Posts filed under ‘American Civil War’

SHAKO: Juneteenth 2022; Happy Birthday U.S. Army; Flag Day

HAPPY JUNETEENTH!

ST. LOUIS, Missouri — Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865 did not end the Civil War. There were still two armies, one in North Carolina commanded by Joseph Johnston and another in the West commanded by Edmund Kirby Smith. Johnston surrendered on April 26 and Kirby Smith surrendered on May 26, 1865.

But that still did not end slavery in Texas. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 — more than two months after Lee’s surrender — when U.S. Major General Gordon sailed across Galveston Bay with 1,800 Union troops and announced his General Order No. 3.

General Order No. 3 informed the people of Texas that “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States (President Lincoln), all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

Until then, the estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas did not know that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had freed them — and all the other slaves in states in open rebellion against Washington, as of January 1863. It’s important to note that the Emancipation Proclamation couldn’t be enforced until Union troops gained control of each state that had left the Union.

June 19th, or Juneteenth, slowly grew to be seen as a second independence day — marking the end of legal slavery — by African Americans, first in Texas, where it became a legal holiday in 1980 and elsewhere culminating in 2021 when legislation making June 19 a federal holiday was signed into law by President Joe Biden.

As we wrote at this time last year, we hope that Juneteenth will grow to be appreciated by all Americans, and that whites and other people of color will see it as something more than a black holiday marking the beginning — just the very beginning — of the United States of America doing the right thing about racial inequality.

And we hope people of color will realize than in addition to the 180,000 black soldiers who fought for freedom, thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of white men and boys fought and died, not just to preserve the union, but to set other people free.

We all have a stake in the meaning of Juneteenth.

 

Statue in St. Louis, Missouri of Dred Scott and his wife, Harriet, who unsuccessfully sued in 1846 for freedom for themselves and their two daughters, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott Decision. The newspaper coverage of the ruling and the 10-year legal battle fueled outrage in non-slave states, increasing political tensions that sparked the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. (Photo by John M. Doyle, copyright Sonoma Road Strategies. 2022.)

Your 4GWAR editor, on travel gathering information for future articles and blog posts, missed two other June commemorations this week: the U.S. Army’s 247th birthday and Flag Day — both on June 14.

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U.S. ARMY, 247 YEARS YOUNG.

On June 14, 1775 — at the urging of John Adams (the future 2nd U.S. president) — the Continental Congress, in effect, created the U.S. Army by voting $2 million in funding for the colonial militias around Boston and New York City.

Congress also ordered the raising of ten companies of expert riflemen from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Together with the ragtag militias in New England and New York they would form the first Continental Army. George Washington of Virginia, one of the few colonials with military command experience would take command in Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 3, 1775.

Members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard, perform at a military tattoo marking the Army’s 237th birthday. (U.S. Army photo)

When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, Congress ordered the last Continental Army to disband. Its remaining soldiers were discharged on June 2, 1784. Congress retained two companies to safeguard military arms and stores. The next day, Congress voted to form, from this nucleus, the 1st American Regiment for national service. By the fall of 1784, the whole U.S. Army was this one regiment, consisting of eight infantry and two artillery companies.

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FLAG DAY

June 14 is also Flag Day in the United States, to commemorate the day in 1777 when Congress adopted the 13-star, 13-red-and-white-striped flag as the year-old republic’s national flag. Flag day was celebrated on various days in various ways around the United States until the 20th century.

As war wracked Europe and the Middle East in 1916, it looked more and more like the United States would be drawn into the Great War. To inspire unity and patriotism, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day. In August 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress — but it’s not an official federal holiday.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze (via wikipedia)

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

June 19, 2022 at 11:31 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: New Medal of Honor Museum; Movies About MoH Heroes; Medal of Honor Quiz

Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.

Friday, March 25, was National Medal of Honor Day, established by Congress to “foster public appreciation and recognition of Medal of Honor recipients.”

Since the medal was created in 1861, 3,511 members of the U.S. military have received the Medal. Some of the names are quite famous like movie star and World War II legend Audie Murphy, frontier scout and showman Buffalo Bill Cody, and William “Wild Bill” Donovan, commander of the fabled Fighting 69th New York regiment in World War One and head of the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II.

But most are names that are famous briefly when they receive the Medal, like Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, cited for his heroism on Guadalcanal in 1942, but largely forgotten until the HBO Series The Pacific, rediscovered Basilone’s story.

Standards to award the Medal of Honor have evolved over time, but the Medal has always stood for actions that go above and beyond. The current criteria were established in 1963 during the Vietnam War, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor website.

The Medal is authorized for any military service member who “distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty

The Defense Department announced on March 25 that ground had been broken for a Medal of Honor museum in Texas.

Medal of Honor recipients are honored at the National Medal of Honor Museum’s groundbreaking ceremony in Arlington, Texas, March 25, 2022.

At the museum’s groundbreaking ceremony in Arlington, Texas, Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the stories of selfless service deserve a permanent home. Their stories of heroism, service and valor must be shared, he added. And that’s exactly what the museum will do.

Milley told stories of some of the 15 Medal of Honor recipients who attended the groundbreaking, as well as others not present.

“It’s those stories that will document our country’s bravery, that gives purpose to our entire military. It’s their heroism,” he said.

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Movies About MoH Heroism

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving picture is worth tens of thousands.

Here’s a short list of seven Hollywood movies over the years that told the stories of Medal of Honor awardees from the Civil War, the First and Second World Wars, Vietnam, Somalia and Afghanistan.

 

1. Hacksaw Ridge (World War II, 1945)

This 2016 film recounts the selfless bravery of Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, during the Battle of Okinawa. A pacifist who refused to kill or even carry a weapon in combat, Doss became the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

 

2. Sergeant York (World War 1, 1918)

Tennessee farmer and marksman Alvin York was another pacifist who didn’t even want to serve in the Army when he was drafted in 1917, according to this 1942 film. However, his nearly single-handed assault on German machine guns resulting in more than a dozen Germans killed and 132 captured earned him the nickname “One Man Army,” as well as the Medal of Honor. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of York.

 

3. Black Hawk Down (Somalia, 1993)

This 2001 film recounts the story of 160 U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force operators who dropped into Mogadishu in October 1993 to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord, but found themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis. Posthumous MoH recipients Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart were played in the film by Johnny Strong and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

 

4. Lone Survivor (Afghanistan, 2005)

This 2013 film is about Marcus Luttrell, the only member of his SEAL team to survive a vicious running gun battle with Afghan insurgents during a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. The team commander, Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, portrayed by Taylor Kitsch, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

 

5. We Were Soldiers (Vietnam, 1965)

The story of the battle of Ia Drang Valley, the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War, pitting U.S. Air Cavalry troopers against North Vietnam Army regulars. The movie also shows the stress on soldiers’ families back home waiting for news of their loved ones. Helicopter pilot Major Bruce ‘Snake’ Crandall, the Medal of Honor for his heroism ferrying supplies and troops into and wounded soldiers out of a “Hot LZ,” a landing zone under heavy fire, was played by Greg Kinnear.

 

 

6. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (World War II, 1942)

Spencer Tracy plays then-Army Air Force Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle, the commander of the first air attack on Tokyo less than six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Doolittle, who planned the mission, trained the crews of B-25 land-based bombers to take off from an aircraft carrier, and then flew the lead bomber in the risky all-volunteer mission, was awarded the Medal of Honor.

 

7. The Great Locomotive Chase (Civil War, 1862)

During the Civil War a Union spy and volunteer soldiers, who risked hanging as spies if captured, plotted to steal a Confederate train and drive it to Union territory while destroying the Confederate railway system along the way. The survivors of this daring raid were the first U.S. troops to receive the new Medal of Honor. The raid failed in its main objective and all the raiders were captured. Eight were hanged. Eight others escaped and the rest were traded in a prisoner exchange. In all, 19 were awarded the first Medals of Honor, including Private Jacob Parrott of the 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, who is considered the first soldier awarded the MoH. Claude Jarman Jr., played Parrott in the 1956 Disney live action film about the raid.

The Mitchell Raiders receive the first Medals of Honor in The Great Locomotive Chase. (Disney via Military.com)

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Last, but not Least — a Quiz.

The Pentagon web site asks how much do you know about the the nation’s highest medal for valor in combat?

Click here, to take the quiz.

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress, or parade, uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York in the photo.

West Point cadets in dress parade uniform. (U.S. Military Academy)

March 28, 2022 at 2:05 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: Louisa May Alcott, Civil War Nurse

Another Literary Civil War Nurse. UPDATED

Those familiar with the poetry of Walt Whitman know the journalist, essayist and poet helped nurse wounded soldiers during the U.S. Civil War. In fact, a passage from his 1865 collection Drum-Taps, is etched in the granite wall surrounding the entrance to Washington’s DuPont Circle Metro station, according to a 2013 Washington Post article.

It reads, in part, The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night — some are so young;

Some suffer so much — I recall the experience sweet and sad . . .

But Whitman wasn’t the only American literary figure to draw on the painful experiences of Civil War nursing for inspiration.

Louisa May Alcott, best known for her coming-of-age novel Little Women, left home in Concord, Massachusetts in December 1862 to become a nurse in a Civil War hospital.

Orchard House, the family home of author and Civil War nurse Louisa May Alcott in Concord, Massachusetts. (4GWar photo by John M. Doyle, Copyright Sonoma Road Strategies, LLC)

Those familiar with Little Women may remember that the father of the four March sisters — the “Little Women” of the title — joined the Union Army as a chaplain and became seriously ill with pneumonia. His surprise return to his family at Christmas was a highlight of the book, which Alcott based largely on her own family.

However, Alcott’s own father — the prominent educator, philosopher, and abolitionist Bronson Alcott — was too old to serve in the Union army, your 4GWAR editor learned during a recent visit to Orchard House, the Alcott family home in Concord. Fired by her family’s abolitionist fervor and inspired by the work of Florence Nightingale — it was Mr. Alcott’s daughter, Louisa, who traveled to Washington to do her part in the “war of the Southern rebellion.”

Louisa May Alcott, age 20, before the Civil War.(Wikipedia)

According to the  National Museum of Civil War Medicine website, the 30-year-old Miss Alcott threw herself into her work at the Union Hotel hospital in Georgetown. Her days were a tiring whirlwind of dressing wounds, cleaning and sewing bandages, supervising convalescent assistants, fetching bed linens, water, and pillows, assisting during surgical procedures, sponging filthy, broken bodies, writing letters on behalf of the sick and injured, and feeding those too weak to feed themselves.

A self-described “red hot Abolitionist,” Alcott was not happy with the prospect of caring for Confederate soldiers. When one injured Rebel was brought in, she privately resolved “to put soap in his eyes, rub his nose the wrong way, and excoriate his cuticle generally,” according to the Civil War medicine site.

Like the father character in Little Women, Alcott herself became seriously ill and returned home a physical wreck, according to the History Net website.

Just a few weeks into her service, Louisa confessed in her journal that “bad air, food, water, work & watching are getting to be too much for me.” The Union Hotel was a grim, dirty place crowded with patients and medical workers. “A more perfect pestilence-box than this house I never saw,” Alcott wrote.

By mid-January Alcott was unable to continue with her nursing duties, and was confined to her room, diagnosed with typhoid pneumonia. She was zealously dosed with calomel, a poisonous mercury compound widely used during the Civil War.  Her condition worsened, and she slipped in and out of consciousness, haunted by alarming hallucinations.

Alcott refused to return home, but the hospital matron telegraphed Bronson Alcott, who hurried to fetch his gravely ill daughter. Louisa was too weak to protest.

Little Women, her most famous book, was first published in 1868. Alcott is also remembered for her book Hospital Sketches, published in 1863, a work of fiction based on letters she had written home during her brief, but harrowing, stint as a wartime nurse.

September 16, 2021 at 11:24 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: WAR WITH MEXICO — 1846

Invasion.

On this date 175 years ago, August 17, 1846, Colonel Stephen W. Kearny, commanding the U.S. Army’s 1st Dragoons Regiment entered Santa Fe (in what is now the state of New Mexico) and occupied the town without resistance from the local populace.

Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny, U.S. Army 1st Dragoons (via wikipedia)

It was the first time since the War of 1812 that a large U.S. force crossed an international boundary to invade another country.

It was also the first time U.S. forces planned to take permanent control of an area populated by people who spoke a different language and generally had a different culture than that of the United States.

Kearny was dispatched from Fort Leavenworth (Kansas) to Santa Fe by President James Knox Polk on June 16, 1842. It was just a month since Congress passed war legislation and two battles had been fought in the disputed border area along the Rio Grande.

After a difficult, horse-killing trip with little water or forage along the Santa Fe Trail, Kearny issued a proclamation before he arrived in Santa Fe, that said in part, he came to “New Mexico with a large military force for the purpose of seeking union with, and ameliorating the condition of the inhabitants.” He advised the locals that “so long as they continue in such [cooperative] pursuits they … will be respected  in their rights, both civil and religious.”

Mexican-American War map.

The colonel wasted no time, however, building a fort overlooking the main plaza of Santa Fe to remind the New Mexicans and Indians — who had been raiding villages in the region — of U.S. authority.

This blog is the first in a series of, at first occasional and later regularly scheduled, posts taking a look at the war between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 and its implications for both countries.

It was a war of many firsts from the first large-scale joint Army-Navy amphibious landing in a foreign country, at Vera Cruz, to the Army’s first encounter with bloody urban warfare in Monterrey. The rugged geography of Mexico, desserts, mountains,  challenged U.S. planning, transportation and logistics. The war also was a training ground for the most recent graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Young officers like Ulysses Grant, George Meade, P.G.T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg and Thomas Jackson would rise to command troops on both sides in the American Civil War.

There were also moral issues. As young Lieutenant Grant would write years later, after his term as the 18th U.S. president, that it was “the most unjust war ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”

U.S. infantry and dragoon on the march in Mexico.

August 17, 2021 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (July 30, 2021

Change of Pace.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sergeant Daniel Herman) Click on photo to enlarge iamge.

Here at 4GWAR we think variety is the spice of life — especially when it comes to the Friday Foto. For the last three weeks, we’ve featured aircraft from Navy F/A-18 Hornets to an Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II and an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

So, in the spirit of image diversity, this week’s FRIFO gets about as far away from airpower as one can get: Horsepower — literally.

Here we see the 1st Cavalry Division’s mounted honor guard at a transfer of command ceremony for new commander, Major General John B. Richardson IV, at Fort Hood, Texas on July 21, 2021.

Yes, the U.S. Army still has a cavalry division, but today it looks more like this. The last mounted troopers of the 1st CD traded in their horses for jeeps, trucks and tanks in February 1943 to prepare for action in the Pacific Theater during World War II, where it saw action in New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and the islands of Leyte and Luzon in the Philippines.

However, today’s the 1st Cav does have this Horse Cavalry Detachment — one of seven active duty mounted units in the Army — for parades and other ceremonial and public functions.

July 30, 2021 at 1:23 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO/SHAKO (June 18, 2021)

JUNETEENTH!

It’s June 19, or Juneteenth, – the holiday marking the last gasp of legal slavery in the United States. What started out as a holiday in Texas has been gaining recognition and popularity — especially in this very troubled time of police shootings, protest marches and the still evolving reckoning about the place of race in American history.

At 4GWAR, we thought we’d take a look at the events that led to the Juneteenth tradition in the waning days of the Civil War — harking back to a posting we created in 2015 to mark the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth

EDITOR’s NOTE: That’s how we started our blog posting a year ago. Little did we know those words would foreshadow recent events in Washington and around the country. You can see that 2020 blog posting in it’s entirety here.

But tomorrow marks the first time June 19th will be celebrated as a federal holiday since Congress passed legislation and President Biden signed it into law on Thursday (June 17) . Some people are already worried whether the U.S. Mail will be delivered or the banks will be open on the 19th. Here at 4GWAR we’ll let other folks worry about all that.

We do have one concern that arose when we read a news story about the 14 Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted against making June 19th a federal holiday. That news didn’t surprise us, not nearly as much as the news that the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to make this date a federal holiday.

The 14 House members gave various reasons for their “No” vote — some of them pretty lame, like the added cost to taxpayers of another day off for federal workers. But a few voiced concern that the official name of the new holiday, Juneteenth National Independence Day, would confuse people about the July 4 holiday — or worse, “push Americans to pick one of those two days as their independence day based on their racial identity,”as Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky said.

That did concern us at 4GWAR. The last thing the United States needs right now is something to divide us even more. And at 4GWAR, where we’ve been writing about Juneteenth (off and on) since 2011, we feel any holiday that celebrates the fight for freedom from oppression — even if it commemorates somebody else’s history, like Bastille Day, Cinco de Mayo or Hanukkah — is still worth appreciation.

We’ve been wracking our brain to find a military image in U.S. history, emblematic of the fight for freedom in the American Civil War for today’s FRIDAY FOTO. We thought about the opening battle scene in Lincoln or the final one in Glory, but on their simplest level they show white guys (the oppressors) and black guys (the oppressed) in brutal hand-to-hand combat. Neither looked like material to bring people together in today’s hair-trigger atmosphere.

Finally, we thought of Gettysburg, the epic 1993 film about the epic 1863 battle. It, too, can be problematic. Its even-handed portrayal of the soldiers and leaders of the Confederacy has been criticized as Southern propaganda. And there are next-to-no people of color in it, except for one scene with a runaway slave. However, there is a scene that captures the one difference between the soldiers in blue and those in gray (or butternut brown) — slavery. Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine’s speech to a group of hard-headed soldiers from another Maine regiment who refuse to fight because their enlistment has run out. Here’s a shortened version, with very clear imagery.

In a statement quoted by the New York Times, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas (she represents the Houston area) and a lead sponsor of the bill, said “Juneteenth is as significant to African Americans as July 4 is to all Americans.” We hope that Juneteenth will grow to be appreciated by all Americans, and that whites will see it as something more than a black holiday marking beginning — just the very beginning — of the United States of America doing the right thing about racial inequality. To paraphrase Henry Fonda’s character in The Ox-Bow Incident, a cowboy trying to stop a lynching who’s been told its none of his business. Slavery “is any man’s business that’s around.”

And we hope people of color will realize than in addition to the 180,000 black soldiers who fought for freedom, thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of white men and boys died, not just to preserve the union, but to set other people free.

We all have a stake in the meaning of Juneteenth.

ANOTHER EDITOR’s NOTE: For regular 4GWAR visitors who expect to see a beautiful photo, or at least an interesting one with a story behind it on Fridays. We will post one on Saturday as a FRIDAY FOTO EXTRA.

June 18, 2021 at 8:59 pm Leave a comment


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