The President’s Substitute

John Summerfield Staples

John Summerfield Staples served in the Union Army during the Civil War, a distinction he shared with about two million of his compatriots.  He never advanced beyond the rank of private.   His service was honorable but undistinguished, with one exception.

Born in 1845 in rural Stroud Township in Monroe, Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Union Army in late1862 in the 176th Pennsylvania.  His service was cut short after a few months due to illness, probably typhoid fever.  In 1864 he was working with his father as a carpenter in Washington, DC.

In October 1864 he was approached by  Noble D. Larner, president of the 3rd Ward Draft Club.  Larner explained that President Lincoln wanted to pay a man as a substitute for him in the Union Army.  Draft age men could pay a substitute to join up in their stead during the War.  That practice was highly controversial.  However, it was considered patriotic for non-draft age men like Lincoln to pay a man to go and fight for the Union.   Staples had acted as a substitute for a Robert A. Berry of Monroe County when he enlisted the first time.  The Union Army was going through a manpower shortage at the time, with many of the men who had enlisted for three years in 1861 leaving the Army, and Lincoln wished to set a good example for others who could afford it to pay men to enlist.  (more…)

Published in: on September 29, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The President’s Substitute  
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September 28, 1864: Hood Launches His Tennessee Campaign


After the fall of Altlanta, General John Bell Hood, commander of the Army of Tennessee, faced a quandry.  He confronted an army led by Sherman that heavily outnumbered his force.  Confederate manpower reserves were used up, and he could look for no further substantial reinforcements, while Sherman could rely upon an apparently inexhaustible flow of supplies and men from the North.  If Hood remained on the defensive the initiative remained with Sherman who was clearly readying his army to plunge into the heart of the Confederacy.

In these dire circumstances Hood hit upon the plan of heading north and forcing Sherman to follow him to protect his supply lines.  This would perhaps forestall a futher advance by Sherman into the deep South and with luck allow the Confederates to retake Atlanta and other occupied territory.

It was a desperate throw of the dice.  Moving north Hood moved ever closer to areas that the Union held in strength, and risked his Army being caught in a vice between Sherman and the forces that the Union could quickly amass due to their control of the rail net and the rivers of Tennessee.  However, it was probably the best of the very bad options confronting Hood.  Here are his comments on the start of his Tennessee campaign which appeared in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, condensed from his memoirs, Advance and Retreat: (more…)

Published in: on September 28, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 28, 1864: Hood Launches His Tennessee Campaign  
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Davy Crockett Takes a Stand

I voted against this Indian bill, and my conscience yet tells me that I gave a good honest vote, and one that I believe will not make me ashamed in the day of judgment.

David “Davy” Crockett

Fess Parker as Davy Crockett speaking against the Indian Removal Act of 1830 in the Walt Disney bio of Crockett made in the fifties.  Crockett lost his seat in Congress in 1831 due to his stand.  He ran for election in 1833 and regained his seat, only to be defeated in 1835 at which point he rode off to Texas and immortality, telling his erstwhile constituents that they could go to Hell while he would go to Texas.

Myths clustered around Crockett during his life, as he became one of the first of the media-driven celebrities.  However, there was a core of greatness about the man as the above video clip celebrates.

Published in: on September 27, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Davy Crockett Takes a Stand  
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For All We Know


Something for the weekend.  For All We Know (1970).  When I am in the mood for mellow I turn to the late, great Karen Carpenter.  Originally written for the film Lovers and Other Strangers (1970), it attained hit status with the cover by the Carpenters in 1971.  The lyrics are simple but there is a great deal of truth in them, at least so they seem to me from my vantage of 38 years of being happily married.  All successful marriages are the triumph of hope over fear and doubt, and such triumphs are ever to be celebrated in our journeys through this Vale of Tears.


Love, look at the two of us,
Strangers in many ways.
We’ve got a lifetime to share,
So much to say and as we go from day to day
I’ll feel you close to me.
But time alone will tell.
Let’s take a lifetime to say,
I knew you well,
For only time will tell us so.
And love may grow for all we know.
Love, look at the two of us,
Strangers in many ways.
Let’s take a lifetime to say,
I knew you well,
For only time will tell us so.
And love may grow for all we know
Published in: on September 26, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on For All We Know  
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Marbury v. Madison

A dramatization of the events surrounding the case of Marbury v. Madison.  Part of the Equal Justice Under Law series that ran in 1977 on PBS.

William Marbury was one of the “Midnight Judges” appointed by President Adams in the waning hours of his administration, 16 Federal district judges and 42 justices of the peace, all members of Adams’ Federalist party.  The Senate, still controlled by the Federalists, approved his appointments en masse the next day on March 4, 1801, the same day Thomas Jefferson was sworn in.  Acting Secretary of State John Marshall, who was also the newly appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, sent out the commissions to be delivered to the newly appointed judges and justices of the peace.  Not all could be delivered prior to Jefferson assuming office, and he ordered Levi Lincoln, Attorney General and Acting Secretary of State pending the arrival of James Madison in Washington, not to deliver the remaining commissions.

Marbury was among the justices of the peace who did not receive their commissions.  He petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus requiring Secretary of State James Madison to give him his commission.

In a 4-0 decision John Marshall, who should have recused himself from this case due to his involvement with the commissions, gave his enemy Jefferson a short term tactical victory and a long term strategic defeat.  He ruled that Marbury had a right to the commission, but that the Supreme Court lacked the legal authority to order Madison to give him the commission.  The Judiciary Act of 1789 had given to the Supreme Court the power to order writs of mandamus.  Marshall found that Congress could not enlarge the original jurisdiction that the Constitution gave to the Supreme Court and that thus this provision in the Judiciary Act was unconstitutional and that the Court lacked the power to grant such a writ as a matter of original jurisdiction.

Thus did the Court grant itself the key power of judicial review, a power nowhere granted in the Constitution, although some members of the Constitutional Convention assumed that the federal judges would have the power to declare null and void an unconstitutional act.  Hamilton argued in Federalist 78 that the Federal courts would have the power of judicial review.

It would be over a half century before the Supreme Court would strike down another act of Congress, in the infamous case of Dred Scott v. Sanford.  However, the Court was not reluctant during that period to use judicial review to strike down state statutes that they ruled ran afoul of the Constitution. (more…)

Published in: on September 25, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Marbury v. Madison  
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Lincoln on Free Labor

Lincoln and Labor



Taken from Lincoln’s address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, September 30, 1859:

The world is agreed that labor is the source from which human  wants are mainly supplied. There is no dispute upon this point.  From this point, however, men immediately diverge. Much disputation  is maintained as to the best way of applying and controlling  the labor element. By some it is assumed that labor is available  only in connection with capital — that nobody labors, unless somebody  else, owning capital, somehow, by the use of that capital,  induces him to do it. Having assumed this, they proceed to  consider whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus  induce them to work by their own consent; or buy them, and drive  them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far they  naturally conclude that all laborers are necessarily either hired laborers, or slaves. They further assume that whoever is once a  hired laborer, is fatally fixed in that condition for life; and thence  again that his condition is as bad as, or worse than that of a slave.  This is the “mud-sill” theory.


 But another class of reasoners hold the opinion that there is  no such relation between capital and labor, as assumed; and that  there is no such thing as a freeman being fatally fixed for life, in  the condition of a hired laborer, that both these assumptions are  false, and all inferences from them groundless. They hold that  labor is prior to, and independent of, capital; that, in fact, capital  is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not  first existed — that labor can exist without capital, but that capital  could never have existed without labor. Hence they hold that  labor is the superior — greatly the superior — of capital.


 They do not deny that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital. The error, as they hold, is in  assuming that the whole labor of the world exists within that  relation. A few men own capital; and that few avoid labor themselves,  and with their capital, hire, or buy, another few to labor  for them. A large majority belong to neither class — neither work  for others, nor have others working for them. Even in all our  slave States, except South Carolina, a majority of the whole  people of all colors, are neither slaves nor masters. In these Free  States, a large majority are neither hirers or hired. Men, with  their families — wives, sons and daughters — work for themselves,  on their farms, in their houses and in their shops, taking the whole  product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one  hand, nor of hirelings or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that  a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with  capital; that is, labor with their own hands, and also buy slaves  or hire freemen to labor for them; but this is only a mixed, and  not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the  existence of this mixed class. Again, as has already been said, the  opponents of the “mud-sill” theory insist that there is not, of  necessity, any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that  condition for life. There is demonstration for saying this. Many  independent men, in this assembly, doubtless a few years ago were  hired laborers. And their case is almost if not quite the general  rule. (more…)

Published in: on September 24, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln on Free Labor  
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Siege of Boonesborough

On the Wilderness Road that his axmen made
The settlers flocked to the first stockade;
The deerskin shirts and the coonskin caps
Filed through the glens and the mountaingaps;
And hearts were high in the fateful spring
When the land said “Nay!” to the stubborn king.
While the men of the East of farm and town
Strove with the troops of the British Crown,
Daniel Boone from a surge of hate
Guarded a nation’s westward gate.
Down in the fort in a wave of flame
The Shawnee horde and the Mingo came,
And the stout logs shook in a storm of lead;
But Boone stood firm and the savage fled.

Arthur Cuiterman

Part of the history of the American Revolution that often receives scant attention in most general histories is the Revolution on the frontier.  There, small forces of American patriots engaged in a fierce struggle with the British and their Tory and Indian auxiliaries which determined if the newly born United States would have room to expand in the West, or be limited to the area east of the Appalachians.

One important engagement in this struggle for the future of America was the siege of Boonesborough in 1778.

In 1775 Daniel Boone blazed the Wilderness Trail from Chiswell, Virginia, through the Cumberland Gap and into central Kentucky.  He built Fort Boone in the central part of what would become the state of Kentucky along the Kentucky River.  American settlers began to arrive in what the Cherokee and the Shawnee referred to as The Dark and Bloody Ground.

With the onset of the Revolution, the British at Fort Detroit, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Hamiliton, the Patriots called him “Hair Buyer Hamilton”, began to arm the Indian tribes and encourage them, along with Tory renegades, to attack American settlers in Kentucky.

The Indians initiated a guerilla war campaign against the settlers in Kentucky of ambush and massacre.  Daniel Boone was captured by the Shawnee in February of 1778 while he was on a hunting expedition for meat to feed the settlers at Boonesborough.  Black Fish, the Shawnee chief who captured Boone, intended to go on to capture Boonesborough.  Always quick-witted, Daniel Boone convinced Blackfish that the American settlers were starving, and that in the middle of winter the women and children captives would never survive the long trek back to Shawnee territory.  Boone promised that he would arrange the surrender of the settlement in the Spring.  Brought to the Shawnee village of Chillicothe, Boone was made an adopted Shawnee and given the name Big Turtle. (more…)

Published in: on September 23, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Siege of Boonesborough  
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The Honey War

The Honey War


Boundary disputes between states and territories were not uncommon in the 19th century, but few have caused the participants in The Honey War.  The Honey War resulted from a dispute over the boundary line between the state of Missouri and what was then the territory of Iowa.  The constitution of the state of Missouri defined the boundaries of the state:

Beginning in the middle of the Mississippi River, on the parallel of thirty-six degrees of north latitude; thence west along the said parallel of latitude to the St. Francois River; thence up and following the course of that river, in the middle of the main channel thereof, to the parallel of latitude of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes; thence west along the same to a point where the said parallel is intersected by a meridian line passing through the middle of the mouth of the Kansas River, where the same empties into the Missouri River; thence, from the point aforesaid, north along the said meridian line, to the intersection of the parallel of latitude which passes through the rapids of the River Des Moines, making said line correspond with the Indian boundary-line; thence east from the point of intersection last aforesaid, along the said parallel of latitude, to the middle of the channel of the main fork of the said River Des Moines; thence down along the middle of the main channel of the said River Des Moines to the mouth of the same, where it empties into the Mississippi River; thence due east to the middle of the main channel of the Mississippi River; thence down and following the course of the Mississippi River, in the middle of the main channel thereof, to the place of beginning.

Confusion developed over what rapids were referred to on the River Des Moines.  Iowa claimed land south to 15 miles into modern Missouri and Missouri claimed land 9.5 miles into modern Iowa.

In 1839 the dispute heated up with Iowans chasing Missouri tax collectors out of what is now two Iowa counties at pitchfork point.  Missouri tax collectors supposedly cut down three trees containing bee hives to collect the honey in lieu of taxes.

Missouri militia was sent out under Major General David Willock, who quite sensibly was unwilling to engage in blood shed over an issue that should be resolved by Congress.  Three companies of Iowa militia were mustered although their military effectiveness was suspect according to a contemporary witness:

in the ranks were to be found men armed with blunderbusses, flintlocks, and quaint old ancestral swords that had probably adorned the walls for many generations. One private carried a plough coulter over his shoulder by means of a log chain, another had an old-fashioned sausage stuffer for a weapon, while a third shouldered a sheet iron sword about six feet long. (more…)

Published in: on September 22, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Honey War  
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September 21, 1864: Battle of Fisher’s Hill

Fisher's Hill

After his defeat at the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864, go here to read about it,  Early retired south to a strong position near Strasburg, Virignia, with his right anchored on the North Branch of the Shenandoah River, and his left on Fisher’s Hill, grandiloquently known during the Civil War as the Gibraltar of the Valley.  The position was a very strong one, but with only 10,000 men to cover four miles, Early did not have enough troops to man it adequately.

Sheridan with 29,000 men quickly decided that a frontal attack would be fruitless without a flank attack.  Crook was sent with his corps on an arduous march to flank the Confederate left on Fisher’s Hill.  Crook was in position to commence his attack at 4:00 PM on September 22, while Sheridan pressed Early from the front.  After some desultory fighting, the Confederate army routed.  Battle losses in dead and wounded were minimal, but  1000 Confederates were taken prisoner.  Early retreated to Waynesboro leaving Sheridan in undisputed control of the lower Valley, a control that Sheridan was going to use to destroy the granary of the Confederacy.

Here is Early’s report to General Robert E. Lee on the engagement: (more…)

The Almighty Has His Own Purposes

And said: Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord.

Job 1: 21



(I originally posted this on October 13, 2010.  It has a great deal of meaning for me, so time to post it again.)

My co-blogger Paul Zummo’s post here on When God Says No caused me to think again of a theme that has alway intrigued me:  the problem of God allowing terrible things to happen to innocent people.   Endless words have been written on this subject, but I have always found moving the thought process of Abraham Lincoln as he addressed this complex subject.

The American Civil War has become such a part of American folk-lore, and so romanticized by reenactments, films, movies, etc, that we sometimes risk losing sight of just how dreadful it was.  The death toll in the war would be the equivalent of us losing some six million killed in a war today and some ten million wounded, many of those maimed for life.  One quarter of the nation devastated, and a huge war debt.  Americans tend to be optimists and to view themselves as blessed by God.  How had this dreadful calamity come upon the nation was the cry from millions of Americans at the time.

Lincoln also asked this question.  In 1862 he and his wife had suffered the death of their 11 year old son Willie on February 20, 1862.  This was the second son that the Lincolns had lost and the death of Willie left Lincoln and his wife shattered with grief , almost sending Mary over the brink into madness.  The war was going badly for the Union, with many defeats, endless casualties and no end in sight.  No wonder that Lincoln began to think hard about why God was allowing these terrible events to  occur. (more…)

Published in: on September 20, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Almighty Has His Own Purposes  
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