful counterattack.

Lincoln thanked Rosecrans for a “hard-earned victory.”

Stones River had the highest casualty rate of the Civil War… there were 76, 500 men engaged–Rosecrans’ army suffered 12,906 casualties, Bragg’s 11,739–32% of the combatants were casualties.  There were larger battles with more casualties in the Civil War, but none as concentrated as this bloody winter fighting in middle Tennessee.

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What a Gift !

Lincoln was worried that Sherman’s march to the sea… had failed.  He hadn’t heard from Sherman since his army left Atlanta earlier in November.  Sherman’s troops blazed their path across Georgia; foraging, burning, destroying, all the way to the coast.  Lincoln’s fears were assuaged when the brief telegram arrived at the War Department:

ShermanLincolnTelegram_jpg_CROP_article920-large

Uncle Billy’s strategy of total war… was working and this simple gesture symbolizes the trust between general and Commander-in-Chief.  Lincoln responded that he had many fears, but his trust in Sherman’s judgement guided him through the darkest hours.

"My aim then was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us"

“My aim then was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us”

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Soul of a Lion

Lt. Col. Chamberlain

Lt. Col. Chamberlain

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain answered his… nation’s call with extraordinary valor.  His standing in the social circles of Maine could have won him a Colonel’s commission, but Chamberlain deferred- he wanted to  learn the craft of soldiering before commanding troops.  His training was hands-on and brutal.  The 20th Maine’s baptism of fire was on the killing fields of Fredericksburg- Chamberlain and the men spent a miserable night on the battlefield between the lines;

     “…the writhing concord broken by cries for help, some begging for a drop of water, some calling on God for pity; and some on friendly hands to finish what the enemy had so horribly begun; some with delirious, dreamy voices murmuring loved names, as if the dearest were bending over them; and underneath, all the time, the deep bass note from closed lips too hopeless, or too heroic to articulate their agony…It seemed best to bestow myself between two dead men among the many left there by earlier assaults, and to draw another crosswise for a pillow out of the trampled, blood-soaked sod, pulling the flap of his coat over my face to fend off the chilling winds, and still more chilling, the deep, many voiced moan that overspread the field.”

Bayonets!

Bayonets!

Commanding the regiment at Gettysburg… the following Summer, Chamberlain led his men to glory on the slopes of Little Round Top.  The bayonet charge he ordered helped save the Union left- it also earned him the Medal of Honor;

Citation:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 2 July 1863, while serving with 20th Maine Infantry, in action at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for daring heroism and great tenacity in holding his position on the Little Round Top against repeated assaults, and carrying the advance position on the Great Round Top.

Daring heroism and great tenacity

Daring heroism and great tenacity

Gallantly leading his brigade in action… near Petersburg, Virginia on June 18, 1864, Chamberlain was struck down by a ball, leaving a wound surgeons believed mortal.  Lt. Gen. US Grant finally granted Chamberlain the long overdue promotion to Brigadier General;

“Col. JL Chamberlain was wounded on the 18th- he was gallantly leading his brigade at the time, as he had been in habit of doing in all the engagements… on this occasion, however, I promoted him on the spot…”

 

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