Damn the torpedoes! Farragut, Louisiana, and the Civil War

Given the strategic importance of the Mississippi River in the American Civil War, New Orleans was an obvious target for the Union navy. Here’s a good overview of the Civil War in Louisiana. New Orleans itself surrendered in 1862 to Union forces led by David Farragut, who later in the war coined the famous phrase “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” during a dramatic encounter in Mobile Bay:

Aboard Hartford, Farragut entered Mobile Bay, Alabama, 5 August 1864, in two columns, with armored monitors leading and a fleet of wooden ships following. When the lead monitor Tecumseh was demolished by a mine, the wooden ship Brooklyn stopped, and the line drifted in confusion toward Fort Morgan. As disaster seemed imminent, Farragut gave the orders embodied by these famous words. He swung his own ship clear and headed across the mines, which failed to explode. The fleet followed and anchored above the forts, which, now isolated, surrendered one by one. The torpedoes to which Farragut and his contemporaries referred would today be described as tethered mines. –quoted from the Naval Historical Center site

Here’s a more detailed account of New Orleans’ surrender to Farragut. Much later, Farragut’s name was used for a class of destroyers built in the 1930s, as well as several individual ships since then, and even a starship in a Star Trek episode.

women’s right to vote

This evening I decided to work on a post about British suffragettes that I started a long time ago and abandoned, only to discover that it was 85 years ago today that the 19th amendment of the Constitution was ratified, granting women the right to vote.

While I work on the suffragettes some more, here’s some links on the suffrage movement in the U.S.:

  • “Votes for Women” suffrage pictures from the Library of Congress
  • “Votes for Women” selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Collection, also from the LoC
  • A timeline of the women’s suffrage movement (from the above site)
  • A speech from Susan B. Anthony
  • The 19th Amendment in the context of World War I
  • Thanks, Mom

    My Mom sent me this link about preserving the original Declaration of Independence. It’s interesting!

    “we hold these truths to be self-evident…”

    Happy Independence Day! Celebrate your freedom by reading about the Declaration of Independence and other documents from American history. If your fireworks show gets rained out–which looks to be a good possibility around here–and you’re looking for some patriotic reading, try the Federalist Papers, a series of writings by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, arguing for the adoption of the Constitution. There were, of course, some naysayers whose writings can be found in the “anti-federalist” papers. My apologies for any political content you may find on any of the above sites–over 200 years later, the Constitition is still getting people riled up.

    an assortment of religious history links

    Just wanted to share a few links on religious history:

    Material History of American Religion Project: An interesting idea: studies religion in America through ephemeral documents and artifacts like these.

    American Religious Experience at WVU: Online essays about the history of various religious movements in the United States…and, as an added bonus, Canada!

    Guide to Early Church Documents: All sorts of writings from folks with Roman-sounding names.

    Virtual Religion Index: A plethora of links on world religions.

    Voice of the Shuttle-Religious Studies: Religion, history, and religious history. If you want to know what the name means, here is a gross story about it.

    the Library of Congress is extremely cool

    “Each day an event from American history is illustrated by digitized items from the Library of Congress American Memory historic collections.” Today’s topic is World War I–check it out!

    terrorism and the law

    In 1942, eight men landed on U.S. soil, tasked by the Nazi government to carry out acts of sabotage within the U.S. One of them, himself actually an American citizen who had returned to Germany at the beginning of World War II, informed on the project to the FBI. The eight men were arrested, tried by a military court directed by FDR himself; and the six of them who did not cooperate were executed shortly thereafter.

    This incident has direct implications for us today, since these tribunals are the precedent for the incarceration and trials of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

    A new book discusses the case of the Nazi saboteurs, and argues that these proceedings allocate too much power to the executive branch, both then and now. Various accounts of the incident can be found at U of C law, the FBI, and about.com. The text of a 1942 White House press release about the incident is here.

    “For God and Home and Native Land”: women, temperance, and the vote

    As a little disclaimer before I begin, I have never been particularly enamored of feminist approaches to scholarship. One problem I have with such approaches is that they project current experiences of and beliefs about sexism onto other times and places where they might or might not have any relevance. As I’ve studied various regions and time periods, I realized that views about and roles of women are extremely variable. Women have more or less always had roles in society that differed from those of men, but the degree and way in which they differed, and how these roles were valued, vary widely across time and space.

    One thing about recent women’s history that has interested me is the changing concept of the political role of women. Of course, women have not always been considered to have a political role: Emile Durkheim showed what he thought of such things in his 1893 book The Division of Labor in Society with the disapproving observation that “There are even now a great number of savage peoples in which the woman involves herself in political life.”

    While Durkheim was solemnly denouncing the involvement of women in politics as detrimental to organic solidarity, however, women around the world were deciding that political involvement was the only answer to ensuring their own well-being and that of their families. However, their goals and methods were markedly different from modern feminism, although echoes of their beliefs and practices can still be heard across the political spectrum. Nearly all women today have inherited some part of their political beliefs, and looking into the work of the women of this period has given me more insight into current political worldviews and divisions.

    The emergence of women in the political realm in the late 19th century, and the campaign for women’s suffrage, was associated closely with, of all things, the temperance movement (1, 2). This movement, known as “first-wave feminism,” was a curious mishmash of progressive and conservative means and goals which drew from both the evangelical revival of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the 19th-century equal rights movements (3). The women of this period saw themselves as equal to but different from men, believing that their main sphere of concern was within the home. They felt that that womanly characteristics of caring and nurturing would be of benefit in the public sphere, and the rights they sought were mainly connected to their roles in the home, over property and their children (4).

    The temperance movement began in the early 19th century, part of a perception of a need for moral reform in a wider sense (5) and was from early on mainly a woman’s movement. It became more organized after the Civil War, however, especially with the formation of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1874. The organization became international in 1893 (6). Especially under its influential president Frances Willard, the Union espoused a wide variety of causes from the criminalization of alcohol sale and use, to votes for women, equal pay for equal work, crackdowns on prostitution, child labor laws, organized labor, education, and world peace (7). The fact that this movement had little to do with modern divisions between conservative and liberal can be seen in the fact that it culminated in both the 18th and 19th amendments; as well as in the Union’s two slogans: “For God and Home and Native Land” and “Agitate – Educate – Legislate.”

    Perhaps this array of causes coalesced around temperance because, on one hand, it attracted a wide range of women: more conservative women who did not seek the vote, and more radical ones for whom it was only part of a wide range of desired reforms (8). On the other hand, the crusade against alcohol struck at the core of women’s lack of rights: in the 19th century, men drank, but women suffered for it (9, 10). Alcoholic husbands and fathers abused and impoverished their families, and as women had no rights over marital property or children, they were helpless to better their situation.

    However, women did not seek only the rights that would allow them to escape from abusive situations. Rather, they sought the salvation of the men in their lives from the ravages of alcohol and other vices. The role of the Victorian woman was as a protector of the home and the nurturer of virtue, and the temperance women saw alcohol as seducing men away from virtue, destroying their bodies and their minds as well as the lives of their families. The desire to protect men from alcohol grew out of this Victorian concept of woman as guardian of virtue.

    The means by which women sought these reforms changed somewhat over time (11). Early on, they sought change by “moral suasion,” in keeping with the prevailing belief that this was the proper realm of women, who were unsuited for political involvement. It was not long before the women decided that political action was necessary to achieve their ends, however; but the movement continued to be rooted in both Christianity and domestic concerns, rather than a secular political philosophy or women’s freedom to take on traditionally male roles in the public sphere.

    This stands in contrast both to the 1970s vision of feminism and to the temperance movements’ contemporaries, the suffragettes (12) (about whom more in a future post, hopefully). The means by which they worked for temperance consisted mainly of prayer and hymn-singing at taverns, and the goal was the conversion of men into Christian husbands and fathers by the elimination of alcohol and other temptations to vice. There were other, more colorful characters in the temperance movement such as the hatchet-swinging Carrie Nation (13); but her goal also was to do God’s work.

    The temperance movement consisted mainly of lower and middle-class white women, although the Anti-Saloon league was also in operation under male leadership (14). Black women also led temperance unions (15); but the Union was criticized by contemporary African-American reformers for racial insensitivity (16, 17).

    Like the Wesleyan evangelical movement of the eighteenth century (18), this “first-wave feminism” was a mix of what would in modern terms be called “progressive” goals (relief for the poor, the rights of women) with profoundly conservative ones (the enforcement of Christian “purity” by legal means (19). Both were seen as necessary, most importantly as the work of God, but also for the relief of human beings; because both societal indifference and personal behavior such as alcoholism and promiscuity contributed to the misery of the poor and underprivileged. Though the schism between these two sets of goals is probably for the most part unbridgeable by this time, nearly all women have inherited some part of the temperance women’s beliefs, even if only that women have an important contribution to make to the political realm. In closing, it is important to note that the WCTU is still in existence (20, 21), still bridging the gap between conservative and liberal based on a particular set of ideas about women and religion.

    Other links:
    The diverse means employed by the temperance workers (22)
    Prohibition stuff (23: warning, plays music)
    Documents from the temperance movement (24, 25)

    A final note: I was messing with different ways of handling links while working on this, and hope it is not too distracting. Some of the numbered links refer to the same web page, when that web page made significant reference to more than one point I wanted to make. All of the pages I’ve linked to are worth reading, and go into much more detail and offer more points of view than I could.

    every day is earth day…or at least, today is

    Happy Earth Day! The history of America’s relationship to the environment is both unique and multi-faceted. An interesting take on the evolving American attitude toward wilderness and the environment can be found here, and if you’d like to pursue the subject further off-line, the book Wilderness and the American Mind is a good starting point.

    Contemporary texts provide insight into American attitudes toward nature. Project Gutenberg, a perennial favorite of mine, has an electronic version of Thoreau’s Walden, which provides an interesting picture, on both intentional and unintentional levels, of nineteenth-century America’s relationship to the environment. Excerpts from the works of the American naturalist Aldo Leopold can be found here. Check out the life and words of John Muir here. An early encounter between Europeans and the land and peoples of the American West is recorded in Lewis and Clark’s journals.

    A timeline of American wilderness conservation can be found here; and finally, here is a rather formidable-looking collation of links on American environmental history.

    One if by land, two if by submarine

    There was no shortage of quirky personalities on the side of the Americans during the Revolutionary War. One of them was David Bushnell, who invented a bizarre machine that he hoped would turn the tide against the powerful British navy. He called it the Turtle, and while it didn’t exactly send the British navy fleeing for home, it did earn Bushnell a place in history as the creator of the world’s first functioning submarine.

    The egg-shaped, one-man Turtle took to sea in 1776 to take on a true Goliath of an opponent: the 64-gun British man-o-war Eagle.

    A recent effort to build a replica of the Turtle provides us some photos of the re-created craft, and Bushnell’s legacy is nicely laid out in this history of the American submarine.