The Prescient President & The Gettysburg Address

Today in History, November 19, 1863:

“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

-Edward Everett, popular orator that spoke with President Lincoln at Gettysburg to commemorate those that died there during the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg earlier in the year.

President Lincoln spoke briefly, and his speech was criticized at the time by some media, but has become legendary for it’s prescience. See below for the full text…

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

George Washington Promoted…in 1976

Today in History, October 11, 1976:

President Gerald Ford signs an act of Congress promoting Lieutenant General George Washington to General of the Armies, what would be a six star general if the insignia existed.

This act promoted the former President over numerous US Army Generals and US Navy Admirals, which was the point.

In the military and paramilitary services such as police, rank matters. To the extent that if two officers of the same rank are involved in an action, they will be comparing dates of rank to see who is in command.

During the Civil War, when General Ulysses Grant was given command of the Union Armies, he was promoted to Lt. General to ensure he outranked all other commanders.

During WWI and WWII the same actions were taken to ensure American commanders would not be outranked by their Allied contemporaries such as Bernard Montgomery in the British Army.

This resulted in several 5-Star Generals and Admirals. Generals of the Army (singular) or Fleet Admirals.

In WWI Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing had been made a General of the Armies.

At the nation’s bicentennial, it was considered unacceptable that the father of the country should be outranked by any fellow officers, much less so many.

The act not only promoted Gen. Washington above his fellows, it stated nobody can be promoted above him.

I don’t believe any of them would object.

The (Formerly) Longest Reigning Queen – Victoria

Today in History, September 22, 1896:

Queen Victoria surpasses her grandfather, King George III as the longest reigning monarch in British history.

She was Queen from 1837 until her death in 1901, a time period known as the “Victorian Era.”

A time which witnessed the American Civil War, many changes in the British Empire, and the Industrial Revolution.

King George III by the way, was the much maligned ruler of England and the “Colonies” during the American Revolution.

This made me curious, so I looked it up…during the entire history of the United States, the British Empire has had only 11 (ELEVEN) monarchs.

Only 20 since the settlement of the Plymouth Colony in 1620.

We have had the fortune to witness the Queen who surpassed Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II.

Carpathia – History Connections

Today in History, July 17, 1918:

Crossing paths in history.

As most know, on April 12, 1912, RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank within 4 hours.

The nearest ship to receive her distress signal was the RMS Carpathia, which sped at full speed for two hours to the disaster scene. Upon her arrival, she rescued 705 survivors from the freezing waters of the North Atlantic.

The Carpathia’s crew became heroes, being awarded medals. Her Captain, Arthur Henry Rostron, was knighted and was a guest of President William Taft in the White House.

During WWI the Carpathia served as a troop ship, transporting thousands of American soldiers across the Atlantic to the war in Europe.

One of those doughboys was Frank Buckles, who would become the last surviving American Soldier from WWI before his death in 2011.

He was a prisoner of war in the Philippines during WWII (as a civilian) and a strong advocate for a WWI Memorial, which…led him to be a guest of President George W. Bush in the White House.

On this date in 1918 the Carpathia was sunk by German U-Boat U-55. All but 5 of her crew managed to escape to lifeboats.

They were in turn saved by the Sloop HMS Snowdrop, which arrived and drove off the German sub before it could machine gun the crew in their boats.

Everything is connected in history…you just have to find it. We usually know only a snippet of people’s lives. But they normally touch so much more.

Also on this date, in 1763, John Jacob Astor was born in Germany. He would immigrate to America and become America’s first millionaire. His grandson, John Jacob Astor IV, the world’s richest man, would die during the Titanic disaster.

A Day for Historic Battles

Today in History, July 1:

A day for historic battles.

1863 – The Union and the Confederates first clash at The Battle of Gettysburg, and both send reinforcements. The first day went badly for the Union, but the largest battle in North America had three more days to go, and would become a major turning point in the Civil War.

1898 – The Battle of San Juan Hill becomes a major victory for the US in the Spanish-American War as the US Army’s Fifth Corps takes the heights over Santiago de Cuba. It also set the stage for Colonel Theodore Roosevelt to become President as he became famous for leading his Rough Riders up Kettle Hill (not San Juan).

1916 – The Battle of the Somme in France; after a week’s bombardment with over 250,000 shells, the British launch an attack into no-man’s land. The Germans had retained many machine guns despite the bombardment, and the British soldiers were slaughtered. With 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded in one day, it was one of the worst defeats for the British military’s history.

1942 – The Battle of El Alamein; In North Africa Erwin Rommel’s army had routed the British and their allies, driving them back so quickly that they had to leave much of their equipment behind. But on today’s date the British Army, resupplied by Americans and reorganized, turned the tide back on Rommel at El Alamein.

A House Divided

Today in History, June 16, 1858:

Illinois “circuit” lawyer Abraham Lincoln, running to be the Senator from that state, gives a speech at the capitol of Springfield and gains the Republican nomination.

One of his most famous speeches, the “House Divided” speech did not gain him the job of US Senator from Illinois, that would go to his opponent, Stephen A. Douglas.

However, published nationally, it did launch him onto the national stage, along with his series of debates against Douglas, which would gain him the Presidency two years later.

The speech was prophetic, as Lincoln told his listeners that after recent events, the nation could no longer expect to be half free and half slave, but must be all one or the other.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

The 1862 Homestead Act

Today in History, May 20, 1862:

President Lincoln signs the Homestead Act, which would give 160 acres of western lands to anyone who would farm it successfully for 5 years and build a residence upon it (often a sod building).

The Act would encourage vastly expanded settlement of the west; bad news for Native Americans, good news for those newer Americans wanting to improve their lot in life.

Congress had attempted to pass similar acts in 1852, 1854, and 1859, but each time the attempts were shot down by Southern Democrats who were afraid that if the west were populated it would result in more “free” states, which would result in more votes against slavery.

Once the Republican Lincoln was elected, and the Civil War began, the Southern Democrats were no longer part of the equation.

The Republicans soon passed the Homestead Act and the settlement of the west began in earnest. By the end of the war 15,000 settlers (some of which were merely pawns for land speculators) had accepted their lands. Eventually 80 Million acres would be settled.

Casus Belli

Today in History, August 31, 1939:

Casus Belli: : an event or action that justifies or allegedly justifies a war or conflict

“I will provide a propagandistic casus belli. Its credibility doesn’t matter. The victor will not be asked whether he told the truth.”

— Adolph Hitler.

The Gleiwitz incident, an assault on a German radio station near the border with Poland, as part of Operation Himmler, takes place.

The assault was conducted by GERMAN SS troops, posing as Polish troops, upon a German radio station. The ruse went so far as to leave Polish prisoners, captured previously, dead at the station as “proof” of the assault.

The next day, already prepared, German troops invaded Poland in “response” to the atrocity.

Thus began the conflict which would cost millions of military and civilian peoples of many nations their lives. In a real sense, WWII had been raging in Asia and through limited German actions already, but September 1, 1939 is considered the beginning.

The victors will not be asked whether they told the truth. Unfortunately this is usually accurate, similar to “to the victor go the spoils” and “the victors write the history books.”

Either contemporaries are actually trusting, or to fearful the wolf will turn on them, to act.

We should remember our history. We are MERELY human, and always shall be. It is arrogance to believe we will not achieve the same mistakes.

The Lincoln – Douglas Debates & Abolition

Today in History, August 21, 1858:

The first of seven debates between two candidates for an Illinois Senate seat begins.

Now famous as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, former Congressman Lincoln, a former Whig and member of the infant Republican Party, tried for incumbent Democrat Stephen A. Douglas’ Senate seat.

The primary focus of the debates was Lincoln’s desire to curtail the spread of slavery to midwest and western states, and Douglas’ belief that each state should be able to decide for itself.

It is “debatable” who won the debates, but Lincoln lost the election.

Yet the debates launched this little known lawyer onto the national stage. Two years later he would face Douglas and others for the Presidency and would win.

It is important to note that while Lincoln was an abolitionist at heart, he was not yet arguing for complete abolition, only restrictions on slavery. Each of the debates lasted for hours. Here is one telling quote from Lincoln,

“This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.”

Lincoln did not have all of the answers. He had little choice but to play politics and compromise to achieve his goals. I personally do not see how an analysis of his speeches, writings, and actions can lead to any conclusion other than he was an abolitionist.

Sam Finishes his Book

Today in History, July 16, 1885:

Raison D’etre – Sam finishes his book.

Sam had led a bit of a rough life. He saw great success, no doubt, but he was also an alcoholic. His father struggled with the demon for a time, and his grandfather had succumbed to it. In those days they didn’t realize it was often a family trait or a disease…it was simply a weakness. Sam had fought the demon his entire adult life. He was brilliant at is chosen profession. He quit it for a time because of his drinking and tried other jobs…farmer, realtor, shopkeeper…none worked out. As brilliant as he was, he had another weakness; he had a big heart and was much to quick to trust people with his money. So Sam spent most of his life broke.

Even with this, events in his life led him in a round about way to the pinnacle of success. He succeeded where others failed miserably due to his tenacity, his organizational skills and his ability to see the big picture. Yet through it all, no matter how much he achieved, his detractors never forgot, and certainly never let him forget, his demons.

Sam had made his fortune at last…but then, in his older years when there was little to no chance of building success anew, his other failure reared its ugly head again. The people he trusted with his money were scoundrels, and he found himself…and more importantly to him, his family, destitute once again.

Living on borrowed money, things got worse. One day while eating a peach his wife had given him, he felt as if he had been stung by something within it. He had no time for doctors and stubbornly toiled for months until the pain was unbearable to relent to his wife’s demands to see his physician. By then, it was too late. The mouth and throat cancer was advanced, and all that could be done was to provide him with pain killers until the end would come.

Sam’s father had been an inveterate braggart, a schemer and an incessant talker. It embarrassed Sam so that he became the exact opposite. Quiet and humble to a fault, it took everything he had to do what he had refused for years…to blow his own horn and tell his own story. But now it was the only way he could leave his wife and children with a means of support. So he threw himself into the task.

For over a year he wrote. He wore a muffler to cover the baseball sized tumor at his throat. Typical of his demeanor, he never complained of the excruciating pain that wracked him day and night…his family only saw him grimace from the pain when he was asleep and unable to hide it.

Sam worked with a purpose…he amazed his publisher by finishing 10,000 words in a day, written out. Mark couldn’t believe it…Mark was one of the most prolific story-telling authors of his time, and could never match Sam, who disliked the task of telling his own story. But now he had to…for his family…for his legacy because his old detractors were only too happy to repeat their own refrain, “See, we told you so.”

Fighting past the pain and past the fog of his medications, he toiled even when he could no longer write, and tortured himself to dictate his story to others.

Finally on July 16, 1885, Sam completed his autobiography. Mark had promised to publish it for a handsome price which would see to it that Sam’s family did not want for anything. It was suspected that Mark had ghostwritten the work…which he adamantly and angrily denied. His friend Sam had written the work…brilliant and surprising as usual.

Having won his last battle, he could let go now. Seven days later on July 23, 1885, Hiram Ulysses Grant, “U.S. Grant” due to an Army administrator’s error in his youth, Sam to his friends, a drunk to his detractors, an amazing horseman and hero of the Mexican-American War, General of the Army and President of the United States, passed from this earth.

Mark Twain saw that “The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant” was published and the family was treated fairly and well. Sam had found someone trustworthy this time. I’ve read General Grant’s memoirs, and they would be impressive if written by someone in perfect health. They are nothing less that heroic considering the suffering he endured during his final work.

I am fortunate to have what appears to be a 1st Edition of volume 1. Would love to find the matching volume 2! I’ve listened to the audible book.