Fanfare for the Common Soldier

Something for the weekend.  Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland.  Composed seventy years ago, it was Copland’s reaction to the US entering World War II.  Watching the video above, a salute to the soldiers of World War II, brought back memories from 36 years ago for me.

Back in the summer of 1976 I was on vacation between my freshman and sophomore years at the University of Illinois.  My father ran the steel shears at a truck body plant in Paris, Illinois.  They were hiring summer help and I got a job working on the factory floor.  Although I liked the idea of earning money, I was less than enthused by the job.  The factory floor was not air-conditioned, and the summer was hot.  Additionally I had never worked in a factory before, had no experience with heavy machinery and did not know what to expect.

I was placed under the supervision of a regular worker at the plant.  He looked like he was a thousand years old to me at the time, but I realize now that he was younger than than I am now at age 55.  I would assist him at a press in which we would manhandle heavy sheets of steel and use the press to bend them into various shapes.  Before we began he pointed to a little box and said that if I lost a finger or a part of a finger as a result of the press, I should toss it in the box and proceed with the job.  Thus I was introduced to his macabre sense of humor. (more…)

Published in: on September 29, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Fanfare for the Common Soldier  
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Margaret Thatcher on Lincoln


A historical curiosity.  Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher performing the role of the narrator in Aaron Copland’s Portrait of Lincoln, circa 1992. (more…)

Published in: on September 27, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Margaret Thatcher on Lincoln  
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Cold Iron

The thirteenth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.   The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , herehere , here, here, here, here , here, here and here.  I have noted several times in this series that Kipling was not conventionally religious, yet many of his poems dealt with religious themes.  One of his lesser known poems, Cold Iron, written in 1910, I have always found personally very moving.

Gold is for the mistress — silver for the maid —
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.”

“Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
“But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of them all.”

So he made rebellion ‘gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
“Nay!” said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
“But Iron — Cold Iron — shall be master of you all!”

Woe for the Baron and his knights so strong,
When the cruel cannon-balls laid ’em all along;
He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,
And Iron — Cold Iron — was master of it all!

Yet his King spake kindly (ah, how kind a Lord!)
“What if I release thee now and give thee back thy sword?”
“Nay!” said the Baron, “mock not at my fall,
For Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all.”

“Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown —
Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.”

“As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”

Yet his King made answer (few such Kings there be!)
“Here is Bread and here is Wine — sit and sup with me.
Eat and drink in Mary’s Name, the whiles I do recall
How Iron — Cold Iron — can be master of men all!”

He took the Wine and blessed it. He blessed and brake the Bread.
With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:
“See! These Hands they pierced with nails, outside My city wall,
Show Iron — Cold Iron — to be master of men all.”

“Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong.
Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.
I forgive thy treason — I redeem thy fall —
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”

“Crowns are for the valiant — sceptres for the bold!
Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold!”

“Nay!” said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,
“But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all!
Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!” (more…)

Published in: on September 25, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Cold Iron  
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Interview With Henry Steele Commanger


One of our occasional looks at Civil War historians.  Henry Steele Commanger lived from 1902-1998 and was writing until just a few years until his death. He held chairs in history at New York University, Columbia and Amherst.  His books and articles were legion.  His most notable writing on the Civil War was The Blue and the Gray published in two large volumes in 1950.  The subtitle, “The Civil War as told by Participants“, aptly describes the work.  Commanger in the over 1200 pages of the two volumes gives an encyclopedic selection from period letters, newspaper articles, memoirs, speeches, etc.  His selections are judicious and his commentary between the passages incisive.  Commanger would later use the same method with equal success in telling the story of the Revolution in The Spirit of Seventy-Six.  Unfortunately his method  caused a host of imitative “cut and paste” histories where his method was copied but not his skill.  However, that is hardly the fault of Commanger.

Benjamin Franklin’s Speech on Signing the Constitution

A woman to Benjamin Franklin at the close of the Constitutional Convention:

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

  Benjamin Franklin“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

September 17 of this week was the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution on  September 17, 1787 at the close of the Convention.  The speech of Benjamin Franklin on this occasion has always struck me as being chock full of wisdom.  Here is the text of his address: (more…)

Published in: on September 21, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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Gadsden Purchase

Grandson of Revolutionary War hero Christopher Gadsden, creator of the Gadsden flag, James Gadsden was a southern firebrand from South Carolina.  In 1831 he supported Nullification and in 1850 he called for the secession of South Carolina on the admission of California into the Union as a free state.  In 1851 he sponsored efforts in California to split the state with southern California becoming a slave state.  Dying in 1858 he did not live to see the creation of the Confederacy or the destruction of it and slavery.

Along with his political activities Gadsden from 1840-1850 was president of the South Carolina Railroad.  He envisaged a southern transcontinental railroad linking Charleston, South Carolina to the Pacific at San Diego.  A major problem for such a railroad was that the land in the New Mexico Territory, including most of what would become Arizona, was thought to be unsuitable for the construction of the railroad.  Land south of the Gila river and west of the Rio Grande in what is today southern Arizona looked much more promising.

James Gadsden, the most unlikeliest of men for the role of diplomat, was appointed by President Franklin Pierce, ever sympathetic to southern firebrands, to attempt to negotiate a treaty with Mexico for the purchase of such land.  Santa Anna was in what would turn out to be his last term as President\Dictator of Mexico.  The negotiations began on the wrong foot when Gadsden bluntly told Santa Anna that the northern Mexican provinces would eventually secede from Mexico anyway, so he might as well sell the land to the US now.  However, Santa Anna needed money.  After considerable haggling, Santa Anna agreed to sell 38,000 square miles of desert to the US for the southern railroad.  (more…)

Published in: on September 20, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (6)  
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September 19, 1862: Battle of Iuka

A rather small battle, the battle of Iuka is notable for bringing General William Rosecrans to national attention, putting him on the path to eventual command of the Army of the Cumberland, and marking the beginning of the feud between Rosecrans and Ulysses S. Grant.

After the fall of Corinth, Mississippi in the aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh, the Civil War in northern Mississippi had entered a quiet phase.  This was shattered with Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky, with Confederate forces detailed to keep Grant busy at Corinth so that his Army of the Tennessee could not reinforce Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio in its operations against Bragg’s Army of Tennessee.  Confederate General Sterling Price, with his miniscule Army of the West, seized Iuka, a Union supply depot, about 20 miles east of Corinth, on September 14, 1862.  Price was to wait at Iuka to be joined by General Earl Van Dorn and his 7000 man Army of West Tennessee.

Grant, who was in overall command at Corinth, reacted by ordering General O. C. Ord to take three Army of the Tennessee divisions and attack from the North, while General Rosecrans took his 4500 man Army of the Mississippi and attack from the south.  The orders were Grant’s, but Rosecrans devised the plan.  Grant would accompany Ord’s force.

Having separated columns attack simultaneously is always a tricky business and so it turned out in this case.  On September 19, Rosecrans arrived at Iuka, and the battle began when his leading unit was attacked by a Confederate division at 4:30 PM.  Hard fighting ensued until nightfall, with Iuka still in Confederate control.  Ord, who was four miles from Iuka, had been ordered by Grant not to attack until he could hear the sound of Rosecrans’ attack.  Ord never heard the sound of fighting due to a strong north wind creating an acoustic shadow.

During the night Price withdrew from Iuka, not wishing to be trapped between Ord and Rosecrans.  Rosecrans found himself a national hero for taking Iuka, in spite of the escape of Price’s army.  Grant’s intial comments after the battle were quite laudatory to Rosecrans:

I cannot speak too highly of the energy and skill displayed by General Rosecrans in the attack, and of the endurance of the troops under him. General Ord’s command showed untiring zeal, but the direction taken by the enemy prevented them from taking the active part they desired.

However, Grant soon came in for newspaper criticism blaming him for Ord not attacking on the 19th.  False rumors began to circulate that Grant had been drunk.  Grant from that time forward had a decidedly cool opinion of General Rosecrans.  Here is Rosecrans’ report on the battle: (more…)

Published in: on September 19, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 19, 1862: Battle of Iuka  
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Lincoln’s Voice

A trailer for the Lincoln movie, directed by Stephen Spielberg, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, which is being released on November 9th.  I will go see it and review it.  Heaven knows that I doubt that it could possibly be worse than Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.  Capturing Lincoln on film is difficult.  He was a complex man who lived in complex times, and trying to say much of substance about him in a two hour film is probably a futile undertaking.

Some criticisms of the trailer have arisen, most centering on the objection that Day-Lewis does not sound like Lincoln.  Of course, since Lincoln died 22 years before the first primitive sound recordings we will never hear his voice.  We do have a number of contemporary accounts as to his voice.

Lincoln’s voice was, when he first began speaking, shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant; his general look, his form, his pose, the color of his flesh, wrinkled and dry, his sensitiveness, and his momentary diffidence, everything seemed to be against him, but he soon recovered.
–William H. Herndon letter, July 19, 1887 (more…)

Published in: on September 18, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln’s Voice  
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Let There Be Light

to care for him who shall have borne the battle

Abraham Lincoln

During World War II director John Huston produced three films for the US government.  Let There Be Light was shot for the Army Signal Corps.  It covers the treatment of 75 US soldiers traumatized by their combat experiences in World War II.  The film is narrated by Walter Huston, the academy award-winning actor father of John Huston.  The Army brass did not like the finished product, thinking that its focus on men who suffered psychological damage from their service could be demoralizing to the troops, and banned the film on the grounds that it invaded the privacy of the soldiers featured in the film and that the releases they signed had been lost.  (This reason was pretextual, but as a matter of law I would not place any reliance on a release signed by someone undergoing mental treatment standing up for an instant in court.) (more…)

Published in: on September 16, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Let There Be Light  
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Yankee Privateer

Something for the weekend.  Yankee Privateer, the song recounts one of the exploits of Captain Abraham Whipple, one of the more skilled and daring of American naval officers during the Revolutionary War.  In command of a force of his Providence, a 28 gun frigate, the sloop of war Ranger, and the frigate  Queen of France, he encountered in mid-1779 his force encountered a British convoy enshrouded in fog off Newfoundland.  Running up a British flag and concealing his guns, Whipple stealthily captured 11 prizes and the song celebrates this feat.  Whipple well typifies the spirit of the infant US Navy in its one-sided contest against the Royal Navy during the American Revolution.

Whipple lived to a good old age of 85.  A monument erected in his memory sums up the man: (more…)

Published in: on September 15, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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