Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving: Sarah Hale and Abraham Lincoln

In 1621 the settlers of the Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts, gathered to celebrate a harvest of food they had no cause to even dream of when they landed. Thanks to the local Native Americans, the Wampanoag Tribe, who taught the colonists how to fish and gave them seeds to plant, the 102 colonists not only had sufficient food for the winter, they had enough to have a celebration of their bounty. [Claims for the first Thanksgiving rest in two other places, one a half-century earlier in 1565 at the Spanish Colony of St. Augustine, Florida, and the other in Virginia at the Jamestown Colony in 1607. The 1619 charter that founded the Charles City County village of Berkley Hundred included in its code an annual day of Thanksgiving.] Nevertheless, it remains Plymouth that we celebrate, in large part because of the symbolic rescue from death by starvation carried out by the generosity of the Wampanoag people.

Sarah Josepha Buell Hale spent 91 years on this earth, from 1788 to 1879. And during those 91 years she produced an incredible record into the history of this nation. And she goes pretty much unrecognized today. Sarah Buell was born, raised and married in Newport, New Hampshire. She married David Hale, a local attorney in 1813 and bore him five children. Sarah became a widow in 1822 and remained in mourning the rest of her life. Nothing out of the ordinary at this point for those times. But Sarah was different. Very intelligent, much of her education was self attained, and she wrote poetry. She published a collection of her poetry in 1823, followed soon after by a novel, Northwood: Life North and South. Northwood carried a message that slavery was not only bad for the slave it was bad for the masters, too, dehumanizing both.

In 1828 Sarah accepted a position in Boston as ‘editress’ of Reverend John Blake’s Ladies’ Magazine. In 1830 she published her second collection of poetry, Poems for Children, which included the now famous Mary’s Lamb, which we know as ”Mary Had A Little Lamb”. In 1837 she began editing the widely popular Godey’s Ladies Book, after Philadelphian Louis Godey bought the Ladies Magazine. There Sarah remained working for the next forty years.

Sarah was a thinker, and a powerful one. She went beyond many of the social thinkers of the day and did so with a quiet logic. In her capacity as editress of Godey’s, she was a major influence on women authors of the nineteenth century and on some men as well: Hawthorne, Holmes, Irving to name a few.

The year she retired, Thomas Edison spoke the first words to be recorded, on a device he invented. Those words were the first lines of Mary’s Lamb.]

For a span of forty years during her life, she wrote to Congress asking for a national Thanksgiving Holiday. Her prayers were answered, but not by Congress.

Abraham Lincoln is well known for many of his speeches and historic documents: his two Inaugural Addresses, his Cooper Union Speech, his Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, among others. Here is one he seldom gets much credit for making.
By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

And so, Sarah Hale’s forty year effort to have Thanksgiving made into a national Holiday came to an end in 1863 at the hands of President Abraham Lincoln. 

Sarah and her daughter Sarah repose in a grove at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Times have been rough of late. The twenty-first century has offered little to further the cause of mankind. There is more conflict throughout the world than the world has seen for seventy years. Yet, every day, the sun rises and sets, crops grow and are harvested. We think too much and too often of what we do not have, and we forget what we do have. Thanksgiving is a reminder that we should do this, for “…They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Novus Livy

”Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history."
--Abraham Lincoln

Copyright © 2005-2015: Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Review: Custer’s Trials, by T.J. Stiles

[With Permission from W. G. Davis at Three Days at Gettysburg blog

T. J. Stiles [author of Pulitzer Prize winning The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Jesse James, Last Rebel of the Civil War] gives us a deep understanding of George Armstrong Custer in his new book Custer’s Trials [Alfred Knopf, in stores October 27, advanced ordering at Amazon]. 

In “Rise”, the first part of Custer’s Trials, Stiles takes us on a well-crafted journey through Custer’s youth, and through the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he excelled at few things military or academic, and including his court-martial while a graduate awaiting orders.  It then chronicles the career of the “boy-General” throughout his  meteoric rise in rank and legend during the Civil War.  At the same time Stiles, relates aspects of Custer’s personal life and his romances, culminating in his marriage to Elizabeth “Libbie” Bacon.

He persevered at West Point, and though he was last in his class academically and first in demerits, he succeeded in passing his exams, thus becoming eligible for graduation.   In spite of all of the negatives, Custer showed himself to possess many qualities the military desired in its officers: poise, creative thought, conventional and unconventional avenues to problem solving, the ability to get others motivated, and stature, into which he grew through his activities, mostly in the course of breaking rules…rules by which he abided just enough to get by.  In short, Custer, with the assistance of West Point, taught himself leadership.  It was not the leadership of someone who proclaims himself the leader, it is the one who leads from the front and succeeds because others willingly follow.   And all the while building his repertoire of exploits, he began building friendships with his classmates, and with politicians in hopes of receiving assistance to further his career at his pace.

Stiles relates the details of his first trial: a court-martial before he could leave West Point after graduation.  The court found him guilty and ordered no punishment except a reprimand in orders.  And thus began the hard fighting and fast promotions of his successful and charmed Civil War career.

Custer’s Civil War experiences were as charmed and full of good fortune as were his West Point experiences.  He grew to expect this of himself - indeed, he was fearless in battle, leading from the front of his unit, sword in hand, and not just as a symbol, but a weapon he used with devastating effect in every engagement. 

But there was another Custer – a self-serving Custer, who cultivated friends, and curried favor with friendly higher-ups.  This was the insecure Custer, as changeable as the times, yet as constant as the sunrise with his contradictions.  In this manner Stiles presents Custer as a man who embraced the three main realms of his life – the private, public and professional realms, sometimes mixing them but only to his advantage.  In each he was comfortable and moved about in them freely, enjoying the moments to their fullest, yet constantly laying and cultivating the groundwork for advancement in all three realms.  Sometimes conniving, and never missing an opportunity to not only extol the virtues of his latest adventure, but enhance them as well. 

Custer’s rise through the ranks to generalship is well known.  But Stiles laces the telling with personal details often missed in many works of history involving Custer, and details the patronage afforded him by Generals McClellan, Pleasonton, and Sheridan.

One measure of Custer’s leadership and how it affected his men in the Michigan Brigade was when they began to copy his affectation of the famous red necktie he wore with his gaudy uniform.  But the men both loved and respected him for his personal courage and his innate ability to know the lay of the land on which they fought, and how he would invariably place them in the best position to succeed to victory.  Time after time Custer won the hearts of the Union thanks to the newspaper coverage of the war [which he curried], and was a favorite subject of sketch artist Alfred Waud.

Custer married Libbie on February 9th, 1864, and when campaigning began again in the spring, Custer took the field under Phil Sheridan, and Libbie moved back to a boarding house in Washington.  There Libbie was able to have access to the influential politicians, and even to the President himself.   She charmed them all and won favor for her Armstrong, as family called him. 

His war culminated in the surrender at Appomattox. 

No one amassed the legendary success amid the events of the US Civil War like Custer did. 


In “Fall”, the second half of Stiles' epic biography of Custer, Stiles chronicles the last decade and a half of George Armstrong Custer’s life.  What many biographers gloss over or omit entirely is the path to Little Big Horn that Custer followed  from the end of the war, but not Stiles. 

First sent to Texas to restore law and order in a state devastated by the war, he took Libbie along.  Life was different in the post-war US Army.  There was no more war, and he was still commanding volunteers.  Custer was forced to use a hard hand even at controlling his own troops, including head-shaving, whipping and executions.  For a man who’s leadership was repeatedly proven in combat, the lack of it was proven in peace.  It was a duty for which he was unsuited, and unable to adapt.  Nor would his conservative Democrat views on race suffer the change that the war had wrought.  And Libbie shared those feelings. 

Yet Custer struggled to come to terms with the new reality of the Freedmen.  He began to think about redefining himself.  He did so in his testimony before a subcommittee of the Committee on Reconstruction, advocating black suffrage, and the continuation of the Freedmen’s Bureau.  Custer’s testimony was in line with that of other officers newly returned from the post war South.  Collectively, they pointed to the regressive results of President Johnson’s policies.  The ensuing Civil Rights bill was vetoed by Johnson, and in effect, was a declaration of war between the conservative President and the Radical Republicans in Congress.  But Custer’s testimony belied his personal beliefs.  Once again he was currying political favor from those who controlled Congress.  Then he went on a political tour with President Johnson, evoking the wrath of Ulysses Grant.  Grant ordered Custer to join the 7th US Cavalry at Fort Riley without delay.  Custer soon realized how badly he had erred in publicly supporting Johnson. 

A year later found Custer facing his second court-martial, this time for absenting himself from his command without the proper authority.  He had left Fort Wallace, Kansas apparently to get to Libbie, and traveled 275 miles to Fort Harker when his command was about to launch a campaign against the Indians.  Even worse, he had ordered a detachment of 75 men and three officers to escort the ambulance in which he rode.  And it continued to get even worse.  Custer ignored an attack on some of his men by Indians, sent a detachment out after deserters with orders to bring none back alive, and eventually had three deserters shot, but not killed, and did not allow them to be treated for their wounds – all without a trial.  In a rather long proceeding, Custer was found guilty across the board and sentenced to one year’s suspension and forfeiture of his pay.  Ultimately the Indians intervened and Sherman and Sheridan petitioned Grant to restore Custer to the 7th US Cavalry.  Grant complied, if only to keep Custer in the field and out of politics and out of trouble.   

Thus Custer began the phase of his career that would mark him as “Indian Killer.”  He operated in Kansas and Oklahoma, destroying Indian villages, and chasing after famous Indian leaders such as Black Kettle. 

Unable to rise in rank, Custer attempted to end his Army career and support himself and Libbie in a style more grand than Army pay could provide.   Custer took an extended leave, and made a disastrous foray into the world of Wall Street.  He sought funds to support a silver mine in Colorado.  It failed when the mine failed.    

In 1871, Custer returned to the Army, stationed in Kentucky to suppress the Ku Klux Klan and the illegal manufacture of moonshine alcohol.  It was boring duty.  Custer yearned for the openness of the Great Plains.  He turned to writing there, and while he had a market for his work, it was too small to allow him to leave the Army. 

In the Spring of 1873, Custer received word that the 7th Cavalry was being reassigned north to the Dakota Territory.  He and Libby began packing.  Over the next three years, he mounted three great expeditions: along the Yellowstone River in 1873 - fighting battles on August 4th and August 11th; the Black Hills Expedition in 1874; and finally, the Little Big Horn Expedition in 1876. 

The noted historian Frederick Jackson Turner who wrote at the end of the 19th century and for 3 decades into the 20th, formulated the Frontier Thesis, which was presented as a paper to the American Historical Association in Chicago, July 12, 1893, titled “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” It first appeared in the Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, December 14, 1893.  He cites the 1890 census report’s proclamation that, “…‘Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports.’ This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.”

In his paper, Turner presents the role of the frontier as the developer of Americanism, that the farther from the Atlantic Coast one got on the way west, the farther they got from the influence of their European roots.  The Frontier was the blacksmith’s hammer, forge and tempering bucket that produced American Exceptionalism and American Identity. 

In the fifteen years from the end of the Civil War to the end of the Frontier, as the Census report put it, there was perhaps no other person whose day-to-day life on that Frontier had more influence in the final forging of the American Identity and Exceptionalism than George Armstrong Custer.   

Stiles' book, 472 pages not including acknowledgements, is a most thorough, detailed, and well-supported biography.  The cast of characters is rich, and most are well known, but even the lesser known help to paint the portrait, often filling in gaps.  The principals are fascinating, and brought down from their legendary status by relating their intimate interactions and thoughts.  George Armstrong Custer was a truly great soldier during the Civil War.  The absence of war was a large part of his undoing, for it forced him into realms he had not entered before, that he was unable to manipulate to his advantage, and for which he was wholly unprepared. 

Custer’s Trials is the consummate biography of George Armstrong Custer.   


Stiles, T.J., Custer’s Trials, Alfred A. Knopf/Borzoi, New York City, 2015.  ISBN 978-0-307-59264.

Available in stores October 27th, 2015.  Also available to preorder at Amazon here.

Novus Livy

”Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history."-- Abraham Lincoln

Now in our 11th Year!

Copyright © 2005-2015: Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Real George Washington Quote

From the Fifth Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1793 courtesy of the Yale Law School's Avalon Project site:

The words should hit home as applicable even today. 
“There is a rank due to the United States, among nations, which will be withheld, if not absolutely lost, by the reputation of weakness. If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.”
--George Washington
Novus Livy

”Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history."-- Abraham Lincoln

Now in our 11th Year!

Copyright © 2005-2015: Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Washington Quote News

At last!  The answer to the Washington quote question.  This is from the Bend, Oregon Bulletin:
Misattributed quote corrected
By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin
Published Jan 20, 2015 at 12:01AM

The misattribution of a quote to George Washington has been removed from a veterans monument on the steps of the Deschutes County Courthouse.
The quote is now credited to “Unknown” following a roughly $700 repair job in November, according to county Property and Facilities Director Susan Ross.
“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation,” reads the monument, dedicated on Veterans Day 2005.
In September, Washington scholar and University of Virginia professor Edward Lengel told The Bulletin the quote has frequently been attributed to the first president but never authenticated. Lengel, the editor of the university’s efforts to preserve all of Washington’s writings, said though the statement has appeared in many books and political speeches, nobody has been able to point to when or where Washington made such remarks.
Ross said veterans groups working with the county suggested the quote as attributed to Washington when the monument was in the planning stages. Efforts to verify the quote at the time suggested it was authentic, she said.
Veterans groups were again consulted in recent months when county officials learned it was unlikely the quote originated with Washington.
“The choices we looked at were to just replace the quote completely with a quote we can definitively assign to someone, try to keep the quote and try to prove its authorship, or go ahead and just take out who we attributed the quote to and just put in, ‘Unknown,’” Ross said.
Ross said veterans groups and county officials agreed replacing Washington’s name with “Unknown” was the easiest way to resolve the situation. Whatever its origins, the quote captures the right tone for the monument, she said, and replacing the words with a new quote would have cost around $4,000.

“If we’re ever going to quote anyone again, we’re going to have to be much more careful,” she said.
So, there is no proof that George Washington ever wrote or uttered those words.

Novus Livy
”Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history."-- Abraham Lincoln
Now in our 11th Year!
Copyright © 2005-2015: Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Little Help, If You Please


The historian in us has been stymied by a dilemma. Someone sent an email to us with a quotation attributed to George Washington. Here is the quotation:

"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceived veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by our nation." -- President George Washington

We have been unable to verify that this is indeed from our first president. We have the works of George Washington in our library, and have been browsing through it several times over looking for it. Supposedly it was said by Washington in 1789. We have been through that section of his complete works several times over, and have not been able to find the source of the quote.

Can anyone help with this dilemma and provide a link to a verifying source?

Novus Livy

”Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history."-- Abraham Lincoln

Copyright © 2005-2014: Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 13, 2013

New Blog just on Battle of Gettysburg

There is a new blog  up and running over at Three Days at Gettysburg.  It is all about the Battle, including most recently, a review of the newly released [as of May 14, 2013] book by Professor Allen C. Guelzo of Gettysburg College titled 'Gettysburg, the Last Invasion.'

Some new ground is being broken in the interpretation of the Battle of Gettysburg on this blog.  Give it a try, and if you like it, subscribe. It is a scholarly look at the Battle and the application of technology, like Google Earth imagery, and some plain old common sense. 

Three Days at Gettysburg

Novus Livy

”Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history."-- Abraham Lincoln

Copyright © 2005-2013: Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Fight for Houck's Ridge

[Reprinted with permission from GettysBLOG]

Late in the afternoon of July 2, 1863, the members of Brigadier General J. H. Hobart Ward’s Brigade of 6 regiments from Maine, Indiana, New York, and Pennsylvania, plus elements of the 1st and 2nd United States Sharpshooters, prepared to receive the assault of Confederate General John Bell Hood. Perched atop the south end of Houck’s Ridge, the southern terminus of which is Devil’s Den, Ward placed his men in a line stretching generally north, almost to the Wheatfield. Behind him lay Plum Run Valley, soon to become known as the Valley of Death, and several hundred yards farther east lay the two Round Tops, “Big” on the south, “Little” to the north. There was slender Union presence in between Ward and Little Round Top.

Facing Ward were two Brigades of Hood’s shock troops, under Brigadier General Jerome Bonaparte Robertson [Texas and Arkansas], and Brigadier General Henry L. Benning [Georgia], on Robertson’s left. The terrain was difficult for the Confederates, but what Benning’s men had to go over was so impassable that his men split Robertson’s Brigade with the 1st Texas and 3rd Arkansas moving to the left of Benning’s men, while the 4th and 5th Texas got mixed in with Brigadier General Evander Law’s Alabama brigade assaulting Little Round Top.

Anchoring the left end of Ward’s line [at the south end of Houck’s Ridge, with the worst of the Devil’s Den Boulders at his back] was Smith’s 4th New York Light Battery, with Captain James Smith commanding the six 10 pounder Parrot guns. Union artillery batteries were comprised of 6 guns, divided into three sections of two guns each. Smith had posted one section of his guns to his right rear about two hundred yards, on the floor of Plum Run Valley. They were pointed south, across the stream at a tree line at the base of Big Round Top. The area was littered with large and small boulders. When the Alabama troops emerged from the tree line, Smith’s two guns roared into action, firing explosive shells over the rocks, which in many cases added rock splinters to the shrapnel from the exploding shells. As the Confederates withdrew back into the tree line, Smith’s two guns elevated their muzzles and opened fire on the treetops of the wood line. This created hundreds of wood splinters raining down on the Alabamians sheltering there. The area became known as The Slaughter Pen. Below is a photo of the two gun section of Smith’s Battery which has been missing for some time due to repair and restoration of the guns. Its location is on the west side of today’s Crawford Avenue at the spot where Smith had posted them.  Houck's Ridge is in the background.

In the meantime, Smith’s other two sections [four guns] were on top of the south end of Houck’s Ridge covering the left flank of Ward’s brigade line. To Smith’s right was the 4th Maine and 99th Pennsylvania Infantry [both moved there during the battle], and on their right, the 124th New York. Farther to the right was the 20th Indiana in the edge of the Rose Woods. Other regiments from Ward’s brigade were posted down on the floor of Plum Run Valley, facing the elements of Evander Law’s Alabamians coming up through the boulders of Plum Run Gorge.

As Benning’s Brigade approached Ward’s position, they found the 1st Texas Infantry and the 4th Arkansas Infantry in front of them, entering a triangular shaped field on the western slope of Houck’s Ridge. At the top, along the base of the triangle, was a stone wall, behind which were Colonel VanHorn Ellis’s 124th New York Infantry, his “Orange Blossoms” from Orange County, New York. As the Texans began their assault up the ridge, the Orange Blossoms poured a deadly fire into them, causing them to fall back. Ellis’s men, encouraged by this, and led by the Colonel who jumped his horse over the wall, began to march in line abreast down the Triangular Field toward the Texans. While withdrawing down the hill, the Texans reloaded, and at the bottom, on a small knoll, they turned and fired a volley into the approaching New Yorkers. The regiment was decimated. Major Cromwell, the second in command was down, and many others were dead or wounded. The New Yorkers began to withdraw. In the ensuing fight, the Orange Blossoms drove off the Texans, but not without a great price. Cromwell and Ellis were both dead, and many of their compatriots were as well. It was a sad day for Orange County, New York.

Benning continued to press forward, and the fight became hand to hand, lasting for almost an hour, before the 99th Pennsylvania, fighting from a circle of large boulders, was forced to withdraw. The rest of Ward’s Brigade had already done so, heading to a spot north of Little Round Top.

Below is a photograph of the Artillerist statue, which marks the spot of Smith’s 4th New York Light Artillery Batter [2 sections] on the south end of Houck’s Ridge. Anyone who has ever driven or walked up from Devil’s Den will recognize the four cannons of Smith’s Battery represented atop Houck’s Ridge. Several years ago, the Artillerist’s statue was pulled down and decapitated, with the head stolen, during a pre-dawn attack of vandalism on the Battlefield. [Two other monuments were damaged along Emmitsburg Road]. The statue has been repaired and restored as you can see.  Little Round Top is in the background.

Of Smith's guns on Houck’s Ridge during the battle, all four were captured, one of which was damaged or spiked, and three were carried off by the Confederates.

Novus Livy

”Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history."-- Abraham Lincoln

Copyright © 2005-2012: Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Battle for Little Round Top

 [Reprinted with permission from GettysBLOG]

On July 2nd, 1863, General Gouveneur Kemble Warren stood on the rocks of Little Round Top and gazed upon a disaster about to befall his army. As the Chief Topographical Engineer for the Army of the Potomac, it was his job to look at terrain, decide what could be attacked, what could be defended and how best to arrange troops in order to do either one - or both.

This day had been quiet so far, but by late morning a dangerous gap in the lines had been discovered. Major General Daniel Sickles, a politically appointed General who commanded the Third Corps of the Army of the Potomac, had dislodged his men and guns from the knoll just to the north of Little Round Top, moving them forward and up the elevation to the Emmitsburg Road, over a half mile forward. Sickles placed one brigade in the Peach Orchard next to the Sherfy House, and then sent a whole division to stretch up along the road almost to the Codori farm. Sickles had also left a Brigade behind and to the south along a ridge that ended in a jumble of enormous boulders. When the commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General George Gordon Meade, was alerted to Sickles’ move, the two rode out to look at Sickles lines. Meade explained the problems with being so far in front of the Union lines, and that enormous gap left in his own lines between the men in the Peach Orchard and the men on that rocky ridge a half mile to the southwest. Sickles offered to return his men to the assigned position just as the Confederate artillery opened up on his troops. Meade remarked that he didn’t think ‘they’, the Rebel guns, would give him the time to do so. Meade turned his horse and rode back to the Union lines to try to fill the gaps that Sickles had left.

The result was troops from two other Union Corps engaging the approaching Confederates in the bloody battles of the Wheatfield. Nearly seven thousand men lay as casualties, dead and wounded, when the afternoon’s fighting ended there.

What Warren was seeing was the line of men, a half mile wide, of Confederate General John Bell Hood, approaching toward Sickles men on the ridge. And Hood's line extended even farther to the left than that. Some of them were starting up the southern face of Big Round Top, the highest elevation in the vicinity, just several hundred yards to Warren’s left. He sent a messenger to the Commander of the Union Fifth Corps asking for a brigade of men to take up a line on the south face of Little Round Top to stop the end of Hood’s line. If they flanked the Union position on Little Round Top, well, it was possible that the Union Army’s strong position at Gettysburg would be so threatened as to cause it to withdraw southward into Maryland.

On the lane below Little Round Top, Colonel Strong Vincent, a Harvard educated lawyer from Erie, Pennsylvania, stopped his small brigade and stopped the messenger, asking for his message. When told he was sent for troops to defend the hill, Vincent told him that on his own responsibility, he would take his brigade to the crest of the hill and place them at General Warren’s disposal. Vincent ordered the men to the top of the hill and proceeded to move ahead of them to scout the terrain. After a brief consult with Warren, who merely had to point to the advancing Confederate troops, Vincent set off to look at the south flank of Little Round Top.

The two Round Tops [not known by those names until after the battle] were physically separated by a small saddle of ground through which a lane ran, coming up from Plum Run Valley to the West and running out between farms on the east side of the two hills, to the Taneytown Road. A spur of ground jutted from Little Round Top into this saddle of ground from north to south. It came to a point and descended perhaps 15-20 feet very sharply to the saddle. The ground was strewn with boulders large and small. After perhaps ten minutes, Vincent’s men started to arrive.

Historians for years have written that Vincent arrayed his troops along the military crest [A lower crest than the top, on which men could stand and fight and not be silhouetted to attackers from below.] with the 16th Michigan Infantry at the southwest corner of the crest, and on their left, the 44th New York, then the 83rd Pennsylvania, and finally, on what would eventually become known as Vincent’s Spur, the 20th Maine. However, recent work clearing the south slope of Little Round Top has resulted in the [re-]discovery of the flank markers [stone markers which marked the left and right ends – flanks – of a regiment, placed there by the Veterans of the battle] of the 83rd Pennsylvania. And they are not in line with the rest of the Brigade. Instead of a line of defense, Vincent, who once commanded the 83rd Pennsylvania, placed his men in a very sophisticated defense in depth. He placed the 83rd Pennsylvania about fifty yards in front of the 44th New York, facing south. They were also twenty-five feet lower than the 44th New York. To the right rear of the 83rd Pennsylvania was what is essentially a 25 foot cliff leading up to the position of the 16th Michigan. To the left is a gap between the 83rd and the 20th Maine, arrayed on an angle leading away from the 83rd, and ending at the end of Vincent’s Spur. The gap was an invitation to the attacking troops to enter and become a killing ground as the Maine troops opened on them from behind the rocks on the spur.

It was innovative, sophisticated, and deadly to the enemy. Sadly, Strong Vincent did not survive the Battle of Little Round Top. The fight made a Medal of Honor recipient of Lt. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine. Chamberlain was not only the left flank of Vincent’s Brigade, but of the Army of the Potomac. He wound up facing one regiment of Alabama Troops in the killing ground and in front of the 83rd Pennsylvania, and then another Regiment appeared in his rear. After fending off repeated assaults, including one that reached inside his lines, Chamberlain’s men were out of ammunition. Thinking the enemy was forming for another assault, he seized the initiative, and ordered his men to fix bayonets, and charge the enemy. They drove the enemy regiment off, capturing many prisoners.

Below is a recent picture of the 83rd Pennsylvania’s position on the south flank of Little Round Top.

The view is looking west. The crest of Little Round Top is to the right, and Warren Avenue [visible to the left] which comes up from Plum Run Valley and runs out to Taneytown Road over the saddle of ground that separates Little Round Top from Big Round Top. The monument is that of the 83rd Pennsylvania, and the statue on top is that of Strong Vincent. Unlike most regiments, the regimental marker for the 83rd Pennsylvania is not in the center of its line, but rather about twenty yards behind, and closer to its left flank than its right. The right flank marker of the 83rd Pennsylvania is under the pine tree in the center of the photo. The left flank marker is not visible in this photo, but another marker near it is visible to the left in a completely bare ground spot to the left of middle of the fallen tree [see detail photo below]. The line of the 83rd runs parallel to Warren Avenue about 20 yards in, and follows a line of boulders, which no doubt was used for cover.

Next time you are out on the Battlefield, go explore this for yourself!

Novus Livy

"Fellow Citizens, we cannot escape history." -- Abraham Lincoln

Copyright © 2005-2012: Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog;; All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Welcome back, gunner!

The Artillerist on the 4th New York Independent Battery monument [Captain James E. Smith] located on the south end of Houck’s Ridge [behind Devil’s Den] has been restored and is now standing as a silent sentinel over the Gettysburg Battlefield area once again. For those who drive through Devils Den area, and then up and around to where Benning’s Brigade of Georgians assaulted the left of Ward’s Third Corps Brigade, the cannon and the Artillerist are well remembered figures that greet you when you reach the top of the ridge.

Damaged several years ago in an ugly attack of vandalism early one morning, the statue was pulled off its pedestal and the head was removed and carried off. Two other monuments, both along Emmitsburg Road, were also damaged. The 114th Pennsylvania Infantry monument [Collis’s Zouaves], was also toppled, but was restored fairly quickly. The 16th Massachusetts Infantry monument also had damage when the ball on top was pulled free and smashed on the ground.

All were members of the Third Corps [Dan Sickles], and were involved in the fighting on the second day, when Sickles, without orders to do so, ordered his corps out of a defensive position just north of Little Round Top, and forward to the Emmitsburg Road. He left Ward’s Brigade and Smith’s Battery to cover his left by stationing them on the south end of Houck’s Ridge. Sickles covered some of the gap between Ward and Graham’s Brigade, stationed in the Peach Orchard a half mile, away by aligning some artillery on the Wheatfield Lane facing south. Sickles move remains a bone of contention to this day, and his actions then, and for the rest of his life, seriously damaged the career and reputation of General George Meade.

The fight of Ward’s Brigade and Smith’s Battery against several assaults by brigades and regiments from the Confederate Army division under General John Bell Hood is legendary. Smith, in particular, fought his battery well, splitting off one section of two guns onto the floor of the “Valley of Death” where they stopped advancing Alabama troops by firing into the boulder field of the “Slaughter Pen”. The other four guns remained on top of Houck’s ridge where they supported Ward’s infantry brigade aligned on the right of the battery.

Park restoration specialists had to travel out west to cast the head for the Artillerist from another copy of the statue.

Welcome back, gunner!

Novus Livy

”Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history."-- Abraham Lincoln

Copyright © 2005-2012: Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Ride of Paul Revere

On the night of April 18-19, 1775, Boston silversmith Paul Revere and fellow Sons of Liberty member William Dawes were sent to the villages of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts to warn the leaders of the Sons, John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the advance of British Infantry troops out of Boston toward those villages. After warning Lexington, and joined by Dr. Samuel Prescott, the three men were detained briefly by British troops at a roadblock while on their way to Concord, but Dawes and Prescott escaped. Revere was escorted under guard toward Lexington until the British troops escorting him heard the firing of the battle from there. They took his horse, riding on toward Lexington. Revere made his way back toward Concord, finally meeting up with Hancock and Adams.

An inspiring story.

More thrilling is the same tale related in the stirring poem, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,--
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
>From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,---
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
And in Revere's own words:

"...The Saturday Night preceding the 19th of April, about 12 oClock at Night, the Boats belonging to the Transports were all launched, and carried under the Sterns of the Men of War. (They had been previously hauld up and repaired). We likewise found that the Grenadiers and light Infantry were all taken off duty.

From these movements, we expected something serious was [to] be transacted. On Tuesday evening, the 18th, it was observed, that a number of Soldiers were marching towards the bottom of the Common. About 10 o'Clock, Dr. Warren Sent in great haste for me, and beged that I would imediately Set off for Lexington, where Messrs. Hancock and Adams were, and acquaint them of the Movement, and that it was thought they were the objets. When I got to Dr. Warren's house, I found he had sent an express by land to Lexington—a Mr. Wm. Daws..."

--From a
letter written by Paul Revere
Revere remains today one of the most famous heroes of the American Revolution. Revere went on to establish a gunpowder mill to support the Revolution, and then became an officer in the Army.

He serves as an example of the individual heroism of all who risked all in defying what had become the tyannical authority of the British King, George III.

Novus Livy

”Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history."-- Abraham Lincoln

Copyright © 2005-2009: Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog; All Rights Reserved.