Monday, October 26, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
What's in a school song, nickname, and symbol that would get people all fired up?
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Donald heads to Harpers Ferry and listens as two historians reflect on John Brown the man and his rightful place in American history.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Are these the eyes of a kind man? Of a cruel man? The eyes of a compassionate man? Of a misanthrope? The eyes of a merciful man? Of a dispassionate killer? The eyes of an avenging angel, or the eyes of the devil incarnate? The eyes of a devoutly religious man? Of a zealot? The eyes of a just man? Of a man for whom others do not deserve justice? The eyes of a rational man? Of a psychopath? The eyes of a crusader seeking freedom and equality, or the eyes of one who would shred the fabric of the existing social order?
When you look into his eyes you'll see what you want to see and believe what you want to believe in. Revered. Reviled. Revolutionary. Anarchist. Christ-like. Satanic. Striking a blow for freedom. Defiler of the Constitution. Liberater. Leader of men sent out to slaughter for sport.
His vision failed. His plan failed; like everything else he ever sought to achieve in his life. While his life of failure ended on the gallows at Charles Town, Virginia, it was a moment of triumph, a vindication not only for himself, but for those who hung him. His voice did not trail off on the scaffold, but thundered long after he was gone, in song and in verse. The truth he carried in his heart was a drumbeat that sounded louder and louder, reverberating throughout the North, where he was a martyr, and South, where he was the subject of fear and loathing; down through decades and generations. Prophet? Charlatan?
If not John Brown, another would have risen in his place. If not the Civil War, at some point in time there would have been open rebellion against a slave holding nation from within. Denmark Vessey, Nat Turner, and Gabriel Prosser had all left calling cards long before Brown. One doesn't need to consult tarot cards to know that the oppressed peoples of this earth always try to rise in an effort to throw off the tyranical and suffocating boot of an oppressor. That is a basic lesson of history; one that has been repeated over and over, including Russia in 1917, Ireland in 1916, Cuba in 1956, Vietnam beginning in 1945, Tiananmen Square in 1989, the Sepoy Revolt in 1857, France in 1789, the Domincan Republic in 1965, the Berlin Wall in 1989, Spain in 1936, Tibet in 1959, the Seminoles in 1818, Hungary in 1956, Mexico in 1910, Haiti in 1791, the Boxer Rebellion in 1898, and a forty year struggle against apartheid in South Africa, all in a world without end that cannot hold good men and women down forever. Amen.
Friday, October 09, 2009
Here’s a thought for a Friday, though it's one that others contemplated long before I ever did.
If you were to think of one individual who, through their words or actions, was most responsible for setting North and South on a collision course, who would get your vote? Certainly John Brown comes to mind, as do various Southern and Northern radicals. Lincoln would emerge as a central figure for some, but secessionists had urged splitting the Union a decade prior to his nomination at the Chicago Republican Convention in May 1860. That song had certainly played on the radio in 1856 when the possibility of John Fremont taking the oath of office loomed over the nation.
My own choice would be Eli Whitney. The issue is much more complex than outlined here, however, it can be reasonably argued that his cotton gin led to a dramatic increase in the amount of land given over to the cultivation of cotton, which, in turn, increased the need for slave labor, which, in turn, increased worldwide demand from textile manufacturers, which, in turn, increased profitability from growing the snowy white stuff, which, in turn, led to the push to expand slavery into the territories, all of which, in turn, ultimately led the South to conclude that, as a separate nation, they could base an economy on a single cash crop.
When you think about all the peaceful labor saving devices that have ever come onto market, you’d be left with a very short list of well intentioned inventions that have, in the long run, so dramatically and negatively impacted a nation. Whitney’s seemingly benign creation, which triggered a 500 fold increase in the number of cotton bales transported to market within twenty years of its introduction, certainly, without doubt, qualifies for its own unique line of dominoes.
Friday, October 02, 2009
I just finished responding to an email query from Suanna, who needed the citation for a letter quoted in a blog post that appeared about a year and a half ago. She's writing a book on Civil War holidays and the letter referenced worship services conducted on Easter Sunday near Yorktown, Virginia in April 1862. In response I surmised there would have been a stark contrast between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday celebrations of 1861 and 1864.
Thanksgiving 1861 saw the delivery of box after box of turkeys, pies, and other assorted goodies by the Adams Express company to the camp of the 18th Massachusetts at Hall's Hill, Virginia, compliments of the folks back home. In contrast, it'd be a herculean task to find mention of roasted birds in letters or diaries penned by a Union soldier in November 1864. The small circles of women who early on devoted themselves to knitting socks for a local regiment had, by 1864, long since been usurped by the more organized and efficient efforts of the Sanitary and Christian commissions. Still, while soldiers deeply appreciated those efforts by both commissions, nothing would ever supplant the arrival of a home cooked meal in their hearts. Too, by 1864, the kick ass and take names attitude so prevalent in 1861 had been replaced by this lament: "Many are the hearts that are weary tonight, tenting on the old campground..."
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Your eyes are gazing at a rare document; so rare, in fact, if I could be so bold to predict, it might even fetch a penny bid on eBay. Check the date. It’s October 1st. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, or even if you haven’t, this represents the first post that’s gone up in the month of October in the last three calendar years. And if you study the situation even more closely, everything that’s appeared since July 5th of this year also qualifies as auction material. Translated very simply, nothing appeared on this site from July 5th to December 31st in either 2007 or 2008. We simply went into hibernation with nary a word of explanation as to why. Someone once asked me what happened. I told them I was on ‘my own personal Burnside Mud March.’ In other words I got pelted by rain and stuck in the muck that was my life.
So now here we are and what do we do with this moment that says we’ve survived for 29 of the past 39 months. I guess on a personal level I say to myself: reflect back on where you started, where you’ve been, and where you’re going.
Touch the Elbow’s objectives have always been pretty simple. Tom Churchill and I are just a couple of average slobs with an above average interest in the Civil War. Sorry for calling you a slob Tom, because you’re actually a very neat dresser and always put your dishes and glasses in the dishwasher when you’re through eating, but you catch my drift. We don’t qualify as experts on anything, except the 18th Massachusetts Infantry. We’re not historians. We’re not military strategists. We’re not teachers. We’re not Park Rangers. We don't stand behind the podium, we sit in the audience. We don't lead tours, we travel with the pack that follows. Hell, I’m not even sure we qualify as Civil War bloggers. But this much I do know: in the world of the average slob with an above average interest in the Civil War we try to relate what others can relate to. I know that we succeed sometimes. I know, too, that we fail sometimes. I hope it’s been more of the former than the latter, though I really can’t say with any certainty due to the lack of feedback from readers. Lack of feedback can either be perilous or self-confirming; meaning either people don’t care one iota about what they’ve read, or they’re in full agreement; or they don’t want to waste their time typing a comment. I’m not trying to get weepy here, nor am I lamenting our standing among the Civil War Top 100 roster. To paraphrase Popeye, we yar who we yar and that’s all that we yar an poppin’ the top off a can of spinach ain’t goin’ ta change things.
I do have to say this though. The one post I wrote, of the more than 500 that have appeared in this space, the one I was certain people would comment on, if anyone were to comment, was a two-parter titled “Sutherland.” It ran in February of this year and was reposted in August. I now point you back to the last three sentences in the preceding paragraph and summarize them by saying: it is what it is.
So what do we hope you’ll read about between now and next October? I can’t guarantee it, but hopefully about trips to Tennessee and other points south of Virginia and North Elba, New York, that the Shepherdstown battlefield has been preserved, and lastly, the primary objective that''s been fueling this rocket ship through the universe for more than ten years, a post that announces we've finally completed a manuscript on the history of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry.