I could hem and haw about all the crazy little errands, and work, and books I’m reading, and everything else. That would just be deceptive though.
Of course, I’m talking about the birth of our son. You remember – I posted about him earlier. Well, he finally arrived on Saturday, the 27th of October.
As a technology nerd, I had envisioned his birth as being very “connected”. I was going to take a ton of pictures, post them instantly on Facebook and elsewhere, maybe even make a few videos.
The day before we were scheduled to go in for our induction, my dad and I were talking on the phone about what was about to happen. He mentioned that when I was born, he didn’t have his camera with him – you see, my birth was something of a surprise, schedule-wise, and he didn’t have time to go home and get his kit after work.
He also told me that he was happy that it happened like that.
If you know my dad, you know how surprising this is. Family photos are painstakingly arranged; taking lighting, different angles, and depth-of-field into account. They are composed, and carefully captured. (They also take about 45 minutes, and by the time they’re done, not everyone is in such a smiley mood). It isn’t really his fault. He went to art school.
My dad was happy in retrospect, because if he had his camera, he would have been (as he put it) “working“. He would have been worrying about getting the right angle, the right light, waiting to set up that once-every-45-minutes shot. He would be focusing on capturing the moment, and he wouldn’t have been in it.
While I didn’t necessarily go in to the Howard County General Labor & Delivery department expecting to heed that advice, it was certainly in the back of my mind.
So, how’d I do?
I did post a photo of my son on Facebook. 4 hours after he was born. In total, I took less than 20 pictures over the 3 days we spent in the hospital. Not a single video. There was no live streaming. No podcast. Obviously, no blog posts.
Instead, I spent my time coordinating family members’ visits on the phone. I ran little errands to get food and drinks for my wife. I closed the curtain when she didn’t want to be seen. We walked around the unit together (anyone who has been involved in a birth knows how integral this is to the process). I spent my time with my wife, and when he arrived, with my son. I saw him come out. Not through a viewfinder, or on an LCD screen – I saw it with my own eyes.
It was miraculous, and I highly recommend it.
His name was a closely-guarded secret (that my wife only told about 300 strangers over the last few months, I later found out): John Andrew Skillman. We wanted something classic, strong and (as my teacher friends recommended) easy-to-spell. We really liked the name John (and it doesn’t hurt that one of our closest friends is named John). His middle name, Andrew, is a nod to my little brother, Phillip Andrew Skillman.
I’ll put together a more in-depth post (or series of posts, more likely) about the whole experience (it didn’t go exactly as we planned – does it ever?) But for now, I know what everyone wants. I know what gets the ratings and page-views on the Internet. The cute pictures! (The few that I took, anyway):
One of the things that REALLY irks me, is the idea that politics was never this bad back in the “good old days”.
They say it about nasty election-season ads. They say it anytime there’s a natural disaster (like the recent Hurricane Sandy). They say it wistfully, in support of a return to “civility” (whatever that means). Most importantly, they say it when they’re in the majority.
The trouble is, this “good old days” that people pine for never existed. This sentiment is raised by those who are utterly ignorant of history (which seems to be a requirement for political punditry nowadays).
1) The Election of 1800.
This video from Reason pretty much says it all (all of these lines were written by the partisans for each candidate):
He was accused of waging a war for his own political gain (and for the financial gain of the monied industrial interests in the north) against the simple, agrarian South that wanted nothing but peace (or so they claimed). Even his refusal to “compromise” on the issue of slavery was trumpeted by his opponents. On top of that, he was apparently a terrible public speaker!
And as if you needed more evidence, he was assassinated because of his politics.
We think of FDR as being a super popular President (since he was elected to 4 terms – more than any other President), but his pinnacle really occurred in that second election (the election of 1936) when Roosevelt got almost 61% of the vote. His final 2 re-election campaigns saw steadily declining numbers.
Of course, the only thing you need to know about FDR is the history of the 22nd amendment.
FDR died April 12, 1945. On March 21, 1947 (less than 2 years later), Congress passed an amendment to the Constitution limiting the President to only 2 terms (it would officially become part of the Constitution in 1951 when Minnesota ratified it). Some may say this is purely coincidence. I’d argue that the country had just lived through the economic disaster that was FDR’s Presidency and collectively said, “Lets not do THAT again.”
The point is, we’ve NEVER been “civil”. We’ve never all agreed. We’ve never had an issue that had no dissenters. We’ve always been pricks to each other when it comes to politics.
That hasn’t changed – and I don’t think it ever will.
“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.