Streetwise Professor

February 27, 2021

Obama: Advocate for Injustice, Fanning the Flames of Division

Filed under: Civil War,Politics — cpirrong @ 8:07 pm

In his inimitably supercilious and churlish fashion, last week Obama endorsed slavery reparations, and blamed his inability to implement them during his administration on white racism:

“So if you ask me theoretically: ‘Are reparations justified?’ The answer is yes,” he said. “There’s not much question that the wealth of this country, the power of this country was built in significant part — not exclusively, maybe not even the majority of it — but a large portion of it was built on the backs of slaves.”

“What I saw during my presidency was the the politics of white resistance and resentment, the talk of welfare queens and the talk of the undeserving poor and the backlash against affirmative action,” Obama said on the podcast. “All that made the prospect of actually proposing any kind of coherent, meaningful reparations program struck me as, politically, not only a non-starter but potentially counter-productive.”

These statements are factually incorrect, bigoted, and extremely divisive, demonstrating exactly why race relations degraded more during Obama’s administration than in any other since Woodrow Wilson–a figure with whom Obama shares many similarities, none of them good. (I compared Obama and Wilson during the very early years of the former’s administration.)

Where to begin deconstructing this vicious farrago? I guess with the most vicious part–the claim that white racism doomed his high-minded dreams for reparations. Look at this part again:

the politics of white resistance and resentment, the talk of welfare queens and the talk of the undeserving poor and the backlash against affirmative action

Obama must have been having an acid flashback to the Reagan years when he said this. “Welfare queens”? Really? Who the hell has said that in the past 30 years?–that’s a trope from about 1982. Similarly “undeserving poor” and “backlash against affirmative action.” FFS–these are all anachronisms that had f-all to do with disputes over reparations in the 2010s.

Obama’s bigotry is also revealed by his failure even to countenance the possibility that resistance to reparations (not just among whites, but Asians, Hispanics, and even blacks) was and is rooted in a belief that the entire idea is monstrously unjust, and wildly impractical.

In terms of injustice, the argument for reparations is rooted in ideas of collective guilt. Not surprising from Obama and his ilk, but a profoundly unjust and anti-Western idea, and one which as wreaked untold miseries (including in the form of death camps and gulags and killing fields) wherever it has held sway.

Further, reparations impose no penalty on those responsible for slavery or who benefited from it, and pay no recompense to those who suffered from it directly, all of whom have been dead for at least decades, and most for centuries.

Think of any living white American. Not a single one is personally responsible for any sin committed by any dead white American prior to 1865. Moreover, virtually no living white Americans conceivably benefited in any material way from slavery.

Take me and my family for instance. The first of my father’s ancestors to arrive in the US did so in 1867. Most of the rest came here in the 1870s. How did they benefit from slavery? And if at all, by how much?

On my mother’s side, one great grandfather arrived in 1848–and settled in Ohio (and fought in the Civil War, including the March to the Sea, which freed numerous slaves). The remainder of her ancestors arrived to these shores between 1620 (yes, on the Mayflower) and the late-18th century. But every single one resided in a northern colony or state which were free states by the late-18th century; never held slaves; and were almost to a man and woman near subsistence farmers living on or near the frontier. So how did they benefit from slavery?

Pretty much every white American can to a considerable degree make a plausible claim that there is no plausible chain of causation between their current economic circumstances and slavery. The descendent of Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. Italians or Jews or Slavs arriving at Ellis Island in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th. Even the descendants of poor whites in the South: there is some debate in the economic history literature that slavery might actually have made them poorer, not richer.

There is also the issue of the incredible cost paid by all Americans in the 1860s to end slavery. The Civil War resulted in the deaths of upwards of 400,000 men serving in Union armies: As Lincoln said, “every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn by the sword.” Shall be, and was. Hundreds of thousands more suffered horrific wounds, and debilitating diseases that scarred them for life: approximately 400,000 collected disability pensions, despite the fact that the government presented many obstacles to those making claims. Untold numbers suffered extreme emotional trauma–a subject only now receiving much attention (including in the drama Mercy Street). Even beyond the losses suffered by those who died or were maimed emotionally or physically, these casualties affected the economic circumstances of their families, and their descendants.

So how is it just to force those living now who did not benefit from slavery even indirectly, and who may well have suffered some loss from it or from the war fought to end it, to pay compensation? Should I get a credit for my Civil War veteran ancestors’ disabilities (a lost arm, lifelong rheumatism)? It cannot be rationalized even on the twisted logic of collective guilt, for this living collective is neither neither guilty of sins committed by some dead collective, nor the recipient of ill-gotten gains.

Obama tries to get around these issues thus:

“There’s not much question that the wealth of this country, the power of this country was built in significant part — not exclusively, maybe not even the majority of it — but a large portion of it was built on the backs of slaves.”

This is a monstrous untruth. In fact, the reverse is true. “Slavery made America rich” is a leftist mantra. It is also categorically false, as has been demonstrated by massive scholarship over the years.

The economic historical literature on the subject is vast, but Deirdre McCloskey summarizes it well:

Yet the economic idea implied—that exploitation made us rich—is mistaken. Slavery made a few Southerners rich; a few Northerners, too. But it was ingenuity and innovation that enriched Americans generally, including at last the descendants of the slaves.

It’s hard to dispel the idea embedded in Lincoln’s poetry. assumes “that northern finance made the Cotton Kingdom possible” because “northern factories required that cotton.” The idea underlies recent books of a new King Cotton school of history: Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams (Harvard University Press), Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Global History (Knopf), and Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Basic Books).

The rise of capitalism depended, the King Cottoners claim, on the making of cotton cloth in Manchester, England, and Manchester, New Hampshire. The raw cotton, they say, could come only from the South. The growing of cotton, in turn, is said to have depended on slavery. The conclusion—just as our good friends on the left have been saying all these years—is that capitalism was conceived in sin, the sin of slavery.

Yet each step in the logic of the King Cotton historians is mistaken. The enrichment of the modern world did not depend on cotton textiles. Cotton mills, true, were pioneers of some industrial techniques, techniques applied to wool and linen as well. And many other techniques, in iron making and engineering and mining and farming, had nothing to do with cotton. Britain in 1790 and the U.S. in 1860 were not nation-sized cotton mills. (Emphasis added.)

. . . .

Economists have been thinking about such issues for half a century. You wouldn’t know it from the King Cottoners. [Or Obama.] They assert, for example, that a slave was “cheap labor.” Mistaken again. After all, slaves ate, and they didn’t produce until they grew up. Stanley Engerman and the late Nobel Prize winner Robert Fogel confirmed in 1974 what economic common sense would suggest: that productivity was incorporated into the market price of a slave. It’s how any capital market works. If you bought a slave, you faced the cost of alternative uses of the capital. No supernormal profits accrued from the purchase. Slave labor was not a free lunch. The wealth was not piled up.

The King Cotton school has been devastated recently in detail by two economic historians, Alan Olmstead of the University of California at Davis and Paul Rhode of the University of Michigan. [Obama apparently missed this.] They point out, for example, that the influential and leftish economist Thomas Piketty grossly exaggerated the share of slaves in U.S. wealth, yet Edward Baptist uses Piketty’s estimates to put slavery at the center of the country’s economic history. Olmstead and Rhode note, too, from their research on the cotton economy that the price of slaves increased from 1820 to 1860 not because of institutional change (more whippings) or the demand for cotton, but because of an astonishing rise in the productivity of the cotton plant, achieved by selective breeding. Ingenuity, not capital accumulation or exploitation, made cotton a little king.

One could go on and on. Critically, cotton production represented a relatively small fraction of US income and wealth. As McCloskey (and others) note, American economic growth derived from myriad factors, of which cotton and slavery represented a modest and arguably trivial part.

Further, to the extent that slavery did massively benefit a small Southern elite, well the Civil War pretty much took care of that, no? The war devastated the planter class. Yes, more millionaires lived in sugar plantations along the Mississippi River in Louisiana than anywhere else in the US in 1860, but in 1865 the grand houses were burned; the stables emptied; the animals slaughtered or seized–and the slaves gone. They sowed the wind, and reaped the whirlwind.

Take Braxton Bragg as an example. The much-hated Confederate general married into a wealthy Louisiana planter family, but his time in the slaveholding aristocracy was short lived: Union troops confiscated his plantation in 1862, and after the war Bragg scraped by selling insurance and working as an engineer for a struggling Texas railroad. And he was one of the fortunate.

Wars also consume resources that could have been invested in productive activities: the massive expenditure of wealth to fund the Civil War reduced future US income, rather than increased it.

All meaning that Obama’s argument that modern Americans have been been unjustly enriched by the past injustices of slavery, and thus should pay reparations, is a complete falsehood. (A falsehood propagated by the loathsome 1619 Project as well.)

There are also the practical questions of to whom reparations would be paid, and the justice of any formula for rewarding them.

Are payments to be made on the basis of the one drop rule? That would be mordantly ironic, no?

Most descendants of slaves in the US are also the descendants of non-slaves, mainly whites, some of whom were more likely beneficiaries of slavery than you or I. There is considerable variation in the ratio of slave ancestry among Americans who currently identify as black. How will a reparations scheme reflect such variation? (Depending on how it does so, it could lead to another irony–a replacement of a historical reluctance of some who identify as white (especially in the South–read some Faulkner) to admit African ancestry, with a rush to find a slave ancestor: maybe investing in a genetic testing company is a way to speculate on the prospects for reparations!)

However these knotty issues are resolved, the resolution will be highly arbitrary–and hence add yet another element of injustice to an already irretrievably unjust enterprise.

Then there is the question of what is the counterfactual against which harm can be calculated. It could even be said there is no plausible counterfactual: Person X, descended from slaves, would not exist in the counterfactual world in which slavery never existed. So how can you calculate the harm suffered by X? And maybe there is no harm. Some portion of Person X’s genetic material would exist in some other people, living in Africa in far worse conditions than Person X. Person X could therefore be said to be the beneficiary of the horrors his enslaved ancestors suffered. But, of course, said ancestors cannot be compensated for these horrors.

Any just system of compensation and taxation to pay it (for reparations is at root a massive redistributive scheme) should have at least some connection between the harm suffered and the compensation paid, and between the responsibility for inflicting the harm, or the benefit received therefrom, and the tax paid. For all of the reasons discussed herein, slavery reparations cannot be just. Indeed, they are guaranteed to be unjust.*

And it is that fundamental injustice–which is an inherent feature of the entire concept of reparations–is what makes it extraordinarily divisive. Even people of good will will not voluntarily submit to such a fundamental injustice, and indeed, people of good will will resist the imposition of such an injustice.

Obama’s failure to recognize this, and his assertion that opposition to reparations is rooted in base, racist motives speaks volumes about the man–and about what he thinks about the majority of Americans. And it does not speak well. Pushing for reparations will inevitably and severely exacerbate racial tensions, and divide the nation. Claiming that opposition to reparations can only be due to racism will divide it even more. This is the last thing we need now. But Obama apparently decided he had inadequate time in office to accomplish his mission, so he is devoting his post-presidency to fan the flames of enmity in America.

*There are also issues of economic efficiency. Reparations are purely redistributive. It can have no effect on the behavior that caused the harm–because all those behaving thus are long dead. But redistributive programs impose deadweight costs. These include, inter alia, the deadweight costs of taxation required to pay reparations; the costs of administering the program, including the costs to detect and punish fraud; and the rent seeking costs incurred by those attempting to secure the transfer. These deadweight costs make everyone poorer. And this does not even consider the cost of the strife that a battle over reparations would engender.

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January 9, 2021

The Tyrannical Reaction to the Blundering “Insurrection” at the Capitol Means That Worse Is to Come

Filed under: Civil War,Politics — cpirrong @ 5:25 pm

My main reaction to Wednesday’s debacle at the Capitol is the same as Fouché’s to the murder of the Duc d’Enghien: It was worse than a crime: it was a blunder. As “insurrections” go, it was rather farcical, with limited instances of real violence the exception, and theater of the absurd the rule. As a result it was utterly ineffectual in achieving any object. And I use the passive tense deliberately, because it is rather hard to identify any actual person with an objective.

But that is a major reason why this was such a colossal blunder. It was utterly aimless and pointless and ineffectual and barren of any result–except for giving the governing class a reason to begin a ruthless purge of anyone in opposition to it. Anyone who is opposed to the governing class (which extends far beyond government, and includes large swathes of corporate America) is equated to those very few who rampaged through Nancy Pelosi’s office, even if they were nowhere near DC at the time. They are deemed seditious insurrectionists and “domestic terrorists” who must be excised from public life–including in particular participation in social media–and whose private employment is at risk.

This is affirming the consequent on steroids, but that fallacy is one of the most useful tools of political propaganda. And the governing class is using that tool with utter ruthlessness. Those who do not express complete fealty are at risk of being destroyed. And to be honest, expressing fealty today is likely to be insufficient, if one is deemed to have committed some sin against orthodoxy in the past.

This has been a judo move that turned Trump’s biggest strength–his ability to engage the passions of millions of people–into his greatest liability. He should have understood the risk, but so consumed was he by his increasingly Quixotic efforts to overturn his election loss that he failed to see it, and in fact fell right into the trap–that is his blunder. And in so doing he has inflicted a grievous harm on his most fervent supporters, and those not so fervent yet broadly aligned with him in their opposition to the governing class.

This is a blunder from which recovery will be nearly impossible, at least for some years–or until the governing class commits a similarly egregious blunder.

The governing class is not going to miss this opportunity to bludgeon its adversaries–and indeed, the campaign to do so ramped into high gear after the Capitol was cleared. It continues to intensify, led by the governing class’s Praetorian Guard: the social media and tech companies.

The most striking–and revealing–phenomenon is the stark contrast between the governing class’s reaction to this spasm of mob violence, even as highly limited in duration and extent as it was, to the epidemic of mob violence that lasted for months from sea to shining sea starting in May. I’m so old that I can remember when public protest–including protest that descended into destruction and death far more extensive than what occurred in DC on 6 January–was the highest expression of patriotism, and the most authentic expression of the discontent of the dispossessed, oppressed, and disenfranchised.

But that’s because those protestors were advancing the interests of the most ruthless part of the governing class, whereas these protestors are expressing their contempt for the governing class.

Who, whom, you know. It’s not the fact or protest or the intensity or violence thereof that matters: it’s who is protesting against whom, and why. The attempted assault on the White House in June, let alone the consummated assault on a Minneapolis police station or the nightly attacks on Federal buildings in Portland, were far more intense and angry and destructive than what happened on Wednesday. But to the governing class, those are legitimate targets. They are not, and since the rampage at the Capitol targeted the governing class, it is beyond the pale.

The reaction is what one would expect from tyrants, and indeed the entire episode is symptomatic of tyranny. Not the tyranny of Trump, but the tyranny of the governing class. As I’ve written for years, Trump is a symptom, not a cause. His victory, and his popularity among a massive number of Americans, stems directly from his opposition to the governing class. Trump cannily recognized the widespread discontent, and tapped into it. His populism reflected the undeniable fact that a large fraction of the people were–and are–mad as hell at those who presume to rule us–with very good reason. Populism is almost always a consequence of government failure–which is why governing classes hate it so much.

This discontent has been stoked to a fever pitch by the unrelenting campaign against covid, which has saved pitifully few (if any) lives, but destroyed many livelihoods and deprived most of us the things that make life worth living. Further, the highly dubious outcome of the election–and perhaps more importantly, the phalanx-like opposition of the governing class (including notably the Republican establishment) to any investigation of this dubiousness–has fueled the fires further.

In sum, there are a large number of desperate and angry people who believe the governing class despises them, and is indeed at war with them. So why should anyone be surprised that this desperation and anger has resulted in mob action? No one–least of all those who rationalized the Floyd protests (and riots) as a natural response to desperation and anger.

And to be frank, I am pretty sure that the ruling class is not surprised. They would never acknowledge it, but they know they hate these people, and are hated back in return. Which is precisely why they are using this opportunity to try and crush those that they hate, both out of a self-defense reflex, and for the pure pleasure of vanquishing one’s foes.

This is what tyrants do. They believe that their power and legitimacy is non-negotiable and indisputable, and that anyone who challenges the one and questions the other is seditious and deserves to be crushed. The left makes a big deal about demonizing “The Other.” Well, to the left and the governing class which is largely left, The Other is, well, probably you. And you are being demonized, and that demonization is used to justify the imposition of coercion on you.

Their expectation, like that of all tyrants, is that if they exert enough force, their opponents will be crushed or cowed into abject submission. Sometimes that is correct. But often it has the exact opposite effect, and exacerbates tension and hostility to such a degree that there is a revolutionary convulsion.

In other words, we are living in pre-revolutionary times, and the reflex of the governing class to double down on coercion when challenged is greatly increasing the odds that soon the prefix “pre-” will be obsolete. So convinced of its righteousness, rectitude, and right to rule, the governing class is failing to ask why so many hate them so much–they just dismiss them as rubes and rednecks and racists and religious freaks. And by failing to ask the question, they greatly increase the odds of getting an unsolicited, and very violent, answer to the question they should ask but haven’t.

In the covid months I’ve let my beard grow out, mainly as a statement about how the restrictions on normal life in 2020 rendered irrelevant certain social conventions. When someone commented rather snarkily about that, I responded “well, if we are headed for a civil war, I thought I should look the part.” If that sardonic response was comprehensible when I made it a few months ago, it is all the more so after the events of the past weeks, and last week in particular.

There are other things about the Capitol catastrophe (catastrophic much less in its direct effects than its fallout) that deserve attention. Such as: why was it even possible that a rather inchoate and spontaneous mob was able to get access to the Capitol? But all that must be based on speculation colored by one’s pre-existing beliefs. The fact is that it did happen, and it will have consequences. It is those consequences that we must focus on, as I’ve tried to do here. And I am increasingly convinced that the most important consequence will be a grave escalation in internecine conflict as the governing class attempts to suppress those millions who already feel oppressed by their rule, with the possible (and indeed, likely) results being frightful to contemplate.

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December 26, 2020

Lee & Jackson Come Down: It’s More About the Future Than the Past

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 4:40 pm

Among other things, annus horribilis 2020 will evidently mark the final eclipse of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as Virginia icons. Lee-Jackson Day (commemorated under various names since 1889) was eliminated as a state holiday. The statue of Lee was removed from the U.S. Capitol, and his statue on Memorial Avenue in Richmond was defaced by massive graffiti during the George Floyd protests, and Virginia’s governor ordered its removal a month later: its fate now hangs by a thin legal thread. This month, Jackson’s statue was removed from the Virginia Military Institute, where he taught before achieving fame in the Civil War.

Even more than erecting them, the removal of monuments is a statement of political power. Thus, the monument controversy is a testament to political realignment. The controversies have been particularly intense in Virginia because the realignment has been so pronounced. This is directly attributable to the vast expansion of the Federal government since the 1960s, which has resulted in the dramatic growth of the northern Virginia suburbs, with the burgeoning population consisting disproportionately of non-Virginians, most of whom have direct or indirect ties to the national government, and hence have an antipathy towards, or at most an indifference to the most renowned rebels against that government. Similar things are happening in other Southern states with burgeoning urban populations, e.g., Georgia. In many respects, the Yankee invasion of the Sunbelt that started in earnest in the 1970s is doing what Yankee Reconstruction in the 1870s could not.

As I have written many times in the past four years or so, this iconoclasm disturbs me. It disturbs me in part because I dislike the naked assertion of political power and the marking of political territory. Waving the bloody shirt 155 years after the fact seems particularly unseemly. It is largely presentist bigotry which refuses to countenance context. And as I discuss in the closing, it will have baleful political effects.

Moreover, I dislike the erasing of history. We need to understand our past better–including understanding how previous generations understood their past. ISIS wants to destroy everything that predated Mohammed. The topplers of monuments in Richmond or Portland or Madison (and I could go on) what to destroy everything American that predates The Woke. What they have in common is a deep antipathy of anything that angers their gods.

The removal of the Jackson statue is particularly ridiculous. VMI is, after all, a military school. It trains officers. Jackson, although an indifferent teacher at VMI, was a living embodiment of many military virtues, and a general of some genius. For those reasons, he is a good example for cadets to contemplate. And as for the cause in which he employed that genius and virtues, cadets are also better off understanding it and what brought it into existence than having it extirpated from memory. The statue’s removal will also remove a reminder to strive for such an understanding.

There is also an element of cheap virtue signaling, and in fact cowardice, in removing Jackson’s monument. Truth be told, if Jackson’s legacy is a blot on Virginia that must be removed, so is VMI itself. Twenty-one of its graduates served as Confederate generals: many more as colonels (including George Patton’s grandfather) or in lower ranks: approximately 1,800 VMI graduates served in the Civil War–all but 19 for the Confederacy. The Corps of Cadets delivered a decisive charge at the Battle of New Market on 15 May, 1864.

VMI is therefore inextricably linked to the Civil War, and on the “wrong” side. If such historical bonds require removal from public space, intellectual consistency would require VMI to be burned more thoroughly than David Hunter’s Union troops did on 12 June, 1864. Getting rid of Jackson’s statue is a cheap and cowardly way of reckoning with the past.

We are now entering a period in which the subject of relations between states, and the relations between the states and the Federal government is being questioned as it has not been since 1865. The topic of secession has been broached, especially in the aftermath of the fiasco that is the 2020 presidential election. There is greater distrust and alienation between different regions of the US today than there has been since the era of Reconstruction, and by a large margin. What was universally considered settled is no longer so.

In such a febrile environment, a better understanding of how sectional distrust and alienation (North-South then, Red-Blue today) can lead to disastrous rupture is imperative. “No more Munichs” informed post-War US foreign policy: this was an attempt to learn from past mistakes in order to avoid their repetition. “No more Civil Wars” is equally important, if not more so, and we should think seriously and deeply about the period 1820-1860, in order to learn from the mistakes of that era–mistakes that culminated in a bloody war and bitter Reconstruction.

Sadly, erasing visible traces of this era does not encourage such consideration: it prevents it. Much the worse, the intensely partisan and triumphalist way it is being done actually widens the fissures in American political and social life that are becoming more apparent by the day. Again, it is an assertion of political power by one faction that is deliberately intended to demonstrate to other factions who is in charge, and that they don’t matter. That will only intensify the already manifest centrifugal forces at work in the United States. That is the last thing we want to do now, for reasons that a better understanding of the Civil War Era should make more than plain.

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July 13, 2020

The Emancipation Memorial–A Coda About Historical Context

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 7:04 pm

I regret to have forgotten an episode during Lincoln’s visit to Richmond in the immediate aftermath of the Confederate capital’s fall in April, 1865. It provides the backstory for the Emancipation Memorial which points out yet again that those who call for the Memorial’s destruction or removal are ignorant fools unfit to render judgment on the Memorial, the towering historical figure it depicts, or the events that it memorializes.

Specifically, on 4 April, 1865, a group of freed slaves, shouting “Glory Hallelujah!” mobbed Lincoln when he disembarked from the USS Malvern and strode the streets of the captured capital, still smoking from the fires set by the retreating Confederates the day before. Several of them knelt before him, some trying to kiss his feet, or the cuff of his pants. Lincoln replied:

“Don’t kneel to me.  You must kneel to God only and thank Him for your liberty.”*

That is is the scene depicted in the Memorial. A slave rising at Lincoln’s injunction not to kneel before him, or any man.

Thus, the Memorial does not symbolize subjugation of black people before the benevolent white father, as the iconoclasts claim. It depicts the exact opposite.

The Memorial therefore does what good public art should do–dramatize an historical event or personage (or, in this case, both) to make a powerful statement about time and place. And in this case, the statement is about liberation and the ending of a great historical “scourge,” which continued “until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”

It is an event that black artists of an earlier generation thought worthy of commemoration. In 1963, at the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the State of Illinois commissioned black artist Gus Nall to create a commemorative painting. What did he paint? Not anything related directly to the Proclamation itself: he painted the meeting between the freed slaves and Lincoln on the streets of Richmond, 98 years before, not 100. This was not a moment of humiliation. It was a moment at which a promise was realized, and at which the promisor disclaimed fealty, rather than demanded it.

About these events, and the direct connection between them and the statue in Washington, the iconoclasts are both ignorant and apathetic–they don’t know, and they don’t care. Yet they are swollen with self-righteous belief in their unerring and forever unchallengeable judgment. In their relentless narcissistic presentism they denigrate not just Lincoln, but newly freed people of color. They think they know everything, and can judge everything and everyone, but they know nothing and are fit to judge nothing and no one.

Lincoln’s words, “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” fall on uncomprehending ears today. What we witness today is people seething with malice towards people and events for whom and about which they not have the slightest understanding, nor the smallest speck of human charity. They deserve no respect, and their demands deserve only scorn and rebuke. The nation should not kneel before this mob. I for one will not.

*The NYT described this event on its sesquicentennial in its “Disunion” series that recounted the events of the Civil War day by day. Will they ever do so in an uncritical (let alone laudatory) way in the future? I seriously doubt it.

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June 27, 2020

Narcissistic Presentist Bigotry Plus Radical Marxism–What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:52 pm

The most recent monument to face desecration and destruction is The Emancipation Memorial in Washington, DC. This was the site of a confrontation between raving lunatics dressed in black and a group of elderly black gentlemen who had assembled to protect the monument:

The ostensible objection to the Memorial is that portrays a black man in a demeaning, submissive pose at Abraham Lincoln’s feet. This was indeed true of the original design, but due to the objections of African Americans who had seen the design, it was changed to portray the subject rising, with head raised.

If you were a consistent leftist (I crack myself up sometimes) you would actually endorse this portrayal–after all, the incessant drumbeat we hear about slavery as the nation’s original sin and the root of all current evils is based on the very premise that blacks were beaten down, humiliated, and suppressed. In bondage, they were on their knees–literally and figuratively: and the statue portrays that. Emancipation–and remember, this is a monument to Emancipation–gave them the opportunity to rise up and stand like full human beings. But it was just the beginning. That is, the statue conveys powerfully that slavery subjugated black people, and that Emancipation was only the first step in a painful process of rising up to the status of full citizen and full person.

What about that does anyone–including a leftist–believe is untrue?

The monument was paid for by African Americans grateful to Abraham Lincoln, without whom, they realized, they would still be in bondage, and whom they recognized was martyred for his role in freeing them. The model for the rising black man was a former slave–is the modern left insinuating that he was an ignorant Uncle Tom for collaborating in a demeaning portrayal? The oration at the Memorial’s dedication was delivered by Frederick Douglas, who movingly and realistically described Lincoln’s not-John-Brown-like racial views, but who in the end celebrated Lincoln’s greatness, and expressed his gratitude–and impliedly the gratitude of other African Americans–for what Lincoln achieved despite his imperfections (which were largely the inheritance of his time and place). Was Frederick Douglas also a fool advancing the cause of white supremacy?

Note in the video in the tweet that one of the gentlemen that this mentally imbalanced woman is haranguing is clearly doing an historical impression of Frederick Douglas. I am sure that harridan has no clue.

Let’s be clear. This baying mob is not fit even to grovel at the feet of a moral and intellectual giant like Frederick Douglas, let alone assault those doing him homage, or attempting to destroy a monument to which Douglas paid homage on that very spot.

These attacks on the monument are, at best, narcissistic presentism run amok. And presentism is a malign form of bigotry, and in this case ironically deprives mid-19th century African Americans of agency and dignity.

But let’s cut the bullshit. The attack on the Emancipation Memorial has fuck all to do with aesthetics, symbolism, or iconography. Those are just the rhetorical camouflage.

To reprise the theme of several past posts, tearing down this monument is just another act of a movement to tear down the entire nation, extirpate its history root and branch, and replace it with a Marxist paradise.

But don’t take my word for it. Take the word of the person who targeted the monument for destruction, one Glenn Foster:

Apropos my earlier post on our Schumpeter Moment, note that Foster attended Harvard. That’s what they “learn” there.

There are other examples–too many–of the fundamental nature of the movement. Here’s one:

Law enforcement officials had to respond to a large group of Black Lives Matters activists late on Friday night that stormed a Beverly Hills residential neighborhood chanting “Eat the rich!” and “Abolish capitalism now!”

I could go on. And on. And on.

At root, this is not about racial injustice, really. That issue is merely a wedge. Or better, an opiate being given to the masses to cloud their faculties and dull the pain of the radical surgery that these radicals have planned for them.

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June 24, 2020

What Were the Crimes of US Grant & Hans Heg? They Were Americans–and Fighting Against Slavery Does Not Expiate the Guilt

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 11:00 am

You’ve probably heard of Ulysses S. Grant. He arguably did more for African Americans than anyone in American history. It is highly doubtful that the United States of America would have prevailed against the Confederate States of America without Grant. His brilliant victories in the Western Theater (most notably Vicksburg and Chattanooga) knocked the props from under the Confederacy, and his relentless, grinding campaign in Virginia in 1864 and 1865 (and his orchestration of the overall Union effort in those years) accomplished what previous generals had failed to: smashing the Confederacy’s ability to resist.

As president, he pushed a vigorous Reconstruction policy, and was largely personally responsible for crushing the first incarnation of the KKK.

Grant has long been ranked among the worst presidents. Why? Because the history profession from the 1880s-1930s was dominated by Southerners who detested his Reconstruction policies. What better endorsement could one have?

You probably haven’t heard of Hans Heg. Heg was a Norwegian immigrant to Wisconsin. He was a fierce abolitionist, and early member of the Free Soil Party and then the Republican Party. He commanded the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, and was mortally wounded with a gut shot in the woody abattoir at Chickamauga on 19 September, 1863. His brigade suffered almost 50 percent casualties in fighting Bushrod Johnson’s Tennessee brigade and James Robertson’s Texas Brigade.

I have walked the ground where Heg fought and died at least a dozen times. I have also read his moving letters.

Now Grant and Heg have something in common besides fighting to end slavery in the United States. Their statues (Grant’s in San Francisco, Heg’s in Madison, WI) have been toppled in the ongoing (and indeed intensifying) frenzied assault on public historical memorials, ostensibly to remove from our sight the glorification of slavery. Poor Colonel Heg’s bronze head was separated from his body and he was tossed into Lake Monona (which is where Otis Redding perished in a plane crash in 1967, by the way).

One’s first reaction might be to condemn the utter ignorance of those who assault the memorials of those who actually fought–and in Heg’s case, died horribly–to end slavery and bring freedom and justice to African Americans.

But I think that reaction is wrong. The indiscriminate nature of the assaults on memory are not the product of ignorance: they demonstrate with incredible clarity the true motivation and impetus behind this iconoclastic moment, and the beliefs of those who carry out these deeds. They believe that America is evil, that its history is a litany of sin, and its memory must be ripped up, root and branch. The message is: these figures are evil, regardless of what they did, or what side they fought on, because they are Americans who were revered by earlier generations of sinful Americans.

It is pointless to argue facts about the acts of Grant or Heg with these people. Those facts pale into insignificance in the face of the irredeemable sin of the United States of America.

Destroying the statues of Grant or Heg (or the threatened destruction of the Emancipation Monument) make this point far more forcefully than removing the statue of a Nathan Bedford Forrest. These acts show that these people believe that nothing you have done can redeem you. Your crime is that you were an American. Your good acts are not sufficient to expiate that guilt. Thus, I expect that monuments to such individuals will become a special target for future destruction.

To argue against these people is as futile as a lifelong Bolshevik pleading his devotion to the cause when facing one of Stalin’s NKVD executioners.

This is an irreconcilable conflict of visions, and an existential one. And if people of good will, normal Americans, don’t figure that out quickly, the consequences will be catastrophic. The time to fight back is now. And hopefully now is not too late.

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June 18, 2020

When Judging History, Remember Matthew, Not Marx

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:22 pm

A little less than 3 years ago, during the last spasm of nihilistic iconoclasm that wracked the United States, I wrote:

It is because of this loss of historical memory that I am averse to iconoclasm. I am also quite conscious that iconoclasm is itself almost always an assertion of political power, and as such can be as divisive as the erection of the icons was. A cycle of symbolism can sow discord, and generate much more heat than light. In a deeply divided country, we should be looking for ways to improve understanding and to provide fora for reconciliation, rather than to inflame divisions. Building the monuments was a way of showing who is on top: taking them down is a way of doing the same. But assertion of power relations exacerbates conflict and detracts from the advancement of true equality.

The Confederate monument controversy has also catalyzed tribalism, perhaps intentionally so, as this has definite political uses, most notably making it possible for the left to claim that the fringe mouth breathers who rallied to defend the monument are representative of all its political adversaries. It is also the last thing the increasingly tribal US needs at present.

Today is like that. Only on steroids and meth.

Especially the part about iconoclasm being an assertion of political power. For that is the real driving force behind the current orgy of destruction–which is no longer limited to the US, but has spread around the world.

In the US, the hard left is hell-bent on imposing a Howard Zinn version of history on the entire country. A version in which the nation’s history is a litany of crimes, with no redeeming features or redeeming figures. For a nation such as that must be uprooted, destroyed, and then remade. The past must be erased–no, extirpated–in order to clear the way for a glorious utopian future.

Hence everything–everything–has to go. No historical figure is safe. The monument to the (black) 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in Boston. The statue of abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier in the town in California that bears his name. No one is pure enough to meet the standards of today’s Jacobins and Red Guardists.

The most commonly cited justification for this is “but slavery!” Where once upon a time people played Six Degrees From Kevin Bacon, we now play–or are forced to witness and assent to–Six Degrees From Slavery, in which lines are drawn from various figures or places to slavery. (Although not consistently–Kente cloth being an notable exception). If there is a connection within six degrees–into the furnace! And such connections inevitably exist in any nation or culture with a history of slavery. Which, as it happens, is every nation and culture. Meaning everything is at risk.

This has reached its most ludicrous (but not necessarily the ultimate in ludicrousness–there’s still time!) in campaigns against Penny Lane in Liverpool (allegedly, but not proved, to be named for a Mr. Penny who was involved in the slave trade in the distant past) and the University of Virginia logo, upon which the depictions of handles of crossed swords included a wavy pattern evocative of the Serpentine Walls at UVA–walls which, we are now told, “former President Thomas Jefferson designed . . . to muffle the sounds of slaves and hide them from public view.”

Color me skeptical. (Can I say that?) This is attributed to “historians.” I have looked fairly extensively to see which historians, and the basis for this conclusion, but to no avail. If someone can provide the documentation, I would be glad to evaluate it.

Building walls around universities is hardly a novelty. Creating cloistered spaces at universities or other scholastic institutions to isolate them from the intrusions of the outside world dates back to medieval times–visit a college at Oxford sometime. Or most monasteries.

But never mind, whatever the origins of the walls, they have long been recognized as architecturally distinctive (though they harken to English precedents). So the interest in and aesthetic value of the walls has existed and exists independent of whatever thought gave impetus to Jefferson to create them.

No, this seems like a classic Alinskyite effort intended to dragoon a public institution, and its craven administrators (don’t dare call them “leaders”) into genuflecting before the power of the radicals. They pick a target–the wall–freeze it, personalize it, polarize it.

And then they move on to the next target, because there is no limiting principle here. Again, the imposition of the Howard Zinn view of American history recognizes no limits: everyone and everything that preceded Year Zero is evil, and must be destroyed.

If an abstract representation of the Serpentine Wall is today considered an affront and offensive, how can the walls themselves be any less so? If you must eliminate the image, how can you possibly tolerate the real thing? In other words: how long before there is a call for the walls to be torn down, or a mob takes the job into its own hands?

The radicals will march from surrender to surrender. Given that they will never compromise, the line has to be drawn at no iconoclasm, period. Monuments are a testament to their time and place. Let them stand as such, and let our interpretation of those things change with the times and knowledge.

Quite interestingly, French President Emmanuel Macron, agrees, and forcefully so:

Would that there would be someone equally articulate taking such a strong stand here, or in the UK, or elsewhere in the Anglosphere. Bravo, M. le President.

This is about history, but it’s not only about history. It’s not even mainly about history. Orwell: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” The delegitimization of the American past (and the British past and the Western past (“decolonize your bookshelf”)) is just one part of a concerted campaign to delegitimize our institutions and our cultures, in order to replace them with those imagined in the radicals’ fevered brains.

The Jacobins brook no opposition and in fact demand complete subservience. It is not sufficient to say, reasonably enough, that black lives matter. No, it is necessary to endorse (or at the very least, not dare to criticize) Black Lives Matter, thereby giving your asset to its entire radical, Marxist, crypto-Marxist, divisive, and race-charged agenda. In this way, the radicals opportunistically use empathy and goodwill and shock at shocking events as a Trojan Horse to smuggle their extreme agenda inside America’s (metaphorical) walls–and inside your heads. And we know what happened to the Trojans when they accepted the Greek gift.

So call me Cassandra: beware of radicals bearing “gifts.”

Particularly narcissistic radicals, like those who dominate today. They cast judgment on everyone else, and everyone who went before. All fail to live up to their lofty standards. But they apparently assume that they are perfect, and no future people, radical or otherwise, will judge them.

They would be wise to heed Matthew 7:1-3:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you

They should. But they won’t. Because the history that they so haughtily disdain shows they never do. So they must be fought. Hammer and tong.

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June 11, 2020

Will Miracles Never Cease? A Voice of Sanity–From Berkeley

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 5:54 pm

Here is a powerful “UC Berkeley History Professor’s Open Letter Against BLM, Police Brutality and Cultural Orthodoxy.” Let that sink in–a letter from a Berkeley history prof against “BLM . . . and Cultural Orthodoxy.”

Powerful, but understandably–and sadly–anonymous. How many times have you been told we have to have a “conversation about race.” That’s a lie. Anybody saying that doesn’t want a conversation. They want to deliver a lecture. A monologue. And for you to listen, nodding in assent, preferably on your knees.

Here is a person who makes a sincere effort at having a thoughtful conversation, but knows that s/he cannot do so openly except at professional and personal peril.

You should read the entire thing, but I will highlight the most important point:

The claim that the difficulties that the black community faces are entirely causally explained by exogenous factors in the form of white systemic racism, white supremacy, and other forms of white discrimination remains a problematic hypothesis that should be vigorously challenged by historians. Instead, it is being treated as an axiomatic and actionable truth without serious consideration of its profound flaws, or its worrying implication of total black impotence. This hypothesis is transforming our institution and our culture, without any space for dissent outside of a tightly policed, narrow discourse.

Exactly right.

I will go further. The theory of systemic racism is quintessential pseudo-science, an unfalsifiable hypothesis, analogous to Marxism (“scientific socialism”). To which it can trace its roots, via the Frankfurt School in particular.

It has all the hallmarks of pseudo-science that Karl Popper identified decades ago. It purports to be a theory of everything. Those who propound this theory invoke it as an explanation of virtually every aspect of society and social relations. Moreover, those who dispute it are not joined factually or logically. Instead, their disagreement is taken as evidence of proof of the theory (“if you dispute the theory it proves how pervasive racism is and that you are a racist”) just as Marxism dismissed opponents as merely representing prevailing production relationships in society, or false class consciousness, or other such drivel. Opponents are guilty of Wrongthink, to be shouted down, ostracized, and marginalized–if they are lucky.

The last thing that its proponents want is that it “should be vigorously challenged by historians.” Or anybody else for that matter. Those who challenge the revealed truth are heretics, and must be treated accordingly.

Of course it is the current fashion in academia, and among the intelligentsia. But, as Orwell trenchantly said, “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”  My modification: “Some ideas are so malign that only intellectuals believe them.”

This has become a new secular religion, like Marxism. And like traditional religions, it has saints and heretics, and especially hell.

Because the theory is unfalsifiable, it is a fool’s errand to argue against it, factually or logically, at least to the people who propound it or claim to believe it. I know many people–smart people–who make gallant efforts to do so. Factually and logically they are persuasive. But attempting to falsify factually and logically an unfalsifiable and logically defective theory is futile, and only brings the furies down on your head. As the Berkeley history prof (an assistant prof, I’m guessing) clearly understands.

Further, note that when it comes to concrete policy choices and decisions, the game is rigged. If you buy into “systemic racism”, no mere reform of a police department or voting procedures or what have you is adequate. The frenzy unleashed on hapless Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey shows that. If you are not with the Jacobins 100 percent, you are an enemy.

Which means that the only prescription acceptable to those who actually believe this theory (or are smart enough to not believe it, but find it politically useful) is a complete revolution in our social relations, our economy, our government, and every institution public or private. No half measures are acceptable. No 99.9 percent measures are acceptable.

This in part explains the appeal of this theory to intellectuals and academics. They like all encompassing, gnostic theories and explanations. (See Thomas Sowell’s indispensable A Conflict of Visions for a trenchant analysis.) Intellectuals also fantasize about being in power, and deeply resent not having it.

The honest advocates of this theory will have no dispute with that: they forthrightly advocate a complete destruction and then reconstruction of society, from top to bottom. Because they think it is “systemically” rotten.

Because such attempts have always worked out great, right?

The iconoclasm and vandalism we are seeing is testament to the totalitarian, millenarian vision. Every monument has been desecrated (including a monument to black soldiers who fought in the Civil War) or is at risk of desecration, because it is the product of an evil past that lives on in an evil present. Year Zero calls!

The more than passing resemblance between the way that “conversations” are carried out today, and they were under the Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution, is further evidence. You must recant every wrongthought and embrace Newthink, or you will be destroyed.

The perversity of all this is too much. The consequences are utterly foreseeable, and dire. Most importantly, realization of only a trivial portion of this vision would hurt most the people whom are the supposed beneficiaries.

Case in point. The Chicago Police basically abandoned most neighborhoods in Chicago during the last weekend in May in the aftermath of the riots that wracked the city. Aldermen from minority wards were apoplectic. Even a hardcore leftist like Michael Pfleger were appalled:

“On Saturday and particularly Sunday, I heard people saying all over, ‘Hey, there’s no police anywhere, police ain’t doing nothing,’” Pfleger said.

“I sat and watched a store looted for over an hour,” he added. “No police came. I got in my car and drove around to some other places getting looted [and] didn’t see police anywhere.”

And on that weekend had the largest number of murders in Chicago’s recorded history. Given that history, that is a truly appalling statement.

Hopefully this episode is like the Ghost of Christmas Future, that will awaken people to where this is headed so that it can be stopped in its tracks. But hope is not a plan. This has to be fought, and the most important strategic move is to not fight this battle on the ground that the opponents choose–the pseudoscientific theory of systemic racism.

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November 28, 2019

America is Exceptional, and Its Foreign Policy Failures Stem From Americans’ Failure to Acknowledge That Fact

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 1:47 pm

When reading Allen Guelzo’s review of Elizabeth Varon’s narrative history of the Civil War, Armies of Deliverance, this jumped out at me:

What will redeem even this quibbling is the significance of the basic trope around which Varon builds her narrative. It is Varon’s fundamental belief that Northerners entered into—and stayed in—the Civil War out of the conviction that they were rescuing the deluded Southern white masses from the tyranny of Southern slaveholders. Northerners saw the Confederacy as a vast kidnapping by these elites, who had turned the slaveholding states into a closed economic system approximating what Karl Marx called “feudal socialism.”
By overthrowing this slaveholder coup d’etat, and by destroying the yoke of slavery for both white and black, the way would be opened to redeem the South, through opening its doors to “free labor”—to open markets, competitive wage contracts and, in a word, capitalism. “What a commercial world this State of Virginia should be,” marveled a Union army surgeon in 1862. With the overthrow of the slave oligarchs, insisted Henry Ward Beecher, “Schools will multiply. Books and papers will spread. Churches will bless every hamlet.”
Confidence that Northern victory would bring this deliverance in its train motivated the constant refrain in Northern writing that the war was aimed only at the oligarchs, and that poor whites and freed slaves would flock eagerly to the banner of Unionism. Hence the joyful predictions that, sooner or later, a latent Southern Unionism would rise from its repressed well; hence, also, Lincoln’s attempt to negotiate a generous amnesty and Reconstruction policy. Varon acknowledges that other historians have recognized the attraction of “the deluded-masses theory,” but virtually all of them limit its influence to the early months of the war, before the stiffening of Southern resistance led Northerners to embrace instead a “hard war” of conquest and subjugation. Varon sees no such evaporation. To the contrary, she demonstrates the “deliverance” idea’s persistence, marshalling evidence from Edward Everett’s 1863 Gettysburg oration (the “other” Gettysburg address) to soldier diaries to newspaper pronouncements—all the way to Lincoln’s last cabinet meeting on April 14, 1865.
The painful irony of this conviction was that Southerners—and not just the oligarchs—simply did not share it. They repudiated the accusation of oligarchy and instead stressed Southern white solidarity, a solidarity fired by the sufferings they endured during the war. The end of the conflict left Southern whites militarily defeated, but even more defiant in their loss—and more contemptuous of Yankee missionary efforts to convert them to free labor—than they had been in 1861. And from this refusal springs the bitter fruit of Reconstruction.

During the nadir of the American experience in Iraq, I often drew parallels with Reconstruction. One major parallel was that utter military defeat was a necessary, but by no means sufficient, condition to bring a vanquished region to heel. Conquering a populace is much harder than defeating armies.

The other major parallel is related to Varon’s interpretation of Northern thinking about the implications of victory. Per Varon, Northerners believed they were liberating oppressed masses from a small ruling class, and that the subjugation of that class would make the oppressed Southerners, black and white alike, into stereotypical Yankees who would adopt Yankee institutions and ways. In 2003, Americans (especially the neoconservatives) believed that the US was liberating oppressed Iraqis from a small (Sunni) ruling class, and that once liberated, (mainly Shia) Iraqis would adopt American (Western) values and institutions, and we could ride off into the sunset, like the Lone Ranger.

The happy visions of 1865 Northerners and 2003 Americans soon crashed into the reality that white Southerners and Iraqis didn’t want to become Yankees. The underlying reality here is that culture goes deep, culture is extremely particularist, and most of the world doesn’t share universalist American (Yankee) pretensions. Indeed, Civil War and Reconstruction demonstrate that at one time many Americans didn’t share such universalist pretensions.

If you look at many of the myriad debacles of what passes for American statecraft (e.g., the Wilsonian failure post-1918, Vietnam), they can be traced to a similar source: the American failure to understand the immense power of civilizational and cultural identity, and the concomitant belief that if given the chance–if “liberated”–everyone everywhere would become Americans.

Ironically, these beliefs have proved utterly resistant to repeated and decisive empirical refutation. Indeed, the near hysterical (well, maybe not so near) reaction to Trump in particular, and various strains of “nationalism” generally, among the establishment/government class demonstrates that they are still in thrall to such beliefs.

The ongoing impeachment farce is the most pathetic manifestation of this. Trump’s instinctual distrust of a corrupt and dysfunctional Ukraine clashes with the most deeply held convictions of The Interagency, AKA, the establishment Blob, which still pursues the chimeras that enticed Civil War-era Yankees and Iraq War-era policy elites. This time it will work! Trust us on this! Pay no attention to the sad litany of failures! We can make Sovoks into Yankees!

In a weird way, this is why I am an American exceptionalist, in the literal meaning of that term. I believe that the United States is largely an exception that proves the rule. America’s repeated attempts to make its very historically contingent institutions, culture, and development the universal rule are doomed to failure because they founder on the very historically contingent institutions, cultures, and developments of those it presumes to change.

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October 22, 2019

Chickamauga Connections

Filed under: Civil War — cpirrong @ 6:38 pm

The weekend before last I traveled to northern Georgia to visit the Chickamauga and Chattanooga battlefields. They are among my favorites. Chickamauga was the first battlefield preserved by the federal government (in 1890). This early action, plus the fact that the area was economically marginal, meant that virtually the entire field is preserved. It is well-marked. I quibble with some of the market placements (especially at Snodgrass Hill and Horseshoe Ridge, where I agree with Archibald Gracie rather than the original Battlefield Commission), but the battle was incredibly complex and confusing so no definitive interpretation is possible.

There are family connections here. My GGGF, George Immel, fought with the 92nd Ohio at Chickamauga and the assault on Missionary Ridge. (The 92nd was in Turchin’s brigade, which along with Harker’s, Croxton’s and Vandeveer’s turned in the best performance of any Union brigades in the battle.) My GGM’s brothers fought in the 46th Ohio in the assault on Tunnel Hill at Chattanooga. Here’s yours truly at the Napoleons placed to market the position of Key’s Arkansas Battery, which the 46th and the other regiments of Corse’s brigade, Ewing’s division, Sherman’s corps, attacked on 25 November, 1863:

I hit most of the major important points at Chickamauga, but having been there on the order of a dozen times, I expanded my horizons a bit this trip. I followed the route of Thomas’ 14th Corps over Lookout Mountain, into McClemore’s Cove, and then to Crawfish Spring.

Crawfish Spring is currently the site of the town of Chickamauga. The Spring (pictured below) was the site of a Union hospital during the battle, and also a vital source of water:

Across from the Spring is the massive Gordon Mansion, which was a Union headquarters prior to the battle:

The mansion is particularly impressive, when compared to the hardscrabble cabins (like the Brotherton, Kelly, and Snodgrass houses) that most local folk lived in. Talk about your inequality of wealth!

Walking around the spring and the mansion, I learned some interesting facts. One is that a slave of the Gordon family who buried the dead at Chickamauga (I get the image of Morgan Freeman in Glory), Mark Thrash, remained in the area until his death, reputedly at the age of 122 years, 357 days (making him the oldest man in the world at the time, reputedly).

The other story is even more fascinating. I went to the monument of the 88th Illinois, “The Second Board of Trade Regiment”

but didn’t expect another Chicago Board of Trade connection;

Specifically, the area around Crawfish Springs was a training camp (Camp Lytle, later renamed Camp Thomas) during the Spanish-American War. (Ironically, the 88th Illinois was in Lytle’s brigade, and the monument is on the lower slope of Lytle Hill). Sanitation was horrible, and recruits were dropping like flies from typhoid and dysentery. A Chicago philanthropist, Mary T. Leiter, heard of the disaster, and paid $10,000 to buy the Park Hotel near the springs and convert it to a hospital.

Mary Leiter was the wife of Levi Leiter, the financial/business brain behind Marshall Fields. Her son, Joseph, became a notorious speculator on the CBOT. His massive failed attempt to corner the wheat market in 1897-1898 was the inspiration for Frank Norris’ novel, The Pit: A Story of Chicago. Hence the CBOT connection.

Levi had to pay $5 million to bail out his son after the corner collapsed–and that’s when $5 mil was a helluva lot of money. This would have been a few months before Joe’s mom popped a mere $10k for a hotel/hospital.

One of Leiter’s daughters (Mary Victoria) was famous in her own right, marrying Lord Curzon and becoming the Vicereine of India before her premature death at age 36.

Quite a fascinating story, and an unexpected place to find it.

All in all, a trip filled with connections, personal and professional.

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