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The Code of Conduct and International Sculpture Day

For today, a small mea culpa.  Last week I posted nothing because I simply could not find anything to say about the day’s events in history, nor could I find an national or international day worth my (limited) time.  Call it a lack of effort or call it over-scheduling, but I really had other things to do.

But today, we honor the Lieber Code, also known as General Orders No. 100, Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field,  signed by President Lincoln on 24 April 1863.  It replaced the old Articles of War from 1806 in US service, and is often seen as a link in a long chain of laws, codes and regulatory nostrums that aim at controlling battle zone chaos.  While the content of the code is not strictly intended to control the heat of battle but the treatment of prisoners of war, deserters and escaped slaves, Lieber still wanted to shape the conduct of those doing the fighting.   The Lieber Code went on to international renown, and was adopted almost whole into the Hague Convention of 1907.  While Franz Lieber, the legal scholar/author, was no stranger to combat having fought at Waterloo, his (and other) efforts at legal regulation of warfare recall a more noble, less savage and polarized age, where artillery was discrete cannonballs that could politely mow down a file of infantry, not block-blasting explosive reapers. Politics, economics, technology, and the roots of ideology have changed the face of war since 1815 well beyond the means for mere courts and their well-meaning laws to regulate.  The best that can be said of any “laws of land warfare” is that the make for good arguments at post-war trials.  War makes its own laws, and success will always be justified, while the losing side is tried under whatever laws the winner chooses.

Which brings us to International Sculpture Day…not.  While Lieber is not known to have been immortalized in bronze or stone Lincoln was, and so was Erich Raeder (whose birthday was on this day in 1876).  Celebrated annually on 24 April since 2014, International Sculpture Day was intended to celebrate sculpture in all its various forms and formats, even those that look like various odd bits of junk welded together.  While I understand that “art” is often intended to be controversial, must it always shock? The featured illustration today is “The Calling” by Mark di Suero, and has been a conversation piece since its unveiling in 1981.  What it seems to be calling is a mystery, but it;s alternate name “Sunburst,” more captures its appearance.  What “conversation” it is supposed to start is unknown.  There are other examples, but you get the idea.

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Coincidence at Shiloh and Encourage a Young Writer Day

There are many coincidences for 10 April: the creation of the first Jewish Ghetto in Venice in 1516 and the liberation of Buchenwald in 1945; the establishment of the US Patent system in 1790 and the patenting of the safety pin in 1849; Congress authorizing the increase of the number of Supreme Court justices from seven to nine in 1869 (you are forgiven if you thought the number was in the Constitution–because it isn’t) and the imminent swearing-in of Neil Gorsuch some time this week.  But today we talk about two Civil War generals with notable events on the same day after the same battle–Shiloh–and writers.

On 10 April 1827, Lew Wallace was born in Brookville, Indiana. Early in life he loved to write and aspired to martial glory, but missed any chance for battle as a regimental adjutant in the 1st Indiana Infantry. As a practicing lawyer and newsman Wallace rose in the political ranks.  He also founded the Montgomery (Indiana) Guards as a Zouave outfit in the winter of 1859-60, which was rolled into the 11th Indiana Infantry after Lincoln issued his call for volunteers in 1861.

Lew Wallace quickly won promotion as Brigadier General of Volunteers after the brief West Virginia campaign, and was sent west to join US Grant’s command.  He won accolades at Fort Donelson, where he commanded a division.  By April 1862, Lew Wallace, William Sherman, John McClernand, WHL Wallace, Benjamin Prentiss and Stephen Hurlbut were all commanding divisions in the vicinity of Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River when the Confederates under Albert Johnston attacked on Sunday morning, 6 April 1862.

But Lew Wallace was two hours’ march downriver (north), encamped at Crump’s Landing.  Warned by Grant personally to be ready to move (not, as some sources insist, told to move) that morning, Lew Wallace finally received instructions to join Grant’s desperate fight at about 10:00.  He began to move his division on a route that he and Sherman had worked out…but that Grant and his staff knew nothing of.  Badgered by several staff officers for his apparent slowness, Lew Wallace finally put his division on a different route, which took longer, and joined Grant’s army about an hour after the fighting stopped.

During that desperate fight, the division commanded by William Wallace–an Illinois lawyer–was in the thick of the fighting.  William Wallace took command of this division because of the infirmity of Charles Smith, who was dying of sepsis. William Wallace  and his men joined the remnant’s of Prentiss’ division and the fresh units of Hurlbut’s in the defense of the Federal left wing–that later came to be known as the Hornet’s Nest–at about 9:00 on Sunday morning.  For the next hellish hours the Federals withstood at least thirteen Confederate brigade-size assaults. As the day waned, Hurlbut and much of the artillery withdrew out of ammunition, the water and ammo situation with the remnants of the Hornet’s Nest reached a breaking point and both Prentiss and William Wallace ordered withdrawal.  Some made it out, but neither Prentiss himself nor William Wallace were among the escapees.  Prentiss was taken prisoner, and William Wallace was wounded in the head, left for dead.

But William Wallace wasn’t dead, and was left by the Confederates the next day when they retreated.  He lingered until 10 April, when he died in his wife Ann’s arms…on fellow Shiloh division commander Lew Wallace’s 35th birthday.  Charles Smith died fifteen days later in the same mansion.

Lew Wallace would become known as a writer.  In 1880, he published Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, to great popularity then, continuous publication since, translation into nearly all human languages (including Coptic and, as an exercise, Esperanto), six different film treatments, and a TV mini-series in the 20th century.  As a young man Lew Wallace was encouraged in his writing, and as such I also honor him on 10 April on National Encourage a Young Writer Day.

Now, no one seems clear on when or where this national day started, but if I were to declare that it’s because it’s also Lew Wallace’s birthday, who would dispute it?

Well, agree or not, there’s lots more about the Wallaces and Shiloh in The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War.


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Boss Tweed and National Tweed Day

Well, at least it’s original.  Although I could talk about the Pony Express in 1860, or the fall of Richmond in 1865, the beginning of the Marshall Plan in 1948 or the arrest of the Unabomber in 1996, today I talk about political corruption and clothing material. Why not?

William Magear Tweed was born on 3 April 1823 in New York City, son of a Scottish chair-maker on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In time he became a volunteer fireman a, a Mason and an Odd Fellow.  In the mid-19th century, volunteer firemen were…different… from what they would become when they professionalized in the early 20th century.  The were highly competitive, often associated with street gangs and the violence that came with them.  They were also hotbeds of political coercion.  Tweed became an alderman in 1851 and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1852 but served a single, undistinguished term.  But in 1858, Tweed was appointed to the New York City Board of Supervisors, while he ran the Seventh Ward as a ward heeler for the Democratic political machine called Tammany Hall.  He became Boss Tweed in April 1864 when he was elected Grand Sachem of Tammany.

Starting in 1858, Tweed was getting kickbacks from those he helped get city jobs, buy land, start businesses, or in some cases even stay in business.  His income was prodigious, even for a plutocrat: at its peak his net worth was probably about $10 million 1870 dollars, and he probably skimmed at least $100 million from his various corrupt dealings over a span of ten years. By the time he was elected to the State Senate in 1868 he was one of the largest landowners in the city, and was taking rents from over a thousand families and businesses.  He also owned–literally–New York City government.  The New York City Courthouse was built by Tweed’s Tammany friends starting in 1861, and cost nearly twice as much as the purchase of Alaska by they time it was done.  Among many examples of corruption, a plasterer was supposedly paid nearly $2 million 21st century dollars for two day’s work.

After the Orange Riots in 1871 and repeated attacks by The New York Times and Thomas Nast at Harper’s Weekly, poplar opinion turned against Tweed and his friends…and his friends started fleeing the country. Even after his arrest Tweed was re-elected, but it wouldn’t be long before his many fugitive friends started taking to the press and law enforcement. There were trials, convictions, and flight to Spain, but in the end Tweed was locked up in the Ludlow Street Jail in New York, where he died of pneumonia on 12 April 1878, two wees after his 55th birthday: the mayor would not allow the city’s flags to fly at half-staff.

So, it is thought by some, that National Tweed Day is celebrated on 3 April because it was Boss Tweed’s birthday.  The beginnings of the National Day are obscure.  The Scottish fabric originally known as “tweel,” but because of a misreading of a bill of lading it was popularized as tweed, perhaps after the Scottish River Tweed that powers many of the early 19th century mills that made the rough woolen fabric.  It seems appropriate, though that we should celebrate tweeds in the early spring, when the open weave is more salubrious for walks in the spring sunshine than the dense nylons that many wear against the winter wind.

That or celebrate the poster child for political corruption.