The Flag of Sumter

Flag of Fort Sumter

As we close this year, one hundred and fifty years ago defeat loomed for the Confederacy.  It is good to recall at this point in our almost four year examination of the Civil War the courage with which the Confederates maintained for four deadly years their lop-sided struggle for independence against a nascent world power.  This courage is not better symbolized I think than by Conrad Wise Chapman’s Flag of Sumter.  The son of a famous American painter, Chapman painted a series of 31 paintings of Charleston Harbor at the request of General Beauregard while Chapman was on duty as an enlisted man during the long siege of Charleston.  This painting, with its lone Confederate sentry standing in the bombed out ruins of Fort Sumter under a proud but tattered Confederate banner, shows how Chapman perceived the War and how most Confederates viewed their fight.  On the horizon of the painting we barely glimpse the Union fleet, its power so much greater than any force the Confederate defenders could hope to summon, but the will to resist remains in spite of the overwhelming odds.  A majority of former Confederates in the decades after the War came to eventually accept that it had been good that the Union had been preserved and slavery abolished, but they always took great pride in the fight they had waged for a cause they thought a just one at the time.  One cannot hope to truly understand our Civil War without understanding that pride, preserved forever by this painting. (more…)

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Published in: on December 31, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Christmas Star

Christmas Star

 

Artist Herbert Morton Stoops had served in World War I in France in the field artillery.  In 1944 he painted the above immortal picture that conveys powerfully the meaning of Christmas to a soldier far from home.

Published in: on December 30, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Christmas Star  
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Grant on the Fort Fisher Fiasco

Fort Fisher

 

Examples of gross military incompetence were not rare in the Civil War.  Perhaps the most outstanding example is the bungling of Major General Benjamin Butler in his handling of the first assault on Fort Fisher, the fort that guarded the last major port open in the Confederacy, Wilmington.  Grant in his Personal Memoirs gives us the details:

 

I selected General Weitzel, of the Army of the James, to go with the expedition, but gave instructions through General Butler. He commanded the department within whose geographical limits Fort Fisher was situated, as well as Beaufort and other points on that coast held by our troops; he was, therefore, entitled to the right of fitting out the expedition against Fort Fisher.   

 
  General Butler conceived the idea that if a steamer loaded heavily with powder could be run up to near the shore under the fort and exploded, it would create great havoc and make the capture an easy matter. Admiral Porter, who was to command the naval squadron, seemed to fall in with the idea, and it was not disapproved of in Washington; the navy was therefore given the task of preparing the steamer for this purpose. I had no confidence in the success of the scheme, and so expressed myself; but as no serious harm could come of the experiment, and the authorities at Washington seemed desirous to have it tried, I permitted it. The steamer was sent to Beaufort, North Carolina, and was there loaded with powder and prepared for the part she was to play in the reduction of Fort Fisher.   

 
  General Butler chose to go in command of the expedition himself, and was all ready to sail by the 9th of December (1864). Very heavy storms prevailed, however, at that time along that part of the sea-coast, and prevented him from getting off until the 13th or 14th. His advance arrived off Fort Fisher on the 15th. The naval force had been already assembled, or was assembling, but they were obliged to run into Beaufort for munitions, coal, etc.; then, too, the powder-boat was not yet fully prepared. The fleet was ready to proceed on the 18th; but Butler, who had remained outside from the 15th up to that time, now found himself out of coal, fresh water, etc., and had to put into Beaufort to replenish. Another storm overtook him, and several days more were lost before the army and navy were both ready at the same time to co-operate.  

 
  On the night of the 23d the powder-boat was towed in by a gunboat as near to the fort as it was safe to run. She was then propelled by her own machinery to within about five hundred yards of the shore. There the clockwork, which was to explode her within a certain length of time, was set and she was abandoned. Everybody left, and even the vessels put out to sea to prevent the effect of the explosion upon them. At two o’clock in the morning the explosion took place—and produced no more effect on the fort, or anything else on land, than the bursting of a boiler anywhere on the Atlantic Ocean would have done. Indeed when the troops in Fort Fisher heard the explosion they supposed it was the bursting of a boiler in one of the Yankee gunboats.    

 

 

 
  Fort Fisher was situated upon a low, flat peninsula north of Cape Fear River. The soil is sandy. Back a little the peninsula is very heavily wooded, and covered with fresh-water swamps. The fort ran across this peninsula, about five hundred yards in width, and extended along the sea coast about thirteen hundred yards. The fort had an armament of 21 guns and 3 mortars on the land side, and 24 guns on the sea front. At that time it was only garrisoned by four companies of infantry, one light battery and the gunners at the heavy guns less than seven hundred men with a reserve of less than a thousand men five miles up the peninsula. General Whiting of the Confederate army was in command, and General Bragg was in command of the force at Wilmington. Both commenced calling for reinforcements the moment they saw our troops landing. The Governor of North Carolina called for everybody who could stand behind a parapet and shoot a gun, to join them. In this way they got two or three hundred additional men into Fort Fisher; and Hoke’s division, five or six thousand strong, was sent down from Richmond. A few of these troops arrived the very day that Butler was ready to advance.  

 
  On the 24th the fleet formed for an attack in arcs of concentric circles, their heavy iron-clads going in very close range, being nearest the shore, and leaving intervals or spaces so that the outer vessels could fire between them. Porter was thus enabled to throw one hundred and fifteen shells per minute. The damage done to the fort by these shells was very slight, only two or three cannon being disabled in the fort. But the firing silenced all the guns by making it too hot for the men to maintain their positions about them and compelling them to seek shelter in the bomb-proofs.    

 
  On the next day part of Butler’s troops under General Adelbert Ames effected a landing out of range of the fort without difficulty. This was accomplished under the protection of gunboats sent for the purpose, and under cover of a renewed attack upon the fort by the fleet. They formed a line across the peninsula and advanced, part going north and part toward the fort, covering themselves as they did so. Curtis pushed forward and came near to Fort Fisher, capturing the small garrison at what was called the Flag Pond Battery. Weitzel accompanied him to within a half a mile of the works. Here he saw that the fort had not been injured, and so reported to Butler, advising against an assault. Ames, who had gone north in his advance, captured 228 of the reserves. These prisoners reported to Butler that sixteen hundred of Hoke’s division of six thousand from Richmond had already arrived and the rest would soon be in his rear.  

 
  Upon these reports Butler determined to withdraw his troops from the peninsula and return to the fleet. At that time there had not been a man on our side injured except by one of the shells from the fleet. Curtis had got within a few yards of the works. Some of his men had snatched a flag from the parapet of the fort, and others had taken a horse from the inside of the stockade. At night Butler informed Porter of his withdrawal, giving the reasons above stated, and announced his purpose as soon as his men could embark to start for Hampton Roads. Porter represented to him that he had sent to Beaufort for more ammunition. He could fire much faster than he had been doing, and would keep the enemy from showing himself until our men were within twenty yards of the fort, and he begged that Butler would leave some brave fellows like those who had snatched the flag from the parapet and taken the horse from the fort.  

 

 

(more…)

Published in: on December 29, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Grant on the Fort Fisher Fiasco  
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Unbroken: A Review

 

 “If I can take it, I can make it.”

Louis Zamperini

 

Unbroken is the best picture that I have seen in many a year.  Its themes are faith, patriotism and endurance in the face of seemingly overwhelming adversity.  Everything about the film is superb.  My review is below and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in effect. (more…)

Published in: on December 28, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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I Saw the Light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something for the weekend.  I Saw the Light by Hank Williams.  Written by him in 1948 at age 25, it coveys the hunger for salvation that was always a part of Williams brief and tragic life.  Dead before he reached 30, Williams was a great talent, and he threw it all away with alcoholism and addiction to drugs, which shattered both his personal and professional life.  His life typifies what Christ spoke of in this parable:

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.

However, that is not all there is to say.  This song has brought comfort to millions as they call upon Christ in this Vale of Tears.  I hope it weighed heavily in the balance when Williams appeared before the God he clearly loved.

Published in: on December 27, 2014 at 4:30 am  Comments Off on I Saw the Light  
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Good King Wenceslas

Something for the feast day of Saint Stephen, the first of the glorious line of martyrs for Christ.  Good King Wenceslas has always been one of my favorite Christmas Hymns.  We see in this hymn how the love of Christ in the breast of the King translates into immediate and personal action on his behalf to aid the poor man.  The winter storm are the adversities of life that deter so many of us from good works.  Following boldly in the footsteps of the saints can allow us to conquer all obstacles in our path to carrying out  that prime command of Christ:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The first video is by Bing Crosby and is the finest rendition of the hymn I have heard. (more…)

Published in: on December 26, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Good King Wenceslas  
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One Solitary Life

All the armies that have ever marched

All the navies that have ever sailed

All the parliaments that have ever sat

All the kings that ever reigned put together

  Have not affected the life of mankind on earth

As powerfully as that one solitary life

From One Solitary Life

I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.

H. G. Wells (more…)

Published in: on December 25, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on One Solitary Life  
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December 22, 1864: Sherman’s Christmas Gift

 

 

 

 

Sherman and his men completed their March to the Sea with the siege of Savannah, Georgia.  The end of the siege was anti-climactic with Lieutenant General W. J. Hardee evacuating his garrison from the city of Savannah.  Sherman sent this message to Lincoln announcing the fall of Savannah.

 

SAVANNAH, GA., December 22, 1864
(Via Fort Monroe 6.45 p.m. 25th)

His Excellency President LINCOLN:

I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.

W.T. Sherman,
Major General.

The message reached the White House on Christmas Day.  It was published in the papers and roused huge joy throughout the North as another sign that the end of the War was in sight.  Lincoln spoke for the North when he telegrammed back to Sherman:

MY DEAR GENERAL SHERMAN:

Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift, the capture of Savannah. When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that ‘nothing risked, nothing gained,’ I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is yours; for I believe none of us went further than to acquiesce. And taking the work of General Thomas into the county, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success. Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantages, but, in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole — Hood’s army — it brings those who sat in darkness to see a great light. But what next? I suppose it will be safer if I leave General Grant and yourself to decide. Please make my grateful acknowledgments to your whole army, officers and men. (more…)

Published in: on December 22, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 22, 1864: Sherman’s Christmas Gift  
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Patton on Prayer

 

 

“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.”

 

The famous “weather prayer” of General Patton was written by a Catholic Chaplain, Colonel James H. O’Neill, Chief Chaplain of the Third Army.   Here is his article on the incident written in 1950.

The incident of the now famous Patton Prayer commenced with a telephone call to the Third Army Chaplain on the morning of December 8, 1944, when the Third Army Headquarters were located in the Caserne Molifor in Nancy, France: “This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.” My reply was that I know where to look for such a prayer, that I would locate, and report within the hour. As I hung up the telephone receiver, about eleven in the morning, I looked out on the steadily falling rain, “immoderate” I would call it — the same rain that had plagued Patton’s Army throughout the Moselle and Saar Campaigns from September until now, December 8. The few prayer books at hand contained no formal prayer on weather that might prove acceptable to the Army Commander. Keeping his immediate objective in mind, I typed an original and an improved copy on a 5″ x 3″ filing card:

Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.

I pondered the question, What use would General Patton make of the prayer? Surely not for private devotion. If he intended it for circulation to chaplains or others, with Christmas not far removed, it might he proper to type the Army Commander’s Christmas Greetings on the reverse side. This would please the recipient, and anything that pleased the men I knew would please him:

To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I Wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessings rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day. G.S. Patton, Jr, Lieutenant General, Commanding, Third United States Army.

This done, I donned my heavy trench coat, crossed the quadrangle of the old French military barracks, and reported to General Patton. He read the prayer copy, returned it to me with a very casual directive, “Have 250,000 copies printed and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.” The size of the order amazed me; this was certainly doing something about the weather in a big way. But I said nothing but the usual, “Very well, Sir!” Recovering, I invited his attention to the reverse side containing the Christmas Greeting, with his name and rank typed. “Very good,” he said, with a smile of approval. “If the General would sign the card, it would add a personal touch that I am sure the men would like.” He took his place at his desk, signed the card, returned it to me and then Said: “Chaplain, sit down for a moment; I want to talk to you about this business of prayer.” He rubbed his face in his hands, was silent for a moment, then rose and walked over to the high window, and stood there with his back toward me as he looked out on the falling rain. As usual, he was dressed stunningly, and his six-foot-two powerfully built physique made an unforgettable silhouette against the great window. The General Patton I saw there was the Army Commander to whom the welfare of the men under him was a matter of Personal responsibility . Even in the heat of combat he could take time out to direct new methods to prevent trench feet, to see to it that dry socks went forward daily with the rations to troops on the line, to kneel in the mud administering morphine and caring for a wounded soldier until the ambulance Came. What was coming now?

“Chaplain, how much praying is being done in the Third Army?” was his question. I parried: “Does the General mean by chaplains, or by the men?” “By everybody,” he replied. To this I countered: “I am afraid to admit it, but I do not believe that much praying is going on. When there Is fighting, everyone prays, but now with this constant rain — when things are quiet, dangerously quiet, men just sit and wait for things to happen. Prayer out here is difficult. Both chaplains and men are removed from a special building with a steeple. Prayer to most of them is a formal, ritualized affair, involving special posture and a liturgical setting. I do not believe that much praying is being done.”

The General left the window, and again seated himself at his desk, leaned back in his swivel chair, toying with a long lead pencil between his index fingers.

Chaplain, I am a strong believer in Prayer. There are three ways that men get what they want; by planning, by working, and by Praying. Any great military operation takes careful planning, or thinking. Then you must have well-trained troops to carry it out: that’s working. But between the plan and the operation there is always an unknown. That unknown spells defeat or victory, success or failure. It is the reaction of the actors to the ordeal when it actually comes. Some people call that getting the breaks; I call it God. God has His part, or margin in everything, That’s where prayer comes in. Up to now, in the Third Army, God has been very good to us. We have never retreated; we have suffered no defeats, no famine, no epidemics. This is because a lot of people back home are praying for us. We were lucky in Africa, in Sicily, and in Italy. Simply because people prayed. But we have to pray for ourselves, too. A good soldier is not made merely by making him think and work. There is something in every soldier that goes deeper than thinking or working–it’s his “guts.” It is something that he has built in there: it is a world of truth and power that is higher than himself. Great living is not all output of thought and work. A man has to have intake as well. I don’t know what you it, but I call it Religion, Prayer, or God.

 

 

 

 

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Published in: on December 18, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Patton on Prayer  
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Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings

 

 

I went into this film assuming it was going to be bad based on what I had heard about it.  In that assumption I was mistaken.  Although not a film I would recommend, I can’t call it a bad film.  My review is below with the usual caveat as to spoilers. (more…)

Published in: on December 17, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings  
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