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Election of 1864

Election of 1864

Election of 1864

Throughout the year of 1864, President Abraham Lincoln believed that he would lose the election in November. He admitted in August, “I am going to be beaten, and unless some great change takes place, badly beaten.” The odds were stacked against him.

Plenty of voters in the Union had reason to despise, even hate, Lincoln. The war that had begun in April 1861, at Fort Sumter, had turned into a ghastly event, full of fury, fever, horror, and madness. The human wreckage was colossal, on a scale never imagined before.

Voters blamed Lincoln because he had failed to end the war quickly, to crush the rebellion, to vanquish Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army, and to reunite the Union.

No other country had ever held an election in the middle of a civil war, and yet it was on the calendar, set for November 8, “an unprecedented democratic exercise in midst of a civil war.”

The last time that a political party had nominated an incumbent President to run a second time had occurred in 1840, and no President since Andrew Jackson had won a second term.

On August 23, Lincoln said, “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration.”

On September 1, 1864, Lincoln received some welcome news. The Union General, William Tecumseh Sherman, reported, “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.” This was a huge loss for the South, because Atlanta was a railroad hub, and the South’s major manufacturing center.

A reporter at the “Richmond Examiner” wrote, that the “disaster at Atlanta came in the very nick of time to save the party of Lincoln from irretrievable ruin. It will obscure the prospect of peace, late so bright. It will also diffuse gloom over the South.”

Lincoln beat the odds and won the Republican party’s nomination. Former Union General, George McClellan, whom Lincoln had fired in 1862 from his position as the Union’s lead General, won the Democratic party’s nomination.

On Tuesday, November 8, Lincoln carried all but three of the states’ electoral votes, except for Delaware, Kentucky, and New Jersey. Lincoln won 212 electoral votes to McClellan’s 21. Lincoln took 55% of the popular vote. Yet, some 78% of Union soldiers voted for Lincoln.

The Civil War historian James McPherson wrote, that the 1864 election “was a powerful endorsement of Lincoln’s iron-willed determination to fight on to unconditional victory.”

A British war correspondent observed “that the North was silently, calmly, but desperately in earnest, in a way the like of which the world never saw before. I am astonished the more I see and hear of the extent and depth of this determination to fight to the last.”

It was Lincoln’s willpower that drove Sherman and Grant and their soldiers forward.

On November 16, 1864, Sherman set his army on a march to the sea, to Savannah.

In Geoffrey Ward’s 1990 book “The Civil War,” he wrote, that on November 24, “Union cooks served up 120,000 turkey and chicken dinners to the men of Grant’s great army, outside of Petersburg, Virginia.

“Dug in only yards away, the Confederates had no feast, but held their fire all day out of respect for the Union holiday.”

On December 22, 1864, Sherman sent Lincoln a telegram: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition.”

Ward wrote, that “On January 31, 1865, Congress voted 119 to 56 to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, to abolish slavery, and then sent it to the states for ratification.”

On March 4, 1865, Lincoln spoke at his second inauguration, saying, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.

“Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Lincoln would live only 40 days of his second term.

Tunnels and war coincide

Tunnels and war coincide

Tunnels and war coincide

People burrow into the subsoil, build tunnels, plus storage rooms, and stockpile food and water, for one reason, and that is to stay alive. Atop the ground, in the open air, in the sunshine, they feel oppressed, insecure, and poised to die or suffer an injury.

On July 4, 1863, thirty-one thousand Confederate soldiers, trapped inside Vicksburg, on the Mississippi River, surrendered to the Union’s commanding officer, Ulysses S. Grant, on the forty-eighth day of Grant’s siege of that town.

During the siege, civilians had dug some five hundred caves into the hillsides, and fitted them out with “rugs, beds, and chairs.” One cave dweller said, “We were in hourly dread of snakes. The vines and thickets were full of them.”

The city’s residents sought sanctuary in their inhospitable caves, because, “More than two hundred Union guns pounded the town every day from land, while Admiral David Porter’s gunboats battered it from the river.”

During World War II, the Marines and the U.S. Navy needed nine months to defeat Japanese soldiers dug in on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. A ferocious naval and air campaign early in the battle caused one U.S. sailor to say, “There can be nothing alive on that island.”

The truth was that the massive U.S. bombing did little damage to the enemy, who, with their ammunition and guns, were hiding in eleven miles of tunnels underground, out of sight.

Once the Marines landed onshore, the fighting changed to “short-sword fighting.”

One veteran of Iwo Jima, Raymond Hart, said, “It was the flamethrowers that got it done.”

In the Vietnam War, smaller U.S. soldiers were assigned duty as Tunnel Rats. Some 700 American boys dared to crawl into a Viet Cong tunnel, armed with pistol and flashlight.

One Tunnel Rat, Nelson Ritter, described a typical outcome of a tunnel battle, “the one who fired first survived.”

In the tunnels, a Tunnel Rat might have encountered a hospital, a surgical ward, a sleeping chamber, a storeroom, supplies of water and food, and plenty of ammunition.

Some two million people live in the Gaza strip, a small strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea, 25 miles long and between 3.5 miles and 7 miles wide. It suffers a high population density, on a par with that of Hong Kong’s. That degree of overcrowding creates unhealthy tension.

Yet, officials estimate that there is an estimated 300 miles of tunnels underground. Some call the system “Gaza’s Metro,” as if it is a subway.

The tunnels are narrow, two meters high and one meter wide. Both “sides and tops are constructed of prefabricated concrete.” There are dozens of access points topside into the system throughout Gaza.

It is believed that the hostages are held within the tunnels. Israeli Military Defense officials are most anxious to find those access points, and one tactic is by “purple hair.”

“Israeli troops drop smoke grenades into a tunnel and then watch for purple smoke to come out of any houses in the area. The smoke signals that a house is connected to the tunnel network, and must be sealed off before soldiers descend into the tunnels.”

One Israeli official said, “They’re probably booby-trapped,” with tripwires and bombs.

Why did the people in Gaza burrow into the ground? One possible reason is that atop the ground they feel oppressed. The Gaza Strip is described as “the world’s largest open-air prison,” because Israel and Egypt block entry into or out of the Strip by land or sea.

Fresh clean water is non-existent for 95% of the population. What water the Strip gets tastes salty. Electricity is rationed, turned off and on whenever, and 46% of the population suffers from unemployment and poverty. Hospitals lack basic equipment and medicine.

Why did the people in Gaza decide to build a munitions stockpile inside the tunnels? They had options. They could have constructed schools, or gymnasiums, or factories, or retail businesses, or devised a new cell phone technology, in or out of the tunnels. They chose war.

I understand that life is hard, even brutal, for the people living in the Gaza Strip, and I cannot imagine the degradation that they endure every day. For them, a tunnel might serve as an escape, a way to cope. What could they achieve if they renounced war and sought peace?

What can I achieve with Greek mythology?

What can I achieve with Greek mythology?

What can I achieve with Greek mythology?

What is the good that comes from knowing even a little about the ancient Greeks’ religion?

I prefer to learn of actual people who once lived in a historical setting, a time and a place. Greek mythology, instead, is a collection of make-believe fantasy stories I would like to know more of, but I find it hard to gain much traction from them, practical use. I wonder.

Mark Twain disparaged the whole notion. “Classics,” he said, “are the books that everybody wants to claim to have read, but nobody wants to read.”

After all, Greek religion is mythology, a series of stories about the gods and the goddesses whom the Greeks believed resided on or near Mount Olympus.

They included a dozen Olympians: Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Hera, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, Artemis, and Hephaestus, plus a host of others.

A twentieth-century writer devoted to the ancient Greeks, Edith Hamilton, said this about the Greek religion, “It was developed not by priests, nor by prophets, nor by saints, nor by any sect of men because of a superior degree of holiness.

“It was developed by poets and artists and philosophers. The Greeks had no authoritative Sacred Book, no creed, no ten commandments, no dogmas. The very idea of orthodoxy was unknown to them. They had no theologians to draw up definitions of the eternal and infinite.”

Instead their religion was stories, written to explain difficult-to-comprehend facets of men and women’s adult lives: How to live life well. How to strive for excellence. How to recognize a good way to live.

It was Margaret Fuller, an eighteenth-century intellect, a Transcendentalist, and a contemporary of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who, “made Emerson aware of the peculiar power of mythology.” She saw what he had not seen, or could not have seen.

The twentieth-century writer and scholar of mythology Joseph Campbell would agree with Margaret Fuller. find Joseph Campbell ok at explaining mythology, Greek or others.

In 1988, Joseph Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers, appeared together in six episodes, three hours each, on a PBS show entitled, “The Power of Myth.”

In their first episode, “The Hero’s Adventure,” Campbell retells the story of Daedalus and his son Icarus, who glued wings to their backs to fly to safety on a distant island.

Daedalus warns Icarus, “Fly the middle way. Not too high, or the sun will melt the wax on your wings. Not too low, or the tides of the sea will catch you.”

Daedalus, the dad, flies the middle way and arrives safely at the island, but the ecstatic Icarus, the son, flies too high. The sun melts the wax, and the boy falls into the sea.

The myth’s takeaway? Fly the middle way. Live your life easy, without highs and lows.

In that same episode, Bill Moyers prompts Campbell, saying, “One of the intriguing points of your scholarship is that you do not believe science and mythology conflict.”

Campbell agrees. “No, they do not conflict. Science is breaking through now into mystery’s dimensions. It’s pushed itself into the sphere that myth is talking about. It has come to the edge, the interface between what can be known and what is never to be discovered.”

He gives an example. “There is a transcendent energy source. When the physicist observes subatomic particles, he’s seeing a trace on a screen. These traces come and go. We come and go. All of life comes and goes.

“That [unknowable] energy is the informing energy of all things. That’s the reason we speak of the divine. Mythic worship is addressed to that.”

In the fourth episode, “Sacrifice and Bliss,” Campbell quotes the last line of Sinclair Lewis’ novel, “Babbitt.” George Babbitt says, “I have never done the thing that I wanted to in all my life.” Campbell says of George Babbit, “That’s the man who never followed his bliss.”

Mythology. I understand that Joseph Campbell believed that if we see the myth, identify it, and apply it to our lives, it may lead us to a better outcome in life. I would agree, the myth may do that, but still, I wonder.

Steve Inskeep’s new book: “Differ We Must”

Steve Inskeep’s new book: “Differ We Must”

Steve Inskeep’s picture beside his book cover for Differ we Must.

Since 2004, radio personality Steve Inskeep has hosted National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.” During Covid lockdown in 2020, at home with time to spare, Inskeep researched and wrote a book that was published this past week.

Inskeep found its title, “Differ We Must: How Lincoln Succeeded in a Divided America,” in a letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to his good friend Joshua Speed, dated August 24, 1855.

Last week, Inskeep explained to Amna Nawaz of PBS News Hour, and Scott Simon of NPR, that Speed was from Kentucky, that he was from a rich family that owned more than 50 slaves. Speed approved of slavery. Lincoln also was from Kentucky, but his family was poor, and Lincoln hated slavery.

In that letter, Lincoln wrote, “I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes and unrewarded toil; but I bite my lip and keep quiet.”

Lincoln then recollected a journey that he and Speed went on together, “in 1841, on a steamboat from Louisville to St. Louis.” Lincoln wrote, “There were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continued torment to me.”

Lincoln then pointed out, “It is hardly fair for you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. I do oppose the extension of slavery because my judgment and feelings so prompt me.”

Lincoln then wrote, “If for this you and I must differ, differ we must.”

But when he signed the letter, he wrote, “Your friend forever, A. Lincoln.” Although they did not share the same opinion on slavery, Lincoln chose to maintain their friendship, keep it alive.

This is one reason how Lincoln succeeded in a divided America. He avoided hurting others’ feelings. He hesitated to exclude people. He kept the door open. He burnt few bridges.

Yet, Lincoln was a master politician. He understood that democracy works when a majority of voters support and vote for laws that promote their self-interest.

Inskeep explained, that Lincoln told residents in the western territories, like Kansas and Nebraska, that it was in their self-interest to prohibit slavery from expanding there, because it would eliminate paying jobs that non-slaves would want to pursue and obtain.

In addition, Inskeep underscored Lincoln’s ability to relax people by telling them stories, cracking jokes, to draw them away from their harsher opinions and to align more with his.

Inskeep also noted another quality in Lincoln; the future president kept much in reserve. His campaign manager David Davis wrote of Lincoln’s ability to say little, saying, “he was the most reticent, secretive man I ever saw or expect to see.”

Steve Inskeep repeated Leonard Swett’s comment upon Lincoln, saying, “He always told only enough of his plans and purposes to induce the belief that he had communicated all, yet he reserved enough to have communicated nothing.” I say, that is a talent to admire and pursue.

The middle years of the nineteenth century were fractious times, far more so than now. The northern states favored halting the extension of slavery, but the southern states disagreed.

Because Abraham Lincoln ran for President of the United States in 1860, and was elected, voters in eleven states voted to secede, or to vacate from the Union. Between December 20, 1860, and July 2, 1861, in six months, this Union of States split apart.

In Inskeep’s book, he lists sixteen people with whom Lincoln agreed to disagree. In addition to Joshua Speed, there was Stephen Douglas, William Seward, George McClellan, Frederick Douglass, Mary Ellen Wise, Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and others.

Inskeep said, “Lincoln didn’t ostracize people. He didn’t take a Puritan approach to politics. He tried to persuade them. That often failed. With some he was not going to compromise.”

Lincoln knew, Inskeep said, “that he had to figure out a way to reach out to people who differed with him to find enough agreement that they could form a majority,” that would then vote and change the laws written into the Constitution that permitted slavery.

In that effort, Abraham Lincoln succeeded.

Peering into the future

Peering into the future

Peering into the future

Some people possess a talent to peer deep into the future. In Biblical times people called them prophets. In the Middle Ages, people believed them wizards. Today they are economists who make projections based upon previous business data.

Thomas Paine was an unknown writer in Philadelphia, fresh off the boat from England, but he peered deep into the future, more than did others already here.

In 1776, in “Common Sense, Paine wrote, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation similar to the present hath not happened since the days of Noah until now.

“The birthday of a new world is at hand, and a race of men, as perhaps numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the events of a few months.”

Paine was wrong about one thing there. The American Revolution lasted for over eight years, not “the events of a few months.” Yet, after two and a half centuries, we can conclude that Paine for the most part was correct in his opinion of America.

He saw what his contemporaries dared not to see, that the colonists in America needed to separate from King and Parliament.

In recent years, Warren Buffett echoed Paine’s long-term view of the United States.

“I’ll repeat what I’ve said in the past and expect to say in future years: Babies born in America today are the luckiest crop in history. It is a mistake to bet against America.”

Thomas Paine and Warren Buffett recognized America’s vast potential, a runway of opportunity for the world’s ambitious and hardworking people, a flywheel of success, a role model for other nations.

Their optimism in America’s future is a breath of fresh air that defies the prevalent pessimism that disturbs many Americans’ thoughts today. Zig Ziglar, a prominent 20th-century sales trainer, called that “stinking thinking.”

I say, “toss aside the ‘stinking thinking,’” “discard it,” “throw it out the window.”

Instead, grab hold of that same optimism that has enlightened millions of previous generations of Americans who were “fresh off the boat,” but knew how to work and strive for a better life and how to demonstrate that they belong here. They succeeded.

This week I mark the beginning of another decade of life, in America. At this lofty age, and after thirty-five years of writing biweekly columns, I submit a series of observations.

A first observation: America remains a wonderful place to build a better future.

A second observation: the zealots of the world who harangue or even riot because of political or religious disputes refuse to peer very far into the future. Their thirst and grasp for immediate power clouds their thinking. They see “now” but cannot see “later.”

They play checkers, jumping hither and thither, rather than chess, where they marshal their capital resources and apply them in a planned attack across sixty-four squares.

A third observation: how one treats others often dictates how far a person rises in the future. Treat others with dignity, and that tide of goodwill will lift all boats.

A fourth observation: hesitation often yields better results. There is a reason that the producers entitled Gene Hackman and Sharon Stone’s movie, “The Quick and the Dead.” Hesitation forces a person to peer into a future and check out surprise contingencies.

A fifth observation: writing and thinking are often synonymous, different sides of a coin. Shakespeare, Emerson, and Thomas Paine, I am convinced, are the better writers because they thought the best, and they thought the best because they wrote so well.

When writing and thinking, a person peers into an undefined future and sees shapes.

I say to you my dear readers, gaze deep into your own future and build whatever it is that you envision there. “A birthday of a new world is at hand.”

The discovery near Motza, Israel

The discovery near Motza, Israel

The discovery near Motza, Israel

The main highway running east to west across Israel’s width is Highway One. It connects Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to the Jordan River Valley, near Jericho.

In 2012, highway contractors working 5 kilometers west of Jerusalem near the town of Motza uncovered a Neolithic town, home to perhaps 3,000 people at one time.

A new thing, an interstate highway, led to a discovery of an old thing, a town.

Tel Motza is now the largest Neolithic site in Israel. Archaeologists define a Tel as “a mound or small hill that has built up over centuries of occupation.” Excavators dig down through the layers until they find a bottom layer.

Archaeologists uncovered stone tools made of flint—arrowheads, axes, sickle blades, and knives—as well as human bones, clay figurines, grain silos, and a temple.

Radiocarbon dating on the artifacts found in Level 6, the bottom level, fall between 8600 and 8200 BC, which means that families were living at Motza 10,000 years ago.

To put this into context, Biblical scholars place Abraham near 2000 BC, Moses near 1400 BC, and David and his son Solomon, who built Jerusalem’s Temple, near 1000 BC.

Motza was a flourishing town several millennia before any Israelites arrived, and, according to language scholars, perhaps well before any Canaanites arrived.

I find it tragic that archaeologists failed to find any historical records. Unknown and unnamed countless numbers of people lived and died at Motza, generation after generation, and no one knows much about them.

The writer James Michener remedied this absence of historical records at a Tel by writing a massive book of almost 1000 pages, that he titled, “The Source.”

In each chapter, Michener tells a fictional story of the men and women who lived at each of the several levels at Tel Makor, which means “the source,” as time sped by.

To stare at the photos of Tel Motza and think back to human existence 10,000 years ago puts our lives into context. How tiny is one human being’s life! At most 100 years.

What can we speculate about the multiple generations who lived at Motza?

First, I would like to believe that they were concerned about how to best raise the next generation, their children, how to steer their boys and girls onto the right path.

Second, they paid homage to previous generations, to their parents and to their grandparents, burying them with decency and respect.

Third, the fact that they built a temple indicates that the ancient ones practiced a religion, one that connected the generations together into a faith and a moral code.

Fourth, the grain silos indicate that they were concerned about food, and the numerous stone walls point to a concern about shelter.

As for the stories, the histories, the biographies, we can only guess, a tragedy.

This month of September I celebrate another birthday, one decade ends and another begins. After 35 years of reading, writing, and thinking about the past, and churning out biweekly columns for that long, I wonder, “Is doing history worthwhile?”

One historian who answered that question five years ago is Peggy K. Liss, historian of Spain and Latin America, who died on March 17, 2023, at 95 years of age. She said, “Yes, it is. The human past seems indispensable to anchoring the present.

“Without a reliable history, the resulting vacuum invites nostalgia for a past that never was. The past we know is sloppy. What we historians do is straighten up a selected part of it as best we can.”

A novelist, Alison Acheson, who wrote a fictional tale about life in London in 1526, wrote, “If history does have some particular shape, it might be less a circle, and more some spirally sort of thing to get tangled in.”

Harry Truman used to say, “The only thing new in the world is the history that you have never read.” To Harry’s words I would add, “something new in the world would be the history that was never written, that never can be written.”

For an example, think upon that history at Motza, a town from ancient Israel.