Tuesday, April 26, 2011

J.E.B. Stuart

Full Name: James Ewell Brown Stuart

Position: Cavalry General in the Confederate States Army

Stuart had a mastery of reconnaissance and a great knowledge of using cavalry in support of offensive operations. Jeb, as he was often called by friends, was the major cavalry force of the CSA (Confederate States Army). Stuart was the very incarnation of a cavalier. He loved war's panoply and glory and even wore the clothes of one; red-lined gray cape, yellow sash, hat cocked to the side with a ostrich plume, and red flower in his lapel. Stuart was eager, undaunted, and brave, but also fun-loving.

"A graduate of West Point Class of 1854, the Virginian saw hard service on the western frontier and by 1861 was one of the most experienced Indian fighters in the Regular Army. Severely wounded in a battle with the Southern Cheyennes, Lieutenant Stuart's gallantry had early brought him to the attention of Robert E. Lee." Stuart also participated in the quelling of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, where he served as Lee's aid in 1859.

Stuart was one of those generals that was all about glory. He enjoyed warfare and believed in fighting for the Southern cause. His thirst for glory and wholehearted confidence in his hard-riding troopers at times led him into perilous situations. Two such situations are Brandy Station and Gettysburg. At Brandy Station, thinking that he could easily cross the Rappahanok and raid the Union troops led to disaster when Union Major General Joseph Hooker interpreted Stuart's prescense and sent a total of 11,000 men, 8,000 of which were cavalrymen, to spoil Stuart's raid. The battle ended up in a draw, but the surprise it had on Stuart and his men put a dent in his reputation. Not only that, but it showed that the Union cavalry was getting better. For the first part of the war, Stuart had taken advantage of the fact that the South had much more experienced cavalrymen and horseflesh. As the war dragged on, the Union started to slowly use better cavalry commanders.

Stuart's next mistake, and perhaps his biggest, came when Lee was moving the Army of Northern Virginia north through the Shenandoah Valley. Though this is disputed by historians, Lee gave orders to Stuart to march north with the army, use part of his force to guard the mountain passes that came before the Patomac, then cross the river and screen the right flank of Ewell's Second Corps. Instead of taking a straight shot near the mountains, Stuart took his three best brigades between the Union troops and Washington D.C., then link up with Ewell's troops. This was in an effort to bypass supplies and cause havoc near the capital. Unfortunately for Stuart, the movement of the Union troops was already underway and the proposed route was now filled with Union soldiers. This forced Stuart farther east than he anticipated and he was unable to link up with Ewell. Thus, Stuart was a little late to the party that was the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee did not have his eyes and ears, which caused a major hindrance on the Confederate troops going into the massive battle. When Stuart finally made it, Lee gave him a rare rebuke, or so it is assumed, since no one else was in the tent with them. This proved to be the defining stain on Stuart's career, and he later became a scapegoat, along with James Longstreet, for the loss at Gettysburg by post-bellum proponents of the Lost Cause Movement.

Though he had those two marks against him during his career, Stuart proved to be an essential part of the Confederate Army. He was by far the most capable cavalry commander they had and he showed it time and time again. He specialized in circumventing the Union armies and especially Union Cavalry troops. He did it to McClellan's Army on the Virginia Peninsula, then to John Pope's Army of Virginia, and again to McClellan following Antietam. Stuart literally ran circles around the Union army and embarrassed the lousy generals the Union was working with at the time. What also made Stuart a great cavalry commander was his realization that mounted troops were to also act as advanced scouts. His troops gathered information about enemy numbers and troop movements, and relayed vital information to high command. Perhaps Stuart's defining moments was when he made the dangerous march toward the Potomac in June 1863. Although facing a much-improved Yankee cavalry, Stuart repeatedly thwarted his counterpart, General Alfred Pleasonton, when the Union horsemen attempted to locate Lee's northward-marching army.

Stuart's downfall would come in the form of Major General Phillip Sheridan during the Overland Campaign in 1864. Sheridan guessed that if they focused all their cavalry on a raid against Confederate supplies and railroad lines close to Richmond, they could get Stuart to come out. The battle of Yellow Tavern took place at an abandoned inn located six miles north of Richmond.
"The Confederate troopers tenaciously resisted from the low ridge line bordering the road to Richmond, fighting for over three hours. A counter charge by the 1st Virginia Cavalry pushed the advancing Union troopers back from the hilltop as Stuart, on horseback, shouted encouragement while firing his revolver at the Union troopers. As the 5th Michigan Cavalry streamed in retreat past Stuart, a dismounted Union private, 48-year-old John A. Huff, turned and shot Stuart with his .44-caliber revolver." Huff, a trained sharpshooter, though not armed with a scoped rifle like usual, still had a dead shot and apparently shot Stuart from 40 yards away. Huff ran back to his lines to avoid retribution, as it was still considered a jerk move to shoot commanders. The bullet struck Stuart in the left side, slicing through his stomach and then exited his back. Stuart was taken off the battlefield and died the next day of his wounds, his last words being,"I am resigned; God's will be done."

Stuart's wife, after his death noted, "He told me he never expected to live through the war, and that if we were conquered, that he did not want to live." His death could not have come at a more opportune time if that were true. The tide had turned in the Union's favor and cavalry generals for the North like Sheridan and Custer were finally getting the better of the Confederate cavalrymen. If he had seen it to the end, Stuart would of been heartbroken. That seems a bit odd today, but there were many men of the Confederacy that didn't want to live unless they were free from the Union. Stuart's death, though not as tragic or costly as Stonewall Jackson's, resonated across the Confederacy. Upon learning of Stuart's death, General Lee is reported to have said that he could hardly keep from weeping at the mere mention of Stuart's name and that Stuart had never given him a bad piece of information.

Stuart is still considered the one of the best, if not the best cavalry officer that the U.S. has ever created. With his death, Lee lost his trusted "eyes and ears" and the loss further cemented the Confederacy's demise.


Everybody loves Easter. It's the time of year where we combine our love of chocolate with our love of finding things! In this case, eggs and baskets. Hmmm....why do we do that anyway? I'll get to that later. Easter is one of the holidays that has been commercialized, though not as bad as some others i.e. Christmas. Sure, Easter has eggs, candy and bunnies, but we as a society go as nuts for buying presents for this holiday then we do at Christmas. Easter for me was waking up early, finding my Easter basket (it was most likely behind the chair in the corner of the living room), finding the eggs which we had painted the night before, and then getting into nice clothes for church. I always got a chocolate bunny, and when I was younger, a stuffed animal, usually a rabbit, duck or chick. Now that I'm older, some things have changed like the receiving of gifts on Easter, and somethings have not, like going to church. This is a tradition my house holds, as do many families, many of whom do not go to church regularly. Christmas and Easter are high traffic times for churches, for they are the holidays celebrate the birth and rising from the grave of Jesus Christ, respectively. Like Christmas, Easter today has become a mixture of paganism, Christianity, and commercialism. Let me guide you through that amalgamation.

The story that Easter is based around is Jesus' rising from death. According to the Gospels, Jesus, who was betrayed by Judas, put to death by Pontius Pilate, crucified on the cross, rose after three days, as he said he would, and then ascended into heaven after speaking with his disciples. I assume that most of you have at least heard the story of Jesus and don't need a long back story, so I'll skip that part. Why is this all such a big deal and why do millions celebrate this? Well, for Christians, Jesus' conquering of death and ascension into heaven proved that Jesus was God and had completed that prophecy which stated that Jesus would die for us and come back in three days and ascend into heaven. So, the holiday is celebrating the sacrifice that Jesus made for all humans. That's a pretty big deal for Christians.

Now, there was no real celebration attributed to this for quite awhile. It wasn't until the 2nd century that we even had any celebration related to it in any form. This is when a festival came up that celebrated all the martyrs for the faith. By the end of the 2nd century, a celebration for Jesus was made to coincide with Paschal. Then things got funny. People disagreed on what day to celebrate Paschal, otherwise known as Easter. Many wanted it to coincide with the Jewish Passover, and some wanted it to just be on a Sunday. The decision came centuries later to make them completely different days, and have Easter basically fall on random Sundays in late March and April.

Easter comes from the month Eostre month, named after the pagan goddess. The name was given in the year 899 as attested by Bede, a monk from England. Eostre is what we now call April. There was a celebration for the goddess Eostre in this month, but had been replaced by Paschal by the time he was alive. Now, where do we get eggs and bunnies from? Well, these are attributed to new life, or fertility. A pagan celebration of renewal which comes after a long winter, incorporated a rabbit as it's symbol given it's penchant for...ahem...rabid reproduction. The egg, also associated with new life, is synonymous with the spring festival. The tradition of coloring eggs comes from over 500 hundred years ago in England, but also in North Africa. People often abstained from meat and eggs for Lent and when Easter came around and Lent ended, eggs were a great commodity. The tradition of decorating the eggs, from legend, comes from when Mary Magdelene had brought cooked eggs to share with the women who were visiting Jesus' tomb. The eggs she had brought turned red as soon as she saw Jesus. The egg was meant to symbolize the rock in front of Jesus' tomb. There is very little information regarding the hiding of Easter eggs, so I'm going to guess that it just came about as a fun activity to do on Easter morning a couple hundred years ago.

Today, the Easter Bunny has lost it's fertility connotation and is now a fun symbol of springtime, along with chicks. We as a culture, give our kids Easter baskets, chocolates, eggs, and other small gifts and tell them that the Easter Bunny left it there for them. The Easter Bunny is not as popular as Santa Claus, but I still had fun believing that it was leaving stuff for me every Easter. Easter is a very fun holiday, one that is often overlooked when you are between childhood and adulthood with kids. Even if you don't get anything this year, go out and buy a chocolate bunny or a Cadbury Egg, though wait until after Easter because then it's way cheaper!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What caused the Civil War?

To mark the United States 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I will be making a comprehensive summary of the events, people, and cause and effect of the Civil War. To understand how we got into this huge mess in the first place, we must first look at the causes for the war. I have read several articles talking about the fact that we as Americans really don't understand the Civil War and it's reasons for being fought. Time magazine even mapped out a time line that showed all the times that the issue of slavery was glossed over in our history of the Civil War. Well, I can say definitely that though there are many causes to our great war, there is one underlying cause; that being slavery. Anyone who argues that slavery had nothing to do with it is just plain ignorant of our history. I'll give you a simple run down of the unique causes for the war.

First off, you have to remember that the north and south were completely different beings. The north had taken advantage of England's Industrial Revolution and incorporated new innovations to help industry grow. Textile mills sprouted up in the northeast, needing the many fast moving rivers for water power. Factories were built incorporating Eli Whitney's interchangeable part. The north was a fine working machine, but needed certain things from the other region; in this case, cotton. The south operated under a more agrarian lifestyle, depending on cash crops to make a living. The cotton that was cultivated went to the north, who made the cotton into clothing and was thus sold all over the U.S. and other countries. Though the two large sections needed each other, and the western states that grew the food crops, they had been uneasy with each other for a long time. Why? Slavery of course! Slavery had been basically outlawed in the northern states (basically anything above Virginia, Maryland, and Kentucky) and they depended on the factory work and farming to make a living. Though facing a near death experience, slavery in the south came back with a vengeance after Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin was invented. All of a sudden cotton was easy to cultivate and slavery became a necessary thing for the large plantations.

You can blame the founders for letting future generations deal with the slavery issue, or the idea of manifest destiny, but slavery became a ticking time bomb. The U.S. began to realize that every time they added a state, there was a big fight over if it would allow slavery or not. How do they make it fair? They have to add another state at the same time to counter-balance. Why did they have to bring in two at a time? Because then there would be more slave states or more free states at one time. States equal representation in congress. If Missouri was accepted as a slave state and that's it, then the south would have an advantage in Congress and pass more laws that favored the agrarian society of the south. The same goes for the north. So came the Missouri Compromise, stating that anything under Missouri would allow slavery, but it be banned above that line that extended all the way to the coast. Missouri however would be a slave state, but only if Maine came in as a free state. Temporary fix for a long term problem. Fast forward to Polk's presidency. He beats up on Mexico and gains the southwest territories and California. Texas is technically ours already but Mexico finally signs it off as being ours and not theirs. Well now, California lays smack dab in the middle of the line. What will the U.S. do? The answer is the Compromise of 1850. Here it is in four bullet points:
  • California is a free state
  • The southwest territories are open to slavery
  • The slave trade ends in Washington D.C.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act is passed.
The Fugitive Slave Act basically said that if anyone in the north saw a runaway slave, they were required by law to capture said slave. If they refused or tried to help the runaway slave, they would be arrested, fined, or spend time in jail. Northerners were not happy that they had to go out of their way to catch runaway slaves and basically didn't follow the law. This pissed the south off....a lot. More animosity! So you can decide for yourself who got the better deal. It seems that the south did, but that's just my opinion.

Fast forward to four years later. Kansas wants to become a state, and the transcontinental railroad is in the works. The only issue is whether the railroad will be on northern soil or southern. This is a huge asset to each section so you know that each one wanted it to be in their area. So, they decided to let Kansas decide and discard the Missouri Compromise. Popular sovereignty, or letting people vote on issues, was now the main component of the new Kansas-Nebraska Act. Well, this caused a huge mess. Pro-slave and anti-slave factions met up in Kansas to try and vote, not caring that they didn't live in the territory to begin with. What resulted was Bleeding Kansas. It was literally a small war between the two factions. People were threatened, murdered, and hacked to pieces because of the new act. Enter John Brown.

John Brown was as big of an abolitionist (anti-slave person) as anybody. He believed he was sent by God to destroy slavery and basically stopped at nothing to achieve that end. When he heard what was going on in Kansas, he took his sons and traveled to the war torn area. Lets just say that he didn't stay long. He had to flee the area after he and his sons dragged pro-slavery men into the woods and hacked them to pieces with swords. Yes, you read that right. John Brown was scary determined. After fleeing Kansas, he set his sights on freeing slaves by starting a large scale rebellion. With his sons and a few other people, he would take over the armory at Harper's Ferry, Virginia (It's now in West Virginia, since the state broke in two in 1862) and rally slaves to join him and take slaves away from their masters by force. He had men go around to plantations to send word of his coming and asking them to join him at the armory. When the time came to take over the armory, no slaves showed up. It seems they had little faith in John Brown and his rebellion or couldn't get off their plantations. Brown held himself up in the armory with his sons and started to fight off the locals who caught wind of what was happening. Things got even worse when the military got involved led by Robert E. Lee. Two of Brown's sons were shot and another swam across the Potomac to get away. Brown was eventually subdued. Brown was tried and hanged for his act against the United States and it's military armory. Before Brown was hung he gave a slip of paper to his executioner that read, "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think vainly, flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done." Brown is still considered one of the most controversial figures in American history for his acts. Some love him for his fight against slavery and some despise him for his harsh methods of doing so. The north mourned his death and marked him a hero to the abolitionists cause. The south, as expected, were outraged that the north would mourn such a man. More animosity! Hooray!

To say that everyone knew about slavery in the south and it's harshness was not true. Many in the north had a odd picture of slavery and knew nothing of the terrible treatment. Then came Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The book told the story of slavery in the south, though it was written by a white woman. The book became a hit in the north and for the first time, the masses had a view of slavery. This helped the abolitionist movement in the north, but cries of slander were raised in the south. Claims of falsehoods in the story led it to be completely despised in the south.

Here is a common belief about the north and south at this time in history. Everyone in the north hated slavery and everyone in the south were slave owners. Not even close to true. There were very little of both. Many in the north were concerned that the freedom of slaves would lead to extra competition for jobs in the north. Many southerners were not slave owners, though they strove to be. You had to be pretty rich to afford slaves and almost all southerners were poor farmers.

The last straw for the south was the election of Abraham Lincoln. Though the north had bent over backwards to make the south happy with all the compromises and acts, the south still felt that they were being abused and their way of life threatened. The election of 1860 included two radicals and two moderates.
  • Abraham Lincoln- Though a moderate in his own party, his view that slavery should not be spread any further made him a radical in the eyes of the U.S. (Republican)
  • John Breckenridge- Having split the Democrats, Breckenridge was the other radical, calling for slavery to be protected by the government. (Southern Democrat)
  • John Bell- Wanted nothing else but to keep the union together and wanted more compromises. (Constitutional Union Party)
  • Stephen A. Douglass- The creator of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he wanted to keep his idea of popular sovereignty and use it for all the other new states. (Northern Democrat)
Though Lincoln was not on the ballot in most southern states, he won the election over Breckenridge. This was too much for the south. They found Lincoln to be untrustworthy and his party to be the end of their way of life. South Carolina, the state that threatened to secede from the U.S. under Jackson, convened to try it again. They voted to secede unanimously and Mississippi and Florida followed suit. To see all of the state's declarations of succession, copy and paste this link:

The Civil War begins shortly after, when South Carolina considers it an act of war that Lincoln sent supplies to his troops stationed at Fort Sumter, a fort on the coast of South Carolina. After the attack, which led to no fatalities, Lincoln called for a gathering of troops. Several more southern states secede from the Union. Thus, the Civil War begins.

So, there you are. That is the somewhat short version of the reasons that the states went to war with each other. Though they all dealt with different issues, the cause for those issues was slavery itself.

Friday, April 1, 2011

King Tut

Tutankhaten was born in about 1341 B.C. His parents were Akhenaten, who was the current pharaoh of Egypt, and Kiya, one of his wives. Akhenaten died in 1332 B.C. though, and Tutankhaten became the new pharaoh!....at age nine. Other people ran Egypt for him until he was a little older, much like Peter the Great who inherited his Russian Empire at ten and whose mother basically ran the show for a while. As soon as Tutankhaten was crowned, he married Ankhesenamun. OK, for those who saw the new version of The Mummy with Brendan Fraser, her name is pronounced like the chick that the mummy was trying to bring back to life. OK, so he got married pretty young, but to make it even weirder, she was his half-sister and daughter of his father and his main wife, Nefertiti. Gross.

King Tut didn't make many important decisions as pharaoh, though he did let his advisers enact a few things. Unlike where Peter the Great's mother ran the show, Tut's top adviser, Ay, and the head of the military, Horemheb, basically ran everything. Tut's father had tried to replace the ancient Egyptian religious system of gods like Ra, Osiris, and Anubis, with a single, previously minor god named Aten. That's actually how Tutankhaten got his name. It meant "the living image of Aten." Ay and Horemheb didn't like this and after two years of Tut ruling, changed everything back to Ra decor. Statues, pillars, curtains, bedsheets and everything. They then changed Tutankhaten's name to Tutankamen, which means "living image of Amun." Amun was the god of air.

In 1323 B.C., at the age of 18, Tut died. He didn't leave any heirs, so Ay, his top adviser became the de facto leader. This was of course after he married Tut's wife. Oh, I forgot to mention that Ay was Ankhesenamun's (Tut's wife) grandfather. Egyptians are weird. Since Tut was considered a crumb bum of a pharaoh who didn't do anything, his mummified body was relegated to a small, out-of-the-way tomb in the Valley of the Kings, home to all the pharaohs' tombs. Over the years, stone chips that had crumbled off other tombs buried Tut's. The tombs of the Valley of the Kings were looted during the 11th century B.C., but Tut's was spared because nobody knew it was there.

So why is King Tut basically the most famous ancient Egyptian in the western world? Well, the 1922 discovery of his nearly entirely intact tomb by British researcher Howard Carter was a major world event. Carter's team had found a lot of treasure around the sarcophagus and took that and the treasure back to the British Museum. Carter removed Tut's burial mask-which is basically what we associate King Tut with-by peeling it off with scalding hot knives. The team then basically looted the unwrapped mummified corpse. While they were stealing all of Tut's treasures, they noticed that Tut had a large indentation in his head, which lead the discoverers to speculate that Tut was murdered, most likely by Ay.

This was what people thought til 2005. It was at this time that they put the mummified body through a series of CT scans and were able to decipher what the boy king looked like. He was 5'11", had an overbite, an elongated skull, and a slightly cleft palate. This is also when the team discovered that the indentation was actually a hole that had been drilled into the King's head, likely by an embalmer who'd removed Tut's brain. The scan revealed that there were a series of fractures to Tut's left thigh bone, likely caused during a fall, probably from a horse. It turns out that Tut died from the wound getting infected, which caused blood poisoning. So, whatever you do kids, don't ride horses, for they are the killer of Kings! So, it turns out there was no foul play, Tut just sucked at horseback riding. Today's King Tut's body rests in its tomb in a museum in the Valley of the Kings. The corpse is unwrapped and sits in a climate-controlled glass case. You can also see a computerized recreation of what Tut's face actually looked like.

What about that curse though? Well, this was fueled by the fact that a bunch of people who were there when Carter opened the tomb, or visited the tomb later, either died a few years after, or had massive amounts of bad luck. First was Lord Carnarvon. He was bitten by a mosquito, scratched it with his razor and then died of blood poisoning due to infection. This was strange back then, but considering what Tut died of, this is even stranger now. Speculation arose that it was a curse from King Tut for disturbing his tomb. This made people all around the world go crazy. In 1925, the anthropologist Henry Field, accompanied by Breasted, visited the tomb and recalled the kindness and friendliness of Carter. He also reported how a paperweight given to Carter's friend Sir Bruce Ingham was composed of a mummified hand with its wrist adorned with a scarab bracelet marked with, "Cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence." Soon after receiving the gift, Ingram's house burned down, followed by a flood when it was rebuilt. Some people just don't listen. Next to die from the group was George Jay Gould, who caught a fever after visiting the tomb a year later and abruptly died. Carter died in 1939, though of Lymphoma, which led people to believe that he was part of the curse. Five other people who had visited the tomb or been there the day of its opening died within a year or two, but many think the curse is nonsense since there were over fifty people who were at the excavation, and the rest were fine. Whether or not the curse of King Tut is true or not, it's still a fascinating story, and one that I loved reading when I was young.