discarded lies: wednesday, march 29, 2017 10:00 pm zst
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The 'Uncivil' War: The Battle of Shiloh Church
Shiloh lies tucked deep in the Tennessee woods, just a few miles north of the Mississippi border. The Tennessee River meanders lazily through the forest, slowly making its way southward towards Alabama. There wasn't much here in 1862; small farms and orchards dotted the landscape, an old wooden church basked in the springtime sun, and the ripples of the Tennessee River lapped up on a rock landing the locals used to transport goods and homebrew. It is on this peaceful, bucolic site that one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on American soil was waged.

General Grant, fresh off a Union victory at Fort Henry, was ordered by General Halleck to advance his Army of the Tennessee to Pittsburgh Landing at Shiloh. There, he was to await the arrival of General Buell's Army of the Ohio, where they would join and form a massive assault on the vital railroad center at Corinth, Mississippi. Corinth was located just a few miles south of Shiloh, and it was there that the Memphis and Charleston Railroad (the Confederacy's only east-west supply route) crossed the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.

For the CSA, Generals Johnston and Beauregard concentrated almost 55,000 men around Corinth. They could not allow the vital rail center to fall. On April 3, 1862, Johnston and the Army of the Mississippi began preparations to launch a massive attack against Grant's forces at Shiloh, hoping to defeat them before they were reinforced by Buell.

Johnston's army marched through a driving rainstorm to within striking distance of the Union camps. Grant was utterly clueless. He had not fortified his positions, nor prepared in any way for an attack. The surprise was nearly complete. Johnston's plan was to drive the Union army away from the Tennessee River and into the swamps west of the battlefield.

The Army of the Mississippi attacked at dawn on April 6. At the little wooden church, the Union dug in their heels, and the fighting was brutal. The peaceful ground around the church became a field of slaughter. At a small peach orchard a few hundred yards away, the fighting was so intense that the peach blossoms fell like snow upon the bodies of the dead. At a sunken farm road, the flying bullets were so dense the combatants named it the "hornet's nest". The water of a small pond near the peach orchard became bright red with the blood of the wounded men and horses.

As the sun set on that first day of slaughter, the Confederates found that they had only succeeded in driving Grant's troops to the river, instead of away from it. The Union army formed a solid front at Pittsburgh Landing and repulsed the final Confederate attack of the day. The Confederates were reeling from the loss of General Johnston, who had fallen in battle and died.

As dusk fell on the killing fields, General Buell's army arrived on the eastern banks of the Tennessee River, and he began ferrying his troops across to the Union position at Pittsburgh Landing. Also, a reserve division of Grant's army, led by General Wallace, had arrived. During the night of April 6, over 22,500 reinforcements had been added to the Union lines.

At dawn on April 7, Grant began an aggressive counterattack. General Beauregard, who had assumed command of the Confederate troops, mounted a defense, but his troops were exhausted and outnumbered. The Union troops pushed the Confederates back to Shiloh Church in brutal fighting. On the afternoon of April 7, Beauregard ordered a retreat, and the Army of the Mississippi relinquished the bloody battlefield to the Armies of the Tennessee and Ohio. The Confederate troops limped back to Corinth in the rain and sleet, defeated. The Union troops camped on the grisly battlefield, and began to bury the thousands of dead.

Grant was in disgrace after the battle of Shiloh. He was accused of being drunk or utterly negligent. He was so humiliated that he considered resigning his commission. President Lincoln was implored to remove Grant. His words: "I can't spare this man. He fights."

110,000 troops fought at Shiloh. In two days, almost 24,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing on a battlefield that consisted of only 4,000 acres.

My husband and I spent all day traipsing through the woods at Shiloh. It was so peaceful and beautiful. The birds sang from the trees, and we saw dozens of deer. The church has been rebuilt, and is still in use by the locals. The grounds are mostly well kept by the National Parks Service, and they have a guided tour of the cemetery, which we took.

The cemetery overlooks Pittsburgh Landing and the Tennessee River, and is shaded by massive trees. Some of the stones have inscriptions, but most are blank. Unknown soldiers. The parkie who guided the tour informed us that only United States soldiers are buried in the cemetery. We had thought that all the soldiers of that battle had been buried in trenches, but it turns out that the Union soldiers had been buried (or reburied) in proper graves.

There are five burial trenches for the Confederate soldiers at Shiloh. Only one is located on the driving tour. We found another one by playing Daniel Boone through the woods. One of the trenches contains 700 soldiers. To stand before them is incredibly sad. Someone had recently laid a memory wreath at the largest of the trenches. After the battle of Shiloh, Beauregard had written Grant, asking to be allowed to bury his dead, but Grant had already buried the Confederates in mass graves.

As we explored the park and read all the monuments, my husband and I were struck by the realization that this pivotal battle of the war had not been fought by professional soldiers, but by farm boys from Indiana, Ohio, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Most had never been outside the county of their birth. At Shiloh, many of them rest in unmarked graves.

For the Confederacy, the war was essentially lost at Shiloh. The Union armies sacked Corinth, and continued down the Mississippi to lay seige to Vicksburg. The casualties would continue to mount in the remaining three years of the war. By the time the savagery ended, 620,000 Americans were dead.

I'll be thinking about Shiloh for a long time to come.
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Jews are not perfidious
Yesterday, in a thread here on bloggie, Franco quoted the "IMPROPERIA", the lovely Greco-Latin verses sung in Catholic churches every Good Friday. Here is a taste of it, translated:

I gave thee a royal sceptre, and thou hast given My head a crown of thorns.
I have exalted thee with great power, and though hast hanged Me on the gibbet of the Cross.


I have heard this chant many times and always thought it extremely touching, the Lord's agonized rebuke of sinful mankind from the cross. It had never occurred to me to think of it as an anti-semitic sentiment, or a rebuke of Jews in particular, but rather an accusation against man in general (and me in particular), because He suffered for the sins of all (and would have suffered for mine alone). It doesn't even make sense if I try to read it as a reproach to Jews alone, since Jews didn't do most of the stuff He's rebuking us for. He was scourged, pierced, crowned, and crucified by pagans, not Jews.

Today, I looked around the Internet, and I found that some Christians do indeed think the Improperia refer only to Jews. Those guys are wrong. I apologize on their behalf.

From the name Improperia, a reader with only a rough knowledge of Latin might think it is somehow the "Improper" chant, and come away very confused. But even though the word looks like "improper," it doesn't mean improper; it just means slow, as in "The Slow Chants." The prayer was so named because it is chanted slowly and somberly.

But even Latin scholars are confused, and usually get that wrong. If you look up Improperia in almost any source, the translation is given as "reproaches." But it never meant reproaches; it only acquired that meaning in the 19th Century, because of this chant (and likely because of confusion with improprius, meaning incorrect).

The whole reason the Church uses a dead language for her rituals is that the meaning of every word is supposed to be timeless and precise. But as improperia proves, it doesn't always pan out that way. A dead language that is used, for any purpose, ceases to be entirely dead.

I mentioned all that to pave the way for another explanation: even though perfidus looks like the English word "perfidious," it doesn't mean perfidious. It doesn't even really mean "faithless" (that would be infidus). The truth is, there is no single English word that captures the ancient Latin sense of perfidus, which is something like "having a different faith."

Every Good Friday, just before the Improperia in fact, Catholics pray nine prayers, collectively called the Oratio Fidelium. Prayers 1 through 6 ask for continued blessings and guidance for Catholics. The last three prayers ask God for the conversion of the whole world to Catholicism. One prayer for Christians, to reunite the Church. One prayer for the faithless, to receive the gift of faith. And one prayer for everyone that's not in the other two groups. That would be Jews.

In Latin, the prefix per- can signify "different," or by extension, "wrong." This meaning is seen in such words as pervertere (to overturn), perjurare (to swear falsely), and permutatus (substituted).

Perfidus was chosen to describe the Jews, to distinguish them from the infidus heathens (The Pro Conversione Infidelium is the next prayer). Jews are manifestly not infidels or idolaters; they are believers in the true God, keepers of His holy word, and faithful to His commands. The only thing they lack is recognition of Jesus Christ. They are not faithless, just "differently faithful," as we might say today, or perfidus, as they decided to put it in ancient times. I swear, it was meant to be a compliment!

The line about "removing the veils from their hearts" is also to show they are blameless compared to heathens. The prayer for the infidels asks to "remove the iniquities from their hearts." Jews don't have iniquity, just a curtain that keeps them from seeing the light of Christ. It's not an evil thing, just an obstacle.

But over time, the meaning of perfidus was corrupted. Not just in English, but even in Latin, the word took on the meaning we know as "perfidious" today: treasonous, treacherous, lying. (Infidus suffered the same fate. Consider, an infidel just lacks faith, but infidelity means betrayal!) Maybe it was an erroneous usage, as with improperia. Maybe it was an ineluctable evolution, and any word meaning faithless will eventually come to mean shiftless. (Heck, even "faithless" has sinister overtones.) But that's not how it started, and the Church never meant to brand the Jews as traitors with this prayer.

Besides which, calling Jews traitors for rejecting Christ would make no sense, since you cannot betray someone without first pledging loyalty to him. Jesus was indeed betrayed, by His own disciples; not by "the Jews." I hope it is clear that no imputation of what we now call "perfidy" was in any way denoted by perfidus when this prayer was written.

Realizing the needless hurt being caused by the misunderstanding of perfidus, the Church updated all English translations of the word to "unbelieving" in 1955. And in 1960 the word was entirely removed from the Latin prayer, too, so it no longer said perfidus anywhere at all. This was all done before the Second Vatican Council.

There was a brief mention of the event in the August 15, 1960 issue of Time magazine.

Maybe some people are offended by the very idea of someone praying for their conversion. I'm not, but I've met some who take umbrage at this. I reckon millions of people are praying for my conversion to their religion all the time. If they sincerely believe their religion has some efficacy, then they have the best of intentions. And meanwhile, they're leaving me alone.

Maybe some people are offended that people of other religions believe that their own beliefs are wrong. I see that as more of a tautology; if you have friends who don't share your religion, you just have to accept that those friends think at least some of your beliefs are untrue. I can't mollify such people, except to suggest that they consider maybe not being offended.

But to anyone offended by the particular language in this particular prayer, I can say that I fully understand your offense, even though it was never intended, and that the Church and I are doing everything we can to correct this misunderstanding. I hope that this explanation has helped serve this purpose.
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