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This is the archive for January 2008

Monday, January 28, 2008

If I mention the name Tillman, you probably think of Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinal who joined the military after 9-11 to protect his country, only to be killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan and have the military try to cover up the truth of how he died.

In South Carolina, the Tillman name this week belongs to someone else; Benjamin R “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman – former US Senator and Governor of South Carolina during the late 19th, early 20th Century. And from what I have been able to read about him, a downright nasty, evil man.

No, not because he was a member of the CSA but more because of some of the other things he did in his life - like opposing the annexation of the Philippines (worried that it would undermine the racial purity of the white race – wonder if he knew an Austrian named Adolf?), being censured for beating another Senator, present at the Hamburg Massacre – where several Republicans were killed and a town looted, and finally – this 1900 quote on his pride of keeping the African-American race in basic servitude by ushering in the Jim Crow laws into SC – “We have done our level best [to prevent blacks from voting]...we have scratched our heads to find out how we could eliminate the last one of them. We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it."

How does my beloved state feel about this man in today’s enlightened age? How else? With a statue on state grounds. Granted the statue was placed there in the 1940’s but the problem is, it still sits there.

Neither the biography from the State government (granted ripped from that of Congress) or the statue mention what I fell are the true highlights of his life, instead glazing over them and making him seem like a friend to all. He was a supporter of agriculture and education – helping with Winthrop (which has a Science Building and Award named after him) and Clemson – so maybe he wasn’t truly completely evil but he seems to come pretty close.
So why do I decide to write about it now?

Tillman has made the news statewide twice in the last few weeks, first in the State of the State address from Governor Sanford and secondly from a resolution that is making its way through the SC Statehouse to remove the statue.

Governor Sanford has a bit of an independent streak, one that I like. In my opinion, he is the rare politician that is truly looking out for the voter by any means necessary – besides finding pork. As a US Representative, he had a

Friday, January 25, 2008

Not sure if you have seen this commercial for HP or not but it says something that hits home, it can be downright hard to be inspired.

So yes I have gone for a bit - but worse, I’ve actually written posts while never putting them up – just didn’t feel like they were right for the time. Now, I’m starting to feel like writing again, so I will.

It has been nice to see several welcome backs from our various blogging friends, it is good to know when one is missed.

Today, I leave you with something humorous – tomorrow or the Monday something that I am sure will cause a stir.

A stir is exactly what we need to welcome us back - nothing like coming back with a vengeance.

Tom’s humorous (at least to him) tale of building a house. Part One

I am building a house. I thought it would be a short, easy process, I was a bit off.

Almost five months ago I closed on my lot. I was told within two months ground would be broken. The builder was a bit off, it took four months.

A few weeks ago, I made my weekly pilgrimage to my lot, expecting to see nothing but dirt but was pleasantly surprised to see something else.

Now, one of the nice things the Builder does is put a sign up saying who is building the house and for what wonderful family it is being built for. And that day my sign was up. So I decided to take a picture.

This is the picture of my sign.

Here is a picture of my sign and the surrounding area.

The only thing I could think of was that I hope this wasn’t a “sign” of how bad things would be during the process. Feel free to insert your own bathroom humor here.

To be fair, the builder did move the Port-a-Potty a bit away from the sign. They have also made good progress over the last few weeks, with the foundation and cement block garage walls (that the house will sit on) already up.

See you soon and bring your pitchfork when you come back. For those of you that went to school in South Carolina, the previous statement is a hint of things to come….

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This has nothing at all to do with the Civil War. It has to do with Barak Obama. Whatever possible consideration I may have given him as a Presidential candidate has totally evaporated. In recap, Obama was catapulted to national prominence on the strength of a speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I remember that speech. It was powerful and dynamic. After he finished commentators almost immediately declared him a future candidate for the Presidency. I respected Obama’s "early" stand against the war in Iraq. And I understand his seemingly contradictory vote for continued military aid to support the troops. "Give them what they need to do their job while there." I don’t give a damn that he used drugs in high school and by his own admission didn’t get serious until he entered college. His so called lack of experience is also not a burning issue. Look at the guy who currently holds the office. Oh, sorry, I forget, he once owned the Texas Rangers. By the way, somebody please explain to me how you get to be a majority owner when you only put up $500,000 in borrowed money. But back to Obama. I started scratching my head when he declared he'd send U.S. troops to hunt down terrorists inside Pakistan, invited by the Pakistani government or not. Huh? You think the Iraqi situation is a mess. And now the latest, and I'm not trying to take his remarks out of context, is his open praise of Ronald Reagan and Republicans as agents of change. Say what? I’m curious as to who really put up $100,000,000 in campaign contributions to back this guy. Maybe he’ll select Joel Osteen as his running mate. That wouldn't be as much of an odd pairing as one might think. I'm now inclined to think that Barak should take a seat in the corner of the dance floor next to Howard Dean. He might learn something, because I understand Dean does a pretty fair impression of Brando from "On the Waterfront," when he says "I coulda bin a contendah."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Smithsonian, of which I’m a proud Associate Member, offers a wide range of seminars, lectures, and workshops. Looking through the latest catalogue, they range from presentations on an “Insider’s Tour of Paris,” film maker Ingmar Bergman, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Starbucks Coffee, "Improving your knitting," “Big Band Works of Quincy Jones,” digital photography and much, much more. They’re all open to the general public, but it pays to be a member as tickets are then discounted.

In December they offered three tours to Civil War sites, including Petersburg, the area around the James River, and Alexandria city and Fairfax County, Virginia. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend any of the three.

One Civil War tour, led by Ed Bearss, who seems to lead them all, is on the February schedule. “Events and Politics of Civil War Washington” is slated for a walking tour of Lafayette Square and President’s Park, passing by “buildings that once housed the departments of State, War, Army, Navy, and Treasury and other sites associated with President Lincoln and his administration.” The tour bus then wheels out to Arlington Cemetery, continues on to Ft. McNair where the Washington Arsenal once stood witness to the trial of the Lincoln conspirators and their execution. What follows is a mad dash through the Navy Yard museum, the Capitol grounds, Mary Surratt’s grave, and finally the Lincoln’s summer home on the grounds of the former Military Asylum.

This was the one trip I was sure I wouldn’t want to miss. I was ready to sign up and rarin’ to go, until I looked at the date the tour was scheduled. February 3rd. The same day my Patriots will be trying to win their fourth Super Bowl in the last seven years. Actually it wouldn’t have mattered who was playing, because it’s the holiest of holy days for football fans. Sorry Ed, maybe next time.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I’m a little more than a hundred pages into my latest commuting book. I spend about an hour and twenty minutes every workday riding the “Metro” round trip between Maryland and the District of Columbia, most of it with my face buried in a book.

It’s a supposed genetic trait, because no one in my family has ever demonstrated competency in advanced math or science, with the exception of one lone great-uncle who graduated from M.I.T. and retired from G.E. as an Electrical Engineer. I’m joking when I say he was probably left on my great-grandparents’ doorstep. What drew me to John M. Barry’s book, The Great Influenza, The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, was a certificate my paternal Great-grandfather received for his volunteer work during the outbreak of this disease. That certificate also drew me to a PBS documentary on the same subject a couple of months ago.

This pandemic killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people worldwide in just a two-year period, from 1918 to 1920. The PBS documentary traces the origin of the virus to a British troop camp in France as early as 1916, while Barry suggests the virus spread from the little town of Haskell, Kansas to a training camp for American troops and was then carried overseas. Regardless of its origin, the death toll proved staggering, with many more victims than the plague took in a hundred years or AIDS claimed in forty. This strain of virus killed swiftly, in most cases less than two weeks, and without mercy, creating horrible and agonizing suffering.

One of the strengths of the book, for people like me, aside from telling a very compelling story, is Barry’s ability to break down complex medical and scientific research into concepts laymen can grasp. Trust me, it’s not laborious reading as Barry traces the history of medicine from the time of the Greeks and Romans and points out

Monday, January 21, 2008

I Have A Dream

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – August 28, 1963

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Until recently we never had much information on 48 men who enlisted or were drafted into the 18th Massachusetts, but never assigned to a Company in the Regiment. We didn’t know why they weren’t assigned, just that they weren’t. In the most cases we had little more than a name, age, and maybe their occupation. No date of muster. No date of discharge. A recent trip to the National Archives cleared up most of the mysteries, although there are some still untold stories due to the lack of a military service record being on file.

Something surprising, though, happened in combing through those 48 records. I came across a record of a man who was a draft substitute, designated for service with the 18th, and shortly afterward arrested at the Draft Rendezvous on Long Island, Boston Harbor, as a deserter from the 11th New York Infantry. Then a second record with the same exact scenario popped up. Then a third. A fourth. Finally a fifth.

Let’s consider this again. Five men, all of whom agreed to go to war in the place of others, all arrested as deserters from the same regiment. Hmmm. What was even more surprising was that four of the men were substitutes from the Greenfield, Mass. draft district. Greenfield, being in the western part of Massachusetts, is a long way from New York City, the recruiting base for the 11th New York.

A review of the 11th New York’s roster turned up only one name that matched. Two others were close, the surnames matching those of men in the 18th. Those two, however, deserted on the same day. I figured, then, if I looked for men who deserted on August 1, 1861, I might be able to narrow the possibilities and come to a reasonable conclusion about identity of the other two. Birds of a feather. What I discovered totally astounded me.

August 1, 1861. Desertion. That date and word kept coming up as I went through the roster. It occurred so frequently I went back to the beginning of the alphabet and started counting. I hit twenty such instances in record time, then thirty, forty, and on, and on, and on until I got to end. August 1st and desertion were connected 213 times. If we have a shared reaction then we’re asking the same question. What in the heck was going on here?

The 11th New York Infantry, also known as the First Fire Zouaves, was Elmer Ellsworth’s Regiment. Recruited almost exclusively from the Fire Companies in New York City, they were famed for their roughhouse reputation and colorful uniform designed by Ellsworth.

The story’s well known that Ellsworth was killed by a shotgun blast fired by James Jackson, owner of the Marshall House in Alexandria, Virginia on May 24, 1861 after Ellsworth cut down a rebel flag flying over the hotel. The events leading to

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Think the thought, ask the question….

Six hours and 55 minutes. My stopwatch doesn’t lie. Brian Downey, the man behind the curtain at Behind AotW (,), and who denies any relation to Morton Downey and Morton Downey, Jr., provided a link to page 210 of Google’s digitized edition of The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. There, in all its 2 ½ by 3 ¼ inch glory, accompanied by a one and a half column bio, was an etching of Benjamin De Costa.

Digitizing newspapers and books and posting them on the Web is becoming more and more prevalent. The New York Times features five separate early 1900’s articles on De Costa, including an announcement of his decision to leave the Episcopal church, his ordination as a Catholic Priest shortly before his death, as well as his obituary. Technology can be amazing even when it lacks mirrors and immortalize, in the words of 2nd Lieutenant George M. Barnard, Jr. of the 18th Mass., “a miserable hum bug.”

Benjamin Franklin De Costa

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Think the thought, ask the question, then throw it out into the stratosphere to see if the answer comes back like a boomerang. It worked twice before, once in locating Fisher Baker’s grave, while the other involved finding an article by William Russell, correspondent for the London Times, who heaped praise on our favorite little Regiment. Flush with success I thought I’d try again. However, this one’s going to prove a bit trickier and I don’t know if my ability to communicate with the dead has reached a level sufficient to handle the task of throwing out two thoughts or questions at the same time.

Part of my last trip involved research on Benjamin F. De Costa, who served as the only Chaplain to minister to the sinful, wicked, and redeemed of the 18th Mass. Until his arrival at Hall’s Hill, Virginia on January 1, 1862, the Regiment had to make do when attending to their spiritual needs. And while his arrival didn’t put an end to John Duffy’s frequent confinements to the guard house for drunkenness, De Costa, an Episcopal Priest from Charlestown, did his best to attend to his flock, even when most were unable to attend Sunday services due to their being detailed on picket duty, or road and bridge building projects. When Easter Sunday rolled around in April religious observances were thrown aside like the dirt flying from shovels as the Regiment helped dig the Union closer to Confederate fortifications at Yorktown.

One wonders if De Costa’s absence from the Regiment shortly afterwards was actually caused by physical illness or a crisis of faith. He’d return in August, while the 18th was at Harrison’s Landing, in time to preside over the funeral of Second Lieutenant John D. Isbel, dead of Typhoid Fever at age 22, before making his permanent exit via discharge due to physical disability on August 4, 1862.

Residing in New York City after his discharge, De Costa would lead a varied life. In 1863 he was editor of the Christian Times, the Episcopalian in 1864, and also worked for the Magazine of American History. His path would take him to the pulpit as Rector of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in New York City for a sixteen-year period, while in 1881 the College of William and Mary conferred a Doctoral of Divinity degree.

A prolific writer of historical research, more than ten of his books are currently on shelves at the New York Public Library, including such diverse titles as "the Pre-Columbian Discovery of America by the Northmen," and an 1873 novel, "The Rector of Roxburgh, A Story of Our Times," penned under the pseudonym of William Hickling. He was an incorporator of the Huguenot Society of America founded in April 1883 and a year later organized the first branch of the "White Cross Society," while also assisting in organizing the Church Temperance Society, being its first Secretary.

De Costa followed his wife Harriett Cooper Spencer to an eternal sleep seven months after her passing when he bid adieu in New York City on November 4, 1904. He was given the last rites by a Catholic Priest, having abandoned the Episcopal Church and converting to Catholicism.

So, here goes nothing. I’m looking for a picture of Benjamin De Costa and I want to know where he’s buried. Fly thoughts fly.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Think the Phoenix, think Lazarus, one rising from the ashes, the other from the dead and you’ll have the same sense about the 18th Massachusetts blog. The last posting appeared July 25, 2007 and perhaps it was fitting the title of that piece contained the word “Shadows,” because that’s essentially where we disappeared to. Providing an explanation for our absence would rank as a long and potentially boring story, but suffice it to say it’s a brand new year, even though the moon is not in the seventh house and Jupiter is not lined with Mars. So, assuming there’s nobody else out there anymore beside ourselves, we’ll be self-congratulatory and say, “Welcome back. We missed you.”
I’m going to travel backwards in time to November 2, 2006. On that date I posed the question in a post, Ask and Ye Shall Receive Eventually, where the 18th Massachusetts’ Adjutant, Fisher Baker, was buried. Originally I had supposed he was interred at Oakwood Cemetery in Yonkers, N.Y., but that turned out to be, no pun intended, a dead end. One day later I had the answer compliments of Brian Downing, who identified Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, N.Y., and ten days after that the Cemetery, in reply to my query, specified the lot number. Ask and Ye Shall Receive Eventually – Part Two, posted on November 14th, concluded, “I don’t know how soon I’ll get to North Tarrytown, but you’ll know when you see the post “Chasing the Dead in New York.”

Fourteen months later, on Sunday, January 6, 2008, I was driving down the Saw Mill Parkway in New York State headed toward the village of Sleepy Hollow. This trip began on a Thursday night when I left the D.C. area and headed toward the Big Apple. I spent that night in a hotel off Exit 8 of the New Jersey Turnpike and the next two days at the New York Public Library. There was no time for sightseeing, this trip being strictly business, i.e. gathering more research information on the 18th Massachusetts. Sunday morning I blew out of Stamford, Connecticut, made the pilgrimage to John D. Isbell’s grave in Naugatuck, and then, using the navigation system in my car, set sail for Sleepy Hollow. There’ll be other posts with regards to those activities at a later time.

A quick word about navigation systems. Say goodbye to Map Quest and road maps. Unfortunately I owe my thanks for the navigation system to the unknown parties responsible for stealing and totalling my van, which led to the premature and unexpected expense of a replacement vehicle.

I don’t know what the Saw Mill Parkway looks like when the trees are leafed, but I was struck by how scenic the area was in the dead of winter. I can understand now why Hilary and Bill Clinton were drawn to the region after vacating the White House as Chappaqua bordered the Parkway.

Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow lie in the Hudson River Valley and lay claim to being the home of author Washington Irving, considered the father of the American short story and arguably most famous for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In keeping with the image of Ichabod Crane, the High School sports teams adopted the nickname “The Horsemen” and their logo features a headless rider holding a pumpkin aloft in an outstreched hand. And there, on the outskirts of this village of 9700 people, amid rolling and treed acres are the graves of that champion of the workingman Samuel Gompers, the aforementioned Washington Irving, industrialists Walter Chrysler and Andrew Carnegie, real estate moguls Harry and Leona Helmsley, socialite Brooke Astor, Union Army General Carl Schurz, and William Rockerfeller, younger brother of that notorious robber baron John D.

Having tarried in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, which are worth a visit unto themselves, I had only about forty minutes before the cemetery gates closed. Without knowing the section in which Fisher Baker was buried, it would have been virtually impossible to have found his grave during the time allotted. The cemetery is enormous, encompassing ninety acres, and one can understand why people with no connection to the surrounding towns would