The Wrong Train: The Christian Culture War

itw2

Yesterday, I wrote about the scary similarities that I saw in the weekend gathering of Christian Right leaders at the Iowa Freedom Summit, to the prayer meeting in the classic film Inherit the Wind. I find those similarities amazing.  But even more troubling I find the fear, hatred and paranoia they display to all opponents to be reminiscent of church leaders in Germany during the 1920s and early 1930s.  These men, including Protestants and Catholics supported Hitler, because Hitler promised to fight against the things that they hated. Martin Niemöller, a man who now is nearly universally lauded for opposition to Hitler initially supported him. Later Niemöller, regretted that support and wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

The statistics don’t lie. The United States cannot and should not be considered a Christian nation and any sense of the definition. To be blunt that is not the fault of secularists. It is the fault of Christians especially those political partisan pastors and pundits of the Christian Right that for the past 40 years have sold their souls for political power at the expense of the Gospel.

ap_iowa_freedom_150124_16x9_992

Freedom Summit 2015

While many people, even a majority describe themselves as Christians the fact is that what is now believed is not a Christianity that is in any sense Biblical, Catholic or Orthodox but rather a packaging of certain “Biblical values” that happen to be great political wedge issues for Christian leaders seeking political and economic power.

313-1qRzQm.AuSt.55

Mike Huckabee: Preacher, Pundit and Politician

Nowhere was this shown more than the brazen flip-flopping of Christian leaders during the last Presidential election who first adamantly opposed the nomination of Mitt Romney. Not on political but on religious grounds,  so long as there was a chance that a non-Mormon had a chance at the Republican nomination. Of course those leaders, even those that opposed Romney on theological grounds rapidly gave him their blessing once he won the nomination. The theological gyrations made by those leaders of the Religious Right in that process were fascinating to watch, much like a train wreck, but fascinating nonetheless.

A recent Barna survey noted that less than one half of one percent of people aged 18-23 hold what would be considered a “Biblical world view.” This is compared to about one of every nine other adults.  Other surveys bear this out.

This should not be surprising to anyone that has watched the growth of what passes as Evangelical Christianity in the Mega-Church age and the retreat of conservative Catholics into the Church culture and theology of the 1400s. It is the same ideology that brought about the Reformation. But then maybe that is not a bad thing.

What has to be said is that the American Church cannot really be considered Evangelical or Catholic. Rather American Christians have subscribed to an Imperial Church model that must throw itself at those that hold power in order to maintain their own political, economic and social power.

While these leaders talk about and rail against things that they believe to be “sinful” such as homosexuality, abortion and birth control they willingly turn a blind eye to the treatment of the poor, advocate wars of aggression and bless cultural and economic norms that go entirely against the Christian tradition as they go about with a Bible in one hand and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in the other.

One can have legitimate debates in the Church about what the Bible and Christian tradition define as sin and we should have those debates taking into consideration Scripture, Tradition as well as what we have learned from the Sciences and the Social Sciences. But the fact is that those in the Religious Right are terribly inconsistent in this, much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who he condemned for the same type of hypocrisy.

Think about it: The Barna Group in another survey of people 18-29 years old asked what phrases best described Christians: The top five answers “Anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical and too involved in politics.” This view was held by 91% of non-Christians and a staggering 80% of young churchgoers.

This hypocrisy was again demonstrated this week. Many of these politically corrupted religious leaders turned a blind eye to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 by the Supreme Court, or cheered that decision despite the fact that many of not most of those adversely affected by that decision are African American Christians. The next day after cheering this result they lambasted the same justices for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and refusing to hear a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, dealing with the Federal recognition of Gay marriage. The histrionics exhibited would be comical if the men and women ranting away were not so vehemently hateful towards their opponents. The tragedy of their behavior is that even more people will turn away from even reasonable Christians.

The fact is that young people are leaving the church in unheard of numbers and it is very evident to me why they are doing so. The Church has embraced the culture wars over preaching the Gospel, which if I recall correctly is based on loving people, even ones enemies.  Jesus said it so well: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 NRSV.

The leaders of the Christian Right were able to bring enough culture warriors to hold their majority in the House of Representatives and gain the majority in the Senate. Admittedly it was an election where less than 40% of eligible voters voted and most of the contested seats were in areas where they dominate, which magnified their strength. However, in the coming 2016 Presidential election the demographics among voters will go against them, and even though these leaders know this, most continue on and with greater zeal wage the culture war.

But at what cost? Here I am not even dealing with the politics, as one can debate the merits of the Obama administration as well as its decisions and policies, even many progressives criticize the President on a wide number 0f issues, so that is not the point.

But the question is can Christians be an authentic witness in the political arena by simply being the religious appendage of a political movement whose leaders hold the Church and religious people in general in distain? It is amazing to watch as people mobilize Christians to support policies that are in the long term detrimental to those who claim the name of Jesus, and which are against many supposedly Christian or Biblical values. It is likewise astounding to see conservatives, including conservative Roman Catholics condemn Pope Francis  for having the gall to take issue with them.

vatican46_35

In the 1920s and 1930s the Churches of Germany and many parts of Europe did the same thing. They felt that their values were under attack by Communists, Socialists, Jews and yes, even Homosexuals. In order to maintain their influence and power they willingly allied themselves with the Nazis. When they spoke up against the Nazis it was seldom because they were defending anyone but their own ecclesiastical power and place in society.  When the war was over and young people began to question the actions of those that led the Church in Germany it began a process that has led to the de-Christianization of that country.

The current leadership of the Christian Right, especially those with yearnings to be the next President, are doing the same thing as their German brothers did in the 1920s and 1930s. The constant hate filled attacks of Christian leaders on those that are not Christians will come back to bite them. This is not fantasy, it is reality. One only has to look at the history of the Church to see it played out time after time. But then, unless we decide to re-write history like the fraudulent pseudo-historian David Barton does so well, why bother reading it?

The actions of many Christian leaders are dangerous to the faith as a whole, but it seems that they are willing to throw that away in order to gain political power, and as Gary North said “. The political opportunism is short sighted and ultimately will hasten the decline and fall of what we know as Christianity in America.

Perhaps Christian leaders who have sold their souls for such paltry political gains should be asking these questions: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul and what does it profit the Church to wield political power but lose its soul?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once noted “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” 

It is something to consider and they are questions that have to be asked.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, faith, film, History, leadership, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Inheriting the Wind: Iowa & the GOP 2015

4476555

I wonder about the people now leading the Republican Party, especially the Christian Right and the politicians that fall all over themselves to ingratiate themselves to get their vote. I wonder if they have any clue as to the long term damage that they are doing to that party, their faith or to the country.

I should know something about this, because for most of my adult life I was a Republican, and at times subscribed to some of the same beliefs as the current leaders of the Religious Right that dominate my former party. To watch the events of this weekend, like so many others of the past couple of decades before, was mind-numbing.

313-1qRzQm.AuSt.55

Mike Huckabee. the Trinity of Evil Incarnate: Preacher, Pundit and Politician 

The establishment GOP wants the votes of the Christian Right and the Tea Party, however, despite that they really don’t want them running the party. The establishment wants to have it both ways. They want to look like the boring conservatives of the pre-Reagan and Gingrich eras but they need to capture the votes of a base that is anything but that. That is why I find the potential candidacies of Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney so amusing. Neither man can meet the ideological and religious litmus tests of the people who helped the GOP capture both the House and Senate and neither stands a bat’s chance in hell at winning the nomination, or if they do to secure the support of the base. In order to do that they would have to deny who they are, the true descendants of the less than ideological Republican Party of men like Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller and Gerald Ford. Men whose relatively moderate beliefs were swept away by the so called Reagan Revolution and Gingrich takeover of 1994.

Barry Goldwater - Preachers

But Barry Goldwater warned us about them. Goldwater said back in 1981:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

The situation reminds me of the movie Inherit the Wind, the fictional portrayal of the Scopes Monkey Trial. In the movie one of the most stalwart critics of evolution, the former Presidential Candidate and Preacher Matthew Brady played by Frederic March, who has helped lead the city where the trial is being held into an anti-secular fervor.  At the beginning of the trial he encourages the townspeople to attend a “prayer meeting.” The meeting becomes quite heated as the town’s preacher, Reverend Brown, played by Claude Akins, who has launched into a full assault on all that oppose Brady, and therefore God.

11124_4

Reverend Brown works himself into a frenzy, condemn the accused and all that would defend him, including his very own daughter:

“Oh, Lord of the tempest and the thunder, strike down this sinner, as thou did thine enemies of old in the days of the Pharaohs! Let him know the terror of thy sword! Let his soul, for all eternity, writhe in anguish and damnation!”

His daughter, who is engaged to the accused cries out: “No! No, Pa! Don’t pray to destroy Bert!”

Then the reverend utters words which remind me so much of what I heard in Iowa this weekend:

“Lord, we call down the same curse on those who ask grace for this sinner—though they be blood of my blood, and flesh of my flesh!”

Brady, not seeing just how he has brought this about stops the good Reverend Brown and tells him:

“it is possible to be overzealous, to destroy that which you hope to save — so that nothing is left but emptiness.” He then quotes from the book of Proverbs: “Remember the wisdom of Solomon in the book of Proverbs. “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”

To me this seems to be analogous to the current dilemma faced by the Republican Party. It has helped create, sustain and institutionalize a monster, and now seeing the danger doesn’t know what to do about it, and cannot admit its culpability in for it. Goldwater realized this in the earliest days of the movement which has consumed the Republican Party. The preachers have taken control and they will damn all who do not agree with them to destruction, even those of their own party.

The have been overzealous, and will continue to be so because like Matthew Brady they cannot acknowledge that their zeal may be misdirected and malevolent.

Like Reverend Brown, they are consumed by their hatred for a a non-believer, and they are willing to destroy the people closest to them to do so. I know this is true, because when I expressed doubt and did not tow the party line of my former church I was thrown out. Sadly, most of the men that I had previously counted as my closest friends abandoned or even condemned me.

vlcsnap-2010-06-30-01h19m56s22

My situation reminds me of a another exchange in the film between Brady and his opponent, Henry Drummond played by Spencer Tracy. Brady said: “Why is it, my old friend, that you’ve moved so far away from me?” 

To which Drummond replied: “All motion is relative, Matt. Maybe it’s you who’ve moved away by standing still.”

In standing still and condemning all who differ from their beliefs on any point, the preachers who now, in conduction with their business benefactors will indeed inherit the wind.

Ten years ago I could not have imagined this, but when I read the transcripts of many of the speakers fighting for the GOP leadership in Iowa this weekend it was yet another epiphany, in a series of epiphanies since I served in Iraq. The Iowa conference was a gathering of true believers, appealing to true believers. It was the proverbial self-licking ice cream cone with Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Steve King, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Rick Perry and the ever imbecilic Donald Trump leading the way. The Iowa meeting was more like the prayer meeting in Inherit the Wind than anything remotely connected with a normal American political meeting regardless of the party. Self congratulatory in denial the meeting was profound for its vapid rancor.

As far as me, watching this and all the other shenanigans of the Christian Right, I am sorry that I didn’t see it coming sooner. It took me until 2008 to realize that I really had not moved, but that the GOP moved, and continues to move away from me.

That is the scary part. Barry Goldwater was all too right in his analysis of those who have taken over the GOP. It is hard to believe that the only Republican bold enough to speak out against this takeover before it happened was the original “true conservative” of the GOP, a man whose 1964 campaign for President opened the door for their takeover of the party. Unlike those who attempted to claim his mantle including Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater really understood the danger of the genie that he let out of the bottle.

The irony is truly profound.

Peace

Padre Steve+

6 Comments

Filed under movies, News and current events, Political Commentary

Let’s Play Two: Rest in Peace Ernie Banks

ErnieBanksCartoon_iru49ivi_jhcbt1pt

Banks being welcomed into Heaven by Harry Carey and Ron Santo 

“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame… Let’s play two!” Ernie Banks

We lost yet another pioneer of baseball and civil rights, Ernie Banks, the first African American to play for the Chicago Cubs passed away at the age of 83.

ernie-banks

Banks was the quintessential “Happy Warrior.” His positive and upbeat view of life and baseball made him the most popular player in Cubs history and earned him the nicknames “Mr. Cub” and “Mr. Sunshine.” His happiness was legendary. His team mate and fellow Cubs’ great, Billy Williams was asked if Banks was really as happy as he appeared and Williams said:

“I always say, ‘That was Ernie. He was that way every day.’ He’s the most positive guy I ever met. He loved playing the game. Maybe it came from playing in the Negro Leagues, where they had so much fun with the game. I just know that Ernie loved being at the ballpark. He was as genuine as they get.”

He began playing ball in high school in Dallas, Texas, but it was softball as his school did not have a baseball team. He ended up being signed by Cool Papa Bell and played for the legendary Negro League Kansas City Monarchs, a time that was interrupted by two years of service in the Army. He returned to Kansas City and was scouted by the Cubs who brought him to the team in September 1953. I knew one of his teammates from the Monarchs, Carl Long who passed away just a week and a half ago. Like Banks, Long was an amazingly upbeat and positive man, beloved by his adopted one town of Kinston North Carolina.

ernie-banks-kansas-city-monarchs

Banks with Kansas City

When he came into professional baseball prejudice was still a big factor, even unconscious racism can be seen in the scouting report in the line of “nationality.” It lists Banks, not as simply “American,” but “Negro American.” The fact is that the Cubs were not the last to sign an African American, that dubious distinction went to the Boston Red Sox, who owner Tom Yawkey who refused to integrate the team until 1959, twelve years after Brooklyn brought up Jackie Robinson and six years after Banks reported to the Cubs.

B8FxdiaCUAAt9iV

Ernie Banks’ Scouting Report 

Race mattered. Banks grew up in Dallas Texas, then a hotbed of racial hatred, segregation and discrimination. He played in the Negro Leagues, and he served his country in an era when though Truman had desegregated the military, prejudice was still rife. But he overcame by his joy, between his attitude, the love that he spread to people, many little white boys, steeped in the prejudice of their parents, society and upbringing wanted to be Ernie Banks. He helped show white America that we could be one.

Yes, there is still far too much racism and prejudice in this country, but men like Ernie Bank, Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, Carl Long and so many others helped a lot of young boys learn just how wrong the racial attitudes and prejudice they had been taught was wrong, and should not be part of America.

Banks hit 512 home runs in a Major League Baseball career that lasted from 1953 until his retirement in 1971. The fourteen time All-Star was the first National League player to win the Most Valuable Player award consecutively when he did it in 1958 and 1959. He played 717 consecutive games at shortstop before a knee injury forced him to move to first base. He held the record for most home runs in a season as a short stop for decades, hitting 30 or more in six seasons at the position. His 277 home runs as a shortstop were the most for any player at the position until Cal Ripken passed him. Ripken retired with 345 playing at the position.

Despite his accomplishments he is one of the greats who never played in the post-season, or the World Series, which was his dream. But despite that he never lost his enthusiasm for the game. The story of how he got his legendary tag line “Let’s play two” is fascinating. He told the Houston Chronicle’s Richard Dean:

“It was about 105 degrees in Chicago, and that’s a time when everybody gets tired. I came into the clubhouse and everybody was sitting around and I said, ‘Beautiful day. Let’s play two!’ And everybody looked at me like I was crazy. There were a couple of writers around and they wrote that and it stayed with me.”

Banks was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, a fellow Chicagoan, in 2013.

barack-obama-ernie-banks

But he was a man of wisdom as well. He once said something that probably all of us, including me at times, can learn from: “You must try to generate happiness within yourself. If you aren’t happy in one place, chances are you won’t be happy anyplace.”

With that I wish you a wonderful Sunday.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, News and current events, civil rights

Heresy, Love, and Faith: My Journey

IMG_1915

I like hard questions and hard cases. My life has been quite interesting and that includes my faith journey as a Christian and human being. It is funny that in my life I have as I have grown older begun to appreciate those that do not believe and to rather distrust those who proclaim their religious faith with absolute certitude, especially when hard questions are asked.  I was reminded of this by an Orthodox Christian internet “troll” this week.

Paul Tillich once said “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.” 

I find it amusing when trolls come by to condemn my “heresy” and I realize that most have some kind of psychological need to be right, as well as a deep fear, despite their certitude, that they might be wrong, that causes them to do this.

I think that the quote by the late theologian is quite appropriate to me and the ministry that I find myself. I think it is a ministry pattern quite similar to Jesus in his dealings with the people during his earthly incarnate ministry.

Jesus was always hanging out with the outcasts, whether they be Jewish tax collectors collaborating with the Romans, lepers and other “unclean” types, Gentiles including the hated Roman occupiers, Samaritans and most dangerously, scandalous women. He seemed to reach out to these outcasts while often going out of his way to upset the religious establishment and the “true believers” of his day.

There is even one instance where a Centurion whose servant he healed was most likely involved in a homosexual relationship, based on the writer of the Gospel of Matthew’s use of the Greek word “Pais” which connotes a homosexual servant, instead of the more common “Doulos.” That account is the only time in the New Testament where that distinction is made, and Pais is used throughout Greek literature of the time to denote a homosexual slave or “house boy” relationship. Jesus was so successful at offending the profoundly orthodox of his day that his enemies made sure that they had him killed.

I think that what has brought me to this point is a combination of things but most importantly what happened to me in and after my tour in Iraq. Before I went to Iraq I was certain of about everything that I believed and was quite good at what we theologians and pastors call “apologetics.” My old Chaplain Assistant in the Army, who now recently serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Chaplain Corps called me a “Catholic Rush Limbaugh” back in 1997, and he meant it quite affectionately.

I was so good at it that I was silenced by a former Archbishop in my former church and banned from publishing for about 7 years after writing two articles for a very conservative Roman Catholic journal, the New Oxford Review.

The funny thing is that he, and a number of my closest friends from that denomination are either Roman Catholic priests or priests in the Anglican Ordinariate which came into communion with Rome a couple of years back. Ironically while being “too Catholic” was the reason I was forbidden to write it was because I questioned certain traditions and beliefs of the Church including that I believed that there was a role for women in the ordained ministry, that gays and lesbians could be “saved” and that not all Moslems were bad that got me thrown out in 2010.

However when I returned from Iraq in the midst of a full blown emotional, spiritual and physical collapse from PTSD that certitude disappeared. It took a while before I was able to rediscover faith and life and when I did it wasn’t the same. There was much more mystery to faith as well as reason. I came out of that period with much more empathy for those that either struggle with or reject faith. Thus I tend to hang out at bars and ball games more than church activities or socials, which I find absolutely tedious. I also have little use for clergy than in dysfunctional and broken systems that are rapidly being left behind. I am not speaking about belief here, but rather structure and methodology.

I think that if there is anything that God will judge the American versions of the Christian church is our absolute need for temporal power in the political, economic and social realms and the propagation of religious empires that only enrich the clergy which doing nothing for the least, the lost and the lonely. The fact that the fastest growing religious identification in the United States is is “none” or “no preference” is proof of that and that the vast amounts of money needed to sustain these narcissistic religious empires, the mega-churches and “Christian” television industry will be their undoing.  That along with their lack of care for anyone but themselves. Jesus said that his disciples would be known by their love for one another, not the size of their religious empire or temporal power.

The interesting thing is that today I have friends and colleagues that span the theological spectrum. Many of these men even if they do not agree with what I believe trust me to love and care for them, even when those most like them in terms of belief or doctrine, both religious and political treat them like crap. Likewise I attract a lot of people who at one time were either in ministry or preparing for it who were wounded in the process and gave up, even to the point of doubting God’s love and even existence. It is kind of a nice feeling to be there for people because they do not have to agree with me for me to be there for them.

In my darkest times my only spiritual readings were Father Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries which I began reading in Iraq to help me get through the nights in between missions in Iraq and through the nights when I returned from them.  In one of those books, the last of the series entitled “The Archbishop goes to Andalusia” the miscreant Auxiliary Bishop to the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago goes to Seville Spain.  In the novel Bishop Blackie makes a comment after celebrating Mass in the cathedral at Seville. He said “Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

That is something that I try to do now on a regular basis. Sure most of my sacramental encounters as a hospital chaplain do not occur during the liturgy, but often in the life and death moments and times of deep discouragement felt by the wounded, ill and injured. In that ministry I have found that there are many hurting people, people who like me question their faith and even long held beliefs.

I like the old song by Nazareth called Love Hurts. The song always gets me. It is one of those “real” songs from the 1960s and 1970s that nails how life can be sometimes.

Love hurts, love scars
Love wounds and mars
In any heart not tough
Nor strong enough
To take a lot of pain
To take a lot of pain
And love is like a cloud
Holds a lot of rain
Love hurts

I’m young and I know
But even so, I know a thing or two
I have learned from you
I’ve really learned a lot
I’ve really learned a lot
And love is like a stove
Burns you when it’s hot
Love hurts

Some fools rave of happiness
Of blissfulness, togetherness
Some fools fool themselves, I guess
But they’re not fooling me
I know it isn’t true
I know it isn’t true
Love is just a lie
Made to make you blue
Love hurts

Love does hurt, and well deciding to love can bring a lot of pain, but I do think that it is worth it. Well, that is all for tonight. Until tomorrow.

Blessings and Peace

Padre Steve+

Love Hurts lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, HOUSE OF BRYANT PUBLICATIONS

 

2 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith, LGBT issues, mental health, Military, ministry, Religion

“Our Army Would Be Invincible” Pt.2 Longstreet’s First Corps

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is the second part of my re-written chapter on the leadership of Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Today is a look at the leaders of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps. This like the following sections of this chapter of my Gettysburg text is interesting because it shows the complexities of the lives and personalities of the men leading these units. Professional soldiers, volunteers with little military experience, soldiers, lawyers, engineers and politicians they are an interesting collection of personalities; some surrounded in myth and others practically unknown. I think it is important for anyone studying a war, a campaign, or a battle to at least look at the lives of the men who planned and fought it. In doing so, even those that oppose what they did in rebelling against the United States can find in them some measure of humanity, and sometimes even gain a sense of empathy for some of them.   

That is why when we look at the lives of soldiers, we have to take the time to at least try to understand the nuance, the contradictions, their strengths and weaknesses as leaders, as well as a measure of their character.

In the coming week I will be doing Ewell’s Second Corps, A.P. Hill’s Third Corps, and Stuart’s Cavalry Division. I will then get to work on a similar chapter for the Army of the Potomac.

Have a great night

Peace

Padre Steve+

The First Corps, under Longstreet remained relatively intact, but now less the division of Major General Richard Anderson, which was transferred to the new Third Corps. The First Corps now had three divisions instead of four, commanded by Major General Lafayette McLaws, Major General John Bell Hood and Major General George Pickett. McLaws and Hood were both experienced division commanders who worked well under Longstreet, while Pickett had never commanded a division in battle.

LongstreetJ_main

James Longstreet

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.

While his academy performance was lacking, and he accumulated a significant amounts of demerits, the husky Georgian was well liked and made many lifelong friends in a class that produced ten Confederate and seven Union Generals during the war. His 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, and then served in Mexico getting his first taste of combat on the Rio Grande, then at Monterrey and then 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] he was wounded in the thigh, and he handed the colors to his friend George Pickett, who’s Company A was advancing behind Longstreet’s company.

After his wound had 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 and was assigned to 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, but he 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 and was promoted to Brigadier General on June 17th, given command of a brigade and 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 and 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 which in January 1862 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 and following the Seven Days was promoted to command a wing of the army, with Jackson commanding the other until the Confederate Congress allowed the creation of army corps and promoted each man to the Rank of Lieutenant General. One of Lee’s biographers wrote of the contrast between Jackson and Longstreet:

“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, which was not uncommon. Longstreet could be, and was, blunt with Lee, and Lee “was a strong enough personality to bear the presence of a contrarian,” [12] and Longstreet could indeed be a contrarian. Even so he was a trusted subordinate and Longstreet 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]

Lafayette_McLaws

McLaws’ Division

Longstreet’s senior division commander was McLaws, a career soldier who had served in the old army. He was an 1842 graduate of West Point and friend and classmate of Longstreet. McLaws served in the infantry after graduation and took part in the Mexican War, first in the defensive battle on the Rio Grande, then at Monterrey and at Vera Cruz. Suffering illness he was sent back to recruiting duty in New York and finally rejoined his regiment after the fall of Mexico City.

After Mexico McLaws served in a variety of posts and capacities in Missouri, New Mexico, and Arkansas. He was promoted to Captain in August 1851. As war neared he could see the country beginning to unravel. Typical of many U.A. Army officers from the South he was not an ardent secessionist and his thoughts were pragmatic concerning the issue of slavery. His diary entry for February 27th 1860 noted:

“Debates in congress show no mitigation od sec. feeling…. I think it would be better not to be so fanatical on any subject, the extreme pro-slavery man is as bad as that type as that type of anti-slavery, John Brown. I do not consider slavery an evil by any means, but I certainly do not think it the greatest blessing.” [16]

Throughout 1860 and 1861 McLaws continued to serve in expeditions to Utah and against the Navajo where he commanded a detachment of five companies, three of infantry and two of mounted infantry. When the Navajo expedition terminated and his regimental commander learned of the secession proceedings in Georgia he gave McLaws a leave of absence. Once in Georgia he submitted his resignation which was accepted and approved by the Army on March 23rd 1861. He was appointed as a major and reporting to Virginia was assigned to command the 10th Georgia regiment. Thanks to his early dedication to ensure that it was well trained and led, the regiment went on to great fame and distinction during the war.

He was involved in the construction of the Confederate defenses at Yorktown and Williamsburg and appointed as a Brigadier General in September 1861and led the defense of those lines against McClellan garnering him a promotion to Major General and command of a division in May of 1862.

McLaws was “a capable soldier without flair, who steady performance never produced a high moment. His reliability and dogged tenacity rubbed off on his men, however, and made them as hard to dislodge as any in the army.” [17]

McLaws put together a solid record as a division commander. The division was composed of two Georgia one South Carolina and one Mississippi brigade which he led for two years. During his time in command his exceptional care for the welfare of his men had endeared him to them. He and his division were excellent in the defense, and McLaws was very deliberate “but his attention to his men made him and his division a reliable command.” [18]

Porter Alexander noted that in the defense “McLaws was about the best in the army…being very painstaking about details, & having an eye for good ground.” [19] But there was a drawback, for all of his solidness and fortitude “he lacked a military imagination,” and was “best when told exactly what to do and closely supervised by superiors.” [20] His division was typical of many in First Corps, “outstanding on defense and led by a competent soldier, they were thoroughly dependable. With the reliance of old pro’s, they did what they were told, stood up under heavy casualties, and produced tremendous firepower.” [21]

Unlike many other divisions where brigade leaders were a mix of former officers from the old army as well as volunteers “none of the brigadiers who commanded McLaws’s brigades for extended periods – Semmes, Wofford, Kershaw, and Barksdale – had training or experience as a professional soldier” Most divisions averaged a mix of about half professional officers and half amateurs, often of mixed quality. That being said “no other division operated for any extended period with all-amateur leadership at the brigade level.” The fact that men like James Longstreet and Robert E. Lee demonstrated such confidence in the unit testifies to McLaws’ leadership abilities and accomplishment in welding “the four headstrong brigade commanders into an effective infantry division….” [22]

Kershaw

Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw was a lawyer and politician he had served in Mexico with the Palmetto Regiment. He volunteered for service when South Carolina succeeded and served at Fort Sumter. He had excelled as commander of the 2nd South Carolina and was promoted to command a brigade. As a brigade commander he distinguished himself during the Seven Days, Antietam and Fredericksburg. He displayed an almost natural ability for “quick and rational decisions, and he never endangered his men rashly. McLaws had complete faith in him and his brigade…” [23]

Semmes

Brigadier General Paul Semmes was a banker and plantation owner from Georgia. He was the brother of the Confederacy’s most famous naval commander, Captain Raphael Semmes, who commanded the Raider C.S.S. Alabama. Semmes too was not a professional soldier. However, he “was well known in Georgia as a man both of military tastes & accomplishments before the war & though of no military education he was one of the first generals created.” [24] He commanded the 2nd Georgia Regiment and by 1862 was in command of McLaws’ old brigade. He led with that brigade distinction during the Seven Days, Antietam and at Chancellorsville. By Gettysburg Semmes “had proved himself a worthy and capable brigadier.” [25] Porter Alexander wrote of him “it is due to say that there was never a braver or a better.” [26]

Barksdale

Brigadier General William Barksdale was a Mississippi lawyer, newspaper editor and politician. Barksdale had served in Mexico as a quartermaster, but did though an administrator, he did not shy away from battle and “frequently appeared at the front during heavy fighting, often coatless and carrying a large sword.” [27] While most Confederate officers supported and defended the institution of slavery, Barksdale was one of the few generals who had been “violently pro-slavery and secessionist” [28] before the war.

As a Congressman Barksdale was involved in the altercation when Representative Preston Brooks nearly killed Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber. During that brawl Representative Elihu Washburne of Illinois landed a blow on Barksdale that sent Barksdale and his previously unsuspected wig flying. Someone snatched the wig from the floor and “waved it about like a captured flag.” When Barksdale finally recaptured the hairpiece he “and plopped it on his head wrong side out, the absurdity of the scene giving the combatants pause.” [29] As the scrum broke up Barksdale was left “sputtering about his shame.” [30]

At the outbreak of the war Barksdale volunteered for service and took command of a brigade at Malvern Hill. At Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville he and his Mississippi brigade were in the thick of the fight. “He possessed a “thirst for battle glory” wrote one Mississippian….Inspiring by example, Barksdale was a leader who dared to go where many other high-ranking officers would not go in a crisis situation.” [31] He had a strong bond with his soldiers which made them willing to follow him anywhere.

Wofford

Brigadier General William Wofford was the newest of McLaws’ brigade commanders. Wofford was a Georgia newspaper owner and lawyer who had done a great deal of fighting in the Mexican War, where he commanded a company despite having no military education. Wofford was considered a man of “high morale bearing…of the strictest sobriety, and, indeed of irreproachable moral character.” [32] Demonstrating the tensions of the day Wofford was a “staunch Unionist Democrat” who “opposed secession and voted against it at the Georgia secession convention.” [33]

Despite his opposition to secession, Wofford, like others volunteered for service and was “elected colonel of the first Georgia regiment to volunteer for the war.” [34] That being said Wofford “was a decided Union man from first to last during the whole war” and saw “with exceptional prescience…the certain fatality” of secession, but once the deed was done, he closed ranks…” [35] Wofford served well as the regimental commander of the 18th Georgia and acting brigade commander during the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg. Now able and experienced the Georgia Unionist was promoted to the brigadier general and given command of the brigade of Thomas Cobb who had been mortally wounded at Fredericksburg in January 1863.

Lt._Gen._John_B._Hood

Hood’s Division

Major General John Bell Hood was an 1853 graduate of West Point and had served as a cavalry officer under Lee’s command with the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in Texas. Physically imposing “Hood stood six feet, two inches and had a powerful chest and a giant’s shoulders.” [36] He gained a stellar reputation as a leader and Indian fighter while serving in the U.S. Army. When his home state of Kentucky did not secede he attached himself to his adopted state of Texas. He began the war as a lieutenant but soon was given the task of forming Texas in Virginia into a fighting regiment. By 1862 Hood was a Brigadier General commanding the only Texas brigade in the east. He took temporary command of a division during the reorganization of the army that followed the Seven Days.

Over the course of the next year he had built a “combat record unequalled by any in the army at his level.” [37] And the “reputation gained as commander of the Texas Brigade and as a division commander made him both a valuable general officer and a celebrity who transcended his peers.” [38] After his performance at Antietam Lee worked the personnel system to get Hood promoted to Major General and assigned to command of an enlarged division which he would command at Gettysburg. Lee wrote of him “Hood is a good fighter, very industrious on the battle field, careless off, & I have had no opportunity of judging his action, when the whole responsibility rested on him. I have a high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness & zeal.” [39]

After Gettysburg Hood went on to succeed Joseph E. Johnston in Georgia as an army commander and attempting to be too aggressive saw his army shattered at the Battles of Franklin and Nashville. As good of Brigade and division commander as he was under the direction of Longstreet, Hood was out of his league as an Army commander. John B. Gordon, as judicious of judge of command ability of any on the Confederate side noted:

“To say he was as brave and dashing as any officer of any age would be the merest commonplace tribute to such a man; but courage and dash are not the only or even the prime requisites of the commander of a great army.” [40]

Hood’s brigade commanders were as solid as group as any in the army.

Law

Brigadier General Evander Law was a graduate of the South Carolina Military Academy, now known as the Citadel. He served as a professor in various military colleges and schools before the war. He served admirably as a regiment and brigade commander during the Seven Days, Second Manassas, and Antietam and was promoted to brigadier general in October 1862 just prior to Fredericksburg. After Chancellorsville he was the senior brigadier in Hood’s division. He had “military training, youth, dash ability and familiarity with his men- a formidable package in combat.” [41]

“Tige” Anderson

Brigadier General George “Tige” Anderson was a Georgian who had served in Mexico as a lieutenant of Georgia cavalry and in 1865 was commissioned as a captain in the Regular cavalry, but resigned after three years. He had no formal military training but was considered a capable officer. He was present at most of the major battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia but in most cases his brigade had not been heavily engaged and had “little chance to distinguish himself” but he was loved by his soldiers. One wrote that he “stands up for us like a father” while another wrote “He is always at his post.” [42]

Robertson

Hood’s old Texas Brigade was commanded by Brigadier General Jerome Robertson. At the age of forty-eight he had served with Sam Houston in the Texas War for Independence and later took time off to serve fighting Indians. He practiced medicine in Texas and in 1861 was a pro-secession delegate to the Texas secession convention. He was commissioned as a Captain and promoted to Colonel of the 5th Texas just prior to the Seven Days and led that unit to fame. He was promoted after Antietam to command the Texas Brigade. Away from most of the action at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville he would have his first combat experience as a brigade commander at Gettysburg.

Benning

Brigadier General Henry Benning was a lawyer and Georgia Supreme Court justice. While not having any military training or experience he was “known to all as a man of the highest integrity, and he was compared in character to that earlier champion of the South, John Calhoun. He was one of the most industrious and capable men in the Confederacy.” [43] Unlike other Confederate political leaders he favored a strong central government for the new South. He was considered a prime candidate for a cabinet post but had already decided to serve in the new army and helped organize the 17th Georgia Infantry. As a regiment commander and acting brigade commander at Antietam, his brigade had held off Burnside’s corps at the Burnside Bridge and became known as “Old Rock” [44]and was a “proven commander” who “provided strong leadership and bolstered the confidence of the men under him.” [45]

GeorgePickett

Pickett’s Division

Major General George Pickett had commanded his division for some time, but he “had never led his division in combat.” [46] Likewise the brigades of his division had not fought together in a major engagement, and the division was new to fighting as a part of First Corps. The campaign would also be Pickett’s first offensive campaign as a division commander.

Pickett was an 1846 graduate of West Point who though well liked “showed evidence of a meager intellect and aversion to hard work.” [47] He graduated last in his class and was assigned to the infantry. During the Mexican War Pickett distinguished himself by his gallantry at Chapultepec where he served under command of James Longstreet. As the battle raged Longstreet was wounded. Pickett retrieved the unit colors from Longstreet and as the latter looked on Pickett “carried them over the wall.[48] The act made him famous.

After Mexico his career was typical of many other officers. When southern states began to secede Pickett was in the Pacific Northwest where he had very nearly helped bring the United States and Britain to the brink of war. Pickett opposed secession, not because he did not believe states had the right to secede “but as gravely questioning its expediency.” [49] However, loyalty to his home state was too much and Pickett resigned his commission and returned to Virginia in the summer of 1861.

Pickett was commissioned as a Captain and soon was promoted to Colonel, and as a protégé of Longstreet was promoted to Brigadier General in February 1862 and was given command of a unit known as the Game Cock Brigade, consisting of the 8th, 18th, 19th and 28th Virginia Infantry regiments which he commanded at the Battle of Williamsburg, Seven Pines and Gaines’ Mill where he was wounded.

After he recovered he was appointed to command a newly formed division of four brigades built around his “Game Cocks.” It was Longstreet who through his influence with Lee again “had been instrumental in Pickett’s appointment to divisional command.” [50] But even without that Pickett had “established a reputation as a courageous and hard-driving, if rather impetuous, combat leader able to employ his troops to advantage against great odds.” [51] Though Pickett was “untried at his new rank, but had been an excellent brigade leader and with Longstreet’s full support was apt to direct with wisdom his larger force.” [52]

Pickett’s division only had three of his five brigades at Gettysburg. Two were commanded by old Regular officer’s Richard Garnett and Lewis Armistead, and the third by James Kemper.

Kemper

Brigadier General James Kemper was the only non-professional soldier of the three brigade commanders. Kemper had been a captain of volunteers in the Mexican War, but that war ended before he could see action. He was a politician who had served twice as Virginia’s Speaker of the House and “was another of those civilian leaders who, accustomed to authority, translated their gifts to command in the field.” [53] During his time as a legislator Kemper had served as “chairman of the Military Affairs Committee in the years before the Civil War, and insisted on a high level of military preparedness.” [54] Kemper served as commander of the 7th Virginia Regiment and was promoted to brigadier general after Seven Pines and commanded the brigade at Second Manassas and Antietam. He was “very determined and was respected by brother officers for solid qualities and sound judgment.” [55]

Garnett

Brigadier Richard Garnett came to his command and to Gettysburg under a cloud. He was a West Point graduate, class of 1841who strong Unionist, but who had resigned his commission in the Regular Army because he “felt it an imperative duty to sacrifice everything in support of his native state in her time of trial.” [56] Garnett had run afoul of Jackson while commanding the Stonewall Brigade and during the Valley campaign had been relieved of command and arrested by Jackson for ordering a retreat without Jackson’s permission. Garnett had been “humiliated by accusations of cowardice” [57] and demanded a court-martial which never was held as Lee transferred him away from Jackson to Pickett’s division. Gettysburg offered him “his first real opportunity with Pickett’s division to clear his honor as a gentleman and a soldier.” [58]

Armistead

Pickett’s last brigade was commanded by an old Regular, and longtime friend and comrade of Garnett, Brigadier General Lewis Armistead. He was expelled from West Point and later was commissioned directly into the infantry in 1839. He fought in the Mexican War where he received two brevet promotions for gallantry and was wounded at Chapultepec. Like Garnett Armistead resigned his commission in 1861 to serve in the Confederate army where he took command of the 57th Virginia Infantry and shortly thereafter was promoted to Brigadier General. He held brigade command and served Provost Marshal during Lee’s 1862 invasion of Maryland. He had seen little action since Second Manassas, but was known for “his toughness, sound judgment and great personal courage.” [59]

Notes

[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] Oefinger, John C. Editor A Soldier’s General: The Civil War Letters of Major general Lafayette McLaws University of North Carolina Press, Charlotte and London 2002 p.18

[17] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition pp.208-209

[18] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.209

[19] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.170

[20] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.209

[21] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.176

[22] Ibid. Oefinger A Soldier’s General p.27

[23] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.214

[24] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.80

[25] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.217

[26] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.80

[27] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg pp.217-218

[28] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.217

[29] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.144

[30] Freehling, William. The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2007 p.140

[31] Tucker, Phillip Thomas. Barksdale’s Charge: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2nd, 1863 Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia and Oxford 2013 p.18

[32] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.296

[33] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.221

[34] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.297

[35] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.296-297

[36] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.35

[37] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.224

[38] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.161

[39] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.219

[40] Ibid. Girardi The Civil War Generals p.219

[41] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.228

[42] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.230

[43] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.234

[44] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.430

[45] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.235

[46] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.12

[47] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.237

[48] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.45

[49] Longacre, Edward G. Pickett: Leader of the Charge White Mane Publishing Company, Shippensburg PA 1995 p.51

[50] Wert, Jeffery D. Gettysburg Day Three A Touchstone Book, New York 2001 p.110

[51] Ibid. Longacre Pickett p.92

[52] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.385

[53] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.268

[54] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.241

[55] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.269

[56] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.269

[57] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.379

[58] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.270

[59] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.244

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, History, leadership, Military

The Wannabe Inquisitors: Christian Trolls

dyer-hanging1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Just a short post today, I have spent most of the day over at the Naval Medical Center, getting my initial evaluation for Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussive Syndrome and new hearing aids to help with Tinnitus and speech processing disorder.

But, another day, another religious troll. This one not the typical Evangelical, or even more traditionalist Roman or conservative Catholic type. This one claimed to be Eastern Orthodox and had to bluntly confront me on my heresy. Of course that had to do with women clergy and homosexuals, which seem to be for many of these guys, and for that matter all of my trolls have been guys, the big issue is that they always focus on these things when calling me a heretic. They never call me a heretic for the things that the Church Fathers all condemned as heretical, like my very orthodox doctrine of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Nor can they say that any of my beliefs conflict with the Creeds or Councils, or are not enunciated by at least some of the Church Fathers. Instead they jump on women in ministry and gays.

My personal feeling is that thought they cloak their reasons in their theology is the fact that they cannot handle women in any kind of authority position and that, and the issue of homosexuality makes them question their own manhood, or possibly lack thereof. I love what Barbara Tuchman wrote about male theologians. “Theology being the work of males, original sin was traced to the female.” That really is why male dominated, and often mysoginistic religions reject women as priests, bishops, ministers, Imams, or Rabbis.

After a couple of exchanges this gentleman referred to the statement that the “Orthodox Church IS the Church, is true and correct in EVERYTHING it teaches….” (His emphasis)

Such appeals to absolute truth being contained in any one religion or denomination neither impress or frighten me. I went through that stage of faith, and frankly it’s a free country. I know lots of other people  that would disagree with the man, including the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church which still holds its 1054 excommunication of the Orthodox as binding, despite the good intentions of Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis. But if such certitude comforts this man, good on him.

What I don’t understand though is how this man and others like him have a compulsive need to troll the internet, find someone that they find lacking, call them a heretic and get upset when the person that they assaulted takes umbrage. I don’t get that. I have no need to go to anyone’s site just to tell them how wrong I think that are. But then maybe such people do this because they lack the official backing of the government to enforce their religious beliefs on others.

I have a live and let live attitude. I don’t think that anyone or any church, denomination, sect or religion has a monopoly on truth. I quite agree with the late Father Henri Nouwen who said:

“Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.”

I no longer make absolute truth claims. I believe, but I doubt and question, some days more the latter than the former. So when people like this come at me I try not to waste much time on them, though I did defend myself. This man proved again Eric Hoffer’s magnificent thoughts:

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

The good thing is that in this country, men like this are unable to enforce their doctrine on other citizens through the police power of the government. Such as the case in Russia where Vladimir Putin’s crusades against women, the LGBT community as well as other smaller Christian denominations and Jews are rooted in the state religion of Russian Orthodoxy. This is a fact and it is a reminder that such people and such systems do exist, and if they ever, in whatever form gained control of the government in this country they would do the same. We see this at the state level where a number of states are attempting to establish Christianity as the State religion, or at the minimum give Christianity precedence over any other religion.

These Wannabe American inquisitors love Putin, and many actually go to Russia to cheer on his actions.

Hopefully things never come to that here. But you never know. As Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) said in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode The Drumhead:

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

2 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith, Military, News and current events, Religion

Our Army Would be Invincible if…” Confederate Leadership Pt.1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is the first part of a chapter that I am revising for my Gettysburg text. It deals with the problems faced by Robert E. Lee as he attempted to reorganize the Army of Northern Virginia following his victory at Chancellorsville and the death of Stonewall Jackson. 

Over the next few days I will be posting sections on each of the Confederate army corps and J.E.B. Stuart’s Cavalry Division. The later sections will be largely biographic sketches of the leaders of the Confederate Corps, Divisions and Brigades. Eventually I will have a similar chapter on the leadership of the Army of the Potomac.

Have a great night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+  

Lee1

General Robert E. Lee C.S.A.

An issue faced by armies that are forced to expand to meet the demands of war is the promotion and selection of competent leaders at all levels of command. It has been an issue throughout American military history including during our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The expansion of forces, the creation of new units, combined with the operational demands to employ those units often creates a leadership vacuum that must be filled. Sometimes this results in officers being promoted, being given field command or critical senior staff positions, who have critical deficiencies of leadership, character, intellect, experience or lack the necessary skill sets to do the job.

We may not see this as often in a long term professional military which has been at war for a significant amount of time, but during the Civil War it was something that both sides had to wrestle with, even for high level commanders. The nature of the armies involved, the high proportion of volunteer officers and political appointees coupled with the dearth of officers who had commanded anything larger than a company or widely scattered regiment made this a necessary evil.

To be fair, some officers of limited experience or training do rise to the occasion and perform in an exemplary manner. Others do not. Those leaders that do not are quite often weeded out over the course of time but often not before their lack of experience, or incompetence proves disastrous on the battlefield. As Barbara Tuchman so eloquently put it:

“When the moment of live ammunition approaches, the moment to which all his professional training has been directed, when the lives of the men under him, the issue of the combat, even the fate of a campaign may depend upon his decision at a given moment, what happens inside the heart and vitals of a commander? Some are made bold by the moment, some irresolute, some carefully judicious, some paralyzed and powerless to act.” [1]

Of course the selection of competent and experienced leaders is essential to the planning and execution of all aspects of Joint Planning and Mission Command, as is the proper supervision and command and control on the battlefield. As was noted in Infantry in Battle:

“Of course, a leader cannot be everywhere, but he can and should weigh the capabilities and limitations of his subordinates, determine the critical point or time of the action, and lend the weight and authority of personal supervision where it is most needed.” [2]

The Death of Stonewall Jackson and the Reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia

Stonewall_Jackson

Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson C.S.A

Stonewall Jackson was dead, and with his death after the Pyrrhic victory at Chancellorsville, General Robert E. Lee was faced with the necessity of reorganizing the Army of Northern Virginia. Jackson’s loss was disastrous for Lee, for he lost the one man who understood him and his method of command more than anyone, someone for whom he had a deep and abiding affection. Months before Jackson’s death Lee said of him: “Such an executive officer the sun has never shown on, I have but to show him my design, and I know that it if it can be done it will be done.” [3]

Jackson’s loss loomed large over the Army and the Confederate nation. Jefferson Davis told his wife Varina at Jackson’s funeral “saw a tear escape her husband’s eye and land on Jackson’s face. “You must excuse me,” Davis said later after silently ignoring a fellow mourner’s conversation. “I am still staggered from such a dreadful blow. I cannot think.” [4] Davis telegraphed Lee and described Jackson’s death “A great national calamity has befallen us.” [5] Lee was devastated, but stoic. When he told his Chief of artillery, Brigadier General William Pendleton of Jackson’s death he wept. Lee told his son Custis “It is a terrible loss. I do not know how to replace him. Any victory would be dear at such a cost. But God’s will be done.” [6]

Jackson’s loss was felt throughout the Confederacy, and not just from a military point of view. Southerners saw the war “as a spiritual and religious crusade, a test of the superiority of their devoutness and culture.” [7] As such victory was seen as part of God’s blessing and defeat or loss of Divine punishment. Jackson was a part of that, his legendary piety, valor and success on the battlefield had imbued the spiritual dimension of the Confederate cause with proof of God’s favor. He had been sent by God, and even in death his memory inspired Confederates, one poet “described Jackson as the Confederate Moses who would not get to the Promised Land” [8] although others most certainly would. In a war where death had become more pervasive and affected almost everyone in the South in a personal way, through the loss of family, friends, or home it was easy to lose sight of “basic values and transcending causes. Jackson’s death brought those values and causes to the fore. To what end remained unclear. The certitude of a holy cause that greeted the war’s onset slid into doubt….” [9] After the war soldiers, journalists and civilians pointed to Jackson’s death as “a premonition of their coming defeat.” One wrote “The melancholy news affected the Confederates in the same way that various omens predicted, before Troy could be captured affected the city’s defenders.” [10]

A forlorn Southern woman wrote: “He was the nation’s idol, not a breath even from a foe has ever been breathed against his fame. His very enemies reverenced him. God has taken him away from us that we may lean more upon Him, feel that he can raise up to Himself instruments to work His Divine Will.” [11] An officer in the Army of Northern Virginia wrote: “One of the greatest heroes of the war has been called from us by an all-wise Providence, no doubt as a punishment for ascribing to a mere man praises due to God for giving us Jackson with the virtues and talents he possessed.” [12] Seeing Jackson’s death in light of the defeat at Gettysburg and other major Confederate reverses in the summer of 1863 Virginia Presbyterians decided that Jackson’s “Untimely” death marked a “further chastisement for sins, especially ingratitude, pride, and dependency on an arm of the flesh.” [13]

After Jackson’s loss Lee said “I had such implicit confidence in Jackson’s skill and energy that I never troubled myself to give him detailed instructions. The most general suggestions were all that he needed.” [14] Lee met the loss with “resignation and deep perplexity,” his words displayed that sense of loss, as well as his sense of faith and trust in God’s providence “I know not how to replace him. God’s will be done. I trust He will raise someone up in his place…” [15] In losing Jackson Lee lost a commander who had the ability to make his most imaginative plans come to life and find fulfillment and despite his efforts he never succeeded in finding a suitable replacement. Jackson was not a great tactician, but unlike any other Confederate commander he could implement Lee’s plans through his:

“single-mindedness of purpose, his unbending devotion to duty, his relentlessness as a foe, and his burning desire at whatever cost, for victory….He possessed an unmatched ability to impose his will on recalcitrant subordinates and on his enemies.” [16]

In addition to the loss of Jackson, Lee was desperately short of qualified senior and mid-level officers and Lee “understood how the diminishing numbers of quality officers impacted the army’s effectiveness.” [17] The problem was serious throughout the army, even though Lee had been victories in many battles, was that it suffered badly from high casualty counts, not just in the aggregate number of troops lost, but in leaders. “From the Seven Days to Chancellorsville, few if any regiments had not lost multiple field grade officers. Casualties among colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors surpassed 300 in total in all of the engagements.” [18]

A major part of Lee’s problem was organizational. In 1862 Lee inherited an army that was a “hodgepodge of forces” [19] which was organized in an “unwieldy divisional command system, where green commanders out of necessity were given considerable independence.” [20] That organization was tested and found wanting during the Seven Days campaign where on numerous occasions division commanders failed to coordinate their actions with those of adjacent divisions or failed to effectively control their own troops during movement to contact or combat.

Shortly after the Seven Days Lee reorganized the army, working with the material that he had. He divided the army into two wings since “Confederate law still did not allow for corps commands” [21] under Jackson and James Longstreet. Each wing was composed of four divisions and consisted of about 30,000 troops apiece. Both would be appointed Lieutenant Generals and their command’s recognized officially as the First Corps and the Second Corps in October 1862. These were massive forces, each nearly three times the size of a Union Corps in the Army of the Potomac.

While both Longstreet and Jackson were technically equals, and Longstreet Jackson’s senior by one day, it was Jackson to whom Lee relied on for the most daring tasks, and whom he truly considered his closest confidant and his “executive officer.” The relationship between Lee and Jackson was one of the most remarkable collaborations in military history and Lee owed much of his battlefield success to Jackson, and as J.F.C Fuller wrote: “Without Jackson, Lee was a one armed pugilist. Jackson possessed that brutality essential in war; Lee did not” [22]

The organization worked well at Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, although Longstreet’s corps was detached from the army at the time of the latter. When Jackson was wounded at Chancellorsville on the first night of that battle neither A.P. Hill nor J.E.B. Stuart were able effectively commanded Second Corps during the remainder of the battle.

The temperament and personalities of Longstreet and Jackson served to balance each other, and each enjoyed the trust of Lee. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda calls them the:

“yin and yang of subordinates. Jackson was superb at guessing from a few words exactly what Lee wanted done, and setting out to do it immediately without argument or further instructions; Longstreet was as good a soldier, but he was an instinctive contrarian and stubbornly insisted on making Lee think twice, and to separate what was possible from what was not.” [23]

Both men had been instrumental to Lee’s battlefield success and both played indispensable roles in Lee’s ability to command the army.

Likewise, the sheer size of Lee’s formations posed problems both in moment and combat, as Lee noted “Some of our divisions exceed the army Genl Scott entered Mexico with, & our brigades are larger than divisions”…that created stupendous headaches in “causing orders & req[uisitions] to be obeyed.” [24] Lee wrote to Jefferson Davis on May 20th “I have for the past year felt that the corps of the army were too large for one commander. Nothing prevented my proposing to you to reduce their size and increase their number but my inability to recommend commanders.” [25]

In the hands of Longstreet and Jackson these massive corps were in the good hands of leaders who could effectively handle them, “but in anyone else’s hands, a corps the size of Jackson’s or Longstreet’s might prove so big as to become clumsy, or even worse, might call for a degree of micromanagement that Lee and his diminutive staff might not be able to deliver.” [26] Lee recognized this and did not try to replace Jackson. Instead he wrote Jefferson Davis and explained the reasons for creating a new corps:

“Each corps contains in fighting condition about 30,000 men. These are more than one man can handle & keep under his eye in battle….They are always beyond the range and vision & frequently beyond his reach. The loss of Jackson from the command of one half of the army seems to me a good opportunity to remedy this evil.” [27]

Instead of appointing one man to command Second Corps, Lee reorganized the army and created two corps from it. He stripped a division of Longstreet’s First Corps, that of Richard Anderson, to join the new Third Corps. He also divided the large “Light” Division, which under Hill’s “intelligent administration probably is the best in the army” [28] into two divisions, one commanded by Dorsey Pender and the other by Harry Heth.

The problem for Lee was just who to place in command of the new corps and divisions that he was creating. Lee was deeply aware of this problem, and wrote to John Bell Hood that the army would be “invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. There never were such men in an Army before. The will go anywhere and do anything if properly led. But there is the difficulty-proper commanders- where can they be obtained?” [29] Lee sought the best commanders possible for his army, but the lack of depth in the ranks of season, experienced commanders, as well as the need to placate political leaders made some choices necessary evils.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Tuchman, Barbara The Guns of August Ballantine Books, New York 1962 Amazon Kindle edition location 2946

[2] _________. Infantry In Battle The Infantry Journal Incorporated, Washington DC 1939, reprinted by the USACGSC with the permission of the Association of the United States Army p.195

[3] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.128

[4] Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour Harper Collins Publishers New York 1991 p.501

[5] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.524

[6] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.208

[7] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.235

[8] Rable, George C. God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2010 p.261

 

[9] Goldfield, David. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York 2011 p.279

[10] Royster, Charles The destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans Alfred A. Knopf, New York 1991 p.227

[11] Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2008 p.255

[12] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.236

[13] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.261

[14] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.30

[15] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s p.524

[16] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.209

[17] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.217

[18] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.217

[19] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.30

[20] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.110

[21] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee p.157

[22] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957

[23] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.527

[24] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 pp.20-21

[25] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.248

[26] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.20-21

[27] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.289

[28] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.35

[29] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.12

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, History, leadership, Military