There were two rival schools in that town—the "State Normal" and the "Union Seminary.
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Soon after the secession of South Carolina, some of the Seminary boys conceived the idea of compelling the Normal people to show their colors. The first-named had put up the stars and stripes, a thing that the latter had neglected to do. One morning when the citizens of the town arose and cast their eyes toward the building dedicated to the education and training of teachers, they were astonished to see, flying from the lightning rod on the highest peak of the cupola, a flag of white, whereon was painted a Palmetto tree, beneath the shade of which was represented a rattle snake in act to strike.
How it came there no one could conjecture, but there it was, floating impudently in the breeze, and how to get it down was the question. I believe that the authorities of the school never learned who it was that performed this daring feat, but it will be violating no confidence, at this late day, to say that the two heroes of this daring boyish escapade, which was at the time a nine-days' wonder, served in the war, one of them in what was known as the "Normal" company, and are now gray-haired veterans, marching serenely down the western slope, toward the sunset of their well-spent lives.
The summer of was one of the darkest periods of the war. Though more than a year had elapsed since the beginning of hostilities, things were apparently going from bad to worse. There was visible nowhere a single ray of light to illumine the gloom that had settled down upon the land. All the brilliant promise of McClellan's campaign had come to naught, and the splendid army of Potomac veterans, after having come within sight of the spires of Richmond, was in full retreat to the James. The end seemed farther away than in the beginning. Grant's successful campaign against Forts Henry and Donelson had been succeeded by a condition of lethargy in all the Western armies.
Notwithstanding the successes at Pittsburg Landing and at Corinth, and the death of Albert Sidney Johnston, who had been regarded as the ablest of all the officers of the old army who had taken service with the confederates, there had been a total absence of decisive results. McClellan had disappointed the hopes of the people; Grant was accused of blundering and of a fondness for drink; the great ability of Sherman was not fully recognized; and the country did not yet suspect that in Sheridan it had another Marlborough.
Stonewall Jackson was in full tilt in Virginia, and Robert E. Lee had given evidence that he could easily overmatch any leader who might be pitted against him. With more of hope than of confidence, the eyes of the Nation were turned towards Halleck, Buell, and Pope. It was a dismal outlook. Union commanders were clamoring for more men and the Union cause was weak, because of the lack of confidence which Union generals had in each other. The patriotism of the volunteers, under these most trying and discouraging circumstances, was still the only reliance.
Big bounties had not been offered and the draft had not yet been thought of, much less resorted to. War meetings were being held all over the state, literally in every school house, and recruiting went on vigorously. During the year , Michigan equipped three regiments of cavalry, four batteries, two companies of sharpshooters, and fifteen regiments of infantry, which were mustered into the service of the United States.
About the time that the college year closed, President Lincoln issued a call for , more. This call was dated July 2, , the last previous one having been made on July 25, —almost a year before. Under this call, Congressman Francis W. Kellogg, of the then Fourth congressional district of Michigan, came home from Washington with authority to raise two more regiments of cavalry.
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This authority was direct from Secretary Stanton, with whom, for some reason, Mr. Kellogg had much influence, and from whom he received favors such as were granted to but few. He looked like Mr. Perhaps that fact may have accounted, in part at least, for the strong bond of friendship between him and the great War Secretary.
Under similar authority he had been instrumental, during the year , in putting into the field the Second and Third regiments of Michigan cavalry. They had made an excellent record and that, likewise, may have counted to his credit with the War Department. Be that as it may, Mr.
Kellogg went at this work with his accustomed vigor and, in a very short space of time, the Sixth and Seventh regiments were ready for muster, though the latter did not leave the state until January, The Fourth and Fifth regiments had been recruited under a previous call. To show how little things often change the course of men's lives, an incident of personal experience is here related.
Fremont, known as "The Pathfinder," whose "Narrative," in the fifties, was read by boys with the same avidity that they displayed in the perusal of the "Arabian Nights. The name had a certain fascination which entwined it around the memory, and when flaming posters appeared on the walls, announcing that Captain Gardner, of the village of Muir, was raising a company of "Mounted Riflemen" for Copeland's regiment, four young men, myself being one of them, hired a livery team and drove to that modest country four-corners to enlist. The "captain" handed us a telegram from Detroit saying that the regiment was full and his company could not be accepted.
The boys drove back with heavy hearts at the lost opportunity.
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That is how it happened that I was not a private in the Fifth Michigan cavalry instead of a captain in the Sixth when I went out, for, in a few days from that time, Mr. Kellogg authorized me to raise a troop, a commission as captain being conditional on my being in camp with a minimum number of men, within fifteen days from the date of the appointment. The conditions were complied with. Two of the other boys became captains in the Sixth Michigan cavalry; the other went out as sergeant-major of the Twenty-first Michigan infantry and arose in good time to be a captain in his regiment.
The government, during the earlier period of the war, was slow to recognize the importance of the cavalry arm of the service. It was expensive to maintain, and the policy of General Scott and his successors was to get along with as small a force of mounted men as possible, and these to be used mostly for escort duty and for orderlies around the various infantry headquarters. There was, consequently, in the cavalry very little of what is known as "esprit de corps. At the First Bull Run, the very name of the "Black Horse cavalry" struck terror into the hearts of the Northern army, though it must be confessed that it was rather moral influence than physical force that the somewhat mythical horsemen exerted.
Southern men were accustomed to the saddle, and were as a rule better riders than their Northern brethren. They took naturally to the mounted service, which was wisely fostered and encouraged by the Southern leaders, and, under the bold generalship of such riders as Ashby, Stuart, Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, Rosser, Mosby, and others, the cavalry of the army of Northern Virginia surpassed that of the army of the Potomac both in numbers and in efficiency.
McClellan says in his book that he often thought he made a mistake in not putting "Phil" Kearney in command of the cavalry.
There is no doubt about it. Kearney had just the right sort of dash. If he had been given a corps of horse, with free rein, as Sheridan had it later on, "Phil" Kearney might have anticipated by at least two years the brilliant achievements of "Cavalry Phil" Sheridan. But the dashing one-armed hero was fated to be killed prematurely, and it was not until , that Pleasanton, Buford, Gregg, Kilpatrick, and Custer began to make the Union troopers an important factor in the war; and Sheridan did not take command of the cavalry corps, to handle it as such, until the spring of Even then, as we shall see later, he had to quarrel with the commander of the army in order to compel recognition of its value as a tactical unit upon the field of battle.
It was to Hooker, and not to Meade, that credit was due for bringing the cavalry into its proper relation to the work of the Northern army. Under the able leadership of such officers as those mentioned, the Federal cavalry took a leading part in the Gettysburg campaign and those which succeeded it, and was able to meet the flower of the South on equal terms and on its own ground. There will be no more honorable page in the history of our country than that on which will be written the record of the cavalry of the armies of the Potomac and of the Shenandoah.
I finished my sophomore year in June, , and returned to my home full of military spirit and determined to embrace the first favorable opportunity to enter the volunteer service. As second lieutenant of the "Tappan Guard," I had acquired a pretty thorough knowledge of Hardee's tactics and a familiarity with the "school of the soldier" and "school of the company" which proved very useful. Most of the summer was given up to drilling the officers and men in one of the companies of the Twenty-first Michigan infantry, which was in camp near the town, fitting for the field.
The officers were new to the business, without training or experience, as volunteer officers were apt to be, and gladly availed themselves of my help, which was freely given. I was offered a commission as first lieutenant in that regiment, but my ambition was to go in the cavalry and it was soon to be gratified. Late in the month of August my father, coming home from Grand Rapids, met an old friend on the train who told him of Congressman Kellogg's arrival in that place and what his mission was.
I wanted to be a second lieutenant and told my father that I preferred that to higher rank in the infantry.
So, the next day, he went down to see the Congressman. His application for my appointment was heartily seconded by a number of influential men in the "Valley City," who knew nothing of me, but did it through their friendship for my father, whom they had known for many years as one of the most energetic and honorable business men in the Grand River valley.
From , he had been a familiar figure in lumbering circles and during that period there had been no year when, from May 1 till snow flew, his fleets of rafts of pine lumber were not running over the dam at Grand Rapids. With the business men along the river his relations had been close and friendly. They were, therefore, not reluctant to do him a favor. Among these I will mention but two, though there were many others who were equally zealous in the matter.
Wilder D. Foster and Amos Rathbun were two of the best known men in the metropolis of western Michigan.
Foster was a hardware merchant who had built up a splendid business from small beginnings in the pioneer days. Ferry had been elected to the Senate. Rathbun, "Uncle Amos" he was called, was a capitalist who had much to do with the development of the gypsum or "plaster" industry in his section of the state. Their influence with Mr. Kellogg was potent, and my father obtained more than he asked for. He came home with a conditional appointment which ran thus:. Grand Rapids, Aug.