Jefferson Davis-Hero of Buena Vista


Yesterday I wrote about Abraham Lincoln’s service in the Black Hawk War.  Jefferson Davis had far more extensive military service than Abraham Lincon.  A graduate of West Point, class of 1828, he also served in the Black Hawk War, although there is no evidence that he and Lincoln ever met during that conflict.  Marrying the daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor, of General Zachary Taylor, who opposed the marriage, he resigned his commission in the Army in 1835.  However, in many ways Davis never ceased to be a military man, always retaining a fascination for all things martial.  Thus it was only natural that Davis, a Congressman from Mississippi at the beginning of the Mexican War, resigned from Congress and raised a volunteer regiment, the Mississippi Rifles, which he led as colonel.

On July 21, 1846, the regiment sailed from New Orleans to join the army of Zachary Taylor in northern Mexico.  The daughter of Taylor had tragically died of illness shortly after her marriage to Davis, and relations between the men had remained cool thereafter. 

Davis had armed his regiment with 1841 percussion rifles, the latest technology, with much more reliable percussion caps substituted for flint locks.  Davis’ men during the war would use the rifles with such deadly skill that ever afterwords the rifles became known as 1841 Mississippi percussion rifles.

Davis and his men participated in the siege of Monterrey in September of 1846.  The war in northern Mexico then entered a quiet phrase which was shattered in February of 1847 by a Mexican offensive.

On February 23, 1847  Taylor and his Army of 4500 men were assaulted by Santa Anna the Mexican dictator leading a force of 16,000 troops.  The battle was a see-saw affair with the larger Mexican force launching assault after assault against the smaller American Army at the mountain pass of Buena Vista.  Davis and his men broke an attacking Mexican column under General Ampudia by launching a flank attack during which Davis was wounded in the foot.  A second attack was beaten off by the Mississippians and the 3 Indiana forming an inverted V.  The Mexican force, 2000 men, charged into the V and were shattered by the murderous cross-fire. (more…)

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 4:31 am  Comments Off on Jefferson Davis-Hero of Buena Vista  
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Mr. Lincoln Enlists

One of the more unusual aspects of Abraham Lincoln’s life is his service in the Black Hawk War in Illinois.  In later years Lincoln was fond of making light of his three months service, from April 21, 1832-July 10, 1832. 

“By the way Mr. Speaker, did you know that I am a military hero? Yes sir, in the days of the Black Hawk War I fought, bled and came away . . . I was not at Stillman’s defeat, but I was about as near it as Cass was Hull’s surrender, and, like him, I saw the place very soon afterwards . . . If he saw any live, fighting Indians, it was more than I did; but I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes, and although I never fainted from the loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very hungry.”  (July 27, 1848)

This is classic Lincoln.  In a time when almost all politicians were eager to inflate any military service, he made fun of his.

From all that we know, Lincoln was an enthusiastic participant in the war.  He began his service being elected captain of the local militia company, his first political victory.  Lincoln was put in charge of a company of the 4th Mounted Volunteers after militia units assembled at Beardstown, Illinois.  The militia units were marched to Prophet’s Village in Whiteside County which they burned on May 11.  The Indians had abandoned the village prior to it being burned.

On May 14, 1832 a group of 275 militia under Major Isaiah Stillman was defeated at a battle that became known as Stillman’s Run, near what is now Stillman Valley, Illinois.  The militia panicked and ran from about 50 Indians and 12 militia men were slain.  On May 15, 1832 militia, including Abraham Lincoln’s company, arrived at the site of the battle and buried the dead.  The next two weeks Lincoln spent marching his company from place to place near the mouth of the Fox River.  On May 27 Lincoln’s company was mustered out of service.  Lincoln promptly re-enlisted as a private in Captain Elijah Isles’ company.  The officer who mustered him into service was United States Army Lieutenant Robert Anderson, the future commander of Fort Sumter in 1861. After Isles’ company was mustered out of service on June 16, Lincoln enlisted in the spy (scout) company of Captain Jacob Early and served in that company until his military service ended on July 10, 1832. (more…)

Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 5:20 am  Comments (2)  
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William Lee D. Ewing


Continuing on with my series on the Governors of Illinois down to the end of Reconstruction, we come to the fifth Governor of the State, William Lee D. Ewing.  Born in Paris, Kentucky on August 31, 1795, he practiced law in Shawneetown, Illinois.  James Madison appointed him a land office receiver in Vandalia in 1820.  During the BlackHawk War he served as Colonel of the Spy Battalion, a scouting unit.  Abraham Lincoln served for a time in that unit.  In 1830 he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives as a Democrat, previously having served as clerk of the House, and was immediately chosen as Speaker.  In 1832 he was elected to the State Senate and served as President Pro Tempore of that body.  In 1833 he was chosen as acting Lieutenant Governor of the state.  In 1834 upon the resignation of Governor Reynolds to take a seat in Congress, Ewing became Governor.  He served for two weeks until the newly elected governor could be sworn in.  This is the shortest gubernatorial term in the history of Illinois, and no doubt the most inconsequential.

Upon the death of Senator Elias Kane, Ewing was chosen to fill out his term.  He was unsuccessful in winning election to the Senate after Kane’s term expired,  and won election to the Illinois House later, serving once again as Speaker.  He died on March 25, 1846.

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 5:53 am  Comments Off on William Lee D. Ewing  
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Palm Sunday 1865

I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865.  Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox.  We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history.  The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war.  The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south.  Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated.  All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox. (more…)

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 5:31 am  Comments Off on Palm Sunday 1865  
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The Confederacy vs. Ben Butler


Yesterday I posted about Beast Butler, as he was known in the Confederacy and his infamous woman order.  Read the post here.  The Confederate government took note of the white hot rage that this engendered throughout the South, and kept close tabs on the activities of Benjamin Butler thereafter.   Eventually Jefferson Davis issued a proclamation ordering the immediate execution of Butler if he ever fell into Confederate hands, something that never occurred, although considering what an inept general Butler was, I am certain that there were more than a few souls on the Union side during the war praying for Butler’s capture!  Here is the proclamation: (more…)

Published in: on March 26, 2010 at 5:31 am  Comments Off on The Confederacy vs. Ben Butler  
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Beast Butler and His Woman Order


Benjamin Butler, a talented politician and lawyer, inept general, utterly corrupt, was certainly in the running for one of the most colorful characters of the Civil War.  He achieved immortality, certainly in the South, with his infamous “woman order”.  Southern belles tended to be very outspoken about what they thought of the Union troops in the South, and, naturally enough, it was rarely complimentary.  Butler decided to attack the problem with general order 28. 

General Orders, No. 28. 

New Orleans, May 15, 1862.

As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation. 

By command of Major-General Butler: 

Assistant Adjutant-General and Chief of Staff.

Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 5:34 am  Comments Off on Beast Butler and His Woman Order  
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Calhoun and Civil War

An interesting video showing John C. Calhoun predicting civil war at a state dinner,  during the Van Buren administration.

During his life time Calhoun often predicted civil war:  “The day that the balance between two sections of the country-the slaveholding states and the non-slaveholding states is destroyed, is a day that will not be far removed from political revolution, anarchy, civil war, and widespread disaster.”

Nothing that happened between 1861-65 would have surprised him, including the defeat of the South.  Calhoun, as misguided as he was in so many ways, had one of the sharpest minds of his generation, and the trends that were leading the country to an internecine conflict were crystal clear to him.  The tragedy for him and for the country is that he did not put his formidable intellect in play to propose a solution, such as gradual compensated emancipation, to the looming national catastrophe.  He was too wedded to the “peculiar institution” for that, and so, in the dread words of Lincoln, “the war came”.

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 5:10 am  Comments (2)  
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Tyrannosaurus Debt

A good history is waiting to be written about the US national debt.  In the meantime, we can watch the cartoon!

Published in: on March 23, 2010 at 5:35 am  Comments Off on Tyrannosaurus Debt  

George Washington and Phillis Wheatley


Born circa 1753 in West Africa, Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped by slavers in 1761 and taken to America on the slave ship Phillis, from which she gained her first name.  She was purchased in Boston by a wealthy merchant, John Wheatley.  He and his wife treated her more like a daughter than a slave.  Educated by them, she was reading the Greek and Latin classics by the age of 12. 

Beginning to write poetry, in 1775 she wrote a poem celebrating George Washington. 

Celestial choir! enthron’d in realms of light,
Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write.
While freedom’s cause her anxious breast alarms,
She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.
See mother earth her offspring’s fate bemoan,
And nations gaze at scenes before unknown!
See the bright beams of heaven’s revolving light
Involved in sorrows and veil of night!
The goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
Olive and laurel bind her golden hair:
Wherever shines this native of the skies,
Unnumber’d charms and recent graces rise.

Muse! bow propitious while my pen relates
How pour her armies through a thousand gates,
As when Eolus heaven’s fair face deforms,
Enwrapp’d in tempest and a night of storms;
Astonish’d ocean feels the wild uproar,
The refluent surges beat the sounding shore;
Or thick as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign,
Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train.
In bright array they seek the work of war,
Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air.
Shall I to Washington their praise recite?
Enough thou knw’st them in the fields of fight.
Thee, first in peace and honours,—we demand
The grace and glory of thy martial band.
Fam’d for thy valour, for thy virtues more,
Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!

One century scarce perform’d its destined round,
When Gallic powers Columbia’s fury found;
And so may you, whoever dares disgrace
The land of freedom’s heaven-defended race!
Fix’d are the eyes of nations on the scales,
For in their hopes Columbia’s arm prevails.
Anon Britannia droops the pensive head,
While round increase the rising hills of dead.
Ah! cruel blindness to Columbia’s state!
Lament thy thirst of boundless power too late.

Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy ev’ry action let the goddess guide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! be thine.

She sent a copy of the poem to Washington with the following letter: 

To His Excellency
George Washington

I have taken the freedom to address your Excellency in the enclosed poem, and entreat your acceptance, though I am not insensible of its inaccuracies. Your being appointed by the Grand Continental Congress to be Generalissimo of the armies of North America, together with the fame of your virtues, excite sensations not easy to suppress. Your generosity, therefore, I presume, will pardon the attempt. Wishing your Excellency all possible success in the great cause you are so generously engaged in. I am,

Your Excellency’s most obedient humble servant,
Phillis Wheatley

Washington responded: 

Cambridge, February 28, 1776. 

Mrs. Phillis,
Your favour of the 26th of October did not reach my hands ’till the middle of December. Time enough, you will say, to have given an answer ere this. Granted. But a variety of important occurrences, continually interposing to distract the mind and withdraw the attention, I hope will apologize for the delay, and plead my excuse for the seeming, but not real neglect.

I thank you most sincerely for your polite notice of me, in the elegant Lines you enclosed; and however undeserving I may be of such encomium and panegyrick, the style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your great poetical Talents. In honour of which, and as a tribute justly due to you, I would have published the Poem, had I not been apprehensive, that, while I only meant to give the World this new instance of your genius, I might have incurred the imputation of Vanity. This and nothing else, determined me not to give it place in the public Prints. 

If you should ever come to Cambridge, or near Head Quarters, I shall be happy to see a person so favoured by the Muses, and to whom Nature has been so liberal and beneficent in her dispensations. 

I am, with great Respect, etc. (more…)

Published in: on March 22, 2010 at 5:54 am  Comments (3)  
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From the earliest days of our history, mountaineers, for example, the Green Mountain Boys, have played a not unimportant role in the story of our nation.  Stephen Vincent Benet in his epic on the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, has a poem in regard to the mountaineers which I believe manages the feat of neither sneering at or romanticizing a way of life foreign to most Americans. 


Up in the mountains where the hogs are thin
And razorbacked, wild Indians of hogs,
The laurel’s green in April–and if the nights
Are cold as the cold cloud of watersmoke
Above a mountain-spring, the midday sun
Has heat enough in it to make you sweat.

They are a curious and most native stock,
The lanky men, the lost, forgotten seeds
Spilled from the first great wave-march toward the West
And set to sprout by chance in the deep cracks
Of that hill-billy world of laurel-bells.
They keep the beechwood-fiddle and the salt
Old-fashioned ballad-English of our first
Rowdy, corn-liquor-drinking, ignorant youth;
Also the rifle and the frying-pan,
The old feud-temper and the old feud-way
Of thinking strangers better shot on sight
But treating strangers that one leaves unshot
With border-hospitality.
                        The girls
Have the brief-blooming, rhododendron-youth
Of pioneer women, and the black-toothed age.
And if you yearn to meet your pioneers,
You’ll find them there, the same men, inbred sons
Of inbred sires perhaps, but still the same;
A pioneer-island in a world that has
No use for pioneers–the unsplit rock
Of Fundamentalism, calomel,
Clan-virtues, clannish vices, fiddle-tunes
And a hard God.
               They are our last frontier.
They shot the railway-train when it first came,
And when the Fords first came, they shot the Fords.
It could not save them.  They are dying now
Of being educated, which is the same.
One need not weep romantic tears for them,
But when the last moonshiner buys his radio,
And the last, lost, wild-rabbit of a girl
Is civilized with a mail-order dress,
Something will pass that was American
And all the movies will not bring it back.

They are misfit and strange in our new day,
In Sixty-One they were not quite so strange,
Before the Fords, before the day of the Fords . . .

Published in: on March 21, 2010 at 5:58 am  Comments Off on Mountaineers  
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