Archive for the ‘History’ Category

TDF/2 Stages 19 and 20: Shiloh

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Friday afternoon I drove to Savannah, Tennessee, to spend a couple of days at the Shiloh battlefield. It is my custom every summer to read about the Civil War — more than once I’ve read Shelby Foote’s three-volume history of the war, and I’ve read McPherson’s one-volume history as well. Hattaway and Jones’ How the North Won is a great military history of the war, and David Potter’s The Impending Crisis is the best history of the events leading up to it. This summer I focused on Shiloh, reading Cunningham’s Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862, Daniel’s Shiloh: the battle that changed the Civil War, Sword’s Shiloh: Bloody April, and other works.

So I had been planning to make a visit to the Shiloh battlefield for some time, and this weekend turned out to be my best opportunity. Of course, it also turned out to be the hottest weather of the year for the area — high temp on Saturday was 99 degrees, with a heat index of 109. I got up at 5 AM to ride my 16 miles for the TDF/2 Stage 19. It’s pretty flat country, so it was an easy ride across the Tennessee River bridge, down toward the battlefield, and back to Savannah.

Tennessee River

I had originally planned to ride the LHT around the battlefield, carrying my cameras in the panniers, but the weather changed my mind. Instead I drove, carrying a cooler with Powerade in it and all my gear in the car. I used the excellent War College guide to the battlefield, following the book’s chronological tour of the first day’s action. After two months reading about it, it was very moving to see the actual locations. At times it was almost overwhelming to stand in the places I’d read about. The battlefield is phenomenally well marked; veterans erected markers at the sites of all the major actions only decades after it occurred, and there has been little development to encroach on it. Everywhere you look there is a tablet or monument commemorating an event that took minutes, or hours. Lives were lost and changed at a breathtaking rate in this place.

Shiloh - Cloud Field

Below is a view of Shiloh Branch. The Confederates came up this narrow little ravine and attacked Sherman and McClernand’s positions at Shiloh Church — it’s only a few hundred yards to the north. Accounts from just after the battle say that you could have walked anywhere in the area without touching the ground by stepping on bodies. I met a family with fishing poles and a cooler, going to spend the day in this shady spot. They had twin boys about 5 years old dressed in camo overalls, who were very curious what I was doing down by the creek.

Shiloh Branch

Late in the day (I spent 9 hours in the park) I wound up hearing a ranger give a tour of the National Cemetery at Pittsburg Landing, on the high ground where Grant’s forces spent the night of April 6 before pushing the Confederates back the next day. I was a little embarrassed to find myself getting choked up thinking about the young men who didn’t come back from this spot almost 150 years ago.

Shiloh National Cemetery

I rode the bike down again on Sunday morning and rode through the major roads of the battlefield. It was the last stage of the TDF/2, and instead of ending at the Champs-Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe, I found myself in this place where nobody really won. It did lead to Grant taking command of the Union armies, and Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas, the freeing of the slaves, and a fundamental change in the relationship between federal government and the states. For the people fighting, many of them teenage boys, it just demonstrated that war wasn’t going to be as glorious as they had thought. Iowa’s monument below shows Fame inscribing the names of those boys.

Shiloh - IA monument

Florida in the 30′s and my parents

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

My grandmother, Lillian (Craig) Lamson, moved to south Florida sometime in the late 1930s.  My father moved down about 1938, met my mother, and married her there in 1940.   South Florida wasn’t quite  a howling wilderness by then, but it was a lot less developed than it is now.  I just scanned some of my father’s old photos, including a couple that are sort of historic.

Here are my parents in maybe 1940 — photo was undated:

Dad and Mom

And no, my mom was not 12 at the time, despite appearances.  She was 29, I think, and divorced.

And here are my mother, my grandmother, and some blonde babe sitting on a palm tree over the Loxahatchee River.

On a palm tree in the Loxahatchee River

It was taken on September 10, 1939 (Yes, mom and dad were just dating at the time).  So were two more pictures on the Loxahatchee — labeled in pencil on the back “Trapper Nelson’s”.

My parents and grandmother at Trapper Nelson's

Picnic at Trapper Nelson's, 1939

Trapper Nelson was a Russian-American from New Jersey who settled on the Loxahatchee River in the 1930s, where he eventually had a zoo and fishing camp, popular among socialites who wanted to rough it in the wilds of the Florida interior.  Apparently my folks were among his early fans.  I don’t see him in these photos; I think that the guy in front of the table in the lower picture is someone named “Willie” on other pics, and the guy behind it is my dad.  But who took the pictures?

Why historians wait a while before writing about history…

Monday, April 9th, 2007

In the interests of the historical record, I reproduce here an email I received exactly 4 years ago. It was the day that the Marines stage-managed the toppling of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad.:


From: <######@###.###>
Sent: Wednesday, April 09, 2003 6:04 PM
Subject: Re: Peace Movement


Hey allen,

Are you depressed now that the idiot peace movement has been shown to be such a sham? Depressed because we have won the Iraq war so easily.? Depressed because George Bush has been vindicated? You and your fellow travelers in the Biology department have been shown to be such idiots. I encourage you and mr. journet to keep speaking out. You are just helping the conservative cause every time you are shown to be so wrong.

I am laughing at you…


Enjoy the war (whats left of it)

[Name removed]*


US soldiers killed prior to May 1, 2003 “Mission Accomplished” photo op: 140.

Total US soldiers killed to date: 3282

News today: Mass protests against US in Najaf, “Surge” shifts violence out to the provinces.


*The email came from a local high school history teacher who has a grudge against me — I was on his thesis committee, read his thesis repeatedly and critiqued it in detail, and signed the approval form when he defended on his scheduled date. Who wouldn’t be pissed?



Happy Dred Scott Day.

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford. Scott was originally a slave, whose owner John Emerson, an army surgeon, traveled around the country, taking Scott and his wife with him to free states such as Minnesota and Illinois. He later took Scott to St. Louis, where Scott and his wife continued to live after Emerson’s death. Scott sued Emerson’s widow, Irene, for his freedom, on the grounds that by living in a free state he had become free.

The court decided that Scott was not a citizen, and therefore the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case. Gratuitously, the court also threw in a ruling that he was not free, because Minnesota was a free state due to the Missouri Compromise, and the court ruled that this measure was unconstitutional because a territorial legislature didn’t have the authority to ban slavery.
Only 150 years ago, Chief Justice Taney could say in his ruling that the framers of the Constitution were agreed that black people were

“beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Taney may have been correct about the views of the authors of the Constitution; the use of this argument in the case should serve as a cautionary note to those who would interpret the Constitution according to the “original intentions” of the framers. As the court decision goes on to say,

“The change in public opinion and feeling in relation to the African race which has taken place since the adoption of the Constitution cannot change its construction and meaning, and it must be construed and administered now according to its true meaning and intention when it was formed and adopted.”

The court concluded that the Constitution did not intend to consider blacks to be citizens, and that neither Congress nor the states had the right to include new groups of people in US citizenship, so Dred Scott had no standing.

As far as I can tell, the ruling itself was never reversed; rather, it was superseded on July 9, 1868, by the ratification of the 14th amendment to the constitution, which made all persons born or naturalized in the US citizens, and provided all persons with “equal protection” under the law.
Of course, it was a tough 11 years in between.

I’m a detective.

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

I wrote before about this book that Robin inherited from her mother. While it lacks a title page, the title does appear at the start of the first chapter: Elements of Morality. I did some searching and found two books by this name, one of which is a philosophical treatise. The other one is, more completely, “Elements of Morality for the Use of Children: With an Introductory Address for Parents.” The full text is available online via Google, and the bottom of the page I’ve linked to is the bit I quoted in the other post. But this is clearly not the same translation as I have.

The original is by Christian Gotthilf Salzmann (1744-1811), written in German. It was first translated into English by Mary Wollstonecraft (Mary Shelly’s mother), and illustrated by William Blake. That edition came out in 1791 in England, and 1796 in Providence, RI. This is likely the one I have, based on evidence from the kids’ scribblings inside the covers.

Both covers have been written on extensively by children practicing their penmanship with a quill pen and India ink. The largest name is on the inside back cover, and says “Leah Irving”. On the inside front cover it says “Levin Irving” a couple of times. And on the top of the first remaining page (I think it’s xii in the preface), in a more mature handwriting, is “Elizabeth K. Irving”.

Naturally, I went to the Handy Annals, a big book of genealogy of the Handy family; Robin’s mother was born Elizabeth Ker Handy. There are a lot of Irvings in there. The only Elizabeth Irving I can find was born in 1813 and died in 1839 of “consumption”. Her grandmother was Elizabeth Ker, and several siblings had family names as middle names, so I’m betting she was actually Elizabeth Ker Irving.

Leah Irving and Levin Irving were siblings, and their brother Handy Irving was Elizabeth Ker Irving’s father. Levin lived to the age of 7, from 1786-1793; Leah lived to the age of 11, from 1800-1811. So, here’s my best guess. Levin had the book first. “Levin Irving” is written in a very childish hand, conceivably that of a 6 or 7 -year-old. After Levin’s death, the book went to sister Leah, who wrote in it, and after her death in 1811, her niece Elizabeth was born in 1813, and the book went to her. She lived to the age of 26, consistent with the much more adult handwriting.

How this got to my mother-in-law isn’t entirely clear; Elizabeth K. Irving was unmarried, and was the first cousin twice removed of Elizabeth Ker Handy. Probably some family member thought it would be nice to pass this on to the latest Elizabeth Ker. I suppose this means it has to go next to Cabell, whose first name is actually Elizabeth.

There you have it. This is how I spend my evenings.

More on Foley

Friday, October 20th, 2006

As posted yesterday, I went to high school with Florida former congressman Mark Foley.  So I dug up my old yearbooks, and lo and behold, I found him in my Lake Worth Junior High yearbook from 1969:

He would have been around 13 at the time — in other words, this is when he was being molested by the priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

In the interest of full disclosure, here’s me in 9th grade, same yearbook:

I’m hoping this was just a really bad picture.