American Elephants

A Little History for the 4th of July by The Elephant's Child

Life doesn’t always turn out as you expected it too.The world keeps moving on and changing inexorably, and we need to move and change with it. Pause and think about the big shifts in history when one of the parties said in essence —this will not stand. I just read a brief history of the time when Spain threw out Islam, and the triumph of Christianity.

Hat salesman to President of the United States. Some of our better presidents weren’t from the political class. Might keep that in mind as well.

The Civil War: Revisited by The Elephant's Child

“There is No Expiration Date on Valor” by The Elephant's Child


Last Wednesday, in a ceremony at the White House, President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing, a soldier who died 151 years ago at the climax of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Although he was only a lieutenant, Alonzo Cushing commanded the last two cannon of Battery A, 4th U.S.Artillery, that faced Pickett’s Charge. After two days of fighting, Confederate General Robert E. Lee launched the combined forces of George Pickett, Johnston Pettigrew and Isaac Trimble at the Union position on Cemetery Ridge. Pickett’s desperate charge headed straight for ground occupied by Cushing’s battery of six cannon. Historian Allen C. Guelzo describes the action in the Wall Street Journal.

The battery was 20 yards behind a low stone wall on Cemetery Ridge, ready to support the Union infantry sheltering behind the wall. The Confederates began the assault with a lengthy artillery bombardment that put four of Cushing’s guns out of action. But when his brigade commander, Alexander Webb, predicted that “the Confederate infantry will now advance and attack our position,” Cushing ordered the last two of his pieces run down to the wall, calling for volunteers from the infantry to replace his depleted gun crews and piling loose rounds of canister, a closed metal cylinder filled with round lead or iron balls, beside the guns.

Cushing was wounded in the shoulder, then in the groin. Instead of hobbling to safety, he was determined “to stay right here and fight it out or die in the attempt,” according to Cushing’s first sergeant, Frederick Fuger, writing in his postwar account.

When the Confederates were 400 yards away, Cushing opened fire with deadly rounds of canister. At 100 yards, he called for double and then triple loads of canister, cutting “immense gaps” in the Confederate attackers. “I will give them one last shot,” Cushing cried, according to an article written by Gen. Alexander Webb in 1895. And then a slug slammed into Cushing’s head, and down he went for good. But Pickett’s Charge stalled, then melted backward, and the greatest battle of the Civil War was over. Sgt. Fuger counted “nearly six hundred dead Confederates in front of our battery.”

The Medal of Honor was only instituted the year before, and the protocols were vague. But a neglectful nation can do the right thing, if belatedly.

Other Times, Other Wars: Divided and United by The Elephant's Child

(Antietam Bridge, Md, September 1862)

Ron Radosh has a column today on a new album of the songs of the Civil War, It is called “Divided and United” as a tribute to those who lived through those terrible years of a divided nation. The artists are drawn from the best of Nashville’s talent, the traditional singers as they call themselves  in opposition to “folk-singers” and try to capture the music as it was known then, from the sheet music they have.

If you click on the link just below the picture of the album, it will take you to Amazon where you can play a brief sampler of the songs. I’m going to have to get this one.

I lost two great uncles on each side of the Civil War, the Southern part of the family came from a small town in South Carolina near the Georgia border; the Northerners set out from South Carolina for Ohio Territory just after 1800. They were ardent abolitionists, and their Ohio church was a station on the underground railway.

Three brothers fought on the side of the Confederacy, one was killed in the battles around Richmond. My great grandfather and his brother-in-law took a wagon up across South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia to Richmond to bring his body home. The other was the only Confederate killed at Snicker’s Gap.The youngest of the Southern brothers was in the cavalry, and survived the war.

On the other side, Nathan died some time after Chickamauga, possibly from wounds from that battle, or in some other skirmish. The other I know only as “Uncle Frank” from a small Daguerreotype photo and the notation “died in the Civil War.”

Take some time to read about the Civil War. “The American Union was created by the Revolution, the American nation was forged only upon the awful anvil of the Civil War,” as John Steele Gordon wrote. The American Civil War was the largest war fought in the Western world in the century between the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815 and the outbreak of World War one on August 1, 1915.

The carnage was without precedent. On the single day of September 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam, the Union Army had casualties of 2,108 killed and 9,549 wounded. More casualties on that one day than in the entire Mexican War. The total military losses in the war on both sides, officially 498,333 — were more than 3 percent of the American male population in 1860, four and a half times our percentage losses in World War II.

Always unprepared for war, the federal government had been operating at a deficit since 1857. In 1860, the national debt stood at $64,844,000 and the Treasury was nearly depleted. In December of that year, as the Southern states began to secede one by one, there was at one point not even enough money on hand to meet the payroll. Three months later, at the time of the first Battle of Bull Run, the War Department alone was spending a million dollars a day.

A young banker named Jay Cooke was made the agent of the federal government to sell a new issue of bonds. He bypassed the banks, arranged for the bonds to be issued in denominations as small as $50, and sold them directly to the people. In other words, he invented the bond drive, which has supported all our wars ever since.

Can We Talk About Race? by The Elephant's Child

For Liberals, Race is the number one issue. That’s their ranking.  It’s not surprising. The Democratic party has a long, miserable history with the race issue, and they have a lot of guilt to overcome. That said, it’s a little tacky of them to keep calling Republicans ‘racists.’  They don’t call us that because of our history, which is pretty good, but because it is their very best all-purpose epithet.

Andrew Jackson is generally considered the founder of the Democratic party. He was, of course, our 7th president, but he was also a southern plantation owner and a major (150-300) slaveholder. His administration was noted not only for the Seminole War, but for what contemporary language calls “ethnic cleansing.” “The Trail of Tears” removed the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Cherokee from Southern agricultural land to Oklahoma Indian territory, and a lot of them died in the miserable process.

Southern slaveholders were Democrats, Confederates were Democrats, the Ku Klux Klan was a Democrat organization and Democrats in the South resisted emancipation, reconstruction, and championed segregation. They didn’t give up politically until forced to by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and in many ways didn’t give up even then.

What you may not know is that there were Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1871, 1875, 1957, 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1991.

All of the above is a raw and unfair outline of very complicated matters.

Slavery was a timeless, universal institution. Every society, to different degrees, at one time engaged in slavery. American Indian tribes enslaved their enemies. The Kwakiutl came down from Canada in their war canoes specifically to capture slaves. Arabs from North Africa raided  for slaves along the British Coast. Galleys were manned by slaves of all different ethnicities.

Arab slave trading persisted until the 21st century. Arabs have a 1,300 year history of slave trading. In 4000 BC, Sargon, King of Sumeria, owned nine thousand slaves. In 1839, Czarist Russia had 14 million slaves. In the 17th-19th centuries, nine million slaves were brought north in the trans-Saharan trade. Saudi Arabia abolished slavery in 1962, Mauritania in 1981. More or less.

American slavery is particularly notable because we talk about it publicly. That’s what you get in a free society. We wash our dirty linen in public. If there is a catastrophe, a massacre, a scandal, or an embarrassment in our country, it appears in headlines all over the world. Worldwide, slavery is considered an American sin, not because it was uniquely American, nor because there was more slavery in America, but because we talk about it.

The horrors of the Atlantic slave trade have been thoroughly documented. The diagrams of how slave ships were packed with blacks are well known. No more than 5-6 percent of the slave trade came to the United States; 94 percent went to Central and South America or the West Indies. 3.6 million went to Brazil alone.

The first slaves arrived in Jamestown in the 1600s. Early black slaves were treated much like other indentured workers who worked out the term of their indenture and then were freed. Vermont banned slavery before joining the union. Massachusetts in 1780, Pennsylvania in 1781, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island all began in 1783.

We fought a war over slavery, and prejudice endured. We had societies of Abolitionists, and an ‘underground railroad’ to help escaped slaves on their way to Canada. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was an American book. We fought a war over slavery. My family lost two Great² Uncles on each side. Only about one quarter of Southerners owned slaves.

We have written innumerable books about slavery, made movies about slavery seen around the world. It’s no wonder much of the world believes that slavery is uniquely an American problem. Have you seen any Brazilian movies about the slave trade, or read any Brazilian books? OK, not fair, they speak Portuguese.

I intended this to be a little short piece about how the Democrats are again attempting to lower the standards for loans to minorities — Blacks and Hispanics — for home loans, as if it is prejudice that is keeping banks from making loans available. Making mortgage loans is a business, and the business of banks is to get paid back.

When politicians, intending to be compassionate, force banks to make loans that would not be made according to the rules of prudent banking — meaning it is questionable if the recipient of the loan can make the payments — that’s what got us into this financial mess in the first place. A financial mess that has been particularly hard on minorities. Compassion is not always the best guideline for fixing things.

There is a sure way to help more minorities own their own homes. It is with a healthy, growing economy. The other real assist for the poor is to help kids stay in school and graduate. Neither of these happen through redistribution of income. And it is not ‘racist’ to want the economy to grow. A growing economy helps everybody. It will help “the rich,” who are not necessarily white, a lot of whom own and operate small businesses and hire workers. Some of those workers will learn how a small business works and quit and go out and start their own.


Republicans: Evil and Nasty? by The Elephant's Child

Bill Whittle explains the Republican Party with a little history, some true facts and good humor. Really.

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