“Bring to his work a mighty heart”

In observance of today’s holiday, the Daily Oklahoman printed excerpts of a Memorial Day address by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in 1889, when the memory of the Civil War was still fresh.  You’ve got to read this speech.  It features an eloquence and a depth of sensibility that we almost never hear today, certainly not from politicians or other public figures.

He talks about the honored dead, of course, but he also makes applications about what the generations that follow can learn from them and from observing Memorial Day.

I give a brief sample after the jump, but please click the link and read the whole thing. [Read more…]

Two kinds of masculinity

Imagine my surprise and my pride in seeing my cousin’s daughter quoted by David Brooks in the New York Times.  Lorien Foote is a Civil War historian at Texas A&M.  She is utterly brilliant and a true expert in her field.  (When she visited us in Virginia, we took a drive through Loudon County, during which time she explained what happened during the war at nearly every turn of the road.)

Anyway, she wrote a much-acclaimed book called The Gentlemen and the Roughs:  Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army (New York University Press).   David Brooks uses it as a jump-off point to criticize Donald Trump’s treatment of women.  But her book has far more applications than that. [Read more…]

Civil War photos online

The Library of Congress has acquired thousands of Civil War photographs and has put them online.  Here is a slide show sampling.  My favorites are from the Liljenquist Family collection of individual and family portraits., which the Library of Congress is making available freely, with no copyright restrictions.

These put a human face, literally, on history and on the Civil War, and I find them very moving.  (The custom was to have a picture taken in your uniform before you set off for war, knowing that you might never be coming back.  Some of the pictures of boys still in adolescence show a fierce bravado that is belied by their baby faces.  The pictures of the men with their wives and children show both courage and sadness.)  I post one after the jump.  (Notice the emotion in this formal pose in the way the husband and wife are holding onto each other’s hands.) [Read more…]

The youth who stopped Pickett’s Charge

President Obama will reward the Congressional Medal of Honor to two  Viet Nam War vets, Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins and, posthumously, Specialist Donald P. Sloat (who jumped on a grenade to save three comrades). Also winning the nation’s highest honor posthumously is Lt. Alonzo Cushing, a 22-year-old who commanded an artillery battery that took the brunt of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.  Read what he did after the jump.

 

http://i1.wp.com/3.bp.blogspot.com/_oNrGEbZjtPo/S_QHIz7FdtI/AAAAAAAADvY/mCiUnPbXBdI/s1600/Cushing.jpg
[Read more…]

The etiquette of dueling

David Mills has come across a fascinating text online,  The Code of Honor;, by John Lyde Wilson.  It’s a booklet from 1837 giving the proper etiquette for dueling.

It gives the different kinds of insults that require satisfaction, the note the insulted party sends demanding an explanation, the way to issue challenges, the quite considerable role of seconds, and more.  Here is the section on proper conduct on the field of honor:

1. The principals are to be respectful in meeting, and neither by look or expression irritate each other. They are to be wholly passive, being entirely under the guidance of their seconds.

2. When once posted, they are not to quit their positions under any circumstances, without leave or direction of their seconds.

3. When the principals are posted, the second giving the word, must tell them to stand firm until he repeats the giving of the word, in the manner it will be given when the parties are at liberty to fire.

4. Each second has a loaded pistol, in order to enforce a fair combat according to the rules agreed on; and if a principal fires before the word or time agreed on, he is at liberty to fire at him, and if such second’s principal fall, it is his duty to do so.

5. If after a fire, either party be touched, the duel is to end; and no second is excusable who permits a wounded friend to fight; and no second who knows his duty, will permit his friend to fight a man already hit. I am aware there have been many instances where a contest has continued, not only after slight, but severe wounds, had been received. In all such cases, I think the seconds are blamable.

6. If after an exchange of shots, neither party be hit, it is the duty of the second of the challengee, to approach the second of the challenger and say: “Our friends have exchanged shots, are you satisfied, or is there any cause why the contest should be continued?” If the meeting be of no serious cause of complaint, where the party complaining had in no way been deeply injured, or grossly insulted, the second of the party challenging should reply: “The point of honor being settled, there can, I conceive, be no objection to a reconciliation, and I propose that our principals meet on middle ground, shake hands, and be friends.” If this be acceded to by the second of the challengee, the second of the party challenging, says: “We have agreed that the present duel shall cease, the honor of each of you is preserved, and you will meet on middle ground, shake hands and be reconciled.”

7. If the insult be of a serious character, it will be the duty of the second of the challenger, to say, in reply to the second of the challengee: “We have been deeply wronged, and if you are not disposed to repair the injury, the contest must continue.” And if the challengee offers nothing by way of reparation, the fight continues until one or the other of the principals is hit.

8. If in cases where the contest is ended by the seconds, as mentioned in the sixth rule of this chapter, the parties refuse to meet and be reconciled, it is the duty of the seconds to withdraw from the field, informing their principals, that the contest must be continued under the superintendence of other friends. But if one agrees to this arrangement of the seconds, and the other does not, the second of the disagreeing principal only withdraws.

9. If either principal on the ground refuses to fight or continue the fight when required, it is the duty of his second to say to the other second: “I have come upon the ground with a coward, and do tender you my apology for an ignorance of his character; you are at liberty to post him.” The second, by such conduct, stands excused to the opposite party.

10. When the duel is ended by a party being hit, it is the duty of the second to the party so hit, to announce the fact to the second of the party hitting, who will forthwith tender any assistance he can command to the disabled principal. If the party challenging, hit the challengee, it is his duty to say he is satisfied, and will leave the ground. If the challenger be hit, upon the challengee being informed of it, he should ask through his second, whether he is at liberty to leave the ground which should be assented to.

The violence is ritualized, thus held under a strange control.

Which reminds me, the daughter of my cousin has become a noted Civil War historian.  She has written an award-winning book on the codes of honor–followed not just in dueling but on the field of battle–followed by the “officers and gentlemen” who fought in the Civil War.  It’s a fascinating read, shedding great light on the ideals of manhood, the nature of a “gentleman,” and the strong sense of honor that animated our recent ancestors.  She shows the nobility of it all, but also how it can go terribly wrong, as in dueling.

The author, a young professor (at the University of Central Arkansas) of whom I am very proud, is Lorien Foote and her book is The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army.

A Civil War soldier’s letter to his wife

I am going to make you cry.  To mark the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run, a.k.a. The Battle of Manassas, the Washington Post wrote a story about and reprinted the letter written by Maj. Sullivan Ballou to his wife a week before he was killed in that battle.  It shows a man highly devoted to his different and sometimes conflicting vocations as husband, father, soldier, citizen, and Christian:

July the 14th, 1861

Washington D.C.

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar—that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the brightest day and in the darkest night—amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

Sullivan

From Wikipedia

For background details see Civil War soldier’s heartbreaking farewell letter was written before death at Bull Run – The Washington Post.


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