Vacation 2021

Something for the weekend:  Holiday Road.  I am on vacation with my family until August 8. My internet connection in the coming week will range from intermittent to non-existent. That is now by choice.  In the past it was not, but now with ubiquitous wi-fi, portable ipads and kindles, that is no longer the case, and, truth to tell, it hasn’t been for the last several years.  I will have posts for each day I am away on the blog, but if something momentous occurs, for example:  Elvis is discovered working at a Big Boy’s in Tulsa, the Pope issues a Bull against blogging as a complete waste of time, or Biden is taken out of the White House in a straight jacket, I trust that this post will explain why I am not discussing it.

 

First, up to Kenosha, Wisconsin with a visit to my bride’s mother.  We have been doing this since the birth of the twins and it has always been a fun family gathering.  I heartily recommend both the Kenosha Civil War Museum and the Milwaukee Zoo  Then it is back home next Monday for an overnight pit stop and to board our dog Cali until next Saturday.  I will interrupt my vacation with a brief court hearing on Tuesday.  The vacations of a week in duration that I have without being interrupted by some court hearingare becoming rare as the years pass.

Gen Con this year has been rescheduled to September and masks are required.  As this is the case my family is passing on it.

My bride and I have only been attending since 1986, my bride missing 1991 when she was heavily pregnant with our twins.  (I made a 300 mile one day dash to the Convention that year through continual thunder storms by myself, one of the more foolish actions of my life.)  Sad to miss it this year, but a masked convention would not be enjoyable for us.

We are still going to Indianapolis to do some sight seeing however.  We have grown fond of the town since Gen Con moved here in 2003 and we are taking advantage of the hiatus to see some of the sights.  Hopefully next year Gen Con will resume normally, although 2020 and 2021 has taught all of us to take absolutely nothing for granted.

A good week albeit somewhat tiring, but I can rest in the law mines after I get back!  See you all on August 8.

Published in: on July 31, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Vacation 2021  
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July 30, 1864: Debacle at the Crater

battle-of-the-crater-

When looking at the battle of the Crater, it is a study in contrasts.  The digging of the tunnel and the explosion of the mine at dawn on July 30, 1864, go here to read about the tunnel construction, was a tribute to the ingenuity and sheer compentence of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants and his men of the 48th Pennsylvania, who, with almost no help from the rest of the army, gave the Army of the Potomac a golden opportunity to take Petersburg and bring the War to a rapid conclusion.  That this opportunity was missed was largely attributable to criminal incompetence on the part of the generals involved.

Here are the generals who contributed to the debacle:

1.  Grant and Meade-Burnside, the commander of the IX corps making the assault, had trained a division of United States Colored Troops to lead the advance after the explosion of the mine.  The day before the battle Meade, concerned that the attack would fail and that their would be political repercussions if black troops incurred heavy casualties as a result, ordered Burnside to assign a white division to lead the attack.  Burnside protested this decision, but Grant backed Meade up.

2.  Burnside-Burnside had the white division chosen by lot rather than picking the best division.  Burnside made no effort to make certain that his attacking divisions had access ways cleared of debris and fortifications so they could rapidly advance after the explosion.  He made no effort to inform the new white division leading the assault that it was to go around any crater created by the explosion instead of going down into it, which is precisely what the attacking divisions did, making themselves sitting ducks at the bottom of a large hole when the Confederate counter-attack began.  Rather than calling off the attack after it became obvious that no breakthrough was possible, Burnside kept feeding troops into the Crater with the only effect being to lengthen the list of Union dead and wounded.

3.  James H. Ledlie-Brigadier General James H. Ledlie earned a notable distiction during the battle.  It was not unusual for Civil War generals to make bad decisions, and to not infrequently show a distinct lack of common sense, however almost all of them were very brave men.  Ledlie was not.  In addition to being a very bad commander as indicated by his failure to inform his division of what was expected of them after his division was chosen by lot to lead the assault, he spent the battle drunk and well behind the lines, safe and secure as his men went into the meat grinder.  He richly earned his dismissal from the Army after the battle.

4.  Edward Ferrero-Brigadier General Edward Ferrero was the foremost dance instructor in the country prior to the War.  He should have stuck to that trade.  The commander of the black division involved in the battle of the Crater, he spent the battle in the same bomb proof dugout behind the line as Ledlie, and he shared Ledlie’s bottle with him. Ferrero’s behavior is somwhat incomprehensible as he had shown extreme valor in other battles.  Astonishingly he was not cashiered from the service, and in December of 1864 he received a brevet promotion to Major General of Volunteers for “bravery and meritorious services”.

With this type of leadership it is no wonder that the attack failed.  The initial mine explosion killed 278 Confederates and wounded hundreds of others.  For 15 minutes the stunned Confederates did not fire at the attacking Union units.  Union troops went down into the Crater and within an hour were receiving heavy fire from Confederate troops at the top of the side of the Crater facing Petersburg.  Confederate Brigadier General William Mahone, in charge of the Confederate counterattack, called it a turkey shoot.  Instead of calling off the attack  when it became clear that the Confederates had sealed the breach caused by the explosion, Burnside kept sending divisions, including the black division, down into the Crater where they were quickly slaughtered.  Some Confederate troops murdered black troops who were trying to surrender.  When General Lee heard of this he supposedly sent a message to General Mahone telling him to put a stop to this or he would be removed from command.

Union casualties were 4000 to 1500 for the Confederates.  The whole debacle was the subject of a lengthy investigation by the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.

Here is Grant’s assessment of the fiasco from his Personal Memoirs:

(more…)

Digging of The Tunnel at Petersburg

By far the most unusual event during the siege of Petersburg was the attempt by Grant to take Petersburg by a huge mining operation.

The idea of the tunnel was devised by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants, the 33 year old commanding officer of the 48th Pennsylvania.  Pleasants was a mining engineer in civilian life and many of his men were coal miners.  He became convinced that his men could dig a tunnel under the Confederate fort known as Elliot’s Salient, then fill a mine under the fort sufficient to blow it to kingdom come, along with nearby Confederate trenches.  Pleasants took the idea to his corps commander Major General Ambrose Burnside.  He and his men had received permission, but he received virtually no assistance from the rest of the Army in the digging of the tunnel, he and his men having to improvise everything they used.  Engineering officers told Pleasants that he was crazy and at 511 feet the tunnel would be too long and his men would die of asphyxiation digging the tunnel long before it could be completed.

Petersburg Tunnel

The tunnel was elevated as it advanced toward the Confederate fort to prevent moisture clogging it up.   Fresh air was pumped in by air-exchange mechanism near the entrance. Pleasants had constructed a ventilation shaft located well behind Union lines, and connected it to the mine with canvas. At the shaft’s base, a fire was kept continuously burning. A wooden duct ran the entire length of the tunnel which protruded into the outside air. The fire heated stale air inside of the tunnel, forcing it up the ventilation shaft and out of the mine. The resulting vacuum then sucked fresh air in from the mine entrance via the wooden duct which transported the fresh air to the digging miners. 

The took took a bit over two weeks to dig and the mine fifty feet under the Confederate fort took almost another two weeks to construct.  It was filled with four tons of gunpowder.  The Confederates attempted some desultory countermining operations, but the Union tunnel troops went about their work undiscovered.  By July 28, 1864 the mine was ready to explode whenever the high command gave the word.  That word would be given on July 30, 1864.

Here is a portion of an article on the tunneling operation that led up to the Battle of the Crater, written by Major William H. Powell, United States Army, which appeared in volume 4 of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. (more…)

Published in: on July 29, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Digging of The Tunnel at Petersburg  
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The Federalist Papers

 

Was, then, the American Revolution effected, was the American Confederacy formed, was the precious blood of thousands spilt, and the hard-earned substance of millions lavished, not that the people of America should enjoy peace, liberty, and safety, but that the government of the individual States, that particular municipal establishments, might enjoy a certain extent of power, and be arrayed with certain dignities and attributes of sovereignty? We have heard of the impious doctrine in the Old World, that the people were made for kings, not kings for the people. Is the same doctrine to be revived in the New, in another shape that the solid happiness of the people is to be sacrificed to the views of political institutions of a different form? It is too early for politicians to presume on our forgetting that the public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object. Were the plan of the convention adverse to the public happiness, my voice would be, Reject the plan. Were the Union itself inconsistent with the public happiness, it would be, Abolish the Union. In like manner, as far as the sovereignty of the States cannot be reconciled to the happiness of the people, the voice of every good citizen must be, Let the former be sacrificed to the latter. How far the sacrifice is necessary, has been shown. How far the unsacrificed residue will be endangered, is the question before us.

Federalist 45, James Madison

Our Founding Fathers were an odd combination of men of action and men of words, often times being both.  In The Federalist Papers we encounter hard thinking on government as fresh as tomorrow, as relevant as today and as timeless as yesterday.  No American can consider himself or herself educated unless an attempt is made to read these essays.  They are not an easy read, especially if one is unfamiliar with the history of the ratification fights in the states over the Constitution, but they are worth the effort.  Mercifully the essays are written in superb English, free of the cant and jargon that so disfigure so much writing in our time.

If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.

Federalist 33, Alexander Hamilton

Published in: on July 28, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Federalist Papers  
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July 27, 1864: First Battle of Deep Bottom Begins

Deep_Bottom_July

Unbeknownst to the Confederates, on July 27, 1864 the Union forces around Petersburg were putting the finishing touches on a huge mine under a fort in the Confederate defenses known as Elliot’s Salient.  To divert Confederate attention from this sector of the line, Grant ordered Hancock and Sheridan to cross the James River at Deep Bottom and make a lunge towards Richmond.  Grant assumed this would cause a weakening in the Confederate defenses around Petersburg and he was correct in that assumption.  Lee in response to Grant’s move pulled some 16,500 men out of the Petersburg lines and into the Richmond fortifications.

In fighting on the 27th and 28th which resulted in 488 Union casualties to 679 Confederate, Hancock and Sheridan’s drive toward Richmond was stopped, but Grant had achieved his goal of drawing Lee’s men to the north side of the James, as Grant noted in his Memoirs: (more…)

Breckinridge Platform 1860

Continuing on with our examination of the platforms of the political parties in the 1860 election, we come to the platform of the Democrats who refused to support Douglas and nominated Vice-President of the United States John C. Breckinridge for President.  The platform is quite similar to the platform of the Douglas Democrats, including the endorsement of the 1856 Democratic platform.  The main distinction is that the Breckinridge Democrats made it clear that neither the Federal or Territorial governments had any power to prohibit slavery in a territory.  Once a territory was a state after it was admitted to the Union, its constitution could then allow or prohibit slavery.   I find the platform rather moderate in the context of the times, and Southern fire-eaters must have been disappointed that a more full bore pro-slavery platform was not adopted.  The Breckinridge platform: (more…)

Published in: on July 26, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Breckinridge Platform 1860  
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Theodore Roosevelt and Muscular Christianity

 

 

A few weeks after he gave a Fourth of July speech in 1903  in Huntington, New York, during the 250th anniversary year of that town, Colonel Roosevelt (That is the title by which he liked to be addressed, being proud of his service with the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War.  He despised being called Teddy.) addressed the Holy Name Society on August 16, 1903.  Note his appeal to men and boys to lead good and moral lives and to give full expression to the masculine virtues of courage and fortitude.  Today of course the speech would be denounced as sexist, moralistic, Christianist and you can write the remainder of the list for yourself. Such complaints would be the sheerest rubbish.  Men and boys need precisely this type of message if they are going to be a positive force in society and to be good husbands, fathers and sons.  Too many churches tend to ignore giving this type of message and society has suffered greatly as a result.  Here is the text of the speech: (more…)

Published in: on July 25, 2021 at 6:38 am  Comments (1)  
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Eliot Ness and The Untouchables

I have forsworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!

Eliot Ness, The Untouchables (1987)

Something for the weekend.  The soundtrack suite from The Untouchables (1987).  Hard to believe it is 34 years since The Untouchables (1987) movie was released.  My bride and I saw it in Joliet that year and we both loved it.  A year or two later and I was sitting next to one of the last of the surviving members of Al Capone’s gang.  A truck driver for Capone, he had invested in Central Illinois farmland and by the time I knew him he was a grey headed and kindly great grandfather.  I never worked up the courage to ask him if Capone had asked him to bury some gangland slaying victims in the ground he purchased, as local rumor indicated.

The film was magnificent with the screenplay by David Mamet and the haunting, and period appropriate, musical score by Henry Mancini.  De Niro gave the performance of his career as Capone and Sean Connery, who won a best supporting Oscar for his performance, was completely believable as honest cop Jimmy Malone, joining Ness in his crusade against the corruption that sickened Malone.  Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness was superb as an innocent who learns the terrible cost that is sometimes demanded when evil is confronted. (more…)

Published in: on July 24, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Eliot Ness and The Untouchables  
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American Aid to Benito Juarez

One of the more interesting periods in American-Mexican relations was during the occupation of Mexico by Napoleon III beginning in 1862, followed by the imposition of Maximilian I of Austria as Emperor of Mexico through a rigged plebiscite in 1864.  From the beginning, the Lincoln administration looked askance at the French attempt to transform Mexico into a French colony.  In the midst of Civil War all Lincoln could do was to convey his best wishes to Mexican President Benito Juarez who was carrying out a guerilla war against the French occupation.

After the War President Andrew Johnson sent General Phil Sheridan to the Rio Grande as a sign of American displeasure with the French occupation.  Secretary of State Seward, fearing a war with France, opposed attempts to pressure France or to supply the Juaristas.  Generals Grant and Sheridan, recalling with ire the desire by Emperor Maximilian to have an alliance with the Confederacy, clandestinely supplied the Juaristas with funds and weapons, Sheridan noting in his journal the supplying of 30,000 rifled muskets.  3,000 Union veterans went south of the border to join Juarista armies. Johnson privately approved all of this, even clandestinely meeting with an ambassador from Juarez, while publicly merely indicating that the US wanted France to withdraw from Mexico, and that what happened after this was a purely internal Mexican matter. (more…)

Peacemaker

Pierre-Jean De Smet first saw the light of day in Dendermonde in Belgium on January 30, 1801.  His parents would have been astonished if they had been told that in his life their newborn would travel over 180,000 miles as a missionary, and most of it in the Wild West of the United States.

Emigrating to the US in 1821 as part of his desire to serve as a missionary, De Smet entered the Jesuit novitiate at Whitemarsh, Maryland.  In a move that today would have secularists screaming “Separation of Church and State!” and conspiracy buffs increasing the tin foil content of their hats, the US government subsidized a Jesuit mission being established in the new state of Missouri among the Indians.  At the time the US government often did this for missionaries of many Christian denominations among the Indians.  So it was that in 1823 De Smet and other members of the order trekked west and established a mission to the Indians at Florissant, Missouri, near Saint Louis.  Studying at the new Saint Regis Seminary in Florissant, Father De Smet was ordained on September 23, 1827.  Now a prefect at the seminary, he studied Indian languages and customs.  In 1833 he returned to Belgium for health problems and was unable to return to Missouri until 1837.

In 1838 he founded the St. Joseph Mission in Council Bluffs for the Potawatomi Indians.   He also began his career as a peacemaker as he journeyed to the territory of the Sioux to work out a peace between them and the Potawatomi.  It should be emphasized that Father De Smet was making these journeys at a time when he was often the only white man for hundreds of miles other than for a few mountain men and scattered traders.  He quickly earned a reputation among the Indians as utterly fearless and a white man whose word they could trust.

In 1840 he journeyed to the Pacific Northwest to establish a mission among the Flathead and Nez Perces tribes, who had been begging for a decade for “Black Robes” to be sent to them and teach them about Christ.  After visiting them, Father De Smet promised that he would go back to Saint Louis and return with another “Black Robe” to establish a permanent mission.  On his way back he visited the Crow, the Gros Ventres and other tribes.  In 1841 he returned to the Flatheads along with Father Nicholas Point and established St. Mary’s Mission  on the Bitterroot River, thirty miles south of present day Missoula.  The mission was quite successful as indicated by this event.  One of the converted chiefs of the Flatheads was baptized and chose the baptismal name of Victor.  On one occasion Father De Smet was preaching to the Flatheads and mentioned how in Europe the Holy Father confronted many enemies of the Faith.  Victor became indignant and said, “Should our Great Father, the Great chief of the Black robes, be in danger–you speak on paper–invite him in our names to our mountains. We will raise his lodge in our midst; we will hunt for him and keep his lodge provided, and we will guard him against the approach of his enemies!” (more…)

Published in: on July 22, 2021 at 5:20 am  Comments (3)  
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