Monthly Archives: May 2016

Dreaming of Home… Oceans Away: A Post-Memorial Day Meditation


British Grave at Habbanyah, Al Anbar, Iraq

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Though it is now the day after Memorial Day I believe that this reflection is worth the read, as well as listening to the music that is part of it.


After the end of the American Civil War, the poet Walt Whitman reflected on the human cost of it. Whitman wrote,

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

I have been posting a number of articles about Memorial Day this weekend, all of which were edited versions of previous articles posted before the weekend began. As such I had time this weekend to reflect on the day, and the sacrifices of those who never returned home, many of who lay in graves on or near the battlefields that they fought and died on so far away from home.

Memorial Day is always an emotional time for me, especially since I returned from Iraq in 2008, and this weekend I have been thinking about the men and women that I knew who died in action or died after they left the service, some at their own hand, unable to bear the burdens and trauma that they suffered while at war. In an age where less than one percent of Americans serve in the military, I think that it is important that we take the time to remember and reflect on the human cost of wars.


I think of the battlefields that I have served on in Al Anbar Province, the one my father served on at An Loc, Vietnam, or the battlefields and the graveyards I have been to, Verdun, Waterloo, Arnhem, Normandy, Belleau Wood, Luxembourg, the Shuri Line, the Naktong River, Yorktown, Chancellorsville, Antietam, Stone’s River, Bentonville, Gettysburg, the wrecks of the USS Arizona and USS Utah at Pearl Harbor, and so many more, I think about the men and women who never returned. To me all of these places are hallowed ground, ground that none of us can hallow, the sacrifices of the men who gave their last full measure of devotion have done that better than we can ever do.

There are some songs that are haunting yet comfort me when I reflect on the terrible costs of war, even those wars that were truly just; and yes there are such wars, even if politicians and ideologues demanding revenge or vengeance manage to mangle the peace following them. Of course there are wars that are not just in any manner of speaking and in which the costs far outweigh any moral, legal, or ethical considerations, but I digress…

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of the Battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg wrote something that talks about the importance and even the transcendence of the deeds of those who lost their lives in those wars fought and died to achieve.

In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

Elton John wrote and performed this song, Oceans Away on the centenary of the First World War. It speaks of the men that never came home, and he related it to those who continue to go off to war today.

I hung out with the old folks

In the hope that I’d get wise

I was trying to bridge the gap

Between the great divide

Hung on every recollection

In the theater of their eyes

Picking up on this and that

In the few that still survive


Call em up

Dust em off

Let em shine

The ones who hold onto the ones, they had to leave behind

Those that flew, those that fell,

The ones that had to stay,

Beneath a little wooden cross


They bend like trees in winter

These shuffling old grey lions

Those snow-white stars still gather

Like the belt around Orion

Just to touch the faded lightning

Of their powerful design

Of a generation gathering

For maybe the last time

Oceans away

Where the green grass sways

And the cool wind blows

Across the shadow of their graves.

Shoulder to shoulder back in the day

Sleeping bones to rest in earth, oceans away

Call em up

Dust em off

Let em shine

The ones who hold onto the ones, they had to leave behind

Those that flew, those that fell,

The ones that had to stay,

Beneath a little wooden cross

Oceans away

Elton John “Oceans Away”


Likewise I find myself thinking about all those times alone overseas, and realize that many did not come home. The song I’m Dreaming of Home or Hymne des Fraternisés from the film Joyeux Noel which was adapted by French composer Philippe Rombi from the poem by Lori Barth I think speaks for all of us that served so far away, both those who returned and those who still remain oceans away.

I hear the mountain birds

The sound of rivers singing

A song I’ve often heard

It flows through me now

So clear and so loud

I stand where I am

And forever I’m dreaming of home

I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home


It’s carried in the air

The breeze of early morning

I see the land so fair

My heart opens wide

There’s sadness inside

I stand where I am

And forever I’m dreaming of home

I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home


This is no foreign sky

I see no foreign light

But far away am I

From some peaceful land

I’m longing to stand

A hand in my hand

… forever I’m dreaming of home

I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home.

Please take the time to remember those who whose spirits still dream of home, oceans away.

Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, iraq,afghanistan, Korean Conflicts, Military, News and current events, remembering friends

The Offering We Bring: Memorial Day


“Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.” From Frederick Douglass’ Memorial Day Speech 1884

Memorial Day, at one time known as Decoration Day is one of our most sacred civil holidays that we celebrate in the United States, or at least it should be. It was a holiday born out of the shedding of the blood of about 600,000 American soldiers, from the North and the South in the Civil War, a singular event that still echoes in our history and in some sense defines who we are. The sad thing is that many; if not most Americans it is simply another holiday, a chance maybe to get a three day weekend at the end of the school year and beginning of summer vacation. This is so because we and our government dominated by business interests and our own wallets for decades knowingly made the decision to sacrifice of the teaching of history and heritage at the altar of “education” that “produces jobs.”


The Racecourse Cemetery

But the first observance of what we now know as Memorial Day is fascinating and it needs to be remembered. Frederick Douglass was absolutely right when he spoke the words that I began this article, and we need to remember the humble beginnings of this day which was first marked by recently freed slaves in Charleston South Carolina on May 1st 1865, barely two weeks after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and three weeks after the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. Their commemoration was for the most part forgotten as Charleston sought to remove the vestiges of any Union sacrifice within the city limits in the 1880s.

The acrid smell of smoke of the last battles of the American Civil War was still lingering over many towns and cities in the South on May 1st 1865. Charleston South Carolina, the hotbed of secession was particularly hard hit during the war. In 1861 Cadets of the Citadel and South Carolina militia forces began the war with the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Union Forces laid siege to the city in late 1863, a siege which ended with the city’s surrender to Union forces on 18 February 1865. The day of the surrender was somewhat ironic. Charleston, the city most associated with the opening of the conflict surrendered to Union forces on the fourth anniversary of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy. By the time of its surrender much of the city had been destroyed by Union siege artillery and naval forces.

Charleston had also been the home of three of the Prisoner of War Camps. One was located in the Charleston City Jail and the other at Castle Pinckney which had been one of the ante-bellum U.S. Army installations in the city. A third camp was erected on the site of the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in 1864. This was an open air camp and Yale Historian David Blight wrote that “Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.”

By the end of the war most of the white population of the city had left and most of those remaining were recently freed slaves. After their liberation and the city’s occupation by Federal forces, which included the famous 54th Massachusetts as well as the 20th, 35th and 104th US Colored Troops Regiments, about 28 these recently liberated Black men went to work and properly reinterred these 257 Union dead on the raceway building a high fence around it. They inscribed “Martyrs of the Race Course” on an arch above the cemetery entrance.


On May 1st over 10,000 Black Charlestonians gathered at the site to honor the fallen. Psalms, Scriptures and prayers were said, hymns were sung and many brought flowers. A parade of 2800 children covered the burial ground with flowers. They were followed by members of the Patriotic Association of Colored Men and the Mutual Aid Society. This society’s members provided relief supplies to Freedmen and provided aid to bury those Blacks who were too poor to afford burial. More citizens followed many laying flower bouquets on the graves. Children then led the singing of The Star Spangled Banner, America and Rally around the Flag. The Brigade composed of the 54th Massachusetts and the 35th and 104th Colored Regiments marched in honor of their fallen comrades. Following the formalities many remained behind for a picnic.

Other communities established their own Memorial Day observances in the years following the war, but the event in Charleston was the first. The first “Official” commemoration was on 30 May 1868 when Union General John Logan who headed the veteran’s organization called The Grand Army of the Republic appealed to communities to honor the dead by holding ceremonies and decorating the graves of the fallen.

In the South three different days served a similar purpose. In Virginia people commemorated the day on June 3rd, the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the Carolinas marked the day on 10 May, the birthday of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In much of the Deep South the event was conducted April 26th, the anniversary of the surrender of General Joseph Johnson’s Army to General William Tecumseh Sherman. For many in the South, still attempting to come to grips with their defeat the day would become about “The Lost Cause” or “the defense of Liberty” or “States Rights” and the war was often referred to as the “War of Northern Aggression.”

The “Martyrs of the Racecourse” cemetery is no longer there. The site is now a park honoring the fascinatingly complex Confederate General and post-Reconstruction Governor of South Carolina Wade Hampton. An oval track remains in the park and is used to run or walk by the local population and cadets from the Citadel. Thankfully, at long last in 2010, one hundred and forty-five years after the dedication of that cemetery a marker was placed in that park commemorating the cemetery and the event that we now recognize as the first Memorial Day.


The Union dead who had been so beautifully honored by the Black population were moved to the National Cemetery at Beaufort South Carolina by the 1880s. Some state that the reason for this was that the cemetery had fallen into neglect, and this may be the case, but the event and their memory conveniently erased from memory of Charlestonians. I do not think that this would have happened had the people who had the bodies moved simply restored and maintained the cemetery. Had not historian David Blight found the documentation we probably still would not know of this touching act by former slaves who honored those that fought the battles, and gave their lives to win their freedom. Blight wrote in 2011 in the 1870s Charleston “had no place for the former slaves’ march on their masters’ racecourse.”

The African American population of Charleston understood the bonds of slavery and oppression. They understood the tyranny of prejudice in which they only counted as 3/5ths of a person. They understood and saw the suffering of those that were taken prisoner while attempting to liberate them from the tyranny of slavery. They stand as an example for us today.

But their suffering was not over. Within little more than a decade Blacks in the South would be subject to Jim Crow and again treated by many whites as something less than human. The struggle of they and their descendants against the tyranny of racial prejudice, discrimination and violence over the next 100 years would finally bear fruit in the Civil Rights movement, some of whose leaders, like the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. would also become martyrs. Unfortunately that struggle is not over.

Frederick Douglass spoke to Union Veterans on Memorial Day 1878. His words, particularly in light of the war and the struggles of African Americans since and the understanding of what those who were enslaved understood liberation to be are most significant to our time. It was not merely a war based on sectionalism or even “States rights,” it was a war of ideas, a war of diametrically opposed ideologies. He said:

“But the sectional character of this war was merely accidental and its least significant feature. It was a war of ideas, a battle of principles and ideas which united one section and divided the other; a war between the old and new, slavery and freedom, barbarism and civilization; between a government based upon the broadest and grandest declaration of human rights the world ever heard or read, and another pretended government, based upon an open, bold and shocking denial of all rights, except the right of the strongest.”

Douglass’s words were powerful then and they resonate today as many of the same ideas that were the cause of the Civil War and were continued during Jim Crow are still alive. Unfortunately there are those in our society who labor daily to establish the “rights” of the strongest over the weak, the poor, the powerless and minorities of all kinds. Of course such actions, often wrapped in the flag, patriotism and buttressed with cherry picked quotes (many of which are fake, changed or taken out of context) from some of our founders are designed to re-establish the oligarchy of the power of the few, much like the men who owned the lives of the slaves and poor whites in the ante-bellum American South. Such actions do nothing but demean and trample the sacrifice of those who fought for freedom and the only remedy is to fight them with the full knowledge of truth.


I do hope that today we will celebrate Memorial Day in a fitting manner. Let us honor those Americans who died that others might be free. Let us look back at what freedom actually means and not forget the sacrifices of those that gave, and still give their lives in the “last full measure of devotion to duty” that others might live. Take a moment today at noon to pause what you are doing and go silent for at least one minute, and remember.


Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, History, News and current events

The Unfinished Work of Memorial Day


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is Memorial Day Weekend, a weekend where we remember those who died in the service of our country. It is not a day to thank the living veterans, that day is Veteran’s Day. Nor is it the day to thank those men and women who currently wear the uniform and fight the wars of our country. This weekend I am reposting a number of articles from past years to remind my regular readers and those new to my writings about how important this remembrance is, not just to me, but to all of us. I do not say that lightly. Memorial Day is the offspring of the families of the American Civil War dead, when people who lost loved ones in the cause of liberty and the defense of the Union honored their loved ones.

No matter what your political views, ideology, or religious beliefs, please take time to remember the high human cost of freedom this weekend, especially on Monday when we observe Memorial Day.


Padre Steve+

burford reynolds monuments

Abraham Lincoln said that “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced…” Likewise, Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top at Gettysburg said, “Heroism is latent in every human soul – However humble or unknown, they (the veterans) have renounced what are accounted pleasures and cheerfully undertaken all the self-denials – privations, toils, dangers, sufferings, sicknesses, mutilations, life-” 

Sometimes it is best to remember that people that lived long before us have profound things to say about subjects that we often address in rather cheap and banal ways. It is easy to do this; in fact many people, especially ideologues and pundits simply quote the great men and women of history simply to buttress what they want to say in much the same manner that preachers from all sides of the theological spectrum will comb the Bible or the Church Fathers to find support for often decidedly un-Christian ideas. Of course unscrupulous preachers of other religions do the same with their sacred texts so it tends be a universal problem.

Of course we should know better than to do this but all of us do it to one degree or another. Even worse are those that will misquote people either to bolster their arguments or to tear down the person that they quote. It should not be that way on Memorial Day. The sacrifices of those that gave “the last full measure” in defense of their homeland, principles and those that they loved are too great to trivialize by using the sacrifices of the fallen to promote themselves as they prepare to launch political campaigns as was recently done by a prominent politician at an annual event which honors veterans in Washington DC.

Gettysburg Address

I think that Abraham Lincoln eulogized the fallen better than almost anyone in the history of our nation when he traveled to Gettysburg and gave a refreshingly short speech for a politician. Lincoln considered the speech a failure but history shows it to be one of the most remarkable ever made by any American public figure.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes gave a speech in 1884 twenty years after his service in the 20th Massachusetts Regiment in the Civil War. A veteran of Antietam and other major engagements he made these remarks in a speech so powerful that it was a key factor in Theodore Roosevelt’s decision to nominate him for the Court.

“Every year–in the full tide of spring, at the height of the symphony of flowers and love and life–there comes a pause, and through the silence we hear the lonely pipe of death. Year after year lovers wandering under the apple trees and through the clover and deep grass are surprised with sudden tears as they see black veiled figures stealing through the morning to a soldier’s grave. Year after year the comrades of the dead follow, with public honor, procession and commemorative flags and funeral march–honor and grief from us who stand almost alone, and have seen the best and noblest of our generation pass away…

But grief is not the end of all. I seem to hear the funeral march become a paean. I see beyond the forest the moving banners of a hidden column. Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death–of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.”


In his inaugural address President John F. Kennedy a combat veteran of the Solomons Campaign provided a message which though not directly related to Memorial Day certain echoed the themes of the sacrifices of our fallen but also call us to the highest ideals of our nation. As a Naval Officer in command of PT 109 his boat was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer after which his leadership and courage was a deciding factor in the survival of most of his crew. Kennedy was a child of privilege but he volunteered for the arduous duty of service on the tiny PT Boats. The speech is considered one of the premier speeches by an American President.

“In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need — not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,”² a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself….

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

fort hood memorial

In 1984 President Ronald Reagan visited Omaha Beach in Normandy, the site of the bloodiest of the D-Day landings on June 6th 1944. Reagan was a master of rhetoric and understood the importance of his visit to this hallowed site at the apex of the Cold War. At that time it was unimaginable to most people that the Soviet Union would be no more barely 5 years hence and Reagan used the speech to link the sacrifices of those who fought and died at Normandy to those that served in his day. While his focus was on the sacrifice of America and its British, Canadian and French allies that landed on the beaches of Normandy he recognized the sacrifices of the Soviet Union which lost 20 million soldiers and civilians in the war against the Nazis. Reagan said of those who went ashore in Normandy:

“The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you….The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.”

President Barak Obama made these remarks a few years ago to conclude his speech following the solemn duty that all Presidents have in laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Obama who is vilified by his most extreme opponents, as was Reagan for that matter ended his speech with these comments in which he eloquently expressed what the nation must do for its military, veterans and those killed in action or missing as well as the highest example of the brotherhood that those of us who have served in harm’s way feel for our fellow Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen:

“Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay. But we can honor their sacrifice, and we must. We must honor it in our own lives by holding their memories close to our hearts, and heeding the example they set. And we must honor it as a nation by keeping our sacred trust with all who wear America’s uniform, and the families who love them; by never giving up the search for those who’ve gone missing under our country’s flag or are held as prisoners of war; by serving our patriots as well as they serve us — from the moment they enter the military, to the moment they leave it, to the moment they are laid to rest.”

That is how we can honor the sacrifice of those we’ve lost. That is our obligation to America’s guardians — guardians like Travis Manion. The son of a Marine, Travis aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps and was accepted by the USS [sic] Naval Academy. His roommate at the Academy was Brendan Looney, a star athlete and born leader from a military family, just like Travis. The two quickly became best friends — like brothers, Brendan said.

After graduation, they deployed — Travis to Iraq, and Brendan to Korea. On April 29, 2007, while fighting to rescue his fellow Marines from danger, Travis was killed by a sniper. Brendan did what he had to do — he kept going. He poured himself into his SEAL training, and dedicated it to the friend that he missed. He married the woman he loved. And, his tour in Korea behind him, he deployed to Afghanistan. On September 21st of last year, Brendan gave his own life, along with eight others, in a helicopter crash.

Heartbroken, yet filled with pride, the Manions and the Looneys knew only one way to honor their sons’ friendship — they moved Travis from his cemetery in Pennsylvania and buried them side by side here at Arlington. “Warriors for freedom,” reads the epitaph written by Travis’s father, “brothers forever.”

The friendship between 1st Lieutenant Travis Manion and Lieutenant Brendan Looney reflects the meaning of Memorial Day. Brotherhood. Sacrifice. Love of country. And it is my fervent prayer that we may honor the memory of the fallen by living out those ideals every day of our lives, in the military and beyond. May God bless the souls of the venerable warriors we’ve lost, and the country for which they died.

Sometimes our fallen are eulogized by the less notable and sometimes oft vilified people. One of these men was Robert Ingersoll, a politician, orator and lecturer as well as an agnostic in a time when that was not a popular belief. Ingersoll was the son of a Congregationalist minister who often preached for revivalist Charles Finney. Ingersoll was also a veteran of the Civil War where he raised and commanded the 11th Illinois Cavalry Regiment which fought at Shiloh. remarked:

“These heroes are dead. They died for liberty – they died for us. They are at rest. They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless, under the solemn pines, the sad hemlocks, the tearful willows, and the embracing vines. They sleep beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless alike of sunshine or of storm, each in the windowless Place of Rest. Earth may run red with other wars – they are at peace. In the midst of battle, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death. I have one sentiment for soldiers living and dead: cheers for the living; tears for the dead.”

As we look forward this Memorial Day let us remember those who have given the last full measure of duty for our nation, those who have served those that continue to serve and the friends and loved ones who cherish the lives and memories of each one. Let us remember as a nation, as fellow citizens and never let our own agendas, ambitions or even our baser instincts sully their memory. May we choose the higher calling of service to our country and each other as Americans, the ideals of which are woven in the lives and sacrifices of those that we honor today and as Lincoln said to finish “the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


1 Comment

Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, Military, News and current events

Why We Keep Memorial Day

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is Memorial Day Weekend, a weekend where we remember those who died in the service of our country. It is not a day to thank the living veterans, that day is Veteran’s Day. Nor is it the day to thank those men and women who currently wear the uniform and fight the wars of our country. This weekend I am reposting a number of articles from past years to remind my regular readers and those new to my writings about how important this remembrance is, not just to me, but to all of us. I do not say that lightly. Memorial Day is the offspring of the families of the American Civil War dead, when people who lost loved ones in the cause of liberty and the defense of the Union honored their loved ones.

No matter what your political views, ideology, or religious beliefs, please take time to remember the high human cost of freedom this weekend, especially on Monday when we observe Memorial Day.


Padre Steve+


Oliver Wendell Holmes 

“even if those who come after us are to forget all that we hold dear, and the future is to teach and kindle its children in ways as yet unrevealed, it is enough for us that this day is dear and sacred…”

Nearly 20 years after the Civil War, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. then serving as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court spoke on Memorial Day 1884 in Keene New Hampshire at a gathering of veterans. He recalled an incident not long before where he had heard a young man ask “why people still kept up Memorial Day. The question was one that he pondered before his speech and that he attempted to find an answer, not to his fellow veterans who certainly understood their shared memories of war “but an answer which should command the assent of those who do not share our memories.”

3rd Infantry Places American Flags At The Graves Of U.S. Soldiers

I think that having an answer for the question is as timely now as when Holmes first pondered it. Though his war was twenty years past and had torn the nation apart, there were still many men on both sides who had served in that terrible time and but even so many people were not only forgetting the war and the sacrifices made by so many but intent on becoming rich. Something that he would directly state in a Memorial Day address to the graduating class of Harvard University in 1895:

“The society for which many philanthropists, labor reformers, and men of fashion unite in longing is one in which they may be comfortable and may shine without much trouble or any danger. The unfortunately growing hatred of the poor for the rich seems to me to rest on the belief that money is the main thing (a belief in which the poor have been encouraged by the rich), more than on any other grievance. Most of my hearers would rather that their daughters or their sisters should marry a son of one of the great rich families than a regular army officer, were he as beautiful, brave, and gifted as Sir William Napier. I have heard the question asked whether our war was worth fighting, after all. There are many, poor and rich, who think that love of country is an old wife’s tale, to be replaced by interest in a labor union, or, under the name of cosmopolitanism, by a rootless self-seeking search for a place where the most enjoyment may be had at the least cost.”

However his message to his fellow veterans, mostly men from his own former regiment, the 20th Massachusetts was quite personal and something that they could find meaning in. Holmes understood war, he had seen much action and had been wounded at Ball’s Bluff, Antietam and Chancellorsville. He talked of the shared experience of war, something that those who have fought in our nation’s wars, as well as combat veteran soldiers in other countries can understand far more than people that have only known peace, even while their countrymen are at war.

Memorial Day Series

Holmes’s remembrances of the war and the comrades that he and those present had served with, those living and those dead is powerful. Many of us who have served in the wars that began on September 11th 2001 have lost friends in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and many more who are wounded or maimed in body, mind and spirit. Many survivors of wounds today would have died in previous wars.

Likewise his descriptions of the memories of war, triggered by “accidents” are real to those that have experienced war and combat.

“Accidents may call up the events of the war. You see a battery of guns go by at a trot, and for a moment you are back at White Oak Swamp, or Antietam, or on the Jerusalem Road. You hear a few shots fired in the distance, and for an instant your heart stops as you say to yourself, The skirmishers are at it, and listen for the long roll of fire from the main line. You meet an old comrade after many years of absence; he recalls the moment that you were nearly surrounded by the enemy, and again there comes up to you that swift and cunning thinking on which once hung life and freedom–Shall I stand the best chance if I try the pistol or the sabre on that man who means to stop me? Will he get his carbine free before I reach him, or can I kill him first?These and the thousand other events we have known are called up, I say, by accident, and, apart from accident, they lie forgotten.”

We all have our memories of our wars, those of us who remain, be we veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan, Somalia, Desert Storm, Lebanon, Vietnam, Korea or World War II. It is hard to believe that so few remain from World War II and Korea, and that even the Vietnam veterans are aging rapidly, most now in their 60s or 70s. In as much as the wars of the past decade have been fought by a tiny minority of American citizens fewer and fewer will understand the bond that we share through our memories of the living and the dead. We have been set apart by our experiences, even though the wars that we have fought differ in many ways.


As such we should whenever possible take the time to meet and remember. That might be as groups of friends, unit associations or perhaps local chapters of Veterans organizations. We do this to remember but also to remind ourselves that we cannot live in the past alone, for the present likewise calls us to action, even after our service is complete.

Holmes put it well: “When we meet thus, when we do honor to the dead in terms that must sometimes embrace the living, we do not deceive ourselves. We attribute no special merit to a man for having served when all were serving. We know that, if the armies of our war did anything worth remembering, the credit belongs not mainly to the individuals who did it, but to average human nature. We also know very well that we cannot live in associations with the past alone, and we admit that, if we would be worthy of the past, we must find new fields for action or thought, and make for ourselves new careers.”

We remember the past, we remember our fallen and we remember the families who have lost loved ones in these wars as well as those whose lives have been changed and maybe even torn apart by the changes that war has wrought in their loved ones who returned different from war. In our service we have been set apart and as such as Holmes so well states we have the duty to “bear the report to those who will come after us.” His words carry forth to us today, we few we happy few as Shakespeare so eloquently wrote.

“nevertheless, the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us.”

I will remember my time in Iraq and those that I served alongside. I will also remember friends who served in other units who did not return as well as those Marines, Sailors and Soldiers that I see every day in our Naval Hospital suffering from the physical, psychological and spiritual wounds of war.

This weekend I will remember and on Monday, that sacred day that we set aside to remember the fallen I take some time at noon to join in that time of remembrance and pray that maybe someday war will be no more.

That is why I think that we should remember Memorial Day even if others forget.


Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, News and current events, shipmates and veterans, vietnam, world war one, world war two in europe, world war two in the pacific

Memorial Day Weekend 2016: The Buddy Poppy


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is Memorial Day Weekend, a weekend where we remember those who died in the service of our country. It is not a day to thank the living veterans, that day is Veteran’s Day. Nor is it the day to thank those men and women who currently wear the uniform and fight the wars of our country. This weekend I am reposting a number of articles from past years to remind my regular readers and those new to my writings about how important this remembrance is, not just to me, but to all of us. I do not say that lightly. Memorial Day is the offspring of the families of the American Civil War dead, when people who lost loved ones in the cause of liberty and the defense of the Union honored their loved ones.

While the Buddy Poppy was something that came out of the First World War, and Armistice Day, which after the Second World War became Veteran’s Day. In time it has also become connected with the original Memorial Day. So today’s post is my first reflection of this weekend on the Buddy Poppy and Memorial Day.

No matter what your political views, ideology, or religious beliefs, please take time to remember the high human cost of freedom this weekend, especially on Monday when we observe Memorial Day.

Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+


In Flanders Fields

John McCrae, 1915.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Besides the American Flag the Buddy Poppy is perhaps the most ubiquitous symbol of Memorial Day. This poppy as we know it came about when Mrs.VFW Moina Michael read McRea’s poem and inspired wrote this verse:

We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.

She then had the inspiration to begin wearing Red Poppies on Memorial Day and sold the poppies to friends and others with the money going to those in need. A French woman visiting the United States, a Madame Guerin discovered the new custom and took it back to France where she began to make artificial red poppies to sell with the proceeds going to the widows and orphans of the First World War. The custom spread to other countries and in 1921 the Franco-American Children’s League sold the poppies but disbanded in 1921. Madame Guerin approached the newly formed Veteran’s of Foreign Wars, the VFW in 1922 for assistance and in 1922 the VFW became the first American organization to sell poppies. Two years later the Buddy Poppy program began. The artificial poppies were made by disabled veterans who were paid for their work in order to provide them some form of income and distributed by other veterans across the country. Today the VFW continues to distribute the Buddy Poppies which are still produced by disabled Veterans at the nation’s Veteran’s Administration Hospitals.

I remember the first Buddy Poppy that I every received. It was just before Memorial Day 1970, before it became a 3 day weekend falling on the last Monday of May. We were living with my Grandparents in Huntington West Virginia as my dad sought suitable housing for us in Long Beach California while he was in the Navy.

Our initial move from the small town of Oak Harbor Washington, where my dad had been stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island to Long Beach had not gone well. The first place we lived was in a dangerous neighborhood and with my dad traveling frequently to Naval Shipyards around the country to help commission new ships the stress on the family, especially my mother in dealing with that and two young boys was too much. Dad sent us back to Huntington where my Grandparents and numerous other relatives still lived for the duration of the school year as he sought better housing.


Memorial Day then was filled with visits to cemeteries to place flowers on the graves of departed relatives as well as flags on the graves of relatives who had served in the military. We made a number of stops that day at the Bowen and Dundas cemeteries as well as others where relatives were interred. Afterward we had a home cooked meal prepared by my maternal grandmother Christine and then made a trip on a city bus to my paternal grandmother Verdie.

Holidays, were much like that for us during that time that we lived in Huntington, until my dad came back and brought us back to Long Beach in June. Just before my dad arrived to take us back to Long Beach my mom, her cousin Valerie and I were shopping downtown, which at the time before I-64 took traffic around the town and led to a new mall and shopping complex being built just out of town, was a bustling place of commerce and activity. Major retailers all had their stores downtown, while the best movie theaters and restaurants were there as well.

We were coming out of the old SS Kresge store on Fourth Avenue and an elderly man wearing a VFW cap approached us and handed me a poppy. He had to be in his 70s so I presume that he was a Veteran of the First World War. He chatted briefly with my mom and Valerie and I am sure my mom gave him a bit of money for the poppy. I kept it for many years and it was eventually lost in one of our moves. But I will not forget it and any time I see a Veteran distributing them I make sure that I get one.


Babe Ruth and President Warren G Harding with the first official Buddy Poppy of 1923

For me the Buddy Poppy is a symbol of thanks for the sacrifices made by so many, those who did not come home from wars being killed or missing in action, as well as the wounded and the families of the dead and those that came home forever changed by their time in war. This year marks the 90th anniversary of it being the official flower of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s wars.

The poppy has even more significance for me now having served in Iraq. Seeing war’s devastation and knowing so many who have either been killed or wounded in the wars that we have engaged since September 11th 2001 has impacted me in ways that I could not have imagined before the war. Likewise having come back changed by my experience and having to deal with the affliction of severe PTSD I sense a camaraderie with those men who came home changed from war and in many cases returned to a country that did not understand them.

I will be observing the “Go Silent” moment at 12:01 Monday with the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans Association to honor those who have given the last full measure.


Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, Military

Realism & Racism: The Confederate Emancipation Debate

Union U.S.C.T. Troops march into Richmond 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I have been doing the past few days I am posting another heavily revised section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text. This one deals with the less than successful efforts of some in the Confederacy to deal with reality and recommend that the Confederacy emancipate African American slaves. It really is a fascinating study that I expect to do more work on, but I think that youn will find it quite informative. 

Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+

In the South where before the war about forty percent of the population was composed of African American slaves there was no question regarding abolition or enlistment of African American soldiers. The Confederate States of America was a pro-slavery nation which hoped to “turn back the tide of abolition that had swept the hemisphere in the Age of Revolution…. Confederate founders proposed instead to perfect the slaveholder’s republic and offer it to the world as the political form best suited to the modern age.” [1]

The political and racial ideology of the South, which ranged from benevolent paternal views of Africans as less equal to whites, moderate prejudice and at tolerance of the need for slavery, and extreme slavery proponents who wanted to expand the institution beyond the borders of the Confederacy, as well as extreme prejudice and race race-hatred; was such that almost until the end of the war, Confederate politicians and many senior Confederate officers fought against any allowance for blacks to serve; for they knew if they allowed this, that slavery itself must be swept away. As such, it was not until 1864 when the Confederacy was beginning to face the reality that they could no longer win the war militarily, that any serious discussion of the subject commenced.

But after the fall of Vicksburg and the shattering defeat at Gettysburg, some Southern newspapers in Mississippi and Alabama began to broach the subject of employing slaves as soldiers, understanding the reality that doing so might lead to emancipation, something that they loathed but understood the military and political reality for both if the Confederacy was to gain its independence from the Union. The editor of the Jackson Mississippian wrote that, “such a step would revolutionize our whole industrial system” and perhaps lead to universal emancipation, “a dire calamity to both the negro and the white race.” But if we lose slavery anyway, for Yankee success is death to the institution… so that it is a question of necessity – a question of choice of evils. … We must… save ourselves from the rapacious north, WHATEVER THE COST.” [2]

The editor of the Montgomery Daily Mail “worried about the implications of arming slaves for “our historical position on the slavery question,” as he delicately put it. The argument which goes to the exclusion of negroes as soldiers is founded on the status of the negro.” Negroes, he asserted, are “racially inferior[s],” but “the proposition to make the soldiers… [would be but a] practical equalization of the races.” Nonetheless they had to do it. “The War has made great changes,” he insisted, and, “we must meet those changes for the sake of preserving our existence. They should use any means to defeat the enemy, and “one of those, and the only one which will checkmate him, is the employment of negroes in the military services of the Confederacy.” [3]  Other newspapermen noted “We are forced by the necessity of our condition,” they declared, “to take a step which is revolting to every sentiment of pride, and to every principle that governed our institutions before the war.” The enemy was “stealing our slaves and converting them into soldiers…. It is better for us to use the negroes for our defense than that the Yankees should use them against us.” [4] These were radical words, but neither Jefferson Davis, nor the Confederate Congress was willing to hear them, and the topic remained off the table as a matter of discussion.

Major General Patrick Cleburne CSA

Despite this, there were a few Confederate military leaders who understood that the South could either fight for freedom and independence from the Union, but not for slavery at the same time, especially if the Confederacy refused to mobilize its whole arms-bearing population to defeat the Union. The reality that the “necessity of engaging slaves’ politics was starting to be faced where it mattered most: in the military.” [5] One of these men was General Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant and a division commander in the Army of Tennessee who demonstrated the capacity for forward thinking in terms of race, and political objectives far in advance of the vast majority of Confederate leaders and citizens. Cleburne openly advocated that blacks should be allowed to serve as soldiers of the Confederacy, and that they should be emancipated.

Cleburne, who was known as “the Stonewall Jackson of the West” was a bold fighter who put together a comprehensive plan to reverse the course of the war by emancipating slaves and enlisting them to serve in the Confederate military. Cleburne was a lawyer, and his proposal was based on sound logic. Cleburne noted that the Confederacy was losing the war because it did not have enough soldiers, supplies, or resources to sustain the war effort. He stressed that the South had an inadequate number of soldiers, and that “our soldiers can see no end… except in our own exhaustion; hence, instead of rising to the occasion, they are sinking into a fatal apathy, growing weary of hardships and slaughters which promise no results.” [6]

Most significantly the Irishman argued that “slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the beginning of the war, has now become in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness,” [7] and that “All along the lines… slavery is comparatively valueless to us for labor, but of great and increasing worth to the enemy for information,” an “omnipresent spy system, pointing out our valuable men to the enemy, revealing our positions, purposes, and resources.” [8] He noted, that “Every soldier in our army already knows and feels our numerical inferiority to the enemy…. If this state continues much longer we shall surely be subjugated.” [9]

Cleburne was the ultimate realist in terms of what was going on in the Confederacy and the drain that slavery and the attempts to control the slave population were having on it. The Conscription Act of 1862 acknowledged that men had to be retained at home in order to guard against slave uprisings, and how exemptions diminished forces at the front without adding any corresponding economic value. Cleburne wrote of how African Americans in the South were becoming increasingly pro-Union, and were undermining Southern morale at home and in the ranks. He noted that they brought up “fear of insurrection in the rear” and filled Confederate soldiers with “anxieties for the fate of loved ones when our armies have moved forward.” And when Union forces entered plantation districts, they found “recruits waiting with open arms.” There was no point in denigrating their military record, either. After donning Union blue, black men had proved able “to face and fight bravely against their former masters.” [10]

Cleburne’s proposal was radical for he recommended that “we immediately commence training a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves, and further that we guarantee freedom within a reasonable time to every slave in the South who shall remain to the confederacy in this war.” [11] Cleburne’s realism came through in his appeal to the high command:

“Ever since the agitation of the subject of slavery commenced the negro has been dreaming of freedom and his vivid imagination has surrounded the condition with so many gratifications that it has become the paradise of his hopes.” It was also shrewd politically: “The measure we propose,” he added, “will strike dead all John Brown fanaticism, and will compel the enemy to draw off altogether or in the eyes of the world to swallow the Declaration of Independence without the sauce and disguise of philanthropy.” [12]

The Irishman’s “logic was military, the goal more men in uniform, but the political vision was radical indeed.” [13] He was asking more from his fellow Southerners than most were willing to risk, and even more than Lincoln had asked of the North in his Emancipation Proclamation. Cleburne was “asking them to surrender the cornerstone of white racism to preserve their nation” [14] something that most seemed even unwilling to consider. He presented his arguments in stark terms that few Southern leaders, or citizens could stomach “As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we can assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter- give up the Negro slave rather than be a slave himself.” [15] Cleburne’s words were those of a heretic, he noted “When we make soldiers of them we must make free men of them beyond all question…and thus enlist their sympathies also.” [16] But Cleburne’s appeal would be quashed in Richmond.

In January 1864 General W.H.T Walker obtained a copy of Cleburne’s proposal and sent it to Jefferson Davis. Walker opposed it and expressed his outrage over it. Cleburne’s proposal went from being a military matter to a political matter, and in Walker’s opinion, the political arguments were out of line for any military officer to state in public. Jefferson Davis intervened to quash the proposal, as he could only see negative results coming from it. Davis was “Convinced that the “propagation of such opinions” would cause “discouragements, distraction, and dissension” in the army,” and he “ordered the Generals to stop discussing the matter…The only consequence of Cleburne’s action seemed to be the denial of promotion to this ablest of the army’s division commanders, who was killed ten months later at the Battle of Franklin.” [17] In fact Cleburne was “passed over for command of an army corps and promotion to lieutenant general” three times in the next eight months, and in “each care less distinguished, less controversial men received the honors.” [18] All copies of Cleburne’s proposal were destroyed by the War Department on the order of Davis.

Cleburne was not the only military man to advocate the formation of Negro units or even emancipation. Richard Ewell suggested to Jefferson Davis the idea of arming the slaves and offering them emancipation as early as 1861, and Ewell went as far as “volunteering to “command a brigade of Negroes.” [19] During the war Robert E. Lee became one of the chief proponents of this. Lee said after the war that he had told Davis “often and early in the war that the slaves should be emancipated, that it was the only way to remove a weakness at home and to get sympathy abroad, and divide our enemies, but Davis would not hear of it.” [20]

Jefferson Davis 

Ten months later Davis raised the issue of arming slaves, as he now, quite belatedly, believed that military necessity left him little choice. On November 7th 1864 he made his views known to the Confederate Congress, and they were a radical departure from the hitherto political orthodoxy of slavery. Davis had finally come to the realization the institution of slavery was now useless to the Confederate cause, as he had become a more ardent Confederate nationalist, and to Davis, “Preserving slavery had become secondary to preserving his new nation,” [21] and his words shocked the assembled Congress. The slave, he boldly declared that “the slave… can no longer be “viewed as mere property” but must be recognized instead in his other “relation to the state – that of a person.” As property, Davis explained, slaves were useless to the state, because without the “loyalty” of the men could be gained from their labor.” [22]

In light of the manpower needs of the South as well as the inability to achieve foreign recognition Davis asked their “consideration…of a radical modification in the theory of law” of slavery…” and he noted that the Confederacy “might have to hold out “his emancipation …as a reward for faithful service.” [23]

This drew the opposition of previously faithful supporters and in the press, especially that of North Carolina. Some newspapers in that state attacked Davis and his proposal, as “farcical” – “all this done for the preservation and perpetuation of slavery,” and if “sober men… are ready to enquire if the South is willing to abolish slavery as a condition of carrying on the war, why may it not be done as a condition of ending the war?” [24] Likewise, Davis now found himself opposed by some of his closest political allies including Robert Toombs and Howell Cobb.  Toombs roared, “The day that the army of Virginia allows a negro regiment to enter their lines as soldiers they will be degraded, ruined, and disgraced.” [25] Likewise, Cobb warned “The day that you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” [26] Some in the military echoed his sentiments, Brigadier General Clement H. Stevens of South Carolina declared “I do not want independence if it is to be won by the help of the Negro.” [27] A North Carolina private wrote, “I did not volunteer to fight for a free negroes country…. I do not think I love my country well enough to fight with black soldiers.” [28]

Robert E. Lee, who had emancipated his slaves before the war, began to be a formidable voice in the political debate going on in the Confederacy regarding the issue of blacks serving as soldiers and emancipation. He wrote to a member of Virginia’s legislature: “we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced on our social institutions…” and he pointed out that “any act for the enrolling of slaves as soldiers must contain a “well digested plan of gradual and general emancipation”: the slaves could not be expected to fight well if their service was not rewarded with freedom.” [29] He wrote another sponsor of a Negro soldier bill “The measure was “not only expedient but necessary…. The negroes, under proper circumstances will make effective soldiers. I think we could do as well with them as the enemy…. Those employed should be freed. It would be neither just nor wise… to require them to serve as slaves.” [30]

Howell Cobb

When Howell Cobb heard of Lee’s support for black soldiers and emancipation he fired of a letter to Secretary of War Seddon, “I think that the proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has ever been suggested since the war began. It is to me a source of deep mortification and regret to see the name of that good and great man and soldier, General R. E. Le, given as authority for such policy.” [31]

The debate which had begun in earnest in the fall of 1864 revealed a sharp divide in the Confederacy between those who supported the measure and those against it. Cabinet members such as Judah Benjamin and a few governors “generally supported arming the slaves.” [32] The Southern proponents of limited emancipation were opposed by the powerful governors of Georgia and North Carolina, Joe Brown and Zebulon Vance, and by the President pro-tem of the Confederate Senate R.M.T. Hunter, who forcibly opposed the measure. Senator Louis Wigfall who had been Davis’s ally in the conscription debates, now became his opponent, he declared that he “wanted to live in no country in which the man who blacked his boots and curried his horse was his equal.” [33]

Much of the Southern press added its voice to the opposition. Newspapers in North Carolina declared the proposal “farcical” – “all this was done for the preservation and the perpetuation of slavery,” and if “sober men…are willing to enquire if the South is willing to abolish slavery as a condition of carrying on the war, why may it not be done, as a condition of ending the war?” [34] The Charleston Mercury considered the proposal apostasy and proclaimed “Assert the right in the Confederate government to emancipate slaves, and it is stone dead…” [35] In Lynchburg an editor noted, “If such a terrible calamity is to befall us… we infinitely prefer that Lincoln shall be the instrument pf our disaster and degradation, that we ourselves strike the cowardly and suicidal blow.” [36]

Some states in the Confederacy began to realize that slaves were needed in the ranks, but did not support emancipation. Led by Governor “Extra Billy” Smith, Virginia’s General Assembly finally approved a law in 1865 “to permit the arming of slaves but included no provision for emancipation, either before or after military service.” [37]  Smith declared that without slavery the South “would no longer have a motive to fight.” [38]

Many Confederate soldiers displayed the attitude that would later propel them into the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, the White League and the White Liners after the war. A North Carolina soldier wrote, “I did not volunteer to fight for a free negroes country… I do not think I love my country well enough to fight with black soldiers.” [39]

But many agreed with Lee, including Silas Chandler of Virginia, who stated, “Gen Lee is in favor of it I shall cast my vote for it I am in favor of giving him any thing he wants in the way of gaining our independence.” [40] Finally in March of 1865 the Confederate Congress passed by one vote a watered down measure of the bill to allow for the recruitment of slaves. It stipulated that “the recruits must all be volunteers” [41] and those who volunteered must also have “the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freed man.” [42] While this in itself was a radical proposition for a nation which had went to war to maintain slavery, the fact was that the slave’s service and freedom were granted not by the government, but by his owner, and even at this stage of the war, few owners were willing to part with their property. It was understood by many that giving freedom to a few was a means of saving the “particular institution.” The Richmond Sentinel noted during the November debate:  “If the emancipation of a part is the means of saving the rest, this partial emancipation is eminently a pro-slavery measure.” [43] Thus the law made “no mention of emancipation as a reward of military service” [44] and in deference to “state’s rights, the bill did not mandate freedom for slave soldiers.” [45]

But diehards opposed even the watered down measure. Robert Kean, who headed the Bureau of War and should have understood the stark reality of the Confederacy’s strategic situation, note in his diary, that the law:

“was passed by a panic in the Congress and the Virginia Legislature, under all the pressure the President indirectly, and General Lee directly, could bring to bear. My own judgment of the whole thing is that it is a colossal blunder, a dislocation of the foundations of society from which no practical results will be reaped by us.” [46]

It was Lee’s prestige alone that allowed the measure to pass, but even that caused some to question Lee’s patriotism. The Richmond Examiner dared to express a doubt whether Lee was “a ‘good Southerner’: that is, whether he is thoroughly satisfied of the justice and beneficence of negro slavery.”  [47] Robert Toombs of Georgia stated that “the worst calamity that could befall us would be to gain our independence by the valor of our slaves” [48] and a Mississippi congressman stated, “Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves.” [49]

But even if the final bill passed was inadequate, the debate had finally forced Southerners “to realign their understanding of what they were protecting and to recognize the contradictions in their carefully honed rationalization. Some would still staunchly defend it; others would adopt the ostrich’s honored posture. But many understood only too well what they had already surrendered.” [50]

On March 23rd 1865 the War Office issued General Order Number 14, which authorized the call up and recruitment of slaves to the Confederate cause. The order read in part: “In order to provide additional forces to repel invasion…the President be, and he is hereby authorized to ask for and to accept from the owners of slaves, the services of such able-bodied negro men as he may deem expedient, for and during the war, to perform military service  in whatever capacity he may direct…” While the order authorized that black soldiers “receive the same rations, clothing and compensation as are allowed to other troops in the same branch of service,” it did not provide for the emancipation of any of the black soldiers that might volunteer. Instead it ended “That nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize a change in the relation which the said slaves shall bear to their owners, except by the consent of the owners and of the States which they may reside….”  [51]

Twelve days after the approval of the act, on March 25th two companies of blacks were formed for drill in Richmond’s Capitol Square. As the mobilized slaves assembled to the sounds of fifes and drums they were met with derision and violence as even “Small boys jeered and threw rocks” [52] at them. None of those few volunteers would see action as within a week the Confederate government had fled Richmond, leaving them and the capital at the mercy of the victorious Union army. .

But some would see that history was moving, and attitudes were beginning to change. It took time, and the process is still ongoing. As imperfect as emancipation was and though discrimination and racism remained, African Americans had reached “levels that none had ever dreamed possible before the war.” [53] In April 1865 as Jefferson Davis and his government fled Richmond, with Davis proclaiming, “again and again we shall return, until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.” [54]

The irony in Davis’s empty vow was stunning. Within a week Lee had surrendered and in a month Davis himself would be in a Federal prison. In the wake of his departure the Confederate Provost Marshall set fire to the arsenal and the magazines to keep them from falling into Union hands. However, the fires “roared out of hand and rioters and looters too to the streets until the last Federal soldiers, their bands savagely blaring “Dixie,” marched into the humiliated capital and raised the Stars and Stripes over the old Capitol building.” [55]

The Federal troops who led the army into Richmond came from General Godfrey Weitzel’s Twenty-fifth Corps, of Ord’s Army of the James. The Every black regiment in the Army of the James was consolidated in Weitzel’s Corps, along with Ferrero’s former division that had suffered so badly at the Battle of the Crater. “Two years earlier in New Orleans, Weitzel had protested that he did not believe in colored troops and did not want to command them, and now he sat at the gates of Richmond in command of many thousands of them, and when the citadel fell he would lead them in and share with them the glory of occupying the Rebel capital.” [56] Among Weitzel’s units were regiments of black “cavalrymen and infantrymen. Many were former slaves; their presence showed their resolve to be free.” [57]

Lincoln in Richmond 

On April 4th 1865 Abraham Lincoln entered Richmond to the cheers of the now former slaves still in the city. A journalist described the scene,

“The gathered around the President, ran ahead, hovered upon the flanks of the little company, and hung like a dark cloud upon the rear. Men, women, and children joined the consistently increasing throng. They came from the by-streets, running in breathless haste, shouting and hallooing and dancing with delight. The men threw up their hats, the women their bonnets and handkerchiefs, clapped their hands, and sang, Glory to God! Glory! Glory! Glory!” [58]

One old man rushed to Lincoln and shouted “Bless the Lord, the great Messiah! I knowed him as soon as I seed him. He’s been in my heart four long years, and he’s come at last to free his children from their bondage. Glory, hallelujah!” He then threw himself at the embarrassed President’s feet and Lincoln said, “Don’t kneel to me. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.” [59]

Emancipation had finally arrived in Richmond, and in the van came the men of the U.S. Colored Troops who had rallied to the Union cause, followed by the man who had made the bold decision to emancipate them and then persevere until that was reality.


[1] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.310

[2] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.832

[3] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.324

[4] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.831

[5] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.325

[6] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.167

[7] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[8] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.167

[9] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.326

[10] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.167

[11] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[12] Winik, Jay April 1865: The Month that Saved America Perennial an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers New York 2002 p.53

[13] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[15] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[16] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[17] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.833

[18] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[20] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.47

[21] Ibid. Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis p.598

[22] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[23] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[25] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[27] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55

[28] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[29] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.643

[30] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[31] Cobb, Howell Letter to James A. Seddon, Secretary of War, January 8, 1865 in the Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. Editors, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010 Amazon Kindle edition location 4221 of 8647     

[32] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.293

[33] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[35] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.337

[36] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[37] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three pp.754-755

[38] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[39] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[40] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.396

[41] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p. 755

[42] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.296

[43] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[44] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.755

[45] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[46] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[47] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[48] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[49] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[50] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.397

[51] Confederate Congress General Orders, No. 14, An Act to Increase the Military Force of the Confederate States, Approved March 13, 1865 in the Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. Editors, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010 Amazon Kindle edition location4348 of 8647

[52] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[53] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

[54] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 1992 and 1995 p.241

[55] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 476

[56] Catton, Bruce Grant Takes Command Little, Brown and Company Boston, Toronto and London 1968 p.411

[57] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.241-242

[58] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.275

[59] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.897


Filed under civil rights, civil war, History

The Confederate Draft


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I posted a section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text with a revised section dealing with conscription and the draft in both the Union and the Confederacy. Today I am posting a further revised and expanded section on the Confederate conscription acts and their effect on the war, as well as resistance to them. I think that you will like it.

Have a great Wednesday,


Padre Steve+

The states which made up the Confederacy went to war with great aplomb in the spring and summer of 1861. The staunch secessionist fire-eaters predicted a quick victory, but they were badly mistaken, and after Bull Run that Union galvanized itself for a long war. A “quick and easy war like the one most staunch secessionists predicted might have required few soldiers to fight it.” [1] But since many of the men who had led their states into secession and war expected that with a few victories that the Federal government would acquiesce to their claims of independence few plans were made for a long war, but even so “the recruiting inducements of 1861 had never adequately filled the ranks or assured that the twelve-month enlistees of 1861 would remain.” [2] As the war dragged on many men became increasingly hesitant to serve, the “enthusiasm and bravado of the war’s early months increasingly gave way to hesitation, reticence, and the discovery that one’s presence was urgently needed someplace other than the battlefield.” [3]

As the war continued into 1862 and the Union continuing to build and deploy armies a sense of gloom built even as the spring flowers bloomed across the Confederacy. A soldier serving with the Stonewall Brigade wrote, “The romance of the thing is entirely worn off… not only with myself but with the whole army.” [4] In the East the army of George McClellan was nearing Richmond and in the West the unexpected “loss of Forts Henry and Donaldson, followed by the failure to redeem the Tennessee River at Shiloh and the fall of New Orleans badly jolted Southern complacency.” [5] Drastic measures were required and the Confederate Congress began to debate a conscription act in order to meet the manpower needs of the Confederate armies, a Confederate General wrote that the Confederacy must embrace a total war, “in which the whole population and the whole production… are to be put on a war footing, where every institution is made auxiliary to war.” [6]  But the nature of the Confederacy itself precluded such a total effort as each state, and each economic interest, be it the planters, or the railroads fought to maintain their independence from edicts coming out of Richmond.

Robert E. Lee who was serving as military advisor to Jefferson Davis recognized that the Confederacy could not survive without conscription and put Major Charles Marshall, of his staff, who had been a lawyer in civilian life, to work “to draw up a bill providing for the conscription of all white males between eighteen and forty-five years of age.” [7] On March 28th 1862 Jefferson Davis proposed a conscription act to the Confederate Congress.

The proposal aroused an uproar throughout the South. Thomas Cobb of Georgia condemned the bill in Congress and proclaimed that it was “caused by the imbecility of the government,” accusing Davis and his toadies” of ignoring him when he warned earlier that something had to be done to lure those volunteers of 1861 into staying in the service.” [8] He condemned the measure of compelling men to serve. Vice President Alexander Stephens objected as he believed that the act “violated most basic principles that had underlain secession and the Confederacy’s creation, including state sovereignty and individual autonomy.” [9]

Davis was being worn out both physically and emotionally by the demands of the war, and by the opposition of the fire-eaters who often referred to him as a despot and tyrant, and wrote to a friend, “When everything is at stake and the united power of the South alone can save us, it is sad to know that such men can deal in such paltry complaints and tax their ingenuity to slander because they are offended in not getting office…. If we can achieve our independence, the office seekers are welcome to the one I hold.” [10] But aided by influential members of the Congress, many of whom had no love for Davis, including Senator Louis Wigfall of Texas, but Wigfall grasped the gravity of the situation and need for fresh manpower. Wigfall was committed “to the military and preoccupied with pushing the war vigorously, he saw a draft as the only way to meet his ends.” [11] Though he was opposed by the most extreme of the state’s rights members, Wigfall forcefully argued for the act, he warned his opponents to “cease child’s play…. The enemy are in some portions of almost every State in the Confederacy…. Virginia is enveloped by them. We need a large army. How are you going to get it?… No man has individual rights, which come into conflict with the welfare of the country.” [12]

On April 16th the Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1862 which in the process of being passed “was amended and mangled. Provision was made for the election of officers in reenlisted commands, and other useless paraphernalia of bounty and furlough act were loaded on it. The upper age-limit was reduced from forty-five to thirty-five years, and a bill allowing liberal exemption was soon adopted.” [13] In deference to the demands of the state’s-rights advocates for a measure of control of conscription, “enrollment and drafting would be administered by state officials though under Confederate supervision, and drafted men would be assigned to units of their own states. In deference to a historic custom of the militia, persons not liable for service could act as substitutes for those who were liable.” [14]

Even so the act was the first conscription act ever enacted in the history of the United States. The Southern press applauded its intentions but had sharp words regarding its weaknesses, especially after second act, detailing numerous exemptions was passes a few days later. Some soldiers who had been serving since the war began were angry at Congress and one South Carolina soldier asked “if the volunteers are kept for two more years… what was to prevent the lawmakers from keeping them on for ten more years? With conscription, he warned, “all patriotism is dead, and the Confederacy will be dead sooner or later.” [15]

The act stated that “all persons residing in the Confederate States, between the ages of 18 and 35 years, and rightfully subject to military duty, shall be held to be in the military service of the Confederate States, and that a plain and simple method be adopted for their prompt enrollment and organization.” [16] The one-year volunteers had their service extended to three years or to the duration of the war. The existing regiments had forty days to reorganize under the act and hold elections for their officers, in elections which season politicians in the ranks used time tested methods of campaigning, including the distribution and consumption of copious amounts of alcohol on the day when their regiments elected their officers. A private from Alabama wrote, “Passed the whiskey round & opened the polls… & a great many of the men are gloriously tight.” [17]  In some cases the elections meant that good officers were cashiered, and “good fellows” chosen in their places, “but on the whole, the elections wrought less evil than could reasonably be expected.” [18] Even so, the professional core of the Army officers, many West Point graduates, was less than happy, as were some of the best volunteer officers. Brigadier General Wade Hampton, a volunteer who would eventually rise to command the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia following the death of J.E.B. Stuart in 1864 “disapproved of the balloting for officers, explaining, “The best officers are sometimes left out because they are too strict.” Another South Carolina officer noted; “officers who have discharged their duties properly are not popular with their men and those who have allowed the most privileges have been the least efficient and will be elected.” [19] The elections and reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia resulted in “the replacement of 155 field officers by newly elected men. The “whole effect,” wrote Porter Alexander, “was prejudicial to the discipline of the army.” [20]

In many cases the turnover in company grade officers was much more dramatic, in some cases fifty to seventy-five percent of officers were replaced in the elections, the “18th North Carolina Infantry replaced twenty-seven of forty officers. According to the new regimental commander, “Many of these officers elect were reported “incompetent” by a Board of Examination.” [21] Officers who failed to be reelected had the choice to remain in their units as enlisted personnel, but comparatively few did, often going to newly raised regiments where they were again commissioned and brought their experience along with them.

The act was highly controversial, often resisted, and “many Southerners resisted the draft or assisted evasion by others” [22]  The Confederate Congress issued a large number of class exemptions. The first exemptions were granted to “Confederate and state civil officials, railroad and river workers, telegraph operators, minors, several categories of industrial laborers, hospital personnel, clergymen, apothecaries, and teachers.” [23] The exemptions made sense, “but the categories would see much abuse by those seeking to stay out of uniform.” [24]

Initially the Congress fought off an attempt by planters to grant exemptions to “the owners, agents, or overseers with more than twenty slaves” [25] but a law to this effect was passed in October 1862. The exemption granted by Congress for the “owners or overseers of twenty or more slaves” [26] stirred up a hornet’s nest of resentment across the South. The October law “protected large-scale-slave-owning planters – the very people who had the most stake in this war – from military service, while drafting the small scale slaveowners and nonslaveholders who had the least interest in fighting to defend slavery.” [27] One of Mississippi’s slaveowning senators, James Phelan confidentially advised Davis that “never did a law meet with more universal odium than the exemption of slave-owners…. Its influence on the poor is most calamitous, and has awakened a spirit and elicited a discussion” that would surely produce “the most unfortunate results.” [28]

He was right, though Confederate soldiers would remain in the fight they “turned against what had originally called a crusade for independence. Now it was a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight,” the inference being that the wealth classes had provoked the struggle but poor people were the ones who had to fight, bleed, and die.” [29] Lee’s aide, Colonel Charles Marshall who had drafted the original conscription act, said that the “measure’s effect was “very injurious” and “severely commented upon in the army.” [30]

The main effect of the conscription act was “to stimulate volunteering rather than by its actual use” [31] and “directly and indirectly, the Conscription Act from large numbers of men into Lee’s army.” [32]  While the act did help increase the number of soldiers in Confederate service by the end of 1862 conscription was decidedly unpopular among soldiers. A Texas soldier whose unit had been reenlisted wrote that the new draft law “kicked up a fuss for a while, but since they shot about twenty-five men for mutiny whipped & shaved the heads of as many more for the same offense everything has got quiet & goes on as usual.” [33]

Conscripts were often looked down upon in the ranks as many of the old soldiers felt that they lacked the patriotism and honor to volunteer in the first place, and many who did show up were of dubious value. Statics from November 1863 indicated that “more than half of those who reported for conscription were ultimately exempted from duty.” [34] While many of these were for medical reasons, others claimed the exemptions provided for in the law.

Some governors who espoused state’s-rights viewpoint “utilized their state forces to challenge Richmond’s centralized authority, hindering efficient manpower mobilization.” [35] Some, most notably Georgia’s governor Joseph Brown “denounced the draft as “a most dangerous usurpation by Congress of the rights of the States…at war with all principles for which Georgia entered the revolution.” [36]  Governor Brown and a number of other governors, including Zebulon Vance of North Carolina, did more than protest, they fought the law in the courts but when overruled they resisted it by manipulating the many exemption loopholes, especially, especially those that which they could grant to civil servants. Brown “appointed large numbers of eligible Georgia males to fictitious state offices in order to exempt them,” [37] and Brown “insisted that militia officers were included in this category, and proceeded to appoint hundreds of new officers.” [38]  North Carolina and Georgia “accounted for 92 percent of all state officials exempted from the draft” and a “Confederate general sarcastically described a Georgia or North Carolina militia regiment as containing “3 field officers, 4 staff officers, 10 captains, 30 lieutenants, and 1 private with a misery in his bowels.” [39] In South Carolina, “Governor Francis W. Pickens was trying to impose a state draft of his own and attempted to exempt South Carolina draftees from any liability to the Confederate draft.[40]

Due to the problems with the Conscription Act of 1862 and the abuses by the governors it was amended twice in new bills in late 1862 and again in 1864 when Jefferson Davis lobbied Congress to pass the Conscription Act of 1864. This act was designed to correct problems related to exemptions and “severely limited the number of draft exemption categories and expanded military age limits from eighteen to forty-five and seventeen to fifty. The most significant feature of the new act, however, was the vast prerogatives it gave to the President and War Department to control the South’s labor pool.” [41] Despite these problems the Confederacy eventually “mobilized 75 to 80 percent of its available draft age military population.” [42]

While the act was unpopular, it did hold the army together and without it “the Confederacy could not have survived the 1862 campaigns without the veterans, and compelled the states to produce fresh regiments when their nation needed them.” [43] During 1862 the total number of men in the Confederate army “increased from about 325,000 to 450,000. Since about 75,000 men were lost from death or wounds during this period, the net gain was approximately 200,000. Fewer than half of the men were conscripts and substitutes; the remainder were considered volunteers even if their motives for enlisting many not have been unalloyed with patriotism.” [44] The results of the draft in getting men to combat units were still in evidence in the spring of 1864. “An officer of the 45th Georgia maintained that the regiment had come to Virginia with roughly 1,000 men in April 1862, and fell back from Antietam with only 200 left. At the start of the spring campaign, the regiment listed 425 men on its rolls as present.” [45] Despite all of the flaws and the condemnations the various conscription acts of the Confederacy provided the necessary manpower to continue the war.


[1] Levine, Bruce The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South Random House, New York 2013 p.83

[2] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.118

[3] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.83

[4] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.429

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.364

[6] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p. 429

[7] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee an abridgment by Richard Harwell, Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.172

[8] Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour Harper Collins Publishers New York 1991 p.453

[9] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.84

[10] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville Random House, New York 1963 1958 p.395

[11] Ibid. Davis Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour p.453

[12] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.430

[13] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.172

[14] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.118

[15] Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1992 p.52

[16] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[17] Ibid. Sears To the Gates of Richmond+ p.52

[18] Ibid. Freeman Lee pp.172-173

[19] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.85

[20] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.13

[21] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.86

[22] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[23] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p. 431

[24] Ibid. Davis Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour p.453

[25] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.365

[26] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.154

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.365

[28] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie pp.84-85

[29] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.38

[30] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.85

[31] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p. 432

[32] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.402

[33] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.39

[34] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.402

[35] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.166

[36] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.433

[37] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.364

[38] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[39] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[40] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.364

[41] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.261

[42] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.88

[43] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.402

[44] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.432

[45] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.402

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, History

From All-Volunteer Forces to Conscription: The Draft in the Civil War


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am posting another heavily revised section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text, this dealing on the conscription efforts of both sides. It is an inte4resting subject as it brings up many issues that we still face in society, racial and religious prejudice, economic disparity, and social division.  Of course as always I will probably add more to this and revise it again, but you are probably getting used to that. I hope that you enjoy and have a great day.


Padre Steve+

The Changing Character of the Armies and Society

Gettysburg was the last battle where the original armies, composed of volunteers predominated.  As the war progressed the nature of both armies was changed. Initially both sides sought to fight the war with volunteers. However, the increasingly costly battles which consumed vast numbers of men necessitated new measures to fill the ranks, and this need led to the conscription, or draft of soldiers and the creation of draft laws and bureaus in the South and later the North.


Confederate Conscription

The in April 1862 Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1862 which stated that “all persons residing in the Confederate States, between the ages of 18 and 35 years, and rightfully subject to military duty, shall be held to be in the military service of the Confederate States, and that a plain and simple method be adopted for their prompt enrollment and organization.” [1] The act was highly controversial, often resisted and the Confederate Congress issued a large number of class exemptions. Despite the exemptions “many Southerners resisted the draft or assisted evasion by others” [2] The main purpose of the conscription act was “to stimulate volunteering rather than by its actual use” [3] and while it did help increase the number of soldiers in Confederate service by the end of 1862 it was decidedly unpopular among soldiers, chafing at an exemption for “owners or overseers of twenty or more slaves” [4] who referred to the war as a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.” [5]

Some governors who espoused state’s rights viewpoints “utilized their state forces to challenge Richmond’s centralized authority, hindering efficient manpower mobilization.” [6] Some, most notably Georgia’s governor Joseph Brown “denounced the draft as “a most dangerous usurpation by Congress of the rights of the States…at war with all principles for which Georgia entered the revolution.” [7]  Governor Brown and a number of other governors, including Zebulon Vance of North Carolina fought the law in the courts but when overruled resisted it through the many exemption loopholes, especially that which they could grant to civil servants.

In Georgia, Governor Brown “insisted that militia officers were included in this category, and proceeded to appoint hundreds of new officers.” [8] Due to the problems with the Conscription Act of 1862 and the abuses by the governors, Jefferson Davis lobbied Congress to pass the Conscription Act of 1864. This act was designed to correct problems related to exemptions and “severely limited the number of draft exemption categories and expanded military age limits from eighteen to forty-five and seventeen to fifty. The most significant feature of the new act, however, was the vast prerogatives it gave to the President and War Department to control the South’s labor pool.” [9] Despite these problems the Confederacy eventually “mobilized 75 to 80 percent of its available draft age military population.” [10]

recruit poster

The Enrollment Act: The Federal Draft

In the spring of 1863 a manpower crunch began to hit the Union Army as vast numbers of the nine-month militia regiments which were called out by Lincoln in accordance with the Militia Act of May 25th 1792 were to disband. Facing the reality that the all-volunteer system which had sustained the war effort the first two years of the war could no longer meet the need for adequate numbers of soldiers the Congress of the United States passed the “An Act for the enrolling and calling out the National Forces, and for other Purposes,” commonly known as the enrollment act of 1863” on March 3rd 1863. [11] The length of the war and the massive number of causalities were wearing on the population and the Union Army had reached an impasse as in terms of the vast number of men motivated to serve “for patriotic reasons or peer group pressure were already in the army.” Likewise, “War weariness and the grim realities of army life discouraged further volunteering” and “the booming war economy had shrunk the number of unemployed men to the vanishing point.” [12]

The Enrollment Act was controversial. Based on the power of Congress given by the Constitution in Article One, Section Eight, to raise and support armies. It was “the first direct Federal conscription statute in U.S. history, providing the first Federal compulsion upon individuals to enter directly into the military service of the United States, without intermediate employment in the militia systems of the states.” [13] In doing so the act “bypassed the state governments entirely and created a series of federal enrollment boards that would take responsibility for satisfying the federally assigned state quotas.” [14] In effect it was an act the nationalized military service and eventual became the basis for a truly national army which would be supported by state forces embodied in the National Guard as well as a Federal Army Reserve. Though Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney believed that act of be unconstitutional it was never challenged during his lifetime, but “the Court eventually upheld the constitutionality of the similar Selective Service Act of May 18th, 1917 in a unanimous decision.” [15] The act made some exemptions, those who were physically or mentally unfit, certain high federal government officials and governors, only sons of dependent widows and infirm parents, or those convicted of a felony.

Like the Confederate legislation, this act was also tremendously unpopular and was ridden with exemptions which were frequently abused. All congressional districts were issued a quota for volunteers. Those districts that were able to fulfill their quotas were not subject to conscription, thus the districts that “could provide sufficient volunteers, or bounties high enough to lure volunteers, would not need to draft anyone, and in the end only seven Northern States would be subject to all four of the draft calls issued under the Enrollment Act.” [16]

The Federal draft was conducted by lottery in each congressional district with each district being assigned a quota to meet by the War Department. Under one third of the men drafted actually were inducted into the army, “more than one-fifth (161,000 of 776,000) “failed to report” and about 300,000 “were exempted for physical or mental disability or because they convinced the inducting officer that they were the sole means of support for a widow, an orphan sibling, a motherless child, or an indigent parent.” [17]

To ensure that the enrollment boards had teeth Congress “authorized a Provost Marshall Bureau in the War Department to enforce conscription.” [18] It was the task of the Provost Marshalls to enroll every male citizen, as well as immigrants who had applied for citizenship between the ages of twenty to forty-five.

There was also a provision in the Federal draft law that allowed well off men to purchase a substitute who they would pay other men to take their place. Some 26,000 men paid for this privilege, including future President Grover Cleveland. Another “50,000 Northerners escaped service by another provision in the Enrollment Act known as “commutation,” which allowed draftees to bay $300 as an exemption fee to escape the draft.” [19] Many people found the notion that the rich could buy their way out of war found the provision repulsive to the point that violence ensued in a number of large cities.  Congress had good intentions in setting the price at $300 because they did not want the price to soar beyond the reach of many draftees, however, this was far more than most of the working poor could afford. Of course well off and influential people could pay for a substitute, but “the working poor, for whom three hundred dollars was a half a year’s wages, were especially outraged, and many saw the exemption as another indicator that the war no longer focused on their interests….” [20] Many were afraid that newly emancipated African Americans would be new competition for their already low paying jobs and that the notion of equality would upset their society and their lives. The financial wall was insurmountable for many, and the fact that many found it repulsive that “in a democracy someone could hire a substitute to take his place, was calculated to provoke the bloodiest sort of response among the poor.” [21]

Fraud was rampant and the boards often had little means to check the documentation of those who filed for exemptions. “Surgeons could be bribed, false affidavits claiming dependent support could be filed, and other kinds of under-the-table influence could be exerted. Some draftees feigned insanity or disease. Others practiced self-mutilation. Some naturalized citizens claimed to be aliens.” [22] All of this seemed to indicate to the poor, and to recent immigrants that the system was unfair. Some soldiers such as Irish-American soldier John England were not against the draft itself, but the inequity of the system. The law, English wrote, “was framed for the benefit of the rich and the disadvantage of the poor. For instance – a rich conscript can commute for$300! Now, it is a fact well known to all that there are some rich animals in the northern cities that can afford to lose $300, as much as some poor people can afford to lose one cent.” [23]

To make matters worse for the Army, many of the substitutes themselves were worthless to the Army, veteran soldiers distrusted them, often with good reason. “Of 186 such men assigned to a Massachusetts regiment, 115 deserted, 6 were discharged for disability, 26 were transferred to the navy, and 1 was killed in action.” Additionally the medically unfit, including men in the final stages of incurable disease were present in large numbers, of “57 recruits for the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, seventeen could not muster. In March of 1864, one-third of the replacements sent to a cavalry divisions were already on the sick list.” [24]

The Union draft law provoked great resentment, not because people were unwilling to serve, but from the way that it was administered, for it “brought the naked power of military government into play on the home front and went much against the national grain.[25] The resentment of the act grew, especially in large cities such as New York was fed by false rumors and lack of understanding as much as fact. The ensuing draft riots “were based upon ignorance, misery, fear, and the inability of one class of men to understand another class; upon the fact that there were “classes of men” in a classless American society.” [26]


The Draft Riots

Barely a week after the Battle of Gettysburg, clashes and violence erupted in several cities. The riots became so violent that local police forces were incapable of controlling them. As a result President Lincoln was forced to use Union Soldiers, recently victorious at Gettysburg to end the rioting and violence. New York where protestors involved in a three day riot, many of whom were Irish immigrants urged on by Democratic Tammany Hall politicians, “soon degenerated into violence for its own sake” [27] wrecking the draft office, then seizing the Second Avenue armory while attacking police and soldiers on the streets. Soon “the mob had undisputed control of the city.” [28]

These rioters also took out their anger on blacks, and during their rampage the rioters “had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum.” [29] A witness described the scene:

“The furious, bareheaded & coatless men assembled under our windows & shouted for Jeff Davis!… Towards evening the mob, furious as demons, went yelling over to the Colored-Orphan Asylum in 5th Avenue… & rolling a barrel of kerosene in it, the whole structure was soon ablaze, & is now a smoking ruin. What has become of the 300 innocent orphans I could not learn…. Before this fire was extinguished, or rather burnt out, for the wicked wretches who caused it would not permit the engines to be used, the northern sky was brilliantly illuminated, probably by the burning of the Aged Colored-Women’s Home in 65th Street…. A friend…had seen a poor negro hung an hour or two before. The man in a frenzy, had shot an Irish fireman and they immediately strung up the unhappy African…. A person who called at our house this afternoon saw three of them hanging together.” [30]


Many of the rioters, but certainly not all of them were Irish, especially Catholics, who were also angry at the religious prejudice that the experienced at the hand of many Protestants. Rioters “targeted African-Americans, Republicans, abolitionists, and anyone associated with them…. Policemen and soldiers trying to suppress the riots also became targets, even if these men were Irish-Americans and Catholics.” [31] Many high profile Irish Catholics including Archbishop John Hughes refused to condemn the rioters or even call them by the term, earning the condemnation of the editors of the New York Times who wrote, “If the mob had burned the Catholic Orphan Asylum next door to the Bishop’s Cathedral… somebody besides “the papers” probably would have called them rioters.” [32]

The riots showed that the concept of racial or religious equality was difficult for many Americans, and not just those in the South. Prejudice, against African Americans, immigrants including the Irish, and Roman Catholics still burned in the hearts of many who had just a few years before had supported the Know Nothing Party and movement. Bruce Catton wrote, the “rioters had malignant prejudice, and those rioted against had another prejudice, equally malignant; if the lynchings and the burnings and the pitched battles in city streets meant anything they meant that this notion of equality was going to be hard to live with.” [33]

The violence did not abate until newly arrived veteran Union troops who had just fought at Gettysburg quickly and violently put down the insurrection. These soldiers, fresh from the battlefield and having experienced the loss of so many of their comrades “poured volleys into the ranks of protestors with the same deadly effect they had produced against the rebels at Gettysburg two weeks earlier.” [34] Republican newspapers which supported abolition and emancipation were quick to point out the moral of the riots; “that black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [35]

In the end, the Enrollment Act contributed little to the Union war effort. Though it was called conscription it was not really conscription, it was “but a clumsy carrot and stick device to stimulate volunteering. The threat was being drafted and the carrot a bounty for volunteering.” [36] The organization of its machinery was so inefficient and the Act’s intentions so diluted “that the effort netted only 35,883 men – albeit along with $15,686,400 in commutation fees.” [37]

While an additional 74,000 men served as substitutes, the number pales in comparison to the nearly 800,000 who volunteered or reenlisted to serve while the act was in force. Only some six percent of the 2.7 million men who served in the Union Army were directly conscripted. Congress repealed the commutation provision in July 1864 and tightened requirements for exemptions.

The Federal government got into the bounty business as well with a $300 bounty for new enlistment and reenlistment, all paid for by the commutation fees collected by through the enrollment Act. To meet the demand “Bounty brokers” went into business to enlist men into the service, getting the best deal possible while themselves taking part of the profit. Some enterprising recruits “could pyramid local, regional, and national bounties into grants of $1000 or more,” [38] and some even took the chance to change their names, move to another and enlist again to collect more bounty money and many deserted before they ever saw combat. “They were so unreliable that any regiment that had them in large numbers was bound to be decidedly weaker than it would have been without them.” [39]


The men who had been fighting since 1861 and 1862 who had served without bounties and had reenlisted anyway; the veterans of Shiloh, Vicksburg, Antietam, Gettysburg and so many other hard fought battles in the West and the East, despised the substitutes and bounty men of 1864, and the poor qualities of such men made the good soldiers look even better. These men were proud of their service, their regiments, and what they had achieved. One soldier from Illinois wrote to his sister: “It is hard for a person to imagine how much a man sacrifices in the way of pleasure and enjoyment by going into the ‘Army,’ but I never think I shall regret being in the ‘Army’ if I get out alive & well.” He did.” [40]


[1] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[2] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[3] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p. 432

[4] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.154

[5] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[6] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.166

[7] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.433

[8] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[9] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.261

[10] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.28

[11] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.233

[12] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.600

[13] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War pp.233-234

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.459

[15] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.234

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.459

[17] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.601

[18] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.600

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.460

[20] Bruce, Susannah Ural The Harp and the Flag: Irish American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 New York University Press, New York and London 2006 p.173

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.460

[22] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.601

[23] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p.173

[24] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.38

[25] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.635

[26] Catton, Bruce. Never Call Retreat, Pocket Books a division of Simon and Schuster, New York 1965 p.205

[27] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.636

[28] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.637

[29] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.461

[31] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p.180

[32] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p.180

[33] Ibid. Catton Never Call Retreat p.205

[34] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.610

[35] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[36] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.605

[37] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.236

[38] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.606

[39] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.40

[40] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.40

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, History

Zealots and Ideologues


“In this world, there are no sides. Only players.”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I think my favorite character on television is Raymond “Red” Reddington, played by James Spader on the shoe The Blacklist. He is a very complex and troubling character, and the thing is I can understand him. His is a world of gray where he does the right thing for wrong reasons and the wrong thing for right reasons. His loyalties are personal and not ideological, he is a man of contradictions, as am I. Raymond Reddington one said, “Cultural peculiarities notwithstanding, I find cock fighting to be abominable. However, truth be told, I do love fried chicken.” I totally agree with that, sorry Vegan friends.

My regular readers know that I am a complex person as well. I am a Christian, a priest at that, who often doubts; a career military officer who hates war, but also realizes that as much of an evil as war is, that there are worse evils than war itself.  Likewise I am very liberal and progressive in my political and social beliefs, but I serve in a profoundly conservative institution that is not always welcoming to my beliefs. But that being said, even though I am a liberal and progressive at heart, my education as a historian and my life experience mitigates against me becoming an ideologue or zealot, and I am not a revolutionary.

I tend to be able to see and appreciate arguments of multiple points of view on almost every issue, and I wrestle with them, doing the best I can to do the right thing. Whether it is for the right reason or not, I don’t pretend to know. Maybe that is one reason I have friends on all sides of the political, religious, and ideological debates that rage about this country and in the world. But as always I digress…

In the last episode of season three of The Blacklist, Reddington tells an assistant FBI director who he has been helping solve crimes, “I know so many zealots, men and women, who choose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” From my experience I believe that to be the truth, and truthfully, I would rather deal with people that wrestle with this difficult world than rather than those whose beliefs are shaped by their ideology first, regardless of facts, divergence of opinions, history, science, reality, and experience.

But what bothers me in what I see going on in this country and around the world is that mass movements of ideologues and zealots of every persuasion, political and religious, those that have seized or are trying to seize power in many nations, and foment revolution. Captivated by ideological purity, they are unwilling to compromise and frequently label anyone that disagrees with them or the leader of their movement, even in the slightest manner as traitors or evil. Many times the zealots take no time to evaluate the quality of the merits of their movement or those that oppose them, their cause is right, their opponents are evil and need to be destroyed. I think the most distressing case is where the Nazis and German Communists worked together to destroy the Weimar Republic in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Eric Hoffer wrote,  “The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.” Likewise, Hoffer noted something that I observe almost every day, that the zeolots and ideologues of mass movements use anger and hatred to unify their followers. Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” Believe, me, ask any ideologue of any type, and he or she will tell you who their devil is. But sadly history demonstrates that a mass movements of any type, political, ideological, or religious has achieved powe, all opponents, especially those closest to them ideologically or religiously are the enemy, or to use Hoffer’s words “a devil.” The opponents closest to the ideologues ideology have to be destroyed or discredited first, before they can move on to battle their real opposites. Just look at history.

The ideologue cannot lose because he already knows his answer, the classic fundamentalist Christian quote, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it”  is very much descriptive of other ideologically driven mass movements be they conservative or liberal. The ideologue’s attitudes are derived from their ideology and are often not subject to facts. I see it every day, especially on social media where partisans of evil persuasion fire broadside after broadside at all opponents, regardless of the facts, or even the fact that there may be more than one equally valid viewpoint on a subject. But then I tend to see everything in various shades of gray and not in black and white absolutes, and ideologues of all types frighten me, even those whose unbending beliefs are sugarcoated with millennial or utopian sentiments of the perfect world that will follow their victory. I know from history that such is not the case, in far too many instances first thing that radical, or self-proclaimed revolutionaries do after achieving absolute power is to kill.

Maybe that is why I like Raymond Reddington. I really do think that real courage is to wrestle with reality every day and do the hard work of deciding what to believe; and today that may be different then tomorrow, but it will be based on reality and tempered by my often contradictory beliefs. Of course a true political ideologue or religious fundamentalist will condemn me to their version of hell of being that honest, but it is true. That is my uncomfortable reality, it may not be right, and my vision may be skewed and distorted, but it is what it is, and as Reddington said, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

So until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+


Filed under ethics, faith, History, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

So who did the dirty work for us? Armed Forces Day 2016


Major General Smedley Butler, USMC

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am reposting something I wrote last year regarding Armed Forces Day. I was pretty emotionally raw when I wrote it but at the same time after re-reading it I cannot disagree with anything that I wrote. So today in honor of the fewer than 1% who serve in the uniform of the United States at any given time I am glad to share this. The faux patriotism displayed by so many, the bumper stickers that say “I support the troops” while supporting politicians and corporations that exist solely to make war on the backs of such a small segment of society, while cavalierly tossing veterans aside is no patriotism at all.

This may piss some people off, but as a man who has served 35 years in uniform and who has been to war and seen its horror, I cannot be less than honest.  

So please, take some time today to thank a currently serving Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman, or Coastguardsman for their service, and don’t do it flippantly. Recognize that they make sacrifices that go beyond what most people make, and all too many suffer for their service.


Padre Steve+

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

Today is Armed Forces Day and unfortunately most of the country will not notice unless they are attending a Baseball game where it is being observed or some special event on a base, national cemetery, monument or VFW hall. Armed Forces Day was established in 1948 by President Harry Truman after the founding of the Department of Defense.  It was established to honor and remember those currently serving, not the discharged or the retired veteran, they are remembered on Veterans Day, the former Armistice Day, nor the fallen who are commemorated on Memorial Day which we will do next weekend.

Unlike Veterans Day or Memorial Day there is no national holiday for Armed Forces Day. I find this ironic for a nation which claims to support the troops that the men and women who we honor are honored on a day that unless they are deployed in harm’s way or have duty, is regular day off like any Saturday. Personally I think the day should be celebrated by giving the active duty force a real day off and if they are deployed given some kind of down time as operational needs allow, and maybe even given them a ration of beer. We did this for the Marine Corps birthday in Iraq, so why not on Armed Forces Day? But I digress…

Back when Armed Forces Day was established there was still a draft which meant that in theory everyone had skin in the game and that our leaders were far more hesitant to commit the nation to war.

Back in 1952 the New York Times editors wrote:

“It is our most earnest hope that those who are in positions of peril, that those who have made exceptional sacrifices, yes, and those who are afflicted with plain drudgery and boredom, may somehow know that we hold them in exceptional esteem. Perhaps if we are a little more conscious of our debt of honored affection they may be a little more aware of how much we think of them.”

But sadly today in all honesty were think very little of them. Today of course there will be a fair number of local celebrations to honor members of the Armed Forces across the country, but for the most part they will be small and not well publicized. Most of the people in attendance will not even be there for the troops. They will be there for the event and their hearts will be warmed by the tributes paid to the troops. As a career officer and son of a Vietnam veteran Navy Chief I appreciate those events and at least some of the good hearted the people that put them together. Being a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, especially those that have taken the time to honor Iraq and Afghanistan veterans like me who have returned from war totally fucked up. But again I digress, badda bing, badda boom, badda bomb…

me and nelson

Bu here is what really s upsetting to me, good number of these patriot, flag waving, war porn satiating, yet somehow inspiring ceremonies to honor the troops are not even coming for the heart of the people putting them on. Until it was exposed last year many of these ceremonies, particularly those done by the NFL were coming out of the Pentegon budget and being paid for by the taxpayers. These events are nothing more than faux patriotism and little more than propaganda that exploits the troops. They are being done as a recruiting tool with the Department of Defense which is paying hundreds of millions of dollars to the tax exempt National Football League and its teams to put on shows that give all the appearances of honoring the troops but are really nothing more than propaganda and recruiting commercials. Likewise for all which for all the money we the taxpayers spend on them actually net few recruits if any as a huge number of our current troops are the sons and daughters of men and women who have also served this country. They, like me, serve for something greater than partisan politics  greater than money, greater than anything that can easily be repaid. For most it is the ideal of the love of this country and the principles found in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal. However, that is fodder for another article.

But honestly I am so offended by this faux  patriotism shown by the NFL and God knows who else that it causes me a great deal of anger. I say this because throughout our nation’s history our political leaders, business leaders and the populace as a whole have despised the military, and those who in the absence of a draft chose to serve. That despicable attitude was well recounted in Herman Wouk’s monumental novel, which became a classic film The Caine Mutiny. In the film a defense attorney for those accused of mutiny, Barney Greenwald played to perfection by Jose Ferrer told the acquitted mutineers of the Caine’s wardroom:

“You know something…when I was studying law, and Mr Keefer here was writing his stories, and you, Willie, were tearing up the playing fields of dear old Princeton,method was standing guard over this fat dumb happy country of ours, eh? Not us. Oh no, we knew you couldn’t make any money in the service. So who did the dirty work for us? Queeg did! And a lot of other guys. Tough, sharp guys who didn’t crack up like Queeg.” 


For those who are now getting pissed off at me, let us look at facts. At any given time less than 1% of Americans are serving in all components of the military. For nearly 15 years we have been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as other locations that we don’t like to talk about too much. However this has not been the effort of a nation at war, it is the war of a tiny percentage of the population, a segment that everyone is far too willing to exploit.

As a nation we are disconnected from the military and the wars that the military fights. The fact is that most Americans do not have a personal or vested interest in these wars, they have been insulated by political leaders of both parties from them. There is no draft, and no taxes were raised to fund the wars and the military is now worn out.

We have been at war for nearly 15 years and truthfully there is no end in sight. In that time every single Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Airman volunteered for duty or reenlisted during this time period. Motives may have varied from individual to individual, but unlike the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam every single one volunteered to serve in time of war. I think that this makes the current generation of veterans quite unique in our modern history, but not so different than the professionals who served before and after the Civil War,and  those who served before and after the First World War. The situation after the Second Wolrd War and the Cold War required a large standing military and large reserve force. This required the draft, which though hated by many  leavened the professional force with civilians who got a taste of military and when they left did not forget they meaning of their service and the sacrifices made by the professionals. We do not have that anymore. We are no longer are no longer a military composed of citizen soldiers. We who serve,  even in our reserve components are  a Warrior caste, set apart from the society that we serve.

There is a tragic disconnection between the military and civilian society in the United States. This is the result of deliberate public policy since the end of the Vietnam War supported by both political parties. For almost 40 years we have relied on an all volunteer force. It is that relatively small and socially isolated military which is sent to fight wars while the bulk of the population is uninvolved and corporations, lobbyists and think tanks get rich.

Andrew Bacevich wrote in his new book Breach of Trust: How Americans failed their Soldiers and their Country:

“Rather than offering an antidote to problems, the military system centered on the all-volunteer force bred and exacerbated them. It underwrote recklessness in the formulation of policy and thereby resulted in needless, costly, and ill-managed wars. At home, the perpetuation of this system violated simple standards of fairness and undermined authentic democratic practice. The way a nation wages war—the role allotted to the people in defending the country and the purposes for which it fights—testifies to the actual character of its political system. Designed to serve as an instrument of global interventionism (or imperial policing), America’s professional army has proven to be astonishingly durable, if also astonishingly expensive. Yet when dispatched to Iraq and Afghanistan, it has proven incapable of winning. With victory beyond reach, the ostensible imperatives of U.S. security have consigned the nation’s warrior elite to something akin to perpetual war.”

Bacevich, a retired Army Colonel and Vietnam veteran who lost a son in Iraq is dead on, as is Rachel Maddow who wrote in her outstanding book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power:

“The reason the founders chafed at the idea of an American standing army and vested the power of war making in the cumbersome legislature was not to disadvantage us against future enemies, but to disincline us toward war as a general matter… With citizen-soldiers, with the certainty of a vigorous political debate over the use of a military subject to politicians’ control, the idea was for us to feel it- uncomfortably- every second we were at war. But after a generation or two of shedding the deliberate political encumbrances to war that they left us… war making has become almost an autonomous function of the American state. It never stops.” 

The lobbyists, pundits, politicians, preachers and war profiteers that promote war don’t care about the troops. This especially applies to the likely GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump, a man who brazenly and shamelessly equates his time at a military high school as being equal to actually serving while using multiple deferments and medical excuses to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War. Trump called military personnel who were captured by the enemy “cowards,” a man who cares not a whit about real men and women who serve this country. When Trump and other most other politicians say they do care about the troops they are lying out their asses. This is because no matter who is in office or who controls congress these people and corporations will promote policies that keep them employed and their businesses enriched, and yes, Bernie Sanders is on that list, despite his denunciations of war and vote against the Iraq war he has consistently supported weapons programs like the F-35 fighter plane fiasco which is such an example of waste, fraud and abuse,  not to mention overpriced, overdue, and underperforming weapons systems ever, in order to bring jobs to Vermont.

Marine Major General and Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler was quite right when he said:

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

I think that the reason that our current wars have gone on so long is the that misguided policies have brought about a chronic disconnection in our society between those that serve in the military. But how can there not be when in the weeks after 9-11 people like President Bush and others either directly or in a manner of speaking told people to “go shopping” * as we went to war in Afghanistan? When I returned from Iraq I returned to a nation that was not at war whose leaders used the war to buttress their respective political bases.

The results are terrible. Suicide rates are continuing to rise among veterans who have returned to find that neither the VA nor the civilian mental health care sector is prepared to care for them. Even worse the members of the GOP controlled Congress are working their asses off to screw the troops. Ohio GOP Congressman, Tea Party favorite,  supposedly deeply committed Christian and even worse a Colonel in the Ohio Army National Guard has attempted and is attempting again to attach an Ammendment to the 2016 Nation Defense Authorization Act which would keep the Defense Department from enformice rules which would protect young troops from the predatory payday lenders who line the avenues leading to every major military base in the country. My opinion, this man is a traitor to the country even though he wears the uniform and has deployed and led soldiers in in Iraq and other locations during this war. He is selling out the the young troops to protect the payday lending industry with which has had a nearly incestuous relationship since he day that was elected to Congress.

But Congressman Stivers is not alone, Congressmen and women of both parties sell out the troops to prop up banks, insurance companies and Wall Street. Those military health benefits not directly provided in military medical centers are run through an organization called Tricare. Tricare, which is managed by the insurance companies who bid on competitive contracts is a for profit industry. These insurance companies routinely deny services to the families of military members, pay so little or are so mind numbingly  incompetent that many medical providers refuse to deal with them, leaving the troops their families stuck in the middle. That my friends is fact. Now the GOP led by the Koch brothers is attempting to privatize Veterans Admisistration Heath care. Now in all honesty, the chronically underfunded and bureaucratically bound VA. That being said my friends privatization will only make things worse for veterans who will now have to deal with private for profit insurance companies and Heath care systems that see them and their wounds and infirmaries as a way to make a buck off of taxpayer and to screw the veteran.

But let’s not stop there. Politicians of both parties and their backers from the financial sectors have been working overtime since the Adminstration of George W. Bush to roll back retirement benefits which they call  “entitlements” which are supposedly destroying the financial health and well being of the nation. Never mind the fact that these same  politicians have spent trillions of dollars bailing out the corporations which have almost single handed lay destroyed this nation’s economy time after time since the 1970s, and who support corporations who are based in this country but have sold the nation out and work against the interests of Americans.

But never mind, I digress, for as we all know it is the troops who are the leches who are bankrupting the country.

But this isn’t new my friends it began during the Reagan Administration which changed the retirement system from the flat 50% of one’s final active duty pay that one would retire with at 20 years of service or high multiples up to 75% at 30 years to an average of the last three, or the highest three years of pay that one earned while on active duty.  In effect the Reagan Adminstration robbed military retest of hundreds of thousand of dollars of hard earned benefits. But again the beloved Saint Ronald loved the troops, after all he said so.

Likewise, did you know that some GOP legislators want to cut the disability payments to military members who have been wounded or injured during their service?  You probably didn’t and you won’t find that fact out on Fox News or CNN. This is not to be confused with the retirement benefits that they are looking to cut.  This, my friends is the debt of honor that this nation owes to the men and women who have given everything and now are broken in body, mind and spirit. But, those who promote such policies, even those who have worn the uniform, like Congressman Stivers have no honor. Like those that sold out the Union veterans after the Civil War and the Doughboys after World War One they are much more indebted to their political benefactors than they are to te troops no matter what they say.

Now I do believe that Armed Forces Day should be better celebrated and I am grateful to the people that do things every day to thank and support military personnel. These wonderful people that do this come from across the political spectrum. Some are veterans and others non-veterans, but they care for and appreciate the men and women that serve in and fight the wars that no-one else can be bothered to fight.


Of course the politicians, pundits, preachers and the defense contractors, banks and lobbyists will find a way to profit. They will do so no matter how many more troops are killed, wounded or injured and how badly it affects military personnel or their families and will push to abandon those who fought as they do after every war. After all, to quote Smedley Butler, “war is a racket.”  So that is what I believe; and if God is just, and if there is a Hell, I hope that the people who promote war and profit from it, and then abandon those who fight their wars end up there, especially the preachers who this very morning will invite the troops to their churches to supposedly honor them even as they support the politicians whose policies damn the very troops that they pretend to honor today. 

That may sound harsh, but is it any more harsh than condemning people to Hell who have different beliefs or lifestyles who have harmed no one by their actions? I think not. 

As so to these preachers, I say, to use the words of one of my football coaches, “your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word that you are saying.” 


Padre Steve+

President Bush’s actually words were “Now, the American people have got to go about their business. We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don’t — where we don’t conduct business, where people don’t shop…”


Filed under History, Military, Political Commentary