J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the month “November, 2011”

Rebel Yell (No, Not Billy Idol)

Ever wonder what the Rebel yell sounded like? I’ve been asked that question on numerous occasions – at book signings, reenactments, and living history demonstrations – and I think it probably sounded like an immense pack of coyotes. The Rebel yell has been described as a haunting, exhilarated screech, somewhere between a high-pitched yelp and a shrill holler, like an Indian war cry but with more passion.

Confederate soldiers described the yell as a release of pent up anxiety with a dash of devilishness. It was also a way for them to express their hatred, and understandably so, since their homes were being invaded, stolen, and burned down by advancing Union armies.

After the Civil War ended, veterans gathered at various reunions. The Confederate vets entertained spectators and fellow Union ex-soldiers by bursting forth, once again, with the Rebel yell. Fortunately, someone had the hindsight to record them before all of the dear souls passed away. Check out the following link to hear it for yourself:

What Did the Rebel Yell Sound Like? Video | Smithsonian Magazine*

Happy Thanksgiving

I would like to wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. Although the holiday has been celebrated since the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, it didn’t become a nationally observed holiday until 1863. The last Thursday of November was proclaimed a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863, thus commemorating “a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” It took nearly a century before some cities in the South, such as Vicksburg, Mississippi, finally acknowledged the holiday.

Only a week earlier, on November 19, 1863, President Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg to dedicate a national cemetery that was being established to bury Union soldiers who had met their demise there. After delivering his famous Gettysburg Address, which he considered to be “a few appropriate remarks,” he was overheard saying, “I failed, I failed, and that is about all that can be said about it.” This was because of the poor reception he received following his speech, but little did he know that his words would become one of the most famous addresses in American history.

With that, let us all give thanks for what we are blessed with. Sometimes it is difficult to perceive the blessings we receive, just as Mr. Lincoln failed to perceive the potency of his words at the time. Many have friends and/or family who are dealing with the loss of loved ones or other critical situations in their lives. During this holiday season, please pray for them, as well as our military personnel.

The Battle above the Clouds

From November 23 through November 25, 1863, the third and final Battle of Chattanooga, Tennessee took place. After being defeated at the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia, which took place on September 18-20, Union Maj. General Rosencrans’ forces retreated to Chattanooga, and Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee pursued. Bragg arranged his troops so that the Yankees were surrounded, and therefore, under seige.

President Lincoln quickly put Maj. General Ulysses S. Grant in charge of his army in the West. Grant replaced Rosencrans with Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. After several blunders occurred on both sides, the Federals came out victorious. Even though Grant lost more men, the Yankees managed to drive off the Rebels, which opened the door for Atlanta’s capture, and ultimately, Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Nathan Bedford Forrest had reported to Bragg that the Yankees were in full retreat, and told him the Confederates should cut them off, but Bragg didn’t listen. During the battle, Forrest’s favorite mount, Highlander, was shot in the neck. To prevent his horse from bleeding out, Forrest plugged the hole with his finger and continued fighting until he could ride out of danger. Once he removed his finger, the loyal steed staggered, fell, and died.

The Gettysburg Address

One of the greatest American speeches took place 148 years ago at a small town in Pennsylvania known as Gettysburg. The occasion was the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery, following the bloodiest three days in our history that took place during the Civil War. At the time, both sides believed themselves to be victorious, but by July 4, 1863, it became apparent that the Union had succeeded in defeating the Confederates when General Lee ordered his army to retreat back into Virginia.

The number of casualties was immense: Union losses numbered 23,055 (3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded, and 5,369 captured or missing). It is believed that Confederate casualties were similar, although the exact number is questionable. Four months after the battle, President Abraham Lincoln was invited to speak, along with Edward Everett, a popular orator of the time. It is rumored that the president wrote his speech on the train ride to Gettysburg, but this has been undocumented. Lincoln’s speech lasted just over two minutes, but it has lasted through the ages, and is as follows:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Sherman’s Controversial March to the Sea

Today marks the 147th Anniversary of the beginning of the end for the Confederacy in the Eastern Theater. On November 15, 1864, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman led his Union troops on a rampage, sweeping through Georgia while reeking havoc, destruction, and terror on the citizens of the state. It was Sherman’s idea that war should be inflicted on the weak and innocent: no one was immune. “Total war” began two months earlier, when General Philip Sheridan’s Union army stripped the Shenandoah Valley of its resources.

After capturing Atlanta, Sherman’s Federal forces set off for Savannah on November 16. Intending to destroy all Confederate supply surpluses, Sherman also granted liberties to his soldiers that today would seem obscenely, politically incorrect. Some of his orders were as follows:

“… should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility …

“… The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party … who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command …

“As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit … Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack-mules for the regiments or brigades.”

– William T. Sherman , Military Division of the Mississippi Special Field Order 120, November 9, 1864

Sherman’s orders were not strictly enforced, so many “bummers” took advantage of defenseless civilians. Margaret Mitchell’s classic  “Gone With the Wind” portrays Southern characters engulfed in the trials of the tumultuous “march,” particularly those of Scarlet O’Hara.

I will write more about the terrible march within the next few weeks, and how its historic impact still influences Southerners today.

Hug a Veteran

As most everyone knows, tomorrow is Veteran’s Day. The day was originally established as Armistice Day, the day that the Armistice was signed ending WWI. Major hostilities were ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. President Woodrow Wilson declared it a holiday in 1919. In 1953, the idea was spread to include all veterans, changing it from Armistice Day to “All Veterans” Day, and in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law. All states within the United States observe this holiday.

National ceremonies take place every year at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. The day will be celebrated with parades, speeches, and observances of our beloved veterans. So if you know someone who has bravely served in defense of this great country, give them a hug. If they are serving now, hug them. If they fought in Desert Storm, Vietnam, or Korea, give them big hugs (here’s one for you, Dad.) And if they are one of the few remaining veterans who fought in WWII, give them an extra special hug. Without these men and women, our freedom would be lost.

Annual Remembrance Day

Beginning on November 18, Gettysburg will hold its annual Remembrance Day celebration. A ball at the Gettysburg Hotel will kick off the occasion, followed by several other events leading up to the 148th anniversary of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which took place on November 19, 1863. These events also revolve around Veteran’s Day on Friday.

Music will be provided by the Libby Prison Minstrels (I love that name) and the Dodworth Saxhorn Band. The cost includes a three-course dinner. Next weekend (Nov. 19), reenactors will march through town. Following the parade, a presentation will take place at the Cyclorama in Gettysburg National Military Park. After the ceremony, men in blue and gray will congregate at the wall near Cemetery Ridge, where soldiers clashed during Pickett’s Charge. A ceremonial handshake between sides will take place, symbolizing unity, and then the reenactors will break away to lay wreaths, flags, and flowers on the graves of the men they portrayed. Reenactors include soldiers, women, and children dressed in period costumes, musicians, including drummers and flutists, and flag-bearers. “President Lincoln” will lead the parade in a white carriage.

A word to the wise: if you plan on attending, bring along your long johns! It gets very cold in Pennsylvania in mid-November.

For further information, contact johngetysg@aol.com

Or visit: www.remembrancedayball.com.

Andersonville and Wirz

Andersonville has acquired the famed reputation of being the most notoriously diobolical prisoner-of-war camp of the Civil War. POW camps in the North were just as terrible if not worse, but once the war was over, Commandant Henry Wirz received the brunt of the blame, and was the only person executed for war crimes. Following a farcical trial, he was hung on November 10, 1865 after he refused to condemn Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Captain Wirz became a scapegoat, along with some of the “conspirators” involved in Lincoln’s assassination. Although Wirz proclaimed his innocence, he was found guilty, and as he was led to the gallows, he was forced to endure ridicule while the crowd chanted “Remember Andersonville.” Following his death, Wirz’ body was dissected, and pieces were exhibited around the country. Four years later, his attorney managed to collect enough body parts to conduct a Christian burial.

This Sunday, the 36th annual Captain Henry Wirz Memorial Service will be held at Andersonville, Georgia. The event is taking place at 3:00 p.m., and will feature several guest speakers. For more information, contact the Wirz Committee Chairman James Gaston at 229-924-7460 or gaston7460@bellsouth.net.

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