The Three Forgotten FIRST LADIES

The incomparable Dolley Madison Following Dolley Madison, there was a big gap in the role of the First Lady Elizabeth Monroe was a reclusive woman by nature, and her grown daughter was a snobbish substitute. Louisa Adams was in chronic poor health; her husband was unpopular. Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren were both widowers. […]

The Three Forgotten FIRST LADIES

Second Winchester Battlefield in Frederick County, Virginia

In the first major infantry battle of the Gettysburg Campaign, Confederate forces dealt a crushing blow to Union designs in the Shenandoah. Today you can visit the remains of a fort where they fought. The battles of Second Winchester and Stephenson’s Depot were fought from June 13 to 15, 1863 between Union forces commanded by […]

Second Winchester Battlefield in Frederick County, Virginia

Echoes Through History

Jefferson declined an invitation to speak about the Declaration of Independence on its 50th anniversary. His health was failing him in the summer of 1826.

“The only birthday I ever commemorate is that of our Independence, the Fourth of July.”

Modern writers are so quick to label Jefferson a hypocrite – and at best a contradiction. All of these “scholars” dismisses the Declaration as imperfect – implying it was either short cited or selfish. The implication is he had written a document which applied to so few, therefore we must see it as flawed.

We must to look to his words- written just 10 days before his death- for his true feelings on the document.

“May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.”

Jefferson’s words continue to echo through history despite the best efforts of his current detractors.

Is it the Fourth?

Can we endure without the man who gave us our creed?

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Americans, largely through the efforts of a lewd media, used the Fourth of July 2019… to denigrate and trivialize Thomas Jefferson’s memory. Salacious accusations disguised as legitimate archaeology and scholarship dragged the author of our Declaration of Independence down into tabloid scandal-mongering. We have fallen to the point where Jefferson’s name cannot be mentioned without alleged slave mistresses. We forget what he gave us- focusing instead on trifling conjecture. We have forgotten what the Fourth of July truly means….

“I thank heaven that the 4th. of July is over. It is always a day of great fatigue to me”

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Jefferson said… “And even should the cloud of barbarism and despotism again obscure the science and liberties of Europe, this country remains to preserve and restore light and liberty to them. In short, the flames kindled on the 4th. of July 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism. On the contrary they will consume those engines, and all who work them.”

Remember what Jefferson gave us…….. never forget what he gave mankind.

The Sykes Monument

A New Memorial Well Deserved

George Sykes is one of two Union Corps commanders without… an equestrian memorial at the Gettysburg National Military Park.  Dan Sickles declined one in his honor, claiming “the whole damned battlefield is my monument.  The exclusion of Sykes is misunderstood and often erroneously remembered by historians and students of the battle.

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John Sedgwick missed over a third of the battle… and Henry Slocum’s inaction on July 1 bordered on insubordination- yet both these Generals have mounted statues on the battlefield.  These monuments were constructed by their states in conjunction with the Gettysburg Memorial Association between 1867-96.  The US War Department took no part in the construction of monuments at Gettysburg.  So why was Sykes overlooked?

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Many assume Sykes was not memorialized because of poor performance… in and after the Battle of Gettysburg.  His nicknames of “Slow Trot” and “Tardy George”  have become historical cans tied to his record trail.  Neither assumption is holds water- the truth is more complicated:

  • Sykes’ promotion to Corps command on June 28, 1863 upset some of his fellow officers- especially those who ranked him.  Sykes was given the V Corps at the direction of Meade.
  • Sykes did not have a good rapport with volunteer troops, who in many cases, led the later efforts to erect monuments- Sykes spent most of the War commanding Regular Army troops.
  • He did not have a long career following the war, dying at a dusty Texas outpost in 1880. 
  • Following the War, Delaware was in no position to contribute funds to a monument depicting someone who permanently left the state as a teenager. 
  • Reynolds and Sedgwick were popular leaders with volunteer troops; while Howard and Slocum had long public careers following the War.**

 

**Thanks to Scott Hartwig for the pointers.

Bad Medicine on the Battlefield

Myles Walter Keogh was born to be a soldier… the young Irish lad, stricken by the poverty of the Potato Famine, sought adventure and glory on the battlefield.  At the urging of the Catholic clergy young Keogh enlisted in the Papal army of Pious IX.  As a member of the Company of St. Patrick, Vatican Guards, Keogh was cited for gallantry by the Papacy three times.  When American clergymen came to Europe to recruit members of the Papal army for the Union cause, Keogh enlisted right away.

Fighting Irishman (commons)

Fighting with distinction in the… Shenendoah valley, Keogh caught the notice of the Union high command.  George McClellan remarked, “a most gentlemanlike man, of soldierly appearance,” whose “record had been remarkable for the short time he had been in the army.“  Keogh fought with some of the Union cavalry’s hardest hitting units, including the division of General John Buford at Gettysburg and General George Stoneman on Sherman’s March to the Sea.  By the end of the war, he was one of the most distinguished young cavalry officers in Federal service.  Future Secretary of War John Schofield described Keogh, “He is one of the most gallant and efficient young cavalry officers I have ever known.”  Following the Civil War, he was promoted to Captain in the regular army and assigned to the 7th Cavalry, under the command of George Armstrong Custer.  On the Plains Keogh continued his meritorious service, but seemed to be afflicted by a melancholy streak, “Impudence and presumption carry with them great weight and a certain lack of sensitiveness is necessary to be successful. This lack of sensitiveness I unfortunately do not inherit.”  A life of military campaigning was taking a toll on the dashing Irishman. 

Fell here (FLBH)

It is never a good sign when a soldier… prepares for a campaign by deeding his land to family, buying life insurance, and ordering his personal papers to be burned upon death.  Myles Keogh knew his fate awaited him on the campaign of 1876.  Keogh commanded half of the battalion that rode to destruction with Custer.  The troopers with Keogh battled in their own last stand on the ridges East of Custer’s position.  Keogh’s body was  surrounded by a ring of eight troopers.  He was one of two bodies not to be mutilated in the post battle atrocities.  It is said that the Papal medals he wore around his neck frightened the Indians; this soldier was considered “Bad Medicine.”

The Other Custer

Thomas Ward Custer rode to his death… along side his brother at the battle of Little Big Horn.  The dynamic, rowdy pair had been soldiers nearly all their lives.  Tom followed in his older brother’s foot steps, enlisting in the Union army at the age of 16.  Though George achieved more fame, he thought the world of his little brother, “Do you want to know what I think of him? Tom should have been the General and I the Lieutenant.”   The elder Custer was the youngest man to achieve the rank of Major-General while young Tom was one of 19 men to win the Medal of Honor twice.  Personally capturing two Confederate battle flags under severe fire (the second attempt nearly cost his jaw)  Tom was undoubtedly a hero.  The exploits of his older brother have relegated him to obscurity.

He won all the medals (commons)

George (Autie, as Tom called him) was austere, devoted, and a teetotaler.  Tom tried to emulate his brother, but strayed to drink and hell raising when his sister-in-law Libbie was not near to regulate him.  Together, the Custer boys were notorious pranksters, and few familiar with them on the frontier were immune from their antics.  Autie Custer had molded the 7th Cavalry into a fast-moving, hard-hitting combat unit;  His brother was with him every step of the way.  Detractors labeled them the “Custer Clan”, and resented the good fortune which seemed to follow the family, “Custer’s Luck.”  That luck ran out on June 25, 1876.  George, Tom, and baby brother, Boston Custer died on the dusty hills of Southeastern Montana.

The Custer clan

Tom Custer was an American hero… He died bravely on the field of battle fighting for his country.  His enemies mutilated his body beyond recognition that day.  His remains were only identified by a tattoo on his wrist.  Ironic that warriors described as noble by our society are excused for such behavior.  Cultural sensibilities must be respected, even in the desecration of the dead.   Should we believe this?  

June 11, 1864: Battle of Trevilian Station

Almost Chosen People

Sheridan's_Trevilian_Station_Raid

The largest all cavalry battle of the War, the battle of Trevilian Station occurred during a raid by Major General Philip Sheridan leading 9000 Union troopers. Grant ordered the raid with a two-fold purpose: first to draw off Confederate cavalry as he prepared to disengage from Cold Harbor and cross over the James River to attack the Confederate rail road hub at Petersburg south of Richmond, and, second for Sheridan to tear up as much as he could of the Virginia Central railroad that connected the Shenandoah Valley to Richmond.

The second goal wasreached as Major General Wade Hampton, now commander of the Army of Northern Virginia Cavalry Corps after the death of Major General Jeb Stuart, set off in pursuit of Stuart with 6,000 Confederate cavalry, with Hampton traveling west south of the North Anna river, while Sheridan traveled west north of the North Anna.

Sheridan planned to destroy…

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Lincoln: The Deepest Sadness

Presidential History Blog

Abraham Lincoln

“It is hard, hard to have him die.”

Man of Sadness

Most historians agree that Abraham Lincoln, when he wasn’t laughing and telling droll stories, was a generally sad man. He described his upbringing as the “annals of the poor.” His mother died when he was nine. His only sibling died in childbirth when Lincoln was still in his teens. 

While he made friends easily and engaged socially, he still remains elusive. Other than a long-standing close relationship with Joshua Speed, his friendships remain superficial or professional rather than deep bonding. He was, by and large, a solitary soul. His deepest feelings were “conceptual” rather than personal, in the sense that he was distraught over the enormous deaths of the Civil War: but they were people he did not know.

He was nearly thirty-three when he married, partly due to insufficient income, and partly due to his…

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On Experimentation

The American experience has always been built on experimentation… Our very existence doubted by most of the world, the optimism of Thomas Jefferson became essential to the survival of our republican experiment.

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As the election of 1796 loomed… the friendship between Jefferson and John Adams waned.  Jefferson reminded his friend of their experiment:

 

“I am aware of the objection to this, that the office becoming more important may bring on serious discord in elections. In our country I think it will be long first; not within our day; and we may safely trust to the wisdom of our successors the remedies of the evil to arise in theirs. Both experiments however are now fairly committed, and the result will be seen. Never was a finer canvas presented to work on than our countrymen…. This I hope will be the age of experiments in government, and that their basis will be founded on principles of honesty, not of mere force….If ever the morals of a people could be made the basis of their own government, it is our case.”   Jefferson to Adams, February 28 1796