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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Civil War: Events of March 1862


March 3rd saw the appointment of Andrew Johnson as the Military Governor of Tennessee by President Lincoln.

On that same day, the action in south Missouri continues as Union General John Pope lays siege to New Madrid.

On the 4th, faulty communications resulted in the relieving of General Grant from command by General Henry Halleck.

The Battle of Pea Ridge, also known as Elkhorn Tavern, was fought from March 6-8 in northwest Arkansas near the Missouri border.  Union forces under Samuel Curtis had driven Confederates from central Missouri into northwest Arkansas.  Confederate General Earl Van Dorn launched a counter-offensive but Curtis held off the attack and drove the southerners from the battlefield on the second day.  It was one of the few battles in the entire war when the Confederates had a numerical superiority on the battlefield.  It was a costly fight for the south.  Three CSA generals were killed or mortally wounded and recent estimates put the overall loss at around 2,000 soldiers.  After the battle, Van Dorn’s forces were forced to live off the land for a week.  During that time, thousands of troops originally under Sterling Price deserted and returned home to Missouri.  A few weeks later, the remnants of Van Dorn’s forces were transferred to Tennessee, leaving Arkansas virtually undefended.

Also on March 6th, President Lincoln proposed that slaves in border states be emancipated gradually with compensation being paid to their owners.  Also on that day, the first Union ironclad ship, the USS Monitor put to sea from New York.  And on the 8th the Confederate Ironclad, CSS Virginia (also known as the Merrimac) engaged and destroyed two Union frigates.

On March 8th, after intelligence reports of increased Union activity provided by JEB Stuart, Joseph E. Johnston withdrew the Confederate Army of the Potomac from Centerville, VA to the Rappahannock River.  On that same day, Lincoln, frustrated at McClellan’s failure or refusal to appoint corps commanders, named Edwin Sumner, Samuel Heintzelman, Erasmus Keyes, and Irvin McDowell to those posts.

March 9th was an important date in Naval history when the two opposing ironclads, Monitor and Merrimac faced off in Hampton Roads, Virginia.  The CSS Merrimac was sent to the area in an attempt to break the Union blockade that was preventing international shipments from reaching Norfolk and Richmond.  The two ships fought for three hours, without a decisive victory.  However since Merrimac retired to repair battle damage and the blockade remained intact, the battle was clearly a strategic victory for the Union.  Neither ship would survive the year.  In May, after General Benjamin Huger abandoned Norfolk without telling anybody in the Navy, the Merrimac was stranded by low tide.  Her Captain had her burned.  The ship’s magazine blew and destroyed the ship.  The Union Monitor survived to the end of the year, when she foundered in high seas off the Virginia Capes.

On March 10th, the Union issued the first paper money.

Those Marvelously Inventive Humans


Copyright 2012 © by Ralph Couey

“There's no such thing as 'the unknown,'
only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood. “
--James T. Kirk


Humans have proven themselves to be marvelously creative creatures.  We have faced challenges throughout our entire existence, going back to the point in time some 60,000 years ago when Homo Sapiens achieved supremacy over the fading Neanderthals.  With every challenge came an invention, an development, or just an idea that solved the problems that were faced.  Most were useful and enduring and helped further our development.

Having some rare free time the other day, I cruised the Internet looking for a list of the top ten inventions of all time.  As you might expect, everyone and their second cousin has an opinion on this matter and my search turned up literally hundreds of lists.  While they all labored under the restriction of picking 10 great ideas out of 60,000 years of history, I found a remarkable number of agreements on the lists I read through.
High on everyone’s lists was plumbing, more specifically, the flush toilet.  That one’s so obvious that I won’t take up any space explaining why.  Another was language, both spoken and written.  Along with that came mathematics.  The obvious subsets there include such things as paper, the printing press and the computer.  There are so many of these kind of things that I concluded that it would be impossible to settle on only 10 items.  But, I thought about it for a while and came up with what I consider to be the most significant things humans have done.

1.        FIRE – There’s no way of knowing who or how fire was “invented.”  Perhaps it was a lightening strike that set a forest afire, or maybe something as simple as a case of spontaneous combustion occurring in a pile of stuff.  Whatever the source, fire became one of the things that assured our survival.  Night could be pushed back by the light of torches and lamps.  Winters now could be survived, perhaps reducing the impact of sickness.  Meat could be cooked and preserved, providing a steady supply of protein even in times when fresh provender was hard to come by.  Fire also made possible the firing of clay into pots, and the smelting of metals, such as bronze and iron into all kinds of useable things.  In this modern era, it is still absolutely essential to industry, and it is that tiny spark inside that makes the engines of our cars and trucks go down the road.  You could say that fire was the flame that has lighted our way.

2.       COMMUNICATION – This covers a wide swath of things, initially the ability to speak to each other, to convey ideas and messages; to teach and therefore carry forward the irreplaceable gift of knowledge and wisdom from one generation to the next.  Written language meant that now knowledge could be captured and preserved for the ages.  History, the accounting of where we’ve been and what we’ve done, could now be written and studied by, as Chamberlain said, “generations that know us not.”  From clay tablets to animal-skin parchment, to modern milled paper, and even digital storage media has enabled us to learn, and also to teach.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Civil War: Events of February 1862

February 1st saw the publication of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”by Julia Howe, which would become the anthem for the Union Army.

On February 2, Captain David Farragut put to sea enroute to taking command of naval operations on the southern Mississippi River.  Two days later, Confederate forces in Fort Heiman withdrew across theTennessee River to Fort Henry as Union General Grant started to land two divisions just north of the Fort.  On the 6th, Union gunboats commanded by Andrew Foote began bombarding Fort Henry. The fort was poorly sited, almost completely inundated by rising flood waters and that, combined with excellent naval gunfire, compelled Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman to surrender his garrison to the Navy before Grant’s troops arrived.  The action opened the Mississippi to the Union up to and past the Alabama border.

On February 7th in another joint operation, Union gunboats supported the landing of a division of troops under A. E. Burnside on Roanoke Island in the North Carolina Sound just south of Virginia.  The troops flanked the Confederate line on both sides and compelled the grey troops to withdraw to the forts, both of which were taken on the 8th. The Southern commander, Colonel Henry Shaw, surrendered in order to avoid pointless bloodshed.  This victory closed the back door of resupply to the port city of Norfolk and helped to close the blockade of the South by the United States Navy.

Also on the 7th, Stonewall Jackson withdrew from Romney, WV and returned to Winchester.

Union General Charles P. Stone was arrested on February 9th.  This arrest was the culmination of several incidents that began with his announced policy of returning escaped slaves to their owners, which enraged several powerful radical Republicans in the Senate.  On top of that, poor decisions by a subordinate commander of Stone led to the Union defeat at Balls Bluff.  Stone was held in two separate military prisons for nearly five months without ever being formally charged with any crime, then released with no apology or explanation.

In a closing action of the Roanoke Island fight, Ambrose Burnside’s naval forces destroyed a small squadron of Confederate gunboats in Pamlico Sound on the 10th.

Also on the 10th, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles formed what would become the National Academy of Science to review inventions and technical developments for the Navy.