JULY 2015

JULY  2015
Float Like a Butterfly. Sting Like a Bee.


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Sunday, July 05, 2015


I judge it a victory for the legal process that no one answered the exhausted, exasperated plea of a spectator who responded to the umpteenth outburst by defendant Charles Julius Guiteau (pronounced “Gitto”, above) by begging, “Just shoot him, now.”  There is no doubt Charles was funny in the head. But if he had murdered some random schmuck on the street and been locked safely away in an insane asylum, where he could die quietly of tuberculous like most of the 19th century mentally ill, then with time he would have been considered “ha, ha” funny.  As it was the children who grew up with Charles noted his “offensive egotism”, thirty years before he shot President James Garfield in the back. Because of that murder, Charles was not, as Sarah Vowell suggested, “the funniest man in American History”. But he still comes close.
Just after nine on 2 July, 1881, as he got out of the cab in front of the Baltimore and Potomac railroad station (above), his ex-girl friend, Pauline Smolens, asked, “What are you plotting now, Charles dear?” He was plotting to gun down President Garfield inside the station. But her asking the question raises the question why Miss Smolens got in a carriage with dear Charles after showing the common sense to break up with this lunatic exhibitionist. Fifteen years earlier Charles' long suffering wife Anne Bunn had divorced him only after he re-gifted her the syphilis he had received from one of the prostitutes he frequented. The judge who granted Anne's divorce ordered Charles to never marry again. Legally the judge couldn't do that, but that was the effect Charles Guiteau eventually had on everybody who knew him - they were all driven to extremes.
Having shot the President, Charles was run to a nearby police station by officer Patrick Kearney.  All the way there Charles kept shouting, “I have killed Garfield!...I have a letter that will tell you all about it!” Charles' note read, “I have just shot the President. I shot him several times as I wished him to go as easily as possible...I am a lawyer, theologian, and politician.... Very respectfully, Charles Guiteau” Almost nothing in that note was true.
First, Charles was a no theologian. As a teenager he joined the free love cult of John Humphrey Noyes. But Charles' groundless arrogance offended so many members, he literally couldn't get laid in a free love commune. After five years of celibacy “Charles Git Out”, as his fellow cult members called him, tried suing Noyes, and failing that, then plagiarized two of the leaders' books. Then Charles became an itinerant preacher (above). One newspaper described a typical performance by the self described “Little Giant of the West”, “...The impudent scoundrel talked only 15 minutes.” Charles then ran out the back with the ticket receipts According to one member, the abandoned audience, “had a conference and all came to the conclusion that he was crazy.”
Charles was not really a lawyer. His bar exam was four questions long, and a passing grade was 50% - and he used it to make himself a bill collector, keeping whatever he collected whenever he felt like it.. Oh, and President Garfield was not dead – yet - and would not die easily. And Charles was never respectful of anybody. The only truth in the note was that being an egomaniac Charles did fit the working definition of a politician. He decided Garfield owed him an ambassadorship, and when he did not receive it, Charles bought a gun and began stalking President Garfield.  But that was just the latest in a life time of arrogant fantasies. It seemed as if everybody in Chicago, Boston and New York thought Charles ought be hanged, so he set out to convince everybody in Washington, D.C., as well.   
While James Garfield was slowly dying of septicemia, Charles Guiteau was writing his autobiography and planning his lecture tour. From his prison cell Charles offered the suit he wore while shooting Garfield, for sale, as well as photographs of himself. Again, after only a few weeks, the people in the closest contact with Charles, his jailers, wanted to kill him..
On 11 September, Sargent William Mason, of the 4th Artillery regiment, got fed up with “coming to work every day to protect a dog like Guiteau.”  Mason shoved a pistol through the grate in Charles' cell door and ordered the assassin to “Get up and meet your death like a man.” Instead Charles began screaming and running back and forth in his tiny cell, while Mason kept firing and missing him. In desperation Mason yelled “Stay still, you rotten shit!” just before the gun was knocked from his hand by another guard. Despite widespread public acclaim, and funds raised for his family, Sargent Mason was sentenced to eight years in jail, perhaps because he missed.
After James Garfield finally died on 19 September, 1881, Charles was charged with murder and hate mail began to flood the new jail at 19th and B Streets, SE (above). Typical was the opinion of one writer who called Charles a “dirty, lousy, lying rebel traitor”, adding, “hanging is too good for you, you stinking cuss... You damn old mildewed assassin. You ought to be burned alive and let rot. You savage cannibal dog.”
Perhaps the most inventive suggestion was that Charles be forced to eat two ounces of his own cooked flesh every day, as long as he lasted.. About this time, another guard was driven to attack Charles with a knife. Again, Charles' screams brought help. But none of this seemed to shake Charles' reality. He assured courtroom spectators, “I've had plenty of visitors...everybody was glad to see me...they all expressed the opinion without one dissenting voice that I be acquitted.”
The serialization of Charles' arrogant autobiography in the newspapers would have poisoned the jury pool if those waters were not already putrid with hate. Worse, Charles complained that while a fund had been set up to support the newly widowed Mrs. Garfield, he still needed money for his expected dream team lawyers. 
The trial began on Monday, 14 November, 1881, in the courtroom of Walter Smith Cox (above), a longtime D.C. attorney, who had only been on the bench for two years. Fearing any verdict might be appealed, Judge Cox allowed Charles to to act as one of his own attorneys. 
“I came here...as an agent of the Deity,” asserted Charles, “and I am going to assert my right in this case.” As a practical matter this meant Charles kept springing up whenever he was inspired to, to argue or spew insults and obscenities on witnesses and his own “blunderbuss lawyers”, ordering his brother-in-law to “Get off the case, you consummate ass!”, telling Judge Cox, “I would rather have some ten-year-old boy try this case than you!”, and often spitting and foaming at the mouth while he did so.
Meanwhile the search for an impartial jury eliminated 175 on grounds they wanted Charles dead. Prospective juror John Lynch suggested that Charles “ought to be hung or burnt”, adding, “I don't think there is any evidence in the United States to convince me any other way”. Potential juror John Judd said Charles ought to be hung – not for murdering Garfield, but because he had cheated Judd out of $50. A writer to the New York Times suggested, “it would be best to execute him first and try the question of his sanity afterward.”  After three days, Charles' great objection to the chosen twelve was that one of them, Ralph Wormley, was black.
On Saturday the doctors offered their account of the President's injuries, introducing a preserved section of Garfield's spine (above).  It was passed among the hushed jury, and was eventually handed to Charles, who looked it over and handed it back without comment. Much to everyone's relief.
According to the papers, that night, “a wild and reckless youth” named Bill Jones - who was actually 29 and had been drinking heavily - rode up next to the carriage returning Charles to jail, and let loose a shot. “The Avenger” then lead police on a high speed (one horsepower) chase, south to the outskirts of Fredricksburg, Virginia, where he was arrested. Worse, in most estimations, was that Jones had missed.
“People will learn after awhile”, said Charles, “ that the Lord is with me and will not allow me to be killed!” The Washington Times labeled young Jones a hero, despite his record for impersonating police officers and threatening strangers with arrest. Several thousand dollars were raised by “The Evening Star” to support Jones' wife and child and hire attorneys while he sat in jail for two years. In 1884, a jury quickly acquitted Bill Jones of the assault, which must have made Sargent Mason feel like a complete fool.
Monday, 21 November – the first court date after the Bill Jones assault - the only actual criminal lawyer working for Charles Guiteau, Mr. Leigh Robinson, resigned from the case. The 49 year old Confederate veteran had only taken the thankless job at the request of Judge Cox. 
But Robinson was now clashing with Charles' brother-in-law, George Scoville (above), whose legal career had focused on property rights. George wanted to plead Charles temporary  insane.
But Charles refused to admit he was insane, shouting at George in open court, “You are no criminal lawyer! I can get two or three first-class criminal lawyers in America to manage this case for me.!” 
Where those lawyers were hiding was unclear, so Judge Cox finally had the lunatic handcuffed in his chair. As the bailiffs struggled with him, Charles kept shouting, “Mind your own business. Mind your own business!” Once restrained, Charles sulked, and Robinson was released from his painful duties.
George Scoville put Charles' older brother John (above left)on the stand, who said of Charles, “His life is a wreck and worthless."   When John wrote to ask when he could expect repayment of a loan, Charles wrote back, “Find $7 enclosed. Stick it up your bung hole and wipe your nose on it...” However there was no money in the letter. Charles' big sister Francis (above, right) testified Charles had “gone daft” without warning and chased her with an ax. And then Charles spent a week on the stand.
Charles insisted medical malpractice had killed Garfield, not him. Besides,  he was not crazy in the moral sense, because “The Deity” had ordered him to kill Garfield, but he was definitely insane in the legal sense, in that the jury should not convict him.  Twenty psychiatrists (called alienists) watched this performance, one telling a newspaper that Charles was the most fascinating psychotic he had ever seen. District Attorney George Corkhill, disagreed, asserting that Charles was “no more insane than I am...he's a cool, calculating blackguard, a polished ruffian... He wanted excitement..and notoriety, and he got it.”
Corkhill asked, “Who bought the pistol, the Deity or you?” Charles (above) responded, “The Deity furnished the money...I was the agent.” Corkhill asked directly, “Are you insane at all?” To this, Charles tried a clever answer. “A good many people think I am badly insane”, he told the jury, ”My father thought so, and my relatives thought so and still think so.” And that was when Corhill sprung his  trap. “You told the jury you were not insane,.” he reminded Charles. The madman smirked, certain of his own cleverness. “I am not an expert. Let the experts and the jury decide whether I am insane.” At least half the people in the courtroom, the jury included, were probably willing to lynch him right there, because of that smirk.
One of the few spectators able to hold onto their own sanity in the presence of Charles' pretentious hubris, was Fredrick Douglas. The great man pointed out that if Charles were merely acting crazy, “he is the most consummate actor in the world.” Meanwhile Douglas's old ally, Henry Ward Beecher, announced he believed Guiteau, “sane enough to hang.”
After 100 witnesses and 10 weeks of testimony, the case went to the jury. They came back with a verdict in 20 minutes. Allowing them five minutes to use the toilet, ten minutes to elect John Hamlin as foreman, and count the ballots, and five minutes to reassemble courtroom security: it cannot have been a contentious deliberation. At the reading of the verdict, Charles jumped to his feet, screaming at the jury, “You are all low, consummate jackasses! My blood will be on the heads of that jury!”. A Chicago Tribune headline caught the general public reaction. “The Hyena Hangs!”
Six months later, after his breakfast on Friday, 30 June, 1882, a clean shaven Charles Guiteau asked that the flowers and cards sent by his supporters be delivered to his cell. The warden informed him there were none. Charles then placed an order for his evening meal, which the warden took. Just before noon Charles was led out of his cell by a clergyman, his brother John and a pair of guards. He was led into the rotunda of the jail, where the permanent gallows awaited him. At the foot of the stairs, Charles paused to weep. Then he climbed the 13 steps, and found himself facing a crowd of 250 who had paid up to $300 to watch him die. Hundreds more stood outside the walls, waiting to cheer the event.
Charles could not go without a speech. As his hands were tied behind his back, and his legs were bound together, he recited: “I am now going to read some verses which are intended to indicate my feelings at the moment of leaving this world....I wrote it this morning about ten o'clock.” He than recited in a child like voice, '“I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad, I am going to the Lordy,...”  His poem went on for five stanzas and then Charles bent his head so the genial hangman, “Colonel” Robert Strong, could slip the hangman's noose over his head.
The papers called Strong "the jolliest Jack Ketch in the whole country",   and bestowed on the long time city jail guard the honorary title of “Colonel” (above).  The 56 year old was best known for his genial nature, who once earnestly chided a condemned man, “If you don’t cheer up you’ll never learn how to look on the bright side of life.” Said a fellow guard of Robert Strong's work, “His noose for the neck was simply perfection.” As this noose was tightened on his neck, Charles begged the hangman, “Do not pull it too tight, Mr. Strong”. Robert assured him, “I won't hurt you, Charlie.”
With the hood closed, Strong and the clergyman stepped away, and Charles shouted, “The Angels are coming to me!” He opened his left hand, dropping a square of paper. Before it hit the platform floor, Charles shouted, "Glory, ready, go!” and “Colonel” Strong jerked the lever, opening the trap door. That quick, and almost without a sound, Charles Guiteau dropped six feet and jerked to a stop. A cheer went up from the crowd, inside and outside the jail.
The body hung still for 40 seconds, and then jerked. After three minutes the body was lowered until the feet just touched the ground. The heart kept beating for another 14 minutes. After it stopped, the body was left hanging for another half an hour, and was then lowered into its coffin and cut down. On autopsy Charles Guiteau was found to have died of suffocation. His neck was not broken by Mr. Strong's noose. Charles' brain weighed 49 ½ ounces, and had asymmetry of the hemispheres and signs of Syphlitic paresis, which can produce grandiose delusions. 
Charles has never been buried. His skull (above)  and most of his bones are in the National Museum of Health and Medicine while sections of his brain are in the Mutter Museum, both in Philadelphia. His head, minus his skull, was part of a private collection in Indiana for some years, before it was destroyed in a fire.
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Friday, July 03, 2015


I believe we will create a better world, someday – just probably not while I am still breathing in it. My personal philosophy is a “depressed optimist”.  Case in point: recent research of the 3 inch fossil Fuxianhuia protensa, (above)  has postulated that about half a billion years ago, as the autotrophs were beginning to droolthey suffered a glitch during mitosis or meiosis, or some sort of reproduction, and begot a double pair of a particular genomic sequence in their proto-brains, and then passed that “oops” down to their daughter cells. As Neanderthals developed tools, this “double dose” of DNA strands gave rise to higher brain functions. Evidently, it also gave rise to crazy.
As one brainiac involved in this study put it, “The price of higher intelligence and more complex behaviors is more mental illness.” What this implies is that whether you are studying religion or astronomy, Descartes or Deuteronomy, you are ingesting a degree of insanity right along with all the knowledge you acquire. The ability to use fire allowed us to break down meat proteins, but that also bestows the ability to burn down the house you live in. And we do it all the time – ask any Tea Party Member. Music or mythology, Einstein or astrology, nothing that humans have ever invented could not be used to destroy humans. Why should the Internet be any different from that?
You see some idiots have exploited a “hole” in the Java software system, putting, according to the United States Department of Homeland Security, one billion computers at risk, both Apple and Windows systems, and Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Explorer browsers. According to TechNews Daily,  Java has offered an emergency fix, but it means “ users will have to approve every single instance of Java that they encounter online.”  In other words, the $8 trillion web is being destroyed because somebody found out a way to make 50 cents profit by blowing it up.
My question is , what kind of idiot would try to make a profit from destroying all future profits?  But the answer is obvious. The same kind of idiots who blew up the world wide economic system in 1929 and again in 2007, the same kind of idiots who are currently running the National Rifle Association, seemingly determined to convince the vast majority of Americans that the terms “gun owner” and “gun nut” are synonymous. As a famous fictional American once said, “Stupid is as stupid does”.
On the plus side, I also recently came across research from South Africa and Sweden, which reveals that the average dung beetle uses GPS in rolling their poop balls back home. But this G in GPS does not stand for global, but for galactic. We've always known that once the lady beetle gets a nice juicy ball of dung together, they climb on top and do a little dance. Entomologists assumed it was the beetle's way of saying to the universe “This ball of crap is mine!” But now it seems they are actually seeking to orientate themselves so they can find their way back to the burrow.  If the sun is up, they use the sun. At night they use the moon. And on moonless nights they use the Milky Way, that smear of billions of stars that runs across the night sky, that nobody ever figured a dung beetle was even aware of..
According to Professor Marcus Bryne, from Wits University in Johannesburg, “The dung beetles don't care which direction they're going in; they just need to get away from the big fight with the other beetles at the poo pile.”   And there appears to be a lesson on the relationship between Newtonian and Quantum physics here. The beetles can use the Milky Way to define a straight line back to their burrows, because they are so small, and the Milky Way is so far away. However, a moth, using the same basic methodology, circles a flame because they are bigger and closer to the light source. In other words, the moths think they are flying in a straight line, as long as they keep the light at an equal distance. Its the difference between walking from New York and Los Angeles, and flying there. It's the Flatland thought experiment, but with moths and poop, rather than circles and triangles.
But to get back to my original example, Fuxianhuia protensa, has been described as a “missing link”, or more accurately as “a mistaken link”. The problem is the little multi-legged beetle, which an average human would instantly step on if they spotted it in their closet, might have been the ancestor of all bugs – crickets, cockroaches, beetles, moths and lice. But it also might not.  I probably better explain my last statement, or rather let Professor Nicholas Strausfeld from the University of Virginia explain it. “There has been a very long debate about the origin of insects,” he says. And that, it seems, explains everything.
See, to put it simply, the grandaddy of all buggies was either a crab or a sea monkey (brine shrimp if you are over the age of twelve). Crabs are crustaceans, and sea monkey's are branchiopods. Crabs have much more complex bodies than do sea monkeys. So, ancient sea monkeys were thought to have evolved into insects, while ancient crabs evolved into everybody else. Or so the thinking used to go. But then along comes Fuxianhuia protensa, with a squiggly body and an organized brain, and a dependable dated age of 520 million years old. And that is old enough to have been the great-great-great-etcettera-granddaddy of both – which means that life  got smart and then found it might be more advantageous to get stupid again, but with fewer legs..
I can dig that. I can even empathize with how the little buggies felt. Every human male reaches some point in their lives when they realize that women often prefer bastards to nice guys. As your father might have told you at that point, “Life isn't fair”, and he may even have asked you, “If you ever figure women out, will let me know?” To put it in a more gender neutral way, most people reach a point when they suspect that their brains are just getting in the way of their hormones making them happy. And it appears that sometime in the Cambrian period, the squiggly crawly things wiggling across the ocean floor first confronted that basic philosophical conundrum: brains or balls? Which way will I go?
At that point it now appears that the balls returned to a simpler brain and instant gratification, while the brains tried deferred reward. And the amazing thing is, it appears we both ended up in the same place, standing atop a pile of our own shit and looking to the Milky Way for direction.
It's enough to make anybody a depressed optimist.
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Wednesday, July 01, 2015


I consider the “Marne Taxis” the second most innovative experiment in the history of military transport. On the night of 7 September, 1914 about 1,000 Renault taxicabs and their drivers were requisitioned off the streets of Paris to transport 6 thousand soldiers 31 miles, where they arrived just in time to stop the German march on Paris and save France. This desperate measure also produced two odd facts. In feeding the cab drivers, twenty refused their wine ration – an almost unbelievable 0.02% of Frenchmen were actually oenophobes. The second odd fact was that paying off the meters, which were kept running, cost the French tax payers only about 70,000 francs - proving that Parisians never tip. The greatest innovative experiment in military transport came on 18 July, 1861, at the little railroad station of Piedmont Station, Virginia on the Manassas Gap Railroad, when for the first time in history an army was transported by rail directly to a battlefield. And this one also produced two odd facts.
It all began with Jefferson Davis' desperate telegram to Joe Johnston, on 18 July, 1861- “General Beauregard is attacked; to strike the enemy a decisive blow, a junction of all your effective force will be needed.” The attack by General Tyler's division might have been a farce, originally intended as a feint. But the crises for the Confederacy of the slave states was real. Outnumbered two to one in both theaters, the rebellion could survive only if the two rebel armies could combine against one of the federal armies. But from Winchester, to Manassas Junction was 60 miles. A forced march by road would take four to five days. The troops would arrive exhausted, spread out and with substantial loses to straggling. And the federals could probably match that march. But at his headquarters in Winchester, General Johnston had what he hoped was a better idea.
Johnston sent his chief engineer, Major W.H.C. Whiting, to the closest Manassas Gap Railroad connection - Piedmont station. His orders were to find if  “trains, capable of transporting the troops to their destination more quickly than they were likely to reach it on foot, could be provided there."  Whitting reported back that MGRR president Edward Marshall promised his railroad could transport Johnston's entire 11,000 man army to Manassas Junction in just 24 hours. However the supply wagons and artillery would have to go by road, since he had no rail cars capable of carrying them.
Johnson now called out the local militia to hold Winchester, while his army maneuvered. He also left behind his 1,700 sick men, unfit for duty. If federal General Patterson had moved against Winchester any time between the 18 and 24 July, he would have faced around 3,000 barely trained and badly armed old men and boys, and sick and wounded soldiers, with little artillery support. Even General Patterson, with just 6,000 men left after the 90 day Yankee volunteers had all gone home, could have captured Winchester. But he never tried.
The first to step off was Duncan's Kentucky Battalion, members now of Colonel Thomas Jackson's brigade. Private J.W. Brown wrote to his father, "We broke up camp at Winchester, Va. on the 18th... and made a forced march, marching all day and all night, of thirty miles...” In fact they left after noon, and marched only 17 miles from Winchester to Ashby's Gap. The 1,000 foot pass through the Blue Ridge mountains, was a toll road and paved. It had been named after Thomas Ashby, who founded the village of Paris at the eastern end of the gap.  Jackson's brigade arrived there after dark, having marched 17 miles in 14 hours. Jackson then let his men catch some sleep in a field south of Paris.
Joe Johnston and his staff rode on the 7 miles on to Piedmont station that night, to discover there were no cars waiting and just one sad locomotive. It turned out the Manassas Gap Railroad had only one engine, and the engineers told the frustrated general that it would take 8 hours to make the 30 mile round trip to deliver just one 2,000 man brigade, and return for a second. It appeared railroad president Marshall was a true executive, well versed in schmoozing bankers and investors, but who had no idea how to actually run his railroad.  Johnston contained his anger, and set about assembling every box and passenger car he could find. 
When Jackson's men arrived about 6 a.m the next morning, 19 July, they found a train ready and waiting, with steam up in the engine. And the entire neighborhood had assembled to greet them. It was, according to soldier John Casler, “a regular picnic with plenty to eat, lemonade to drink, and beautiful young ladies to chat with" .  It would remain a romantic image for the next 150 years.
By 8 a.m. Jackson and his men (short the 33rd Virginia regiment, which had to wait for the next train) were loaded, and the train roared off at 8 miles an hour -  30 minutes to Rectortown,  21/2 hours to Broad Run, 3 hours to Gainsville and 4 ½ hours to Manassas Junction, stopping at every station to refuel, add water and oil the engine.
The return trip, running empty, took about an hour less, and the little engine that could arrived back in Piedmont Station about 3 p.m.. It was quickly reloaded with more troops and set out for the second trip. By now Johnston had scrounged up a second engine, one of the half dozen liberated from the Baltimore and Ohio shops in Martinsburgh, and smashed together another train, which he sent off about five that evening.
This third run carried the 7th and 8th Georgia regiments. Private W.A.Evans would recall later, “I thought the top of the car would be the best place...But soon the heated metal and boards, supplemented with cinders and smoke from the engine, caused me to want to be inside the car. So at the first station I swung down and entered. I thought of the "black hole of Calcutta" and began to think my time had come - not from Yankee bullets, but from choking suffocation. I felt that I was being cooked alive...I slept some, of course, but was waked up every few minutes...by rude jolts as we backed or went into a side track to get out of the way of an approaching train.”
The approaching train was the returning little engine, empty again. And when it pulled into Piedmont Station, at about 10 p.m., Friday, 19 July, it found even more eager troops ready to load. Instead the exhausted train crews went home to get some sleep. Joe Johnston was apoplectic, but while the engineer and crew slept, the engine was probably serviced, as was the additional engine, spending the night in Manassas Junction. Rebel commanders were unfamiliar with the limitations of railroad equipment and expected it to work miracles, when it fact it had already done just that. The first amazing fact about this experiment in military transport was that in one day,  about 6,000 men - half of Johnston's army -  had been delivered 50 miles to the battle field. They had no artillery, or supply trains, but you can't have everything.
Saturday morning, 20, July the men of the 8th Georgia infantry regiment, remembered “the good ladies who furnished our breakfast and filled our haversacks.” But the hospitality of Piedmont Station had by now run low. Mrs. William Randolph complained, “ The soldiers...have eaten up everything I have in the house, and still they keep coming."  That night, the last train carrying the 10th Virginian regiment left Piedmont Station about 3 a.m, filled with exhausted, hungry men, who had seen no romantic examples of southern womanhood offering succor.
These men had not eaten since leaving Winchester, and the engine was now traveling barely 5 miles per hour, because of wear and tear to the roadbed. At one water stop the hungry soldiers spotted blackberry's in a nearby field. McHenry Howard was among those who could not resist. “I heard a voice exclaiming furiously, 'If I had a sword I would cut you down where your stand,' and raising my eyes I beheld the crowd scatting for the cars before an officer striding up from the rear.” The officer turned out to be a tired and frustrated General Kirby Smith. “...he came up close and glared at me, thinking he was going to strike me and wondering what I would do, and when he turned off I was glad to regain my position on the car top.”
Shortly after resuming its journey, the train derailed. The crash was likely caused simply by the wear on the track and the wheels, never meant to carry this volume and these weights, and having been badly maintained for years by a company always operating near bankruptcy. No one was killed because the crews had been running at a reduced speed. But the soldiers had little doubt it was sabotage. According to W.A. Brown, “Some body tore up the track on Saturday night which had to be relaid...” Henry McDaniel of the 9th Georgia was clearer. “An engineer caused a collision of the trains on Saturday and that kept us out of the fight. He was afterward shot. He was a northern man." And W.A.Gus Evans contended it was a conductor who was “court martialed and shot, charged with bribery by the court and intentionally producing the collision...”
It seems likely that someone, a civilian conductor or an engineer, working for the Manassas Gap railroad was dragged before a kangaroo court, tried, convicted and shot that Saturday. And it seems likely that if the unfortunate victim had intended to cause damage, he would made certain the train was running faster when it was run off the rails, or sooner, before all but the last brigade of Joe Johnston's army had reached Manassas Junction. But the soldiers were weary, after a long forced march, with no food and little water. They were frustrated with the delays, lack of sleep, and they were not thinking clearly. They were also suspicious of the mechanics and their mechanical world that was destroying the economic viability of slavery. And it seems likely that on 20 July, 1861, they struck out in anger at the only part of the north they could reach at that moment.
Non one seems to have recorded the name of the officer who ordered the railroad man's death. The rebel victory on the 23 July laid bare the paranoia behind the act, and it seems likely the officer responsible was no longer proud of his action. This was the second odd truth the southern cavaliers would learn over the next four bloody years. Never start a war. Ever. Besides killing people, and destroying lives, it puts far too much power in the hands of tired, frightened and and angry average people, who will then do things they will regret for the rest of their lives.
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