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Gettysburg, a Smorgasbord of National Days, and the Consequences of Belief

Huh, you say…what is he up to now?  Well, as it happens, I just want to put some stuff out there so you, my dear readers, can argue about lots of different things that have nothing to do with anything, like our current Fearless Leader in the White House duking it out with the Mass Media into all sorts of nothing sandwiches while he quietly gets the regulatory swamp drained.  Such is life.  Misdirection, you see.

Just like Lee was snookered into Gettysburg.  Sure, he wanted a fight outside Virginia…but then what?  The Confederacy was already losing half its food supply when US Grant finished clearing the Mississippi Valley with the capture of .  The Richmond/Washington corridor was, in comparison, as sideshow.  But the history books, driven by the Lost Cause Mythology (LCM) that demands that All Things Lee must be Earth-shatteringly vital, says that Gettysburg was the battle of the Civil War.  Some American history textbooks mention Bull Run, Gettysburg and Appomattox, foregoing all other actions  as unimportant.  Lee is mentioned, of course, and Lincoln, but Grant?  Meade? Even Halleck?  Not on a bet.

But…you moan.  Lee was snookered into Gettysburg?  Tricked?  Well, in a way, yes, he was.  Though the “strategy” that he outlined to Jefferson Davis demanded a fight with the Army of the Potomac, but he didn’t say just where or how.  So he split up his army to join it up somewhere in Pennsylvania so he could thrash “those people” (the term that LCM insists Lee always used when referring to the Union Army…except when he didn’t) once and for all.  Trouble with that was that, without a definite plan, the various pieces of his army were just going to be out foraging as he looked for a place to get together.  Lee wasn’t expecting to get it together in southern Adams County, but that was where Buford’s cavalry encountered Ewell’s corps.  Then there was Howard’s and Reynold’s corps, and Ewell had a real fight on his hands.

Suddenly Lee’s army had to come together, and he had no idea that Meade’s whole army was on hand because Stuart’s cavalry was off on another “ride around” the AoP and thus out of communications, but unlike 1862, the propaganda value to the Bold Cavalier’s exploits was nil.  However, the military value of bruising Stuart’s ego in June at Brandy Station was tremendous, and to salvage his sinking reputation he took his horsemen off on another wild ride.

So Lee was blinded by Stuart’s absence…or at least that’s what LCM claims.  You see, it just isn’t possible that Lee had so little control over his subordinates that such things could happen, so it has to be Stuart’s fault.  Just as on 3 July 1863 it was Longstreet who failed against Meade’s center because Lee cannot fail…ever.  And Lee, the ever-stainless Marse Robert Edward Lee, cannot be faulted for fighting at a severe terrain disadvantage in Pennsylvania.  It had to have been his subordinates who failed him. And so it goes.

But too, today is National Chocolate Wafer Day, National Eat Your Beans Day, and National Fried Clams Day.  Now, only Fried Clams Day has a known origin–3 July 1916 was the first time anyone suggested deep-frying clams–but the other two are mysteries.  A snack stand in Essex, Massachusetts battered and fried a batch after a customer suggested it, and first served them during Fourth of July festivities.  It sort of took off.  I have some rather fond memories of fried clams at Howard Johnson’s restaurants, which dates me.  The national day started in 2015.

Now, the consequences of belief.  There are, you know.  As Lee found out in Pennsylvania, believing that he could steal a march on Meade was, in his case, catastrophic. Similarly, German belief in their capacity to knock France out of the war before having to deal with the Russians in 1914 was similarly disastrous.  Germany did it again in 1939, taking on the whole world by 1941.  But that was a consequence in Hitler’s “unshakeable belief” in so many things that were just–demonstrably–wrong.

But no one can escape the consequences of belief, because what you believe guides what you do.  And if what you believe is accurate, all is well until someone decides that what you believe is simply wrong.  If that disagreement is a simple “I don’t think so,” there it  ends.  But if someone believes–and has the power to enforce–that you must change your belief and behavior or face a fatal consequence…that’s different.

But that’s where “free speech” and “censorship” and “hate speech” and “blasphemy” and “sedition” get all tangled up.  Opinions (personal, not legal) can’t be “wrong” if they don’t deny facts–they’re just beliefs.  Today is Monday.  If you say that it’s Wednesday, you would be wrong, incontrovertibly.  That is not an opinion, but a fact.  If you believe that persons of another faith or skin color are all evil, or want to destroy those of your faith or skin color, that is an opinion because it’s simply too broad a spread.  But if you act on that belief, it stops being an opinion and starts being a motive for whatever it is you wish to do.

The painting that heads this little missive is a good example.  It was painted to meet a commercial need, and to satisfy an audience that would find “Hancock at Gettysburg” to be inspiring. It’s not a photograph, and abounds with historical inaccuracy.  But it was commercially successful despite all that. Point at it as say “Pickett’s Charge” if you want; no one will kill you for it, but it’s “Hancock at Gettysburg.”  But say that a TV personality is wrong, or ugly, or–horrors–unworthy of your time, and you may be in for a fight.  Attractiveness is unquantifiable, and thus not a matter of “fact.”

What anyone says about anyone’s looks or appearance is, long run, irrelevant to living, or governing, or ruling.  The accuracy of paintings, too, is pretty irrelevant.  And so is this blog.  I write it because I want to; you read it for the same reason.  No harm no foul if you don’t or I don’t.  But it’s not “censorship” if you don’t follow me, just as my not watching the endless reruns of the same twisted plots of TV sitcoms isn’t “censorship,” or my not caring what your sexual proclivity is or your gender identity or your personal pronouns isn’t “anti-gay,” and it is not yet illegal to not care.  That may come, but not yet.

 

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Emancipation and Juneteenth Day

There was a lot going on in history on 19 June: Robert Peel started the Bobbies/Peelers in London, the first organized police force in 1828; USS Kearsarge sank the Confederate raider Alabama in the Bay of Biscay in 1864; Maximilian I of Mexico was executed in 1867; the first Father’s Day was observed in Spokane, Washington in 1910; the Marianas Turkey Shoot (also called the battle of the Philippine Sea) destroyed much of the remainder of Japan’s naval aviation in 1944; and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for espionage in 1953.

It’s not often that historians can point to a single moment in history and declare: there is where it was all changed, where the fates were fixed.  On 19 June in 1862 and in 1865, such an event occurred, but not for the reasons usually ascribed.  On 19 June 1862, Congress passed a law prohibiting slavery in US territories–not the states, and not everywhere that Federal troops didn’t stand in the Confederacy.: that would come later.

This was landmark legislation because it completely repudiated the Dred Scott decision of 1857, and ended the Southern notion of “popular sovereignty” in the territories being the controlling factor.  Though Lincoln was still on a lawyerly fence about a general emancipation, he was discussing the matter with his cabinet even at this early date.  The Congress’ action on 19 June galvanized and accelerated Lincoln’s thinking. Though the news of the horrible carnage at Shiloh in April had reached Washington and most of the Union by then, it hadn’t sunk in yet to the halls of power or the general public that the river of blood spilled in the Tennessee pine barrens decided that the conflict would not end with two separate countries.  It would, though, soon enough .

Fast forward to 19 June 1865, when Gordon Granger and his XIII Corps landed on Galveston Island.  Lincoln was dead; most of the principle Confederate armies had given up and gone home, but still word of the Emancipation had yet to reach this somewhat remote former Confederate territory.  Granger read General Order #3 almost as soon as he got off the boat:

The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection therefore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.

There were a thousand or so slaves in Galveston at the time, and a great celebration ensued.  The next year the anniversary was observed, and has been on 19 June ever since.  The day had been called Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, even though the actual emancipation was 1 January 1863.  But because the commemoration/celebration started on 19 June and the local vernacular “Juneteenth” was catchy, the tradition stuck.

Like most holidays in America, business has grabbed the opportunity, but not as much as other “greeting card” holidays like St. Valentine’s or Grandparent’s Day.  So 19 June didn’t free all the slaves, and it didn’t grant them any more rights than they had before but it did signal the end of chattel slavery in the United States.  And that’s worth taking note of.

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Missing the “Memorial Day” Point, Aren’t We?

One of the best things about a blog is that from time to time I can say things that I couldn’t ordinarily express.  This may be one of those times.

But, I digress…and I likely will again.  Today is Memorial Day in the United States, the unofficial beginning of summer, an excuse for retailers to lower their prices slightly to take advantage of the increased volume, and an opportunity for many to sleep late.  There will be parades today–I’ll take my three-year old great-grandson to one, and the service afterwards.  I’ll also sleep late, and take advantage of at least one Memorial Day sale to get some lumber and maybe some groceries.

I’ll also go up to the VA Hospital to see a buddy of mine–one of my oldest friends–who May not leave there alive. His Memorial Day “celebration” for 20+ years of service might be a lung transplant.  But he’s marginal for that, so it’s likely to be a laurel-and-hearty handshake from some stranger to thank him for his lifetime of service, and the sacrifice of his health, wealth and welfare for the freedom of the Republic.

Many of us will go to cemeteries and see the ocean of flags decorating the resting places of thousands–millions, even–of men and women who did the same as my buddy up in the VA.  Many made the ultimate sacrifice far away.  Many others were accused of crimes committed by others in conflicts they didn’t understand. Some others died ignobly of the flu, or food poisoning, or a ruptured appendix. But most of those in those graves with the flags, you understand, died at home, peacefully of natural causes, with their families around them, having done their bit years or even decades before. Not all of them were blown apart by artillery, or cut in half by machine guns, or caught by a sniper’s bullet, or met their Makers in any of the myriad ways people get killed in war.

The one thing that all of them share–all of them in those flag-bedecked graves that most Americans will honor by sleeping late, lounging in the back yard, taking advantage of five-year special financing or going to the beach–was the fact that they didn’t make their sacrifices so they could be honored with flags and five-year special financing after they did the Mortal Coil Shuffle. Nope.  They did it so the beach and sleeping late and special five-year financing would be possible in a free republic that has the honor and the luxury of putting a real estate mogul/reality TV star into the highest elected office in the land.

They paid that price so Americans can make their own mistakes, and not truly “honor” anything on the last Monday in May except their own welfare, if they are so inclined.

Get it?

So thanks guys for your sacrifice.  And for my quarter century in uniform…you’re welcome.

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Chickamauga, Garfield and Talking like a Pirate

As unlikely as it seems, the battle of Chickamauga, the death of James A Garfield, and an inane, made-up holiday all share 19 September.  Apologies for this one…Well, I’ll be blowed: this hearty’s pirate name , according to http://www.piratequiz.com/result.php, is Dirty John Read.  Sure an’ he’s been called worse things.

In the summer of 1863, William Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland managed to winkle  Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee out of a fairly strong position at Chattanooga, Tennessee, a rail hub of great importance on the road to Atlanta, the Deep South’s most important industrial center.  Proceeding south out of Chattanooga, Rosecrans issued contradictory and confusing orders to the two opposite wings of his army.  Just as they separated near the Chickamauga Creek in northwestern Georgia, James Longstreet and a small detachment from the Army of Northern Virginia walked into the gap on 19 September, 1863, severing the Army of the Cumberland in two.  A third of it, the part that Rosecrans was with at the time, scrambled back the fifteen miles to Chattanooga, convinced that the army was destroyed.  About half of the Federal force rallied around Horseshoe Ridge and a corps commander named George Thomas, who would forever after be known as “the Rock of Chickamauga.”  Chief of Staff to Rosecrans was James Garfield, who, suspecting that a large part of the army was still engaged with the Confederates, rode up Missionary Ridge overseeing the battlefield on the night of the 19th and saw that he was right.  This fueled the critics of Rosecrans’ leadership (he was not well liked, even though he had won all but one of his battles, and most with minimal casualties).  Chickamauga is considered by most to be the last major Confederate victory (even though the Confederates lost more than the Federals), and it shut up the Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga for two months until reinforcements and the duo of WIlliam Sherman and Ulysses Grant broke the siege.  Chickamauga also made James Garfield’s reputation.

Chickamauga is considered by most to be the last major Confederate victory

Garfield rode that reputation all the way to the White House in 1880. First elected to the House in 1862, Garfield finally took his seat in December 1863.  In 1880, after serving in both the House and Senate, Garfield was elected president against another Civil War hero, Winfield Hancock.  He had barely made his cabinet and gotten started with his administration when, on  2 July, 1881, Charles Guiteau, upset after not being appointed to a civil service job, shot Garfield on a railway platform in Washington.  Garfield lingered for eleven weeks, eventually dying on 19 September 1881, exactly eighteen years after the event that made him famous.

…after serving in both the House and Senate, Garfield was elected president

Now, much of what is known about International Talk Like a Pirate Day derives from WIkipedia and the Talklikeapirate.com, two sources of unimpeachable information about the…holiday.  According to these, a couple of guys known as Ol’Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy in Albany, Oregon started the tradition in 1995, when one of them responded to an injury with an “arrr.”  While this may have sounded like a pirate to an American who knew nothing of the Old English dialect usually gracing the stage and screen whenever pirates are depicted in popular fiction, it was enough for humor columnist Dave Barry to popularize the date, for his own reasons, of course.  The date (19 September) is the birthday of Cap’n Slappy’s ex-wife.  The “historical significance” of this event (which didn’t even take place on 19 September, but 6 June, which is famous for its own reasons) is nil, but these things take on a life of their own.  Two states, Michigan and California (which one would hope would have bigger fish to fry) have recognized the day; two fast-food chains (Krispy Kreme and Long John Silver’s) offer discounts; the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has declared it a holiday for those of their…faith.

…a couple of guys known as Ol’Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy in Albany, Oregon started the tradition in 1995, when one of them responded to an injury with an “arrr.”

OK…whatever.  Chickamauga and Garfield, anyway, have some serious bent.  And I can say that the “pirate flag” above is an invention of the entertainment industry, and that the “pirate dialect” is nothing more than an affectation from 18th Century English popularized by Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island and a couple hundred movies, TV series, and other popular entertainments.   Let’s hold onto that.

Now, you be likin’ this here post or I’ll be havin’ yer liver fer lunch, ya lubber!