Dealing with Puerto Rico means dealing with the key issues of the 21st century. Few in the U.S. government may have the stomach for that rollercoaster.
A review essay by Fernando Ortiz Jr.
Discussed in this essay:
Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City. By Lorrin Thomas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Pp. 354, $35.00
Throughout the twentieth century, Puerto Ricans yearned for political respect from the United States. In Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City, Lorrin Thomas explores how the demand for equal citizenship evolved into a larger, more noble demand for political recognition when Puerto Ricans realized the mere status of citizen would never sufficiently fulfill their political, social, and economic expectations as conquered members of the American republic.1
The U.S., Thomas explains, conquered Puerto Rico as part of its victorious 1898 war against the remnants of the Spanish Empire. Civilian island government was restored in 1900, and in 1917 the Jones Act declared Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens. Few were happy with the arrangement. The American political elite didn’t want a whole new set of minorities integrated into the U.S. social and political calculus, and islander nationalists wanted independence from their conqueror. Some moderates looked forward to what membership among the U.S. states might offer, but those first rays of hope were quickly clouded. Puerto Ricans were marginalized as colonial Caribbean illiterates who could not rise to the level of political involvement equaling their mainland step-siblings. They were dismissed as one more set of brown or black people who needed “guidance” from experienced Anglo Americans in order to build a proper democratic community. Thomas persuasively argues that Puerto Ricans “wanted recognition beyond citizenship, a recognition that promises not just formal equality within the state but also the respect and dignity that come from real equality.” She uses Puerto Ricans living in New York as a core sample of the overall relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, in all its torment, tragedy, and unrest.2
Thomas uses an interesting variety of primary and secondary sources, including oral histories, news articles, memoirs, and personal interviews, to illustrate the evolution of Puerto Rican political sensibilities throughout the twentieth century. In the two decades before World War II, Puerto Ricans migrated to the U.S., especially New York, and built new communities from which they hoped to participate fully in the citizenship Congress unilaterally granted them. Instead, Puerto Ricans engaged in choques — clashes with other minority groups who saw them as a threat. Some Puerto Ricans embraced the concept of latinidad, a working-class identity that elevated their self-perception from U.S. citizen to citizen of the U.S. and Latin America, a politically transcendent entity equipped to move easily across ethnic, racial, and political barriers. Some Puerto Rican leftists even reached out to support allies in the Spanish Civil War. As the Great Depression ravaged U.S. communities, Puerto Ricans demanded equal access to jobs and government assistance. They also plugged their political discourse into national debates and concerns over European fascism and Asian imperialism, pointing to themselves as the discrepancy in the U.S. view of itself as the glowing torch of morality, idealism, and freedom guiding the world out of its darkest age. “Discourses of human rights and recognition,” Thomas deftly highlights, “shared a sometimes paradoxical balance of demands: both called for universal equality as well as the acknowledgement of particular group difference … both sought to elevate the idea of the category of ‘citizen’ in a flawed, liberal democracy.” The Puerto Rican debates anticipated by a decade the nationalist, imperialist, and human rights debates that animated the bloodied ash heaps of Europe, Africa, and South and Southeast Asia.3
By the 1950s, Puerto Rican hopes for independence faded. The Cold War began, Thomas explains, and Puerto Rico needed to be a showcase of what the U.S. could do for Latin American societies tempted to ally themselves with the Soviet Union. The dominant Puerto Rican discourses looked beyond the empty promise of citizenship to political and social recognition as new liberalist activism aimed to “save” Puerto Rican through economic and social development.4
The failure of American democracy to fulfill New York Puerto Ricans’ expectations of equal access to decent housing, failure to provide bilingual education, failure to provide jobs, and failure to live up to the tenets of its most attractive idealism all combined to convince Puerto Rican political leaders that even with the guarantee of citizenship, even with the opportunity to serve in the military, and even with the option of building a new life on the mainland, Puerto Ricans would never been seen as a part of the U.S. except on a map. Puerto Ricans, Thomas explains, supported politicians who fought for them within the government, like New York legislator Oscar Garcia Rivera, U.S. Rep. Vito Marcantonio, and Puerto Rico Gov. Jesus Pinero. They also supported advocates who took their voices to the streets, like the Young Lords, and labor leaders who staged strikes. In the ivory towers, academics tried to formulate curricula to properly teach Puerto Rico-specific issues of empty citizenship, imperialism, economic development, migration, and Caribbean racism. Puerto Ricans, Thomas argues, hoped to fully enjoy the benefits of “inclusion, belonging, and rights,” especially after World War II, when the U.S. pledged to support freedom and nationalism for all nations, but Puerto Ricans could never escape the realities that proved far more potent and damaging than the dreaminess of liberal American promises.5
Thomas deftly points out that Puerto Ricans “challenged the United States’ liberal democracy to acknowledge the reasons that their group experienced such persistent failures of justice.” Puerto Ricans remain the ultimate reminder to liberal idealists of the failure of a “democratic liberal society” that cannot fully acknowledge the “injustices of recognition.”6
By the 1970s, the energy coursing through Puerto Rican activism came from the grassroots, as “garbage strikes, rent strikes, [and] university takeovers” replaced measured political and academic debates as Puerto Rican expressions of frustration. Thomas paints a vibrant portrait of the blossoming Nuyorican cultural movements, dominated by playwrights and poets, though it’s also an example of the fragmentation of the overall fight for Puerto Rican recognition. Thomas explains that the old sense of multiple groups working together had generally faded, necessitating the renewal spearheaded by the arts. By the 1980s, Thomas explains, academics trying to establish Puerto Rican studies as a necessary field for U.S. history, government, and politics found themselves isolated or shuffled away under dismissive ethnic studies categories, their arguments thrown into a heap of identity politics with all the intellectual dignity of a demolition derby.7
By the end of the twentieth century, the academic world still struggled for a dignified place for Puerto Rico at the U.S. table. The Latino Cultural Studies Working Group embraced the concept of “cultural citizenship,” arguing that anyone who contributed to the “economic and cultural wealth of the country” should be recognized as citizens. It was a political view embracing Puerto Ricans, undocumented immigrants, and other marginalized groups whose treatment in the U.S. set aflame the very banner of ideals the U.S. officially waved to the world’s tired masses.8
The root of the resistance to granting what Puerto Ricans demanded and deserved, Thomas argues throughout, is the cost of recognition. Would recognition merely acknowledge a differentiating quality of the Puerto Rican entity, or would that simply be the key unlocking a necessary “redistribution of economic resources and social and political power”? Would the elevating recognition change the U.S. more than it would Puerto Rico? Do citizens now recognized with full equality have the right to demand more from not just their government, but also from their fellow mainland citizens? Does their recognition also require that the U.S. admit its own culpability in the mistreatment of Puerto Ricans and the contradictions inherent in its own internationally advertised moral superiority?9
Thomas hints that the U.S.-Puerto Rican relationship is so weighed down by history, economic scaffolding, a nascent political discrimination that Puerto Ricans have little hope of achieving their goal of recognition. It is a sad tribute to the power of the Puerto Rican argument. Whatever aspect of political debate it touches, it promises (some would say threatens) to redefine the stakes, to demand a realistic recognition of the limits of a democratic republic and its failings, and to unveil a properly complex calculation of what it means to be a citizen in a globalized society. Dealing with Puerto Rico means dealing with the key issues of the 21st century. Few in the U.S. government may have the stomach for that rollercoaster.
To understand and appreciate the Northern achievements in the Civil War, one must understand and appreciate Henry Wager Halleck. A profile by Fernando Ortiz Jr.
Henry Wager Halleck was born on Jan 16, 1815, in Westernville, N.Y. He died in 1872, a week before his 57th birthday, in Louisville, Ky. Halleck built by 1861 a glittering military career as an engineer and a scholar of military science, and he built equally successful legal and business careers in California. He played a key role in building the California state government and preserving early California history. He served as a major general of the California state militia. He turned down offers to serve California as governor, state supreme court justice, or U.S. senator. He built a personal estate worth almost $500,000, an enormous amount for the time.1
In 1861, Winfield Scott, the U.S. Army’s top commander, looked forward to Halleck’s return to uniform as Northern mobilization intensified. Scott planned to make Halleck his successor as general-in-chief of Union land forces. Halleck’s arrival in Washington was delayed, inspiring an impatient President Abraham Lincoln to name Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan instead. Halleck commanded in the Western Theater until Lincoln dropped McClellan in July 1862 and elevated Halleck to supreme command. Halleck had left California only nine months before. When U.S. Grant’s victories earned him a promotion to general-in-chief, Halleck remained at the top, graciously stepping aside and retaining the necessary administrative duties as Grant personally faced Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the field.2
If the Civil War never happened, or if Halleck declined to return to regular army service when war broke out, perhaps he would have been remembered only as a quiet intellectual and honored veteran who worked hard to make a positive mark on the frontier of his growing nation. But war did break out, and Halleck did return to military service. He brilliantly administered the greatest war machine his country had ever seen, but that is often lost in the glowing coronas of glory Grant and William T. Sherman rightfully enjoy. Ironically, as generations of historians and Americans review Civil War commanders’ legacies, too many sneer at Halleck and highlight his humanizing faults, and they ignore the titanic accomplishments even Grant and Sherman singled out and celebrated.
Halleck, a difficult and often petty man, spent his life quietly bringing order to chaos in every profession he touched, contributed to the intellectual foundation upon which the U.S. Army was built, and played a key role in achieving the triumphs for which history celebrates Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln. To understand and appreciate the Northern achievements in the Civil War, one must understand and appreciate Henry Wager Halleck.
Halleck, the oldest of fourteen children, grew up on the family farm outside Westernville. Halleck never enjoyed a close relationship with his mother, who was preoccupied with pregnancies and small children, nor with his father, a demanding taskmaster and local politician. Halleck yearned for a better education, and after a disagreement with his father in 1831, he ran away from the farm. Halleck turned to his maternal grandfather and uncle for help, who took him in and guided him through school and on to higher education.3
Halleck entered Union College near Albany, N.Y., in 1834. Entrance exams placed him as a junior. He studied hard and worked fast, absorbing courses in math, rhetoric, Italian, French, Greek, and “two semesters of Cicero.” By the summer of 1835, Halleck earned a place in Phi Beta Kappa and ranked sixth in a class of 59. He was 21 years old, armed with a solid education, and, thanks to his uncle’s connections, en route to an appointment at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.4
At West Point, Halleck excelled in both behavior and academics, but he made few friends. Halleck focused his interests on his books, and engineering professor Dennis Hart Mahan ignited those interests into passions. French military thinking influenced Mahan’s dual course on military engineering and strategy, and his belief that history’s lessons influenced military science left a deep impression on Halleck. The cadet also absorbed Mahan’s assertion that untrained civilians were not naturally capable of properly commanding military units. Only military professionals were capable of command. In later years, Halleck would not only turn that belief into a fundamental principle — he would wield it as an effective weapon against political generals who had no idea he was about to detonate their Civil War careers.5
Mahan viewed the Napoleonic wars, one Halleck biographer wrote, “through the eyes of Baron Henri Jomini, Swiss military historian and interpreter.” Jomini emphasized a scientific, rational execution of military principles — “to make war less barbarous he created rules that emphasized movement [along lines of operation].” Mahan convinced Halleck to embrace the possibility of mathematical rationality in civilized warfare, to rely on fortifications and entrenchments, to begin any campaign by establishing a base of operations with interior lines of communications that ideally separated enemy forces, and to strive for strategic and tactical concentration of U.S. forces. Jomini believed in uniting forces before they together attacked a specific point on the battlefield, as opposed to one force attacking before it united with other forces. The offensive should only be taken when capturing a specific place. Points on battlefields mattered more than enemy forces. Jomini’s rules “would never change no matter who the commanders were or what the battlefield conditions were.” The principles envisioned a stiffly rational conflict without excessive bloodshed, more like a titanic dance over contested landscapes, governed by logical and sensible uniformed gentlemen, respectfully and honorably confronting each other in a carefully moderated moment of militaristic tension. It all amounted to a reassuring and logical philosophy Halleck would never forget.6
Halleck’s hard work at West Point paid off. As his third year ended, he was asked to give the annual Fourth of July speech to the cadets, a singular honor for special students. He was also asked to help students prepare for their entry exams. But the honor that truly thrilled him came in December 1838, six months before graduation: He was named assistant professor of chemistry. The position excused him from most cadet duties, boosted his cadet salary, came with a bigger room in the barracks, and added “more glitter” to his uniform. Halleck’s pride probably glowed even brighter as he recalled that when Mahan was a star West Point student, he received the same faculty position.
In July 1839, Halleck graduated from West Point, ranking third in his class. He was commissioned in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As his classmates dispersed to enjoy their furloughs before their first assignments, the Army ordered Halleck to remain on the West Point faculty. He was appointed assistant professor of engineering and assigned to work with Mahan. He taught until early April 1840, when he left West Point for service on the Engineer Board in Washington D.C. Halleck’s pleasant but sedentary desk job assisting the Corps administrators introduced him to national politicians and to the highest ranking commanders, including Scott.7
In mid-1841, Halleck was sent to New York Harbor and ordered to improve Fort Wood on Bedlow’s Island. He spent most of the next two years improving the fort’s fortifications, infrastructure, and weaponry. It was a big and important assignment. The fort “was key to the [harbor’s] defense.” But Bedlow’s Island was far from the glittering parties and circles of friends Halleck allowed himself to enjoy in Washington, D.C. Isolated, lonely, and often battling incessant illness, he turned inward, embracing the comforts only scholarship provided him. He wrote technical articles for journals, explored in a small book the best military uses of asphalt, and composed a small mountain of reports for his superiors.8
The one report that stood out from the rest was “Report on the Means of National Defence,” which Congress published in 1843. Halleck argued to Congress that the nation should prepare for the next war, even in peace, and that it should remain prepared for war. In the long term, he argued, consistent readiness would cost less than a massive, disruptive, and inefficient mobilization once war broke out. He argued for improved military training for state militias and for many more fortifications along the border with Canada and down the Atlantic seaboard. One Halleck biographer concluded, “That work brought national attention to this young army officer only five years out of West Point.”9
Halleck’s reputation as a scholar was secure, but, like any true scholar, the more he learned, the more he realized how much was still left to learn. In late 1843, he secured permission to visit France, and he left New York on Nov. 24, 1843, determined to properly appreciate the French military methods Mahan had taught him to emulate. He studied French barrack designs, visited French military schools, and toured the Paris defense structure. He savored his time in France, and he reported that his health improved. But time constraints limited his study of French fortifications, particularly the line along the French-German border. He sailed back to the U.S., forwarded his findings to his superiors, and returned to his dull duties on Bedlow’s Island.10
Halleck endured almost two more years of dreary but competent performance. But his work was not forgotten. The Lowell Institute in Boston invited him to join their roster of leading scholars who lectured to ordinary citizens seeking to expand their intellectual horizons, and in December 1845 a delighted Halleck began a month-long leave of absence to participate. Previous guests spoke about geology, biology, American history, and Christianity. The Institute chose Halleck to speak about military science, and his twelve lectures to large crowds were well received.11
His Lowell lecture series was collected, re-edited, and included in Elements of Military Art and Science. The book was essentially a compilation of his lectures, his “Means of National Defence,” and previously published articles. Halleck explained that militia officers were the book’s primary audience. He organized it to serve as a complex manual for new militia officers (who, he previously wrote, had to be better prepared for future conflicts) and as historical analysis of Jomini’s military theories that built on what Mahan instilled in West Point students. The book brought together the various threads in Halleck’s mind, the themes of his conversations with Mahan, and a look ahead at what Halleck imagined U.S. soldiers and their leaders needed to know to effectively fight the wars of the future.12
Throughout the next 18 years, he moved from New York to California, helped administer the territory gained in the Mexican-American War, left the military on Aug 1, 1854, married Alexander Hamilton’s granddaughter, had a son, wrote several more books, and began a new life as a real estate lawyer and railroad executive. By 1861, Halleck was a widely respected founding father of the state of California and an established legal and military scholar who declined an offer to teach at Harvard. Scott convinced him to return to regular military service. Halleck held an honorable place in the ranks of the old pre-1861 army, rightfully remembered and celebrated as a scholar and engineer. But as he traveled east across a dividing nation, he had no idea how central he would be to the painful and bloody transformation of the old army (and its most important leaders) into one of the largest and most powerful military forces on earth.13
His controversial command and administrative performances clouded his legacy right up to his death in 1872. Through the early decades of the 21st century, only rarely did those clouds break.
Halleck’s significance to the U.S. military can be measured by asking a few simple questions. What was his significance to military thought before the Civil War? What was his significance to the overall Northern war effort? What was his significance to Grant and Lincoln, the supreme leaders of that effort?
Halleck definitely contributed to the body of knowledge new soldiers drew upon to learn their business. Begin with Elements. Halleck asserted that “patriotic war” was morally good. He insisted military schools were key to a national military force, for only military professionals — not militia, not citizen soldiers, not politicians — could properly fight a war. Halleck argued that fortifications were key to battlefield success. Since only military engineers were capable of building proper fortifications, he argued, those engineers were key to any military force and, by extension, key to any battlefield success. Halleck, as he interpreted what he learned from Jomini, was no fan of splitting a force to launch a flank attack on the enemy. He understood it may be necessary, but it was not his first option. Keep your force together and focused on a particular weak point when you go on the offensive, he explained to readers, without endangering your line of communications or your line back to base. If your force is in enemy country, he warned, keep your force concentrated and prepared for a surprise attack.14
A young military man reading Halleck’s book found a combination of Jomini’s insistence on concentration of force and Mahan’s devotion to fortifications, sweetened with Halleck’s assurance that a war for nation was justifiable to a Christian moral code, and refashioned so a U.S. audience found it relevant. Halleck’s Elements was an essential reader for the military professional he cherished, and it served as a major building block for the professional’s intellectual evolution.
The timing of the book’s publication was perfect: In 1846 the Mexican-American War broke out, and Halleck’s orders sent him to participate in the California campaign. The sea journey from the East Coast to the West Coast took seven months (Lt. William T. Sherman was one of the other officers on board), and Halleck spent much of that time translating Jomini’s Life of Napoleon. The four volumes would not be published until 1864.15
Certainly, Halleck’s and Mahan’s interpretation of Jominian lessons was not seen as key to every military situation. In 1842, Sherman fought Seminole Indians in Florida, and he compared what Mahan had taught him about “conventional nineteenth-century military tactics … between two rival professional armies” to what the Indians, who attacked soldiers and civilians alike, taught him about a society’s total commitment to war at all costs. Young soldiers like Sherman may have respected the messages and advice in a book like Elements, but fresh memories of brutal combat with Indians on the frontier or with enemy soldiers in Mexico may have eclipsed Halleck’s sterile dictums. Modern war in the industrial age, these recent experiences may have warned, would not always play by Jomini’s, Mahan’s, or Halleck’s carefully refined rules. It was much more simple, and much more complicated, than what Halleck’s printed words promised.16
Halleck’s impact on antebellum military thought was notable but limited. His Elements was prominent in the canon of required reading for students of military science and West Point cadets. During the Civil War, President Lincoln borrowed books on military science, including Halleck’s Elements, from the Library of Congress. The new president was determined to teach himself how to understand and manage a modern war. But when seen in the overall context of what U.S. soldiers experienced between 1846 and 1861 – the Mexican-American War, the frontier battles with Native Americans, and the dull constabulary service they provided to settlers in the West – Halleck’s intellectual contribution becomes but one bright irrelevant glimmer in a star-filled sky.17
Halleck the lawyer, the engineer, the businessman, and the intellectual certainly had a significant impact on the Northern war effort, especially during the Civil War’s chaotic first year. In subsequent years, he would also have a fundamental impact on the leaders of that war effort.
Halleck did not succeed Winfield Scott as general-in-chief in 1861. Instead, the new supreme commander, McClellan, asked Halleck to assume command of the new Department of the Missouri, where Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont’s poor administration left a critical region in chaos and riddled with corruption. Fremont worsened the political situation when he emancipated slaves of pro-Southern families. Halleck assumed command in November 1861. “Missouri,” one Halleck biographer asserted, “was a task made to order for a man of Halleck’s disposition and ability.” Halleck swept out the corruption, simplified the command structure, cracked down on Confederate sympathizers and displays, and taxed secessionists to fund efforts to care for war refugees. When pro-secessionist women in St. Louis wore red and white flowers to express their devotion to the Confederacy, Halleck instructed the city’s prostitutes to wear the same flowers and then had a newspaper write about the sex workers’ new adornments. The secessionists’ flowers instantly disappeared. Halleck’s new authority refused any challenge.18
As he brought the department under control, Halleck planned his offensive operations. He reviewed the Confederate line of operations on a map and elected to penetrate its center, which lay along the Tennessee River. But he refused to consider “offensive operations in Kentucky or Tennessee before Missouri was secure” and his forces were concentrated. Grant, a junior commander in Halleck’s department, twice asked Halleck for permission to attack Confederate Fort Henry before Halleck cautiously agreed.19
Halleck’s caution may not have reflected hesitancy about attacking, but rather hesitancy about Grant, who still endured the consequences of his antebellum reputation as a drunk. Halleck also held in his mind unforgiving standards of appearance, action, and performance for a military professional, and Grant met none of his exacting measures. Halleck also didn’t want to move any of his pieces until he felt every element was perfectly arranged, but Lincoln was unwilling to wait any longer for results.20
Fortunately, Grant’s attack on Fort Henry succeeded, and he was aggressive enough to move on to Fort Donelson. Nashville fell to Don Carlos Buell, Halleck’s colleague in the theater, and then three victories in Missouri, Arkansas, and on the Mississippi River proved the Union’s momentum in the region. Halleck was never on the front lines of any of these battles, but the victories could not have been realized without his talent for logistics, coordination, and pre-planning. Halleck set the targets and provided the daggers. Commanders like Grant and John Pope possessed the will to plunge them into the heart of the western Confederacy.21
In mid-February 1862, Halleck appropriately recommended Grant, among others, for promotion to major general, though he still did not trust him. He preferred to replace Grant with Charles F. Smith, a former West Point commandant of cadets and hero of the Mexican-American War who also met Halleck’s standards of excellence. Halleck was annoyed with Grant over late reports and reports of Union looting at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. Inefficiency, administrative disorganization, and poor supervision of troops were mortal sins in Halleck’s moral code. McClellan authorized Halleck to replace the popular Grant if absolutely necessary. As he prepared his next operation down the Tennessee River, Halleck ordered Grant to relinquish field command to Smith, stay at Fort Henry, and assist with preparations for an offensive move on Corinth, Miss., a vital Confederate supply hub.22
On March 11, 1862, Lincoln relieved the incompetent McClellan as general-in-chief, relegating him solely to field command of the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln created the huge Department of the Mississippi and placed Halleck in overall command. By the end of March, Grant had resumed field command of one piece of Halleck’s grand army preparing to descend on Corinth. “When all was ready,” one Halleck biographer wrote, “Halleck could take over and lead that army to its ultimate victory over the Confederates.”23
But the Confederates had other ideas. On April 6, as Grant waited for Buell’s troops to join his at Pittsburg Landing, about 25 miles northeast of Corinth, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston attacked Union troops near Shiloh Church. Johnston was killed on the first day. Buell’s troops finally arrived, and Grant’s reinforced army counterattacked on April 7, driving the rebels from the field. They retreated back to Corinth.24
The battle’s unprecedented bloodshed shocked the nation, and Grant was publicly criticized. One analyst of the battle argues that Halleck rose to defend Grant against doubts in Washington and against critics in public. To Halleck’s overall plan, the Battle of Shiloh was merely a savage interruption to his plans as his huge army continued to assemble around Pittsburg Landing. On April 30, 1862, Halleck issued Special Field Order No. 35, “designating Grant as second in command of Halleck’s huge army.”25 Halleck organized the army into three wings and assumed personal field command.
Historians who criticize Halleck see Grant’s appointment as meaningless, as an insult, or as a signal that Halleck lost any scintilla of confidence in Grant. At least one analyst of the decision, however, argues that Halleck used his political acumen to adeptly protect Grant — keeping him in the command structure with a temporary position without exposing him to more criticism as a field commander of Union soldiers. Once the furor over Shiloh cooled, Grant would be eased back into field command.26
Halleck proved that he wanted Grant back in the field soon. His three-wing army was ready, and in early May the massive force began to move. The campaign, one Halleck biographer noted, “was planned and executed with one idea in mind – to capture Corinth.” Halleck referred to his own Jominian rules in Elements to determine what kind of operation this would be. He did not possess overwhelming forces. The enemy did not threaten his line of communications or supplies en route. The benefits of victory did not exceed the consequences of defeat. This would be a conquest and investment of a place, not an army. Flooding rains destroyed road and bridge networks, the terrain slowed progress, and Lincoln added to Halleck’s caution by warning him to avoid a defeat. Halleck threw up fortifications at every pause in the advance. By the end of May, he had surrounded Corinth and squeezed the Confederates out. As a result, Memphis and Fort Pillow fell like ripened fruit into Union hands.27
Halleck had imperfectly and slowly transformed the situation in the Western Theater with natural and learned talents. What began with his immersion in Fremont’s Missouri chaos ended with his promotion to supreme commander of the Union armies. Halleck set general strategic objectives. He ensured the operations were properly supplied with men and materiel. He directed and, when necessary, protected his star general, Grant. He took a personal hand in directing the capture of a key western city with a systematic operation that did not require dramatic maneuvering, intense combat, or, most importantly, heavy casualties.
But Halleck’s significance to the war effort would not end there. As Halleck headed east to assume the command Scott believed Halleck deserved, Old Brains began a new phase of significance. He would not only help manage the complex Northern war machine. He would also play new roles in Washington politics, militarily advise and politically protect President Lincoln, and become an indispensable alter ego to Grant once the subordinate and the superior commanders saw their roles reversed.
III. GENERAL IN CHIEF
Since McClellan’s demotion, Lincoln had functioned as his own general-in-chief, aided by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and the War Board, an advisory commission that helped coordinate military operations. Lincoln had learned the art of war quickly, and, when paired with his stellar political instincts, his understanding made him “a good judge of generals, their abilities, and their plans.” But learning the art didn’t mean he didn’t need a commander at the top. John Pope, Winfield Scott, and Stanton all agreed Halleck would be the perfect choice. On July 11, 1862, Halleck was promoted to general-in-chief.28
What were his duties, he wondered. Did he return to the field and look over army commanders’ shoulders? Did he stay in Washington and fight the war from behind a desk? Did he have authority over politically-appointed generals, or all land commanders? No one had formally defined the role. Scott had never served in a wartime situation. McClellan had been both supreme and army commander. Halleck was moving into unknown territory, and, characteristically, he moved cautiously.
There was one aspect of his command that he saw clearly: “the fumbling organization and incoherent system of the Eastern command.” From Halleck’s perspective, he had applied Jominian rules to the situation in the Western Theater, and the end result, as expected, was military success. Eastern commanders had not, and they saw only failure. “Once again,” a Halleck biographer concluded, “Halleck was expected to bring order to chaos.”29
Aside from redesigning Eastern Theater strategy, Halleck helped translate civilian objectives into military instructions, streamlined the administration and logistical management of the land operations, and condensed countless field reports into efficient and informative briefings for Lincoln and his Cabinet.
Lincoln also learned to benefit from the thick anti-Halleck animosity in the Washington air, and that was often Halleck’s greatest contribution to Lincoln. When Lincoln had to fire a political general or take some other politically dangerous action, he had Halleck issue the order. Lincoln would claim military necessity, and any firestorm of condemnation would consume Halleck, or critics would simply restrain themselves out of patriotic loyalty. McClellan’s and Pope’s armies are an example. McClellan was a War Democrat. Pope embraced the Radical Republicans. At one point, Lincoln wanted to move troops from McClellan’s army to Pope’s army. But if Lincoln called for the transfer, Democrats would criticize him for moving troops to a political ally. But if he had Halleck order it, no one could argue military necessity. It was a cruelly effective arrangement. Halleck would quietly endure the abuse. But Halleck also quickly learned how to use Lincoln. Halleck took advantage of his proximity to the president whenever he wanted to promote goals or proposals from West Point-trained generals over political generals.30
Most importantly, Halleck learned to relax his belief that any political objectives were not as important as military objectives. When Tennessee Gov. Andrew Johnson wanted military forces to save loyal citizens from Confederate domination in 1863, Halleck directed Grant to their defense and officially justified the operation by declaring that the region possessed agricultural products that could aid the enemy. When an incompetent political general secured administration support to build an army and launch an 1862 expedition down the Mississippi River Valley, Lincoln couldn’t touch him, but Halleck quietly ensured all the regiments produced for the army were immediately sent to Grant for use in the Vicksburg campaign instead. The political general was left with nothing. When Lincoln worried about the French puppet government in Mexico in 1864, Halleck diverted an army under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks towards Texas to remind Mexico of U.S. military power.31
So, despite Halleck’s lack of aggressive spirit or desire to take the strategic initiative, the general-in-chief proved his invaluable worth to Lincoln in many other ways. What began with indirect assistance to Lincoln when the president pulled Elements from a Library of Congress bookshelf, right up to March 11, 1864, Halleck’s last day as general-in-chief, the odd marriage of unique talent produced an effective political and military mechanism that brought stability to the top echelon of command and to the management of the Northern war machine.
If Halleck was the oil that kept that machine running smoothly, Grant was the fire that generated the energy that pulsated throughout the Union armies for the last 13 months of the war. After Union victory at Chattanooga, Lincoln was ready to make one last change to the supreme command: U.S. Grant was promoted to lieutenant general and named general-in-chief.
One Halleck biographer wrote that Halleck saw himself as only a subordinate, “a follower not a leader. This was a deeply felt sentiment, long present in his character, but made conspicuous under the stress of war.” The command arrangement was explained in General Orders No. 98, issued on March 12, 1864: Halleck was formally relieved as general-in-chief and named Army chief of staff, Union army headquarters would be split between Grant on the front and Washington, D.C., Sherman assumed Grant’s command of the armies in the West, and James B. McPherson succeeded Sherman as commander of the Army of the Tennessee. Halleck had the perfect job: he could “administer without [the expectation of] commanding.” Halleck put it better than anyone else: “It will be my business to advise and theirs to decide.”32
Halleck’s contribution to Grant’s command was his last significant contribution to the Union war. He deserves credit for stepping aside without drama and offering himself to his former subordinate with devotion, loyalty, and professional commitment. He took the weight of administrative command off Grant’s shoulders. He followed Grant’s penetration of Virginia, ensuring every phase of the campaign was met with more than enough supplies and reinforcements. He monitored and supplied all land forces in the western and southern departments. He kept Grant briefed on the status of other armies Grant had ordered to coordinate with his attacks on Lee. He also acted as Grant’s eyes and ears in Washington political circles, feeding him intelligence and public opinion. Beyond administrative and coordinating responsibilities, he had no heavy moral burden. He had no direct command of field forces, but he was armed with the authority of both Lincoln and Grant. His logical mind absorbed the waves of requests, reports, and requisitions, recalculated them, and transmitted back into the world the necessary supplies, information, and instructions. Chief of staff was probably one the best military jobs Halleck ever had.
The last year of the Civil War transformed the U.S. military as much as it transformed one of its most famous thinkers. As the war ground on in 1864, as Sherman burned his way through Georgia and the Carolinas, and as Grant sent Philip Sheridan to incinerate the Shenandoah Valley, Halleck abandoned the Jominian caution and Mahanian entrenchments of earlier years. Grant’s savage Overland Campaign had little to do with Jomini. Sherman’s necessary brutality to bring Georgia to her knees had little to do with Mahan. “The war experience,” one Halleck biographer wrote, “had finally made Halleck into an aggressive warrior, willing to support the use of every means at the nation’s disposal to bring the conflict to a successful conclusion.”33
Halleck served Grant and Lincoln faithfully until the end of the war. Halleck was one of the many at Lincoln’s bedside after the president was fatally shot. Grant returned to Washington, and Halleck was reassigned to the Military Division of the James. He tried to restore a semblance of order to a devastated Richmond. The historian in Halleck ensured the Confederate archives were preserved and sent to Washington for analysis and cataloging. He was later assigned to the Military Division of the Pacific, headquartered in San Francisco, and to the Military Division of the South, headquartered in Louisville, Ky., where he died in 1872. He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y.
BOOKS CONSULTED FOR THIS ESSAY
Ambrose, Stephen E. Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990.
—. “Lincoln and Halleck: A Study in Personal Relations.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 52, no. 1 (Spring 1959): 208-224. JSTOR (accessed June 11, 2012).
Bastian, Beverly E. “‘I Heartily Regret That I Ever Touched a Title in California’: Henry Wager Halleck, the Californios, and the Clash of Legal Cultures.” California History 72, no. 4 (Winter, 1993/1994): 310-323. JSTOR (accessed June 11, 2012).
Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995.
Dossman, Steven Nathaniel. Campaign for Corinth: Blood in Mississippi. Abilene: McWhiney Foundation Press, 2006.
Eicher, David J, and John H. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001.
Glatthaar, Joseph T. Partners in Command: The Relationships Between Leaders in the Civil War. New York: The Free Press, 1994.
Grant, U.S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters. New York: Library of America, 1990.
Halleck, Henry W. A Collection of Mining Laws of Spain and Mexico. San Francisco: O’Meara & Painter, 1859. http://tinyurl.com/bsw6yq6 (accessed June 11, 2012).
—. Elements of Military Art and Science. New York: 1862. http://tinyurl.com/6twlkx2 (accessed June 11, 2012).
Hattaway, Herman, and Archer Jones. How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1991.
Jomini, Antoine-Henri. Life of Napoleon. Vol. 3. Translated by Henry W. Halleck. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1864. http://tinyurl.com/6twlkx2 (accessed June 11, 2012).
Jones, Archer. “Jomini and the Strategy of the American Civil War, A Reinterpretation.” Military Affairs 34, no. 4 (December 1970): 127-131. Periodicals Archive Online (accessed June 11, 2012).
McFeely, William S. Grant. New York: W.W. Norton, 1981.
McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
—. Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. New York: Penguin Press, 2008.
Macartney, Clarence Edward Noble. Lincoln and His Generals. Philadelphia: Dorrance and Co., 1925.
Marszalek, John F. Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order. New York: The Free Press, 1993.
—. Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies: A Life of General Henry W. Halleck. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2004.
Morrison Jr., James L. “Educating the Civil War Generals: West Point, 1833-1861.” Military Affairs 38, no. 3 (October 1974): 108-111. Periodicals Archive Online (accessed June 11, 2012).
Schenker Jr., Carl R. “Ulysses in His Tent: Halleck, Grant, Sherman, and the ‘Turning Point of the War.’” Civil War History 56, no. 2 (June 2010): 175-221. ProQuest.com (accessed June 11, 2012).
Sherman, William T. Memoirs of W.T. Sherman. New York: Library of America, 1990.
Simon, John Y. Grant and Halleck: Contrasts in Command. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1996.
Spencer, James, ed. Civil War Generals: Categorical Listings and a Biographical Dictionary. New York: Greenwood, 1986.
Suhr, Robert Collins. “Old Brains’ Barren Triumph.” America’s Civil War. 14, no. 2 (May 2001): 42-49. ProQuest.com (accessed June 11, 2012).
Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964.
Waugh, John C. Lincoln and McClellan: The Troubled Partnership Between a President and His General. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
Woodworth, Steven E. Grant’s Lieutenants: From Cairo to Vicksburg. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001.
—. Grant’s Lieutenants: From Chattanooga to Appomattox. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008.
Nine key books and articles taken together can explain what led to the first sparks of civil violence and how those sparks ignited what evolved into the bloodiest and most important war in U.S. history. A review essay by Fernando Ortiz Jr.
Works reviewed in this essay:
Alcott, Louisa May. Hospital Sketches. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2004.
Berlin, Ira. “Who Freed the Slaves? Emancipation and Its Meaning.” Union & Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1997.
Dew, Charles B. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2001.
Fleche, Andre. The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
Gallagher, Gary W. The Union War. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011.
Grimsley, Mark. The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians 1861-1865. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009.
Kelly, Patrick J. “The North American Crisis of the 1860s.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 2, no. 3, (September 2012): 337-361.
McPherson, James. “Who Freed the Slaves?” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 139, no. 1 (March 1995): 1-10.
The crucial story of U.S. history is the Civil War. But too often readers skip right over the significance of the “Civil” and go right to the “War.” When the spotlight shines only on the armies and the navies, glorious battles and inglorious retreats, and the admirals and generals who won and lost, one can lose sight of why hundreds of thousands of Americans slaughtered each other for years.
Readers forget why and how fundamental cultural and political differences swirled like a hurricane into a galaxy of large and small battles, and how such violence was hardly new in a war-torn nineteenth century world. Scholars forget the transnational democratic movements wafting in the political breezes that inspired or terrified citizens desperately committed to their own visions of American freedom. Students forget why the war was key to measuring the republic’s commitment to preserve the wilting blossoms of international democracy. Everyone forgets that slavery – not states’ rights, not economic domination, not debates over big government — is what steadily fractured every element of antebellum American society, government, economy, and future aspirations.
Fortunately, less than a dozen key books and articles taken together can explain what led to the first sparks of civil violence and how those sparks ignited what evolved into the bloodiest and most important war in U.S. history.
I. The sparks and the fire
White Americans owned black Americans. Slavery as an institution predated the Revolutionary War. Moral debates over its place in the new republic were muted throughout the independence era. The U.S. Constitution legalized the institution of slavery and considered blacks only 60 percent human. Slaves were a massive labor force upon which Southerners built their aristocratic society and King Cotton and sugar industries. Slaves were a highly lucrative commodity that Southern states hoped to sell to new farmers in Western states. Worst of all, slaveholders enjoyed and protected their violent sexual control of the women they owned.
No book better illustrates that horror than Harriet Jacobs’ harrowing account of her life as a slave in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Her owner, Dr. Flint, sexually harassed her. Her sexual affair with another white man, which produced two slave children, was a desperate attempt to get Flint to sell her off to her lover. She gave up an opportunity to escape to the North to remain near her family. As Flint hunted for her, she hid in an attic for seven years and watched her community, including her children, from a hole in the wall. Her experiences demonstrated how slave women had no control over their sexual lives, their families, or their futures. Their only weapons were their sexuality, their intelligence, and their will to survive. They were trapped in a slaveholding system upheld by national laws, protected by national political leaders, and perpetuated by economic and racial imperatives. Her book, aimed at Northern women, demonstrated the strong and humanizing commitment of black men and women to their families, illustrated the constant sexual threat slavery posed to black women, and explained to her white readers how slavery also destroyed white families by their action and inaction in service of the slaveholding system.
When a new national party, the Republican Party, challenged in the late 1850s the future of slavery in the United States, some Southern leaders raised the old cry for secession from the Union. Since the 1820s, competing economic interests struggled for control over the direction of the quickly growing country. With every era of expansion came carefully-crafted congressional deals delineating into which areas slavery could expand. Some succeeded and some did not. The Louisiana Purchase saw the Missouri Compromise. Territorial gains from the Mexican War saw the doomed Wilmot Proviso. Illinois Sen. Stephen Douglas offered the Kansas-Nebraska Act. With each political generation, the polarization intensified. Southerners were convinced the North sought to contain slavery. Northerners perceived a Slave Power conspiracy that controlled one president after another, dominated both houses of Congress, and infected the Supreme Court’s objective judgment.
Charles B. Dew argues in his slender but powerful Apostles of Disunion that slavery was at the heart of secession. He follows Southern slaveholding speakers as they traveled throughout the South during the presidential election year of 1860, arguing to anyone who would listen that Abraham Lincoln’s election guaranteed the emancipation of the slaves. Emancipation, they insisted, guaranteed race war, racial marriage, and racial equality. Slaves would kill their masters, rape their wives and daughters, and help conceive a nation that held whites equal to blacks. Lincoln’s election marked the end of both Southern civilization and legal subjugation of non-white people, they argued. The only option was Southern separation from a poisoned, doomed republic and the formation of a new one.
After Lincoln’s election, Southern states steadily seceded, and Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Thousands of Northern citizen-soldiers donned the blue Federal Army uniform and prepared to defend their Union. Looking backwards in history with sympathetic eyes, it is too easy to assume they fought to break the chains of slavery restraining their fellow black citizens. Gary W. Gallagher disagrees. He argues in The Union War that Northern soldiers fought not for slavery but for Union. They fought against a slaveholding aristocracy to preserve their republican government for themselves and for the world, brightening the beacon of democracy sweeping across a dark world of empires and kingdoms. Slavery was ended, yes, but only as a result of the Northern will to strip the South of anything that sustained its resistance to moral and military realities.
II. The reasons
The war ended slavery, but where should history lay the credit for emancipation? James M. McPherson argues in a 1995 essay that Lincoln deserved credit for ultimately freeing the slaves because he directed the war that ensured personally self-emancipated slaves would remain free in a society cleansed of the legalized slave system. Without the Union War, McPherson writes, “there would have been no confiscation act, no Emancipation Proclamation, no Thirteenth Amendment (not to mention the Fourteenth or Fifteenth), certainly no self-emancipation, and almost certainly no end of slavery for several more decades. …” Lincoln was the “political denominator in all the steps” that defeated the Southern slave system.
In 1997 Ira Berlin disagreed with McPherson. His essays insists that grassroots social forces freed the slaves. Union forces would move through Southern communities, and slaves would abandon their homes to join them. When soldiers refused to send the runaways back because they found them useful, the slave system was weakened. When soldiers wrote to their families, and those families as voters helped change congressional and presidential opinion, slavery was weakened. If Lincoln led the way nationally, Berlin argues, it was only because people in immediate contact with the slave system cleared a path for him. If Lincoln had not led, someone else would have.
Lincoln was desperate to bring back the seceded states into the South by any political means necessary. One brilliant historian summarized Lincoln’s thinking with brutal simplicity: If the South came back, Lincoln promised to be the greatest fugitive slave-catcher in history. Even when war began, Mark Grimsley explains in The Hard Hand of War, Lincoln took a conciliatory approach. When armies moved through Southern regions, soldiers would not harm civilians, and they would respect all forms of personal property, particularly slaves.
Lincoln gradually realized that nothing he could do would bring the seceded states back. That crushing realization, coupled with the North’s growing list of defeats in the Eastern Theater, particularly throughout the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, hardened Lincoln’s belief in final victory. He aimed for the Confederacy’s jugular — the slaves — with the ultimate war measure. The Emancipation Proclamation was a clarion call to slaves to abandon their masters and let the entire slaveholding system collapse in on itself.
The conciliatory war gradually became a hard war. As Berlin stresses, soldiers did not return escaped slaves. They took pigs. They took chickens. They ripped down fences for fires. They threw railroad tracks — key for moving Confederate men and material — into those fires. The friction and abrasion of Union forces in Southern territory transformed the way the war was fought. In Georgia, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman led the transformation from the top with the policy of directed severity. Barns were incinerated. Homes were destroyed. But civilians were not directly harmed. It was violence against property and not people.
III. The women
The war killed and injured hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Northern women cared for Union soldiers with tireless devotion. Louisa May Alcott joined them, and she collected her memories of the experience in Hospital Sketches. The memoir made Alcott famous throughout the North. The book captures the opportunities the war offered to many Northern women, who were expected under normal circumstances to remain in their patriarchal society’s private and domestic sphere. The public sphere was reserved for men. The war was not revolutionary in terms of gender roles, but the extraordinary circumstances made allowances for women willing to walk through the new social cracks. Alcott did exactly that as she joined a Washington D.C. hospital staff. She entered the public sphere as a nurturer — as a nurse. She infantilized her male patients, calling them her boys, and in this temporary wartime sphere she touched their bodies, cleaned their wounds, and guided them from life to death.
Hospital Sketches contributed to the Northern war effort in unique ways. It illustrated for Northern readers the gruesome suffering their soldiers endured in defense of their democratic republic. It celebrated the material, physical, and psychological sacrifices of citizen-soldiers, ennobling them and the nation for which they fought. Alcott portrays one patient as a Christ-like figure — his death for his countrymen makes it possible for a new nation to arise from the ash and blood of a righteous war.
IV. The world
Northerners and Southerners both saw the Civil War as a struggle for the future of freedom in the world, not simply in the United States. Europe’s nationalist revolts in 1848 — and the subsequent monarchical counterrevolutions that crushed them — burned in their memories as North America’s domestic unrest intensified. Andre Fleche’s The Revolution of 1861 and Patrick Kelly’s 2012 article “The North American Crisis of the 1860s” both demonstrate how political leaders and citizens on both sides, standing at the threshold of the revolution of 1861, attempted to align themselves not only with the U.S. revolutionary legacy of the 1770s but also with the revolution of 1848. An era of nationalist revolutionary spirit that streaked around the world — from the mid-1770s to the late-1860s — began and would end in North America.
Both sides, Fleche notes, perceived the Civil War as North America’s opportunity to fulfill the revolution that Europe began. Northerners wanted to destroy New World slaveholding aristocracy. Southerners wanted to escape Northern radicals ready to shatter their racial order. Northerners, as Gallagher emphasizes, viewed their democratic republic as an island of freedom in a treacherous ocean of imperial oppression. Southerners attempted to portray themselves as the freedom fighters, as Dew implies, struggling to uphold the legacy of the Founding Fathers and rebuild anew a self-governing republic.
Sprinkled among the Americans were refugees of the 1848 revolts, particularly Germans, who understood the difficulty of asserting a democratic nation in the shadow of aristocratic oppression. Their enthusiastic participation in the Union war effort, Kelly notes, essentially amounted to a freedom-fighting army at the center of the blue-coated Federal force and a viable political and moral force in Northern cities that supported Republican goals. Unfortunately, Gallagher spends little to no time exploring the 1848 Germans’ contribution to the Union war effort, despite the supreme importance Lincoln placed on the community as a potent source of political and military support.
The war began with both sides seemingly misaligned, with the North defending the status quo and the South fighting for the freedom to break away. But once Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation — temporarily in 1862 and then officially in 1863 — the North leapt past the South on the moral spectrum. The North became the revolutionary force, and the South instantly became the archaic aristocracy, defending the past instead of fighting for the future.
Secession was a dynamiting of the linkages Northerners made to the transnational and transatlantic struggles for nationalism and freedom. When imperial France invaded Mexico and placed a French emperor in charge, Kelly explains, the Confederacy allied itself with the new French rulers. Southerners were desperate for foreign recognition, and not even moral hypocrisy was too high of a price to pay for it. The supposed Southern freedom-fighters promised to support the French government in Mexico — the first crashing counterrevolutionary wave in the New World — if France recognized the Confederacy. Lt. Gen. U.S. Grant’s determination to support Mexican revolutionaries highlights the dual advantage of final Union victory: once the New World aristocratic threat was defeated, the United States would join the fight in driving out Old World aristocratic threat and fulfill the goals of the 1848 struggles for freedom.
The Civil War changed the United States in ways historians are still discovering, if only because it occurred in a world as complex if not more so than today’s. War empowered women as it freed slaves. It illuminated sexual abuse, personal bravery, and inextinguishable devotion. It linked desperate defeats in distant foreign lands to the victories of Northern men marching through Southern valleys. It demanded that Americans view war, race, class, and freedom in new ways. The Civil War was the test every citizen had to pass, and its lessons dare every subsequent generation to fulfill the liberties the war was waged to protect.
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.
Hidden beneath her upper-class sneering at a Texas barbecue, Stone grimly illustrates the wartime reality of senseless death and the emotional and psychological numbing required to endure it from one day to the next. She feels adrift throughout an era where the past is too painful to remember and the future is too horrific to imagine.
June 26, 1864
This has been a busy week, clouded by the thought of Jimmy’s departure. We are finishing off his clothes and renovating ours, for we will go with him as far as Monroe [La.]. …
We have had our own trials patching up our clothes. We had no idea we were so near being ragamuffins until we took an exhaustive survey of our underclothes. Oh, for bolts and bolts and more bolts of white domestic. If Mamma’s trip proves successful, we will be able to better our condition as regards habiliments. Mamma is having quite a store of Texas goodies made up … to solace the inner man while on the road. …
Friday there was a grand Masonic celebration that we, in common with all the town and county, turned out to see. Mr. Michele took possession of our party and Sally Grissman and established us in the most pleasant and also most conspicuous seats and then devoted himself to our entertainment. Lt. Alexander and Dr. McGregor took possession of a nearby window, and we all had a merry morning but did not profit by the speeches. A large crowd and barbecue dinner that Mr. Michele insisted was not clean enough for us to eat. “Why,” said he, “should we dine with plebians?” I hope no native heard him. We went out, as Mamma said, “to see the animals feed.” Then we (the select few) returned home to dinner …
That night there was a party given at the hotel by Col. Anderson. He is in command, I think, of the Ordnance Department here and is an old army officer. His wife is charming. Emily and I went, to our surprise, and spent a charming evening. It was a most mixed and odd-looking crowd. Neither Emily nor I possessed a party dress, but we did not bring discredit on the swamp and looked well enough.
I did not think two months ago I would ever dance or care to talk nonsense again. But one grows callous to suffering and death. We can live only in the present, only from day to day. We cannot bear to think of the past and so dread the future. The refugees remind me of the description of the life of the nobility of France lived during the days of the French Revolution thrusting all the cares and tragedies of life aside and drinking deep of life’s joys while it lasted. This was our debut in Tyler society, and without self-flattery I may say we were quite a success.
I took a buggy ride yesterday with Dr. McGregor, who has a fine span of horses, and we just flew up and down (especially down) the hills. Enjoyed it highly, though I did think we would capsize on every hill we rushed down. On our return all the boys met us at the gate and could scarcely contain themselves at such a splendid opportunity for teasing, but the dread of future punishment at my hands kept them fairly in bounds. …
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.
The horror of the Overland Campaign hangs over the Stone household but she holds out hope Lee will outsmart Grant in the end.
Again Stone impresses with her ability to illustrate everyday life and mores in so few detailed sentences. Note how the Stones and their friends are now regularly visiting Union prisoners at the nearby Confederate camp.
June 19, 1864
A letter from My Brother but dated three months ago. He writes very sadly and thinks he will not see us again until the war is over. He was safe on the fourth of May, but it was on the fifth that those terrible battles commenced. We see from the papers that his corps was engaged every day. The fate of Richmond still trembles in the balance. Lee’s army has fallen back within the fortifications, and Grant is beginning to burrow as they did at Vicksburg. The most thrilling report is that Beauregard has captured Butler and 9,000 men. May it only be true. …
We have quite a trip in contemplation. Mamma is thinking of going to Monroe [La.] on business and taking me and one of the boys on for a pleasure jaunt. Which one of the boys depends on Mrs. Savage, who thinks of joining us with Emily. In that event Mamma will leave Jimmy at home as affairs are getting too interesting with Jimmy and Emily. He is too susceptible, and Mrs. Savage is too much of a matchmaker for Jimmy to be hourly exposed to such fascination for the next two weeks. Emily is a designing, forward girl, exceedingly so for her age. Jimmy is making every preparation to go with us and join the army at Monroe and will be horribly disappointed if Mamma refuses her consent.
Our usual refugee visitors. Yesterday evening returning from a ride, Jimmy and I were called in by Mrs. Carson, who begged us to stay to supper, at which we enjoyed delightful venison, killed by Jimmy Carson, and some of Mrs. Carson’s new style marmalade excellent. Read the papers to Mrs. Carson and rode home in the most glorious moonlight.
Mamma is very sad since receiving My Brother’s letter. She is very anxious about him. We have a nice set of real chessmen, made by one of the prisoners. We loaned them some days ago to the hospital in response to a polite note asking for them. The boys often go there. They have taken a great fancy to Mr. Griffin, a wounded boy. He must be a nice young fellow. Mamma and Mrs. Carson and some of the other ladies go quite frequently.
A Father’s Day post from a few years ago …
I spent Father’s Day with my parents in Fredericksburg, Texas. We had a wonderful time.
When I returned home, I reviewed my email, skimmed the latest headlines from the Associated Press (old habit), scrolled for a few moments through Twitter, and numbly drifted through my Facebook newsfeed. A post from the Theodore Roosevelt Association revived me to full attention. They too celebrated Father’s Day. They posted a few touching thoughts on Roosevelt’s love for his family:
Roosevelt always saw his family as the needle of his life’s compass. … The study of Teddy Roosevelt as a father is a testament to his priorities. He did not live to see his face on Mount Rushmore or to appreciate just how much he captured the imagination of the country. But he did live to see the children he loved grow to adulthood and develop into honest, hardworking citizens who built families of their own.
I can think of another loving father who put his family above and beyond anything else he accomplished or experienced in life, who taught me how a man becomes and remains a true father to his children. I’m sure you’ll understand my fervent belief that his face should be on a mountain too.
Happy Father’s Day to all fathers — and to my own.
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.
As another oppressive Texas summer begins, Stone mourns a family friend’s death. She also notes ominously the growing epidemic of deadly disease at a nearby Confederate camp filled with Northern prisoners of war.
June 14, 1864
Comfortably seated by an open window in our lone rocking chair, I am munching Confederate cakes all alone with nothing to do. … Johnny is lying on his stomach with his heels in the air … Johnny has taken great delight in Shakespeare and reads and re-reads his favorite plays. He is already a good Shakespearean scholar. Sister is amusing herself with Sally, and the others are off spending this day with Mrs. Prentice. If there is one thing I most detest, it is spending a long summer day away from home. …
Jimmy received a letter from Mr. Hardison telling of Mrs. Hardison’s death in February. We are truly grieved to hear it. She was a high-minded good woman and one of our best friends. She died in Red River County, where they have been living since fall. Her life was a scene of trial from the time they fled from home. He writes most sadly. They have no books, no papers, hear no news, and have made no new friends and are alone on the bleak prairie, strangers in a strange land. We pity them all but most, her poor mother, Mrs. Alexander.
Anna and Dr. Meagher returned a few days ago. He is stationed here now in charge of the Yankee prisoners. The prisoners are in a most pitiable condition, perfectly destitute. Some have only a blanket to wear and others only one garment. There is much sickness and death among them and the authorities are powerless to get clothes for them. No clothes or blankets to be bought. …