Sunday, December 10, 2017

331. How America Goes to War: 1861 and Later

A book is a dream you hold in your hand.

Small Talk

This is an experiment: a few chatty words about everything and nothing, before I get on to the post.  Tell me things you'd like me to talk about, but please, not our Twitterer in Chief, who gets too much of exposure as it is.

Three signs of the season here in New York City:  

  1. Dead oak leaves in every shade of brown are being blown about, often in little swirls and flurries, by autumn winds.
  2. I saw a big blue truck on West 14th Street packed high with stacks of tightly bound Christmas trees, surely to be distributed to retail sites on the sidewalks of the city.
  3. I bought from L.L. Bean a thick wool beanie to warm my chilly ears when I go out in wintry weather.  The problem: I think that people, when their ears are concealed, look absolutely silly.  We humans weren't meant to be seen earless, and my beanie makes me look earless and silly -- sillier than usual, that is.  So will I wear the beanie and look silly, or leave it at home and look human, albeit with half-frozen ears?  Time will tell. 
File:Beanie 2.jpg

Also:  For several days I've had my nose deep in Carolyn Howard-Johnson's The Frugal Book Promoter, absorbing advice on promoting myself and my books.  It seems you have to develop a brand; Mark Twain did it brilliantly, so writers and other creative types should do it, too.  My first thought: Though ripe in years, I learned the Charleston a while ago; geezers rock.  This is my first attempt at developing my brand.  You see where this is leading.

My second thought:  Since I hate poetry (see post #295), I can promote myself as the first poet to urge his friends and fans to read his other stuff but to avoid his poetry.  Now that is original.  So let's get on to the wars.

How America goes to war: 1861 and Later

     Here is a revised version of post #76, first published on
August 4, 2013.  It seems relevant today.

     That New York City went to war in 1861 surprised many in the South and even some in the North, for the city had strong commercial ties to the South, and its merchants dreaded war.  So as Secession loomed, the merchants advocated compromise with the South, and Mayor Fernando Wood, the slickest and deftest of politicians, even proposed that the city secede from the North, so as to maintain its ties with the South.  (Not the last time the city dreamed of going it alone.)  `But all that changed in April 1861, when newspaper headlines broke the news:  THE  WAR  COMMENCED,  WAR  AT  LAST.  The South had opened fire on Fort Sumter; it was war indeed.

     I have read about and witnessed several beginnings of war and noticed certain phases common to all of them:
  • Patriotism raised to a fever pitch.
  • Celebration of heroes real or manufactured.
  • Demonization of the enemy.
  • The sobering up.
Let's see how these played out in New York in the spring of 1861.

Patriotism raised to a fever pitch

     When news of the attack on Fort Sumter reached the city on Friday night, April 12, it spread quickly.  All the next day newspaper offices were thronged by crowds eager for newspapers and the latest news.  People gathered at every corner where news bulletins were posted, and the presses printed extras as each new dispatch came in by telegraph.  When the President called for 75,000 three-month volunteers, majors and colonels proliferated overnight, opening rolls for enlistment, and tents soon sprang up at the Battery, and barracks in City Hall Park.  "'Tis sweet, oh 'tis sweet, for one's country to die," sang fresh-faced volunteers, while multitudes scuffed their voices on the Star-Spangled Banner, and preachers preached, "Beat your ploughshares into swords!"  Lawyers and boilermakers shouldered arms and tramped in ragged parade, schoolboys drilled in schoolyards, and 1812 veterans tottered forth, yearning to serve their country yet again.  When the elite 7th Regiment of the National Guard drilled in its armory, hundreds flocked to watch, admission by ticket only; it had been ordered to Washington.

     There was a great demand for flags, streamers, and bunting.  Flags appeared in store windows, on church steeples, on ships in the harbor, in lapels and the fronts of men's hats, in ladies' bonnets, even in the fists of infants and the manes of horses.  On Monday, April 15, a noisy crowd gathered on the sidewalk outside the offices of the New York Herald, whose owner, James Gordon Bennett, was thought to be partial to the South.  While they stared up at the newspaper's windows and hooted and jeered and demanded that it fly the flag, a committee of gentlemen called on Bennett and warned him that not flying the flag would put his paper and perhaps himself in danger.  Bennett, a cynic immune to lofty causes and the surge of sentiment, agreed to do so, but had no flag to fly.  Finally one was obtained that, in the absence of a flagpole, was hung out a window, to mixed groans and cheers from below.  Meanwhile the Times and Tribune, ardent supporters of the President, were flying huge banners atop their offices.

     Other papers deemed insufficiently patriotic were similarly threatened, as were hotels once graced by the drawl of Southern chivalry; in every case flags were conspicuously displayed.  In all these situations the police followed the crowd discreetly, so as to prevent any violence.  As well they might, since an effigy was found hanging in City Hall Park with a placard in bold letters: ROPE  ALL TRAITORS, and another was seen hanging by its neck out a window on a downtown street with a sign proclaiming, EVERY  TRAITOR  SHOULD  BE  SERVED  THUS.  More than one citizen who expressed, or was thought to have expressed, sympathy for the South or disloyalty to the President was beaten and knocked down in the street.  Small wonder that the Herald staff were said to be armed, and to have pumps ready to throw boiling water on any mob attacking their building.

     And the ladies?  They were in it up to their delicate ears, adorning themselves with flags and bunting, cheering volunteers as they drilled, and evincing a most passionate fondness for uniforms.  At a party a young woman asked her fiancĂ© if he was going to volunteer.  "Do you really want me to volunteer and get killed?" he asked.  Springing up from her seat, her eyes flashing fire, her cheeks flushed, she announced, "If you are a coward and dare not fight for your country, you are not the man for me!"  So if young men flocked to volunteer, they weren't inspired by patriotism alone, since to cut a shine with the girls, you had to be in uniform.

     Support for the military came from surprising quarters.  RADWAY'S  READY  RELIEF  was touted in a long ad in the Times as appropriate for every man in the Army or Navy to allay inflammation, prevent mortification in case of gunshot wounds, and prevent the need for amputation.  It was also a cure for malarious fevers, dysenteries, rheumatism, and other maladies.  A retired Colonel Gates of the U.S. Army was quoted as saying that he would no more think of retiring to bed without a bottle of it than to go into battle without his sword.  Needless to say, someone always gets rich in a war, but this was nothing, compared to the war contractors who would soon be supplying the military with the best shoddy blankets and collapsible boots available.

      On Friday, April 19, the 7th Regiment marched down flag-bedecked Broadway on its way to Washington, shouldering rifles with bayonets, while a huge crowd of spectators greeted them with cheers and tears and cries of "God bless them!"  Mothers watched discreetly from the back windows of closed carriages drawn up on the curbstones, while others watched from windows or rooftops, and boys scaled lampposts, trees, and fences for a better view.  Other regiments would soon follow, including Colonel Elmer Ellsworth's Fire Zouaves in red shirts, gray baggy pants, and blue overcoats.  A regiment of volunteers from the slums danced with delight on receiving revolvers and bowie knives, and weren't the least bit put off by reports that a secessionist mob in Baltimore had attacked a Massachusetts regiment en route to Washington: "We can fix that Baltimore crowd!  We boys is sociable with pavin' stones, too!"

File:Zouaves dep 11236 lg.gif
The Fire Zouaves, recruited from the city's firemen, march down Broadway en route to Washington.

     Then, on Saturday, April 20, over one hundred thousand citizens gathered at Union Square for the largest patriotic rally the city had ever seen.  There were speeches from five stands, and lesser spiels from front stoops, carts, and windows, as city officials, rescued from franchise scandals and complaints about manure in the streets, stood brisk and square, flanked by braided generals, as out of the mouths of orators poured acclamations: "Divine Providence ... Constitution ... flag insulted ... Christian civilization ... sacred independence ... freedom against oppression ... God."  Rippling through the sea of waving flags were prayers and resolutions, plus cannon booms and cheers.

File:Great Meeting Union Square.jpg

The rally in Union Square.  One detail seems inaccurate: the flag flying from the George Washington statue, supposedly from Fort Sumter, seems remarkably intact.

Celebration of heroes real or manufactured

File:Fort Sumter storm flag 1861.jpg

     No need to manufacture a hero, as New Yorkers had a real one when Major Robert Anderson, the Fort Sumter commandant, arrived in the city from Charleston on April 18 with his beleaguered garrison and its battle-shredded flag.  The 5th Regiment marched to the Brevoort House to salute him, and he appeared on a balcony to cheers.  The next day, when the 7th Regiment paraded down Broadway en route to the capital, Anderson appeared again on a balcony and was again received with cheers.  At the April 20 rally in Union Square he was hailed yet again with tremendous roars from the crowd, and the flag, now a patriotic symbol for the North, was flown from the equestrian statue of George Washington.  The flag was then taken from city to city for patriotic rallies and fund-raising efforts for the war, and on April 14, 1865, four years to the day after the fort's surrender, it was raised again by Anderson, now a major general, over the battered remains of the fort.

File:Death of Col Ellsworth.jpg
     Another hero was Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, who on May 24, 1861, one day after Virginia's secession from the Union, was ordered with his Fire Zouaves across the Potomac to Alexandria, Virginia, where a large Confederate flag was flying above the Marshall House Inn.  The occupation was unopposed, but when Ellsworth went to the Marshall House and cut down the flag, the hotel's owner, James Jackson, killed him with a shotgun blast to the chest, and was immediately himself killed by a corporal accompanying Ellsworth.  Ellsworth's body was taken to the White House, where it lay in state, and was then removed to the City Hall in New York, where thousands came to view the first man to die for the Union cause.  "Remember Ellsworth!" became a patriotic slogan.
     Heroes -- and heroines -- are sometimes in short supply and have to be invented.  In Iraq in 2003, Private First Class Jessica Lynch was wounded and captured when her convoy was ambushed by Iraqi forces.  Initial press reports described her as a hero who fought the enemy ferociously before succumbing to wounds and being captured.  The aura around her only increased when, soon after, she was rescued from an Iraqi hospital by U.S. Special Operations Forces.  Returning to the States, she was appalled to learn of the reports about her in the press.  She later testified before Congress that she had never fired her rifle, which had jammed, and that she was knocked unconscious when her vehicle crashed.  Asked about her heroine status, she insisted, "That wasn't me.  I'm not about to take credit for something I didn't do.  I'm just a survivor."  For her honesty alone perhaps she deserves a medal.
      Another case dates from the Philippines in December 1941, soon after the Pearl Harbor attack plunged us into war and we were desperate for heroes.  On December 10 Army Air Corps pilot Colin P. Kelly's B-17 bomber was sent on a mission to attack Japanese naval forces off the coast of Luzon.  Sighting a large warship that they identified as the battleship Haruna, his crew dropped three bombs that they believed hit the target and destroyed it.  When the plane was returning to base, it was attacked and badly damaged by a Japanese fighter; Kelly remained at the controls so his men could bail out, but he himself did not survive.  He was hailed as America's first hero of the war, but his story was exaggerated and garbled.  Many Americans thought that he had crashed his plane into the Haruna and destroyed the ship, and that for this act he received posthumously the nation's highest award, the Medal of Honor.  In fact he received the second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, and after the war it was learned that the Haruna was not even in the area and that no Japanese ship had been sunk.  Kelly was nonetheless a hero, having sacrificed his own life to let his crewmen escape.

Demonization of the enemy

     As hostilities heated up, George Templeton Strong wrote in his diary that "these felons," meaning the Rebels, had murdered Northern wounded in cold blood as the defeated Northern forces fell back.  So began the demonization of the enemy.  As the war dragged on, sober leading citizens asserted that the Rebels had bayoneted the wounded, and even dug up the remains of a brave officer so they could cut off his head and burn his flesh to ashes.  Enemy soldiers were said to have stripped the Northern dead of their uniforms and left them naked on the field to be devoured by dogs or to rot.  They reportedly even boiled the flesh from the bones of the dead and then from those bones made ornaments for themselves and their friends, or for sale in the markets.  Reliable witnesses, it was claimed, had confirmed these stories, which were then included in a report to the Senate.  Today we can voice skepticism about these charges, but in point of fact both sides on occasion committed atrocities, including at times violating and dismembering corpses.  "War is hell," General Sherman famously remarked after the war.  But wartime reports of atrocities should be received with skepticism, even though some of them may indeed be confirmed in time.

File:Wilhelm II. 1905.jpeg
A man you'd love to hate.  
And so full of himself!

     America has been lucky in its choice of enemies, many of whom lent themselves to demonization.  How could you not hate the fiercely mustached Kaiser, posing in bemedaled uniforms under a spiked or eagle-topped helmet?  Even before we entered World War I, British propaganda had his troops hanging up children by their thumbs and slicing the breasts off women in Bleeding Belgium.  Hitler too, with his little patch of mustache, was easily demonized, and postwar revelations only confirmed his monstrous guilt.  Saddam Hussein was likened to Hitler, nor have we had to date any good reason to rehabilitate him.  But in the Civil War such figures as Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson could not easily be demonized, and today the latter two are admired and eulogized even in the North.  There were monsters back then too, and on both sides, but rarely at the top levels of command.


    Many of our enemies have been militarists and tyrants, and, taking themselves very seriously, are vulnerable to caricature as well.  If demonization paints your enemies as the direst of threats, caricature makes them ridiculous.  Hitler and the Kaiser were easily caricatured, but with Hideki Tojo, the Japanese wartime premier, cartoonists had a field day -- not without a touch of racism -- making him toothily grotesque.  But caricature has its limits, for one laughs at its victims, whereas war demands that you see them as demons you can hate.  Even forest fires were blamed on Tojo and Hitler.

 The sobering up

      "On to Richmond!" Horace Greeley's Tribune urged, as the blue-coated ranks headed south.  For weeks afterward cannon were trundled through the city's streets, bunting makers toiled, and hoopskirted ladies in front parlors sewed nightcaps for soldiers, while in the kitchen their maids did the same.  Letters arrived reporting that the boys had been assaulted by mosquitoes and flies.  "On to Richmond!" exhorted Mr. Greeley, fretting at the front's calm.
    Then, on July 22, came stark tidings: the Northern legions had been trounced by the Rebels and stampeded from the field in disgrace, along with a panicky horde of sightseers -- politicians and their wives, who had come out to picnic and watch the battle -- the rout going almost to the gates of Washington.  Shame spread throughout the city, and resolve tightened.  Wrote George Templeton Strong in his diary: "We are not yet fighting in earnest.  Our sluggish, good-natured, pachydermatous people need much kicking to heat its blood.  Not a traitor is hanged after four months of rampant rebellion.  We have got to hang rebels, arm the niggers, burn their towns."  More volunteers were called for, anthems sung, bounties offered.  It was going to be a long war.
     The last war where these phases were clearly displayed was World War II, and the sobering up then came quickly, given the initial Japanese victories throughout the Far East, and the toll taken by enemy submarines off both our coasts.  Since then we have been involved in undeclared wars that the public could not embrace wholeheartedly, and that often did not end in clear-cut victory.  
      What I recall in World War II  was more grim determination than patriotic fervor, a mood far different from the intense patriotism of World War I, which my parents told me of, including an account of a young man so ashamed of being rejected by the services that he often kept to the alleys of Indianapolis, rather than be seen on the street.  Nor did the slogans of World War II match in fervent idealism those of the previous war, as for instance "Make the world safe for democracy" and "The war to end wars." Nor do I recall parades of soldiers marching off to war. In my home town of Evanston, draftees were served coffee and a sandwich by civilian volunteers and then, in the early morning hours, were whisked off by bus to an induction center.  Maybe we had learned something after all.

A World War I recruiting poster,
just as relevant for World War II.
File:William Allen Rogers - Only the Navy Can Stop This (WWI U.S. Navy recruitment poster).jpg
A demonized Germany wading
through a sea of dead bodies.

     Personal note:  When news of Pearl Harbor came to my hometown, Evanston, Illinois, the city fathers at once placed a guard around the water works, lest Tojo and his perfidious legions corrupt our water supply.  Unlikely, but why take a chance?  Fortunately, no Japanese submarines were reported in the placid waters of Lake Michigan.  But one dissident escaped the authorities' notice: my father, an unrepentant isolationist, a staunch Republican whose loathing of the President knew no bounds, and who even insisted that FDR was just a bit loony.  In Great Britain he would probably have been jailed for defeatism or undermining the nation's morale.  (But that's another story.)


All books are available online as indicated, or from the author.

1.  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World (Mill City Press, 2015).  Winner of the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  All about anything and everything New York: alcoholics, abortionists, greenmarkets, Occupy Wall Street, the Gay Pride Parade, my mugging in Central Park, peyote visions, and an artist who made art of a blackened human toe.  In her Reader Views review, Sheri Hoyte called it "a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City."

If you love the city (or hate it), this may be the book for you.  An award winner, it sold well at BookCon 2017.


"If you want wonderful inside tales about New York, this is the book for you.  Cliff Browder has a way with his writing that makes the city I lived in for 40 plus years come alive in a new and delightful way. A refreshing view on NYC that will not disappoint."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Bill L.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

2.  Bill Hope: His Story (Anaphora Literary Press, 2017), the second novel in the Metropolis series.  New York City, 1870s: From his cell in the gloomy prison known as the Tombs, young Bill Hope spills out in a torrent of words the story of his career as a pickpocket and shoplifter; his brutal treatment at Sing Sing and escape from another prison in a coffin; his forays into brownstones and polite society; and his sojourn among the “loonies” in a madhouse, from which he emerges to face betrayal and death threats, and possible involvement in a murder.  Driving him throughout is a fierce desire for better, a persistent and undying hope.

For readers who like historical fiction and a fast-moving story.


"A real yarn of a story about a lovable pickpocket who gets into trouble and has a great adventure.  A must read."  Five-star Amazon customer review by nicole w brown.

"This was a fun book.  The main character seemed like a cross between Huck Finn and a Charles Dickens character.  I would recommend this."  Four-star LibraryThing review by stephvin.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

3.  Dark Knowledge (Anaphora Literary Press, 2018), the third novel in the Metropolis series.  Release date January 5, 2018, but copies now available from the author.  Adult and young adult.  A fast-moving historical novel about New York City and the slave trade, with the sights and sounds and smells of the waterfront. 

Browder - Cover - 9781681143675-Perfect - 2
The back cover summary:

New York City, late 1860s.  When young Chris Harmony learns that members of his family may have been involved in the illegal pre-Civil War slave trade, taking slaves from Africa to Cuba, he is appalled.  Determined to learn the truth, he begins an investigation that takes him into a dingy waterfront saloon, musty old maritime records that yield startling secrets, and elegant brownstone parlors that may have been furnished by the trade.  Since those once involved dread exposure, he meets denials and evasions, then threats, and a key witness is murdered.  Chris has vivid fantasies of the suffering slaves on the ships and their savage revolts.  How could seemingly respectable people be involved in so abhorrent a trade, and how did they avoid exposure?  And what price must Chris pay to learn the painful truth and proclaim it?

Early reviews

"A lively and entertaining tale.  The writing styles, plot, pace and character development were excellent."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by BridgitDavis.

"At first the plot ... seemed a bit contrived, but I was soon swept up in the tale."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by snash.

"I am glad that I have read this book as it goes into great detail and the presentation is amazing.  The Author obviously knows his stuff."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by Moiser20.

4.  The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), the first novel in the Metropolis series, tells the story of a respectably raised young man who chooses to become a male prostitute in late 1860s New York and falls in love with his most difficult client.

What was the gay scene like in nineteenth-century New York?   Gay romance, if you like, but no porn (I don't do porn).  Women have read it and reviewed it.  (The cover illustration doesn't hurt.)


"At times amusing, gritty, heartfelt and a little sexy -- this would make a great summer read."  Four-star Amazon customer review by BobW.

"Really more of a fantasy of a 19th century gay life than any kind of historical representation of the same."  Three-star Goodreads review by Rachel.

"The detail Browder brings to this glimpse into history is only equaled by his writing of credible and interesting characters.  Highly recommended."  Five-star Goodreads review by Nan Hawthorne.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Coming soon:  Nightshades: they beautify, they mystify, they kill.

©   2017   Clifford Browder


  1. Q-"So will I wear the beanie and look silly, or leave it at home and look human, albeit with half-frozen ears? "

    A- Wear the beanie. Looking silly is sexy and letting your ears freeze is ACTUALLY silly.
    Geezers rock even more when wearing beanies.

    1. A comforting thought. But wait till you see me in the beanie.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You could have brought it to the Sage party, but I didn't see you there.

  3. That's strange. I thought they sent invitations to the same people as last year. This time, it was at the Midtown Center, which they dedicated to the memory of Edie Windsor.
    In any case, sorry you missed it.