The British Are Coming



Each year as the Fourth of July approaches my thoughts turn to the American Revolution.  What a truly remarkable struggle it was, a turning point in the affairs of Man we are still too close to in time to truly fathom.  I just began reading Rick Atkinson’s The British Are Coming, the first volume in his trilogy on the Revolution and I am bowled over by it.   Atkinson achieved notoriety with his Liberation trilogy, looking at the US Army in North Africa and Europe in World War II and it was quite good.  However, I was unprepared for the level of historical insight I am finding in his latest work.  I have read over the years hundreds of books on the American Revolution and I thought that I had little to learn about that conflict, but Mr. Atkinson is showing me that I was in error.  An example is at the beginning where he skillfully, and concisely, lays forth the preparations that the British government was making for war in the winter of 1774-1775.  Now I knew these facts, but seeing them laid out as he does brings home how inevitable Lexington and Concord were.  The British government had decided that military force was going to be needed to bring the American colonies to heel, and once that decision was made war was inevitable.

In his majestic give me liberty or give me death speech of March 23, 1775 Patrick Henry made a statement that has seemed to future generations prophetic:

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

However, based upon the preparations of  the British Crown for war against its own subjects, Patrick Henry was merely stating what any intelligent observer in America in early 1775 would have realized: war was coming, and very, very soon.

And that is the great strength of Atkinson’s work.  He rescues the Revolution from antiquarian study, and makes the readers see it as contemporaries saw it who lived through those grand and awful days.

The writing is in the grand style, mercifully free from the cant of the contemporary academy that makes so many current historical works almost unreadable.  A sample:

“The second consequence was epochal and enduring:  the creation of the American Republic.  Surely among mankind’s most remarkable achievements, this majestic construct also inspired a creation myth that sometimes resembled a garish cartoon,  a melodramatic tale of doughty yeomen resisting moronic, brutal lobsterbacks.  The civil war that unspooled over those eight years would be both more grander and more nuanced, a tale of heroes and knaves, of sacrifice and blunder, of redemption and profound suffering.  Beyond the battlefield, then and forever, stood a shining city on a hill.”

That passage can stand in quality of expression on America’s founding with this passage by Stephen Vincent Benet in his The Devil and Daniel Webster:

And he began with the simple things that everybody’s known and felt–the freshness of a fine morning when you’re young, and the taste of food when you’re hungry, and the new day that’s every day when you’re a child. He took them up and he turned them in his hands. They were good things for any man. But without freedom, they sickened. And when he talked of those enslaved, and the sorrows of slavery, his voice got like a big bell. He talked of the early days of America and the men who had made those days. It wasn’t a spread-eagle speech, but he made you see it. He admitted all the wrong that had ever been done. But he showed how, out of the wrong and the right, the suffering and the starvations, something new had come. And everybody had played a part in it, even the traitors.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  Get it and read it cover to cover.  You will thank me.

Published in: on June 24, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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June 23, 1865: Confederate General Stand Watie Surrenders


Confederate General, and Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Stand Watie surrendered on June 23, 1865, the last Confederate general to surrender his brigade.  He and his men had fought throughout the Indian Territory and the Trans-Mississippi theater, participating in more battles than any other Confederate unit in the theater, and waging a guerrilla war against Union supply lines and outposts.  Here are the terms of the articles of surrender: (more…)

Published in: on June 23, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Columbia the Gem of the Ocean


Something for the weekend.  Written in 1843, by Thomas a Becket, yeah, the name is correct, with lyrics by David Shaw, Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean was probably the most popular patriotic ballad of the Nineteenth Century.  A fitting song as we draw closer to the Fourth of July. (more…)

Published in: on June 22, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  

The Face of Lincoln


The things you find on the Internet!  From 1955, a look at the career of Abraham Lincoln by Professor Robert Merrell Gage as he sculpts a bust of the Great Emancipator.  This film won an Academy Award for best live action short film.  Head of the Department of Sculpture at the University of Southern California, his first commissioned work as a sculptor was a statue of Lincoln that is now on the grounds of the Kansas State Capitol.  He passed away at age 88 in 1981.


Published in: on June 21, 2019 at 3:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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Thomas Lincoln and His Son

Thomas Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln did not have an idyllic father and son relationship.  They were vastly different men, and most historians have focused on those differences, and the estrangement that grew between them after Abraham Lincoln reached adulthood.  What has always struck me however is the impact that Thomas had on the life of his son.

  1.  Anti-Slavery-Thomas was a member of a church, Little Mount Separate Baptist Church, that separated from the regular Baptist Church over the owning of slaves.  He brought his family from Kentucky to the Free state of Indiana mainly because he realized that a poor white man could not compete against slave labor.  Abraham Lincoln was reared in a household in which slavery was viewed negatively.
  2. God-Thomas Lincoln was a complete Calvinist.  His God was completely inscrutable and controlled each man’s destiny for His own purposes.  Lincoln rebelled against this heritage, became in his young manhood something of a scoffer and a free-thinker.  As he aged however, he returned to what he had learned about God in his father’s house:  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.”  Before every meal Thomas Lincoln would say:  Fit and prepare us for humble service. We beg for Christ’s sake, Amen.  His prayer was granted for his sole surviving son.
  3. Sarah Bush Lincoln-Thomas could not have chosen a better stepmother for his son.  As opposed to his sometime tense relationship with his father, Abraham Lincoln had nothing but praise for his stepmother, a sentiment she returned.  He visited her at her home in Coles County just before he went to Washington to be sworn in as President.  He referred to her as mother in his letters to her and after his father died acquired a 40 acre tract, giving her the use of it during her lifetime.  She had a big impact on her stepson’s life, and all because of her marriage to Thomas.
  4. Education-Although he was a man of no education who could barely sign his name, Thomas encouraged his son to read and better himself, although like most fathers he was vexed when his son was found reading instead of doing the chore he had been assigned.  Sarah Bush Lincoln was literate, and she helped bring the world of literature into the life of her bright stepson.   She noted that Thomas took pride in how smart his son was and how well read. For a poor boy on the frontier, Lincoln grew up in a household more hospitable to “book-learning” than did most of his peers in similar circumstances.
  5. Story Teller-Abraham Lincoln was famed for his ability to tell a story to illustrate a point.  He took after his father in that.  His father was well known in his circle for having a keen sense of humor, demonstrated by his telling of humorous stories and jokes.  He would sometimes get irritated at his son, because Abraham liked chiming in with the punch line.
  6. Public service-Lincoln grew up in a household where his father was active in public affairs and the activities of his church.  Over the years Thomas served as a member of the militia, a local constable, a guard of prisoners, a jury member and a road commissioner.  When his son entered public life, he had a father, who, in his modest way, set an example of public service for him.
  7. Self Improvement-One of the main themes of the life of Abraham Lincoln was self-improvement.  In his own way that was also true of Thomas Lincoln.  His purchases of several farms illustrated his ongoing desire to make a better life for his family.  A self-taught carpenter, he became respected for his craftsmanship.  His son far exceeded his success in his attempts at self-betterment, but the desire to do so was an inheritance from father to son.
  8. Illinois-Illinois and Abraham Lincoln are linked forever, and it was Thomas Lincoln’s decision to move his family to Illinois that brought Lincoln to the Sucker State.

It is sometimes said that we do not truly appreciate our parents until they are gone.  Perhaps that was the case with Abraham Lincoln.  Two years after his father’s death, Lincoln named his youngest son Thomas.

Published in: on June 20, 2019 at 3:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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June 19, 1865: Juneteenth

The last slaves liberated on June 19, 1865 in Texas by the Union troops occupying Galveston.  The event has been commemorated down through the years as Juneteenth: (more…)

Published in: on June 19, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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June 18, 1862: Capture of Cumberland Gap



Few areas were of more obvious strategic significance during the Civil War than the Cumberland Gap.  A gap in the Cumberland Mountain chain at the juncture of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, it  had to be taken by the Union in any drive south in this rugged region.  Brigadier General George W. Morgan led four brigades to attack Confederate fortifications in the gap that were referred to at the time as the American Gibraltar.

The approach march to the gap over some of the most rugged terrain the Western Theater was a nightmare and took two weeks.  Morgan was cut off from his supply lines and had to use foraging to supply his men.  The “battle” itself was anti-climactic, the Confederate force under Brigadier Carter L. Stevenson withdrawing in advance of the Union arrival.  Morgan would hold the gap until September, abandoning it when Bragg invaded Kentucky.  The gap was taken by the Union again and for good when General Ambrose Burnside took it during September 7-9, 1863, along with  2300 Confederate prisoners.

Here is the report of General Morgan announcing the capture of the American Gibraltar: (more…)

Published in: on June 18, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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June 17, 1865: Mark Twain Replies to a Correspondent


During 1865 Mark Twain was supplying one article a week to a San Francisco weekly literary journal The Californian.  He received $50.00 a month.  That was decent money at the time, more than three times the monthly wage of Union privates who earned fifteen dollars a month.  Judging from this contribution on June 17, 1865, he was worth every cent he was paid: (more…)

Published in: on June 17, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Father’s Day


Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.

Psalm 127: 3-5



Traditionally Father’s Day was celebrated on March 19 in Catholic countries, a feast day of Saint Joseph  The first Father’s Day observance in the US was on July 5, 1908 In Fairmont, West Virginia.  It was held to honor the 250 fathers who had been among the 361 miners killed in the Monongah mining disaster in Monongah, West Virginia.  The observance received little publicity and it did not start the current Father’s Day.  Over the next few decades there would be proposals to have a Father’s Day observance, but nothing took hold.  In 1957 Senator Margaret Chase Smith wrote a bill to establish Father’s Day, stating it was unfair to have Mother’s Day and not a Father’s Day. In 1966 President Johnson issued a proclamation establishing Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June.  President Nixon in 1972 signed a bill establishing Father’s Day as a national holiday.  (more…)

Published in: on June 16, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Stars and Stripes Forever


Something for the weekend.  For a weekend following Flag Day Stars and Stripes Forever seems called for.  Beyond a doubt the best known composition of John Philip Sousa, it is the National March of the United States.  Sousa wrote it on Christmas Day 1896 and it proved massively popular, especially when it was played during the Spanish-American War.  My Family and I, visited the Sousa Archives at the University of Illinois last week, go here to read about the Sousa Archives, which houses the papers of John Philip Sousa.  The grad student on duty gave us a first rate presentation on Sousa and his music, and he brought out for us original sheet music used by Sousa and his band, which sent shivers down my spine.  Writers do what they can, but a truly great composer effortlessly touches hearts and souls long after he is dust.



Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its mighty hand
A flag appears ‘mid thunderous cheers,
The banner of the Western land.
The emblem of the brave and true
Its folds protect no tyrant crew;
The red and white and starry blue
Is freedom’s shield and hope.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

Let eagle shriek from lofty peak
The never-ending watchword of our land;
Let summer breeze waft through the trees
The echo of the chorus grand.
Sing out for liberty and light,
Sing out for freedom and the right.
Sing out for Union and its might,
O patriotic sons.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation,
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free.
May it wave as our standard forever
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray,
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

A “unique”, yes that is what we will call it, muppet rendition of Stars and Stripes Forever, hosted by Sam the American Eagle, who is the answer to the question, “Don, if you were a muppet, which muppet would you be?”



Vladimir Horowitz was one of the greatest pianists of the last century.  He was also a refugee from the Soviet Union.  He became a naturalized American citizen in 1944, and, like many naturalized American citizens of that era, he was intensely patriotic, giving many concerts in support of the war effort.  Here is his immortal rendition of Stars and Stripes Forever from 1945.