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Thursday, June 25, 2009

1863 Battle of Gettysburg Could Have Ended War Sooner

1863 Battle of Gettysburg Could Have Ended War Sooner

A bitter letter from President Abraham Lincoln to Union commander General George G. Meade claiming the Civil War could have ended following the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg had Meade pursued Confederate General Robert E. Lee on his retreat to Virginia after Gettysburg was never delivered.

And the bloody Civil War, where as many as 700,000 Americans died (an estimated 10,000 at Gettysburg, plus 40,000 wounded,) lasted another two years.

It was near the tiny town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where General Lee’s only foray into the North was turned back following a brutal three-day battle under hot, July skies. Other battles on Northern soil, in Maryland and Kentucky in the fall of 1862, were engaged by Confederate forces, yet achieved similar results.

Facts, events, and people involved with the Battle of Gettysburg include:

* May 6, 1863 Lee wins Battle at Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania County, Virginia … gets Confederacy approval to invade North

* June 3 General Joseph Hooker leads 95,000 Union soldiers, General Lee 75,000 Confederate soldiers in area

* June 9 Largest cavalry battle of war, Brandy Station, Virginia … First lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart leading Confederate soldiers, General Alfred Pleasonton Union soldiers … total of 22,000 combatants, 1,100 casualties

* June 14-15 Confederate Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell captures 9,000-strong Union garrison, Winchester, Virginia

* June 26 With little resistance, Lee occupies Cumberland Valley, Pennsylvania … sends soldiers to reconnoiter for supplies, including Gettysburg, population 2,400

* June 28 Hooker replaced by Meade … Lee decides to bring entire force to meet Union army at Gettysburg

* July 1 Confederacy wins day one of battle … Union loses 9,000, including 3,000 captured … Confederate loses 6,000

* July 2 Long day of musket and cannon fighting leaves each side with about 9,000 casualties …Confederates gain little ground

* July 3 Lee makes bold, secondary decision to engage Union soldiers in the center of their defense line, on Cemetery Ridge … “Pickett’s Charge” sends 18,000 Confederate soldiers across open field in midday and, though casualties high on both sides, tips the Battle of Gettysburg to Union

* November 19 President Lincoln delivers Gettysburg Address

* April 8, 1865 Civil War ends when Lee surrenders to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia

The Battle of Gettysburg was peculiar in the number of tactical mistakes on both sides that could have altered the outcome of the battle many historians view as the turning point of the war; such as Confederate General James Longstreet‘s misunderstanding of Lee‘s July 3 plan that led Lee to change tactics and attack the Union in the middle of its defenses, and Union Major General Daniel Sickles’ ill-advised decision, without orders, to advance to indefensible ground in the “Peach Orchards.”

Another key side note was Longstreet’s ongoing pleas to General Lee not to risk all against the Union’s entrenched army.

Yes, the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg marked a turning point in the Civil War, and in U.S. history.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Walt Whitman Was the Poet We Know, the Man We Didn't

Walt Whitman Was the Poet We Know, the Man We Don’t

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is remembered as being one of, if not the finest all-time American poet. Still, Walt Whitman was the epitome of a struggling artist who found his personal niche, of all places, volunteering for thousands and thousands of Civil War casualties confined to hospitals.

Whitman’s masterpiece, Leaves Of Grass, initially published in 1855 with 12 untitled poems, grew during each of seven additional printings, only concluding when the final draft was released in 1891, one year before his death.

Unlike contemporaries Keats, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Bryant who began writing at earlier ages, Whitman’s career as a poet began at age 36. He quit school at age 11, then became a journeyman printer, schoolteacher, newspaper publisher, and writer of fiction before writing poetry.

Facts, dates, and comments about Walt Whitman include:

* Born May 31, 1819, Long Island, New York

* 1830 Quits school, becomes voracious reader of Sir Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper, and enjoys Shakespearean plays

* 1833 Other eight members of family move away … Whitman stays in New York, works in print shop

* 1835-1840 Works as schoolteacher, at times teaching classes of 80 students ages five to 15 … hates the job

* 1838 Unsuccessful venture to launch newspaper

* 1840-1845 Freelance newspaper, magazine writer … novel ‘Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate’ sells 20,000 copies, more than any other of his works during Whitman’s lifetime

* 1846 Makes three-month trip to New Orleans, sees slave auctions

* 1855 Self publishes 795 copies of Leaves of Grass … poor sales … resounding endorsement by Emerson

* 1856 Adds 20 new poems, names all 32 in second release of Leaves of Grass … sales worse than first edition

* About 1859 A former proponent of temperance, Whitman begins frequenting a popular bar attended by artists and joins “Fred Gray Association,” a men’s homosexual group

* 1861 Friendly Boston publishers of latest Leaves of Grass go bankrupt, sell printing plates to another publisher who floods market with pirated copies … Civil War begins

* 1863-1865 Too old to enlist, now living in Washington D.C., Whitman, seen by some as Santa Claus and others as a father figure, is estimated to have nursed and visited tens of thousands of wounded and sick soldiers … many future poems, including his Drum Taps collection (1865) based on stories told by wounded soldiers

* 1865 Civil War ends, President Lincoln assassinated … Whitman writes “O Captain! My Captain!,” tribute to Lincoln

* 1873 Suffers stroke, partial paralysis, continues writing poetry

* Late 1870s Becomes traveling lecturer on Lincoln, Civil War

* 1882 Leaves of Grass banned from Boston because of sexual content

* March 26, 1892 Dies of tuberculosis

Walt Whitman was the great, innovative poet we remember, a chronicler of early Americana. Oscar Wilde, a friend, poet, and playwright, paid high tribute to Whitman when he said there was no one in America he more loved and honored.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Some History About the Country of Paraguay

Some History About the Country of Paraguay

The country of Paraguay, one of only two landlocked nations in South America along with neighboring Bolivia, has had much of its history shaped by a series of dictatorial leaders.

About the size of the state of California, Paraguay is bordered by Bolivia, Brazil, and Argentina, and has most of its predominantly Mestizo (mixed Spanish and Indian descent,) population living within a 100-mile radius of Asuncion. Asuncion, the capital and largest city, is located east of the Paraguay River where temperate grassy plains, wooded hills, and tropical forests abound.

The western segment of Paraguay, the low, flat, marshy plain called the Chaco, accounts for about 60 percent of the Republic of Paraguay’s land mass, but is home to less than two percent of the nation’s people.

Facts, events, and people who’ve shaped the history of Paraguay include:

* Earliest settlers were fierce Indian tribes, including the Guarani

* 1516 Juan Diaz de Solis, of Spain, first European in Paraguay, dies same year with 69 of his 70 men at hands of Charrua Indians

* 1527 Sabastian Cabot, of Spain, explores Paraguay River

* 1537 Juan de Salazar, of Spain, founds Acuncion

* 1617 Largely through efforts of Rio de la Plata’s provincial governor, Hernandarias, administrations of Argentina and Paraguay split

* 1617 (est.)-1767 Period of strong, progressive Jesuit influence, ending when Spain becomes fearful of Jesuit power

* 1811 Paraguay declares independence from Spain

* 1862-1865 Paraguay loses War of the Triple Alliance against Bolivia, Argentina, and Uruguay … possibly bloodiest war in Latin American history where Paraguay, fighting with children as young as 12 years old, loses more than half its population, quarter of its territory

* 1932-1935 Paraguay fights Chaco War against Bolivia, wins pyrrhic victory

* 1935-1954 Civil war, dictatorships, extreme political instability

* 1954-1989 General Alfredo Stroesssner maintains power with iron fist, military backing, and persecution of opposition

* 1989 General Andres Rodrigues assumes power following successful military coup

* 1993 Juan Carlos Wasmosy first civilian-elected Paraguayan president in 40 years

* 1996-2008 General Lino Oviedo unsuccessfully tries to oust Wasmosy; allegedly behind assassination of new vice president Luis Maria Argana in 1999; exiled to Brazil; returns, imprisoned for 1996 coup attempt; imprisonment overturned by Supreme Court; loses 2008 election

* 2008 Former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo elected president

Although Paraguay’s economy is agriculture-driven with soybeans, cotton, grains, cattle, and sugar its most important crops, in 1991 the nation completed a joint project with Brazil on the Parana River to build one of the largest hydroelectric facilities in the world, Itaipu Dam, which makes electrical power a major source of exporting revenue.

The country of Paraguay, known for its extreme beauty, is a novelty in the Americas because it’s the only country that has an indigenous language, Guarani from the Guarani Indians, as an official language, along with Spanish. About 95 percent of the people are of Mestizo descent, and Roman Catholic is Paraguay’s dominant religion.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

1945 Battle of Iwo Jima; Like No Other

1945 Battle of Iwo Jima; Like No Other

The 1945 battle of Iwo Jima, on a tiny eight- square-mile volcanic island about 650 miles south of Tokyo, was of vast significance; most importantly the contribution the capture of that island had in regards to the conclusion of World War II.

Not coincidentally or separately, Germany surrendered to the Allies on the Western Front less than two months after the 36-day U.S. Marine conquest of Iwo Jima, March 26, 1945. And the subsequent Japanese surrender August 14, just days after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was precipitated in part by the resolution of the same battle.

Iwo Jima was unique because 22,000 Japanese soldiers fought the entire battle from 1,500 underground rooms connected by 16 miles of tunnels; and U.S. soldiers fought above ground, rarely if ever seeing the enemy.

Historical facts, figures, and footnotes about the battle of Iwo Jima include:

* Until that conquest, no foreign army successfully had trod on Japanese soil throughout Japan’s 5,000-year history

* Japan’s military strategy, led by Canadian-educated General Kuribayashi, didn’t include provision for Japanese soldier survival, but instead to die nobly for country and kill at least 10 Americans each in the process

* The U.S. coveted control of Iwo Jima because of its three airstrips and location … halfway between bomber bases on the Mariana Islands and Japan; a site where the U.S. could launch smaller escort planes to protect long-range B-29 bombers

* Although the U.S. bombed Iwo Jima from planes and naval vessels heavily prior to the February 19 ground assault, those strikes had little impact on the underground Japanese soldiers

* Within a span of 40 days, the U.S. sent an armada of 880 ships to confront the Japanese there

* Iwo Jima was the only World War II Marine battle where U.S. casualties (about 26,000,) exceeded enemy casualties (most of their 22,000 total)

* 70,000 U.S. Marines fought on Iwo Jima and nearly 7,000 died
* More Medal of Honor medals were awarded to U.S. Marines who fought on Iwo Jima than for any other single battle in U.S. history

Once captured, Iwo Jima immediately became a key link to U.S. bomber success in the South Pacific. From the capture date of March 26 to war’s end, a little more than 100 days, some 2,400 B-29 bombers carrying about 27,000 crewmen landed there.

The famous photograph of the U.S. flag being raised on Iwo Jima after the bloody attack where Marines--always visible to Japanese soldiers--used liquid gas, napalm, and hand grenades to kill unseen enemy soldiers, provides Americans with a mental image of sacrifice and courage.

Those who survived the 1945 battle of Iwo Jima and return to the Pacific island on memorial or historical trips describe the carnage those days in different ways. While one returning officer says, “The Japanese were not on Iwo Jima, they were in it,” another remembers friends dying by his side while he, wounded, crawled to safety.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Complexity: The Essence of Lee Harvey Oswald's Life

Complexity: The Essence of Lee Harvey Oswald’s Life

A study of Lee Harvey Oswald’s life generates many more questions than answers, and the truth of his role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy likely won’t be learned in this lifetime.

Did he kill JFK November 22, 1963? Did he work alone, or with others? Was the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald two days after the assassination of President Kennedy part of a complex cover-up? What impact did the two -and-a-half years Oswald lived in Russia, 1959-1962, have on the assassination?

Facts about Lee Harvey Oswald’s life include the following:

* Born October 18, 1939 in New Orleans

* 1940-1956 Father having died before his birth, Oswald lives with his mother and in children’s homes at total of 21 different addresses, attending 12 different schools in Texas, Louisiana, and New York

* 1955 Reads works of Karl Marx, proclaims himself a Marxist

* October 26, 1956 Joins Marine Corps underage, using false affidavit signed by his mother

* September 1957 Deployed as aviation electronics operator to Atsugi Air Base, Japan: home of U-2 spy plane, CIA operations site for espionage in China

* June 27, 1958 Jailed second time at Atsugi; first for possession of unregistered weapon, second time for fight with sergeant

* 1958 Becomes outspoken supporter of Fidel Castro, Cuba

* September 11, 1959 Released from Marine Corps

* Within days, goes to Helsinki, Finland, acquires six-day pass to Russia, then journeys to Moscow and applies for political asylum

* Request denied, he cuts his hand deeply in apparent suicide attempt, is hospitalized six days, then has Russian stay extended

* 1960-1962 Watched continuously by Russian KGB

* April 30, 1961 Marries Marina Pruskova, niece of an intelligence officer for Russia’s Minister of Interior, after knowing her only six weeks

* May 1962 Oswalds, who eventually have total of two children, return to U.S. and live in Fort Worth, then Dallas where they live with organized crime leader Charles Murret

* April 10, 1963 Allegedly attempts to assassinate General Edwin Walker, prominent member of John Birch Society; attempt fails because bullet is deflected by window; police don’t find assailant

* August 9, 1963 Jailed for fight over pro-Castro leaflets he’s distributing, Oswald asks for, receives visit from FBI operative; quickly released with $10 fine, and within five days participates in Castro debate on Dallas radio station

* November 22, 1963 JFK assassinated in Dallas

* November 24, 1963 Jack Ruby murders Oswald

The KGB, which daily monitored Oswald’s activities during his stay in Russia, claims in a report released to the public in 1992 that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t possess the skills to kill President Kennedy on his own.

Yet, even the mysteries of his life in Russia are mind-boggling. Receiving housing, work, and even gaining a marriage license as quickly as Oswald did during his brief stay in that country were extraordinary events.

No, Lee Harvey Oswald’s life story is, and likely will remain a mystery.

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