A General Above All Others

Today in History, October 11, 1976:

Lt. Gen. George Washington is promoted to General of the Armies.

No, that is not a typo.

After leading all American Continental forces to victory in the Revolutionary War and serving two terms as our first President, George Washington maintained his rank as Lieutenant General.

In the interim, other men were promoted to Gen. of the Army…Grant, Sherman, Sheridan (4-star), Marshall, Eisenhower, MacArthur, Arnold and Bradley 5-star.). Admirals Leahy, King and Nimitz became 5-star Fleet Admirals. And John “Back Jack” Pershing.

At our Bicentenial, Congress decided, and rightly so, that no General should ever outrank the father of our nation.

So they created the rank of General of the Armies (not to be confused with Gen. of the Army), and posthumously promoted General Washington and declared none should ever exceed his rank.

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Hereas Lieutenant General George Washington of Virginia commanded our armies throughout and to the successful termination of our Revolutionary War;

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington presided over the convention that formulated our Constitution;

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington twice served as President of the United States of America; and

Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list;

Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That

(a) for purposes of subsection (b) of this section only, the grade of General of the Armies of the United States is established, such grade to have rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present.

(b) The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.

Approved October 11, 1976.

Public Law 94-479

Heroism and Treachery at Chapultepec

Today in History, September 13, 1847:

In the midst of the Battle for Mexico City during the Mexican-American War, The US Army, US Marines, work together to storm Chapultepec Castle, and take it. It was a key defensive position for General Antonio López de Santa Anna.

While the battle itself was of importance in establishing American presence on the international stage, it is much more important in my estimation for other reasons.

Key players amongst the American forces were US Army Capt Robert E. Lee, who convinced commanding General Winfield Scott of the winning strategy, along with a young US Army Lieutenant, Pierre G. T. Beauregard. Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnston fought in the battle, and George Pickett was the first soldier to top the wall of the castle. Lt. Thomas J. Jackson (Stone Wall) fought valiantly;

Lt. Ulysses S. Grant found a strategic artillery position from which to fight during the taking of Mexico City; Naval officer Raphael Semmes saw Grant’s actions and found an equal position on the opposite side of the road to cover the enemy.

Can you imagine? All of these men served together, bled together, and then in the end took up arms against each other in the Civil War over ideological differences.

Think of your very best friend…and then think about taking up arms against him. This was an enigma of the Civil War. There are countless stories of episodes where, during a lull in a battle, or after a defeat, Confederates and Unionist soldiers took the opportunity to meet and commiserate with old friends on the opposite side.

Another aspect is that the US Marines played an important part in the seizure of the castle, thus the beginning lines of the Marine Hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma…”. My research also indicates that the red stripe down the side of the blue slacks of the US Marine uniform represents the blood shed by US Marines during this battle.

Also that day, the last 30 of the “Saint Patrick’s Battalion”, deserters from the US Army who served as artillery for the Mexican Army, are publicly hanged en masse…by the US Army. They had been poor immigrants who, disenchanted with their lot, were coaxed to the opposite side, making them traitors to their new nation.

“Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”

Today in History, September 3, 1838:

A young man named Frederick Douglass manages, on his third attempt, to escape slavery by hiding aboard a train headed north.

The future abolitionist leader, author, statesman, marshal, and presidential confidant, after a dangerous trip through several states, finds himself in New York City.

“I have often been asked, how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. And my readers may share the same curiosity. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me. If life is more than breath, and the ‘quick round of blood,’ I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe. In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York, I said: ‘I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.’ Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”

Thank You, Grigory Shelikhov!

Today in History, August 14, 1784:

Russian Grigory Shelikhov founds Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island, establishing Alaska for Russia. Over the next several decades Russian fur trappers moved into the interior, and down into California, where they were turned back by American frontiersmen.

By the 1850’s Russia was ready to sell Alaska and offered it to the United States. The negotiations were delayed during the American Civil War, but in 1867 Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated it’s purchase for .02 cents per acre.

He was excoriated for the purchase; it was called “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox”. The treaty passed the Senate by just one vote. Since then Seward has been vindicated, with gold and oil and nature.

“Damn the Torpedoes!”

Today in History, August 5, 1864:

“Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!!”

The Battle of Mobile Bay. During the Civil War, Confederate “blockade runners” (Rhett Butler types) kept the South in vital supplies by running past the Union Navy blockade from Cuba to ports like Mobile Bay, Alabama.

US Navy Admiral David Glasgow Farragut was tasked with closing this last Confederate source of supplies. His fleet had to fight past the Confederate fleet of ironclads and two forts that guarded the bay. As the battle progressed, the Union fleet began to fragment, until Farragut rallied his sailors with famous admonition, winning the battle.

Mobile would remain in Confederate hands, but access to it was cut off for the duration. Farragut was the adopted son of US Naval Officer David Porter, who also raised his biological sons, famous Naval officers David Dixon Porter, and William Porter. One family played such a vital role in the glory of the US Navy. Can you imagine being a part of it?

New Orleans Race Riots…Democrats Murder Republicans

Today in History, July 30, 1866:

The New Orleans Riot. NOLA had been under Union control for most of the Civil War, although deep South in geography and sentiments. In 1864, a state convention of mostly Confederate sympathies had tried to enforce “Black Codes” to limit the rights of Freedmen.

Now that the war was over, “Radical” Republicans were holding a state convention in The Mechanic’s Institute in New Orleans in hopes of gaining control of the legislature.

A group of black Union veterans formed and marched to the Institute in support of the Republicans, where they were attacked by an armed group of former Confederates, including some authorities (the Mayor and others were Democrat former Confederates). 34-35 black and 3 white Republicans were killed.

Other similar riots in the South occurred, convincing enough voters that more stringent Reconstruction policies were needed.

In November Republicans would sweep into both houses of Congress by 77%. The next year they would force through the Fourteenth Amendment protecting citizenship rights and equal protections over the protests of Democrats in Congress. Before it could be ratified, the Reconstruction Acts were passed…requiring former states to ratify if before they could be represented in Congress.

Raison D’être – Sam Finishes His Book

Today in History, July 16, 1885: 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.