June 19, 1864 Single Combat

USS Kearsarge steamed further to sea as the Confederate vessel approached.  There would be no one returning to port until the issue was decided.

Hull #290 was launched from the John Laird & Sons shipyard in Birkenhead, Cheshire, England as the screw sloop HMS Enrica on May 15, 1862. She sailed in secret to the Terceira Island in the Azores, where she was met by Raphael Semmes, her new captain. Three days, 8 cannon and 350 tons of coal later, the Enrica was transformed into the 220′, 1,500-ton sloop of war and Confederate States of America commerce raider, CSS Alabama.

CSS Alabama
CSS Alabama

Alabama’s mission was to wage economic war on the Union, attacking commercial shipping from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, from Newfoundland to Brazil. In her two-year career as commerce raider, Alabama claimed 65 prizes valued at nearly $123 million in today’s dollars.  She was the most successful, and most notorious, commerce raider of the Civil War.

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Civil War Steam Sloop USS Kearsarge

Alabama was in sore need of a refit when she put into Cherbourg France, on the 11th of June, 1864. The Mohican-class Union steam sloop-of-war USS Kearsarge, then on patrol near Gibralter, hurried to Cherbourg, arriving on the 14th.

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Captain Raphael Semmes and 1st Lieutenant John Kell aboard CSS Alabama 1863

Seeing himself blockaded, Alabama’s Captain challenged Kearsarge Captain John Winslow to a ship-to-ship duel, saying “my intention is to fight the Kearsarge as soon as I can make the necessary arrangements. I hope these will not detain me more than until to-morrow or the morrow morning at farthest. I beg she will not depart until I am ready to go out. I have the honor to be your obedient servant, R. Semmes, Captain“.  That suited Winslow just fine, who took up station in international waters, and waited for Alabama to come out.

h86059CSS Alabama steamed out of Cherbourg harbor on the morning of June 19, 1864, escorted by the French ironclad Couronne, which remained nearby to ensure that the combat remained in international waters. Kearsarge steamed further to sea as the Confederate vessel approached.  There would be no one returning to port until the issue was decided.

Kearsarge v AlabamaCaptain Winslow put his ship around and headed for his adversary at 10:50am. Alabama fired first from a distance of a mile, and continued to fire as the range decreased.

Sinking_of_the_CSS_Alabama, by Andy Thomas
Sinking of the CSS Alabama, by Andy Thomas

The engagement followed a circular course at a range of a half mile; the ships steaming in opposite directions and firing at will.  One ball from Alabama lodged in Kearsarge’s sternpost, but failed to explode.  Within an hour, Kearsarge’s 11″ Dahlgren smooth bore pivot cannons reduced the most successful commerce raider in history to a sinking wreck. Alabama turned and tried to run back to port, but Kearsarge headed her off as rising water stopped her engines.

Kearsarge Stern Post
USS Kearsarge Sternpost

Semmes struck his colors and sent a boat to Kearsarge with a message of surrender and an appeal for help.

For those rescued by Kearsarge, the Civil War was over. These would spend the rest of the war as prisoners of the Federal government.  Captain Semmes escaped along with 41 others, being plucked from the water and taken to neutral ports by the British steam yacht Deerhound, and the private sail yacht Hornet.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

June 18, 1815 A Handful of Nails

For want of a nail the battle was lost…

The Napoleonic Wars began in 1799, pitting the Grand Armée of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte against a succession of international coalitions. The first five such coalitions formed to oppose him would go down to defeat.

The empire of Czar Alexander I had long traded with Napoleon’s British adversary. Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 intending to cut off that trade, but made the same mistake which Adolf Hitler would make, 130 years later. He failed to account for Russia’s greatest military asset – General Winter.

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The Night Bivouac of the Great Army, by Vasily Vereshchagin

For months, Napoleon’s army pressed ever deeper into Russian territory, as Cossack cavalry burned out villages and fields to deny food or shelter to the advancing French army. Napoleon entered the Russian capital of Moscow that September, with expectations of capitulation.  Instead, he got more scorched earth.

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French invasion of Russia

 

With the dread Russian winter coming fast, there was no choice but to turn about. Starving and exhausted with no winter clothing, stragglers were frozen in place or picked off by villagers or pursuing Cossacks. From Moscow to the frontiers you could follow their retreat, by the bodies they left in the snow. 685,000 had crossed the Neman river on June 24. By mid-December, barely 27,000 straggled home from Russian soil.

The War of the 6th Coalition ended in 1814 with Bonaparte’s defeat and exile to the Mediterranean island of Elba, and the restoration to the throne of the Bourbon King Louis VXIII. The Emperor returned at the head of another army, in 111 days.

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The Congress of Vienna declared Napoleon an outlaw on March 13, 1815, when Austria, Prussia, Russia and the United Kingsom bound themselves to put 150,000 men apiece into the field to end his reign.

Napoleon struck first, taking 124,000 men of l’Armee du Nord on a pre-emptive strike against the Allies in Belgium. Intending to attack Coalition armies before they combined, he struck and defeated the Prussian forces of Gebhard von Blücher near the town of Ligny.

Napoleon then turned his attention to the coalition forces under Lord Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, who fell back to a carefully selected position on a long east-west ridge at Mont St Jean, a few miles south of the village of Waterloo.

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It rained all day and night, that Saturday. Napoleon waited for the ground to dry on the morning of June 18, launching his first attack before noon.  Wellington’s Prussian allies were still five hours away. The 80 guns of the Grande batterie opened fire at 11:50, while Wellington’s reserves sheltered out of sight on the reverse slope of the Mont St. Jean ridge. French infantry swarmed the stone buildings of the Château Hougomont on Wellington’s right, and La Haye Sainte on his left.

Waterloo, Chateau Battle

Most French infantry reserves were committed by 4:00pm, when Marshall Ney ordered the massed cavalry assault. Colonel Cornelius Frazer watched the mass of riders  and thought to himself: “They are going to roll over us.” In a flash, Frazer ordered: “Form squares!”  9,000 cuirassiers charged up the hill as Wellington’s artillery responded with canister and shot, turning their cannon into giant shotguns tearing holes in the French ranks.

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It was common practice of the time to “spike” enemy cannon, driving a nail into the touchhole and disabling the weapon. Marshal Ney’s aide Colonel Pierre-Agathe Heymès, frantically cried out “Les clous!” “Nails! Spike the guns!”

Not one rider had thought to bring them.

Eleven times French cavalry gained the hill and surrounded those guns. Eleven times the gunners retreated into defensive infantry squares, bristling with spears. Eleven times they returned to their pieces, to fire into French cavalry as it withdrew.

Waterloo_Cavalry

Newly arrived Prussians were pouring in from the right at 7:30 when Napoleon committed his 3,000 man Imperial Guard. These were Napoleon’s elite soldiers, almost seven feet tall in their high bearskin hats. Never defeated in battle, they came up the hill intending to roll up Wellington’s center, away from their Prussian allies. 1,500 British Foot Guards were lying down to shelter from French artillery. As the French lines neared the top of the ridge, the English stood up, appearing to rise from the ground and firing point blank into the French line.

The furious counter assault which followed caused the Imperial Guard to waver, and then retreat. Someone shouted “La Garde recule. Sauve qui peut!” (“The Guard retreats. Save yourself if you can!”), as the Allied army rushed forward and threw themselves on the retreating French.

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, concerning Henry Paget, 2nd Earl of Uxbridge. One of the last cannon balls fired that day hit Uxbridge just above the knee, all but severing the limb. Lord Uxbridge was close to Wellington at the time, exclaiming “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!”. Wellington replied “By God, sir, so you have!” There’s another version in which Wellington says “By God, sir, you’ve lost your leg!”. Looking down, Uxbridge replied “By God, sir, so I have!”

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As night fell, hundreds of locals emerged with hammers, pliers and chisels, combing the battlefield to remove the teeth of tens of thousands of dead and dying soldiers. Demand for human teeth was high and looters sold them by the tens of thousands, to dentists, who formed them into dentures. According to England’s National Army Museum, British dentists did nothing to conceal where they came from, advertising their appliances as “Waterloo teeth.” As late as the American Civil War, English dentists continued to do a brisk trade in “Waterloo ivory.”

Estimates of the total killed and wounded in the Napoleonic wars range from 3.5 to 6 million. Until Waterloo, Napoleon Bonaparte participated in, and won, more battles than Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Frederick the Great, and Alexander the Great.  Combined.

51FJajZqFIL._SL300_Austrian military history professor Erik Durschmied wrote in his excellent book`The Hinge Factor‘, of the times when serendipity,  ‘chance and stupidity have changed history.’  According to Wellington, the Battle of Waterloo was “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life.” The French defeat was comprehensive.  Bonaparte was captured and exiled, this time to a speck in the North Atlantic called Saint Helena.  All, for a handful of nails.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

June 17, 1462 Son of the Dragon

In a time and place remembered for near-cartoonish levels of violence, Vlad Țepeș stands out for extraordinary cruelty.

Count Dracula, favorite of Halloween costume shoppers from time immemorial, has been with us since the 1897 publication of Bram Stoker’s novel, of the same name.  Stoker’s working titles for the manuscript were “The Un-dead”, and “Count Wampyr”. He nearly kept one of them too, until stumbling into the real-life story of Vlad Țepeș (TSE·pesh), a Wallachian Prince and front-line warrior, against the Jihad of his day.

In modern Romanian, “Dracul” means “the Devil”. In the old language, it meant “the Dragon”, the word “Dracula” (Drăculea) translating as “Son of the Dragon”.

166-vlad-tepes_246_9379154c5086651cL.jpgStoker wrote in his notes, “in Wallachian language means DEVIL”. In a time and place remembered for near-cartoonish levels of violence, Vlad Țepeș stands out for his extraordinary cruelty. There are tales of Țepeș disemboweling his own mistress. That he collected the noses of vanquished adversaries.  Some 24,000 of them. That he dined among forests of victims, spitted on poles. That he even impaled the donkeys they rode in on.

In 1436, Vlad II became voivode (prince) of Wallachia, a region in modern-day Romania situated between the Lower Danube river and the Carpathian Mountains.  The sobriquet “Dracul” came from membership in the “Order of the Dragon” (literally “Society of the Dragonists”), a monarchical chivalric order founded by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund in 1408, and dedicated to stopping the Ottoman advance into Europe.

A crossroads between East and West, the region was scene to frequent bloodshed, as Ottoman forces pushed westward into Europe, and Christian forces pushed back..

A weakened political position left Vlad II no choice but to pay homage to Ottoman Sultan Murad II, in the form of an annual Jizya (tax on non-Muslims) and a contribution of 500 Wallachian boys to serve as Janissaries in the elite slave army of the Ottoman Empire.

Vlad was taken hostage by the Sultan in 1442, along with his two younger sons, Vlad III and Radu.  The terms of the boys’ captivity were relatively mild by the standards of the time and both became skilled horsemen and warriors. Radu went over to the Turkish side, but Vlad hated captivity, developing an incandescent hate for his captors which would last all his life.

Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II set his sights on the invasion of all Europe.

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Fall of Constantinople

The younger Vlad gained the Wallachian throne three years later and immediately stopped all tribute to Sultan Mehmed II, by now risen to 10,000 ducats per year, and 1,000 boys.  When a group of visiting Ottoman envoys declined to remove their turbans in Vlad’s court, the Prince ordered the turbans nailed to their skulls.

Vlad now consolidated power as his reputation for savagery, grew.  According to stories circulated after his death, hundreds of disloyal boyars (nobles) and their allies met their end, impaled on spikes.

Mehmed II, conqueror of Constantinople, now amassed power of his own, setting his sights on campaigns against Anatolia, the Greek Empire of Trebizond and the White Sheep Turkomans of Uzun Hasan.   Throughout this period, Romanian control of the Danube remained a thorn in his side.

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Danube River

Pope Pius II declared a new Crusade against the Ottoman in 1460, but Vlad Țepeș was the only European leader to show any enthusiasm.  The Hungarian General and Ţepeş’ only ally Mihály Szilágyi was captured by the Turks, his men tortured to death and Szilágyi himself sawed in half.

Țepeș invaded the Ottoman Empire the following year.  In a letter to Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus dated February 11, 1462, Țepeș wrote:  I have killed peasants men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea, up to Rahova, which is located near Chilia, from the lower Danube up to such places as Samovit and Ghighen. We killed 23,884 Turks without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers…Thus, your highness, you must know that I have broken the peace with him (Sultan Mehmed II).

The Sultan invaded Wallachia at the head of a massive army, only to find a “forest of the impaled”.  The Byzantine Greek historian Laonikos Chalkokondyles writes: “The sultan’s army entered into the area of the impalements, which was seventeen long and seven stades wide”.

To give a sense of scale to such a horror, a “stade” derives from the Greek “stadeon” – the dimensions of an ancient sports arena.

Vlad DraculaOutnumbered five-to-one, Ţepeş employed a scorched earth policy, poisoning the waters, diverting small rivers to create marshes and digging traps covered with timber and leaves. He would send sick people among the Turks, suffering lethal diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis and bubonic plague.

From his years in captivity, Ţepeş understood Ottoman language and customs as well as the Turks themselves.  Fearless, he would disguise himself as a Turk and freely walk about their encampments, gaining valuable intelligence on the Sultan’s organization.

On this day in 1462, the Son of the Dragon launched a night attack on the Ottoman camp near the capital city of Târgoviște, in an effort to assassinate Mehmed himself.  Knowing that the Sultan forbade his men from leaving their tents at night, a force of some 7,000 to 10,000 horsemen fell on Mehmed’s camp three hours after sunset.  The skirmish lasted all that night until 4 the next morning, killing untold numbers of Turks, their horses and camels.  Ţepeş himself aimed for the Sultan’s tent, but mistook it for that of two grand viziers, Ishak Pasha and Mahmud Pasha.

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The Battle With Torches by Romanian painter Theodor Aman. It depicts the The Night Attack of Târgovişte,

Mehmed II “The Conqueror” survived the Night Attack at Târgovişte.  In the end, the Romanian principalities had little with which to oppose the overwhelming force of the Ottoman Empire. Vlad III Țepeș would twice be deposed only to regain the throne but never able to defeat his vastly more powerful adversary.

“Vlad the Impaler” was exiled to Hungary where he spent much of his time, in prison.  He died fighting against the Ottomans in December 1476 or January 1477, his body cut into pieces and his head delivered to the Sultan.  Drăculea is buried in an unknown grave, stories of his cruelty told and retold in Russian, German and a hundred other languages.  Five hundred years later, the Son of the Dragon is remembered as the un-dead vampire, Count Dracula.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

June 16, 1775 Act Worthy of Yourselves

“You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn.  Act worthy of yourselves.”

The city of Charlestown, Massachusetts occupies a hilly peninsula to the north of Boston, at the point where the Mystic River meets the Charles. Like Boston itself, much of what is now Charlestown was once Boston Harbor.  In 1775 the town was a virtual island, joined to the mainland only by a thin “neck” of land.

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Thousands of Patriot Militia poured into the area following the April battles of Lexington and Concord, blocking British forces in control of Boston and its surrounding waterways.

The Massachusetts Provincial Congress received word on June 13 that a massive assault was planned for the 18th, intending to take the high ground at Dorchester Heights to the south, and Charlestown to the north. Major General Israel Putnam was directed to set up defenses on Bunker Hill, on the northwest end of Charlestown.

Col. William Prescott led 1,200 men onto the peninsula on the night of the 16th, with orders to construct fortifications on Bunker Hill.  Some work was performed on the hill which gives the battle its name, but it was farmer Ephraim Breed’s land 1/3rd of a mile closer to Boston, which offered the more tenable hill from which to defend the peninsula.

Shovels could be heard throughout the night.  The sun rose on the morning of June 17 to reveal a six-foot-high defensive earthwork running the length of Breed’s hill.  Peering through the early morning fog, General Howe was astonished at what he saw. “The rebels,” he said, “have done more work in one night than my whole army would have done in one month.”

The warship HMS Lively opened fire on the redoubt shortly after 4am, with little effect, as Prescott’s men continued work on the entrenchment. 128 guns joined in as the morning bore on, including incendiary shot, setting fire to the town.

hms-somerset-bunker-hill

Ten miles to the south, a 7-year-old future President of the United States stood atop a hill with his mother Abigail, listening to the thunder of the guns and watching the smoke rise above Charlestown. John Quincy Adams would later write that he “witnessed the tears of my mother and mingled with them my own.”

Militia continued to reinforce the high ground throughout the morning hours, as Regulars commanded by Major General William Howe and Brigadier General Robert Pigot crossed the Charles River and assembled for the assault.

Battle_of_Bunker_HillThe British line advanced up Breed’s Hill twice that afternoon, Patriot fire decimating their number and driving the survivors back down the hill to reform and try again.

Militia supplies of powder and shot began to give out as the Redcoats advanced up the hill for the third assault. “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes”. The quote is attributed to Prescott, but the order seems to have originated with General Putnam and passed along by Prescott, Seth Pomeroy, John Stark and others, in a desperate attempt to conserve ammunition.

BunkerHill2

Finally, there was nothing left with which to oppose the British bayonets.  In desperate hand to hand fighting, the Militia was forced to retreat.

Most of the colonists’ casualties occurred at this time, including Boston physician and President of Massachusetts’ Provincial Congress, Dr. Joseph Warren. Warren had been appointed Major General on June 14, but declined command, believing Putnam and Prescott to be more experienced soldiers.  On this day, Dr. Warren fought as a private soldier.

Two months before the battle, Joseph Warren had spoken to his men. “On you depend the fortunes of America”, he said. “You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn.  Act worthy of yourselves.”

That they did. The Americans had gone toe-to-toe with the most powerful military of its time, suffering 452 killed and wounded.  Lieutenant Lord Rawdon recognized Dr. Warren on the third assault, and killed him with a musket ball to the head.  Warren’s body was bayoneted beyond recognition and thrown into a ditch.

Dr. Warren’s body was exhumed some ten months later after the British evacuation of Boston, and identified by a false tooth made for him by the amateur dentist, Paul Revere.  It may be the first instance of forensic dentistry, in American history.

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The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill, by John Trumbull

The Battle of Bunker Hill was a military victory for the British side, but it was a Pyrrhic victory.  Howe lost 226 men killed and 828 wounded, over a third of his number and over twice that of the Militia. One-eighth of all the British officers killed and one-sixth of those injured during the entire Revolution, occurred on Breed’s Hill.

General Thomas Gage wrote after battle, “The loss we have sustained is greater than we can bear.”  Private Nathanael Greene, destined to become one of the Continental Army’s most important Generals, quipped “I wish [we] could sell them another hill at the same price.”

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

June 15 1904 A Community, no More

The General Slocum disaster killed fewer than one per cent of the overall population of Little Germany, yet these were the women and children of some of the community’s most established families.  

In the first full century of American independence, three great waves of European and later Asian immigrants left their homes in the ‘old country’, headed for a life in the new world.

The-Scotch-Irish-the-Eighteenth-Century-Irish-Diaspora-1Starvation, shipwreck and disease killed no fewer than 1 in 10 during the period 1790 – 1820, without any so much as setting foot in the new world. And still they came.

The largest non-English speaking minority were the ethnic Germans, escaping economic hardship and in search of political freedom.  At the time of the Civil War, nearly one-quarter of all Union troops were German Americans, some 45% of whom were born in Europe.

German migration rose faster than any other immigrant group through the latter part of the 19th century and into the 20th, many in pursuit of agricultural opportunity while others settled in major cities such as New York and Philadelphia.

Kleindeutschland, or “Little Germany”, occupied some 400 blocks on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in what is now the East Village. “Dutchtown”, as contemporary non-Germans called the area, was home to New York’s German immigrant community since the 1840s, when they first began to arrive in significant numbers. By 1855, New York had the largest ethnically German community in the world, save for Berlin and Vienna.

Little Germany

June 15, 1904 dawned bright and beautiful on Little Germany, a beautiful late spring morning when the sidewheel Passenger Steamboat General Slocum left the dock and steamed into the East River.

PS General Slocum was on a charter this day, carrying German-American families on an outing from St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on a harbor cruise and picnic. Over a thousand tickets were sold, not counting 300+ children who were sailing for free.

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There were 1,342 people on board, mostly women and children, including band, crew and catering staff.

The fire probably started when someone tossed a cigarette or match into the forward section lamp room. The flames spread quickly, fueled by lamp oil and oily rags.  A 12-year old boy first reported the fire, but the Captain didn’t believe him.  The fire was first noticed at around 10:00am.

The ships’ operators had been woefully lax in maintaining safety equipment. Now it began to show. Fire hoses stored in the sun for years were uncoiled, only to break into rotten bits in the hands of the crew. Life preservers manufactured in 1891 had hung unprotected in the sun for 13 years, their canvas covers splitting apart pouring useless cork powder onto the floor. Survivors reported inaccessible life boats, wired and painted into place.

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Crew members reported to Captain William van Schaick that the blaze “could not be conquered.” It was “like trying to put out hell itself.” The captain ran full steam into the wind trying to make it to the 134th Street Pier, but a tug boat waved them off, fearing the flames would spread to nearby buildings.

The wind and the speed of the ship itself whipped the flames into an inferno as Captain van Schaick changed course for North Brother Island, just off the Bronx’ shore.
Many jumped overboard to escape the inferno, but the heavy women’s clothing of the era quickly pulled them under.

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Desperate mothers put useless life jackets on children and threw them overboard, only to watch in horror as they sank. One man, fully engulfed in flames, jumped screaming over the side, only to be swallowed whole by the massive paddle wheel.

One woman gave birth in the confusion, and then jumped overboard with her newborn to escape the flames. They both drowned.

A few small boats were successful in pulling alongside in the Hell’s Gate part of the harbor, but navigation was difficult due to the number of corpses already bobbing in the waves.

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Holding his station despite the inferno, Captain van Schaick permanently lost sight in one eye and his feet were badly burned by the time he ran the Slocum aground at Brother Island.

Patients and staff at the local hospital formed a human chain to pull survivors to shore as they jumped into shallow water.

1,021 passengers and crew either burned to death, or drowned. It was the deadliest peacetime maritime disaster, in American history.

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Adella Liebenow

There were only 321 survivors.

The youngest survivor of the disaster was six-month-old Adella Liebenow. The following year at the age of one, Liebenow unveiled a memorial statue to the disaster which had killed her two sisters and permanently disfigured her mother.

The New York Times reported “Ten thousand persons saw through their tears a baby with a doll tucked under her arm unveil the monument to the unidentified dead of the Slocum disaster yesterday afternoon in the Lutheran Cemetery, Middle Village, L.I.”

Both of Liebenow’s sisters were among the unidentified dead.

The General Slocum disaster killed fewer than one per cent of the overall population of Little Germany, yet these were the women and children of some of the community’s most established families.

There were more than a few suicides.  Mutual recriminations devoured much of a once-clannish community, as the men began to move away.  2600326453_0eae4732c8

There was no longer anything for them, in that place.

Anti-German sentiment engendered by WW1 finished what the General Slocum disaster, had begun. Soon, New York’s German-immigrant community, was no more.

Deep inside the East Village, amidst the hipsters and the poets’ cafes of “Alphabet City”, stands a forgotten memorial.  A 9′ stele erected in Tompkins Square Park, sculpted from pink Tennessee Marble. The relief sculpture shows two children, beside them are inscribed these words: “They were Earth’s purest children, young and fair.

Once the youngest survivor of the disaster, Adella (Liebenow) Wotherspoon passed away in 2004, at the age of 100, the oldest survivor of the deadliest disaster in New York history.  Until September 11, 2001.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

 

June 14, 1775 Army Strong

The “olive branch petition” adopted by the 2nd Continental Congress three months after the “shot heard ’round the world’ was a last-ditch attempt to prevent full-on war, but too late.  The die was cast. 

This “Today in History” is dedicated to United States Army Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Richard B. “Rick” Long, Sr., the man for whom this writer is namesake.  Rest in Peace, Dad.  You left us too soon.

February 25, 1937 – March 31, 2018

—————

When Caesar crossed the Rubicon River at the head of an army, everyone understood what it meant. A strife of interests would no longer be carried out by civil or legal means.  Caesar had crossed the military threshold and there was no turning back.  There would be civil war.  Republic would give way to Empire. Two thousand years later, to “Cross the Rubicon” still means to take a step which cannot be reversed.

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Future President John Adams defended the British soldiers accused in the “Boston Massacre”. Six of the eight were acquitted, the other two sentenced to branding, on the hand.

The British colonies in North America crossed a Rubicon of their own in April, 1775.  Before Lexington & Concord, there had always been a benefit of the doubt.  The ‘Boston Massacre‘ of five years earlier resulted not in insurrection but in trial, with Boston attorney John Adams acting for the defense.

The “olive branch petition” adopted by the 2nd Continental Congress three months after the ‘shot heard ’round the world’ was a last-ditch attempt to prevent full-on war, but too late.  The die was cast.

The first Continental Congress of 1774 convened in response to the ‘Coercive Acts”, imposed by the English Parliament to bring the colonists into line with Crown tax policy.  The 2nd Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia the following year, had come for the conduct of war.

The fledgling United States had no Army at this time, relying instead on ad hoc militia units organized by the colonies themselves. At this time there were approximately 22,000 armed colonials surrounding some 4,000 British troops occupying Boston, and another 5,000 or so in New York.

The Continental Congress established the ‘American Continental Army’ on this day in 1775, authorizing 10 companies of ‘expert riflemen,’ to serve as light infantry in the siege of Boston. The next day the Congress unanimously chose George Washington to be General and Commander-in-Chief of all continental forces.

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During those first years of the war, American ground forces more closely resembled a ragtag assemblage of state militias, than a professional army.

Following the 1779 Battle of Stony Point, Brigadier General Anthony Wayne was able to write to Washington, “Dear Gen’l: The fort and Garrison with Col. Johnston are ours. Our officers and men behaved like men who are determined to be free.”

Most of the Continental Army was disbanded following the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the war in 1783. The 1st and 2nd Regiments remained, becoming the basis of the Legion of the United States in 1792 and forming the foundation of the United States Army in 1796, an organization since evolved into the premier fighting force, of all the world.

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United States Army flag, with campaign streamers

The Army’s official banner features the original War Office Seal in blue on a white field over a scarlet banner displaying the words “United States Army” and the year, ‘1775’. The flag was adopted by President Dwight Eisenhower on June 12, 1956, officially dedicated and unfurled before the general public on June 14, 1956, the 181st birthday of the United States Army.

The concept of individual campaign streamers first came about during the Civil War. When on full display, the US Army flag currently includes 190 such streamers.

The Navy came about in October of 1775, the Marine Corps a month later. 18th century revenue cutter and rescue operations led to the formation of the United States Coast Guard in January, 1915.

According to the website www.usmma.edu, the federal government first began training its citizens for naval service during the Grant administration.  Congress passed the landmark Merchant Marine Act in 1936.  The Air Force spun off of the Army Air Corps, eleven years later.

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On August 31, 1949, Defense Secretary Louis Johnson announced the creation of Armed Forces Day, the 3rd Saturday in May, to recognize the contributions of the United States military and its constituent branches. Speaking at an Armed Forces Day event in 1953, President Dwight David Eisenhower remarked that: “It is fitting and proper that we devote one day each year to paying special tribute to those whose constancy and courage constitute one of the bulwarks guarding the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world.

220px-Nobel_PrizeFrom the dawn of the 20th century, the Nobel Peace prize was awarded to individuals and organizations which have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

After two World Wars, is it possible that the United States military has done more to promote peace than all of those individuals and organizations, combined?

If you are so inclined, it would be proper to pay tribute and thank a teacher, that you are able read this essay.  On this, the birthday of the United States Army, you might thank a soldier that you can read it, in English.

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A Personal Note:
While I never served my country in uniform, on this day I pay a personal debt of gratitude, to those of my family circle, who have.
I remember my ancestor, the farmer who left to fight the most powerful military of his time, that this nation might gain its independence.
The Tyner brothers: my twice-great grandfather James and his brothers, Nicholas, Benjamin and William, who fought for what each considered to be their country, in the war between the states. Nicholas alone would survive, laying down his arms under General Lee’s orders at Appomattox and walking home to the Sand hills of North Carolina, there to help his wife and three widowed sisters-in-law raise their 28 kids.
armyflagGreat Uncle Jacob Deppin was also there at Appomattox, wearing Blue. He served for the duration, save for the year and one-half spent in captivity.
Twice-great Grandfather Wilhelm Christian was the first to change the family surname from “Lang” to “Long”. Blacksmith to the 17th PA Cavalry, his name may be found with those of fifty-six other ‘Langs’, ‘Langens’ and ‘Longs’, on the Pennsylvania monument at Gettysburg. How many are relations, is anyone’s guess.
I honor my grandfather Norman. Wounded in the Great War, he’s earned his final rest in our most hallowed ground, at Arlington.
I honor my Uncle Woodrow, killed in Anzio. Uncle Gary, who helped to fight the explosions and the fires that day in 1967, as the USS Forrestal burned. I honor my father-in-law Ken, the Airman who served with honor, in time of peace.
I honor my brothers’, Norm and Dave, with over 50 years service between them. Even now in retirement, both maintain themselves in a state of fitness and readiness, in case that call comes in one more time.
I honor my son in law Nate and his ‘battle buddy ‘Zino’, the four-year-old German Shepherd turned Tactical Explosives Detection Dog, trained to detect up to 64 explosive compounds. Theirs was to protect a Forward Operating base in Soltan Kheyl, in the Wardak Province of Afghanistan. Together the pair found and neutralized more improvised explosive devices than any other team in their sector. There can be no knowing how many lives were saved by this pair.
And I honor the family members, most often the wives and mothers. It is they who are left to run the family unit and the household alone, never knowing if it will be for a time, or forever.
Rick Long

June 13, 1777 An Indispensable Man

The two men bonded almost immediately, forming a relationship closely resembling that of father and son.  The fatherless young French officer, and the father of his country who went to his grave, childless.

There are a handful of men who were indispensable to the American Revolution, men without whom the war effort would have been doomed to failure.

One, of course is George Washington, who became commander in chief before he had an army, before there was even a country. Washington took command of a rebel army with barely enough powder for nine shots per man, knowing all the while that, if caught, the penalty at that time for high treason was to be drawn, quartered and disemboweled, before the dying eyes of the prisoner so convicted.

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LaFayette by Weyler

Another Indispensable would have to be Benjamin Franklin, whose diplomatic skills and unassuming charm elevated him to the status of a rock star among the circles of power at Versailles. It was Benjamin Franklin who transformed the French nation from mildly interested spectator to a  crucially important ally.

A third would arguably be Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette.

Lafayette was all of nineteen when he arrived in North Island South Carolina on June 13, 1777.

The French King had forbidden him from coming to America, fearing his capture by British agents. Lafayette wanted none of it. His own father, also the Marquis de Lafayette, was killed fighting the British when the boy was only two. The man was going to take part in this contest, if he had to defy his King to do it.

Lafayette disguised himself on departure, and purchased the entire ship’s cargo with his own money, rather than landing in Barbados and thus exposing himself to capture.

Lafayette and Washington_at_Mount_Vernon,_1784

Franklin had written to Washington asking him to take the young man on, in hopes of securing an increase in French aid to the American war effort.

The two men bonded almost immediately, forming a relationship closely resembling that of father and son.  The fatherless young French officer, and the father of his country who went to his grave, childless.

Lafayette wrote home to his wife in 1778, from Valley Forge. “In the place he occupies, he is surrounded by flatterers and secret enemies. He finds in me a trustworthy friend in whom he can confide and who will always tell him the truth. Not a day goes by without his talking to me at length or writing long letters to me. And he is willing to consult me on most interesting points.”

Lafayette served without pay, spending the equivalent of $200,000 of his own money for the salaries and uniforms of staff, aides and junior officers. He participated in several Revolutionary War battles, including Brandywine, Monmouth Courthouse and the final siege at Yorktown.

All the while, Lafayette periodically returned to France to work with Franklin in securing thousands of additional troops and several warships to aid in the war effort.

Lafeyettes wife Marie_Adrienne_FrancoiseLafayette’s wife Adrienne gave birth to their first child on one such visit, a baby boy the couple would name Georges Washington Lafayette.

It was a small force under Lafayette that took a position on Malvern Hill in 1781, hemming in much larger British forces under Lord Cornwallis at the Yorktown peninsula.

The trap was sprung that September with the arrival of the main French and American armies under the Comte de Rochambeau and General George Washington, and the French fleet’s arrival in the Chesapeake under the Comte de Grasse.

Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781, after which Lafayette returned to France.

The Marquis played an important role in his own country’s revolution, becoming a Commander of the French National Guard. When the Bastille was stormed by an angry mob in 1789, Lafayette was handed the key. Lafayette later sent the key to the Bastille to George Washington, as a “token of victory by Liberty over Despotism”. Today that key hangs in the main hallway at Washington’s mansion at Mount Vernon.

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When the French Marquis died in 1834, President Andrew Jackson ordered that he be accorded the same funeral honors which President John Adams bestowed on George Washington himself, back in 1799. John Quincy Adams delivered the three-hour eulogy in Congress, saying “The name of Lafayette shall stand enrolled upon the annals of our race high on the list of the pure and disinterested benefactors of mankind.”

Lafayette-grave

The Marquis de Lafayette lies under several feet of earth shipped to France from Bunker Hill on the Charlestown peninsula, in obedience to one of his last wishes.  He had always wanted to be buried under American soil.

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