Most Incompetent Union General

There are of course several generals in the running for this title:  Ambrose Burnside, Don Carlos Buell, John Pope, Henry Halleck, Nathaniel Banks and the list could go on for some length.  However, for me the most incompetent general clearly is Benjamin Butler.  A political general appointed by Lincoln to rally War Democrats for the war effort, Butler in command was a defeat waiting to happen for any Union force cursed to be under him.  Butler during the Bermuda Hundred campaign in 1864 threw away chance after chance to take Richmond, with a timidity that rose to astonishing levels and an ineptitude at leading his forces that defies belief.  Grant summed up Butler’s generalship well in his Personal Memoirs when he recalled a conversation with his Chief of Engineers:

He said that the general occupied a place between the James and Appomattox rivers which was of great strength, and where with an inferior force he could hold it for an indefinite length of time against a superior; but that he could do nothing offensively. I then asked him why Butler could not move out from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to the rear and on the south side of Richmond. He replied that it was impracticable, because the enemy had substantially the same line across the neck of land that General Butler had. He then took out his pencil and drew a sketch of the locality, remarking that the position was like a bottle and that Butler’s line of intrenchments across the neck represented the cork; that the enemy had built an equally strong line immediately in front of him across the neck; and it was therefore as if Butler was in a bottle. He was perfectly safe against an attack; but, as Barnard expressed it, the enemy had corked the bottle and with a small force could hold the cork in its place. (more…)

Published in: on November 30, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (5)  
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Article Six, Texts and the Process of Historical Change

Passed on July 13, 1787, the Northwest Ordinance was the most momentous piece of legislation by the Articles of Confederation Congress.  The vote was 8-0 among the states who bothered to have representatives at the Congress at this time.  The Ordinance would serve as a model for the organization of territories acquired by the United States.  Although not considered very important at the time, it is Article Six which has riveted the attention of after generations:

Art. 6. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: Provided, always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid. 

Article Six became a battleground in a way I think which would have bemused the drafters of the Ordinance who probably viewed the prohibition of slavery as simple common sense in  a geographic area ill-suited to slavery due to climate. (more…)

Published in: on November 29, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Article Six, Texts and the Process of Historical Change  
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Lego Battle of New Orleans

Something for the weekend.  Well if we can have a Lego version of Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel, why not a Lego version of The Battle of New Orleans sung by Johnny Horton? (more…)

Published in: on November 27, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (9)  
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Lincoln: Thanksgiving Proclamation


If a nation ever needed Divine assistance it was our own America during the Civil War.  Riven in two, the nation must have seemed on a path to destruction by many of those who lived through that terrible trial.  Abraham Lincoln, as he led the United States through that struggle, increasingly found his mind turning to God.  This Proclamation was written by Secretary of State Seward, but the sentiments are no doubt ones in which Lincoln fully joined. (more…)

Published in: on November 25, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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Great Turkey Disasters

As we prepare for Thanksgiving tomorrow, and as we recall our blessings and thank God for each and every one, let us also remember the humble turkey and the various disasters that result when that proud bird is not treated with the care that it deserves, dead or alive.    Oldtimers like myself will recognize the above video as part of the famous “Turkey Drop” episode from WKRP, a sitcom from the Seventies. 

Of course Turkey Disasters are not, unfortunately, restricted to the realm of fiction.    Deep frying a turkey poses various risks.

Here we have a case of the flaming avian:


Published in: on November 24, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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George Washington: First Thanksgiving Proclamation

A contemplation of the compleat attainment (at a period earlier than could have been expected) of the object for which we contended against so formidable a power cannot but inspire us with astonishment and gratitude. The disadvantageous circumstances on our part, under which the war was undertaken, can never be forgotten. The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverance of the Armies of the U States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle.   George Washington


The father of our nation was a religious man.  He had no doubt of the existence of God, and that He intervened in the affairs of men and nations.  Therefore it is no surprise that he originated the tradition of the last Thursday in November for Americans to thank God.  Lincoln revived the tradition in 1863 in the midst of the Civil War.  When we celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, we are celebrating a holiday that is at the very core of American history from the Pilgrims forward. (more…)

Published in: on November 23, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on George Washington: First Thanksgiving Proclamation  
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November 22, 1860: Olympia Learns That Lincoln is Ahead


The Presidential election in 1860 was conducted on November 6.  Most of the nation within a few hours of a telegraph, learned almost immediately that evening or the next day, that Lincoln had been elected.  However, there were large portions of the nation, most of them in the West, where telegraphs were still unknown.  There news traveled at what to us seems an unbelievably slow rate.  Olympia, the territorial capital of the Washington Territory, did not learn of the initial election results until November 22, 1860.  The reaction to the news illustrates however that when examining the past, the perception of the people who lived at the time to events often differs radically from ours: (more…)

Published in: on November 22, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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In Defense of Those Who Wore the Gray

On my other blog, The American Catholic, I had a Veterans Day post in which I used the two above videos.  One of my readers made this comment:

What’s with the creepy Civil War video featuring some guy celebrating the heroism of Confederate soldiers? Practically ruins the article for me. Granted, I’m prejudiced on this point, but I can’t help it. Those nasty, murderous traitors were fighting for the right to buy and sell my ancestors like cattle. Thank God they lost. And kindly don’t hold them up to me as noble heroes. I’d as soon sing the praises of the SS. And yes, I know they weren’t quite as bad as the SS. But the difference is smaller than you might think.

I would note that I can understand the point of view of my reader.  For someone who is black, and I am not, I would imagine that slavery and its legacy remains a very powerful issue.  If I were black I might have views similar to his.  However, I do believe his views are mistaken.  In my response to his comment, I wrote as follows: (more…)

Published in: on November 21, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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Maryland, My Maryland

Something for the weekend.  Maryland, my Maryland, James Ryder Randall’s  cry from the heart after his friend Francis X. Ward was killed in the fighting that occurred when the Sixth Massachusetts fought its way through Baltimore mobs on its way to Washington at the beginning of the Civil War.  The Sixth Massachusetts received a  much friendlier reception from the citizens of Baltimore during the Spanish-American War. (more…)

Published in: on November 20, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Maryland, My Maryland  
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Favorite Civil War Book

The point I would make is that the novelist and the historian are seeking the same thing: the truth — not a different truth: the same truth — only they reach it, or try to reach it, by different routes. Whether the event took place in a world now gone to dust, preserved by documents and evaluated by scholarship, or in the imagination, preserved by memory and distilled by the creative process, they both want to tell us how it was: to re-create it, by their separate methods, and make it live again in the world around them.

Shelby Foote



I know quite a few of our readers have a keen interest in the Civil War .  I am curious as to what the favorite Civil War books of our readers are.  There are so many magnificent studies of the Civil War that I have read over the years, that I find the question difficult to answer.  However, I think pride of place for me is Shelby Foote’s magisterial three volume The Civil War:  A Narrative.  Written by a master novelist, Foote’s volumes are an epic recreation of the terrible conflict that made us, certainly more than any event since, what we are today.  That is my choice, what is yours?

Published in: on November 19, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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