Monthly Archives: July 2011

Right is of no sex

I have always felt a strong partiality to the month of July. My mother, my maternal grandmother and one of maternal great-grandfathers were born in July [July 3rd, July 5th, July 4th respectively] so I’m rooted in the month. It’s summer and hot which I prefer to winter’s bone-piercing cold. When I was a youth July meant the height of summer vacation and freedom from school. July also contains much great history to talk about & to reverently remember.

Flyer about the convention

On this day, July 19th, in Seneca Falls, New York, a group of women, with a few men, assembled at the first national women’s rights convention. Those present included Lucretia Mott and her husband James; Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Frederick Douglass; women with such beautiful and intriguing names as Experience Gibbs, Antoinette E. Segur, Hannah J. Latham, Delia Mathews, Catharine C. Paine, Malvina Seymour, Phebe Mosher, Catharine Shaw, Sophrone Taylor and Hannah Plant; and men named Azaliah Schooley, Elias J. Doty and Saron Phillips. (Oh, I love 18th and 19th century names!) About 300 people total, only 40 of them men, attended one or both days of the convention.

Lucretia Mott-1841

They gathered in part because back in 1840, at the World Ant-Slavery Conference in London, England, the convention refused to seat Lucretia Mott and seven other American women who had been properly selected as delegates by their abolitionist societies. In addition, the presiding males required the women to sit in a segregated area. The men who voted to exclude women argued that women’s exclusion represented the “ordinance of almighty God.” (You know, that Pauline thing about not letting women speak in the assembly?) Several of the American men attending the convention, including William Lloyd Garrison, Nathaniel P. Rogers, William Adams, and Charles Lenox Remond, a black activist, opted to sit with the women in the segregated area. Garrison, one of the anticipated speakers, declined to give his major address. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband, Henry B. Stanton, one of the infamous “Lane Seminary Rebels,” attended the convention while on their honeymoon. (How’s that for a honeymoon?) Stanton and Mott became friends and even while in London began planning a convention on the rights of women. [On the Lane Rebels, see William Lloyd Garrison’s issue of The Liberator, dated January 10, 1835; The Lane Rebels: Evangelicalism and Anti-slavery in Antebellum America by Lawrence T Lesick., Metuchen, NJ, 1980.]

I believe it’s no historical accident that these women convene in Seneca Falls in the same year that democratic revolutions sweep through Europe. While those student & worker revolutions in Europe would be suppressed by autocratic powers in France, Prussia, Russia, Italy and Austria and it would take 72 years for American women to gain to right to vote by constitutional amendment, yet the world changed and was forever significantly different after 1848. “Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream,” declared the prophet Amos. As my favorite prof in law school pointed out, a mighty stream is built drop-by-drop-by-drop. Those 1848 mavericks added a lot of drops to the stream of justice.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton with two of her children-1848

In the Resolutions which she attached to her magnificent paraphrase of the Declaration of Independence, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote:

“Resolved, that the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior that is required of woman in the social state also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman.

Resolved, that the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audience, comes with a very ill grace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the stage, in the concert, or in feats of the circus.

Resolved, that woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.

Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.

Resolved, that the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities.

Resolved, that the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions, and commerce.”

Her demands for equal suffrage and equal opportunity in all professions and businesses, scared some, including Lucretia Mott. When it looked as though the Declaration of Sentiments and the attendant Resolutions might be tabled or actually voted down, it was the self-educated former slave, Frederick Douglass, who came forward and spoke, exhorting the gathering to take a strong stand. “In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world.” The suffrage resolution passed by a large majority. About 100 of the persons present affixed their names to the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.

Frederick Douglass--1848

A few days afterward, the first editorial in American journalism in support of the rights of women appeared in Douglass’ North Star. With a flourish, he wrote, “In respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man. We go farther, and express our conviction that all political rights which it is expedient for man to exercise, it is equally so for women. All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of woman; and if that government is only just which governs by the free consent of the governed, there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in making andadministering the laws of the land. Our doctrine is that‘Right is of no sex.’” The ex-slave understood what the issues were all about. Henry B Stanton did not. Like most men of the day, he did not favor women gaining the right to vote. Because he planned on running for public office, he left Seneca Falls before the convention began in order to avoid being connected with such strange ideas.

The later history filled with some unfortunate things. Elizabeth Cady Stanton distanced herself from African Americans, making clear that by “women” she meant educated, middle-class and upper class white women. She considered such women to be better than black men, black women, European immigrant women and men who spoke little or no English. When in the 1880’s a women’s rights convention met in a southern state for the first time, it was Susan B Anthony who took upon herself the unpleasant task of asking her old friend Frederick Douglass not to give a speech. Yet Douglass never abandoned his allies. The day he died he was preparing a speech to give that evening at a women’s rights conference in Washington. Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony all died before the adoption of a woman suffrage amendment. Only one of the Seneca Falls women, Charlotte Woodward, still lived in 1920 when the Nineteenth Amendment passed.

Many scholars assert that Seneca Falls marks the beginning of “first wave feminism” in the United states, a wave which lasts until 1920. They feel that then there is a gap until “second wave feminism” of the 1960s & 1970s appears. However I strongly disagree. I believe that there is no time in American history when you cannot find women, and sometimes with male allies, actively seeking what today would be called a feminist agenda–equality of rights, fairness of opportunity, justice before the law. Consider Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Anne Bradstreet, Deborah Sampson, Mary Dyer, Margaret Fuller, Ernestine Rose, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Ann Seton, the Grimke sisters, Mary Kies, Mary Goddard and many like them. I believe that the Seneca Falls Convention marks the start of organized action by women on their own behalf. In addition, most of the Seneca Falls women were active in the anti-slavery struggle. There, in the abolition struggle. they had acquired skills, learned tactics and utilized strategies which they moved to using on their own behalf. Abolition provided a consciousness-raising as well: for black women, they knew they were in the struggle for themselves and their families; for white women, it didn’t take too long to see that their status was much like that of slaves. From that point on–July 19, 1848–American history could never be the same. We remain indebted to those women.


“My conviction led me to adhere to the sufficiency of the light within us, resting on truth for authority, not on authority for truth.”–Lucretia Coffin Mott


What A Day this Has Been!

On this day in:

1191–During the Third Crusade: Saladin’s garrison surrenders to Conrad of Montferrat, ending the two-year siege of Acre.

 1690–Protestant forces led by William of Orange defeat the Roman Catholic army of James II at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland. The Battle of the Boyne remains a controversial topic, especially in Northern Ireland, where some Protestants remember it as the great victory over Catholics that resulted in the sovereignty of Parliament and the Protestant monarchy. The day has often been marked by confrontations between Protestants and Catholics. Among Irish nationalists in the Republic of Ireland people see the battle as a major step on the road to the complete British colonization of Ireland. In 1923, IRA members blew up a large monument to the battle at the site on the Boyne and destroyed a statue of William III in 1929 that stood outside Trinity College, Dublin in the center of the Irish capital.

The battle of Boyne

1730–Birth of Josiah Wedgwood, English potter.

1759–Quebec–English General James Wolfe orders his cannon to start firing on Quebec from heights of Lévis. Come nightfall, Jean-Daniel Dumas leads 1,600 soldiers, mostly students, in a disastrous night attack on the English–the young men panic and fire on each other.

British General James Wolfe


1804–Former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton dies a day after being shot in a duel with Aaron Burr


1812–Windsor Ontario–U S forces numbering about 2500, under Brigadier General William Hull, cross the Detroit River and occupy the town of Sandwich. This is the first American invasion in the War of 1812. However, worried about a new alliance between the British and the Native Americans led by Tecumseh, Hull will soon retreat to Detroit, and surrenders to the British a month later. (My Canadian friends love reminding me of these events!)

1817–Birth of Henry David Thoreau, American poet, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, philosopher, and leading transcendentalist. “Some say that government is best which governs least. . . . I say that government is best which governs not at all.”–”On Civil Disobedience.” “Ay, if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this co-partnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever.”–”On Civil Disobedience.”


H. D. Thoreau

1843–Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints, receives a revelation that anyone who rejects polygamy will suffer damnation.

 1849–Saint John, New Brunswick–Rioting between Orangemen and Catholics in Saint John kills twelve people.

 1854–In his journal, Thoreau writes, “Many young barn swallows (they have a darker crescent on the breast and long tail-feathers not grown) sit in flocks on the bared dead willows over the water and let me float within four or five feet. Birds do not distinguish a man sitting in a boat.”

1861In his abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison reports that “The President’s Message was communicated to Congress on Friday last. It is of moderate length, dispassionate but firm in its tone, and simple in its style. It asks for four hundred thousand soldiers and four hundred millions of dollars for the vigorous prosecution of the war. It is every where well received.”

1862–Congress first authorizes the Medal of Honor.

1863–Retreating from the bloody battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Confederate forces under General Robert E Lee reach the swollen waters of the Potomac River. The days and weeks of frequent rains that had plagued both armies during the campaign have driven the river to levels almost never seen in mid-July. Lee’s men look for ways to ford the river while President Lincoln sends telegrams to the slow-moving Union General George Meade, attempting to have him move fast enough to catch the Confederates before they cross the river.

 1864–Arriving before Washington DC, Confederate forces under General Jubal Early find that they have moved too slowly–Federal forces have reenforced the capital’s defenses. The Confederates retreat. As the wry Rhode Island Union soldier Elisha Hunt Rhodes notes in his diary, “General Early was late.” (I can hear that Yankee accent even as I read his words.)

Elisha Hunt Rhodes

1895–Birth of Broadway lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II

1895–Birth of Buckminster Fuller, American engineer and architect

1913–In the Second Balkan War, one of the immediate predecessor conflicts to the First World War, Serbian forces begin their siege of the Bulgarian city of Vidin.

1917–The Bisbee Deportation occurs as vigilantes, hired by the corporate mine owners, kidnap and deport approximately 1,300 striking miners, their family members and union supporters, from Bisbee, Arizona.

1917–Birth of Andrew Wyeth, American artist.

1933–As part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, a minimum wage of 40 cents an hour is established in the U.S. (That equals $6.78 in 2011 money!)

FDR heads to his first inaugration, 1933, with President Hoover

1934–Birth of Van Cliburn, pianist.

1946–”The Adventures of Sam Spade” premiers on ABC radio.

1954–President Dwight Eisenhower proposes a highway modernization program, with costs to be shared by federal and state governments. This will become the modern interstate highway system.

1972–George McGovern wins the Democratic presidential nomination at the party’s convention in Miami Beach.

1973–Death of Lon Chaney, Jr., American actor.


1984–Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale names New York Congresswoman Geraldine A. Ferraro his running mate, making her the first woman to run on a major party ticket. (I remember the excitement I felt that day!)

Geraldine Ferraro


Lincoln Veterans

Lincoln Battalion button

As I think back on it, I’m not sure when and where I first heard about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the Civil War in Spain. Franco still lived and continued to rule Spain in my youth. My favorite uncle, who raised my political consciousness, spoke with venom about fascists in general and Franco in particular. A radio program introduced me to the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca and I learned of his death in the early days of the war in Spain in 1936.

The poet Lorca in 1934

In high school or college, on one of my albums by Pete Seeger, I heard him sing “Viva La Quince Brigada”–”Long Live the 15th Brigade”–”we fought against the mercenary and the fascist”–“on the Jarama front we have no tanks, no canon, no airplane”–”it was our only desire to defeat fascism.” In my baccalaureate history major I took a course on modern totalitarian states from a brilliant professor, a course which included a section on Spain, its terrible civil war and the rise of Franco.

Then life, work, family and other things kept that war and those soldiers out of mind. Until a Sunday in the late 1980’s or early 90’s when CBS Sunday Morning ran a piece on the elderly American veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade [actually a misnomer–it was the Lincoln Battalion, a part of several battalions which made up the 15th International Brigade]. I felt moved to tears as I watched those old soldiers tell their stories. “I left an arm in Spain but brought back so much more,” declared an amputee. Now I am rereading Chaim Potok’s Davita’s Harp, a novel which I find beautiful, deeply moving, and intensely thought-provoking. In this 1985 novel, Michael Chandal, greatly loved father of the main character, Ilana Davita Chandal, is a journalist and left-wing activist who goes to Spain to cover the war for his newspaper and dies during a bombing raid while trying to save a nun. And those Lincoln veterans have stepped to the front of my mind, their clenched fists raised in salute, their voices raised in singing the Internationale.

Internationale songsheet

In July 1936, right-wing military officers in the Spanish Army led by General Franco attempted to overthrow the newly elected government of Spain. Hitler and Mussolini quickly joined in support of Franco. The Spanish Civil War lasted until 1939. Over half a million people are believed to have died on all sides. Approximately 2,800 American volunteers took up arms to defend the Spanish Republic against Franco. They fought alongside 35,000+ volunteers from fifty-two countries In keeping with “Popular Front” culture, as the government’s supporters called themselves, the Americans named their units the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, the George Washington Battalion, and the John Brown Battery. Together with British, Irish, Canadian, and other nationals they formed the Fifteenth International Brigade. These U S citizens came from all walks of life and most all regions of the country. They included the unemployed, teachers, artists, dancers, students, seamen, mechanics, miners, lumberjacks, and salesmen They established a truly racially integrated military unit. The exact number of killed and injured continues to be a disputed matter. At least 750 died, perhaps more. Many suffered permanent injuries.

The 15th International Brigade

Nearly 80 American women joined their countrymen in defiance of their government to volunteer for what was known as the “Good Fight.” Most all of these women served with the American Medical Bureau as nurses, doctors, technicians, and ambulance drivers. In 2007 Julia Newman produced and directed a wonderful film called “Into the Fire: American Women in the Spanish Civil War.” Ms Newman said of her project, “They were extraordinary people, but they were ordinary people who had found their way to a cause that caught their heart. And this is part of my own background. My parents were supporters of the republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and they had friends who fought and died in Spain. And I realized that I knew nothing about the fact that there were eighty women who had gone to Spain as volunteers to serve, primarily as medicals, in support of the international brigades. And I wanted that history to be known.” Righteous work in my opinion, Ms Newman. You did a fine job.

Martha Gellhorn, a renowned war correspondent who was Ernest Hemingway’s third wife, said, “I was in Germany in 1936 and could not avoid seeing these headlines about the ‘red swine dogs’ in Spain. I had been in Spain, but I knew nothing about what had happened, that the king had gone, that there was a republic, but all I needed was to read in a German paper that it was the red swine dogs to know whose side I was on: theirs.”

Virginia Cowles, a reporter for The New York Times who covered the war in Spain, declared, “In spite of numerous and conflicting political terms used to classify the Spanish conflict, the fundamental issue lies neither between republicanism and fascism nor between communism and monarchism. Mainly and simply it is a war between the proletariat and the upper classes.”

About 1,200 Canadians formed a separate battalion named for William Lyon Mackenzie and Louis-Joseph Papineau, who led the 1837 Rebellions in Canada. The battalion was under the command of Edward Cecil-Smith, a Montreal-based journalist and trade union organizer. The Canadians who made up the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion came from all parts of Canada. Unlike Britain and the United States, where a significant number of students and intellectuals enlisted, the Canadian group consisted almost wholly of working class laborers who had been driven to the political left by their experiences during the Great Depression.

Canadian volunteers in Spain

These volunteers included members of the CCF (a predecessor of the current New Democratic Party) as well as some Liberals and others with no political affiliation. A large percentage of those who enlisted had been born in Europe, the two largest groups being Finns and Ukrainians. Better than half these Canadians died in Spain. In 1975 the National Film Board of Canada produced an award-winning film called “Los Canadienses” about the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. The moving film includes many period photographs and film clips along with interviews of aging survivors.

American celebrities such as Albert Einstein, Dorothy Parker, Gene Kelly, Paul Robeson, Helen Keller, A. Philip Randolph, and Gypsy Rose Lee supported the Republican cause. In one of her newspaper columns, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, “Three very interesting people came to dine with us last night: Miss Martha Gellhorn, Mr Ernest Hemingway, both writers, and Mr Joris Ivens, a maker of films. After dinner, the two men showed us a film which they made. The profits are going into the purchase of ambulances to help the sick and dying in a part of the world which is at present war-torn.”

In her interview in 2007 with film maker Julia Newman on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman noted that, “Eleanor Roosevelt disagreed with her husband. Eleanor Roosevelt was a close friend of Martha Gellhorn, the war correspondent.”

White House photo of Eleanor Roosevelt

Ms Newman replied, “Yes. She did everything she could to help convince FDR to go against the [arms] embargo [against the Spanish government]. Ultimately, he was too politically frightened I guess isn’t too strong a word. He was a consummate politician, and he did not want to alienate what he saw as a collection of powerful lobbies in this country who were primarily Catholic, but who were pro-Franco. There was a strong movement here that was pro-Franco, along with the fact that most Americans were not.”

Ms Goodman: “Led by a powerful radio talk show host.”

Ms Newman: “Named Father Coughlin, yes. Father Coughlin was the radio priest, and he was quite rabid in rallying his listener-ship to Franco.”

In November 1938, as a last attempt to pressure Hitler and Mussolini into repatriating their troops, the Spanish prime minister Juan Negrin ordered the withdrawal of the International Brigades. The German and Italian coalition refused to follow suit and Madrid fell in March 1939.The Lincoln veterans returned home as heroes of the anti-fascist cause but enjoyed no official recognition of their deed.

In the 1950’s many of these veterans suffered harassment or were forced out of their jobs by the FBI. Some were prosecuted under legislation like the Smith Act and state sedition laws, although over time all but a few convictions were overturned. Yet both in the United States and Canada the majority of the veterans continued to be active on the political left.

From 1937 through 1948, the FBI maintained files on these men. About 160 pages of this material was publicly released in 2008. I find the following from that file quite revealing: “The American people were misled. into thinking that the Spanish Civil War was only between the forces of darkness and light, ignorance and enlightenment, retrogression and progression, tyranny and freedom, Fascism and Democracy. This was precisely what the Communists wanted the American people to believe. As was indicated earlier in this memorandum the truth is there was no clear cut, black and white issue in the Spanish Civil War. Each side was made up of differing factions, and of men with varying social viewpoints. No one side had a monopoly on any virtues or vices pertaining to human relations. As the war progressed Communists under the guidance of Russia came to infiltrate and influence the Loyalist Government. And the one thing which did have the sound ring ot certainty to it was: Communists were not attempting to establish democracy in Spain. On the contrary they were opposed to democracy and sought to establish Communism; a dictatorship of the proletariat as a satellite of Soviet Russia. Judging from the evaluation made of public opinion in the United States the American people did not seem to fully understand or appreciate the fact, remaining contused about it all as so many Americans today appear to be confused and misled.” This from the agency that kept secret files on First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Rev Martin Luther King, Jr, Jane Addams and Dr Benjamin Spock.

Moe Fishman, a veteran of the Lincoln Brigade who died in August of 2007 at age 92, once said, “The International Brigade, of which we were a part, consisted of about 40,000 to 45,000 volunteers from fifty-two countries who came to the aid of the Spanish Republic, and I want to emphasize ‘came to the aid of.’ It was the Spanish Republic and their people who fought this war and deserved the major credit for the big fight that they put up, which gave the democracies a two-and-a-half-year window of opportunity to change from a policy of appeasing fascism, led by Chamberlain of Britain and subscribed to by [President] Roosevelt, to one of actively fighting fascism. If they had actively fought fascism in 1936-1939, we would have stopped Hitler.”

Thought-provoking. One of those “what-if” questions that make the study of history vibrate. Regardless of the apparent failure of the International Brigades, those women and men have things to teach us. At an address in New York City in April, 2007, the singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte declared so movingly, “I say to the Lincoln Brigade, thank you so much for what you have given all of us, me in my youth and the youth of today. Without your courage, without your vigilance, without your insight, America could never have hung on as tenaciously as we have done to the things hat are decent about this country. It is your example, it is that which you have given us, that has helped guide us through some of the darkest times in the history of this nation. We defeated Hitler, but we did not defeat fascism. We defeated McCarthy, but we did not defeat fascism. . . . We still have work to do. We must still be vigilant. And all we need to do when we have moments of doubt is to look back at what was given us by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the valiant sacrifices that were made by them to know what we have to do in our time.”

Preach it Brother Harry! As President Lincoln said about the dead of another war: “That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”

Monument to the U S volunteers

 The final word I leave to a great historian, the late Howard Zinn. “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.”

Monument to the Canadian volunteers

The First Day, The First Time

“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, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”–President Abraham Lincoln

“War is hell.”–General William Tecumseh Sherman

“War is not an adventure. It is a disease. It is like typhus.”–Antoine de Saint-Exupery, pilot, poet, author

I was 11 years old the first time I saw the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Although I did not fully understand all that happened there, the place made a lasting impression upon my mind and heart. And it has in the several visits I have made since that summer. My mother did not believe in the extravagance of guided tours, even if she could have afforded one, which she could not. She had a simple chart of the battlefield. She drove slowly around, parked wherever she could and we walked to all kinds of places, taking our time to look at monuments and statues and to read many plaques. We moved quietly and respectfully through the rows upon rows of graves. I remember looking in awe at the place where Lincoln gave his short, eloquent speech.

Gettysburg National Cemetery

There are well over 640 history books written just about the Battle of Gettysburg. Of course the battle is discussed in hundreds more books written about the Civil War, President Lincoln and others connected with the events of those three days. I’ve read only a handful and more articles than I can remember. Today, July 1, marks the date of the start of the battle. I’m reflecting on some of those people and events.

Determined to take the war into northern territory, General Robert E Lee launched an invasion of Pennsylvania in the last days of June, 1863. Lee himself entered Pennsylvania on June 27th. Lee’s forces were spread out like the prongs of pitchfork. He was hampered by a lack of communication with General Jeb Stuart, his dashing, rash but brilliant cavalry commander. As a result Lee’s infantry, artillery and supply columns marched somewhat blind in unfamiliar country and without cavalry protection. The Confederate forces, indeed, many parts of the South, were low on food stuffs, short of horses and without a solid industrial base to maintain a regular supply of weapons and ammunition.

Unlike what the Federal troops under General William Tecumseh Sherman would do in Georgia in 1864 and ‘65, Lee’s troops were ordered not to steal or plunder and to “pay” in Confederate script for goods taken. Not all soldiers followed these orders. Nonetheless, many Amish and Mennonite farmers as well as others gave water, milk, bread, butter, flour and bacon to the Confederates without resistance. Aware of a supply of shoes warehoused at Gettysburg and unaware of how close the Union forces really were, Confederates under General Heth headed for the area.

Southern soldiers under General Albert Jenkins seized black people in the areas around Mercersburg and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. While a few were fugitive slaves, most were free born persons. Some managed to escape their captors; however, about 50 or more were shipped south into slavery.

Just as most Union soldiers who had been less than 35 miles from home before the start of the war, most Confederates had little idea of how others lived. Rebel officers expressed shock to see young white women, without shoes or bonnets, working in the fields. A Confederate infantyman wrote to his family, complaining that “Dutch and Irish girls” in Pennsylvania were “dirty and [the] meanest looking creatures to call themselves white girls.” Beer in Pennsylvania, brewed by German immigrants, proved to be much stronger than that known to many Southern lads. Officers and enlisted men over-indulged. Because of several days of rain, Confederate soldiers chose not to march on the muddy roads but rather through fields full of standing grain, damaging crops.


General Buford

On Tuesday, June 30th, two brigades of Federal cavalry, under the command of General John Buford, entered Gettysburg. Buford, like President Lincoln, was born in Kentucky. His family, including his father, owned slaves. He graduated from the military academy at West Point and served in combat against the Sioux on the western plains and with the Federal forces who had tried to end the bloodshed between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces in “Bleeding Kansas,” a prelude to the current war. Buford correctly determined that Lee’s forces were headed away from the state capital at Harrisburg and had turned in a new direction. Despite being significantly out-numbered, Buford dismounted his troopers and determined to make a fight west of Gettysburg until General Meade could bring up the main Union forces. Buford’s men were well-armed with new Spencer 7-shot rifles which enabled them to fire as much twenty-one rounds per minute as compared to the Confederate infantry armed with muzzle-loading muskets who could, with experience, fire four rounds per minute. Most likely, Buford’s determination provoked a battle at a time and on terrain Lee had not chosen. However, despite his brilliant performance at Gettysburg, Buford, like many other generals from both armies, did not live to see the end of the war. He died on December 16th, 1863 in Washington, DC, probably from typhoid fever.

One of the statues I remember clearly from my first visit is a likeness of John Burns. By the standards of the time, he was quite elderly, being 69 years old and a veteran of the War of 1812. On that afternoon of July 1, 1863, as Confederate forces pushed toward the town, Burns shouldered his old musket and calmly joined the men of the 24th Regiment, Michigan Volunteer Infantry, known as the “Iron Brigade.” The tough young men respected the old man who stood with them, firing away until he suffered a minor wound. In November, 1863, John Burns met and walked with President Lincoln when Lincoln came to dedicate the national cemetery. Of the 496 men of the Iron Brigade who went into battle on July 1st, only 99 were present and fit for duty the next morning.

John Burns

The first infantry units to arrive in support of Buford were under the command of General John Reynolds. Reynolds hailed from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had also graduated from West Point, had combat experience in War with Mexico and against Native Americans. At age 42, he was considered smart, handsome and very well-liked by his troops. Reportedly, President Lincoln offered him the command of the Army of the Potomac to replace the ineffective General Hooker. Reynolds declined and Lincoln picked George Meade. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Reynolds wanted the kind of unrestricted command Lincoln later gave Ulysses S Grant. As Reynolds directed infantry into position, a bullet, most likely fired by a Confederate sharpshooter, entered his neck, knocking him from his horse and killing him almost instantly. His true love, Miss Kate Hewitt, learning of his death, entered a Roman Catholic convent in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Death of General Reynolds


The Lutheran Theological Seminary served Union officers and later Confederate officers as an observation tower and still later as a field hospital during the three days of battle. Ironically, one of the men who played a key role in founding the Seminary, Rev Samuel S Schmucker, was an active abolitionist. He used places at the Seminary and rooms in his own house as safe places for fugitive slaves escaping from the South. Union soldiers destroyed anti-slavery materials found at the Seminary to prevent the items from falling into Confederate hands. For two months after the battle, wounded soldiers from both sides were treated at the Seminary as well as in most churches and large buildings in town.

Lutheran Seminary

In 1925, Liberty Augusta Hollinger Clutz, at age 78, put down in writing her memories of the Battle of Gettysburg. She was 16 in July, 1863, one of five children in the Hollinger family living in the town. Her recollections are simply told and deeply moving. She wrote of how the Confederates took her father’s old horse and finding it too old to be useful, let it go and how they ransacked her father’s warehouse, destroying the foodstuffs they could not take with them. In her narration she mentioned how on the first day a young retreating Union soldier left his backpack with her mother and he never returned for it. She saw General Lee on horseback ride past her family’s house. On the second day of fighting, a distinguished looking Confederate doctor asked politely if he might rest a few moments on their porch. His uniform was bloody and caked with mud. When Augusta’s mother offered to feed him, he declined, saying that spending a morning amputating limbs left him with no appetite and he needed only a few minutes quiet to renew his soul. After the battle, she, her sisters and her parents spent days moving wounded off the field and nursing them as best they could. A young Union soldier in her care, a man from Portland, Maine, died the day before his mother arrived to take care of him. For months the young Augusta gathered up abandoned army coats and used them to cover skeletal remains which she and others kept finding. Later she married a Lutheran minister, Jacob Clutz, who taught for some years at the Lutheran Seminary.

Remains of dead horses after the battle

By sundown on July 3rd, the Union forces had sustained 23,049 dead, wounded and missing; the Confederates, 28,063 dead, wounded and missing. Lee managed to disengage and make a painful retreat into Maryland. The cautious General Meade waited and then moved slowly in pursuit, much to Lincoln’s annoyance. Meanwhile, out west, a feisty, short-of-stature, bearded, hard-drinking general named Ulysses S Grant, captured Vicksburg, Mississippi and would provide Lincoln the kind of general the President wanted.

During the Civil War, at least 646,392 Americans were killed or wounded by other Americans. They accounted for 1.96% of the total population. In the South, in 1865, 1 of every 4 white males over age 16 was dead or permanently disabled. Compare those numbers with approximately 50,000 Americans killed or wounded in the Revolution; 211,454 killed or wounded in Vietnam; 320,518 killed or wounded in the First World War.

Unfinished grave of Confederate dead

I tell students that the Civil War was the defining American experience in our 235 years of history. And the issues are still not resolved. Looking at the newspapers, blogs, and television and listening to the radio I still hear the debate of federal power versus states’ rights, the place of African Americans in our society and the meaning and intent of the Constitution as modified by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Have those honored dead really died in vain? I think we don’t yet have a definitive answer.

“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”–Jeannette Rankin, one of 50 members of the House of Representatives who voted against U S entry in World War One in 1917.

“War is the unfolding of miscalculations.”–Barbara Tuchman, historian, author of The Guns of August.

“In peace, children inter their parents; war violates the order of nature and causes parents to inter their children.” Herodotus, Greek historian (circa 484-425, B C E).

“No one can claim to be called Christian who gives money for the building of warships and arsenals.”–Belva Ann Lockwood, first woman lawyer to practice before the U S Supreme Court and vice-president of the Universal Peace Union.

About the Civil War, Lockwood wrote, “No woman voted a subsidy to maintain it . . . . when the great outlay of blood and treasure is summed up, including the amount paid and to be paid for pensions, enough money would have been peaceably spent to have bought out of bondage every slave.”–Lockwood in Lippincott’s Magazine, February, 1888.

Attorney Belva Lockwood