Sunday, September 23, 2018

NASA Launching Advanced Laser to Measure Earth’s Changing Ice

NASA Launching Advanced Laser to Measure Earth’s Changing Ice: Next month, NASA will launch into space the most advanced laser instrument of its kind, beginning a mission to measure – in unprecedented detail – changes in the heights of Earth’s polar ice.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Major Turning Points in the Battle of Gettysburg

I think it is clear the the Battle of Little Round Top was the defining engagement of the Civil War


The American Civil War (April 12, 1861-May 13, 1865) can be argued to be the bloodiest in American history, as both sides in the war were comprised of Americans. 

   Until the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), the Army of Northern Virginia, under the commmand of General Robert E. Lee had chalked up many victories against the North's Army of the Potomac. In fact, without a single major Northern victory to that point, many people in the North and South alike believed that Lee's army could and would gain victory in the war. More importantly, with each Southern victory, the rogue administration of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was awarded more and more credibility not only in the eyes of Americans, but also foreign governments in Europe.

   Gettysburg was important because the credibility of the administration of President Abraham Lincoln was probably on the line. Should Lee's army have vanquished the army of newly appointed Army of the Potomac Commander General George G. Meade, then it would have resulted in Lee's first and greatest victory in Northern terrirory. And, it would have severely weakened the confidence of Northerners that the war was winnable. Lincoln would have been beseiged in Washington DC even more than he already was. The South would have been a few chess moves away from having succeeded in sucsession and perhaps the Davis government would have been recognized formally by any number of nations. 

   It was not the good intentions of Lincoln, in his opposition to slavery, that created some divine miracle to save the Union. The beginning of the salvation began with BG John Buford's Union cavalry holding Seminary Ridge against superior odds of Confederate Gen. Henry Heath's infantry division. In holding the high ground, he gave a tactical advantage to the North and deprived Lee's army from occupying the heights of the city. If this had happened, Gen. James Longstreet's defensive theory might well have been employed, giving the Confederates a tactical advantage. 

   In engaging Heath's division early, and making it deploy at a time and place not of Lee's choosing, Buford took the Army of Northern Virginia off its plan. This was the first thing that happened 'right' for the Union. Later, Buford's cavalry was reinforced by Gen. John Reynold's infantry, consolidating strength along the ridge and the high ground. This was the good news from the first day.

   The next piece of luck the North had was when Gen. Strong Vincent placed the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment at the end of the Northern line at Little Round Top. General Lee had assigned General Longstreet's corps the responsibility of gaining possession of Little Round Top. Longstreet gave the assignment to division commander  General John Bell Hood. Hood assigned the 15th Alabama Infantry the primary responsibility to attack the 20th Maine. But, not the 15th Regiment, or all of the reserve that was set aside to assist the 15th culd dislodge the 20th Maine from their defensive position.

   If Hood had managed to gain Little Round Top, the situation would have been much different. With Northern forces deplyed along the rige at Big Round Top, Confederate forces could have rolled up Union forces. Should this have happened, Meade's army would have faced certain destruction, defending against Confederate divisions attacking from the front and back. The Army of the Potomac would have been devastated and probably combat ineffective for the rest of what would have been a short war. This was the second day.

   Finally, on the third day, General Lee wanted Gen. Longstreet to attack the center of the Union position, at Cemetary Hill. Lee believed that the flanks of the Union Army had been reinforced overnight and his enemy's strength was not in the center of the Union line. In truth, there were good lines of communication and resupply avenues throughout the Northern line. Northern artillery had ample rounds to fire at advancing Confederates. And, even though Confederate artillery made a strong attempt to prepare the area the infantry would assault, it ultimately came up short. Here is where the human element came into play.

   General Winfield Scott Hancock was the corps commander who had primacy of that area of the battlefield Lee wanted to target. General Hancock was a professional soldier, West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican War. He trained his soldiers well and had some success in commanding his troops, despite a chain of command above him that was not always prudent or skillfull. This was made apparent on July 3, when Hancock's troops did not run from the artillery that blanketed the area courtesy of Confederate cannons. His men stood when other nits in the Army of the Potomac might not have.

   Well, Longstreet selected one of his division commanders, Gen. George Pickett to lead an assault comprised of Longstreet's corps (minus Hood's division) and elements of Gen. A.P. Hill's corps. But, because of Northern artillery and courage and skill of Hancock's men, Pickett's charge amounted to 60 percent of the charge's 15,000 men being killed, wounded or missing.

   These were major points of decision in the Battle of Gettysburg. And, each of these points were vital to saving the Union. However, if the 20th Maine had not stood on July 2nd at Little Round Top there would have likely not been a Union Army at Gettysburg to fight on the 3rd at all.

   The poitical cannot help but be entwined in the story of the Civil War. Remember, the United States was not quite 100 years old by the time the Civil War broke out. The American Experiment in democracy was fairly new to the world. And, Great Britain was not entirely adjusted to the notion that its former Colonies would remain its own, independent republic. The Civil War was the opportunity for British rulers to hope. The only thing that England disagreed with the Confederate States about was its use of human slaves. I cannot help but think that, should the Confederate States have won their freedom, the South would have had to rid itself of slavery to enjoy the good graces of English trade and protection. At that point, the South would have had little to no leverage to submitting to English dictates.

   I believe that, in any version of the ending of the Civil War, the South would have had to abolish slavery. However, if such a thing happened at the tip of a British bayonet, as oppposed to a Northern one, then the America we have all come to know would have never happened.

(Jim Purcell is a retired journalist. Mr. Purcell is a U.S. Army veteran who served as a sergeant in the Military Intelligence Corps. He is retired and lives in Western North Carolina with his wife.)



Marty Appel on Casey Stengel - May 2017

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

20th Maine Regiment XO Wanted to Set Record Straight

(This is an update to a previous story that appeared on this site, titled "Chamberlain's 20th Maine Saves the Union at Little Round Top." This is done to provide all points of view about the the action at Little Round Top )


The Battle of Little Round Top (July 2, 1863), during the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), is considered by many to be the key engagement in the most important battle of the American Civil War (April 1861-May 1865).

   Until today, there are differing stories about what exactly happened during that terrible battle between the North and South at Little Round Top.

Major (later General) Ellis Spear
   One of the most popular authors who wrote the history of the battle was Michael Shaara (1928-1988), who penned, among others, the book “The Killer Angels,” in 1974. The book was later made into a movie, which spent a great deal of time chronicling the actions of the 20th Maine Regiment, of the Army of the Potomac, which was led by then-Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

   The book and movie subscribe to the accounts of the battle allegedly given by Col. Chamberlain and several members of the regiment. In these accounts, the role of Col. Chamberlain is cast as very heroic in nature – so much so that Colonel, later General, Chamberlain was eventually awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions the day of Little Round Top. Indeed, Col. Chamberlain was heroic that day, but just what occurred has been disputed.

   Col. Chamberlain’s right hand in commanding the 20th Maine was then-Major Ellis Spear (who later became a general himself). Maj. Spear was with the 20th Maine during that terrible day when it faced off against the 15th Alabama Regiment, among others in Gen. John Bell Hood's Confederate division.

   According to Spear, who had been a long-time friend of Col. Chamberlain’s since before the war, in Maine, Col. Chamberlain’s published account of the battle exaggerated his role in the 20th Maine’s victory at Little Round Top. At the same time, though, I believe it is safe to say that every soldier who took part in the Battle of Little Round Top showed an amazing amount of courage and soldierly skill that terrible July day.
MG J.L. Chamberlain 

   Both Generals Chamberlain and Spear survived the war and went on to be very prosperous in civilian life. So, there was no discernable reason why Spear would be frivolous in his rebuke of Chamberlain’s side of the story regarding the battle.

   Yet, Spear claimed that the version of Chamberlain’s story printed by Hearst Publications in the former commander’s later life may well have been “corrected” by the news outlet in a manner which gave a false impression of “vain glory” on the battlefield. Not only was Spear upset about Hearst publication’s account of Little Round Top, but also of the 20th Maine’s participation in the Battle of Fredericksburg previous to the Battle of Gettysburg.

The 20th Maine Regiment can be said to have played a key role at the Battle of Gettysburg

   Essentially, Spear contended that there was far more of a committee to Chamberlain’s leadership that day among officers of the regiment. And, the signature bayonet charge at Little Round Top was the consensus of a group of officers and not the bold unilateral order of Chamberlain.

   With that said, Chamberlain and Spear were, in fact, life-long friends. This clarification on the part of Spear was, in his point of view, nothing more than trying to give an accurate account of a major Civil War battle. 

   Though Spear did not seek to muddy Chamberlain’s name in any way he did seek to set the record straight about the events of July 2, 1863.

   There may be some contention about the exact accounts of what happened during the furious battle between the 20th Maine and the rebels at Gettysburg, yet the fact remains that it was a day when a group of Maine men saved the Union in a bloody action that still resonates today.