America the Beautiful

Something for the weekend.  A bit early for the  Fourth of July:  America the Beautiful.   The lyrics were originally written in 1893 by English professor Katharine Lynn Bates in her poem Pike’s Peak.  The music was supplied by a hymn tune of Samuel A. Ward in 1904 and the most popular American patriotic hymn was born.

Here is Ray Charles’ immortal version:

 

June 28, 1919: Treaty of Versailles Signed

 

A century ago the Treaty of Versailles was signed.  It turned out to be a twenty year truce prior to the onset of World War II, but none of the signatories of course knew that at the time.  At 198 pages it is a bloated document, never a good sign.  It rambles along for 440 articles.  Go here to glance at it.  Perhaps the man who understood the implications of the Treaty of Versailles best was Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies, in 1918 in France and Italy, who thought it was too lenient on Germany.  As the treaty was being signed, he remarked:  “This is not peace. This is an armistice for twenty years.”   Foch died in 1929 at age 77, a decade before he would have learned how much of a prophet he was.

 

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June 27, 1864: Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

Kennesaw_Mountain

I have heard men say that if they ever killed a Yankee during the war

they were not aware of it. I am satisfied that on this memorable day,
every man in our regiment killed from one score to four score, yea,
five score men. I mean from twenty to one hundred each. All that was
necessary was to load and shoot. In fact, I will ever think that the
reason they did not capture our works was the impossibility of their
living men passing over the bodies of their dead. The ground was piled
up with one solid mass of dead and wounded Yankees. I learned afterwards
from the burying squad that in some places they were piled up like cord
wood, twelve deep.
Private Sam Watkins, Company H, First Tennessee Infantry

 

Throughout his maneuvers to slow Sherman’s drive on Atlanta, General Joseph Johnston often occupied strong positions that he hoped Sherman would assault.  At Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864 he got his wish.

Following the battle of Pickett’s Mill on May 27,1864, go here to read about it, the Union and Confederate armies would spend June with Sherman attempting to find some way to outflank or make his way through the defensive lines constructed by Johnston to defend Marietta, Georgia, and his rail supply line.

 

atlanta_campaign_17-27

Sherman having successfully turned his initial line, Johnston fell back on a previously prepared fortified line astride Kennesaw Mountain, an immensely strong position, on June 18-19.  Sherman’s attempt to turn the left of Johnston’s position came to a halt at the Battle of Kolb’s Farm on June 22.  Here Hood, in a foreshadowing of dark days to come for the Confederate Army of Tennessee, had his corps attack without adequate reconnaissance and incurred heavy losses of 1500 to 250 Union.  Nonetheless, Sherman’s flanking movement was stopped.

Growing impatient, on June 27 Sherman launched the last frontal assault of his career.  Assuming that Johnston had stretched his line too thin, Sherman attacked the Confederate center.  The attack began with a furious cannonade at 8:00 AM involving 200 cannon.  The Union attack went in and was bloodily repulsed with 3000 Union casualties to 1000 Confederates.  The fighting was over by 10:45 AM.  Sherman twice urged General Thomas to renew the assault.  Thomas flatly refused, saying “One or two more such assaults would use up this army.” 

The aftermath of the battle was anti-climactic.  The armies stood facing each other for five days, until July 2, 1864 when Sherman again attempted to outflank Johnston’s left, this time with success, Johnston retreating to prepared lines at Smyrna.  Here is Sherman’s account of the battle in his memoirs:

 

On the 23d of June I telegraphed to General Halleck this summary, which I cannot again better state:

We continue to press forward on the principle of an advance against fortified positions. The whole country is one vast fort, and Johnston must have at least fifty miles of connected trenches, with abatis and finished batteries. We gain ground daily, fighting all the time. On the 21st General Stanley gained a position near the south end of Kenesaw, from which the enemy attempted in vain to drive him; and the same day General T. J. Wood’s division took a hill, which the enemy assaulted three times at night without success, leaving more than a hundred dead on the ground. Yesterday the extreme right (Hooker and Schofield) advanced on the Powder Springs road to within three miles of Marietta. The enemy made a strong effort to drive them away, but failed signally, leaving more than two hundred dead on the field. Our lines are now in close contact, and the fighting is incessant, with a good deal of artillery-fire. As fast as we gain one position the enemy has another all ready, but I think he will soon have to let go Kenesaw, which is the key to the whole country. The weather is now better, and the roads are drying up fast. Our losses are light, and, not-withstanding the repeated breaks of the road to our rear, supplies are ample.

During the 24th and 25th of June General Schofield extended his right as far as prudent, so as to compel the enemy to thin out his lines correspondingly, with the intention to make two strong assaults at points where success would give us the greatest advantage. I had consulted Generals Thomas, McPherson, and Schofield, and we all agreed that we could not with prudence stretch out any more, and therefore there was no alternative but to attack “fortified lines,” a thing carefully avoided up to that time. I reasoned, if we could make a breach anywhere near the rebel centre, and thrust in a strong head of column, that with the one moiety of our army we could hold in check the corresponding wing of the enemy, and with the other sweep in flank and overwhelm the other half. The 27th of June was fixed as the day for the attempt, and in order to oversee the whole, and to be in close communication with all parts of the army, I had a place cleared on the top of a hill to the rear of Thomas’s centre, and had the telegraph-wires laid to it. The points of attack were chosen, and the troops were all prepared with as little demonstration as possible. About 9 A.M. Of the day appointed, the troops moved to the assault, and all along our lines for ten miles a furious fire of artillery and musketry was kept up. At all points the enemy met us with determined courage and in great force. McPherson’s attacking column fought up the face of the lesser Kenesaw, but could not reach the summit. About a mile to the right (just below the Dallas road) Thomas’s assaulting column reached the parapet, where Brigadier-General Barker was shot down mortally wounded, and Brigadier-General Daniel McCook (my old law-partner) was desperately wounded, from the effects of which he afterward died. By 11.30 the assault was in fact over, and had failed. We had not broken the rebel line at either point, but our assaulting columns held their ground within a few yards of the rebel trenches, and there covered themselves with parapet. McPherson lost about five hundred men and several valuable officers, and Thomas lost nearly two thousand men. This was the hardest fight of the campaign up to that date, and it is well described by Johnston in his “Narrative” (pages 342, 343), where he admits his loss in killed and wounded as

Total …………. 808

This, no doubt, is a true and fair statement; but, as usual, Johnston overestimates our loss, putting it at six thousand, whereas our entire loss was about twenty-five hundred, killed and wounded.

 

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The General Armstrong

 

Britannia certainly ruled the waves in 1814.  Everyone knew that, except, perhaps, the mad Americans.  Their navy, insignificant in numbers compared to the Royal Navy, had put up quite a fight during the War of 1812 and won a series of ship to ship duels that had injured the pride of the British nation.  Their privateers had damaged British commerce by hunting British merchantmen throughout the Seven Seas.  Therefore, it can come as little surprise to learn that when Captain Lloyd of the Royal Navy led a squadron into the port of Fayal in the Azores on September 26, 1814 he immediately commenced combat operations when he spotted an American privateer, The General Armstrong,  a schooner of 14 guns, also in the port, even though the port was controlled by a neutral power, Portugal.

Although vastly outnumbered by the English squadron, Captain Samuel Reid, the skipper of The General Armstrong, had no intention of giving up without a fight.  The British initially attempted to seize the schooner with four boats filled with Marines and sailors.  Reid opened fire with his guns and drove them off.  The British tried again after dark.  Around midnight the British sent 12 large barges with mounted cannon and filled with 400 men against the schooner.  The British reached the schooner, shouted “No quarter” and boarded her.  The heavily outnumbered Americans fought back ferociously, beating off the attack  and killing most of the attackers.

The next morning the British began to attack the schooner with long range gunnery.  Still The General Armstrong fought on, holding its own in this lop-sided contest.  Ultimately the Americans scuttled The General Armstrong and escaped on shore.  Few injuries to the pride of the Royal Navy were greater than this contest with one American privateer. (more…)

Published in: on June 26, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The General Armstrong  
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June 25, 1863: Mine Exploded at Vicksburg

I have always been somewhat bemused by the fact that vast attention is paid to the Battle of the Crater at the seige of Petersburg on July 30, 1864, while the mine explosion at Vicksburg on June 25, 1863 tends to be overlooked in popular memory of the War.  Both efforts were unsuccessful, both mine explosions producing a breach in the Confederate lines that Union troops were ultimately unable to exploit, with Confederate troops rallying and sealing the breach.  It is true that the Battle of the Crater was a much larger operation involving four times the explosives with divisions involved as opposed to regiments at Vicksburg.  The use of black troops in the Battle of the Crater and the slaying of some Union prisoners and their officers by Confederate troops, also helped ensure maximum press coverage.  Still it is surprising to me how little attention is paid to the Vicksburg mine even in fairly extensive histories of the War.  Here is Grant’s memories of the mining operations at Vicksburg in his Personal Memoirs: (more…)

Published in: on June 25, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Columbia the Gem of the Ocean

 

Something for the weekend.  Written in 1843, by Thomas a Becket, yeah, the name is correct, with lyrics by David Shaw, Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean was probably the most popular patriotic ballad of the Nineteenth Century.  A fitting song as we draw closer to the Fourth of July. (more…)

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The Face of Lincoln

 

The things you find on the Internet!  From 1955, a look at the career of Abraham Lincoln by Professor Robert Merrell Gage as he sculpts a bust of the Great Emancipator.  This film won an Academy Award for best live action short film.  Head of the Department of Sculpture at the University of Southern California, his first commissioned work as a sculptor was a statue of Lincoln that is now on the grounds of the Kansas State Capitol.  He passed away at age 88 in 1981.

 

Published in: on June 21, 2019 at 3:45 am  Comments Off on The Face of Lincoln  
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Thomas Lincoln and His Son

Thomas Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln did not have an idyllic father and son relationship.  They were vastly different men, and most historians have focused on those differences, and the estrangement that grew between them after Abraham Lincoln reached adulthood.  What has always struck me however is the impact that Thomas had on the life of his son.

  1.  Anti-Slavery-Thomas was a member of a church, Little Mount Separate Baptist Church, that separated from the regular Baptist Church over the owning of slaves.  He brought his family from Kentucky to the Free state of Indiana mainly because he realized that a poor white man could not compete against slave labor.  Abraham Lincoln was reared in a household in which slavery was viewed negatively.
  2. God-Thomas Lincoln was a complete Calvinist.  His God was completely inscrutable and controlled each man’s destiny for His own purposes.  Lincoln rebelled against this heritage, became in his young manhood something of a scoffer and a free-thinker.  As he aged however, he returned to what he had learned about God in his father’s house:  Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”  Before every meal Thomas Lincoln would say:  Fit and prepare us for humble service. We beg for Christ’s sake, Amen.  His prayer was granted for his sole surviving son.
  3. Sarah Bush Lincoln-Thomas could not have chosen a better stepmother for his son.  As opposed to his sometime tense relationship with his father, Abraham Lincoln had nothing but praise for his stepmother, a sentiment she returned.  He visited her at her home in Coles County just before he went to Washington to be sworn in as President.  He referred to her as mother in his letters to her and after his father died acquired a 40 acre tract, giving her the use of it during her lifetime.  She had a big impact on her stepson’s life, and all because of her marriage to Thomas.
  4. Education-Although he was a man of no education who could barely sign his name, Thomas encouraged his son to read and better himself, although like most fathers he was vexed when his son was found reading instead of doing the chore he had been assigned.  Sarah Bush Lincoln was literate, and she helped bring the world of literature into the life of her bright stepson.   She noted that Thomas took pride in how smart his son was and how well read. For a poor boy on the frontier, Lincoln grew up in a household more hospitable to “book-learning” than did most of his peers in similar circumstances.
  5. Story Teller-Abraham Lincoln was famed for his ability to tell a story to illustrate a point.  He took after his father in that.  His father was well known in his circle for having a keen sense of humor, demonstrated by his telling of humorous stories and jokes.  He would sometimes get irritated at his son, because Abraham liked chiming in with the punch line.
  6. Public service-Lincoln grew up in a household where his father was active in public affairs and the activities of his church.  Over the years Thomas served as a member of the militia, a local constable, a guard of prisoners, a jury member and a road commissioner.  When his son entered public life, he had a father, who, in his modest way, set an example of public service for him.
  7. Self Improvement-One of the main themes of the life of Abraham Lincoln was self-improvement.  In his own way that was also true of Thomas Lincoln.  His purchases of several farms illustrated his ongoing desire to make a better life for his family.  A self-taught carpenter, he became respected for his craftsmanship.  His son far exceeded his success in his attempts at self-betterment, but the desire to do so was an inheritance from father to son.
  8. Illinois-Illinois and Abraham Lincoln are linked forever, and it was Thomas Lincoln’s decision to move his family to Illinois that brought Lincoln to the Sucker State.

It is sometimes said that we do not truly appreciate our parents until they are gone.  Perhaps that was the case with Abraham Lincoln.  Two years after his father’s death, Lincoln named his youngest son Thomas.

Published in: on June 20, 2019 at 3:45 am  Comments Off on Thomas Lincoln and His Son  
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June 19, 1865: Juneteenth

The last slaves liberated on June 19, 1865 in Texas by the Union troops occupying Galveston.  The event has been commemorated down through the years as Juneteenth: (more…)

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June 18, 1862: Capture of Cumberland Gap

 

 

Few areas were of more obvious strategic significance during the Civil War than the Cumberland Gap.  A gap in the Cumberland Mountain chain at the juncture of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, it  had to be taken by the Union in any drive south in this rugged region.  Brigadier General George W. Morgan led four brigades to attack Confederate fortifications in the gap that were referred to at the time as the American Gibraltar.

The approach march to the gap over some of the most rugged terrain the Western Theater was a nightmare and took two weeks.  Morgan was cut off from his supply lines and had to use foraging to supply his men.  The “battle” itself was anti-climactic, the Confederate force under Brigadier Carter L. Stevenson withdrawing in advance of the Union arrival.  Morgan would hold the gap until September, abandoning it when Bragg invaded Kentucky.  The gap was taken by the Union again and for good when General Ambrose Burnside took it during September 7-9, 1863, along with  2300 Confederate prisoners.

Here is the report of General Morgan announcing the capture of the American Gibraltar: (more…)

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