Tag Archives: Civil War

The Civil War Poems of Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman. Library of Congress description:...

Walt Whitman, circa 1860. Photo by Mathew Brady. Image via Wikipedia

As an adolescent, America‘s most original poet was best known as the local mall.

I grew up just a few miles from Walt Whitman‘s birthplace on Long Island, but his name was best known for gracing the shopping center across the street.  If that wasn’t grotesque enough, the Walt Whitman Mall has the words of his famous “Song of Myself” painted across the outer walls, as if shoppers would grace their day with fine poetry while they splurge with their Macy’s coupons.

It really was more as an adult that I could really appreciate the power and uniqueness of Whitman’s words, especially apart from the walls of a suburban mall.  Thus, the Neighborhood is celebrating our greatest poet at the anniversary of a pivotal conflict in Whitman’s life.

By 1861, three editions were published of Whitman’s seminal masterpiece Leaves of Grass.  Like the first two editions, the third did not sell well.  American readers were shocked at his unique meter and cadence, his raw, unflinching verse and his often overtly sexual emotions.

When his brother was wounded in 1863, Whitman went to Washington to help in the overcrowded Union military hospitals.  Though he had no military or medical training, the wounded troops were comforted by Whitman’s poems, stories, songs and chores he would dutifully fulfill well past his appointed shift.

Whitman’s experiences in the hospital stayed with him for the rest of his life.  Towards the end of the war, in 1865, Drum-Taps, a collection of wartime poems, was published.  When his “O’ Captain, My Captain!” appeared after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, it made Whitman a celebrity almost overnight.  Ironically, “O’ Captain” is a more traditional poem than Whitman’s other work–which probably helped readers ease into his more fiery verses.

Here is a link to Whitman’s Civil War poems, but attached below are a few of my favorites.

Beat! Beat! Drums!  ~ from Drum-Taps

BEAT! beat! drums!-blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows-through doors-burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet-no happiness must he have now with
his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering
his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums-so shrill you bugles blow.

Beat! beat! drums!-blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities-over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers
must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers’ bargains by day-no brokers or speculators-would
they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the
judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums-you bugles wilder blow.

Beat! beat! drums!-blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley-stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid-mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the
hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums-so loud you bugles blow.

The Wound Dresser ~ from Drum-Taps
1.
AN old man bending I come among new faces,
Years looking backward resuming in answer to children,
Come tell us old man, as from young men and maidens that love me,
(Arous’d and angry, I’d thought to beat the alarum, and urge
relentless war,
But soon my fingers fail’d me, my face droop’d and I resign’d
myself,
To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead;)
Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions, these
chances,
Of unsurpass’d heroes, (was one side so brave? the other was equally
brave;)
Now be witness again, paint the mightiest armies of earth,
Of those armies so rapid so wondrous what saw you to tell us?
What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics,
Of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what deepest
remains?

2.

O maidens and young men I love and that love me,
What you ask of my days those the strangest and sudden your talking
recalls,
Soldier alert I arrive after a long march cover’d with sweat and
dust,
In the nick of time I come, plunge in the fight, loudly shout in the
rush of successful charge,
Enter the captur’d works-yet lo, like a swift-running river they
fade,
Pass and are gone they fade-I dwell not on soldiers’ perils or
soldiers’ joys,
(Both I remember well-many the hardships, few the joys, yet I was
content.)

But in silence, in dreams’ projections,
While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on,
So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the
sand,
With hinged knees returning I enter the doors, (while for you up
there,
Whoever you are, follow without noise and be of strong heart.)

Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,
Straight and swift to my wounded I go,
Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in,
Where their priceless blood reddens the grass the ground,
Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d hospital,
To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return,
To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss,
An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail,
Soon to be fill’d with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill’d
again.

I onward go, I stop,
With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,
I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,

One turns to me his appealing eyes- poor boy! I never knew you,
Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that
would save you.

3.

On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!)
The crush’d head I dress, (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage
away,)
The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through
examine,
Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life
struggles hard,
(Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death!
In mercy come quickly.)

From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,
I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and
blood,
Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv’d neck and side
falling head,
His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the
bloody stump,
And has not yet look’d on it.

I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep,
But a day or two more, for see the frame all wasted and sinking,
And the yellow-blue countenance see.

I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound,
Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so
offensive,
While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray and
pail.

I am faithful, I do not give out,
The fractur’d thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen,
These and more I dress with impassive hand, (yet deep in my breast
a fire, a burning flame.)

4.

Thus in silence in dreams’ projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals,
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young,

Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad,
(Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have cross’d and
rested,
Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)

Ethiopia Saluting the Colours ~ from Drum-Taps 

WHO are you dusky woman, so ancient hardly human,
With your woolly-white and turban’d head, and bare bony feet?
Why rising by the roadside here, do you the colors greet?

(‘Tis while our army lines Carolina’s sands and pines,
Forth from thy hovel door thou Ethiopia comist to me,
As under doughty Sherman I march toward the sea.)

Me master years a hundred since from my parents sunder’d,
A little child, they caught me as the savage beast is caught,
Then hither me across the sea the cruel slaver brought.

No further does she say, but lingering all the day,
Her high-borne turban’d head she wags, and rolls her darkling eye,
And courtesies to the regiments, the guidons moving by.

What is it fateful woman, so blear, hardly human?
Why wag your head with turban bound, yellow, red and green?
Are the things so strange and marvelous you see or have seen?

Of course, we must include the poem that made Whitman an international icon, the poem written in tribute to Abraham Lincoln:

Oh Captain! My Captain!

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths- for you the shores
a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

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The 150th Anniversary of the US Civil War

The Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 —...

Antietam Creek, MD September 17, 1862. Image via Wikipedia

The horror of the Civil War is in the accounting—a terrifying piece of accounting.

Between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865 (the last shot was fired in June) almost 2.2 million Americans fought against each other—almost 40% of those eligible for military service. In that time, approximately 625,000 Americans were killed, either in action, in hospital or illness. Another 402,000 were wounded, with injuries as varied as a scratch and a severed limb. 10% of the North’s population of military age, and 30% of the South’s never came home.

We will never know for sure the total number of civilian casualties.

I bring out these numbers as a static, mathematical reminder of the costs of fanaticism, militaristic saber-rattling, authoritarian usurpation and a lack of compromise. The math can often resound decibels louder than any rhetoric.

Tomorrow, we mark the 150th anniversary of the greatest disaster in our history, and I mean “greatest” in all its senses. The Civil War has been written about to death. It has been the culprit of reams of academic pap, both useful and useless, often hashing and rehashing the debates about slavery, states’ rights, civil rights, Lincoln’s actions and inactions, as well as every slight movement of the battlefield in those little blue and red rectangles.

If that wasn’t enough, the unlettered masses have fistful of Hollywood movies, some good (Gettysburg, Glory, Gods and Generals) and some God awful (Sommersby –I threw up a little on saying its name). Then there’s documentaries, docu-movies, PBS documentaries, History Channel documentaries, even those weirdoes who dress up each weekend, playing ancestors with which they have a dubious family connection. There’s no way ALL you guys had a great uncle who fell at Shiloh, right?

In a sense, the sesquicentennial ruckus can be just as disturbing as the war itself. That’s pretty frightening, since the greatest effusion of blood in American history still hold lessons today—particularly in how we forget our past.

David Von Drehle, in a funny connection to two anniversaries this year (he wrote the book Triangle, about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire) wrote an interesting piece in this week’s Time Magazine about a collective amnesia Americans from both North and South have about our greatest conflict. In a nutshell, Von Drehle writes about how Americans have washed away the more distasteful or painful elements of the Civil War in the course of 150 years.

Some of these include:

The persistent need to push the slavery issue as secondary to the issue of states’ rights. Slavery, in fact, was the elephant in the room ever since the Revolution, and even Thomas Jefferson (himself a slave owner) prognosticated civil war over the issue.

The connivance of monied interests on both sides. Arms, munitions and logistics industries in the North were itching for a conflict to cash in on army contracts. Yet there were even more business to be lost by the South. Southern cotton not only greased the wheels of the mills in New England and the clothing factories in New York, but also buttressed the textile industries of Great Britain, France, even Germany. New York City, in fact, came close to “seceding” from the Union over the issue of lost revenue due to the lack of cotton.

The lack of enthusiasm—and outright rage—over fighting to free enslaved Africans. The 1862 Emancipation Proclamation was not met with resounding enthusiasm, even in the North. Many states began to question continuing the war. The Irish of New York rioted outright in the summer of 1863, fearing they would lose their jobs to free blacks. Even the arrival of black soldiers did not ease the racism and hatred that pervaded the North—a hatred well established in the South.

The burial of the events leading up to the shots on Fort Sumter. Events such as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, “Bleeding Kansas,” the Pottowatamie Massacre, the 1857 Dred Scott decision, even so far back as the compromises of 1820, 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act.

Furthermore, the period after the war became a time when veterans of the Blue and Grey would meet in reunions as brothers to remember the old times—and to decry the Northern reformers and shiftless Blacks that sent them to fight in the first place. Ever since, according to Von Drehle, we have been struggling to find the complete story.

This anniversary, we at the Neighborhood implore our readers to look at the Civil War with open minds, with clear eyes and with an empty heart.

Take a new look at the war for yourself, filtering out the din of media and talking heads. Look at the photos. Read the letters. Hear the arguments. Examine the carnage. Let the war speak to you.

In fact, 625,000 soldiers speak to us everyday.

They speak whenever we debate about the government’s role in our lives, be it on the federal or state level. They speak whenever an American is slighted due to race, ethnicity, religion, or socio-economic status. They speak when moneyed classes suffer a severe disconnect from the reality of the American people.

Most importantly of all, they yell—they scream—when intransigent politicians, policymakers and ideologues entrench in their opinions with no room for compromise.

The 625,000 are the warning of fanatical, unscrupulous, un-American partisanship. Their number, and their silence, is the loudest of all.

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Videos for the Classroom: For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots

I’m kicking myself for forgetting this: all this hubbub around the beginning of the school year and I missed the premiere of an important film.

This past September, PBS aired the documentary For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots.  It chronicles the triumphs and struggles of African Americans in combat from the American Revolution to today’s struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan.  One of the main themes is the bravery and skill of these soldiers in the face of a double-standard: often, their treatment in the armed forces mirrored their second-class position back on the home front. 

As the country was born, grew and developed, so too did African American soldiers contribute in every step of the way, often thanklessly.  During the Revolution, many Blacks joined both the British and American ranks (though many more joined the British side) in the futile hope of achieving freedom.  That same hope propelled Blacks to contribute with honor in the Civil War.  In the subsequent World Wars, Blacks struggled to maintain dignity and assert their rights as citizens, even with segregated units, white officers, substandard equipment and provisions, and a hostile Jim Crow America upon their return.  Finally, Blacks are represented in massive numbers in today’s military, even as a Black president finally takes office in 2009.

Often, these types of documentaries get tedious, slow, and brutally long.  The US Army, and thanks to the folks at the Social Studies and History Teachers Blog, part of Multimedia Learning LLC, put together a shortened version of the film to be used in classrooms, each segment focusing on a specific area of history.  There are even facilitator guides for high school and college that augment the viewing with questions, project ideas and lesson plans.

Below is the shortened film in 9 segments.  These classroom-ready 3-5 minute chunks are perfect for your classrooms, along with the facilitator guides.  Let us know how you like them.

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Spoofing History: Don Cheadle as Frederick Douglass

As your finishing your last-minute paperwork before summer, the Neighborhood revisits an old theme with a new installment sure to “inform” and entertain.

The Drunk History franchise, seen on Funny or Die on HBO Comedy, has featured Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and even Nikola Tesla.  This most recent installment, whereas the cast acts out the drunk narration of a plastered host, features Don Cheadle as Frederick Douglass and Will Ferrell as Abraham Lincoln.  It’s probably too expletive-laden for the classroom, but fun to share with the faculty as you get those records in order.

Enjoy the video–hopefully it’ll kill enough time before vacation.

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This Day in History 11/3: The Birth of the US Income Tax

88159772Sharpen those pencils, take out your calculator and make sure you have those W-2s and 1099s ready.  The Neighborhood is celebrating April 15 five months early. 

No, we’re not insane (well, maybe a little.)

Today is the anniversary of the introduction of the U.S. Income Tax, thanks to the ratification of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution in February of 1913.  Ever since then, we as a nation have cycled through an often painful, mostly baffling ritual of filing our income tax returns.

Income taxes had been tried before, most notably during the Civil War–no Abe, you can’t deduct top hats and laudanum as a business expense.  Yet it took a constitutional amendment to finally get the ball rolling on our 1040s.  It all stemmed from deciding what exactly were income taxes–a direct tax on something, or an indirect tax based on an event. 

Under the Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 and Section 9, Clause 4, Congress had the right to  tax citizens of the United States, but in a uniform manner and, at first, only direct taxes on property.  Furthermore, the tax revenue would be apportioned to each state according to population.  The courts had argued that direct taxes was only taxes on people and property, and everything else was an “indirect tax.” 

The income tax, however, was another issue entirely.  Are you taxing something, as in the wages of a person?  Or are you taxing their labor, which makes it an indirect tax?

The Supreme Court struck the first blow.  In 1895, in the case of Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Company, the court ruled that an 1894 income tax law was unconstitutional because it taxed revenue derived from property–rents, interest, and dividends–which was an indirect tax.  Congress could only tax what can be apportioned to the states, and an income tax on property was deemed impractical.  So according to the courts, you can’t have a federal income tax.

Easy there, Chief Justice.  The Congress can fix it, using the good old Sharpie of governance, the constitutional amendment.  The Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution finally established a national income tax, which would be collected and distributed by the federal government as it saw fit, not apportioned according to population.

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.   – Amendment XVI, U.S. Constitution (1913)

irs-form-1040-1913-xl

The first 1040, from 1913

Thus was introduced the infamous 1040 form.  The 1913 form, pictured here, was a rather straightforward affair.  With the instructions, it was only 4 pages long.  Even a semi-literate immigrant could file a return.  Your average robber baron, however, was in a pickle–not much room for deducting that second horse buggy, or claiming your half-blind Irish butler as your “dependent.” 

Since Congress wisely understood that the rich want to keep as much of their money as possible, soon after the 16th Amendment came the deduction.  Today’s form, including the schedule attachments, is 13 pages of small print.  This doesn’t even include the instructions, nor your state return, which is often longer than the federal form.  Most of these forms are the deductions we file so we can get back every penny that Uncle Sam (and Blind Uncle Dave, in my state’s case) takes from us.

To that end, let’s examine some interesting deductions from some important Americans pre-1913:

George Washington: 1 elephant tusk, claimed as a “dental expense.”

John Adams: counted his brisk walk from the bedchamber to his chamber pot as his commuting costs.

Benjamin Franklin: Able to use his Elderly Tax Credit (Schedule R) since at least the French and Indian War.

Thomas Jefferson: 150 “dependents” and growing.  All without a spouse to file jointly (gasp!).

Francis Scott Key: itemized each “bomb bursting in air” in his expenses on Schedule C.

Andrew Jackson: argued at his audit that “whuppin’ dem Seminoles” was a charitable donation because he was “doin’ dem a favor.”

Frederick Douglass: listed as a capital loss on his master’s return, a capital gain on his own. 

Alexander Hamilton: set of pistols, listed as “conflict management equipment” under his expenses.

Lewis and Clark: each claimed Sacajewea as a dependent to gain the Earned Income Tax Credit. 

Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull: each claimed wiping out Custer at Little Bighorn as their donation to a retirement account for 1876.  Too bad they could only claim half the scalps.

William Tecumseh Sherman: told to itemize expenses per building burned and per rail tied.  Had a gang of runaways calculate Schedule A. 

Finally,

Abraham Lincoln: forgot to claim Ford’s Theatre tickets as a business expense.  Who knew audits were so brutal back then?

 

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This Day in History 7/16: The Atomic Bomb and the Constant Search for the Ultimate Weapon

On July 16, 1945, a pack of scientists sat worried in the high desert of New Mexico.  Some of the greatest minds of their generation, they created what they thought was the ultimate super weapon. 

Yet no one was happy about it.

Some feared that this new “atomic bomb” would lead to the destruction of the Earth itself.  Others thought that the atmosphere would ignite, engulfing the planet in a ball of fire.  Still others thought the darn thing was a dud—there was no way a thing that small can cause the amount of destruction they had projected.

Yet once the countdown finished, the genie (or the demon, depending on your point of view) was out of the bottle.

The successful test of the first nuclear weapon at the Trinity test site near Alamogordo, New Mexico changed history.  It was then conceivable that a weapon can be created that was so destructive and so terrifying as to render warfare obsolete.  Yet even after the Cold War, we continue to feel the lasting effects of these weapons—on our budgets, our environment, our foreign policy, and our everyday lives.

The search for the one super weapon, the “ultimate weapon”, has existed since the dawn of man.  In a few decades, perhaps sooner, a weapon will be developed that supersedes the atomic missile.  Let’s hope the US Air Force is building a Death Star, so we can wipe out countries that are a little too fresh.  Until that time comes, here’s a few of the “ultimate weapons” of history:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Chariot—Blitzkrieg was not a German invention (sorry, Adolf).  The chariot was the perfect example of making the best of a bad situation.  The Hyksos invaded Egypt in the 16th Century BCE and brought with them a light cart that provided quick mobility.  The Egyptians took the technology and perfected the first terror weapon in human history.  Gangs of chariots zooming down the field, with archers and spearmen in tow; the Egyptians were the first to utilize speed and overwhelming force in battle.

 

Model_of_a_greek_trireme

 

 

 

 

 

The Trireme—I knock the film 300 constantly, but here the offense is legitimate.  Xerxes was not defeated because of Gerard Butler and his scantily-clad Spartans, but rather due to an innovation in the Athenian navy.  The trireme was a fast, powerful galley vessel with three rows of rowers and a stout ramming prow.  These vessels not only defeated Xerxes at the straits of Salamis, but also propelled another half-century of Athenian dominance in the Mediterranean, spreading generic gyros and bland tzatziki sauce across an empire.

 Greekfire-madridskylitzes1

 

 

 

“Greek Fire”—I don’t mean the feeling you get when you see Stavros, the hot waiter at that Astoria diner.   Greek Fire was a true wonder weapon, used by the Byzantines for centuries.  Its composition and origins remain clouded in mystery, another plus if you want to spread wanton fear in your enemies.  Greek Fire managed to keep the Islamic armies at bay for centuries, until the Turks basically figured out its nothing more than a crude flamethrower.

 

Trebuchet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trebuchet—used by the Chinese and Romans but later perfected in Medieval Europe.  If you needed to breach a wall, or lay siege to a castle, the trebuchet was often your only option.  Part slingshot, part catapult, it was designed to hurl projectiles over long distances at a high arc, similar to a low-altitude bombing.  It was also used in a crude form of biological warfare: sling a rotting, disease cow carcass over the wall and let the fun begin.

 

TheTsarCannonJuly2004

 

 

 

 

 

  

                                            The Firearm—the Chinese developed gunpowder around the second century CE, but firecrackers and bottle rockets can only do so much.  The firearm—first the cannon, then the musket—began showing up on European battlefields in the late 14th Century.  Heavily armed knights often had a good laugh at these toys, manned mostly by peasant conscripts or the local militia.  They weren’t laughing for long, not after they noticed the power and range of those weird brass and iron tubes. 

 

Kentucky%27s

 

The Rifle—early firearms were no better than blowguns with a gunpowder ignition.  In the 18th Century, German hunters developed a musket with a spiral groove in the barrel to spin the bullet, providing increased speed, power and accuracy.  These hunters settled in America, particularly in Pennsylvania, where their invention found fans in American colonists, frontiersmen, trappers, and the Continental Army.  The rifle was especially useful in hunting game and hunting British officers.  Now that’s not very sporting, is it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Ship of the Line”this was the first true “weapon of mass destruction.”  So called because of their single-file formation, “Ships of the Line” were giant sailing fortresses, often carrying over 100 cannon a piece.  The British navy were masters of this type of vessel, using “ships of the line” as protective convoys for Caribbean trade, in naval warfare with the French, Dutch and Spanish, and as intimidation for compliance (think Revolutionary Boston and New York).  Its high water mark came in 1805, as hundreds of British and French behemoths clashed at the straits of Trafalgar.  The British victory made Horatio Nelson a martyred hero and Trafalgar the name of a London square that drives motorists nuts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Iron Ship—Leave it to a civil war in the United States to render every navy afloat obsolete in a matter of months.  The Confederates, with few ships in their navy, took old wooden ships and slapped iron sheets on its sides, with gun ports on two sides.  Their first, an old Union ship called the USS Merrimack, rechristened the CSS Virginia, terrorized the southern Atlantic coastline.  The federals countered with the USS Monitor, a ship made entirely of iron with a revolving gun turret.  The world watched in awe—metal could indeed float, with terrifying consequences.

 

Vickers_IWW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Machine Gun—developed by different inventors at different times, the machine gun came very close to being the “mother of all weapons”, the weapon that would render war obsolete.  American inventors Richard Gatling (in 1862) and Hiram Maxim (1896) developed weapons that fired multiple rounds in succession.  Gatling’s gun required multiple barrels and hand cranking.  Maxim’s model was self-propelled, with a single water-cooled barrel and belts of ammunition to feed into the gun.  Its grand moment came in World War I, when centuries of tactics and strategy, tactics dating back to Napoleon, were cut to ribbons in the spray of machine gun fire.

Shermans_disembarking_from_LST_at_Anzio_crop

 

 

 

 

 

                                             The Tank—armored vehicles are not a new concept; horses and other pack animals carried armored plating for centuries.  Yet when merged with automotive technology, heavy artillery and machine guns, you have a mobile killing machine.  The British first introduced the tank in 1917, and subsequent variations have spread destruction across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.  It also provided another setting for Donald Sutherland to play a drugged-out weirdo (Kelly’s Heroes.)

 

Boeing B-17E

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heavy Bomber—as the machine gun was the poster boy for World War I, the heavy bomber takes the prize for World War II.  If there was one machine responsible for the majority of death and destruction in a single war, this would be it.  German Heinkel He-177s, British Avro Lancasters, American B-17s, B-24s and B-29s laid down more ordinance over Europe than every other European conflict combined.   It’s also responsible for the infamous bombing of Dresden.  Those monsters, how could you bomb all those porcelain figurines?

AK-47_type_II_Part_DM-ST-89-01131

 

 

 

                                     The Kalashnikov AK-47 Assault Rifle—another rifle?  Just hear me out.  The Soviets developed this Assault rifle at the tail end of World War II as a standard issue semi-automatic rifle for the Red Army.  It’s rugged, reliable, cheap to make, and easy to maintain.  The perfect weapon for the Communist on a budget, the AK-47 is the most ubiquitous firearm in the world.  In this case, don’t think quality, think quantity: find me a part of the world where you couldn’t get your mitts on an AK for a reasonable price…even a ridiculously low price.  These babies were going for $100 a pop in Sierra Leone not too long ago.

As usual, I probably missed many other candidates for the “ultimate weapon” of its time.  My apologies to the Greek phalanx formation, various Roman siege weapons, the longbow, the Mongol compound bow, the fighter plane, the heavy artillery of World War I (“Big Bertha”, or the “Paris Gun”), submarines, guided missiles, stealth technology and the neutron bomb.  Just to name a few.

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Hold Your Gavels!: Our Top Supreme Court Rejects.

Like those of yore, Barack Obama’s  infant Presidency is filled with firsts:  first press conference, first foreign trip, first missile attack into a pesky Third World pariah. 

Now he can add his first Supreme Court nominee, with the appointment of federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor to the country’s highest bench.  Bronx-born, Puerto-Rican, female–Sotomayor is all things good Democrats smile about.  I like her as well, being that my students can have someone from the projects they can actually emulate who isn’t on MTV or in Rikers Island.  Plus, her vague voting record on hot-button issues can turn her into her predecessor, David Souter–a moderate in conservative clothing.

Before we pop the bubbly, however, there is a chance–a slim chance–that Sotomayor may not get the nomination.  If she does not, Sonia will not be alone.  34 nominees have been rejected since the first batch appointed by George Washington.  Let’s look at the memorable high court duds that have graced, or disgraced, our headlines, thanks to David Holzel’s article at Mental Floss, as well as the good folks at CQ Press and other sources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Bork – Children of the Eighties remember the facial hair alone–it made him look like an Amish villain in a James Bond film.  It wasn’t the only strike against him.   Ronald Reagan’s most famous appointee–after Sandra Day O’Connor–Bork lost largely because he voted and talked exactly as he thought, and he did it a lot.  A US Court of Appeals judge and a legal scholar, Bork produced reams of conservative opinions and legal reviews.  This didn’t mean he was a bad guy, but his liberal enemies made him out as a beast who eats minority children.  So the Amish Goldfinger lost after 12 days of contentous hearings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexander Wolcott – We’re a year away from Revolution Round Two, or the War of 1812, and James Madison appoints the single most unpopular guy in the New World to the court.  Wolcott was defeated by widest margin of any nominee in history, 9-24.  The Connecticut customs inspector lost for two reasons: (1) he was a customs inspector, and never set foot inside a courtroom; and (2) He openly enforced two of the most unpopular laws in history, the Embargo and Non-Intercourse Acts.  These 1807 measures designed to prevent our getting sucked into the Napoleonic Wars actually caused widespread financial ruin, especially in his native Connecticut.  They were glad to see this bozo gone.

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John Rutledge – Signer of the US Constitution, brother of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Rutledge had Chief Justice written all over him in 1795, when Washington appointed him to replace John Jay.  It was a recess appointment, and Rutledge had a few months to sit on the bench before the Senate would appoint him.  During that time, he decided to self-destruct.  He gave controversial speeches against the 1795 Jay Treaty, which normalized relations with Great Britain.  Rutledge also had been fighting alcoholism and bouts of insanity since his wife’s death.  When the Senate saw the rum-swilling, insane troublemaker in December, they made quick work of him, and rejected him on December 15. 

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Douglas Ginsburg – After the Bork fiasco, Reagan attempted to quietly insert Anthony Kennedy as the nominee.  Conservatives in the Senate weren’t buying it, thus the Ginsburg situation.  Douglas Ginsburg was a conservative appellate judge with a solid record and one vice–marijuana.  Now, if this had been as a student, the Senate may have looked the other way, as they did with Clarence Thomas’ disclosure of pot use in law school.  The problem was that Ginsburg admitted to drape-smoking as an assistant professor at Harvard–thus, as a grown-up.  Grown-ups put away such childish things, Douggie (wink, wink) and the Senate agreed.

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Ebenezer Hoar – The late 19th Century’s answer to Mike Hock and I.P. Freely.  Besides having an unfortunate name, Ebenezer had the altogether bigger problem of NOT being his namesake.  Ulysses Grant’s Attorney General lost his nomination approval because he was honest–pretty much the only honest man in Washington besides poor General Grant, himself.  A staunch advocate of civil service reform and merit advancement, Hoar was reviled by the Senate for not lining up to line their pockets with pork.  Hoar just couldn’t stoop to being a whore.

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Wheeler Hazard Peckham and William B. Hornblower – These two poor guys were the victims of senatorial courtesy.  One of many unwritten rules of the Senate chamber is that a senator has the right to reject a court nomination simply because the nominee is from the senator’s home state.  In 1894, these New York attorneys were appointed by Grover Cleveland.  Just as quickly, Senator David Hill invoked his privilege to kill both nominations.

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Caleb Cushing – Some nominees fail because they’re too conservative.  Some because they’re too liberal.  Cushing lost because no one could figure out where he stood on anything.  A former US Attorney General in the 1850s, Cushing was appointed by Ulysses Grant at the ripe old age of 74, which didn’t help matters.  During his career, Cushing was a Whig, a Tyler Whig, a Democrat, a Johnson Constitutional Conservative, and a Republican.  Being a political chameleon is okay today (think Bill Clinton) but political poison in the 19th Century.  Cushing made so many enemies on both sides that Grant just withdrew his name before the Senate could even vote. 

Maybe he should smoke a fat one with Ginsburg.  They could light their doobies with a flaming copy of the Dred Scott decision–finally putting it to good use.

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