Petersburg Crater and Grant vs. Lee

crater battle postcard

Funny thing about the lovely trails through Virginia’s Civil War battlefields: the trees grow now in a photo negative of the way it was during the war. Now, there are many, many more trees. What was farmland then is now woods. But the one fort in the Petersburg, Va., siege line that offered shade in 1865 (Fort Stedman), site of the Confederacy’s last hurrah, languishes now without a single tree.

…I hardly like to think about the battle at the “Crater,” where Pennsylvania miners dug under the picket lines and blew a little Confederate fort sky high, only to see thousands of Union soldiers routed in the ensuing attempt to push through the Rebel line.

…You will have to forgive me for failing to blog the sesquicentennial like I should. I missed the 150th of Gettysburg last summer. Now the anniversary of the Overland Campaign will soon arrive.

150 years ago next month, Pres. Lincoln promoted General U.S. Grant and brought him to the eastern theater of the war. In and of itself, this marked the beginning of the end.

Because Grant, as we have celebrated before, understood how the war would be won.

Now, who am I to offer glittering generalities? But: As I strolled along the eroding siegeworks that have been lovingly preserved east of Petersburg, I thought, “There really is something to the idea that the Northern and Southern minds crystallized in these two men, Lee and Grant”–who faced each other across the creeks flowing into the Appomatox from June, 1864, to the end of March, 1865.

Grant at City Point
Grant at City Point
Lee: Dashing, infinitely more charming and romantic; too courtly to give direct orders to his old friends (of whom he had dozens); too realistic to risk anything less than everything, whenever he could–the man George Washington would have understood, and loved, and wished he could have been more like…

Grant: breathtakingly humble in his realistic understanding of what needed to be done; bone-crushingly organized; genuinely opportunistic–not only more decisive than any other Union general, but, IMHO, more genuinely resourceful and deft even than the fox Lee. Grant, the master of a colossal, utterly efficient industrial machine, conceived by his mind (the model of the ensuing Gilded-Age barons in this respect). Grant, humane in the unprepossessing, scientific manner of an MIT professor.

Grant knew he couldn’t lose any other way than by beating himself. He patiently and stoically refused to do that. (Many wars and battles of many kinds, I would say, get won this way.)

Grant of course wanted the war over sooner rather than later. Fate had conspired against him: The war could have ended in June, 1864, when Grant surprised Lee by moving his army south of Richmond en masse. But timorousness got the better of his vanguard.

So the general did his U.S. Grant thing. Assessed it all cooly and prudently. And won nine months later.

Many of us like to idealize the Civil War as a series of decisive, Napoleon-like battles, with heroic officers leading charges, a la Joshua Chamberlain at Gettysburg. But when Grant took the Union helm, 150 years ago, that came to an end. And WWI-style fighting began. The most–really the only–beautiful thing about the Civil War in 1864 is Grant’s prudent and laborious mind.

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Sites Near I-95

The_Peacemakers_1868

“They come from another age. The Age of Virginia.” (The Killer Angels)

Can a guy have fun tramping around the nooks and crannies of greater Richmond in search of Civil-War sites with epic historic significance? Listening to Coldplay on the way to the Cold Harbor National Historic Battlefield Park?

Yes.

Continue reading “Sites Near I-95”

Battles Royale + Promised Land Locale

Seems somehow fitting that the Hoyas should fall in double overtime on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads.

…Today at Mass we pray part of Psalm 105. This psalm recounts the history of God’s faithfulness to His chosen people.

His great faithfulness towards Israel began with _____________. Abraham had a son named ______________. And a grandson named ______________.

Moses led the people back to the ______________ _________.

This is review, right? We went over this twelve days ago.

Now, Psalm 105 and our Lord Jesus’ Parable of the Wicked Tenants agree on one very important point.

Where is the Promised Land? Where is the land flowing with milk and honey, where God’s chosen ones may live in peace? Where is the well-cultivated vineyard where fruits grow at the proper times?

Psalm 105 concludes with these words:

He gave them the lands…that they might keep His statues and observe His teachings.

The Promised Land cannot be found on any earthly map. Only in heaven do they have the full Promised Land road atlas.

The Promised Land is where people obey God.

Fifty and One Hundred Fifty (Ago)

Two timelines for your study and enjoyment.

1860
December 20 South Carolina secedes

1861
April 12-13 The Civil War begins at Fort Sumter
July 21 First Battle of Bull Run

1862
April 6-7 Battle of Shiloh
May 31-June 1 Battle of Seven Pines
June 25-July 1 Battles of the Seven Days
August 29-30 Second Battle of Bull Run
September 17 Battle of Antietam
December 13 Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia

1863
January 1 Emancipation Proclamation
May 1-3 Battle of Chancellorsville
July 1-3 Battle of Gettysburg
November 19 Gettysburg Address

1864
May-June Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor
December 22 Union General Sherman occupies Savannah, Georgia

1865
April 9 The Civil War ends at Appomattox Courthouse
December 18 The Thirteenth Amendment is ratified

1961
December 25 Vatican II summoned

1962
Oct. 11-Dec. 8 First session of the Council

1963
June 3 Pope John XXIII dies
June 21 Pope Paul VI elected; announces that Council will continue
Sept. 29-Dec. 4 Second session
Dec. 4 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Decree On the Means of Social Communication

1964
Sept. 14-Nov. 21 Third session
November 21 Dogmatic Constitution On the Church, Decree On the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite, Decree on Ecumenism

1965
Sept. 14-Dec. 8 Fourth session of the council meets
October 28 Decree Concerning the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, Decree On Renewal of Religious Life, Decree On Priestly Training, Declaration On Christian Education, Declaration On the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions
November 18 Dogmatic Constitution On Divine Revelation, Decree On the Apostolate of the Laity
December 4 Prayer Service for Promoting Christian Unity
December 7 Declaration On Religious Freedom, Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Pastoral Constitution on the Church In the Modern World
December 8 The Second Vatican Council is solemnly ended

Stonewall, Hindenburg, Bats

150 years ago today, Confederate General Barnard Bee, seeing reinforcements arrive on a hill north of Manassas, Va., exclaimed:

There is a Jackson, standing like a stone wall!

…We seek God. We strive for the only truly worthy goal.

Every visible thing we see will lift us up to Him, if we let it. Creation as a whole serves as the ultimate parable. God made it all for one reason: to lead us to Him.

But we look and do not see. We hear, but we do not understand. The Lord whispers His declaration of love to us at every instant, but we have iPod buds in our ears, crackling with noise. The Lord smiles on us with delight at every instant, but we have our cool sunglasses on, so we cannot see Him.

The sun shines more brightly than the moon and the stars. But when it rises in the morning, bats go blind. We are spiritual bats: We live in a spiritual night, able to see what we need to survive—and even come up with some pretty good ideas sometimes. But we cannot see the Sun of Truth. The simple, infinite truth shines all the time, moving all things, attracting all things. But we cannot see it.

National Air and Space Museum!
Yet. The Lord said to His disciples, “Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.”

What do we have in common with the disciples to whom the Lord Jesus first spoke these words?

With the first disciples, we believe this: The One Who spoke the parables also spoke the great parable of creation. Every thing comes from, and leads towards, the crucified teacher. It is Christ that we seek, and—blind and deaf as we are—He has come and found us.

…Earlier this year, they made a tv-movie in Germany about the Hindenburg blimp disaster of 1937. I can’t see why, because the 1975 George C. Scott “Hindenburg” is the best movie ever made. The critics panned it, but they were disastrously wrong.

George C. Scott makes George Clooney look like Pee Wee Herman. “The Hindenburg” has Charles Durning at his petulant best, romance of the most subtle kind, a genuinely evocative insight into the German soul in 1937, and a worthy ending. I think it is the first movie I ever saw. I was spoiled for life. Check it out at your local library.

‘Martyrs’ on our Potomac

On May 23, 1861, Virginia’s voters ratified the state’s ordinance of secession.

Perhaps you will remember that one of my favorite subjects is: Things that happened on May 24:

Confederate militia had held Alexandria, Virginia, since shots were fired at Fort Sumter. Only the “Long Bridge” over the Potomac separated them from tens of thousands of Union soldiers mustering in the capital.

Shortly after midnight on May 24, 1861, a force of thousands of Federal troops crossed the Potomac.

New York Militia Major General Charles Sanford marched to Arlington Heights and established headquarters in Robert E. Lee’s vacated home.

The few Virginia militia who remained in Alexandria retreated to Culpeper.

New York Fire Zoave Colonel Elmer Ellsworth marched with his troops down Main Street in Alexandria to cut the telegraph wires to Richmond. Ellsworth was a friend of Abraham Lincoln’s.

Ellsworth espied the Sic Semper Tyrannis secessionist flag flying over an inn called Marshall House. He entered the edifice, and climbed the stairs to remove the flag. James W. Jackson, the proprietor of the house, announced that the flag would be removed over his dead body. After the exchange of gunfire which followed, both Ellsworth and Jackson lay dead.

Lincoln wept at Ellsworth’s funeral the following day, and the northern press hailed him as a martyr. Later, the Sons and Daughters of Confederate Soldiers erected this plaque:

ADDENDUM/ERRATA:

Please forgive my haste in the original post. According to this Currier and Ives print from 1861, the flag flown over the Marshall House was in fact the Confederate “Stars and Bars.”

Apparently one of the stars of the flag can be seen at the Fort Ward museum in Alexandria. If the flag had stars, it couldn’t have been the Virginia state flag. Sorry.

Metaphysics of Morals Compendium (with Punishments) + April 9 Palm Sunday

If you find yourself at a Knights-of-Columbus pancake breakfast with Spanish-speakers from various countries, you will encounter different words for ‘pancakes’: panqueque, crepa, cachapa, panqueca, güirila, panqué

…The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Sumter will fall on Tuesday night. The Sesquicentennial unfolds.

The older of my brilliant nephews was born on April 9. Palm Sunday fell on April 9 that year, 2006.

Palm Sunday also fell on April 9 in 1865, the day when Robert E. Lee rode up to the McLean house and, in the words of James Robertson, “after 39 years of dutiful military service, did what duty demanded of him.”

The Army of Northern Virginia most certainly was beaten. Lee nonetheless displayed acute moral discernment at Appomattox.

The prospect of the southern cause continuing as a guerrilla war was the most likely sequel to the fall of Richmond and the routing of Lee’s army. At Appomattox, Lee rose above the normal pattern and effected a decisive stroke for reconciliation.

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