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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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Calling all teachers—don’t correct in red!

I’ll begin this posting by referring viewers to an outstanding blog, one recommended by a friend in Wales. Click here for Sentence First, An Irishman’s blog about the English language. If you have a question, ask Stan—if he can’t answer it, then there’s something wrong with your question. For Stan’s stance on the correct color to use for corrections, click here to read his posting of The Red Pen Effect.

I also recommend the blog hosted by my friend in Wales—click here for Duck Billed Platitudes, an adventure in art and ornithology and a touch of everything else.

I misspent 22 years in the US military and retired, then misspent 26 years in USCS, the United States Custom Service, an organization that has been melded into ICE—Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A quick exercise in arithmetic shows a total of 48 years misspent in government service. I say misspent because I could have entered politics and perhaps have attained the highest office in the land—a quick glance at recent occupants of that office leads me to believe that in comparison I would have been an outstanding president, a shoe-in candidate for placement on Mount Rushmore. Please note that I’m not claiming I would have been outstanding. That’s pure conjecture on my part—I’m saying only that I might have been an outstanding president had I been nominated and elected to that lofty office—and I firmly believe I would have been elected if only I had submitted the proper documents and campaigned—if fact, based on a recent election to select a Democratic nominee for the Senate in South Carolina, I probably could have skipped the campaign.

Or I could have entered the medical profession and perhaps perfected a miraculous serum that with a single injection would cure those afflicted with one or more of any existing diseases. The cure would guarantee no recurrence and provide immunity to any new disease that might appear, regardless of its nature—and if given at birth the serum would provide total immunity to new-borns for life. Here as above, please note that I’m not claiming that I would have perfected such a serum. That also is conjecture on my part. I’m saying only that I might have perfected such a serum had I chosen to enter the medical profession and properly applied myself to my studies.

As an aside, as a youngster I came to a fork in the road and over the years I’ve oft speculated that I may have chosen the wrong fork. By chance I have a remarkably readable and interesting posting dealing with that choice, one that I can share with you—just cut and paste the following URL:

https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/i-coulduh-been-uh-contenduh-brando-and-i/

Now on to the reason for this posting:

I began life in the Customs Service as an inspector trainee at a small port of entry on the Texas-Mexico border and quickly progressed to the journeyman level. I was promoted to a first-level supervisory position in good time and relocated to a different small port of entry on the Texas-Mexico border. I was promoted to a second-level supervisory position shortly thereafter and relocated to a much larger port of entry on the Texas-Mexico border. For purposes of anonymity I will not reveal the name of that port, but for reference I will say that it is the port located at the tip of Texas near the junction of the Rio Grande River with the Gulf of Mexico.

Before I reported for duty at that anonymous port I was given an extensive and intensive briefing by the person in charge of the district that included my new duty station. I was briefed on several defective procedures that existed among the work force and told to do everything possible to effect change—to correct the defects. One of the procedures considered defective was the excessive overtime reported, ostensibly needed to accomplish the mission. Another was the deplorable documentation of searches, seizures and arrests made by enforcement personnel, documents that were used in criminal prosecution and were vital to statistical studies of port activities. The reports, almost without exception, showed serious deficiencies in basis English writing skills. They were deficient in every aspect of the English language including spelling, sentence construction, punctuation and grammar and in most cases were either too lengthy or too brief.

All enforcement documents were prepared in longhand by the inspectors and routed to clerical personnel for typing before being presented for supervisory approval. The reports were routinely approved without corrections and then moved up the chain of command for archival, to be used for statistical and prosecution purposes. I used my supervisory prerogative to have the documents routed to me before being typed, and armed myself with a supply of red ink pens.

I noted the errors in red for each document, indicated the correction to be made and returned each document to the error-maker, requesting that the errors be corrected and returned to me before submission to the typing pool. My intent was to inform—to educate, if you will—the inspectors in order to improve their writing skills and thus to upgrade our submissions to headquarters.

Horrors!

I stirred up a hornets’ nest that produced stings that I can still feel and I have the scars to prove it, although I left that hornets’ nest 27 years ago. In 1980 I became the target of every inspector in a force of fifty. From the moment I returned the first document rife with red ink, liberally spotted and resembling an extreme case of measles, I became a target for every inspector in a force of fifty, and the official grievance forms, a procedure authorized by Customs’ contract with a national union to which the inspectors belonged, began to pile up on my desk, a situation that existed for the three and one-half years.

The rules for grievances allowed the one ostensibly grieved to file the grievance with any supervisor, ranging from the most junior first-level supervisor to the top level supervisor at that border location, without regard to the action or the individual supervisor that prompted the so-called grievance. Our cadre of supervisors totaled nine—five first-level, two at my secondary level, one chief supervisor and the top dog with the upstairs office and a private secretary. As an aside, I was one of two second-level supervisors—the other second-level supervisor was one with no horns and no huevos—you can Google huevos if you like—I don’t mind.

There is absolutely no doubt that the order to put my name on every grievance came from union headquarters. As a result of that order, I achieved considerable notoriety and became a legend in my own time. I received more grievances than any other supervisor in the Service, and I answered every grievance and every one was found in my favor—no exceptions!

I mentioned overtime usage at the beginning of this posting—under the direction of the chief supervisor we significantly reduced the cost of overtime at the station—in short, we changed the deep pockets of overtime to shallow pockets and in some instances no pockets. The myriad grievances on changes in overtime practices, regardless of which supervisor caused the alleged grievance, bore my name—all of those were also ultimately found in my favor.

All this commotion was apparently caused by my using a red ink pen to mark the documents, rather than blue or pink or purple, anything other than red. A great hue and cry arose. I was accused and charged with returning the inspection force to the classroom, claiming that I was treating them like children, exposing them to ridicule, embarrassing them by calling attention to unimportant items such as spelling, subject and object agreement, paragraphing, ad nauseum. In retrospect, had I been authorized to return them to school it would have been to the elementary level—correct grammar should have been learned somewhere around the fourth-grade level.

Just one final note: I left that cantankerous force in the rear view mirror on my way to the U. S. Customs national headquarters following my promotion to the Civil Service grade of GM-13, a grade equal to that of a Lieutenant Colonel in the military forces, with equal pay and equal responsibilities.

Bummer—not!

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

PeeEss: If I had that three-and-one-half-year ordeal to do over again, I would cheerfully accept the challenge, even though it may have shortened my life. However, I’m approaching the octogenarian mark in longevity and I feel great, so there—take that, southernmost border crossing on the Texas-Mexico border! The southernmost legal crossing, that is. Many much-used illegal crossings exist along our border with Mexico, including some on the Arizona border that appear to be condoned and supported by various levels of the present administration in our nation’s capital.

Bummer!

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Barbara Frietchie and Robert E. Lee . . .

In January of this year I sent an e-mail containing John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, Barbara Frietchie, to a friend that lives in Alabama. She acknowledged receipt of the e-mail and replied as follows:

Wow! What a beautiful story of pride, loyalty and courage! Thank you for sharing this poem. I’m sending it on to several of my friends up in Northern Virginia.

She also asked who commanded the troops that entered Frederick, Maryland during the War between the States—I use that title because as yet I have learned nothing about the war that could be considered civil.

I responded to my friend with this e-mail:

Subject: Barbara Frietchie . . . . .

The troops in Whittier’s poem were General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates, led by General Stonewall Jackson. I was introduced to Barbara Frietchie in elementary school—not the real Barbara, just the poem—somewhere around the fourth grade. I’ve forgotten most of the poem, but for some reason these two verses took root: Shoot if you must this old gray head . . .  and, Who touches a hair of yon gray head . . .

And now for the benefit of anyone not familiar with the poem, here it is:

Barbara Frietchie

Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,
The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

Round about them orchards sweep,
Apple and peach tree fruited deep,
Fair as the garden of the Lord,
To the eyes of the famished rebel horde.

On that pleasant morn of the early fall,
When Lee marched over the mountain wall,
Over the mountains winding down,
Horse and foot, into Frederick town.

Forty flags with their silver stars,
Forty flags with their crimson bars,
Flapped in the morning wind: the sun
Of noon looked down, and saw not one.

Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;
Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;
In her attic window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.

Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead,
Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced; the old flag met his sight.
“Halt!”—the dust-brown ranks stood fast,
“Fire!”—out blazed the rifle-blast.

It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.
Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.

She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.
“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag,” she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;
The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman’s deed and word;
“Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.

All day long through Frederick street
Sounded the tread of marching feet:
All day long that free flag tost
Over the heads of the rebel host.

Ever its torn folds rose and fell
On the loyal winds that loved it well;
And through the hill-gaps sunset light
Shone over it with a warm good-night.

Barbara Frietchie’s work is o’er,
And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.
Honor to her! and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall’s bier.
Over Barbara Frietchie’s grave,
Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!

Peace and order and beauty draw
Round thy symbol of light and law;
And ever the stars above look down
On thy stars below in Frederick town!

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807—1892)

Some final notes:

Given the present demographics of Maryland, Barbara Frietchie could well have been an African-American. Could be—so much of our history is being rewritten that anything is possible (click here for George Orwell’s 1984). Future research online may find that the lady that made the first flag was an African-American—whether true or untrue, that would become part of our revisions of American history.

If the revisions continue, eventually George Santayana’s time-worn statement that Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it will take on new meaning—learning and repeating revisionist history will do little to advance civilization and our standing in the world order.

If I fail to learn history and I am doomed to repeat it, I prefer to repeat the history of the founding of our nation. I do not wish to fail to learn and repeat history that has been revised, and in the revision process has cast aside many of our basic values, and distorted and diluted others.

That’s my opinion—what’s yours?

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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