Archive for October 22, 2012

Votes and Rifles

 

“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”

-Teddy Roosevelt

No matter your political stripe, this election matters. But I don’t think it was ever intended to be like this.

Our system has been morphed into one where the Federal government can do virtually anything it wants. Between the expansion of the Commerce Clause, and the farce that is “rational basis” scrutiny, there are almost no substantive limits on government anymore. Society has decided that if there is a problem (no matter how small), the government should solve it.

There is NO Constitutional basis for this. Nothing in the Federalist Papers mentions this philosophical idea behind our founders’ actions.

The downside of this all-powerful government is that now we get to treat EVERY election like it is the apocalypse. As the experience of the current administration teaches us, the Patriot Act, torture, killing U.S. citizens without trial, and the TSA are all TERRIBLE ideas. That is unless “our guy” is in charge. Then they’re fine. But if that “other guy” wins, with ALL THIS POWER we gave “our guy”, well – it would be THE END OF THE WORLD!

We need a return to a proper role of government in our society.

One of the reasons that I love that quote from Teddy at the top of this post is that it has multiple levels to it. I think his main message is that a rifle is neither good nor bad – it’s just a tool. If a good person uses it, it can be life-saving. In the hands of a mad man, it can cause horrendous destruction. Clearly, Teddy thinks that the same is true of votes.

I would take it a step further: a rifle can solve A LOT of problems – I’m sure that you’d have fewer stupid little disagreements with co-workers if you walked around with one all the time, for example – but the rifle isn’t the FIRST tool that you should grab for in that situation, right? Aren’t there more civilized and advanced solutions than jumping to the use of coercive force?

A vote for an all-powerful government is a vote for the use of force. You just aren’t the one carrying the rifle around – you’ve outsourced the function.

When you go into the election booth, don’t think about what YOU as an individual stand to gain “for free” with your vote – think about what is the best way to run our country. Remember that “your guy” won’t always be in charge, and the “other guy” might not be as trustworthy with an unlimited “kill anyone we call a ‘terrorist’ with absolutely no trial or oversight” power. Don’t use your vote as the first tool to solve all your problems. Use it like a rifle should be used – as a purely defensive last resort.

And if you get upset after the election because the “other guy” won, remember this comforting thought from the brilliant Frederick Douglass:

“Nothing is settled that is not right.”

It’s not the end of the world.

Free Speech

For those who don’t know (or can’t tell from the links on the page), I’m a libertarian and I have a deep respect for the Constitution. Our system of government was brilliantly constructed to protect our rights.

The key word there is “protect”. The Constitution does not grant rights. The philosophy of the founders was one of natural rights – you are entitled to rights because you are human, not because a government has been nice enough to cede a privilege or two. You can see this clearly in the Declaration of Independence (emphasis mine):

…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…

This is what America is built on. Our rights belong to us – we aren’t borrowing them from a government that is perfectly justified in taking them away if it thinks that’s best. That’s why stories like this one are so troubling.

When rights are left up to the will of the majority, or the government, or whoever happens to be in charge, they cease to be “rights”. If we are only being benevolently gifted a limited amount of freedom, what makes us think we can complain when that freedom is taken away? As long as the majority voted on it, that’s what has to be.

This is why democracy is a nightmare – and why the founders wisely gave us a republic with a Constitution.

Daniel E. Sickles, Concluded

This article is the conclusion of my series on Union Major General Daniel E. Sickles during the Civil War. Before you read this one, you should go read the first and second installments to get the full story.

After Gettysburg, Dan Sickles’ career as a field commander was over. His missing right leg (and his utter lack of qualifications in the first place) assured that. He spent the rest of his Army career as a high-profile recruiter, and as a commander in a few of the departments that the military set up after the war to oversee Reconstruction. He was also involved in some covert diplomacy to ensure that the government of what is now Panama (in the era before we built the canal) would continue to allow our troops to cross their territory on the way to ships waiting in the Pacific.

By 1867, both his daughter, Laura and his wife, Teresa had died from disease. With nothing holding him in the U.S., Sickles took a post as the U.S. Ambassador to Spain during President Grant’s administration. It turns out that he did not have the temperament for diplomacy (I’m sure you’re surprised by that revelation). He did, however continue his womanizing in Europe (reportedly even having an affair with Queen Isabella II) and eventually married Carmina Creagh, the daughter of a Spanish government official.

Returning to the U.S., he served in a few local government roles in New York, most notably as the Chairman of the New York Monuments Commission – the organization that coordinated the funding and dedication of Civil War monuments for the state of New York. This kept him involved in veterans affairs and in Gettysburg, as a large number of monuments were placed there from New Yorkers. His involvement ended when an investigation found that over $25,000 (well over $600,000 in today’s dollars) had gone missing from the commission’s funds. Sickles was forced out on suspicion of embezzlement.

Sickles visiting Gettysburg

Sickles visiting Gettysburg with a few of his old subordinates.

One of the victims of the missing money was a monument to the Excelsior Brigade that was placed at Gettysburg. The loss of funds had left the monument missing one of the elements from its original design: appropriately, that was a bust of General Sickles.

He was re-elected to Congress in 1893 and his most notable contribution from his last term in office was sponsoring the bill that created the Gettysburg National Military Park. He helped to secure the purchase of land around Gettysburg that would become part of the park, and even found a fence to put around the National Cemetery (it was the fence that had been around Lafayette Park, where Sickles had shot Philip Barton Key years before). When asked by a reporter on a tour of the battlefield why there was no individual monument to him, like there was to all the other Corps commanders, Sickles supposedly replied with something to the effect of, “the whole place is a monument to Dan Sickles!” As we’ve seen, modesty was not his strong suit.

Sickles' Fence

The fence from Lafayette Park, now in Gettysburg, that was a witness to Philip Barton Key’s murder.

Adding to his mystique, Sickles was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg. The citation read:

“Displayed most conspicuous gallantry on the field vigorously contesting the advance of the enemy and continuing to encourage his troops after being himself severely wounded.”

Not to speak ill of the man, but this is just a little exaggerated, right? Especially that part about “encouraging his troops” that was probably inspired by the cigar-smoking legend I referenced earlier. You also have to remember that the Medal of Honor was newly-created for the Civil War and there were no lesser medals (Bronze Star, Silver Star, etc.) at the time, so you were either awarded the Medal of Honor or nothing (although as an officer, you could also be given a purely-honorary promotion called a “brevet“). Just to give you an idea of how loose the qualifications were in those days, there were scores of men who were awarded the Medal of Honor for picking up flags that had been dropped by the enemy.

Sickles died in 1914 at the age of 94 in New York. His funeral was held in New York City, and he was buried according to his wishes in Arlington National Cemetery, a controversial and fascinating character to the end.

Also – If you’re interested in learning more about Dan Sickles, may I suggest James Hessler’s outstanding book, Sickles at Gettysburg? While it focuses specifically on his involvement with Gettysburg (both during and after the war) it gives a good overview of his life in the process.

A Quick Plug….

I’d like to take a moment to give a shout-out to my old friend, Laura.

We used to work together at AQ way back in the day, and thanks to the magic of things like LiveJournal, Facebook, and Twitter, have been able to keep in touch through the years. She’s a cool person.

She too, has a blog and she’s very involved in 2nd Amendment issues (an area that is close to my heart as well). Go give her a read!

Gettysburg Heritage Trail

While we were cleaning out the basement last weekend, I came across a set of BSA Gettysburg patches from YEARS ago. I have no idea where I got these. I know that my old troop never took a trip to Gettysburg, and I never really earned these patches. I had to investigate what this BSA Gettysburg program was all about.

Old BSA Gettysburg Patches

The old BSA Gettysburg patch set that I had.

After poking around on the Internet for a little while, I learned that these patches were the product of the local BSA Council for that area, the recently re-dubbed New Birth of Freedom Council (and what a killer council patch they have, too!). The different patches correspond to trails you are supposed to go on. There’s a guide book, t-shirts, the whole deal. They’ve even updated the patches and tours back in 2009 since the Visitors Center changed locations.

New BSA Gettysburg Patch

The ALL-NEW BSA Gettysburg Patch set. Way cool!

I love the new set of patches. The main one in the center (with Lincoln on it) is earned for doing a tour of the Visitors Center & National Cemetery and answering a few questions related to the experience. The “Historic” patch at the top is earned for taking a guided 3-mile hike through downtown Gettysburg that hits a few of the key landmarks. On the left, the gray Confederate soldier is earned for completing the “Johnny Reb” trail: a 3-mile hike around Cemetery and Culps’ Hills. The blue Union soldier on the right is earned for completion of the big one: the 10-mile “Billy Yank” trail that winds through the main part of the battlefield, from Meade’s headquarters, down to Devil’s Den, across to the Confederate line, and finishing up in a hike across the fields of Pickett’s Charge. Finally, the 5-star patch on the bottom is earned for visiting Dwight D. Eisenhower’s home west of the battlefield.

Since I’ve done all of those things before (without really knowing that I was fulfilling requirements) I don’t feel guilty about having been given that patch set years ago anymore.

The Trail Guide

The Trail Guide – No maps, but a good description of the route.

Since I found out about the existence of this program in my web research, I decided to read up on the route and requirements so that I can put myself out there as a volunteer guide for any BSA Troops that want to make a trip up to Gettysburg. I called up to the Council office in York and ordered a set of trail guides and patches.

I have to say, the tour is a pretty solid one – very similar to one that I used to do on foot with friends (although mine was a shorter 7-miler). BSA collaborated with the NPS in developing the materials. The guidebook lists several stops that they want you to make and includes a paragraph-worth of story / background for each location.

I can’t wait to get back up there and try it out!

Who’s with me?

Daniel E. Sickles, Continued

This article is a continuation of my series on Union Major General Daniel E. Sickles during the Civil War. The first post can be read here.

So how did Dan Sickles end up in command of 10,000 troops at Gettysburg? Politics, that’s how.

For as much as we like to lionize Abraham Lincoln these days, we have to remember that he was a politician – and a damn good one. The Civil War was not popular among the opposition Democrats, who went so far as to describe the war as a purely political one against the south being played out by Lincoln. To them, this was “Mr. Lincoln’s Little War”.

Lincoln was a Republican President who needed the support of Democrats in Congress to continue the war. Sickles was a disgraced Democratic politician who needed to restore honor to his image. The result was inevitable. When Sickles became heavily involved in successful recruiting efforts in New York, Lincoln rewarded him with a commission as a Brigadier General.

As a result of more political maneuvering within the Army, Sickles eventually rose to the rank of Major General, and was given command of the 3rd Corps before the Battle of Chancellorsville, befriending fellow Generals Dan Butterfield and Joe Hooker (who was in command of the Army of the Potomac for the Battle of Chancellorsville) along the way. These three were kind of the frat boys of the Union Army.

General Hooker

Joe Hooker – Dan Sickles’ BFF.

At Chancellorsville, Sickles was ordered off of the best piece of ground for artillery on the field: Hazel Grove. Almost as soon as his troops left, the Confederates set up their own artillery and pounded the nearby Union line, forcing Hooker’s withdrawal.

Two months later, at Gettysburg, the memory of that last battle was fresh in Sickles’ mind. He entered the field at Gettysburg on the evening of July 1, 1863 by way of the Emmitsburg Road, next to a peach orchard that, like Hazel Grove, seemed like a great place for artillery.

By morning, Sickles was unhappy. He had been placed on the left side of the Union line, along the low rise of Cemetery Ridge. In front of him was a rocky, marshy, ugly piece of ground and a line of trees that obscured the view of his front and made artillery placement impossible. He found himself yearning to be in that peach orchard from last night. Eventually, he made his way up to Army headquarters where General Meade was much more concerned about the possibility of an attack from the right than he was about Sickles’ nonsense.

After a few unsuccessful lobbying attempts that morning, Sickles finally convinced Meade to send someone down to look over the 3rd Corps’ position with him. General Henry Hunt, who literally wrote the book on artillery prior to the war, accompanied Sickles to the southern end of the field to help him place his guns. It was clear that the position was horrible for artillery. When Sickles showed General Hunt his preferred location at the Peach Orchard, Hunt agreed that it would be more suitable, but reminded Sickles that he wasn’t authorized to order the move. Even if he were, Hunt said, it would be a good idea to scout out the woods nearby to make sure that there was no enemy force in there.

Sickles took the suggestion and sent a party of sharpshooters and a couple regiments of troops into those woods. Within minutes, they were skirmishing with hidden Confederate troops massing for an attack. Sickles felt that he had no choice – he had to move his line to the Peach Orchard – even without permission.

Sickles didn’t really care about getting Meade’s permission anyway. He didn’t like Meade: the stuffy, Old-Army officer who less than a week before had replaced his pal Hooker in command of the Army. Meade didn’t have a whole lot of respect for Sickles, either. Regular Army officers tended not to like non-professionals who were promoted into command positions with little or no training – especially when they were politicians.

From Army headquarters, Meade could see the 3rd Corps line breaking off and moving out to the exposed position at the Peach Orchard and along the Emmitsburg Road – a line nearly twice as long as they had been assigned to hold. He immediately sent to Sickles for an explanation, but heard nothing back. Meade had to go see for himself, but by the time he arrived, Sickles’ men were being attacked and it was too late to pull back. Meade sent for all available reinforcements to aid General Sickles.

The famous Peach Orchard, while good for artillery, did not prove to be very defensible, and it wasn’t long before it was being attacked from two sides. The position crumbled shortly thereafter.

Sickles' Wounding Monument

This marker on the Trostle Farm marks the spot of Sickles’ wounding.

Sickles could see all of this happening from his headquarters at the nearby Trostle Farm. As he was mounted on his horse, watching the collapse of his line, he felt something wet on his pant leg and, bending down to investigate, realized that a Confederate artillery round had flown right along-side his horse and smashed into his leg, leaving his shin bone shattered and this leg dangling lifelessly.

Some stories have him calmly requesting a stretcher and “cooly” smoking a cigar as he is carried to the rear. That’s a romantic legend that didn’t happen, though. Immediately after the wounding, Sickles was in hysterics – pleading with the officers on his staff not to leave him to be captured. He was successfully evacuated to a field hospital behind the 3rd Corps line, somewhere along the Taneytown Road. Once he was stable, he was transported to the Daniel Schaefer Farm on the Baltimore Pike to recuperate further. It was at one of these field hospitals that his right leg was amputated at the knee.

Most limbs amputated during the Civil War were simply discarded. There were piles of arms and legs outside of every field hospital. Medical techniques and training were also not very advanced. Most doctors during the Civil War had never seen the inside of a human body – operating on cadavers (even for training purposes) was illegal in most states. Since the skills and experience of the medical department was not up to snuff, the Army Medical Corps had put the word out by 1863 for people to come up with training materials and documentation on wounds and treatments.

Sickles knew about the training initiative. He used his political influence to have his newly-amputated leg saved and turned over to the Army Medical service, and it was placed (at his request) in the Army Medical Museum where you can still go visit it today (as Sickles himself did regularly for the rest of his life).

Sickles' Leg

Why not visit?

When he was well enough to be moved a greater distance, he got on the road to Washington, DC where there were larger established hospitals and politicians that Sickles could chat up about what REALLY happened in the late battle. Sickles claimed that if it weren’t for him, Meade would have retreated from Gettysburg to his preferred Pipe Creek Line, leaving the field to the Confederates who would have rightly claimed victory. He made enough noise (combined with the fact that the Confederate Army escaped relatively unharmed across the Potomac 10 days after Gettysburg) that it tarnished Meade’s reputation and led to hearings by the Committee on the Conduct of the War investigating Sickles’ accusations and Meade’s supposed lack of action.

We still argue about whether Sickles really deserves that “hero of the battle” title today. While his actions did spoil the element of surprise in the main Confederate attack on July 2, that attack was not very well executed itself, and probably only did as well as it did because the 3rd Corps was in an exposed position. Sickles hardly planned his own actions that day, too. His beef with Meade was not a disagreement about tactics or strategy, it was personal. Sickles purely wanted his old pal Hooker back in charge and used the best tool he knew in his attempt: politics.

While the battle itself was finished, Sickles’ impact on Gettysburg wasn’t over yet. But we’ll cover that in the final post….

Also – If you’re interested in learning more about Dan Sickles, may I suggest James Hessler’s outstanding book, Sickles at Gettysburg? While it focuses specifically on his involvement with Gettysburg (both during and after the war) it gives a good overview of his life in the process.

“You lie.”; “No, YOU lie.”

Pretty much everything you need to know about the debate the other night from our friends over at Volokh.

This is why I can’t stomach watching these things anymore.

Recent Reads

I wanted to do a quick set of mini reviews of some books that I’ve read lately. Due to my preparations for a reading party I hosted on Constitution Day, there’s an easily-detectable theme here. Enjoy!

Miracle At Philadelphia

Catherine Drinker Bowen

Miracle at Philadelphia

Miracle at Philadelphia

A few months ago, I read Bowen’s biography of Sir Edward Coke (the greatest lawyer of all time), The Lion and the Throne. While it wasn’t an easy read, and seemed to focus much more on the events around Coke than on Coke himself, I thought I’d give her take on the events surrounding the Constitutional Convention a shot. I’m glad that I did.

She does a good job of setting the stage quickly and getting right into the details of all the politics involved in the convention coming together. Some of the more prominent personalities – Hamilton, Franklin, Washington, and even lesser-known James Wilson – are the central characters. Madison gets his thoughts in as well, but since he kept copious notes on the convention proceedings, he ends up playing the role of narrator in Bowen’s telling.

Some of my favorite parts involved the struggles of the different personalities trying to get their way. Patrick Henry, as the leader of the Anti-Federalists, ends up looking like the “bad guy” in retrospect. I think we tend to forget that not everyone in the room agreed that the Constitution was a good idea – or even that creating a Constitution was a good idea. Some of the ideas that were floated, from having a 3-person committee act as the executive (because we were so freaked-out by the idea of monarchy), to the “revolutionary” idea that elected offices wouldn’t come with a religious or property-ownership requirement, seem really strange to us today but were all concepts that were experimental at the time. It’s good to remember how far we’ve come.

There is an odd section in the middle where she talks about the people and history of the different sections of the country at that time, including the western frontier. It was good info, but it really felt like it killed the flow of the book to me.

This is a solid history of the personalities and politics of the Convention. I really highly recommend it.

————————————————————

The Odd Clauses

Jay Wexler

The Odd Clauses

The Odd Clauses

This book came up in an article I read on one of the libertarian blogs I read frequently. You have to love the idea of investigating some of the stranger parts of the Constitution, and if the author is the kind of guy who would put Christy’s classic painting of the Convention (with the addition of a few random woodland creatures Photoshopped in) on his book’s cover, you know you’re in for a fun ride.

Wexler doesn’t disappoint. This is a great combination of serious Constitutional scholarship, fascinating historical trivia, and joking-around. It’s quite brilliant.

He does a good job of remaining neutral throughout the book, too. You can just barely detect his own liberal slant on issues in the writing. He does end up going a little nuts in the final chapter though – I suppose he can’t help but rip into the concept of Substantive Due Process (although he does admit that this mechanism also gave us Roe v. Wade).

One of my favorite passages is in the chapter about judicial powers. Wexler imagines the justices operating like a trial court, arguing about whether to let in a certain piece of evidence. Of course, the court splits 4 – 4, with everyone turning to Clarence Thomas for whether to uphold or overrule the objection. He just sits silently. Maybe that’s only funny to SCOTUS nerds.

Overall, if you can tolerate the occasional liberal outburst, this is a really fun book. And you’ll learn a ton in-between laughs.

————————————————————

A Sanctuary For The Wounded

Christ Lutheran Church – Gettysburg, PA

A Sanctuary For the Wounded

A Sanctuary For the Wounded

This one is not regularly published. The church self-published this collection of essays – I found it in a book shop in Gettysburg.

Christ Lutheran Church is an old historical church in Gettysburg just west of the center of town. It quickly became a field hospital the morning of July 1, 1863 when the fighting started on the ridges west of town. The church does a weekly program (on Saturday nights, I think) where they tell the story of the church as a hospital and they sing period music, and read period poetry. This book is basically the take-home version of that show.

As a collection of essays, its a little disjointed and scattered. While it begins with an overview of the history of Christ Lutheran itself, it doesn’t focus exclusively on the church, but tells the story of the wounded and those who cared for them in the downtown area. There’s also a collection of 19th century poetry at the end for character.

This was a really brief read. I’m no speed demon, but I finished in about 2 hours. While the information is good and somewhat interesting, this is hardly a deep treatment of the subject of the mess left behind after Gettysburg.

Daniel E. Sickles

Saturday marks the (probable) 193rd birthday of one of the most interesting characters in the story of the Battle of Gettysburg: Major General Daniel Edgar Sickles.

General Sickles

The man himself.

At Gettysburg, General Sickles commanded the Union 3rd Corps – a force of nearly 10,000 men – assigned to defend the left flank of the Army of the Potomac (AoP) on July 2, 1863. Sickles played a major & decisive role in the battle that day, but it is his story leading up to that point which provides the most drama.

Although most people don’t know of him today, in 1863, “Sickles” was a household name. Unlike most Generals in the AoP, he did not attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. He had no experience as a soldier. His experience was in politics, as a Democrat from New York. By age 22, he was a member of the New York State Assembly, and became involved in the Tammany Hall political machine. During his time in the state legislature, he was charged or indicted multiple times for misappropriating funds for projects he worked on. He was also accused of theft, brawling, and tampering with elections. There was even a time that he was censured by his colleagues for bringing a known prostitute into the chamber of the legislature as his guest (possibly as part of a vote-buying scheme of some kind).

At the age of 33, he married Teresa Bagioli, the 16-year old daughter of one of his friends (he had met his future wife when she was 2 years old). As you might guess, her family did not approve of the marriage, so the two were married in a small civil ceremony. She gave birth to a daughter named Laura not long after (although Laura’s actual birthdate is less than clear). Married life did not do much to affect Sickles’ womanizing ways however, and he continued to “cavort with low women” for most of his life.

Teresa Bagioli Sickles

Sickles’ wife, Teresa

In 1856, his Tammany connections got him elected to Congress, and Sickles moved his family to a very nice house in Washington, DC on Lafayette Park (just across the square from the White House). There are some questions as to how he was able to afford such a place, as the rent was more than he was making as a Congressman.

While Sickles was busy with his political career (and all those women), Teresa – as the wife of a Congressman – was expected to either attend or host a party nearly every night of the week. That’s just how things were in 19th century Washington. Since Congressman Sickles was so busy, it was considered to be perfectly acceptable – even encouraged – for Teresa to be escorted to these parties by another man. On a few occasions, she was escorted by a man named Philip Barton Key. Not only was Key an extremely handsome widower and a U.S. Attorney for DC, he was also the son of Francis Scott Key – a name familiar to Baltimoreans as the author of the Star Spangled Banner. Almost certainly aware of her husband’s own affairs, Teresa was enamored by Key and the two started a (not so) secret romance.

Key rented a house that he exclusively used as a hookup spot not far from Sickles’ place, and would walk to Lafayette Park waving a handkerchief in the air as the signal for Teresa to come and meet him for a rendezvous. Sickles was either too busy, or too stupid to notice that this was going on.

One day, Sickles received an anonymous letter (we still don’t know who sent it) laying out the details of what his wife was up to:

Dear sir with deep regret I enclose to your address the few lines but an indispensable duty compels me so to do seeing that you are greatly imposed upon. There is a fellow I may say for he is not a gentleman by any means by the [name] of Philip Barton Key & I believe the district attorney who rents a house of a negro man by the name of Jno. A Gray situated on 15th Street btw’n K & L streets for no purpose than to meet your wife Mrs. Sickles. He hangs a string out of the window as a signal to her that he is in and leaves the door unfastened and she walks in and sir I do assure you he has as much the use of your wife as you have. With these few hints I leave the rest for you to imagine.

Most Respfly

Your friend R. P. G.

Sickles didn’t believe it at first. It took a few more of his friends mentioning his wife’s odd behavior before he angrily confronted her. She confessed, and at Sickles’ request, wrote out a letter describing exactly what she had been up to. It was scandalous. Sickles sent Teresa back to New York, and became extremely upset. Key didn’t know that any of this was happening, and he continued with his occasional signaling from the park as before.

On February 27, 1859, Sickles happened to be looking out the window as Key waved his handkerchief. He absolutely lost it. Grabbing two pistols, he stormed out front to take his revenge. As he got closer to Key, Key started to panic and pleaded for his life as Sickles shot him at least twice and then calmly walked to the house of the Attorney General to turn himself in. Key died a few minutes later.

Sickles shoots Key

Murder!

The trial was a media circus. It was the 19th-century equivalent of the O.J. Simpson trial – a celebrity sex scandal, turned murder. Unlike the Simpson trial though, Sickles had public opinion on his side. People in those days felt that if your wife was cheating on you, you should be able to take care of that situation yourself. His defense team was extremely innovative, devising an argument that had never been used before in American history: temporary insanity. The story was that Sickles went insane when he saw Key, killed him, and then clearly stopped being insane when he calmly turned himself in.

The jury bought it. Sickles was acquitted of murder charges.

Where Sickles went wrong was shortly after the trial. He came out and publicly forgave his wife for the affair. Public opinion instantly flipped on him. People thought, “if you could forgive her now, why couldn’t you forgive her before killing Key?” Sickles now had a PR problem.

So how does a shady politician who has quite literally admitted (in Federal court, no less!) that he was insane, end up in command of 10,000 troops at the pivotal battle of the Civil War? The answer (as you might imagine) lies in politics.

But that’s a story for another post….

Happy Birthday, Dan!

Also – If you’re interested in learning more about Dan Sickles, may I suggest James Hessler’s outstanding book, Sickles at Gettysburg? While it focuses specifically on his involvement with Gettysburg (both during and after the war) it gives a good overview of his life in the process.

Speaking of new beginnings….

Baby Skillman

Baby Skillman

This is the best picture we have yet of our son. My wife and I are expecting him any day now. He has a name, but we’re keeping it a secret for now.

Maybe that’s part of the reason that I’m sprucing things up around this little corner of the Internet. Perhaps this is the male computer nerd version of a nesting instinct. Whatever it is causing it, I want to have a nice place to talk about him.

It’s going to be a crazy ride.