Today in Civil War History – the burial of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and his soldiers

Yesterday, July 18th, was the 156th anniversary of the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, where the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry (Colored) made its spectacular but tragic charge and cemented its place in history.  The story of the 54th is kinda-sorta told in the movie Glory, which came out thirty years ago and is still one of my favorite movies of all time.

Imagine, if you will, a little boy whose family was from Massachusetts, who read a book about the Civil War and learned about a brave unit, also from Massachusetts, that suffered some 44% casualties in its first major battle.  The accompanying artwork was something that has stayed in my memory ever since.

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Tom Lovell’s painting of Colonel Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts that appeared in Robert Paul Jordan’s book on the Civil War. Note that it also shows Sergeant William Carney holding the regiment’s national colors.  SGT Carney, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, would be the first African-American soldier to earn the Medal of Honor.

So you can imagine my excitement when they actually made a movie about the 54th.  The movie is far from perfect, both from a historian’s perspective and from a moviemaker’s perspective, but still, it is just a superb film and I love it.  And the fact that they show how Colonel Shaw and his men were buried just makes the ending so powerful.  The Confederates reported that they buried some 800 dead bodies in front of Fort Wagner that day, July 19th, 1863.  They had intended to disrespect Colonel Shaw by burying him with his soldiers.  But his parents, when asked if they wanted to try to recover his body, said that they could imagine no better place for him to be buried than with the men of his regiment.

The exact location of the grave site is not known, but so far some 118 acres of the battlefield have been preserved.  Colonel Shaw’s sword that he carried into the battle was recovered in 1865 and then rediscovered a couple of years ago in the attic of a descendant of one of his siblings.

~Geoff

 

 

Today is the birthday of Harriet Beecher Stowe

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.

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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.

~Geoff

The Trumpization of Civil War history

As a general rule, I am not a fan of the term “history buff”.  Whenever I see someone referred to as a “history buff”, I tend to become a little irritated.  In my mind, history buffs collect the Civil War Chess Set and Stonewall Jackson beer steins.  Historians do research and then usually present their findings in one way or another.  Just because you read history doesn’t mean you are a historian, just as the fact you can speak English does not mean you could be an English teacher, you know?

So when I read about Paul LePage, Governor of Maine (and living example of how the combination of poor anger management and eating too much poutine is really bad for you), making the (to me) astounding claim that 7,600 men from Maine fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, I nearly coughed Coke Zero through my nose.   Continue reading “The Trumpization of Civil War history”

Malignant Narcissism and Subjective Reality: a primer

For several years now I’ve seen people wringing their hands about Donald Trump over one specific thing that I intrinsically understand about him but that most people seem unable to.  It was evident in his campaign and has only become more evident since his sham of an election: Trump lives in his own extremely subjective reality.  If you’re on Twitter and you read @docrocktex26 then you know what I’m talking about.

Donald Trump is a raging, decompensating, malignant narcissist.  It was obvious during his campaign and it has become so obvious now that it would be painful to watch if he wasn’t also such a horror of a human being and in a position to destroy so many lives as his own falls apart around him.

I’ll go ahead a put the disclaimer here now: I’m not a doctor, psychologist, social worker, or other medical or mental health professional.  I am someone who’s had 25 years of experience dealing in my own life with a malignant narcissist.  I can spot them quickly now and I have seen what they’re like, especially when they have a secondary diagnosis which aggravates the first.  In Trump’s case that appears to be Alzheimer’s or a form of dementia.

Here’s why all of this is important.  The media, the general public, and lots of folks in the government keep asking the same questions over and over again.  “Why does he lie so obviously?  Doesn’t he know we can fact check him?  Why does he say outlandish and patently, provably wrong things?  Who does that?  When will it stop?”  Pro Tip: It won’t.

The answer is not that Donald Trump has some special disregard for the truth or the rules.  The answer is not that he’s extra stupid (he’s just garden variety stupid, folks).  The answer is that someone who is that serious a narcissist constructs a world view in which the only thing that matters is what they think, say, and do.  That means that his entire reality is subjective and fluid.  If he says that he talked to the Boy Scouts, then he did so.  If he says that Heather Heyer’s mother loved what he said, in his mind she did.  Even if the call never really happened.  When lies are pointed out to him he simply waves them away.  We are in the wrong, you see.

It’s hard to explain this to neuro-normative folks and those who haven’t seen a narcissist up close in person and in action, but these people are so good at manipulation that they believe their own lies to the exclusion of all else.  Because deep down their own psychological injury and ego steers everything they do, they fit the world around them to to their own narrative.  Most importantly, narcissists are completely devoid of empathy.  While some of you may have heard that said, the ramifications of what it means regarding subjective reality are incredibly important.

Someone like Trump understands himself to be the center to his own universe.  His family, children, wife and ex-wives, and grandchildren are, at best, extensions of his own ego.  They are trophies to be held up and stared at and to be shoved aside and ignored when inconvenient.  He is not capable of actually loving them and they are a means to an end to be used when he needs them, ignored or worse when he doesn’t.

Putin, on the other hand, is a goal.  Putin himself could be anyone in the world, who he is as a person doesn’t really matter.  What he represents is everything.  He is a crime kingpin, the leader of a massive country that he controls with iron grip, and he is the wealthiest man on the planet.  For Trump, attaining the presidency of the United States was really a booby prize by comparison.  What he wants, more than he’s ever wanted anything, is to be the richest, sexiest, baddest, blondest, strongest, most terrifying man in the entire world.  His continued relationship with Putin proves that he is willing to do anything to get to where he perceives Putin to be.

Do I agree that Putin is “richest, sexiest, baddest, blondest, strongest, most terrifying man in the entire world?”  While it’s more than probable that he’s the richest man in the world, I don’t agree with the rest.  Most westerners won’t.  But Putin projects the exact image that Trump has created in his own mind about himself.  So he’ll stop at nothing to achieve and reinforce that goal (especially as he ages and his Alzheimer’s makes it more difficult to sustain his own self image).  This includes treason, sedition, and more prosaic things like joining forces with white supremacists, Nazis, and neo-Confederates.

At his core is this malignant narcissist a racist and bigot?  Yes.  And no.  Oh, I’m quite sure he was gleefully taught racism, sexism, homophobia, and hatred at his father’s knee.  There are reports going back to his elementary school days of Trump being a bully.  But we have to remember that with someone who is a narcissist we’re working with more than a learned behavior.  There was more going on when he was finally forced by his staff to read his too late, too short condemnation of what happened in Charlottesville last weekend, and that’s this: he fundamentally doesn’t care about anyone other than himself.  He can’t, he lacks the basic programming to do so and doesn’t care to try to learn how.

Bigotry is a super convenient vehicle for a narcissist to express a general disdain for anyone who isn’t them.  A narcissist on the level of Trump is so emotionally stunted and isolated from the rest of us that hate is easy.  Hate is a tool.  Choosing to “other” the rest of us and make us the enemy, use us as tools to achieve a particular goal, or simply destroy us for fun isn’t a hard decision to make.  For Trump, deciding to allow or encourage the deaths of peaceful protesters, students, bystanders, or anyone else not integral to his need to become Putin 2.0 is simpler than choosing which tie to wear.

If my experience is any indication, he’s only going to get worse.  He’s only going to get less in touch with objective reality and he’ll isolate himself more by tossing more and more members of his inner circle under the proverbial bus.  While I’d be happy to see Bannon, Miller, and the Gorkas without the protections afforded by their jobs, the only way we get Trump out of the White House is legally.  His frothing Nazi base has been given the green light and they will continue to show up in parks across America to preach hate until we stop them, one rally at a time.

Our job is to keep our eyes on the ball, remembering that sometimes this game has more than one ball in the air at a time.  We need to fight the Nazis while calling them what they are.  We need to follow the Russia scandal and keep it in the news, this is what will get him.  We need to support each other, none of us can be on all the time, this is exhausting.  And, most importantly, we need to keep the pressure on.  While Trump is the head of the snake, this is a long snake with deep roots in American history.  We need to pull the whole thing out before we can begin to heal and fix this country.

~Kelly

Brexit gets uglier and uglier

Well, now that the consequences of the UK voting to leave the EU have had some time to sink in, it is both fascinating and disturbing to see just what a lot of people thought they were voting for.  Much has been made of the reports that a lot of people in the UK were googling terms like “what is the EU?” the day after the vote.  I am not sure whether or not that data is accurate, and apparently there are other people who feel the same way.  Still, it does seem that a significant number of people in the UK are acting as if the “stay” or “leave” question was not based on the UK leaving the EU, but on whether or not non-white and/or non-British people should “stay” in the UK or “leave”.  And in the minds of many of these people, that answer is pretty clear.

Continue reading “Brexit gets uglier and uglier”

A terrible anniversary today – the Freedom Summer Murders

Fifty two years ago tonight, three young men were murdered by a group of white Mississippians in the Ku Klux Klan.  Among the men complicit in this crime were members of the Neshoba County Sheriff’s office and the Philadelphia (Mississippi) Police Department.

This was a mere six years before I was born.  Many people of my generation are familiar with this event through the 1988 film Mississippi Burning, although the film doesn’t even cover everything that happened that awful summer.

Continue reading “A terrible anniversary today – the Freedom Summer Murders”

Enough

Despite living on the very cusp of the middle class and constantly worrying that one slip will send us spinning into a void from which we won’t be able to return, Geoff and I enjoy a lot of privilege.  We’re white, we’re straight, we’re cis gendered, and, though we live in an expensive area of the country, we live in a fairly safe area of the country.  Gun ownership isn’t very high and health care is good here.  It’s isn’t nearly as hard to get good mental health care here as it is elsewhere in the US.

And yet, after what happened in Orlando yesterday, I’m angry.  I am angry that we live in a country that has wholly abdicated the promise of freedom upon which it was founded.  We are no longer free from tyranny and fear, you and I.

Continue reading “Enough”