Saturday, April 28, 2018

VICKSBURG Chapter Sixty-Three

The shattering crash of yet another volley of musket fire forced Charley's face into the dirt. A half breath later he heard the cloud of mini'e balls rip the air inches over his head. Only then did he dare to look to the fate of the color-bearer. As the afternoon breeze sluggishly tugged at the acidic smoke, the Captain saw the bloody blue body on the precipitous slope of the rampart. The precious flag lay crumpled in the dirt at his side.
Charley could sense that in a moment the men behind him might break and run for their lives. If they did, they would be slaughtered.  And the only way 28 year old Captain Charles “Charley” Ewing could save their lives was by risking his own. Charley took a deep breath and pulled himself up, dug his heels into the loam and started up the slope of the Stockade Redan. It was after about 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, 19 May, 1863.
Lieutenant General Ulysses Simpson Grant explained his thinking in his memoirs. “The enemy had been much demoralized by his defeats at Champion’s Hill and at the Big Black, and I believed would not make much effort to hold Vicksburg. Accordingly at 2 o’clock I ordered an assault.” So it was the vision of the rebel army collapsing, and capturing 1,700 prisoners just 2 days earlier which told Grant he might be able to carry the city in a rush.  He was wrong.  But he was not wrong for trying.
It was the Prussian General Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz (above)  who noted that all actions in a war are wrapped in a “...fog of greater or lessor uncertainty.” The Napoleonic Wars were the consuming event of this military philosopher's life.   In 1792, at 12 years of age, Carl was inducted into the Prussian army as a Lance-Corporal, and fought in war after war for the next 20 years, while achieving the rank of Major-General before his death at 51 years age in the Second Great Cholera Pandemic of 1831.  Although never wounded, Clausewitz saw more of war than most people, and understood it better than just about anyone else.
War”, said Clausewitz in his book  was“...a fascinating trinity—composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; the play of chance and probability, within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to pure reason." Historian Christopher Bassford has shortened Clausewitz's Trinity to "Violent Emotion and Chance and Rational Calculation." Although Grant did his best rationally calculate the impact of “Chance”, he never allowed it to prevent applying his reasoning to war, as he did now.
The nearest troops at hand were also the freshest - Major General William Tecumseh Sherman's XV Corps. They had last seen combat 5 days previously, on Thursday, 14 May, at Jackson. This was no accident. Throughout the campaign, Grant's obsession with never retracing his steps was shared with his staff, ensuring every possible enemy reaction was considered before any marching orders were issued.
Setting out before dawn on Saturday, 16 May, Sherman's XV corps had covered the 60 miles from Jackson to Vicksburg in 3 day's march. The lead element after crossing the Big Black River was the 2nd Division, under 42 year old Missouri lawyer, Major General Francis “Frank” Preston Blair Junior (above) . His father, Francis Blair senior, was a St. Louis newspaper editor.  The eldest son, Montgomery, was Lincoln's Post Master General. As Lincoln put it, “Their family is a close corporation. And Frank is their hope and pride.”
The 2nd Division had been the last of Sherman's 3 divisions to land at Grand Gulf, and had escorted the final 200 supply wagons, joining  Grant's  Army of the Tennessee in the vicinity of Raymond on 13 May.   So the 2nd Division's 3 brigades were in the lead as they approached Vicksburg on Monday, 18 May.   Grant made the decision not to wait for  McClearnand or McPherson's Corps to come up, but to press ahead with just 2 divisions - about 7,000 men against some 20,000 rebels inside Vicksburg.  He intended to test the possibility that the rebels were teetering on the edge of despair.  And he was right. They were.
The commander of the 2nd division's 1st Brigade was a 33 year old hotel operator named Colonel Giles Alexander Smith.  He was a combat veteran, serving in the Army of the Tennessee River since Fort Donaldson, in February of 1862.  Eighteen months later, his troops were the 113th and 116th Illinois Volunteer regiments, the 6th and 8th Missouri Volunteers – Smith's old command. But the spearhead of this particular assault would be the 13th United States Regular Infantry regiment, under Captain Edward Crawford Washington, grand nephew of father of the nation, President and General George Washington.
With Brigadier General James Madison Tuttle's 3rd Division held in reserve, direct support for the attack would be the 5 regiments of the Colonel Thomas Kirby's 2nd Brigade and the 4 regiments of the 3rd Brigade under Brigadier General Hugh Boyle Ewing – older brother to Captain Charles Ewing, 2nd in command of the 13th U.S. Regulars.  Artillery support would be provided by the XV Corps' 3 batteries of Illinois artillery and one from Ohio. The infantry of Blair's division were fresh troops. They had not seen combat since the Yazoo Pass Expedition in March. But they would see their share today when they attacked straight up the Graveyard Road at the Stockade Redan.
The packed earthen walls of the redan were 17 feet high and 16 feet thick, their exterior face dropping below ground level into a 6 foot deep trench. Any attacker would be forced to clamber up 23 feet before coming to grips with the defenders. Atop the rampart was a single 12 pound howitzer. In addition there was a lunette south of the Graveyard Road, which could lay down flanking fire on any attack on the Redan. Five feet below the lip of the Redan's interior wall was a firing step, defended by some 400 men of the 36th Mississippi regiment, supported by survivors of the 27th Louisiana regiment.
The 36th Mississippi had been formed in March of 1862, after the first patriotic rush, and from companies organized across the state. They were under 43 year old Louisianian Brigadier General Louis Hébert's. 
The 36th had been bloodied in the Corinth campaign – 12 dead and 71 wounded – before being transferred to Vicksburg that winter. The 36th had helped defeat Sherman's Corps at Chickasaw Bayou, and spent the next six months guarding the guns at Snyder's Bluff. In fact it was the 36th which had been withdrawn so precipitously on 17 May, just before the arrival of the Iowa cavalrymen. They were a full strength veteran regiment and well rested.
A sergeant in the 36th, George Powell Clarke, remembered that morning, well. "At 10:00 A.M ,” he wrote, “ the firing ceased and the Federals advanced in two lines of battle... We could plainly hear when the order was given to advance....and soon the long, glittering line of bayonets came in sight... they gave a prolonged yell, and broke into a double quick towards our lines…our batteries opened on them with with grape, canister, and shrapnel shells, which told fearfully on their crowded ranks. When they had reached within fifty yards of our lines we opened upon them with musketry...with murderous effect…”
Captain Washington (above), leading the 13th U.S. Infantry, was cut down by the first volley, as he struggled through the obstructions in the ditch at the base of the redoubt.  Hit twice, he tumbled into the thick loam.. Later, the rebel Sergeant Clarke gave credit to the men he was killing, writing, “...they were brave men and did not falter, though hundreds were falling all around them, until within a few feet of us. They then wavered, rallied once, but finally gave way and retreated to their own position.” In the confusion, they left the bleeding Captain Washington behind.
Grant decided to bring up more artillery, to soften up the Redan before giving it another try. XV Corp gunners blasted the Redan for four more hours.  Rebel gunners returned fire as best they could, but their guns were too spread out to provide effective counter battery fire. And not all Federal the shots were effective, either.  One shell from a 20 pound Parrott gun burrowed right through the 16 foot thick loam of the Redan walls, and sailed out the other side, before finally exploding in the air, over the Glass Bayou a quarter mile to the rear.
Suffering in the heat behind the ridge in front of the Redan, a member of an Ohio regiment remembered the men had “perspiration oozing out at every pore.” Then, at 2:00 p.m. The cannon went silent and the Yankee infantry came on again, right up the Graveyard Road. A staff officer in Blair's division watched while, “The very chips and sticks scattered over the ground were jumping under the hot shower of rebel bullets.”
With the absence of Captain Washington, command of the 13th Regular Infantry had now devolved upon Captain Charles Ewing (above). And as he lead his men head on into that maelstrom of fire, it must have crossed his mind that he had the political connections to be anywhere else he wanted. Charley was the son of Lincoln's Secretary of the Interior, Thomas Ewing.  His sister, Ellen, was the wife of General William Tecumseh Sherman.  And yet at this moment, a few minutes after 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, 19 May, he was here, once again stumbling into the ditch, and struggling through the abatis obstructions. 
The Rebels were firing into the blue clad men from above, appearing on the crest long enough throw
shells with lit fuses into the ranks where the shrapnel splintered bodies and separated minds from souls. The regimental color bearer had already been shot down, his body rolling to the bottom of the ditch.  A second soldier had taken up the flag, and struggled up the slope with it held to the front as a rallying point.  Clumps of men were drawn to follow. 
But when the second bearer fell, a shell exploding in his faced, almost decapitating him, the regiment deflated, and fell to the earth and turned their heads from the horrible sight. It seemed to Charley as if the regiment had sighed, their spirit escaping like a lost breath under water.
Charley saw that the moment had come. A small band of men could determine the battle in a few moments. But if no one acted, the attack would die right here on the slopes of the Stockade Redoubt. 
So Charley clawed himself to his feet, and pausing to pick up the flag as he climbed, and powered to within 100 yards of the crest of the Redoubt. 
It was not as operatic as the artists of a later generation would see it (above). Charley was alone. And he was 100 yards from the nearest rebel soldier. But it as dramatic a moment as any in the four bloody years of war.  
Seeing a company of rebels preparing to fire, Charley  jammed the staff into the ground, and bending on one knee to hold the flag steady,  he turned to call the regiment to rally to him. He could see the men begin to move, a leg lifting, and rifle swinging upward. Then abruptly a volley of muskets snapped above the din of battle.  A wave of minie' balls tore at the banner, whipped the cloth las if in a gale, sand slicing the thick wooden staff in two, and tearing off one of Charley's fingers.
The pain was immediate. He grasped his left hand in his right, the sight of his own gushing blood sending him into shock. Charley involuntarily ducked his head and closed his eyes as tight as he could.  So he did not see the men who dragged him back down the slope, nor the man who rescued the regimental colors from the dirt. The attack was broken.  
The 13th regiment hung on to the Mississippi soil at the bottom of the trench, for the rest of the long afternoon, exchanging snipping with the rebels, dodging the random shells with burning fuses sent rolling down the slope, or sailing into the air over their heads. Said the Regimental history, “The ditch literally filled with the dead bodies of our cherished comrades and the glaciers blue with the victims of war.”
When darkness finally covered the 13th regiment's withdrawal, it had sacrificed 43% of their men in their two assaults on the Stockade Redoubt.  That night, rebel soldiers brought Captain Washington into the Redoubt and tried to bind his wounds. He died before morning. 
The rescued 13th's regimental flag had been hit 56 times, the nation flag 18. Total losses for the entire 1st Brigade were 157 killed - including 17 color bearers - and 777 wounded. Rebel losses were 8 killed and 62 wounded.
That night Major General William Tecumseh Sherman wrote his wife, telling her that “Charley was very conspicuous in the 1st assault, and brought off the colors of the battalion which are now in front of my tent, the Staff 1/4 cut away by a ball that took with it a part of his finger.” Later, Captain Charles Ewing would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in planting that first flag on the battlements of Vicksburg. The 13th Regiment would henceforth be entitled to call itself, "First At Vicksburg."  
Sherman continued his letter to Ellen, “We must work smartly as Joe Johnston is collecting the shattered forces...and may get reinforcements from Bragg … Grant’s movement was the most hazardous, but thus far the most successful of the war. He is entitled to all the credit,  for I would not have advised it.” As an after thought, Sherman added, McPherson is a noble fellow, but McClernand a dirty dog.”
And across the way, in Vicksburg, a young woman noted how the repulse of the Yankee attack had lifted the spirits of the defenders.  Before they had sounded beaten. But after today they spoke optimistically of holding until relieved by “Old” Joe Johnston.”
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Friday, April 27, 2018


I would not have gotten along with John Birch. Probably, whatever your politics, neither would you have. One of his college professors described Birch as “a one-way valve; everything coming out and no room to take anything in”. Honestly I think the odds were pretty good that eventually somebody somewhere was going to shoot him for shooting his mouth off at the wrong time. Politics had nothing to do with it. It just so happened that this human bull  finally met his china shop on a road in northern China, and that the hot head who pulled the trigger happened to have been a communist. It was just as likely the shooter would have been his next door neighbor.
“Oh, we're meetin' at the courthouse at eight o'clock tonight. You just walk in the door and take the first turn to the right. Be careful when you get there, we hate to be bereft. But we're taking down the names of everybody turning left. Oh, we're the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society. Here to save our country from a communistic plot. Join the John Birch Society, help us fill the ranks. To get this movement started we need lots of tools and cranks.” (lyrics and music by Michael Brown) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pG6taS9R1KM
His commanding officer in the forerunner of the CIA, Major Gustav Krause, described the situation rather simply; “Militarily, John Birch brought about his own death.” Birch was a life long missionary on a military mission on 25 August, 1945, when he ran into a patrol of Mao’s Red Army. The commander asked Birch to hand over his revolver, and, surrounded by nervous soldiers, Birch decided to argue about it.  Eventually, embarrassed and frustrated, the officer shot him. The other members of Birch’s group had handed over their weapons. They were held for a few hours and then released unharmed. But the role of the missed opportunity for the application of simple common sense in John Birch's death did not stop candy-king Robert Welch from building an elaborate conspiracy theory around Birch’s death, Welch saw Birch as the first hero of the war against the international communist plan for world domination. Welch's vision of Birch as a hero evolved until it became a virtual black hole of paranoia and invective that eventually sucked into it everything Welch came in contact with, including the Republican Party, tooth decay, the Republican President Dwight David Eisenhower –whom Welch accused of being a “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy” - and, believe it or not, the entire state of Alaska.
I’m not kidding about the Alaska thing. Conservative deity William F. Buckley even mentioned it in a column posthumously published in March of 2008, entitled “Goldwater, the John Birch Society, and Me.”  In discussing how to distance conservatism from the John Birch Society Buckley described Welch's belief that "the state of Alaska was being prepared to house anyone who doubted his doctrine that fluoridated water was a Communist-backed plot to weaken the minds of the American public.” I guess Alaska was supposed to be the new Texas.

The John Birch Society is and was part of a long line of paranoia  that stains the American psyche, from the anti-French and anti-Irish ‘Alien and Sedition Acts’ of 1798, through the “Order of United Americans”, the “Know Nothing Party”, the Immigration Restriction League, the anarchists scare, the “Yellow Peril”, the imaginary Pearl Harbor betrayal plots, the Black helicopters hiding in our national parks, the militia movement and the mythical bombs planted in the twin towers on 9/11. In fact the John Birch Society cemented all that lunacy together on a firm foundation of anti-Semitism. And this legacy of lunacy and head-up-your-exclusion-duct thinking officially began in Indianapolis on 9 December, 1958.
Robert Welch organized and financed the meeting. He had made his fortune by inventing “Sugar Babies”, “Junior Mints” and “Pom Poms”. And that wealth built on the little holes in children's teeth gave Welch the authority to lecture to 12 true believers for two days straight, about the worldwide communist conspiracy. Welch spewed out such gems of wisdom as, “When Woodrow Wilson, cajoled and guided...by the collectivists of Europe, took us into the First World War, while solemnly swearing that he would never do so, he did much more than end America's great period of happy and wholesome independence of Europe. He put his healthy young country in the same house, and for a while in the same bed, with this parent who was already yielding to the collectivist cancer. We never got out of that house again. We were once more put back even in the same bed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, also while lying in his teeth about his intentions, and we have never been able to get out of that bed since.”  You might notice a disturbing repetition of bed (and parent) analogies throughout Welch’s theology, whether the commies are in the bed or under the bed, alone in the bed or sharing the bed, there are a lot of beds and Commies. And cancer - he refers to cancer a lot.
Warned, Mr Welch, “…both the U.S. and Soviet governments are controlled by the same furtive conspiratorial cabal of internationalists, greedy bankers, and corrupt politicians. If left unexposed, the traitors inside the U.S. government would betray the country's sovereignty to the United Nations for a collectivist New World Order, managed by a 'one-world socialist government.'” Did I mention that the John Birch Society was anti-Semitic?  Ayn Rand, no Semitic lover herself, complained, “What is wrong with them (the JBS) is that they don't seem to have any specific, clearly defined political philosophy.” She might have been talking about the Tea Party, who, in fact, have been encouraged and funded by the JBS - a sort of thinking man’s Klu Klux Klan, while the KKK remains a sort of the idiot's version of the “Tea Partys”.
In 1966 the New York Times described the John Birch Society as “…the most successful and 'respectable' radical right organization in the country”, which, if you think about it, is the equivalent of being named Miss Congeniality in a mental institution -  she even brings smiles to the invisible people. Robert Welch died in 1985 and his creation is now watched over by the Koch brothers, whose father attended the first meeting of the Society. Each year the John Birch Society continues to produce cadres of indoctrinated Johnny Apple Seeds, planting fear in every dark nook and cranny where it might take root – sort of like tooth decay.
But the thing about Johnny Appleseed was that the all the apples which grew from his seeds were sour. Edible apples are possible only through a science of grafting – but then the John Birch Society never believed in science - too many Jews.
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Thursday, April 26, 2018


I am certain that some will think this story is much a moo about nothing. But I think it behooves us to consider the implications of what at first blush seems like a simply grazy observation. Zoologists Sabine Begall and Hynek Burda of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany have made the startling discovery that at any given instant on any given day, two out of every three cows standing in fields all over the earth have steered themselves along North-South magnetic lines, as if they were over sized leather covered compass needles. We don’t yet know for certain if they are headed for the North Star or aiming their dairy-airs south, but we now know that those of us with frontal mental lobes, single chambered stomachs and just two teats apiece have been missing the meat of this story for the last 10,000 years.
The word “cow” derives from the Latin word ”caput”, meaning the head, which is the ancient way of counting cows, as in “Me and Tex are driving five hundred head to Abilene”. Clearly it was the head of the living cow that Gandi was thinking of when he wrote, “The cow is a poem of pity…She is the second mother to millions of mankind.” She is also, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the source of 18% of the world’s methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. And almost one third of the world’s oversupply of cow burps (the primary source of methane) comes from India’s 280 million sacred cows. Cows belch so much because they re-chew their cuds, regurgitating and re-digesting the cellulose over and over again. So the first secret of cows is that every cow is bull-limic.
The emotional life of the average Daisy or Bessie has been described as comparable to a potato on sedatives. But complexity was always hidden just beneath the hide. The American Humane Society has taken note that if one herd member is shocked by an electric fence, the entire herd avoids the wire. English linguistic bull artists have noted that cows moo in local dialects and inflections. And it has long been common knowledge that ungulates form their own bovine breakfast clubs. Three or four females establish lifelong bonds, a cow herd within the herd, or a “curd” if you will. Daisy actually enjoys a rich emotional life, nurturing animosities against her fellows, developing friendships and even mulling over the bovine equivalent of the Stephen Sondheim conundrum, “Is this all there is?"
This shared arrogance of our two species matches the obsession of Bessie with a subject familiar to many obsessive humans; sex. Eric Idle has described cows as the “…librarians of the animal world; mild by day, wild by night." And John Webster, a professor of animal husbandry at Bristol University in England, describes cows as “gay nymphomaniacs”. The “curds” constantly cowlick one another. And a single Bessie in “heat” can set off a Daisy chain of cow girls “mounting” herd mates in a riot of bovine dominatrix behavior. Unseen by inattentive humans, a pasture of grazing Gurneys is in reality a seething mass of bored libidos on steroids.  Literally  It gives a whole new meaning to the term “pasteurization”.
Few have ever denied that individually cows process a certain personal magnetism. Their sheer bulk demands respect, if not religious devotion. These are not cuddly creatures. The one point three billion cows alive at this moment are ponderous moovers and shakers, and udderly unimpressed with humanities’ crème-de-la-crème, logic. Every dairyman has herd that cattle tend to face uphill, into strong winds or turn their flank steak to the sunny side on a cold morning; and that all seems plausible. But the idea that these cow hides might be sharing some kind of mystical, new-age ferris sensitivity seemed until recently to be an oxymoron. But scientists seeking out the magnetic orientation of hills created by the European ground mole (Talpa europaea), stumbled over the realization that perhaps larger mammals might also be influenced by something other than human magnetism.
German researchers examined Google Earth photographs taken at the same local time of day, observing some 8,510 individual cows in 308 separate herds on five different continents, at essentially the same moment. And the humans stumbled upon this udderly amazing fact; cows got magnetism. Generally, at any given moment, 70 % of the cows in any herd are standing about five degrees off of true North-South orientation. In Oregon State, closer to the North Pole, the deviation of cows is all of 17.5 degrees. In the southern hemisphere (Africa and South America) the alignment was slightly more north-eastern, south-western. Still, adjusted for latitude, 70% of all cows point toward the magnetic pole, and this is much too large a percentage to be a mere homogenized coincidence. The next question is, of course, why have cows got magnetism?
Cows are not migratory, but they once may have been. Cows share a common ancestor with whales, the “Pakictids”, which 53 million years ago had a whale’s ear and a cow’s teeth in a really ugly little dog’s body, sort of a Mexican hairless meth addict with hair. Could this ancient mongrel have been the source of the current magnetic deju moo? It could, if it milked its genes for all they were worth.
So it seems, upon rumination, that we owe cows an apology, that to err might be human but to forgive could be bovine. But stop the stampede for animal rights. My guess is we could be apologizing to Daisy and Bessie “auf die Ewigkeit warten”, as they say in Germany, and it would make no difference because Daisy and Bessie are not particularly interested in our moo-tivations, because cows are just as conceited as we humans are. And in the final rendering the squeaky veal always gets the cud. Holy, cow!
P.S. Photographs are from “The Secret Life of Cows” by Glen Wexler.
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