Friday, August 31, 2007

Jimmy Carter, coming to a theater near you

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that a Jimmy Carter moving is coming out soon. Miriam A. Shaviv has the details in Jimmy Carter, coming to a theater near you.

Here is some text from the article:

The controversy over Jimmy Carter's book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, is set to be reignited by an upcoming screening of a documentary centered on his book tour.

The film, directed by Jonathan Demme, has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classic for distribution in North America by Participant Productions, the socially-conscious company that backed Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. According to Variety, the documentary will premiere at the Venice International Film Festival later this month and has been titled Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains. It is also rumored to be among the films to be screened at the Toronto Film Festival next month.

In the documentary, Demme follows the ex-president as he promotes his Simon and Schuster publication, which sparked intense criticism from the Jewish world. The ADL took a particularly strong position during the debate, with director Abraham Foxman accusing Carter of "engaging in anti-Semitism."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Presidents and the Military

I'm on a bit of theme week, I guess. Anyway, our last poll was about the best battlefield commander and I also posted on if military experience was important in a President (we got one vote for not essential). To go with that, I found a list of Presidents with and without military experience. Presidents without any military experience were:
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson
John Quincy Adams
Martin Van Buren
Grover Cleveland
William Taft
Woodrow Wilson
Warren Harding
Calvin Coolidge
Herbert Hoover
Franklin Roosevelt
Bill Clinton

This shows that most Presidents have have military experience. Interestingly, I also found a list of those who were in the Navy rather than the regular army and it is all more modern Presidents. Just an interesting side note, so here is the Navy list as well:
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard M. Nixon
Gerald R. Ford
Jimmy Carter

George Bush

The first site also includes Presidents who were at war during their Presidency. The list is longer than I would have thought because all the Indians Wars were included.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Poll: Which General who became President was the best battlefield commander?

The poll just closed for the question, "Which General who became President was the best battlefield commander?" The choices were George Washington, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Ulysses S. Grant, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Taylor was left off the list due to space.)

President Grant won easily with 42% of the vote. President Eisenhower was a distant second with 23%. President Washington came in third with 19%. Harrison and Jackson finished in single digits.

Thanks to all who participated in the poll.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Clinton Interviews

Bill Clinton has a new book coming out, "Giving," and will be on Oprah on September 4th to promote it. According to the article, Clinton will also be on Larry King and David Letterman next week.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Military Service Instrumental for Presidents?

The Center for Military History presents the argument “that service in the Armed Forces of our Nation has been instrumental in preparing a notable number of Americans for positions of senior leadership in the government. Military service played a vital role, for example, in the development of such leaders as Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.”

They then present Dwight D. Eisenhower as a prime example and put out a book on the centennial of his birth about Eisenhower’s long military career. The booklet sketches out Eisenhower’s rise through the military ranks and his experiences in each position all the way through Supreme Allied Commander during World War II.

In the section devoted to Eisenhower’s postwar career, the booklet connects the Presidency to his military career:
The quality of leadership that distinguished Eisenhower the soldier also served him well in the presidency. The diverse challenges of more than thirty years of service in the Army and as an international leader amplified his natural gift for command. He had the considerable advantage that many of the leaders of the postwar world were old friends whom he had come to know well during the war, and with whom he already had a sound working relationship. Eisenhower's military experience also proved invaluable in determining his style of presidential leadership. Based on techniques that had served him well in SHAEF and NATO, he used a chief of staff to keep track of the day-to-day operations, freeing him to maintain an overview of all of the administration's business.

So what do you think? Is military service instrumental for presidents?

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Roosevelt Women by Betty Boyd Caroli

This is a simply wonderful book for what it tells us both about the women of the Roosevelt clan and the men. Caroli’s story lends great insight to both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt and the relationship between the two.

The book is set up as a series of smaller books, each one on a particular Roosevelt woman. The great thing is how Caroli connects these women to each other and to the politics of the time. It is interesting to see how different these women were as well as similar. For many of them, their most important relationships with men (outside their brothers/fathers) were not their husbands. Bamie, Corinne and Alice’s husbands all take a backseat to other men – often the political magnets of the day. Not that scandal haunted any of these women (except Alice, who courted it). There were some genuine love matches – Edith and Theodore really had a strong, passionate marriage.

Caroli begins with Theodore Roosevelt’s mother, Mittie (you can also see a post by EHT on this topic). Mittie is often an overlooked figure and this book brings out who she was and why. It also gives great insight to the childhood of TR and how the Civil War affected him quite differently than you’d expect. Mittie’s sister, Anna Gracie, is also a huge force in the life of the young Roosevelts and we see this chapter.

Then Caroli covers TR’s sisters: Bamie Roosevelt Cowles and Corrine Roosevelt Robinson. Both these women played down their role in their brother’s political life, but this book shows how involved they actually were. Both these women contributed greatly to the political future of the US. These women were also the models for the next generation and where they went for advice and help.

The fourth “book” talks about Edith Roosevelt (TR’s wife) and Sara Delano Roosevelt (Franklin’s mother). What is interesting here is the comparisons that Caroli draws between these two women. Edith was seen as the perfect wife and companion while Sara was vilified as the evil mother-in-law. Yet Caroli manages to show them as real women, beyond that basic stereotype. I especially find it interesting how involved Sara was in creating the woman we know as Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor, in the beginning of her marriage, needed the advice and guidance of the older woman, although she would later outgrow it, hence the later picture of Sara.

Then Caroli covers Eleanor Roosevelt, but here it is interesting to see the background to the political life we know so well. Eleanor, although Franklin’s wife, is also Theodore’s niece (the daughter of his brother, Elliot) and connected to both sides of the family. With this generation we see the split between the “Theodores” and “Franklins” politically and then moreorless socially (although there is never a complete severing of ties). Theodore’s family had always been staunch Republicans, but Franklin was going to be the golden boy of the Democratic party, which would rub hard on the “Theodores.”

Next we see another niece of TR’s, Corinney Alsop [her name is Corinne, but the family called her Corinney and to distinguish mother and daughter, Caroli does as well], the daughter of his sister Corinne. Corinney followed in her mother’s shoes as a political speaker and activist, even serving in political office herself (one of the few to do so and the only of this generation). Corinney also kept some of the best relationships with the “Franklins” and even voted for him at one point.

Finally we cover TR’s daughters: Alice and Ethel in the last two sections. Ethel’s life revolved around family and her activities more confined than some of her cousins. Alice, while not an activist in any sense, was one of the best known figures of Washington for her outrageous behavior and tongue. Alice would literally say anything. The stark contrast between these two sisters is brought out as we see Ethel as the more dutiful and responsible and Alice as the butterfly, always seeking attention, yet these two were constant friends throughout their long lives.

This book is definitely worth your attention for several reasons. First, it showcases these oft-overlooked political figures of the Roosevelt clan. Second, it gives new insight to the men who rose to political heights on the shoulders of these women. Lastly, it is just plain entertaining and well-written – a completely enjoyable read.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

James K. Polk Home

Last weekend, I went down to the James K. Polk Home in Columbia, Tennessee. My first caveat – August in Tennessee is NOT enjoyable to a northern girl like me. It was a 105 there!

This is not the residence of the Polks, but rather James Polk’s parents’ house. Both houses the Polks lived in – in Columbia and in Nashville have been torn down. This house was built in 1816 and has been restored and furnished with pieces from the Polks’ various residences as well as some of Polk’s family pieces.
Source: A Special House booklet

This double parlor is gorgeous. The chandeliers are from Polk Place in Nashville and Sarah Polk paid $54 each for them – quite extravagant at the time. The dining room table in the far room is also from Polk Place and pulls apart into two separate tables or can be set up as one large table, as it is currently.

Source: A Special House booklet

This is a close up of the table from the picture. This is Egyptian marble in a mosaic design. It was given to President Polk upon his retirement.

Source: A Special House booklet

Sarah picked this china out for the White House (this isn’t state china, which there also is a Polk version of). The flowers were all from Tennessee and see the little symbol at the top? That’s the presidential seal and Sarah was first to use it.

Now I don’t have a lot of pictures from the interior, since there is no photography in the house, but the tour also includes several rooms upstairs. One room is done as James’ study and has some of his original books and his glasses. There are also several of Sarah’s dresses on display. They also have pieces of Sarah’s jewelry, one of her canes and several lovely fans.

This is the detached kitchen. The kitchens were separate to keep the house cooler in the summer and to help prevent fires. The slaves (this was Tennessee and the Polks were slave-owners) would bring the food into the main dining room through the back door.

This is a cast iron fountain in the back courtyard. It came from Polk Place and was made in 1820.

Many of the plantings in the gardens are descendent plants from Polk Place. The gardens also include statues representing the four seasons.

The Polks are buried on the grounds of the state capitol in Nashville. Polk was not originally buried here, but moved later.

Things to Remember When Visiting:
  • Columbia, Tennessee is a relatively small town, but the signage is not very good, so make sure you have the street address. Once you are on the backstreets, its better.
  • There is parking right in front of the museum.
  • The museum keeps regular business hours during the week and is also open on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Tickets are $7/person for adults, which is actually very reasonable. It includes a guide house tour and a self-guided tour of the gardens and the exhibit space.
  • The Polks are not buried here, but Nashville, where they are, is only about an hour away.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Dixie Roots: Another View of Theodore Roosevelt

Last week’s Wordless image I published at History Is Elementary involved one of the several Lincoln funeral processions that took place as Lincoln’s body was taken from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois. Now you may be thinking I use this image when my students study the Civil War or Reconstruction, but I don’t.

I wait and use the image to introduce Theodore Roosevelt because it actually works better content wise for me to do so. Take a look at the picture by clicking on the word “wordless” above. The large three-story building on the left (background) is actually the home of Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, owner of a very profitable plate-glass company, the owner of various properties around New York and in 1865 when this picture was taken he was the patriarch of the Oyster Bay faction of the Roosevelt family in America.

Notice the windows on the side. Look closely at the second floor window.

Can you make out the two small figures at the window?

During the procession so many people wanted to pay their respects and get a view of Lincoln’s coffin that people were willing to pay as much as one hundred dollars to secure a good view. The two observers in Mr. Roosevelt’s window, however, did not have to pay for the priviledge because they were his grandchildren---Theodore, age 7 and Elliot, age 5. Elliot was Theodore’s younger brother and would one day be the father of Eleanor, wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. My young students get excited about this. They like the fact that a young man who will one day be president is witnessing the funeral procession of another, as well as a future father-in-law of another president. Students begin our study of Theodore Roosevelt with interest levels at full tilt.

Theodore Roosevelt is a rather long name for my young students to write as they take notes so we decide early on to abbreviate his name to TR and that’s how I will refer to him throughout this piece. If I had to come up with a shortlist of presidents I would most like to have lunch with TR would be at the top of the list. His story is such a facinating one that it is easy to understand why so many people have tackeled his life through biography, however, be warned…..a biography of TR can weigh as much as a five pound bag of sugar. He was a very varied individual.

A Time Magazine article explains TR best:

They don't hold White House lunches the way they used to at the beginning of the century. On Jan. 1, 1907, for example, the guest list was as follows: a Nobel prizewinner, a physical culturalist, a naval historian, a biographer, an essayist, a paleontologist, a taxidermist, an ornithologist, a field naturalist, a conservationist, a big-game hunter, an editor, a critic, a ranchman, an orator, a country squire, a civil service reformer, a socialite, a patron of the arts, a colonel of the cavalry, a former Governor of New York, the ranking expert on big-game mammals in North America and the President of the U.S.

All these men were named Theodore Roosevelt.

The quote aptly describes TR, but it leaves out one important factor about his life that I find extremely fascinating. TR had very deep Southern roots of the best kind in my opinion…the Georgia kind. Now that little tidbit of information always perks my young students a bit and they become very interested in their “homeboy”.

It’s at this point that I bring up my main question for students to focus on. What do you think would happen if your father felt very strongly about something and your mother felt just as strongly in an opposite manner? Since divorce is a common factor with the majority of my students you can imagine where the conversation turns, but through the process we determine that we all have been in that type of situation. I remind students that in war we have also seen situations where families are divided. During the American Revolution many of the citizens of Savannah, Georgia split along generational lines with regard to remaining loyal or joining up with the Liberty Boys. It was very common during the revolution for many families to split with some families having members fight on both sides. Every year a few students recall our earlier discussion regarding Benjamin Franklin and his son William. They opposed each other in their thoughts concerning liberty.

I consider it a great moment when I teach something in history that at first glance can be very remote to my students, yet by simply bringing up a seemingly insignificant detail I end up creating a firm connection to our own back door. Within Roosevelt’s parentage is that insignificant set of details that connects a heavily entrenched northern family with an even more heavily entrenched southern family.

While TR hailed from a an old Northern American family of Dutch ancestory that believed in the abolitionist cause and were rabid Lincoln Republicans, the young children in TR’s home were heavily influenced by the romanticism of plantation Georgia by the Southern women who lived under his roof in New York.

Theodore Roosevelt’s mother was Martha or Mittie Bulloch and she hailed from Roswell, Georgia where she lived with her father, Major James Stephens Bulloch and his wife, Martha Stewart Elliott Bulloch. I’ve written about the Bulloch family and their importantance in early Georgia over at Georgia On My Mind in part one of this three part series.

In his own autobiography TR describes his mother as someone who never forgave Lincoln, and she was “totally unreconstructed.” By the time the war began Mittie’s father had been dead for sometime. Her mother and sister moved north to live with Mittie due to hard times at Bulloch Hall. They often spent their days putting together packets of supplies for the folks back home and secured the help of the children including TR. The book, TR: The Last Romantic reports packages would be handed off to agents in Central Park who would then get them placed on ships heading to the Bahamas. From there the packets would be placed with a blockade runner. There are also stories of Mittie hanging the Confederate flag in the window of the Roosevelts’ home in New York City each time she received notice of a Rebel victory.

In his autobiography TR states, “Toward the close of the Civil War, although a small boy, I grew up to have a partial, but alert understanding of the fact that the family were not one in their views about that conflict..”

The book, The Three Roosevelts, contend that Theodore Sr. was an abolitionist, loyal member of the Republican Party, and knew the Lincolns personally. That being so he did not fight against his wife’s family during the war even though he was of an age to do so. Instead he paid $300 for a substitute to fight in his place which was a very common thing for men of his class to do. Some researchers and even TR’s own daughter, Alice, surmise that even though TR professed love and devotion for his father he was secretely embarrassed by his father’s failure to fight and this made him even more adament about standing up and being a “man’s man” as he got older.

While growing up in New York City TR and his siblings were regaled with tales from the Southern women in the household. Of his aunt Anna TR wrote, “She knew all of the “Br’er Rabbitt’ stories, and I was brought up on them. One of my uncles, Robert Roosevelt, was much struck with them and he took them down from her dictation publishing them in Harper’s, where they fell flat. This was a good many years before a genius arose who in “Uncle Remus” made the stories immortal.” The genius TR spoke of was from Georgia as well.

TR and his siblings had two Bulloch uncles who fought for the Confederates. Anna Bulloch, as well as Mittie, loved to tell them of their adventures. David McCullough, in his excellent book, Mornings on Horseback, quotes TR saying, “It was from the heroes of my favorite stories, from hearing of the feats performed by my southern forefathers and kinsfolk, and from knowing my father [that] I felt great admiration for men who were fearless…and I had a great desire to be like them.”

One of the uncles was James Dunwoody Bulloch who became the chief foreign agent for the Confederate States of America. His half-brother, Irvine Bulloch was assigned to the Confederate Navy. In Britain James organized the construction of the CSS Alabama and CSS Florida. Irvine would end up serving on the CSS Alabama. James returned to the Confederacy aboard the CSS Atlanta, a steamship he purchased to transport a large amount of naval supplies he had amassed. Many, including TR himself, state that it was Irvine who fired the final shots from the CSS Alabama before it was sunk off the coast of France. His sword is displayed in the Confederate Museum in Liverpool, England.

Because both brothers were secret agents during the Civil War they were not afforded amnesty like many Confederates following the war, and they elected to return to Britian where they lived very profitable lives. At some point, however, before the brothers went to Britain for the final time, they came to visit the Roosevelt household. The brothers had to arrive under assumed names. In his autobiography TR calls his ‘ Uncle Jimmy’ a valiant and simple and upright a soul as ever lived who was forgiving and just in reference to the Union forces and could discuss all phases of the Civil War with entire fairness and generosity….he could even admire Lincoln and Grant.”

As the war drug on the Bulloch Hall women in the Roosevelt mansion had much reason they thought to avoid reconstruction. Sherman’s men destroyed the mills of Roswell and their beloved home had been used as a headquarters for the Union army. Mittie’s mother cried for days when Port Royal fell and wailed she would rather die than live under Yankees. There is an unverified story (by me) of Mittie returning to Bulloch Hall in 1868 where the current resident allowed her to take a glass doorknob.

In part three of this series which will be published here at American Presidents next week I will discuss how Theodore Roosevelt’s mix of northern and southern roots influenced his presidency.

Yes, there is much, much more to share regarding Roosevelt's roots in Dixie!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

District gets U.S. president's name wrong in naming school

Many schools in the United States of America are named after American Presidents. This is good way to teach students about past presidents and remind the community at large that history is important. Presidents deserved to be remembered.

The Ogden School District in Utah tried to honor a former President recently when they opened a new school. An article from the Columbus Dispatch (District gets U.S. president's name wrong in naming school) has the details. The article notes, "The Ogden School District needs a big eraser. After naming a new school James A. Madison Elementary School in May, a history teacher pointed out this month that the fourth president of the United States didn't have a middle initial."

The school district is correcting the mistake. The signs and letterhead have been changed. Now it is just a big embarrassment that the district hopes people forget about soon. At least the district had the right reasons for naming the school after James Madison. The article noted , " The majority of board members chose Madison because the school borders Madison Avenue. Several board members also said they believe James Madison was a great president." (Hat tip to Michael Meckler.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

White House Weddings

To go with the post I put up yesterday, I thought I’d focus on White House weddings today.

One of the most well known White House weddings was Tricia Nixon’s Rose Garden wedding in 1971. While Julie Nixon Eisenhower was a popular and social first daughter, Tricia so completely avoided the press, that she was called the “Howard Hughes of the White House.” The one occasion where she came out of her shell was for her wedding. Time Magazine ran an article on Tricia’s impending marriage and reported on some of the story of their courtship:
They became secretly engaged two years ago; since then the romance has gone on from coast to coast, from the Cox family estate in Westhampton Beach, L.I., to San Clemente, from Camp David to Key Biscayne. She has visited Cox frequently in Cambridge, Mass., where they customarily dine—surrounded by Secret Service agents—at small, inexpensive restaurants or at Lincoln's Inn, a law-school social club. Last Thanksgiving Cox asked Nixon for his daughter's hand. "Eddie was white as a sheet," Bebe Rebozo, who was standing by, recalled; her father, Tricia said, was "speechless for a moment—you know how fathers are." Since just before Christmas, Tricia has been sporting a diamond-and-sapphire ring, an heirloom first given to Cox's maternal grandmother. Eddie is 24, Tricia 25—only seven months apart.

The first White House wedding was the marriage of Maria Monroe to Samuel Gouverneur in 1820. Other daughters who married in the White House were Elizabeth Tyler, Nellie Grant, Alice Roosevelt, Jessie Wilson, Eleanor Wilson, and Lynda Johnson. The only son to get married in the White House was John Adams II (the son of John Quincy Adams), who married Mary Hellen in 1828.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Jenna Bush Engaged

The White House announced the engagement of Jenna Bush last week:
President and Mrs. George W. Bush are happy to announce the engagement of their daughter, Jenna Bush, to Mr. Henry Hager, son of the Honorable and Mrs. John H. Hager of Richmond, Virginia. Miss Bush and Mr. Hager became engaged Wednesday, August 15, 2007.

No wedding date has been set.

For a longer article, you can check out this CNN article, but there is just speculation at this point if there will be a White House wedding before President Bush leaves office.

Friday, August 17, 2007

His Accidency

Since the poll of the week is about VPs who became Presidents, I thought I would focus on the first one: John Tyler. Unlike today where we assume that if the President dies, the VP takes his place that was not so in Tyler’s time:
Harrison's demise after only a month in office presented the nation with a potential constitutional crisis. The Constitution of that time contained no Twenty-fifth Amendment to lay out procedures governing the vice president's actions when the chief executive became disabled or when there was a vacancy before the end of the incumbent's term. The document provided only that the "Powers and Duties of the said Office . . . shall devolve on the Vice President . . . [who] shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected." In another section, the Constitution referred to the vice president "when he shall exercise [emphasis added] the Office of President of the United States."

These provisions had occasioned a theoretical discussion between those who believed a person does not have to become president to exercise presidential powers and others who held that the vice president becomes president for the balance of the term.

Tyler’s assumption of the Presidency set the precedent we still follow today:
As the first vice president to succeed to the presidency upon the death of his predecessor, Tyler was determined to transform theory into practice on behalf of the latter view, becoming president in his own right and not "Vice President, acting as President" as Harrison's cabinet was inclined to label him. Secretary of State Webster raised his concern about the constitutional implications of the succession with William Carroll, clerk of the Supreme Court. Carroll conveyed Webster's misgivings to Chief Justice Roger Taney, reporting that the "Cabinet would be pleased to see and confer with you at this most interesting moment." Taney responded with extreme caution, saying that he wished to avoid raising "the suspicion of desiring to intrude into the affairs which belong to another branch of government."

Tyler argued that his vice-presidential oath covered the possibility of having to take over as chief executive and consequently there was no need for him to take the separate presidential oath. The cabinet, major newspapers, and some Tyler advisers disagreed. To remove any doubt, despite his own strong reservations, Tyler agreed to the oath, which was administered on April 6 at Brown's Indian Queen Hotel by Chief Judge William Cranch of the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia.

In his first moves as President, Tyler set the stage that he would assume full duties as President, not merely be a figurehead until the next election:
In his first official move, Tyler convened Harrison's cabinet and listened patiently as Secretary of State Daniel Webster advised that it had been Harrison's custom to bring all administrative issues "before the Cabinet, and their settlement was decided by the majority, each member of the Cabinet and the President having but one vote." Choosing his words with care, Tyler responded, "I am the President, and I shall be held responsible for my administration. I shall be pleased to avail myself of your counsel and advice. But I can never consent to being dictated to as to what I shall do or not do. When you think otherwise, your resignations will be accepted."

When Congress reconvened, they argued the point themselves:
As the epithet "His Accidency" grew in popularity, Congress convened on May 31, 1841, for its previously called special session and immediately took up the issue of Tyler's claim to be president in his own right. The question was raised as the House prepared a resolution authorizing a committee to follow the custom of informing the president that "Congress is now ready to receive any communication he may be pleased to make." One member moved to amend the resolution by striking out the word "President" and substituting "Vice President now exercising the office of President." Members more sympathetic to Tyler's reading of the Constitution — and the need to get on with the business of the nation — offered a firm rebuttal, which the House then agreed to.

In the Senate, on the following day, a member posed a hypothetical question as to what would happen if the president were only temporarily disabled and the vice president assumed the office. He envisioned a major struggle at the time the disabled president sought to resume his powers, particularly if he and the vice president were of different parties. Senator John C. Calhoun reminded the Senate that this was not the situation that faced them, rendering further discussion pointless. And what about the Senate's president pro tempore? Should he assume the vice-presidency as the vice president had assumed the presidency? Former President pro tempore George Poindexter urged the incumbent president pro tempore, Samuel Southard, to claim the title. Southard ignored the advice, and the Senate then joined the House in adopting a resolution recognizing Tyler's legitimate claim to the presidency.

There is a lot more information on the site I linked about Tyler’s political career, both as President and before to help you make an informed choice on our poll! You can also research the other choices (or more on Tyler if you like) on our poll by clicking on their name in our subject index (scroll down on the right side - it is called "Labels").

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Military History Carnival

Welcome to the Military History Carnival! Thanks to everyone who submitted even though it is summer and I know the outdoors was calling you. I think there are some really interesting posts from this last month on some not-well-known military topics, so make sure to explore those as well as ones on the well-trod topics.

Medieval Wars
A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe talks about Ramon Borrell and his family and their various attacks and defenses (and works on how to turn this into a movie).

I’R GAD gives information on the Welsh Battle of Hirwaun Common.

Africa and War
Walking the Berkshires discusses the “Trail of Bones from Waterberg.”

History is Elementary talks about the forgotten soldiers of World War I – the North Africans.

The US at War
Battlefield Biker discusses Andrew Jackson and the Treaty of Fort Jackson.

The American Presidents’ Blog asks if Lincoln Made a Deal with God during the Civil War.

Blog 4 History reviews Shiloh and the Western Campaigns of 1862.

Rantings of a Civil War Historian goes over the Poor Decisions of Alfred Pleasonton.

World War I
History is Elementary discusses the advent of camouflage in warfare.

Disability Studies, Temple U. quoted a poem written by a foreign correspondent on the horrors of World War I.

Historic Battlefields reviews The Germany Army at Passchadaele.

reports on civilian items found in their trench excavations in Belgium.

Experiences of an English Solider offers up primary source material on the Battle of Messines Ridge.

World War II
Blog Them out of the Stone Age asks “What If France Had Not Fallen in 1940?

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub gives links and hints for panoramic images of World War II sites.

Russian military
Providentia gives us an interesting view of the Crimean War with a meeting between Dr. James Barry and Florence Nightingale over war wounded.

You can read about the training techniques of the GRU at Dagger and Cloak.

Now for some side topics for military history buffs:

Google Maps
Investigations of a Dog and GarySmailes give you some tips and ideas on how to use Google Maps for military history.

The Educational Tour Marm showcases the Kirkland Memorial at Arlington.

Airminded talks about the origins of war games, like Aviation: The Aerial Tactics Game of Attack and Defence, found at London’s Science Museum.

The Blogger will always get through… tells us about the London Cabinet War Rooms.

Dictatorship of the Air takes us on a tour of the Russian Air Force Museum at Monino (this is the last post of a six part series).

Military Humor
The Skwib reports the “Lost Power Point Slides (Armada Edition).”

World History Blog gives tips for American Separatists.

Thanks for taking a beach break to visit us today (or if you are like me, a break from grading)! The next edition of the Military History Carnival will be at the Armchair General on September 16th. You can email submissions to $jim@$$ (minus the $) or use our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found at the blog carnival index page.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Poll: Which of these 19th century Vice-Presidents did the best when he unexpectedly became President?

This is a tough question. Which of these men (Tyler, Fillmore, Johnson, Arthur) was the best when he surprisingly became President? I can make a case for three of the four. I will post the results here in a week when the poll closes.


This poll has closed and we have a tie between Tyler and Arthur. Johnson and Fillmore ran a distant third and fourth. Tyler established that a Vice-President did become the President when a vacancy in that office happened. Arthur proved to be a top notch reformer of the civil service. I can argue for Johnson too. Maybe he was not a great president but he did keep the Radical Republicans from punishing the south too harshly after the Civil War. His presidency gave people some time to cool off.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mirrors of Washington

Politics in Washington have always been brutal. Every President of the United States is the worst President ever according to someone. This was true in the 1920s as well. In 1921, an anonymous book was released titled Mirrors of Washington. It skewered many of the political figures of the day including President Harding. It was later revealed that the book was written by Clinton Wallace Gilbert who was a reporter for the New York Evening Post.

A description of the book reads, "The 1920's equivalent of today's bloggers and pundits, Gilbert is opinionated, aggressive, and incisive in his analysis of the inside machinations he observed as a reporter. With its firsthand perspective, The Mirrors of Washington is not only a unique view on the politics of a fascinating era in modern American history but an unusual document of the development of American journalism in the 20th century."

Here is a description of Harding from the book, "As a legislator he had left no mark on legislation. If he had retired from Congress at the end of his term his name would have existed only in the old Congressional directories, like that of a thousand others. As a public speaker he had said nothing that anybody could remember. He had passed through a Great War and left no mark on it. He had shared in a fierce debate upon the peace that followed the war but though you can recall small persons like McCumber and Kellogg and Moses and McCormick in that discussion you do not recall Harding. To be sure he made a speech in that debate which he himself says was a great speech but no newspaper thought fit to publish it because of its quality, or felt impelled to publish it in spite of its quality because it had been made by Harding. "

Here is some commentary on President Wilson, "This debate goes on and on. Mr. Wilson is either the worst hated or the most regretted personality of the Great War. The place of no one else is worth disputing. Lloyd George is the consummate politician, limited by the meanness of his art. Clemenceau is the personification of nationality, limited by the narrowness of his view. Mr. Wilson alone had his hour of superlative greatness when the whole earth listened to him and followed him; an hour which ended with him only dimly aware of his vision and furiously conscious of pin pricks."

This is a fun book to read. Go beyond the chapter on Harding though. Some of the commentary on the other players in Washington at the time is pretty wicked.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Laura and Jenna to Write a Children's Book

Laura and Jenna Bush have announced that they are going to write a children's book:
Set in a school, the book is inspired by the classroom experiences of its authors who are both teachers, according to HarperCollins, a subsidiary of News Corporation....The as yet untitled book, which features a mischievous boy whose teacher helps him discover that reading can be fun, will be published in English and Spanish in the spring of 2008.

The book will also help support education in the US:
When the children's book is published HarperCollins will donate $1 million worth of children's books to schools and public libraries.

The authors' net proceeds and a portion of the publisher's proceeds will go to two national non-profit teacher training and support organizations, Teach for America and the New Teacher Project.

Laura Bush is not the first Presidential wife to publish. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote four books, Julia Grant was the first to write her autobiography (and several more have done so since), and Jackie Kennedy was in publishing.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Carnival in Coming....

The Military History Carnival will be here on August 16th (that's Thursday!), so please submit any military themed history posts to me! I know it is still summer, but some more submissions would be really great!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Did Lincoln Make a Deal With God?

This picture appears in many textbooks, tradebooks, and it also is presented online at the website Old Pictures, a repository of images from days gone by. This picture was brought to my attention by Ed Darrell from Millard Fillmore's Bathtub sometime after I mentioned in a post I had added Old Pictures to my resource blogroll at History Is Elementary.

Here's a link to the picture as it is presented at the website.Go take a look at it and read the caption provided there.

One of the things educators often worry about is heavily biased websites that we might send students to for research purposes. Students should be shown biased websites and should be given tools to utilize in order to determine the slant or agenda a particular site might have when researching the Internet at school or independently at home. While the caption at Old Pictures is basically accurate it also leaves out important information.

I would utilize, however, Old Pictures and the picture in particular when constructing a content laden lesson, which is a nice way to refer to the much derided but necessary teacher lecture, as well as a part of an independent project such as a webquest.

True, anytime religion is mentioned, teachers, especially in the public school arena, need to evaluate the religion component for its relevance. So, the question in this instance should be is the mention of Lincoln’s deal with God relevant to the students’s understanding of the content?

First, a little background…..

Ask the average American about the causes of the Civil War and more than likely the answer you will receive will be that the war was fought over slavery. The South used slaves, and the North wanted to free them. If the average American is referring to to the months of the war following the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation I’d agree with them. If they are using slavery as a cause from the first shot fired upon Ft. Sumter I’d have to say no. The original focus of the war was not to free the slaves, but to preserve the Union.

During the fourth debate with Stephen Douglas Lincoln said that he was not in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. In his book, Lincoln, David Herbert Donald states [Lincoln’s] objection to slavery was in opposition to the political power the South held through what is often referred to as slave power. However, as the war was well into its second year Lincoln knew he had to do something to change tactics. The Union had had some heavy losses, Lincoln was loosing ground with political factions and the media, and he was unable to find a leading general that suited him. The English and French question hung in the air. Would they go to the aid of the Confederacy?

Lincoln was heavily pressed upon by abolitionists, whose origins were based in religious morality, to free the slaves as soon as he took office; however, Lincoln was unsure of the constitutionality of such an action.

In his book, American Gospel, Jon Meachum provides that in a note contained in Lincoln’s papers he wrote, In great contests each party prevails to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time….By His mere quiet power on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds. Meacham further provides Lincoln’s God is neither benign not sunny but a Lord calling his people to account. In Lincoln’s second inaugural address he states, If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always subscribe to Him? Is Lincoln saying that Americans were being called to account for its sins against the enslaved. Meachum thinks so, and I believe I do as well.

Ultimately Lincoln’s soul searching led him to the events of July 13, 1862 when the President shared his Preliminary Proclamation to Secretary of State William Seward and Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. The Preliminary Proclamation outlined the provisions of the section which would actually take effect in January, 1863. Seward believed such an action could lead to great problems in the South, and there was concern about how Europe would react to such an action.

On July 17, 1862 the Second Confiscation Act was passed by Congress. It freed the slaves of every state that was in rebellion, however it did not provide for any civil rights. In actuality the legislation called for freed slaves to be transported to a tropical location beyond the limits of the United States where they could live in freedom. The actions of Congress evidenced a growing public sentiment that the slaves should be free and this paved the way for Lincoln to act though he actually used his war powers as a basis for issuing the Proclamation.

Lincoln brought the idea of the Emancipation Proclamation up in a Cabinet meeting on July 22, 1862. There was a mixture of cabinet member opinions. Secretary of State, William Seward, thought the document should be released after a victory. Secretary of War, Stanton, saw Lincoln’s proclamation as a military measure. A major resource of slave labor would be denied to the Confederacy, and a provision of the Emancipation Proclamation provided that freed slaves could indeed join the Union Army. Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster General, was concerned about public reaction and the effects the document would have on the fall elections while the Attorney General, Edward Bates, expressed concern regarding the civil and political equality for Blacks which he was against.

Getting back to that deal with God…..

I believe when documentation exists, expecially primary documents, educators are compelled to share the whole story with students as long as the content matches the maturity level of the student.

Many teachers today are concerned about bringing up religion in the classroom, but I’m concerned that if we don’t we are leaving out pertinent details to our nation’s story. These details further explain the whys and hows of history. For example, a former textbook I used in the classroom for the last several years explains that the Quakers were very instrumental in the workings of the Underground Railroad. Are we to expect nine and ten year old children to understand what a Quaker is and how their beliefs shaped the choices they made as a collective group? No, we must tell them. When we discuss Spanish exploration and conquest the words “Pope” and “Catholic” invariably come up. I’d be concerned about a classroom where they didn’t. I’m not going to throw those words out to students and not give an explanation.

Often though, this type of mention or explanation can lead a teacher down a treacherous path. A November, 2002 NEA Today article titled Navigating Religion in the Classroom
recounts the experience of a state history teacher in Utah who advised her student they they would be learning about the Mormon migration. Immediately a student told her if she said the word “Mormon” again his father would sue her. Unfortunately, you can’t teach Utah state history without the M-word. The NEA article further states, Public school education must tread what is at times a nebulous line---teaching neutrally about religion, honoring the student’s personal views on religion, and observing their own beliefs privately. The key, the article states is to teach it where it naturally occurs in the curriculum.

In the case of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln’s belief in God and God’s hand in controlling events was tantamount to Lincoln’s decision to sign the Proclamation especially once he could join his fervent desire to reunite the Union and the issue of freeing the slaves.

Lincoln referred to his belief in God often. In his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861 he asked for intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this land. In the book Lincoln Observed: the Civil War Dispatches of Noah BrooksLincoln is quoted as saying, “ have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day.”

Personally I can’t even begin to image the burden Lincoln carried during the war. In a letter to Horace Greely dated August 22, 1862 Lincoln wrote, I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." ... My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.

Antietam, though it was a tactical victory for the North, had come at a very high price on September 17, 1862. It was the first battle on Northern soil and saw the bloodiest day in American military history with almost 23,000 casualties. Nonetheless it was the victory Lincoln needed as Northerners were celebrating the fact that the Union had repelled a Confederate invasion.

During a cabinet meeting on September 22, 1862 Lincoln advised cabinet members regarding why the time of the emancipation document had come. We have Lincoln’s words preserved in the form of diary entries from two Cabinet members. Meachum’s book recounts an entry from the diary of Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury where he writes Lincoln said when the Rebel army was at Frederick, I determined, as soon as it should be driven out of Maryland, to issue a Proclamation of Emancipation…I said nothing to anyone, but I made a promise to myself, and (hesitating a little) to my maker.

Meachum also quotes Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Wells, who recalled, He had he said made a vow, a covenant, that if God gave us the victory in the approaching battle [Antietam] he would consider it his duty to move forward in the cause of Emancipation Proclamation.

So, is the fact that Lincoln wrestled with his religious convictions over the Emancipation Proclamation and made a deal with God relevant to students? I believe so. While others arrived at military and political reasons Lincoln determined it was simply the right thing to do morally. The only problem I have with the picture caption at Old Pictures it leaves out some of the less religious motives for the proclamation and its effects. It can and should be interpreted as a strategic political move. If slavery became an issue France and Britain would be less willing to assist the Confederacy. Freeing the slaves began a process of chaos in the southern states as slaves began to leave plantations and the Confederacy’s economy was further disrupted. Militarily the Proclamation was a necessity. Freed slaves went from doing manual labor for the Confederate forces to joining the Union army. Finally, it was the one action which eventually could unite the Union “as it was before”.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Diary of Rutherford B. Hayes

You can search (or browse if you like) the diary and letters of Rutherford B. Hayes at the Ohio Historical Center. It is a little confusing at first because it goes between the diary, letters and "background" information that has been added.

You can see entries from his Presidency:
[March] 16. - Lucy left for her native town yesterday morn-ing. Mr. J. O. Moss, of Sandusky, furnished his private car on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. It was no doubt a merryride.

I found the White House lonely without them. Mr. Evartslunched with me. Fanny presided at the teapot. Scott filled upthe table! At dinner I had a pleasant company--Foster andwife from my district, and McKinley and wife, of Canton, Ohio.In the evening, enough to do. My afternoon ride was with Mr.Bryan, one of the District Commissioners appointed by me.

Am told several of the Indiana delegation are offended, ormade it a topic of remark, that Mr. [Albert G.] Porter was ap-pointed [United States Treasurer] without consulting them.They admit the appointment is capital in all respects; but, etc.,etc.

Mr. Vice-President [Wheeler] does not like Mr. Evarts. Hethinks Evarts is not frank to those who speak about appoint-ments. He does not say no, but by an equivocal, noncommittalway of talking allows them to hope. "When there is no hope,tell the man so. He will be disappointed at the time, but it [is]the best way." Mr. Wheeler is right. Prompt and square talkis in the long run safest and is just to the parties concerned. Imust also bear this in mind.

As soon as the Returning Board prosecutions in Louisianaare ended, and ended rightly, as I am confident they will be,I will hold conferences with judicious Members of Congress asto the best way of effecting reforms according to the Cincinnatiplatform. Write to D. B. Eaton to send in his report [on civilservice reform] and try to push forward the good work.

You can see letters from his childhood:
[September 20, 1836].
DEAR UNCLE:- I arrived here Sunday. I write to get somemoney, as Mr. Chaplin says the Directors of the Seminaryhave determined that a single scholar shall not be taught but oneday without the tuition being advanced. I board at the sameplace I did before. I will have to pay $1.75 per week here.Mother and Fanny were well Friday when I left home.
You must excuse my bad writing as I cannot write any better and I have a poor pen. I am in a great hurry as I have to learn a long lesson. Give my love to Austin.
Your affectionate nephew,

You can also read about other major events - like the election of Cleveland (notice who Hayes was pulling for!):
CINCINNATI, November 5, 1884.
MY DARLING: -- It now seems probable that Blaine is defeated.With all the disappointment, one can see some compensations.It turns out, not as we hoped, but as we feared at the time ofthe nomination. The record of our candidate and factionalgriefs in New York lost that State. Look at Oneida County --the county of Conkling, where Gail Hamilton's letter (exposedin the Evening Post a short time ago) did such mischief. In-deed, her letters in the Tribune hurt more than the number ofvotes we lack in New York. I dread the turning back of thehands of the clock in the Southern business and in the reform ofthe civil service. I am glad Ohio has done so well. But, afterall, the march of events will go on. Our destiny does not de-pend on a single election, nor on any number of elections. Youwill see other sources of consolation.

Do not borrow trouble from what I said to you in our ridein the rain. We will be more and more loving, hopeful, andtrusting as life wears away. Ever so much happiness be yours--be ours -- and ours together.

As ever, "s' much,"

Later!--It now looks as if Blaine would pull through.

So go browse through the writings of Hayes from age 12 to 70.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Poll: Which of these recent Presidents was the most effective in the job?

The question is simple. The choices are the last five men to hold the job so there should be no controversies as to the candidates. Which of these recent Presidents was the most effective in the job? The poll will be open a week with the final results tallied and posted here.


This poll has closed. Ronald Reagan won with 43% of the votes. Clinton is second with 32%. The younger Bush polled 10% while his father got 8%. President Carter did get a few votes and finished with 5%.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Johnson, Ford and Robert E. Lee

As part of Reconstruction after the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson gave amnesty and pardon to most Confederates, although certain people were excluded and had to apply for a return to citizenship individually. As one of these “excepted” people, Robert E. Lee submitted just such an application in and wrote to President Johnson to be pardoned and receive his citizenship back. He even signed his Amnesty Oath in 1865 to comply with Johnson’s requirements. Yet President Johnson never pardoned Lee, nor was his citizenship restored in his lifetime and his oath buried and paperwork lost. In 1970, an archivist rediscovered the oath and in 1975 President Ford finally restored Lee’s citizenship!

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Battle of Tippecanoe

Seeing as William Henry Harrison was listed as one of our obscure Presidents, I decided to feature the battle he was known for today (since he had such a short tenure as President that I really had little to choose from there). Harrison ran for President on his fame from this battle – hence the slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.”

The battlefield now has a museum and a monument, as well as an interesting website that offers a nice synopsis of the battle:
The Protagonists
Tecumseh and the Prophet planned to unite many tribes into an organized defense against the growing number of western settlers. Through this union they could defend the lands they had lived on for thousands of years.

In addition to being a seat of diplomacy, Prophet's Town became a training center for the warriors, with a rigorous spiritual and athletic regimen. As many as one thousand warriors were based in the capitol at its peak.

The white settlers of the Indiana territory were disturbed by the increasing activities and power of Tecumseh's followers. In the late summer of 1811, the governor of the territory, Gen. William Henry Harrison, organized a small army of 1,000 men, hoping to destroy the town while Tecumseh was on a southern recruitment drive. The regiment arrived on Nov. 6, 1811, and upon meeting with representatives of the Prophet, it was mutually agreed that there would be no hostilities until a meeting could be held on the following day. Harrison's scouts then guided the troops to a suitable campsite on a wooded hill about a mile west of Prophet's Town.
The Battle
Upon arriving at the site, Harrison warned his men of the possible treachery of the Prophet. The troops were placed in a quadrangular formation; each man was to sleep fully clothed. Fires were lit to combat the cold, rainy night, and a large detail was assigned to sentinel the outposts.
Although Tecumseh had warned his brother not to attack the white men until the confederation was strong and completely unified, the incensed Prophet lashed his men with fiery oratory. Claiming the white man's bullets could not harm them, the Prophet led his men near the army campsite. From a high rock ledge west of the camp, he gave an order to attack just before daybreak on the following day.

The sentinels were ready, and the first gunshot was fired when the yells of the warriors were heard. Many of the men awoke to find the Indians upon them. Although only a handful of the soldiers had had previous battle experience, the army bloodily fought off the reckless, determined Indian attack. Two hours later, thirty-seven soldiers were dead, twenty-five others were to die of injuries, and over 126 were wounded. The Indian casualties were unknown, but their spirit was crushed. Angered by his deceit, the weary warriors stripped the Prophet of his power and threatened to kill him.

Harrison, expecting Tecumseh to return with a large band of Indians, fortified his camp soon after the battle. No man was permitted to sleep the following night.

Taking care of their dead and wounded, the demoralized Indians left Prophet's Town, abandoning most of their food and belongings. When Harrison's men arrived at the village on November 8, they found only an aged squaw, whom they left with a wounded chief found not far from the battlefield. After burning the town, the army began their painful return to Vincennes.

The Aftermath
Tecumseh returned three months later to find his dream in ashes. Believing the reconstruction of the confederation to be too risky and the chance of Indian survival under the United States government to be dim, he gathered his remaining followers and allied himself with the British forces. Tecumseh played a key role in the War of 1812, being active in the fall of Detroit, but he was killed at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813, at the age of forty-five.

Scorned by the Indians and renounced by Tecumseh, the Prophet took refuge along nearby Wildcat Creek. Although remaining in disgrace, the Prophet retained a small band of followers, who roamed with him through the Northwest and Canada during the War of 1812. He died in Wyandotte County, Kansas, in November, 1834.

Gen. Harrison remained governor of Indiana Territory until September, 1812, when he was assigned command of the Northwestern frontier in the War of 1812. He was in command at the capture of Detroit and the Battle of the Thames, where Tecumseh was killed. At the close of the war, Harrison returned to public life at his old home in North Bend, Ohio. He served in the Ohio state senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate.

The Battle of Tippecanoe is considered by many to be one of the opening battles of the War of 1812.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Listening to Calvin Coolidge

You can hear President Calvin Cooldige's actual voice from 1928 in this YouTube video. He does not sound like I had imagined him to sound like.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Blogger Poll: Who do you think is the most obscure American President?

Blogger has a new feature for allowing blogs to have polls. I decided to give it a try. If you look over to the right, you will see a question. It is "Who do you think is the most obscure American President?" I decided on five possible candidates.

Please vote in the poll. It will be up a week. Do you think this is a good feature? Should I keep this up with new weekly questions? If so, do you have suggestions for future questions?


This poll has closed. Thanks to those who voted. The winner of the highly unscientific poll was Fillmore at 51%. Arthur came in second with 20%.