Monday, August 22, 2016

Oh George...what have you done?

On our way back from Delaware, we stopped at Fort Necessity...the place where the French and Indian War began, though it took awhile for Europe to erupt into the Seven Years' War. And at the heart of it all? G. Washington, a brash young Virginia militia officer barely in his 20s. The story goes something like this: The royal governor of Virginia and a group of investors known as the Ohio Company had keen interest in the area that is now part of West Virginia and western Pennsylvania. Specifically, they were interested in the upper Ohio Valley. They set up a base of operations at what is now the city of Cumberland, Maryland. In 1750, the Ohio Company sent Christopher Gist (at that time a neighbor of Daniel Boone's down in the Yadkin River Valley of North Carolina) to explore the area. On his first trip, he traveled the Ohio all the way to its falls at present-day Louisville, then headed back overland. On his second trip, he explored the area in which the drama of Fort Necessity would play out.

In late 1753, Gist again headed to the Ohio Valley, this time as a lieutenant of militia accompanying young Lieutenant Colonel George Washington on a diplomatic mission. The French had been aggressively expanding their presence up the Ohio and down the Allegheny in what is today Ohio and northwestern Pennsylvania, then generally referred to as the Ohio Country. Several British colonies had tried to establish claim to the area, but the French disputed any such British claims. Thus the Royal Governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, sent Washington up the Allegheny to tell the French to bugger off. In the process, as the story goes, Gist twice saved Washington's life, the first time from a Native American assailant and the second when Washington fell off a raft into the frigid waters of the Allegheny. The Virginia delegation delivered its message, but it had little influence on the French, who not only refused to leave, but reportedly taunted the silly English knights with the words "your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries"...that is, the French, instead of leaving, continued to build forts, tightening their grip on the valuable Ohio country and the all-important Allegheny and Ohio river system.
Washington and Gist crossing the Allegheny on a raft (Public Domain)

And so it came to pass that, in early summer, 1754, Washington and Gist were again united. The issue was control of the forks of the Ohio. If the British could build a fort that dominated the place where the Allegheny and Monongahela converged, then they could deny the French up the Allegheny use of the Ohio as a commercial waterway. Also, they could begin settling the Monongahela River Valley, etc. The demand for farmland on the frontier had greatly increased as growing numbers of German-speakers and Ulster Irish came to the colonies seeking opportunity and/or escape from desperate circumstances back in Europe. The Ohio Company worked in cooperation with Dinwiddie to begin construction of a fort at the forks, to be named Fort Prince George, while Gist remained at the settlement he had founded near present-day Uniontown, PA, in conjunction with the Ohio Company. But the French got word of their shenanigans and sent an overwhelming force to taunt the English a second time. As the small party of workers at Fort Prince George had no chance of winning a fight with a force at least 15 times their strength, they accepted the French rebuke and surrendered. The French sent the Virginians home, then knocked down the Company's handiwork and began construction of what they named Fort Duquesne.

The French plans for Fort Duquesne were quite elaborate, as opposed to the small outpost fort the Ohio Company had been building. After all, this was a vital river confluence. But their decision to build at the point of the confluence, as opposed to building on high ground overlooking the confluence, meant that all their work would be wasted if a large British force came calling and gained control of the high ground across the Monongahela. But really, that is another story, connected to this one only because the French weren't the only ones who chose less than suitable ground for a fort.
Model of Fort Duquesne complex (Wikipedia)

Regarding now Colonel Washington of the newly formed Virginia Regiment of back-country militia, well, he was assigned to oversee construction of an 80 mile road northwest from Fort Cumberland, past Gist Plantation, and on to Redstone Creek and the Monongahela. From there supplies could be ferried to the ill-fated Fort Prince George. He began work, but in short order events changed dramatically. First, well, the French came and knocked down the fort to which he was building a road. Second, as Washington was working his way through the Alleghenies, he received word from the leader of the ill-fated fort-building expedition that the French were scouting in the area. Undaunted, Washington decided to establish a British presence in the area and await the arrival of his superior, Joshua Fry, and the bulk of the Regiment from Fort Cumberland. On May 24th, he found an open space, called Great Meadows, less than 40 miles from Fort Duquesne, which seemed an inviting place for a forward encampment. There was fresh water, an alpine meadow in which to set up tents, let the horses feed, etc. It was a nice place for an encampment, but like Fort Duquesne, had vulnerabilities: the spot he had chosen lay in a soggy bowl, surrounded by forested hills.
Washington called Great Meadows "a charming field for an encounter."

Three days later, Washington received word from Christopher Gist of a French scouting party less than ten miles from the Great Meadows encampment. He and about 40 of his frontiersmen set off for the camp of a friendly Seneca chief, Tanacharison, whom the Virginians called the Half King. Half King's scouts led Washington to the ravine where the French party had camped, and that's when things get really muddled. The Virginians said that a French soldier fired the first shot. The French said that they were attacked at dawn with no warning. Mind you, Washington had been told by Governor Dinwiddie not to do anything that might ignite a war. The whole purpose for Fort Prince George had been defensive. The French had politely let the Ohio Company workers go home. No harm, no foul, as they say in basketball....until the morning of May 28, 1754.
The glen where the first shots of the French and Indian War were fired, 
today known as Jumonville Glen (Public Domain)

A detachment of French soldiers, led by Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville, had been sent out to locate Washington and determine whether or not he had invaded French territory. I am conflating French soldiers with Canadian recruits here...there were both in Jumonville's company, because a difference which makes no difference is no difference. The Virginians represented British interests, the Canadians represented French interests. So there. Anyway...whatever happened to start the fighting, accounts agree that the battle was over quickly and that the thirty-plus man French unit had been overwhelmed, with almost all being either killed or captured, or assassinated, or some combination of the above. I do not mock the dead's just that the various accounts differ as to what really happened. Washington tersely reported that his company advanced toward the French camp, they were spotted, and the shooting started. He noted that Jumonville, the French commander, was killed in the brief engagement, along with nine other Frenchmen. He counted one Frenchman wounded and twenty-one prisoners taken. His own losses were one killed and two wounded.

One of the Frenchmen got away and reported back to the French commander at Fort Duquesne. He stated that, while he had not seen Jumonville die, he had been there when the fighting started. He said that the glen was surrounded by the Virginians on one side and Native Americans on the other. He noted that the Virginians had fired two volleys into the French camp, but the Native Americans had not fired. Jumonville then called for a cease fire so he could read the summons he carried, ordering the Virginians to vacate French territory. A second source, a Native American, recounted to the French commander that it had been while Jumonville was reading the summons that he was shot in the head by one of the Virginians. At that point, he said he and his party rushed forward to protect the Frenchmen from being butchered by the Virginians.

The French based their next actions on what they knew from these two witnesses. After the fact, one of Washington's privates, John Shaw, gave a sworn statement that, based on what he had learned from those who participated in the attack, the Virginians had approached the camp at dawn, that their Native American scouts had circled around to the other side, and that one of the Frenchmen, hearing or seeing something, had fired the first shot. Washington then ordered his militia to fire, and the French, some of whom were still in their blankets, were overwhelmed. The ones who tried to flee were cut off by the Native Americans, and so they reportedly ran back and surrendered to Washington. At that point, according to Private Shaw, the Half King and his warriors approached the probably wounded Jumonville. Half King reportedly asked someone standing guard if the man before him was English or French, and upon learning he was French, he split Jumonville's head open with a tomahawk and did a couple of other things I'll leave out. Mind you, Shaw did not see any of this. He got his intel by talking to those who had participated in the battle.

Washington, believing that the French would come for him in force, rushed back to Great Meadows and ordered the construction of what he would call Fort Necessity. A few days later, he got word that Joshua Fry had fallen off his horse and died of his injuries. The 22-year-old Colonel Washington was now in command of the entire Virginia Regiment.Washington's men set to work digging outer trenches and building an inner "keep" of logs, with a surrounding stockade. On a cleared hill, these defenses would have proven useful, but in the meadow, not so much. A major problem was the high water table. Even in dry weather, the ground is soggy and even swampy in many places. And when it rains, well, there's nowhere for the water to go. And it rains a lot in the Alleghenies in summer.
The inner stronghold

Washington and his men received reinforcements on June 9th, 
when the rest of the Virginia Regiment arrived. 
They brought with them supplies and nine swivel guns.

With about 300 Virginians and roughly 100 South Carolina militia, Washington felt secure enough to continue working on the road toward Gist Plantation, as the frontier settlement was called. But in late June, the French and their Native American allies finally sallied forth from Fort Duquesne, led by Jumonville's older half-brother, Louis Coulon de Villiers. Washington had failed to secure the support of the Half King and others, so his band of about 400 would have to hold out against at least 600 French troops and around 100 Native American warriors. Still, he had the advantage of defense, and an open meadow with a clear field of fire...or so he thought. His men worked frantically as the French approached, improving the trenches in an effort to gain more protection.
The French view from where the tree line would have been then...too close.

Washington hoped for a direct attack, which he was suitably prepared to repel. Instead, the savvy French fired a few volleys then took up positions in the woods, choosing to fire from cover and keep Washington's force pinned down. A steady rain proved to be the final undoing of the young Colonel. The French could remain relatively sheltered in the trees and keep up sporadic fire, inflicting casualties. Washington's men lay in trenches that filled with water, their powder got soaked, and though the rounds they did fire occasionally found their mark, by the end of the day the Virginians had taken more casualties, and both sides knew Washington's position was untenable. The French commander called for a truce to discuss terms, and Washington reluctantly accepted.

Following the late-night negotiation of  terms, Washington's men were allowed to withdraw with military honors, bearing their flag, arms, and baggage, except for the valuable swivel guns. So the Virginia Regiment and the South Carolinians marched back to Fort Cumberland, and from there back to Virginia. The French destroyed Fort Necessity, marched to Gist Plantation and destroyed the storehouse and Gist's home, then returned to Fort Duquesne with the belief that they had purged their neck of the woods of the British and their colonists.
Being unsuitable for typical farming because of the high water table, the meadow generally remained an alpine meadow. Today it is filled with wild flowers and surrounded by beautiful woodlands.

Although the French initially hoped this had been a decisive victory, British rumblings began almost immediately. The Virginians under Fry and Washington had failed, so if diplomacy failed to resolve the Fort Duquesne issue, British Regulars would be dispatched to the frontier to drive back the French. Diplomacy failed, and both Britain and France rushed soldiers to North America. A big part of the reason negotiations failed seems to have been reports regarding a certain Virginia militia commander and his actions regarding the "diplomat" de Jumonville. So in the end the British chose the military option, invading Acadia and staging an army out of Virginia to deal with the French in the Ohio Country. At the same time, other European powers were moving to a war footing, forging alliances with either Britain or France when it benefited them.

Sixty year old General Braddock, veteran of numerous European campaigns, would lead the push into the back country, improving on Washington's route of advance by building a proper wagon road, with the intent of capturing Fort Duquesne. The British also planned to attack the forts up the Allegheny. In April 1755, Braddock began his advance with a force of about 2400 Regulars, supported by colonial militia, which he didn't intend to use if he could help it. No, the Regulars and this very experienced field commander would deal with the French. Growing impatient with the tedious road improvement project, Braddock split his force, choosing to advance with about 1300 men while the rest continued to work on the road and follow as fast as they could. Still, Braddock had twice the number of men the French could field, and he brought some of his artillery with him. His lead column made it to within eight miles of Fort Duquesne. They would go no further. What they initially thought to be a delaying force of French turned out to be a clever tactic to draw Braddock into a trap. As the French units blocking the trail slowed the column's advance, combined forces of French and their Native American allies enveloped it. The resulting battle on July 9, 1775, proved catastrophic for Braddock and his men.
On the map one can see Braddock''s force literally walking into the French and Indian trap. Of his 1300 men, about 900 were killed or wounded, including the vast majority of officers. The General himself was mortally wounded and evacuated by the survivors.
(Public Domain)
Braddock being removed from the battlefield (Public Domain)

 And what of young George Washington, now all of 23? He had become a very controversial figure after his surrender at Fort Necessity. He had signed terms that were ambiguous to him, both because they were in French and because they were a wet mess from the rain. He had to rely on an interpreter, and his interpreter had to try to read the final document, ink smears and all. The result is that, once again, multiple accounts emerged. While the British were disinclined to give Washington an officer's commission in the Regular Army, they thought that he had been accorded the honors of war by the French after his surrender, and so he and his men were welcomed back to Virginia by the governor. 

But the French eventually raised a ruckus about young George. They said he was a fugitive from justice, as he had signed a confession stating that he took full responsibility for the assassination of Jumonville! Therefore the Royal Governor of Virginia was guilty of harboring a fugitive. It makes for interesting reading and surely gave the French some justification for going to war, but it is likely that by 1756 Europe would have erupted anyway, and surely North America would still have been a major theater of that war. Still,tradionally this is the sort of international incident that could ignite another war between Britain and France, with every other major European power save the Ottomans joining in. The  unresolved conflicts in Europe, coupled with Atlantic trade policies, the North American back country, Caribbean sugar islands, African outposts, and even contested holdings as far away as India and the Phillippines, would lead to what some have called the Great War for Empire.

General Braddock, though he could not give him a commission, took Washington along as an advisor with no official capacity, and it was Washington who managed to rally the remnants of Braddock's column and begin a retreat. Before they reached Great Meadows, Braddock died of his wounds. Washington chose to bury him in the middle of the road, and then he and the remnant of Braddock's column intentionally marched over the grave to hide it and thus thwart potential desecration. By 1756, the world, as Europeans understood it, was aflame in what Churchill much later called the first world war: The Seven Years' War. If Washington had not necessarily detonated the powder keg of war, he had managed to strike the spark that lit the fuse at Fort Necessity, never mind the rain.

Washington served as a back country commander of Virginia militia in the war Americans would eventually dub the French and Indian War, and, while things initially went poorly for the British in North America, William Pitt's bold strategy of taking the fight to the French paid off. In 1758, the British forced the French garrison to evacuate Fort Duquesne, which they wrecked on their way out. By 1760 the British were poised to defeat the French and seize the Canadas from them, which they did. In 1763, the French ceded control of the Canadas, the Ohio Country, and lands all the way to the Mississippi Valley (including settlements in Illinois) to the new British monarch, King George III. And that is when Fort Duquesne became Fort Pitt. And there was much rejoicing...not really, there was much bitterness, especially regarding new British policies limiting back country settlement, regulating maritime trade and a growing list of other things, all of which would result in George Washington becoming commander of a new creation: the Continental Army. We'll catch up with G. Washington, Esq. later, in the crucible of Valley Forge.

Friday, August 19, 2016

See George...See George Lose...See George Carry On

I had a chance last weekend to get closer to my old pal G. Washington, Esq. The Bug's work took us to Wilmington, DE (well, it was more of a party than work, but anyway...). Normally she would have flown the regular "flying passenger van" shuttle between Dayton and Newark (been on that shuttle, myself...the jets are small, noisy, and a total kick in the backside on takeoff). But as you know, I have lots of free time these days, so we decided just to drive Daisy, our 2012 Fusion, and spend 20+ hours in the car together, all told. No, really, this is a very good thing. We listen to books, enjoy the scenery, and talk to each other...I mean really talk about stuff that needs to be discussed. And sometimes we see sheep! We love a good road trip. 

I hadn't thought about what to do while in Wilmington, except maybe head up the interstate to Philadelphia to the historic district. But when I looked at info for the area, I realized we were only about 15 minutes from Brandywine battlefield, and from there about 30 minutes up to Valley Forge! So our Saturday plans took shape. First of all, it was too hot to go to Philadelphia, so we deferred that trip. I also regret to say that we were only 15 minutes from the Brandywine River Museum (featuring the works of three generations of Wyeths), but I was unable to visit. I had planned to go to Chadd's Ford on Friday while Dana actually was at work in the Wilmington office, but I wasn't feeling all that well and, to put it bluntly, it was hotter than Hades outside. Someday we hope to return and visit Chadd's Ford and the several other fine art museums in the Wilmington area, not to mention Philadelphia, but this time it just didn't happen. 

We had an early evening party to attend on Friday, and a great time was had by all! Saturday we got up, packed up, and headed to Brandywine Battlefield State Park. The battle took place on September 11, 1777, as General Howe rolled the dice and decided to go for Philadelphia instead of heading up the Hudson to Albany to meet up with the armies of Burgoyne and St. Leger (neither of which actually got to Albany, but that's another tale). Howe accompanied George Washington's nemesis from the battles of New York, Lord Cornwallis, by water down to Hampton Roads and up the Chesapeake, along with perhaps as many as 20.000 of their closest friends, well armed and hardened professonal soldiers. Howe successfully landed his army at the northern end of the Bay and headed northeast for Philadelphia along the precursor to US Route 1, though his progress was hampered by a lack of horses (you don't want to know the details).
Hessian Map of the Philadelphia Campaign
(Library of Congress)
Washington responded with a very large force of his own, if not a very experienced one. Still, it was the largest army he commanded in the war, composed of about 3/4ths Continentals and 1/4th state militia...a good mix for him. He dug in on the high ground east of the Brandywine, overlooking Chadd's Ford on the road to Philadelphia, only 20 miles away. He posted watch on other nearby fords, assuming Cornwallis, with the lead column, would march right for his position. But, like previous battles, Cornwallis found a way to flank Washington's position, this time discovering that the Continentals had left their right flank vulnerable, if one bothered to march further upstream and ford the Brandywine there. In the ensuing battle, directly involving well over 20,000 men, with thousands more in reserve, Washington's soldiers fought bravely, some buying time with their very lives, others digging in and stubbornly holding off attacks on the right and in the center. But if they managed to avoid annihilation, they could not stop the British regulars, well-led as they were, and so they were forced by the end of the day to retreat. Philadelphia fell a couple of weeks later, but the new nation did not. General Washington still had an army, the government had evacuated Philadelphia, and many supplies had also been saved, thanks to the time bought along the Brandywine and the days of maneuvering that followed.
(Courtesy of History Department, United States Military Academy)
Though he could not keep Howe out of Philadelphia, Washington did have one opportunity to take back the important center of trade and manufacturing. Howe sent about a quarter of his army into the city to occupy it while he remained with the rest of the army in Germantown, blocking Washington from advancing. On October 4th, Washington launched a complex dawn attack on Howe's position. Initially, though the attack was poorly coordinated, Washington drove the British back. But then nature itself conspired against him. In the dense fog, units got confused by the roar of artillery and two of the Patriot columns collided and fired on each other. That and the unnecessary delay of trying to drive a small force of British soldiers out of a mansion, rather than just enveloping it and pressing on, cost Washington any hope of a major victory. British reinforcements arrived from Philadelphia, and so he reluctantly called for a general retreat. Washington refused to engage with Howe that autumn, though the British general tried a couple of times to draw him into another major battle.

General Howe, as the story goes, made himself quite at home in Philadelphia as October gave way to November and the onset of winter. He and his senior staff thoroughly enjoying being entertained by socialites, gambling, etc. Never mind that St. Leger's drive had been stopped and most of his Native American warriors had gone home. Never mind that Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne lost his entire army at Bennington and Saratoga. Never mind that the French monarch and his advisers now saw an opportunity to join the Americans and humiliate their British rivals. Howe blamed others for his failure to support Burgoyne up the Hudson, and he tendered his resignation, citing lack of support from his superiors (who had backed Burgoyne's plan). After that, he was content to winter comfortably in bed with Mrs. Loring, his mistress since Boston, rather than risk attacking Washington again. As for G. Washington, he had been beaten again, but remained undaunted, at least on the surface. He sought a reasonably safe place to hole up while not being so far from Howe that he couldn't keep tabs on the British forces. He chose Valley Forge and used spies to spread rumors that he had an unbreechable defensive position there. That winter, a core group of men would survive the crucible of cold and hunger and disease. They would drill to stay warm and alive, and men such as Joseph Plumb Martin would rise from that hellish place to become the heart of Washington's Continental Line of professional soldiers. 

Here are some pics from Brandywine Battlefield:

Nothing says "battlefield" like a bronze 12 pounder! Washington's army lost a significant percentage of its artillery at Brandywine, either because positions were overrun or from lack of horses to pull the guns away (you don't want to know what happened to the horses).
Selfie with George
Washington's HQ...a house owned by successful Quaker mill operator Benjamin Ring
Bug in the car (did I mention it was HOT?)
The high ground above Chadd's Ford
The Brandywine Valley was predominantly Quaker, with English and Welsh settlements known for productive farms and very large families. This is a wonderful example of how a farmhouse grows with the family. An initial square(ish) one-story house could easily have a second story and then a wing added to it, and in time more outbuildings, etc. Note the kitchen building in the center and the stone storehouse to the left. This property was owned by Gideon Gilpin
 Wonderful barn! Animals would have been sheltered below, and hay, fodder, etc., stored above
 Another outbuilding, complete with chimney. I'm guessing the combination means this was a building dedicated either to drying fruit or a "smokehouse" for curing meats...or both
 Me, doing what I do...
Another springhouse
(Public domain photo of Old Kennett Meetinghouse) Cornwallis, with 9,000 men, slammed into Washington's right flank, while a second force probed forward toward Chadd's Ford. Ironically, some of the worst of the fighting took place around two Quaker meetinghouses. The British column led by the Hessian General Knyphausen encountered a large force of Continentals hastily dug in behind the stone walls on the grounds of the Old Kennett Meetinghouse, west of the Brandywine. Inside, the Friends had gathered for a midweek service. As the battle raged, they continued to worship. As one Quaker noted later, "While there was much noise and confusion without, all was quiet and peaceful within."
The Continentals, with total numbers approaching 15,000, managed to hold together a line stretching from the Kennett Meetinghouse about three miles to the north, where they were hard-pressed to hold back Cornwallis. Gradually the more professional British forces pushed them back to a new position, anchored on the right along the stone walls around the Birmingham Meetinghouse (above), about a mile from Chadd's Ford and Washington's fortified position east of the Brandywine. The British successfully drove the Continentals from their positions at Birmingham and occupied the high ground on Meeting House Hill. Washington and his trusted subordinate Nathanael Greene arrived on the scene with the fat bookseller from Boston, Henry Knox, Washington's chief of artillery. Knox used his cannon to hold the British off, and Greene managed to assemble a patchwork force in the nick of time, as Knyphausen's force finally punched through the Continental center at Chadd's Ford. As darkness fell, Washington's army retreated from the Brandywine position, with Greene/s rear guard, commanded by the Virginian George Wheedon, finally withdrawing under cover of darkness.
 Today at Birmingham Meetinghouse there is a peace garden around a mass grave in which the dead from both armies were buried.
A memorial stone marks the grave site
It is a very peaceful peace garden. The Quaker settlements in the Brandywine Valley struggled for years after the battle, having lost horses, livestock, and other goods. By the time they had recovered, the war was over. The area happily remains rural and beautiful!

Monday, August 8, 2016


There are things I know...too many things...things I wish I didn't know. I know what it is like to be bullied, assaulted, symbolically emasculated. But I also know what it is like to hunt, to stalk, to kill. I know what it is to gut and skin stuff, to scale and filet stuff, and, in the case of the myriad catfish I have encountered, to do some combination of all of the above. I grew up the son of a hunter and fisherman, a raiser of hounds, and the best way to communicate with him and my brother was to learn their ways. I learned them as best I could.

Manhood was defined in very specific ways in their world...I tried to walk that path, with uneven success. My body has never quite been up to what my mind and their culture demanded of it, which explains why I chose not to serve in the military, and why I am less proficient at hunting, fishing, canoeing, etc., than some of you. I accept that. It is my genetic heritage, coupled with many injuries to shoulders and ankles and back, but it makes me no less a man. I eventually learned that.

What I've also had, all along, is an enormous intellect, a creative mind, filled with poetry and philosophy and art and music...a mind driven by intellectual curiosity...a mind at odds with the culture in which I was raised. I can and have planted and cultivated and grown and harvested my own crops. I've cleaned more than my share of fish. I've helped kill, skin, clean, and prep various critters, ranging from a gray squirrel to an Angus bull. And I write poetry, and my head is a juke box on continuous play, with everything from Vince Gill to Vivaldi randomly erupting.

Why do I say these things, tell this story? Because I grow weary of the "dividing lines" in America. I grow tired of the labeling and divisiveness. I grew up in a cold, drafty mill house on the cotton mill hill where my grandfather worked nearly his entire life. I lived in that world, though by freak opportunity my father, who didn't even graduate high school, was apart from it. We were lucky...his personality and skill landed him a job outside the mill hill world. But I also paid a price for that.

Ever had an older, stronger, meaner person steal your freaking Chuck Taylors out of your locker and wear them, just to taunt you? I have. Ever been mocked incessantly for using "big words?" I have, and much, much worse. It gets into your think that you are forever doomed to be exploited, and so too often you play to the lowest common denominator rather than strive for personal excellence. But even when you do strive, when you think you've done everything the right way and well, sometimes you still lose. Ever lost a job to an inferior candidate because said candidate's father wanted said child to follow in his footsteps, regardless of qualifications? I have, and it gets into your head, as does getting "downsized" at a point in your career when you are finally beginning to think about the possibility that in 10-12 years, maybe you can think about retirement.

I've been asked to accept, bear, and/or do almost unspeakable things as part of generational or intellectual or psychological or academic hazing, and I have done so, including doing a few things of which I am ashamed. I have also seen death, up close and personal, though I'm sort of like Jack Sparrow when it comes to that subject. I've retrieved a still-born baby from the morgue, though my supervisors didn't bother to tell me the process, and delivered that "package," in a warm blanket the nurses provided, to the parents so they could say goodbye. And I've sat by the bedside of a dying patient, abiding with the family until, finally, that last, slow breath was drawn. I've sat up many a night with my own brother, fighting to stay awake so that I could be there if he woke up panicked. I've listened too many hours to his breathing, counting the time until he would wake and I could get some sleep, knowing we had made it through another night together, alive. I've stood by my fair share of graves, too. I continue to celebrate those who live on, as well as revere the departed.

I tell these stories because I have survived it all and worse, as many of you here know. I write because deep down, I know something you perhaps don't, and I want to share it with you. I know that I am worth the effort to stay alive. Took me a long time to get here, but I know this, and it is my anchor in the worst of storms. Want to swap stories? I'm here for you, anytime. Need to vent? I'm here. Seek me out. YOU are worth the effort to stay alive, too!

I find myself at yet another turning point in a life filled with them. Do I continue to play high school sports in spite of what happened to me as a sophomore, or do I disappear into the circle of nerds who are my closest friends? Do I drop out of Wake Forest in disgrace, or do I find a way to finish what my parents so want me to finish? Do I quit my job, or keep at it, even though one error in judgment almost cost the life of my best friend? Do I somehow find a way both to do my duty as a church deacon and to care for my badly wounded, flawed self? Do I drop out of seminary and go home because I know that church ministry is not my likely future, or do I finish what I started because the future is unclear? What on Earth do I do now that I know I am not meant to be a hospital chaplain?

The list goes on: Do I follow my passion for history into grad school, or do I try to find some "fit" where I can help support our personal economy? Do I carry on even when I lose one job to an arrogant search committee (AFTER I had defended my diss, they somehow refused to believe I was set to graduate, just because of a clerical delay in updating my transcript...yes, that happened, along with the apparent fact that I didn't bend over backward far enough to satisfy their egos...really? Yes. It happened.). And do I keep searching when another job, one for which I had been groomed for several years, is lost to overt nepotism? Do I carry on even when my seven years of devotion and service above and beyond the call go unrewarded and I am unceremoniously cut loose in the name of "strategic reorganization"?

The answer is yes. I have seen, felt, touched, tasted evil. This is not it. I may have been the victim of capitalism's impact on higher ed, the victim of short-sightedness, whatever...I'll leave that to others' judgments, but yes, victim I have been. Still, I know evil, have faced it down and made it back up before my fury. Whatever this is, it is not that. I will prevail...but I concede that mine is not the easy path. Thank you all so much for being here. For whatever reason or purpose, this is my path, and I walk beats the alternative, every single day.

Some things fall in my lap, to be sure, but then others are taken away. It weighs on a person. One comes to fear good news or happy times, as the news or the times seem ever followed by bad and sorrowful. So it has been for The Bug and me since my triumphant awards tour in November and our wonderful anniversary cruise in December. Though many of you may not understand half of this, a few of you will understand all of it. I am here...I am alive...and I am strong, but I have the smell of smoke in my nose and the taste of ashes in my mouth. Forgive my is righteous, though too often misdirected. Forgive my instability...I am working on it. Accept my love and have a formidable friend. But sometimes I just have to light a pire to what has been lost and, yes, howl at the moon.