Tag Archives: Dwight D. Eisenhower

“The End Approacheth”

Portion of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Portion of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

The sun rose on Independence Day, 1863, to find the Confederate States of America reeling from two disastrous engagements at Vicksburg, Mississippi and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

From Pennsylvania, Charles Pennypacker wrote to his cousin Ellen Fort in Todd County, Kentucky, that his fellow citizens had “rallied as one man” to defend the state against General Robert E. Lee’s invading Confederate army.  July 1, the first day of battle at Gettysburg, “was but a repetition of ‘Shiloh,’” and on the next day Lee “hurled columns after columns of troops upon our lines.”  But on July 3, Charles reported proudly, “their whole army was in full retreat” toward Richmond and “we begin to see that ‘the end approacheth.’”

Like many tide-turning battles, Gettysburg left military historians asking “what if?”  In particular, how much blame did Lieutenant General James Longstreet deserve when, on the second day of battle, he delayed executing an early-morning assault that could have given the Confederates the upper hand?  Was Longstreet, who had made clear his disagreement with Lee over tactics, merely tardy, or was he insubordinate or even treasonous?

Confederate veteran J. W. Anderson looked forward to discussing the issue with a former comrade at their 1905 reunion in Louisville, Kentucky.  A defender of Longstreet, who he occasionally saw after the war, Anderson insisted that the relations between General Lee and his subordinate commander were “always of the most cordial manner.”  But a century later, the question still bothered Laban Lacy Rice, a Webster County, Kentucky native, polymath, and former president of Cumberland University.  In 1967, he sought the opinion of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “an expert who knows Gettysburg as I know my back yard.”

Replying from his farm, where he lived in retirement near the battlefield, Eisenhower concluded that Gettysburg had been “a succession of frustrations” for General Lee, and that his decisions could not be adequately examined in a short letter.  Nevertheless, Eisenhower judged Longstreet’s failure to attack early on July 2 as “his worse error of the battle.”  As for Pickett’s Charge, the ill-fated assault on July 3 named after one of Longstreet’s generals, Eisenhower did not think it could have been successful at any time during that day.  As Charles Pennypacker observed, “the end” had approacheth.

Click on the links for finding aids to these materials, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives Collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more of our Civil War collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Battle of the Flags

Panama Canal LogoAlmost from the beginning, the 1903 treaty granting the United States perpetual rights to a 10-mile strip across the Isthmus of Panama for canal construction became a political problem.  By the late 1950s, Panamanian grievances against the U.S. over the Canal Zone were well defined:  insufficient payments for its use, wage and employment discrimination against Panamanian workers, and nationalist resentment over American control of the territory itself.  A particularly sensitive question, one with enormous symbolic significance, was whether the Panamanian flag should be flown alongside the Stars and Stripes in the Canal Zone.

As Panama observed the anniversary of its independence, on November 3, 1959 some 2,000 student demonstrators attempted to enter the Canal Zone to raise the flag of their country.  Tensions quickly escalated.  The students threw rocks at Canal Zone police, who responded with fire hoses and tear gas.  Finally, the Governor of the Canal Zone, Major General William E. Potter, frustrated by the lukewarm response of the Panamanian authorities, called in U.S. troops to quell the violence.

When the Panamanians criticized Governor Potter’s actions, Kentucky Congressman Frank Chelf was livid, and wrote to President Dwight D. Eisenhower deploring the calls for Potter’s resignation.  Having recently visited the Canal Zone and met “real” Panamanians who had nothing but admiration for the U.S., he believed the riots to be a cynical move by Communist-inspired opportunists.  No doubt referring to presidential candidate Aquilino Boyd, a leader of the “flag invasion,” Chelf accused “free-loading politicians” of casting their lot with “flea-bitten, cheap Communist demagogues” in order to poison public opinion against the U.S. and gain votes on election day.  Meanwhile, America’s long friendship with Panama went unrecognized.  “We gave them more than a just trade for the original Canal Zone by and through a fair and honorable treaty,” Chelf wrote Eisenhower.  “We ended yellow fever, completed the job the French had left undone and started the ships moving.”  With Canal Zone operations pumping some $180 million annually into Panama’s economy, seeing his country portrayed as the “big bad wolf” was a bitter pill for Chelf to swallow.  Nevertheless, in September 1960 Eisenhower authorized the flying of both the Panamanian and U.S. flags in the Canal Zone.

Frank Chelf (in checked shirt) and Mrs. Chelf visit federal judge and fellow Kentuckian Guthrie F. Crowe and Mrs. Crowe in Panama, 1959

Frank Chelf (in checked shirt) and Mrs. Chelf visit federal judge and fellow Kentuckian Guthrie F. Crowe and Mrs. Crowe in Panama, 1959

The Frank Chelf Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections includes his letter to President Eisenhower and is one of our featured collections as we observe the Panama Canal Centennial this month.

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