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Kate Stone’s Civil War: Season of general disaster


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From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Sudden deaths shock Stone and break her heart. All optimism of the past year is shattered.

Dec. 10, 1864

Tyler, Texas

Dear little Beverly, that angel upon earth, has left us. The pure spirit has winged its way to its Heavenly home. Darling little Beverly. What a sad despairing letter her father wrote bearing the bitter news of her death. They are utterly heartbroken. She was the one great treasure of their lives. The pure little spirit is freed now, but all the sunshine of life to them lies buried in that tiny grave. She died October 2 of sore throat at Selma, Ala. She was the one perfect being I have ever known in face, in figure, in mind, in heart not one improvement could be suggested. We have several times heard people who were not related to her say, after playing with her, “That child will not live to grow up; she is too perfect.” That seemed to be the general feeling of all their friends in Vicksburg who had known her always. She was too fair and frail a flower to blossom in this time of death and destruction. … There was never a sweeter, lovelier little creature than our “Swamp Lily,” as she loved us to call her. May Our Father comfort and strengthen her poor mother, for her life is bound up in the child’s.

We were shocked and distressed to hear of Mary Gustine’s death. We were there on one Thursday and she died on Sunday. Her mother seemed a little anxious, but no one else thought her much ill. A noble, generous, and beautiful woman, she was one of our most valued friends. This is the first break in the circle of happy girls who erstwhile met at Brokenburn. Her mother, who is in wretched health, will continue to live with Capt. Buckner, and she and Ella will take charge of the baby. That family is utterly broken up — one brother in prison and another desperately wounded — and not a month ago they were congratulating themselves on how wonderfully they had escaped all sorrow in this season of general disaster and despair.

Truly, “We know not what a day may bring forth.”

Kate Stone’s Civil War: The bloodiest battles


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From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Stone receives a letter from her brother, who is serving in the Army of Northern Virginia and has survived the Overland Campaign. She is so proud of him.

Dec. 8, 1864

Tyler, Texas

Mamma has just received two letters from My darling old Brother, one of September 25, the other October 8. He was quite well but said he has passed through some of the bloodiest battles the Army of Virginia has ever fought. We are so proud of his gallantry. One extract gladdened our hearts. He says,

“Our Brigade has fully sustained its former reputation in the battles of the summer, some of them the bloodiest the Army of Virginia ever fought. In the battle of the Wilderness with twenty-three men, I captured a Captain, two Lieutenants, and eighty-one men of the New York 2nd Cavalry with their horses and arms. We captured the Major and twenty more men, but they escaped while we were bringing them in. I believe I am the only line officer of the Brigade who has been mentioned in official reports during the campaign.”

He knew we would not hear it unless he told us, for we never get a Richmond paper. He, for the first time, has had the grace to tell us of some of his valiant deeds. He is a son and brother we may all well be proud of. He thinks we will not see him this winter.

Francesca Belmonte | Stole


Fernando Ortiz Jr.:

Another beautiful piece by cultural critic and intellectual David D. Robbins Jr.

Originally posted on their bated breath:

Martina Topley-Bird. Neneh Cherry. Bjork. Alanis Morissette. Alison Goldfrapp. Alison Moyet. PJ Harvey. Fifi Rong. Francesca Belmonte (aka Franky Riley). Those are just a few of the female artists I could think of that have worked with Tricky over the years. Not only is he a wonderful musician in his own right, but clearly he’s got a great ear for musical talent too. Women seem to work well within Tricky’s style. On the one hand, their vocals lend a softness that runs counter to his gruff spoken-word poetics. They’re the melody to Tricky’s brooding discord. But female vocals often blend into Tricky’s dark grooves too, accentuating the sensual, mysterious, and smokey edge of his songs. Lately, his partner in music making is Irish-Italian singer-songwriting beauty Belmonte (who appears on songs on “Mixed Race” and 2013’s “False Idols” — including the stunner “Does It”). She seems to be prepping listeners to expect…

View original 133 more words

Kate Stone’s Civil War: Living so delightfully


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From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Back in Texas from her sojourn to Oak Ridge, La., Stone finds her Tyler home as raucous as ever.

Dec. 4, 1864

Tyler, Texas

We are just back from church, and it was a delightful walk there. Mamma, thinking the church would be too cold, deserted us at Mrs. Savage’s and Mrs. Newton joined us. An excellent sermon from the new Baptist minister. There were many gentlemen but few ladies and quite a number of new officers, but Dr. McGregor, my only acquaintance. All the officers we knew here in June have gone. Dr. McGregor and Joe Carson, who is home on furlough, are our only visitors at present. Did not see Maj. Buckner in church. Suppose he has gone back to Louisiana. We have seen him frequently lately and he is a most agreeable, entertaining visitor. I wish they would station him here. …

The house does not seem as comfortable as formerly. Living so delightfully for the last six months and being so waited on and petted have spoiled me I am afraid. Unfortunately Johnny and Uncle John are not on speaking terms. There was a general quarrel while Mamma was away, and Uncle John will not make it up. As Johnny is but a boy, it seems very unreasonable. As we are so crowded in the house, it makes it doubly disagreeable. Then Kate has added a new baby to the general confusion. Fortunately it is a good little mite, but we cannot say the same of Sally. She is a little trial but is getting to be quite pretty. Johnny makes a pet of her, since he is very fond of little children. If we only could have the house to ourselves, but there is no hope of that. Poor Uncle Johnny is so helpless. …

The Silent Enemy


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The United States battled polio long before it ever faced the Soviet hegemonic threat, but only during the Cold War did the U.S. achieve significant victories in the battle against the virus.

A review by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

******

Discussed in this essay:

Polio: An American Story. By David M. Oshinsky. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. 342. $20.45

The United States battled polio long before it ever faced the Soviet hegemonic threat, but only during the Cold War did the U.S. achieve significant victories in the battle against the virus. The struggle, as David M. Oshinsky beautifully explains in Polio: An American Story, contributed to middle-class insecurities over real and perceived communist, nuclear, and social threats throughout the era, and it made superstars out of squabbling scientists determined to find a safe vaccine. But the story he tells also serves as a prism through which to view other aspects of U.S. history: the old racial and ethnic fault lines scarring twentieth-century America, the evolution of nationwide fundraising efforts, the heartstring-tugging advertisements needed to inspire donations, and the political maneuvering vital to ensure any historic scientific victory would be seen as a victory only a Western democratic and capitalism system was capable of bestowing to a war-torn world. Oshinsky’s book intertwines each thread to create a vibrant tapestry of tragedy and triumph, groundbreaking science and fleeting fame, and flawed and brittle greatness.1

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jonas Salk are the two great mountains dominating the landscape Oshinsky paints for his readers. His narrative talents beautifully trace efforts predating the Cold War that marshaled the American people on a national scale to fight an illness from which no one, not even New York patricians, were safe. Roosevelt’s struggle and determination energized at-first modest efforts to help polio victims, like the Warm Springs rehabilitation center. He then inspired national efforts, like the multi-city celebration of his birthday to raise funds for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, one dime at a time, and like mothers marching through neighborhoods to collect donations. The March of Dimes demonstrated how to creatively organize a public grassroots fundraising movement. Advertisers conceived the poster child to promise what a thousand words could not. The “concept of philanthropy as consumerism” offered hope to Americans “investing” in their nation’s scientific talent, its ingenuity, and its predestined victory. They were funding their own protection.2

Politicians like Roosevelt pointed to the problem. Scientists like Jonas Salk worked on the solution. Oshinsky’s antiheroes are Salk, who focused on a killed-virus vaccine, and his arch-rival Albert Sabin, who worked on a live-virus vaccine. Oshinsky first celebrates their intellectual achievements and then darkens his portraits with their less-than-admirable qualities, like pettiness, selfishness, jealousy, and hypocrisy. Salk and Sabin are both diminished but also become fuller characters, and Oshinsky’s masterful management of this character development is one of the book’s great strengths. People build their lives with mistakes, aspirations, romantic decisions, and insecurities. Oshinsky argues that history is the result of that grinding process. By humanizing Salk, Sabin, and Roosevelt, the three most recognizable figures in the polio history, he makes their scientific and political achievements all the more extraordinary.

Salk’s emergence as the public face of the scientific effort to conquer polio, beginning with his face on the cover of Time magazine and interviews with leading journalist Edward R. Murrow, embodied the Cold War trend of Americans primed to accept expert advice and direction, and certainly expertise was desperately needed during such a health crisis. But Salk, Oshinsky explains, was more than an expert. He appeared to the public as the vanguard of America’s progress. He wasn’t the faceless, all-knowing narrator of films explaining how to get a date or how to endure a nuclear shockwave. Salk was seen, interviewed, trusted, and believed. He was a husband and a father willing to demonstrate his killed-virus vaccines on his own sons before he tried it on anyone else’s. He characterized the polio vaccine as “the people’s vaccine.”3

The massive 1954 vaccination trials signaled that the war on polio was progressing and demonstrated again how polio could marshal Americans on a national scale. Oshinsky notes that the trials shared front-page coverage with the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam, the Army-McCarthy hearings, and the Brown v. Board of Education court decision – each a key piece of the Cold War struggle with communism at home and abroad, each echoing the vague promises of American democracy. When the Francis Report declared that the Salk vaccine worked, “April 12 resembled another V-J Day.” Sadly, the 1955 Cutter incident shattered the euphoria over and public trust in the vaccine. Critics of the National Foundation’s private efforts to develop and distribute Salk’s vaccine felt vindicated, and they warned of the emergence of socialized medicine. But the Cutter incident’s consequences also included improved polio production, highlighted the effectiveness of the forerunner of today’s Centers for Disease Control, and moved more control over and responsibility for public health into federal hands.4

Oshinsky argues that Salk and Albert Sabin both had Cold War-era political value. Their vaccines symbolized American ingenuity and optimism. The Eisenhower administration sensed Salk’s political value to Republicans angling to not only appear Rooseveltian in their support of the polio war but also to diminish Democratic association with the polio war’s victories. The Sabin vaccine, first administered to millions of Soviet children in 1959, had value to both the U.S. and the Soviets. Sabin found himself angling to ensure news of the successful vaccination program — which he feared could be seen as “typical Soviet propaganda” — was shared with the world. As Soviets asserted that their approach nearly wiped out polio, Americans worried about not just a missile gap, but also a vaccine gap. Americans wanted their Sabin vaccine too.5

Oshinsky subtly weaves ethnicity, class, and race into his polio story. Before the vaccine’s development, Americans blamed immigrants for bringing disease to America (Irish and cholera, Jews and TB) and viewed lower-class slums as cesspools of infection. And yet the poor and rich were struck equally. The wealthy blamed their immigrant servants for bringing infection into their sanitized homes. Polio defied the assumption that disease was found only in the slums. It also shattered the hope that leaving the slum life behind – ascending the class ladder — also meant leaving any risk of crippling disease behind. Scientists thought black Americans were less susceptible to polio, so they received less attention during outbreaks. During the 1954 trials, black Alabama children took their shots outside the white school, where they were banned from the restrooms. And by the mid-1950s, polio, once the scourge of suburban middle class, now ravaged the lower classes who could not afford the three-shot-plus-booster vaccination. Oshinsky also offers a detailed examination of women in this story, particularly killed-virus scientist Isabel Morgan. But there are too few of their stories, which leave the reader yearning for a better gender balance throughout the narrative. Surely, more could have been said about how mothers endured the anguish of crippled or dying children, how wives feared or embraced the sudden publicity burning onto their scientist husbands, or what motivated women to volunteer for fundraisers and vaccination efforts.6

Stylistically, Oshinsky’s decision to explore in narrative form the complex history of the polio struggle is a daring one. He manages a raucous crowd of fascinating and controversial characters with Dickensian elegance, moving them forward in compelling ways through scientific developments that would easily put most readers and historians to sleep, and punctuating his smooth writing style with moments of drama, foreboding, and the ragged endings every life experiences. His devotion to personal details sometimes goes too far, particularly with minor characters, but overall, his focus on the people guiding, experiencing, and enduring the polio struggle humanizes the entire era for readers who may never experience a similar epidemic.

His notes are a mixed bag of secondary and primary sources. Scientific histories and biographies complement letters, diaries, news reports, web links, official reports, and a few interviews, including Salk’s sons, journalist John Troan, and Salk’s embittered underling Julius Youngner. These are the doors Oshinsky leaves open for any curious readers yearning to learn more and for critics who challenge his approach to this history.

Oshinsky’s work is a lavish and intelligent introduction to America’s struggle with the polio virus. Academic readers may sniff over his narrative talents, scoff at his characterizations, and stomp over his less-than-intense analysis of the era’s social and economic themes, but to do so misses the point of his book. Oshinsky’s work is meant to invite readers unfamiliar with the story, to explain the otherwise-intimidating scientific detail, and to celebrate the men and women who achieved great things for mankind. Oshinsky’s overall message to his readers is hopeful and trusting. Americans can make the world a better place. They have done it before, he says, pointing at his book, and they will do it again and again and again.


1. David M. Oshinsky, Polio: An American Story (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
2. Oshinsky, Polio, 5, 40-55, 72. Warm Springs, a 2005 HBO movie, illustrated Roosevelt’s struggle with polio, his efforts to establish the Georgia facilities, and his cinematic journey from aristocratic politician to a man of the people ready to assume a role of national leadership.
3. Oshinsky, Polio, 205-211.
4. Oshinsky, Polio, 188-199, 203, 238.
5. Oshinsky, Polio, 215-216, 253, 266.
6. Oshinsky, Polio, 20-23, 65-67, 256.

Have a rum cake


This is a recipe for the Dan Mudd Rum Cake, one of my all-time favorite desserts, named after a former colleague from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

I made one this evening. It gets better and better every year.

Enjoy.

The cake:
— 1 cup pecans, halved or coarsely chopped
— 1 package of yellow cake mix, any brand but not a pudding mix
— 1 package of instant vanilla pudding mix
— 4 medium or large eggs (not extra-large or jumbo)
— 1/4 cup cold water
— 1/2 cup vegetable oil
— 1/2 cup of rum (any kind of rum, but do not use a Jamaican-type of rum)

Directions
— Preheat oven to 325F degrees
— Grease and flour 10-inch tube (angel-food type) pan
— Sprinkle nuts over bottom of pan
— Mix all cake ingredients
— Pour batter over nuts
— Bake about one hour
— Cool for about 30 minutes
— Make glaze while cake is cooling
— Prick deeply all over the top of the cake with a toothpick or thin knife
— Drizzle and smooth glaze evenly over top and sides, allowing glaze to soak into cake
— Keep spooning the glaze over cake until all glaze has been absorbed
— After all has cooled at room temperature, run knife along edge of cake and along center tube, and remove cake from pan

The glaze (make while cake is cooling)
— 1/2 cup of butter or 1/2 cup stick oleo (do not use tub or watered-down soft spread)
— 1/4 cup of water
— 1 cup of sugar
— 1/4 cup of rum

Directions
— Melt butter or oleo in a medium-sized saucepan
— Stir in water and sugar
— Boil for five minutes, stirring constantly
— Remove from heat and cool slightly
— Stir in rum slowly
— While warm, spoon over cake

Brontë and her diary


On Jan. 21, 2011, the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City opened a fascinating exhibit, “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives.” Introducing the exhibit were these thoughts:

“For centuries, people have turned to private journals to document their days, sort out creative problems, help them through crises, comfort them in solitude or pain, or preserve their stories for the future. As more and more diarists turn away from the traditional notebook and seek a broader audience through web journals, blogs, and social media, this exhibition explores how and why we document our everyday lives. With over seventy items on view, the exhibition raises questions about this pervasive practice: what is a diary? Must it be a private document? Who is the audience for the unfolding stories of our lives — ourselves alone, our families, or a wider group?”

Timeless questions … certainly legitimate ones for 21st century bloggers and tweeters. The exhibit, which unfortunately I wasn’t able to visit before its conclusion on May 21, featured work from the brightest stars of the literary galaxy. As quoted in the introductory essay, Henry David Thoreau aspired for his diary “to meet the facts of life — the vital facts — face to face.” Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife co-authored their diary to celebrate their new married life together. “I do verily believe there is no sunshine in this world, except what beams from my wife’s eyes,” he wrote. “I feel new as the earth which is just born again,” his wife later wrote in response.

St. Augustine and Anais Nin … Walter Scott and Tennessee Williams … William S. Burroughs and Charlotte Brontë … A prisoner from World War II and a police rescue worker from the 2001 World Trade Center attack — the range of work and creativity and purpose is just as astounding as the authors and the beautiful words this exhibit so elegantly celebrated.

The exhibit lives on online. In addition to the introductory essay, the website offers images of diary pages, diary excerpts, and essays on the authors.

Also included are audio readings of selected diaries by actors Paul Hecht and Barbara Feldon. Reading the diaries is, for me, a joy, but hearing them read to me is a special — and often quite romantic — experience.

This special series begins with Charlotte Brontë: “The haughty sadness of grandeur beamed out of her intent fixed hazel eye, & though so young, I always felt as if I dared not have spoken to her for my life, how lovely were the lines of her small & rosy mouth, but how very proud her white brow, spacious & wreathed with ringlets, & her neck, which, though so slender, had the superb curve of a queen’s about the snowy throat.”

Entries in this series:
Part 1: Introduction to the exhibit and Charlotte Brontë
Part 2: Frances Eliza Grenfell
Part 3: Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne
Part 4: Paul Horgan
Part 5: John Newton
Part 6: Mary Ann and Septimus Palairet
Part 7: Walter Scott
Part 8: Bartholomew Sharpe
Part 9: Tennessee Williams
Part 10: John Ruskin

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