Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Success and Failure: The Battle of 1st Bull Run [Manassas]

By Arielle Potter

“You are green, the rebels are green—you are both green alike.” So said Abraham Lincoln, but the rebels proved not so green as he expected, to the sorrow of the Union in July of 1861. General McDowell wanted more time to train his troops before sending them into battle, but many of the men had signed up for only 3 months and that time had nearly expired. Therefore, Lincoln gave him his orders: march to Richmond! Three divisions set out along the Warrenton Turnpike into Virginia. They had gotten about 30 miles when there came a report to Gen. McDowell of rebs up ahead. It was the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard, hero of Fort Sumter. McDowell sent a command to scout out the rebels’ position. They found rebs enough under General Longstreet at Blackburn’s Ford and after a brisk skirmish fled in disgrace. The Confederates exultantly called it the 1st Battle of Bull Run. The real Battle of Bull Run had not yet started, though. McDowell, undeterred, devised a real West Point-style plan for surprising the rebels’ flank. He would keep Beauregard busy in his front and swing the rest of his men around to attack Beauregard on his left. Beauregard also devised a plan. He had been in McDowell’s class at West Point and made a plan very similar to McDowell’s; in fact, it was almost exactly like it. If he had carried it out the two armies would probably have swung around each other with one army headed North and the other South. McDowell, though, struck first.
Before dawn on July 19th two Union divisions began to move for the flank attack. Poor McDowell! His plan was a good one and should have worked, but he did not have detailed maps of the area and had to depend on rough guesses. For instance, he thought the route his men were taking was only 6 miles; it proved to be 12. The men were, as he knew, green and extremely slow. As the columns proceeded they were thinned by men falling behind to rest or pick blackberries. It was 10 a.m. before they reached Sudley Ford. By that time the Confederates knew something was up. Confederates on Signal Hill sent word to Beauregard by wigwag “look out for your left; you are turned.” Beauregard looked and saw a cloud of dust in that direction. Reluctantly, he gave up his plan of attacking McDowell’s flank and began sending men over to protect his own.
Confederate Gens. Bee and Bartow were in the path of the advancing Yankees. They held out bravely for some time but were at last forced back. The whistle of trains in the distance may not have sounded very ominous to the Yankees, but they told of the arrival of Gen. J.E. Johnston’s troops from Winchester, which spelt the turning point of the battle. The newly arrived rebs quickly got into position and halted the advancing Yankees. The Federal division left behind to engage the Confederates on the turnpike was supposed to come to McDowell’s aid but was delayed. One brigade was attacked by a rebel cavalry unit known as Hampton’s Legion. A brigade did manage to get through under the command of Gen. Sherman who would be heard of later in the war. The Yankees ranged themselves in position and began a fierce contest for the rise of ground known as Henry House Hill.
Now things got a little confused, the problem being the uniforms. It was only 1861, and the armies of both sides had just been organised. Their uniforms looked more like what men would wear to a parade than a battle. Many of the Confederates wore blue uniforms and some Union regiments (like New Hampshire State militia) wore grey. A Union battery, seeing blue troops approaching thought they were more Federals and held its fire. The blue coats turned out to be rebs and took the battery. Soon it was turned on the Union troops.
As disorder spread, the Union soldiers began to retreat. Beauregard had the chance to follow them and eradicate the Union army, but another mistake was made. Blue coated troops were reported to be marching on the Confederate supplies near Manassas Junction. The troops turned out to be Confederate after all, but by the time the mistake was discovered it was too late to follow up the victory. The Federals made a retreat towards Washington that was orderly enough to begin with, but soon became a rout. While crossing a narrow stone bridge over Bull Run Creek, the Union troops, supply wagons and picnickers from Washington, which had all become hopelessly entangled, received a Confederate artillery shell in their midst. It was every man for himself. The heroes of the day were the Union regulars who guarded the army’s retreat. As they were used to combat, they did not take part in the widespread panic.
The Confederates had won the field but not the day. They missed their chance of pursuing the enemy and following up their victory, but as Beauregard explained, his army was as disorganised by victory as the other was by defeat. Besides this, the rebels did not inflict much more damage to their opponents than they received themselves. Although the Union had more men reported captured or missing, the figures for dead and wounded were about the same. The 1st Battle of Bull Run did little more than raise false hopes for the Confederacy and show the Union that the war would not be over as soon as expected.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Battle of Wilson's Creek

By: Rachel Potter

The Battle of Wilson's Creek was fought ten miles southwest of Springfield, Missouri on August 10, 1861. When the Civil War began in 1861, Missouri's loyalty was of great significance to the Federal Government. At the War's outset, Missouri's acrimoniously conflicting factions fashioned armies to decide which side the state would be on. The governor, Claiborne F. Jackson, held strong Southern sympathies and intended to collaborate with the Confederacy in its proposition for self-government. Lincoln had asked Missouri to form four regiments but Jackson refused. He instead determined to take a Federal arsenal nearby. Regrettably for the Rebels, Captain Lyon, the arsenal’s commander, heard of the arrangement and transferred the majority of the weapons to Illinois. He then marched out men to seize Camp Jackson and compel it to surrender. This he did quite effortlessly.

On August 9, both sides formulated plans to attack the other. About 5:00 am on the 10th, Lyon, in two columns controlled by himself and Colonel Franz Sigel, attacked the Confederates who were near Wilson's Creek about 12 miles southwest of Springfield. The Confederates attacked the Union forces three times that day but failed to fracture the Union line. Lyon was killed in the battle. He had been wounded twice (in the leg and head) before finally being killed at about 10:30. It was about this time that the third Confederate charge was in progress. Major Samuel D. Sturgis replaced him. Following the third Confederate assault, which ended at 11:00 am, the Confederates withdrew. Maj. Sturgis also ordered a withdrawal. This contentious choice was apparently provoked by Sturgis' lack of assurance in the aptitude of his exhausted troops, who were almost out of ammunition, to resist another attack.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Bombardment of Fort Sumter and its Consequences

By: Arielle Potter

At 4:30 a.m. on April 12th, 1861 a single shell went arching across Charleston harbour and exploded over a little brick fort on a tiny island of rubble. It was the signal for other batteries surrounding the harbour to open fire on the small fortress which was held by a small force of Federals low on supplies and ammunition. This encounter, lasting 2 days, ended in the fall of the fort into Confederate hands. South Carolina had seceded from the Union on December 20th, 1860, but the United States government as yet had made no aggressive move. With the first shot fired however, patriotic feeling swept through the country. Southerners thought whipping Yankees would be easy, while Northerners weren’t going to have any secessionists firing on their forts. Immediately in the North an army was raised and plans were made for invasion of the South. And so Fort Sumter, an unfinished brick fortification in the middle of Charleston harbour, became the seat of the first battle in the bloodiest of American wars.

It was not however, the first conflict between the North and South by any means. It seemed that every time something came up in Congress that had anything to do with slavery the two factions were at each other’s throats. There was wrong on both sides, and neither side could trust the other. So, whenever a new state wanted to join the Union there must needs be a great debate over whether it would be free or slave, for whichever side it took would get more votes than the other. Compromise over the issue was difficult, for a state could not be both free and slave. It is easy to see why people North and South hoped there would be a peaceful separation: slavery and democracy were too diametrically opposed for any one nation to be founded on both.
There was another conflict: that of state sovereignty. It was this that divided the nation and left slave states like Kentucky and West Virginia on the side of the Federal government. This was really the main issue at Charleston: had a state’s government more power in that state than the American government did? South Carolina thought it had; Abraham Lincoln thought not. The two were having a showdown about it. South Carolina wasn’t new at the business; in 1832 it had refused to comply with two tariffs passed by the Federal government, a proceeding known as “nullification,” and although the state had later backed down, it still held its own rights more important than the Federal government’s laws. The people thought that their state could break away from the Union any time it chose, for to them the Union was merely collaboration between the states. And so when Abraham Lincoln (an abolitionist) was elected president, thereby threatening South Carolina’s “rights” (the right to have slaves was one which was threatened and the right to go into free states and recapture escaped slaves was another), the state announced that it had seceded from the Union. Soon other states followed.
As southern states seceded one by one the state governments began confiscating Federal property and commandeering Federal forts and arsenals. Some forts were surrendered without resistance and the commanders were rewarded with posts in the confederate army (very nearly the same thing Benedict Arnold had done in the Revolutionary War), but others were stubbornly held. Lt. Slemmer, in one instance, took a stand in Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida and disregarded the demands of the governor of Florida and the governor of Alabama to peaceably surrender the fort. He said, “I am here by the authority of the President of the United States, and I do not recognize the authority of any governor to demand the surrender of United States property—a governor is nobody here.” There were three Union garrisons in Florida which remained loyal. The only other in the South to do so was in South Carolina.
On Christmas night, 1860, five days after South Carolina seceded, Major Robert Anderson moved his command from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter in Charleston harbour. Although it was still unfinished, Fort Sumter was more defensible as it was three miles out in the harbour. The Confederates were furious about the major’s cheek, for they had expected all the Federal commanders to come over to their side. All across the state men were forming militias, bands were playing, Federal goods were being repossessed and affairs looked promising. There was only one thing to mar their victory: that audacious Union flag in the harbour.
Nothing happened for several months except that President Buchanan attempted to send supplies by sea to the fort, which was in sore need of them. The ship however, was fired on by confederates and sailed away again. At last on April 11th General P.G.T. Beauregard sent an ultimatum to Major Anderson demanding that he evacuate the fort. Anderson said that he would on April 15th if he did not get relief by that time. This would not do for Beauregard, for he knew that supplies were expected before the 15th. He sent a message the next morning that his guns would open fire in one hour. Maj. Anderson was much upset at this; he was himself a southerner, but his duty to his country, his military commission and his men held him firm, and he had but one answer. In an hour shells began to fall on the defenders.
The man who had the honour of firing the first shot of the war was Capt. George S. James, commander of a battery on James Island (no relation, I’m sure). It was soon followed by volleys from batteries around the harbour. Edmund Ruffin, a South Carolina fire-eater who fired one of the first shots of the war from the confederate batteries would also fire one of the last shots of the war: a pistol into his head when his beloved Confederacy fell.
Anderson was an old acquaintance of Beauregard: he had been the general’s artillery instructor at West Point. Perhaps he regretted those lessons as Beauregard’s batteries became more accurate. At first Anderson held his fire, for he had little ammunition and their cannons could do little damage to the well-protected confederate guns. The fort was surrounded by enemy artillery, besides which, it was not built to be attacked from behind and by their own men. After several hours had passed however, the major gave orders to man some of the guns in the lower, more protected part of the fort. Capt. Abner Doubleday whose distinguished career included promotion to Major General; repulsing a Confederate charge at Gettysburg; commanding for a time part of McDowell’s division, the famed “Iron Brigade” and being the official inventor of baseball; fired the first shot at the appreciative Confederates who had hoped for some opposition.
That afternoon the relief ships with provisions and ammunition appeared on the horizon. How disappointed the beleaguered Federals must have been to see them sail away again, the firing from the forts making it too dangerous to approach! In the afternoon too, the soldier’s quarters caught fire and burned furiously, choking the men in smoke until an evening rainstorm helped put the flames out. By nightfall only six Federal guns answered the rebel batteries. These were silenced at dark to save ammunition. All night the confederates kept up their fire while the defenders tried to sleep and waited for dawn.
In the morning only one gun was still fired at intervals from the fort. The officer’s quarters caught fire, threatening the powder stored nearby. Still the men fought on. The flag above the fort was shot down and three soldiers clambered up to replace it, but the Confederates, seeing it fall, thought the Federals were striking their colours. They sent out a boat to investigate and found that they had been beaten to it by a Texas hot-head, one Mr. Wigfall, who had sailed out on his own initiative to demand surrender. The Federals had pulled him into the fort so that he should not be hit by his own side’s fire. After some deliberation, Anderson agreed to surrender the fort, now in ruins. He evacuated on April 14th, after firing a salute to the flag still flying over the fort. It would be four years before that flag would again fly over Fort Sumter. Four years later to a day the Stars and Stripes were again raised above the fort—the same day President Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre.
The Confederates claimed a great victory at Sumter. They perhaps did not take into account the fact that the Federal soldiers were low on food and ammunition, were greatly out-numbered and were surrounded on all sides. That the men held out for as long as they did showed the American pluck and spirit, which, as a characteristic of both sides, was the cause of a long and hard war. Although it can scarcely be called a battle in the light of later engagements—only one man was killed outright—the firing on Fort Sumter had an immense impact on the course of later events. If the Confederate guns had never opened fire on the little garrison it is probable that the Union and Confederacy would have sat glaring at each other across the Potomac—the Union unwilling to make the first move and the Confederates not wishing too strongly for a war in which they would be out-manned and out-gunned. The little company in the insignificant fort were to begin a war of staggering dimensions.

Monday, February 2, 2009

An Evaluation of Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener

By Arielle Potter, 11/21/07

This short story is about an ordinary lawyer who employs two secretaries, or scriveners, both eccentric, but nothing compared to the newest scrivener, Bartleby. His oddities first manifest themselves by his unexplained refusal to perform certain tasks. He merely says that he “would prefer not to.” It is further discovered that Bartleby lives in the office—and refuses to leave it. After a time Bartleby quits work altogether and will only stand and stare at the window. All efforts at dismissing him are ineffectual. Finally his employer in desperation removes his firm to another office, leaving Bartleby behind. Bartleby continues to haunt the premises until forcibly removed and sent to prison. There he dies in a short time.
Melville’s portrayal of every character is believable: everyone acts in a natural way. Even their eccentricities seem natural—all except Bartleby’s. The reader can sympathise with the lawyer from whose point of view the story is told. We can feel frustration with Bartleby one minute and pity him the next. He is so stubborn and at the same time so melancholy. He acts as though his actions were perfectly normal and logical although we cannot understand them and he exerts a mental influence over everyone in the office. Melville also employs a light, comical tone although the story ends so tragically.
Bartleby’s behaviour seems unexplainable, until we learn that he was formerly a clerk in the dead letter office in Washington. To understand Bartleby’s problem then, we must put ourselves in his position. We can begin to understand Bartleby’s melancholy and see that we might act in the same way were we exposed to the same circumstances.
The story continually describes Bartleby as “cadaverous,” foretelling that by the end he would literally be a corpse. It also refers to blank walls and empty spaces, showing how empty life is for Bartleby. Bartleby seems to be almost a madman, until the end of the story where he shows that he is, indeed, human. The main problem of the story starts out “will the world cope with Bartleby?” but changes to “will Bartleby cope with the world?” The end of the story resolves this problem but not in a way that satisfies the reader. Bartleby’s real problem is that he has grown weary of an empty world and a hopeless existence. He is sent to jail too, not for doing something, but for not doing something, and as Bartleby does not see the fairness of this he blames the world at large.
The story closes, “Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity!” revealing Melville’s purpose in writing the story. Melville sees the same emptiness that Bartleby does and bemoans mankind on its dismal fate. He fails to see that life is not just a passage to the grave; he is blind to the fact that "God governs the affairs of men" and that He has a purpose for each individual. Unfortunately, many people believe the same way as Bartleby.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Charles Dickens

By Arielle Potter, 11/14/07

Charles Dickens, one of the best-known and best-loved British authors, at first supported his family while his father was in debtor’s prison by working in a shoe polish factory. He was only ten years old at the time. He did not work at the factory long and attended school off and on until he was fourteen. When he was nineteen he became a reporter in Parliament which gave him some experience in writing. His first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was published when he was twenty-five. The book had a slow beginning but soon became very popular. This first triumph was followed by others: A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol and many, many more. These books, still well known today, were immensely popular. David Copperfield was semi-autobiographical, describing Dickens’s childhood struggles of which he had not been able to speak even to his wife.
Dickens’s private life was also remarkable. He would walk for miles through London in his spare time and was said to know the city better than anyone else. Dickens died of a stroke in 1870, but he is still remembered today for his masterful portrayal of human nature and his satires of English society. He supported many charities in his lifetime, but the greatest good he did was by his written works which urged the reforms he wished to see.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Old Mortality: Sir Walter Scott

By Arielle Potter, ?/07

Old Mortality is a tale of the religious struggles in Scotland in the 1600s. Young Henry Morton, a Presbyterian, is caught between the two factions. He cannot be false to his faith and join the bloodthirsty Catholics, and he cannot countenance the violent extremism of his own sect. Soon Henry is counted a rebel by one side and a traitor by the other! Facing capture, privations, torture, exile, cruel adversaries and radical reformers, Henry remains faithful to the Bible’s laws of mercy and forgiveness. The novel contains much insight into the violent agitations leading up to, and the bloody retribution following the Battle of Bothwell Brig.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Geoffrey Chaucer

Rachel Potter, 11/14/07

Chaucer was born in 1340 in England. It has often been said he was the greatest author of the Middle Ages. He was supposed to be the first major poet to write in Middle English. His most famous piece is "Canterbury Tales", a story of a group of pilgrims each telling his own story. One character was based on himself. The poem, "Troilus and Criseyde", is also well known. Not only a poet, Chaucer was a diplomat and even rose to Parliament in 1386. He was a friend of the nobleman John Gaunt and wrote about his wife after she died, "The Book of the Duchess". Chaucer died in 1400 at 60 years of age, no longer rich or in Parliament, but happy, for he was among the common people--the people he had written for.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Red Badge of Courage: Stephen Crane

By Samuel Potter: 10/27/07

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane is the story of a young Federal soldier named Henry. The lad is excited and impatient to join in the fray but wonders how he will behave in the heat of battle. When Henry’s company finally engages the enemy he at first fights courageously, but when he realizes that the worst of the battle is yet to come, he ingloriously skedaddles. Afterwards, Henry feels guilty about his cowardice and is fearful of what his comrades might think of him when they discover that he has been a coward. As he is retreating from the battle Henry falls in with a group of wounded soldiers. Henry envies these men because their wounds are signs of the courage that he covets: the red badge of courage. “The youth” has another chance to redeem himself, a chance which will ultimately show his true colours as a coward or a hero.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oliver Twist: Charles Dickens

By Samuel Potter, ?/07

This is the story of a young pauper by the name of Oliver Twist. Oliver’s mother dies when he is an infant and he is brought up in the poor house. One day the ill-treated Oliver decides to run away to London in search of a better life. While in London he falls in with a desperate gang of criminals who are bent on poisoning his heart with hatred. Also, Oliver’s true identity remains a mystery to which only one man knows the secret. Happiness is brought to the heart of young Oliver though, when he becomes friends with some very kind people. But will his happiness last? Will the criminals succeed in with their wicked devices? Will the secret of Oliver’s identity be brought to light?
This novel is probably one of Dickens’s most famous and most popular. Filled with mystery, suspense, horror, and happiness, it exposes the villainy, vice, and subterfuge which was carried on among London’s criminal population in the mid-19th century.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

John Keats

By Jewel Potter, 10/17/07

John Keats was born in London in 1795. He attended Clarke School in Enfield, England. Later he studied medicine but never practiced, as he wanted to be a poet. His first work was Poems in 1817; in 1818 he published "Endymion", a mythological poem. Some criticised "Endymion" because they were angry with Leigh Hunt who was also a writer and John Keats’s friend. Because of their criticisms Keats could not make much money from his poems. His last and best volume was published in 1820. He died of tuberculosis in 1821.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Redguantlet: Sir Walter Scott

By Arielle Potter, 10/16/07

Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott is a book about two young men who are good friends and narrate events chiefly through letters to each other. Darsie Latimer decides to gallivant around in the north of England, mainly because he has been told not to, and gets himself into trouble. He meets a mysterious stranger who seems to take a special interest in him, and when Darsie attempts to aid a kindly Quaker he is kidnapped by the desperado. His friend Alan Fairford, who is a sober young lawyer, is warned of his friend’s danger by a fair unknown, but is unable to go to his friend because of a court case. When he hears of Darsie’s capture however, he rushes off at once to save him. After a fatiguing journey with many hardships and with some help from the Quaker, Joshua Geddes, and some other kindly people, Alan locates his friend but discovers that his fate is entangled in a dark and dangerous plot to put Charles Edward Stuart on the throne of England. Who is the mysterious stranger and will he ever release Darsie Latimer? And who will get to marry the pretty girl whom Darsie and Alan have both become enamoured with? Find out in this exciting novel!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Little Women: Louisa May Alcott

By Jewel Potter, 10/10/07

Little Women is about four sisters named Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy who have the most exciting times together. They start several clubs and help with the war effort. While their father is ministering to the soldiers he becomes ill and their mother must go look after him. The girls are left in the charge of Hannah their cook. Then Beth comes down with scarlet fever, and Amy is sent to their aunt’s until Beth gets better. When finally their mother comes back Beth gets better and soon their father comes home and they are all together again.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Stephen Crane

By Samuel Potter, 10/10/07

Stephen Crane, American novelist, short-story writer and poet, was born in 1871 in Newark, New Jersey. As a young man, Crane must have caused his Christian parents great sorrow, for he rebelled against his family’s Christian principles. Crane’s philosophy was that social, economic, and environmental forces were the causes of man’s sinful behaviour. Nevertheless, Crane was one of the greats of American Literature. He was exceptionally realistic in his writings. Crane’s first novel, entitled Maggie: a Girl of the Streets, depicted the realities of life in the gutters of New York City and revealed Crane’s philosophy that it is man’s circumstances that make him sinful. This book was a failure. His next novel however, The Red Badge of Courage, was a great success. This was perhaps his best and most famous work and realistically portrayed the feelings and emotions of brave men in battle. Crane’s ability to accurately describe war situations won him worldwide recognition, and he was hired to work as a war correspondent in the Greek-Turkish and Spanish-American wars. It was during the Spanish-American War that he wrote his famous short story, The Open Boat. Tragically, Crane died of tuberculosis in 1900 when he was only 28.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Gilbert and Sullivan

By Jewel Potter, 10/03/07

Gilbert and Sullivan were two Englishmen who together wrote some of Great Britain’s most popular operettas. Gilbert was born in London in 1836. He was a noted journalist, humorist, and playwright. Sullivan was born in London in 1842. He was a famous composer and wrote the music for the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers". For many years they worked independently of each other until a friend convinced them to combine their skills. Their first work together was Thespis, however it did not gain as much fame as they hoped. The H.M.S. Pinafore was their first really popular work. Some other well-known operettas which they wrote are The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. They were both knighted by Queen Victoria. Sullivan died in 1900 at the age of 58. Gilbert died 11 years later at the age of 75. Their works are still played today in many theatres.