September 30, 1859: Shall Not Pass Away

On September 30, 1859 Abraham Lincoln addressed the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society at the Wisconsin State Fair.  Most of the speech is fairly forgettable, as politicians’ speeches tend to be when they are addressing some particular interest group.  However, at the very end we have a paragraph which reminds us why Lincoln is a diamond among dull gray stones as a speech maker compared to most other politicians. (more…)

Published in: on September 30, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
Tags:

Prisoner of Fort McHenry

 

Francis Key Howard

 

Forty-seven years after he penned the Star-Spangled Banner, and eighteen years after his death, a grandson of Francis Scott Key, Francis Key Howard, found himself a prisoner in Fort McHenry.  The editor of the Baltimore Exchange, and a Confederate sympathizer, Howard was imprisoned for his vigorous editorial protesting the suspension by the Lincoln administration of the writ of habeas corpus and the arrest of the mayor and city council of Baltimore by the Lincoln administration.  Howard would be held for fourteen months in various Union prisons until his release.

On September 14, 1861 he looked out from his prison cell in Fort McHenry at the flag waving in the breeze.  He later wrote down his reflections at that moment: (more…)

Published in: on September 29, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Juxtaposition

 

In the last century before the birth of the new faith called Christianity, which was destined to overthrow the pagan tyranny of Rome and bring about a new society,

the Roman republic stood at the very centre of the civilized world.  “Of all things fairest “sang the poet “first among cities and home of the gods is golden Rome. “

Yet even at the zenith of her pride and power the Republic lay fatally stricken with a disease called human slavery.  The age of the dictator was at hand, waiting in the shadows

for the event to bring it forth.

Spartacus, Screenplay (1960)

(I posted this at The American Catholic, and I thought the film mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

A great example of juxtaposition from the film Spartacus (1960).

Great art, bad history.  No, Crassus was not a proto-Fascist;  no, Spartacus was not a proto-Communist.  The idea of a world without slaves would have struck both men as bizarre as a suggestion today of a world without farms.  Slavery, and slavery equivalents, were well nigh universal institutions, with the influence of Christianity making Europe an exception during the Middle Ages until colonization, with Christianity and mechanization largely eliminating it in the West in the Nineteenth Century.  It endures today in parts of the globe under other names.  In the last century it had a huge revival under the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, Red China, etc.  With the waning influence of Christianity in the West, unless that is altered, I have no doubt it will recur here.

The film gets the late Republic atmosphere correct:  old Roman morality being forgotten, a growth of decadence fueled by ever more wealth from foreign conquests, endless amounts of slaves flooding into Italy from the same foreign conquests, factions in the Senate engaging in what amounted to a cold civil war between bouts of hot civil war, the Roman Republican government teetering on the brink of military dictatorship, the movie presents all of these elements more clearly than any  classroom lecture could.  It is too familiar to our own day to make completely comfortable viewing.

Our sources on the Third Servile War, the first two were slave revolts in Sicily in the Second Century BC, are not very good and tend to be written centuries after the events.  My favorite of a poor lot is this excerpt from Plutarch’s life of Crassus:

8 1 The insurrection of the gladiators and their devastation of Italy, which is generally called the war of Spartacus,​11 had its origin as follows. A certain Lentulus Batiatus had a school of gladiators at Capua, most of whom were Gauls and Thracians.  Through no misconduct of theirs, but owing to the injustice of their owner, they were kept in close confinement and reserved for gladiatorial combats.

 

2 Two hundred of these planned to make their escape, and when information was laid against them, those who got wind of it and succeeded in getting away, seventy-eight in number, seized cleavers and spits from some kitchen and sallied out. On the road they fell in with wagons conveying gladiators’ weapons to another city; these they plundered and armed themselves. Then they took up a strong position and elected three leaders. The first of these was Spartacus, a Thracian of Nomadic stock,​a possessed not only of great courage and strength, but also in sagacity and culture superior to his fortune, and more Hellenic than Thracian. 3 It is said that when he was first brought to Rome to be sold, a serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept, and his wife, who was of the same tribe as Spartacus, a prophetess, and subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy, declared it the sign of a great and formidable power which would attend him to a fortunate issue. This woman shared in his escape and was then living with him.

9 1 To begin with, the gladiators repulsed the soldiers who came against them from Capua, and getting hold of many arms of real warfare, they gladly took these in exchange for their own, casting away their gladiatorial weapons as dishonourable and barbarous. Then Clodius the praetor was sent out from Rome against them with three thousand soldiers, and laid siege to them on a hill which had but one ascent, and that a narrow and difficult one,  which Clodius closely watched; 2 everywhere else there were smooth and precipitous cliffs. But the top of the hill was covered with a wild vine of abundant growth, from which the besieged cut off the serviceable branches, and wove these into strong ladders of such strength and length that when they were fastened at the top they reached along the face of the cliff to the plain below. On these they descended safely, all but one man, who remained above to attend to the arms. When the rest had got down, he began to drop the arms, and after he had thrown them all down, got away himself also last of all in safety. 3 Of all this the Romans were ignorant, and therefore their enemy surrounded them, threw them into consternation by the suddenness of the attack, put them to flight, and took their camp. They were also joined by many of the herdsmen and shepherds of the region, sturdy men and swift of foot, some of whom they armed fully, and employed others as scouts and light infantry.

4 In the second place, Publius Varinus, the praetor, was sent out against them, whose lieutenant, a certain Furius, with two thousand soldiers, they first engaged and routed; then Spartacus narrowly watched the movements of Cossinius, who had been sent out with a large force to advise and assist Varinus in the command, and came near seizing him as he was bathing near Salinae. 5 Cossinius barely escaped with much difficulty, and Spartacus at once seized his baggage, pressed hard upon him in pursuit, and took his camp with great slaughter. Cossinius also fell. By defeating the praetor himself in many battles, and finally capturing his lictors and the very horse he rode, Spartacus was soon great and  p341 formidable; but he took a proper view of the situation, and since he could not expect to overcome the Roman power, began to lead his army toward the Alps, thinking it necessary for them to cross the mountains and go to their respective homes, some to Thrace, and some to Gaul. 6 But his men were now strong in numbers and full of confidence, and would not listen to him, but went ravaging over Italy.

It was now no longer the indignity and disgrace of the revolt that harassed the senate, but they were constrained by their fear and peril to send both consuls into the field, as they would to a war of the utmost difficulty and magnitude. 7 Gellius, one of the consuls, fell suddenly upon the Germans, who were so insolent and bold as to separate themselves from the main body of Spartacus, and cut them all to pieces; but when Lentulus, the other consul, had surrounded the enemy with large forces, Spartacus rushed upon them, joined battle, defeated the legates of Lentulus, and seized all their baggage. Then, as he was forcing his way towards the Alps, he was met by Cassius, the governor of Cisalpine Gaul, with an army of ten thousand men, and in the battle that ensued, Cassius was defeated, lost many men, and escaped himself with difficulty.

10 1 On learning of this, the Senate angrily ordered the consuls to keep quiet, and chose Crassus to conduct the war, and many of the nobles were induced by his reputation and their friendship for him to serve under him. Crassus himself, accordingly, took position on the borders of Picenum, expecting to receive the attack of Spartacus, who was hastening thither; and he sent Mummius, his legate, with two legions, by a circuitous route, with orders to follow the enemy, but not to join battle nor even to skirmish with them. 2 Mummius, however, at the first promising opportunity, gave battle and was defeated; many of his men were slain, and many of them threw away their arms and fled for their lives. Crassus gave Mummius himself a rough reception, and when he armed his soldiers anew, made them give pledges that they would keep their arms. Five hundred of them, moreover, who had shown the greatest cowardice and been first to fly, he divided into fifty decades, and put to death one from each decade, on whom the lot fell, thus reviving, after the lapse of many years, an ancient mode of punishing the soldiers. 3 For disgrace also attaches to this manner of death, and many horrible and repulsive features attend the punishment, which the whole army witnesses.

When he had thus disciplined his men, he led them against the enemy. But Spartacus avoided him, and retired through Lucania to the sea. At the Straits, he chanced upon some Cilician pirate craft, and determined to seize Sicily. By throwing two thousand men into the island, he thought to kindle anew the servile war there,​12 which had not long been extinguished, and needed only a little additional fuel. 4 But the Cilicians, after coming to terms with him and receiving his gifts, deceived him and sailed away. So Spartacus marched back again from the sea and established his army in the peninsula of Rhegium. Crassus now came up, and observing that the nature of the place suggested what must be done, he determined to build a wall  p345 across the isthmus, thereby at once keeping his soldiers from idleness, and his enemies from provisions. 5 Now the task was a huge one and difficult, but he accomplished and finished it, contrary to all expectation, in a short, running a ditch from sea to sea through the neck of land three hundred furlongs in length and fifteen feet in width and depth alike. Above the ditch he also built a wall of astonishing height and strength. 6 All this work Spartacus neglected and despised at first; but soon his provisions began to fail, and when he wanted to sally forth from the peninsula, he saw that he was walled in, and that there was nothing more to be had there. He therefore waited for a snowy night and a wintry storm, when he filled up a small portion of the ditch with earth and timber and the boughs of trees, and so threw a third part of his force across.

11 1 Crassus was now in fear lest some impulse to march upon Rome should seize Spartacus, but took heart when he saw that many of the gladiator’s men had seceded after a quarrel with him, and were encamped by themselves on a Lucanian lake. This lake, they say, changes from time to time in the character of its water, becoming sweet, and then again bitter and undrinkable. Upon this detachment Crassus fell, and drove them away from the lake, but he was robbed of the slaughter and pursuit of the fugitives by the sudden appearance of Spartacus, who checked their flight.

2 Before this Crassus had written to the senate that they must summon Lucullus​13 from Thrace and Pompey from Spain, but he was sorry now that he had done so, and was eager to bring the war to an end before those generals came. He knew that the success would be ascribed to the one who came up with assistance, and not to himself.

Accordingly, in the first place, he determined to attack those of the enemy who had seceded from the rest and were campaigning on their own account (they were commanded by Caius Canicius and Castus), and with this in view, sent out six thousand men to preoccupy a certain eminence, bidding them keep their attempt a secret. 3 And they did try to elude observation by covering up their helmets, but they were seen by two women who were sacrificing for the enemy, and would have been in peril of their lives had not Crassus quickly made his appearance and given battle, the most stubbornly contested of all; for although he slew twelve thousand three hundred men in it, he found only two who were wounded in the back. The rest all died standing in the ranks and fighting the Romans.

4 After the defeat of this detachment, Spartacus retired to the mountains of Petelia, followed closely by Quintus, one of the officers of Crassus, and by Scrophas, the quaestor, who hung upon the enemy’s rear. But when Spartacus faced about, there was a great rout of the Romans, and they barely managed to drag the quaestor, who had been wounded, away into safety. This success was the ruin of Spartacus, for it filled his slaves with over-confidence. 5 They would no longer consent to avoid battle, and would not even obey their leaders, but surrounded them as soon as they began to march, with arms in their hands, and forced them to lead back through Lucania against the Romans, the very thing which Crassus  also most desired. For Pompey’s approach was already announced, and there were not a few who publicly proclaimed that the victory in this war belonged to him; he had only to come and fight and put an end to the war. Crassus, therefore, pressed on to finish the struggle himself, and having encamped near the enemy, began to dig a trench. Into this the slaves leaped and began to fight with those who were working there, 6 and since fresh men from both sides kept coming to help their comrades, Spartacus saw the necessity that was upon him, and drew up his whole army in order of battle.

In the first place, when his horse was brought to him, he drew his sword, and saying that if he won the day he would have many fine horses of the enemy’s, but if he lost it he did not want any, he slew his horse. Then pushing his way towards Crassus himself through many flying weapons and wounded men, he did not indeed reach him, but slew two centurions who fell upon him together. 7 Finally, after his companions had taken to flight, he stood alone, surrounded by a multitude of foes, and was still defending himself when he was cut down.

But although Crassus had been fortunate, had shown most excellent generalship, and had exposed his person to danger, nevertheless, his success did not fail to enhance the reputation of Pompey. For the fugitives from the battle​14 encountered that general and were cut to pieces, so he could write to the senate that in open battle, indeed, Crassus had conquered the slaves, but that he himself had extirpated the war. 8 Pompey, accordingly, for his victories over Sertorius and in Spain, celebrated a splendid triumph; but Crassus, for all his self-approval, did not venture to ask for the major triumph, and it was thought ignoble and mean in him to celebrate even the minor triumph on foot, called the ovation, for a servile war. How the minor triumph differs from the major, and why it is named as it is, has been told in my life of Marcellus.

The differences between our time and the time of the fall of the Roman Republic far outnumber their similarities, but in both periods we see institutions which have endured for centuries working poorly due to the fact that no institutions can make up for a lack of character in those at the helm of the institutions.

 

Published in: on September 28, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

September 27, 1941: First Liberty Ship Launches

patrick-henr-d20090921132449

One of the more important innovations of World War II was the Liberty Ship.  Based on a British design the Liberty Ships were mass produced on an epic scale during World War II, eighteen ship yards turning out an astonishing 2710 of the cargo haulers.  The ships were made up of sections that were welded together.  They could be built in as little as five days.  President Roosevelt launched the first one, the SS Patrick Henry, on September 27, 1941.  The Henry made 12 wartime voyages and had a postwar career that ended in 1958 with it being sold for scrap.  The ships were slow and ugly, but no they played an immense part in bringing about Allied victory.

Published in: on September 27, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

September 26, 1960: The First Kennedy-Nixon Debate

Sixty-one years ago in the historical rear view mirror, the four Kennedy-Nixon debates were the first presidential debates and set the precedent for presidential debates, although the next would not occur until 1976 between Ford and Carter.  In the first debate Kennedy, who secretly suffered from numerous ailments, radiated health and vigor.  Nixon looked terrible in comparison, having been  hospitalized for two weeks in August over an infected knee and having not regained the weight he lost during his recovery.  Nixon insisted on campaigning until the time of the debate and refused to wear television makeup.  Nixon’s mother called him after the debate and asked him if he was ill. After the debate, polls indicated that Kennedy went from a slight deficit to a slight lead. (more…)

Published in: on September 26, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 26, 1960: The First Kennedy-Nixon Debate  
Tags: , , ,

I Saw the Light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something for the weekend.  I Saw the Light by Hank Williams.  Written by him in 1948 at age 25, it coveys the hunger for salvation that was always a part of Williams’ brief and tragic life.  Dead before he reached 30, Williams was a great talent, and he threw it all away with alcoholism and addiction to drugs, which shattered both his personal and professional life.  His life typifies what Christ spoke of in this parable:

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.

However, that is not all there is to say.  This song has brought comfort to millions as they call upon Christ in this Vale of Tears.  I hope it weighed heavily in the balance when Williams appeared before the God he clearly loved.

Published in: on September 25, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on I Saw the Light  
Tags: , ,

September 24, 1863: Hooker to Chattanooga

 

 

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was an irascible and cantankerous man who didn’t suffer fools, or anyone else for that matter, gladly.  He was often a pain to be around.  However he more than made up for his lack of people skills, with driving energy, imagination and tenacity.  These characteristics all came into play in the wake of the Union defeat at Chickamauga.

On the night of September 23 he went to the White House and took the drastic step of summoning the President from his bed to attend a hurried council of war.  Stanton proposed to dispatch to Chattanooga from the Army of the Potomac the XI and XII corps, some 20,000 men.  Lincoln was dubious that the troops, having to travel some 1200 miles by rain, would arrive in time to aid Rosecrans.  Stanton came prepared for this objection.  Present at the meeting was Colonel D.C. McCallum, head of the Department of Military Railroads, who, at Stanton’s prompting, promised that the troops could be shipped in a week, and vouched for it with his life.  Lincoln, reassured, agreed to the plan.  The expedition was to be commanded by Major General Joseph Hooker, the former commander of the Army of the Potomac, given another opportunity to play a major role in the War. (more…)

Published in: on September 24, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

September 23, 1862: Battle of Wood Lake Minnesota

It is easy to forget that between 1861-1865 there were other wars fought by the United States in addition to the Civil War.  One of these was the Dakota War of 1862 fought in Minnesota.  Relations between the native Dakota (Sioux) and the white settlers of Minnesota had been rocky for years before 1862.  Late treaty payments, and cheating Indian agents had reduced many of the Dakota to poverty on their reservations.  Alcoholism was rampant as were diseases of the white man.   Constant encroachments on the land of the Dakota by the settlers created a tinderbox. Tensions erupted into open conflict on August 17, 1862 when a member of a Dakota hunting party murdered five whites.  A council of Dakota under war chief Little Crow that evening decided it was time to drive the whites out of the Minnesota river valley.  Over the next few weeks between 450-800 settlers were massacred by the Dakota.  The Dakota made an attempt to take the town of New Ulm but were repulsed.

Regular Army troops, Minnesota volunteer regiments originally mustered to fight in the Civil War and various militia units fought the Dakota throughout the state.   The Americans held Fort Ridgely in the southwestern part of the State from two attacks by the Dakota.  The Dakota won two victories over the Americans at the Battle of Redwood Ferry on  August 18, 1862 and at Birch Coulee on September 2, 1862.

The largest battle of the War took place at the battle of Wood Lake on September 23, 1862.  Colonel Henry Sibley marched from Fort Ridgely up the Minnesota River valley on September 19, 1862 with the Third, Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiments, various militia units and a battery of six cannon.  Little Crow planned to ambush Sibley’s force at Lone Lake.  (Sibley’s guide mistakenly thought Lone Lake was Wood Lake, and hence the misnaming of the battle.)  The ambush was discovered when a foraging party from the Third Minnesota approached a group of Dakota concealed in high grass.  The fighting lasted for two hours.  Little Crow had between 700-1200 braves and Sibley had about 1169-2000 soldiers.  As usual, artillery had a big impact on the morale of Indians in combat.  The Americans routed the Dakota.  Casualties were light on both sides with seven Americans kill and 7-15 Dakota. (more…)

Published in: on September 23, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , ,

September 22, 1862: Lincoln Issues Notice of Emancipation Proclamation

Today is the 159th anniversary of the issuance of the notice by Lincoln of the Emancipation Proclamation, to take effect on January 1, 1863, Lincoln doing so after the Union victory at Antietam on September 17, 1862.  Reaction was, to say the least, mixed.  In the North the abolitionists were enraptured.  Most Northern opinion was favorable, although there was a substantial minority, embodied almost entirely in the Democrat party, that completely opposed this move.  Opinion in the Border States was resoundingly negative.  In the Confederacy the Confederate government denounced the proposed Emancipation Proclamation as a call for a race war.  Today, almost all Americans view the Emancipation Proclamation as a long overdue ending of slavery.  At the time it was very much a step into the unknown, and the consequences impossible to determine.  Lincoln had converted the War for the Union into a War for the Union and against Slavery.  It remained to be seen as to whether the War, whatever its objectives, could be won.  Here is the text of Lincoln’s announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation: (more…)

Published in: on September 22, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 22, 1862: Lincoln Issues Notice of Emancipation Proclamation  
Tags: , , , , ,

POW Servant of God’s Body Coming Home

kapaun

 

 

His soul has been in his eternal home since his death.

In the midst of a World War, Emil Kapaun was born in peaceful Pilsen, Kansas on August 20, 1916.  His parents were Czech immigrants and virtually everyone in the area spoke Czech.  From an early age Emil knew that he wanted to be a priest and would play Mass with his younger brother. (more…)

Published in: on September 21, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on POW Servant of God’s Body Coming Home  
Tags: , , ,