Friday, November 8, 2013

The Invalid Corps: Civil War Wounded Warriors Serve the US and Save Laurel

Col. Charles F. Johnson

This Veterans Day weekend, as we honor our veterans and also celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, is perhaps a good time to reflect wounded warrior members of the Civil War’s Invalid Corps. Some of these soldiers served in, and saved Laurel, Maryland from attack.

More than 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were wounded during the Civil War. Many of them suffered debilitating injuries and amputations, others were seriously weakened by disease. Like today’s soldiers, many still wanted to serve their country. Those discharged because of their condition often found limited work opportunities outside of the military.  They also discovered a society uncomfortable with people with disabilities. What to do with the many soldiers unfit for active duty or pensioned because of illness or injury? The Invalid Corps was the Union Army’s response.

Invalid Corps PosterCreated in April, 1863 the Invalid Corps was organized by level of disability. One section was for those who could use a gun and do garrison duty. A second was for those who were severely disabled, i.e. had lost an arm, but could do hospital duty. They were issued swords. 

The idea was that these men, still able to serve, but in a limited capacity, could free up others to engage in active combat. Close to 60,000 men served in the Union Invalid Corps. (The Confederacy established a similar body in 1864.)  Within the military, feelings about the corps were decidedly mixed, with some claiming it was filled with “ne’er-do-wells and malingerers.”Their distinctive light blue uniform also singled them out as “different.” The Corps’ name also had an unfortunate connotation, since in the Union Army its initials “IC” also stood for “Inspected, Condemned,” As a result, it was renamed in Veterans Reserve Corps (VRC) in 1864.  Despite the disparagement, the many of VRC’s members served with distinction. VRC units provided the honor guard for Lincoln’s visit to Gettysburg, guarded prisoners, quelled draft riots, played a critical role in defending Washington and also, importantly for Laurel, guarded the railroad.

Saving Laurel

While researching the Laurel Museum’s current exhibit “Stationed in Laurel, Our Civil War Story”( we realized that these wounded veterans, members of the Veterans Reserve Corps, not only guarded Laurel later in the war, but in one case its presence saved the town from attack. Two VRC units, the 6th and the 18th Regiments, are known to have been stationed in Laurel while guarding the line between Washington and Baltimore.

Col. Charles Johnson, who headed the VRC’s 18th Regiment had been gravely wounded in the groin in June, 1862, and was honorably discharged. Like many men he found job prospects outside the military limited, and rejoined upon creation of the Invalid Corps, where he qualified for full pay, rather than a pension. His 18th Regiment guarded Laurel from July5 to October 5, 1864. 

In July, 1864 Brigadier General Bradley T. Johnson lead a contingent of 1500 cavalrymen. They hoped to break up the railroad at Laurel on his way to Point Lookout to free Confederate prisoners. Scouts brought news of a sizable Federal force posted at Laurel, so the Confederates struck the tracks at Beltsville, instead. The Federal force was Johnson’s 18th Regiment of the VRC, stationed in Laurel.

In a July 20, 1864 letter to his wife Johnson wrote:
…the “sympathizers” (local Southern sympathizers)]...endeavored to get this little band of’ ‘Invalids ’gobbled up” by the enemy…I discovered that the reason that the rebs did not attempt to destroy the bridge at Laurel was they informed the rebs that it would require at least 5 or 600 men to dislodge me as I had a good position and …intended to fight it out at that point..and it would take too long a time to ‘whipe us out’ for them[i.e. Confederate forces] to stop.
Col. Charles Johnson July 20, 1864

Charles Johnson, after service that included working with Freedman’s Bureaus in the South died in 1867, partially of his wounds. The VRC was disbanded in 1866 at the end of the war, and is largely forgotten.  As we honor the men and women of today’s military, taking a moment to recall the service of these wounded warriors from 150 years ago seems particularly appropriate.

“Stationed in Laurel: Our Civil War Story” runs through December 22 at the Laurel Museum, 817 Main Street, Laurel, Maryland. 

For more information on the Invalid Corps see:
The Civil War Letters of Colonel Charles F. Johnson, Invalid Corps. Fred Pelka. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 2004.  The introduction gives an excellent overview of the Invalid Corps.

“Invalid Corps”  Col. R. Gregory Lande, MC USA (Ret.); Military Medicine, Vol. 173, June 2008.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Power of Thanks

My husband and I recently gave a presentation at a local Senior Center.  The day before I met with a staff member who helped me through their AV setup, and the next day he made sure his staff person had things running properly even though he himself was away. I called the following day to thank him, and could tell from the defensive tone when he answered that he was anticipating something bad – and that negative feedback was most of what he got in phone calls.  He was, I think, pleasantly surprised that I had called to say thanks.

Likewise, a few weeks ago a friend and I dined at Mon Ami Gabi in Bethesda. The service was so terrific we actually called the manager over to compliment our server.  He, too, was surprised, and I’m sure passed it along to our server (and hopefully noted it for future performance appraisals.)   My sister-in-law sent a lovely thank you for her birthday gift, and over the year's the painfully printed thank yous from young relatives are always cherished. Mary Lehman, my local Council representative recently sent me a handwritten, personal note thanking me for a donation.

This got me to thinking about the power of Thank You.  All too often in our hurried society we’re easy to criticize (and trust me I’m not immune to this). The personal thanks (as opposed to the review on Yelp/TripAdvisor etc). is in many ways more powerful.  It establishes a connection between you and the person who did something.  It acknowledges that an effort was made, and appreciated (note: I didn't say you had to love the gift).   We could have put a review on Yelp about our Mon Ami experience – but would it make as big an impact on the manager as an actual customer taking the time to comment on something good?  Maybe, though they certainly would also appreciated the latter, I’m sure.  Mary could certainly send an email or typed note – and given her brutal schedule I wouldn’t have faulted her at all.  Yet the personal thanks made a real impact – and says something positive about her commitment to constituents.

Close family are not immune from the thanks benefit.  Do you thank your spouse/partner for something he/she does that may be routine – like getting you a cup of coffee?  Did you remember to thank aunts/uncles/grandparents for the birthday/Christmas/Hanukah gift they sent? Just because you’re related does not mean they  are obligated to gift you, nor does it absolve you from basic Miss Manners courtesy.  And, families/spouses being well, families, and spouses, the absence of thanks may not be commented on, but is likely noted.

Think of it this way.  Saying takes very little time, and generally costs nothing more than a minute or two.  It makes the recipient feel their efforts were appreciated.  And that’s worth a lot.

Any way, Thank you for taking the time to read this posting.  I really appreciate it. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mitt Romney & Bullying: It’s His Answer Not the Action.

I don’t usually write about politics in this blog, but I’d like to make a stab at the Mitt Romney bullying story.  As someone who was not part of the popular group in high school, and at least once the recipient of a grade school mob mentality, the impact of powerful students on their victims resonates with me.  From what I would take as a well-verified account, Romney and his pals cornered and cut the hair of a student who was perceived different –i.e. homosexual.  The other students involved seem to have vivid memories. Romney claims he doesn’t remember it, and stated: “I don't recall the incident myself, but I've seen the reports and I'm not going to argue with that. There's no question but that I did some stupid things when I was in high school, and obviously if I hurt anyone by virtue of that I would be very sorry for it and apologize for it.”

Sorry, that just doesn’t wash with me. First, I honestly cannot believe he doesn’t remember the incident – and the nervous laughter that accompanied his defensive comments on it suggests something else (possible hint for observing Romney: if he laughs nervously he’s really uncomfortable about the subject and not quite telling the truth).  Like many politicians who try to cover up their behavior, it’s not their original action, but the follow-up that is worrisome. (Watergate, Iran Contra, Monica Lewinsky. The politician list is it seems endless ).  It is what I didn’t hear from Mitt Romney that I find bothersome.  Stupid is not the same as wrong. Riding a bike without a helmet is stupid. Assaulting someone is wrong.   Mr. Romney doesn’t seem to know the difference, or can’t acknowledge his behavior fell into the latter category.  What would I want to hear?

“You know.  I remember this event.  And I have to tell you I am deeply embarrassed and ashamed by what I did then.  I was young, but that’s no excuse.  It was wrong.  And it reminds us of how important it is not to judge people. I wish today I could apologize to Mr. Lauber for causing him so much pain.” The issue is not what Mitt Romney did then – no one should be judged because of one teen-age  incident.  But they can be judged on what they do and say about that event as an adult.  And that’s where Mitt Romney is seriously lacking.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

It's Spring. Must Be Time for the First Laurel Yard Sale Crawl

Things are picking up for the Spring. The Old Town Community is planning its first (or at least first in a long time) community yard sale on May 5 (a date carefully calculated to not conflict with the City Hall sale or Main Street Festival). So far more than 8 families have signed up -- which I think means there is going to be a lot of terrific stuff. Especially if those selling are pack rats like me and my other better half. I anticipate lots of kids items, some antiques, hardware (I know we have duplicates of good stuff), furniture, kitchenware etc.

It's not too late for Old Town folks who want to participate to sign up. Note: Each participant MUST have an individual yard sale permit from the City of Laurel. If you want to participate and be on the map indicating yard sale sites it's not too late To be on the map (participants get copies): Download the form at and get your permit.E-mail Joni McGovern at by April 24 to be on the Map.
We'll be promoting it with a press release, signs, postings on Craig's list, yard sale search etc. Find more garage sales in Laurel on Yard Sale Search. Should be a great event

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dining Prospects Are Looking Up for the Old Town Area

This past week with our ongoing Spring like weather I was thinking about how fortunate we are in Old Town Laurel that in the past year two new – and very different – eateries have joined our community. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Salute Italian restaurant. Last week was their first anniversary. Congratulations to Meriem and her lovely family. Their eggplant alone should keep them on the map for a long time.

Double Dip is our other excellent addition. Readers might remember that back in the Fall I was happy they were coming but wistful they were not on Main Street. I still am – but they’ve made a perfect home for themselves on Montgomery – and I have to believe the proximity to Pallotti and St. Marys provides a good continuous and hungry group of customers. I’m also pleased to report a very good experience, too with their sandwiches.

The new deck and patio with benches was a nice place to enjoy that dish of chocolate last week. Our warm spring has meant Ken & I have had many (too many) trips to the DD for ice cream – and hot chocolate made with real milk and syrup on those cold days. None of that wimpy packet stuff. I predict as the weather gets even warmer we’ll see lines out the door.

Put these two new additions with our other eateries, and the prospects are good and growing for Old Town to be the place to go for non-chain food. Salute, Double Dip, Linnys (still the best chicken salad around), Toucan Taco (had the queso there today with the LHS Volunteers), RHB (we were their second outlet so chain doesn’t apply), Tampico, and La Mia. All walkable. All good. Isn’t that what we want in a neighborhood? What’s your favorite walkable dining place?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Voting is the Best Way to Register Your Opinion

Voting is the Best Way to Register Your Opinion

There’s a lot of negative campaigning going on out there. And its getting pretty unsavory. The latest volley was a particularly disgusting mailing sent out by ”17 Anonymous Taxpayers” against Mike Sarich that for my money (and a lot of theirs, too since evidently they printed and mailed a 4 pager to 10,000 voters) hit a new low. A thought for those who write such stuff: you’re hurting your cause more than the people you oppose. For more on anonymous comments see Rick Wilson’s blog.

However, this isn’t going to be about the low levels our political campaign in Laurel has reached. It’s to remind voters that they have one sure way of making sure their opinions on the candidates and the process make a difference: and that’s voting Nov. 1 (early voting ends October 29).

Voting turnout in our city is notoriously low. In the last special referendum fewer than 1000 voters decided on voting wards, terms and salary issues for a city of 25,000 with something like 10,000 registered voters. That’s 10% deciding for everyone. This year for the first time in a long time, there are 2 polling sites, so folks have no excuse that there isn’t a voting place close by. So be sure to vote. For information on where and when:

Friday, August 26, 2011

Is There Ice Cream In Our Future?

It’s been a while since I blogged – a smashed elbow in July took a lot of my energy and attention – but it is now well on the road to recovery – plus the fall season is well upon us and it’s time to get the conversations going again.

While I wasn’t at the Mayor’s Town Hall meeting some news has filtered my way that may be of interest.

Seems an ice cream store is planning to open on Montgomery Street 2 doors up from the Harrison Beard building. Great news to have an ice cream store – but I have to wonder why it’s not going to Laurel’s Main Street. Main Street would have the traffic, there are plenty of open storefronts and an ice cream parlor would draw a variety folks not just Old Town locals. Once again Main Street seems to be getting the shorter end of the stick – in this case the ice cream stick.

Other hints from the meeting suggested there will be news soon on the Police Station – and let’s hope it’s something that will get rid of what can only be described as a building well past its prime and a site in desperate need of development.

And what’s with the walking path around Laurel Lakes? It’s been closed again forcing walkers to detour up and around the block. Surely pedestrians and the local folks on the street can come to some agreement so the community isn’t blocked from walking around the lake on a path their tax $$s pay for.

Other news: confirmed by talking with the folks at Montgomery Cleaners: they’re moving across the street to the site of the previous appliance store. They seem excited, and I think this means they’ll have an air conditioned building!.

Starting Sept 2. The Laurel Museum will have a very modest exhibit “Laurel Remembers 9/11”. The commemorative book for visitors that was available to people after that tragic event will be on display – and visitors to the 10 year anniversary are encouraged to read some of the comments, and also write their own thoughts ten years after.

That’s all for now: coming soon the upcoming political season in Laurel.