Monday, March 31, 2014

Documentary Review: ***^From the Ground Up (9/11)

This documentary is a 10 years post 9/11 presentation.  It is about what became of the widows and family members of those that died when the towers fell.  This documentary moved me to tears on several occassions.  It is so hard to get a grip around 9/11.  Why would anyone want to do such a thing to fellow human beings.  This film moves past that.  It tells the stories of several widows whose fire fighter husbands died when the towers fell.  This movie is very compelling.   Each of these women had to find strength within to go on with life.  There are stories of several women who set up foundations, one to support orphaned children, another to run group homes for autistic children and yet another to support a community library.  There was a woman who traveled to Rwanda to help women infected with malaria; but while there she met widows of the Rwandan violence, and gained insight as to how they dealt with their loss.  The women involved have been to support groups with other survivors.  They all had their own story of strength.
The most moving scene was the marathon at the end.  over 2700 people died in 9/11; of them 343 were firemen.  The Stephen Siller foundation sponsors an annual run.  The entry fee supports the foundation.  The foundation uses the money for scholarships and other needs of children.  The run is now a very big deal.  It started with 2000 participates, but now has over 100,000 and 1000 volunteers.  They recreate Stephen's run.  Stephen was headed home when he realized something was wrong.  He turned his car around, but couldn't get though the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.  So he took his equipment (60 pounds), and ran through the tunnel.  As part of the day, the have placards for each of the deceased firemen which the participants run past.  The are help by firemen, with other firemen holding flags.  It is really great.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Review: His Promised Land: The Autobiography of John P. Parker Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad

This is a fascinating book.  I had never read the word of someone who had been a slave.  This man had some fascinating stories to tell.  John P. Parker was part of the Underground Railroad in Ripley, Ohio, just across from Kentucky on the Ohio River.  But the story starts before this.  Parker was a slave.  His mother was a slave, and his father was the white owner.  He was sold down the river, to work on the plantations.  Something I learned is that the Northern states generally did not use slaves for labor, but would breed slaves, and then ship them south.  It had been illegal for sometime to import slaves.  Parker said he inherited a couple things from his father.  Intelligence and creativity; and anger.  He talked of his trip south, and the callous nature of the overseers.  Someone he was chained with almost drowned.  However he says the worst of slavery was not the physical hardship; but the humiliation of not being a person.  He was bought by a doctor.  He learned to read.  He was able to use books of the doctor, and in fact went away to school with the doctor's sons.  However this was too far north, so he was brought home again.  He did runaway, and talks about this experience.  He was caught.  However the doctor did not punish him.  He was put up for sale again, and Parker convinced a widow to buy him, and then allow him to buy his freedom from her.  He was a foundry worker, and he would work extra and make extra money to pay for his freedom.  When he bought his freedom he headed north, but not before he finished a fight with a rival.  He went to Cleveland to work in the foundry business, and eventually made his way to Ripley.  He tells several humorous stories of his involvement with helping slaves make it to freedom.  Ripley had a large population of abolitionists, but now everyone felt this way.  This activity was scary and dangerous.  Even so, he helped over 400 people make it through Ripley and to places further north.  He would take a boat across the river, and help bring people back.  Some did not have good sense to be quiet, and he would have to threaten them.  One time he went into a master's bedroom to rescue a couple's baby because the master worried the slave parents might try to runaway.  He was not directly involved in the story of Eliza from "Uncle Tom's Cabin" which he knew of as she went through Ripley.  The Parker had a keen sense of humor.  However he was also a man who lived with danger.  He would always walk in the middle of the road, for fear someone might come out of an alley to get him. 
This book is edited by Stuart Seeley Prague, and is based on manuscript of interviews by Frank M Gregg with Parker conducted in the 1880s.  This presents some cause for alarm.  Could Parker have been saying what he thought his white interviewer wanted to hear, or could the years of passing effected his memory.  However, the story very likely mostly accurate.  Even with years, these type of experiences are remembers.  Parker had kept a diary of people helped rescue.  However he burned it in the foundry with over 300 names, when the Fugitive Slave Act which established serious penalties for those who helped runaway slaves.  He could have been thrown in jail and his property confiscated.
This is a fascinating story.  That men would put their own safety, property and even lives on the line for other people's freedom shows a special kind of character and courage.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Documentary Review: A Film Unfinished: The Ghetto (Warsaw Ghetto)

This documentary is based on an unfinished propaganda film which was made by Nazi film team, under the direction of the SS in the Warsaw Ghetto.  Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of the German ghettos for Jewish persons.  It was walled in in 1940.  The ghetto held about 400,000 people; 30 percent of the population of Warsaw on 2.5 percent of the area.  Conditions were crowded.  In addition to this the area was walled in, meaning there was no economic base.  The citizens were allowed 184 calories a day.  The film shows a monthly allotment.  2.5 eggs per year, 6 ounces of vegetables a month, it was just crazy.  Smuggling items from outside the ghetto was the only way to survive.  Many small children were involved in smuggling.  If they were caught, they were killed.
"The Ghetto" was filmed in 1842.  Rumors were flying of the death camps, but exportation from the Warsaw Ghetto had not begun.  The motivation of the film was two-fold as far as I could tell.  One they tried to make the life in the ghetto to not be that bad.  To do this they staged many scenes--a large funeral procession, a woman putting on lipstick, a party, an opulent home, a thriving market with meat and other items.  It also tried to show the callousness of the rich Jews towards the poor.  They would show poor beggar Jews, and the opulent people ignoring them.  They tried to show this contrast in several different ways.  Another thing they showed was corpses on the street, and everyone avoiding them.  They were trying to make a statement.
When the film was first discovered in German vaults, it was taken as on-the-street filming.  However it was only after finding takes in another area, and talking to people from the ghetto, ad one of the film makers, that the pieced together that much of what is shown is scripted, while some of it is what was happening.
Adam Czerniak√≥w was the Jewish administrator.  He cooperated with the Nazis.  He also documented in his journal some of the filming, some of which was done in his residence, trying to show the opulent Jewish population.  Of course this was only 20 or 30 people of the 400,000.  Czerniakow committed suicide the day the exportations to death chambers started.  240,000 to 300,000 were sent to termination camps from the ghetto.  Possible as many as 100,000 more died from the conditions, typhus and hunger, and murdered by the Nazis.
There are a couple of depictions that are very moving, but also hard to watch.  The first is a group of men, and then women who are made to get naked and participate in a ritual bath.    It does show nudity.  They were healthier.  I think as a way of showing the contrast between the poor and the rich.
The second is a few of corpses.  The camera man indicated that there were corpse upon corpse, he couldn't tell how many.  They are all naked.  They are thrown around like sacks of potatoes, as they are slid into a mass grave. 
This documentary was never finished.  But that it was conceived shows a special kind of viciousness.  Those who were shown in the film were not saved from the gas chambers.  For many this is a documentation of those who would die in just a could of months. 

Documentary Review: Civil War Episode Six: Valley of the Shadow of Death

This episode introduces us to the generals, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.  Grant comes to Washington, and meets President Lincoln at a ball.  In the mean time General Lee has had the ability to predict what the opposing general is going to do.  He has this canny knack with Grant as well, however Grant's idea is to keep on the offensive.  The first engage at the Wilderness (close to Chancellorsville and in fact their are unburied bones on the battlefield.)  The most harrowing thing about this battle is the area was very dry.  The canister set fire to the kindling.  The wounded had no way to escape this fire, and many were burned alive, their screams reaching the men on both sides.  Not pleasant.
Instead of retreating as all the other generals had done, Grant continued forward, around his left flank.  He did this time and again, driving Lee towards Richmond; The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, New Market, and Cold Harbor.  The one time Lee missed predicting Grants next move was before the siege of Petersburg.  Lee had though Grant would attack directly at Richmond, but instead went around Richmond and tried to take the rail junction south of the city.  It was only by providence that enough Confederates were able to arrive, which lead to the long siege from June to April of the next year. 
Before turning to the Western theater, the movie talked about the hospital system.  Union Hospitals totaled 350 at the end of the war, up from a handful.  The Confederacy had 150 hospitals.  Dorothea Dix or Dragon Dix as she was called, was the head of nursing, working without pay.  Dorothea Dix is known as the founder of my profession, social work.  Early in the war she wanted the nurses to be plain, to dress plainly, and have no interest in the men.  However, as the war progressed, she just wanted nurses.  Walt Whitman served in the hospitals, dressing wounds, reading poetry. 
As for they Western theater, the Union drove towards Atlanta.  For the most part Sherman moved around the flanks, avoiding frontal attacks, except for at Kennesaw Mountain, where he felt the Confederates ere too thin, but the Confederates were dug in and the Union suffered significant loss.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Book Review: Archeology of the Old Spanish Trail/ Mormon Road

Archeology of the Old Spanish Trail/ Mormon Road: From Las Vegas, Nevada to the California Border, Bureau of Land Management 1990
 
I thought this might have something to do with the Mormon Trail.  It doesn’t.  It in fact deals with the trail from Las Vegas to California.  This trail had four major uses.  In 1776 it was first used by pack animal by such men as father Escalante.  The route they took became an exchange route.  Also Father Francisco Garces traversed the Mojave Dessert to San Gabriel in 1776.  Jedediah Smith went this way from Great Salt Lake to California in 1826.  He did not want to go over the Sierras.  John Fremont with a military exploring party went this way in 1844. 
The trail was most widely used for 1848 to 1905 as a route for traveling from Utah to California, especially the Mormon community of San Bernardino in California.  Subsequent to this it was parts of the trail were used locally by farmers, ranchers and miners.  Today parts of the trail are underneath Las Vegas, or a highway.  Other parts are used for off road vehicles.  A small percentage of the trail is still pristine.
The researchers concluded that the trail included springs or wells about every 18 miles apart.  The figured they travelers would go from one source of water to another in a day.  They would then perhaps stay and recruit for a day or two before making the next leg of the journey.  “Travelers consumed fruits and meats from cans and swallowed medicinal or alcoholic beverages from bottles. … A cluster of horseshoes and mule shoes south of Las Vegas Springs indicates that this was a rough section to traverse.  An interesting study, mostly of old bottles and cans; as well as determining if some of the trail would be worth preserving.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review: Inca Town, written by Fiona Macdonald and illustrated by Mark Bergin, Grolier Publishing1998.

Inca Town is an interesting book.  It present an Inca community, most likely Cusco, at the end of the 15th century, or the Incan Empire’s most prosperous time.  This was before an internal rebellion, and before the arrival of the Spanish.  This book presents several different Incan ideas, but does say no one knows exactly what things were like.  Among other things it mentions the moving of those conquered to different areas, and thus avoid the chance of rebellion.  It shows a picture of an enemy’s eyes being removed so we will not be able to participate or plan battles any more.  It also mentions the practice of sacrifice, generally of the Sun Maidens, or woman selected for their beauty and talents.  Some just made chichi (an alcoholic beverage) or wove fine linens.  However some were also honored with the task of being sacrificed to the Sun.  It mentions children were also sacrificed at times. 
It also shows farming; which was difficult at high elevations.  Incan farmers are known for terraces, and irrigation.   They raised potatoes, corn, beans and gourds.  Their diet was mostly vegetarian.  There were also craftspeople.  Those who worked with clay, or carved stone or wood, and also those who worked previous metals.  All these people were taxed by a percentage of their produce.  Also taxes were levied in the form of labor.  This is how many communal projects were completed.  Religious ceremonies were important to the Incas.  The would have processions in which they would show of their finest items to the Sun God. 
I found this book interesting.  It was illustrated throughout with cut-out buildings so you could see inside.  Sometimes it was difficult to tell if a wall or something was cut away or if that was the way it actually looked. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Civil War: Episode Five: The Universe of Battle (1863)

This series was presented in 1990 on PBS.  The fifth episode tells the story of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chikamauga, and Chattanooga.  It also talks of some of the women's programs, and the involvement of African Americans in the war.  It ends with Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address.  This presentation does a very good job of the three day battle at Gettysburg.  The Confederate had things mostly their way the first day, and they were so close to breaking the confederates and both flanks.  The story of Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine is beautifully done.  It is good to understand the import of the battle on the flank, and how timely was the defense of Little round Top.
And then the third day, Lee's biggest mistake of the war in Pickett's Charge.  It was across too wide a distance, into the face of too many canon and too many rifles.  It was doomed from the start, and those who actually made it to the Union line were killed or captured.  Lee took responsibility, and offered his resignation, which was not accepted.
The war in the West saw Union success, with the surrender of Vicksburg after a long siege, and then pushing back the Confederates in Tennessee.  It is also proper that the show focused on the conributions of women.  Did you know Clara Barton was less that 5 feet tall.  The societies that contributed to the war effort, and medical supplies were vital. 
Ten percent of the Union troops by the end of the war were African American.  That represents ten percent of the total, while the Black population in the North was only one percent.  85 percent of those who could serve, actually served in the war.  In a very real sense, the African American population fought for their own freedom, and for that of their people.
The recitation of Lincoln's two-minute speech which he gave at Gettysburg highlights this film. 
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate-we can not consecrate-we can not hallow-this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-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.
Those are beautiful words, words that inspire even to this day.

Book Review: Gold, Gold from the American river, Don Brown Roaring Book Press 2011


This is an interesting read, and presents some startling statistics I had never seen before.  Of those traveling to California over the California trail perhaps as many as 4000 people died on the trip.  This is understandable, as it was a very hard road.  Also many people traveled this route; in 1849 alone over 20,000.  Most died from disease, especially cholera. 
The fact that is even more remarkable is the number of the gold miners who also died.  “One of every five forty-niners died from disease or accident the first six months of arriving in California.”  That is a significant statistic.
The story starts with the journey to California, around South America, over the Isthmus of Panama, or the California Trail.  It talks of some of the hardships with these options, but the goal was to arrive at Sacramento. 
Although most of the miners were Yankees, not all.  A quarter were mixed ethnic backgrounds, mostly Chinese.  Those of other ethnic groups were not treated well.  Eventually a miner’s tax was imposed on foreigners, and many returned home.
Native Americans were treated even more poorly.  They were expelled by mining communities, and often succumbed to new diseases brought by the miners.  Many towns offered a bounty for them, so many were murdered. 
Only a few people made a fortune in the gold mines.  By 1852 most of the mining was done by large companies with large machines, which ended to gold rush.  Even so 300,000 people arrived in California during this period.  Those who did become wealthy, mostly did so in merchandising rather than in mining. 
 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Bad Guys and Gals of the Wild West

This book is very poor.  It was written by Donna Herwick Rice.  It seems she is more interested in some liberal gobbledy goop than telling history.  The book spends the first ten pages introducing "who is bad?" crap! And then keeps it up through the book.  This book is written for children, and the author says she is a teacher and children's author.  Kids deserve better than this.
So the enjoyable parts.  There are some interesting anecdotes.  Jesse James emerge from the Civil War and was shot in the Back.  Belle Star was shot twice, and died in a pool of blood on a dirt road.  Doc Holliday went west so as to overcome tuberculosis; and it worked for fourteen years.  His girlfriend, common-law wife was Big Nose Kate.  Billy the Kid was short, 5'3".  He was a murderer, but likeable.  Sherrie Pat Garret killed him.
Butch Cassidy and Sundance of the Wild Bunch eventually traveled to South America where they were killed.  The book does a poor job of telling this story, not mentioning Bolivia where they actually were killed.  It does not include Elzy Lay who was Butch Cassidy's first partner.  I need to keep my eye out for this author and publishing company.  It seems they are more interested in spreading their values even if it means rewriting history.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Documentary Review: Ken Burns' Civil War 4: Simply Murder

The title of this section of the Civil War documentary refers to George Burnsides repeated attempts to take the stone wall at the top of Marye's Heights.  The Union forces were attacking at Fredericksburg, having cross the Rappahannock.  The then tried to attack the Confederates in a well defended location, and only served as target practice for the defenders.  I thinks this battle was the most lopsided of the war.
Ar the conclusion of this battle, the film takes looks at both presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.  It also examines the politics which surrounded both men at the time.  The Confederacy was stuck on state's rights, which prevented the federal control needed to win the war.  On the other hand, the faced desertion by those who did not want to fight  for emancipation.
The next scene is Chancellorsville, which again proved to be a disaster for the North.  Joe Hooker was now commander of the army, and after a brilliant opening move in which he flanked General Robert E. Lee, but then lost confidence in himself, and gave away their edge.  Lee divided his troops, sending Stonewall Jackson to attack Hooker's right flank.  The fourteen mile march took most of the day, so the surprise attack came towards the end of the day.  They routed the Yankees, but were unable to follow up.  Jackson was scouting for a night attack, when he was mistakenly shot by his own men.  He would die a couple days later.  His last words, "Let us cross over the river and rest in the shade of the trees."  Jackson's loss would be greatly felt.  Again a Southern victory, but at a great cost. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Review: America is Under Attack by: Don Brown, Roaring Book Press 2011

 
I think most people can remember 9/11/2001.  This book still brings back tender memories.  I was miles away from any attack, but still spent the day glued to the television watching the news of the attack, and to see the towers actually fall was one of those things that left you sick inside. 
This author is able to present the information to a juvenile audience in a manner that is dignified, but not overbearing.  He says America was under attack by Al Qaeda lead by Osama Bin Laden.  He also lets us know that Osama Bin Laden was killed by American forces ten years later.
One thing I like about this book was how it took you inside of the offices where people were at the focal point of the attack, and helped me feel the chaos people were going through.  However out of that chaos, were people patiently walking down the stairs, and others who went about looking for co workers and helping them get on their way down the stairs.  Also the firemen and police men cannot be over praised nor over honored.
The author tells stories of heroes, some who survived this day, and some who did not.  I enjoyed reading the author’s summary remarks in which he dedicated the book to those from his town who had passed away.  It was very touching.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Review: Survivor: The Donner Party by: Scott P. Werther

 This is a scholastic published book 2002, High Interest Books division.  It gives the basic story and facts with regards to the Donner party.  Among this is the concise information that 47 of the party survived and 44 perished.  It also gives some of the ideas as to why they were late.  They took the Hastings cut-off which had never been tried.  They got caught in the Wasatch Mountains having to chop there way through, and took a month to go from Fort Bridger to the Salt Lake.  They still had the Salt Flats, and Nevada to travel before they would reach the Sierra Mountains.  They had divided into two groups, and the first almost made it over the summit.  However they had to turn back, and camped near Donner Lake.  The other group was slowed more because of a broken axel and were camped near Adler Creek. 
This book talk of eating human flesh to stay alive. But it did not mention that two of the forlorn party were Native American, and likely murdered for their flesh.  It also talked of the rescuers, but did not say that for a time Dan Rhoads and his family had traveled with the Donner Party, but determined to follow the traditional route rather than the cut-off; and made it to California before the storms.
I really didn't  like the introduction to this book.  "You are in a storm."  It seemed stupid to me.  However the first chapter started getting better.  There were a few factual errors I think as well.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book Review: A Savage Thunder: Antietam and the Bloody Road to Freedom

Jim Murphy, two-time winner of the Newbury Award wrote this book.  It is very engaging.  Murphy studied numerous accounts of the battle, and puts together this hour by hour history of the battle.  He starts with events happening the days before, the Confederate attack of Harper's Ferry, the Union finding of the Confederate plans, and the rush to a defensible position, before the Union Army can take advantage of the plans.  The narrative is peppered with first person accounts of the battle.  He makes it a point to talk about the involvement of women in the battle, as well as African American involvement.
The most fascinating part is the narrative.  The author has a way to draw you into the history.  And even though he doesn't hold back talking about the blood and the loss of life and limbs, his storytelling is superb, and the story is not overwhelmed by this, the bloodiest day in American history.  There are maps to help with the story telling.  I would have liked one more map of the Burnside attack of the bridge. 
The other goal of the author was to tell of the relationship between this battle and the Emancipation Proclamation.  President Lincoln had already written the proclamation, but was waiting for the right opportunity to release it.  He found in this battle that opportunity, and changed the leanings of most of the European Nations as a result, which were leaning towards recognizing the Confederacy but after could not bring themselves to support slavery, which is the difference the proclamation made.
I very much enjoyed this book.  Great narrative, great pictures, and great maps.  The author also peppers the story with poetry from the era, and this also adds to the character of the book.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Documentary Review: Ameica's Choir

This is a documentary by Lee Groberg and narrated by Walter Cronkite.  Many people world wide have been touched by the Tabernacle Choir, which was said by Ronald Reagan to be America's Choir.  Many performers and artists talk about performing with the choir, and express that the enjoyable thing is the choir sings without ego, and with heart.  They put emotion into what they sing, which carries to other performers and the audience.  They now regularly perform with the Tabernacle Orchestra, and are truly an icon of American culture. 
This film also traces the 150 year history of the choir; where they have performed over the years, their first broadcast, the history of the organ, and of the orchestra. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Documentary Review: **^9/11 Commission History Channel: History Channel


This is a documentary produced by the History Channel of the 9/11 Commission.  However, it is mostly a presentation of what the history channel thinks is important rather than the official version of what happened.  They kept showing the wife of a victim who had passed away in the attack over and over.  She was angry and wanted answers.  However their overuse of one individual made me tire quickly of the entire program. 
The conclusion of the 9/11 report is that we were not expecting planes to be used as missiles and consequently were not vigilant enough in keeping something like this from happening.  Several of the hijackers were known to the CIA, but dropped off the radar shortly before the attack.  Only one person was thwarted by a border agent, other than that it appears all the hijackers were able to do what they wanted in hijacking the planes.  However a late flight, and passenger resistance kept one plane from reaching Washington.  We pretty much were caught with our pants down.  Even though memos had been passed around about a significant threat from Al Qaida, specifics were not forthcoming, and departments did not add two and two together.  Part of this was a lack of communication between agencies and within agencies. 
Lets pray something like this never happens again.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book Review: Lost City of the Incas, Hiram Bingham, Centenary Edition (originally published 1952 and this edition is 2011)


I think the most enjoyable part of this book was the introduction.  The individual who is credited with the discovery of Machu Picchu was an explorer, not and archeologist, Hiram Bingham.  He first discovered Machu Picchu in 1911. The introduction to the book points out that originally when Bingham came upon the place there were farmers living there.  There was also signs of Western visitors, so he did not think of it as a discovery at first.  However, by the time he wrote this book, some 40 years later, the story was embellished in such a manner to tell what people wanted to hear rather than what actually happened.  At any rate, this discovery was significant, and Machu Picchu is one of the wonders of the world. 
Initially Bingham scarcely told the people traveling with him about the find, however they did return and do more extensive research and study.  Bingham did take visits of the first visit which were published in National Geographic.  However when he returned he had better camera equipment and funding.  It seem Bingham thought the area was the ancient capital of the Incas.  However, I think this has been found elsewhere.  (Bingham also discovered a place he called Espiritu Pampa, which has been accepted as this lost city Vilcapampa.)  The preservation of Machu Pichu is marvelous.  Machu Picchu was never discovered by the Spaniards, and such has been preserved.  However other sites, including Vilcapampa were destroy by the Spanish when the killed the last Incan rulers. 
Bingham offers a fairly good history of the Incas, talking about the last Four Incas, who were rulers and how they resisted and were eventually all killed.  The last four rulers were a father and then his three sons who ruled in succession after his death.  Because of the terrain and the Incan defenses, some of the rulers put up a stiff resistance.  At one time the efforts to tame the rulers was through religious persuasion.  However in the end, even though one of the rulers was baptized, they all went back to their Inca roots. 
This book was enjoyable but I did find some parts of it tedious and slow to read. 

Book Review: The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery

Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin (2013) A Walker Book for Young People
This tells the story between one town, Oberlin, Ohio and the Fugitive Slave Act and slave hunters.  John Price had run away from Kentucky with his cousin Dinah and a friend Frank.  They followed the underground railroad North to the town of Oberlin, which boasted Oberlin College, numerous former slaves, as well as a population against slavery, feeling there was a higher law of what was “right” than the law of the land.  John and his friend stayed in Oberlin for some time.  His cousin went a separate way to avoid recapture.  John was captured by slave hunters.  As he was being driven off, he said to a college student that he was being kidnapped.  As soon as he was out of sight of the slave hunters, he ran to Oberlin to say what was happening.  John Price was being held in the Wadsworth Hotel in Wellington, Ohio.  Anderson Jennings had been promised $500 for the slave in Kentucky.  He planned to take the railroad.  Numerous citizens from Oberlin surrounded the hotel, demanding Price’s release.  The train showed up at 5:13, but Jennings did not try to make the train.  Reportedly there were federal Marshalls due to arrive on the 8 p.m. train.  They decided to storm the room.  They did so without anyone getting hurt, and rescued John Price.  It is assumed we fled to Canada.  President Buchanan decided to make an example of the citizens of Oberlin.  37 men were charged and convicted  of violating the Fugitive Slave Act.  They were sentenced to three months in jail.  Upon their release there was a big celebration.  The town pledged, “No fugitive slave shall ever be taken from Oberlin either with or without warrant, if we have power to prevent it.”  This was one of the things that fostered poor relations between the North and the South which eventually lead to the Civil War.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Documentary Review: Underground Railroad: History Channel

This documentary is well done.  It doesn't rely on historical reenactmenty, but research, and lets the story tell itself.  It starts off by pointing to the myths.  The underground railroad was not a railroad and it was not underground.  However it was a network of people helping people who were seeking freedom.  The message was spread through song, such as "Follow the Drinking Gourd" which gave instruction on the trail to follow, the drinking gourd being the big dipper which pointed to the north star. http://whilhelmsthoughts.blogspot.com/2014/03/poetry-i-like-follow-drinking-gourd.html "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" was a song used by Harriet Tubman to warn of danger. "The Gospel Trains A' Coming" would let people know they were preparing to run. 

This film also talks about the people of the under ground railroad.  This is called the first civil rights movement, with white people and black people working together.  Frederick Douglas, a former slave, was an outspoken voice against slavery.  Harriet Tubman was also African American, had fled to freedom, but went back and helped at least 200, many relatives, reach freedom.  She had been beaten by a slave owner when young, which resulted in a seizure disorder.  She bragged of never losing anyone on her "train."
Ripley, OH was a city just north of the Ohio River from Kentucky.  This city was to goal for many fleaing slaves.  John Rankin's home in Ripley was used as a safe house.  Another individual, John Parker, who was a former slave, would cross the river nightly, and search for fleeing slaves to ferry them across the river.  He would take them home, or to the home of John Rankin. 
Anthony Burns had escaped slavery, but as a result of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, when he was captured and taken to jail, and tried, his return to slavery was a forgone conclusion.  He was not allowed to talk in his own defense.  In Boston they were near riot with regards to the recapture of Anthony Burns.  The government had to spend almost $100,000 between preventing the riot by hiring guards and the trial.  When he was returned to slavery in Virginia, his owner wold him for $900.  Eventually his freedom was purchased by those in the North. 
Dread Scott had been living free for sometime, and sued for his own freedom.  He felt sure he would win, but when his case was heard by the Supreme Court, which had many members appointed by presidents form slave states, the court ruled against him.  This two cases infuriated citizens of the North.  Roger B, Taney, the Chief Justice presented the outcome, indicating the slaves were property, no people.
Antislavery sentiment in the North was further fostered by a novelist.  Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin" which was published in 1852.  One abolitionist who put his sentiments into action was John Brown.  John Brown was raised in an abolitionist home, and carried this sentiment.  He hoped to carry the underground railroad to all the slaves, by provoking an uprising.  He was able to take the armory at Harper's Ferry, but the federal government reacted harshly.  Many of Brown's men were killed, and Brown was tried and hung.
It was an important battle of the Civil War which lead to the Emancipation Proclamation and freedom of the slaves.  This was a long time in coming.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Docuentary Review: Civil War (3): Ken Burns: Forever Free

This movie begins with the exploits of Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley.  Jackson was able to keep three armies occupied, and kept requested reinforcements from McClellan on the peninsula.  His motto in generalship was in full display:

“Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible; and when you strike and overcome him, never let up in the pursuit so long as your men have strength to follow; for an army routed, if hotly pursued, becomes panic-stricken, and can then be destroyed by half their number. The other rule is, never fight against heavy odds, if by any possible maneuvering you can hurl your own force on only a part, and that the weakest part, of your enemy and crush it. Such tactics will win every time, and a small army may thus destroy a large one in detail, and repeated victory will make it invincible.”

Then we have General Lee taking the initiative on the peninsula in the Seven Days Battle and pushing the federals back, and eventually forcing their withdrawal. The Confederates continued with momentum to the second battle of Bull Run or Mannasses.  Again this was a resounding defeat of the federals.   

This finally lead to the Confederate Army heading north into Maryland, and the Battle of Antietam.  There is a very good explanation of this battle.  Even though McClellan had General Lee's battle plans, he was still slow to act.  The documentary explains how there was a series of three major engagements.  First on the Confederate left, where Jackson's Corp held, just barely.  Despite the carnage Jackson said, "God has been very good to us."  Then in the center where there was a tremendous fight around the sunken road.  Initially this position was well defensed, until they were flanked.  Corpses were three deep in the road.  The Union could have followed up and split the confederate forces, but McClellan decided against this.  Lastly General George Burnside had to contend with crossing stone bridge which was defended by a much smaller group of confederates.  They finally were able to cross, but during their celebration they were counterattacked by newly arriving forces from Harper's Ferry under A.P. Hill.  Burnside requested reinforcements, but none were coming.  This battle proved to be the highest total one day loss of life during the war.  Casualties were heavier on the Union side; but Lee's losses represented a fourth of his forces. 

Abraham took the repulse of the Confederate forces as the victory he was looking for.  Only five days after the battle he issued the Emancipation Proclamation and changed the reason for the war.  The proclamation said all slaves in rebelling states were proclaimed free as of January 1st.  This lead to the organization of Black regiments.  The evening of December 31st, many emancipationist gathered
for a large party.  They heard from Frederick Douglas, and hailed Harriet Beecher Stowe.  The war was forever changed, and this moved made it so the Confederacy would not receive any aid from Europe.  What country wanted to defend slavery?  The "Battle Hymn of the Republic" had new meaning.  "As he died to made men holy, let us die to make men free."  If the North should be victorious and the country reunited, it would never be as before.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Myths of the Battle of Shiloh

This is the summary of an article about the battle of Shiloh by Timothy B. Smith.  The entire article is here:
http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/shiloh/shiloh-history-articles/battle-of-shiloh-shattering.html
The basic story of Shiloh is that the Confederates surprised the Union forces, pushed them back, and then only through the heroism of Benjamin Prentiss and his division saved Grant's army at the sunken road and the Hornet's Nest.  Even so Grant was pushed back, but the untimely death of Albert Sidney Johnston, the blunders of his predecessor and the timely arrival of Union reinforcements in the person of General Buell was Grant kept from complete destruction.  This article makes the following points:
1. The Union was not totally surprised by the Confederate Attack.  However they were surprised as to the number of Confederates involved, and the Union leaders were convinced the big battle would not take place shortly.  Colonel Everett Peabody, against orders (orders were not to precipitate and engagement) sent reconnaissance forward and found the Confederate skirmishers less than a mile to his front.  This was April 5, and resulted in the start of the battle which began in earnest the next day. 
2. General Benjamin Prentiss is credited with being the hero of Shiloh.  However he was not alone.  However, of the generals at the sunken road, he was the only who survived and was able to tell his story.  By the time the were pushed back to the sunken road in front of the "hornet's nest" most of Prentiss' were out of action by this time.  It was General W.H.L. Wallace and his men responsible for most of the defense.  However Wallace was killed.
3.  The arrival of General Don Carlos Buell saved Grant's army.  Each of the generals described this differently, Buell saying he saved the day, while Grant insisted he had the situation well at hand.  At any rate on a small part of Buell's forces arrived.  Grants forces were well entrenched, and close to Pittsburg Landing were protected by fun boats on the river.
4.  Beuregard's decision to call off the attacks is why the North won.  This too is likely not true.  As mentioned, Union forces were well situated, and had the protection of the gun boats.  In fact the next morning attacks continued, but were not successful. 
5.  The South would have won had Johnston lived.  This again does not appear to be true.  The Confederates were undermanned, and did not have the big cannon of the gunboats.
6.  The sunken road was sunken.  In fact there was not sunken road, but a trail only.  It was only called this many years later.  However, the area in front of the "sunken" road was known as the Hornet's Nest because of the great bloodshed.  Grant said the bodies were so thick a person could walk across the field, stepping from body to body without ever having to touch the ground.

Documentary Review: Civil War 2: A Very Bloody Affair: Ken Burns

The title of this second episode refers to the Battle of Shiloh.  General Grant had established a line, and was waiting for General Don Carlos Buell to reinforce him so they together could march on Corinth, Mississippi.  However General Albert Sidney Johnston took the initiative, hoping to attack Grant before he could be reinforced.  The attack began April 6, 1862.  Initially the federals were able to collapse the federal line, and were pushing to Pittsburg Landing.  They met a defending force of Generals Benjamin Prentiss and G.H.L. Wallace which put up a fight at the sunken road (not really sunken) and the area became known as the hornet's nest.  It wasn't until the Confederates brought up 50 artillery that they were able to overcome this area and force surrender.  By then it was too late to continue much fighting around Pittsburg Landing and force Grant to retreat.  Johnston lead the last charge at the hornet's nest, in which he was wounded. 
The femoral artery was shot, and with his surgeon unavailable, he bled out and died, leaving G.B.T. Beauregard in command.  After the first day Beauregard reported to President Jefferson Davis that he expected to clean up Grant the next day.  For his part, Grant did not feel defeated.  When his second in command met him, this conversation ensued: " 'Well, Grant,' said Sherman, 'we've had the devil's own day, haven't we?' 'Yes,' Grant replied, 'lick 'em tomorrow, though.' "
With reinforcements from Buell, the Union army was able to counter attack and control the field the next day.  Shiloh represented the bloodiest battle in American history to that point.  In face more casualties occurred in this battle than all other battles combined to that point.  "Union casualties were 13,047 (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing); Grant's army bore the brunt of the fighting over the two days, with casualties of 1,513 killed, 6,601 wounded, and 2,830 missing or captured. Confederate casualties were 10,699 (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured)."  (Wikipedia)   There are at least 30 battles to come, which will be just as bloody.
As for the Eastern theater, Lincoln after many months delay, finally got General George McClellan to move.  He landed at Fort Monroe, and the peninsula southeast of Richmond.  However instead of attacking strait off, he got the slows and the fears, thinking the Confederate forces were much larger than the actually were.  By the time he moved, the Confederates had reinforced.  He got to within nine miles of Richmond, with only token resistance.
They other story told in this episode was that of the first ironclad battle.  The Confederates had no navy, but took a scuttled ship, re floated it and lined it with an iron hull.  It went to contend with the federal navy, and the first day, nothing could stand in its way.  However, the next day it met the Merimac, a Union iron clad with a revolving turret designed by Robert Fulton.  The two vessels battled to a stand still.  From this day, the navies of the world were obsolete. 
This episode continues the account of the bloody affair, and tells the first terrible bloody battle.  There are at least 30 battles, which will be just as bloody yet to come.  The episodes is spiced with comments from Frederick Douglas (read by Morgan Freeman) on how the war has to become one of the struggle for freedom for the slaves.
Also the account of the writing of the lyrics for the "Battle Hymn of the Republic".  It was written to the music of "John Brown's Body" by Harriet Beecher Stowe:
 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 has loosed the fateful lightening
Of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on

Documentary Review: Civil War 1: The Cause: Ken Burns

This documentary begins with the story of Wilmer McLean as he lived near Manassas, and the war started mostly in his front year.  He moved away to a safer location--Appomattax Court House, and the war ended in his in his parlor where Lee surrendered to Grant.  McLean could say "The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor".
Burns then explores the roots for the Civil War, which were laid in the constitution, when slavery was allowed to exist, and we in essence had two Americas.  Eli Whitney, and the  cotton gin made it so slavery could be economically feasible.  There are scenes from the history of slavery.  Not pleasant scenes, and talk of how difficult it would be to raise a family in this environment, where you could be sold, and separated, at the benefit of others.
Abolitionists were hated by the South.  In the book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe put in print what many felt, and effected a world with her words.  Even the Queen of England was moved by them.
Abraham Lincoln said in 1858:  A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.
For many years there was a precarious balance in the federal government, slave vs free state.  Those in the North worried slavery would extend to the West, and those in the South that it wouldn't.
Alton, Illinois was the first town to see a man murdered because he was abolitionist.  He published a newspaper, and when a mob came to destroy the press, he went out to dissuade them with a pistol.  He was shot and killed.
It was declared Kansas could decide for themselves, slavery or free.  This lead to a bloody conflict that lasted over ten years, and is where John Brown got his start hacking people to death.  He took his abolitionist zeal to Harper's Ferry, Virginia, where he hoped to start a revolt of the slaves.  This did not happen, and he was captured, tried and hung for treason. 
The Republican party took advantage of a divided nation, and Abraham Lincoln won the presidency with 40 percent of the vote.  He was not on the ballot in five states.  Shortly after his election, and before his confirmation, states began to secede.
The conflict started in South Carolina.  The bombardment began at 4 a.m. April 12, 1861.  The next day, about 36 hours later the white flag went up, and Major Robert Anderson surrendered to General P.G.T. Beauregard.
The nation set about recruiting armies on both sides.  There was much enthusiasm.  General Winfield Scott of the Union side was hesitant to use the army, saying they were not an army, because of their newness.  Lincoln reminded him, "Your men are green it is true, but so are those of the enemy; you are all green alike."  Prominent citizens came to watch, the the Union forces initially succeeded.  However the day would belong to the Confederates as the Union army hit a Stonewall in General Thomas Jackson and his men.  They then succumbed to a counter attack, and ran back to Washington.
The war was going to be much more than a quick affair.  William Tecumseh Sherman asked for 200,000 men in the West, and predicted a long bloody affair.
This first episode ends with letter from Sullivan Ballou, written a week before his death at First Bull Run.  It starts:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.
Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.
This begins one of the most enjoyed documentaries in American history, the telling of the Civil War.  Shelby Foote, Civil War historian adds little stories throughout, peppering the documentary.  The music from the era used in the documentary is also very compelling.  The Narrator is David McCullough.  Noted actors are used to read quotations form prominent men.  This documentary uses pictures, and not reenactors to show what is happening.  I like this and it makes the message more powerful.    

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book Review: Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream by Dinesh D’Souza

There are some things with regards to Obama’s politics that are very puzzling.  This book tries to make sense of some of the puzzlements.  For one, why does Obama put up roadblocks for domestic energy production, coal, natural gas and oil; while at the same time using federal money to finance oil production in Brazil, Mexico and Colombia.  Those supplies are not guaranteed to benefit the U.S.  D’Souza explain this by contending that Obama is antic-colonialist rather than environmentalist.  He may use the environmental claim, but then he would be consistent.  This book is very similar to the movie “2016 Obama’s America,” and covers much of the same material.  Another paradox is Obama’s selection of who he tackles in the Middle East.  He takes out Mubarak in Egypt but withdrawing support, as he did Khadafy in Libya; however he leaves Abbas in Syria and Khomeini in Iran.  He had opportunities to topples those governments as well, but chose not to intervene.  We have all seen what a mess there is in Libya now, and what Egypt was becoming until the military stepped in.  D’Souza explains this again as consistent with anti-colonialism.  Another is his vitriol towards his grandfather, adoration of his father, and ignoring his brother who lives in a shack.  His is not one of being charitable, but of trying to force others to be charitable by taxing—all in the name of fairness.  Another paradox is why is he so interesting in disarming America, while really doing next to nothing form thwarting Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.  D’Souza again blames this on the same attitude of anti-colonialism.  Finally the attitude of the Obama’s, of entitlement, taking multiple vacations in not one jet but two, is a manifestation of the anti-colonial dictator's attitude. 
I don’t know what to make of everything D'Souza says, however I can say that we have taken a big step backwards as a nation with Obama as president.  Net worth is down 40 percent so far (making us more equal to other nations) with likely more decline to come.  However the big step backwards is one of apparent corruption.  The author of this book is under indictment for campaign donation violations.  Could this be a “get him” tactic.  If it smells like a duck and looks like a duck and walks like a duck it likely is a duck.  This administration has polluted the IRS, using them to thwart the application for tax-exempt status of conservative groups.  It just seems like we are starting to look like Chavez’ Venezuela more and more.  Now they want FAA people embedded with the media to do what? 
This type of book is a bit depressing, but good to check out this stuff.  I am not sure if I agree totally, but D’Souza makes a good enough case to attract the attention of the Obama administration and the Attorney General’s office.  How many more of us have been targets?
This book is very similarto his documentary movie "2016 Obama's America."  http://bwardlehistory.blogspot.com/2012/08/movie-review-2016-obamas-america.html