Category Archives: Beginnings

What’s important to know about why Archie matters to me.

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.

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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

From Union Square to Freedom’s Fortress

Three months after my great-grandfather, Archie Van Orden, enlisted in Company D of the NY 12th Infantry, orders were issued to move to Washington, D.C. The regiment assembled in Union Square of NYC, receiving a tumultuous sendoff from many residents. Marching along Broadway towards the wharfs, the clamorous cheering crowds grew in enthusiasm with every passing minute.

soldiers-marching

The soldiers then boarded the Steamship Baltic, bound for the Capitol of the USA, as the citizens of NYC continued to shout and wave with loud approval.

Steamship for NY Infantry

On the way to Washington, D.C, the 12th infantry was ordered by General Butler to proceed directly to Fortress Monroe in Virginia, preparing for battle. They transferred to a different steamship, The Goatzacoatcos, joining together with a grand fleet carrying Union troops, journeying towards the Peninsula Campaign.

Steamship Fleet of Union Soliders

Little Drummer Boys

My great-grandfather, Archie, enlisted in the 12th Regiment of the US Infantry at Forth Hamilton, facing New York’s harbor from Brooklyn,  on January 27, 1862. He soon met three young Union soldiers arrayed in their military regalia.

Fort Hamilton Trio

Drummers and buglers were vitally important to train new recruits in drills they would need to use in action one day. Drum tattoos and bugle calls initiated everything from charges to retreats, rallying troops in the din of warfare. Though still young boys, these three were already veterans of battle at Bull Run.