North Anna Battlefield Park in Hanover County, Virginia

See Civil War trenches, and walk in the footsteps of Union and Confederate soldiers at this beautifully preserved and little-known battlefield.

Click to expand photos

The Battle of North Anna was fought from May 23 to May 26, 1864 between the Union Army of the Potomac commanded by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia commanded by Gen. Robert E. Lee in Hanover County, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was inconclusive. Neither side gained a decisive advantage, and Grant decided to continue moving south toward Richmond.

After the brutal Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, General Grant again tried to outflank Lee, but Lee was one step ahead and established a strong defensive position behind the North Anna River. On May 23, Confederate Maj. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox’s division opposed a river crossing by Union Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren’s V Corps at Jericho Mills, but Wilcox was outnumbered 2-to-1 and withdrew.

The Army of Northern Virginia then settled into a defensive formation designed to trap pieces of Grant’s army on the river’s southern side. With their backs to the river, the much larger Union Army would be vulnerable to attack. Unfortunately for the Confederates, General Lee developed a debilitating stomach ailment, and his inexperienced corps commanders were in no shape to direct his army.

Continue reading “North Anna Battlefield Park in Hanover County, Virginia”

Stories from the Illinois Exodus

High taxes, crime rates, and lack of opportunity cause residents to flee Illinois and post-industrial cities like Rockford.

I was born in Chicago and raised in the northwest suburbs. I moved to Rockford, Illinois after graduate school in 2008, where I hoped to make a life for myself. As my longtime readers know, I got involved in local politics and worked hard to promote the local community and address its social ills. Even as a student at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, I promoted Midwestern culture and urged my friends to stay in Illinois and fight to make it better. I honestly didn’t think I would ever leave.

Years went by and more and more of my friends and acquaintances moved away for greener pastures. Finally, I did too, enlisting in the Army and seeking to make a difference somewhere else. It became painfully clear I would have to uproot if I wanted to dramatically change my circumstances. The 2020 census will show just how many people joined this mass exodus. According to the latest estimates, Illinois is among the fastest shrinking states in terms of population, and Rockford is 15th in the country for highest percentage of population loss.

Since 2010, Rockford’s population has decreased by 5 percent. It was once the largest city in Illinois outside Chicago… it’s now the sixth. In December 2019, numerous websites reported Illinois as a whole saw six straight years of population loss. Anecdotally, I can name at least a dozen or more friends who have moved to other states over the past ten years, many with their families. I think when the final census data for 2020 is released, it’s going to be bad.

Continue reading “Stories from the Illinois Exodus”

Police Departments do not Have a 400-Year History of Anti-Black Racism

  • Modern police and police departments didn’t exist in the American colonies or the United States from 1619 to (at the earliest) 1838, a span of approximately 219 years.
  • Modern uniformed police departments were first established in Northern cities in free states and were based on British policing models, not Southern slave patrols.
  • Modern policing has nothing in common with slave patrols; their purpose, methods, and the legal rights and protections for the people involved are completely different.

Over the past few weeks, activists and pundits have made unbelievably inaccurate and outrageous historical claims about law enforcement in the United States. These assertions aren’t new, but they have entered the mainstream in a way we haven’t seen before. Fact-checking be damned. For instance, in an article not labeled as an opinion piece, USA Today writer Wenei Philimon claimed “Police departments have a 400-year history of racism”. This blanket assertion is supported with so little evidence or specificity, it wouldn’t receive a passing grade in a high school history class. 

“Dating back to the 1600s, the U.S., then a British colony, used a watchmen system, where citizens of towns and cities would patrol their communities to prevent burglaries, arson and maintain order. As the slave population increased in the U.S., slave patrols were formed in South Carolina and expanded to other Southern states, according to Sally Hadden, a history professor at Western Michigan University who researches slave patrols,” Philimon, a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism, writes.

Already, the inaccuracies are glaring. The colonies that would become the United States were not entirely British in the 1600s, but were originally formed by several European countries. France, Sweden, Netherlands, and Spain all made claims on this territory (New Netherland, including what would become New York City, didn’t fall completely under British control until 1674). Each colony was governed by its own laws and methods of maintaining order.

But even if we take this writer’s version of events at face value, what does preventing burglaries, arson and maintaining order have to do with racism, anyway? Never mind. Philimon glosses over the first 100 years of her 400-year timeline and goes directly to slave patrols.

“Slave patrols lay at the roots of the nation’s law enforcement excesses, historians say [Philimon only cites one historian who says this], helping launch centuries of violent and racist behavior toward black Americans,” she claims. This pernicious myth has been repeated in several academic books and articles and even at the National Law Enforcement Museum, although there is no direct link between slave patrols and modern police forces, especially (and most obviously) in the North.

Continue reading “Police Departments do not Have a 400-Year History of Anti-Black Racism”

Book of Everlasting Life

Monument to John Diedrich Couper, Sr. (1822-1909) and his wife, Euphania Ann Monroe Cowling Couper (1822–1895) in Elmwood Cemetery, 238 E. Princess Anne Road in Norfolk, Virginia.

John Diedrich Couper, Sr. (1822-1909)

Scottish-American John D. Couper founded the Couper Marble Works in 1848. The family-owned company lasted until 1981. Their monument, an eight foot bronze “recording angel”, was designed by their son, sculptor William Couper.

Laurel Hill Battlefield in Belington, West Virginia

See where amateur armies of North and South squared off in this early Civil War battle fought before the Battle of Bull Run.

Click to expand photos

The Battle of Belington (Laurel Hill) was fought from July 7 to 11, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris and Confederate forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett in Barbour County, West Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was technically a draw, but defeat at Rich Mountain on July 11 compelled Garnett to abandon his fortified camp at Laurel Hill.

Following an ignominious Confederate defeat at the Battle of Philippi in early June, Brig. Gen. Garnett took command of Confederate forces in western Virginia and fortified two key mountain passes: one at Laurel Mountain leading to Leadsville and the other at Rich Mountain to Beverly. Lt. Col. John Pegram commanded a smaller force at Camp Garnett in Rich Mountain, while Garnett stayed at Camp Laurel Hill with 4,000 men.

Garnett knew his prospects for victory were slim. “I don’t anticipate anything very brilliant–indeed I shall esteem myself fortunate if I escape disaster,” he wrote. His pessimism would be tested on July 7, when Brig. Gen. Morris arrived with his 3,500-man brigade and made camp in nearby Belington (where he soon received reinforcements, bringing his total to 4,000). The two sides skirmished for several days. Morris’ orders were to “amuse” his opponent and prevent him from reinforcing Rich Mountain.

Continue reading “Laurel Hill Battlefield in Belington, West Virginia”

Community Policing Can Work

Problems with policing in the United States are real, but fantastic ideas like abolishing police will make everyone less safe.

In the wake of protests and unrest over the death of George Floyd and other instances of police brutality, activists, pundits, and politicians have floated various ideas to curb violent or potentially violent interactions with police, many of which are, for lack of a better term, unrealistic. De-funding police, abolishing police departments, and not arresting nonviolent offenders are among the most wild suggestions. The predictable consequences of these ideas would be much higher crime rates, unsafe neighborhoods, vigilante justice, or a proliferation of private security firms only accountable to their employers.

When I was running for mayor of Rockford, Illinois, I advocated a return to community-oriented policing, and I think that combined with better and more frequent training and demilitarization can solve a lot of the issues with police brutality. Rockford was a large Midwestern city struggling with a post-industrial environment. It had a high crime rate. Gang violence, robbery, and drug trafficking were common. Relations between police and the local community, particularly in poorer neighborhoods, were strained. An incident in 2009 in which a police officer shot and killed a young black man named Mark Anthony Barmore in the basement of a church further eroded relations.

I haven’t lived in Rockford for several years, so maybe things have changed, but back then the mayor would play lip service to community policing every once in a while and bicycle patrols would appear downtown for a few weeks. It was kind of like playing whack-a-mole. By focusing on one area, it was difficult to respond to crime in other areas. Rockford’s problem was not too many police, but too few. It was impossible for its centralized police force to effectively cover such a large area. Response times to a call could be as long as 40 minutes.

Continue reading “Community Policing Can Work”

Krug’s Stationary

Krug’s Stationary
Vintage neon sign for Krug’s Office Supplies, 7 S. Main Street in Liberty, New York. Liberty is part of the famous Catskill Mountain’s Borscht Belt, home to Grossinger’s Old Hotel, a famously opulent (and now abandoned) resort. From the 1920s to the 1970s, New York City Jews flocked to Catskill resorts in the summer months to escape the stifling heat of the city.

There were once over 500 resorts and hotels in the area. With increasing religious tolerance and the advent of widespread commercial airliners, many families chose to vacation elsewhere and dozens of these establishments now lay abandoned.