Friday, August 31, 2018

The Battle of Malvern Hill

This battle was fought on July 1, 1862. Few engagements ever fought had a more positive ultimate result from a negative outcome than did the Battle of Malvern Hill. This was the culminating engagement of the Seven Days Battles, during which Gen. Joe Johnson was wounded and General Robert E. Lee took command of the Confederate army. The battle was badly managed on the Southern side and resulted in a resounding Yankee victory. 

Lee was deeply disappointed in the outcome, and several commanders were reassigned. More importantly, the Army was reorganized into two Corps, commanded by Generals Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet, with Gen. Jeb Stuart commanding the cavalry. From that time until the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia was one of the most formidable fighting forces in the history of warfare. 

Second Bull Run (South was outnumbered 77M to 50M)
Antietam (outnumbered 87M to 38M)
Fredericksburg (outnumbered 122M to 78M)
Chancellorsville (outnumbered 133M to 60M)

These battles resulted in smashing victories for the South despite the overwhelming numerical odds, with the exception of Antietam, which was a tactical draw, although a strategic victory for the North, since it stopped the Southern movement into Maryland. Before the Battle of Antietam, of course, the North had accidentally come into possession of the Southern battle plans, and knew that Lee had divided his army and sent Gen. A. P. Hill to Harper's Ferry. 

At Chancellorsville, General Jackson was wounded (and later died), and Lee was forced once again to reorganize his army. It had some remarkable accomplishments after that time, but was never again quite the devastating force it had been while this quartet of generals were in harness together - which organization resulted from an embarrassing loss at Malvern Hill.

Peeking around corners

One of the things in the movies that has long amazed me is how dumb folks are to have cowboys peeking around corners or over barriers with their hats on. I mean, why not just hold out a red flag?! I can't imagine the oldtimers would have been that stupid, unless they were so accustomed to wearing the hat that they just forgot about it. More likely the movie director forgot about it.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The old Third Arkansas

          "Bennie came toward them. "That yelling of his scairt even me," he said. "What was it, Jesse?"
          Jesse shambled back toward them, trailing his deadly rifle and bayonet. "Rebel yell," he said quietly. "Ol' Grandpa Suggs, he was my mother's pappy, taught me it. He was with the ol' Third Arkansas during the Wah Between the States. Part of Hood's original brigade, they was. 'Hood's Texans,' they called 'em. Only Arkansas regiment in the brigade was the ol' Third Arkansas."

This quote is from The Cold Seas Beyond, by Gordon Shirreffs. The Third Arkansas was perhaps the best-known fighting unit from Arkansas during the War. My own great-grandfather and his brother served in it. The regiment was positioned in the critical position during the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American military history.

Incidentally, this book and the others in this series by Shirreffs are excellent adventure novels for teenage boys.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Standing a tough watch

It was morale-shaking to stand guard in that creeping fog and piercing cold, staring into the drifting opaqueness with red-rimmed eyes, watching and waiting, listening to every sound that might carry about the incessant drumming of the seas on that forgotten coast. Time became a dawdling sluggard.

(from The Cold Seas Beyond, by Gordon Shirreffs)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A good description of war

He was cold and he was wet and his nerves were held together with string and bailing wire. He knew now that war was less of glory than it was of sheer nerve and patience for the vast majority of servicemen, and that a man had to go on no matter how tired and frightened he was.

(from The Cold Seas Beyond, by Gordon Shirreffs)

Monday, August 27, 2018

Nauseating atmosphere

One of the smells that I really have trouble with is that of grease. We have these little suet blocks that we put out for the birds, and the other day I was thinking that I absolutely would not want to work in the factory that makes those things. I don't know if I could stand it or not - being immersed in a greasy smell all day every day.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Just plain spooky

The cove and the area around it seemed deserted and far from any living human creatures other than the crew itself. But always in those islands, in peace or war, there was the uncanny feeling, experienced by those who have spent time there, that there is something in the fog. Something . . .

(from The Cold Seas Beyond, by Gordon Shirreffs)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

I had to look up this one

From Gordon Shirreffs' novel The Cold Seas Beyond, we find this description of a long-abandoned vessel: "An evil type of cold, malignant and foul with the concentrated mephitic odors of years of improper ventilation." Mephitic means "foul-smelling or noxious."

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Think he couldn't act?

Walter Brennan was perhaps the prototypical character actor. Even when he was a younger man he was portraying crusty types that seemed to be a lot older than they were. My generation remembers him as Grandpa Amos on The Real McCoys television show.

But could he really act? I guess so! He won three Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (the most by anyone so far), and was nominated another time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Graphic description of a ship in a storm

"Otter shuddered and pitched, wallowed and swayed, rose and fell in a mad rigadoon danced to the eldritch cacophony of the wind The sea and wind were striking to disable, then maim, then kill. There would be no quarter given that wild night."

(from The Cold Seas Beyond, by Gordon G. Shirreffs)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Skilled workmen

"There are proud ones who look with disdain upon a man who works with his hands. Do not do so. It is not every man who can shape a timber or build a bridge or ship. Work with honor, my son, and build with beauty and strength."

(from Rivers West, by Louis L'Amour)

Monday, August 20, 2018


"Reiterate" is really a redundancy. Iterate means to "to say or perform again." Unless you actually mean "to repeat again," then saying "re-iterate" is unnecessary.

(From the Future Perfect website)
Many dictionaries are now listing both of these words. The form ‘reiterate’ is most commonly heard in everyday speech, but crept into the language through what’s known as hypercorrection: correcting something which is already right.
‘Iterate’, on its own, already means ‘to say or perform again/repeat something’. However, many people do not know this, so they add ‘re’ to the word, thinking that this will give the ‘again’ element.


  • ‘He iterated his point.’ NOT ‘He reiterated his point.’
So, you would use ‘reiterate’ only if you actually were iterating again, for a second/third time!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

A civics lesson in a capsule

"You must remember, my friend, that if we leave the governing to others, then others will govern, and possibly not as we would like. In a country such as this, none of us is free from responsibility."

(from Rivers West, by Louis L'Amour)

No previous experience at it

          He felt his knees weakening and he let go the rifle to get a better grip on the door jamb, but his fingers lacked the strength and he slid to the floor. Somebody was crying and somebody else was shooting, and far off he could hear the pound of racing hoofs. They kept pounding until their racing seemed to be inside his skull.
          And then he was dead . . . or he felt like it. Never having been dead, he might have been mistaken.

(from Fallon, by Louis L'Amour)

Saturday, August 18, 2018

How they became gunfighters

Gunfighters were created by circumstances, not by deliberate choice. Once they had the reputation, they often worked hard to become better at it, but that was simply self-preservation. Nobody in his right mind wanted the name of a gunman.

In a country where all men wore guns and where it was the accepted manner of settling disputes, a few were sure to be gifted with a little more skill, a little more nervy, and surviving, they became know as gunfighters.

(from Fallon, by Louis L'Amour)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Slightly adjusted qualifications

Then I walked back to the cowhand who held my rifle and gunbelt. He handed them to me. "Thanks, I said, and then I looked at him again. "You working, or rustling work?"

"You hiring?"

"I want a man who can ride handle cattle and fight if need be."

"Well," he said, "I can fight and ride and handle cattle if need be. That suit you?"

"You just went to work," I said.

(from Chancy, by Louis L'Amour)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Fair dinkum

"Fair dinkum" is a common Australian term that emphasizes the legitimacy of fairness of a thing or a situation. "Honesty" and "fair play" would be rough synonyms.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Listen, and learn

"No man likes to think of all he has learned going up like the smoke of a fire, to be lost in the vastness of sky and cloud. Pa wanted to share it with us, to give us what he learned, and I listened well, them days, and I learned a sight more than I guessed." (from Treasure Mountain, by Louis L'Amour)

Louis pretty well summed up the difference between a wise son and a foolish one: the wise one listens and learns.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Watch out for lawyers and doctors - with guns

Now they weren't from the western lands, they were river men, mean as all get-out, but they didn't know Orrin. They'd been told they were to kill a lawyer . . . now there's lawyers and there's lawyers.

Just like there was a dentist named Doc Holiday.

(from Treasure Mountain, by Louis L'Amour)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Widgeon Seven

Characters in Wodehouse novels occasionally drove automobiles called the Widgeon Seven. Since they are not common these days, I thought you might enjoy knowing what it looked like.

She didn't much care for the lad

Tubby, she reminded herself, was just a half-wit, if that, and no girl of intelligence would allow herself to regard any observations which he might make as anything but the crackling of thorns beneath the pot. She did not intend to give another thought to his idiotic droolings. Her conversation with him as just an unpleasant incident of the past, to be buried away and forgotten, like mumps and the time when she had been sick at the children's party.

(from Summer Moonshine, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Did the jar just get too full?

Bach and Beethoven lived a long time ago, but you still hear their music. The same for Puccini, Monteverdi, Brahms, Stravinsky, etc., etc. The list of good compositions does not shrink, but keeps on going. Pity the poor "great composer" who comes along today. How do you get your work heard in an ever-increasingly crowded market? And the same no doubt applies to the other art forms. It is tough to compete against all-time greats. Athletes do not have the problem, because Babe Ruth's performances cannot be repeated.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Ah, wonderful quiet!

Left alone, Lord Emsworth sat for a while savouring that delicious sense of peace which comes to men of quiet tastes when their womenfolk have had their say and departed.

(from Pigs Have Wings, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Tom Conway - he drank himself to death

Tom Conway (brother of George Sanders) is one of our favorite actors. He followed two impossible-to-follow acts in a very creditable manner: Basil Rathbone as the radio Sherlock Holmes, and Sanders as The Falcon in the movie series. However, he died of cirrhosis of the liver, flat broke, after having been discovered a couple of years previously in a $2-a-day flophouse in Los Angeles.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Smells are attached to memories

"It was like most country stores, smelling of everything that was in it - good, rich, wonderful smells of new leather, fresh-ground coffee, cured hams and bacon, spices, and the like." (from Treasure Mountain, by Louis L'Amour)

I have often noted how odors key memories. A certain perfume. Mint in a flower bed. That rich smell of the creek bottoms. Prince Albert pipe tobacco. Burning pine knots. I could go on and on.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

A strange contest

"Speaking of duels," Orrin said, "as the challenged party I would have the choice of weapons. A few years ago there was a member of the legislature down here who was seven feet tall - he'd been a blacksmith or something. He was challenged by a famous duelist who was much shorter. The big man did not want to fight, thought it useless, so he accepted the challenged and suggested sledgehammers, in six feet of water."

(from Treasure Mountain, by Louis L'amour)

Saturday, August 04, 2018

A natural politician

Orrin was a man easy to notice and easy to remember. He never made it a point to be nice to folks - he just was. It was him. He was polite to everyone, a man folks talked to mighty easy, a man with a pleasant way about him, who would sooner avoid trouble than have it. He could put you off guard and turn a conversation from trouble into casual talk better than anybody I ever knew.

(from Treasure Mountain, by Louis L'Amour)

Friday, August 03, 2018

Were they all "Doc"?

I grew up watching the old Combat! television series. My Dad really liked it. One of the main characters in the show was the medic, nicknamed "Doc" by the squad. It was a natural nickname, just like "Tex" or "Lefty." However, it raises the question of whether or not most medics in the service were likewise called by that nickname. Not having been there, I could not say.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Not a good frame of mind

The meditations of a man who has recently proposed to and been accepted by a girl, some inches taller than himself, for whom he entertains no warmer sentiment than a casual feeling that, take her for all in all, she isn't a bag sort of egg, must of necessity tend towards the somber: and the surroundings in which Ronnie had spent the latter part of the afternoon had not been of a kind to encourage optimism. At the moment when the skies suddenly burst asunder and the world became a shower-bath, he had been walking along the path that skirted the wall of the kitchen-garden: and the only shelter that offered itself was a gloomy cave or dug-out that led to the heating apparatus of the hothouses. Into this he had dived like a homing rabbit, and here, sitting on a heap o bricks, he ahd remained for the space of fifty minutes with no company but one small green frog and his thoughts.

(from Summer Lightning, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Is he middle-aged flabby?

Brad: Look Joan, I'm not in quite as bad shape as you seem to think.

Joan: Oh no? I saw you brushing your teeth this morning. You got so winded you had to rest before you could gargle.

(from the I Married Joan television program)

Knocked him for a loop

Let it rain, was Hugo's verdict. Let it jolly well rain as much as it dashed well wanted to. As if encouraged, the sky sent down a fat, wet drop which insinuated itself just between his neck and collar.

He hardly noticed it. The information confided to him by his friend Ronald Fish had numbed his senses so thoroughly that water down the back of the neck was merely an incident. He was feeling as he had not felt since the evening some yeas ago when, boxing for his University in the light-weight division, he had incautiously placed the point of his jaw in the exact spot at the moment occupied by his opponent's right fist. When you have done this or - equally - when you have just been told that the girl you love is definitely betrothed to another, you begin to understand how Anarchists must feel when the bomb goes off too soon.

(from Summer Lightning, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)