The Rise of the Billionaires Leaves the Middle Class Stranded


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Sunday, December 17, 2017

VICKSBURG Chapter Forty-Seven

May of 1863 was a dry month. In California it was the second spring of a 4 year drought, which killed half a million cattle and sheep. It was so dry that spring in Kansas, the Junction City Union reported “If this continues another week, this section, at least, will be 'blowed' away.” In Nebraska hot dry winds converted the muddy South Platte river into “...clouds of dust and sand...”. Farmer Sam Clark wrote from southern Iowa, “Unless we have rain and that very soon the corn crop in this state will be almost a complete failure… “
In Saint Paul, Minnesota, the Mississippi River fell so low that May, riverboats were unable to navigate. During the first three weeks of the month, Milwaukee, Wisconsin receive just six-tenths of an inch of rain. In Kentucky, the dry weather sped up the hay and grain harvesting, but also “shriveled the rivers (to) fordable in many places”. But the dry weather made marching easy for the long columns of blue clad locusts as they spread across the interior of the state of Mississippi, consuming everything within reach.
But all good - and bad - things must come to an end, and in the early morning darkness of Thursday, 14 May, 1863, a cold front slipped across the American south. Clouds suddenly appeared. and dropped a brief downpour on the dirt roads and the 55,000 sleeping Yankee soldiers. 
When 33 year old Hoosier, Brigadier General Marcellus Montroe Crocker (above), saw the Clinton – Jackson road that morning, the water was pooling a foot deep in low spots on the sun hardened pavement. Over night General McPherson and, 9 miles to the south, General Sherman and agreed to coordination their assaults, so Crocker found himself burdened with a schedule.
General Crocker, also known as "The Black-Bearded Cossack", for his behavior under fire,  was another example of the way the war had reshaped men’s lives. He had been forced to leave West Point in 1849 when his father’s death required him to return to Indiana. In 1851 Marcellus had moved to Iowa, where he passed the bar in 1852.  But when the war broke he immediately raised a company of volunteers. Over the winter of 1861-62 Marcellus was promoted 4 times, eventually to Brigadier General. He commanded a brigade at the battle of Shiloh (above)  - where he was wounded in the arm, the neck and the shoulder. He also led a brigade at the Battle of Corinth, throwing the rebels back with a desperate charge. He had now risen to command the 17th division, 13 regiments from Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
On the other side of the war, just about dawn that Thursday, General Gregg led the about 900 men - 24th South Carolina, 46th Georgia, and 14th Mississippi Regiments – past the deaf and dumb asylum, 2 miles out the muddy Jackson - Clinton road. Their goal was the hilltop farm of 51 year old Oliver Perry Wright.
Oliver had been born in North Carolina, married Katherine “Kate” Barrett and moved to Mississippi in 1852. Over the next eight years the couple raised six children, 1 boy and 5 girls, supporting them by using slaves to cultivate 400 acres of not cotton but fruit and foodstuffs for the citizens of Jackson. Like all white males in Mississippi, Oliver was a member of the anti-slave militia. And despite his age Oliver was a member of the 23rd Mississippi Volunteer Infantry, but probably as a staff officer. He was not listed as captured when the 23rd surrendered at Fort Donaldson in February of 1862. But he was a loyal southerner. And now, General Gregg had decided to turn the Perry “farm” into a battlefield.
It took the rebels about an hour on slick, muddy roads to reach the farm, and they immediately began laying out a defensive line, with skirmishers out front in the fields. The 24th was stationed behind the fence line in front of the house and barns, the Georgia 46th cleared some some fields of fire in an orchard by chopping down a few trees, and the 14th Mississippi was held back in reserve. By about 10:00am the rebels were as ready as they were ever going to be, when the lead elements of General Crocker's 2nd Brigade arrived from Clinton. The rebel skirmishers were pushed back into their lines by the advance of 5 regiments under 32 year old Colonel Green Berry Raum, a fiercely anti-slavery Democrat from Illinois. And Raum had just gotten his men into a line of battle for the uphill assault when the skies opened up again.
The down pour forced a full hour's delay. Frustrated by the rain, General Crocker ordered Colonel Raum to quickly clear the road to Jackson. So, about 11:00am, with bayonets fixed, the 17th Iowa, the 10th Missouri, and the 80th Ohio regiments (above)  surged forward toward the fence line. The rebels had time to fire a single volley before they were swamped by the blue coats. 
For a few long moments the entire war was reduced to twenty-five hundred men in hand to hand combat, struggling for personal survival. The 80th Ohio suffered 90 men killed or wounded. The Missouri and Iowa regiments probably matched that loss. The 24th South Carolina Volunteers lost over a 100 men, and the Georgia boys almost as many.
Realizing he had already bought the city of Jackson an addition 2 hours, General Gregg  (above) sounded the recall. And covered by the 14th Mississippi, Gregg's bloodied little force of now less than 700 men, arrived back in the Jackson trench lines about 1:00pm. But by 2:00pm, “Crocker's Grayhounds” had been reorganized and were following the rebels back up the road to Jackson.
Ten miles to the south the 16,000 men of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman's XVth Corps had spent the evening camped around an old health spa called “Mississippi Springs” - half way between Raymond and Jackson. 
In a rough circle, 7 sulfur springs fed pools, each with a distinctive taste, smell and laxative effect, and with their adjacent hotels or rooming houses. The Federal soldiers, road grit grinding between their teeth, would have understood the words offered 20 years earlier by the drill operator to the Reverend Cooper. When he hit water south of Raymond, he told the Reverend, “It is water, but it stinketh mightily. It stinketh so bad you can never use it." So, like the Reverend Cooper, the owners of the Mississippi Springs labeled their source a “health spring” and charged more for bathing in and drinking it. But all these dusty Yankee visitors wanted was a long drink of cool untainted water, and after midnight the cloud burst gave them that, and more.
Come the dawn, the Federal advance was led by the 5,000 men of the 3rd division under 39 year old Brigadier General James Madison Tuttle (above).  
In the front was Brigadier General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Anthony Mower (above)'s brigade. Immediately behind them was the 6 gun 2nd Iowa Battery, and 6 guns of Battery E of the 1st Illinois Artillery. Clearly Sherman expected some delaying action by the Confederates to try and stop  his corps from getting into Jackson. The rest of the division's infantry, Brigadier General Charles Matthies and Brigadier General Ralph Buckland's brigades, followed.
General Gregg had just dispatched 900 men up the Clinton road when his few cavalry pickets reported Yankees out the Raymond Road. Quickly Gregg threw what he had at the new problem, the 1st Georgia “Sharpshooter” Battalion and the 3rd Kentucky Mounted Infantry, both under the 34 year old Kentucky lawyer, Colonel Albert Petty Thompson (above). 
His orders to Thompson were to hold the enemy at the Lynch Creek bridge. And to provide the defense some punch he also dispatched a precious 4 gun battery – a pair of six pound Napoleons and two 3 inch rifles – the Brookhaven Light Artillery - commanded by Captain James S. Hoskin. Gregg made it clear to the Captain those guns had to hold the Yankees until relieved.
Two miles from the trenches of Jackson, and at about 9:30am, Thursday, 14 May, 1863, the 5th Minnesota Infantry crossed the crest of a ridge above Lynch Creek. Hoskin's artillery immediately laid down harassing fire on the approaching Yankees So 27 year old Colonel Lucius Frederick Hubbard got his Minnesota men spread out into a skirmish line, and Captain Nelson Spoor deployed all 12 federal guns on both sides of the Raymond road and started laying down a counter-battery fire.
One of the rebel crewmen in Hoskin's battery, the unit's bugler, Isaac Herman, remembered that counter fire as very personal. “One of their shots passed over my gun,” he wrote later, “and knocked off its sight. passed between the detachment, striking the caisson lid in the rear and staving it in.” Herman stuck to his gun, until he, “... saw a ball rolling on the ground, about six feet to my right. It seemed to be about the same caliber as ours. It rolled up a stump, bouncing about fifteen feet in the air. I thought it was a solid shot and wanting to send it back to them through the muzzle of our gun, I ran after it. It proved to be a shell, as it exploded, and a piece of it struck my arm...Another ball struck a tree about eight inches in diameter, knocked out a chip, which struck my face and caused me to see the seven stars in plain day light...”.
In the meantime, General Tuttle started looking for a way around the bridge. The overnight rain had converted the usually lazy Lynch Creek into a full river, but after half an hour the Hoosier found a ford to the south, and started pushing the rest of the 2nd battalion across. As they did, Colonel Thompson realized his position had been turned. So he sent his Georgia foot soldiers streaming back toward the Jackson trenches, relying on his mounted Kentuckians to cover the withdraw of the cannon. They were not in time, and the battery was captured.
By 2:00pm, General Tuttle had advanced up to the Jackson defenses, and seeing the trench line filled with men and cannon, he again moved to outflank the rebels. But the enemy to his front were now mostly Mississippi militia. Johnston had declared the evacuation complete, and Thompson's men were retreating through the city. Only Gregg's 700 were still in the western trench line. But they were ready to follow.
When Tuttle's latest flanking movement found empty trenches, Sherman ordered his corps to move into the city, sweeping up the militia in the process. By 4:00pm the stars and stripes was flying again from atop the Mississippi statehouse (above). The Battle of Jackson – such as it was – had cost General Grant 42 dead, 25 wounded and 7 missing in both corps. Rebel losses were about double that The second Confederate state capital – after Nashville – had fallen to federal forces. Immediately Grant issued orders to first gut the place and then to abandon it.
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Saturday, December 16, 2017


I can tell you the very moment the chain was broken.  At 4:55 p.m., Howard and Marjorie Boggs were returning from a Christmas shopping trip to the river side town of Gallipolis, Ohio. Marjorie, who was just 18, was driving. And as they crossed the half mile wide Ohio River, bound for Point Pleasant, West Virginia, Howard remembered “the old bridge began to gently bounce, as always” - as it had done every day for the last forty years. But on this December day, perhaps it felt different. Perhaps Marjorie was more sensitives because her 15 month old child was also in the car. Whatever the cause, Marjorie turned to her husband Howard and asked, “What would we do if this thing were to break up?”.
Since the middle of the twentieth century, West Virginia has had only two exports: coal and people. The old joke said “The Mountaineer State" school children studied their three “R's” - reading, 'righting and route 35. Over the decade of the 1950's one in four residents - almost half a million people- took the “Hillbilly Highway” north, looking for better work and new homes.
And the choke point for most of this coal miner diaspora occurred 265 miles downstream from Pittsburgh, at a single two lane link just upstream of the mouth of Kanawha River and just downstream from a C.and O. railroad bridge,  between the tiny villages of Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Gallipolis, Ohio (above).
The design was put out for bids in 1926 by West Virginia. It called for three separate bridges, tied together. Beginning in downtown Point Pleasant, the two lane, 22 foot wide roadbed crossed a standard 380 foot truss bridge to the southern pier in the Ohio River. For the next 700 feet, the road would be suspended by twisted steel cables hanging between two 510 foot towers. From the northern pier a second truss bridge carried the road 380 feet to the Ohio shore, and a 400 foot approach ramp. But the primary subcontractor for the winning bid, had a couple of suggestions.
First, the American Bridge Company wanted to raise the northern pier by eight feet, to give the roadbed 102 feet of clearance over the barges that used the river. And secondly, they suggested replacing the steel cables with a new technology – 45 to 55 foot long bone-shaped heat treated steel I-bars, joined into chains.  I-bar chains had a century of use behind them, but this would be the first time the new heat treated steel bars with a maximum working stress of 50,000 pounds per square inch, would be used in America.
Eyelets drilled at the ends of each I-bar allowed an 11” diameter steel bolt, washer and nut to lock adjoining bars into a chain, or into a sealed triangular junction which transferred the horizontal load of the roadbed to the vertical towers. The stronger steal would require just a single I-bar on each side of the chain, and the “give” designed into the joints allowed the load to be transferred as traffic moved across the structure. Because they were forged off site and were quickly assembled on site, construction cost was just $825 thousand, and was completed in just six months. The new bridge, painted silver, opened on Memorial Day, 1928 A rain storm failed to dampen the inaugural day spirits. As the “The Engineering News Record” crowed,  the Silver Bridge would last 100 years.
It was later estimated the new bridge added $1 million a month to the local economy, the traffic growing to 4,000 vehicle crossings a day, 340 cars and trucks every hour. But built to spur the economy of West Virginia, it instead become a link in an immigration chain that ran north from Charleston to Point Pleasant, and then Columbus or Cincinnati, Ohio, and the steel belt beyond - St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
During the 1960's the population of West Virginia fell by another quarter of a million, an exodus of another 44 people every day heading north. The joke now went, St. Peter was giving a tour to a new arrival in heaven. When asked about a section surrounded by a wall, he explained, “Oh, that's where we put the West Virginians. Otherwise they all try to go back home on the weekends.” And each year, between Thanksgiving and New Years, the back splash of homesick exiles became a tidal wave, filling the country roads with nostalgic melancholy expatriates returning home to West Virginia.
As with any chain, there were weak links. The Point Pleasant (above) approach terminated at a traffic light at the corner of Sixth and Main streets. Every red light cycle backed up traffic onto the bridge. Another traffic light on the Ohio side added to the load, and the redundancy was further stretched by progress. 
In 1928 (above),  the average fully loaded truck weighed 5,500 pounds, or 2 ¼ tons. Thirty years later the weight of a tractor-trailer was up to 60,000 pounds, or 30 tons. By 1967 such trucks were 20% of the traffic crossing the Silver Bridge, and rush hour, particularly during the holiday season, had extended until it lasted all day long.  The bridge seemed to deal with this increased load easily, in part because, as was noted by “The Engineering News Record” back in 1928, it was not possible to examine the underlying I-bar in the triangular joints, nor was it possible to make “any adjustments in the chains...after erection.”
The state gave the Silver Bridge a “full inspection” on 8 and 9 April, 1965, and $30,000 was spent on repairs to the roadway, replacing peeling paint, and patching some erosion on the chain anchorages. But inspector Paul McDowell admitted later he completed only 11 of the 21 standard checks. Lack of funding prevented him doing a full, eyes on, examination of the links before using his “engineering judgment”,  to declare the bridge “structurally safe”.  When the bridge was checked again on 6 December 1967, the maintenance engineer used binoculars to check the I-bar chain links, and saw nothing of concern. Ten days later, just after 4:50 on the cold Friday afternoon of 16 December, 1967,  Lloyd Forge, a semiretired welder from Point Pleasant, was crossing the bridge when he spotted a large steel nut lying in the road bed near the Ohio shore. It was, according to all reports, the first evidence of any failure to any structural part of the bridge. And it was already too late to do anything about it.
Five minutes later, at the intersection of Ohio Route 7 and U.S. route 35 (above), a hundred feet north from the Ohio approach ramp, Mr. H.L. Whobrey was loading the evening's first sale from his Christmas tree lot into the trunk of a customer's car, when he heard what sounded like an auto crash on the bridge. To gas station owner Dick Kuhn, working on the south side of the same intersection, it echoed like a shotgun blast fired from under the bridge. Other witnesses heard a jet -like roar., or a clanging noise. Bank employee, Roger Wysell was eastbound on Route 7, and had just pulled up to the traffic light at the intersection with Route 35,  between Whobrey and Kuhn, when his passenger, Cathy Zuspan, screamed, “My God the bridge is falling.”.
A half mile south, Bob Rimmey was parked in front of the Point Pleasant court house, a block from the bridge, when he head a loud crack. He could see nothing from where he sat, so he stepped out of his car. In the distance he saw the Silver Bridge swaying, and watched one tower after the other fall, then saw the roadway pitch over to one side and collapse into the 42 degree water. It took less than a minute before it was over. He ran toward the bridge.
Looking up from the tree he had just loaded, Mr. Whobrey saw “the bridge just keel over, starting slowly on the Ohio side, then following like a deck of cards to the West Virginia side...I saw it but I didn't believe it”  The last car to clear the collapsing bridge pulled into Whobrey's parking lot and screeched to a stop. Whobrey noted the driver “...looked like a ghost. He just sat there - then he was sick right in the car.” Station owner Kuhn ran to the riverbank and watched a truck floating south with the current. "There was a guy hanging onto the roof yelling his head off. I think they got him off.” There were now, just seven minutes of daylight left.
A half mile away, 20 year old Charlene Wood was heading home from her job at a hair salon. She was 5 months pregnant and had just driven her yellow Pontiac through the traffic light at Main and Sixth streets in Point Pleasant. “I was traveling in the right lane about 15 miles an hour when this car in front of me started going in...I felt a shaking of the bridge...I threw my car in reverse. The shaking was so severe my car died, but it kept rolling back because of the incline. As I was watching in horror, the bridge was falling right in front of my eyes. It was like someone had lined up dominoes in a row, and gave them a push, and they all came falling down and there was a great big splash of water. I could see car lights flashing as they were tumbling into the water. The car in front of me went in. Then there was silence”
A few seconds later Bob Rimmy and a West Virginia State Police officer reached the yellow Pontiac just four feet from the broken end of the roadway. Charlene Wood's hands were frozen on the steering wheel, and she did not respond to their shouts. Rimmy and the officer helped Charlene out of her car and back to safety. Four months later she would give birth to twins.
Young Howard Boggs did not remember the fall, or escaping from the car. He did recall feeling the river bottom , thirty feet down, under his feet . When a Gallopolis ice and fuel boat pulled him from the cold water, he told his rescuer, “I just hope to God Marjorie and the kid got out okay.” His wife and baby were pulled out of the river, still inside their crushed car, six weeks later.
Volunteer fireman Lee Long responded to the call and found a scene of confusion. “It was a hell of a mess”, he told a reporter. “I saw this car float past. It looked like there were people inside beating their hands on the windows....We couldn't see very much, but we could sure hear it."
"There was a tractor-trailer rig hanging on the riverbank, partly in the water. The driver was hanging from the open door of the cab, dead. Then we heard this banging from the was the driver's partner who'd been sleeping...We worked two hours to cut him out of there...Standing there naked except for his shorts...Man, was he shivering. Then he saw his partner, and he just broke up.”
Sixty-four people in 31 vehicles were dropped into the river or on the Ohio approach.. Forty-four of them died, most by drowning or from severe trauma.  
Two of the dead were lost to the Ohio River. Eighteen others survived.
It was later decided that the break began with a speck of impurity in the steel of one particular I-bar, labeled as C-31, used to form the second link in the western chain from the top of the north tower. Hidden beneath a locking nut, it took forty years of heat and cold, tension and release, to expand to one tenth of an inch in length. 
At that instant, it went critical, snapping through the lower side of the eye-let. The I-bar shifted outward the next time it flexed. That threw the locking nut onto the roadway, and left the entire load of the bridge, the steel, the roadbed, the traffic, the human beings, a 15 month old baby, balanced on half of an unhinged I-bar. It could not carry the load and gave way. 
That transferred the entire load to the opposing chain link, which gave way. Like the collapsing floors in the World Trade Center on 9/11, each successive member of the bridge was now asked to carry even more weight than the failed member before it.  Each link thus failed in their turn more quickly, until the entire structure of the bridge fell in less than sixty seconds.  
The engineering lesson was, as it had been before and will be again, that redundancy must be designed into  entire structure, not merely in the individual members of those structures. .
The lives of 15 month old infants are simply too valuable to risk on a single support.. 
- 30 - 

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