Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Silas Deane, Arthur Lee, John Jay, Mississippi River and Dutch Treaty of Commerce and Friendship

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 17th, 2012

Politics 101

Franklin spent a Great Deal of Time in France during the Revolution enjoying Social Gatherings and Social Drinking

People are disgusted by politics today.  Negative campaigns.  Personal attacks.  Special interests.  People using their public office for personal gain.  Scandals.  Intrigue.  It’s enough to turn anyone off of politics.  Forever.  For it seems like no matter what the politicians say nothing ever changes.  And you know what?  They haven’t changed.  For even before there was a United States of America this stuff was going on.  Even threatening the success of the American Revolutionary War.

George Washington is criticized for many things.  For owning slaves (which he released and trained to enter the workforce as free men in his will).  That he wasn’t a great general.  For he did lose more battles than he won.  But even his critics have to give him this at least.  He was a man of honor.  With impeccable integrity.  His men respected him.  His officers respected him.  His enemies respected him.  One of Britain’s last attempts of treachery was to try and bribe Washington to defect to the British side.  Where he could live out his life very comfortably.  Knowing the Americans would give up without him.  But he did not waiver.  Resolute to the end.  The indispensable one.  The Father of our Country. 

Sadly, though, there weren’t many indispensable ones.  And few that matched Washington’s stature.  Perhaps the one coming closest was Benjamin Franklin.  Our most respected diplomat.  Who played a large part in gaining French support for the American cause.  Franklin spent a great deal of time in France during the Revolution.  The French loved him.  And he loved his time there.  Perhaps a little too much.  Staying up late.  Getting up late.  Enjoying social gatherings.  And social drinking.  Something that John Adams couldn’t stand.  Who was very religious.  And all-business.  About as different from Franklin as you could get.  But the French liked Franklin.  And did not like Adams.  Because he was all-business.  And a bit insufferable.

It didn’t take a Genius to know that the Americans Planned on Moving West to the Mississippi River and Beyond

France was America’s most important ally during the war.  And technically speaking their only ally.  There were many foreigners who sought a commission in the American army.  But that was more for glory and fame than support of the cause.  France, though, entered into treaty with the independent United States.  And supplied a large part of the war effort in both money and arms.  Granted this was more to get back at their archenemy, the British, than it was to help the Americans.  But the love and respect for Franklin was real.

Franklin was a self-made man living his third life.  He was a small business owner and writer.  He was a scientist.  And now he was a diplomat.  He had little to prove.  And needed no money.  All he wanted was to enjoy what life he had left.  And champion the American cause.  Not so with his co-emissary Arthur Lee.  Whose interests centered more on Arthur Lee than the American cause.  He didn’t like Franklin because the French liked and respected him more.  And he didn’t like America’s other emissary, Silas Deane, who was in France before Franklin and Lee joined him.  And who the French liked and respected, too.  Which really annoyed him because the French didn’t like him at all.  In fact they thought Lee liked England just a little too much.  For he had a brother in England.  Which didn’t go over well with the French.  Despite his having two brothers in the Continental Congress you just didn’t know where his allegiance lay.  Lee aggressively tried to disgrace both Deane and Franklin to make his star shine brighter.  Franklin’s character was impeccable, though.  No one believed anything he said about Franklin.  But, alas, they did about poor Deane.  At least enough to recall him to Congress.  The French, though, respected Deane enough to give him safe passage back on a French warship with the new French minister to America.  This whole episode did little to impress upon the French the professional stature of American diplomacy.   Nor did it impress the other European courts.  America just wasn’t being taken seriously in Europe.

Except, perhaps, in Spain.  John Jay went to Madrid to get Spanish recognition.  And Spanish aid.  Getting little of either.  Spain entered the conflict.  As an ally to France, though.  Because they, too, hated the British.  And they used this opportunity to get Gibraltar back from the British.  (They didn’t.)  Other than that they had little interest in helping the Americans.  For they didn’t trust the Americans.  France may have lost all of their North American possessions to the British but they hadn’t.  They still had the Louisiana Territory.  Western Florida.  The land from the Texas Gulf coast to California.  As well as the port of New Orleans.  And control of the lower Mississippi River.  Which the Americans wanted navigation rights on.  And god knows what else.  For it was no secret that the Americans wanted to expand west.  That’s why they wanted the Ohio country.  And the Ohio River flowed into the Mississippi River.  It didn’t take a genius to know what that meant.  The Americans planned on moving west to the Mississippi River.  And beyond.  Using the Mississippi to ship all of their goods from the interior of the country to the Port of New Orleans.  And on to the world.  All they needed to do was to remove one last obstacle.  The Spanish.  And the Spanish grew weary of John Jay.  Who only wanted two things.  To get Spain to recognize their independence.  And for Spain to give them money.  Suffice it to say the Spanish did not enter into an alliance with the United States.  And gave little money.

Catherine the Great’s League of Armed Neutrality isolated Britain and helped Adams in the Netherlands

Meanwhile John Adams, having annoyed the French, headed to the Netherlands.  And was more successful.  Not so much because they supported the American cause but because of their commerce.  The Dutch and the British had been bitter rivals.  The Dutch East (and West) India Company.  The English East India Company.  They both wanted what the other had.  Commerce.  They would actually go to war over this trade.  Some 4 times.  And now the British were interfering with their trade once again.  Interfering with their lucrative black market trade from the Dutch West Indies to the United States.  Through the British blockade.  Which may have broken a treaty they had with the British.  So Adams found commercial incentive for Dutch support.  But what he didn’t find was Dutch respect for the American cause.  And a general ignorance of the American cause.  There was just little information about the United States in the Netherlands.

They did see a rising commercial power in the U.S.  That would have a lot of food and materials to ship.  And being good businessmen they wanted a piece of that action.  And they certainly didn’t want to see the French and Spanish monopolize that trade.  Which could happen based on the treaty between France and America.  And the treaty between France and Spain.  Of course if they backed the wrong horse that could hurt them in post-war relations with Britain.  Should Britain win.  But neither was it in their best interests for Britain to win.  For that would only make their greatest rival stronger.  But what if the Americans won with the help of the Franco-Spanish alliance?  Would the Americans keep their independence?  Or would they get absorbed into France and/or Spain?  That wouldn’t be good.  For it wasn’t that long ago that they won their independence from Spain.  So making Spain stronger and/or richer wasn’t high in their to-do list. 

Catherine the Great of Russia finally helped push the issue.  Indirectly.  To keep the seas free and to protect neutral nations she organized a League of Armed Neutrality of which the Netherlands was signatory.  Neutral nations wanted no part of Britain’s war with America.  And they didn’t want it to interfere with their trade on the high seas.  Even if that trade favored the Americans somehow more than the British.  So if the British fired upon a neutral engaging in trade the British did not approve of these neutrals would fire back.  Thus isolating Britain.  And shortly thereafter Adams negotiated a couple of loans.  Got recognition as the minister representing the United States of America.  And as one of his first duties in that capacity he signed a treaty of commerce and friendship.  He may not have had the stature of a Washington or a Franklin but he had the same dedication to the cause.  And refused to quit.  He was successful.  But few other American diplomatic missions were.  And they probably caused more harm than good.  The antics of a few bringing ridicule to the new nation.  Franklin in fact did not approve of this ‘cold calling’ on countries for recognition and aid.  Perhaps explaining his laid back ways in France that so irritated Adams.  “A virgin state,” Franklin said, “should preserve its virgin character, and not go about suitoring for alliances, but wait with decent virgin dignity for the application of others.”  It seemed to do wonders for him.  And the nation.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Aristocracy, the Old World, the New World and the American Civil War

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 6th, 2011

History 101

General Robert E. Lee represented the Old World, General Ulysses S. Grant represented the New World

General Robert E. Lee represented the Old World.  The last of a long line of wealthy landowners.  The finest of inherited wealth.  With a lineage that went back to George Washington.  The Father of our Country.  On his wife’s side.  Through the Custis ancestry.  Lee fought to continue the old ways.  Magnificent landholdings.  Grand mansions.  Servants.  Balls.  Gentlemen.  And ladies.  None who worked.  But who enjoyed the very best of lives.  Because of a very good last name.  And Lee wanted to pass this life on to his heirs.

General Ulysses S. Grant represented the New World.  His father was middle class.  A tanner.  And Grant worked in his father’s shop.  But hated the blood.  And the horrific odors.  He left and went to West Point.  Saw combat in the Mexican War.  After the war he served in some lonely posts.  Away from his family.  And started to drink.  He missed his family so much that he eventually left the Army.  Tried and failed in some business ventures.  And ended up a clerk back at his father’s tannery.  Working for his younger brother.  To support his family.

Grant and Lee actually met once in the Mexican War.  When Lee visited Grant’s unit.  Lee remembered the visit.  But he didn’t remember Grant.  For Grant was a rather plain soldier.  When war came between the states the North offered Lee command of all Union forces.  But Lee could not draw his sword against Virginia.  His beloved country/state.  So he resigned his commission and joined the Confederate Army.  Grant raised a regiment so he could rejoin the army.  Lee won many victories against the Army of the Potomac.  Grant advanced Union forces to a series of victories in the West.  His successes earned him command of all Union forces.  And he travelled east.  To ride with General George Meade and the Army of the Potomac.  As it pursued General Lee’s Army of the Northern Virginia.

The Planter Elite had Poor White Southerners who did not Own Any Slaves Fight to Maintain the Institution of Slavery

Until Grant took over Lee had many successes besting the Army of the Potomac.  In Virginia it became routine.  After the Union suffered yet another defeat the Army would turn and head back north.  Not so with Grant.  When he came to that fork in the road, he turned south.  To try and outflank Lee.  And face him in battle again.  And again.  Until Appomattox Courthouse.  Where Lee found himself outmanned.  And surrounded.  Lee and Grant met to discuss terms of surrender.  Lee arrived first.  Expecting to be taken prisoner and possibly hung for treason, he arrived resplendent in his finest uniform.  Grant arrived later.  Muddied.  And wearing a private’s jacket.

Grant offered very generous terms.  Which had a very positive effect on Lee.  And his men.  There would be an end to the war.  And there would be no guerilla war.  Instead, Lee would do everything within his power to help bring the South back into the Union.  With Lee being more important than the president of the Confederacy, this mattered.  The people respected Lee.  And if he said the war was over the war was over.  It was time to be good citizens of the United States again.

The South fought valiantly.  For what turned out to be a dying cause.  Old World aristocracy.  Based on the institution of slavery.  Which is why the cause failed.  But before we get to that consider who fought for the confederates.  Like in the Old World, the majority of the people in the South were those who worked the land.  Black slaves.  Unlike feudalism, though, these black slaves did not fill the ranks of the armies led by their landowners.  So those responsible for war, the Planter Elite, did not risk their ‘property’ during the war.  Instead, they had poor white southerners who did not own any slaves fight to maintain the institution of slavery.  Who they lied to.  By saying the war was about states’ rights.  Or that it was to repel the Northern aggressors who wanted to change the Southern way of life.  But that’s not why the Planter Elite seceded from the Union.  It was to maintain their way of life.  An Old World-style of aristocracy.  Perhaps the greatest lie in all U.S. history.  Considering the Planter Elite killed some 618,000 trying to maintain that way of life.  Which was 2% of the total population.  Today 2% of our approximate 312 million population would be 6.2 million dead.  Just to give you an idea of how big killing 2% of your population is.

The American Civil War was the Final Battle between the Old World and the New World in the United States

So why did the South lose?  Because the world changed.  There was now a middle class.  Creating and innovating.  Expanding the Industrial Revolution to the New World.  In the northern states.  Where factories hummed with efficiency.  And produced a modern economy.  Whereas the South stayed primarily an agricultural economy.  Based on King Cotton.  With the majority of their population being slaves working in the fields.

The northern population swelled as immigrants filled their factories.  Railroads crisscrossed the North.  Steam-powered ships plied the rivers and coastal waters.  There was economic activity everywhere.  And free laborers earning wages everywhere.  And spending their wages.  Taking part in economic exchanges.  The North became advanced.  Efficient.  And wealthy.  Whereas the only wealth in the South was on the plantations.  Confined to the landed aristocracy.  And King Cotton.  When war broke out there was no way that the economic powerhouse that was the North would not prevail.  Especially when their factories could make rifles and cannon.  And ships to bottle up Southern harbors.  Making all that cotton in the South worthless.  And irrelevant.  As the British just turned to India to feed their textile industry.

The American Civil War was the final battle between the New World and the Old World in the United States.  Between the middle class of Ulysses S. Grant and the aristocracy of Robert E. Lee.  Between free market capitalism and the landed aristocracy.  And capitalism won.  Because it was the better system.  To produce wealth.  And to improve the quality of life.  For those free laborers who participated.   Allowing anyone to have a  better life.  Unlike the peasants, serfs and slaves of the Old World.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Libya is free from Kadafi, so what’s Next? Peace? Or more Blood?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 27th, 2011

Living in Peace is one Advantage of an Oppressive Dictatorship 

Tripoli has fallen.  Kadafi‘s days are numbered.  Now it’s time for a glorious rebirth.  And peace.  If they can make peace.  And keep it (see Some fear post-revolution Libya may look like Iraq by Borzou Daragahi posted 8/27/2011 on the Los Angeles Times).

Although young men protect their own neighborhoods, major institutions such as banks, ministries and historic sites remain relatively unprotected. A number of banks and commercial towers have been thoroughly looted. Law enforcement is left in the hands of rebel fighters, some of whom had never been to their country’s capital.

Young men continue to pillage military sites abandoned by Kadafi’s men, carting away huge stores of weapons, just as Iraqis hauled off guns and explosives later used to make car bombs and launch attacks on Iraqi and U.S.-led forces.

Stores of weapons in the hands of angry young men?  Rarely does that end well.  And rarely does lawlessness just spontaneously turn into lawfulness.  Put the two together (angry young men with weapons and lawlessness) and what do you get?  Woe to anyone that is identified as a loyalist.

Reports also have begun to surface of reprisal killings of suspected loyalists, although few accounts could be fully verified given the chaos and lack of communications in Tripoli…

More obvious right now is the visceral violence of rebel forces hammering away at residential neighborhoods known to be strongholds of Kadafi supporters.

Rebel fighters use artillery and antiaircraft guns in such districts, which include Abu Salim, Hadba and Salahadin. At one point this week, rebels were firing assault rifles into residential apartment blocks in Abu Salim, where they suspected a sniper was holed up.

Civil wars tend to be the cruelest of wars.  And the bloodiest.  They split up neighborhoods.  And families.  With vengeance often being the battle cry.  For these aren’t soldiers on a distant battlefield who don’t know each other.  This is far more personal.  It’s typically someone you know killing someone you know.  And what makes it especially cruel is that before the war these were people you called friends.  Or family.  This kind of killing unleashes an indescribable hatred.  And searing anger.  Hence the vengeance.

Members of the district council insisted that the men had taken up arms against the revolution and were being held pending trial. But they also said some of those arrested included people pulled out of their cars at checkpoints because they looked “suspicious,” often code for dark-skinned Libyans and others of sub-Saharan African descent…

Said one Tripoli taxi driver, “I have a fear that one day we’ll be like Iraqis, wishing for the days of Moammar Kadafi.”

As bad as Saddam Hussein was, at least he kept the peace.  That’s the advantage of an oppressive dictatorship.  People live in fear of the state.  Not each other.  And if you behave properly, the state might just leave you alone.  As long as you’re not an intellectual.  Can read.  Or wear glasses.  If you’re not a threat to state power, or a perceived threat, life can be good.  All you have to do is to say nothing.  Avoid eye contact.  And never, ever complain.  For if you thought things were bad, just wait until after you complain.

Typically in Civil Wars, the Winning Side often Unleashed a Bloody Purge on the Losing Side 

Many people may not know this but the American Revolutionary War was part civil war.  Those loyal to the Crown fought for the Crown.  Against the Patriots.  And the bloodiest fighting during the Revolution was between Loyalist and Patriot.  Especially in the South.  Where some unspeakable horrors took place.

Now typically in civil wars, the winning side often unleashed a bloody purge on the losing side.  But not in America.  At the end of the war there were no reprisals.  No hangings.  No persecutions.  At least, not by those in power.  Most of the Loyalists just left.  They went to Canada.  Or back to the UK.  General Washington resigned from the army.  And the elected civilian authority made the peace.  Quite shocking.  For few generals ever voluntarily give up near absolute power.  And returned to their farm.  He was the American Cincinnatus

About a decade later, the French Revolution erupted.  A more classical civil war.  Far more bloody.  With plenty of reprisals.  And guillotining.  The streets of Paris ran with blood.  The Reign of Terror purged political enemies.  Than the people who unleashed the Terror fell victims to it themselves.  The fighting unleashed Napoleon Bonaparte onto Europe.  And the Middle East.  Made him a great general.  Even impressed a composer by the name of Ludwig van Beethoven.  A fan of republican government.  Even dedicated his Third Symphony to him.  And then Bonaparte made himself emperor.  So the revolution to overthrow a king ultimately ended up with an emperor.  Infuriating Beethoven so that he slashed the dedication page from his symphony.

Two revolutions that were part civil war.  One atypical.  The American.  And one more typical.  The French.

Winning the War was one Thing.  Winning the Peace was Another. 

At the time these were some pretty nasty wars.  But they pale when compared to the American Civil War.  Some 620,000 died.  That’s a huge number.  About 2% of the population then.  To get an idea about how devastating 2% of the population is consider this.  With today’s population that would equal some 6 million dead.

Winning the war was one thing.  Winning the peace was another.  The war was horrific.  And a lot of Northerners wanted a hard peace.  To make the South pay.  But Abraham Lincoln wanted an easy peace.  Near the end, shortly before Robert E. Lee’s surrender, Lincoln met with General Ulysses S. Grant, General William Tecumseh Sherman and Admiral David Dixon Porter.  He discussed the easy peace he wanted.  He said he did not want any retribution.  Any trials.  Any hangings.  If the defeated Confederates would sign paroles promising to never pick up arms again against the United States, they could simply go home.  He wanted to bring the South back into the Union.  As quickly and as painlessly as possible.  Forgive and forget.  Echoing his sentiments in his second inaugural address:

With malice toward none, with charity for all

The South was beaten.  Lee was surrounded.  The question was what would Lee do?  Surrender?  Or disband and head into the hills.  Carry out guerilla war?  This was weighing on everyone’s mind.  It terrified Lincoln.  Grant and Sherman feared it, too.  Even Lee.  When Grant met Lee at Appomattox to discuss surrender, Grant offered very generous terms.  In keeping with Lincoln’s wish for an easy peace.  It had a very favorable affect on Lee.  And his men.  Lee surrendered.  And once his war was over he dedicated his postwar life to making peace.

A similar surrender was negotiated between Sherman and General Joseph E. Johnston.  Despite the assassination of Lincoln.  Which happened after Lee’s surrender.  Sherman waged hard war throughout the South.  But he did not hate the South.  War was war.  And once the war was over, he followed Lincoln’s directive for an easy peace without hesitation.  Eager to ‘let the South up easy’.  And bring them back into the Union.

Lincoln’s assassination infuriated the North.  They wanted vengeance.  They wanted retribution.  And they wanted to hang Lee.  But Grant stepped in.  Said he made the deal with Lee.  And the deal would be honored.  Or he’d resign.  President Andrew Johnson relented.  And Grant wrote Lee to assure him there would be no trial.  His terms would be honored.  And Lee reciprocated by dedicating his remaining life doing what he could to bring the South peacefully back into the Union.

Let us Judge not, that we be not Judged

The Civil War ended in 1865.  It easily could have gone on.  But thanks to Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, Lee and Johnston, the war ended.  And the peace began.  The Southern people looked to Lee even in defeat.  For he was like George Washington to them.  Loved.  And respected.  Washington’s and Lee’s words and deeds carried great weight in their postwar years.  And made peace possible.

But Lee surrendered to Lincoln as much as he did to Grant.  And it was Lincoln that made the difference in this civil war.  Made it different from other civil wars.  For he could see beyond the conflict.  To a higher plane.  As he said in his second inaugural address.

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

This is what you need for reconciliation.  Do they have that in Libya?  Let’s hope so.  But history has shown this to rarely be the case.  You need great people.  A Washington.  A Lincoln.  A Grant.  A Sherman.  A Lee.  A Johnston.  Is this person in Libya?  Or is Libya to descend into terror?  Time will tell.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Civil War Sesquicentennial and Memorial Day, Honoring our War Dead

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 30th, 2011

Union Armies Advance along the Mississippi, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers into the Confederacy

While General Robert E. Lee and his right hand, General Stonewall Jackson, won battle after battle in the east, the Union Army won the war in the west.  A West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican War was an unemployed failure at the beginning of the war.  In need of commanders, the Union Army gave Ulysses S. Grant a command.  He jumped off from Cairo, Illinois, nervous and lacking self-confidence.  As his army advanced to Fort Henry, protecting the Tennessee River, he found the fort already had surrendered after a naval bombardment.  His counterpart was just as nervous as he was.  Filled with a new sense of confidence, he advanced to Fort Donnellson, protecting the Cumberland River.  Assaulted it.  And took it.  Opening the Tennessee and the Cumberland rivers to Union navigation.  Grant then took the Tennessee to a place called Pittsburg Landing.  Near a one-room church at a little crossroads.  Shiloh.

The Confederate’s finest general would meet Grant in the 2-day Battle of ShilohAlbert Sidney Johnston.  Who won the first day of battle.  But did not live to see the second day.  With Johnston dying the night of the first day, the attack was not pressed.  A mistake.  For the Army of the Ohio reinforced Grant that night.  And turned defeat into victory.  It was the first of the bloody, big battles that would define the Civil War.  Over 23,000 dead and wounded, stunning a nation that expected some Napoleonic battle charges, one army retiring from the field of battle and a victory parade.  Not four years of battles where they count the dead and wounded by the tens of thousands.

The Union armies advanced in the west.  General William Rosecrans won a bloody battle near Murfreesboro (called the Battle of Stones River in the North).  And then went on to take Chattanooga without a fight with some well executed marches, leaving the enemy on unwinnable ground.  So they abandoned Chattanooga.  Rosecrans followed.  To a career-ending battle called Chickamauga in northern Georgia, the Gettysburg of the West.  The Confederates exploited a hole in the Union line and sent the Union Army running all the way back to Chattanooga.  The only thing saving the army from annihilation was the great stand at Horseshoe Ridge on Snodgrass Hill by General George Thomas, keeping the door open to Chattanooga long enough to save the army.  With the Union army back in Chattanooga, the Confederates laid siege.  This time, they had the high ground.  If you ever traveled on I-75 near Chattanooga, you probably saw billboards for Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls.  This is the high ground the Confederates held during the siege.

Lincoln Promotes Grant Commander of all Union Armies after his Successes in the West

Meanwhile, Grant was making progress down the Mississippi River, trying to cut the Confederacy in half.  And the biggest obstacle on the river was the impregnable Fort Vicksburg.  Sitting high on a bluff on a hairpin turn of the river.  It commanded the river.  As traffic slowed to negotiate the turn Vicksburg cannon could plink them out of the water.  Grant tried numerous ways to best Vicksburg.  Even building a ship canal through the bayou on the west side of the river.  Nothing worked.  So with the help of Admiral David Porter and the Union Navy, some gunboats ran the Vicksburg gauntlet while the army marched through the bayou.  They got south of Vicksburg.  Crossed the river.  And attacked.  First took Jackson, Mississippi.  Then marched back towards the river and laid siege to Vicksburg.  The fort fell on the Fourth of July.  A day after Picket’s Charge at Gettysburg.  And the day Lee began his retreat from Gettysburg.  With the fall of Vicksburg, Grant had cut the Confederacy in half.

They promoted Grant.  Grant promoted William Tecumseh Sherman in his place.  And left to lift the siege of Chattanooga.  Which he did.  And then the Union Army drove the Confederates from Lookout Mountain.  And sent them in a retreat that never ended.  Abraham Lincoln promoted Grant to commander of all Union armies.  Grant then left for the Eastern Theater.  While Sherman and Thomas took over in the west.  Sherman advanced and took Atlanta.  A vital rail junction.  Then marched unopposed through Georgia to the sea.  Shrinking the size of the Confederacy into an island of Union-held territory.  He made the South “howl.”  And he made it hungry and in want of the necessities of life.  The war wasn’t over.  But the outcome was now inevitable.

Meanwhile, Grant now advanced with General George Meade who commanded the Army of the Potomac.  And followed Lee.  Looking to outflank Lee and force him onto some favorable ground for one last battle to end the war.  For his forces outnumbered Lee’s.  He just needed one open battle to end it all.  They soon squared off in battle.  Not on open ground.  But in a tangle of forest.  The Battle of the Wilderness.  Both sides suffered heavy losses.  But Lee no doubt sensed impending doom.  Where all the previous commanders retreated after suffering such losses, Grant didn’t.   He was relentless.  He took a lot of casualties.  But he inflicted more.  Worse, Lee had run out of replacements.  It was a battle of attrition in the bloodiest sense. 

Grant, Sherman, Lee and Johnston Win the Peace

This kicked off the Overland Campaign.  A series of bloody battles that pushed the Confederates back towards Richmond.  But it was a costly campaign.  Losses were high.  On both sides.  Lee, having been an engineer during the Mexican War, used his engineering skills in building defensive fortifications.  To even the odds against a numerically superior attacking force.  And did.  Grant’s bloodiest days were at Cold Harbor.  Veterans by then were writing their names on scraps of paper and pinning them inside their uniforms.  So if they fell in battle someone could identify their bodies and send them home for burial.  After the last assault, days passed before they called a truce to tend to the dead and wounded between their lines.  Most of the wounded by then had died.  One wrote in his diary presumably as he lay dying from a mortal wound.  When they found his diary, the last entry read, “June 3. Cold Harbor. I was killed.”

Though paying a high price for every inch of ground, Grant did what no other commander had done.  Push Robert E. Lee back.  All the way to Richmond and Petersburg.  Where his army was besieged by Grant’s.  The Confederacy had nothing left to give Lee.  Sherman had emerged from Georgia and was now attacking up the coast.  Lee broke from the besieged lines and made it as far as Appomattox Courthouse.  Grant had him surrounded.  They met.  Grant’s terms were so favorable that Lee accepted them.  Surrendered his army.  Ending the specter of a protracted guerilla war.  Sherman later met with General Joseph Johnston.  Who surrendered his forces after receiving favorable terms, too.  Lee and Johnston’s actions were followed by other commanders who laid down their arms and gave up the fight.  Even the feared General Nathan Bedford Forest.  Whose cavalry still ran at will within Union controlled territory. 

The war was over.  And the easy peace Abraham Lincoln wanted and discussed with Grant and Sherman before his assassination prevailed.  Not without a few hiccups.  But it prevailed.  Thanks to Grant, Sherman, Lee and Johnston.  There would be no guerilla war.  Instead, there would be reunification.  But still soldiers died.  The last being a Union soldier.  John Jefferson Williams, a private in Company B of the 34th Regiment Indiana Infantry.  Killed on May 13, 1865.  In a battle occurring after the official end of the Civil War.  The Battle of Palmito Ranch.  Ironically, a Confederate victory.  On the banks of the Rio Grande.  Near Brownsville Station in Texas.  Little over a month after Lee’s surrender.

The Civil War changed the United States from an ‘Are’ to an ‘Is’

Over 620,000 died during the Civil War.  It was America’s deadliest war.  A war that started with the cessation of the South over the issue of slavery.  That was the political reason for the war.  But that wasn’t why most fought.  To free the slaves.  Or keep them enslaved.  For those fighting the battles had other reasons. 

Some started out with thoughts of military glory.  But those thoughts soon vanished after their first battle.  Instead, what kept them fighting after that first battle was one simple thing.  They wanted to go home.  To the family they left.  To the life they left.  And the way home was through one bloody battle after another.  Which they fought with grim determination.  Accepting that the odds were not in their favor of ever going home.  But the war would end one day.  It had to.  After they fought enough battles.  And those still standing could then go home.  Of course, what that home would be like depended on the outcome of the war.

Before the war people identified their country by their home state.  Especially in the South.  People were Virginians.  Georgians.  South Carolinians.  They weren’t Americans.  We were a nation of united states (small ‘u’ and small ‘s’).  Foreign nations, when addressing the United States would ask, “Are the United States…”  After the war, they would start asking, “Is the United States…”  As the historian Shelby Foote said, the Civil War changed the nation from an ‘are’ to an ‘is’.  Singular.  Which is more the way the North felt.  The South preferred the ‘are’ interpretation.  So that’s another reason why they fought.  To keep the country like it was before the war.  The way their homes were.  So they could go home.  To the way it was.  For the North it meant keeping it an ‘is’.  For the South, it meant keeping it an ‘are’.

I want to go Home

Home is the most powerful force in the world.  When those soldiers pinned their names inside their uniforms before those ill-fated assaults at Cold Harbor, they were thinking of home.  Some would make it.  Many would not.  It’s what made them form ranks and charge into that withering fire.  Because that was the way home.

For every Grant, Sherman, Lee and Johnston, there are thousands of names we will never know.  Like the men who fell at Cold Harbor.  And all those who died in Civil War battles few will ever know the name of.  Or battles since.  Leyte GulfOmaha Beach.  The Hürtgen Forest.  The Battle of the BulgeOkinawa.  The Chosin ReservoirKhe SanhHuếFallujahKandahar.  And the list goes on.  So many battles.  And so many dead.  Whose last thoughts were probably a single word.  Home.

Many of us are fortunate enough to be home this Memorial Day.  Be thankful for that.  And think of those who never made it back home.  Think of them.  If you drink, raise a toast in their honor.  The bravest of the brave.  Who knew the way home was through yet another battle.  They may not have survived that last battle, but their spirit lived on.  And returned home.  Where it lives on.  Forever part of the home they once left.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,