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30 Jun 2007
Catching up...

Couldn't do any FTP uploads from Virginia, but I can from Maryland, so I'll be trying to update things later today... after I see Antietam and Gettysburg... So, later!

by Dean Webb

27 Jun 2007
Sheer Bloody-Mindedness

Petersburg... this has to be where World War One started, back in June, 1864. The armies clashed, the defense proved superior to the offense, the sides tried to outflank each other, the soldiers dug their trenches, the mindless assaults on enemy positions began... the difference in Virginia was that the line of trenches did not extend from the mountains to the sea and that the weapons were not yet quite as lethal as their counterparts of fifty years later. But these were deadly enough and ripped men apart with terrifying effectiveness.

When Grant charged the Confederates at Cold Harbor, several thousand men fell in the first few moments of fighting. A Confederate commander on the scene claimed the battle was not war, but murder. Grant himself regretted ordering the charges there, as they accomplished no objective whatsoever for all the blood spilled and life taken. To the south, men at Petersburg willingly carried out their commanders' orders to attack, but not before pinning pieces of paper with their names and places of origin so their corpses could eventually be identified.

In the no-man's land between the trench lines, bodies would pile up. The combatants could not retrieve their fallen comrades, so the stink of death covered the field and surrounding country. Disease wracked the armies in the siege, so that the soldiers had little hope of avoiding becoming a casualty. If the defenders behind the earthworks didn't kill you...

... then disease would take you out of the line, it seemed.

In an attempt to breach the Confederate line at Petersburg, Grant approved a scheme to mine under the Confederate positions and plant 8000 pounds of dynamite under them, detonate the charges, and rush forces into the breach to smash the Confederate lines and roll up their flanks.

Never mind that this sort of thing failed to produce any satisfactory results at Vicksburg. Twice at Vicksburg, even. OK, so only 1000 and 1500 pounds of dynamite were tried at Vicksburg, so maybe the Union commanders all thought 8000 pounds would do the trick.

Soldiers from Pennsylvania with coal-mining experience dug the tunnels and planted the charges. They managed to dig ventilation shafts from within the mine without being detected. From the outside, their mine seemed like a trench bunker...

... but we all know better, don't we?

At 3:00 AM on 29 June 1864, the miners lit the fuse to the explosives.

At 3:15 AM, there was no earth-shattering kaboom when there should have been an earth-shattering kaboom. Some miners volunteered to go down the shaft to see what the problem was. They found the fuse had gone out, so they re-lit it and hurried out of the tunnel as quickly as they could: they had barely gotten out when the whole thing went up, killing 300 South Carolina infantrymen and leaving a massive crater in the Confederate line.

The Union commanders had trained a brigade of colored troops to lead the charge into the crater, but changed their plan at the last minute when they worried about how bad the press would be for them if the blacks all got slaughtered. In their wisdom, they chose to send an untrained brigade of white soldiers into the crater. They fought hand-to-hand with the Confederates and were pretty much wiped out. The commanders of both sides fed other units into the crater, including the colored troops brigade, and the result was the same: the troops died horribly. At the end of the battle, the Confederates held that position and the Union had spent several thousand lives in what the commanders on the scene realized was a spectacular failure.

Too bad that realization only came after the lives were lost.

Even so, the Union generals would continue to order frontal charges at Petersburg and Richmond for the last ten months of the war. In so doing, they lost about 200,000 casualties. The Army of the Potomac itself mustered 100,000 men, so it's as if the Union burned through two complete changes of their field army in these battles and sieges. There were no elegant movements in these battles, just sheer bloody-minded determination to wage a war of attrition over a few yards of ground at a time.
by Dean Webb

26 Jun 2007
The Battle of Bentonville

March, 1865... Johnston squares off against Sherman in North Carolina in what would be the last major battle of the Civil War. Both sides fought hard - veterans claimed the fighting was as fierce as what they endured at Gettysburg or Atlanta - yet, nobody seems to remember the battle. Why?

We remember the battles at the start of the Civil War and the various climactic struggles in the middle of it all and the surrender at Appomattox... but why not Bentonville? The other major battlefields have their monuments and memorials, but Bentonville has none of those amenities from the National Park Service. It has a few replicas of the battle, a few markers, and a nearby visitors' center and graveyard. Nothing more.

Perhaps it's because those earlier battles still had some sense of hope about them. Either they were so early in the war that things could have gone either way based on their outcome or they were in the middle of things, and could have changed the course of the war had they gone differently. Even if Johnston had smashed every one of Sherman's columns at Bentonville, the Union would still have won the war. At the First Bull Run, both sides hoped for victory. At Bentonville, both sides knew in their guts what the inevitable outcome of the war would be.

There were no civilians toting picnics at Bentonville. There were no gaily-clad, rosy-cheeked youths massed on the fields. There were no cocky young swains confident the battle would smash the enemy army and rout the whole of it. The civilians in the area hid their food as best they could from both Confederate and Union foragers. The soldiers preferred dull clothing for its camouflage, but many were glad to have whatever rags they could wrap around themselves. The veterans in Johnston's and Sherman's armies both knew that battles in the Civil War did not smash the enemy army. No matter how horrific the losses, the losing side would always regroup to fight again. Aside from the siege of Vicksburg and the Battle of Ft. Donelson, there were no destructions of armies. Nor were there massive garrisons across conquered lands: instead, the armies outside of Virginia chased each other around like high-powered pieces in a chess endgame, but never with the ability to fully eliminate each other as they danced around their supply lines. Up in Virginia, Grant and Lee dug trenches over more and more miles. Had they had enough manpower, they would have them stretch from the Appalachians to the Atlantic. As it was, the situation foreshadowed the dominance of trenches in World War I. Battles would lose importance as set-piece engagements such as they had been in the Napoleonic Era and would become mass movements of men into increasingly deadly defensive firepower. The goals in those battles would be to cause unacceptable losses to the enemy, to see if he would run out of soldiers first.

Bentonville has no romance of literature surrounding it. Gettysburg captured the mind of the American who studies the Civil War. Bentonville is ignored. In it, though, are the reasons behind the eventual collapse of the Confederate States of America.

First, anyone asking why the South lost the war has to reckon that the Union had a lot to do with it. They showed up with twice as many troops, and their numbers managed to carry the battles and the war. When the Confederates sought to increase their troop numbers, the eventually had to settle on the idea of arming their slaves. Many slaves had already fought in the place of their masters in battles: I spoke to a descendant of such a slave and learned that fact. But a general conscription of slaves would require an enticement for them to willingly serve, and that enticement since ancient times had always been freedom. Why, then, would the Confederacy wish to keep up the fight against the North to keep their slaves if, in doing so, they would have to emancipate their slaves? Whether they won or lost, slavery would end in the South.

The men who fought and died at Bentonville deserve to be remembered, even if the battle they fought made no difference in the outcome of the Civil War. The memorial should be that there is, ultimately, no glory in battle: only sacrifice. Sometimes, those sacrifices are in vain, and that makes the tragedy of war all the more painful. War should be remembered as painful. We, as a nation, need to accept the pain of war. Perhaps then, when we acknowledge that pain, perhaps then other nations will no longer accuse us of not having a sense of history.

by Dean Webb

25 Jun 2007
Battlefield Observations

The Civil War was fought with the wrong tactics for the weapons they had. Generals tried to use maneuvers that worked well enough in the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, but the weapons available in 1861 made those maneuvers obsolete. Even so, the generals on both sides ordered suicidal attacks on strongly-held positions all through the war and those attacks were carried out using those obsolete tactics. No wonder the body counts from the battlefields surprised the people at home. Some battles resulted in 20%-30% or more of both combatants' armies killed or wounded.

The obsolete tactics involved having soldiers march towards an enemy position at about 85 paces a minute, or perhaps 150 paces a minute in a double-quick step. Each defender could fire his weapon two, maybe three times per minute. If the charges had to cover several hundred yards, the defenders could lay down a murderous fire even at that rate. As repeating weapons entered usage, soldiers could fire seven or eight times per minute, increasing the casualty rates all the more. And yet, generals chose impossible terrain for their troops to attack across for weapons of their day.

Here's Graveyard Road at Vicksburg. It's called that because of all the soldiers who died along this route while assaulting the rebel positions.

Those markers are to show how far a Union regiment got towards the enemy line in a charge. Some are no more than a few yards outside of their own lines. Others are just short of the Confederates'' positions, right where they could be destroyed by grenades and lit shells. All charged across an empty field, barren of any sort of protection, against a well-made defensive fortification.

This is the Hornet's Nest from Shiloh.

Confederates charged into this line by crossing a huge, open field eleven times over eight hours, taking terrible casualties each time. It wasn't until the Confederates brought up artillery to blast the line apart that they were able to take the site. The Union commander held this position as long as he could, even though the artillery could shred his forces which, except for the fence, were all in the open.

This view is from Orchard Knob, from the battle of Chattanooga:

Union forces charged this hill and actually took it, but at great loss. Later on, the Union forces would try to assault a strong Confederate position on their northern flank: 2000 of the Union's 3700 casualties would come from that charge. Union forces also tried to take out this position on top of Lookout Mountain in the Battle of Chattanooga:

I went up that mountain. It seemed insanity to attempt to storm such a position from the side, yet that is what the Union tried to do.

There was a scene in Chickamauga when Longstreet's Confederate soldiers charged into a hole in the Union line. As they did, a Union force armed with repeating rifles fired into the flank of the Confederate force, inflicting severe casualties. How were such high losses possible? See what the Confederates ran across:

Nowhere to hide on that killing ground... and yet they fought on in the obsolete tactics.

These are scenes from the major battlefields I've visited so far. The National Park Service takes care of these battlefields, but the minor ones do not fall under NPS care. They are noticed only by their historical markers and by their graveyards, such as this one from Jonesboro, Georgia:

Every battlefield has its graveyard for the men who died on the field and soon afterward from their wounds. Most of the grave markers are blank, or marked with only a number. The soldiers are unknown, unidentified, massed in formation with their kindred dead. The Confederates and Union soldiers may be buried in separate fields, but they are buried near where they fell with the rest of their host. They were all men who were willing to give their life for their nation. They could have deserted if they so desired: many did desert each army in this war. But, instead, they chose to stand, and that choice proved fatal for them.

These men were one of the most precious resources a nation could have: true patriots. It is always a shame to see how they are wasted by wars. Had the war not divided the nation and plunged it into blood, these men would have lived productive lives and rejoiced in peace.

Of all the plagues that infest a nation, a civil war is the worst. Famine is severe, pestilence is dreadful; but in these, though men die, they die in peace. The father expires without the guilt of the son; and the son, if he survives, enjoys the inheritance of his father. Cities may be thinned, but they neither plundered nor burnt. But when a civil war is kindled, there is then forth no security of property nor protection from any law. Life and fortune become precarious. And all that is dear to men is at the discretion of profligate soldiery, doubly licentious on such an occasion. Cities are exhausted by heavy contributions, or sacked because they cannot answer exorbitant demand.

Countries are eaten up by the parties they favor, and ravaged by the one they oppose. Fathers and sons, sheath their swords in anothers bowels in the field, and their wives and daughters are exposed to rudeness and lust of ruffians at home. And when the sword has decided quarrel, the scene is closed with banishments, forfeitures, and barbarous executions that entail distress on children then unborn. May Heaven avert the dreadful catastrophe! -- "Philanthropos," from an Anti-Federalist Paper
by Dean Webb

23 Jun 2007
I Got the Power, Part II

I guess 100W didn't do it for this laptop. Thanks to my mom and dad for overnighting my power supply over here to Frank's house, where I'm staying right now.

What else has gone wonky on this trip? Well...

I left a pair of shorts in Jackson, Mississippi. The staff at the La Quinta there are mailing them back to me. At home. Not to another hotel. That would be crazy, to walk into another hotel and ask upon checking in, "Say there, do you have any shorts for me?" Too crazy.

In Tupelo, my Wacom pen somehow lost its button and now won't work. I'll order a replacement, though. Stuff like that happens.

The hotel in Tupelo was weird in one particularly goofy way: turning off the lights for the night turned off all the power in the room (except the AC) for the night. That meant our video recorder didn't recharge when we thought it was recharging. This affected our recording yesterday...

Scottsboro was lovely and it was great meeting Yvette's Aunt Dora, but when we left, the car adapter we had to convert the car outlet to a normal AC outlet started smoking. It was toasted, so no more recharging in the car... and that was when the 100W supply went out.

Nobody's been hurt and we're all having a great time. We all went by the Unclaimed Baggage outlet in Scottsboro (shown below) and had loads of fun. Raina scored big with a 60GB video iPod for about half the cost of what it normally goes for. Whoo-hoo!

So, yeah, we've had a number of gremlins, but we've also had some great support from people along the way. Now Raina wants to borrow my laptop to load up her iPod, so I guess I'll leave her to it for a while... we're going to hit a nearby veggie stand for some ingredients. Yvette plans to cook up some tacos for our hosts.

by Dean Webb

Gone with the Wind City

While scouting out locations in Jonesboro, Georgia for where battles happened, we stumbled across this bit of hopeful street naming:

Seems as though the city of Jonesboro claims to be the setting for "Gone with the Wind", based on a close-up of a deed in the film that places Tara in their town. Hence these street names. And, yes, one can actually stand at the intersection of Scarlett and Rhett Butler.

by Dean Webb

21 Jun 2007

Somehow, just saying I have no Internet connectivity as I write this isn't enough. I have to go to a command prompt and get the following information... This will post when I find an Internet somewheres...


Microsoft Windows XP [Version 5.1.2600]

(C) Copyright 1985-2001 Microsoft Corp.

C:\>ipconfig /all

Windows IP Configuration

Host Name . . . . . . . . . . . . : HostName

Primary Dns Suffix . . . . . . . :

Node Type . . . . . . . . . . . . : Hybrid

IP Routing Enabled. . . . . . . . : No

WINS Proxy Enabled. . . . . . . . : No

Ethernet adapter Local Area Connection:

Media State . . . . . . . . . . . : Media disconnected

Description . . . . . . . . . . . : Realtek RTL8169/8110 Family Gigabit

Ethernet NIC

Physical Address. . . . . . . . . : 01-91-F6-27-5B-AA

Ethernet adapter Wireless Network Connection 2:

Connection-specific DNS Suffix . :

Description . . . . . . . . . . . : NETGEAR 108 Mbps Wireless PC Card WG


Physical Address. . . . . . . . . : 01-15-6D-A1-9D-F9

Dhcp Enabled. . . . . . . . . . . : Yes

Autoconfiguration Enabled . . . . : Yes

IP Address. . . . . . . . . . . . :

Subnet Mask . . . . . . . . . . . :

Default Gateway . . . . . . . . . :

DHCP Server . . . . . . . . . . . :

C:\>ipconfig /release

Windows IP Configuration

No operation can be performed on Local Area Connection while it has its media disconnected.

IP Address for adapter Wireless Network Connection 2 has already been released.

C:\Documents and Settings\L. Dean Webb>ipconfig /renew

Windows IP Configuration

No operation can be performed on Local Area Connection while it has its media disconnected.

An error occurred while renewing interface Wireless Network Connection 2 : unable to contact your DHCP server. Request has timed out.


by Dean Webb

20 Jun 2007
I Got the Power

The power system I got the other day was the wrong wattage. This one seems to be right. For future reference, I need 100 watts, not 70.


I should also remark on the pickled vegetables I've been enjoying on this trip. I had pickled tomatoes in Louisiana and pickled onions here in Mississippi. Delicious treats.

Yesterday, we went all over central Mississippi on the trail of the Vicksburg campaign and learned some valuable skills in pre-production shooting and scouting out locations. GET THE GUIDES FROM THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE FIRST. Speeds everything along. Also, don't try to direct and act AND be a cinematographer at the same time. That's really awkward.

While roaming around, we discovered the Windsor Ruins. The Mississippi jungle would have swallowed them up had it not been for efforts to keep the site visitable. They're essentially a bunch of Greek ruins off the beaten track almost up by where the Mississippi River is. They're just amazing and I'll have pictures to post later on.

Everything is covered in kudzu here. In one of the parks, I saw a sign for a "Kudzu Management Project". Take it from me, guys, the kudzu is managing just fine without our help.

Had a fine dinner last night with the Madison Central coach and two of her team. We did what most AcDec coaches do... talk about AcDec. Loads of fun, and, yes, pics will be posted.

This here is just a little something to tide y'all over until I can make a REAL post later on. We'll be heading up the Natchez Trace to Tupelo today and then hitting a few battlefields. Shiloh is one of them. :-)

We're having fun, and, yes, we plan to drive safe. See you guys later tonight... hopefully I've picked out the correct power system...

by Dean Webb

18 Jun 2007
I'm Going to Jackson

Or, rather, I'm already there. This is some beautiful country out here and the trees are magnificent. Crossing the Mississippi was quite an experience. Any major river is an experience, I guess. We're set here at the La Quinta Inn and having a wonderful time. Lunch today in Shreveport was at an outstanding catfish place, Crescent Landing, and we had a simple supper tonight because we were all tired.

But I wasn't too tired to make up for a boneheaded mistake I made earlier today: I FORGOT TO PACK MY POWER CABLE! I had to run to the Office Depot at 8:45 and score a power thingy. Thank goodness they were open, had one available, and I had credit cards. Also thank goodness for the lady at the desk today. WOW. She gave us all great service - and today's her birthday, too! Somebody should give her a bonus.

Well, the big trip into Vicksburg starts tomorrow and then, after that, we'll have dinner with the Madison Central Academic Decathlon team. Pics will be posted.

by Dean Webb

06 Jun 2007
... And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps

It's 8 AM on a sleepy summer morning.

We're getting ready for breakfast and I hear Calvin say, "Uh, dad?"


"I think Hidey killed a mouse last night."

Hidey is our cat. We named her that because she hides. I walk to where Calvin is and there, by the table, is a recently deceased mouse. It didn't have a heart attack. Hidey killed a mouse last night. I say to Calvin, "Yep."

As I cleaned up, I thought, This is why I love cats. They slay vermin. Sure, cats are condescending, elitist, and deliberately underfoot, but they also do their job around the house.

Hidey's job reminded me of a clever old Jethro Tull song, which I have used for the title of this entry. Enjoy the lyrics for your erudition this fine day:

Muscled, black with steel-green eye

swishing through the rye grass

with thoughts of mouse-and-apple pie.

Tail balancing at half-mast.

...And the mouse police never sleeps ---

lying in the cherry tree.

Savage bed foot-warmer of purest feline ancestry.

Look out, little furry folk!

He's the all-night working cat.

Eats but one in every ten ---

leaves the others on the mat.

...And the mouse police never sleeps ---

waiting by the cellar door.

Window-box town crier;

birth and death registrar.

With claws that rake a furrow red ---

licensed to multilate.

From warm milk on a lazy day

to dawn patrol on hungry hate.

...No, the mouse police never sleeps ---

climbing on the ivy.

Windy roof-top weathercock.

Warm-blooded night on a cold tile.

by Dean Webb

Posted at:10 Jan 2009 06:22:06 PM

No Words portraits and romantic illustrations.

What's there to say?

I got words and pictures.

I got a message board.

Like I said, what's there to say?