Category Archives: civil war

They Too Needed Emancipation: Remembering the Common Confederate Soldiers


Monument to the 11th Mississippi on Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I drove home from Gettysburg after walking as an infantryman would have the battlefield in order to better get a feel for what the soldiers of both sides experienced. Over the two days I was there I walked almost 32 miles including walking across some of the most rugged terrain of the battle which gave me a far greater appreciation for the toughness, valor, and courage shown by the men of John Bell Hood and Lafayette McLaws’s divisions of the Confederate First Corps. Most of those men had marched between seven and twenty miles to get to their attack positions in the hot and humid weather of July 2nd 1863. If they even had them their shoes and boots were of relatively poor quality. As I walked seven miles with my hiking books and carrying a modern three day pack with about a 15 pound load I could only imagine the physical duress of those soldiers. To be sure I am 30 to 40 years older than most of those infantrymen, but still they had all marched between 200 to 300 miles before they even arrived at Gettysburg.

The physical stamina required of soldiers at war is something that most people today cannot imagine. Not only have most never served in the military but far fewer have served in combat. I have, but I didn’t have to walk everywhere like these soldiers did, and while I came under enemy fire I never had to charge up a rugged hill under rifle and artillery fire as did the men of Robertson, Benning, and Laws brigades did at Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863, nor did I have to fight outnumbered in an exposed position as did the men of the Union Eleventh Corps north of town on July First 1863.

I have always been able to admire the courage of any soldiers who fight in desperate battles, even those who fight for unjust causes. While I consider my service in Iraq to been the high point of my military career, I have come to see it as an unjust, and illegal war of aggression that under the Nuremberg codes could easily been declared an unjust war of aggression in which our political and military leaders could have been tried and found guilty as were men like Herman Goering, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Keitel, and Albert Speer.

Thus while I absolutely condemn the cause that the Confederate soldiers fought for I still admire their battlefield courage and toughness. Likewise I do not glorify their senior leaders including men like Robert E. Lee. I will write about him in a future article, maybe as soon as this week. Since I have the beginning of a draft article I should go back and finish it, but tonight I will only say that Lee was not that great of Commander and his battlefield decisions cost the lives of far too many Southern men, including those he had summarily shot for desertion after the war was irrevocably lost in the Fall and Winter of 1864 and 1865 many of who, having served two to three years in continuous combats were only trying to go home to their families who had lost all when William Tecumseh Sherman’s army cut its way through the heartland of Georgia and the Carolinas. I think that is one of the reasons that I find the monuments to Confederate leaders so despicable, these men cared nothing for the soldiers who sacrificed all in a morally wrong cause. I completely agree with Ulysses S. Grant who wrote of the vast majority of Confederate soldiers:

“The great bulk of the legal voters of the South were men who owned no slaves; their homes were generally in the hills and poor country; their facilities for educating their children, even up to the point of reading and writing, were very limited; their interest in the contest was very meagre–what there was, if they had been capable of seeing it, was with the North; they too needed emancipation.”

Speaking of monuments I write about the Confederate monuments at Gettysburg another time. Compared to the Union monuments they are few, and only two,that of the 11th Mississippi, and the 3rd Arkansas on Seminary Ridge are actually dedicated to specific units, the others are quite generic and convey mixed political and ideological messages which often demean the sacrifice of their soldiers who died on that battlefield. Once again I will defer writing about those messages until later, but as I walked Seminary Ridge and read each one I was stuck with the stories that each monument told.

So anyway, tomorrow begins a short work week for the Veteran’s Day holiday, a day where we honor all who served our country in peace and war. I usually get a bit melancholy over this weekend as I think about my friends and comrades that I served with over the course of my thirty-six year career in the Army and Navy.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Talking About Bad Ground: Walking the Gettysburg Battlefield, Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, the Wheat Field and more…


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about my walk around the areas of the Battle of Gettysburg which transpired on the afternoon of July 1st 1863. Today was my crack at doing my best to experience walking the areas of the battlefield that were contested on July 2nd 1863 when Robert E. Lee ordered James Longstreet to assault the Federal left on the basis of Dick Ewell and Jubal Early’s intransigence in ordering a follow up assault on the Federal right, coupled with inaccurate information Lee had about where the end of the Federal line was. The result was the attacks by Longstreet’s divisions which came perilously close to succeeding but which after some of the bloodiest fighting during any three and a half hour period of the war were repulsed by Union troops the Third, Second, and Fifth Corps.


The engagements of that afternoon and evening are etched in our national conscience. Devil’s Den, Little around Top, the Bloody Wheat Field, and the Peach Orchard, not to mention the fights along Rose’s Woods, the Stoney Ridge, Trostle Farm, and Plum Run are each microcosms of the battle, each with heroes, villains, and tactical geniuses and idiots. But my purpose tonight is not to dissect those battles, I am doing that in a text about the Battle of Gettysburg. Instead it is to reflect upon military history and what the men who fought the battle endured.

If you want to understand military history and want to do so without having actually been to war or having taken the time to try to see and walk the ground the soldiers trod firsthand make a critical mistake, especially in campaigns where the soldiers had to walk into combat. As Guy Sager, who endured the Russian Front as an infantryman in the Second World War wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier:

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


Like yesterday I walked. I left my car at my hotel and put on my boots and my three-day pack from Iraq. I ate a biscuit with a little bit of gravy, and had a small cup of coffee at the hotel before I set off. Since the hotel didn’t serve hardtack it was the closest I could get to a Civil War breakfast. From the hotel it is about a two mile walk to get to General Lee’s HQ on Seminary Ridge. Since Longstreet’s advanced elements were about that far back from Lee’s HQ on that morning I thought that it would approximate the march of some of his troops while understanding that some of his Corps had to march far more just to get there before beginning their movement to the south part of the battlefield.

Upon reaching Seminary Ridge I began walking down what would have been the areas occupied by A.P. Hill’s Third Corps that Longstreet’s troops would have passed as they moved south. The distance that they covered was about five miles as the crow flies, but due to bad staff work and coordination most of the men of John Bell Hood and Lafayette McLaws divisions had to go further just to get to their start point for the attack. In the case of Evander Law’s brigade of Hood’s division which had the mission of being the furthest south of the attacking Confederates, they had marched over twenty miles before beginning their attack on Little Round Top. When I reached the area that they did I had only walked about seven and a half miles as opposed to the men of Evander Law’s brigade who had marched over twenty miles to get into their attack positions, but as a mater of fact they were almost all a couple of decades or more younger than me.


When I got to the point of the Confederate attack I walked a path that intersected with the soldiers of Law’s brigade and Robertson’s Texas brigade, both of Hood’s division. Hood had vigorously protested the attack to Longstreet due to the bad ground that his troops would have to traverse to reach their objectives. As I wrote in my draft book on the battle:

Hood was never one to hesitate to attack, but when he saw the situation that faced First Corps, he objected to the attack. “For the first time in his army career Hood suggested a change of orders to his commanding general,” and pleaded with Longstreet to change it. “From his own observations and those of his scouts he concluded that the attack would be futile and result in wanton wage of life.” The fierce Texan “recognized that the battle order, written more than two miles away on mistaken information…did not fit existing conditions.” His objections included the rocky terrain which he believed would break up his battle formations, as well as “the concave character of the enemy’s line from the north end of Cemetery Ridge to Big Round Top would expose his division to a “destructive fire in flank and rear, as well as in front” if his men attacked it obliquely.” He told Longstreet that it was “unwise to attack up the Emmitsburg Road, as ordered” and requested that he be allowed to “turn Round Top and attack the enemy flank and rear.

Meanwhile, the debate between Longstreet and Hood continued as Hood objected and Longstreet reiterated Lee’s insistence on the planned attack. McLaws noted that Hood “found that the enemy were strongly posted on two rocky hills, with artillery and infantry…” and he pleaded for freedom of maneuver. He believed that an attack up the rocky hills was doomed and later noted “it seemed to me that the enemy occupied a position so strong- I may say impregnable – that independently of their flank fire, they could easily repulse our attack by merely throwing or rolling stones down the mountainside as we approached.”


One can look at the ground and one can study it on maps, but until you walk that bad ground, even without doing it while subjected to enemy fire you won’t understand how bad it is. I made my way down a walking path and then tried to move off of it in order to get to Devil’s Den. It was awful, reeds, thrushes, a stream, boulders, and heavy brush prevented me from moving forward. So I went back, followed a trail to Big Round Top and then headed over to Devil’s Den. General Hood was right, the ground to use the words that he spoke to Longstreet after he was wounded “it was the worst ground I ever saw” is not an exaggeration. But the diversion allowed me to find the part of the battle where Brigadier General Elon Farnsworth, after having unsuccessfully resisted orders from Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick was forced to attack the well dug in Confederate infantry of Lafayette McLaw’s division on July 3rd.


From Devil’s Den I worked my way to Little Round Top. Most of the front slope is inaccessible due to the National Park Service doing a reclamation project, but there is a trail that leads up to it that many of the Confederates would have used. It was steep, and the ground was rugged. By the time I reached the top near the New York Monument I was exhausted. Despite having been in combat and being shot at I cannot imagine how the Confederate soldiers threw themselves up that hill facing small arms and artillery fire at point blank range. Their cause may have been wrong but they were valiant and tough soldiers. The fact that I am 30 to 40 years older than most of them is irrelevant, that ground was a bitch.


After that I went back over to the part of the battlefield occupied by the famous 20th Maine Infantry under the command of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, and then followed their counter-attack down the hill. From there I went back across the rear slope of Devil’s Den to Houck’s Ridge where heavily outnumbered Union Regulars held their own against Hood and McLaw’s soldiers. From there I went over to the Bloody Wheat Field. Like the Bloody Corn Field at Antietam this was a killing ground which exchanged hands several times during the battle, about 30% of the 20,000 or so soldiers engaged there became casualties. When on looks it the field it is hard to imagine that so many men were killed and wounded in such a short amount of time. Walking across the ground I could not help thinking about the thousands of souls who suffered and died there.


From there I continued through Rose’s Woods and the Stoney Ridge where still more Union and Confederate soldiers fell in desperate fights before walking back west to the Peach Orchard. This was another bloody contest in which General Dan Sickles of the Union Third Corps surprised both the Confederates and his own Commander, General George Meade by moving his corps into an exposed position. The battle there cost many lives and apologists for Sickles, Meade, and the Confederates have used for their own benefit. Sickles is claimed to have nearly lost the battle for the Union, but Longstreet said that his movement and defense of the Peach Orchard was key to the Union victory. Again my purpose in this article is not to take a side in that controversy but to imagine the carnage of the battlefield as well as the bravery of the soldiers on it. It is hard to imagine being a Third Corps Soldier at the Peach Orchard as Confederate artilleryman Porter Alexander’s guns swept their positions, nor being one of McLaw’s infantrymen who were being slaughtered by the experienced Union artillerymen of Third Corps and the Artillery Reserve.


By the time I got to the Peach Orchard I was hungry, thirsty, exhausted, and my feet were hurting. I had a choice. I could simply walk up the Emmitsburg Road and head back to the hotel or I could continue to follow the route of the Confederate advance spearheaded by General Barksdale’s brigade. I went back across Excelsior Field and to the Trostle Farm where Sickles fell wounded, before crossing Plum Run and heading up Cemetery Ridge where the Confederate advance was halted. I then walked back to the hotel via Cemetery Ridge, the Taneytown Road and the Soldiers Cemetery, before making a brief stop on East Cemetery Hill.

Since I was exhausted and darkness and rain were beginning to close in I decided not to do my walk around the Culp’s Hill battlefield. That will have to wait for another time. Since the rain is expected to continue into the morning and I hate getting wet I’ll put off my walk around Culp’s Hill until another time.

Tomorrow I will head home early to help Judy do some work around our house. My friend Bill who met me last night had take care of a business emergency call from one of his customers in the Shenandoah Valley this morning and since it’s just me I figure I can head back home. Lord willing there is always tomorrow right?


But as a closing commentary:

In the past couple of months I have walked nearly 50 miles across two of the nation’s bloodiest battlefields, Antietam and Gettysburg. Honestly I don’t know a lot of people in policy making positions who do things like that. The tragedy of the American Civil War and the nearly three quarters of a million soldiers of both sides who died during it seems to me to have been forgotten or relegated to the realm of myth by too many Americans, including the President and many of his advisers and supporters. If we forget the cost and meaning of the Civil War, the validation of the proposition of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal then we do a grave injustice to those who fell in that war, unless we want to support Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens who said that slavery was the Cornerstone of the Confederate nation. The costs to our nation are too great to let the the lessons of our Civil War be relegated to myth or exploited to reimagine a recreated Confederacy dominating the rest of the country are too great to allow the President, who has called violent neo-Confederates and White Supremacists “very fine people” or to fail to resist theocratic people from imposing their religious beliefs on others as did the Southern clergy who helped break the bonds of the Union beginning in their own denominations in the 1840s.

Since I have now eaten and had a few beers  I will take my 57 year old body to bed and get ready to head home in the morning.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Walking the Good and Bad Ground at Gettysburg


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m in Gettysburg this weekend getting a chance to do some research and walking areas of the battlefield that I have stopped at but never fully explored on foot. Trust me, there is a difference when you actually walk the ground versus making stops and looking around.


I drove up this morning and thankfully traffic was light and there were no traffic jams at any point along the way which meant I made the trip in just a bit over four hours. When I got here I checked into my hotel, unloaded my stuff and set to work walking the route I had planned out. My hotel is right at the base of East Cemetery Hill where the Union troops rallied on the night of July 1st 1863. I decided that I would walk through the town and up to McPherson’s Ridge where John Buford’s cavalry and John Reynolds’s First Corps fought A.P. Hill’s Third Confederate Corps, before turning north past the unfinished Railroad Cut and Oak Ridge on my way to Oak Hill where Confederate General Robert Rhodes’ division of Dick Ewell’s Second Confederate Corps went into action.


Oak Hill is the site of the Eternal Peace Monument which was dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1938 as a symbol of reconciliation between the North and South. It bears the words “Peace Eternal in a Nation United”. That was a mere seventy-nine years ago and my heart breaks when I see the same forces at work which tore apart the nation in the years before the Civil War, and sadly they are being stirred up by President Trump who more resembles the incompetence of James Buchanan coupled with the malevolence of Jefferson Davis than Abraham Lincoln, or the loyal opposition of Stephen Douglas.



As I looked out from that high ground I saw the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside still covered in Fall foliage with fields of Sorghum ready for harvest, and cornfields waiting to be plowed over for the next season. Directly in front of me was the ground that two of Rodes’s brigades, those of Alfred Iverson and Edward O’Neal, both incompetent pro-secession political generals sent their units into the attack leading to their slaughter. As I walked into the field where those soldiers fell I felt a certain amount of sadness for them. Yes, most of them made the choice to enlist in the Confederate cause, while others joined out of peer pressure, or others because they were drafted: but none signed up to be slaughtered at the hands of their incompetent commanders. One regiment, the 23rd North Carolina lost 89% of the men it took into battle in barely half an hour of combat. As I walked across that swale in front of Oak Ridge where the men of John Robinson’s division awaited them I was struck by the tragedy of men who went into battle for an unjust and unrighteous cause who fell in such large numbers on July 1st 1863. I wrote in the draft of my yet unpublished Gettysburg book:

When the Confederates got to about fifty yards of Baxter’s troops the commander of the 83rd New York, the Swiss born lieutenant Colonel Joseph A. Moesch shouted: “Up men, and fire.” Moesch rode behind his line cheering his men on, but they needed no urging. In the words of one of one, “The men are no longer human, they are demons; a curse from the living here, a moan from the dying there. ‘Give them — shouts one.’ See them run’ roars another.” The well concealed veterans of Baxter regiments slaughtered them as they had O’Neal’s men just minutes before. “One regiment went down in such a neat row that when its survivors waves shirt tails, or any piece of cloth remotely white, Iverson thought that the whole regiment of live men were surrendering.” As the Confederate attack collapsed some “of the regiments in Robinson’s division changed front again, charged, and captured nearly all the men who were left unhurt in three of Iverson’s regiments.” Official Confederate reports list only 308 missing but that number differs from the Union reports, Robinson reporting 1000 prisoners and three flags and Baxter’s brigade nearly 400. As Robinson’s troops smashed the brigades of O’Neal and Iverson, they were joined by the remnants of Cutler’s brigade which changed its face from west to north to deliver more devastating fire into the Confederates.



From there I went over to Oak Ridge and then made my way to Blocher’s Knoll, now know as Barlow’s Knoll. Once you leave Oak Ridge the ground to the east is flat and relatively devoid of any good defensive positions. The Union Eleventh Corps Commander, Major General Oliver O. Howard sent two of his understrength divisions under the command of Carl Schulz to link up with the right flank of Robinson’s division and extend the Federal line to prevent it from being flanked. Unfortunately, one of the division commanders, Francis Barlow decided to advance his division to Blocher’s Knoll which was a mile in front of where Schurz and Howard intended. Noticing what was going on Schurz ordered the other division under the command of Schimmelpfenning to extend its line to maintain contact with Barlow’s division. But there were not enough troops to fill the gap. The line was barely a skirmish line and with no good defensive ground it could do little to stop a determined Confederate attack. Which was exactly what occurred.


George Doles’s brigade of Rodes division, strongly supported by artillery attacked the thin blue line of Schimmelpfenning’s division just as Gordon and Hays Brigades of Jubal Early’s division enveloped Barlow’s terribly exposed division. The men of Barlow and Schimmelpfennig’s divisions made a spirited and fierce defense before they were overwhelmed and retreated to Gettysburg, some making a fighting retreat, others fleeing the Confederate advance, many were killed, wounded or captured. Barlow lay wounded and was given aid by John Gordon who later became a lifelong friend. Schimmelpfennig was rescued from certain capture by a woman in the town who allowed him to hide in a shed behind her home as the Confederates moved into the town.


The memorials to these forgotten and often slandered soldiers line the road from the Mummasburg Road to Barlow’s Knoll. They did fight hard as A private of the 61st Georgia Infantry of Gordon’s brigade noted that the XI Corps troops “stood firm until we got near them. Then they began to retreat in good order. They were harder to drive than we had known them before….Their officers were cheering their men and behaving like heroes and commanders of ‘the first water’”

The 157th New York, was order to help shore up the line. The regiment advanced and engaged in a furious twenty minute fight, continuing the battle “in Indian fashion” until Schurz ordered them to retreat. The gallant 157th sacrificed itself buying time for others to withdraw and left over 75 percent of its men on the battlefield, when the order came, “less than fifty of the 157th were able to rise out of the wheat and follow.” “So the horrible screaming, hurtling messengers of death flew over us from both sides,” recollected a New York soldier. “In such a storm it seemed a miracle that any were left alive.” Krzyzanowski described the scene as “a portrait of hell.”

When one walks that ground it is impossible how that any unit of similar size or composition could have held against the massive pincer attack of Doles’s brigade and Early’s division on Barlow’s exposed position.


As I walked back into town I could imagine the chaos of the retreating Union troops as well as the victorious Confederates as day turned into evening. The Union troops who escaped made their way to link up with Steinwehr’s division and the Eleventh Corps artillery which had been positioned on Cemetery Hill as well as the survivors of the Union First Corps which had fought the Confederate Third Corps to a standstill before being forced back due to weight of numbers. I finished my walk by going up to Cemetery Hill where with the sun beginning to go down I walked among the graves of the fallen Union soldiers and a monument to John Reynolds who fell on McPherson’s Ridge.

As I noted a couple of months ago when I described my walk at Antietam, there is something immensely valuable about walking these battlefields. First, one gets to experience the elements of weather, distance, and terrain which are helpful in understanding what it was like for the soldiers involved. Second, one can see the battle from the perspective of those soldiers, imagining what it would be like to be deal with being under fire on that ground. One understands what men like John Buford and John Reynolds meant when they said that certain terrain was “good ground.” You don’t understand that until you walk it.


I finished tonight with a friend who met me here going to a number of pubs and walking through the town. While walking I saw a number of the churches that served as field hospitals, including Christ Lutheran. The horror of those hospitals is unimaginable to most of us. I have worked in inner city trauma centers and been in field hospitals in Iraq with our wounded and nothing can really prepare you for the horror of blown up, destroyed, and burned bodies of still living men on a such a massive scale.

But what I have experienced pales in comparison to what occurred at Gettysburg and Antietam, and what will certainly happen if war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula. I have been in the military all my adult life and I dread what I see coming, but since I know that chances are that it will happen I prepare myself and the men and women who serve under me for it. Sadly, most people, even those who have experienced combat in our recent wars are capable of imagining the carnage and horror of the next war. As a historian and a chaplain who has seen combat and a lot of other violent death I can well imagine it and no I don’t sleep well with that knowledge, especially when I see our President rattling sabers so often with seemingly little concern for the men and women that he will be committing to combat. In light of how he has dealt with the deaths of U.S. military personnel since he has been in office, taking no responsibility for any of them, passing the responsibility to military leaders, I tremble at the thought of what his next tweet might bring, but I digress.

Anyway, tomorrow begins another day of exploring parts of the battlefield on foot. Today I walked just over thirteen miles. I think that tomorrow I may well exceed that. I will tell you about that walk tomorrow night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Some Civil War Reading for those Who Dare Question Trump, Kelly, and Sanders

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am still appalled at the remarks made by President Trump’s Chief of Staff on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News propaganda broadcast the other night. In my view a man whose military career was marked by honorable service has destroyed his reputation over the past month in defending the indefensible words and actions of President Trump. In doing that he also went to where no knowledgeable person should go in his remarks about the Civil War and the traitorous Confederate General Robert E. Lee. According to Kelly the war was simply due to an inability to compromise, disregarding decades of compromise by slavery opponents beginning with the 3/5ths rule which allowed Slave States which had far fewer white citizens than Free States to count their slaves as 3/5ths of a person to increase their representation in the House of Representatives and many other compromises, all of which benefited slave owners, Slave States, and businesses in the South and North who all profited from slavery.

The fact that Kelly also defended Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a man whose life has been baptized in myth for a century and a half, and was backed up by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and the previous words of the President who called the White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis whose march in Charlottesville resulted in the deaths of one counter-protester and two Virginia State Troopers “good people.”

Like General Kelly I am a military and combat veteran of over 30 years of service, and though I didn’t know him at the time our careers crossed paths in 2000-2001 in the Second Marine Division at Camp LeJeune North Carolina. That being said I have more post-graduate education than the retired General, I am a historian, and I also have completed the same level of Joint Professional Military Education as Kelly. In addition my first book, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era, which hopefully will be published in the next year deals extensively with the subject of slavery and Southerner’s inability to compromise as the chief cause of the Civil War will show that I actually have the gravitas to tell the retired General, the Press Secretary, or the President, that on this subject they should not make idiots of themselves by spouting such moronic and historically unsupportable comments.

But I don’t want my readers to just take my word for it. Here is a reading list of reputable and non-politically ideological historians and their works which demonstrate my points. So here they are in no particular order:

Battlecry of Freedom by James McPherson which is the definite one volume treatment of the era. It is followed by Allen Guelzo’s Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War, and David Goldfield’s America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation. But there are more…

Eric Foner’s “Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction”, David Blight’s Beyond the Battlefield: Race Memory, and the American Civil War, and Charles Lane’s The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction are equally important in understanding how slavery and racism were paramount issues in what caused the conflict and the events following it. Of course one cannot forget the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass when contemplating the causes of the war in regards to race and slavery. Meanwhile Stephanie McCurry’s Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South helps readers to understand the domestic politics of the Confederacy. Likewise, Elizabeth Pryor’s Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee helps bust the myth of Lee using his own words.

But religion in the South had a profound impact on the war, principally because Southern religious leaders were in the forefront of the support of slavery and the push for secession, and Michael Snay’s Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South is one of a number of books that demonstrate the importance that pro-slavery and pro-secession leaders ascribed to Religion and their view that God had ordained slavery and created blacks as less than human.

Less known stories are told by Brian Jordan in his book Marching Home: Union Veterans and their Unending Civil War, and Noah Andre Trudeau’s Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War are especially important in light of the vast numbers of books that extol the Confederate Army and its soldiers.

If one wants to read collections of essays from individuals, politicians, and the press regarding the causes of the war and what happened afterward the must read collections include James Lowen’s The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”, William Gienapp’s The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection and the New York Times collection Disunion: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War From Lincoln’s Election to the Emancipation Proclamation.

I could recommend quite a few more books and collections but I think this is enough for now. Reading books like these helps to discourage ignorance and makes one accountable for what they say about history, especially when people like Kelly, Sanders, and Trump, try to misuse it as a weapon to advance falsehoods and buttress unconscionable and unconstitutional ideas. I do have a draft of an article about Robert E. Lee that I will do some more work with before I publish it here, but honestly, the man is not one that any officer should aspire to be like, despite the myth that surrounds him.

Until tomorrow when I hope to be writing about what has been a great World Series I wish you a great night and day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Tarnished Stars

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I was disappointed but not surprised when I read President Trump’s Chief of Staff, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly turn to false narratives of the American Civil War in an interview Fox New’s Femme Ideologue Laura Ingraham. Kelly described Robert E. Lee as an honorable man and said that the war was caused by a lack of compromise. Kelly’s description of both is mind boggling to me as a historian in 2017 because the narrative that he evoked was that of Jim Crow, the noble south, and Confederate revisionist history that began in the years after the war and became for many people the truth about the the war, its causes, and the men who led the Confederate armies in a war that was based on the expansion of slavery and the rejection of decades of compromise in which the Free States continuously surrendered their rights and freedoms to Slave Power.

Kelly’s comments surprised many military men, especially those who have some actual advanced education in history, as well as respected historians of the period who are not political ideologues. I fit in both categories. I am a career military officer and I am a historian. My first book, which hopefully will be published sometime next year, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era, deals extensively with the subject. I found Kelly’s comments coupled with his continued refusal to apologize to a Gold Star Mother, and a Congresswoman who he lied about completely dishonorable and actions which stained his honor as a Marine. I can only imagine what Smedley Butler would say to Kelly, and based on what Butler said in his book War is a Racket I cannot imagine them being sympathetic to Kelly. Butler wrote:

“I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

In his defense of President Trump as well as his apology for the traitorous General Lee and the Southern Confederacy which valued slavery and race supremacy over the Union Kelly lost every bit of respect that I had given him. He has surrendered his honor to be a partisan hack for a politician who has shown no respect to the Constitution, the rule of law, or our form of government. Kelly may end up becoming, to paraphrase the words of Butler, a gangster for Trump. When I think of that my heart sinks, and I wonder why more officers cannot heed the words of Butler, or German General Ludwig Beck who said in opposing Hitler:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

I sign off tonight shaking my head sadly thinking about how John Kelly has forever tarnished his reputation, and if he continues down this path may help destroy the Constitution that with every promotion he has sworn to support and defend.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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They Silently Gather Around Me: Walking the Antietam Battlefield


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As you know from yesterday’s article I am taking an extended weekend in the D.C. area and yesterday I took a trip up to the Antietam Battlefield which surrounds much of Sharpsburg, Maryland. It was a time of quiet reflection on a battle, on the lives of soldiers, and on our country. The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest day in American military history, more Americans were killed and wounded on that day than any other single day. While the battle was a draw from a military point of view it was singularly important in that it stopped Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North and gave Abraham Lincoln enough of a victory to announce the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The announcement of that, and creative Union diplomacy helped turn the tide of the war by helping to keep England and France from recognizing the Confederacy.


It was my intention to walk as much of the battlefield as I could and I did. The weather was good but a bit warmer and sunnier than what the soldiers who fought there experienced on September 17th 1862. Even so it is my opinion that walking battlefields, be it on a staff ride, reenactment, or simply doing what I did yesterday helps one put the battle into a human context especially if one has a fair amount of historical knowledge and familiarity with a given battle. Being hot, sweaty, feeling ones legs, feet, and back hurt, dealing with waterlogged shoes, being assaulted by swarms of insects, and fighting your way through thrushes, reeds, and high grass along the banks of a creek or river, and drinking the bare minimum of water, and getting a little bit sunburned, is a good way to get a feel for what the soldiers experienced at Antietam or other Civil War battles. I am just glad that I was not wearing a wool uniform, carrying a heavy rifle, 60 rounds of ammunition and cartridges, and all my kit wearing what we would no call substandard shoes, if like the Union soldiers did we even had them. If you were a Confederate soldier at Antietam you might have been barefoot. Since I have been to war and lugged heavy amounts of gear around Iraq I can imagine that, even though I never had to walk as far there as I did today. That’s a good thing.


In his book The Forgotten Soldier, Guy Sajer wrote:

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

I am sure that many a Civil War soldier would agree with him. The fact is that reading the history of various wars is important, but whenever possible it is good to experience some of the discomfort of those who fought the battle. When I finished the last part of my battlefield experience my feet hurt and when I took off my shoes they looked pretty bad, but much of that was from the dirt, grass, and moisture that had found its way into my shoes. But unlike the soldiers at Antietam I could return to a safe and dry place and care for my feet, they couldn’t.


We are fortunate along much of the east and central parts of the United States to have many well preserved battlefields. I highly recommend those who have not gotten out to see them, walk them, and to remember those who were killed, wounded, or emotionally scarred for life. Walking the Antietam battlefield for the first time since 2001 I was able to sense the terrible reality that that battlefield was the bloodiest single day of fighting in American history. Depending on the estimate some 22,000 to 27,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded on that one day. As I walked through the Cornfield and the West Woods I tried to imagine how over 13,000 troops were killed or wounded in that part of the battlefield alone. I felt the same way along the Bloody Lane, near the Dunker Church, at the Burnside Bridge, and along the furthest point of the Union advance. Of course this is hallowed ground and the National Cemetery has in it the remains of over 5,000 Union soldiers.


The remains of nearly 3,000 Confederates were interred in a new cemetery on the outskirts of Hagerstown which was dedicated in 1877 as well as two other cemeteries. This is interesting to me because at Gettysburg the Confederate dead were exhumed and taken back to the south with many buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.


The National Cemetery is guarded by Old Simon a massive granite statue of a representative Union soldier. The monument is 44 feet tall, and Old Simon, designed and sculpted by James Batterson is 21 1/2 feet tall and weighs 30 tons. The inscription is appropriate. It simply reads: Not for themselves but for their country, September 17, 1862.



The graves of the soldiers are laid out around the statue grouped in the states from where they came. There are a few individual monuments and a monument erected by the survivors of the 20th New York, a unit primarily composed of German immigrants that also has a monument not far from the Dunker Church. The inscription on one side has in German the words Zum Andenken an unsere Gefallenen Kameraden, errichtet von dem Ueberlebenden des Regts. (Erected to our fallen comrades by the survivors of the regiment)


As far as battlefield monuments are concerned there are comparatively few, just 96 as compared to Gettysburg which has some 1,300 of all types. Almost all of the monuments at Antietam, with the exception of the ubiquitous bronze markers that show the positions of units and describe their actions, are dedicated to units of the Army of the Potomac. These were erected by states, communities that contributed troops and veteran associations. There are only six monuments specifically honoring Confederates with Maryland having a monument to its soldiers of both sides.


 Of the Confederate monuments most are of fairly recent import. Georgia and Texas have monuments to all of their soldiers, while Mississippi has one dedicated to the 11thMississippi Infantry. All three of these stand within a hundred yards of each other on the southern edge of the Cornfield.


There is a monument to Robert E. Lee near the new Burnside bridge off Maryland Highway 34 as you cross Antietam Creek. It too is a rather new addition, being funded by William F. Chaney and dedicated in June 2003. Chaney had noted that he just wanted “even things up a bit.” The inscription on it furthers the Lee myth promoted by the purveyors of the Lost Cause and the Noble South saying “Although hoping for a decisive victory Lee had to settle for a military draw, Robert E. Lee was personally against secession and slavery, but decided his duty was to fight for his home and the universal right of every people to self-determination.”


A monument on the northern edge of the Cornfield is dedicated to Clara Barton who along with other nurses helped to care for the wounded of the battle and one near the Burnside Bridge to President William McKinley who was a Sergeant in the 23rd Ohio Infantry. Six monuments each with a cannon placed upside down into a stone, these are mortuary markers noting where six Generals were killed or mortally wounded. They include Union Generals Joseph Mansfield, commander of XII Corps, and division commanders Israel Richardson and Isaac Rodman. Three Confederate brigade commanders, George Anderson, William Starke, and Lawrence O’Brien Branch are marked by identical monuments.


There was an eerie pristine feeling when I walked the battlefield yesterday. There were not many people on it, especially compared to Gettysburg. This led to a rather solitary experience amid the quite, only punctuated by the calls of birds, the chattering of squirrels, and the assorted buzzing, chirping, and humming of insects. As I walked the Cornfield, the West Woods, the Sunken Road and Bloody Lane, crossed the Burnside Bridge, made my way to the furthest point of the Union advance, and paused in the cemetery I was continually reminded of Walt Whitman’s poem, Ashes of Dead Soldiers:

“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…”


Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, Travel

Statues With Limitations: Part Three


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am continuing my series about statues and monuments which was fueled by the controversy regarding various Confederate monuments and memorials, most which are in the South but many others in states that remained loyal to the Union, were not states at the time of the Civil War, or which were in areas be they North or South which were heavily pro-Union and which sent more soldiers to fight for the Union then they did the Confederacy. 

It is interesting to see how memory and myth cloud history when it comes to monuments, especially those to the Southern Confederacy, a nation that was described by its Vice President, former US Senator Alexander Stephens in these words:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” 

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who so many monuments are dedicated was not happy with his Vice President’s remarks, not because he didn’t believe them not to be true but because their honesty could hurt the cause of the Confederacy abroad. He noted:

“That speech infuriated me, Oh, what Stephens had said was true, perfectly true, but could anything hurt us more abroad than such impolitic remarks? It was the beginning of a fatal falling out between me and that rebellious and vindictive dwarf, who was hell-bent on forming his own policies and disputing mine with niggardly deviousness.” 

The fact is that the vast majority of the Confederate monuments, be they located in the former eleven Confederate states, or place that were not a part of the Confederacy were not built to honor the several hundred thousand Confederate dead, but to remind Blacks that they were subordinate to Whites wherever the were erected. This can be seen by the periods during which they were constructed. Only a few were built in the first two decades following the war, and some of those, including the monument in Portsmouth, Virginia were built by the wives, mothers, and children of the fallen. Honestly as to those I understand why they are where they are, and while I think that 150 years later, unless the context of their construction and monuments or historical narratives to the victims of the Confederacy and the institution of Souther Slavery are placed alongside, I am hard pressed to explain why they remain in places of honor. 

But honestly, those memorials are but a minority. Most of the Confederate monuments that spark such freak controversy today were erected anywhere from 30 to 150 years after the war. The periods that they were built are interesting of themselves. The biggest spike in construction began in the immediate aftermath of the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that legalized Jim Crow and the second during the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement beginning around 1948. The chart below provides a good representation of when the Confederate monuments were built. 

As I mentioned in my first two articles of this series I am not of the opinion that the monuments should be destroyed, nor do I think that they should be torn down by protesters. I think that each monument should be examined based on its historical merit. Since the vast majority happen to be from the days of the Confederate resurgence after Plessy and in the height of the Dixiecrat response to the Civil Rights movement beginning after Brown v. Board of Education which overturned Plessy in 1954. So today I am going to use the example of the monuments in Hampton Roads area as a teaching point. 

Virginia where I live has 223 Confederate monuments, the most of any state. That is in a sense understandable due to it being the largest state in the Confederacy as well as the site of its capital. There are three major public monuments located in South Hampton Roads as well as a number of monuments in local cemeteries throughout the area.

The one located in Portsmouth is the oldest and the most interesting from a historical point of view. Planning and fund raising for it began in the late 1860s shortly after the war and it was dedicated on the site where slaves were whipped and punished in the town square. It was dedicated in 1893. The head of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter say that it was placed there when a church where it was planned to be located backed out. I do not know the veracity of that claim. That being said the location is still problematic, especially since Portsmouth is heavily African American and many of the Black families there trace their roots to the slaves of the city’s ante-bellum times. The monument itself is one of the most interesting monuments that I have seen. It is an imposing sight in the old court square. At its center is an obelisk on which is inscribed To Our Confederate Dead. The obelisk is surrounded by four statues representing an infantryman, a cavalryman, an artillleryman, and a sailor. I think that it would fitting if this monument was moved in its entirety to a cemetery in the city where Confederate war dead are buried. It could be replaced by any number of monuments, perhaps one to the city’s war dead from the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the First Gulf War, and the current wars which have been going on since 2001. 


Norfolk’s monument is located within a block of where the slave auctions, the slave jail, the slave infirmary, and a few blocks from the docks where the were shipped to other destinations. This is important because Norfolk was the leading port in the slave trade from about the 1830s until the outbreak of the Civil War. The monument is over 80 feet tall and is capped by the figure of a defiant Confederate soldier holding a sword and the Confederate flag. At its base are engravings of the Confederate Battle Flag and a dedication to Our Confederate Dead. Despite those words this monument can only be described as a monument to White Superority and should be removed and replace with a monument to all of the city’s war dead. The statue adorning the top could go to a museum. 


In Virginia Beach the Confederate Monument is outside the old Princess Anne County Courthouse where slave auctions were held, and which is on the grounds of the current Virginia Beach Municipal complex. In older times it would have been seen by all entering the city hall or courts for any reason. It is over 20 feet tall and topped by the statue of a Confederate infantryman. Unlike the other monuments dedicated to the dead, this one is dedicated to Our Confederate Heroes. Now it is in a distinctly less visible location and one has to go out of their way to find it. I think it could remain where it is but only if there was monument to the victims of slavery who were bought and sold there. That would provide context for it. 


That monument was erected in 1905 during the height of the re-establishment of White Rule and White Sumpremacy after Plessy. One other, in the Denbeigh section of Newport News stands at site of the old Warwick County Courthouse. Denbeigh was named after the Denbeigh Plantation and the county seat was moved to Newport News when Denbeigh and Warwick county consolidated with the independent cit of Newport News in 1958. The courthouse is now a museum and the monument was dedicated in 1909 to the men of Company H, 32nd Virginia Infantry Regiment. The regiment, recruited from the Peninsula in early 1861 had a number of companies farmed out to the artillery was reconstituted as a small, 7 company regiment in 1862. It was decimated at Antietam and served to the end of the war with the Army of Northern Virginia where five officers and forty-two enlisted men surrendered with Robert E. Lee on April 9th 1865. Since this monument is dedicated to a specific unit which distinguished itself in numerous engagements, including Antietam, and Petersburg that relocating it to one of those battlefields would be completely appropriate. 

Admittedly all of these monuments served a twofold purpose, in the case of Portsmouth, from what I have read was that those who began to contribute money for the monument was to honor the fallen. By the time it was built that purpose was also mixed with the political desire of many whites to re-establish White Supremacy. The same is true with the other monuments in the public square. As to monuments located in cemeteries where Confederate soldiers are interred it is only fitting that they remain where they are. 

As to what should be done with each monument there are options, but what can actually be done with them are dictated by State Law which stipulates that localities can erect monuments but cannot “disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected.” That is a problem for the Virginia legislature to deal with and truthfully I believe that they should amend the law to allow municipalities to remove, alter, or relocate monuments. 

As a historian I think that all can serve as teaching points and that whatever is done with them that their context in relation to slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow needs to be clarified as part of teaching history and in the process expunging the myths of the Lost Cause and the Noble South from the historical narrative. 

I want to make a couple of points. First I do not think it is wrong for the relatives and descendants of those who fell in any war to want to remember them. I have traveled throughout Europe and I have seen the monuments in city squares that list the dead from wars dating back to the Napoleonic periods and before. Even if I disagree wth the cause that they fought for I will not forbid their descendants to honor their memory, even if I refuse to honor the military service of my ancestors who rebelled against the Union in 1861. 

I think that the Confederate monuments in Portsmouth, Newport News, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach can serve a purpose greater than for which they were originally constructed. I have described what I think would be best done with each, but I believe that with some modifications that each could remain where they are now so long as there are monuments to those who were the victims of slavery, those who were the unwilling conscripts recruited for that immoral and inhuman cause, and those who opposed that cause, before, during, or after the war. 

The same is true for many other of the Confederate monuments throughout the South. But, at the same time we have to address the monuments to Confederate leaders which built during the same time period as these generic representations of Confederate soldiers. The fact is that the leaders of the Confederate rebellion against the United States are much more responsible for the deaths of three quarters of a million soldiers and the devastation of the South than any ordinary soldier. These leaders include the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, secessionist politicians like Henry Benning and Alexander Stephens, and military leaders like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Braxton Bragg. I see little reason for monuments to men who were responsible for such great suffering to remain in places of honor. 

But honestly even this is not enough, for to fully tell the story we have to also honor the Southern Unionists like George Thomas and John Buford who did not forsake their oaths the the country, and men like Robert E. Lee’s lieutenants James Longstreet, Richard Ewell, Billy Mahone, and John Mosby who fully reconciled to the Union, and who were deomonized and then written out of Southern history. 
So anyway, I will deal specifically with monuments to Confederate leaders another time, but I think this is enough for now. That being said, any monuments to the leaders of the Confederacy or those who served during that rebellion need to be held to the bar of history, otherwise we mock all of their victims, and yes, even the sacrifices of the innumerable Johnny Rebs who died in a war that most had little or nothing to gain from. 

Peace 

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, historic preservation, History, News and current events, Political Commentary