Memorial Day Tribute

Thomas Jefferson Truitt enlisted in… Company D of the 62nd Pennsylvania Volunteers on July 24, 1861.  He was a carpenter working near Kellersburg in Armstrong County PA.  His father, Anderson, died suddenly in October of 1860, leaving the family deep in debt and without a steady income.  To make ends meet, the widowed Sarah Caldwell Truitt was forced to sell pieces of the family farm and work odd jobs.  The outbreak of the war in 1861 rallied the young men of Armstrong County to the Finlay Cadets.  It also provided Jefferson and his younger brother David the opportunity to assist their family financially.

truitt

1837-1864

Truitt served with distinction… as the company’s color sergeant.  On July 1, 1862 at the battle of Malvern Hill, he rescued the 62nd PA’s flag from capture by securing it inside his uniform coat.  For his valor, Truitt received a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant.  Marching with the 62nd from  Antietam Creek to Fredericksburg, Manassas to Gettysburg, Truitt survived the fiercest fighting of the war.  With its three-year enlistment set to expire, the 62nd soldiered on through the unprecedented carnage of the Overland campaign in the Summer of 1864.  Jefferson Truitt was killed June 3, 1864 at the Battle of Bethesda Church, Virginia, just one month before he was due to be mustered out of service.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Last Full Measure

Heroism is more than just… exploits on the battlefield.  Ordinary citizens, like Jefferson Truitt, display heroism by putting their lives on hold to serve their country.  The causes, justifications, and implications are immaterial to the sacrifices made by citizen soldiers.  Calling these people heroes does not make a political statement, nor is it a rallying cry for more conflict.  Wars can be pondered and debated without applying undue scrutiny to the brave men and women who fought them.  Publicly doubting the heroism of fallen soldiers on Memorial Day is not reasonable discourse.  His patriot grave is proof that Jefferson Truitt was a hero.

Facts in Five- Memorial Day

Memorial Day by the numbers:

  • The roots of Memorial Day can be traced to Athens and the Funeral Oration of Pericles–  honor those who have fallen, follow their example of citizenship
  • The commemoration was originally made by the Grand Army of the Republic as Decoration Day-  flags were to be placed on all the graves of fallen Union soldiers
  • The first Decoration Day was celebrated by 27 states in 1868
  • By 1890, every state in the Union observed the holiday in some way… it was not a Federal holiday until 1971
  • The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1922. 

Events at Arlington National Cemetery

Antietam- Crisis in Command

During the battle of Antietam… George McClellan was concerned with prudence.  He was managing his resources carefully that day, he would not allow his army to fail.  His insistence on preventing the Army of the Potomac from being defeated cost it the chance at decisive victory.   McClellan claimed in his report of the battle that his army was outnumbered and overcame great odds to achieve a minor tactical victory. A closer examination of the facts reveals McClellan was presented with three separate chances to strike a decisive blow against Lee between 6am- 1pm on September 17.

Gen._George_B._McClellan_-_NARA_-_528517

  • A tactical reserve?  McClellan kept the V & VI Corps of the army on the East side of the Antietam all day.  The addition of one division from either Corps could have had a devastating impact on Lee’s army, especially his weakened center and southern wing.
  • Foolish odds- Most historians now agree that McClellan withheld such a  significant portion of his army because of fear.  He feared being outnumbered (Lee was actually outnumbered 2-1).  He feared a massive Confederate counterattack routing his forces.  He feared defeat….
  • Fighting blindly- Also massed in the Union rear was nearly all of McClellan’s cavalry force.  The mounted wing was vital to Civil War armies for gathering intelligence.  The troops sent against Lee were moving blindly through the country side with nearly no tactical guidance.  Cavalry could have located fords on the Antietam easily.
  • A guiding hand?  McClellan never crossed the Antietam that day and had little trust in any of the commanders he sent into combat.  The Union assaults lacked a firm hand to direct the many massed assaults.  This allowed Lee (never far from the fighting) to coordinate his reinforcements.  Union headquarters was nearly three miles from the fighting.  McClellan’s lack of timely information and failure to grasp key tactical situations cost the Union a decisive victory.
  • Hooker was badly wounded, Mansfield wounded mortally, and Sumner was incapacitated- yet the Army of the Potomac, led by junior grade officers, still pushed Lee to the brink.  The victory could have been decisive.

Little Mac Says Goodbye

George McClellan said goodbye to his beloved… Army of the Potomac on November 11, 1862.  He cared deeply for their well being(much too deeply it turned out) and they repaid him with unwavering affection.  Lincoln had to make the decision- The “Young Napoleon” was fighting like the war could go on for decades.  But to his troops, he would forever be “Little Mac.”  He left them with this thought….

“In parting from you I cannot express the love and gratitude I bear to you. As an army you have grown up under my care. In you I have never found doubt or coldness. The battles you have fought under my command will proudly live in our nation’s history. The glory you have achieved, our mutual perils and fatigues, the graves of our comrades fallen in battle and by disease, the broken forms of those whom wounds and sickness have disabled—the strongest associations which can exist among men—unite us still by an indissoluble tie. We shall ever be comrades in supporting the Constitution of our country and the nationality of its people.”

Chancellorsville By the Numbers

Chancellorsville is often called Lee’s “perfect battle”… facing the longest odds, using the boldest tactics, and winning the ultimate triumph- but a closer examination of the battle’s casualty statistics reveal a very different picture.  Far from perfect, Lee’s victory over Hooker was a costly, bloody gamble with marginal payoff.

Last_Meeting_of_Robert_E._Lee_and_Stonewall_Jackson_at_Chancellorsville

Twice dividing his outnumbered force before a superior foe… and executing a bold flanking maneuver clouds the true cost of the battle.  Hooker’s inaction is far more striking than Lee’s tactical decisions.  By surrendering the initiative to Lee, Hooker allowed his opponent tactical discretion, thus making the flank attack possible.  Union reinforcements nullified Confederate gains on May 2.  Hooker’s refusal to counterattack with those additional troops only accentuated the modest Confederate gains.

FightinJoeHookeronMount

Lee went into battle with just under 60,000 effectives… and suffered nearly 13,000 casualties- of which, over 10,000 were wounded or killed.  Almost a quarter of his men were gone at a time when the Confederacy was increasingly unable to replace such loss.  Comparatively, Hooker entered the battle with well over 130,000 troops, and suffered over 17,000 casualties.  But, of this number, nearly 6,000 were captured(11th Corps victims of Jackson’s attack.)  Factoring the captured, Hooker’s loss was a much smaller figure of just over 11,000.  The statistics show that Lee’s army actually took the worst of the fighting- His action, and Hooker’s inaction have permanently altered the history of the battle.  Far from the great army “cut to pieces” as remembered by Horace Greeley, Hooker’s men fought well and proved their mettle in battle

Stopping the Buck- Truman

When Donald Trump turned on his “Generals” and Barack Obama fired General Stanley McChrystal… partisans were quick to compare the moves to Truman’s relieving of Douglass MacArthur.   Trump’s utter lack of policy depth caused a rift with his inner circle of former generals.   McChrystal was placed in the improper position of a celebrity and interviewed by a journalist who did not provide proper boundaries for what was on or off the record.  All of his comments, even the off-color ones, were printed in Rolling Stone magazine.  Obama didn’t like the opinions of his commander and fired him for personal reasons.

1024px-Trump_Pence_McMaster_Lunch_Service_Members_18_July_2017-2

These have all been politically motivated- Truman faced a Constitutional crisis in 1951. 

Truman_and_MacArthur

MacArthur disobeyed orders from Truman… disregarded mandates from the United Nations, and was insubordinate when he met with members of Congress behind Truman’s back.  Truman understood that generals would disagree with him, may even do so publicly.  But MacArthur’s actions went far beyond critical words and Truman had to take action, “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.”    The official public notice made it clear, in America, civilian authorities make policy, not soldiers.

“With deep regret I have concluded that General of the Army Douglas MacArthur is unable to give his wholehearted support to the policies of the United States Government and of the United Nations in matters pertaining to his official duties. In view of the specific responsibilities imposed upon me by the Constitution of the United States and the added responsibility which has been entrusted to me by the United Nations, I have decided that I must make a change of command in the Far East. I have, therefore, relieved General MacArthur of his commands and have designated Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway his successor.

Full and vigorous debate on matters of national policy is a vital element in the constitutional system of our free democracy. It is fundamental, however, that military commanders must be governed by the policies and directives issued to them in the manner provided by our laws and Constitution. In time of crisis, this consideration is particularly compelling.

General MacArthur’s place in history as one of our greatest commanders is fully established. The Nation owes him a debt of gratitude for the distinguished and exceptional service which he has rendered his country in posts of great responsibility. For that reason I repeat my regret at the necessity for the action I feel compelled to take in his case”