Friday, June 19, 2020

Couldn't have done it without you...

In a normal month of June, Amy and I would have driven home from Gettysburg today and I’d already be missing the place. We did not travel to Gettysburg this year, due to the world-wide pandemic, but we’ll be back sometime in the future. The entire world must get healthy before it can happen, but we’ll be back.

When you become disappointed over something, it is easy to develop tunnel vision. What you see and feel is limited to how you perceive the world is treating you. Not going to Gettysburg to attend the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College and not exploring the tremendous history on the battlefield were major disappointments. We didn’t eat lunch at the Garry Owens Pub or teach the kids at the local Dairy Queen how to have a good time. My tunnel vision left me unhappy, so I whined, moaned and complained for a week.
With Amy on a dinner date.

I don’t know why my wife Amy puts up with me.

But with Father’s Day on the horizon, the ole tunnel vision started widening again and the resulting perspective stopped the pity parade. A lot of things have happened since the last Father’s Day. Through it all, both the good and bad, it was Amy’s remarkable strength that powered the engine that moved us through the last year, her intellect that guided us around the potholes we found (they have a lot of those here in Ohio) and her sparkling wit that made the whole thing worth doing.

A medical test last summer resulted in Amy getting a frightening diagnosis. That led to surgery, recovery, treatment and more recovery. And she just kept plugging away. She had to do this? Okay. Something else was next? Okay. We had much earlier planned a birthday party and both of our children visited to celebrate Amy’s special day. Amy loved it. An old and treasured friend happened to visit in the middle of all that and it was him, not me, who drove Amy to her first treatment. Amy cruised through the long treatment protocol as though it was a series of trips to her hair salon. It was almost as though she was making her way through an adventure and learning new and interesting things as she went.

Learning is something Amy does constantly and that makes sense. She taught in the primary grades for 42 years and through all of those years, she never stopped looking for new ways to help her students learn. She’s retired now but she still hasn’t stopped learning. New stuff pleases her so she keeps looking for it.

Our kids, Sean and Regan, learned most of life’s important lessons from Amy. Try not to be too stunned when you read this: The family teacher did most of the teaching to the family.

Sean and Regan
The kids will call Sunday to wish a happy Father’s Day and I will joke that I couldn’t have done it without them, which is true. But I could not have done it without Amy, either. Would not have wanted to. The fact is that I didn’t lift a hand to help raise our kids. Amy did it all and she has always done things the right way. Our kids are walking, talking evidence that their mother did a marvelous job of creating a warm, loving environment at home. Both kids are smart, strong, warm and funny like their Mom.

Father’s Day is really just another way to say, “Thank you, Amy. I love you and cherish our marriage and everything that has come from it.”
I admire the hell out of my wife and I’ll spend Father’s Day with her. Gettysburg can wait. Amy’s in Ohio with me and everything else is fine.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Spradley boys: Life and death

The story of the American Civil War can be summed up in the tale of two men, men from Alabama who had similar names but who do not appear to have been brothers. They served in the same Confederate Army unit after enlisting at about the same time. They endured many of the same privations and yet met very different fates.

They were Bryant E. Spradley and Warren A. Spradley of Company A of the 4th Battalion of Hilliard’s Legion. Bryant Spradley was born in 1833 and married his first wife in 1860. He enlisted in the Confederate arms on May 11, 1862. Warren Spradley was born in 1838. He enlisted April 8, 1862.
The flag of Hilliard's Legion, currently held by the Alabama 
Department of Archives and History

The Legion was made up of mostly Alabamians, with a few men from Georgia. When formed, the Legion was commanded by a well-known politician of the time, Henry Washington Hilliard, and consisted of three infantry battalions, one artillery battalion and a cavalry battalion. The Cavalry group split away from the Legion shortly after the Legion was formed and the artillery battalion mostly fought as infantry. Hilliard eventually resigned from the army and the Legion, which continued to carry his name, was later added to the brigade of the very capable Brigadier General Archibald Gracie. By the time the men of the Legion saw their first combat action during the bloody battle of Chickamauga, the Legion’s original strength of about 3,000 men had lessened to less than 2,000. Disease and other issues thinned the Legion’s ranks.

Warren Spradley was among the lamented dead. He died on March 3, 1863 of an illness while on special duty as a battalion teamster. The leading killer in both the United States and the Confederate armies was disease. For every soldier who was killed in combat, at least two others died of some kind of sickness during the war.
The flag of the 59th Alabama Infantry Regiment, held by
the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

Bryant Spradley, however, survived both the various sicknesses which thinned Civil War ranks and the awful carnage at Chickamauga. When the Legion was broken into three new organizations at the end of 1963, Bryant became a member of Company I of the 59th Alabama Infantry and as a member of the 59th, he would later become a member of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and find himself in the mud, rain, heat and horror of the trenches outside of Petersburg, Virginia. He was elected 2nd Lieutenant on February 19, 1864.

Bryant Spradley was wounded sometime around August 8 of ’64 and then he was captured by Union forces at Amelia Court House, Virginia on April 3, 1865, just a few days before Lee surrendered his Army. Spradley was imprisoned at Point Lookout, then at Old Capitol Prison in Washington, DC. Finally, he was among those Confederate prisoners of war who were held at Johnson’s Island, Ohio. It was at Johnson’s Island that Bryant Spradley took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and was released from prison. He was 32 years of age at that time and listed his hometown as Benton, Alabama.

Bryant Spradley did not stay in Alabama long after he returned from the war. He and members of his family moved to Texas in 1872. He out-lived two wives and fathered nine children. He eventually died in the home of one of his sons in 1908.

The two Spradley boys served together in the same company for 10 months and suffered very different fates. One died of disease less than a year after enlisting. The other lived through 19 months of combat, although he was wounded, and survived terms in three POW camps before then living a long life.

The Civil War is the story of millions of men like the Spradleys. They caught diseases and they caught bullets. Plenty of them caught both. Some lived, some died. In the end, their story is our nation’s collective story.
Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 13, 2020

I'm not Thomas Paine, but it's time for some common sense

The world is in the midst of an illness outbreak of epical proportions. Sickness has suddenly gone viral and all of us are scrambling to cope.

Kids are staying home from school, March Madness and the two college world series (baseball and softball) have been cancelled. Major League Baseball has delayed the start of the regular season by two weeks and it is possible the delay could be extended longer. Travel could become severely limited in the coming weeks.

It reads like something out of one of Tom Clancy’s books. Heck, it happened in one of his books.

Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic announced this week that it can test up to 500 people a day for the COVID-19 virus and it expects to be able to test 1,000 people a day within a couple of weeks. The results should be available within eight hours, the clinic said. If that can be done in northeastern Ohio, you would hope the same performance can be replicated in other parts of the country.

It is in situations like these that Americans have typically shown their mettle and that is what we must do now. The virus can’t be defeated with a magic medicine. It spreads to all of us through all of us and like it or not, we are over populated. That population density is a serious problem now because the virus spreads from one person to another only when people are together. In high population areas, we are always together.

So use common sense for the next few months, no matter where you live. Limit your travel, try to avoid crowds and wash your hands frequently. If you can work from home, do so. Spend your time with the great indoors and remember to sneeze or cough into your elbow.

Fill out your 2020 Census document online and send it in. Get extra sleep if you can, watch a little extra television. Read to your kids or play boardgames with them. If you have someone in your home with a compromised immune system, such as a cancer survivor, limit your exposure risk as much as you limit theirs.

Read a book (you can order mine, That Bloody Hill: Hilliard’s Legion at Chickamauga, through my publisher, McFarland & Company, Inc) or write one. Do plenty of stretching, whether at work or at home, and try to follow a more healthy lifestyle.

We are in this thing together and the only way we can slow the spread of the virus is by sticking apart as much as possible.
Good luck, everybody. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The book of a lifetime: The 1951 LA Rams

          The 1951 Los Angeles Rams football team has long been a subject of particular interest here. The Rams won their only Los Angeles-based NFL championship that year, after losing both the 1949 and 1950 NFL title games.

          Every book the Los Angeles Public Library system had that even mentioned the ’51 Rams made it to the SpeedyLeeway home after a quick checkout many years ago and other books that have even a glancing glimpse of the title team now sit proudly on a bookcase here in the Official Office of SpeedyLeeway. Yeah, there are a few.

          Imagine the excitement here, then, when the Professional Football Researchers Association picked the 1951 Rams for the organization’s next research project and book. Holy cow, that was good news. Your Loyal Blogger was selected to contribute not one but TWO essays on the Rams and those essays have been completed. The opportunity to delve into the history of the Rams franchise and explore components of the only championship the franchise produced in California was a wonderful personal experience. In fact, the opportunity produced a new excuse to purchase still more books about that Rams team.

Rams quarterback Bob Waterfield.

          The Rams teams of that era featured Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin, Elroy Hirsch and Tom Fears, the Bull Elephant backfield and more. Joe Stydahar was the head coach and assistant coach Hamp Pool’s wide-open offense was the headliner. Oh my, the points they scored.

          A moment of personal triumph can be noted here. Your Loyal Blogger was slogging away, looking for something different to write. Something was needed that would hopefully make an important contribution to telling a story that has long been cherished by this writer. And, in a moment of confused clarity, the thing presented itself on a YouTube video of that fabulous 1951 title game between the Rams and Cleveland Browns.

Rams running back Dan Towler.

          YLB has loved the professional game in general and the Rams in particular since birth. However, nobody has ever confused YLB with a football coach. In fact, many, many football coaches have made roughly the same comment: “You don’t know anything,” they have said, “you aren’t a coach.”

          But on the jumpy and sometimes difficult to watch video of the title game something jumped out at YLB that was different and it happened over and over again as the game went on. Straight to the bookcase went YLB and a tattered copy of an old book was reviewed. And reviewed again. The book explained that the unusual ploy was intentional, something the Rams’ offense featured during the years that Pool ran the offense. And, dear readers, the ploy was put into use on the play that won the championship game for the Rams, the 72-yard bomb thrown by future Hall of Fame quarterback Van Brocklin to future Hall of Fame wide receiver Fears. The book will argue that the ploy was actually the move that won the game, an unheralded play by an unknown player among all those Hall of Famers.

          Want to know more? The PFRA’s book on the 1951 Los Angeles Rams will be out later this year. It will be published by McFarland & Company Publishers, the same publishing house that published the much-heralded Civil War classic, That Bloody Hill: Hilliard’s Legion at Chickamauga, in 2018.

          Previously, McFarland has published The 1966 Green Bay Packers: Profiles of Vince Lombardi’s Super Bowl I Champions and The 1958 Baltimore Colts: Profiles of the NFL’s First Sudden Death Champions. Your Loyal Blogger penned an essay on Colts coach Weeb Ewbank. The books on the Packers, Colts and Rams are part of the PFRA’s Great Teams in Pro Football History series, which is a unique set of books produced by the PFRA and McFarland. You can order the Packers and Colts books through McFarland or any online service, either the printed version or as e-books.
          Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Because it's about the stories

If it is true that learning is an adventure, then life must be a travelogue.

          Life is about the places you’ve been, the people you’ve met, the impact all that has made on you and the impact you’ve made upon others. In short, life is about the stories we collect. History, then, must be the collection of all those stories.

Sometimes it is the collection of stories from differing viewpoints about the same thing. The first time Captain Edward J. Smith ever saw the Royal Mail Steamer Titanic, his feelings must have been very different from those of Robert Ballard and his co-workers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution the first time they saw the ship. The gap between those different experiences is filled by history.

A little boy might be awed by his first visit to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to see a professional football game. He might never forget the sights and sounds of that first time. Years later, as a grown man, he might return to the world-famous venue as a journalist charged with covering a ball game for a newspaper and by then his perception would be changed. No longer awed by sights and sounds, his only interest would be the facts. What happened? Again, the gap in time is filled by history. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has thousands of stories to tell but when that boy-turned-reporter finally retired, his strongest memory of the place might have been the smell of the hot dogs.

Ulysses Grant did not make an overwhelming impression on Robert E. Lee when they first met. Both were serving in the United States Army at the time, fighting for the same country. That sure changed by the time they met at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. By then, Grant had made an impression on the older Lee. 

Here’s an exercise: Pick two points in your own life and then fill in the gaps between them. Remember your first day of high school and your last? Still have friends left over from those days? What kind of stories do you have to tell on each other? That’s what we call history. Did you discover your life’s calling in high school? Meet a future spouse? Wreck your first car? You get extra points if you did all three and the tales you spin about each event are what life is all about.

Most of us do not live to become so well known as Lee or Grant, nor so lamented as Smith. Still, all of us have stories to tell and that is what this is leading up to.

Write them down. Get those stories recorded, one way or another. Write them or dictate them to a recorder. Do something to get those experiences preserved. It has never been easier to make a historic ledger of your life and it is a shame that so few people are taking advantage of the opportunity. Somewhere down the historic line, someone is going to ask what you were like and it would be a wonderful thing if the answer was, “I don’t remember him very well, but he wrote these stories.”

It’s your chance to make friends with someone you’ll never meet. And that would make a great story.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Civil War Institute: My annual homecoming

The goal for this blog has always been to avoid writing in the first person. It is a personal writing challenge that I set for myself and typically this blog is written that way.

Today I get to break the rule and write in the first person about the Civil War Institute, a conference I attend each year at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. The CWI is a five-day, deep dive into Civil War study and it is my favorite week of the year, every year. I was worried that last year might be our last Gettysburg visit and with everything that happened last summer it could have been. But we’ll be back this year and I want you to know why this is such good news for us.

The speakers at the CWI cover a wide range of Civil War-related topics. Every topic you might imagine has been covered, one way or another, in the years I have attended the conference and I am sure that something new will be covered this year. My interest in the war mostly concentrates on what happened on the battlefields. I want to know about the strategy and tactics, the quality of leadership, the impact of the terrain on the flow of battle and the successes or failures of the individual soldiers. But I know that you can’t understand the four years of battlefield struggle if you don’t understand everything else about the era. In 2012 we heard about race and the American military tradition and about life in post-war Kentucky. In 2015 a panel explored the iconic photographs of the war. In 2016 Mark W. Summers spoke about the questions of Reconstruction and I wrote in my CWI notebook, “Wow – what a speaker.” Dr. Peter Carmichael runs the CWI and he speaks every year. His 2019 address, A Hoosier Couple at War – And Mostly With Each Other: Mahala and David Beem, was brilliant. Other speakers I have come to really enjoy at the CWI include Gary Gallagher, Susannah J. Ural, Megan Kate Nelson and Jennifer Murray. I have other favorites but this would be a long blog if I mentioned all of them. 

Last year, Amy and I explored both Richmond and the battlefield at Petersburg before we went to Gettysburg and I explained to my patient, loving and brilliant wife how the trenches of the American Civil War set the stage for the trench warfare of World War I. A few days later, during a CWI address, Earl Hess explained on national television exactly how wrong I was. Dr. Hess is a terrific historian and a wonderful speaker, but I could have done without his eloquence that day.

Amy does not attend the conference but she has come to love Gettysburg. There are several places where we like to eat and the staff at the hotel where we stay has come to know her after ten years. I usually have the car – whether I’m walking the battlefield or attending the CWI I hog the car – but there is a very good bus service that Amy uses to get around town and she enjoys using that service. The hotel also has a multi-screen movie theater in the same parking lot, so Amy catches up on the flicks while we are there.

Sometimes I’ll figure something out on a battlefield somewhere, some very minor point of little importance, and I’ll drive Amy out near the location so that I can show her whatever it is that I was so slow to understand. Amy always thanks me for showing her what I’ve learned. Then she tells me where we’re going for lunch. My best girl listens to me prattle pointlessly on a battlefield with lunch looming. Life is pretty good sometimes.

And I have to write something else, too, another personal note. The CWI staff has been so friendly through the years that I have come to feel as though I am coming home every time we leave our home and head for the CWI. There has never been a time when I didn’t feel welcome. The staffers simply make you happy to be there. 

In short, this blog recommends the CWI for those people interested in history of any kind and especially the American Civil War. You can’t help but learn a lot, you get to spend time with roughly 400 other like-minded people and have a great time doing it. If you register and attend, I hope you’ll find me and say hello.

Just don’t bring up the trenches of World War I. That topic has been covered.
Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

A look at the Super Bowl

It is Super Bowl Weekend, which brings us to our annual Speedyleeway Super Bowl Blog, a few things to consider about the big game before it starts, based upon history and observations.

QUARTERBACKS: Gamblers and television pundits point to the quarterbacks to determine which team has the edge, but that is a major mistake. First, the quarterbacks never face each other on the field. Next, it is true that great quarterbacks have made their names here: Joe Namath, Tom Brady, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as examples. But one of the best passers who ever played in a Super Bowl, Kurt Warner, had his team ahead in the final two minutes of three Super Bowls. His defenses gave up two of those leads and came within a yard of coughing up the other one. Dan Marino played in one Super Bowl and lost. Phil Simms played in one and won it. Super Bowls can be won by game-managing quarterbacks whose team have strong defenses. A passer who simply does not make mistakes can win rings.

DEFENSES: The team with the best defense has won virtually every Super Bowl.

SCORING: You don’t have to score a lot of points to win, you only need to score enough. Last year, the Patriots beat the high-scoring Rams 13-3. The year before, the Patriots scored 33 points and lost to the Eagles. Another year earlier, the Patriots scored 34 points and won.

RUSHING: Timmy Smith rushed for a Super Bowl-record 204 yards for the Redskins in Super Bowl XXII and Washington beat Denver 42-10. Matt Snell gained 121 yards in Super Bowl III, when the Jets stunned the Colts, and Snell scored the Jets’ only touchdown that day. John Riggins gained 166 yards, 43 on one memorable scoring play, and led the ‘Skins past the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII. The team that runs the ball best, or at least makes the most big plays on the ground, usually wins Super Bowls.

COACHING: The Super Bowl is a coach’s game. Not so much the preparation, although that is obviously very important. It is a coach’s game because of the leadership needed to get a team through all of the distractions and the very different atmosphere leading up to the game itself. Weeb Ewbank’s approach was different from Vince Lombardi’s, for example, but both men won. It is hard to tell who might have the edge this year.

THIS YEAR’S GAME: Kansas City has the hottest quarterback in the league, San Francisco has a good game-manager under center. The 49ers have the better defense and it seems likely that they will run the ball better as well. If you accept the idea that the quality of coaching is about equal, then tomorrow’s game looks like a good one.

PREDICTION: Your Loyal Blogger will be rooting for Kansas City to win for Andy Reid, but the prediction here is that San Francisco will get enough production out of their quarterback, run the ball well, play better defense and beat the Chiefs in a close game.

KEY TO WINNING: A low-scoring game favors San Francisco. If the game turns into a high-scoring tidal wave of points, that kind of thing favors Kansas City.

SCORE? It says here that San Francisco will win 24-17.