Rule Britannia

Something for the weekend.  Rule Britannia.  I grew up with a bit of a love-hate relationship with Great Britain and her now vanished Empire. On my father’s side the family had been in America since before the Revolution, except for the Cherokees who had been here I assume for 30,000 years, and the family could have cared less about Great Britain one way or the other.  On my mother’s side however things were different and more complex.  My mother, an immigrant who became a naturalized citizen, was proud Newfoundlander Irish.  Her Great-Grandfather, who regarded pews and kneelers as perfidious Protestant innovations and would kneel on bare stone floors into his eighties in the back of  the church he attended during Mass, had come to Newfoundland from Ireland and kept alive in my Mom a memory of Ireland.  She played in our home as I was growing up all the old Irish rebel songs, and part of the heritage I imbibed did not stint on remembering the grievances of the Irish against the English.  On the other hand, my Mom loved Queen Elizabeth II and from her I developed a life long interest in British history and politics.  My Great-Uncle Bill on my mother’s side served in the infantry in the Royal Army from 1939-1945, joining up, he said, “Because someone has to teach the Limies how to fight!’

Therefore on this blog I will happily play both the Irish rebel songs and an occasional salute to the land of the Queen my sainted mother loved.  In regard to the vanished Empire, I am fully cognizant of the wrongs that were committed by it, as I think I have indicated in many of my posts on the American Revolution, but I believe perhaps this section from The Life of Brian might be applied to the British, as well as the Roman, Empire, in some ways.


Published in: on January 22, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Lincoln’s Dog Fido

One hundred and fifty years ago the Lincolns in Springfield, Illinois were making preparations for their move to Washington.  One sad task for them was to find a new home for their dog Fido, who had been a member of the family since 1855.  Mr. Lincoln was an animal lover, and Fido, a mustard colored mutt, often accompanied him as he went around Springfield.  When they went to the market Fido would bear a basket in his mouth.  The dog could be seen waiting patiently outside of the barber shop while Lincoln’s hair was cut.  Fido was an inside dog, and seemed to think that a horse hair sofa in the house was his own personal domain.

Lincoln hated to part with Fido, but the dog was terrified both of cannon fire and trains, and he decided that Fido would have a hard time dealing with the train trip to Washington.  Fido was placed in the care of John Roll and his family.  Roll was a carpenter friend of Lincoln’s who had helped Lincoln remodel his house.  He had two young sons for Fido to play with.  The Rolls were asked never to scold Fido for coming into the house with muddy paws, to never tie Fido up in their yard alone, and to allow him into the house when he scratched on the door.  The Lincolns gave the Rolls their horse hair sofa so that Fido would feel more at home.  Shortly before they left Springfield, the Lincolns had a photo taken of Fido,  an image of which is at the top of this post.

The Lincolns received a report on Fido from Rolls on December 27, 1863.  “Tell Taddy that his (and Willys) Dog is alive and Kicking doing well he stays mostly at John E. Rolls with his Boys who are about the size now that Tad & Willy were when they left for Washington.” (more…)

Published in: on January 21, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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John Adams’ Finest Hour

The HBO miniseries John Adams brilliantly recreates, in the above video, what has always struck me as John Adams’ finest hour.  Adams, an ardent patriot, was sickened by the carnage caused by British soldiers when they fired into a crowd of Boston rioters on March 5, 1770.  Nevertheless, when approached by the soldiers to defend them he agreed, realizing that thereby he would make himself hated by his patriot friends.  He did this because he believed the soldiers were innocent of the homicide charges against them, the soldiers being under attack by a mob when they fired, and he wished to ensure them a fair trial, notwithstanding the high emotions running against them throughout Boston and Massachusetts.  As Adams wrote three years late on March 5, 1773:

“I. . .devoted myself to endless labour and Anxiety if not to infamy and death, and that for nothing, except, what indeed was and ought to be all in all, sense of duty. In the Evening I expressed to Mrs. Adams all my Apprehensions:That excellent Lady, who has always encouraged me, burst into a flood of Tears, but said she was very sensible of all the Danger to her and to our Children as well as to me, but she thought I had done as I ought, she was very willing to share in all that was to come and place her trust in Providence.” (more…)

Published in: on January 20, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on John Adams’ Finest Hour  
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January 19, 1861: Georgia Secedes


On January 19, 1861 Georgia approved an ordinance of secession, joining South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama in attempting to exit from the Union.  On January 29, 1861 Georgia issued a Declaration explaining why secession was necessary.  It is worth reading because it is a thorough representation of the Southern view that slavery was imperilled by the election of Lincoln and the rise of the Republican party, and that in order for slavery to be preserved, the Union could not be.  Compare and contrast with the unintentionally hilarious video from the Sons of Confederate Veterans video (Lincoln as the “Big Government” candidate!), which manages the feat of discussing Georgia secession and not breathing a word about slavery . (more…)

Published in: on January 19, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on January 19, 1861: Georgia Secedes  
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Why I Didn’t Get a Doctorate in History

I love history.  However, even back when I got my BA in 1979, earning a living in academia struck me as a shaky proposition.  I therefore ran off to law school and I never looked back.  Judging from Youtube videos posted by disgruntled grad students, I think I made the right choice.  (Not that law school doesn’t pose monumental problems of its own, currently, especially the incredible cost, averaging around 100k.  I have several posts on the blog The American Catholic on that subject.) (more…)

Published in: on January 18, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Why I Didn’t Get a Doctorate in History  
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The Hero and The Priest


Andre Cailloux was born a slave in Louisiana.  He lived his entire life in and around New Orleans.  In 1846 his petition for manumission, with the support of his owner, was granted by an all white police jury in New Orleans.   The next year he married a former slave, Felicie, with whom he had four children during the course of their marriage,  and set up a cigar making business in the Crescent City.  He soon became recognized as a leader in the free black community of New Orleans.  Cailloux, a firm son of the Church, learned to read with the help of teachers at the Institute Catholique.  Through his own efforts he became an educated man, fluent in both English and French. 

At the beginning of the Civil War Cailloux became a Lieutenant in the 1rst Louisiana Native Guard, a Confederate black militia unit made up of free blacks to defend New Orleans.  After the first battle of Manassas, the 1rst Louisiana Native Guard volunteered to guard Union prisoners.  The offer was declined with thanks by the Confederate government.  No effort was made by the Confederate government to supply uniforms or weapons for the unit, and the men supplied themselves out of their own resources.  (It should be noted that many white Confederate and Union units  were in the same boat at the beginning of the War, as the number of volunteers vastly exceeded the ability of the governments to provide for them.)  The 1rst Louisiana Native Guards did participate in two grand reviews in New Orleans with other Confederate units. 

After the Confederate Congress passed a conscription act in 1862 making all whites of military age subject to a draft, the white officers in the 1rst Louisiana Native Guards were transferred to other duties and the regiment was disbanded on February 15, 1862.  Needless to say, the Confederacy missed a golden opportunity at the beginning of the War of enlisting free blacks. Blacks given any encouragement at all to enlist in the Confederate Army, especially with a promise of eventual emancipation for all blacks, might have helped alter the outcome of the War.   Of course if the Confederate leaders had been willing to entertain such ideas at the beginning of the War, neither secession nor the War would have occurred.

After the capture of New Orleans by the Union, Major General Benjamin Butler decided to reconstitute the 1rst Lousiana Native Guard as a Union regiment.  Cailloux rejoined the regiment and was made Captain of Company E.  The black population of New Orleans responded enthusiastically to Butler’s initiative, and the Native Guard soon grew to three regiments. 

In December 1862 Butler was replaced by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks.  A former governor of Massachusetts, Banks was one of the worst Union generals of the war ( I believe the man he replaced, Benjamin Butler, deserves the chief position as most incompetent Union general.)  Forces under his command were so regularly beaten by the Confederates, that they nicknamed him “Commissary” Banks, since they would seize Union supply trains after they whipped his forces.  Banks replaced the black officers in the second Native Guard regiment with white officers, as it was the usual Union policy not to commission blacks.  However, the black officers in the first and third Native Guards remained in their positions.

The regiment was utilized for fatigue and guard details until it entered combat in the siege of Port Hudson, a Confederate fortified position north of Baton Rouge which the Union needed to seize as part of the campaign to bring the Mississippi under Union control.  On May 27, 1863 Banks, who commanded the Union army besieging Port Hudson, ordered assaults on the Confederate fortifications.  The 1rst and 3rd Louisiana Native Guards participated in these attacks.  The Union troops fought heroically, but Banks, with his customary lack of even elementary military skill, failed to coordinate the attacks, and the Confederates beat back the assaults with relative ease.  Captain Andre Cailloux, heroically leading his men, was killed. (more…)

Published in: on January 17, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Hero and The Priest  
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Father John B. Bannon: Confederate Chaplain and Dilomat

There were a great many brave men, during the Civil War, but I think it is a safe wager that none were braver than Father John B. Bannon.  Born on January 29, 1829 in Dublin, Ireland, after he was ordained a priest he was sent in 1853 to Missouri to minister to the large Irish population in Saint Louis.  In 1858 he was appointed pastor of St. John’s parish on the west side of the city.  Always energetic and determined, he was instrumental in the construction Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist church.  Out of his hectic schedule he somehow found time to become a chaplain in the Missouri Volunteer Militia and became friends with many soldiers who, unbeknownst to them all, would soon be called on for something other than peaceful militia drills.  In November 1860 he marched with the Washington Blues under the command of Captain Joseph Kelly to defend the state from Jayhawkers from “Bleeding Kansas”.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, most of the Saint Louis Irish were strongly Confederate in their sympathies and Father Bannon was of their number.  The Irish viewed the conflict in light of their experiences in Ireland with the English invaders, with the Southerners in the role of the Irish and the Northerners as the English.   Confederate militia gathered at Camp Jackson after the firing on Fort Sumter, and Father Bannon went there as chaplain of the Washington Blues.  Camp Jackson eventually surrendered to Union forces, and Father Bannon was held in Union custody until May 11, 1861.  He resumed his parish duties, although he made no secret from the pulpit where his personal sympathies lay.  Targeted for arrest by the Union military in Saint Louis, on December 15, 1861, he slipped out of the back door of his rectory, in disguise and wearing a fake beard,  as Union troops entered the front door. 

He made his way to Springfield, Missouri where Confederate forces were gathering, and enlisted in the Patriot Army of Missouri under the colorful General Sterling Price, who would say after the War that Father Bannon was the greatest soldier he ever met.

He became a chaplain in the First Missouri Confederate Brigade, and would serve in that capacity until the unit surrendered at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863.  He quickly became a legend not only in his brigade, but in the entire army to which it was attached and an inspiration to the soldiers, Catholic and Protestant alike.  At the three day battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, March 6-8, 1862, he disobeyed orders for chaplains to remain in the rear and joined the soldiers on the firing line, giving human assistance to the wounded, and divine assistance for those beyond human aid.  For Catholic soldiers he would give them the Last Rites, and Protestant soldiers, if they wished, he would baptize. (more…)

Published in: on January 16, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Father John B. Bannon: Confederate Chaplain and Dilomat  
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The Vacant Chair

Something for the weekend.  The incomparable Kathy Mattea singing the Civil War song The Vacant Chair.  Originally written in 1862 to commemorate Second Lieutenant John William Grout, 15th Massachusetts, who was killed at age eighteen at Ball’s Bluff, one of the early battles of the War, it proved immensely popular North and South as the nation eventually mourned approximately 620,000 vacant chairs. (more…)

Published in: on January 15, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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Hardtack, a very hard, thick cracker, was the soldier staff of life North and South during the Civil War.  Prior to the War, hardtack had long served as a food staple for explorers, hunters and anyone else who needed a food source that was light and could last forever.  Unfortunately, the hardtack often became infested with weevils.  Soldiers who didn’t want the extra protein would often put the hardtack into water and skim the weevils off the top. (more…)

Published in: on January 14, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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To the Shores of Tripoli

Most Americans are unfamiliar with the First and Second Barbary Wars fought in 1801-1805 and 1815, which is a shame.  They were filled with enough derring do to fill an Errol Flynn movie.  If Mr. Flynn had made a movie set in that period, a great role for him to have played would have been that of Marine First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, the man whose exploit caused the line “To the Shores of Tripoli”, to be inserted in the Marines’ Hymn.

The Barbary Pirates were muslim corsairs who operated out of North African ports, primarily Tunis, Tripoli and Algiers.  Since the 16th century these bandits had been preying upon European shipping, with European nations sometimes fighting them, but often paying them protection money to be left alone.  The young American republic attempted initially to have peaceful relations with the Barbary States controlled by the pirates.  When that proved futile, President Thomas Jefferson decided to fight.  The war was waged on the sea by American naval squadrons.

In 1805 one of the most colorful characters in American history, William Eaton, a former US consul at Tunis, hatched a plan to topple the government of the Barbary State, Tripoli, and reinstall Hamet Caramanli as Pasha of Tripoli.  Assembling a motley force of 500 Greek, Arab and Berber Mercenaries, and 8 Marines at Alexandria, Egypt, he embarked upon this unlikely adventure on March 8, 1805.

Leading the Marines was First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon.  Born in the year of his nation’s birth, 1776, O’Bannon was a Virginian and had been a member of the Corps since 1801.  His Marines were the only portion of his force that Eaton could rely upon and  were instrumental in putting down attempted mutinies by some of the mercenaries during the 50 day trek across the Sahara. (more…)