Wednesday, February 20, 2013


The Vice President of the United States, one Joe Biden, if the press is to be believed, said, in public, that Americans should buy double-barreled shotguns for personal defense, and that if threatened, they should go outside and fire a couple of blasts, which should scare away most intruders.  This has to be some of the worst advice ever given by any human being.  I will address a few points very briefly, but the main thrust of this essay will be a discussion of shotguns, in general, as primary weapons for personal defense.

First, it is illegal in most areas to promiscuously fire live ammunition into the surrounding environment.  This happens to be a law of which I approve, because guns, in general, including shotguns, discharge projectiles at sufficient velocities to kill or main HH Sapiens and other creatures, as well as to damage property. (“It’s only property!  Don’t be such a materialist!  Yeah, how about the baby that was sleeping under the window you just blew out?)  These projectiles have to come to earth somewhere.   (Biden may not be familiar with life on a planet that has gravity, such as the planet Pelosi, for example.  Incidentally, this would explain as well as the Botox theory that entity’s gravity-defying facial structure.)  When those projectiles come to earth, they are quite capable of doing serious injury to people.  The liberals love to howl and snivel, “If it only saves ONE child…”  Let’s change that to, “If it only kills ONE child, it’s okay as long as you don’t use an AR-15.”

Second, humans have two primary responses to fear:  flight and fight.  If your intruder happens to have a flight response, you’re good, except for all that innocent bystander trivia. However, if your intruder happens to have a fight response, you have several problems.  (1), you have just announced your presence and your position.  (2) You have just announced the fact that you are armed.  (3) You have just launched into the atmosphere deadly missiles, in an unknown direction, giving your intruder a very plausible opportunity to say, “I thought she was shooting at me, so I shot back.” (4) You have just emptied your weapon, leaving you at your attacker’s mercy, even if he doesn’t have a firearm.  (Are you ready to spar with a possibly drugged-up criminal, probably in the dark, with the lives of yourself and your family at stake?  If so, you’re as much an idiot is this Biden entity.)  and (5) You have just wasted two rounds of ammunition that you might need shortly if it turns out your intruder is actually a gang.  Oh, and (6) You have just violated Heaven knows how many local statutes about reckless endangerment, and, if there is a shred of justice left in America, will be facing jail time.

Third, a 12 gauge shotgun is most emphatically NOT easier to handle than an AR or any other weapon of that class.  In fact, the AK rifles and SKS rifles are works of sheer genius in that they are very easy for inexperienced people to operate.  Why do you think you see so many mindless cretins carrying them around the world?  My goodness, even a Jihadist can operate an AK!  Those rifles are superb militia weapons because they are as nearly idiot-proof as any on the market.  A shotgun has much, much greater recoil than an AR, making it a very poor choice for a person of advanced years, small stature, or physical infirmity, such as arthritis.  The double gun, especially, is awkward and time-consuming to reload.  The shotgun is longer than an AR, especially an AR with a compact stock, and much more difficult to swing or point in a confined space, such as a hallway or entryway.  (This is not as much a factor if you figure on going out in the yard to indiscriminately spray buckshot around.)

In short, Biden’s advice is criminally insane and/or subhumanly stupid.  It is proof positive of his utter incompetence and incapacity to handle the job, even one described by my cousin, John, Nance Garner, thusly:  “This job isn’t worth a cup of warm spit.”  The fact that Obama nominated him and still supports and promotes him is, likewise, proof positive that Obama is equally moronic and vastly more corrupt; Joe can’t help being what he is, but Obama likes him by choice.  This administration is unfit for public service at any level, and the only proper response, at this point, is impeachment and incarceration, if not execution for treason.  I would apply this judgment to all in the legislature who have supported them.

Last, and most significantly, the reelection of these cretins by a majority of the American population is proof positive that America is doomed.  Unless you happen to be surrounded by close friends and fellow travelers, look left.  Look right.  Both of those people would rather see you dead or in chains than be held accountable for their own actions.  Prepare accordingly. 

Now.  Let’s discuss the role of the shotgun in personal defense.  I love shotguns.  At close to intermediate ranges – up to about 50 yards – they are extremely effective against unarmored targets. With some modification, they can be made into very practical and flexible close quarters weapons, but off the shelf, most shotguns are, at best, compromises in this regard.

Vocabulary:   A shotgun is a smoothbore shoulder-held weapon.  “Smoothbore” means it does not have rifling – those spinney little grooves inside the barrels of “rifles.”  This limits the accurate range and velocity of the projectiles.  A modest rifle cartridge will push a bullet in the neighborhood of 1700-2000 feet per second, and be accurate to several hundred yards.  A really hot 12-gauge round runs about 1500-1600 fps, and is accurate to 50-75 yards.  Velocity gives you range and shocking power. 

A shotgun can fire a solid projectile, called a slug, but the vast majority of defensive and sporting shotgun ammunition fires “shot,” or pellets.  These pellets range in size from 1.3mm to 9.4mm.  “Birdshot” is on the smaller end, while “Buckshot” is on the bigger end.  (Buckshot gets its name from its use in hunting deer.)  Shotgun ammunition is available in many different loadings.  The “heavier” loads have more shot and more powder, making them more effective for defense, but also increasing the recoil significantly.  Remember Newton?  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction?  If you drive a lot of shot real fast, the reaction – “recoil” – is going to be more than if you drive less shot more slowly.  The “lightest” 12 gauge ammunition will kick MUCH harder than an AR-15, or even an AK.

A “riot gun” is nothing more than a shotgun with a short barrel, generally 18 inches.  The barrels were not shortened to make the shot spread, but to make them more easily handled in confined spaces, such as jails, alleys, and trenches.  A “pump” shotgun is a magazine-fed weapon with a sliding pump that you have to pull to the rear and shove back forward in order to throw the spent shell out of the weapon and put a live one into firing position.  A “semi-auto” shotgun, like any other semi-auto, uses the propellant gas (from that loud explosion) or the recoil, itself to drive the action backward, and a spring to shove it back forward.  NOTE:  the operations on a pump or semi-auto firearm are identical.  The only difference is in whether you have to cycle it, yourself, or the weapon does it for you.  “Automatic” shotguns, like “automatic” rifles, are illegal, and have been for many years.

MYTH 1:  You can’t miss with a shotgun.  Bull. Given that over 95% of all civilian shootings occur at ranges under 15 feet, the pattern (spread of the shot) is less than an inch.  A .45 (diameter .45”) projectile gives you a margin of error between hitting and missing of about +/- 3/16 inch. So a shotgun gains you, at most, a half-inch of margin.  That is insignificant, and damned sure doesn’t make it impossible to miss someone!  People will tell you that if you have a short barrel, the shot spreads more. The minimum legal barrel length for shotguns is 18 inches.  The most common length for “sporting” use shotguns is between 26 and 28 inches.  The difference in shot spread, at common combat ranges, is, at most ¼ inch.  Also, the shorter the barrel, the lower the velocity of the shot.  You see, in a longer barrel, the gasses from the gunpowder have more time to accelerate the pellets.  If you cut a barrel down to the point that you have an appreciably wider pattern, you will lose so much velocity that the impact will be much less, and your chance of stopping the fight proportionately less.  (By the way, if anyone tells you to cut your shotgun down, even to 18 inches or more, you get away from that moron!  Cutting down any shoulder weapon is illegal, and, even if you are justified in shooting an intruder, will get you in prison – really, really, really prison!)

MYTH 2:  The sound of a pump shotgun being racked (that means pulling the pump back and forward) will scare off any intruder.  This is dangerous, even catastrophic advice.  Even if a person is sober, about half the population has a “fight” response when frightened, and will attack you when you rack your shotgun. Since you have just announced the fact that you are armed and plausibly have violent intent, you have invited what is otherwise a criminal maggot to enter under the full protection of the law if he burns you down.  If your intruder happens to be drunk or stoned, all bets are off, and you can find yourself with more close-up trouble than you can possibly imagine – or manage.  I actually fired a load of 12 gauge, #4 buckshot (thirty-odd pellets, about 6mm, or .24 caliber) into the mud between a punk’s feet.  He sneered at me and said, “Man, if you choot me, I’ll tsue you!”  I said, “Why, you damnfool, if I shoot you, you’ll die.”  He’s standing there, splattered with mud, ears ringing, staring into the smoking hole in the end of that 870, (on which I had just racked the slide, by the way) and was utterly unimpressed.  Never, NEVER count on bluff!

MYTH 3:  A 12 gauge buckshot round is a 100% reliable, one-shot stopper.  Police blotters are filled with stories of people soaking up two or even three loads of buckshot and continuing to attack, or at least to function aggressively.  True, a shotgun is much more effective than many other weapons, but do not for a second believe that one round is going to end the fight.  Consider, for a moment, how our military personnel have been known to function – even get up and run around and carry their comrades on their backs – after being hit multiple times by rifles and shrapnel.  Criminals come from the same gene pool, and have the same physiology, even if sober, and on drugs – eee, forget it!  Figure on having to shoot any attacker at least twice, no matter what you shoot him with.  This means, of course, that a double-barreled shotgun, which can be loaded with a maximum of two rounds, it totally unsuited as a primary defensive weapon.  Of course, it's a lot better than a ball bat or kitchen knife, but if you have a choice, don't go for any one of the three.

MYTH 4:  Shotguns are easy to use and require no training or experience.  This is usually related to the “can’t miss” myth, and/or the “just rack the slide” myth.  No matter what kind of weapon you choose, LEARN HOW TO USE THE DAMNED THING!  Loading a shotgun requires manual dexterity because you can’t just drop the empty magazine and slap in another one.  You have to load the rounds one at a time by stuffing them into a small slot in the belly of the beast.  You’re scared, stressed by being in a life-threatening situation, it may be dark (they love to cut the power before kicking in the door) you might be taking fire, your kids may be screaming in terror, (or worse, trying to run past you to get out of the house)…. The list of things that can make loading a shotgun one round at a time very difficult is long, indeed.  What if your hands are cold, or you have arthritis?  In my opinion, a shotgun, especially a pump, requires more training than does an AR.  And don’t forget the tactical aspect, either.  Because of the length of a shotgun, you will need to ingrain patterns of movement that prevent you from bashing the muzzle into a wall and possibly dropping the weapon.  Again, whether you choose a butter knife or a shotgun for defense, learn it and practice with it.

In my opinion, a shotgun is not the best choice for a primary home defense weapon, and a double barreled shotgun is a piss-poor choice.  Talk about difficulty in reloading and vicious recoil!  The length of the weapon is a primary consideration.  For example, it is utterly impossible to use one in your car, and even in a house, getting it around corners and through hallways can be awkward even if you practice a great deal.  Consider the very short range of many civilian confrontations:  under 5 feet.  Even with a riot gun, that puts the muzzle well within his reach.  Can you keep a strong, fast, athletic man who is too stoned to care from jerking that thing out of your hand?

On the plus side for shotguns is the undeniable stopping power, and remember, your objective in a fight is NOT to kill the guy, but to STOP THE FIGHT.  Put him on his back, NOW!  Render him incapable of pressing his attack, NOW!  A shotgun is not a guaranteed, 100%, one-shot stopper, but it’s better than most handguns.  The ability of a projectile to penetrate anything comes from its mass.  A big bullet will penetrate more than a small bullet moving at the same speed.  The pellets in a birdshot cartridge are much smaller than the pellets in a buckshot cartridge, and thus have less penetrating ability.  This makes birdshot more attractive if there is a chance of your fire going through a wall and hitting someone on the other side.  Birdshot is utterly devastating on a human body, and is no less a stopper than buckshot, unless… UNLESS!... your opponent is wearing body armor, or even very heavy clothing, such as motorcycle racing gear or a heavy leather coat.  The impact will be as great, but the shot may not get into his muscle and nervous system, which means there is less chance of stopping the fight.  Of course, you could try the government’s approach and use signage to create an armor-free zone around your home.

I would much rather have a semi-auto shotgun for home defense because it could be, if necessary, operated with one hand.  It won’t be a picnic, because that sucker’s still gonna kick, but if you absolutely had to, you could hold it in one hand and get off several shots in a very short period of time.  They won’t be as accurate as if you use both hands, but if one hand is otherwise occupied or injured, it could be done.

So the bottom line is:  pick a weapon with which you are comfortable, get a good coach, use realistic training scenarios, and PRACTICE LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT, because…   I hope that’s obvious.  And one, purely personal note, pray for all you are worth that you never have to shoot another human being.

Sunday, February 17, 2013



The next day dawned clear and cold, but quickly warmed. The snow melted and left mud, which we marched in, and stood for inspection in, and passed in review in.  There’s a taste of history, right there. As the men warmed, steam rose from their bodies as it did from the puddles on the ground, giving a ghostly opacity to the scene.  A unique feature of the second day’s review was that the Yankee commanders rode in and sat their horses, with their colors, beside our commanders.  Their infantry fell in behind our third battalion and passed in review with us.  A sense of shared hardship and passion, even of brotherhood, came later, but that morning we held ourselves aloof from them, trying to make either them or ourselves invisible.  They were the enemy, and we had no desire to pussyfoot around with them there in the ice and steaming mud.  To their credit, I saw very few clean Yanks that day.

We replenished our cartridge boxes and haversacks from our stores. In the late morning, the army was formed and we marched out on a different road.

The battle of Sayler’s Creek, that afternoon, is a mixture of poorly focused, swirling images, as if the subjects were moving too fast for the camera,  and incredibly vivid scenes, in full color and excruciating detail.  Our battalion faced off against a much stronger Yankee force, and they pounded us.  Still, we stood better than we had right to, until a company of their cavalry, with repeating rifles, flanked us at about 40 yards.  Their muzzle flashes made it look like the woods were on fire, and the old second battalion fell apart.  Men scrambled in every direction.  My best friend, Earl, and I found ourselves with about a dozen other men, crouching behind a bank, with a blackberry bog at our backs.  There was a terrific firefight going on in the field on the other side of that bank, and we were in the middle of it. In our state of mind, the fact that there were not thousands of bullets buzzing a few feet over our heads was not entirely obvious to us.

A lieutenant looked at me and said, “First Sergeant, you and I are senior here.  Do you see any point in fighting it out?”  I looked at the worn out men around me, and remembered the sense of terrible waste that was still fresh in my mind after bayonetting that boy the day before.  “No, Sir.  I do not.  Let the men choose to try to escape or surrender.”

We looked in each other’s eyes, shook hands, and about half of the men took off. There was no judgment on either part.  The lieutenant moved to an opening in the hedge that topped our shelter, put his cap on his sword and held it over his head.  “Men, hold your rifles in front of you, muzzles down.”  A minute or so later another one of those babyish faces under a blue cap peeked over the bank.

“You Rebs surrendering?”  he asked.  The lieutenant said that we were.  The boy gestured behind him, and shortly he and about 15 others came cautiously over the bank.  They gawked at us in awe, as if we were circus animals that had sprung our cages, and might very well be dangerous.  I can only imagine how we looked to them:  dirty, ragged, grim-faced.  No, we weren’t starving scarecrows as Lee’s men were that awful day in 1865, but compared to their freshness, cleanliness, and youth, we were a sorry lot.  Now comes one of those moments when history reached out her hand and touched us.  One of the Rebs asked, “What troops are you?”

One of the Yanks said proudly, “First Minnesota!”  We had not discussed this at all.  In fact, other than Earl and I, none of them even knew each other. But in unison, every one of us said, “Thank God it’s not fucking Massachusetts.”

They took our rifles and cartridge boxes and marched us out of the draw and up a hill, where we sat in the grass while they guarded us.  Below, we watched the climax of the battle of Sayler’s Creek.  The Virginia line was to our left, in perfect dress, about 500 strong.  From our right came a battalion of Yanks, about the same strength.  Virginia shredded them in a series of the most exquisite, savage volleys I’ve ever seen.  CRACK!  500 rifles, a single shot. The survivors of the Yankee battalion fled, leaving windrows of blue bodies on the field, marking every point where they’d stopped to fire.  A moment later, another Yankee battalion came from the right, and Virginia shredded them again, but this time, there were fewer Virginians than before, and as they were pushed back a little, they, too, left a pathetic row on the ground.  The second Yankee battalion broke and fled, and another came up, and then another, and then another.  By this time, the field was carpeted in blue, right up to where the carpet turned gray.  The remaining few platoons of Virginians melted into the trees behind them, and the firing died to a desultory, spiteful popping, like the last kernels in a bowl of popcorn.  As the remnant of the Virginians withdrew from the field, from our right appeared a full Yankee brigade - as many bluebellies as were laying on the field.  Hell, you could kill 'em all day and all night, and there'd be as many coming at you the next day.

Earl and I turned our backs on the field, and fought back the tears.   A Yankee corporal came by and gave each of us a piece of hardtack without speaking, and walked away.  I still have half of it.  I will never forget the stand those Virginians made, nor the heartbreak of seeing them literally buried under an unstoppable avalanche of blue.  The Yankees had just bred us into submission.  Speaking for myself, there has never been a feeling of having been whipped, but we were defeated, and no mistake.

The attitude in camp that night was melancholy.  We spoke of memories of the past four years, and sang a few songs.  I sang “Lorena,” and stopped where I always do, at the line, “It matters little now, Lorena.”





I should have written this 23 years ago.  I’m not sure why I didn’t.  Maybe it was too sad; maybe it was too intimate.  It  was, indeed, heartbreaking, and it did, indeed, touch me at my core.  It’s time, because it is now relevant.  Many who read this will say, “Huh?  Relevant to what?”  Others will nod, and say, “Yep.”  I accept that, but even so, it’s still time.

In April of 1990, I took part in the 125th anniversary reenactment of the battles of Sayler’s Creek and Cumberland Church, and the surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox, Va..  Sayler’s Creek and the surrender were staged on the original sites, which always brings a different level of intensity to the emotions and the sense of being “there.”  This is mostly about what happened at Appomattox, but to understand that, you need to have a feeling for what had preceded it, for that was what set the stage in our minds for Appomattox.

The event was first announced late in 1989.   The first announcements said the event would be limited to 1,000 Confederates and 1,000 Federals because the sites were too small for the 15-20,000 troops we’d been seeing at Gettysburg and Wilderness.  These 2,000 troops were to be the crème de la crème of The Service, and everybody wanted in on it.  It is a source of tremendous pride to me that two weeks before the event was announced, I received an invitation for my outfit, Company B, 4th Texas Infantry, to attend. For the next few months, we trained intensely, worked hard on our gear, and spurred each other to new heights; we were going to be the best outfit on the field.

We arrived late in the day and immediately set up our camp.  Most of the troops that were in the woods that night, were hard corps authentic, and had nothing in their camps they hadn’t marched in with. We had very simple tents and one blanket per man, and most of us had gum blankets or ponchos.  It rained most of the night.  Good suffering.

Oddly, I remember nothing of the first half of the first day of the event.  I’m sure there was some battalion drill, because there was always drill, but other than that, it’s lost.  In the afternoon, the Confederate army was formed, inspected, and passed in review.  The artillery led the review, then the cavalry, then the infantry.  Words cannot express the emotions of pride, humility, gratitude, and brotherhood that swept over us as we watched the brown- and gray-clad files sweep past the officers on horseback, with the army’s colors behind them, and a band playing “The Bonnie Blue Flag.”  We marched straight from the parade ground up a road, and off into the woods a few miles away. 

There was much confusion about where the army was supposed to be (highly authentic!) and considerable countermarching.  Finally, the Second Battalion, which included us, was placed in a line of battle in one of the most preposterous positions I’ve ever seen.  We were at the edge of a brush-choked ravine that was about 200 yards across and 20-30 feet deep.  The problem was that we were out  in the open, with our backs to a large, open field, facing the tree line, not 50 feet away.  An officer on horseback rode up and told the battalion commander to be ready for a Yankee attack out of that ravine.  We first sergeants went down our company lines one last time, making sure every rifle was loaded and capped, and that every man was aware of what was about to happen.

Squinting into the gloom of the woods from the bright sun, we heard men coming up the slope, and after a few minutes, we saw blue uniforms.  The right wing of the battalion volleyed into the woods.  A Carolina voice, rich with venom, shouted out of the woods, “Cease firing, you stupid bastards!  We’re Confederate Marines!”  We had been tensed for a close attack, and to suddenly realize we’d fired on our own men almost turned out stomachs. They’d been deployed as skirmishers to our front, but no one thought to tell us about it. (Highly authentic.)  A few of the Marines came on and passed through the battalion, but several others lay in the woods.  Not two minutes later, there was a terrific racket in the ravine, and half the Yankees in hell came boiling up out of it, at a run.  The woods had destroyed their formations, so they came at us like a mob, howling and shouting and waving their rifles at us.  We had time for one round before they were on us.  Several crashed into my company, to my left, and swept them back, leaving me alone.

A burly Yank ran at me, obliquely, and waved his rifle as if to buttstroke me.  I dropped into a deep crouch,  reached Annie’s muzzle up under his rifle, and poked him under the short ribs.  His eyes bugged out and he went down.  (We had no bayonets on our rifles, so I just hit him with the muzzle, simulating running 17 inches of British iron through his guts.)  I recovered to guard just  in time to face a very young Yank in spotless, clean, new clothes, running straight at me, his rifle at arms port, his eyes wild with excitement and, I think, fear.  I didn’t have time to evade or even look for my company.  I set my right foot,  lunged forward with my left, and thrust Annie in a lunge to low tierce, catching him just below the solar plexus.  His momentum pushed my rifle back toward me and knocked me back a step, but it folded his body around Annie’s muzzle, her first band disappearing into his belly.  As he fell forward, he dropped his rifle and his eyes locked on mine, and in them was the knowledge that he was a dead man.

An instant later a gigantic Yank stiff-armed me flat o’ my back and ran on.  The young fellow had fallen at my feet, and was curled into fetal ball, winded or crying, or both.  A few seconds after that the last of the Yanks had passed me by in pursuit of whatever was left of our battalion.  Not one of them had finished me off or tapped me and said, “You are my prisoner,” so I looked around, jumped up, grabbed Annie, and lit off into the brush.  For the next two hours, I and another Reb played hide and seek with Yankee cavalry patrols and skulkers.  Eventually, my companion said he’d take his chances in the blackberry bog at our backs.  We shook hands and he took off.

For another 45 minutes, or so, I crept around the tree line to a road.  I was about to drop down the embankment to the road, when I heard horses coming.  I scroonched back under a bush and waited.  Of all the people to come down that road, in that place, at that time, was my dear friend from Arizona, Brent Brown, and his gray coat was a thing of beauty to me.  Brent gave me a ride back to our camp, where my lads greeted me with jeers that hid the fact they’d been worried sick that I’d been injured.  We were all exhausted – I was barely able to stand - and when it started to rain about dusk, we headed for our tents to get an early start on sleep.  Within an hour, the temperature had dropped from the 80’s to the low 20’s, and it snowed like a girl dog all night.  Lordy, it was miserable.

In my 30 years of reenacting, a few things have really stuck in my mind, and have come calling out of my memory when something summoned them.  One of the most powerful was the vision on that young Yank – Lord, he was a baby! – as his body crumpled around my rifle and his eyes said to me, as plainly as ever a man spoke, “You have killed me, and I know it.”  How many times, especially late in the war, did that happen?  An old man, bitter and broken, took a life so young and filled with promise and hope.  Some people have poked fun at reenactors, saying we are just boys, playing at war, and have no hope of experiencing the real thing.  They are correct up to a point, but when it’s done right, as it was that afternoon, we can still get a taste of their life – a hint – a fleeting glimpse.  Taking down that boy was one such for me, and I wonder if he remembers it was vividly as do I.  I see him now, as I write this.  I wish him well, for he is a constant rider in the long train of my memory.




I should have written this 23 years ago.  I’m not sure why I didn’t.  Maybe it was too sad; maybe it was too intimate.  It  was, indeed, heartbreaking, and it did, indeed, touch me at my core.  It’s time, because it is now relevant.  Many who read this will say, “Huh?  Relevant to what?”  Others will nod, and say, “Yep.”  I accept that, but even so, it’s still time.

In April of 1990, I took part in the 125
th anniversary reenactment of the battles of Sayler’s Creek and Cumberland Church, and the surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox, Va..  What follows is an excerpt from my memoir of that event.

The next morning [after the Battle of Sayler’s Creek] we broke camp and drove to the staging area for the surrender ceremony.  Again, we were the second of three battalions, drawn up in a little draw, facing a road that ran up to the McLean house, to our left.  We were told, “Do NOT march in step,” and it was repeated several times.  I assume it was to prevent showing anyone that we still had any pride or spirit left, though both Chamberlain’s and Gordon’s memoirs speak of the precision of the Confederate drill that morning.  The melancholy from the previous night was with us still, but different.  I can’t describe it.  There was sadness, but a bit of rebelliousness, too.  It wasn’t an overt, or outward rebelliousness, but rather the sullen, “Damned if I will,” that a slave might mutter as he spits on the ground as his master walks away.
The first battalion was to our right.  They were given he command to face right, then march by files left twice, so they marched by us from right to left, their colors waving gently.  Were they marching in step?  Oh, my goodness!  That army never marched so well!  Not a sergeant called cadence, but that thunder of their heels on the gravel at precisely 110 steps per minute rolled up the draw ahead of them.  I believe you’d have had to shoot those boys to keep them from marching in step.  As we watched them pass by, we saw a world of mixed emotions in their faces.  Many wept, many more were about to, and some had masks of repressed emotions that were known only to God at that moment.  We had an overwhelming sense that we were watching the ghosts of brothers march past us into legend.

Then it was our turn.  Right, FACE!  By files left, MARCH!  By files left, MARCH!  And we were taking our turn up that road.  The Third Battalion watched us go, and my heart tells me they saw the same expressions, and heard the same perfect cadence of our steps as the Grand old First Battalion had shown.  Moving now, there was precious little time to reflect.  I know my face was drawn into a terrible scowl as I fought to suppress the tears and the shouts of rage.  We topped the rise, and there was the First Battalion, faced front, about 15 feet from the Yankee infantry.  The Yanks stood as if they were carved of stone.  Nothing moved but their flags.  Battalion, HALT!  FRONT!  Right, DRESS!  As I moved along the ranks of my company, perfecting their alignment, I saw other first sergeants doing the same, and I knew none of  us would be caught with the tiniest imperfection on that day.

Then it came. That order we’d all known would come, but somehow, never really believed would.  Fix, BAYONETS!  Rifles moved left and hands moved in numb memory.  Bayonets clinked onto muzzles and locking rings clicked, then rifles moved back to the right.  At this moment, I happened to look into the face of a Yankee first sergeant across the way.  He was an old fart, like me, and his expression was one of – well, I’ll be damned – sadness!  The private next to him, however, showed a flicker of fear as we fixed bayonets.  The Yankee rifles were naked, and at that distance, we could have had every one of ‘em before they could have reacted.  They knew it, and we knew it, but honor in the form of the spirits that swarmed around us kept our passions in check.

Stack, ARMS!  The movements that had baffled us years ago, but had been learned through practice on hundreds of fields and roads moved the rifles forward and mated them into neat stacks of four rifles each, bayonets upward.  As I write this, the emotions that filled me return like hammers, and I don’t know how I can express them.  I must, though, because it is time.

I watched the stacks forming, and when it was my turn, I handed Annie to the corporal at the head of the front rank, and watched him lean her carefully against the stack.  There.  I’d done it.  I’d handed my rifle over to the enemy, and stood before him feeling naked and helpless.  And defeated.  Hell, even castrated. In that moment, I understood all of the rhetoric that has swirled and blasted our society about the right to keep and bear arms, and the real meaning of the 2nd Amendment.  I was here, in my place in the rear rank, and Annie was there, three feet from me.  I wasn’t allowed to touch her, to snap her to the order, to shoulder her, and most of all, not allowed to move her to my left side and pour a charge down her throat, to then ram a gray ball down on top of the charge, pivot to my right, swing her before me, put a cap on her cone and prepare to fire in the defense of my home, my family, my would-be nation, indeed, of my very dreams.  She was taken from me, and had some Yankee stepped up, grabbed her from the stack, and swung her against a tree, my sense of loss could not have been greater.

The order came to remove our belts and cartridge boxes and hang them over the bayonets.  Then our colors were carefully rolled around their staffs and the staffs laid across the stacks, like fence rails.  Several companies found their iron grips on their emotions break at this point.  They ripped their colors off the poles and, with harsh strokes of bowie knives, cut them into scraps, each man taking one as a talisman that almost none would ever understand.  The battalion commander was given the canton of a Stainless Banner.  I’ll bet anything in this world he still has it, and woe to the man who disrespects it.

Right, FACE!  We faced right and doubled, almost floating away because of the lack of weight.  My right arm literally cramped from the absence of Annie.  Many other men experienced the same thing.  We were marched a short distance to a corral, ringed with wire fence and Yankee infantry.  We spread our ponchos and blankets in the wet grass and sat down in silence.  After a while, quiet conversation started up, and after that the irrepressible spirit of the men asserted itself and someone started singing.  A few gathered twigs and boiled coffee.  I ate half the hardtack cracker that had been given me the day before.  But we sat, thinking, and I know there was not a man but felt the helplessness of sitting there, penned up like bloody sheep, in the presence of our enemies.  For the rest of our lives, we would never be entirely free of the realization that we lived and walked about only at the pleasure of the government.  Since that moment, I have never been entirely free of the nagging thought that, had the ceremony been real, my life would have been held in trust – not really mine – and the government would have owned the paper on it.  It was then and is now a feeling so revolting and humiliating that I pray none of my countrymen, Northerner or Southerner, ever feels it.

Jeff Cooper is quoted as saying that when you pick up a rifle, you are transformed from a subject into a citizen.  The profundity of that statement was lost on me before I sat in that corral and watched Yankees walk past our arms and look at Annie and the others, and there wasn’t a damned thing in the world I could do about it.  A well-armed person, man or woman, is a force to be reckoned with, and may not be abused without a price paid.  An unarmed person lives only at the discretion and good will of those who have guns.  Some will say this could never happen here, but that is not the point.  The point is that an unarmed person lives only at the pleasure and good will of those who have guns, and this fact cannot be repudiated.  Fools may deny it, tyrants-in-waiting may ridicule it, but it is as solid and irrefutable as any stone – even any gravestone.

For myself, I will be a citizen.

Deo Vindici,

Saturday, February 16, 2013


I wrote the following essay in the late 1980’s.  Reading it tonight, I was really struck by how foreign and almost dangerous it sounds to speak of anyone being critical of Martin Luther King, Jr.  I was even uncomfortable with calling him by just his last name.  Rather than edit the soul out of the piece, I decided to leave it almost as it was originally, because the words tell one story, but that sense of unreality tells another.   Martin Luther King was a great man, and it is very well and entirely right that we should hold him in such great esteem.

     But he was a man, not a titan or a deity.  It is not well or right that we should allow the media, Hollywood, charlatans, and most certainly not professors to take us to a place where any mortal man cannot be called by his last name, or spoken of in frank and conventional terms.

     As for the content and meaning of the piece, I will stand by it.  (WAR)

                                    AN AMERICAN IRONY

I.          A MAN

     A few weeks ago, [1980's, remember!]  some people I know were talking about crime in America.  They are sensitive people, concerned with right and wrong, and what they said had an impact on me.  One of them said it seemed that every year, around the time of Martin Luther King’s birthday, there was a spasm of demonstrations and parades, and even violence with racial themes.  Dr. King, she said, was becoming a rallying point for militant and violent Blacks.  King had started the whole Civil Rights movement among American Blacks, and they were carrying on his tradition.  Why, the speaker wondered, had America been bullied into dedicating a holiday to a rioter?

     That got me to thinking.  What had King really stood for?  I was in high school when he went to jail in Birmingham, and though I’d heard his name at the time, I was about as politically aware as an eggplant.  To me, the most important civil rights issue was whether my parents would let me go to the basketball game.  There were three Black students at Sandia High, and they didn’t seem to have any problems the rest of us didn’t have. King and his work baffled me, but were so far from my existence as I understood it then that there was no motivation to learn about him.

     I have changed my mental habits considerably since then, and the conversation among my friends aroused my curiosity.  I went to my bookshelf and took down a history book that had several of King’s speeches and letters in it.

          “If this philosophy [of nonviolence] had not emerged, by now many streets of the
           South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood.  And I am further convinced
          that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble-rousers” and “outside agitators,” 
          those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our 
          nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek 
          solace and security in Black nationalist ideologies – a development that would 
          inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare…”

      Two things struck me about this passage.  First, King spoke very plainly against violence, and warned against actions that would lead to it.  Second, he wrote that letter while cooped up in the jail in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.  A lesser man might have been concerned with being invisible while in that place, but King never backed up an inch.

          “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful 
          misdeeds.  Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from a cup 
          of bitterness and hatred.  We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane 
          of dignity and discipline.  We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into 
          physical violence…many of our White brothers, as evidenced here today, have come
          to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably 
          bound to our freedom.  We cannot walk alone.”

     That is from King’s famous “I have a dream” speech.  I remember hearing people say that King was an Oreo – an appeaser – a collaborator - that he was “safe” for White folks to approve of because he preached submission.  Get a load of a few more paragraphs from that speech.

          “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until 
          the bright day of justice emerges.

          “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable 
          horrors of police brutality.

          “We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a 
          Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

          “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down
           like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”

     This so-called appeasing speech was delivered to a crowd of over 200,000 people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C..  I’d never read the whole speech, and it moved me. King spoke of liberty and justice with a fine, consuming fire, but he also recognized the terrible trap of violence.  He realized that if a race ware began, it could only end with the permanent subjugation of the losers, and even the winners would be losers.  King spoke of brotherhood.  He spoke of the day when little children could walk together without regard to their race.  He spoke of self-defense and independence.  He dreamed of a day when American Blacks could live as equal partners in America.

     King deplored violent assault, and he understood that the roots of it lay in the frustrated dream of liberty and equality before the law that simmers and boils in the souls of all Mankind – including the souls of American Blacks in the early 1960’s.  He deplored the idea that one group of people should have power over another simply because of their skin color.  He did not seek supremacy over anyone, but equality in the eyes of the law for everyone.

     I wish I’d known him.

II.         A FLAG

     When I came out of my study after reading about Martin Luther King, I saw a newspaper on the table.  The paper was open to an article about a lawsuit being brought by the NAACP to prohibit the public display of a certain flag anywhere in the United States.  The flag is generally called the Confederate flag.

     Those White people I’d overheard had been reacting to Dr. King as a symbol. Their fear was infectious to me, but by doing some research I learned that he is frightening only to those who are ignorant of his true message.

     The NAACP was reacting to a symbol, too: a flag.  It happens that I know a lot more about that flag that I knew about Martin Luther King, but I believe many people would be more at ease with it, as I am with King’s ideas, if they knew what it really stood for.

     In the winter of 1860 and spring of 1861, eleven states left the Union that had been established by the Constitution of 1787.  They said the contract had been broken by the northern states – that the taxes, import tariffs, and constant interference by the Federal government in their lives had given them cause to leave the Union and form their own nation. They quoted the Declaration of Independence, “…governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and they withdrew their consent from the government of the United States.

     Abraham Lincoln said they had no right to leave the Union and called up an army to force them to stay.  Southern men, enraged at Lincoln’s naked threat of armed force, formed their own army.  The first major encounter of the two armies was along a creek called Bull Run, in northern Virginia.

     When the battle seemed lost to the Southerners, General Beauregard, the Southern commander, saw a large body of troops coming down a road on his flank. In the dust and smoke of the battle, he could not see what color uniforms they wore. Their flag hung limp in the still air.  Seconds before Beauregard ordered his artillery to fire on the column, a breeze puffed their flag from the staff.  They were Southerners, and within minutes, their fire helped drive the Federal army from the field.

     After the battle, Beauregard told his staff about the incident.  He said the Confederate soldier should have a symbol that would identify him in battle – a flag so distinctive that no one would ever mistake it for any other.  This flag would not be the symbol of the Confederate government, of the Southern people, or of their institutions. It would stand for the Southern solider, alone.

     The flag that Beauregard’s staff designed was a square of red, edged in white, with a blue cross of St. Andrew, also edged in white.  In the cross were 13 white stars. The flag was known during the war as the Beauregard flag, or the Virginia battle flag.  It was never the flag of the Confederate nation.  Beauregard was replaced as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia by the most famous Confederate of all, Robert E. Lee.  Lee, the flag, and the Southern nation became irrevocably joined in the minds of Americans.

     The Beauregard flag was the symbol of several hundred thousand American fighting men.  Under it, they wrote an incredible record of courage, stamina, and devotion to their ideals.  That record is an American record, and it is partly  blood shed by Southern patriots that the red stripes on the US flag symbolize.

     In the end, they were defeated by overwhelming power and productivity.  Their way of life was destroyed  - all of it, good and bad - and all hope of independence crushed from them. More than a century has passed, but the Southern soul has not forgotten the searing shame of defeat – of Sherman’s march, Sheridan’s devastation of the Shenandoah Valley, Hunters pointless and brutal campaign into South Carolina, and finally, 12 years of punitive reconstruction.

     The only shred of dignity Southerners could cling to was the service record of their fighting men.  General Lee, as the symbol of their army, became almost an obsession with Southerners, but Lee died shortly after the war. The Virginia battle flag took his place as a visible reminder that though defeated, they were men.


     Both Dr. King and the Beauregard flag have been taken up by thugs and used as something they never were;  King as a symbol of Black supremacy and the subjugation of American Whites, and the Beauregard flag as a symbol of White supremacy and the subjugation of American Blacks.

     Those White people who were grumbling about King were frightened by the militancy of Black radicals, and were reacting to Dr. King with distrust and hatred.  Many Blacks see a variation of the Beauregard flag being waved by Klansmen, and they, too, feel fear and hatred.

     I think Dr. King would be enraged at the perversion of his message and legacy by those who wish to wreak harm and subjugation on others.  I also believe that the vast majority of Confederate soldiers would take violent exception to the use of their battle flag as a symbol of oppression, especially by a band of renegades who hide in hoods and practice terror on defenseless people.

     Dr. King is no more the cause of racial violence than is the Beauregard flag.  Outlawing the flag, outlawing observance of King’s birthday, and outlawing white sheets would all have about the same effect.  The problem is not the symbols, but the ideas, and ideas cannot be legislated against or fought with bayonets.  Ideas can only be fought with other ideas, and the source of ideas is free and educated minds.

        During our February observance of Black History Month, we should all – Black and White – read for ourselves the words of Dr. King.  We should not depend on others to interpret his work for us.  It is too important.

     While we are reading, we should look into the war that is often represented as a crusade for or against Black slavery, and I don’t mean the fanciful versions of history that have been published in both the north and the south.  Just as Dr. King’s message has been perverted, so has the meaning of the War Between the States.  Go to the original documents and understand what the Beauregard flag really stands for.

     If we are to deserve being called the moral or cultural heirs of either Dr. King or of the Confederate soldier, we must have the intellectual courage to study them both first-hand.  I think we will find that they, and we, are more alike than different.