Having a student teacher in the fall has its advantages. I spent a lot of time watching her try new things and doing different type of lessons. During the Civil War unit, she made the students hard tack. She was very good and will make a good teacher wherever she goes. During many of her lessons I would be surfing on a tablet for new things to use in the classroom to reinvigorate me, the lessons and, ultimately, the students. In early November, I took my little history club over to Cantigny in Wheaton, Illinois, where they have the museum for the US Army First Division. While on the website booking the trip I came across some great resources. I immediately downloaded the pdf files and began cherry picking what I could use. Once I came across these resources, I knew I was onto to redoing how I teach DDay.
I am one of those teachers who doesn’t teach the same way every year, or should I say as I did when I started teaching. Technology, mainly the Internet, has changed a lot of that. Just using Google allows me to access historical sites, pictures, journals, and maps from repositories all over the world. What once was the sole bastion of scholars who visited libraries and museums is now available at the click of a finger.
Before this great adventure, I had done all kinds of different approaches to teaching about the world’s greatest invasion. I has shown parts of “Band of Brothers,” used maps, scenarios, photograph analysis, Eisenhower’s DDay Letter, and/or simulations. That lesson was usually one day long. But I wanted to make it was unique and something they wouldn’t forget after the test. So, I began to restructure the lesson. Some elements remain from past lessons, and some new elements were created. This lesson should take three days to do this week. Key word is should – it might take four…..or five.
It all begins by connecting what they learned with what they are going to learn. So, to connect their learning, I use a cartoon.
This is by Dr. Seuss. The students have already seen several cartoons by Dr. Seuss about World War II, but this cartoon is about the ramifications from the Battle of Stalingrad which they just learned about the day before. When teaching cartoons, some kids struggle with the symbolism, but they can at least identify objects, actions, and words in the cartoon. Once the basics are established, I go for three higher order/critical thinking questions:
- Which words are of most importance?
- Predict what you think will happen when Winter sits up
- Why does that matter?
The students must think about the implications of winter ending and what Hitler will do and what the US (you and me) will do, too.
After that discussion, I go into a few notes and pictures on Fortress Europa, the Atlantic Wall, Italy, the Battle of Kursk in 1943. That should take about 7-10 minutes. The emphasis is on opening up a second front in Europe. Once 1944, comes, I shift gears and segue into a scenario about where to invade in France to open up a second front and create a German sandwich. The students will get a map, some descriptions of the four places. They are to then in small groups make a chart that analyzes the positives and negatives about each place.
The choices will be Dieppe, Calais, Cherbourg, and Havre.
As a class we will then go over the columns and select one landing spot and then I will spill the beans about what the choice was.
Every time I teach a new lesson, you would think that after 20+ years, I would know how long things are going to take. I do, but when it comes to the interest the students show by asking questions, I never know. Some classes don’t ask many questions, others ask a lot. I hope that by this time, the lesson should be 30 minutes in. The lesson turns again when I will ask one simple question, “How do you hide the largest invasion force in history?” The students had previously learned that the Germans did have spies in Britain during the Battle of Britain and the British were masters of deception during the Battle of El Alamein. Students then will be asked to come up with some strategies about how to deceive the German spies in Britain and those listening on BBC radio across the English Channel in northeastern France. Once the students put forth their deceptive answers, I will show them some pictures and some information on Operation Fortitude – the plan for deceiving German Intelligence.
Day one ends (I hope) with me putting a nice ribbon and bow on everything by tying all three parts of the lesson together – the cartoon, the chart, and the deception. The students then get a worksheet about DDay that examines some cartoons that were published just before the invasion.
This day begins by quickly reviewing the previous days events and then examine 2 letters. The first comes a surprise. It is the letter that Eisenhower wrote in case DDay failed.
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault is attached to the attempt it is mine alone.”
We will discuss why this letter was written. We will also discuss their reactions to reading it, and finally, we will discuss why it never saw the light of day.
Moving on, the students then read Ike’s letter to the troops. They then answer four questions about it.
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have
striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The
hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.
In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well
equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of
1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!
I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!
Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
SIGNED: Dwight D. Eisenhower
1. Underline the ten keys words in the letter.
2. What events had taken place before the letter?
3. Why did he the write letter?
4. What might have happened after?
We discuss word choice and other possible words. The highlight of the four day lesson comes next to me. I hand out a packet of pictures that has artifacts that the soldiers used to survive the invasion. Students guess for what each artifact was used.
I do not tell them what they are or how they were used. We discuss their possible uses and it is a great activity as students should get pretty creative with their answers (I do something similar in the Civil War but about life in camp). They now have to figure out what the artifacts were used for by watching an educational film from the Discovery Channel called “Surviving DDay.” For the last 15 minutes of Day Two, we begin watching the film. Students are to identify artifacts in the movie and write down how they helped the soldiers survive. The students get a map worksheet for their assignment.
The third day begins by using resources from Cantigny (mentioned above) that include some journals/diaries by soldiers. We read one today and another one on Day Four. This will give a glimpse into the struggles the soldiers faced and how they had to problem solve on the beaches. After the discussion, we resume the video.
At several points during the film, we will stop and discuss certain artifacts and their implications on survival. Students will also have time to pair and share information every fifteen minutes during the film (I don’t like to make them sit there – who wants to do that?). This makes me think that four days may not be enough.
The second diary entry is read, discussed, and then students finish watching the video. The remaining time in class is spent making a pamphlet called “Surviving DDay” using the artifacts from the film. When the film concludes, I have a few notes on the implications of the invasion and how it fits in the context of the war, problem solving, and critical thinking. I hope that four days is enough. It is a lot of time to spend on one event but “more on less” is a philosophy I believe in. I hope this turns out to be an experience that they remember. It could be five days. If it is, I will adjust. I would be OK with that.
The other day in class, a student asked me why I became an historian. It was hard to answer. In fact, all I could come up with was, “I don’t think it was any one thing, but a series of events pushing me to becoming an historian.” And I think that it is different for every historian. Looking back at my life, five things influenced me into loving history: the context of my life, television, some wonderful professors, my family, and some great books and authors.
The Context of My Life
Being born in 1963, some of first memories are of the war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Beatles. Every day, my family would gather round the television at 5:30 p.m. to watch Walter Conkrite do the CBS Evening News. The images I saw still impact me today. I am a very visual teacher in that students examine a lot of images like political cartoons and images. For me, the images of Vietnam have been seared into my brain. They do not haunt me, but I will always remember the images I saw like “Napalm Girl,” “Shell Shocked-Soldier,” and Eddie Adams’ “The Assassination.” I introduce them to my students along with other images from that era including the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham, Bull Connor, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers. The era is ripe with stark images of the events.
Add in my own personal fascination with the Beatles, and everything about them. When older, I began researching them and finding out information about them. They were my favorite band up until I was a junior in high school. That fascination would continue when I began listening to Led Zeppelin, The Police, Rush, and Pearl Jam – my other favorite bands. I always researched every artist. I still do today. I dig into their past and find out who influenced them, why they picked up an instrument, and how they got in the record business. It is always interesting to me.
You wouldn’t think that TV as a medium would influence an historian in the pre-cable days, but the show I would always watch when I came home from school was “Hogan’s Heroes.” I know it sounds corny, but the truth of the matter is that I wanted to learn more about what was happening on each episode of “Hogan’s Heroes.” I would always use an encyclopedia to find out about something mentioned on Hogan’s Heroes whether it was the Gestapo or the city of Hamburg or some member of the Nazi hierarchy. It really piqued my interest in World War II. I remember there was a kid in my class named Larry Weaver whose dad served in World War II. His dad had brought back/mailed stuff from his service and I always thought those artifacts, including a Luger and a Nazi flag, were the coolest things!
When I went to college in 1982 to Western Illinois University, I had the great honor of learning under Larry Balsamo and the late Darrel Dykstra. Both were quite different in their teaching styles and I think I liked that about them. Larry Balsamo was very energetic, always had a story to tell, and he loved the little details he found interesting that no one else did. His Civil War and Reconstruction class is my all-time favorite class. It was hard if you had Larry not to love history because he did so much.
Darrel Dykstra was the opposite of Larry Balsamo. He was quiet, reserved, and meticulous when I learned about Middle East History. His attention to detail and material were some of my favorite of college including a book we had to read called “Guests of the Sheik.”
Fifteen years later, I had the pleasure of taking a class in grad school at NIU with the late Jordan Schwarz. Dr. Schwarz was a huge Cubs fan, but he taught me a lot about writing history. After the class ended, I played golf with him several times and all we talked about was the Cubs…nothing else. I have enough Andy Pafko stories to last me a lifetime.
Another professor who had a huge impact on my career was Bruce Field, now at South Carolina. Bruce engaged me to write the proper lesson plan (he would later speak at my wedding as he was friends with my wife before I met my wife). Later, Carla Shaw of NIU tapped into my creative side to get me to create my own teaching models/style for history. She had a huge influence on how I teach. Later, she would be my initial doctoral adviser before her retirement. She Skyped into my oral defense. I was really touched.
My older brother Mark had some influence on me when it comes to being an historian. He is five and half years older but he always used to have models he constructed of the space program. There used to be models of a Saturn V rocket, the lunar lander and the capsules on his shelf. I found them so interesting. I tended to build model battleships/aircraft carriers. But when he left for college in 1976, I had the bedroom to myself and one of the first things I did was to research the space program including each astronaut and Apollo mission.
My parents probably had the biggest role in me becoming an historian. In the early 1970s, they bought a set of encyclopedias and a set of World Book Year Books. They would keep adding the Year Books until I graduated. I found them fascinating and even read them throughout college. Having moved several times in my youth and young adulthood, the yearbooks were like my best friends as I read them constantly to find out what happened before I had memories, and to gather more data about what events I did remember from my youth. As I sit here and watch some football, I also remember using the yearbooks to look back at who won sports championships in those years.
Books on History
Beginning when I was in 5th grade and through my late 40s, I read a lot. It was not until 8th grade that I read my first historically tinged book. It was in 8th grade history class with Kent Crear at Polo Junior High School that I read “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren and it was stunning! Today, it is still one of my favorite books of all time ( I never did see the Sean Penn movie as I thought there was no way it could match the book). I think the book that got me hooked on history was “Ordeal By Fire (1st Edition)” by James McPherson. I read it when I was junior in college (1984) and I found it totally fascinating. Up to that point in my life, I loved short stories, science fiction, and 19th century literature. From that point on, it was all history for the next few years (along with Science Fiction). Today, I like Doris Kearns Goodwin and her writing style, Michael Beschloss is good, too, along with John Eisenhower, and I can read about the New Deal by Jordan Schwarz anytime.
Thinking about it, I could add baseball cards, being a Cubs and Bears fan, but whatever I get interested in, I learn the history about it. I know these things are what made made me an historian, but what keeps me an historian are the students that I teach. I still enjoy learning about history and sharing it with them. I don’t really consider it teaching, just sharing what I enjoy about the past and how I found it and experience it. In the present, my wife and I rarely plan a vacation unless it involves a historical site or two. In fact, that is my plan for this summer. I plan on going down to Nauvoo to see some Mormon history, over to Hannibal for Mark Twain, and then on to Kansas City for some Negro League Museum stuff. It is who I am. It is what I do. It is what I enjoy.
“So we say — we always say in the Black Panther Party that they can do anything they want to to us. We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary. And you’re going to have to keep on saying that. You’re going to have to say that I am a proletariat, I am the people.” ~ Fred Hampton
Not many people today know who Fred Hampton was outside of Chicago. In 1969, not many knew either. At 21 years of age in 1969, Hampton and fellow Black Panther Mark Clark were assassinated by the Chicago Police Department and the FBI. The resulting investigation into their deaths would end careers but also shed light on the dirty tactics of J. Edgar Hoover and the cult of fear in white America surrounding the Black Panther Party.
The Black Panther Party did not begin in Illinois. It migrated there from California. Formed by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland in 1966, the original purpose of the party was to defend itself from police brutality and authority. Their ten point plan (see poster below) called for the taking back of neighborhoods through programs in the community. In White America, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was a cause for major concern as the party itself was an armed group. Photographs of armed black radicals caused the rise of fear in the public eye and in the halls of Washington, mainly the office of J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI. Hoover deemed the group too radical and went as far as calling them terrorists.
For Fred Hampton and many other black youth of the time period, the Black Panther Party attracted youth for their radical ideas of standing up to oppression in black communities. At this time, America was at war in Vietnam and here at home. The Civil Right movement that began in the south in the 1950s and early 1960s fought segregation. By the middle 1960s, the movement had come north but the goals were completely different. The movements in the South had fought for the extinction of the last vestiges of Jim Crow Laws. While in the North, unwritten forms of segregation were evident in housing, jobs, education, and opportunity.
Hampton grew up in Maywood, Illinois, and graduated with honors from Proviso East High School in 1966. He was a scholar and an athlete and dreamed of playing for the New York Yankees. In 1967, Hampton was arrested for allegedly robbing a Good Humor Ice Cream truck of $71. The case would take two years to get to trial.
In 1967 and 1968, Hampton was an organizer for the NAACP recruiting over 500 people to join the ranks. In addition, he tried to create more recreational areas for youth in the city. A pre-law major at Triton Junior College, Hampton was well aware of the brutality of the day as he and fellow NAACP would often follow police on their rounds to find instances of police brutality in the community. The non-violent structure of the NAACP was not enough for Hampton. He wanted something more.
In 1968, Fred Hampton joined the Black Panther Party. He rose quickly through the ranks. Hampton was a charismatic young leader. He was knowledgeable, well read, and commanded the microphone. He brokered peace deals between rival street gangs, and additionally coalesced several student and civil rights groups into what he called “the rainbow coalition” years before Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH.
In 1969, Hampton ascended to be the head of the Black Panther Party in Chicago. With that title came scrutiny from within Chicago and Washington. The FBI actually opened a file on Hampton beginning in 1967. By 1969, the file was 4000 pages long. But as a Panther, Hampton’s so called “radical” activities included: starting a People’s Medical Clinic, education classes, a free breakfast program, police oversight, and holding weekly rallies in the community to raise awareness and inform the public.
Throughout 1968 and 1969, leaders in this new era of the Civil Rights movement wound up either in dead or in jail. Some groups even fragmented. Hampton’s mentor, Bob Brown left to start a new group with Bobby Seale. Hampton knew his days as a free man were numbered. Hampton’s previous arrest from 1967 finally saw the inside of courtroom in May of 1969. He was found guilty and sentenced to 2-5 years. Hampton got out a $25,000 appeal bond.
Throughout 1969, confrontations between Chicago Police and the Black Panther Party grew with deaths on both sides. With urging from J. Edgar Hoover, the Chicago Police and the FBI stepped up their surveillance on Hampton, his new girlfriend, and their living arrangements. The FBI had grown tired of Hampton and saw him as a threat to stability. They got a warrant to search his apartment for weapons and were hoping to put him away on that charge since the burglary charge had not stuck yet. The FBI even had an informant, William O’Neal, infiltrate the organization. The night before the raid, O’Neal put a chemical substance into Hampton’s food and drink so that Hampton would be unconscious when the raid began in the morning.
December 4, 1969, the Chicago Police entered Hampton’s apartment expecting to find 20 Black Panther Party members in residence. Only Clark and Hampton were there. They were soon killed. The amount of fire power used to kill the two men was overwhelming and overpowering creating a bloodbath. State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan claimed that Hampton and Clark fired first citing two holes near a door as evidence. They later turned out to be nails.
Hampton’s girlfriend, Deborah Johnson, who was present, describes the carnage and how the raid took place
“Someone came into the room, started shaking the Chairman, said, “Chairman, Chairman, wake up. The pigs are vamping.” Still half asleep, I looked up, and I saw bullets coming from, it looked like, the front of the apartment, from the kitchen area. They were — pigs were just shooting.
And about this time, I jumped on top of the Chairman. He looked up. Looked like all the pigs had converged at the entranceway to the bedroom area, back bedroom area. The mattress was just going — you could feel bullets going into it. I just knew we’d be dead, everybody in there. When he looked up, just looked up, he didn’t say a word. He didn’t move, except for moving his head up. He laid his head back down, to the side like that. He never said a word. He never got up off the bed.
The person who was in the room, he kept hollering, “Stop shooting! Stop shooting! We have a pregnant woman, a pregnant sister in here!” At the time I was eight-and-a-half, nine months pregnant. My baby was to be delivered in two weeks. Pigs kept on shooting. So I kept on hollering out. Finally, they stopped.
They pushed me and the other brother by the kitchen door and told us to face the wall. Heard a pig say, “He’s barely alive. He’ll barely make it.” I assumed they were talking about Chairman Fred. Then they started shooting. The pigs, they started shooting again. I heard a sister scream. They stopped shooting. Pig said, “He’s good and dead now.” The pigs were running around laughing. They was really happy, you know, talking about Chairman Fred is dead. I never saw Chairman Fred again.”
The police claimed they were fired upon twice by the Black Panthers and as a result, used excessive force to “protect and defend” themselves.
In the community, cries of a coverup and a conspiracy began as soon as the news hit the street. Hanrahan claimed,
“The immediate, violent, criminal reaction of the occupants in shooting at announced police officers emphasizes the extreme viciousness of the Black Panther Party. So does their refusal to cease firing at the police officers when urged to do so several times.”
Hanrahan had been seen as an up and comer in the Daley Administration and the Democratic Party. His cover up of the investigation would result in the downfall of his political career and a Republican, in Chicago of all places, winning the next election for State’s Attorney. This newspaper article details some of the actions Hanrahan took in the cover up of the assassinations of Clark and Hampton.
No one was ever convicted for the crime of killing Hampton and Clark. In 1971, a raid in Pennsylvania on a FBI office there uncovered documents about O’Neal’s role in the assassination and the lengths the FBI went to in order to take Hampton. O’Neal later killed himself, despondent over his role in the assassinations.
In 1983, a civil suit ended with $1.8 million being awarded to the victim’s families.
Author and Hampton family lawyer Jeffery Haas states the assassination marked a turning point in politics between blacks and whites in Chicago:
Well, I think, for one thing, it marked the independence of the black political leaders in Chicago, who had, up until then, had been pretty much lackeys of the mayor and the Democratic machine. And a young congress — a young state senator named Harold Washington spoke out, and Danny Davis spoke out, and Jesse Jackson welcomed Bobby Rush. And all of a sudden you had an independent and much more progressive black political machine, or part of the machine, that was independent. And I think that group and white liberals were given credit for eventually electing Harold Washington mayor, as Chicago’s first black mayor.
Chicago and the Black Panther Party have never been the same since. Deborah Johnson (now called Akua Njeri) gave birth to Fred Hampton, Jr. a few weeks after the raid.
For Further Reading
Jeffrey Haas: The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther
Chicago Tribune Newspaper Articles
Court Orders New Autopsy of Hampton; Chicago Tribune; Feb 7, 1970
Koziol, Ronald: Panther Slayings Split the City Into Name Calling’ Factions; Chicago Tribune, Dec 14, 1969
Lee, Edward: Hanrahan Backs Police; Gunfight Probe Urged: Praises Judgment: Chicago Tribune, Dec 9, 1969
O’Brien, John: ‘Let U. S. Probe Killing’–Hanrahan: Negro Lawyers Demand Action; Chicago Tribune, Dec 12, 1969
Hanrahan Actions Reviewed: Chicago Tribune, Nov 6, 1970
WHY JUDGE JAILED BLACK PANTHER AID: He Saw Hampton as ‘Dangerous’: Chicago Tribune, Dec 12, 1969
For Further Viewing
Chicago has always been known to outsiders as the second city. In comparison to New York City, Chicago always fell second in every
aspect of modern living and culture. Incorporated a city in 1837, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the history of the world until a few years ago. After a fire in 1871, the city reemerged with steel buildings and the modern skyline was born. Chicago, after all, was an innovator in a great many things because of its location far from the eastern shores. By the 1970s, Chicago also saw a new innovative theater troupe emerge out of a church basement. Taking its name from the Herman Hesse novel, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company would reshape theater in Chicago and across the country.
What made Steppenwolf Theatre different at the time of its inception was its emphasis on ensemble acting. For many years on Broadway, the stars and directors drove the business. Big names meant big business. Even in regional theater, an actor could be lured to act in the middle of nowhere if enough money was involved. Chicago, on the other hand, was not in the middle of nowhere. However, Steppenwolf’s roots would be. Highland Park is located on the shore of Lake Michigan, north of Evanston. But it would not be Evanston and Northwestern’s long history of actors where Steppenwolf would draw its actors. Instead, Illinois State University (ISU) in Bloomington-Normal was the foundation.
Beginning in 1974, Rick Argosh and Leslie Wilson went to Gary Sinise, a high school classmate, about staging Paul Zindel’s And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little. Over the course of the next year, the troupe put on three plays in a basement of church in Deerfield, Illinois: Grease, The Glass Menagerie, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Argosh, who had been reading Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, christened the name of the ensemble. Sinise brought in former classmates Jeff Perry and Terry Kinney, then students at ISU. Kinney, Perry, and Sinise enjoyed their group so much that they decided when Perry and Kinney finished college, the three would pursue the ensemble group full-time.
In February 1975, the three founded Steppenwolf as a non-profit organization. The group began its season in Immaculate Conception Church and School in Highland Park, Illinois. The 88 seat facility saw the ensemble grow from the three founders to include H.E. Baccus, Nancy Evans, Moira Harris, John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf and Alan Wilder. Kevin Rigdon was hired as the set designer. 1976 saw the company put on six plays.
Early reviews were mixed. The company often put on two plays in one night. Some were good, and some were bad, often on the same twin bill. John Malkovich’s acting caught the early praise of local papers then the Chicago Tribune in 1976. In 1977, the company kept expanding its ensemble to include Joan Allen. The company tended to stage 6 productions a year and the ensemble slowly grew to include names like Glenne Headly, Rondi Reed, Amy Morton, and John Mahoney.
In 1980, the company moved to 134-seat theater at the Jane Addams Hull House Center on North Broadway in Chicago. The move brought with it more spotlights, a bigger audience, more press, and more plays. With Gary Sinise named artistic director, the ensemble produced True West in 1982. The production would wind up in New York and Malkovich would wind up a star who drew attention to himself and the ensemble.
Throughout the 1980s, word of mouth spread about the intensity of the acting, the stark set design, and the unique nature of the plays. In 1982, the company moved to a theater on North Halstead, creeping closer and closer to downtown. In 1985, the company won a Tony Award for Regional Theatre Excellence. In 1988, the company broke open the doors and made itself a nationally recognized company for its production of Grapes of Wrath. Reinterpreting Steinbeck made a national name out of Sinise and brought name recognition for the entire ensemble.
In 1991, the company built its current theater, also on North Halstead. Sinise and Malkovich began to do movies and became stars in their own right on the big screen but they never left the ensemble. Joan Allen, Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne), and John Mahoney (Frasier) saw steady work as well in the movies and on TV. In 1998, President Clinton awarded the company the 1998 National Medal of Arts.
Here founding member Jeff Perry and Ensemble Members Laurie Metcalf, Amy Morton and Rondi Reed talk about the early years. It is a very interesting and funny interview and gives a lot of details of what it took to get the company off the ground.
Here is the team photo of the 1920 Decatur Staley football team. At the end of the season, they would move to Chicago and become the Chicago Bears. Notice who is sitting in the center of the front row….George S. Halas.
I feel relieved when I think of how easy Americans have it in today’s modern world. We have easy access to food,
entertainment, transportation, and communication. It was not always so. In 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant put a stranglehold on the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The siege was something not seen since the Middle Ages. Grant’s strangulation of the town was part of a grander plan to cut the Confederacy in half. Vicksburg was the last major Confederate city along the Mississippi River. The capitulation of the city was never in doubt. Just how long the city could hold out was. For 47 days, the citizens held out longer than anyone thought they could.
When most people think of sieges, they tend to think of catapults, barrels of tar, ladders, moats, and battering rams. A specialty of Roman and Medieval warfare, the siege had lost its usefulness in the Napoleonic era. Armies, before the Civil War, met in large numbers of over 100,000 out in the fields of Europe. But the United States was not Europe. If anything, the Confederacy was geographically the opposite of Europe. In climate, it was hot and humid in the summer. In terrain, it was heavily forested and mountainous in the Eastern Theater. Warfare was changing and the technology along with it created for massive casualties in the Civil War. For Union General Ulysses S. Grant, the siege was more an act of desperation to take Vicksburg.
Throughout 1962, Grant had victory after victory with the Army of the Tennessee in Tennessee and northeastern Mississippi. However, those victories came with questions and concerns about the high loss of life. Grant had been given the moniker, “Grant the Butcher.” Allusions were made to his drinking habits, his manhood questioned, but not by President Lincoln. Lincoln proclaimed, “I cannot spare this man, he fights.” More importantly, Grant won in 1862 – something that was not happening in the eastern theater of war.
For Grant, this was not his first siege. At Corinth in northeastern Mississippi, Grant had his army taken away from him for a while by Henry Halleck. Halleck employed the siege strategy in part because the previous battle at Shiloh had been so bloody. In addition, Corinth was not a large town. In little over a month in April and May of 1862, the Union forced the town to surrender and the Union had taken one of the few railroad junctions in the South. After the victory, Halleck went back east, Grant was given back the Army of the Tennessee, but only with 46,000 men.
Now for Grant, his sole objective was to take Vicksburg. The problem was everybody in the south knew Grant was going to go there. As a result, getting there was easier said than done.
Grant said this of the city on the bluff:
The Mississippi flows through a low alluvial bottom many miles in width; and is very tortuous in its course, running to all points of the compass, sometimes within a few miles. This valley is bounded on the east side by a range of high land rising in some places more than two hundred feet above the bottom. At points the river runs up to the bluffs, washing their base. Vicksburg is built on the first high land on the eastern bank below Memphis, and four hundred miles from that place by the windings of the river.
The winter of 1862-63 was unprecedented for continuous high water in the Mississippi, and months were spent in ineffectual efforts to reach high land above Vicksburg from which we could operate against that stronghold, and in making artificial waterways through which a fleet might pass, avoiding the batteries to the south of the town, in case the other efforts should fail.
[…] The ground about Vicksburg is admirable for defense. On the north it is about two hundred feet above the Mississippi River at the highest point, and very much cut up by the washing rains the ravines were grown up I with cane and underbrush, while the sides and tops were covered with a dense forest. Farther south the ground flattens out somewhat, and was in cultivation. But here, too, it was cut by ravines and small streams. The enemy’s line of defense followed the crest of a ridge, from the river north of the city, eastward, then southerly around to the Jackson road, full three miles back of the city ; thence in a south-westerly direction to the river. Deep ravines of the description given lay in front of these defenses.
Even President Lincoln felt it was the most important city at the time:
“See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket. We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg. It means hog and hominy without limit, fresh troops from all the states of the far South, and a cotton country where they can raise the staple without interference. I am acquainted with that region and know what I am talking about, and, as valuable as New Orleans will be to us, Vicksburg will be more so.”
Beginning in December of 1862, Grant tried to take the city several times. The problem was that the city was too well defended from its high bluffs. But that spring, heavy rains made it possible for Grant, teamed with General William Tecumseh Sherman, to use the flooded river in April to boat past the city and land south of the town and surround it that way. Grant and 12 vessels made the run with Grant crossing into Mississippi at Bruinsburg nine miles south of Vicksburg. Grant said,
I was now in the enemy’s country, with a vast river and the stronghold of Vicksburg between me and my base of supplies. I had with me the Thirteenth Corps, General McClernand commanding, and two brigades of Logan’s
division of the Seventeenth Corps, General McPherson commanding; in all not more than twenty thousand men to commence the campaign with. These were soon [reinforced] by the remaining brigade of Logan’s division and by Crocker’s division of the Seventeenth Corps. On the 7th of May I was further [reinforced] by Sherman with two divisions of his, the Fifteenth Corps.
My total force was then about thirty-three thousand men. The enemy occupied Grand Gulf, Vicksburg, Haynes’s Bluff, and Jackson, with a force of nearly sixty thousand men. My first problem was to capture Grand Gulf to use as a base, and then if possible beat the enemy in detail outside the fortifications of Vicksburg. Jackson is fifty miles east of Vicksburg, and was connected with it by a railroad. Haynes’s Bluff is eleven miles north, and on the Yazoo River, which empties into the Mississippi some miles above the town.
Once on land, Grant had to fight his way to the town during April. Instead of marching north, Grant headed east and took Port Gibson, then Jackson, and worked his way back to Vicksburg along the Southern Railroad. Skirmishes at Champion Hill and Big Black River Bridge did not deter Grant. Grant arrived east of Vicksburg on May 18. The siege had begun. For the next 47 days, life would become a living hell inside the city.
In addition to the constant shelling from Grant’s forces on land, gunboats on the river also provided Union support. The citizens turned to making caves in the soft ground. Vicksburg resident Mary Loughborough stated:
“Our policy in building had been to face directly away from the river. All caves were prepared, as near as possible, in this manner. As the fragments of shells continued with the same impetus after the explosion, in but one direction, onward, they were not likely to reach us, fronting in this manner with their course. On one occasion, I was reading in safety, I imagined, when the unmistakable whirring of Parrott shells told us that the battery we so much feared had opened from the entrenchments. I ran to the entrance to call the servants in; and immediately after they entered, a shell struck the earth a few feet from the entrance, burying itself without exploding. I ran to the little dressing room, and could hear them striking around us on all sides. One fell near the cave entrance, and a servant boy grabbed it and threw it outside; it never exploded.”
In addition to the constant shelling, the weather did not help. Mississippi in early to July is extremely warm and humid. But the unbearable aspect for most involved in the siege was the fact that the spring rains and flooding created a plethora of mosquitoes.
After about 2 weeks, the city began to run out of supplies. The residents turned tree bark into soup. Rats became a delicacy. Confederate soldiers only received “four ounces each of bacon, flour, or meal, the rest comprising peas, rice, and sugar. It was less than half the rations normally issued and led, some believed, to sharply increased sickness among the debilitated troops.” By June 12, there was no meat left. Yet, the troops held on for three more weeks.
The citizens also survived on cowpeas (black eyed peas) that were turned into everything from bread to a meat like substance. Mule even became a staple for the soldiers and citizens. The old Napoleonic adage that an army marches on stomach could be easily adapted to Vicksburg. Confederate General Pemberton began to lose soldiers who deserted for food. On june 28, he received the following letter:
“Our rations have been cut down to one biscuit and a small bit of bacon per day, not enough scarcely to keep soul and body together, much less to stand the hardships we are called upon to stand. If you can’t feed us, you had better surrender us, horrible as the idea is . . . This army is now ripe to mutiny unless it can be fed.”
On July 4, 1863, Pemberton surrendered to Grant. Over 29,000 Confederate soldiers surrendered and they were made to sign loyalty oaths.
All Confederate weapons were seized including guns and artillery. Strikingly surprising was the condition of the Confederate weaponry. Grant said of the seizure of Weapons:
At Vicksburg 31,600 prisoners were surrendered, together with 172 cannon, about 60,000 muskets, and a large amount of ammunition. The small-arms of the enemy were far superior to the bulk of ours. Up to this time our troops at the west had been limited to the old United States flint-lock muskets changed into percussion, or the Belgian musket imported early in the war almost as dangerous to the per son firing it as to the one aimed at – and a few new and improved arms. These were of many different calibers a fact, that caused much trouble in distributing ammunition during an engagement.
The enemy had generally new arms, which had run the blockade and were of uniform caliber. After the surrender I authorized all colonels, whose regiments were armed with inferior muskets, to place them in the stack of captured arms, and replace them with the latter. A large number of arms, turned in to the ordnance department as captured, were these arms that had really been used by the Union army in the capture of Vicksburg.
The Confederacy had been cut in half. The Mississippi River now was totally controlled by the Union. The Anaconda Plan, conceived by Winfield Scott, was working in the West. The US Army stationed 5,000 colored troops to patrol and defend Vicksburg after the siege. They last would leave in 1877.
For Teaching about Vicksburg
This first site has a great image and artifact gallery
This second site has great quotes (some used above) about the conditions in the city during the siege.