Sunday, October 29, 2006

Short Story: All Hallows Eve

Dedicated to a friend to whom I promised to write this story.
Happy Halloween CP.


An unusually biting October wind howled through the near leaf-bare Virginia trees. The northern gusts blew the branches to and fro while the ancient trees fought back against them. The thin upper branches dug their fingers in the deepening autumn sky as if to brace themselves against a coming maelstrom. The cold rushing air seemed to mockingly boast of its victory over the life that had thrived throughout the passing vibrant summer. The dried now fallen leaves scattered along the forest floor, rustling throughout at the whims of the victorious gusts of fall.

He stood at his post in awe of nature’s spectacle. The forceful roar reminded him of the crashing waves near his distant Massachusetts home. The noisy rushing air would make vigilance all the more necessary. Because of it, he would likely see Rebels approaching before he could hear them. Not wishing the enemy to see him, he sat among a dense grouping of scrub oak, propping his musket against the sturdiest of the bunch. The wind continued to toss around the tops of the trees as if God roughly waved his hands through tall fields of grass. He could barely hear the leaves crunching under his shifting weight as he sought a comfortable spot to rest.

Taking advantage of the last few moments of sunlight, he pulled out a small book and pencil. The diary, a gift from his sister, had the familiar outline of his first home stamped into the soft leather cover. He traced the borders of Ireland with his finger, thinking of his birth home, Kathleen, and the rest of his family. He hoped to see them all soon. Glancing disapprovingly at the dull pencil tip, he took out his knife and, with short quick strokes, sharpened the point. Upon re-sheathing his knife, he brushed the shavings off his pant legs, turned to a blank page, and began to write.

"October 31, 1863. We marched only 12 miles today. The days are quickly getting cooler and shorter. We did not see any Rebs today although Andrew says he heard they are near. We don’t expect a fight but are ready if one comes." Gazing around the dimming landscape, he could think of no more to write. This last day of October proved thus far to be typical and unremarkable.

Closing the book, he slipped the small pencil into the gap between the cover and the bound edge of the pages. He placed the diary back into his sack and glanced around his temporary realm. Darkness had begun to stake its hold on the woods. "October 31st" he thought. "All Hallows Eve." A sad smile came to his face as he thought of the celebrations now well underway in Ireland. He could smell the familiar food and picture the army of carved turnips decorating the neighborhood homes. The sculpted vegetables seemed somehow vigilant, knowing of their mission to drive away the lost souls said to prowl the earth this one night. His new country thought this a child’s holiday, nothing to which a grown man should devote any attention.

With a slight sense of defiance, he felt around in his haversack and, making a careful choice, pulled out a small but adequately round turnip he had saved for a meal. Unsheathing his knife, he carefully cut out the neck from where the leaves had grown and severed the thin taproot from underneath. Digging out and eating the inside of the hard fleshy bulb, he carefully left enough of an outer shell for his next task. Racing the fleeting day’s light, he finished the portions he would eat and began carving a small sufficiently sinister looking face. After some time and careful struggle with the solid bulbous root, he finished.

Setting the hollowed bulb on the cool damp ground, hidden behind the large tree against which he sat, he fished out of his sack the small remains of a candle. Trimming the wick to limit its brightness, he placed it with nostalgic reverence inside. Once lit, the lantern along with the carpet of leaves, twisted roots, and the chill air completed the picture. He sat against the back of his tree with his new companion and listened to the night.

After a time, with the air growing still, he heard the sound of leaves under foot. Quickly looking to his small sentinel, he snuffed out the tiny candle, feeling slightly foolish for providing a beacon to his location. He caught a slight whiff of the smoke that he could not see in the near complete darkness. Feeling for his musket, he straightened his back against the tree and listened. In a few moments, he heard it again, the sound of a step or two. He needed his visitor to make a few more sounds to be sure of his approximate location.

He reached for his musket and as quietly as he could, loaded one ball. Another crunch came from the darkness, this time in his front right. "So there could be two", he thought trying to take control of his rising anxiety. "Do the others hear them?" he wondered. Peaking around his tree, looking between two smaller trunks, he peered into the enveloping darkness hoping to glimpse his visitor. As the night’s drifting clouds unveiled the half autumn moon, he began to discern the faint outlines of the trees to his front. Still seated, placing his rifle aside, he waited.

With his back to the tree, the next sound seemed to come from in front of him. "What’s this about?" he questioned silently, feeling his heart beat faster. No one had passed him. Of that, he felt certain. The breeze that had earlier taken its rest, again awoke stirring the leaves on the ground and rustling those still clinging above. A frigid chill possessed the air. He shivered somewhat but paid little attention. His eyes strained to see through the chill darkness, casting about as he turned his head, desperately trying to make out some form or shape.

"There!" The word shouted in his mind. "I see him." He stared at a figure, not too far from him, standing between some trees only about 20 yards in his front. He wanted to call out, command him to halt, ask for the counter sign, but others may be close. To be safe, he would wait.

Several seconds passed, then a minute, then two. His visitor remained silent and unmoving. He thought of reaching for his musket but opted instead for silence. Surely, the bleak darkness hid him from sight. Finally, the figure moved. Starting slowly at first, he seemed to glide among the trees. His heart pounded harder. His eyes widened as he realized that now, he heard no footsteps. Not a sound came from the figure as it approached. As his eyes focused, he could see it moving towards his right. "The others will see him," he thought.

The figured passed by, about 15 feet away, without the slightest hint that he was there except for the outline of his form. He could make out none of the man’s features, neither his face nor his uniform. Strangest of all, he carried no musket. Looking back to where the figure had come, he saw another man, closer, and moving. Peering intently into the blackness, he noticed another faint form with him. They both moved, silently, closer than the other to where he sat against his tree. Telling himself he would demand they halt once they passed, he leaned back, breathing faster through his mouth, chest expanding, trying to stay quiet. Glancing to his left, he saw two more, closer still. His heart pounded so that he thought it would surely give him away. He feared the whole woodland could hear him. He tried to control his breathing. "What is this?" he demanded silently. Looking again he saw more, many more, coming towards their lines, silently all, and without muskets. He could not count them now, nor would he. Panic gripped him as he tried to make sense of figures gliding faster through the night making not a sound. He closed his eyes and, with his free hand, rubbed hard.

Upon opening his eyes, he recoiled back hard against the tree, rigid with fright. A man, no, something else, stood just a few feet in his front glaring at him. The menacing figure exuded a dark unmistakable hatred. Paralyzed, he sat motionless as it slowly yet deliberately reached out to him with both hands and, like a vise, gripped his head in a smothering grasp. He swung feebly at the figure, screamed aloud, but it did not move. Fear raced through him, consumed him, saturated every corner of his soul. He wanted to scream again but could not speak. He wanted to run but could not move. The powerful figure held him, seemed to blend with him, keeping him in place. Fear, anger, and hatred coursed through him as if thousands of tortured souls demanded the use of his body, his voice to wail their unremitting torment. Despite the pulsating vitriolic wrath, he sensed in the figure something else, something feeding the anger. He felt a deep undercurrent of crushing unrelenting sorrow.

Hosts of these figures now filled the dark woods, gliding faster, almost frantically, as if they feared not reaching their sinister destinations in time. None noticed him except his singular malicious tormentor. He gazed up at him and to his horror, saw the moon behind him, realizing he could see it through him. A volcanic rage possessed him, coursing from the figure through him. It gripped harder and leaned in, bringing its head to within inches. He could smell the foul wretched breath, the corrupt stench of death from so many battlefields and soldiers graves. The hideous, sulfurous smell threatened to consume him as its malevolence violated his very being. Yet he could feel them all, the countless souls in agonizing pain.

A voice, no thousands of voices screamed inside his head, unearthly shrieks that he seemed able to see, taste, and smell. The vile chorus howled in searing agony, the frenzied cacophony growing louder and louder still. Able to move his arms, he grabbed his head, tried to crush it between his palms, but the voices raged. He thrashed frantically in the air, yet the screaming grew. Able to speak he added his voice to the symphony of pain, flailing about in the darkness, begging it to stop. His hand hit against something at his side. Instinctively, desperately, he seized it and hurled it at the figure.

Like the sudden rush of air from a room, the woods instantly went silent. Not a sound reached his ears except the rustling of a few dry leaves. A faint autumn breeze softly caressed the slumbering landscape. Slight clouds drifted across a starry night’s sky. The figures had vanished.

On trembling legs, he stood, took up his musket, and peered into the darkness. As his eyes adjusted, he saw around him only the deep empty woods. An hour passed, then two. Not a sound echoed. Anxiety rose again. This time, he feared the punishment for sleeping at picket. He remained at his post alert and awake until the early November sun rose in the east, painting the tips of the trees with a warming orange light.

He said nothing to his friends, worried they would poke fun at his dream. With the boredom of winter camp looming, he did not wish to be the butt of a season’s worth of jokes.

As he walked through the woods with his comrades returning to camp, one of them stopped and looked towards his feet. Puzzled, the soldier lightly kicked what to him looked like a hollow skinned potato. As it turned over, he saw that it was a turnip, partially smashed as if thrown violently to the ground. He walked away swearing that, on one side, it had a face.



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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Women in the Civil War

I stumbled upon a unique blog today concerning a segment of the 19th century population about whom I am embarrassed to say I know very little. The blog "Civil War Women" seems well worth the read, containing stories of a wide variety of well and not-so-well known women from that era. The author deserves a great deal of credit for the time spent to pay the respect due to the women who gave what they could and, along with the men of the time, suffered for their cause.

One of the unique heroines of the Civil War, Elizabeth Thorn lived in Gettysburg and experienced the horrors of war first hand. Her husband Peter had enlisted one year prior to the battle leaving her as the Evergreen Cemetery's sole caretaker, a position the two had shared until the 1862. Before the Battle of Gettysburg, Elizabeth had averaged about 5 burials a month. Her charge would increase dramatically when the Armies of General Robert E. Lee and General George Gordon Meade collided in the fields around her home. The human wreckage was indescribable. About 10,000 dead lay upon the newly christened battlefield.

Monument to Elizabeth Thorn in Gettysburg's Evergreen Cemetery,
holding a shovel in her right arm.

Elizabeth would work very hard to put her home back together and to bury a number of the dead. She would later state, "Well, you may know how I felt, my husband in the army, my father an aged man. Yet for all the foul air, we started in. I struck off the graves and while my father finished one, I had another one started." The soon exhausted Elizabeth sought help among her friends. None endured for long however, all leaving for their homes within days due to illness. Elizabeth and her elderly father found themselves alone facing this exhausting work. She said of her predicament, "By that time we had forty graves done. And then father and I had to dig on harder again."

Elizabeth's efforts proved truly remarkable given that, during this time, she was six to seven months pregnant. A short time later, Elizabeth Thorn gave birth to precious little "Rose Meade Thorn", named in part for the commanding general of the victorious Union Army.



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Source: Beyond the Gatehouse. Gettysburg's Evergreen Cemetery. Brian A. Kennell, Evergreen Cemetery Association, 2000

Monday, October 23, 2006

Short Story: A Personal Casualty

Leaning his head back, he sat against the base of a thickly gnarled elm away from the others in camp. The heavy roots jutting up from the cool soil seemed welcoming, as if forming a place of respite just for him. Staring blankly at nothing, he wished he could to draw strength from the stoic old tree, perhaps gaining its secrets on weathering life’s storms. Letting his head roll to the side, he somewhat involuntarily focused on the thick lines of bark, tracing them with his eyes, following the deeps grooves carved in its rough timeworn trunk. Seeing an old wound long since healed, he wondered if he would prove as resilient as this longtime tenant of the deep Virginia wilderness.

Although quite removed from the others, he remained safely within the protective line of their pickets. He was alone yet, to him, not alone enough. Tonight, he found his tent suffocating, the sides seeming to collapse in around him. The normally welcome comradery of the others now simply scratched at his pain. Images only a few hours old played in his mind, dangled in front of him by some malicious, unseen puppeteer. His struggle to slow, if not to altogether bury his thoughts, had thus far proved fruitless. Though he told himself that he knew of the inevitability of this moment, he had not anticipated the unbearable anxiety that now gripped him.

The government’s impassioned calls for men had eventually drawn him in. It seemed to him that the whole town had signed up. If not everyone, then at least most of those with whom he had spent his childhood had committed to fight. Sure, he shared their sense of the Union’s importance. He shared their patriotism. After all, he loved the land of his family’s birth. However, unlike the others who dreamed of adventure and glory, he dreaded what enlisting would eventually mean, what fighting would require of him. He had naively thought that he could anticipate and thus prepare for the trials of battle and that he could cope. He always considered himself an insightful thinker. But he could not have predicted the unexpected intensity of this painfully intolerable burden.

Although only a few hours had passed, it seemed lifetimes ago that his regiment settled in for the approaching spring night, cooking over a sprinkling of fires while talking of the likely events to come. Having spent the entirety of his short army career guarding the Capitol, he had wondered how he might face his first test in the field.

He had pictured orderly lines of battle, led by their Colonel as commanded by their Generals. The army would march, move, stand, and fight as a disciplined unit, advance as needed, and withdraw when compelled. They would follow their officer’s leads and force an end to this secessionist madness. Life could then continue as it had.

This idyllic fantasy surrendered to a grim reality when the men camped to their right came crashing through their ranks in a perfect unexplained panic. Something had gone terribly wrong. Understanding immediately what this portended, their experienced Colonel, in his thick German accent, ordered the men to form ranks, shift to the right, load, and fire. Despite his foreign tongue, his bearing commanded respect. They instantly understood and quickly obeyed. The enemy was almost upon them. This proved however, their last attempt at organized movement that day. Their gallant Colonel, leading his men from in front, fell to the ground the first casualty of the sudden conflict. Others began to fall as minie balls swarmed like hornets in the breezy evening air. After some fretful uncertainty, the men broke in harried unmilitary disarray. A few fired first. Most simply ran.

Although he had initially looked to his right and left to see who might stand with him, he too ran. Dense shrubs and forest debris proved no obstacle in his quest for safer ground. Running with his still loaded musket, a voice inside called him to remember his duty and fight honorably. Crashing through the brush running to save his life, he could hear the Rebels close behind him letting loose their spine chilling demonic screams. Jumping into a slight depression, he turned to gage his distance from his gray clad pursuers. A particularly energetic Johnny raced towards him, some yards in front of even their color bearer. Perhaps now had not been a good time to stop. As the Johnny began to point his musket towards him, instinctively, and for the first time, he lowered his own rifle, aimed at the man in gray, and fired.

As if appalled by this sudden violation, time seemed to suspend its energies on this now execrably christened field. All motion seemed to slow. His southern pursuer stopped suddenly, a look of shocked disbelief and resigned comprehension painfully etched in his young face. His expression bespoke no anger, no resentment, no accusation, just stunned disbelief quickly displaced by a longing, silent plea for help. The eyes of this man, startlingly more human than any into which he had looked before, fell as the gray clad soldier’s body hit the unforgiving ground. The growing stain on his loose cotton shirt spoke of this man’s inevitable fate. Staring transfixed at the man in mystified horror, some sense of self-preservation shocked him back into awareness, reminding him of the present approaching danger. With the now enraged Rebels closing quickly, he threw his musket aside and, lightened of its burden, once again fled.

Time rejoined the drama, seeming to push him on his way as if to make up for its delinquencies of the past few seconds. Filled with the energy of near frightened hysteria, he easily outpaced his yelling pursuers. Branches, twigs, and undergrowth crunched under the steady pounding of his quickly moving feet, blending with the crackling sounds of musketry and the booming thundering accompaniment of dueling artillery. After a time and with perhaps a mile of ground behind him, he joined the reformed blue lines and night mercifully closed on the carnage. Now, he sat near camp, tormented by the lingering images of this terrible day.

He had never killed a man, nor had he seen one die. He could only think of the Johnny as a man, not as a Reb, a traitor, or the enemy. Alone on the cold dead ground, his victim was only a man like him, minus the unique gift of the precious breath of life. His soul ached with the pain that his victim no longer felt. He thought that perhaps an angry God had taken from him the serenity that perhaps both men held earlier today. The admonishment “Thou Shalt Not Kill” broke repeatedly and forcefully into his tortured thoughts. “He would have surely killed me or at least tried,” he feebly argued in defense. He rubbed his rough dirty hands hard over his suddenly older face, trying to erase the pain. He could not bear this. “I did my duty!” his inner voice defiantly shouted in response to the agony that savaged his conscience. “I did what I had to do!”

Perhaps with time he might convince himself that he had violated no moral laws. Perhaps with time, the pain would subside. But for now, although far from that place, the imploring pleading eyes of that man remained with him, staring back at him. He could still see his eyes and, to his horror, could almost see through them. He envisioned the man’s family, perhaps the children who would never again run to him, and the wife he would never hold. He saw his parents, children, and friends, wracked with an intense, bitter grief over a loss they could do nothing to undo, a loss caused by his hand.

The evening winds gently swayed the treetops and, as if to provide a merciful distraction, the old elm dropped a few twigs to the ground nearby. Snatching one within reach, he mindlessly began peeling the bark in short strips. He thought of his father, a hard working farmer who had taught him the craft of slaughtering and butchering livestock. “This is hard for me Papa,” he recalled saying to his father, trying to hold back the tears after he had reluctantly killed his first lamb. The older man’s words rang clearly in his ears, pushing from the fore the eyes which threatened to consume him. “Son, when this becomes easy, you need to stop and look at who you’ve become.”

It was not cold, yet he tossed aside his twig and pulled his blanket tightly around him, wishing for the innocence of the safer childhood he mournfully recalled and for his father’s practical strength. He stared into the darkness, searching for the eyes that he could no longer see, fearing that he would see them again and also that he might not. “What had he become?” he wondered. “What would he do tomorrow?”

Although he laid down a mile away, he felt somehow that he shared the same ground as that where his personal casualty now rested. Though he yet lived, had emerged from the fight physically unscathed, he wondered how he would survive what he had done. “This is what this is all about,” he thought, to a degree chastising himself. “To engage in war you must kill, one person at a time. No matter how the illustrated papers say it, announcing the hundreds or thousands of dead, it happens with one man killing one other, one at a time.”

Wrapped in his blanket, he tossed about on the rough ground as if wrestling with some unseen foe. His mind raced through a haze of images from both this day and his past. The lessons of his parents, his schooling, and his church all danced furiously, colliding violently with today’s incongruous events. For a while, the directionless mental conflagration continued. Then suddenly, the storm passed. His mind cleared. He knew that he could kill no more. That night, he slipped quietly through the picket line, leaving the trappings of war behind, and walked into the darkness away from someone he could not become. As he traveled through the night-shrouded woodland, he gazed upward through the swaying trees towards the stars above and offered an earnest quiet prayer for the man whose life he had taken, asking for peace for them both and for us all.



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Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Letter to the PGCB

I include here a letter I recently sent to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board concerning the proposed casino at Gettysburg.

To Whom it May Concern,

I wish to express my displeasure with the continued manner in which the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) informs the public of both the correspondence and testimony offered concerning the proposed casino at Gettysburg. On April 5 2006, at the PGCB Hearing at Gettysburg College, the vast majority of the people who testified expressed their vehement objection to allowing Chance Enterprises to build a casino near the Battlefield. Of the 33 private citizens to speak, 29 opposed the casino. After listening to the others present, I left the hearings encouraged. Knowing the government’s charge of representing the will of the people, I felt that Gettysburg might emerge free of a scourge that threatened to desecrate and damage the grounds upon which our ancestors fought and died.

However, as time passed, I realized that the PGCB had made public none of what we said that day. I contacted your offices seeking transcripts of the testimony. After some time awaiting a reply, and receiving notification that you would not publish this on-line, you informed me that I would need to go through a private company to obtain the transcripts. Unlike other minutes that the PGCB freely and publicly posts on-line, I would need to pay for a copy of our public record. Much to my continued exasperation, the company to which you directed me declined to quote a price. In fact, they ceased to respond at all.

I felt some measure of resurgent optimism when I noticed that the PGCB had posted a series of casino related public comments on their site. However, instead of posting searchable, easily readable text, the PGCB instead chose to post massive files of collections of scanned copies of some of the original documents. In doing so, the PGCB has contributed to the impression of bias concerning this issue. The first four web pages of posted comments concerning the Gettysburg casino contain almost exclusively if not entirely letters in support of that casino. The final eight pages hold the letters and petitions containing hundreds of vehement objections.

Along with rendering the task of reading the comments arduous at best, the PGCB has padded the first files which people are likely to read with those comments in favor of the casino. Nothing on that web page notes or explains this. The reader scanning the first few pages of comments may naturally assume that the citizenry expressed an overwhelming degree of support for a casino at Gettysburg. The PGCB must be keenly aware that this is most certainly not the case.

If I counted correctly, as of four days ago, the PGCB site hosted 687 pages against the casino and 243 pages in favor. The pages expressing support for the proposal included letters from persons working for or linked to Chance Enterprises, the Company wishing to build the casino.
Of note, I did not see any of the correspondence that I sent to the PGCB nor did I see the transcript of my testimony that I submitted to your stenographer the day of the hearing.

I would hope that, when you submit your final decision, you will support the will of the people and not permit a casino anywhere near the sacred ground of Gettysburg.



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Friday, October 13, 2006

Hoping Old Jackson Would Not Catch Him

Richard Taylor, son of President Zachary Taylor, fought for the South throughout the American Civil War. Serving with General Thomas J. Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, he aptly noted in his memoirs, "An actor therein, accident of fortune afforded me exceptional advantages for an interior view." A wonderful writer, he offered an insightful, somewhat humorous description of Confederate General Richard Stoddert Ewell who in turn discussed his views on the brilliant but eccentric "Stonewall" Jackson. The excerpt below appears in Taylor’s memoirs "Destruction And Reconstruction: Personal Experiences Of The Late War"

"For the first time Ewell had his division together and under his immediate command; and as we remained for many days between the rivers, I had abundant opportunities for studying the original character of "Dick Ewell. " We had known each other for many years, but now our friendship and intercourse became close and constant. Graduated from West Point in 1840, Ewell joined the 1st regiment of United States dragoons, and, saving the Mexican war, in which he served with such distinction as a young cavalryman could gain, his whole military life had been passed on the plains, where, as he often asserted, he had learned all about commanding fifty United States dragoons, and forgotten everything else. In this he did himself injustice, as his career proves; but he was of a singular modesty. Bright, prominent eyes, a bomb-shaped, bald head, and a nose like that of Francis of Valois, gave him a striking resemblance to a woodcock; and this was increased by a bird-like habit of putting his head on one side to utter his quaint speeches. He fancied that he had some mysterious internal malady, and would eat nothing but frumenty, a preparation of wheat; and his plaintive way of talking of his disease, as if he were some one else, was droll in the extreme. His nervousness prevented him from taking regular sleep, and he passed nights curled around a camp-stool, in positions to dislocate an ordinary person's joints and drive the "caoutchouc man" to despair. On such occasions, after long silence, he would suddenly direct his eyes and nose toward me with "General Taylor! What do you suppose President Davis made me a major-general for?" - beginning with a sharp accent and ending with a gentle lisp. Superbly mounted, he was the boldest of horsemen, invariably leaving the roads to take timber and water. No follower of the "Pytchley" or "Quorn" could have lived with him across country. With a fine tactical eye on the battle field, he was never content with his own plan until he had secured the approval of another's judgment, and chafed under the restraint of command, preparing to fight with the skirmish line. On two occasions in the Valley, during the temporary absence of Jackson from the front, Ewell summoned me to his side, and immediately rushed forward among the skirmishers, where some sharp work was going on. Having refreshed himself, he returned with the hope that "old Jackson would not catch him at it. " He always spoke of Jackson, several years his junior, as "old, " and told me in confidence that he admired his genius, but was certain of his lunacy, and that he never saw one of Jackson's couriers approach without expecting an order to assault the north pole.

Later, after he had heard Jackson seriously declare that he never ate pepper because it produced a weakness in his left leg, he was confirmed in this opinion. With all his oddities, perhaps in some measure because of them, Ewell was adored by officers and men."



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You can see the above document in its entirety at "Documenting the South"

They state on their site the following copyright information. "Academic Affairs Library, UNC-CH, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1998. © This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text."

A Most Devoted Friend

Some time ago, I stumbled upon a web site selling reproductions of two Civil War monuments. Along with one that proved very familiar, I found another involving Antietam that I had never before seen. The accompanying text offered the story of a Newfoundland dog that had wandered into the camp of the 6th Wisconsin. Captain Werner Von Bachelle of the 6th adopted him and soon they became inseparable.

Puzzled at not having seen this unusual monument, I wrote to the National Park Service at Antietam Battlefield asking about its location. Of course, much to my disappointment, they responded that it did not actually exist. However, I eagerly read more of the story that the ranger kindly included in his e-mail.

He wrote that Captain Von Bachelle lead his men into the cornfield during the Battle of Antietam only to be slain as they advanced. During their withdrawal, his men tried to no avail to coax the dog who had accompanied his friend into returning with them to safety. Two days later, Union soldiers found the faithful canine lying on top of his companion, both dead on the field. Rufus Dawes, then a Major in the 6th Wisconsin, reportedly lamented, " is probable he is joined in death by his most devoted friend on earth." The ranger added that, although unverified, the story asserts that the dog now rests along with Captain Von Bachelle in the Antietam National Cemetery.

The above picture shows Von Bachelle's gravestone marking the spot where the Captain now rests peacefully with at least 4,775 of his comrades. He is perhaps with one other who now happily walks beside him throughout all eternity.

You can see the monument mentioned above at 11th P.V.I. Preservation Foundation



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Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Minor Monumental Mystery

While visiting the Battlefield at Monocacy, I noticed an oddity concerning the 14th New Jersey Monument. Gracing three of its sides I noticed a star, a cross, and a diamond, the insignia for the 12th, 6th, and 3rd Corps respectively. Wondering about this, I wrote to the National Park Service. I received a quick, courteous, and simple answer from the NPS staff at Monocacy National Battlefield.

They said, "The Monocacy Regiment was assigned to various units throughout the war including the 8th Corps, 3rd Corps, 6th Corps, and 12th Corps." They added that the veterans decided to honor the various Corps with which they had been assigned.

Not only the site of its namesakes battle, the battlefield also plays host to the Best Farm. On those grounds, General Robert E. Lee wrote Special Orders 191, a copy of which eventually fell into the hands of Union General George B. McClellan. This one unlikely occurrence drastically altered the immediate course of events leading to the Battle of Antietam.



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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Lee's Surrender & chat with General Meade

While again looking through the Project Gutenberg website, I found the following about General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, written by one of his sons. Some rang familiar. Some I think we should never fail to re-read. The last segment revealed a surprisingly lighthearted interaction.

Recollections and Letters of General Lee
by Captain Robert E. Lee, His Son

"It is impossible to describe the anguish of the troops when it was known that the surrender of the army was inevitable. Of all their trials, this was the greatest and hardest to endure. There was no consciousness of shame; each heart could boast with honest pride that its duty had been done to the end, and that still unsullied remained its honour. When, after this interview with General Grant, General Lee again appeared, a shout of welcome instinctively went up from the army. But instantly recollecting the sad occasion that brought him before them, their shouts sank into silence, every hat was raised, and the bronzed faces of thousands of grim warriors were bathed in tears. As he rode slowly along the lines, hundreds of his devoted veterans pressed around the noble chief, trying to take his hand, touch his person, or even lay their hands upon his horse, thus exhibiting for him their great affection. The General then with head bare, and tears flowing freely down his manly cheeks, bade adieu to the army."

In a few words: "Men, we have fought through the war together; I have done my best for you; my heart is too full to say more," he bade them good-bye and told them to return to their homes and become good citizens. The next day he issued his farewell address, the last order published to the army:

"Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia, April 10, 1865.

"After four years' of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them; but, feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen. By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain there until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection. With an increasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

R. E. Lee, General."

General Long says that General Meade called on General Lee on the 10th, and in the course of conversation remarked:

"Now that the war may be considered over, I hope you will not deem it improper for me to ask, for my personal information, the strength of your army during the operations around Richmond and Petersburg."General Lee replied: "At no time did my force exceed 35,000 men; often it was less."

With a look of surprise, Meade answered: "General, you amaze me; we always estimated your force at about seventy thousand men."

General de Chanal, a French officer, who was present, states that General Lee, who had been an associate of Meade's in the engineers in the "old army," said to him pleasantly: "Meade, years are telling on you; your hair is getting quite gray."

"Ah, General Lee," was Meade's prompt reply, "it is not the work of
years; YOU are responsible for my gray hairs!"

This entire book can be found on-line at the Project Gutenberg web site. As with all of their on-line texts, Project Gutenberg states, "This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at"



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Friday, October 06, 2006

Off Topic:
A Little Girl's Courage & Self Sacrifice

Several days ago, with sorrowful disbelief and a stifling sadness, people across our country watched in horror as reporters relayed the tragic events that occurred in a small Amish community in Pennsylvania. Tonight, I read a related news article that left me utterly speechless. A few days ago, I wrote an article while in effect pondering the essence human nature and our capacities for good and evil. Reading this, I no longer wonder but sit here in stunned amazement. We have all seen evil. But would we ever have expected to see such bravery, valor, and courage, such goodness, in one small little girl.

I have copied the article below in its entirety. I will warn parents and younger readers that the content may prove disturbing. Younger children should read this only with their parent's consent.

New Massacre Revelation Shows Amish Girl Asked To Be Shot First
Friday October 6, 2006

The Amish live in a world where self sacrifice is a way of life and doing the right thing is the only choice.

And now a new revelation that follows that gruesome schoolhouse shooting on Monday appears to show they follow those rules even in death.

According to those who survived the rampage by Charles Roberts near Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, one of the victims who was fatally wounded asked to be shot first so she could save the others.

Roberts burst into the one room schoolhouse, ordered all the males out, took 11 young girls hostage and then lined them up to shoot them, execution style. His last bullet was saved for himself.

When it became clear the gunman intended to carry out his deadly mission, 13-year-old Marian Fisher stepped forward, pleading with him to shoot her first, hoping he might spare the others.

There's no word if Roberts complied with the request.

Her 11-year-old sister Barbie then followed her lead, asking to be shot next. She survived the ambush. Marian did not. Barbie was at her sister's funeral on Thursday, before returning to hospital for treatment of her injuries.

The revelations came from the younger sister, who confided the horror to the nurse-midwife that delivered her sister more than a decade ago. "She said Marian said, 'Shoot me first,'" Rita Rhoads reveals. "Apparently what she was trying to do was to save the younger girls.

"It was very courageous of the girls to offer themselves. God was really present to give the girls that kind of courage."

Fisher and four others were buried on Thursday. A fifth child was taken off life support and died late this week. She was laid to rest on Friday.

Roberts left a number of suicide notes behind, claiming he had molested some family members 20 years ago and 'dreamed' he would do it again. He also revealed a hatred for God and the world when his premature baby died just 20 minutes after being born.



Source: City News CP 24 Toronto, Ontario

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Friendly Announcement from CWI

I have the unexpected pleasure of mentioning that, a few days ago, (CWI) contacted me to announce that "North & South Magazine" will be publishing a slightly edited version of CWI's This Week in Civil War Blogs. For those perhaps not familiar with this feature of their site, each week, CWI's tireless staff of thousands (perhaps a slight exaggeration) wade through the world of Civil War blogs and summarize the recent postings of those they deem worthy of mention. If I understand correctly, "Blue & Gray Magazine" will publish a version of CWI's initial summary of the various blogs they have selected. Given the quality of their own web site and of the other blogs noted, I am honored that they felt this blog worthy of inclusion.

Thank you CWI and North & South Magazine.



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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Commentary: Our Capacity for Gallantry and Brutality

When I first created this blog, I announced my intention to fill these pages with responses to e-mails and questions that arose both from my postings here and from my primary website, Having strayed somewhat from that purpose, a recent reader has politely brought me back to center. He wrote, " I am intrigued by what you said in this blog: "Gettysburg is a good thing. It’s a symbol of what we were and could yet again become, in both a negative and positive aspect." Would you mind elaborating on that thought? I'd love to understand your perspective on the relation to Gettysburg and our future."

So many thoughts swirled in anticipation of answering this question that I struggled mightily with how to organize them. I did not know where to begin. Familiar sayings such as "Those who ignore the lessons of history are bound to repeat them" came to mind. While such wisdom resonates, (surely we cannot understand how we arrived here without studying from whence we came) even this thought seemed to trivialize the essence of Gettysburg. While considering the competing ideas contending for the privilege of defining this place, something continuously drew me back to the hallowed ground where ten thousand died and many more suffered wounds.

First and foremost, Gettysburg is a place where events occurred the depth of which I cannot fathom. A tremendous number of ordinary Americans, over 160,000, collided on these now peaceful fields. Most of these men knew intimately the horrors of war. They withstood the incomprehensible slaughter at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. The veterans of such conflicts saw men mowed down, thousands killed in what seemed mere moments. If not harmed themselves, certainly many tended to the grievously wounded or aided with burying the ever-growing number of dead. Still, with these images fresh in their minds, on the farms and fields of Gettysburg they again shouldered muskets and faced the enemy. On Cemetery Ridge, along the low stone row, men in blue gazed across the mile wide stretch of gently rolling fields, knowing what was to come. Standing now on the same ground, envisioning the long gray lines moving irresistibly in their direction, one cannot avoid wondering what drove men to risk never again seeing their wives, children, parents, and friends. By braving a hailstorm of deadly lead and exploding iron, they offered to forever sacrifice their hopes, dreams, and futures.

While the grisly depictions of battle ring familiar, how many dare to truly consider what these men faced? Most soldiers had seen first hand the devastation wrought by artillery rounds moving at over 1,000 feet per second. Solid shot continues through any man it hits. No mercy. No second chance. What just one ball touches, it shatters. As one soldier aptly stated, "The truth is, when bullets are whacking against tree trunks and solid shot are cracking skulls like eggshells, the consuming passion in the breast of the average man is to get out of the way." Shell and case shot, iron projectiles filled with gunpowder and iron balls, exploded in the ranks when burning fuses touched the powder inside or when percussion caps slammed violently into the ground. Iron flew in all directions, mangling anything in its path. When oncoming soldiers closed to within range, canister replaced long-range ammunition. Small iron balls packed in tin cans converted lines of cannon into a formidable array of massive shotguns. Soldiers described rows of men simply vanishing when a cannoneer unleashed canister, leaving only a faint red mist to drift away in the grim foul air of the now christened battlefield.

When considering Pickett’s Charge from the Southern point of view, if the men in gray survived the hell of the artillery fire, several thousand muskets leveled at the advancing line awaited only a target. An ounce of lead fired from a rifled musket shattered bones and tore flesh. Soldiers wounded by shot, shell, or ball that had first hit a man in their front at times needed to have pieces of that person removed from their own wounds. The soldiers with both Lee's and Meade’s army knew this, and yet they marched forward.

As the Confederates advanced, the waiting Union soldiers knew they faced perhaps the largest most successful army on the planet. Prior to the Civil War, the entire United States Army counted only about 16,000 soldiers in its ranks. Lee’s army would number about 75,000 with some 12,500 marching towards them in several lines, muskets loaded, eyes forward. In one year, Lee’s soldiers won victories on the Peninsula, Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. Still the Federals held their ground, determined to fight.

The question "why" frequently echoes in my head as I wonder about these men and ask how similar in capacity might we prove ourselves if in like circumstances. The soldiers of both armies came from the people of the land, laborers, farmers, professionals, lawyers, teachers, printers, writers, politicians, professional soldiers, landowners, and immigrants. They had families and futures. If for just a moment you could look into their eyes, grip their hands, you would see a person, no different from the people of any era including ours. The crude pictures and period clothes make distancing ourselves from them both simple and at times convenient. Yet still we ask, could we have braved the fatal fire? Would we have killed on such a horrific scale? Would we prove capable of the same gallantry, bravery, and brutality?

Looking past the horror of the battlefield, we easily find other possible parallels to our own time. The men of the army suspected treachery in the government. They missed home. Political parties created smear campaigns, spinning stories and using the media to attack their opponents. The country had massive war debt. The President sacrificed civil liberties on the altar of national security and victory in war. Common people came together to support the soldiers, even if they disapproved of the war. People of all quarters sacrificed. Riots erupted to protest perceived unfair treatment. In these instances, we know of our capacity to do the same.

Along with these issues, there remain countless relevant questions when considering the Civil War. What does it take for one human to consider enslaving another? Why would someone risk dismemberment or gruesome death to keep someone else’s slave in chains or likewise to shatter those shackles and set them free? How did this one massive battle with its 50,000 casualties impact the rest of the war and the country? How did the families cope with such overwhelming loss and sorrow? How did the war change our country? How did we overcome the intense animosity between the north and south, black and white, immigrant and citizen, republican and democrat? Did this war give birth to a strong centralized federal government? If so, what did we gain and what did we lose? How did we cope with the suspension of civil rights? How did we resolve the problems stemming from the tremendous war debt? What lessons could we learn from reconstruction? How did Lincoln benefit from assembling a cabinet comprised of members of both political parties, three of whom had run against him for President? Without the ability to study our history, we cannot answer these questions and apply the knowledge gained to current similar situations. In short, we could not learn from our past and would most certainly repeat the same mistakes while trying to gain what others had already achieved.

Despite the obvious benefits from pursuing these issues, several questions continue rise above the others. How could these men repeatedly face death? Do we all have the same capacity for such bravery? Likewise, how could men, who would typically never have considered such acts, riot, ransack, and plunder? Again, do we all have a similar capacity? Do we have within us what they had?

My quest to understand the American Civil War began serendipitously when by sheer good fortune I found and read the book Killer Angels. Within days I drove several hours to see Gettysburg and the fields where such unbelievable deeds transpired. I walked slowly onto the field of Pickett’s Charge and stood breathlessly looking out over the mile wide stretch of ground traversed by thousands, and defended by thousands more. Without the battlefield to inspire, without the firsthand opportunity to learn and ponder, not only would I not have the opportunity to seek the answers, I likely would not have asked the questions. If we do not learn from what our ancestors have done, for better or worse, we will make many of their mistakes again much to the detriment of the people with us today as well as those yet to come.

"Forget the past, and the future may now allow us time to repeat it. History is never antiquated, because humanity is always fundamentally the same." - Walter Rauschenbusch



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