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October 10, 2011
Julia Cutler's JournalBy Greyhawk
In the days to come she would provide additional details of little Jennie's struggle with erysipelas, and the nation's efforts to confront a potentially terminal affliction of its own.
Julia was 47, unmarried, and living with relatives in southeast Ohio, near the river border with Virginia; a few days after Sumter she documented her neighboring state's departure from the Union. However, she noted, "At present Western Virginia manifests a disposition to be loyal," - so there was some hope the border wouldn't become a battlefield. That hope would prove well-founded, but her journal entry for the last day of April reflects the mood of the times:
Rained this morning, after which, I planted some flower seeds, thinking perhaps I might not be here to see them blossoming. Mrs. Greenless called & talked of the war.
Confederate armies didn't march into Ohio, but early in May the war took a different route to her back yard - her nephew wrote of his intention to serve. "Lucy has just received a letter from her brother Rufus in Wisconsin," Julia recorded. "He has raised a company of seventy-eight men and received every vote for captain." Rufus Dawes was Julia's sister's son. By his Aunt Julia's assessment, "If called into the active service Rufus will prove himself a true soldier and a true man." One might suspect her of allowing a maiden aunt's affection to cloud her reason - but time would prove her judgment correct.
Likewise Rufus' words would serve as a tonic to those who fretted that war might soon erupt in their streets. In his letter to his sister he expressed his desire to bring his Wisconsin men to the aid of his friends and relatives now suddenly "on the border."
I have been so wholly engrossed with my work for the last week or I should have responded sooner to your question: "Are you going?" If a kind Providence and President Lincoln will permit, I am. I am Captain of as good, and true a band of patriots as ever rallied under the star spangled banner. We hope to get into the third or fourth regiment, and if old Abe will but give a fair and merited share in the struggle to Wisconsin, we will see active service. The men expect and earnestly desire to go, and wait impatiently their turn. I shall esteem it an honor, worth a better life than mine, to be permitted to lead them in this glorious struggle. I am in hourly dread of hearing of some violence offered you on the border, and wish I might be permitted to bring to you, in your peril, some as strong hands and as true hearts as the Badger State can boast.
Rufus Dawes' company had formed before the end of April, in the enthusiasm following the attack on Ft Sumter. After electing their officers, they turned their attentions to deciding what their unit was to be called - some name that would hopefully one day become legendary, and strike fear into the hearts of foes. "After a discussion in which Badgers and other typical beasts and birds were considered for an appropriate name," Rufus later reported, "we adopted the mellifluous title of "The Lemonweir Minute Men" from the peaceful and gently flowing river, in the beautiful valley of which most of our men resided. It would 'remind us of home' said one, and this argument carried the day."
In combat they would later earn that sort of reputation men of courage and imagination everywhere believed was theirs for the taking in that spring of 1861. They'd find it somewhere other than Ohio, as part of a brigade with its own nickname - and few enough of the men who elected Rufus Dawes their Captain that April day would live to share whatever benefits came with such fame. Those who did would insist - as Americans who marched to war and back time and again for decades to come would in their turn, too - that those who had earned it were dead. But in April 1861 all the blood and glory was yet to come; first Rufus had to fight a battle he later called "two months of incessant, aggravating and provoking labor" - he had his work cut out for him just getting his company mustered in for federal service...
He also had an Aunt Julia who was clearly proud of him. She continued to update her daily journal, documenting the passage of some of the most critical days in her nation's history, and how the news of those days was received in her Ohio town. In the same entry in which she'd noted Virginia's secession she reported the first bloodshed of the war - a deadly mob assault on a Massachusetts regiment passing through Baltimore en route to Washington DC: "The 6th Massachusetts regiment was assailed and three of their number killed, and several wounded. The Gov. of Massachusetts has today telegraphed the Mayor of Baltimore to have the bodies of the slain preserved in ice and sent home."
"We can imagine the effect upon our Yankee kinsman, when they look upon the first blood shed by traitorous hands," Julia concluded. "In the place of each dead soldier ten thousand living ones will start forth." She was right again. To add insult to injury, the attack in Baltimore happened on the 19th of April - the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord. If Sumter had lit a fire in the hearts of northern men, the attack on one of their units had fanned those flames - and no where did they burn hotter than Massachusetts.
Though like many Americans in the 1860s, Julia and several of her Ohio neighbors could claim Massachusetts as their ancestral home, and trace their family history back to that state in the days of the American Revolution (More). Among those who'd later come west, the Dawes family - whose forefather's contribution to American independence was both significant and (outside the family) unheralded. On the 18th of April in 1775, when Dr Joseph Warren of Boston called on two riders to warn the countryside of the British march for Concord, one was William Dawes*, great-grandfather of Rufus Dawes, he who had so clearly demonstrated such patriotic flames still burned in the hearts of Americans three generations removed from the men who'd first lit them.
And the sorts of things they read in their local papers would fan them even further. "Today's Gazette says that gentlemen from Va. & Maryland waited on President Lincoln," Julia related just days after the Baltimore riot, "and proposed an armistice until the meeting of Congress --"
" -- which the President promptly negatived. They then said "Twenty-five thousand troops could be raised to dispute the passage of government troops across Maryland." Lincoln replied, he presumed "that there was room in Maryland to bury twenty-five thousand men".
Next: The Long Roll
Postscript: Julia Cutler's previously unpublished Civil War journal is now appearing online as a blog, with each day's entry published on its 150th anniversary. Follow along with her story here.
*Footnote: "...one was William Dawes..." - the other, of course, was Paul Revere.
Posted by Greyhawk / October 10, 2011 10:11 AM | Permalink
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...)
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