Moses’ Last Exodus

Wilmington, Del., Nov. 30, 1860

The knock came after dark. Hastening to answer it, the old Quaker found a familiar figure in the doorway: a tiny, dark-skinned woman, barely five feet tall, with a kerchief wrapped around her head. Someone who didn’t know her might have taken her for an ordinary poor black woman begging alms – were it not for her eyes. Wide-set, deep-socketed and commanding, they were the eyes not of a pauper or slave, but of an Old Testament hero, a nemesis of pharaohs and kings.

Harriet Tubman, circa 1860s.

Five others followed her: a man and woman, two little girls and, cradled in a basket, the swaddled form of a tiny infant, uncannily silent and still. They had braved many dangers and hardships together to reach this place of safety, trusting their lives to the woman known as “the Moses of her people.”

As politicians throughout the country debated secession and young men drilled for war, Harriet Tubman had been plotting a mission into the heart of slave territory. She did not know that it would be her last. Over the past 10 years, she had undertaken about a dozen clandestine journeys to the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland, the place from which she herself had escaped in 1849. She had managed to bring some six dozen people – most of them family and friends – across the Mason-Dixon Line into freedom, then across the Canadian border to safety. But Tubman had never managed to liberate several of her closest relatives: her younger sister Rachel and Rachel’s two children, Ben and Angerine. In the autumn of 1860, she decided to rescue them.

Slave ads from a newspaper on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, 1859.

Although it lay on the border between North and South and had few large plantations, the part of Maryland east of the Chesapeake Bay was an especially hazardous place to be a slave. Soil depletion and economic stagnation had left many local planters with more field hands than they needed – as well as chronically short of cash. By the mid-19th century, the Eastern Shore had become known as one of the nation’s principal “breeder” regions, where slaves were frequently sold to slave traders, speculators who sent them south to the burgeoning cotton and sugar plantations of the Gulf Coast. As a child, Tubman had seen two of her own sisters sold away, and heard her parents’ anguished tales of others taken before her birth. Four of her remaining siblings had escaped, three of them helped by their sister Harriet. Only Rachel had remained.

By this time, Tubman was well connected to the nationwide abolitionist movement, and before departing, she raised money for the trip (and for possible bribes along the way) from Wendell Phillips and other activists. She set out from her home in Auburn, N.Y., and by mid-November she was in Maryland.

Tubman arrived to learn that her sister would never know freedom: Rachel had died a short time earlier. There were still the two children, her niece and nephew, to rescue. Here too, Tubman failed. She set a rendezvous point in the woods near the plantation where the two were held, but they failed to appear at the appointed time. Tubman waited all through that night and the following one, crouching behind a tree for shelter from the wind and driving snow. At last she gave up. Ben and Angerine’s fate is unknown.

Ad for a runaway slave, in Macon (Georgia) Daily Telegraph, Nov. 30, 1860.

Tubman had, however, found another family that was ready to seek freedom: Stephen and Maria Ennals and their children, six-year-old Harriet, four-year-old Amanda and a three-month-old infant. (One or two other men may have joined them as well.) The fugitives made their way up the peninsula, traveling mostly by night. Once, they were pursued by slave patrollers alerted to their presence. The escapees hid on an island in the middle of a swamp, covering the baby in a basket. Eventually a lone white man appeared, strolling casually along the edge of the marsh, seemingly talking to himself. They realized he was an agent of the Underground Railroad, telling them how to reach a barn where they could take shelter.

As they continued on their journey, Tubman would go out each day in search of food while the Ennalses hid in the woods, their baby drugged with an opiate to keep it from crying. Returning at the end of the day, Tubman would softly sing a hymn until they heard her and reemerged:

Hail, oh hail, ye happy spirits,
Death no more shall make you fear,
Grief nor sorrow, pain nor anguish,
Shall no more distress you dere.

Even as the group approached Wilmington, it was not yet out of danger: Delaware was still officially a slave state. In fact, due to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the escapees could have been recaptured anywhere in the North and returned to bondage. Tubman herself could have been re-enslaved, or – as an abettor of fugitives – sentenced to spend the rest of her life in a Maryland prison. But at last, on the night of Nov. 30, she reached the house of the elderly Quaker, Thomas Garrett, a leading Underground Railroad “conductor” who would smuggle the Ennals family to relative safety in Philadelphia.

Although the Underground Railroad had already become famous – and, for many Americans, infamous – only a tiny percentage of slaves managed to escape to the North: estimates have put the number at just a thousand or so each year out of a total enslaved population of some four million. Still, these fugitives were a major bone of contention for disgruntled Southerners. An adult field hand could cost as much as $2,000, the equivalent of a substantial house. To Southerners, then, anyone who helped a man or woman escape bondage was simply a thief. But more infuriating than the monetary loss it occasioned, the Underground Railroad was an affront to the slaveholders’ pride – and a rebuke to those who insisted that black men and women were comfortable and contented in bondage.

In an 1860 speech, Senator Robert Toombs of Georgia thundered against Republicans “engaged in stealing our property” and thus “daily committing offences against the people and property of these … States, which, by the laws of nations, are good and sufficient causes of war.” As secession loomed, some Northerners attempted to soothe such fears. A New York Times editorial suggested not only that stronger efforts be made to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, but that the federal government compensate slaveholders for their escaped “property.”

Tubman was back in Auburn by Christmas Day, 1860, having conveyed the Ennals family safely to Canada. (Abolitionists often noted the irony of Americans fleeing the “land of liberty” to seek freedom under Queen Victoria’s sheltering scepter.) Her secret missions ended with the approach of war.

But one night in the midst of the secession crisis, while staying at the house of another black leader, a vision came to Tubman in a dream that all of America’s slaves were soon to be liberated – a vision so powerful that she rose from bed singing. Her host tried in vain to quiet her; perhaps their grandchildren would live to see the day of jubilee, he said, but they themselves surely would not. “I tell you, sir, you’ll see it, and you’ll see it soon,” she retorted, and sang again: “My people are free! My people are free.”

Sources: Kate Clifford Larson, “Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero“; William Still, “The Underground Rail Road”; Sarah H. Bradford, “Harriet, the Moses of Her People”; Catherine Clinton, “Harriet Tubman, The Road to Freedom”; Fergus Bordewich, “Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America”; James A. McGowan, “Station Master on the Underground Railroad: The Life and Letters of Thomas Garrett”; “Speech of Robert Toombs, of Ga., Delivered in the Senate of the U.S. January 24, 1860”; New York Times, Dec. 10, 1860.

Adam Goodheart is the author of the forthcoming book “1861: The Civil War Awakening.” He lives in Washington, D.C., and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he is the Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

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Full article and photos: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/moses-last-exodus/

Cleopatra’s Guide to Good Governance

LET’S say you can’t readily lay your hands on “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun” or those of Winnie the Pooh. And let’s say the political mood around you is bleak; gridlock is the order of the day. Why not turn to a different management guru, a woman who left some 2,000-year-old teachable moments, each of them enduring and essential?

At 18, Cleopatra VII inherited the most lucrative enterprise in existence, the envy of her world. Everyone for miles around worked for her. Anything they grew or manufactured enriched her coffers. She had the administrative apparatus and the miles of paperwork to prove it.

From the moment she woke she wrangled with military and managerial decisions. The crush of state business consumed her day. Partisan interests threatened to trip her up at every turn; she observed enough court intrigue to make a Medici blush. To complicate matters, she was highly vulnerable to a hostile takeover. Oh, and she looked very little like the other statesmen with whom she did business.

Herewith her leadership secrets, a papyrus primer for modern-day Washington:

Obliterate your rivals. Co-opting the competition is good. Eliminating it is better. Cleopatra made quick work of her siblings, which sounds uncouth. As Plutarch noted, however, such behavior was axiomatic among sovereigns. It happened in the best of families.

The royal rules for dispensing with blood relatives were as inflexible as those of geometry. Cleopatra lost one brother in her civil war against him; allegedly poisoned a second; arranged the murder of her surviving sister. She thereafter reigned supreme.

Does this suggest by extension that a family business is a bad idea? It does.

Don’t confuse business with pleasure. The two have a chronic tendency to invade each other’s territory. But what were John Edwards, Mark Hurd, Mark Sanford and Eliot Spitzer thinking?

If you’re going to seduce someone, set your sights high. Cleopatra fell in with the most celebrated military commanders of her day, sequentially allying herself and producing children with her white knights, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. As she demonstrated, the idea is to kiss your way up the ladder. Along the same lines, there was an ancient world equivalent of the hire-an-assistant-of-whom-your-spouse-can’t-be-jealous wisdom. Cleopatra surrounded herself with eunuchs. They got into less trouble than did other aides, or at least different kinds of trouble.

Appearances count. As President Obama has learned and unlearned, theater works wonders. You may campaign in poetry, but you are wise to govern in pageantry. Deliver carnivals rather than tutorials; a little vulgarity goes a long way. Just wear the flag pin already.

Leadership is a trick of perception, a bit of wisdom Shakespeare lent Henry IV, to pass along to Prince Hal. And if you intend to command, look the part. Work boots with a suit are always a nice touch when you’re the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in an occupied Middle Eastern country, for example. Make something of a spectacle of yourself. Yes, you can do that in jeans and a black turtleneck. In a televised world as in a pre-print era, it’s the stage management that counts. Literally or not, the idea is to create and star in your own reality show.

Go big or go home. Cleopatra appeared before Antony at an age when, according to Plutarch, “women have most brilliant beauty and are at the acme of intellectual power,” a moment every woman knows to be several years behind her. But no matter. Cleopatra took with her extravagant gifts, chests of money, rich textiles. She left behind the boxed sets of DVDs and scale models of Marine One. She traveled on a gilded barge with purple sails, amid a cloud of incense. She laid out carpets of roses. To Antony’s officers she handed around gem-studded vessels, couches, sideboards, tapestries, horses, torch-bearing Ethiopian slaves. It was not surprising that the most astute of Antony’s generals should several years later vouch for her military genius.

 

Never get involved in a land war in Asia. Millenniums before Wallace Shawn delivered up that pearl of wisdom in “The Princess Bride,” Cleopatra seems to have intuited as much. She nonetheless financed Antony’s military expedition to the restive area east of the Tigris, a multiethnic, multicultural region of shifting alliances, one that had resisted 30 years of Roman efforts at organization. The Roman general who had last ventured that way had not returned. His severed head wound up as a prop in a royal production of Euripides. His legions were slaughtered. Antony fared only marginally better. Asian allies double-crossed him. Guerrilla tactics and treacherous geography undid him. At the conclusion of a demoralizing campaign and a disastrous retreat he had lost some 24,000 men. Cleopatra bailed him out.

Underpromise and overdeliver. Cleopatra comported herself flamboyantly and delivered on drama. But occasionally — despite a huge staff that included pages and scribes, masseurs and tasters, lamplighters and pearl-setters — something slipped through the cracks.

Alas such was the case in her dealings with Cicero, who left only damning lines about the Egyptian queen, whom he would not deign even to mention by name. He had little reason to be inclined toward a rich and foreign female sovereign. But the animus derived from something else. Cleopatra had promised Cicero a manuscript — it may have been one from her library in Alexandria — on which she failed to deliver. The oversight sealed her fate for posterity. No one has ever paid so lasting a price for a forgotten library book.

It pays to sweat the details, as Newt Gingrich reminded us when he shut down the federal government in 1994, after he was assigned a lousy seat on Air Force One.

If you can’t pay your debts, debase your currency. Egypt’s economic affairs were dismal when Cleopatra ascended to the throne. She devalued the currency by a third. She issued no gold and critically lowered the value of her kingdom’s silver. And she ushered in a great innovation: she introduced coins of various denominations. In an early prefiguring of paper currency, the markings rather than the metal content determined their value. A coin might feel light in the hand, but if Cleopatra said it was worth 80 drachmae, it was worth 80 drachmae. The arrangement was both lucrative to her and encouraged an export-driven economy.

 

A friend of a friend may well be an enemy. Cleopatra’s charm was said to be irresistible, her presence spellbinding. But one person on whom she failed to work her magic was Herod.

Well before religion clouded the picture, the Queen of Egypt and the King of Judaea were rivals for Rome’s friendship. Cleopatra did everything in her power to frustrate Herod. She kept him as far from Antony as possible and claimed proceeds from Judaea’s most lucrative natural resources. At one point she incited a war between Herod and his Arab neighbors the Nabateans, ordering her commander in the region to prolong the contest as long as possible. She counted on them to destroy each other, which they did not. Cleopatra did supply Herod with further reason to malign her in Rome, however.

Good neighbors make good fences. Shortly after the war between Herod and the Nabateans, Julius Caesar’s adopted son Octavian soundly defeated Cleopatra at the battle of Actium. She retreated to Alexandria, from which she attempted several escapes. In one particularly bold maneuver, she dragged her Mediterranean fleet 40 miles overland in order to relaunch it, via the Gulf of Suez, into the Red Sea. Both the bravado and the engineering were staggering. Cleopatra essentially anticipated the Suez Canal.

The tribe on the far side of the Gulf was unfortunately the Nabateans, newly recovered from their costly war with Herod. They set fire to each of Cleopatra’s ships as it reached their shore.

Unsurprisingly, Herod was happy to escort the conquering Octavian directly to the Egyptian border. He saw to it that the Romans lacked nothing for the desert march ahead. Several weeks later Cleopatra was dead.

 

Control the narrative. Cleopatra understood well that the storytelling mattered as much as the decision-making, and that the best narrative is the easy-to-follow narrative.

She discovered early on that it helps to have a god on your side — or to claim to speak for one. She remained at all times on-message, truthfully and not. She cruised the Nile with Julius Caesar, a splendid advertisement of Egyptian abundance to her Roman visitor and of Roman military might to her people. After her defeat at Actium, she sailed back to Alexandria with head high, passing off a mission entirely botched as one expertly accomplished.

She astutely manipulated the nomenclature; as mission statements go, you can’t do better than the title she adopted at 32: “Queen Cleopatra, the Goddess, the Younger, Father-Loving and Fatherland-Loving.”

The problems came later. Her enemies wrote her history, reducing her shrewd politics and managerial competence to sexual manipulation. As one contemporary noted, “How much more attention people pay to their fears than to their memories!” It’s rarely about the library book, but so much easier to claim it is. And you never know who’s going to end up addressing posterity.

It could be Newt Gingrich.

Stacy Schiff is the author of “Cleopatra: A Life.”

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Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/opinion/05schiff.html

Famine in Kansas

Atchison, Kansas Territory, Dec. 9, 1860

Street in Atchison, Kansas.

They converged from far and wide on the dusty border town: grim-faced men and women driving teams of staggering oxen; children whose bare and filthy feet were blistered by the hard-baked earth. Not long before, these same trails and same oxen had brought the settlers westward into new lives, new lands, the promise of plenty. Now misery and starvation drove them back, exiles retracing their steps east – fleeing, in the words of a New York Times writer, “as if Death were in the rear.”

A Chicago Tribune correspondent, freshly arrived in Atchison that day, found dozens lined up with their wagons along the Missouri River levees, awaiting handouts of free foodstuffs. “Such a scene!” he wrote. “Great, stalwart men, gaunt, lean, hungry, looking weary, sad, tired, and dispirited; poorly clad, and in all respects filling one with the conviction of suffering patiently borne and long repressed – men, some of whom I recognized, and all of whom bore the unmistakable character of sturdy industry and independence common to our western pioneers.”

An appeal from the Chicago Tribune.

Spotting the stranger’s notebook, the Kansans crowded around to share their stories. A settler from Butler County, G.T. Donaldson, told of crops devoured by grasshoppers, cattle felled by disease, and relentless drought that sealed the overall ruin. A “small, keen eyed” farmer named A.V. Saunders had driven his ox teams more than 200 miles to fetch provisions for his beleaguered rural community; after a week of waiting, he had finally been issued just 12 sacks of meal and eight sacks of potatoes for the 400 inhabitants. Another “forlorn looking man” made a particular impression on the curious journalist:

He was literally clothed in rags. Such a tatterdemalion one can scarcely conceive of. His garments, originally home-spun, had been patched with so many different materials, mostly varieties of bed-ticking and sacking, that the feeble threads would no longer hold together, and the shreds were flopping about him as he walked. His face was haggard and hunger-worn; cheek-bones protruded; flesh had shrunk away, and his eyes were hollow and eager, and had the terrible starved look in them which I saw once in a famine-stricken party of Irish, in ’47, and which I shall never forget. I will tell his story, as near as may be, in his own words:

‘My name is Abraham Huck. I’m from Ilenoy. Came to Kansas last March, and hired a place on Deer Creek, Anderson County…. I’ve got a wife and eight children. Left home last Sunday (six days before). Wife and one of the children’s with me. Left seven at home, with some turnips and a peck of meal.’

‘What,’ I said, ‘a peck of meal for seven?’

‘That’s all, Sir, and we’ve had nothing to eat on the road for three days, except the little I’ve begged. … I planted fifty-five acres [this year], and harvested five bushels of wormy corn.’

The reporter added, by way of comparison, that a peck of meal represented a week’s rations for a single slave in the cotton South.

Kansas seemed cursed by both nature and man. Beginning in 1854, the nation had watched in horror as struggles between pro-slavery and free-soil pioneers devolved into a nightmare of torched and looted towns, murdered civilians and anarchy cloaked in the false trappings of justice. The nation’s leaders, cynically viewing the territory as nothing but a square in the political chess match between North and South, had conspired in its ruin. “The game must be played boldly,” urged the town of Atchison’s namesake, a senator from neighboring Missouri. “If we win we carry slavery to the Pacific Ocean.” In another letter, to his Senate colleague Jefferson Davis, he wrote: “We will be compelled to shoot, burn & hang, but the thing will soon be over.”

There had indeed been shooting, burning and hanging – but the thing had not ended as quickly as Senator David Rice Atchison had anticipated. Nor had the pro-slavery forces won the game. In October 1859, a popular referendum finally declared the ravaged territory to be free soil, and a bill for statehood began making its way through Congress. At last peace came – along with settlers by the thousands.

And then the elements themselves conspired against the land. Like a modern-day version of plague-ridden Egypt, “Bleeding Kansas” became Starving Kansas. Rains ceased; from the spring through the autumn of 1860, barely enough fell to dampen the surface of the soil. Temperatures reached 105 degrees in the shade. “The hot wind sweeps over the land blinding one with the dust or blistering the skin,” one settler wrote. “The poor squatter looks to his withered crops and sits down in despair.” Another Kansan described the conditions as “only fit for a Hottentot, accustomed to the ardors of the Sahara.” As many as a third of the territory’s 100,000 white inhabitants packed up their scanty belongings and trudged back toward the eastern states whence they had come.

Some blamed politicians for these latest calamities, scarcely less than for the bloodshed of years past. “The ills which Kansas endures are very largely derived from the misgovernment of [James Buchanan’s] administration,” declared an editorial in The Times. “Drought is not a visitation of Presidents but of Providence; but the poverty which preceded the bad harvest, and which renders the people wholly unable to support the deficiency of breadstuffs, is well known to have originated chiefly in the … savage and vindictive mismanagement [that] the affairs of the Territory have been deliberately subjected to.” Other critics charged that Republicans shared the guilt: party leaders had initially downplayed the emergency’s severity, allegedly because they did not want to undercut political fundraising while the presidential election hung in the balance. (Campaigning in Lawrence at the end of September, William H. Seward declared sanguinely that he had “carefully examined the condition of … the river bottoms and the prairies” and concluded that “there will be no famine in Kansas.”)

In the weeks after Abraham Lincoln’s election, as the chill of impending winter began gripping the heartland, Americans had finally begun paying attention to the disaster in the Midwest. (Savvy Kansans whipped up interest by sounding the alarm that pro-slavery raiders – known as “pukes” – were once again preparing to invade.) From New York, Chicago and other cities, donations poured into Atchison, the western terminus of the railway and designated base of the relief efforts. On Dec. 12, at the urging of such leading antislavery Republicans as Horace Greeley and William Cullen Bryant, citizens held a rally at the Cooper Union in Manhattan and raised the respectable sum of $1,200 toward the cause. Even President Buchanan closed his annual message by turning his attention from the secession crisis and asking Congress to aid the Kansas sufferers, “if any constitutional measure for their relief can be devised.”

The grim headlines from Atchison, side-by-side with those from secession-mad Charleston, fueled Americans’ forebodings that their nation had entered its end times – perhaps even that God was meting out a terrible judgment for their sins, just as he had done to Pharaoh and the slaveholding Egyptians. The image of free American citizens emaciated and in rags – apparently fed and clothed even worse than Southern slaves – was terrible to contemplate.

“The men whom I see waiting here for their scanty supplies, are the bone and sinew of the West,” wrote the Tribune correspondent. “They are men who are blazing the way of the American people across this Continent, and are laying broad and deep the foundations of free institutions. It is a question for Americans to consider whether these men shall be sustained in this their hour of dire misfortune.” If they could not be, what hope was there for those free institutions themselves?

Sources: Chicago Tribune, Dec. 13, 1860; New York Times, Oct. 3, Nov. 1, Nov. 19, Dec. 10 and Dec. 13, 1860; Craig Miner, “Kansas: The History of the Sunflower State, 1854-2000”; Joseph G. Gambone, “Starving Kansas: The Great Drought and Famine of 1859-60” (American West, July 1971); James McPherson, “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era”; Lynda Lasswell Crist, ed., “The Papers of Jefferson Davis, 1853-1855”; Jay Monaghan, “Civil War on the Western Border, 1854-1865”; Sheffield Ingalls, “History of Atchison County, Kansas”; George W. Glick, “The Drought of 1860” (Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society, 1905-1906); Thaddeus Hyatt, “The Prayer of Thaddeus Hyatt to James Buchanan, President of the United States, in Behalf of Kansas”; William H. Seward, speech at Lawrence, Kans., Sept. 26, 1860; James Buchanan, Annual Message to Congress, Dec. 3, 1860.

Adam Goodheart is the author of the forthcoming book “1861: The Civil War Awakening.” He lives in Washington, D.C., and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he is the Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

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Full article and photos: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/08/famine-in-kansas/

On Mrs. Kennedy’s Detail

IT was with great trepidation that I approached 3704 N Street in Washington on Nov. 10, 1960. I had just been given the assignment of providing protection for the wife of the newly elected president of the United States, and I was about to meet her for the first time.

I soon realized I had little to worry about. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, just 31 years old at the time, was a gracious woman who put me immediately at ease. She was the first lady, but she was also a caring mother; her daughter, Caroline, was nearly 3 years old, and she was pregnant with her second child. Three weeks later, she went into early labor with John Jr., and I followed her through the entire process. It would be the first of many experiences we would have together.

Being on the first lady’s detail was a lot different from being on the president’s. It was just the two of us, traveling the world together. Mrs. Kennedy was active and energetic — she loved to play tennis, water-ski and ride horses. She had a great sense of humor, and we grew to trust and confide in each other, as close friends do.

In early 1963, Mrs. Kennedy shared with me the happy news that she was pregnant again. She had curtailed her physical activities and had settled into a routine at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., for the last few months of her pregnancy. I was on a rare day off when I got the call that she had gone into early labor. I raced to the hospital at Otis Air Force Base, arriving shortly after she did.

The president, who had been in Washington, arrived soon after she delivered their new baby boy, whom they named Patrick Bouvier Kennedy.

When Patrick died two days later, Mrs. Kennedy was devastated. I felt as if my own son had died, and we grieved together.

The following weeks were difficult as I watched her fall into a deep depression. Eventually, it was suggested that she needed to get away. In October 1963 I traveled with her to the Mediterranean, where we stayed aboard Aristotle Onassis’ yacht, the Christina. The trip to Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia, along with a short stop in Morocco, seemed to be good therapy, and by the time we returned to Washington the light had returned to her eyes.

I was surprised, however, when not long after our return Mrs. Kennedy decided to join her husband on his trip to Texas. It was so soon after the loss of her son, and she hadn’t accompanied the president on any domestic political trips since his election.

Nevertheless, when we left the White House on Thursday, Nov. 21, I could tell that Mrs. Kennedy was truly excited. I remember thinking this would be a real test of her recovery, and that if she enjoyed the campaigning it would probably be a regular occurrence as soon as the 1964 race got into full swing.

The first day of the trip was exhausting. We had motorcades in San Antonio, Houston and finally Fort Worth, where we arrived around midnight. It had been a long day for everyone, and Mrs. Kennedy was drained.

On the morning of Nov. 22, I went to her room at the Hotel Texas to bring her down to the breakfast where President John F. Kennedy was speaking. She was refreshed and eager to head to Dallas. She had chosen a pink suit with a matching hat to wear at their many appearances that day, and she looked exquisite.

The motorcade began like any of the many that I had been a part of as an agent — with the adrenaline flowing, the members of the detail on alert. I was riding on the running board of the car just behind the president’s.

We were traveling through Dallas en route to the Trade Mart, where the president was to give a lunchtime speech, when I heard an explosive noise from my right rear. As I turned toward the sound, I scanned the presidential limousine and saw the president grab at his throat and lurch to the left.

I jumped off the running board and ran toward his car. I was so focused on getting to the president and Mrs. Kennedy to provide them cover that I didn’t hear the second shot.

I was just feet away when I heard and felt the effects of a third shot. It hit the president in the upper right rear of his head, and blood was everywhere. Once in the back seat, I threw myself on top of the president and first lady so that if another shot came, it would hit me instead.

The detail went into action. We didn’t stop to think about what happened; our every move and thought went into rushing the president and Mrs. Kennedy to the nearest hospital.

I stayed by Mrs. Kennedy’s side for the next four days. The woman who just a few days before had been so happy and exuberant about this trip to Texas was in deep shock. Her eyes reflected the sorrow of the nation and the world — a sorrow we still feel today.

Clint Hill, a former assistant director of the Secret Service, served under five presidents.

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Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/22/opinion/22hill.html

Drama in Milledgeville

Nov. 16 – 22, 1860

With ardent secessionist activity in South Carolina having a week ago reached a heated peak, a pregnant pause has followed. Until the secession convention comes to order in December, the focus of the disunion crisis last week shifted elsewhere.

In Georgia, men of probity and wisdom tried to decide what to do about secession.

In Washington, men of probity and wisdom tried to decide what to do about secession.

And in Springfield, Ill., a man of probity and wisdom reached a firm decision. By all accounts, the beard is coming in nicely.

Lodged between the deep South’s slave-rich Atlantic coast states and the just-developing Mississippi Valley states, rich, large Georgia is key to most of the secessionists’ plans. But with two regions that are relatively slave-free — the pine barrens in the southeast and the mountains in the north near Tennessee — Georgia’s appetite for secession is not everywhere so keen.

Knowing that it can’t treat this issue like South Carolina has, Georgia’s state legislature decided that before it deliberates on the question of secession, it wanted to hear the views of its brightest minds, or at least the brightest minds that don’t happen to belong to state legislators. And so last week, two dozen men traveled to the state capital in Milledgeville to offer their views.

Almost immediately two main schools of thought emerged, the Separatist and the Cooperationist. The Separatists support the idea that Georgia can and should leave the union on its own, regardless of what any other state does. The Cooperationists have mixed views about secession, but are united in their opposition to unilateral action; whatever Georgia does, they say, Georgia should do in concert with the other Southern states.

Some cooperationists favor secession, while others support secession as a last resort, pending the outcome of negotiations with the North, and still others support secession if and only if the North offers a military response to the South’s demands or to a southern state’s departure. The Separatists, too, have internal divisions. Most are urging the departing states to combine into a new nation, but some support secession as a mere tactic. They believe the South should rejoin the union once the North offers concessions on slavery, as they are confident it will.

The presentations took place over five evenings, and the flickering candelabras heightened the feelings of drama in the chamber. Right at the outset, the separatists boldly seized the rhetorical heights of the debate and in truth, never relinquished them. Disunion or dishonor — that’s how their first speaker, the legal scholar Thomas R.R. Cobb, starkly defined the legislature’s choice.

Momentarily modulating his emotions, Cobb argued that wisdom, not passion, should guide the legislators’ decisions, but then called upon them to think — wisely, mind you, not passionately — of their families. Remember the parting moment when you left your firesides to come to the capital. Remember the trembling hand of your beloved wife as she whispered her fears from the incendiary and the assassin. Recall the look of indefinable dread from your little daughter. “My friends, I have no fear of servile insurrection . . . Our slaves are the most happy and contented of workers.” But the “unscrupulous emissaries of Northern Abolitionists’” may turn the disgruntled few. “You cannot say whether your home or your family may be the first to greet your returning footsteps in ashes or in death.”

Robert Toombs

This sanguineous theme connected the comments of other Separatist speakers. Senator Robert Toombs noted that the slave population has quintupled from 800,000 in 1790 to four million at present, a rate that would result in 11 million slaves by 1900. What would we do with them? he asked. If we can’t expand our borders, extermination will be required.

The lawyer Henry Benning also had population growth on his mind. He pointed to the North and to rates of immigration, and argued that free states would soon outnumber slave states and abolitionist forces would dominate Congress. And what will happen then? Soon there will be a constitutional amendment that would require southerners “to emancipate your slaves, and to hang you if you resist.” This will be followed by a war in which emancipated slaves will “exterminate or expel” all southern white men. “As for the women, they will call upon the mountains to fall upon them.”

Alexander Stephens

In opposition to these dire visions were a few voices of skeptical calm, most notably that of Alexander Stephens, the 48-year-old former Whig congressman, whose corpus consists of a mere 98 pounds of ashen flesh that rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, cervical disc disease, bladder stones, angina, migraines, pruritis and chronic melancholy disease had not wasted away.

Wrapped in scarves and shawls, the cadaverous, mummified Stephens accepted the thankless task of trying to staunch the hyperbole. Lincoln is no dictator, Stephens argued. Constitutional checks hobble him. Democrats have majorities in both the House and the Senate. Lincoln cannot appoint any federal officers without the consent of the Senate. There are but two Republicans on the Supreme Court. “The president has been constitutionally chosen. If he violates the Constitution, then will come our time to act. Do not let us break the Constitution because he may.”

Of course, Stephens agreed, slaveholders have genuine grievances, and the North has to acknowledge them. Yes, there is a federal fugitive slave law, but too many northern states have personal liberty laws that prohibit state officials from apprehending runaway slaves. A slave can just walk off the farm in Virginia or Maryland or Kentucky, and no sheriff or constable in Pennsylvania or Ohio will lift a finger to apprehend him. Stephens argued that as a condition for remaining in the Union, northern states had to repeal those laws.

It was a canny and reasonable argument, the basis of a compromise many northerners might well accept. But with separatists conjuring the image of that Black Republican Abraham Lincoln unleashing troops of militant Wide Awakes to invade the South and liberate hordes of slaves who will rampage throughout the cotton belt like Mongol barbarians, poor Stephens might as well have brought watering can to quench an inferno. As sturdy a rope as Stephens’s proposal may be, it stands little chance of restraining the headstrong Separatists; it may, however, be the line they will try to grasp to save themselves if later they realize they have plunged into disaster.

James Buchanan

In Washington, meanwhile, the lame-duck Buchanan administration is responding to the threat of crisis with a combination of weariness and irresolution. Never a particularly dynamic leader — with more insight than he perhaps intended, Buchanan once referred to himself as an “old public functionary” — the president has always preferred to make policy by reaching consensus with a cabinet he balanced so carefully by region that he seemed like teamster packing a mule.

But the Solons of his cabinet are failing him. Interior Secretary Jacob Thompson of Mississippi and Treasury Secretary Howell Cobb of Georgia (yes, brother of the wise, dispassionate Thomas cited above) believe secession is a fait accompli and are eyeing opportunities with the new government. Secretary of War John Floyd of Virginia is torn between his southern sympathies and pro-union convictions. Michigan’s Lewis Cass, the 78-year-old secretary of state, is showing signs of mental feebleness; Connecticut’s Isaac Toucey, the secretary of the Navy, has never demonstrated much mental capacity to enfeeble.

Buchanan proposed to respond to secessionists with an ingenious proposal: to call a convention of the states, as permitted under Article V of the Constitution, to discuss an amendment that would permit secession. It was a shrewd idea: the hotspurs in South Carolina have already dispensed with talking, but the serious men of the South would have looked unreasonable if they refused an open-handed invitation to discuss their problems. And yet a national convention might well provide a place where pro-unionists of every stripe could come together and exhibit their considerable strength.

The Cabinet offered Buchanan scant support. Thompson and Cobb, participating in a government they no longer believed in, inveighed against the idea as too little, too late. Floyd, as is his custom, was non-committal. The others, unable to plan ahead to coffee until they’ve had their pie, objected to the scheme because it might offer legitimacy to the possibility of secession.

Faced with these nattering advisers, a stronger leader might have sacked the lot and pressed on with his proposal. But Buchanan is spent. Exhausted and fearful, he settled for a watered-down version of a statement against secession written by Attorney General Jeremiah Black. Black had argued in Cabinet meetings in favor of the government’s duty to defend itself against disunionists — “meet,” “repel” and “subdue” were the words Black used — but the timorous Buchanan scrapped Black’s vigorous language and issued a mild condemnation of secession that declined to so much as wag a disapproving finger at the ultras of the South. In two weeks the president is scheduled to present his annual message to Congress; perhaps that will still be enough time for him to look in the White House attic to see if Andy Jackson left behind some backbone he could use.

With the outgoing president marking time, many are looking for the incoming chief executive to show some leadership. Apparently they will have to wait until Mr. Lincoln is actually on the federal payroll and starts collecting the $25,000 a year he earns for the job.

Lincoln has made no comment about slavery or disunion since before the election, maintaining that his positions are already crystal clear — he’s against expansion, and regardless of his personal opinion, he is Constitutionally incapable of affecting slavery where it already exists. Repeating these positions could only give fodder to those who would twist his views, and he’s powerless to do anything for another three months anyway. As the editor of The Chicago Tribune, Joseph Medill, put it, “He must keep his feet out of all such wolf traps,” and Lincoln surely agrees.

Still, insiders paid particular attention last week to the address delivered in Springfield by Senator Lyman Trumbull at the Great Republican Jubilee celebrating Lincoln’s election. Despite the fact that Trumbull snatched his senate seat from Lincoln’s grasp five years ago, an act that earned both Trumbull and his wife the eternal enmity of Mary Lincoln, the two men are great friends.

Indeed, they are such great friends that it sometimes seems that they speak with one voice. Thus, when Trumbull told the crowd that under Lincoln, all the states will be left in complete control of their own affairs, including the protection of property, those in the know believed they were hearing the words of the president-elect. And when Trumbull said that secession is not only impractical, it is a constitutional impossibility, it was like hearing from Lincoln himself. What good it will do is another matter. The New York Herald cheerfully predicted that “The speech will go a great ways in clearing the Southern sky of the clouds of disunion.” But whoever wrote that probably hadn’t heard any of the speeches in Milledgeville this week.

Meanwhile, the president-elect continues to prepare for his presidency. Springfield has proven to be a magnet for eager office-seekers, most of whom depart in disappointment. Perhaps the saddest of those who have departed Springfield is not an office-seeker but an artist, Jesse Atwood of Philadelphia, who painted Lincoln just before the election. The portrait, described as “perfect in feature and delineation,” was generously praised when exhibited in the capitol in Springfield.

Unfortunately for Atwood, Lincoln decided that he would look more presidential with a beard, and after a day or two, Atwood’s portrait was out of date. Atwood, who had left Springfield, raced back and filled in some whiskers, but he wasn’t working from life, and he surmised the wrong style, and now has a picture that resembles Lincoln neither then nor now. But apart from Atwood, most people like the beard.

To read more about this period, see “The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant,” by William W. Freehling, Oxford University Press, 2007; “Days of Defiance,” by Maury Klein, Alfred A. Knopf, 1997; “Lincoln: President-Elect,: by Harold Holzer, Simon & Schuster, 2008.

Jamie Malanowski has been an editor at Time, Esquire and Spy, and is the author of the novel “The Coup.”

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Full article and photos: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/drama-in-milledgeville

‘Fort Madness:’ Britain’s Bizarre Sea Defense Against the Germans

Three of the seven forts linked together in the Thames Estuary photographed on Sept. 29, 1945. The towers were originally designed as first line invasion defenses and each was armed with a 3.5 artillery gun. The constructed forts were towed out to sea, sunk on sandbanks and then linked together by cat walks.

Clusters of steel huts and manned triumphal arches: From bizarre fortresses off the coast, the British military fought German mine layers in World War II. The huge forts weren’t just a thorn in the side of Hitler’s air force, but also drove their British crews insane.

Perhaps the captain of the Baalbeck did see, through the dense fog, the bizarre shape jutting out of the water in the Thames River estuary, but it was already too late to stop the engines. Traveling at full speed, the Swedish freighter slammed into a group of strange steel hulks. The accident happened about six kilometers off the east coast of England in the late afternoon of March 1, 1953. The steel structures were boxes the size of two-story apartment buildings, each of them perched on massive concrete piers and connected by walkways. Guns were mounted on the roofs.

When the fog lifted the next day, the scope of the catastrophe was clearly visible from the shore. The outline of the British Army’s damaged Nore Fort was visible on the horizon, but now it was missing two of its seven towers.

The accident dealt a serious blow to Great Britain’s plans to defend its air space, striking at the heart of a project that the country’s army and navy had forcefully pursued since the beginning of the Cold War in the 1950s: The construction of at least a dozen sea fortresses around the island to protect strategically important ports and shipping channels. The British wanted to be prepared. The Admiralty had no doubts as to the military effectiveness of the unusual air defense system. After all, the massive steel towers had already served as a frontline defense against Hitler’s Wehrmacht, though not from the very beginning of the war.

In the Stranglehold of the German Navy

Soon after World War II began, the German navy had already managed to strike the island kingdom in its most vulnerable place: shipping. About 2,500 freighters were sailing at any given time to bring goods to Great Britain from around the world. The British also used ships to handle the bulk of their domestic flow of goods. The busiest route ran along the east coast of the island, a lifeline that the enemy was already threatening to cut off only a few weeks into the war.

German destroyers relentlessly laid mines off the east coast and the Thames estuary. More than 100 ships sank in the first few months of the war, and their cargos, so vital to the British and their war effort, sank along with them. The situation became even more menacing when the Germans began dropping their bombs in mid-November 1939. British commercial shipping was brought to a virtual standstill.

Mine sweepers were constantly in operation, but the results remained unsatisfactory. Many losses were simply inexplicable. It appeared as if the Germans had mines that the British were unable to detect. To address the problem, the head of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, ordered the navy to obtain a sample of Germany’s new weapons — whatever the cost.

A Deadly Competition

As luck would have it, British searchlights illuminated a German Heinkel bomber on the night of Nov. 21, 1939, just as it was dropping an unknown object attached to a parachute off of Britain’s east coast. Experts salvaged and examined the object, which turned out to be a magnetic mine.

Although the British were now able to adjust their mine sweepers to search for the devices, the risk to shipping would continue, as a competition erupted between mine layers and mine searchers, as well as between scientists and engineers on both sides as they continued to develop new mines — and new countermeasures. The Admiralty became convinced that its only hope to free itself of the deadly flotsam was to shoot down or at least deter the mine layers.

At this time, ministry officials remembered a civil engineer named Guy Maunsell who had apparently been thinking about an imminent invasion for some time. Maunsell had originally presented the Admiralty with his designs for unmanned diving capsules. According to his plan, these submersible stations would be permanently anchored in positions surrounding the British coast, and from there would be able to observe all enemy movements above and below the water surface. No one knows whether any of these bottle-shaped devices were ever built, but the original design apparently convinced the Admiralty to work with Maunsell.

A Manned Triumphal Arch

To fend off the mine layers in the Thames estuary, Maunsell initially proposed the building of offshore structures that resembled the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, both in shape and size. The Admiralty approved the design after a few changes were made. Under the modified design, two hollow reinforced concrete towers, each of them seven meters in diameter, would be mounted on a floating pontoon. Each of the seven-story towers would provide enough space for a crew of about 120 men, including equipment and food. Two 3.7-inch anti-aircraft guns and two 40 mm Bofors guns were to be mounted on a platform at the top.

Between February and June 1942, four of the structures, which measured 33 meters (108 feet) tall and weighed 4,500 tons each, were finally towed out to the sites, some 6 to 12 nautical miles off the coast. Once the pontoons had been flooded, the structures settled on the ocean floor and the crews were able to begin their work.

In early 1941, while these so-called naval sea forts were still being built, Maunsell was asked to design an anti-aircraft defense for the Mersey estuary near Liverpool. Because of the difficult ocean floor conditions there, Maunsell chose a different model. He placed four hollow reinforced concrete legs, each with a diameter of 90 centimeters (about three feet), on a reinforced concrete foundation in the shape of a picture frame. Each leg was to support a two-story steel structure with a footprint of 11 by 11 meters.

Seven of these 750-ton towers, spaced 30 meters apart and connected by walkways made of steel pipes, formed a fort. The arrangement of the towers was patterned on the land-based anti-aircraft batteries, with a control tower with radar at the center, surrounded by four towers with 3.7-inch guns and one tower with two Bofors guns and, slightly away from the core arrangement, one tower with searchlights. In 1943, the army ordered three structures similar to those in the Mersey estuary for the Thames, including the Nore Army Fort.

Madness Under Water

Living conditions on the artificial islands were extreme, with each of the seven-tower fortresses housing up to 265 men at a time. The isolation and close quarters were hard to bear, especially in the concrete legs of the naval sea forts. While the officers’ sleeping quarters were in the upper part of the cylinders, where there was adequate light and oil heating, it was intolerable for the crews, who spent their nights below the surface of the water.

To distract themselves when there was nothing to do, the men were convinced to take up hobbies. Psychologists recommended painting, knitting or building models. The men remained on board for six weeks at a time, spending 10 days on land in between deployments. Many required psychiatric treatment, and the soldiers soon came up with their own name for the manmade platforms: “Fort Madness.”

At the end of the war, the crews had chalked up an impressive list of successes. Some 22 aircraft and 30 V-1 flying bombs where shot down from the Thames forts, and one was involved in the sinking of a German speedboat. But the use of the forts in the Mersey estuary had proved to be difficult. Because of their location on a constantly shifting sandbar, the structures on stilts repeatedly sank into the ocean floor. In 1948, the Admiralty had them dismantled because they posed a danger to shipping.

A Secret Expansion Project

But there were different plans for the forts in the Thames estuary. In July 1948, a delegation from the War Office paid a visit to the Nore Army Fort to look into possible uses for the existing forts. A year later, a secret meeting was held at the War Office to discuss the need for additional Maunsell army forts.

The group agreed that another 11 forts were needed to secure all key points and shipping lanes around the perimeter of the United Kingdom. After several changes had been made, the sites had been determined, and so had the costs. The entire project would cost an estimated £2.8 million British, an enormous sum in the postwar period. The “Baalbeck” accident at the Nore Army Fort in early March 1953 didn’t exact enhance the popularity of the project, and in July 1953 the decision was made to suspend it.

There was another accident at the Nore Army Fort in late 1954, which prompted the War Office to discontinue all maintenance work on the forts in 1956. The sea forts attracted attention once again in the 1960s, when British pirate radio stations occupied the platforms. Today private initiatives are underway to preserve the four remaining Maunsell sea forts as curious relics of World War II.

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Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,728754,00.html

Travels of a Teenage Prince

English Channel, Nov. 14, 1860

 Handkerchiefs waved as the prince graced New York with his royal presence.

Amid heavy fog, a red signal rocket flashed across the night sky, and the captain of the HMS Himalaya breathed a sigh of relief. The queen would rest easier now.

Victoria, waiting at Windsor Castle for word of her eldest son, had felt her anxiety turning slowly into panic. His little squadron, crossing the storm-wracked North Atlantic from Portland, Me., was more than a week overdue. Several days earlier, she had asked the Admiralty to send out search vessels; the first one had returned without success. But now all was well: at breakfast, the queen received news of the rocket sighting. By then the ship carrying her beloved Bertie was safe inside the breakwater at Plymouth.

Punch In an English cartoon from Punch, meanwhile, young Bertie is shown transformed into a typical American boy, much to the consternation of his father, Prince Albert.

The doughy-faced teenager, known more formally as Prince Albert Edward, had just become the first British royal to visit the United States since the Revolution. (In 1782, his great-uncle, Prince William Henry – later King William IV – had been stationed as a Royal Navy midshipman in New York, where he eluded a plot by George Washington to kidnap him as a hostage.) At an endless round of balls and receptions – in Detroit, St. Louis, Harrisburg, Albany and other unlikely locations – the once-defiant colonials had fallen over themselves to bow and curtsy at this rather nondescript twig on the world’s most famous family tree.

Even Harriet Beecher Stowe, hardly a royalist, gushed about him as “an embodiment, in boy’s form, of a glorious related nation” – going on to mention Milton, Spenser, Bacon and Shakespeare, all in the same breath, as if these luminaries were stuffed into Bertie’s vest pockets. His tour eclipsed even that of the Japanese envoys earlier in the year, and pushed news of the presidential contest into the back pages of the major papers. (Abraham Lincoln, then still a candidate, however, declined to meet the prince when the royal train passed through Springfield, Ill.; he felt it would be presumptuous.)

There had been a few glitches, to be sure. In Richmond, Va., paying his respects to a statue of Washington, Bertie was greeted with jeers of “He socked it to you in the Revolution!” and “He gave you English squirts the colic!” In New York, the 69th Regiment of state militia – soon to win fame in the Civil War as part of the “Irish Brigade” – refused to turn out for a parade in his honor.

On the return crossing, headwinds and heavy seas left the royal entourage wallowing in the mid-Atlantic troughs. The dignitaries passed the time as best they could; Viscount Hinchingbrooke later fondly recalled dancing in the evenings “with the midshipmen for partners.” On Nov. 9, the prince turned 19, an occasion marked with double rations of grog and a festive dinner – but dampened, literally, when a large wave drenched the birthday boy in ice-cold seawater.

Among the souvenirs that Bertie was bringing home from the New World were two gray squirrels and a mud turtle, gifts for his animal-loving mother. All of them survived the journey safe and sound – like the prince himself, who would live to succeed Victoria more than 40 years later, and reign as King Edward VII.

Sources: Ian Radforth, “Royal Spectacle: The 1860 Visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada and the United States”; Stanley Weintraub, “Edward the Caresser: The Playboy Prince Who Became Edward VII”; The Independent, Oct. 18, 1860; New York Times, Oct. 8, 1860 and Nov. 17, 1860.

Adam Goodheart is the author of the forthcoming book “1861: The Civil War Awakening.” He lives in Washington, D.C., and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he is the Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

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Full article and photos: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/13/travels-of-a-teenage-prince/