Posts tagged ‘American Civil War’

SHAKO: How Thanksgiving Started In the Midst of a Terrible War

THANKGIVING: THEN AND NOW.

Thanksgiving Day 1863 as envisioned in Harper’s Weekly.

Maybe you’ve already read or heard some of the annual Thanksgiving Day news pieces about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts or about what they really ate at that first thanksgiving meal — and who was or wasn’t there — or how President Franklin D. Roosevelt was persuaded by the retail industry to move the holiday up a week in 1939 — to extend the Christmas shopping season and bolster the economic recovery from the Great Depression.

But here at the 4GWAR blog, we’re mindful that the first official national day of Thanksgiving came in the midst of a terrible Civil War that had cost thousands of lives and, in 1863, was still far from over. It seems remarkable that President Abraham Lincoln decided what the country needed to do was pause and consider what it did have to be thankful for despite all the carnage.

As we have done on previous Thanksgiving mornings, we present what Mr. Lincoln had to say about all that 159 years ago.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

“Peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union,” not a bad goal to pray for this Thanksgiving.

U.S. Army drill sergeants serve an early Thanksgiving meal to trainees of Company B, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson, South Carolina on November 23, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Robert Timmons.)

By the way, it’s important to note the call for a day of national thanksgiving was first raised by prominent writer and editor, Sarah Josepha Hale.

Happy Thanksgiving — and safe travels — from 4GWAR!

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SHAKOSHAKO 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.

November 24, 2022 at 12:18 am 2 comments

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

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

SHAKO: Two Monuments and the Continuing Irony of U.S. History

In the Line of Duty.

Monument to the one U.S. Marine — Private Luke Quinn — killed during  John Brown’s raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry (then) Virginia in 1859. (Copyright John M. Doyle, 4GWAR Blog)

HARPERS FERRY, West Virginia — While visiting Harpers Ferry, West Virginia during the recent Memorial Day weekend, mostly to hike in the eponymous  National Historical Park to see little bit of nature, but also for little taste history, your 4WAR Blog editor encountered two stone monuments we had never seen nor heard of before.

The first, seen above, is dedicated to Irish-born Private Luke Quinn, the only Marine killed during abolitionist John Brown’s raid on the U.S. Army Arsenal in Harpers Ferry. On the night of October 16, 1859, Brown led an integrated group of 21 men on a mission to seize the strategically important town at the intersection of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Brown wanted to arm local slaves in Virginia and touch off a mass uprising of enslaved people across the South.

The next day more than 80 Marines arrived by train from Washington under the command of then-Army Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee to end the incident, which had turned into a hostage crisis. Among the Marines was Private Quinn, born in Ireland (County Meath). When Brown and his men refused to surrender, Lee ordered the Marines to assault Brown’s refuge, a brick fire station known as the Engine House, with fixed bayonets to avoid shooting the hostages.

The inscription at the base of the monument to Private Quinn unveiled in 1940. (Photo copyright by John M. Doyle 4GWAR Blog)

Private Quinn, the second Marine through the battered door, was mortally wounded. He died later that day at the age of 24. Brown was captured, tried by Virginia authorities and hanged December 2, 1859.

Brown’s death fanned flames North and South over the emotional issue of slavery. Northerners celebrated Brown as a hero; Southerners declared him the devil, according to the American Battlefield Trust.

We see some irony, not in Private Quinn’s courageous service, fighting to regain illegally seized federal property, one of the nation’s two arsenals — but that his death came while fighting men, admittedly wrongheaded and murderous in their methods, who were fighting against slavery, and consequently defending the property rights of Virginians, including the right to own people.

Thank You for Not Rebelling.

Monument to Heyward Shepherd, a free Black man, killed in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry 1859. (Copyright photo John M. Doyle, 4GWAR Blog)

The second monument, just up the street from Quinn’s is dedicated to a free black man, Heyward Shepherd, who was the first victim of Brown’s “attempted insurrection.”

Shepherd worked as a baggage handler at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad station in Harpers Ferry. On the night of the raid, Shepherd encountered Brown’s men who ordered him to halt. When he didn’t comply, they shot him fatally. Over the years, many have noted the irony of Shepherd being killed by the very men who said they were fighting to free blacks.

That point wasn’t lost on the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans when they erected the Shepherd monument in 1931. Early on, critics complained that the final sentiment carved in stone propagated the myth of the Lost Cause and that slavery wasn’t all that bad.

The text that brings one up short, is near the bottom:

This boulder is erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a memorial to Heyward Shepherd, exemplifying the character and faithfulness of thousands of negroes who, under many temptations throughout subsequent years of war, so conducted themselves that no stain was left upon a record which is the peculiar heritage of the American people, and an everlasting tribute to the best in both races.

In an era where calls for removing municipal monuments to the Confederacy and renaming U.S. Army forts bearing the names of Confederate generals abound, the irony here is obvious: Praise for a black man that then turns into a kind of defense of black servitude.

The National Association of Colored People (NAACP) installed a plaque praising Brown in 1932 at Storer College in Harpers Ferry that read in part: Seven “slaves and sons of slaves” fought with Brown, who was “crucified”. It was written by W. E. B. Du Bois, a biographer of John Brown and an NAACP co-founder.

The battle over this monument is captured in an academic article by Akiko Ochiai in The Japanese Journal of American Studies.

 

June 3, 2021 at 11:31 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: The First Junteenth

How the Jubilee Came to Be.

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

juneteenth2

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

62 and 65 colored inf memorial-monument-2

Statue honoring the 62nd and 65th U.S. Colored Infantry regiments at Lincoln University, Jefferson City, Missouri. The 62nd USCI fought at Palmito Ranch.

The last battle of the Civil War was fought at Palmito Ranch on the Rio Grande in Texas on May 12-13. By the way, the Confederates won that battle.

But that still didn’t end slavery in Texas, the seventh of 11 states to secede from the Union. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 when U.S. Major General Gordon Granger sailed across Galveston Bay with 1,800 Union troops and announced his General Order No. 3, that slavery was abolished in the farthest reaches of the Southwest.

It 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. The last major Union thrust west of the Mississippi River from Louisiana had ended in failure in May 1864.

The date, June 19th — or Juneteenth — has grown into a significant holiday for African-Americans to celebrate freedom and it may in future years become  national celebration of freedom,

June 19, 2020 at 9:53 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Why Elections Matter in 1 Picture and 4 Maps.

Make Sure You Vote … They Did.

soldiers-voting

PENNSYLVANIA SOLDIERS VOTING 1864 .-SKETCHED BY WILLIAM WAUD. (From Harper’s Weekly, October 29, 1864 via  Son of the South website)

The Civil War was the first time the United States had large numbers of soldiers deployed during a presidential election. Politicians of both parties were convinced that the army would vote for the commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican. As a result, most states with Republican governors and legislatures passed laws enabling soldiers to vote, while most states led by Democrats did not.

 

825x550

A political map of the United States (circa 1856) showing free states in red, slave states in gray and territories in green. (From the Library of Congress)

The Dred Scott decision of 1857, in which the U.S. Supreme Court voided the Missouri Compromise (1820) and made slavery legal in all U.S. territories, exacerbated sectional differences between thos e who wanted to abolish slavery and those who sought to protect the institution. That volatile political climate set the stage for the presidential election of 1860.

 

1200px-ElectoralCollege1860.svg

Presidential Election 1860. Red shows states won by Lincoln/Hamlin, green by Breckinridge/Lane, orange by Bell/Everett, and blue by Douglas/Johnson
Numbers are Electoral College votes in each state by the 1850 Census. (via Wikipedia)

In the election of 1860, Southern and Northern Democrats split their support among Vice President John Breckinridge of Kentucky and Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, while others, seeking to ignore the slavery issue, backed former Tennessee Senator John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party. Those divisions put the Republican, Abraham Lincoln, in the White House with less than 40 percent of the popular vote, and put the slave-holding states of the South on the road to disunion and civil war.

Secession_Vote_by_CountyA.0

While eleven states voted for secession between December 1860 and June 1861, support for leaving the Union was not unanimous in many Souther counties as the above map shows. (Map via Vox)

Likewise, the Union army’s support for President Lincoln may not have been as widespread as historians have assumed, argues one academic. Lincoln was re-elected as president in 1864. He ran under the National Union banner against his former top Civil War general, the Democratic candidate, George B. McClellan — who had been very popular with the troops of the Army of the Potomac.

USAMAP1864

(Map created by History Central)

*******488px-Shako-p1000580

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.

 

November 6, 2018 at 3:35 pm Leave a comment


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