The good old days are not always good

My brother Mike at Gettysburg, 1955

My brother Mike at Gettysburg, 1955

I’ve spent most of today browsing through American Civil War records stored at the National Archives. Earlier, I had discovered my second great-grandfather Jonas and his brother Frank (Benjamin Franklin) Nichols signed up for the Civil War draft the same day in July 1863.

Were they inspired by Mr. Lincoln’s Gettysburg address?  I don’t know.  Frank went off to war moving from one company to another, wounded and returning to active duty. Over these moves, he was promoted from Private to Sergeant to Lt. to Captain.  At last in Pennsylvania in 1864, he was assigned to lead a company of Colored troops who had finally been given permission to fight.

The irony for me is that I grew up in the South and spent many hours as a Confederate sympathizer.  When I was 15 or so, I even bought a Confederate cap In Mississippi, at the Vicksburg battlefield.  For all I know, one of my relatives was there, but fighting for the Union.

Dad loved to visit Civil Was battlefields.  We spent much time at Gettysburg where we visited a few times and took photos of the Wisconsin Monument soon after it was erected (?).

If Dad knew his great-grandfather had fought at Gettysburg, or anywhere else, he failed to mention it.  I do know Jonas had registered for the draft and was somewhere during the war years but tracking him down has been a challenge.  However, Jonas was missing between the birth of his oldest son in 1861, and his other son in 1868…little clue in those days when parents produced many offspring. I also know great-grandmother Ellen went home to Maine for the birth of the oldest son.  I hope that is the answer.

David thinks one or more of his ancestors hid out in caves to avoid the Confederate draft.  I found that at least one of them owned slaves and two of them were Confederate soldiers.


Why should we care about the Civil War other than the obvious reason, the emancipation of slaves? Another reason to care is because it marks the beginning of a strong central or federal government.  The military draft registration, federal income tax, interest groups seeking favors in Washington and fat cats in New York City all come into being during this period.  In my graduate history class on the Gilded Age we examined the question of when does it begin.  The answer is during the Civil War.  From that time forward the virtually sovereign states gave up much of their independence and corruption in Washington DC became a huge problem.

The professor of the class on the Gilded Age asked, can anyone name a president between 1870 and Teddy Roosevelt.  Most of us could not because these presidents are so boring although a few of them led very corrupt governments. The best film about this period is Gangs of New York with Daniel Day-Lewis, which takes place during the draft riots and political corruption of Tamanny Hall.

23 thoughts on “The good old days are not always good

  1. We’ve always had “draft dodgers,” but also we’ve had conscientious objectors who were not cowards. The COs didn’t flee, they served in various assigned civilian capacities, mostly in health care. Little known is that many volunteered to work as smokejumpers to demonstrate their courage. They served well, doing most of the dangerous firefighting work during WWII.


    • Agree absolutely. One contentious objector I know was a Corpsman in Vietnam. Another flew aMedivac helicopter. Even Tom Hayden went to prison rather than kill others. The cowards ran away.

      Sent from my iPad



    • To dislike the Department of Education is NOT to dislike education, it has to do with disliking officious bureaucrats. The useful functions Education carries out could be moved elsewhere or assembled into a separate agency. For example, the EPA and the IRS are agencies, not departments.

      Bureaucrats created the Department of Education when they broke up HEW and created new cabinet level secretaries. Energy is another example of a huge boondoggle. Energy mostly hides expenditures once part of the Defense Budget. Energy functions could be downsized to an agency status and returned to the Department of the Interior.

      The Census Bureau should become an independent agency so neither political party can manipulate it. The agency is not independent now which makes all it’s statistics suspect. It reports directly to the White House.

      All the many statistical agencies in the Federal government could be assembled under one roof and combined into an entity like Statistics Canada…an independent entity that suffers no political interference.


      • You are welcome? When I was a federal employee, I worked on a research paper, funded by the Department of Education, concerning the value of community colleges. Thus, I know some parts of the Department underwrite important work, but other sections meddle and over regulate teachers.


  2. A very interesting part of America’s history. We visited Gettysburg several years ago, and as we live not too far away from the Manassas Battlefield, we visit often. For walks mainly and it is always hard to imagine what went on there not so long ago in the grand scheme of things.


    • The first time I saw the battlefield,it was still called the Battle of the Bull Run ( the name Southerners gave it). In those days the fields like those at Channcellorsville were derelict. In fact the wholeSouth was derelict until the 1950s,not unlike England.


  3. In Dublin, this weekend there will be a Battle of Clontarf millennial re-enactment. The modern area of Clontarf has stretched with reclaimed land, so the original battle site might well have been on the land where I was born.


  4. Fascinating, truly! My dad is obsessed right now with the Civil War, collecting all kinds of weaponry and any book he can get his hands on. He lives in MS but does not believe in slavery. I didn’t realize our corrupt government started at this stage of our history. Wow.


    • Bureaucracy. Huge departments and plethora of agencies begin during the Civil War. Not all are corrupt. Some like SSA work well. Some are too big (defense?) some are unnecessary (education). Some are critical (PTO and Census)


  5. I had to laugh when you wrote that David’s ancestor(s) hid in caves to avoid the Confederate draft. Back here in Hawaii, two of my college classmates fled to Sweden and Canada to avoid the Vietnam War draft. I often wonder about them. If they return to Hawaii, will the USA prosecute them?


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