Errors

“When machine gunners have to locate their positions and lay out lines of fire after dark, errors usually will creep in.”

— Walter Campbell Short in The Employment of Machine Guns (1922)

The Burial of a Tame Crow

Crow

“I had lived for years at the North, had been graduated recently at Yale, and had but just entered upon the study of law in the city of New York when the war began. Thus torn away by the inexorable demands of conscience and of loyalty to the South from a focal point of intense intellectual life and purpose, one of my keenest regrets was that I was bidding a long good-by to congenial surroundings and companionships. To my surprise and delight, around the camp-fires of the First Company, Richmond Howitzers, I found throbbing an intellectual life as high and brilliant and intense as any I had known.

“I have known the burial of a tame crow to be witnessed not only by the entire command, but by scores, perhaps hundreds, of intelligent people from a neighboring town, and to be dignified not only by salvos of artillery, but also by an English speech, a Latin oration, and a Greek ode, which would have done honor to any literary or memorial occasion at old Yale.”

— Maj. Robert Stiles in Four Years Under Marse Robert (1903)

Bob

Robert Augustus Stiles (1836-1905), Yale, Class of 1859, rose from Private to Major while serving in the Richmond Howitzers. After the war he studied law at the University of Virginia and in 1867 opened his practice in Richmond.

Letters

Letters to Soldiers

“Michel was proud of the letters, and showed them to everyone.”

Illustration by J. Scott Williams (1877-1976) for “Their Places” by Helen Mackay in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, February 1918

The Great Buddha at Kamakura

Kamakura Cigarette Card

It is perhaps the most wondrous thing I have ever seen in person, but I never expected to encounter it again on a cigarette card. This would have been issued at the time of the Russo-Japanese War, when the Russians were the bad guys and the Japanese were the good guys. As to which of Lambert & Butler’s cigarettes I would pick, I am torn between “May Blossom,” which sounds light and refreshing, and “Varsity Mixture,” which might make me feel younger and more racy in a collegiate way.

The Distillation of Evil

Evil

“On an easel next to the death mask was a large facsimile of the sixty-pfennig stamp featuring a photograph of the death mask that the occupation government planned to use on letters in Bohemia and Moravia, which was a bit like hanging a portrait of Bluebeard in a girls’ school dormitory.

“Staring critically at the mask and the giant stamp was a very tall man and next to him a junior officer… I took him to be the taller man’s aide-de-camp. I advanced a short way up the staircase until I was standing immediately above them… My conscience might be getting a bit dull these days, but there’s nothing wrong with my hearing. Their wisecracks were all taken from the SS joke book, which–take my word for it–only the SS think is funny.

“‘That’s one stamp I won’t putting on my fucking Christmas cards,’ said the senior officer…

“‘Not if you want the card to get there in time for Christmas,’ said the aide…

“‘He looks like a Paris perfumer, inhaling some rare scent.’

“Death, probably. The scent which fills that long nose.'”

— From The Lady from Zagreb (2015) by Philip Kerr

* * *

The commemorative stamp honoring Reinhard Heydrich was not an invention of the author, but an actual postage stamp, and the sentiments expressed by these fictional SS officers were commonly held. Heydrich was the author of the Final Solution, an ice-cold killer who inspired fear even in those who agreed with him, worked with him, killed for him. He out-Hitlered Hitler, and was assassinated by Czech patriots in June of 1942.

Today you can find his postage stamp on eBay, along with a 12″ action figure, in full uniform, and a very expensive English translation of the German memorial volume prepared at the time of his death. Even in death, he casts a long, dark, cold shadow.