Harry Truman’s Ghost Letter

A suitable topic for Halloween.  Harry Truman, soon after he became President, wrote a letter to his wife in which he referred to ghosts in the White House:

THE WHITE HOUSE
WASHINGTON

June 12, 1945

Dear Bess:- Just two months ago today, I was a reasonably happy and contented Vice-President. Maybe you can remember that far back too. But things have changed so much it hardly seems real.

I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs, read reports, and work on speeches — all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway and even right in here in the study. The floors pop and the drapes move back and forth — I can just imagine old Andy and Teddy having an argument over Franklin. Or James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce deciding which was the more useless to the country. And when Millard Fillmore and Chester Arthur join in for place and show, the din is almost unbearable. But I still get some work done.

Hope the weather lets up and you will be able to do some work on the house. The Gibson boy should have been taken care of long ago. I’ll see what’s happened. I’m not able to do as many things for my friends now as I did when I was just a dirty organisation Democrat and a County Judge.

Guess you and Helen will have a grand time. Hope you do. We are working on Dr. Wallace. Glad everybody was in his right mind at the family party. Undoubtedly they were walking the straight and narrow for your mother. But I’m sure you had a nice time anyway.

That address mixed up is causing me some embarrassment (if that’s the way you spell that blushing word.) I addressed a letter to you at 4701 Conn. Ave. Independence Mo., and another one 219 North Delaware, Washington, D. C. Now it seems I sent one to the Rolands. The boys in the House here didn’t catch that one but they did the other two.

I’ll have Reathal attend to the chores you suggest. I haven’t seen her but twice since you left. She comes in after I go over to the office, usually goes out to lunch and doesn’t come back until I am gone again and then goes home before I get over here.

Had Charlie Ross and Rosenman to lunch yesterday. We worked on my San Francisco speech. ,that date is postponed until next week now on account of the slow wind-up and Gen. Eisenhower’s visit.

Write me when you can – I hope every day.

Lots of love.

Harry. (more…)

Published in: on October 31, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Harry Truman’s Ghost Letter  
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Don’s Latest Book Haul

(I originally posted this on The American Catholic and I thought the book mavens of Almost Chosen People might find it enjoyable.)

My wife and I were out and about last Saturday and hit two book stores:  Babbitt’s Books in Normal, a fantastic used book store with thousands of fairly off beat volumes and a black cat as a charming guard cat for the establishment, and the Barnes and Noble in Bloomington.  As faithful readers of this blog know my wife and I are dedicated book packrats.  Here are the books I purchased yesterday:

From Babbitt’s:

1.  Thaddeus Stevens by Ralph Korngold-A 1955 biography of the great abolitionist Congressman from Pennsylvania, who was usually an adversary of Lincoln, sometimes an ally, who reshaped Reconstruction in a punitive direction after Lincoln’s death and came close to unseating his successor.  A great man, but one whose impact on the country ran contrary to the goal he wished to accomplish:  full equality for blacks.  A Greek tragedy of a life in many ways.

2.  The Racial Attitudes of American Presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt by George Sinkler-A 1971 study of how these presidents viewed racial minorities, particularly blacks.  Considering how much is written about race in this country, I believe this is the only book I can recall on this aspect of the topic.  I have begun to read it and it looks fascinating.

3.  A History of Apologetics by Avery Cardinal Dulles-A 1999 reprint of the 1971 book by Dulles.  I have never read anything by the late Cardinal Dulles without coming away dazzled by his intellect, and I doubt that this will be any different.

On to Barnes and Noble: (more…)

Published in: on October 30, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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October 29, 1863: The Charge of the Mule Brigade

The battle of Wauhatchie featured in a post yesterday which may be read here, is primarily remembered in Civil War lore for a minor incident that occurred during the fight.  The Confederate Hampton Legion, led by General Wade Hampton, of Longstreet’s Corps, apparently was disordered briefly by a stampede of Union mules and that allowed the Union to plug a gap in the battle line.  Union troops waggishly suggested after the fight that the mules be breveted as horses.  Here is the poem by that endlessly prolific author Anonymous: (more…)

Published in: on October 29, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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October 28, 1863: Battle of Wauhatchie

Battle_of_Wauhatchie_map

Major General Ulysses S. Grant arrived at Chattanooga on October 23, 1863.  Major General William Rosecrans, who Grant relieved, placing in command of the Army of the Cumberland Major General George Thomas, presented Grant with a plan to reopen the supply lines to the besieged Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga, devised by Brigadier General William F. “Baldy” Smith, chief engineer of the Army of the Cumberland.  Grant in his memoirs admitted that the plan was a good one, and, always unable to avoid taking a dig at Rosecrans who he disliked intensely, said he was surprised that it had not yet been implemented.

Opening up what would become known as “the cracker line involved the Army of the Cumberland seizing Brown’s Ferry and linking up with Major General Joseph Hooker’s two corps relief force sent from the Army of the Potomac that was advancing up Lookout Valley.  Brown’s Ferry on the Tennessee River was seized in a daring combined amphibious operation with one Union brigade landing from the river and another brigade linking up overland.  The attack occurred in darkness at 4:40 AM on the morning of October 27.  Phase one of operation cracker line was completed.

Phase two was accomplished the new day when Hooker’s two corps reached Brown’s Ferry.  The Union now controlled a good route into Chattanooga down which supplies could travel unmolested.

Longstreet began a counterattack shortly before midnight on October 28, 1863, to cut the rail line in Lookout Valley, making the battle of Wauhatchie one of the few night battles of the war.  The comedy of errors that ensued in the clumsily fought, on both sides, engagement underlined why generals rarely chose to fight at night.  Longstreet committed too few troops to the attack, only a brigade and a division, while Hooker left Geary’s division that occupied Wauhatchie Station, the key position of the battle without reinforcements, while he took  the bulk of his forces to make futile assaults on a Conferate hilltop position.  Geary held Wauhatchie Station, the hard fought battle there taking an immense personal toll on him with his son, an artillery lieutenant, dying in his arms, with the Confederates retreating due to a false report that Union troops were in their rear.  A true dog’s breakfast of a confused engagement.  Grant was disgusted at Hooker’s lack of skill in the battle and almost relieved him.  I am sure Grant’s mood was not improved when he read Hooker’s vainglorious report, which is set forth below: (more…)

The Many Faces of Abe

One of the many things that I find fascinating about Lincoln is how different he looked in most of his photographs.  All but one of the Lincoln photographs were taken during the last eleven years of his life, and they are an interesting study in contrasts.  This is especially intriguing since the subject of a photograph in Lincoln’s day had to sit absolutely still for at least 18 seconds, and I would think this would tend to flatten out any emotions that the subject was feeling at the time which might have altered his features.

I have studied Lincoln now for almost a half century and the complexity of the man is perhaps his most salient feature, and that shines through in his pictures.  A man known for his humble birth, but who hated the life of poverty and drudgery that he worked so hard to escape from.  Famous for reading before the embers of a fire place as a child, he read little as an adult beyond newspapers and a few choice books, but what he read he retained with a bear trap like grasp. A teller of humorous tales who was afflicted with deep melancholia.  No formal education to speak of, but the finest writer of prose ever to sit in the White House.  A deeply logical man who loved Euclid, he could understand the passions, the loves and the hates, that almost destroyed his nation.  A humane man who abhorred bloodshed, he presided over the bloodiest war in our history.  Viewed with suspicion by the abolitionists of his day, it was his fate to destroy slavery that had existed in what would be the United States for a quarter of a millennia.  Turn Lincoln over in your mind and new facets of the man spring up.

Stephen Vincent Benet in his epic poem on the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, captured some of the many Lincolns that appeared in the photographs: (more…)

Published in: on October 27, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Many Faces of Abe  
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Take Me Home

 

Something for the weekend.  Take Me Home.  Written in 1864 by John Hewitt, who composed some 300 songs, it is a wish by homesick Southern soldiers to go back to their homes.  It is now better known as Sweet Sunny South.  Below is a rendition by Joan Baez: (more…)

Published in: on October 26, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Take Me Home  
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Confederate Medal of Honor

Confederate Medal of Honor

Less well known than the Union Medal of Honor, the Confederacy also had its Medal of Honor, established by the Confederate Congress and embodied in General Orders No. 93 of the Confederate Army.  Unfortunately chronic metal shortages in the Confederacy prevented the actual manufacture of the Medals, but the names of recipients were to be preserved upon rolls of honor, as set forth in General Orders No. 131.

After the War the United Daughters of the Confederacy issued medals, beginning in 1900, known as the Southern Cross of Honor, to those whose names appeared on the rolls of honor and recognized new recipients who had rendered heroic service during the War.  (more…)

Published in: on October 25, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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October 24, 1863: Lincoln to Halleck

 

 

In the fall of 1863 Lincoln was getting impatient.  After the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg Northern morale had risen and victory seemed to be in sight.  Then:  nothing.  Meade and the Army of the Potomac largely sat on their hands, even after it was learned that Lee had sent a third of his army to the West to help Bragg and the Army of Tennessee defeat the Army of the Cumberland at Chickamauga.  Now the Army of the Cumberland was loosely besieged in Chattanooga and Union efforts in the West were focused on breaking the siege.  To Lincoln it was a bitter pill, especially when he considered the elections of 1864.  Unless victory was clearly in sight at this time next year in 1864, Lincoln would lose and the Union be sundered.  Some of this frustration is clearly beneath the surface in this letter of October 24, 1863 where Lincoln attempts to prod General in Chief Henry Halleck to get the Army of the Potomac to go on the offensive: (more…)

Published in: on October 24, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 24, 1863: Lincoln to Halleck  
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The Past, Another Country?

The Past

An interesting point counterpoint between me and co-blogger Elaine at The American Catholic regarding people of the past.  This was in reference to my post regarding the colorization of Civil War photographs:

Elaine:  I don’t believe the past is as much of a “foreign country” as we think. Human nature, after all, doesn’t change much and the people who lived through the Civil War WERE “just like us”. They didn’t have all the whiz-bang technology that we have, of course, and their physical lives were more difficult and precarious than ours; but they had many of the same hopes, fears and desires that we do, and in some ways, were more thoughtful and more knowledgeable than we are.

Don:  In some ways they were like us Elaine and in many other important ways they were not.  They had a deep patriotism that most of our contemporaries do not share.  The same is true in regard to religious faith.  They, and when I say “they” I am referring to a majority of the people who lived through the Civil War, were inured to hardships that many today who are unfamiliar with the period would find difficult to fathom.  They assumed that democratic government could cure most of the world’s ills, an optimism that few of us share today.  Even the most radical of them then would seem quite conservative to most people today.  Death was a common part of their lives in a way that it is not today.  Bodies were laid out in parlors, people would enter into formal mourning for a year, and it was a rare family that did not lose several children, usually quite young, to the Grim Reaper.  They knew who they were and what they stood for, a stability that many of us would envy but few of us have today.  We view their time now through books, a few paintings, and many photographs, rather than the living reality they experienced.  We see them as in a glass, darkly, to crib from Saint Paul, and in many ways we understand them as little as they would understand us, if they could have foreseen us.  History is wonderful, but it can never give us but the shadow of the past. (more…)

Published in: on October 23, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Past, Another Country?  
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The Army of Northern Virginia

Furling the Flag

Army of Northern Virginia, fabulous army,
Strange army of ragged individualists,
The hunters, the riders, the walkers, the savage pastorals,
The unmachined, the men come out of the ground,
Still for the most part, living close to the ground
As the roots of the cow-pea, the roots of the jessamine,
The lazy scorners, the rebels against the wheels,
The rebels against the steel combustion-chamber
Of the half-born new age of engines and metal hands.
The fighters who fought for themselves in the old clan-fashion.
Army of planters’ sons and rusty poor-whites,
Where one man came to war with a haircloth trunk
Full of fine shirts and a body-servant to mend them,
And another came with a rifle used at King’s Mountain
And nothing else but his pants and his sun-cracked hands,
Aristo-democracy armed with a forlorn hope,
Where a scholar turned the leaves of an Arabic grammar
By the campfire-glow, and a drawling mountaineer
Told dirty stories old as the bawdy world,
Where one of Lee’s sons worked a gun with the Rockbridge Battery
And two were cavalry generals. (more…)

Published in: on October 22, 2013 at 5:32 am  Comments (2)  
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