I wrote a letter tonight about the rising radicalism of the Republican Party. But then, sorting through the dark chaos of today’s news, I found myself thinking instead about the Battle of Mobile Bay, which happened on this date in 1864. By the spring of 1864, victory in the Civil War depended on which side could endure longest. Confederates were starving as they mourned their many dead; Union supporters were tired of losing sons to battles that seemed to accomplish nothing. President Abraham Lincoln knew he must land a crushing blow on the South or lose the upcoming presidential election. If he lost, the best Americans could hope for was a negotiated peace that tore the nation in two. In March 1864, Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant commander-in-chief of all the Union armies, hoping that this stubborn westerner could win the war.
I was one of those children who loved to listen to family stories. My granddaddy, William F. Fain, often told me about my great-grandfather, Iota Oscar Fain, his parents, and siblings who farmed in north-eastern Georgia and ran a general store in the 1860s. My great-great-grandfather, William Hollen Fain was a southerner, yet was vehemently anti-slavery, as were many in that region. When Sherman came through, he sent out teams of soldiers, one of which raided the Fain family's farm. The soldiers went room to room, piled up belongings, sliced open the feather pillows and mattresses, dumped the feathers, and poured sorghum molasses over everything. They used the family's own property and products to destroy all they had. Their clothes, linens, and furniture in each room were ruined, that is until the reached the oldest sister's room where they attempted to demolish her hope chest. She'd been hiding under the bed, but came out roaring, attacking the soldier molesting her treasure with her fists and feet. He backed out of the room, said "Pardon me, Miss," called his fellow soldiers together, and they rode away.
After the Union won, the community's angry pro-slavery citizens set the family's store ablaze and salted their fields. This final devastation meant they could not stay, so they packed up and left, finally settling in northern Arkansas after a second failed homestead in northwestern Georgia where their anti-slavery position was met with even more hostility.
Grandaddy's aunt eventually set up housekeeping in Arkansas with her husband, the hope chest and its treasures intact.
My great-great grandparents, William Hollen and Susan Fain, rest in Lead Hill, Arkansas. Their commitment to what is right cost them so much, but it has been a light in my family, one that still guides me, my children and my grandchildren.
Just saw this and wanted to share:
Husband rued: "I'm sad to be raising our children in these dystopian times."
Wife recalled a quote she had read:
"Never feel sorry for raising dragon-slayers in a time when there are actual dragons."
"It's a great life if you don't weaken." ~My Mom
The death of Richard Trumka, the President of the AFL-CIO, brings up the question of what is the role of unions in this time. I have a unique perspective because I have been both a member of the AFL-CIO - the Musicians Union and a senior executive in a Fortune 100 company that never saw unionization. I was in the Musicians Union before Right to Work laws so in order to perform with a professional symphony orchestra in the 1970s you had to join the union. I saw the union as having both pluses and minuses. Collective bargaining could be a good thing; but union rules could stagnate innovation in a workplace. The Fortune 100 company I worked for was a highly ethical organization. It avoided being unionized by treating its employees very well. In the blizzard of 1978 in New England no one was allowed to drive on the roads for five days so no one could go to work. My company paid the hourly workers for those days at their regular wage as the right thing to do while General Electric didn't pay its unionized workers. So for a million dollars or so, the company could use that story for decades as why it wasn't necessary to unionize.
Today, my position on unions is that in order to counter every penny possible going to the investors keeping wages and benefits low and continually created greater and greater income disparity, employees must own a substantial part of the company they work for. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is an interesting case. The musicians own the orchestra and manage it. There is no separation between management and employees. It is working very well for them. Income disparity in hollowing out the middle class and taking the consumer out of capitalism. It is time to turn the tables and assure every person lives a life of well-being.
I believe that critical race theory should be taught in our schools. But more so the depth and sacrifice and the horrors of the Civil War should also be re-examined. They go hand in hand. I was brought up to believe in the honor of it all. Yet the true reasons for it is appalling and should taught it that should never happen again. Yet I feel that we are on the brink again right now. Four almost the same reasons. The two histories go head and head. I dearly love this country and we need to stand up for the right to be free, all of us, and to adhere to the constitution which to me is sacred. It has been undermined daily by, for lack of terms, fearful, hate mongering people who just care about power and not about the people of this land. We are from all over…thus making us the United States, at least I hope we are. Lately I have been very sad and anxious, and sorry, but angry at the way that things have been run. I will not be silent anymore, and I will do what I can to make a stand for freedom. Truthfully and peacefully. We all need to know that we or bound by our words and pledge to America to be kind, compassionate and helpful to those in need and to welcome those who seek freedom and happiness. If we have more than we need we need to give. But if we I have less then we should be able to ask openly and be helped. We are all in this together. Professor, your words and this history today is a reminder and is very important to me and I hope to everybody else in understanding the price of freedom. But also the insanity that brings us to the brink. Thank you very much, peace aside will prevail. Mike
P.S. please everyone, get vaccinated. Our lives we knew and want depend on it.
I always find some nugget of truth from Professor Richardson’s history lessons that help me to better deal with today. To that Admiral Farragut quote, I want you to say, “Damn the lies! Full transparency ahead!”
Excellent letter, Heather. I hope voters show the same tenacity and grit our ancestors had so as to subvert the will of the radical right. Sleep well.
Gotta say, I read Heather’s retelling with bated breath!
In this war with the current Confederacy, “Damn the torpedos!”
I'm just now reading Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman's new memoir, "Here, Right Matters", the central theme of which is refreshingly in keeping with Farragut's famous order. As you say, "Damn the torpedoes, indeed."
Morning, all!! Morning, Dr. R!! In the spirit of today's Letter...
Judge Jackson: "In Dresch’s case, Jackson said he has the right to vote for whomever he wants, 'but so does everyone else. Your vote doesn’t count any more than anyone else’s. You don’t get to cancel them out and call for a war because you don’t like the results of the election.'”
And some Floridians thinking for themselves:
High school was over 50 years ago. I don't remember learning about Mobile Bay, but I did recognize " Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead!" even if I didn't know its origins until right now. I'm not sure what this says about my education, but it looks like a good slogan has a way of sticking in the brain.
Tenacity, determination and courage mixed with humility and empathy….all qualities of the most effective leaders and citizens. As Dr Richardson points out, things were far from certain for President Lincoln and the Union in early 1864; so much was yet to be won even after the important victories of Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Go to Petersburg and you can begin to appreciate just how tough it still was as late as 1865 when the Confederacy was near its end. Like then, the stakes are high, now. It’s always that way in a democracy because the will of the majority is subject to constant change and can be temporarily thrown off course….at the worst times. We all felt what that was like during trump’s presidency and as we continue to battle against the pandemic while trying to convince more of our fellow Americans to do their patriotic duty and just get vaccinated. Nothing is for certain in our efforts to protect and preserve our Union but we can’t and must not ever give up.
Dear Prof. HCR,
What a riveting account of the Battle of Mobile Bay! Thank you! I, for one, am rarely captivated by accounts of war, yet you had me on the edge of my seat -- it was the change of tactics -- that of unification -- brought about by Ulysses S. Grant. Isn't that always a brilliant manoeuvre -- to work in tandem?
That said, I do hope that you will give us the pleasure of reading your insights about "the rising radicalism of the Republican Party." This is where, I believe, that we can learn a few Grantian military procedures that may serve us well against the current GOP. Perhaps, we need some way of unifying the Democrats and Progressives in a common quest to fight tooth and nail with a Farragutian cry of: "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"
For those of you who would really like something to smile about, see if you can dig up this evening’s Reid Out… on MSNBC. She returned from vacation tonight. Full of piss and vinegar. Her riff is priceless.
'Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.' If Heather's books were required reading for high school history classes, this country would explode with history majors.
"I wrote a letter tonight about the rising radicalism of the Republican Party. But then, sorting through the dark chaos of today’s news, I found myself thinking instead about the Battle of Mobile Bay, which happened on this date in 1864. "
A glimpse of how a historian's mind works. From taking the LFAA intended (discussing the increasing radicalism of today's Republiqans) to a decisive victory that enabled the Union to endure (even if it was basically thrown away by kowtowing to the southern Democrats in the 1870's) to face its present crisis is magnificent. I thank you for these comparisons of how time folds over on itself in our nation's history and how the times from the 1850's to 1870's moved to the 1930's and influence us today. Thank you for this nugget. Damn the torpedoes of conspiracy, full steam ahead to the truth!
It is interesting to note that the "torpedoes" are perhaps more accurately described as mines, an additional analogy for the minefield of misinformation and conspiracy theories that our Republiqan friends throw into our path.
I literally got goosebumps reading this letter. A reminder that sometimes victory requires "eyes on the prize", all obstacles be damned. Thank you once again, Heather.