150 Years after the Divide

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
– March 4, 1861 – Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address

The battle of Palmito Ranch in Texas took place May 12-13, 1865 – this was the very last battle fought during the American Civil War. One hundred fifty years ago, the gruesome, bloody and tumultuous four-years of fighting between the brothers (and sisters!) of one hugely divided nation ended; a period of history significant in the growth, collapse and creation of many American ideals. Yes, the significance if the American Civil War is immense, and for me, the number of casualties plays a large role in roping me in, but… what does it mean today?

Civil war bugler.

I have had numerous constructive discussions with my father and friends, and other people I encounter who also have a keen interest in the topic. This random, yet substantial, fact about me tends to throw people off; I’ve been asked if I was kidding on a few occasions. Honestly, it makes me think, “are you kidding?” when someone makes it clear that they have little-to-no interest in understanding and learning about this important, heartbreaking time in our country’s short history. I am constantly wondering, “How are people not absolutely fascinated with this?”

Looking back on my public school education, I’m not even sure I learned anything significant about the Civil War, aside from the key-notes; Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and the Emancipation Proclamation being the most notable in regards to what I and all of my classmates learned in high school. I can only assume this attributes to my peers’ lack of interest on the topic,

Though the final battle was in May, General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Wilmer McLean’s house in Appomattox County, Virginia on April 9, 1865. This is the most commonly agreed upon date most people associate with the end of the war, but as I mentioned at the very start of this article, the last two-day battle had not yet been fought. Isn’t that interesting? Short answer: yes, yes it is!

What was it about?

When I talk to friends, colleagues or strangers (listen, I’ll talk to nearly anyone about it, okay?), the responses can be interesting to say the least. Coming as no surprise whatsoever, the most common understanding is, “They were fighting to end slavery!” I’ve heard someone say with a cutting tone, “This is literally one of the most boring topics. Choose something better to talk about.” I can recall the time a person once told me that it wasn’t actually that big of a deal, a lot of it was fabricated and blown totally out of proportion for “media purposes.” Personally, I love when people ask for fun facts because I get to share my personal favorite: the war started and ended on the properties of the same man. Wait, what?

Leather Gloves

Remember like, two short paragraphs ago, when I mentioned General Lee surrendering at the McLean house? Okay, well, here’s the thing: the first battle occurred on Wilmer McLean’s ranch in Manassas on July 21, 1861 – this would become better known as the first battle of Bull Run. So, close to exactly four years later, even after the man and his family moved, it was formally ended inside his home, in the parlor to be exact. He is credited as saying, “The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor.”


Old Stone House at Manassas Battlefield


Okay. At this point you might be wondering what I’m even going on about – why am I writing this? What is the point? As a future historian, one of my goals is to educate people about the civil war—whether it is general or complex information. Don’t worry; this will be a pretty general overview with primary focus on the loss accumulated because of the war. This, to me, is incredibly significant in recognizing the 150th anniversary of what many historians consider to be the nation’s greatest moral and political crisis.


The Numbers

With the first battle of Bull Run beginning there on the McLean farm, many thought that it would be a quick fight – over in no time. That sounds familiar and not archaic at all, doesn’t it? Well, obviously it was not. For the next four years the men and women, yes, I said women, would fight hundreds of battles and lose hundreds of thousands of American patriots. An estimated 2,213,363 American’s fought for their causes. With the Northern Union army, it is generally agreed that they were fighting to keep America united and, eventually, for the emancipation of African American slaves – the north considered their lives valuable. If you read more about this topic, there are a number of reasons given for those who signed up to fight in the Union army. The general consensus in regards to the Confederate army was that they were fighting to keep slavery alive in America – their livelihood depended upon it and it was their right as free Americans. These are the very basic ideals for the war coming about.

Wounded American Civil War soldiers

Wounded American Civil War soldiers

All totaled, we would lose two percent of the total American population because of this conflict. Interestingly enough, an updated estimate of the total number of deaths was released in 2012 by J. David Hacker, a demographic historian from Binghamton University in New York. For over 100 years the number was thought to be an estimated 618,222 total lives lost; 360,222 from the North and 258,000 from the South. Keep in mind that this number includes casualties of disease, injuries, infection caused from injury and deaths of prisoners being held captive, as well. According to various sources, for every four Union soldiers, it is estimated that more than one was killed or wounded during the war whereas casualties in the Confederate army were considered to be even worse – it’s estimated that one in three Southern soldiers were killed or wounded.

That number was considered pretty concrete for over a century following the war, but with the research painstakingly compiled by J. David Hacker, the new number was increased by more than twenty percent—he believes that the total of casualties actually lies somewhere between 650,000-850,000. Dr. Hacker referenced census records from 1850-1880 to put together a pattern of survival rates throughout the decades of turmoil in America. His research revealed that the period of 1860-1870 was approximately 750,000 men and women short of the normal survival pattern in the years when war was not waging. This new estimate provides even more reason to acknowledge the significance of this incredible moment in American history.

“If you want to argue that the conflict was very destructive, the 750,000 number could certainly suggest that,” Hacker says. “On the other hand, you could emphasize that neither army directly targeted the civilian population, that the number of civilian deaths was relatively low and that most soldiers’ deaths were not on the battlefield. Only when you add both sides’ casualties, which we don’t do for other wars, can you get to that total.”

Reaching Further than Anticipated

Points that should also be noted include just how much of the land in America saw battle activity throughout the duration of the war, as this may bring more understanding in regards to the number of casualties historians have estimated. Of course, all along the east coast and throughout the south, there are thousands of battlefields where blood was shed. Interestingly enough, there were battles fought out as far west as New Mexico. The Battle of Glorieta Pass first began at Apache Canyon on March 26, with the last encounter being at Pigeon’s Ranch on March 28, 1862.

War Memorial Wheeled Cannon Military Civil War Weapon Dusk Sunset

Our dear San Francisco even has historical ties to the civil war; though Alcatraz never fired its guns offensively, though during the war it was used to imprison Confederate sympathizers and privateers as early as 1861. The island of Alcatraz was ordered to be set aside specifically for military use in 1850 by President Millard Fillmore. When the civil war began in 1861, the island was equipped with 75 cannons lining the perimeter to start, later having a total of 105 as of 1866. Alcatraz Island was also used as arsenal storage in an attempt to prevent their inventory from falling into the hands of those that sympathized with the confederacy.

The Pacific Coast Theater of the American Civil War was the military operations for the Pacific coast as well as states and territories lying west of the Continental Divide. California, Oregon and Nevada were the states that took part; the territories of Washington, Utah and Idaho joined some time after the fighting began. While there were no direct meetings aside from the aforementioned Battle of Glorieta Pass, there was wartime activity as far west as the coast of Alaska, when the CSS Shenandoah, the second and last Confederate raider ship to enter the Pacific, fired some of the last shots of the war in the Bering Sea—too late to have any real impact, as the war had already ended.

You ask me if I will not be glad when the last battle is fought, so far as the country is concerned I, of course, must wish for peace, and will be glad when the war is ended, but if I answer for myself alone, I must say that I shall regret to see the war end. I would be willing, yes glad, to see a battle every day during my life. Now do not misunderstand me. I speak only of my own interests and desires…but as I said before, when I think of the pain & misery produced to individuals as well as the miserable sorrow caused throughout the land I cannot but earnestly hope for peace, and at an early date.             -George Armstrong Custer, in a letter to a cousin, written shortly after Antietam, October 3, 1862.

This barely scratches the surface of the huge impact yet short divorce this nation seems to have experienced with its own history and development, and how people began to view and hold America in their hearts. If you’re looking for a good starting point for more in-depth information about the Civil War, Ken Burns’ Civil War is highly recommended. Indeed, all of his documentaries are incredible but this one is especially poignant.

I hope this brief look has inspired some intrigue to explore the depths of this topic. Let’s try to keep a dialog going to ensure this critical yet tragic time is never glossed over or forgotten.

Rx for Better Living

Approximately once a month I receive an e-mail from a friend, casual acquaintance, or a family member who lives back East extolling the virtues and joys of life as it was back in “The Good Old Days.” We evidently had a life filled with food and other good things that were not anywhere near as expensive as they are today; we, according to the e-mails, were better people with higher standards of morality and behavior; and life was simpler and easier. The notes often end with the question, “Why can we not return to the idyllic life that was?”

I, for one, think that we can return to the simpler life that we experienced so many years ago. In order to place the return to a specific time frame, I choose to return to 1957. I selfishly choose that year because it was a dramatic year for me personally: I did my student teaching, then signed a contract to begin my professional career as a teacher ($4,450.00 per year, not per month); our first child was born; I bought my first new car; and, on the negative side of the ledger, my father died at age 60. So let us return to those halcyon days of yesteryear.

1957's Chevrolet

I will, of course, have to say a fond farewell to the computer upon which I am writing this prescription. I have yet to solve the problem of printing it if I do not use the computer. Of course, that will also mean no more Youtube late at night; no more, “I don’t know, but I’ll Google it;” no more e-mails (a mixed blessing which may save the Postal Service from bankruptcy); no more GPS (“Is that a left or right turn on Tice?”); no more “No, I did not save a hard copy, but I can find it in the memory;” and some folks will be all a-twitter at the thought of have to face a book made of paper once more.

Good-bye cell phone! (In my opinion this is one the three most insidious inventions of the human race.) Even our land lines will no longer have caller ID, and we will just have to guess at which charity, legitimate or not, is interrupting dinner. Without “Call Waiting” we will no longer have to choose between the President asking our advice about the Middle East or hearing about our grandson’s game-winning hit in Little League. (Sorry, Barak, but I’ll get back to you.) Remember also to get a long cord so you can go into the other room for private conversations.

There may be slight problem if you take any medication. Chances are whatever medicine we take was discovered, invented, or unearthed within the last five to twenty-five years, but we are headed for 1957. We certainly hope that no one will ever need surgery of any kind, but if you should, ’57 was not really a banner year. (One surgery that might have helped my father live past his 60 years in 1957 is the same surgery I had seventeen years ago. That too has since been supplanted by more modern techniques.)

On a more pleasant note, let’s take a peek at our 1957 television sets. We will be able to view CBS, NBC, ABC, the Mutual Network, and, if one lived in an urban setting, maybe two or three independents. These will, of course, be in black and white, on a small screen, and with no High-either-Fidelity-or-Definition. Should you wish to change the channel or volume, simply get up from the couch and turn the dial—what could be simpler.

Some of us will purchase new 1957 automobiles “loaded” with AM radio, heater, automatic transmission, and, if you are wealthy, maybe even air conditioning. Be careful of that steering column, however, it is a holdover from jousting days and is lethal in a head-on crash. Air bags? Are you serious? If you cannot afford air conditioning, simply roll down your window—the operational word there is “roll,” no buttons to push: Roll!

The environment? Safety? Comfort? Conveniences? Let us remember that there were no interstate highways then. We will need to change the oil every 1000 miles; tires will last as much as 20,000 miles. Our new 1957 model will, of course, have turn signals, but as we know, turn signals are, in Hamlet’s words, “More honored in the breach than in the observance.”

Should we decide that rather than driving, we will fly somewhere, those propeller driven planes will get us there—maybe a tad slower, and there are far fewer than in this ugly 21st Century. Cruise ships? Wow, you must really be wealthy.

And so, my fellow citizens, here is my prescription for returning to the “good old days” of 1957. This is all academic, of course, because a good portion of us are statistically long since deceased if we use 1957 as our standard. Maybe Charlie Dickens had the right idea in 1859 when he wrote:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . . in short, the period was so far like the present that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.                                                                                                         A TALE OF TWO CITIES

So here is my Rx: Take a large dose of 2015 four times daily—soon it too will be part of “the good old days.”

Flick Nation Review: While We’re Young

Until a “comedy” comes along and gives us more to think about than the last twenty dramas we’ve seen, we usually forget that it is always more powerful and memorable when we are able to experience true issues in the guise of humor. Perhaps this is why comic actors continually surprise us with their ability to nail dramatic roles—the comedy they have mined has already trained them to find multiple layers of meaning in a given context. The truth behind the joke is the steak behind the sizzle, and the best comedians—and writers—know this well.WhileWereYoung poster222

While We’re Young, the new film from writer/director Noah Baumbach, is a perfect example of the umbilical cord that connects comedy with sharp insight, and this metaphor is all the more apt because this film is definitely concerned with babies, not explicitly, but the birth of one is the catalyst for much of the story that follows. Because, as we all know, when a baby comes into the picture, everything changes, and not just for the parents, but for the parents’ friends as well. You know the drill: Two BFF couples find themselves surprisingly growing apart (it won’t happen to us!) after one becomes parents…especially if the other has decided not to have kids. What is left to talk about or experience together, when one couple is excited about Friday happy-hour and the other hasn’t slept in three days?

While We’re Young is about many things, and it moves quickly from one issue to the next. On the surface, it is the story of an aging Gen X couple, Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) who become besotted with Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), a young, new-millennium couple, after their former best-friend-couple, Fletcher and Marina (Adam Horovitz and Maria Dizzia) become parents and quickly disappear into their all-encompassing baby-reality, with their new baby-friends, and their important baby-events, and their maddeningly joyous new baby-perspective on life. Josh and Cornelia, while sticking to their plan to remain child-free, still feel they need to breathe some life into their, well, lives, and see their new in-the-moment, confident, and refreshingly candid (or so they seem) 20-something friends as bringing just the vibe they have been missing. The younger couple feel, well, I’m not sure what they feel, and certainly Josh and Cornelia don’t know either. This becomes more and more apparent as the film progresses; the veils of their misplaced admiration fall one by one, and laugh by laugh.

The secondary plot is the story of three male characters, who are all filmmakers—Josh has been working on a serious documentary for over six years, Jamie has aspirations to make a film of his own, and Josh’s father-in-law, Leslie (the always interesting Charles Grodin) is a cinéma vérité auteur famous for making probing, classic documentaries along the lines of D.A. Pennebaker and the Maysles Brothers. As the film moves towards its conclusion, the three men find themselves at ethical logger-heads, each with a singular idea of what it means to make true art, and what is honorably acceptable to achieve that artistic vision. Essentially, one thinks the ends justifies the means, one thinks the means justifies the ends, and one is just pissed off that he has to choose between the two. The moral questions that arise are juicy, and very much a window into the generation gaps that exist today. For there isn’t just one anymore; the old emblem of the long-hair vs. the crew-cut is hopelessly outdated now. There is no such thing as a “teenager” if everyone seeks to live like one.

Along with exploring universal questions regarding aging, While We’re Young is very insightful about the way we live and age now, the way we deal with these issues at this particular time. That this movie is firmly in the moment can be seen in the juxtaposition of the three filmmakers. Only a few years ago, this story-line would be a clear indication that the director is ultimately making a statement about himself—perhaps an artist confessional, an existential cry of pain, or a barbed screed against his critics. But, these days, making a film is ubiquitous in our culture, and Baumbach slyly uses this trope not as a means to deconstruct himself, but as a razor-sharp metaphor for a society where everyone seeks to be the center of the universe.

While We’re Young doesn’t really take a stand for or against any couple or lifestyle or ethic, but it isn’t entirely neutral either—it scratches its head trying to ponder the choices and views of the younger couple, to be sure, but it also looks unflinchingly at the Boomer/Xers whose general age Baumbach shares. Like all great humorists, he wisely skewers hypocrisy no matter the age, lifestyle, or even ethical philosophy of his characters. But, though Baumbach is often flabbergasted by their beliefs and actions, he is never overtly mean to them, and he never condemns them. What really comes through is his mostly sweet and non-judgmental new-millennium acceptance, while still holding space as an equal-opportunity satirist. It is a delicate balance, and While We’re Young admirably maintains this poise throughout.

Baumbach has a great ear for dialogue, and is deft at extracting humor from banter that isn’t “trying to be funny.” It is a rare filmmaker who can communicate intense subject matter through a comic tone, and While We’re Young is Baumbach’s best effort to date. It further explores the neurotic, bittersweet territory of his previous films (The Squid and The Whale, Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg) yet goes deeper, provides more laughs, and nails the cultural zeitgeist confidently and unapologetically. While We’re Young is a serious, timely drama wrapped within a witty New York comedy; in the end it is simply very smart, observant, and—like life—both unnerving and funny, often at the same time.

Official Trailer “While We’re Young” A24 Films


The Music of Spring

Composers though out the ages have written about the changing seasons but spring has especially inspired many to write beautiful music. Spring, a season of renewal, rebirth and regeneration inspires feelings of romance, hope and love and expressed through music, these emotions come to life.

Spring is Here, from the musical I Married an Angel by Rodgers and Hart, 1938, It Might as Well be Spring, from State Fair by Rodgers and Hammerstein,1945, and Younger Than Springtime, from South Pacific also by Rodgers and Hammerstein, 1949, are just a few examples of memorable spring songs of the modern era.

Close-up detail of piano keyboard and flower in monochrome

Two very famous pieces of classical music exemplify the music of spring. The first one, The Four Seasons, is a piece written during the late Baroque period, from 1600-1750. “The use of the term, Baroque, stems not from music but from architecture. The root of the word means abnormal and grotesque. Now, in present-day usage, it means finely structured,” wrote Ethan Mordden in his book, A Guide to Orchestral Music.

The Four Seasons (Le Quattro Stagioni), considered a musical masterpiece, was composed by Antonio Vivaldi. A prolific composer, he became renowned for his concerti in the Baroque style. He completed the work circa 1725. It is written for solo violin, string orchestra and harpsichord.

Written in four sections: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter; each section is a separate concerto in the form of the Italian concerto. The sections within each concerto are fast-slow-fast. In the first movement or section, the music mimics natural sounds of birdsong and weather effects. The soloists imitate the bird’s chirrups, trickling streams, passing storms and a repeat of the birdsong. The second movement is suggestive of the slumber of a goat herder and his faithful dog. The final movement is a dance of nymphs and shepherds. This concerto is an early example of program music where the music depicts a scene and tells a story.

Composer, Antonio Vivaldi, (1678-1741) one of the most renowned figures in European classical music, was born in Venice, Italy. His Father, Giovanni Vivaldi, was a barber who became a professional musician and was employed as a violinist at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. It was from his father that young Antonio received his early training on violin. Vivaldi was ordained a Catholic priest (he was known as the “Red Priest” because of his flaming red hair) but instead he chose to follow his passion for music. Vivaldi was known as a virtuoso violinist who wrote over 500 concerti, over 40 operas and 90 sonatas, among others. He wrote many concerti during his 36 years in charge of the music at the Ospedale della Pieta orphanage for girls.

The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printem) by Igor Stravinsky, (1882-1971), was a monumental break though for 20th Century composers the world over. Stravinsky subtitled it, Pictures of Pagan Russia.
The Rite of Spring is a barbaric spectacle portraying fertility rites in pre-historic Russia. The music is characterized by continual changes of rhythm with accents on traditionally un-accented beats, very harsh dissonances and brusque orchestration. The piece was premiered in Paris in 1913. On opening night the audience was appalled by the music and a riot ensued; the audience became rude and hostel. Today, this music is not only accepted but admired and often used as a model by contemporary composers.

Stravinsky was born in Russia and in his early career was known as a romantic Russian nationalist. He studied for one year with the famous Rimsky-Korsakov. Stravinsky eventually settled in Paris and absorbed much of the Parisian lifestyle. He was invited by Serge Diaghileff, impresario of the Ballet Russe, to compose music for his ballet company. Later, in 1939, he moved to America where he spent the rest of his life.

Stravinsky’s different periods of composition, representing various styles of music, dominated his composing career. Perhaps no other composer reached so far for new horizons. “Never a copycat—he never sounded like anyone else…where extravagant individualism is a minimum requirement, Stravinsky stands out,” wrote Mordden.

Mark your calendar for the Danville Community Band’s Annual Free Spring Concert, Sunday, June 14, 2015 at 3 p.m., Community Presbyterian Church in Danville. For information call 925-372-8420. Please submit your questions and comments to banddirector01@comcast.net Visit our website at www.danvilleband.org for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.

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