Nov 13, 2012

Veteran's Day digression

Juan Vicente Gómez
Veteran's Day is not on the list of Venezuelan national holidays. It began as Armistice Day and was intended to mark the signing of a peace treaty by Germany at the close of World War I. Venezuela's role in World War I was limited to supplying petroleum to the Allies (which, by the way, was the beginning of Venezuela's emergence as an oil-exporting nation). Unfortunately, income from petroleum exports to aid the Allied war effort also strengthened the regime of Juan Vicente Gómez, a dictator who ruled Venezuela with an iron hand from 1908 until his death in 1935.

Venezuela also provided the Allies with petroleum during World War II and, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, severed diplomatic relations with Italy, Germany and Japan. However, Venezuela did not formally declare war on Germany and the rest of the Axis countries until 1945, the last year of the war. The conflict came close to Venezuelan soil in 1942, when German submarines attacked oil refining facilities on the island of Aruba, 17 miles off Venezuela's northern coast. The Venezuelan steamship, Monagas, was one of the ships sunk in the attack. However, following the death of Gomez, Venezuela was preoccupied with internal struggles until 1948 when a military junta seized power and ruled until the overthrow of its leader, Marcos Pérez Jiménez,, in 1958.

Most Venezuelan national holidays commemorate the war of independence from Spain and the struggle to establish a stable republic in the early 1800s. As our North American day of remembrance for those who served in the Armed Forces rolls around again, my mind drifts back to the 19th Century as well.

English: TITLE: Siege of Vicksburg--13, 15, & ...
Siege of Vicksburg  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Along with about 40 million other people in 1990, I sat enrapt by “The Civil War” a documentary television series created by Ken Burns and broadcast on PBS. I was especially fascinated by the readings of journals and memoirs actually written by those who had fought in the war.

A short time afterward, I was surprised to learn that my own great-great-grandfather, had left just such an account. His name was George Kurth (1834-1897) and he was one of the 1,463 men who served in the 18th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. The 18th Wisconsin Infantry was organized at Camp Trowbridge in Milwaukee and mustered into service on March 15, 1862. The regiment left Wisconsin for St. Louis, Missouri, on March 30, and then traveled to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, from March 31-April 5. During the war it moved through Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Washington D.C. via Virginia. The regiment participated in the battles of Shiloh, Corinth, Iuka, Port Gibson, Champion Hill, and the Siege of Vicksburg.
18th Wisconsin Infantry flag

In the fall of 1864 new recruits were attached to the 93rd Illinois Infantry Regiment from November 1864 until April 1865, and participated in Sherman's March to the Sea, the Siege of Savannah, the campaign of the Carolinas, and the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina. Veterans who re-enlisted in the fall of 1864 were ordered to Nashville, Tennessee, on December 28, 1864 and participated in the advance on Raleigh, North Carolina, and the surrender of the Confederate army. The regiment moved to Louisville, Kentucky, in June 1865, and there mustered out on July 18, 1865. The regiment lost 225 men during service. Four officers and 52 enlisted men were killed or mortally wounded. Two officers and 167 enlisted men died from disease.

I was impressed by my great-great-grandfather's accounts of the regiment being reviewed by General Ulysses S. Grant, the battle of Vicksburg, and, sometime after Vicksburg, being taken prisoner by the Confederates and later escaping from the POW camp.

But most of all I was impressed with how he confessed his faith in Jesus Christ and how that sustained him when men, many of them who had become his close friends, were being struck down to his left and to his right. George Kurth was born in Germany, but his parents brought him to the United States when he was a small child. He spent of his early life in southwestern Wisconsin and joined the Union Army mainly in a spirit of adventure. He wanted to “see something of the world.” Later he would be happy to return to the family farm near Whitehall, Wisconsin, and he would conclude his account of the Civil War by stating that he had learned of the brevity and preciousness of human life. He urged his children and all of his descendants to focus on “the things of eternity” and not on the passing pleasures of this life.

I thank God that my great-great-grandfather took up arms in defense of liberty and left us the legacy of faith.
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