Granny, Me & a Tombstone Makes Three: Thoughts on Turning 55

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turn fifty-five today. That is 55, or as it is sometimes known as double nickels. Now I try not to look and I certainly don’t act my age. Despite this I am now officially eligible for my AARP card and discounts, I’ll probably get carded when I try to use them.

Since I think I am now what they call “middle-aged” this means that I should live to be about 110. I actually think that would be cool because I would certainly be around for the Civil War Bicentennial, hopefully still leading Staff Rides at Gettysburg for officers not yet born. 

It really is hard to believe how views on age and aging have changed over the years. When I was about seven years old my paternal grandmother, Verdie, who insisted on being called “Granny” informed me that she wasn’t going to be around much longer. At the time she was fifty-five. But back then people did act old, especially once they entered their forties. I remember one of my Algebra teachers from junior high school back in 1973-74. The man looked, dressed and acted like he was in his sixties. He wore a gray woolen suit, a white button down shirt, a nondescript thin black tie, black oxfords, and when he was outside, a gray fedora.

I thought he had he had passed away years ago and I was surprised as hell to see his obituary a year or two back. He was only about eighty, which would have meant that when he was my teacher he would have been in his early forties, and looking like he was sixty. But that wasn’t unusual back then, just watch some movies from the era and see what the 40-50 year olds looked and dressed like.

Well anyway, back to Granny. Granny was from Putnam County West Virginia and she left home at age eighteen because she did not like the repressive atmosphere and wanted to make a life for herself away from the farm. As the oldest daughter she was having to take responsibility for raising her younger siblings, and she could not abide such a life in the holler with no freedom or opportunity. Granny talked with an old Appalachian dialect that has almost died out. But she was very progressive for her day, raising two sons as a widowed single-mother.  She worked until she was forced to retire and then volunteered at the local hospital gift shop for another decade or so. She could talk baseball, but sadly she was a Dodgers’ fan and lived and died with he team. She travelled the country bus Greyhound bus until she was in her early eighties. She was a fascinating person.

She was active in her church and into her eighties she would take meals to ome-bound church members who she called “those poor old people.”  Of course most of them were younger than her. Now as far as cooking was concerned, her’s was infamous around the family and in the church, something that we all strove to avoid eating if possible. My wife Judy who probably spent the most time with her was subjected to her fare more than anyone. To this day she tells me, that me, my brother that the rest of my cousins and me owe her big for that, but I digress….

But the one thing about her was that no-matter when we would meet she would say that she “didn’t have long to live” or “wouldn’t be around much longer.”  To make sure that we understood that she purchased a plot a a cemetery which had just opened during the early 1970s and even had her headstone planted there. Occasionally if we were in town it would be among the graves that she would have us visit. She had this morbid obsession with death. Maybe it is because she was twice widowed and grew up in difficult times, World War One, the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. But for whatever reason she talked like she was old and soon to die, even as she travelled the country on Greyhound.

Then in 1995 I took my first post seminary  job as a contract emergency department chaplain in the city that she lived. It was fascinating to get to know her again as well as my maternal grandmother who was also still alive and living in the town. I worked nights and weekends so Judy got to know them better than anyone, she took them both shopping and to doctors appointments, all the while attempting to ensure that Granny did not feed her. Once I angered Granny when she told me that she wasn’t going to be around much longer and I asked if she was moving. She popped a cork and informed me that I knew what she was talking about. I replied, “Yes, I know you have been telling me this since I was a child and you are still alive.”  She didn’t talk to me for a week, but got over it.

My maternal grandmother, Christine died unexpectedly when I was deployed for the Bosnia mission in 1996 and between that and another active reserve tour I missed seeing Granny a lot until we returned in October of 1998.

One day, it was in November or December of that year, I got a panicked call from Granny. Evidently a salesman from the cemetery had called her and asked if she wanted to pay the opening and closing fee on her plot in advance. Evidently this brought the matter of her mortality to the fore, in a much more tangible way than she had imagined. She told me that she had a nephew who had connections to cemetery where her parents and some siblings were buried and wanted me to move her tombstone to it.

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I told her that we would probably have to go to the cemetery office because one could not simply appear at the cemetery and start digging up tombstones without permission. I imagined being like Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein when he went to dig up the corpse in which to implant Abby’s brain. Abby who? Abby someone… Abby, Abby Normal, that’s who I think it was… again I digress…

So I set up an appointment for her and me to make the arrangements. The people were nice, we filled out the necessary forms and two workmen dug up the stone and placed in the truck of my 1984 Volvo 240 GL.

We had to wait a week until her nephew could make time to meet us at the family cemetery and for two weeks I had to drive around town with Granny’s tombstone in my trunk. I just knew that someone was going to rear-end the car, pop the trunk and that I would have to answer some questions  rather pointed questions from the police. Questions that I might add, could prove distressing, as how many people drive around with tombstones in their trunk? I could hear the conversation:

Police officer: What is that? 

Me: A tombstone officer. 

Police officer: What kind of ghoul are you?

Me: How many kinds are there?

Thankfully however, no one hit me, I did not have to explain the tombstone in the trunk to the police and the next Saturday we drove up to her nephew’s house and then to the cemetery. Of course the weather was perfect for placing a tombstone, cold, cloudy, dreary and rainy; just like any horror movie. Not even birds were chirping. Her nephew and I emplaced the monument with great care. We ensured that it was in the correct plot and carefully measured and the appropriate distance to the neighboring graves of her parents, for even in death people need their space. As we worked, Granny supervised, much happier now that if she was going to die that she had a home so to speak. Once we had it set I grabbed a bottle of Windex, a rag and cleaned the mud off of the top of the monument. Granny was pleased, and I was glad to have the tombstone out of my trunk.

Two months later I transferred from the Army Reserve to the Navy and we moved away. Soon after the 9-11-2001 attacks we visited, Granny had reached the point that she was in a nursing home. I drove her around the town to places she used to visit and took her her for a hot dog at the local original Stewart’s Root Beer and hot dog stand. Since she couldn’t go to church she had Judy sing a couple of hymns for her before we went back to North Carolina. A couple of weeks later she passed away and we gathered for her funeral.

My dad and uncle were there as were many other relatives. The service was at the church where she had attended for decades and where I had been baptized as an infant. The cemetery was about thirty miles away a bit up I-64. Since there was a home football game for the local college, Marshall University, the funeral home employees ensured that we had the fasted motorcade I have ever been a part, we were chasing the hearse which was doing about eighty with the little purple funeral flags furiously flapping in the wind. After a quick graveside service it was done. I don’t think that anyone missed the opening kick off that day and I’m sure that Granny wouldn’t have minded. My dad and Judy both agreed in hindsight that old time sake and for safety reasons we should have hired a Greyhound bus for the funeral party with Granny’s coffin in the luggage compartment.

So anyway, from the time she was fifty-five until she was almost ninety, Granny never ceased to let me know that she didn’t have long to live. I hope as a minimum I live as long as she did and I do promise that you won’t be hearing me tell you that I haven’t long left, unless they are dragging me away to the funeral home as my fingers type out one last article.

Here’s to health and long life!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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War is Cruelty

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Destroyed Tombstone at the British Cemetery: Habbinyah Iraq  

I am a career military officer, an Iraq veteran and an anti-war liberal, but I am also a realist in terms of the world. I have no illusions about the world. I do not believe that the United States always acts with honor and I know in my heart of hearts that much of the chaos that we are seeing in the world, particularly the Middle East comes from years of American intrigue and intervention. But I also know that once you have let the genie of war and chaos out of the bottle that it seldom returns to it without creating more chaos, death and destruction. Since I am a realist, I understand that whether I want it or not, and regardless of who is President that this war will remain part of our lives, maybe for a generation or more. Thus we have to understand that this war is not a movie, it is not a video game, and it has the potential to change all of our lives, and not for the better.

I fully agree with two time Medal of Honor Winner and Marine Corps Major General, Smedley Butler who wrote in his book War is a Racket:

“What is the cost of war? what is the bill?…This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….”

Today I am taking some time to write about the nature of war. It is something that the vast majority of Americans have only vicariously experienced in news accounts, movies, television shows and video games which desensitize people to the horror of war as they kill virtual enemies in often the most violent ways. Abraham Lincoln noted “There’s no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war. Except its ending.”

This is amazing since we have been at war for over thirteen years now. This war has been extended indefinitely by the actions of the Islamic State and the announced intentions of President Obama to fight. Sadly, it will become much worse than people want to believe regardless of whether it is a long or a short war and believe me it will not be a short war. The Islamic State seems to up the ante every day with new atrocities against the peoples of the areas that they control, desecration of religious shrines and the destruction of irreparable historical sites and artifacts.

Americans have grown up for the past twenty years with hi-tech wars that with a few exceptions of terrorism inflicted on American civilians have been waged by a comparatively small professional military; a military that at any given time over the last 20 years has comprised less than one percent of the American population. As such war is a spectator sport for most Americans, we watch it on television, or on You Tube videos on the internet, but it is a distant thing, happening to others that doesn’t touch us too deeply because most of us think that we have no skin in the game. In fact people that bet on baseball have more skin in the game than most Americans do in the current war, but that will probably change.

Since I have written much about that military at its sacrifices in the war that began on September 11th 2001 I am not going to belabor that today. Instead I am going to go back to the nature of war, even wars that may be fought in self-defense and with just cause. It was General William Tecumseh Sherman who wrote:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out…

Chris Hedges wrote: “Violence is a disease, a disease that corrupts all who use it regardless of the cause,” and as Clausewitz noted of war’s nature, that it is: “a paradoxical trinity-composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity…”

We try to use language to soften war; to make it more palatable, but to do so is an Orwellian charade that is deceptive and destructive to the soul. Dave Grossman, the army infantry officer who has spent his post military life writing about the psychology of war and killing wrote:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.”

Likewise Thucydides wrote:

“Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question incapacity to act on any….”

Such language gives those who have never been to war but cannot live without it to bring it on, but as Sherman noted: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

President Obama in his address to the nation, and the world on the eve of September 11th talked of a war against the Islamic State, using far more diplomatic, restrained and less warlike language than did Vice President Biden who said:

“As a nation we are united and when people harm Americans we don’t retreat, we don’t forget. We take care of those who are grieving and when that’s finished, they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice because hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside.”

I commend the President for his humanity and desire to fight the Islamic State with a matter of restraint. That restraint will last so long as the Islamic State is unable or unwilling to strike at American civilians in the American homeland, or in a country that is not in the war zone, or an American ship or military installation at home or abroad. But once that happens, and it will the pretense of restraint will drop and what the Vice President said will become our goal, even if we do not officially say it. But once those restraints are passed, the war will get really messy. Michael Walzer wrote in his book Just and Unjust Wars:

“We don’t call war hell because it is fought without restraint. It is more nearly right to say that, when certain restraints are passed, the hellishness of war drives us to break with every remaining restraint in order to win. Here is the ultimate tyranny: those who resist aggression are forced to imitate, and perhaps even to exceed, the brutality of the aggressor.”

The problem with this war is that it has lasted so long already, and such long wars are detrimental to the nations and peoples that fight them, as Sun Tzu wrote: “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare,” as such the longer we drag this war against the Islamic State and other similar groups out, the longer the war continues, the crueler it will become and the more damage it will do to our civil liberties, our economy and even more importantly to the spirit of our nation. One can only look at the Patriot Act and related measures undertaken in the name of national security after 9-11-2001 and recall the words of President John F Kennedy who said in respect to the epidemic of loyalty oaths and restrictions on civil liberties enacted in the 1950s:

“We have also seen a sharpening and refinement of abusive power. The legislative investigation, designed and often exercised for the achievement of high ends, has too frequently been used by the Nation and the States as a means for effecting the disgrace and degradation of private persons. Unscrupulous demagogues have used the power to investigate as tyrants of an earlier day used the bill of attainder.

The architects of fear have converted a wholesome law against conspiracy into an instrument for making association a crime. Pretending to fear government they have asked government to outlaw private protest. They glorify “togetherness” when it is theirs, and call it conspiracy when it is that of others.”

Thus the place that we now find ourselves is not good. On one hand by using restraint the war goes on and on, war without end, and if we embrace Sherman’s realism and admit that “War is cruelty. There’s no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over” is that we will imitate or exceed the brutality of the Islamic State. Either way, we lose something of ourselves.

My hope is that somehow, when this is war is done, maybe in our time or in another generation or two, that we will be able to establish peace by making our enemies our friends.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Gettysburg and the Human Cost of War

“Ashes of soldiers South or North, As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies. Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves, In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”

From Walt Whitman- Ashes of Dead Soldiers

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

In a day or two I will be posting an article on the terrible nature of war. I am a career military officer who suffers from PTSD, TBI and other afflictions after serving in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008.  I have seen firsthand the terrible effects of war. I am also a historian and I Assostant Professor at a major military staff college which helps educate senior military officers from this country and other countries. I my capacity there I teach ethics as well as lead a staff ride, or study of the Battle of Gettysburg. In my teaching I always attempt to deal with the human cost of war. Gettysburg was the most costly battle ever fought on the American continent. Around 50,000 men were killed or wounded there in three days of battle. William Tecumseh Sherman noted that “war is hell.” I agree, there is nothing romantic about it. The effects of war last generations and though we have been at war for the last thirteen and a half years, war itself is an abstract concept to most Americans. Fought by professionals and only experienced by most Americans on the news, movies or most the banal manner, video games, the cost in human terms is not fully appreciated, and nor can it be. Our politicians have insulated the public from war and in doing so have ensured that we are in a perpetual war which benefits no one. That is a big reason why I write so much about it, not to glorify or romanticize it, but to try in some war to help make it real  to my readers. This is a draft chapter from my Gettysburg text. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

Too often we look at distant battles and campaigns in terms of strategy, operations, tactics, leadership and the weaponry employed. Likewise we might become more analytical and look at the impact of the battle or campaign in the context of the war it was fought, or in the manner in which the tactics or weapons used revolutionized warfare. Sometimes in our more reflective moments we might look at individual bravery or sacrifice, often missing in our analysis is the cost in flesh and blood.

Admittedly the subject is somewhat macabre. But with the reality being that very few people in the United States, Canada or Western Europe have experienced the terrible brutality of war it is something that we should carefully consider any time the nation commits itself to war. By we, I mean all citizens, including the many soldiers, sailors and airmen who never see the personally see people they kill, or walk among the devastation caused by the highly advanced, precision weapons that they employ from a great distance, sometimes thousands of miles. In some parts of our military we have men and women who have the mission of targeting and killing enemies and then walking home to their families, but in the Civil War killing in combat “remained essentially intimate; soldiers were able to see each other’s faces and to know whom they had killed.” [1]

While the words of William Tecumseh Sherman that “War is Hell” are as true as when he spoke them; the tragic fact is that for most people war is an abstract concept, antiseptic and unreal; except for the occasional beheading of a hostage by Islamic militants or the videos shot by the perpetrators of crimes against humanity on the internet. Thus the cost of war and its attendant cost in lives, treasure and to the environment are not real to most people in the West.

We use words to describe the business of war which dehumanize the enemy, and we describe their deaths in words more palatable to us. Dave Grossman, the army infantry officer who has spent his post military life writing about the psychology of war and killing wrote:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.” [2]

We can now add the terms Haji and Raghead to Grossman’s list of dehumanizing terms for our opponents from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The words of Guy Sager in his classic work The Forgotten Soldier about World War Two on the Eastern front is lost on many that study war:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!” [3]

In an age where so few have served in the military and even few have seen combat in some way shape or form many who study war are comfortable experts who learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. When I hear men and women, the pundits, politicians and preachers, that Trinity of Evil who constantly exhort governments and peoples to go to war for causes, places or conflicts that they have little understanding of from the comfort of their living rooms or television studios I grow weary. I fully comprehend the words of Otto Von Bismarck who said: “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” [4]

As a historian who also is a military chaplain who has seen war I struggle with what Sager said. Thus when I read military history, study and write about particular battles or engagements, or conduct staff rides as like the Gettysburg trip that we are embarking on, the human cost is always present in my mind. The fact that I still suffer the effects of PTSD including night terrors and chronic insomnia keeps what I do in good focus, and prevents me from being a comfortable expert.

Thus, it is my view, to conduct a staff ride, to walk the battlefield; especially in somewhat uncomfortable weather is a good thing. It connects us more in at least a small way to the men that fought there, died there, or brought home wounds that changed them forever.

To walk a battlefield where tens of thousands of men were killed and wounded is for me a visit to hallowed ground. I have felt that at Waterloo, Verdun, Arnhem, Normandy, the Bulge, the West Wall, the Shuri Line on Okinawa, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Stone’s River, and of course the battlefield which I have visited more than any in my life, Gettysburg. There are times when I walk these fields that I am overcome with emotion. This I think is a good thing, for as an American who has family ties to the Civil War, Gettysburg in particular is hallowed ground.

In doing this I try to be dispassionate in how I teach and while dealing with big issues that my students will face as Joint Staff Officers. Some of them will become Flag or General Officers, with the responsibility of advising our nation’s leaders as well planning and conducting the military operations on which the lives of thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of people depend. Thus I do feel a certain responsibility to teach not only the strategy and other important military aspects of this campaign, but also the cost in human lives and ethical considerations. I take this work seriously because it forces us to remember what war is about and its nature, which Clausewitz wrote is “a paradoxical trinity-composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity…” [5] which William Tecumseh Sherman so rightly understood without the euphemisms that we so frequently use to describe it: “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it….”

As the sun set on the evening of July 3rd 1863 the battered Army of Northern Virginia and the battered but victorious Army of the Potomac tended their wounds, buried their dead and prepared for what might happen next. On that afternoon it was as if “the doors of Hell had shut” and the next day, the Glorious 4th of July “The heavens opened, and a thunderstorm of biblical proprotions drenched the battlefield, soaking dead, wounded and able-bodied men equally.” [6]

Following the disastrous attack aimed at the Union center, Lee and his surviving commanders prepared for an expected Union counter attack. However, George Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac who had correctly anticipated Lee’s assault decided not to gamble on a counter attack, though it was tempting. He knew too well the tenacity and skill of the Confederate commanders and soldiers on the defense and did not want to risk a setback that might give Lee another chance, thus “the two sides stared at each other, each waiting for the other to resume the fighting, neither did.” [7]

As the Confederate army retreated and Meade’s army pursued another army remained at Gettysburg, “an army of the wounded, some 20,350 in number, a third of them Confederate….” Just 106 surgeons were spared from the Army of the Potomac and “the comparatively few overburdened surgeons and attendants now on duty still labored every day to the point of exhaustion.” [8] These overworked men were aided by local volunteers as well as members of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the Christian Commission and the Sisters of Charity. These men and women “brought organization to the hospitals, relief to the medical staffs and the local volunteers, and immense comfort to the wounded, whether blue or butternut.” [9]

The dead and wounded littered the battlefield and the sights and smells were ghastly:

“Wherever men gazed, they saw dead bodies. A New Yorker thought they “lay as thick as the stones that is on father’s farm.” A stench smothered the field, moving John Geary to tell his wife, “My very clothes smell of death.” A Regular Army veteran exclaimed, “I have seen many a big battle, most of the big ones of the war, and I never saw the like.” [10] A resident of Gettysburg walked up to Little Round top and wrote of what she observed from the peak of that rocky hill:

“surrounded by the wrecks of battle, we gazed upon the valley of death beneath. The view there spread out before us was terrible to contemplate! It was an awful spectacle! Dead soldiers, bloated horses, shattered cannon and caissons, thousands of small arms. In fact everything belonging to army equipments was there in one confused and indescribable mass.” [11]

At Joseph Sherfy’s farm, scene of some of the heaviest fighting on the second day, his barn “which had been used as a field hospital, was left a burnt ruin, with “crisped and blackened limbs, heads and other portions of bodies” clearly visible.” [12] When the rains came, the wounded suffered terribly. Many of the field aid stations were set up next to the creeks that crisscrossed the battlefield, and those streams quickly flooded as torrents of rain water caused them to overflow their banks. “A New Jersey soldier watched in horror as the flood waters washed over and carried away badly wounded men unable to move to safety….” [13]

Oliver Howard took his escort to do a reconnaissance of the town on July 4th, one of the cavalry troopers described the scene:

“The battle field was the Awfulest sight I ever saw…The woods in front of our men the trees were riddled with Cannon ball and bullets evry limb shot off 20 feet high. Some say the Rebel dead lay six deep in the grave yard where we lay. Nearly every grave stone was shattered by shots and everything was torn to pieces. I went through the town on the 4th of July with the General. The streets were covered with dead. Evry frame house were riddled with balls the brick ones dented thick where shot had hit.” [14]

Field hospitals were often little more than butcher shops where arms and legs were amputated by overworked surgeons and attendants while those with abdominal wounds that could not be easily repaired were made as comfortable as possible. Triage was simple. If a casualty was thought to have a reasonable chance at survival he was treated, if not they were set aside in little groups and allowed to die as peacefully as possible. Churches were requisition for use of the surgeons. A volunteer nurse noted: “Every pew was full; some sitting, some lying, some leaning on others. They cut off the legs and arms and threw them out the windows. Every morning the dead were laid on the platform in a sheet or blanket and carried away.” [15]

Chaplains were usually found with the doctors, caring for the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the wounded. Protestant chaplains might ensure that their soldiers “knew Jesus” and Catholics administered the Last Rites, often working together across denominational lines to care for their soldiers.

A Union chaplain described the ministry in the field hospitals and aid stations:

“Some of the surgeons were posted well up toward the front to give first aid. More of them were in the large field hospitals of division in more secure places at the rear. The chaplain might be at either place or at both by turns. Some made a point of watching for any wounded man who might be straggling back, who perhaps could be helped up into the saddle and ride back to the hospital. When the demand for help became urgent the chaplains were nurses. As the rows of wounded men grew longer, chaplains went from man to man to see what could be done to relieve their pain, perhaps to take a message or letter. All day into the night this work would continue. A drink of water, a loosened bandage on a swollen limb, a question answered, a surgeon summoned, a whispered word of comfort marked their course. Each night at sundown the men who died during the day were buried, with a short prayer, side by side in a common grave, each in his uniform with canvas wrapped around his face and a strip of paper giving his name and regiment in a bottle buttoned under his blouse.” [16]

The war would challenge the theology of the clergy who served as chaplains on both sides, as “individuals found themselves in a new and different moral universe, one in which unimaginable destruction had become a daily experience. Where could God belong in such a world? How could a benevolent deity countenance such cruelty and suffering? Doubt threatened to overpower faith….” [17] That sense of bewilderment is not lacking today among those of faith who return from war.

Some men, clergy and laity alike would attempt to find a theological meaning to the suffering. Many would do so in the theology of John Calvin which emphasized the Providence and foreknowledge of God. That theological frame of reference, of the results of battles and the death or wounding of men in war and the attendant suffering was found in the will, or providence of God was quite common among men of both sides who grew up during the Second Great Awakening, as it is today; and for some it was carried to fatalistic extremes. However, others like Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama, who considered himself a believing Christian, wrote that he believed God:

“endowed men with the power of acting for themselves and with responsibility for their acts. When we went to war it was a matter of business, of difference of opinion among men about their temporal affairs. God had nothing to do with it. He never diverted a bullet from one man, or caused it to hit another, nor directed who should fall or who should escape, nor how the battle should terminate. If I believed in such intervention of Providence I would be a fatalist….” [18]

The carnage around the battlefield was horrifying to most observers. Corporal Horatio Chapman of the 20th Connecticut Volunteers wrote about the sight on Cemetery Ridge on the night of July 3rd following the repulse of Pickett’s Charge:

But in front of our breastworks, where the confederates were massed in large numbers, the sight was truly awful and appalling. The shells from our batteries had told with fearful and terrible effect upon them and the dead in some places were piled upon each other, and the groans and moans of the wounded were truly saddening to hear. Some were just alive and gasping, but unconscious. Others were mortally wounded and were conscious of the fact that they could not live long; and there were others wounded, how bad they could not tell, whether mortal or otherwise, and so it was they would linger on some longer and some for a shorter time-without the sight or consolation of wife, mother, sister or friend. I saw a letter sticking out of the breast pocket of one of the confederate dead, a young man apparently about twenty-four. Curiosity prompted me to read it. It was from his young wife away down in the state of Louisiana. She was hoping and longing that this cruel war would end and he could come home, and she says, “Our little boy gets into my lap and says, `Now, Mama, I will give you a kiss for Papa.’ But oh how I wish you could come home and kiss me for yourself.” But this is only one in a thousand. But such is war and we are getting used to it and can look on scenes of war, carnage and suffering with but very little feeling and without a shudder.” [19]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama whose brave troopers assaulted Little Round Top on July 2nd wrote:

“My dead and wounded were nearly as great in number as those still on duty. They literally covered the ground. The blood stood in puddles in some places on the rocks; the ground was soaked with the blood of as brave men as ever fell on the red field of battle.” [20]

Another Confederate soldier described the scene west of the town on July 4th:

“The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable-corpses swollen to twice their size, asunder with the pressure of gases and vapors…The odors were nauseating, and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened and were lying with our mouths close to the ground, most of us vomiting profusely.” [21]

The burial of the dead was too much for the soldier’s alone to accomplish. “Civilians joined the burial of the dead out of both sympathy and necessity. Fifty Confederates lay on George Rose’s fields; seventy-nine North Carolinians had fallen on a perfect line on John Forney’s farm.” [22]

Those tending the wounded recalled how many of the wounded selflessly asked medical personnel to tend others more badly wounded than themselves; a volunteer nurse wrote her sister: “More Christian fortitude was never witnessed than they exhibit, always say-‘Help my neighbor first, he is worse.’” [23] The Confederate wounded were the lowest priority for the badly overwhelmed Union surgeons and Lee had not done much to help, leaving just a few surgeons and attendants to care for the Confederates left on the battlefield. The Confederate wounded housed in the classrooms of Pennsylvania College were left in dire straits:

“All the rooms, halls and hallways were occupied with the poor deluded sons of the South,” and “the moans prayers, and shrieks of the wounded and dying were everywhere.” Between 500 and 700 wounded Confederates were jammed in with “five of our surgeons” and “no nurses, no medicines no kinds of food proper for men in our condition….” [24]

Across the battlefield the wounded were being treated in a variety of makeshift aid stations and field hospitals:

“Sergeant Major David E. Johnson of the Seventh Virginia was taken to the Myers house after the bombardment, suffering from a shrapnel wound to his left side and arm. “The shed in which I was placed,” he recalled, “was filled with the wounded and dying….I spoke to no one, and no one to me, never closed my eyes to sleep; the surgeons close by being engaged in removing the limbs of those nearby to be amputated….I heard nothing but the cries of the wounded and the groans of the dying, the agonies of General Kemper, who lay nearby, frequently being heard.” [25]

The suffering was not confined to the hospitals; John Imboden commanding the cavalry brigade protecting the Confederate wounded being transported home and supply trains described the horror of that movement:

“Scarcely one in a hundred had received adequate surgical aid, owning to the demands on the hard working surgeons from still far worse cases tat had to be left behind. Many of the wounded in the wagons had been without food for thirty-six hours. Their torn and bloody clothing, matted and hardened, was rasping the tender, inflamed, and still oozing wounds….From nearly every wagon as the teams trotted on, urged by whip and shout came such cries and shrieks as these:

“My God! Why can’t I die?” “My God! Will no one have mercy and kill me?” “Stop! Oh! For God’s sake stop for just one minute; take me out and leave me to die on the roadside.” “I am dying! I am dying! My poor wife, my dear children, what will become of you?” [26]

Eventually, by July 22nd with most of the wounded evacuated a proper general hospital was set up east of the town and the remaining wounded taken there. That hospital, named Camp Letterman grew into “a hundred –acre village of cots and tents, with its own morgue and cemetery, and served more than 3,000 wounded before it was finally closed in November.” [27]

As for the families of the dead, many never found out the details of their loved one’s deaths, which caused their losses to be “in some sense unreal and thus “unrealized,” as the bereaved described them, recognizing the inhibition of mourning that such uncertainty imposed.” [28] Much was because of how overwhelmed the field hospital staffs were, and how inadequate their records of treatment and the dispositions of bodies were sketchy at best. “Reports from field hospitals were riddled with errors and omissions, often lacked dates, and were frequently illegible, “written with the faintest lead pencil.” [29]

Among the killed and wounded were the great and the small. John Reynolds who died on day one, Winfield Scott Hancock, the valiant commander of the Union II Corps was severely wounded during Pickett’s Charge. Dan Sickles, the commander of Third Corps who had nearly brought disaster on the Federal lines by advancing to the Peach Orchard on July 2nd had his leg amputated after being grazed by a cannon ball at the Trostle Farm. Sickles, who survived the wound and the war, would visit the leg, which had carefully ordered his surgeons to preserve. The leg is now displayed at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C.

The Army of the Potomac lost a large number of brigade and regimental commanders including Strong Vincent, the young and gallant brigade commander who helped save Little Round Top; George Willard who brought redemption to his Harper’s Ferry brigade on Cemetery Ridge stopping Barksdale’s charge on July 2nd; Colonel Augustus Van Horne Ellis who before being killed at Devil’s Den told his staff “the men must see us today;” and the young Elon Farnsworth, who had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General just days before his death in a senseless ordered by his division commander Judson “Kill Cavalry” Kilpatrick, against Hood and McLaws dug in divisions as the battle ended.

The Confederates suffered grievous losses. Divisional commanders like Dorsey Pender and Johnston Pettigrew were mortally wounded, John Bell Hood was severely wounded, Isaac Trimble, wounded and captured while Harry Heth was wounded. Casualties were even higher for commanders and the brigade and regiment level, the list included excellent commanders such as Paul Semmes and William Barksdale, while Wade Hampton, Stuart’s best brigade commander was seriously wounded and would be out of action for months. The toll of brigade and regimental commanders who were killed or wounded was fearful. “At the regimental level approximately 150 colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors had been killed, wounded or captured. Of that number nineteen colonels had been slain, the most in any single battle in which the army had been engaged. Captains now led regiments.” [30]

In Picket’s division alone all three brigade commanders, Kemper, Armistead and Garnett were killed or wounded while twenty-six of forty Field Grade officers were casualties. Forty-six percent (78 of 171) of the regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia suffered casualties at the command level. The Confederate casualties, especially among the best leaders were irreplaceable and Lee’s Army never recovered from the loss of seasoned leaders who were already in short supply.

For some like Private Wesley Culp of the 2nd Virginia it was a final trip home. Culp had grown up in Gettysburg and had taken a job in Virginia prior to the war. In 1861 he enlisted to serve among his friends and neighbors. He was killed on the morning of July 3rd on Culp’s Hill on the very property owned by his uncle where he grew up and had learned to hunt.

One witness, Frank Haskell looked in at a field hospital in the Union II Corps area and wrote:

“The Surgeons with coats off and sleeves rolled up…are about their work,… “and their faces and clothes are spattered with blood; and though they look weary and tired, their work goes systematically and steadily on- how much and how long they have worked, the piles of legs, arms, feet, hands, fingers…partially tell.” [31]

All told between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans were killed or wounded during the three days of Gettysburg. Busey and Martin’s Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg list the following casualty figures, other accounts list higher numbers, some as many as 53,000. One also has to remember that many of the missing soldiers were killed in action, but their bodies were simply never found.

                           Killed               wounded         missing         total

Union                    3,155                14,531             5,369           23,055

Confederate         4,708                12,693             5,830            23,231

Total                     7,863               27,224            11,199          46,286

To provide a reference point we need to remember that in 8 years of war in Iraq the United States suffered fewer casualties than during the three days of Gettysburg. It was the bloodiest single battle in American history, and it was a battle between brothers not against foreign enemies. To put it another perspective, even at the lowest estimates “the “army of Northern Virginia suffered something comparable to two sinkings of the Titanic, the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ten repetitions of the Great Blizzard of 1888, and two Pearl Harbors.” [32]Robert E Lee testified to Congress following the war “the war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” [33]  Lee’s “Old Warhorse” James Longstreet asked “Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?” [34]

The carnage and death witnessed by survivors of Gettysburg and the other battles of the war changed Civil War soldiers as much as war has before or after. James Garfield, who served as a general in the Union army and went on to become President of the United States noted: “at the sight of these dead men whom other men killed, something went out of him, the habit of a lifetime, that never came back again: the sense of the sacredness of life and the impossibility of destroying it.” [35]

Others, like veterans of today had trouble adjusting to life after the war. “Civil War veterans had trouble finding employment and were accused of being drug addicts. Our word “hobo” supposedly comes from homeless Civil War veterans- called “hoe boys” – who roamed the lanes of rural America with hoes on their shoulders, looking for work.” [36] Following the war, during the turmoil of Reconstruction and the massive social change brought about by the industrialization of society and rise of “industrial feudalism” numerous veterans organizations were founded, for those that belonged to them they were “one of the principle refuges for old soldiers who had fought for a very different world than the one they found around them.” The Grand Army of the Republic was the most prominent of these organizations. “In more than 7,000 GAR posts across the United States, former soldiers could immerse themselves in a bath of sentimental memory; there, they established a ritualized camp geography, rekindled devotion to emancipation and preached the glories of manly independence.” [37]

At the end of the war, Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war suffered immensely. His wounds never healed fully, and he struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate. He wrote his wife about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” [38]

Gouverneur Warren, who had helped save the Union at Little Round Top wrote to his wife while on Engineering duty after the war: He wrote in 1866 “Indeed the past year…was one of great despondency for me…I somehow don’t wonder that persons often remark how seldom I laugh, but it is really seldom that I do.” He wrote again in 1867 “I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [39]

The killing at Gettysburg and so many other battles “produced transformations that were not readily reversible; the living into the dead, most obviously, but the survivors into different men as well, men required to deny, to numb basic human feelings at costs they may have paid for decades after the war ended, as we know twentieth and twenty-first-century soldiers from Vietnam to Iraq continue to do; men who like James Garfield, were never quite the same again after seeing fields of slaughtered bodies destroyed by me just like themselves.” [40]

Joshua Chamberlain asked the most difficult questions when viewing the devastation around Petersburg in the final days of the war:

“…men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order–do we call it?–fraught with such ruin. Was it God’s command that we heard, or His forgiveness that we must forever implore?” [41]

Notes

Chamberlain’s questions should always be in our minds as we send young men and women to war.

[1] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.41

[2] Grossman, Dave On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company New York 1995, 1996 p.92

[3] Sager, Guy The Forgotten Soldier originally published as Le Soldat Oublie Editions Robert Laffont 1967, Translation Harper and Row Inc 1971, Brasey’s Washington D.C 2000 p.223

[4] Bismarck, Otto von Speech, August 1867

[5] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.89

[6] Wittenberg, Eric J, Petruzzi, David and Nugent, Michael F. One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia July 4-14 1863 Savas Beatie LLC New York NY and El Dorado Hills CA 2008,2001 p.27

[7] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.28

[8] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.508

[9] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.510

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.303

[11] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.357

[12] Faust This Republic of Suffering p.81

[13] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.30

[14] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight pp.32-33

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg. p.508

[16] Brinsfield, John W. et. al. Editor, Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2003 pp.121-122

[17] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[18] Oates, Willam C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg: The Confederate and Union Views of the Most Decisive Battle of the War in One Volume Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.138

[19] Chapman, Horatio Civil War Diary of a Forty-niner pp.22-24 Retrieved from http://www.dbappdev.com/vpp/ct20/hdc/HDC630703.htm 8 April 2014

[20] Oates, William C. Southern Historical Papers, April 6th, 1878 retrieved from http://www.brotherswar.com/Civil_War_Quotes_4h.htm 18 July 2014

[21] _________ What Happened to Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead? The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park, retrieved from http://npsgnmp.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/what-happened-to-gettysburgs-confederate-dead/ 18 July 2014

[22] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.81

[23] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.333

[24] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.469

[25] Brown, Kent Masterson Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics and the Gettysburg Campaign University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 2005 p.56

[26] Imboden, John D. The Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.424

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.469-470

[28] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[29] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.113

[30] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.444

[31] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.466

[32]

[33] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Lee: The Last Years Houghton Books, New York 1981 p.124

[34] Longstreet, James in New York Times, July 24, 1885, retrieved from the Longstreet Society http://www.longstreetsociety.org/Longstreet_Quotes.html 18 July 2014

[35] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.55

[36] Shay, Jonathan Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming Scribner, New York and London 2002 p.155

[37] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.523

[38] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man Combined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.259

[39] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 pp.248-249

[40] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.60

[41] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence, The Passing of the Armies: An Account of the Final Campaign of the Army of the Potomac, Based on the Personal Reminisces of the Fifth Corps G.P Putnam’s Son’s 1915, Bantam Books, New York 1993 Amazon Kindle Edition p.41

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Religious Discrimination Restoration Acts

 

There has been a trend in so called Red States where state legislatures are busy working on legislation with a wonderful sounding name, Religious Liberty Restoration Acts. I mean who could be against religious liberty? I mean when I see what the Taliban, the Islamic State and Boko Haram are doing to Christians, Shia Moslems and others I want to climb on that wagon and say absolutely. But then I realize these laws are not about restoring religious freedom at all, because no one is threatening anyone’s constitutional right to worship or even bear public witness to their faith.

What they are, are horrible laws with incredible bad second and third order effects on every citizen. They have nothing to do with religious liberty, but rather are much more like the restrictive sharia laws of the Taliban and the Islamic State. These laws are designed to allow religious groups to discrimate against individuals and groups that they believe that their God hates.

In every one of these states these laws are directed at one minority group. Gays, or the LGBT community, and are a protest against court rulings and laws which allow Gays to marry, to visit their spouse or significant other in the hospital, or basically enjoy the same legal rights that straight people, even those in illicit relationship enjoy.  The laws almost all allow government employees or employees of private businesses to deny services to gays based on a “sincerely held religious belief.” Some laws like one in Arkansas have even go so far as to allow the state to void local non-discrimination ordinances passed by towns, cities and counties. A similar law is being floated in West Virginia. Arizona and some other states are debating bills similar to that of Indiana.

Indiana passed theirs today and Governor Mike Pence, a conservative Christian says that he is looking forward to signing it.  Of course this ensures that the good Christian people of Indiana are free to discriminate against anyone they want. While targeted at gays the same law could be used against, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Sikhs, or any other group of people. Logically since some Christian sects believe that Blacks are still under the curse of God, the bill could allow a KKK Christian not to serve a Black man or woman based on their sincerely held religious belief.

A similar bill in Oklahoma disappeared last week after a Democrat representive attached an Ammendment mandating that any business wanting to use religious liberty to deny service had to post a sign saying that they did so. I think that is rights anyone who wants to use the law not to serve someone should make that very clear. Just like the days of Jim Crow, where “No Blacks Allowed” was common, or Nazi Germany where “no Jews allowed” was almost universal.

I think that the wording of such signs should be quite clear and explicit. For instance, if it is a Christian business owner who refuses to serve gays the sign should say: “No Gays served due to my deeply held Christian beliefs.”

If a Moslem wants to claim their deeply held beliefs about sharia, claim that their act is a peaceful  jihad against the infidels in order to discriminate against unbelievers just let them say so, I have no problem with that if Christians have that right.

Orthodox Jews should have the same right in such a world, who cares if the Goyum can’t buy their babka bread or bagels at the Jewish bakery, after all it’s the right of the owner, right?

Likewise I think that the Gay florist should be able to refuse to do business with people having their weddings in churches that refuse to allow gays to be married. So what if they are the only florist in town, they should have that right too and be able to claim a religious reason as to why they can, after all fair is fair.

Now, let’s step back and look at the absurdity of such laws. They open the door for anyone to discriminate against anyone based on their religious beliefs regardless of other established laws.

In reality such laws only work in theocracies where a majority religion can in effect use religious law to discriminate and disenfranchise unbelievers with impunity. When governments attempt to apply such laws in pluralistic societies there can be only one result; a Balkanization of society from which no good can come.

These laws are not laws to promote religious liberty, these laws are designed to allow a specific group of people to usurp laws that apply to everyone because of their religious beliefs.

Sadly, these laws are the last gasp of a religious aristocracy that has lost influence in society and that is dying; conservative Christianity. All the polls and studies say so, and sadly it is in large part the fault of churches and people that identify themselves as such. Their younger members are fleeing at an ever increasing rate and non-believers want nothing to do with them. The days of the “God loves you” type of evangelism are over. Instead, what suffices as public witness is that “God loves me and hates you.”  

Why are people fleeing? Evangelical pollster George Barna’s group did a study and the results paint a picture that shows a church that is now described by the majority as Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political. The Pew Survey as well as others that survey religious belief and practice in this country back this up.

These laws show how desperate and increasing irrelevant that church has become. It is a sad commentary and they should know better, but like cultural suicide bombers they will destroy themselves to hurt those that they hate. It is short-sighted, and tied more to the political power of conservative Christians and to preserve their influence than any demonstration of the grace, love, mercy or even the justice of God.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Perchance to Sleep: A Sleep Study

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For people who have not followed my writings on this site for any length of time I need to let you know that for me, a career military officer and veteran of Iraq, and other adventures at sea and ashore that I suffer from PTSD, TBI and Moral Injury. As a result I endure terrible insomnia, nightmares and night terrors. A really good night sleep I have not enjoyed since I went to Iraq in 2007. Guy Sager, a German veteran of the Russian front wrote in his classic account of war and homecoming The Forgotten Soldier: 

“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” 

It is something that I fully understand. General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of Gettysburg also suffered from terrible insomnia and nightmares. He wrote:

“I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

Tonight I am undergoing a sleep study which will look at a number of aspects of what might be keeping me from sleep and what might help me. I will be examined for a number of neurological and respiratory conditions. I have about half an hour until the tech make the final hook of of all the paraphernalia that I have connected to me, wires, machines and bands across my head and my chest. I have wires connected to about every part of my body but my penis and sphincter.

As it is all of this is terrifying. I find test such as this to be troubling, for I do not know what they will reveal. Over the past couple of months I have been going through a lot of testing related to traumatic brain injury and concussive injuries. Frankly I have knocked my noggin a lot in my life, sports, the military, deployment and just dumb stuff.

I also have some worry because my father died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, what William Shatner’s character in the television series Boston Legal, Denny Crane referred to as the “Mad Cow.” I hated to see how that evil disease ravaged my dad’s mind. While it is unlikely that I would have it too, there is always the chance and of all the things to die of I would hate losing my mind, the one thing that defines who I am the most. Denny Crane said: “When God strips you of your talent, He should at least have the decency to strip away the memory of having had it.”

I do not like the night, noises seem amplified, an airplane, a helicopter, sirens and crashing noises will trigger me into a state of hyper-arousal that is almost impossible to come down from.

As such I am going to curl up with my iPad and continue to read To Kill a Mockingbird as I have been doing the past week.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Romantic Rebel: George Pickett

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am continuing to periodically intersperse and publish short articles about various commanders at Gettysburg on the site. These all are drawn from my student text and may become a book in their own right.  The reason is I am going to do this is because I have found that readers are often more drawn to the lives of people than they are events. As I have noted before that people matter, even deeply flawed people, and we can learn from them.

Today’s article is about Major General George Edward Pickett who gained immortal fame at Gettysburg. He too is a complex, contradictory and controversial  figure in the Civil War, particularly in regard to the post war controversies regarding who was to blame for the Confederate defeat and his open criticism of Robert E. Lee’s decision to order the ill fated charge that made him famous.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Pickett

George Pickett was born to wealth and privilege in a Neo-feudal society [1] and came from an old and distinguished Virginia family with a long military heritage dating to the Revolution and the War of 1812. He attended the Richmond Academy until he was sixteen and had to withdraw due to the financial losses his parents had suffered during the panic of 1837.

This led to the young Pickett being sent to live with and study law under his mother’s older brother, Andrew Johnston in Quincy Illinois. Johnston was a lawyer, Whig politician and friend of Abraham Lincoln. The family’s continued financial distress led them to get George to consider the free education provided by West Point. His mother asked Johnston to assist and Johnston set about obtaining an appointment for his nephew. As befit an up-and-coming politician, his quest was short and successful. His Springfield acquaintances included a United States Congressman who happened to be a fellow Southerner and brother Whig, Kentucky native John T. Stuart. [2] There is a long running myth that connects Pickett’s appointment to West Point to Abraham Lincoln, but it is fiction, fabricated by Pickett’s widow Sallie long after her husband and Lincoln’s death. [3]

Pickett entered West Point in 1842 where he was described by a fellow cadet thought a jolly good fellow with fine natural gifts sadly neglected [4] through his tendency to demonstrate in word and deed that henhouse neither to authority nor submit to what’re considered the Academys narrow, arbitrary, unrealistic, harshly punitive, and inconsistently applied code of conduct [5] became a loyal patron of Benny Havens tavern where he was stealing away regularly now to life his glass in good fellowship…” [6]

Pickett’s academic performance, as well as his record of disciplinary infractions at West Point was exceptionally undistinguished. He racked up vast amounts of demerits for everything from being late to class, chapel and drill, uniform violations and pranks on the drill field where he mocked those who observed proper drill and ceremonies. Pickett graduated last in the class of 1846, something that his vast amount of demerits contributed.

His widow Sallie wrote after his death that he accumulated them so long as he could afford the black marks and punishments they entailed. He curbed his harmful behavior, however, when he found himself approaching the magic number of 200 demerits per year that constituted grounds for dismissal. [7] Pickett finally graduated only five behavioral demerits short of expulsion. [8] The graduating class included George McClellan, A.P. Hill, Thomas, later “Stonewall” Jackson as well as a number of other cadets, most of whom who went on to distinguished military and other careers. At West Point Pickett was considered to be the class clown by many of his classmates was the most popular and prominent young man in the class. [9] Among the many friends that he made was an upperclassman named Ulysses S. Grant and their friendship would span decades and would survive the fire of a war that placed them at swords point. [10]

Pickett was commissioned into the infantry and served alongside James Longstreet in the Mexican War where they fought valiantly in a number of battles, including Contreras, Churubusco, El Molino Del Rey. [11] Pickett distinguished himself at Chapultepec where he had been the first American to scale the ramparts of Chapultepec, where he planted the flag before the admiring gaze of his friend Longstreet. [12] During that assault Longstreet was wounded and Pickett had snatched the colors and planted them on the castle heights for all to see and cheer. [13] For his actions he received a brevet promotion to First Lieutenant.

Following the war Pickett married but was widowed less than two years later when his wife Sally Minge Pickett died during childbirth along with their infant son in 1852. The loss was devastating to the young officer. He went into a deep depression caused by grief and considered leaving the army. He was persuaded by friends, peers and understanding commanding officers to remain.

While on leave following Sally’s death, he was at Fort Monroe, laying under an umbrella at Point Comfort when a child approached him and took pity on him. The child was the nine year old La Salle “Sallie” Corbell and she broke through his emotional defenses by persistently, as only a child can do asking what the source of his grief was. Pickett told the child that his heart had been broken by a sorrow almost too great to bear. When the child asked how ones heart could break, he replied that God broke it when he took from him his loved ones and left him so lonely. [14] While Pickett may not have thought much of the meeting, he did give the little girl a ring and a golden heart bearing his wife’s name. He likely expected never to see her again but though she was a child she was a willful and determined one. She knew her own mind and heart, both told her that one day she would marry George Pickett. [15]

Pickett returned to Texas to serve with the 8th Infantry and was promoted to Captain and ordered to take command of the newly raised Company “D” 9th Infantry at Fort Monroe. Transferred to the Pacific Northwest he married. Widowed after that war he served in the Pacific Northwest where he took a Native American wife who bore him a son, however she did not survive childbirth and when she died in early 1858 Pickett was again widowed. In 1859 Captain Pickett faced down British troops from the Hudson Bay Company in an incident now known at the Pig War which at its heart was a dispute about whether the British or the Americans own San Juan Island. The dispute, which brought the two nations to the brink of war, was settled without bloodshed, save for the unfortunate pig, and Pickett became a minor celebrity in the United States and anathema to the British.

When Virginia seceded from the Union, Pickett like many other southern officers was conflicted in his feelings and loyalties and hoped to the last that he would have to take up arms against neither state nor country. [16] Pickett resigned his commission on June 25th 1861. He wrote to Sallie with who he now maintained a frequent correspondence about his decision and decidedly mixed feelings as he:

Always strenuously opposed disunion…” But While I love my neighbor, i.e., my country, I love my household, i.e., my state, more, and I could not be an infidel and lift my sword against my own kith and kin, even though I do believethat the measure of American greatness can be achieved only under one flag. [17]

Pickett returned to Virginia by a circuitous route where he was commissioned as a Captain in the new Confederate army on September 14th and two weeks later was promoted to Colonel and assigned to command forces along the Rappahannock. Though he had as yet seen no combat serving in the Confederate army, Pickett was promoted to brigadier General and assigned to command a Virginia brigade belonging to Longstreet’s division.

Pickett led his brigade well on the peninsula and at Williamsburg was instrumental in routing an advancing Federal force, and at Seven Pines had helped repel a dire threat to the Confederate position. At Gaines Mill Pickett was wounded in the shoulder during the assault put out of action and placed on convalescent leave to recover from his wounds. During his convalescence he fell in love with an old acquaintance; La Salle Corbell, who as a young girl had cheered him after the loss of his wife now a beautiful young woman nursed him back to health and started a chain reaction that would nearly engulf the Confederate officer. [18]

Pickett was promoted to Major General in October 1862 and was assigned command of the division formerly commanded by David R. Jones, which was assigned to Longstreet’s First Corps. The division was sent to peripheral areas and took no part in the battles of late 1862 or Chancellorsville serving instead in the Tidewater with Longstreet’s corps. The corps took part in a series of operations against Union forces in the Hampton Roads area and Pickett’s division bested a Federal force at Suffolk on April 24th 1863, though it was hardly a true test of his ability to command the division in combat. During this time Pickett spent much time visiting La Salle, much to the concern of some of his officers and Longstreet’s staff, and by the time the corps left the area the two were engaged to be married.

When the Division returned to the Army of Northern Virginia after Chancellorsville, it was among the forces considered by Jefferson Davis to be sent west for the relief of Vicksburg. Since that operation never materialized, the division was assigned to accompany First Corps with the army during the upcoming Pennsylvania campaign. However, much to the consternation of Lee, Longstreet and Pickett, two of its brigades were detached by the order of Jefferson Davis to protect Richmond from any Federal incursion.

During the advance into Pennsylvania the division, now composed of the brigades of James Kemper, Lewis Armistead and Richard Garnett was the trail division in Longstreet’s corps and often, in the absence of cavalry assigned to guard the corps and army trains. Due to its late release from these duties at Chambersburg, Pickett’s Division did not arrive at Gettysburg until late afternoon on July 2nd. Lee decided that they would not be needed that day and Longstreet placed that the division in bivouac at Marsh Creek for the night, sending word by messenger to tell Pickett I will have work for him tomorrow. [19]

Pickett spent the night with his soldiers and woke them about 3 a.m. After a quick breakfast Pickett moved the division to Seminary Ridge marshaling his troops in Spangler’s Woods where there was a modicum of protection from Federal fires and observation. However, despite these advantages it placed his division about 1000 yards from the extreme right of Pettigrew’s division with which he would have to coordinate his attack that fateful day.

Pickett scribbled a final note to Sallie as his troops prepared to attack. Oh, may God in his mercy help me as He never has helped me beforeremember always that I love you with all my heart and soul That now and forever I am yours. [20]

Pickett was never the same after the charge of July 3rd 1863. Pickett’s after action report which complained about the lack of support his division received was suppressed and destroyed by Lee who wrote Pickett You and your men have crowned yourselves in glory But we have an enemy to fight, and must carefully, at this critical moment, guard against dissections which the reflections in your report will create. [21]

Pickett married La Salle “Sallie” Corbell in September of 1863, and the marriage would last until his death in 1875. Sallie, impoverished by the death of “her soldier” took up writing as well as speaking tours in both the South and the North. Sallie was a stalwart defender of her husband, who she said had the keenest sense of justice, most sensitive consciousness of right, and the highest moral courage but also opposing hatred, sectionalism and strife. [22] Though much of her work was panned by historians and shunned by established magazines and periodicals; her writing were published by newer popular magazines. Her book The Heart of a Soldier, as Revealed in the Intimate Letters of General George Pickett, C.S.A. was for the most part fabrications authored by her, but she found a niche in newer popular magazines and journals, including Cosmopolitan for which she authored a ten part serial of the Pickett family story on the fiftieth anniversary of the battle. Sallie Pickett’s:

idealized portrait of her husband made him a Confederate hero. He never reached the status of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson, but his association with the famed but futile charge at Gettysburg helped. Virginia veterans and newspapers began romanticizing Picketts all-Virginia divisions role soon after the battle; it was almost by association that George too would share in this idolization…” [23]

Pickett retained command of his division after Gettysburg. The division was reconsituted and shipped off to North Carolina where he and it performed adequately but without marked distinction. Pickett had one moment of glory when reacting to a Federal Army under Benjamin Butler advancing on Petersburg he threw a scratch force together which preserved Petersburg and its vital rail line in early May 1864. This allowed General P.T.G. Beauregard to bring up more troops to hold the city.

The division performed adequately in the defensive battles around Richmond and Petersburg, though it suffered terribly from the lack of rations, medicines, clothing and equipmentaggravated by the rigors of life in the trenches. [24] Morale and desertion was a terrible problem in Pickett’s division and Lee was concerned enough to bring enough to bring the matter to Longstreet. Lee used terms like unsoldierly and unmilitary, lax in discipline, loose in military instruction [25] to describe the division. Though he was fully cognizant of the conditions of the trenches Lee identified the source of the problem as Pickett and his officers who were not sufficiently attentive to the men,not informed as to their condition and he told Longstreet: I desire you to correct the evils in Picketts divisionby every means in your power… I beg that you will insist upon these points. [26]

During the Richmond and Petersburg campaign, Pickett was often sick, and at several intervals he was unable to exercise command, and the poor state of his general health, aggravated by the unusually stressful conditions of the past year, age him beyond his years. [27]

The end came at the battle at Five Forks where Pickett’s division was deployed on the far right of the Confederate line, was overwhelmed by a massive assault by Sheridan’s cavalry and the Fifth Corps which destroyed it as a fighting formation. Pickett, for unknown reasons did not put much effort into the defense of Five Forks. He successfully repulsed an attack by Sheridan on March 31st but evidently did not expect an attack the following day. On the afternoon of April 1st Pickett was away from his division at a Shad bake with Fitzhugh Lee and Thomas Rosser when the attack came and destroyed his division as a fighting unit. No cowardice was involved; Pickett simply misjudged the situation by assuming that no attack was imminent, yet it left a bad taste in everyones mouth. [28] That being said Picketts lackadaisical effort in holding Five Forks is indefensible. So to is his incredible derelict behavior late on the morning of April 1st when he slipped away from his command to the shad bake not even informing the next senior officer, Rooney Lee that he was gone. [29]

Whether cowardice was involved or not, Pickett’s decision to be away from his division with a very aggressive Federal army at his front was ill-advised and demonstrated to Lee that Pickett was unfit for command. Two days later Pickett and two other generals, including Richard Anderson were relieved of their duties and dismissed by Lee. However Pickett remained with his division until the end and at Appomattox Lee was heard to remark in what some believed was a disparaging manner Is that man still with this army? [30]

George Pickett attempted to rebuild his life after the war and the task was not easy, for though he applied for amnesty, his case was complicated by an incident where he had ordered the execution of twenty-two former North Carolina militiamen who had defected to the Union and been re-captured by the Confederates. Pickett’s action was no different than many Confederate commanders who followed the Richmond government’s decision to take ruthless measures to suppress Unionist sentiments and secession of areas of the Confederacy where Union sympathies ran high. The area of Pickett’s operation was a haven for Tories who openly supported U.S. troops. What was worse, hundreds of local Unionists engaged in the most violent guerrilla activities, shooting and burning out their secessionist neighbors, waylaying Confederate supply trains, attacking outposts. [31] Some of these men had previously served in Confederate service which in the eyes of Pickett and many others made them traitors to the Confederate cause.

In a sense Pickett was engaged in what are now known as counter-insurgency operations. Like many commanders involved in such operations, he descended into the same type of barbaric actions of those he was fighting. “By early 1864 the war was turning into a grim, hate-filled struggle that knew few rules and niceties, and Pickett was changing to the pattern. [32] When Pickett captured the former militiamen he refused to treat them as prisoners of war and instead he court-martialed them and hanged them all. [33] He established a military court composed of Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia officers, hauled the deserters-in-arms before it, and approved the death sentences. [34] When the prisoners went to the gallows Pickett reportedly told each of them God damn you, I reckon you will ever hardly go back there again, you damned rascals; Ill have you shot, and all the other damned rascals who desert. [35]

Federal authorities thought about charging him with war crimes. Pickett fled to Canada in late 1865 before returning to Virginia. It took the intervention of Pickett’s faithful friend Ulysses S. Grant to have the charges dismissed and for Pickett to be granted amnesty by President Johnson in 1868. Grant admitted that the punishment was harsh, however, Grant’s judgment was steeped in the fact that many Northern commanders had resorted to similar actions in combating insurgents and deserters. Grant wrote in his friend’s defense:

But it was in time of war and when the enemy no doubt it necessary to retain, by some power, the services of every man within their reach. Gen. Pickett I know personally to be an honorable man but in this case his judgement [sic] prompted him to do what can not well be sustained though I do not see how good, either to the friends of the deceased or by fixing an example for the future, can be secured by his trial now. [36]

Even so, Pickett’s life was difficult. Health difficulties plagued him and employment was scarce, even for a man of Pickett’s stature in Virginia. He refused employment which would take him away from Sallie and his children and finally took a job as an insurance agent in Richmond. It was a job which he felt demeaning, requiring that he attempt to sell insurance policies to destitute and out of work Confederate veterans and their families. Sallie wrote that he could not come to terms with a profession that made its profits through what one colleague called gall, gall, old man, gall and grub. [37] Distinctly unhappy the dejected old soldier told her Id sooner face a canon,than to take out a policy with me. [38]

In 1870 he was convinced by John Singleton Mosby to visit Lee when the latter was visiting Richmond as Lee was making a final tour of battlefields and other sites. For Pickett the visit only reinforced his resentment that he felt for Lee, who he felt blamed him for the defeat at Five Forks and had ostracized him. The meeting occurred in Lees room at the Ballard Hotel was icy and lasted only two or three minutes. [39]

Mosby realized quickly that the meeting was not going well and Sensing the unpleasantness of the meeting, Mosby got up in a few moments and Pickett followed him. Once outside the room, Pickett broke out bitterly against that old man who, he said, had my division massacred at Gettysburg. [40] Mosby attempted to assuage his friend’s feelings but Pickett was not mollified by Mosbys rejoinder that it made you immortal. [41] Edwin Coddington wrote that it would have been better for his reputation if had been called to give his life or if the attack had been known for what it was, Longstreets Second Assault. [42]

George Pickett was a romantic as well as a true believer in the cause of the Confederacy. Pickett was vain, often self-serving and even irresponsible. He certainly as Porter Alexander noted was a better brigade commander than division commander, a position that he desired but at which never excelled. He was a poor administrator, and in the campaigns of 1864 and 1865 demonstrated exceptionally poor leadership.

His temperament, especially his seeming inability to function in a hierarchical structure, and the rebellious streak that he had as a cadet at West Point was never exercised: He resented authority and chafed at deferring to any man as his superiorPickett never understood his place in the hierarchy. He considered himself part of the cream of the Army of Northern Virginia, but without being willing to shoulder all the responsibilities and sacrifices that entailed. [43]

He died in the summer of 1875 while on a business trip to Norfolk with his wife at his side, but a single tragic charge had made his name immortal. [44] Bitter and discouraged at the end of his life he uttered his last words to Sallie’s uncle who had also served in the Army of Northern Virginia Well, Colonel, the enemy is too strong for me againmy ammunition is all out He closed his eyes, and settled back as if at peace for the first time in his life. Sallie never left his side; two hours after his death they gently pried her hands from his. [45]

[1] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.4

[2] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.6

[3] See Longacre Pickett pp.6-7. The myth was quite successful and it endures in some accounts of Pickett’s life and in a number of military histories including Larry Tagg’s The Generals of Gettysburg

[4] Waugh, John C. The Class of 1846 from West Point to Appomattox: Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan and their Brothers A Ballantine Book, New York 1994 pp.38-39

[5] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.7

[6] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 from West Point to Appomattox p.39

[7] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.12

[8] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.378

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.378

[10] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.20

[11] Ibid. Hess Picketts Charge p.37

[12] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.264

[13] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 p.457

[14] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.32

[15] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.33

[16] Ibid. Longacre Pickett pp.50-51

[17] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.51

[18] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.38

[19] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.47

[20] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and his Men at Gettysburg p.296

[21] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.354

[22] Ibid. Reardon The Convergence of History and Myth in the Southern Past: Pickett’s Charge p.76

[23] Gordon, Lesley J. “Let the People See the Old Life as it Was” La Salle Corbell Pickett and the Myth of the Lost Cause in The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History edited by Gallagher, Gary W. and Nolan, Alan T. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 p.170

[24] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.160

[25] Selcer, Richard F. Lee vs. Pickett: Two Divided by War Thomas Publications, Gettysburg PA 1998 p.66

[26] Ibid. Selcer Lee vs. Pickett p.66

[27] Ibid. Longacre Pickett pp.160-161

[28] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.375

[29] Ibid. Longacre Pickett pp.166-167

[30] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.375

[31] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.137

[32] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.141

[33] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.368

[34] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.140

[35] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.368

[36] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.175

[37] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.178

[38] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.178

[39] Ibid. Hess Pickett’s Charge p.377

[40] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.569

[41] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 p.529

[42] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.528

[43] Ibid. Selcer Lee vs. Pickett p.101

[44] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 p.529

[45] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.180

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The Reconcilled Rebel: James Longstreet

Friends of Padre Steve’s World 

 
I am going to periodically interspersing and publishing short articles about various commanders at Gettysburg  on the site. These all come from my student text and the reason is I am going to do this is because I have found that readers are often more drawn to the lives of people than they are events. As I have noted before that people matter, even flawed people, and we can learn from them.

Today’s vignette is about Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet who commanded the Confederate First Corps of  Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg, and is considered by many military historians to be the best corps commander on either side during the war. Yet, Longstreet is one of the most controversial figures in the Confederate Army and there are lessons, good and bad to be learned from him. But I think the one thing that can be learned is that for Longstreet the war was never a “holy cause” and he refused to give in to the hatred that consumed so many Confederates during and after the war. Longstreet chose the path of reconciliation when the war was over and in doing so was mailigned by many in the South. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

LongstreetJ_main

James Longstreet was a native of the Piedmont area of northeastern Georgia. His father, a planter, hailed from a Dutch family that had originally migrated to the colonies in 1687. The young Longstreet, nicknamed Peter or Pete by his family had determined as a child that he would have a military career. His father assisted in his admission to the Military Academy which he entered in 1838. Longstreet was neither a model cadet nor student. He graduated in 1842 “ranked fifty-fourth in a class of fifty-six” [1] and was commissioned into the infantry.

At West Point the young Georgian’s academic performance was lackluster, and he accumulated a significant amounts of demerits. However, the husky Longstreet was well liked and made many lifelong friends while at the academy. His class was distinguished and produced ten Confederate and seven Union Generals during the war. Longstreet’s best friend was a cadet from Ohio in the class which followed him, Ulysses S. Grant of whom Longstreet said was “of noble, generous heart, a lovable character, a valued friend.” [2] That friendship would endure for the rest of their lives.

Longstreet served in the West and went to Texas after it was annexed into the Union. Subsequently, he served in Mexico, getting his first taste of combat on the Rio Grande, then at Monterrey and later at Chapultepec. At Chapultepec, Longstreet was in command of Company H of the 8th Infantry Regiment which was leading the assault. He was near the head of the regiment the regiment as they breached the first parapet carrying the regimental colors “which he had grabbed …as they fell from the hands of their wounded bearer[3] Wounded in the thigh, he handed the colors to his friend George Pickett, whose Company A was advancing behind Longstreet’s company.

After his wound healed Longstreet continued to serve in Texas and later in the New Mexico Territory in campaigns against the Comanche. Serving in various command and staff positions including as a company commander, regimental adjutant, and department Quartermaster he became a well-rounded officer. He was promoted to Major and appointed as a Paymaster. With the promotion he was assigned to duties at Fort Leavenworth in 1858 and then again to New Mexico in 1859.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 and Southern states began to secede, Longstreet, who was not a proponent of secession, did not hesitate and offered his services to the Governor of Alabama in February 1861. However, there are many questions about this period due to the conflicting story that Longstreet recorded and what the administrative and pay documents record.

Longstreet resigned his commission on May 9th 1861, though he had already accepted a commission in the new Confederate Army dated May 1st 1861 with a date of rank of March 16th 1861 “eight days before he wrote his letter of resignation from the United States Army.” [4] His biographer Jeffry Wert notes that the acceptance of the Confederate commission while he was still serving as an officer in the United States Army, is “a dark story of a man who crossed the delicate line between honor and dishonor” and that “what he did, however, was not the act of an honorable man and officer.” [5] While there may be extenuating circumstances that we do not know, it does appear that Longstreet crossed a line that few, if any other active officers who left the Army for Confederate service crossed.

After his resignation he travelled to Richmond where he was promoted to Brigadier General on June 17th and given command of a brigade that fought at Bull Run. He was consider to be one of the best Brigadiers in the army and was promoted to Major General on October 7th 1861. After this promotion, Longstreet was given command of a division on the Peninsula. He was noted by his aide Moxie Sorrel to be “rather gay in disposition with his chums, fond of a glass, and very skillful at poker.” [6] However, during that time, his family living in Richmond was ravaged by a Scarlett fever outbreak in January 1862 which claimed the lives of three of his children, leaving him a much more serious, and very changed man. “There was no more gaiety, no more poker, and, certainly for the time, no more liquor. Essentially, from that tragic January, he was a soldier and little besides.” [7]

When Lee took over the Army, Longstreet quickly became one of his most trusted subordinates. Following the Seven Days battles Longstreet was promoted to command a wing of the army, with Jackson commanding the other. These were in effect army corps and functioned as such until the Confederate Congress allowed the creation of army corps within the army. The Confederate Congress then promoted each man to the Rank of Lieutenant General. The contrasts between the two men were remarkable. One of Lee’s biographers wrote of the contrast between Jackson and Longstreet and how each man in a sense reflect a part of his military personality:

“In these two latter men Lee seemed to have recognize the Janus face of his own military personality. Longstreet seemed to be steady and dependable, the consummate professional. Jackson, on the other hand, had been by turns brilliant (the Valley) and useless (Mechanicsville and White Oak Swamp). But Jackson was a killer, possessed of the same sorts of aggressive instincts which obsessed Lee.” [8]

During the 1862 campaign Longstreet built a solid reputation as a commander. Douglas Southall Freeman wrote that if there was a word Longstreet’s contemporaries would have used to describe him “they would have agreed on the same soldierly term: dependable. Brilliance there might not be, reliability there undoubtedly was.” [9] He led that corps in the hammer blows that nearly destroyed Pope’s army at Second Manassas, grimly held the line at Antietam, and helped direct the massacre of Burnside’s attacking force at Fredericksburg. His corps was not present at Chancellorsville. As a commander he was noted for his devoted care and concern for the welfare of his soldiers, his reluctance to waste their lives in what he believed to be unwise, foolish, or suicidal attacks and “Under his command, the First Corps was the “bedrock” of the army.” [10]

During their time together Lee and Longstreet developed “a close personal and professional relationship.” [11] Lee would refer to him at times as “the staff in my right hand” and “my old war horse.” After Jackson’s death their relationship grew closer, even when they did not agree, not an uncommon occurrence. Longstreet could be, and was, blunt with Lee and thankfully for the two men, Lee “was a strong enough personality to bear the presence of a contrarian,” [12] Longstreet could indeed be a contrarian. Even so, Longstreet was a trusted subordinate and Longstreet later wrote that the relationship was “one of confidence and esteem, official and personal, which ripened into stronger ties as the mutations of war bore heavier upon us.” [13]

Longstreet’s presence as a gruff but kindhearted Georgian in an army dominated by Virginians who “idolized Lee” brought him to appoint “himself to pronounce on military reality, which was to say that his outlook on war was more practical than romantic.” [14] That outlook and honesty would cause Longstreet great consternation after the war as Jubal Early and other leaders of the Lost Cause branded him a “Judas” for his actions at Gettysburg and criticism of Robert E. Lee. Even at Gettysburg, despite their differences of opinion regarding Lee’s strategy, British Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Freemantle noted “The relations between him and Longstreet are quite touching – they are almost always together.… I believe these two generals to be as little ambitious and as thoroughly unselfish as any men in the world.” [15]

Longstreet was grievously wounded in the throat during the Wilderness campaign but returned to serve through the surrender at Appomattox. In the search for villains in the post war South, Longstreet became a target of those seeking to defend and exalt Robert E. Lee. After the war Longstreet quickly reconciled with the Union, made amends and renewed his friendships with Ulysses Grant and others. When Grant died he remarked that Grant “was the truest and bravest man that had ever lived.” [16]

He also became a Republican and served in various positions in the U.S. Government and converted to Roman Catholicism. The combination of those decisions as well as his criticism of Lee’s generalship have led to decades of debate, argument and recrimination. That being said the soldiers who served under him continued to hold him in high regard at Confederate veteran reunions until his death in 1904. Thomas Goree who served on Longstreet’s First Corps staff wrote him after the war:

With my heart full of gratitude, I often think of you, and your many acts of kindness shown me, and the innumerable marks of esteem and confidence bestowed on me by you during the four long and trying years that we were together. Although we may differ in our political opinions, yet I have always given you credit for honest and sincerity of purpose.” [17]

[1] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.30

[2] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.31

[3] Longacre, Edward G. Pickett: Leader of the Charge White Mane Publishing Company, Shippensburg PA 1995 p.26

[4] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.54

[5] Ibid. Wert Longstreet pp.54-55

[6] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.91

[7] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s p.111

[8] Ibid. Thomas Robert E. Lee p.247

[9] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s p.112

[10] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.405

[11] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.61

[12] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.527

[13] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.173

[14] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.527

[15] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s p.552

[16] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.424

[17] Ibid. Wert Longstreet p.424

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