December 31, 1862: Battle of Stones River Begins

“Non nobis Domine! non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam.”

General William S. Rosecrans at the end of his report on the battle of Stones River, attributing the Union victory to God.

An unjustly obscure battle of the Civil War began 150 years ago today:  Stones River.  Based on the number of combatants involved, it was the bloodiest battle fought in an extremely bloody War.  The two armies involved, the Union Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee, were struggling for control of middle Tennessee.  If the Confederate Army of Tennessee could be chased out of middle Tennessee, then Union control of Nashville was secure, and it could be used as a springboard for the conquest of southeastern Tennessee and the eventual invasion of Georgia.  If the Union Army of the Cumberland could be defeated, then Nashville might fall, and the Confederate heartland be secured from invasion.  The stakes were high at Stones River.  A critical factor for the Union was that morale in the North was plummeting.  The Army of the Potomac had suffered a shattering defeat a few weeks before at Fredericksburg, and Grant and his Army of the Tennessee seemed to be stymied by the Confederate fortress city of Vicksburg.  The War for the Union seemed to be going no place at immense cost in blood and treasure.  If the Army of the Cumberland led by General Rosecrans was defeated, voices raised in the North to “let the erring sisters go” might swell into a chorus that would lead eventually to a negotiated peace, especially after election losses for the Republicans in the Congressional elections already demonstrated deep dissatisfaction in the North as to the progress of the War.

General Rosecrans led the Army of the Cumberland out of Nashville the day after Christmas and marched southeast 40 miles to challenge the Army of Tennessee at Murfreesboro.  The armies were comparable in size with the Army of the Cumberland having 41,000 men opposed to the 35,000 of the Army of the Tennessee.  Both Rosecrans and Bragg planned to attack the opposing army by attacking its right flank.  On December 31, Bragg struck first.

December 31, 1862 Stones River

Confederate General William J. Hardee led his corps in a slashing attack at 8:00 AM against General Alexander M. McCook’s corps, and by 10:00 AM had chased the Union troops back three miles  before they rallied.  Rosecrans cancelled the attack against the Confederate right by General Thomas L. Crittenden’s corps, and rushed reinforcements to his embattled right.  Confederate General Leonidas Polk, an Episcopalian bishop in civilian life, launched simultaneous attacks against the left of McCook’s corp.  Here General Phil Sheridan’s division put up a stout resistance, but was eventually driven back.

Stones_River_Dec31_0945

By late morning the Union army had its back to Stones River and its line perpendicular on its right to its original position.  Rosecrans, who seemed to be everywhere on the battlefield that day, succeeded in rallying his troops.  The left of the Union line held against repeated assaults, the fiercest fighting centering on a four-acre wooded tract, known until the battle as the Round Forest, held by Colonel William B. Hazen’s brigade.  The ferocity of the fighting can be judged by the fact that after the battle the tract of land would ever be known as Hell’s Half Acre.  The Union forces held and by 4:30 PM. winter darkness brought an end to that day’s fighting.

Rosecrans held a council of war that night to determine if the army should stand or retreat.  General George H. Thomas who had led his corps in the center with his customary skill and determination made the laconic comment that “There is no better place to die” and Rosecrans readily agreed.  The Army of the Cumberland would stand and fight. (more…)

December 30, 1853: Gadsden Purchase Signed in Mexico

 

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 December 30, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 30, 1853: Gadsden Purchase Signed in Mexico  
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Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges

 

In times of war the laws fall silent.  That is from the Latin maxim Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges.  A  study of history reveals just how true that is, and Justice Scalia reminds us of that fact:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told law students at the University of Hawaii law school Monday that the nation’s highest court was wrong to uphold the internment of Japa­nese-Americans during World War II but that he wouldn’t be surprised if the court issued a similar ruling during a future conflict.

Scalia was responding to a question about the court’s 1944 decision in Kore­ma­tsu v. United States, which upheld the convictions of Gordon Hira­ba­ya­shi and Fred Kore­ma­tsu for violating an order to report to an internment camp.

“Well, of course, Kore­ma­tsu was wrong. And I think we have repudiated in a later case. But you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again,” Scalia told students and faculty during a lunchtime question-and-answer session.

Scalia cited a Latin expression meaning “In times of war, the laws fall silent.”

“That’s what was going on — the panic about the war and the invasion of the Pacific and whatnot. That’s what happens. It was wrong, but I would not be surprised to see it happen again, in time of war. It’s no justification but it is the reality,” he said.

Avi Soifer, the law school’s dean, said he believed Scalia was suggesting people always have to be vigilant and that the law alone can’t be trusted to provide protection.

Go here to read the rest.

Internment camps were set up after Pearl Harbor during the invasion scare.  Several thousand Italian-Americans and eleven thousand German Americans were interned during the war, but these were individuals who were picked up because investigations indicated that they could be a domestic threat.  The west coast  Japanese were simply scooped up with no individual investigations.  J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, opposed the internment of the Japanese, regarding it as completely unnecessary, but his views sadly were ignored.  About 120,000 Japanese -Americans were interned during the war, the vast majority loyal Americans.

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the internment in the case of Korematsu v. United States.  The vote was 6-3.  Six out of the eight Supreme Court Justices appointed by FDR voted to affirm the constitutionality of the internment.  The lone Republican on the court, Justice Owen Roberts, wrote a dissent which deserves to be remembered.  It begins simply and directly:

I dissent, because I think the indisputable facts exhibit a clear violation of Constitutional rights.

This is not a case of keeping people off the streets at night as was Kiyoshi Hirabayashi v. United States,  320  U.S. 81, 63 S.Ct. 1375,  [323  U.S. 214, 226] nor a case of temporary exclusion of a citizen from an area for his own safety or that of the community, nor a case of offering him an opportunity to go temporarily out of an area where his presence might cause danger to himself or to his fellows. On the contrary, it is the case of convicting a citizen as a punishment for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp, based on his ancestry, and solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States. If this be a correct statement of the facts disclosed by this record, and facts of which we take judicial notice, I need hardly labor the conclusion that Constitutional rights have been violated.

 

On the same day as the ruling in Korematsu was handed down, the Supreme Court ruled the internment of loyal Americans unconstitutional in December of 1944 in the case of Ex Parte Endo.  After the decision Japanese-Americans were free to leave the internment camps, although about a quarter of the internees had already left to live and work in areas of the country other than the west coast zones excluded to them, or by volunteering for military service.  This decision was unanimous and Justice Roberts correctly pointed out that the two decisions contradicted each other.  (The Supreme Court in 2018 in Trump v Hawaii, via the majority decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts noted that Korematsu was no longer good law:

Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and—to be clear—‘has no place in law under the Constitution.’”)

What happened in World War II was not an aberration.  Whenever this country has gone to war some infringement on civil liberties has occurred.  Sometimes these infringements have been massive as occurred during the Revolution and the Civil War. (more…)

Published in: on December 28, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges  
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General John Glover and His Marbleheaders

A good argument can be made that but for the presence of John Glover and his Marblehead Regiment in the American Revolution, the War might well have been lost.

Born on November 5, 1732, Glover grew up in poverty in Marblehead, Massachusetts, after the death of his carpenter father when Glover was 4 years old.  Glover became a cordwainer and rum trader, working his way up to become a merchant and a ship owner.  Elected to the Marblehead Committee of Correspondence following the Boston massacre, Glover’s political sympathies were firmly allied with the patriot cause.  A member of the  Marblehead militia since 1759, with the coming of the War Colonel Glover marched the Marblehead militia, Almost all fishermen, to the siege of Boston in April 1775.

While active on land in the fight for independence, Glover was also active on the sea.  General Washington commissioned Glover’s schooner Hannah, to raid British supply vessels.  The Hannah is considered to be the first ship of the US Navy.

The Marblehead militia regiment joined the Continental Army, becoming the 14th Continental regiment.

In 1776, Glover and his “amphibious regiment”, as it was called, saved the army after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Long Island, by ferrying it to Manhattan in a nighttime operation.  On land throughout the New York campaign the regiment fought fiercely in every engagement.  It capped its service by ferrying the Army across the Delaware on Christmas 1776 to attack the Hessians at Trenton. (more…)

Published in: on December 26, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on General John Glover and His Marbleheaders  
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Handel’s Advent Messiah

Something for the weekend.  The Advent portions of Handel’s Messiah.  The above video is the Overture.

Next we have “Comfort Ye” which is a messianic text from Isaiah 40.

“Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to
Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her
iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for
our God. ” (more…)

Published in: on December 22, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Handel’s Advent Messiah  
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Hamildolph

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December 19, 1944: The Plot to Overthrow Christmas

 

How wonderfully daffy the golden age of Radio tended to be.  A broadcast on December 19, 1944 of the show This Is My Best:  Norman Corwin’s comedic poem The Plot to Overthrow Christmas, a hilarious look at a plot by Hell to stop Christmas, with Orson Welles starring as Nero.  Amazing the entertainment heights that could be reached without car chases, explosions, profanity, bathroom jokes and sex.

Published in: on December 19, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 19, 1944: The Plot to Overthrow Christmas  
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December 17, 1941: Admiral Chester Nimitz Appointed to Command the Pacific Fleet

God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless.

Chester W. Nimitz

Few American commanders have taken over a more desperate situation than Admiral Chester W. Nimitz did when he was appointed to be commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet seventy years ago on December 17, 1941.  Reeling from Pearl Harbor and ill-prepared for the Japanese onslaught, it was probably thought by some observers at the time that Nimitz was fated to be a footnote in history:  a man destined to do the best he could in a bad situation, and be a scapegoat for the disasters surely to be experienced by the United States in the Pacific prior to US industries producing the fleets necessary to turn the tide of the war. (more…)

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December 13, 1918: Wilson Arrives in France

President Wilson arrived in France a century ago to participate in the Paris Peace Conference.  He received a rapturous reception from the citizens of France but a cooler reception from Clemenceau and the other Allied leaders.  British economist John Maynard Keynes, an acerbic critic of the Treaty of Versailles, summed up the high expectations for Wilson in the minds of many Europeans:

When President Wilson left Washington he enjoyed a prestige and a moral influence throughout the world unequalled in history. His bold and measured words carried to the peoples of Europe above and beyond the voices of their own politicians. The enemy peoples trusted him to carry out the compact he had made with them; and the Allied peoples acknowledged him not as a victor only but almost as a prophet. In addition to this moral influence the realities of power were in his hands. The American armies were at the height of their numbers, discipline, and equipment. Europe was in complete dependence on the food supplies of the United States; and financially she was even more absolutely at their mercy. Europe not only already owed the United States more than she could pay; but only a large measure of further assistance could save her from starvation and bankruptcy. Never had a philosopher held such weapons wherewith to bind the princes of this world. How the crowds of the European capitals pressed about the carriage of the President! With what curiosity, anxiety, and hope we sought a glimpse of the features and bearing of the man of destiny who, coming from the West, was to bring healing to the wounds of the ancient parent of his civilisation and lay for us the foundations of the future.

No mortal could have possibly lived up to such high hopes, and President Wilson certainly did not, as future posts will explore.

 

Published in: on December 13, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 13, 1918: Wilson Arrives in France  
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December 12, 1944

Dewey Defeats Truman

 

 

Go here to view the issue of the Chicago Tribune, or rather the Chicago Daily Tribune as it was known then, on December 12, 1944.  The date is not chosen because it was important but because it was not.  One can learn a lot by a time period by closely examining the newspapers of the day.  What stands out to me:

1.  First, the paper was a whole three cents.

2.  War news predominates, no surprise.

3.  A cartoon shows the Russian Bear facing off against the British lion with FDR ordering that soothing music to be played, and the caption “European Power Politics”.  The coming Cold War was emerging, with most Americans not realizing the role that the US would play.  A story notes the fighting between the Brits and Communist Greek guerillas, with another story urging US intervention by Greek-Americans.  Another story notes that the Russians have again ousted a four man US military mission in Bulgaria.

4.  The ads aren’t that different from ads in papers today.

5.  A story notes that Congressman Fish wants to have Governor Dewey removed as GOP party chief in the wake of Dewey’s November loss to FDR. Rather amazing that Dewey got a second shot to run for President in 1948. (more…)

Published in: on December 12, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 12, 1944  
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