Oceanside soldiers, John Brown, and how the Civil War flips the script on dissent

 

fort-warrenI was reshaping my Civil War chapter, with a scene on May 12, 1861 — with soldiers in the newborn Union Army singing a song for John Brown. That happened at Boston’s Fort Warren, on the harbor’s Georges Island.

250px-Fort_Constitution,_New_Castle,_NHAs I was trying to evoke that day, I realized a potential problem; I’d begun the prior chapter in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, as members of that state’s Seventh Infantry boarded a train in 1846 taking them to the Mexican-American War. (Above is a rendering of their base, Fort Constitution. Did I need to ditch one of those scenes, and avoid the rhyme?

In some ways, however, the imperfect rhyme made sense:  the wars were very different, but some of the themes and players were the same. That earlier war had a lot to do with slavery, something the soldiers in 1846 had likely heard from New England preacher William Lloyd Garrison. Just west of Portsmouth, in Springfield, MA, John Brown was making a name for himself as a wool broker, joining the local Black church, and becoming part of the Underground Railroad. And it was Brown, as much as anyone else, who persuaded many anti-slavery activists that slavery could only be ended with violence.

So the young men convened at Fort Warren that day, mostly members of the 11th and 12th Massachusetts Regiments of the newborn Union Army, were not just responding to April’s assault on Fort Sumter by the Confederacy. They had grown up hearing about the Slave Power, the powerful Southern planters who controlled half the national economy with a product born of free labor. They knew about that previous war, with Mexico, which ended with two new slave states in the Union. They knew about Bleeding Kansas, right after that war ended, in which pro-slavery Missourians battled “Free Staters,” the latter under the leadership of John Brown.

And they certainly knew about Brown’s effort to jump-start a war against slavery — including his prediction, in the New York Tribune in 1857: “They never intend to relinquish the machinery of this government into the hands of the opponents of slavery. It has taken them more than half a century to get it, and they know its significance too well to give it up. If the republican party [sic] elects its president next year, there will be war.”

John-brown-song-cs-hall-1861-librofcongressThe election of Abraham Lincoln, the previous fall, had been followed by the secession of most Southern states, and the assault on Fort Sumter. No surprise, then, that when they wanted to  relax and sing a drinking song, they chose this one.

I don’t know if those soldiers thought of themselves as dissenters, though I’m choosing to include the entire Union Army as acting in dissent. Certainly Ambrose Bierce did, signing up with the Ninth Indiana around that same time, honoring an uncle who’d supplied guns to John Brown, while Harriet Tubman was already a Union spy, committing gender-dissent in her field-hand disguise. Not to mention Frederick Douglass’ sons, among the very first U.S. Colored Soldiers, or Jesse Macy, a Quaker who insisted on becoming a battlefield medic, thus creating a new form of conscientious objection.

I’ve been saying that “The Civil War flips the script on dissent,” a cheap phrase that nonetheless conveys how disorienting it feels for me, an anti-war writer, to count as ways my characters whose actions helped one side kill multitudes. What is less in dispute: they felt they were creating something entirely new, and willing to die for it.

So far, my chapters have started only in the Northeast: Chapter One in on a Pennsylvania battlefield, Two in a Bronx boarding house, and now this twofer for Portsmouth and Boston. Though both of these chapters then venture far west and south, from Kansas to Cuernavaca. I hope readers don’t find problematic my using these New England stories as springboards, but so much American dissent was born there right along with the country.

Just as disorienting, of course, is alternating between these final revisions and reporting on present-day dissenters like Reality Winner. Unstuck in time no longer covers it.

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Old soldiers, new century

biercememAgain with the cutting-room floor — this time with a section I’d worried was superfluous when I wrote it, but had been irrationally seized with wondering how my two Civil War storytellers had reacted to the beginning of the 20th century.

Old Soldiers in a New Century

The morning of August 18, 1906, is seasonably hot for West Virginia; Lewis Douglass is glad to take off his shoes and walk the rest of the way.

At 66 years old, Douglass is far from the only veteran here. Among the 45 marking “John Brown Day” on the third day of the Niagara Movement’s first U.S. conference, a few other U.S.Colored Troops have made it, along with some “buffalo soldiers” and Philippines vets. Douglass has mostly kept quiet this week, listening as a youngish firebrand named du Bois argued for hope amid the nadir of black-white relations since Emancipation: “Our enemies, triumphant for the present, are fighting the stars in their courses, but justice and humanity must prevail….We will never give up, though the trump of doom finds us still fighting.” Today, Douglass looks away as the younger men thunder “Thank God for John Brown! Thank God for Garrison and Douglass!”

Now, as the heat rises, the crowd leaves behind their fans and parasols for the sacred walk to John Brown’s fort. Walking beside Douglass is a writer for the newspapers of Osvald Garrison Villard — grandson of the Garrison who so often hosted John Brown.. She describes carefully the now-barefoot scholars and activists singing “John Brown’s Body, ‘ just as George Garrison did with the Massachusetts 55th so many years earlier.

Before they get to the fort, someone switches the words to those Julia Ward Howe drafted for the war: He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored… Standing in front of the aging buildings freshly trimmed of weeds, it gets louder for His truth is marching on. Douglass doesn’t mind the light morning rain.

By the time of that second Niagara meeting, Lewis Douglass had already suffered a stroke, which hadn’t quite silenced the voice that had reviled McKinley’s war. As one of the original mavericks blowing the whistle on American racism, he wasn’t prepared to let the new century repeat this original sin. Other Civil War vets were also not quite done reminding the country about that sin, and about the traumas inherent in war.

A few months after that gathering, Douglass editorialized:“Our people must die to be saved and in dying must take as many along with them as it is possible to do with the aid of firearms and other weapons.”i He was responding to a wave of lynchings – the freelance ‘executions’ of Blacks by whites, often for the alleged crimes of others.ii Douglass’ war, fought against the nation’s second original sin, was nowhere near over. And like other Civil War vets , he knew he was moving against the nation’s insanely popular president, Theodore Roosevelt.

Ambrose Bierce, whose newspaper had bred the Spanish-American War, was sniping at Roosevelt in his new book The Cynic’s Word Bookiii: “The President of the United States was born so long ago that many of the friends of his youth have risen to higher political and military preferment without the assistance of personal merit.”iv Mark Twain, who like Bierce had been invited to the White House as a national humorist, told his biographer that Roosevelt, though “perhaps the most popular man he had ever met,” was also “far and away the worst president we have ever had.” But America seemed giddy with certitude.

President Roosevelt, “the hero of San Juan Hill,” had also kept America’s international profile high, including brokering peace in 1905 between established empire Russia and the emerging colossus of Japan. Mark Twain hadn’t been impressed, calling the peace treaty the most conspicuous disaster in political history,” because Russia could now more successfully quash dissent before it turned into revolution. But most of the nation was on board, seeing it all a product of Roosevelt’s Progressive manifesto: all the worlds problems could be solved by smart people.

That Russo-Japanese treaty led to one of the very first Nobel Peace Prizes for Roosevelt, The Nation hoping that Roosevelt might “modify his own conventional ideas about the necessity of being armed to the teeth.vi” Perhaps, the magazine mused, the same Progressive energy that had built railroads could help “reliev[e] the poor of Europe from the crushing burdens of militarism.” Thus was the Spanish-American War recast in glowing terms, as a kind of pact with the future. Some of the old vets had fallen in love with the Progressive cause, which had helped doom the always-shaky Anti-Imperialist League. Twain couldn’t get his work published anymore, after his searing “To the Person Sitting in Darkness”: Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief …. for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! Twain had specifically targeted the general who’d “won the Philippines”:

Dewey could have gone about his affairs elsewhere, and left the competent Filipino army to starve out the little Spanish garrison and send it home, and the Filipino citizens to set up the form of government they might prefer, and deal with the friars and their doubtful acquisitions according to Filipino ideas of fairness and justice — ideas which have since been tested and found to be of as high an order as any that prevail in Europe or America.

We must stand ready to grab the Person Sitting in Darkness, for he will swoon away at this confession, saying: “Good God, those ‘niggers’ spare their wounded, and the Americans massacre theirs!” […..] And to show him that we are only imitators, not originators, we must read the following passage from the letter of an American soldier-lad in the Philippines to his mother, published in Public Opinion, of Decorah, Iowa, describing the finish of a victorious battle: “WE NEVER LEFT ONE ALIVE. IF ONE WAS WOUNDED, WE WOULD RUN OUR BAYONETS THROUGH HIM.”

Not surprising, perhaps, that when Twain submitted his newest antiwar essay, “The War Prayer,” to his home magazine Harper’s Bazaar, it was rejected as being unsuitable for the ladies. He didn’t even try to publish his “Comments on the Moro Massacre (March 12, 1906)”, written after 994 Filipinos were killed in a counterinsurgency operation led by U.S. Army general Leonard Wood. Twain knew that while the Philippine War was officially over, the occupation was proving just as lethal. vii

Twain’s satiric praise for General Wood alternates with headlines from U.S. newspapers: DEATH TOLL NOW NEAR 900; IMPOSSIBLE TO TELL SEXES APART IN FIERCE BATTLE OVER MOUNT DAJO. “I was never so enthusiastically proud of the flag till now!”viii He knew that this new pax Americana, this pact with the future, hadn’t been signed by those charged with enforcing it. Many of that war’s combatants, home but still in uniform, and a little worried about this new “world leader” stance.

That included some of the African-American “Buffalo Soldiers,” many of whom had been in Cuba with Roosevelt. Eighth Infantry chaplain and poet Charles Frederick White said so in books of blank verse; the lyrical Plea of the Negro Soldier was followed by a bitter successor The Negro Volunteer, which described both battles and foul mistreatment by white commanders.

White’s verses would have fit in well with accounts collected by W.E.B. du Bois, who’d already made dissent his life’s work; soldiers were definitely included in du Bois’ quest to change the realities that had replaced slavery for African-Americans. And his Movement, a few days after that second meeting of in West Virginia, responded en masse after the “Brownsville Affair,confronting President Roosevelt on behalf of of the 25th Infantry’sBuffalo Soldiers.”

On August 13, just as du Bois, Lewis Douglass and the others were gathering in West Virginia, a shooting at a bar in that Texas town had led whites to blame the black soldiers newly relocated to Brownsville. Despite confirmation by their (white) commanders that all of the soldiers had been in their Fort Brown barracks that night, Roosevelt had ordered that all three companies – 167 men, six of whom had been awarded the Medal of Honor – be discharged “without honor,” ineligible for veterans benefits. Roosevelt had refused to reconsider his decision even after a plea from Booker T. Washington, the biggest booster of black enlistment and supporter of Roosevelt’s wars. du Bois’ Niagara Movement—organized partly as a radical alternative to Washington, who du Bois called “The Great Accomodator”—sprang into action after Brownsville.

Du Bois brought in his dear friend Major Charles Young, the third Black graduate of West Point and a Niagara co-founder, as members lobbied Congress. They caught the attention of Senator Robert Foraker, an ambitious politician who was also a Union Army veteran. Foraker led a call for a Senate investigation and fought for the battalion’s reinstatement; by January, Roosevelt had rescinded the part of the order, though full reversal would take a century. Foraker, for his part, “merely felt the same about the Constitution in 1906 as Private Foraker had felt in 1862” and would later campaign for president under the slogan “Remember Brownsville.”

Fellow Civil War vet Mark Twain didn’t speak out about Brownsville, but his late-career writings came from a similar sense of mission, and he also knew that that war hadn’t come close to abating that original sin. He’d considered a book-length history of lynching and even wrote the introductory “The United States of Lyncherdom,” before deciding (perhaps wisely) that such a book couldn’t come from a white Missouri writer. (Elisha Bliss, his publisher, told him that he “shouldn’t even have half a friend left down there, after it was issued from the press.”) Still, Twain had started 1906 with a Carnegie Hall benefit for Tuskegee University alongside anti-lynching activist Fanny Garrison Villard. The latter, William Lloyd’s daughter and ally of du Bois, was also one of the co-founders of the Anti-Imperialist League.

Twain’s fellow veteran/humorist, Ambrose Bierce, never wrote about Brownsville; his first biographer said that while he’d fought to end slavery, he “loathed” black people in their postwar form. None of which had changed his 1864 revelation that Black soldiers had been his equal back at the battle of Nashville, when they “did not hesitate a moment: their long lines swept into that fatal obstruction in perfect order and remained there as long as those of the white veterans on their right. And as many of them in proportion remained until borne away and buried after the action. It was as pretty an example of courage and discipline as one could wish to see.”

But Bierce had by now stopped writing that“War Topics” column, and had left the Examiner. It was Cosmopolitan Magazine that now bore his signature mix of misanthropy, trauma and magic. His clearest commentary on the ‘race problem’ appeared in this black-comic definition: “NEGRO n.The piece de resistancein the American political problem. Representing him by the letter N, , the Republicans begin to build their equation thus: Let n=the white man. This, however, appears to give an unsatisfactory solution.”

This droll observation. the closest Bierce ever got to acknowledging the effects of white supremacy, was a far cry from the 30ish columnist who’d written whole stories in the 1880s ridiculing black speech. But Bierce was nowhere near joining Twain and du Bois in challenging Jim Crow. If du Bois, Twain and Lewis Douglass were trying to build a more equitable future, Bierce’s attention was draw more to the past, including the war they had all shared.

Bierce revisited his life as a lieutenant in 1863, setting one story in his brigade’s raid on Confederates at Woodbury and another on executions he’d overseen as provost, one for desertion and the other for killing civilians, “a particularly atrocious murder outside of the issues of war.”xiii For Cosmopolitan Bierce used his signature vivid details and spooky framing, for “Two Military Executions” and “A Baffled Ambuscade.” Then, in “What May Happen Along a Road,” he remembered his last battle, in Franklin, Tennessee:

After resetting their line the victors could not clear their front, for the baffled assailants would not desist. All over the open country in their rear, clear back to the base of the hills, drifted the wreck of battle, the wounded that were able to walk; and through the receding throng pushed forward, here and there, horsemen with orders and footmen whom we knew to be bearing ammunition. There were no wagons, no caissons: the enemy was not using, and could not use, his artillery. Along the line of fire we could see, dimly in the smoke, mounted officers, singly and in small groups, attempting to force their horses across the slight parapet, but all went down. Of this devoted band was the gallant General Adams, whose body was found upon the slope, and whose animal’s forefeet were actually inside the crest. General Cleburne [pg 326]lay a few paces farther out, and five or six other general officers sprawled elsewhere. It was a great day for Confederates in the line of promotion.

For many minutes at a time broad spaces of battle were veiled in smoke. Of what might be occurring there conjecture gave a terrifying report. In a visible peril observation is a kind of defense; against the unseen we lift a trembling hand. Always from these regions of obscurity we expected the worst, but always the lifted cloud revealed an unaltered situation.

Bierce had begun to revisit his old battlefields, spending time at Shiloh and Murfreesbro and Stone’s River. He described these travels in letters, both to his editors as well as his niece Lora. One of his last pieces for Hearst was the gothic “A Resumed Identity,”in which an old veteran is revisited by the soldier he once was. Then, severing his ties with Hearst, Bierce kept moving south, headed toward the newest war: Mexico, whose recent revolution had inspired an insurgency led by Pancho Villa. His dispatches from south of the border read like a prose poem, or one of his Dictionary definitions.

December 13, 1913.might do for a listing under “Nationalism”: Ridden in four miles to mail a letter. Ride from Juarez to Chihuahua hard—nights cold, days hot. Allusion to Jornada del Muerta (journey of death) of thousands of civilian refugees, men, women and children. Train load of troops leaving Chihuahua every day. Expect (next day) to go to Ojinaga, partly by rail. Mexicans fight “like the devil”—though not so effectively as trained soldiers. Addicted to unseasonable firing, many times at random. Bierce’s note doesn’t mention Pancho Villa, but Bierce was hoping to meet this new wild card of Mexican politics, and had written to friends that he was headed to Ojinaga, which became site of a massive New Years battle between federales and Villa’s guerrilla force. xv Whether Bierce died there, or somewhere else, has been debated ever since.xvi

That battle of Okinaja actually included U.S troops, there to support the federales and the government of Victoriano Huerta. If Bierce had lived to write about it, he might have wondered if history was rhyming. Afterward, with Bierce, Twain and Lewis Douglass all dead, a new generation of storytellers would be required. So would new types of dissenters.

Intro, continued

After that loooong deconstruction of the book’s title…

The following pages offer an idiosyncratic path from the country’s beginnings to the 21st century. Our guides: a handful of soldier-dissenters, who nudged that arc of history toward something resembling peace and justice.

In the 1990s, when I was on staff at the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, I used to half-joke that “if there’s gonna be a revolution, it’s going to happen because of antiwar veterans,” like those who volunteered for my branch of the G.I. Rights Hotline. Being defiantly uninterested in Marxist predictions of actual revolution, what I meant was that fundamental, progressive change has been escorted into American life with such figures, half-ignored even as they’re being lionized for other reasons.

On the simplest level, some kinds of military dissent — desertion comes to mind — ALWAYS constitute a challenge to the military’s functioning, and need to be described even when it’s for non-political reasons. More profoundly, what’s come clearest as I finish the book is that my interest is not so much those converting to pacifism, though that’s at the inquiry’s core, as the partial ones along the way. For each chapter and each war, I began seeking out and honoring soldier-dissent against the ends served by government-sponsored violence –many rooted in the country’s original sins, slavery and genocide of indigenous people. My old colleague Sam Diener might argue that since the means — military action — is odious, that should be enough; but so often it’s not.

The book’s cast was chosen through as “a kind of reverse funnel,” one ending in a laser-sharp focus on truly antiwar soldiers but beginning with a much wider palette: Chapters 1-7 include mutinies over late pay and desertion in protest of the freeing of slaves (one of the least glorious moments for Civil War soldiers) and then narrow through Vietnam and beyond — until, by the 21st century, we have our hands full just sorting through the challenges thrown up to what some Iraq vets call “gee-wot” (the Global War on Terror). Earlier rebellions, such as the 1779 mutinies against price-gouging and the 1930 Bonus March, I thought of only as “important reminders, especially through the Cold War, of the immense potential power of such rebellions.” That all sounds way too glib to me now.

What feels both more honest, as a journalist and historian: Include a selection of those who, having had a significant experience in the U.S. military, have used that experience to help nudge American society as a whole away from militarism. Mili-what? Think simply of the concept of “relying on armed enforcers to protect us and our stuff” (the latter meaning land, or water, or oil, or more amorphous concepts such as national identity, ideology or “credibility” ,e.g. saving face).

How did they use that experience? By speaking, or by secretly helping those who do. By telling the story of their war, either plain or as stories (like Haldeman’s) that still resonate. Their effect can be hard to measure, but it’s undeniable nonetheless. Howard Zinn wrote in 2004 that “Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society.”i Zig-zag an essential component, given the paradox at ourinquiry’s core: people once trained to enforce U.S. foreign policy with weapons, now standing up against those same policies.

We can’t claim that any specific dissent resulted directly, or even semi-directly, in a more decent society: too many wild cards and unintended consequences, the latter of which can be as profound as planned-for missions. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a workable map, and make educated guesses about which of the surprises points toward peace.

Each was as different as his historical period, of course. The questioning soldier in a state militia in 1754 was different from a World War I grunt first witnessing mass slaughter, or a video-game-trained Iraq soldier weaned on Rambo’s machismo and used to Oprah’s emotional expression. Still, looking through their stories, some common threads emerge:

Mavericks” who came into the military already contrarian,

Struggles over compensation and the cost of war;

Combat trauma, from “soldier’s heart” through “shell shock” to PTSD

How non-pacifist soldiers made common cause with, and stood up for, our soldiers of conscience

the gender wild card, from stealth soldiers to torment and exclusion

Echoes over the years, making chords that helped catalyze change.

Welcome to my guided tour through America’s wars.

For starters, 1754 – 1875:

A Country Born of Dissent: Soldiers As Citizens, Counting the Costs

Our opening chapter, “A Country Born of Dissent,” shows us men just beginning to formulate the word “soldier” in their lives and claiming the dissent from which the new country was forming.

Even before breaking off from England, colonists saw themselves as creating something new, and that included the Continental Army;these(mostly) young men dissented out of a sense of themselves as participants in the still-new experiment of self-government, owning the word citizen.

Some state militias, called “a nasty lot” by British-trained General Washington, elected their own officers and called them “Executors in Trust.” Soldiers writing home from the French and Indian War cited their enlistment contracts as sacred documents, bemoaning underpayment as a betrayal, as their commands’ refusal to make good on a promise Conversely, once their brief contracts expired they felt free to clear out, sometimes en masse.

After the Declaration of Independence, those letters from soldierstalked about the new Republic as theirs, too. Their dissent was clear enough through a two-stage war with England, ending in 1815. The word “maverick” was coined in the 19th century, but even earlier soldiers were whistleblowers, organizers, journalists bearing witness against heavy odds.

The chapter actually begins on July 4, 1776 – with a soldier-rebellionin Jericho, Vermont,, far north of where the Continental Congress was completing the Declaration. That rebellion complicated the command of the maverick Captain Matthew Lyon, later nicknamed “the asp of colonial politics” and editor of the controversial newspaper The Scourge of Aristocracy and Repository of Important Political TruthsWe also meet Joshua Ritter, a Pennsylvania recruit turned Quaker by his experience of warfare, and Dan Shays, remembered for a 1785 uprising against bankers led by Revolutionary veterans.

In between, Continental sailors exposed a Navy torturer in 1777; the First Company of the Philadelphia Artillery massed in Philadelphia and New York, complaining of poor treatment, followed by the 1781 Mutiny in January that almost got Washington involved.

The war for independence actually accelerated the racist genocide also taking place, as colonial governments became the land’s primary rulers. Among those charged with maintaining and increasing that rule, a rare few actually questioned why much of their time was spent fighting not the British but the land’s original inhabitants, who’d found the Redcoats a less invasive species than the hungry colonists.If the pay-me rebellions are the oldest, the next-oldest come from the mavericks defying prevailing wisdom and questioning our ”original sins,” planting deep, interconnected roots between military dissent and actions against racism and genocide, no matter how buried.

That second stage of what Phil Ochs called “the early English war” brought those truths clearer to those charged with fighting it. A few even who identified the nation’s two original sins: the slave economy and its progeny, and the bargain first proposed for native peoples by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote “They will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States […else] we need only close our hand to crush them.” Protecting those two sins was the first main role of the American military.

First to question these priorities, perhaps unsurprisingly, were soldiers of color. Half-Indian Army scout Simon Girty ended his long, scattered military career after the notorious Squaw Campaign of 1789, suggesting that his fellow patriots were more interested in trampling on treaties than besting the British. Thirty years later, half-black half-Pequot soldier William Apess wondered why he was fighting in the War of 1812 against those who’d despoiled his ancestors. Apess’ musing, “why should I fight for a country that took my land?” casts triangulated light on that war’s expansionist aims. (For all the geopolitical context and diplomatic spittle, it ended only when the Brits exacted a promise not to mess with the Indians).

General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, his Vermont lineage as white as one could get, still took up Apess’ thread, calling the Jefferson-Jackson expansion policies “a blight upon the Indian.” When another president sent him to Mexico for another very-regretted war, Hitchcock made common cause with West Point dropout and rogue diplomat Nicholas Trist, who ignored the commander-in-chief and negotiated peace.

In the latter war, one of Hitchcock’s West Point students, Ephraim Kirby Smith, went from proud enthusiast to chronicler of the damage done, warning that his commander in chief “will have proved the worst enemy that Democracy ever had.” Though neither he nor Hitchock were becoming pacifists, they were unafraid of identifying sickness in the body politic, and tracing it back to those original sins.

That task would be front and center when the next war emerged.

The Civil War: Jayhawkers, Drafted Quakers and Soldier’s Heart

Most opponents of that Mexican-American war, whether soldier, civilian or veteran, were fairly clear about that war strengthened slavery, increasing the number of slave states and the South’s economic and political power. “This people must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, about to spend time in jail for refusal to pay taxes to support either. Frederick Douglass, ten years after publishing his account of his life as a slave, editorialized against the Mexican war often in his abolitionist newspaper The North Star.

Douglass and his newspaper, like the abolitionist movement it was leading, moved on after 1840 from relentless newspapering and prayer– and began to contemplate direct action against what they called the Slave Power. Between Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown, they also trained and recruited countless soldiers for an actual war against that power – including Douglass’ two sons, who joined the iconic Massachusetts 54th Regiment.

This war kind of scrambles all categories in our discussion, with its complement of soldiers working directly to address that original sin. Included here are Ambrose Bierce, whose uncle sent guns to Brown before raising two regiments for the war; George Garrison, son of the iconic William Garrison, who volunteered to be one of the white officers leading black soldiers; and Jesse Macy, a Quaker who insisted on active service as a medic. Even the reviled-by-all sides Carpetbagger officers, who went South to try to enforce Lincoln’s promise. count as our dissenters; Given the powerful economic and social forces that had fed the slave economy, those officers were engaged in something intrinsically radical even when working for the President. AnSilas Soule, one of John Brown’s pre-1860 “Jayhawkers” before joining the Union, distinguished himself in 1864with a singular act of rebellion against the first original sin, bydeserting and exposing the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre.

The Civil War also highlighted two of our other themes: combat trauma/PTSD, and solidarity between pacifists and fellow soldiers.When Jesse Macy, part of Sherman’s March to the Sea, repeatedly refused to carry a gun, his peers in the XXX had his back POI09U9U89TIUHIUGINPIH. Ambrose Bierce eventually wandered to suicide in Mexico via a tour of old battlefields, long after writing I will willingly surrender an other life than the one that I should have thrown away at ShilohWhat is now called post-traumatic stress disorder has existed for about as long as war has, creating multiple unintended consequences. And if thin paychecks can make a soldier feel betrayed, being ignored, stigmatized or dismissed for their own combat stress can feel like another war.

Hundreds of soldiers broke down after the aforementioned Battle of Shiloh, carried onto hospital ships with a case of what doctors called “nostalgia.” During that war military doctors started tracking soldiers’ breakdowns differently, conceiving of a “soldier’s heart” whose muscle is damaged by the trials of battle — both accurate and prescient, considering current understanding of the complex hormonal and developmental re-wiring contained in PTSD.

The relationship between the military and traumatic stress is a complex one, as noted by experts like Col. David Grossman, author of On Killing: The Psychological Consequences of Learning to Kill on War and SocietySome in this book, like Andrew Jackson, perhaps never got over it but subsumed it into national policy; others turned it all inward, like George Garrison. Bierce (often called“the quintessential, though unrealized, poster boy for PTSD”) was the first to turn combat trauma into art that empowered future dissent.

Many of those listed above crossed over into anti-war figures for the next war, fought far away from home before the wound they’d fought to abate was near healing.

our wednesday five

AintMarchincoverbyAlexFrom Civil War women to depleted uranium, nearly all my obsessions accounted for today.

 

 

 

The real Happy New Year’s of 1863

Emancipation-Proclamation1-5I’m glad I found the previous post via CNN, so actual experts set the scene on what happened 150 years ago yesterday.  It was, of course, pivotal to many of the figures in Ain’t Marching– from Quaker CO’s like Jesse Macy to Lewis H. Douglass.

So in writing my Civil War chapter, I couldn’t resist from painting the scene myself, including its immediate aftermath. We can go on for days about who therein counts as a dissenting soldier, but how not?

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On New Years’ Day 1863,  Boston’s Music Hall on Hamilton Place held 3000 people, twice the norm. Frederick Douglass and his friends Harriet Beecher Stowe and Ralph Waldo Emerson listened eagerly as the Boston Philharmonic played Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” The crowd huddled with Douglass, waiting for news over the telegraph from Washington.

But Douglass also kept running around the corner to Tremont Temple, where he had first burst to public prominence, to calm down a similar-sized crowd of largely black people hoping for word. Ten o’clock approached and passed. At 11:00, both crowds were was growing restive, and Frederick Douglass took the stage. In the caramel baritone they loved so well (so unlike that man Garrison’s soprano), he said that if necessary, “We won’t go home till morning.”

They didn’t have to wait that long. Douglass wrote later about the “scene of excitement that baffles description,” when the ceiling seemed draped in “all the Hats and bonnets hurled in the air.”

Young Jesse Macy, now studying at a small Quaker college in Ohio, writes that the same day, “A mass meeting was held to celebrate[…] The Academy was soon after depleted of nearly all its men suitable for military service.”

And in Boston, Lewis H. Douglass and his brother Charles listened with one scary reality in mind: that both were old enough to fulfill their dad’s explicit promise, made in an article in the very newspaper Lewis worked on every day.

.. that colored men in Rhode Island and Connecticut performed their full share in the war of the Revolution, and that men of the same color, such as the noble Shields Green, Nathaniel Turner and Denmark Vesey stand ready to peril everything at the command of the Government. We would tell him that this is no time to fight with one hand, when both are needed; that this is no time to fight only with your white hand, and allow your black hand to remain tied.

Harriet Tubman acted right away, crossing both color and gender lines. To busy to celebrate — “I had my jubilee three years ago” — Tubman received one hundred dollars “secret service money” from the Union Army a few days later, and was sooncollecting data, paying for information from slaves in Confederate territory, and recruiting.112  The Secretary of War would soon be informed that 750 blacks waiting to join the Union Army “had been rescued from slavery under the leadership of Harriet Ross Tubman.”

The units organized to receive them were commanded by white officers including George Garrison, William Lloyd’s wayward son, and Robert Gould Shaw, who’d agreed to assume command of the all-black Massachusetts 54th Infantry.
Douglass senior, now a one-man recruiter of free blacks for the Massachusetts 54th,  said proudly that the troops, including his two oldest sons, would “by striking down the foes which oppose it, strike also the last shackle which binds the limbs of bondmen in the Rebel States.”

For Lewis and Charles, who had grown up in mostly white Rochester attending desegregated schools, the Massachusetts 54th and 55th Artillery Companies were the first time they had ever been entirely surrounded by other black men. After finishing training in June, they headed to South Carolina to the hottest temperatures the brothers had ever known.

Lewis Douglass wrote to his father every week, mostly asking for money to supplement the paltry $5 a month the 54th’s enlisted men were being paid, and whenever he could to his fiancée Amelia Loguen. To Amelia that he wrote his most famous letter about the an assault on Fort Wagner, which sat like a Bavarian castle above white, terrifying cliffs: “I have been in two fights, and am unhurt. I am about to go in another I believe to-night.”

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But what everyone should be reading about the Proclamation, of course, is the peerless Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose nonfiction novel on the war is likely to rock our world. His smart exegesis concludes with something we all need to remember:

With something as dramatic as emancipation, there should be some break point, some specific document that freed the slaves. But as [Eric] Foner points out, emancipation is a process (one that I would argue begins with slave abscondance and the Underground Railroad), not so much a point. And emancipation is itself a part of an even larger process — integrating African Americans as citizens of equal standing. That effort continues even today.

For black soldiers, the wound goes that far back

The photo is of Sgt. Major Lewis H. Douglass, survivor of the battle of Fort Wagner, who never complained about  his pension but did observe,long before he became outspoken against the next war, that the supposed unity of the “Grand Army of the Republic” —given the differing treatment of black and white veterans groups — existed only on paper. I thought of him when he read this:

A pension system established to support Civil War soldiers did not provide equally for black and white veterans. A newly published study from Brigham Young University concludes discrimination faced by black soldiers during the war was in part to blame for the discrimination they suffered for decades afterward.

You almost don’t want to read the next paragraph, which goes on to say that essentially, that was just the beginning. Good on the BYU researchers for finding it, and the Salt Lake Trib for including it on its military site.  I guess past really is prologue.

Bring back the draft? A-gain?

Last time there was a national call to resume conscription, it came from former Marine and zillion-term Congressman Charles Rangel (left), who fought on the famous Hill 902 during the Korean War.

Rangel’s bill to do so, introduced on the eve of the 2003 Iraq invasion, was mostly meant to highlight the still-deep inequity between the people who decide to start wars and those who die in them. (The book at right is only one of many others, including by Civil War historian David Williams and Vietnam-War sociologist Christian Appy, whose titles are nearly identical to that World War I-themed volume.) But the buzz this week is about a piece in Armed Forces Journal by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, author of  the iconic 2006 “A Failure in Generalship” (a blast at Rumsfeld first highlighted for me by Capt. Luis Montalvan). Yingling has kept up the pressure ever since, as noted last month by Tom Ricks in his Foreign Policy blog The Best Defense.)

In the new piece, Yingling gives a brief history of the Founding Fathers’ view of how war would be conducted before noting:

Many of the difficulties in civil-military relations today are attributable to our departure from the elegant system of checks and balances established in the Constitution. Congress has all but abdicated many of its war powers, including raising forces, confirming the appointment of officers, providing oversight to operations and declaring war. This has made the U.S. weaker by allowing hasty, ill-considered and poorly supported executive actions to imperil national security. The remedy for these failures requires not innovation, but rather a return to the time-tested principles of America’s founding.

And part of that return, Yingling adds, is a full return to the citizen soldier.

The U.S. should therefore abandon the all-volunteer military and return to our historic reliance on citizen soldiers and conscription to wage protracted war. This approach proved successful in both world wars and offers several advantages over the all-volunteer military. First and most important, this approach demands popular participation in national security decisions and provides Congress with powerful incentives to reassert its war powers. Unlike the all-volunteer force, a conscripted force of citizen soldiers would ensure that the burdens of war are felt equally in every community in America. Second, this approach provides the means to expand the Army to a sufficient size to meet its commitments. Unlike the all-volunteer force, a conscripted force would not rely on stop-loss policies or an endless cycle of year-on, year-off deployments of overstressed and exhausted forces. Third, conscription enables the military to be more discriminating in selecting those with the skills and attributes most required to fight today’s wars. Unlike the all-volunteer force, a conscripted force would not rely on exorbitant bonuses and reduced enlistment standards to fill its ranks. Finally, this approach would be less expensive. Unlike the world wars of the 20th century, today’s dangers will not pass quickly, allowing for a return to a smaller and less expensive military establishment. Imposing fiscal discipline on the Pentagon would not only strengthen America’s depleted finances, but also constrain executive ambitions for adventures abroad and congressional appetites for pork-barrel projects at home.

Yingling does not, for all his historical spin, acknowledge that the Founding Fathers also considered a place for conscientious objectors, nor does he think of military conscription in the context of a broader national service requirement as others have done. I just deleted my own comment on where I stand on this, though you might be able to guess.

It can be argued that “A Failure of Generalship” was incredibly influential (see the “surge.”). Will this one be? Will it at least create a debate that lives in more hearts than his, ours and a handful of historians and military families?