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Thu Jun 6, 2019, 10:56 PM

In a brief vacation I saw two very moving historical sites.

My family took a quick run down to Oak Ridge National Laboratory to drop my youngest son off for his summer internship, and as this laboratory, constructed in a massive effort as part of the Manhattan project, is not only a great laboratory but an important point in American history and the history of science, we decided to take the public tour.

I almost certainly knew more of the technical stuff than the guides did, but still, it was a remarkable thing to see and hear about, Lawrence's Calutrons, which apparently were more effective in the early 1940's at separating isotopes than the famous K-25 plant, which has now been demolished, although the tour gives you a feel for the size of the thing.

Most incredible was the part of the tour which involved seeing the core the world's first continuously operated nuclear reactor, now the "Graphite Reactor National Historic Site" which is the actual core, replete with some mannequins who are eternally pushing fuel through the core with mechanical rods. You could go to the control room, a primitive affair with chart recorders. This is the actual reactor that operated for 20 years to make plutonium for warheads, including plutonium for the Nagasaki and Trinity bombs.

Then on the way home, I convinced my wife and son to stop off at the Antietam battlefield, which the ranger reported as the best preserved Civil War battlefield. The ranger in question gave a lecture on the battle with tremendous passion and although I have read a great deal about the battle, it is something quite different to hear it described while looking at the field from the visitor center, which is located in the exact place where Robert E. Lee, a combatant commander for the slaveholders, stood during the battle as he sought to establish slavery as a permanent and irrevocable feature on North American soil. The Ranger noted that the tactical draw that the battle represented was claimed by Abraham Lincoln as a victory, since Lee was forced to retreat to Virginia, giving Lincoln an "excuse" to issue the Emancipation Proclamation that changed the war from an effort to preserve the Union into an effort to make the Union worthy of its ideals of putative freedom.

When I walked that field, I wept a little, for the men who died there, for the more than 100,000 who lived through the horror of that day. The Ranger told us that they are still finding the dead on the field, the most recent soldier discovered in 2008, a New York soldier (identified as such from the remains of his uniform) who was, at the request of the State of New York, repatriated to New York, after 147 years, and buried with honor in the Saratoga National Cemetery.

Modern forensics showed he was about 19 when he died, a year younger than the son I dropped off at Oak Ridge.

The Antietam battlefield to this day marks the site where the most Americans were killed, wounded or missing in a single day, more than D-Day, more than Tarawa, Iowa Jima, the Battle of the Bulge. From the visitor center you can more or less see everything, the whole panorama of a tragedy, a necessary tragedy, but a tragedy all the same.

Five intense days, setting my son up, touring the historic features of the great National Laboratory where great science is still being done (and in which my son is participating) and seeing the exact place (more than Gettysburg) where the "New Birth of Freedom" actually was released in rivers of blood.

It was all the more horrible to recognize that a horrid ignorant racist, a member of what is only nominally Lincoln's party is in the White House, spitting and drooling on the history of our country.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)


Response to NNadir (Original post)

Thu Jun 6, 2019, 11:27 PM

2. Like your description of Lee -- "A combatant commander of the slaveholders." As one from the South,

Im so tired of arguing the real reason for the Civil War with ignorant white wing racists.

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Response to Hoyt (Reply #2)

Thu Jun 6, 2019, 11:40 PM

3. Thanks. It's an accurate statement. It must be tough...

...for you to listen to that horseshit, although the truth is still the truth, no matter whether we live in times in which lies are celebrated.

It was rather disheartening to drive through the South and see all the the things named for "General" Lee, an awful man, a traitor to his country who, like the fool currently in the White House, disregarded the oath he took to serve rather than attempt to destroy his country.

I have no use for the fondness for Robert E. Lee. He was, again, an awful person.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Fri Jun 7, 2019, 11:39 AM

4. I've been to Antietam quite a number of times

And I've walked the field more than once, both by myself and as part of the ranger-conucted hikes they have on the anniversary of the battle. It is indeed a moving place.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Fri Jun 7, 2019, 06:21 PM

5. Thank you for your story and write up. Appreciate it very much. NT

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat Jun 8, 2019, 09:47 AM

6. Very heartfelt description of your visit to the Antietam Battlefield. Thank you.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sun Jun 9, 2019, 02:31 PM

7. Now read this...!

Find and read the book, "The Girls of Atomic City", by Denise Kiernan.

Came out in 2013. The true story of young women during World War II who worked in Oak Ridge, TN, then a secret city, dedicated to making fuel for the first atomic bomb.

And they never knew it!

Until August 9, 1945. When it all became clear!

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Response to Grins (Reply #7)

Sun Jun 9, 2019, 03:08 PM

8. There are several businesses in that "town" that have "Secret City" in the name.

There really isn't a "town" to speak of, but rather a series of strip malls melded together.

This surprised us.

As for the historic nature of the "secret city," all this was true.

Very few people, including many scientists, had any idea what the purpose of the complex actually was.

In terms of operations, the women trained to run the Calutrons had higher productivity than Ph.D. level scientists doing the same thing, because the scientists focused on understanding problems, whereas the young women merely pushed on.

On the Farm Hall transcripts of bugging of the German nuclear scientists on hearing of the atomic bomb, one of the first remarks was one of incredulity along the lines of "these fellows have separated isotopes!"

It should have been "these women have actually separated isotopes" even if the women didn't know what they were doing.

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Response to Grins (Reply #7)

Sun Jun 9, 2019, 03:50 PM

9. A little family history: Probably similar.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sun Jun 9, 2019, 04:08 PM

10. As a West Coaster, the only battlefield I have visited is Shiloh...

Happened to be there on the anniversary of the battle and saw a bunch of re-enacters. Didn't watch much of the action as I was time constrained, but I did walk around the cemetary a bit. It is shocking to see how many graves are marked "Unknown." We moderns don't often think about the older days, before dog tags and DNA IDs.

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Response to Wounded Bear (Reply #10)

Sun Jun 9, 2019, 04:27 PM

11. That also was a horrific battle. It shocked the country.

It also disabused Ulysses S. Grant of the notion that it was going to be a short or easy war, and remade William T. Sherman.

It almost destroyed Grant's career, but Sherman talked him out of resigning in the aftermath.

Pressured to relieve Grant after Shiloh, Lincoln is reported to remark, "I can't spare this man, he fights!" a contrast with the "victor," ironically, of Antietam, McClellan, who was, all told, a coward. Indeed he only really fought Antietam because he had found a copy, wrapped in a cigar, of Lee's orders. Even then, he dallied for two days, basically removing the advantage that the intelligence gave him.

Almost from the beginning, Lincoln understood that winning the war would involve fighting; few of his generals understood this as well as Grant did.

Before Antietam, Shiloh was the record killing field in American history. No one could believe the cost at the time. It was a shock.

I have been to Gettysburg, which is also impressive, but other than that Antietam is the only other Civil War field I've seen.

We have two major battlefields from the American Revolution within easy bicycling distance of my home; the battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton, and I have often biked to "Washington's Crossing," where every Christmas there is a re-enactment, although if the water is too treacherous, "Washington," the person honored to play the role, who is usually 20 years older and significantly shorter than the real Washington was at the time, walks across the bridge there now, flags flying and bands playing, although the real event was quiet, dark, and very treacherous and, of course, without a bridge.

Only the Battle of Princeton site is partially preserved, with much of the actual site now part of the Institute of Advanced Study, which often gets into legal battles with preservationists when planning construction.

Nassau Hall, at Princeton University, briefly served as the Capitol of the United States, a little known fact.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #11)

Sun Jun 9, 2019, 04:37 PM

12. McClellan was not necessarily a "coward" per se...

He was always a bit reluctant to go into battle, to be sure. He probably would have made someone an excellent Chief of Staff in the modern sense, though his ego would have prevented it. They didn't really have that position back then. But the Army of the Potomac, which was instrumental in the final campaign of the war, was basically a McClellan construct. The soldiers always loved him, because he took care of them when 'in garrison.' In the end though, it is said that most of them voted for Lincoln in the 1864 election, knowing that Uncle Mac would probably not have gotten the war that far along.

McClellan also had a problem with intelligence, as in military intelligence. His buddy Pinkerton loved to tell McClellan how huge the rebel army was, usually inflating the numbers far beyond what any reasonable person should have believed. That certainly added to his 'cowardice' when it came to initating combat.

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Response to Wounded Bear (Reply #12)

Sun Jun 9, 2019, 04:57 PM

13. I think "The Seven Days" defines the issue of McClellan's courage or cowardice.

He actually won several of the battles which lead him to retreat.

The entire campaign was - and Lincoln pointed this out - in effect an evasion, since it strained resources to move all those troops to the Peninsula - when the direct route, the route ultimately taken by Grant up until the James River Crossing at least, offered less strain on resources.

Lincoln frequently badgered McClellan by asking why he couldn't do what the enemy was constantly doing, but stood by McClellan longer than he should have done.

I would say that the focus on the putative strength of the enemy, as opposed to focusing on his own strengths, is a definition of cowardice.

When Grant took command of the Army, he berated the officers of it in a rare outburst, famously, "Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do. Some of you always seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command, and try to think what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do.

With that remark, the Army of the Potomac was de-McClellanized.

The Army of the Potomac was filled with courage, which it showed at Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and on many other occasions. And while it is true that McClellan built it, he grotesquely mislead it, even at Antietam, which allegedly he "won." Until Grant and Sheridan showed up, it was poorly led mostly, although Meade was arguably the best leader other than Grant, under whom he served until the end.

McClellan is, by the way, buried near here; one can see his grave from the road in Trenton; he was elected Governor of New Jersey, not that we're very good at picking Governors in this State. Arguably we're terrible at it.



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