An Erie Flag

Erie Flag

An Erie Flag

Nestled away in the Galena History Museum in Galena, Il is this wonderful gem. Though most of the artifacts and exhibits have to do with General Grant the War of 1812 is represented. The flag in the picture above survived the Battle of Lake Erie.

In 1812 US and British forces vied for control of the Great Lakes as the war raged on. The origins of the conflict lay in the murkiness of maritime rights and unresolved issues stemming from the Revolution. With Great Britain thousands of miles away, Canada became the main target of the US Army. With a long shared border made mostly at the time of lakes and rivers, the naval battles almost overshadowed the land battles.

Lake Erie

In September 1813 the American Navy struck at the British on Lake Erie. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry commanded, in his flagship the Lawerence, led the American fleet of 9 ships against a British squadron of 6 ships. Though outnumbered, the British outclassed the Americans in weaponry and training. For almost 4 hours the fleets engaged in a closely contested battle. The Lawerence took the brunt of the British fire, eventually leading Perry to abandon ship, but not before taking the flag with him. Raising that same flag on the Niagra, Perry took it as his flagship.

Perry doubled down and caused the British squadron to surrender. The victory was complete. In one of the more famous dispatches of the war, Perry exclaimed, “We have met the enemy and they are ours…” The British were forced to surrender Detroit and with it control of the Great Lakes.

At some point during the war Hezekiah Gear, a Galena resident was given the flag as an honor for his service during the war. Hezekiah brought it home with him when his service ended. From Lake Erie to Galena this flag certainly has a tale to tell.

 

Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine

Joshua Chamberlain Monument at Gettysburg

Joshua Chamberlain

At the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 there were many heroes. One that stands out from the list is Colonel Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry. On July 2nd, the second day of the battle, Chamberlain and the 20th found themselves on Little Round Top. The far left of the Union line.

Opposed to them were the 15th and 47th Alabama who had been tasked with finding the Union left. Early in the battle they found the end of the line and started a hard push towards it. Chamberlain ordered the far end of the line to form a right angle to meet the coming attack.

After several attempts by the rebels, the 20th found themselves running low on ammunition and about to be overrun. Seeing that they were gathering for another attack Chamberlain did the unthinkable. He ordered his men to make a bayonet charge down the hill into the advancing rebels. His men took the enemy by surprise and the Alabamians scattered.

Later in the war, Chamberlain would be promoted to General and was in command of the Union troops that presided over the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. He would go on to be Governor of Maine and serve as president of Bodowin College in Maine. He passed in 1914 at the age of 85 but remains one of the standouts of Gettysburg.

The picture above, though terrible I admit, is of the statue of him that stands on Little Round Top to this day.

Ketchum If You Can

Ketchum If You Can

Ketchum If You Can

 

It may not be the classic “pineapple” that you are used to seeing when you hear the term “hand grenade“. Think of these as the first revision.

This design was patented in 1861 by William Ketchum, the mayor of Buffalo, New York. The grenades were used, sometimes, by the Union army during the Civil War. Unlike the ones that you see today these didn’t have the classic, pull the pin and throw.

Instead, they contained a percussion cap in the nose. All you had to do was throw them and hope they landed nose-first. The fins were there to spin it and to make sure that happened. Of course, that did not always happen. As such, they did not always go off, which made them sort of useless. Needless to say, they were not popular.

During the war, they had documented use in the siege of Petersburg and Vicksburg and a number of specimens have survived. One of the most fascinating stories concerning these comes from the 1863 siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana where the Confederates rigged up a system using blankets to catch the devices, preventing them from going off. Then, of course, they would send them back leading to a high stakes game of hot potato.

With their dubious success, these weapons were relegated to the scrap heap of history and remain a footnote in the Civil War. In case you’re curious. The “pineapple” grenade that is seen in all the WWII movies came into service in Late 1917-18 and underwent a number of revisions before finally ending its service in the 1970s.

Presidential Thanksgiving – 1789

Thanksgiving

Presidential Thanksgiving – 1789

Happy Thanksgiving

Below is President Washingtons Thanksgiving Proclamation. While the official holiday was not made into law until 1941 it was not uncommon for Congress and or the President to call for days of thanks. Enjoy below. Have fun and get some turkey.

 


Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

Bull Run vs Manassas

Bull Run vs Manassas

Bull Run vs Manassas

This hand-drawn map of the Battle of Bull Run is on display at the Manassas National Battlefield Park. As far as artifacts go it is fairly standard. A participant of the battle recreated the battlefield on paper. Possibly as part of an after-action report, or maybe just so they would not forget. We don’t know about the author, but we know one thing for sure.  The person who made the map was from the Union.

How do we know? The title on the map is Battle fo Bull Run. Had it been a Confederate that drew the map most likely it would have been labeled Battle of Manassas. During the war, the Union Army tended to name battles after the closest body of water. The Confederates used the nearest town.

Examples

Some other examples are:

The battle fought between April 6 and 7, 1862 is known in the North as Pittsburg Landing, but in the South, it was called Shiloh.

September 17, 1862, found the north fighting the Battle of Antietam, but the South fought the Battle of Sharpsburg.

April 8th, 1864 was the Battle fo Mansfield to the Confederates, but to the Union, it named Sabine Cross Roads.

Of course, in the end, the name of a particular battle was usually determined by the winner. Today, especially if you visit the national parks that have sprung up around the former battlefields you may recognize most of the ones in the South will use the Southern names.

As for why they were named as such, one historian theorizes that since many Northerners were from cities they considered bodies of water as the more noteworthy geographic feature. Southerners, however, tended to be more rural so they regarded towns as most noteworthy.

So if you are discussing the Civil War with someone pay attention to how they refer to battles, it may give you some insight as to where they are from!

Play Dixie For Me

Play Dixie For Me

Play Dixie

This painting, Play Dixie,  that hangs in a gallery at the Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library captures one of the moments that made Lincoln who he was. There are a couple of different versions of this story, the one below comes from the Daily National Intelligencer a Washington paper at the time.

On April 9th, 1865 General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant. This effectively ended the Civil War. The next day thousands of people flooded into the streets of Washington DC. They celebrated the victory by marching and singing through the streets. Eventually, the crowd was able to catch the attention of the President who after some cajoling came forward to address the crowd.

A Fair Won Prize

Below is the brief address that Lincoln gave to the crowd.

‘FELLOW CITIZENS: I am very greatly rejoiced to find that an occasion has occurred so pleasurable that the people cannot restrain themselves. [Cheers.] I suppose that arrangements are being made for some sort of formal demonstration, this, or perhaps, to-morrow night. [Cries of `We can’t wait,’ `We want it now,’ &c.] If there should be such a demonstration, I, of course, will be called upon to respond, and I shall have nothing to say if you dribble it all out of me before. [Laughter and applause.]

I see you have a band of music with you. [Voices, `We have two or three.’] I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular tune which I will name. Before this is done, however, I wish to mention one or two little circumstances connected with it. I have always thought `Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. [Applause.] I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. [Laughter and applause.] I now request the band to favor me with its performance.’”

The band played the song and then rounded it out with a flourish of Yankee Doodle. When the music ended, Lincoln led the crowd in a round of cheers for General Grant and his soldiers. Then the valiant Navy.

A week later Lincoln was assassinated. Was it his favorite song or was it just a great piece of propaganda? Which one of the dozen versions of the story is true? Honestly, it doesn’t really matter. All that does matter is that Lincoln and the Union Army brought Dixie home in the end.

F-4 Phantom By The Book

F-4 By The Book

F-4 Phantom By The Book

How cool would your job be if this was one of the books that you used?  Sitting on a cart at the Airzoo, along with a tool kit and a cup of coffee was this book. It appears that part of the work scheduled for that day was work on an F-4 Phantom.

The F-4 was first put into service in the US military in 1960 and found its way into the air wings of the Navy, Marines and Air Force.  As an air superiority fighter, it was one of the primary machines used during the Vietnam War and continued to be used in the later decades. Eventually, the F-15, F-16, and F-14 supplanted it in the different branches.

The last hurrah for the Phantom was in the first Gulf War in 1991. There it was used to suppress enemy air defenses.  In 1996 it was finally retired from active duty in the US military. The model did see extensive use in other military forces around the world and as of June 2013 still was seeing duty in Germany.

The book above is a pretty cool piece that acts as an owner’s manual for the model. From schematics and photos to break downs of all the major components. Sort of like what you may find for your car, except with places for guns and missiles. If you want a copy they are only about $20 and can be found here.

 

Dodgers and Ford Dodgers – Vietnam

Ford and the Dodgers - Vietnam

Medals of the Vietnam Conflict given to President Ford out of protest.

Ford and the Dodgers – Vietnam

The trope is a familiar one. Returning veterans of the war in Vietnam joining in with the protesters all over the country, trying to bring the war to an end. As a sign of protest, they would take their medals and citations and toss them in the reflecting pool at the Mall in Washington. Sometimes over the fence at the White House as a sign of anger and frustration.

The war was something that people didn’t understand. Unlike WW2 there was no clear-cut definition or goal. It was a war that was being fought mainly to prove that we were willing to fight. The men and women that served often felt like tools and pawns of the power in Washington. Their need to protest to be heard and understood was well-founded. But there is another side to the story.

Many men and women served and did their duty. While they may have had strong feelings about the right or wrong of the war, they fought it. They did their duty when called. Then something amazing happened to them that caused many to speak out though they had remained silent so far.

Counter Protests?

On September 16, 1974, President Gerald Ford announced that those who had dodged the draft (Draft Dodgers) and avoided service would be allowed to earn clemency by providing an “alternate” service to their country. In exchange for two years of public service, their sins would be forgiven.

A new wave of protests was started, this time not against the war but against the idea that those who illegally avoided fighting would be forgiven. Many veterans sent their medals and citations directly to President Ford himself in protest. The photo above is a collection of just some of the medals that Ford received in protest. In an effort to heal the wounds of the nation, he only created a deeper divide.

 

The Dunker Church At Antietam

Dunker Church At Antietam

The Dunker Church

 

On the morning of September 14, 1862, the congregation of the small Dunker Church just outside Antietam Maryland heard the cannons in the distance. Seven miles away a battle was underway at South Mountain as Union and Confederate forces vied for supremacy.

A couple of days later on the morning of the 16th, the Confederate forces were at the church digging in and preparing for the battle that was coming the next day. The church would be one of the main focal points of the Battle of Antietam. The Union forces pushed hard against the Confederate position that made up their left flank.

After the battle was over the church stood standing with hundreds of bullets stuck in its walls. It served as an aid station for Confederate wounded and served as a meeting place for the two sides to exchange wounded. In 1864 the church was repaired and services were resumed.

Eventually, the congregation built a new church in Sharpsburg. Now abandoned, the structure became a target for souvenir hunters. A strong storm in 1928 finished what they started. The church collapsed altogether.

In the 1930’s the owner built a house and gas station / souvenir shop on the foundation. In 1951 the Washington County Historical Society purchased the building. They cleared the newer structures and turned the foundation over to the National Park Service. In 1962 on the 100th anniversary of the battle the church was rebuilt using as much as the original material as possible. There it stands today. A place of peace and serenity serving as a counterweight to the tragedy that surrounds it.

 

 

The Groove is the Thing

Groove

Feeling the Groove…

Firearms for a very long time were fairly simple things. A barrel of some sort with two holes. One at the front for the projectile to come out. One in the back to light the powder that sent the projectile out.

Starting from there, people would go on to add different kinds of trigger mechanisms. Matchlocks which actually used a piece of burning cord to light the fuse. Flintlocks which used sparks to light the fuse.  Percussion caps and the modern trigger mechanisms of today. All showed an evolution but didn’t do much to help the main issue that a smoothbore firearm had. Range and accuracy. You could aim at a target but hitting anything more than a couple of dozen yards away was a matter of luck more than skill. This was why armies stood in long lines real close together and firing all at once became the way wars were fought. The more muskets pointed in a direction, the better the odds were one would hit a target.

That all changed with the invention of rifling. Rifling, which is adding a series of groove to the barrel of a firearm, was first done in what would be Germany in the late 15th, early 16th century tough it would not become standard until the nineteenth century. The grooves in the barrel cause the projectile to spin which greatly stabilizes the flight due to centrifugal force. With its flight more steady the projectile more often than not would go to where it was aimed greatly increasing accuracy. Suddenly a bunch of men standing in line a few yards from each other became less of a good idea. Unfortunately, it would take a bit for tactics to catch up with technology and a lot of people dies needlessly. That is a story for another time though.

The pic above shows the rifling grooves on a Civil War-era cannon, looking down the barrel you could see the spiral pattern that imparted the spin which gave the guns the greater range and accuracy.

People, Places and Things from US Military History

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