Nothing is Unsinkable: A Lesson for the Trump Administration

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In 1912 the Bishop of Winchester said these words in a sermon marking the end of the R.M.S. Titanic: “Titanic, name and thing, will stand as a monument and warning to human presumption,” as well it should. Sadly, it seems that that Trump administration is doing its best to strip away vital safety, health, and environmental regulations that protect people from even worse disasters than that which befell the great ship 106 years ago today.

Sadly President Donald Trump nor the sycophants in his administration or the GOP Congress will never understand the real and symbolic importance. The historian Walter Lord who was one of the most important historians that wrote about the ill-fated ship understood. He wrote in his book The Night Lives On: The Untold Stories and Secrets behind the Sinking of the “Unsinkable” Ship – Titanic:

“How close to “unsinkable” really was the Titanic? Did she embody the latest engineering techniques? Was she as staunch as man could make her? Did she at least represent what we have now come to call “the state of the art”? The answer is “No.” Far from being a triumph of safe construction, or the best that could be done with the technology available, the Titanic was the product of a trend the other way, a trend that for 50 years had seen one safety feature after another sacrificed for competitive reasons.”

The story of the Titanic has been told many times, and it should be a cautionary tale for those who in the name of profit and glory seek to dismantle safety and environmental standards. I remember reading Walter Lord’s classic treatment of the story, A Night to Remember back in 7th Grade. It made a tremendous impact on me, and every so often I will go back and read it again.

Captain Edward Smith

The Titanic’s Captain, Edward Smith, her was blinded by his faith in shipbuilding technology and had said about the Adriatic which he commanded previously, “I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern ship building has gone beyond that.” A Senator Said during the hearings about the sinking of her captain, “Overconfidence seems to have dulled the faculties usually so alert.”

The story of what happened to the great ship is as hard to believe now as it was then, but then incredible tragedies be they the loss of ships, aircraft, buildings or bridges, and even spacecraft always invoke such feelings. When I was told about the Space Shuttle Challenger blowing up in 1986 I remarked to the young soldier who brought me the news “don’t be silly Space Shuttles don’t blow up.” Walter Lord, who was probably the most prolific historian and author of the Titanic disaster used to talk of the “if onlys” that haunted him about the sinking of Titanic: If only, so many if onlys. If only she had enough lifeboats. If only the watertight compartments had been higher. If only she had paid attention to the ice that night. If only the Californian did come…” 

Bruce Ismay

The word “if” probably the biggest two letter word that plagues human history, looms large in the tragedy of Titanic. The great ship, which was the largest ship and one of the fastest ocean liners of her time was the victim of her owner and operators hubris as much as she was that of the iceberg which sank her. The ship was heralded by Bruce Ismay, the Chairman and Managing Director of the White Star Line as unsinkable, a claim that was echoed in the press.

Her builders had no such illusions and protested the claims. Thomas Andrews the Managing Director of Harland and Wolff Shipyards where she was built commented “The press is calling these ships unsinkable and Ismay’s leadin’ the chorus. It’s just not true.” 

Titanic was designed with the latest shipbuilding innovations, watertight compartments, a double bottom and equipped with wireless. She was billed as “unsinkable” by her owners but those innovations as advanced as they were for her day were insufficient to save her when her Captain and owners chose to charge through a known ice field at full speed.  Her watertight compartments did not extent far enough up the hull to prevent water from going over them.  Likewise it was never imagined that so many watertight compartments could be compromised.

Thomas Andrews

As far as lifeboats, the great ship carried far too few. Thomas Andrews, her builder wanted 64 had his arm twisted to bring the number to 32 and Titanic sailed with only 16 plus 4 collapsible boats. Justifying himself under antiquated regulations (which were written for ships of 10,000 tons) which required just 16 boats. The fact that Titanic displaced over 40,000 tons and carried two to four times the number of passengers and crew, J. Bruce Ismay the Director of White Star Line a man who was untrained as a sailor or maritime engineer and who was focused on his company’s bottom line, told Andrews:

“Control your Irish passions, Thomas. Your uncle here tells me you proposed 64 lifeboats and he had to pull your arm to get you down to 32. Now, I will remind you just as I reminded him these are my ships. And, according to our contract, I have final say on the design. I’ll not have so many little boats, as you call them, cluttering up my decks and putting fear into my passengers.” 

Ismay’s focus was on his bottom line and Captain Smith for all of his experience at sea was negligent for not allowing intensive sea trials before the ship’s first and last voyage. Likewise for not seeming to understand the difference between how a 20,000 ton 500 foot long ship and a 40,000+ ton and nearly 900 foot long ship respond to course and speed corrections and how much more time it takes to stop such a massive ship at full speed.

But that was not all. There was no good system for the ship’s wireless operators to get critical information to bridge officers and even the messages about a large ice field ahead of Titanic were ignored, or dismissed and the ship sped on into that last dark night when she hit the iceberg.

Once she struck the berg Titanic was doomed. Her much publicized watertight compartments were not high enough to keep the massive flood of icy seawater from overwhelming damage control efforts. Other design flaws quickened her demise.

But there was  hope. Other ships were nearby but through a combination of lax regulations, bad luck, and miscommunications none would arrive before Titanic slipped into the depths of the North Atlantic.

There were so many “if only” moments. If only Captain Smith and his officers had slowed down as a precaution. If only the lookouts had binoculars to see further, if only Bruce Ismay had not been so obsessed with breaking speed records. If only the Californian had come. Californian was the nearest vessel to Titanic and in easy wireless range. However her wireless was unmanned, she did not have enough operators to man it 24 hours a day.  Her lookouts saw Titanic but despite flares being fired from Titanic she never assumed Titanic to be in extremis. The next nearest ship, Carpathia heard the call and made a valiant attempt to reach Titanic but was too late.

If only…so many “if onlys” and so many traceable to one man, the Director of White Star Line J. Bruce Ismay.  Thomas Andrews who scoffed at the ship being unsinkable would go down with the ship; but Ismay ensured his own survival by stealing away in a less than half-full lifeboat, in some accounts disguised as a woman. Ismay is symbolic of men who allow their own hubris, vanity and power to destroy the lives of many.  He is so much like those that helped bring about the various economic crises that have wracked the United States and Western Europe and so many other tragedies. He is much like Donald Trump.

After the disaster the tragedy was investigated by the United States Senate, as well as the British Board of Trade. However, the inquiry of the latter was condemned by the White Star Line’s Archivist, Paul Louden-Brown. He noted: “I think the enquiry is a complete whitewash. You have the [British] Board of Trade in effect enquiring into a disaster that’s largely of its own making.”

Ismay and Titanic are symbols of men guided only by their quest for riches and glory who revel in their power and scorn wise counsel or regulation, government or otherwise. They often believe that rules don’t apply to them. It is a cautionary tale for us today as corporations, lobbyists, and politicians seek to dismantle sensible and reasonable safety and environmental regulations for the sake of their unmitigated profit. Today we are seeing the Trump administration doing all that it can to strip away important safety, workplace, and environmental regulations in order to maximize profits. He even fought installing fire suppressing extinguisher systems in Trump Tower, something that led to the death of one of his tenants last week.

But the warning goes far beyond that, it applies to any of us who adopt the mindset, “this cannot happen to us.” After all, there are times when we all end up as victims of our own hubris, such is the human condition.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Only Two Parties Now” The Aftermath of Fort Sumter

sumterflag

The Flag of Fort Sumter

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the second of two-part installment from my Civil War text. The story follows the secession crisis and the attack on Fort Sumter. I describes the reactions of people in all parts of the country, as well as the Army to those fateful shots. I find that it is remarkable and ironic that Republican lawmakers in South Carolina have introduced a bill that would allow secession if the Federal Government does anything that these legislators perceive as violating the Second Amendment so close to the date that their predecessors opened fire on Fort Sumter, but that is not the subject of today’s article. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

When the Stars and Stripes came down on April 14th 1861 the North was galvanized as never before, and “the clash at Fort Sumter brought forth an outpouring of support for the Union and President Lincoln.” [1]Abner Doubleday wrote “With the first shot fired against Fort Sumter the whole North became united.” [2] Another observer wrote: “The heather is on fire….I never knew what popular excitement can be… The whole population, men, women, and children, seem to be in the streets with Union favors and flags.” [3] The assault on Fort Sumter help to unify the North in ways not thought possible by Southern politicians who did not believe that Northerners had the mettle to go to war against them. But they were wrong, those shots, which Jefferson Davis ordered had the opposite reaction, for Northerners, even opponents of abolition who were not supporters of Lincoln, slavery in the South was one thing, but the attack on a Federal garrison by massed artillery was another; even Senator Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s stalwart opponent of so many campaigns went to the White House for a call to national unity. Returning to Chicago he told a huge crowd just a month before his untimely death:

“There are only two sides to the question. Every man must be for the United States or against it. There can be no neutrals in this war, only patriots – or traitors” [4]

For Frederick Douglass the shots marked a new phase in abolition:

“The first flash of rebel gunpowder and shell upon the starving handful of men at Sumter instantly changed the nation’s whole policy. Until then, the ever hopeful North was dreaming of compromise…

I wrote in my newspaper; “On behalf of our enslaved and bleeding brothers and sisters, thank God! The slaveholders themselves have saved the abolition cause from ruin! The government is aroused, the dead North is alive, and its divided people united. Never was a change so sudden, so universal, and so portentous. The whole North from East to West is in arms…” [5]

Douglas died less than a month later, possibly from cirrhosis of the liver, but his impact on the Democrats in the North was immense, “for a year of more his war spirit lived among most Democrats. “Let our enemies perish by the sword,” was the theme of democratic editorials in the spring of 1861. “All squeamish sentimentality should be discarded, and bloody vengeance wreaked upon the heads of the contemptable traitors who have provoked it by their dastardly impertinence and rebellious acts.” [6]

sickles as brigadier

Dan Sickles

One of these Democrats was New York Congressman Dan Sickles. He was one of many men whose outlook toward the South changed when Sumter was fired upon. Sickles had stridently defended Southerners and Southern states rights just months before, so long as they remained in the Union, and he took the actions of his former friends personally. He then became one of the first of men who were known as Union Democrats who followed Lincoln into the war, and despite his lack of ethics in much of his life it was a cause for which he would remain true, during and after the war.

When the soldiers of South Carolina opened fire on Fort Sumter, Sickles, who had said that no troops would cross through New York to invade the South in 1859 proclaimed “the men of New York would go in untold thousands anywhere to protect the flag of their country and to maintain its legitimate authority.” [7] In one of his last congressional speeches Sickles lambasted the South for its threat to the United States as a whole, and condemned the new Confederacy’s policies in spite of Northern attempts to conciliate them, “has been followed by insults to our flag; by the expulsion of the United States troops and authorities from navy yards and forts and arsenals; by measures to control the vast commerce of the Mississippi and its tributaries….” [8] He also condemned the South for its seizure of U.S. funds in the sub-treasuries and mints in the South as well sending envoys to England and France.

Sickles-Excelsior-Brigade-Headquarters-City-Hall-Park.-Yorktown

After the war Sickles, who had lost his leg in the Battle of Gettysburg fighting for the Union, oversaw the early efforts of reconstruction in North Carolina and for ordering the end to the public whippings of blacks by state officials was fired by President Andrew Johnston for supporting voting rights for African Americans. Congress reinstated him but Sickles who had so earnestly supported the South as late as 1860 no longer could stomach such abuse by those men who at one time his political friends and allies. During the election of 1876 Sickles, a lifelong Democrat labeled his party as “the party of treason.” [9] He joined forces with Republicans and helped to prevent the election of New York Democrat Samuel Tilden through shrewd political electioneering in key battleground states.

For Stephen Douglas the attack on Fort Sumter meant the end of his efforts to bring about some kind of reconciliation to reunite the country and restore the Union. When the Little Giant heard the news of the attack and reports of the statements of Confederate leaders he rushed to Lincoln to offer his support. Douglas wrote of the meeting:

“I heartily approve of your proclamation calling up 75,000 militia,” I told him. “Except that I would make it 200,000. You don’t know the dishonest purposes of these southern men as well as I do.” After a review of the strategic situation with the President Douglas continued, “Mr. President,” I said. “Let me speak plainly. I remain unalterably opposed to your Administration on purely its political issues. Yet I’m prepared to sustain you in the exercise of all your constitutional functions to preserve the Union, maintain the government, and defend the capital. A firm policy and prompt action are necessary. The capital of our country is in danger, and must be defended at all hazards, and at any expense of men and money. I speak of the present and future without reference to the past.

He shook my hand, hard. “We need more patriots like you, Douglas,” he said as he walked me to the door.

“I depreciate war,” I said in parting, “but if it must come, I’m with my country and for my country, under all circumstances and in every contingency.” [10]

Douglas then went to his fellow Democrats in Washington and told them: “We must fight for our country and forget all differences. There can be only two parties now – the party of patriots and the party of traitors. We belong to the first.” [11]

ewell

Richard Ewell

Army officers were conflicted between the Army that they had served, often for many years, the flag that they had fought under, longstanding friendships, and loyalty to their states and families. Richard Ewell who would rise to corps command in the Army of Northern Virginia, described the feelings of many officers in the ante-bellum Army: “Officers generally are very much adverse to any thing like civil war, though some of the younger ones are a bit warlike. The truth is in the army there are no sectional feelings and many from extreme ends of the Union are the most intimate friends.” [12] In California a number of those friends and their families bade tearful farewells as they parted ways. Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston and Captains Winfield Scott Hancock and Lewis Armistead gathered one last time. Hancock had already, who had great sympathy for his Southern friends, made his views known had previously announced “I shall fight not upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.” [13] His commander, Johnston, and dear friend Armistead were departing to serve the Confederacy and the parting was painful. Almira Hancock wrote of the final night together in Los Angeles:

“The most crushed was Major Armistead, who with tears, which were contagious, streaming down his face, put his hands upon Mr. Hancock’s shoulders, while looking him steadily in the eye, said, “Hancock, good-bye; you can never know what this has cost me; and I hope God will strike me dead if I am ever induced to leave my native soil, should worse come to worst….” [14]

Colonel Robert E. Lee of Virginia looked askance at secession, but he had made the decision that no matter what he would not lead armies against the South. In fact it was clear when he left Texas to come east where his sentiments lay. He told a friend “If Virginia stands by the old Union, so will I. But if she secedes (though I do believe in secession as a constitutional right, nor that there is sufficient cause for revolution), then I will follow my native State with my sword, and if need be, with my life.” [15]When he returned to Washington D.C. he accepted a promotion to Colonel in the Regular Army less than a month before he was offered command of the Union armies by Abraham Lincoln, a position that he turned down. In his final interview with General Winfield Scott to announce his decision, he admitted that “the struggle had been hard. He did not believe in secession, he said, and if he owned every slave in the South he would free them all to bring peace; but to fight against Virginia was not in him.” [16] When Virginia seceded Lee submitted his resignation from the Army for a cause that he did not really believe was constitutional or necessary, noting in his letter:

“With all my devotion to the Union and feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore, resigned my commission in the Army, and save in the defense of my native State…I hope I may never be called upon to draw my sword.” [17]

Within days Lee was appointed as a General and commander of the military forces of Virginia. When he arrived at the State House and “before he had much time to ruminate, he found himself being presented with George Washington’s sword, and hailed as a hero in a powerful tribute by the president of the convention.” [18] Even so, Lee’s decision was assailed by much of his Unionist oriented family, and many of them went on to serve the Union with distinction during the war. One relative wrote of Lee’s decision, “I feel no exalted respect for a man who takes part in a movement in which he says he can see nothing but ‘anarchy and ruin’… and yet very utterance scare passed Robt Lees lips… when he starts off with delegates to treat traitors.” [19]

Lee’s future right hand man and chief lieutenant, Thomas Jackson, the soon to be “Stonewall” Jackson was then a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. The often grim and serious Jackson saw the issue of secession as he did all of life through the prism of his Evangelical Protestant Calvinistic faith. For him it disunion was a matter of Divine Providence. When secession came and Jackson heard a minister friend in Lexington lamenting the nation’s troubles he noted:

“Why should Christians be at all disturbed about the dissolution of the Union? It can only come by God’s permission, and only will be permitted, if it is for his people’s good, for does he not say that all things shall work together for the good to them that love God?” [20]

In San Francisco Lieutenant James McPherson of the Corps of Engineers attempted to convince Lieutenant Porter Alexander from going home and joining the cause of the Confederacy. He bluntly spoke the facts of what would happen to the South in coming the war to the future Confederate artillery general:

“The population of the seceding states is only eight million while the North has twenty million. Of your 8 million over 3 million are slaves & may pose a dangerous element. You have no army, no navy, no treasury, no organization & practically none of the manufacturers – the machine shops, coal & iron mines & such things – which are necessary for the support of armies & carrying on war on a large scale.

You are but scattered agricultural communities & will be isolated from the world by blockades.

It is not possible for your cause to succeed in the end…” [21]

But Alexander, like so many Southern officers realized “that a crisis in my life was at hand. But I felt helpless to avert it or even debate the question what I should do. I could not doubt or controvert one of McPherson’s statements or arguments…” [22]

buford

John Buford

However, many Southern born officers serving in the Army did not leave. Close to half of the “Southern West Point graduates on active duty in 1860 held to their posts and remained loyal to the Union.” [23] One was Kentucky’s John Buford who would gain immortal fame at the Battle of Gettysburg. Since Buford’s family had longstanding ties to Kentucky, the pro-secession governor of Kentucky, Beriah Magoffin offered Buford a commission in that states’ militia. At the time Kentucky was still an “undeclared border slave state” and Buford loyal to his oath refused the governor’s offer. He wrote a brief letter to Magoffin and told his comrades that “I sent him word that I was a Captain in the United States Army and I intend to remain one.” [24] Around the same time the new provisional government of the Confederacy “offered Buford a general officer’s commission, which reached him by mail at Fort Crittenden.” [25] According to Buford’s biographer Edward Longacre “a well-known anecdote has him wadding up the letter while angrily announcing that whatever future had in store he would “live and die under the flag of the Union.” [26] A starker contrast could not be drawn.

Close to forty-percent of the Virginians serving on active-duty in the army remained faithful to the Union, including the Commander of the Army, General Winfield Scott and Robert E. Lee’s friend George Thomas and both were ostracized in the Old Dominion. “Thomas’s family never again communicated with him except to ask him to change his name. A young Virginian just out of West Point, acknowledged that by retaining his commission he had been shunned by all of his Southern associates; yet he still derided those who would hold their obligations so lightly as to abandon the nation when it most needed them.” [27]

But throughout the South, most people were less than circumspect and openly rejoiced at the surrender of Fort Sumter. In Richmond the night following the surrender “bonfires and fireworks of every description were illuminating in every direction- the whole city was a scene of joy owing to [the] surrender of Fort Sumter” – and Virginia wasn’t even part of the Confederacy.” [28] John Gordon, the future Confederate General was leading his Georgia volunteers to the new Confederate capital and “found the line of march an unbroken celebration: fires lighted the hilltops; fife-and-drum corps shrilled and thumped; cannons exploded their welcome.” [29]

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Ulysses Grant

Far to the north in Bangor Maine a little known professor at Bowdin College named Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain read the news “could not abide the thought of a divided nation; the Founding Fathers “did not vote themselves into a people; they recognized and declared that they were a people” whose bonds out not to be severed by political, social, or economic grievances.” [30] The professor “was seized with anger that “the flag of the Nation had been insulted” and “the integrity and existence of the people of the United States had been assailed in open and bitter war.” [31] In Illinois, a former struggling former Regular Army officer and veteran of the War with Mexico, Ulysses S. Grant whose in-laws were sympathetic to the Southern cause who had volunteered to lead a regiment of Illinois volunteers, wrote “Whatever may have been my opinions before, I have but one sentiment now. That is to have a Government, and laws and a flag and they all must be sustained….There are but two parties now, Traitors and Patriots and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter.” [32]

1st_7th_Reg_Departs

Even in cities that had often leaned toward the South like Cincinnati, people rushed to proclaim their patriotism and support of the Union. George Ticknor told an English friend “The whole population, men, women, and children, seem to be in the streets with Union favours and flags…. Civil war is freely accepted everywhere… by all, anarchy being the obvious, and perhaps the only alternative.” Pacifists who had rejected violence, even in support of righteous causes, turned bellicose. Ralph Waldo Emerson enthused, “Sometimes gunpowder smells good.” [33] As the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry marched through the streets of New York on their way to Washington were greeted with cheers from thousands of New Yorkers. The New York Times reported the event:

“Flags were displayed at all the hotels on the route, and waving handkerchiefs from the balconies and windows signified the warm greetings of the fair sex to the brave Bay State soldiers. Opposite the New York Hotel a gray-haired old man mounted a stoop and addressing the soldiers and people, said that he had fought under the Stars and Stripes in the War of 1812 against a foreign power, and now that the flag was spit upon by those who should be its defenders. He closed his remarks by a “God bless our flag,” and left the crowd with tears streaming down his wrinkled cheeks.” [34]

The Rubicon had been crossed and there was now no going back for either side. Poet Walt Whitman wrote:

War! An arm’d race is advancing! The welcome for battle, no turning away;

War! Be it weeks, months, or years, an arm’d race is advancing to welcome it.” [35]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Cooper We Have the War Upon Us p.270

[2] Doubleday, Abner From Moultrie to Sumter in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume I Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.48

[3] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.274

[4] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.274

[5] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.423

[6] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.274-275

[7] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.212

[8] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.214

[9] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.525

[10] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.421-422

[11] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.422

[12] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.120

[13] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.33

[14] Hancock, Almira Reminiscences of Winfield Scott Hancock Charles L Webster and Company, New York 1887 pp.69-70

[15] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.187

[16] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.335

[17] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.85

[18] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.295

[19] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.295

[20] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.38

[21] 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.24

[22] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.25

[23] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957

[24] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[25] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.70

[26] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[27] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.292

[28] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.140

[29] Smith, Jean Edward. Grant Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2001 p.99

[30] Longacre, Edward G. Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 pp.49-50

[31] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.139

[32] Ibid. Smith Grant p.103

[33] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.205

[34] Holzer, Harold and Symonds, Craig L. Editors, The New York Times Complete Civil War 1861-1865 Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2010 p.75

[35] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.205

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A Crisis of Character: Trump Emulates Kaiser Wilhelm II and War Beckons

Two of a Kind: Kaiser Wilhelm II and President Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

With every passing day the words of Theodore Roosevelt keep echoing in my mind. The President and hero of San Juan Hill noted: “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” That is especially true as we all await to see if the actions of President Trump live up to his Tweet storms to defy the Constitution, and unleash missiles on Syria and the forces of Russia and Iran located in that suffering country.

I could never in a million years believed that I would see the day when the manifold transgressions of an American President threaten the both the Constitution and potentially the very existence of the United Staes.  First growing number of  of crises involving multiple indictments of Trump surrogates involved with the supposedly non-existent Russian interference and the President’s threats against the press, political opponents, prosecutors, and his own Department of Justice regarding the Trump campaign collusion with Russia are frightening on their own merits. But then there is the of potential nuclear war with North Korea. But for just a dash of spice let’s mention the President’s tweets of looming strikes on Syria and taunts against Russia. Frankly as recipes for disaster go this is like adding Ghost Peppers to a Sarin laced cheesecake, but I digress…

I think that it is important to see the President’s words and actions in light of a number of factors. The first and foremost of those is character, just as Theodore Roosevelt noted. President Trump may be a character; he may even be a hoot when he gets peed on by Putin paid prostitutes (if such rumors are true) but he shows little evidence of actually having character or being a man of honor.

That dear reader is really the problem, thus it is important to know how the character other leaders at other historical  influenced how they treated people, reacted to criticism, and led their nations into disaster.

In the American experience one is hard pressed to find a President with a similar temperament and character that corresponds to Donald Trump. Yes, Nixon had some similarities, Jackson as well, but both men even at their worst did, at least in public restrain themselves and Nixon, when confronted with the reality of certain impeachment did the country a favor by resigning. Of course American history is replete with other Presidents and leaders with a corresponding lack of character but none tweeted with their iPhone in one hand and the nuclear football in the other, although I assume that he has to put at least one down to eat his friend chicken as he gets his political strategy and intelligence briefings from Sean Hannity and Steve Doocey.

But the times have changed. At onetime there were leaders in the Republican Party who chose to honor the Constitution and their oaths over blind party loyalty or their determination to pass a certain legislative act. Their resistance to President Nixon was instrumental in his resignation in 1974. But there seem to be few current members of the GOP congressional delegations willing to stand either for fear of the Trump base, or blind determination to press on with tax cuts even if it means the sacrifice of the Constitution, nuclear war, or their own integrity.

But all that being said I do think that there is a leader from historywho in temperament was much like President Trump, who ended up helping to lead his nation and the world to the abyss of World War. That is not Adolf Hitler who many people often compare the President. I think that Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his reliance on his radicalized base, including armed mobs in the street, and hyper-partisan allies in the right wing media, especially Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp which serves as his de-facto state media are similar, but they do not speak to the President’s unstable, narcissistic, and paranoid behaviors. I think that the better comparison is to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany with whom the President seems to share many similarities, both in temperament and words.

As tensions built in the lead up to the First World War Kaiser Wilhelm alternated between threatening Russia with destruction and pleading with his cousin Czar Nicholas II for peace.

In his book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Christopher Clark wrote of Wilhelm in words that are strikingly reminiscent of the President.

“It was one of this Kaiser’s many peculiarities that he was completely unable to calibrate his behaviour to the contexts in which his high office obliged him to operate. Too often he spoke not like a monarch, but like an over-excited teenager giving free rein to his current preoccupations.

‘I am the sole master of German policy,’ he remarked in a letter to the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), ‘and my country must follow me wherever I go”

“Wilhelm frequently –especially in the early years of his reign –bypassed his responsible ministers by consulting with ‘favourites’, encouraged factional strife in order to undermine the unity of government, and expounded views that had not been cleared with the relevant ministers or were at odds with the prevailing policy.

“It was in this last area –the unauthorized exposition of unsanctioned political views –that the Kaiser achieved the most hostile notice, both from contemporaries and from historians. There can be no doubt about the bizarre tone and content of many of the Kaiser’s personal communications in telegrams, letters, marginal comments, conversations, interviews and speeches on foreign and domestic political themes. Their exceptional volume alone is remarkable: the Kaiser spoke, wrote, telegraphed, scribbled and ranted more or less continuously during the thirty years of his reign, and a huge portion of these articulations was recorded and preserved for posterity…”

Max Hastings wrote that Wilhelm “was a brittle personality whose yearning for respect caused him to intersperse blandishments and threats in ill-judged succession.” Sean McMeekin in his book July 1914 wrote that Wilhelm had an “insecurity complex, a need for constant attention and acclaim. As one of his many critics put it, the kaiser needed to be “the stag at every hunt, the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral.” He also noted “Eager for praise, taking offense at the merest slight, the kaiser was a difficult man to work for. Bismarck had disdained to gratify Wilhelm II’s fragile ego after he became emperor in 1888, which led to his sacking two years later.”

Like President Trump the Kaiser did experience some push back from different governmental ministers, and was somewhat restrained during the month leading up to the war, but his constant belligerence, instability, and unscripted remarks helped set the diplomatic and governmental crisis that led to the war. Of course this was not his fault alone, the Austrian-Hungarians, Serbians, Russians, French, and British all had a hand, but the Kaiser, through his words and actions during the three decades preceding the war bears much responsibility for what happened in 1914. If the Kaiser had had a Twitter account he would have certainly used it in a similar manner to President Trump.

But Germany had no checks and balances to restrain Wilhelm. He was an absolute monarch. Americans do still have institutional checks and balances to Presidential overreach or abuses should we choose to follow the Constitution, but for that to happen the leadership of the Republican Party must also act, as did their predecessors during the Nixon administration to put principle or party, and rule of law over blind obedience. This is not about partisanship; it is about the Constitution, our form of government, and yes, even the prevention of nuclear war, that being said I don’t think that todays Republicans would pass the test that Wilhelm’s advisors failed in 1914.

Character and temperament are very important in times of crisis and elevated tensions. Character is also fate. We should all tremble when we think of the lack of character and maturity shown by our President.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“These acts… are overt acts of war.” The Attack on Fort Sumter

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Here is this is the first of a two-part installment of my Civil War text. The story follows the implosion of the Democratic Party, the election of Abraham Lincoln, and the secession crisis. It describes who the attack came about and the reactions of people in all parts of the country, as well as the Army to those fateful shots. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The remaining forts under Federal control in the South were a thorn in the side and a constant reminder to Jefferson Davis of the power of the federal government. As such he attempted to negotiate to obtain the forts, and when that offer was rejected out of hand by both Buchanan and Lincoln he began military preparations to seize them if negotiations failed. His task was complicated in Charleston where the Federal commander, Major Robert Anderson unexpectedly withdrew his entire garrison from the mainland to Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. The move was prompted by President Buchanan’s dithering on the status of the fort and garrison. Anderson was a Southerner who had decided to remain loyal to the Union, his second in command was Captain Abner Doubleday, a strongly committed abolitionist.

Under the cover of darkness the Union officers withdrew their men from old and weak Fort Moultrie in Charleston to Fort Sumter gaining him instant adulation in the North and condemnation in the South. Buchanan wanted to abandon the fort but “when it appeared that Northern public opinion was solidly behind Anderson, Buchanan changed his mind and attempted to persuade the South Carolinians to accept Anderson’s occupation of Fort Sumter as a legitimate exercise of federal authority.” [1] Jefferson Davis, who had not yet resigned from the Senate awaiting Mississippi’s declaration of secession complained that he “pleaded with Buchanan to give up Sumter and avert impending calamity. Once again the old imbecile refused, after his fashion, which is to say that he muttered to himself, nodded and tilted his head as if in agreement, begged leave to say a prayer, and then did nothing at all. Plainly the reins of state were in feeble hands. Had this lame-duck President withdrawn the troops from Sumter, he might have turned away the threatening of civil war.” [2]But Davis was blind to the political realities in the North that secession and seizure of other Federal installations had brought about. A prominent Northern Democrat wrote that “Anderson’s course of action is universally approved and that if he is recalled or if Sumter is surrendered… Northern sentiment will be unanimous in favor of hanging Buchanan….I am not joking – Never have I known the entire people more unanimous on any question. We are ruined if Anderson is disgraced or Sumter given up.” [3] Congressman Dan Sickles who had been such a friend of the South for so many years, even backing peaceful secession, spoke out against the Southern seizure of federal installations, said that the secessionists had committed “a fatal error” and said “it will never do, sir, for them to protest against coercion, and, at the same moment seize all the arms and arsenals and forts and navy yards, and ships that may, through our forbearance, fall within their power. This is not peaceful secession. These acts, whensoever or whomsoever done, are overt acts of war.” [4]

major anderson

Buchanan made a belated attempt to reinforce and resupply the fort and on January 9th 1861, an unarmed civilian ship, the Star of the West entered Charleston harbor. But the operation was bungled, secrecy was broken and the South Carolinians knew the ship was coming, even as Anderson did not get the message about the relief expedition and permission to fire if the Star of the West was fired upon. As a result when Confederate gunners opened fire on the steamer, Anderson, who had instructions to defend himself and not for an instance such as this, did nothing to intervene. “If he opened fire, the United States and South Carolina would be at war…. Major Anderson hesitated, plainly uncertain, an immense weight of responsibility resting on him….” [5] As a result the Star of the West retreated, leaving the garrison unreinforced. But the secessionists “had overplayed their hand. The South Carolina gunners who fired on the Star of the West had, in effect, invited the Federal government to start the war then and there if it wanted a war….” [6] The firing on the Star of the West further inflamed Northerners. Dan Sickles thundered in the House chambers “the authorities of South Carolina, through their military forces, opened fire upon that defenseless ship, and compelled her to retire and abandon the peaceful and legitimate mission in which she was engaged. Now, sir, that was an act of war, unqualified war.” [7]

The debate continued as Buchanan eased out of office and the new Confederate government of Jefferson Davis took ownership of the situation in Charleston. Buchanan did not want to do anything overt to tip the balance in undecided slave states toward secession and Davis did not want South Carolina to act alone and risk a premature attack on the fort. But as both sides waited the balance of power in Charleston shifted, “as local troops day by day strengthened the ring of batteries confronting Sumter’s garrison.” [8] In incoming Lincoln administration debated what to do with some of the incoming cabinet members counseling withdraw and others resistance to Confederate demands. Lincoln gave serious thought to abandoning the fort but could not bring himself to authorize the action. He understood that if he ordered evacuation, “the credibility of his presidency and the Republican administration would be in pieces before either had scarcely begun.” [9]

Instead the new President sought more information and sent three men “down to Charleston to observe the situation and report on what they saw. The first two, both southern-born, were Illinois law associates, both reported reconciliation impossible…. The third, a high-ranking naval observer who secured and interview with Anderson at the fort, returned to declare a relief expedition was feasible.” [10] He also continued to meet with his cabinet members to decide on the appropriate policy to meet the challenge to federal authority in Charleston. “He met with Francis Blair, who, like his son, Monty, believed passionately that the surrender of Sumter “was virtually a surrender of the Union unless under irresistible force – that compounding with treason was treason to the Govt.” [11] On March 29th Lincoln again met with his cabinet and having weighed all of the options, decided to resupply the fort. His decision was to “not send guns or bullets to Sumter, only food and medicine. He would resupply, but not rearm, it. And he would announce the plan in advance so the South could not regard the effort as an act of hostility by an enemy.” [12] If the attempt succeeded “federal authority in South Carolina had been preserved, and Charleston could do little short of war to change it; if it failed, the failure would be due to Charleston’s decision to open fire, and the onus of beginning a civil war would lie on their hands.” [13]

Even as the Confederate moved even more troops and guns into position around the Sumter, more and more people of influence were growing impatient with the delays in gaining Fort Sumter and feared that if something was not done that in some places there might be a call to return to the Union. Jefferson Davis was under great pressure to act, a newspaper in Mobile Alabama editorialized that “If something is not done pretty soon…the whole country will be so disgusted with the sham of independence that the first chance the people get at a popular election the y will turn the whole movement topsy-turvy.” [14] Likewise, “Southern ardor was chafing at the bit anyway, and failure to meet the challenge threatened to undermine the government and weaken Southern resolve.” [15]

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General P.T.G. Beauregard C.S.A.

Knowing from Southern sympathizers still in Washington that a relief expedition was coming, General P.T.G. Beauregard “had already cut off Major Anderson’s purchases in the Charleston market the day before Governor Pickens received Lincoln’s message about the intention to provision Sumter.” [16] Pickens forwarded the message to Davis in Montgomery and Davis was forced to either back down on their threats or fire the first shot of the war, and even worse from a messaging standpoint, “that first shot would be for the immediate purpose of keeping food from hungry men.” [17]

Davis was extremely angry when he went into conference with his cabinet on April 9th upon getting the news of the relief expedition. The debate in the cabinet “ran long and heated. Davis favored proceeding with the bombardment. Charleston’s batteries were ready, and the South Carolinians were more than anxious,” [18] and the majority of the cabinet, with the exception of Robert Toombs concurred. He wrote:

“I summoned the Cabinet and told them that negotiation was now at an end, and that it was time to bombard the fort. Yes, I said, we would now be firing the first shot, but that was not our fault. It was Lincoln who intended war. He and that lying Seward had drawn the sword, and we were responding to them. We were defending our honor.

Toombs, my Secretary of State disagreed. “Sir,” he said to me, “firing at the fort is suicide. It’s unnecessary, it puts us in the wrong, it’s fatal.”

“Sir,” I said, “you are wrong.”

On April tenth, I ordered General Beauregard to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter, and if refused, to reduce it with his guns.” [19]

Beauregard delivered the ultimatum to Anderson, who rejected it noting that “his sense of honor and obligations to his government prevented him his complying; but in conversation with Beauregard’s aides he remarked that in any event, the garrison would be starved out in a few days.” [20] But the fear of the Confederates that the relief force might actually arrive and succeed in its mission prompted them to open fire on the fort at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of the 12th. The relief force was scattered by a gale and could not resupply Anderson. The bombardment lasted thirty-three hours, and while Anderson’s troops resisted but could not man all of their guns and were short on ammunition and powder. With the fort heavily damaged by over 4,000 hits and interior of the fort on fire, a fire that was threatening the powder magazines, Anderson gave the order to surrender. Beauregard allowed the assembled U.S. Navy ships to evacuate the garrison and as a parting gesture the Confederate General allowed Anderson’s troops to fire a last salute to Old Glory. They hauled down the smoke stained and torn Star Spangled Banner and marched to the ship taking them off the island with their drums beating the tune “Yankee Doodle.” Lincoln realized the importance of what had happened all too well. He noted, “They attacked Sumter. It fell and thus did more service than it otherwise would.” [21]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.136

[2] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.367

[3] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.265-266

[4] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.211

[5] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury pp.180-181

[6] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.184

[7] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel pp.211-212

[8] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.544

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.137

[10] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.46

[11] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 335

[12] Holzer, Harold Lincoln: How Abraham Lincoln Ended Slavery in America Newmarket Press for itbooks an imprint of Harper Collins, New York 2012 p.80

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.137

[14] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.272

[15] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.278

[16] Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 pp.20-21

[17] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.47

[18] Ibid. Davis Jefferson Davis p.323

[19] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.416-417

[20] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.21

[21] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.202

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Never Again? Holocaust Days of Remembrance 2018

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

April 8th to 15th are the Holocaust Days of Remembrance in the United States. I am glad we do this but sadly I don’t think that the vast majority of Americans really care about the Holocaust or its eternal precedent because frankly we live in an age where history, unless it is being bastardized to fit the propaganda message of political ideologues matters not a wit.

Historian Timothy Snyder refers to the current trend of history being cherry picked and perverted in support of ideology as the  politics of eternity. Over the past two decades this concept has replaced the politics of inevitability  which defined the immediate ear after the Cold War. Inevitability presumed that no-matter what happened that the future would unfold in a manner that ultimately benefited everyone.

That understanding lasted until the disastrous American war against Iraq, the collapse of the banking system, and the politics of inequity that by 2010 made most Americans feel that they were being shortchanged. The social contract that had buttressed society has given way much in the way that it had in Europe following the First World War. Many, regardless of where they lay on the political spectrum feel victimized and angry. Their victimhood and anger require scapegoats who in turn become victims and many times the scapegoats are those who were traditionally exploited and persecuted based on race or religion, or new immigrants who have taken the place of the previously persecuted peoples that now embrace the very ideologies used to persecute their ancestors.

Snyder noted that the politics of “eternity places one nation at the centre of a cyclical story of victimhood. Time is no longer a line into the future, but a circle that endlessly returns the same threats from the past. Within inevitability, no one is responsible because we all know that the details will sort themselves out for the better; within eternity, no one is responsible because we all know that the enemy is coming no matter what we do. Eternity politicians spread the conviction that government cannot aid society as a whole, but can only guard against threats. Progress gives way to doom.”

To those that practice the politics of eternity, no matter what nation they hail from the precedent of the Holocaust looms large.

Snyder correctly observed that “The world is now changing, reviving fears that were familiar in Hitler’s time, and to which Hitler responded. The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

That is something that we must never forget lest the would be architects of annihilation of our day; the politicians, preachers, propagandists, and profiteers, who demonize the Jews, Muslims, dark skinned immigrants, LTBTQ people and other inconvenient elements and prepare people to do evil or ignore it: the ordinary men who just obey orders. Primo Levi wrote:Primo Levi wrote, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

Levi was right, the common men, those that don’t think but simply follow orders or turn their heads and ignore the evil who are the most dangerous.

But of all of the people victimized by the politics of eternity it has to be the Jewish people  who have suffered the greatest from often disparate enemies. Anti-Semitism knows few boundaries and is not just one prejudice among many, even though the purveyors of it often persecute and massacre others. Christopher Hitchens noted about the Nazi crimes in Eastern Europe which were often aided by local militias: “We should not at all allow ourselves to forget the millions of non-Jewish citizens of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slav territories who were also massacred. But for me the salient fact remains that anti-Semitism was the regnant, essential, organizing principle of all the other National Socialist race theories. It is thus not to be thought of as just one prejudice among many.” 

That is one major reason why I fear the surge in the politics of eternity in the United States, Europe, and other nations. I fear that the Jews will again be a sacrificial victim especially because a part of the American electorate which allegedly supports Israel, Evangelical Christians only do so because their theology requires the sacrifice of the Jews and Israel at the hand of the Anti-Christ during Christ’s Second Coming.  Sadly, these are the same people who unabashedly support a President that mocks their faith and Christ in word and deed, and whose often disparaging tone toward American Jews is well known. As such I cannot help but think that it could indeed happen here. If this is what it means to make America Great again then we are deep trouble. Snyder wrote: “When exactly was the “again” in the president’s slogan “Make America great again”? Hint: It is the same “again” that we find in “Never again.”

Milton Mayer wrote in his book They Thought They Were Free about a German colleague during the 1950s that had lived through the Hitler years as an academic. The man tried to explain how changes were so gradual that people like him who should have known better did not take action, if they did at all until it was too late. The man asked Mayer:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

With what is happening on the border of Israel in Syria I am very much afraid that there will be a backlash against American Jews, as well as American Muslims from both the political left and right. The precedent of the Holocaust is indeed eternal and it is incumbent on us to ensure that it does not happen again. That being said if it does and some of us have the courage to resist and even risk martyrdom it will not be the martyrdom of the innocent. Sadly, most of us regardless of our ideological or political point of view have contributed to the situation that we see today. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke these words as the Nazi Party became the largest and most powerful in Germany before Hitler was appointed Chancellor by Hindenburg:

“the blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness” 

I am one of those unprofitable servants because for some thirty years I supported the party and policies that brought about Trump and turned a blind eye toward the consequences until I saw the terrible results of the polices that I supported when I went to Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“We Are All Americans” Ely Parker’s Words at Appomattox

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Joshua Chamberlain Receives the Surrender of John Gordon at Appomattox

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

 

One hundred and fifty three years ago on the 9th and 10th of April 1865, four men, Ulysses S Grant, Robert E. Lee, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Ely Parker, taught succeeding generations of Americans the value of mutual respect and reconciliation. The four men, each very different, would do so after a bitter and bloody war that had cost the lives of over 600,000 Americans which had left hundreds of thousands others maimed, shattered or without a place to live, and seen vast swaths of the country ravaged by war and its attendant plagues.

The differences in the men, their upbringing, and their views about life seemed to be insurmountable. The Confederate commander, General Robert E. Lee was the epitome of a Southern aristocrat and career army officer. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, like Lee was a West Point graduate and veteran of the War with Mexico, but there the similarities ended. Grant was an officer of humble means who had struggled with alcoholism and failed in his civilian life after he left the army, before returning to it as a volunteer when war began. Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain had been a professor of rhetoric and natural and revealed religion from Bowdoin College until 1862 when he volunteered to serve. He was a hero of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, who helped exemplify the importance of citizen soldiers in peace and war. Finally there was Colonel Ely Parker, a full-blooded Seneca Indian; a professional engineer by trade, a man who was barred from being an attorney because as a Native American he was never considered a citizen. Although he had been rejected from serving in the army for the same reason, his friend Grant had obtained him a commission and kept him on his staff.

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Ulysses S. Grant

A few days bef0ore the Confederate line around the fortress of Petersburg was shattered at the battle of Five Forks, and to save the last vestiges of his army Lee attempted to withdraw to the west. Within a few days the once magnificent Army of Northern Virginia was trapped near the town of Appomattox. On the morning of April 9th 1865 Lee replied to an entreaty of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant requesting that he and his Army of Northern Virginia be allowed to surrender. Lee wrote to Grant:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, APRIL 9, 1865

Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I received your note of this morning on the picket-line, whither I had come to meet you and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army. I now ask an interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose.

R.E. LEE, General.

The once mighty Army of Northern Virginia, which had won so many victories, and which at its peak numbered nearly 80,000 men, was now a haggard and emaciated, but still proud force of about 15,000 soldiers. For Lee to continue the war now would mean that they would have to face hopeless odds against a vastly superior enemy. Grant recognized this and wrote Lee:

I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the whole North entertains the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be set-tied without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, &c.,

Since the high water mark at Gettysburg, Lee’s army had been on the defensive. Lee’s ill-fated offensive into Pennsylvania was one of the two climactic events that sealed the doom of the Confederacy. The other was Grant’s victory at Vicksburg which fell to him a day after Pickett’s Charge, and which cut the Confederacy in half.

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Robert E. Lee

The bloody defensive struggle lasted through 1864 as Grant bled the Confederates dry during the Overland Campaign, leading to the long siege of Petersburg. Likewise the armies of William Tecumseh Sherman had cut a swath through the Deep South and were moving toward Virginia from the Carolinas.

With each battle following Gettysburg the Army of Northern Virginia became weaker and finally after the nine month long siege of Petersburg ended with a Union victory there was little else to do. On the morning of April 9th a final attempt to break through the Union lines by John Gordon’s division was turned back by vastly superior Union forces.

On April 7th Grant wrote a letter to Lee, which began the process of ending the war in Virginia. He wrote:

General R. E. LEE:

The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C. S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

U.S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General

Lee was hesitant to surrender knowing Grant’s reputation for insisting on unconditional surrender, terms that Lee could not accept. He replied to Grant:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, APRIL 7, 1865 Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express on the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.

R.E. LEE, General.

The correspondence continued over the next day even as the Confederates hoped to fight their way out of the trap that they were in. But now Robert E. Lee, who had through his efforts extended the war for at least six months, knew that he could no longer continue. Even so some of his younger subordinates wanted to continue the fight. When his artillery chief Porter Alexander recommended that the Army be released, “take to the woods and report to their state governors” Lee replied:

“We have simply now to face the fact that the Confederacy has failed. And as Christian men, Gen. Alexander, you & I have no right to think for one moment of our personal feelings or affairs. We must consider only the effect which our action will have upon the country at large.”

Lee continued:

“Already [the country] is demoralized by the four years of war. If I took your advice, the men would be without rations and under no control of their officers. They would be compelled to rob and steal in order to live…. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from… You young fellows might go bushwhacking, but the only dignified course for me would be to go to General Grant and surrender myself and take the consequences of my acts.”

Alexander was so humbled at Lee’s reply he later wrote “I was so ashamed of having proposed such a foolish and wild cat scheme that I felt like begging him to forget he had ever heard it.” When Alexander saw the gracious terms of the surrender he was particularly impressed with how non-vindictive the terms were, especially in terms of parole and amnesty for the surrendered soldiers.

Abraham Lincoln had already set the tone for the surrender in his Second Inaugural Address given just over a month before the surrender of Lee’s army. Lincoln closed that speech with these words of reconciliation:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

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Lee met Grant at the house of Wilmer McLean, who had moved to Appomattox in 1861 after his home near Manassas had been used as a Confederate headquarters and was damaged by artillery fire. Lee was dressed in his finest uniform complete with sash, while Grant was dressed in a mud splattered uniform and overcoat only distinguished from his soldiers by the three stars on his should boards. Grant’s dress uniforms were far to the rear in the baggage trains and Grant was afraid that his slovenly appearance would insult Lee, but it did not. It was a friendly meeting, before getting down to business the two reminisced about the Mexican War.

Grant provided his vanquished foe very generous surrender terms:

“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”

When Lee left the building Federal troops began cheering but Grant ordered them to stop. Grant felt a sense of melancholy and wrote “I felt…sad and depressed, at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people has fought.” He later noted: “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

In the hours before and after the signing of the surrender documents old friends and classmates, separated by four long years of war gathered on the porch or around the house. Grant and others were gracious to their now defeated friends and the bitterness of war began to melt away. Some Union officers offered money to help their Confederate friends get through the coming months. It was an emotional reunion, especially for the former West Point classmates gathered there:

“It had never been in their hearts to hate the classmates they were fighting. Their lives and affections for one another had been indelibly framed and inextricably intertwined in their academy days. No adversity, war, killing, or political estrangement could undo that. Now, meeting together when the guns were quiet, they yearned to know that they would never hear their thunder or be ordered to take up arms against one another again.”

Grant also sent 25,000 rations to the starving Confederate army waiting to surrender. The gesture meant much to the defeated Confederate soldiers who had had little to eat ever since the retreat began.

The surrender itself was accomplished with a recognition that soldiers who have given the full measure of devotion can know when confronting a defeated enemy. Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the heroic victor of Little Round Top was directed by Grant to receive the final surrender of the defeated Confederate infantry on the morning of April 12th.

It was a rainy and gloomy morning as the beaten Confederates marched to the surrender grounds. As the initial units under the command of John Gordon passed him, Chamberlain was moved with emotion he ordered his soldiers to salute the defeated enemy for whose cause he had no sympathy, Chamberlain honored the defeated Rebel army by bringing his division to present arms.

John Gordon, who was “riding with heavy spirit and downcast face,” looked up, surveyed the scene, wheeled about on his horse, and “with profound salutation returned the gesture by lowering his saber to the toe of his boot. The Georgian then ordered each following brigade to carry arms as they passed third brigade, “honor answering honor.”

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Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Chamberlain was not just a soldier, but before the war had been Professor of Natural and Revealed Religions at Bowdoin College, and a student of theology before the war. He could not help to see the significance of the occasion. He understood that some people would criticize him for saluting the surrendered enemy. However, Chamberlain, unlike others, understood the value of reconciliation. Chamberlain was a staunch abolitionist and Unionist who had nearly died on more than one occasion fighting the defeated Confederate Army, and he understood that no true peace could transpire unless the enemies became reconciled to one another.

He noted that his chief reason for doing so:

“The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!”

The next day Robert E Lee addressed his soldiers for the last time. Lee’s final order to his loyal troops was published the day after the surrender. It was a gracious letter of thanks to men that had served their beloved commander well in the course of the three years since he assumed command of them outside Richmond in 1862.

General Order
No. 9



After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.

But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell. — R. E. Lee, General

The surrender was the beginning of the end. Other Confederate forces continued to resist for several weeks, but with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia led by the man that nearly all Southerners saw as the embodiment of their nation the war was effectively over.

Lee had fought hard and after the war was still under the charge of treason, but he understood the significance of defeat and the necessity of moving forward as one nation. In August 1865 Lee wrote to the trustees of Washington College of which he was now President:

“I think it is the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid the restoration of peace and harmony… It is particularly incumbent upon those charged with the instruction of the young to set them an example of submission to authority.

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Brigadier General Ely Parker

It is a lesson that all of us in our terribly divided land need to learn regardless of or political affiliation or ideology. After he had signed the surrender document, Lee learned that Grant’s Aide-de-Camp Colonel Ely Parker, was a full-blooded Seneca Indian. He stared at Parker’s dark features and said: “It is good to have one real American here.”

Parker, a man whose people had known the brutality of the white man, a man who was not considered a citizen and would never gain the right to vote, replied, “Sir, we are all Americans.” That afternoon Parker would receive a commission as a Brevet Brigadier General of Volunteers, making him the first Native American to hold that rank in the United States Army. He would later be made a Brigadier General in the Regular Army.

I don’t know what Lee thought of that. His reaction is not recorded and he never wrote about it after the war, but it might have been in some way led to Lee’s letter to the trustees of Washington College. I think with our land so divided, ands that is time again that we learn the lessons so evidenced in the actions and words of Ely Parker, Ulysses Grant, Robert E. Lee and Joshua Chamberlain, for we are all Americans.

Sadly, I think that there is a portion of the American population who will not heed these words and will continue to agitate for policies and laws similar to those that led to the Civil War, and which those the could not reconcile defeat instituted again during the Post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. For me such behavior and attitudes are incompressible, but they are all too real, and all too present in our divided nation.

But I still maintain hope that in spite of everything that divides us, in spite of the intolerance and hatred of some, that we can overcome. I think that the magnanimity of Grant in victory, the humility of Lee in defeat, the graciousness of Chamberlain in honoring the defeated foe, and the stark bluntness of Parker, the Native American, in reminding Lee, that “we are all Americans,” is something that is worth remembering, and yes, even emulating.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Martyrs of Flossenburg: A Lesson for Christians in the Age of Trump

D.Bonhoeffer im Gefaengnis Berlin-Tegel

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Seventy-three years ago at the Flossenburg Concentration Camp near the German-Czech border a pastor, an Admiral, and a General were martyred on the specific order of Adolf Hitler. The pastor was the eminent Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Admiral, Wilhelm Canaris the former head of the German military intelligence service; the Abwehr, the General, Hans Oster, Canaris’s deputy. All three were Christians and all three opponents of Hitler’s regime. Condemned with them were Karl Sack a senior military jurist, retired General Friedrich Von Rabenau who was also a theologian, and several others connected with the Abwehr and the resistance.

I think that in an age where politically conservative Christians have trampled their own faith to support of a leader who makes a mockery of the Christian faith as he blasphemes the very name of Christ and the teachings of Jesus in his words and deeds. While I am not comparing the President to Hitler I am comparing the corrupt and evil Christian leaders and organizations which support him to the German Christians who eagerly supported Hitler and his diabolical regime. Thus the men who lost their lives in the fight against Hitler on April 9th 1945 and their courage need to be remembered and emulated should the Trump administration continue down its path to trample the Constitution and crush civil and human rights, and quite possibly engage in aggressive preemptive wars that would be illegal under the precedents of the Nuremberg Trials; all in the name of Making America Great Again.

But it is Bonhoeffer that I will focus on tonight. As early as 1932 Bonhoeffer realized the menace and evil of Hitler’s growing Nazi Party and movement. In a sermon the recently ordained Bonhoeffer, then only 26 years old noted that danger and the complicity of all Germans in it, especially Christians.  He warned that resistance to it could well involve martyrdom. But he believed that the the evil of the tyrant gave no one the luxury of claiming innocence:

“the blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness” 

On February 1st 1933, two days after Hitler’s accession to power Bonhoeffer was beginning a previously scheduled speech on what was known as the concept known as the Fuhrerprinzep. The speech was not a direct attack on Hitler but a warning of the limits of power. He had barely begun the speech when for unexplained circumstances he was cut off. While there was no proof that this was deliberately done it would not have been unlike the Nazis to engage in such subterfuge. The speech was printed in a non-Nazi conservative newspaper and he was invited to give the speech in early March at the University of Berlin’s college of political science. At the end of the speech, which included no remarks on current events Bonhoeffer criticized the Fuhrerprinzep which he believed could easily become an idolatrous cult. However, Hitler had ridden into power upon upon that concept as people sought a strong leader to bring Germany out of political, social, and economic turmoil.

“The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority, be it of a Leader or of an office, we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him. The eternal law that the individual stands alone before God takes fearful vengeance where it is attacked and distorted. Thus the Leader points to the office, but Leader and office together point to the final authority itself, before which Reich or state are penultimate authorities. Leaders or offices which set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him, and must perish.”

german-christians-march

At that early stage Hitler whose office was conditional on the support of President Paul Von Hindenburg and headed a cabinet in which his Nazis were a minority partner realized that he had to say the right things to maintain it, he could not appear too radical. One group that he courted were politically conservative German Christians. In a speech delivered the same day as Bonhoeffer’s curtailed speech, Hitler claimed that the Christian faith would serve as “the basis of our collective morality.” It was a lie but it assuaged the fears of Christians in non-Nazi conservative and moderate parties, many who became a part of the Nazi German Christian movement which decidedly in the service of Hitler espousing Nazi racial doctrines and attacks upon the Jews.

As Hitler and the Nazis stepped up their persecution of their political opponents and the Jews based on the emergency provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree Bonhoeffer both worked and spoke his opposition to the tyranny that was beginning to envelop Germany. In April 1933 while speaking of the responsibility of Christians and the church to stand against injustice he wrote in his essay The Church and the Jewish Question: 

“The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” and also“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

He became a key member of what became known as the Confessing Church and the Pastors Emergency League where he helped draft the Barmen Declaration. He ran an underground seminary to train theology students. He had the chance to remain in the United States in June of 1939 but refused the pleas of his American friends to do so. He explained his position to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.”

On his return to Germany he was forbidden to speak in public, prohibited from publishing and required to report his movements to the police. However he did have friends. His brother in law, the lawyer Hans Dohnányi who was a member of the opposition, recruited Bonhoeffer for the Abwehr the German military service in order to prevent him from being conscripted into the Wehrmacht based on the proposition that his contacts with British and American could prove useful to to German intelligence. While Bonhoeffer remained suspect to Nazi officials the appointment brought him into the orbit of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, General Hans Oster, and other leaders of the military opposition to Hitler.

From these men he began to comprehend the fulness of the Nazi evil and learned of early plots against Hitler’s life. Bonhoeffer, a pacifist realized that he must become an active part of the resistance and wrote: “the ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” By participating in the conspiracy Bonhoeffer can be accused of hypocrisy, and he knew it. He explained his position in a letter to his sister:

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

During his tenure with the Abwehr he served as a courier to make contact with Allied leaders in Switzerland in order to gain support for opposition efforts, attempts that the Allies ignored, even as he wrote his book Ethics. Bonhoeffer worked with Dohnányi and others in the Abwehr to smuggle fourteen Jews out of German to Switzerland along with large sums of currency. However, the Sicherheitsdienst, the intelligence branch of Heinrich Himmler’s SS  became aware of their activities and both were arrested in April 1943, not so much for that but in order to discredit the rival Abwehr. While the Abwehr was able to cover for most of their activities they were charged with breaking the Nazi laws regarding the Jews.

He was imprisoned in Berlin’s Tegel Prison while awaiting trial but during that time he produced many theological writings which were smuggled out of the prison to his student Eberhard Bethage by his fiancé and sympathetic guards. These uncensored works would become the book Letters and Papers from Prison. He expressed no bitterness in his arrest but reflected on what he and others in the resistance had learned, lessons that privileged Christians in the United States who worship the ungodly political, economic, and military power reveled in by President Trump would be wise to heed:

“We in the resistance have learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the excluded, the ill treated, the powerless, the oppressed and despised… so that personal suffering has become a more useful key for understanding the world than personal happiness.”

Documents that exposed Bonhoeffer’s connection to the anti-Hitler plot that resulted in the July 20th 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler by Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg were discovered by the Gestapo in September 1944 and he was moved to the SS Prison at the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, the Reich Security Main Office. When that facility was bombed in February 1945 he was moved to Buchenwald and finally to Flossenburg where he would die.

Two of his writings which he produced while in prison have had a profound impact on my faith.

“During the last year or so I’ve come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity.  The Christian is not ahomo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man…I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!) a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.  By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian.”

“I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.”

Bonhoeffer’s fate was sealed when on April 4th 1945 Canaris’s secret diaries were found. When Hitler read them he became enraged and demanded that the Abwehr traitors be destroyed. Bonhoeffer and his companions were taken to Flossenburg, but at a stop Bonhoeffer became separated from them and was held with other prisoners in the small town of Schoenberg. While there on Sunday 8 April 1945, Bonhoeffer was asked to conduct a service on the second Sunday of Easter. He had just finished conducting the service at a schoolhouse when plainclothes Gestapo agents arrived to arrest him. British prisoner Payne Best noted that Bonhoeffer:

“spoke to us in a manner which reached the hearts of all, finding just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment and the thoughts and resolutions which it had brought.”

As Bonhoeffer was taken he said to another prisoner, “This is the end – but for me, the beginning of life.” He was driven to Flossenburg where he along with the other Abwehr conspirators was condemned at a drumhead trial by SS Judge Sturmbannfuhrer (Major) Otto Thorbeck without witnesses or records of proceedings or defense and hanged the next day, two weeks before American soldiers liberated the camp.

The only account of his death was written by the SS doctor of the camp.

“On the morning of that day between five and six o’clock the prisoners, among them Admiral Canaris, General Oster, General Thomas and Reichgerichtsrat Sack were taken from their cells, and the verdicts of the court martial read out to them. Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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