Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Review: Custer’s Trials, by T.J. Stiles


[With Permission from W. G. Davis at Three Days at Gettysburg blog

T. J. Stiles [author of Pulitzer Prize winning The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Jesse James, Last Rebel of the Civil War] gives us a deep understanding of George Armstrong Custer in his new book Custer’s Trials [Alfred Knopf, in stores October 27, advanced ordering at Amazon]. 

In “Rise”, the first part of Custer’s Trials, Stiles takes us on a well-crafted journey through Custer’s youth, and through the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he excelled at few things military or academic, and including his court-martial while a graduate awaiting orders.  It then chronicles the career of the “boy-General” throughout his  meteoric rise in rank and legend during the Civil War.  At the same time Stiles, relates aspects of Custer’s personal life and his romances, culminating in his marriage to Elizabeth “Libbie” Bacon.

He persevered at West Point, and though he was last in his class academically and first in demerits, he succeeded in passing his exams, thus becoming eligible for graduation.   In spite of all of the negatives, Custer showed himself to possess many qualities the military desired in its officers: poise, creative thought, conventional and unconventional avenues to problem solving, the ability to get others motivated, and stature, into which he grew through his activities, mostly in the course of breaking rules…rules by which he abided just enough to get by.  In short, Custer, with the assistance of West Point, taught himself leadership.  It was not the leadership of someone who proclaims himself the leader, it is the one who leads from the front and succeeds because others willingly follow.   And all the while building his repertoire of exploits, he began building friendships with his classmates, and with politicians in hopes of receiving assistance to further his career at his pace.

Stiles relates the details of his first trial: a court-martial before he could leave West Point after graduation.  The court found him guilty and ordered no punishment except a reprimand in orders.  And thus began the hard fighting and fast promotions of his successful and charmed Civil War career.

Custer’s Civil War experiences were as charmed and full of good fortune as were his West Point experiences.  He grew to expect this of himself - indeed, he was fearless in battle, leading from the front of his unit, sword in hand, and not just as a symbol, but a weapon he used with devastating effect in every engagement. 

But there was another Custer – a self-serving Custer, who cultivated friends, and curried favor with friendly higher-ups.  This was the insecure Custer, as changeable as the times, yet as constant as the sunrise with his contradictions.  In this manner Stiles presents Custer as a man who embraced the three main realms of his life – the private, public and professional realms, sometimes mixing them but only to his advantage.  In each he was comfortable and moved about in them freely, enjoying the moments to their fullest, yet constantly laying and cultivating the groundwork for advancement in all three realms.  Sometimes conniving, and never missing an opportunity to not only extol the virtues of his latest adventure, but enhance them as well. 

Custer’s rise through the ranks to generalship is well known.  But Stiles laces the telling with personal details often missed in many works of history involving Custer, and details the patronage afforded him by Generals McClellan, Pleasonton, and Sheridan.

 
One measure of Custer’s leadership and how it affected his men in the Michigan Brigade was when they began to copy his affectation of the famous red necktie he wore with his gaudy uniform.  But the men both loved and respected him for his personal courage and his innate ability to know the lay of the land on which they fought, and how he would invariably place them in the best position to succeed to victory.  Time after time Custer won the hearts of the Union thanks to the newspaper coverage of the war [which he curried], and was a favorite subject of sketch artist Alfred Waud.


Custer married Libbie on February 9th, 1864, and when campaigning began again in the spring, Custer took the field under Phil Sheridan, and Libbie moved back to a boarding house in Washington.  There Libbie was able to have access to the influential politicians, and even to the President himself.   She charmed them all and won favor for her Armstrong, as family called him. 

His war culminated in the surrender at Appomattox. 

No one amassed the legendary success amid the events of the US Civil War like Custer did. 

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In “Fall”, the second half of Stiles' epic biography of Custer, Stiles chronicles the last decade and a half of George Armstrong Custer’s life.  What many biographers gloss over or omit entirely is the path to Little Big Horn that Custer followed  from the end of the war, but not Stiles. 

First sent to Texas to restore law and order in a state devastated by the war, he took Libbie along.  Life was different in the post-war US Army.  There was no more war, and he was still commanding volunteers.  Custer was forced to use a hard hand even at controlling his own troops, including head-shaving, whipping and executions.  For a man who’s leadership was repeatedly proven in combat, the lack of it was proven in peace.  It was a duty for which he was unsuited, and unable to adapt.  Nor would his conservative Democrat views on race suffer the change that the war had wrought.  And Libbie shared those feelings. 

Yet Custer struggled to come to terms with the new reality of the Freedmen.  He began to think about redefining himself.  He did so in his testimony before a subcommittee of the Committee on Reconstruction, advocating black suffrage, and the continuation of the Freedmen’s Bureau.  Custer’s testimony was in line with that of other officers newly returned from the post war South.  Collectively, they pointed to the regressive results of President Johnson’s policies.  The ensuing Civil Rights bill was vetoed by Johnson, and in effect, was a declaration of war between the conservative President and the Radical Republicans in Congress.  But Custer’s testimony belied his personal beliefs.  Once again he was currying political favor from those who controlled Congress.  Then he went on a political tour with President Johnson, evoking the wrath of Ulysses Grant.  Grant ordered Custer to join the 7th US Cavalry at Fort Riley without delay.  Custer soon realized how badly he had erred in publicly supporting Johnson. 

A year later found Custer facing his second court-martial, this time for absenting himself from his command without the proper authority.  He had left Fort Wallace, Kansas apparently to get to Libbie, and traveled 275 miles to Fort Harker when his command was about to launch a campaign against the Indians.  Even worse, he had ordered a detachment of 75 men and three officers to escort the ambulance in which he rode.  And it continued to get even worse.  Custer ignored an attack on some of his men by Indians, sent a detachment out after deserters with orders to bring none back alive, and eventually had three deserters shot, but not killed, and did not allow them to be treated for their wounds – all without a trial.  In a rather long proceeding, Custer was found guilty across the board and sentenced to one year’s suspension and forfeiture of his pay.  Ultimately the Indians intervened and Sherman and Sheridan petitioned Grant to restore Custer to the 7th US Cavalry.  Grant complied, if only to keep Custer in the field and out of politics and out of trouble.   

Thus Custer began the phase of his career that would mark him as “Indian Killer.”  He operated in Kansas and Oklahoma, destroying Indian villages, and chasing after famous Indian leaders such as Black Kettle. 

Unable to rise in rank, Custer attempted to end his Army career and support himself and Libbie in a style more grand than Army pay could provide.   Custer took an extended leave, and made a disastrous foray into the world of Wall Street.  He sought funds to support a silver mine in Colorado.  It failed when the mine failed.    

In 1871, Custer returned to the Army, stationed in Kentucky to suppress the Ku Klux Klan and the illegal manufacture of moonshine alcohol.  It was boring duty.  Custer yearned for the openness of the Great Plains.  He turned to writing there, and while he had a market for his work, it was too small to allow him to leave the Army. 

In the Spring of 1873, Custer received word that the 7th Cavalry was being reassigned north to the Dakota Territory.  He and Libby began packing.  Over the next three years, he mounted three great expeditions: along the Yellowstone River in 1873 - fighting battles on August 4th and August 11th; the Black Hills Expedition in 1874; and finally, the Little Big Horn Expedition in 1876. 

The noted historian Frederick Jackson Turner who wrote at the end of the 19th century and for 3 decades into the 20th, formulated the Frontier Thesis, which was presented as a paper to the American Historical Association in Chicago, July 12, 1893, titled “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” It first appeared in the Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, December 14, 1893.  He cites the 1890 census report’s proclamation that, “…‘Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports.’ This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.”

In his paper, Turner presents the role of the frontier as the developer of Americanism, that the farther from the Atlantic Coast one got on the way west, the farther they got from the influence of their European roots.  The Frontier was the blacksmith’s hammer, forge and tempering bucket that produced American Exceptionalism and American Identity. 

In the fifteen years from the end of the Civil War to the end of the Frontier, as the Census report put it, there was perhaps no other person whose day-to-day life on that Frontier had more influence in the final forging of the American Identity and Exceptionalism than George Armstrong Custer.   

Stiles' book, 472 pages not including acknowledgements, is a most thorough, detailed, and well-supported biography.  The cast of characters is rich, and most are well known, but even the lesser known help to paint the portrait, often filling in gaps.  The principals are fascinating, and brought down from their legendary status by relating their intimate interactions and thoughts.  George Armstrong Custer was a truly great soldier during the Civil War.  The absence of war was a large part of his undoing, for it forced him into realms he had not entered before, that he was unable to manipulate to his advantage, and for which he was wholly unprepared. 

Custer’s Trials is the consummate biography of George Armstrong Custer.   


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Stiles, T.J., Custer’s Trials, Alfred A. Knopf/Borzoi, New York City, 2015.  ISBN 978-0-307-59264.

Available in stores October 27th, 2015.  Also available to preorder at Amazon here.

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GettysBLOG

We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!" -- GettysBLOG

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.” -- GettysBLOG

Remember in May and November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!

Now in our 11th year!

Copyright © 2005-2015: GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

We must have hit a nerve!

 [Updated at 10:40 AM]

We must have hit a nerve with that last post.  They've pulled out all the stops!

Somebody or multiple somebodies sicced Fred Snyder on us.  Fred stooped to calling us a "failed website."  I guess failure means we are about to start our 12th year here.  Has Fred had his column that long?

Now Publisher Hartman has weighed in with his incomplete information.

First, Mr. Hartman, it is NOT a small group that contests the decision to move some services out of the County Seat.  Second, it is the County Seat of Adams County and that is where county government belongs.

Besides, won't moving County offices to Cumberland Township deprive Cumberland of the taxes on that location?

People at the Times are not doing their homework.

Happy Birthday to ACEDC?  Well, 26 years of making up statistics to push development is long  enough.  Move on ACEDC, go somewhere else, like another state, or even another country -- Mexico could use you.  We have a gem to protect here and everything you do moves toward its ruination.

Keep County Government in the County Seat --- where we can all keep a closer eye on it.

For further reading we strongly recommend the first 5 quotes under the "Timely Quotes" section in the right column just to the right of this post.  They apply to the situation with the County Commissioners discussed in this post.

GettysBLOG

We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!" -- GettysBLOG

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.” -- GettysBLOG

Remember in May and November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!

Now in our 11th year!

Copyright © 2005-2015: GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Government of, by, and for The People

That is what Lincoln said during his famous Gettysburg Address.  Government of The People, by The People and for The People.  None of that applies to the Adams County Government.  Instead we get Commissioners' meetings scheduled while most folks are at work, so public input would be minimal at best, but these meetings bring the Commissioners,  reeking of the cigar smoke of backroom political deals, before the press and a few members of The People.

Here is what one local resident has to say:
"The current board of commissioners has spent over two years and over $400,000 on trying to re-locate several county offices and yet they do not seem to have anything to show for their time and [The People's] money. The project has gone  from  being  at  the former  St. Francis  building (purchased for $1.3 million) to 34 East Middle Street demolition and re-build with an undisclosed amount spent on that plan to a new construction plan for a new building by the prison in Straban Township. A contract to design and prepare bid documents was awarded in the amount of $395,000 for this Straban building, but the bids came back "too high". Now, having spent all this, a new undisclosed location is under consideration and the commissioners will not discuss/disclose any of the details. This is in clear violation of the Sunshine Act and somehow I have lost faith in their ability to make this decision on their own without public input."
We are not alone in claiming The Public Forum not welcome in Adams County. 

Now we are asking for a petition to be signed by The People of Adams County regarding the debacle that the decision on how to expand the County's office space has now become.

Please go to this link to read and sign the petition to the Commissioners. 

The Commissioners have a real serious problem with their wheeling and dealing in private, and not taking public comment [the Commissioners Meetings have become nothing more than a dog and pony show] And with the election a bit over a month away, keep this problem in mind.

[Update 10/1/2015 11 AM:  Apparently  the Commissioners have decided to make their decision on the office space expansion and then hold another dog and pony show-- I mean meeting -- for the public on October 8th.   Please go read and sign the petition.  This farce of a County  Government has to be stopped!]

Only new faces in the Commissioners offices will change this reclusive mindset.

Remember, before you vote, GettysBLOG!

GettysBLOG

We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!" -- GettysBLOG

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.” -- GettysBLOG

Remember in May and November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!

Now in our 11th year!

Copyright © 2005-2015: GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Jim Getty - September 26, 2015

In person, and off stage, he was a kindly man.  He was a bell ringer for the Salvation Army, and went to the  monthly Navy Breakfasts at the Gettysburg Family Restaurant.  He had served in the Navy during the Korean War.   And sometimes, this humble man could be seen sitting on his stoop in front of his home.  He was every bit as fascinating off stage as he was on.  

Born in Illinois, he was a teacher in Ohio in 1977 when he decided to come to Gettysburg to "become" Lincoln.  It had to be a calling.  Born in the land of Lincoln, a strong physical resemblance to Lincoln, and connected to Lincoln by the name of James Getty, and Gettysburg, how could he not become THE Lincoln at Gettysburg?

Jim Getty was never elected President of the United States.  He never led the nation through its most trying time during a civil war.  But if you ever experienced one of his performances, you came away thinking that perhaps he could have done those things.  He was that good. 

Jim Getty passed away on Saturday, September 26, 2015. 

He will be greatly missed.  His fans are legion, and forever seared in the memories of countless thousands of people is Jim Getty's Lincoln. 

At Lincoln's death Edwin Stanton intoned, “He now belongs to the ages.”  So, too, does Jim Getty.

Jim Getty now gets to sit down with the Great Emancipator himself, who would likely tell him he did much good, and did it well.

GettysBLOG

We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!" -- GettysBLOG

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.” -- GettysBLOG

Remember in May and November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!

Now in our 11th year!

Copyright © 2005-2015: GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Public Forum not welcome in Adams County


[From the Gettysburg Times, Thursday, July 30, 2015, page A5: Proposals continued from page A1, under the byline of Alex J. Hayes]

"...All three commissioners assured him that public comment is welcome at every meeting.  

'You can talk to us at any time,' Phiel said.  'We appreciate it here and we appreciate it individually...'

'...Phiel explained that the commissioners do not believe the meetings are the appropriate place for an open dialogue.  He said such back and forth can bog down the meeting's progress and urged those who want a dialogue to contact the commissioners individually.  The commissioners are open to responding to concerns such as they did on Wednesday, he added."
Unbelievable!  "...the commissioners do not believe the meetings are the appropriate place for an open dialogue.  He said such back and forth can bog down the meeting's progress and urged those who want a dialogue to contact the commissioners individually..."

That makes the public Commissioners Meeting nothing more than a "dog and pony show."

That meeting is the public forum, it exists in that format so the public can address the commissioners, ask questions, express opinions, and have discussions about whatever business is being conducted, and to create "new business" for the next meeting.  If that becomes too burdensome for the Commissioners, then they need to find another job.  They work for the very people "...who bog down the meeting's progress..."

Hey Commissioners, those folks are your bosses.  You work for them.  They give you your marching orders, and you do not have a say in how they do it except to structure the meetings to allow it.  If they need more time, call another meeting.  Maybe if you spent less time in "executive session" and more time listening to your constituents in the established open forum, things might actually run better.  

Maybe you should ask for volunteers to serve on committees to oversee County Government, Infrastructure, County Employees, Taxes, and so on, to cover all the business the County does.

Mr. W. G. Davis wrote in in Fixing Local Government, Part 4:
"Something is wrong with a governmental process that sets in motion decision-making at closed-to-the-public-meetings [work or executive sessions] where decisions are made, and then public meetings are held for public comment, before taking the “official vote” on the decision that was already made in the earlier private “work session.” 

"That stinks!

"Pardon me, but these are elected officials, who work for the taxpayers, who are put in office by the voters, and who are responsible to every person in their township, school district or county as the case may be.  If the public, and the fourth estate are not permitted to observe the workings of government, even the disagreements, and political wranglings, then you no longer have a government that is responsible to the people, but a government of dictatorial elites that rule by fiat, that make backroom deals, and put polish on them for the public meetings.  Even personnel matters should be publicly discussed.  Employees, too, work for the public.  In addition to the presence of a reporter at each and every meeting, the minutes of each meeting should be published within two days, and the agenda and schedule for the next meeting should be printed a week beforehand.  And space rates for those two items to be published in the local paper should be budgeted by the townships and the County – and the school board! 

"James Madison wrote, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”  That is what has occurred here, in Adams County, and in other areas as well.  It is a shameful abridgment of the contract between the electorate and the elected. 

"And Abraham Lincoln said, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.”  How is it possible to gain the measure of public sentiment when decisions are made before the public is allowed to speak? 

"This needs to stop and it needs to stop  now!"
We at GettysBlog agree with this sentiment completely.  It is obvious to us that these Commissioners have absolutely corrupted the system of county government and deserve to be thrown from office in November.

Let's elect commissioners in November who work for the people, and don't stifle public interest or input, who don't make decisions in Executive session then go hold public meetings and pretend you'll change your minds.  End Executive Sessions.  If there are disagreements, air them in public.  That is what the Commissioner's Meetings are for.  Government must be visible to be acceptable responsible, responsive and open.  Adams County government is anything but!

Good grief!  Whatever happened to that sentiment that Abraham Lincoln spoke of so eloquently here in November of 1863.  You know, at the end, when he said, "...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."  Seems to us here at GettysBLOG that the part about "...government of the people, by the people, for the people..." has gotten twisted way out of shape here in the very county where Lincoln gave that magnificent speech.  He wasn't just talking about the Federal government, but all government in this nation. 

A certain group of office holders need to stop feeling so self- important and elitist and start working for the people again. 


GettysBLOG

We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!" -- GettysBLOG

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.” -- GettysBLOG

Remember in May and November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!

Now in our 11th year!

Copyright © 2005-2015: GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.