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April Civil War Times Reader

2/13/2013 • Civil War Times

America’s Civil War

Lincoln’s best strategist

From the March 2013 issue

On the eve of the Civil War, the U.S. Army’s commanding general, Winfield Scott, was just about used up.

Few players on the American scene could stand the old goat when he was in his prime, and now that his advancing age and flab had rendered him a non-factor in active duty, no one was inclined to listen to his incessant harping about—well, you name it. Too prickly to love, too talented to ignore, he had been tolerated as a necessary irritant since Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. Brilliant on the field, obsessed with minutiae off, Scott, now 74, was a man of lavish tastes, a volcanic temper and enough complexes to satisfy the most demanding therapist. Scott loved ceremony and extravagance, but his modest finances couldn’t keep pace. Several times he was implicated in mon­etary scandal, and he once argued that he was due a pay raise based, somehow, on a liberal interpretation of the lunar cycle. There was hardly a better nickname than the one bestowed on him: “Old Fuss and Feathers.” But, oh, what a soldier, what a strategist he had been. As often happens with men of genius, the general’s ill temper and boorish behavior were accepted in the bargain because he produced results. Now, as the nation entered its darkest hour, Scott was the logical savior-in-residence Abraham Lincoln could turn to for a plan to snuff the spark of the upstart Confederacy before it had a chance to flame. And indeed, Scott did have a plan. To detractors, it sounded a lot like the South American water snake that slowly—key word “slowly”—suffocated its prey. They gleefully christened Scott’s plan “Anaconda.”

American History

U.S. Grant bowls a strike

From the April 2013 issue

On the Fourth of July, 1870, Henry C. Bowen and his wife, Ellen, hosted a party at their cottage in Woodstock, Conn.

The president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, was the Bowens’ guest and several hundred people attended.

Under a sky of exploding fireworks, bands played on the lawn, notables made speeches, and Grant strolled with his cigar, which Bowen had forbidden in the house. Bowen was also a teetotaler. Where the president got his liquor that night is anyone’s guess.

During his stay, Grant bowled a set in the Bowens’ indoor bowling alley—one of the first in the country —and made a strike.

The event was the first of 25 annual Independence Day celebrations hosted by the Bowens that prompted legions of political luminaries and ordinary citizens from around the country to make the pilgrimage to tiny Woodstock. In 1876, the centennial year, Bowen moved the party to a 60-acre park he created, several miles down the hill from the cottage, with a rowing lake and gilded fountains. Ten thousand people showed up. Woodstock, in what is still known as the “Quiet Corner of Connecticut,” had become the nation’s capital of patriotic display. And the executive mansion was not white. It was pink.

British Heritage

The roots of American law

From the March 2013 issue

In the 9th century, Wallingford, England, was a border town linking Wessex and Mercia at its ford across the Thames.

Two centuries later, William the Conqueror ordered the building of a castle here to control the Saxons. After the fortress became the last garrison to hold out for the King during the Civil War, Parliament had the castle razed in 1652. In those more violent centuries, law and disorder often depended on who was holding the weapons. Only the earthwork ramparts of Wallingford Castle remain, splayed across quiet gardens and meadows in the heart of town.

Since the 17th century, of course, both law and the administration of justice have become more codified. For that, much credit is due Judge William Blackstone. A young professor of law at nearby Oxford, Blackstone was appointed Magistrate of Wallingford in 1749. Here, Blackstone wrote and published four volumes called Commentaries on the Laws of England that became the first codification of English civil law. Just a few years later, his Commentaries formed the basis of the new United States Constitution and legal system. The guidebook to Wallingford asserts a bit optimistically, “Blackstone’s is a familiar name to most Americans.’”

Wild West

One Paiute triggers a war

From the April 2013 issue

In 1862 a rancher killed an Indian for butchering a steer. The Paiutes then killed a traveler in California’s Owens Valley.

Although tensions were high, neither side seemed anxious for an all-out war. Besides, the Paiutes were mostly armed with bows and arrows, so any serious clash of arms would be a real mismatch. In any case, a peace conference took place at the St. Francis Ranch on January 31, 1862. Both sides agreed that since each had suffered a man killed, things were even. The Indians promised not to bother the cattle, providing the ranchers controlled where the animals grazed. The only dissident voice in the gathering was that of Joaquin Jim of the Southern Mono Paiutes, who refused to comply with this informal agreement and soon resumed his raiding ways.

In February Jim and his band interrupted one northbound cattle drive near St. Francis Ranch that sent Jesse Summers and his partner scurrying back to Putnam’s trading post for help. Rounding up 15 men, they returned to the ranch and found Joaquin and his band. Nothing appears to have happened, and an uneventful night was passed, though probably not without some edginess. In the morning, Jim was gone and the cattle drive resumed. The next night, however, the ranchers lost 200 head and decided to turn back.

Military History

Introducing poison gas

From the March 2013 issue

Germany initiated battlefield deployment of poison gas (chlorine) against French troops at Ypres on April 22, 1915.

German Chief of the General Staff Erich von Falkenhayn convened a meeting of scientists in October 1914 to discuss gas and other experimental weapons. Later that month German artillery fired shells filled with a form of sneezing gas on British troops at Neuve Cha­pelle, but the gas failed to disperse. After using tear gas with mixed re­sults against the Russians in Janu­ary 1915 and in the West shortly afterward, the Germans began ex­perimenting with poison gas in hopes of achieving more decisive effects.

Chemist Fritz Haber, who would receive the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1918 for his work in producing ammonia for fertilizer and explosives, pioneered the German development of poison gas. When the war began, he worked to perfect the means of producing and dispersing poison gas, as well as methods to protect against it.

The moral implications of his work did not concern Haber.

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