Category Archives: Gettysburg

The Battle of Brandy Station

Cav Fight at Brandy Station

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I take a look back at the battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle every fought on the North American continent. This is a section of my draft Gettysburg campaign text.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Movement to attain operational reach and maneuver are two critical factors in joint operations. In the time since the American Civil War the distances that forces move to engage the enemy, or maneuver to employ fires to destroy his forces have greatly increased. Movement may be part of an existing Campaign Plan or Contingency Plan developed at Phase 0; it also may be part of a crisis action plan developed in the midst of a campaign. Lee’s movement to get to Gettysburg serves as an example of the former, however, since his forces were already in contact with the Army of the Potomac along the Rappahannock and he was reacting to what he felt was a strategic situation that could not be changed but by going on the offensive that it has the feel of a Crisis Action Plan. Within either context other factors come into play: clarity of communications and orders, security, intelligence, logistics and even more importantly the connection between operational movement and maneuver; the Center of Gravity of the enemy, and national strategy. Since we have already discussed how Lee and the national command authority of the Confederacy got to this point we will now discuss the how that decision played in the operational and tactical decisions of Lee and his commanders as the Army of Northern Virginia began the summer campaign and the corresponding actions of Joseph Hooker and the his superiors in Washington.

“One of the fine arts of the military craft is disengaging one’s army from a guarding army without striking sparks and igniting battle.” [1] On June 3rd 1863 Robert E. Lee began to move his units west, away from Fredericksburg to begin his campaign to take the war to the North. He began his exfiltration moving Second Corps under Richard Ewell and First Corps under James Longstreet west “up the south bank of the Rappahannock to Culpepper, near which Hood and Pickett had been halted on their return from Suffolk.” [2] Rodes’ division of Second Corps followed on June 4th with Anderson and Early on June 5th. Lee left the three divisions of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps at Fredericksburg to guard against any sudden advance by Hooker’s Army of the Potomac toward Richmond. Lee instructed Hill to “do everything possible “to deceive the enemy, and keep him in ignorance of any change in the disposition of the army.” [3]

The army was tremendously confident as it marched away from the war ravaged, dreary and desolate battlefields along the Rappahannock “A Captain in the 1st Virginia averred, “Never before has the army been in such a fine condition, so well disciplined and under such complete control.” [4] Porter Alexander wrote that he felt “pride and confidence…in my splendid battalion, as it filed out of the field into the road, with every chest & and ammunition wagon filled, & and every horse in fair order, & every detail fit for a campaign.” [5] Another officer wrote to his father, “I believe there is a general feeling of gratification in the army at the prospect of active operations.” [6]

Lee’s plan was to “shift two-thirds of his army to the northwest and past Hooker’s flank, while A.P. Hill’s Third Corps remained entrenched at Fredericksburg to observe Hooker and perhaps fix him in place long enough for the army to gain several marches on the Federals.” [7] In an organizational and operational sense that Lee’s army after as major of battle as Chancellorsville “was able to embark on such an ambitious flanking march to the west and north around the right of the army of the Potomac….” [8]

However, Lee’s movement did not go unnoticed; Hooker’s aerial observers in their hot air balloons “were up and apparently spotted the movement.” [9] But Hooker was unsure what it meant. He initially suspected that “Lee intended to turn the right flank of the Union army as he had done in the Second Bull Run Campaign, either by interposing his army between Washington and the Federals or by crossing the Potomac River.” [10] Lee halted at Culpepper from which he “could either march westward over the Blue Ridge or, if Hooker moved, recontract at the Rappahannock River.” [11]

Hooker telegraphed Lincoln and Halleck on June 5th and requested permission to advance cross the river and told Lincoln that “I am of opinion that it is my duty to pitch into his rear” [12] possibly threatening Richmond. Lincoln ordered Hooker to put the matter to Halleck, with whom Hooker was on the worst possible terms. Hooker “pressed Halleck to allow him to cross the Rappahannock in force, overwhelming whatever rebel force had been left at Fredericksburg, and then lunging down the line of the Virginia Central toward an almost undefended Richmond.” [13] On the morning of June 6th Hooker ordered pontoon bridges thrown across the river and sent a division of Sedgwick’s VI Corps to conduct a reconnaissance in force against Hill.

Lincoln and Halleck immediately rejected Hooker’s request. Lincoln “saw the flaw in Hooker’s plan at once” [14] and replied in a very blunt manner: “In one word,” he wrote “I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence and liable to be torn by dogs front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick another.” [15] Halleck replied to Hooker shortly after Lincoln that it would “seem perilous to permit Lee’s main force to move upon the Potomac [River] while your army is attacking an intrenched position on the other side of the Rappahannock.” [16] Lincoln, demonstrating a keen regard for the actual center of gravity of the campaign, told Hooker plainly that “I think Lee’s army and not Richmond, is your objective point.” [17]

The fears of Lincoln and Halleck were well founded. In stopping at Culpepper Lee retained the option of continuing his march to the Shenandoah and the Potomac, or he could rapidly “recall his advanced columns, hammer at Hooker’s right flank, and very possibly administer another defeat even more demoralizing than the one he suffered at Chancellorsville.” [18] Hooker heeded the order and while Hooker maintained his bridgehead over the Rappahannock he made no further move against Hill’s well dug in divisions.

Meanwhile, J.E.B. Stuart and his Cavalry Corps had been at Brandy Station near Culpepper for two weeks. Culpepper in June was a paradise for the cavalry, and with nearly 10,000 troopers gathered Stuart ordered a celebration, many dignitaries were invited and on June 4th Stuart hosted a grand ball in the county courthouse. On the 5th Stuart staged a grand review of five of his brigades. Bands played as each regiment passed in review and one soldier wrote that it was “One grand magnificent pageant, inspiring enough to make even an old woman feel fightish.” [19] The review ended with a mock charge by the cavalry against the guns of the horse artillery which were firing blank rounds. According to witnesses it was a spectacular event, so realistic and grand that during the final charge that “several ladies fainted, or pretended to faint, in the grandstand which Jeb Stuart had had set up for them along one side of the field.” [20] That was followed by an outdoor ball “lit by soft moonlight and bright bonfires.” [21] Stuart gave an encore performance when Lee arrived on June 8th, minus the grand finale and afterward Lee wrote to his wife that “Stuart was in all his glory.” [22]

Hooker received word from the always vigilant John Buford, of the First Cavalry Division on the night of June 6th that “Lee’s “movable column” was located near Culpepper Court House and that it consisted of Stuart’s three brigades heavily reinforced by Robertson’s, “Grumble” Jones’s, and Jenkins’ brigades.” [23] Hooker digested the information and believed that Stuart’s intent was to raid his own rear areas to disrupt the Army of the Potomac’s logistics and communications. The next day Hooker ordered his newly appointed Cavalry Corps Commander, Major General Alfred Pleasanton to attack Stuart.

After Chancellorsville, Hooker had reorganized the Union cavalry under Pleasanton into three divisions and under three aggressive division commanders, all West Pointers, Brigadier General John Buford, Brigadier General David Gregg and Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick. While Stuart conducted his second grand review for Lee Pleasanton quietly massed his cavalry “opposite Beverly Ford and Kelly’s Ford so as to cross the river in the early morning hours of June 9th and carry out Hooker’s crisp orders “to disperse and destroy” the rebel cavalry reported to be “assembled in the vicinity of Culpepper….” [24] Pleasanton’s cavalry was joined by two mixed brigades of infantry “who had the reputation of being among the best marchers and fighters in the army.” [25] One brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Adelbert Ames consisted of five regiments drawn from XI Corps, XII Corps, and III Corps was attached to Buford’s division. The other brigade, under the command of Brigadier General David Russell was composed of seven regiments drawn from I Corps, II Corps and VI Corps. [26]

Stuart’s orders for June 9th were to “lead his cavalry division across the Rappahannock to screen the northward march of the infantry.” [27] The last thing that Stuart expected was to be surprised by the Federal cavalry which he had grown to treat with distain. Stuart who was at his headquarters “woke to the sound of fighting” [28] as Pleasanton’s divisions crossed the river and moved against the unsuspecting Confederate cavalry brigades.

The resultant action was the largest cavalry engagement of the war. Over 20,000 troopers engaged in an inconclusive see-saw battle that lasted most of the day. Though a draw “the rebels might have been swept from the field had Colonel Alfred N. Duffie, at the head of the Second Division acted aggressively and moved to the sounds of battle.” [29] The “Yankees came with a newfound grit and gave as good as they took.” [30] Porter Alexander wrote that Pleasanton’s troopers “but for bad luck in the killing of Col. Davis, leading the advance, would have probably surprised and captured most of Stuart’s artillery.” [31] Stuart had lost “over 500 men, including two colonels dead,” [32] and a brigade commander, Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee, General Lee’s son, badly wounded. While recuperating at his wife’s home a few weeks later Lee “was captured by the enemy.” [33] Stuart claimed victory as he lost fewer troops and had taken close to 500 prisoners and maintained control of the battlefield.

But even Confederate officers were critical. Lafayette McLaws of First Corps wrote “our cavalry were surprised yesterday by the enemy and had to do some desperate fighting to retrieve the day… As you will perceive from General Lee’s dispatch that the enemy were driven across the river again. All this is not true because the enemy retired at their leisure, having accomplished what I suppose what they intended.” [34] Captain Charles Blackford of Longtreet’s staff wrote: “The fight at Brandy Station can hardly be called a victory. Stuart was certainly surprised, but for the supreme gallantry of his subordinate officers and men… it would have been a day of disaster and disgrace….” The Chief of the Bureau of War in Richmond, Robert H.G. Kean wrote “Stuart is so conceited that he got careless- his officers were having a frolic…” [35] Brigadier General Wade Hampton had the never to criticize his chief in his after action report and after the war recalled “Stuart managed badly that day, but I would not say so publicly.” [36]

The Confederate press was even more damning in its criticism of Stuart papers called it “a disastrous fight,” a “needless slaughter,” [37]and the Richmond Examiner scolded Stuart in words that cut deeply into Stuart’s pride and vanity:

The more the circumstances of the late affair at Brandy Station are considered, the less pleasant do they appear. If this was an isolated case, it might be excused under the convenient head of accident or chance. But the puffed up cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia has twice, if not three times, surprised since the battles of December, and such repeated accidents can be regarded as nothing but the necessary consequences of negligence and bad management. If the war was a tournament, invented and supported for the pleasure of a few vain and weak-headed officers, these disasters might be dismissed with compassion, But the country pays dearly for the blunders which encourage the enemy to overrun and devastate the land, with a cavalry which is daily learning to despise the mounted troops of the Confederacy…” [38]

But the battle was more significant than the number of casualties inflicted or who controlled the battlefield at the end of the day. Stuart had been surprised by an aggressively led Union Cavalry force. The Union troopers fought a stubborn and fierce battle and retired in good order. Stuart did not appreciate it but the battle was a watershed, it ended the previous dominance of the Confederate Cavalry arm. It was something that in less than a years’ time would cost him his life.

Notes

[1] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg, Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 2003 p.59

[2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.436

[3] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.25

[4] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.218

[5] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.221

[6] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.219

[7] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.60

[8] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.530

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.436

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.260

[11] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.37

[12] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.61

[13] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.50

[14] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.260

[15] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.223

[16] Ibid Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.26

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.50

[18] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.53

[19] Davis, Burke J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier Random House, New York 1957 p.304

[20] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.437

[21] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.63

[22] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

[23] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.54

[24] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[25] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.54

[26] Petruzzi, J. David and Stanley, Steven The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties and Maps, June 9 – July 1, 1863 Savas Beatie LLC, El Dorado Hills CA 2012 p.7

[27] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[28] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.306

[29] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.261

[30] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p. 251

[31] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.223

[32] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

[33] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

[34] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.59

[35] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

[36] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.60

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

[38] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.311-312

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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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Staff Rides, Table Talk, and Lost Phones




Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I completed my 16th Gettysburg Staff Ride with the Joint Forces Staff College. The students as always were great and a number of students and I had Some great discussions over food and beer on Friday and Saturday night. I really do enjoy those discussions, table talk is a great way of learning, even for me, because the questions and comments, as well as differing opinions make me think and also make me work harder on my research and preparation for the next trip. 

It was a very good trip but the foul weather took a lot out of me and somehow I lost my iPhone this morning and not even my my “find my iPhone” app helped me. That was frightening as I have never done more than misplaced my phone, and I realized how important it is for so much of my communication and how I schedule my life, including how I measure my exercise. 

Since I couldn’t find after retracing my steps from the time I left my hotel room to the point I noticed it missing at the Virginia Memorial before guiding my students through Pickett’s Charge and the Soldiers Cemetery I had to depart the pattern without going back to the Gettysburg Nation Military Park Visitor Center. Thankfully I had scored big on Saturday when I was able to get a limited edition signed artist proof of Dale Gallon’s painting of the 19th Massachusetts Infantry stopping the Confederate attack at the Copse of Trees during Pickett’s Charge entitled Clubs are Trumps. The title of the piece denotes the shamrock of the Union Second Corps which of course is a “club” in a card deck, in this case the trump card. I had been planning on getting the mini-print from Gallon on one of my next trips, but the price of this 1996 print was less than the small one. I couldn’t pass it up. Now to wait for a good deal on custom framing, but I digress. 


On the way back to pick up Judy and the Papillons I stopped at an Apple Store in the D.C. Area to replace it and to make sure that if someone had it that it was disabled and erased. The only issue was that I lost a lot of photos that I had taken Friday as I walked the Union First Corps lines as well as my exercise data from Thursday through Sunday morning, during those three days I had hiked about 20 miles.

I was able to get some rest as we visited our friends and the ten Papillons who own all of us played and played. So we are on our way back home today and will get ready for the rest of the work week. So until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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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Thoughts on Being Passed Over for Promotion 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was a tough day. I failed to select for promotion to Captain for the second time. It wasn’t so much not being selected for promotion as I neither expected it or wanted it, but it was a reminder to me of the many painful experiences that I have had with senior leaders in both the Army and Navy Chaplain Corps in my 25 years of service as a chaplain. But that being said I was warned. When I was a young Medical Service Corps Captain in the Army I felt the call to go to seminary to become a chaplain. As I got close to leaving active duty, my brigade executive officer pulled me aside. He told me: “Steve, if you think that the Army Medical Department is political and cutthroat, we can’t hold a candle the the Chaplain Corps.” 

Sadly, Lieutenant Colonel Wigger was all too correct. Much of the senior leadership in all of the military chaplain corps, as well as Federal, State, and hospital chaplaincies are as toxic as Zyclon-B. Of course they are not alone, many leaders in church hierarchies are just as bad if not worse. Maybe there is something in humanity that makes some people when given authority in both the temporal as well as spiritual realms exhibit the worst aspects of human nature. 

I have always said that I would never be that way and I have always tried to best to value and care for the chaplains, as well as enlisted personnel who have worked for me. Honestly I think that I’ve done pretty good in that, and I hope that when they remember me that they don’t have the visceral reaction I have at the thought of some of the chaplains and other clergy who have used, abused, and then thrown me under the bus, especially in the depths of my post-Iraq experience with PTSD, mild TBI and moral injury. 

I am not bitter about not getting promoted, but I still bear much animus to those who have used, abused, and then did not care for my spiritual or emotional needs when I needed them. Betrayal is a big part of moral injury and I really do not think that we ever fully recover from that. People, especially Christians say that we should forgive those who have committed acts that have harmed us. I am a priest and I do understand that necessity to forgive, but when one has been harmed over the course of many years it is difficult to do. Actually, until today yesterday I thought that I was pretty much over those feelings and that the wounds had pretty much healed. I was wrong, I have a long way to go. 

After I found out that I hadn’t been selected I took a long walk. I was on my way to Gettysburg and I was dropping my wife and our dogs off with good friends before departing this morning. My walk took me through about five miles of woods along the banks of the Potomac River, including the place that JEB Stuart and his Confederate cavalry forded it during the Gettysburg campaign. That walk in the quiet as well as a conversation with a senior chaplain who has been there for me got me to a better place. When I got back both Minnie and Izzy did what they could to comfort me. Good dogs, they act like nurses. 

I am grateful for the career that I have had. I have been very lucky and very blessed. While there have been some that have gone out of their way to hurt me, or just didn’t give a damn about the way their words and actions impacted me or others, I have been lucky to have some who have done whatever they can to help me and in some cases protected me from myself. Their care, mentoring, and practical, observable love means more to me than anything. I was able to let a number of them know that last night. 

I also know a lot of other fine chaplains and ministers who have been screwed worse by varies chaplain systems or churches than I ever was. Good men and women who deserved far better. I will land on my feet. Some of them are dead, a couple by their own hand because of how they were treated and abandoned when they needed help. I have friends, a wife who loves me and three great Papillons. I am not alone. 

Likewise, had I gotten the operational assignments that I wanted when I was selected for Commander, I never would have gotten my orders to the Staff College. That assignment has opened doors for life after the Navy that I would never have had. I now get to be an academic and hopefully I’ll have my first Civil War era book published in a year or so, and that is when the fun will really begin, so I have nothing to bitch about, but I still hurt. Some say that God has a plan, but honestly I don’t know who true that is, but even so I’m hurting but okay and I’d rather have Judy, my dogs, and my friends than some pie in the sky theology. 

So today I will be going up to Gettysburg early. I’ll arrive well in advance of my students and today my plan is to walk the battlefield from McPherson’s Ridge, to Herbst Woods, and on to Seminary Ridge where I also hope to visit the museum now located in the old seminary building. This is important to do because one never fully appreciates what happened in a certain spot until they have walked the ground. Likewise, there are many markers at Gettysburg that have a lot of meaning that most people never see because they are too busy driving around to see the high points like Little Round Top, the Angle and High Water Mark, and the Virginia And Pennsylvania memorials. 

As I do so I will remember the heroes of the Union side who held their ground, and the men who were not recognized for their actions, and in some cases, like Abner Doubleday, after having done well and fighting heroically were relieved of duty simply because some above them didn’t like them, and acted on false reports. I think that will be a healthy experience for me. Later, I will meet my students for dinner and discuss the strategic and operational aspects of the campaign that connect with what they are learning in regard to planning at the Staff College. 

So anyway, I know that there is a lot of other stuff going on in the world. I’ve seen bit and pieces about the GOP Health Care repeal but have not had time to read anything. Maybe I’ll get to it later in the weekend or early next week as it’s not going to go away. 

I’ll post something small from Gettysburg the next two days. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, Gettysburg, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, PTSD

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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Filed under civil rights, civil war, Gettysburg, History, Political Commentary