February 18, 1817  Friends and Enemies

The two looked across that field as gray and butternut soldiers formed up along seminary ridge.  It’s unlikely they ever saw one another

Armistead is a prominent name in Virginia, the family going back to colonial days.  Five Armistead brothers fought in the war of 1812. Major George Armistead commanded Fort McHenry during the battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner.  Major Armistead became an uncle on this day in 1817, to Lewis Addison Armistead, the first of eight children born to General Walker Keith Armistead and Elizabeth Stanley.

 

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Lewis Addison Armistead

“Lothario” or “Lo” to his friends, Armistead followed in the family footsteps, attending the US Military Academy at West Point.  He never graduated, some say he had to resign after breaking a plate over the head of fellow cadet and future Confederate General Jubal Early.  Others say it was due to academic difficulties, particularly French class.

 

Armistead’s influential father gained him a 2nd Lieutenant’s commission nevertheless, awarded in 1839, about the same time his former classmates received theirs.  Armistead’s field combat experience reads like a time-line of his age:  cited three times for heroism in the Mexican-American War, wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec, going on to serve in the Mohave War and the Battle of the Colorado River.

Stellar though his military career was, the man’s personal life was a mess.  Armistead survived two wives and two daughters, only to lose the family farm in a fire, all while fighting a severe case of Erysipelas, a painful skin condition known in the Middle Ages as “St. Anthony’s Fire”.

It’s been said that conjugating the “Be” verb changed after the Civil War.  Before, it was the United States “are”.  Afterward, it became the United States “is”.  Not for no reason.  This was a time when Patriotic Americans felt every bit the attachment to their states, as to the nation.

Fellow Americans took sides on the eve of the Civil War.  Even brothers.   Like his fellow Virginian Robert E. Lee, Armistead wanted no part of secession, but followed his state when it became inevitable.

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Winfield Scott Hancock

Pennsylvania native Winfield Scott Hancock went the other direction, staying with the Union.  Years later, Hancock would run for the Presidency, only narrowly losing to James A. Garfield.  Noted for personal integrity in a time of rampant political corruption, President Rutherford B. Hayes said of Hancock, “… [I]f, when we make up our estimate of a public man, conspicuous both as a soldier and in civil life, we are to think first and chiefly of his manhood, his integrity, his purity, his singleness of purpose, and his unselfish devotion to duty, we can truthfully say of Hancock that he was through and through pure gold.”

Armistead and Hancock served together on the frontiers, developing a close personal friendship as early as 1844.  On their final parting on the eve of war, Armistead made Hancock the gift of a new Major’s uniform.  To Hancock’s wife he gave his own prayer book, bearing the inscription ”Trust In God And Fear Nothing”.

Three years came and went before the old friends once again faced one another, this time across the field of battle.   Robert E. Lee tried to go after the Union right on that first day at Gettysburg, looking for a soft spot in the line. On day two, he went after the left.  On the afternoon of July 3, 1863, Lee went straight up the middle.

The two looked across that field as gray and butternut soldiers formed up along seminary ridge.  It’s unlikely they ever saw one another.  The action has gone into history as “Pickett’s Charge”, though the term is a misnomer.  Major General George Pickett commanded only one of  three units taking part in the assault, under Lieutenant General James Longstreet.

The pace was almost leisurely as Pickett’s, Trimble’s and Pettigrew’s Confederate soldiers stepped over the stone wall.  13,000 crossing abreast, bayonets glinting in the sun, pennants rippling in the breeze.

longstreets-assault

You cannot escape the sense of history if you’ve ever crossed that field. Stepping off Seminary Ridge with a mile to go, you are awe struck at the mental image of thousands of blue clad soldiers, awaiting your advance.  Halfway across and just coming into small arms range, you can’t picketts_chargehelp a sense of relief as you step across a low spot and your objective, the “copse of trees”, drops out of sight.  If you can’t see them they can’t shoot at you.  Then you look to your right and realize that cannon would be firing down the length of your lines from Little Round Top, as would those on Cemetery Hill to your left. Rising out of the draw you are now in full sight of Union infantry.  You quicken your pace as your lines are torn apart from the front and sides. Fences hold in some spots along the Emmitsburg Road.  Hundreds of your comrades are shot down in the attempt to climb over.

Finally you are over and it’s a dead run.  Seeing his colors cut down, Hancock puts his hat atop his sword, holding it high and bellowing above the roar of the guns “Come on, boys, give them the cold steel! Who will follow me!”

bloody-angleThe “High tide of the Confederacy” marks the point between the corner of a stone wall and that copse of trees, the farthest the shattered remnants of Longstreet’s assault would ever get.  Lewis Armistead made it over that wall before being shot down, falling beside the wheels of a Union cannon.

I always wondered what would have happened had J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry come out of the woods to the Union rear, but that wasn’t meant to be.  The Confederate advance couldn’t hold, wilting in the face of overwhelming Federal firepower.

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Gettysburg veterans on the 50th anniversary of the battle, July 1-3, 1913

Armistead lay bleeding as he asked a nearby soldier about Hancock.  General Hancock was himself wounded by this time, the bullet striking his saddle pommel and entering his thigh, along with shards of wood and a saddle nail.  When told his best friend was also wounded, Armistead said ”Not both of us on the same day!”.  Armistead spoke to Captain Henry Bingham, Hancock’s aide, saying “Tell General Hancock, from me, that I have done him and you all a grave injustice”.

One day, the country would reunite.  The two friends never did.  Lewis Armistead died of his wounds, two days later.

February 17, 1864 Hunley

Despite two disastrous test runs, there was no shortage of volunteers.  Once again, the Hunley was fished up from the bottom

In the 1850s, the economy of the southern United States was mostly agrarian.  When civil war broke out in 1861, the Confederacy depended to a greater degree on imported manufactured goods than the more industrialized states to the north.  For the Union, there was strategic advantage in cutting off this flow of manufactured goods, and so the “Anaconda Plan” was created, to choke off traffic to southern ports and harbors.
Few in the Confederacy understood the need to keep southern ports open as well as the planter, legislator, and southern Patriot Horace Lawson Hunley.
In 1861, Hunley joined forces with James McClintock and Baxter Watson to design and hunley-interiorbuild a secret Super Weapon for the Confederacy.  A submarine.  They completed construction on their first effort, the “Pioneer”, that same year in New Orleans.  The trio went on to build two more submarines in Mobile, Alabama, the “American Diver”, and their last and most successful creation, the “Fishboat”, later renamed HL Hunley.
After a short sea trial in Mobile, the Hunley was put on a train and shipped up to Charleston, South Carolina, to help break the blockade.  Arriving on August 12, 1863, she was 40′ long by 4′ wide, displacing about 7½ tons.  She was designed for a crew of 8, with 7 operating a hand crank and the 8th steering the boat.
A test run on August 29 ended in disaster, when Skipper John A. Payne accidentally stepped on the lever controlling the diving planes with the hatches open.  Payne and two others escaped, but the other five crew members went to the bottom.
A second crew tested the submarine on October 15, this one including Horace Hunley himself.  The submarine conducted a mock attack but failed to surface afterward, this time drowning all 8 crew members.
Despite those two disastrous test runs, there was no shortage of volunteers.  Once again, the Hunley was fished up from the bottom.
hunley-warheadThe original plan was to tow a floating mine called a “torpedo”, with a contact fuse.  They would dive beneath their victim and surface on the other side, pulling the torpedo into the side of the target.
Tide and current conditions in Charleston proved to be very different from those in Mobile.  On several test runs, they found the torpedo floating out ahead of the sub.  That wouldn’t do, so they fashioned a spar and mounted it to the bow.  At the end of the spar was a 137lb waterproof cask of powder, attached to a harpoon-like device with which Hunley would ram its target.hunley-housatonic
Hunley made her first live attack run four miles outside of Charleston Harbor, on the night of February 17, 1864. Lieutenant George Dixon and a crew of seven attacked USS Housatonic, a 1,240 ton steam powered sloop of war, embedding the spar torpedo into Housatonic’s hull.  It must have been a sight to see.  The torpedo ignited a 4,000 lb store of black powder in the hull of the ship, exploding with a deafening roar and a towering column of flame that lit up the night.
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Housatonic was gone in three minutes, killing five sailors.  What happened next, is a mystery.  The first successful attack sub in history showed the signal for success, a blue lantern, to their comrades on shore.  And then it vanished.
Hunley would not be seen again for 131 years.
Author and adventurer Clive Cussler found the sub in 1995, buried in silt under 32′ of water.  A painstaking, five year effort was launched to bring Hunley to the surface, and on August 8, 2000, HL Hunley returned to the light of day.  The sub was moved to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in thehunley-in-the-lab Charleston Navy Yard, and submerged in 55,000 gallons of chilled, fresh water, where scientists and historians worked on unlocking its secrets.
There was an old rumor that Lt. Dixon left a girlfriend in Mobile, Alabama, named Queenie Bennett.  She had given him a $20 gold piece, a good luck charm and token of her affection.  Dixon was shot in the hip at Shiloh, the story goes, a wound that should have killed him.  If the bullet hadn’t struck the gold piece in his pocket. dixon-gold-coin
No one knew if the story was true, until excavation started inside the sub.  Senior Archaeologist Maria Jacobsen found the coin, next to the remains of George E. Dixon.  “Some people may think this is a stroke of luck,” she said, “but perhaps it’s something else. They tell me that Lt. Dixon was a lady’s man, perhaps he winked at us yesterday to remind us that he still is”.
On the coin, clearly showing signs of having been struck by a bullet, are inscribed these words:

Shiloh
April 6, 1862
My life Preserver
G. E. D.

 

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Facial reconstruction techniques reveal the faces of the HL Hunley commander Lt. George Dixon and crewmembers Arnold Becker, Lumkin (first name unknown), Joseph Ridgaway, Frank Collins, Miller (first name unknown), Cpl. J.F. Carlsen and James A Wicks.

 

February 16, 1804  The Shores of Tripoli

Even a former adversary couldn’t help but admire the feat.  Days later, British Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson called it the “most bold and daring act of the age.”

Historic accounts differ as to the early success of the Islamic conquests.  Contemporary Christian sources saw them as God’s punishment for the sins of fellow Christians.  Early Muslim sources describe them as evidence of divine favor, reflections of the religious zeal of the conquerors.  Be that is it may, Islamic expansion enveloped the Arabian Peninsula in the last ten years of the life of Muhammad (622-632), at the expense of the Roman Byzantines and the Sassanid Empire of the Persians.  Syria fell in 634, followed by Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia.  By 750 the Umayyad Caliphs had subjugated much of the Balkan states, part of the Indian sub-continent, all of North Africa, most of Spain, and parts of Southern France and Sicily.  By the age of Columbus, the Mediterranean was a place where you traveled at your own risk.

Those of us of European ancestry owe our heritage, if not our existence, to the warriors who defeated the Jihadist time after time. There was Pelagius, who stopped a military force of the Umayyad Caliphate at Covadonga in 722, without which there would be no Reconquista, no Ferdinand and Isabella, and we wouldn’t know the name of Christopher Columbus.

The father of Charlemagne, Charles “The Hammer” Martel, blocked the Muslim advanceislamic-conquest into Western Europe at the Battle of Tours, in 732.

If Marcantonio Bragadin is remembered at all, it is for being betrayed, tortured and skinned alive by Lala Mustafa Pasha. Yet, it is Bragadin’s stubborn defense of the eastern Mediterranean outpost of Famagusta in 1571, which gave European principalities time to assemble naval forces in numbers sufficient to defend the European coast, near a place called Lepanto.

The 1683 Battle of Vienna, at the crossroads of eastern and western Europe, was a hard fought contest which could have gone either way, until the arrival of a Polish army under King Jan Sobieski. The Ottomans were defeated and turned back from the conquest of Eastern Europe on a date which grates the Jihadist memory to this day: September 11.

“Saracens” plundered everything that could be carried away: animals, provisions, fabrics, precious metals and money, especially men, women and children who could be sold for a good price at the slave markets.  Redemption of captives being among the corporal works of mercy, the “Mathurins” Order of the Holy Trinity was founded in 1198 for the purpose of paying the ransom of Christians held captive by non-Christians, as a consequence of crusading and pirating along the southern European coastline.

Even Ireland, with its northern latitude, wasn’t immune from these raids. Murat Reis attacked the village of Baltimore in County Cork in June 1631. With him were pirates from Algiers and armed troops of the Ottoman Empire, who captured all the villagers they could find and took them away to a life of slavery in North Africa. They lived out their lives chained to oars as galley slaves, or spent long years locked away in harems or inside the walls of the sultan’s palace. Only two of them ever saw Ireland again.barbary_coast

The fledgling United States found itself under attack by the “Barbary States” of North Africa almost immediately following the Revolution, and the subsequent lifting of France’s protection.  Spain, France and other European Powers advised the US to pay tribute.
Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdallah, Sultan of Morocco, added the United States of America to a list of countries for which his ports were open in December 1777, making Morocco the first country whose head of state publicly recognized the United States.  Abdallah saw the future for his country in foreign trade, and actively sought a treaty relationship with the US, well before war ended with Great Britain.  The treaty signed by Thomas Barclay and Sultan Muhammad III in 1786, and ratified by the Confederation Congress in July 1787, is still in effect today, the longest continuous treaty relationship in United States history.
Diplomacy had succeeded with Morocco, but not with Algiers, Tunis or Tripoli, each of which demanded $660,000 in tribute.

Algeria captured the schooners Maria and Dauphin in 1785, the captured crews held in conditions of slavery for over a decade. The sum negotiated for their release exceeded $1 million, more than 1/6th the entire budget of the United States.  Eleven American ships were captured in 1793 alone, their crews and stores held for ransom.

Yusuf Karamanli, Pasha of Tripoli, demanded $225,000 in tribute on President Jefferson’s inauguration, in 1801.  At this time, Federal revenues were barely over $10 million.  Jefferson refused, resulting in the first Barbary War, a conflict memorialized in a line from the Marine Corps Hymn “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli”.

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The grounded USS Philadelphia is captured, October 31, 1803

 

Limited to small confrontations for the first two years, more sustained combat began in June 1803 when a small American force attacked Tripoli Harbor in modern Libya.

While giving chase and firing on a pirate vessel, USS Philadelphia ran aground on an uncharted reef, two miles outside of Tripoli.  Fearing the 1,240 ton, 36-gun frigate would be captured and added to the Tripolitan navy, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a daring expedition into Tripoli harbor to destroy the captured vessel.

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Burning of the USS Philadelphia

On the evening of February 16, 1804, Decatur entered Tripoli Harbor with a force of 74 Marines.  With them were five Sicilian volunteers, including pilot Salvador Catalano, who spoke fluent Arabic.  Disguised as Maltese sailors and careful not to draw fire from shore batteries, Decatur’s force boarded the frigate, killing or capturing most of its Tripolitan crew, before the remainder jumped overboard.  Decatur and his marines had hoped to sail Philadelphia out of harbor, but soon found she was in no condition to leave.  Setting combustibles about the deck, they set the frigate ablaze.  Ropes burned off, setting the Philadelphia adrift in the harbor.  Loaded cannon cooked off as the blaze spread, firing random balls into the town. It must have been a sight, when gunpowder stores ignited and the entire ship exploded.

By that time Decatur and his men had slipped away, without the loss of a single man.  Even a former adversary couldn’t help but admire the feat.  Days later, British Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson called it the “most bold and daring act of the age.”

February 15, 2005 Arlington Lady

Their job is to honor, not to grieve, but it doesn’t always work out that way

The first military burial at Arlington National Cemetery was that of Private William Henry Christman, 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, interred on May 13, 1864. Two more joined him that day, the trickle soon turning into a flood. By the end of the war between the states, that number was 17,000 and rising.

In modern times, an average week will see 80 to 100 burials in the 612 acres of Arlington.

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Twelve years ago, a news release from the Department of Defense reported that “Private First Class Michael A. Arciola, 20, of Elmsford, New York, died February 15, 2005, in Al Ramadi, Iraq, from injuries sustained from enemy small arms fire.  Arciola was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 503d Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Casey, Korea”.

Private Arciola joined a quarter-million buried in our nation’s most hallowed ground on March 31. Two hundred or more mourners attended his funeral.  A tribute befitting the tragedy of the loss of one so young.

Sixteen others were buried there that same Friday, most of them considerably older.  Some of them brought only a dozen or so mourners.  For others, no friends or family members were on-hand to say goodbye.

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Former Tuskegee Airman Benjamin O. Davis Jr. is laid to rest, Saturday, July 6, 2002

In 1948, Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt Vandenberg and his wife, Gladys, regularly attended funeral services at Arlington National cemetery.  Sometimes, a military chaplain was the only one present at these services.  Both felt that a member of the Air Force family should be present at these funerals, and Gladys began to invite other officer’s wives.  Over time, a group of women from the Officer’s Wives Club were formed for the purpose.  In 1973, General Creighton Abram’s wife Julia did the same for the Army, forming a group calling itself the “Arlington Ladies”.  Groups of Navy and Coast guard wives followed suit, in 1985 and 2006.  Traditionally, the Marine Corps Commandant sends an official representative of the Corps to all Marine funerals.  The Marine Corps Arlington Ladies were formed in 2016.

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Margaret Mensch, April 22, 2010

Arlington Ladies’ Chairman Margaret Mensch said  “We’ve been accused of being professional mourners, but that isn’t true.  I fight that perception all the time. What we’re doing is paying homage to Soldiers who have given their lives for our country.”

Air Force Ladies’ Chairman Sue Ellen Lansell spoke of a service where the only other guest was “one elderly gentlemen who stood at the curb and would not come to the grave site.  He was from the Soldier’s Home in Washington, D. C. One soldier walked up to invite him closer, but he said no, he was not family”.

Traditionally, the organization was made up of current or former military wives.  Today their number includes daughters, and even one “Arlington Gentleman”.  Their motto, “No Soldier will ever be buried alone.”arlington-lady

44 years ago they came alone, or in pairs.  Today, the 145 or so volunteers from the four branches are a recognized part of funeral ceremonies, operating out of a joint office in the cemetery’s administration building.

The volunteer arrives with a military escort from the Navy or the United States Army 3rd Infantry Regiment, the “Old Guard”.  The horse-drawn caisson arrives from the old post chapel, carrying the flag draped casket.  Joining the procession, she will quietly walk to the burial site, her arm inside that of her escort.  A few words are spoken over the deceased, followed by the three-volley salute.  Somewhere, a solitary bugler sounds Taps.  The folded flag is presented to the grieving widow, or next of kin.  Only then will she break her silence, stepping forward with a word of condolence and two cards:  one from the service branch Chief of Staff and his wife, and a second from herself.

Joyce Johnson buried her husband Lt. Col. Dennis Johnson in 2001, a victim of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon.  She remembers the Arlington Ladies volunteer as “a touchingly, human presence in a sea of starched uniforms and salutes”.  Three years later, Joyce Johnson paid it forward, becoming one herself.

arlington-in-snowA funeral may be for a young military service member killed in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, or a veteran of Korea or WWII, who spent his last days in the old soldier’s home.  It could be a four-star General or a Private.  It doesn’t matter.

Individual volunteers attend about five funerals a day, sometimes as many as eight.  As with the Tomb of the Unknown sentinels who keep their guard heedless of weather, funeral services disregard weather conditions.  The funeral will proceed on the date and time scheduled regardless of rain, snow or heat.  An Arlington Lady Will be in attendance.

Their job is to honor, not to grieve, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  Linda Willey of the Air Force ladies describes the difficulty of burying Pentagon friends after 9/11, while pieces of debris still littered the cemetery.  Paula McKinley of the Navy Ladies still chokes up, over the hug of a ten-year old who had just lost both of her parents.  Margaret Mensch speaks of the heartbreak of burying one of her own young escorts, after he was killed in Afghanistan, in 2009.

Offering condolences
Army Arlington Lady Anne Lennox with letters of condolence for the widow of Brigadier General Henry G. Watson.

Barbara Benson was herself a soldier, an Army flight nurse during WWII.  She is the longest serving Arlington Lady.  “I always try to add something personal”, Benson said, “especially for a much older woman.  I always ask how long they were married.  They like to tell you they were married 50 or 60 years…I don’t know how to say it really, I guess because I identify with Soldiers. That was my life for 31 years, so it just seems like the natural thing to do.”

Elinore Riedel was chairman of the Air Force Ladies during the War in Vietnam, when none of the other military branches had women representatives. “Most of the funerals were for young men,” she said. “I saw little boys running little airplanes over their father’s coffins. It is a gripping thing, and it makes you realize the awful sacrifices people made. Not only those who died, but those left behind.”

Mrs. Reidel is a minister’s daughter, who grew up watching her father serve those in need.  “It doesn’t matter whether you know a person or not”, she said, “whether you will ever see them again.  It calls upon the best in all of us to respond to someone in deep despair. I call it grace…I honestly feel we all need more grace in our lives.”

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February 14, 269 Valentine’s Day

Legend has it that Valentinus befriended his jailers’ daughter, at one point miraculously restoring the blind girl’s sight. He is said to have penned a farewell note to her shortly before his execution, signing it “From Your Valentine.”

In 269, Roman Emperor Claudius II Gothicus was having trouble recruiting for his legions. To many he was “Claudius the Cruel” which may have had something to do with his problem, but that’s not how he saw it.claudius-gothicus

That Roman men were refusing to join his legions could only mean that they were too devoted to their wives and families, Claudius’ solution was to ban engagements and marriages.

Valentinus was a Roman priest at this time.  He wanted no part of such a silly decree. Valentinus continued to carry out marriages in secret until it was discovered, when he was dragged before the Prefect to answer for his crimes.

This Emperor of barbarian birth came to like his prisoner, for whom things could have gone much better, but for one critical mistake. Valentinus tried to convert the pagan Emperor to Christianity.

owe-marriage-to-saint-valentineHe was condemned to be beaten to death with clubs and beheaded, the sentence carried out on February 14, 269.

Legend has it that Valentinus befriended his jailers’ daughter, at one point miraculously restoring the blind girl’s sight. He is said to have penned a farewell note to her shortly before his execution, signing it “From Your Valentine.”

2,000-year-old history is necessarily clouded by legend, and there are different versions of this tale.  It’s possible that the Valentinus story never happened at all. Little or no evidence exists suggesting romantic celebrations on February 14, until Geoffrey Chaucer’s 1375 “Parliament of Foules,” in which the poet describes February 14 as a day when birds come together to find a mate: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day, Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate”.

Yet, there is concrete archaeological proof that Valentinus lived, and Pope Gelasius decreed February 14th to be a celebration to honor his martyrdom, in 496.
The date is also significant of the pagan festival of Lupercalia, carried out from February lupercalia-large13-15 in honor of the goddess Februata Juno. Greek historian Plutarch described the occasion as follows: “Lupercalia, [when] many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”

There are, in fact, about a dozen St. Valentines, the most recently beatified being St. Valentine Berrio-Ochoa, a Dominican friar who served as bishop of Vietnam until his beheading in 1861. There was even a Pope Valentine, who served about 40 days, sometime around 827AD.

So, take your pick. With all those St. Valentines, you can celebrate St. Valentine of Viterbost-valentine-the-legend on November 3, or maybe you’d like to get a head start with St. Valentine of Raetia on January 7. Maybe you’d prefer the only female St. Valentine (Valentina), a virgin martyred in Palestine on July 25, A.D. 308.

The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates St. Valentine twice, first as a church elder on July 6, and again as a martyr on the 30th. That would suit the greeting card companies, but don’t tell them. Once a year is more than enough for some of us to remember.

February 13, 1542 The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Catherine of Aragon was destined to die alone in a convent, possibly the only class act in this whole, sorry story.

Catherine of Aragon, the youngest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, came to England to marry Arthur, the eldest son and heir to the throne of Henry VII, in 1501. Arthur died the following year and his younger brother took the throne, asking Catherine to marry him in 1509.

She was by all accounts a devoted wife, but the marriage bore no sons. Henry came to believe, or said he believed, that it was punishment from God for marrying his brother’s wife. By this time he had fallen hard for Thomas Boleyn’s daughter, Anne. The king was in a pickle. His wife wouldn’t agree to a divorce, and Anne Boleyn was not about to give it up as a mere mistress.  She was going to be the King’s wife, or nothing.

The problem was, the Pope refused to grant the divorce.  Henry launched the Reformation so that he could divorce his wife and marry this young French girl, getting his divorce the following year and going on to become Supreme Head of the Church of England.  Catherine of Aragon died alone in a convent three years later, possibly the only Class Act in this whole, sorry story.henryviii_wives

Catherine was popular with the people, but this second wife was not. To many, she was ”the King’s whore”.  Many believed she was a witch who had cast a spell on the king. The marriage produced one daughter, Elizabeth, but again no sons. Anne miscarried a male child on the day that Catherine of Aragon was buried at Peterborough Abbey.  The Savoyard ambassador Eustace Chapuys commented that “She has miscarried of her saviour.”  There would be no divorce this time, the king concocted a plot based on a story, and Anne was convicted of incest, adultery and treason.  Anne Boleyn was executed by decapitation in 1536.  She would not be the last.

Henry married Jane Seymour 11 days later.  Though she bore him a son, she died two weeks after the birth. Years later, Henry would request on his deathbed that he be buried next to her.

Anne of Cleaves would be wife #4, an arranged marriage with a German Princess intended to secure an alliance with the other major Protestant power on the continent, especially after England’s break with Rome over that first divorce. Henry was put off by her appearance however, as if Henry himself were a prize.  The marriage went unconsummated. They were amicably divorced after 6 months.henryviii

Catherine Howard was 19 and Henry 49 when she became wife #5. He was hugely fat by this time, with festering ulcers on his leg that never healed. Henry’s suits of armor reveal a waistline that had grown from 32″ to 54″.  The man weighed 400lbs on his passing, five years later.  Catherine was young and flirtatious, preferring the company of young courtiers to that of the fat old guy she was married to.  She would be tried and convicted of adultery two years later.  As with her predecessor, execution was by the headsman’s axe.  Catherine Howard lost her head on, February 13, 1542.

Katherine Parr was the 6th and last wife of Henry VIII. Henry died in January 1547, Parr going on to marry Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron of Sudeley, six months later. Katherine died in September 1548, as the result of complications of childbirth.

kell-positiveIronically, Henry himself may have been the problem, when it came to the inability to produce a male heir.  Researchers revealed in 2011 that Henry’s blood group may have been “Kell positive”, a rare condition which would have initiated an auto-immune response in the mother’s body, targeting the body of the baby inside of her.  It’s unlikely that first pregnancies would have been effected, but the mother’s antibodies would have attacked second and subsequent Kell-positive babies as foreign objects.

The science to prove or disprove the theory didn’t exist in the Tudor era, but it may not matter.  Anyone who tried to bring that bit of news to Henry VIII, very likely would have paid for it, with his head.

February 12,  1733  Our 13th Colony

Years later, Tomochichi presented a symbol of power to the King of England. It was a bald eagle feather, the first time this symbol of our country had been associated with the American colonies.

General James Oglethorpe was a crusader, an idealist, a member of the British Parliament.  First elected in 1722, his anonymous 1728 pamphlet “The Sailor’s Advocate” advocated improvement in the terrible working conditions of the sailors of his day.  Oglethorpe chaired a committee on prison reform that same year, calling attention to the horrendous conditions in the nation’s debtors’ prisons, and to the hopeless plight of those released with no means of support.

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James Oglethorpe

Oglethorpe saw the greater problem as urbanization, stripping the countryside of the productively employed and depositing them in cities with no opportunity for productive employment.  To deal with the problem, Oglethorpe and others petitioned in 1730 to form a committee of trustees, to establish a new Colony in America. They would call their new colony “Georgia”, the petition approved in 1732.  Thousands applied to go, Trustees narrowing the number down to the first 114  colonists.  Those who couldn’t pay their own way would be subject to a period of indenture, typically 5-7 years.

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Tomochichi, Mico of the Yamacraw, and his Son

It was November that year, when Oglethorpe and his colonists left aboard the “Anne”,intending to found their new Colony.   The Province of Georgia and its Colonial Capital of Savannah were founded on that date, February 12, 1733.  A personal friendship developed between Oglethorpe and native Chieftan Tomochichi, Mico (Leader) of the Yamacraw, a formal treaty of friendship signed in May of that year.   Years later the pair would journey to England, where Tomochichi presented a symbol of power to the King of England.  It was a bald eagle feather, the first time this symbol of our nation had been associated with the American colonies.

The home town to Oglethorpe’s Utopian experiment, Savannah, was founded around four wards, each containing eight blocks situated around its own central square. Established to help the poor and to produce materials like silk and olives for England, Georgia issued each colonist 50 acres of land, its motto “Non Sibi Sed Allis”.   “Not for Themselves But for Others”.

Oglethorpe outlined four prohibitions for his Utopian community, even before the first ships left England.

1: No rum, brandy or spirits were allowed in Georgia, though beer, wine and ale were OK.

2: No African slaves were allowed, though they were occasionally “borrowed” for construction projects.

3: No lawyers were allowed, since Oglethorpe felt that every man ought to be able to speak for himself.

4: No Catholics were allowed, as it was believed that they’d be too sympathetic to the Spanish, then in control of the Florida territory.

james-oglethorpe-with-yamacraw-chief-tomochichi-mary-appears-between-themReturning to England, Oglethorpe would continue to serve on the Board of Trustees, though he often found himself outvoted. Despite his opposition, the Board of Trustees gradually relaxed their restrictions on land ownership, on hard liquor, and on slavery. By 1750, Georgia’s founding father was no longer involved with the board that created it. His grand experiment was over when Trustees voted to return their governing charter, making Georgia the 13th of Britain’s American colonies.

Chief Tomochichi died in 1739 at age 97, requesting that he be buried among his English friends. The Mico of the Yamacraw was interred in Wright Square, saluted with cannon and musket fire.  James Oglethorpe himself was one of the pall bearers. If you ever go to Savannah, you can still see Wright Square, and the monument dedicated on April 21, 1899. A bronze tablet is engraved with Cherokee roses and arrowheads, and inscribed with these words”  “In memory of Tomochichi – the Mico of the Yamacraws – the companion of Oglethorpe – and the friend and ally of the Colony of Georgia”.

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Tomochichi’s Grave, Wright Square, Savannah

February 11, 1812 Gerrymander

Before redistricting, Barney Frank’s old 4th congressional district resembled nothing so much as a grasping hand. I’m not sure if the new congressional map is an improvement, but hey. It seems to work for the ruling class

The dictionary defines “Gerrymander” as a verb: “To divide (a geographic area) into voting districts in a way that gives one party an unfair advantage in elections”.  In the Old Country the practice goes way back, the earliest instance in the American colonies dates back to early 1700s, Pennsylvania.

gerry-manderIn 1788, Virginia voted to ratify the Constitution and join the Union. Former Governor Patrick Henry persuaded the state legislature to reconfigure the 5th Congressional District, thereby forcing his political enemy James Madison to run against a powerful opponent named James Monroe. Henry’s redistricting tactic failed and Madison won, anyway.  One day he would become the nation’s fourth president. All was not over for James Monroe, though.  He would become #5.

Elbridge Gerry was born in 1744, in Massachusetts’ North Shore town of Marblehead.  He’d spend most of his adult life in public office, excepting ten years in the family codfish packing business.  First elected to the state legislature in 1772, Gerry died in office in 1814, while serving as James Madison’s Vice President.

Politics are ugly these days, but that’s nothing new.  Back in 1812, parties were split between Federalists supporting strong central government and favoring business & industry, pitted against Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans, suspicious of centralized power and favoring non-slaveholding, small landowning, family farmers to secure the well-being of the nation.  Both parties believed the other would destroy the young nation, and campaigns were as nasty as they get.elkanah_tisdale_the_gerry-mander_map_1813_cornell_cul_pjm_1034_01

Elbridge Gerry was elected Massachusetts Governor in 1810.  Soon, his Democratic-Republican supporters were doing everything they could to get the man re-elected.  The redistricting plan that emerged on February 11, 1812 confined Federalist precincts to a handful of congressional districts, while Democratic-Republican precincts were spread across many.  In the end, 50,164 Democratic-Republican votes resulted in 29 seats in Congress, and only 11 Federalist Party seats, despite a vote tally of 51,766.

Benjamin Russell was a newspaper editor, and ardent Federalist.  The painter Gilbert Stuart commented on the new district map hanging over Russell’s desk, saying “That will do for a salamander.”  “Better say a Gerry-mander!” was Russell’s reply.  A cartoonist added head, wings, and claws.  The cartoon map and the name appeared in the Boston Gazette within the month.

Ever since, “gerrymandering” has been a bi-partisan favorite for keeping “public

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Maryland 3rd Congressional District

servants’” bellied-up to the public trough.

In 1842, Federal law required that voting districts be compact, and contiguous.  That worked out for about a hot minute.  In the 1870s, Mississippi gerrymandered a “shoestring” district 300 miles long and only 32 miles wide.  Other states have “packed” voters into districts shaped like frying pans, dumbbells, and turkey feet.

In the 1960s, gerrymandering was used to “crack” the voting strength of black and urban voters.  A 1962 Supreme Court decision ruled that electoral districts must reflect the principle of “one man, one vote”.  A 1985 decision ruled it unconstitutional to alter election districts to favor of any political party.

These days, voting districts are intentionally drawn up to favor or disfavor parties, racial,modern-gerrymanders and other “interest” groups, ensuring that we look on one another as “us and them”, rather than just, plain, fellow Americans.  Talk about “the conduct of public affairs for private advantage”.  (Hat tip to my favorite curmudgeon, Ambrose Bierce, for that one).

In 2000, California’s two major parties worked together to redraw state and Federal legislative districts, in such a way as to preserve the status quo, in perpetuity.  It worked.  53 congressional, 20 state senate, and 80 state assembly seats were at risk in the 2004 election.  Not one of them changed parties.  28th state senate district Senator Jenny Oropeza (D) won re-election in 2010, despite having died in office, a month earlier.

Here in Massachusetts, Barney Frank’s old 4th congressional district resembles nothing so much as a grasping hand.  I’m not sure if the new congressional map is an improvement, but hey.  It seems to work for the ruling class.

February 10, 1920 Play Ball!

In a world where classified information is kept on personal email servers, there are still some secrets so pinky-swear-double-probation-secret that the truth may Never be known

Former Boston Braves pitcher Max Surkont once said “Baseball was never meant to be taken seriously — if it were, we would play it with a javelin instead of a ball”.

I’m not sure about javelins, but I know how much we all love to see home runs when we go see a ballgame.

That’s not always how the game was played. The “Hitless Wonders” of the Chicago White Sox won the 1906 World Series with a .230 club batting average. Manager Fielder Jones said “This should prove that leather is mightier than wood”.  Fielder Allison Jones, that’s the man’s real name.  Is that the greatest baseball name ever, or what?

deadballparksIt was the “dead-ball” era, when an “inside baseball” style of play relied on stolen bases, hit-and-run plays and, more than anything else, speed.

That’s not to say there were no power hitters. In some ways, a triple may be more difficult than a home run, requiring a runner to cover three bases in the face of a defense still in possession of the ball. Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Owen “Chief” Wilson set a record of 36 triples in 1912. “Wahoo” Sam Crawford hit a career record 309 triples in his 18 years in Major League Baseball, playing for the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit tigers between 1899 and 1917. 100 years later, it’s unlikely that either record will ever be broken.

In his 1994 television miniseries “Baseball”, Ken Burns said that “Part of every pitcher’s job was to dirty up a new ball the moment it was thrown onto the field… They smeared it with dirt, licorice, and tobacco juice; it was deliberately scuffed, sandpapered, scarred… and as it came over the plate, [the ball] was very hard to see.”

Spitballs lessened the natural friction with a pitcher’s fingers, reducing backspin anddead-ball causing the ball to drop. Sandpapered, cut or scarred balls tended to “break” to the side of the scuff mark. Balls were rarely replaced in those days.  By the end of a game, the ball was scarred, misshapen and entirely unpredictable.  Major League Baseball outlawed “doctored” pitches on February 10, 1920, though it remained customary to play an entire game with the same ball.

The first ever game to be played “under the lights” was forty years in the past in 1920, but it would be another 15 before the practice became widespread.

Late afternoon on August 16, the Cleveland Indians were playing the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds. Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman took the plate in the top of the 5th, submarine-pitcherfacing “submarine” pitcher Carl Mays.  These are not to be confused with the windmill underhand pitches we see in softball.  Submarine pitchers throw side-arm to under-handed, their upper bodies so low that some of them scuff their hands on the ground, the ball rising as it approaches the strike zone.

Chapman never moved, he seems not to have seen it coming. The crack of the ball hitting his head was so loud that Mays thought he had hit the end of the bat, fielding the ball and throwing to first for the out. Wally Pipp, the first baseman better known for losing his starting position to Lou Gehrig because of a headache, immediately knew something was wrong. The batter made no effort to run, slowly collapsing to the ground with blood streaming out of his left ear.

ray_chapman_grave29-year-old Ray Chapman had said this was his last year playing ball.  He wanted to spend more time in the family business he had just married into. The man was right.  Raymond Johnson Chapman died 12 hours later, the only player in the history of Major League Baseball, to die from injuries sustained during a game.

The age of one-ball-per-game died with Ray Chapman, and with it the era of the dead ball. The lively ball era, had begun. Batters loved it, but pitchers complained about having to handle all those shiny new balls.new-balls

MLB rule #3.01(c) states that “Before the game begins the umpire shall…Receive from the home club a supply of regulation baseballs, the number and make to be certified to the home club by the league president. The umpire shall inspect the baseballs and ensure they are regulation baseballs and that they are properly rubbed so that the gloss is removed. The umpire shall be the sole judge of the fitness of the balls to be used in the game”.

Umpires would “prep” the ball using a mixture of water and dirt from the field, but this resulted in too-soft covers, vulnerable to tampering. Something had to take the shine off the ball without softening the cover.

rubbing-mudPhiladelphia Athletics third base coach Lena Blackburne took up the challenge in 1938, scouring the riverbanks of New Jersey for just the right mud. Blackburne found his mud hole, describing the stuff as “resembling a cross between chocolate pudding and whipped cold cream”. By his death in the late fifties, Blackburne was selling his “Baseball Rubbing Mud” to every major league ball club in the country, and most minor league teams.rubbing-mud-2

In a world where classified information is kept on personal email servers, there are still some secrets so pinky-swear-double-probation-secret that the truth may Never be known. Among them Facebook “Community Standards” algorithms, the formula for Coca Cola, and the Secret Swamp where Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud comes from.

Nobody knows, but one thing is certain. The first pitchers will show up to the first spring training camp, a few short days short days from now. Every baseball thrown from pre-season to the 2017 World Series, will first have been de-glossed with Lena Blackburne’s famous, Baseball Rubbing Mud.

Go Sox.

February 9, 1945  Battle of the Atlantic

The “Battle of the Atlantic” lasted 5 years, 8 months and 5 days, ranging from the Irish Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Caribbean to the Arctic Ocean

The impending Nazi invasion of Poland was an open secret in 1939.  That August, the first fourteen “Unterseeboots” (U-boats) left their bases, fanning out across the North submarineAtlantic.  On the 25th the Polish-British Common Defense Pact was added to the Franco-Polish Military Alliance.  Should Poland be invaded by a foreign power, England and France were now committed to intervene.

Hitler’s invasion of Poland began on September 1.  Even then, he believed that war with England and France could be avoided, the “Kriegsmarine” under strict orders to follow the “Prize Regulations” of 1936.  England and France declared war on Nazi Germany on the 3rd. Hours later, U-30 Oberleutnant Fritz Julius Lemp fired a torpedo into the British liner SS Athenia.  Lemp had mistakenly believed it to be an armed merchant vessel and fair game under Prize Regulations, but the damage was done.  The longest and most complex naval battle in history, had begun.atlantic-convoy

As in WWI, both England and Germany were quick to implement blockades on one another.   For good reason.  By the time that WWII was in full swing, England alone would require over a million tons a week of imported goods, in order to survive and to fight the war.

The “Battle of the Atlantic” lasted 5 years, 8 months and 5 days, ranging from the Irish Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Caribbean to the Arctic Ocean.  Winston Churchill would say “The Battle of the Atlantic was the dominating factor all through the war. Never for one moment could we forget that everything happening elsewhere, on land, at sea or in the air depended ultimately on its outcome”.

Thousands of ships were involved in over a hundred convoy battles, with over 1,000 singleusmm ship encounters unfolding across a theater thousands of miles wide.  According to www.usmm.org, the United States Merchant Marine suffered the highest percentage of fatalities of any service branch, at 1 in 26 compared to one in 38, 44, 114 and 421 respectively, for the Marine Corps, Army, Navy and Coast Guard.

New weapons and tactics would shift the balance in favor of one side and then to the other.  In the end over 3,500 merchant ships and 175 warships would be sunk to the bottom, compared with the loss of 783 U-boats.

The most unusual confrontation of the war occurred on this day in 1945, in the form of a combat action between two submerged submarines.  Submarines operate in 3-dimensional space, but their most effective weapon does not.  The torpedo is a surface weapon, operating in two-dimensional space:  left, right and forward.  Firing at a submerged target requires that the torpedo be converted to neutral buoyancy, introducing near-insurmountable complexity into firing calculations.

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U-864

The war was going badly for the Axis Powers in 1945, the allies enjoying near-uncontested supremacy over the world’s shipping lanes.  At this time, any surface delivery between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was likely to be detected and stopped.  The maiden voyage of the 287’, 1,799 ton German submarine U-864 departed on “Operation Caesar” on December 5, delivering Messerschmitt jet engine parts, V-2 missile guidance systems, and 65 tons of mercury to the Imperial Japanese war production industry.

The mission was a failure, U-864 having to retreat to the submarine pens in Bergen, u-864-locationNorway, for repairs after running aground in the Kiel Canal.  The sub was able to clear the island of Fedje off the Norway coast undetected on February 6.  By this time British MI6 had broken the German Enigma code.  They were well aware of Operation Caesar.

The British submarine Venturer, commanded by 25-year-old Lieutenant Jimmy Launders, was dispatched from the Shetland Islands, to intercept and destroy U-864.

ASDIC, an early name for sonar, would have been far more helpful in locating U-864, but at a price.  That familiar “ping” would have been heard by both sides, alerting the German commander that he was being hunted.  Launders opted for hydrophones, a passive listening device which could alert him to external noises.  Calculating his adversary’s direction, depth and speed was vastly more complicated without ASDIC, but the need for stealth won out.

Developing an engine noise which he feared might give him away, U-864’s commander, Ralf-Reimar Wolfram decided to return to Bergen for repairs.  German submarines of the age were equipped with “snorkels”, heavy tubes which broke the surface, enabling diesel engines and crews to breathe while running submerged.  Venturer was on batteries when the first sounds were detected, giving the British sub the stealth advantage but sharply limiting the time frame in which it could act.

u-864-wreckA four dimensional firing solution accounting for time, distance, bearing and target depth was theoretically possible, but had rarely been attempted under combat conditions.  Plus, there were unknown factors which could only be approximated.

A fast attack sub, Venturer only carried four torpedo tubes, far fewer than her much larger adversary.  Launders calculated his firing solution, ordering all four tubes and firing with a 17½ second delay between each pair.  With four incoming at different depths, the German sub didn’t have time to react.  Wolfram was only just retrieving his snorkel and converting to electric, when the #4 torpedo struck.  U-864 imploded and sank, instantly killing all 73 aboard.

Surface actions were common enough between all manner of vessels, but a fully submerged submarine to submarine kill occurred only once in WWI, on October 18, 1914, when the German U-27 torpedoed and sank the British sub HMS E3 with the loss of all 28 aboard.  To my knowledge, such an action occurred only this one time, in all of WWII.