Category Archives: civil war

Hedonism and Fundamentalism: The Hallmarks of Ante-Bellum Pro-Slavery and Modern Evangelicalism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I spent part of yesterday reviewing my text of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! so I could continue to write what I need for my literary agent to help in the process of getting it marketed and published. To quote the President “who ever thought it could be so complex?” but I digress…

In re-reading the text I came across a passage that struck me as entirely contemporary in its application and I had to stop. It was the fundamentalist theology of Southern Evangelicals that both justified slavery as well as the most hedonistic aspect of Southern life. It was a religion that defended slavery from biblical literalism and excused the worst aspects of the greedy, slothful, and lust filled life of the Southern slaveowners and oligarchs. This is the same kind of theology that today permits the enrichment of oligarchs and preachers while neglecting almost every other aspect of the Gospel simply because those in power promise to protect and empower Christians over others, especially white Christians, the more affluent the better. The love of prosperity Gospel and the gilded cage of Donald Trump’s Christianity are a great combination.

Some things never change, especially for Christian fundamentalists who in order to maintain their temporal power must justify the worst and most repugnant aspects of their culture; as the British Evangelical Anglican theologian Alister McGrath wrote: “the arguments used by the pro-slavery lobby represent a fascinating illustration and condemnation of how the Bible may be used to support a notion by reading the text within a rigid interpretive framework that forces predetermined conclusions to the text. How else could supposed Christians support a leader who mocks their beliefs and tramples on the example of Jesus? Of course that too as a rhetorical question. It is a fact that throughout history many Christians in Europe, America, and in other parts of the world have had no problems supporting the most anti-Christian leaders and regimes and even participated in genocide for their benefit justifying it in the name of God.

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Robert Smalls and Freedom

Robert Smalls 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am going to be busy the next couple of days working on some things for my literary agent that hopefully will help my book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era move towards publication. So for the next few days I will probably post very short articles of re-runs of older ones. This is an article that with a few minor changes that I posted here a year ago, and since today is the 155th anniversary of the act I thought it would be a good time to re-post it. I hope that you enjoy it. 

There are some people and events that are important but get swept up in broader historic events and today we remember the anniversary of an act of daring that led to freedom. This is the story of Robert Smalls, a slave in Charleston South Carolina. Smalls was hired out to work with the money going to his master. He worked in a number of jobs, but as a teenager fell in love with the sea. He went to work as a slave worker on the city’s waterfront where he started as a common dockworker, became a rigger, a sailmaker, and finally a wheelman, which basically was a ship’s pilot, since slaves were not permitted that title. Even so his abilities and knowledge of Charleston harbor well well known and respected by ship owners. 

The CSS (later USS) Planter 

When South Carolina seceded and the Confederacy went to war, Smalls was assigned as wheelman of the CSS Planter, a small and lightly armed transport. On the night of May 12th and 13th of 1862, Smalls took advantage of all three white officer’s absence ashore, by putting into effect an escape plan he had worked out with the other slave crew members of Planter. Smalls and seven other slaves got the ship underway, with Smalls donning the captain’s uniform and a straw hat similar to the captain’s. In the darkness the ruse was perfect, no Confederates ashore suspected anything as Planter stopped to pick up the escaped slaves family members at another wharf before Smalls sailed out past the range of the Confederate shore battery guns to surrender to the USS Onward. Smalls present the U.S. Navy with the ship, her cargo, which included four artillery pieces intended for a Confederate fort in the harbor, but more importantly a Confederate code book and charts showing the location of deadly undersea mines and torpedoes that had been laid in the harbor. 

Smalls quickly became a hero. Congress voted him and his crew the prize money for the ship, and he met with Secretary of War Stanton to argue the case that blacks should be allowed to serve. Smalls’ story helped convince Lincoln of allowing African Americans to serve in the United Staes forces. Smalls served as a civilian pilot working for the Navy and and the Army, serving in numerous battles. He was the pilot for the experimental ironclad USS Keokuk when that ship was heavily damaged by over 90 hits at Charleston. He was responsible for getting the ship safely out of range of the  Confederate batteries before she sank, thus saving many crew members. 

He then was reassigned to the USS Planter, now assigned to the Army. The ship got caught in a crossfire between the Union and Confederate forces and Planter’s captain ordered the ship to surrender. Smalls objected, knowing that any African American caught serving Union forces would not be treated as prisoners of war, but either returned to slavery or executed by order of the Confederate Congress. Smalls took command of the vessel and steered her out of harm’s way. He was appointed Captain of the ship and was present for the ceremonial raising of the American flag over Fort Sumter in April 1865. Smalls was the first African American to command a ship in the service of the U.S. Military.

After the war Smalls got an education and when the 14th Amendment was passed ran for office, serving in the South Carolina legislature and as a member of Congress. He fought against changes to the 1895 South Carolina Constituion that disenfhchised African Americans and codified the Jim Crow laws which had be upheld by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson. 

In 1889 Smalls was appointed U.S. Collector of Customs in Beaufort and served in that office until 1911. He also was director of a black owner railroad, and helped publish the black owners Beaufort Standard newspaper. He died in 1915 at the age of 75. 

Small’s courage and his fight for freedom, as well as others who did so should not be forgotten. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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Reflections on PTSD and Moral Injury after a Gettysburg Staff Ride


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity which has involved a transfer, travel, and teaching, coupled with finding that I was not selected for promotion. The failure to select for promotion was less of a disappointment with not being selected, or jealousy towards those that were, but rather the feelings of betrayal I feel towards the senior leaders of the Chaplain Corps that have been part of my life since I returned from Iraq back in 2008, and my ever present battle with the effects of PTSD. Since I have written about these things many times I shall not go into depth about them today.

While I was at Gettysburg I stood beside the monument to General Gouverneur Warren on Little Round Top as I discussed Warren’s actions which were decisive in ensuring that Union forces held that edifice against the Confederate assault of July 2nd 1863. However, Warren would suffer unjustly at the hands of General Philip Sheridan at the Battle of Five Forks just days before the end of the war. The effects of combat trauma, what we would now diagnose as PTSD and moral injury at having been betrayed by the leaders of an institution that he had faithfully served in war and peace were devastating to him. After the war he wrote his wife:

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

I fully understand what Warren felt in terms of dreams and what they call to mind time and time again nearly every night. Whenever I go to bed I pray that I will not again injure myself during a nighttime as I have numerous times, two of which sent me to the emergency room with head and facial injuries including a concussion and a broken nose. Yet even the dreams and nightmares that do not result in physical injury are often disturbing, and thankfully one of our Papillon dogs, Izzy, will do all that she can to comfort me and calm me down, and if I am awake and she senses that I am depressed or anxious she does what she can to be near me and to calm me. She is incredibly sensitive and does this with anyone not feeling well. I need to get her certified as a therapy dog as she is a special soul. 

Even so there are really very few people with whom I can talk about these things as they are foreign to the experience of most people. Guy Sager wrote in his classic book The Forgotten Soldier of his experience on returning home after the Second World War: “In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.” 

But anyway, that is where I live. I am happy, relatively content, and look forward to life. I love to teach as I did at Gettysburg over the weekend and to write, at the same time I struggle every night with sleep, and with belonging in the institution that I have served for nearly thirty-six years. After I found out about the non-selection for promotion I became quite angry, as I said, not because I wasn’t selected, but because of the feelings of betrayal that go back now some nine years. It helped for me to walk in the woods along the Potomac River on Thursday night and to walk the lines that the Union Union First Corps occupied on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg last Friday. For me there is something about walking hallowed ground which no matter what I am feeling helps to center me. It is as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain wrote:

“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.”

Every time I walk that hallowed ground at Gettysburg I feel that presence and experience the power of that vision.

So I do wish you the best and appreciate the kind thoughts and words that many of you post on this page, in emails, and on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Until tomorrow, have a great day. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, Loose thoughts and musings, mental health, PTSD

Foul Weather, and Learning about War

Willoughby Run at Herbst Woods at Gettysburg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I was with my students conducting the Staff Ride at Gettysburg. About a week ago the mid-Atlantic region was experiencing record high temperatures and abnormally warm weather. In fact has the temperatures just been normal for this time of year we would have counted ourselves lucky to have such good weather, however, the trended changed and instead of warm weather we had temperatures in the low fifties, wind and rain. The weather was raw, but that is part of life, and if you want to really learn and experience military history you need to do more than sit back in a recliner sipping a nice beverage, and reading a book in comfort.

Guy Sager, who wrote the classic soldier’s account of the Second World War on the Easter front 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!”

Our weather was by my standards not bad, but for some of my students, including veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan it was miserable. For me, adverse conditions that we cannot change are one of the best ways to learn about war. The fact is that war is inconvenient, it is uncomfortable, and it is more often than not quite inhuman.  War is nothing to celebrate, battles, even victories are to be commemorated not celebrated, and not celebrated as our President said this week this week in reference to the Battle of the Coral Sea. Sadly, the current American President is neither a historian, nor a soldier; he is a draft dodger who loves the instruments of military power without appreciating the sacrifice of those who serve in combat.

Yesterday was a relatively miserable day as far as weather goes, but we had it easy. We can ride around the battlefield in vans and cars, we take a long lunch break, there are restrooms, and we don’t have to lay our bodies down in the dirt, grass, or mud to sleep.

For me that is one of the most important lessons of going on a Staff Ride or visiting a battlefield. Those are lessons that our civilian leadership and those who are cheerleaders of war need to learn. Sadly, very few Americans understand this. Too few of us have been to war to understand this, and many who have gone to war have stayed on well protected bases with air conditioning, heat, plentiful food, and even internet and television access. That wasn’t my war i n Iraq out with our advisors in  Al Anbar Province, but I digress…

Today we will do the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. We will walk the path trod by Pickett’s Division during Pickett’s Charge, we will visit General Meade’s headquarters, and then go the the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. The weather will be cool, but clear with no rain, although there will be quite a few places that we will have to walk through muddy ad very wet ground, but c’est le guerre.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Walking the Lines: A Day on McPerson, Seminary, and Oak Ridge at Gettysburg


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today’s post is a bit late but I had a great day yesterday with my students as we had dinner and I taught about the strategic and operational conundrums faced by the Union and the Confederacy in early 1863 and the operational and command aspects of the Gettysburg campaign. This first night helps my students to link the lessons faced by commanders in the Civil War with what they are learning at the Staff College.

I went up to the battlefield early yesterday as we had stayed with friends near Washington DC where Judy and the Papillon puppies are staying with friends who have four Papillons. I arrived on the  battlefield a little after 11AM and did some exploring of the grounds around the Seminary building before going in to the building to see the Seminary Ridge Museum which opened there in 2013. It is worth the visit. One floor deals with the first day of the battle; another, slavery and abolition; another, the wounded and dead including fascinating exhibits on medical care; and the last which dealt with religion in that era. I was able to go up to the famous cupola of the Seminary from which the Union Cavalry commander, John Buford directed the initial phase of the battle.


After that I drove over to McPherson’s Ridge, where I parked my car and  walked the lines of the Union First Corps along McPherson. Seminary, and Oak Ridge. Arriving early I as able to walk and see parts of that portion of the battlefield that I had only read about before, despite my many trips here. For those who have never walked the ground of such a battle it is a remarkable experience. As I walked the Union line I could almost see the massed ranks of Union infantry; walking through Herbst Woods I could imagine the chaos that enveloped Archer’s Confederate Brigade as it was hit by the Union Iron Brigade; descending into the railroad cut I could imagine the desperation of the Confederate soldiers whose commanders had led them into a trap from which few would emerge alive, unwounded, or uncaptured. When I got to Oak Ridge I was able to walk out to the spot the the 88th Pennsylvania had destroyed Iverson’s Confederate Brigade and captured its colors. As I walked through those places I could  sense the desperation and the need to win a victory by the men on both sides.

After a long time on the battlefield I checked into my hotel, and in the evening met my students for dinner, drinks and the introductory class on the campaign  of 1863 which helps to tie together the understanding of strategy and the operational art involved in the Gettysburg campaign and the broader aspects of what was happening in 1863 and what drove Robert E. Lee to insist on the invasion of the North instead of sending his troops west to relieve Vicksburg, or perhaps attempt to relieve Vicksburg by defeating Rosecran’s Union army in East Tennessee and then moving to Threaten Cincinnati and the Ohio River which potentially could have drawn Grant away from Vicksburg.

I spent today with my students on the battlefield and hopefully will post something about that tomorrow.

So have a great night,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Gettysburg and the Era of Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’ll be traveling to Gettysburg this weekend to lead another Staff Ride and as I listened to President Trump’s remarks about the Civil War and on altering the American Constitution to fit his needs for his success this week that I was incredulous. I cannot believe that we have a President who is such an ignoramus about history and the Constitution.

I guess that is why that is even more important that I keep making these trips and conducting these Staff Rides. When I think of the deluge of the President’s executive orders, as well as various State and Federal legislative and executive actions which are for all intents making many Americans second class citizens or worse, I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words well before the Civil War. Lincoln, speaking of the anti-Black, and anti-immigrant sentiment that was rife throughout the country said:

“As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

damned before Sadly, despite all the blood shed and the sacrifices made by slaves, free Blacks, abolitionists, Union Soldiers, civil rights advocates and others it seems that the President and his supporters are fully intent on rolling back Constitutional protections for many people in this country. In fact the President this week declared that the Constitution and our system of government were “archaic,” and suggested that they needed to be changed. Many of his supporters who for decades have claimed to be defending the Constitution seem to have no problem with with what he says, showing that their words are mere hyperbole and cover to prevent others from enjoying the same liberties that they have; be they African Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ, Women, Native Americans, Muslims, and immigrants deemed less than worthy.

As for me I will be damned before I stop speaking out against such measures. These are not the measures of preserving liberty, but are the kind of despotism that allowed Southern Slave owners to call slavery “freedom.”

So I will go to Gettysburg this weekend and as always I will take my students to the Soldier’s Cemetery where we will talk about the Gettysburg Address and the meaning of it and our Constitution, at a place where Lincoln said that we 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.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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President Trump, I Wish to Remind You that General Jackson is Dead

President Trump, President Andrew Jackson, and President James Buchanan 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am never surprised when President Trump demonstrates his ignorance of American History or our Constitution as he when he discussed how the Civil War could have been avoided in only a dealmaker like Andrew Jackson been around to stop it. During an interview with the Washington Examiner’s Selina Zito, the President explained:

“I mean had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

The President’s remarks were so bumblingly inaccurate that it was painful to listen to. First in his comments about President Jackson, a man whose “big heart” caused him to defy the Supreme Court to order the mass resettlement of the Native American tribes of the Southeast in the midst of winter which led to thousands of deaths in the what is known now as the Trail of Tears. Likewise, the one time Jackson opposed the secession of a state, that of South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis of 1828-1832 it had to deal with tariffs and not slaves, which the President owned. Likewise Jackson never uttered “There’s no reason for this” because Jackson was dead and buried long before the Civil War, and even years before the threats of secession to preserve and expand slavery were proposed in the early 1850s.

Senator Stephen Douglas

There was no deal to be made. Slavery and its expansion were the issues at hand. In 1858 a minority of slave holders in Kansas attempted through election fraud to get a pro-slavery constitution passed in order for the state to be admitted to the Union as a Slave State, a move the President James Buchanan fully supported and fought an unsuccessful battle with Congress to pass. The measure would have set precedent to open every territory of the Union to slavery, but Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois stood his ground and organized bi-partisan opposition to the measure which was supported by Southern Democrats.

When Buchanan threatened him Douglas stood his ground:

The Illinois Senator found out about the President Buchanan’s new support of the measure when he read the newspaper. He was outraged when he saw the news in the Washington Union that Buchanan had decided to support Lecompton. He was infuriated and the fury showed when he wrote with characteristic honesty:

“This left no doubt were the old bastard stood. “Can you believe his Goddamned arrogance?” I told a friend. “I run the Committee on Territories. He should have consulted me before approving the Lecompton fraud. He’ll pay for that. By God, sir, I made Mr. James Buchanan, and by God, sir, I’ll unmake him.” 

As such, the Little Giant threw caution to the wind and stormed to the White House “to confront Buchanan on the “trickery and juggling of the Lecompton constitution.” He warned the president of that his actions in support of the Lecompton party would “destroy the Democratic party in the North,” and we warned that “if Buchanan insisted on going through with it, Douglas swore to oppose him in Congress.” 

It was an epic confrontation. Douglas recalled, “The Lecompton constitution, I told Buchannan bluntly, was a blatant fraud on the people of Kansas and the process of democracy, I warned him not to recommend acceptance of it. With his head titled forward in that bizarre habit of his, he said that he intended to endorse the constitution and send it to Congress. “If you do,” I thundered, “I’ll denounce it the moment that it is read.” His face turned red with anger. “I’ll make Lecompton a party test,” he said. “I expect every democratic Senator to support it.” I will not, sir!” 

Angry and offended by the confrontation of Douglas, Buchanan cut the senator off and issued his own threat to Douglas and his political career saying, “I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed from an administration of his own choice without being crushed….Beware of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives,” two senators who had gone into political oblivion after crossing Andrew Jackson.” The redoubtable Senator from Illinois was undeterred by the President’s threat and fought back,“Douglas riposted: “Mr. President, I wish to remind you that General Jackson is dead, sir.” It was an unprecedented action by a sitting Senator, to confront a President of one’s own party and threaten to oppose him in Congress was simply not done, but now Douglas was doing it, but doing so to his President’s face, and the consequences for him, his party, and the country would be immense. (You can find my full article about the Lecompton Constitution at https://padresteve.com/2016/10/16/when-political-parties-implode-mr-president-i-wish-to-remind-you-that-general-jackson-is-dead/)

Every State that seceded from the Union included the preservation and expansion of slavery as the primary reason of secession. There were no deals to be made to avoid the Civil War except for the Northern Free states to submit to becoming Slave states again and African Americans to be forever subordinated to the less than human state of being mere property.

President Trump may actually believe what he said, in fact I think that he does, which is why I think is why that he habitually demonstrates such supreme ignorance of American History and the Constitution.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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