Tag Archives: the gettysburg address

Integrity, Truthfulness, Purity, and Singleness of Purpose: Winfield Scott Hancock and what the United States Needs Today

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I visit Gettysburg a lot and I also write about it a lot. When I make those visits I am always humbled and learn something new. I only wish that most Americans and our leaders of both political parties as well as most media types and pundits could grasp what I experience on each visit to the “hallowed ground” of Gettysburg.

Quite honestly I do not think that the vast majority Americans regardless of their party affiliation or ideology  understand, appreciate or value in the slightest the sacrifices of the men who fought and in many cases died to preserve the Union at Gettysburg. Even among those who do I think that the object of their appreciation are the military aspects of the battle often taken in isolation, not the profound strategic dimensions of what this battle as well as the fall of Vicksburg in the west at the same time had on the war.

Nor do I think that they appreciate the massive political, ideological and social effects bought about by those Union victories in ending the war and how those effects redound to us today. This is especially true of the pundits, politicians and preachers, the “Trinity of Evil” as I call them whose shrill voices urge on divisions between our people; including some that call out for violence to maintain their groups social, economic or religious advantages over others. Quite a few even lament the fall of the South and the institution including the washed up rock and roll musician of the political right Ted Nugent who wrote in the Washington Times in July 2012: “I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.” More recently when President Trump talked of the moral equivalence of the opposing sides at Charlottesville I was reminded of just how hateful and morally bankrupt such feelings are, I am sure that General Hancock would be appalled that an American President would make that kind of stand.

All of that concerns me as an American and a historian; because I realize how dangerous such historical ignorance and visceral propaganda is in the life of any nation. Thus when I go to Gettysburg, or for that matter any other battlefield of our American Civil War the sacrifices of those men and what they fought to maintain are again imprinted on my heart.

Abraham Lincoln eloquently noted about those soldiers who fought to turn back the Confederate tide at Gettysburg in his Gettysburg Address:

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

While I am an idealist I am also a pragmatist. I respect the right of others, even those that disagree with things that I very much believe in and support. Like it or not the keystone of our governmental system is one of compromise. That being said having relatives that fought on both sides of the American Civil War that I am not a sectionalist. Nor am I a person that attempts to use the political system to ensure that others have to follow my religious beliefs or to enrich certain groups. The democracy that is part of our republic’s system of government is not a perfect system by any means. In fact as the great English Prime Minister Winston Churchill noted “democracy was the worst form of government except for all the others.”

Thus I appreciate military men who maintain their oath to the nation in times of great conflict not abandoning it to support causes that they know are wrong because the people of their state, or interest group seek to divide that Union. Winfield Scott Hancock was one of those kind of men, as was George Meade, and John Buford, all of whom played key roles in defeating the Confederates at Gettysburg.

Hancock, who earned the title “Hancock the Superb” was the commander of the Union Second Corps at Gettysburg. Upon the death of John Reynolds early on the first day of battle Hancock was appointed by George Meade as commander of the Federal Left Wing, in effect becoming Meade’s deputy commander for the rest of the battle. He was seriously wounded as Pickett’s Charge came to its bloody end at “the Angle” even as his dear friend Confederate General Lewis Armistead lay mortally wounded a few hundred yards away.

Hancock is an interesting character. He was from Pennsylvania but was a Democrat. He was not a Republican like Lincoln. Hancock was not a political ideologue but was since he was a Democrat he was suspect by leaders in the party establishments of both parties; Republicans for being a Democrat, and Democrats for serving under Lincoln. As such he never was given independent command of an Army but remained the beloved commander of the Union Second Corps.

As the nation split and friends went their separate ways Hancock gave some advice to his best friend, Lewis Armistead and their commander, Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston who were preparing to leave the Union in early 1861. In response to the states rights arguments of his friends he made himself clear. He fully believed in the principal of states rights, but he could not compromise his faithfulness to the Union. He told his friends as they departed company on their way to their destinies during the Civil War:

“I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.” 

During the war Hancock served with distinction. At Gettysburg he was influential in determining the choice of the Union defense, in helping to repel the Rebel attacks on July 2nd 1863 and the final repulse of Pickett’s Charge where he was severely wounded and his friend Armistead died. After he recovered from his wounds he continued to lead Second Corps until the end of the war. Ulysses Grant wrote of him:

“Hancock stands the most conspicuous figure of all the general officers who did not exercise a separate command. He commanded a corps longer than any other one, and his name was never mentioned as having committed in battle a blunder for which he was responsible. He was a man of very conspicuous personal appearance…. His genial disposition made him friends, and his personal courage and his presence with his command in the thickest of the fight won for him the confidence of troops serving under him. No matter how hard the fight, the 2d corps always felt that their commander was looking after them.”

After the war Hancock supervised the execution of those convicted of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Following that duty he served in various postings in the occupied South and attempted to mitigate some of the actions of those bent on vengeance against African Americans as well as others who tried to exploit the defeated Confederates for political or economic gain. His balanced attempt at justice was not appreciated by many people in the North or the South.

In 1880 Hancock ran for President and lost a narrow election to James A. Garfield. After his unsuccessful campaign he returned to the Army and died at the age of 61 in 1886 at his headquarters from complications from diabetes.

In death was praised by political supporters and opponents alike. Former President Rutherford B. Hayes wrote:

“if when we make up our estimate of a public man, conspicuous both as a soldier and in civil life, we are to think first and chiefly of his manhood, his integrity, his purity, his singleness of purpose, and his unselfish devotion to duty, we can truthfully say of Hancock that he was through and through pure gold.” 

Another political opponent Republican General Francis A. Walker lamented not supporting Hancock in 1880 after the great corruption that engulfed the country during “Gilded Age” of the “Robber Barons” the 1880s. Walker wrote in 1893:

“Although I did not vote for General Hancock, I am strongly disposed to believe that one of the best things the nation has lost in recent years has been the example and the influence of that chivalric, stately, and splendid gentleman in the White House. Perhaps much which both parties now recognize as having been unfortunate and mischievous during the past thirteen years would have been avoided had General Hancock been elected.”

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I have stood by the monument to this fine man on East Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg many times. Each time I am struck by the bravery, courage and integrity of that remarkable man. Regardless of party affiliation I wish that we had more leaders like him today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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We Hold These Truths

Declaration_of_Independence_by_JoeSnuffy

Last night I re-read the Declaration of Independence as I do about this time of year and as I do so I reflect upon the profoundly revolutionary nature of that document. It is not a long read, but quite profound and as I said revolutionary. As I read again I reflected on the beginning of the second sentence of that document.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” This statement is really the heart of the document and something that when penned by Thomas Jefferson and ratified by the Continental Congress in July 1776 overturned the political philosophy of the day. These words, which begin the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence announced something unimaginable to the people around the world, most of which labored under the rule of ensconced monarchies, nobilities and state religions. In the world where they were written a person’s family pedigree, ownership of property or even religious affiliation counted more than anything else. In that world few commoners had any hope of social advancement, no matter what their talent, ability or genius.

The words of the Declaration were a clarion call of equality and were revolutionary in their impact, not only in the American colonies but around the world. In the coming years people around the world would look to those words as they sought to free themselves from oppressive governments and systems where the vast majority of people had few rights, and in fact no equality existed.

But the liberty and equality stated in the Declaration of Independence did not extend to all in the United States, or in its territories as it expanded westward, and the inequity eventually brought on a great civil war.

Eighty-seven years after those words were published the nation was divided, in the midst of a great civil war, a climactic battle having just been fought at Gettysburg. A few months later President Abraham Lincoln penned one of the most insightful and influential documents ever written, the Gettysburg Address.

One thing that our founders overlooked was that even while proclaiming equality, they later enshrined that one group of people, African slaves were not equal, in fact they only counted as three fifths of a person. Eventually, many states on their own abolished slavery, but because of the invention of the Cotton Gin slavery became even more fully entrenched in the American South, when an oligarchy of land and slave owners held immense power, where nearly half of the population was enslaved and where even poor whites had few rights and little recourse to justice.

After the Dred Scott decision of 1857 which declared that African Americans, no matter if they were slave or free could be American Citizens and had no standing to sue in Federal courts. Scott had sued to gain his family’s freedom after his owner refused to allow him to purchase it, because they were in a territory where slavery was but even more importantly held that the Missouri Compromise of 1824 which had prohibited the introduction of Slavery into Federal territories was unconstitutional and that the Federal government had no right to limit slavery in territories acquired after the creation of the United States. Chief Justice Roger Taney writing for the majority wrote that the authors of the Constitution as viewed all African Americans:

“beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Taney held that Article V of the Constitution barred any law that would deprive a slave owner of his “property” on entrance into free states or territories and he enunciated a string of negative effects, or “parade of horribles” that would derive if Scott’s petition for freedom was granted. His declaration is amazing in its ignorance and prejudice. Taney wrote:

“It would give to persons of the negro race, …the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, …to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.”

The two dissenting Justices, Curtis and McLain disagreed with the proposition that the writers of the Constitution believed as Taney and the majority believed, noting that at the time of the ratification of the Constitution that blacks could vote in five of the thirteen states, making them citizens, not just of those states but the United States. Referring to the Declaration of Independence in 1854 Lincoln wrote: “the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.”

However, much to the concern of slave holders and the South, the decision energized the abolitionist movement who believed that now no black, even those with a long history of being Freed Men living in non-slave states could be claimed as property by those claiming to be former owners, and that state laws which gave blacks equal rights and citizenship could be overturned. Lincoln again referring to the Declaration wrote of the Dred Scott decision:

“to aid in making the bondage of the Negro universal and eternal….All the powers of the earth seem rapidly combining against him. Mammon is after him; ambition follows, and philosophy follows, and the theology of the day is fast joining the cry. They have him in his prison house;…One after another they have closed the heavy doors upon him…and they stand musing as to what invention, in all the dominions of mind and matter, can be produced the impossibility of his escape more complete than it is.”

Eventually the tensions led to the election of Lincoln along sectional lines and the immediate secession of seven southern states and the establishment of the Confederacy. British military historian and theorist Major General J.F.C. Fuller wrote that the war was “not between two antagonistic political parties, but a struggle to the death between two societies, each championing a different civilization…”

The Confederate Vice President, Alexander Stephens openly proclaimed that the inequity of African Americans was foundational to the Confederacy in his Cornerstone speech of 1861, if there are any doubters about the “rights” the leaders of the Southern States longed to preserve in their secession from the Union, Stephen’s words are all to clear in their intent:

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

Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address acknowledged what everyone had known, but few, him included in the North were willing to say in 1861:

“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it….”

Even so it took time for the abolition of slavery to be acknowledged as a major concern by the Federal government, it was not until 1862 after Lee’s failed invasion of Maryland and the Battle of Antietam that Lincoln published the Emancipation Proclamation, and that only applied to Confederate occupied areas.

But in 1863 after Gettysburg Lincoln was asked to speak a “few words” at the dedication of the Soldiers’ cemetery. Lincoln’s words focused the issue of the war in relation to those first words of the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence, the understanding that all men are created equal.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Unfortunately, the issue of equality has languished in our political debates. Equality is the sister of and the guarantor of the individual liberties enunciated in the Declaration. However because of human nature always more vulnerable to those that would attempt to enshrine their personal liberty over others, or attempt to use the courts and Constitution to deprive others of the rights that they themselves enjoy, or to enshrine their place in society above others. In some cases this is about race, sometimes religion, sometimes about gender and even sexual orientation. Likewise there are those that would try to roll back the rights of others, as those who seek to disenfranchise the poor and minorities, particularly African Americans at the ballot box.

That is why it is important, even as we celebrate and protect individual liberties that we also seek to fight for the equality of all citizens, irrespective of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. The Declaration of Independence is our guide for this as Jefferson so eloquently wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”

I wish all of my readers a happy Independence Day. I also ask that all of us please remember that unless liberty is liberty for all then it is really only liberty for some; those of great economic power and influence; or who happen to be the right race, religion, gender or sexual preference.I don’t believe that such was the intent of Jefferson and those who ratified the Declaration, and I know that it was not the case for Abraham Lincoln, who eighty-seven years later called Americans to embrace a new birth of freedom.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Memorial Day Order

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“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Abraham Lincoln the Gettysburg Address 

As we contemplate the importance of Memorial Day and remember the men and women who gave their lives for this country it is important to remember why we do this. Memorial Day grew out of local observances following the Civil War, a war that claimed the lives of over 620,000 American Soldiers from the Union and the Confederacy. New demographic studies by historians estimate the losses at closer to 750,000. Hundreds of thousands of other people had they lives shattered by the war, killed, wounded, maimed, crippled, shattered in mind and spirit, the country in many places devastated by war’s destruction. Using the 620,000 number that would have meant that 2.5% of the population of the country died in the war. People needed to make sense of the losses.

To put this in perspective, if the same number of Americans were to die today in a way the total would be over seven million people. Seven million my friends. War reached into every home in some way, and sadly or perhaps thankfully we have no concept of such losses today.

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In 1868, Major General John Logan who had been an excellent corps commander during the war was serving as the Commander of the nation’s first true Veterans organization, the Grand Army of the Republic which gave those veterans a place of refuge in a country that was leaving them behind and forgetting their sacrifice in the name of westward expansion and a growing economy. Let’s face it, money has almost always been more important to Americans than the troops who sacrificed their lives for the nation, but I digress…

Anyway General Logan issued this order on May 5th 1868:

HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC, General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If our eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of

JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief

N.P. CHIPMAN,
Adjutant General

Official:
WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

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General Logan’s order is remarkable in its frankness and the understanding of the war in the immediate context of its conclusion. In 1868 the day would be observed at 183 cemeteries in 27 States and the following year over 300 cemeteries. Michigan was the first state to make the day a holiday and by 1890 all states in the North had made it so. In the South there were similar observances but the meaning attributed to the events and the sacrifices of the Soldiers of both sides was interpreted quite differently. In the North the Veterans overwhelmingly saw themselves as the saviors of the Union and the liberators of the Slaves. In South it was about the sacrifices of Confederate soldiers in what became known as the “Lost Cause.” But in both regions and all states, the surviving Soldiers, family members and communities honored their dead.

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In 1884 Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Frederick Douglass both spoke about the meaning of the sacrifice made by so many.

Holmes, a veteran of the war who had been wounded at Antietam ended his Decoration Day 1884 speech:

“But grief is not the end of all…Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death, — of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and glory of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.”

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Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist who lobbied Lincoln for emancipation and to give Blacks the chance to serve their country had two of his sons serve in the war spoke these wars:

“Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.”

It is important for the country not to forget those who served and the cost of those who have given the last full measure of devotion to duty and those who still carry the scars of war on their bodies and in their minds and spirits. I am one of the latter and I have known too many of the former.  Maybe that is why am so distrustful of those who advocate for war but have no skin in the game.

An Alsatian-German Soldier named Guy Sager wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier: 

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

I agree with him and pray that those who direct the course of this nation will take the words of General Logan, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Frederick Douglass and Guy Sager to heart before they embark on war, and when they remember those that have served.

May we never forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Remembering the Sacrifice: A Weekend in Gettysburg

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I am on the way home from Gettysburg with my students after concluding the second day of our Staff Ride. As always it has been a really good experience. We concluded the event by going to the Soldier’s Cemetary, which is located on the western section of Cemetary Hill. It is the place that Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address as well as the final resting place of many of the Union soldiers who died during the battle or shortly thereafter from their wounds. Many of these men are unknowns. They are buried in sections which simply note how many unknown soldiers are in that section, and each of these graves is marked by a small stone engraved with a number.

I strongly believe that all citizens should have to make a pilgrimage to Gettysburg. I do not limit this belief to the military professionals who have to prepare for war and fight it when it breaks out, like the men and women of my class. But I  especially believe others need to walk the battlefield and be taught by someone that can put the events of the battle into proper perspective. This includes the politicians and policy makers that get us into wars, the think tank wonks and business leaders who profit from war, and the pundits and preachers who stir up the passions of people to support war, need to walk the battlefield.

Guy Sager wrote in his book The Forgotton Soldier:

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

The same is true today. Too many people, especially those with “no skin in the game” eagerly urge the President to throw U.S. Military power into conflicts that have little chance of being solved by the application of that power. To me it seems like the lives of our military personnel are cheap for many people, especially the politicians, pundits and preachers; but also the war profiteers, while most citizens are apathetic at best, as bumper sticker patriotism is easy.

Basically this is because for most people war is remote from their lives. The military is a voluntary organization with comparatively stringent standards required for enlistees. Even at the peak of our Iraq-Afghanistan wartime strength under one percent of the population actually served in the military. So when I hear people yammering about committing troops to places that many citizens, including the politicians, pundits and preachers, cannot even find on a map, with no plan or purpose once we commit ourselves to war, I get spun up.

For me Gettysburg, and many other battlefields are powerful reminders of the cost of war. They are also reminders of the grave responsibility of those who take a nation into war or who counsel leaders to go to war, responsibilities that many people seem to take lightly. I think that those with that responsibility, which in a democracy is all of us, need that reminder and most of us don’t get it.

Since so few citizens actually serve in the military, I think that everyone should spend two or three days walking that battlefield and learn the lessons as they stand in the elements, exposed to whatever the weather gods can throw at them. People should learn the lessons when they are tired and uncomfortable. This weekend the weather was very similar to what the men than fought at Gettysburg experienced, it was warm and humid, and walking across the field that Pickett’s soldiers advanced, or over the craggy rocks of Little Round Top gave us an appreciation for what those soldiers experienced, without the shooting and death.

As I walked the cemetary with my students spent some time talking about the number of casulaties incurred at Gettysburg, because there is a real flesh and blood cost associated with war, it’s not like the movies or a video game.

Abraham Lincoln reminded the nation of that cost, and the responsibility of the nation, when he spoke “a few words” following the main speech dedicating the Soldier’s Cemetary. Those immortal words are known as the Gettysburg Address. I read them to my students as I dispatched them to walk around the cemetary, and I post them here as well:

 “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it when soldiers die in vain.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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We Hold These Truths…

Declaration_of_Independence_by_JoeSnuffy

Last night I re-read the Declaration of Independence. I do this about every time this year. It is not a long read, but quite profound. As I read again I reflected on the beginning of the second sentence of that document.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” When penned by Thomas Jefferson and ratified by the Continental Congress in July 1776 these words, which begin the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence announced something unimaginable to the world, most of which labored under the rule of ensconced monarchies, nobilities and state religions, where your social status and religious affiliation counted more than anything else, places where few commoners had any hope of social advancement, no matter what their talent, ability or genius.

They were a clarion call of equality and revolutionary in their impact, not only in the American colonies but around the world. In the coming years people around the world would look to those words as they sought to free themselves from oppressive governments and systems where the vast majority of people had few rights, and in fact no equality existed.

But the liberty and equality stated in the Declaration of Independence did not extend to all in the United States, or in its territories as it expanded westward, and the inequity eventually brought on a great civil war.

Eighty seven years after those words were published the nation was divided, in the midst of a great civil war, a climactic battle having just been fought at Gettysburg. A few months later President Abraham Lincoln penned one of the most insightful and influential documents ever written, the Gettysburg Address.

One thing that our founders overlooked was that even while proclaiming equality, they later enshrined that one group of people, African slaves were not equal, in fact they only counted as three fifths of a person. Eventually, many states on their own abolished slavery, but because of the invention of the Cotton Gin slavery became even more fully entrenched in the American South, when an oligarchy of land and slave owners held immense power, where nearly half of the population was enslaved and where even poor whites had few rights and little recourse to justice.

After the Dred Scott decision of 1857 which declared that African Americans, no matter if they were slave or free could be American Citizens and had no standing to sue in Federal courts. Scott had sued to gain his family’s freedom after his owner refused to allow him to purchase it, because they were in a territory where slavery was but even more importantly held that the Missouri Compromise of 1824 which had prohibited the introduction of Slavery into Federal territories was unconstitutional and that the Federal government had no right to limit slavery in territories acquired after the creation of the United States. Chief Justice Roger Taney writing for the majority wrote that all African Americans were viewed by the authors of the Constitution as:

“beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Taney held that Article V of the Constitution barred any law that would deprive a slave owner of his “property” on entrance into free states or territories. and enunciated a string of negative effects, or “parade of horribles” that would derive if Scott’s petition for freedom was granted. His declaration is amazing in its ignorance and prejudice. Taney wrote:

“It would give to persons of the negro race, …the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, …to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.”

The two dissenting Justices, Curtis and McLain disagreed with the proposition that the writers of the Constitution believed as Taney and the majority believed, noting that at the time of the ratification of the Constitution that blacks could vote in five of the thirteen states, making them citizens, not just of those states but the United States. Referring to the Declaration of Independence in 1854 Lincoln wrote: “the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.”

However, much to the concern of slave holders and the South, the decision energized the abolitionist movement who believed that now no black, even those with a long history of being Freed Men living in non-slave states could be claimed as property by those claiming to be former owners, and that state laws which gave blacks equal rights and citizenship could be overturned. Lincoln again referring to the Declaration wrote of the Dred Scott decision:

“to aid in making the bondage of the Negro universal and eternal….All the powers of the earth seem rapidly combining against him. Mammon is after him; ambition follows, and philosophy follows, and the theology of the day is fast joining the cry. They have him in his prison house;…One after another they have closed the heavy doors upon him…and they stand musing as to what invention, in all the dominions of mind and matter, can be produced the impossibility of his escape more complete than it is.”

Eventually the tensions led to the election of Lincoln along sectional lines and the immediate secession of seven southern states and the establishment of the Confederacy. British military historian and theorist Major General J.F.C. Fuller wrote that the war was “not between two antagonistic political parties, but a struggle to the death between two societies, each championing a different civilization…”

The Confederate Vice President, Alexander Stephens openly proclaimed that the inequity of African Americans was foundational to the Confederacy in his Cornerstone speech of 1861, if there are any doubters about the “rights” the leaders of the Southern States longed to preserve in their secession from the Union, Stephen’s words are all to clear in their intent:

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

Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address acknowledged what everyone had known, but few, him included in the North were willing to say in 1861:

“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it….”

Even so it took time for the abolition of slavery to be acknowledged as a major concern by the Federal government, it was not until 1862 after Lee’s failed invasion of Maryland and the Battle of Antietam that Lincoln published the Emancipation Proclamation, and that only applied to Confederate territories.

But in 1863 after Gettysburg Lincoln was asked to speak a “few words” at the dedication of the Soldiers’ cemetery. Lincoln’s words focused the issue of the war in relation to those first words of the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence, the understanding that all men are created equal.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Unfortunately, the issue of equality has languished in our political debates. Equality is the sister of and the guarantor of the individual liberties enunciated in the Declaration. However because of human nature always more vulnerable to those that would attempt to enshrine their personal liberty over others, or attempt to use the courts and Constitution to deprive others of the rights that they themselves enjoy, or to enshrine their place in society above others. In some cases this is about race, sometimes religion, sometimes about gender and even sexual orientation. Likewise there are those that would try to roll back the rights of others, as those who seek to disenfranchise the poor and minorities, particularly African Americans at the ballot box.

That is why it is important, even as we celebrate and protect individual liberties that we also seek to fight for the equality of all citizens, irrespective of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. The Declaration of Independence is our guide for this as Jefferson so eloquently wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”

Have a happy 4th of July and please remember that unless liberty is liberty for all then it is really only liberty for some; those of great economic power and influence; or who happen to be the right race, religion, gender or sexual preference.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Memorial Day 2014: Remembering the Memorial Day Order of 1868

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Oliver Wendell Holmes ended his Decoration Day 1884 speech:

But grief is not the end of all…Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death, — of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and glory of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.

Frederick Douglass noted the same year in his Decoration Day Speech:

“Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.” From Frederick Douglass’ Memorial Day Speech 1884

The words of both men are something that we should not forget as we remember and honor all who have given the “last full measure of devotion to duty.”

It was after the great bloodletting known as the American Civil War that Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day was established. The first observance was made by the recently freed slaves of Charleston South Carolina who honored the memory of the Union Soldiers who had died at the Washington Racecourse Prison Camp on May 1st 1865.  Other celebrations began around the country in May and June of 1866. By 1868 the Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic Union Veterans association General John Logan issued an order directing that the 30th of May 1868 be designated to the memory of the Union Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who had given their lives in the defense of the Union.

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Since its establishment the holiday has grown to encompass the honored dead of all American wars.  However its roots were in the Civil War, a war that claimed the lives of between 600,000 and 700,000 American military personnel on both sides of the conflict. It is hard to imagine that on one, September 17th 1862 that over 23,000 Union and Confederate Soldiers were killed, wounded or missing. At Gettysburg more men were killed and wounded than in the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Two percent of the population was killed in the war. To put that in perspective that casualty rate would involve the deaths of more than 6 million soldiers, well over twice as many men and women as currently serve on active duty and in the reserve components. Abraham Lincoln noted in his Gettysburg Address the importance of not forgetting those men:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 

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General Logan’s order is remarkable in its frankness and the understanding of the war in the immediate context of its conclusion.  In 1868 the day would be observed at 183 cemeteries in 27 States and the following year over 300 cemeteries. Michigan was the first state to make the day a holiday and by 1890 all states in the North had made it so. In the South there were similar observances but the meaning attributed to the events and the sacrifices of the Soldiers of both sides was interpreted differently. In the North it was about preserving the Union and in the South the interpretation of the Lost Cause.  Yet in both regions and all states, the surviving Soldiers, family members and communities honored their dead.

This Memorial Day we will honor all that have fallen but in our mind are the few that fight our current wars, wars that unlike that terrible Civil War, the majority of the population does not experience.

The order of the Grand Army of the Republic establishing Memorial Day is posted below.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC, General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If our eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of

JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief

N.P. CHIPMAN,
Adjutant General

Official:
WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

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“Integrity, Purity Unselfish Devotion to Duty” Reflections on Winfield Scott Hancock after another Gettysburg Staff Ride

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“I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.” Winfield Scott Hancock

I am back home after leading another trip to Gettysburg with a new group of students.

I always come away from Gettysburg with a new appreciation of the sacrifice that was made there by so many Americans. I am always humbled and learn something new. I only wish that most Americans and our leaders of both political parties as well as most media types and pundits could grasp what I experience on each visit to this “hallowed ground.”

Quite honestly I do not think that the vast majority Americans understand, appreciate or value in the slightest the sacrifices of the men who fought and in many cases died to preserve the Union at Gettysburg. Even among those who do I think that the object of their appreciation are the military aspects of the battle often taken in isolation, not the profound strategic dimensions of what this battle as well as the fall of Vicksburg in the west at the same time had on the war.

Nor do they appreciate the massive political, ideological and social effects bought about by those Union victories in ending the war and how those effects redound to us today. This is especially true of the pundits, politicians and preachers, the “Trinity of Evil” as I call them whose shrill voices urge on divisions between our people; including some that call out for violence to maintain their groups social, economic or religious advantages over others. Quite a few even lament the fall of the South and the institution including the washed up rock and roll musician of the political right Ted Nugent who wrote in the Washington Times in July 2012: “I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.” 

All of that concerns me as an American and a historian; because I realize how dangerous such historical ignorance and visceral propaganda is in the life of any nation. Thus when I go to Gettysburg, or for that matter any other battlefield of our American Civil War the sacrifices of those men and what they fought to maintain is again imprinted on my heart.

Abraham Lincoln eloquently noted about those soldiers who fought to turn back the Confederate tide at Gettysburg in his Gettysburg Address:

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

While I am an idealist I am also a pragmatist. I respect the right of others, even those that disagree with things that I very much believe in and support. Like it or not the keystone of our governmental system is one of compromise. That being said having relatives that fought on both sides of the American Civil War that I am not a sectionalist. Nor am I a person that attempts to use the political system to ensure that others have to follow my religious beliefs or to enrich certain groups. The democracy that is part of our republic’s system of government is not a perfect system by any means. In fact as the great English Prime Minister Winston Churchill noted “democracy was the worst form of government except for all the others.”

Thus I appreciate military men who maintain their oath to the nation in times of great conflict not abandoning it to support causes that they know are wrong because the people of their state, or interest group seek to divide that Union. Winfield Scott Hancock was one of those kind of men, as was George Meade, and John Buford, all of whom played key roles in defeating the Confederates at Gettysburg.

Hancock, who earned the title “Hancock the Superb” was the commander of the Union II Corps at Gettysburg. Upon the death of John Reynolds early on the first day of battle Hancock was appointed by Meade as commander of the Federal Left Wing, in effect becoming Meade’s deputy commander for the rest of the battle. He was seriously wounded as Pickett’s Charge came to its bloody end at “the Angle” and his dear friend Confederate General Lewis Armistead lay mortally wounded a few hundred yards away.

Hancock is an interesting character. He was from Pennsylvania but was a Democrat. He was not a Republican like Lincoln. Hancock was not a political ideologue but was since he was a Democrat he was suspect by some in the party establishments of both parties and never was given independent command.

Hancock gave his advice to Armistead and others who were preparing to leave the Union in early 1861 including Armistead and his commanding officer Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston. He made himself clear:

“I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.” 

During the war he served with distinction and Ulysses Grant wrote of him:

“Hancock stands the most conspicuous figure of all the general officers who did not exercise a separate command. He commanded a corps longer than any other one, and his name was never mentioned as having committed in battle a blunder for which he was responsible. He was a man of very conspicuous personal appearance…. His genial disposition made him friends, and his personal courage and his presence with his command in the thickest of the fight won for him the confidence of troops serving under him. No matter how hard the fight, the 2d corps always felt that their commander was looking after them.”

After the war he supervised the execution of those convicted of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and in various postings in the occupied South attempted to mitigate some of the actions of those bent on vengeance and others who tried to exploit the defeated people of the south for political or economic gain.

Hancock ran for President and lost a narrow election in 1880 to James A. Garfield. After that he returned to the Army and died at the age of 61at his headquarters of complications from diabetes.

He was praised by political opponents. Former President Rutherford B. Hayes wrote:

“if when we make up our estimate of a public man, conspicuous both as a soldier and in civil life, we are to think first and chiefly of his manhood, his integrity, his purity, his singleness of purpose, and his unselfish devotion to duty, we can truthfully say of Hancock that he was through and through pure gold.” 

Another political opponent Republican General Francis A. Walker lamented not supporting Hancock in 1880 after the great corruption that engulfed the country during “Gilded Age” of the “Robber Barons” the 1880s. Walker wrote:

“Although I did not vote for General Hancock, I am strongly disposed to believe that one of the best things the nation has lost in recent years has been the example and the influence of that chivalric, stately, and splendid gentleman in the White House. Perhaps much which both parties now recognize as having been unfortunate and mischievous during the past thirteen years would have been avoided had General Hancock been elected.”

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As I stood at the statue that marks Hancock on Cemetery Hill this weekend I again was struck by the bravery, courage and integrity of that remarkable man.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“The Unfinished Work” Another Teaching Weekend at Gettysburg

The First Minnesota

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” Joshua Chamberlain

Tonight I am getting ready for bed but still preparing for tomorrow and Sunday as I lead about 30 of our officer students and their family members on what is called a “Staff Ride” of the Gettysburg Battlefield.

This is the second time that I have led this trip since I have been assigned to this teaching position. Since I learned that I was going to take over the responsibility for the trip I have written produced a text of around 180 pages for my own work, a text that grows with each month. Many of the chapters of that text have been posted to the Gettysburg page on this site.

We drove up today and in the van I was in we were able to talk about aspects of the campaign as well as the Civil War connected to this battle. We also discussed the timeless aspects of leadership and dealing with the complexities of people and organizations. Unlike the last trip we had good weather for the trip up, although we may be dodging rain showers and thunderstorms tomorrow.

To me Gettysburg is indeed “hallowed ground.” That is why I led the article with the comments of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top. I feel that “mighty presence” that Chamberlain described every time I come here. I am drawn here by the actions of men who I never knew but through books and movies, but men who I feel a deep kinship, something spiritual, something deep, something that abides.

I know that as I lead the staff ride the next two days that I will see things that I never noticed before, and those things will inspire me to study more and write more. On my last trip I was drawn to the actions of Brigadier General George Sears “Pop” Greene at Culp’s Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilvery directing his artillery to stop the crushing Confederate assault at the Peach Orchard, the Wheat Field and Cemetery Ridge on day two of the battle and the sound preparations and expert leadership of Brigadier General Henry Hunt of the Federal artillery on day two and three.

I don’t know what will grab me tomorrow and Sunday, but I know that something will and of course you will hear about it here.

I am honored to teach, and in a sense to pass along a bit of what the men who fought here did to consecrate this ground and to give our nation a “new birth of freedom.” It is my part to continue to bring to fruition what Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address:DSCN8774

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Remembering Gettysburg and the New Birth of Freedom

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I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg as I did this weekend.  It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederate met in a three day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

I left on Friday with students from our Staff College and returned home this evening. It was my first time leading a Staff Ride like this though I have participated in them at other battlefields and led less extensive visits to Gettysburg when I was stationed at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania in 1997-1998. I have a good group of students, Army, Navy and Air Force Officers of much experience. In addition to simply examining the battlefield and telling the story of the battle, I have been working over the past two months to build a foundation that enables them to learn the enduring and timeless lessons of leadership, command, control, communication, the linkage between national strategy objectives, the operational art, operational objectives and tactical objectives.  Unlike other visits I added a final stop at the Gettysburg Soldiers’ Cemetery where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

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The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed. They were consecrated by those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country.

I think about those men of both sides and how they came to serve. In 1863 the majority of those who fought were volunteers. Some were motivated by their convictions, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause. Other went to war with mixed feelings. Some fought for family, or their homes, or because they felt that they could do no otherwise, and some even fought against the cause that their families or states believed in.

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But no matter what their reason for going to war they  That being said when I go there though my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy my heart is drawn to those men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike.

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Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men volunteer before Gettysburg. They came for an ideal an ideal which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective at articulating in a way that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…”

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On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period. The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

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The speech is short, but it’s eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was growing war weary. There were those in the North, the Copperheads who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even granting Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. Likewise Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and depth are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon being appoint Prime Minister in 1940.

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. Dr Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times on the 150th anniversary of the Address:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.”

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Dr Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.
The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so many others who brought about that victory.

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Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those that volunteered it was not about personal gain, loot or land,it was about something greater. It was about freedom.
Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans as well as those who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk that hallowed  ground I am again a believer that we can realize the ideal.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

In the hope that we again realize those ideals and help bring about “a new birth of freedom,” I wish you a good night.
Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Never Ending Struggle Against Racism and Its Terrible Effects

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On the 149th Anniversary of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg washed up rocker and right wing political activist Ted Nugent wrote in the Washington Times: “I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”  I found his remark appalling and disgraceful but I have come to expect such comments from him and and others who voice similar sentiments. If Nugent’s rant was a one time slip of the tongue there might be some grace, but even last week he called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” a term so load with Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow and Nazi imagery it defies imagination to hear it used today. When I hear such words spoken towards anyone I can only believe that the man that utters them is an unrepentant racist bent on the reestablishment of White Supremacy.

When I hear such sentiments, I think of men like Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain was a college professor who served in the Union Army and won fame and the Medal of Honor for the defense of Little Round Top at Gettysburg. There is a quote from the film Gods and Generals which I think about when I hear anyone suggesting that it would have been better for the Confederacy to have won the war:

“Now, somewhere out there is the Confederate army. They claim they are fighting for their independence, for their freedom. Now, I can not question their integrity. I believe they are wrong but I can not question it. But I do question a system that defends its own freedom while it denies it to an entire race of men. I will admit it, Tom. War is a scourge, but so is slavery. It is the systematic coercion of one group of men over another. It has been around since the book of Genesis. It exists in every corner of the world, but that is no excuse for us to tolerate it here when we find it right in front of our very eyes in our own country. As God as my witness, there is no one I hold in my heart dearer than you. But if your life, or mine, is part of the price to end this curse and free the Negro, then let God’s work be done.”

There is a spot near the Copse of Trees along Cemetery Ridge which is referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It is close to where Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead fell mortally wounded as the decimated remains of his command were overwhelmed by Union forces shortly after they breached the Union line. It is a place immortalized in history, literature and film. It is the place that marked the beginning of the end for the great evil of slavery in America.

My ancestors lived in Cabell County which in 1861 was part of Virginia. They were slave holders along the Mud River, a tributary of the Ohio River just to the north of what is now Huntington West Virginia. When war came to the country the family patriarch James Dundas joined the 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment in which he served the bulk of the war as a Lieutenant.  When the war ended he refused to sign the loyalty oath to the Union. As a penalty his lands, which are now some of the most valuable in that part of West Virginia were confiscated and sold by the Federal Government. James Dundas was a true believer in the romantic and confused myth of the “Lost Cause.”

Because he served I am eligible for membership in the Sons of the Confederacy. But that is something that I will not do. While some join that organization to honor their ancestors, others that take that devotion to places that I cannot go.  As much as I admire the valor and personal integrity of many military men who served the Confederacy I cannot for a moment think that their “cause” was just.

It has been said that the North won the war but that the South won the history.  I think this is true. Many people reduce the reasons for the war to the South protecting its rights.  Sometimes the argument for the South is “states rights” or “economic freedom.” Those that make these arguments frequently romanticize the valor shown by Confederate soldiers on the battlefield. But sadly they often ignore or obscure the racism and evil of the Southern economic system.

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The “rights” and the “economic freedom” espoused by those that led the secession and that are lamented by those like Nugent were categorically evil. Those rights and freedoms were built upon the rotten edifice of slavery. The South fought to maintain their rights to enslave and exploit Blacks to maintain an archaic economy based on agriculture, particularly the export of King Cotton. Thus I have no desire to become part of an organization enshrines the myth of the “Lost Cause” no matter what my family connections.

Some attempt to place the blame on the North, to turn the Northern States into economic predators’ intent on suppressing the economic rights of Southerners. These arguments serve to show the bankruptcy of the idea itself. The fact that the “economic and political freedom” of Southerners was founded on the enslavement of a whole race of people matters not because to such people the “cause” is greater.

The fact was that the longer the Southern economy relied on agriculture supported slavery it deprived itself of the means of economic progress. The same progress that propelled the North to prosperity. Because it cast its lot with King Cotton and slavery the South lagged in all industrial areas to include transportation infrastructure. Most non-slave owning whites lived at the poverty line. They were disrespected by the wealthy Plantation owners only enjoyed some elevated social status because the slaves ranked beneath them in the sociological and economic hierarchy.

To support its slave economy the South depended on cheap imports from England, which then was still considered an enemy of the United States. When tariffs to protect newly establish American industries were enacted in 1828 South Carolina attempted to nullify the Federal law and even raised troops and threatened to revolt in 1832.

The Southern economic system was immoral and antiquated. It enslaved blacks and it impoverished most rural Southerners.  The only exception to this were those that owned the land and the slaves, and small numbers of entrepreneurs. It was a hateful, backward and loathsome system which even Southern churches attempted to justify from Scripture.  Southern Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians all broke away from their parent denominations in the 1840s over the issue of slavery.

So many died and so much of the South was destroyed in the defense of  the “cause” that one has to wonder just why Southern political and religious were willing to defend such an inadequate and evil economic system. Perhaps it was an innate sense of racial superiority that ran deep in the South, perhaps it was a misplaced sense of political pride and honor. Regardless of the reason, the war that they brought about devastated their homeland. The radicals that ran “Reconstruction” after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln ensured that Southerners suffered terrible degradation and impeded any real efforts to promote reconciliation between the races and between the regions.  Their misguided and often brutal rule ensured that Southern blacks would have even more obstacles raised against them by the now very angry and revengeful whites.  It would take another 80-100 years to end segregation and secure voting rights for blacks.

I was raised on the West Coast but have lived in the South much of my adult life due to military assignments. I served in National Guard units that trace their lineage to Confederate regiments in Texas and Virginia. Despite my Confederate connections both familial and by service I can find little of the romance and idealism that some find in the Confederacy and the “Lost Cause.” I see the Civil War for what it was, a tragedy of the highest order brought about by the need of some to enslave others to maintain their economic system.

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Today there are many that use the flags of the Confederacy outside of their historic context. They are most often used as a symbol of continued racial hatred or of defiance to the Federal Government by White Supremacist or anti-government organizations.  Many that use them openly advocate for the overthrow of the Federal Government.  The calls for such “revolt” can be found all over the country even in the halls of Congress much as they were in the 1830s, 40s and 50s.

Some of this is based on libertarian economic philosophy which labels the government as the enemy of business. Some is religious opposition to some social policies, while some is based in xenophobic racial hatred, not just of Blacks, but also Latin Americans, Asians and Middle Eastern immigrants. The divisions in the country are probably as great as or greater than they were in the 1850s as the country lurched inexorably to Civil War.

I often see the symbols of the Confederacy, particularly the Battle Flag displayed in manners that can only be seen as symbols of defiance.  Somehow I find the display of that flag outside of its historic context revolting.

For such people the Federal Government is the enemy. I know that our system of government has its flaws. Likewise I cannot agree more about the corruption of many in political office, regardless of their political allegiance or ideology.

Today quite a few people on the political right call for revolt or secession. Some moderate politicians have attempted to compromise with such radicals, but those efforts only make things worse. Radicals are never satisfied and view compromise as weakness. Thus Thomas Jefferson said of the Missouri Compromise of 1824: “but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

We have allowed the issues of our time to become a fire of unbridled angry passion. We have allowed those with almost no historical understanding and who promote myth stake claims and promote ideas that are destructive to our union. Unfortunately I do not think that we have reached the high water mark of this movement. I fear like Jefferson that the hatred and division will only grow worse as some prepare for conflict.

A few months after the Battle of Gettysburg Abraham Lincoln made a few remarks at Gettysburg war cemetery.  Lincoln is reviled by men like Nugent and others that romanticize the Lost Cause. He is often demonized by many “conservative” politicians and pundits today, but his remarks are still remarkably pertinent:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Today with so many radicals doing all that they can to plunge us into yet another civil war we should remember Lincoln’s words. We need to rededicate ourselves to this Union.  Tony Blair the former Prime Minster of Great Britain remarked in 2011:

“It may be strange for a former British Prime Minister to offer thoughts on America when the country will be celebrating its independence from Britain. But the circumstances of independence are part of what makes America the great and proud nation it is today. And what gives nobility to the American character.

That nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. That ideal is about values, freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

But it is most of all that in striving for and protecting that ideal, you as an individual take second place to the interests of the nation as a whole. This is what makes the country determined to overcome its challenges. It is what makes its soldiers give their lives in sacrifice. It is what brings every variety of American, from the lowest to the highest, to their feet when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played.

Of course the ideal is not always met – that is obvious. But it is always striven for.

The next years will test the American character. The world is changing. New powers are emerging. But America should have confidence. This changing world does not diminish the need for that American ideal. It only reaffirms it.”

I think that the Prime Minister got it right and that Ted Nugent and those like him or defend his hateful ideology are ignorant racist fools. But hatred, ignorance and the belief in myth are often quite powerful in the hands of those who desire to maintain their power at any cost. History proves this, thus we must always confront them and not back down until we truly know that “new birth of freedom.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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