The Titans of Appomattox
They had met before, back in the Mexican War where both men distinguished themselves. Robert E. Lee had been the engineer that seemed to be everywhere at once. Ulysses S. Grant led men into the fray numerous times during the conflict. At the meeting above Grant actually mentioned the shared service. Lee remembered and for a moment they were just two old soldiers. Not commanders of opposing armies. With the events of the Civil War, these two men would be exorbitantly linked through history. Their meeting at Appomattox would start the process of healing the country.
Lee wore his last dress uniform a son of the Southern aristocracy he believed in always looking his best, especially for important occasions and on April 9th, 1861 the occasion was the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. he had led them through victory after victory, but in the end, the army had been ground into the dust. He had no choice.
Gran arrived at Appomattox Courthouse in a mud-splattered field uniform. He was not one for pomp and in their field preferred to be comfortable rather than pretty. Grant was a man with a past but he had the ability to lead which was something that President Lincoln desperately needed out of him. In the final campaigns of the war, Grant used the Unions advantage in manpower and resources to pound Lee and his army at every chance, eventually overwhelming them. the cost was great and each life weighed on Grant. As he prepared to accept Lee’s surrender though he had to have felt vindicated.
There was no outward hostility between the two warriors. Grant set the terms for the surrender, which were generous. Lee agreed to ask only for one change, that his men be allowed to keep their horses. Grant did not amend the terms but insured Lee that his men would not stop any of the Confederates from keeping what was theirs. He also provided the defeated army with 25,000 rations once Lee mentioned that his men had not eaten for days.
It was a quiet day when contrasted to how the war had started. Had either of these armies been commanded by other men, by lesser men, who knows what the cost would have been? Then and there between these two titans, the path to peace and reconciliation had begun
The gentleman in the picture above is one of the wonderful staff at Colonial Williamsburg. I did not catch his name but the “character” he played had an interesting evolution. He played his character at different points in time. Starting from when the trouble with Britain was beginning all the way to the end of the war. In this picture was a Continental soldier after the war trying to figure out was next for himself. Many like him thought they would have some sort of pension to lean on, here is part of that story.
First Pension Act
Pensions and land grants were two methods used to entice young men to join the Continental Army. As early as 1776 Congress passed the first of the pension laws which promised half-pay for a period of time to anyone that served in The Continental Army. With the caveat that the only men eligible were those that lost a limb or that were rendered unable to earn a living after the war. So a start.
In 1778 General Washington convinced Congress to amend that to include half-pay for 7 years to all officers that remained in the service until the end of the war. Enlisted men who stayed would be eligible for an $80 annuity after the war.
In 1780 Congress amended the act again to provide the half-pay for 7 years to the orphans and widows of Continental officers who died in service.
Later in 1780, it was amended again, once more at the insistence of Washington, to give officers half-pay for life.
After the near revolt of the officer corps at Newburgh, NY in March 1783, a new pension act was passed giving the officers full pay for 5 years payable in hard money or interest-bearing annuities. Officers could choose which they wanted
The pension laws would be changed another six times over the years. In 1828 Congress provided for full pay to surviving officers and enlisted men without any further requirement of disability or financial need. In 1832 they extended further, full pay for life for all officers and enlisted men who served at least 2 years in the Continental Line, the state troops or militia, the navy or marines. Men who served less than 2 years but at least 6 months were granted pensions of less than full pay.
100 Years and Still Tweaking
Fifty-six years after the start of the war everyone who fought was now eligible for a pension. The final actual pension legislation regarding the American Revolution was passed in 1878. This last one extended lifetime benefits to any widow whose husband served at least 14 days or participated in any engagement during the war.
The sad part is that many of the men and widows were never able to actually collect their pensions. That is a story for another time though.
A Doughboy In The Trenches
The term doughboy was used for members of the American Expeditionary Force that fought in France during WWI. The name itself though was used long before that. During the Napoleonic wars, a doughboy referred to a fried flour dumpling that was popular among the British in Spain. Eventually, this small cake would evolve into the modern doughnut.
The term doughboy in reference to soldiers, however, started a little after that. During the Mexican – American War (1846-48) the term was used for American infantry and while no one knows for sure where the term came from there are a number of possibilities.
One theory has to do with the environment that the infantry marched through in Mexico. It was dry and very dusty. As they marched mile after mile they became covered head to toe in a fine layer of dust. To some, it looked like they were covered with flour. The cavalry, with no love lost for the infantry, took to calling them doughboys as a derogatory term. Sounds about right and would fit in with other appellations for American soldiers such as dog face, grunt, joe, etc.
In the years between the Mexican War and WWI, the name was not used very much though, only becoming popular again when the Americans showed up in France. This time though it may have come from another source. It seems that along with hundreds of thousands of infantry, the Americans also sent the Salvation Army volunteers to support the troops. One of their best-known services for the men was the making of doughnuts. Millions of them that were delivered to the American troops serving on the front-lines. It would not be a huge jump in logic to see French and British troops chiding the Yankees and amount of fried dough they were subject to. Doughboy would not be that much of a leap. (It could also have been used to mock the perceived weakness of the raw and unblooded American troops.)
Whichever theory you want to subscribe to the fact is the term doughboy is one that will always bring to mind the American soldiers in the muddy and dark trenches in France, much like those young men in the picture above.
Few quotes actually do justice to the US Marine Corps and the one above that was offered up by General Oliver Smith during the Korean War is one that does in a nutshell.
By November 1950 the Chinese had been involved with the war in Korea for about a month. After a number of actions, it appeared that they may not be a match for the UN troops. Several initial battles led to Chinese defeats with high casualties around the area known as the Chosin Reservoir. Expecting a different result Chairman Mao Zedong personally called for the destruction of the UN troops. To achieve this he sent the 9th Army across the border into North Korea. UN intelligence never saw it coming.
On the night of November 27th, the Chinese 9th army completely surprised the US X Corps at the Chosin Reservoir and kicked off a terrible 17-day battle. The X Corps was made up of American, South Korean and British troops, about 30,000 strong. They were quickly surrounded by almost 120,000 Chinese soldiers hell-bent on their destruction.
General Smith, the commander of X Corps knew the only way out was through the Chinese lines. On December 6th Smith began the breakout with the 7th Marines in the lead and the 5th Marines bringing up the rear. When asked by a member of the press corps if the Marines were retreating Smith responded, “We are not retreating, we are just advancing in a different direction.” As happens with most historical quotes, time has changed it into the more familiar one seen above.
The running battle was the stuff of legend as the Marines did the impossible. Fighting through Chinese night attacks, ambushes, human wave attacks and even having to build a bridge from sections dropped by plane, the finally reached friendly territory on December 11th. When all was said and done the UN forces lost almost 13,000 men to the Chinese nearly 60,000. The Marines were a rock that the Chinese nearly broke on. It would it would be many months before the Chines would be able to continue offensive operations.
A. Lincoln, Soldier
At Lincoln’s Tomb, as you leave the entrance way and walk the hallway to the antechamber where the sarcophagus is, you are shown a number of statutes that represent certain periods of Lincoln’s life. The one above is of Lincoln the soldier. While his actual time spent in that role was short, it shaped him in a number of ways.
In early 1832 Black Hawk and a band, his followers crossed the Mississippi River in an attempt to reclaim their lands from the white settlers. This attack caused Illinois to call out there militia, among them a young man named Abraham Lincoln who would serve over the next couple of months.
Lincoln served in a number of roles during the war as he came in out of the service. At one point he was elected captain of his company, his first brush with an electoral process. Most accounts show he was a well thought of and capable leader. While he never actually saw combat during the war, he was on hand for the aftermath of several battles, tasked with helping to bury the dead each time.
Later in life, Lincoln would reflect on his time in the service. It would be one of the many starting points for his famous stories. During this period he made a number of contacts that would serve him in his career. The images of the aftermath of the war would never stray far from his mind. Of the many roles, Lincoln undertook in his life this was one of the smallest. Certainly not a legendary one. Still, that brief time did help make the 23-year-old into the man he would later become.
Uncle Billy Sherman
The picture above is of a photo of General William Tecumseh Sherman that was taken later in life and is on display the Museum of the Grand Army of the Republic. Few Civil War figures on either side bring out the sheer emotion of General Sherman. Emotions that for the most part vary depending on what part of the country you are from.
In the South, too many he is a villain who wrecked the South and will never be forgotten. In the North, he did what he had to do to bring the war to an end.
To the soldiers that served under him, he was quite affectionately known as Uncle Billy. He was a General that honestly cared for his soldiers, but never let that stand in the way of doing his job. Often after the war men that served under him would show up at his door hungry, broke and abandoned. He never turned them away. He always provided what food or money he could to help them make it one more day. That was Uncle Billy.
Quotes From the Man
- “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it is over.”
- “Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.”
- “In our country…one class of men makes war and leaves another to fight it out.”
- “I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”
- “War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.”
- “I would make this war as severe as possible, and show no symptoms of tiring till the South begs for Mercy.”
An Artifact From Commodore Arnold
In the picture is actual shot from a swivel gun mounted on the Royal Savage. The quarter is there to show scale. So, what makes this so special? Well, it starts with a name you probably recognize, Benedict Arnold. In 1776 Arnold led an American fleet on Lake Champlain against the quickly advancing British. The Battle of Valcour Island was fought on October 11, 1776 and it was a stunning loss to the Americans. Or was it?
On the heels of their retreat from the failed campaign to turn Canada into the fourteenth colony, the Americans gathered every ship they had on the lake to take a stand against the oncoming British forces. Command of the makeshift fleet fell to Benedict Arnold who as an experienced ship captain as well as one of the “heroes” of the invasion of Canada, looked to have the best chance to make the stand.
In the end, the American fleet was almost totally destroyed, but even so, Arnold managed to accomplish an incredible fleet. He had managed to convince Guy Carlton, the British commander, to take a slower pace on his advance. Carlton came to the decision that it was too late in the year to continue his invasion of New York. The British withdrew back to Canada until the following year. Had they continued they would have found very little in the way of defenses. They could have made it all the way to Albany without much of a fight.
The Royal Savage was one of the ships in Arnold’s fleet, commanded by David Hawley. The ball in the picture was forged at the Skeene Foundry and was sized for one of the lightweight swivel guns on the vessel. Usually several of these balls were loaded into the canon. This turned it into a sort of giant shotgun.
As a part of my personal collection, it is a reminder of Arnold on his ascent. The battle at Valcour was just one in a series of episodes where Arnold very well may have saved the revolution.
You Audie Know This Guy!
Quick question. When asked to name a WWII hero, what names come to mind? If Audie Murphy is not one of the first names you think of, you need to learn more about this man.
Born June 20, 1925, In Texas, he lied about his age to join the military during WWII. He tried to get into the Navy and the Marines before finding a home in the Army. In 1945, at the ripe old age of 19, he won the Medal of Honor after single handily holding off an entire German company. For over an hour! BY HIMSELF! What did you do today?
But wait, that is not all. After holding them off he helped to lead the counter-attack even though he was out of ammunition and wounded.
During the war, he served with distinction in Tunisia, Sicily, Naples, Anzio, Rome, France, the Ardennes and on into Germany. During that time he won every single award for valor that the US Army had. Then added several from France and Belgium for good measure.
After the war, Audie became an actor, best known for playing himself in the movie To Hell and Back and numerous westerns. For the rest of his life, he fought against what would be known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and worked hard for the cause of getting this disorder into the spotlight. Even our greatest heroes did not go untouched by their experiences. In 1971 he finally met a foe he could not defeat and died in a plane crash.
The picture above shows one of his caps and just a few of the multitude of ribbons that this man earned. There is no greater example of the American Warrior than this man and I behoove you to find out more of the details of his life and actions.
Don’t Forget the French
From the years 1778 to 1783 the American Revolution was a world war.
In 1777 after capturing an entire British army at Saratoga, NY the Americans were finally able to convince the rest of the world that they had a chance of winning. Up until that point France had been willing to provide a trickle of support to the Americans, unofficially of course., but they sought to avoid a war with the British. After Saratoga, however, they felt that they were ready to join the fight.
At first, their main support was money and supplies. With the American economy failing and the Congress inept both of these contributions were desperately needed. What was need more, however, was the French navy for the Americans would never be able to match the British on the oceans themselves. After several false starts and aborted expeditions, France provided ships and men to the Revolution culminating in the Siege of Yorktown and an American victory in the war.
The detail of their support is a fascinating story itself, and one that deserves more than just a few hundred words here. The plaque in the photo is located in the siege works of Yorktown and serves as a reminder that whatever we have today, we owe to the Frenchmen that gave their lives for our cause. Over 2,000 French sailors and soldiers paid the ultimate price for our freedom while fighting in direct support of America. Counting all French casualties during the period of an alliance, that number soars to almost fifteen thousand. This fantastic website details those losses, French Sacrifice.
How did repay them?
We refused to pay back much of the money they loaned us. Instead, Congress claimed that it was a gift and not a loan. (Thank Arthur Lee for that.)
We refused to help support their own revolution. A revolution that was caused in part due to the financial impact of loaning us the money they did.
From 1798 to 1800 we actually fought our “allies” in an undeclared Quasi-War on the ocean.
Now of course none of those things as clear-cut as they sound, but those will be stories for another time.
Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “An army travels on its stomach.” If any one would know it should be him. During war, sometimes finding time to eat is one of the biggest challenges. The body is an engine and the engine needs fuel.
The picture above shows a meal being served to troops in the field during the Vietnam War. In this case, the food is classified as “B Rations”. These sorts of meals were usually prepared in a field kitchen from non-fresh ingredients, then shipped to the units where they were heated up and served. Not needing to be frozen or refrigerated means that even the guys far from the supply center would have the chance for a hot meal on occasion.
These were usually better than the C Rations or MRE’s that the individual soldier would prepare for themselves. Often from a package, and of dubious quality and taste. However that A Ration is the holy grail. A warm meal, made in a real kitchen, served in a nice safe dining hall.
“We ate when we could and what we could,” Bill Hatfield, who took the picture above, reminisced. “Sometimes we would be out on patrols that lasted longer than we planned and we never had enough of anything. After a couple of days of C-Rats, we didn’t really care how the food at the fire base tasted, just that there was plenty of it.”
Want to know more? Click here
From the picture it looks a lot like lining up for lunch in school. Except outside and with a chance of being shot at while you are eating. OK, maybe not that different.