Musings on the Diem Coup


Fascinating memo dictated by President Kennedy on the Diem Coup on November 4, 1963.  Kennedy expresses regret about the coup.  His analysis of it, and its likely effects, is impressive.  Not so impressive is Kennedy allowing an action to take place which he had such misgivings about.  What Kennedy would have done about Vietnam, if he had not been assassinated eighteen days after he dictated the memo, is one of the great what ifs of post World War II American history.

Published in: on March 31, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Musings on the Diem Coup  
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George Washington Has the Continental Army Inoculated

Most of the portraits of George Washington don’t catch this, but his face was pock marked as a result of a bout with small pox during a trip to the West Indies in 1751.  When he became Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution he knew that disease would claim far more of this troops than the musket balls of the British.  A strong believer in inoculation, Washington order that his force be inoculated and that all new recruits be inoculated before they joined the army.  On February 5, 1777 Washington informed Congress that he was embarking on the first mass inoculation in military history:

“The smallpox has made such Head- way in every quarter that I find it impossible to keep it from spreading throughout the Army, in the natural way. I have therefore, determined not only to inoculate all the troops now here, that have not had it, but shall order Doctor Shippen to inoculate the Recruits as fast as they come into Philadelphia.”

Go here to read a good article on the role that small pox played in the American Revolution and Washington’s efforts to combat the scourge.

Published in: on March 30, 2020 at 3:49 am  Comments Off on George Washington Has the Continental Army Inoculated  
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Most Positive Portrayal of Viruses on Film

My candidate:



For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men might have foreseen had not terror and disaster blinded our minds. These germs of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things–taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting power; to no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and to many–those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, for instance–our living frames are altogether immune. But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already when I watched them they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain.

H.G. Wells, ending of The War of the Worlds

Published in: on March 29, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Most Positive Portrayal of Viruses on Film  
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Something for the weekend.  Rosanna (1982) by the rock band Toto.  With all the grim current news, time for something light and fun.  I think the best cover of the song is by Perpetuum Jazzile, a Slovenian group.  I actually prefer their rendition to that of Toto.

Published in: on March 28, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Rosanna  
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The Peacemakers

The Peacemakers



A historic meeting occurred between Lincoln, Grant and Sherman on March 27-28, 1865 at City Point, Virginia.  Sherman had no idea that President Lincoln was going to be there, he having traveled by sea from North Carolina to coordinate with Grant the final campaign of the War.  This meeting was memorialized in the 1868 painting The Peacemakers, which was suggested by Sherman:

In Chicago about June or July of that year, when all the facts were fresh in my mind, I told them to George P. A. Healy, the artist, who was casting about for a subject for an historical painting, and he adopted this interview. Mr. Lincoln was then dead, but Healy had a portrait, which he himself had made at Springfield some five or six years before. With this portrait, some existing photographs, and the strong resemblance in form of [Leonard Swett], of Chicago, to Mr. Lincoln he made the picture of Mr. Lincoln seen in this group. For General Grant, Admiral Porter, and myself he had actual sittings, and I am satisfied the four portraits in this group of Healy’s are the best extant. The original picture, life-size, is, I believe, now in Chicago, the property of Mr. [Ezra B. McCagg]; but Healy afterwards, in Rome, painted ten smaller copies, about eighteen by twenty-four inches, one of which I now have, and it is now within view. I think the likeness of Mr. Lincoln by far the best of the many I have seen elsewhere, and those of General Grant, Admiral Porter, and myself equally good and faithful. I think Admiral Porter gave Healy a written description of our relative positions in that interview, also the dimensions, shape, and furniture of the cabin of the “Ocean Queen”; but the rainbow is Healy’s—typical, of course, of the coming peace. In this picture I seem to be talking, the others attentively listening. Whether Healy made this combination from Admiral Porter’s letter or not, I cannot say; but I thought that he caught the idea from what I told him had occurred when saying that “if Lee would only remain in Richmond till I could reach Burkesville, we would have him between our thumb and fingers,” suiting the action to the word. It matters little what Healy meant by his historic group, but it is certain that we four sat pretty much as represented, and were engaged in an important conversation during the forenoon of March 28, 1865, and that we parted never to meet again.

The original painting was destroyed in a fire, and what we have now is a copy found in 1922, lying forgotten in a family storehouse in Chicago.  Harry Truman, ironically a proud card carrying member of Sons of Confederate Veterans, purchased the copy of the painting for the White House in 1947.

Here is Sherman’s recollections of the meeting from his Memoirs:


The railroad was repaired to Goldsboro’ by the evening of March 25th, when, leaving General Schofield in chief command, with a couple of staff-officers I started for City Point, Virginia, in a locomotive, in company with Colonel Wright, the constructing engineer. We reached Newbern that evening, which was passed in the company of General Palmer and his accomplished lady, and early the next morning we continued on to Morehead City, where General Easton had provided for us the small captured steamer Russia, Captain Smith. We put to sea at once and steamed up the coast, reaching Fortress Monroe on the morning of the 27th, where I landed and telegraphed to my brother, Senator Sherman, at Washington, inviting him to come down and return with me to Goldsboro. We proceeded on up James River to City Point, which we reached the same afternoon. I found General Grant, with his family and staff, occupying a pretty group of huts on the bank of James River, overlooking the harbor, which was full of vessels of all classes, both war and merchant, with wharves and warehouses on an extensive scale. The general received me most heartily, and we talked over matters very fully. After I had been with him an hour or so, he remarked that the President, Mr. Lincoln, was then on board the steamer River Queen, lying at the wharf, and he proposed that we should call and see him. We walked down to the wharf, went on board, and found Mr. Lincoln alone, in the after-cabin. He remembered me perfectly, and at once engaged in a most interesting conversation. He was full of curiosity about the many incidents of our great march, which had reached him officially and through the newspapers, and seemed to enjoy very much the more ludicrous parts-about the “bummers,” and their devices to collect food and forage when the outside world supposed us to be starving; but at the same time he expressed a good deal of anxiety lest some accident might happen to the army in North Carolina during my absence. I explained to him that that army was snug and comfortable, in good camps, at Goldsboro’; that it would require some days to collect forage and food for another march; and that General Schofield was fully competent to command it in my absence. Having made a good, long, social visit, we took our leave and returned to General Grant’s quarters, where Mrs. Grant had provided tea. While at the table, Mrs. Grant inquired if we had seen Mrs. Lincoln. “No,” said the general, “I did not ask for her;” and I added that I did not even know that she was on board. Mrs. Grant then exclaimed, “Well, you are a pretty pair!” and added that our neglect was unpardonable; when the general said we would call again the next day, and make amends for the unintended slight.

Early the next day, March 28th, all the principal officers of the army and navy called to see me, Generals Meade, Ord, Ingalls, etc., and Admiral Porter. At this time the River Queen was at anchor out in the river, abreast of the wharf, and we again started to visit Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln. Admiral Porter accompanied us. We took a small, tug at the wharf, which conveyed us on board, where we were again received most courteously by the President, who conducted us to the after-cabin. After the general compliments, General Grant inquired after Mrs. Lincoln, when the President went to her stateroom, returned, and begged us to excuse her, as she was not well. We then again entered upon a general conversation, during which General Grant explained to the President that at that very instant of time General Sheridan was crossing James River from the north, by a pontoon-bridge below City Point; that he had a large, well-appointed force of cavalry, with which he proposed to strike the Southside and Danville Railroads, by which alone General Lee, in Richmond, supplied his army; and that, in his judgment, matters were drawing to a crisis, his only apprehension being that General Lee would not wait long enough. I also explained that my army at Goldsboro’ was strong enough to fight Lee’s army and Johnston’s combined, provided that General Grant could come up within a day or so; that if Lee would only remain in Richmond another fortnight, I could march up to Burkesville, when Lee would have to starve inside of his lines, or come out from his intrenchments and fight us on equal terms.

Both General Grant and myself supposed that one or the other of us would have to fight one more bloody battle, and that it would be the last. Mr. Lincoln exclaimed, more than once, that there had been blood enough shed, and asked us if another battle could not be avoided. I remember well to have said that we could not control that event; that this necessarily rested with our enemy; and I inferred that both Jeff. Davis and General Lee would be forced to fight one more desperate and bloody battle. I rather supposed it would fall on me, somewhere near Raleigh; and General Grant added that, if Lee would only wait a few more days, he would have his army so disposed that if the enemy should abandon Richmond, and attempt to make junction with General Jos. Johnston in North Carolina, he (General Grant) would be on his heels. Mr. Lincoln more than once expressed uneasiness that I was not with my army at Goldsboro’, when I again assured him that General Schofield was fully competent to command in my absence; that I was going to start back that very day, and that Admiral Porter had kindly provided for me the steamer Bat, which he said was much swifter than my own vessel, the Russia. During this interview I inquired of the President if he was all ready for the end of the war. What was to be done with the rebel armies when defeated? And what should be done with the political leaders, such as Jeff. Davis, etc.? Should we allow them to escape, etc.? He said he was all ready; all he wanted of us was to defeat the opposing armies, and to get the men composing the Confederate armies back to their homes, at work on their farms and in their shops. As to Jeff. Davis, he was hardly at liberty to speak his mind fully, but intimated that he ought to clear out, “escape the country,” only it would not do for him to say so openly. As usual, he illustrated his meaning by a story: (more…)

Published in: on March 27, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Peacemakers  
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Gettysburg 1938

A video montage of coverage of the 75th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg in 1938.  Seeing Union and Confederate veterans, some 1800 gathered,  jointly observing the anniversary is touching and brings home something very good about this country.  Most countries that go through a domestic bloodletting like the Civil War never really recover from it.  The passions unleashed are passed down like precious heirlooms from generation to generation leaving a legacy of hate that poisons a nation’s life.  America largely escaped that fate as the video above indicates.

FDR dedicated a monument at Gettysburg on this occasion which he accepted “in the spirit of brotherhood and peace”.  In America even a fratricidal Civil War ultimately became something that unfied us in common memories as the years rolled by.  I believe it was the Prussian statesman Otto von Bismark who remarked that God looks after fools, drunks and the United States of America.  He meant it unkindly of course, but in regard to our Civil War and its legacy, I think it is a sober assessment.

Published in: on March 26, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Gettysburg 1938  
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March 25, 1865: Battle of Fort Stedman




On March 25, 1865, the Army of Northern Virginia embarked on its last offensive.  Here is the account of John B. Gordon, who commanded the assault on Fort Stedman:


My troops stood in close column, ready for the hazardous rush upon Fort Stedman. While the fraternal dialogue in reference to drawing rations from the cornfield was progressing between the Union picket and the resourceful private at my side, the last of the obstructions in my front were removed, and I ordered the private to fire the signal for the assault. He pointed his rifle upward, with his finger on the trigger, but hesitated. His conscience seemed to get hold of him. He was going into the fearful charge, and he evidently did not feel disposed to go into eternity with the lie on his lips, although it might be a permissible war lie, by which he had thrown the Union picket off his guard. He evidently felt that it was hardly fair to take advantage of the generosity and soldierly sympathy of his foe, who had so magnanimously assured him that he would not be shot while drawing his rations from the little field of corn. His hesitation surprised me, and I again ordered :
“Fire your gun, sir.” He at once called to his kind- hearted foe and said : ” Hello, Yank ! Wake up ; we are going to shell the woods. Look out; we are coming.” And with this effort to satisfy his conscience and even up accounts with the Yankee picket, he fired the shot and rushed forward in the darkness.

As the solitary signal shot rang out in the stillness, my alert pickets, who had crept close to the Union sentinels, sprang like sinewy Ajaxes upon them and prevented the discharge of a single alarm shot. Had these faithful Union sentinels been permitted to fire alarm guns, my dense columns, while rushing upon the fort, would have been torn into fragments by the heavy guns. Simultaneously with the seizing and silencing of the Federal sentinels, my stalwart axemen leaped over our breastworks, closely followed by the selected 300 and the packed column of infantry. Although it required but a few minutes to reach the Union works, those minutes were to me like hours of suspense and breathless anxiety ; but soon was heard the thud of the heavy axes as my brave fellows slashed down the Federal obstructions. The next moment the infantry sprang upon the Union breastworks and into the fort, overpowering the gunners before their destructive charges could be emptied into the mass of Confederates. They turned this captured artillery upon the flanking lines on each side of the fort, clearing the Union breastworks of their defenders for some distance in both directions. Up to this point, the success had exceeded my most sanguine expectations. We had taken Fort Stedman and a long line of breastworks on either side. We had captured nine heavy cannon, eleven mortars, nearly 1000 prisoners, including General McLaughlin, with the loss of less than half a dozen men. One of these fell upon the works, pierced through the body by a Federal bayonet, one of the few men thus killed in the four years of war. I was in the fort myself, and relieved General McLaughlin by assuming command of Fort Stedman. 


Daylight was coming. Through the failure of the three guides, we had failed to occupy the three forts in the rear, and they were now filled with Federals. Our wretched railroad trains had broken down, and the troops who were coming to my aid did not reach me. The full light of the morning revealed the gathering forces of Grant and the great preponderance of his numbers. It was impossible for me to make further headway with my isolated corps, and General Lee directed me to withdraw. This was not easily accomplished. Foiled by the failure of the guides, deprived of the great bodies of infantry which Lee ordered to my support, I had necessarily stretched out my corps to occupy the intrenchments which we had captured. The other troops were expected to arrive and join in the
general advance. The breaking down of the trains and the non-arrival of these heavy supports left me to battle alone with Grant’s gathering and overwhelming forces, and at the same time to draw in my own lines toward Fort Stedman. A consuming fire on both flanks and front during this withdrawal caused a heavy loss to my command.


Published in: on March 25, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on March 25, 1865: Battle of Fort Stedman  
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The True Revolution

M0st so-called revolutions in this vale of tears have been mere rearranging of deck chairs, with new elites exercising the power of the State.  What was truly revolutionary about our Revolution was its ideas, and how those championed by the Founding Fathers have survived down through the centuries.  Abraham Lincoln had a great talent for getting to the nub of a question, and he got to the nub of the American Revolution during his very short address at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on February 22, 1861, on his way to be sworn in as President of a divided Union.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
February 22, 1861

Mr. Cuyler:

I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here, in this place, where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live. You have kindly suggested to me that in my hands is the task of restoring peace to the present distracted condition of the country. I can say in return, Sir, that all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated and were given to the world from this hall. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here, and framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence. I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army who achieved that Independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men. This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.

Now, in my view of the present aspect of affairs, there need be no bloodshed and war. There is no necessity for it. I am not in favor of such a course, and I may say, in advance, that there will be no bloodshed unless it be forced upon the Government, and then it will be compelled to act in self-defence.

My friends, this is wholly an unexpected speech, and I did not expect to be called upon to say a word when I came here. I supposed it was merely to do something toward raising the flag. I may, therefore, have said something indiscreet. (Cries of “No, no”) I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by and, if it be the pleasure of Almighty God, die by.


The principles of the Revolution are not merely words on old documents.  They  remain alive today in our world, and they remain just as relevant, and as revolutionary, and as dangerous, as when they were written.

Published in: on March 24, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The True Revolution  
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Since many of us will likely have a fair amount of unexpected free time on our hands in the near future, I thought that I would pass along that JSTOR (Journal Storage), the main online depository for academic journals, allows private individuals to register for free as independent researchers.  You can then read for free six articles a month.  Not all articles are free, but the ones that are offer a myriad of articles on endless topics.  Go here to register.

Published in: on March 23, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Jstor  

The Great Influenza


In recalling US involvement in World War I, one statistic is startling.  Combat deaths for the US totaled 53,402.  US military deaths from what was called Spanish flu totaled around 45,000.  In 1918 some 675,000 Americans died from the Spanish flue.   World War I killed some 20 million people.  From 1918 to 1920 the Spanish flu killed between 50 and a hundred million people, three to five percent of the population of the Earth at the time.  Speculations as to the origin point of the flu range from Kansas to China.  The Great Influenza gained its name of the Spanish flu, due to strict wartime censorship of the devastating swathe which the Influenza cut in the nations at war.  However, reporters were free to report on the mass mortality in neutral nations, and press coverage of the course of the Influenza in Spain produced sensational headlines throughout Europe and the US.  Considering the mortality produced by the Great Influenza, it is strange how little it bulks in memory, at least until recently, compared to the purely man made disaster of World War I.

The severity of its symptoms make the current flu mild in comparison. It came in two waves in the US in 1918. The second wave, in the fall of 1918, suddenly vanished in November of that year in the US, almost certainly due to surviving strains being benign, and the deadlier strains having burned themselves out.

Published in: on March 22, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Great Influenza  
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