Friday, October 28, 2005

Exciting Stuff

It's exciting. Although it is my sixth book I still got a buzz of excitement when I approved the cover. That is the last thing that happens before a book appears on the market.

It was a "duty book." I wrote it out of a sense of duty to one of my heroes-- a country boy from central Kentucky named Labe Jackson who graduated from college only to find there were no jobs. So he followed up on his ROTC training and suddenly found himself reporting to General Patton at Ft. Benning, Georgia. One thing led to another and he was Patton's HQ Commandant, going ashore on the invasion near Casablanca in North Africa.

After a bloody invasion Patton got a wire from Eisenhower directing Patton to send Labe to Oujda with a cadre of men to set up the Fifth Army. General Clark arrived a few days later to take over. Labe found himself in Life Magazine, which had taken a photo of him and others at a small, intimate feast for the Sultan of Morocco.

Going in on the invasions of Salerno and Anzio, Labe got to know General Clark fairly well. Also, he got to know Winston Churchill, King George VI, Lily Pons, Prince Borghese and many other political figures as well as the better-known generals of the ETO.

Labe followed the War to its conclusion as the Germans surrendered in North Italy. Then he went back to Kentucky to lead a fairly normal life as a farmer, businessman, and politician. He did this in spite of living outdoors for almost four years amid death, destruction and carnage that defies description.

His was an unusual story, but Labe was only one man among hundreds of thousands of heroes who survived the terrible war. Since I knew only him, I wrote about him. It was the least I could do.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Slavery and the Supreme Court

Someone on the radio recently said that the U.S. Supreme Court was responsible for eliminating slavery.

I did not hear where that person went to school. But I knew nothing could be farther from the truth. Slavery was abolished by constitutional amendment. The Supreme Court held that slavery was constitutional.

It used to be that Congress made laws and the Supreme Court interpreted them in the light of the United States Constitution; but recently citizens seem to have gotten the idea that the Supreme Court makes laws, and not only that, it makes better laws than the Congress. Since slavery was a bad practice, they reason, only the Supreme Court could have ended the practice.

They never heard of the Dred Scott decision.

It appears that ignorance is responsible for the error in thought about the purpose of the Supreme Court. Certainly, nine unelected lawyers should have no legal ability to make laws in this country. Only elected representatives can make law.

Perhaps this part of government was not taught in our schools. The only alternative is that many people could have been sick on the day it was taught. I suspect it was not taught.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Screwball on the Bench

That he was a screwball can hardly be denied. Or that he was the "biggest mouth in the South," either.

Roger Atkinson Pryor (1828-1919) was a true Virginian Southerner when he practiced law and when he was an editor of the Richmond Enquirer in 1854. He wrote two famous editorials, the best known of which was "A House Divided," which President Lincoln borrowed for his own use (and for which Lincoln gave Pryor credit).

As a Congressional Representative, Roger wanted War, and he wanted the South to have its own country, where it would not be voted down at every turn. Yet when war finally came and he was offered the first shot on Ft. Sumpter, he declined the honor.

Roger was made a Brigadier General in the Confederacy and given a small command. But he was not one of the better generals, except in his own mind. He demanded a larger force, but was denied. The next day Roger resigned his commission and re-entered the Confederate Army as a private soldier. No one knew what to do with him, so they asked Roger to become a spy.

By trickery, the Union Army caught Roger. News reached President Lincoln, who talked the capture over with his Cabinet. The Cabinet, almost to a man, recommended that Roger be hanged, and the sooner, the better. But President Lincoln did not want to do that.

Lincoln had Roger brought to Washington so he could talk to him. They talked off and on for a week. Lincoln got Roger to agree to go to war no more and then released him back to Richmond. True to his word, Roger did not go to war. But he and his family were destitute. He worked his way to New York City where he studied State law (he was already a member of the bar in Virginia). Through connections he got several cases and became famous. He sent for his family who were living in poverty after the Civil War and set them up in better conditions in the North.

Roger Pryor became very well known as a successful attorney in New York State. He practiced law, was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and judge of the court of common pleas. In 1894 he was appointed to the New York State Supreme Court. (His wife was also active. With several other women, she founded the DAR.)

Roger served on the Bench until 1899 when he was retired because of his age. He continued to serve in other legal capacities until his mouth was silenced by death in 1919.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Illegals Paying Their Own Way

For a long time the media has told me that all those illegal aliens we have in the USA are paying their way. I couldn't see how that would be possible. And then I realized I had been making a mistake. Those crowds of Hispanic men at Home Depot I see in the morning, are not there to find work; they are actually waiting for the tax collector so they can pay their fair share of taxes!

How stupid of me.

You would think I know better. With a background in economics in graduate and undergraduate schools, I used to think there was no way anyone could possibly know that illegal aliens paid more in taxes than they were paid out in the form of benefits. But I guess I was wrong. All I had to do was ask any newspaper reporter and he or she would have set me straight.

Any journalism major always knows best. Maybe there is no underground economy after all.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Murder in the Streets

It was in 1950 that I went to central Kentucky as part of a funeral party to bury my grandmother. I recall seeing nearby the monument of a tree trunk cut off. It was many years before the significance of that image finally hit me.

The grave site was that of Henry Bruce Vallandingham (yes, he was first cousin to the Copperhead). Henry was my third great-grandfather, and he was murdered in 1856 by pro-slavery people in Lexington, Missouri. He was 49 years old. In effect he was cut down, like the image of the tree that covered his grave.

On July 18, on a Friday at noontime, a man named Fred Meyers stepped out from behind a tree on a busy street. In his hands was a shotgun. With one shot he blew away Henry's stomach and left him to die in the street.

The penalty for helping slaves escape was death. Not too many questions were asked when a man was killed for that reason. Of course Fred Meyers walked. It was a pro-slavery town. It had all been prearranged. And, because the murder was committed in plain sight during the day, one could easily conclude that it was a warning to other anti-slavery people in the area. No one attended the next anti-slavery meeting.

Not far away in miles or time John Brown had hacked to death some six or seven slave owners. He gained lots of sympathy for them. It was yet another reason no one was going to raise his eyebrow if an Abolitionist were cut down.

Henry Bruce Vallandingham had left central Kentucky a few months previously and moved to Lexington, MO to open a new kind of business called a 'restaurant .' You see, nearby Kansas Territory was about to become a state, and the town of Lexington saw many folks who were moving into Kansas. Some were on their own, but many others were fronted or outfitted either by Abolitionists from New England or by Pro-slavery folks from the South. Many went through Lexington on their way into the Territory. The restaurant business was brisk

It was very important to both sides which way Kansas voted--slave or free. The South saw Kansas as the beginning of a domino effect--all states could lose their slaves if Kansas were free, and the North saw Kansas as pivotal in another way. Both sides were sending in people with guns. War was inevitable.

Slowly but carefully, terrible stories were circulated about Henry Bruce Vallandingham in order to justify his eventual murder. He was a threat to the pro-slavery people, the local newspaper indicated. One of the stories involved the young wife of Fred Myers, but since Henry's wife was in Lexington with her husband, the stories were false, designed to make Henry look bad. In reality, Henry's wife had his body moved back to Kentucky in 1881 where she could be buried beside him.

That is the way these things were done--blacken a man's name and then kill him. If a jury is ever involved the defense can try the victim. One kills the reputation of a man before one actually pulls the trigger.

Kansas entered the Union as a free state, but not until representatives of Southern states had stalked out of Congress in 1861, determined to set up their own country. Perhaps the Civil War really began when John Brown hacked to death his first victims, or when Henry Bruce Vallandingham was brutally murdered in public in Lexington, Missouri.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Texas and France in the Civil War

I couldn't believe my good luck when I came across an old diary kept by a man in 1863 and 1864. He wrote it for his daughters, he said, in case anything happened to him. He was kind of hoping someone would take the dairy from his belongings and would deliver it to the girls in Austin, Texas.

Well, this man was a staunch Unionist in a the land of the CSA, so he might have felt a bit lonesome. Asked to go to Brownsville, TX, to serve as a commissioner of the provisional (Union) court, he left Austin on December 11, 1863 and rode and walked to San Antonio, and next a tiny town called Roma on the border with Mexico, where he crossed the Rio Grande. From there he went to Camargo in Mexico to avoid Rebels and on into Matamoros and back across the Rio Grande into Brownsville.

It seems that France had just taken over Mexico. President Lincoln was afraid France might strike a lucrative deal with the Rebels in Texas over cotton. France might supply weapons or it might even supply soldiers. So the Union Army needed to establish some kind of a toehold in Texas. The diarist also had a son who was a Lt. in the Union Army. He got to see this young man from time to time.

A wild man, a CSA officer by the name of RIP Ford was advancing on Union folks at Brownsville, so they and thousands of hangers-on, got in steam and sail boats for a flight to New Orleans. It was a rough trip.

When I quit reading, the diarist was cooling his heels in the beautiful city of New Orleans while he is waiting for his next move. He names names and discusses famous people of his time. I don't know what it is next because I do not have that part of the diary yet. But I will get it.

The entire diary would be a good backdrop for a Civil War epic, especially if I give the young Lt. a a pretty Southern belle for a girlfriend, and she turns out to be a spy. And just before the firing squad puts its collective finger on the trigger . . .

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Peace in 1861

The Copperhead was right. He was a Congressman (D, Ohio) and a fierce opponent of Abraham Lincoln. His idea was to end slavery without a war. He and his party flat did not want to have a war over slavery. So you could call his party the Peace Party.

Abolitionists wanted war, and common sense was an enemy to them. The Copperhead predicted fairly accurately how long it would take to prosecute the War and how many deaths there would be. But no, President Lincoln estimated about ninety days for the War and not very many casualties at all. The Copperhead's name, by the way, was Clement Laird Vallandigham. Hindsight shows that it would have been far better and cheaper to free slaves and pay off their owners, which was one of the ideas advanced by Vallandigham. He was immensely popular in the North.

I have found a diary written by a Union supporter from Austin, Texas in 1864. He wrote, prior to the election of 1864, ". . . the political devils are putting forward their most desperate efforts to destroy the nation. They are holding conventions to bring out more candidates for the presidential office and to try to unite the rebels of the South and the Copperheads of the North so they can break down the men that are fighting the rebellion."

What is interesting about this man's observation is that in 1864 people were still trying to unite Copperheads and Rebels. That is to say, they were not yet united! As it turned out they were never united. Yet, Republicans in the House (and this is in the Congressional Record) had been yelling at Rep. Vallandigham, saying that since he had family across the Ohio River, he was in cahoots with the South.

I can safely state that his family did not even recognize the Vallandinghams of Kentucky, even if they were his first cousins (I am one of them). Clement was not a Southern sympathizer, he just did not want to go to war over the slavery issue. But in politics a half truth is even better than a full truth.

So Vallandigham stated the facts and was arrested by the military and tossed out of the country. We went to war, anyway. Common sense was very uncommon in 1861.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Aggressive Girls

There was an article in the morning paper about aggressive girls in middle schools. The writer was talking about a middle school in Florida, in which sixth grade girls were becoming as aggressive as boys. The author was also trying to generalize from that school to the entire population of sixth grade girls, presumably in the U.S. The author also said the local study was part of a larger study by professors at Cornell and Columbia. Do I smell the sweet odor of Grant Money in the air?

Having taught in middle schools until last year, I have had an opportunity to observe the same age group of kids. I did not see what little aggressive behavior there was, as changing for the better or worse. I consulted with another teacher who had more years than I and she told me that a change in middle school aggression by girls was news to her.

Oh, once, just after school, I saw two little sixth grade girls using fisticuffs on each other, which was a shock. Girls do not usually do that. What bothered me most, though, was that one of the girls was Chinese and the other was Caucasian. I didn't want any race problems on the campus and I took care of it immediately. Fortunately, there was no resulting racial problem as there was no winner and students probably thought both combatants were blockheads.

How many times do we hear on the radio or TV about some new or imagined health or financial problem followed by the solution, which costs $29.95 plus shipping and handling? Professors seem to be following the same approach, except that they cost a heck of a lot more.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Fatal Bullet

It was 1874 and James M. Walker had been warned not to interfere in KKK business. If the truth be known, James had been trying to get them to stop killing defenseless former slaves and their children.

The Klan wanted these former slaves to get out of their county in central Kentucky. The Klan was "protecting its turf." But the former slaves were poor and had no place to go. So a confrontation was inevitable. There were several and they took place at night. After several warnings, a family was murdered by as many as fifteen masked men. Their cabin was set fire and their bodies were tossed in the fire to destroy the evidence of the shootings. Quite neat, really.

So James Walker obtained federal warrants for the arrests of some of the Klansmen. But the sheriff was in the Klan and he was not about to serve the warrants. It seemed that a second confrontation was called for--one to stop the man who was trying to stop the Klan.

On May 4, 1874, in a very public place on a rainy Monday afternoon James Walker was murdered with one bullet while his brother was wounded. It was a public execution designed as a warning to the rest of the white population that they were not to interfere.

James was 31 years old with three little children. It was the date of his eighth wedding anniversary. He was also my great-grandfather. That one bullet had a profound affect on his mother, his brothers, his wife, his children, his children's children, and even on me one hundred and thirty-one years later.

All because someone dared to stand up against the bullies. It was the beginning of the end for the Klan in that part of Kentucky.

The entire story can be found in the small novel, The Courage Place

Saturday, October 01, 2005


From the book Four on the Floor, Second Edition

An old story has it that in about 1899, the man in charge of the U.S. Patent Office said the government could close down patenting. It was his idea that everything that could be invented had already been invented. There was no reason to keep the doors of his institution open.

We seem to go through periods of people forecasting that the end is in sight, that our economy and our standard of living have reached their limits, and that we might as well get ready for a long, bumpy ride down hill to poverty and disease.
What did the 1899 expert miss? It was the automobile. It turned the world upside down. He also missed the invention of the airplane.

Often, when foolish people make predictions about the dismal future we are going to have, we are on the brink of something really useful that helps mankind enormously.
In 1945 we were at the same place with similar predictions when penicillin, atomic energy, the transistor and television were on the threshold of changing the world.

It was about 1971 when books about the dismal future of Americans were again popular. Someone I knew was so distressed that he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. We were on the very brink of the computer revolution. The standard of living of most Americans rose quickly since 1971. I cannot begin to list the developments that have changed our lives since then.

Computers and science have continued to help us live better and longer since 1971. Scientists are making great strides in medicine by discovering what is in our genome (the cell that determines our physical characteristics), thanks to the computer and the Internet. Medicine may well be the next area of great improvement. Or, maybe it will be space exploration.

Another area where we can look forward to bold, helpful changes, is in energy. We depend on coal, oil, and natural gas for much of our energy needs. These three energy sources tend to pollute. They are also expensive. (Other countries pay much more for energy than we do, but that is because they put heavy taxes on the supplies. It is about like shooting yourself in the foot. We Americans tend to keep guns pointed away from our feet, so we pay less. But energy is still expensive.)

Suppose a cheap, new source for energy could be found? It would be very damaging to oil companies and the countries where oil is found, but it would give the rest of the world a low cost way to produce food, water, medicines, and transportation. Think what that would do for poor countries in Africa! The standard of living for all people would suddenly rise.

Energy is just one example. There are many other new developments waiting for us in the future. And wouldn’t you know it? Just recently, another foolish person wrote that the end of scientific development was at hand.

It sounds like we are on the edge of a new, exciting technology.