THE UNFOLDING JOURNEY is a new blog written in association with Legacy Genealogy.

This blog is a blend of disciplines that reveal the rich texture of culture and history that surrounded your ancestors' lives, as well as your own. We will take you beyond just the names, dates, and places to give you the "back story" for the reasons your ancestors thought what they thought and did what they did. We invite you to also visit us at the Legacy Genealogy facebook page at http://facebook.com/legacygenealogy

Thursday, May 31, 2012


He was once described by Abraham Lincoln as “A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping.” He was the son of Irish immigrants and at full maturity was only 5’5’’ tall. Many liked to call him “Little Phil.” But this man rose to tremendous power and fame in the American west.
Philip Henry Sheridan was born in Albany, New York, and grew up in Ohio. He had a compulsive desire for approval and a psychological need to dominate others. While attending West Point, Little Phil was a first rate disciplinary problem; threatening and fighting with fellow cadets.
He graduated from West Point in 1853 and served throughout the far west until the outbreak of the Civil War. During the first two years of the war, he rose from Captain to Major General. Sheridan displayed strong battlefield daring and magnetism. But he was frequently insubordinate toward commanding officers that he didn’t respect, such as George Meade, and loyal to those he did, including Grant and Sherman (who frequently had to cover for him for his actions). Sheridan had a terrible temper and was prone to outbursts of profanity. He had little regard for the feelings of others, and delivered insults to his subordinates in front of their troops.
While his war record is well documented and widely lauded, his life after the Civil War is less known, and darker.
In 1866, Sheridan assumed command of the Fifth Military District encompassing Texas and Louisiana. He had served in the Army in these areas before the war and did not have a high opinion of them. He once was quoted as saying, “If I owned Hell and Texas, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.”
General Sheridan used the Federal Reconstruction Acts to exert his influence in the region. He had the procedural authority to remove legally-elected office holders who were either Democrats or former Confederates, and he used this power with impunity. Phil Sheridan removed many key civilian officials and replaced them with his own political appointees. Among the discharged public officials were the Governors of Louisiana and Texas.
He set down rules that restricted voter registration, severely limiting the participation of former Confederates. He also manipulated how juries were selected which discriminated against his former foes and people who did not share his politics. Eventually, President Andrew Johnson had had enough of Sheridan and removed him calling him “an absolute tyrant, cruel and unjust”
In 1869, however, his power was expanded by new President Ulysses Grant. For four years a general state of war had existed between the Indians and the white population moving west. Grant chose Sheridan to head the Department of the Missouri which had the task of resolving hostilities and returning the Native American tribes to their reservations on the Great Plains across a million square mile area. Now the most powerful man between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, Philip Sheridan, with his Napoleonic personality, ruled the plains as if it were his own country.
To subdue the Indians, Sheridan returned to the strategies he used against the South in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign during the Civil War. He ordered numerous tribes to be attacked while in their winter encampments. His troops would remove all the food and supplies, and kill any Indians who got in the way.
He carried out many of his tactics through his subordinate and close friend, George A. Custer. To Custer, and other former Union Army officers seeking to make a name for themselves, he was a mentor. To the Confederate soldiers now returned to their homes, he was a policeman. To the Indian Nations, he was death on horseback.
Part of his plan to force the plains Indians into capitulation was to exterminate the herds of buffalo which supported the Indian way of life. He once said, “Kill the buffalo and you kill the Indians.” In 1874 alone, Sheridan sanctioned the killing of more than four million buffalo.
Sheridan’s scorched earth policies continued until all Indians Nations were returned to their reservations, or put out of existence. He conducted the Red River War, the Ute War, and the Great Sioux War. These ranged from Wyoming to Texas over a nine year period. He was credited with the statement, “The only good Indians I’ve seen were dead.” As his reward for pacifying the Indians, Sheridan was named Commanding General of the United States Army in 1883.
Philip H. Sheridan’s military reputation is legendary but his record of human rights abuse, lack of fairness, and cruelty cannot be ignored. He died of a heart attack at age 57, and is buried at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


By the 1950’s a plague had swept across America. It had been growing stronger for 30 years. It came in the form of a virus, an invisible killer of the young. Those whose life was not ended by the virus would be left paralyzed and deformed. It was called infantile paralysis, poliomyelitis, or simply as polio. Fifty thousand or more cases were being reported every year, and the number was rising.  Everyone knew a victim.
This is a story of two men who were dedicated to end this terrible disease.
Basil O’Connor knew the disease first hand. As a younger man, his best friend and law partner, Franklin Roosevelt, had contracted the virus. O’Connor had seen polio turn his athletic friend into a man unable to stand without braces. He was not a physician but his life’s goal was to fight this killer.
O’Connor became the president of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and oversaw the distribution of millions of its contributor’s dollars to medical research teams. But he was not satisfied with what he saw. Traditional biological researchers were focusing on treatment and not on prevention. They were deliberate and slow. They followed well established research methodology without deviating. Many of their precepts were later proven incorrect. He wanted to find someone who shared his hatred for the disease and felt his urgency. He found one.
Jonas Salk was a young doctor; a child of Russian immigrants. He was, by his own admission, on the fringes of medical research. His methods did not conform to established protocols including the concept that an active virus could not be restrained by its own dead bodies. Salk believed differently. He once said, “I pictured myself as a virus or a cancer cell and tried to sense what it would be like.” He had always thought more as a humanist than a scientist.
The medical establishment contended that Salk was not really a scientist - only a technician. But O’Connor believed in him and began channeling research funds his way. Many scientists accused the young doctor of being a charlatan or at least a publicity hound. Medical research on polio was big business and Salk was seen as a competitor.
Jonas Salk was obsessed with finding a cure for polio. He worked independently around the clock, seven days a week. In April of 1955 an announcement was made, or maybe it was a miracle, that a vaccine had been discovered to prevent this disease. After completion of field testing, the media declared Salk’s vaccine as the most dramatic breakthrough in the history of medical research. He had achieved what top scientists and major laboratories could not. Salk and O’Connor were hailed as heroes.
Behind the scenes, some leading scientists tried to stop the distribution of his life-saving vaccine, which was proven to work well. They even refused to accept Salk into the National Academy of Science. Later, Salk was quoted as saying, “The worst tragedy that could have befallen me was my success. I knew right away that I was through, that I would be cast out.”
But he didn’t really care. He raised funds to build the Salk Institute for Biological Studies where he worked alongside young researchers to find a cure for the HIV virus. He died in 1995 without a breakthrough however. Today, researchers work in the laboratories Jonas Salk built developing new ways to fight cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, cerebral palsy, MS, and Parkinson’s.
The final cure for polio was realized by the efforts of Basil O’Connor and Jonas Salk, two men dedicated to end the disease and save thousands of young people from a life of misery.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012



Washington D.C. is much more that our capital. It is a place of magnificent architecture, painting, and sculpture. Until the 19th Century, it was a pleasant rural town but artistically a blank canvas waiting for some of the world’s greatest artisans.
Constantino Brumidi was born in 1805 in Italy. By his mid-twenties he was already considered one of the country’s leading artists; and was commissioned to restore works of art in the Vatican. By the age of thirty, Brumidi was recognized as Italy’s greatest living fresco painter. Fresco is a very demanding medium. Colors are mixed with plaster and troweled onto a surface (usually a wall or ceiling). Chemical changes in the plaster add beauty and permanence to the work; but require extended periods of application without a break. Areas not completed before the plaster dries have to be scraped off and redone.
Brumidi was a young man of strong political and religious convictions. This kept him at odds with the government and church in Italy. By the early 1850’s, conflicts had escalated to such a point that Brumidi fled the country, and arrived in America. He was recognized as a significant artist in the years following his arrival.
At age 59, Constantino Brumidi was commissioned by the government to paint the Capitol rotunda dome. Scaffolds were constructed 180 feet above the rotunda floor, and Brumidi climbed to the top inches from the ceiling, lied on his back, and applied the colored plaster to the surface. He frequently worked day and night due to the nature of fresco and to satisfy his desire to complete the project while he was still physically able.
When the scaffolds came down, the assembled audience was awestruck. The work rivaled the great frescos of Europe. Brumidi became famous overnight. If he had accepted the many commissions that were offered to him, he would have been a wealthy man; but he had another goal in mind. He once wrote to a friend, “My one ambition is that I may live long enough to make beautiful the Capital of the one country on earth in which there is liberty.”
He spent the next years adorning the Capitol interior with magnificent works of art. In 1877, when Brumidi was 72 years old, he took on another major challenge in the Capitol’s rotunda. Sixty feet above the floor there was a blank wall, eight feet tall and 300 feet in circumference. Scaffolds were again erected. He had been planning for years to fill this space with a panoramic frieze consisting of scenes from American history. For two years he worked like a man possessed, racing against time. While working on his seventh scene, Brumidi lost his balance. As he was falling, he managed to grab a section of the scaffold. He was dangling five stories above the rotunda floor. Several minutes passed before he could be rescued. This ordeal probably hastened his death a few months later.
Constantino Brumidi’s twenty five years of artistry in the Capitol interior was over, but the panoramic frieze still had to be finished. Congress commissioned his pupil, Filippo Costaggini, to complete the work. He worked on it for the next eight years, but all of Brumidi’s sketches had been realized and still a 30-foot section was remained. In 1953, the final sections were completed by Allyn Cox.
Today, visitors are in awe of Brumidi’s masterpieces. If you look closely, his signature can still be seen on some of his works. It always reads, “C. Brumidi, artist. Citizen of the U.S.”


Maybe it was luck, maybe it was fate, but Franklin Roosevelt probably should have died years before he did. He cheated death just long enough to finish his job. There were four events in the life of FDR that could have easily ended it, but didn’t.
In June of 1919, the powerful and outspoken Attorney General of the United States, Mitchell Palmer, encountered a young Franklin Roosevelt while attending a Washington party. Franklin was the assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time. Palmer had been drinking a lot at the party and was unable to drive. He asked Roosevelt if he would give him a ride home, and Franklin agreed. Palmer was a controversial character, building his reputation by campaigning to drive all of the Communists, terrorists, and anarchists out of the country. He created the Justice Department’s Enemy Alien Bureau, and had made many enemies.
Upon arriving at Palmer’s home, he urged Roosevelt to come in for a nightcap in his library. But Franklin replied that he had an early appointment the next morning and begged off. Palmer insisted but the invitation was still politely declined. Seconds after Franklin drove off a bomb ripped through Palmer’s library. It had been planted by an anarchist. If the two men had been having that drink, they both would have died.
Two years later, while at his summer house on Campobello Island, Roosevelt awakened one morning and tried to get out of bed. He felt that something was wrong with his left leg. It wasn’t working as it should and he fell to the floor. The doctors told him that he had contracted a viral infection. It was polio. He had gone to bed a robust man and woke up with a deadly disease. Soon his right leg also became useless, then his entire lower body. His doctors and family urged him to retire but Franklin was determined not to allow his condition to end his career. He learned to accommodate his disability and went on to become the governor of New York, then President in 1932. Many thousands of other Americans died from this dreaded disease.
Three weeks before Roosevelt was sworn in to the Presidency, he was in Miami giving a short unprepared speech from the back seat of a car to a small audience. A young anarchist named Giuseppe Zangara, armed with a pistol from a pawn shop, fired five shots at the President-elect. Miraculously Franklin Roosevelt was not hit. Five other people around him were brought down by the gunfire. Anton Cermak, the Mayor of Chicago, who was standing on the running board of Roosevelt’s car, was killed. Zangara was subdued after a struggle. He was later tried and executed. FDR had survived an up close assassination attempt.
In November of 1943, Franklin Roosevelt, Secretary of State Hull, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were journeying by sea to the Tehran Conference with Churchill and Stalin. They were aboard the battleship USS Iowa. The Iowa was being escorted by other Navy vessels including the destroyer USS William D. Porter. The Porter was an accident prone ship. It had collided with another ship while leaving port for the journey, and shortly after had accidently dropped a depth charge into the water which exploded causing the Iowa and the other ships to take evasive maneuvers.     
The next day, November 14th, The Iowa was conducting drills for the President to demonstrate her ability to defend herself. The escort ships were also demonstrating a torpedo drill, simulating the firing of torpedoes from surface ships. Then something went terribly wrong. The Porter accidently launched a torpedo directly at the Iowa which was carrying Roosevelt and his staff. The Porter commander attempted to signal the Iowa but under radio silence they used their blinker light instead - which was time consuming. Finally, they broke regulations and radioed the Iowa that a torpedo was on its way. The Iowa turned hard to avoid being hit. The Secret Service moved Roosevelt to the side of the battleship, preparing to abandon ship. The Porter’s torpedo detonated in the wake of the Iowa extremely close to the stern. The men of the Iowa trained their guns on the Porter fearing that this might have been another assassination attempt.
The country was fortunate that its leader through the Great Depression and World War II was spared death on so many occasions. Franklin Roosevelt eventually succumbed in 1945 at Warm Springs, Georgia, due to a brain hemorrhage.  It could be said that how a person masters his fate may be more important than what his fate is.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana
(#10 of 52)

Summertime in Alabama and Middle-Tennessee.
“On Monday, June 2d, Wood’s division marched in the direction of Iuka, Mississippi, the point at which we were to strike the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. We entered a broken country, covered with pine timber, sparsely inhabited, and with but little good water. The weather was excessively hot and the marching fatiguing.
“We marched at day-break for Tuscumbia (Alabama), where we arrived at 10 o’clock a.m., and camped in the creek bottom on the northeast of the town. Tuscumbia can boast of one thing which far surpasses anything of the kind that I have ever seen in the country. I refer to a large spring near town, which rises from beneath a wall of solid rock. Clear as crystal it boils up, a vast and never-ceasing fountain, flowing off to empty into the Tennessee. The distance from the fountain-head to the river is near a mile, and the stream thus formed, which is quite large enough to be navigable for medium sized steamboats, constitutes no mean tributary to the great river. One particular feature of this water is its coldness, almost equal to ice-water. There it gushes forth a never-ceasing volume, cold as the snows of winter, producing quite an effect upon the temperature of the waters of the main stream some distance below. The banks of the creek were lined with a dense growth of shade-trees, making it a delightful place of resort during the long and sultry days of June.
“Many plans were adopted to pass away unoccupied time - reading, writing, playing cards, peddling lemonade. Particularly, selling lemonade was quite a business with a few characters throughout the camp, and “chuck-lucking,” or the throwing of dice, with money at stake, was fast becoming a fashionable business through the camp. At almost any hour of the day you might have seen groups of soldiers scattered along the banks of the creek, intently engaged in the all-absorbing game. A few made their hundreds, and perhaps, at times their thousands of dollars. The mania spread until it became necessary to check it by orders from divisional headquarters. An order was issued by Gen. Wood, declaring the throwing of dice or the playing of any games in which money was at stake.
“We passed through Courtland, a pleasant-looking little town, with two fine churches. The citizens turned out to see us march through. We put on an unusual amount of style in our movements. There were no demonstrations of Union sentiment among them. We passed the night in the street, sleeping on pavements, porches, and balconies, until morning, when the regiment commenced crossing the river on the gunboat Tennessee; two companies being ferried over at each crossing of the vessel. Our wagons, which had not been unloaded, were also ferried over on the gunboat.
“Friday, July 4th, Independence Day, in Alabama dawned clear and beautiful, without a cloud to obscure the radiant brilliancy of the sun. A salute was fired at 6 o’clock a.m., by the artillery. Drills, and all except picket duty, were dispensed with during the day. At 11 o’clock the regiment formed, and marched to the camp of Garfield’s brigade, to join the celebration. Arriving on the ground, the men stacked arms, and exercises commenced with music by the band of the 64th Ohio. (It was) then followed by a speech by Col. Ferguson, of the same regiment. Music, “Red, White, and Blue,” and a prayer by the chaplain. Next came the reading of the Declaration of Independence, by the adjutant of the 40th Indiana volunteers. A salute of thirty-four guns was then fired. Next Gen. Garfield made a speech, which was greeted with prolonged applause, and music by the band. The usual dress-parade, at 5 o’clock, closed the programme of our first Fourth of July in Dixie.
“During our stay in the vicinity of Mooresville, wagons were sent to the neighboring plantations in search of corn, which had been stored in great abundance, no doubt for the purposes of furnishing subsistence to the rebel armies. Thousands of bushels were hauled in by our trains and afterwards appropriated to the use of government. Occasionally a detail of men would be sent to shell corn that had been gathered that had been gathered which was ground at a mill nearby, and the meal issued to the troops.
“There were still strict orders against indiscriminate foraging, or pillaging by individuals or private parties, though there never was a time when it was not indulged in to some extent; and even the most stringent orders failed to prevent it. This was particularly the case when we were on short rations, or in a region of country where the people were known enemies.
“The custom of granting safe-guards to citizens near our camps was also universal, and were granted in hundreds of instances where the people were actual sympathizers with the rebellion. These safe-guards usually consisted of a single soldier, or in some cases, a non-commissioned officer and one or two men, were sent to protect the property of citizens from being molested by any of the other troops. They were boarded by the person with whom they stayed, and it was their duty to watch orchards, gardens, potato-patches, rails, and to see that nothing was molested about the house.”   
(Alabama and Tennessee, June-July, 1862)
Excerpts taken from “Annals of the Fifty-Seventh Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry: Marches, Battles, and Incidents of Army Life” written by Asbury L. Kerwood immediately after the war.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Michelangelo’s masterpiece painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling has been an inspiration to people for centuries. The story of his work is fairly well documented but here are some details you may not know.
His first love was sculpting, not painting. He was an up and coming sculptor well regarded in Florence and Rome. Pope Julius II became aware of him and offered the young man a commission to paint the chapel ceiling.
Michelangelo refused the original commission to paint the 12 Apostles. He protested that he was a sculptor, not a painter. There is a story still debated by scholars that the master painter Raphael, and the architect Bramante, conspired against him. They were not interest in the commission for themselves but wanted Michelangelo to either fail (remember he was not primarily a painter) and be disgraced, or be tied down for years with the project which would have removed him from competition for other lucrative commissions.
Pope Julius insisted and Michelangelo accepted, if he could alter the subject matter to one of his own choosing. He convinced the Pope to let him expand the themes to include the Creation (3 scenes), the Great Flood (3 scenes), Adam and Eve (3 scenes), the Prophets (12 scenes), and the genealogy of Christ (14 scenes). In total, the ceiling would have 300 figures grouped into 47 different scenes.
Michelangelo was 33 years old when painting commenced. He was known as a solitary, melancholy, and ill-mannered man. He worked completely alone, even grinding his own colors. He routinely disregarded food and drink, eating only out of necessity; and he frequently slept in his clothes. He actually painted primarily while standing up, not lying on his back as the popular legend says.
The Sistine Chapel was painted over the course of four years (1508 - 1512), but the work was interrupted frequently by the Pope’s many other small projects for Michelangelo. And when the Pope was out of town, Michelangelo would leave Rome for Florence.
When the ceiling was only half completed, the Pope insisted it be shown to the public. This frustrated Michelangelo greatly. At that time, Raphael requested that the Pope allow him to paint the second half instead of the troublesome Michelangelo. That request was denied.
Pope Julius was an impatient man. Michelangelo complained that the work could not be finished as he had planned because of his constant pressure to complete it. The painter wrapped things up and had the scaffolding partially removed. The Pope complained that there was more yet to be done including touching up the garments of the holy characters with gold. Not wanting to rebuild the scaffolding and tired of the interference, Michelangelo protested that the painting lacked nothing of importance. The Pope responded that the figures “looked poor.” Michelangelo answered, “Those who are depicted here were poor.” No retouching was done.
In the end, the Pope was completely satisfied as was the Roman citizenry who crowded into the Sistine Chapel to view the masterpiece. Michelangelo received payment of 3,000 ducats. He had paid for the colors himself. He destroyed almost all of his design sketches after the work was done.
One final note. Because he had spent so much time painting while staring upward, he had trouble focusing looking down. For some time, Michelangelo would have to hold a document or a letter above his head and read it looking up. This problem eventually faded.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"In Cold Blood":
Was it the greatest true crime story ever written?

A Heinous Crime
Fifty-two years ago in 1959, a horrific crime was committed. In a home in rural Holcomb, Kansas, the Clutter family was fast asleep. Two men entered to steal money they were told was hidden inside. There was no money. In a rage the two men shot each of the four members of the family in the head in sequence.
There was some newspaper coverage within the region, but the crime was mostly unknown. The author, Truman Capote who was living in New York, learned of the crime and decided to go to Kansas to investigate. He and his lifelong childhood friend Harper Lee, who would later write “To Kill a Mockingbird,” gathered information and interviewed local residents.
Six weeks later, with the help of a prison informant, the police caught up the killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith in Las Vegas. They were returned to Kansas for trial. After the two men were tried and convicted, Capote and Lee conducted lengthy interviews with them on Death Row, where the criminals resided for five years. Hickock and Smith were executed by hanging in April of 1965.
A few months after the executions, Capote’s book “In Cold Blood” was published. The reaction was immediate.
A Literary Classic
I had seen Truman Capote on television and he seemed to me to be a disturbing yet fascinating personality. But I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to read his book, which I thought would be a detailed description of these grisly murders. But the literary reputation of “In Cold Blood” won me over. I found that it was the most engrossing book I had ever read.
I was surprised to learn that Capote’s book did not particularly focus on the murders themselves, but examined events before and after the crime. It looked deeply into the lives of Hickock and Smith, the two killers. It posed, and answered, the question of how these two troubled teenage boys had turned into sociopathic killers? It also studied how this small farming community reacted to the deaths of their friends the Clutters. Everyone was deeply affected.
“In Cold Blood” was the first in a new genre. Capote called it a “non-fiction novel.” While it reads like a novel, the characters and events are real. Today, so many television and film plots come right from the news headlines. Capote’s work had started this trend. The beauty and the insight of the prose is staggering. You could almost feel yourself living in Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959.
Eventually, there were three compelling films, a TV miniseries, and even an opera based on the story of the Clutter murders.
The 1967 film was directly based on the book. It was filmed in black and white, and felt cold and raw. It was Robert Blake’s finest career performance; he played the murderer Perry Smith. This film was nominated for four Academy Awards. In 1996, the miniseries starred Eric Roberts and Sam Neill, it was also based on the book.
The 2005 “Capote” was different. Instead of reenacting the plot directly, it focused on Truman Capote’s research, with Harper Lee, in writing his book. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, with Philip Seymour Hoffman named Best Actor (his finest performance to date). The next year the film “Infamous” with Daniel Craig and Sandra Bullock followed a similar line and was very favorably received.
As good as these film versions are, do yourself a favor on a winter night and settle down with a copy of “In Cold Blood.” The original is still the best.
(Robert Thomas for The Unfolding Journey)