Elections

Something for the weekend.  The score to the movie Lincoln (2012).  Go here to read my review of this masterpiece.  One hundred and fifty years ago there was little doubt now that Lincoln was going to be re-elected and the Union was going to win the War.  The Civil War had just a little over six months to go, as did Lincoln’s life.

After he was re-elected, Lincoln on November 10, 1864 responded to a serenade outside the White House with this brief speech:

It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence, in great emergencies.
 
On this point the present rebellion brought our republic to a severe test; and a presidential election occurring in regular course during the rebellion added not a little to the strain. If the loyal people, united, were put to the utmost of their strength by the rebellion, must they not fail when divided, and partially paralized, by a political war among themselves?  But the election was a necessity.
 
We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us. The strife of the election is but human-nature practically applied to the facts of the case. What has occurred in this case, must ever recur in similar cases. Human-nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.
 
But the election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too. It has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility. It shows also how sound, and how strong we still are. It shows that, even among candidates of the same party, he who is most devoted to the Union, and most opposed to treason, can receive most of the people’s votes. It shows also, to the extent yet known, that we have more men now, than we had when the war began. Gold is good in its place; but living, brave, patriotic men, are better than gold.
 
But the rebellion continues; and now that the election is over, may not all, having a common interest, re-unite in a common effort, to save our common country? For my own part I have striven, and shall strive to avoid placing any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom.
 
While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election; and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result.
 
May I ask those who have not differed with me, to join with me, in this same spirit towards those who have?
 
And now, let me close by asking three hearty cheers for our brave soldiers and seamen and their gallant and skilful commanders.

(more…)

Published in: on October 25, 2014 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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October 24, 1864: Moses of the Colored Man Speech

 

On the evening October 24, 1864, addressing a torchlight crowd of blacks in Nashville, Andrew Johnson, military governor of the state of Tennessee and the nominee for Vice President on the National Union ticket headed by Lincoln, freed the slaves of Tennessee.  No doubt it was done for the campaign, but it also was a remarkable event, especially due to the fact that although Johnson had fought throughout his political career in Tennessee prior to the war against the political influence of the large plantation owners, he had never breathed a word against slavery.  However, although still not in favor of Negro equality, the war had radicalized him into an opponent of slavery.  Here is his speech:

Colored men of Nashville: You have all heard of the President’s Proclamation, by which he announces to the world that the slaves in a large portion of the seceded States were thenceforth and forever free. For certain reasons, which seemed wise to the President, the benefits of that Proclamation did not extend to you or to your native State. Many of you consequently were left in bondage. The task-master’s scourge was not yet broken, and the fetters still galled your limbs. Gradually this iniquity has been passing away, but the hour has come when the last vestiges of it must be removed. Consequently, I, too, without reference to the President or any other person, have a proclamation to make; and, standing here upon the steps of the Capitol, with the past history of the State to witness, the present condition to guide, and its future to encourage me, I, Andrew Johnson, do hereby proclaim freedom to every man in Tennessee!

 
I invoke the colored people to be orderly and law-abiding, but at the same time let them assert their rights, and if traitors and ruffians attack them, while in the discharge of their duties, let them defend themselves as all men have a right to do.

 
I am no agrarian. I respect the rights of property acquired by honest labor. But I say, nevertheless, that if the great farm of Mark Cockrill, who gave $25,000 to Jeff. Davis’s Confederacy, were divided into small farms and sold to fifteen or twenty honest farmers, society would be improved, Nashville mechanics and tradesmen would be enriched, the State would have more good citizens, and our city would have a much better market than it now has.

 
I am no agrarian, but if the princely plantation of Wm. G. Harding, who boasted that he had disbursed over $5,000,000 for the rebel Confederacy, were parcelled out among fifty loyal, industrious farmers, it would be a blessing to our noble Commonwealth. I speak to-night as a citizen of Tennessee. I am here on my own soil, and mean to remain here and fight this great battle of freedom through to the end. Loyal men, from this day forward, are to be the controllers of Tennessee’s grand and sublime destiny, and Rebels must be dumb. We will not listen to their consels. Nashville is no longer the place for them to hold their meetings. Let them gather their treasonable conclaves elsewhere; among their friends in the Confederacy. They shall not hold their conspiracies in Nashville.

 
The representatives of the corrupt (and if you will permit me almost to swear a little) this damnable aristocracy, taunt us with our desire to see justice done, and charge us with favoring negro equality. Of all living men they should be the last to mouth that phrase; and even when uttered in their hearing, it should cause their cheeks to tinge and burn with shame. Negro equality, indeed! Why pass, any day, along the sidewalks of High street where these aristocrats more particularly dwell – these aristrocrats, whose sons are now in the bands of guerillas and cut-throats who prowl and rob and murder around our city – pass by their dwellings, I say, and you will see as many mulatto as negro children, the former bearing an unmistakable resemblance to their aristrocrat neighbors! (more…)

Published in: on October 24, 2014 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Strange Case of Father Damien and Mr. Hyde

robert-louis-stevensonLeprosy Settlement

Father Damien, now Saint Damien de Veuster, achieved fame in his life for his self-sacricing care of the lepers of Molokai.   So much has been written about the famed leper priest that I feel no need to discuss here the basic facts of his life.   After his death from leprosy grave libels were made against Father Damien, chiefly by a presbyterian minister C.M. Hyde, who, oddly enough, had praised Father Damien during his life.

 

The defense of Father Damien came from an unsual source, the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson.  Stevenson had visited Molokai shortly after the priest’s death and had been deeply moved by what Father Damien had accomplished.  When the libels of Hyde against Father Damien were published in the newspapers, Stevenson took up his pen and composed a reply to Hyde in the form of an open letter.

I have always been moved by the ending of Stevenson’s  letter:

This scandal, when I read it in your letter, was not new to me. I had heard it once before; and I must tell you how. There came to Samoa a man from Honolulu; he, in a public- house on the beach, volunteered the statement that Damien had “contracted the disease from having connection with the female lepers”; and I find a joy in telling you how the report was welcomed in a public-house. A man sprang to his feet; I am not at liberty to give his name, but from what I heard I doubt if you would care to have him to dinner in Beretania Street. “You miserable little ——-” (here is a word I dare not print, it would so shock your ears). “You miserable little ——,” he cried, “if the story were a thousand times true, can’t you see you are a million times a lower —– for daring to repeat it?” I wish it could be told of you that when the report reached you in your house, perhaps after family worship, you had found in your soul enough holy anger to receive it with the same expressions; ay, even with that one which I dare not print; it would not need to have been blotted away, like Uncle Toby’s oath, by the tears of the recording angel; it would have been counted to you for your brightest righteousness. But you have deliberately chosen the part of the man from Honolulu, and you have played it with improvements of your own. The man from Honolulu–miserable, leering creature–communicated the tale to a rude knot of beach-combing drinkers in a public-house, where (I will so far agree with your temperance opinions) man is not always at his noblest; and the man from Honolulu had himself been drinking–drinking, we may charitably fancy, to excess. It was to your “Dear Brother, the Reverend H. B. Gage,” that you chose to communicate the sickening story; and the blue ribbon which adorns your portly bosom forbids me to allow you the extenuating plea that you were drunk when it was done. Your “dear brother”–a brother indeed–made haste to deliver up your letter (as a means of grace, perhaps) to the religious papers; where, after many months, I found and read and wondered at it; and whence I have now reproduced it for the wonder of others. And you and your dear brother have, by this cycle of operations, built up a contrast very edifying to examine in detail. The man whom you would not care to have to dinner, on the one side; on the other, the Reverend Dr. Hyde and the Reverend H. B. Gage: the Apia bar-room, the Honolulu manse. (more…)

Published in: on October 23, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Saint Albans Raid

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When one thinks of the Civil War, bucolic Vermont usually does not come to mind, except for the troops from Vermont who fought for the Union.  However, on October 19, 1864 the Civil War came to Saint Albans, Vermont.

21 Confederate raiders from Canada disguised as civilians, the border being only 15 miles from the town, entered Saint Albans beginning October 10, two or three arriving each day so as not to attract attention.  At 3:00 PM they staged three simultaneous bank robberies.  Several armed citizens of Saint Albans resisted the raiders, with one of the civilians killed and one wounded.  Infuriated by the resistance, the raiders attempted to burn the town but succeeded only in burning a shed.  Escaping with $208,000.00 dollars the raiders, under pursuit, escaped to Canada.

The raid caused an enormous furor in Canada which wanted no part of the Civil War.  The raiders were arrested and $88,000 returned to the banks in Saint Albans, all that could be recovered by the Canadian authorities.  A Canadian court however ruled that the Confederates, because they were members of the Confederate Army, were not criminals and could not be extradited to the Union.  No further raids were stage from Canada.

The leader of the raid, Lieutenant Bennett Young, was excluded from President Andrew Johnson’s amnesty and spent several years abroad, studying law and literature in Ireland and Scotland.  Being permitted to return to the US in 1868, he became a prominent attorny in Louisville, Kentucky.  His charitable works were legion, including founding the first black orphanage in Louisville and a school for the blind, along with quite a bit of pro bono legal work for the poor.  He served as national commander of the United Confederate Veterans. (more…)

Published in: on October 22, 2014 at 7:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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October 12, 1960: Nikita Khrushchev Pounds His Shoe at the UN

Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!  (Alternative translation of the Russian:  We will dig you in.)

Nikita Khrushchev, to Western diplomats, November 18, 1956 at a diplomatic reception.  He later denied that he meant it literally but that, as Marx said, Communism was the grave digger of capitalism and that it was the Western proletariat who would topple capitalism in the West and not the Soviet Union.

 

By the time I reached the papers of 10 October 1960, I was convinced that the shoe had never left Khrushchev’s foot. Like every New Yorker 40 years earlier, I, too, wanted him to go home. As in a perfect detective novel, I was now afraid that my hero would get caught by some stupid mistake, just before the case closed in his favour.

That day, Khrushchev announced he would be leaving the United States on Thursday 13 October. The UN and New York took a deep breath. I also sighed with relief. On Tuesday 11 October, the Soviet leader addressed the UN one last time. The argument was heated as usual, but no shoe was indicated. I prayed: “You’ve done what you could. Please, go home. We are all tired.” On Wednesday 12 October 1960, there it was, on the front pages of all national papers: Nikita Sergeyevich and his famous shoe. My heart fell. I was in a state of shock, probably no less than those in the UN hall 40 years earlier. Swallowing tears of disappointment, I stared at the page for minutes, then the words started to turn into sentences.

The head of the Philippine delegation, Senator Lorenzo Sumulong, expressed his surprise at the Soviet Union’s concerns over western imperialism, while it, in turn, swallowed the whole of eastern Europe. Khrushchev’s rage was beyond anything he had ever shown before. He called the poor Filipino “a jerk, a stooge and a lackey of imperialism”, then he put his shoe on the desk and banged it.

Nina Khrushchev, Granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev (more…)

Published in: on October 21, 2014 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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And Sheridan Twenty Miles Away

Thomas Buchanan Read was an artist and poet who served as a staff officer in the Civil War.  Inspired by Sheridan’s decisive victory at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, Read dashed off the poem, Sheridan’s Ride in an hour.  The poem was a sensation throughout the North.  To a war weary population, Cedar Creek was welcome proof that the seemingly endless War would soon end in Union victory.  Public performances were held throughout the North.   Republican rallies for the upcoming election featured readings of the poem with coconut shells used to mimic the sound of the horse’s hooves on the road.  The Cedar Creek sensation helped to re-elect Lincoln.

Here is a newspaper interview of Phil Sheridan on the poem which originally appeared in the Philadelphia Press: (more…)

Published in: on October 20, 2014 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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October 19, 1864: Battle of Cedar Creek

Battle-of-Cedar-Creek

The last major battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley in the Civil War, it was fitting that the topsy turvy nature of the battle of Cedar Creek reflected the see-saw fights waged by the Union and the Confederacy for control of the Valley since the start of the War.

After his victories in the Shenandoah Valley in September, and his destruction of the most valuable agricultural regions in the Valley, Sheridan assumed that the War was at an end in the Valley for the winter, at least as far as major battles were concerned.  Delploying his 31,000 Army of the Shenandoah along Cedar Creek northeast of Strasburg, Viriginia, Sheridan felt secure enough, even with Early’s 21,000 Army of the Valley in the vicinity, to attend a conference with Grant in Washington on October 18.  On the evening of October 18 he slept at Winchester, eleven miles from his army.

Sheridan of course did not know that Early had received a letter from General Lee on October 12 urging him to attack.  Examing the Union position carefully, Early decided that an attack on the Union left, which relied for its security on natural obstacles might succeed, Early assuming correctly that the Union commanders would be more concerned about an attack from the west which was free of such obstacles.

The Confederates on the evening of October 18 in three columns made a night march against the Union left.  By 3:30 AM they were in position to laucher their attack.  The attack began at 5:00 AM in darkness and a thick fog.  Surprise was complete and the division sized Union Army of West Virginia which was at the far left of the Union force was quickly overwhelmed.  By 10:00 AM, Early had driven the seven Union divisions from the field, captured 1300 prisoners, taken 24 cannon, and his famished troops were feeding off Union supplies in the abandoned Union camps.  His troops seemed to have won an against the odds victory.  Then Sheridan arrived at the battlefield and changed everything.

At 6:00 AM pickets at Winchester reported that they heard the faint sound of artillery.  Not expecting an attack Sheridan thought nothing of it.  However he ordered his horse Rienzi to be saddled and after a quick breakfast he began at 9:00 AM to ride towards Cedar Creek.  The sounds of fighting became louder the closer approached and Sheridan realized a fight was in progress.  Sheridan was cheered by stragglers from the fight as he approached Cedar Creek.  Sheridan ordered the stragglers to follow him which most of them did, convinced that little Phil would bring them victory again.  Sheridan arrived at the battlefield at 10:30 AM.

Sheridan immediately began planning his counterattack.  Early had effectively lost control of his army due to the plundering of the Union supplies, and Sheridan had plenty of time to perfect his plan before he launched his attack at 4:00 PM.  The smaller Confederate force resisted for about an hour when its left began to crumble and the Confederates routed from the field.

Union casualties were 5,665 to 3000 Confederate.  Among the Confederate dead was Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur, who died the day after the battle in spite of the best medical care his Union captors could provide.  The day before the battle he had learned that his wife had borne him a daughter.  His last words were   “Bear this message to my precious wife—I die a Christian and hope to meet her in heaven.”  He was 27 years old.

The battle was decisive and Early’s army was no longer a threat to Union control of the Shenandoah.  The victory provided a great boost to the re-election campaign of Lincoln during the closing weeks of the campaign leading up to election day November 8.

Here is Sheridan’s account of the battle in his memoirs: (more…)

Picture on the Wall

Something for the weekend.  Picture on the Wall.  Written in 1864 by Henry Clay Work, it captures the overwhelming tragedy of each of the 650-800,000 deaths in our Civil War.  One victory that can be claimed by each of the fallen, North and South, is that after the terrible trial of the Civil War our nation has never repeated that fratricidal struggle.  Perhaps the lessons that Rossiter Johnson hoped would be learned from the War were learned: (more…)

Published in: on October 18, 2014 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln

Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

 

Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address

 

 

MARCH 15, 1865

     EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON

     DEAR MR. WEED:

     Every one likes a compliment. Thank you for yours on my little notification speech and on the recent inaugural address. I expect the latter to wear as well as–perhaps better than–anything I have produced; but I believe it is not immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told, and, as whatever of humiliation there is in it falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it.

          Truly yours,

                    A. Lincoln

Published in: on October 17, 2014 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Field of Lost Shoes

Field of Lost Shoes, a film on the role played by cadets of the Virginia Military Institute at the battle of New Market on May 15, 1864, is in limited release now.  If I cannot see it in a theater, I will certainly buy it on dvd when it comes out.  Here is my post on the battle of New Market that I ran earlier this year.

“And New Market’s young cadets.”

Southern Birthright, Bobby Horton

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John C. Breckinridge, fourteenth Vice-President of the United States and current Confederate Major General, had a big problem.  His task was to hold the Shenandoah Valley, the bread basket of the Army of Northern Virginia, for the Confederacy, and he was confronted with two Union columns seeking to rendezvous at Staunton, Virginia and place the Valley under Union control.  One column under George Crook was coming from the West Virginia.  The second column under Franz Sigel was coming down the Valley.  Sigel had twice the men that Breckinridge could muster, 9,000 to 4000, but Breckinridge saw no alternative but to march north and engage Sigel before the two Union columns could join against him.

 

The Confederacy by this time was robbing the cradle and the grave to fill out its ranks.  In the cradle contingent with Breckinridge were 257 cadets of the Virginia Military Institute, who ranged in age from 15-24.

 

Breckinridge brought Sigel to battle at mid-morning on May 15, 1864 south of New Market.  With detachments Sigel’s force was down to 6,000 men.  However, 2 to 3 was still very poor odds for an attacking army. (more…)

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