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Friday, May 30, 2014

OH, HENRY

I have long held the view that "anarchist" as a label became passé with the invention of psychiatry. Of course it has stuck around as a vestigial etymological fossil, but any current criminal shrink can now vouch that the loonies who espoused anarchy were really just pathological egotistical narcissists. As proof of this contention I now present you with the head of Emile Henri, who lost his head over the injustice he suffered because of another inarticulate Frenchman who sought to challenge the establishment and managed only to blow his nose at them.
Everything about Auguste Vaillant screams of irony. He was a kin of Lee Harvey Oswald, a little man who wanted to be important, but lacked the necessary attention span. He claimed to be the leader of a socialist group but seems to have been the only regular member. While waiting for the revolution he was ironically employed sewing expensive handbags and wallets for rich people to store their money in. 
Concerned about justice for the poor, Vaillant had abandoned a wife and two children - leaving them in poverty - and then lived with a deaf woman. For a political revolutionary to be living with a woman who could not hear his rants against capitalism passes beyond ironic into the realm of absurdity. And that is where we find Auguste Vaillant on Saturday December 10, 1893 entering the public gallery above the Chamber of Deputies, the French congress, carrying a sauce pan bomb in his overcoat. Ce n'est pas ironique, c'est le plus absurde
Auguste had constructed two sauce pan bombs, but discarded the larger one after realizing he could never sneak a 3 quart sauce pan past security. Spotting his intended target, the French President, standing on the Chamber floor, Auguste revealed and armed his 1 quart sauce pan. This attracted the attention of the woman sitting next to him. (“Excuse me, but is that a sauce pan bomb in your pocket or are you just unhappy to see me?”). She was able to deflect his throw so that the sauce pan bounced off a decorative cornice before exploding. The blast shattered Auguste’s right arm. The nuts and bolts packed around the explosive, shrapnel intended to kill 150 deputies, instead lacerated Auguste’s neck and chest. And the explosion blew his nose completely off his face. Unfortunately, the quick acting heroine was also badly wounded, as were at least 20 politicians. But the only person who died, if not immediately, was Auguste. Ce n'est pas tragique, c'est le plus absurde.
Auguste’s trial was brief. And on February 3, 1894, the guillotine finished what Auguste’s own bomb had started. His last words, before the blade severed the rest of his head from his body, were, “Mort à la société bourgeoise! Vive l’anarchie!” The translation would be, “Death to the Bourgeoisie! Long live Anarchy!” Even his last words turned out to have been ironic, since he barely lived long enough to utter them.
The irony developed because, of the millions who were outraged by Auguste’s departing utterance, the most significant turned out to have been another nobody anarchist fanatic, this one named Emile Henri, a 21 year old who was consumed with envy. Henri was convinced that Auguste’s noble death scene should have been his. After all, just over a year before had not Henri stricken a much more effective blow against the bourgeois but had received little of the press coverage afforded to the now headless incompetent dead man?
Henri had decided to strike his blow for striking miners. He packed 20 sticks of dynamite into a sauce pan and rigged to explode if it was jostled. He then carefully left this “infernal device” outside the second floor offices of a mining company just before lunch on November 8, 1892.
A lowly Porter noticed the sauce pan, and realized immediately it was probably not somebodies' lunch. But rather than evacuating the offices he ordered an office boy to carry the suspect sauce pan down to the street. Somehow the office boy made it in once piece, but he felt a little uneasy about just leaving it on the sidewalk, in case a passing pedestrian should be injured. So he alerted a nearby school crossing guard. She called the police, and two patrol officers responded. They tied a napkin around the bomb and then the three of them, the cops and the office boy, carried the bomb suspended between them to the local police station at the rather mis-named Rue des Bon Enfants (Street of the wonderful children.) There the bomb exploded, killing four cops and the office Porter.
Henri had to lay low for awhile, but he was still living in anonymity in a crummy apartment when he opened his anarchist newspaper on February 4, 1894 to read of Auguste’s dramatic speech at his execution. And Henri was green with envy.
Now, there might be some who feel my tone slights the victims of such attacks; baloney. Murder has been anathema for at least six thousand years, when the ancient Egyptians made “Thou shalt not kill” their first commandment, predating Moses by at least a thousand years. If a human being is murdered by a serial killer, a lunatic at the controls of a hijacked jet, a deluded doctor, a drunk at the wheel of a car or a waiter too busy to wash their hands, the result for the victims is the same; tragedy. Fundamentalist Islamic-Christian-Marxist- Socialist-cultural-political justifications matter only to the perpetrator; I say again, baloney.
As if to prove my point, one week after the glorious execution of Auguste, Henri entered the restaurant at Hotel Terminus, next to the Gar Saint Lazare train station in Paris. He had stopped at two other bars earlier but, he claimed later, they weren’t crowded enough. My guess is he had not yet drunk enough courage. He nursed two drinks for an hour at the Terminus, and then as he staggered out the door, tossed his bomb back into the café, where it exploded, killing one. A waiter ran after Henri, who shot him. Two policemen took up the chase. Henri shot one of them. The other knocked him down and restrained him. Henri’s toll was now eight dead – five at the police station and three at the restaurant.
At his trial Henri was defiant and bombastic, until his attorney put Henri’s mother on the witness list. Henri objected. He told the judge, “It never occurred to me to inflict such pain on my mother.” In fact I suspect Henri was more concerned about his image. It would be difficult to remain an anarchist hero with your mummy explaining to the court how hard it was to get you toilet trained.. 
According to the New York Times, On May 21, 1894 at “4:07 a.m.…the iron doors swung apart…Henri was ghastly white, but walked with a firm step. As he approached the platform he shouted, “Courage comrades. Long live anarchy.” His voice…trembled noticeably…As they pushed him against the plank he shouted again, “Courage comrades. Long live anarchy.”  He had evidently worked this out and wanted to be quoted exactly. The click of the knife was heard the next moment, and Henri’s head dropped to the ground. The blood from the trunk spurted high as the body revolved into the basket. (The executioner) himself picked up the head from the sawdust and threw it viciously into the basket with the body.”
Anarchy, it turned out, was not long lived, either. History proved it to be a temporary delusion, to join those other temporary delusions people have claimed as justification for random murder; communism, fascism, Black power, White power, the Basque Independence Party, the Irish Republican Army, the John Birch Society, the Confederacy, and the myriad other stupid self-justifications invented by humans to demand their way..
Hatred is a lot like ideology in this respect - reduced to its core it is all about self.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

KIDNAPPING GEORGE WASHINGTON


I am thankful that William Tyron, the Royal Governor of New York, was a little too sure of himself. Although American  “patriots” had chased Tyron out of town, he was still lurking, like a spider, a few hundred yards off shore, spinning his loyalist webs aboard the 74 gun “HMS Dutchess of Gordon”. Each day the sailors and royal marines from the "Dutchess" and the two other Royal Navy ships in the harbor, would row to shore for fresh water, to buy food, to even have their shoes repaired and to exchange communications with the loyalist mayor, David Mathews and his many agents. Perhaps, too many agents.
New York City in 1776 was a crowded town of 25,000 at the very southern tip of Manhattan. Tyron’s web of spies was strung between the city’s many taverns; “The Highlander” at Beaver Street and Broadway, “The Sergeant At Arms” run by conspirator Alexander Sinclair, and most significantly “The Corbie”, near Spring and Wooster Streets, which was just a few yards southwest of General Washington’s isolated headquarters on Richmond Hill. At his own establishment on Broadway - “The Sign of the Sportsman” - gunsmith Gilbert Forbes, “a short thick man”, waited patiently to buy ale for weary Continental soldiers and listen to their complaints. And in exchange for five gold guineas, he swore them in as members of the Governor’s conspiracy. It was Forbes who first swore in eighteen year old Sergeant Thomas Hickey, a member of General Washington’s personal guards.The 180 officers and men of the Life Guards were as formed on March 11, 1776 out of the regiments laying siege to Boston, as a personal guard for General Washington and his baggage. Washington’s orders called for “…good men, such as they can be recommended for their sobriety, honesty and good behavior " They were also handsome and "well made”We know that Sergeant Hickey was a “black Irishman” who must have been very handsome because he was neither sober nor honest. He had deserted from the British Army, and had for some years lived in Wethersfield, Connecticut. And we know he was a man who wanted money. Hickey claimed he got involved with the conspiracy only “…for the sake of cheating the Tories and getting some money from them”. We also know that Forbes put Hickey on an allowance of 15 shillings a week. We know that Hickey brought with him into the conspiracy four other members of the Life Guards, and that he was paid a bounty for bringing them each into the conspiracy. And we know that on June 15th Hickey and Private Lynch were both arrested for passing counterfeit continental dollars.To finance the revolution two million Continental Dollars were printed on thick rag paper by Hall and Sellers of Philadelphia. And immediately counterfeiters began copying the sad little notes. An advertisement in the journal “Rvington’s Gazette” openly promised, “Persons going into other colonies may be supplied with any number of counterfeit Congress notes ….They are so neatly and exactly executed…it being almost impossible to discover that they are not genuine”. Once locked in the crowded three-story city jail, Hickey was warmly greeted by his fellow inmates.One of those inmates was a professional counterfeiter, Isaac Ketcham, and he appealed to the patriot colonial council to release him in the name of his “six poor children”. And in case that did not work he added he had “…something to observe…entirely on another subject.” In private Ketcham told the council that he had heard Hickey’s drunken boasts (liquor seems to have been in ample supply in the jail) that “…there were near seven hundred soldiers and civilians enlisted for the King" . Ketcham insisted Hickey said he "would he never again fight for the American cause.”
Washington could now compare Ketcham’s story with the warning from businessman William Leary, that one of his employees, James Mason, had boasted about the same loyalist plot. And there was also a warning from William Collier, a waiter at The Corbie. Putting all these sources together, Governor Tyron’s plan was clear.
Just before the British Army was to land on Long Island, loyalists would blow up or capture the Kingsbridge over the Harlem River at the far end of Manhattan Island, 13 miles north of the city. This would sever the only land connection into New York and trap the Continental Army. In addition Loyalists militias were to screen the British landings. And most dastardly of all, Mayor Mathews later told a Royal Commission, “I formed a plan for the taking of Mr. Washington and his Guard, prisoners…”At one in the morning of Saturday, June 22nd colonial troops surrounded Mayor Mathew’s house in Flatbush near the village of Brooklyn on Long Island. Mathews was arrested, and over the next several hours hundreds of other loyalist conspirators were taken into custody. On the 27th Sergeant Hickey faced a court martial and was quickly found guilty and condemned to death.
At eleven o’clock the following morning, June 28th, a crying Hickey was marched to the scaffold with a clergyman at his side. As the clergyman stepped away Hickey, “With an indignant, scornful air” wiped away his tears and “...assumed a confident look.” He muttered that one of the witnesses against him should be the next to hang. The blindfold was tied over his eyes, and Thomas Hickey then slowly chocked to death at the end of a rope in front of 20,000 spectators.The very next day, July 29th, four new British warships dropped anchor in New York harbor. They were the vanguard of 130 ships carrying 34,000 troops which would arrive over the next week. In the face of that fleet the patriots of New York might have been more willing to listen to the siren song of Governor Tyron. But he had recruited too many agents too quickly. There were too many rumors swamping the city. And General Washington was too competent not to have paid attention to them. And in that the citizens of the young nation (the Declaration of Independence would not be voted on for another week) were very fortunate.
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Sunday, May 25, 2014

VICKSBURG Fourth Week in May


FRIDAY MAY 22, 1863
Since midnight, the 220 artillery pieces in Grant's arsenal have been bombarding the Vicksburg land defences, joined by Union gunboats in the river. The barrage continues for four hours after dawn. At 10:00 am the Union infantry advances along a three mile front. Along Graveyard Road, the assault is led by 150 volunteers who have nicknamed themselves "The Forlorn Hope". They carry scaling ladders and planks to lay over the wire entanglements at the bottom of the revine. But "The Forelorn Hope" is driven back under heavy fire, as are the assaults all along the line. By 11:00 am Generals Sherman and McPherson are convinced the attacks are useless, and Grant is inclined to agree.
Just then a messenger arrives from General McClerand, commanding on the left. He requests another division in reinforcement and hints that he has captured two forts. Grant demurs, telling McClerand to use his own reserves. But both Sherman and McPherson now launch additional assaults, to support McClerand's troops.
In truth, McClerand has captured no Rebel forts, and by 5:00 pm, all the assaults are called off. Union causalities are 502 dead, 2,500 wounded and 147 missing. Confederate General Pemberton has lost less than 500 men, in total. And Rebel moral has been substantially restored. Vicksburg is never going to fall to assault. And Grant has yet another reason to want to be rid of McClerand.
SATURDAY MAY 23, 1863
It is exactly three weeks since Grant's 42,000 man army crossed the Mississippi and began its march on Vicksburg. At no time did Federal troops have more than a 2,000 man advantage over the Confederate forces in total, and yet at each individual engagement Grant held a substantial battle field advantage - At Port Gibson, Grant had 20,000 men, General Bowen, less than 5,000 - At Raymond led Grant 12,000, Gregg 4,100 – At Jackson, Grant commanded 38,000, Johnston, 5,000 – At Champion's Hill, Grant led 32,000 men, Pemberton just 22,000 – And at the battle of the Big Black River, Grant commanded 32,000 men while Bowen led just 5,000. He had always been victorious because of his remorseless drive to a single objective.
In far off Washington, General Hallack decides to reinforce success. Just a week before he was seeking to sidetrack Grant to Bank's command at Port Hudson. But now Washington is sending Grant every man it can, bringing his force, by the end of the campaign, to 77,000 men. And it is Banks who has been regulated to a sideshow.
Also this day, the Illustrated London News discusses a deputation of English Labor Union members who the day before had visited the American Ambassador, to express their belief that “the cause of the North to be the cause of freedom, that they wished for the success of Mr. Lincoln's armies...”. The News was skeptical, but hastened to add, “We are not going to interfere for the South....we encourage no breaking of the (Union) blockade...” With each passing day it becomes less likely that any foreign nation will recognize the slave state Confederacy.
SUNDAY MAY 24, 1863
Yesterday evening, along Grant's Mississippi River supply line, just south of the Tennessee border and near the riverfront village of Austin, Mississippi, Confederate sharpshooters fired on a supply boat, killing able Seaman Philip Dalton. Angered by that attack, this morning Brigadier General A.W. Ellet lands his forces and is drawn into a fruitless two hour battle eight miles outside of Austin with the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry. The Rebels eventually withdraw.  Believing Confederate agents in the town have been bringing in weapons and ammunition from across the river (which they probably have), Elliot orders the town burned to the ground.  It is an act of terrorism (as was the sniper shot) and a warning to all Rebel sympathizers.
MONDAY MAY 25, 1863
Grant issues Special Order Number 140, instructing “"Corps Commanders will immediately commence the work of reducing the enemy by regular approaches (siege). It is desirable that no more loss of life shall be sustained in the reduction of Vicksburg, and the capture of the garrison. Every advantage will be taken of the natural inequalities of the ground to gain positions from which to start mines, trenches, or advance batteries." 
Also on this day, whiskered U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles (center - to Lincoln's right) notes in his diary that an argument over the fugitive slave act broke out in a cabinet meeting between Postmaster General Francis Blair (to Welles' right, a slave owner) and Salomon Chase (to Lincoln's left, a Radical Republican), the Secretary of the Treasury. President Lincoln finally intervened, to tell one of his stories, about a man from Illinois “who was in debt and terribly annoyed by a pressing creditor, until finally the debtor (pretended) to be crazy whenever the creditor broached the subject. “I,” said the President, “have on more than one occasion, in this room, when beset by extremists on this question, been compelled to appear to be very mad." He continued, ” I think none of you will ever dispose of this subject without getting mad.”  Three years into the war and there were still leaders in the north who favored returning escaped slaves to their masters in the borders states, Slavery as an institution was not yet dead.  
TUESDAY MAY 26, 1863
Today, General Frank Blair, son of the Postmaster General Blair, leads his division from Sherman's corps out of the siege lines. His orders are to destroy the supplies Confederates are collecting at Mechanicsburg, Mississippi, intended for General Johnston's troops still in Jackson, Mississippi. General Blair will be gone a week, during which time, while dueling with Wirt Adam's cavalry, he will burn 500,000 bushels of corn, and the grist mill used to grind it, and capture 1,000 head of cattle, 300 mules and 40 bales of cotton  He will also bring back “negroes, equal to my own command”. Thanks to this raid, no matter how many men General Johnston is able to gather, he will not be able to advance from his lines around Jackson until he has replaced those supplies. There will be no relief for Vicksburg from Jackson, Mississippi.
WEDNESDAY MAY 27, 1863
This morning, General Banks launches his 13,000 man army against the defenses of Port Hudson. The attacks are uncoordinated and are easily thrown back. Among the attacking units are the 1st and 3rd Louisiana Native Guards, the first black Americans to officially wear Union Blue. Union casualties are 1,995, while the Confederates lose just 235.  General Banks will not be rushing to replace Grant anytime soon.
THURSDAY, MAY 28, 1863
After the overnight cloud burst a week earlier, the drought in Mississippi has returned with a vengeance. In Vicksburg this is already creating concern. The city has no wells. It has always drawn water from the numerous streams and rivulets that cut through the bluffs to the Mississippi River. General Pemberton has almost unlimited weapons and ammunition, collected here to supply the entire Confederacy. But he is short of food, and already rationing water. To escape the almost constant Federal bombardment, citizens of Vicksburg begin to dig in the cliffs to protect themselves. All hope in Vicksburg now rest on General Johnston in Jackson. In fact, that hope is already dead.
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