Pic of the Week: It’s tough being a lawyer

lawyer sleeping in chair, Goldsboro, John Vachon photographer, 1938
Library of Congress

Sometimes lawyer jokes are just too easy. The photo, taken in 1938, shows this lawyer asleep at his chair, probably on a hot North Carolina summer afternoon.

The photographer was John Vachon, one of countless men hired by the New Deal Farm Security Administration to document rural American life in the late 1930’s. This photo was taken in downtown Goldsboro, NC, likely on “lawyer’s row” on E. Walnut St. across from the county courthouse which still stands today.

  • Who is he?

Unfortunately it’s not listed in the Library of Congress file, and while not a large town, the 1938 Goldsboro directory lists no less than forty lawyers. All I can say for sure is that it is not George E. Hood, a former U.S. Representative, or Kenneth C. Royall, the last U.S. Secretary of War.

There is a calendar in the center left of the image and possibly a thermometer hanging on the door frame just behind sleeping beauty but both blur too much when magnified.

Flags of Our Something, Something

The “Stars & Bars” is not what you think it is

The Confederate flag has been in the news for a while now and wouldn’t you know Kanye West became part of the story. The Chicago rapper has made a career of shocking and cringe-worthy statements; Mike Myers can attest. In an opinion piece for The Week, Matthew Walther proclaims Kanye the last American rock star.

I couldn’t agree with author more, but what caught my eye was the line, “In the middle of an ongoing national conversation about police violence and the legacy of racism, walking around a gas station with the Stars and Bars on his back was a crude gesture calculated to make people upset.”

Here’s the problem: the flag on his sleeve is not the “Stars and Bars”, but the Confederate battle flag. This is the Stars & Bars:

This is the Confederate battle flag:

And so is this:

The Stars & Bars, officially known as the Confederate national flag, was designed by German-American artist Nicola Marschall in early 1861. Marschall also designed the gray uniforms of the Confederate military. The inspiration for the flag came from both the US flag and that of Austria.


Suffice it to say, there was resistance to the national flag, the primary criticism being that it looked too much like Old Glory. In 1863 the Confederate government adopted a new national flag.

You can probably guess why this one was problematic. It looked all too similar to a flag of surrender, so in March of 1865 the Confederacy adopted a third national flag, though by this time the war was near its end and nobody cared anymore.

What’s the point?

Personally, I don’t care about the argument over Confederate flags going on today. Both sides do little more than scream at one another and the arguments have about as much meat and substance as a diseased squirrel. What bothers me are the all-too-common blunders of what should be basic facts that can be verified almost instantaneously through a simple internet search. Mistakes such as these are like misspellings, and if you’re going to call yourself a professional writer, for the love of God you should be able to avoid these snafus.


If you’re interested in the history of Confederate flags and don’t mind a little book learnin’ check out John Coski’s The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem, available at Amazon.


Pic(s) of the Week: Not war, but murder

The Battle of Cold Harbor

More photos from the Library of Congress online image collection. This week is one of my favorite photographs and certainly the most haunting. These men are collecting the dead in the aftermath of the Battle of Cold Harbor, one of the bloodiest engagements of the Civil War.

Cold Harbor, near the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, was a clash between General Ulysses S. Grant and commander of the Army of Northern Virginia Robert E. Lee. Fought between May 31 and June 12, 1864, the battle resulted in over 18,000 casualties, mostly Union troops, from a brutal frontal assault of Lee’s entrenched forces. Confederate General Evander Law later said of the battle “It was murder, nor war.”

With over 2,500 troops killed, the men above had a monumental, and horrific, task to collect the remains of the dead. Identification of individual men was rare and most ended up in mass graves. (original file here)

The Overland Campaign

Cold Harbor was one of a series of battles in the forty day Overland Campaign, Grant’s effort to wear down and destroy Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Grant was determined to break Lee and relentlessly threw his men into the fire but despite the terrible losses, the Overland Campaign severely degraded Lee’s army and proved that Union forces could operate and succeed near the Confederate capital.

The image above (original here) shows the general at his headquarters at Cold Harbor. The man to the left is unidentified.

A general needs horses

War is all about movement and positioning so officers need quick and reliable transportation. During the Civil War the only option, at least over shorter distances, was the horse. Grant had several horses during the war and several available at any one time.

This photo, taken at Cold Harbor, shows three of Grant’s favorites, from left to right Egypt, Cincinnati, and Jeff Davis, captured the previous year near Vicksburg, MS from the plantation of Joe Davis, brother of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. No one can say that Grant didn’t have a sense of humor.

Pic of the Week: Pancho Villa

Assuming you’re not a soulless monster, you love historical photos. You’re in luck because the Library of Congress digitized thousands and put them online to view.

Click photo to enlarge

This one is of Pancho Villa sometime during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). He is in a formal military uniform with his right arm resting on the barrel of a mountain howitzer.

Villa was commander of revolutionary forces in northern Mexico and infamous for his raid on Columbus, New Mexico on March 9, 1916. Nearly ten thousand regular army troops spent the next two years chasing him unsuccessfully through northern Mexico while thousands of National Guard troops guarded the border.

You can view and download the photo from the LoC.

The Ultimate Spin Job: US entry into World War I

Selling a war is no easy feat; Pearl Harbor doesn’t often fall into the laps of war hungry politicians so how do you whip the public into a frenzy? In the case of World War I, Woodrow Wilson simply changed the optics from a run-of-the-mill fight between European imperial powers over control of the continent into a struggle for freedom, liberty, democracy, and civilization itself.

Throughout the 19th and into the early 20th centuries, the vast majority of Americans held firm to anti-interventionist sentiments, particularly with regard to Europe. There was a lingering suspicion of European imperialism and a sense that the petty infighting on the other side of the Atlantic would only bring chaos to our shores if we chose to get involved.

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