From Prairies to Peaks with Rockies and Roosevelts

April 3, 2013

Guest blogger GPO Public Relations Specialist Emma Wojtowicz reviews this new publication by the U.S. Forest Service that explores the history of the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain region, including the involvement of two Roosevelts.

From-Prairies-to-Peaks-US-Forest-ServiceThose traveling west-bound for spring break and summer vacation should check out From Prairies to Peaks: A History of the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service, 1905-2012. This publication focuses on the Rocky Mountain region, which encompasses Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming and is home to 17 national forests and seven national grasslands.  In From Prairies to Peaks, author Anthony Godfrey takes readers on a tour of the Rocky Mountains to learn about the topography, climate and wildlife as well as the history stretching from when Native Americans originally inhabited the region to the preservation efforts made in recent decades by the Forest Service.

Readers must be true aficionados of the West and Rocky Mountains to digest this nearly 400-page publication. The history is very detailed, but very fascinating.  During the development of the West in the 19th century, it was believed that the United States had an abundance of forest resources, and millions of acres of trees were cleared as a result.

After the Civil War, the threat of a timber famine alerted the government to the problem and brought greater attention to forest management. Passed under President Theodore Roosevelt, the Federal Forest Transfer Act of 1905 moved control of the 63 million acres of national forest reserves from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Forestry, which was renamed the Forest Service.

President-Theodore-Roosevelt-1908-Cartoon-as-Practical-Forester

Image: 1908 editorial cartoon of President Theodore Roosevelt as “A Practical Forester.”  Source: St. Paul Minnesota “Pioneer Press”.

One of the most interesting time periods for the region was the 1920s-1930s. Upkeep and development of the Rocky Mountain region created many jobs for men through New Deal programs during the Great Depression.  In national forests, workers were assigned to tree planting and thinning, insect and rodent control, road building and improvement, telephone line construction, and lookout tower and house construction to increase communication for fire control and timber conservation.

Then during the Dust Bowl, the region played an important role in President Franklin Roosevelt’s Great Plains Shelterbelt Project from 1934-1942, which involved planting a shelterbelt or windbreak of drought-resistant trees and shrubs and from Canada to northern Texas to protect against the winds and prevent erosion.

10-row-shelterbelt-cross-sectionImage: Cross-section of a shelterbelt of various sized evergreens, large and small deciduous trees, and shrubs using the Forest Service-recommended standard of 10 rows that serve as a windbreak and wildlife shelter. Image source: MyFarmlife.com.

The Forest Service assigned the Rocky Mountain region with supervising the planting of more than 217 million trees and shrubs on the windward side of more than 30,000 individual farms. This is just a snapshot of the in-depth history chronicled in this publication.

Planting-first-shelterbelt-tree-OKFrom Prairies to Peaks provides a historical account of one of the lesser known regions in the United States. The West conjures images of cowboys, mountains, hikers and skiers, but there is more to the Rocky Mountain region.

This publication is a great resource for those interested in learning more about the West and the Forest Service. And for those already familiar with the Rocky Mountains region, this book will help you brush up on your history.

Image: Planting the first tree in the Nation’s first shelterbelt on the H.E. Curtis farm near Mangum in Greer county, Oklahoma, on March 18, 1935. Image source: Oklahoma Farm Report.

HOW DO I OBTAIN THIS  PUBLICATION: From Prairies to Peaks: A History of the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service, 1905-2012?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

The Untold Story Behind the Engineering of Washington DC

January 24, 2013

Watching the many tourists visiting my hometown of Washington, DC this week for the Presidential Inauguration and enjoying the wonders of our beautiful neo-classical architecture in our monuments, buildings and museums, I was inspired to write this post on this intriguing new book by Washington, D.C. and architectural historian Pamela Scott entitled Capital Engineers: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Development of Washington, D.C. 1790-2004.

Capital Engineers: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Development of Washington, D.C. 1790-2004. ISBN-9780160795572Although best known for its “water resources and environmental work and its construction of facilities on military bases,” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers played a pivotal role in the design and construction of our Nation’s capital: Washington, D.C.  Not only did Army Engineers fill the role of one of three commissioners who ran the city, they were instrumental in constructing a new and rapidly growing city on donated land, including literally creating land out of swampy terrain on the banks of the Potomac River where today National Airport, majestic monuments and sprawling public spaces can be found.

The purpose of this large, beautifully presented book is to bring to the public’s awareness the depth of involvement of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the design, development, construction, and maintenance of our Nation’s capital by effectively chronicling its history and showcasing rare images, maps, and drawings of the Corps’ work.  In the preface we learn that many of these images were in poor condition and not accessible to the public before, but the advent of digital photography and scanning has made these available to stunning impact in this high-quality publication.

The book is broken into 6 sections covering periods from 1790 to 2004:

  1. The Grand Design, 1790-1800. During this period our first President George Washington hires French engineer Peter Charles L’Enfant (who had served with him in the Continental Army) to create a grand vision to lay out the city on the land donated for the purpose from Maryland and Virginia. In addition to creating the original plan for the capital city of this new nation that was reminiscent of Paris, L’Enfant also proposed the founding of the permanent Corps of Engineers to “play a key role in the development of the country’s public as well as military infrastructure.”
  2. The Antebellum City, 1800-1865, is a period where The Smithsonian Institution is built along with the start of the Capitol, and infrastructure begins to be laid.
  3. The Victorian City, 1865-1890, marks the building of the Washington Monument and the Library of Congress.
  4. The Progressive City, 1890-1915 delivers the Government Printing Office, The Lincoln Memorial, Rock Creek Park, and Potomac River bridges.
  5. The Expanding City, 1915-1950, is the period during two world wars, and noted is the building of the Pentagon among other Federal buildings and growing infrastructure.
  6. Metropolis, 1950-2004 is the final stage covered, when the city turns into a metropolis, and requires expanded infrastructure to support this.

However, the most fascinating part of the book is the many anecdotes sprinkled throughout, giving the reader a feel for the many strong personalities involved in building the beautiful city we have today and the many controversies that surfaced throughout the over two centuries since its founding.

For example, this year’s Inaugural Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) organized the 2013 Inauguration ceremony around a theme commemorating the completion of the Capitol Dome 150 years prior on December 2, 1863, two years ahead of President Lincoln’s second inauguration on March 4, 1865.  Said Senator Schumer on Monday as he kicked off the second inauguration of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden:

When Abraham Lincoln took office [in 1861], two years earlier the dome above us was a half-built eyesore… Conventional wisdom was that it should be left unfinished until the war ended, given the travails and financial needs of the times. But to President Lincoln the half finished dome symbolized the half divided nation. Lincoln said, ‘If people see the Capitol going on it is a sign we intend the union shall go on.’ And so, despite the conflict which engulfed the nation, and surrounded the city, the dome continued to rise.”

Unfinished Capitol dome at Lincoln;s first inaugural

Image: First Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861, beneath the unfinished Capitol dome. Source: Library of Congress

To continue Lincoln’s vision to complete the construction in spite of the Civil War, the Corps continued work on the ambitious and tricky Capitol Dome, with the book showing rare photos and drawings of the work being done, including the planned design and engineering behind this magnificent structure.

Capitol-dome-cross-section

Image: Cross-section drawing by Thomas Ustick Walter for the dome of the United States Capitol building, circa, 1859. Source: Library of Congress.

Another story from the book is that General Thomas Lincoln Casey, Chief of Engineers at the time, decided to avoid both extensive congressional debate and public criticism in the building the Library of Congress and “embarked on the Library’s decorative scheme without prior approval of Congress.”  Using the time-honored Washington tradition of masking expenditures in generalities, Casey hid the hiring of sculptors under a generic heading of “marble work” and that of fine artists under “painting” in his annual reports.  Such was the faith in his work that Congress was not fazed by this deception when it was revealed.

An interesting chapter about the Washington Monument showed the Corps identified a need to shore up the foundation in order to build the obelisk to the necessary height in accordance with ancient Egyptian proportions. Such was the respect for their findings that Congress authorized additional funds for the Corps to build a new cement foundation to provide the long-lasting support desired.

Washington-monument-base

Image:  Cement foundation under the Washington Monument in May 1880. Source:  Library of Congress

Eventually, the foundation was covered with a beautiful lawn and the entire grounds landscaped by the Corps, to the delight– and relief– of all D.C. residents, expressed by local newspaper columnist George Alfred Townsend:

“The old grounds around the Washington Monument, which the very goats disdained to frequent and truant school-boys passed through with awe… were now brought into civilization… and a sense of gratitude toward the Engineer was felt by every thoughtful visitor.”

Skeptics throughout the history of the city from Washington’s cabinet to Abraham Lincoln’s own administration, did not see the vision of the completed city that the Corps of Engineers could. In fact, shortly before President Lincoln’s First Inaugural on March 4, 1861, aide John Hay ascended to the base of the Capitol’s yet-unconstructed dome and was quoted giving a bleak portrait of the unfinished city, saying:

Why did they attempt to build a city where no city was ever intended to be reared? It will never be a capital, except only in name; never a metropolis like Rome, or London, or Paris.

Fortunately, the book shows that Corps of Engineers had a broader vision and optimism, creating a major city with stunning vistas that rival those of major capitals throughout the world. All Americans owe, as Townsend said above, “a sense of gratitude” to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for our beautiful capital city!

Capitol-at-2013-inauguration

Image: United States Capitol bedecked in red, white and blue for the Presidential Inauguration this past Monday, January 21, 2013. Note the magnificent dome with the statue of Freedom atop it, and compare it to President Lincoln’s inauguration above. Photo courtesy of MarthaStreet.com

How can I obtain a copy of Capital Engineers: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Development of Washington, D.C. 1790-2004?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a federal depository library.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


First Blood: Year One of the War Between the States

November 22, 2012

On another Thanksgiving Day 150 years ago, America was embroiled in a bitter Civil War. A year later, expressing gratitude for the key Union Army victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln would proclaim that the nation will celebrate an official annual Thanksgiving holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. But in 1862, 25 states and three territories were already celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thus it is fitting that we have this wonderful guest post about the newest book from the Army’s Center of Military History series about the U.S. Army Campaigns of the Civil War. Those who had survived these clashes had much to give thanks for that Thanksgiving Day- as do we all, particularly members of our military and diplomatic services and their families who have served in harm’s way. Enjoy the post and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,  Michele Bartram


Guest blogger Sonya Kunkle was a writer and editor for more than 15 years before she joined GPO’s Proof & Copy Markup section. Here she reviews a U.S. Government Bookstore booklet on a topic that caught her interest fairly recently—the American Civil War.

As a child growing up in the Washington, DC, suburbs, I once walked through the grassy fields of Antietam Battlefield (near Sharpsburg, MD) oblivious to the historical struggle waged under my feet. American history wasn’t my favorite subject in school, but as an adult my interest in the Civil War was sparked when I read “The Killer Angels,” a novel by Michael Shaara. “The Killer Angels,” a work of historical fiction, details the Battle of Gettysburg.

This is a good time to be a Civil War history enthusiast, with 2012 being part of the sesquicentennial (150-year anniversary) of America’s bloodiest war. To mark the occasion, the U.S. Government Bookstore has for sale a 64-page booklet, The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 published by the U.S. Army’s Center for Military History.

Image: (Cover of the booklet,. Detail from Capture of Ricketts’ Battery by Sidney E. King, courtesy of William V. Fleitz, Manassas Battlefield Park.

 In this booklet you can read about the reasons for going to war and why key players made many of the decisions they did during the first year of the conflict. The author, Dr. Jennifer M. Murray, also provides a lot of information in text and graphics on the troop movements of both the Federals and the Confederates during each of the key battles of 1861.

Strategic Setting

In his inaugural address, on March 4, President Lincoln declared that he didn’t intend to abolish slavery in states where it existed. Stating that he would not initiate a war, Lincoln informed Southerners, “In your hands … is the momentous issue of civil war …You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors.

If you look at the numbers, perhaps the Confederates were doomed from the start. The 1860 Census shows that the Union could call on 4 million military-age white males to build their army, whereas the Confederacy could assemble 1 million at most.

The Union also had 10 times the industrial capacity, not to mention better transportation capabilities. In spite of these disadvantages, the South started the Civil War with its first big move—firing on Federal Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

Operations—Fort Sumter

Charleston, South Carolina, was well fortified with Fort Sumter and other defenses. Sumter was built to guard against an enemy fleet, and the walls facing the city were much weaker than those facing the water, leaving the fort vulnerable to attack on land.

On April 11, the Southern Brigadier General Pierre G. T. Beauregard demanded that the Union forces evacuate Fort Sumter. The North’s ranking officer at Sumter, Major Robert Anderson, declined.

At 3 a.m. (or 0300; the author uses military time) on April 12, the Confederates notified Major Anderson that General Beauregard and company would open fire on Fort Sumter in one hour. Twenty minutes after the deadline, a single shell from nearby Fort Johnson, which the North had abandoned, exploded over Sumter. War had begun.

Into Virginia—Bull Run

Image: First Battle of Bull Run. 1889 chromolithograph by Kurz & Allison. Source: Library of Congress. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

In May the Confederates moved their capital from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia. Richmond became a strategic target for the North, both for its industrial capability and its political importance. The two capitals, separated by only 100 miles, now figured prominently in both sides’ strategies.

The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 explains why the Union was determined to control Manassas Junction and why in May 10,600 Confederates defended the northern entrance to the Shenandoah Valley.

The author notes an interesting moment caused by the differing (and lack of) uniforms:

Viewing the Virginians, who were wearing civilian clothes, the Federal troops were unsure of their allegiance. To complicate matters further … Federal units were not uniformly dressed in blue; soldiers in the 11th New York, for instance, were dressed in colorful Zouave uniforms, which were also worn by some Confederate units. The Virginians clarified the matter by opening a deadly volley on the New Yorkers.”

Image: Brandy Station, VA, Band of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry (Zouaves). Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-B8171-7611 DLC. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

The Confederates won the fight, protecting their capital. The first battle of the Civil War resulted in the death of nearly 5,000 men.

The Fight for Missouri

While emotions roiled to the east, the majority of delegates attending a special Missouri secession convention voted to remain in the Union. This decision ran counter to Governor Claiborne F. Jackson’s personal preferences, and he mustered forces in favor of the Confederates.

This part of The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 provides details about how the Civil War reached into Missouri, with one of the key players being Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon.

While directing his men on the front line, Lyon got hit in the calf by a bullet, so he left the field for medical treatment. When Lyon got back on the field, a bullet grazed his head.

Determined to continue the fight, and apparently not taking the hint, Lyon returned to the field. Moments later, a bullet hit him in the chest. He was the first Union general officer to die in the Civil War.

From Belmont to Port Royal

In The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 you can read about the Union Navy’s entry into the Civil War.

It’s an interesting read, with a little information about Southern pirates (pirates!) lurking inside the Outer Banks of North Carolina, pouncing on merchant vessels before Union warships could react. To thwart these outlaws, the Federal Navy designated the Outer Banks as its first target. Union forces prepared for the war’s first joint Army-Navy operation.

You learn something about the battle for Fort Hatteras and the naval tactic (and the Confederates’ faulty ammunition) that helped the Union win the day.

The North’s capture of Fort Hatteras and nearby Fort Clark improved the Union’s outlook soon after their defeat at Bull Run. Offering a “Congratulatory Order,” one Federal officer commented, “This gallant affair will not fail to stimulate the regulars and volunteers to greater exertions to prepare themselves for future and greater achievements.

The Union’s euphoria didn’t last long.

The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 describes what happened between the North and South about 35 miles north of Washington at Ball’s Bluff. Perhaps the statistics are most noteworthy—there were an evenly matched number of men fighting on both sides, but the outcome was lopsided in terms of soldiers wounded and captured. The battle’s uneven results favored the South.

This section also addresses the Union’s win at Port Royal, South Carolina. Here you also can read about what Brigadier General (and future U.S. President) Ulysses S. Grant did in the area of Belmont, MO, that earned him President Lincoln’s favor.

The chronological coverage of the war ends with Union Major General George B. McClellan’s training the Army of the Potomac outside of Manassas. McClellan said he believed that he controlled the “destinies of this great country.”  There was no further action along the Potomac as the curtain closed on 1861.

Analysis

Dr. Murray offers incisive analysis at the end of The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861. She describes the early missteps of the secessionists, as well as what the South got right. She also notes the Union army’s mixed results.

Dr. Murray concludes, “As Federal forces grew more experienced and competent, they would gain key victories in 1862 that helped to shape the outcome of the Civil War.”

The last page of the booklet provides a short list of texts for further reading about the first year of the war.

Conclusion

The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 helps me to appreciate the history in my own backyard. Although I find all of the information about the armies’ positions and movements a bit overwhelming, the booklet tempts me to take the 70-mile trip from Baltimore, where I live now, to explore the fields of Bull Run at Manassas. Taking the booklet with me, I’ll have a better understanding of the history I’m walking through.

HOW DO I OBTAIN The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a federal depository library.

Other Federal Titles about the Civil War

You may also be interested in these titles about the Civil War available from the U.S. Government Bookstore:


Librarians Pick Notable Federal Books- 2012 Edition

July 3, 2012

It’s that exciting time of year again if you’re a publisher of Federal publications. It’s the equivalent of the Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards or the Grammy Awards… Well, maybe that’s pushing it, but when the American Library Association’s (ALA) Government Documents Round Table or GODORT convenes the Notable Documents Panel of its Publications Committee to choose the top government-produced publications of the previous year, we can’t help but get caught up in the excitement.

Each year, this ALA GODORT Notable Documents Panel selects what it considers to be the most “Notable Government Documents” published during the previous year by Federal, state, and local governments and includes the list of winners in its prestigious Library Journal (LJ).

According to its website, Library Journal is “the most trusted and respected publication for the library community. LJ provides groundbreaking features and analytical news reports covering technology, management, policy and other professional concerns to public, academic and institutional libraries. Its hefty reviews sections evaluate 8000+ reviews annually of books, ebooks, audiobooks, videos/DVDs, databases, systems and websites.

This year, as usual, many of the Federal publications the panel selected are available through the Government Printing Office’s Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) libraries and GPO’s Sales Program.

Out of all of the Federal Government documents LJ looked at in the past year, here are some of those it found most notable:

  Keeping America Informed: The United States Government Printing Office 150 Years of Service to the Nation

Publisher: Government Printing Office (GPO)

GPO’s own role in producing excellent Government publications in its 150 years of history gained it a place on the GODORT list for the past year:“Liberally illustrated with historical photographs and facsimiles of famous government documents, this volume will appeal to a wider audience than depository librarians. Historians and history buffs who have an interest in government and how it interacts with both the private sector and public employee unions will find a compelling story that focuses on the federal government’s obligation to keep citizens informed about its activities.” – LJ

  Statistical Abstract of the United States 2012 (Hardcover)

Statistical Abstract of the United States 2012 (Paperback)

Publisher: Commerce Department, U.S. Census Bureau

The Statistical Abstract of the United States, published since 1878, is the standard summary of statistics on the social, political, and economic organization of the United States. It is designed to serve as a convenient volume for statistical reference and as a guide to other statistical publications and sources. The latter function is served by the introductory text to each section, the source note appearing below each table, and Appendix I, which comprises the Guide to Sources of Statistics, the Guide to State Statistical Abstracts, and the Guide to Foreign Statistical Abstracts.

The Library Journal adds an important update about this: “In addition to being the quintessential statistical resource of all time, Statistical Abstract is a Notable Document for 2011 simply because this edition will be the last produced by the Census Bureau and distributed through FDLP. Future editions will be published commercially, so librarians will still have options for maintaining the continuity of their print collections. A classic reference tool.” – LJ

  Macondo: The Gulf Oil Disaster. Chief Counsel’s Report 2011

Publisher: National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

“The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill was created by President Obama and charged with investigating the root causes of the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. The committee concluded that the cause of the blowout was not mechanical. Instead, a number of poor management decisions, combined with an inadequate regulatory structure and an indifferent regulatory agency, overwhelmed the safeguards designed to prevent such disasters. Plenty of illustrations and photographs offer a glimpse into the technology of offshore oil rigs.” – LJ

  Then Came the Fire: Personal Accounts From the Pentagon, 11 September 2001

Publisher: Defense Dept., Army, Center of Military History

“In 2011, there were many publications designed to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. In addition to the 59 people aboard the flight that struck the Pentagon, 125 people in the Pentagon were killed. The editors of this memorial volume have collected the stories of eyewitnesses, including the military and civilian personnel who escaped the burning building and first responders and reporters at the scene. It also includes hundreds of photographs.”- LJ

  Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867

Publisher: Defense Dept., Army, Center of Military History“

In what may be the definitive operational history of black troops in action during the Civil War, [author] Dobak describes the differences in how freedmen and runaway slaves were recruited, how they lived, and how they were trained. Most important, it considers how gallantly these men performed in combat at a time when many of their own leaders questioned whether they would be willing to fight for their own freedom and for that of their families. Much of the documentation comes from the ‘War of the Rebellion’ series.” – LJ

  Legacy of Excellence: The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology 1862-2011 

Publisher: Defense Dept., Army, US Army Medical Department Center and Schoo1, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Public Affairs Office, Borden Institute

“In 1862, shortly after the Battle of Antietam, army surgeon general Brigadier Gen. William Hammond ordered the establishment of the Army Medical Museum. Surgeons working on Civil War battlefields were encouraged to preserve anatomical specimens, such as severed limbs and diseased organs, and send them to the museum for further research. From the start, the museum made its displays of specimens and instruments, as well as its medical library, available to the general public. Under the leadership of later curators, such as John Billings and Walter Reed, the museum evolved into the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. Readers interested in the history of science, especially medical science or in the devastating effects of Civil War weaponry on the human body, will be fascinated by the hundreds of graphic photographs.” – LJ

And a hearty congratulations to all the winning Federal agency publishers for an excellent job!

How can you get these publications from this year’s Federal Notable Government Documents collection?

  • Buy any of these publications online 24/7 by shopping the Notable Government Documents 2012 collection at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy them at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find these publications in a library near you.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Today in History: War of 1812 and Army Chaplains

June 18, 2012

Two hundred years ago today, on June 18, 1812, President James Madison signed into law the United States of America’s declaration of war against Great Britain to start the War of 1812.

Image: Naval services’ 1812 Bicentennial logo. Source: Navy History

Madison’s War

Fought for a myriad of reasons from the illegal impressment of American sailors onto British Navy ships to help them fight France to land grab ambitions against Canada, the War of 1812 was derisively called “Mr. Madison’s War” initially by many Americans, particularly in the Northeast.  Ill-prepared for the war with many untrained militia and without initial support from many individual states, America suffered a number of defeats, up to the capture and burning of Washington, D.C, including the White House and the Capitol building, in August 1814.

There were a number of American triumphs at sea with a much smaller American navy, and eventually, America was able to turn back British invasions in New York; Baltimore, with the famous battle at Fort McHenry where Francis Scott Key wrote the poem “Defence of Fort McHenry” that became our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner;” and finally at New Orleans. (Remember Johnny Horton’s 1959 song “The Battle of New Orleans”?)

Eventually, the War of 1812 united Americans and became known as “America’s Second War of Independence.”

Army Chaplains during the War of 1812

In the book, Reliable and Religious: U.S. Army Chaplains and the War of 1812 by Kenneth E. Lawson, and published by the Office of the Chief of Chaplains of the Department of the Army, the heretofore untold story of Army Chaplains during the War of 1812 is explained in detail.

Historically, during the Revolutionary War, “there were 174 Continental Army chaplains and 93 militia chaplains.” A number of New England clerics served at Concord in, with some even shouldering muskets and fighting alongside their fellow soldiers. This continued to be true in the War of 1812, as many United States Army chaplains even fought alongside the soldiers they served.

Most of the chaplains (over 200) who served in the War of 1812 were militia chaplains. Only 13 official regular army chaplains served during the war, either directly with units or headquarters. One of the chaplains ministered to West Point cadets. Regular army chaplains were classified as  ”those of the rank of major and captain” and “received the same pay, rations and forage as a surgeon,” since presumably they “healed men’s souls.”

All 13 U.S. Army ministers were Protestant, and they came from all over the United States—from Vermont all the way down to South Carolina. Two chaplains, Rev. Carter Tarrant and Rev. James Wilmer, died while serving as military chaplains.

Reverend Joshua Thomas, “Parson of the Islands”

Reliable and Religious gives detailed accounts of the war and religious situation and chaplaincy activities in each state and territory during the War of 1812, including biographies of the chaplains who served in the campaigns in each state.

One of the more famous chaplains was Reverend Joshua Thomas, a fisherman turned Methodist minister who  founded churches and preached along Virginia and Maryland’s Eastern Shore, often using his log canoe. Joshua and his wife Rachel were living on Tangier Island just below the Maryland-Virginia border during the War of l812, when the British took possession of the Island and used it as build the 100-acre Fort Albion as their center of operations as they plundered the Chesapeake Bay shoreline and prepared for their invasion of Baltimore.

Image. Reverend Joshua Thomas, “Parson of the Islands”. Source: Findagrave.com.

Thomas, dubbed “Parson of the Islands”, was held in esteem by the infamous Admiral Cockburn who asked the minister to preach to 12,000 British troops as they prepared to go to war against Ft. McHenry in Baltimore.

On September 11th, 1814, on Tangier Island, Parson delivered his famous, fiery sermon, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” with its dire prediction to the British that they would be defeated at the upcoming Battle of Baltimore.

Image: Rev. Joshua Thomas gives his “Thou Shalt Not Kill” sermon to British troops before the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 on Tangier Island. Source: “The Parson of the Islands” by Adam Wallace.

According to Lawson’s research, Rev. Thomas warned the British “of the danger and distress they would bring upon themselves and others by going to Baltimore with the object they had in view” and told them “it was given to me by the Almighty that they [the British] could not take Baltimore and would not succeed in their expedition.” His sermon turned out to be correct, as the Redcoats were turned back at Fort McHenry, with Francis Scott Key looking on and scribbling away.

To this day, the coastal Maryland celebrates “Joshua Thomas Day” in his honor.

Today’s Army Chaplains

During the Civil War, the Army Chaplaincy developed many procedures still in place, and most chaplains became less a “fighting parson”, and more “spiritual” in their emphasis. After the Civil War, in fact, chaplains were no longer permitted to carry weapons and are presently supposed to be issued a Geneva Convention Identity Card.

Today, the United States Army Chaplain Corps consists of highly educated (college degree plus theological graduate degree required) chaplains who are ordained clergy and endorsed by their particular faith group to serve all people, regardless of religious or non-religious affiliation. Most are typically embedded with the troops in deployed combat units, at service schools, military hospitals in the field and at military installations around the world.

Image: U.S. Army Chaplaincy image. Source: U.S. Army

According to the Office of the Chief of Chaplains’ website, the Army Chaplaincy has a long and distinguished record of proving aid and comfort to America’s soldiers around the world:

Since July 29, 1775, approximately 25,000 Army Chaplains have served as religious and spiritual leaders for 25 million Soldiers and their Families. Always present with their Soldiers in war and in peace, [U.S.] Army Chaplains have served in more than 270 major wars and combat engagements. Nearly 300 Army Chaplains have laid down their lives in battle. Six have been awarded the Medal of Honor… Currently, over 2,900 Chaplains are serving the Total Army representing over 130 different religious organizations… Their love of God, Country and the American Soldier has been a beacon of light and a message of hope for all those who have served our nation.

The Army Chaplain Corps’ mission is to provide “religious support to America’s Army while assisting commanders in ensuring the right of free exercise of religion for all Soldiers. In short, we nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen.

Knowing this, it is probable that the Army Chaplains from the War of 1812 sang more loudly this forgotten stanza from Francis Scott Key’s original “Star-Spangled Banner” poem:

Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Image: Francis Scott Key standing on boat, with right arm stretched out toward the US flag– The Star-Spangled Banner– flying over Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland, during the War of 1812. Source: National Archives

Find War of 1812 Bicentennial information and events in the United States and Canada at www.Visit1812.com. I’m off to see the War of 1812 Bicentennial “Star-Spangled Sailabration” in Baltimore Harbor!

HOW DO I OBTAIN the Reliable and Religious: U.S. Army Chaplains and the War of 1812 publication?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Ball’s Bluff: A Little Battle with Lasting Consequences

September 20, 2010

A few Veterans Days ago, my wife and I made a day trip to Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park  in Loudon County, Virginia. You’d never know it was there, tucked away as it is behind a suburban housing development. Once you step out of your car and into the park, you’re in another place altogether. For one thing, Ball’s Bluff is really two sites in one.  Just inside the park is a small National Cemetery, containing the remains of 54 soldiers in 25 graves, all killed during the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. We were there on a cold, cloudy day, the kind of day that really made us think somberly about that long-ago battle near the beginning of the Civil War. Given that it was a small engagement, we were able to walk most of the battlefield, up to the edge of the high bluff where the inexperienced Union soldiers made their last stand. 

This battle was relatively inconsequential militarily, but it had a larger impact politically. An overly ambitious reconnaissance in force that resulted in the death of Abraham Lincoln’s friend Colonel and Senator Edward D. Baker, it cost Union General Charles Stone his career and was the impetus for the establishment of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which became long-term Radical Republican thorn in the side of Lincoln’s Administration.

The U.S. Army’s Center of Military History has a neat little booklet on the battle that I wish we’d had that day. Battle of Ball’s Bluff was developed as a staff ride guide for Army personnel so they can “learn from the past by analyzing the battle through the eyes of the men who were there.” The best part of the booklet is the blow-by-blow account of the battle, accompanied by a number of detailed maps. As I said, the battlefield is relatively small, so you can really get a sense of what happened in just an hour or two.

What sticks in my mind is the fearful predicament of the Union troops, unfamiliar with the area and forced back to that steep bluff above the Potomac.  Many of them jumped to their deaths or died on the narrow little strip of land beneath under a rain of Confederate musket fire (left). I’m not that crazy about heights, so looking down from the top of that cliff really brought at least a bit of the grim reality of that day home to me.

You can read about this little battle with lasting consequences here, get your own copy here, or find a library that has a copy here.


A Book about the Civil War – and a Mystery

May 3, 2010

I was at a book sale last week and, lover of obscure historical topics that I am, picked up a book on the Civil War in Maine. Yes, there was a naval battle in Maine in 1863: the battle of Portland Harbor, when Confederate raiders seized the revenue cutter Caleb Cushing and, after pursuit by Federal forces, set it afire. Seeing this incident mentioned in the table of contents reminded me that the vast Government Book Talk vaults (AKA my office) held a copy of U.S. Revenue Cutters of the Civil War – a Government book published years ago and a perfect subject for blogging.

Things got mysterious after I unearthed it, though. Upon examination, I couldn’t find any indication that it was a Government publication. In fact, the publisher seemed to be “Alised Enterprises.” Had I been deluding myself all these years? On the other hand, the book also stated that it was “A U.S. Coast Guard Bicentennial Publication” and had a foreword by the Coast Guard’s official historian.

After a quick perusal of the Internet, I relaxed. It had a SuDocs classification number – TD 5.30: C49, to be exact – which means GPO had cataloged it as a Government book. I then learned that, according to WorldCat, which bills itself as “the world’s largest library catalog”, U.S. Revenue Cutters of the Civil War was published in 1988 by Alised Enterprises and again in 1990 by the Coast Guard. I couldn’t find a publication date in my copy, but my guess is that it’s a Coast Guard printing and that the author, Florence Kern, may have done the book under contract. (If anyone can add to the solution of this bibliographic mystery, please let me know.)

Florence Kern wrote a number of short pamphlets about various revenue cutters, mostly of the Revolutionary era. This book does something similar for Civil war cutters but also covers which ships went North or South at the beginning of the war, their work as blockaders for the Union, and much more, including the battle of Portland Harbor. It’s based on extensive archival research and provides a good introduction to a little-known aspect of the war. I wouldn’t mind delving into some research on this topic myself – maybe once I finish reading that book about the Civil War in Maine…

I couldn’t find an online version of U.S. Revenue Cutters of the Civil War, which is long out of print, but used copies do seem to be available at reasonable prices – and through Federal depository libraries, of course.

GPO does have other, more recent books about the Civil War that are well worth reading, so feel free to take a look.


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