A Natural Curiosity - Geoff Wisner's Blog
Saturday, February 14, 2015

The letters of William T. Sherman

imageThrough my mother’s side of the family (Hatfields and Shermans) I am related to General William Tecumseh Sherman, the Union general best known for the destruction of Atlanta and the March to the Sea that followed. A few years ago I read his memoirs, and more recently I wondered whether his letters had ever been collected.

They have, in a 900-page collection called Sherman’s Civil War, and they are even more unvarnished than his published memoirs.

I was waiting as patiently as a Red headed person could, for the official acts of the convention charged with the destiny of Louisiana… 1.20.1861

Attached to General Scotts staff, as Inspector General — I did not dream of this, but it really does well accord with my inclinations and peculiar nature. 6.20.1861

Then for the first time I saw the Carnage of battle — men lying in every conceivable shape, and mangled in a horrible way — but this did not make a particle of impression on me — but horses running about riderless with blood streaming from their nostrils — lying on the ground hitched to guns, gnawing their sides in death — I sat on my horse on the ground where Ricketts battery had been shattered to fragments, and saw the havoc done. 7.28.1861

Indeed I never saw such a set of grumblers as our volunteers about their food clothing arms &c. and I shall make a Requisition for two wet nurses per soldier, to nurse them in their helpless pitiful condition. 8.3.1861

Among the keenest feelings of my life is that arising from a consciousness that you will be mortified beyond measure at the disgrace which has befallen me — by the announcement in the Cincinnati Commercial that I am insane. 12.12.1861

Dear Brother, I am so sensible now of my disgrace from having exaggerated the force of our enemy in Kentucky that I do think I Should have committed suicide were it not for my children. 1.4.1862

I prefer to follow not to lead, as I confess I have not the confidence of a Leader in this war, and would be happy to slide into obscurity. 1.9.1862

I am sometimes amused at these newspaper Reporters. They keep shy of me as I have said the first one I catch I will hang as a Spy. 4.14.1862

I know one fact well, that when danger is present, or important steps are necessary Sherman is invariably called for, but in unloading steamboats repairing roads &c. &c. I get provoking, short, curt orders to do thus and so. 1.24.1863

I have with me the invariable Hill who still puts me on a damned allowance of segars & whiskey & insists on blacking my boots & brushing my clothes in & out of season. 6.27.1863

If I am killed you will have but a small pension, and if I live I will never see Ohio if I can avoid it. Yrs. ever, W.T. Sherman 10.14.1863

Therefore if the People of the South are unwilling to live in the same land with us, let them go, even to Madagascar and if they cannot pay their passage we might help them, as an act of grace. 1.28.1864

Miss Baileys 2nd letter I answered sending autograph and describing my hair as red, bristly & horrid — I think She is satisfied to leave my locks out of the cluster of flowers to be made up out of the hairs of the Great men of the day. 4.18.1864

Out of the forces now here, and at Atlanta I propose to organize an efficient army of 60, to 65,000 men, with which I propose to destroy Macon, Augusta, and it may be Savannah and Charleston, but I will always Keep open the alternates of the Mouth of Apalachicola and Mobile. 10.2.1864

I can make the march and make Georgia howl. 10.9.1864

Posted by geoff on 02/14 at 05:44 PM
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A Natural Curiosity - Geoff Wisner's Blog
Saturday, January 17, 2015

Chief Joseph Brant does my ancestor a favor

imageIn William Leete Stone’s 1865 biography Life of Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) Including the Border Wars of the American Revolution, and Sketches of the Indian Campaigns of Generals Harmar, St. Clair, and Wayne, and Other Matters Connected with the Indian Relations of the United States and Great Britain, from the Peace of 1783 to the Indian Peace of 1795, the author describes the Mohawk chief‘s actions in the aftermath of an attack on the town of Minisink in 1799.

The account, he says, was given to General Morgan Lewis “in after-years by Brant himself, while on a visit to the city of New-York.” (I have broken up the single long paragraph for readability.)

Among those who were grievously wounded was Lieutenant-Colonel Gabriel Wisner, a gentleman of great respectability, a magistrate, serving among the Goshen volunteers. In surveying the battle-field, the situation of Wisner arrested the attention of the Indian commander, who examined his condition.

The chief saw that he was wounded past hope of recovery, but he was, nevertheless, in the full possession of his faculties, and was even able to converse. Believing his case to be altogether beyond the power of medical and surgical skill, and having no means of carrying him away, Brant reflected a moment upon his own course of duty.

He was disposed to save his life if he could, and yet felt that it was impossible. To leave him thus helpless and alone upon the field, in the possession of his senses to a degree enabling him to appreciate all the horrors of his situation, would be the height of cruelty. Added to which was the moral certainty, that the wolves abounding in the forest, guided by the scent of blood, would be gorging themselves alike upon the wounded and the dead. The thought, therefore, that Wisner might be torn in pieces while yet alive, seemed to him even more than savage cruelty. Under these distressing circumstances and considerations, the chief argued with himself that true humanity required a speedy termination of his sufferings. Having formed this conclusion, the next point was to compass his death without inflicting additional torture upon his feelings.

With this view he engaged Wisner in conversation, and while diverting his attention, struck him dead in an instant, and unperceived, with his hatchet. It was but a savage exhibition of humanity; but there was benevolence in the intention, however strangely reasoned; and the motive of the final blow is to be applauded, notwithstanding the shudder caused by its contemplation.

imageLouis Aubrey Wood’s 1920 biography The War Chief of the Six Nations: A Chronicle of Joseph Brant gives this version:

After the fight, as Brant traversed the blood-stained field, he bent over the wounded form of Gabriel Wisner, who was a magistrate of Orange county. The fallen man, though suffering excruciating pain, was still able to speak, but the chieftain saw that he was dying. There were wolves in the forest, and these would soon visit the scene of carnage. To bear Wisner from the field would avail nothing. For a moment the War Chief debated what he should do. Then, turning the attention of the wounded man in another direction, he poised his hatchet. In a flash it had smitten the skull of the dying magistrate and his misery was at an end. In this act as in others Brant showed that his contact with civilization had not freed him from the basic instincts of his savage nature. Few white men could have performed such a deed even on the field of battle with so much calmness.

Posted by geoff on 01/17 at 10:03 AM
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A Natural Curiosity - Geoff Wisner's Blog
Saturday, January 03, 2015

Starting the year with George Templeton Strong

Currier & Ives, 1876.

Whether watching the Columbia sophomores inhale nitrous oxide (1838), reading William H. Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico (1844), or paying 80 calls in a day on his Manhattan neighbors (1849), George Templeton Strong began the new year in memorable ways

Follow @StrongsCivilWar and @StrongsNewYork on Twitter for more. 

Posted by geoff on 01/03 at 11:37 AM
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A Natural Curiosity - Geoff Wisner's Blog
Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas with George Templeton Strong

Christmas was a less strenuous holiday for George Templeton Strong than New Year’s Day, when respectable New Yorkers were expected to pay calls on as many of their friends and acquaintances as they could fit in.

Perhaps for that reason, he may have enjoyed it more. (For more Strong, follow me on Twitter at @StrongsCivilWar and @StrongsNewYork.)

CHRISTMAS — and the best day in the year, but its cheerfulness rather damped by a constant drizzle of rain with an accompaniment of fog. Went to St. Paul’s in the morning and stayed home in the afternoon. 12.25.1836

Went to Niblo’s after tea with Anthon to hear Horn’s Christmas Bells again. It’s decidedly a good thing — many passages remarkably neat and graceful — and I enjoyed myself highly. 12.29.1842

With Dickens’s clever (but mighty absurd) extravaganza, the Prose Christmas Carol, I’ve been very comfortable and strong of heart ,,, The blue devils are scattered, and I trust that I shall “live to my dying day in despite of mine enemies.” 1.27.1844

Christmas Day. To church as usual, and heard Higbee. Mama couldn’t go; she had an unlucky fall yesterday that produced a certain discoloration about one eye, not altogether ornamental. Adjourned to St. Peter’s and heard the finale of one of Mozart’s masses. Looked in at Appleton’s and got a copy of Martin Chuzzlewit wherewith I’ve been making myself comfortable, for the book’s far better than I expected and Mr. Dickens’s tone of coloring is exactly in harmony with Christmas, though it won’t do for everyday use. 12.25.1844

Yesterday was Christmas. Lucky it’s essentially an indoor and domestic festival, for the weather was of a kind to suffocate rejoicing and to make all festivity a hopeless thing except in the house and with the blinds closed.... Put myself into an omnibus and went ploughing and lunging down to Greenwich Street. The driver was drunk and the progress of the vehicle was like that of a hippopotamus through one of the quagmires of South Africa. 12.26.1848

Christmas eve. Very appropriate bitter frosty night. Evening has been quite lively; Ellie receiving and sending out presents, and enthusiastic over the black lace I got her. Sophie has dressed up a little table with all Johnny’s presents (including hers and Louisa’s) and candles and Christmas greens, and everybody that came into the house has been trotted up to the nursery to see. Sophie’s laugh and ecstacy over each new present that arrived was worth the ascent of two flights of stairs. 12.24.1853

After a sleety Sunday, Christmas introduced the thaw. It was a beautiful, mild, sunshiny day, “very good walking, overhead.” At Trinity the music was uncommonly good and abundant; it was almost a “choral service.” Higbee preached very splendidly. 12.27.1854

Most of the morning spent in the active pursuit of Christmas presents; after dinner, in arranging Johnny’s for his astonishment, on the table in the middle parlor — Napoleon’s Old Guard, the elephant with the moveable head, and so on, the railroad train (“long cars”) being deposited on the floor. 12.24.1855

Christmas — always a day to be prized; one can’t have very many of them, in the nature of things, and this one has been altogether good and genial and bright.... This Christmas began yesterday afternoon when I met Ellie at Trinity Church, where were some special services; the children got together, the church quite filled, a Christmas tree in the porch hung with lanterns and toys, distribution of presents, “Christmas Carol” sung, and an assemblage of clergy in the chancel, and marching with David Lyon at their head (his sextonical staff florid with a winter bouquet and streamers of ribbon) in stately procession down the middle aisle to inspect the Christmas tree… 12.25.1856

Christmas Eve has been duly celebrated. I was stunned and sore with headache through the day, but it has passed off. Presents came in and went out. Mine to Ellie were an ermine cape and an ugly staring three-quarter length “imperial photograph” of my own delectable person. 12.24.1857

Christmas Eve. The day has been one of sunshine, moral and meteorological; everything has looked Christmaslike, or Christmatoid, Christmatic, or Christmal. Shops are full of business, streets are thronged; every other pedestrian carries a parcel or two, or escorts one or more eager, expectant children with big eyes fixed on the gorgeous succession of shop windows. 12.24.1858

Christmas has passed off satisfactorily. It has been the clearest of clear days and not so cold as yesterday. After breakfast, the children were admitted to the beatific vision of their presents and made the middle parlor a bedlam for an hour. Then we went to church. Great crowd. Aisles full of standing people. Vinton’s sermon respectable. Music good. Wonderful to relate, the anthem was the “Gloria” of Mozart’s No. 12. Has a note of Mozart’s ever been sung in Trinity Church before? 12.25.1863

Monday and Christmas Eve…. Presents came in, were unpacked and arranged in the middle room, the boys being sent off to bed. But they were hallooing till near nine o’clock in high excitement. Then, or an hour later, we had our traditional roast oysters. 12.24.1866

Among Christmas presents I note a copy of the “Legende of St. Gwendoline,” a folio, with photographs from Jack Ehninger’s crayon drawings. They seem the best work Jack has ever done. Another folio, Tennyson’s “Guinevere and Vivien,” from The Idylls of the King, is illustrated by G. Doré, and the engravings are favorable specimens of M. Doré’s art. They shew his good points, and his bad points do not appear. But he cannot draw the form or face of a pretty or of a beautiful woman even when stimulated by the text of Tennyson. 12.25.1867

Xmas, and a happy Christmas it has been, Dei grati. Morning clear and bright; afternoon and evening cloudy and blusterous, with a heavy snowstorm seemingly just at hand…. This evening a small symposium…. Johnny found his duty of accompanying mamma on his ’cello before a few people less formidable than he expected. 12.25.1868

Walked uptown this afternoon Christmassing. Broadway thronged with folk on the same errand. Was weak enough to stop at Tiffany’s, resolved to be parsimonious this year and spend not more than $20 on a present for Ellie. But I was inflamed by a pretty cameo brooch, and involved myself to the extent of near $200, which was sensible of me, especially as I had been obliged to subtract a little more capital from the Trust Co. this morning to pay current bills. 12.23.1869

Christmas eve; clear and wintry. Delatour’s thermometer 24º at noon. Tonight seems colder and is windy. Rampaged after Christmas presents on my way downtown. It is at this season that a lean bank account is most afflictive. But we ought not to grumble. This is a very black Christmas to thousands in France, and in Deutschland, too. 12.24.1870

The small ruffians of the streets began to blow the trumpet in Zion at an early hour this morning. It’s a tin trumpet, and its brayings are now rising and falling outside. I remember no Christmas eve when the outward and visible and audible signs of the Christmas feast have been more prominent. 12.24.1873

Christmas. Seldom a brighter or better Christmas. Sky crystalline and temperature just chill enough to be seasonable and befitting the day. To Trinity at nine-thirty, where I was joined by Ellie an hour later.... The Schubert music was beautiful and well rendered. Haydn’s Gloria Tibi (that is, the Kyrie) is most Christmasesque, joyous and lovely. 12.25.1874

Posted by geoff on 12/25 at 10:22 AM
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Categories: BooksGeorge Templeton Strong

A Natural Curiosity - Geoff Wisner's Blog
Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Abraham Lincoln, socialist?

imageA little Googling shows me that I’m late to this party, but reading the first volume of the Library of America series The Civil War: The First Year, I was startled to find this passage in Lincoln’s first annual message to Congress. It seems a little awkward for modern-day Republicans who like to claim Lincoln as one of their own without looking closely at what he actually stood for.

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration....

No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty — none less inclined to take, or touch, aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which, if surrendered, will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they, and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them, till all of liberty shall be lost.

Posted by geoff on 12/23 at 08:48 AM
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