American Historic Moments; Then and Now

Don Troiani- “The Last Salute” HAP

Our friend, Practically Historical, reminds us that 154 years ago today General John B Gordon (seven times wounded, including 5 Minnie balls at Antietam) by order of General Robert E. Lee, surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia, to General Joshua L. Chamberlain (won the Medal of Honor at Little Round Top at Gettysburg, wounded six times, nearly mortally at Petersburg, and cited 4 times for bravery) of the Army of the Potomac.

As the Army of Northern Virginia marched past the Army of the Potomac, Chamberlain ordered the Army to “Carry Arms” (the marching salute) in respect, and at Gordon’s order, the Confederates responded. Chamberlain described the scene:

At the sound of that machine like snap of arms, however, General Gordon started, caught in a moment its significance, and instantly assumed the finest attitude of a soldier. He wheeled his horse facing me, touching him gently with the spur, so that the animal slightly reared, and as he wheeled, horse and rider made one motion, the horse’s head swung down with a graceful bow, and General Gordon dropped his sword point to his toe in salutation.”    Gordon truly understood the significance of the gesture, “Chamberlain called his men into line and as the Confederate soldiers marched in front of them, the veterans in blue gave a soldierly salute to those vanquished heroes—a token of respect from Americans to Americans.”

There is a lesson there for those who would destroy the heritage of the Confederacy. At least 300,000  Americans died upon those fields to (amongst their reasons) to destroy chattel slavery in America. At the end of it, they respected their opponents enough to salute them in honor, and the Confederates enough to return the salute. Without a worthy enemy, there is no honor, and so far no more worthy enemy for American arms has ever appeared than American arms. Both sides fighting for freedom, even if their definitions differed. When you denigrate the Confederates, you also denigrate the forces that fought them and freed the slaves.

And so with salutes and honors, and with terms that meant no proscription lists and no hangings, America’s hardest war ended.


Then there is this:

That is the first ever photograph of a Black Hole, something so dense that even light cannot escape. So how can we take its picture? It’s complicated. Here’s part of the explanation.

And this:

Both of those are some seriously good explaining of a subject that is quite hard to understand.

But how did this happen? A badass stem professor, of course. In fact, a Cal Tech professor with a doctorate from MIT, who graduated from West Lafayette High School. And back in the day when she was in high school used to work with her dad’s colleagues, professors at Purdue. Professor Dr. Katie Bouman. Her dad is Charles Bouman, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Purdue. Wonder what dinner conversation was like in their house.

She explained in a TED talk what she was trying to do a couple years ago as well.

And it worked, as the picture above indicates. Pretty cool, essentially turning the entire Earth into a camera.

This is a very big deal, confirming relativity amongst other things, and another major major accomplishment for American science. I’m not a huge fan of government subsidizing stuff, but I’m not sure that any corporation would really see the point of this research, although I’ll bet there will be commercial benefits derived from it. Most corporations these days are insanely short-sighted about research. Hammer and Rails reminds us:

The combined budgets of NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institute of Health (NIH) are just over $63 billion for FY 2019. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider that the US’s 2019 federal budget is $4.746 trillion, the three major scientific foundations and government institutions that allow for such ground breaking scientific research account for just under 1.5% of the federal budget.

For just 1.5% of our budget, we’re able to fund the great work of Dr. Bouman, along with other great scientists at Purdue, the Big Ten, and beyond. While Dr. Bouman didn’t go to Purdue (I guess I can’t blame her for going to MIT instead), her connections to the university allowed her to cultivate her passion in the STEM fields, and it shows that the impact of Purdue continue into interstellar space.

Congrats to Dr. Bouman, former President Córdova, and all the researchers involved in the Event Horizon Telescope.

Yep, and MIT had a couple things to say, as well. First, they noted how important women in Stem are to our success in space.

As noted in the comments to the Tweet above, all these women, and all of us men, as well, follow in the footsteps of Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron who wrote the first algorithm. And this:

Defending the Dream

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gett...

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gettysburg National Battlefield, Gettysburg, PA, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is 30 May, the traditional date for Decoration Day, by order of General Logan, commanding the Grand Army of the Republic, as noted here yesterday. When Congress decided we needed a three day weekend more than we needed to remember our traditions, I think they made a mistake, not that we don’t need that three day weekend!

You know, as do I, that America has never been a pile of rocks and dirt between the oceans. Whether your ancestors came over the Bering land bridge time out of memory ago, came on the Mayflower, came to escape starvation in Ireland to see the sign “No Irish need Apply”, came from old Mexico to work at a meat-packing plant, or got off a 777 last night; You are here because of a dream. Bevin Alexander said it as well as anybody.

Imagine, if you will, the sense of awe that seized the first settlers at Jamestown in Virginia, in 1607, at Plymouth in Massachusetts, and at the other landings along the coast of North America in the early decades of the seventeenth century. Here were little English communities hacking out perch sites on the very edge of an unknown land. … But when they finally reached the great chain of mountains called the Appalachians and gazed out from its heights, they were utterly confounded-before them an even more boundless, more astonishing land stretched out to seeming infinity toward the setting sun.

This was the moment when the American character was formed. Whatever limits of class and status the settlers had brought with them from Britain would fall away to insignificance in this prodigious land. When astute individuals looked toward the limitless frontier that they now knew would beckon continuously on the western horizon, they realized that no king, no aristocracy, could crush them. At any time they could cross this frontier and put all of Europe’s restraints behind them. This had immense and overwhelming effects throughout the colonies. Americans, whether they crossed the frontier or not, were destined to be forever free.

But to make dreams come true is hard work. And there are people around whose dreams would preclude yours. So dreams have to be defended. So it is with the American Dream. From that day to this, the dream has demanded that men, ordinary men, defend it. But the defending of dreams creates extraordinary men, and so it has been here.

On 19 April 1775, a shot was fired in Lexington, MA, no one knows by whom. That shot has echoed down the corridors of time for 242 years, and its reverberations continue. For that shot was a warning that God meant men to be free, and with God’s help, men, and women would be free. A few weeks before, a member of the House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry, in Virginia said this:

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace– but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

And so was the lamp lit in that fabled city on the hill that John Winthrop had spoken of all the way back in 1630.

…for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going:…

And so it came to pass that America would be free. It would not be perfect, ever, for America is a dream of man, not a work of God. But it would continually try to be, and it would improve. And it would come to pass that the lamp lighted in that city upon a hill would become a beacon to the world so that today the world itself is far more free than on that blustery March day when Mr. Henry spoke.

But in the middle of the 19th century, the dream nearly foundered on the rocks of two different interpretations of that freedom.

That conflict has often been said to have been about slavery but, deep down it wasn’t. Very few Southerners defended slavery on moral grounds, they did on economic grounds but, in truth, they had little choice. A very high percentage of their capital was tied up in slaves, and that is why, even then, the South was lagging behind the North in industrialization. For it would be true that southern planters owned slaves, it is equally true that the slaves own their masters. As Frederick Douglass said, “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.

On the other side, there were some abolitionists, it is true but, they were fewer than one would think. In truth, Abraham Lincoln himself said that while he would not countenance the extension of slavery he saw no method of abolishing it either. So what was left was Union or secession. That is what motivated the Armies, the proper road for the dream.

Those armies of America, The Army of Northern Virginia, The Army of the Potomac, The Army of the Tennessee, have become part of the soul of America, the dusty columns still march in our hearts. And the battles they fought: 1st & 2d Manassas, the Seven Days, Champions Hill, The artillery hell of Antietam, the burning wounded in the Wilderness, the misery of the Mule Shoe, and Cold Harbor. The taking of Missionary Ridge without orders because the enlisted men decided to do it, and finally that heart-wrenching scene at Wilmer McLean’s house (where he had moved to get away from the armies at Bull Run) where General Grant met General Lee and Lee surrendered that most romantic of American Armies, the Army of Northern Virginia, under terms inspired by Lincoln’s advice to Grant to “Let ’em up easy”. And so the Army not so much surrendered as passed directly into legend for all Americans. An Army that fought until it was living on acorns, knowing it couldn’t win, but fighting for its beliefs.

Who amongst us can forget the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, on the second day of Gettysburg (from the inscription on the monument.

On the afternoon of July 2, 1863 Sickles’ Third Corps, having advanced from this line to the Emmitsburg Road, eight companies of the First Minnesota Regiment, numbering 262 men were sent to this place to support a battery upon Sickles repulse.

As his men were passing here in confused retreat, two Confederate brigades in pursuit were crossing the swale. To gain time to bring up the reserves & save this position, Gen Hancock in person ordered the eight companies to charge the rapidly advancing enemy.

The order was instantly repeated by Col Wm Colvill. And the charge as instantly made down the slope at full speed through the concentrated fire of the two brigades breaking with the bayonet the enemy’s front line as it was crossing the small brook in the low ground there the remnant of the eight companies, nearly surrounded by the enemy held its entire force at bay for a considerable time & till it retired on the approach of the reserve the charge successfully accomplished its object. It saved this position & probably the battlefield. The loss of the eight companies in the charge was 215 killed & wounded. More than 83% percent. 47 men were still in line & no man missing. In self sacrificing desperate valor this charge has no parallel in any war. Among the severely wounded were Col Wm Colvill, Lt Col Chas P Adams & Maj Mark W. Downie. Among the killed Capt Joseph Periam, Capt Louis Muller & Lt Waldo Farrar. The next day the regiment participated in repelling Pickett’s charge losing 17 more men killed & wounded.

The very next day, for the very last time, was displayed the grim majesty and pomp of war in the old style, as the center of the Army of Northern Virginia attacked in close order under General Pickett, and was repulsed, the high tide bringing General Armistead to die with his hand on a Union gun.

There are many other actions that we could tell of equal bravery on either side. This was merely 150 years ago, and yet, many have not heard of the glory of these men who were willing to suffer more than 83% casualties in battle and were in line the next day to receive the most famous of American charges.

These were the men that Decoration Day was instituted to honor. Do we still honor them?

Also note that during the Seven Days battles in Virginia it was not possible to fire the volleys requisite to military funerals, a tradition going back to the Roman Legions shouting “Vale” three times in burying their comrades. A substitute had to be found, it was, Colonel Dan Butterfield wrote a new call for his buglers to sound. It has been sounded millions of times since to mark the end of the day and the burial of the soldier. This is it of course.

And so today, as you travel around the world, wherever you find Americans buried, at Cambridge in England, at Omaha Beach and Chateau Thierry in France, in Luxembourg, in Italy, in Australia, in the Philippines, at Arlington, at Lexington, at Gettysburg, at Fort MacPherson, Nebraska, and Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and so many others, and in nearly every graveyard in America, you will see graves strewn with flowers, and with a small American flag placed in front of the headstone. For these men, and women as well, one day raised their right hand and took an oath to defend “We, the People”, from all enemies, foreign and domestic. And these the “Gardens of Stone” are the only land that America still holds in the world.

We can note with pride the success of the mission has been such that when the BBC asked an elderly Dutch woman long after World War Two about how she knew the liberators of her town were Americans, she could reply, “I knew they were Americans because they walked like free men.”

Palm Sunday, Looking Back

Almost every year I have published the same post for Palm Sunday, sometimes supplemented by one from Jessica. Mine deals with the leadership Jesus showed during the Passion week. I do recommend it and it is here, two years ago, Jessica picked up on the theme with a quite wonderful article, which is here.

But I want to recall a Palm Sunday, also April 9th, from American history. It was an important day, which echoes forever in American, and world history. For this is when it was decided that the republic really was indivisible.

On the 15th of April, in 1861, Confederate batteries opened on Fort Sumter, leading to a poignant scene showing the honor of the American Army.

And so, the president called for volunteers, and all the officers made their choices and soon their was a war on. The war would be the end of the old United States and would show the outlines of what we would become. As we made that course change many a legend was created, for change on this order doesn’t happen cheaply or easily. If you know anything about American history the names echo in your heart: Longstreet, Pickett, Stuart, and always Stonewall, and Chamberlain, Meade, Sheridan, and Custer, and so many more.

And the places they had been: Bull Run, the Peninsula, Antietam, Fredericksburg, the Wilderness, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor, Petersburg and now Appomattox Court House. Almost all have been preserved and on all of them if you listen carefully, you can still here the cries of the wounded, the orders of the officers, and always the guns and the rattle of musketry, for in these places, at the cost of 600,000 dead Americans, the future was forged. Note that preserving these battlefields is what President Trump donated all but a dollar of his salary to the other day.

It’s fascinated everybody ever since because of something unique in history. The two main armies, The Federal Army of the Potomac, and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, fought each other up and down the eastern theater, fighting battles as hard fought as anything in history for four years and neither one could defeat the other.

There have been and still are two strains in American war-fighting, they first became evident in the Mexican War, and they are still part of our heritage.

The first is superb leadership, especially in small units but extending up to army leadership. This was the forte of the Army of Northern Virginia, especially the combination of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. One of Lee’s staff officers said that Lee’s middle name was actually Audacity, never has there been an officer who was better at taking a reasoned chance and having it work out, especially with Jackson as his strong right arm. In any other conflict they would have defeated nearly any enemy easily but they had the misfortune to be fighting the very first of the moderns.

Because once he came east as the Lieutenant General, America has only rarely had a better general than US Grant. He was never loved like Lee and he wasn’t as daring, although he could be witness his campaign leading up to Vicksburg. But when he came east, he realized that while he could lose the war with the Army of the Potomac, he could not win it, that would be up to Sherman. His task as Patton would have put it was to hold the Confederacy by the nose, so Sherman could kick it in the rear. But Grant, like Sherman, and Sheridan, was a modern general, really more of a manager than a leader. Grant wrote superbly clear and succinct orders, that were easily transmitted by telegraph. If you doubt this you need to read his autobiography which he finished as he was dying of throat cancer, and he wrote the last few chapters in longhand, and they are almost perfect copy. He also was a master of logistics, and concentration of force.

And these are the two thrusts of the United States military ever since. Overwhelming force applied at the point of decision and an incredible ability to move around and surprise enemies. With the leadership skills down to the squad level to make it work.

But, today we are met to commemorate another day in April for on Palm Sunday, 9 April 1865, the fabled Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to the Army of the Potomac. It was trying to break through Sheridan’s cavalry and had just discovered that there were two fresh infantry corps behind the cavalry. There was nowhere left to go, and so, on Palm Sunday would come this scene.

 https://i0.wp.com/farm4.staticflickr.com/3125/2807817622_1e3e70809b_z.jpg


[Much of what follows is from Joshuapundits’ haunting account of the day. I strongly recommend that you read it all]

Lee and Grant and their staffs didn’t meet in an actual courthouse. Instead, they met in a private home, that of Wilmer McLean, at 1:30 PM on a balmy spring afternoon.

For two and a half hours they sat and talked. After pitting every muscle and sinew, every ounce of intelligence, every iota of courage and will the two of them and their armies possessed against each other, the two adversaries finally met face to face.They had not seen each other since the Mexican War two decades earlier.

Here’s how General Horace Porter, one of Lee’s staff described what happened next:

“We entered, and found General Grant sitting at a marble-topped table in the center of the room, and Lee sitting beside a small oval table near the front window, in the corner opposite to the door by which we entered, and facing General Grant. We walked in softly and ranged ourselves quietly about the sides of the room, very much as people enter a sick-chamber when they expect to find the patient dangerously ill.

The contrast between the two commanders was striking, and could not fail to attract marked attention they sat ten feet apart facing each other. General Grant, then nearly forty-three years of age, was five feet eight inches in height, with shoulders slightly stooped. His hair and full beard were a nut-brown, without a trace of gray in them. He had on a single-breasted blouse, made of dark-blue flannel, unbuttoned in front, and showing a waistcoat underneath. He wore an ordinary pair of top-boots, with his trousers inside, and was without spurs. The boots and portions of his clothes were spattered with mud. He had no sword, and a pair of shoulder-straps was all there was about him to designate his rank. In fact, aside from these, his uniform was that of a private soldier.

Lee, on the other hand, was fully six feet in height, and quite erect for one of his age, for he was Grant’s senior by sixteen years. His hair and full beard were silver-gray, and quite thick, except that the hair had become a little thin in the front. He wore a new uniform of Confederate gray, buttoned up to the throat, and at his side he carried a long sword of exceedingly fine workmanship, the hilt studded with jewels. His top-boots were comparatively new, and seemed to have on them some ornamental stitching of red silk. Like his uniform, they were singularly clean, and but little travel-stained. On the boots were handsome spurs, with large rowels. A felt hat, which in color matched pretty closely that of his uniform, and a pair of long buckskin gauntlets lay beside him on the table.” 

The two men talked briefly of their experiences in Mexico, including the one time the two men had met as young officers near Vera Cruz. Then Lee, with an emotion that can only be imagined, asked Grant to write out his terms for surrender.

Grant took out his order book, and began to write: 

“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them.”



At that point, according to the men who were there, General Grant gazed at General’s Lee and at his sword for almost a full minute. And then continued writing:

“This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”

Grant said later that after looking at Lee and thinking about the matter for a moment, he realized that it would be an unnecessary humiliation to require officers to surrender their swords,and that requiring members of the Confederate Army to lose their privately owned horses and mules would be a great hardship, because those animals would be badly needed to carry out the spring plowing and planting and to help rebuild the devastated South.So in the end, all officers and men were allowed to take their privately owned horses and mules home with them.

Lee read over the terms, which were as generous as he could have possibly wanted. He had fully expected that senior officers like himself might be arrested and prosecuted for treason on the spot, with Grant demanding unconditional surrender. 

So Lee took up a pen and wrote out a short note agreeing to the terms, which was officially recorded at 4 PM that same afternoon.

Grant immediately issued orders to send food rations to Lee’s starving army, and then Lee took his leave. From the account of General Porter:

“At a little before 4 o’clock General Lee shook hands with General Grant, bowed to the other officers, and with Colonel Marshall left the room. One after another we followed, and passed out to the porch. Lee signaled to his orderly to bring up his horse, and while the animal was being bridled the general stood on the lowest step and gazed sadly in the direction of the valley beyond where his army lay – now an army of prisoners. He smote his hands together a number of times in an absent sort of way; seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unconscious of everything about him. All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. The approach of his horse seemed to recall him from his reverie, and he at once mounted. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, and, moving toward him, saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present; Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded.”

As Lee rode away and the news of the surrender spread, the Union soldiers broke out in wild cheering. But as Grant recounted later, he ordered an immediate halt. “I at once sent word, however, to have it stopped,” he said. “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

[…]

Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia, 10th April 1865.

General Order
No. 9

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

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

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

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

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

— R. E. Lee, General, General Order No. 9

On April 12, the rain had stopped and the sun broke out, almost as if the heavens had allowed the southern officers and men an appropriate background to mourn over their dead and the Lost Cause, and then signaled that it was time to move on. Something like 28,000 Confederate soldiers passed by and stacked their arms on that day as the victorious Union Armies held a ceremony of surrender.

The Union officer chosen to lead the ceremony was not General Grant or any of the professional soldiers. Instead, it was Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain, the former Maine college professor who could justifiably be said to have won the Battle of Gettysburg, holding the left flank of Little Round Top at Gettysburg against all hope by leading the survivors of the 20th Maine in a successful bayonet charge down the south slope when they were almost out of ammunition to push the enemy troops out.

Chamberlain did an unusual thing for a victor in a hard won war, something that showed he was a man of rare courage and insight both on and off the battlefield. As the Confederate Army trooped by to stack arms, Chamberlain ordered his men to present arms in salute to their defeated enemies. As he recounted later in his book:

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


The passing of the dead..an interesting and moving phrase.

General Chamberlain, like many others who stood on the grounds of Appomattox that bright spring day day was undoubtedly thinking of the men left behind, and it is to his credit that he had the depth of empathy and understanding to see it from both sides. But that was then. At Appomattox today, you don’t find the ghosts you find in other civil war sites. No matter how bulldozed,cleaned up and changed the landscape is, the spirits of the dead remain in easy reach at those other places. But not at Appomattox.

Even the furnishings at the McLean House are mere replicas with no real history of their own.

https://i0.wp.com/farm6.staticflickr.com/5035/7061262379_d41dc74257_z.jpg

Appomattox today is a shrine to something else entirely.Not to the dead, but to the living, the ones who survived that great conflict that ran like a livid scar across the American landscape.

Just as there was a time of war, there came a time of peace. Just as there was a time of bitter divide and conflict,there came a time of healing, a time when men who had fought each other with an uncommon ferocity for four years remembered again that they were all still members of one American family with more in common than they realized.

That should give us hope in our own times, when morally bankrupt charlatans and their willing stooges seek to manipulate us, divide us and turn us against ourselves for their own power, enrichment and aggrandizement. 

Take a moment today, if you will, to remember what occurred that long ago, almost forgotten April day, what happened there. It’s something worth thinking about.

Appomattox: The Fire Is Quenched ~ J O S H U A P U N D I T.

I am going to add a bit more to this already too long article but realize that Grant (and later Sherman) as well as Chamberlain took their cue from President Lincoln, who shortly before had told Grant and Sherman to “let ’em up easy’. In fact very soon as word spread and a celebration was taking place in the evening in Washington, he came out and requested a tune from the band, saying that it now belonged to the nation, as it still does. It was this one

And so the Confederacy dissolved into the Lost Cause to be forever revered by Americans, not because of any of its beliefs but because brave Americans, so many of them, revered their freedom enough, on both sides, to sell their lives at a very high price. And in the remembrance of glory we move forward to the point that by 1898 this could happen in “… the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Johnny Reb and Billy Yank; the twin images of America

 

Defending the Dream

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gett...

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gettysburg National Battlefield, Gettysburg, PA, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know, as do I, that America has never been a pile of rocks and dirt between the oceans. Whether your ancestors came over the Bering land bridge time out of memory ago, came on the Mayflower, came to escape starvation in Ireland to see the sign “No Irish need Apply”, came from old Mexico to work at a meat-packing plant, or got off a 777 last night; You are here because of a dream. Bevin Alexander said it as well as anybody.

Imagine, if you will, the sense of awe that seized the first settlers at Jamestown in Virginia, in 1607, at Plymouth in Massachusetts, and at the other landings along the coast of North America in the early decades of the seventeenth century. Here were little English communities hacking out perch sites on the very edge of an unknown land. … But when they finally reached the great chain of mountains called the Appalachians and gazed out from its heights, they were utterly confounded-before them an even more boundless, more astonishing land stretched out to seeming infinity toward the setting sun.

This was the moment when the American character was formed. Whatever limits of class and status the settlers had brought with them from Britain would fall away to insignificance in this prodigious land. When astute individuals looked toward the limitless frontier that they now knew would beckon continuously on the western horizon, they realized that no king, no aristocracy, could crush them. At any time they could cross this frontier and put all of Europe’s restraints behind them. This had immense and overwhelming effects throughout the colonies. Americans, whether they crossed the frontier or not, were destined to be forever free.

But to make dreams come true is hard work. And there are people around whose dreams would preclude yours. So dreams have to be defended. So it is with the American Dream. From that day to this, the dream has demanded that men, ordinary men, defend it. But the defending of dreams creates extraordinary men, and so it has been here.

On 19 April 1775, a shot was fired in Lexington, MA, no one knows by whom. That shot has echoed down the corridors of time for 238 years, and its reverberations continue. For that shot was a warning that God meant men to be free, and with God’s help, men, and women would be free. A few weeks before, a member of the House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry, in Virginia said this:

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace– but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

And so was the lamp lit in that fabled city on the hill that John Winthrop had spoken of all the way back in 1630.

…for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going:…

And so it came to pass that America would be free. It would not be perfect, ever, for America is a dream of man, not a work of God. But it would continually try to be, and it would improve. And the lamp lighted in that city upon a hill would become a beacon to the world, so that today the world itself is far more free than on that blustery March day when Mr. Henry spoke.

But in the middle of the 19th century the dream nearly foundered on the rocks of two different interpretations of that freedom.

That conflict has often been said to have been about slavery but, deep down it wasn’t. Very few southerners defended slavery on moral grounds, they did on economic grounds but, in truth, they had little choice. A very high percentage of their capital was tied up in slaves, and that is why, even then, the south was lagging behind the north in industrialization. For it would be true that southern planters owned slaves, it is equally true that the slaves own their masters. As Frederick Douglass said, “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.

On the other side, there were some abolitionists, it is true but, they were fewer than one would think. In truth Abraham Lincoln himself said that while he would not countenance the extension of slavery he saw no method of abolishing it either. So what was left was Union or secession. That is what motivated the Armies, the proper road for the dream.

Those armies of America, The Army of Northern Virginia, The Army of the Potomac, The Army of the Tennessee, have become part of the soul of America, the dusty columns still march in our hearts. And the battles they fought: 1st & 2d Manassas, the Seven Days, Champions Hill, The artillery hell of Antietam, the burning wounded in the Wilderness, the misery of the Mule Shoe, and Cold Harbor. The taking of Missionary Ridge without orders because the enlisted men decided to do it, and finally that heart-wrenching scene at Wilmer McLean‘s house (where he had moved to get away from the armies at Bull Run) where General Grant met General Lee and Lee surrendered that most romantic of American Armies, the Army of Northern Virginia, under terms inspired by Lincoln’s advice to Grant to “Let ’em up easy”. And so the Army not so much surrendered as passed directly into legend for all Americans. An Army that fought until it was living on acorns, knowing it could not win, but fighting for its beliefs.

Who amongst us can forget the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, on the second day of Gettysburg (from the inscription on the monument.

On the afternoon of July 2, 1863 Sickles’ Third Corps, having advanced from this line to the Emmitsburg Road, eight companies of the First Minnesota Regiment, numbering 262 men were sent to this place to support a battery upon Sickles repulse.

As his men were passing here in confused retreat, two Confederate brigades in pursuit were crossing the swale. To gain time to bring up the reserves & save this position, Gen Hancock in person ordered the eight companies to charge the rapidly advancing enemy.

The order was instantly repeated by Col Wm Colvill. And the charge as instantly made down the slope at full speed through the concentrated fire of the two brigades breaking with the bayonet the enemy’s front line as it was crossing the small brook in the low ground there the remnant of the eight companies, nearly surrounded by the enemy held its entire force at bay for a considerable time & till it retired on the approach of the reserve the charge successfully accomplished its object. It saved this position & probably the battlefield. The loss of the eight companies in the charge was 215 killed & wounded. More than 83% percent. 47 men were still in line & no man missing. In self sacrificing desperate valor this charge has no parallel in any war. Among the severely wounded were Col Wm Colvill, Lt Col Chas P Adams & Maj Mark W. Downie. Among the killed Capt Joseph Periam, Capt Louis Muller & Lt Waldo Farrar. The next day the regiment participated in repelling Pickett’s charge losing 17 more men killed & wounded.

The very next day, for the very last time, was displayed the grim majesty and pomp of war in the old style, as the center of the Army of Northern Virginia attacked in close order under General Pickett, and was repulsed, the high tide bringing General Armistead to die with his hand on a Union gun.

There are many other actions that we could tell of equal bravery on either side. This was merely 150 years ago, and yet, many have not heard of the glory of these men who were willing to suffer more than 83% casualties in battle, and were in line the next day to receive the most famous of American charges.

These were the men that Decoration Day was instituted to honor. Do we still honor them?

Also note that during the Seven Days battles in Virginia it was not possible to fire the volleys requisite to military funerals, a tradition going back to the Roman Legions shouting “Vale” three times in burying their comrades. A substitute had to be found, it was, Colonel Dan Butterfield wrote a new call for his buglers to sound. It has been sounded millions of times since to mark the end of the day and the burial of the soldier. This is it of course.

And so today, as you travel around the world, wherever you find Americans buried, at Cambridge in England, at Omaha Beach and Chateau Thierry in France, in Luxembourg, in Italy, in Australia, in the Philippines, at Arlington, at Lexington, at Gettysburg, at Fort MacPherson, Nebraska, and Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and so many others, and in nearly every graveyard in America, you will see graves strewn with flowers, and with a small American flag placed in front of the headstone. For these men, and women as well, one day raised their right hand and took an oath to defend “We, the People”, from all enemies, foreign and domestic. And these  the “Gardens of Stone” are the only land that America still holds in the world.

We can note with pride the success of the mission has been such that when General DeGaulle demanded that the American military leave France, in the 1960s, President Johnson asked him if we should take our men who died for France with us.

Every one of those flags represents one of those who signed a blank check knowing not what payment, up to his very life itself, would be the required amount. Let’s close with the words of a facebook post from a gentlemen named Tom McCuin

Dear USA,
Monday is Memorial Day. It is the day we honor our war dead, those warriors who gave what Lincoln called, “the last full measure of devotion.” Enjoy your barbecues, your mattress sales, and your community pool openings, but remember you do so because those honored dead made it possible. Please do not offer your thanks to me or any other living veteran. It is not our day. We came home carrying our shields; they came home carried on theirs. Memorial Day the day we raise our glasses to absent comrades. Thank me and my living brothers-in-arms (and sisters, too) on Tuesday. But on Monday, turn your thoughts to the gardens of stone around the globe. See you at Section 60.

Our freedom is their monument, and it’s up to us to maintain.

Appomattox: And Sumter

Yesterday, in 1861 Confederate batteries opened on Fort Sumter, leading to a poignant scene showing the honor of the American Army.

And so, the president called for volunteers, and all the officers made their choices and soon their was a war on. The war would be the end of the old United States and would show the outlines of what we would become. As we made that course change many a legend was created, for change on this order doesn’t happen cheaply or easily. If you know anything about American history the names echo in your heart: Longstreet, Pickett, Stuart, and always Stonewall, and Chamberlain, Meade, Sheridan, and Custer, and so many more.

And the places they had been: Bull Run, the Peninsula, Antietam, Fredericksburg, the Wilderness, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor, Petersburg and now Appomattox Court House. Almost all have been preserved and on all of them if you listen carefully, you can still here the cries of the wounded, the orders of the officers, and always the guns and the rattle of musketry, for in these places, at the cost of 600,000 dead Americans, the future was forged.

It’s fascinated everybody ever since because of something unique in history. The two main armies, The Federal Army of the Potomac, and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, fought each other up and down the eastern theater, fighting battles as hard fought as anything in history for four years and neither one could defeat the other.

There have been and still are two strains in American war-fighting, they first became evident in the Mexican War, and they are still part of our heritage.

The first is superb leadership, especially in small units but extending up to army leadership. This was the forte of the Army of Northern Virginia, especially the combination of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. One of Lee’s staff officers said that Lee’s middle name was actually Audacity, never has there been an officer who was better at taking a reasoned chance and having it work out, especially with Jackson as his strong right arm. In any other conflict they would have defeated nearly any enemy easily but they had the misfortune to be fighting the very first of the moderns.

Because once he came east as the Lieutenant General, America has only rarely had a better general than US Grant. He was never loved like Lee and he wasn’t as daring, although he could be witness his campaign leading up to Vicksburg. But when he came east, he realized that while he could lose the war with the Army of the Potomac, he could not win it, that would be up to Sherman. His task as Patton would have put it was to hold the Confederacy by the nose, so Sherman could kick it in the rear. But Grant, like Sherman, and Sheridan, was a modern general, really more of a manager than a leader. Grant wrote superbly clear and succinct orders, that were easily transmitted by telegraph. If you doubt this you need to read his autobiography which he finished as he was dying of throat cancer, and he wrote the last few chapters in longhand, and they are almost perfect copy. He also was a master of logistics, and concentration of force.

And these are the two thrusts of the United States military ever since. Overwhelming force applied at the point of decision and an incredible ability to move around and surprise enemies. With the leadership skills down to the squad level to make it work.

But, today we are met to commemorate another day in April for on 9 April 1865 the fabled Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to the Army of the Potomac. It was trying to break through Sheridan’s cavalry and had just discovered that there were two fresh infantry corps behind the cavalry. There was nowhere left to go, and so, on Palm Sunday would come this scene.

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[Much of what follows is from Joshuapundits’ haunting account of the day. I strongly recommend that you read it all]

Lee and Grant and their staffs didn’t meet in an actual courthouse. Instead, they met in a private home, that of Wilmer McLean, at 1:30 PM on a balmy spring afternoon.

For two and a half hours they sat and talked. After pitting every muscle and sinew, every ounce of intelligence, every iota of courage and will the two of them and their armies possessed against each other, the two adversaries finally met face to face.They had not seen each other since the Mexican War two decades earlier.

Here’s how General Horace Porter, one of Lee’s staff described what happened next:

“We entered, and found General Grant sitting at a marble-topped table in the center of the room, and Lee sitting beside a small oval table near the front window, in the corner opposite to the door by which we entered, and facing General Grant. We walked in softly and ranged ourselves quietly about the sides of the room, very much as people enter a sick-chamber when they expect to find the patient dangerously ill.

The contrast between the two commanders was striking, and could not fail to attract marked attention they sat ten feet apart facing each other. General Grant, then nearly forty-three years of age, was five feet eight inches in height, with shoulders slightly stooped. His hair and full beard were a nut-brown, without a trace of gray in them. He had on a single-breasted blouse, made of dark-blue flannel, unbuttoned in front, and showing a waistcoat underneath. He wore an ordinary pair of top-boots, with his trousers inside, and was without spurs. The boots and portions of his clothes were spattered with mud. He had no sword, and a pair of shoulder-straps was all there was about him to designate his rank. In fact, aside from these, his uniform was that of a private soldier.

Lee, on the other hand, was fully six feet in height, and quite erect for one of his age, for he was Grant’s senior by sixteen years. His hair and full beard were silver-gray, and quite thick, except that the hair had become a little thin in the front. He wore a new uniform of Confederate gray, buttoned up to the throat, and at his side he carried a long sword of exceedingly fine workmanship, the hilt studded with jewels. His top-boots were comparatively new, and seemed to have on them some ornamental stitching of red silk. Like his uniform, they were singularly clean, and but little travel-stained. On the boots were handsome spurs, with large rowels. A felt hat, which in color matched pretty closely that of his uniform, and a pair of long buckskin gauntlets lay beside him on the table.” 

The two men talked briefly of their experiences in Mexico, including the one time the two men had met as young officers near Vera Cruz. Then Lee, with an emotion that can only be imagined, asked Grant to write out his terms for surrender.

Grant took out his order book, and began to write: 

“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them.”



At that point, according to the men who were there, General Grant gazed at General’s Lee and at his sword for almost a full minute. And then continued writing:

“This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”

Grant said later that after looking at Lee and thinking about the matter for a moment, he realized that it would be an unnecessary humiliation to require officers to surrender their swords,and that requiring members of the Confederate Army to lose their privately owned horses and mules would be a great hardship, because those animals would be badly needed to carry out the spring plowing and planting and to help rebuild the devastated South.So in the end, all officers and men were allowed to take their privately owned horses and mules home with them.

Lee read over the terms, which were as generous as he could have possibly wanted. He had fully expected that senior officers like himself might be arrested and prosecuted for treason on the spot, with Grant demanding unconditional surrender. 

So Lee took up a pen and wrote out a short note agreeing to the terms, which was officially recorded at 4 PM that same afternoon.

Grant immediately issued orders to send food rations to Lee’s starving army, and then Lee took his leave. From the account of General Porter:

“At a little before 4 o’clock General Lee shook hands with General Grant, bowed to the other officers, and with Colonel Marshall left the room. One after another we followed, and passed out to the porch. Lee signaled to his orderly to bring up his horse, and while the animal was being bridled the general stood on the lowest step and gazed sadly in the direction of the valley beyond where his army lay – now an army of prisoners. He smote his hands together a number of times in an absent sort of way; seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unconscious of everything about him. All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. The approach of his horse seemed to recall him from his reverie, and he at once mounted. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, and, moving toward him, saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present; Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded.”

As Lee rode away and the news of the surrender spread, the Union soldiers broke out in wild cheering. But as Grant recounted later, he ordered an immediate halt. “I at once sent word, however, to have it stopped,” he said. “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

[…]

Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia, 10th April 1865.

General Order
No. 9

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

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

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

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

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

— R. E. Lee, General, General Order No. 9

On April 12, the rain had stopped and the sun broke out, almost as if the heavens had allowed the southern officers and men an appropriate background to mourn over their dead and the Lost Cause, and then signaled that it was time to move on. Something like 28,000 Confederate soldiers passed by and stacked their arms on that day as the victorious Union Armies held a ceremony of surrender.

The Union officer chosen to lead the ceremony was not General Grant or any of the professional soldiers. Instead, it was Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain, the former Maine college professor who could justifiably be said to have won the Battle of Gettysburg, holding the left flank of Little Round Top at Gettysburg against all hope by leading the survivors of the 20th Maine in a successful bayonet charge down the south slope when they were almost out of ammunition to push the enemy troops out.

Chamberlain did an unusual thing for a victor in a hard won war, something that showed he was a man of rare courage and insight both on and off the battlefield. As the Confederate Army trooped by to stack arms, Chamberlain ordered his men to present arms in salute to their defeated enemies. As he recounted later in his book:

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


The passing of the dead..an interesting and moving phrase.

General Chamberlain, like many others who stood on the grounds of Appomattox that bright spring day day was undoubtedly thinking of the men left behind, and it is to his credit that he had the depth of empathy and understanding to see it from both sides. But that was then. At Appomattox today, you don’t find the ghosts you find in other civil war sites. No matter how bulldozed,cleaned up and changed the landscape is, the spirits of the dead remain in easy reach at those other places. But not at Appomattox.

Even the furnishings at the McLean House are mere replicas with no real history of their own.

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Appomattox today is a shrine to something else entirely.Not to the dead, but to the living, the ones who survived that great conflict that ran like a livid scar across the American landscape.

Just as there was a time of war, there came a time of peace. Just as there was a time of bitter divide and conflict,there came a time of healing, a time when men who had fought each other with an uncommon ferocity for four years remembered again that they were all still members of one American family with more in common than they realized.

That should give us hope in our own times, when morally bankrupt charlatans and their willing stooges seek to manipulate us, divide us and turn us against ourselves for their own power, enrichment and aggrandizement. 

Take a moment today, if you will, to remember what occurred that long ago, almost forgotten April day, what happened there. It’s something worth thinking about.

Appomattox: The Fire Is Quenched ~ J O S H U A P U N D I T.

I am going to add a bit more to this already too long article but realize that Grant (and later Sherman) as well as Chamberlain took their cue from President Lincoln, who shortly before had told Grant and Sherman to “let ’em up easy’. In fact very soon as word spread and a celebration was taking place in the evening in Washington, he came out and requested a tune from the band, it was this one

And so the Confederacy dissolved into the Lost Cause to be forever revered by Americans, not because of any of its beliefs but because brave Americans, so many of them, revered their freedom enough, on both sides to sell their lives at a very high price. And in the remembrance of glory we move forward to the point that by 1898 this could happen

Johnny Reb and Billy Yank; the twin images of America

 

Defending the Dream

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gett...

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gettysburg National Battlefield, Gettysburg, PA, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know, as do I, that America has never been a pile of rocks and dirt between the oceans. Whether your ancestors came over the Bering land bridge time out of memory ago, came on the Mayflower, came to escape starvation in Ireland to see the sign “No Irish need Apply”, came from old Mexico to work at a meat-packing plant, or got off a 777 last night; You are here because of a dream. Bevin Alexander said it as well as anybody.

Imagine, if you will, the sense of awe that seized the first settlers at Jamestown in Virginia, in 1607, at Plymouth in Massachusetts, and at the other landings along the coast of North America in the early decades of the seventeenth century. Here were little English communities hacking out perch sites on the very edge of an unknown land. … But when they finally reached the great chain of mountains called the Appalachians and gazed out from its heights, they were utterly confounded-before them an even more boundless, more astonishing land stretched out to seeming infinity toward the setting sun.

This was the moment when the American character was formed. Whatever limits of class and status the settlers had brought with them from Britain would fall away to insignificance in this prodigious land. When astute individuals looked toward the limitless frontier that they now knew would beckon continuously on the western horizon, they realized that no king, no aristocracy, could crush them. At any time they could cross this frontier and put all of Europe’s restraints behind them. This had immense and overwhelming effects throughout the colonies. Americans, whether they crossed the frontier or not, were destined to be forever free.

But to make dreams come true is hard work. And there are people around whose dreams would preclude yours. So dreams have to be defended. So it is with the American Dream. From that day to this, the dream has demanded that men, ordinary men, defend it. But the defending of dreams creates extraordinary men, and so it has been here.

On 19 April 1775, a shot was fired in Lexington, MA, no one knows by whom. That shot has echoed down the corridors of time for 237 years, and its reverberations continue. For that shot was a warning that God meant men to be free, and with God’s help, men, and women would be free. A few weeks before, a member of the House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry, in Virginia said this:

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace– but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

And so was the lamp lit in that fabled city on the hill that John Winthrop had spoken of all the way back in 1630.

…for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going:…

And so it came to pass that America would be free. It would not be perfect, ever, for America is a dream of man, not a work of God. But it would continually try to be, and it would improve. And it would come to pass that the lamp lighted in that city upon a hill would become a beacon to the world, so that today the world itself is far more free than on that blustery March day when Mr. Henry spoke.

But in the middle of the 19th century the dream nearly foundered on the rocks of two different interpretations of that freedom.

That conflict has often been said to have been about slavery but, deep down it wasn’t. Very few southerners defended slavery on moral grounds, they did on economic grounds but, in truth, they had little choice. A very high percentage of their capital was tied up in slaves, and that is why, even then, the south was lagging behind the north in industrialization. For it would be true that southern planters owned slaves, it is equally true that the slaves own their masters.

On the other side, there were some abolitionists, it is true but, they were fewer than one would think. In truth Abraham Lincoln himself said that while he would not countenance the extension of slavery he saw no method of abolishing it either. So what was left was Union or secession. That is what motivated the Armies, the proper road for the dream.

Those armies of America, The Army of Northern Virginia, The Army of the Potomac, The Army of the Tennessee, have become part of the soul of America, the dusty columns still march in our hearts. And the battles they fought: 1st & 2d Manassas, the Seven Days, Champions Hill, The artillery hell of Antietam, the burning wounded in the Wilderness, the misery of the Mule Shoe, and Cold Harbor. The taking of Missionary Ridge without orders because the enlisted men decided to do it, and finally that heart-wrenching scene at Wilmer McLean‘s house (where he had moved to get away from the armies at Bull Run) where General Grant met General Lee and Lee surrendered that most romantic of American Armies, the Army of Northern Virginia, under terms inspired by Lincoln’s advice to Grant to “Let ’em up easy”. And so the Army not so much surrendered as passed directly into legend for all Americans. An Army that fought until it was living on acorns, knowing it couldn’t win, but fighting for its beliefs.

Who amongst us can forget the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, on the second day of Gettysburg (from the inscription on the monument.

On the afternoon of July 2, 1863 Sickles’ Third Corps, having advanced from this line to the Emmitsburg Road, eight companies of the First Minnesota Regiment, numbering 262 men were sent to this place to support a battery upon Sickles repulse.

As his men were passing here in confused retreat, two Confederate brigades in pursuit were crossing the swale. To gain time to bring up the reserves & save this position, Gen Hancock in person ordered the eight companies to charge the rapidly advancing enemy.

The order was instantly repeated by Col Wm Colvill. And the charge as instantly made down the slope at full speed through the concentrated fire of the two brigades breaking with the bayonet the enemy’s front line as it was crossing the small brook in the low ground there the remnant of the eight companies, nearly surrounded by the enemy held its entire force at bay for a considerable time & till it retired on the approach of the reserve the charge successfully accomplished its object. It saved this position & probably the battlefield. The loss of the eight companies in the charge was 215 killed & wounded. More than 83% percent. 47 men were still in line & no man missing. In self sacrificing desperate valor this charge has no parallel in any war. Among the severely wounded were Col Wm Colvill, Lt Col Chas P Adams & Maj Mark W. Downie. Among the killed Capt Joseph Periam, Capt Louis Muller & Lt Waldo Farrar. The next day the regiment participated in repelling Pickett’s charge losing 17 more men killed & wounded.

The very next day, for the very last time, was displayed the grim majesty and pomp of war in the old style, as the center of the Army of Northern Virginia attacked in close order under General Pickett, and was repulsed, the high tide bringing General Armistead to die with his hand on a Union gun.

There are many other actions that we could tell of equal bravery on either side. This was merely 150 years ago, and yet, many have not heard of the glory of these men who were willing to suffer more than 83% casualties in battle, and were in line the next day to receive the most famous of American charges.

These were the men that Decoration Day was instituted to honor. Do we still honor them?

Also note that during the Seven Days battles in Virginia it was not possible to fire the volleys requisite to military funerals, a tradition going back to the Roman Legions shouting “Vale” three times in burying their comrades. A substitute had to be found, it was, Colonel Dan Butterfield wrote a new call for his buglers to sound. It has been sounded millions of times since to mark the end of the day and the burial of the soldier. This is it of course.

One thing that I like in the British tradition is that at this type of ceremony, say Remembrance Day, when Last Post (British Taps equivalent) is sounded, after a moment of silence, Reveille is sounded, signifying the resurrection of the dead.

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