Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Palm Sunday and Easter

Christianity played a tremendous role in soldiers' lives during the Civil War. Although men of other faiths were represented, Christians were by far the majority. Revivals were frequently held until the burden of war weighed so heavily on the soldiers that, by 1863, religious services were generally pushed by the wayside. Still, men carried Testaments, and prayed fervently before battle. Even the Confederate battle cross is representative of St. Andrew, who was Jesus' disciple, and the patron saint of Scotland; the red on the Southern Cross representing Jesus' blood, and the white border representing God's protection.

General Robert E. Lee was arguably the most passionate about his religious convictions, believing that God's divine will would determine the outcome of the war. He prayed regularly, and must have continuously fought his inner demons to justify all the pain and suffering the Confederate army inflicted under his command. What is most profound, though, is that he surrendered his army to General Grant on Palm Sunday. I wonder what must have been going through his mind at that time.

Easter to Christians represents rebirth, rejuvenation, and, of course, the resurrection. In a way, it is ironic that, in 1865, the country started out anew right around Easter, becoming "The United States of America" instead of individual states. Sadly, President Lincoln was shot on Good Friday, expiring the next morning. Although Easter should be a day of celebration for all Christians, in 1865, it was a day of mourning for both the North and the South, and a premonition of the heartache that was yet to come.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Woman’s Place is On the Front Lines with Her Man

There are many interesting characters who participated in the War Between the States, some of which, of course, were women. Most everyone has heard of Clara Barton, the field nurse who nearly lost her life on the battlefield at Antietam, only to go on after the war and found the American Red Cross. Annie Etheridge also served as a battlefield nurse for the Michigan Volunteers. She was presented the Kearney Cross, a decoration given to enlisted men, for her bravery. Dr. Mary Walker received the Medal of Honor, only to have it revoked later on. It was finally restored to her during Jimmy Carter's administration. Louisa May Alcott was so moved by what she saw in field hospitals that she wrote "Hospital Sketches," and went on to write "Little Women" after the war.

A number of female spies for both sides did their part, including Belle Boyd, who served as a Confederate spy. She began her illustrious career at age 17, when she shot and killed a Yankee who invaded her home. Other Confederate female spies included Antonia Forc, Rose O'Neal Greenhow, Nancy Hart, Laura Ratcliffe, Lottie and Ginnie Moon, and Loreta Janeta Velazquez. On the Union side, there was, of course, Harriet Tubman, who was the chief engineer of the Underground Railroad. Sarah Emma Edmonds disguised herself as a male soldier, calling herself Frank Thompson. She was a master of disguise, and used her creativity to her advantage when she entered into enemy territory to obtain information. Her spying days came to an end when she contracted malaria, and had to admit her true identity. Other spies included Pauline Cushman, Elizabeth Van Lew, Mary Edwards Walker, and Mary Elizabeth Bowser.

Many women disguised themselves as soldiers so that they could remain with their husbands. It seems bizarre today, but back then, modesty ruled the day, so no one questioned a person's true gender. Some managed to keep their identities a secret until their deaths, when their military service was revealed in their obituaries. Amy Clark, Rebecca Peterman, Frances Clalin, Mary and Molly Bell, Jennie Hodgers, and Frances Hook are some, to name a few. It is fascinating to think that many women were so bold as to disregard Victorian culture, lose their hoop skirts, and march off to war!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Biloxi and Beauvoir Rebuilding

Four and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, the city of Biloxi, Mississippi is finally recovering. The beaches are being re-sanded, the casinos are being remodeled, and demolished residences are being rebuilt. Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ home, is also in the process of being restored.

Progress is taking place on the grounds, especially on the site of the new library. Fortunately, books that were in the old library were stored safely before the hurricane hit, so none of them were lost or damaged. Beauvior has retained its regal beauty, and will eventually be restored to its original splendor, including a rose garden replicating the one Varina Howell Davis planted on the grounds.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Luck O the Irish

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Because I am Irish, we always make a big deal out of St. Paddy's Day by going to the parade, playing Irish music, and of course, cooking corned beef and cabbage. During the Civil War, the Irish played an enormous role in both armies, and many famous soldiers were Irish. Everyone no doubt has heard of the infamous Irish Brigade, which still exists today. The Irish Brigade, led my Thomas Francis Meagher, played a significant role in many major battles, and there have been documented accounts of the Confederates hearing the approaching Irish Brigade chant "Erin Go Braugh!" as the marched toward them with the Union army. The 2,500 Irish soldiers stuck green sprigs in their caps to remind them of the "old sod."

On the Confederate side, six of the 425 generals were Irish. Patrick Cleburne saw the South's plight as that of Ireland's in that the Union refused to allow secession, just as Britain disallowed Irish independence. General Cleburne, who would be celebrating his birthday today if he were alive, distinguished himself as a brave and innovative leader. Other notable Irish commanders included General Philip Sheridan, General George Armstrong Custer, and John Barry, father of the American Navy.

During the course of the War Between the States, approximately 2.2 million men fought for the Union, 150,000 of which were Irish. In comparison, around 900,000 enlisted for the Confederacy, with 20,000 to 40,000 of these men being of Irish decent. The Irish played an important part in music as well. A popular song of the time, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," was written by Patrick Gilmore, an Irishman.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Battle Hymn of Hatred

Music played a significant role in the War Between the States. The South had a battle song, “Dixie,” so the North wanted its own as well. In 1862, a year into the war, Julia Ward Howe came up with new lyrics to a melody that was already familiar, “John Brown’s Body.” Ironically, her husband, Dr. Samuel Howe, was a financial supporter of the raid at Harper’s Ferry, where John Brown was captured and hung for treason. Both he and his wife were staunch abolitionists.

Mrs. Howe was inspired to write “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” after visiting Washington D.C. and witnessing Union soldiers’ campfires flickering on the outskirts of town. At the time, the song was considered inspirational in its religious references. Mrs. Howe, a member of the Unitarian Church, is said to be more of an atheist in her own person beliefs. The strong sentiment and symbolic overtones in the lyrics she wrote are indicative of the hatred she apparently felt for Southerners in general; not just toward Confederates.

This song is commonly sung in churches and at patriotic events today. However, the problem arises when one considers the lyrics. They will find that “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is hate-filled rhetoric consisting of derogatory implications. It is no wonder that people realize the negative aspects and refuse to sing the anthem. It is interesting to note that the song is performed frequently at Southern churches within the Bible Belt. “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored” is one example of a symbolic reference - vintage representing the blood of Southern people. When a song becomes controversial, it is generally avoided, and many in the South feel this sentiment. Just as African-Americans have for centuries fought to acquire respect and equality, it seems only fair that any song deemed offensive by any group such as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” should be discontinued as well.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Song of the South

No one knows for sure where the word "dixie" originated. Some believe that it was a shortened nickname referring to the Mason-Dixon Line, while others think it came from ten-dollar notes that were widely used and issued from Louisiana ("dix" is French for "ten). By the 1850's, the term "dixie" was directly associated with the South.

The song "Dixie's Land" is commonly believed to have been written by Daniel Emmett, although others emerged who contested this. The melody became popular in black face minstrel shows, and after the start of the War Between the States, became the Southern anthem. (The North felt as though it needed an anthem as well, so it adopted the "Battle Hymn of the Republic, which I will discuss further next week.) Many variations in the lyrics appeared at this time, as was common practice back then. The song was played at both Presidents Lincoln and Davis' inaugurations. It was a favorite of Lincoln's, who also requested that the song be played during the Grand Review after the war was over. And, of course, it was played at Emmett's funeral.

Unfortunately, during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60's, "Dixieland" became associated with negative, racist implications, rather than having been considered as an important piece of history, ancestry, and Southern heritage. Recently, it was banned from being played at Ole Miss sporting events. When local school children in Mississippi were asked if they knew the song, none of them recognized it. Personally, I think that's a shame.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gettysburg Gets Good News

The National Park Service at Gettysburg received some good news recently. First, they are acquiring a parcel of land that has recently come up for sale. The farmland is in a significant area of the battlefield where General Longstreet's Confederate forces marched west of the Emmitsburg Road. The land came up for sale at the end of last year, but the asking price was far more than the Park Service could afford. So the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) came to the rescue, holding fundraisers to acquire the requested amount. The CWPT has put a bid on the property, and intends to donate the land to the NPS.

The second piece of good news is that it looks like gambling won't be coming into Gettysburg. After several years of battles, a coalition of state and national preservation groups turned down a proposal by businessman David LeVan, opposing his request to open a casino only one-half mile from the National Park. The reason cited was "longstanding commitment to ensuring that singular and significant historic sites like the Gettysburg Battlefield are treated with the respect and consideration they deserve."

Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said, "Some places are just too important to be treated with anything less than the greatest respect, and Gettysburg is one of those places. Anyone who has visited the battlefield in recent years can attest to the fact that commercial development is threatening the visitor experience at Gettysburg, and this proposed casino would greatly exacerbate the problem. A new casino located so close to this sacred soil is simply unacceptable." Amen to that!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Old Soldier Retires

I recently wrote about an old Civil War statue that was being retired in Muscantine, Iowa. The statue was taken down on Monday, and sadly, the legs and musket of the old soldier crumbled. Lee Miller, a local historian, was glad to see that the rest of the statue stayed intact. The marble statue will be kept in storage, and a new statue will take the place of the old one, along with updated plaques listing soldiers who were omitted before.

On this date in 1861 and in 1865, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated. Before the first ceremony took place, Lincoln was sneaked into Washington for his own protection, but strangely enough, attended the inauguration in an open horse-drawn carriage. At the second inauguration, heavy rains made the roads so muddy that traffic was nearly at a standstill. Sadly, the president would be assassinated only a month later. At the second inaugural, it is said that the crowd had a difficult time understanding Vice President Johnson's speech. This is because he was taking whiskey prescribed by a physician for an ailment. He reportedly drank so much that his speech was rambling and incoherent! One of the spectators in the crowd was none other than John Wilkes Booth, who would later become Lincoln's assassin.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Freedom Isn't All It's Cracked Up To Be

Many slaves who found their freedom soon discovered that the promised land really didn't exist. They were shunned in the north by other minorities, who feared that blacks would take away their jobs. The freedmen were discriminated against at every turn, including those who enlisted in the Union army.

Typical pay for a white soldier was $13 a month, while blacks only received $11 a month, and had $3 a month taken out of their wages for uniforms. Most black soldiers were put to work digging ditches, cooking, or tending to livestock. In other words, they were the grunt labor. Black soldiers received one ration a day, whereas white soldiers received full rations.

White soldiers commonly razed and tormented their black counterparts. They were encouraged to join black regiments in order to achieve self-promotion. Many white soldiers received rapid advancement while enlisted as officers of black regiments. Although the 54th Massachusetts is a famous example of a black regiment, most did not serve combat duty. By 1865, of the one million soldiers serving in the Union army, 15% were black.