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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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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Those Are Regulars, By God!

Of all the major wars fought by the US, I would designate the War of 1812 as The Unknown War.  Other than the Battle of New Orleans and the burning of Washington, even educated Americans know precious little about it.  That is a great pity.  During that war the US fought both miserably and with high skill, and it has fascinating lessons for any student of military history.

The battle of Chippawa was one of the high points of the US military effort on the Northern US eastern front.  Since the beginning of the war the US had sought to invade Canada, usually suffering humiliating defeats in the process. 

In early 1814 it was obvious that the Napoleonic Wars in Europe were drawing to a close with Napoleon’s defeat, and that the British would soon be shipping Wellington’s veterans across the Atlantic to deal with the upstart Americans.  The Americans were therefore eager to win a victory in Canada before these new troops could arise.

The American war effort had suffered due to reliance on untrained militia and partially trained regulars.  Secretary of War John Armstrong had taken steps to remedy this lack of training for regulars by establishing two “Camps of Instruction” where regular troops could be comprehensively trained and drilled before facing the British on the battlefield.  One of the camps was at Plattsburg, New York, and the other was at Buffalo, New York under Winfield Scott, 27 years old and already a Brigadier General.

Scott drilled his troops ten hours a day, using the manual of the French Revolutionary Army.  He rid his ranks of officers who owed their rank to political pull rather than military skill.  Unable to locate enough blue uniforms to clothe his men, he dressed them in grey jackets.

Scott did not have long to see how his men performed in battle.  British Fort Erie, opposite Buffalo, was captured on July 3, 1814 by a small American army under Major General Jacob Brown.  The army consisted of two brigade of regulars, Scott and his men numbering 1,377, and Brigadier General Ripley leading 1,082 men, with four companies of artillery.  After the capture of Fort Erie, the army was joined by 753 militia and 600 Iroqois on July 4.  The army began to advance north along the portage road running parallel to the Niagara River.  At the end of the day Scott encounter British forces along the Chippawa creek, near the town of Chippawa.  Scott withdrew a few miles and camped for the night. (more…)

Published in: on March 19, 2010 at 4:41 am  Comments (2)  

Scott’s Anaconda Plan

Without a doubt, the greatest American general between the Revolution and the Civil War was Winfield Scott.  Vain enough to be called “Fuss and Feathers” by his men, too eager for political office, Scott also possessed military talent of a high order as he amply demonstrated as a young man in the War of 1812, and in his late middle age in the Mexican War.  By the Civil War, Scott was 75, obese and unable to physically take the field.  However his skill as a strategist remained undiminished.  In his Anaconda Plan he laid out the strategy by which the Union would prevail:  a naval blockade and taking control of the Mississippi to strangle the South economically.  Note also how he wants three year troops recruited.  At the time he wrote this in May 1861, most people, North and South, were predicting a 90 day war.  Scott could see that the war would be a long one, and not the short romp that so many were predicting.


The Anaconda Plan (Scott to McClellan)

Union Correspondence, Orders, And Returns Relating To Operations In Maryland, Eastern North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia (Except Southwestern), And West Virginia, From January 1, 1861, To June 30, 1865.–#3

Washington, May 3, 1861.

Commanding Ohio Volunteers, Cincinnati, Ohio:

        SIR: I have read and carefully considered your plan for a campaign, and now send you confidentially my own views, supported by certain facts of which you should be advised.
        First. It is the design of the Government to raise 25,000 additional regular troops, and 60,000 volunteers for three years. It will be inexpedient either to rely on the three-months’ volunteers for extensive operations or to put in their hands the best class of arms we have in store. The term of service would expire by the commencement of a regular campaign, and the arms not lost be returned mostly in a damaged condition. Hence I must strongly urge upon you to confine yourself strictly to the quota of three-months’ men called for by the War Department.
        Second. We rely greatly on the sure operation of a complete blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf ports soon to commence. In connection with such blockade we propose a powerful movement down the Mississippi to the ocean, with a cordon of posts at proper points, and the capture of Forts Jackson and Saint Philip; the object being to clear out and keep open this great line of communication in connection with the strict blockade of the seaboard, so as to envelop the insurgent States and bring them to terms with less bloodshed than by any other plan. I suppose there will be needed from twelve to twenty steam gun-boats, and a sufficient number of steam transports (say forty) to carry all the personnel (say 60,000 men) and material of the expedition; most of the gunboats to be in advance to open the way, and the remainder to follow and protect the rear of the expedition, &c. This army, in which it is not improbable you may be invited to take an important part, should be composed of our best regulars for the advance and of three-years’ volunteers, all well officered, and with four months and a half of instruction in camps prior to (say) November 10. In the progress down the river all the enemy’s batteries on its banks we of course would turn and capture, leaving a sufficient number of posts with complete garrisons to keep the river open behind the expedition. Finally, it will be necessary that New Orleans should be strongly occupied and securely held until the present difficulties are composed.
        Third. A word now as to the greatest obstacle in the way of this plan–the great danger now pressing upon us–the impatience of our patriotic and loyal Union friends. They will urge instant and vigorous action, regardless, I fear, of consequences–that is, unwilling to wait for the slow instruction of (say) twelve or fifteen camps, for the rise of rivers, and the return of frosts to kill the virus of malignant fevers below Memphis. I fear this; but impress right views, on every proper occasion, upon the brave men who are hastening to the support of their Government. Lose no time, while necessary preparations for the great expedition are in progress, in organizing, drilling, and disciplining your three-months’ men, many of whom, it is hoped, will be ultimately found enrolled under the call for three-years’ volunteers. Should an urgent and immediate occasion arise meantime for their services, they will be the more effective. I commend these views to your consideration, and shall be happy to hear the result.

With great respect, yours, truly,

Published in: on March 18, 2010 at 5:17 am  Comments (2)  
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John Randolph of Roanoke and His Satanic Majesty


After my recent post on John Randolph of Roanoke, it occurred to me that some of our readers may not be aware of what I meant when I stated that Randolph was more than a little mad.  Here is one example.

In the winter of 1831-1832, Randolph wrote the following letter:

To the Honorable Waller Holladay, Esquire,
of the county of Spotsylvania,
of the State of Virginia,
of the United States of America,
of the Western Hemisphere,
of the Globe.

I am sure you will he surprised and pained to hear that I was honored last night by a visit from no less a personage than His Satanic Majesty. His Majesty assured me that my only hope of much longer continuance of my mortal existence depended upon my subsisting entirely upon the milk of your fine Medley mare, which would restore health to my worn out hody. Under these melancholy circumstances, I have no choice hut to throw myself upon your friendly mercies and I implore you to let me have the mare without delay which will inevitably bring my life to its end. I will not inquire your price. Draw upon me for whatever you may think proper, but I pray and conjure you by everything you hold sacred, and in the name of humanity, to sell me the mare, that her milk may save the life of your sincere but sullcring friend.

Randolph of Roanoke

On the same day he wrote this missive, Randolph drafted his third will.  After his death, a will contest disputing the validity of this will arose.  The letter he wrote to Holladay was admitted into evidence and convinced the judge hearing the case that Randolph clearly had not been in command of his mental faculties when he drafted the third will, and the will contest succeeded.


Published in: on March 16, 2010 at 5:53 am  Comments (2)  

John Reynolds


Continuing on with my series on the Governors of Illinois down to the end of Reconstruction, we come to the fourth Governor of the State, John Reynolds.  Born in Montgomery County Pennsylvania on February 26, 1788, his family moved to Kaskaskia in the Illinois territory in 1800.  From his family upbring Reynolds abstained from alcohol all of his life which made him something of a novelty among Illinois politicians.  He attended college for two years in Knoxville, Tennessee, and embarked upon the study of law but ill health forced him to return home.

He was admitted to the bar of the Illinois territory in the fall of 1812.  He enlisted in the Army as a private and served as a scout in battles against Indians during the War of 1812, rising to the rank of sergeant.  In Illinois politics his nickname as a result of this service was the “Old Ranger”.  Returning from the war, he opened a law office in Cahokia.

In 1818 he was appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court by the Illinois General Assembly.  He was an unsuccessful candidate for the United States Senate that same year.  In 1826 he was elected to the Illinois House, quickly establishing himself as one of the foremost members in the State of Andrew Jackson’s newly formed Democrat party.  In the House he earned a reputation as not being a fierce partisan and a man who could work with members of all parties.

In 1830 he was elected Governor of the state.  He was a soldier Governor.  His term was dominated by the Black Hawk War, and he often personally assumed command in the field of the Illinois militia, including a then little known Abraham Lincoln.  President Jackson appointed him a Major General and authorized him to make treaties with the Indians.

Reynolds resigned as Governor on November 17, 1834 to take a seat in Congress.  Reynolds would continue to have an active political career for the remainder of his life, serving in both Congress and the Illinois House.  He died on May 8, 1865.

Published in: on March 15, 2010 at 5:38 am  Comments Off on John Reynolds  
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Lee On Secession


On January 23, 1861, Robert E. Lee, in a letter to his son Rooney, set forth his views on secession:


I received Everett’s Life of Washington which you sent me, and enjoyed its perusal. How his spirit would be grieved could he see the wreck of his mighty labors! I will not, however, permit myself to believe, until all ground of hope is gone, that the fruit of his noble deeds will be destroyed, and that his precious advice and virtuous example will so soon be forgotten by his countrymen. As far as I can judge by the papers, we are between a state of anarchy and civil war. May God avert both of these evils from us! I fear that mankind will not for years be sufficiently Christianized to bear the absence of restraint and force. I see that four states have declared themselves out of the Union; four more will apparently follow their example. Then, if the border states are brought into the gulf of revolution, one half of the country will be arrayed against the other. I must try and be patient and await the end, for I can do nothing to hasten or retard it.

The South, in my opinion, has been aggrieved by the acts of the North, as you say. I feel the aggression and am willing to take every proper step for redress . It is the principle I contend for, not individual or private benefit. As an American citizen, I take great pride in my country, her prosperity and institutions, and would defend any state if her rights were invaded. But I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our Constitution never exhausted so much labor, wisdom, and forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will. It was intended for “perpetual union,” so expressed in the preamble, and for the establishment of a government, not a compact, which can only be dissolved by revolution or the consent of all the people in convention assembled. It is idle to talk of secession. Anarchy would have been established, and not a government, by Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and the other patriots of the Revolution. . . . Still, a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. I shall mourn for my country and for the welfare and progress of mankind. If the Union is dissolved, and the government disrupted, I shall return to my native state and share the miseries of my people; and, save in defense, will draw my sword on none.

Published in: on March 14, 2010 at 6:43 am  Comments Off on Lee On Secession  
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Something for the weekend.  Illinois, the state song of the Land of Lincoln.

By thy rivers gently flowing, Illinois, Illinois,
O’er thy prairies verdant growing, Illinois, Illinois,
Comes an echo on the breeze.
Rustling through the leafy trees, and its mellow tones are these, Illinois, Illinois,
And its mellow tones are these, Illinois.

From a wilderness of prairies, Illinois, Illinois,
Straight thy way and never varies, Illinois, Illinois,
Till upon the inland sea,
Stands thy great commercial tree, turning all the world to thee, Illinois, Illinois,
Turning all the world to thee, Illinois.

When you heard your country calling, Illinois, Illinois,
Where the shot and shell were falling, Illinois, Illinois,
When the Southern host withdrew,
Pitting Gray against the Blue, There were none more brave than you, Illinois, Illinois,
There were none more brave than you, Illinois.

Not without thy wondrous story, Illinois, Illinois,
Can be writ the nation’s glory, Illinois, Illinois,
On the record of thy years,
Abraham Lincoln’s name appears, Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois, Illinois,
Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois

Published in: on March 13, 2010 at 7:12 am  Comments Off on Illinois  
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