Sunday, May 27, 2007
Memorial Day 2007
Military Order of the Purple Heart
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Union and West End Cemetery
The exact beginning of the tradition of a day to remember fallen soldiers is lost to history. It is known that on April 25, 1866 a group of ladies in Columbus, Mississippi visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at the Battle of Shiloh. The ladies, disturbed by the sight of the bare graves of fallen Union soldiers, also placed followers on their graves as well, even though they were considered the enemy.
But the origin of Memorial Day is not important. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, Alexandria, Virginia.
Following World War I the holiday was changed to recognize all war dead, not just those that died while fighting in the Civil War. The Memorial Day Holiday now celebrates and honors all those that died while fighting in any of the wars in which they have been asked to serve.
It should be kept in mind that this holiday does not recognize any and all veterans as many think, but it specifically honors those that have fallen in the service of our country. Veterans Day, (November 11th) which is a totally separate holiday, is celebrated to honor the memory of all veterans.
Unfortunately, today few remember the true purpose of this solemn and sacred occasion. It is not about picnics and backyard cookouts, it is a day to remember, honor and show respect to those fallen heroes that gave their lives so that this nation could remain free.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
The "real" sutler provided the soldier with far different comforts. The Civil War era sutler was a civilian merchant, licensed by the government to travel with and sell specific items to soldiers. The word 'sutler' comes from the early modern Dutch, word "soeteler" meaning "small tradesman," according to "Barnhart's "Dictionary of Etymology."
The sutler has been around in one form or another from the beginnings of organized warfare, primarily as a camp follower prior to the 1700's. During the American Civil War, Federal army regulations permitted the appointment of one sutler to each regiment. The regimental commander most often selected the unit's sutler, sometimes a hometown merchant, while others were licensed through political appointment.
The practices of the sutler were controlled by military regulations, and during the Civil War, included the prohibition of the sale of alcohol and the controlling of business hours. (During the American Revolution, General Washington had allowed one sutler per brigade to sell liquor at a fixed rate.)
Many Civil War regiments failed to enforce the regulations on a sutler's prices, as well as the liquor prohibition. Of 200 units inspected by the U. S. Sanitary Commission in 1861, 182 of them had a sutler. Garrison posts, prison camps and hospitals also were provided the benefit of the sutlers service.
The Confederate soldier doing business with prison sutlers often had this as their only contact with a sutler. Although authorized by the Confederate Congress, aside from an occasional wagon selling one or two items, (often only cider), Confederate sutlers were rare. In the Union camps, sutlers most often established themselves in large canvas tents. For security, the merchant usually slept inside with his goods. The sutler's goods included many items with which to supplement a rather bland soldier diet. Fruit, vegetables flour, sweets, were available, but often at prices only officers could afford.
The contents of the infamous "sutler's pie," usually 25 cents, became a subject of debate for years after the war "...moist and indigestible below, tough and indestructible above, with untold horrors within," writes John Billings in "Hardtack & Coffee."
Much needed stationary, pencils, paper, pipes, tobacco, playing cards, reading material and hundreds of other items were also available. Army regulation items such as socks, boots, and hats were also sold. A good many of the purchases the men made were on credit. The sutler would have a soldier sign a paymaster's order. This was a check made out to the sutler that authorized the paymaster to pay the sutler the value of the voucher directly. When the paymaster visited a regiment, the sutler had a seat right next to the paymaster where a good portion of a soldiers pay was turned right over to the merchant. Regulations called for the amount not to exceed one third of a soldier pay for a month, without the consent of the commanding officer, but many regiments did not follow these regulations, perhaps to avoid more paperwork.
The soldier was often given sutlers tokens in exchange for their voucher, eliminating the need for record keeping of purchases on credit, and guaranteeing the sutler would not lose money if a soldier were killed before payday. These imprinted metal tokens also insured that the soldier would do business only with his regimental sutler. Unscrupulous sutlers also used tokens for further profit, claiming not to have any change when tokens were used.
Reliable estimates indicates that the average Union soldier spent about $3.85 per month at the sutler and that the total gross earnings of Civil War sutlers exceeded 10 million dollars per year.
Next time you are at a reenactment, and you go down "sutlers row," you might think of them as something a little bit more than just refreshment and souvenir stands. For better or worse, they really were an important part of the common soldiers everyday life.
For some interesting reading on the subject, look for "Peddlers and Post Traders," by David M. Delo. There are also sections on sutlers that can be found in John Billing's "Hardtack & Coffee" and Bell Wiley's "The Life of Billy Yank."
The above article on 'Sutlers Row' was written by Dave Gorski; Dave is a talented and knowledgeable individual on the Civil War. The article is posted here with Dave's permission.
Monday, May 21, 2007
The Siege of Petersburg
After ten days at Cold Harbor, Grant tried a new stratagem. He broke contact with Lee's forces and, behind a cavalry screen, marched across the Peninsula east of Richmond and crossed the James River. His goal was Petersburg, twenty miles south of Richmond. Petersburg was important as all but one rail line to the Confederate capital passed through Petersburg. If Petersburg could be taken and the other rail line cut, then both Richmond and General Lee's army would be without food or supplies.
The initial vanguard of Union troops reached Petersburg on June 15, which was fortified by only 2,200 men. The Union forces failed to attack, awaiting additional reinforcements. Even though reinforcements arrived, the attack was delayed. This gave the Confederates time to reinforce the garrison and Lee's army arrived on the scene before a Union attack was launched. An opportunity lost and nothing left to do but lay siege to Petersburg.
The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac were of vastly different composition now. More than a third of Lee's general officers had been lost to him since the beginning of the campaign and several of his most important units had been devastated. In Grant's force a staggering 60 percent of the men who had crossed the Rapidan were casualties. He had virtually a new army.
Soldiers settled into a routine; trenches were deepened and strengthened. Ditches and other obstacles were placed between the lines as insurance against surprise attacks. Most of the time the men performed their duties in a kind of stupor. A steady stream of casualties sapped each army--men who were killed and maimed to no particular purpose or advantage. Sickness, desertion, and battle fatigue took their toll.
The 48th Pennsylvania held a section of the line just 130 yards from the Confederate trenches. The 48th, from the coal regions, contained many men who had been coal miners. The Colonel in charge, Henry Pleasants, was a mining engineer. He persuaded high command to let him try to place a mine under the Confederate lines.
Within a month a tunnel had been dug. They then laid in four tons of powder at the end of the tunnel. A Union attack was feinted toward Richmond which drew most of the Rebels away from the mined section. The explosion went off at 4:45 a.m. and a 500 yard gap opened in the center of the Confederate lines. But the Union soldiers were not prepared to take advantage of the breach. They trickled into the gap to gawk at the carnage and the Rebels seized the opportunity to counter attack and to zero in the artillery on the crater. It became a cauldron of hell. The line was repaired by 1 p.m. that very afternoon. And the routine of trench warfare resumed.
As Autumn approached, the armies prepared for the ordeal of winter in the trenches, the Confederates with increasing concern, the Federals with confidence born of their obvious strength. Grant had an immense supply depot at City Point. Supplies poured ashore from transports and barges. In Lee's trenches an officer wrote home, "It is hard to maintain patriotism on ashcake and water."
Monday, May 14, 2007
"Blue-Grey", Painting by Mort Kunstler
After the Battle of the Wilderness that began his campaign against Lee, Grant had written dediantly to Washington, "I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all Summer."
Although General Ulysses S. Grant had admitted defeat at the protracted Battle of Spotsylvania, he continued to move the Army of the Potomac south into Virginia in his campaign of attrition against General Rober E. Lee;s Army of Northern Virginia. General Grant intended to outflank Lee, cutting him off from Richmond, the Confederate Capital.
In his efforts to block Grant's advance, Lee was being driven back towards Richmond. On May 30, Grant moved his army toward the vital road junction at Old Cold Harbor, a locality in Hanover county, Va., originally known as Cool Arbor, sending cavalry units ahead. Lee anticipated the move and had dispatched his own cavalry to the crossroads.
On June 1, 1864, the Federals found the Army of Northern Virginia well entrenched at Cold Harbor. Grant was determined to send his army, full strength, into those enemy breastworks and get it over with once and for all. It was the most disastrous decision he ever made.
Because of the swampy ground of the Chickhominy River which was to his left, Grant chose a frontal assault on the entrenched Rebel force. On June 3, the attack was launched along a 2-mile front. It was a massive charge, 60,000 men from three Corps. The Confederates entrenched as they were had prepared interlocking fields of fire and the Union infantry was slaughtered. Within a matter of minutes, 7 to 8,000 Union soldiers were lost and Grant was forced to abandon the attack.
One Southern officer, a colonel, noted that; "...the dead covered more than 5 acres of ground about as thick as they could be laid."
Some skirmishing continued at Cold Harbor for some days, but Grant realized he would have to continue the flanking attacks. This time, he moved south of Richmond towards Peterburg.
In his memoirs, Grant would later write of that day at Cold Harbor. "I regret this assault more than any one I heave ever ordered." He added, accurately enough, "No advantage whatsoever was gained from the heavy loss we sustained."
Saturday, May 05, 2007
A Virtual Tour of a Portion of the Cemetery
Time to view a few of the headstones in the Union and West End Cemetery. All of these stones are in the section known as Section N'. It is at the lower end of the West end portion of the cemetery, nearest Liberty Street.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Spring Has Finally Arrived!
There is no doubt that spring has arrived, finally. The April showers were plentiful and the grass has been growing, green, beautiful, higher than expected. It was long awaited, then it was too much, too fast. But that is the way it always happens. You wait for it, you pray for it, and it seems to take forever before it appears, but then one day, there it is...spring! Blessed spring! We love it, we glory in it, but with spring comes rain, sunshine and more rain. The grass begins to grow and that is a signal that it is time to tune up the lawn cutting equipment, put new oil filters on the machines, put in new oil and get the equipment, such that it is, ready for another summer of grass cutting.
Invariably, it always gets a jump on us. The rains come, the grass grows and it is too wet to go into the cemetery and begin the seasonal process of cutting the grass. So we begin another grass cutting season, behind, trying to catch up, to get on top. It is always a struggle. So much grass, so little time. And, as I have stated before, you get the cemetery looking good and it only last for a week; one week and then it begins again. There never is time for a break. If you take a break, you fall behind. When you fall behind, it is much more difficult.
Twenty acres of grass. Well, perhaps a little less, after all, some of that space is taken up by tombstones. Tombstones are a necessary part of any cemetery, but do they have to be so close together? Do they have to be so big? Why are they out of alignment? It would be so much better if they were in a perfect row. How did they get so out of order? Oh, Yea!...The cemetery is 153 years old. Guess in that time frame stuff happens. Can you imagine how many times a particular plot has been cut again and again over the past 153 years? It boggles the mind. How many times was a stone accidentally bumped or nudged? Guess it is not so hard to figure out what happened to cause the stones to be out of alignment after all.
Then, of course, the cement drys out between the base of the stone and the upright portion and wind, time, gravity, vandalism; something causes the stone to topple. That stone becomes an obstacle in the otherwise passable row. This creates all kinds of problems and radical maneuvering with the riding lawn mower. And then, as noted, there is the eternal problem of vandalism. For some unexplained reason, vandals seem to delight in toppling stones. Perhaps for the shear joy of knowing that they created a problem for someone else. How dare they have more than I can acquire. Life is not fair so I will topple this stone to prove that I have power to do harm. If I can not have the good things that others have, I will destroy things that have meaning to them. Serves them right! Who knows what goes through their heads, what motivates them? It is so senseless, so damaging, so evasive, so destructive, so criminal.
Riding lawn mowers? Oh yes, for the most part we use riding lawn mowers to cut the cemetery. Push mowers are used only to trim and to cut areas that can not be gotten to by the larger riding mowers. But even with riding mowers, it is a difficult, time consuming task.
Then there is the trimming around the stones. This is accomplished by the tedious task of operating a weed whacker. For the most part this is left to the Allentown Community Correctional Center personnel that come into the cemetery every three weeks for three hours to assist us. There contribution is very much appreciated. In addition to weed whacking, the ACCC personnel muscle stones back up on their foundations and a few are put on lawn mowers to assist with areas that have not been adopted by a volunteer. It is a help, but it is not near enough. The cemetery association needs more help from volunteers like Bob Engler, that are willing to make a commitment and are willing to live by that commitment.
Speaking of volunteers...this is always a difficult subject; It has proven extremely difficult to find good, hard working volunteers to assist with the work of cutting grass and maintaining the cemetery. It is hard work, but rewarding work and there is always more to be done, but with an adequate supply of willing volunteers, the work would go much quicker and easier for all. Most of the cemetery directors have adopted a full section, consisting of 1.3 acres. There are a few other dedicated volunteers that show up more or less on a regular basis, but not near enough or often enough. As a result, some of the directors do more than 1.3 acres and spend many hours each and every week in the cemetery desperately trying to maintain and present the historical cemetery in a manner that is both respectful to the 20,000 dear souls that are interred there, but also to present to the general public, that passes daily, a cemetery that the citizens and neighbors surrounding the cemetery can be proud of.
Yes, it is a difficult task, but for the volunteers that devote their time and talents to the cemetery, it is a rewarding experience. Spend a little time in our cemetery, walk among the dead, and if it doesn't have a live changing effect on you, if you are not somehow changed by the experience, then there must be something wrong with you.
We need your help! Visit the cemetery and experience it for yourself. Then stop and consider, "If Not Me, Then Who?"
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