Saturday, January 31, 2015

The War in 1865: Part Two

A map depicting the massive Union naval bombardment of Fort Fisher.  One of the many fine features of The Civil War Today app is that it is filled with period maps in high detail, an excellent historic resource to understand the geography, battle formations, and other important aspects of the war.  This particular map has been reduced to about 30% of its actual size. You can pinch and zoom easily inside the app to see the names of the individual ships and their respective lines of fire.
Note: This is the second part of my continuing series on the end of the War Between the States as depicted in an iPad app, The Civil War Today.

General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick was promoted to major general.  The Union continued to promote, remove, and change commanders and responsibilities in anticipation of the upcoming spring campaign season.  Kilpatrick was servicing under General William T. Sherman at the time and he would contribute to the forthcoming Carolinas Campaign. On the Confederate side, General John Bell Hood requested permission to resign his command of what little remained of the Army of Tennessee.

The US House of Representatives ended its debate on a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery with long-serving Pennsylvanian Congressman Thaddeus Stevens speaking out in favor of abolition as a necessary step in reuniting the war-torn nation.  The House agreed to hold a vote on this historic legislation at the end of January.

After a delay of several days, Union forces successfully landed at Fort Fisher under the support of a massive barrage from a large naval force commanded by Admiral D.D. Porter.  The Federal infantry, under General Alfred Terry, succeeded in positioning itself between the road to Wilmington and the fort in order to block any possible Rebel reinforcements and immediately entrenched themselves.  General Braxton Bragg arrived in Wilmington from Richmond to command the Confederate forces but reinforcements were scarce and the fort would remain isolated.  The bombardment, which lasted for several hours, both weaken the fort and covered the maneuvers of the invading infantry.

On January 14, the Union fleet intensified its bombardment of Fort Fisher.  As many as 100 shells per minute fell on the Confederate fortification throughout the day causing scores of Rebel casualties.  60 ships concentrated their fire on the large earthen-fortified area making this one of the most concentrated and powerful naval bombardments in history. The only Southern response came from the CSS Chickamauga located on the Cape Fear River, which fired upon the entrenching Northern infantry as best it could throughout the day.  General William H.C. Whiting, commanding at Fort Fisher, warned General Bragg of an impending Union ground attack upon the fort.

The barrage continued until mid-afternoon on the next day, at which point the Union troops attacked from two sides.  The Confederates quickly exited their bomb shelters and manned their positions. The first Union assault was made upon the fort's strongest point by naval troops and marines.  It was repulsed, but it turned out to be a diversionary attack. General Terry launched the main Federal advance after the Southerners had committed to the fort's initial threat and breached the walls after repeated assaults against determined opposition. Bitter hand-to-hand combat ensued with the Rebels contesting every strongpoint within the fort.

Eventually, Southern resistance made a last stand at Battery Buchanan.  The Union committed fresh troops in the form of the 27th Colored Regiment. These black troops helped breach the final wall as Union ships resumed their devastating rain of fire. It was after sundown when the Confederates finally put up a white flag of surrender.  Fort Fisher had fallen and with it the blockade of Wilmington was secured, a strategic blow to Confederate logistics as no ports remained open for supplies from Europe. The Yankees suffered about 1,200 casualties, the Rebels some 500 in addition to over 1,000 prisoners.  General Whiting was wounded resisting the Northern attack.

On January 16, scores of Union troops and Confederate prisoners were killed by a massive explosion of the fort's main ammunition magazine. The cause of the explosion was unknown. Secretary Edwin Stanton visited the fort later in the day on his return north after a strategic meeting with General Sherman in Savannah, Georgia.  General Terry honored the Secretary by presenting him with the fort's surrendered Confederate flag. Meanwhile, the Unionist State Convention in Nashville nominated a new governor for the state and voted to abolish slavery and nullify the secession of the state.  A general election to approve all this was scheduled for late February.

In Savannah, General Sherman's 60,000 troops were delayed in their invasion of South Carolina and eastern Georgia by heavy rains.  Sherman divided his army into two large commands, one would be sent toward Charleston, SC the other toward Augusta, Georgia.  The plan was to divert the meager Confederate forces facing him away from Sherman's true target - Columbia, South Carolina.  The rains would last for several days, the heaviest recorded rainfall for that southern region in 20 years.  Sherman continued preparations for the upcoming campaign and attempted to reopen the port of Savannah for trade, offering shipping services to local cotton growers and other large merchants upon transport vessels headed to northern ports.

Maryland politician Francis P. Blair was sent by President Abraham Lincoln through Union lines to Richmond for informal talks with Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Blair was tasked with feeling out the Southern leader for possible peace talks.  Davis sent a personal letter through Blair back to Lincoln expressing the willingness to enter talks "between our two countries."  Lincoln refused to entertain any discussions wherein the Confederacy would be recognized as a separate country, insisting that the talks remain informal and conducted between disagreeing factions of the United States.

Two blockade runners, who were apparently unaware that Fort Fisher had fallen, were captured near the fort by the Union navy.  Meanwhile, down in Charleston Harbor, the Union monitor Patapsco struck a Confederate mine, sinking and killing about 60 sailors.  As this happened, General Sherman's army began to move into South Carolina and eastern Georgia.  General John Gibbon, famed commander of "the Iron Brigade," took over command of the Army of the James from interim commander Edward Ord.

Skirmishing intensified throughout the war-torn country. Confederate cavalry attacked and was repulsed in Virginia, some 10 miles from Harper's Ferry.  Likewise, there were skirmishes near Waynesville, Missouri, near Fort Larned, Kansas, and along the North Carolina coast near Fort Fisher. Elsewhere, General Sherman left Savannah for South Carolina, moving by streamer to Port Royal.  His plans were to establish his headquarters near Coosawatchie, SC.

Fighting near Clarksville, Arkansas led to the capture and burning of a Federal ship by the Confederates. Union troops also met heavy resistance along Benton Road south of Little Rock, AR.  In New Orleans, the Federals prepared for an offensive but their intent was difficult to discern. Most likely the objective would be in vicinity Mobile Bay, Alabama though Galveston, Texas was also a possibility.  Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of Southern forces west of the Mississippi River and headquartered in Shreveport, Louisiana, prepared a response for either possibility.

General Hood's request to be relieved command of the Army of Tennessee was granted.  General Richard Taylor was appointed to fill his position. Taylor would command a rag-tag remnant of the army that numbered about 65,000 when Hood took over before the fall of Atlanta.  This remnant (about 18,000 effective troops) was made even smaller as much of Taylor's command was ordered to the Carolinas to help combat General Sherman's advance.

In Richmond, the Confederate Congress voted to resume prisoner exchanges with the North. Exchanges took place sporadically throughout the war, usually in the form of a gentleman's agreement between local commanders.  Since 1863 these exchanges were almost nonexistent, leading to overcrowding in the prisons both North and South.  Union General Ulysses S. Grant authorized and formalized this most recent exchange agreement. It was hoped that this agreement would lead to better conditions for the many prisoners exchanged.

Both sides shared concerns for the treatment of their prisoners.  In the North, the POW camp near Elmira, New York had swelled well beyond capacity, with many Southern prisoners living without shelter, suffering from disease and malnutrition.  Unknown hundreds had died at Elmira. Meanwhile, the infamous Confederate camp at Andersonville contains some 46,000 prisoners in 1865.  Rations were meager all across the South, even for the Confederate armies and the population.  So it is even worse on these Northern prisoners.  A staggering 13,000 died at Andersonville during the course of the war.

Over the course of three days a dozen Confederate gunships including three ironclads, one of the largest Southern river concentrations of the war, attempted to break through Union defenses on the James River.  The Southerners wanted to reach General Grant's headquarters and supply depot at City Point, Virginia.  After intense fighting with Union batteries which lead to the sinking of a few Confederate ships, the Southern force withdrew up the James River to safety toward Richmond.  The Southerners knew that most of the Union monitor vessels were away at Fort Fisher and thought they would test the Union for weakness, and possibly threaten Grant's logistics, along the James.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate army in the trenches around Petersburg, reported to the Confederate government that desertions were on the rise in the Army of Northern Virginia.  Lee expressed that the primary reason for this was the lack of food and supplies.  Further, he categorically stated that he would not consider reducing the daily rations of his troops in order to make ends meet.  He said the efficiency and fighting ability of his army was dependent upon adequate rations and further emphasized his belief that the present shortages were due to a lack of sufficient effort on the part of the Commissary Department.

In South Carolina, the Right Wing of General Sherman's army, under the command of General O.O. Howard, was met with heavy skirmishing as it pressed into that state.  The Left Wing, under General Henry Slocum, was delayed due to the swollen condition of the Savannah River. Confederate General Joseph Wheeler sent out pickets to fire upon the advancing Union troops at every major road and river crossing.  Each time the pickets were driven back, but this slowed the Northern advance to a crawl as the Yankees would have to deploy to attack the pickets, then redeploy to march along the muddy roads.

Confederate President Davis appointed a "peace commission" to be escorted through Union lines to Fort Monroe to confer with Federal officials on the possibility of ending the war. The commission consisted of his Vice-President, Alexander Stephens, former U.S. Senator Robert M.T. Hunter, and former Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell.  President Lincoln himself authorized the safe passage of this commission thanks to the work of go-between Francis Blair and with the understanding that discussions on both sides would be regarding "our one common country." However, the Army of the James did not receive timely orders regarding this matter.  So the commission was retained at Union lines for one day before passage was allowed.

On that day, January 31, as the commission was allowed passage to Fort Monroe for "informal talks" on ending the war, the U.S. House of Representatives convened to vote on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the abolition of slavery.  There was drama before the vote as rumor had arrived that the Confederates were sending a peace commission to Washington.  Proceedings stopped as it was feared that many of the House Democrats would switch their vote to "no" if a peace commission was at hand.  It took a personal note from President Lincoln indicating that "there is no peace commission in the city, nor is there likely to be." With this assurance the roll-call proceeded.

The amendment was adopted by a vote of 119 - 56 with several Democrats either abstaining or not present.  Cheers erupted within the House chamber and it was difficult to keep order at times as it became apparent that key Congressional Democrats were crossing party lines to vote with the Republicans.  The amendment would now move on to the States for almost certain ratification.  Slavery and involuntary servitude within the United States was abolished.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Reading The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

When the season is darkest with a chill on the land I like to settle-in during a few evenings with maybe a nice cup of decaf coffee and read some H.P. Lovecraft.  My most recent fix was his posthumously published short novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.  At about 50,000 words, this is the longest work authored by Lovecraft, yet it is only a first draft.  The author was displeased with the results and never attempted any revision nor sought publication.  Regardless, even in draft form, it remains one of his better works.  

Though not as good as At the Mountains of Madness, this book nevertheless strikes me as very effective in the traditional Lovecraftian sense.  It is atmospheric, filled with historical depth that feigns authenticity, with bizarre and grotesque insinuations and occurrences that are incompletely explained and effectively suggested in order to engage the reader's imagination, thereby magnifying the intended horror with minimum description.  Lovecraft is the master of weird cosmic ambiguity efficiently used to establish a profound existential dread.

Charles Ward is a bright, if solitary, young man from a respected, well-to-do family. He maintains a healthy interest in history throughout his youth. He enjoys walking through the streets of Providence, Rhode Island, looking at old buildings, reading old diaries, and conducting every sort of antiquarian research.  When he stumbles across the fragmented record of Joseph Curwen, an ancestor who seems to have been expunged from family history, this naturally peaks his curiosity and he investigates more deeply. 

The novel begins with Ward having mysteriously escaped from a mental institution. Lovecraft establishes that Ward suffered from a dramatic change that physicians and psychologists (so-called "alienists") are unable to classify.  He has aged dramatically, his voice has vanished to a whisper, he seems to have become so mentally absorbed in his past studies that he knows more about historic events than he does about happenings in the present.  Perhaps most strangely, Ward demonstrates an uncharacteristic interest in understanding contemporary events that he should find familiar, whereas his knowledge of intimate historic details in the past seems uncanny.  His personality transforms to such a degree that he has to be committed to institutional care. 

The first section of the book is devoted to laying out the history of Joseph Curwen.  Lovecraft introduces Curwen through a lengthy historical chronology pieced together by Ward's meticulous studies: " revealed by the rambling legends embodied in what Ward heard and unearthed was a very astonishing, enigmatic, and obscurely horrible individual.  He fled from Salem to Providence, that universal haven of the odd, the free, and the dissenting at the beginning of the great witchcraft panic because of his solitary ways and queer chemical or alchemical experiments."

Despite Lovecraft's mysterious set up, Curwen is well-educated, wealthy, charitable, deals in the trade of spices, comes from well-known and respected European family.  So he is an accepted, if unusual, member of the community.  He settled in Providence, built a new house in the town in 1761, and maintained a small farm in the Pawtuxet area beyond the town.  People talk about the strange hours he keeps, the lights in his house being on at odd hours, his fascination with old texts on magic and pagan rituals, his tendency to frequent graveyards, and his obsession with chemistry.  He attempts to blend in with the population and is somewhat accepted by offering some locals "snake oil" type cures for their ailments. But, neighbors to the farm house report hearing odd sounds and occasional cries in the night.

A big problem for Curwen is that he doesn't seem to age. Decades pass and Curwen does not appear or act any older. But, since he is a wealthy business man who does things to help the community, people simply accept this weird fact, appreciating what he contributes in spite of his eccentricities. Those who work for Curwen fear him, however.  He basically blackmails them to keep them quiet about his dealings by telling them private things about their past that they would rather not be publicly known and in which only dead family members might have known.  

He leverages this puzzling knowledge to cause a local father to annul the engagement of his young daughter to a local ship captain's mate, Ezra Weeden, and betroth her to Curwen instead.  The marriage occurs, the couple have a daughter in 1765 (Ward's direct ancestor), but Weeden is disgruntled. Though Curwen is doing more civic duties and rising in esteem in the community, Weeden begins a long process of investigation, spanning several years, into the strange occurrences out at the farm.  From this, Weeden begins to piece together stories of sounds, as if torture and interrogations, coming from what are apparently catacombs under the ground of the farmhouse.

Around 1770, the townsfolk are awaken in the middle of the night by a loud commotion.  The next day a naked man is found dead in the snow.  The man resembles a blacksmith that had died in the area some 50 years ago.  This shocks the elders of the town more than any of the other strange occurrences heretofore mentioned.  Weeden is on hand to check out the situation and he traces the dead man's footprints back to Curwen's farm. Further investigation indicates that the blacksmith's grave was excavated and the body is missing.  This motivates some locals to intercept delivery of Curwen's mail.  What they read only baffles them even more.  Some of the letters are written in some language no one recognizes, others involve chemical and occult matters that none understand.

One of the confiscated letters contains a passage that Ward reads 150 years later as he researched and pieced this odd story together. It is written the old style of the time: "I say to your againe, doe not call up Any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use.  Ask of the Lesser, lest the Greater shall not wish to Answer, and shall commande more than you."

Things quickly come to a head as far as the townsfolk and Curwen are concerned.  A militia is formed of about 100 men and the Curwen farm is attacked under cover of night.  But this results is a unexpected skirmish against unknown and almost indescribable resistance. 

"Then the flaming thing burst into sight at a point where the Curwen farm ought to lie, the human cries of desperate and frightened men were heard. Muskets flashed and cracked, and the flaming thing fell to the ground.  A second flaming thing, and a shriek of human crying was plainly distinguished.  Then there were more shots and the second flaming thing fell.

"Five minutes later a chill wind blew up, and the air became suffused with such an intolerable stench that only the strong freshness of the sea could have prevented its being noticed by the shore party of by any wakeful souls in Pawtuxet village.  This stench was nothing which any had ever encountered before, and produced a kind of clutching, amorphous fear beyond that of the tomb of the charnel-house. Close upon it came the awful voice which no hapless hearer will ever be able to forget.  It thundered of the sky like a doom, and windows rattled as its echoes died away. It was deep and musical; powerful as a brass organ, but evil as the forbidden books of the Arabs.  What it said no man can tell, for it spoke in an unknown tongue..."

Curwen dies in the attack along with several of the militiamen.  His body is returned to his wife for burial. Everything to this point takes up about one-third of the novel and is offered as a summary of Charles Ward's research into his ancestor. From this point on the narrative emphasizes the present time (the 1920's) and concentrates on the effect continued research on this matter has upon young Ward. Eventually, he becomes more interested in what Curwen might have attempted to do than in the man himself. Cuwen's research and dabbling with occultism and alchemy increasingly become Ward's personal quest.

Ward discovers a portrait of Joseph Curwen during an antiquarian visit to an old house.  His father is astonished at the uncanny similarity of the portrait to Ward. When the portrait is removed (to be re-installed in Ward's study) one of Curwen's private journals and other obscure manuscripts are discovered in the wall behind the portrait.  Ward obsessively pours over these documents.  His parents and other family members begin to worry about the boy.  Later, one of the alienists contends that this was the beginning of Ward's madness.  

His parents are somewhat relieved when he decides to travel to Europe for a few weeks.  It is hoped that the change will do Ward good.  Unfortunately, the trip has the opposite effect and seems to have made matters worse. Ward becomes even more mysterious and reclusive.  Lovecraft writes:

"What elicited the notion of insanity at this period were the sounds heard at all hours from Ward's attic laboratory, in which he kept himself most of the time.  There were chantings and repetitions, and thunderous declamations in uncanny rhythms; and although these sounds were always in Ward's own voice, there was something in the quality of that voice, and in the accents of the formulae it pronounced, which could not but chill the blood of every hearer.  It was noticed that Nig, the venerable and black cat of the household, brisket and riches his back perceptibly when certain of the tones were heard.  

"The odors occasionally wafted from the laboratory were likewise exceedingly strange. People who smelled them had a tendency to glimpse momentary mirages of enormous vistas, with strange hills or endless avenues of sphinxes and hippo grids stretching into the infinite distance."

One specific incident profoundly affected Ward's mother.  It involved a commotion within Ward's locked study late one evening, I have chosen particular aspects of this longer passage for the sake of brevity.  "This had been going on for two hours without change or intermission when all over the neighborhood a pandemoniac howling of dogs set in. The extent of the howling can be judged from the space it received in the papers the next day, but to those in the Ward household it was overshadowed by the odor which instantly followed it; a hideous all-pervasive odor which none of them had ever smelt before or have smelt since; and then was heard the voice that no listener can ever forget because of its thunderous remoteness, it's incredible depth, and it's eldritch dissimilarity to Charles Ward's voice.

"A second later all previous memories were effaced by the wailing scream which burst out with frantic explosiveness and gradually changed from a paroxysm of diabolical and hysterical laughter.  Mrs. Ward, with the mingled fear and blind courage of maternity, advanced and knocked affrightedly at the concealing panels, but obtained no sign of recognition.  She knocked again, but paused nervelessly as a second shriek arose, this one the unmistakably familiar voice of her son, and sounding concurrently with the still-bursting cachinnations of the other voice. Presently, she fainted, although she is still unable to recall the precise and immediate cause. Memory sometimes makes merciful deletions."

Ward's mother became a casualty of this infernal nonsense. She was sent away on holiday to recuperate and Ward was forced to relocate his secret effects from the attic to the former, now largely dilapidated, Pawtuxet bungalow of Joseph Curwen.

Ward took to associating with an enigmatic Dr. Allen out at the bungalow.  The novel moves quickly here and Ward's doings out at Pawtuxet do not last long before they attract the attention of State Police.  Ward is able to offer sufficient reasons to prevent any intensive investigation.  But shortly thereafter he writes a disturbing letter to his personal physician, Dr. Willet, staying that Ward was abandoning the old residence, after disposing of and destroying aspects of his "research", and returning home to his father.

Dr. Willet takes on greater significance as the story shifts into its third and final phase.  The first phase was the back-story of Curwen.  The second was Ward's increasing obsession with Curwen's research and occultist techniques. The final part of the novel begins when Ward turns up missing altogether. The last word Dr. Willet revives from the young man is in the form of a letter which states: "Instead of triumph I have found terror, and my talk with you will not be a boast of victory but a plea for help and advice in saving both myself and the world from a horror beyond all human conception and calculation."  The letter indicates that Ward wants to meet with Willet and discuss these strange matters in private.  It closes with bizarrely enough.  "P.S. Shoot Dr. Allen on sight and dissolve his body in acid. Don't burn it."

But when Dr. Willet arrives Ward is nowhere to be found. His father does not know his whereabouts and a mystery within a mystery briefly ensues. Ultimately, Willet and the elder Ward manage to piece together evidence that seems to indicate that Dr. Allen believed himself to be the reincarnation of Joseph Curwen and had, for reasons unclear, either caused harm or kidnapped Charles Ward. Beyond this, Dr. Allen seemed to represent a group of individuals or a secret society that was busy collecting the remains of dead bodies all over the world and attempting to reanimate them through diabolical means of alchemy and ritual.

Through complex circumstances Dr. Willet finally tracks down Charles Dexter Ward and is taken aback by what he finds.  In short, Ward had gone insane.  "His conduct would have sent his interviewers away in bafflement had not the persistently archaic trend in his speech and unmistakable replacement of modern by ancient ideas in his consciousness marked him out as one definitely removed from the normal. Of his work he would say no more to the group of doctors than he had formerly said to his family and to Dr. Willet, and his frantic note of the previous month he dismissed as mere nerves and hysteria."

Ward went to the mental hospital exhausted and without protest.  But Dr. Willet visited Pawtuxet to investigate further.  There he discovers the hideous catacombs of Joseph Curwen, where Charles Ward must have undertaken his own experiments and rituals.  The things Dr. Willet discovers are opportunities for Lovecraft to exhibit some of his marvelous style of writing what he called "weird fiction."

"It is hard to explain just how a single sight of a tangible object with measurable dimensions could so shake and change a man; and we may only say that there is about certain outlines and entities a power of symbolism and suggestion which acts frightfully on a sensitive thinker's perspective and whispers terrible hints of obscure cosmic relationships and unnameable realities behind the protective illusions of common vision."  The pits Dr. Willet manages to see beneath the ground on the Pawtuxet property are filled with all manner of ghoulish creatures, failed and discarded attempts at summoning the great lives of the past back to life from their decomposed remains dug up from graves around the world.

Ultimately, Dr. Willet realizes that there is no Dr. Allen and, moreover, there is no Charles Dexter Ward.  Instead, Ward summoned up Joseph Curwen himself and, apparently with great struggle, was possessed by Curwen. (Do not call up what you can not put back down.) Dr. Willet confronts Curwen in the mental hospital room. The two engage in a battle of magic, for Dr. Willet has learned many things and incantations during his long investigation. We are left with the result with which the book begins, a mystery to everyone but Dr. Willet and, now, the reader.  Charles Ward is missing, there is a strange odor in the room, and a curious bit of gray ash in a small pile on the floor. The manner in which the narrative loops is just one of the many wonderful literary techniques used by Lovecraft in this story.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward did not have the benefit of a rewrite by Lovecraft, and it shows in several aspects of the narrative.  It is weak in some of its specifics such as Charles' father who seems to passively accept everything until the end when he assists Dr. Willet in his investigation.  The way people shrug off the strange doings and grave robbing of Curwen and, later, of Charles Ward, seems too convenient and carelessly contrived in the face of such strangeness.  They are all stupid toward the diabolical nature of events.  But Lovecraft truly thought the common person to be rather, mercifully, ignorant.  So perhaps Lovecraft would have left such stupid behavior in the narrative. Who knows?

Overall, this is a strong piece of classic horror, and I find it a eerie, moody, captivating, and thoroughly entertaining read in the dead of winter.  Renown Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi writes in his splendid biography of the author: "It is certainly a pity that Lovecraft made no efforts to prepare The Case of Charles Dexter Ward for publication, even when book publishers in the 1930s were specifically asking for a novel from his pen; but we are in no position to question Lovecraft's own judgment that the novel was an inferior piece of work, a 'cumbrous, creaking bit of self-conscious antiquarianism'.  It has certainly now been acknowledged as one of his finest works..." (page 419)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The War in 1865: Part One

A typical "issue" of The Civil War Today.
Note: Back in 2011 one of the first apps I purchased for my iPad was The Civil War Today. Since then I have followed the course of the war, which occurred 150 years ago now, on a daily basis using this app.  This blog will feature posts on the final events of the American Civil War as detailed in this excellent history app.  Throughout this I will sometimes place my own thoughts, beyond the information contained in the app, in italics.

By January 1865 the American Civil War was decided, but it was not yet quite over.  Great wars are often lost long before the fighting stops.  The North had won yet it is difficult to say exactly when the Southern Confederacy lost this War Between the States.  Southerners had endured and rallied from defeats at Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Nashville. There were still organized armies in the field and there was still effective resistance to Federal Authority.

As I detailed earlier, as late as the election of 1864 there remained a very real possibility for Southern cultural autonomy if not national independence. But Lincoln's reelection meant the Northern material advantages in manpower and manufacturing would continue to press forward until the South surrendered.  Yet, surrender seemed impossible for the South.  There was tremendous fear of Northern subjugation and retribution.

So, the war went on with the Army of Northern Virginia still defiantly in the trenches at Petersburg, while Richmond, the Confederate capital a few miles to the north, was still safeguarded, and with Southern forces regrouping in the Carolinas for the final showdown against well-equipped and highly-motivated Union forces. One port remained open to the Confederates for supply from Europe. That was Wilmington, North Carolina, still open to blockade runners thanks to the protection of Fort Fisher.  Throughout the rest of the tattered Confederacy, small groups and several smallish armies of Southern forces continued to skirmish and generally contest widespread Union control of the South.

According to the app, over 368,000 Union soldiers had died as the war entered 1865.  About 350,000 Confederates suffered the same fate.  Half these deaths were due to disease rather than combat. Hundreds of thousands more were maimed and wounded in the vicious fighting that a ravaged the whole South and parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania and the western frontier.  After almost four years of it everyone was sick of war. The North was tired and wanted peace but now saw total victory at hand.  The South held on to forlorn hopes as southern pride remained strong despite abject poverty, widespread misery, and, in many areas, a compete disruption of Southern cultural foundations.

Here is what happened during the beginning of January 1865 according to the Civil War Today app...

New Year's Day was marked with celebrations in Memphis, Tennessee by free blacks parading in the streets in recognition of the second anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect. Tennessee was getting ready for a state convention scheduled for January 9 to lay the legislative groundwork to officially bring the state back into the Union.  Meanwhile, skirmishing between Confederate and Federal forces near Bentonville, Arkansas reminded everyone the war was still on.

General John Bell Hood's shattered Army of Tennessee encamped near Tupelo, Mississippi, a shell of its former self after the disastrous 1864 Campaign in Tennessee.  Federal cavalry units were conducting raids in southern Mississippi, destroying Confederate rail lines there.  General P.G.T. Beauregard was ordered by Richmond to take charge in the Western Theater.  He began to travel west from his command at Charleston, South Carolina.  This occurred as Union forces were entering South Carolina from Savannah, Georgia. Confederate cavalry forces under General Joseph Wheeler offered heavy resistance at Hardeeville, SC slowing the Union advance to a crawl.

About 5,000 troops from the Army of the James boarded Union ships at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia and made ready for a second attempt upon Fort Fisher, the first Federal attack having ended in failure in late 1864.  Secretary of War Edwin Stanton left Washington to sail down to Savannah for a conference with General William T. Sherman on the conduct of operations in the Carolinas in general and against Charleston in particular.

The lameduck, Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives took up the matter of abolishing slavery. New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Delaware entered petitions for abolition.  Such an effort failed when it reached the House floor in 1864. The newly-elected House has not taken office yet and would certainly have enough votes to pass any such political measure when it convenes, but President Abraham Lincoln was pressuring the House to act before then as his administration feared that the war might end with slavery still officially legal in the country.

Union General Benjamin Butler was dismissed from his command.  The official reason was the failure of the initial attack on Fort Fisher, which he lead in December.  General Ulysses S. Grant stated that There was a "lack of confidence" in Butler as field commander and that his administrative abilities were also considered "objectionable." Southerners were certainly cheered by the news. To the South he was known as "Beast" Butler for numerous controversial actions in the war including the occupation of Baltimore, Maryland in 1861 and several harsh measures enacted during the occupation of New Orleans, Louisiana in 1862. General Edward Ord replaced Butler.

As scheduled, on January 9, some 200 delegates representing all parts of Tennessee convened in Nashville and officially introduced legislation to abolish slavery in that state.  Work began on a new constitution that would annul both the 1861 act of secession and the state's military alliance with the Confederacy, thereby paving the way for reentry into the Union.  Also on that day, debate continued in the House of Representatives on the abolition of slavery featuring an eloquent speech delivered by New York Democratic Congressman Moses Odell.

Debate continued on the abolition of slavery in the House of Representatives.  Northern congressmen opposed to abolition were plentiful and they spoke against the legislation.  New York Representative Frenando Wood stated: "The Almighty has fixed the distinction of the races; the Almighty has made the black man inferior, and, sir, by no legislation, by no partisan success, by no revolution, by no military power, can you wipe out this distinction."

(Note: In retrospect, this opposition reveals why the South pinned so much hope on the defeat of President Lincoln in 1864.  The Confederacy truly believed such a political defeat would have ensured the prominence of this powerful contingent in the North who were nonchalant about slavery and had already defeated the attempt at abolition once before, and might be extended, through war weariness and acceptance of cultural differences, to embrace Southern independence.  Even this seems rather foolhardy, however. In truth, while Wood represented a broad Northern racism no different from that in the South, he and those like him nevertheless insisted upon Union.  The South had to be brought back into the Union, with slavery intact as far as this Yankee contingent was concerned, but the Union must be preserved.)

Missouri was holding a state convention of its own as abolition was debated in DC and in Tennessee. Delegates to the convention were elected by state voters last November, with roughly 2/3 of the delegates being anti-slavery.  On January 11, the convention voted to abolish slavery within that state. Work continued on a new state constitution that will, like Tennessee, be submitted to the voters of the state for final approval.

Minor Union setbacks occurred in the fact that the large naval exhibition to attack Fort Fisher was delayed due to bad weather at sea, while Confederate cavalry drove two Union infantry regiments away and captured Beverly, West Virginia.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Dad's Farm Truck on New Year's Day

My dad owns two trucks.  One is a white "town" truck.  It looks nice and is fairly contemporary.  The other is a circa 1998 brown "farm" diesel truck. This farm truck was "totaled" by insurance adjusters when the heavy storm hit my parents' property three years ago.  It was parked next to the barn at that time.  The barn was completely destroyed.  The wind picked the truck up and slammed it into the ground. The windshield was cracked, there were a few minor dents from flying debris, and the paint over the entire body was scratched and chipped but the old diesel still started and still ran smoothly.  So dad kept using it for hauling things around the farm.  What else was he going to do with it?  Apparently, it was no longer legally worth anything except for scrap metal.

Regular readers know that my dad suffered a mild stroke early last year.  He has since regained his balance, strength, stamina, and speech that had all be initially impaired by the stroke. The only lasting effect is that he has lost about 20% of his vision, which now checks out at 20/30.  He isn't blind but things appear less crisp and focused for him.  "I can't see as clear," is the way he explains it. Anyway, the point is my dad still has land and fences and cattle and he is fully active on his little farm.  Which is why this strange story about his farm truck recently happened.

Around Thanksgiving last year, after checking the cows in it, dad backed the truck in close to the large red metal shed that now sits where the barn once stood. He left the manual stick transmission in reverse, cut the motor, and took the key out of the ignition.  He went in to the house, had dinner, watch Wheel of Fortune, and nodded off watching TV until he finally went to bed.  The next morning, after breakfast, dad went to the shed to take his battered farm truck into town to pick up various farm supplies.  The truck might not look like much on the roadway but at a farm supply store it looks like "a real working man's" vehicle.  When dad got to the shed he saw something unsuspected.

The truck was pressed back into the metal wall of the shed, it had pushed into it a little, bending the wall slightly.  His trailer hitch had punched a small hole clean through the wall, projecting inside. The rear tires on the truck had apparently spun in place and dug themselves into the moist ground there about 4-5 inches.  Further inspection determined that the battery was dead, the starter was burned out and the flywheel was ground to nothing.  Dad deduced that, for reasons unknown, the starter pulled power from the battery and turned the flywheel, engaging the drivetrain in reverse gear and backed the truck in slow motion into the barn where it pushed softly against the shed as the tires dug very slowly into the ground for a couple of minutes until the starter burned out and stopped the whole process.

The several mechanics dad has told this story to scratch their heads and say it seems impossible. But there was no key in the ignition.  The motor never started at all, it was an entirely electrical process. I think my dad is right.  I figure this is the same electrical weirdness (literally 'the ghost in the machine') that happens when you hear about a car burning up in a parking lot, just sitting there.

On New Year's morning I got up about 7:30 and made coffee. About 8 I called my parents to wish them a happy New Year. I talked to them about how things were since Christmas and taking down decorations and family in the hospital and all the normal stuff people talk about.  During the conversation dad asked if I could come help him with his truck. He wanted to get it running and take it to a backwoods mechanic he knew who would put a used starter and flywheel on it. Jennifer and I were going to her parents of a traditional southern black eye pea lunch and to watch some college football, so I told him I would come over mid-afternoon and give him a hand.

When I got to my parents place I noticed that the tractor (which has a hydraulic front lift) was positioned behind the truck and the truck was facing out toward the road.  Dad's plan was to push the truck instead of pulling it with a chain. He and my brother had already broken a chain when he started it after pulling it out of the side of the shed right after the incident.  He had parked the truck in front of the shed and left it there ever since.  It had not run since Thanksgiving. 

So this time he wanted to push it which would allow for the full horsepower of the tractor to hopefully fire up the manual transmission truck. My dad lives on a boundary line.  On his side of the road there is his farm which adjoins many hundreds of acres of woods and fields and pastures of farmland beyond to the west. You have to go a mile or more to get to the next little group of houses, all sitting on large lots.  

Across the road from my parents' home (and my birth home) there is a dense development of probably 300 houses or more, stretching a half mile or so to the east.  My dad wanted to push the truck with the tractor down a side street through the subdivision. He wanted to push it across the road and onto the side street, pick up some speed rolling downhill then let off on the clutch and try to start the truck that way.  I put the truck in third gear.

I drove the truck while dad pushed with the tractor. The side street was not directly across from the shed. So a 20-25 foot turn was involved to get us going down it. The road was clear of traffic so away we went. Only the truck was heavy and the tractor was not moving it very quickly.  

I had to apply the brake as we started maneuvering. A small car suddenly came speeding down the road and the truck's momentum was insufficient to beat it.  So we almost immediately lost momentum.  The car passed safely but now the truck was taking up half the road and two trucks from the other direction were already stopped in the middle of the road, waiting.  I motioned to them through the open window.  "Just one minute," I tried to signal. What else was I going to do?  I could not back the truck up.  We had to keep going.

Dad readjusted the tractor and eased into the bumper again. I felt a jolt and away we went, very slowly at first, then with a bit more speed, until at last we were out of the road and the truck was drifting down the side street.  My foot pressed the clutch.  As the truck gained momentum it began to pull away from the tractor, slowly at first then faster and further.  

I let off on the clutch.  The truck jerked and skidded slightly. Nothing.  Back down with the clutch, still rolling downhill.  I gained some speed before the tractor could catch me and let off on the clutch again.  On about the third try smoke came out of the exhaust but the truck did not start.  Again. Let off the clutch.  Smoke. Then nothing.

This was repeated 6-7 times, each time with slightly more smoke, but the truck did not start and by now I was nearing the bottom of the street's decline. For the first time I began to wonder what we were going to do if we got down into bottom of the subdivision and the truck just would not start. I guess the tractor would just have to push me back up the hill to the shed and we'd try something else. Fortunately there was zero traffic or children playing or anything like that as we rolled by the many houses along the side road. It was the afternoon of New Year's Day 2015. Everyone was laying around eating and watching college bowl games. 

Dad and the tractor reached the truck as I slowing due to the bottom of the decline.  The tractor knocked into the bumper again with a pretty hard jolt and I let off of the clutch.  The tractor pushed the truck about 30-40 feet, more or less forcing the engine to engage as the transmission was now being used as a starter. Smoke intensified. The tractor continued to push and I pressed down the clutch.  Somewhat to my surprise as I held the clutch down the motor started running.
I pumped a thumbs-up out the driver's window to my dad, diesel fumes and smoke everywhere, downshifted into second and drove the truck to a place where I could turn around, a side street to the side road in the subdivision.  Dad backed into someone's driveway and headed back toward the shed. It is counter-intuitive that pressing the clutch in rather than letting it out was what started the truck since we were pushing it off.  But then so is just about everything else about this story.

I pulled the truck back where we began and left it running (of course).  I followed dad in my car on some winding back roads and we dropped the truck off at the mechanics shop. Dad parked the diesel in a mud hole and left it with the keys still in it. I laughed at that. But, as he explained, no one could start it anyway.  I thought yeah and even if someone did steal it dad wasn't even sure he wanted the truck.  

But he's going to sink a couple of hundred dollars into the battered farm truck and get it starting again.  I get where he's coming from.  I have an old vehicle of my own. My dad and I want our old cars or trucks to run forever even if we know they won't. It is an attitude I guess my dad has these days anyway.  A few months ago he had lost half his vision, his speech was thick and slurred, and his unsteady balance required him to use a walker or a cane. Now all that's gone and he is a pretty old piece of equipment himself.  So, hell, why not fix the truck that was totaled three years ago? Long may you run.