August 31, 1864: Death Comes For Father Emery



Destiny attended Emmeran Bliemel at his birth on the feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel, patron saint of soldiers, in 1831 in Bavaria.  From his early boyhood his burning desire was to be a missionary to German Catholics in far off America.  Joining a Benedictine Abbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1851, he was ordained a priest in 1856. (more…)

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Profiles in Courage: Andrew Johnson


Walter Matthau as Andrew Johnson?  The odd thing is that it works.  The episode covers Johnson’ s brave stand against secession at the beginning of the Civil War.

In 1828 Johnson, a tailor by trade, entered politics by being elected an alderman of Greenville. Johnson quickly realized that politics was his life’s work and he was very good at it, as a list of his elected positions up to the Civil War indicates: alderman (1828–30), mayor (1830–33) of Greenville, state representative (1835–37, 1839–41), state senator (1841–43), Congressman (1843–53), governor of Tennessee (1853–57), and U.S. Senator (1857–62). Johnson was a Democrat. He defended the interests of his part of the state, largely non-slaveholding small farmers, against those of the slave-holding large plantation owners of the western part of Tennessee. He was intensely class-conscious and often portrayed himself as battling against the interests of entrenched wealth. On the national scene he was always a safe pro-slavery vote in Congress. However, after 1857 his support for the Homestead Bill, opposed by most Southern Democrats, increased the tensions between him and the wealthy plantation owners of his state.

After the election of 1860, Johnson led the fight in Tennessee of pro-Unionists, most powerful in east Tennessee, against the secessionists. On March 2, 1861, he made his stance clear to all: “Show me those who make war on the Government and fire on its vessels, and I will show you a traitor. If I were President of the United States I would have all such arrested, and, if convicted, by the Eternal God I would have them hung!” The only senator from a state in the Confederacy not to resign, Johnson vigorously supported the war effort of the federal government. Eastern Tennessee remained a hotbed of resistance to the Confederacy. 29 counties attempted to secede from Tennessee and join the Union. The Confederacy occupied the area and declared martial law. Throughout the Civil War Johnson was a fervent supporter of the Union. As this statement indicates, opposition to slavery was not a cause for his embracing the Union. “Damn the negroes, I am fighting those traitorous aristocrats, their masters.”

Johnson was appointed military governor of Tennessee after the Union took Nashville in March of 1862. In that capacity he took every effort to eradicate Confederate influence in that state. On August 8, 1863 he freed his slaves. Johnson began to call for negro suffrage on the grounds that a loyal negro was worth more than a disloyal white man. Lincoln running for re-election 1n 1864 realized that he needed to glean the war democrat votes if he hoped to win. He ran on a Union ticket with Johnson as his veep.

On inauguration day, March 4, 1865, Johnson was drunk. He was ill from malaria and fortified himself too well with “medicinal” whiskey. He made a rambling speech, was sworn in which took a fair amount of time due to Johnson slurring and stumbling over his words, and then launched into another drunken speech before a Supreme Court Justice led him away. A pity that C-Span was more than a century and a third in the future! Naturally this drunken escapade was the talk of Washington and Johnson was branded a hopeless drunk, which he was not.

After the murder of Lincoln, Johnson, a Southerner and a Democrat, faced a Northern Congress with Republicans in control. At first no problems were expected. Johnson had made many statements throughout the war which indicated a fiery hatred of the Confederacy, and Radical Republicans who favored a harsh policy towards the defeated South thought they had a firm friend in the White House now, as opposed to the lenient Lincoln. Much to the surprise of everyone, Johnson embraced what he thought Lincoln’s policy toward the South would have been. Johnson believed, along with Lincoln, that legally the Confederate states had not been out of the Union. Johnson’s Reconstruction plan consisted of the following: pardons would be granted to all forner Confederates taking a loyalty oath, only excluding high ranking Confederates and those owning more than $20,000 in property; the new state governments must abolish slavery in their constitutions and formally repeal their acts of secession. The former Confederate states rapidly took these steps and elected new Senators and representatives to Congress.

However, this mild Reconstruction policy found little favor with the Radical Republicans, and they blocked admission of the Southerners to Congress when Congress reconvened in December 1865. Conflict now loomed between Congress and the President over Reconstruction policy. The Radical Republicans viewed the Southern states as defeated provinces that were no longer in the Union. Their readmission would be contingent upon black suffrage, civil rights for blacks, and governments free from control of former Confederates. A long see-saw battle ensued between Johnson and Congress with Congress the ultimate winner after the 1866 elections increased Republican control of Congress. Martial law was declared in the South, and the South placed under military rule, except for Tennessee which had been readmitted to the Union. All Southern states were readmitted to the Union by 1870 and all were initially under firm Republican control due to black votes, the disenfranchisement of former Confederates, the use of Federal troops to suppress violence against black voters and not a little fraud.

Johnson faced impeachment in 1868 for firing Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War and an ardent partisan of the Radical Republicans. This violated the Tenure of Office Act passed by Congress in 1867, over the veto of Andrew Johnson, specifically to protect Stanton. (In 1926 the Supreme Court found that such laws restricting the right of a President to fire a cabinet officer were unconstitutional.) The House of Representatives, illustrating the hatred that had grown up between the President and the Republicans, impeached Johnson three days after he fired Stanton. The Senate failed to convict Johnson by only one vote. In a last act of defiance to Congress before he left office, Johnson on Christmas day 1868 gave a presidential amnesty to all Confederates, including Jefferson Davis.  His administration came to an end a century and a half ago with the inauguration of President Grant on March 4, 1869.

In 1874 Johnson was elected to the Senate from Tennessee. A speech he gave about political turmoil in Lousiana earned him a standing ovation from his fellow senators, many of whom had voted to convict him during the impeachment trial. Johnson died on July 31, 1875 and was buried as he wished: his body wrapped in an American flag and a copy of the constitution under his head.

Throughout his career Johnson was friendly to Catholics. In Tennessee he fought relentlessly against the anti-Catholic Know-Nothings and championed religious tolerance. While in the White House he often worshiped at Saint Patrick’s, admiring the Catholic liturgy and the fact that no special pews were set aside for the rich, as was common in many Protestant churches at the time, and that the rich and the poor sat together.

Well what to make of the obscure, through no fault of his own, Andrew Johnson? Has History rendered a verdict on him? Yes it has. Well, actually, History has rendered two verdicts. From the time of the 1890s up to the modern civil rights movement in the Sixties, most historians, apart from a handful of Republican leaning historians and black historians, viewed Johnson quite favorably. He was the courageous President who attempted heroically to carry out the martyred Lincoln’s lenient policy of Reconstruction and save the nation from the disastrous consequences of the the attempt by vengeful Radical Republicans to rule the south with corrupt regimes placed into power at the point of federal bayonets. This view held such sway that in 1955 in Profiles in Courage, the book which was written by Ted Sorenson and which may have been read by the purported author, John F. Kennedy, one of the senators celebrated was Edmund Ross of Kansas whose vote saved Johnson from being impeached. That even an uber-liberal like Sorenson, a pacifist during World War II, regarded Johnson favorably as late as 1955 is telling. Since the Sixties Johnson has usually been portrayed as a drunken racist and his opponents as noble far sighted statesmen who fought a heroic battle for civil rights for blacks.

Which verdict is correct? Both are in part. Johnson was a racist, as his private correspondence indicates. His public comments as President were statesmanlike on the issue of race, but there is no doubt that he opposed negro political equality. On the other hand, there is also no doubt that a large motivation for many Republicans was not only a desire to protect freed slaves in the South but to ensure Republican control in the South by fair means or foul, including by the use of Federal troops. Many of the Reconstruction regimes were amazingly corrupt, although not too much more than the white regimes that followed them.

I also have no doubt that Johnson was carrying out a Reconstruction policy quite similar to what Lincoln would have implemented if he had lived. However, I also think that Lincoln would have been diligent in attempting to protect the political rights of blacks. Could Lincoln have accomplished this? Probably not, at least not completely. Too many whites were adamantly opposed to any political role for blacks in the South. Occupation of the South by federal troops would have been necessary for decades to accomplish even the minimal task of protecting the civil rights of blacks, and I doubt if the people of the North would have had the long term patience to persist in this policy. What I do think is that with a political master like Lincoln at the helm Reconstruction would not have been quite the disaster it turned out to be. The Radical Republicans could not have run rough shod over Lincoln, a hero in the eyes of rank and file Republicans, as they did Johnson. There would have been no governments installed by military fiat to leave a legacy of hatred among white southerners that has persisted for generations. Focusing purely on black civil rights, rather than attempting to install Republican friendly governments, might have led to blacks keeping political control, or at least retaining the right to vote, in areas where they were the overwhelming majority. White Democrat politicians, once they regained control of their states, may even have found it useful under such circumstances to court black support, as the white governments that took over after Reconstruction were often riven by factions. If blacks had not been effectively disenfranchised, they could have held the balance of power among such factions. Racial animosities, although still great, might have been less than they were historically.   Alas, Johnson was no Lincoln, and in many ways the nation is still paying a price for that sad fact.

Published in: on August 30, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Profiles in Courage: Andrew Johnson  
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August 29, 1864: Democrat Party Platform


The convention of the Democrats in 1864 to nominate a standard bearer for President opened on August 29, 1864 in Chicago.  The convention was badly split between War Democrats and Peace Democrats.  The Peace Democrats were strong enough to have a platform approved which dealt with one issue, the War, and which was highly critical of a continuation of the War and called for immediate peace negotiations:


Resolved, That in the future, as in the past, we will adhere with unswerving fidelity to the Union under the Constitution as the only solid foundation of our strength, security, and happiness as a people, and as a framework of government equally conducive to the welfare and prosperity of all the States, both Northern and Southern.

Resolved, That this convention does explicitly declare, as the sense of the American people, that after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretense of a military necessity of war-power higher than the Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, and public liberty and private right alike trodden down, and the material prosperity of the country essentially impaired, justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view of an ultimate convention of the States, or other peaceable means, to the end that, at the earliest practicable moment, peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States.

Resolved, That the direct interference of the military authorities of the United States in the recent elections held in Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware was a shameful violation of the Constitution, and a repetition of such acts in the approaching election will be held as revolutionary, and resisted with all the means and power under our control.

Resolved, That the aim and object of the Democratic party is to preserve the Federal Union and the rights of the States unimpaired, and they hereby declare that they consider that the administrative usurpation of extraordinary and dangerous powers not granted by the Constitution; the subversion of the civil by military law in States not in insurrection; the arbitrary military arrest, imprisonment, trial, and sentence of American citizens in States where civil law exists in full force; the suppression of freedom of speech and of the press; the denial of the right of asylum; the open and avowed disregard of State rights; the employment of unusual test-oaths; and the interference with and denial of the right of the people to bear arms in their defense is calculated to prevent a restoration of the Union and the perpetuation of a Government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.

Resolved, That the shameful disregard of the Administration to its duty in respect to our fellow-citizens who now are and long have been prisoners of war and in a suffering condition, deserves the severest reprobation on the score alike of public policy and common humanity.

Resolved, That the sympathy of the Democratic party is heartily and earnestly extended to the soldiery of our army and sailors of our navy, who are and have been in the field and on the sea under the flag of our country, and, in the events of its attaining power, they will receive all the care, protection, and regard that the brave soldiers and sailors of the republic have so nobly earned. (more…)

Published in: on August 29, 2022 at 4:30 am  Comments (4)  
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Senator Thomas Hart Benton

The things you find on the internet!  Profiles in Courage was a television series that aired on NBC in 1964-1965.  The historical dramatizations lauded figures from American history who took unpopular stances based on principle.  The springboard for the series was the book attributed to the recently assassinated President John F. Kennedy, but actually ghost-written by his aide Ted Sorenson.   Some kind individual has posted all 26 episodes on YouTube.  Go here to view them.

The best of the episodes, going away, was the one on Senator Thomas Hart (Bullion) Benton and his fight to have California admitted into the Union as a free state.  Benton was a larger than life figure, completely eccentric, brilliant and fearless, a man of whom legends clustered while he lived.  Brian Keith portrays him as the wild and woolly figure that he was.  A Senator from Missouri, the first Senator to serve five terms, Benton was a Jacksonian Democrat.  He was also a nationalist who deeply loved the Union  When, during the Nullification Crisis, Senator Hayne of South Carolina told Senator Benton of Missouri that he doubted if Jackson would really hang anyone, Benton, a good friend of Jackson and a man who had shot him in a brawl, one of many such affrays Jackson was involved in during his life, in 1813 before they became friends, told him that “When Jackson begins to talk about hanging, they can begin to look out for ropes”.

Benton signed his political death warrant by his anti-slavery stance over California, and never did a man meet his political fate with more brio and courage than Benton.  Most politicians are essentially insignificant figures, smaller than the offices they mis-occupy.    Nothing was ever insignificant about Bullion Benton.

Published in: on August 28, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Senator Thomas Hart Benton  
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Southern Soldier Boy



Something for the weekend.  The Southern Soldier Boy (1863).


Union troops writing home would often mention that Southern women were much more outspoken in support of the Confederacy than Southern men and far more bitter to the Union than them.  I think that those Southern women would have taken that as high praise!  The Confederacy lacked almost everything when it went to war, except brave men and braver women.  Stephen Vincent Benet noted this in his epic poem of the Civil War, John Brown’s Body:


This view may be reckoned a trifle narrow,
But it had the driving force of an arrow,
And it helped Mary Lou to stand up straight,
For she was gentle, but she could hate
And she hated the North with the hate of Jael
When the dry hot hands went seeking the nail,
The terrible hate of women’s ire,
The smoky, the long-consuming fire.
The Yankees were devils, and she could pray,
For devils, no doubt, upon Judgment Day,
But now in the world, she would hate them still
And send the gentlemen out to kill.

The gentlemen killed and the gentlemen died,
But she was the South’s incarnate pride
That mended the broken gentlemen
And sent them out to the war again,
That kept the house with the men away
And baked the bricks where there was no clay,
Made courage from terror and bread from bran
And propped the South on a swansdown fan
Through four long years of ruin and stress,
The pride–and the deadly bitterness.




Published in: on August 27, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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August 26, 1863: The Other Battle of Perryville

James G. Blunt



In addition to the famous battle of Perryville fought in Kentucky on October 8, 1862 there was another battle of Perryville fought on August 26, 1862 in the Indian Territory, the forgotten theater of the Civil War.

Following up on his victory at Honey Springs on July 17, 1863,  go here to read about it, Union Major General James G. Blunt was intent on cementing Union dominance of the Indian Territory.  Located 24 miles southwest of Fort Smith, Arkansas, Perryville, now known as Cameron, Oklahoma, was the major supply depot for Confederate forces in the Indian Territory. (more…)

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August 25, 1864: Second Battle of Ream’s Station

Second Battle of Reams Station


The massive casualties taken by the Army of the Potomac since the beginning of Grant’s drive on Richmond  had destroyed the combat effectiveness of many units in the Army, with large numbers of veteran troops either killed or in hospital to recover from wounds and the ranks filled up with hastitly trained recruits.  This decrease in combat capability was dramatically demonstrated at the Second Battle of Reams Station.  On August 24, Grant sent Hancock and his II corps south along the Weldon railroad to destroy as much of the rail line currently in Confederate hands as he could, to increase the difficulties of the Confederates in transporting supplies from the portion of the Weldon railroad they stilled controlled to Petersburg and Richmond.

All went well initially with Hancock’s corps destroying three miles of track.  However on the afternoon of the 25th a Confederate attack routed the II corps, with Hancock being forced to withdraw to the Union fortified lines.  Union casualties were 2,743 to 814 Confederate.  2073 of the Union casualties were prisoners, many of whom surrendered after only brief resistance.  Hancock’s reaction to all this, no doubt remembering the days when his troops were considered the elite of the Army, was to remark in despair to an aide as he was unable to rally his retreating troops:   “I do not care to die, but I pray God I may never leave this field.” (more…)

August 24, 1814: Burning of Washington

One of the more humiliating events in American history, the burning of Washington was the low point in American fortunes during the War of 1812.


After the British landed an army to attack Washington, Captain Johsua Barney, a Catholic and Revolutionary War hero, go here to read about him, and 500 of his sailors and marines, joined the American army seeking to stop the invaders.  At the battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814, Barney and his men put up a spirited defense, with cutlasses and bayonets against the advancing British, and throughout it all Barney rallying his men with cries of “Board ‘em!  Board ‘em!” Ultimately the Americans retreated, and Barney, seriously wounded, was captured one last time in his career by the British.  After being paroled by his captors, he spent the rest of the War recuperating at his farm in Maryland.  The heroic stand of Barney and his men had given enough time for Washington to be evacuated, and after the war the grateful citizens of Washington presented a sword to the old sailor for the land fight which ended his naval career. (more…)

Published in: on August 24, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 24, 1814: Burning of Washington  
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August 23, 1864: Secret Cabinet Memo

We are Coming Father Abraham, written by Stephen Foster in 1862.  Few songs better conveyed Northern determination to win the War.  However, by August 1864 that determination seemed to be wearing thin.


With the War stalled both East and West Union morale was faltering.  On August 22, 1864 Lincoln received a letter from Republican party chairman Henry J. Raymond suggesting that Lincoln offer peace terms to Jefferson Davis on the sole term of acknowledgement of the supremacy of the Constitution with slavery to be dealt with at a later date.   Lincoln’s morale remained unshaken, but he was a veteran politician and could read the political tea leaves as well as any political prognosticator.  That he read defeat in the tea leaves is demonstrated by what has become known as The Blind Memorandum.  Lincoln sealed this document and on August 23, 1864 asked his cabinet officers to sign it unread.  They complied.  Here is the text:

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.

A. Lincoln (more…)

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Dan Daly


During  World War I  the Marine Corps sent a brigade to fight in France. The beginning of June 1918 saw the Marine brigade attached to the Army 2nd Division, rushed to the front to stem the German offensive, Operation Blucher, that had brought the enemy troops within thirty-nine miles of Paris and caused a sense of panic among the civilian population of the City of Lights.  The Americans held twenty kilometers of the front to the east of the town of Lucy Le Bocage and opposite the German  occupied Belleau Wood, a 200 acre forest which the Germans were using as a jumping off point for new attacks.  Countermanding French orders that the 2nd Division retire and dig trenches to the rear, General James Harbord, commander of the 2nd Division, who would later be made an honorary Marine by the Corps, ordered his men to hold in place.

The Germans attacked on June 3, and were repulsed by heavy Marine fire power.  Retreating French units urged the Marines to retire.  The response of the Marines was uttered by Captain Lloyd W. Williams of the 5th Marines:  “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!”.  (Captain Williams would die in Belleau Wood on June 18, 1918.)  Over the next two days the Marines repulsed numerous German assaults.

On June 6, the 5th Marines attacked Hill 142, preempting German preparations for an attack.  After a hard fight the Marines took Hill 142, suffering over 325 casualties.  The Marines made the mistake initially of advancing as the French had taught them, in long lines, bayonets fixed, perfect targets for the German machine gunners.  The Marines quickly abandoned this lethal approach and began to attack in squad rushes supported by fire, which proved much more effective and safer.  The 6th Marines to the south, under heavy fire, battled their way into Belleau Wood.

First Sergeant Dan Daly, an 18 year veteran of the Marine Corps, who had earned Medals of Honor in China and Haiti, and turned down promotions to Lieutenant twice, roared to his men as he led them into battle, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” (Daley later recalled his statement as being, “For Christ’s sake, men, come on! Do you want to live forever?” For his actions on June 6, Daly was put in for his third Medal of Honor, but someone in the chain of command thought no man should have three Medals of Honor and instead Daly was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross and French Médaille Militaire.  He turned down a promotion to Lieutenant offered to him personally by General Pershing.)  Raised in a squalid New York tenement, he was a cradle Catholic, a Faith which would sustain him throughout a turbulent life.  His bantam physical size proved the truth of the Southern maxim that it is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

US correspondents flocked to tell the story of the fight the Marines were waging and their accounts made headlines throughout the US.  French correspondents also celebrated the courage of the Marines, and for the remainder of the War any Marine visiting Paris was sure to have his face kissed by Frenchwomen and his hand shaken by Frenchmen.

Published in: on August 22, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Dan Daly  
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