Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fifty Shades of Blue and Grey: Civil War Torture Porn?

Alex and his droogs couldn't hold
a candle to modern ultra-violence...
even with Rossini on his side.
Over the past few days I've been thinking about violence. We are a culture of violence. We idolize blind rage and violence, we normalize it and worship it.

No bellwether in our culture shows this fact more clearly than our film ratings system, which allows grotesque depictions of man's inhumanity to man to be peddled to teens but turns its nose up at even the slightest mention of human fecal matter or copulation.

We, as a collective American culture, promote violence, normalize it as the proper reaction to any given problem and outright encourage it.

Except violence in entertainment is easy, cheap and meaningless. It's some of the easiest filler in any script. As an exercise a few weeks back, I edited down a copy of Ron Maxwell's Gettysburg to remove every line spoken by a Southern character. The only Southerners left on camera would be in non-speaking scenes only, I decreed to myself. I expected the movie to shrink to somewhere in the window of 20 minutes. It didn't.

But that wasn't a function of an abundance of Federal dialogue (although there was more in aggregate than I expected). The movie seemed to become one never-ending explosion punctuated by flapping flags. I'd wager that even removing the Federal dialogue, there would be nearly a solid hour of random things blowing up and random plumes of smoke.

Compare this to the two greatest war films ever produced [1]: Bridge Over The River Kwai and Glory. The amount of real, gut-wrenching violence in these films is miniscule, and used to a very specific end. But what they lack in violent, orgasmic gore they make up for in deep,l philosophical meaning about the nature of war, suffering, loss, struggle and liberty. The greatest war films of all time are actually anti-war films, weaving a narrative that investigates why war, as Sherman once said, is, "all hell."

When visitors step onto battlefields, what type of story are they seeing? Is it a grand glorification of a nation drenched in blood, valour through slaughter? Or is it a real, deep discussion of the concrete consequences of politicians and citizens deciding that a nation or people deserves to be attacked? Is it glory or heartbreak?

Never forget that when the original cast
fell down dead 150 years ago that
they didn't go out for a cold one later
that night. / CC Graham Milldrum
Over at History and Interpretation on Tuesday, Elizabeth Goetsch posted about dealing with grief in interpretive landscapes. When a visitor to a battlefield broke down into tears, Elizabeth was confounded as to how to react. Tears were not part of the typical repertoire of visitor responses. "While visiting the battlefield could prove an emotional experience," Goetsch writes, "I rarely encountered the raw emotion through tears."

But what better reaction to a place where thousands of men tore at the entrails of thousands of other men, where children lost beloved fathers, mothers lost beloved sons, men lost beloved arms which had plowed the land or worked the lathe that fed their families? Isn't any reaction aside from tears callous, hardhearted and inhumane on some level?

Shouldn't the most meaningful landscapes of war, like the most meaningful films about those wars, inherently be anti-war landscapes? Shouldn't they be places where we atone for the collective sins of the past and learn to make better decisions in the future?

No. They should simply be places where we glorify torture and death, like a masculine version of a Mary-sue porn novel. Who needs deep, resonant meaning when you can just soak up the orgasmic excitement of battles and tactics?


[1] - Yes, I am aware this is an entirely personal judgement, but this is afterall my blog post.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An 1858 Patent Office Report: The Joy of Being Wrong

The patent volume looked
something like this.
I love being wrong. I think every historian should love that feeling. Finding that one small piece of evidence that puts a crack in your perception of the past and makes you restructure your view of the flow of history is a joy.

I had one of those moments a few weeks ago at Adams County Historical Society, digging through the vertical files for random things. I go digging every week or so, simply immersing myself in the raw material of the past and seeing what floats to the surface.

This particular Thursday night, I found a transcript of an inscription squirreled away in the files. Somewhere in the shelves, stacks and boxes of the Adams County Historical Society sits the actual volume, but where exactly it might be is unclear.

The book, an 1858 Report of the Commissioner of Patents, has a simple inscription in the cover from a wounded soldier:

I was wounded in the battle of Gettysburg on the first day of July, 1863. the ball passed though my thigh. I laid on the field of battle until night. I finally crawled to this house which I found deserted but soon a lot of Nigers Came and Ransacked the house from top to bottom. it was a good thing for them that I was Wounded I would kill a Niger as quick as I Would a frog

Mr. Ross I hope the Government Will Renumerate you for the loss and suffering War has brought upon you and your famly. if you ever feel Disposed to Write to the author of this Direct your letter to Jerry Murphy, Clockville, Madison Co.

At first glance, there's nothing that shocking about this inscription. What makes it fascinating is Jerry Murphy's heading: "Company G, 157 Regt., New York Vol."

Jerry Murphy was wounded somewhere in the fields north of Pennsylvania College as the 157th New York pushed forward into the Confederate lines on the afternoon of July 1st, part of the XI corp's desperate attempt to hold the right flank of the Federal line as Confederates poured down the Biglerville and Harrisburg roads.

He fought for the United States Army at Gettysburg, an army that by 1863 was explicitly fighting for the freedom of four million human beings held in bondage. And Jerry Murphy would kill any one of them, "as quick as I Would a frog."

What does this all mean? Many of the Murphys living in Madison County were either Irish-born immigrants or the sons of Irish-born immigrants, more than likely deposited along the way as the Erie Canal tore across New York in the 1810s and 20s, dug by cheap immigrant labor. Jerry himself was about 21 years old when he was mustered into service on the 19th of September, 1862.

The 157th Monument
at Gettysburg
/ CC Jen Goellnitz
Jerry Murphy joined the army for adventure or cash or the altruistic goal of saving a nation. That's why he marched.

So that's the death of a United States Army fighting for freedom, then, right?

Not so fast. I quickly needed to restructure how I thought about the Federal soldier.

Jerry Murphy's sovereignty ends at his hair follicles and the pores of his skin. The uniform on his back, the gun in his hand, the knapsack on his back all were bought by the United States Government, a sovereign body which, by 1863, was fighting quite publicly to destroy slavery in it's haven: the American South.

So Jerry Murphy's feet might not have been marching for freedom, but his boots were. Every forward step those boots would take into the South was the forward step of a liberating army, whether the feet agreed or not.

Suddenly, the Civil War gets that much more complicated, as men fight for causes that they don't personally agree with. Their uniform fights for one cause, their heart for another. But fight, kill and die they do nonetheless.

Jerry Murphy, who was mustered into service back in New York just as Robert E. Lee's army was beating feet across the Potomac into Virginia and just as Abraham Lincoln was dusting off a revolutionary Proclamation he had been drafting since midsummer, marched for freedom whether he liked it or not.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Willard Hotel: Let Us Die To Make Men Free

The Willard, circa 1919
the Smithsonian
Everyday I head into work, I pass by the Willard InterContinental building between 15th and 14th streets NW in downtown D.C. Even though Washington, D.C. has changed greatly since the Civil War, the Willard has, in its various different forms and structures, always been there – since even before the Civil War. In its long storied history, the Willard has been there for its fair share of historical events.

It was there when Abraham Lincoln was whisked into the city from Baltimore, under the cover of darkness, on February 23, 1861. The president-elect’s traveling companions, hearing the rumors and fearing assassination attempts, quietly escorted Lincoln to a suite of rooms he stayed in before his official inauguration on March 4. The Willard was also the scene of a last ditch peace conference earlier in February, as former President John Tyler presided over a group of delegates from all over the country, except the deep south, hoping to avoid war. Of course, we all know, the conference failed, as all the while southerners were meeting in Montgomery, Alabama to form the Confederacy.

My favorite historical happening that occurred at the Willard during the Civil War is none of those. It was a simple act, after all: A woman merely wrote down some lyrics to a popular melody after she awoke early from her slumber. Those lyrics, though, were none other than the tune, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the woman was none other than the famous American poet, abolitionist, and writer, Julia Ward Howe.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on. 

She penned those famous lines during one November morning, or at least, that’s how the story goes. While many remember the first couple of stanzas, one of my favorite stanzas actually comes near the end:
He died to make us free....
the LOC

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on. 

Let us die to make men free. That pretty much sums up the entire war right there. Though, the story doesn’t exactly stop with Howe. A little more than 100 hundred years later, another man on a quest to make men free, stayed at the Willard. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent a night at the Willard devoting the evening to polishing the “I Have a Dream” speech in his hotel room. The next day, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, King evoked Lincoln’s imagery and words in one of the greatest demonstrations for human rights in United States history. King, like Lincoln and the many others who passed before him, would ultimately die to make men free as well.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

M'er F'ing History: Speaking in Our Audience's Language

"Share It Maybe?"
Damn skippy, Cookie! I'll share it!
It's good enough for me.
I was talking to Jake the other night about Cookie Monster. Really, we were talking about the theory behind Cookie Monster's latest strategic move and how we could all learn a thing or two from him. Which move was that? The short, furry blue monster's brilliant foray into pop culture with "Share It Maybe," the music video parody of Carly Rae Jepsen's song "Call Me Maybe." In one day, Cookie has racked up 2.3 million hits on the less-than-four-minute video.

"Why," I mused, "can't we (i.e. the National Park Service) do something like this?"

OK, so I might have been a bit more vulgar in that sentence, with an expletive or two thrown in for good measure, but I'm retelling the story so I get to make myself sound a bit more refined and all-sophisticated-like.

I quickly preempted Jake by answering the question myself: "[Expletive Deleted] Agency Voice."

There's this rote answer that folks will give to a question like mine, a question of, "why can't we do this or that cool thing?" It morphs and changes, lengthens and shortens, but it boils down to those two words (minus the Nixonian aside). "Agency voice." As a public agency, as a Federal agency, we must maintain a dignified image. According to many loud voices within the Service, we can't do something that is sly, funny, witty or slightly crude, because we run the risk of belittling the Service's reputation.

Jake shot his own retort back to me: "This is the problem though - we have tons of people who think nature and history aren't pop culture, that they shouldn't be pop culture. Why can't we have a fun agency voice? Why can't we proudly say, 'we take our job seriously, but we have fun?'"

Dignity can be wildly overrated. At times, it can even be a barrier to communications. Speak in too dignified a tone, in too snooty a language, and you'll alienate the very people you'd like to reach most. We have thick style guides in all of our jobs, the approved and set-in-stone language we must always use when speaking with the voice of our agencies or institutions or museums. Sometimes, the bravest and most meaningful thing to do with those books are to burn them to cinders.

What should we be doing more? Compare the two videos below. On the left, a C-SPAN clip attempting to convey the importance and meaning of Alexander Hamilton. On the right, a clip from the White House trying to convey an importance and meaning of Alexander Hamilton.

Go ahead, compare and contrast. Trust me.

Which video do you remember better? Which video inspired more? Which video imparted a meaning to your soul more effectively?

But would this pass a museum's sniff-test for agency voice? I know the answer I'd get from a chunk of my co-workers in the NPS: "no, this is not dignified enough, we must speak with our authority."

But then look at what Lin-Manuel Miranda's rap video has wrought: there are remix slideshows. There are cover versions. There are people finding Alexander Hamilton who more-than-likely never would have encountered him before and internalizing his story. Not simply hearing it, but caring about it, making it their own and expressing it.

When was the last time you saw an average American teenager making a slideshow with eh voice-over of a dry video of a Park Ranger talking direct to camera? When was the last time you saw an average American teenager remixing lethargic video of Shelby Foote or Ed Bearss or any other talking head in front of a wall of books?

What would happen if we all tried to emulate Lin-Manuel Miranda? What if we went out of our way to speak the language of modern Americans? That language is a pop-culture verse, sometimes hip-hop beats, sometimes bubble-gum, sometimes crass and sometimes humorous.

But wouldn't we reach America? Couldn't we tell our stories to all of America, not just the small percentage who can stand boring talking heads seated in front of nondescript bookshelves?

And isn't reaching every single American and helping them find a personal meaning within the past our sacred responsibility as public historians?

A parody?
Hell yeah!
Jake pointed out a fantastic parody of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Alexander Hamilton Mixtape produced by a comedy troupe of historical founding fathers. Yeah... nerdsplosion right there. When was the last time some interpretive product you produced was parodied word-for-word by a man in a powdered wig?

I rest my case...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Guest Post: John Rambo fights the Civil War

Today we offer another of our “Guest Post Wednesday” extras, with some meditations on Rambo from Aaron Urbanski. Yeah, we’re not kidding... Rambo. Aaron is a graduate of the GMU American History Masters program and alumnus Ranger of the NPS.

For me, Sunday evenings are typically a nice time to relax, reflect on the weekend that was, and ponder the week ahead. This past Sunday, I participated in none of those activities. I was distracted, distraught, and, due to the late hour I ultimately found myself still awake, a bit disheveled. Rambo 4 was on television. Now, one does not typically watch Rambo 1, 2, 3, or 4 if he or she is looking to discover some profound, eye-opening message or theme. I was largely distracted, as anyone who watches a Rambo film surely is, by the over-the-top violence and profanity. I am not knocking the Rambo series in any way here. But what ultimately made me distraught as I watched the a large number of arrows fly and throats opened was the fact that I was trying to figure out the meaning of it all. Can John Rambo teach us something about quantifying history?

According to one online source, the time at which the first person is killed in Rambo 4 is 3:22. After that, the number of people killed per minute until the end of the film (not including the credits) is 3.04. So, basically, three people die each minute in Rambo 4. These are some pretty good stats. Hats off to the person who discovered them.

Rambo looks something like this
(**note: not to scale**)
Math is fun. It can be applied to an abundance of situations to make them seem more interesting. Want some more Rambo stats? In Rambo 3, the number of bad guys killed by Rambo with his shirt off is 45. This is one less than Rambo 2. I suppose he preferred to be clothed in Rambo 4, because the number of people he kills without his shirt on is 0. Math is also hard and oftentimes quite frustrating. Once the numbers get large, decimal points are thrown in, and we have to begin rounding, we get further away from the true answers to mathematical equations. This plays out time and again in American history. John Rudy touches at this a bit in his post, “Dead is Dead: Why 20% Doesn’t Matter”. How do we conceptualize vast statistics about an event that happened 150 years ago? In other words, what do the numbers of dead on a battlefield mean to visitors of an American historical site? How can we get true meaning from math?

Suppose an interpreter tells a visitor 5,000 men lost their lives during a particular battle of the American Civil War. This is a graphic, harrowing number. Can it ever be an exact number? No. We can never know exactly how many individuals lost their lives on any given Civil War battlefield. Nothing can pinpoint that sort of precise statistic. The numbers get more real and vivid, however, when we begin to learn the individual stories of the men who comprise that group of 5,000, just like John suggested in his April post. These numbers start to get easier to work with when an interpreter helps visitors find true value in statistics. We are able to move from Rambo numbers to meaningful numbers. Each of the men that make up that group of 5,000 matter. Each person who hears that number is going to find meaning in each individual story in a different way. So, if one person discovers 5,000 different meanings, then 30 people on an interpretive program will discover 150,000 meanings. Is my math right here? That is an astounding number of meanings. Math is fun.

 Now, we can’t expect 150,000 meanings to ever be reached on an interpretive program, thanks to limitations of time and energy. But its rather impressive to see the power of numbers play out on any American historical site. Heck, we don’t need a battlefield to find meaning in the Civil War. The metrorail system in Washington, DC, is the second busiest rapid transit system in the US, after the subway in New York. According to metro sources, there were 215.3 million trips taken during the year 2008. In March of 2012, more than 760,000 people rode the metro each day. There are 86 stations in the DC metro system. One of those stations has the name “African American Civil War Memorial”. I don’t know exactly how many people look at a metro map each day and see the name of the stop, or even get off at that stop and see the modest memorial it is named for. But based on metro’s calculations I’ve listed above, it’s safe to say a large number of people in and around DC each day are reminded that African Americans played a part in the Civil War that deserves to be memorialized.

If we could more accurately pinpoint that number, though, would the value of this kind memorialization increase? What do most people do in the morning as they wait for their preferred mode of public transportation to whisk them away to their jobs? Some catch up on a book, a good number probably listen to music, and even more stare into space with glazed eyes that read “why do I have to be awake this early?”. Can we offer them a few moments of something else to do?

What if it was determined on average 6,000 individuals enter the metro station that has “African American Civil War Memorial” in its title per day. What if some sort of sign, gesture, or notion was presented to each person as he or she waited for a train to arrive, reminding him or her why the station holds the name it does? Can this be done? Would something like this be an effective way to help individuals find meaning in their surroundings during something so routine as a commute to work? That is another huge batch of meanings waiting to be brewed. And these are meanings that catch people off guard, meanings found during an activity they have to do each day.

So in the end, let’s not forget the importance of numbers when we strive to share history with others.

Because one day I’d like to know how many times any famous Civil War leader committed a gallant, Rambo-style act. While shirtless.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Falling Like Autumn Leaves: Cutler's Brigade at Gettysburg

147th New York Monument
CC Flickr user Runner Jenny
The 147th New York's monument stands along Reynolds Avenue, silently (and incorrectly) marking where the regiment bravely fought and fell on that July day in 1863. The monument lists the brigade, division, and corps of the regiment, along with the various other battles that are part of the regiment's story. It also lists the regimental losses as well - out of 380 men that started the fight on July 1, 212 men were killed and wounded. Placed by the veterans themselves, they knew what that monument represented. It represented the entire ordeal of their regiment and its brigade on the first day of Gettysburg.

For, Cutler's brigade, of which they were a part, was one of the first U.S. infantry units to fight in the battle of Gettysburg. Comprised of hearty New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians, the 147th and the rest of Cutler's brigade battled it out on the first day west of town with troops from North Carolina and Mississippi. In a few short moments, Cutler's brigade, and the 147th New York along with it, was decimated as it struggled to buy time for the rest of the United States Army to arrive on the battlefield.

One of the first to fall in the opening engagement was Major Grover, commanding officer of the 76th New York, the 147th's sister regiment. One of the initial Rebel volleys killed his horse, dismounting the major. Not losing a step, it was recalled that the Major could be seen waving his sword as he raced on foot up and down the line of the New Yorkers. Soon though, a bullet struck close to his heart. He pleaded with his men as they were falling back, "You will not go off and leave me will you?" Some of his men attempted to carry him off, but to no avail - Major Grover realized he was dying. "Boys, it is no use carrying me an farther..." he told them. Major Grover lived just long enough to hand off his watch and rank badges to a friend before passing. Grover was a Methodist minister before the war. At 32 years of age, he left behind 3 daughters and a wife back in Cortland, NY.

Major Grover, one of the first to fall
Courtesy of the NY State Military Museum
Captain Story, also of the 76th, had a close call when they first arrived on the battlefield - a cannon ball passed between his legs plowing up the ground behind him. Later, Story was wounded in the thigh, the ball shattering his bone in three parts. He was taken to Mrs. William Culp’s home in town. There, surgeons were only able to remove some of the broken bone. Story's wife and sister were with him when he passed on August 6th. All told,  Major Grover's boys of the 76th New York suffered over 150 casualties on the first day of Gettysburg.

the 147th, from Oswego, New York, another town outside Syracuse, fared even worse on July 1st. Fighting just south of the 76th, the 147th was out in front and bore attacks from multiple sides. The first to fall in the 147th was a man by the name of Fred Rife. Rife and his partner in the battleline, Hiram Stowell, fell almost at the same time. A 33 year-old farmer-laborer, Stowell left behind his wife Charlotte and two children.

Soon into the engagement, the 147th New York was forced to fall back from its initial position. During the retreat, Lieutenant Guilford D. Mace cheered on his men, shouting words of encouragement, "Do not fall back, boys, but give the Rebels what they deserve!” Although Mace had been slightly wounded earlier in the fight, he refused to leave the field. In fact, Mace never did leave the field alive. As his men were retreating, Mace fell with a shot in both the neck and the back, the wounds breaking his back and severely paralyzing him. Lying on the field, Mace sent word to a friend, to write his wife and tell her he was dead. As he was making known his last wishes, a shell exploded near him, ripping his body to shreds. Back home in Fulton, New York, Mace's wife was just made a widow, and Mace’s three young children just became fatherless.

The original color-bearer, affectionately known as “the big Swede”, standing a fair-haired, blue-eyed, 6 feet 2 inches, Sgt. John Hinchcliff, was shot several times during the retreat. One of the bullets pierced his heart as he fell to earth wrapped up in the bloody and torn flag. A gas fitter from Rochester, New York, John left behind 3 children - John Jr., Rola, and Panneila, and his wife Elizabeth.

Lt J. Volney Pierce remembered that men were “falling like autumn leaves,” as the 147th abandoned the field. During the retreat, Pierce found Edwin G. Alyesworth lying on the ground, a mere 21 year old boy, mortally wounded. Edwin recognized Pierce, calling out to the Lieutenant not to leave him behind. Sgt Peter Shuttz and Pierce tried to carry the young private to the rear, but they couldn't manage to carry Alyesworth, who was wounded in the thigh. Fearing their own lives, the pair dropped Alyesworth and ran for their lives. For the next twenty-five years, Pierce recalled that he could still vividly remember Edwin’s last words to him. “Don’t leave me, boys,” haunted his dreams. Alyesworth’s leg was later amputated on July 3. Just hours before his father arrived in Gettysburg on July 10th, Alyesworth died from the wound.

News reached upper New York of the horrible fight at Gettysburg just as many towns were putting the final preparations together for Independence Day celebrations. Instead of celebrating, the towns prepared to mourn. Later, on July 6th, several wounded officers from the 147th arrived home in Oswego, the first eye-witnesses to tell of the terrible fighting. War came and touched Gettysburg on July 1. In the coming days, it touched town after town, city after city across the United States as news of the battle reached home. The monuments that stand on the fields of Gettysburg are just markers, made of stone and metal. But those markers also recall a story, one that touched not only Gettysburg, but towns, people, and places across the United States.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ring the Bells: "Happy 149th Birthday, America!"

In honor of the holiday, we've truncated to a one-post Wednesday "extra" this week. We'll flip back to our regularly scheduled programming, already in progress next week. -John

Edwin Forbes' artistic interpretation
of the birthpangs of a nation. / PD LOC
Friend of the blog and stalwart DC area historian Aaron Urbanski posted a pithy update to his Facebook wall on Monday, a status update which has infected my brain over the past couple days. The idea is so infectious, so amazingly simple yet profound that I'm shamelessly stealing it and blowing it up to epic proportions.

"Happy 149th Birthday America," Aaron wrote on his wall. Jake and I noticed the comment on our smartphones while we were traipsing across Culp's Hill here in Gettysburg with Tim Smith and Garry Adelman in what I've affectionately come to call, "The Tim and Garry Show," a part of the park's interpretive offerings for the anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg.

Standing on that hill, those words meant something spectacular to me. Aaron was right. This week we celebrate America's birthday, but it has little to do with John Adams, hot Philly attics or fights in the Old Statehouse. America is only one year away from celebrating the Sesquicentennial of its birth.

That's a bold statement, but one that I think can hold up to some argument. The year 1863 defines the modern American's conception of their hopes, dreams and the possibilities which lay at their feet more than 1776 ever did. 1863 is the beginning of the actualization of the American dream. Before 1863, the Declaration penned in Philadelphia was a hollow promise in a nation wallowing in its own contradictory mud. While Jefferson submitted for approval the powerful words that, "all men are created equal," several races and creeds of men, not to mention an entire sex, knew these words rang as hollow as the clatter of chains against a slave ship's wooden gangplank.

But 1863 changed the American nation irrevocably. First, January brought the effective death-knell of slavery, as the war transformed. Every soldier wearing a suit of blue instantly became a freedom fighter, even if his body and soul felt otherwise. Every step of forward progress of the United States armies became a forward step toward fixing the fundamental contradiction of the American founding: in a nation where all men were born with liberty, some men had that freedom cruelly stolen from them in a government supported program of systemic slow-motion murder.

You could think of Culp's Hill like
the kicking baby in the stomach,
the freedom just itching to
be born. / PD LOC
Next, came the dual victories of July 4th, 1863. In the Eastern Theater, Gettysburg forever shoved Lee south of the Mason-Dixon, doomed to fight a war spiraling down a drain with little hope of foreign intervention or crashing military victory against Washington. Lee would grasp at the short straws of political subversion in 1864, but the action proved too little, too late. In the West, with the fall of Vicksburg, the so-called Southern Nation had been successfully bifurcated, Scott's brilliant Anaconda Plan come to fruition with a vengeance. Now the United States army need only keep subdividing the South into smaller and smaller bits, until, as Churchill would phrase a similar struggle 80 years later, the rebellion was, "sponged and purged and, if need be, blasted from the surface of the earth."

But those dual births of Emancipation and Military Dominion could be seen as only conceptions, with the true genius of a new America gestating throughout 1863, until in November the nation we know was born into swaddling, bloodstained clothes in a lowly cemetery in Gettysburg. In just over 200 words we have encapsulated our modern conception of America, where freedom marches forward to ever wider groups.

So, Happy Birthday America.

You're 149 years young and still growing into the promise forged for us in 1863, in a white house in Washington, a battlefield in Gettysburg, a siege in Mississippi and a humble Pennsylvania cemetery.