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March 9, 2011
Of Swords and PeaceBy Greyhawk
March 4, 1861 was a windy day in Washington; the wind provided the only sound as the crowd gathered before the still under-construction capitol building quieted, straining to hear the words of the man they'd come to see inaugurated as president, Abraham Lincoln, of late from far west Illinois.
As he turned to face them, the same wind rustled the pages on which he'd composed his inaugural address. Had it blown just so at that moment, it might have lifted the top sheets of his text, briefly revealing the last; nature's capricious reminder of the many options before him, and the gravity of the decisions he would make from this point on.
"Fellow-Citizens of the United States," he began...
Certainly those in the crowd who were charged with the president's security would appreciate a brief speech. "He was inaugurated amid armed cavalry and sharpshooters at every point," Walt Whitman would later recall, "the first instance of the kind in our history, and I hope it will be the last."
His other listeners - and soon enough his words would be known nationwide (the telegraph had already changed the world) - no doubt appreciated his decision to forgo discussion of matters about which there is no special anxiety or excitement, too. They'd followed the news of the progress of his train trip from Illinois to Washington closely, but with each stop he'd refrained from offering the specifics of his thoughts on those topics about which there was.
He'd initially passed through mostly friendly territory on that trip. Certainly that was true of the remote parts of New York State, whose citizens had delivered him the largest block of electoral votes in the country. Shortly after crossing the border from Pennsylvania the Lincoln train made a stop at Westfield:
"All the ladies like whiskers," she'd advised him, "and they would tease their husband's to vote for you and then you would be President."
Lincoln wrote back : "As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?"
Perhaps this recent New York Times account of events of November 1860 captures the mood of the era:
By late February 1861, both the beard and the "secession crisis" were in full bloom. Two days after his stop in Westfield the friendly regions of the state were behind him; Mr Lincoln's train approached New York City.
Carl Sandburg: "While Lincoln crossed the Empire State from west to east February 18, news came over the wires that down in Montgomery, Alabama, amid thundering cannon and cheers from an immense crowd, Jefferson Davis took his oath as President of the Confederate States of America, six today and more tomorrow."
The U.S. president-elect had revealed nothing of his intentions toward the South on his inaugural journey, but he carried with him the draft of the address he'd composed in Springfield. It concluded with remarks directed at those who believed they could form an even more perfect union: would you have peace, or war?
In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you, unless you first assail it. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend" it. You can forbear the assault upon it; I can not shrink from the defense of it. With you, and not with me, is the solemn question of "Shall it be peace, or a sword?"
Among the few who'd seen it: New York Senator William Seward - soon to be his Secretary of State - who suggested he tone it down a bit.
But now the train was approaching New York City. "New York," wrote Sandburg in as apt an introduction as any, "the front door to America, where tall ships came in from the seven seas to one of the great world ports; where the 35,000 votes for Lincoln for President were a third of the total ballots; where had grown up the financial center of the country, with vast controls over trade, manufacture, transportation...
...where Mayor Fernando Wood had declared that New York should establish itself as a free city, separate from the Union, sovereign in itself like the seceded states of the South, thereby holding its trade and continuing "uninterrupted intercourse with every section" of the country; where bribe money had passed in franchise and city land deals; where the Mayor, as a party boss, had taken $5,000 apiece from two lawyers for nominations for Supreme Court judgeships; where the Mayor and his aldermen awarded a street-cleaning contract for $279,000 when another bid was $84,000 less; where the Mayor's personal fortune had risen to at least $250,000 out of politics; where only corruption of the courts of justice had saved the Mayor from conviction of forgery, perjury and other crimes; where the Mayor and his brother Ben owned lotteries and were licensed as professional gamblers through charters from Southern States; where they owned the New York Daily News and openly advocated the rights of the Confederate States.
The temptation is great to add "but other than that, not a bad little town!" - but that wasn't the half of it...
Next: Honor the Brave
Posted by Greyhawk / March 9, 2011 2:30 PM | Permalink
Mostly forgotten now, Virginian Edmund Ruffin - the man who forecast the Civil War - became an urban legend in his own time. Seventy-four years old at the outbreak of the war, he was lionized in the South - credited with firing the first shot at Ft Su... Read More
So there I was, writing about the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War (though the story of Fernando Wood has obvious parallels to our modern world...), when all of a sudden we got involved in the Libyan Civil War, and captured Osama bin Laden.... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
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Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com