The Dents of White Haven

Many historians have described Julia Dent Grant’s father, Colonel Frederick F. Dent, as a very pro-secession, pro-slavery, Southern Democrat. At Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, this is the interpretation of Colonel Dent, the patriarch of White Haven, that visitors are usually presented. Unfortunately, historians have failed to uncover anything actually written by Colonel Dent himself. The interpretation of Colonel Dent as a pro-secession, pro-slavery, Southern Democrat is based on what friends and family wrote, and suppositions based on the Colonel’s lifestyle. I’ve argued that the available historic evidence does not always support the prevailing portrait of Colonel Dent. (See here)

Conversely, historians, and the park, have often presented Ulysses Grant as pro-Union, and anti-slavery. It is often argued that Grant was anti-slavery in large part because as a child growing up in Ohio, Grant’s own father, Jesse, taught him to be anti-slavery. As I’ve indicated on this blog in the past, I believe this interpretation of Grant is questionable as well, but taken together these interpretations beg the question – what effect did Colonel Dent’s social and political views have on his own offspring? If we are going to claim that Ulysses was pro-Union and anti-slavery because his father instilled those values in him, should it not follow that Colonel Dent’s children would reflect their father’s views? Or, to ask in another way, can we discern what Colonel Dent’s views were by examining the lives of his children?

Julia had four older brothers, John C. (1816-1889), George W. (1819-1899), Frederick T. (1820-1892), and Lewis (T. ?) (1823-1874), and two younger sisters, Ellen W. “Nellie” (1828-1904), and Emily M. “Emma” (1836-?). (A third sister, Mary, died in infancy). Colonel Dent purchased White Haven in 1820, so all the children lived and matured there and in St. Louis, just as Julia did. In my time working at White Haven (Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site), I’ve done some research into the life of Frederick T. Dent, but I haven’t really looked much into the lives of Julia’s other siblings. To my knowledge, there are no published biographies of any of them. I’ve recently done some digging into Lewis Dent’s life (which is quite interesting) and I’m going to see what I can find about the other Dents as well. I’m thinking of writing some blogposts about each of them as I search for more information. Stay tuned, this could take a while.



Nathaniel Lyon Remembered

Nathaniel_Lyon_on_horseback_1The following article appeared in the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper on October 29, 1869:


St. Louis is doing a noble thing in causing a bronze statue of General Nathaniel Lyon to be set up in her principal park. It may in future times be regarded as a proof of her loyalty, though the truth of history shows that her start in the right direction was mainly due to the patriotism and far-reaching soldierly qualities of the man who, too soon for the good of his country, laid down his life in her defense.

When Captain Lyon, early in the Spring of 1861, so promptly captured and broke up General Frost’s bands of “State Guard,” collected in St. Louis by the rebels for the purpose of seizing on the arsenal and arms belonging to the Government, he struck the blow that forever settled the loyalty of that city, and gave much hope to all friends of the Union in the West. It secured him General Harney’s command, and no better man could have been selected.

From that time to his death, at the bloody battle of Wilson’s creek, every movement made by General Lyon showed him to be an officer of the highest courage and intellect. But for his intrepid conduct in his last fight when the enemy outnumbered his forces three to one, there would have been a complete rout of the Union army, and at that time such a misfortune would have been a national calamity.

Lyon saved the day by laying down his life. The example of his own great courage and patriotism converted the disheartened remnant of his army into heroes, and they held the field till an orderly retreat could be conducted.

He died in the first year of the struggle, the full grandeur and purposes of which his genius clearly foresaw, in a battle so well planned and fought that it deserves to rank among the best of the war— battle that gave the rebels a taste of such metal as they had never dreamed existed outside their own lines. Had he lived two years longer the history of the war might have been differently written, for Lyon was a man of sufficient intellectual scope and military experience to command the largest armies, and he did not lack confidence in his own ability. With a General as daring, brave and quick in execution as he, in place of McClellan, or Hooker, or Burnside, in Virginia, there might have been a thousand millions less to pay of the public debt.

Lyon was a hero, in honoring whom St. Louis honors herself.



U.S. Grant Looks To The Future


John Lynch source: wikipedia

John Lynch
source: wikipedia

John R. Lynch was born into slavery on September 10, 1847. Emancipated in 1863, he went on to become a politician, writer, attorney and military officer. In 1913 he published a book titled The Facts of Reconstruction, in which he challenged the then prevailing view of Reconstruction known as the “Dunning School.”

One chapter of Lynch’s Facts recounts an interview Lynch claimed to have had with President Ulysses S. Grant in November, 1875. According to Lynch, Grant related that he believed the Civil War had accomplished four results, however these results were in jeopardy:

“I am very much concerned about the future of our country. When the War came to an end it was thought that four things had been brought about and effectually accomplished as a result thereof. They were: first, that slavery had been forever abolished; second, that the indissolubility of the Federal Union had been permanently established and universally recognized; third, that the absolute and independent sovereignty of the several States was a thing of the past; fourth, that a national sovereignty had been at last created and established, resulting in sufficient power being vested in the general government not only to guarantee to every State in the Union a Republican form of government, but to protect, when necessary, the individual citizen of the United States in the exercise and enjoyment of the rights and privileges to which he is entitled under the Constitution and laws of his country. In other words, that there had been created a National citizenship as distinguished from State citizenship, resulting in a paramount allegiance to the United States,—the general Government,—having ample power to protect its own citizens against domestic and personal violence whenever the State in which he may live should fail, refuse, or neglect to do so. In other words, so far as citizens of the United States are concerned, the States in the future would only act as agents of the general Government in protecting the citizens of the United States in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property. This has been my conception of the duties of the President, and until recently I have pursued that course. But there seems to be a number of leading and influential men in the Republican party who take a different view of these matters. These men have used and are still using their power and influence, not to strengthen but to cripple the President and thus prevent him from enforcing the Constitution and laws along these lines. They have not only used their power and influence to prevent and defeat wise and necessary legislation for these purposes, but they have contributed, through the medium of public meetings and newspaper and magazine articles, to the creation of a public sentiment hostile to the policy of the administration. Whatever their motives may be, future mischief of a very serious nature is bound to be the result. It requires no prophet to foresee that the national government will soon be at a great disadvantage and that the results of the war of the rebellion will have been in a large measure lost. In other words, that the first two of the four propositions above stated will represent all that will have been accomplished as a result of the war, and even they, for the lack of power of enforcement in the general government, will be largely of a negative character. What you have just passed through in the State of Mississippi is only the beginning of what is sure to follow. I do not wish to create unnecessary alarm, nor to be looked upon as a prophet of evil, but it is impossible for me to close my eyes in the face of things that are as plain to me as the noonday sun.”

Grant, in his Personal Memoirs at least, seemed to have a much more positive view of the country’s future than that which Lynch recalled. Grant wrote:

I feel that we are on the eve of a new era, when there is to be great harmony between the Federal and Confederate. I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy; but I feel it within me that it is to be so. The universally kind feeling expressed for me at a time when it was supposed that each day would prove my last, seemed to me the beginning of the answer to “Let us have peace.”

The expression of these kindly feelings were not restricted to a section of the country, nor to a division of the people. They came from individual citizens of all nationalities; from all denominations—the Protestant, the Catholic, and the Jew; and from the various societies of the land—scientific, educational, religious or otherwise. Politics did not enter into the matter at all.

I am not egotist enough to suppose all this significance should be given because I was the object of it. But the war between the States was a very bloody and a very costly war. One side or the other had to yield principles they deemed dearer than life before it could be brought to an end. I commanded the whole of the mighty host engaged on the victorious side. I was, no matter whether deservedly so or not, a representative of that side of the controversy. It is a significant and gratifying fact that Confederates should have joined heartily in this spontaneous move. I hope the good feeling inaugurated may continue to the end.

Grant’s personal circumstances were much different in 1875 as a second-term President, than they were in 1885 as he approached death. Nevertheless, it is interesting to contemplate the country’s trajectory, up to and including today, in light of Grant’s forecasts.


Lincoln Should Have Just Purchased All The Slaves?

Can we please put this nonsense that Lincoln could have avoided war by buying the slaves to bed forever?

Here is President Lincoln’s Message to Congress recommending compensated emancipation delivered March 6, 1862:

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

I recommend the adoption of a joint resolution by your honorable bodies, which shall be substantially as follows:

Resolved , That the United States ought to cooperate with any State which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State, in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system.

If the proposition contained in the resolution does not meet the approval of Congress and the country, there is the end; but if it does command such approval, I deem it of importance that the States and people immediately interested should be at once distinctly notified of the fact, so that they may begin to consider whether to accept or reject it. The Federal Government would find its highest interest in such a measure, as one of the most efficient means of self-preservation. The leaders of the existing insurrection entertain the hope that this Government will ultimately be forced to acknowledge the independence of some part of the disaffected region, and that all the slave States north of such part will then say, “The Union for which we have struggled being already gone, we now choose to go with the Southern section.” To deprive them of this hope substantially ends the rebellion, and the initiation of emancipation completely deprives them of it as to all the States initiating it. The point is not that all the States tolerating slavery would very soon, if at all, initiate emancipation; but that while the offer is equally made to all, the more northern shall by such initiation make it certain to the more southern that in no event will the former ever join the latter in their proposed confederacy. I say “initiation” because, in my judgment, gradual and not sudden emancipation is better for all. In the mere financial or pecuniary view any member of Congress with the census tables and Treasury reports before him can readily see for himself how very soon the current expenditures of this war would purchase, at fair valuation, all the slaves in any named State. Such a proposition on the part of the General Government sets up no claim of a right by Federal authority to interfere with slavery within State limits, referring, as it does, the absolute control of the subject in each case to the State and its people immediately interested. It is proposed as a matter of perfectly free choice with them.

 In the annual message last December I thought fit to say “the Union must be preserved, and hence all indispensable means must be employed.” I said this not hastily, but deliberately. War has been made and continues to be an indispensable means to this end. A practical reacknowledgment of the national authority would render the war unnecessary, and it would at once cease. If, however, resistance continues, the war must also continue; and it is impossible to foresee all the incidents which may attend and all the ruin which may follow it. Such as may seem indispensable or may obviously promise great efficiency toward ending the struggle must and will come.

 The proposition now made (though an offer only), I hope it may be esteemed no offense to ask whether the pecuniary consideration tendered would not be of more value to the States and private persons concerned than are the institution and property in it in the present aspect of affairs.

 While it is true that the adoption of the proposed resolution would be merely initiatory, and not within itself a practical measure, it is recommended in the hope that it would soon lead to important practical results. In full view of my great responsibility to my God and to my country, I earnestly beg the attention of Congress and the people to the subject.


Source: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=70130

And, if you think someone should have considered compensated emancipation before the war began, consider this from an address delivered to a pro-slavery convention in Missouri in 1855:

…abolition, under existing circumstances, is believed to be morally impossible. In 1850, according to the census of the United States, there were in the slave States, including the District of Columbia, three million one hundred and ninety-five thousand nine hundred and fifty-one slaves. The average value of an ordinary lot of slaves is generally estimated at one-half the price of a prime field hand. Such a slave will now readily sell for 1200 dollars. Taking $600, then, as the average, it will give us 1,917,570,600 dollars as the total value of the slaves in 1850. The natural increase, since that time, makes it reasonable to estimate the present value, in round numbers, at two thousand millions of dollars. At six per cent., the annual interest on that sum will amount to one hundred and twenty millions.

Strike out of existence at once this vast amount of productive capital, and it is not in the power of human arithmetic to express, the financial ruin that would result, not merely to the slaveholding, but also to the non-slaveholding States, and to the civilized world. Besides, it should not be forgotten that negro slaves are constitutionally adapted to labor in those climates where the great staples of cotton, rice and sugar can be produced. Emancipation, therefore, would convert this vast region, the abode of wealth, civilization and refinement of the highest order, into a howling wilderness. The loss of productive property in land, houses, machinery, and improvements of various kinds, thus rendered valueless, can hardly be estimated…

But the financial ruin is by no means the most important item in this account of prospective abolitionism. Look to St. Domingo and the British West Indies. In short, look where you please, all history attests that emancipation would be the greatest calamity that could be afflicted on the blacks themselves: that American slavery has elevated their character, and ameliorated their condition, in all respects; that wherever fanaticism or misguided philanthropy has cut them loose from the guardianship of the white race, they have not merely degenerated, but have retrograded with rapid strides towards a savage, and even brutal race….

….it may be objected, that slavery is a moral wrong; that our obligation to do right is paramount to all others; and that it never can be justifiable to do wrong from an apprehension of any evils, whether real or imaginary, that may be anticipated to result from doing right… [however] All who are well informed on the subject know that if the Bible sanctions anything, it sanctions slaveholding. The most candid and prominent of the anti-slavery leaders (whether religious or infidel) have, within the last ten years, totally abandoned the Bible argument; and many of the latter class may now be heard blaspheming the God of the Bible in terms so malignant and fiendish, as might well make demons shudder….

Source: Missouri’s War: The Civil War in Documents edited by Silvana R. Siddali


“The Kennedy Half Century”

 JFKI recently received an email invitation to participate in an online course. It looks to be quite interesting, so I signed up.  I’m passing the info along in case any of you are interested.

(Charlottesville, Va.) — Enrollment is now open for Prof. Larry J. Sabato’s free online course about President John F. Kennedy’s life, administration and legacy.

The four-week, massive open online course (MOOC), “The Kennedy Half Century,” will begin on Oct. 21, with two hours of video instruction each week by Prof. Sabato. The course is available through Coursera, an educational website that partners with some of the world’s top universities, including the University of Virginia, to provide free online courses. Anyone can register for the course at www.coursera.org/course/kennedy.

The MOOC is one of several initiatives the U.Va. Center for Politics is unveiling this fall in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Prof. Sabato’s latest book, The Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy, will be released in October as the class begins. Also in October, the Center will premiere a one-hour national PBS documentary on the same subject, which is being produced in partnership with Community Idea Stations. The Center for Politics and Community Idea Stations recently received an Emmy Award for their previous documentary, “Out of Order,” which is about political dysfunction in Washington.

A trailer for the “The Kennedy Half Century” class is available here.

“The University of Virginia Center for Politics has long been committed to providing accessible educational tools about American politics and government. This free online course about how JFK and his legacy have influenced the public, the media, and each of the nine U.S. presidents who followed President Kennedy is one way we can deliver high-quality instruction, at no charge, to a large audience,” Prof. Sabato said.

The course begins with the early legislative career of John F. Kennedy and progresses through the 50 years since Kennedy’s death, focusing on how each president, Lyndon Johnson through Barack Obama, has used JFK to craft their own political image. The class offers more than eight hours of video consisting of 40 lessons averaging 10-20 minutes each in length. Each week, there will be at least two new hours of content, including historical footage from each of the 10 presidential administrations of the last half-century. Prof. Sabato will focus four lessons around Kennedy’s assassination as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of 11/22/63.

New portions of the class will be posted to the Coursera page each week. Students who complete the course do not receive university credit, but they will receive a statement of accomplishment. More information about the course’s specifics, including a syllabus, is available at www.coursera.org/course/kennedy.

Online learning is not new to the U.Va. Center for Politics, which has provided online education tools through its Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI) since 1998. YLI conducts regular mock elections for students, as well as an interactive legislative simulation called E-Congress.

“For the last 15 years YLI has developed and distributed free civics education lesson plans using the Internet,” noted Prof. Sabato. “Today YLI reaches more than 50,000 teachers and millions of students throughout the country and around the world.”

* * *

Founded by political analyst and Professor Larry J. Sabato, the U.Va. Center for Politics (www.centerforpolitics.org) is a nonpartisan institute that seeks to promote the value of politics, improve civics education, and increase civic participation through comprehensive research, pragmatic analysis, and innovative educational programs.


Is Breaking The Law Ever Justified?

001I’ve been reading Lincoln’s Quest for Equality: The Road to Gettysburg, a book by Carl F. Wieck published in 2002. Wieck argues that Lincoln was greatly influenced by the Boston Unitarian minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker. I’ve discussed Parker in previous posts (see here and here). Wieck wrote, “Although Lincoln cautiously preserved discreet public distance from avowed abolitionists like Parker, his private links to such men prove to have been closer than has generally been presumed, owing primarily to the vigilance he exercised in keeping the extent of his connections concealed.” In the case of Parker, that connection was facilitated by Lincoln’s Springfield law partner, William Herndon. Herndon and Parker maintained a steady correspondence from 1854 to 1859. Parker sent copies of his sermons, published in pamphlet form, and other writings to Herndon, and Herndon told Parker in his letters that he and Lincoln read and discussed them.

Wieck’s thesis is interesting, if not ultimately provable.  In a review in Civil War History, Dennis  K. Boman wrote that while Weick demonstrates the important influence Parker and other northern abolitionists and reformers had on Lincoln, “one suspects that if somehow he could be asked about his influence on Lincoln, Parker himself would have described it as marginal at best.”

Whatever the truth of Parker’s influence on Lincoln, Wieck raised another issue in his book that is well worth pondering. It is an issue Lincoln had to grapple with. It is an issue most Americans had to grapple with in Lincoln’s time, and which many Americans and others around the world have had to grapple with throughout history. It is the question of how much the law should be revered. Is there ever a time when breaking the law is justified? And, if so, when?  

Wieck notes that a youthful Lincoln tackled the question in his “Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois” on January 27, 1838. Lincoln complained of “the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgement of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice.” Lincoln cited recent incidents in Mississippi and in Missouri where mobs had meted out vigilante justice with impunity. Lincoln argued that this kind of lawless action would result in innocent people suffering along with the guilty, and that a breakdown in the people’s affection for the government would follow. Lincoln declared:

Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well-wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and the Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor.

Lincoln acknowledged, however, that not all laws were good laws:

Let me not be understood as saying that there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise, for the redress of which, no legal provisions have been made. I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say, that, although bad laws, if they exist should be repealed as soon as possible, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example they should be religiously observed.  

Lincoln’s views would seem to have been shared by his wartime accomplice, Ulysses S. Grant. In a letter to long time abolitionist Gerritt Smith, written in 1872, Grant wrote: “My oft expressed desire is that all citizens, white or black, native or foreign born, may be left free, in all parts of our common country, to vote, speak & act, in obedience to law, without intimidation or ostrasism on account of his views, color or nativity.”  Note the qualifier, “in obedience to law.” Grant’s desire for law and order was constant. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, and Grant re-entered military service, he made it abundantly clear that he was volunteering not to end slavery, whatever his private feelings on the subject might have been, but to defend the nation against dissolution and rebellious lawlessness as he perceived it.

In a letter written to his father in April, 1861 following the attack on Ft. Sumter, Grant wrote, “Whatever may have been my political opinions before I have but one sentiment now. That is we have a government, and laws and a flag and they must all be sustained.”  Early in the war, when forced to deal with the vexing issue of runaway slaves, Grant wrote to a subordinate officer: “I do not want the Army used as Negro catchers, but still less do I want to see it used as a cloak to cover their escape. No matter what our private views may be on this subject, there are in this Department positive orders on the subject, and these orders must be obeyed.” A generous interpretation of this statement would be that Grant’s private views included opposition to slavery, though that is by no means certain. He left no doubt, however, that the law must be adhered to.

To his sister, Mary, in April, 1861, he wrote, “I am convinced that if the South knew the entire unanimity of the North for the maintenance of the Union and the Law, and how freely men and money are offered to the cause, they would lay down their arms in humble submission.” Grant’s puffery aside, this statement unmistakably showed that his primary concerns in 1861 were the integrity of the United States and the preservation of law and order. In his First Inaugural Address in 1869, Grant would tell the entire country, “Laws are to govern all alike—those opposed as well as those who favor them. I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution.”  

But, can there not come a time when the “stringent execution” of the law, or the “religious observance” of the law, becomes so odious that one is justified in disobeying it? Numerous examples throughout history are easily cited. See here. Were the enslaved people of Lincoln’s era not justified in their resistance to the law that enslaved them? Theodore Parker certainly thought so. Again, see here.

What about today? Are there laws that one can justify breaking? And, if so, by violent means? Where would you draw the line?  


History vs. Memory

001In his book, Who Owns History? Rethinking the Past in a Changing World, published in 2002, historian Eric Foner wrote, “There is nothing unusual or sinister in the fact that each generation rewrites history to suit its own needs, or about disagreements within the profession and among the public at large about how history should best be taught and studied.” Foner went on to observe however, that in the 1990s history became “a ‘wedge issue’ in the so-called culture wars. During that decade, it sometimes seemed, one could not open a newspaper without encountering bitter controversy over the teaching and presentation of the American past.” This wasn’t happening only in America, and Foner included stories of history being contested in other countries as well. Foner could have included the story of an exhibition that opened in Germany in 1995, which is the subject of a documentary I watched last night on Netflix, The Unknown Soldier.

Foner quoted James Baldwin who wrote, “History does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it with us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” I think this is true because history is often based more on faulty memory than fact, or on what we want to believe rather than truth, or on only the facts that support what we want to believe, or on anecdotal evidence. This is effectively shown in The Unknown Soldier. To borrow from an Amazon reviewer:

The subject of this documentary is the opening of the Wehrmachtaustellung (Wehrmacht Exhibition) in 1995, the now famous collection of photographs and documents that provided graphic evidence of German atrocities throughout the Second World War. What distinguished the exhibition from past scholarship on the 3rd Reich, was its depiction of the German Army, or Wehrmacht, as one of the main perpetrators of the Holocaust – essentially no different from the SS, SD, or other Nazi organizations commonly associated with the brutality and mass murder of Hitler’s regime.

The exhibit provoked powerful reactions from the German people, many of whom refused to believe or acknowledge that their parents or grandparents could have participated in the horrors. Among others, Neo-Nazis turned out to protest the exhibit. Historians defended the exhibit. Two had this to say:

A part of this phenomenon of the Neo-Nazis is the fact that a second stream of information runs in the families, and of course the glorification of Nazi literature. Above all a transmission in families that portrays a totally different picture: our fathers, our grandfathers were not criminals.

There was a study in Hanover that shows how strong the transmission from generation to generation is. Also the transmission of lies. Grandchildren who were told a family story that clears everyone’s name of participation. Those whose grandfathers were cleared of wrongdoing in the Third Reich come across pictures that disprove this and the reaction is always the same: but my grandfather is not a Nazi. “Grandpa is Not a Nazi” is the name of the study.

An alternative historiography, the verbal one in German families presents a heroization, or an anecdotal style of storytelling, or the resistance, our father, our uncle, our grandfather were resistance members and they did this and that. And, on the other hand, the official historiography is geared toward finding the facts, guilt and responsibility. 

How easily can these German historians’ observations be applied to Americans and their history? Is this what we are seeing in the response to Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam? Is this what we are seeing here? I realize that few people want to be identified with the evils of the Nazis, and that is not the intention of this post. I’m merely interested in how memory affects our understanding of history. By the way, for what it’s worth I am a direct descendent of John and Sophie Winkler, both born in Bavaria, who migrated to the United States in the 1840s.



The Beatles As History

This editorial cartoon titled “The (Dutch Elm) Beetles” by Dan Moore is part of the SHSMO Mayo Collection.

This editorial cartoon titled “The (Dutch Elm) Beetles” by Dan Moore is part of the SHSMO Mayo Collection.

I’ve been listening to Beatles records all day. The State Historical Society of Missouri noted on facebook that August 19, 1964 was the beginning of the Beatles first tour of North America by sharing this period editorial cartoon. Despite their immense popularity, The Beatles have always been controversial. It is a truism that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” When it comes to music, it can equally be said “beauty is in the ear of the listener.” Today, in spite of the phenomenal sales of their records, cd’s, etc.; in spite of the fact that their music is still heard nearly everywhere; in spite of the fact that Paul is still out there playing to stadium crowds who are paying hundreds of dollars for tickets; in spite of the fact that numerous musicians have pointed to The Beatles as their seminal inspiration, there are still those who are critical of Beatles music. To those naysayers I say, whatever. But, The Beatles are also “history,” and as I’ve said many times, history is contested terrain. It doesn’t take much searching to find articles, blogposts, and even academic papers written about the pernicious cultural influence of The Beatles, particularly on the youth of my generation. Here’s just one example.

In August 1964, I was barely nine years old, but the Beatles’ impact on America was pervasive. When Capitol records released the album, Meet The Beatles in January 1964, they noted on the back of the cover, “Said one American visitor to England: ‘Only a hermit could be unaware of The Beatles, and he’d have to be beyond the range of television, newspapers, radio, records, and rioting fans.'” I don’t remember watching their Ed Sullivan performances in February, 1964; I’m sure the television in our house was tuned to another channel that night. I do remember a little girl who lived next door. She had Beatles bubble gum trading cards and could point at their faces on the wrapper and tell me their names. I also remember a silly riddle that made the rounds; “What did one octopus say to the other octopus?” Answer: “I want to hold your hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, it all seemed so innocent. I didn’t know then that The Beatles, and their subsequent solo efforts would become the soundtrack of my life.

My mother has a younger sister. She and her husband were college age when I reached my teen years. They gave me a hi-fi record player and my first two records, Meet The Beatles and A Hard Days’ Night. I’ve been an unapologetic Beatles fan ever since. Unfortunately, I never got to go to a real Beatles concert. I was only 15 when they broke up in 1970. Like many others, I hoped they would eventually re-group. But, there were always the records to collect and listen to. I would make lists and circle the ones I had and pine for the ones I didn’t have. I drew pictures of the Yellow Submarine and Blue Meanies. I also read everything about The Beatles I could find, including what I think was the first biography of the fab four. And, of course, like everyone else, my hair got longer. My parents tolerated my love of all things Beatles, even if they didn’t much care for the music.

Somehow, I grew into an adult. I’ve made my share of mistakes in life, but I can’t blame The Beatles for any of them. The Beatles have just been there. Been there through the good times and the bad. There when my kid sister and I sang I Saw Her Standing There together in my bedroom all those years ago. There when my childhood didn’t reflect Leave It To Beaver. There when I had my first romances. There when my heart was broken. There when I married and when I divorced. There through financial ups and downs. There when my friends and I got together, there when my kids were growing up. Yes, my kids, now grown, know the lyrics to most every Beatles song. Somehow, despite a lot of other traumas that could have corrupted them, they grew up to be well adjusted, productive adults also. The Beatles have always brought me joy.  Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better…

There was a popular Christian rock band that used to go around telling people that before they became Christians they had really been into The Beatles. They thought The Beatles knew some deep spiritual truth and they were slowly revealing it to the world through their music. When the “White Album” came out these guys all thought this had to be the album where the Beatles would finally reveal what they knew; after all the cover was all white! How spiritual was that! They put the album on and listened. All of them wanted to be cool, none of them wanted to admit they weren’t getting much of a spiritual message from Rocky Raccoon. They felt The Beatles had let them down. The audiences would always laugh at this story. Well, of course they would, because it was silly for anyone to think The Beatles were anything but a musical group. They never claimed to be anything else. The Beatles were also four very young men growing up in a very turbulent era. Were they really leading their generation, or were they merely reflecting it? Looking for spiritual messages in Beatles music was as silly for  those guys who became Christians as it was for Charles Manson to think Helter Skelter was telling him to commit murder.

Paul has said that he is proud of The Beatles because they were primarily about love. If there was a message, that’s what I always heard. All you need is love, love is all you need… How pernicious is that?






152 Years Ago

Today marks the 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. The following is a brief account I cobbled together from various sources in ’08 while a grad student at Missouri State working at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. This can still be found on the park’s website. I still think it’s pretty good, except for the statement that “Lyon installed a pro-Union government at Jefferson City.” Further study has convinced me that is inaccurate.


The Battle of Wilson’s Creek

In the early morning hours of August 10, 1861, the rolling hillsides of southwest Missouri echoed with the thundering roar of cannon, the fire of muskets, and the shouts of officers and their men locked in mortal combat. By the time the smoke cleared, five hundred thirty five men lay dead in the hot summer sun. Hundreds more struggled with battle inflicted wounds. Included among the dead was Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union General to die in the Civil War.

Although the Civil War officially began with the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina, the roots of the conflict ran much deeper into America’s history. Indentured servitude and the institution of slavery were part of the fabric of colonial culture long before America declared its independence from Great Britain. Differences in climate, and economic and social development between the Northern States and the Southern States however, led to the decline of slavery in the North versus the growth of slavery in the South. When the United States Constitution was created in 1787 it protected the institution of slavery. Nevertheless, slavery increasingly became a politically divisive issue between the two sections in the early to mid 1800’s. A series of political compromises ensued as Southerners sought to protect their Constitutional right to own slaves from what they perceived to be an ever more anti-slavery North.

Missouri became a focal point of the slavery issue when in 1818 it requested admittance to the Union as a slave state. Missouri became the 24th State on August 10, 1821, but to maintain a balance of power in the Senate between slave and free states, the “Missouri Compromise” also admitted the State of Maine into the Union as a free state. In addition, the Missouri Compromise stated that slavery henceforth (with the exception of the State of Missouri) would not be allowed north of 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude.

In 1853 Stephen Douglas, U.S. Senator from Illinois, desiring to establish state governments in the western territories, developed the concept of “Popular Sovereignty.” Embodied in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Popular Sovereignty declared that the people of each state should decide for themselves whether their state would be free or slave. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act nullified the Missouri Compromise’s restriction on slavery north of the 36 degrees 30 minutes line. It once again focused the nation’s attention on Missouri and the slavery issue as pro-slavery Missourians and “Free-State” Kansans engaged in a bloody border war to determine whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state. Opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act also prompted the birth of the anti-slavery Republican Party.

On the eve of the Civil War however, Missouri was a deeply divided state. Originally settled primarily by Southerners, there were large hemp and tobacco plantations along the Missouri River, an area later known as “Little Dixie,” where large numbers of slaves toiled. Elsewhere in the state, particularly in the growing city of St. Louis where a large German immigrant community thrived, and in the Ozark Mountain region where the terrain was not compatible with large plantations, anti-slavery sentiment, or at least strong pro-Union sentiment, existed. Many Missourians indicated their desire to remain neutral however, when in the Presidential election of 1860, they voted not for the Northern anti-slavery candidate, Abraham Lincoln, nor for the Southern pro-slavery candidate John Breckinridge, but for the candidate they believed represented compromise, Stephen Douglas. Remaining neutral would become an untenable position after Lincoln captured the Presidency by winning all the Northern States, and deep South slave states began to secede in protest.

 When the Civil War began in 1861, Missouri’s allegiance was of vital concern to the United States Federal Government. The state’s strategic position on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and its abundant manpower and natural resources made it imperative that it remain loyal to the Union. Missouri though, had elected a Governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, who was a large plantation owner with strong Southern sympathies. While officially claiming neutrality, Jackson worked behind the scenes to effect Missouri’s secession. A state convention was held in February 1861 to consider Missouri’s secession, but Union sentiment ran strong, and Governor Jackson’s desire to take Missouri out of the Union was soundly defeated.

Following the firing on Ft. Sumter in April, President Lincoln called for troops to put down the growing rebellion in the South. Missouri was asked to contribute four regiments. Governor Jackson refused the President’s request and ordered state military units to muster at Camp Jackson outside St. Louis. Tensions heightened in St. Louis and across the state as lines were drawn between Unionists and Secessionists. Out of this volatile mix emerged a fiery U.S. Army Captain named Nathaniel Lyon. Lyon was a West Point graduate, career Army officer who had served time in the far west and in Kansas during the Kansas-Missouri border war over slavery. His experiences had confirmed an anti-slavery conviction in him and a determination to defend the Government of the United States. Lyon was placed in charge of the U.S. Arsenal in St. Louis which held 60,000 muskets, powder, and cannon.

When Lyon learned that Governor Jackson intended to use the state militia units encamped at Camp Jackson to seize the Federal Arsenal, he secretly moved most of the weapons to Illinois. Using the U.S. Army forces under his command and German immigrant militia units hastily sworn into Federal service, Lyon marched out to Camp Jackson and forced its surrender. Lyon proceeded to march the disarmed state militia captives from Camp Jackson, through the streets of St. Louis, to the arsenal. Angry Southern sympathizers lined the route, hurling insults, stones, and other objects at the Union soldiers guarding the prisoners. Shots rang out, killing and wounding several soldiers. The soldiers fired back indiscriminately. By the time the melee ended, 28 people were dead, including a child. Known as the “St. Louis Massacre,” the incident raised secessionist fervor across Missouri, and prompted the state legislature to authorize the Governor to raise the Missouri State Guard.

Lyon, elected a brigadier general of volunteers, was placed in command of all Federal forces in Missouri. After a futile meeting with Governor Jackson to resolve the crisis, Lyon led his army up the Missouri River and occupied Jefferson City, the state capitol. Jackson and the Missouri State Guard mounted an unsuccessful stand against Lyon at Boonville, before retreating to southwest Missouri. Lyon installed a pro-Union government at Jefferson City, picked up reinforcements in the form of volunteer units from Kansas and Iowa, and then proceeded across the state to track down the fleeing secessionists. By July 13, 1861, Lyon was encamped at Springfield with about 6,000 soldiers and three batteries of artillery.

Meanwhile, Governor Jackson had turned over command of the Missouri State Guard to Major General Sterling Price. Price had fought in the Mexican War and had served as Governor of Missouri himself. Although he was a plantation and slave owner, he had been a Union supporter until the events in St. Louis swung him irrevocably into the secessionist camp. Seventy-five miles southwest of Springfield, Price busily drilled the 5,000 men in his charge. By the end of July, Confederate troops from Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, under the command of former Texas Ranger turned Confederate General Benjamin McCulloch, and Arkansas State troops led by Nicholas Bart Pearce rendezvoused with Price, bringing the secessionist force to a total exceeding 12,000 men. On July 31, after formulating plans to capture Lyon’s army and regain control of Missouri, Price, McCulloch, and Pearce marched northeast to attack the Federals. Lyon, hoping to surprise the Confederates, marched from Springfield on August 1. The next day, in a minor engagement with the secessionist’s advance guard at Dug Springs, Lyon was successful in driving the enemy from the field, but he realized he was outnumbered and withdrew to Springfield. The Confederates followed and by August 6, were encamped along Wilson’s Creek.

Price and McCulloch were at odds. Price wanted to attack Lyon at Springfield, but McCulloch was reluctant. McCulloch had little faith in the rough-hewn Missourians, 2,000 of which were not even armed. The rout at Dug Springs had only further eroded his estimation of their fighting abilities. Furthermore, Missouri had not officially seceded. Price agreed to give McCulloch overall command in an effort to pressure him into attacking. The Confederate leaders planned a surprise attack on the Federals, but rain on the night of August 9 caused McCulloch to cancel the operation. McCulloch feared the paper powder cartridges they carried would get wet, rendering their ammunition unusable. Remaining in camp, they inexplicably failed to put out pickets to guard against an attack.

Attack is exactly what Lyon had in mind. Leaving behind about 1,000 men to guard his supplies, the Federal commander led 5,400 soldiers out of Springfield that same night of August 9. Adopting a plan put forth by German immigrant Colonel Franz Sigel, Lyon split his forces. 1,200 men under Sigel marched wide to the south, flanking the Confederate right, while the main body of troops struck from the North. Outnumbered two to one, Lyon knew success hinged on the element of surprise.

Price and McCulloch were having breakfast at the Edwards’ cabin on the morning of August 10 when the Union army struck. Lyon’s attack caught the secessionist troops off guard, driving them back. Forging ahead the Federals overran several Confederate camps and occupied the crest of a ridge subsequently called “Bloody Hill.” Nearby the Pulaski Arkansas Battery opened fire, checking the advance. This gave Price’s infantry time to form a battle-line on the hill’s south slope. The battle raged for more than five hours. Fighting was often at close quarters, and the tide turned with each charge and countercharge.

Sigel’s flanking maneuver, initially successful, collapsed in the fields of the Sharp farm when McCulloch’s men counterattacked. Believing McCulloch’s soldiers to be friendly Iowans due to fact that the Iowan’s uniforms were also gray, Sigel ordered his men not to fire. By the time he realized his mistake, the enemy was upon him. Defeated, Sigel and his troops fled all the way back to Springfield, leaving Lyon and the remainder of the Union forces to fend for themselves on Bloody Hill.

At about 9:30 a.m., General Lyon, who had been wounded twice already, was killed while leading a countercharge. The Federals continued to fight, now under the command of Major Samuel Sturgis. By 11:00 a.m. their ammunition was nearly exhausted. During a lull in the fighting, Sturgis ordered a withdrawal to Springfield. As the Confederates cautiously approached the hill they realized the battle was over. For reasons historians continue to debate, Price and McCulloch did not pursue their retreating enemy.

Casualties (killed, wounded, and missing) were severe and about equal on both sides – 1,317 for the Union and 1,222 for the Confederates. Southerners claimed a victory at Wilson’s Creek, making the most of the fact that they held the field at the battle’s conclusion and that they had killed Lyon. Northerners however, felt they had more than held their own, had only reluctantly retreated due to lack of ammunition, and had dealt a stunning blow to the secessionists. Lyon was hailed as a martyred hero.

On December 30, 1861, Congress passed a joint resolution in which it said:

That Congress deems it just and proper to enter upon its records a recognition of the eminent and patriotic services of the late Nathaniel Lyon. The country to whose service he devoted his life will guard and preserve his fame as a part of its own glory.
That the thanks of Congress are hereby given to the brave officers and soldiers who, under the command of the late Gen. Lyon, sustained the honor of the flag, and achieved a victory against overwhelming odds at the battle of Springfield, [Wilson’s Creek] in Missouri…

Following the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, and the further retreat of the Union army from Springfield to Rolla, the Confederates occupied Springfield. Price and McCulloch continued to have their differences however, and Price could not convince McCulloch to follow up their apparent victory with further advances into Missouri. The Confederate forces under McCulloch and the Arkansas State troops under Pearce retreated into Arkansas, while Price, re-assuming command of the Missouri State Guard, moved north and captured the Union garrison at Lexington. The Battle of Wilson’s Creek and Price’s continued activities in the state, finally drew attention to the necessity of a large Federal force to secure southwest Missouri. In early 1862 Price was driven from the state and into Arkansas. The subsequent Union victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge in March kept organized Confederate military forces out of Missouri for more than two years. Nevertheless, for the duration of the Civil War, Missouri was the scene of fierce fighting, mostly guerrilla warfare, with small bands of mounted raiders destroying anything military or civilian that could aid the enemy. Price mounted one more campaign in September 1864 to capture his beloved Missouri for the Confederacy, but it ended in disaster when he was thoroughly defeated at the Battle of Westport. By the end of the war, Missouri had witnessed so many battles and skirmishes that it ranks as the third most fought-over state in the nation.

On January 11, 1865, a state convention passed an ordinance declaring that Missouri’s slaves were “now and forever free.” The decree emancipated Missouri’s enslaved people even before the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution advanced the promise of the Declaration of Independence throughout the re-united nation:

 We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.