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.”

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.

Happy Independence Day

English: Depiction of the flag of the Philippi...

English: Depiction of the flag of the Philippines, as conceived by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Created with Inkscape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Huh, what? Is that what I hear you saying? Today is Independence Day, in the Philippines, they celebrated yesterday, by the way. It’s sort of a weird holiday, in my opinion.

You see, the Philippines declared their independence on 12 June 1898, about a month after the Battle of Manila Bay between the U.S. Asiatic Squadron and the Spanish Pacific Squadron. The problem is that neither the United States nor Spain recognized it. The Treaty of Paris (1898) gave control of the Philippines to the United States which granted them their independence on 4 July 1946. It was postponed by the World War II occupation by Imperial Japan..

It could hardly have been otherwise in the atmosphere of 1898, although it may was not have been the most moral choice ever made by the United States. This is true because the Philippines set dead athwart almost all of the trade routes in the Western Pacific. You see, the Imperial German fleet was already nosing around in Manila Bay, and the Japanese weren’t far behind. The United States took control, with the urging of the British. It was undoubtedly the right decision, for both nations, although it led to a nasty guerrilla war, the so-called Philippine Insurrection. This war was so nasty that it led John Moses Browning to develop the Model 1905 .45 ACP Pistol (the predecessor of the 1911) to increase the last-ditch defensive strength of the American Soldier.

I think it is well to also remember the Filipino people were incredibly stout allies under very harsh conditions during World War 2. A great people who got caught in the tides and currents of great power politics and wars.

You may fire when ready, Gridley,

The Battle of Manila Bay was pretty one-sided, as were all the naval battles in this war. There was nothing wrong with the courage of the Imperial Spanish Navy but, the were severely under trained and supplied, partially due to corruption. Here is a description from Wikipedia.

The U.S. squadron swung in front of the Spanish ships and forts in line ahead, firing their port guns. They then turned and passed back, firing their starboard guns. This process was repeated five times, each time closing the range from 5,000 yards to 2,000 yards. The Spanish forces had been alerted, and most were ready for action, but they were heavily outgunned. Eight Spanish ships, the land batteries, and the forts returned fire for two and a half hours although the range was too great for the guns on shore. Five other small Spanish ships were not engaged.

Montojo accepted that his cause was hopeless and ordered his ships to ram the enemy if possible. He then slipped the Cristina’s cables and charged. Much of the American fleet’s fire was then directed at her and she was shot to pieces. Of the crew of 400, more than 200, including Montojo, were casualties and only two men remained who were able to man her guns. The ship managed to return to shore and Montojo ordered it to be scuttled. The Castilla, which only had guns on the port side, had her forward cable shot away causing her to swing about, presenting her weaponless starboard side. The captain then ordered her sunk and abandoned. The Ulloa was hit by a shell at the waterline that killed her captain and disabled half the crew. The Luzon had three guns out of action but was otherwise unharmed. The Duero lost an engine and had only one gun left able to fire.

Contemporary colored print, showing USS Olympia in the left foreground, leading the U.S. Asiatic Squadron in destroying the Spanish fleet off Cavite. A vignette portrait of Rear Admiral George Dewey is featured in the lower left.

At 7:45 a.m., after Captain Gridley messaged Dewey that only 15 rounds of 5″ ammunition remained per gun, he ordered an immediate withdrawal. To preserve morale, he informed the crews that the halt in the battle was to allow the crews to have breakfast.[8] According to an observer on the Olympia, At least three of his (Spanish) ships had broken into flames but so had one of ours. These fires had all been put out without apparent injury to the ships. Generally speaking, nothing of great importance had occurred to show that we had seriously injured any Spanish vessel. Montojo took the opportunity to now move his remaining ships into Bacoor Bay where they were ordered to resist for as long as possible.

A captains’ conference on the Olympia revealed little damage and no men killed. It was discovered that the original ammunition message had been garbled – instead of only 15 rounds of ammunition per gun remaining, the message had meant to say only 15 rounds of ammunition per gun had been expended. During the conference reports arrived that sounds of exploding ammunition had been heard and fires sighted on the Cristina and Castilla. At 10:40 AM action was resumed but the Spanish offered little resistance and Montojo issued orders for the remaining ships to be scuttled and the breechblocks of their guns taken ashore. The Olympia, Baltimore and Boston then fired on the Sangley Point battery putting it out of action and followed up by sinking the Ulloa. The Concord fired on the transport Mindanao, whose crew immediately abandoned ship. The Petrel fired on the government offices next to the arsenal and a white flag was raised over the building after which all firing ceased. The Spanish colors were struck at 12:40 PM.

One of the reasons we should remember this battle is that this was the début of the United States as a world power, only 112 years ago. The United States and especially the US Navy and Marines performed very well. Thus we have the sight of a brand new world power totally defeating the oldest of world powers decisively, although the Spanish Empire had been in decline since the Battle of the Armada in 1588. Thus 310 years after the victory of the nascent Royal Navy over the Armada, the American cousins drove the famous Orange and Red war ensign of Spain from the sea.

I do want to note that the Protected Cruiser USS Olympia is preserved in Philadelphia, and is very interesting to visit. Also note this again from Wikipedia.

Dewey’s flagship, the Olympia, was preserved as a museum ship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the Independence Seaport Museum (formerly the Philadelphia Maritime Museum). However, in 2011 the Independence Seaport Museum launched an effort to identify new stewards for the Cruiser and announced that the Cruiser will be scrapped or scuttled unless a new owner can be found.

I think that this ship that was present at the dawn of America’s world power needs to be preserved.

Also note that the Philippine government moved their Independence Day celebration from 4 July to 12 June in 1962. They found it more appropriate to celebrate their Declaration of Independence than to celebrate the voluntary withdrawal of American colonial power. I find that entirely right and proper, since Independence cannot be granted, but only won, and held.

Happy Independence Day to our Filipino friends.

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.

Modern War, an American Invention

Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan rallying troops at the...

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes we forget who we are and where we came from, or our teachers never bothered to teach us that part of history. For the space of this article I’m going to ask my southern readers to forgive me because I’m going to speak well of Union officers without equal time to the Confederates (I promise I’ll get to them too, they’re part of the same story).

What really happened in the Civil War is that America (both North and South) taught the world what modern war was going to be like. We really did. If you read Captain Sir Basil Liddel-Hart, or J.F.C Fuller, or von Moltke, or even Guderian, you’ll find lessons drawn directly from the American Civil War, and that doesn’t even include the mobility lessons that the Army of the Potomac taught the German General Staff, Porter Alexander’s Corps Artillery, the Union’s aerial reconnaissance. Nor does it include the open tactics (that the enlisted men on both sides) devised to give themselves a chance to live (with some help from their officers, R.E. Lee wasn’t called “The King of Spades” for nothing) or the armored, turreted warship, or many other things. Modern industrialized war is an American invention. And never forget that these things were paid for in blood, lots of blood. The hardest war Americans ever fought was against Americans.

The reason I’m bringing this up today is that we are sitting in the middle of a guerrilla campaign in Afghanistan, even as we were in Vietnam. It’s not the first or second time we’ve been there. As usual we learned all about it from other Americans. Of course, times have changed, in those days we fought wars to win them, not for whatever purpose we are still in Afghanistan.

Look at a map of Virginia and find the Shenandoah River Valley. If you don’t have one handy here’s Shenandoah Valley and Mountains.pdf. You will note that the Shenandoah Valley points almost directly towards Washington D.C. while there’s not much worth taking an army the other way. This was a problem all through the war for the Union, and finally in 1864. U.S. Grant decided it was time to solve it. Grant being Grant he didn’t have much use for nation building and when he decided to cure it he did.

He being the Lieutenant General knew that it didn’t call for his personal attention, so he delegated it to a young man. This was a man by the name of Major General Phillip Sheridan, then commanding the cavalry in the Army of the Potomac and Grant took some heat from Halleck and Stanton because he was young but, he insisted.

Grant gave these instructions to Sheridan:

Leave nothing to invite the enemy to return. Destroy whatever cannot be consumed. Let the valley be left so the crows flying over will have to carry their rations along with them.

Sheridan and his Army of the Shenandoah started off rather slowly, at least partially because of presidential politics, he fought a lot of battles against Jubal Early, hurting him badly. But Early was a good general too and managed a surprise attack at Cedar Creek routing two-thirds of Sheridan’s Army, leading to his famous ride on Rienzi as he rallied the troops.

After this battle the valley got pretty quiet as Sheridan carried out those orders. So much so that this time has come down to us in Confederate lore as “The Burning”. It very clearly presaged GEN Sherman’s “March to the Sea” and was very much a harbinger of the end of the war.

Now how does this relate to Afghanistan? Starving men and charred corpses make lousy guerrillas, if you are going to pacify an area you might as well get on with it. We taught the world how to do this but we seem to have forgotten.

What do you suppose would happen if those orders were given to CENTCOM to carry out in the AFPAK? Are the Afghanis and Pakistanis more important to keep alive than fellow Americans?

If you’d like to know more about the valley campaign here is a link to Wikipedia’s article, it’s pretty general but, an OK start.

 

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