Category Archives: Uncategorized

First in Our Hearts

It may seem unbelievable, but the recent calls for removing statues of Confederate heroes now extends to monuments honoring America’s founders. Just days after Charlottesville, CNN’s Angela Rye demanded statues of George Washington be torn down. She condemned him for not “protecting my freedom,” arguing “my ancestors weren’t deemed human beings to him.” And in Chicago, a pastor insisted Mayor Rahm Emmanuel remove a statue of the first president from the city’s South Side and rename the park where it stood. “For us of African-American descent,” he declared, “it represents a person who owned 317 slaves.” Although it is undeniable Washington owned slaves, he nonetheless ardently subscribed to the Declaration of Independence’s premise that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He was actually an opponent of the institution, and throughout his career, he took actions that he hoped would put it on the road to destruction. As he approached the end of his life, he even took the audacious step of freeing his slaves. This is the story of his struggle to balance the Declaration of Independence’s promise of equality for all with the need to preserve American unity.

Called the “Father of His Country,” George Washington devoted his life to America. He was born on February 22, 1732 at the family estate of Wakefield but spent his childhood at Ferry Farm, near Fredericksburg, Virginia. As a young man, he trekked across much of Virginia’s vast wilderness while working as a surveyor. In 1753 he was commissioned major in the militia, and the following year, he marched into the Ohio Valley to defend the frontier against French troops. Through tragic circumstances, he engaged a French force near modern Pittsburgh and killed the commander Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, who the French claimed was on a diplomatic mission — it was the first battle of the French and Indian War. The French counterattacked Washington at nearby Fort Necessity and forced his surrender before returning home. Eager for vindication, he joined General Edward Braddock’s 1755 Ohio Valley campaign. At the July 9th Battle of the Monongahela the future commander-in-chief first exemplified battlefield heroism. As Braddock and his senior officers fell, Washington quickly took command and reorganized the demoralized troops. As he did so, four bullets pierced his hat and coat and two horses were killed under him, but not one bullet hit his body. With order restored, he led the remnants back to British territory. Over the ensuing three years, he fought across the frontier, finally capturing Pittsburgh in 1758. Shortly after, he retired and settled at his Mount Vernon plantation with his new wife Martha and her two children.

Over the next decade, Washington enjoyed life as a prosperous Virginia planter and spent much of his time overseeing the estate, paying particular attention to the health and wellbeing of his slaves.   He was also active in politics after joining the House of Burgesses. Throughout the 1760s, he passionately denounced Britain’s direct taxation of the thirteen colonies. Writing to a friend in Britain, he proclaimed the “Parliament of Great Britain hath no more right to put their hands into my pockets, without my consent, than I have to put my hands into yours for money.” In 1774 he organized a boycott of all British goods and contributed fifty (British) pounds to help relieve Boston after the port was closed following the 1773 Tea Party. That fall he served in the First Continental Congress, and in May 1775, one month after fighting erupted in Massachusetts, he joined the Second Continental Congress wearing his militia uniform. On June 15th that august body appointed him commander-in-chief. Despite “not think[ing] my self equal to the command I am honoured with,” he promised to “exert every power I possess in [Congress’s] service for the support of the glorious cause.”

George Washington took command of the Continental Army on July 3rd, and for the next nine months, he besieged the British Army in Boston. He finally forced a retreat in March 1776 after placing artillery on Dorchester Heights, which overlooked the city and harbor. Afterwards, the general rushed to protect New York City from British invasion, just as Congress issued the Declaration of Independence. However, independence soon appeared doubtful as the Redcoats defeated the Continental Army at Brooklyn and pushed Washington out of New York and New Jersey. Refusing to give up, the commander-in-chief launched a surprise attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey on December 26th, followed by a second strike at Princeton on January 3, 1777. Both victories rejuvenated the “glorious cause,” but Washington’s trials were not over. The British captured Philadelphia, America’s capital, in late 1777 and the Continental Army endured the brutal winter at Valley Forge. Even after fighting the British to a draw at the June 1778 Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey, Washington faced Continental defeats in the South and personal, as well as national, betrayal by Benedict Arnold in 1780. Through it all, the commander-in-chief never wavered in devotion, and his perseverance finally paid off in 1781 when he achieved a crushing victory over Lord Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. In 1783 Britain recognized American independence, allowing Washington to retire and go home. After only four years at Mount Vernon, however, Washington returned to national service when he chaired the 1787 Constitutional Convention and subsequently headed the new government as America’s first president. In both capacities, Washington saw the precarious fragility of the new union with regard to the slavery question, since, at the time the Constitution was ratified in 1788, slavery remained legal in eight of the thirteen states. Although he personally wished to do away with slavery, he was forced to weigh such a desire against the possible dissolution of the nation he fought to create over that very issue.

Like other founders, particularly Southerners, the “Father of His Country” recognized the paradox of proclaiming “all men are created equal” while simultaneously owning slaves, leading him to favor eradicating the institution. He avowed “there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of [slavery].” Yet, he also knew every one of the southern states, at least five and maybe as high as eight of them, would resist efforts to dismantle their way of life, going as far as to separate from the union, thereby killing America in the cradle. The former commander-in-chief had faced the same predicament (a potential split in the union) during the Revolution. As British troops threatened Charleston, South Carolina, John Laurens, a top aide and proud son of the South, proposed arming slaves in exchange for freedom. African-Americans from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut were already serving the cause, but Washington feared the political ramifications of Laurens’s plan. His greatest concern was loosing Southern support for the war if it was forced to embrace a social revolution. Rather than alienate this critical base, and endanger the Revolution’s outcome, the general stayed quiet, and the plan ultimately came to naught. Once independence was secured, Washington believed it was even more important to protect the tenuous bonds holding the nation together. Instead of leading a crusade against slavery, the “Father of His Country” focused on political solutions — specifically legislative action —that would erode slavery’s influence and eventually eradicate it altogether.

He put his ideas into motion even before becoming America’s first president. Under his guidance, the 1787 Constitutional Convention sanctioned Congress’s suspension of the “wicked, cruel and unnatural” slave trade in 1808, fulfilling an antislavery objective Washington had first proposed in the 1774 Fairfax Resolves protesting British policy. (Congress did end importation of slaves in 1808.) In 1789, upon his inauguration, President Washington signed the Northwest Ordinance into law, reaffirming a 1787 ban on slavery in the territory that later became modern-day Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. He also privately expressed a desire for Virginia to adopt gradual abolition. As in the Revolution, however, his principal duty, in fact his official charge now explicitly required by the oath of office, was to “preserve, protect and defend” this new union of states as expressed through the Constitution of the United States. All else came second. When Pennsylvania Quakers petitioned Congress to end slavery in 1790, therefore, the President let it die in debate than risk America’s survival. Nevertheless, he rightly predicted that “nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union.” A cabinet member even reported Washington saying if America split over slavery he “had made up his mind to remove and be of the Northern.” Such commitment certainly evidences ultimate fidelity to the United States and to the antislavery cause. But the greatest proof of Washington’s staunch opposition to slavery came two years after leaving office in 1797.

In 1799, realizing it was not enough to voice antislavery views, George Washington took the audacious step of emancipating his slaves. He was encouraged to do so by Virginia Quaker Robert Pleasants who told the former commander-in-chief freeing his African-Americans would be one of the “crowning actions of [his] life.” By the time his two terms as president were over, Washington’s place in history was secure, but he recognized that leading a struggle on behalf of human freedom while keeping others in bondage would eventually be a blight on his reputation. That was something the “Father of His Country” could not bear. Consequently, he rewrote his will in July, specifying after his or Martha’s death, whichever was last, the 123 slaves he owned outright would be freed. (Martha actually liberated them before dying in 1802.) Sadly, he was legally unable to release the 153 slaves he inherited by marrying Martha. These “dower slaves” ultimately reverted to Custis hands, including George Washington Parke Custis, the president’s step-grandson. While today’s critics look back two hundred years ago and issue condemnation, Washington’s accomplishment unequivocally demonstrated a desire for freedom to extend to all Americans, regardless of race. Upon breathing his last on December 14, 1799, the “Father of His Country” left behind a legacy to be cherished by his countrymen — irrespective of color.

George Washington truly was dedicated to the guiding principles America was founded on. He spent his life fighting to create a country where freedom and equality were available for all. While he did own slaves, Americans should also remember that the “Father of His Country” was a staunch opponent of the institution, and he did what he could to put the institution on the road to ruin. While some argue more could have been done, Washington’s efforts at preserving national unity ensured the country’s survival so others could complete his work. No American before or since has ever done more to assure freedom’s wide reach to so many. His devotion to the United States and to the Declaration of Independence’s pledge of equality guarantees George Washington will remain, as “Light-Horse Harry” Lee said in his eulogy, “first in the hearts of his countrymen”… forever.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A Question of Duty

Events of the past few months seem to indicate that one of America’s most controversial figures is Confederate General Robert E. Lee. As commander of the South’s premier force, the Army of Northern Virginia, it is true he led the Confederacy in its epic struggle for independence. Today, however, many only choose to see him as representative of slavery, and by extension white supremacy. As a result, they think it a disgrace to allow statues of him and to permit schools to have his name. It is often forgotten though that Lee hated slavery. Why, then, would he fight to preserve human bondage? Simple — that is not what took him down the path he took. For him, the war was not about slavery; it was not even about secession. It was about defending his native Virginia, and those he loved, from Northern invaders. In the mid-1800s, most people in the United States still identified primarily with their state. Thus, when forced to choose between allegiance to the United States and allegiance to Virginia, Lee knew there was only one path he could take. This is the story of how he ultimately chose Virginia, and the Confederacy, over the nation he had faithfully served for over thirty years.

As the scion of one of Virginia’s foremost families, Robert E. Lee always did his duty to his family, his state, and his nation. The son of Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, one of George Washington’s premier cavalry officers, the future Confederate was born on January 19, 1807 at the Lee’s ancestral estate of Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Sadly, due to his father’s poor aptitude for business, the family had to move to Alexandria when Robert was three. After “Light-Horse Harry” died in 1818, eleven-year-old Robert shouldered the responsibilities of caring for his mother and managing the household. (Alexandrians often saw him taking Mrs. Lee on carriage rides and visiting the market.) The town, which prided itself on its association with George Washington, also encouraged Robert to ardently revere the “Father of his Country,” an admiration made all the more real by his father’s lifelong friendship with the first president. No doubt inspired by tales his father’s military exploits during the Revolution, and determined to follow in his footsteps, Lee applied to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1824. Admitted to the academy in June 1825, he quickly adapted to military life, and over the next four years, he garnered a distinguished academic and military record, ending his education as corps adjutant, the academy’s highest honor. Even more impressive, he earned the distinction of never receiving a single demerit, or black mark — a feat which led cadets to nickname him the “marble model.” He graduated second in the Class of 1829 and joined the Army’s Corps of Engineers as a second lieutenant.

His military career officially began that November when he travelled to Cockspur Island, Georgia to construct a fort. The aristocratic young officer soon found himself doggedly fighting the elements as he and his men trudged through the mud. After a year and a half, he returned to Virginia with a posting to Fort Monroe at the tip of the peninsula formed by the York and James Rivers. It was during this period Lee married Mary Custis, only daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington’s adopted son. (The couple eventually had seven children, all of whom survived to adulthood — an impressive feat at a time when child mortality was high.) As his family grew so did his reputation. Over the next decade, he oversaw projects across the country, successfully rerouting the Mississippi River at St. Louis, Missouri and improving New York’s harbor defenses. In 1843 he returned to West Point to design a new cadet dormitory and the following year assisted in the examination of cadets. While there he met Winfield Scott and so impressed the general he was assigned to Scott’s staff during the 1846-48 U.S.-Mexican War. In March 1847 Lee first tasted combat, and glory, when he directed the bombardment against the port city of Veracruz. A few weeks later he distinguished himself yet again at the Battle of Cerro Gordo when he reconnoitered a path around the Mexican left flank — barely escaping capture by hiding under a log while Mexican troops hovered above him. He then led an American column over the same ground, forcing the Mexicans to fall back. In the weeks to come, Lee was in the vanguard of the advance on Mexico City, and there, outside the city, he undertook “the greatest feat of physical and moral courage performed by any individual, in my knowledge, pending the campaign,” according to General Scott, when he not only found a way across a lava field, which allowed the Americans to outflank the enemy, but then made the same trek twice more in a cold rain to coordinate attacks the next day. He was also vital in planning the attack on the bastion of Chapultepec, which delivered the city into American hands, and on September 14, 1847 he rode triumphantly into the capital alongside Scott.

Four years after returning home in 1848 covered in glory, Lee received one of the Army’s plumbest assignments — superintendent of West Point. He proved a diligent administrator and a fatherly mentor to his students. Among those he took an interest in were future subordinates Jeb Stuart and John Bell Hood. His tenure was not a long one. In 1855 he was ordered to the plains of Texas as lieutenant colonel of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry — finally moving from the engineering ranks to an active field command. Over the next two years, Lee led troops in campaigns against hostile Indians, but his service was cut short in 1857 by news of his father-in-law’s death. He returned to Arlington and took control of the estate. He was still there in October 1859 when abolitionist John Brown led a raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, intent on igniting a slave uprising. Dispatched to the scene with two companies of Marines, Lee quickly defeated Brown and his men. (Brown was subsequently tried and hung in December.) In February 1860 Lee returned to Texas to temporarily command the department, and it was in that capacity, he watched the nation begin to divide over slavery.

Throughout his life, Robert E. Lee was a staunch opponent of slavery. He vehemently denounced those pro-slavers who maintained the institution was a positive good. During the 1850s, as the debate intensified, he declared “slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any country,” adding “my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the [African-Americans].” Vocally supportive of liberation, he argued the “course of the final abolition of human slavery is onward, and we give it the aid of our prayers and all justifiable means in our power.” However, as a devout Christian, he advised Americans to leave the “result in his hands who sees the world, who chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom two thousand years are but as a single day.” Such conviction led Lee to reject abolitionists’ cries for immediate emancipation. In his mind, fiery rhetoric could only lead to violent clashes between slaves and masters, such as what almost happened with John Brown, or worse, civil war. He was desperate to avoid both. While Abraham Lincoln believed the country “could not endure permanently half slave and half free,” Lee prayed national leaders could forge a compromise that would save the United States from a devastating war.

As the 1860 election heated up, however, Lee watched the nation teeter on the edge of the abyss. The Democratic Party split along sectional lines, and Southern states threatened secession if Republicans won. When Abraham Lincoln was elected on November 6th “the Southern States seem[ed] to be in a convulsion” and quickly called secession conventions. From his base at Fort Mason, Texas, he distressingly wrote, “I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation.” Looking to the founders for help, Lee recalled that “in 1808 secession was termed treason by Virginia statesmen. What can it be now?” It was with horror, therefore, that Lee watched as South Carolina seceded on December 20th. Six more states soon followed, including Texas on February 1, 1861. Within days, David Twiggs, commander of the department, surrendered all U.S. property in the state, outraging Lee who would have “determined to defend his post at all hazards.” Disgusted, he hurriedly left and reached Arlington on March 1st. Promoted to full colonel, Lee met with General Scott on March 5th and with President Lincoln on March 12th. He made it clear to both men he wanted “no other flag than the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ and no other air than ‘Hail Columbia.’”

Despite this desire, his long, devoted service, and his familial connections to America’s founding, Lee already knew what his course of action would be — loyalty to Virginia above all. Even before returning home, he decided “if the Union is dissolved and the government disrupted, I shall return to my native state and share the miseries of my people and save in her defense will draw my sword no more.” For now, Virginia remained with the Union, voting against secession 90-45 on April 4th. Then on April 14th, following a thirty-three hour Confederate bombardment, Major Robert Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, leading President Lincoln to call for seventy-five thousand soldiers to end the rebellion. Four days later, on April 18th, Francis P. Blair, a Washington insider and father of Cabinet member Montgomery Blair, invited Lee to his home. There, at Lincoln’s behest, Blair offered command of the Union army to Robert E. Lee. His entire life had come down to this moment. After a brief hesitation, the son of “Light Horse Harry” Lee, and son-in-law of George Washington’s adopted son, said, “I look upon secession as anarchy,” adding “if I owned the four millions of slaves in the South I would sacrifice them all to the Union.” But, he asked, “how can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native state?” Sighing, he looked at Blair and replied he “could take no part in an invasion of the Southern States.” With a heavy heart and seeing no other alternative, Lee called on Scott who looked at his protégé and disappointingly declared “you have made the greatest mistake of your life.” Returning across the Potomac to Arlington, where he learned Virginia had passed an ordinance of secession, Lee penned his resignation from the U.S. Army. On April 22nd he left the majestic home for the last time. Union forces soon took control and eventually turned it into Arlington National Cemetery.

With his course now set, Robert E. Lee devoted himself to Virginia and the Confederacy. During 1861, he served as President Jefferson Davis’ military advisor and commanded forces in western Virginia and along the Southern coast. In June 1862, following the wounding of his old West Point classmate Joseph Johnston, he took command of the Army of Northern Virginia and drove George McClellan’s Union Army of the Potomac from Richmond. A string of spectacular victories followed — defeat of John Pope at Second Manassas in August, pounding of Ambrose Burnside at Fredericksburg in December, and crushing of Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville in May 1863. In July he clashed with George Meade at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and after three days of carnage, he was forced to retreat. The next year, 1864, he met his match when Ulysses S. Grant took command of Union forces and engaged Lee across Virginia, from the Wilderness to Spotsylvania to Cold Harbor and finally to Petersburg. Throughout this contest, Lee refused to give up and remained dedicated to his soldiers, and to the Confederacy at large. Finally, in April 1865, Grant seized control of Petersburg and Richmond and pursued Lee to Appomattox Court House. There, on April 9th, Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia, ending four years of war. With the war over, he traded life as a warrior for life as president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia. The “Hero of the Lost Cause,” as he was called, Robert E. Lee died on October 12, 1870 and was mourned across the South.

Throughout his life, Robert E. Lee lived by the creed he later imparted to others — “Duty is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less.” Even when he believed that duty required him to leave the service of the land to which he had devoted his life, he never abandoned his own ideas of liberty for all. He did not join the Confederacy in support of slavery. He did it because he believed his highest allegiance was to his state. Despite the intense turmoil he endured as he wrestled with the decision, once committed, he gave himself wholeheartedly to his call and won admiration throughout the South, and indeed even among those on the other side, for his devotion. Today, we may not agree with that cause, but Robert E. Lee deserves admiration for his devotion to duty and for the honorable way he lived that out. Georgia’s Benjamin Hill said it best — “He was a Caesar without his ambition, a Frederick [the Great of Prussia] without his tyranny, a Napoleon without his selfishness, and a Washington without his reward.”

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

My Side of the Story

Over the past several months, following events in Charlottesville, Virginia and elsewhere, a mass movement has erupted across America. Outraged by what they see as symbols of racism and white supremacy, activists have demanded the removal of statues memorializing prominent Confederates, notably Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson, as well as monuments to ordinary soldiers. Some public officials have voiced support, and throughout the U.S., statues are being removed, some being torn down. In addition to those monuments gracing city property, activists are calling for the ejection of statues to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and other famous Southerners from Congress’ Statuary Hall. Activists have also set their sights on those buildings bearing the names of Confederate heroes. Two weeks ago in San Antonio, Texas, a school board voted to rename Robert E. Lee High School. Perhaps most incredible of all, some critics seek to sanitize works of art and ensure it is politically correct. In Memphis, Tennessee a movie theatre recently stopped showing the 1939 classic Gone With the Wind because it was deemed “racially insensitive.” This philosophy has led some to even argue against iconic national monuments to two of America’s greatest founders — George Washington and Thomas Jefferson — simply because they owned slaves.

Critics often forget, however, neither founder truly believed in slavery. Jefferson called slavery “holding a wolf by the ears,” and Washington took the bold step of freeing his slaves in his will. More impressive, and often overlooked, is that neither Lee nor Jackson held slaves or believed in the practice. Nor did many Confederate soldiers. They fought to defend their states and families during a time that we today, quite frankly, struggle to comprehend. For the critics, though, it is enough they fought for the Confederacy. In their narrow-minded view, these brave warriors fought primarily to keep slavery and to divide the nation. Consequently, they must be traitors to America and all it now represents. With this preconceived starting point, the question activists ask is — why should they have monuments dedicated to them? I, too, ask that question, but I have a different “take.”   The answer for me and many other historians and history buffs is simple — they stand as a testimony to where we have been and how far we have come. No one today disputes slavery was evil; no one wants it back. But most of those memorialized in stone were honorable, virtuous men — wholly devoted to their homeland, valorous in their service, steadfast in their duty.

Personally, I am glad the North won the Civil War, ending slavery and making the United States one nation, indivisible. Still, it is important we study those who came before us and honor the memory of the finest of their day. Whatever their faults, it is due to them we live in the freest nation on earth. We should not erase what we disagree with because it conflicts with our modern sensibilities. After all, future generations may condemn us for acts currently thought acceptable. Rather, we should view historical figures and events through the context of their day, through the prism of their times and their experiences, never glossing over flaws or failings, but certainly not judging by unrealistic standards. Where it is warranted, they deserve to be remembered for their accomplishments, not vilified for their imperfections. In that sprit, I am launching a new chapter for jakes-takes. In order to illustrate my point in a constructive, reasonable way, over the coming weeks I will publish a set of stories on eighteenth and nineteenth-century notable Americans, by region Southerners, but all of them good and admirable Americans, worthy of respectful study.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Fighting for National Honor

Throughout much of America’s existence, one of our country’s foremost European allies has been France. Twice during the twentieth century U.S. and French troops fought side by side to liberate Europe from oppression. In a way, Americans were repaying France for its assistance during the American Revolution. The countries have not always been on amicable terms though. During the 1790s America teetered on the edge of war with the new French Republic. Many in the United States had welcomed the 1789 French Revolution as the next chapter in the fight for republicanism, and many yearned to join France’s struggle against Britain. However, President Washington knew how destructive such a course could be, and he urged America’s impartiality. French officials construed this stance as being friendly to Britain and launched attacks on U.S. property. Hoping to prevent war, a three-man delegation travelled to Paris. One was a middle-aged Virginian who had been at the forefront of the War for Independence and the subsequent battle to unite the states into one nation. Now he turned his attention to preserving America’s reputation abroad. His name was John Marshall. Though he may be our most famous jurist, this is the little known story of his refusal to disgrace the United States by paying for peace during the famed 1797-1798 XYZ Affair.

Although too young to protest British policies, John Marshall enthusiastically shouldered a musket to liberate America from tyranny. Born in September 1755 in the frontier settlement of Germantown, Virginia, he grew into a devout republican after reading Roman histories extolling the ancient Republic and watching his father denounce British oppression in Virginia’s House of Burgesses. When the American Revolution began in April 1775, the nineteen-year-old was commissioned lieutenant in the Culpeper minuteman company. In September he marched to the aid of Norfolk. On December 4th he battled Royal Governor Lord Dunmore’s Redcoats twelve miles south of the city at Great Bridge. Five days later British troops stormed across the bridge. As they came on, Marshall and his compatriots poured a devastating volley into them. Dunmore retreated to British warships offshore, but the Americans continued to defend Norfolk until February 1776, at which point Dunmore no longer posed a clear danger. The militia was subsequently discharged, but Marshall immediately reenlisted in a Virginia rifle regiment. Joining the Continental Army in 1777, he was attached to the light infantry. On September 11th he fought the British at Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Creek, valiantly holding the enemy at bay while the army withdrew after an all-out attack from front and flank. Three weeks later on October 4th he stormed Germantown, near Philadelphia, and was hit in the hand while assaulting troops barricaded inside a home. Despite the injury, the twenty-two-year-old remained at his post through the harrowing winter at Valley Forge, and in June 1778 he impeded the British retreat from Philadelphia to New York long enough for George Washington to engage the enemy at Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey. Promoted to captain, he supported “Mad Anthony” Wayne’s May 1779 attack on Stony Point, New York and “Light-Horse Harry” Lee’s strike on Paulus Hook, New Jersey two months later. In December he returned home and resumed civilian life — though he briefly took up arms in 1781 when turncoat Benedict Arnold invaded Virginia. His service to the United States, however, had only just begun.

In May 1780 the former officer enrolled in Virginia’s prestigious College of William and Mary and studied under George Wythe, one of the state’s preeminent lawyers. After passing the law exam, he opened an office in the new capital of Richmond. Simultaneously, he won election to the House of Delegates and served on the council of state, the body formed to help administer state affairs. In that capacity, Marshall watched as the weak national government created by the Articles of Confederation, America’s first constitution, along with financial woes, threatened the country’s security. Of the unmoored condition of the nation, he would later write, “everything was afloat and that we had no safe anchorage ground.” Believing a stronger union was vital, he championed the 1787 Constitution and played a key role in the June 1788 ratification convention where he passionately defended the document against Antifederalist attacks. His most fervent appeal, however, was reserved for an articulate, rational argument in favor of a national judiciary which would protect the Constitution and individual liberty. When not on the floor, he met with delegates in Richmond’s taverns and at his home and personally lobbied them to vote for the proposed Constitution — a document defining the world’s first constitutional republic. Thanks to his efforts, Virginia became the tenth state to ratify the Constitution. As the new government took shape, President Washington asked Marshall to serve as U.S. attorney for Virginia, and later Attorney General, but instead, he resumed his law career. Nevertheless, he continued to participate in national affairs, particularly after Americans divided over support for the increasingly bloody revolution, which had engulfed the former ally.

Although numerous Americans, including Marshall, applauded the new French Republic, enthusiasm waned in 1793 after radicals launched a brutal Reign of Terror and propelled France into war with Britain. With America torn between its Revolutionary alliance with France and its commercial ties with Britain, George Washington declared America’s neutrality. When French Minister Edmond Genet toured the U.S. that spring, however, he ardently campaigned for the U.S. to join the struggle. Outraged a foreign official would try to interfere in domestic affairs, Marshall convened a statewide meeting in Richmond in August and led the members in unanimously endorsing the President’s policy. In addition, he penned essays defending Washington and denouncing Genet. As the months passed, however, the warring nations undermined Washington — France used American ports to strike the British West Indies, as proscribed by the 1778 alliance, and Britain seized U.S. vessels and seamen. To stave off war with Britain, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay negotiated a controversial treaty ensuring peace between Britain and America. Marshall and the Federalists staunchly defended Jay’s Treaty, but French leaders saw it as a betrayal. They subsequently severed diplomatic ties with America and unleashed attacks on U.S. ships. The former allies appeared on the brink of war, but newly-elected President John Adams determined to avoid bloodshed, while simultaneously preserving American honor. In late spring 1797 he appointed Marshall, Federalist Charles C. Pinckney of South Carolina and Democratic-Republican Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts to represent U.S. interests in Paris. Marshall immediately accepted the mission and briefly visited Adams in the temporary capital of Philadelphia before departing America in mid-July.

Reaching the Netherlands at the end of August 1797, he made his way to Paris, and on October 8th, hoping to quickly end tensions, the three delegates met Foreign Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord. The foreign minister, however, sought to delay negotiations in an attempt to extract money from the Americans, a common practice for French diplomats. The positions of the French became increasingly unreasonable. Acting through Jean Conrad Hottinguer, later known as “X,” Talleyrand demanded the U.S. pay all claims lodged against France and compensate ship owners for any damage done by French privateers. He also wanted a sizable loan given to the French government and a fifty thousand pound douceur, or bribe, for himself. A second meeting with Hottinguer and Pierre Bellamy, referred to as “Y,” resulted in a call for the envoys to repudiate President Adams’ May 16th speech criticizing French strikes on commerce — though Bellamy later suggested disavowal might be bypassed if the U.S. “advanced” France thirty-two million Dutch florins on behalf of the Netherlands, which Holland would repay on conclusion of a peace treaty. The whole affair smacked of French contempt and disrespect. Enraged, Marshall denounced both agents for undercutting U.S. sovereignty, and he urged the team break off talks. Pinckney agreed, but Gerry was reluctant for fear of initiating war. As a compromise, Marshall offered to return home for further instructions, provided France stop attacks on U.S. ships. When the men presented their proposal though, the agents were furious the Americans refused to cooperate and warned of dire consequences if they did not acquiesce to Talleyrand’s demands.

With America’s integrity at stake, the envoys believed additional negotiations were futile, and they decided to leave. Before they could do so, however, Talleyrand sent a third emissary — Lucien Hauteval, code-named “Z.” He described the loan and personal payment to Talleyrand as simply the cost of business. Still, he maintained Talleyrand was America’s friend, and he invited them to meet the foreign minister — though as private citizens since the government still refused to recognize them. Gerry accepted and met the foreign minister on October 28th. He reported to Marshall and Pinckney that Talleyrand wanted them to authorize the loan themselves. Also, they had one week to pay the douceur or the government would demand retraction of Adams’ speech. Marshall later wrote, “We did not wish to suspend [the decree] for an instant. We were as ready to receive it as we should be eight days hence.” On October 29th Hottinguer proposed that upon receipt of the bribe Talleyrand would meet two envoys informally and begin negotiations while the third inquired about the loan. However, attacks on commerce would continue and captured cargoes would not be returned. As always, the terms reeked of innuendo and veiled threats. Incensed, Marshall castigated Hottinguer and, indeed, the entire French government, for treating Americans “as enemies in every respect.” On October 30th, in a desperate effort to get his money, Talleyrand proposed essentially the same terms — two envoys stay in Paris and negotiate a treaty while the third returned home and secured American backing for the loan — the clear insinuation being a treaty was tied to payment of the loan. The foreign minister would, however, insist on his douceur beforehand. Refusing to give in to bribery, the envoys summarily rejected the terms.

Although annoyed by a refusal to “act with justice or to treat us as a free and independent nation,” Marshall believed Talleyrand did not want war with America and determined to wait the foreign minister out. Talleyrand refused to back down though, threatening to oust the team — a bluff Marshall saw through and called. Frustrated, the minister changed tactics as 1798 began — seeking to divide the delegation by dealing primarily with Elbridge Gerry, perceived as “friendlier” to French interests than Marshall and Pinckney. By mid-February the New Englander had met with Talleyrand several times, and alongside other agents, he repeatedly pressed his colleagues for the loan — saying France would accept it after war with Britain ended. Marshall remained adamant, however, that such terms still subjugated America to France’s will.   When the three envoys met Talleyrand in early March, the foreign minister agreed that payment of the loan once peace was established was acceptable, but France intended to use the funds now. To appease American sensibilities though, he proposed ways of concealing the loan from Britain. Marshall countered such deceit violated neutrality by forcing the U.S. to aid a belligerent, and he left the meeting convinced peace could now only happen through humiliating terms.

In the wake of French intransigence, Marshall determined it was time to head home, but he recognized the dangers to American prestige should the envoys appear to be responsible for the diplomatic breakdown. Consequently, he astutely determined to make Talleyrand order his and Pinckney’s departure — placing blame for the mission’s failure on France and fanning the flames of American outrage, which had just erupted with publication of Marshall’s October dispatches detailing Talleyrand’s greed and refusal to recognize the envoys. On March 20th Marshall received a message from the foreign minister saying he would now only negotiate with Gerry. It was clear Talleyrand wanted Marshall and Pinckney to leave on his terms. As April began, Marshall requested a letter of safe conduct, but the foreign minister insisted he go through the embassy like any citizen. Indignant, Marshall replied that as a U.S. minister he had a duty to stay in Paris. If Talleyrand wanted him gone, then Talleyrand had to take responsibility. In one last act of defiance, the foreign minister offered to begin negotiations with Gerry, but Marshall reiterated that as long as he and Pinckney were still in Paris, Talleyrand had to deal with all three. On April 13th, realizing he had no other choice, Talleyrand officially asked Marshall and Pinckney to leave and gave them their passports and letters of safe conduct. (Gerry remained behind, and his presence, combined with America’s preparations for war, ultimately forced Talleyrand to retract all his demands.)

Upon his return to the United States, Marshall was given a hero’s welcome for refusing to sacrifice national honor. In 1799, at George Washington’s urging, he ran for, and was elected to, Congress from Richmond. He served his district faithfully until May 1800 when he became John Adams’ new Secretary of State. Under his watch, America finally resolved tensions with France — with the adoption of the Convention of Mortefontaine. Then, on January 31, 1801, just weeks before Thomas Jefferson took office as president, Marshall became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He served in that capacity over thirty years, and with his keen intellect and dedication to America, he proved a guiding force for the nation. He presided over such monumental cases as Marbury v. Madison in 1803, which instituted judicial review, or the Court’s ability to declare a law unconstitutional; McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819, which stipulated the national government had supremacy over the states; and Gibbons v. Ogden in 1824, which said the government was responsible for interstate commerce. Taken together, these three cases set the stage for the future of American jurisprudence. John Marshall died two days after July 4, 1835 and was mourned by the nation he had devoted his life to.

Time and again throughout his life John Marshall repeatedly answered his country’s call, and by the time of his death, he had helped establish American respectability in the pantheon of nations. As a young man, he faithfully served America through the long and bitter struggle for independence, and he continued the fight as he toiled for adoption of the Constitution. Later, he helped define the judiciary’s role of in the balance of power debate under that Constitution. But perhaps his greatest contribution to his beloved land was his participation in the 1797 diplomatic mission to Paris — a mission which arguably helped ensure the new nation’s sovereignty. When confronted by French demands that would subjugate America, Marshall refused to back down. He chose to wage a political and ideological battle, and even risked outright war, rather than bring subjugation and shame to his homeland. On the battlefield, in the courtroom, or among the halls of foreign powers — John Marshall devoted his entire life to establishing the United States as a beacon of independence and liberty for the whole world.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A Patriot From Start to Finish

During the eight-year American Revolution no geographical region was more important to Continental and British forces than New York’s Hudson River. Since the river separated New England from the other states, control of the Hudson meant control of America. In 1777 British General John Burgoyne advanced south from Canada, planning to seize Albany, New York and cut the rebel colonies in two. Largely due to the exploits of hero (later-turned-traitor) Benedict Arnold, Americans captured Burgoyne’s column at Saratoga, New York. Undaunted, Redcoats under Henry Clinton settled in New York City in 1778 intent on securing the vital waterway for good. To prevent this, George Washington moved the main Continental Army into the Hudson Valley Highlands. Among those officers charged with protecting the river was a North Carolina major general. He had previously seen action in the Southern Department, and now he devoted all his energy to denying the British access to this critical corridor. His name was Robert Howe. This is the story of his fight for American independence, first in the South and then throughout the Hudson River Valley.

An ardent Whig, as Americans who favored independence were known, Robert Howe led North Carolina into the fight for freedom. He was born near Wilmington in 1732 to a prosperous landowner and grew up amid the aristocracy. After briefly serving in the 1754-1763 French and Indian War, he joined the General Assembly, and within a decade he became a leading member of the colonial legislature. He first entered the patriot ranks when he petitioned George III and Parliament to repeal anti-paper currency laws, which would let North Carolina print paper money to stabilize its shaky economy. Howe was also outraged by Parliament’s direct taxation of the colonies beginning with the 1765 Stamp Act. Then in 1771 newly appointed Royal Governor Josiah Martin, under orders from London officials, sought to eliminate laws allowing colonial creditors to claim property owned by nonresidents to satisfy payment of debts — a practice called attachment. Incensed at this attempt to suppress a long-cherished right, Howe denounced Martin and joined patriots across America in claiming British policies were meant to “entrap America into slavery.” He even took to recording the names and actions of those loyal to the crown. In 1773 he established a Committee of Correspondence, and after Parliament closed Boston Harbor in response to the famed Tea Party, he organized and sent food to the beleaguered town. Learning of other so-called “Intolerable Acts,” namely putting Massachusetts under martial law, Howe joined the call for a Continental Congress and for North Carolina to form its own Provincial Congress. When the body assembled, he and fellow delegates vowed non-exportation of tobacco, pitch, tar and turpentine. He also supported the national Continental Association, whose stated purpose was to end all trade with Britain. When Martin condemned the patriots, Howe vilified the governor as an “enemy to the happiness of this colony.” Tensions mounted and quickly reached the breaking point.

As 1775 dawned, Robert Howe joined those preparing for war. He trained local militia, and in July he marched on Fort Johnston on the Cape Fear River, causing Governor Martin to flee to a British warship. The Provincial Congress took over governing the colony and organizing the military. Howe was promptly appointed colonel of the 2nd North Carolina. In December he marched north to Norfolk, Virginia, which was being threatened by British and Loyalist troops. Throughout January 1776 Howe engaged British warships and landing parties seeking to capture the city. During one battle, he was hit in the thigh by a spent musket ball, but he paid little attention. Instead, he focused all his energy on driving the enemy back to their ships. When the fighting ended, much of Norfolk lay in ruins. To deny the British access to the crucial port, Howe burned what remained of the city. His actions won praise from Virginians and North Carolinians and led the Continental Congress to promote him to brigadier general. Upon learning British troops were about to invade Charleston, South Carolina, Howe raced south to fortify the city. He then took command of the Continentals shielding Charleston itself, but saw little action since the main battle occurred on nearby Sullivan’s Island. After the British were repulsed, he marched into Georgia to protect the state from raiders operating out of occupied Florida. By spring 1777 the threat was temporarily neutralized, and Howe returned to Charleston where he assumed command of the entire Southern Department, winning promotion to major general later that fall.

The general devoted himself to bolstering Charleston’s defenses. Seeing the city was the South’s preeminent port, he begged the Continental Congress for additional troops and resources and lobbied state leaders to obstruct the harbor and reinforce Sullivan’s Island and other strategic points. He similarly urged Georgians to fortify Savannah and Sunbury, but he found them more concerned with enemy activity in south Georgia. Under pressure, Howe led an expedition into the region during summer 1778. Despite extreme heat, lack of provisions and refusal of militia to serve under him, he doggedly drove out the British and Loyalist marauders. But the danger was not over. British officers were planning a full-scale invasion of the South. Confoundingly, Georgia’s leaders appeared indifferent. When the British finally appeared in front of Savannah on December 23rd, Howe had only six hundred South Carolina and Georgia Continentals and one hundred Georgia militia to meet the threat. Still, he resolved to defend the city and took up position at Fair Lawn Plantation, southeast of Savannah. He engaged the British on the 28th, but the main battle came the following day. Using a path on Howe’s right flank, British troops attacked his rear, routing the Georgia militia. The remaining enemy force hit his front. Howe put up a brief fight before withdrawing. He successfully evacuated the South Carolinians — but a refusal to obey his orders resulted in the loss of Georgia’s Continentals as well as the garrisons at Sunbury and Augusta. With Georgia lost, Howe moved into South Carolina where he met General Benjamin Lincoln, his replacement as department commander. After informing Lincoln of the dire situation, Howe made his way to George Washington’s headquarters in the Hudson Highlands, the most strategic area in the American struggle.

Arriving in the North, Howe was posted to Connecticut with orders to fend off raids from British-held Long Island, but his attention soon shifted to the lower Hudson River. In May 1779 Redcoats seized the vital defenses at Stony Point and Verplanck’s Point. On July 16th Howe led Continental troops against Verplanck’s Point with the intent of compelling the enemy’s retreat. Upon reaching the fort, he bombarded the garrison before ordering his men to attack. As soldiers surged forward, however, British reinforcements approached and threatened to cut off their escape. With no choice, Howe withdrew to American defenses at West Point. Two months later he was again ordered south towards New York — this time taking a position at Pine’s Bridge, within striking distance of British troops at Kings Ferry. Anticipating the arrival of French ships, General Washington sought to attack New York and directed Howe to engage and capture the two thousand Redcoats stationed along the Hudson as they marched south to help defend the city. The French never came, but the British did abandon King’s Ferry in October — though it was by water rather than by land. When enemy troop transports anchored in the Croton River, which flowed into the Hudson, fear of a Redcoat attack mounted, and five hundred men raced to join Howe’s line of defense. The general eagerly awaited battle, but the British continued on to New York. With the danger past, Continental troops went into winter quarters, but Howe’s duties were just beginning. On February 21, 1780 Washington placed him in command of American forces at West Point, the most crucial chokepoint along the most important river in colonial America.

Like his commander-in-chief, the general viewed West Point as the “key which locks the communication between the Eastern and Southern states.” So it was with great distress he found the fort crumbling and the garrison undermanned. He set about rebuilding the north redoubt and the surrounding fortifications, including recaptured Kings Ferry. Additionally, he oversaw repair of the chain which spanned the river and blocked passage of enemy warships. Most importantly, upon learning enemy spies were in the region, he barred unknown civilians from using the West Point Ferry and dispatched his own spies to monitor British movements. His efforts intensified as spring began and the threat of a British advance grew. On June 20th British forces moved up the Hudson, and Howe prepared his forces for a fight. On the 27th, however, the enemy turned back, leading Howe to believe the British had simply “intended to perplex, confuse and harass” the Americans. He remained at his post throughout summer, but by early fall, he yearned for a return to field command instead of a static fort. His departure allowed an opening for General Benedict Arnold to take command of the garrison and implement his treasonous plot to give West Point to the enemy. When Arnold’s counterpart, British Major John Andre, was captured, thereby thwarting the treachery, Howe served on the board that convicted and sentenced Andre to death by hanging.

In the aftermath of the conspiracy, Robert Howe spent the brutal winter of 1780-81 encamped at West Point. After helping quell mutinies by Pennsylvania and New Jersey troops, he again took up command of the post. As summer began, however, Washington ordered Howe to participate in an attack on New York City, and he subsequently led his men south to Dobbs Ferry. On July 15th he learned British ships had attacked American vessels at Tarrytown, New York. Wasting no time, the general raced his troops into town and was soon in sight of the enemy. He fired on the Royal Navy ships, and within minutes they were fleeing down the Hudson where they came under heavy fire from American batteries at Dobbs Ferry. Having yet again secured the river, Howe directed his men to rescue the precious ordinance onboard the burning American ships and to extinguish the flames. He then resumed probing towards New York. This movement convinced British General Henry Clinton to keep his army in New York in case of an attack, even after Washington moved south to besiege and eventually capture Lord General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. Sadly, General Howe did not witness the momentous triumph — instead, he remained along the Hudson to safeguard against another British advance.

In the months following Yorktown, the general remained in the northern theatre, though he was initially preoccupied with defending his conduct in the 1779 Savannah campaign. After hearing testimony proving he had faced overwhelming odds and uncooperative Georgians, a court-martial fully exonerated him. Returning to active duty, Howe kept his division alert for British movement, but by summer 1782 threat of an attack was largely nonexistent. He remained with the army until peace was established in 1783. Sadly, however, the ensuing years were dismal ones for the North Carolinian. He was plagued by financial woes, and by 1785 he was in such poverty he appealed to Congress for relief. That same year he returned to North Carolina where he received a hero’s welcome. In 1786 he won election to the state’s General Assembly. The campaign’s strain had taken a toll, however, and he contracted bilious fever. Robert Howe died on December 14, 1786, just as the nation he helped forge was on the cusp of becoming one united country.

Although Robert Howe is not as well known as other Continental Army commanders, his accomplishments are no less noteworthy. Even before fighting erupted, he railed against British tyranny and committed himself to America’s liberation. As head of the Southern Department, he steadfastly defended the Carolinas and Georgia from invasion. His greatest success though came in New York’s Hudson River Highlands. There he repelled repeated Redcoat forays up the vital waterway and ensured his nation remained intact. Although castigated, but later vindicated, for perceived failings in the South, Robert Howe never wavered, finding renewed purpose in the North. He ended up the highest-ranking Revolutionary officer from North Carolina — a devoted patriot, start to finish.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Legendary

150px-guy_gabaldon

On June 6, 1944 — D-Day — Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France as part of Operation Overlord, the long-anticipated invasion of Nazi-controlled Europe. Wave after wave of American and British troops attacked the entrenched Germans, and by nightfall the Allies had gained a foothold on the continent. In the ensuing weeks they pushed into the heart of Nazi territory, and within a year, Germany had surrendered. Consequently, D-Day is considered the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe. It is often forgotten, however, that a second pivotal invasion occurred days after Normandy. On June 15th U.S. infantry and Marines struck Saipan, part of the Mariana Islands in the Central Pacific, in the first part of their drive on Japan’s Home Islands. As on so many Pacific battlefields, American GIs opposed an enemy who fought to the death. After three weeks of brutal combat, the remaining Japanese launched the traditional “banzai” attack — choosing death rather than shame as prisoners. Not all Japanese died in battle, however. Due to the audacity of a private from Los Angeles, California, nearly one thousand enemy combatants surrendered. The private’s name was Guy Gabaldon. This is the story of how he distinguished himself, in legendary fashion no less, as the “Pied Piper of Saipan.”

Guy Gabaldon owed his success on Saipan to his years growing up in East L.A. He was born in the Southern Californian metropolis in late March 1926 to Mexican parents, and as a boy, he continually pressed boundaries, such as jumping from buildings and hopping from trains. His specialty, however, was street fighting, particularly after he joined the multi-ethnic “Moe Gang.” He once had his nose broken twice in the same day, and at another point was even kicked out of school. Still, he continued to defy authority, and it looked like he was on the road to ruin as a juvenile delinquent. All that changed when he turned twelve-years-old. Entering Hollenbeck Junior High School, he befriended Lane and Lyle Nakano, twin Japanese boys, who brought Guy into their tight-knit, loving family. He soon became an adopted member of the family, living with them off and on for several years. He attended Japanese language school with the boys and immersed himself in Japanese culture. He even developed a love for Japanese cuisine. Consequently, Guy felt as much at home in the Asian community as he did among Hispanics. Then in December 1941 his world turned upside-down with Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II.

Fearing Japanese-Americans would support their homeland, President Franklin Roosevelt decided to put these perceived enemies in internment camps across the U.S. The Nakanos were sent to Wyoming. Guy pleaded to go with them, but was refused. Distraught, and with nowhere to turn, the sixteen-year-old dropped out of school and travelled north to Alaska. He worked for a year at a fishing cannery, but as the months passed, he grew restless and yearned to join in the struggle against totalitarianism. Returning to California in 1943, he sought to enlist in the Navy but was rejected due to small stature — he only stood five feet, three inches — and a perforated eardrum. Undaunted, he turned to the Marines. On March 22nd — his seventeenth birthday — Guy Gabaldon entered military service as a private first class in the Marine Corps. He reported to Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, California, for basic training. When Guy’s superiors found he spoke Japanese, he was sent to the Enlisted Marine Japanese Language School at Camp Elliot, also in San Diego. Upon graduation, Gabaldon joined the Headquarters and Service Company of the 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division and was soon bound for combat in the Central Pacific.

After a brief stop in Hawaii, Gabaldon and the 2nd Marine Division sailed for the Mariana Islands, part of Japan’s defensive perimeter. Once in American hands, the islands could serve as a base from which B-29 Superfortresses could strike Japan. On June 15, 1944 Gabaldon and his fellow Marines stormed Saipan, the first critical island in the chain. Charging the rocky beaches, they met murderous artillery and machine gun fire from Japanese defenders. Comrades were soon falling all around Guy, but he continued to advance. No matter how fiercely the Marines pushed, however, the Japanese tenaciously held their ground. In desperation, Guy bombarded Japanese defenses with hand grenades, ultimately killing thirty-three combatants. After hours of combat, Gabaldon and his comrades drove Japanese warriors from the shoreline. Yet, Guy knew savage fighting still lay ahead. Enemy troops had resolved to kill seven Marines for every one of their own. Realizing such warfare could cost thousands of casualties, American and Japanese alike, Gabaldon determined to pursue a different tactic — and in so doing made history.

That night, displaying the same disregard for authority that marked his youth, he departed headquarters and embarked on a scouting trip across the island. Moments later, Guy encountered two Japanese soldiers and began conversing with them using backstreet Japanese. He convinced them of the futility of suicidal attacks against the Americans and urged them to accompany him to U.S. lines. They agreed. He expected congratulations but was instead threatened with court-martial for leaving his post. Despite the warning, Gabaldon undertook another mission the next night. This time, he made his way to a Japanese-occupied cave, one of hundreds that dotted the twenty-five mile length of Saipan. He killed the guards at the cave’s mouth and yelled down into the cave. Warning the underground enemy they were surrounded, the gutsy private promised fair treatment if they surrendered. As morning dawned, he marched fifty Japanese prisoners into camp. Amazed by such audacity, and impressed by the scope of his accomplishments, superiors allowed Gabaldon to continue his “lone-wolf” operations. In the ensuing days, he brought in other prisoners by providing gifts of candy and cigarettes as well as promising humane treatment while in captivity.

By July 6th, three weeks after landing on Saipan, Gabaldon and his comrades had pushed Japanese soldiers to the northern end of the island. One story from that night tells of how, on yet another trek, he overheard Japanese troops discussing a planned all-out attack in a last-ditch effort to stave off defeat. Guy immediately returned to headquarters and alerted his superiors of the coming assault. Due in part to his warning, the Marines soundly repulsed the charge. With victory in sight, American forces advanced to Banzai Cliffs. Reaching the site on July 8th, Guy watched in shocked horror as thousands of civilians leapt to their deaths. Believing Japanese propaganda that Americans would eat their children, the civilians rejected his pleas to stop and continued their mass suicide. Seeing one woman throw her baby onto the rocks, he could not stand by any longer. Running forward, Guy grabbed hold, and no matter how hard she fought, he refused to let go. He succeeded in pulling her away from the edge and guided her to an American camp. (Sadly, she lost her mind after realizing the Americans were not beasts — causing Guy to wish he had let her jump.) Moments later, he left the heartrending scene and walked along the cliffs. Meeting two Japanese soldiers, he told them further resistance was futile — flamethrowers and Naval vessels would destroy them if they took refuge inside caves. He then pointed to the cliff side and the dead bodies underneath and berated them for encouraging civilians to join them in death, which he said was not part of their bushido military code. Finally, one soldier agreed to find an officer and bring him to Gabaldon.

A short time later, a dozen Japanese exited a nearby cave, and for the first time, Guy felt a surge of trepidation. He realized he could not bluff them into surrendering, as he had on other occasions. Suddenly, inspiration struck him. He told them Marine General Holland “Howling Mad” Smith, whom he termed a Shogun, or commander-in-chief, greatly admired the Japanese’s bravery and had ordered safe haven be given to those survivors of the previous day’s banzai attack, which he said would go down in history. Guy then promised the troops would be sent to Hawaii to live out the war in comfortable surroundings. To his surprise, and delight, the Japanese commander in the cave, a lieutenant, warmly responded to this promise. He asked Gabaldon about medical treatment, and the private promised immediate attention. The lieutenant nodded his thanks and agreed to surrender. Leaving four of his men, he returned to his cave. An hour later fifty men came out and demanded water and medicine. Shrewdly, however, Gabaldon refused until all prisoners exited. The lieutenant agreed, and hundreds of Japanese, military and civilian, poured out. Guy was shocked at the seemingly endless line of marchers, but he quickly divided the groups and established a place for the wounded. As the crowd swelled, he realized he could not manage on his own and feared a possible revolt. Spotting a group of Marines on a nearby hillside, he ordered one of the prisoners to wave a white flag in their direction. Moments later, the group joined Gabaldon and helped him disarm the prisoners. When a full count was taken, Private Guy Gabaldon had single-handedly captured over eight hundred Japanese soldiers and civilians — almost eight times as many prisoners as that taken by Sergeant Alvin York, for which he received the Medal of Honor during World War I. When comrades learned of this astonishing feat, they labeled Guy Gabaldon the “Pied Piper of Saipan.”

Following his celebrated accomplishment, Private First Class Gabaldon joined the attack on Tinian, another island in the Mariana chain. There, as on Saipan, he engaged in “lone-wolf” operations and brought in hundreds of Japanese prisoners. He later returned to Saipan where he helped subdue Japanese guerrillas. In the course of this action, he was wounded by machine gun fire and sent home. By then, he had captured over fifteen hundred prisoners. For such heroism, he was awarded the Silver Star, the third highest medal for valor, which was later upgraded to a Navy Cross, the second highest award. Given an honorable discharge, Gabaldon returned home where he pursued various business ventures. Throughout his life though, he was tied to Saipan, living there for twenty years beginning in 1970. Nor was he shy about discussing his exploits, publishing a book on the Battle of Saipan in 1990. He also won numerous awards, including the prestigious 2005 Chesty Puller Award given by the World War II Veterans Committee. The greatest honor, however, came in 1960 when Hollywood released Hell to Eternity, which told Gabaldon’s story to the entire country. Fame and glory, including repeated efforts to see him awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, continued to follow the “Pied Piper of Saipan” for much of his remaining life. Guy Gabaldon died at the age of eighty in 2006, interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Guy Gabaldon truly lived up to his nickname. Much like the character in the “Pied Piper of Hamelin,” who used his music to lure rats, and later children, out of town, this modern “Piper” used his linguistic skills and persuasive reasoning to entice Japanese soldiers into surrendering, thereby preventing catastrophic loss of life. Having been exposed to the Far East culture as a boy, he understood the Japanese mindset, yet he saw no need for the soldiers to needlessly sacrifice themselves. Rather than employing brute force, Guy used cunning, courage, and his God-given talents to execute a strategy that not only proved phenomenally successful but also remains today one of the greatest individual triumphs in American military history. With a nickname like the “Pied Piper of Saipan” and the incredible wartime story to go along with it, perhaps the “legend” of Guy Gabaldon will live as long as the Medieval Piper of old.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A Warrior President

images

During the late summer of 1863, the third year of the American Civil War, the tide began to shift in favor of the North. By then General George Meade had defeated Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and Ulysses S. Grant had captured the Confederate bastion of Vicksburg, Mississippi. At the same time, General William Rosecrans advanced through Middle Tennessee intent on seizing the vital rail and manufacturing hub of Chattanooga. Rosecrans took the city, but the Confederates immediately launched a counterattack. On September 19th fighting erupted along Chickamauga Creek, Georgia. The next day Southerners struck with such ferocity that Northern troops fled in panic. As the army, including Rosecrans, dissolved, George Thomas stood defiant and held the rearguard — earning him the title of the “Rock of Chickamauga.” He was not the only Union hero, however. Another officer who displayed conspicuous bravery was an Ohio general who left the retreating Rosecrans and took a stand beside Thomas. Such actions were not new to this officer though, for he had served with distinction across the western theatre. His name was James Garfield. Though most only know his name for briefly holding the highest office in the land, this is the story of his valiant exploits at the Battle of Chickamauga.

When the Civil War began, James Garfield was one of Ohio’s foremost abolitionists. He was born in November 1831 in Orange Township into the Disciples of Christ denomination, and in accordance with the faith’s teachings, he avoided politics while studying at Geauga Seminary and the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute. After entering Massachusetts’ Williams College in 1854, however, he frequently attended lectures on slavery and became increasingly aware of the troubles tearing the country apart. Unable to stand idly by, Garfield joined the new Republican Party and dedicated himself to eradicating the South’s “peculiar institution.” Upon returning to Ohio, he embarked on a speaking tour across the state condemning slavery and its spread west. He proved so dynamic he was elected to the Ohio state Senate in October 1859 as representative of the 26th Senatorial District, which included Hudson, Ohio — the home of fiery abolitionist John Brown, who led a raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) that same month.   After Brown’s hanging in December, Garfield committed himself even more thoroughly to the anti-slavery cause — writing in his diary servitium esto damnatum, or slavery be damned. He joined the Senate the following month and quickly attracted attention for staunchly opposing a proposed bill prohibiting expeditions like Brown’s from originating in Ohio. The measure was sent to committee, and soon forgotten. In the wake of his success, Garfield turned his energy to the 1860 presidential election and vigorously campaigned for Abraham Lincoln. He argued the country’s future was at stake. In November he watched with pride as Lincoln won the election, but events soon took an ominous turn. Throughout the winter of 1860-61 seven Southern states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.

With war clouds on the horizon, James Garfield determined to take part in defending the Union and ending slavery. He urged his fellow legislators to build up the militia, and he himself began drilling and studying tactics. After war began in April 1861, Garfield petitioned Governor William Dennison for a command, and in July he was named lieutenant colonel of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, with a promotion to full colonel in September. In December he moved south into Kentucky, one of the most contested Border States, and after taking command of a brigade, he advanced to the Big Sandy River in east Kentucky to combat Confederate General Humphrey Marshall. Despite inclement weather and nearly impassable roads, he reached Marshall’s camp at Paintsville on January 4, 1862, and the following day he pressed both Confederate flanks and the center, causing Marshall to fall back to defensive ground on Middle Creek. Garfield caught up on January 10th, and despite having no artillery, he launched a series of attacks all along the line, repeatedly forcing the enemy back. When Marshall refused to retreat, Garfield threw the entire brigade forward, and after an hour of brutal combat, he watched in grim satisfaction as the Confederates were forced to flee. However, his work was not done yet. Returning to Paintsville, he operated against marauding Confederates before moving on Marshall’s new position at Pound Gap, the gateway between Kentucky and Virginia. On March 16th he led his infantry and cavalry against the Confederates and finally pushed the enemy out of eastern Kentucky.

Having accomplished his mission, newly promoted Brigadier General Garfield departed Kentucky for Tennessee where he joined the Army of the Ohio, which was on the march to link up with Ulysses S. Grant’s army encamped around a log church called Shiloh on the Tennessee River. Before Garfield and his comrades arrived, however, Confederate troops struck Grant on April 6th and drove him to the riverbank. When Garfield reached the battlefield the next day he joined the Union counterattack and led his men against enemy artillery. The Confederates soon retreated, and Garfield, alongside his comrades, advanced on the rail hub of Corinth, Mississippi. The city fell following a brief siege, but soon after, Garfield became ill and returned to Ohio on sick leave. While recuperating, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but though eager to serve, he determined to remain in uniform until Congress assembled in December 1863. Returning to duty in January 1863, he became chief of staff for William Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland. He threw himself into the job of administering the army, but he soon grew restless and yearned to strike the enemy. His desire was fulfilled on June 24th when Rosecrans ordered the army to move on the Confederate base at Tullahoma, Tennessee. In nine days Garfield and his comrades outmaneuvered the Rebels and so threatened the enemy supply line Confederate forces had to withdraw to Chattanooga, giving Union forces control of Middle Tennessee.

After seizing Tullahoma, Garfield and Rosecrans turned their attention on Chattanooga, and using a series of roads across Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, they forced Rebel troops to abandon the city and retreat into northwest Georgia. Galvanized by the tactical victory, Garfield pursued the seemingly demoralized enemy, but on the afternoon of September 18th Union forces met a reenergized Confederate army along Chickamauga Creek. Word raced back to Rosecrans’ headquarters at the Gordon-Lee Mansion, and Garfield realized a monumental fight awaited him the next morning. As battle erupted on September 19th, Rosecrans determined to move closer to the scene of action, and along with Garfield, he moved to Widow Glenn’s home, which offered a panoramic view of Union lines. From the new location, Garfield issued orders strengthening the Union center and right in hopes of finding a weak spot in Confederate lines while simultaneously moving men north so as to maintain contact with George Thomas on the Union left flank. When fresh troops arrived, Garfield raced them onto the field to fend off the increasingly savage Rebel attacks, and when holes appeared in his lines, he hurriedly dispatched troops to fill them. Due in large part to these efforts, the Army of the Cumberland was still intact as night fell. But all that changed the next day.

On the morning of September 20th Rosecrans withdrew men from his center in order to fill a supposed hole in the line — opening a real gap in actuality. At that moment Confederate infantry attacked, and within minutes the army had taken flight. Rosecrans joined the exodus, even as Garfield heard musket fire coming from the Union left which told him George Thomas was holding his position. Rosecrans, however, refused to believe the day could be salvaged. Yet his fiery chief of staff determined to try. Upon reaching Rossville, six miles to the rear, with his commander, Garfield had gone far enough, and leaving Rosecrans, he turned and galloped back towards the battlefield. He thundered down the Lafayette Road, littered with debris discarded by fleeing troops, and through fields and woodlots, always looking ahead and following the roar of artillery and musketry. After two hours of hard riding, he passed Cloud Church, a short distance from Union lines. Suddenly, Rebel skirmishers appeared in front of him and opened fire. His horse suffered a flesh wound, but Garfield himself escaped harm. Following the near miss, he spurred on and soon saw Union troops doggedly holding the Rebels at bay. He “never forgot [his] amazement and admiration when I beheld Thomas holding his own with utter defeat on each side and wild confusion in the rear.”

Examining Thomas’ position, Garfield sent an immediate dispatch to Rosecrans reporting Thomas commanded a large portion of the army and that he still held most of the same ground he had that morning. Consequently, Garfield saw no need to retreat all the way to Chattanooga, and he urged Rosecrans to hold the remaining Union soldiers at Rossville. With the message off, the Ohioan took a place along Thomas’ defensive line, and in the hours to come, he fired upon wave after wave of charging Confederates. The afternoon saw fierce fighting as the Rebels repeatedly attacked Thomas’ front and flanks, but Garfield and his men ferociously repelled them. Through it all, Garfield stayed at his post and displayed such fortitude that officers and enlisted men alike praised his heroism. He remained in position until nightfall when, believing he and Thomas had bought enough time for the Army of the Cumberland to escape, he withdrew to Rossville where he remained the next day in anticipation of renewed attacks. When no attack came, he returned to Chattanooga — one of the few officers to emerge from the near disastrous battle covered in glory. He and Thomas had saved Union forces from a complete route.

Shortly after the battle, Garfield left the Army for Washington, D.C. where he reported to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and won promotion to major general for his gallantry. He held the rank only two months, however, before resigning in order to take his congressional seat. As part of the House Military Affairs Committee, he vigorously supported drafting more men into the army and ending commutation, whereby recruits bought their way out of service. He also advocated punishment of all who supported the rebellion by confiscating property. His greatest triumph though came in January 1865 when he witnessed the permanent abolition of slavery with adoption of the 13th Amendment. After the war ended, Garfield vocally championed civil rights and fought for the 14th and 15th Amendments, giving African-Americans equal protection and the right to vote respectively. Throughout the 1870s he climbed the ranks as he called for free trade and for gold to back America’s monetary policy. Then in 1880 he won the party’s presidential nomination. During the campaign, his supporters lauded his ride to glory at Chickamauga, and largely thanks to the image, he defeated fellow war hero Winfield S. Hancock for the presidency. After his inauguration on March 4, 1881, Garfield labored to expand educational opportunities for African-Americans and to establish America’s place in the world, but his efforts were cut short on July 2nd when Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled office seeker, shot him in the back.   He suffered for two months before dying on September 19th — eighteen years to the day he was in the fight of his life.

James Garfield was a devout Unionist throughout his life. As a young man, he dedicated himself to perfecting America, and when his country faced peril, he willingly took up the sword to preserve it for future generations. He battled and defeated Confederates across Kentucky and Tennessee, but his greatest fight came on the banks of Chickamauga in September 1863. While thousands of Union soldiers, including his commander, raced for the rear, Garfield risked death charging in the opposite direction. Once on the field, he tenaciously fought to ensure the Army of the Cumberland lived to fight another day. The credit for saving the army frequently goes to George Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga,” but as his fellow combatants could testify, James Garfield stood like an immovable pillar that day.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A Servant of the Cause

images

No moment in American history was more fraught with peril than late summer and early fall 1776. Just as Americans across the continent were celebrating their independence, a massive British expeditionary force arrived off New York City to crush the rebellion. Led by General Sir William Howe, and his brother Admiral Lord Richard Howe, the command assembled on Staten Island before landing on Long Island where the Continental Army waited. Beginning in the last days of August and continuing throughout September, George Washington tried in vain to keep the British out of New York. In every battle, however, his men fled at the sight of the Redcoats and their Hessian mercenaries. At the September 15th Battle of Kip’s Bay on eastern Manhattan, the commander-in-chief was so frustrated he threw his hat on the ground and shouted, “Are these the men with which I am to defend America!” Surprisingly though, several Continental officers gave a good account of themselves. One was a Massachusetts farmer-turned-soldier who served the cause loyally from the Revolution’s very beginning. His name was William Heath. This is the story of his valiant actions during the last days of the New York campaign.

From an early age, William Heath’s fondest dream was to serve Massachusetts in some meaningful way. He was born in Roxbury, a Boston suburb, in March 1737 and grew up on the homestead owned by his family since their arrival in America a century earlier. Heath’s parents groomed him to be a farmer, but Heath wanted more. In 1761, therefore, he became Roxbury’s representative in the Massachusetts General Court. He also developed an abiding interest in military affairs and often visited Henry Knox’s Boston bookstore where he purchased military texts. His studies led to an expertise in tactics, most notably skirmishing. Not content to just read about military life, Heath joined Boston’s Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company and the county’s militia, ultimately rising to command both units. His martial prowess won him the trust and friendship of Royal Governor Francis Bernard, but as Britain adopted more oppressive policies, he enthusiastically embraced the patriot cause — sacrificing his relationships with Bernard and other officials rather than assist in subjugating his countrymen.

By the dawn of the 1770s, William Heath was fully committed to the cause of liberty. In the wake of the March 5, 1770 Boston Massacre, he concluded protesting British oppression was no longer an option. With fiery resolve, Heath penned several articles under the pseudonym of A Military Countryman, in which he argued armed resistance was the only way to preserve colonial rights. Accordingly, he devoted himself to training his militiamen. Simultaneously, he returned to the General Court and served in the legislature until its dissolution in 1774, which came as part of Britain’s harsh response to the 1773 Boston Tea Party. Refusing to submit to tyranny, Heath and his colleagues established the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and almost immediately, he was appointed to the Committee of Safety, which exercised executive authority. During the winter of 1774-75, he supervised collection of military supplies and their disposition at Concord, Massachusetts, and in early February 1775 Congress appointed Heath one of five brigadier generals empowered to lead troops against British forces. Knowing hostilities were imminent, he readied himself for battle.

On the morning of April 19 Heath awoke to hear that a British column was marching on Concord intent on seizing the military supplies. Not wasting any time, he leapt on his horse and, accompanied by Dr. Joseph Warren, a key member of the Sons of Liberty, he raced to Lexington. Arriving on the scene, he saw local militiamen locked in battle with Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith’s Redcoats, just reinforced by a column led by Lord Percy. Taking immediate command, Heath rallied a regiment thrown into confusion by British artillery before ordering the militia to pursue the British as they resumed retreating to Boston. At Menotomy he directed a heavy fire on enemy soldiers and later watched in grim satisfaction as men from Roxbury, Brookline and Dorchester struck the British right flank, with hand-to-hand fighting raging at one point. The pursuit continued until dusk, at which point the British reached Charlestown. Having achieved victory, Heath marched to Cambridge and then to Roxbury, from where he besieged occupied-Boston. He was still there in July when George Washington arrived and assumed command of the Continental Army, passing along word to Heath he was now a Continental brigadier general. In his new capacity, Heath faithfully served Washington throughout the siege of Boston, building defenses at Lechmere’s Point and defending it from a British naval bombardment in December 1775. Then in March 1776 he erected defenses along Dorchester Heights for artillery, notably placing rows of barrels atop the hill which could be rolled down and kill or injure British soldiers. Seeing Dorchester’s strength, General William Howe finally decided to evacuate Boston, but Washington knew it was a matter of where, not if, British forces would strike. On March 20th, therefore, General Heath left Boston for New York City, the most obvious target of a British invasion.

Reaching the city on March 30th, Heath set about constructing defenses on Manhattan and neighboring Long Island in anticipation of the coming onslaught. British troops landed on Staten Island in early July, and by mid-August, their numbers had swelled to over thirty thousand. With an attack expected any day, Heath, newly promoted to major general, realized Manhattan’s upper end was vital to control of the city. He foresaw that by landing there British soldiers could easily trap the Americans — annihilating the Continental Army, and possibly eradicating all hopes for American independence. Taking Heath’s warnings to heart, Washington assigned him command of the region, including the forts built to deter a British attack. Consequently, Heath did not see action in the August 27th Battle of Long Island, but he was instrumental in Washington’s August 29th miraculous escape when he sent his boats to Brooklyn, which Washington used to ferry his men across the East River to Manhattan. Following defeat at Kip’s Bay, however, Washington abandoned New York and fell back towards Heath’s defensive line at Manhattan’s northern tip.

Knowing Howe would press on and seize control of all Manhattan, Washington increased Heath’s command to ten thousand troops and directed him to monitor enemy activity. Heath did so, and on September 22nd he learned of a garrison on Montresor’s Island. He decided to launch an immediate attack. The first wave struck with such ferocity the British were driven back, but, as Heath watched from the opposite bank, his stalwart men had to withdraw when the rest of the force refused to support them. Though disappointed, Heath refused to lose heart and returned to watching British movements. As September came to an end, Heath believed the enemy intended to strike at Frog’s Neck, a narrow spit of land separating the East River from Long Island Sound. Determined to contest the foray, Heath ordered Colonel Edward Hand and twenty-six soldiers to tear up the plank bridge across Westchester Creek and fortify the pass at the end of the causeway linking the neck with Manhattan. His decision proved wise, as the British began landing on the neck on October 12th.

Hearing the roar of battle, which indicated Hand had engaged the enemy, Heath quickly dispatched infantry and artillery support to the riflemen, and he watched in pride as his soldiers checked the British advance, forcing them to remain on the neck six days. Then on October 18th he heard the British were about to sortie, or attack. Without hesitation, Heath galloped to the men nearest the neck and personally took command, leading them straight into the fight. As he approached the causeway, he ordered one regiment to reinforce the troops at the pass while the rest loaded and primed their muskets. Suddenly, Washington himself appeared and shouted for Heath to form up his entire division and combat the British should more troops arrive. Saluting, Heath turned for his own lines. As he did, enemy troops crossed the water to Pell’s Neck where they engaged American forces dug in behind a stone fence. The Continentals fired on the Redcoats who were caught off guard, but the enemy regrouped and surged forward again, compelling the Americans to fall back. In the ensuing days, the British encroached on the American rear, and it became obvious the Continentals could not remain on Manhattan. Consequently, save for Forts Washington and Independence, the Americans withdrew to White Plains, in modern Westchester County. Heath arrived on October 22nd and deployed his men along the high ground north of the courthouse. Surveying his position, he observed a rise from which the British could enfilade his division, and seizing the initiative, he dispatched a New York regiment and battery of artillery to defend the hill.

On the afternoon of October 27th the British arrived at White Plains and attacked. Racing back from Washington’s headquarters, Heath found his men in line of battle, and taking his place beside them, he watched the British storm nearby Chatterton’s Hill. Moments later, his attention was diverted as he glimpsed movement towards the neighboring hillside. The British obviously recognized the hill’s importance, but they were equally ignorant of his men atop the promontory. Heath watched in satisfaction as the infantry and artillery delivered a terrific fire into the enemy ranks. The British were so stunned they fell back. A brief while afterwards, the general spotted them reforming, but they had no intention of striking again. Instead, they turned to Chatterton’s Hill, and despite the Continentals’ valiant efforts, the British took the ground, forcing the army to fall back to new defensive positions. Under covering fire, Heath evacuated those troops charged with defending the neighboring hillside and then marched to rejoin the army. He spent the next few days constructing redoubts and remaining vigilant for another British attack. On November 7th, however, the British retired to New York. In response, General Washington took most of his men into New Jersey while assigning Heath to Peekskill in the Hudson River Valley.

In the weeks that followed, he commanded the troops scattered throughout the Hudson Highlands, and briefly led an expedition into New Jersey in December which resulted in victory over British troops at Bergen. On January 5, 1777 Washington wrote Heath of the two American victories at Trenton and Princeton and ordered him to move on New York. Acting swiftly, Heath struck Fort Independence and successfully overran the outposts, which he communicated to Washington and which led to a belief the fort was about to fall. America’s jubilation was premature, however, as Heath was unable to capitalize on his early achievements and carry the position. He remained in the Highlands until mid-March when he returned to Boston to command the Eastern Department. In that capacity, he recruited troops and dispatched them to New York to combat British General John Burgoyne who was sweeping south from Canada. After Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga in October, Heath’s assignment expanded to include service as commandant of prisoners, and in 1778 he worked extensively with the French Navy under Count D’Estaing. He rejoined the main army in June and assumed command of the forces on the Hudson’s east bank, gaining command of the entire Hudson that November. Heath remained in command until June 1780 when he left for Providence, Rhode Island to again serve as an intermediary between Continental and French forces. In September he learned of Benedict Arnold’s treacherous plot to hand West Point to the British, and at Washington’s request, he raced up the Hudson to command the fortifications. A year later, in August 1781, Washington gave Heath the honor of commanding the army in New York while he attacked British General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. He saw out the rest of the war in New York and had the distinction of being the last American General of the Day, the officer in charge of security and inspecting camp, before hostilities formally ceased in 1783.

Returning to Massachusetts, William Heath continued to pursue a life of public service. He became a major general in the state militia and helped organize the Roxbury Artillery, which assisted in crushing Shay’s Rebellion, an uprising by Massachusetts farmers in 1786 which convinced many of the need for a strong central government. Like Washington, Heath ardently supported federalism and worked to see the Constitution approved, serving as a member of the Massachusetts ratifying convention. He served as a state senator from 1791-1792 and also as a probate court judge. In 1806 he was elected lieutenant governor, but he declined to serve. Even as his political career ended, however, he proudly remembered his wartime experiences, and set about writing his memoirs — one of the few Continental officers to record his career. William Heath died in January 1814, the last American major general of the Revolution to leave the field of honor.

General William Heath truly gave all for the “glorious cause.” Even before war began he devoted himself to preparing his countrymen for the coming struggle. When fighting erupted on April 19, 1775 he committed himself to America’s liberation, and he refused to back down in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Nowhere was his resolve more evident than in the battles on Manhattan. At Frog’s Neck, and again at White Plains, Heath fought to save the Continental Army, and with it the best chance for independence. Without his tenacity and resourceful leadership, the dream of a free and united country may have died before it even began. William Heath’s heroic actions, indeed his entire life, serve as a shining example of the dedication and sacrifice required to attain and to preserve the freedom we, as Americans, enjoy today.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Good Fight

images

In the span of only one hundred years, one of the fundamental dynamics of American life radically changed. Throughout the 1800s, most Americans held the same traditional values and beliefs as their fathers, but by the early twentieth century, a more humanistic approach gained a solid foothold. One of the first, and most popular, ideas to gain acceptance was British naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by way of natural selection — whereby plants and animals adapted physically and environmentally to survive. By the 1920s large numbers of U.S. schools taught evolution as part of the science curriculum. Many Americans however, particularly those outside academia, believed Darwin threatened their Christian heritage, notably God’s creation of the earth, and they pushed back against the new approach. To safeguard their beliefs, Tennessee lawmakers outlawed teaching of evolution in early 1925. Soon after, John Scopes of Dayton was arrested and tried for disobeying the act. Defending Scopes was Clarence Darrow, a well-known lawyer and self-proclaimed atheist. Prosecuting the case was America’s preeminent orator. He had long championed the common man and resolved to defend the values he, and they, held dear. His name was William Jennings Bryan. This is the story of his vigorous defense of Christianity against evolutionists, culminating in the famed 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial.”

From the moment he stepped onto the national stage, William Jennings Bryan frequently tied political rhetoric to his evangelical beliefs. He was born in Salem, Illinois in March 1860 to a circuit court judge who instilled in his son staunch Christian convictions and a devotion to the Democratic Party. Bryan graduated from Illinois College in 1881, after which he attended Union Law School in Chicago. He moved to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1887 where he enjoyed a successful legal career and participated in Democratic Party affairs. As he crisscrossed Nebraska, he argued Christian ethics applied to society and government as much as to individuals. Practicing what he preached, he gained election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1890 where he championed social and economic reforms, especially replacing gold with silver or bimetallism as a foundation for American currency. His greatest defense of the policy came at the 1896 Democratic National Convention where he thundered, “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” The hall erupted in applause and chose the thirty-six-year-old as their presidential candidate. Defeated by William McKinley, he ran for the nation’s highest office in 1900 and in 1908 — losing each bid. Despite vowing to not seek the presidency again, Bryan remained active in both politics and on the lecture circuit where he maintained God and morality should guide reforms. He personally waged a campaign for such causes as prohibition of alcohol. More precious to him though was the end of all war.

As a devout Christian, William Jennings Bryan believed Christ’s peace carried with it the hope international disputes could be settled by negotiations rather than wars. Beginning in 1904, he frequently delivered a “Prince of Peace” address, which stressed accord. Following Woodrow Wilson’s election as president in 1912, Bryan had the chance to implement his ideas as Secretary of State. He negotiated a series of conciliation treaties and sought establishment of commissions to ease tensions between belligerent nations. His hopes for peace were dashed, however, as war engulfed Europe in late 1914. Watching from across the Atlantic, Bryan desperately fought for American neutrality through such efforts as keeping Americans off ships carrying war materiel. After German submarines sank Britain’s Lusitania in May 1915, killing nearly twelve hundred passengers, including 128 Americans, President Wilson resolved to send a message denouncing Germany. Bryan wanted similar action against Britain for endangering American lives. Wilson persisted against Germany, and began preparations for American involvement, causing Bryan to resign. Nevertheless, after America entered the war in April 1917, he urged Americans to plant victory gardens and to purchase Liberty Bonds. When war ended in November 1918, he ardently backed Woodrow Wilson’s call for the League of Nations as a means of achieving his hopes for lasting peace among all nations. His efforts for such a goal were ultimately unsuccessful, but he had little time for despair as his greatest battle still lay ahead.

As the 1920s dawned, Bryan found his way of life, particularly his cherished Christianity, under attack from modernist forces, and he dedicated himself to preserving traditional American values. After touring the country and reading letters from concerned citizens, he recognized the main threat was science’s replacement of religion in American schools. He watched young men and women deny God as a myth and reject the belief the Bible was infallible. Horrified, Bryan passionately declared the “greatest menace to the public school system today is its Godlessness.” The starkest example was Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Bryan viewed claims mankind was descended from primitive beasts as ludicrous, saying more science existed in God’s creation of man as told in Genesis than in Darwinism. More importantly, he believed Darwinism put the “creative act so far away that reverence for the Creator is likely to be lost.” For Bryan, such loss corrupted Christianity’s foundations and impaired Americans’ spiritual lives. Resolved to “save the Christian church from those who are trying to destroy her faith,” Bryan energetically joined the fundamentalist crusade against evolution.

Seeking to eliminate Darwinism from society, he urged state legislatures to prohibit the subject in schools. Most states either banned textbooks or forced proponents to resign, though Florida did pass a measure prohibiting evolution classes. Then in late January 1925 Tennessee State Representative John Butler proposed legislation whereby Darwin’s theory was unlawful in any school supported by state funds. The bill was passed by both houses and signed into law by Governor Austin Peay. Bryan subsequently wrote Peay the “Christian parents of the state owe you a debt of gratitude for saving their children from the poisonous influence of an unproven hypothesis.” While he celebrated, however, the American Civil Liberties Union was preparing to challenge the law by offering to pay legal fees for anyone willing to violate the measure. The Union found its man in John T. Scopes, a Dayton, Tennessee science teacher. He was arrested in May after refusing to obey the act, saying he could not teach biology without evolution since the approved textbook included a reference to Darwin’s theory. Almost immediately though, the larger battle between evolution and fundamentalism overshadowed the limited nature of Scopes breaking state law. The struggle was most evident in the choices for legal representation. The World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, joined by local prosecutors, tapped Bryan to face off against prominent Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow. Bryan enthusiastically accepted, as he believed “the contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death. If evolution wins in Dayton, Christianity goes — not suddenly of course, but gradually — for the two cannot stand together.” When Bryan arrived in Dayton on July 7th, therefore, he was greeted by admirers who saw him as a “symbol of their simple religious faith,” according to a New York Times reporter. On July 10th he took his seat at the prosecution table.

As the trial began, Bryan largely kept silent as prosecutors examined four witnesses who testified Scopes used Darwin in his lessons. The prosecution then rested, and Darrow began his defense by expressing an intent to call scientists and clergymen to show no discrepancy between Biblical and scientific creation, starting with Dr. Maynard Metcalf, a zoologist at Johns Hopkins University. Seeing this as his moment, Bryan leapt up, grabbed George Hunter’s Civic Biology, the book used by Scopes, and delivered a scorching oration decrying the notion man was a mere mammal. Caustically, he asked if humanity should be “detached from the throne of God and be compelled to link our ancestors with the jungle” before shouting, “Did [Metcalf] tell you where life began? Did he tell you that back of all there was a God? Not a word about it.” Due in part to Bryan’s efforts, the judge rejected additional scientific testimony, though he did allow it read into the official record. This decision led many to believe the trial was over and all that was left were the closing arguments. However, the defense had one more surprise up its sleeve.

Following a weekend recess, Clarence Darrow called William Jennings Bryan himself to the stand. Fellow prosecutors urged him to refuse, but Bryan claimed Darrow was in Dayton to “try revealed religion. I am here to defend it.” He subsequently admitted to a literal acceptance of the Bible, which led to questions about how the sun stood still during Joshua’s battle with the Amorites and how a whale swallowed Jonah. Bryan argued God could perform any miracle, but as the examination continued, it became clear he did not think everything in the Bible was literal. He admitted Joshua’s account might mean the earth stopped revolving around the sun and the six “days” resulting in earth’s creation might not be actual twenty-four hour periods. To explain this inconsistency, Bryan said each account used language people of the time understood. Unspoken was his belief that the Bible’s ability to halt such a dangerous philosophy as evolution was more important than whether every natural event told in the Bible was literally true. Still, thinking he had discredited Bryan, Darrow ended his examination, and the trial. The next day he chose not to give a closing argument, thereby denying Bryan a chance to give a much-anticipated speech. After only eight minutes of deliberation, the jury issued a guilty verdict, leaving Bryan satisfied that the law had been upheld.

Determined to continue the fight, he spent two days typing his undelivered speech before travelling to Chattanooga where it was printed. In Bryan’s own words, the speech challenged all the evolutionist arguments, and he hoped it appeared across America. On Saturday, July 25th, he spoke in Winchester, Tennessee before returning to Dayton for Sunday church services. In what was to be his final public act, Bryan led the congregation in prayer. That afternoon, he laid down to rest and never woke up. Though buried in Arlington National Cemetery, his real resting place was in the hearts and minds of all who saw William Jennings Bryan as American Christianity’s greatest defender.

Today, William Jennings Bryan is seen as a symbol of the fight against progress, but such a belief is too narrow. Throughout the battle against evolution, indeed throughout his entire life, the thing Bryan actually fought for was humanity’s betterment, and his commitment fueled his passion to the very end. It lay behind virtually all his previous struggles, from his fight for silver-backed currency in the 1890s to his efforts to end all conflict in the years before and after World War I. In evolution and its modernist advocates, Bryan saw the complete destruction of Biblical principles that guided healthy Christian living. It was this he ardently opposed — not merely evolution itself. He furiously waged battle against those he considered enemies of the faith, and he never surrendered, ultimately giving his life for his beliefs. Perhaps no finer tribute could define William Jennings Bryan than the words of 2nd Timothy 4:7 — “I have fought the good fight…I have kept the faith.”

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Twice a Rebel

images

From its earliest days, Texas has attracted men and women from across the United States desiring a fresh start in life. Migration first began in the 1820s when the newly created Mexican government permitted American empresarios, or land agents, most notably Stephen F. Austin, to bring settlers into the territory. Waves of immigrants poured in and made their mark on the land. However, during the early 1830s Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna rose to power and asserted totalitarian authority over the province. Outraged at his actions, Texans launched a war of independence in October 1835. News of the revolution spread east like wildfire and fired the imaginations of young Americans keen to cross the Mississippi River and liberate the newly proclaimed Republic of Texas. Among those who joined the fight was a U.S. Army officer from Kentucky. He had already earned a reputation as a warrior on the U.S.’s northern frontier, and in the years following his arrival in Texas he defended his new home from similar perils. His name was Albert Sidney Johnston. This is the story of his gallant service on the Texas frontier.

Long before settling in Texas, Albert Sidney Johnston exhibited the same independent spirit which led others to make the Lone Star State their home. He was born in early February 1803 in Washington, Kentucky to a physician who hoped his son would pursue a future in law. As a boy, however, Johnston heard stirring accounts of the War of 1812 and dreamed of life in the U.S. Navy. In an effort to discourage him, his father sent him to live with his older brother, Josiah Stoddard Johnston, in Louisiana. Albert Sidney became a true gentleman under Josiah’s guidance, but he refused to abandon his military ambitions. He briefly attended Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky before entering the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1822. At the Academy, Johnston poured himself into his studies, determined to master each subject rather than simply attain high grades. He excelled in mathematics and tactics and was so adept in martial discipline he became cadet adjutant. He stood eighth in the Class of 1826, and when the time came to pick a branch, Albert Sidney once again surprised everyone by turning down General Winfield Scott’s offer of aide-de-camp in favor of becoming a foot soldier — a second lieutenant in the Second Infantry.

Posted to the remote outpost of Sacket’s Harbor, New York on Lake Ontario, Lieutenant Johnston threw himself into drilling the garrison, but boredom soon set in. Relief came in April 1827 when he was ordered to join the Sixth Infantry stationed at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri. Only days after his arrival, he marched north against hostile Winnebago Indians who had attacked and killed settlers along the Wisconsin River. Together with his comrades, he compelled the Indians to negotiate boundaries on their tribal lands and to refrain from future attacks. Back in St. Louis, he spent the next five years on garrison duty, and despite falling in love, marrying, and fathering two children, he chafed at the inactivity. Then in 1832 word came of an Indian uprising led by Sauk and Fox war leader Black Hawk. Alongside General Henry Atkinson, Johnston advanced into Illinois and Wisconsin to subdue the threat. He vigorously pursued the Indians through the summer before catching up and defeating the renegade chief at the bloody August 2nd battle on the Bad Axe River. During the fighting, he showed himself to be a “cool, clear-headed man and an excellent officer,” according to one eyewitness. Soon after returning home, however, tragedy robbed him of all joy. Within three years, he lost his father, his beloved brother Josiah, an infant daughter, and finally his wife. Distraught, he retreated to Louisville, Kentucky where his wife’s family lived. As 1836 began, Johnston found himself without a profession — having resigned from the Army when his wife fell ill — and seeking a new path in life.

At this moment of despondency, Albert Sidney Johnston learned of the fighting in far-off Texas. On March 3, 1836, the day after delegates declared independence at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas Commissioner Stephen F. Austin arrived in Louisville with word of the revolution and a call for military assistance. Eager to join the noble crusade, Johnston resolved to offer his sword to this bold new republic. He rode south to Louisiana and crossed the Sabine River on July 13th — nearly three months after General Sam Houston routed Santa Anna at San Jacinto, near present-day Houston, Texas. On the 15th Johnston arrived in bustling Nacogdoches in east Texas where he met General Houston and presented him letters of recommendation from Henry Atkinson and other officers attesting to his bravery and skill. Seeing Johnston’s potential, Houston dispatched him to the Texas Army, now under the command of General Thomas Rusk. He joined the ranks as an enlisted man, but by August 5th his talents convinced Rusk to appoint Johnston his adjutant general. He proved so adept at instilling order and discipline among the soldiers that in October Secretary of War John Wharton promoted him to colonel and named him adjutant general of all Texan forces. He held that position only four months before winning promotion to the rank of senior brigadier general — giving him field command of the Texas Army.

In that position, General Johnston faced the daunting task of repelling potential Mexican invasions of the new nation. While Santa Anna had signed a treaty giving Texas independence a year earlier, Mexican authorities still refused to recognize Texas’ sovereignty. Soon after taking command, Johnston learned six thousand Mexican troops were massing at Matamoros on the Rio Grande. The general yearned to attack but was told by President Houston to make Mexico strike first. Though compliant, Johnston did not wholly surrender the initiative. He dispatched cavalry patrols to monitor Mexican movements and drilled his 1,700 men to ensure their readiness. His actions, along with political unrest in Mexico, discouraged the expected invasion. Still, Johnston remained vigilant. In late 1837 he led forty horsemen to the frontier where he reconnoitered the roads and river crossings leading into Texas and secured the southern border against raiders. He was still there in April 1838 when he heard rumors of a Mexican column advancing towards him. Marshaling 200 men, Johnston rode out to meet the enemy, only to discover Mexico’s war with France had disrupted the invaders’ northward march. Subsequent inactivity led him to leave the army, but his faithful service had endeared him to the people of Texas. When Mirabeau Lamar became second president of Texas later that same year, he appointed Albert Sidney Johnston Secretary of War.

Upon taking office, Secretary Johnston called for the creation of new infantry, cavalry and artillery regiments to safeguard the republic. He still perceived a threat from south of the border, but as Mexican officials focused on defeating France and quelling internal rebellions, an uneasy peace descended between the two nations. No longer facing threat of invasion, Johnston turned his attention to the hostile Indians roaming the frontier. Unlike President Houston, who sought conciliation with the tribes, both President Lamar and his Secretary of War considered Indians a menace to Texas’ security. This belief heightened in early 1839 when documents were found on a Mexican bandit showing Cherokee Chief Bowles and other eastern tribes were communicating with Mexican officials. In exchange for the Mexicans’ promise of permanent title to their lands, the tribes attacked Texans on Mexico’s behalf. Outraged, Lamar prepared for war just as Chief Bowles agreed to leave in return for compensation for the work he and his people did on the land. Dispatched as a commissioner, Johnston spent days in seemingly fruitless discussions with Bowles before negotiations finally broke down. On July 15th he ordered nine hundred troops against the village.

Marching alongside his men, the Secretary chased the Indians out of camp and along the Neches River. After advancing ten miles, he found Bowles’ warriors dug in along a hillside and immediately ordered an attack. The Texans surged forward as the Indians fired. Fighting raged for half an hour until darkness fell. Johnston intended to resume battle in the morning, but as the sun rose, he saw eighteen Indians were dead and the rest had taken flight. He pursued the enemy and caught up with them by noon. Once again, he launched an all-out attack, and charging ahead of the army, he slashed through the Indian ranks. Within moments, Chief Bowles was killed and the remaining natives were running for their lives. Johnston followed, killing those who resisted and burning their villages. Facing annihilation, the Cherokees retreated to Arkansas. Fearing a similar fate, those tribes allied with the Cherokee submitted to Secretary Johnston and President Lamar. Some agreed to life on a reservation while others sold their land and moved to the U.S.

Word of Johnston’s martial prowess garnered praise in both Texas and the United States, but the Secretary had little time to savor his triumph. Trouble on the western frontier soon claimed his attention. Marauding Comanches had been menacing settlers while he dealt with the Cherokee. He dispatched what soldiers he could to the garrisons at San Antonio and Gonzales and ordered expeditions against the hostile warriors. When the Cherokees were finally defeated, he moved the army to the frontier, forcing the Comanches to sue for peace. Tribal leaders agreed to give up all white captives and to accept limits on tribal land. As negotiations began in March 1840, Johnston sent three companies of infantrymen to San Antonio to protect the commissioners, but he also readied the army in case the Comanches proved duplicitous. His actions proved wise, for the Commanches only brought one white child with them and denied having more. According to Johnston’s orders, the infantry seized the chiefs as fighting erupted between the two sides. War raged throughout the summer and fall before Texas forces dealt the Comanches crippling blows in battles along the Colorado River. Though the victory belonged to him, Johnston was not on hand to see it — he resigned as Secretary of War in March, having grown tired of bureaucratic work.

Despite leaving public office, Albert Sidney Johnston considered Texas his home and his future tied to it. In January 1843 he bought China Grove Plantation, forty miles from Galveston. While anticipating life as a planter, Johnston still yearned to lead men against Mexico and permanently secure Texas’ independence — ending the threat of invasion once and for all. His chance came in 1846 in the wake of Texas’ annexation to the Union. Joining U.S. General Zachary Taylor on the Rio Grande, Johnston became colonel of the First Texas Infantry and joined the march on Monterrey in northern Mexico. During the September 21st battle, he withstood a charge by Mexican lancers and directed a withering fire that emptied saddles and sent the survivors fleeing. With the city’s fall, and his enlistment’s end, he returned home, but rejoined the Army in 1850 as paymaster for the frontier garrisons stretching from Austin to Fort Worth. After five years spent crossing vast prairies to visit each fort, U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis appointed Johnston colonel of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. At the end of March 1856, he also received command of the Department of Texas. In that capacity, Johnston waged offensive operations against the Comanches and other renegade tribes.

He was in the midst of pacifying the frontier when called upon to command an expedition against rebellious Mormons in the Utah Territory, earning promotion to brigadier general during the campaign. He occupied Utah until March 1860 when he took command of the Department of the Pacific, comprising California and Oregon. In San Francisco in April 1861, he learned Texas had seceded. Knowing he could not fight against his adopted homeland, Albert Sidney Johnston resigned from the U.S. Army and offered his services to the Confederacy. On September 10th he accepted command of Confederate Department Number Two, encompassing the entire western front. For seven months, he valiantly defended Kentucky and Tennessee from Union invasion before being driven back into northern Mississippi. On April 6, 1862 he launched a surprise attack on Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s army encamped at Shiloh. While leading an attack against the Union defensive line known as the Hornet’s Nest, a Minie ball severed the popliteal artery just below the right knee, causing Johnston to bleed to death in minutes. News of the loss staggered the nation, but nowhere was his loss felt more than in the state he had dedicated his life to protecting. Initially buried in New Orleans, all knew he “wanted a handful of Texas earth on [his] breast.” On February 2, 1867 he was reburied in Austin’s Texas State Cemetery, where he remains to this day.

By any definition, Albert Sidney Johnston was a true Texan. He dedicated his life to the Lone Star State and embodied the principles so many inhabitants held dear. He came to Texas as a young man seeking a fresh start, but he found so much more. He found purpose fending off the Republic’s enemies, Mexican and Indian alike, and he repeatedly demonstrated daring leadership and battlefield audacity. For his heroism, he received the love of his country and was elevated to the top echelon of Texas heroes. Given such acclaim, Johnston could not turn his back on Texas. When forced to choose between the Union and Texas, he said, “It seems like fate that Texas has made me a Rebel twice.” It was a moniker he proudly bore, regardless of the cost.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized