Monday, September 30, 2013

Robert Caro's relentless inquiry into power in public life

This past weekend I had a chance to listen to a man who has pursued the mystery of one defining American quality for nearly half a century: the essence of power and its use. His name is Robert A. Caro. Some of us have been following his journey since 1982, reading his thick books on the life of Lyndon B. Johnson – four so far – shortly after they roll off the presses.

Robert A. Caro's Johnson is a paradox of ruthlessness and compassion.   
I cannot wait for the fifth. A principal subject will be Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam. This story shaped my life. I have wondered since the 1960s whether the Vietnam War would have happened had John F. Kennedy not been assassinated, and I look forward to Caro’s take on the subject.

Caro was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1965-66. There he hit upon the idea of writing a biography of Robert Moses, the urban planner known as the “master builder” of New York City during the mid-20th century. He had been a reporter at Newsday but left daily journalism and began digging.

In the seven years it took him to write The Power Broker, he had a year-long grant at Columbia but made little progress on the book. His wife Ida sold their house for money to live on, but they burned through the profit from that, too, and still no book.

At a gathering of Nieman Fellows last weekend in Cambridge, Caro was no longer the would-be author scraping by but the center of attention – a two-time Pulitzer winner among friends in awe of his success and eager to learn its secrets. But in fact he was the same man on the same mission.

He said he never thought of himself as writing a biography of Robert Moses. Rather his subject was power. How did an unelected public official acquire and use the power to shape New York City?

It is harder to deny that the LBJ project is a biography, but power remains Caro’s real subject. For nearly 40 years he has been exploring Johnson's grasp on power and use of it in the Senate and White House. (The vice presidency, as the most recent volume shows, frustrated Johnson to the point of humiliation, as even he could not wield power from that office.)

On Saturday, Caro was interviewed before an audience of hundreds of Nieman Fellows (interview video here) by Anne Hull, the reporter who exposed the shoddy treatment of wounded U.S. soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital. His answers laid out the two tracks of his method: archival research and interviews with people who knew and worked with Johnson, a much diminished breed.

When he began the project, Caro knew he could not examine all the millions upon millions of documents in the Johnson papers, but he decided to “turn every page” of the early congressional material.

A vital question was how Johnson had transformed himself from a pol who asked other pols, “Can I have a minute of your time?” to a pol whom other pols asked this question. A Texas bigwig had told Caro the answer – “Money, kid, money” – but had added that Caro would never figure out the details because Johnson had never put anything in writing about it.

Caro: LBJ "always wanted to help the poor." 
By turning every page, Caro not only pinpointed the time of this change to the fall of 1940 but also uncovered the cryptic system by which Johnson recorded who was giving him how much. He even figured out LBJ’s way of writing off those who disappointed him by not paying up. “You never crossed LBJ,” Caro said.

Caro traveled to the Texas Hill Country, LBJ’s home, and began asking people about him. “After a while I came to realize there was something they weren’t telling me,” he said. His solution was to move there. For three years, he and Ida lived at least 10 months out of the year in the Hill Country. When it dawned on people that he was not just another journalist parachuting in to do a profile of Johnson, they began to talk. Suddenly Caro was filling his notebooks with stories of Johnson's ruthlessness as a young man.

He also learned about life in the Hill Country, digging his own fingers into the soil and realizing how little of it there was. This was evidence of how slight the margin of error was for people trying to live off the land there, or, as he put it: “You can’t make a mistake here or you lose your house.”

To some degree it explains the paradox of LBJ. In Caro’s telling, he is a man of utter ruthlessness but also genuine compassion for the poor. In theory and in practice, Caro said, these characteristics are so extreme “that you keep thinking you are exaggerating. . . . Then ‘Wow! Look what he’s doing now.’ You’re in awe of the magnitude of it.”

Did Caro really believe that a moral imperative drove LBJ? Was his compassion for the underprivileged real or did he pursue the Great Society and other programs to further his own career?

“He always wanted to help the poor,” Caro answered, and he cited an example. As a young man, LBJ had spent a year as a teacher. His pupils were Mexican or Mexican-American, and he was diligent in teaching them to read. What’s more, he stayed late. Sitting beside the school’s janitor on the stairs as the man read to him, Johnson corrected his pronunciation.

Caro said that even though Congress faced obstacles in the 1950s similar to the deadlock of today, the difference is that no one today has the skills LBJ had. Part of true genius, he said, is “You find a way that no one has done before.” That was Johnson’s accomplishment: He found a way to make the system work.

Caro turns 78 years old next month. He is still learning things about Johnson every day. He has an office in New York where he reports, researches and writes. He puts on a coat and tie each workday to remind himself that he has a job to do, and he writes 1,000 words a day. “These are all tricks,” he says.

Caro never regretted the turn he took from newspaper reporting during the late 1960s. “As a reporter,” he said, “I just hated that you always had to write when you still had questions.”

He'll get to my question in the next volume. The power to make war is, of course, the greatest power a president has, and in the case of Vietnam, who better to get to the bottom of it than Caro? Vietnam was certainly Johnson's war, and we'll never really know what Kennedy would have done about the crisis there had he lived. The Johnson tapes show both LBJ's reluctance to get into a ground war and his early recognition that the war could not be won. This is the tragedy of the Johnson presidency, and it was an even greater tragedy for many who fought there.

I'm eager to see what Caro makes of it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

'The monument is wholly unlike any other on the ground, and naturally attracts much attention'

Veterans and family members at the 5th New Hampshire monument dedication on July 2, 1886. Seated on the boulder with his feet on the ground is Elias T. Marston, the speaker that day. On July 2, 1863, he had been the 5th's 20-year-old adjutant. Next to him is Charles Hapgood, the 5th's lieutenant colonel, who had helped identify this as the spot where Col. Edward E. Cross was shot. Beside the monument opposite Marston is Gus Sanborn, a private from Franklin who rose to captain. At the far right is Sgt. John McCrillis, who painted the 5th's symbol, a large red trefoil, on his barn after the war. 
When the veteran soldiers of New Hampshire who had fought at Gettysburg gathered there again in 1886, it had been 23 years since the gore, fear, ferocity, near-defeat and ultimate triumph of that battle. They came together to walk the field and remember.

The Sharpshooter monument is made of Concord granite.
Veterans of the 2nd and the 5th New Hampshire volunteer infantry regiments and Companies F and G of Berdan's Sharpshooters dedicated their monuments on July 2, the anniversary of the day they had been in action. Companies F and G of Berdan's Sharpshooters, both recruited in New Hampshire, had fought on the Union left on July 2, 1863, but chose to place their monument at their third-day position on Cemetery Ridge.

The 12th New Hampshire Volunteers also fought on the second day, but their monument was not dedicated until September 1888. It bears lines from a poem by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., father of the future Supreme Court Justice. The inscription reads:

The 5th New Hampshire monument is in Rose’s Woods on the spot where Col. Edward E. Cross was mortally wounded. Lt. Col. Charles Hapgood, who was speaking with Cross when he was shot, helped identify the spot. He attended the dedication.

Congressman Haynes
The 2nd New Hampshire monument is on the southwest corner of the Peach Orchard just at the L-shaped angle where the 3rd Corps line turned east toward the Wheatfield and Little Roundtop and north along the Emmittsburg Road toward the town of Gettysburg. The speaker at its dedication was Congressman Martin Alonzo Haynes, who had been an articulate young rifleman in the 2nd in 1863.

In Our War, I tell the story of New Hampshire at Gettysburg through the experiences of Cross, Haynes and Richard W. Musgrove, who gave the dedicatory speech at the 12th’s monument.

On July 22, 1886, nearly three weeks after the veterans gathered in Gettysburg, the The National Tribune in Washington, D.C., published a detailed account of their return to the battlefield. Most likely, it was written by Haynes. Here it is:

The first Reunion of New Hampshire soldiers who participated in the battle of Gettysburg in July, 1863, took place in that historic town, in connection with that of the Third Corps, under circumstances of peculiar interest.

It will be remembered that at the last session of the Legislature an appropriation of $500 was made to each of the military organizations of the State which participated in that memorable battle upon Northern soil for the purpose of erecting a monument to mark the position of such organizations upon that battleground.

Private Haynes 
The New Hampshire contingent of participants in this Reunion and dedication of monuments left on June 29, and proceeded via the Fall River line of steamers and the Pennsylvania & Cumberland Valley Railroads, arriving at Gettysburg at 6 o’clock on the evening of the 30th. The party was soon quartered in hotels and private houses, mainly in the village, although some tarried in a house upon the Emmittsburg road, near the historic Peach Orchard, in order to be nearer the scene of their action of 23 years ago. 

Thursday, 1st, the 23d anniversary of the opening day of the battle of Gettysburg was spent in looking over the battlefield, and especially the portions occupied by the Union forces on the second day of the battle.

Of course 23 years have wrought many changes in the appearance of the battlefield, which covers so vast an extent of territory, and it was not to be wondered at that it required careful search and retracing of steps to fix the localities of events which made a deep impression upon tho boys in blue at that time. But this was done, and the positions of the 2nd and 5th N. H. and of the Sharpshooters, on the 2nd and 3rd of July, were traced in detail, even to the spots where comrades fell or prisoners were captured.

It can be said to the credit of the 2nd N.H. that the most advanced position in the line of battle on our left at the Peach Orchard on the 2d of July was occupied by it until forced back to escape being cut off by Gen. Barksdale [Brig. Gen. William Barksdale was mortally wounded during the devastating attack his Mississippi made on Union 3rd Corps units.] Altogether the day was most busily spent, and nightfall found the boys weary with their campaigning, but amply repaid for their day’s tramping over the line of battle of the second day of the Gettysburg fight.

Friday, the 2nd, being the anniversary of the fighting on the left, in which Gen. Sickles’ Third Corps was engaged, and sustained such heavy losses, it was decided that the monuments to the 2nd and 5th N. H. and Sharpshooters should be dedicated and turned over to the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association on that day. Accordingly, at 8 o’clock a car was taken on the short line of railroad which runs from the village of Gettysburg to Little Round Top Park, and passes very near to the Sharpshooters’ monument, which is located but a few rods from what is known as “Hancock Station.”

This is a station in name only, there being no structure for passengers to wait in, but only two or three steps which rise from the track to the slight knoll where a board announces that Gen. Hancock was wounded, and to the small clump of bushes to which ho was carried. [Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, one of the heroes of Gettysburg, led the 2nd Corps, which included the 5th New Hampshire.]

John C. Linehan
Maj. E. T. Rowell, of Lowell, Chairman of the Monument Committee, called upon Comrade Rev. C. H. Kimball to offer prayer, after which “America” was sung, and Maj. Rowell addressed Past Department Commander John C. Linehan, the New Hampshire Director of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, tendering the monument, to which Col. Linehan responded in eloquent terms.

The 5th N. H. monument was also dedicated. This monument is located on the spot where Col. Cross fell mortally wounded, in the woods near the field in which Gen. Sickles was wounded.

The monument is wholly unlike any other on the ground, and naturally attracts much attention. It consists of a hammered disk of New Hampshire granite, upon which the names of the dead are inscribed, resting on large boulders, and also surmounted by a boulder.

Capt. J. R. McCrillis, Chairman of the Monument Committee, called upon Col. Hapgood to offer prayer, after which Adjutant Elias T. Marston delivered a fine address. Capt. McCrillis, in a short and appropriate address, turned the monument over to the Battlefield Memorial Association, and Col. John C. Linehan replied appropriately.

John W. Adams, the 2nd's former chaplain.
The 2nd N. H. monument was dedicated at 3 o’clock, the suspension of the rain serving to give an increased audience over the forenoon exercises. This monument is located on the advanced line in the Peach Orchard, which was occupied by the regiment on July 2, 1863, near tho old rail fence, and fronting upon an avenue that is to be laid out through the Peach Orchard. The Orchard, by the way, does not contain any of the trees that grew in it 23 years ago, but a lot of thrifty young trees. Gen. Patterson, Chairman of the Committee to procure the monument, called upon Chap. J. W. Adams to offer prayer, after which Congressman Martin A. Haynes spoke most eloquently. 
We give the concluding paragraphs:

“The 2nd had made its record at Gettysburg. The plain figures chiseled upon that block of granite are the eloquent record of the deed. One hundred and ninety-three men stricken not from a division, not from a brigade, but from one little skeleton regiment numbering but 355 officers and men.

“Do those who never stood in the battle line understand what such figures mean? Why, battles have been fought which were pivotal events in history and are quoted as monuments of valor, with less aggregate loss than that of the 2nd N. H. upon this spot. Our fathers won Bennington, and bravely won it, with a loss of but 70 killed and wounded. Trenton and Princeton combined cost Washington only about half the men that Gettysburg cost our single regiment. And Yorktown was won and American independence assured with less than half the loss to the American army that our regiment here sustained; while the total loss of our French allies fell seven below our figures, amounting to 180 men. “Tippecanoe” became the rallying cry of a great political party, upon which its hero was elevated to the Presidency; but Tippecanoe, stubborn fight that it was, cost Harrison’s army only 188 men. There is a world of suggestion in such figures as these. It was a veteran regiment that fought here, and it can be safely assumed that none but a veteran regiment could have stood such a test and done such a work.

“These were men who fought at Bull Run, who followed Hooker in the battles of the Peninsula, who charged with Grover over tho railroad bank at Groveton. But not all that stood with us at Gettysburg had such a record. The number in line at the Peach Orchard was probably less than the recruits which the regiment had from time to time received.

2nd New Hampshire monument in the Peach Orchard.
“Our brave old Col. Marston [Gilman Marston of Exeter also remained a congressman intil early 1863] wore the well-earned stars of a General, in another command, and he who had been the 10th Captain in the line had risen by regular promotion to the command of the regiment [Col. Edward L. Bailey of Manchester, 23 years old at the time, was wounded during the battle]. Such had been the changes incident to the service. But that the regiment was a veteran regiment by no mean carries the assumption that it was composed exclusively of veterans. In fact, there were in our ranks nearly a hundred men who here for the first time heard the roar of hostile guns, it was a rough initiation, but of all who fought here there were none braver or better than our raw recruits, the men of the dismantled 17th.

Such was the regiment – such was its deed. Our State has indicated its pride in both by setting here this memorial stone. We are not many, we who stood at Gettysburg. Some escaped the iron hail here only to meet their fate on other fields, and our number is rapidly growing less. For us the living, this monument stands as a memorial to our comrades, our brothers, who here gave up their lives. Our recompense while living is ample in the proud privilege of saying, ‘I was with the 2nd regiment at Gettysburg!’ And when we are all gone – and that day will not be long in coming – generations of New Hampshire men will point to the record there inscribed with an honest pride in the achievements of their ancestors who lived in an age which they will recognize as heroic.”

Edward L. Bailey, the 2nd's "boy colonel" at Gettysburg.
The address was followed by a poem by Chaplain Adams, and the reading of a letter from Col. Edward L. Bailey by Comrade Thomas B. Little. Gen. Patterson turned over the monument to the custody of the Battlefield Monument Association, to which Col. Linehan replied. Group pictures were taken of the three monuments by local artists, which will be in demand in the several organizations, as they were pronounced to be good ones.

The losses of the 2nd and 5th regiments in killed, wounded and missing on July 2 were very heavy, and an inspection of the monuments already erected upon the field does not reveal any so heavy. The roll-call of the 2nd when it went into tho Peach Orchard was 24 officers and 330 men. At the close of the day 19 had been shot dead, 13 were wounded, and 38 missing. All of the field officers were wounded. Among the killed were Capt. Metcalf and Lieut. Roberts. Lieuts. Ballard, Dascomb, Vickery and Patch and Capt. Hubbard died of their wounds in a few days. The 5th went in with 21 officers and 165 men, of which number four officers and 82 men were killed and wounded.

[My thanks to Dave Morin and Andrew Harris for material that helped me prepare this post.] 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Gettysburg veteran who knew the battlefield by heart

Charles Hale  (bottom center) had served in the 5th New Hampshire and was a protege of Col. Edward E. Cross, the regiment's commander. The two rode together to Gettysburg, and Hale wrote an account of Cross
in the battle. Here, a quarter century later, Hale leads a group of veterans on a tour of Devil's Den.

Hale (with mustache) in detail from photo above.
On a perfect Monday morning in late August of 1887, members of Arlington Lodge No. 1241 of the Knights of Honor boarded a train at Pennsylvania Avenue station in Baltimore. Their destination was the battlefield at Gettysburg, where they would have the good fortune to have as their guide Charles Austin Hale, a 46-year-old veteran of the battle.

Once the Knights reached Gettysburg, Amos Keeter sat next to Hale in one of the comfortable carriages that transported the tour group. At the Gettysburg Springs Hotel the battlefield photographer W.H. Tipton took a group portrait, and the Knights ate a sumptuous meal.

Afterward they headed for the battlefield with Hale in the lead. “He has on his full uniform, is tall, straight as an arrow, has a fine military bearing, a clear, distinct well modulated voice, is well posted and altogether is the model battle guide,” wrote Teeter. “He knows the Gettysburg battlefield by heart; his heart is in the work. He was in the battle and describes with great power the stirring acts of the long ago.”

W,H. Tipton's photograph of three Third Corps generals visting Gettysburg
after the war. They are Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Carr, under whom the 12th
New Hampshire fought along the Emmitsburg Road; Maj. Gen. Dan E,
Sickles, who ordered the advance that shaped the July 2 fighting; and
Brig. Gen. Charles G. Graham, whose brigade the 2nd New Hampshire
was sent to reinforce in the Peach Orchard. 
Keeter also wrote something telling about the tour. In 1863, when the battle was fought, northern hatred of the enemy still ran high. The rebels were traitors, and their treason had led the nation to bloodshed and grief. The hatred was reciprocated. But by 1887, veterans of the two sides embraced each other in a spirit of reunion. Fair enough, except that their embrace crushed the rights of African-Americans to full citizenship, an explicit object of the war.

Hale took the Knights from Baltimore to see the 2nd Maryland CSA monument, at that time the only Confederate monument on the field. Teeter “called the Major’s attention to the fact that every monument erected on that field is a monument to the courage, the pluck, the endurance of the men who fought there whether they wore the gray or the blue.”

Back in the town, Keeter read “The Blue and The Gray,” a popular poem that celebrated this sectional lovefest. It ends:

No more shall the war cry sever,
    Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever
    When they laurel the graves of our dead!
        Under the sod and the dew,
            Waiting the judgment-day,
        Love and tears for the Blue,
            Tears and love for the Gray.

The Knights gave three cheers for Major Hale, and by 9 p.m., their train had delivered them back home to Baltimore. Although Keeter did not mention in his account, their visit had been among Hale’s first as a tour guide.

Hale's father Sumner preached at the Lebanon, N.H., Baptist
church at left, and the family lived in the parsonage at right.
Who was this Charles A. Hale, who returned to Gettysburg after the war to show the field to veterans and civilians alike and to tell them from experience what the battle was like?

In 1861, Hale was a 20-year-old Baptist minister’s son living in the parsonage beside the church on Elm Street in Lebanon, N.H. On Aug. 26 of that year, he enlisted as a corporal in the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers, an infantry regiment then forming.

Hale fought with the 5th on the Peninsula and at Antietam and was wounded at Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862. He wrote home to his mother after Fredericksburg to describe how he had learned that James Perry, the Lebanon captain who led his company, had been shot near the Stratton House. The house was within easy range of the wall that protected rebel infantrymen.

Charles A. Hale as a captain in the 5th.
“I did not see Capt. Perry fall, did not know he was struck till I was hit, & going back a merciful providence directed my steps, & there he lay in the mud at my feet. It was near a small brick house. A slight board fence screened us from the sight of the sharpshooters, but afforded us no more resistance to the bullets than a sheet of paper.

“I could not move him to a safe place, so I determined to stay by him. At first he was insensible, but Lieut. [Janvrin] Graves from our Regt gave me some whiskey with which I moistened his lips, & soon he began to revive, & in a short time he was perfectly rational. The fatal bullet had passed through his lungs.

“He knew he must die, & his only regret was leaving his wife & little one – wished me to tell his friends that he died like a true soldier holding the Stars & Stripes. He had just picked up the flag & held it in is hands when hit.”

Hale was on the battlefield at Fredericksburg from the time the 5th New Hampshire attacked “till after the stars began to shine.” It was, he wrote, “terrible, terrible. I can see in it nothing but a useless slaughter. The noblest, bravest hearts that ever fought were sacrificed.”

By Chancellorsville, where he was again wounded in early May, Hale was a lieutenant. Less than two months later, he rode to Gettysburg with Col. Edward E. Cross as a member of Cross's brigade staff. Afterward he wrote a lively account of the ride and of Cross in battle. 

In both My Brave Boys, which I wrote with Mark Travis, and Our War, I used Hale's description of Cross on horseback. The colonel had honed his skills on long rides in the West before the war, including his time fighting Apaches in the land acquired in the Gadsden Purchase, the future Arizona. Cross was a tall, awkward man on foot, but when he rode Jack, his wartime horse, the two were as one. Hale described Cross as “tall in the saddle, straight as an arrow, lithe like an Indian, with a head on his shoulders that was poised with grace like a woman’s, and those sharp eyes that noted everything in the range of vision.”

On July 2, 1863, it was Hale whom Cross asked to help him tie a bandanna around his head, as he always did before battle. The two men were with on Cemetery Ridge, but Cross’s brigade was about to be ordered into the Wheatfield to help stop a Confederate breakthrough.

Hale knew the bandanna ritual, but there was a difference this time. Cross pulled a new silk bandanna from an inside pocket, draped it over his lifted knee, and folded it. He handed his hat to Hale and tied the bandanna around his head. But this bandanna was black, not red, as in past battles. Although the ritual had amused Hale in the past, the black bandanna upset him. His hands shook as he tightened the knot at the back of Cross’s head.

General Winfield Scott Hancock, the corps commander, rode up with his staff and shouted, “Colonel Cross, today will bring you a star.” Cross shook his head and replied, “No, general, this is my last battle.”

Ad for Cyclorama's visit to Cincinnati.
Hale left the army the summer after the Gettysburg battle. He had fought three years, and he was worn out. Apparently he had a change of heart once he got home. He returned in January 1865 to fight until the war's end that spring.

Hale married after the war, and he and his wife Sarah started a family in Lebanon, where he worked as a machinist. By 1880, the Hales had moved to Camden, N.J.

During the 1880s, Hale became involved with the French artist Paul Phillipoteaux’s “Cyclorama,” a vivid depiction of Pickett's Charge on the third day at Gettysburg. Many of the photographs in Hale’s extensive scrapbook about his times on the battlefield as a tour guide are pictures Tipton took to help Phillipoteaux correctly recreate the topography.

Phillipoteaux eventually created three Cycloramas, and Hale spoke at Cyclorama shows in Philadelphia and Cincinnati. One version of the Cyclorama introduced tourists to the battle for decades at the battlefield park. It was removed in 2005 for renovation but is now back as one attraction in the Gettysburg visitors' center, which opened in 2008.

Hale’s first season as a tour guide at the battlefield was 1887. He hired himself out to both individuals and groups. He was there on July 1-3 of that year when the Confederate survivors of Pickett’s Charge visited Gettysburg with their special guest, Pickett’s widow, Lasalle Corbett Pickett. Hale called the reunion of Pickett’s division and the Philadelphia Brigade “probably the greatest event that has taken place on the field since the battle.” 

What kind of living Hale made as a speaker and guide is unclear. A flyer from the period advertises day trips, including a meal at the hotel, for $1.25 per person. It says: “Maj. Chas. A. Hale, one of the most popular guides, will give his personal attention to parties under his care.”

Hale’s business card at one point listed him as an employee of the Gettysburg Exhibition Co. He seems to have worked closely with Tipton, who took many of the tour pictures in the scrapbook. Hale appears in some of them.

Hale did not have the benefit of long life. In 1899, at the age of 58, he was admitted to the Milwaukee branch of the National Soldiers Home with myelitis, an infection of the spinal cord. He died two months later. He was buried in the home’s cemetery, now known as Wood National Cemetery. Although Hale had served in other companies of the 5th, his gravestone bears the letter of Capt. Perry’s company, the one he joined in 1861: Co. C.

Hale's gravestone in Milwaukee.
Major Hale knew the wages of war, having stood under heavy fire on the Wheatfield on July 2, 1863, among other hot places. On the last page of his notebook, he left this message for posterity:

“To all who turn these pages the writer extends kindly greeting. As the title page indicates these pictures are simply personal souvenirs of his work on the platform of the Cyclorama and of tours over the great battlefield talking to many thousands of people about the most important battle of modern times.

“May those and all who follow them cherish grateful memories of the unselfish devotion, and the exalted valor, of those who fought on the field that proved to be a turning point in the history of the world.”
                                                                                                                                                     –  C.A.H., Baltimore, Md., 1890.

[Thanks to Andrew Harris and Dave Morin for the material that enabled me to write this post, including the photo at the top of the post and the one below.] 

This view from Little Round Top looking west was taken just before the monument to Gen. Gouverneur Warren
was erected in 1888. It now stands on the boulder where men are standing at left. The trees in the foreground
below are Trostle Woods. Part of the Wheatfield is visible to the left of the woods. In the distance to the left
is Seminary  Ridge, the Confederate line on July 2 and 3, 1863. [Thanks to "Anonymous" (see comment
below), who corrected my original caption on this picture.]

In war and peace, Byron De Wolfe churned out verse. Given the speed of his pen, it could have been worse

This broadside was one of The Steam Engine Poet's best-sellers.

The Wandering Poet of New Hampshire sold his verse by the syllable – four for a penny. He churned it out with such vigor that he sometimes signed himself not as “The W.P. of N.H.” but as “The Steam-Machine Poet.” He had the name for the job, too: George Gordon Byron De Wolfe. Sometimes he shortened it to Byron De Wolfe.

His times provided all the pomp, pathos and mayhem a popular versifier could desire. Murder and sudden death, clambakes and funerals, politics and the Civil War all fed De Wolfe’s vocation. It is hard to know how much money he made, but speed was an asset. A self-promoting note on a broadside for the 1860 election, “Breckenridge’s Lament,” guaranteed he could write 40 lines in 10 minutes.

The quality of those lines was in the eye of the beholder. Here’s a sample from “Abe Lincoln the Rail Splitter!”

There is a name to ev’ry tongue
    Of ev’ry despot bitter –
Since freedom’s songs to day are sung
     For Lincoln, the rail-splitter –
For him enthusiastic cheers
     From east and west arising,
Bring to our foemen’s bosoms fears
     For those they’re idolising.

Born in Digby, Nova Scotia, in 1835, De Wolfe came to New England with his family at the age of 20. Soon he was touring the region peddling his poems. He married in 1860 and lived in Nashua with his wife Eliza, a native of England, although he sometimes gave other addresses for his mail-order work.

De Wolfe’s business model was simple. He offered quick service at a set rate. He often had his poems published on newsprint broadsides, which he sold singly or in bulk.

Many broadsides included a notice like the one under his poem for Memorial Day in 1869. “I am ready to compose poetical verses for you on any subject,” it began. He also offered lyrics to be sung to any tune. A poem of 448 syllables – 64 lines averaging seven syllables each – could be had for $1. Depending on how many lines his customers wanted, he asked them to send a quarter, half-dollar or dollar with their mail orders.

“No notice will be taken by me of any business letter in which money has not been sent,” he wrote, “but all business letters containing money will be attended to as soon as received.”

The 1860 election poems opened a golden era for De Wolfe. He spun out verse about Civil War battles, generals, the fall of Richmond, the capture of Jefferson Davis and the assassination and funeral of Abraham Lincoln.

In 1862 he wrote a paean to the new captain of Company I of the 16th New Hampshire Volunteers, 41-year-old David Buffam II of Swanzey. A nine-month regiment, the 16th trained in Concord that fall before heading for Louisiana on Nov. 23. De Wolfe portrayed Buffam as a kind, selfless leader:

Come men, our Captain Buffam says,
     We are all brothers and true,
Men of the good old Granite State,
     And men can dare and do,
And who is Captain Buffam? who?
     A man in heart and soul,
A man who by his own true deeds,
     His comrades would control.

He is not pompous, self-esteem,
     But one we love with truth,
One, many of our fathers knew
     When he was but a youth!
One, who has been a friend to us,
     Mid prospects bright and dim,
Now all of Captain Buffam’s men
     Can be a friend of him!

Unfortunately, the 16th’s experience in the Louisiana bayous failed to live up to the poem’s romantic flavor. Of the regiment’s nearly 1,000 men, 300 died of disease, Capt. Buffam among them.

True to his word, De Wolfe could write verses for any occasion, but death was his specialty. Here are two stanzas from his poem about Lincoln’s funeral:

As weepeth a fond mother, her lifeless babe to see,
So, faithful Abram Lincoln, a Nation weeps for thee!
I’ve see the tear-drops dewing the cheeks of passers bye!
But thou hast rose triumphant, thy spirit is on high!
. . .
Hear you the slave lamenting, he’s thinking of the hand
That wrote the words of Freedom and sent them thro’ the land!
The hand is cold and lifeless, the treasur’d words remain,
So, though the storm is over, the earth hath drank the rain.

In the aftermath of the war, as old soldiers remembered the comrades who did not make it home, De Wolfe mastered this memorial tone. But the Wandering Poet found that, as any journalist knows, bad news sells. His top sellers recounted fatal workplace accidents and heinous crimes.

James Bradford Eaton of Nashua was road-master of the Boston, Lowell and Nashua Railroad, meaning he oversaw the condition of the rails. He died on the job on Oct. 7, 1867, at a watering depot in Woburn, Mass. De Wolfe’s poem told how Easton’s wife learned of the accident from a witness:

But he told her – told the story how her husband slipp’d and fell,
How a railroad car went o’er him, aye, but he had more to tell,
How her husband, Bradford Eaton, on the fearful brink of death,
Spoke about his wife and children with his life’s expiring breath!

Said he, “Oh, my wife and children!” and a man did o’er him bend,
“Tell me, tell me, Bradford Eaton, have you any news to send?”
But there did come back no answer, many weeping turn’d away,
While his lips were moving slightly, as if he had more to say!

Crush’d and bleeding up they took him, in four minutes he was dead,
And at noon they homeward brought him, bitter tears were for him shed,
Wife and daughter, sons and brothers, friends, and many strangers too,
Wept to hear how he was mangled, and say what else could they do?

Georgianna Lovering
One of De Wolfe’s most popular poems, judging from the number of copies still around, is titled “The Northwood Tragedy, or the murder of the beautiful Georgianna Lovering.”

He had the “The Northwood Tragedy” printed in bulk and charged a dime for 10 broadsides bearing the sad tale.

The poem’s 26 stanzas follow the story of a girl of 13 or 14 who was lured into the woods and killed near her Northwood home in 1872. A search party found her hairbrush and apron but not her body.

Late one night, the county sheriff, Henry Drew, persuaded Franklin B. Evans, Lovering’s 61-year-old great uncle and the prime suspect in the case, to lead him to a pile of leaves and debris under which most of the girl’s body was found. These stanzas detail what happened next:

Strangers arrived and her body they lifted
     Each person turned pale at that horrible sight;
They mourned for the one that was so lovely and gifted;
     The murderer’s shriek woke the forest that night;
All left the swamp but the Sheriff and villain,
     For a part of the body was missing e’en then,
“Lead to it!” said Drew. The fiend first was unwilling
     But soon had to yield to the firmest of men.

He led near a mile to a rock which he lifted;
     Beneath it a part of the lifeless girl lay;
The Sheriff himself might almost have been tempted
     The gray-haired destroyer to quiet that day;
But law e’en a fiend will sometimes help and nourish;
     Will shield e’en a wolf from the wrath of a crowd;
But, O, after all, it may let justice flourish;
     Its head cannot always to pity be bowed.

Evans's body awaiting dissection at Dartmouth
Evans was convicted and hanged in 1874. His body was sent to the medical school at Dartmouth College for research. A stereographer photographed it and published the picture.

By then, De Wolfe had died of tuberculosis at the age of 37, but death was hardly the end of him.

More than two years later, there appeared “Verses Composed on the Confession and Execution of Thomas W. Piper, the Convicted Belfry Murderer.” A note on the broadside observed that its author, Byron De Wolfe, “still seems to feel his presence needed here in regard to composing Poetry on various subjects.”

De Wolfe had selected Miss Lillie to convey his verse. He not only endorsed her powers as a medium but also gave her address so his readers could find her.

“I wish it to be distinctly understood,” De Wolfe wrote in the broadside, “that these verses were composed by me, Byron De Wolfe, through the mediumship of Miss Lillie, in about two hours and a half. Parties wishing to consult with the medium will find her one of the best mediums the world can produce.”

Two and a half hours? Although death had not silenced the Steam-Machine Poet, it appears to have slowed him down.

[You will find an ample digital archive of De Wolfe's broadsides here at the Brown Digital Repository. The James Bradford Eaton poem is here.]

Friday, September 20, 2013

The rise and fall of James Willis Patterson

Think about this quotation: “The use of large sums of money to influence either popular or legislative elections strikes directly at the fundamental principle of a Republican government.” It will come up again here as we consider the 10-year congressional career of James Willis Patterson.

Patterson was born in Henniker, N.H., on July 2, 1823. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1848, worked two years as a high school principal and then studied law. He became a math professor at Dartmouth in 1854 and remained in that position till the end of the Civil War. He ran for Congress twice before winning one of New Hampshire’s three seats in 1863.

The war dominated everything in 1863. Patterson spelled out his opinions about its direction and aims in a letter to Samuel A. Duncan, a former student who had been a tutor at the college. Patterson had just learned of Major Duncan’s decision to leave the 14th New Hampshire Volunteers, who were doing sleepy work guarding prisons in the nation’s capital, to take a commission as a colonel of African-American troops. Duncan’s father had correctly tagged his son as one of those men “ready to expose themselves to certain danger and death even rather than endure such a dul[l] monotonous life.”

Patterson wrote Duncan from Hanover on Aug. 7, just over a month after the Union victory at Gettysburg and the taking of Vicksburg. One thing on his mind was General Order No. 252, which President Lincoln had issued on July 30 in response to the Confederate practice of killing or enslaving captured black soldiers.

Lincoln’s order proclaimed: “To sell or enslave any captured person on account of his color, and for no offense against the laws of war, is a relapse into barbarism, and a crime against the civilization of the age. The Government of the United States will give the same protection to all its soldiers, and if the enemy shall sell or enslave any one because of his color, the offense shall be punished by retaliation upon the enemy’s prisoners in our possession.”

For “every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the law, a Rebel soldier shall be executed,” Lincoln wrote, “and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into slavery, a Rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor on the public works, and continued at such labor until the other shall be released and receive the treatment due to a prisoner of war.”

Patterson knew this order would be of interest to Duncan, who would soon lead a brigade of “colored troops” into combat. He suggested to Duncan that Robert Gould Shaw’s death three weeks earlier leading the African-American 54th Massachusetts Volunteers at Fort Wagner had demonstrated what glory such an assignment could bring.

“The Presidents proclamation in relation to selling & killing in violation of military law, black and other soldiers, meets a response in every loyal heart,” Patterson wrote Duncan. “This war must settle the humanity & the consequent rights of the black images of God. If military law recognizes the rights of men in black & white alike, why should not civil law when the war ceases?

“The command of a black regiment will be likely to put you where powder & lead are thrown about with perfect looseness. Col. Shaw has won a place in history which he might have failed to reach if he had lived to four score years in quiet times. . . .

“We all feel like praising God for late victories but regret the escape of Lee.”

In the House in 1865, Patterson voted for the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. A few months later, on June 1, he was chosen as orator in Concord, the New Hampshire capital, at services in remembrance of President Lincoln. He assessed the martyred president with these words:

“It is the Christian apotheosis which a bereaved people may give a ruler, the grand results of whose life, and the masculine beauty of whose character, have entitled him to the honor of father of the reestablished and regenerated republic.”

After three terms in the House, Patterson was elected to the United State Senate in 1867. It was as a senator that he faced his darkest political hour.

In 1872, a select House committee discovered that the same group of stockholders managed both the Union Pacific Railroad, which was building the transcontinental railroad, and the Crédit Mobilier America Corp., which was financing the construction. Through a secret arrangement, Crédit Mobilier was overcharging the railroad – and by extension taxpayers – by $2 million.

This, of course, created fat profits for stockholders, many of whom, it turned out. were prominent members of Congress. Among these was Sen. James Willis Patterson of New Hampshire.

Walt Whitman was a clerk at the Interior Department until
his boss found out he had written Leaves of Grass.
Another of the accused was James Harlan, an Iowa senator whose recent past included an interesting footnote. As interior secretary under President Andrew Johnson, he had gone on a witch hunt, turning out employees he found disloyal or immoral. Among his victims was Walt Whitman, whom he fired after reading Leaves of Grass and declaring: “I will not have the author of that book in this department.”

Investigation of the railroad scandal showed that Harlan had accepted a $10,000 political contribution from a man who held top corporate jobs in both the Crédit Mobilier Corp. and the Union Pacific. It was over this issue that the investigators sounded an alarm that seems dated – though not unwise – in our age of corporate control of politics: “The use of large sums of money to influence either popular or legislative elections strikes directly at the fundamental principle of a Republican government.” Harlan was spared censure when his term ran out.

Good timing helped Sen. Patterson, too, but he did not help himself. On Feb. 4, 1873, he asked for a select Senate committee to investigate the scandal. His bribery and corruption case was the most serious the committee took up. Through an intermediary, he had invested $4,000 in Union Pacific and $3,000 in Crédit Mobilier.

Patterson told the committee he knew nothing of the Crédit Mobilier stock because the intermediary had given him no written receipt. Moments later, the intermediary showed the committee a receipt for the Crédit Mobilier stock signed by Patterson. For his lapse Patterson blamed poor memory and ignorance about money (an odd combination for a former math professor). And why, he asked, should he not own Crédit Mobilier stock?

The committee wasn’t buying. Its report accused Patterson of false testimony and recommended expulsion. The Senate did not take up this resolution until 11 days after Patterson’s term officially ended. Becasue he was gone, the Senate saw no need to expel him.

Patterson returned home to New Hampshire, where the scandal did not end his public career. He was elected to the Legislature and also served as state public school superintendent. He died in 1893 at the age of 69 and is buried in Dartmouth Cemetery.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What you have done for me lately

My purpose in listing the most popular posts from this blog each month is to direct readers to the posts that other readers find most interesting. Since my subject is history, the longer I maintain this blog, the greater the advantage for older posts. The longer a post is up, the greater chance it will be read.

This month, I’ll give you a top 15 all-time ranking, as usual, but I want to begin with a different top 10: posts from the last two months that have attracted the most readers. Here they are:

And here are the top 15 all-time, with a range of 150 to 480 hits. The numbers in parentheses are their rankings  a month ago:

13 (tie) History’s touch (10)

Monday, September 16, 2013

What came next for Sturtevant and the Fighting Fifth

After Maj. William W. Cook was
wounded at Fair Oaks and left the
5th, Sturtevant succeeded him.
At the Battle of Fair Oaks on the Virginia Peninsula on June 1, 1862, the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers lost 41 dead and 129 wounded, including 53 wounded men who did not return to the regiment. In his letter in the previous post, Edward E. Sturtevant, captain of Company A, wrote about the sad experience of burying the dead and the hard times the regiment still faced as it camped opposite the enemy near the battlefield.

The 5th’s colonel, Edward E. Cross, was among the wounded. He had been shot through the thigh and returned to his home in Lancaster, N.H., to recover. The lieutenant colonel, Samuel G. Langley of Manchester, was ill. The major, William W. Cook of Derry, had been wounded and would not be back. Sturtevant, the ranking captain in the regiment, was second in command to Langley.

The regiment had lost its brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, at Fair Oaks. As Cross had written in his journal, two balls struck Howard’s right arm as he led his men to battle, and one of them “shattered the bone in a shocking manner.” The arm was amputated.

The 5th’s new brigade commander after the battle was John C. Caldwell, like Howard a Mainer. The division commander was Brig. Gen. Israel B. Richardson, the corps commander Edwin “Bull” Sumner.

Four weeks after the battle, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, who had led the Army of the Potomac to the Peninsula, ordered a “change of base,” a euphemism for retreat from the gates of Richmond. The Confederate army chased McClellan’s forces across the Peninsula in a series of clashes known as the Seven Days battles. On July 1, the two sides fought a particularly bloody one on Malvern Hill. With about 55,000 men engaged on both sides there, the Confederate army suffered 5,650 casualties, the Union army 2,150.

The 37-year-old Lt. Col. Samuel Langley
took over the 5th after Col. Cross was
wounded. He fell ill during the Seven
Days battles and resigned from the
regiment in late 1862. He died in 1869.  
The story of the 5th’s role in this retreat to the James River was told in two reports, both now in the Official Records of the war. One was written by Langley, the second by Sturtevant, both from Harrison’s Landing on July 3, 1862. Here they are:      

Langley’s report on his regiment’s engagement at the Peach Orchard, at Savage Station, at White Oak Swamp Bridge and at Glendale, or Nelson’s Farm (Fraser's Farm).

I have the honor to make the following report of the part taken by the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers in the late actions:

Sunday, June 29, after the division had fallen back and formed a new line, I was ordered by General Richardson to establish a picket on the old line in front of our earthworks. Moved the regiment into the clearing near Fair Oaks Station; saw large number of the enemy inside the works; reported to General Richardson, and received orders to remain where I was. I threw out skirmishers and fell back gradually into the woods in front of the main force. I was attacked in this position, and a sharp fire was kept up for some time, the enemy falling back. I remained in the woods until ordered by General Sumner to join our brigade. Our loss in the above affair was 2 killed, 11 wounded, 1 second lieutenant and several men missing. In the afternoon the regiment acted only as support. It was under heavy artillery fire, but sustained no loss, and retired with the brigade.

Monday, June 30, the regiment was formed as support to battery, and was under a very heavy artillery fire nearly all day, during which time we had 5 killed and 9 wounded. At about 7 p.m. went with the brigade to support General Kearny, and then engaged about 2 miles to our left. On our arrival we formed line of battle on the left of the Seventh New York Volunteers in the road. We remained in this position subject to a musketry fire, but were unable to return it on account of a regiment of our men being in our front. Sometime after the firing had ceased the regiment was ordered forward about 100 yards as picket. At about 2 a.m. I was ordered by General Caldwell to retire and join the brigade. In retiring I lost one first lieutenant and several men, who must have remained on the ground asleep and been taken prisoners.

Tuesday, July 1, after forming the regiment in column, I was unwell and retired, and did not join it until Wednesday, at this camp. Herewith I forward a report of Captain Sturtevant, who was in command during my absence. A large number of the sick and wounded were left behind, and have probably fallen into the hands of the enemy. A day or two more and we can tell nearer how we stand.

Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding Fifth New Hampshire Vols.


Sturtevant’s report on the battle of Malvern Hill:

I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken in action by the Fifth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers on Tuesday, July 1, 1862:

The regiment moved forward with the brigade, and deployed in line of battle to support the batteries in our front, where it remained six hours. During nearly all the time the regiment remained in the line the enemy kept up a heavy fire from artillery. After the enemy ceased his fire in this direction the line of battle was changed, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, to a fence, where it remained about one hour, and was then changed again to a road leading near the enemy’s fire on the left, where it remained in reserve a short time, receiving a severe fire from the enemy's artillery, and then the line of battle was moved to the front, where I was ordered to report for orders to General Howe, which I did. His orders were to move my regiment to the right of a battery which was near us and assist in supporting it. I did as ordered, and the enemy kept up for an hour a heavy fire from his artillery.

Another of our batteries then came up and advanced toward the enemy’s lines. I then moved my regiment forward to support this battery. The enemy formed in line of battle several times and attempted to advance, but were repulsed by the heavy fire from our battery, which kept up a constant fire until near 10 o’clock at night, when the battery withdrew. It being then understood by me, from what I could learn from two other regiments who were also engaged in supporting this battery, that another battery was to return and take its place, and failing to receive any orders I concluded to remain on the ground with my regiment and assist the other two regiments in keeping guard in front. No other battery returned, and I found that most of our troops had been drawn off during the night, and not being able to find our brigade I concluded to retire to the rear, which I did at about 5 o’clock in the morning of July 2, 1862. I found on going to the rear that most of the army had left for City Point [Harrison's Landing], Va. I remained in the rear some two hours, when I learned from our cavalry and provost-marshal (as I was informed) that our brigade and division had gone to City Point. I then started on the march with my command for this camp, where I arrived with my command and joined this brigade at about 11 o’clock in the forenoon of July 2, 1862.

During the action of the day 2 lieutenants and 5 enlisted men were wounded and 21 enlisted men were missing.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

Captain, Commanding Fifth Regiment New Hampshire Vols.

[My thanks to my friend Dave Morin, who reminded me of these reports after my last two posts on Sturtevant.]