Wednesday, September 30, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Robert E. Lee: Lessons in Leadership


I found Robert E. Lee: Lessons in Leadership by Noah Andre Trudeau (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, N.Y. 2009) to be an excellent survey of the life of that great Southern-American general. This book is a concise summary of the life and military career of Lee, and avoids getting bogged down or lost in a lot of distracting details.

I also like Noah Andre Trudeau's writing style and his completely fair historical analysis. There are all too many modern historians and biographers who come at a subject with a theory they want to prove. They then cherry-pick from details that seem to support their case and end up with a distorted and unfair work. That is not the case here. Trudeau is my ideal of how a professional historian should write about a subject. He is fair, thorough, interesting, and has no modern-day axe-to-grind. The author seems to understand how important it is to evaluate the subject within the context of his own time.

The book covers the entirety of Lee's life, from his birth at Stratford Hall, Virginia in 1807, to his death in Lexington, Virginia. I feel the strength of the book is the author's evaluation of the major campaigns Lee was in during the War For Southern Independence. It is a really good refresher on the major decisions Lee had to make, the things he was aware of at the time, and pluses and minuses of those decisions. Hindsight is always 20-20, so it is good to know how important the contemporary fog-of-war is in any battle. Lee knew the value of intelligence, and was always at his best when he had a wealth of information at hand before he made his final decision. That is why he was so disgruntled about Gen. JEB Stuart's absence to the critical buildup period prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, as Trudeau points out. Gettysburg was Lee's first major battle without Stonewall Jackson, and he was additionally hampered by Stuart not being available. Lee always had complete confidence in the information Stuart brought him.

The book is also well-written, enjoyable to read and has a fast-moving pace. It is the type of book I can really get into and find hard to put down. The maps, supplied by Trudeau himself, were another important help to the reader to better visualize what's being written about.

Robert E. Lee: Lessons In Leadership by Noah Andre Trudeau; Palgrave Macmillan, New York, N.Y. 2009; 233 pages, black and white photos and illustrations; notes, index; $25 hardback.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Reeves Brothers, Tragedy Of War

Cpl. Isaace Reeves & Sgt. James Reeves
Co. K, 10th Louisiana Infantry

Calcasieu Parish escaped the widespread devastation that many areas of the state and South suffered during the Civil War. Although it escaped physical devastation however, hardly a family in the parish was left untouched by human tragedy. Few families suffered a greater loss than the pioneer Reeves family.

Three sons left for the war in 1861, James, Isaac and John, and only one came back, and he had suffered a terrible wound. The brothers were the sons of George Reeves and Mary Ann Ryan, the sister of Jacob Ryan Jr., who is known as the ''Father of Lake Charles.''

James Reeves was the oldest of the brothers. He was born in 1836 and was a farmer before he enlisted. He was married to Tabitha Harmon and had one son, David George Reeves, who was born in 1858. Isaac and John Reeves were twins born in 1840. They were both single at the time of their enlistment in 1861 and were also farmers.

The brothers joined with other local volunteers to help form the Confederate States Rangers. James was a sergeant, Isaac a corporal and John a private. They were among a 37 man contingent from Calcasieu Parish who left for the war in mid-1861. The contingent was mostly comprised of the sons of pioneer families in the parish, and most all were related in some way.

There were six sets of brothers in the company, an uncle and nephew, and most were related to one another as cousins or through marriage. When their regiment got into heavy combat, the casualty rate took a heavy toll on local families. The last names of the volunteers in Company K are still among the most common in Southwest Louisiana, including LeBleu, Marcantel, Ryan, Pithon, Moss, Kirkman, Bolin, Linscombe, Miller, Morgan, Langley, Hoffpauir, Farque, Foreman, Hargrove, Harrington, Ellender, Courville, Trahan and Buller.

The 10th Louisiana Infantry Regiment was organized and formally sworn into Confederate service on July 22, 1861 at Camp Moore in Tangipahoa. The regiment was assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia and fought in most of the famous battles in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The Calcasieu Parish men served under two of the greatest military figures in American History, General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas J. ''Stonewall'' Jackson. The marching and fighting in the summer of 1862 were both exhausting and extremely bloody.

James, Isaac and John experienced their first taste of combat on July 1, 1862 at the Battle of Malvern Hill near Richmond, Virginia. All three came through unscathed.
The next battle was Cedar Run on August 9, followed by Second Manassas on Aug. 29, 30. At Manassas, the Louisianans ran out of ammunition and threw rocks to stop a Union assault. Again, all three brothers came through safely.

James was wounded in the next battle, the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam) which is known as the bloodiest single day in American History. The 10th Louisiana fought in a cornfield and along the Hagerstown Pike early in the battle. Both sides lost 23,000 men in killed, wounded and missing.

The elder brother recovered from his wound and was given a furlough home. He delivered letters from his comrades to loved ones and brought 1st Lt. Edward A. Seton's sword to Seton's mother in Lake Charles. As if the tragedy of war wasn't enough, James lost his wife Tabitha, who died in childbirth.

After returning to his command, he would fight just one more battle. The Battle of Chancellorsville, fought May 1-3, 1863, has been called Lee's greatest victory of the war. The tactical maneuvers he and Stonewall Jackson used there are still studied at West Point. But for the soldiers who fought there, it was a horrifying nightmare.

Sgt. James Reeves was killed in action and Lt. Seton wrote the following account of his death in a letter dated June 17, 1863 from a hospital in Liberty, Va.:

''Dear Mama, I expect you have been living in great suspense for these last six weeks on account of having heard of my wound and probably of my death for such was reported for I had been taken prisoner after being wounded. Our company stood on the field (to) the last and fought with the Yankees at 30 yards distance. They (his men) did not leave until I told them to go...Poor Jim Reeves was killed at my left and I went to get his rifle to give to F.(Frederick) Sark whose gun would not fire and at that moment I was wounded and when I looked around to give Sark the gun I seen, poor fellow, he was killed also. Those are the fortunes of a poor soldier.''

Also at Chancellorsville, Pvt. John Reeves was severely wounded and lost his eyesight. He spent the rest of the war in a hospital. John's twin, Isaac, also suffered a wound but it did not keep him out of action for long.

The Gettysburg campaign quickly followed. The 10th Louisiana was part of Ewell's Corp that cleared the way for Lee's greatest invasion of the North. The regiment fought and helped win the Battle of Winchester on June 14 and 15, 1863.

The first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, found the regiment 30 miles away and it didn't arrive until sundown after a forced march in the hot sun. The regiment went into battle on the Confederate left flank at Culp's Hill. During the assault the next day, July 2, Isaac Reeves was killed in action.

In just two months time two of the brothers had been killed and the third disabled.
The Reeves family tragedy was a reflection of the loss of other Calcasieu families.

After four years of the most brutal warfare experienced on the North American continent, only two of the 37 local men were left in the ranks at the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse April 9, 1865. Those two were Pvt. Jacob Ellender and Pvt. William Reeves, a cousin to the three brothers.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

THE GREAT NAVAL RAID ON LAKE CHARLES


A storm blew into Lake Charles, Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico in early October 1862 like no other storm it has ever experienced before or since. This storm wasn't a hurricane as one might expect. It was a Union Navy raiding party unleashing the wrath of Abraham Lincoln. The raid on Lake Charles was by no means an isolated incident. Before it was over, the war had been brought directly to Southwest Louisiana and local residents had been used as "human shields."

The raid was part of a well coordinated counterattack ordered by Lincoln to reestablish federal control over ports on the Texas and Louisiana coasts. The 16th U.S. President was worried about French incursions into Mexico and a possible alliance between France and the Confederate States of America, which could make the separation of the Northern and Southern states a permanent divorce. Louisiana and Texas had seceded from the Union on Jan. 26 and Feb. 1, 1861, respectively.

Lake Charles, being so close to the Texas border, was much more involved in the coastal war there, than the various campaigns that were fought in other parts of Louisiana.

One of the main Union war strategies was blockading Confederate ports to cut off commerce and war materials from entering the independence minded parts of the Southern states. The big problem posed by Texas was that it bordered Mexico, whose ports could not be blockaded. In addition, the border between Mexico and the Southern Republic was wide open for overland commerce. With shipbuilding facilities, sawmills and a fine inland port, Lake Charles had thrived on a bustling sea trade with Texas and Mexico before the war.

Running the blockade were daring Southern seamen in swift sloops, sleek schooners and seagoing steamships. The Union's main target in its raid on Lake Charles was Captain Daniel Goos' blockade runner the "Dan."

The "Dan" was built in Lake Charles during the summer of 1857. It was a side-wheeler, not large by steamboat standards of the time, but well suited for the Calcasieu River and coastal trade. It was 99 feet long by 23 feet wide and weighed 112 tons. The boat cost $10,000 to build and was designed to tow wind-powered schooners out to sea when there was not enough breeze to fill their sails. It was also used to carry cotton to nearby ports.

Under the command of Captain W.L. Sawyer, the steam packet was a real money-maker in prewar days, churning along in the rivers and coastal areas of the upper Texas and Louisiana coasts.With the secession of Louisiana and the outbreak of war, Goos turned the "Dan" into a very effective blockade runner.

The steamboat first served the Confederacy by transporting troops from Texas to Brashear, modern day Morgan City, from which the soldiers were taken by train to New Orleans and points beyond. The Union blockade was put into effect along the upper Texas and Louisiana coasts on 1 July 1861.

Blockade running was considered very adventurous, romantic, and very, very profitable. It was also vital to the main Confederate war aim of establishing Southern Independence. The Southern belles of Lake Charles made flags for the ships, both as tokens of their admiration and as good luck charms for the Confederate sailors.
By October 1862, the "Dan" was a successful blockade runner having completed two trips to Matamoras, Mexico where it delivered Southern cotton and lumber, and ran back through the blockade vital war materials such as guns, cannons and medicines. This thorn in the side of the Union's West Gulf Blockading Squadron was one of the main targets of when Lincoln ordered the Naval counterattack all along the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

Leading the counterattack was Commander William B. Renshaw, who had under his command a squadron of powerful gunboats and marines. The first target in the counterattack was Sabine Pass, Texas. Unknown to the Unionists, Sabine Pass was in the midst of a deadly yellow fever epidemic and only a skeleton garrison was manning the fort there. When the Union naval squadron attacked on 24 Sept. 1862, the Confederate garrison could do little more than spike and bury its cannons and retreat to Beaumont.

Part of the squadron then turned southwest along the coast of Texas and captured Galveston on 4 October 1862. However one of the squadron ships, the U.S.S. Kensington, turned east and steamed to the Calcasieu River where it arrived on 1 October 1862. The commander of the Kensington was a tough, fearless New Englander, Lt. Frederick Crocker. Before the war, Crocker was the captain of a fabled New England whaling ship. He was just the sort of salty, experienced seaman the Navy needed to command its blockaders when war broke out and the peace time fleet was greatly expanded.

Fortunately for the Union Navy, there was a staunch Union supporter, Duncan Smith, who had a home at Leesburg, modern day Cameron. Smith informed Crocker other blockade runners were anchored in the Calcasieu River, including a Spanish ship, the "Conchita." What neither Crocker nor Smith knew was Gen. Benjamin "Beast" Butler, the corrupt, double-dealing Union commander of occupied-New Orleans, was giving out passes to coastwise cotton traders. In effect, he was trading with the enemy. Butler was having the cotton brought back to New Orleans and was taking it into federal custody.

Smith also told Crocker that Lake Charles was undefended with all the military age men away to the war. He told the New Englander there were only a bout 25 old men or young boys in the vicinity who could offer any resistance at all. Crocker prepared for the raid by fitting out the Kensington's launch with a mast and two sloop sails and mounted a six-pounder boat howitzer on it. His picked crew of raiders included two officers and 12 bluejackets appropriately armed like swashbucklers with cutlasses and muskets.

On Friday, 3 October 1862, Crocker began his daring raid up the Calcasieu River. His goal was to capture the "Dan" while burning ferries, landings and other blockade runners he might encounter. At one landing he captured a prize prisoner, Col. Nathaniel Clifton, commander of the Calcasieu Regiment, Louisiana State Militia, and a servant named Napoleon. The Yankee raiders first bypassed Lake Charles and headed straight for Goosport, about two miles up river, where they and been told the "Dan" was being hidden in a bayou.

The defenseless town was paralyzed with fear, but one lone man mounted a horse and rode out to alert the countryside. This unknown Confederate "Paul Revere," rode a circuitous 35 mile route around Lake Charles sounding the alarm and rounding up any men or boys he could find who were capable of bearing arms. He also found Captain Warren W. Johnson, another local militia leader, who took command of this motely force of about 25 home guardsmen. These civilians, like the "Minute Men" of Revolutionary War days, were armed only with old muskets and shotguns.
Captain Johnson's militia company had the improbable nickname of "Calcasieu Invincibles." The captain led his men to the banks of the Calcasieu River where he set up an ambush along the banks. Meanwhile, Crocker found the "Dan" hidden by willow and cypress branches at the west fork of the Calcasieu River, just beyond Clendinning's Ferry. The bluejackets captured the blockade runner without firing a shot. Crocker moved his boat howitzer onto the larger steamboat, and took the launch into tow.

Now headed downstream, the New Englander burned Clendinning's Ferry and set course for Lake Charles. At Goosport, he chanced upon an arriving blockade runner, the "Mary Ann," and set it on fire. Crocker then forced Captain Goos to load several hundred bales of cotton on the "Dan." The Yankee raiders arrived in Lake Charles the night of Saturday, 5 October 1862. Crocker issued a demand upon the sleepy town. He wanted sweet potatoes and beef from the cattle delivered by 5 a.m. Sunday, or else he would level the town with his howitzer. To show he meant business he opened fire on Jacob Ryan's sawmill, which was on the lakefront at the foot of what is now Division Street.

Witnesses later recounted the mill was busy cutting lumber when without warning the raiders entered the lake. From somewhere near the center of the lake the vessel hoisted the stars and stripes and fired a round from the cannon at the mill. The surprised workers scrambled for cover behind piles of lumber as a second cannon shot boomed out. The Yankee skipper fired a total of five shots at Ryan's mill and hit all around it. The ship then sailed up to the wharf where Crocker demanded the beef and potatoes.

Sunday morning dawned and the tribute had not been delivered by the deadline. Crocker sent another message, this time by Clifton's servant, Napoleon, in which he stated if the provisions were not delivered in 30 minutes, he would start shelling the town as sure as there was a "God in Heaven."

Two Lake Charles residents, Captain Maynard and Joe Charles Sallier, went down to the wharf and asked Crocker to hold his fire. They agreed to comply with his demands. Crocker said the women and children would have to come out and show themselves as a show of good faith. With the women and children under the guns of the Yankee raiders, Sallier went for the cattle and Mrs. Jacob (Rebecca Bilbo) Ryan Jr. hurriedly dug up the sweet potatoes and sent them to the dock by a servant.
Crocker then was told by a Union collaborator that a schooner and six armed men were hidden in a wooded cove north and east of the Bilbo property along the lake. The raiders turned their boat howitzer on the wooded area and opened fire.

Apparently, if it was even there, the shelling was ineffective because there were no reports of a schooner being hit. Crocker was also told about the ambush awaiting him downstream. In his own words, in a report dated 12 October 1862, Crocker said, "By the time I had been three days, nearly up the river, and was informed by Union men, plenty of whom I found, that a large party had collected to attack up below; whereupon I seized upon ten or twelve of the inhabitants of the place and posting them around the man at the wheel, who was exposed, made the best of my way down river."

Johnson's "Calcasieu Invincibles" were still waiting on the banks of the river to blast the Yankee raiders when they passed. A lookout alerted Johnson the "Dan" was approaching. The Calcasieu men sighted "pine knot smoke" rising above the cypress forest along the river and tensely readied their muskets and shotguns for action.
But as the steamboat approached, Johnson told the men to hold their fire. To his shock and horror, the captain saw that the only visible persons on deck were his friends and neighbors who were being used as "human shields." Not being under any such restraint, Crocker caught sight of the militiamen on shore and ordered his howitzer to open fire on them. The Calcasieu men ducked for cover. All the Yankee cannon balls fell harmlessly round them and the "Dan" steamed downriver.
On his way back to the Gulf, Crocker encountered another blockade runner, the "Eliza" and promptly burned it to the water line. When he arrived back at Leesburg, he burned the Spanish blockade runner "Conchita," in spite of its cotton trading pass from "Beast" Butler. Word got back to Washingtona bout Butler's nefarious trade, and on 11 November 1862, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, by order of Lincoln, notified Butler he must refrain from issuing "cotton passes" to blockade runners.
Crocker let all of his prisoners go free, except for Colonel Clifton, whom he took back to New Orleans for possible exchange for a Union officer held captive by Confederates. Clifton was paroled by Admiral David Glasgow Farragut at Pensacola, Florida. on 30 October 1862.

The Yankee lieutenant received the highest accolades for his successful raid. Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles recommended Crocker for promotion, saying, ". . . Captain Crocker's entire conduct meets my highest approbation; his energy and management in the whole affair at Calcasieu River is worthy of commendation. . . ."
The salty New Englander was rather arrogant about his success. In his report he bragged about, ". . . teaching the people (of Lake Charles) a lesson they will not soon forget."

Although he might have taught the defenseless people of Lake Charles a "lesson," 11 months later on 8 September 1863 a red-headed Confederate artillery lieutenant taught Crocker a lesson in accurate Southern gunnery. On that day at the Battle of Sabine Pass, Lt. RichardW. "Dick" Dowling of Company F, Davis Guards, 1st Texas Heavy Artillery, defeated a whole Union invasion fleet with just 42 men and six cannons.

Among the Yankee captives was a former New England whaler, Frederick Crocker.



Friday, September 18, 2009

'Gone With The Wind" Is Not Gone At All

(At left is a photo of Frank Coghlan Jr. as he appeared in "Gone With The Wind" as a collapsing Confederate soldier. Michael Jones collection)

I recently came across the obituary of an uncredited cast member of the Southern classic movie, "Gone With TheWind." His name was Frank Coghlan Jr. and he died 7 September 2009 at age 93 in Saugus, California. He just happened to be the actor who played in my favorite scene in the movie. It was in the part where, in the evacuation of Atlanta, a young Confederate soldier collapsed and is picked up and carried by an old veteran. I had no idea who the actor was until I saw that obituary.

Coghlan was very young when that scene was made, 23, and, according to his obituary, he had an interesting acting career, but spent prime working years serving his nation in the armed forces. But before he entered the Navy aviation program in World War II, he was one of the co-stars in the classic 1941 movie serial, "The Adventures of Captain Marvel." He played Billy Batson, the young man who would turn into Captain Marvel, played by Tom Tyler. He went on to become a naval aviator in the war and spent 23 years in the military.

Anyway, that got me to thinking about how important "Gone With The Wind," both the movie and the original novel by Margaret Mitchell, have been in preserving Confederate and Southern heritage, mostly from a Southern point-of-view. I saw the film for the first time when it was re-released in theaters, I believe, in 1961. It was a really big deal then in the days before it had ever been shown on TV and before videos, DVDs and Blu-ray.

But the popularity of the novel and the movie seen to transcend generation after generation. This year is the 70th anniversary of the movie's premier 15 Dec. 1939 in Atlanta, Ga. Reportedly, there is going to be a new "ultimate" DVD and Blu-ray collection of "Gone With The Wind" released amid a major advertising campaign. The book is still in print and continues to sell. I've even seen an original, first edition copy of the book on sale for $5,500. The movie is ranked as the highest ticket seller of any movie in North America or the Un ited Kingdom. The novel has sold 30 million copies since 1936.

It is very unlikely that anything having such an impact, from a mostly positive Southern point-of-view, will ever be made again. Fortunately, "Gone With The Wind" has not gone anywhere, and is more popular than ever.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

SKIRMISH AT SABINE PASS LIGHTHOUSE

(At right, the Sabine Pass Lighthouse stamp issued by the U.S. Postal service)

The old Sabine Pass lighthouse in Southwest Louisiana was the scene of a deadly skirmish between Confederate and Union forces on 18 April 1863. In the bloody confrontation, four Union sailors were killed outright, another received a mortal wound, two others received non fatal wounds and six were captured. One Confederate was killed.

The stage was set for the showdown by Commander Abner Read of the U.S. Navy blockading gunboat "New London." Read was planning to launch a surprise attack on a Confederate fort under construction on the Texas side of the pass. He also wanted to capture two enemy gunboats, "Uncle Ben" and "Josiah Bell" which were anchored there.

The Union naval commander sent daily scouting parties by whale boat to the lighthouse to make contact with a Union spy who was using the 80-foot-tall structure as an observation platform. The spy, whose identity never was revealed, had been keeping track of the progress of construction on the Confederate fort.

The commander of Confederate forces in the area was Lt. Col. William H. Griffin of the 21st Texas Infantry Battalion. Griffin was a West Point graduate and an aggressive and experienced military officer. He first discovered that his activities were being spied upon on April 10, 1863, when Captain Charles Fowler, commander of the Confederate gunboats, and three other men disappeared while scouting Lighthouse Bayou.

They had been taken by surprise by a Union patrol. The Confederates then started noticing light reflections coming from the supposedly abandoned lighthouse. Then on 17 April, they spotted a Union whaleboat rowing inland.

The next morning, Griffin dispatched a detachment under Captain Samuel
Evans across the pass to the Louisiana side. Upon arriving, the grayclad soldiers deployed underneath the lighthouse keepers residence and waited for their chance to attack.

According to the usual routine established by the Union blockader, two whaleboats, one from "New London" and the other from "Cayuga," also a blockading gunboat, were soon seen rowing to shore. Commander Read and Captain D.A. McDermot of the "Cayuga" were leading
the patrol.

Three unsuspecting Federal bluejackets approached the lighthouse and the
hidden Confederates demanded their surrender. These three were taken captive but the rest of the landing party began a fighting retreat back to their boats. The Confederates opened fire.

Four of the sailors were killed by the musketry. A fifth, McDermot, was mortally wounded and captured. Commander Read was among the wounded. He lost an eye during the fusilade, but escaped capture. One of the boats escaped, but the Confederates took the other, along with six prisoners.

Read and two others made their way back to the "New London," but the
plan to capture the pass was abandoned. The only Confederate death was Lt. E.T. Wright, who was killed instantly during the skirmish.

Lt. Col. Griffin filed a dry, concise report of the action. "Last night I placed 30 men, in the lighthouse under Lieutenant Jones, of Griffin's battalion. Today at 11 o'clock, 13 Federals came up to the lighthouse in two small boats. We captured six men, including Captain McDermot, of the 'Cayuga,' who was mortally wounded, and the captain's gig. The other boat escaped with three men. Four were killed in the water. Second Lieutenant Wright, of CompanyD, Griffin's battalion, was killed, gallantly leading the men. No other casualties."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Commentary on the News - 15 Sept. 2009


For days now, Confederate news has been filled with columns and articles attacking Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, who said to President Obama, "You lie!" during the president's recent address to a joint session of Congress. The dispute was over Obama's claim that illegal aliens would not receive benefits under his national health care proposal. Wilson apologized to the president for his manner of interrupting the president's speech. However, Wilson has also said he stands by the substance of his remark with regards to the health care bill.

Well, since then, Wilson has been excoriated in the news media, particularly by Northern newspapers and columnists. They have not addressed the substance of his opinion of the health care bill, rather they have been personally smearing him over his Confederate Heritage, particularly for his membership in and his defense of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an old and honorable institution that I am proud to be a member of also. He also defended the Confederate battleflag when it was under attack and eventually moved from the flag pole South Carolina state house, and moved to the Confederate memorial on the state house grounds. The flag still flies there today, although it is still under attack.

I salute and congratulate Rep. Wilson for his honorable and completely appropriate defense of the SCV and the Confederate battleflag. Both represent all the best attributes of Southern and American heritage. The SCV promotes and defends the good name of the Confederate soldier and the principles of limited, constitutional government, for which he stood, and for which we, their descendants, also cherish. As to the Confederate battleflag, it is an honorable symbol of the self-sacrificing courage of men who gave their all to defend their families, homes and country, the Confederate States of America. What could be more honorable than that?

As to the substance of Rep. Wilson's comment to the president, obviously the smear merchants who have attacked him are acknowledging that he won the argument, or else they wouldn't be trying to personally smear him.

Thank you Rep. Wilson for saying what needed to be said, and for being an honorable son of the South.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Book Review: "Reading the Man"


Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters by Elizabeth Brown Pryor; Peguin (non-classic); 688 pages; paperback.

I bought this book a couple of years ago when it first came out in its original hardback edition. Boy, was I ever disappointed. The promotions said the author was given special access by Lee's descendants. I love to read just about everything that comes out about Lee so I thought this would be a great scholarly update with loads of new information. Was I ever wrong.

What I found was a book that twisted nearly every fact into an attack on both Robert E. Lee and his entire family.The attacks began on Lee's father, "Light Horse Harry" Lee, hero of the American Revolution, and continued on to just about every member of his family.

The author obviously was judging Lee by early 21st Century, politically correct standards that are blatantly unfair and unjust. People of the past lived in times very different from ours. It is just not right to judge them by standards that were not even existent, or not well known, at that time.

Also the author seems to psycho-analyse Lee repeatedly. No one can get into the thoughts an motivations of another person they've never met or talked to, and certainly not one that lived 150-years-ago. I've noticed a lot of modern, politically correct, biographers and historians are using that approach and I don't like it one bit.

To top it off, the book is boring, tedious and just drones on and on. I slogged my way through it because I wanted to be able to speak and write intelligently about it. It was tough going, but I made it.

I would recommend to readers to get one of the many, many really good, thorough and fair biographies of Lee. Among those still in print are Douglas Southall Freeman's Pulitzer Prize winning biography, "R.E. Lee," either in the condensed version or the multi-volume original, which can still be found; Emory Thomas' fine "Robert E. Lee: A Biography" and Burke Davis' "Gray Fox: Robert E. Lee and the Civil War." There is also a new short biography out by Noah Trudeau, "Robert E. Lee," but I haven't read it yet and will do a review as soon as I do.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

My Corner of the Confederacy


My corner of the Confederacy is here in Southwest Louisiana. There was one major battle fought here on the Louisiana-Texas border, one small battle, a skirmish and a raid on Lake Charles. There is also one major Confederate military facility, two beautiful Confederate monuments and more than a 1,000 Confederate graves throughout the region.

The major battle was the Battle of Sabine Pass, fought on 8 September 1863 between a 5,000 man, 18 ship Federal invasion fleet and some 47 Confederate artillerymen in Fort Griffin on the Texas side of the river. Lt. Richard W. "Dick" Dowling won lasting fame as commander of Company F, Jeff Davis Guards, 1st Texas Heavy Artillery. He and his men were mostly Irish immigrants who were from the Houston-Galveston area. Dowling was a successful Houston businessman, a tavern owner, banker and entrepreneur. Most of his men had been longshoremen and railroad workers. Against impossible odds, Dowling and his men, who had trained themselves to a peak of proficiency at their isolated post, made short work of the Yankee gunboats that sailed up the Louisiana and Texas channels of the Sabine River. The battle ended after only 45 minutes with the Northern invaders turning tail back to their starting point, New Orleans. They lost 50 men killed, 350 captured, two ships sunk or disabled, and the invasion thwarted. Dowling and his men were honored by the President Jefferson Davis, the Confederate Congress and the citizens of Houston awarded each of them the special Davis Guards Medal.

The small battle was the Battle of Calcasieu Pass which was fought on 6 May 1864. Two Union blockade gunboats, the Wave and Granite City, put in at Calcasieu Pass to buy stolen cattle and horses from Jayhawkers, and recruit for the Union Navy. They also arrested Union sympathizers and confiscated guns. When the Confederate garrison at Sabine Pass heard of the intrusion, which is about 40 miles away, they were ordered to attack the enemy. Making a forced march along the coast, about 350 Confederates with four small pieces of artillery attacked the two gunboats in the early morning of 6 May. The sharp engagement lasted about an hour and a half with both ships and their entire crews and cannon captures. Casualties on both sides totaled about 50 out of the around 500 men engaged.

The U.S. Naval Raild on Lake Charles occurred in early October 1862. The U.S.S. Kensington, a blockader, entered Calcasieu Pass to capture Confederate blockade runners up the Calcasieu River. Since the ship was too big to get up the river, Lt. H.W. Crocker, the commander, fitted out a two-masted sloop with a 6-pounder boat howitzer to launch the raid with 12 well-armed seamen on 3 October. He burned the blockade runner "Mary Ann," captured the steamer "Dan," on which he transferred the howitzer and took the sloop in tow. He also captured militia Col. Nathaniel Clifton, the Calcasieu Regiment's commander. At Lake Charles, he captured 10 citizens as human shields and demanded beef and sweet potatoes. When there was a delay he fired warning shots at the town and forced the women and children to stand as hostages while the tribute was gathered. On the way back, they burned the blockade runner "Eliza." Captain W.W. Johnson, commander of the local militia, gathered 25 men to contest the Yankee's return voyage. But when they saw their neighbors tied up around the helmsmen as human shields, they held their fire. The raiders fired their howitzer at the militiamen, but no one was injured. All the hostages were released except Col. Clifton, who died in captivity.

The major Confederate facility is at Niblett's Bluff, a couple of miles north of Interstate 10 on Niblett's Bluff Road, which is off La. 109 at the Toomey exit. There is a park there now that preserves the original trenches, has on display a replica cannon, honors Confederates who died their of measles with a UDC monument and flies the Confederate battleflag daily. Niblett's Bluff was a strategically important crossing of the Sabine River during the war.

The two beautiful Confederate monuments in my corner of the Confederacy, are the South's Defenders Monument at the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse, and a statue of Robert E. Lee at Johnson Bayou. The South's Defender's Monument was dedicated 3 June 1915 and consists of a marble pedestal and base, with a Confederate color-bearer statue at the top. The Robert E. Lee monument was dedicated in 1984 in front of Johnson Bayou School. I took part in the original dedication ceremony.

Captain James W. Bryan Camp 1390, Sons of Confederate Veterans, has created an online brochure of War For Southern Independence sites in Southwest Louisiana. It can be accessed at http://www.carvingdude.com/scv/swla_wbts_trail.pdf.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Doctrine of State's Rights

Thomas Jefferson, Father of Doctrine of State's Rights

There is a growing interest in State's Rights today, or the lack thereof. A number of state's have recently passed "10th Amendment" resolutions. The resolutions restate what that amendment says, that is the states, or the people, retain all powers not specifically delegated by the states to the federal government. But the sad fact is that the states have become little more than administrative sub-districts of the District of Columbia and the 10th Amendment has become the most ignored part of the Constitution. The federal courts have become the final arbiter of what powers the states may actually exercise. And all the states are completely beholden to Congress and the president for huge portions of their annual budgets.

The federal bureaucracy controls just about every aspect of life for most Americans with literal mountains of federal regulations. They regulate our food and drugs, public education and an ever increasing share of our health care. If you're a businessman who wants to develop his own property, or a homeowner wanting to build a retirement home, just hope your property is NOT deemed "wetlands" by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency. You'll quickly find out who really controls your property. The bureaucrats even tell us how many gallons of water our toilets can have and where we can or cannot park when we go to the store.

Many people are just now waking up to what was really lost with the downfall of the Confederacy in 1865. The precious gift of the Founding Fathers of 1776 was a republic of independent, self-governing states. That was what was truly lost with the defeat of the South in 1865. Since, then, the people, in their states assembled, North and South, East and West, have seen a steady erosion of their increasingly limited powers to govern themselves.

Thomas Jefferson, the "Father of the Doctrine of State's Rights," and many other founders and leaders of the Old Republic, constantly warned and fought against the erosion of the rights of the states, which began even in their days. Many of them, including George Washington, referred to the United States as a "confederacy," not a unitary, centralized state. The early State's Rights issues included such things as the federal government paying for roads and canals within state boundaries, the "Bank of the United States," which was the ancestor of today's Federal Reserve Bank, and then there was the right of a state to regulate its own domestic institutions (i.e. slavery). The early State's Rights advocates, such as John C. Calhoun, also argued over tariffs and whether or not a state could nullify a federal law, and whether or not a state had a right to secede.

The erosion of State's Rights accelerated after 1865 with new amendments added to the Constitution, continued into the 20th Century with great battles over desegregation, prayer in school, and finally "The Right to Life" itself (the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision making abortion the law of the land in all 50 states). The federal courts became more and more powerful. The increasingly intrusive environmental laws, education controlled by the bureaucrats in Washington, undermining of traditional marriage and family, and now the pending specter of socialized medicine, completes the picture. All of those issues could have and should have been settled on the state level. Most Americans are fair-minded and would have gotten rid of bad policies that were truly unjust within their own states.

It is hard to imagine that any of the original Founding Fathers would approve of all the bailouts of banks, takeover of car companies or a National Debt that boggles the mind. And the Founders of the Confederacy could see that without State's Rights, none of our God-given rights to life, liberty and private property were safe from an unlimited centralized government.

So, what can be done about it? Can we ever get back to a semblance of self-governing states as originally envisioned by the Founders? History teaches us that nothing ever remains the same. If enough people finally wake up to what was really lost in 1865, and really want to get back the best form of government in history, a republic or self-governing states, then it can happen. Only time will tell. As Scarlett O'Hara said at the end of "Gone With the Wind," "After all, tomorrow is another day."