Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Edward Dickinson Baker. The only U.S. Senator ever to die in battle.

Edward Dickinson Baker (1811 – 1861) served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois and later as a U.S. Senator from Oregon.  He was a long-time friend of President Lincoln.  Baker served during both the Mexican-American War and the Civil War.  On October 21, at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, he was struck by a volley of bullets that killed him instantly. Lincoln cried when he received the news of Baker’s death. At Baker’s funeral, Mary Todd Lincoln scandalized Washington by appearing in lilac rather than the traditional black.  Col. Edward D. Baker is buried in San Francisco.  This memorial stone was placed at Ball’s Bluff to mark the spot of Baker’s death, and to honor the memory of the only sitting U.S. Senator to have ever died on the field of battle. Baker once said, “The officer who dies with his men will never be harshly judged.”

Balls Bluff National Cemetery

In October, 1861, Union forces tried to cross the Potomac River near Leesburg, Virginia and were disastrously repulsed on the steep cliffs at a place called Ball’s Bluff.  Many fleeing Union soldiers were forced into the Potomac River, where they drowned.  Bodies of Union soldiers floated down the Potomac and washed up in Washington, demoralizing Northerners.

Most of the fallen Union soldiers found on or near the battlefield were buried in shallow, mass graves.  In 1865, the Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania tried to have Pennsylvania’s dead returned home.  Four years after the war, however, individual remains could not be identified, so the U.S. Army decided to establish a cemetery here for the Union dead.

Twenty five graves here in one of America’s smallest national cemeteries contain the partial remains of 54 Union soldiers killed at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff on October 21, 1861.  All are unidentified Union soldiers, except Pvt. James Allen of Northbridge, Massachusetts, who served with the 15th Massachusetts Infantry.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Treasure Legends: The Tomb of Alexander the Great

By the time he was thirty two, Alexander the Great had conquered almost all of the then known world and given history a new direction.  In 334 B.C., at the age of twenty two, Alexander crossed from Greece into Asia Minor at the head of an army of 35,000.  He defeated the Persian king Darius at Isus and then turned south toward Egypt.  In 332 B.C. he conquered Egypt.        

The Pharaoh Amasis had built a temple in Siwa in the western desert to the god Amun.  The temple's oracle became renowned throughout the ancient world.  Alexander went to Siwa to see the oracle and was declared divine, the son of Amun.  The oracle told him that he would conquer the world.  Alexander went on to fulfill most of the prophecy, taking the Greek army all the way to India before turning back to regroup and recruit a new army.  At this point the conqueror died under mysterious conditions. 

Rivalries immediately broke out among Alexander's generals and his body became a prize and source of dispute.  Where should he be buried?  Macedonia, the land of his birth; the great Egyptian city of Alexandria which he founded; or Siwa, where he was declared divine and given his worldly mission?       

Preparations for the funeral were magnificent.  The coffin was of beaten gold, the body within was mummified and embedded in precious spices.  Over the coffin was spread a pall of gold-embroidered purple, and above this a golden temple was built.  Gold columns supported a shimmering roof of gold, set with jewels.  The great edifice was drawn by sixty four mules each wearing a gilded crown and a collar set with gems.

Most historians, citing ancient Greek and Roman writers, believe Alexander was buried in a great marble sarcophagus in the Mediterranean port city he founded--Alexandria.  The Roman Emperor Augustus supposedly gazed upon the body three hundred years after Alexander's death.  Recently, the archaeological world has been rocked by a new theory regarding the last resting place of the great conqueror.      

The body of Alexander the Great may rest at the lonely oasis of Siwa.  An hour's drive from the Libyan border, the supposed tomb sits atop a desolate hill, a crumbling heap seen only by village farmers.  In 1995, a Greek archaeological team claimed to have found three crumbling stone tablets.  One of the tablets bears an inscription believed to have been written by Alexander's general Ptolemy, describing how he secretly brought the dead king to Siwa, "For the sake of the honorable Alexander, I present these sacrifices according to the orders of the god, (and) carried the corpse here...."  The second tablet says the shrine was built for Alexander.  The third tablet mentions some 30,000 soldiers who were appointed to guard the Siwa tomb.     

Alexander's tomb in Alexandria is thought to have been looted and destroyed sometime during the third century A.D..  The finds in the western desert bring in an element of mystery.  It is known that Alexander himself wished to be buried at Siwa and that alternate sites were considered only because of the political rivalries of Alexander's generals.  Ptolemy, one of Alexander's most loyal and beloved generals, may have built two tombs for Alexander, one in Siwa and another in Alexandria.  Is it possible that the mummy on display in Alexandria was not the real Alexander?   

Etched on tablet one of the Siwa find, Ptolemy supposedly writes, (in a very rough translation) "It was me who was caring  about his secrets, and who was carrying out his wishes.  And I was honest to him and to all people, and as I am the last one still alive I hereby state that I have done all the above for his sake."     

Treasure: The Holy Grail

In 1910, workmen digging a well in Antioch, Syria, spotted the gleam of shining metal in the sunlight.  Scrapping away the dirt, they unearthed a curious object, a set of two cups, one set within the other.  The outer cup was made of silver.  The inner cup was made of plain clay, and was the type from which a humble artisan might have drunk.  Excitement pulsated throughout the Middle East as the possible discovery of the Holy Grail electrified the world.            

Today, this artifact can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  It is called the "Antioch Chalice", and after extensive testing has been found not to be the Holy Grail.  Experts list the age of the Antioch Chalice as being fourth or fifth century, very early but not the Holy Grail.         

Just what is the Holy Grail?   The Holy Grail is the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper.   Besides being an archaeological artifact of unbelievable importance,  the cup is said to have certain powers, including:  (1)healing and restorative ability; (2) conveys knowledge of God; (3) invisible to unworthy eyes; (4)ability to feed those present (e.g. the miracle of the loaves and fishes);  and (5) it bestows immortality  on the possessor.        

What happened to the Grail?  The Grail supposedly passed into the hands of Joseph of Arimathea.   Joseph appears briefly in the Gospels as a wealthy member of the Jewish council in Jerusalem and secret disciple of Christ, who obtained the body of Christ after the Crucifixion and laid it in the tomb.

In the twelfth century,  non-scriptural writings began to appear telling how the hallowed vessel of the Last Supper came into Joseph's possession and had been conveyed to Britain.  Why Britain?  Some suggest that the wealthy Joseph made his money in the tin trade with Cornwall and had made frequent voyages to Britain in the past.
According to legend Joseph of Arimethea brought the Grail to England in 37 A.D. and founded an abbey upon the Island of Glass (present day Glastonbury).

Where is the Holy Grail now?  A great hill (tor) towers over the peaceful village of Glastonbury.   Atop the hill are the remains of St. Michael's church.  Legend says that the hill is hollow and is the secret entrance of the underworld.  There are numerous tales of disappearances into the Tor; usually in the form of people entering and returning mad.  In one of these stories thirty monks, engaged in chanting in the Abbey, found a tunnel opening up before them.  The monks bravely went inside.   Some great disaster befell them.  The full story could never be recovered from the survivors, two of whom were insane and one of whom had been struck dumb.  There are, in fact, large caves beneath the hill and at least one theory holds that the Holy Grail rests in one of these caves.    

Whatever the truth of the legends surrounding Glastonbury, it is, undoubtedly, the jumping off place for a search for King Arthur.  The historic Arthur was a Roman-British warlord who resisted the barbarian invasions as the Roman Empire collapsed.  The dates usually attributed to King Arthur lie between 460 -540 A.D.     

Cadbury Castle is thought to be the actual site of mythic Camelot.  In 1966 archaeologists found artifacts linking this site with the historic Arthur.  Excavations revealed a rich and powerful settlement.  A castle in name only, Cadbury has no moats or turrets.  It was an earthen hill fortress. Curiously enough, Cadbury (Camelot) is now privately owned.  The man who owns Camelot possesses what may be the most beautiful spot in England, where sheep graze sleepily upon rich green hills under an English sun and the only sound is the wind rushing through fields of wildflowers.         

It is possible that the historic Arthur could have been familiar with the legend of Joseph of Aramethea's presence in Britain, and sent followers in search of relics, the whole story being picked up and embellished by later Medieval storytellers into the now well known Quest for the Holy Grail.
Cadbury Castle is a thirty minute drive from Glastonbury.  It was to Glastonbury ("the isle of Avalon") that the wounded and dying Arthur was brought.  Legend says that Arthur sleeps inside Glastonbury Tor, until that time England shall need him most.  In 1191, a log coffin was found buried between two stone crosses in the burial ground beside St. Mary's chapel at the foot of Glastonbury Tor.  In the coffin, the monks found the bodies of a tall man and a delicate woman.  A leaden cross beneath the lid told them who there lay buried, "Here lies buried/The famous King/Arthur in the/Isle of Avalon."  Today the tumbled down walls of the abbey evoke thoughts of ruined Camelot.  Eyeless windows look out over Arthur's burial site, which is crossed reverently with red and white carnations.          

There are other possible Grail sites, including Roslin Chapel in Scotland.  The 3rd Earl of Orkeny built Roslin Castle during the 14th century.  Roslin Chapel, founded in 1446, was dissolved in 151l, and left in disrepair until restored in 1842.  The chapel is noted for a superabundance of ornament, and the famous Prentice Pillar, a beautiful, ornately carved work of art that graces the chapel.  In 1962, the famous Grail scholar Trevor Ravenscroft announced that he had finished a twenty year quest in search of the Grail and proclaimed Roslin Chapel to be its resting place.  Ravenscroft claimed that the Grail was inside the Prentice Pillar.   Metal detectors have been used on the pillar and an object of appropriate size is said to be buried in the middle of the ornate pillar.       

There are several alternate theories concerning the whereabouts of the Grail.  In the Caucasus Mountains of Russia there lives a small group of people who have stories of a magical cauldron called the Amonga.  This chalice has properties similar to those attributed to the Grail, serving food, giving knowledge and being able to choose those worthy to serve it.

Another theory argues that the physical cup of the Last Supper is gone forever but that it is an important metaphor for powerful universal energies that we can all tap into if we dare.  The "Silver Chalice", as disciples of this theory refer to the Grail, is the set of blood vessels in the neck and the base of the skull which feed the brain.  The "silver energy" can be used to increase the usefulness of the brain thus giving people able to tap into this energy almost superhuman powers.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Making College Safe Again (Social Satire)

     In early June the Del Boca Gazette broke the story under the banner headline, “ 1 in 5 Del Boca scholars say they were bilked.”    The scholars to whom the article referred were the scores of Del Boca university students attending college in nearby Andromeda city.  Typical was the case of twenty year old Eden Forbes, who remembers going to a tailgate party where she got “blackout drunk”.  The next thing she knew she woke up in a strange bed with three goats, a feral cat, and a bill of sale with a scrawl on it which purported to be her signature.  “I was bilked against my will”, said Forbes, “like, if I was in my right head that’s not something I would do.  I don’t even like cats.”

     The disturbing revelations in the Gazette article electrified Del Boca.  An emergency meeting of the Neighbors and Friends Association was convened to discuss the problem of non-consensual bilking.  Morgana Worth, Andromeda University’s Dean of Student affairs, and Simon Gatsby the Police Chief of Andromeda City, were invited to explain themselves to the good people of Del Boca.
     “We send our kids off to Andromeda,” said Francine Frei, “and what happens?  They get bilked against their will!  What are you people doing to protect our kids!?”
     “Well, it is a difficult problem,” said Morgana Worth, “Everyone knows that bilking is bad, but with the alcoholic haze that hovers over America’s universities today it is sometimes difficult to know when you have a binding contract and when you’ve been bilked.  Much lies in the perception of the contracting parties, and when they are both drunk it is sometimes difficult to sort out intent.”
      “Sounds like you want our kids to stop partying.” said Francine Frei, “The Constitution says they have the right to party.  It guarantees them the right to do whatever they want to do without being hassled.”
      “Well, of course adults and near adults should be free to drink as much as they want, whenever they want, wherever they want,” said Morgana Worth, “but being drunk can place you at greater risk of something bad happening to you.”
      “That just sound like victim bashing.” said Estrellita Charnovsky, “The University needs to make sure that everyone respects each other at all times no matter what condition they are in.  What are we paying you people for anyway?”
     “Well there are some bad people out there who will always take advantage,” interjected Chief Gatsby.
      There was an audible gasp from the assembled crowd.  The clicking of Tweets drowned out every other sound:  “#Chief Gatsby calls People bad.”  “Gatsby thinks we are still living in #20th century where #the People are the enemy”.  “No bad people.  Just #bad cops.”
     “I mean, I’ve read about such people in history,” the Chief quickly back-peddled, “not that there is anybody bad out there now.  I’m just saying”
     “What are you saying Chief Gatsby,” said Francine Frei.
     “Well, it’s just if you have a big fat old wallet full of cash, or a purse stuffed with cash and credit cards it might not be the best idea to get blackout drunk just on the off chance that one of those ‘bad people’ from the old days might just happen to show up and bilk you.  A fool and her money are soon parted.”
     “I for one,” said Ned Clapp, “can’t waste my time arguing up hypothetical non-existent ‘bad people’.  We have a serious problem here and we need real solutions.  Perhaps the solution is to lower the drinking age to six or seven so young people can learn to drink responsibly before they get to college.”
    Principal Violet Bell, from Del Boca Elementary, perked up at this suggestion.  She thought that wine and cheese should have replaced milk and cookies long ago.
     “I’m not sure I agree with that approach,” said Morgana Worth, “as an educator I think it is more important that younger children learn to wash and dress themselves and learn how to read before they  learn the finer points of beer pong, body shots, and keg stands.  Children need to learn self-discipline and self-restraint.”
     The room erupted in Tweets: “Andromeda U run by #fascists!” “Sieg Heil Andromeda U”      
     Francine Frei tried to calm the crowd and return the conversation to something reasonable and achievable.  “I’m going to recommend that we petition the University and the Mayor to make it mandatory that people wear warning labels, so that our kids will know who to look out for.”
     “Brilliant!” said Ned Clapp, “A scarlet letter B sewn on the front of a garment to signify ‘Bilker’, and maybe ‘CF’ for crypto-fascist,” he said, looking squarely at Morgana Worth.
      When the meeting broke up, the people of Del Boca knew that they had done all THEY could by voting to lower the drinking age and to compel everyone to wear warning labels, but they were not quiet in their minds.  It would probably take intervention by the Federal government to clean up the mess the university and police had made of their children’s lives.

Grievances (Social Satire)

     Trudy Grassmeade was bombarded by things that offended her.  It started when she stopped for coffee.  Washington, Jackson, Franklin.  Slave owners all.  What were they doing on our money? 
     Trudy carried a great many fives.  She could trust good old “Honest Abe”.  But even he had now fallen under suspicion.  She had recently read what Lincoln had said of a former girlfriend, “I knew she was called an 'old maid,' and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appellation; but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features, for her skin was too full of fat to permit its contracting in to wrinkles; but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head, that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy, and reached her present bulk in less than thirty five or forty years…”  As a former girlfriend herself (an experience she enjoyed on many occasions including the present one), Trudy could tell that Lincoln didn’t respect women.  She would have to look more closely into his record.  Maybe he didn’t deserve that big marble monument.  
     As Trudy walked down Thomas Jefferson (TJ) Avenue she made a note to ask the Neighbors and Friends Association why they named a street after the sexual harasser of underage girls.  This street should be named after the victim, Sally Hemings, not after someone who belonged on a register of sex offenders.  And then there was St. Anselm’s church.  She knew what was in there.  Stained glass windows depicting Roman soldiers walking cheerfully through the streets of Jerusalem on their way to the Crucifixion.  Roman soldiers!  The Roman Empire was a military tyranny that oppressed people for a thousand years and yet someone in that church thought it was a good idea to put their likenesses in the stained glass windows.  She could never go into a church that had depictions of Roman soldiers in the windows.  The thought made her cringe.  It may have been two thousand years since the Romans burned the ancestral village, but Trudy kept the memory green. Romans belonged in museums, not in church windows. 
     And so it continued as she made her way down TJ Avenue and up Poplar Street, getting angrier and angrier.  There was the post office sporting an American flag.  So militaristic.  All of that “rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air”, stuff.  Why couldn’t the country’s flag convey something more positive?  Maybe happy faces instead of stars, and multi-colored stripes instead of boring red and white.  There was that awful Porky’s Barbecue Pit, which sold sugary drinks that would make children obese.  And here up the street came that poor exploited rooster Machiavelli, who had to work for chicken feed while H.C. Clarke raked in who knew how much money because of Machiavelli’s efforts.  This walk was like Trudy’s own personal march to Calvary (minus the Romans of course).
     Finally she reached the Del Boca Medical Arts Center and the office of her therapist Dr. Humphrey Smothers.
     “I am so angry Doctor Smothers!” Trudy began.
     “Oh, I know, I know,” said the sympathetic Doctor Smothers, “shall we start where we left off last time.  You were telling me how angry you were because Turner Classic Movies had the effrontery to run the movie “The Littlest Rebel”, starring Shirley Temple.
     Trudy began spewing forth in a torrent all of the pent up outrage and anger of the previous week, occasionally interrupted by Dr. Smothers interjecting a sympathetic, “Tell me more,” or “I know, I know.”
     While doing no actual good Dr. Smothers, to his credit, was doing no actual harm.  He was performing the same sort of service that any friend would perform, he was being a good listener.  In his case, of course, he was being very well paid to listen.
     Dr. Smothers knew, that like many other people in Del Boca, Trudy Grassmeade actually enjoyed being wedded to her grievances.  She found comfort, purpose and identity in her righteous indignation.  What Dr. Smothers longed to say was, “Get a grip!  Opinions are like a**holes.  Everyone has one.  Yours are no more valid than anyone else’s !”  But then that would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg.  So instead he said, “Oh, I know, I know.”
      “So you see Doctor Smothers,” said Trudy, “if I am ever to be happy and know peace everyone else in the world is simply going to have to change!”
     “Oh, I know, I know,” said Doctor Smothers, nodding sagely, “but now I see our time is up. Shall we continue next time from the same place?”

Saturday, November 26, 2016

American Civil War Campfire Humor

Stories such as these were told around the campfire during the American Civil War:

A young soldier left home to join the army. He told his girl friend that he would write every day. After about six months, he received a letter from his girlfriend that she was marrying someone else. He wrote home to his family to find out who she married. The family wrote back and told him. It was the ....mailman.

A soldier announced to all the men in his company and surrounding companies that he was swearing off drinking and that all the other soldiers should do the same.  The other soldiers teased him and gave him whiskey to get him drunk.  Every night he ended up drunk, but every morning he would be back preaching about the evils of alcohol.  Finally one of his tent mates told him he should give up preaching about the evils of drink since he always ended up drink.  “What” he asked, “and give up all that free whiskey?”

Troops on both sides enjoyed a joke at the expense of officers.  One anecdote that made the rounds involved General Ambrose Burnside.  General Grant and his staff in Virginia stopped to rest at a plantation. Grant fell into conversation with the two women of the house, when the portly Ambrose Burnside rode up, made an exaggerated bow, and conversationally inquired as to whether the ladies had ever seen so many Yankee soldiers before.

“Not at liberty, sir,” one of the women snapped back.

American Civil War Humor and Jokes

Brady's National Photographic Portrait Galleries
A political cartoon depicting Uncle Sam arguing with a woman while a slave on the right tiptoes by the couple. Uncle Sam holds a newspaper marked "united", the woman has a newspaper behind her back marked "states".

Humor (even if somewhat grim) made its appearance early during the American Civil War.  When President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers in April 1861 to put down the rebellion, rebel jokers published advertisements for “75,000 Coffins Wanted.” Bill Arp, a popular Georgia humorist, wrote a letter to President Lincoln thoughtfully worrying that the Union’s military strategy might be, “too hard upon your burial squads and ambulance horses.” 

At first jokes in camp were relatively tame. Some soldiers wondered how many court-martials a barrel of rum held. Others joked that draft exemptions were only open to, “dead men who can establish proof of their demise by two reliable witnesses.”  Spirits were high and men engaged in practical jokes.  In the winter, one of the favorite tricks that the soldiers would play on the bugler was to put water in his bugle at night and let it freeze. The next morning the bugler would be unable to blow reveille until he thawed out his bugle.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The Importance of Historical Perspective

     The men and women who lived a hundred plus years ago possessed the same passions, strengths and weaknesses that we possess today.  Being born, struggling for food and shelter, mating, dying; the basic rhythms of life remain the same from century to century.  The ordering of these rhythms of life by social custom and political institutions depends largely on technology and the prevailing ideology of the day.  Can we ever judge if the ordering was right?  Should we even try?  History is a kaleidoscope, the view changes with the values of each succeeding generation.  What was moral and right in 1861 is today unacceptable.  What is moral and right today will be unacceptable tomorrow.

    What history can give us is perspective.  History shows that this moment is not the only moment, but rather is part of a continuum.  Without perspective life becomes self-absorbed, and degenerates into either solemn and stressful or frivolous and trivial.  Hopefully, with perspective, we can find balance.

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