Tag Archives: Civil War

The American Dream

Almost 230 years ago, a group of men gathered as part of a convention in Philadelphia and dreamed. What came out of that convention was the United States Constitution. Flawed men (some more flawed than others) produced a document for a nation which did not exist, which could not exist under their current leadership limitations, and could only someday be realized when the United States of America could and would live under the credo that “All men are created equal”.

The Founding Fathers, most of whom had as many character and moral flaws as patriotic and leadership attributes, possessed a vision of the potential in their young nation. They set the groundwork and, most importantly, made the constitution an open-ended document. The created a constitution which could be amended, or added to, as problems arose. For their part, they addressed the pending issues of their time in their first ten amendments, collectively called The Bill of Rights. They allowed for change. They allowed the people of the near and far future to move the country forward as issues, new and unimaginable in 1787, threatened the potential of what the United States of America could be.

We still aren’t there in 2017 as witnessed by the divisions of race, economy, philosophy, and policy. But this is not a complete failure of the dream. It is the fight between moving forward toward the dream and staying firmly planted and looking back. These are the growing pains of a diverse nation that dreams of greater things. Two steps forward and one step back.

The Civil War was the first hammer of change after 1782. It changed the nation. Not completely, not permanently, but it changed who and what the United States was forever. It recreated the shift of the young nation as being a single nation and not a collection of separate entities. Historian Barbara Fields and Shelby Foote perhaps said it best at the opening of the final episode of Ken Burns’ classic documentary, The Civil War.

Dr. Barbara Fields, professor of history at Columbia University, on the American Civil War:

“It is the event in American history in that, it is the moment that made the United States as a nation. And I mean that in different ways. The United States was obviously a nation when it adopted a constitution. But it adopted a constitution that required the war to be sorted out and therefore, require the war to make a real nation out of what was a theoretical nation as it was designed at the Constitutional Convention.”

Author-historian Shelby Foote:

“Before the war, it was said the United States are, grammatically it was spoken that way and thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war, it was always the United States is, as we say today without being self-conscious at all. And that pretty much sums up what the war accomplished. It made us and is.”

In my humble opinion, our responsibility as Americans—the job devised and written into this dream document called the United States Constitution—is to keep pushing toward the goals set by the Founding Fathers. Two steps forward and make sure we fight and scratch and claw to limit any step back to one, preferably short, step backward. We need to push toward an American vision and dream to which we have pledged our allegiance to virtually every day of our lives.

“…one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Let’s be the people the writers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence hoped we would become. Let’s acknowledge our horrific deeds and flaws of our past in order to make this a better place for everyone today. Let’s leave this country today a little closer to the dream for those of tomorrow.

Live the American Dream.

  • Sacrifice
  • Respect
  • Hard work
  • Compassion
  • Honesty.

These are the attributes that make America great (as always).

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“…haunts me in my dreams.”

I am working on a middle grade historical fiction about a group of boys in the Memphis area and their adventures around the Sultana disaster. The steamship Sultana sank just north of Memphis, TN in April of 1865 on the overloaded boat carrying Union soldiers northward to home after the end of the Civil War. The tragedy resulted in the death of 1547 people–more people than died in the Titanic disaster.

sultana2_Helena

This quote is from a survivor of a Confederate prison camp and the Sultana explosion, J. Walter Elliot,  in his submission to Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, edited by Chester Berry

“I’ve seen death’s carnival in the yellow fever and the cholera-stricken city, on the ensanguined field, in hospital and prison and on the rail; I have, with wife and children clinging in terror to my knees, wrestled with the midnight cyclone; but the most horrible of all the sights and sounds of that hour. The prayers, shrieks and groans of strong men and helpless women and children are still ringing in my ears, and the remembrance makes me shudder. The sight of 2,000 ghostly, pallid faces upturned in the chilling waters of the Mississippi, as I looked down on them from the boat, is a picture that haunts me in my dreams.”

sultana_aflame

#BorderWarProblems

Bushwhackers, Border Wars, and Bloody Kansas

With The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Congress attempted to solve a problem that The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and The Great Compromise of 1851 could not. The problem? They were trying to find a solution to the growing political issue of slavery and what to do about determining the free/slave status of new states admitted to the Union.

On the issue of admittance into the Union as a slave or free state, The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 included this thing called, Popular Sovereignty. It meant the free/slave status of Kansas would be decided by the vote of the settlers. Sounds pretty mild mannered and academic, right? It was a disaster. Pro-slavery folks from Missouri flooded across the border, most only to vote pro-slavery and then head back home. Free Staters from the East, many associated with the Abolitionist’s New England Emigrant Aid Society, came in hordes to the Kansas territory. Water and oil that did not mix well at all.

Map_of_Free_and_Slave_States

Truth be told, very few of these folks on either side were upstanding citizens, think John Brown, William C. Quantrill, “Bloody” Bill Anderson, and Beecher Bibles (yes, Sharp’s rifles shipped in boxes of Bibles). When these factors converged on the wild, western boundary of this young nation, trouble began to brew between Kansas and Missouri, between free state and slave state, and the Border War for “Bloody” Kansas began.

Soon, a fight would start on one side of the border, followed by retaliation on the opposite side. Someone would steal a horse here, and then a horse would be stolen there. Back and forth, and ever-escalating. Groups of local bands of irregular militias, guerrillas, organized with the blessing of the Confederate and Union armies, formed and the real trouble began. These Kansas bands were called Jayhawkers and Missouri groups were called Bushwhackers.

Homes were burned to the ground, money stolen, people kidnapped, and killed, atrocities occurred from every corner of the region. It was ugly. The wounds and hate ran deep. Even years after the Civil War, these evil deeds carried out in the Border War for Bloody Kansas were not forgotten. Hate and revenge still ruled the hearts of some, while others wished only to forget and disappear.

My upper middle grade historical fiction book, THE YOUNGER DAYS, is set on a secluded southwest Missouri farm where a former member of Quantrill’s Bushwhackers and his wife have escaped their past deeds and built a new life…or so they think.