Monday, May 28, 2012

On Memorial Day Looking Back at 1862

Today we honor the brave men and women who have given their lives in all the wars since our nation was founded, and I can't help but think of the horrors of war, especially the War Between the States when so many lives were lost as our nation was torn apart.

I am looking at the commemorative stamps issued this year by the US Postal Service, honoring the battles of New Orleans and  Antietam, Here are some quotes that accompany the new stamps that seem appropriate for Memorial Day.

 "The shrieks of the wounded and dying was terrible, but they rallied and came at us again and our men again awaited until they came in range and again arose and mowed them down...but they came again." (James C. Steele, 4th North Carolina)

and another "Mr. Brady had done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it." (New York Times).

 I close with this one: "Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes...and it is best they should not - the real war will never get in the books." (Walt Whitman)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Jefferson Davis Resting Peacefully In Hollywood Cemetery

Jefferson Davis lies in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond with his family. The place is very peaceful and overlooks the James river. Some have compared the James with the Jordan in Israel. Mothers have taken their children to this sacred place quoting words from Psalm 46:4 "There is a river the streams whereof make glad the City of God".

Two U.S. Presidents, James Monroe and John Tyler are buried there as well as President Davis, his wife Varina, daughters Margaret and Winnie, and sons. Four year old Joe was the first buried in the family plot.

 In the cemetery you will find a Pyramid monument in honor of the 18,000 Confederate enlisted men who are buried there. You can also see the graves of 25 Confederate Officers, including George Pickett and J.E.B. Stuart.

 Written on Davis's monument are these words: "Faithful to all trusts, a martyr to principle, He lived and died the most consistent of American Soldiers and Statesmen. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Story of Varina Davis's Wedding Ring

On August 29, 2005, Beauvoir, the retirement home of Jefferson and Varina Davis, on the Miss. Gulf Coast at Biloxi,  was nearly destroyed, when it took the full brunt of wind and water damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Did you know that Varina's emerald and diamond wedding ring, which was housed in the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library, on the grounds at Beauvoir,was presumed lost in the aftermath of the giant storm? It was a great loss as it was one of the few valuable possessions she managed to retain through the many lean years after the War.

Amazingly, it was discovered on the grounds a few months later, and returned to safekeeping. I wonder what the "odds" were of it being found in all that mud and destruction? I can hardly imagine, but I just love a story with a good ending, don't you? 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Events from 150 years ago During the War Between the States

So much happened that last week in May, 1862. McClellan took his army eight miles from Richmond and divided it on both sides of the Chickahominy river. General Jackson joined Richard Ewell in the Luray Valley of western Virginia. He was going to pressure Banks' forces in the valley to prevent them from moving to Richmond to aid McClellan.

 McClellan calls for reinforcements. Jackson moves north. In the West, Federal gunboat begins shelling Vicksburg. Halleck leisurely  approaches Corinth, Miss. He has been moving south from Tennessee since  the battle of Shiloh on April 6th. 

On the 25th, the battle now known as the First Battle of Winchester takes place. Even though it is a Sunday, Jackson disregards his  habit of honoring the Sabbath and attacks. He is 50 miles from Washington. He is successful in distracting 40,000 Union troops that could otherwise have joined the Army of the Potomac at the door of Richmond.

Beauregard abandons Corinth. Union forces threaten Vicksburg. Lincoln tells McClellan to "either attack Richmond or give up the job and come back to the defense of Washington". A very busy week for both Union and Confederate armies.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Jefferson Davis As United States Secretary of War 1853-1857

As Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce, Jefferson Davis was considered perhaps the best who ever served at that position. He introduced a humanities program at the U.S. Military Academy, establishing for the first time an elites corps of officers and gentlemen.

He sent a study commission to the Crimean War, which put into effect new military tactics based on the knowledge he gained. He introduced the light infantry, the rifle, musket and Minnie Ball, and he won wide respect. His  strengthening the military was an ironic mission, as a handful of years later his beloved Southland would secede and fight this very same military force that he had done so much to enhance.

He was chiefly instrumental in establishing the Smithsonian Institution; he instigated the federal civil service system; he began the movement to construct a canal across Panama, singling out the exact location where construction would be begun years later. He designed a cantilever bridge to span the Potomac River; he envisioned the need for transcontinental transportation, ordering surveys on three routes to the Pacific, corresponding afterwards with the three railway lines built with governmental assistance.

He was marked by his peers as Presidential timber, but God marked Jefferson Davis for another task, that of President of the Confederate States of America. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Alabama's Part In The War Between The States

Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861, the fourth state to do so. She then played host to the first Confederate capital in Montgomery, where representatives from the Confederate states elected Jefferson Davis their President, and drafted a constitution.

One hundred thousand Alabamians fought for the Confederacy and sixteen generals named our state as their birthplace.Perhaps Alabama's greatest contribution was its industrial and agricultural resources. Her ironworks armed the Confederate troops, while her farms fed troops throughout the South.

Alabama was one of the least fought over Southern states, but both Northern and Southern troops passed through Alabama on their way to battle elsewhere. Our most significant battle was fought over Mobile bay and the city of Mobile.

Visit Alabama today to see its varied contributions to the Confederacy at various Civil War sites, including the Capitol and of course the First White House in Montgomery.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Diary of Kate Cumming, Staunch Advocate of the Confederacy

I blogged about Kate Cumming, Civil War nurse,  on 11/12/10. She wrote a diary after the war about her experiences. Although she was adamant that the South should win and was on the "side of justice and right",  her faith in God enabled her to accept defeat without questioning.  

Like many Southerners, she blamed President Lincoln, the North, and some segments of southern society for the loss. She felt the lack of unity of the South was one of the biggest reasons for the defeat.

She also bitterly denounced the trial of Henry Wirz, Confederate commander of Andersonville Prison. Wirz was the scapegoat, convicted of conspiracy and murder, and hanged in Washington. He was the only Confederate soldier executed for war crimes after the war.

Cumming republished her diary in 1895. The Encyclopedia of Alabama says "In keeping with her belief in Lost Cause ideology, she dropped passages critical of various southerners' actions during the war, including cotton planters who refused to grown food and wealthy women who did not nurse, as well as those. sections that highlighted the lack of southern unity during the war."

She never married, and remained devoted to preserving and promoting the memory of the Confederacy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Jefferson Davis As Seen By Author Hudson Strode

In my bookcase is a  three volume biography of Jefferson Davis by Hudson Strode. The first in the series is Jefferson Davis, American Patriot, 1808-1861. It tells of the years before what Strode calls "the Great Conflict".

The second book is Confederate President, covering the 1861-1864 period. Reading it, we will ride the seesaw of military fortunes with President Davis, and participate in the great battles of the War.

 The third volume, Tragic Hero, 1864-1889, takes us through the last twenty-five years of his life.It deals with the end of the war, through his years in prison, and his struggle to support his family.

Strode also selected and edited a book on Jefferson Davis, entitled Private Letters, 1823-1889. This too should make fascinating reading,

We have some of President Davis's letters and Varina's and Margaret's (oldest daughter), in the First White House. Copies of these are on display in our Relic Room.


Monday, May 7, 2012

What Caused The War Between The States?

 People  have debated this question for years. For one thing the South and the North were essentially two different nations with different cultures. Some say the foundation for the war was laid in 1787 when the U.S. Constitution was written.

 Historian George Berry said "They made the conscious decision not to see the 800-pound gorilla in the middle of Independence Hall, even though they realized slavery was the biggest single issue facing the delegates". He said "There was a struggle for 74 years before the war actually started".

Dedicated Southerners will tell you it was "states rights" and tariffs. Northerners talk about slavery. What do you think?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

StoneWall Jackson Fought To Win

When Stonewall Jackson's 1862 campaign in the "Valley" came to a close, it was in the estimation of one observer "a chapter in history which is without parallel. That spring, his men had marched nearly 700 miles, won five battles and inspired the Confederacy.

He added to his reputation and prowess during the next ll months of his life and saved his greatest act for Chancellorsville. He was catapulted into the pantheon of military legends. But it was his "Valley Campaign" which lifted him into great and lasting fame.

There is a great article about his feats in "Hallowed Ground", the Civil War Trust magazine, spring 2012 issue. If you are not a member of the CWT, I recommend that you join. Its a great effort.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Margaret Mitchell and Gone With The Wind

A friend reviewed Road To Tara recently, a fine biography of Margaret Mitchell. She was a storyteller from an early age, but the only novel she ever published was Gone With The Wind. According to Road To Tara, much of what she wrote about was autobiographical.

Her father's family was Scottish and her Mother's family was Irish. Her grandfather, Russsell Crawford Mitchell served in the Confederate Army and was severely wounded at Sharpsburg.

Ashley Wilkes character was based on a young man she knew who was killed in WWI. Her first husband was the prototype of Rhett Butler. The traumatic events in Scarlett O'Hara's life had actually happened to her, including the events surrounding Mitchell's own Mother's death.

The scene when Rhett leaves for good in the fog at the end of the book, happened when her first husband walked out on her one foggy day.

I am rereading GWTW at present and I think it will be fun to read Road To Tara next!