Archive for the ‘civil war’ tag
— Thomas Lavin (@TomLavinNH) November 12, 2012
Interestingly but not surprisingly, among the petitions for various states to leave the union, South Carolina’s petition is the only one that does not include the word “peacefully.” Apparently, the spirit of 1861 is alive and well.
We’ll still call this year’s friendly reading competition an “office” read-off, even though Blake and I are unfortunately not in the same office anymore since I changed jobs in February and moved to another state. In any case, I’m way behind so far this year after getting a little bogged down in “Madison and Jefferson,” the review of which you can read here.
I’m at 3,265 pages so far this year, which I think is a little behind this point last year. He’s way above that, so yeah, the situation on my end is a bit grim at this point. I’m trusting that he might get bogged down later this year, but if things progress as they are right now, I will get smoked.
Here are the books I’ve finished thus far in 2012:
- “Grant” by Jean Edward Smith, 628 pages, finished late January (minus 200 pages read in 2011)
- “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara, 374 pages, finished Feb. 12
- “General Lee’s Army: From Victory To Collapse” by Joseph Glatthaar, 475 pages
- “This Mighty Scourge” by James McPherson, 272 pages
- “State of Denial” by Bob Woodward, 491 pages, finished April 2
- “The Greatest Show On Earth” by Richard Dawkins, 437 pages, started late March, finished May 13
- “Madison and Jefferson” by Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, 644 pages, started May 16, finished July 21
- “From the Temple to the Castle” by Lee Morrissey, 144 pages, started May 13, finished July 22
Total: 3,265 pages as of July 23.
I’m a little behind on the page count from last year at this time, but I’m pretty confident that I can have a strong rest of the year. “Madison and Jefferson,” which was very good, but to me, it was a bit longer than it needed to be and kind of dragged me down. I’m excited about the books that I have in the works.
You know it’s been awhile when, just out of curiosity — I did this 30 seconds ago — you have to load your own website into the browser just to make sure you’re still up and running.
Looks like we are still live. That said, I will explain briefly the nature of this much too long hiatus. First, I moved to a different state and to a new job. As such, I wasn’t online for a good portion of that hiatus. As it turns out, AT&T’s promised “self-installation” U-verse package doesn’t quite live up to the billing. Second, and this is the real kicker, I write more, much more, at the new job. Thus, my creative energies get utilized more throughout the day rather than just for 30 minutes or an hour late at night and half-medicated on port. Third, I really enjoy Madden 12. Don’t get me wrong. I suck at it, but I have slowly been climbing my way out of the gutter. Thus, instead of being 20 games behind .500, I am now about 10 back. That’s what we call progress. Fourth, I really enjoy reading long and verbose accounts of the Civil War. And it wouldn’t much matter if I liked it or not at this point. I’m now entrenched in the 2012 office read-off, except this time, Blake and I happen to be in different offices. But I’m sure that won’t stop us from slogging our through one obscure book after another.
So, yes. I’ve been slacking off with regard to this site. Fresher posts are forthcoming. I hope. I never have quite been able to reach my goal of one or more post every single day, and I don’t know if I will. We’ll still call it a goal, but I’m afraid if I commit to it for sure, one hobby will just have to go. Did I mention I’ve been studying some calculations in order to improve my skills at Texas Hold’em? Good use of my time, I know.
The presidency changed neither Ulysses S. Grant’s approach to leadership, nor his character. In the White House, Grant exhibited the same even-tempered ability to guide the nation through eight years of tensions after the Civil War as he did in his most important victories on the battlefield at Fort Donelson, Vicksburg and Appomattox.
His has been, perhaps, one of the most underrated presidencies in American history, as charges of cronyism have rung down through the decades, but the facts remain: Grant kept the nation from certain turmoil during one of its most volatile, postwar periods, when Nathaniel Bedford Forest’s Ku Klux Klan was attempting to wreak havoc in the South, when southern leaders simply traded one form of racial oppression for another and when America was on the brink of war with Spain. As president, Grant signed civil rights legislation, oversaw the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and set up America as an arbitrator on the world stage. After a failed third term campaign, Grant toured the world to much fanfare from Japan and China and Russia, thus serving as a kind of “coming out party” for the nation for which he had fought so nobly years earlier.
Clearly, Grant’s presidency was not without accusations of scandal. Perhaps the most famous affair was Black Friday, in which gold speculators Jay Gould and James Fisk seduced Grant’s brother-in-law, Abel Corbin, and assistant treasurer Daniel Butterfield into the action. While Grant was never directly linked to the scandal to use the government to raise the price of gold for speculative purchasing, Butterfield and Corbin were the real and unsuspecting culprits, with Gould pulling the strings in the background. With the price of gold eventually reaching a little less than $160, Harris Fahnestock of Jay Cooke and Company was among bankers wiring telegraphs to Washington calling for government intervention:
Immediate interference in this gold market is imperative. Exchange of four millions gold for bonds immediately done would change current at once. Otherwise, advance [in the price of gold] is indefinite.
Fully aware of the gravity of the situation, treasury secretary George Boutwell suggested to Grant that the government buy $3 million in gold from the New York subtreasury. In characteristic coolness, one can imagine Grant uttering this terse command:
I think you had better make it five million.
And what of Fisk and Gould? Jennie and Abel Corbin made a special trip from New York to appeal to Grant to help Corbin’s his now-suffering friends who had played too heavy a hand in their speculative ventures. Smith recounts the episode in elucidating detail:
Grant listened politely, puffed on his cigar, and then rose from his chair, cutting his brother-in-law off in mid-sentence. ‘This matter has been concluded,’ the president said. ‘I cannot open up or consider the subject.’ The United States, for the first time, had intervened massively to bring order to the marketplace. It was a watershed in the history of the American economy.
Here is Grant at his presidential best, and Smith at his authoritative best: Grant, displaying the same decisive adroitness that carried many a crucial battle in the Civil War and Smith painting a sharp image of his subject’s calm demeanor and simple logic.
In “This Mighty Scourge, ” historian James McPherson leaves it to Union general John Schofield to give the best account of the driving force behind Grant’s decisiveness under pressure:
It is one thing to describe Grant’s calmness under pressure, his ability to size up a situation quickly, and his decisiveness in action. It is quite another to explain the inner sources of these strengths. Ultimately, as Sherman noted, the explanation must remain a mystery. … Schofield noted that the most extraordinary quality of Grant’s ‘extraordinary character’ was ‘its extreme simplicity—so extreme that many have entirely overlooked it in their search for some deeply hidden secret to account for so great a character, unmindful that simplicity is one of the most prominent attributes of greatness.’ Grant made it look easy.
Grant, who left the active campaigning to others during the 1868 election, did not receive the Republican nomination for a third term. As Smith said, he was relieved, telling John Russell Young that the happiest day of his life was when he left Washington. “I felt like a boy getting out of school,” Grant said. Smith concludes the biography with the words of James Garfield:
No American has carried greater fame out of the White House than this silent man who leaves it today.
As Smith well notes, Grant wrote his memoirs while watching the clock and dying of cancer. Despite Grant’s circumstances while gathering his thoughts, historians have described the memoirs as lucid and engaging. “Action verbs predominate:,” Smith said. ‘move … engage … start … attack.:’”
Grant is generous with praise and sparing with criticism. He admits mistakes: ‘I have always regretted that last attack at Cold Harbor was made …. No advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.’
Further, McPherson wrote about Grant’s work:
To read the Personal Memoirs with a knowledge of the circumstances under which Grant wrote them is to gain insight into the reasons for his military success.
In “Grant” through Smith we see a man who seems void of most, if not all, of the contemptible qualities that we can recognize in less backboned leaders: disloyal, dishonest, fake, egotistical and pompous. For all of his accomplishments in the Civil War and in the White House, perhaps Grant can be granted a notch or two of slack for his one obvious character flaw: loyalty to a fault.
In any case, we can credit Smith for bringing the full breath of Grant’s life into crystal clear view in the most digestible, accessible biography I have ever read.
Here are eight of the books that are on the docket for this year. I’m planning to continue in Civil War and revolutionary history but also have the urge to venture a little more into literature this year. I’m especially compelled to read some of the works that Christopher Hithens has reviewed in the last five or so years, reviews that were published in his most recent collection, “Arguably.”
Books in 2012
One can see this not-undeserved admiration for Grant in Smith’s opening to the chapter titled, “Appomattox,” in which readers learn about Grant’s revolutionary strategy to move his forces around Lee’s main line of entrenchments to the east and then south to cross the James River in an attempt to roll up the Confederacy’s right flank.
In December 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, General George Patton broke contact with the enemy to his front, wheeled 90 degrees north, and took the Third Army on a forced march parallel to the line of battle to extricate the 101st Airborne at Bastogne. It was a perilous maneuver and an incredible tactical achievement, and it in no way diminishes Patton’s accomplishment to say that it pales alongside Grant’s withdrawal from Cold Harbor and his crossing of the James in June 1864.
One reason that Smith said it paled in comparison to Grant’s maneuver is likely because the blue coats did it some 80 years before Patton in a far less technologically advanced military era. Grant’s plan was also an extremely risky one. Had Lee moved against Grant as the latter’s forces headed southward, Lee could have nipped at Grant’s heels and took apart Federal troops piecemeal. Lee could not have anticipated what Grant was up to, however, and the Army of the Potomac successfully made it to the James.
This critical point in the eastern campaign, and one that would ultimately decide the outcome of the entire war and save the Union was indicative of Grant’s abilities on the field of battle. Fearless, cool under pressure and relentlessly fixated on the offensive, the general deserves our admiration as a commander exactly because he was a foil to the rather lifeless and immovable likes of McClellan, McDowell and Hooker. “Fightin Joe” Hooker, McClellan and Grant’s other predecessors were mostly failures with only intermittent successes in the east. Only until Grant arrived from the west did Lincoln know that he had a general who would at long last put the fight to Lee. And fight he did. The brutality with which Grant and Lee hit each other in the Wilderness, at Spotsylvania and at Cold Harbor is hard to overstate. By that point in the war, both Grant and Lincoln knew that nothing short of all-out war would defeat Lee’s forces, and Grant said in 1864 that
I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.
Smith not only captures Grant’s adeptness in the field and his humble presentation — Grant could rarely be distinguished by his dress from his subordinates — but also the chilling scenes that greeted combatants on both sides that took place in the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania. “The slaughter was unrelenting,” Smith said about the battlefield at Spotsylvania:
So too was the rain, turning trench floors into an oozy much where the dead and the wounded were trampled out of sight by men fighting for their lives.
This was the world in which Grant so unflinchingly operated, and this is the world and the life of the man Smith recalls with engaging lucidity and detail. I am as yet a little more than halfway through the work, but if it ends as it began, Smith’s “Grant” may go down as one of the most accessible and enjoyable histories I have ever read. On Grant, it is already the most significant.
OK, so I don’t have an exact page count for both of us — we both teetered out a little toward the end of the year — but in the office read-off between Blake and myself, we completed somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,500 pages apiece totaling 21 books each. Without further adieu, here are our towers side by side in the order with which we completed them (books on the bottom were read near the beginning of 2011):
My tower on the right is missing “Tried By War” by McPherson because a pal of ours is currently reading it. And to answer the most immediate question that may surface about this post: yes, judging from the rather dense material above, we’ve got problems.
In any case, here is my list for 2011:
- “Positivist Republic: Auguste Comte and the Reconstruction of American Liberalism, 1865-1920″ – Gillis Harp – 264
- “Letter to a Christian Nation” – Sam Harris (reread) – 114
- “John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights” – David S. Reynolds – 592
- “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho – 165
- “Middlemarch: A study of Provincial Life” by George Eliot – 794
- “1491″ – 403
- “Thomas Jefferson Vs. Religious Oppression” – 150
- “Night” by Elie Weisel – 120
- “1421: The Year China Discovered America” by Gaven Menzies – 491, finished in spring
- “From Sea to Shining Sea: From the War of 1812 to the Mexican War, the Saga of America’s Expansion” by Robert Leckie – 623, finished in late spring
- “The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson” by Charles B. Sanford – 179, finished in summer
- “Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief” by James McPherson – 384, finished in summer
- “Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution in the Antebellum South” by Albert Raboteau – 321, finished in summer
- “Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society” by John Andrew III – 199, finished in august
- “Union 1812: The Americans who Fought the Second War of Independence” by A.J. Langguth – 409, finished 9/7/11 = 5208
- “Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788″ by Pauline Maier – 489, finished 10/2/11 = 5697
- “The Federalist Papers” by Madison, Hamilton and Jay – 527, finished 10/30/11 = 6224
- “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism” by Susan Jacoby – 370
- “The Theory of the Leisure Class” by Thorstein Veblen – 400 = 6994
- “Erewhon” by Samuel Butler – 260
- “The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution 1781-1788″ by Jackson Turner Main – 286 = 7540 (21 books)
I nominate “Ratification” as the de facto best book that I’ve read this year, with “From Sea to Shining Sea” coming in second and “Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society” at a close third. My personal favorite was “John Brown: Abolitionist,” and my proudest achievement this year would be, of course, “Middlemarch.” Shew. Looks like I’ll have to bring out the heavy guns this year to top that. Maybe some Edward Gibbon is in order.
My body’s rackin’ with pain,
I ‘lieve I’m a chile of God,
And this ain’t my home,
‘Cause Heaven’s my aim. — slave hymn
The relationship between plantation owners in the antebellum South and their slaves provides a glaring example of how passages in the Bible have been cherry-picked by various groups to justify all kinds of actions and ideologies. Probably most consequential and most detrimental to human decency are passages that either condone slavery or provide rules that govern the master-slave relationship. One of the areas of study in which I am most interested is antebellum America because it is in this era that the issue of race was the most tense and had a critical capacity to, and indeed did, rip the nation apart. It also in this period of American history that Christian doctrine was pulled in opposite directions to justify, or at the least to validate, the existence of slavery at one end of the spectrum, and on the other end, to rail against the peculiar institution.
“Slave Religion: The Invisible Institution in Antebellum America” by Albert Raboteau, explores how African born slaves and their later American descendants came to view Christianity in this country, how some adopted the relatively “new” religion that wouldn’t have been terribly foreign to their forefathers in Africa because of various related elements and how slave religion in America evolved its own unique method of worship that was — and one is hardly surprised at this — often mocked or at least described in derogatory terms by white observers.
The issue of national sovereignty of the United States over the states is “indistinct, simple, and inflexible. … It is an issue which can only be tried by war, and decided by victory.” — Abraham Lincoln, 1864
“If Lincoln had been a failure, he would have lived a longer life.” — James McPherson on John Wilkes Booth’s promise to “put him through” while listening to a victory speech from Lincoln on April 11, 1865
Unlike other Lincoln biographies, which typically focus on his stance and political efforts to abolish slavery, his assassination, his humble upbringings and other topics, few, as McPherson points out, have delved specifically into Lincoln’s role as commander in chief. He was in the War Department, for instance, sending off messages and commands to his generals in the field almost more than he was anywhere else in his four-year tenure. He was the only commander in chief whose entire presidency up to that point was bookended by war. He guided the nation through the most perilous and bloody era it has ever known. This book tackles the challenges Lincoln faced in dealing with his often-slow-moving generals (i.e. McClellan, Hooker and Rosecrans), riots in New York, black troops in the military and the long effort to defeat Lee and capture Richmond, Atlanta, Vicksburg and other Confederate strongholds.
The book depicts a president intricately involved with the movements of his troops on the battlefield. Lincoln was not a military scientist, so he studiously took up the task of self-learning strategy and often dictated to his generals how he wanted Lee’s and other armies to be pursued and quelled. Unfortunately for Lincoln, McClellan and numerous generals in succession often languished in the field, constantly asking for more troops and supplies before they could proceed, all the while, Lincoln goading them to get moving. One of the most disappointing failures of McClellan was his dilly-dallying in letting Lee escape in the Shenandoah Valley campaign.
Within the Veil was he born, said I; and there within shall he live, — a Negro and a Negro’s son. Holding in that little head — ah, bitterly! — the unbowed pride of a hunted race, clinging with that tiny dimpled hand — ah, wearily! — to a hope not hopeless but unhopeful, and seeing with those bright wondering eyes that peer into my soul a land whose freedom is to us a mockery and whose liberty is a lie. — W.E.B. Dubois, “The Souls of Black Folk”
I realize I’m a few days late posting anything on this, but Tuesday was a 12-hour war of attrition at work, and I didn’t get around to writing anything until today.
Nevertheless, for anyone who may have been living under a rock for the past couple weeks, Tuesday marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. On April 12, 1861, the confederate shots bombarded Fort Sumter off the coast of Charleston, S.C. Nearly four years to the day and 500,000 dead troops later, Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865. Four years and two days after the start of the war, Lincoln was shot by the firebrand, John Wilkes Booth, at Ford's Theatre in Washington.
As an original resident of South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union, I am interested in examining both the causes of the Civil War and the effects from the fallout. My Civil War professor at Clemson University, Paul Anderson, supplied me and my fellow history students with this pithy summation of the root causes of the War Between the States:
Both slavery and anti-slavery caused the Civil War.
Southern aristocrats and politicians, of course, were fighting for the extension of slavery into the territories and for the continuation of slavery in the South, the South’s economy being almost exclusively dependent on the peculiar institution. That’s not to say that the North didn’t have a stake in the preservation of slavery. It was both a purchaser of Southern goods and an implicit participant in the slave trade, as slaves would often be brought to America on Northern ships. I’m sure Northern ship owners profited mightily from this enterprise.
the unique aristocratic tone of the state’s politics and culture.
Against that backdrop, the loss of Charleston signaled the immediate end of the slaveholding Confederacy, but it also ushered in a second kind of civil war, an internal struggle between the antique ethic and a newer, empowered force of democracy.
Many Southerners today talk a lot about the issue of states’ rights and how the start of the Civil War was, in part, fueled by the federal government encroaching on state sovereignty. While states’ rights was on the minds of Southern leaders, they were thinking of states’ rights to preserve slavery and fight for its extension into the territories. There was simply no other main cause of the war. All other purported “causes” dreamed up by Southerners today attempting to soften the legacy of their ancestors are subsets of the main cause. Lincoln’s first inaugural address, which was devoted almost entirely to the issue of slavery, makes this abundantly clear:
One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.
Southern leaders prior to the war and afterward, shook in their trousers at the thought of four million black people previously subjugated by rich whites. Thus, in the aftermath of the Civil War, a “new kind of civil war” commenced, as Anderson puts it, between the struggle mentioned above. South Carolina’s 1895 constitution signaled the
shotgun wedding of democracy and white supremacy.
And a new kind of subjugation, then, persisted for another 100 years following the end of the war in the form of the Black Codes and Jim Crow. It’s a sad commentary that we, as a nation, took so long to recognize the true liberty of four million other human beings who played no small part — mostly against their will and without compensation — in helping build the economic foundation of our-still young country in the 19th century. The 150th anniversary should be as much about honoring their legacy as remembering the half million people who died for their respective causes.