Category Archives: U.S.

Killing Horses, Freeing Slaves at Yorktown, 1781

From Hessians: Mercenaries, Rebels, and the War for British North America, by Brady J. Crytzer (Westholme, 2015), Kindle Loc. 1999-2026:

While Washington believed that a joint American-French assault on New York was the best option, Rochambeau was less than convinced. Their tenuous strategy sessions changed, however, in August when the French commander received a message from the French Admiral Comte de Grasse. In his letter de Grasse claimed that he was en route to Virginia with twenty-nine warships and over three thousand troops, but with hurricane season at hand and other pressing matters in the Caribbean, he could only remain until October. Time was now of the essence, and Washington and Rochambeau believed that if the Admiral de Grasse could blockade Chesapeake Bay with his fleet, Cornwallis could be trapped at his new operational headquarters of Yorktown. On August 19, 1781, Washington and Rochambeau began their march to Virginia; it would be the first time that the American commander had been home in over six years.

By October 14, the scene that was playing out at Yorktown was the stuff of legend. The Admiral de Grasse had successfully blockaded the Chesapeake Bay, and the city itself was surrounded by almost nineteen thousand American and French soldiers. Like a great wall they fanned around Cornwallis’s forces, trapping them on all sides, and with de Grasse’s fleet in place the British were completely cut off from the outside world. For more than three weeks this had been the setting for General George Washington and the American rebels’ finest hour. It was also a welcome opportunity for the French to deliver a crushing blow courtesy of their world-famous brand of siege warfare.

Inside his headquarters in the besieged city, Cornwallis was growing desperate. His ramparts were being descended on at a rapid rate, and his food supply was running low. Clinton had sent reinforcements southward, but they would be unable to break the French blockade over the Chesapeake. To save vital stores for his men, Cornwallis had taken to extreme measures in a futile attempt to hold out for support. With supplies running low, the general ordered that all of the army’s horses be slaughtered at once and thrown into the York River. [Hessian Captain Johann] Ewald wrote that within days the tide brought the bloated carcasses back to shore, and his Germans were haunted by the somber and chilling sight. In the waning hours of what would be his last battle in North America, the British general took his desperate attempt to hold out a step further. After killing the camp’s livestock to save grain for his men, Cornwallis looked to further eliminate any usage of food that he considered unnecessary. His next demand though would trouble Ewald more than nearly any other experienced yet in America.

On October 15 the general ordered that all slaves, with no discrimination between men, women, or children, be expelled from the camp. In a wave of frenzy these people were thrust from behind British lines and abandoned in the no-man’s-land between Cornwallis and his besiegers. As the enslaved families scattered in the confused melee, Ewald could not sit back and watch. On his own initiative, the captain and his party of Jägers leapt from behind their defensive lines to drive the abandoned people to safety. Ewald recalled the event with great vigor and explained that he led a party of his men into the teeth of the firefight at their own risk. He continued by stating that in hindsight the order was far too dangerous to justify at the time, but he and his Germans could only think of the young families in harm’s way. They were overcome with the desire to usher them to safety.

ON OCTOBER 17, 1781, THE WHITE FLAG OF TRUCE FLEW OVER THE British position at Yorktown and Cornwallis had surrendered.

Today is the second anniversary of the sudden death of my closest brother, just one day short of his 64th birthday. He was a history professor who never got to finish his book on mercenaries (broadly defined) in Colonial America, including Capt. John Smith and Cmdr. John Paul Jones (who later fought for Russia against the Turks). My brother had many stories of mercenaries who proved more rational and humane than the citizen soldiers whose causes they were supporting. John Paul Jones, for instance, was horrified at Russian tactics against Turkish troops and civilians, and the Hessian captain Ewald in the passage above was as deeply disturbed by the barbaric tactics of the Iroquoian allies of the British as he was by Cornwallis’s decision to expel slaves from his besieged forces in Yorktown.

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Filed under Britain, food, military, slavery, U.S., war

Cherokee Language Revitalization

From Talkin’ Tar Heel: How Our Voices Tell the Story of North Carolina, by Walt Wolfram and Jeffrey Reaser (UNC Press, 2014), p. 212-213:

The English-only policies of the boarding schools were largely effective in achieving their purpose with respect to language. Across the United States, the vast majority of American Indian languages that survived the initial contact period have been lost or are currently endangered. Even among reservation groups, few people under fifty speak the heritage language. For example, a 2002 survey of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma found only about 10,000 fluent Cherokee speakers—almost all of whom were older than fifty—out of a population of 288,000. The situation is not much better in North Carolina. The 2000 U.S. Census reported 1,147 of the approximately 12,500 Cherokee in North Carolina as having some fluency in the language; however, a 2005 survey conducted by the tribe identified only 460 fluent speakers—of whom 72 percent were over fifty—a number that tribal elders claim has since dwindled to somewhere between 200 and 300. The tribe estimates that even with its preservation efforts, they are still losing an average of three Cherokee speakers a month.

This stark finding launched an intensive, community-based language revitalization project. For the community, more than the language is at stake. Native Cherokee speaker Myrtle Driver notes: “Our language is who we are. Once you start learning the language, it branches out to all other areas—history, culture, traditions. So, when they’re learning the language they’re learning, you know, everything about the Cherokee people as well.

The revitalization project has a number of initiatives, the first of which is the Kituwah Academy, an early childhood immersion program that teaches parents and children from seven months to age five to speak and read together in Cherokee. This early childhood component prepares the children for a total immersion curriculum that extends from preschool to fifth grade. To support the teaching of this program, the community has partnered with Western Carolina University, which boasts strong programs in elementary education and the Cherokee language so that students can now learn to deliver elementary school content in Cherokee. Jean Bushyhead, a local teacher, is optimistic about the chances for success in preserving the language: “The Cherokee culture and language will survive because of the great emphasis that has been going on for the last five or six years. And I think that we are getting to the children at the right time. And that is [from] birth … on.” Although the program directs most of its efforts toward young children, since 2007 all Cherokee students have been required to speak Cherokee in order to graduate from high school. While students sometimes resist such imposed mandates, and success in language learning is closely tied to a person’s desire to learn the language, in the case of Cherokee, many students are eager to learn….

The community has also begun adult education programs on the Qualla Boundary as well as intergenerational events that bring together the older and younger speakers of the language. And there is a Cherokee summer camp in the Snowbird community an hour south of the Qualla Boundary where children produce a play in Cherokee by the end of the summer. The Cherokee in North Carolina have also reached out to Cherokee groups in Oklahoma to create workshops to discuss their common language and help adapt it to the modern world. The program’s tasks include adding new words to Cherokee so that it can be used to teach state-mandated curricular content. The Cherokee Language Consortium, for example, has designated new Cherokee words for English words like cell phone, plastic, CD, computer, amoeba, galaxy, axis, biology, and astronaut.

Despite the current incentive, it is impossible to know what the future holds for the Cherokee language. The Kituwah dialect of Cherokee remains below the critical mass of speakers that would all us to comfortably predict it will continue to be a viable and flourishing language.

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Filed under education, language, migration, nationalism, U.S.

Three-way Segregation in Robeson County, NC

From Talkin’ Tar Heel: How Our Voices Tell the Story of North Carolina, by Walt Wolfram and Jeffrey Reaser (UNC Press, 2014), p. 216-220:

Robeson County is the most ethnically diverse county in North Carolina, with minority groups constituting the majority of the population. Contributing to the county’s diversity is the largest American Indian population east of the Mississippi River—the Lumbee, whose tribal members, now approaching 50,000, make up 39 percent of the Robeson County population, with the rest composed of non-Hispanic European Americans (25 percent), African Americans (25 percent), and Hispanics (8 percent). The first three ethnic groups have lived side by side for several centuries now, enduring long periods of legal and de facto segregation—three seating areas in the movie theater; three school systems; and, most recently, three homecoming kings and queens. As the ninth-largest tribe in the United States—and the largest nonreservation tribe of American Indians—the Lumbee Indians of Robeson County are the reason that North Carolina ranks seventh among all the states in terms of the American Indian population. But the Lumbee have been largely ignored by the federal government, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and people outside North Carolina, who rarely know who they are….

At the railroad intersection of the east-west and north-south crossing of the Union Pacific, Southern, and CSX railways lies the heart of what seems at first to be just another small southern town center. But it is hardly that. About 90 percent of the 2,300 people living within the town of Pembroke are Lumbee Indians. Crossing the railroad tracks, a flashing sign at the edge of the campus of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke advertises upcoming events at one of the fastest-growing universities in the state. The school was established in 1887 as the Croatan Normal School to train American Indian public school teachers, opening with one teacher and fifteen students. Today, it educates almost 7,000 students in the liberal arts and sciences. It has always been known as an Indian school, although it was not until 2005 that the governor of North Carolina signed a declaration officially making it “North Carolina’s Historically American Indian University.”

The flickering sign projects the digital profile of an Indian in headdress and welcomes newcomers to the “Home of the Braves.”

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Filed under democracy, education, language, nationalism, slavery, U.S.

North Carolina Placenames

While visiting old friends and enjoying the fall colors in North Carolina, I’ve been exploring local history and culture—and vittles, from lowly liver pudding to fancy shrimp and grits, and a good variety of local craft brews.

One book I’m enjoyin’ is Talkin’ Tar Heel: How Our Voices Tell the Story of North Carolina, by Walt Wolfram and Jeffrey Reaser (UNC Press, 2014). It comes with a well-organized website of audio files illustrating pronunciations discussed in each chapter. The printed book provides links to each audio file in two formats: a unique URL (http) and QR code. The book is written for general readers, so the pronunciations are rendered in English spellings that avoid IPA symbols. Here’s a sample of placenames:

Chowan (cho-WONN), Rowan (roe-ANN), Gaston (GASS-ton), Lenoir (le-NOR)

Icard (EYE-kurd), Ijames (IMES), Iredell (IRE-dell), Robeson (ROBB-i-son)

Fuquay-Varina (FEW-kway vuh-REE-nuh), Uwharrie (you-WHAR-ee)

Conetoe (kuh-NEE-tuh), Contentnea (kun-TENT-nea), Corolla (kuh-RAHL-uh)

Chicamacomico (chick-uh-muh-CAH-mih-co), Nantahala (nan-tuh-HAY-luh)

Cooleemee (COOL-uh-mee), Cullowhee (CULL-uh-whee), Cullasaja (cool-uh-SAY-juh)

Guilford (GILL-furd), Hertford (HERT-furd), Wingate (WIN-get), Wendell (win-DELL)

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Filed under language, migration, travel, U.S.

Addiction Treatment Culture

From Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D. Vance (Harper, 2016), pp. 114-117:

On designated weekdays and weekends, we visited our mother at the CAT [Center for Addiction Treatment] house. Between the hills of Kentucky, Mamaw and her guns, and Mom’s outbursts, I thought I had seen it all. but Mom’s newest problem exposed me to the underworld of American addiction. Wednesdays were always dedicated to a group activity—some type of training for the family. All of the addicts and their families sat in a large room with each family assigned to an individual table, engaged in some discussion meant to teach us about addiction and its triggers. In one session, Mom explained that she used drugs to escape the stress of paying bills and to dull the pain of Papaw’s death. In another, Lindsay and I learned that standard sibling conflict made it more difficult for Mom to resist temptation.

These sessions provoked little more than arguments and raw emotion, which I suppose was their purpose. On the nights when we sat in that giant hall with other families—all of whom were either black or Southern-accented whites like us—we heard screaming and fighting, children telling their parents that they hated them, sobbing parents begging forgiveness in one breath and then blaming their families in the next. It was there that I first heard Lindsay tell Mom how she resented having to play the caretaker in the wake of Papaw’s death instead of grieving for him, how she hated watching me grow attached to some boyfriend of Mom’s only to see him walk out on us. Perhaps it was the setting, or perhaps it was the fact that Lindsay was almost eighteen, but as my sister confronted my mother, I began to see my sister as the real adult. And our routine at home only enhanced her stature.

Mom’s rehab proceeded apace, and her condition apparently improved with time. Sundays were designated as unstructured family time. We couldn’t take Mom off-site, but we were able to eat and watch TV and talk as normal. Sundays were usually happy, though Mom did angrily chide us during one visit because our relationship with Mamaw had grown too close. “I’m your mother, not her,” she told us. I realized that Mom had begun to regret the seeds she’d sown with Lindsay and me.

When Mom came home a few months later, she brought a new vocabulary along with her. She regularly recited the Serenity Prayer, a staple of addiction circles in which the faithful ask God for the “serenity to accept the things [they] cannot change.” Drug addiction was a disease, and just as I wouldn’t judge a cancer patient for a tumor, so I shouldn’t judge a narcotics addict for her behavior. At thirteen, I found this patently absurd, and Mom and I often argued over whether her newfound wisdom was scientific truth or an excuse for people whose decisions destroyed a family. Oddly enough, it’s probably both. Research does reveal a genetic disposition to substance abuse, but those who believe their addiction is a disease show less of an inclination to resist it. Mom was telling herself the truth, but the truth was not setting her free.

I didn’t believe any of the slogans or sentiments, but I did believe she was trying. Addiction treatment seemed to give Mom a sense of purpose, and it gave us something to bond over. I read what I could on her “disease” and even made a habit of attending some of her Narcotics Anonymous meetings, which proceeded precisely as you’d expect: a depressing conference room, a dozen or so chairs, and a bunch of strangers sitting in a circle, introducing themselves as “Bob, and I’m an addict.” I thought that if I participated, she might actually get better.

At one meeting, a man walked in a few minutes late, smelling like a garbage can. His matted hair and dirty clothes evidenced a life on the streets, a truth he confirmed as soon as he opened his mouth. “My kids won’t speak to me, no one will,” he told us. “I scrounge together what money I can and spend it on smack. Tonight I couldn’t find any money or any smack, so I came in here because it looked warm.” The organizer asked if he’d be willing to try giving up the drugs for more than one night, and the man answered with admirable candor. “I could say yes, but honestly, probably not. I’ll probably be back at it tomorrow night.”

I never saw that man again. Before he left, someone did ask him where he was from. “Well, I’ve lived her in Hamilton for most of my life. But I was born down in eastern Kentucky, Owsley County.” At the time, I didn’t know enough about Kentucky geography to tell the man that he had been born no more than twenty miles from my grandparents’ childhood home.

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Filed under Appalachia, disease, drugs, education

Discovering Hillbilly Identity

From Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D. Vance (Harper, 2016), pp. 78-80:

Mom was released from jail on bond and prosecuted for a domestic violence misdemeanor. The case rested entirely on me. Yet during the hearing, when asked if Mom had ever threatened me, I said no. The reason was simple: My grandparents were paying a lot of money for the town’s highest-powered lawyer. They were furious with my mother, but they didn’t want their daughter in jail, either. The lawyer never explicitly encouraged dishonesty, but he did make it clear that what I said would either increase or decrease the odds that Mom spent additional time in prison. “You don’t want your mom to go to jail, do you?” he asked. So I lied, with the express understanding that even though Mom would have her liberty, I could live with my grandparents whenever I wished. Mom would officially retain custody, but from that day forward I lived in her house only when I chose to—and Mamaw told me that if Mom had a problem with the arrangement, she could talk to the barrel of Mamaw’s gun. This was hillbilly justice, and it didn’t fail me.

I remember sitting in that busy courtroom, with half a dozen other families all around, and thinking they looked just like us. The moms and dads and grandparents didn’t wear suits like the lawyers and judge. They wore sweatpants and stretchy pants and T-shirts. Their hair was a bit frizzy. And it was the first time I noticed “TV accents”—the neutral accent that so many news anchors had. The social workers and the judge and the lawyer all had TV accents. None of us did. The people who ran the courtroom were different from us. The subjected to it were not.

Identity is an odd thing, and I didn’t understand at the time why I felt such a kinship with these strangers. A few months later, during my first trip to California, I began to understand. Uncle Jimmy flew Lindsay and me to his home in Napa, California. Knowing that I’d be visiting him, I told every person I could that I was headed to California in the summer and, what was more, flying for the first time. The main reaction was disbelief that may uncle had enough money to fly two people—neither of whom were his children—out to California. It is a testament to the class consciousness of my youth that my friends’ thoughts drifted first to the cost of the airplane flight.

For my part, I was overjoyed to travel west and visit Uncle Jimmy, a man I idolized on par with my great-uncles, the Blanton men. Despite the early departure, I didn’t sleep a wink on the six-hour flight from Cincinnati to San Francisco. Everything was just too exciting: the way the earth shrank during takeoff, the look of clouds from close up, the scope and size of the sky, and the way the mountains looked from the stratosphere. The flight attendant took notice, and by the time we hit Colorado, I was making regular visits to the cockpit (this was before 9/11), where the pilot gave me brief lessons in flying an airplane and updated me on our progress.

The adventure had just begun. I had traveled out of state before: I had joined my grandparents on road trips to South Carolina and Texas, and I had visited Kentucky regularly. On those trips, I rarely spoke to anyone except family, and I never noticed anything all that different. Napa was like a different country. In California, every day included a new adventure with my teenage cousins and their friends. During one trip we went to the Castro District of San Francisco so that, in the words of my older cousin Rachael, I could learn that gay people weren’t out to molest me. Another day, we visited a winery. On yet a another day, we helped at my cousin Nate’s high school football practice. It was all very exciting. Everyone I met thought I sounded like I was from Kentucky. Of course, I kind of was from Kentucky. And I loved that people thought I had a funny accent. That said, it became clear to me that California really was something else. I’d visited Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbus, and Lexington. I’d spent a considerable amount of time in South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and even Arkansas. So why was California so different?

The answer, I’d learn, was the same hillbilly highway that brought Mamaw and Papaw from eastern Kentucky to southwest Ohio. Despite the topographical differences and the different regional economies of the South and the industrial Midwest, my travels had been confined largely to places where the people looked and acted like my family. We ate the same foods, watched the same sports, and practiced the same religion. That’s why I felt so much kinship with those people at the courthouse: They were hillbilly transplants in one way or another, just like me.

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Foreign Safety Zone, Nanjing, 1937

From Nanjing 1937: Battle for a Doomed City, by Peter Harmsen (Casemate, 2015), Kindle Loc. 2591-2628:

The safety zone, the brainchild of Rabe and a few other foreigners who had stayed behind in Nanjing, started to take form in the first week of December, when it was officially publicized and four committees were set up to take care of food, housing, finance and sanitation. Once the plans for the zone were detailed in the local press, scared Chinese civilians started moving in by the hundreds, convinced that it was only a matter of time until the Japanese took over. A small newspaper’s repeated claim that it was the “duty” of all patriotic Chinese to stay outside the zone and face the Japanese bombs was largely ignored.

The zone was beset with problems from the start, both practical and bureaucratic. Thousands of bags of rice and flour meant for the zone’s future residents were left unguarded and quickly disappeared. Many assumed that they had been stolen by the military. Potentially much more serious problems arose when Chinese military units started digging trenches and setting up field telephones inside the safety zone, which automatically put it at risk of Japanese attack. Chinese officers promised that they would leave, but the situation dragged out, causing impatience among the organizers of the zone. Until the last Chinese soldier had left, they could not put up flags around it, designating it as a truly demilitarized area.

The Japanese refused to officially acknowledge the safety zone, but vowed to respect it. A lukewarm attitude on their part could hardly be considered surprising, but intriguingly some Chinese officers also exhibited direct hostility against the zone. “Every inch of soil that the Japanese conquer should be fertilized with our blood,” an angry officer told Rabe. “Nanjing must be defended to the last man. If you had not established your Safety Zone, people now fleeing into the Zone could have helped our soldiers.” They wanted to leave nothing of use to the Japanese. This included complete destruction of the area inside the safety zone as well. Some nationalistic Chinese officers were also opposed, on principle, as they saw an essentially foreign-administered region in the middle of their capital as an intolerable violation of Chinese sovereignty.

The zone was not the only effort to help alleviate the pain and suffering caused by war. After the outbreak of the battle over Shanghai, the Chinese Red Cross had stepped in where military medicine had failed and set up a number of first-aid teams and emergency hospitals, while also ensuring that wounded soldiers were put up in existing medical facilities. In October, it established a 3,000-bed hospital on the campus of the National Central University, with a staff of 300 doctors and nurses and 400 orderlies. By the end of October, the hospital had 1,200 patients, and carried out more than 50 operations a day, mostly amputations.

However, as the Japanese approached Nanjing, doctors and nurses were transported west up the Yangtze. The entire Red Cross hospital was evacuated, and at the American Mission Hospital, an initial staff of nearly 200 doctors, nurses and trained workers had been reduced to just 11 by the onset of winter. Some were ordered out of Nanjing, while others left on their own initiative, without warning. Wilson, the Harvard-trained surgeon, described in a letter how he had carried out a complicated operation on a bombing victim with the help of an experienced Chinese nurse who doubled as an x-ray technician. “Incidentally that nurse left this afternoon,” he added, “and now we have no one in the operating room.”

With medical facilities close to collapse, a group of foreigners took the initiative to try to improve conditions, and there were small victories. A committee headed by Rev. John Magee, an American-born Episcopal missionary, secured a sizable amount from Chiang Kai-shek and set up a temporary dressing station in the school buildings of the American Church Mission. Overall, it was slow, unrewarding work in a field that many Chinese officials considered redundant. In an attempt to help the injured soldiers who were still piling up on the platforms, a group of foreign volunteers asked the Chinese authorities for ambulances. They were told that ambulances were indeed available, but there was no gasoline and no money to buy it.

Also very active in Shanghai, Nanjing, and elsewhere in East Asia at the time was the Red Swastika Society (世界红卍字会, shìjiè hóngwànzìhuì), a Buddhist/Daoist equivalent of the Red Cross or Red Crescent.

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Filed under China, Germany, Japan, nationalism, religion, U.S., war