Today in History – the Battle of Little Bighorn

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.

That book would eventually inspire a made-for-television movie of the same name, a movie that I really liked, despite its flaws and its general commercial failure.  Connell’s book was adapted into a screenplay by Melissa Mathison, who took Connell’s book and adapted it into a tale told by two women with very different perspectives: Libbie Custer (played by Rosanna Arquette) and Kate Bighead (voiced by Buffy Sainte-Marie and played by Demina Becker as a girl and Kimberly Guerrero as an adult).

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Elizabeth “Libbie” Bacon Custer, probably circa 1865

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.

~Geoff

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Happy Juneteenth, everyone!

Today is the 154th anniversary of the day that slavery ended in the state of Texas, the last part of the Confederacy where slavery had survived.  On June 19th, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger, the commander of the District of Texas for the Union Army, stood on the balcony of Ashton Villa on Galveston Island and read aloud “General Order No. 3” to the crowd that had gathered.  The order began:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

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Ashton Villa, now a restored building on the National Register of Historic Places.

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The Caning of Charles Sumner and the response by Anson Burlingame

I am a bit late to make this a “This Day in History” post, since the actual date in question was May 22nd, 1856.  Still, I wanted to talk about this subject since I have been reading about it and have also recently listened to a rather good podcast about it.  I have only recently begun listening to this Civil War podcast, but I find it quite good so far.  And blogging about history always cheers me up.  Besides, today (May 30th) IS the anniversary of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

Anyway, I have always found the story of the attack on Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts by Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina to be one of the most shocking incidents leading up to the Civil War.  Only in recent years did I learn the role Massachusetts Congressman Anson Burlingame played in the events that followed.  In my mind, Burlingame is sort of the hero of the story, much more so than Sumner, anyway.

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Today in Civil War history – “Remember Ellsworth!”

Today is the 158th anniversary of the death of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, the first Union officer to die in the Civil War.  His death is also notable because he was a national celebrity and a personal friend of President Abraham Lincoln.

Ellsworth had become famous before the Civil War when he toured the country in the summer of 1860 with his drill team, the National Guard Cadets of Chicago, more famously known as the United States Zouave Cadets.  The unit was famous for its spectacular drill sequences and helped inspire many Zouave units that would appear during the Civil War.

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Brimfield, May 2019 – The Odd, Disturbing, and Weird in Photos

Geoff and I haven’t been able to get to Brimfield for the last 3 years. We’ve both missed it a lot.  But we were able to come this year. Some things have changed (new vendors, more food options, less parking, more 45 supporters) others have stayed the same (bargains if you know where to look, unpredictable weather, good and bad crazy, nice people).

Per usual I documented some of the odder things we encountered. Enjoy.

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My Ancestor at the Battle of Spotsylvania

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.

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A Walk Among the Stones

Today Geoff and I took a trip to South Weymouth, MA to visit Mount Hope Cemetery where his Civil War ancestor, Moses Beaulieu, is buried. Geoff has done a lot of research into Moses Beaulieu and recently discovered a photo of his headstone and rough location in the particular cemetery in South Weymouth.

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