Courtesy in Conflict

This Blog is based upon an article by James W. Loewen, Sunday, January 9, 2011, on the Washington Post website. It may still be there for a while. I will be looking at what he said as well as the firestorm of comments the short srticle produced. As many have commented: the war is still being fought.

Aside from the Loewen article and its commenters, I have seen quite a few web sites allowing a rather “free-wheeling” discussion of the Civil War.

Many of the writers supporting the North seem to think the opposition are a bunch of ignorant slobs who bow in support of the evil empire, while many of those taking the Southern side view the opposition as a bunch of ignorant slobs who bow in support of the evil empire. Regardless of how low the blow can be struck against such an enemy, it seems to apply equally to the other side.

Enough said. Rebukes and name-calling may be satisfying in some respect to many but such are not allowed in this discussion. If you consider someone’s opinion to be insanely wide of the mark or even slightly stupid, you can keep that opinion to yourself. We are not here to discuss the failings of one another – save that stuff for your group therapy sessions afterward – we are here to discuss the event being sesquicentennialized.

I plan to keep most of the articles short to cover only a small aspect of the discussion to help in focusing the discussion. Please keep any comments to the subject of discussion for everyone’s sake. Mine especially as I seem incapable of quantum leaps.

Keep the gloves ON and let’s have a clean fight.

But the War was Over…!?

Seven score and ten years ago (or 150 years for those archaic-arithmetic-impaired), Abraham Lincoln went to take in a show.

Wilkes Booth was one of his favorite actors, but he would not see that actor that night. Booth came up from behind, before exiting center stage.

Most Americans are still under the impression that Booth did the act in order to make a name for himself…

. . . . . Why? He was so famous already that everyone in the Ford audience that night knew who he was when he landed on the stage.

… and to make a fatal strike of revenge for the Confederates having lost the war.

. . . . . This is the most frequent misconception of the period. The war was not over.

Yes, Lee had surrendered at Appomattox the week before but he was not empowered to surrender for the government. Nor could he even surrender the forces not under his immediate command – and let’s face it, Lee only had 25% of the CSA fighting force with him.

And there were still battles fought and steamboats blown-up AFTER Lincoln’s death.

Lincoln himself, hopeful that the end was nearing, had spent most of the day before heading for the theater, sitting in the War Office hoping for a telegram from the Union Army in the south that Johnson had surrendered his forces. When he left for Ford’s Theater, he told them to send a messenger immediately should the telegram come in.

His death may, however, have hastened the end.

Another Local Reenactment

The Battle of Middleburg was reenacted recently and got some coverage in the local paper.

The Battle was between Gen JEB Stuart and Union General David Gregg as Stuart tried to protect Lee’s flank on the long march to Gettysburg.

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It was for three days (June 17-19, 1863) and the Union lost 350 men to the Rebels’ 40 losses. Most experts call the engagement a draw or “inconclusive” but as it assisted Lee’s journey northward, the Confederates considered it a victory.

And just like the reenactment of the Battle of Unison last autumn, there were very few reenactors present.

But we will take what we can get, huh?

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Gettysburg Re-enactment

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I was up in Pennsylvania this past weekend and drove through Gettysburg.

They are busy making preparations for the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the monumental battle. And there are posters up throughout the region of southern Pennsylvania inviting all the re-enactors to come and join in the fun.

Unfortunately, I have to be working next week and I won’t be able to make it up there. I’ve been all over the battlefield years ago and know of so many areas of conflict that it will take thousands of re-enactors to pull off anything visually arresting, at any of the locations.

And this morning there was a small troop of Confederate re-enactors moving through Loudoun County en route to the historic battleground at Gettysburg.

I would imagine that though most of the soldiers will drive closer to the scene of action, I know there are a lot of historically-minded people who prefer to really get into the sense of the times: marching hundreds of miles in ninety-plus temperatures before the exertion of battle.

Ah, if only I was a decade (or two!) younger…

Having been a re-enactor when younger, I know what that is like and yet it is still so far from the reality of the action in 1863.

It makes me glad to think of it at a century plus remove from our world.



If that was only true for other parts of the world as well.


I Actually Started this Blog…

Having been to several sites where the Civil War was being discussed by people who simply let their emotions run away with their mouths, I wanted a forum to discuss the material like reasonable mature adults.

Well, it has been a couple of years and there have been no takers. All those interested in the subject have stepped quietly past this blog and went elsewhere.

My only assumption is that they really do not have anything cogent to present on the subject. They figure if they cannot call someone a %$@*#&%$ then they would rather not talk at all.

So be it.

It is an old saying that one may lead a horse to water but you cannot make the animal drink civilly while there.

Personally, I think many people are taking this thing a little too hard.

Those of the southern persuasion – for sure – but just as many from the Yankee havens as well. Neither side can get over the fact that “their side” either won or lost the contest.

That passions can still run high after a century and a half should not come as a surprise. Many of us had a grandparent who – though not engaged in the conflict – had probably met people who were. That is encountering the tales at only one remove.

When I was in Britain many years ago, I met a couple of Scots who were still angry over the Battle of Flodden. The Scots lost the battle to the English and lost their King as well in the struggle.

To show you the depth of their passion, this September 9th, 2013, marks the 500th anniversary of the battle. Five hundred years and there are still people upset!

With the Civil War still so “fresh” in our national conscience it is no wonder so many are still passionate about it.


Just… none of them come over here to discuss it.


The Battle of Unison – sesquicentennial re-enactment

[I would have gotten to this sooner but the ravages of Sandy set everything here back a few days. Fortunately, it did not hit here until the day after the re-enactment. But the loss of power and the damage to the property kept me otherwise occupied for a time.]

During the historical survey prior to the advancement of the site of the Battle of Unison as a national battlefield historic location, several historians remarked that the physical features mentioned in the dispatches from the officers in this engagement in 1862 were still visible. The land itself in the vicinity has not changed appreciably since the Civil War and there has been no major residential or commercial construction in the area.

At one point, in the middle of the nineteenth century, Unison was actually the fourth largest community in Loudoun County. Today it is nowhere near the top twenty. Civilization has by-passed the village and left it stranded in that early period. Hence the lack of development and the lack of disturbance to the battlefield site since the war.

Now to the re-enactment of the battle:

The action actually started in the evening before the actual battle around Unison. There was a skirmish along the Snickersville Pike between Aldie and Philomont, but I drove the entire distance to the Aldie junction and never saw a trace of anyone re-enacting.

Early on Saturday morning, though, the Rebel troops came through.


I did not see anything more than the small cavalry troop come through town but further along the roadside east of town were a few rebel infantry waiting for the action to begin.

There were others hiding in the thicket across the road but I could not get a decent shot, so I continued eastward looking for the “damned Yankees”. I did not have to look too far.

Then along came the cavalry


and the troops packed up from their repast


and got back on the road



After the long march into Unison and a small flurry of interchanged shots with the Rebel pickets just to the east of the village, the Union troops stopped in the village for lunch.


Once again packing up and moving on when the cavalry moved off.



To the west of the village, the Confederates had moved the cannon into position to thwart the Union advance.


There were some Rebels hiding in the thickets in the heights by Quaker Road.

And they had a pretty good view of the countryside to the east.

The cannon began firing shortly after the Union troops left the village and continued shaking the countryside every ninety seconds for the next two and a half hours.

After the engagement, the Union regrouped near the old Quaker cemetery

and the last of the stragglers made their way back through the village.

The local Methodist Church had been taken over to be used as a field hospital (though I did not see any “wounded” being taken there.


There was also a photographer on hand to take pictures.

It was difficult to take pictures without a lot of the crowd in the shot and I did not interfere with the re-enactors during the action, not even to get a good shot.

When younger, I was involved with a re-enaction and the main idea was to re-live the historic moment, not dodge around the modern sight-seers.

Perhaps there are other people who posted those pictures.

The biggest surprise to me was the cannon. I had no idea we would be feeling the concussion wave before the sound reached us. Nor did I think it would last as long as it did.

It was an enjoyable time for everyone concerned, I hope.

Prelude to the Battle

I got home from work this evening and immediately grabbed my camera and went out to get some shots of the preliminary skirmishes between the forces set to participate in tomorrow’s re-enactment of the Battle of Unison.

The data I had was not detailed with where the troops were going to be camping but I had a notion where the skirmishes were supposed to be.

Nada.

No troops, no gunfire, no cannon…

And I was so hoping to get at least a couple of shots – something at least showing the soldiers at their campsites… or anything!

So I suppose I will have to wait until tomorrow to get any pictures.

Unless, of course, the predicted storm (Frankenweiner 2012) has frightened all the re-enactors away.

An Historic Event Arriving

An Historic Event Arriving

A little known historic event occurred on Halloween 1862 and continued through the 2nd of November of that year:

The Battle of Unison.

Most historians have ignored the implications of this small event. But it was rather large in its results.

The Confederate advance into Maryland ended with the monumental Battle of Antietam, known as the bloodiest day of the war.

Lee withdrew his forces toward Harper’s Ferry and the Shenandoah Valley while McClellan remained at Sharpsburg resting his troops. Lincoln had to remind the General that he seemed to be closer to Richmond than Lee, so maybe he should race to the Southern Capital.

When the Federal troops moved off in that direction, Lee sent J.E.B. Stuart to cut them off.

With his smaller force, Stuart engaged the Union troops at Mountville and, remaining engaged, drew them westward from Aldie and Philomont into the small village of Unison. Here he was able to keep them occupied while Lee moved the bulk of his army to the Southeast and into a position to defend their capital.

After three days of fighting, the arrival of the remainder of the Union army made it imperative that Stuart leave the vicinity and he was forced to withdraw to Upperville, abandoning the wounded. The Unison Methodist Church, as well as many of the local homes, were turned into hospitals for the wounded from both side.

The Union troops were pleased that they had driven the Rebs away. They thought it was a worthwhile adventure.

Lincoln saw the events a little more darkly and removed General McClellan from his command.

Apparently, the small engagement seemed to show the Union as the victors even though they lost more men and horses than the Rebs. But they also lost their General and the chance to end the war then and there.

There will be an historic reenactment of the Battle by several units this year (the event’s sesquicentennial – i.e. 150th anniversary) but occurring on the 26th through the 28th of October, on the weekend, rather than on the 31st through Nov. 2nd.

Since I live in the area, it promises to be an interesting weekend!!

Another interesting footnote:

There was a scout and aide to General Stuart who was introduced to Loudoun County during this battle. He loved the area so much and saw some interesting possibilities there. He later discussed it with General Lee and was given the commission to form a group of partisan rangers.

The gentleman was originally from Fauquier County but made his name in Loudoun, which southern half is today called the “John Mosby Heritage Area”.

Yes, John Singleton Mosby was the aide who was first introduced to his place in history by the small Battle of Unison.

Small, yes, but the ripples from it went far and wide.

Reparations

There were some respondents to the Loewen article saying it might have been better if the Federal government had just outright purchased the slaves. Some even said the owners should have been paid reparations.

Some answered these posts with incredulity: How can anyone even think of such a thing?

Actually, there were other nations who ended slavery by doing just that. It was one way of doing it without going to war. Lincoln opted out of that option – primarily because the states had already seceded before he took office – and the war was the only option apparent to him. Although a smarter person might have thought of something better, but… Well, let’s just not go there, huh?

Many people expressed outrage that the government hadn’t just outlawed slavery without offering any reparations. That same concept could be used in the government today of going completely green and outlawing all carbon-emission vehicles. Almost all vehicles on the road today would suddenly become illegal. When you bought the car (in good faith) it was entirely legal. Now, you have to cough up $35,000 for an electric auto, even if you had purchased your new Prius only a month before. This law harms you… should you apply for some sort of reparations? Should the government alleviate your hardships due to their errant capriciousness? Why? Just because they bailed out the fat cats on Wall Street, why should they do the same for you? Or for the Southern slave owners who did nothing illegal – immoral, hell yes! – illegal?, no.

In retrospect, it would have been far cheaper to simply buy the slaves’ freedom.

Hindsight, always 20/20.

Some Ironies

There are a few facts that seem rather humorous in retrospect.

At the outset of the Civil War, General Lee owned no slaves. The ones he had received through his marriage had been freed long ago. On the other hand, General Grant did own slaves. He freed them during the war.

It was illegal in the South to teach a slave to read. Most people paid no attention to this as most considered the slaves incapable of such a talent. Thomas Jackson (General “Stonewall” Jackson, taught his slaves to read and built them a church and school for their own use. It was illegal, but he did it anyway. He must have seemed very progressive as many Americans (North and South) thought blacks had no soul, just like the Native Americans.

We have come quite a way since then.

Imagine where we’ll be in another hundred and fifty years.

Another thing I always thought was strange is the amount of support U. S. Grant got from Southern leaders when he ran for the Presidency. One of the main thorns in his side during the war had been Col. John S. Mosby yet Mosby was a very vocal supporter for Grant’s run at the Presidency. So much so that there were several attempts on his life in Warrenton, VA, where he lived after the war.

The National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, is the final resting place for many of the greats in American history. It had been the residence of Robert E. Lee before the war. It was captured early on in the conflict and became the headquarters of the Union Army in Virginia.

Lee never regained ownership of Arlington house and its grounds. Although after many years of petitioning, the Lee family did get some compensation for the Union spoils but it was long after the owner had died.

Another irony is that many of the shippers who brought the slaves to America were from New England States like Massachusetts and Connecticut. Less than a century later, it was primarily their descendants who were the most outspoken abolitionists.

Weird, huh?

Slavery

Yes, you could say the war was about slavery.

You could say a nuclear reactor is a water heater and be correct as well. But we both know it is a little more than that.

Well, so was the war.

The centerpiece of it is slavery, whether a later insertion or an original intent one cannot deny that it was a major factor in bringing the war on.

There are a lot of good books out there on the subject but I will mention a few items. Slavery seems to have been around as long as there have been people. Some societies have taken slaves through winning a war. Others depended on merchants in that trade.

Some societies allowed the slaves to marry and have children. And in many of them, the children were not slaves. Similar to illegal immigrants coming to America and having children here. The children are citizens.

Referring back to the Loewen article’s respondents:

A few people said that slavery was immoral. I think that’s true. Some said it was illegal and one even called it treasonous. Both statements are dead wrong even if exuberantly stated. It was legally correct and nothing even approaching treason. (And, no, Lincoln did not punish the South for this bit of “treason”.)

Slavery is, was and always has been a blight on human societies. In America it was made even more reprehensible in that the slavery was restricted (in the most part) to a single race. This created a problem whereby free blacks were often captured and sold back into slavery as “escaped slaves”. Since they were black, it seemed a logical conclusion.

But there were blacks who owned slaves. Indians owned slaves. It was not a thing to be embraced by the white man alone.

Even nations in the past like Rome did not limit slavery to a single race or tribe of people. Only in America was that done.

I guess America has always earned its reputation for being “innovative”.