Bette Davis: Patriot

Few actors or actresses could dominate a film with raw talent as Bette Davis could, as the scene from Juarez (1939) amply demonstrates.  Forgotten today is the fact that this actress of such rare ability was also an ardent patriot.

After America entered World War II, Davis organized the Hollywood Canteen that served millions of servicemen and women free of charge throughout the War.  There soldiers could find stars like Bette Davis waiting on tables, serving food and chatting with them.  It was an unforgettable experience and it reflected superbly on the patriotism of the Hollywood community during World War II.  Davis also sold war bonds, in one memorable forty-eight hour period she sold $2,000,000.00 in bonds.  When Hollywood mogul Jack Warner objected to her hard sell tactics in regard to her bond sales, she told him that the public loved her in films where she portrayed a b–ch, and thus they responded favorably to her peremptory demands that they buy bonds. (more…)

Published in: on June 30, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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Father John Ireland and the Fifth Minnesota

One of the titans of the Catholic Church in the Nineteenth Century in the United States was Archbishop John Ireland, the first Archbishop of Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Future blog posts will cover his career as Archbishop.  This blog post is focused on his service during the Civil War.  Ordained a priest only a year, Father John Ireland at 24 in 1862 received permission of his bishop to join the Fifth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.  He joined the regiment immediately after the battle of Shiloh.

At the battle of Corinth on October 4, 1862 the Fifth Minnesota saved the day for the Union with a charge that stopped a Confederate breakthrough of the Union lines.  Running short on ammunition, the troops received additional cartridges from Chaplain Ireland who ran down the line dispensing ammunition.  When the fighting was over, the soldiers noted that their chaplain tirelessly tended the wounded and administered the Last Rites to soldiers whose wounds were beyond human aid.

The troops were very fond of their young priest and built him a portable altar from saplings.  His sermons were popular with the men, being direct, blunt and brief.  He was noted for his sunny disposition, quick wit  and his courage.  He was also an enthusiastic chess player, and would take on all comers in the evenings in camp.

Before battles he would hear the confessions of huge numbers of soldiers, with some Protestant soldiers often asking for admission to the Church.  He was always ready to pray with any soldiers no matter their religion, and give them what comfort he could in reminding them that God was ever at their side during their time of peril.  On one occasion he went to the side of an officer who had been shot and was bleeding to death and had asked for a chaplain.   The Archbishop recalled the scene decades after the War.   ‘Speak to me,’ he said, ‘of Jesus.’ He had been baptized — there was no time to talk of Church. I talked of the Savior, and of sorrow for sin. The memory of that scene has never been effaced from my mind. I have not doubted the salvation of that soul.”

Father Ireland was mustered out of service in March of 1863 due to ill-health, but he never forgot his time in the Union Army.   He was ever active in the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization,  and would write about his experiences as a combat chaplain.  Unlike most Catholics of his day, he was a firm Republican, the friend of Republican presidents including McKinley and Roosevelt, and never forgot why the Civil War had to be fought, as this statement by him regarding the rights of blacks indicates: (more…)

Published in: on June 29, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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Yankee Ingenuity in Normandy

 

There was a little sergeant. His name was Culin, and he had an idea. And his idea was that we could fasten knives, great big steel knives in front of these tanks, and as they came along they would cut off these banks right at ground level—they would go through on the level keel—would carry with themselves a little bit of camouflage for a while. And this idea was brought to the captain, to the major, to the colonel, and it got high enough that somebody did something about it—and that was General Bradley—and he did it very quickly. Because this seemed like a crazy idea, they did not even go to the engineers very fast, because they were afraid of the technical advice, and then someone did have a big questions, “Where are you going to find the steel for all this thing?” Well now, happily the Germans tried to keep us from going on the beaches with great steel “chevaux de frise”—big crosses, there were all big bars of steel down on the beach where the Germans left it. And he got it—got these things sharpened up—and it worked fine. The biggest and happiest group I suppose in all the Allied Armies that night were those that knew that this thing worked. And it worked beautifully.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 10, 1961

Curtis Grubb Culin III, a native of New Jersey, was a Sergeant with the 102nd Cavalry Recon Squadron in the 2nd Armored Division during the Normandy Campaign.  He, like most Allied troops fighting in Normandy, was frustrated by hedgerows, those tangled messes of bushes and shrub trees that delineated boundaries between fields in the Normandy countryside and served as ready made fortifications for German machine guns and snipers.  Culin mentioned that one day he was discussing the problem that the hedgerows presented for their tanks when a “hillbilly”, Culin’s phrase, suggested putting teeth on the tanks.

That is just what Culin did, welding tusk like blades to the front of a tank that allowed it to cleave its way through the densest of hedgerows.  Ultimately demonstrated to General Bradley, he put the idea into mass production, using the metal crosses that littered the beach defenses installed by the Germans to make the blades on some of the tanks.  By the launch of Operation Cobra, the breakout from Normandy on July 25, 60% of First Army tanks had been teethed. (more…)

Published in: on June 28, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Yankee Ingenuity in Normandy  
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June 26, 1963: Ich Bin Ein Berliner

I am proud to come to this city as the guest of your distinguished Mayor, who has symbolized throughout the world the fighting spirit of West Berlin. And I am proud to visit the Federal Republic with your distinguished Chancellor who for so many years has committed Germany to democracy and freedom and progress, and to come here in the company of my fellow American, General Clay, who has been in this city during its great moments of crisis and will come again if ever needed.

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was “civis Romanus sum”. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner”.

I appreciate my interpreter translating my German!

There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass’ sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say, on behalf of my countrymen, who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination of the city of West Berlin. While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.

What is true of this city is true of Germany – real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice. In 18 years of peace and good faith, this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace, with good will to all people. You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.

Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.

All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner”.

Published in: on June 26, 2021 at 8:19 pm  Comments Off on June 26, 1963: Ich Bin Ein Berliner  
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Give Me That Old Time Religion

Something for the weekend.  Give Me That Old Time Religion.  The origins of this hymn are unknown.  Probably a black spiritual, its roots may go back to English folk songs.  It was popularized in 1873 by Charles Tillman and has remained a popular hymn among Protestants ever since.  The scene above from Sergeant York (1941) conveys the power of the hymn.  The National University of Taiwan chorus gives a stirring rendition:

Published in: on June 26, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Give Me That Old Time Religion  
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June 25, 1862: The Seven Days Begin

One of the more important series of battles in American history, collectively known as the Seven Days, occurred in Virginia 159 years ago this week.  By driving away McClellan’s larger Army of the Potomac from Richmond, Robert E. Lee ensured that the Civil War was not going to be a quick Union victory, and that the Civil War, instead of a minor blip in US history, would, by the beginning of 1863, be transformed into a revolutionary struggle that would destroy slavery and alter the Union forever.

Before taking command of the Army of Northern Virginia after the wounding of General Joe Johnston at the battle of Seven Pines, Robert E. Lee, had acquired the nickname of “Granny Lee” due to his construction of fortifications and a perception that he was too cautious and lacked an aggressive spirit.  Few nicknames in history have been more inapposite.  As a commander Lee was a gambler and far preferred to attack the enemy than to passively await an attack.  After taking over command from Johnston at the beginning of June, Lee began working towards a big offensive to drive the larger Union army away from Richmond.  To accomplish this he began to draw reinforcements to Richmond from throughout Virginia, most notably Jackson’s Valley Army.

From June 12-15th he had the cavalry of his army, brilliantly commanded by Jeb Stuart, ride around McClellan’s army to ascertain what portion of McClellan’s army was north of the Chickahominy River.

Lee got the information he  needed from Stuart’s reconnaissance.  McClellan had about 25,000-30,000 men north of the Chickahominy.  The remainder of his army, about 60,000, was south of the Chickahominy, in front of the Richmond defenses.  Lee’s plan was bold.  Leaving about 25,000 men in the Richmond defenses, he would take the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia, and attack McClellan’s troop north of the Chickahominy, giving him a two-one battlefield superiority over the Union forces that side of the Chickahominy.  The plan of course was contingent on McClellan remaining passive in front of Richmond.  Lee planned on cutting McClellan’s supply lines by turning McClellan’s flank after winning on the north side of the Chickahominy and crossing to the south side and forcing McClellan to retreat or to be destroyed by the converging Confederates from Richmond and Lee’s forces.  The plan was daring and complicated, especially for an army as green as the one Lee led. (more…)

Published in: on June 25, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  

The Angel of Hadley

 

 

 

The town of Hadley was alarmed by the Indians in 1675, in the time of public worship, and the people were in the utmost confusion. Suddenly a grave, elderly person appeared in the midst of them. In his mien and dress he differed from the rest of the people. He not only encouraged them to defend themselves, but put himself at their head, rallied, instructed and led them on to encounter the enemy, who by this means were repulsed. As suddenly the deliverer of Hadley disappeared. The people were left in consternation, utterly unable to account for this strange phenomenon. It is not probable that they were ever able to explain it. If Goffe had been then discovered, it must have come to the knowledge of those persons, who declare by their letters that they never knew what became of him.

Thomas Hutchinson, History of Massachusetts Bay (1764)

Three of the regicides who sentenced Charles I to death took refuge in New England after the Restoration:  John Dixwell, Major General Edward Whalley and his son-in-law Major General William Goffe.  Goffe and Whalley were both experienced soldiers, having fought throughout the English Civil Wars.  They had also both served as Major Generals in Cromwell’s scheme to have Major Generals rule ten administrative districts in England, the only period of military dictatorship in English history.  All three of the regicides found refuge in New Haven, Connecticut.   Living under the assumed name of James David, Dixwell lived in peace in New Haven until his death in 1689.   Not so Whalley and Goffe who were too well known.  On the run, they ultimately found refuge in the frontier settlement of Hadley, Massachusetts.  Whalley probably died in 1675 while Goffe probably passed away in 1679.  (more…)

Published in: on June 24, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Angel of Hadley  
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June 23, 1863: Battle of Pawnee Agency

Pawnee Scouts

A small reminder that while our history of 1863 is filled with the campaigns of the Civil War, there was quite a bit of a military nature going on else where in the nation.  War between the Sioux and the Pawnee had been endemic for generations.  The Second Nebraska Cavalry got involved in a minute portion of that struggle 158 years ago:

Report of Capt. Henry L. Edwards, Second Nebraska Cavalry. PAWNEE RESERVATION, June 23, [24,] 1863.

SIR: I have the honor to report that the Sioux (supposed to be Brules) attacked the agency yesterday, killing several Pawnees and wounding myself. I ordered First Lieut. Henry Gray to follow them with 36 men, and, if practicable, to attack them. After pursuing about 50 of them for about 15 miles, he came upon about, 400 or 500 drawn up in line ready to receive him, and upon being assured that the Pawnees, who were with him, 300 or 400 strong, would fight with him, he threw out some skirmishers, when the Sioux opened upon them with rifles, killing Sergt. Joseph Dyson, and mortally wounding Private George Osborn; also killing their horses. At the first fire the Pawnees ran, leaving our men alone. Lieutenant Gray fought them about an hour, when they retreated. Four or five Sioux were killed and several horses. I had started to his assistance with 20 men and one howitzer, which I was compelled to send back, owing to the roughness of the country. When I reached Lieutenant Gray, the Sioux were still in force about 6 miles distant; but it being nearly night, I determined not to attack them, and fell back to my camp.

To better protect the whites living at the agency, I have crossed the Beaver and established camp near the agency, where I shall remain until I receive further orders.

Very respectfully,

HENRY L. EDWARDS, Captain Company D, Second Nebraska Cavalry. Brigadier-General McKean, Omaha, Nebr.

The Civil War was obviously the most important event going on in the nation a century and a half ago, but we get a false impression of the time if we forget all the other matters that were also underway, including conflicts that time has made quite obscure.

Published in: on June 23, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 23, 1863: Battle of Pawnee Agency  

What if Red Dawn Had Happened?

When I was watching Red Dawn when it came out in 1984 I was thinking to myself whether this type of partisan resistance to an invasion of the United States would take place.  I concluded that almost certainly it would.  In the Revolution, after the Continental Army in South Carolina surrendered at Charleston, partisan bands under Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter and Andrew Pickens, and many lesser know figures, sprang up, and made life hell for the occupying British.  When Washington sent troops to take back South Carolina, the partisans gave valuable intelligence and acted as force multipliers for the Continental troops and state militias.  During the Civil War, similar partisan bands fought for the Confederacy and forced the Union to tie down huge amounts of troops guarding supply lines.  After the Japanese invaded the Philippines, American and Filipino guerillas made certain that the Japanese had little control out in the countryside.  The strategic situation set forth in the movie was fanciful, but the partisan war it depicted would have been a likely consequence of such an invasion.

Doubtless the occupying enemy would have tried an extensive propaganda effort. (more…)

Published in: on June 22, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on What if Red Dawn Had Happened?  
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Governor Yates and the Copperheads

Richard_Yates_Governor_LOC

Richard Yates, Governor of Illinois from 1861-1865, was a formidable man, as demonstrated by the fact that during his term of office Illinois sent off a quarter of a million men to fight for the Union, the third most of all the States, in spite of the fact that copperhead sentiment was rife in southern Illinois throughout the War.

Born in Warsaw, Kentucky in 1815,  Yates moved with his family to Illinois in 1831.  A college graduate at a time when such was a rare accomplishment on the frontier, Yates began practicing law in Jacksonville, Illinois in 1837.  An anti-slavery Whig, Yates served in both the Illinois House and in Congress.

Elected the second Republican governor of Illinois, Yates’ term in office was dominated by the Civil War.  Hard times came to Illinois with the coming of the Civil War and the blocking of trade through Confederate controlled New Orleans.  Only 17 of 112 Illinois banks survived the creation of the Confederacy.  The deep economic recession gave impetus to the Democrats gaining control of the Constitutional Covnvention of 1862, which produced a document that limited the governor to a term of two years and gerrymandered electoral districts in favor of Democrats.  The Democrats overplayed their hand however, and the Copperhead Constitution of 1862 was rejected by the voters at the ballot box in a special June election held in 1862.  (more…)

Published in: on June 21, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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