Christmas Bells

One of my favorite Christmas carols has always been I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.   It is based on the poem Christmas Bells written  by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day 1863.  Still devastated by the death of his wife in a fire in 1861, he had been rocked by news that his son Charles, serving as a lieutenant in the Union army, had been severely wounded at the battle of New Hope Church in November of 1863.  In a nation rent by civil war, along with his personal woes, one could perhaps understand if Longfellow had been deaf to the joy of Christmas that year. Instead, in his magnificent poem he relates how the Christmas message that God is with us can overcome all evil.  Having suffered a grave personal loss this year, the death of my son Larry on May 19, I can attest that the message of salvation and eternal life that Christmas brings has a special meaning to me this year. (more…)

Published in: on November 30, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Christmas Bells  
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Thanksgiving Proclamation 1903

Theodore Roosevelt and Friends

 

By the President of the United States of America

 

A Proclamation

 

The season is at hand when according to the custom of our people it fails upon the President to appoint a day of praise and thanksgiving to God.

During the last year the Lord has dealt bountifully with us, giving us peace at home and abroad and the chance for our citizens to work for their welfare unhindered by war, famine or plague. It behoves us not only to rejoice greatly because of what has been given us, but to accept it with a solemn sense of responsibility, realizing that under Heaven it rests with us ourselves to show that we are worthy to use aright what has thus been entrusted to our care. In no other place and at no other time has the experiment of government of the people, by the people, for the people, been tried on so vast a scale as here in our own country in the opening years of the 20th Century. Failure would not only be a dreadful thing for us, but a dreadful thing for all mankind, because it would mean loss of hope for all who believe in the power and the righteousness of liberty. Therefore, in thanking God for the mercies extended to us in the past, we beeseech Him that He may not withhold them in the future, and that our hearts may be roused to war steadfastly for good and against all the forces of evil, public and private. We pray for strength, and light, so that in the coming years we may with cleanliness, fearlessness, and wisdom, do our allotted work on the earth in such manner as to show that we are not altogether unworthy of the blessings we have received.

Now, Therefore, I, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, do hereby designate as a day of general thanksgiving Thursday, the twenty-sixth of the coming November, and do recommend that throughout the land the people cease from their wonted occupations, and in their several homes and places of worship render thanks unto Almighty God for his manifold mercies.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington this 31st day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and three and of the Independence of the United States the one hundred and twenty-eighth.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT

By the President:

JOHN HAY,

Secretary of State.

Published in: on November 29, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Thanksgiving Proclamation 1903  
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Lincoln and the Creation of Thanksgiving

In the midst of this, however, He, from Whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated.

Abraham Lincoln, from his last public address, April 11, 1865

Abraham Lincoln frequently throughout the Civil War called for Thanksgiving for Union victories and for prayers and repentance for national sins.  The idea however of an annual Thanksgiving did not spring from him but from Sarah Josepha Hale, a noted literary figure who, among other accomplishments wrote the child’s poem Mary Had a Little Lamb.  Born in 1788, for years she had led a movement for a national day of Thanksgiving to be observed annually.

Sir.–

Permit me, as Editress of the “Lady’s Book”, to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and — as I trust — even to the President of our Republic, of some importance. This subject is to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.

You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.

Enclosed are three papers (being printed these are easily read) which will make the idea and its progress clear and show also the popularity of the plan.

For the last fifteen years I have set forth this idea in the “Lady’s Book”, and placed the papers before the Governors of all the States and Territories — also I have sent these to our Ministers abroad, and our Missionaries to the heathen — and commanders in the Navy. From the recipients I have received, uniformly the most kind approval. Two of these letters, one from Governor (now General) Banks and one from Governor Morgan are enclosed; both gentlemen as you will see, have nobly aided to bring about the desired Thanksgiving Union.

But I find there are obstacles not possible to be overcome without legislative aid — that each State should, by statute, make it obligatory on the Governor to appoint the last Thursday of November, annually, as Thanksgiving Day; — or, as this way would require years to be realized, it has ocurred to me that a proclamation from the President of the United States would be the best, surest and most fitting method of National appointment.

I have written to my friend, Hon. Wm. H. Seward, and requested him to confer with President Lincoln on this subject As the President of the United States has the power of appointments for the District of Columbia and the Territories; also for the Army and Navy and all American citizens abroad who claim protection from the U. S. Flag — could he not, with right as well as duty, issue his proclamation for a Day of National Thanksgiving for all the above classes of persons? And would it not be fitting and

patriotic for him to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? Thus the great Union Festival of America would be established.

Now the purpose of this letter is to entreat President Lincoln to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November (which falls this year on the 26th) as the National Thanksgiving for all those classes of people who are under the National Government particularly, and commending this Union Thanksgiving to each State Executive: thus, by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured.

An immediate proclamation would be necessary, so as to reach all the States in season for State appointments, also to anticipate the early appointments by Governors.

Excuse the liberty I have taken

With profound respect

Yrs truly

Sarah Josepha Hale,

Editress of the “Ladys Book”

There is no evidence that Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued in response to this letter, but it is probable.  Here is the proclamation on October 3, 1863 by President Lincoln that established Thanksgiving as an annual event:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. (more…)

Published in: on November 28, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln and the Creation of Thanksgiving  
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Thanksgiving Proclamation: 1789

Throughout the American Revolution Congress had set aside days of Thanksgiving to God for American victories.  After the surrender of Burgoyne in 1777 Congress authorized General Washington to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving, which he did, designating it to be observed on December 18, 1777.  Thus, President Washington readily agreed when the new federal Congress authorized him to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation, establishing the first American Thanksgiving to be held on the last Thursday in November.  Washington observed the day by attending church at Saint Paul Chapel and donating beer and food to imprisoned debtors in New York City.  Here is the text of the proclamation: (more…)

Published in: on November 27, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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November 26, 1863: Mine Run Campaign

Mine_Run_Campaign

The Mine Run Campaign which began on November 26, 1863 illustrates that Major General George Gordon Meade, although he would later prove effective as, in effect, Grant’s chief of staff after Grant came East and took de facto command of the Army of the Potomac, was completely outclassed in generalship by Robert E. Lee, Gettysburg notwithstanding.  Meade with 81,000 men, had a golden opportunity to inflict a severe defeat on Lee, who only had 48,000 men with Longstreet’s Corps stuck besieging Knoxville in Tennessee.

Meade’s plan was to conduct a lightning march through the Wilderness, the tangle of forest and shrub where Hooker had been defeated at Chancellorsville and where the first battle of the Overland Campaign would be fought in 1864.

Delays crossing the Rapidan on November 25,  allowed Lee time to slow the Union advance at Payne’s Farm on November 26.  Withdrawing behind Mine Run creek, Lee fortified his position.  Meade planned an assault on Lee’s position but cooler heads prevailed and Meade withdrew during the night on December 1-2.  This chagrined Lee who had been preparing his own attack for December 2.  This ended the Virginia campaign of 1863, a campaign that was barren of results for the Union after the big victory of Gettysburg.  Here is Lee’s official report on the Mine Run Campaign: (more…)

Published in: on November 26, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 26, 1863: Mine Run Campaign  
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November 25, 1863: Missionary Ridge

Chattanooga_Campaign_Nov_24-25

The culmination of the Chattanooga campaign, the battle began in the morning on November 25 with Sherman attempting to take Tunnel Hill.  His attacks met with no success in the face of fierce Confederate resistance.

Grant ordered the Army of the Cumberland to advance against Missionary Ridge, and the attack began at 3:30 PM.  Grant, doubting that the heavily fortified Missionary Ridge could be taken by a frontal assault, ordered that only the rifle pits at the base of the ridge be taken, with the troops to await further order.  Thomas launched a four division attack, about 23,000 men.  The rifle pits were taken, and the Union troops began to come upon heavy fire from Confederate positions on Missionary Ridge.  They immediately began a charge up the ridge to the astonishment of Grant:

 Our men drove the troops in front of the lower line of rifle-pits so rapidly, and followed them so closely, that rebel and Union troops went over the first line of works almost at the same time. Many rebels were captured and sent to the rear under the fire of their own friends higher up the hill. Those that were not captured retreated, and were pursued. The retreating hordes being between friends and pursuers caused the enemy to fire high to avoid killing their own men. In fact, on that occasion the Union soldier nearest the enemy was in the safest position. Without awaiting further orders or stopping to reform, on our troops went to the second line of works; over that and on for the crest—thus effectually carrying out my orders of the 18th for the battle and of the 24th for this charge. 


I watched their progress with intense interest. The fire along the rebel line was terrific. Cannon and musket balls filled the air: but the damage done was in small proportion to the ammunition expended. The pursuit continued until the crest was reached, and soon our men were seen climbing over the Confederate barriers at different points in front of both Sheridan’s and Wood’s divisions. The retreat of the enemy along most of his line was precipitate and the panic so great that Bragg and his officers lost all control over their men. Many were captured, and thousands threw away their arms in their flight.

Missionary Ridge

The battle of Missionary Ridge was the most stunning example in the War of a frontal attack against a fortified position succeeding.  Bragg’s center was broken and his army routed, with headlong retreat being the only course of action open to him.  Confederate and Union casualties were each about 10,000 with another 4000 Confederates taken prisoner.  Many of the Army of the Cumberland Union troops went into battle yelling “Chickamauga!  Chickamauga!”  That defeat was now well avenged, and the Chattanooga Campaign was at an end.  Here is the report of Major General George Thomas, commander of the Army of the Cumberland: (more…)

Published in: on November 25, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 25, 1863: Missionary Ridge  
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November 24, 1863: Battle Above the Clouds

Battle Above the Clouds, the song in the above video, commemorates the battle of Lookout Mountain fought 150 years ago today, part of a series of Union attacks that drove the Confederate Army of Tennessee reeling in retreat from its positions around Chattanooga that it had occupied in the aftermath of the Confederate victory of Chickamauga in September of 1863.

Major General Joseph Hooker was assigned the task of attacking the Confederate position on Lookout Mountain.  Grant was dubious that the Confederate positions on Lookout Mountain could be taken, and told Hooker to take the mountain only if it seemed practicable to do so.  Hooker had three divisions, ten thousand men, not a much greater force than the 8,000 Confederates that held the position.

Hooker, intent on regaining his reputation as a field commander, pressed the assault.  The Confederate defense was hampered by the rough terrain and lackluster commanders who put up a feeble defense.  By midnight the mountain was quiet with the Confederates withdrawing in the wee hours of November 25, aided by a lunar eclipse.  The battle electrified the North, being hailed as the battle above the clouds, a reference to the mists that clung to the slopes of Lookout Mountain.

chattanooga-lookout

Brigadier General John W, Geary, who led one of Hooker’s three divisions, shared the excitement, writing to his wife:

I have been the instrument of Almighty God. … I stormed what was considered the … inaccessible heights of Lookout Mountain. I captured it. … This feat will be celebrated until time shall be no more.

In some ways the battle was actually more of a skirmish.  Casualties were light for the Union, only 408.  Confederate casualties were higher, totaling 1251, with an additional 1064 captured or missing.

Grant, who had never had any use for Hooker, in his memoirs denigrated the “battle”:

The Battle of Lookout Mountain is one of the romances of the war. There was no such battle and no action even worthy to be called a battle on Lookout Mountain. It is all poetry.

The Union troops who participated in taking Lookout Mountain would beg to differ.  After the fighting around Chattanooga was over many of them had photographs taken on Lookout Mountain, clearly proud of their accomplishment:

Union troops posing on Lookout Mountain

Here is Hooker’s report of the battle: (more…)

Published in: on November 24, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 24, 1863: Battle Above the Clouds  
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November 23, 1863: The Battle of Chattanooga Begins

Something for the weekend.  The Chattanooga Boy’s Choir singing The Battle Cry of Freedom.  An appropriate selection as 150 years ago the battle of Chattanooga began which resulted in a complete Union victory.  Actually three battles:  Orchard Knob, November 23;   Lookout Mountain, November 24;   and Missionary Ridge, November 25;   these engagements were the culmination of the Chattanooga campaign that began when Bragg and his Army of Tennessee, put the Army of the Cumberland under siege in Chattanooga in the aftermath of the Confederate victory at Chickamauga.

Chattanooga_Campaign_Nov_24-25

With strong Union reinforcements, and with Grant placed in overall command, the siege was effectively broken on October 28, 1863 with the Union establishing the “cracker line” to bring supplies into Chattanooga.  With the lifting of the siege and with the Union forces opposing him growing ever stronger, Bragg made the strategic blunder of keeping his main force in place confronting Chattanooga and sent Longstreet’s Corps, 11,000 men, on an ultimately futile campaign to capture Knoxville.

Bragg doubled down on this error by ordering two divisions to withdraw from the lines around Chattanooga and march to the rail head to be transported to reinforce Longstreet on November 22.  Seeing the movement of the Confederate forces, Grant decided to launch the long planned offensive against the Confederate positions around Chattanooga, partially to prevent Bragg from reinforcing Longstreet.

Grant ordered 14,000 Union soldiers to seize Orchard Knob, a position held by 600 Confederates in front of the main Confederate defensive lines along Missionary Ridge.  The position was taken with light casualties, and it did cause Bragg to cancel the movement of one of the divisions he had intended to send to Longstreet.

Here is Grant’s description of the engagement in his Memoirs: (more…)

Published in: on November 23, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 23, 1863: The Battle of Chattanooga Begins  
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November 22, 1963: Kennedy Assassinated

Hard to believe that the Kennedy assassination was half a century ago.  Back in 1963 I was in second grade, but I was not in school.  Sick with pneumonia, my mother had taken me to the doctor and he had prescribed penicillin.  After getting my prescription filled my mother took me home.  She turned on our television set and I planted myself on the couch to watch it.  As we watched television we saw the initial news flashes that President Kennedy had been shot.  This was on a Friday, and the remainder of that day and the weekend, my mother, father and I and my brother practically lived in front of the television set, riveted by the around the clock coverage, something unprecedented in this country before that dreadful day.

America was stunned at the idea that a President could be assassinated.  It had been 62 years since the last President had been assassinated and the country had grown complacent.  Conspiracy theories began almost at once, fueled by the surrealist murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby and by the inability of liberals to accept that their icon John F. Kennedy, ironically a very centrist Democrat, had been felled by a deranged Marxist, rather than by some sinister right wing cabal.

What was the impact of the Kennedy assassination on American history?  Probably minimal.  The economy was in good shape so Kennedy was doubtless going to be re-elected in 1964, especially with newsmen not covering his constant womanizing and his addiction to painkillers from a back injury he sustained during World War II.  Contrary to the imaginings of some liberal commentators, Kennedy was a cold warrior to his core, and the idea that he would have avoided the Vietnam War is fanciful.

Assuming that Kennedy had slaughtered Goldwater, a fairly safe assumption, he would probably have embarked on something like the Great Society in 1965, many components of which were actually stalled New Frontier initiatives, made possible in 1965 by the sweeping Democrat gains in Congress from the 1964 elections.

It is interesting to contemplate how Kennedy would have confronted liberal criticism of the Vietnam War.  It is possible that he would have fought resolutely against it, and based upon his views up to his death that is a logical conclusion.  However, I suspect that he would have been just as much a political chameleon as his brothers Bobby and Teddy, and he would quickly have moved left as the Democrat party moved left.

However this is all speculation.  Due to the events of a half century ago the tale of John F. Kennedy ended abruptly at age 46, all his possible tomorrows being rendered matters of fiction only, and outside the realm of history.

Published in: on November 22, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  

Ladder to Heaven

chaplain-joseph-verbis-lafleur1

Joseph Verbis Lafleur was born into a large Cajun family in Ville Platte Louisiana on January 24, 1912.  From early childhood his ambition was to be a priest.  Entering Saint Joseph’s Minor Seminary in Saint Benedict, Louisiana he quickly became noted for his good humor, quick wit and athletic prowess.  He also had a marked interest in French military history and would recite the last words of Marshal Michel Ney before his execution by the restored Bourbons after the Hundred Days:  “Come see how a soldier dies in battle, but he dies not.”

Ordained in 1938 he was assigned as assistant pastor at Saint Mary Magdalene in Abbeville, Louisiana.  Depression era Louisiana knew poverty that people today would find hard to believe.  Father Lafleur supplied balls, bats and gloves to the boys in his parish and helped organize baseball games.  After his death some of the boys learned that Father Lafleur had purchased the equipment by pawning his wristwatch.

Father LaFleur joined the Army Air Corps in 1941 over six months before Pearl Harbor.  Four months later Lieutenant LaFleur was sent with the 19th Bombardment Group to Clark Field in the Philippines.  The new chaplain was popular with the men:  he helped organize a baseball team, founded a discussion group and his door was always open to them.

On December 8, 1941 the Japanese attacked Clark Field and Chaplain LaFleur sprang into action.  Ignoring exploding bombs and flying shrapnel he helped treat the wounded and administered the Last Rites to those beyond human help.  For his actions that day he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

As the Philippines were conquered by the Japanese Father LaFleur passed up an opportunity for evacuation, stating that his place was with the men. (more…)