Memorial Day: Our Poor Power to Add or Detract

Memorial Day is a legacy of the Civil War.  Approximately 640,000 American soldiers, sailors and marines, North and South, died in that war.  Out of a population of some 30,000,000, the death toll would be the equivalent of the US today losing six million dead in a war.  It was a rare family that was untouched by this great national tragedy and the mourning for the lives cut short went on for decades.

Immediately after the war, events honoring the fallen began to be held.  Among the first of these was on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina where a largely black crowd honored the Union dead. Such memorials quickly spread throughout the Country.  Usually these gatherings involved decorating and cleaning the graves of soldiers. On May 5, 1868, General John “Blackjack” A. Logan, an Illinois Congressman and an able combat general during the war, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation that commemorations of the Union war dead and the decorating of their graves should occur on each May 30.  “It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.”

The May 30 Decoration Day events became a fixture of life in the Northern states.  The states of the old Confederacy had similar events but on different dates, varying from state to state. The term Memorial Day was first used in 1882, but the name Decoration Day remained for the holiday until after World War II.  As Civil War veterans aged and passed from the scene, the day was broadened to remember all of America’s war dead.  The Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968 moved Memorial Day to the fourth Monday in May.

As Lincoln noted in the Gettysburg address, it is “altogether fitting and proper” that we honor our war dead, but in what way can we honor them?   The monuments we raise to them are really for us, to remind us of the value of valor and sacrifice.  They do not walk among us to view them.  They cannot tell us what they think of the speeches praising them or the blog posts written about them.  Their lives are done and they have been judged by God, as we all will be judged, and are now in Eternity.  Other than the important task of praying for the repose of their souls, nothing that we say or do about them on Earth has any impact upon them. (more…)

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 5:58 am  Comments Off on Memorial Day: Our Poor Power to Add or Detract  

Kelly’s Irish Brigade

I have had a few posts, here , here and here, on the famous Irish Brigade that fought for the Union in the Army of the Potomac.  There were however other Irish units, North and South.  This song celebrates Kelly’s Irish Brigade that fought for the Confederacy in the West.  The Brigade was actually a regiment, the Washington Blues, organized by Joseph Kelly, a grocer in Saint Louis, prior to the Civil War.  Kelly was an Irish immigrant as were most of the men in his regiment.  They provided good service for the Confederacy, and you may read about them here. (more…)

Published in: on May 30, 2010 at 5:50 am  Comments Off on Kelly’s Irish Brigade  

The Battle Hymn of the Republic


Something for the weekend.  As we enjoy the fun and festivities of the Memorial Day Weekend unofficial start of summer, it is fitting and proper that we recall why Monday is a National Holiday.  Tomorrow I will have something for our readers who favor the gray over the blue. (more…)

Published in: on May 29, 2010 at 4:18 am  Comments (4)  

The Battle of Sabine Pass

Actually the Second Battle of Sabine Pass, the First being a brief skirmish on September 25, 1861, this engagement was the most improbable Confederate victory of the Civil War.

In 1863 the Lincoln administration was eager to deter Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico from trading with the Confederacy.  To accomplish this, Major General Nathaniel Banks ordered Major General William B. Franklin to lead an amphibious force up the Sabine River in Texas, capture  Confederate Fort Griffith and occupy the town of Sabine Pass. 

On September 8, 1863 Captain Frederick Crocker, United States Navy, steamed up the Sabine to attack Fort Griffith, his force consisting of four gunboats and eighteen transports, loaded with 5,000 Union troops.  Opposing this armada were 46 Confederates with six cannon at Fort Griffith.

The Confederates were mainly Irish dock workers who had formed the Jeff Davis Guards at the beginning of the War.  They were commanded by Lieutenant Richard, “Dick” , Dowling, who had immigrated to America from Ireland with his family as a small child.  A successful owner of a chain of saloons before a war, Dowling now faced a military situation that would have alarmed any professional soldier. (more…)

Published in: on May 28, 2010 at 5:34 am  Comments Off on The Battle of Sabine Pass  
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The Franklins: Father and Son By the Sword Divided

William Franklin, eldest son of Benjamin Franklin, is one of the forgotten men of American history.

Born illegitimate to Benjamin Franklin in 1731, he was raised by Franklin and Franklin’s remarkably tolerant wife.  He joined the American Regiment during King George’s War, 1744-48, and rose to the rank of Captain.  He went to London to study law, and while there followed in his father’s footsteps by fathering an illegitimate son, who was raised by his grandfather Benjamin Franklin.  While in England William also married Elizabeth Downes.

Thanks to his father’s efforts, William was appointed royal governor of New Jersey in 1763.   William remained an ardent Loyalist while his father embraced the Patriot cause.  This caused a breach between the two men that was never repaired.  William remained governor until 1776 when he was arrested by order of the provincial congress of New Jersey.  He remained incarcerated for two years until he was exchanged for a captured American officer in 1778.   He quickly became one of the most prominent Loyalists.   He attempted to start a guerilla war against the Patriots but was thwarted in his efforts by General Clinton, who commanded the British forces in New York where William took up his residence, who did not wish to wage an unconventional war. (more…)

Published in: on May 27, 2010 at 5:42 am  Comments Off on The Franklins: Father and Son By the Sword Divided  
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The Sedition Act

The greatest blunder of the John Adams administration was the Sedition Act.  It inflamed his adversaries and gave color to their accusations that Adams was a tyrant.  It is stunning that the same men who had fought in the Revolution and helped to found a new government could have implemented legislation in 1798 which was so blatantly unconstitutional and antithetical to the liberties that they had so bravely fought for.  The Act helped destroy the Federalists and assure the success of Jefferson’s Republicans.  The text of the Act is as follows: (more…)

Published in: on May 26, 2010 at 5:38 am  Comments (8)  
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Texas, Textbooks, the Washington Post and Ann Althouse

Before I ran off to law school three decades ago, I obtained my BA in the teaching of social studies, and I have kept my eye on education political issues.

The Left in this country has been alarmed over conservatives on the Texas State School Board amending the social studies standards in that state.  For example, California State Senator Leland Yee (D. San Francisco) has introduced a bill that would require the California Board of Education to be on the lookout for any Texas content in reviewing public school textbooks.  He also makes the hilarious statement that the Texas curriculum changes pose a threat “to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California.”  This in a state where the legislature has instituted a Harvey Milk Day to propagandize students in the gay rights agenda, and where the California Education Association, the teacher’s union, is the largest spender on politics in the state.

To support the meme of the Left that conservatives were perverting educational standards in Texas, the Washington Post wrote a  piece that may be read here.  Ann Althouse, law professor and blogger decided to compare the claims of the Washington Post to the new standards.  Here is what she found:

Let me embarrass the Washington Post. Below, the material from the WaPo article, written by Michael Birnbaum, is indented. After the indented part, I’ve located the relevant quote from the Board of Education text, found here. (I’m searching 3 PDF documents: Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits Subchapter A. High School; Social Studies Subchapter B. Middle School; Social Studies Subchapter C. High School.)

The Washington Post writes:

The Texas state school board gave final approval Friday to controversial social studies standards….

The new standards say that the McCarthyism of the 1950s was later vindicated — something most historians deny –…
The students are required to “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government…” The word “vindicated” is inflammatory and unfair. What is the Washington Post saying historians deny? One can be informed of the reality of what the Venona Papers revealed about communist infiltration into the U.S. government and still understand and deplore the excesses of “McCarthyism.”

…draw an equivalency between Jefferson Davis’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural addresses…
Students are required to “analyze the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address and Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about liberty, equality, union, and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address.” The word “equivalency” is uncalled for. The requirement is to analyze, not to be indoctrinated that the ideas are the same.

… say that international institutions such as the United Nations imperil American sovereignty…
What I’m seeing is “explain the significance of the League of Nations and the United Nations” and “analyze the human and physical factors that influence the power to control territory, create conflict/war, and impact international political relations such as the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), or the control of resources.” Where is the language that can be paraphrased “imperil American sovereignty”?

…. and include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.
Students are required to “explain the roles played by significant individuals and heroes during the Civil War, including Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, and congressional Medal of Honor recipients William Carney and Philip Bazaar.” Only Davis and Lee were Confederate officials! There is also this: “describe the role of individuals such as governors George Wallace, Orval Faubus, and Lester Maddox and groups, including the Congressional bloc of southern Democrats, that sought to maintain the status quo [in the Civil Rights Era].” That’s obviously not from the Civil War, but I can see why it’s annoying to Democrats.

They also removed references to capitalism and replaced them with the term “free-enterprise system.”
The document on economics does use the term “free enterprise system” throughout, but students are required to “understand that the terms free enterprise, free market, and capitalism are synonymous terms to describe the U.S. economic system,” so what is the problem?

Virtually everything cited in the article to make the curriculum seem controversial is misstated! Appalling!

ADDED: Birnbaum had an article in the previous day’s Washington Post that does contain quotes, and these have to do with changes that went through on Thursday (and which do not — but should! — appear in the documents that are available at the Board of Education website):

Students will now study “efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty,” an addition late Thursday evening encouraged by board member Don McLeroy (R), who has put forward many of the most contentious changes….

Another one of the seven conservative board members, David Bradley (R), added a list of Confederate generals and officials to the list of topics that students must study.

This provides support for Birnbaum’s statement that the standards “include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.” And it answers my question “Where is the language that can be paraphrased ‘imperil American sovereignty’?” My criticisms about “vindicating” McCarthyism, “the equivalency between Jefferson Davis’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural addresses,” and the term “free-enterprise system” remain.

I have not been defending the Texas standards, only attacking the quality of the journalism that fails to quote or link to a text that is referred to. Birnbaum’s Friday article contains some useful quotes (though still not a link to the whole text). The Saturday article was unanchored to text and forced me to look for what I could find on line. I’m also criticizing inaccurate paraphrasing, like the use of the words “vindicating” and “equivalency.” Birnbaum’s take on the standards might be true, but in an article that refers to a text, I do need to see the text. Paraphrasing, without the text, raises suspicions, and I don’t apologize for having those suspicions. (more…)

Liberty Will Reign in America

One of the many reasons why I admire the Founding Fathers is the amazing capacity of many of them to get to the heart of the matter.  This is on full display in John Adams’ “Liberty Will Reign” speech from the Adams miniseries.

The speech as set forth in the film was never delivered by Adams.  It is spliced together from his writings.  However, it is a good condensation of Adams’ belief that the rights he and his colleagues were striving to protect were inherent in the human condition, and not mere gifts from the King, that might be taken away by him at any moment.

Published in: on May 24, 2010 at 5:40 am  Comments Off on Liberty Will Reign in America  

Ashokan Farewell

Something for the weekend.  Ashokan Farewell, a modern composition that is forever linked with the Civil War due to it’s use in Ken Burn’s The Civil War.  Here is a version by Celtic Woman.

Published in: on May 22, 2010 at 4:59 am  Comments Off on Ashokan Farewell  
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Venerable Pierre Toussaint

Born a slave in Haiti on a sugar plantation owned by Jean Berard on June 27, 1766, the few who marked Pierre Toussaint’s entry into this world could not have guessed the destiny that awaited him.  Taught to read and write by his grandmother, Toussaint’s master early recognized his intelligence and opened his fine library to the boy.  In 1787 his master emigrated to New York City and took Toussaint and Toussaint’s sister Rosalie with him.

Berard apprenticed Toussaint to a hairdresser, and Toussaint quickly proved himself a master at that trade.  Berard went back to Haiti in 1791 after the Haitian revolution to check on his plantation that now lay in ruins.  Berard died in Haiti.  His young widow Marie was now left in New York  with slender resources.

With incredible charity, Toussaint  decided to care for the widow of the master who had been kind to him.  He quickly became the most sought after hairdresser in New York, earning enough to buy his sister’s freedom and to pay the expenses of the household.  He did not buy his own freedom for fear that Marie would not then allow him to support her.  In 1807 on her death, Marie Berard freed Toussaint.

By this time Toussaint was not only a hairdresser to the rich but also a counselor to many of the rich, who referred to him, no doubt to his distress, as “our Saint Pierre”.  He was noted for his extreme charity, giving away most of his earnings to the poor of the city.  Each morning he would also attend the early mass at Saint Peter’s on Barclay Street. (more…)

Published in: on May 21, 2010 at 5:36 am  Comments Off on Venerable Pierre Toussaint