Make the Sign of the Cross and Go In!

General William S. Rosecrans

My avatar when I blog and when I comment on blogs is Major General William Rosecrans.  As my personal motto for the coming year I will adopt one of his sayings:  Make the Sign of the Cross and Go In!

Outside of his family, General William S. Rosecrans had three great passions in his life:  His religion, Roman Catholicism, to which he had converted as a cadet at West Point, the Army and the Union.  In the Civil War all three passions coincided.  Rising to the rank of Major General and achieving command of the Army of the Cumberland, until he was removed in the aftermath of the Union defeat at Chickamauga, Rosecrans conducted himself in the field as if he were a Crusader knight of old.

Raised a Methodist, Rosecrans’ conversion was a life long turning point for him.  He wrote to his family with such zeal for his new-found faith that his brother Sylvester began to take instruction in the Faith.  Sylvester would convert, become a priest, and eventually be the first bishop of Columbus, Ohio.

His most precious possession was his Rosary and he said the Rosary at least once each day. In battle the Rosary would usually be in his hand as he gave commands.  He had a personal chaplain, Father Patrick Treacy, who said Mass for him each morning and would busy himself the rest of the day saying masses for the troops and helping with the wounded.  In battle he exposed himself to enemy fire ceaselessly as he rode behind the General.   Rosecrans, after military matters were taken care of, delighted in debating theology with his staff officers late into the evening.

As a general Rosecrans was in the forefront of Union commanders until his defeat at Chickamauga.  His removal from command following the battle was controversial at the time and has remained controversial, some historians seeing in it a continuation by Grant, who was placed in charge of Chattanooga following Chickamauga, of his long-standing feud with Rosecrans.  Certainly Rosecrans had already drafted the plan followed by Grant to reopen the lines of supply to the Union forces in Chickamauga.  Go here to read a spirited defense of General Rosecrans which appeared in issue 401 of The Catholic World in 1898.

Rosecrans resigned from the Army in 1867 and had a successful business career.  He served in Congress from 1881-1885.

He narrowly missed being the first Catholic president of the United States.  General James Garfield, an Ohio Republican Congressman and future president, who had served under him, telegraphed Rosecrans during the 1864 Republican Convention to see if the Democrat Rosecrans would serve as Veep on a Union ticket with Lincoln.  Rosecrans gave a cautiously positive reply but Garfield never received the telegram and the nomination went to Andrew Johnson.  Rosecrans suspected that the telegram had been intercepted by Rosecrans’ old nemesis, Secretary of War Stanton.

One hundred and fifty-one  years ago Rosecrans was fighting a huge battle at Stones River in Tennessee that would last from December 31, 1862-January 3, 1863.  He succeeded in defeating Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee and drove him from central Tennessee.  It was an important victory, a needed shot in the arm for the Union after the disaster of Fredericksburg.  Lincoln wrote to Rosecrans:

“You gave us a hard-earned victory, which had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over.”

During that battle he was a man on fire, constantly charging to points of danger, heedless of risks to himself, rallying his men, inspiring them and beating off Confederate charge after Confederate charge.  Rosecrans was in the maelstrom of particularly vicious fighting when his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Julius Garesche, a fellow Catholic who had been made a Knight of Saint Sylvester by Pope Pius IX, warned him about risking himself to enemy fire.   “Never mind me, my boy, but make the sign of the cross and go in.” A moment later, a cannon shell careened into the general’s entourage, beheading Garesche and spraying his brains all over Rosecrans’ overcoat.  Rosecrans’ mourned his friend, as he mourned all his brave men who died in that fight, but that didn’t stop him an instant from leading his army to victory.

In his hour of triumph Rosecrans knew who to thank.  At the conclusion of his official report of the battle he wrote:

With all the facts of the battle fully before me, the relative numbers and positions of our troops and those of the rebels, the gallantry and obstinacy of the contest and the final result, I say, from conviction, and as public acknowledgment due to Almighty God, in closing this report, “Non nobis Domine! non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam.”

Not all of us can be as brave as “Old Rosie” as his men called him, but all of us can honorably do our part in this life with the courage we can muster and with the grace of God.  God willing, that is what I intend to do in 2014.

Rosecrans Mass

Published in: on December 31, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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State of the Confederacy 1863

Jefferson Davis

The day before President Lincoln sent to Congress his annual message to Congress on December 8, 1863, President Davis delivered a state of the Confederacy speech to the Confederate Congress.  It was a blunt speech and minced no words in detailing the huge problems facing the Confederacy and the fact that the War was not going well.  Davis called upon his people to renew their determination to fight the War through to victory, no matter the odds against them.  The speech is not available online, but a New York Times report is.  Making allowance for the fact that the New York Times bitterly opposed the Confederacy, the report did capture most of the substance of the speech: (more…)

Published in: on December 30, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on State of the Confederacy 1863  
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State of the Union 1863

Abraham Lincoln

On December 8, 1863 Lincoln sent his annual message to Congress in which he reviewed the state of the country during the year that was coming to an end.  The message to Congress would have been read by a clerk.  We would call this today a state of the union address.  Washington had delivered his annual messages to Congress personally to joint sessions.  This custom was ended by Thomas Jefferson, who thought the President delivering a speech to Congress smacked of monarchy, too closely resembling the speech from the throne delivered by English monarchs at the opening of Parliament.  Thereafter president’s sent their annual messages to Congress in written form, until Wilson revived the custom of delivering the speech in person.

One aspect of Lincoln’s speech that surprised me when I first read it is the amount of it devoted to foreign affairs, almost half, if the portion dealing with foreign nationals in the United States is included.  Lincoln devotes less than a quarter of the speech to the War which is unsurprising.  The War news was a constant feature of life in the United States during the Civil War, and Lincoln probably looked upon the annual message as an opportunity to remind Congress and the people that the War was not the only thing occurring in the United States.  Lincoln ends his message with a general overview of his policy regarding Reconstruction.  Lincoln could hope now that ultimate victory might be on the horizon, and he realized that a substantial portion of the Republican members of Congress opposed any leniency to the South.  Lincoln was beginning his tight rope walk to both satisfy the demands of the Radical Republicans for civil rights for freedmen, and to deny them their desire to punish the South.  He would continue to walk that tightrope until the bullet of Booth brought his life to an end with consequences the nation is still living with.  Here is the annual address of President Abraham Lincoln for 1863: (more…)

Published in: on December 29, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on State of the Union 1863  
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A Christmas Carol For Our Time

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic.  I thought the Dickens mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

Brilliant article on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by Jerry Bowyer at Forbes:

What was Dickens really doing when he wrote A Christmas Carol? Answer: He was weighing in on one of the central economic debates of his time, the one that raged between Thomas Malthus and one of the disciples of Adam Smith.

Malthus famously argued that in a world in which economies grew arithmetically and population grew geometrically, mass want would be inevitable. His Essay on Population created a school of thought which continues to this day under the banners of Zero Population Growth and Sustainability. The threat of a “population bomb” under which my generation lived was Paul Ehrlich’s modern rehashing of the Malthusian argument about the inability of productivity to keep pace with, let alone exceed, population growth.

Jean Baptiste Say, Smith’s most influential disciple, argued on the other hand, as had his mentor, that the gains from global population growth, spread over vast expanses of trading, trigger gains from a division of labor which exceed those ever thought possible before the rise of the market order.

Guess whose ideas Charles Dickens put into the mouth of his antagonist Ebenezer Scrooge.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation? … If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Interesting, isn’t it? Later in the story, the Ghost of Christmas Present reminds Scrooge of his earlier words and then adds about Tiny Tim:

“What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust.”

Interesting also, that Ehrlich was not an economist, agronomist or even demographer but rather an etymologist, an expert in insect biology. Malthusianism is, indeed, the philosophy of the bug heap, of man as devouring swarm rather than ennobling angel.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is the key to understanding Dickens’ political and economic philosophy. He is the symbol of abundance. He literally and figuratively holds a cornucopia, a horn of plenty. While he wears a scabbard at his side, it is bereft of sword and neglected in care. Peace and plenty.

Go here to read the brilliant rest.  The power of A Christmas Carol is the age old Christmas themes of redemption and renewal.  The World has much evil in it, but there is also much good.  Scrooge has spent his life overwhelmed by the evil and has grown old and cynical.  Christmas taught him to cast aside his cynicism, to rejoice in the good and to do what he can to help.  Fundamentally A Christmas Carol is a message of optimism both in humanity and in the future.  As we remember at Christmas the joy of God coming among us, as one of us, that is a message the World desperately needs at this hour.  God bless us, everyone.

Published in: on December 26, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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Sixty-Nine Years Ago

Sixty-nine years ago at Christmas the American and German armies were fighting it out in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of the War. Patton’s Third Army fought its way through to relieve the Americans desperately fighting to defeat the attacking German forces.  The weather was atrocious and Allied air power was useless.  Patton had a prayer written for good weather. The skies cleared after Patton prayed the weather prayer, and Allied air power was unleashed on the attacking Germans. During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101st Airborne Division made a heroic stand at Bastogne from December 20-27 which helped turn the tide of the battle. Massively outnumbered, battle weary from already having done more than their share of fighting in Normandy and Operation Market Garden and short on food and ammo, they stopped the advancing Germans cold in their tracks. On December 25, a packed midnight mass was held in Bastogne, with Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, who commanded the 101st troops at Bastogne, in attendance.  Afterwards the General listened to German POWS singing Silent Night, and wished them a Merry Christmas. General McAuliffe issued a memorable Christmas message to his troops: (more…)

Published in: on December 23, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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A Merry Christmas to Those Who Protect Us

A film clip from Battleground (1949), a rousing tribute to the heroic stand of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne at Christmas 1944, which helped turn the tide of the Battle of the Bulge.  We should always be mindful of the men and women in our military who are far from their families today,  destined to celebrate Christmas often in dangerous situations.  May God bless them and keep them, and may we always remember the sacrifices they make for us.

Published in: on December 20, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (8)  
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Medicine and Water

The US military produced hundreds of movies for training purposes and informational purposes.  The above video, produced in 1944 I think falls in the latter category.  Not detailed enough to give any real information to medics in training, it would be reassuring to troops destined for the Pacific.  The Army Medical Corps did a great job keeping troops alive during the War.  Sent to places around the globe that had endless medical problems far beyond normal battlefield casualties, US troops had a very low death rate from disease.  However the Army Medical Corps cannot take the entire credit.  One factor that greatly reduced illness, especially dysentery, that great killer of men throughout military history, was the emphasis that the Army put on producing potable water for the troops.  The film below on water treatment makes for somewhat dry viewing, but it gives a detailed overview of the steps taken to make sure that men did not sicken from the water that they drank: (more…)

Published in: on December 18, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Medicine and Water  
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Lincoln and Trust in God

In some ways few presidents would have had better cause to doubt God than Abraham Lincoln.  Losing his mother at nine, he would endure the deaths of both his infant brother and his beloved elder sister who died in childbirth.   Two of his sons died before his eyes and he presided as President over a nation which was convulsed by a civil war which remains the bloodiest conflict this nation has ever fought.  Instead during the Civil War Lincoln grew to have an immense trust in God.  This is shown strikingly in a letter he wrote to Quaker Eliza P.  Gurney:

Executive Mansion, Washington, September 4, 1864.

Eliza P. Gurney. My esteemed friend.

I have not forgotten–probably never shall forget–the very  impressive occasion when yourself and friends visited me on a  Sabbath forenoon two years ago. Nor has your kind letter, written  nearly a year later, ever been forgotten. In all, it has been  your purpose to strengthen my reliance on God. I am much  indebted to the good Christian people of the country for their  constant prayers and consolations; and to no one of them, more  than to yourself. The purposes of the Almighty are perfect, and  must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately  perceive them in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this  terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled  otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own  error therein. Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light  He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great  ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this  mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal  could stay.

Your people–the Friends–have had, and are having, a very  great trial. On principle, and faith, opposed to both war and  oppression, they can only practically oppose oppression by war.  In this hard dilemma, some have chosen one horn, and some the  other. For those appealing to me on conscientious grounds, I have  done, and shall do, the best I could and can, in my own conscience,  under my oath to the law. That you believe this I doubt not;  and believing it, I shall still receive, for our country and myself,  your earnest prayers to our Father in heaven.

Your sincere friend A. Lincoln. (more…)

Published in: on December 16, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Czeslawa Kwoka


Czeslawa Kwoka

Let not anyone pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.

John Stuart Mill, 1867



Hattip to HappyAcres.  The story of the murder of Czeslawa Kwoka has been making the rounds of the internet.  Just one of the tens of millions of  victims of the attempt by Adolph Hitler seventy years ago to bring to reality his nightmarish vision of the future of humanity.

Czesława Kwoka, a 14-year-old Polish Catholic girl (prisoner number 26947) from the small village of Wólka Złojecka is photographed upon her arrival at Auschwitz concentration camp in December 1942. Wilhelm Brasse, an inmate who served as the camp identification photographer, recalled photographing Kwoka:

“She was so young and so terrified. The girl didn’t understand why she was there and she couldn’t understand what was being said to her.

So this woman Kapo took a stick and beat her about the face. This German woman was just taking out her anger on the girl. Such a beautiful young girl, so innocent. She cried but she could do nothing.

Before the photograph was taken, the girl dried her tears and the blood from the cut on her lip. To tell you the truth, I felt as if I was being hit myself but I couldn’t interfere. It would have been fatal for me. You could never say anything.”

Kwoka died in the camp in March of 1943. (more…)

Published in: on December 15, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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December 13, 1863: Skirmish at Meriwether’s Ferry, Bayou Boeuf, Arkansas


In studying the Civil War it is good to recall that their were countless skirmishes fought throughout the War, most utterly forgotten today.  One such minor skirmish was fought on December 13, 1863.  The report on the skirmish is well written and is interesting since it was the first time in action of the First Mississippi Cavalry, a Union regiment consisting of black former Mississippi slaves.  Here is the report: (more…)

Published in: on December 13, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 13, 1863: Skirmish at Meriwether’s Ferry, Bayou Boeuf, Arkansas  
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