A Horrible Glory: Gettysburg 150th Anniversary

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The sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg is only a few days away.  It’s a very notable anniversary, for the reasons explained below.  Unfortunately, though, this date will largely go unrecognized by much of the firecracker crowd, as well as those who think history is just boring. 

Not at longitudes.  Here, we feel historical understanding is crucial to an enlightened populace.

But rather than offering a rehash of this epic battle, which can be found any number of places, I thought it would be fun to do a quiz, sort of an “Are you smarter than a 10th grader?” challenge.  Just 10 questions, and the top scorer will be served free hardtack and stale coffee in the mizzentop.  But first, for you non-Civil War buffs, a few basics about the battle are in order:

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought over three days, July 1-3, 1863, near the town of Gettysburg in south-central Pennsylvania.  It was the most important battle of the American Civil War.  It was also the bloodiest conflict ever on the continent of North America, with over 46,000 killed, wounded, captured, or missing.  

Why was this battle so pivotal to the war?  Until Gettysburg, the southern Confederates – beyond all expectations – had been keeping pace with the northern army, which was far superior in manpower, supplies, ammunition, etc.  Behind General Robert E. Lee’s inspirational leadership, and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s military genius, the rebels had won strategic victories in the South at Second Bull Run (Manassas), Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

Union Gen. George G. Meade

Union Gen. George G. Meade

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee

Confederate President Jefferson Davis hoped to threaten federal soil and compel President Lincoln to a truce, with recognition of a confederation of states as a separate and distinct country (and perpetuate the institution of slavery).  So Lee invaded the North, the culmination of which was the killing fields of Gettysburg.  Lee’s defeat there turned the tide for the Union and was a blow from which the South never fully recovered.

But hey, enough of my yakkin’… let’s boogie!

1.       Until the battle, the town of Gettysburg was known for what?

a.       Site of a Lutheran college

b.       Home of American Red Cross founder Clara Barton

c.       A Yuengling brewery

d.       A cartridge factory

2.       Which of these illustrious individuals fought at Gettysburg?

a.       James Naismith, credited with inventing basketball

b.       Abner Doubleday, credited with inventing baseball

c.       Lew Wallace, author of “Ben-Hur”

Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid

d.       William H. Bonney (aka “Billy the Kid”)

 3.       Which cavalry officer did Lee reprimand for arriving late at Gettysburg?

a.       John Buford, Jr.

b.       Alfred Pleasonton

c.       J.E.B. Stuart

d.       Nathan Bedford Forrest

4.       The bulk of the Union forces occupied what ground during the battle?

a.       Culp’s Hill

b.       Seminary Ridge

c.       Big Round Top

d.       Cemetery Ridge

5.       Which highly respected general was killed on the first day after yelling “Forward, men, for God’s sake, forward!”

a.       Winfield Scott Hancock

b.       Benjamin F. Butler

c.       A.P. Hill

d.       John F. Reynolds

6.       The hero of the second-day’s clash at Little Round Top, Joshua Laurence Chamberlain, was what before the war?

a.       A grocery store clerk from Indiana

b.       A rhetoric professor from Maine

c.       A West Point alumnus who graduated last in his class

d.       A New York policeman

7.       What was the name given to the most famous charge during the battle?

a.       Pickett’s Charge

b.       Longstreet’s Charge

c.       The Charge of the Light Brigade

d.       Custer’s Last Stand

8.       President Lincoln delivered his famous “Gettysburg Address” when?

a.       Four days after the battle

b.       Four weeks after the battle

c.       Four months after the battle

d.       Four years after the battle

9.       Which later U.S. president established a home near the battlefield?

a.       Theodore Roosevelt

b.       Franklin D. Roosevelt

c.       Dwight D. Eisenhower

d.       Lyndon B. Johnson

10.   What did Robert E. Lee do after his defeat at Gettysburg?

a.       He took personal responsibility for the loss

b.       He blamed Jeff Davis

c.       He cried

d.       He coined the passive-tense, pass-the-buck political cliché “Mistakes were made”

e.       He sang “I wish I was in Dixie, hooray, hooray”

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Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain

If you’ve got the guts of Joshua L. Chamberlain and want to fix bayonets on this quiz, just respond with your answers in the blog Comments section, on my Facebook page, or email me at pkurtz58@gmail.com.

The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most important events in the history of the United States.  Although it’s terrible that a war had to be fought to finally end slavery, President Lincoln and the North prevailed and kept the country from becoming a “divided house.”  Even if you “don’t know much about history” (as Sam Cooke once sang), I hope you gain at least a little insight into America’s only civil war, during this 150th anniversary of the battle at Gettysburg.

In closing, I’ll invoke a banality that I usually shy away from, but which I think is actually appropriate on this occasion: God Bless America.

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Get Smart with Your Smartphone

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Last month I was in Wisconsin and had an interesting chat with a university graduate student about the weighty topic of technology and “dehumanization.”  We were sitting on opposite sides of a table facing each other.  After about five minutes, I dropped the name of movie director Stanley Kubrick (DR. STRANGELOVE, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, etc.).  I noticed his head also dropped.  This happened again several times later.  “Is my conversation that boring?” I thought, believing he was having trouble staying awake.  It turned out he wasn’t dozing: he was punching information into his smartphone, which I didn’t see because it was on his lap and hidden by the table.

He was a nice guy, and I give him credit for wanting to learn about Stanley Kubrick from Wikipedia.  But it was a little annoying having to talk to him without eye contact.  Similar things have happened other times with other people.

It wasn’t long ago we didn’t even have smartphones.  Even mobile telephones have only been around a couple decades.  Nowadays, though, we often look like an army of secret agent Maxwell Smarts with miniature shoephones up to our ears.

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I know I’m getting gray at the temples and cling to the past.  I’m also aware that we live in an age of instant communication, and I haven’t totally embraced it yet.  And I plead guilty to rudeness myself.  I once glanced at my cellphone during a meeting at work – I don’t always agree with my boss, but he was right when he admonished me to “Keep it in your pants.” (Sorry about that, Chief).

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But although digital technology has enormous societal benefits, like so many other things it’s also an excuse for silliness and sloth.  There’s a difference between using your phone to broadcast to the world a violent street scene, and texting “LOL” and “OMG” during a social occasion.  Advertisers like to push the idea of cells and smartphones as fashion accessories, but good manners are always fashionable.

I remember being in school when the dining hall monitor posted Amy Vanderbilt’s top ten rules of etiquette.  We made jokes about it because we thought he was acting like an old lady.  But he had a point.  Rules of dining etiquette may not mean much when you’re a self-obsessed teenage slob, like I was, but they become important when you have to socialize later in life.  It’s not so much about adapting or fitting in, but rather respecting yourself and others.

I feel the same way about i-phones, Blackberries, cell phones, i-pads… whatever.  Good manners never go out of style, but in the global village, they often seem to be going out the window.  You don’t have to answer every call or text immediately, or finish that game of Candy Crush, or check your Facebook page for updates every 20 minutes.  Unless it’s an emergency or something very important, keep the toy out of sight until you have some private time.

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This blog is just a hobby for me, but there are people who get paid to write what I’ve just written.  I checked out a few of their articles.  I’m not sure these paid professionals quite get it, either.  The first article I saw discussed “smartphone decency” and advised “Do schedule some offline time with your family.”  Really?!  Gee, what a novel idea, Skippy!  To actually pull yourself away from your gadget and spend time with your loved ones!

Another writer discussed smartphone etiquette and dating.  She advised not using it on a first date.  I guess the inference was that, on subsequent dates, it’s ok to LOL and OMG and ignore your partner.

Like I said, these folks get paid for their writing, so maybe they know more than me.  I wonder if they know who Stanley Kubrick is.

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Rolling Stones Release First Single, “Come On”

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Back in 2002 I managed to get a couple tickets to see the Rolling Stones in Columbus, Ohio.  My son Nick was only 12, but he liked some of my music, and played drums, so I treated him to his first rock concert – something to tell his grandkids, right?  The Stones played like 20-year-olds, and we had a blast.  But afterwards it was sad to think the Stones would soon be retiring from the stage.

OK, I’ve never been good at predictions.

This Friday, June 7, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the release of the Rolling Stones’ first single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On.”  It defies belief that three of the original five Stones – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Charlie Watts – are still together and performing. 

The Stones have changed a lot since the days of rabbit-ear TV antennas.  They’ve dabbled in almost as many different musical styles – psychedelia, country, reggae, even disco – as Keith’s dabbled in drugs.  But the one constant has been their love of American blues and R&B. 

They formed in London in 1962 and took their name from the song “Rollin’ Stone” by legendary bluesman Muddy Waters.  Before long they became the hottest band in London.  Small Faces/Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan offers an eyewitness description of their frenetic club performances at the Crawdaddy Club in May ’63 (from his book ALL THE RAGE):

Brian Jones and Keith Richards sat on stools either side of Mick Jagger, who’d wail over our heads while Keith spat out licks, weaving in and out of Brian’s slide guitar lines…They would build to an ear-splitting intensity, soar for a while, come down to a groove, and then churn up to the climax at the end, which drove everyone even crazier…Every night I’d see members of other bands hogging the front of the stage like me, making mental notes.

Chuck Berry was probably the biggest influence on Keith Richards’ stripped-down guitar style, which might be why they covered him for their first recording.  “Come On” wasn’t one of Berry’s more familiar tunes, and he’d recorded it only two years before the Stones.  But the song’s anonymity worked in their favor, since a lot of people assumed it was a Stones original.  For the B-side, they chose Willie Dixon’s “I Want to Be Loved.”  The single reached No. 21 on the UK singles charts.  But they refused to play “Come On” live because they felt it wasn’t “black” enough!

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In his autobiography, LIFE, Richards talks about the song:

I quite cold-bloodedly saw this song as just a way to get in.  To get into the studio and to come up with something very commercial.  It’s very different from Chuck Berry’s version; it’s very Beatle-ized, in fact.

Unlike many bands who experience a “sophomore slump,” the Stones moved only higher up the charts after “Come On.”  Their second single was a cover of Lennon-McCartney’s “I Wanna Be Your Man” and went to No. 12.  Their third single, Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” went to No. 3.  A year later they hit No. 1 with a cover of Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now,” recorded in Chicago at Muddy Waters’ old studio, Chess. 

Their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, eventually made the pivotal decision to promote them as the ugly, bad-boy alternative to the Beatles, dispensing with the matching suits and encouraging them to look and act surly.  And while the “Glimmer Twins” took longer to develop as a songwriting unit than Lennon-McCartney, soon the bulk of album and singles material was self-penned.  With Mick as lyricist and Keith as musical director, the road to rock greatness was paved with gold.  Other than Elvis, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and maybe Berry, I can’t think of musicians more integral to rock history than the Rolling Stones.

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Unfortunately, there’s no video footage of the Stones in their early club days.  But I highly recommend the DVD “The T.A.M.I. Show,” a variety concert that was filmed during the Stones’ first U.S. tour, only a year after “Come On.”  Mick had already honed his trademark stage mannerisms, and the band performs six songs, including the great “Time Is on My Side” (“The T.A.M.I. Show” is special for a lot of other reasons, but I won’t spoil it).

Till then, make sure you crank it up this weekend in honor of the Rolling Stones.  Like the man said: “It’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but I like it!”

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