Monthly Archives: July 2011

150 Years Bull Run Reenactment

Michael Ruane for The Washington Post, July 21, 2011:

Taps sounded across the quiet crest of Henry Hill on Thursday as dragonflies buzzed in the heat and perspiring visitors stood to salute the long-dead soldiers whose struggle there helped create the modern United States.

With a giant statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson glinting in the sun, bystanders in shorts and dignitaries in suits doffed their hats as bugle notes signaled the start of four days of commemorations of the Civil War’s Battle of Bull Run.

It was the conflict’s first major battle, the start of fighting “in earnest,” as one historian put it, and Thursday was its 150th anniversary.

The commemoration is scheduled to culminate in two huge reenactments outside town, Saturday and Sunday. More than8,500 reenactors, many of whom are already assembled in a large, 1861-style encampment, are expected. A parade of reenactors is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday in Manassas.

All this is playing out amid some of the hottest weather of the summer — hotter even than in 1861, one scholar said.

Despite the weather, and a few traffic backups, Thursday was a solemn day on Henry Hill.

There, scores of Union and Confederate soldiers were killed in the closing hours of the battle, when Northern troops were outflanked and began their humiliating flight back to Washington.

There, in a way, began the real travail of the war — a conflict that would become long and bloody, yet one that would give birth to a new nation free of the outrage of slavery, historians have said.

“Even as Moses was commanded to remove the sandals from his feet, because the place where he stood was holy ground,” the Rev. Dennis Lipke, of the nearby Sudley United Methodist Church, told the audience. “So also do we acknowledge with bowed heads and humble hearts the sacredness of these. . . fields.”

“On this very day 150 years ago, many thousands of patriot soldiers marched bravely into . . . battle,” he said. “Their blood is the seed of our free nation today.”

About 1,000 dead

About 1,000 men on both sides, combined, died in the battle, which in the South often is called the Battle of Manassas.

The Civil War, which began in 1861 and ended in 1865, claimed more than 600,000 lives — 2 percent of the population then. Today, a roughly equivalent loss would mean 6 million dead, historians have said.

The morning ceremony was hosted by the National Park Service. A crowd of about 100 braved the heat outside the Henry Hill Visitor Center to hear Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and other VIPs speak about the meaning of the battle.

Visitors sat on lawn chairs in sweat-soaked T-shirts, fanned themselves with brochures, and gulped bottles of spring water. Some brought beach umbrellas. A few wore folded American and Confederate flags beneath their baseball caps to keep out the sun.

Many sported T-shirts testifying to their fascination with the war. One shirt bore a portrait of Gen. Jackson.

Another declared, “Rebel Son.” Another simply read, “Civil War Buff.”

University of Richmond President Edward L. Ayers, the keynote speaker, said the Union’s defeat in the battle was providential.

‘The irony is. . . .’

“We are all fortunate that the battle fought here did not, as so many hoped and expected, begin and end the Civil War,” he said.

“The irony is that because [the North lost the battle] the war is able to continue long enough to make it necessary for the Union to attack slavery as a foundation for the Confederate cause,” he said in an interview.

“If the North had won at Manassas, and the Confederacy had given up, what might have happened?” he asked. “Well, you might have had some kind of compromise” which could have restored the Union with slavery protected.

“The significance of this battle, in other words, radiates far beyond the boundaries of this park and far beyond the limits of the single day in which it shattered this landscape,” he said in his address.

Among those in the audience were Helen and Peter Evans, Realtors from Falls Church, who had brought lawn chairs and a beach umbrella.

‘You get goose bumps’

“I could come to tears thinking about what actually happened here,” said Helen Evans, 60. “This is hallowed ground. This is something that’s in our heritage. It’s in our blood. You get goose bumps just remembering.”

“What drove people to go through such sacrifices to save our nation?” she wondered. “When now we’re kind of lackadaisical. . . . If I could get half the courage that these people had, it would be incredible.”

Nearby, a group of reenactors clad in wool and cotton period uniforms set up a small demonstration camp.

Among them was Bob Brewer, 51, a construction inspector from Gaithersburg, who was dressed as a Confederate private in heavy pants, suspenders, and a brown, broad-brimmed hat.

Asked how he felt about being at Henry Hill on the battle’s anniversary, he said: “It’s a humbling honor. I don’t have more words than that.”

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WWII Massacre at Jedwabne, Poland, Remembered

Story by Czarek Sokolowski for AP, July 10, 2011:

JEDWABNE, Poland (AP) — Poland’s president on Sunday apologized again for the murder of hundreds of Jews by their Polish neighbors 70 years ago — a World War II massacre that caused painful soul-searching in the country when it was revealed in 2000.

An agonizing debate forced Poles to modify their belief, shaped by decades of communist-era propaganda, that they were always heroic victims — never collaborators — in Nazi-era atrocities.

The date of the massacre in the village of Jedwabne, some 190 kilometers (120 miles) northeast ofWarsaw, has entered Poland’s remembrance calendar and the state and church leaders have apologized. But it still remains to be seen to what extent the entire nation has acknowledged cases of Polish wrongdoing against the Jews.

“The nation must understand that it also had an active role,” President Bronislaw Komorowski said in a letter that was read out during the ceremony.

“Today, Poland can still hear the never-fading cry of its citizens,” Komorowski said.

“Once again, I beg forgiveness.”

A state investigation that closed in 2002 said that some 40 Polish men killed between 300 and 400 Jewish men, women and children in Jedwabne, in Poland’s northeast, beating some to death and burning others alive in a barn. It was impossible to state the exact number of victims, the investigators said.

In 2001, then-President Aleksander Kwasniewski apologized for the crime during the first state memorial ceremony in Jedwabne. Kwasniewski attended Sunday’s observances as a private individual.

For the first time, a high-ranking member of Poland’s influential Roman Catholic Church also attended the ceremonies.

“Let us not be divided by the graves in Jedwabne, but let us be united in prayers for brotherhood and close ties between Poles and Jews,” said Bishop Mieczyslaw Cislo, who chairs the Church’s council for relations with the Jews.

Poland’s bishops made an apology for the Jedwabne massacre and other crimes against Jews under the German occupation during World War II in a special ceremony of prayers in Warsaw in 2001.

At Sunday’s ceremony, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, said prayers for the dead at a monument to the massacre victims.

A relative of the victims, Icchak Levi, came from Israel. He cried over the stone monument that says in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish: “In memory of the Jews of Jedwabne and surrounding areas, men, women, and children, fellow-dwellers of this land, murdered and burned alive at this site on 10 July 1941.”

At the end of the ceremony, the participants placed stones on the monument, in a sign of mourning.

The probe that revealed the details of the massacre was ordered after Polish emigre historian Jan Tomasz Gross described it in his book “Neighbors” published here in 2000. According to Gross, some 1,600 Jews were killed in Jedwabne.

In 1949, a communist-era court convicted 12 Poles in the Jedwabne massacre, saying they assisted German forces in the killings, which took place after German troops occupied Poland at the start of the war.

Some 3 million of Poland’s prewar Jewish population of 3.5 million were killed in the Holocaust.

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The Civil War and Corinth, Mississippi

Article by Mary Ann Anderson in The Miami Herald, July 5, 2011:

CORINTH, Miss. – Standing on the crossties at the intersection where the Memphis & Charleston Railroad and the Mobile & Ohio Railroad meet in Corinth, I shiver in the morning sun. But not from the chilly, breezy spring air, but more so from a sense of history, for where the rail lines make a perfect “X” is perhaps the most important 16 square feet of land during the Civil War.

That crossing was vital to both the North and South, as Memphis & Charleston was the Confederacy’s only east-west rail link. Now in the shadows of the Crossroads Museum, which once served as Corinth’s railroad depot, it is one of the most visited spots in this town of about 15,000.

“Corinth is a railroad town,” says Kristy White, executive director of the Corinth Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Its railroad crossings brought the conflict home during the Civil War, and those same railroads were a source of prosperity only a few years after the end of the war and are still today.”

Corinth, in the northeast corner of Mississippi where it intersects with Alabama and Tennessee, is one of those small but historically significant towns that, in the 150th anniversary year since the beginning of the Civil War, you may not have heard of but is worth a visit.

Places like Corinth, founded in 1854, have become more significant and prominent as interest in Civil War tourism rises much like the South did after Reconstruction.

To get a sense of Corinth, first stop in at the Crossroads Museum, stand on those tracks – make sure a train isn’t coming first – and then see the relics and artifacts that help tell the story of Corinth’s role in the Civil War all the way through the Civil Rights era to now. As museums go, this one is fun and colorful and it’s clear that lots of thought was given to its design.

A few blocks over, the Civil War Interpretive Center, a unit of nearby Shiloh National Military Park, is a real masterpiece in retelling the stories of the Battle of Shiloh and the Siege and Battle of Corinth in 1862. A great time to visit may be spring of 2012, when re-enactors in full uniform plan to march the 20-plus miles from Corinth to Shiloh just over the state line in Tennessee.

Almost 24,000 lives were lost in two days of fearsome battles near Shiloh Church in April 1862. That’s so hard to imagine today because the park, whose name means “place of peace,” is one of the most beautiful and serene Civil War sites I’ve ever visited.

The rich, fertile farmlands around Corinth also have more remaining earthworks than any other place of the Civil War. As I wandered the Beauregard Line, one of the finest examples of earthworks anywhere, I was thrilled to see a quicksilver-fast bobcat, perhaps the most elusive and skittish of all Southern wildlife.

Despite the battles and protective earthworks, Union forces eventually took over Corinth. When escaped slaves heard the news, they made a beeline for the town. A contraband camp was set up, where as many as six thousand former slaves lived from 1862 until 1863. A small portion of the site is open to the public and contains life-size bronze sculptures depicting life in the camp.

From there, a 40-home historic architectural walking tour of Corinth takes you past both Mississippi Historic Landmarks and National Historic Landmarks like the Verandah-Curlee House Museum. Built in 1857, it became the headquarters for a number of Confederate and Union generals, depending on who was winning the war at any given time.

Now to more good stuff:

You can’t talk South without talking food. If you don’t eat another thing while you’re in Corinth, try a Slugburger at Borroum’s Drugstore, a combination drug store, soda fountain and sandwich shop built in 1865.

A Slugburger is not made of slugs – eewww! – but is a deep-fried pork-ish patty slung on a bun with mustard pickle, and onion. During the Depression, Borroum’s developed the cheap version of a hamburger and sold it for a nickel, which is sometimes called a slug, so the faux burgers then became known as Slugburgers

A good rule of thumb in the South is that when the parking lot is full, you just know the food will be belt-busting. That was the case at every place we ate in Corinth, but keep the statins handy, because it’s all about biscuits, bacon and grits at Abe’s Grill (the guy sitting next to you is probably Corinth’s mayor, who drops in regularly), a place that was once voted as the best place in Mississippi to ruin your diet.

Borroum’s sandwiches and salads pair well with the Slugburger, while the Shrimp Boat, with its fresh seafood, got our vote for dinner for fried shrimp. So did the cozy Pizza Grocery. Yep. It’s a restaurant, not a grocery store, and the Italian dishes are a nice respite from fried foods.

After you’ve eaten, take in Pickin’ on the Square, a weekly free bluegrass event that occurs every Thursday year ’round. Corinth even has a symphony orchestra and little theater. And depending on when you visit, take in one of more than a dozen festivals like the Crossroads Festival and Chili Cook-Off, the Slugburger Festival, or Hog Wild Barbecue Cooking Festival.

Scads of boutiques, galleries and antique places draw shoppers from across the Southeast. It’s said Corinth is where Memphis shops, with fun places like the Corinth Artist Guild Gallery that features local artwork and Franklin Cruise with its eclectic collection of furniture and gifts.

Only a one- to three-hour drive from its big-city cousins of Nashville, Memphis and Birmingham, Corinth is the true small-town South.

IF YOU GO:

Contact the Corinth Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at http://www.Corinth.net or (800) 748-9048.

Corinth has name-brand hotels, including the full-service Holiday Inn, as well as RV parks and guestrooms at the Generals Quarters Bed & Breakfast and Franklin Cruise Luxury Suites.

The closest international airport is in Memphis.

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Strands of Lincoln’s Hair Go to Gettysburg

Article by Michael Ruane for The Washington Post, July 2, 2011:

On April 15, 1865, as surgeons in the White House conducted the autopsy on Abraham Lincoln’s body, the dead president’s widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, sent in a messenger requesting a lock of her husband’s hair.

The president’s physician, Robert K. Stone, reached over and clipped a lock from a spot near the head wound that had killed the chief executive and gave it to the messenger. Others in the room made the same request, and other locks were clipped, according to historical accounts.

On Wednesday, one of those specimens — which had been kept in a bank vault for almost a quarter-century — was donated by its owner to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

The small sheaf of hair is framed along with a faded, stained, handwritten note stating that it was given by Stone to the Baltimore businessman and philanthropist Enoch Pratt.

“This is one of those special objects that gives you the chills when you see it,” said park superintendent Bob Kirby, according to a park statement.

He said it will become part of the collection in the new, state-of-the-art Gettysburg museum later this year.

The artifact is estimated to be worth $35,000 to $50,000, said Sam Small, one of the owners of the Horse Soldier, a military memorabilia shop in Gettysburg, who did an appraisal of the lock Friday.

But it may not always have been so valued.

At some point after Pratt received the hair, he sent it on to someone else. A note, which appears to be dated March 16, 1875, and which is part of the donation, looks like it’s addressed to a W.W. Johnson. His identity was not immediately known.

“I send to you a lock of hair from the head of President Abraham Lincoln, which you may perhaps find a place for,” Pratt wrote. Faded writing near the bottom of the note reads: “No use to me.”

It’s not clear who added that.

Numerous locks of Lincoln’s hair appear to have been cut after his the president’s death.

Washington, D.C., author and Lincoln scholar James L. Swanson has one that was cut by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton shortly after Lincoln died in the Petersen House, across the street from Ford’s Theatre, where he was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14.

The hair was intended as a keepsake for Mary Jane Welles, the wife of Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and a friend of the president’s wife.

So many locks were said to have been cut from the president’s head that “he must have not had much hair left,” said Small.

The story of this lock becomes murky after Pratt gave it away.

The artifact disappeared from the records for decades until it surfaced in a small museum run by a John D. Lippy Jr. in Gettysburg, around 1945, according to Carol Metzler, secretary treasurer of Heritage Inns, whose owner, Thomas E. Metz, made the donation.

“We do not know where Lippy got the artifact,” she said.

Lippy ran the museum in the David Wills House, the dwelling where Lincoln stayed when he came to town to deliver the Gettysburg Address in November 1863, four months after the Civil War battle the previous July.

At some point the artifact passed into the hands of the original owner of Heritage Inns and then to the current owner. In 1987, it was placed in the vault for safekeeping, Metzler said.

Metz, 83, remembers seeing the artifact as a boy in the old museum and “felt very strongly that it should go back on public display,” Metzler said.

Small said: It’s the kind of thing, when you look at it, it takes people back in time. . . . You realize that this little piece of hair was taken from [Lincoln’s] head when he was assassinated.”

And the link back to 1865, the provenance, “is as iron-clad as you will ever see,” he said.

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Holocaust Forum Raises Awareness of Mass Graves

From the Associated Press, July 1, 2011:

Dozens of scholars and historians from across Europe and the U.S. attended a symposium Friday on Holocaust mass graves in Eastern Europe to raise awareness in countries where little information on the subject was available under communism.

Paul Shapiro from the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said well over 1 million Jews were murdered in Eastern Europe before the Nazi concentration camps were operational.

He said the mass graves “lay forgotten, unmarked and unstudied for decades” because of Communist rule and Holocaust denial.

The event in Romania’s capital — the first of its kind in a former communist country — coincided with the commemoration of 70 years since about 12,000 Jews were killed in northeastern Romania under the pro-fascist regime of dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu.

Participants at the symposium came from France, Germany, Ukraine, the U.S. and Romania.

Last year, researchers in Romania discovered a mass grave in a forest near the town of Popricani, close to the northeastern city of Iasi where the 1941 pogrom took place. The grave contained the bodies of 36 people, including women and 12 children.

Shapiro said “at Iasi, thousands of Jews were murdered on the streets of the city by Romanian authorities and civilian collaborators, with some German participation, within sight of the non-Jewish population of the city.” He added that “the killings elicited no negative reaction by the population.”

Shapiro believes that the Iasi pogrom could be seen as “the signal that mass murder of Jews on the streets, in plain sight, in public, was possible, and that all Jews, not just men who might bear arms to resist, should be killed and simply thrown into mass graves, to be forgotten forever.”

“Is it by chance that just three to four weeks later official Nazi policy changed to call for the murder of all Jews – men, women, children and the old?” he said.

The discovery near Iasi last year offered evidence of pogroms against Jews in the region, where official history taught that Germans were the sole perpetrators of the Holocaust.

About 280,000 Jews and 11,000 Roma, or Gypsies, were killed during the pro-fascist regime of dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu, who was Romania’s prime minister from 1940 to 1944 and was executed by the communists in 1946. About 6,000 Jews live in Romania today.

During communist times, the country largely ignored the involvement of Romania’s leaders in wartime crimes.

The country’s role in the Holocaust and the deportation of Jews were minimized by subsequent governments after communism collapsed in 1989.

In 2004, after a dispute with Israel over comments about the Holocaust, then-President Ion Iliescu assembled an international panel led by Nobel-prize winner Elie Wiesel to investigate the Holocaust in Romania.

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