Daily Archives: March 8, 2015

A Fight the likes the World Had Never Seen: The Clash of the Ironclads

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today marks the 153rd anniversary of an event which changed naval warfare forever. It was a watershed event which ended the reign of the great wooden ships which plied the oceans of the world under massive fields of canvas sails. 

It took place just a few miles from my office, if it happened today I would certainly be able to watch it from the fourth floor of the Staff College. 

On that day, two very strange looking ships joined in battle. This is the story of the Battle of Hanpton Roads and the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

On the morning of March 8th 1862 the CSS Virginia steamed slowly from her base at Portsmouth Virginia into Hampton Roads at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Awaiting her was a US Navy squadron of wooden warships including the steam Frigate USS Minnesota, the Sloop of War USS Cumberland and Frigate USS Congress and a number of smaller vessels. The Virginia was an armored ram built from the salvaged remains of the large steam frigate USS Merrimack which had been burned at Gosport (Now Norfolk) Naval Shipyard. Her plans had been leaked to the US Navy which was also in the process of constructing a number of ironclad ships of different types. The first of these ships to be ready was the USS Monitor, a small ship mounting a single heavily armored turret mounting two powerful 11” Dalghren smoothbore guns was still steaming to Hampton Roads when Virginia came out for battle.

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During the ensuing fight of March 8th Virginia rammed and sank Cumberland which though fatally wounded disabled two of Virginia’s 9” in guns. She destroyed Congress by gunfire which burned and blew up and appeared to be in position to destroy Minnesota the following day as that ship had run hard aground. The losses aboard Cumberland and Congress were severe and included the Captain of the Congress and Chaplain John L. Lenhart of Cumberland, the first US Navy Chaplain to die in battle. During the battle Virginia had several men wounded including her Captain Franklin Buchanan.

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Due to the coming of darkness and a falling tide the acting commander of Virginia, Lieutenant Catsby Ap Roger Jones her executive officer took her in for the night. During the night Monitor, under the command of Lieutenant John Worden arrived and took up station to defend Minnesota.

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The next morning Virginia again ventured out and was intercepted by the Monitor. The ships fought for over three hours, with Monitor using her superior speed and maneuverability to great effect. During the battle Monitor suffered a hit on her small pilothouse near her bow blinding her Captain. Monitor’s executive officer, Lieutenant Dana Greene, the son of Union Brigadier General George Sears Greene, the hero of Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg took command. Neither side suffered much damage but the smokestack of Virginia was pierced in several places affecting her already poor engine performance.  Jones broke off the action and returned to Gosport for repairs and Monitor remained on station.

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The battle showed the world the vulnerability of wooden warships against the new ironclads. Monitor in particular revolutionized naval warfare and warship construction. Her defining mark was the use of the armored gun turret which over the succeeding decades became the standard manner for large ships guns to be mounted. Turrets like the warships they were mounted upon grew in size and power reaching their apex during the Second World War.

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Both Virginia and Monitor reached less than glorious ends. Virginia had to be destroyed by her crew to prevent her capture just over two months after the battle on May 11th 1862. Monitor survived until January 31st 1862 when she sank during a heavy storm off Cape Hatteras North Carolina with the loss of 16 of her 62 man crew. The remains of two of those men, recovered during the salvage of Monitor’s engines, turret, guns and anchor were interred at Arlington National Cemetery on March 8th 2012. The relics from Monitor and some from Virginia are displayed at the Mariners Museum in Newport News (http://www.marinersmuseum.org )while one of Virginia’s anchors resides on the lawn of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.

Those early ironclads and the brave men who served aboard them revolutionized naval warfare and their work should never be forgotten.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Anti-Liberty Religious Liberty

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“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” Thomas Jefferson

While I am a historian and should know better, I am amazed to see many American Christians doing all they can in the name of protecting their Religious Liberty to deny rights to those that they disapprove. I shouldn’t be surprised, Thomas Jefferson wrote of what happens when preachers and priests lead political movements. James Madison, who crafted the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment wrote:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

Currently this is the case with the Republican Party, a party which I remind you that I belonged for over three decades, beginning with my work for the Ford campaign as a high school student. I left the GOP in 2008 after years of disillusionment, and lies when I returned from Iraq.

Barry Goldwater, a conservative if there ever was one, a man that would be driven out of today’s GOP spoke on the Senate floor in the early 1980s at the beginning of the Reagan Revolution and the commandeering of the party by politically minded preachers like Jerry Falwell, James Robertson, Dr. D. James Kennedy, James Dobson and of course our local Tidewater Taliban Mullah, Pat Robertson. Goldwater so wisely noted:

“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.”

Well, now the preachers have control. Some are suggesting that thousands of preachers run for office in the GOP in order to foist their agenda on the rest of the population. Right now Conservative Christians for all intents and purposes run many state legislatures. In the ones that they have controlled for the past number of years they have been enacting all sorts of discriminatory laws against those they find offensive, and have attempted to shackle the study of science, history, and roll back voting rights for minorities.

 

This is particularly true of the conservative Christian, antipathy towards Gays, Lesbians and others in the LGBT community. In the past number of weeks I have seen proposed legislation in several states that would allow people to discriminate against anyone simply based on a sincerely held religious belief.  

Other laws passed within the past month at the state level in Arkansas and West Virginia nullify any city or county ordinances banning discrimination against gays. In other words, religious zealots in control of state houses are imposing heir beliefs on cities, towns and counties which are more progressive in regard to the treatment of gays. The irony is that the people who complain about Federal laws which trump state law are doing the same thing that they object to in order to ensure that citizens of their states are treated less than equal.

The target of these laws are gays and the LGBT community, but anyone with half a brain knows that once they are on the books they provide ample room for religious zealots of any kind to discriminate and even persecute those that they despise.  They may start with the gays, but be assured, those who pass these laws will extend them to apply to anyone to whom they believe harms or interferes with their sincerely held religious beliefs. Jefferson also noted that “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”

It is something that our founders wisely chose to avoid, not wanting this nation to become like the European nations whose state churches had denied rights, persecuted and killed those that they deemed heretical. While the proponents of these new laws to “protect” religious liberty claim that they are done with no intent to discriminate, there is only one reason to enact them, that to give legal protection to people who want to discriminate. Is this not what is happening throughout the Middle East as Islamic fundamentalists of various sects impose similar laws on Christians as well as others including Moslems of rival sects?

Now just imagine for one moment living in such a society, a society where someone who was not of the right race, or belief did not enjoy the same freedoms of other citizens. Imagine a society where those that started with laws to supposedly defend their religious liberty, or rights then supported other more far reaching laws, laws which deprived those that they demonized and refused to serve of citizenship, freedom of association, freedom of movement, and robbed them of their homes and businesses, banished them to ghettos and eventually exterminated them. While the Nazis primarily went after the Jews, they also went after the gays.

Of course the Nazis did this in the years leading up to World War Two in their actions against loyal German Jews who simply wanted to fit in, and well we Americans, let’s not even go there… but the let’s go there. We have the extermination and the ghettoization of our Native American population, we have the African slave trade and the institution of slavery, we have the human trafficking and exploitation of Chinese workers in the 1800s, the Jim Crow Laws, and yes the incarceration of Japanese Americans in what we called “internment camps” in World War Two.

Now for one minute tell me that those that propose such barbarous laws now to be used against the gays, simply because Christians want to have a law that allows them to discriminate against those they hate and condemn to hell are that much different than those Christians, be they American or German who justified their actions with law based on their deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs? I think not. In fact the whole proposition that we enact such laws flies in the face of the wars that these same people want to send in the ground troops to fight Islamic State over. Heck, the Islamic State is actually acting out the fantasies of the most extreme American Christian anti-gay preachers. They are killing gays, throwing them off the roofs of tall buildings. Sadly, many American Christians, so consumed by the hate and paranoia being preached in their churches and by right-wing political groups posing as Christian ministries don’t see that their actions are simply a different breed of the same animal. Right now, the difference is just a matter of degree.

I think that is why Thomas Jefferson wrote this very pertinent warning to us who might want to return to the barbarous ways of our ancestors:

“I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

I personally do not want to live under the laws of our barbarous ancestors, and I will fight for the rights of those who are being targeted, primarily the LGBT community, but anyone else, by the lawmakers and supporters of such laws.

So have a great Sunday,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under LGBT issues, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion