Brown Bess

The video above is taken from Sharpe’s Eagle and depicts the battle of Talavera.  It illustrates the impact of massed British volleys of “Brown Bess”, as the British troops affectionately named their musket,  musket fire on French columns.  (The redcoats are armed with muskets;  Sharpe and his green jacketed men are armed with rifles.) 

During the American revolution the RedCoats , the Continentals and the American militia were armed with the Brown Bess musket.  Here is a fine article on the Brown Bess in the American Revolution.  For its time the Brown Bess was a formidable weapon.

“To meet these combat conditions, the new British Brown Bess standard musket was designed to deliver a large bullet at low velocity.  It employed a sturdy stock for use as a club in close fighting and had an overall length that combined with a long, socket bayonet to create a spear or pike for impacting an enemy’s line.  It was also designed to be durable and to withstand the rigors of years of active campaigning.  The Brown Bess was to successfully fulfill all of these demands.”

Here is a paean to the Brown Bess by Rudyard Kipling: (more…)

Published in: on November 30, 2009 at 6:22 am  Comments Off  
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Why Did the South Lose the Civil War?

Why The South Lost the Civil War, a companion book to the earlier How The North Won, by Archer Jones, Herman Hattaway, Richard E. Berenger and William M. Still, Jr,  published in 1986  has always struck me as giving one of the worst answers to the question of “Why did the South lose the Civil War?”   The thesis of this book is that the South lost the War because of insufficient nationalism. To call this argument preposterous is to be kind. Out of a white population of nine million the South lost a quarter of a million dead and many times that number in wounded. The South kept fighting until every Southern city was controlled by the Union. A small agrarian nation, the South fought a large, industrialized nascent world power. Unbelievably the South came close to winning this unequal contest. To contend that the South failed because of lack of will is ahistoric and a contemptible insult to the brave rebels who fell under the stars and bars. A better judge of Southern will during that war was General Grant who, while attacking the Southern cause, admitted that never had men fought harder for a cause than the Southerners. (more…)

Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 6:45 am  Comments (7)  
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Theme From John Adams

Something for the weekend.  The superb intro to the John Adams miniseries,  a model of how history should be dramatized.

Published in: on November 28, 2009 at 7:03 am  Comments Off  
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Our Oldest Ally

Our oldest ally is France, the nation that proved vital in our War for Independence.  I sometimes share the annoyance felt by many Americans towards France.

My attitude in regard to France is often similar to that of President Johnson, after French President Charles de Gaulle ordered all American troops out of France in 1964:

In 1964 French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO’s military structure. He ordered all American military personnel out of France. American President Lyndon Johnson directed Secretary of State Dean Rusk to visit de Gaulle personally and ask de Gaulle a single question.

“You tell de Gaulle that this question is from the mouth of the President of the United States of America,” he told Rusk. Rusk balked when Johnson told him the question, saying, “I cannot say that to the president of France.” Johnson replied, “You tell him exactly what I said.”

In Paris de Gaulle, standing behind his desk, restated his order to Rusk for American troops to be withdrawn. Rusk told him, “I am directed by President Johnson to ask you this question. It is from the mouth of the President of the United States: ‘Does your order include the bodies of American soldiers in France’s cemeteries?’”

Rusk later related that the question hit de Gaulle so hard that he collapsed into his chair and did not respond for a full minute.

At times I even emotionally agree with the characterization of groundskeeper Willie in the Simpsons of the French being “cheese eating surrender monkeys”, even though I know intellectually that the French have usually fought with great valor in their wars.

However then something like this comes along and I repent of my anti-French prejudice. (more…)

Published in: on November 27, 2009 at 6:37 am  Comments (15)  
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Plymouth Thanksgiving 1861

 

 

“Camp Butler, Newport News, Va., Nov. 17, 1861
Mr. Editor : — It may be interesting to the folks at home to know how the soldiers from Plymouth passed Thanksgiving, and how they enjoyed themselves.  I cannot answer for Plymouth volunteers in other places, but certainly those who are quartered here, spent the day as pleasantly as could be expected, under the circumstances. (more…)

Published in: on November 26, 2009 at 6:57 am  Comments Off  
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Lincoln and Liberty Too

I live in the Land of Lincoln.  I sometimes joke that we call ourselves that because Lincoln was the only honest politician ever to come from Illinois.  Each summer the family and I go down to Springfield.  We see the Lincoln museum and go over to the Lincoln tomb.  We say a few prayers for the soul of the Great Emancipator.  ”It is all together fitting and proper that we do” that, but why do we do it?

We do it because for us Lincoln is not just a historical figure, dimly recalled from a history textbook.  Rather for us he is a living presence and reminder of just how precious liberty is.  In the movie Meet John Doe, Frank Capra’s cautionary film in 1941 about how fascism could come to America, the following scene occurs with a drunken editor, Connell, who warns John Doe, played by Gary Cooper, that fifth columnists are using him: (more…)

Published in: on November 25, 2009 at 7:00 am  Comments (1)  
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The First Thanksgiving

On Thursday, we will be giving thanks to an unspecified being for our enormous good fortune, much as the early Pilgrims did in Plymouth some four hundred years ago when they gave thanks for their bountiful harvest and celebrated with the Native Americans.  Only, that’s not the real story behind the first Thanksgiving.  My co-blogger Gipper Clone emailed me this article by Richard Mayburyin which he explains why our traditional understanding of the original day of Thanksgiving is faulty.  Further, it masks the real story of Thanksgiving: our forebears only succeeded once they ditched the socialist utopia that was killing them off in droves.

The problem with this official story is that the harvest of 1621 was not bountiful, nor were the colonists hardworking or tenacious. 1621 was a famine year and many of the colonists were lazy thieves.

In his ‘History of Plymouth Plantation,’ the governor of the colony, William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry for years, because they refused to work in the fields. They preferred instead to steal food. He says the colony was riddled with “corruption,” and with “confusion and discontent.” The crops were small because “much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable.”

. . .To rectify this situation, in 1623 Bradford abolished socialism. He gave each household a parcel of land and told them they could keep what they produced, or trade it away as they saw fit. In other words, he replaced socialism with a free market, and that was the end of famines.

So the true story of the first Thanksgiving is that the colonists were giving thanks to . .  capitalism!

Except that’s not the truth behind the first Thanksgiving.  In fact, it was a small holiday celebrated in Virginia on Berkeley Plantation.

Each first Sunday in November a Thanksgiving Festival is held at the Berkeley Plantation in accordance with documentation from 1619. The event fulfills instructions given to the 38 settlers who arrived on the banks of the James River at Berkeley Hundred as documented in the proclamation:

    Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.

Very interesting.  Except that’s not the real story behind the first Thanksgiving.  As Jay Anderson explains, there is another account of the first Thanksgiving.

If you want to know about the real first Thanksgiving on American soil, travel 1,200 miles south and more than 50 years earlier to a grassy spot on the Matanzas River in North Florida.

This is where Spanish Adm. Pedro Menendez de Aviles came ashore on Sept. 8, 1565. This is where he, 500 soldiers, 200 sailors, 100 civilian families and artisans, and the Timucuan Indians who occupied the village of Seloy gathered at a makeshift altar and said the first Christian Mass. And afterward, this is where they held the first Thanksgiving feast.

Jay notes that there were several other “first” Thanksgivings, including the first official US proclamation issued by President Washington.  And as we all know, Thanksgiving did not become an official holiday until 1863, when it was instituted by President Lincoln.

So, what’s the real story?

Does it matter?

Whatever the real story of the first Thanksgiving is, let us all just take a moment to give thanks to God for all that he has bestowed upon us that live in this greatest Nation in the world.

 

Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 3:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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General Lee’s Greatest Victory

“It’s a warm spring Sunday at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. As the minister is about to present Holy Communion, a tall well-dressed black man sitting in the section reserved for African Americans unexpectedly advances to the communion rail; unexpectedly because this has never happened here before. The congregation freezes. Those who have been ready to go forward and kneel at the communion rail remain fixed in their pews. The minister stands in his place stunned and motionless. The black man slowly lowers his body, kneeling at the communion rail. After what seems an interminable amount of time, an older white man rises. His hair snowy white, head up, and eyes proud, he walks quietly up the isle to the chancel rail. So with silent dignity and self-possession, the white man kneels down to take communion along the same rail with the black man. Lee has said that he has rejoiced that slavery is dead. But this action indicates that those were not idle words meant to placate a Northern audience. Here among his people, he leads wordlessly through example. The other communicants slowly move forward to the altar with a mixture of reluctance and fear, hope and awkward expectation. In the end, America would defy the cruel chain of history besetting nations torn apart by Civil War.”

From “April 1865: the Month that Saved America”

Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 6:49 am  Comments (6)  
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Federalist 22 – Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton continues to examine the deficiencies of the American confederacy in Federalist 22.  He begins by noting the problems with regulating commerce under the current system.

The want of a power to regulate commerce is by all parties allowed to be of the number. The utility of such a power has been anticipated under the first head of our inquiries; and for this reason, as well as from the universal conviction entertained upon the subject, little need be added in this place. It is indeed evident, on the most superficial view, that there is no object, either as it respects the interests of trade or finance, that more strongly demands a federal superintendence. The want of it has already operated as a bar to the formation of beneficial treaties with foreign powers, and has given occasions of dissatisfaction between the States. No nation acquainted with the nature of our political association would be unwise enough to enter into stipulations with the United States, by which they conceded privileges of any importance to them, while they were apprised that the engagements on the part of the Union might at any moment be violated by its members, and while they found from experience that they might enjoy every advantage they desired in our markets, without granting us any return but such as their momentary convenience might suggest.

It is unsurprising that Hamilton would list this as one of the principle flaws of the confederacy.  But here he moves beyond domestic considerations to explore how the current system hinders our commercial dealings with foreign powers.  This is a subtext of most of this particular essay, as Hamilton seems very concerned that the lack of commercial power is hampering the development of America as a commercial power, and is doing so by sullying its reputation by making it an unattractive trading partner.  After all, why should a foreign nation desire to enter into an agreement with another nation that lacks the ability to enforce its treaties?

Not only does the current structure hurt the United States in terms of foreign commercial opportunities, but it creates interstate rivalries. (more…)

Published in: on November 23, 2009 at 11:27 am  Comments (2)  

The Freemen Have Assented

As we celebrate the Pilgrims this week, we should also remember the Catholic pilgrims who came to these shores and helped build America.. Maryland, the Catholic colony, played a remarkable role in early American colonial history. Although Catholics in Maryland would eventually be stripped of many of their civil rights in Maryland by a Protestant majority until the time of the Revolution, while they were a political force they helped lay the foundations for a new nation. One of the most remarkable documents produced during the time that Catholics ruled Maryland is The Toleration Act of 1649, one of the first legislative acts in the American colonies to establish toleration for all Christian faiths. This was a compromise document between the Catholics and Protestants of Maryland and its text is as follows: (more…)

Published in: on November 23, 2009 at 6:26 am  Comments (2)  
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