First, there’s mathematics. Obviously, you’ve got to be able to handle numbers and quantities—basic arithmetic. And the great useful model, after compound interest, is the elementary math of permutations and combinations. And that was taught in my day in the sophomore year in high school. I suppose by now in great private schools, it’s probably down to the eighth grade or so.
It’s very simple algebra. It was all worked out in the course of about one year between Pascal and Fermat. They worked it out casually in a series of letters.
so says Charlie Munger in his 1994 speech, “A Lesson on Elementary Worldly Wisdom as it Relates To Investment Management & Business.”
These letters between Pascal and Fermat sounded worth a read, so I went to check them out. The year in question was 1654. Up until that time, no one* had really worked out and set down the math of probability. You can’t blame them, if you think about it. Even in 1654 it was probably pretty hard to even get your hands on enough paper for working out math problems.
Struggling to really wrap my head around the contents of the letters (on top of everything, the first letter is now lost), I picked up The Unfinished Game: Pascal, Fermat, and the Seventeenth-Century Letter that Made the World Modern: A Tale of How Mathematics is Really Done by Keith Devlin. An interesting book and a great introduction to the mental blocks that had kept people from working out probability before these two weirdos started corresponding.
An even clearer articulation of the problem of points that set Pascal and Fermat to work can be found in Peter Bernstein’s Against The Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk:
In 1654, a time when the Renaissance was in full flower, the Chevalier de Méré, a French nobleman with a taste for both gambling and mathematics, challenged the famed French mathematician Blaise Pascal to solve a puzzle. The question was how to divide the stakes of an unfinished game of chance between two players when one of them is ahead. The puzzle had confounded mathematicians since it was posed some two hundred years earlier by the monk Luca Paccioli. This was the man who brought double-entry bookkeeping to the attention of the business managers of the day, and tutored Leonardo da Vinci in the multiplication tables. Pascal turned for help to Pierre de Fermat, a lawyer who was also a brilliant mathematician. The outcome of their collaboration was intellectual dynamite. What might appear to have been a seventeenth century game of Trivial Pursuit led to the discovery of the theory of probability, the mathematical heart of the concept of risk.
Their solution to Paccioli’s puzzle meant that people could for the first time make decisions and forecast the future with the help of numbers.
Bernstein helpfully restates the problem of points in the form of a World Series situation. What is the probability your team will win the best of seven series after it has lost the first game? (assume the teams are, as in a game of chance, evenly matched)
Well, Pascal pointed out that we just need to list all the possible outcomes of the remaining six games, and calculate from there. There are 22 combinations in which your team would come out on top after losing the first game, and 42 combinations in which the opposing team would win. As the result, the probability is 22/64 = .34375
As Bernstein points out, there’s something here that trips a lot of people up, even Fermat. There aren’t really 64 possible outcomes, because why would we include possibilities like your team goes win-win-win-win-win-win for the remaining six games? The World Series would’ve been over after that fourth win. W-W-W-W-W-W is not a possible outcome of the remaining six games.
As Pascal remarked in the correspondence with Fermat, the mathematical laws must dominate the wishes of the players themselves, who are only abstractions of a general principle. He declares that “it is absolutely equal and immaterial to them both whether they let the [game] take its natural course.
So there you go. Win-win-win-win-win-win-win is one of the forked paths off win-win-win-win. It must be accounted for, or we won’t count the potential possibilities correctly.
Naturally enough I got bored with the math part and wanted to know more about the Chevalier de Méré. Who was this fun loving gambling nobleman who put two all-time math geniuses to work helping him win at dice?
Turns out he was a guy, named Antoine Gombaud, who dubbed himself Chevalier de Méré in his writing. Much of his writing was obsessed with the idea of honnête, and how to be l’homme honnête, which included honesty but also modesty, elegance, appropriateness, excellence, sociability. You can read all about it here in what appears to be an excerpt of Manning The Margins: Masculinity and Writing in Seventeenth-Century France by Lewis Seifert, a professor at Brown.
But still, how did this cool guy hook up with Pascal? Devlin says that the Chevalier and Pascal met at a gambling table. Pascal would go back and forth between somewhat extreme religious periods. During an early one of these, when he was getting pretty hard core, a doctor warned him off:
His doctor advised him that for the sake of his health, he should abandon the Jansenist ways and lead a life more normal for a young man. Although he would remain strongly religious for the remainder of his all-too-short life, Pascal resumed normal activities. Indeed, he did so with vigor, adding regular visits to the gaming rooms to his earlier academic pursuits. It was at the gambling table that Pascal met the Chevalier de Méré
Looking into this question of how, exactly, the Chevalier and Pascal met, I found a different, more detailed, and funnier, version. Here is the Chevalier de Méré himself describing how he met Pascal:
“I once made a trip with the Duke of Roannez, who used to express himself with good and just sense and whom I found good company. Monsieur Mitton, whom you know and who is liked by all at court was also with us, and because that trip was supposed to be a promenade rather than a voyage, we only thought of entertaining ourselves and we discussed everything. The duke was interested in mathematics, and in order to relieve tedium on the way he had provided a middle-aged man, who was then very little known, but who later certainly has made people talk about him. He was a great mathematician who knew little but that. These sciences gave little sociable pleasure, and this man, who had neither taste nor sentiment, could not refrain from mingling into all we said, but he almost always surprised us and made us laugh.” De Méré goes on to tell that Pascal carried strips of paper which he brought forth from time to time to write down some observations. After a few days Pascal came to enjoy the company and talked no more of mathematics.
so reports Oystein Ore, writing in the May 1960 issue of The American Mathematical Monthly (vol 67, No. 5, “Pascal and the Invention of Probability Theory”). Oystein Ore says:
Pascal and Fermat never met in person, which is kind of sad. In 1660 Fermat proposed that they meet, but at the time they were both too sick and miserable to travel very far. Within a few years they were both dead.
Pascal invented a kind of calculator, the Pascaline, but it was too expensive to produce them:
Late in life, in another religious phase, Pascal reflected on gamblers:
And that’s the story of Pascal and Fermat!
* it wouldn’t blow my mind if one of the great mathematicians of the Arab world had worked some of this out, written it down, and put a copy in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, but most of those books were destroyed when Hulagu, Genghis Khan’s grandson, destroyed that city in 1258. Bummer!
This book is fantastic. I read this like a thriller. I bought it when it came out, mainly just out of respect to the project itself. Powers took this strange and tragic incident that happened in 1877 at a dusty fort in northwestern Nebraska and produced a thick, apparently exhaustive, densely annotated book.
Crazy Horse, out of options, was persuaded to come into Camp Robinson, where it soon became clear he was going to be locked up. When he saw that he was being led into the guardhouse, he resisted, and in the struggle that followed he was stabbed. That night he died. That’s the gist of the story, what else is there to say, really?
Well, from time to time I’d open this book up and read a bit of it and always I found something curious or engaging that I wanted to know more about. Finally, summer vacation, I just decided to start at the beginning and read the whole thing.
The Little Bighorn event had my attention from when I first heard about it. Cowboys vs Indians. The setting: “a dusty Montana hillside.” A cavalry unit, wiped out to the last man. Custer, the boasting blowhard, his luck had never run out, and then it did. No survivor to tell the tale (with the exception of the alleged lone horse survivor, Comanche). The shock when the survivors of Reno’s stand a few miles away rode among the bodies days after (“how white they look!”).
The classic in this field is Son of the Morning Star, by Evan S. Connell.
Maybe my favorite book. Connell doesn’t just tell us what happened, he follows the threads of how we might know what happened. The difficulty and ridiculousness of reconciling these accounts from often drunk, bitter, confused or otherwise untrustworthy characters of the American West.
But Powers has a great deal to add to the story. Take for example the awls of the Cheyenne. If you’ve read much about the Little Bighorn, you’ve heard that after the battle, some Cheyenne women recognized Custer’s body. They punctured his ears with what’re sometimes described as sewing needles, so he’d hear better in the next life. Here’s Powers, not just adding detail but evoking a way of life:
Every Cheyenne woman routinely carried on her person a sewing awl in a leather sheath decorated with beads or porcupine quills. The awl was used daily, for sewing clothing or lodge covers, and perhaps most frequently for keeping moccasins in repair. The moccasin soles were made of the heavy skin from a buffalo’s neck; this was the same material used for shields and it was prepared the same way – not tanned, but dried into rawhide. Pushing an awl through this hide required strength. “The making and keeping in repair of moccasins was a ceaseless task,” noted Lieutenant Clark in his notes for a book on the Indian sign language. “The last thing each day for the women was to look over the moccasins and see that each member of the family was supplied for the ensuing day.” In the many photos of the Plains Indians women taken during the nineteenth and early twentieth century their hands are notable for thickness and strength.
In the early days the awls of the Plains Indians consisted of a five- or six-inch sliver of bone, polished to a fine, slender point at one end for piercing leather, and rounded at the other to fit into the palm of the hand for pushing through tough animal hides. In later times Indian women acquired awls of steel from traders. It will be recalled that Custer’s wife, Elizabeth, had once worried that Mo-nah-se-tah would pull out a knife concealed about her person and stab her husband to death.
The Custer fight was just one occasion when Crazy Horse showed his kind of genius for cavalry battle. It looms over this story.
In a New Yorker capsule review of this book, it’s claimed:
Powers, who admits to a childhood passion for Indians, lovingly details spells and incantations—the importance of burning an offering in the proper way, even during a surprise attack; the right time to make use of a small bag of totems—but gives little insight into the larger meaning of these gestures.
This is totally ridiculous. One of the great strengths of Powers book is the care he takes with Sioux religion:
To speak of ultimate things like dying, death, and the spirit realm beyond this world, the Sioux used a kind of poetry of indeterminacy. They explained what they could and consigned the rest to a category of things humans cannot know, or had perhaps forgotten. There was no single correct way to explain these matters, and the hardest of all was to explain the wakan. Anything wakan was said to be sacred or powerful. The Oglala shaman Napsu (Finger) told a white doctor, “Anything that has a birth must have a death. The Wakan has no birth and it has no death.”
Powers never fails to help us see Crazy Horse in the context and worldview in which he saw himself.
This is a book where even the footnotes are interesting:
Now, be warned, this is a serious book. At one point I was reading it for about four hours a day and it still took me more than a week. I’m not sure this is a book for the general reader, although I’d be curious how it reads to someone who wasn’t very familiar with the Plains Indian Wars. If you’re such a reader, and you give it a try, write us!
Just the names alone: Crazy Horse’s father, who became Worm. No Water, They Are Afraid of Her, Grabber, Plenty Lice, Whirlwind, Rattle Blanket Woman.
Via an ad on Drudge Report we learn that Bill O’Reilly has a book out called Killing Crazy Horse. I doubt it will top this one. I associate O’Reilly with dishonesty and bullying, whereas Powers demonstrates in his book an integrity and devotion to taking care with the material.
Powers’ book led me to this one:
which is reigniting a passion for Ledger Art.
This is the death song Crazy Horse is said to have sung after he was wounded:
You gotta be careful or you’ll spend your whole life thinking about this stuff. People have done it!
Long ago, when I was a young cowboy, I witnessed a herd reaction in a real herd – about one hundred cattle that some cowboys and I were moving from one pasture to another along a small asphalt farm-to-market road. It was mid-afternoon in mid-summer. Men, horses, and cattle were all drowsy, the herd just barely plodding along, until one cow happened to drag her hoof on the rough asphalt, making a loud rasping sound. In an instant that sleepy herd was in full flight, and our horses too. A single sound on a summer afternoon produced a short but violent stampede. The cattle and horses ran full-out for perhaps one hundred yards. It was the only stampede I was ever in, and a dragging hoof caused it.
by frequent Helytimes subject Larry McMurtry. You had me at “Long ago, when I was a young cowboy.”
Oh What A Slaughter isn’t a fun book exactly, but it’s about the most friendly and conversational book you could probably find about massacres. The style of McMurtry’s non-fiction is so casual, you could argue it’s lazy or bad,
As I have several times said, massacres will out, and this one did in spades.
he says on page 80, for instance. I suspect it takes work or great practice to sound this relaxed. The book reads like the story of an old friend, even humorous at times. There’s great trust in the reader.
One point McMurtry returns to an ruminates on as a cause or at least precursor to these scenes of frenzied violence is apprehension. People get spooked. Why did a heavily armed US Army unit watching over – actually disarming – some detained Indians at Wounded Knee suddenly unleash?
The Ghost Dance might have had some kind of millennial implications, but it was just a dance helped by some poor Indians – and Indians, like the whites themselves, had always danced.
McMurtry says. Yeah, but it put the 7th Cavalry on edge, and they weren’t disciplined and controlled enough. The microsociologist Randall Collins, speaking of fights and violence generally, might’ve diagnosed what likely happened next:
Violence is not so much physical as emotional struggle; whoever achieves emotional domination, can then impose physical domination. That is why most real fights look very nasty; one sides beats up on an opponent at the time they are incapable of resisting. At the extreme, this happens in the big victories of military combat, where the troops on one side become paralyzed in the zone of 200 heartbeats per minute, massacred by victors in the 140 heartbeat range. This kind of asymmetry is especially dangerous, when the dominant side is also in the middle ranges of arousal; at 160 BPM or so, they are acting with only semi-conscious bodily control. Adrenaline is the flight-or-fight hormone; when the opponent signals weakness, shows fear, paralysis, or turns their back, this can turn into what I have called a forward panic, and the French officer Ardant du Picq called “flight to the front.” Here the attackers rush forward towards an unresisting enemy, firing uncontrollably. It has the pattern of hot rush, piling on, and overkill. Most outrageous incidents of police violence against unarmed or unresisting targets are forward panics, now publicized in our era of bullet counts and ubiquitous videos.
Pickett’s Charge: A microhistory of the final attack at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863 by George R. StewartPosted: July 3, 2020
Forget where I came across a mention of George R. Stewart’s microhistory of Pickett’s Charge. could’ve been anywhere. The idea of a microhistory intrigued so I got a used copy.
How about the career of George R. Stewart? Man: An Autobiography. Genius.
If we grant – as many would be ready to do – that the Civil War furnishes the great dramatic episode of the history of the United States, and that Gettysburg provides the climax of the war, then the climax of the climax, the central moment of our history, must be Pickett’s Charge.
Thus to hold, indeed, is not to maintain that a different result, there by the clump of trees and the angle in the stone wall, would of itself have reversed the course of the war and decisively altered history.
Stewart takes you there, to the clump of trees and the angle in the stone wall. If you want to know where Hancock was at approximately 3:30 pm that day, and from where Longstreet watched what he knew was likely a doomed advance, this is the book for you.
The task at hand is to make sense out of what must’ve been absolute insanity, deafening, smoky confusion for the participants. Consider the 19th Massachusetts, around 3:50 pm:
The men were jammed in to an average of six deep. When a man had loaded, he pushed his way to the front to fire. Sometimes he had to dodge around to get a place through which to point his musket, and in the confusion men might be shot from the rear. With men firing from everywhere the noise of the discharges was deafening.
Sometimes the lines even surged together, and there was a sudden swinging of clubbed muskets. In one of these encounters, Private De Castro of the 19th knocked down the color-bearer of the 14th Virginia, he himself using the staff of the Massachusetts state colors as a club. He seized the Virginia flag, brought it back, and thrust it into the hands of his colonel.
Some of the events seem almost mystical to the modern reader. The wounded Confederate general Armistead falls at the Union lines:
Armistead had been heard, in some lull of the musketry, calling for help, “as the son of a widow.” This we must take to be the code of some secret society; at least, the words gained immediate response. Some of the men of the 72nd Pennsylvania requested permission of their officer to go to his aid, and carried him behind the Union lines.
As a wounded general, even though of the wrong side, he was granted much attention and every courtesy. A surgeon, Henry H. Bingham, soon arrived, but could only inform Armistead that he was dying. Bingham promised to deliver any personal effects that the general might desire forwarded to his family.
Armistead was, according to Bingham, a man “seriously wounded, completely exhausted, and seemingly broken spirited.” The words that he then spoke were destined to become a small storm-center of controversy: “Say to General Hancock for me, that I have done him, and you all, a grievous injury, which I shall always regret.” He was then carried to the hospital.
Attitudes were at play which seem hard for us to access. Stewart:
Horrors there were in plenty – men struck in the eyes, through the intestines, in the genitals. Men were carried away maimed for life, and at least one wounded man drew his revolver and shot himself. But to write of Gettysburg in terms of the Somme or of Monte Cassino would be a painful falsification of history. Nothing is more striking in the sources generally than the absence of gloom. The armies suffered casualties such as few modern armies have endured, but the men did not seem to feel sorry for themselves. Did some primitive spirit of combat sustain them? Or a romantic sense of glory? Or an intense patriotism? Or was it a more imminent hint of immortality, as when a private of Brown’s battery died in a religious ecstasy?
One of Stewart’s great sources is the records of a trial, twenty-five years after the battle, which resulted from a dispute between the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association and the Survivors’ Association of the 72nd Pennsylvania about where on the battlefield they were permitted to put their statue:
Some of the testimony is of a remarkable poignancy, even though the heat of battle was so many years in the past. We have the boiling over of pride in the regiment:
Q. Did you see any Massachusetts or New York regiment come down and run over the Seventy-second?
A. I would like to see somebody say so! I would like to meet the man who said it!
We have the vivid personal memory:
Q. Where did you find the bodies in the angle; I mean of the Seventy-second people in the angle?
A. The most I can remember was one by the name of Metz belonging to my company – him and me were great chums – and he fell across the stone wall. He fell crossways across the stone wall.
As for Pickett himself?
He himself realized that his conduct during the afternoon had been such that he would be accused of cowardice . . . His career really ended at Five Forks, April 1, 1865, when he again lost most of his division. On this occasion, while his men were being crushed, Pickett was behind the lines and out of touch, enjoying a shad-bake. These were the last days of the war, and the scandal was somewhat hushed up. But Pickett thereafter had only some fragmentary regiments, and he was relieved of his command the day before the surrender. Lee, seeing him at Appomattox, remarked, “I thought that man was no longer with the army.”
(Should we rename the fort named after this guy?)
You needn’t bother adding this volume to your library unless you’re a fairly serious student of the battle, but it’s impressive to observe Stewart’s achievement, and to think on these events.
If I have a criticism of this book it’s that Stewart is so entertaining he can make all this seem like sort of just a violent field day. To clear up that impression real fast, one can look at any of a number of grim photographs Timothy O’Sullivan took that day, and after, photographs which still shock. This one, “Dead Horses of Bigelow’s Battery,” for instance.
How Lee took the devastating day:
Summoned to receive orders, [General John D. Imboden] found the commander so exhausted that he could scarcely dismount from his horse. Shocked by this weariness and by the sadness of the face, Imboden ventured to remark, when Lee stood silent, “General, this has been a hard day on you.”
Lee looked up, and then spoke mournfully, “Yes, it has been a sad, sad day to us.” After another lingering silence, Lee commented on the gallantry of Pickett’s men, and then after another pause, he cried out, in a loud voice, in a tone almost of agony, “Too bad! Too bad! Oh! TOO BAD!”
Happened to turn on the TV the other day and Good Will Hunting was on. What a great movie. It’s a superhero movie.
We were right in the scene where Will backs up Ben Affleck and destroys a jerk who’s showing off his education.
One moment in this scene I’ve thought about more than necessary is when Will identifies the jerk (he’s listed as “Clark” on IMDb, played with precision by Scott William Winters) as “a first year grad student.” Given how much Clark knows about history, and his reading list, should we infer that Scott William Winters is a first year grad student in history?
WILL: See the sad thing about a guy like you is in about 50 years you’re gonna start doing some thinking on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One, don’t do that. And two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin’ education you coulda got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library.
CLARK: Yeah, but I will have a degree, and you’ll be serving my kids fries at a drive-thru on our way to a skiing trip.
WILL: [smiles] Yeah, maybe. But at least I won’t be unoriginal.
It’s interesting that Clark’s brag is that Will will be “serving my kids fries on their way to a ski trip.” There are no doubt history professors living this way, but I do feel if that were your goal, becoming a grad student in academic history would be a harder way to go than like, business school or something?
Maybe that is part of the point Will is making about what a dope this guy is.
In their exchange, Will cites “Vickers, Work In Essex County.”
Had to look this one up, and boy, did I profit. I learned about Daniel Vickers, who sounds like an amazing man. From a Globe & Mail “I Remember” by Don Lepan:
Dr. Vickers went to Princeton for his PhD. It was there that he began what became his life’s work academically, but he found Princeton itself stiflingly elitist, and escaped as often as he could to Toronto or to New England towns such as Salem or Nantucket, Mass., where he would spend long hours poring over local records.
God that’s beautiful. Can you imagine sitting in Nantucket, poring over the records? (Yes).
This was followed in 2005 by Young Men and the Sea: Yankee Seafarers in the Age of Sail, in which Dr. Vickers challenged the long tradition of treating a young man’s decision to go to sea as an inherently momentous one, and the life of a seafarer as inherently exceptional; again through painstaking archival research, he demonstrated that that most young men who went to sea did so with a sense of inevitability – and that not until the late 19th century did seafaring life begin to seem exceptional. Maritime history was somewhat out of fashion with the general public when the book appeared and it sold less well than its publishers had hoped, but reviews of Dr. Vickers’s work by historians were again extraordinarily enthusiastic; the book was praised as “a masterly work” and “the most original American maritime history ever published.”
As with his first book, Dr. Vickers was aided greatly in his research by his wife, Christine.
Vickers taught at UCSD for awhile, but
the family found the suburban lifestyle and sunny consumerism of San Diego less congenial than the rocky insularity and dour humour of Newfoundland.
If you prefer Newfoundland to San Diego, come sit near me.
Wanted to share that with the Helytimes family. Have a good weekend everyone! I bet the picture of Daniel Vickers here will give you some cheer.
Traveling through Arkansas last spring, I tried to wrap my head around the Civil War as it played out there.
Like, what happened here? At some point did a Union army march through here?
In Arkansas in 1860, there were 435,450 total residents counted in the census.
Of these, 111,115 or about 20% were slaves.
There were 11,481 slaveowners in Arkansas.
And 144 free colored people.
Much of Arkansas at that time was wilderness. The big plantations were down in the Delta, the low bottom country in the south and east of that state, along the alluvial Mississippi floodlands, seen here on Raven’s excellent topographical map.
Here on the 1861 Coast Survey map of slave population, we can see where Arkansas slaves were:
Everyone needs a getaway once in a while. A getaway from the job, the house, the day-to-day routine and yes, even those that mean the most to us – our families.
reads the copy on this guide to touring the still-standing plantation houses of Arkansas. Presumably a getaway was not an option in 1860 for the 111,115 slaves.
In May, 1861, Arkansas seceded from the United States. At the secession convention, Isaac Murphy was one of the few no votes:
The convention voted to take Arkansas out of the Union, but Murphy and four other delegates opposed this step. The convention chair called on the five to switch their votes. All four of the other “nay” delegates changed their votes, but Murphy refused. Initially his position was popular in Huntsville, but as the war went on, Confederate sentiment increased.
About a year later, in spring, 1862, Union General Samuel Curtis marched in from Missouri, leading volunteer regiments from Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana (mostly). At the battle of Pea Ridge he drove back the Confederate forces sent to stop him.
Curtis kept on marching his army across Arkansas, following more or less the course of the White River.
As Curtis marched along, he picked up thousands of freed slaves.
Curtis was stifled in his effort to capture Little Rock by lack of supplies (his guys were pretty much living off the land) and by the forces raised by Confederate general Thomas Hindman.
Gregory J. W. Urwin summarizes:
Hindman’s General Orders Number 17 instructed “all citizens from this district” to organize themselves into ten-man companies under elected captains and start killing Yankees. An estimated 5,000 men responded to this summons by August 1862. They may not have been a decisive factor in Samuel Curtis’ failure to take Little Rock, but they aroused the ire of Union forces by picking off sentries and couriers, ambushing small patrols and foraging parties, and firing on gunboats and transports. Federal commanders announced that they would hold civilian responsible for any guerrilla activity occurring in their vicinity. When warnings failed to restrain the irregulars, details of Union soldiers and sailors began burning small hamlets or individual houses and barns. This retributive strategy caused many Arkansans to abandon their homes in the delta and north of the Arkansas River, but it did not suppress guerrilla depredations.
Curtis and his army (and irregular army of freed slaves) crossed the state, and reached Helena, on the Mississippi river. From there he could be resupplied by river since by now the Confederate river navy had been pretty much destroyed. Memphis had fallen, giving a clear path along the Mississippi north of Vicksburg.
As for Hindman, he got a fort named after him, at Arkansas Post, where the Arkansas River forks off and heads towards Little Rock. This was in important spot, and some Confederates from Texas held it until the Union Navy came up there in January, 1863, and blew it away.
Hindman was replaced by Theophilus Holmes
Jefferson Davis begged Holmes to bring his troops out to help relieve the tightening siege at Vicksburg, across the river in Mississippi. But Holmes had his own problems. Says Wikipedia (lifting from Walter Hilderman’s biography):
For the most part, the Confederate forces in this remote area were little more than a disorganized mob of militia scattered across all corners of the state. There were few weapons available and even fewer modern ones. The soldiers for the most part had no shoes, no uniforms, no munitions, no training, organization, or discipline, a situation worsened by the fact that many communities in Arkansas had no government above the village level. People did not pay taxes or have any written laws and strongly resisted any attempt to impose an outside government or military discipline on them. Soldiers in the Arkansas militia did not understand the organization of a proper army or obeying orders from above. Even worse, many of them were in poor physical condition and unable to handle the rigors of a lengthy military campaign. Holmes for his part believed that he could muster an army of about 15,000 men in Arkansas, but there would be almost no competent officers to lead it anyway. Further compounding his difficulties were multiple Union armies converging on the state from all sides. In this situation, Holmes wrote to Richmond that if by some miracle, he could organize the Arkansas militia into an army and get them across the Mississippi River, they would simply desert as soon as they got to the east bank.
On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg fell. On that day, a bit late, Holmes attacked the Union forces at Helena, Arkansas
but they were blasted away both by Union troops in the city and massive gunboats in the river. A disastrous, pointless defeat, too late to do any good even if it hadn’t failed.
With the fall of Vicksburg (and the last ditch failure at Helena) the Union had control of the entire Mississippi River. Gen. Fredrick Steele was sent out across the river and into Arkansas:
Steele and his army of Wisconsins, Illinoisians, and German immigrants arrived in Little Rock by September, 1863. The Confederate state capitol had been moved to Washington, Arkansas.
When spring began in 1864, Steele marched his army toward Washington, AR. (Here is an excellent map of how this went down). Steele had something like 7,000 soldiers. Steele was supposed to eventually meet up, in Shreveport, Louisiana, with General Nathaniel Banks and his 30,000 guys from the Department of the Gulf.
Traveling cross country in this hot and hostile part of the world was not easy. By the time Steele got to Camden, Arkansas, his guys didn’t have anything to eat, and word reached him that Banks’ army had been stopped anyway.
Steele had with him the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, and he sent them out to collect some food. At Poison Spring, they were surrounded by the Confederate Second Indian Brigade or Choctaw Brigade.
I’ll let Confederate Colonel Tandy Walker tell the story:
I feared here that the train and its contents would prove a temptation too strong for these hungry, half-clothed Choctaws, but had no trouble in pressing them forward, for there was that in front and to the left more inviting to them than food or clothing—the blood of their despised enemy.
They set on the 1st Kansas Colored.
In all, the 1st Kansas lost nearly half of its numbers.
After this defeat, running out of food, with the planned meetup unlikely to come off, Steele decided to retreat back to Little Rock. When he got as far as Jenkins Ferry, in the pouring rain, he realized the Confederates were about to catch up to him. So he had his guys dig in. Steele’s troops killed some unknown number of the attacking Confederates.
What a mess that must’ve been. After the turnaround of the Camden expedition, the Union army stayed near their bases in the cities. Confederate marauders rode all over the place. Colonel Marcus LaRue Harrison led the Unionist 1st Arkansas Cavalry:
Harrison established a network of fortified “farm colonies,” populating them with the families of men who swore to serve in home guard companies. Anyone living within ten miles of a colony had to join it or was assumed to be a bushwhacker.
I agree with Naval Institute, interviewing Shelby Foote.
Naval History: It has always been frustrating that the Western rivers get hardly any play in Civil War History.
Foote: Well, the whole Western theater gets hardly any play. I sometimes think that the people in this country who know less about the Civil War than any other one group of people are Virginians. They may know a little more than South Dakotans, but that’s about all.
They think that the war was fought in Virginia, while various widespread skirmishes were going on out West. The opposite is closer to the truth
Looking for more info about Jenkins Ferry I found this picture on the Grants County Museum page, seems like the situation in that area has improved.
Most of the Confederate regiments raised in Arkansas served in the western theater. An exception was the 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment was sent to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
When General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, only 144 men of the Third Arkansas remained out of the 1,353 mustered into it from the start of the war
Here is their battle flag.
After the failure of the Camden expedition, the Confederates had about 100 encampments in south Arkansas. Where do I get that number? From this incredible book:
This book is a digitized version of the maps Confederate engineer Richard M. Venable made in 1864. Venable and his guys were only able to reconnoiter the southern 29% of the state. I’m not sure whether that was because the northern portion was in Union hands and they couldn’t go there, or if that was just the resources they had, at a time when the Confederates in Arkansas were operating in the south, and might have to make moves further south or west.
The maps in this book are incredibly detailed, you can see, for example, which homesteads in Lafayette County had female heads of household, and which were the houses of widows.
Here’s a thorough review of the book. I was really impressed by it, it’s rare to find historic maps at this level of detail and readability, as the review notes, this was “obviously a labor of love.” How much need you have in your home for a detailed atlas of 1864 Arkansas is for you to determine, but for me it did make the past come alive. If you’re doing any traveling in the state of Arkansas and you’ve read this far in HelyTimes, consider investing in a copy. (hell I’ll loan you mine.)
When did the Civil War really end in Arkansas? In a special election in 1863, Isaac Murphy was elected governor:
He presided until 1868. By 1874 there was close to an armed conflict over who would run Arkansas, and that was pretty much the end of Reconstruction in the state.
The following 35 governors of Arkansas, ruling for a total of 90 years, were all Democrats, until Republican Winthrop Rockefeller became governor in 1966 defeating James D. Johnson.
Maybe the Civil War ended in Arkansas when federal troops integrated Central High School in Little Rock in 1956-7.
Or maybe it ended with the election of Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.
besides Hitler and Munich and stuff! A lot of other things happened in the history of the world!
Reread Larry McMurtry’s short life of Crazy Horse.
Discovered something new: when No Water shot Crazy Horse for running away with his wife Black Buffalo Woman, he borrowed the gun he used from Bad Heart Bull.
This Bad Heart Bull was an uncle of Amos Bad Heart Bull, the ledger artist, who made this drawing of the death of Crazy Horse:
At the time of his death, Amos’ sketchbook was given to his younger sister, Dolly Pretty Cloud. In the 1930s, she was contacted by Helen Blish, a graduate student from the University of Nebraska, who asked to study her brother’s work for her master’s thesis in art. When Pretty Cloud died in 1947, her brother’s ledger book full of drawings was buried with her.
Before they were buried, the drawings were photographed by Blish’s professor, Hartley Burr Alexander, and they’re reprinted in this volume:
Amos Bad Heart Bull was only one of the Ledger Artists.
Much Ledger Art can be seen digitally through the Plains Ledger Art Project at UC San Diego.
Amos Bad Heart Bull’s work is vivid:
A literal translation of the Lakota word čhaŋtéšiče is “he has a bad heart”, but an idiomatic meaning is “he is sad.” Tȟatȟáŋka Čhaŋtéšiče would likely have been understood in the same way “Sad Bull” would be in English. When Lakota names are translated literally into English, they may lose their idiomatic sense.
Crazy Horse, Little Bighorn, these names alone are compelling enough. Cavalrymen wiped out to the last man on the plains, these stories are interesting, or they have been to me as long as I remember.
This book couldn’t’ve been more what I wanted. I first discovered it when TV commercials for the miniseries aired.
In my opinion the miniseries is damn good, but the book! Part of what makes it so compelling is Connell sees how the telling of what happened, the attempt to figure out what happened, is as interesting as what happened itself. The history of the history is as interesting as the history.
Connell starts his book with the troopers who discovered the stripped and mutilated bodies on the hillside, then takes us on a digressive journey towards how this happened, what happened, and what it all might mean, if anything.
Wikipedia presents this disputed picture of Crazy Horse. It cannot be him. He would never. At Fort Robinson?? A desolate prairie outpost? This was taken in a city. Etc. From what we know of Crazy Horse, this is the opposite of what he would do.
But who knows? Who is it? Ghosts appear and disappear.
Crazy Horse had a daughter named They Are Afraid of Her. She died, probably of cholera, McMurtry says, when she was three.
How about the legend of what happened at the Baker Fight:
In the middle of a frantic battle a man sits on the grass and smokes a pipe.
This occurred during what is sometimes called the Arrow Creek Fight, or the Baker Fight.
found that here.
Once spent some time on Google Maps trying to find the site of the Baker fight.
While reading about one of the few white men Crazy Horse trusted, Doctor Valentine McGillycuddy:
I find a reference to a thirteen volume set, Hidden Springs of Custeriana.
The hunt for hidden springs in the long pored-over records of the past. The ledger photographed, then buried in Nebraska.
The famous King moments are so burned into our collective dream history that they can lose their freshness. .
Somewhere recently I came across a clip of the line at 0:40 above, truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.
A quote from
James Russell Lowell. The Present Crisis, which he wrote in 1844, when he was deep in abolitionism.
King returned to this line often.
Good reminder that truth being on the scaffold and wrong being on the throne is not a new problem.
This movie is on HBO this month. I saw the movie in the theater and thought it was pretty good. It really captured the batty, Lewis Carroll eccentricity element of Churchill and the British Parliament.
But one thing that I was wondering about was the title. I remembered a story I’d heard years ago about Churchill visiting Harrow in 1941. The schoolboys sang a new verse to an old song:
When Churchill visited Harrow on October 29 to hear the traditional songs again, he discovered that an additional verse had been added to one of them. It ran:
“Not less we praise in darker days
The leader of our nation,
And Churchill’s name shall win acclaim
From each new generation.
For you have power in danger’s hour
Our freedom to defend, Sir!
Though long the fight we know that right
Will triumph in the end, Sir!”
Churchill didn’t care for the word darker. In his speech to the school he said:
You sang here a verse of a School Song: you sang that extra verse written in my honour, which I was very greatly complimented by and which you have repeated today. But there is one word in it I want to alter – I wanted to do so last year, but I did not venture to. It is the line: “Not less we praise in darker days.”
I have obtained the Head Master’s permission to alter darker to sterner. “Not less we praise in sterner days.”
Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days – the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.
Getting all that from the National Churchill Museum.
I believe this Wikipedia page is inaccurate:
“The Darkest Hour” is a phrase coined by British prime minister
Did he coin this phrase?
Winston Churchill to describe the period of World War II between the Fall of France in June 1940 and the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 (totaling 363 days, or 11 months and 28 days), when the British Empire stood alone (or almost alone after the Italian invasion of Greece) against the Axis Powers in Europe.
Perhaps he uses it in his volumes of history, which I don’t have at hand. But that’s not the source Wiki cites. In the cited “Finest Hour” speech, Churchill did use the phrase “darkest hour,” but to refer to what a sad period this was in French history:
The House will have read the historic declaration in which, at the desire of many Frenchmen-and of our own hearts-we have proclaimed our willingness at the darkest hour in French history to conclude a union of common citizenship in this struggle.
I bought screenwriter Anthony McCarten’s book:
on Kindle and did a search. Unless I’m missing something, I can find no other time in the book where Churchill himself is quoted using the phrase “darkest hour.”
So, the movie about Churchill uses for its title a term that Churchill himself specifically asked people not to use.
My question as always: is this interesting?
Those songs are just in my genes, and I couldn’t stop them comin’ out. In a reincarnative kind of way, maybe. The songs have got some kind of a pedigree to them. But that pedigree stuff, that only works so far. You can go back to the ten-hundreds, and people only had one name. Nobody’s gonna tell you they’re going to go back further than when people had one name.
(Bob Dylan interview with Jonathan Lethem in Rolling Stone.)
Picture it: Philadelphia, Friday, May 25, 1787.
The convention is getting started. First job is to choose a president. Mr. Robert Morris of Pennsylvania nominates George Washington of Virginia.
Mr Jn RUTLIDGE seconded the motion; expressing his confidence that the choice would be unanimous, and observing that the presence of Genl Washington forbade any observations on the occasion which might be otherwise be proper.
General Washington was accordingly unanimously elected by ballot, and conducted to the chair by Mr R. Morris and Mr. Rutlidge; from which in a very emphatic manner he thanked the Convention for the honor they had conferred on him, reminded them of the novelty of the scene of business in which he was to act, lamented his want of better qualifications, and claimed the indulgence of the House towards the involuntary errors which his inexperience might occasion.
That’s George Washington, the guy who had just defeated the British Empire, who held the Continental Army together over seven horrible years on the strength of his own character. He begins this job with an expression of humility. An apology for any involuntary errors.
Then Madison adds, in a parenthetical:
Happy Fourth of July everybody!
This collection of essays from 1973 gets an A+ on cover alone.
Undoubtedly one of the major reasons that anthropologists for so long underestimated the importance of hallucinogenic substances in shamanism and religious experience was that very few had partaken themselves of the native psychotropic materials (other than peyote) or had undergone the resulting subjective experiences so critical, perhaps paradoxically, to an empirical understanding of their meaning to the peoples they studied. Most, although not all, of the authors in the present book are an exception…
I’ll say! From Michael J. Harner’s essay “The Sound Of Rushing Water”:
When I first undertook research among the Jívaro in 1956-57, I did not fully appreciate the psychological impact of the Banisteriopsis drink upon the native view of reality, but in 1961 I had occasion to drink the hallucinogen in the course of field work with another Upper Amazon Basin tribe. For several hours after drinking the brew, I found myself, although awake, in a world literally beyond my wildest dreams. I met bird-headed people, as well as dragon-like creatures who explained that they were the true gods of this world. I enlisted the services of other spirit helpers in attempting to fly through the far reaches of the Galaxy. Transported into a trance where the supernatural seemed natural, I realized that anthropologists, including myself, had profoundly underestimated the importance of the drug in affecting native ideology. Therefore, in 1964 I returned to the Jívaro to give particular attention to the drug’s use by the Jívaro shaman.
South American shamanism and hallucinogens is one of the topics explored in
Yet the essay our reader found of most interest in this volume was was “The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft,” also by Harner. The topic of witchcraft, European and American, has been of great interest to Helytimes.
What was going on with the wild bursts of witchcraft persecution in medieval Europe and early colonial America?
A prevalent attitude among present-day historians and scholars of religion (e.g. Henningsen, 1969: 105-6; Trevor-Roper, 1969:90, 192) is that late medieval and Renaissance witchcraft was essentially a fiction created by the Church.
says Harner. But what this essay presupposes is: what if it wasn’t?
Probably the single most important group of plants used by mankind to contact the supernatural belongs to the order Solanacæe (the potato family)… each of these plants contains varying quantities of atropine and the other closely related tropane alkaloids hyoscyamine and scopolomine, all of which have hallucinogenic effects (Claus and Tyler, 1965: 273-85; Henry, ,1949: 64092; Hoffer and Osmund, 1967:525-28; Lewin, 1964: 129-140; Sollmann, 1957: 381-98).
From here, Harner goes on to suggest:
As is familiar to every child in our culture, the witch is fantasized as flying through the air on a broomstick. This symbol actually represents a very serious and central aspect of European witchcraft, involving the use of solanceaous hallucinogenic plants. The European witches rubbed their bodies with a hallucinogenic ointment containing such plants as Atropa belladonna, Mandragora, and henbane, whose content of atropine was absorbable through the skin. The witch then indeed took a “trip”: the witch on the broomstick is a representation of that imagined aerial journey to a rendezvous with spirits and demons, which was called a Sabbat.
Wild claim! More:
The use of a staff or broom was undoubtedly more than a symbolic Freudian act, serving as an applicator for the atropine-containing plant to the sensitive vaginal membranes as well as providing the suggestion of riding on a steed
Historical evidence seems thin. Harner presents a case from 1325, when a Lady Alice Kyteler was investigated in Ireland:
…in rifleing the closet of the ladie, they found a Pile of oyntment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon the which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin, when and in what manner she listed.
Kyteler fled the country, but her servant was flogged and burned to death. Her house is now a pub:
We ran this idea by one of our female editors, who pointed out that if you were going to apply some salve to your vaginal membranes, you’d probably use something a little softer than a broomstick, perhaps a vegetable. The biodegradable nature of such an applicator perhaps explains why archaeological evidence is so scant.
Thought-provoking, in any case.
In 1693 Cotton Mather wrote a book called Wonders Of The Invisible World, defending the Salem Witch Trials.
A few years later a guy named Robert Calef wrote More Wonders Of The Invisible World, which was kind of a sarcastic slam on Cotton Mather.
Calef objected to proceedings that lead to “a Biggotted Zeal, stirring up a Blind and most Bloody rage, not against Enemies, or Irreligious Proffligate Persons, But (in Judgment of Charity, and to view) against as Vertuous and Religious as any they have left behind them in this Country, which have suffered as Evil doers with the utmost extent of rigour.”
Can’t say I got a ton out of the book, but I did get some good stuff from the introduction, by Chadwick Hansen.
If a witch is attacking you boil a pin in urine:
Even Chadwick Hansen appears ultimately baffled by what Robert Calef was up to, since much of his book is lies about how Cotton Mather fondled up a girl named Margaret Rule while curing her of bewitchment.
Hansen attempts to provide the context to a baffling historical period.
Later Mather would write a book called The Right Way To Shake Off A Viper:
Wild times in old Massachusetts. Few people who were taken to the Salem Witch Museum in childhood ever forgot it.
Compelled by John Kelly, Boston Marine turned Trump babysitter / White House chief of staff.
John Kelly, like Robert E. Lee, is brave, self-sacrificing, dignified, and wrong.
It’s possible to be noble and admirable and honorable and really wrong. Like, a force for wrongness.
Watched his entire press conference re: presidential respect for fallen soldiers. Found it very moving. He mentions walking for hours in Arlington National Cemetery to collect his thoughts. Maybe he should send the president.
In one of the infinite amazing connections of American history Arlington National Cemetery was built on the grounds of Lee’s wife’s house.
What about General Robert E. Lee?
The single greatest mistake of the war by any general on either side was made by Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, when he sent Pickett’s and Pettigrew’s divisions across that open field, nearly a mile wide, against guns placed on a high ridge and troops down below them, with skirmishers out front. There was no chance it would succeed. Longstreet told him that beforehand and Lee proceeded to prove him right. Having made this greatest of all mistakes, Lee rode out on the field and met those men coming back across the field— casualties were well over fifty percent—and said, It’s all my fault. He said it then on the field; he said it afterwards, after he’d gotten across the Potomac; he said it in his official report a month later. He said, I may have asked more of my men than men should be asked to give. He’s a noble man, noble beyond comparison.
(from the Paris Review interview with Shelby Foote)
Why did people love Robert E. Lee so much? He was handsome, for one thing. Here’s Elizabeth Brown Pryor going off in her Six Encounters With Lincoln:
They liked Lee too because he reminded of them of George Washington.
Is this interesting?: two of the most prominent American slaveholders, Washington and Lee, only owned slaves because they’d married rich women.
Lee’s wife was Martha Washington’s great granddaughter.
Anyway: whatever, it’s time for some new statues!
John Kelly made his most recent remarks about Lee on The Ingraham Angle on Fox News.
During that appearance, Kelly says something not true, that the events in the indictment came from well before Manafort knew Donald Trump. Not true, if we believe Slate’s helpful timeline. Manafort and Trump have known each other since the ’80s.
Didn’t Manafort live in Trump Tower off the money he made as a lobbyist for dictators?
Kelly also says that the part about where got wrong what Fredrica Wilson said at the FBI dedication, that part “we should just let that go.”
Also brooooo! What is American history up to the Civil War but a history of compromises?
Happened to read an interview in PRISM, a publication of the Center For Complex Operations, with John Kelly yesterday. He’s talking about his career leading the Southern Command, ie Central and South America.
This was not my experience talking to Latin Americans. More than one South American has pointed out to me that in their countries, “the troops” are not assumed to be good guys or on your side.
Didn’t love this:
We need more Marine generals like Smedley Butler:
I wish John Kelly would also remember the time Henry Lee put himself in harm’s way to defend the freedom of the press.
During the civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland in 1812, Lee received grave injuries while helping to resist an attack on his friend, Alexander Contee Hanson, editor of the Baltimore newspaper, The Federal Republican on July 27, 1812.
Hanson was attacked by a Democratic-Republican mob because his paper opposed the War of 1812. Lee and Hanson and two dozen other Federalists had taken refuge in the offices of the paper. The group surrendered to Baltimore city officials the next day and were jailed.
Laborer George Woolslager led a mob that forced its way into the jail, removed the Federalists, beating and torturing them over the next three hours. All were severely injured, and one Federalist, James Lingan, died.
Lee suffered extensive internal injuries as well as head and face wounds, and even his speech was affected. His observed symptoms were consistent with what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder.
Need to learn more about this!
Maybe a statue of James Lingan, outside Prospect House?:
One last bit from Shelby Foote:
Bud, history always has bias! You don’t think this guy
thought Lee was cool, if only because they looked alike?
Does Ta-Nahesi Coates get tired of having to say the same stuff over and over?:
“History’s history,” says John Kelly on The Ingraham Angle. Is it?
Personally, when I think about John Kelly’s life, I’m prepared to cut him some slack, but man. I can’t say he “gets it.”
Thomas Ricks, as always, has the take:
The comment of Kelly’s that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves is when he half-jokingly suggests (around 26:41)
that they’re gonna replace the Washington Monument with Andy Warhol.
Wow, reader Dan G. didn’t take to Elizabeth Pryor Brown’s book, of which I spoke positively:
First chapter berates Lincoln for a disorderly approach to the military — fair enough, I suppose — without acknowledging the more defensible reasons for this, such as a desire to establish the facts on the ground independent of the possibly self-serving officers in the chair of command. To hear her, the military should be spared any outside audit or opportunity for whistleblowing. And she doesn’t even mention his ultimate success. Her second chapter pooh-poohs his coarse humor and sometimes rustic rhetoric as though the prissy rareified manners of a Boston drawing room were innately superior and not, as they would have been in real life, a barrier to communicating with and leading the broad mass of the people.
It’s not just me:
He goes on to describe the book as:
a biography of Sam written by Diane
which is a funny idea.
From a capsule review in The New Yorker heard about this book:
What a cool way to bring Lincoln to life. Tell the story of six meetings Lincoln had that someone wrote an account of.
The six encounters:
- Lincoln’s first meeting, in the East Room of the White House, with Army officers, including Robert E. Lee
from that we examine Lincoln’s relationship with the military, and with the guy who’d end up being the leading general trying to defeat him.
- An odd event where Lincoln tried to raise an American flag on the South Lawn of the White House, but accidentally ripped it
from that we examine how Lincoln used humor and a sort of self-effacing charm
- Lincoln’s encounter with an abolitionist cavalry sergeant named Lucian Waters
which brings us to discussions of Lincoln’s views on race and slavery
- Lincoln’s meeting with Cherokee chief John Ross
from which we can examine Lincoln’s relationships with Indians, who got pretty hosed under the Lincoln presidency
- Lincoln’s meetings the powerful Anna E. Dickenson
which opens us up to Lincoln’s weird relationships with powerful women
- a bizarre encounter with this bro:
Duff Green, who wanted to talk to Lincoln about a scheme to help Southerners with their land via a federal bank or something.
from there we consider how Lincoln intended to begin the postwar process, if he hadn’t’ve gotten got a few days later.
Pryor uses these encounters to bring to life the odd, magnetic, awkward, charming, conflicted, pained, intense human man Abraham Lincoln, full of conflict and contradiction.
Here is the first sentence of the author’s introduction:
To look again with open eyes at a subject we think we know is never straightfoward.
Pryor does a fantastic job of bringing Lincoln into focus. Some highlights:
Getting the mitten:
Down to the raisins:
A very impressive, dense work of history. Stunned when I opened the book and learned the author had been tragically killed in a car crash before publication:
Seems like an amazing woman.
Her obituary in the NYT by Margalit Fox speaks also of her work on Lee:
Though Lee is often cast by history as a brilliant general, Ms. Pryor, examining the strategic errors that led to his retreat at Antietam in 1862 and sweeping defeat at Gettysburg the next year, judged him “bright but not brilliant.”
Addressing Lee’s stance on slavery, she acknowledged, with other historians, that he harbored deep misgivings on the subject. However, Ms. Pryor wrote, those misgivings stemmed not from his opposition to the institution itself, but from his resentment of the managerial burdens it could place on white slave owners.
As a slaveholder, Ms. Pryor showed, Lee was a cruel master, once forcing a runaway slave to endure 50 lashes and then have brine poured on the wounds. He routinely sundered slaves’ families if selling a slave was expedient, and by 1860 “he had broken up every family but one” on his Arlington plantation, she wrote.
The Lincoln book my friend the presidential biographer, Lincoln scholar and former rock star Ted Widmer recommends is Herdon’s Informants.
Herndon was Lincoln’s law partner, and after he died he wrote to everyone who’d ever met Lincoln pretty much and asked for what they remembered of him.
Following Lincoln’s assassination, Herndon began to collect stories of Lincoln’s life from those who knew him. Herndon aspired to write a faithful portrait of his friend and law partner, based on his own observations and on hundreds of letters and interviews he had compiled for the purpose. He was determined to present Lincoln as a man, rather than a saint, and to reveal things that the prevailing Victorian era conventions said should be left out of the biography of a great national hero.[nb 2]
In particular, Herndon said of Lincoln’s “official” biographers, John Nicolay and John Hay: “They are aiming, first, to do a superb piece of literary work; second, to make the story with the classes as against the masses.” He felt that this would represent the “real Lincoln about as well as does a wax figure in the museum.”
Particularly damning was the denunciation of the book by Robert Todd Lincoln, whose grudge against Herndon stemmed largely from Herndon’s recounting of Ann Rutledge as the only romantic love of his father’s life.
Herndon didn’t care for Mary Todd, I guess:
Even though she was considered a bit of a catch for a guy like Abe.
When you think about the stuff that happened to Mary Todd, it’d be a wonder if she didn’t go insane. Three of her children died, her husband got assassinated sitting next to her. Her half-sister was married to a Confederate general who died at Chickamauga.
He was a commander of the Orphan Brigade:
At the Battle of Stones River, the brigade suffered heavy casualties in an assault on January 2, 1863, including General Hanson. Breckinridge—who vehemently disputed the order to charge with the army’s commander, General Braxton Bragg—rode among the survivors, crying out repeatedly, “My poor Orphans! My poor Orphans,”
The stuff people go through!
Went looking for the source of a story that Robert E. Lee, asked by a mom for advice on raising her boy, said “teach him to deny himself.”
From Douglas Southall Freeman’s four volume 1934 R. E. Lee: A Biography. The source cited is one Joseph Packard’s Recollections of a Long Life.
Original source probably one JC:
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
Luke 9:23, KJV.
Check out this letter Abigail Adams sent to her son, John Quincy Adams, when he was ELEVEN:
(Funny to read that as I sit here at what could be described as a literal Pacific station)
That is from:
which is a collection of David McCullough’s speeches.
Many of the speeches were given in the triumphant mid-late-1990s, when History was ending and it was easy to be fooled into thinking it was one long hike to the sunny meadows where we would now reside forever.
In that context this book can be almost painful to read.
Here, for example, McCullough talks about the history of the White House:
If there’s a single American out there who wants to claim the current occupant is either wise or honest, would love to have you on Great Debates.
After McCullough wrote a book about the Johnstown Flood, it was suggested he write about other disasters. He didn’t. He didn’t want to be “bad news McCullough,” he says.
We need more McCulloughism.
Unless you’re a McCullough completist I’d suggest bypassing The American Spirit and going instead to:
One of the local branches of the LA Public Library, the one on Sunset across from Wendy’s, is named after Will and Ariel Durant.
David Brooks grows wistful as he considers the Will and Ariel Durant project:
Between 1935 and 1975, Will and Ariel Durant published a series of volumes that together were known as “The Story of Civilization.” They basically told human history (mostly Western history) as an accumulation of great ideas and innovations, from the Egyptians, through Athens, Magna Carta, the Age of Faith, the Renaissance and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The series was phenomenally successful, selling over two million copies.
I’ve taken a look at the first volume of the series,
and was astounded, amused, and delighted by what I found there. Here’s an example.
When Will met Ariel Durant, her name was Ida, she was fourteen, and she was his student.
She was 15 at her marriage on Oct. 31, 1913, and came to the ceremony with her roller skates slung over her shoulder. Her husband was just about to turn 28. He called her Ariel, after the the imp in Shakespeare’s ”The Tempest,” and she later had her name legally changed.
(from Will’s NYT obituary). In Our Oriental Civilization, Will makes the case for himself:
It’s pretty funny that we named the library after a pair of lovers whose romance would get the man arrested today.
On the other hand, that’s the kind of paradox of historical and civilizational change that Will Durant took so much joy in teaching about.
More from the NYT:
Dr. Durant consistently took a generally optimistic view of civilization, despite a growing belief that ”the world situation is all fouled up.”
”Civilization is a stream with banks,” he said in his precise voice. ”The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues.
”The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.”
Will and Ariel, from Wikipedia: