Tag Archives: american revolution

Blacks in the U.S. Navy: 1798-1917

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I’m back with something fresh, a short article from my text A Great War in a Revolutionary Age of Change. As I was looking at the text I realized that there were some major gaps to fill in regarding the service of African Americans in the military. So over the past couple of weeks I have been working on covering those gaps in order to smooth out the text and show how the social and political changes that began during the Civil War continued to work their way through our history to the present day. This section is about the African American experience in the U.S. Navy from 1798 until World War One.

There will be more so enjoy and have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

uss-miami-crew

Unlike the Army, African Americans had served aboard United States Naval vessels since the Revolution, and were an important part of ship’s crews all through the age of sail and the Civil War. In 1798, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, a slaveholder “barred “Negroes or Mulattoes” from serving in the new navy, and the Marine Corps did the same. Given the need to fill out their crews, however, captains often took free blacks as crew members. Both free blacks and slaves had served in the Continental Navy, the state navies, and privateers during the revolution, but that precedent had been forgotten.” [1] Even so, the Navy would continue to recruit free African Americans and they would make up a significant percentage of the crews of U.S. Navy ships, part of the reason that since the earliest times in the colonies, free blacks had taken up a seafaring way of life serving on merchantmen or in the Royal Navy. Likewise, “life at sea during the eighteenth century was difficult and dangerous. Therefore navies were forced to enlist practically anyone who was willing to serve.” [2]

During the War of 1812 free blacks comprised between ten and twenty percent of the crews of U.S. Navy ships. Captains like Oliver Hazard Perry who initial complained about having blacks on his ships became believers in their ability. At the Battle of Lake Erie “blacks constituted one-fourth of his 400 man force aboard the 10-vessel fleet.” He was so impressed by their performance under fire that he wrote the Secretary of the Navy “praising their fearlessness in the face of excessive danger.” [3] During the war, the Secretary of the Navy lifted Stoddert’s ban on blacks serving and free blacks responded by joining in increasing numbers.

Unlike the Army, the Navy became a place for free blacks to find a place to serve their country, and when the Civil War erupted these men continued to serve, and they would continue to serve throughout the war, and the Union Navy enlisted a proportionally higher number of its personnel from free blacks, nearly seventeen percent than did the Army, a force of approximately 30,000 sailors. Navy officers like David Dixon Porter praised them. He recruited them for his Mississippi Squadron as “coal heavers, firemen, and even gun crews.” He wrote “They do first rate work, and are far better behaved than their masters,” he declared. “What injustice to these poor people, to say they are only fit for slaves. They are far better than the white people here, who I look upon as brutes.” [4]

In 1862 the Union Navy was facing a manpower shortage the Federal and state governments discouraged whites from serving in the Navy due to the vast manpower needs of the Army. The government did not provide “bounties for those who joined nor counting them in local recruiting quotas.” [5] When confronted with the thousands of escaped slaves, or “contrabands” Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles authorized their enlistment, and they were treated comparatively well. There were no segregated quarters due to the cramped conditions of shipboard life and as a result the men messed and were quartered in common spaces. Black sailors had complete control of their pay and had the same privileges as their white shipmates.

Most Naval officers had never been abolitionists before the war, and some had been defenders of slavery before the war, but their wartime experiences converted them to the abolitionist cause. Samuel Francis Du Pont wrote “I have never been an abolitionist… on the contrary most of my life a sturdy conservative on the vexed question.” He explained that he had “defended it all over the world, argued for it for it as patriarchal in its tendencies,” he admitted in 1861.“Oh my! What a delusion…. The degradation, the overwork, and ill treatment of the slaves in the cotton states is great than I deemed possible, while the capacity of the Negro for improvement is higher than I believed.” He noted that no officer in his squadron had voted for Lincoln, by April 1862 he wrote “there is not one proslavery man among them.” [6]

Sadly after the war the opportunities for blacks began to decrease in the Navy. They still served but as the Navy became more technological, recruiters began to seek out more educated men to crew the ships of the new steel and steam navy. Increasing segregation and Jim Crow affected naval recruiting and by 1917 only about 7,500 blacks were still in the service. In the 1890s the navy began to exclude blacks from “all but the most undesirable jobs. Moreover, whites still would not tolerate blacks in blacks in positions of authority over them.” As a result promotion was rare, they worked in segregated conditions, and “to avoid friction between the two races,” commanders also segregated their eating and sleeping areas.” [7] With the exception of a successful experiment by Secretary of the Navy to integrate crews of certain auxiliary ships in 1944, these conditions would continue until President Truman ordered to integrate all branches of the military in 1948.

Notes

[1] Daughan, George C. If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy – From the Revolution to the War of 1812 Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, New York 2008 p.320

[2] Fields, Elizabeth Arnett African American Soldiers Before the Civil War in A Historic context for the African American Military Experience – Before the Civil War, Blacks in the Union and Confederate Armies, Buffalo Soldier, Scouts, Spanish American War, World War I and II, U.S. Government, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington D.C. 1998, Amazon Kindle edition Progressive Management location 624  of 11320

[3] Ibid. Fields African American Soldiers Before the Civil War in A Historic context for the African American Military Experience location 668 of 11320

[4] McPherson, James M. War Upon the Waters: The Union and the Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2012 p.137

[5] Ibid. Fields African American Soldiers Before the Civil War in A Historic context for the African American Military Experience location 844 of 11320

[6] Ibid. McPherson War Upon the Waters: The Union and the Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 p.137

[7] Kraeczynski, Keith The Spanish American War and After in A Historic context for the African American Military Experience – Before the Civil War, Blacks in the Union and Confederate Armies, Buffalo Soldier, Scouts, Spanish American War, World War I and II, U.S. Government, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington D.C. 1998, Amazon Kindle edition Progressive Management location 2842  of 11320

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Confederate Army Strong? I Think Not

fort-sumter-bombardmentAttack on Ft Sumpter 

“THE CAUSE of the great War of the Rebellion against the United Status will have to be attributed to slavery. For some years before the war began it was a trite saying among some politicians that “A state half slave and half free cannot exist.” All must become slave or all free, or the state will go down. I took no part myself in any such view of the case at the time, but since the war is over, reviewing the whole question, I have come to the conclusion that the saying is quite true.” ― Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs, Vol. 2

I have served my country, not just Red or Blue States or members of either major political party, or minor political party for 32 years. I have served and as a Chaplain have guarded the religious and free speech rights of Christians, Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, Atheists and Agnostics as a Chaplain for 21 of those years.

My family on my mother’s side came to the British Colonies in North America in  the 1680s or 1690s from England and France. My father’s family came in the 1740s from Scotland. During the War for Independence much of my family fought for the colonies or was neutral and some were Tories. One of my direct relatives lived in Philadelphia and worked as a supply officer for the Colonial Army throughout the war. He is buried not far from Benjamin Franklin and other heroes of the Revolution in the Christ Church Cemetery in Philadelphia, something that get’s me free admittance to the historic site anytime that I am in the city.

Those that were Tories ended up in  what is not Canada after the war. I even had distant relatives who were British Redcoats, one a Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Dundas, later Major General Sir Thomas Dundas commanded one of Lord Cornwallis’ brigades at Yorktown and was one of two British Officers who arranged the surrender at Yorktown.

Thus said my family has a long pedigree in this country and when the war of the Souther Slaveholder Rebellion broke out in 1861 I had family on both sides of the conflict. Most served in the Confederacy, though the part of Virginia they lived in seceded from the Commonwealth because Virginia seceded from the Union.

All this being said I can claim my heritage as a Son of the American Revolution or a Son of the Confederacy.

lincoln_rebellion_dragon

Today I saw something that made my blood boil. As I said I have served this country for 32 years in both the Army and the Navy. Part of my service has included time in both the Virginia and Texas Army National Guard. In my time in Virginia or Texas the units that I served traced their linage to either the 1st or 5 Texas Regiments of Hood’s Brigade or the 2nd or 17th Virginia Regiments which fought under Jackson or Pickett during that war.

fort-pillow

As I was saying I saw something today that made my blood boil. I saw a bumper sticker on a pickup truck at the local Home Depot that looked a bit like the US Army “Army Strong” complete with the star featured on the Army bumper sticker. However this one was different. It said “Confederate Army Strong.” To be fair I have seen this sticker on a number of vehicles in Virginia over the past few years but this one got me. The man also has numerous other Confederate or neo-Confederate stickers as well as partisan political comments and conspiracy theory comments about 9-11 being an “inside job” as well as a sticker for the conspiracy theory nutcase Alex Jones’ “Info Wars” website.

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What I find offensive about the “Confederate Army Strong” sticker is that it is a slap in the face to all who died to preserve the Union. Likewise it is the symbol of a political movement designed to promote, defend and expand an economic system built on slavery using the language of “States Rights.” That being said those states and their political leaders who claimed “States Rights” only cared about their own rights and in the decade leading up to the War of the Slaveholders Rebellion, now known as the Civil War used Federal statutes against non-slave States whenever they needed to and fought for tougher Federal laws to keep their “freedom” to maintain slavery.

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Freed Union Prisoner at Andersonville

The fact is that the Confederate Army was responsible for the more deaths and other casualties than all other enemies of the United States before or after the War of the Slaveholders Rebellion. The real fact is that those “noble Confederates” like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and others that by the way included men from my family who owned slaves were rebels who when they did not like the result of an elected seceded from the Union and declared war on their fellow citizens in order to maintain their racist economic and political power. They were not about due process or the will of the people, but their will.

These were the same men who condoned the atrocities committed at places like Andersonville and Belle Isle and when they invaded non-slave states had no qualms about taking any black men, women and children from their homes and sending them to the South, even if the were Free Men and not escaped slaves.

However it is now impolitic to say this. But that is the case and whenever I see such displays of hatred against the country, constitution and citizens who I have sworn an oath to support and defend “against all enemies foreign and domestic” for 32 years I get angry.

I saw the man get into his vehicle and almost confronted him, but in the current climate had I done so I would have been the person condemned in the hate filled right wing media and blogosphere which wants nothing more than to have anyone connected to the Federal Government look like they are being intolerant. Such is the victim culture of many on the political right.

So I held back, took a picture of his stickers and went on my way. I have been far too busy trying to catch up on things left unattended by the past 7 years of service to this nation which has cost me much of my mind, my health and finances being away from home, deployed to Iraq or serving as a geographic bachelor, the latter alone which has cost me over $50,000 that I will never get back. Likewise I figured out that the last 17 years of my military career I have been away from home for 10 years. Since I returned from Iraq I have had to deal with the “Mad Cow” of PTSD.

Thus when I see some old fat codger running around spouting hate who probably has not served a day in uniform, or if he did served an enlistment and then got out I get pissed off. To tell the truth I think that I have good reason. There are times that I think that maybe William Tecumseh Sherman was too gentle on the South and that maybe the Radical Reconstructionists like Thaddeus Stevens were right about the South and what needed to be done to eradicate slavery and restore the Union.

Now that is not me, I am more of a Lincoln “with malice toward none and with charity toward all” kind of person. As a soldier I can be gracious toward a defeated enemy.  But when I see that thrown back in my face by the neo-Confederates of my day I wonder if maybe I and men like Sherman, Grant, Hancock and Chamberlain were wrong. Maybe the rebels should have been tried, executed, exiled or imprisoned for their crimes against the Constitution and their fellow citizens.

That being said Grant noticed how the landed elites of the South not only enslaved the blacks but used poor whites who had nothing to gain from their economics or slavery. The sad thing is the descendants of those who enslaved blacks and used poor whites as their political and later military fodder are at it again. Grant noted:

“The great bulk of the legal voters of the South were men who owned no slaves; their homes were generally in the hills and poor country; their facilities for educating their children, even up to the point of reading and writing, were very limited; their interest in the contest was very meagre–what there was, if they had been capable of seeing it, was with the North; they too needed emancipation. Under the old regime they were looked down upon by those who controlled all the affairs in the interest of slave-owners, as poor white trash who were allowed the ballot so long as they cast it according to direction.”

It really is a sad state of affairs and I grieve for the United States. To think I swear on my life an honor to ensure that all citizens have their right to freedom of speech including the man with his message of hate. However I don’t think that he or others like him would  do the same for me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Real Independence: The Treaty of Paris 1783…We Didn’t do it Alone

It is easy to declare independence but it is far more difficult to achieve it. It is also easy to mythologize our history and ignore the fact that we did not achieve independence by our own efforts alone. No matter what country is involved there is almost always help in gaining independence. One only has to look at history to see the reality of this.

This was the case for the United States. In 1783 after over years of hostilities and over seven after the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence the British Empire signed a treaty with the representatives of the colonies in Paris. The first article of the treaty was something that has not been seen before in modern European history:

“His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.”

The treaty established the independence of the former British colonies and a new boundary, the Mississippi River which more than doubled the size of the new nation. The treaty was signed nearly two years after the American and French Armies, ably helped by the timely intervention of the French Navy forced Lord Cornwallis to surrender his army at Yorktown.

It is quite easy to fall prey to simple answers regarding the independence of the American nation. In fact it is not inaccurate to state that the vast majority of Americans today know little more than that the colonies declared their independence in 1776 and that George Washington led the armies and eventually became the first President. However the reality was that the independence of the new nation was secured by a number of factors including negotiations with a power that realized that the expenditure of lives and capital in what had become for them a world war of great cost.

The British negotiated a peace that was generous and which gave the American colonies more than they had begun the war. It required British garrisons to evacuate territories and fortifications in strategic areas on the Great Lakes and areas still occupied. However, the peace allowed the British to secure and expand their empire at the expense of the French, Spanish and Portuguese around the world. The new American nation would eventually eclipse the British Empire but it was not an easy journey and is something that should not be turned into myth or fiction by those that want to seek easy answers that align with their theology or myth.

Independence was declared in 1776 but was not attained until nearly two years after Yorktown. It took military efforts of the colonies as well as diplomatic efforts of men like Benjamin Franklin to gain the vital assistance of the French who helped pay for our independence with their blood, treasure, overseas territories  and ultimately the overthrow of the French monarchy by a revolution partly inspired by the American Revolution and the economic problems brought about by the French war with England. That fact is something that we should not forget nor take lightly. We didn’t achieve our independence all by ourselves, just in case we think that we did.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Promise and Peril of Revolutionary Times: A Warning From History

“In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

“They who clamor loudest for freedom are often the ones least likely to be happy in a free society.”  Eric Hoffer – The True Believer

I don’t know about you but it seems that everywhere I look that revolution is in the air.  Revolutionary times can be exciting to watch or even to participate in because all at least initially cater to the hopes of people, the hope of change, freedom, justice and equity are common themes.   As a historian I find it fascinating to observe revolutions and to read about revolutions throughout history.  But I always have a concern about how even the most well intentioned revolts against real or perceived injustice often miscarry and create conditions ripe for civil war, dictatorship and even regional or world war.

The revolutions sweeping the world today and I include the proto-revolutionary movements of the conservative Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements as revolutionary movements are becoming mass movements.  As mass movements they share many things in common even if their ideologies and backers appear to be diametrically opposed.  We now have two diametrically opposed revolutionary movements seeking power in this country and neither side will be satisfied until they achieve it.

Those that dismiss or seek to tame the Tea Party or the Occupy Wall Street movement are foolish. The anger, resentment and the hatred that these movements have for the established order are too great to be easily dismissed.  The politicians that try to channel these movements for their own benefit or party or that attempt to encourage them without actually addressing their grievances will discover too late that lip service and cosmetic change will not be enough.  Peaceful nonviolent protests can turn violent in a moment with very unpredictable results.

In our country there is great dissatisfaction with the status quo on the right and the left which in large part is due to the actions of those in power in government, media, business and even religion to address the concerns of those on both sides of the political abyss.  Likewise it is the same entities that in order to maintain their power have used every opportunity to create enmity among Americans.

Similar events are occurring on the other side of the Atlantic as the crisis in Greece threatens the economic stability and quite possibly the viability of the European Union.  The extremists on the left and right are garnering support that they have not had in decades from people that until the current economic downturn were content with the status quo because they were doing alright.

Even those revolutions that bring positive change tend to bring in some form of social unrest and upheaval to include the maltreatment and sometimes exile of people that did not agree with the revolution.  One only has to take a look at the large numbers of British colonists in the 13 Colonies who were loyal to the British Crown and lost their place in society and many times their homes and livelihoods as they were no longer welcome.  Many fled to Canada, the British West Indies or had to return to England.

Revolutionaries do not take kindly to those that oppose them, especially when they are kinsmen.  Those officers or Federal officials that remained loyal to the Union during the American Civil War that hailed from Southern States often found that they were no longer welcome in their communities and sometimes disowned by their families.  This was the fate of General George Thomas who remained faithful to his oath despite being fromVirginia. His family turned his picture around and refused to have anything to do with him from that point forward even refusing financial assistance from him after the war.

The English Civil Wars of 1641-1653 were some of the most brutal to occur inEuropeand devastated Ireland which lost some 41% of its population and where the lingering scars are still seen today.

The French Revolution was a bloodletting that shaped France to the present day.  People tend to forget that the root cause of this revolution was a financial crisis brought about by the costs of the Seven Years War with England and the French support of the American Revolution which brought the country into more conflict with England. The antiquated and regressive French tax code put a heavy burden on the middle and lower classes but provided many exemptions to the nobility and the clergy.  When comptroller Jacques Necker proposed ending or reducing those exemptions he was fired.  But the crown was so week that it decided to call the Estates General into session for the first time since 1618 and when the three components of the assembly could not agree on credentials the lower assembly of commoners broke off and formed their own National Assembly and when it appeared that the King was bringing foreign troops to Paris it set off an armed revolt.

The revolution was brutal and unleashed an unprecedented series of wars which engulfed the European continent the West Indies and Egypt.  Eventually a young Army officer named Napoleon Bonaparte did much to secure the new regime’s security by a series of brilliant military victories.  He was so successful that he overthrew the government and became a dictator in 1799 and would proclaim himself Emperor in 1804.  The wars in Europe were devastating and would create a situation where a weakened Spain and Portugal would lose their colonies in Central and South America.

When Napoleon was finally defeated for the last time at Waterloo in 1815 the Congress of Vienna reestablished a conservative order and peace inEurope.  There was a brief revolutionary period in 1848 and the wars that led to the unification of Germany and the defeat of France by Prussia in 1870-71. But for the most part stability reigned until the First World War as European powers focused on using their power in imperialist ways in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.   The war set in motion revolutionary movements that would lead to the overthrow of empires and birth the mass movements of Communism, Fascism and Nazism that would be responsible for some of the most destructive wars and crimes against humanity ever seen by the world.

Other revolutions have caused immeasurable suffering, the Cultural Revolution in China, the Iranian revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia to name a few. The Spartacus revolution in the early days of the Weimar Republic helped doom it and led to the Nazi revolution in Germany. The Nazi revolution was brought about through legal means with the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor after which his revolutionary policies were put in place.

The revolutions in the Soviet Union and Warsaw pact in aftermath of the Cold War have brought a multiplicity of outcomes, some which appear to have brought forth societies where human rights and individual liberties are respected and others which have become or are in the process of becoming dictatorships.

And so today we live in an age of revolution which is heightened and moves across the globe like a wind fanned wildfire due to the instantaneous nature of the communication and media that we now enjoy.  There is the Arab Spring and the beginnings of revolutionary movements in Europe, Asia and now even North America.  Governments seem impotent to do anything about the conditions that have moved these revolutionary groups to action and have given the ideologues on the left and right respectability that they could have never enjoyed before.  The ideologues make their money by providing a platform for the airing of the grievances of their readers or listeners real and imagined by playing on the need for hope.  The motive of the listener or follower is finding something to believe in a hope and promise, hope around the corner not hope deferred.  Eric Hoffer noted “To have a grievance is to have a purpose in life. It not infrequently happens that those who hunger for hope give their allegiance to him who offers them a grievance.”

The extremists on both sides of the line in the United States have held sway so long that they have turned the extreme into the mainstream inspiring one of the most amazing displays of left-right groupthink that I have ever seen.  I read a lot of conservative and liberal blogs and websites,some which are considered mainstream by their proponents.  I believe that you can tell a lot about movements by what the rank and file write or share.  One thing that I notice is how interchangeable these blogs are and how much they mirror the talking points of their respective echo chambers.  There is little creative though only the endless repetition of talking points. If one ventures a dissenting opinion on one of these sites he or she will find themselves shouted down and demonized and it doesn’t matter if the site is left wing or right wing, religious or secular.  The purity of ideology and necessity of conformity to the group-think ensures that opposing points of view be shouted down.

I first started noticing this when I returned fromIraqin 2008. At that time I was still listening to conservative talk radio on a regular basis and I started noticing that with minor differences all the talk show hosts sounded alike, the same talking points driven home day after day.  Alternative viewpoints even those that differed only slightly from the party line were ridiculed and demonized. That was eye opening to me and I noticed a similar tone emanating from the left.  Both emphasize that they are being oppressed or persecuted and the rank and file believe that they are oppressed and gladly allow themselves to become parts of these mass movements.

It is the real and perceived feelings of oppression or persecution provide these disparate movements their most fervent followers and energy.

One attitude prominently displayed is an absolute hatred and distain of moderation.  Both have an absolute distain of dialogue and neither appear to want a win-win situation to develop simply because to both sides only absolute victory for themselves and destruction of all that that they oppose matters.  It is a nihilistic zero sum game that both sides play.  Both sides are slaves to their doctrine and the vast majorities of the followers of these mass movements are absolutely unaware of this.  Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote “A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Revolutionary movements of themselves can be transforming and in the long run quite beneficial but for every one that is such there are many more that in succeeding bring about tyrannies as bad or worse than the ones that they ended.  The evidence of this is widespread.  Much of this is due to a desire not for freedom but for revenge as those that viewed themselves as oppressed or persecuted turn their new found power into a weapon of revenge and retaliation.  Hoffer wrote “It is doubtful if the oppressed ever fight for freedom. They fight for pride and power — power to oppress others. The oppressed want above all to imitate their oppressors; they want to retaliate.”

History shows that in more cases than not that when revolutionaries take power they become oppressors themselves and are perfectly willing to crush dissent by force. They become the conservative faction resistant to change and opposed to dissent.  Hannah Arendt observed that “The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”

Eric Hoffer understood mass movements as few in the last century have.  Hoffer’s book The True Believer (1951) is a study of mass movements and since Hoffer had witnessed the mass movements of the 1920s and 1930s that defined the age, Fascism, Communism and Nazism.  Hoffer notes similarities between political, social and religious mass movements and when it was written in 1951 President Dwight D. Eisenhower praised it.  It is well worth the read.  Hannah Arendt also understood how individuals in mass movements could participate in evil including genocide and think that they were just doing their job and helping society.  Her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.

Revolutionary times are filled with promise and peril. The wise in Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street and other movements around the world need to understand that crucial truth.  Movements such as these can be co-opted and driven in ways that those that began them can little anticipate and the leaders of such movements often become victims of the very movement that they helped create.  The names of such instigators that have become victims is too long to list.

As a historian I find the process that we see unfolding as simply fascinating and I cannot predict how this revolutionary era will play out.  I just hope and pray that things don’t get too sporty.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Christmas at the Front 1776-2010

Note: I wrote most of this on Christmas but didn’t finish it until a bit after 1AM on the 26th.

Today as on so many Christmas Days in days gone by military personnel serve on the front lines in wars far away from home and sometimes not far from their homes. Today American and NATO troops engage a resourceful and determined enemy in Afghanistan. To the west Americans support our Iraqi allies in their continued battle to end terrorism in that country while in many corners of the globe others stand watch on land, at sea and in the air. Unfortunately wars continue and until the end of time as we know it there will likely be war without end.

I have done my time in Iraq at Christmas on the Syrian-Iraqi Border with our Marine advisors and their Iraqis.  Since returning home have thought often of those that remain in harm’s way as well as those soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, American and from other nations that have spent Christmas on the front lines. Some of these events are absolutely serious while others display some of the “light” moments that occur even in the most terrible of manmade tragedies.

In American history we can look back to 1776, of course we could go back further but 1776 just sounds better. On Christmas of 1776 George Washington took his Continental Army across the Delaware to attack the British garrison at Trenton. Actually it was a bunch of hung over Hessians who after Christmas dinner on the 24th failed to post a guard but it was an American victory. In 1777 Washington and his Army had a rather miserable Christmas at Valley Forge where they spent the winter freezing their asses off and getting drilled into a proper military force by Baron Von Steuben.

While not a battle in the true sense of the word the Cadets at West Point wrote their own Christmas legend in the Eggnog Riot of 1826 when the Cadets in a bit of holiday revelry had a bit too much Eggnog and a fair amount of Whiskey and behaved in a manner frowned upon by the Academy administration. Needless to say that many of the Cadets spent the Christmas chapel services in a hung over state with a fair number eventually being tossed from the Academy for their trouble.

In 1837 the U.S. Army was defeated at the Battle of Lake Okeechobee by the Seminole Nation, not a Merry Christmas at all.  In 1862 the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia faced each other across the Rappahannock River after the Battle of Fredericksburg while to the south in Hilton Head South Carolina 40,000 people watched Union troops play baseball some uttering the cry of many later baseball fans “Damn Yankees.” In 1864 the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia faced each other again in the miserable trenches of Petersburg while General William Tecumseh Sherman enjoyed Christmas in Savannah Georgia after cutting a swath of destruction from Atlanta to the sea. He presents the city to Lincoln who simply says “nice, but I really wanted Richmond.”

Napoleon had something to celebrate on December 25th 1801 after surviving an assassination attempt on Christmas Eve and 1809 he was celebrating his divorce from Empress Josephine which had occurred on the 21st.

Meanwhile in Europe the 1914 “Christmas Truce” began between British and German troops and threatened to undo all the hard work of those that made the First World War possible.  Thereafter the High Commands of both sides ensured that such frivolity never happened again.

U.S. Soldiers and Anti-Tank Gun at the Battle of the Bulge

World War II brought much suffering in 1941 after Pearl Harbor the Japanese forced the surrender of Hong Kong and its British garrison while two days later the Soviets launched their counterattack at Moscow against Hitler’s Wehrmacht and the British were retaking Benghazi from the Afrika Corps.  A year later the Americans were clearing Guadalcanal of the Japanese and the Red Army was engaged in a climactic battle against the encircled German 6th Army at Stalingrad. At Stalingrad a German Physician named Kurt Reuber who is also a Lutheran minister draws “The Madonna of Stalingrad.”

The drawing which was taken out of Stalingrad by one of the last German officers to be evacuated now hangs in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. Reuber would draw another in 1943 while in a Soviet POW camp in which he would die in less than a month after that Christmas. Reuber wrote:

“I wondered for a long while what I should paint, and in the end I decided on a Madonna, or mother and child. I have turned my hole in the frozen mud into a studio. The space is too small for me to be able to see the picture properly, so I climb on to a stool and look down at it from above, to get the perspective right. Everything is repeatedly knocked over, and my pencils vanish into the mud. There is nothing to lean my big picture of the Madonna against, except a sloping, home-made table past which I can just manage to squeeze. There are no proper materials and I have used a Russian map for paper. But I wish I could tell you how absorbed I have been painting my Madonna, and how much it means to me.”
“The picture looks like this: the mother’s head and the child’s lean toward each other, and a large cloak enfolds them both. It is intended to symbolize ‘security’ and ‘mother love.’ I remembered the words of St.John: light, life, and love. What more can I add? I wanted to suggest these three things in the homely and common vision of a mother with her child and the security that they represent.”

In 1943 the Marines were battling the Japanese at New Britain while the Red Army was involved in its winter offensive against the Wehrmacht. In 1944 the Russians were advancing in Hungary, the Americans were engaged in a desperate battle with the Germans in the Ardennes with the German 2nd Panzer Division running out of gas 4 miles from the Meuse River and were destroyed by the American 2nd Armored Division. In the Pacific McArthur’s forces were battling the Japanese in the Philippines.

French Chaplain and Soldiers in Indochina

In the years following the Second World War Christmas was celebrated even while armies continued to engage in combat to the death. Christmas of 1950 was celebrated in Korea as the last American forces were withdrawn from the North following the Chinese intervention which the 1st Marine Division chewed up numerous Red Chinese divisions while fighting its way out of the Chosin Reservoir.  In the following years a stalemate along the front brought no end to the war and In French Indo-China the French garrison of Dien Bien Phu celebrated Christmas in primitive fashion unaware that General Giap was already marshalling his forces to cut them off and then destroy them shortly after Easter of 1954.   In 1964 the U.S. commits to the war in Vietnam and for the next 9 years American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen will battle the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong with Marines fighting the North at Khe Sanh during Christmas of 1967.

Christmas on the Syrian Border with USMC Advisors

In the years after Vietnam American troops would spend Christmas in the Desert of Saudi Arabia preparing for Operation Desert Storm in 1990, in Somalia the following year and in the Balkans. After September 11th 2001 U.S. Forces spent their first of at least 10 Christmas’s in Afghanistan and in 2003 begin the first for at least 8 Christmas’s in Iraq.

Today Americans serve around the world far away from home fighting the war against Al Qaeda and its confederates and some will die even on this most Holy of Days while for others it will be their last Christmas.

Please keep them and all who serve now as well as those that served in the past, those that remain and those that have died in your prayers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Book Review: Identity and War, the Lessons of King Philip’s War

This is a book review of Jill Lepore’s bookThe Name of War: The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity” Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York NY. 1999

King Philip

The thesis of Jill Lepore’s book In the Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity” is that King Philip’s War helped lay the foundation of American identity. Lepore postulates that the history of the war and the war itself cannot be separated especially in regard to the identity of the participants.  This is of particular interest in how the participants record the history of the war and how it influences their perception of themselves and their enemies.

War and how it is recorded in history can define a people. Examples of this can be seen throughout history. For instance the history and identity of Serbia cannot be separated from the battle of Kosovo in 1389 . There are countless other examples of how war shapes the identity of people and nations.  One of the defining moments in the early history of Colonial America was King Philip’s War which lasted from July 1675 through August 1676.

Lepore maintains that King Philip’s War defined the ways in which the colonists and Indians shaped their views of themselves and each other, not just at the time of the war but in succeeding generations.  She takes an approach unlike a lot of histories of war.  Instead of simply analyzing battles Lepore looks at how war cultivates language and the questions that war provokes.

The most pressing to Lepore is “how do people reconcile themselves to war’s worst cruelties.”[i] She notes her own view of war in her introduction: “War is a contagion, the universal perversion. War is politics by other means, at best barbarism, a mean contemptible thing.”[ii] She says that her interest in war was drawn on the media coverage of the Persian Gulf War and her question of “how war could be represented without pictures.”[iii] This of course demonstrates how she views the nature of war and how she interprets it.

Lepore examines the literature of “King Philip’s War” beginning with the death of the leader of Wampanoag Indian King Philip in June 1675.  She examines the war from both sides inasmuch as that only one side had access to the means to record that history. Through the writings of the colonists she examines the brutal nature of King Philip’s War which “in proportion to population… inflicted greater casualties than any other war in American history.”[iv]

This is not a campaign history.  Instead Lepore selects incidents and battles of the war and looks at them through the eyes of the people that recorded them.  Lepore notes that “the central claim of this book is that wounds and words-the injuries and their interpretation- cannot be separated, that acts of war generate acts of narration, and that both types of acts are often joined in a common purpose: defining the geographical, political, cultural, and sometimes racial and national boundaries between peoples.”[v]

Lepore’s account is a literary and philosophical study of the nature of war and not a military history. Her understanding of the totality of this war and its effect through the years is noted by others such as Russell Weigley.[vi] She asks a poignant question that should be noted by any practitioner of war or military theorist: “If war is, at least in part, a contest for meaning, can it ever be a fair fight when only one side has access to those perfect instruments of empire, pens, paper, and printing presses?”[vii]

Lepore studies the literature of the war published by the colonists.  In particular she discusses the competing histories published by Increase Mather and William Hubbard, both pastors in New England and the writings of other colonists, especially those of Nathanial Saltonstall and Mary Rowlandson.  For Lepore the importance of the writing of these people is connected to the identity of the peoples involved, both the English colonists and the Native Americans.[viii] Lepore’s premise is that the writings of the colonists “proved pivotal to their victory, a victory that drew new firmer boundaries between English and Indian people, between English and Indian land, and what it meant to be “English” and what it meant to be “Indian.””[ix] This is still a critical question. She notes how King Philip’s War influenced later events such as the American Revolution and the deportation of the Cherokee nation in the 1820s.

For Lepore the formation of the identity of both the colonists and the indigenous people is the key theme of this war, and for that matter most wars.

Lepore depicts this in her prologue and the account of the torture of a Narragansett Indian by Mohegans Indians while the English watch.  The question that she raises and that she will ask again is “If they are to think of themselves as different from “these Heathen” whom they condemn for their “barbarous Cruelty,” how then can they consent to such treatment of a Narragansett before their very eyes? “Their enemy is killed, yet they do not have to kill him. They are allowed to witness torture, yet they not need inflict it.”[x]

Yet for the colonists such behavior risked their identity as Christians and Englishmen which was what they believed that they fought for in the first place.  Lepore notes Mather’s 1674 sermon The Day of Trouble is Near which emphasized the theme of decay and confusion present at the time.[xi]

Lepore notes the effect of literacy on both the colonists and Indians. She begins with the murder of John Sassamon a bi-lingual Indian as the seminal event which set the stage for the war. She then examines Sassamon’s relationship to the English and Christianity and his relationship with King Philip.  In Lepore’s account Sassamon was a victim of both his faith and literacy.

Lepore provides a good study of early missionary attempts to “bring the Gospel” to the Indians by translating the Bible and devotional texts from English to Massachusett[xii] and how that missionary activity converted many Indians including Sassamon.  Lepore notes that: “in a sense literacy killed John Sassamon. And herein lies one of the fundamental paradoxes of the waging and writing of King Philip’s War:  The cultural tensions that caused the war – the Indians becoming Anglicized and English becoming Indianized- meant that literate Indians like John Sassamon who were those most likely to record their version of events of the war, were among its first casualties.” [xiii]

Lepore’s depiction of the cruelties of war in chapters three and four is a study in contrasts.  Again this comes back to a question of identity for the colonists.  They saw themselves as different from the “uncivilized Indians” even the Christian Indians.  This was because the colonists believed that Indians did not value English understanding of identity which was connected to property and its improvement, houses, land and farm field’s cattle and possessions.  When the Indians destroyed English property it was a blow at their very identity as Englishmen. The tension between these tow opposite points of view remains a fixture of American life.

Religion played a major role in the conflict.  Lepore notes that “the colonists’ sense of predestination…, their natural affinity with the land, and their cultural proclivity to conflate property with identity, all combined to produce this oneness of bodies and land.”[xiv] The English did not view the Indians as having the same values because they did not have the same understanding of land and property, and thus they saw them as savage.  For example she discusses how the colonists view of how “the Algonquians’’ perceived nomadism, their failure to “improve” the land, formed the basis for the English land claims….”[xv] In  other words the English Colonists believed that if the Indians were want to improve the land upon which they dwelt than they did not deserve to remain on it.

Lepore discusses the metaphor of “nakedness” in relation to the loss of property and identity.[xvi] She notes how the Indians seemed to have understood the importance of land and property to the English. She cites a note left by a Nipmuck Indian at Medfield “we hauve nothing but our lives to loose but thou hast many fair houses cattell & much good things.”[xvii] She notes that the note offered an analysis missed by all the English accounts of the war.[xviii]

Likewise Lepore notes how religion informed both the colonists and Indians who both looked for supernatural messages in the natural world.  The English colonists, primarily Puritan Calvinists believed that the devastation of the war on them at the beginning of the war was “God punishing them for their sins, not the least of them their failure to convert the Indians to Christianity.”[xix] The English settlers were influenced by their Calvinist theology and believed that the Indians both “served the devil” but were also “the instruments of God.”[xx] The Indians also had a spiritual element to their conduct of the war and the clash of these beliefs gave the war a religious dimension especially for the Colonists a dimension that would pervade American perceptions of many of the wars which followed.

Another theme of Lepore in how the war shaped identity is in the context of the bondage experienced by the English captives of the Indians during the war that of and of the Indians following the war.  She uses the stories of Mary Rowlandson and Christian Indian James Printer to illustrate her thesis.

Rowlandson’s story is the account of her capture, captivity and release by the Indians following the attack on Lancaster, Massachusetts in February 1676.  Lepore calls the importance of Rowlandson’s account The Sovereignty and Goodness of God and how it shaped the colonial and later American understanding of the war by “the nearly complete veil it has unwittingly placed over the experiences of bondage endured by Algonquian Indians during King Philip’s War.”[xxi] Lepore writes that for Rowlandson and Printer that the story was one of redemption and return to English society, Rowlandson through her book, Printer through bringing back scalps of other Indians as a demonstration of his loyalty to the Colonists.[xxii]

Another point raised by Lepore here is the enslavement and deportation of the Algonquians by the Colonists following the war.  A key to the thinking of the colonists is elaborated by Lepore: “In the end, the colonists’ evaluation of Indian sovereignty was merely an extension of their thinking about Indian possession: Indians were only sovereign enough to give their sovereignty away.”[xxiii]

This again comes back to Lepore’s thesis of identity.  She states that the “colonists moved toward (but never fully embraced) in their writing about King Philip’s War was the idea that Indians were not, in fact truly human, or else humans of such a vastly different race as to be considered essentially, and biologically inferior to Europeans.”[xxiv] She argues that King Philip’s war was a defining moment where “Algonquian political and cultural autonomy was lost and where the English moved one step closer to the worldview that would create, a century and a half later, the Indian removal policy of Andrew Jackson.”[xxv]

Lepore’s final section deals with memory and identity.  She illustrates this by noting how the Reverend Nathan Fiske in 1775 equated the British to the Indians of King Philip’s War; and the play Metamora written in 1829 about King Philip and the war.  Both Fiske and the latter play had an impact.

Fiske’s sermon helped light the fires of American independence movement, something that which Lepore notes for the Indians was “not a gain but a loss of liberty.”[xxvi] The play Metamora opened the day Andrew Jackson declared his policy of Indian removal. It was the most popular American play of its era. Lepore says that when you “peel back all the layers …what remains is a struggle for American and Indian identity. Through plays like Metamora, white Americans came to define themselves in relation to an imagined Indian past.”[xxvii]

Overall Lepore’s treatment of King Philip’s War is a good treatment of how wars affect people and their relationships with those whom they war against.  Using Lepore’s thesis of the war, the history of war and how they shape the identities of peoples and nations’ one could conceivably analyze other conflicts from this perspective.

Since this is the premise of why Lepore began her study of King Philip’s War it is worthy of further discussion.  Such studies could be undertaken in the Balkans, Kurdistan, Palestine, Iraq or Syria as well as other regions where the impact of war is thoroughly ingrained in the minds, hearts and imaginations of the parties involved.  From this perspective one wonders what future generations of Americans and Moslems will write of the current conflicts that the United States is engaged in.

Another aspect of Lepore’s examination study is religion in the perception and interpretation of war.  In this case it is the impact of the colonists Calvinism and its relationship to other English theologies of its day as well as other Calvinistic understanding of war of that era that matters.

This is very important.  The more recent English colonists prior to King Philip’s War had in many cases experienced the brutality of English Civil War and the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell in which they dominated the English political landscape.  Thus for many of these colonists a return of the Crown and Anglicanism would drive them to seeking independence for the colonies.

Many of the soldiers among them would certainly recall the brutality of the civil war and the invasion of Ireland. The soldier’s views of the Irish were similar to the views of the colonists of the Indians, something that Lepore only mentions in passing. As such the experience of the more recent colonists and the soldiers added a dimension of brutality that was not as prevalent before the hostilities.

Likewise Lepore mentions little of Roger Williams’ beliefs and his relations to the Puritans whom he fled to found Rhode Island in 1631 on the principle of religious freedom.  Her treatment of Williams does not include his respect for the Indians and view that “perhaps their religion was acceptable in the eyes of God as was Christianity.”[xxviii] Despite this her treatment of King Philip’s War is worthwhile reading because it brings up the question of identity which seems to drive war and those who write of it to the present day.

The question that Lepore forces us to ask is how past wars shape our conduct in and interpretation of ongoing wars.  The Colonists would see their conflict with the Indians as one of life and death, one of their very survival as a people and as such they were willing at times to commit atrocities against Indian threats, real and imagined.  More recently the American understanding of the war against Japan was conducted in a similar vein with many of the same overtones.  Likewise the framing of the current war by some as a war of survival against the threat of Islam raises similar issues.  Thus Lepore’s study is valuable in examining how some view the current war on terror as well as a means to look at other wars in our nation’s history through a different lens, not simply through the eyes of battles, military forces, strategy and tactics but through the participants identity and who the war is both shaped and recorded by both sides.  Even if one does not accept her conclusions or her admitted biases the book can allow us to reexamine our own views of our past and how they shape our present view of war, conflict and identity as a people.


[i] Lepore, Jill. The Name of War: The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York NY. 1999 p.xxi

[ii] Ibid. p.x

[iii] Ibid. p.xxi

[iv] Ibid. p.xi.  Additionally, Allen R. Millet and Peter Maslowski in For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America The Free Press, NYew York, NY 1984 note that “the colonists did not enjoy an “Age of Limited Warfare” like that which prevailed in Europe from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century.  To the colonists (and to the Indians) war was a matter of survival. Consequently, at the very time European nations strove to restrain war’s destructiveness, the colonists waged it with ruthless ferocity, purposefully striking at noncombatants and enemy property.” p.18

[v] Ibid. p.x

[vi] Weigley writes in “The American Way of War: A Study of United States Military Strategy and Policy,  Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 that “In King Philip’s War of 1675-76, the Indians came fearfully close to obliterating the New England settlements. When the colonists rallied to save themselves, they saw to it that their victory was complete enough to extinguish the Indians as a military force throughout the southern and eastern parts of New England…” and that he “logic of a contest for survival was always implicit in the Indian wars, as it never was in the eighteenth-century wars …”p.19  Weigley notes how this would impact future American Wars beginning with the War against France and later the American Revolution in that “their success demanded the complete elimination of British power from all of North America, just as they had demanded and won the complete elimination of French power.” p.20

[vii] Ibid. p.xxi

[viii] Ibid. Lepore. p.x

[ix] Ibid. p.xiii

[x] Ibid. Lepore. p.4-5

[xi] Ibid. p.6.  Lepore notes a theme that will be later picked up by many in American history.  The idea that they were visible saints for all of Europe to see is a precursor to the idea of the United States as “A city set on a hill.”

[xii] See Leopre pp.33-39

[xiii] Ibid. p.25-26

[xiv] Ibid. p.82

[xv] Ibid. p.76

[xvi] Ibid. p.79

[xvii] Ibid. p.94

[xviii] Ibid. pp.95-96.  Lepore notes that the English interpreted Algonquian assaults and taunts as “expressions of mindless savagery rather than calculated assaults on the English way of life.” And the refusal of the English to “place Indian “cruelties” within the broader context of Algonquian culture, instead labeling them “barbarous” violations of English ideas of just conduct in war….”

[xix] Ibid. p.99

[xx] Ibid. p.102  Lepore does not dwell on this but this observation is entirely consistent with Calvinist theology which drew heavily on the Old Testament imagery of Israel and its relations with its neighbors.  The Old Testament prophets often spoke in terms of the enemies of Israel being used by God to punish Israel for its sin and  disobedience to God.

[xxi] Ibid. p.126

[xxii] Ibid. p.147-148

[xxiii] Ibid. p.165

[xxiv] Ibid. p.167

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid. p.189 ff.  Lepore chronicles the losses of Freedom in the various states to the different tribes of New England.

[xxvii] Ibid.p.193

[xxviii] Gonzalez, Justo. The History of Christianity, Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper and Row Publishers, San Francisco CA. 1985 p.225

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