A Sign Of The Times (Preservation)

Signpost

A Sign Of The Times

In the middle of the picture, you will see a sign of the times.  You can just make it out in the middle of this intersection in what is now a suburb of Atlanta. Right next to the mailbox. See it? Good. That sign marks the spot where the Battle of Atlanta started on July 22, 1864.

Federal forces were lined up along what is now that road waiting for the Confederates to come at them. This portion of the battlefield now consists of roads that were not there, houses that were not there, a school, parks, etc. The point is time has marched on leaving the battlefield behind. Do you think the people who have that sign in their front yard know what happened there? Do you think they care?

One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War we are seeing a large number of the battlefields being encroached upon by the march of time and progress. Popular battlefields like Gettysburg, Antietam,  Shiloh and such are winning the fight or at least slowing the march of time. Gettysburg better than any of the others. Other sites, such as Atlanta and Fredericksburg have all but surrendered their past glory.

The issues of preservation versus progress have been fought in a number of battlefields itself, at the parks, in the local, state and Federal governments, between private donors and corporate interests. At some point we need to ask how much of our history do we keep and how much do we allow to be paved over?

A Sign Of The Times (Preservation)

Explanation and New Schedule

Manassas Battlefield

Explanation and New Schedule

 

Some may have noticed a lack of content that last month or so and I wanted to take a chance to address the situation. It is actually quite simple, I took on a new job. Being the main contributor tot he site, that really cut into the number of contributions I could be generating. It is my hope as the new job sorts itself out and the schedule solidifies I can go back to the 3 days a week schedule that was maintained for almost 5 years!

For the summer we will for sure get out at least one post a week, Wednesday will be the day we shoot for. We will also try and do more sharing and such on the Facebook page so we keep people coming back.

I can not wait until the time that we can get back to the regular schedule. Stick with us as we have plenty more stories to tell!

 

 

Jefferson Indian Peace Medal

Jefferson Indian Peace Medal

Jefferson Indian Peace Medal

 

In the days before the American Revolution, the great European powers explored the wilds of North America. They presented the leaders of the various native tribes with silver medals. The medals were symbols of friendship. They also singled out the leaders as special people. They were effective tools that tied the leadership of various tribes to the major powers.

In the wake of the Revolution, it was decided that the United States of America would continue the tradition. Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, saw the medals as just trinkets that were the continuation of a long-standing European tradition to give small presents to treaty negotiators, one that was harmless and really had no meaning. Sort of like when you stop at a truck stop and buy a spoon with the name of whatever state you are visiting.

When Jefferson, as President, sent Lewis and Clark on their great adventure to the Pacific Ocean they were loaded down with these medals in 1804 through 1806. Along the way, as they handed out the medal to the various tribes they encouraged their “new friends” to send back or turn in any such trinkets they had received previously from other Europeans. There is no record to indicate how many were returned. Odds are not many.

The medal above is one of these medals. The original medals were made of thin silver plates connected with a small silver band. On the front, President Jefferson, the back the crossed tomahawks and clasped hands indicating peace and friendship. Each successive President would strike their own medallions. Whether or not they worked in promoting friendship… well that may be another story.

 

The Telegram No One Wants

The Telegram No One Wants

 

The iconic image of Western Telegraph telegraph showing up at the door of a loved one in the military is one that is both poignant and unforgettable. Telegrams were used by the War Department and the branches to break the news to the distraught family member. If you don’t know the feeling there are no words. This clip from We Were Soldiers actually captures it well. In time the telegram gave way to the phone call and the visit from a representative.

In the Civil War, there was no such mechanism in place to let family members know their loved one had been killed in battle. If you knew the unit of the army they served in you could watch your local paper. They would publish casualty lists after battles. Some newspapers discontinued this towards the end of the war.

The best you could hope for was that soon after a letter from your loved one would arrive telling you they survived. Sometimes when they did not survive a friend or fellow soldier would write the family to break the news. Eventually the unit commander may follow-up with a note and their condolences, but most often there was nothing.

The absolute worse part was that at the time of the Civil War dog tags were not a standard. Most men carried no form of identification. Some before a battle may have written their name and next of kin on a piece of paper and pinned it to themselves. Just in case, but many more died fighting and were never identified. In 1865 Clara Barton started the Office of Missing Soldiers that searched to put names to the unknown. Over the next four years, she was responsible for identifying almost 20,000 unknowns.

 

The First Congressional Medal

The First Congressional Medal

So, you think that Congress is slow to act now?

The medal above was commissioned by Congress in 1776 to honor General George Washington for his role in forcing the British to abandon the besieged city of Boston.

A gold one was to be struck and given to General Washington.  Silver ones would be struck and given to dignitaries and VIPs.

The front of the coin, which should look a little familiar is based on the bust of Washington Jean-Antoine Houdon. The back side showed a scene of Washington and four of his men on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston.

Over the next twelve years, Congress would authorize six additional medals. In 1777 they honored General Horatio Gates and 1779 General Anthony Wayne. Major Henry Lee, General’s Morgan and Greene would follow over the next couple of years and the last of the era went to John Paul Jones for his capture of the Serapis.

So about the delay. Congress approved each of these medals in a quick form, but it turned out that there was nowhere in the colonies that could actually produce the medals. So they looked to France to produce the awards. And they took their time.

On March 21, 1790, President Thomas Jefferson presented former President Washington with his medal. Also as a box containing the other five medals commissioned fourteen years after they were ordered. If only they had Amazon!

Over the years the Congressional gold medals would be given to prominent military men. Later recipients would expand to include actors, artists, musicians and other entertainers.

 

 

The Lilies of Yorktown

The Lilies of Yorktown

The Lilies of Yorktown

In October 1781 British General Cornwallis found himself, along with his army, under siege in the small Virginia town of Yorktown. The French and American armies took their final positions and the battle began in earnest. The American Revolution was about to enter into its final phase.

The French played an integral part in the war on the side of the Americans. Without their navy, there would have been no chance for the US to gain any ground against the mighty British Navy. Without their army, their professional and well-armed army things may have turned out different. At Yorktown, it was French siege guns and artillerymen that bore the brunt of the siege operations.

As the siege went on, both sides knew the end was coming. On the far end of the British lines were two redoubts, fortifications, that had housed British artillery at one time. To complete the siege the redoubts had to be taken. Called #9 and #10 the French and American forces prepared for the final investment. The Americans, led by a young Alexander Hamilton would take #10. The French would take #9 sending 400 men against the 120 defenders.

The French would carry their redoubt with a loss of fifteen men killed and seventy-seven wounded. Almost a quarter of their force. With both redoubts taken the circle around the British tightened and several days later they surrendered.

Today in redoubt #9, as pictured in the photo above, lilies grow bright and strong. Some people say that since the lily is the symbol of France it must have been the blood of the French soldiers that caused the lilies to spring up there in the redoubt. Hard to say if that is true or not, but there they are on the French redoubt paying tribute to our friends and allies.

 

 

One Crazy Election

The Election fo 1860

One Crazy Election

The election of 1860 was as tense and encompassed almost as many different and disparaging views as 2016. There were four candidates to choose from that year that represented four different political parties. (Look, I know that picture is not the best not all will be grand! Just roll with it.) Here were the contenders.

The Constitution Party

John Bell from the Constitutional Union party was from Tennessee. He managed to carry 3 states (Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia) with 39 electoral votes.  The party was made of former Whigs, former Know Nothings and some Southern Democrats. It was named for their single party platform, “to recognize no political principle other than the Constitution of the country, the Union of the states, and the Enforcement of the Laws”. Since the 1860 election revolved around the issue of slavery (it did whether you agree or not) they decided to take no stand on the issue. They hoped to avoid Southern secession by kicking the proverbial can down the road.

Democratic Party (North &South)

At the 1860 Democratic National Convention held in Charleston that year, the proceedings became fractious over the question on the extension of slavery into the new territories. Many delegates walked out splitting the party in two. A second convention was held later that year in Baltimore Maryland.

The Northern Democratic candidate was Stephen Douglas from Illinois. He managed to win 1 state and 12 electoral votes.  Missouri if you must know. This defeat pretty much ended a long political career. Douglas and his branch favored Popular Sovereignty. This would allow the new territories to decide for themselves if they would join the Union as free or slave states.

The Southern Democrats, who favored not only expanding slavery in the territories but also reopening the international slave trade were represented by John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky. He managed to win 11 states (guess which ones) and 72 electoral votes.

The Republican Party

The big winner was the brand spanking new Republican Party that ran on a platform that was firmly anti-slavery. Their candidate was Abraham Lincoln of Illinois who managed to win 18 states (all northern) and 180 electoral votes. His election was seen by the southern states as a sign that the days of slavery were to be numbered. Pushing them to take action. We know how that turned out.

Inevitable?

It is interesting when you look at the stats from that election that even if you add the votes of all three opponents together, Lincoln still won handily:

Electoral vote: Lincoln 180 All Others Combined 123

States Won: Lincoln 18 All Others Combined 15

Though he would have lost the popular vote:

Popular vote: Lincoln 1,865,908 All Others Combined 2,819,122

When you watch the news tonight just be glad that we have winnowed it down to a two-party system. Elections should be much less crazy now, right? (I apologize to all the Libertarians, but seriously unless you get serious the best you can be is a spoiler.)

The Journal of Major Washington

The Journal of Major Washington

The Journal of Major Washington

 

In 1753 the Governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, sent Major George Washington (then only 21) into the Western reaches of the Colony to warn the encroaching French that they were trespassing on land that was claimed by Virginia for England. The land in question would eventually become Ohio.

Washington and his small expedition were to deliver an ultimatum to the French garrison at Fort Le Boeuf. Not far from Lake Erie. He was received by the French commander who told Washington that he would forward the request to his superiors in Quebec. In the meantime, they were going nowhere.

When the expedition kicked off Washington was sure to take experienced woodsmen, explorers, and interpreters with him. He was about to get his first taste of the true frontier. On his tour, he dealt with rain and snow, visited a number of French forts and even some native villages. Putting his skills as a surveyor to the test he even created one of the first maps of the Ohio River Valley. Realizing that he was not going to get the answer he was looking for Washington headed home.

As soon as he returned to Williamsburg Washington wrote out the official report of his trip and handed it over to Governor Dinwiddie who immediately saw it as a tool to warn people about the encroaching French menace. Dinwiddie had the journal published in book form and in broadsides and excerpts even showed up in newspapers in the colonies and back in England. Overnight Major George Washington became a name well-known at home and in the social circles in London.

The picture above is of one of the original copies of the published journal.

Side note

Dinwiddie would send Washington back to the Ohio River Valley on a second expedition to parley with the French. This one did not go as well. George Washington may have accidentally started a world war. One that would end with the British American colonies on a slippery slope to revolution. Too bad he didn’t keep a journal of THAT adventure!

Wednesday Words & Phrases: Yo-Yo

Yo-Yo

Yo-Yo

What? No? Surely the kid’s toy does not have a military origin!

Sorry but anyone that has been hit in the head by an errant yo-yo toss knows how dangerous they can be.  The yo-o came to the US in 1928 brought by Filipino-American Pedro Flores. He based the toy on a traditional Filipino hunting and war weapon which shows up in their lore as the yo-yo, perhaps meaning come, come or return.

Hunters would use the rock tied to a string in a couple of ways to great effect. From a tree where the heavy stone was dropped on its unwary prey (man or beast) to crack their head. It could also be used on the ground and thrown at a target. Either way, the string meant it was usable more than just once.

What’s next? The Frisbee having a weaponized origin? The hula-hoop?

Stay tuned to find out…

The First Presidential Assassin

The First Presidential Assassin

The First Presidential Assassin

When he was a boy he found himself in front of a fortune-teller that read his palm. The Gypsy proclaimed that the boy would have a short but grand life. Doomed to die young while meeting a bad end. The boy wrote down the proclamation and would spend many, many years dwelling on it. Trying to suss out the meaning from the cryptic words. (OK, so it was pretty much straight forward, but perhaps denial added mystery?)

In 1857 he made his stage debut in a production of Richard III in Baltimore. He asked to be billed as J.B. Wilkes in order to not draw comparisons to his father and brother. Both already well-known actors. In 1858 he suffered such stage fright that he stumbled over his lines causing the audience to respond in gales of laughter. He shook it off and his acting career took off. Audiences loved his energy and fearlessness on the stage. He soon became famous in his own right. Called by some “the most handsome man America.”  He threw himself into role after role. One in particular always drew him in. Brutus the tyrant slayer who ended the life of Julius Caesar.

On April 12th 1861 on the eve of war this son of Virginia found himself on the stage in Albany New York singing the virtues of the valiant and heroic south. The audience drove him from the stage but he was not to be daunted. He crisscrossed the war-torn country playing to audiences North and South.

As the war progressed he felt more and more like he was missing out. As the 1864 election drew nearer he found a focus for his anger. President Abraham Lincoln. His first act of treason came with planning to kidnap the president. Booth and his “gang” nearly carried off the plot. If not for a sudden change of plans by Lincoln history could be very different.

Destiny

On April 12th, 1865 the war all but ended as Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army. Now lost in a well of anger and feeling betrayed Booth set out to end the president’s life. Hoping perhaps to stir the South into continuing the fight.

The night of April 14th, at Fords Theater in Washington DC, the most famous actor in the country became the first presidential assassin. He thought he would become a hero but instead became the most wanted man in the country. On April 26th Federal forces caught up with him and after a brief struggle killed him at the very young age of 26. I wonder if in his final moments John Wilkes Booth thought back to the Gypsy prophecy and smiled as it certainly came true.

People, Places and Things from US Military History

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