Tuesday, April 26, 2011


This April has more history content than most recent months. Every year there’s a nodding acknowledgment to the embattled farmers who confronted the redcoats at Lexington and Concord in ’75 (that’s 1775 for products of Outcome Based Education), and for more recent history buffs, April 18 is the anniversary of the brashly daring Doolittle Raid (1942) and the semi-miraculous navigation and timing attending the interception of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s bomber near Bougainville in the Solomon Islands (1943). If you don’t know who Admiral Yamamoto was, clearly you’ve stumbled onto the wrong blog, but you can look him up on Wikipedia.

In Arizona, April 18 is Patriots Day and some of us took time to assemble on the green (however scanty, here in the Sonoran Desert) at the state capitol. Some exercised their Second Amendment rights of open carry, though Arizona recently enacted Constitutional Carry (aka universal concealed carry). It was interesting to see folks with revolvers and semiautos on their belts conversing with policemen. That may be the subject of a future Rant.


This April also is the 150th anniversary of the start of The Civil War. Amid all the sturm & drang attending that event, I thought I remembered the, um, irony of “Honest” Abe Lincoln’s first inaugural address, and my aging memory was confirmed when I found the following statement:

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember, or overthrow it…”

Those words were spoken on March 4, 1861, five weeks before the Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

Obviously the 16th president did not mean what he said, or drastically changed his mind, but that’s peripheral to this month’s Rant.

The point at hand is that today we hear vastly ill informed people—usually blow-dried minions of the mainstream media—claim that the country is divided as never before.


At least we’re not shooting at each other. Not yet. And thereby stands a lesson, evident in my own family.

Both my parents’ ancestors came to these shores within three years of each other, in the 1630s. Therefore, by the time of the Revolution (the first one, typified by those white males wearing wigs and stockings) the Barretts and the Tillmans (Tilghmans) had been here for some 140 years—long enough to become well established. The Barretts apparently were wholly committed to the rebel cause when it seems that only about one-third of the population shared the sentiment.

The clan came early to the rebellion. Captain Richard Fay Barrett, an insurance purveyor, commanded the Concord Artillery and Infantry Company of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia.

Colonel James Barrett dispatched the militia companies that swapped lead with the Brits at Concord Bridge. His kinsman Deacon Samuel Barrett owned a gun making firm with a laboratory “where every branch of that business is carried on.”

We’ve been ballistically inclined ever since.

Another Barrett relation was Captain John Parker who commanded the minutemen on Lexington Green. Originally repulsed, they reformed and harassed/sniped/assassinated “lobsterbacks” along the route back to Boston. Payback was the order of the day: his cousin Jonas Parker had been bayonetted to death at Lexington.

The Tillman/Tilghmans were another matter. George Washington’s aide de camp through most of the war was Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman, a successful Philadelphia businessman. Washington thought so highly of his aide that Tilghman was selected to take word of Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown to the Congress in Philadelphia. Tench died young in 1786—only 42—and the future president wrote a condolence letter to his father. GW had to know that James, then living in Maryland, had been attorney general of Pennsylvania. More than that, Tench’s brother Richard was an officer in the Royal Navy, and Tilghman Island remained a British naval base in the Chesapeake.

Lapse-dissolve, fade in, 80 years after Yorktown.

By 1861 some of the Tillman/Tilghman family had meandered westward, many settling in Ohio. But both branches of the clan (originally settled in Virginia and Maryland) remained in the east and south. Throughout the Civil War, Dad’s kin opted for the Confederacy by 8 to 1. Probably the best known was Brig. Gen. Lloyd Tilghman, a Marylander who barely graduated from West Point in 1836. In 1862 General U.S. Grant captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. After a prisoner exchange he resumed his duties until KIA near Vicksburg the next year.

Saddest of so many sad developments is that members of both sides of my family died in Confederate prison camps: a Tillman from Ohio and a Barrett from Maine.

Family division did not end with the War Between the States. Shortly before Pearl Harbor, a concerned mother in North Carolina grew suspicious of a German national’s attentions to her daughter. Being mistrustful of Yankees and other foreigners, my great aunt notified the FBI, which investigated. An exaggerated account of the situation held that a “Nazi spy” married into the family, but in truth he was an exchange student who was interned for the duration.

I mention all the foregoing in an attempt to put a multi-generational face on current events. As divisive and perhaps irrevocably fractious as the present political situation may be, it’s not yet as dire as American families—and the American nation—have endured before.

On the other hand, maybe it’s time to start thinking the unthinkable: balkanizing the USA along cultural-philosophical lines before we start shooting at each other again. The last time it cost more than 600,000 American lives, when the population was merely 130 million—barely 40 percent of today’s figure.

Something for every family to ponder.