nell65: (by roulade)
[personal profile] nell65
Does anyone else weep on seeing the M*A*S*H episode in which Col. Henry Blake listens by phone as his youngest son is born stateside? It isn't a sad episode at all, it's a very funny, slapsticky one - the way the first several seasons episodes often were.

But, if you watched enough of the series, you have probably also seen the later episode when Henry's chopper was shot down over the Pacific as he was headed out on the first leg of his journey home. There were no survivors.

So - now, when I see the episode when Henry is so happy and excited about the baby, I weep. Because I know that he will never meet that child. Every time, by the way. I weep again.

As we come up on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (and the almost more important, strategically speaking, fall of Vicksburg in the west to U.S. Grant), the military history parts of the internet are alive with posts and blogs.

I teach military history and nineteenth century U.S. History is my field. I know the history of the Civil War quite well for some one who is not, as they say, a 'buff.' So I knew the rough outlines of the history of the Iron Brigade.

I wept today as I read this, a short story about them on the eve of Gettysburg that I did not know.

"On this day, 28 June, the men of the Iron Brigade were marching towards Gettysburg. Then the lead regiment of the brigade passed a young woman waving an American flag in her front yard. She was described as being, "about 20," and we can infer a little about her looks by what happened next.

The commander of the lead regiment, a man named Rufus Dawes, is riding with his staff at the head of the column. He inclines his men and they all tipped their hats and bowed to her as they passed her prosperous farmhouse. Then the first company of the infantry and the second company, trooped by and just stared in amazement as the young beauty waved her American flag, an audience of one for these men marching towards the enemy.

But by the time the third company approached, a lieutenant took things into his own hands. Lieutenants sometimes do that, and sometimes they do it right.
Calling behind himself he brought his company to a more rigid form of marching, the sort usually used on parades not real road-marches. Then he ordered, "Company C, Right Shoulder, Shift, Arms!"

Essentially this was the same mass salute that a military unit would give to a general or the President of the United States when marching past on a formal review up Pennsylvania Avenue. And then, following the inspired lead of Company C of the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, every, single, damned, company, in the whole rest of the First Brigade of the First Division of the First Corps of the Army of the Potomac, did exactly the same thing, for the same reason.

....

"Less than 96 hours of life remained for a sad percentage of those men. Out of the 1,885 men marching down the road that day -- saluting a pretty girl by the side of the road as though she were a dignitary -- some 1,153 of them would be killed, wounded, or captured before 100 hours were out. And believe me, you do not get called the "Iron Brigade," by both sides, because "captured" makes up a big part of your numbers. That one unknown girl to whom they collectively, in their hundreds, flirted while marching towards hell was probably the last pretty face many of them would ever see. So maybe we can forgive them their little breach of military custom and courtesy. They would pay, in truth, on the barrel-head when the time came."

Acting Like School Boys as the Armies Close In, by Lt. Col. Robert Bateman.

The essay is florid, and leans a little hard on the men, men, manly men, theme, and I suspect the soldiers would have found any young woman waving the flag pretty, because it was her actions not her face that charmed them - and yet. I wept. I'm still weepy - hours later.

That this should be the week the Supreme Court gutted the enforcment provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which was written and passed to give the 15th Amendment to the Constition force, only makes me weep the harder.

Date: 2013-06-29 03:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sk56.livejournal.com
This has been a week for weeping -- all around the world people have behaved like idiots and like angels.

Thank you for sharing this story, though. For several reasons, I come from a community that does not have too many stories to tell about the military, and so I'm always glad to hear something like this. It's been interesting to try and follow along with some of the commentary about the Civil War, as we mark the anniversaries. The reaction I'm hearing to the SCOTUS decision on the Voting Rights Act just feels like a microcosm of that other discussion.

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