Monthly Archives: December 2012

Crossroads of Life

Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, but it was not to go into effect until 100 days later on January 1, 1863. If slave states in rebellion returned to the Union before then, slaves would not have been freed.

Imagine the tension, the anticipation, the fear, and the hope in the hearts of African-Americans on New Year’s Eve 1862. It was the ultimate crossroads — one road led to a life of freedom; the other to a living death of slavery continued.

Watch Night 1862

As this painting depicts, in evening church services, known as a Watch Night, whole families of slaves waited with baited breath, hungering for the moment a pocket watch would tick to 12:01 AM on January 1, 1863. The crossroads of life were finally reached, which would ultimately end slavery in America forever.

A Fish Named Hamilton

Hamilton Fish was a boyhood chum of my great-great-grandfather, Abraham Van Orden, in NYC. They remained friends throughout life. As fortune would have it, his friendship not only helped Abraham in adulthood, he even rescued my great-grandfather, Archie Van Orden, during his days of direst war horrors in late 1864.

United_States_Representative_Hamilton_Fish_1844_Fenderich

Even in young adulthood, Hamilton demonstrated innate talent for politics. Perhaps this was a genetic predisposition, as he was a descendant of Pieter Stuyvesant, Director-General of the Dutch Colony of Nieuw Netherland in 1647 (which would become New York in 1664 ). From those 17th century roots, the Fish and Van Orden families became neighbors, collaborators, and friends. Hamilton’s parents, Nicholas and Elizabeth, named him in honor of their friend, Alexander Hamilton, who was a Founding Father of the United States of America.

Hamilton Fish would be elected by the people of New York to serve as State Representative, NY Governor, and U.S. Senator. An early and vital supporter of Abraham Lincoln as the Republican Party Candidate for President in 1860, Hamilton would be recognized by Lincoln for his exceptional abilities, with presidential appointments both during and after the Civil War.

Hamilton_Fish_Brady_Edited

Thousands of Union troops were spared horrible extremes of pain and death through the personal intercession of Hamilton Fish in southern prison camps. Thus, it is no surprise that Archie’s younger brother, my great-grand-uncle, was named Hamilton Fish Van Orden in honor of that great man and patriot.

Anaconda Strike

In 1861, Winfield Scott was Commanding General of the US Army. This old hero of the War of 1812 remained strategically sharp, though he became infirm and obese. Yet, as the painting shows, in his prime, Scott was an impressive officer.

Winfield_Scott_-_National_Portrait_Gallery

Building from his experience and advice from others, Scott proposed a Civil War grand strategy that was known colloquially as the Anaconda Plan. This name was inspired by the world’s largest snake, which crushes the life out of any prey.

Scott-anaconda

As we see in this illustration, a blockade of southern ports was key to the plan. In my own analysis, I would say his full strategy could be called “Three Lethal Cuts”: First, Cut Off (coastal embargoes); Second, Cut Down (amphibious assaults down the Mississippi River, severing the Confederacy in half); Third, Cut In (rampaging from west to east through Tennessee and Georgia, destroying many CSA assets).

My great-grandfather, Archie Van Orden may have read of Scott’s Anaconda Plan in northern newspapers of 1861, before enlisting, for this was no national secret. Carrying out the plan would take years and cost almost innumerable lives — but eventually the strategic brilliance of Winfield Scott won the day, and the war.

 

34 Hours of Hell

On Friday, April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries in Charleston, SC opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, which had remained under Federal control. At 4:30 AM the first cannon fired. Bombardment continued for 34 hours. Though none on either side were killed, the shelling remained hellish to Union forces garrisoned in the masonry fort. They were outgunned and undersupplied.

Sumter

After Union supplies of materiel and food were exhausted, Major Robert Anderson had no choice except to surrender to the Confederates by April 14.  Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1861 subsequently called for raising 75,000 troops to defend Washington, D.C. against attack. For all intents and purposes, the Civil War had commenced after the unprovoked attack on Fort Sumter from rebel batteries commanded by General Beauregard.

Fort_Sumter_storm_flag_1861

 

 

 

 

 

 

Major Anderson was allowed to remove the flag from Fort Sumter. No doubt he and his troops held the final lyrics of the patriotic song written by Francis Scott Key in their hearts for the rest of the dreadful war:
“And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

Christmas Eve 1862

The Civil War between southern and northern states was raging on December 24.

Loved ones at home prayed for the safety of their soldiers in the field, as this drawing by Thomas Nast in Harper’s Illustrated so touchingly depicts:

Christmas Eve 1862

On this Christmas Eve 2012, I pray for the safe homecomings of our armed forces in the service of our country, the United States of America, all around the world.

May our brave ones soon be reunited with their loved ones at home.

When Rights Collide

Recently, I concentrated on blogging about Key Persons, Key Events, Key Artifacts and Key Places in the life of my great-grandfather, Archibald Van Orden, during his service in the Union Army at the time of the Civil War. All of these posts reflect my research as I write the novel inspired by his exploits.

Now I turn back to societal context which spawned war itself, to set the stage.

Boiling it down, my studies lead me to conclude there were two irreconcilable positions held in the United States in 1860 (and all the years prior to that time).

The right to liberty collided with the right to property.

07817e95853f573d79e78a0da5e9803f_1M.png

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is nearly impossible for us today to conceive, or accept, that slaves were not only considered inferior, they were the personal property of their slave holders.

Alexander Stevens, who became Vice President of the Confederate States of America, boldly spoke a noxious belief in the right to property at its extreme: “the negro is not equal to the white man; slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” [I must add that I abhor and reject everything within his statement.]

On their right of personal property, the southern states would not budge an inch.

Against this stand stood the newly ascendant Republican Party in northern states, determined to restrict, diminish, and eventually destroy slavery in our nation. They believed in the self-evident and unalienable right to liberty, as written  in the Declaration of Independence, in which “all men are created equal.”

By 1861, the right to liberty became the unstoppable force believed in the North, while the right to property remained the unmovable object believed in the South.

No compromise was possible. The clash was inevitable, cataclysmic, and deadly.

170px-John_Brown_portrait,_1859

John Brown, an abolitionist executed for leading an insurrection to free slaves in 1859, expressed this certainty using these immortal words :

“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood.”

—John Brown’s last words, written on a note
handed to a guard just before his hanging

Can You See The Connection?

What’s the connection between this first picture …

Sheep_Meadow-Central_Park-NYC

… and this second picture below?

RedRoverHospitalShip-001

The answer is found in this third picture below!

Frederick_Law_Olmsted

This man is Frederick Law Olmsted. He is renowned as the landscape architect of Central Park in NYC. My great grandfather, Archibald Van Orden, visited Central Park, including the sheep’s meadow shown above, when he was garrisoned in NY.

Mr. Olmsted’s greatest service to his nation, however, came during the Civil War, when he was appointed head of the US Sanitary Commission. This precursor of The Red Cross outfitted Hospital Ships, such as the one shown above, to care for Union wounded, near Virginia battlefields in the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.

After Archie was seriously wounded by a minie ball shot into his thigh during the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, he was a beneficiary of this brilliance by F.L. Olmsted. Archie was carried with other wounded soldiers on a horse cart until he reached Harrison’s Landing on the Pamunkey River in VA.

Harrison's Landing

Moved onto the anchored ship “Euterpe”, surgeons removed the minie ball from Archie’s leg, staunched the bleeding, and bandaged the wound. Though he would walk with a limp for the rest of his years, his life was saved by the doctors. Next Archie was transferred to the transport ship “Louisiana”, which would continue his recovery care, while carrying him towards Maryland on his way back home.

Angel of The Waterways

On the Steamer “Louisiana” Archie met an “angel of the waterways,” a nurse who would become one of the most important people in his life — and in mine. Their story and their destinies will be told in full when my book is finally published.