Thursday, December 3, 2015

Reelecting Lincoln: The Election of 1864

History Book Club
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Elections in America
Democratic Party Candidates Gen. McClellan and Rep. George Pendleton (D-OH) Cartoon by Granger

Lincoln vs. McClellan: The Election of 1864

Summers, Mark Wahlgren A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia and the Making of Reconstruction, University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

Waugh, John C. Reelecting Lincoln: The Battle for the 1864 Presidency, Crown, 1998.

Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, 2005; New York: Simon & Shuster, 916 pp.

            We are embarked upon another election season for the election of 2016. 

            Perhaps the first woman to be elected President holds a commanding lead in the Democratic Party, but close behind is an elderly Senator ho unabashedly calls himself a Democratic Socialist.

            After eight years with a Democratic President, there is a certain restlessness for a change, which could augur well for the Republicans.
            However, at the head of a large pack of would-be Republican presidents is a wealthy real-estate magnate with a blustery, bragging approach.  He has shown he doesn’t care a whit for saying what is politically correct. In fact he has insulted ethnic groups, women, and most other candidates, and millions of Americans can’t get enough of him. Behind him is another non-politician—a soft-spoken neurosurgeon who has called attention to himself with interesting, obscure and arcane statements.  Behind them are a string of former governors, two sitting Senators, a businesswoman, and more.  All except the leader seem beholden to the remarkable list of Tea Party rules:  Unquestioning support for gun owners, dedication to abolishing Obamacare, restoring prohibition against abortions, tax reductions, and a snarling, aggressive military stance. And rejection of any idea of Global Warming.

            Compared to the election of 1864, our modern contest is like a little girls’ tea party, with dainty china, small pastries, and pretty dresses.  No resemblance to the Republican version of a Tea Party.

            John C. Waugh in Reelecting Lincoln takes a reporter’s approach to 1864, describing Washington during the Civil War as bustling, loud, noisy with corruption apparent everywhere.  There are soldiers all over the city, many drunk.  There are fancy “painted ladies” plying their trade.  People are going to the theatre, and generally enjoying an affluent existence, as General Lee threatens to invade the city, even after a string of Confederate setbacks, from Vicksburg to Gettysburg.

            It has been a brutal three years for President Abraham Lincoln, but now, as 1864 approaches, things are looking up, both on battlefields from Tennessee to the Mississippi River, and in election contests where Lincoln’s new Republican party is now re-named the National Union Party.

            Whereas today most Americans view Lincoln as one of the greatest leaders of our country, many in 1864 view him with disgust, dislike and hatred.

            If you have seen some of the hateful names people today call President Obama, and likewise the names the opposing party called George W. Bush several years ago, you might be interested to see that this is nothing compared to the names many called Lincoln. 

            In 1864, many Republicans and perhaps most Democrats in the north are still steaming about Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  Democrats don’t like much of anything about Lincoln.  Until Union forces started winning some battles and pushing the Confederates back, Lincoln could not have gotten elected as dogcatcher.

            The parties lined up like this in 1864:  Some Republicans were radical abolitionists, dedicated to abolishing slavery and giving full suffrage and equal opportunities to the freed slaves.

            Then there were the moderate Republicans who had voted for Lincoln in 1860, but sought only to restore the Union, and not deal with slavery.

            On the Democratic side there were the war Democrats, who supported restoring the Union, but not abolishing slavery; and the peace Democrats, who never wanted war in any way, and wish everything would go back to the way it was.

            Radical Peace Democrats were called “Copperheads” and radical abolitionist Republicans “Niggerheads”.

            It was by no means a foregone conclusion that Lincoln would be nominated by the National Union Party, but as the Union troops began to win battle after battle, by late 1863 it became apparent that the Union would prevail. How it would prevail, and what would come next was a huge mystery. However, Lincoln was the nominee, with Andrew Johnson running as Vice President.

            Running against him was George McClellan, a smart, very confident (sopme would say “cocky”) West Point Graduate, 36 years old, who had formerly been Lincoln’s top general, in charge of the Army of the Potomac.  Waugh seems to be closer to the little general’s supporters of the time, which included most of New York’s Democracy, with the wealthiest men in America. The admiration showered on this man, who had been fired by Lincoln and had not received a military assignment for a year, reminds one of the admiration many express for Donald Trump.

            Doris Kearns Goodwin relates how, at the start of the Civil War, when Lincoln depended upon McClellan to move swiftly to take the war to the enemy, “Little Mac” dawdled and delayed, with endless marching drills in camp, and excuse after excuse why this was not yet the time to attack the Confederates.

            All the while, Kearns relates, based upon daily letters McClellan wrote his wife that clearly showed his disgust and disrespect for his Commander in Chief. McClellan had powerful friends who were soft on slavery, and it was clear that he listened to them more than Lincoln. In letters to his wife he called Lincoln a “gorilla”. 

            Finally, Lincoln relieved McClellan of his command, and replaced him with one general after another until settling upon Ulysses S. Grant, who finally led the Union to victory.
            In the 21st century our view of Lincoln is as one of our greatest presidents, who saved the Union. But in the middle of the Civil War, even up to this election of 1864, many in the North disliked Lincoln and feared that he was leading the country to ruin.

            Waugh’s detailing of the widespread criticism of Lincoln is colorful. He writes about the “newspaper generals” who daily castigated Lincoln:  James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald and Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune were the main critics. Many notable Republicans, as well as those two editors, thought Lincoln wholly unsuited to be president.

           Goodwin’s main theme in Team of Rivals, her brilliant study of Lincoln’s presidency, is how he gathered this group of powerful men, many who knew they were better, and could be better in his shoes. Together, they saved the Union.  Waugh describes Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, as a very capable former Senator and governor who knew in his heart that he was better and could lead the nation better than Lincoln. 

            A couple of days before the election on Nov. 8, 1864 Secretary of War Stanton sent Major General Benjamin “Beast” Butler a telegram.  Butler was ordered to gather troops and proceed to New York, because intelligence had detected plans for a major riot in this Democratic stronghold, to keep Republican voters away from the polls.

            It was a sticky situation, because Butler could not take New York soldiers into the state, because they had already voted in the field, and if they returned on Election Day, their votes would have become invalid.

            So, he kept them in New Jersey, with boats under steam and ready to get underway at short notice to cross the Hudson to New York City.  The riots never happened. Butler wired Washington that it was very quiet on Election Day.

            On the night of the election, Lincoln went over to Secretary of War Stanton’s office, where all the telegraph wires were located, and there he and his aides followed as telegrams came in from up and down the east coast of the Union, and then west to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and on to Missouri and even California.

            By midnight it appeared that Lincoln had won. Lincoln served fried oysters to all those with him that night.

            When the votes were all tallied—Missouri’s took two days to come in—He had beaten McClellan by over 311,000 votes-- 2,113,665 to 1,802,237.  But the Electoral College produced a landslide, because McClellan won only New Jersey, Kentucky and Delaware. The electoral vote was 212 to 21. McClellan had expected large support from the Army, but they voted 3 to 1 for Lincoln.

            Summers’ Dangerous Stir continued long past this election, past the assassination, past the surrender at Appomattox Court House, into Reconstruction.  He describes the prolific fear mongering, mainly in the former Confederate states.  Rumors of riots and plots by freed slaves popped up everywhere, and whites, both poor and former slave-owners, took brutal action which resulted in thousands of blacks killed, and few whites. 

            It rather reminds me of some of the talk by people like Donald Trump and others in this election season, stirring up the population which is easily moved against Mexicans, possible Syrian refugees, or anyone else that might seem “foreign”.

Future History Book Club Topics

Here is a list of proposed topics for 2016.  Feel free to comment on these topics, and to suggest additional or substitute topics.
Eugene V. Debs, 1897

Wednesday, January 27, 2016:  History of Labor Movements. Communists, Wobblies, Socialists, Eugene V. Debs, CIO, AFL, National Labor Union, Knights of St. Crispin, Samuel Gompers, more.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016: History of Money and Banking in America.  Wampum, potlatch, Jefferson and Jackson and the quasi-central banks, Civil War and the monetary system, the Federal Reserve, The Crash of 1929, The New Deal and Banking, Bretton Woods, The Gold Standard, more.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016: “The End of the World” –History of Doomsday Forecasts. Arrival of the Antichrist, Swedenborg and the Last Judgment, the Millerites of 1844, the End Times, Marshall Applewhite and the Heaven’s Gate Cult, Armageddon, more.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016: History of Journalism and the Media. Benjamin Franklin, Horace Greeley, Yellow Press, “Acta Diurna” in Ancient Rome; “Notizie Scritta in Venice; The Manchester Guardian; Jonathan Swift; more.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016: Modern Life in the Middle East and the Islamic State. Iraq from its formation after WWI, Syria, the Caliphate, Origins of conflict, Sunni vs. Shii vs. Kurds vs. Alewhites Vs. Wahabi vs. ?   Modern technology with Seventh-century ideas, Impact of USSR and U.S. in Afghanistan, U.S. combat in Iraq; Arab Spring; Turkey and Islam, Jordan, The Gulf States, Egypt, much more.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016: Africa since 1881.  Colonization by Belgium, France, Britain, Germany and Portugal; End of Colonialism; Democracy and Dictatorship; Rwanda; Jomo Kenyatta; Apartheid and South Africa; Congo; Angola; more….

Wednesday, July 27, 2016: American Foreign Policy from the Barbara Pirates to today. Civil War alliances by both Union and Confederacy; Gunboat Diplomacy; Spanish-American War; “He Kept Us out of War!”;  Britain and the U.S. in WWII; The Cold War; more.

Wednesday, August, 31, 2016: Germs and Plagues: A history of epidemics in the world. Plague of Athens (429 BC), Plague of Justinian (541 AD), “Black Death” in 1346, Cocoliztli Epidemic in Mexico (1528), Wampanoag Smallpox in 1616, 1918 Flu Pandemic, more.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016: Scaremongering and Witch Hunts in America. Salem Witch Trials, House Un-American Activities Committee; McCarthy Investigations; more.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016:  Political Parties in America. Whigs, Know-Nothings, Federalists, Copperheads; Communists, Socialists, Republicans, Democrats, more.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016: Colonization in America. Jamestown, Plymouth, Gloucester, St. Augustine, Junipero Serra, Roger Williams, Quebec, Nieuw Amsterdam, more.

December:  No Meeting

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Veterans' Day Remembrance

Private Dixon L. Coulbourn, U.S. Army

Yankee Division soldiers at Camp Devens, Mass. after returning from France.

            Every year at Veterans’ Day, I think of my Dad. He was a young man of 19, fighting a miserable, endless war in the trenches of France.

            On November 11, 1918, Armistice was declared. People went from unit to unit, announcing the news.  Dixon L. Coulbourn remembered that vividly, especially because a cook wagon came to the front lines and set up to start cooking pancakes. These soldiers had been eating hard tack biscuits and not much else.
             “Man, that was the most wonderful thing!” Dixon used to say.

            America went to war in France to fight the Germans in 1917, and young Dixon was in a hurry to join.  He enlisted in the 124th Infantry Regiment (First Florida), and was shipped up to Camp Devens in Massachusetts, to join the Yankee Division.

            1,500,000 young men boarded troop transports and were soon fighting in France. Dixon was among them. The shells exploding near him permanently damaged his hearing, so he spent the rest of his life with very poor hearing.

            As it has done for most men, and now women as well, combat made a lasting impression on Dixon.  He was proud of his service.
           When the war was over, the soldiers returned to America, and suddenly all those young men were looking for jobs at the same time.  Dixon and his brothers went to work in central Florida, packing strawberries and trying all kinds of schemes to make a living.  

            Texas was gaining notice all over the country because oil wells were popping up, new refineries were being built, and workers were needed. In 1927, Dixon jumped on a freight train headed for Texas.  He made his way to Port Arthur, in the southeastern corner of Texas.  Real estate developers financed with money from the Netherlands had begun building a town here to handle shipments of locally grown rice. They located the Kansas City Southern Railways terminus here, and Dutch settlers came to live, followed by Americans.

            Then wildcatters made a huge oil discovery at Spindletop, right where all the Dutchmen were living. That led to creation of several refineries here. Texaco and Gulf Oil companies were formed. Families began streaming here to make their fortune in this oil boom town.

            For a young man, veteran of The Great War, looking for work, this looked to be the place, and Dixon landed here.  Dixon found a job as a bookkeeper at a local grocery store. 

            Dad soon became a public accountant, and then, after several tries, got his Certified Public Accountant’s license. He practiced in Port Arthur most of the rest of his life. He died in 1997 at the age of 98.

            Veterans’ Day is an important day to remember the men and women, today and in the past, who answered the call, and went to fight for this wonderful country.
            There is plenty of discussion about whether the U.S. should go to war, or stay out of it.

            It has always been the case, and most Presidents think long and hard before sending troops overseas to fight. President Wilson tried his best to keep the country out of the war in Europe, but eventually, with Germans sinking civilian passenger ships with Americans on board, it was time for the American doughboys to join the fight, and end it.

            Just 23 years later, it was the same story all over again, but this time a maniac named Adolf Hitler had conquered most of Europe, and the Japanese were gobbling up land and sweeping south to conquer the whole Pacific. We knew we needed to help out, but when the Japanese tried to sink our Navy at Pearl Harbor, it was time to fight. Millions of American men and women fought in that war, and nearly everyone who stayed home was swept up in “The War Effort”.

            Korea came just a few years after World War II, and then the war in Viet Nam. And then engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan which consumed many hundreds of thousands of men and women.

             Each time, men and women answered the call and went to war. There was plenty of discussion about whether this was a “just war” or not.  But millions didn’t discuss, they didn’t demonstrate, they didn’t burn draft cards or run to Canada. They simply went to do what America asked of them, and many never came back. Those who did return were never the same. The war had shaped them, hardened them, and sometimes maimed them, both physically and mentally.

            We will continue to discuss whether we should have gone into Viet Nam, or Iraq or Afghanistan, or now Syria. In a free country, it is vital that we discuss, and argue, and demonstrate, and let our fellow citizens and our leaders know what we think.

            But when the men and women have been sent, and fought for us, it is America’s permanent responsibility to receive them back, and if needed, give them the best care possible.  

Note: In the photo above, Dixon is in the third pup tent from the right.

My brother, Dixon Wall Coulbourn, has provided this account, written by our father, of his adventures.  It provides much more of the story of a wiry young man from Virginia and Florida,as part of the American forces sent to end The Great War:

This is for Veterans’ Day 2015, my dad, Dixon Long Coulbourn's story of his part in WWI:

      I, Dixon Long Coulbourn, was born January 27, 1899 at Wheelton, Virginia. The name was later changed to Morattico, an Indian name. The county is Lancaster. In 1917 I was living with my father and mother and my younger brother Scott at Plant City, 20 miles from Tampa in Florida.  Along about May 1st, 1917, I went to Tampa to enlist in the army. 

     Everything was all right except for my eyes. They were 20-50, and they should be 20-20. Well, I will fix that! So, I went to an eye-doctor. He prescribed a pair of eye-glasses. When the glasses arrived, I went back down to the recruiting office in Tampa and reapplied. I told the Sergeant that I had gotten a pair of glasses . He shook his head and said, "But you must pass without glasses." That floored me. 

     I went home to Plant City very much discouraged. The next day was Saturday, June 5th, and the local company of the Florida National Guard paraded up Main Street. I thought that I would try to enlist in the Florida National Guard. So I went to the Armory and applied. Everything was fine and they sent me to my doctor for a physical. He told me that I was in good shape in every way except that my eyes were 20-50 and should be 20-20. I was clearly disappointed. He said, "Dixon, do you really want to go?" "Why sure I do," I said, as if there couldn't be any question about it. I still feel the same way about my country. He said, "All right, then", and signed the certificate. 

    So I was inducted.We would go down to the armory about once a week at night and do squads right, etc. My corporal was Bunyon S. Tyner. In November, 1917, Company E was called up to go to Bradenton, the county seat, to guard the jail. The local people wanted to lynch one of the inmates. We were there about a week or so, and everything had quieted down. 

   We were ordered back to our Armory and disbanded temporarily, as it were.  A little later we were called up again, but this time we were sworn into Federal Service and went to Camp Wheeler, near Macon, Georgia. We would go hiking and camped overnight, and do some War Games and such.

    About May 1918, I was picked with about a thousand others to go overseas as replacements. We went to Hoboken, N.J. After traveling under New York City, we embarked on the Australian Liner Euripides. There were about 3000 of us soldiers and maybe more, but I think it was about 3000.

    I hadn't had a pay day since I left Camp Wheeler and although I had very little need for money it was nice to have some. The fact was that I was down to my last nickel, and it was a Canadian nickel––I don’t remember how I came across that Canadian nickel. Anyhow that was all I had. That Australian coffee smelled awfully good. So I bought a cup of that coffee and gave them that Canadian nickel.Well, we had just gotten to sea, and I drank that coffee. I had just gotten that coffee down when I got seasick, and went to the scuppers and threw it up. There went that Canadian nickel.

   It took us 13 days for that Australian liner to get to England and the city of Liverpool. As we came up the English coast, we saw the Hills of Ireland over in the distance to our left. We camped overnight, and the next morning we entrained for Winchester, where we were given a handshake by a member of the Royal Family and were given a letter thanking us for coming over and so forth with the Royal Arms on it, and we could write any short note on it if we wished. We were to address the envelope to our folks back home and put our name on the back. Then we were to return it to the Royal Family and they would see to it that it was mailed with postage and all. 

    When I returned home in 1919 I asked if it had arrived and I was assured that it had arrived. After the meeting with the Royal Family, we entrained for Southampton down on the coast. The small channel boats took us over to Le Havre in France after waiting ten days for the transportation. We did not stay long at Le Havre. We were quickly transferred to the city of Le Mons receiving station. We were told to disrobe and go to the showers. We were issued a towel and after drying off we went to the next room where we were issued underwear and outerwear, and in the next room we dressed and fell out and lined up outside. Then we were taken to the ammunition building and were issued a British Enfield and ammunition belt full of ammunition. We never saw our beloved Springfield rifles again! 
This car was designated for 32 hommes or 8 chevaux.

    Then we were loaded into French Box Cars plainly marked “40 hommes aux 8 cheveaux.” In English that is “40 men or 8 horses”. The supplies were in the cars––one case each of tomatoes,hardtack, corned beef, and water. This is France, now remember. Some time during the night we were connected to an engine and we started on our way to the front. Then later on our train was sidetracked so a higher priority train could get through. 

    When we awoke there were thirteen cars of us on this siding somewhere in France. Finally, one of the fellows hoofed it down to the nearest railroad station and notified them of our presence. Pretty soon an engine came along and hitched on to us and took us to the closest American outfit, which happened to be the US Marines Second Division, located three miles from Paris. That was the closest I got to Paris. Those Marines couldn’t let us rest but got us doing squads right the next morning. We were with them about three days or a week and we were loaded up on the train again and arrived at the 26th U. S. Army Division––Yankee Division, and I was assigned to Co. B 104th Infantry. The Yankee Division had just returned from Chateau Thierry and has been pretty well shot up, and that little mishap of the siding caused me to miss that undertaking. Pretty soon our division was ordered to the front. This time it was the St. Mihiel Sector.

American soldiers at St. Mihiel Sector

    The line was like this: Imagine a horizontal line with a "V"-shaped incursion of the Germans into Allied territory. 

    Our objective was to straighten out the line. Which we did. We rolled it up. The German Ninth Corps Headquarters was at that particular spot, and we captured it. There happened to be a German Brewery there so we captured it, also, and every squad had a keg of beer. Well, I got half of my mess cup of that beer and went out to be by myself to drink it. 

    My Mother was a teetotaler and would not let beer or other strong drink in the house. Well, I took a swig––and then I poured what was left on the ground. I couldn’t see how anyone could drink it. After that St. Mihiel victory the 26th Division was sent to the Troyon Sector. A defensive sector. So we walked across France to the Troyon Sector. When we arrived there we were much surprised. Our habitat consisted of miles of underground trenches which until recently the Germans had occupied for years. There were thousands of bunks, fully wired electric lights and evidence that the Germans had left in a hurry.  
Map of Meuse Argonne Sector near Verdun, Sept-Nov. 1918

    As I said, it was a defensive sector. We were there for about a month.Then we received our orders to the Meuse-Argonne Sector, so we walked across France to that sector, which was definitely not a defensive sector. There were no formal trenches. Just tremendous shell holes that had been rained on. The dirt would have been perfectly prepared for a flower garden. There we had to stand, looking over the tops toward the German lines. We were given notice that those German lines were occupied by belligerent troops. after we had taken a couple of steps our boots were caked with that dirt the size of footballs. 

    When you stepped a couple of steps it was difficult to stay erect. And we had to keep our guns immaculate as well as our hands. My current partner was American, of course, but of German descent, but nevertheless he exclaimed in exasperation “DAMN THEM GERMANS!”  We saw a squad of our men coming by twos. Between each two they carried a broom stick-sized pole about seven feet long. With it they had skewered about 15 loaves of French bread for our meals. Of course, if they got too close to the walls of soft dirt and got some dirt on the loaves, it couldn’t be helped. We were ordered to move up closer to the front. We had to run low singly and hope for the best. 

    My partner was ordered to go and he got about 60 feet and the Bosch killed him. Then came my turn and I went forward. No problem! That was the way it was!     Thank the Lord.

    A week or so later we were transferred somewhere else and I had developed a fever. We were going by a First Aid station at a cross roads and I fell out of line and went in to the tent and the nurse looked at me and said “Lie on that cot.” They checked me and I had the mumps! They transferred me to the hospital in Vichy, in southern France.

    When I recovered and was sent back to my outfit, we were moving along, getting ready to go into the trenches. We were strung out along the road for miles. About 9 a.m. a dispatch rider came along and said there would be an armistice at 11 A.M. We didn’t believe him. We thought he was making fun of us. Then the major came along on his horse and announced that there would be an armistice at 11 a.m. and to be very careful not to fire any weapons or make a disturbance, Then we started to believe.  A halt was called and 11 a.m. came and went and the the coupçons (rolling kitchens) rolled up and we were served PANCAKES for lunch and they were delicious! That close to the front lines! 

     The Germans moved back ten miles that morning of the armistice and we moved up and took over their positions. They had left in a hurry. That was evident. Among other things, I found two straight razors. We were sleeping in their trenches that night.Along about 10 p.m. I got out of my blankets and went up on top. It was a clear and beautiful night with all the stars out like we had at home. I got to thinking “What if,–– just suppose those Germans took a notion to take advantage of everyone sleeping?" It would be just like them. Pretty soon I got sleepy and went back down to my blankets.

    The next day we started moving–on foot along the road toward the coast.We moved along for a week or so and one evening we stopped at a large empty warehouse for the night. We had supper, and the potatoes had not been cooked enough, and I was feeling bad. The next morning I was feeling worse. We had breakfast and started down the road. We came to a crossroads and I saw a First Aid Station so I got out of the ranks and went into the tent. The Nurse took my temperature. She said I had a fever and had the influenza. It was all the rage at the time. They sent me to the hospital which was on a hill and the railroad station was down in the valley. It wasn’t any fun.

    My brother Bill was in the tank Corps, and he found out that I was in the hospital and he went AWOL and came to visit me. Well, the hospital people decided that I was well enough to go back to my Company and moved me down to a passenger car stationed at the railroad station down in the valley. The French passenger cars are divided into compartments with two long seats across the car and facing each other. They put me in the last compartment in the car and it had a window missing in the door. Thank goodness I had a blanket and this was winter and about 10 a.m. and cold. I was still weak so I wasn’t moving around very much.

    There was my brother up looking around the hospital for me. We never got to see each other. In fact, I did not know he had tried to see me until we all got home. That’s life.I did some traveling on my way back to my company. I went to Tours. The St. Gatianus Cathedral is there and I climbed to the top of one of the two spires––inside by stairway, of course.

    I saw France on foot. I sold the extra pair of shoes they issued me for $10. And they gave me 50 cents coffee money. To tide me over. I had not had a pay in ten months so I felt rich and I knew how to get along without money. I knew how to travel cheap. Let me tell you.When I got back to my company I found out we were headed for Brest to go home. After I found that out I didn’t wander far. I don’t believe I even went into Brest. I stayed right in camp.

     The day finally came and they loaded 5000 of us on the Kron Princessen Cecelia, a German Liner we received in reparations and renamed the Mount Vernon. We made the trip in five days. We were out about two days when I received a Cablegram from Bob Barthel, my brother-in-law, welcoming me back home. I appreciated that.

    We arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, and entrained to Camp Devens, MA. We were each presented with a silver ring by the state of Massachusetts. I lost it when I was swimming at Virginia Beach, VA later on. Then we were sent to Camp Gordon, near Atlanta, Georgia. We received our discharge. I went into Atlanta and bought a gold watch. I had my initials engraved on the back. That was April 4th 1919.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Martin Luther and the Diet of Worms

History Book Club, Rockport, MA
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Show Trials in History

Luther before the Diet of Worms


Beard, Charles, Martin Luther and the Reformation in Germany until the close of the Diet of Worms, by Charles Beard (1827-1888) Edited by John Frederick Smith ((1869-1923); 1896, Philip Green: London, UK; 490 pp.

            Martin Luther (1483-1546) was an Augustinian friar and priest who is credited with nailing his “Ninety-five theses” on the door of Schloßkirche in Wittenberg, a city on the Elbe River east of Hamburg, 498 years ago this Hallowe'en. (Oct. 31, 1517). 
            Recent scholarship has questioned that he actually nailed these writings on the door, but he certainly got the attention of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope at that time, Leo X, who in 1520 demanded him to retract them. He refused, and the next year, 1521, he was summoned to a trial at the Diet in Worms, on the banks of the Rhine River. The Diet was what might later have been called a “Show Trial”.  Convened by Emperor Charles V, it was intended to show the German people that Martin Luther would get a fair hearing before they sacked him for heresy.
            Martin Luther’s father expected him to become a lawyer, but young Martin was determined to become a priest. He became an Augustinian friar, then a priest, then a teacher and a doctor of philosophy. 
            The start of the 16th century must have been a fascinating time in Germany. The Renaissance was in full swing.  After Gutenberg developed the printing press with moveable type about 1450, printing presses popped up everywhere.  Every city in Germany had several of them, and they were cranking out books at breakneck speed. 
            Just like today, when the internet has made all the world’s information so amazingly available, the printing press made it possible for anyone who could read to learn.  More and more people learned to read.  No longer would people be content with having the village priest tell them what was what. Where before the people depended upon the clergy to interpret the Bible, which was available only in elegantly crafted Latin manuscripts, and in Hebrew and Greek, now it could be translated into German, and other modern languages, and distributed widely.
            In 1516 Luther was thoroughly entrenched in the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg, when the Archbishop of Mainz sent him on a journey to Rome to argue against a new edict about selling indulgences.   When Luther arrived in Rome he saw a truly different Catholic church than that home in Germany. Young priests were cavorting around the Eternal City, the atmosphere in the church was one of “anything goes” and the Pope had established a way of financing the church by the sale of indulgences.  For a fee, you could buy your way out of your sins.  For another fee you could pay to have departed loved ones sprung from purgatory. 
            Wherever he looked in Rome, Luther saw a church run by lunatics.  Many priests had girlfriends and sex was open and rampant. When he returned to Wittenberg, Luther began preparing an intellectual dissertation against this departure of the Church from the ways of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This became the “95 theses”.
            Today we can see how a great Church can come disconnected from its origin because we have just witnessed the worldwide scandal of hundreds of priests who have used their office to abuse children; of church leaders who have condoned this behavior, and covered it up.  It is so easy for any person, or any organization, to lose its bearings.
            Professor Beard’s book takes us slowly and carefully through the life of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany in the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as the life of Martin Luther, growing into his role as a very observant, intelligent priest.  Germany, or the various kingdoms and electorates, for Germany was not united, contained a people who were very loyal to the Church. They were hard-working, just as loyal to their leadership, and they were experiencing new prosperity in many sectors. 
            Just as today, Germans are not Italians, or Spaniards, [Ordnung hat Gott lieb, which translates as: "Orderliness is next to Godliness."] and the picture they were getting of their Catholic Church in these other kingdoms was revolting.  From Luther’s viewpoint, the Church of Peter was coming apart at the seams. 
            Luther’s intellectual dissertation against Church profligacy was attracting a lot of attention in Germany and as far as Rome.  While many Germans cheered him on, many did not, and in Rome, he was a heretic. The Pope issued a Papal Bull and ordered all of Luther’s books burned. When he received the document, Luther openly burned it, in return for the destruction of his books.

Luther burning the Papal Bull

            Beard goes into great detail describing the political situation in Europe in these days. Charles’ hold on the empire was shaky, and he was always concerned that France and François I would get the best of him. Pope Leo X, a Medici from Florence, was a crook of the first order, and around him were legions of Spanish and Italian churchmen who would do anything to defend the status quo in the Church. 
            It was determined to convene a Diet, or congress in the city of Worms, in spring of 1521, and Luther was ordered to appear.  It was clear that he would be convicted of heresy, and he understood this, but it was not that clear what would follow.  He already had quite a supportive following in Germany, and Charles, and the other German leaders, were hesitant to call down more trouble on their heads at this time.
            On April 2, 1521, Luther began the trip south to Worms. It was rather a “victory march” for him, because all along the way he was celebrated by crowds of admirers.  He preached in numerous towns. When he arrived in Worms on April 16 crowds cheered him.
            Luther appeared before the Diet, held in the city that at that time was an important political gathering point.  Attending were Spaniards, Italians, Frenchmen and the leaders of the German establishment. There were electors, prelates, nobles, ambassadors, papal nuncios, from Hungary, England and Poland. Some were brilliant academics and philosophers. Some were steely-eyed charlatans. Some came with the idea of converting Luther back.  Would he simply renounce his claims and his heresy?
            No, he was not about to. He simply stated that his thinking and writing was according to Scripture. The Diet finally convicted him, and then went about the business of writing the Edict of Worms.  In the finest bureaucratic fashion, they labored long and hard on this while Luther departed with his small entourage, escorted by what seemed to be those who would keep him under their control while this edict inched toward completion. The Wormser Edikt declared Luther an outlaw, which meant that he could be killed by anyone without threat of punishment.
            Luther started the long journey back to Wittenberg, but, with help from the Elector Friedrich the Wise, he was mysteriously “kidnapped” by the elector’s soldiers.  He became his guest at Wartburg, and bided his time not so quietly, giving sermons as he had before. 
            In the meantime, the establishment Catholics were sputtering, burning his books, and shaking their fists, as more and more Germans joined the growing ranks of Lutherans.
            Luther brought on the Reformation, and led us to a new, enlightened world.
            Luther was the man who broke apart the Catholic Church when it needed stern reformation.  However, Luther was also the man who changed his views toward Jews from supportive to blazingly brutal in his anti-Semitism, so virulent that many have questioned if he provided the Nazis their intellectual stimulus for the Holocaust.

-- Sam Coulbourn

 Wed. Dec. 2, 2015:   Elections in American History. [Suggested by Rick Heuser] Donald Trump may think he is something unique in the long history of campaigns and elections in the United States of America, but our history is chock-a-block with strange, weird and fantastic characters and events. For this November meeting, one week late to account for Thanksgiving, read any book about presidential campaigns and elections, There was 1800 when Adams ran against an "Un-Christian Deist", Thomas Jefferson.  There was 1828, when things got dirty-- the Adams men said Jackson was the son of a prostitute and a Mulatto, and a bigamist and an adulterer. We had Know-nothings, Mugwumps, Half-breeds and Progressives. One man, Eugene V. Debs, ran from prison and still received 900,000 votes. And then there was Watergate... and the Swiftboaters.
For 2016, consider these possible topics:
History of Labor Movements, 
History of Money and Money Handling or Banking,
"The End of the World"-- history of doomsday forecasts, 
History of Journalism and the Media, 
or History of ___________ (fill in the blank).


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Churchill's Leadership in World War II

Charismatic Leaders in History:
Winston Churchill
History Book Club
Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Jenkins, Roy, Churchill, A Biography, 2001. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1002 pp.

What is a “Charismatic Leader”? 

He (or she) leads by personality and charm.  He is an excellent communicator; he is also an excellent reader of people, their faces, their aspirations, their fears. He is able to sense the mood of a room and shape it to his objectives.

Think of leaders you have observed—see how they communicate with their audience. See how they respond to the needs of their audience, how they can steer that audience to love, or hate, to take action.

Adolf Hitler seems to have been particularly effective at firing up a gathering of many thousands to fight for the perceived needs of the Fatherland. He drew upon natural suspicions and uncertainties of people to carry out a devastating Holocaust, the extermination of millions of Jews, as well as Gypsies, homosexuals, and disabled people.

Do you see Donald Trump as a charismatic leader?  He has drawn upon the fear of immigrants, foreigners and the unknown to the appreciation of many thousands, if not millions.

My candidate for “Charismatic Leader” is Winston Spence Churchill.

No one in the United Kingdom made more of an impact upon that country, indeed the British Empire, in the Twentieth Century than Winston Churchill.  

Roy Jenkins (1920-2003) was a career politician, entering Parliament in 1948 and staying connected with British government for 50 years.  His biography of Churchill, one of 18 books he wrote, is an excellent look at the long life of Winston Churchill (1874-1965).

Churchill lived his life with a destiny for greatness.  He was a soldier, but unlike nearly any other.  He managed to position himself where he would experience danger, and then he managed to capture the exclusive rights to the story. Even when he was on the Queen’s list as a young soldier, (in India, Sudan and South Africa) he was mailing back thick dispatches to London newspapers.

Churchill’s adventure in 1899 in the Boer War in South Africa had him involved in a small battle on train tracks, trying to get wrecked trucks off a track. He was captured and imprisoned by the Boers, but escaped after 24 days. You can be sure this received large attention from the Boer government, and Churchill covered it thoroughly in his autobiography.

Roy Jenkins wrote this voluminous engorgement of parliamentary history in two and a half years, when he was in his eighties.  At every point one can sense Jenkins’ rather tart view of Churchill.  He gives Winston his due, as a statesman, elegant speaker and writer, but also as an almost mythical character,  who always, in the direst of times, manages to sit down to a well-laid table and enjoy a fine meal, with plenty of champagne, port, brandy and a good cigar.

Jenkins is clear-eyed about Churchill, and his charms.  All that searching for danger, and then writing about it, meant that Churchill was building his résumé, ensuring that all that fine bravery and derring-do was preserved for history. 

Churchill might have been one of those fine men we have seen all through British history, and that of the United States.  The man, born to a leading family, accustomed to wealth and station, attending the “right” schools, occupies reasonably impressive posts in government. 

In America, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, Averill Harriman, and Teddy Kennedy come to mind.

However, Churchill, who tried his utmost time and again to elevate himself in British government, from his days as a “Flailing” First Lord of the Admiralty in World War I, became the right man at the right time after Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s disastrous handling of relations with Adolf Hitler put Britain at the brink.

It is not too hard to imagine that if Hitler would have foregone attacking the USSR, and concentrated on conquering Britain, if Chamberlain had remained in power, and if the United States had continued to watch the war in Europe with interest, the Nazis could have gained the British Isles.

It is amazing how Jenkins, an excellent writer, can delve into tons of letters, diaries, official journals and other material to construct a colorful, extremely detailed picture of Winston’s life and his relations with those around him.  Churchill often whisks himself away to the south of France, or cadges a voyage in the Mediterranean aboard the yacht of a wealthy acquaintance, and while he is thus “resting”, churns out reams of manuscript for his next book or article.

Churchill’s life style was legendary.  He stayed in bed until noontime, furiously dictating memos, letters, and newspaper articles. Then his valet drew his bath and he lowered his fat, pink body into the tub.   After dressing, he would engage in the performance of luncheon, which routinely involved distinguished guests who would partake of Winston’s rich wit and wisdom.  There were always good food, wine and spirits, and cigars. 

In the afternoon, if Parliament were sitting, he would attend, and perhaps deliver a speech.

Then there would be dinner, another spread of elegant food, drink and people, usually with Winston as the principal figure.

Jenkins’ account of Churchill’s leadership of Britain after he became Prime Minister in May, 1940 is particularly interesting.  Winston flew to France numerous times to try to give the French leaders (PM Paul Reynaud et al) encouragement to resist Hitler. At the same time, Churchill was trying his best to bring the United States into the fray, so once he promised the French that American intervention was nigh.  Jenkins called Churchill’s hopefulness of that “living in cloud-cuckoo land”.

Churchill tried everything to get Roosevelt to commit to U.S. intervention.  Roosevelt sent Harry Hopkins to visit Churchill early in 1941, and Hopkins spent a month with him.  The two formed a fast friendship. Jenkins notes that Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s relationship was never that warm sort of friendship.

Here’s this comment:
“…in joint wartime photographs, from Placentia to Yalta, Roosevelt always looked Churchill’s superior. He held his head higher, and his careless yet patrician civilian clothes suited him better than the fancy uniforms which Churchill was only too inclined to assume…..Roosevelt… often enhanced by a long cigarette holder at a jaunty angle. In the nicotine stakes this was a more elegant symbol than Churchill’s often spittle-sodden cigars.” p.663.

Churchill came to lead Britain in its darkest hours at the start of the war with Hitler. He replaced Neville Chamberlain, a man who will forever by identified with weakness and appeasement.   Nazi bombers were pounding London and other British cities, and invasion by the Germans by air and sea seemed imminent.  Morale was low.  His leadership at the beginning was resisted, and unappreciated, but he persisted, and the British people came to see him as the figure leading them to victory.

In 1946, this absolutely irreplaceable leader of the British people was voted out of office. Clement Atlee*, who had served as deputy prime minister from 1942 in Churchill’s wartime coalition government, took his Labour party to a landslide victory.

After he was voted out of office, the new United States President Harry Truman invited Churchill to come to Westminster College in Fulton, MO to speak.  This was the famed speech where he declared:

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

In this speech, which was met with great animosity not only in the USSR, but in many parts of the U.S., Europe and the U.K., Churchill drew the shape of the Cold War that would dominate our lives for the next four decades.  It was primarily important for sounding the call for an alliance between the U.S. and the U.K. to oppose communism, and the beginning of the idea of a North Atlantic alliance.

Churchill suffered a final stroke 12 January 1965 and died 24 January. His funeral was a grand affair, with his body lying in state in Westminster Hall for three days. This was the first time such an affair for a non-royal personage had taken place since the death of Gladstone in 1898.


*Atlee was generally considered to be lacking in charisma, but he was tremendously effective at working behind the scenes. He and the Labour party created a welfare state, including formation of the National Health Service, and nationalization of public utilities and major industries.  

Wed. Oct. 28, 2015: Show Trials in History. [Proposed by Janos Posfai]   Read how nations and leaders have used a well-publicized court trial to serve another need, like demonstrating power, making peace, deflecting responsibility, etc.
Examples: Trial of Socrates; Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms; Sacco Vanzetti; Nuremburg War Crimes Trials; Julius and Ethel Rosenburg; Trial of Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu;  Saddam Hussein in Iraq;   Stalin’s NKVD show trials; Trials in Stalinist Hungary like Cardinal József Mindszenty, oil executives, L. Rajk. 
 Wed. Dec. 2, 2015:   Elections in American History. [Suggested by Rick Heuser] Donald Trump may think he is something unique in the long history of campaigns and elections in the United States of America, but our history is chock-a-block with strange, weird and fantastic characters and events. For this November meeting, one week late to account for Thanksgiving, read any book about presidential campaigns and elections, There was 1800 when Adams ran against an "Un-Christian Deist", Thomas Jefferson.  There was 1828, when things got dirty-- the Adams men said Jackson was the son of a prostitute and a Mulatto, and a bigamist and an adulterer. We had Know-nothings, Mugwumps, Half-breeds and Progressives. One man, Eugene V. Debs, ran from prison and still received 900,000 votes. And then there was Watergate... and the Swiftboaters.
For 2016, consider these possible topics:
History of Labor Movements, 
History of Money and Money Handling or Banking,
"The End of the World"-- history of doomsday forecasts, 
History of Journalism and the Media, 
or History of ___________ (fill in the blank).