Oh, Glenn, Glenn, Glenn.
What gets into you sometimes?
I could ask that of a lot of conservatives right now. Many of them, and there are far too many, are looking for ways to rationalize supporting Roy Moore for the Senate in Alabama because he has an (R) next to his name. My favorite quote from “A Man For All Seasons” comes to mind: “It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?” Wales is a bargain, compared to giving up one’s soul—integrity, values, self-respect, common decency, credibility— for the likes of Roy Moore. Even the most fanatic partisan has to accept that there are some depths to which no honorable person should sink for pure political gain. Partisans who don’t accept that are themselves untrustworthy.
Moore’s candidacy was indefensible long before he was revealed as a stalker of teens when he was an assistant district attorney. The allegations—there was another one yesterday—are just fecal frosting on a poisonous cake. Republicans are saying, “Oh, everyone’s making too big a deal over the frosting. It won’t kill you.” What about the cake???
Yesterday Prof. Glenn Reynolds, a conservative blogger who often gets disoriented amidst his more extreme and less erudite readers, posted,
HOW CAN DEMOCRATS SUPPORT THIS? Roy Moore’s Democratic Challenger Recently Ran an Ad Praising the Confederate Army. I’m sure all the press folks will ask all the leading Democrats that question.
This is wrong in so many ways, it’s like a tangled ball of unethical yarn.
The Slate article linked is intellectually dishonest, politically-correct History for the Simple-Minded. Normally, Reynolds would be mocking it, which would require defending Democrat Doug Jones. Can’t have that! Jones has run a campaign ad spotlighting Col. William Calvin Oates of Alabama, the Confederate officer who led his troops in battle on Little Round Top against Maine soldiers led by Col. Joshua Chamberlain. It was one of the most memorable and important episodes at Gettysburg: Continue reading
“On the afternoon of July 2, 1863 Sickles’ Third Corps, having advanced from this line to the Emmitsburg Road, eight companies of the First Minnesota Regiment, numbering 262 men were sent to this place to support a battery upon Sickles repulse. As his men were passing here in confused retreat, two Confederate brigades in pursuit were crossing the swale. To gain time to bring up the reserves and save this position, Gen Hancock in person ordered the eight companies to charge the rapidly advancing enemy. The order was instantly repeated by Col Wm Colvill. And the charge as instantly made down the slope at full speed through the concentrated fire of the two brigades breaking with the bayonet the enemy’s front line as it was crossing the small brook in the low ground there the remnant of the eight companies, nearly surrounded by the enemy held its entire force at bay for a considerable time and till it retired on the approach of the reserve the charge successfully accomplished its object. It saved this position and probably the battlefield. The loss of the eight companies in the charge was 215 killed & wounded. More than 83% percent. 47 men were still in line and no man missing. In self sacrificing desperate valor this charge has no parallel in any war. Among the severely wounded were Col Wm Colvill, Lt Col Chas P Adams & Maj Mark W. Downie. Among the killed Capt Joseph Periam, Capt Louis Muller & Lt Waldo Farrar. The next day the regiment participated in repelling Pickett’s charge losing 17 more men killed and wounded.”
On July 2, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 262 Union soldiers in the First Minnesota Regiment rushed—which apparently specialized in desperate fighting-–to throw themselves into a breach in the Union line at Cemetery against a greatly superior force, knowing that they were almost surely to die. 215 of them did, but the regiment bought crucial minutes that allowed reinforcements to arrive.
It is perhaps one of the most inspiring of the many acts of courage that day, the second day of the battle that changed the course of the Civil War. I first wrote about the sacrifice of the First Minnesota five years ago, here.
Let’s try to remember.
(A recommendation: Sometime between July 1 and the Fourth ever year, we always watch Ted Turner’s excellent film, which also has one of my favorite film scores. It helps.)
“Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
—–Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, as found on a piece of paper he wrote on just before the D-Day invasion began, and just after he ordered it to commence, on June 6, 1944.
Eisenhower wrote these words to be his own apology and acceptance of responsibility had the massive invasion at Normandy been a defeat rather than the history-altering victory it was.
It almost was a defeat, and as the note, which Ike’s naval aide, Captain Harry C. Butcher, found crumpled in his shirt pocket weeks later and saved for posterity, shows, Ike realized all too well that it might be. The secret dry run for the invasion had been a deadly fiasco, the weather was atrocious, and no military operation on this scale had ever been attempted before in the history of man. It took a combination of German mistakes, high command confusion, individual heroics and the usual twists and turns of chaotic fate that decide most battles to allow the Allies to prevail. Continue reading
I wrote this post two years ago, concerning my favorite neglected episode of the Civil War, when young George Armstrong Custer shocked Confederate J.E.B. Stuart with his unexpected and furious resistance to Stuart’s attempt at disrupting the Union flank while Gen. Meade’s army defended itself against Pickett’s Charge. As with the First Minnesota’s suicidal stand on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Custer’s crucial moment of truth has been largely neglected in the assembly of the battle’s heroes; I don’t think it has ever been depicted in a Civil War film, for example, though there is at least one book about it.
The incident is especially fascinating to me because of the its multiple ironies. Custer succeeded when his nation needed him most because of the exact same qualities that led him to doom at the Little Big Horn years later. Moreover, this man who for decades was wrongly celebrated in popular culture as an American hero for a shameful botched command that was the culmination of a series of genocidal atrocities actually was an American hero in an earlier, pivotal moment in our history, and almost nobody knows about it.
Thus it is that among the brave soldiers of the Blue and Gray who should be remembered on this 150th anniversary of the greatest battle ever fought on this continent is a figure whose reputation has sunk to the depths, a figure of derision and ridicule, a symbol of America’s mistreatment of its native population. Had George Armstrong Custer perished on July 3, 1863, he might well have become an iconic figure in Gettysburg history. The ethics verdict on a lifetime, however, is never settled until the final heartbeat. His story also commands us to realize this disturbing truth: whether we engage in admirable conduct or wrongful deeds is often less a consequence of our character than of the context in which that character is tested.
Here is the post, slightly lengthened:
July 3, 1863 was the date of Pickett’s Charge, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered a desperate Napoleonic advance against the Union line at Gettysburg in what has come to be a cautionary tale in human bravery and military hubris. The same day marked the zenith of the career of George Armstrong Custer, the head-strong, dashing cavalry officer who would later achieve both martyrdom and infamy as the unwitting architect of the massacre known as Custer’s Last Stand. Continue reading
Officers of the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment
For the last two years, I have posted here about the courage and sacrifice of the men of the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg. There was more than enough of those qualities, on both sides, to go around that day, and unless you are in the vicinity of that lovely and unbearably sad little Pennsylvania town, it isn’t just the brave Minnesotans who are neglected, but all of the participants. Yesterday was July 1, the anniversary of the beginning of the battle in 1863, and there was scant mention of it in the media. After all, there is the Zimmerman trial, and outrage over Jennifer Lopez accepting a million dollars to sing “Happy Birthday” for a brutal dictator, and whether movie viewers will flock to see Johnny Depp play Tonto. One of the few excellent acknowledgements of the date and its significance was by CBS, which also featured the famous feature on the battle published years ago by the Saturday Evening Post.
In an ambitious mood, I once resolved to find a different group of battlefield heroes from that day to feature every July 2, the messiest, most important pivotal of the battle that itself has been overshadowed by the tragedy of suicidal Pickett’s Charge on July 3. But I have neither the historical research skills nor time to do justice to such a task, though the injustice of so many forgotten heroes is great. It is best to allow the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment, who obeyed a desperate order to fill a breach in the Union line, knowing that it meant almost certain death, “to gain a few minutes’ time and save the position and probably the battlefield,” to stand for all of them.
As for me, I’m going to watch, once again, Ted Turner’s excellent film Gettysburg, and play its soaring score in my home and my car. We have a duty to remember, and honor, every moment of those three days in July, 150 years ago. Continue reading