Black Jack Logan and Memorial Day

 

 

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience — almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad.

                                                         Pope Benedict, April 16, 2008

John A. Logan is the father of Memorial Day.  Today he is largely forgotten except to Civil War buffs and that is a shame.  He was a fascinating man and he is largely responsible for establishing the tradition of putting aside a day in the calendar to our nation’s war dead.

Logan began the Civil War as a Democrat congressman from southern Illinois.  He was ardently anti-War even after the firing on Fort Sumter, denouncing the Lincoln administration and calling for peace and compromise.  He was attacked as being disloyal to the Union and an almost advocate of the Confederacy.

This perception changed in the twinkling of an eye at the battle of Bull Run.  Like many another congressman he went out to view the Union army launch an attack on the Confederates.  Unlike the other congressmen, Logan picked up a musket and, attaching himself to a Michigan regiment, blazed away at the Confederates with that musket.  This experience transformed Logan into an ardent advocate of the War.

He returned to Southern Illinois and gave a fiery speech in Marion, Illinois for the Union that helped swing that section of the state in support of the War.  Resigning from Congress, he helped raise an infantry regiment from southern Illinois, and was made colonel of the regiment, the 31rst Illinois.

Logan quickly made a name for himself as a fighter.  At the battle of Belmont he led his regiment in a successful charge, and was noted for his exceptional courage.  He would eventually be promoted to major general and was one of the best corp commanders in the Union army, briefly commanding the Army of the Tennessee.  He was wounded three times in the war, one of the wounds being serious enough that he was erroneously reported as killed, a report that might have been proven to be accurate if he had not been nursed back  to health by his wife.

Logan was never beaten in any engagement that he fought in during the War.  He was popular with his men who affectionately called him “Black Jack”, and would often chant his name on the battlefield as he led them from the front.  On May 24th 1865, as a tribute to his brilliant war record, he commanded the Army of the Tennessee during the victory Grand Review of the Union armies in Washington.

After the War, Logan began his political career anew, serving as a congressman from Illinois and a senator.  He was now a radical Republican and fought ardently for civil rights for blacks.  He ran for Vice President in 1884 on the Republican ticket that was defeated by Grover Cleveland.  He was considered the leading candidate for the Republican nomination in 1888, and might well have been elected President that year, but for his untimely death in 1886 at the age of sixty.

From 1868 to 1871, Logan served three consecutive terms as commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veteran’s association.  He started the custom of remembering the Union war dead on May 30th when he issued General Order Eleven on May 5, 1868: (more…)

Published in: on May 30, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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Corpus Christi and Memorial Day

(I am posting this at The American Catholic and I thought the history mavens of Almost Chosen People might like to read it.)

When Corpus Christi rolls around I always think of Saint Thomas Aquinas and his great eucharistic hymn Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium written by Saint Thomas at the command of Pope Urban IV to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi instituted by the Pope in 1263.   It says something vastly significant about the Church that perhaps the greatest intellect of all time, Saint Thomas Aquinas, was not only a Doctor of the Church, but also capable of writing this magnificent hymn. 

The last portion of the hymn, Tantum Ergo, has vast significance for my family.  My wife, who is a far better Catholic in my estimation than I am, is a convert.  A Methodist when we married, she converted to the Church a few years later.  She had questions regarding the real presence, and this line from Tantum Ergo resolved them:  Faith tells us that Christ is present,  When our human senses fail.  When our kids came along she would whisper at the Consecration to them:  First it’s bread, now it’s Jesus.  First it’s wine, now it’s Jesus. 

This year Corpus Christi falls on Memorial Day and that strikes me as appropriate when we recall these words of Christ:

Greater love hath no one than this: to lay down his life for his friends.

John 15: 13

Christ took on our flesh, our blood and our mortality.  He sacrificed His flesh and His blood to save us.  He gave us the great Sacrament so that just as He took on our flesh and blood, we might consume His flesh and His blood and draw close to Him through His grace.

On Memorial Day we honor our war dead.  They lost their flesh and blood in our service and to protect us.  Just as we owe Christ a debt that can never be repaid, so too do we owe a debt to those men who have died for us and that debt can never be repaid to them.  Christ gives us His body and blood to give us grace and His teachings to allow us to lead lives that attempt, oh so imperfectly, to follow in His footsteps.  Our war dead allow us to do this in more freedom and security than most of our ancestors possessed. (more…)

Published in: on May 29, 2016 at 3:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Remember Them

 

“I never moved into combat without having the feeling of a cold hand reaching into my guts and twisting them both into knots.”

Audie Murphy, most decorated American soldier of World War II

Something for the weekend.  A section of a speech of Ronald Reagan from 1964, known in Reagan lore as The Speech, set to the song Arrival to Earth.  The weather is quite nice around where I live this Memorial Day weekend and it is easy to forget why we have this three day weekend, and, indeed, to forget why we have our freedom.  The video is a nice reminder. (more…)

Published in: on May 28, 2016 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

A film is being released today on the final voyage of the USS Indianapolis.  I will be seeing it on the first weekend in June, to be followed by a review from me.

 

The USS Indianapolis, was immortalized in popular culture by the Jaws video clip above.  The cruiser delivered Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, to Tinian on July 26, 1945.  On July 30, 1945 it was sunk by Japanese sub I-58.  900 of the crew made it into the water.  SOS signals, contrary to the Jaws video clip, were sent off.  Three Navy stations received the SOS signal.  At the first station the commander was drunk.  At the second station the commander had left orders not to be disturbed.    The third station wrote off the SOS signal as a Japanese prank.  The Navy denied that the SOS signals had been received for years, and only the release of declassified material revealed the criminal negligence involved.  When the ship failed to dock at Leyte as expected on July 31, 1945, the port operations director Lieutenant Stuart B. Gibson inexplicably failed to report that the Indianapolis had gone missing.

This resulted in the men of the Indianapolis being in the water for 3 and a half days until they were spotted by a routine air patrol.  Heroic efforts were then undertaken to rescue the survivors.  321 men were rescued, four of whom died soon thereafter.  Most of the almost 600 men who escaped the ship and died in the water had been killed by hundreds of sharks who swarmed about the survivors.    Among the dead was Lieutenant Thomas Conway, the ship’s Catholic chaplain.  He spent his time in the water swimming from group to group, praying with the men, encouraging them, and reasoning with men driven to despair.  When Father Conway died on August 2, 1945, he was the last American chaplain killed in World War II.

Captain Charles B. McVay III, the skipper of the Indianapolis, had been wounded in the sinking and was among those who survived to be rescued.  He repeatedly asked why it took so long for the Navy to rescue his men, a question the Navy did not answer.  Instead McVay  was court-martialed, a scapegoat for an episode that had tarnished the image of the Navy.  He was convicted for not zigzagging, which was farcical since he had been told to use his discretion in regard to zigzagging, and with high-speed torpedoes and improved aiming devices aboard subs, zigzagging was not an effective technique for a ship to avoid being torpedoed by the end of World War II.  Admiral Chester Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, recognizing the fundamental injustice of the court-martial, restored McVay to duty and he retired as a Rear Admiral in 1949.  Although most of the surviving crewmen of the Indianapolis regarded him as a hero, McVay was eaten away by guilt over the deaths of his crewmen, guilt that was exacerbated by hate mail and hate phone calls he periodically revealed from a few of the families of some of the men who died in the sinking and its aftermath.

After the death of his wife in 1966, McVay took his own life, clutching in his hand a toy sailor given to him by his father.  In 1996 a twelve year old school boy, Hunter Scott, launched a campaign to clear McVay’s name.  The campaign to clear McVay was supported by former Lieutenant Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto who had commanded the I-58 and who noted in a letter that zigzagging would have had no impact on his torpedo attack. (more…)

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 May 26, 2016 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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May 25, 1738: Ending of the Conojocular War

300px-Cresapwarmap

 

Boundary disputes were quite common between the colonies, but few got as violent as the boundary line war between Pennsylvania and Maryland from 1730-1738.  Pennsylvania’s charter (1681) provided for its southern boundary as follows:  “on the South by a Circle drawne at twelve miles’ distance from New Castle Northward and Westward unto the beginning of the fortieth degree of Northern Latitude, and then by a streight Line Westward”.  Subsequent surveys established that Dover was a full twenty-five miles south of the 40th Parallel.  Maryland insisted on the 40th Parallel which would have made Philadelphia a Maryland town.  Pennsylvania pushed for a boundary at 39 degrees, 36 minutes which would have taken a strip out of what is northern Maryland.  The dispute simmered for decades breaking out into open conflict in the 1730s with the settlement of the Conejohela Valley west of the  Susquehanna River.  Maryland and Pennsylvania settlers in the disputed territory quickly came into conflict with raids and counter raids by the militias of the two colonies.  The leader of the Maryland settlers was Thomas Cresap, a tough and fearless man as the French would later have reason to attest during the French and Indian War.  Cresap was captured by the Pennsylvanians.  Upon being paraded through the streets of Philadelphia prior to being imprisoned, Cresap remarked:   “Damn it, this is one of the prettiest towns in Maryland!”. (more…)

Published in: on May 25, 2016 at 3:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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May 24, 1830: Mary Had a Little Lamb Published

Mary Sawyer was born in 1806.  The daughter of a farmer who lived near Sterling, Massachusetts, in March of 1816 she became close to a lamb who had been rejected by her mother.  At age 83 she wrote about the incident.

I went out to the barn with father; and after the cows had been fed, we went to the sheep pen, and found two lambs which had been born in the night. One had been forsaken by its mother, and through neglect, cold and lack of food was nearly dead. I saw it had still a little life, and asked to take it into the house; but father said, No, it was almost dead, anyway, and at the best could live but a short time. But I couldn’t bear to see the poor little thing suffer, so I teased until I got it into the house. Then I worked upon mother’s sympathies. At first the little creature could not swallow, and the catnip tea mother made it could not take for a long time.

I got the lamb warm by wrapping it in an old garment and holding it in my arms beside the fireplace. All day long I nursed the lamb, and at night it could swallow just a little. Oh, how pleased I was! But even then I wasn’t sure it would live; so I sat up all night with it, fearing it wouldn’t be warm enough if there was not someone at hand to look out for its comfort. In the morning, much to my girlish delight, it could stand; and from that time it improved rapidly. It soon learned to drink milk; and from the time it would walk about, it would follow me anywhere if I only called it.

One day the lamb was following Mary as she and her brother walked to school:

The day the lamb went to school, I hadn’t seen her before starting off; and not wanting to go without seeing her, I called. She recognized my voice, and soon I heard a faint bleating far down the field. More and more distinctly I heard it, and I knew my pet was coming to greet me. My brother Nat said, “Let’s take the lamb to school with us.” (more…)

May 23, 1934: Frank Hamer takes Down Bonnie and Clyde

Frank “Pancho” Hamer was the archetypal Texas Ranger:  tough, incorruptible, laconic and resourceful.  He despised criminals and had even less love for corrupt politicians.  Born in 1884 he joined the Texas Rangers at age 22 after capturing a horse thief while working as a wrangler on a ranch.  He would be in and out of the Rangers for the rest of his life, frequently resigning if a challenging law enforcement position was offered him.  He developed a reputation of rapidly being able to impose law and order on the most lawless communities, often to the dismay of corrupt local politicians.  He compared criminals to coyotes and crooked politicians to crawfish.

Hamer developed an uncanny ability to get inside of the minds of his criminal adversaries and defeat them by out-thinking them.  Having said that, he also survived about fifty gunfights during his career, although being wounded 17 times and left for dead four times.  He killed 53-70 criminals during these battles.

He retired from the Rangers as a Senior Captain in 1932, but he received an unprecedented Special Ranger commission after he left the ranks.

After the criminals Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker had achieved blood stained national renown for a series of robberies in the Midwest, Texas and the Great Plains, the Texas Department of Corrections called Hamer out of retirement on February 12, 1934 to track down Bonnie and Clyde.  Compiling a meticulous map of all sightings of the Barrow gang, Hamer trailed them, living out of his car.  He noted that the travels of the Barrow gang often centered on quick visits to family members.  Gang member Henry Methvin’s father Ivan lived near Arcardia, Louisiana and Hamer decided that he was about due for a visit from the gang.  Harassed by local lawmen, Ivan Methvin told the local sheriff that his son was coming to visit and the sheriff passed this news on to Hamer.

The Barrow Gang had slain nine lawmen, and Hamer took no chances with them.  He staged an ambush of Bonnie and Clyde at 9:15 AM on May 23, 1934, using Ivan Methvin as bait.  After Clyde Barrow drove up along with Bonnie Parker and stopped to talk to Methvin, Hamer and the other five officers with him jumped from ambush and riddled the car with 130 rounds.  Both of the gangsters received more than fifty shots, any one of which would likely have been fatal.  Upon inspection the vehicle proved to be an arsenal on wheels:  three BARs, Winchester 1887 10 gauge shotgun, Remington Model 11 20 gauge shotgun, and ten pistols, along with 1000 rounds of BAR ammunition and 2000 rounds of other ammunition.  Bonnie was armed with the Remington, a pistol taped to her thigh and a pistol in her purse.  Clyde was clutching a pistol with another stuck in his belt and a BAR and the Winchester in easy reach.

Hamer refused to write his memoirs, thinking that it was improper for him to reap a financial reward for merely doing his duty.  He continued to work in law enforcement. (more…)

Published in: on May 23, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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May 22, 1819: SS Savannah Begins First Trans-Atlantic Trip by a Steam Ship

 

Cutting edge technology is always risky to use.  And therefore it was not certain what would happen when on May 22, 1819 the SS Savannah began a three week journey across the Atlantic, becoming the first steam ship to cross the Atlantic.  The Savannah was equipped with sails and only used its boilers for eighty hours during the crossing.  During its twenty five days stay in Liverpool the ship and crew were celebrities and were visited by thousands including influential members of the British government and Roayl Navy. Upon its return to the US from its journey, the fate of the Savannah was not happy.  Unable to make a profit, the ship was converted to sails only, and was broken up after running aground on Long Island on November 5, 1821.  However, the fact remains that the Savannah blazed a path.  Regular steam ship traffic across the Atlantic would not occur for another twenty years.  Her legacy was remembered in 1959 when the first nuclear powered merchant vessel bore the name Savannah.

Published in: on May 22, 2016 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’

 

Something for the weekend.  Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’.  A historical curiosity of 1943.  The only gospel song that I am aware of that praises Joseph Stalin, it was inspired by this remark in a speech by FDR:

The world has never seen greater devotion, determination, and self sacrifice, that have been displayed by the Russian people and their armies under the leadership of Marshall Joseph Stalin.  The song was performed a cappella by the gospel group Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet.  The song was a moderate success in 1943 and has mercifully been largely forgotten since that.  A tribute to war time tunnel vision and the delusional view of Stalin firmly embraced by President Roosevelt and many other liberal Americans, inside and outside of his administration, at the time.

Published in: on May 21, 2016 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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