Thursday, July 31, 2014

Veteran Activist Mourns His Mentor

I'd like to say that Tom Cahill needs no introduction.  Maybe he doesn't to you.  That fellow shaking hands with Tom Cahill was President of the United States at the time.  Tom is congratulating him for signing the Prison Rape Elimination Act.  

In case you don't know him.  Tom is a long time activist.  The cause that absorbed him more than any other was the fate of people who were sexually assaulted while in prison.  To the extent I am an activist, Tom is one of my inspirations.  Of course, the people who inspire you were inspired by others.  Tom recently wrote a touching piece about the passing of one of his mentors.  He gave me permission to share it with my readers.

As I write this, the bells of Eglise St. Pair are ringing wildly--noisily announcing eleven o'clock '"high mass" to the town's faithful.  But to me, the bells are reporting to the world the passing of another great soul.

Tom Flower, my friend and mentor of almost half a century, left earth June 28 on his journey to wherever and however his soul wishes to spend eternity.  John Thomas Flower was 83 and had been suffering poor health for many years.  He leaves behind his "flower children"--two daughters, two sons, and lots of grandchildren.  His dog, Aidan, the last of a long line of American Water Spaniels named for Irish saints, will also miss him dearly.

Tom died peacefully while taking a bath in his home in Houston, Texas, according to his children.

If the purpose of life, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson,  is NOT to be happy but instead "to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well," then Tom Flower gets high marks in anyone's book.

It was Tom Flower more than anyone else who in 1967, turned me 180 degrees from a neoliberal supporter of the U.S. War to stop "Godless Communism" in Vietnam to a radical, activist, "peacenik" and publisher/editor of an "underground" newspaper in San Antonio, Texas.  Although my memory fails me in many things, I vividly recall the day a handful of us were picketing for peace in front of the Alamo of all places.  Tom was softly, gently conversing with a passerby who, as Tom explained his reasons for not supporting "Lyndon Johnson's War," the man became more and more agitated until he punched Tom in the face, knocking him down.  Tom, then 36, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard AND Marine Corps, and in the peak of health and strength, quickly got to his feet, and assumed military "parade rest" with his hands behind his back while looking straight ahead as the man mumbled something and walked away, eyes wide with fear.

Because the Democratic Party including its staunchest supporter--organized labor--accepted Pres. Lyndon Johnson's main agenda of escalating the war on Vietnam, mostly young Americans all over the country formed what became known as the "New Left"--conversely supporting the deescalation of the war as proposed by Pres. John Kennedy before he was assassinated in 1963.  COINTELPRO, on the other hand, was the FBI's totally illegal counter intelligence program to destroy the New Left.  And Tom Flower was so active in the "San Antonio Committee to Stop the War" that he became targeted by J. Edgar Hoover's sycophants.  Among other things, Tom was fired from his job as a highly-successful, well-paid and well-liked pharmaceutical salesman. Malicious rumors were also spread about him throughout South Texas.  This and more "dirty tricks" were reported in a mainstream magazine in San Antonio in about 1978, the journalist having gotten his information from the government under the Freedom of Information Act.

Tom Flower then lived and traveled all over the U.S., sometimes living communally and sometimes homeless but always being of service to others and working for the most worthy of causes especially peace.  In San Francisco in the 1980s, while both of us were living in vehicles, he set-up a soup kitchen under the auspices of a church.  About this time, another church, I think Anglican, ordained him a priest.  I visited him often in San Francisco's Tenderloin, sometimes helping him.  My favorite photo of him was published in a local newspaper at this time.  It shows Tom sweeping the sidewalk where he was about to serve breakfast.  He's wearing a beret and a long cassock made of denim an admirer made for him.  With his grey beard and wire-framed glasses, he looks like a holy man from another century and another country.

But like many saints, Tom could be a pain-in-the-ass.  He was clumsy, disorganized, messy, always  breaking stuff, disrespectful of  his own and others' possessions, space, money, and time.  He was forever loosing his keys and other things.  I could always find him because wherever he went, he'd leave a trail of dental floss but no other debris; he must have had the healthiest teeth in Christendom.  He would give anyone the shirt off his own back and perhaps the shirt off your back if he could talk you out of it as he once did with me. But just once!  When he would visit me on a quiet, bucolic ranch in Northern California where I lived many years, I would cringe when he called Brendan, the predecessor of  Aidan, in his  loud, booming voice like a first sergeant with a megaphone even.  I was always happy to see Tom and his latest Spaniel arrive, but always equally happy to see them leave.  They took up too much of my tiny, quiet, monastery-like space.

But on the other side of his ledger, Tom was not only a supporter of, but genuinely lived "the Radical Imperative," "religious socialism," "and "Liberation Theology"--all progressive ideas to help humanize humankind in general, Christians in particular.

Tom was a great story-teller in the tradition of the Irish.  He liked to tell about the time he and I got lost looking for a friend's home on San Juan Island in the Puget Sound.  Footsore and tired as night darkened the road, I began playing Irish marching tunes on my harmonica to keep our spirits up.  And, damn, if Tom didn't know the words to every song I played.

Tom Flower's IQ was off the chart and he was verbally-gifted--meaning, of course, his tongue was well-connected to his brain.  I frequently imagined him a great court-room attorney or an even greater statesman successfully advocating unpopular causes.  Hey, he did very well selling drugs--the legal kind.  And while he smoked the illegal kind--maybe a little too much sometimes--he never sold pot.  I know this for sure because often while he was working and I was collecting unemployment, he would hit ME up for a loan.  If he had been selling marijuana, he would have built his own church with a kitchen instead of an altar, and bunks instead of pews.  My Brudder was that kind of stand-up guy.

More About Tom Flower

I found this case from 1972 that Tom Flower starred in.

More about Tom Cahill.

Here is a little bit of what I have shared about Tom Cahill over the years.

This piece is about some progress in the fight against those sexually detained in prison.

This was written by Tom for me warning the activists at Occupy Wall Street about the threat of sexual assault behind bars.  Two words in the piece, that Tom is still doing penance for, ended up launching me into following contemporary radical feminism, something I never thought I would write about, but it turned out I did.

This is another OWS piece.

This piece about an activist case ended up mainly being about Tom.

Tom Cahill and Peter Reilly 2010.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Most Glorious Fourth

Originally published on on July 7, 2013.

This was a very special Fourth of July and I felt lucky to be celebrating it in a small Pennsylvania town, which for a few days 150 years ago was the site of the largest military engagement in the history of North America.  It is the 237th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, but what happened in Gettysburg 150 years ago would be part of the fulfillment of the principles of the Declaration:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ....
The Constitution that was ratified over a decade later did not follow through on the idea of human equality:
No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.
This contradiction caused a lot of arguing.  Finally, they thought, the Supreme Court settled it: 
A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a "citizen" within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.
When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its "people or citizens."
The only two clauses in the Constitution which point to this race treat them as persons whom it was morally lawfully to deal in as articles of property and to hold as slaves.
Every citizen has a right to take with him into the Territory any article of property which the Constitution of the United States recognises as property.
Scott v. Sandford - 60 U.S. 393 (1856)
The contradiction remains, but frankly most people were not all that troubled by it.  There were very few people in the North who believed in racial equality.  A lot of the objection to the extension of slavery had to do with the concern that it made things hard for free labor.  That small minority that thought slavery was immoral had a disproportionate impact, though.  They are mentioned by South Carolina as one of the primary reasons justifying secession:
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
Texas was even more clear about it:
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
That in this free government *all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights* [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.
Lost Cause advocates will argue quite rightly that few fighting for the Union wanted to be fighting for racial equality.  It just ended up working out that way.  Lincoln's explanation in the Second Inaugural is perhaps the best:
 If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?
The Army of Northern Virginia in retreat and never to attempt a Northern invasion again was not the only big news on the Fourth of July in 1863.  The correspondence between the Fourth and Gettysburg was chance, if there be  such a thing as chance.  Not so Vicksburg.  John Pemberton thought that surrender of the Gibraltar of the Mississippi might make for more generous terms.  The surrender ended a long siege and may have been of more significance than Gettysburg.  
I wonder if there is anybody who took the trouble to be in both places for part of the day this year.  That would be something.  There are a group of people who call themselves real-timers who try to be at significant points in the sesquicentennial at the exact time they occurred 150 years ago.  My covivant is convinced that there is only one real timer, somebody she knows pretty well, particularly after I could not find any of them at Gettysburg.  I know my friend from Antietam, George, was planning to be at Vicksburg, so I just have to assume that is where the rest were.
I've been thinking a lot about the significance of place and time and when I think about this Fourth of July, I can't help but remember a story told by someone alive in 1863 but far from both key locations.  This is supposed to have happened in Virginia City, Nevada on July 4, 1863: 
 All the vast eastern front of Mount Davidson, over- looking the city, put on such a funereal gloom that only the nearness and solidity of the mountain made its outlines even faintly distinguishable from the dead blackness of the heavens they rested against. This unaccustomed sight turned all eyes toward the mountain; and as they looked, a little tongue of rich golden flame was seen waving and quivering in the heart of the midnight, away up on the extreme summit! In a few minutes the streets were packed with people, gazing with hardly an uttered word, at the one brilliant mote in the brooding world of darkness. It flicked like a candle-flame, and looked no larger; but with such a background it was wonderfully bright, small as it was. It was the flag!—though no one suspected it at first, it seemed so like a supernatural visitor of some kind—a mysterious messenger of good tidings, some were fain to believe. It was the nation's emblem transfigured by the departing rays of a sun that was entirely palled from view; and on no other object did the glory fall, in all the broad panorama of mountain ranges and deserts. Not even upon the staff of the flag—for that, a needle in the distance at any time, was now untouched by the light and undistinguishable in the gloom. For a whole hour the weird visitor winked and burned in its lofty solitude, and still the thousands of uplifted eyes watched it with fascinated interest. How the people were wrought up! The superstition grew apace that this was a mystic courier come with great news from the war—the poetry of the idea excusing and commending it—and on it spread, from heart to heart, from lip to lip and from street to street, till there was a general impulse to have out the military and welcome the bright waif with a salvo of artillery!
And all that time one sorely tried man, the telegraph operator sworn to official secrecy, had to lock his lips and chain his tongue with a silence that was like to rend them; for he, and he only, of all the speculating multitude, knew the great things this sinking sun had seen that day in the east—Vicksburg fallen, and the Union arms victorious at Gettysburg!
But for the journalistic monopoly that forbade the slightest revealment of eastern news till a day after its publication in the California papers, the glorified flag on Mount Davidson would have been saluted and re-saluted, that memorable evening, as long as there was a charge of powder to thunder with; the city would have been illuminated, and every man that had any respect for himself would have got drunk,—as was the custom of the country on all occasions of public moment. Even at this distant day I cannot think of this needlessly marred supreme opportunity without regret. What a time we might have had!
That's Mark Twain.  
I had been hoping to push this out on the Fourth of July and to do something memorable to commemorate it.  The reality is that I spent the Fourth of July sitting in my hotel room writing about the Second of July.  For the life of me, I can't figure out how real reporters do it.  It's like being a one armed paper-hanger.
You can follow me on twitter @peterreillycpa

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Gettysburg 150 - Thank You National Park Service

Originally published on on July 8, 2013

GETTYSBURG, PA - JULY 03:  Civil War re-enacto...

This is the final Gettysburg installment.  I want to thank my regular readers for their patience with me writing a series of posts about what I did on my summer vacation.  The last time I attempted that form was in 1966 and on reflection, I think the teacher involved in the assignment was just trying to keep Class 1-E of Xavier High School occupied.  For what it is worth, the major highlight of that essay was a description of jumping off the high board at Palisades Amusement Park into the worlds largest outdoor salt-water swimming pool.

I am not going to apologize.  The Gettysburg Sesquicentennial was a major event and I think, thanks to my feeble efforts, is the only national platform with reasonably thorough coverage.  I hate to think what the Tax Court has been up to with me not watching them for a week, but I will be looking tonight and let you know.  I need to wrap up with some advice, some acknowledgements and a proposal.

Some Advice

A couple of my blogging buddies( they know who they are) were green with envy at my being able to make the Gettysburg Sesquicentennial.  There will probably be no Sesquicentennial event quite as impressive between now and April 2015, but there will be plenty more and you should go to at least one.  Be a real timer and pick out a key event and go there regardless of whether any commemoration is scheduled.  Be sure to write to me and let me know how it goes.  More importantly the real time experiences at Gettysburg were special, but they were not actually that special.  Anytime you go there or any of the other historic sites in our National Park System, you  will learn something. 

 At Gettysburg, be sure to do a private tour.  It is only $65 (but be sure to budget a generous tip).  Focus more on talks by the rangers and the licensed guides than some of the schlocky stuff in town, although ghost tours do have their place.

If you are going to Civil War Land (i.e. Southern Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia) from New England, do not listen to your Garmon or Tom-tom or do what Mapquest tells you.  They will probably tell you to barrel down 95 or something like that and cross the Hudson River at the Tappan Zee Bridge or, God forbid, the George Washington Bridge.  Don't get me wrong.  The metro New York area is a marvellous destination with many wonderful things to see, like the Forbes Galleries for example.  It is not an area to go through on the way to some place else,.  In Hartford, get on Route 84 and stay on Route 84.  You will cross the Hudson River at Newburgh and start going South when you hit Route 81.  It is a lovely drive.  The same principle applies in reverse for those coming from the South to visit the historic sites of New England, such as the birthplace of Clara Barton in Oxford, Massachusetts.

If you go to any large scale sesquicentennial events, take the Park Service advice seriously.  Have a back pack with sunscreen and water.  And here is a tip to make new friends.  Have a couple of extra bottles of water on hand to help out the unprepared.

Finally, be sure to thank the rangers for the great job that they do.  I think they are among the most under-appreciated members of the federal work force.  Not as under-appreciated as the IRS, but that would take some doing.

About The Rangers

The rangers at Gettysburg were really busy so I did not tie them up with questions too much.  On the way back, we stopped at the Delaware Water Gap National Park, where things were a bit less hectic. (By the way, that park is another really good reason to take the long way round when going to or from New England) I spoke with a supervisor of interpreters there and he explained a couple of things to me.  

Even though they do all sorts of different things, they all wear the same uniform and are referred to as rangers.  If you are observant, you will note that some of them are packing heat.  Those are the law enforcement rangers who will arrest you if you need arresting.  Another fellow told me that all the history guys long to work at Gettysburg and that only the most knowledgeable, many of them published authors end up there. 

 He told me that material that you see in the parks is subject to a great deal of quality control that goes through an office in Harpers Ferry.  I can't help but remember the comment by Ranger Beth Parnicza after helping lead me, my covivant and a couple hundred others through the woods around Chancellorsville where Stonewall Jackson's men rolled up the XI Corps - "We have the best job in the world".  All the rangers project that attitude and I believe it is totally genuine.
The mission of the Park Service is:
to promote and regulate the use of the...national parks...which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations
I don't think I have ever seen a team of people more on mission than the Park Rangers.  That includes the team at Joseph B Cohan and Associates in the eighties.  Of course, our mission, unstated but easily inferred of "Anything for a buck.  Try not to get sued." was somewhat less inspiring.

A Proposal

The next big event at Gettysburg is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.  I asked a few people whether President Obama will be there and apparently it is not decided yet.  I'll be really disappointed if he is not, but I will not be totally satisfied if he is the only President there.  I think all our living Presidents should be there.  Imagine Mr. Lincoln looking into the future and seeing how things worked from his speech.  He sees five of his successors.  One of them is a former Illinois Senator.  Three of them are former governors of states of the then Confederacy.  Two of them are members of his own party, one of them a war hero.  Finally one of them is our first Aftican American President.  I think he would be very pleased.  I've started a We The People petition. Please sign it.


CV is back working at the national firm and I'm off on my free lancing.  As for the Gettysburg people I have introduced

You can follow me on twitter @peterreillycpa.

Obviously my petition went nowhere.  President Obama did not attend in November.  He took some flack for that.  It would have been a security nightmare, so it is probably just as well.  Although, you can find out about it on, you will have to wait till November to read about it here.

Pickett's Charge 150 - Aftermath

Originally published on on July 7, 2013.


The "Confederate Flag", a rectangula...

The walk across the field from the Virginia Monument to the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge with 15,000 others was not at all exhausting.  It was kind of exhilarating actually.  Besides the crowds of people on Cemetery Ridge, there were numerous vehicles.  Ambulances and television trucks were among them.  Someone on a Red Cross truck handled me a bottle of a water.  A lot of preparation had gone into the event and it came off very well.  I wandered around trying to find out if there was a crowd estimate.  A couple of rangers had given me eyeball estimates of 6,000 to 7,000. The official estimate ended up being 15,000.  I don't know, maybe you can count them.

My covivant who had been watching the mass coming across the field at the Angle thought the crowd was overwhelming and intimidating when she imagined them carrying guns and wanting to kill her.  She was most impressed, though, by all the random interactions of the people milling around after the charge was done.  A Confederate standing near her broke into a song she did not recognize which was followed by Amazing Grace, with everyone singing along.

The Confederate Flag

During the election I had the good fortune to interview Green Party candidate Jill Stein.  One of the things that I gave her a pretty hard time about was her party having a plank in its platform against display of the Confederate Flag

You have to stick your head in the historiographical sand in order to not think that the Confederate Flag stood for slavery for at least a few years.  Of course, Lost Cause historians have been piling up mountains of sand in the last century and a half, so there are plenty of places to stick your head.  Also, by the same standard, the flag of the United States of America stood for slavery for over eighty years.  Flags are symbols and symbols have meanings that vary.  

I think progressives who spend time being offended by Confederate flags are wasting that time.  Think about what the symbol means to the person displaying it.  When I see somebody displaying the Confederate flag my working assumption is that to them it stands for honor, courage and virtue.  That may be combined with an aversion to engaging with pre-1862 primary source material, but, frankly, very few people seemed inclined to do that.

We Get Ready To Go

I wandered around proving to myself what a lousy reporter I am and realized that I should get serious about finding CV.  This being 2013 and all, we both had cell phones.  Imagine how a couple of them would have changed the outcome 150 years ago.  She told me she was by the Angle.  CV has not exactly turned into a Civil War scholar since May 1st, when we first went to Chancellorsville, but she now knows considerably more than she ever intended to learn.

There had been a large number of tents set up by the cathedral-like Pennsylvania monument.  On Saturday there had only been one up labeled as a hospital tent.  I interviewed Bob Tycenski, a Verizon power technician, who impersonates a Civil War surgeon attached to the 14th Brooklyn.  CV and I kept meaning to get over to those tents and interact with the other interpreters, but there was always something more pressing.

As we walked by most of the tents were already struck.  I walked over to one of the few remaining tents.  It was close to where the hospital tent had been.  It was labeled "Embalmer".  The fellow in period costume told me more than I wanted to know or care to share about what was involved in preserving bodies for shipment.  The embalmers were free-lance and it was a service that only went to those who could afford it.  He said that his research indicated that the going rate was about 100 bucks for an officer and somewhat less for enlisted men.  CV wisely skipped that discussion finding a nice shady tree to sit under.

As we walked to our car I asked CV what her overall impression was.  She said that she was strongly reaffirmed in her belief that war is stupid, irresponsible, obscene and a waste of human life.  She thinks there is a better way to resolve conflict than sending your children to be slaughtered. (She had been really impressed by the comment by one of the interpreters that over 100,000 Civil War soldiers were under fifteen, some as young as nine.) She thinks that if we were to spend as much money on learning skillful conflict resolution as we do on war and preparations for war, we would be a world at peace.  She thinks we associate war with honor, duty and integrity, but it is really about slaughtering your children.

Just a couple of weeks ago CV and I had been wandering the streets of Northampton (which is a bit like Greenwich Village North) and noticed that Buffy Saint-Marie was playing at the Iron Horse.  CV said she kept thinking about the Universal Soldier

I wonder if any other of my 15,000 comrades had somebody who had actually been at Woodstock waiting for them on the other side of the wall ?

You can follow me on twitter @peterreillycpa.

Walking In Armistead's Footsteps 150 Years Later - Gettysburg Day 3 - Pickett's Charge

Originally published on on July 7, 2013.  This was the highlight of my "real time" Sesquicentennial experience up till now.  I'm hoping that Appomattox might outdo it in April 2015.



On July 3, 2013 in the hot sun of the early afternoon, I stood not too far from the Virginia Monument on Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg.  I've stood there many times before and would meditate on what would motivate men to make that long walk to the stone wall under fire from three directions. It never even occurred to me to make the walk myself in the benign conditions of the late twentieth century or early twenty-first. On this day 150 years to the hour or so after the actual event, I was actually going to make the walk.  Well fed, well hydrated and not under fire.  Unencumbered by an Enfield rifled musket and facing the prospect of having to search for my covivant and attempting to impersonate a journalist after crossing the stone wall, which I was virtually certain to do.  Despite all that, and more, I do think I caught one small insight into the motivation of those fellows.  I was making the walk with 15,000 other people who had been drawn to be there at the same time and place.

What's In A Name ?

The monuments on Cemetery Ridge call it "Longstreet's Assault", but it goes down in history and popular imagination as "Pickett's Charge". 

 Longstreet's Assault is more accurate, since Pickett commanded only one of the three divisions.  I thought that shift might have been post-war revisionism, since Longstreet fell out of favor among Lost Cause historians.  Fred Wieners, our tour guide on Saturday, told me that it was more a matter of Pickett being popular with the Richmond press.  He also told us that the idea of a frontal assault on the center after a heavy artillery barrage was probably inspired by the Battle of Solferino in 1859. It worked then. The consequence of the Battle of Solferino was the independence of Italy.

I Switch Sides For A Day

We found out early that the Pickett's charge event on Wednesday afternoon was predicted to be the most heavily attended.  It was not to be a reenactment.  Members of the public led by Park Rangers would follow the footsteps of the soldiers who made the assault, while others stood behind the wall on Cemetery Ridge.  It would be a bit like the ritual that the veterans enacted on anniversaries.  It was a lot easier on the Yankee geezers, of course, but so had been the whole war.  The Yankees got fed pretty regular and were paid with money that would actually buy something.  I pictured myself behind the stone wall with my blue kepi as close as possible to the monument of some of my famine refugee probable cousins.  Plans change.  On Sunday, we saw a pretty good re-enactment of Pickett's charge by the Blue Gray Alliance on private property a few miles from the park. 

 I got caught up in the excitement and instead of just standing there, I moved through the spectator area parallel to the advancing Confederates.  I decided then that I could not just stand by the wall on Wednesday.

The Lost Cause

I usually try to write my posts to stand on their own, but I am going to have to ask you to refer to the one before this, if you want some context.  As I see it,  if you are willing to allow a gross over-simplification, Civil War historiography can be divided into two schools - Lost Cause and the other one that I refused to talk about for one day. As an amateur historian, I have some serious issues with Lost Cause, but I released them for a day.  Lost Cause has dominated popular culture for over a century. Lost Cause has woven itself into the fabric of  American consciousness.  It will always be with us.  Popular culture has done a pretty good job of draining Lost Cause of its noxious elements, which for one day I could forget about.  Some people might think that without the noxious elements there is nothing to Lost Cause, but they are wrong.  What you are left with are some things that you should believe, regardless of whether they are true or not - That honor, courage and virtue mean everything.  That money and power, power and money mean nothing.

It is not surprising that Uncle Hub (Robert Duvall) made a darn good Robert E. Lee.

At any rate, after the Blue Gray Alliance re-enactment, I wandered among the sutler tents, an inevitable side attraction of major re-enactments, searching for a gray kepi, which I bought to wear on Wednesday.

At The Visitor Center

In making our way to the event on July 3, my covivant earned a commendation for superior parking skills.  The lots by the Visitor Center had flashing signs indicating they were full and that we should drive to a mall and take a shuttle bus.  This presented a logistical problem, since backpacks are not allowed in the Visitor Center "for security reasons".  I needed my back-pack in which I had put six bottles of water and my blue kepi.  (I ended up leaving the gray one in the car so I had to make the walk hat-less.) Undeterred by the flashing signs CV, with unerring instinct, honed in on a couple walking toward their car and moved into position to pounce on the spot after they pulled out.  As time passed, I began to suspect that the couple's plan was to sit in their car listening to the radio and taunting us.  Ultimately, they did pull out.

In the Visitor Center, I stamped my park passport, something I missed on the previous two days.  I also tried to draw some of the Park Service people out on the Goodwin speech.  They have mostly been to0 busy to be aware of the controversy.  One of the rangers at the desk told me that she was probably selected by the Gettysburg Foundation.  The ranger said that once they have that podium, they get to say whatever they want.  The rangers said that the numbers at the Park were unprecedented and exceeded expectations.

Jeff Shaara was signing books.  The book collector in me found it irresistible.  I imagined down the road the volumes with intact dusk jackets signed by the author at Gettysburg on July 3, 2013.  I was apologetic about holding up the line while he signed five books.  Shaara did not mind.  As he said, it is kind of the point.  I asked one of his assistants if he had a research team working for him.  He said he did not.  He had to do the research personally in order to be able to hear the voices.

We did the museum, which we had so far neglected.  The front end of the museum is totally captive to that other school of historiography, which if you must know is called neo-abolitionism. Here is the secret to holding onto the full Lost Cause faith.  Avoid reading anything written in the South prior to 1862.  At all costs, avoid reading the statements that the five Confederate States that issued statements of reasons for secession. Don't look too closely at the Constitution of the Confederate States of America.  You're not getting any links from me to those things in this article.  Just say States Rights, States Rights and confine your reading to postwar memoirs.  In the museum at the Gettysburg Visitor Center, walk quickly through the first section, which has no military artifacts at all.

Preparing For Action

The instructions from the Park Service were to not even think about parking on West Confederate Avenue, but to walk across the field from Cemetery Ridge to either the Virginia or North Carolina monument, depending on which of the eight brigades you were planning to come back with.  The eight brigades were my one source of disappointment. There were actually eleven brigades in the historic assault. 
In careful consultation, with Fred Wieners, I decided that I belong with Perry's Brigade. Those were the guys from Florida.  I don't think they had serial numbers in the Army of Northern Virginia, but, if asked, I would have been  ready - AC41295.  That's my Florida CPA license.  Also we were sharing much of the time with friends from Central Florida, whom  I have been calling Mr. and Mrs. CF.  Their three boys were also along.  I thought it would be cool if the five boys did the walk with CV and Mrs. CF waiting for us at the wall.  All that fell apart .  The CF family had enough Civil War by Tuesday and decided to see a play in Lancaster on Wednesday and spend July 4 in Philadelphia.  The last get-together of the Magnificent Seven was Tuesday night dinner.  There was a strange turn in the conversation at one point where Mrs. CF, who is actually Doctor CF, felt moved to illustrate what a simple procedure a vasectomy is, using some pasta as a visual aid.  On top of that, Perry's was one of the three brigades not included in the Park Service march.

Joining Up

I chatted with people as we crossed the field from Cemetery Ridge on a path that the Park Service had mowed for us.  I was thinking I might get some really choice comments on the Goodwin speech from this crowd, but not many had been to it.  I got to the Virginia Monument with plenty of time to spare, so I was able to hike over to the Florida Monument to make sure no one was gathering there.  I persuaded a passerby to take my picture by the monument in case I ever need proof.  On the way back to the Virginia Monument, I chatted with an EMT crew from Pleasant Hall, which is about 40 miles from Gettysburg.  I spoke with rangers who had been pulled in from Shenandoah.  Somebody told me that there were people helping from as far away as Cape Cod, but I did not run into any of them.

While I was talking to the EMTs, a fellow came up and asked them for some water.  The guy looked like he might have been even more elderly than I.  I have made it a rule to not resist generous impulses, so I handed him one of my bottles.  His name was Tim Coghlan.  He is of Irish descent, but his family has lived in England for several generations.  I became an honorary member of his tour group.  I got to tell them the story of my great-grandfather missing the battle by less than a fortnight.  We enlisted in Armistead's brigade which was predicted to be the most popular.  The story of Armistead, who commanded one of Pickett's brigades and Hancock, who commanded the Union II Corps, is the ultimate bromance.

We spoke with one of the small group of re-enactors that would be leading us.  Tim was very interested in the Enflield that the fellow was carrying.  The re-enactor was part of the Wheeling Fencibles.  Tim wanted to see what the percussion caps looked like, but he told us that they were not even allowed to bring them on the field.  There was some talk of states rights and how it just keeps getting worse and worse.  The Fencible used the direct election of senators as an example.  I had to look that one up.  Six of the eight states that did not ratify the Seventeenth Amendment in 1912 had been part of the Confederacy.

Prepare To March

They started forming us into lines to make the march.  Originally it was going to be two lines, but as we stretched out, they had us double up and make it four. I don't know if Armistead's brigade ended up being the most popular, but it probably was.  Combine that with there being only eight brigades rather than eleven and there being even more people getting ready to cross the field than there had been 150 years ago. I lost track of the English tour group and ended up standing next to a young woman with a small boy that she was holding.  She put him down and told him he was going to have to walk on his own.  She had three other kids and her husband arrayed alongside.  One of the kids was taller than me.  That is a peculiar thing when you get to my age - young women with grown children.  I asked her if everybody was well hydrated and she admitted lack of preparedness, so I slipped her one of my bottles.  A high school teacher standing behind us complained that the school curricula don't give nearly enough attention to actual battles.

The Walk

There was some disappointment that we did not get a rallying speech from an Armistead interpreter.  The ranger commanding us looked like he might have been working at the Park during the Centennial, if not the 75th.  We finally kicked off with some yelling.  There was a blue banner with Armistead emblazoned on it leading us.  An inauthentic, but heartening, touch was that the stars and stripes were in front along with a scattering of Confederate flags.

The ground was pretty lumpy in places and we were slowed by a ditch. The sound of feet scraping the grass was quite audible. Climbing the fence was hard on the elderly, but even harder on the fence.  The line had dissolved by that time and there was just a mass in front of me.  I turned around and saw a respectable bunch behind me.  CV, of course, had a better view of the mass than I did and indicated it was pretty formidable.  Take a look for yourself.

The event ended with us standing in front of the wall many rows deep while Taps was played.  I saw people standing around someone on the ground shading him.  It looked to be a re-enactor and I thought it was meant to represent one of the downed Confederate generals.  When I got closer I realized it was an actual casualty of the day's walk.  He was sitting and talking so hopefully it was not too bad.

I found a spot to get over the wall and fished my blue kepi out of my backpack.  The aftermath will be my next post.

You can follow me on twitter @peterreillycpa.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Gettysburg Day 2 - The Advantage Of Moving Down The Hill

Originally published on on July 4th 2013.


Around 4:30 PM on July 2, 2013, my covivant and I were approaching what I thought might be the high point of our Gettysburg experience, well my experience anyway.  At 5:00 PM, Ranger Jim Flook presented the last of the Key Moment presentations at Station 1 - Little Round Top.  Ranger Flook wanted us to learn how it took all soldiers operating in concert to save a position.  General Governeur Warren perceives the importance of the position.  We stood right behind the general's statue.  General Warren was Chief Engineer of the Army of The Potomac with no troops under his command.  He sends a courier to ask for troops to be detailed to defend the hill.  Colonel Strong Vincent intercepts the courier, learns of the need and, on his own authority, moves his brigade to defend the position.  Among the regiments in Colonel Vincent's brigade is the 20th Maine commanded by Joshua Chamberlain.  It is Vincent that orders the regiment to hold at all costs.

Ranger Flook then took us back to the 20th Maine monument which is across the road from Warren's statue and a bit back into the woods. There he told us about the post-war epistolary dispute that raged between Chamberlain and  Colonel William C. Oates of the 15th Alabama.  By Oates account, he had decided that further attack on the hill was futile, particularly after he heard cannons which he thought to be Union artillery, and chose to withdraw.  Then he saw the 20th Maine descending on him.  Chamberlain, on the other hand, thought that he was hearing Confederate cannons and that the desperate charge was what provoked the 15th's withdrawal.  Post-war memoirs are replete with such disputes and hard-core enthusiasts love to debate them to this day.

Where Were The Real Timers ?

We lingered on Little Round Top as long as we dared given our concern about not wanting to miss the last shuttle, since the buses ran only to 6:30 PM. I was hunting for familiar faces.  I had told CV about the real timer phenomenon.  When I was at Antietam in September, I ended up chatting with two fellow who recognized one another from Bull Run.  Real timers are a peculiar self-recruited unorganized group response to the sesquicentennial.  According to the two fellows, there are about thirty or so of them.  Real timers seek to be on the exact location of critical events at the exact time 150 years later (They seem to be liberal about day light savings time throwing things off by an hour).  They do not care whether there are any activities going on and from what I could gather would be just as happy if the only people there with them were a handful of other real times.

One example of a hard-core real timer is my friend  George.  I met him as we were walking towards the Cornfield at Antietam around 6:00 AM on September 17th.  From his accent I inferred that he had come from a distance.  I was right.  George grew up and lives in Bavaria.  This was grounds for immediate bonding since the most colorful teacher I ever had (And believe me, I had quite a few colorful ones) was Father Harreis, who was supposed to be teaching us German in our senior year at Xavier High School.  Instead he mostly regaled us with stories that usually began with "Venn, I vas a young boy in Chermany".  Street fighting among Catholic youth, Nazis and Communists in the streets of Munchen was a common topic.  At any rate, I asked George what the Park Service had planned for the day.  It is one thing to drive from Massachusetts to Maryland on a whim, but coming all the way from Europe, you would think a little advance research would be in order. He didn't know and didn't care.  He just wanted to be in the Cornfield at the right time.

George is one of those scary smart people who came to a Civil War obsession through board gaming.  His favorite was Gleam of Bayonets, which is about Antietam.  He was motivated to improve his English in order to be able to read the instruction manual.  I knew George was planning to be at Vicksburg during his six-week vacation (It really stinks to be a European doesn't it ?) this year, but I hoped I would glimpse another familiar face.  No such luck.  After several days of battlefield wandering (particularly when you include Chancellorsville), CV is becoming skeptical about the existence of real timers.  I keep telling CV that my obsession is moderate and my knowledge superficial.  CV has become confident that the real timer club has only one member and it is somebody that CV knows.  I, on the other hand, have concluded that all the real real timers are at Vicksburg, which actually has much more strategic significance than Gettysburg.

A Sea of Blue

Off duty, but fully attired Union generals were on the scene (They are doing weekend events).  Some of them, including General Grant, had their ladies with them. 

 There were also a couple of green-coated US Sharpshooters, who had played a critical role in the action.  Thanks to the Civil War Heritage Foundation, Joshua Chamberlain was on the scene in the person of Roland Servant from Southbridge, MA not very far at all from Oxford where CV and I live. (I have been obsessively adding birthplace of Clara Barton whenever someone asks me where I am from)  We had a nice chat about being Governor of Maine and President of Bowdoin College.  It is inspiring to know that Chamberlain's bravery on Little Round Top was not a fluke:
In January 1880, there was a dispute about who was the newly elected governor of Maine, and the Maine State House was occupied by a band of armed men. The outgoing governor, Alonzo Garcelon, summoned Chamberlain, the commander of the Maine Militia, to take charge. Chamberlain sent home the armed men, and arranged for the Augusta police to keep control. He stayed in the State House most of the twelve-day period until the Maine Supreme Judicial Court's decision on the election results was known. During this time, there were threats of assassination and kidnapping, and on one occasion he went outside to face down a crowd of 25-30 men intending to kill him, and both sides offered bribes to appoint him a United States senator. Having gratified neither side in the dispute, he did not become a senator, and his career in state politics ended
Mr. Servant told me that Chamberlain actually died of one of the six wounds he received during the balance of the war.  I still kind of think being 83 might have had something to do with it.  Just saying.
As it turned out even though it was a key moment and resulted in the best movie clip ever

Little Round Top was not the high point of my experience.  That would be on Day 3, which will be coming soon.

You can follow me on twitter @peterreillycpa.

I actually met Joshua Chamberlain three times in my real time adventures.  The first time was at Chancellorsville, where he was sitting it out due to small pox in his regiment.  Not to nit pick, that fellow needs to work on his Maine accent. Mr Servant at Little Round top is the next picture.  The last is actually a distant cousin of Chamberlain.  He is wearing the uniform of a Major General and the medal of honor that Chamberlain did not receive until the 1890s.  I met him the night before the Gettysburg address ceremonies in November.