Friday, July 24, 2015

What were they fighting over?

Around 20 years ago, I was bitten by the Civil War bug. I  reenacted  it, studied it, read about it, and tried to tour as many Civil War battlefields as I could. The first time I ever drove through a large part of the Civil War south was in the mid-1990's when I drove to FL. There was one common theme apparent on the trip, and it became more and more prevalent the deeper I got.

I drove to Virginia Beach for the first time in the late '90's. I saw more of the same, and it was then that I started to form an idea. We can research what caused the Civil War soldier to fight. We can research why he so heavily committed to the fight. We can research the ferocity of the fight, and we can research just about any other aspect of the war.

That is not what this post is about. What were they really fighting for? What is the common thing that is very prevalent in every southern state? They all have different names for it, and some states have more than others, but what is it?

I had put this line of thought on hold for awhile, because I hadn't traveled deep into the heart of Dixie recently, and I had never been to the true "Deep South." Columbia, South Carolina was the closest I had ever come to it.

A short time ago, I traveled to Houston . To get there, I drove through Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. I had been there. I drove into eastern Tennessee, near Knoxville. I had been there. Then, the true adventure started.

We briefly rode through northwestern Georgia. I didn't see much, but I had previously driven I-95 south, through the entire state, and I knew Georgia had it. Then came Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and eastern Texas. It was during this part of the trip that my idea from the past resurfaced. As I went deeper into each state, the notion was reaffirmed.

The American Civil War was fought over an extremely large amount of swampland. There! I said it! There's no denying it. Of course there are mountains throughout many southern states. Of course there is farmland in many southern states. Not all of them have everything I've mentioned, such as mountains or farmland, but every southern state has an abundance of swampland.

There are many notable swamp regions. Virginia and North Carolina share possession of the Great Dismal Swamp. Georgia and Florida share the Okefenokee. Florida has sole possession of the Everglades. Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas share the bayous of the Mississippi River Delta. Tennessee has the Bald Cypress Swamp. South Carolina has the Edisto Island low country. Not to be outdone, Arkansas has the Boggy Creek swamp region.

For every swamp, such as the Everglades or the Okefenokee, that you've heard about, there are hundreds of others. Many aren't even named on the maps, and are known only to locals. 

Whether you call them bayous, swamps, marshes, creeks, lowlands, wetlands, or any other name you can think of, they are all over the Civil War South. Of course the true fighting was not over the possession of the swamps. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of acres of swampland comprised a large portion of the spoils of war. Got swamp? The Confederacy sure did!

Monday, May 4, 2015

I don't always take more than a year off...

...but when I do it's because someone tried to steal my blog! I'm back. Posts will commence in the near future. Regards, and to those who stuck with me, I say,...


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's very unfortunate...

...that just two weeks after I encourage everyone to attend the Gettysburg Illumination, it is canceled because of the weather. Cold, windy conditions blasted the entire region on Saturday. The parade went off well. The dedications throughout the field went off well, and it seemed like the illumination would conclude an excellent 150th anniversary commemoration event.

20-25 mph winds, with even higher gusts, made the illumination impossible. The luminaries wouldn't stay upright, and even if they would have there would have been no way to light them or to keep them lit.

It was a disappointing end to what had been a great weekend. Let's hope the weather in Sharpsburg on December 7 is better. The Gettysburg illumination would have had over 3500 luminaries. In Sharpsburg on the Antietam Battlefield, they light over 23,000. It would be tragic to see the event delayed or canceled.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Galtroops re-visited!

I didn't attend a whole lot of the 150th anniversary events in Gettysburg this year. I have no hard feelings or animosity about it, but living where I do I can go to the battlefield just about any time. With the traffic and the crowds, I thought it better to stay away and to allow those coming to see it from afar to enjoy it. They can have their days, and I'll have mine. None are more significant or special, because I don't see why any one anniversary, or any day for that matter, is more significant than others. Dates and anniversaries are merely numbers that we arbitrarily attach significance to for some reason, but any time we remember the cause, the fighting, the brutality and the sacrifice we are doing the right thing.

But I diverge from my point. Back on track.

I saw photos from the two anniversary Gettysburg battle reenactments, and actually the farb and the "anything goes mentality" wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I see worse every weekend strutting their stuff on Steinwehr with ill-fitting hoopskirts, ankles showing, overly-fancy uniforms and bad hats, or passing the "Ghost-story spiel" as historic fact, and claiming to be properly historically attired while doing so.

Then of course, there's the Remembrance Day parade. It happened this past Saturday, and though it is  a significant effort to honor those of both sides, I ask how much honor are we really doing when people repeatedly do things or wear things they know are historically inaccurate "...just because it's close enough!"?

Case in point: Galtroops. Women who want to be Civil War soldiers. Why? I don't know, because in the CW reenacting hobby there are many appropriate roles for women. If you don't want to be a camp follower or laundress, you can always be a field nurse, a sanitary or Christian commission worker, a refugee or displaced citizen, or just a local wanting to help feed the troops or care for the wounded.

During the Civil War, there are reports of women dressing in uniforms, enlisting and fighting as men. The key words in that last sentence are important, so we'll say them again, "...fighting as men." No one knows how they fooled the doctors to pass the physical, but these women assumed male identities and fought in the ranks.

If discovered and reported, they were drummed out of the armies and sent home. Albert Cashier, who in reality was the woman Jennie Hodgers, served for three years undetected and only revealed her true identity after the war. There also was an unidentified Confederate soldier found near the angle on the third day's assault near Gettysburg who was a woman in uniform.

In the Civil War reenacting community, women who dress as men often take very little effort to hide their genders. It often is blatantly obvious that they are women trying to serve a man's role. Is this acceptable? Perhaps at events, civilians should, after identifying women in the ranks, point them out to the officers or NCOs. Then, they could properly disarm the women, drum them out of the ranks and send them on their way. That would be realism! No one has the nerve to do it, though, because it would be bigotry, hatred, or discrimination, and even though we're passing fake history as the truth we can't risk hurting anyone's feelings.

So, the argument is made that in reality women did this, often serving with distinction. Take away the above facts about what would happen if discovered and let's look at sheer numbers. While no one knows for sure how many women served, the generally agreed upon number is 2,000. As many as 3,000,000 million men total served on both sides of the Civil War, so let's do the math.


Round it up to 0.1%, and you have roughly 1 woman in the ranks for every 1,000 men. Even assuming the numbers are off by a factor of 2, there should be no more than 2 woman out of every 1000 in the ranks. In a 5,000 person parade, there should be no more than 10 galtroops, and even that number is an over-estimate. In reality, to be historically validated, those 10 galtroops should be able to pass by the crowds undetectable as women. 

If you attended the Remembrance Day parade, please comment. How many woman did you see dressed as soldiers? A few? Several? Too many? Do you think there were more than 10? Did they seem to make a serious effort to conceal their gender by shortening their hair, hiding their chests, and walking like men, or did they just put on a uniform and go? 

What are your thoughts?

I didn't attend, but I've seen many photos, and I attended in years past. In some of the photos, and in previous parades, I counted upwards of 4-5 women in some companies of only 20 or 30 total troops, and often this happened repeatedly. Last year, I lost count at 126 women in a parade said to have 3,000 participants. That's shameful, and one of many reasons that history is being perverted in the name of political correctness. Those who do it or tolerate it should feel more than a small degree of shame, because there is no honor in telling lies and saying they're actually showing how it was.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"A few appropriate remarks...

...delivered after two hours of speechifying."

150 years ago, during the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, President Lincoln was invited to give a few remarks during the dedication. Coming on the heels of a two hour speech by Edward Everett, Lincoln's address was 10 sentences, 272 words, and lasted 2 minutes. Along with the thousands in attendance, Lincoln himself had no idea that his short oration would become one of the best known and most famous speeches of all time.

The reaction to Lincoln's speech were muted. Lincoln, after delivering his address, said, "It's a flat failure, and the people are disappointed." He could not have been more wrong. Even 150 years later, "The Gettysburg Address", as it has come to be called, became the focusing factor of the country in the Civil War. 

After more than two years of war, hundreds of thousands of casualties, and carnage previously unimaginable, the nation was growing weary. The people wanted peace, and the ultimate goal of the war was becoming cloudy. Lincoln changed all of that in two minutes on that November day in 1863. The focus was re-defined, the sacrifices were remembered, and the goal of total victory was restored.

The text of Lincoln's address is as follows:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Everett's response to Lincoln following the speech was one of praise for a job well done. Everett said, "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."

In a country that currently is undergoing its own struggle of divisiveness and political uncertainty, it is important that all Americans of all faiths, all national origins, and all political ideologies take a few minutes and reflect on the words of the 16th President. To borrow the words of someone more famous than any of us, "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"The Legend Lives On...

...from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they call Gitchi Gumi..."

Overshadowed earlier in the week by the USMC birthday and the Veterans Day posts, I missed another historic moment. Revered in Great Lakes lore,and romanticized by songwriters such as Gordon Lighfoot, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was one of the largest maritime disasters in the history of Great Lakes shipping.

The Edmund Fitzgerald, nicknamed "Mighty Fitz" or "Big Fitz" was off to a rocky start from the beginning. It took three attempts to break the champagne bottle on her christening and she collided with a pier on launch, but went off to a 17 year run of great success. When launched on June 8, 1958 the Fitzgerald was the largest ship on any of the Great Lakes.

For 17 years the Fitz carried tactonite iron ore from Duluth, MN to Detroit, Toledo and other Great Lakes ports. The workhorse of Superior, she set seasonal haul records six different times. Affectionately known as the DJ captain, Captain Peter Pulcer was known to pipe blaring music through the ship's loudspeakers and to entertain spectators on the shore of the canals and rivers with running commentary on the ship as she passed by. The Big Fitz was a fan favorite, and people often came out in great numbers to see her and wave to the crew as she passed by.

All that would end on November 9-10, 1975, when the ship sunk in a massive gale while carrying 26,000 tons of tactonite. A series of problems and mishaps led to the sinking and the deaths of the 29 crew members on board. While no one knows the exact cause or sequence of events, it is known that the Fitzgerald was caught by an early November storm, battered by 50mph+ winds, and flooded by swells over 20 ft. tall that raked her from the side and swamped her decks. The Fitzgerald sunk swiftly, and at some point broke into two pieces, though it's not known for sure if the ship split while sinking or if it split when it hit the lake bottom.

Memorial services for the crew members lost were held in the Mariner's Church in Detroit. During the service, the church bell rang 29 times, once for each life lost. 

The ship's bell was recovered from the wreck in 1995 and was replaced with a replica which was engraved with the names of the 29 crew members. The original bell, along with other recovered items were displayed at a permanent memorial in Whitefish Point. After a series of controversies surrounding an attempted removal of the bell, it ended up on permanent display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, also at Whitefish Point, where it is still today. The museum is a tribute to all of the souls lost on all of the Great Lakes.

Controversy over the wreck continues to this day, as new theories arise with regularity. None can be proven totally conclusive, so debate will no doubt continue.

Gordon Lightfoot brought this event to life in 1976 with his stirring folk ballad, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". It is a song as relevant and moving today as it was when released and is recommended listening for all.

Whether the mystery will be solved or not cannot be said with certainty. Regardless, it is a maritime tragedy, as are all lives and ships lost in the transportation of Great Lakes commerce. Never forget those who gave their all in a dangerous line of work, and never take for granted those who go to work knowing the risks. To them, it's not just a job and it's often not for the money. It's carrying on a tradition and a way of life.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Little Mac"

George B. McClellan, the two-time commander of the Union Army of the Potomac and Presidential candidate was a colorful, yet arrogant individual. Called the Little Napoleon, he always was finely attired and was very prim and proper. He was a man of organization, quick to train and often unwilling to fight. He was the man who after the Battle of Antietam proclaimed the army had won a great victory and driven the enemy back to Virginia.

McClellan was relieved of command after the failed Peninsular Campaign, but was brought back after the debacle of the Second Battle of Bull Run. In response to the return of Little Mac, Lincoln told his secretary, John Hay, "We must use what tools we have. There is no man in the Army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he. If he can't fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight." 

A great joy spread through the Army of the Potomac when the soldiers heard that Little Mac was back in command. McClellan's joy would again be short-lived, as his habit of over-estimating the enemy's strength and failing to fully commit to battle would ultimately lead to lost opportunities and more problems with the administration. Lincoln accused McClellan of having, "...a case of the slows..."

Why a post about McClellan today? Today is a significant day in the lore of the Little Napoleon. It was on November 13, 1861, after becoming frustrated with McClellan's failure to attack Confederate forces near Washington, and after the Union loss at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, that Lincoln sought to have a meeting with McClellan. Lincoln went to visit McClellan at his home. Lincoln, however, was snubbed by McClellan. After waiting on the general for nearly a half hour, Lincoln was told by one of McClellan's servants that the general had gone to bed.