It's official. The Catholic Knight is retired.  I'm hanging up the helmet and passing the torch. There will be no more articles, no more commentaries, no more calls to action. THIS BLOG IS CLOSED. I've spent a very long time thinking about this, I believe the time has come, and is a bit overdue.  I want to thank my readers for everything, but most especially for your encouragement and your willingness to go out there and fight the good fight. So, that being the case, I've spend the last several weeks looking for bloggers who are fairly active, and best represent something akin to the way I think and what I believe.  I recommend the following blogs for my readers to bookmark and check on regularly. Pick one as your favourite, or pick them all. They are all great..... In His Majesty's Service, THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT

Monday, August 15, 2011

The American Iliad

The Battle of Wilson's Creek
Historical Reenactment

THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: At the recommendation of a local friend I decided to attend the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Wilson's Creek in Southwest Missouri. I was a bit hesitant at first for fear that the production might not do honor to the men who courageously gave their lives just a few miles from where I live. I had heard about previous attempted battle reenactments, and they didn't sound too appealing. This time however, it was different, and because it was different, something magical happened here in Southwest Missouri.

Reenactors dressed in period costume
The 150th anniversary was a special occasion to be remembered, and so the private fields were donated adjacent to the landmark battlefield site, and the professional Civil War reenactors were brought in from all over the country. A tent city was erected with crafts, refreshments and souvenir vendors. Both Union and Confederate camps were set up down by the creek and the reenactors stayed in character for anyone who wished to browse through their tents. Conversation with these folks was amusing. Upon entering the Union camp I was promptly asked to discard the "separatists flags" we had purchased upon entering the attraction. (We had bought some small "Stars and Bars" along with the "Missouri Battle Flag.") While a high-ranking Union officer was discussing the strategies of war with us, a lower ranking officer interrupted the conversation with the report that Washington City was broke and could not send new provisions at this time. At which point one of the nearby spectators yelled "Well, I see nothing has changed!" causing the reenactors to break character for a moment to share a good laugh with the crowd.

An 1860s blacksmith
demonstrates his skills
while Union troops train for
battle in the background.
The battle reenactments were superb, as men of all ages (some old and some just boys 12 and up) engaged in marching and flanking maneuvers not used by American soldiers in over a hundred years. The battle was condensed to about an hour in length for the purpose of not keeping the spectators in the sun too long, but they duplicated the Battle of Wilson's Creek for the most part, and as best as could be expected with the limited space of just 20 acres. What really made the whole event extra special was the celebration of the life and times of the people who lived during that era. The tent city offered more attractions than just historical warfare, as it delved into the culture and lifestyle of the people who lived in Southwest Missouri at that time. There was everything from an officer's ball to a gentleman's duel. Music from the period echoed throughout the valley, and people from all over came dressed in vintage apparel. Southern Belles could be seen walking down the country paths, arm in arm with their soldier beaus. Little girls chased each other down the main walkway, dressed in clothing similar to what one might see in an episode of "Little House on the Prairie." Little boys, looking a lot like Huckleberry Finn, were playing marbles and tossing horse shoes. Of course, my own kids (dressed quite modern) joined in the festivities right along with them. For a moment, just three days total, visitors to Wilson's Creek were transported to another time in this same place. There was a connection to our past, our history, our people and our culture.

Beautiful Wilson's Creek
Southwest Missouri
What was so striking about the whole affair was how unabashedly Christian the atmosphere was. The reenactors did such a good job playing the role of people during this period, that it wasn't long before the manners of Christendom's remnant began to rub off on the rest of us. Within just minutes of arriving we found ourselves addressing each other as "sir" and "ma'am," as we gentlemen began lifting our hats off to the ladies almost instinctively. It was a strange phenomenon, but a pleasant surprise. Of course, Southwest Missouri is already a militantly Christian part of the country, steeped in Baptist Evangelicalism and rigid Pentecostalism. The manners of Christendom's remnant disappeared from this area only about two decades ago, but they quickly resurfaced once exposed to this Wilson's Creek reenactment. Those manners may now be gone from everyday sight, but they are not gone from recent memory -- not yet anyway. Given the right atmosphere they can, and do, resurface. Of course country and celtic gospel music from the 1860s filled the air as well, and this only served to solidify the atmosphere of Christendom's remnant. I cannot begin to relate the feelings one has when events like this are put on with such dignity. As a man of Southern heritage, I could almost feel my eyes welling up with tears at times, but couldn't keep the smile off my face. Two of my ancestors were near this area at the time of the original battle, one fighting for the North and the other fighting for the South. The 150th Anniversary of the Battle at Wilson's Creek was in no way a glorification of death, but rather a celebration of life, as those who contributed honored the people of the time and the legacy they left behind. I was humbled to share a small part in it.

The Missouri Battle Flag
Confederate Christian Colors
Of course this whole affair would be just a footnote in history without the original battle a century and a half ago. Had the Battle of Wilson's Creek never happened, there would be no reenactment here, and nothing in particular to remember. We cannot do full honor to the brave men who gave their lives at Wilson's Creek, on both sides, without remembering what they were fighting for. As a man of Southern heritage, I do admit to bias, but I think it is well reasoned bias and fairly dispassionate. It is a bias not based on my maternal heritage, but on deep Christian ideology which my father's Union heritage could not argue with. The whole story of America is an iliad really, a long narrative of a series of disastrous events, tied together by a common theme that should make every Christian tremble. That iliad begins with the events leading up to 1776. The English colonists had suffered at the hands of a Protestant king who forgot the medieval Christian principle of subsidiarity. He was attempting to micromanage the English colonies in North America, and in doing so he levied taxes upon them which were unheard of for that time. He had also made war upon the Catholic king of France, causing the French to incite Native Americans into acts of violence against the English colonists. The list of abuses goes on and on and you can read about them in America's Declaration of Independence. The colonists had good reason to be angry with King George III of England, and so these mostly Protestant farmers allied with the Catholic king of France (Louis XVI) to overthrow the rule of their own Protestant king over the colonies. Thus the United States of America was born.

This is an original Portrait of the Battle of Wilson's Creek,
credited with being the bloodiest battle in the Civil War,
where the first Union general was killed. In this painting
is featured Confederate troops from Arkansas and the Missouri
State Guard. You will notice the original Confederate flag,
the "Stars and Bars" (1860-1863) looked strikingly similar
to the American Union flag "Stars and Stripes."
For all the talk of "freedom" and "independence" and "liberty," these words have little meaning outside of the context in which they were uttered by America's founding fathers. Though the word was not in wide use at the time, "subsidiarity" perfectly describes the principle upon which the American War of Independence was fought, and upon which the original Articles of Confederation were founded. The American colonists believed that power rests principally among the people first, and that government should be focused primarily at the local level with "grassroots" organization. Then as one moves further up the chain of government, from the city municipality, to the county, to the state, and so on; the role of each should be progressively less as the higher forms of government take a subsidiary role to the lower forms. The idea here is that higher forms of government only perform those functions that lower forms of local government cannot perform on their own, focusing primarily upon coordinating efforts between local governments rather than usurping them. The problem with King George III is that he was doing the exact opposite, attempting to micromanage the colonies from the top down, and in doing so he (perhaps unwittingly) became a tyrant to these same colonists. Shortly after the American War of Independence, (which was remarkably different from the French Revolution that occurred later), the founding fathers called for a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The idea was to tweak and streamline the Articles of Confederation the states were using as a national constitution at the time. Some of the delegates to this convention had other plans. Shortly after opening the convention, the Articles of Confederation were scrapped, and the delegates began drawing up a whole new Constitution of the United States of America. Two groups emerged in the convention -- the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. The Federalists pushed for a strong central governing republic. The Anti-Federalists warned that by centralizing federal powers, the republic risked becoming just as much of a tyrant as King George III. As Daniel Bliss of Concord said prior to the American War of Independence: "Better to live under one tyrant a thousand miles away, than a thousand tyrants one mile away." In the end, the warnings of Bliss went unheeded, the Federalists won the day, and the new Constitution was ratified by all independent thirteen states.

This "tent city" stood just outside the
battlefield site, on the other side of
Wilson's Creek. Here spectators could
participate in period crafts, watch productions
of period plays, listen to period music, and enjoy
period food. The city was populated by vendors
dressed in 1860s period costumes.
The American Civil War (1861-1865) is inappropriately named. The official name of the war in the Congressional record is called the "War of the Rebellion." To people who live in the states that seceded from the Union during that time, all the way up to today (my own state of Missouri included), the war is affectionately referred to as the "War of Southern Independence" or more vindictively at times called the "War of Northern Aggression." While the term "Civil War" is the most widely accepted term (perhaps because nobody can agree on what it should be called), it really wasn't a civil war by definition. A civil war, by definition, is when two factions fight to gain control of one government. That is not what happened in 1861-1865. What happened in this case was a war of secession, where one group of people fought for political independence from a larger (more powerful) nation. In essence, the "War of Southern Independence" was identical to the "American War of Independence." In both cases, thirteen states fought for independence from a larger imperial power. In the case of the "American War of Independence" (1776-1783) the rebels won. In the case of the "War of Southern Independence" (1861-1865) the rebels lost. The similarities between these wars are uncanny.

In the case of the "War of Southern Independence" what unfolded was the physical consequences of the Anti-Federalists' warnings unheeded. This was the direct cause of the so-called American "Civil War." Contrary to popular folklore, slavery was not the cause of Southern secession, but it was however the hot-button social issue of the day, much in the same way abortion and same-sex marriage are now. Because of the charged political environment at the time, the issue of slavery factored into every corner of political life. Truth be told, the whole United States of America, from North to South, was a "slave economy" at the time. While most Northern states had banned institutionalized slavery by the time of the War, the banks in these states still used slaves as collateral in securing loans to Southern farmers. In other words, if you were a farmer in the South, and you needed a loan, about the only way you could get one was from a Northern bank. Those banks considered Southern land "worthless" because of the intense humidity and disease carrying mosquitoes in the summer months. Therefore a Southern farmer couldn't use his land to secure the loan. The only thing the Northern banks would use as collateral was farm equipment and slaves. So while the farmers in the South used their slaves as farm hands, it was the banks in the North that actually owned them. For if ever the farmer couldn't make his mortgage payments, his slave holdings and farm equipment would be foreclosed, causing the banks to auction them to the highest bidder. Foreclosed slave holdings were usually shipped down the Mississippi River for auction, hence the term "sold down the river." When the Southern states initially seceded, the Northern banks and newspapers were indifferent, that is, until they realized that secession might prohibit banks from foreclosing on mortgages down South. It was at that time the banks pressured the Lincoln administration to retake the Southern states, by force if necessary. It was a classic case of big business influencing government for their own material gain. The rest is history. In the end however, the South had the last laugh, well sort of. After the war, Northern banks began to foreclose on slave holdings in the South because Southerners hadn't paid their mortgages in almost four years! (It was the consequence of war you see.) So as they began to foreclose on Southern slave holdings, as "uncles" and "aunties" were about to be deported to Cuba for auction, the abolitionists in the U.S. Congress put forward the 13th Amendment, which if ratified by the states would free all the slaves in the entire Union and U.S. territories included. So guess which states ratified it first? You guessed it! The Southern states ratified it even before most Northern states! This prevented the Northern banks from robbing Southern families of friends they had known for years and deporting them to another country for auction. Thus the slaves were free, the Northern banks were screwed, and the defeated Confederates got the last laugh -- for a while. That is until the passage of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which gave the North the power to forbid all Southern gentlemen from public office and put into effect a military occupation of the South that would last for decades. It was dubiously called "Reconstruction."

Of course the question begs to be asked; why did the Southern States secede in the first place? We could go into a whole host of reasons, much of it related to taxes, particularly the Morrill Tariff of 1861, but in the end what it really came down to ideologically was the principle of subsidiarity. The federal government was imposing taxes that severely hurt the Southern economy, and this was being done without the consent of the Southern states. While the Morrill Tariff itself was not passed until 1861, largely because of the exodus of Southern congressmen from Washington City, the precursors that led up to it were in play for about 20 years prior to the War. Southern congressmen found themselves constantly battling Northern attempts to raise tariffs in such a way that would hurt the South. Of course the issue of slavery became a vindictive excuse for Northern politicians to justify their unfair positions on trade and commerce. The South had had enough, so to speak, and saw in the election of Abraham Lincoln the stooge these Northern politicians needed to finally "stick it to the South" and raise the tariffs. The federal government was becoming an "empire" on par with what King George III did to the original American colonists just a generation prior. Recognizing that the principle of subsidiarity had been lost in Washington City, and evoking "states rights," the Southern states began their secession from the Union, one by one, until thirteen in total comprised the Confederate States of America. Two states, Missouri and Kentucky, were forced into the Confederacy by circumstance, after Union generals attacked them after they originally voted to stay within the Union.

Pope Pius IX who declared the dogma
of the Immaculate Conception and
authored the 'Syllabus of Errors'
As an interesting footnote to the whole ordeal, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, along with Confederate General Robert E. Lee, forged an interesting (though unofficial) alliance with just one European monarch. His name was Pope Pius IX. While the Vatican could do nothing to physically aid the Confederacy during her time of need, and indeed sought peace above all things, we can gather from Pope Pius' letters to President Davis that the South was aided by the prayers of the Supreme Pontiff. The Holy Father acknowledged the legitimacy of the Confederacy, as a separate in independent nation, at least on a personal level, by acknowledging Davis is her "Honorable President." Of course the question begs to be asked -- why? Anything we say on that is just theory, for none of us can get into the mind of Pius IX. Based however, on what we do know of the man, we can make educated guesses. The first thing we can gather is that the Holy Father may have had sympathies for the South simply because he saw in Southern culture a remnant of medieval Christendom, wherein women were honored and liberal modernism was abhorred. That's one possible explanation, but not the only one. A second possible explanation is the cause upon which the South was fighting to begin with, which was states-rights, hearkening to the Christian principle of subsidiarity, a principle championed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Lastly, we could say a third possible explanation was simply that the South was fighting for it's survival with no intention of conquest over Northern states, while it was clear from both strategic models and political rhetoric, that the North was fighting specifically for conquest of the Southern states. In other words, the South was fighting a defensive war, while the North was fighting a war of conquest. Thus the South was in line with St. Thomas Aquinas' "Just War" theory while the North was in direct opposition to it. While it may have been just one of these reasons, or some combination of all three, the only thing we know is that Pope Pius IX wrote a very cordial letter to President Jefferson Davis, and later sent an autographed picture of himself. He did not do this for President Abraham Lincoln. Furthermore, it would appear that Pope Pius IX may not have been too fond of President Lincoln either, especially after Lincoln tried to influence the pope on ecclesiastic matters by writing a letter to the Holy Father, requesting him to elevate New York Archbishop John McCloskey to the college of cardinals. Pope Pius IX refused Lincoln's request.

The exchange between President Jefferson Davis and Pope Pius IX is recorded in "A Memoir of Jefferson Davis" completed (in two volumes) by his wife Varina Davis after his death...
Letter to the Pope from Jefferson Davis

RICHMOND, September 23, 1863.

The letters which you have written to the clergy of New Orleans and New York have been communicated to me, and I have read with emotion the deep grief therein expressed for the ruin and devastation caused by the war which is now being waged by the United States against the States and people which have selected me as their President, and your orders to your clergy to exhort the people to peace and charity. I am deeply sensible of the Christian charity which has impelled you to this reiterated appeal to the clergy. It is for this reason that I feel it my duty to express personally, and in the name of the Confederate States, our gratitude for such sentiments of Christian good feeling and love, and to assure Your Holiness that the people, threatened even on their own hearths with the most cruel oppression and terrible carnage, is desirous now, as it has always been, to see the end of this impious war; that we have ever addressed prayers to Heaven for that issue which Your Holiness now desires; that we desire none of our enemy's possessions, but that we fight merely to resist the devastation of our country and the shedding of our best blood, and to force them to let us live in peace under the protection of our own institutions, and under our laws, which not only insure to every one the enjoyment of his temporal rights, but also the free exercise of his religion. I pray Your Holiness to accept, on the part of myself and the people of the Confederate States, our sincere thanks for your efforts in favor of peace. May the Lord preserve the days of Your Holiness, and keep you under His divine protection.


The Pope's Reply

We have just received with all suitable welcome the persons sent by you to place in our hands your letter, dated 23d of September last. Not slight was the pleasure we experienced when we learned, from those persons and the letter, with what feelings of joy and gratitude you were animated, illustrious and honorable President, as soon as you were informed of our letters to our venerable brother John, Archbishop of New York, and John, Archbishop of New Orleans, dated the 18th of October of last year, and in which we have with all our strength excited and exhorted those venerable brothers that, in their episcopal piety and solicitude, they should endeavor, with the most ardent zeal, and in our name, to bring about the end of the fatal civil war which has broken out in those countries, in order that the American people may obtain peace and concord, and dwell charitably together. It is particularly agreeable to us to see that you, illustrious and honorable President, and your people, are animated with the same desires of peace and tranquility which we have in our letters inculcated upon our venerable brothers. May it please God at the same time to make the other peoples of America and their rulers, reflecting seriously how terrible is civil war, and what calamities it engenders, listen to the inspirations of a calmer spirit, and adopt resolutely the part of peace. As for us, we shall not cease to offer up the most fervent prayers to God Almighty, that He may pour out upon all the people of America the spirit of peace and charity, and that He will stop the great evils which afflict them. We, at the same time, beseech the God of pity to shed abroad upon you the light of His grace, and attach you to us by a perfect friendship.

Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, the 3d of December, 1863, of our Pontificate 18.
(Signed) "PIUS IX." 

In the end we all know what happened. The South lost the war, and none of us can ever know if that was a good or bad thing, because none of us can predict what would have happened had the war gone the other way. Nevertheless, the Confederacy had a motto, which was officially stamped on it's national seal. It reads in Latin Deo Vindice which means "God will vindicate." Above the motto is a depiction of General George Washington (a native Virginian) riding on horseback. The image, along with the motto, sends a very clear message. The South was fighting for the same cause as George Washington and all the Founding Fathers during the American War of Independence. From the Southern perspective, the struggle was the exactly the same.

The Missouri battle flag, featuring the Roman cross,
identifies General John Bowen's Missouri Brigade, who
fought in this reenactment of the Battle of Champion Hill.
One-hundred and fifty years have passed now from those fateful days in 1861. In that time we have seen the warnings of the Confederates all become a part of our regular everyday life. We have a massive federal government that is bloated beyond anything the South or the North could have imagined in 1861. It rules by the "tyranny of relativism" as religion must retreat wherever the government advances, and as of late, the government is advancing everywhere! The examples of its violations against both state and individual rights are egregious as they are numerous. It has saddled our children with a national debt of over $14 trillion, a debt they can never repay, and has left our national credit rating downgraded. Is there anyone left in America who can honestly say with a straight face that the South was wrong? Is there anyone left in America who can honestly say that God hasn't already vindicated the South? Indeed, God already has vindicated the South, not by war or military revenge. No. The definition of the word "vindicate" means to free from allocation of blame, or to provide justification. The Confederate motto of Deo Vindice has nothing to do with the revenge of the South, and everything to do with showing that the South was right in its claims against the federal government. For the federal government has become everything the South said it would, and more, beyond what anyone living in the period could have imagined. Indeed God has vindicated the South. Deo Vindice. Just look around.

2009 TEA Party Demonstration in Washington DC
So here we are, a century and a half later, and the struggle has not changed. From TEA Parties to Town Halls, from the fight over Obamacare to the credit downgrading Debt Deal, the struggle is the same. The federal government has trampled the rights of the states, and in doing so it has annihilated the freedom of the people. The Catholic Church has since defined the word SUBSIDIARITY and placed in plainly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church for all to read and learn. Sadly, very few Catholics have, and today anyway, most Evangelical Protestants do a better job defending this principle than Catholics. This in spite of the fact that few Protestants have ever even heard of the word and even fewer know it stands for the very thing they fight for in TEA Parties and other patriotic events around the nation. It is however an American Iliad, a long narrative of a series of disastrous events, tied together by a common theme. That common theme is the struggle for Subsidiarity against Tyranny, the rights of the States (and the people) against the Empire. It doesn't matter of that empire subsists in the crown of a man who lives on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, or the derbies of men who control the money on Wall Street and the lobbyists on K Street. It doesn't matter of that tyrant is an imperial monarchy or a federal republic. Whenever subsidiarity is denied, tyranny exists. The struggle for the former, and against the latter, is our American Iliad.