Leading the Way on D-Day

Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was the only General officer to come ashore during the early hours of the D-Day landings.

Crippled by arthritis and battling heart disease, Roosevelt overcame his physical obstacles to lead the troops onto Utah beach. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, though did not live to receive it, he succumbed to his failing heart on July 12. His citation reads:

For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in France. After two verbal requests to accompany the leading assault elements in the Normandy invasion had been denied, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt’s written request for this mission was approved and he landed with the first wave of the forces assaulting the enemy-held beaches. He repeatedly led groups from the beach, over the seawall and established them inland. His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. Although the enemy had the beach under constant direct fire, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt moved from one locality to another, rallying men around him, directed and personally led them against the enemy. Under his seasoned, precise, calm, and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strong points and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties. He thus contributed substantially to the successful establishment of the beachhead in France

Blood and Sand: “The Longest Day” (1962)

CHANDLER SWAIN REVIEWS

LongestHelm     Darryl F. Zanuck’s monumental war epic depicting the events of the D-Day invasion of World War 2 has the disadvantage of not only following dozens of characters over dozens of different locations, but also the input of three different credited directors working to patch a cohesive picture of just what did go on during the massive invasion of Normandy on that “longest day” (as referred to in a quote by German Field Marshal Irwin Rommel) on June 6, 1944.  Add to that, the fact that, unique in a big-budget studio epic, disregarding the expectations of the audience, the story is presented entirely in correct linguistic terms: the French and Germans speak in their native tongues with the assistance of subtitles. By all rights, this should be a colossal boondoggle, a confused and incoherent film not unlike Rene Clement’s “Paris brule-t-il?” or the Phil Feldman fiasco cobbled from bits…

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Historical Revision in Perspective

At the heart of historical revisionism is distrust… a lack of faith in previous interpretations of the historical record.  This blog has bitterly observed the crass consumerism and intellectual vanity that often drive outlandish revisions in our history.  But, a closer examination reveals the true divide between revisionist and traditionalist- trust.

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Gordon Wood, Brown University professor of History.

As historians rush to laud Alan Taylor’s new revision… of the American Revolutionary movement, the distrust is laid bare.  If revisionist historians refuse to come out and proclaim all previous work wrong, then there must be a lack of trust.  Was Gordon Wood trying to deceive us when explaining how radical our Revolution was?  Did Dumas Malone wish to hide Jefferson’s feelings on slavery and freedom?  Was Edmund Morgan deliberately distorting history when explaining racial diversity in Colonial Virginia?  All revisionists will say is that works like Taylor’s are now “the standards.”   To hell with what came before…

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There is no mass historical conspiracy to disregard… races or classes of people.  Gordon Wood should be read in first year graduate courses and beyond.  In their zeal to legitimize controversial interpretations, revisionists like Taylor and Annette Gordon-Reed propagate the distrust of these noteworthy predecessors

Martha Washington’s Speckled Apron 

Presidential History Blog

Mrs. Washington had a big house to manage.

Mistress Custis, Mistress Washington

Martha Dandridge (1731-1802) was not born to wealth per se. She was born, very much like George Washington, to a family of gentry. Her father, John Dandridge, owned several hundred acres. This entitled him to a comfortable living, respect from his neighbors, and a seat in the House of Burgesses.

It was not even close to the wealth of Daniel Parke Custis, the man Martha married when she was eighteen. Twice her age, Custis was the heir to nearly 18,000 acres across five separate plantations, fine houses and all the accoutrements of gracious living.

Daniel Parke Custis

Their marriage was a happy one for seven years. They had four children, two died in early childhood. Then Daniel died. At 26, Martha was one of the wealthiest young widows in Virginia, with not only land and a workforce…

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Buchanan Did Nothing, but Meant Well…

In his fourth annual message to Congress, President James Buchanan addressed the crisis of Secession and how he intended to handle it… the results were underwhelming and have forever relegated him to the “worst Presidents” list.

 

“The course of events is so rapidly hastening forward that the emergency may soon arise when you may be called upon to decide the momentous question whether you possess the power by force of arms to compel a State to remain in the Union…”

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Buchanan offered a timid, ineffectual answer that has forever stained his one term in office…

“After much serious reflection I have arrived at the conclusion that no such power has been delegated to Congress or to any other department of the Federal Government. It is manifest upon an inspection of the Constitution that this is not among the specific and enumerated powers granted to Congress, and it is equally apparent that its exercise is not “necessary and proper for carrying into execution” any one of these powers. So far from this power having been delegated to Congress, it was expressly refused by the Convention which framed the Constitution.”

 

Ol’ Buck showed no backbone and capitulated to the slave interests one final time.  Secession is wrong, but I won’t stop you.  That’s leadership?

 

 

 

 

 

April 12, 1864: Fort Pillow

Almost Chosen People

Fort Pillow

 Northern casualties were more than 63 percent, and the number of black soldiers killed was disproportionately high. There is no doubt there was a massacre of some kind. But I think he (Forrest) did everything he could to stop it. Next day, when the Federals came in and shelled the place, he sent a captured Union captain and a Confederate soldier back with a white flag to tell ’em to stop shootin’ their own wounded men because that’s all that was left at the fort.

Civil War historian Shelby Foote on Fort Pillow

Easily the most controversial engagement of the Civil War, the storming of Fort Pillow by forces under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest and what happened in the aftermath have been hotly contested for the past one hundred and fifty years.  Fort Pillow was a Union fort on the Mississippi 40 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee.  It was garrisoned…

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Civil War Grub: Feeding Billy Yank and Johnny Reb 

Presidential History Blog

“An army travels on its belly.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

First…Some Numbers and Perspectives

Sometimes it is difficult to comprehend plain-old numbers. 

Like …more than 1,000,000 Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War – and more than 600,000 Rebels. Jiggling it into a more comprehensible picture: New York City, with the largest population in the country, had about 1 million residents (according to the 1860 census).

Like …a division or a corps vastly outnumbered many of the local populations where fighting took place. With around 80,000 soldiers, the Army of Northern Virginia (CSA) easily dwarfed the 38,000 Richmond residents. And Richmond was the third largest city in the South! (Charleston had around 40,000 – and they both paled in comparison to New Orleans with nearly 170,000.)

Like …Gettysburg, a small crossroad town of 2400. The combined armies had 60 soldiers for every civilian.

Feeding the boys in blue and gray…

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Jefferson’s Birthday

 

Further proof that the trend of combining different commemorations into banker’s holidays… is truly foolish, look no further than Thomas Jefferson.

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Upon entering the executive mansion… citizens began petitioning him for the use of his birthday as a holiday, he gently reminded them, ‘The only birthday I ever commemorate, is that of our Independence, the Fourth of July.’

When a formal request arrived from the Mayor of Boston… Jefferson explained it like this,  “it is clear, disapproving myself of transferring the honors and veneration for the great birthday of our republic to any individual, or of dividing them with individuals, I have declined letting my own birthday be known, and have engaged my family not to communicate it. This has been the uniform answer to every application of the kind.”

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Truman and Civil Rights

Harry Truman announced a bold plan to guarantee civil rights to all Americans regardless of race. He made the declaration to a special session of Congress on February 2, 1948.

His plan divided his party’s convention that summer.

“Today, the American people enjoy more freedom and opportunity than ever before. Never in our history has there been better reason to hope for the complete realization of the ideals of liberty and equality.

We shall not, however, finally achieve the ideals for which this Nation was founded so long as any American suffers discrimination as a result of his race, or religion, or color, or the land of origin of his forefathers.

Unfortunately, there still are examples—flagrant examples—of discrimination which are utterly contrary to our ideals. Not all groups of our population are free from the fear of violence. Not all groups are free to live and work where they please or to improve their conditions of life by their own efforts. Not all groups enjoy the full privileges of citizenship and participation in the government under which they live.

We cannot be satisfied until all our people have equal opportunities for jobs, for homes, for education, for health, and for political expression, and until all our people have equal protection under the law

The legislation I have recommended for enactment by the Congress at the present session is a minimum program if the Federal Government is to fulfill its obligation of insuring the Constitutional guarantees of individual liberties and of equal protection under the law.

Under the authority of existing law, the Executive branch is taking every possible action to improve the enforcement of the civil rights statutes and to eliminate discrimination in Federal employment, in providing Federal services and facilities, and in the armed forces.

I have already referred to the establishment of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. The Federal Bureau of Investigation will work closely with this new Division in the investigation of Federal civil rights cases. Specialized training is being given to the Bureau’s agents so that they may render more effective service in this difficult field of law enforcement.

It is the settled policy of the United States Government that there shall be no discrimination in Federal employment or in providing Federal services and facilities. Steady progress has been made toward this objective in recent years. I shall shortly issue an Executive Order containing a comprehensive restatement of the Federal non-discrimination policy, together with appropriate measures to ensure compliance.

During the recent war and in the years since its close we have made much progress toward equality of opportunity in our armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. I have instructed the Secretary of Defense to take steps to have the remaining instances of discrimination in the armed services eliminated as rapidly as possible.”

March 20, 1917: Lansing Memorandum

Almost Chosen People

On March 17, 1917, President Wilson met with his Cabinet to consider the question of whether the US should enter the Great War.  Fortunately for historians of this period, Secretary of State Robert Lansing drafted a detailed memorandum of the meeting:

The Cabinet Meeting of today I consider the most momentous and therefore, the most historic of any of those which have been held since I became Secretary of State, since it involved, unless a miracle occurs the question of war with Germany and the abandonment of the policy of neutrality which has been pursued for two years and a half….

The corridors of the State Department and Executive Office swarmed with press correspondents seeking to get some inkling of what would be done from passing officials. It was through these eager crowds of news-gatherers that I forced my way at half-past two Tuesday afternoon under a bombardment of questions…

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