On June 22, 1775, the Continental Congress issued the first Continental currency in the form of $2 million in bills of credit. At the time paper money was almost a rarity as most people preferred hard currency. Actual coins made of silver and gold. Unfortunately, there was not enough of the hard specie, as it was called, in the colonies to pay for the war.
The paper money was backed only by the promise of future tax revenues and fluctuated badly from the start. The value rising and falling based on the performance of the Continental Army against the British. It did not take long for the up and down to become simply a down as rampant inflation, lack of faith in the currency and the British penchant for counterfeiting (Read more about that here! Or in the hardcover annual here.) made the paper not even worth the paper it was printed on.
By 1781 the exchange rate was $225 to $1. ($225 in Continental currency for $1 of hard specie.) This was at a time when the average Continental Army private made $5 a month in Continental scrip. If they were paid at all. Most men had received little if any pay since 1778.
Joseph Plumb Martin, a soldier from Connecticut, relays in his memoirs a story where to earn a little extra (having not been paid in many months) he assisted in a roundup of runaway slaves that had fled to the service of British after the siege at Yorktown in 1781 had ended. “… the fortune I acquired was small, only one dollar; I received what was then called its equivalent, in paper money, if money it might be called, it amounted to twelve hundred (nominal) dollars, all of which I afterwards paid for one single quart of rum; to such a miserable state had all paper stuff, called-money- depreciated.”
Twelve hundred dollars for a quart of rum, and we thought prices were high today. The struggle to pay for the war is an epic tale for another time. It almost came to pass that counting on currency was almost a disaster.
Since the beginning of warfare leaders needed to be able to communicate with their troops from a distance. To get their commands heared through the din of battle. during the roar of battle. In many places in the world, the drum has always been one of the most favored methods of battlefield communication.
Drums would be used to men where to gather, and when to attack. When to leave the battlefield and when to curfew had fallen on the camp. From a distance, units could communicate with other to coordinate. Drums would also help the soldiers keep their pace when marching.
Since our military heritage is drawn mainly from European tradition, it is interesting to note that prior to the Crusades, drums were not used in European armies. In fact, when facing off against the forces of Islam, who made heavy use of large kettledrums to command the troops, they found that their horses reacted poorly to the noise to which they had never heard. Early battles were heavily affected by the enemies drums until they grew accustomed.
Returning armies worked the drums into their operations. By the time that the European powers came to the American continent, they found themselves up against indigenous people that had been using drums for communication for thousands of years.
Drums, bugles and other musical instruments found their way into the US military. They only started to fade from use during the Civil War when the telegraph began taking its place in the command and control realm. Eventually, the radio would provide the most direct communication method and the drums fell silent as a battlefield tool.
A small city in the middle of nowhere made up of the same style buildings. Semi-circular, corrugated metal, long and low. That is a Quonset Hut you see making up these small cities that have served as makeshift homes and office for the military since the early days of WWII.
In 1941 the US Navy was looking for a lightweight, general purpose prefabricated building that could be shipped anywhere in the world. The George A. Fuller construction company won the bid and the first of many of these huts rolled off the assembly line.
During WWII over 150,000 of these buildings were produced and after the war, they were sold for about $1,000 to the civilian market with many turned into small starter homes for families. Colleges turned them into cheap student housing, many churches and small business invested in the steel half-shells. Some military bases, especially overseas, still make use of these and other similar designs. You can even buy the kits on eBay if you wanted to have a new one for whatever purposes.
Odds are you have seen them in one place or another. If you were or are military I can almost guarantee it. They will always be a symbol of the industriousness and flexibility of the armed forces. The ones in the picture above were deployed during the Vietnam War and served as a hospital and administration.
Oh and the name, Quonset Hut? It comes from where they were originally manufactured, Quonset, Rhode Island. Which is famous for exactly nothing else!
In the Civil War, it was not uncommon for soldiers to write their name and hometown on pieces of paper to be pinned onto their backs. The idea was that if they were to fall in battle someone would know who they were. Maybe even there would be a chance for their body to make it home.
To that extent, the Civil War saw innovations in embalming techniques that would allow for a body to be preserved for the trip home. If they could afford it. A soldier who purchased the service would be issued a medallion that they were to wear around their neck. After the battle representatives of the embalming company would search through the bodies to find their clients. These men would be embalmed and sent home.
What would eventually become “dog tags” was born.
On December 20, 1906, War Department General Order No. 204 that was issued. This order made the “identification tag” standard military issue. This tag was to be an aluminum disk approximately the size of a silver half-dollar. It would be stamped with name, rank, company, and regiment. The order provided that the tags would be issued to enlisted men for free, but officers had to purchase theirs at cost.
In 1916 the regulations were changed to provide two tags to each individual. One to be kept with them and one for the burial services and record keeping. At a later point, the religious beliefs of the wounded were added to ensure the proper services during burial.
The tags in the picture above are from the Pre-WWI era and were most likely issued to American soldiers that were engaged in the Philippine Insurrection.
For almost two hundred years the flintlock firearm was the state of the art for the military around the world. First developed by Marin le Bourgeoys for King Louis XIII of France around 1610 they continued to be refined and developed until the mid-19th century when percussion caps became more the norm.
The flintlock pistol was normally used in conjunction with another weapon, sword or cutlass and would fire one shot before having to be reloaded. They ranged from six inches up to twenty and were mostly smooth bore. Effective and powerful in the short-range their greatest deficiency was that time it took to reload. For those that have never done it here are the steps:
Load the flint into the lock.
Half-cock the cock
Pour the proper amount of black powder down the muzzle
Tamp it down
Wrap the ball in a patch, usually linen or cotton
Put the ball in the muzzle
Tamp the ball and power down with the ramrod
Prime the flash pan
You are ready to fire!
Now imagine that in the middle of a fight, probably not going to happen which is why you would normally carry more than one.
Not only is the load process time-consuming, but the actual flick that makes the spark can sometimes be an issue. They wear out, and if not produced right is just plain ineffective. Of course, keeping your powder dry was a major issue. Even when it was you would have to constantly clean the powder residue from the weapon to keep it functioning. Since most of the pistols were made by hand the parts were mostly not transferable from one to another. So if something broke, you may be out of luck.
Still, though they were good weapons and were integral in not only the military but taming the new frontiers found on the American Continent.
It has been well established that as part of our journey through American Military History the space program falls under our purview. There are few things that exemplary the accomplishments of the program like moon rocks. Rocks that were brought back to Earth from the moon. How cool is that?
Now for the really cool part. Moon rocks that are currently on the Earth can be traced to one of three sources. Rocks that were brought back purposefully but the Apollo missions. Rocks that were brought back by the Soviet unmanned probes of the 70’s. And the ones that came to Earth the hard way as meteorites after being ejected from the surface of the Moon.
Six Apollo mission brought back over 800 pounds of rocks. These rocks are generally considered priceless and while the majority of them are in secured facilities some have found their way out to the collectors market and of course in museums around the world. In fact, in 1970 President Nixon distributed samples as goodwill gifts to all fifty states as well as 135 countries.
So how much is priceless? Well, first of all, if you had any of the real samples in your collection, your name is more than likely on a list somewhere. In 1993 three small fragments from the Soviet collections that weighed approximately 0.2g sold for $442,500. What is that per pound? No idea, that kind of math is beyond me. Suffice to say their value is amazing but even more than their monetary value is the value as a trophy. A trophy of what we can accomplish. We went to the Moon and brought something back. Think about that the next time you go out for milk.
There are several swords in various museums that are purported to have belonged to General George Washington. The Museum of the American Revolution has this particular sword of Washington on display.
The Washington family has indicated that this particular sword was carried by Washington at the begging of the Revolution. The hilt is silver with a lion head pommel. It is very much like the swords carried by many gentlemen if the period. While this one may have never been carried into battle it does have an interesting story behind it.
In 1769 the Virginia House of Burgesses passes the “Virginia Nonimportation Resolutions”. These resolutions were designed to boycott imports from Britain in favor of locally made items. This was in response to not only an economic downturn but also to several attempts by the British Parliament to implement new taxes on the colonies. The idea behind the act was to get the colonies to stop buying finished good from Britain. When British merchants started feeling the heat, they may lobby on behalf of the colonies.
George Washington, who was sitting in the House at the time, was instrumental in getting the resolution passed. In 1770, in support of the resolution, Washington purchased the sword above from a Philadelphia craftsman eschewing his previously owned sword that was purchased via his British agent.
On a side note, this particular boycott did not go so well. Many Virginia merchants basically ignored it and eventually, it sort of withered away. By 1771 the agreement was abandoned.
So, you are a US Navy pilot and you find yourself in the unenviable position of having to bail out over enemy territory. Maybe you were shot down, maybe you had mechanical issues, either way, you are about to be in deep trouble.
Luckily when you were preparing for your mission you put on your flight suit which contained a number of compartments. In those compartments are the survival tools that you may need in exactly this situation. Besides a first aid kit and such you have your handy, dandy Barter Kit.
The Barter kit was a small molded rubber case which measures 5 1/2″ by 4″. When opened there are 5 form fitted compartments. Two gold rings, marked as being 100% gold. A small charm with the image of a fish, several links of gold chain and the real beauty, a Swiss made 21 jewel Milus Instant Date watch with a band.
No, this was not a pilot’s early retirement present. In fact, the purpose was to give the downed pilots something of value to trade to either civilian. Or possibly even enemy soldiers to help them get back to their lines and to safety.
The kit above was a variation that was used in the South East Asia theater during the war. Another version used in the Atlantic had three gold rings and a number of gold coins.
If you were down and found yourself on the wrong side of the line, this little kit could very well be the difference between life and death.
In the 1850’s the home of Abraham Lincoln was a lively and well lived in location. Abraham would work down the street at his law office during the day and night return back to his home, his wife and the sons. They were a busy and happy family. Lincoln would often pass time with his boys wrestling or reading to them, but the family had at least one other form of amusement, a stereoscope very much like the one above. In fact, the one above is theirs as it is sitting on a table in their very living room.
The stereoscope worked very much like the old View-Master (you all had one of those growing up right?) In this case two photos are placed inside the unit and you would peer through the eyepieces. The two images would then become one, and appear to be in 3-D. This was very high-tech for the time. Through this device, the Lincoln’s could view places all over the world and see them in a way that most of us had never been able to.
While certainly not a cheap “toy” Lincoln was known for spoiling the boys and this would definitely fit the bill. On display at the Lincoln Homestead, this piece gives a brief look into the family’s life. Lincoln always had a curiosity about him and through toys like this, he instilled the same curiosity in his boys.
The morning of July 3rd, 1863 at Gettysburg Pennsylvania the Union and Confederate forces were in day three of an epic battle. This was a battle for all the marbles. If the South could win they would have almost free rein in the Pennsylvania countryside. From there they could make a run at anywhere they wanted in the north, including Washington DC. A war-weary North may even consider bringing the war to an end.
General Lee decided this morning that he was going to play for the win. He ordered the men to make a strong focused attack on the Union center. That should have been the weak point. Break that line and win the war. He gave command of the attack to General Longstreet even though he opposed it. As such he delayed the attack longer than he should have. Eventually, after an artillery duel seemed to prepare the field Longstreet sent General George Pickett and his Virginians to attack.
One of the men leading the assault was General Lewis Armistead. A good man and a true soldier. He had been part of the US Army before the war and now served the South. That day he led the men from the front as the artillery and rifle fire rained down. He kept them moving forward. After what seemed like a week in Hell his men closed in on the stone wall the marked the Federal line. Waving his hat perched on his sword he lead the men over the wall. For a brief shining moment they drove the Yankees back and almost, maybe could see victory.
It was not to be the Union forces rallied and Armistead fell and with him the hopes of the Confederate victory. The spot that he fell, marked in the photo above became known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. After that hope for victory would change to hope for survival as the long, slow death spiral of the CSA began.
People, Places and Things from US Military History