Tag Archives: American Civil War

Gettysburg’s 150th

I’m not sorry to be missing Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary these next three days. Too many reenactors, thousands of them, in fact. And too many of them are too corpulent and their uniforms too clean to be taken seriously as representing the ragged, lean and hungry Rebel and Union soldiers who fought in the plowed fields and orchards south of the Pennsylvania town on July 1-3, 1863.

I attended the 125th anniversary, back in 1988, which, mercifully, was much less attractive to the costumed and so the fields were quiet on the appointed days and more appropriate for commemoration of tens of thousands of killed, wounded and missing, some of them my own ancestors, all of whom were Rebels. I walked from attack point to attack point on July 2 down Seminary Ridge sticking small Rebel battle flags in the ground beside the monuments of their Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Georgia units.

Thus the battle should be remembered on both sides, it seems to me, with whatever reconciliation and emancipation commemorations the park service thinks are appropriate. Gettysburg wasn’t the first battle the Rebels lost but it was one of the first big ones the Union clearly won, so it did provide the push for what President Lincoln later called  “a new birth of freedom.”

The reenactor bonanzas, however, just turn into carnivals leavened only by the sulfur  smell of the genuine black-powder rifles and cannon, of which there will be more than the usual number this week. Firing blanks of course, which do not provide the real sound—an ear-splitting crack—and so merely add to the phoniness of it all.

At least the Brit’s Telegraph says there will be enough cannon to give an approximation of the real scene. The Telegraph’s report, ironically, is probably the most complete one we’re likely to get. American media often are hobbled by their political focus on the country’s history, especially this history which concerns African slavery.

And therein is an interesting detail the Telegraph reporters found: several black reenactors portraying “civilians” at Gettysburg—presumably, in some cases, the real servants/slaves who followed their Rebel “marsters” to war. I saw one such black reenactor, exactly one, in 1990 at the 125th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox. He was sitting with some white reenactor Rebels.

Good for them, the black reenactors, I mean, few of them as there are, for having the guts to buck contemporary racial politics to add some truth and verisimilitude to the circus: the three-ring parade of incongruously pot-bellied and double-chinned white soldiers in their spanking-new uniforms and far too many hoop-skirted women for anything like accuracy. All they need is a steam calliope on iron-rimmed wooden wheels playing Danny Boy.

But enough of the curmudgeon. It’s all very, very good in at least one respect. It’s really not possible to ever bring back the real days of 1863. Thank goodness.

This just in from the Civil War…

The (apparently) world’s first combat submarine, which few alive today have ever seen. Now you can be one of them. You’d never have gotten me in that thing. I’m the descendant of  infantrymen. But I can’t help but admire the sailors who volunteered for the H.L. Hunley—and perished.

Thanksgiving

It was originally an American tradition, observed in some parts of the country but not in others, until 1863 when President Lincoln made it an official holiday at the end of November.

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they [our blessings] 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.”

Via Lint In My Pocket – Artillery On The Ridge

Kershaw’s Brigade at Fredricksburg

Mort Kunstler, whose painting this is, is one of the leading sentimentalists of American Civil War art. He does Union pieces, too, but seems to prefer Rebel ones, probably because they sell better.

Kershaw’s Brigade of South Carolinians held the sunken road on Marye’s Heights at Fredricksburg in December, 1862, stopping multiple Union charges until the battlefield was littered with Union dying and dead.

Lost Rebel

unidentifiedcssoldierIt’s hard for me to believe that this young Rebel in his mounted rifles Hardee hat could be unidentified, even after all these years. He’s a handsome fellow and his pose, on a simple chair without any painted background and minus the usual bellicose weaponry, is thoughtful and loving. Somebody’s Darling, no doubt. Yet, somehow, his descendants lost, or even worse sold, this likeness of him. And today no one seems to know who he was. R.I.P.

Via Dead Confederates.

Holding the country together

23rdOhioI’ve always liked this old shot of some of the 23rd Ohio. Not that I fall for the notion that they were freeing the slaves. But they certainly held the country together and bless them for it.

Early NASA effort

nasaLittle known outside of a select few Civil War buffs was the early Union space program designed to put an abolitionist on the streets of Richmond, if not the moon. Heck, they’d take either one. It was for sure their generals weren’t getting it done. Didn’t work, of course, or history would have recorded it. Uh, maybe.