TODAY FROM AMERICA:
A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THAILAND WASHINGTON DC:
TRAVELOGUE TWO TOO (TUTU): GETTYSBURG AND BEYOND.
An overcast sky brought a good day for checking off bucket list items. I have always considered myself something of a Civil War buff. Not so much because of an interest in the professed ideologies that prompted the slaughter, or for that matter any morbid fascination with the slaughter itself (ok I admit to a slight fascination) but an abiding curiosity about the stupidities and chicanery that often prolonged the mayhem and increased its savagery.
As a nation the US is somewhat of an anomaly among the world’s aggressive nations in that, except for the wholesale extermination of its indigenous population and the Mexican and Spanish wars, the US has generally eschewed engaging in those traditional wars whose goal usually was to acquire resources, human or environmental, without otherwise having to work for them. That is, until the beginning of this century when we decided in Iraq to revert to something most other nations had rejected as historical folly.
The Civil War was different, however. Certainly economic issues were there. The loss of markets on one side and fear of increased production costs on the other. Both were wrong. Then as now they masked their goals in ethical and patriotic claims for which many would die. Slavery was the inconvenient truth at the time. Both sides failed to understand it. When military hostilities ceased the peculiar institution disappeared without addressing the fundamental question of what is it that we are due as humans that cannot be taken away by another or by an institution. Although the Union triumphed on the field of battle, the war itself never really ended. We are still engaged in the same war except that now it is conducted by other means than guns and bayonets.
To me there were three fundamentally significant battles fought between Ft. Sumner and Appomattox. Shiloh where the Union was victorious but failed to do what Sherman had to do two years later to end the war. Vicksburg and control of the Mississippi by the Union that along with the naval blockade, most likely would have eventually strangled the South into submission no matter what else happened on other battlefields.
And finally, Antietam/Gettysburg, the twin battles, a little over a year apart that together
represented a ritual slaughter beyond anything experienced before or since in our nations history. A slaughter whose sole function, it appears to me, was to generate two of the fundamental documents of human rights and aspiration produced by this nation, The Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address.
In both battles the Southern armies moved into the North knowing they could not ultimately emerge militarily victorious but they proceeded nevertheless on the purely unmilitary hope that whatever interim successes they may have would have enough significantly large political effects to cause the clearly superior forces of the Union to sue for peace. In both battles, Lee, the Southern General, lost and had to retreat. In both campaigns, the Union Commander failed to follow-up his victory and destroy Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. In both situations, the Northern commander was replaced. In both circumstances, the battles enabled the North to go on the offensive. In both cases, the Southern hopes for foreign support and aid were dashed.
I had never been to Gettysburg and feared I would never get to see it. So I was happy as can be, when Sunday morning we set off.
On the way there we stopped to visit Glen Echo Amusement Park near Georgetown where in the early sixties the operator of the Amusement park conceding to massive protests agreed to integrate the park. So upset was he with this surrender that he subsequently ripped up the Glen Echo trolley tracks in the belief that lack of low cost transportation from the city would discourage black patrons. Instead, it discouraged all patrons and the previously popular amusement park promptly went bankrupt. Nostalgia being what it is, the government and private sources eventually bought the property, retained some of the more popular rides, like the carousel, and turned the rest of the buildings over to a collection of artists workshops, dance studios and experimental theater troops.
Upon arriving in the town of Gettysburg we ate lunch at a diner named “the Avenue” and toured the souvenir shops.
Pookie in the town of Gettysburg standing in front of a house that was fought over during the first day of the battle.
During the entire battle only one civilian in the town was killed. A young woman who was baking a pie when an errant minie ball struck her and killed her instantly. Her fiancé was a union soldier from the town who was killed at Chancellorsville. As he lay dying he was found by a close friend of his from Gettysburg who had joined the Confederates. The dying man asked his friend to carry a message to his fiancé in Gettysburg should he ever get back there. The friend was killed in the battle on the outskirts of the town before he could deliver the message.
The battlefield itself surprised me as I am sure it surprises others who visit it. The famous “ridges” Seminary and Cemetery were little more than undulations that many would consider minor irregularities on a billiard table. However even on a billiard table to the players those irregularities could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Me on top of Little Round Top with Seminary Ridge in the background and the Wheat-field by my right shoulder.
Devil’s Den is a collection of large boulders that are not so much larger then those I see on some of the lots in the subdivision in Eldorado Hills where I stay while babysitting Hayden. Little Round Top was well, little. The southern point of the left flank of the Union line where 20 Maine made their stand was remarkable in that it showed the ease with which it should have been taken by the Southern forces. Had 20 Maine been overrun not only would the Union left be outflanked but also Round Top itself would have been encircled and would probably fallen. Instead Longstreet the rebel general in charge of the attack chose a frontal assault on the much steeper slope of the hill that was also repulsed.
In is interesting to note that while the fighting at Little Round Top and Chamberlin and 20 Main’s stand has justifiably received great attention, over on the right wing of the Union forces an even more remarkable battle had taken place. On Culp’s hill Union General Greene defeated a Confederate force over three times the size of his own in a brilliant successful defense of the Union right. Alas, for purely bureaucratic reasons the actions of he and his troops failed to make it into General Meade‘s report of the battle and so their efforts were lost to popular history. Sic transit gloria.
Jessica with Little Round Top behind her
The Wheat-field where the mad General Sykes chose to place his troops in a salient rather than stationing them on Cemetery Ridge behind them, thereby leaving the Union left flank exposed. The Wheat-field itself proved to be a smallish piece of land surrounded by thick woods from which, for no apparent tactical reason that I could see, the forces on both sides periodically would emerge slaughter each other for a while and retreat until over 4000 casualties littered those few acres and the Union forces were in retreat.
Back on Cemetery Ridge Hancock, in my opinion one of the wars most capable generals, hastily organized the defense of left flank of the Union line left undefended by Sykes curious theory of military tactics. Hancock was among the few officers on either side who understood that, with the advent of breech loaded rifled barrels, the days of massed frontal assaults were over.
At Chancellorsville after crossing the Rappahannock, Hancock bore the brunt of repeated attacks from Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Although the Union forces were pushed back they decimated the Confederate forces and killed Stonewall Jackson. Eventually they formed a defensible salient protecting the ford through which massive Union forces were preparing to cross. Lee would soon have to split his forces to attack Union General Sedgwick’s army coming down on him from the north. Leaving Hancock in a strong position in his rear meant ultimate defeat. With victory so close at hand Hancock was shocked at the Union Commander Hooker’s (whose name has gone down in history not so much for his failure or nerve but for the significant transfer of wealth he and his troops provided to the ladies of the night) order to surrender the salient and to retreat back across the river.
It was Hancock who organized the hasty defense of the now exposed Union left at Gettysburg and repulsed the Rebel assault. On the next day it was troops under Hancock’s command who repulsed the shamelessly stupid charge across almost two miles of open ground that ended the battle with a Union Victory.
As a side note it was here on the ridge where a Catholic priest who later became Dean of
Notre Dame University notoriously told the members or the “Irish Brigade” before setting off to meet the Confederate charge that, “the Church would deny a christian burial to anyone who died not facing the enemy.” While I could understand the God of the Old Testament saying such a thing, after all he was a serial killer drenched in blood, but could anyone conceive of the Good Gay Messiah of the New Testament clutching his bible in safety while he sent his followers off to die?
On the third day of the battle, the now thoroughly deranged Lee decided to sacrifice 10,000 of his troops in what the Southern Historians who mostly wrote the history of the war described as a heroic but futile example of Southern chivalry and honor. It was not. It was mass murder.
About one year previously the Union General Burnside when faced with similar circumstances (a well entrenched force on the heights above Fredericksburg) launched a similar attack with similar results, except that in Burnside’s case he had the good sense to choose a route for the attack where his troops had some protection from the ordinance hurled down upon them from above. Burnside was summarily removed from his command by Lincoln following the debacle. Lee, on the other hand has been glorified.
Think about it, what could possibly have been on his mind when he sent 10,000 of his troops across and open field with no protection behind which the troops could shelter, knowing that every step of that two-mile charge his troops took they would be directly exposed to fire from Union guns. How many men did he expect to make it, 1000, 3000, 5000 and what were they supposed to do there if they did? It was the center of the Union encampment. There were 50,000 Union soldiers within 500 yards of where the attack was focused. Did he expect them to throw down their guns and run away?
Night arrived as I stood on the low stone wall of the angle where the few remaining Confederate troops made it over the wall and were immediately overwhelmed by the Federals. A light rain had begun falling. We got into our car and drove back to Washington.
What “Occupy” is all about and what it really wants:
“…The capitalist bourgeois calculates: While I have in my hands, lands, factories, workshops, banks; while I possess newspapers, universities, schools; while—and this most important of all—I retain control of the army: the apparatus of democracy, however, you reconstruct it, will remain obedient to my will. I subordinate to my interests spritually the stupid, conservative, characterless lower middle class, just as it is subjected to me materially. I oppress, and will oppress, its imagination by the gigantic scale of my buildings, my transactions, my plans and my crimes. For moments when it is dissatisfied and murmurs, I have created scores of safety valves and lightning conductors. At the right moment I will bring into existence opposition parties, which will disappear tomorrow, but which today accomplish their mission by affording the possibility of the lower middle class expressing their indignation without hurt therefrom for capitalism. I shall hold the masses of the people, under cover of compulsory general education, on the verge of complete ignorance, giving them no opportunity of rising above the level which my experts in spiritual slavery consider safe. I will corrupt, deceive and terrorize the more prviileged or the more backward of the proletariat itself. By means of these measures I shall not allow the vanguard of the working class to gain the ear of the majority of working class, while the necessary weapons of mastery and terrorism remain in my hands.”
Leon Trotsky, “Terrorism and Communism”, 1920
Pookie by the monument to 20 Maine on Little Round Top.
- Key Part of Gettysburg Battlefield Preserved (history.com)