It is hard for me to write in general these days, because there is so much going on that depresses me and things just continually seem to get worse. It constantly feels like things are on the precipice of getting completely out of hand, and our national leadership seems intent on saying and doing things that generally don’t help and sometimes actually make things worse.
I suppose that compared to a deadly global pandemic, economic disaster, and widespread civil unrest across the country, the loss of a single statue in Madison, Wisconsin, is not that big a deal. But I still can’t help but feel a little affected by the destruction of the statue of Colonel Hans Christian Heg last night.
Or Holiday/Yule/Festivus/Kwanzaa/New Year/Whatever card. You do you. You have choices between three photos this year, pick the one that best suits you. Or go for all/none of them, we’re ecumenical here at Casa Dachshund.
When the men of the 11th Massachusetts awoke on July 2nd, they saw that the Confederates had occupied parts of the Emmitsburg Road, which the regiment and the rest of their division had used to march to the battlefield. That morning was cloudy and threatened rain, but by noon the clouds had all disappeared. At 3 PM that afternoon the entire Third Corps moved forward from its position on Cemetery Ridge to occupy the slightly higher ground in front of them. The Second Division, under General Andrew A. Humphreys, was on the right, lined up along the Emmitsburg Road. This included the 11th Massachusetts, which found itself on the farm belonging to an older couple named Peter and Susan Rogers. The single-story log house and the barn provided some concealment, at least from the sun, for some of the men of the 11th Massachusetts. The Rogers’ granddaughter, a young woman named Josephine Miller, insisted on staying so she could bake bread for the Union troops, as well as serve them cold water and occasionally sell them a chicken.
June 25th is one of those days that is permanently in my memory because of a historical event. Today, it is the 143rd anniversary of the Battle of Little Bighorn, the battle during the Great Sioux War of 1876 in which Civil War hero George Armstrong Custer and five companies of the 7th Cavalry Regiment under his command were wiped out by a much larger force of Native Americans. Since my teenage years, my view of the battle has been largely shaped by a (somewhat) obscure book called Son of the Morning Star, by Evan S. Connell.
It is largely because of Libbie Custer that her husband’s reputation and his memory in general did not suffer as much, at least for the first century or so after his death. And frankly, it probably should have suffered. Custer was brash, egotistical, vain, stubborn, and reckless with the lives of those who he led. There is a reason he graduated dead last in his West Point class of 1861. He was a controversial figure while he was alive, much less afterward. It is largely because of Libby Custer that the view of Custer as a tragic hero perpetuated for so long (see the movie They Died With Their Boots On, with Custer portrayed by Errol Flynn).
But what actually happened at Little Bighorn is much more complex than what was portrayed in popular culture for so long. And Son of the Morning Star (the book AND the movie) does a much better job than anything before or since in portraying the battle and what happened. That’s my opinion, for whatever it’s worth. Here’s a clip of the opening titles and scene, where the column under General Alfred Terry (played by Terry O’Quinn!) arrives on the battlefield to see they have missed the fight. Note also Captain Frederick Benteen played by David Strathairn. Also note that the story is largely narrated by the two women.
I don’t know if this film will ever find its way to DVD, much less Blu-Ray, but it should.
On this day in 1811, Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born to prominent minister Lyman Beecher and his wife Roxana Foote Beecher in Litchfield, Connecticut. She was the seventh of an eventual thirteen children.
Harriet Beecher was fortunate in that she received a thorough classical education at a time when most women did not. She would meet widower Calvin Ellis Stowe in the mid-1830’s after she moved to Cincinnati. They would marry in 1836.
By 1850 the Stowes were living in Brunswick, Maine, where Calvin taught at nearby Bowdoin College. Harriet was inspired to write something after the new Fugitive Slave Law was passed in early 1850. She wrote to Gamaliel Bailey, publisher of the antislavery newspaper The National Era, and told him she wanted to write something in serial form to be published in his paper. Stowe was paid $400 (a not-inconsiderable sum for its time) for the story, which was published from June 1851 until April 1852. The story, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly, was published in book form soon afterward. The book became a bestseller, selling over 300,000 copies in the U.S. and over 1,000,000 copies in Great Britain in less than a year, thus becoming the second most-popular book in English in the 19th century (its sales were exceeded only by the Bible).
By current standards the book portrays a lot of offensive racial stereotypes of African-Americans. But it is hard to overstate the influence of the book on attitudes of the 19th century public towards slavery. In the South, negative reaction to the novel was widespread, and the book was banned and burned in many places. People caught with copies of the book in the South were at best ostracized by their peers, and at worst they became victims of mob violence and vigilante justice, like a bookseller in Mobile, Alabama who was driven from the city. But many Southerners instinctively recognized the power of Stowe’s story, and so the novel inspired an entire genre of Southern literature that became known as anti-Tom literature or plantation literature. But even the bestsellers of this genre never came remotely close to the popularity of the original Stowe novel.
In the North and in other countries, the book was hailed as an agent for social change. Within five years the book had been published in twenty languages. In addition to its political themes, the book was a popular culture phenomenon. One of its characters inspired many parents across the Northern United States to name their daughters Eva. The book inspired numerous plays and dramatic readings. It would eventually inspire a number of film adaptations as well.
This week is the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, one of the bloodiest and most terrible battles of the Civil War. This particular phase of Grant’s Overland Campaign began on May 7th and lasted until May 19th. The battle is most famous for the Union assaults on a stretch of Confederate fortifications called the Mule Shoe because of its shape, and particularly for the violence that took place in an area known as the Bloody Angle.
It’s funny that I have been a pretty serious student of the Civil War for almost 30 years, and yet I am still learning and discovering so many things that I really did not know much about. Lately a lot of that has been due at least partially to Private Moses Beaulieu. I have been trying to follow his (my Civil War ancestor’s) journey through the war. Most recently, I have been studying the last great campaigns of the war for his unit, the 11th Massachusetts Infantry, in the Army of the Potomac.
This past week, my Aunt Donna, who had been suffering from vascular dementia for the last couple of years, passed away. She was 72 years old.
Aunt Donna was one of those relatives of mine who helped shape me into the person I am today, in many ways. I loved her very very much. I wish I had been able to be there for her more often, especially in the last few months. They were particularly difficult for her, as her ability to have a conversation and organize her thoughts was eroded away by the ravaging disease acting in conjunction with her other health issues. Before I met Kelly, she was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to move back to Massachusetts, so I could be there for her when she needed me. And in some ways I was, and I am all too glad to have done those things like help her get her house ready for the big hurricanes a few years ago. It was the least I could do. I wish I had done more.
She went with me to my first live Red Sox game, which was such a treat as I had been a fan most of my life but, living far away, was unable to attend any games, even in childhood. Kelly (who was also there) snapped this picture of us, which is my favorite pictures of her and I. It reminds me of how she was always so full of fun, so full of life. She was a truly good person, with an endless supply of empathy and compassion for other people. She donated to all sorts of liberal causes. She befriended so many people from different walks of life. Although she did not have any pets of her own as an adult (at least, of which I am aware), she loved animals, and loved to have our dogs sit with her or on her lap.
Even as a kid, she indulged me with things like books and models and taking me places. She was the one who introduced me to the science fiction of Isaac Asimov. She also got me interested in political writers like Molly Ivins and Robert Reich. She was a huge supporter of President Obama, and we had many great conversations about politics. She always encouraged my intellectual curiosity. And as a lifelong music teacher, she always encouraged passion for music.
I will miss her greatly, possibly more than I am capable of uttering or showing, at least in public. I think the world is lesser without her.