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Comments on “A letter from a Union soldier, 1861 . . .”

I recently received an e-mail from my nephew in Mississippi that included a copy of a letter written by a Union soldier on the eve of a battle early in the War Between the States. Click here to read that soldier’s final written words, beautifully written in a fashion that is largely lost to us in this day and age. My posting of the letter garnered a comment from a reader, a comment to which I responded at some length.

This is the reader’s comment:

I was educated in the British system and for a long time, the Civil war meant either the War of the Roses or Cromwell’s war. It was as an adult that I started to understand our own Civil War. It is a sad thing the young man did not survive, consigning his small children to the very horrors of an orphaned existence. That said, I have always been struck by how beautifully young men wrote 150 years ago.

My response to that comment follows:

Thanks for visiting and thanks for the comment. Your observation that the written word was beautifully constructed 150 years ago necessarily invites comparison with today’s pitifully penned letters. Cursive writing is a lost art, soon to be consigned to the graves of history, along with Egyptian hieroglyphics and prehistoric cave drawings.

Our children are not learning penmanship. At best, they learn the art of printing letters, then graduate from there to thumbing letters and numbers on digital devices and clicking on an infinitesimally huge host of pictorial characters that represent thoughts, locations, ideas and emotions, expressing themselves silently without leaving any sort of footprints for the future, other than those captured and held in digital form.

Should the unthinkable occur—nuclear war with the resulting loss worldwide of the atomic movement of electrons, neutrons and protons through electrical circuits, whether land based or hand held—without access to that method of communication mankind will eventually regress to its original system of grunts, groans, hand signals and facial contortions to communicate, and millenniums later will probably advance from there to crudely drawn pictorial representations on rocks and on cliff sides and in various caves around the globe—that is, of course, if anyone remains after the holocaust of nuclear war. Civilization is by far the worst for the deficiency in communication wrought by binary bits.

And finally, just to wrap up this response to your comment, I will quote an unknown contributor to our language:

What goes around, comes around.

That astute observation, obscured in the ancient mists of time, may be reversed without any loss of its meaning, namely, What comes around, goes around, a truism equal to another obscure saying:

There is nothing new under the sun.

It’s useless to Google that affirmation—there are endless variations that effectively say the same thing, whether or not shown on the Internet. Somewhere on our planet, probably penned on a cave wall or on a stone buried in the rubble of some ancient civilization, there is undoubtedly a series of identical crude pictures or symbols. That series ends and continues with unrelated pictures or symbols, and then centuries later, perhaps millenniums later, the original series is repeated.

And even that is not the origin of that contribution to our language. It was undoubtedly expressed in the grunts, groans, hand signals and facial contortions that were used to communicate with others of the human species, and even before humans appeared was expressed by the physical appearance and the sounds and poses adopted by non-humans, the so-called lower orders of animals.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2011 in civil war, death, Family

 

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A letter from a Union soldier, 1861 . . .

I received the following e-mail from my nephew in Mississippi, the nephew that toils lovingly and highly successfully in his chosen profession of designing and renovating churches of various denominations. The e-mail included a copy of a letter written by a Union soldier on the eve of a battle early in the War Between the States—I refuse to refer to it as a civil war—there was not a trace of civility in that bitter conflict. The letter was untitled and is reproduced in its entirety following my nephew’s e-mail, exactly as I received it.

Note: Letters to and about Janie can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here. My not-so-humble opinion is that all are worthy of being read—I wrote them and published them to commemorate Janie’s life and to serve as a reminder to all that life is fleeting—in the words of British poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674), Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying. Click on that excerpt to read the entire poem and more about Janie.

This is the e-mail I received from my nephew:

Uncle Mike,

Your most recent posts, your letters to Janie, have reminded me of a letter I learned about from a public television series done by Ken Burns. The series documented some of the history of the American Civil War. Specifically, the program included parts of a letter written by a Union soldier who later became a casualty of that war. Although the letter was written before his death, the spirit of the letter, for me, transcends life and death. I believe your letters do the same. A copy of the text of the letter is attached.

Larry

This is the Union soldier’s letter to his wife, written on the eve of battle:

July the 14th, 1861
Washington DC

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death—and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar —-that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night – amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

Sullivan

A special note: The soldier, Sullivan, did not survive the battle—he died, but his letter and his spirit live on.

That’s the story of my nephew’s e-mail and the letter written by a Union soldier, and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2011 in civil war, death, Family, marriage, Military

 

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Revisited: An historic event? Oh, puhleeze!

Listen up, Fox News—there is no such thing as an historic event, an historical moment, an history book or an history teacher—they do not exist. There are such things as a historic event, a historical moment, a history book and a history teacher. As regards the proper—versus improper—use of a and an relative to preceding words beginning with an h, I made my opinion known to my adoring readers back in February of this year, and I am now generously bringing that opinion up from the Stygian darkness of past postings and into the bright light of today, and once again sending it up the flagpole in an effort to get someone—anyone, but especially the brilliant news readers and personal opinion sharers on Fox News—to salute it. Yes, I know that I used an preceding the h in  the previous sentence, but there are always exceptions to a rule—that phrase, an h, is one of two exceptions that immediately come to mind. The other exception is an hour—those are exceptions, nothing more, and they do not  justify the continuing use of an to precede all words beginning with an h. See? There it is again!

Fox News is the only news channel available on my television, the result of the restrictions placed by my cable provider at my request. I have absolutely no interest in any news outlet other than Fox News. If I can convince the talking heads on Fox News to use the correct article in conjunction with the words history, historic,  historical, etc., my efforts will not have been in vain.

My original post follows:

An historic event?

Oh, puhleeze!

During the recent and still continuing snowfalls across the country, talking heads on television, weather forecasters in particular, have repeatedly characterized and continue to characterize snowstorms and snowfalls as an historic storm and an historical snowfall.

In the storied (and some say fabled) history of our nation there has never been an historic event, nor has there ever been an historical event. Never. Not one. I can clearly remember reading about historic events in a history book—World War II, for example, and the wrecks of the Titanic and the Hindenburg, the solo flight across the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh, and Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent to the top of Mount Everest. I found all those historic events in a history book, but I have never found one in an history book.

If we insist on dropping the H  and saying an historic event, we should apply that rule to all words beginning with H—that would give us an Hoover for a vacuum cleaner, an Hoover for president, an harp for music, an heaven to which we should all aspire, and on and on, ad infinitum.

I realize that such terms as an herb and an herb garden are firmly entrenched in our English language, in spite of the fact that many distinguished speakers and writers refuse to deviate from the terms a herb and a herb garden. Two of those distinguished people immediately come to mind—both Martha Stewart and I refuse to say an herb—we are sticking to a herb. That’s not one of my neighbors—that is the Martha Stewart, a widely known decorator and gardener, and an accepted authority on everything, including herbs, herb gardens and stock market trades.

If both Martha Stewart and I refuse to drop the h in herb in order to use the an rather than the a, that should provide sufficient reason for everyone else to step out of the an line and into the a line—one only needs to take a teenie weenie baby step to move from an egregious wrong to a resounding right—a step from left to right, so to speak. On serious reflection, such a move would be beneficial in other venues, particularly in the political arena.

Folks in Great Britain speak English, albeit English that in a large measure has not kept pace with the times, has not evolved over time as has our use of English to communicate. English-speaking people in Great Britain tend to drop their aitches, particularly those speakers of cockney descent.

The following joke clearly illustrates that tendency (please forgive me for the joke, but I must use the tools that are available to me):

During World War II an American soldier was strolling on the beach with a lovely British girl he had just met. A strong breeze was blowing off the water and the girl’s skirt billowed up over her waist. This was wartime and many products, ladies undergarments for example, were in short supply, hence this lady wore nothing under her skirt. The soldier took a quick look, but not wanting to embarrass her, quickly looked away and exclaimed, “Wow, it’s really airy!”

The girl snapped back, “Well, wot the ‘ell did you expect? Chicken feathers?”

I realize that returning our population to the proper use of a and an is a task that far outstrips Hercules’ assignment to clean the Augean stables. In comparison with Hercules’ assignment to clean the stables in one day, this one will require a tremendous amount of shoveling. Had we two rivers adjacent to the stables as Hercules did, we could divert the  streams to and through the stables as he did, and thus clear up this problem of deciding whether a or an will precede words beginning with an H.

Alas, we do not have the two rivers available for our use, but we do have shovels. I will continue to wield my shovel as long as the misuse of a and an exists, but I sure could use some help!

Oh, just one more thought—the first objection to saying a herb rather than an herb usually involves and invokes the word hour. I readily agree that nobody ever says a hour—they always say an hour. I accept that, but I do not accept it as justification to say an herb. An hour is simply an exception to the rule, exceptions that all of us must recognize and accept.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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A two-week boat ride to Japan . . .

In 1950 I traveled from San Francisco to Japan in 14 days, and back to San Francisco in another 14 days, with a considerable amount of time spent in Japan and South Korea between the trip to the Orient and the return to the United States, somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 months. Fifteen of those months were spent in bad neighborhoods—they were spent at Taegu in the south and Kimpo in the north, two of our US airfields in South Korea during the Korean War.

I refuse to call it a conflict. It was a war, one in which more than 40,000 members of our armed forces died during four years of fighting—that qualifies it to be called a war, not a conflict.

I traveled by bus from my mother’s home in Midland, Texas to Alpine, Texas, then by train to Los Angeles and up the Pacific coast to San Francisco. The month was April, and the trip up to San Francisco—a distance of almost 400 miles—with the blue Pacific Ocean on the left and the green mountain slopes on the right was memorable. In San Francisco I boarded a ferry and was taken to Camp Stoneman. I was quartered for a week or so before boarding another ferry to the Port of San Francisco where I boarded an army troop ship bound for Japan.

Camp Stoneman, located in the city of Pittsburgh some forty miles from San Francisco, was a staging facility for military personnel traveling to foreign destinations to the east from the Port of San Francisco. Arrivals from oversea assignments and those departing for such assignments traveled by ferry to and from the Port and Camp Stoneman. Opened in 1942, the camp was shut down in 1954. Click here for images of Camp Stoneman and its brief history.

We departed for Japan on the USS Daniel L. Sultan, a U.S. Army vessel named for an army general, a ship that on this voyage would be loaded with 5,000 troops, 500 dependents and an indefinite number of cats and dogs, pets of the dependent members. When we pulled away from San Francisco, we headed north instead of west to pick up the dependents and their pets in Seattle, Washington.

My brother Larry, an army Warrant Officer, was stationed at the Yakima Training Facility and I obtained permission to debark in Seattle—yes, debarking, that’s what they called it—in order to make a phone call to him. No, I did not have a cell phone—they had not yet been invented. Our conversation was brief, limited to expressions of how are you, how have you been, how is everyone else, where are you going, and good luck.

On my return to the ship I ran afoul of the Officer of the Day, the worthy that stands on deck by the gangplank to greet boarders, to inquire as to their reason for boarding and to ascertain whether contraband is involved in their boarding. I had no problem answering the questions, but I committed a serious breach of military protocol.

As any sailor knows, when one boards or debarks a military vessel, courtesy must be given by saluting the United States flag flown by the vessel. I had been briefed on that courtesy and I saluted accordingly, but I was chastised—chewed out—by the Officer of the Day. It seems that I saluted the prow of the vessel instead of the stern. I had been below decks ever since boarding the ship and had no idea which end was which, so I took a guess—I guessed wrong.

Other than that, the two-week voyage was uneventful. I was seasick for the first two days and spent a lot of time hanging over the rail, and I learned to gauge the wind—one had to watch one’s output closely because one’s output had a bad habit of almost reaching the waves and then riding the wind all the way back up, often to its origin. I learned early to heave and then quickly step back from the railing. Some others weren’t that lucky. There’s an old joke that goes like this: The admiral asks a young sailor if he has a weak stomach, and the sailor says, No, sir, I am throwing it just as far as the others are.

Every GI on the ship had a daily detail. Some worked in the galley, some in the heads, some did laundry and various make-work tasks, but I was one of the very privileged—I was assigned to the poop deck detail. No, not that poop deck, not that flat-roofed cabin that is erected at the stern of old-time ships for storage and to serve as an observation point. The word poop is derived from a French word poupe, meaning stern, the back part of the ship.

No, my detail involved poop, the real McCoy. People with pets were required to exercise them every day on the rearmost part of the top deck, and the poop naturally followed. Every morning the call came over the intercom—first a series of shrill whistles, then came the words, Now hear this, now hear this—sweepers, man your brooms, clean sweep down fore and aft.

I never knew what was swept down at the fore, but I learned over two weeks about sweep down aft. It wasn’t that bad, though. There was always a strong breeze, if for no other reason than the forward motion of the ship. We used high-pressure hoses to wash down the deck, and we used the brooms to loosen poop reluctant to go into the Pacific Ocean.

I was quartered on Deck 4C, four levels below the top deck and three compartments aft of the head, or latrine. My bunk was second from the floor in a tier of four canvas bunks stacked from the floor to the ceiling. I was lucky because the fellow in the bunk above me was slightly built. The unlucky ones were those with a heavyweight sleeping in the bunk above them. In some cases, it was difficult for them to turn over without bumping into the weight hanging above. Bummer!

Speaking of the head—it’s at the extreme front end of the ship, but it would have been far better situated for use had it been located amidships. The bow of a vessel rises and falls with every wave, and one that is urinating must be ready to stop and restart the stream as the bow rises and falls. If not, one will be hitting one’s shoes as the bow rises, and splattering the wall as the bow falls.

If you have traveled on a ship you’ll understand what I mean, and if you have not, just ask any seasoned sailor how the system works. In the event of heavy seas, one would be advised to perform the act in a seated position—not very manly, but much safer and much easier on one’s shoes—and the wall.

We arrived at the Port of Yokohama, Japan two weeks later and docked in a harbor festooned with jellyfish. Just form a vision of Monet’s ponds covered with lily pads, then multiple it by thousands, perhaps millions, and you’ll have a vision of the Yokohama harbor.

A short time later—oops, let me rephrase that. The words short time have a very different meaning in military lingo, so I’ll say that a bit later a dozen or so of us were on a GI bus headed for Yokota Air Base, near Tokyo in Northern Japan. The bus ride, Yokota Air Base, Fussa and Tachikawa merit a separate posting—stay tuned!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2010 in Military, Travel, wartime

 

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An historic event? Oh, puhleeze!

An historic event?

Oh, puhleeze!

During the recent and still continuing snowfalls across the country, talking heads on television, weather forecasters in particular, have repeatedly characterized and continue to characterize snowstorms and snowfalls as an historic storm and an historical snowfall.

During the recent and still continuing snowfalls across the country, talking heads on television, weather forecasters in particular, have repeatedly characterized and continue to characteriz snowstorms and snowfalls as an historic snowfall and an historical storm.

In the storied (and some say fabled) history of our nation there has never been an historic event, nor has there ever been an historical event. Never. Not one. I can clearly remember reading about historic events in a history book—World War II, for example, and the wrecks of the Titanic and the Hindenburg, the solo flight across the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh, and Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent to the top of Mount Everest. I found all those historic events in a history book, but I have never found one in an history book.

If we insist on dropping the H  and saying an historic event, we should apply that rule to all words beginning with H—that would give us an Hoover for a vacuum cleaner, an Hoover for president, an harp for music, an heaven to which we should all aspire, and on and on, ad infinitum.

I realize that such terms as an herb and an herb garden are firmly entrenched in our English language, in spite of the fact that many distinguished speakers and writers refuse to deviate from the terms a herb and a herb garden. Two of those distinguished people immediately come to mind—both Martha Stewart and I refuse to say an herb—we are sticking to a herb. That’s not one of my neighbors—that is the Martha Stewart, a widely known decorator and gardener, and an accepted authority on everything, including herbs, herb gardens and stock market trades.

If both Martha Stewart and I refuse to drop the h in herb in order to use the an rather than the a, that should provide sufficient reason for everyone else to step out of the an line and into the a line—one only needs to take a teenie weenie baby step to move from an egregious wrong to a resounding right—a step from left to right, so to speak. On serious reflection, such a move would be beneficial in other venues, particularly in the political arena.

Folks in Great Britain speak English, albeit English that in a large measure has not kept pace with the times, has not evolved over time as has our use of English to communicate. English-speaking people in Great Britain tend to drop their aitches, particularly those speakers of cockney descent.

The following joke clearly illustrates that tendency (please forgive me for the joke, but I must use the tools that are available to me):

During World War II an American soldier was strolling on the beach with a lovely British girl he had just met. A strong breeze was blowing off the water and the girl’s skirt billowed up over her waist. This was wartime and many products, ladies undergarments for example, were in short supply, hence this lady wore nothing under her skirt. The soldier took a quick look, but not wanting to embarrass her, quickly looked away and exclaimed, “Wow, it’s really airy!”

The girl snapped back, “Well, wot the ‘ell did you expect? Chicken feathers?”

I realize that returning our population to the proper use of a and an is a task that far outstrips Hercules’ assignment to clean the Augean stables. In comparison with Hercules’ assignment to clean the stables in one day, this one will require a tremendous amount of shoveling. Had we two rivers adjacent to the stables as Hercules did, we could divert the  streams to and through the stables as he did, and thus clear up this problem of deciding whether a or an will precede words beginning with an H.

Alas, we do not have the two rivers available for our use, but we do have shovels. I will continue to wield my shovel as long as the misuse of a and an exists, but I sure could use some help!

Oh, just one more thought—the first objection to saying a herb rather than an herb usually involves and invokes the word hour. I readily agree that nobody ever says a hour—they always say an hour. I accept that, but I do not accept it as justification to say an herb. An hour is simply an exception to the rule, exceptions that all of us must recognize and accept.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2010 in Gardening, grammar, Humor, proper english, wartime, Writing

 

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