March 31, 1865: Battle of White Oak Road

1280px-Petersburg_Mar29-31

Realizing that Grant was moving sufficient troops to flank his right, General Lee decided to launch an attack against the troops of the Union V Corps, holding a section of  the White Oak Road and preventing the linking of the Confederate right under Pickett with the rest of Lee’s army.  The Union left was in the air, separated by  three miles from Sheridan’s troopers at Dinwiddie Court House and Lee intended to take full advantage of this fact, massing four brigades to make the attack.

The Confederates routed two Union divisions, chasing them south of Gravelly Run.  At 2:30 PM the Union V Corps counterattacked across Gravelly Run, the attack spearheaded by the First Division of the V Corps.  The spearhead of the spearhead was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s brigade, still led by Chamberlain although he had been seriously wounded at the battle of Lewis Farm on March 29, 1865.  The Union counterattack was successful,  recovering the lost ground and once again breaking the White Oak Road, separating the Confederate right at Five Forks from the rest of the Confederate army.  Union casualties were approximately 1407 to approximately 800 Confederate.

 

Here is the report of Brigadier General Charles Griffin who command the First Division of the V Corps: (more…)

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Spring

 

Something for the weekend.  Spring Symphony by Robert Schumann.  Written in 1841 it is a fine example of the genius of Schumann, a genius cut short by mental illness, probably caused by a brain tumor.  Schumann left this vale of tears in 1856, but his music remains to lighten our way.

 

Published in: on March 30, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Spring  
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March 29, 1865: Battle of Lewis Farm

General Chamberlain

Battle of Lewis Farm

1280px-Petersburg_Mar29-31

 The Appomattox Campaign began on March 29, 1865, with Grant moving the V and II corps to the west to outflank Lee’s lines, while Sheridan and his troopers were sent south to rip up the rail lines linking Petersburg and Richmond to what remained of the Confederacy.  Lee, with that preternatural sixth sense he seemed to often possess regarding the intentions of his enemies, had moved his cavalry, along with infantry under Major General George Pickett to the west to beat off Union attempts to outflank his army.

The first Union objective was to cut the Boydton Plank Road.  After crossing Gravelley Run stream, the leading brigade of the first division of the V corps ran into Confederate fortifications.  The brigade was led by Brigadier Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the heroic officer who had commanded the 20th Maine during its stand on Little Round Top at Gettysburg. In a fierce action of several hours duration, Chamberlain held his position only falling back as Union reinforcements arrived.  The reinforcements caused the Confederates to retreat to their White Oak Line.  Union casualties were 381 to 371 Confederate.

Late in the afternoon Sheridan’s cavalry occupied Dinwiddie Court House without opposition.  The end of the day saw the vital, for the Confederates, Boydton Plank Road cut in two locations, and the Confederate right dangerously exposed.  Here is Chamberlain’s account of the fighting: (more…)

Published in: on March 29, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on March 29, 1865: Battle of Lewis Farm  
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Hello Girls of World War I

 “The humblest hello-girl along ten thousand miles of wire could teach gentleness, patience, modesty, manners, to the highest duchess in Arthur’s land”.

Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)

 

“Hello girls” was the popular term for female switchboard operators in the US prior to World War I.  Four hundred and fifty of them were recruited to serve with the AEF in France during the Great War.  Receiving Signal Corps training, they earned the same pay as their male colleagues in the Signal Corps.  The women had to be bilingual and fluent in both English and French.  Although uniformed, and subject to Army discipline and eligible for Army decorations, they were not given veteran status by Congress until 1978.

 

 

The women were an essential part of the war effort.  They were simply swifter, about six times so, than their male colleagues who lacked their experience as switch board operators.  They were also faster than female French telephone operators in France, as Captain E.J. Wesson, who recruited the Hello Girls, noted at the time:  “In Paris, it takes from 40 to 60 seconds to complete one call. Our girls are equipped to handle 300 calls in an hour.”

The women lived up to their billing, vastly improving telephone communications as the AEF went into battle, the women often serving in areas subject to artillery fire near the front lines.  Pioneers, the Hello Girls paved the way for expanded service of American women for the much larger conflict fought just over two decades later.

 

 

Published in: on March 28, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Hello Girls of World War I  
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Soldier’s Prayer

 

 

 

 

 

I asked God for strength that I might achieve, I was made weak, that I might learn to humbly obey.

I asked God for health, that I might do greater things, I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy, I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men, I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life, I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for – but everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am among men, most richly blessed.

Found on the body of a Southern soldier 1861–1865

Published in: on March 27, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Soldier’s Prayer  
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Hanson on World War II

 

My favorite living historian, Victor Davis Hanson, has a lecture series on World War II through Hillsdale College.  Go here to view it.  His companion history on World War II, go here to view it, is a masterpiece.  Go here to read a review of the book by historian Andrew Roberts.

Published in: on March 26, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Hanson on World War II  
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March 25, 1863: First Awards of the Medal of Honor

Original Army Medal of Honor

On March 25, 1865 Secretary of War Stanton made the first awards of the Medal of Honor.  Amazingly enough, the United States had no medals for members of its armed forces who distinguished themselves in battle at the beginning of the Civil War.  General in Chief Winfield Scott, who ironically had been awarded  gold medals by Congress in 1814 and 1848, was adamantly against officers and men receiving medals for valor, viewing them as a European affectation and that it was insulting to give special recognition for courage, since officers and men had a duty to be brave and giving anyone a medal for simply doing his duty was preposterous in his opinion.  Medals had been used during the American Revolution but not in following conflicts, other than Congress voting a special gold medal, except in the Mexican War during which Congress authorized the issuance of certificates of merit. (more…)

Published in: on March 25, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on March 25, 1863: First Awards of the Medal of Honor  
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March 24, 1944: The Great Escape

Seventy-five years ago was a busy time at Stalag III, a German POW camp near the town of Sagan.  76 Allied pows escaped the camp in the largest mass escape of Allied prisoners during the War.  The plan of the escape was conceived by RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, the officer in charge of the camp escape committee.  He announced his plan to the committee in the Spring of 1943 beginning with these words:

Everyone here in this room is living on borrowed time. By rights we should all be dead! The only reason that God allowed us this extra ration of life is so we can make life hell for the Hun.

The plan involved three tunnels, Tom, Dick and Harry.  More than 600 POWs were involved in the construction.  In the midst of the construction of the tunnels, the American POWs were moved to another compound and, contra Hollywood, no Americans as a result participated in the actual escape, although they had helped with the construction of the tunnels prior to their move.

On March 24, 1944, a moonless night, 76 men made good their escape.  The Germans realized what was going on when the 77th man was seen climbing out of the tunnel.  73 of the prisoners were eventually recaptured, with three making good their escape.  Hitler was enraged by the escapes and ordered the execution of the escapees.  German officers up to and including Reichsfuhrer Herman Goering were appalled, arguing that such executions would violate the Geneva Convention.    Hitler eventually compromised with fifty of the recaptured escapees murdered by the SS, including Squadron Leader Bushell.  It should be noted that the German officers at Stalag III strictly observed the Geneva Convention, and one can imagine their feelings at having their military honor stained by the SS.  Indeed a later camp commandantn Oberst Franz Braunen allowed a memorial to the murdered men to be erected by the prisoners and he contributed to it. (In regard to the East Front both sides waged a war of extermination with prisoners starved to death and murdered by the hundreds of thousands.) (more…)

Published in: on March 24, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on March 24, 1944: The Great Escape  
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Magnificat

 

Something for the weekend.  The Magnificat of Bach.

Published in: on March 23, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Magnificat  
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The Electoral College: Fact and Fancy

 

My friend Cato at his blog Letters From Cato explains the real history of the creation of the Electoral College:

 

Note: I’m reposting this from my old blog thanks to renewed efforts to get rid of the electoral college based on faulty premises.

It would take an act of enormous historical illiteracy to end my blogging hiatus. Congratulations are thus in order to the New York Times for providing me with such an example. In an editorial Jay Caruso has accurately labeled “historically inaccurate garbage,” the Times has called for the abolition of the electoral college. In the process of doing so, the Times’ editors reveal an understanding of American history which calls into question whether they’ve even taken high school-level American history classes.

The Electoral College, which is written into the Constitution, is more than just a vestige of the founding era; it is a living symbol of America’s original sin. When slavery was the law of the land, a direct popular vote would have disadvantaged the Southern states, with their large disenfranchised populations. Counting those men and women as three-fifths of a white person, as the Constitution originally did, gave the slave states more electoral votes.

Let’s address the slavery as the reason behind the electoral college argument. The New York Times links to a Time magazine article written by Akhil Reed Amar in which Amar attributes the electoral college’s existence to the advocacy of the slave states. He begins:

Some claim that the founding fathers chose the Electoral College over direct election in order to balance the interests of high-population and low-population states. But the deepest political divisions in America have always run not between big and small states, but between the north and the south, and between the coasts and the interior.

Some “claim” this because, well, it happens to be true. The divide at the constitutional convention was not between slave states and non-slave states,* but rather between large and small states. Remember, the convention kicked off with a presentation of the Virginia plan. This plan, authored in large part by James Madison but presented by Edmund Randolph, set the framework for much of the debate at the convention. Among other things, the plan proposed a bicameral legislature with representation in both houses based on population. The smaller states objected to it, and put forward their own plan. The New Jersey plan called for each state to have an equal voice in the legislature, a la the Articles of Confederation.

* As Caruso correctly notes, at the time of the convention, only a handful of states had even partially abolished slavery, and only Massachusetts had totally abolished it. That’s not to say that New York and South Carolina were equally vested in the continued propagation of the institution, but in 1787 the north-south divide on this issue was not nearly as intense as it would become in future years.

When it came to the large-small divide, there was a mixture of states. The large states included Massachusetts, Virginia, and Pennsylvania – in other words a mix of predominant slaveholding states and anti-slavery states. The small states included Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Georgia – again, a mix of states with different views on slavery. Thus feelings about slavery had little to do with these respective coalitions. So already Amar is off to a poor start in actually grasping the nuances in early American history. But he’s not done.

Go here to read the rest.

Published in: on March 22, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Electoral College: Fact and Fancy  
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