battles

We hear many things about the different Indian Wars and battles. We also know that many of these wars were unnecessary, and were largely due to broken treaties that were made between the White Man and the Indians. Because the population of the United States was inevitable, I don’t know how we could have possibly left so much land exclusively for the use if the Indians, but there must have been better ways to work this out. Nevertheless, once a population explosion starts, it is impossible to stop it.

Of further concern to the government were the spiritual beliefs of the Indians. Throughout 1890, the United States government worried about the increasing influence at Pine Ridge of the Ghost Dance spiritual movement. The movement taught that the Indians had been defeated and confined to reservations because they had angered the gods by abandoning their traditional customs. This movement prompted many Sioux Indians to believed that if they practiced the Ghost Dance and rejected the ways of the white man, the gods would create the world anew and destroy all non-believers, including non-Indians.

The situation escalated when on December 15, 1890, reservation police tried to arrest Sitting Bull, the famous Sioux chief, because they mistakenly believed he was a Ghost Dancer. In the process of his arrest, they killed him, thereby increasing the tensions at Pine Ridge. Then, on December 29, the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under Big Foot, a Lakota Sioux chief, near Wounded Knee Creek. They demanded the Indians surrender their weapons. Immediately, a fight broke out between an Indian and a U.S. soldier. A shot was fired, but it’s unclear who fired first. A brutal massacre followed, in which it’s estimated that between 150 and 300 Indians were killed, nearly half of them women and children. The cavalry lost 25 men. The conflict at Wounded Knee was originally referred to as a battle, but in reality it was a tragic and avoidable massacre. Surrounded by heavily armed troops, it’s unlikely that Big Foot’s band would have intentionally started a fight. Some historians speculate that the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry were deliberately taking revenge for the regiment’s defeat at Little Bighorn in 1876. Whatever the motives, the massacre ended the Ghost Dance movement and was the last major battle in America’s deadly war against the Plains Indians.

It was 1914, and World War I was in the 5th month of a 51 month offensive. The war effort was in a bit of a transition period, following the stalemate of the Race to the Sea and the indecisive result of the First Battle of Ypres. As leadership on both sides reconsidered their strategies, hostilities entered a bit of a lull. The men were hoping for a break in the action for Christmas that year, but they had to wait for their orders. When the orders came down, it was not to be a Christmas truce, but rather a Christmas strike. As the first men to go forth prepared to make the first advances, some men were killed, and some returned. It was the way of war. The leadership wanted to take advantage of the possibility that the enemy might not expect a Christmas attack. One of the younger men…17 years old to be exact, couldn’t help himself. He began to sing Silent Night.His superiors ordered it to be quiet. They feared that the enemy was waiting in the darkness.

Then, a miracle occurred. In the week leading up to the 25th of December, French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings…and to talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into what was called no man’s land, because to go there was to risk death. Nevertheless, on that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, things seemed different. The soldiers took a chance and stepped forward, hoping to convince their enemies that they only wanted to bury their dead, and hoping that it would be agreeable to stop the fighting for one hour to bury the dead. As they buried their dead, with heavy hearts, someone suggested that they take Christmas Day off. This was totally against their orders, and they knew that at some point they were going to have to go back and follow their orders. They were going to have to become enemies again. Still, for now…for this day, they mingled and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps. Men played games of football with one another, giving one of the most memorable images of the truce. Peaceful behavior was not ubiquitous, however, and fighting continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies. Several meetings ended in carol-singing. Someone commented, “How many times in a life do you actually meet your enemy face to face.” It was almost strange to them, because these “enemies” were not the monsters they expected them to be. These were simply men, just like they were. I’m sure the men were in shock. it’s hard to have your total view of your enemy change so drastically and then have to follow your orders, pickup your weapons, and shoot at the same men again. The Christmas truce (German: Weihnachtsfrieden; French: Trêve de Noël) was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of World War I around Christmas 1914.

The Christmas Truces of 1914, while wonderful for the men, were not to be a Christmas tradition in World War I. The following year, a few units arranged ceasefires but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914. This was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting truces. It was evident that while the mini-mutiny of 1914 was tolerated and the men were not punished, that this would not be tolerated in the future. It really didn’t matter, because the Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916. The war had become increasingly bitter after devastating human losses suffered during the battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the use of poison gas. While a Christmas truce would be nice in theory, bitter and angry feelings on both sides of a war make it an impractical idea. Still, in 1914, the miracle of the Christmas Truce was a wonderful treat for the men on all sides of a bitter war.

The Battle of GettysburgOne hundred fifty one years ago today, a little battle that was a part of the Civil War, began. Many of the battles of the Civil War went without serious recognition, but not this one. It lasted only three days, but it was the turning point in the war. You have all heard of this little battle, of course…it was, the Battle of Gettysburg. It was fought between July 1 and July 3, 1863 in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The soldiers were all Americans…Confederate and Union. Some were related…fathers against sons, brother against brother. With this battle came the end of General Robert E Lee’s attempts to invade the north. The fighting was fierce with many casualties on both sides. The Union side came into the battle with 93,921 soldiers and lost 3,155 men, who were killed. Another 14,531 were wounded, and 5,369 were captured or missing. The Confederate side came into the battle with 71,699 soldiers and lost 4,708 men, who were killed. Another 12,693 were wounded, and 5,830 were captured or missing. This battle was devastating, no matter which side you were on. On November 19, 1863, President Lincoln dedicated the cemetery as the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers, and to reiterate the purpose of the war. In that ceremony, President Lincoln gave his historic Gettysburg Address.

When my family went back to visit my sister in Keeseville, New York, we took a trip down the east coast, that included Gettysburg. I can’t tell you if any of my ancestors fought in that battle, but I can tell you that visiting Gettysburg National Cemetery, is something that stays with you. You can’t help but walk away a very changed person. That place has a hallowed feeling to it. When you know of the deaths that happened there, the blood that was shed, families that were destroyed, there is no other way to feel, but awe. They knew what they had to do, and they did what was needed. It didn’t matter how they felt about giving their lives, they all felt that their side was right, and they were willing to fight for what was right.

I will always remember the feelings I had standing there, looking at all those graves…thinking about all those lives lost. I thought about children without fathers and parents without their children. There was no way out of it. They had to fight. It was kill or be killed. And there was a very important purpose for their fighting. Even all those years ago, the feeling was still there. You felt the need to be very quiet, because to speak almost seemed wrong. I felt very honored to be in the presence of such courageous men. Our trip to Gettysburg was forty one years ago, but the way I felt while I was there has never left me. I can feel it now, as if I were standing there right now.

IsaacIsaac is the most serious of the children of my niece, Jenny and her husband Steve. The other children are always laughing, and Isaac laughs too, but much of the time he seems to be contemplating the complexity of the world around him. I know that sounds strange for a young man of only seven years, but when I look at Isaac, I see a young man who is a thinker. He doesn’t just look for the funny things in life, but rather wants to know the who, what, where, why, and how of things and situations around him. He may not even know that yet, but I see it in his eyes. I was that way when I was a kid. Sometimes the things going on around me went by unnoticed, because I was always deep 954738_10200335207798733_1329872158_nin thought about something that came to my mind. I wanted to know why things went the way they did, so I sat and thought about it. I see that very much in Isaac too. He is a boy with many things on his mind.

Of course, Isaac has a funny side to, and is quick to smile. He is the kind of little boy that is a good friend, because he understands how to be a friend. He is kind and sensitive to others. The youngest son out of three boys, and older brother to his sister Aleesia, he knows how to get along with others. He knows how to fight battles with his brothers, and how to be gentle with his little sister. It’s a good mix. He also has a love of pets, and takes good care of 1045156_10200335207118716_58648575_nthem. Puppies think of  Isaac as their best friend.  He is truly a  complex little boy.

Isaac is, nevertheless, all boy. He loves to go shooting with his dad, and looks forward to the day when he will be able to go hunting with his dad. In a day when so many people have a fear of guns, Isaac’s parents are teaching their children a healthy respect for guns and for life, so that as they get older, they will not see guns as a weapon to be used in anger, but one to be used to hunt and to protect. The best time to learn that is as a child, and that is what Isaac and his siblings are learning. Today is Isaac’s 7th birthday. Happy birthday Isaac!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Aunt Ella's house in Illinois editedDuring the Civil War, when so many of the young men were away fighting, the War Department made a call “to the Union-loving women of America on behalf of those noble fellows who have dedicated themselves to their country.” Many of the nation’s women quickly responded to the call, and the Ladies Aide Society was born. They held fund raising luncheons and suppers, where they accepted cash donations to purchase supplies for the hospitals where the soldiers were being treated. War wounds were only a part of the causes of death from the battles, in fact more than half of the men who died, were taken down by germs and unsanitary conditions. The efforts of the amazing women of the Ladies Aide Societies went a long way toward saving men who might otherwise have died.

Women had always been considered too weak and delicate to be exposed to the horrors of war, yet, they provided much of the supplies that gave the hospitals the ability to use fresh sanitary bandages and such to treat the men. Many of the women were not content to merely pine away for their men, fighting in the war, they wanted to do something to help out. Their contributions of supplies, food, clean clothes and nursing services fought disease. Something as simple as a new blanket sent from home could replace one that was infested with disease, possibly saving a life. Little did these women, or anyone else for that matter, know how important their efforts would be. What started with a few women, meeting in someone’s home trying to do something for their loved ones, grew into a nationwide effort, and in the end, no one doubted the ability of these women, who were thought to be far too delicate to see some of the things they saw.

Many young men didn’t come home from the war, because of the horrible injuries and the horrible conditions, but there were a lot more that came home than because of the efforts of these brave women who gave of themselves to make the conditions better for these soldiers. I seriously doubt if women were thought of as too delicate again after they showed just how strong they were in the Ladies Aide Societies of this nation.

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