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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Friday, September 05, 2014

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

I miss the old smoke filled rooms – sometimes. In the old days there were no passionate amateurs willing to bring on a political doomsday, just for the publicity. The process was dispassionate, calculated and handled by people who saw politics as a job, aided, of course, by political writers who supplied the passion in print. From such combinations, legends were born -  such as this one I shall now relate.
On April Fools Day, 1920, bland faced Ohio political manager Harry Daugherty (above) was hastily packing his bags in his room at the old Waldorf Astoria hotel on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Into the room sauntered two reporters, seeking a quote. They taunted Daugherty on his boastful support for the turgid and mediocre Ohio Senator, Warren G. Harding. Nobody else thought Harding stood a chance of becoming President. Just who were these senators that Daugherty claimed would support Harding at the Republican Convention, come June? When Daugherty refused to take the bait, the reporters suggested he must be expecting the convention to deadlock, and the choice of candidates would become so “reduced to pulp by the inevitable vigil and travail” that a shadowy group of political managers would have to step in to save the party. Daugherty again said nothing. So the reporter went further, suggesting  that Daugherty must be expecting the managers to collapse about 2:00 A.M. in a smoke filled room. Weary of the dialog, Daugherty finally As he grabbed his bags and walked out of the room, he said,  “Make it 2:11".
One of the reporters turned that one sided conversation into this quote, which he stuck into Daugherty’s mouth; “I don't expect Senator Harding to be nominated on the first, second or third ballot, but I think we can well afford to take chances that about eleven minutes after 2 o'clock on Friday morning at the convention, when fifteen or twenty men, somewhat weary, are sitting around a table, some one of them will say, "Who will we nominate?" At that decisive time the friends of Senator Harding can suggest him, and can afford to abide by the result.”
And amazingly, that is almost exactly how it really happened. Except that the back room was a suite of meeting rooms in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel (above)  at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Balboa -  room numbers 408 through 410, with Room 404 set aside as the reception room.
The suite had been rented by Will Hays (above), the big-eared big-talking “mighty little ear of corn” from Indiana. He was the Republican National Chairman, and had hopes of being President himself in 1920, or maybe 24, or maybe 28. . And maybe the greatest compliment you can pay the professional politicians of that era is that at least they never dreamed of letting Will Hays become President.
The Republican Convention that June was officially taking place 9 blocks south of the Blackstone hotel, in the old Chicago Coliseum (above) on South Wabash Avenue. This cavern had been home to every Republican Convention since 1904. It is worth noting that the building had originally been constructed to house a prison, Richmond’s Civil War "Libby Prison", bought lock, stock, and barrel by a Chicago candy millionaire and shipped north to form the centerpiece of a Civil War Museum. The museum went bust in 1899, and the Coliseum's owner “re-imagined” the space as a public meeting center.
It was into this den of iniquity that some 2,000 delegates and their alternates marched on Tuesday June, 8th, 1920, sixty years after Republicans had first met in Chicago to nominate Senator William Seward for President, but instead chose Abraham Lincoln. That was an ominous bit of history to consider if you were General Leonard Wood or Illinois Governor Frank Lowden, as they were considered the front runners for the 1920 Republican nomination.
The dour faced Lowden (above) wanted to be president so badly that as Governor, when both houses of the Illinois state legislature voted to abolish the death penalty, he had vetoed the bill -  proving again that politicians are even willing to kill people to win a few votes.
In contrast, Leonard Wood (above) claimed to have little political hunger. He was a  Medal of Honor winner who had graduated medical school and then risen to Army Chief of Staff. He said he wanted to be President out of a sense of duty.  The same lack of ambition not be claimed by Will Hays, who had not entered any of the twenty Republican primaries held that year. But Hays still had hopes that Wood and Lowden would deadlock, and the convention would turn to the little Hoosier to beak the tie. There were in fact a number of candidates with the very same plan.
The convention finally got down to the balloting on Friday evening, June 11th, and immediately things started looking up for Hays. On the first ballot Wood led with 285 votes, Lowden showed 211, Senator Hiram Johnson, of California, a Teddy Roosevelt progressive, was third with 133 votes. Far behind was Governor William Spool of Pennsylvania with 84 votes, followed by New York’s Nicholas Butler with 69 votes and Ohio’s favorite son, Senator Warren G. Harding, who received just 65 votes on the convention floor, in part because he had lost in the Indiana primary, held right next door to Ohio. Six other candidates jointly held the remaining 132 delegates.
On the second ballot Wood gained just ten votes, while Governor Lowden’s total grew by 40. But still nobody was close to the 439 votes needed to nominate. General Wood reached his peak on the fourth ballot with 314 votes, and then his support started to slip. Governor Lowden beat him with 311 votes on the fifth ballot. Still, no one seemed to be gathering enough support to win it all. And the longer this went on, the less confidence actual voters would have in any eventual choice. So the professionals stepped in and the convention adjourned for the night. The negotiations shifted to the infamous fourth floor rooms at the Blackstone hotel.
Actually political junkies were meeting all over Chicago that night, but Hays’ rooms at the Blackstone got all the publicity because that was where Associated Press reporter Kirke Simpson was working. He was there to cover Harry Daugherty, because, as you have seen, Harry was always good for a quote, even if you had to spoon feed it to him.
Also present was George Harvey, who ran Harper publishing, and Republican Senators Wadsworth, Calder, Watson, McCormick and Lodge, Governor Smoot, political fixer Joe Grundy, and Lawyer Charles Hillers, counsel to the R.N.C., as well as his client, R.N.C. Chief, Will Hays. Their problem was that none of them could agree upon who the party should rally around, either.
It was, by general agreement, the original “Smoke Filled Room” of political legend, and the 130 pound Hays was the genial host. Even though he neither smoked nor drank himself, Hays kept the cigars lit and the booze flowing. The idea that Prohibition, which had started the previous year, should keep the hard working pols from wetting their whistles, was an obtuse argument in this convention of connivers and deal makers. Which is why Hays stood out so much.   “Neighbor”, he once said to Herbert Hoover, “I want to be helpful.”  It was his natural Hoosier instinct.
Harry Daugherty’s (left) natural instinct, on the other hand, was his drive for his man. He said of Harding (right), “I found him sunning himself, like a turtle on a log, and I pushed him into the water. “
Since the top three vote 'getters' were not willing to compromise with each other, the Senators at the Blackstone were now looking for “The best of the second raters.”, and Daugherty suggested that Harding was their man. Harding was willing to compromise with anybody over anything to get elected. There is no indication that anybody even mention Will Hays - not even Will Hays, who was in the room.. Or maybe he was out getting ice.
They dispatched a small delegation upstairs to Hardings’ hotel room, where they roused the stunned Harding from his bed.  They asked him point blank if there were any embarrassing episodes in his past. Now, Harding might have said that giving a job interview while standing in his pajamas might qualify as an embarrassing episode, but he did not. He might have mentioned the child he fathered with one of his many mistresses. Or he might have mentioned his many mistresses. Instead Harding swallowed and said, “No”. He was lying of course, but that would not come out until Harding was long dead.
It wasn't as if the party managers issued orders and the party regulars fell in line. It would take five more ballots before the crowd at the Colosseum would give up out of exhaustion and hand the nomination to Harding. But as of 2:15 A.M., the decision has been made, just as the reporters in New York had written that Daugherty had predicted - if nobody seems to be winning, we will rally around Harding and make do.  What a way to pick a president! And it worked.
At 5 A.M. on Saturday June 12, 1920, Kirke Simpston filed a story that included the following phrase, “Harding of Ohio was chosen by a group of men in a smoke-filled room early today.” And that is how the phrase "smoke filled room" entered the vernacular. The connotation became negative because after Warren G. Harding won in a landslide, he and his “Ohio Gang” - his buddies, including Harry Daugherty - moved to Washington D.C. and started selling everything  that wasn't nailed down.  Many of them ended up in jail, or disgraced, or at least spending a lot of the graft they had collected on lawyers.
Harding appointed Harry Daugherty (above) as his Attorney General. And after three heady years, Harry was forced to resign when his chief aide, Jess Smith, was caught taking kickbacks from bootleggers. Smith had been collecting the kickbacks for his boss, Harry Daugherty, but the professional politicians in Washington decided not to prosecute Harry.  And luckily Smith committed suicide, so Harry was allowed to just resign.  As Forest Gump might have put it, Presidents are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get. Take the little ear of corn, Will Hays'
Will Hays served as Hardings’ Postmaster General. But after only one year he smelled the impending scandals, or maybe his disappointment and frustration at being ignored finally began to burn,  and he got out. In 1922 Hays took another job, running the Hays Production Code office, which set standards for on-screen morality in the Hollywood film industry. It was the Hays Commission which gave us forty years of married couples sleeping in twin beds, no acknowledgement of drug use (which had been going for several thousand years),  no adultery in marriage (ditto) without retribution, and endless stories with Sacerin sweet "Hollywood Endings". It was the Hays' Commission that turned Rhett Butler’s exit line from "Gone With the Wind"" into a major social crises, even though the line had already appeared in one of the most widely read books in America.  Mr. Hays had built his entire career selling smoke and mirrors, and he was not going to get out of that business just because he had gotten out of politics.
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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

CLIMBING MISSIONARY RIDGE

I think most Americans know about Picket's charge in July of 1863, when 15,000 rebels attacked across a mile of open ground outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. But few know that four months later 18,000 Midwestern farm boys in blue crossed half a mile of open ground to storm rifle pits filled with rebel veterans, and then clambered, grasping and panting, 500 feet up a 45 degree slope and threw themselves against even more rebel veterans and fifty cannon in what came to be called “The Miracle of Missionary Ridge”.
In late September of 1863, the 60,000 man federal Army of the Cumberland under General William Rosecrans, was ambushed along Chickamauga Creek in the the mountains of northern Georgia by a 65,000 man rebel army under General Braxton Bragg. The first day of the assault left Rosecrans, in Lincoln's estimation, “confused and stunned like a duck hit on the head.”
But through the second day a single union corps under General George Thomas (above) stood like a rock against the rebel assaults, even as Rosecrans scampered 20 miles back to the union supply base at Chattanooga.
The city of Chattanooga (above), perched on the south bank of the Tennessee River, was then placed under siege by Bragg's army .The Appalachian mountains touched the river south west of town at the 2,400 foot tall Lookout Mountain (above - background), which Bragg's left wing occupied. That closed the union supply line to the south. 
The rebels also entrenched along the crest and the base of the two mile long Missionary Ridge (above), which loomed directly over the city.
And rebel artillery on three 400 foot high mounds north of the city - Alexander's Hill, Tunnel Hill and Billy Goat Hill (above) - closed the river to supply boats there as well. It looked like the Army of the Cumberland would be starved out. After the defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, this was the South's “last chance at independence.”
Two men in the north saw the truth that the Army of the Cumberland (above) was trapped only if it was willing to be. The first was President Lincoln, who insisted Bragg's army could only “eke out a short and feeble existence, as an animal sometimes may with a thorn in its vitals.” The other optimist was General George Thomas. As the federals staggered back into Chattanooga, “The Rock of Chicamauga” replaced Rosecrans. In addition, fifteen thousand federal reinforcements under General George Hooker were dispatched from the Army of the Potomac, and 20,000 more under General William “Uncle Billy” Sherman were on their way from Vicksburg. And commander of all troops west of the Appalachians, General Ulysses Grant was ordered to Chattanooga as well.
By the time Grant arrived, Thomas already devised a plan to relive the besieged city. Grant gave the go ahead and a narrow switchback road across Moccasin Point,  the Cracker Line, was opened to the north bank opposite Chattanooga, so basic supplies could be ferried into the city. And on 23 November, Hooker's corps pushed across the Tennessee and forced the Rebels back from Lookout Mountain. That opened the river to union supply and troop transports (above)  to come up from the south. 
Then on 24 November General Sherman threw his reinforced corps across the river above the city. That bold movement should have outflanked the entire rebel position. But Sherman became the goat after capturing and fortifying what he thought was Tunnel Hill at the northern end of Missionary Ridge, only to discover the next morning it was only an isolated mound, which is how it earned the name “Billy Goat Hill.” (above, center)
That night the moon rose cold and bright and clear and then darkened, as it fell into the shadow of the earth. Many of the soldiers on both sides, camping above and below Missionary Ridge (above), saw this total eclipse of the moon as a bad omen. The only question was, bad for which side?
The next morning, 25 November, the sun rose bright and clear, without a cloud in the sky. Sherman threw himself against the real end of Missionary Ridge, Tunnel Hill, with a vengeance. But the rebels under Clebourne had been reinforced over night. After a morning spent in a badly executed attack, the Union Left flack was about where it started. At 12:45 pm Sherman sent a desperate message, why were Thomas' men in the center were not attacking?  Thomas was unperturbed. He replied, “I am here, my right (Hooker) closing in from Lookout Mountain on Missionary Ridge.” But Grant had seen Sherman's message, and about 2:30 with nothing still happening, suggested “General Sherman seems to be having a hard time. It seems as if we ought to go help him.” He then ordered Thomas to send two of his divisions to “carry the rifle pits at the foot of Missionary Ridge, and when carried to reform his lines on the rifle pits with a view to carrying the ridge."
Grant saw the attack on Bragg's center as a diversion, to discourage Bragg from reinforcing the rebels in front of Sherman. But Thomas was not thinking of a diversion. He chose to wait. It was not until after 3 that afternoon when the sounds of Hooker's fight on the left flank of Missionary Ridge at the Rossville Gap were growing louder, that Thomas finally ordered all four of his divisions into woods in front of the rebel center, to attack..
Major James Connolly, the topographical engineer in General Hazen's division, noted, “The enemy could see us from the top of the ridge, and quickly...commenced to shelling us, as our long line of regiments filed along.” When his own regiment was ordered to halt and shift into line of battle, Connolly confessed he was staggered by the challenge in front of him. “We could never live for a moment in the 600 yards between the strip of woods in which we were formed and the line of rifle pits at the base of the of the mountain, exposed as we would be to the fire of the 40 cannons massed...five to eight hundred feet immediately above us.”
Nervously he rode down the line. “I found Woods division, formed on our right and facing the ridge just as we were. I rode on and came to Sheridan's Division, formed on Woods right and facing the same. Here was a line of veteran troops nearly two miles long, all facing Missionary Ridge...The purpose at once came plain to me” At about 3:30 six cannons fired in rapid succession behind Union lines. It is the agreed upon signal. “”Forward” rings out along the long line of men and forward they go...”
A rebel officer on the crest thought the union advance a “grand military spectacle.” Grant, watching from a small rise behind the attack described it as a “grand panorama”. General Sheridan, riding in front of his division, called the three deep ranks with glittering bayonets a “terrible sight.” As the rebel artillery opened up the word was given and the union soldiers broke into a run. 
The 9,000 rebels in the rifle pits (above)  got in one shot before the blue crowd overwhelmed them. The rebels threw up their arms or began scrambling up the slope in retreat. The union forces paused to catch their breath and reform. Five minutes after taking the rifle pits, it happened.
One historian described the beginning this way: “They came out of the trenches in knots and clusters, with ragged regimental lines trailing after the moving flags and a great to-do of officers waving swords and yelling.” 
At the top, in charge of 14,000 rebel soldiers, Georgian William Hardee immediately sent for reinforcements. 
Below him Union General Sheridan was waving his hat in one hand and his sword in the other, screaming, “Forward, boys, forward! We can go to the top! Give 'em hell! We can carry that line!” When he came to a narrow dirt road climbing the ridge in switchbacks, he followed it up, and his men followed him.
Some union troops found shallow ravines, which protected them from rebel fire as they climbed. A union officer remembered, “Each battalion assumed a triangular shape, the colors at the apex. ... a color-bearer dashes ahead of the line and falls. A comrade grasps the flag. ... He, too, falls. Then another picks it up ... waves it defiantly, and as if bearing a charmed life, he advances steadily towards the top “
Far below, Grant demanded to know who had ordered the attack up the ridge. Thomas said he had not, and after a moment Grant realized there was nothing to be done. He chewed on his cigar and mumbled, “Someone will suffer for it, if it turns out badly.” Grant expected a disaster, a slaughter of the advancing 18,000 federal troops when the rebel gunners on the ridge top began blasting grape shot into the faces of the clambering, out of breath union men slowly struggling up the 45 degree slope.
That did not happen for four reasons, three of which could not have been predicted or expected. First the rebels behind the breastworks could not fire down because in front of the federals were their own men, who were retreating from the trenches at the foot of the ridge. Secondly, even before the general advance, some union troops left the rifle pits they had just captured because they found shelter hugging the slope. The union brigade in the attack which suffered the highest casualty rate (22%) had been ordered back to the rifle pits,  where they were easy targets. In fact the veteran union soldiers knew the closer to the crest they got, the better the slope protected them. And thirdly, the rebel commander, General Braxton Bragg, was an unpleasant and argumentative man.
Many of Bragg's (above) own subordinates despised him, and nobody liked to make suggestions to him. Back in early October, when the positions along Missionary Ridge had been laid out, they had been placed along the top of the ridge, in military parlance the “actual crest”. But the “military crest” was a few yards forward of the actual crest. Bargg's topographical engineers had left his soldiers with a blind spot directly in front of them. Most of Bragg's veterans saw this at a glance, but in almost two months that the rebel army had occupied this position, nobody had felt it worth suffering  Braxton Bragg's surly insults and moral degradation to point it out..
The fourth reason for the “Miracle of Missionary Ridge” was that after being delayed by a swollen creek, George Hooker's corps had resumed its attack forward from Lookout Mountain, and was now bending back the rebel left flank. General Thomas could hear the success of that attack, which is why he finally released the assault on the rebel center. And from the top of Missionary Ridge, the rebel troops could not only hear it, they could see the smoke of battle on their flank coming closer and closer.
As the great historian Bruce Catton put it, their problem was they could see too much and not enough. The rebels on Missionary Ridge could see the union army in its many thousands, arrayed before them, and now clawing its way right at them. They could see and hear the approaching federal army outflanking them. But of their own army, they could only see the men immediately around them. Even 14,000 men, trying to cover a two mile long front, were stretched very thin, with seven to eight feet between each man. The rebel positions on Missionary Ridge, the very center of the rebel defense, suddenly felt very, very lonely.
As Sheridan's division approached the rebel lines 19 year old first Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur (above) grabbed the regimental flag from a decapitated bearer, and carried it over the crest, planting it firmly in the ground. One rebel wrote later, “The Yankees were cutting and slashing, and the cannoneers (sp) were running in every direction. I saw Day's brigade throw down their guns and break like quarter horses. Bragg was trying to rally them. I heard him say, "Here is your commander," and the soldiers hallooed back, "here is your mule." Confederate Sam Watson remembered how he “retreated down the hill under a shower of lead leaving many a noble son of the South dead and wounded on the ground...” Sheridan promoted McArthur to major on the spot,  and nominated him for the medal of honor. Arthur's son Douglas would follow his father into the army, reaching the rank of general and leading American troops across the Pacific in World War Two, and then in Korea.
On the crest, with the rebel army broken and retreating, union soldiers straddled enemy cannon and cheered themselves horse. Said one Army of the Cumberland veteran, “"The plain unvarnished facts of the storming of Mission Ridge are more like romance to me now than any I have ever read in Dumas, Scott or Cooper." And a witness from the War Department in Washington said, “No man who climbs the ascent by any of the roads that wind along its front (today) can believe that men were moved up its broken and crumbling face, unless it was his fortune to witness the deed."
When I saw the ridge fifty years ago that was still true. And it is still true, even today.
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