Texas Admitted to the Union, 1845

2017-12-22T20:28:01-06:00December 25, 2017|HH 2017|

Texas Admitted to Union, December 29, 1845

Texas became the twenty-eighth state to enter the Union of States, but the last one to allow slavery within her boundaries. Therein lies a tale of intrigue, political grandstanding, threats of secession and back-room dealing. Texas, like California, first organized as an independent Constitutional Republic, rather than a territory. Some wanted the Lone Star Republic to stay that way, others were eager to join the United States.

Texas-claimed territory as of its annexation in 1845 — Disputes over boundaries became a trigger for the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848

From 1820-1824 Mexico fought a successful war for independence from Spain. The Constitution of 1824 became the legal basis for a new nation. Moses Austin came to Mexico in 1820 seeking permission to establish an American colony of three hundred families in Texas, the north-eastern-most province of Mexico. Upon that forthcoming agreement, Stephen F. Austin, son of Moses, initiated what became a steady flow of American citizens into the Province of Texas, settling under the provisions of the ’24 Constitution. The Americans moving into Texas came primarily from the Southern states. Some brought their slaves with them and — in violation of the original agreement — many refused to join the Catholic Church. The uneasy discord between the Texians and the government broke into a war for independence when General Santa Anna scrapped the Constitution and centralized control with himself as supreme ruler. Three states rebelled, two were quickly conquered by Santa Anna, but Texas proved able to win independence under the leadership of Lexington, Virginia-born General Sam Houston, in 1836. In 1839 the Capitol was moved to Austin and the Lone Star flag adopted.

Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794-1876)

Moses Austin (1761-1821)

Stephen F. Austin (1793-1836)

Early probes for Texas statehood were rebuffed by both the Whig and Democratic leadership in Congress. Mexico did not recognize Texas independence and there was no zeal for a war with the southern neighbor. The controversies over slavery were heating up, and adding a large new southern state was vigorously opposed by New Englanders especially — a resistance that lasted successfully for ten years. In 1844, incumbent President John Tyler worked behind the scenes with pro-expansionist Democrats and Whigs to craft an annexation proposal to make Texas statehood a big issue in the upcoming election. Tyler himself was a pariah to both parties but was able to persuade enough members of both houses of Congress to go along with the proposal at the end of the year, following the election of pro-Texas statehood Democrat James K. Polk.

A call for the citizens of New York to rise in opposition to Texas Annexation

The vast majority of Texans were in favor of annexation. The Texas Congress voted down a last-minute proposal of recognition by Mexico, brokered by England and France, if they would rebuff the offer of statehood. Too late. Sam Houston went from President of the Republic to Senator from Texas and the Lone Star State was welcomed into the Union.

The Annexation of Texas to the Union, by Donald M. Yena
(Texas State Library and Archives Commission, 1986/68-2)

Texas statehood triggered a controversial chain of events which led to Mr. Polk’s war with Mexico, a political war in Congress over the expansion of slavery into western territories, the birth of the Republican Party, the ascension of Abraham Lincoln to power as a purely sectional President, and the secession of South Carolina from the Union. After fifteen years of statehood, Texans decided the Union was not as conducive to protecting their future prosperity and social order as they had assumed, and on February 1st 1861, became the seventh state to join the Southern Confederacy, untying the bonds of Union for a new sort of independency. Thus, a sixth flag flew over those restless frontier individualists, for four years.

The Birth of Charles Wesley, 1707

2017-12-22T20:41:52-06:00December 18, 2017|HH 2017|

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking with one another in Psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to God.” —Ephesians 5:19

The Birth of Charles Wesley, December 18, 1707

His mother Susanna was the twenty-fifth and last child in her family, dissenters from the Anglican Church. He himself was the eighteenth of nineteen children (nine of whom died in infancy), of an Anglican pastor. He also took holy orders in the Church of England. He sired seven children, several of whom became nationally known musicians. But Charles Wesley would go down in history as the author of more than 6,000 hymns, composing at least ten lines of verse every day for fifty years. He became the greatest Christian hymn-writer in history, yet he is sometimes referred to as “the forgotten Wesley,” overshadowed by John, his more aggressive older brother and founder of Methodism.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

All the Wesley children were home-schooled by their mother, six hours a day. She taught Charles Latin, Greek, and French among other pertinent subjects. He then attended the Westminster School for thirteen years, where only Latin was spoken in public. More years were spent at Oxford where Charles founded the “Holy Club,” made up of students who were serious about their faith. They followed a strict regimen of early rising, Bible study, prison ministry, and prayer. Fellow students poked fun and called them “Methodists.” His elder brother John and young George Whitefield were key members of the club also.

Both Charles and his brother John were ordained in the Church of England. They sailed to the two year old Colony of Georgia in 1735 upon the request of philanthropist and Member of Parliament George Oglethorpe, the Governor. Charles served there a short while as chaplain to a garrison near Savannah before carrying dispatches back to England, his ministry found unacceptable by his auditors. Perhaps the problem was that the Rev. Charles Wesley was “truly converted to Christ” in May, 1738, two years after arrival back in England; brother John professed a similar experience three days later. They had both come under the influence of Moravian preaching where Charles said at his conversion, “I found rest for my soul.”

John Wesley (1703-1791)

Susanna Wesley (1669-1742)

The Wesleys began itinerant evangelistic preaching wherever people would stop and listen—in fields, collieries, homes, and the few churches that would allow them in. Many of the hearers were already outside the established church and, as the number of converts mounted, they gathered together in their own societies. From such was born the Methodist Church, an evangelical sect seeking reform within Anglicanism, at first. They practiced ex-tempore prayer, taught the necessity of the new birth, and emphasized the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Some of the Methodist preachers, like John Wesley, were staunchly Arminian in their theology, others such as George Whitefield and Howell Harris, remained Calvinists. Charles had no desire to abandon Anglicanism and insisted that he would die within the communion of the state church and be buried in an Anglican cemetery. Following his brother John’s death in 1791, the Methodists formally broke away and became a separate denomination.

Shortly after his conversion, Charles began writing hymns. By 1765, the constant travel and travail of itinerancy plus illness caused Wesley to settle into work in the Marlybone Parish. He visited and preached in many of the Societies around London, whenever he was able, raised a family of prodigies, and wrote hymns for the rest of his life. His hymns and sacred poetry spanned a wide range of topics and styles. He wrote many hymns based on the Psalms but put Christ in some of them, to the disagreement of some of his supporters. He wrote hymns for children, picking up where Isaac Watts had left off. A number of his hymns became classics and are sung today in every sort of Protestant Church.

Some of the greatest favorites of the ages include, And Can it Be that I Should Gain, Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, etc. Such blessed hymns cannot be accredited to pure genius alone, the author knew personally of whom he wrote.

The Birth of Alvin York, 1887

2018-06-12T14:12:56-05:00December 11, 2017|HH 2017|

“One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised.” —Joshua 23:10

The Birth of Alvin York, December 13, 1887

The man who was destined to become one of the most decorated war veterans in United States history, came into the world as one of eleven children in a remote valley of East Tennessee. Alvin York’s family belonged to the Church of Christ in Christian Union of Pall Mall, Tennessee, a small Protestant sect, of Wesleyan Methodist theological heritage and pacifist in regard to war. Alvin was a devoted believer and served as the second elder in the church, though he had had to overcome his penchant for drunkenness and fighting. By 1917, the rhythms of life seemed perfect — he prepared to wed his sweetheart “Miss Gracie,” continue serving in the church and settle full-time into farming the rough fields and bottomlands bequeathed or purchased. And then the telegram arrived announcing that Alvin York was needed by the President of the United States to join the fight against the Central Powers in France in 1917.

The William and Mary York Family in 1900 — Alvin is the tall young man standing on the right

Alvin immediately applied for “Conscientious Objector” status with the help and approval of his pastor, R.C. Pile. The army rejected York’s appeal, so he boarded the train twenty miles from home (the first train he had ever seen), and began basic training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. He was joined there by men from every state and moral condition, much to Alvin’s shock. Twenty percent of the men were foreign-born and barely spoke English. Alvin had been an avid hunter and the best marksman in Fentress County, winning many turkey shoots and other contests. He proved the top shooter in his training company as well. Alvin desired to serve his country, but his beliefs regarding killing placed him at odds with his officers and his training. His immediate superiors met with Private York and argued with him from Holy Scriptures that God allowed killing in a just war, and President Wilson’s “war to save democracy” was just. After a leave of absence to go home, meet with his pastor, think it over and pray, York changed his views and determined to do his duty with the army.

Battle scene painted in 1919 depicting the wartime heroism of Alvin York

As a Corporal in the 83rd, “All American” Division, Alvin York shipped out for France on May 1, 1918. York’s regiment, the 328th, was shuttled between quiet sectors, never getting an opportunity to actually test their mettle against the German trenches. He kept a diary of his day-to-day activities, noting that it did no good to worry about artillery fire: “You can’t keep them from busting into your trench, nor can you stop the rain . . . what’s the use of worrying if you can’t alter things. Just ask God to help you and accept them and make the best of them by the help of God.”

Sergeant Alvin Cullum York (1887-1964)

His Division began moving forward on September 27 and by October 8, York’s regiment was in the thick of the fight. Pinned down by heavy machine gun fire, the squad in which Alvin York was one of the corporals, moved to the rear of the enemy positions and surprised twenty or so German soldiers in camp; as they rounded up the prisoners, German machine guns swiveled around and opened fire, killing or wounding most of the remainder of the flanking company, leaving Alvin York the ranking soldier. York took charge immediately and moved to a firing position that enabled him to pick off the enemy machine gunners, “like shooting turkeys at home.” Corporal York shot so many men, that the enemy began surrendering in bunches, as ordered by one of the captured officers. One hundred thirty-two German prisoners were rounded up by Alvin and his handful of men and marched into the American lines. He received the Medal of Honor and many other decorations, including several from France and Great Britain. Alvin York returned home a hero, but one concerned primarily about testifying for Christ, and declaring that God had protected him and saved his life. He still hated war and killing and hoped that his deeds shortened the conflict and in the end, saved lives.

Alvin and Grace Williams were wed on June 7, 1919 by Tennessee Governor Albert Brooks

Death of the USSR, 1991

2018-05-03T14:47:00-05:00December 4, 2017|HH 2017|

“Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales.” —Isaiah 40:15

Death of the USSR, December 8, 1991

The Russian Revolution began in 1917 with a revolt against the government in Petrograd. In March, the Tsar of the Russian Empire, Nicholas II, abdicated, and was replaced by a provisional governing assembly. In many parts of Russia, workers councils known as “Soviets” often created or controlled by the Bolshevik Party, established themselves as governing bodies, led by a committed Communist cadre. In October the “Red Guards” stormed the Winter Palace and Vladimir Lenin declared that the Soviets were the new governing power in Russia. Many Russians resisted the Communist takeover and a fierce civil war ensued, lasting six years, and ending with the triumph of the Communist Red Army over the anti-communist “Whites.” During that period, the Tsar and his family were all murdered, and more than five million people across Russia died of starvation.

The last imperial family of Russia including: seated (left to right) Marie, Queen Alexandra, Tsar Nicholas II, Anastasia, Alexei (front), and standing (left to right), Olga and Tatiana

On 28 December, 1922, Russia joined with Ukraine, Byelorussia, and Trans-Caucasus to form what would become the most monstrous tyranny of the 20th Century, The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Soviet Empire established a one-party rule and the total restructuring of the political and social order, based on communist principles. Eventually fifteen “Republics” would be part of the Soviet Union. By the end of the decade, a colleague of Lenin, who took the name Stalin (“Man of Steel”), established totalitarian rule based on terrorism and the cult of personality. Various “Five-Year” Plans were launched to create a command economy and bring all the constituent nations under the total control of Stalin. The Central Committee was purged of potential rivals, setting a pattern of arbitrary slaughter of high-ranking politicians, army generals, leaders of the Revolution, and anyone else that Stalin deemed a threat, disobedient, or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He controlled the new Soviet Empire through an intelligence apparatus unmatched in the rest of the world.

Soviet Union administrative divisions (republics) and sub-divisions (oblasts, autonomous republics, autonomous districts, etc.) in the year 1989

Forced collectivization of farms brought about the death of millions of peasants. Property owners were liquidated or sent to the chain of secret prisons (“gulags”) that extended in an arc across the almost uninhabitable regions of the north and west of Russia. The religion of the USSR was formally declared to be atheism and the Russian Orthodox Church went from more than 54,000 congregations in 1914 to less than 500 in 1930. In the 1930s, American President Franklin Roosevelt established diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union for the first time (the British had done so in 1924). The USSR joined the League of Nations and backed the republicans in the Spanish Civil War. Many American intellectuals admired Stalin and the new Soviet State. Some were willing to spy for the Russians, worming their way into government positions.

Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)

Joseph Stalin (1878-1953)

Although on the surface, Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany were great enemies (National Socialism vs. International Socialism), the two nations signed a secret treaty prior to the outbreak of World War II. In that war, the German regime of Adolph Hitler turned on their erstwhile ally and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The USSR joined the Allies against Germany, always keeping an eye on countries that could fall under their orbit when the war ended. Although Russia lost twenty-seven million people in WWII, they remained aggressive and international in outlook. Their real enemy, the United States, became a special target of espionage, intrigue, and international opposition through the United Nations and around the world. The “Cold War” was the result. Subject states, like Hungary in 1956, were brutally crushed if they challenged the reigning Socialist regimes.

Vladimir Lenin, seated center, with other members of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in 1897

Estimates of the number of victims claimed by famine number in the millions

The communist view of history claimed the inevitability of the triumph of socialism world-wide, although the economies of the subject nations were unable to even begin to match the prosperity and freedom of Western nations. Soviet tyranny and the oppression of all who fell under their sway was obvious to all but fellow-travelling ideologues of leftist parties. By 1989, however, liberty movements sprang up in many of the Soviet Republics, putting even more pressure on the Kremlin to compromise. Attempts to reform the Soviet system were too little, too late, and ineffective.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin (second to right) and other dignitaries sign the agreement to eliminate the USSR and establish the Commonwealth of Independent States

The Soviet Constitution allowed for constituent states the right of secession. The Soviet states began claiming those rights with three states asserting their independence. The other twelve met to prevent total dissolution, but failed, and in the city of Minsk, on December 8, 1991, declared the end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The vast political tyranny, atheistic and freedom-hating regime had lasted twenty days shy of seventy years, another drop from the bucket.

The Battle of Franklin, 1864

2017-11-27T15:59:32-06:00November 27, 2017|HH 2017|

“Raise a banner on a bare hilltop, shout to them; beckon to them to enter the gates…” —Isaiah 13:2

The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864

On the last day of November, 1864, in a grand assault composed of more than 20,000 men, the Confederate Army of Tennessee breasted a blizzard of rifle and cannon fire from an equal number of Union soldiers dug in behind solid entrenchments encircling the town of Franklin, Tennessee. More than six thousand of the attackers were shot down in the fields, ditches and house yards, as they inflicted more than two thousand casualties on the defenders, but, in the end, they were driven back over the fields of slaughter. The effusion of blood proved the death-knell of Confederate fortunes in the “western theater” of the war and provided historians for the next one hundred fifty years with controversy, stunning description and post-battle pathos to match any battle fought in the American Civil War.

The Battle of Franklin, as depicted by Kurz and Allison, 1891

After the fall of Atlanta, Confederate General John Bell Hood moved his army north toward Chattanooga in an attempt to get astride Union General William T. Sherman’s communications and supply line and draw him away from the Atlanta area. Instead, Sherman launched an invasion through the heart of Georgia, living off the land on a march to the sea. Hood moved north in an attempt to threaten and maybe capture Nashville and its mountains of supplies, and destroy the Union forces defending the city.

Confederate General John Bell Hood (1831-1879)

Union General John McAllister Schofield (1831-1906)

Virginia-born Union General George “The Rock of Chickamauga” Thomas commanded the Army of the Cumberland defending Nashville. Directly opposing Hood’s army was a mostly veteran force under General John Schofield, an old West Point classmate of Hood. While facing each other across the Duck River at Columbia, Tennessee, Hood moved upstream to cut off Schofield’s line of retreat at the village of Spring Hill. After a brisk skirmish along the Columbia Turnpike, the Confederate army settled into camp for the night. Schofield, realizing his imminent danger, successfully marched his entire army through the Confederate lines during the night without detection, sparking a controversy among Confederate apologists, regarding blame for the fatal oversite that has lasted to this day. Furious at the escape of the Yankees, Hood sent his army after them, streaming north on the turnpike.

George Henry Thomas (1816-1870)

Schofield’s forces stopped about thirteen miles north of Spring Hill at the town of Franklin. They filed into the entrenchments around the town and began digging and improving the works in preparation fo a possible Confederate attack. Artillery was placed to enfilade attackers, as well as pound them from the front. The Union line presented a defense far more formidable than the one faced by Confederate General Pickett’s formations on the third day at Gettysburg a year and a half earlier.

The 2017 Civil War in the West Tour on the porch of Carnton Plantation, Franklin, Tennessee

As Hood’s Confederates arrived near Winsted Hill, two miles from the Union lines, he ordered a grand assault across a two-mile front cleared of trees and obstacles against the entrenched enemy. The heroic and futile attack would be forever etched on the minds of the men who witnessed it and survived the slaughter of that day. Fourteen Confederate generals fell, six of them killed, along with an astounding fifty-five regimental commanders who became casualties — killed, wounded or captured.

The Battle of Nashville, as depicted by Kurz and Allison, c. 1888

The Federal forces marched away that night and filed into the impregnable defenses of Nashville to await General Hood’s inevitable arrival, where he would be outnumbered about 55,000 to 26,000. The faithful remnant of Confederate troops was smashed there to rise no more in Tennessee. In Franklin, the job of burying the dead and helping the wounded fell to the few Confederate surgeons and the women of the town, from which came the astounding story of “the widow of the South”, Carrie McGavock.

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