December 30, 1951 Chief Dog Sinbad, USCG

Sinbad’s breed was best described as “liberty-rum-chow-hound, with a bit of Bulldog, Doberman, Pinscher, and what-not. Mostly what-not”- Martin Sheridan Life Magazine, December 1943.

In times of peace, the United States Coast Guard is charged with protecting the security of the nation’s borders, maritime law enforcement and rescue operations. One of seven uniformed military service branches, Coast Guard operations may be expanded in time of conflict, or by order of the Commander-in-Chief.

During WW2, the Coast Guard operated hundreds of vessels from patrol frigates to troop ships, performing convoy escort, anti-submarine and replenishment operations. Many of the landing craft used in amphibious operations were operated by Coast Guardsmen. There may be no group in the employ of the United States government, better qualified to navigate the shoals, surf and strong currents encountered by small boats, in shallow water.

Semper Paratus. Always Ready.

Sinbad_pawprint-517x640In the winter of 1937, the Coast Guard cutter USCGC George W. Campell steamed out of New York harbor, patrolling the east coast with a mission of life-saving and national defense. The night before, Chief Boatswain’s Mate A. A. “Blackie” Roth (the name is also given as “Rother”) had given his girlfriend, a puppy. She couldn’t keep him, the landlord wouldn’t allow it. No other crewman could take the small dog. It was either leave him astray and hope for the best, or smuggle the puppy on board.

The Captain addressed the assembled crew on the first day of the cruise. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall, when one of them, barked back.

They called him “Sinbad”, and gave him a uniform, a service record and a rank.  Dog, 1st class.

Sinbad quickly learned ship’s routine, and often “racked” with other sailors.  He could always be found near the galley knowing that’s where the food comes from, and he loved himself a cup of black coffee.

Sinbad_2Sinbad’s favorite toys were the large metal washers which he’d hide, until someone came to play with him.  They even built him a hammock, much more comfy to sleep in, in those long Atlantic swells.

Sinbad was possessed of the best qualities of the sailor and of his own kind, and of the worst.  In 1940, he nearly set off an international incident.

With the dark clouds of WW2 already over Europe, Denmark was overrun and occupied, by Nazis.  Greenland was once a Danish territory, and the allies hoped to keep the place out of German hands.  Campbell was sent to secure diplomatic ties with the Danes and the Greenlanders, who lived there.

Greenland is thinly populated, a place where locals mainly fish and raise sheep, for a living.  On shore for a week, Sinbad was quick to discover the pastures and the great fun of chasing sheep.  The sheep themselves were not amused and some died of exhaustion. Others became too nervous to go out and eat.  The owners weren’t amused either, and one demanded that Sinbad be shot.

The captain thought that too severe a punishment and Sinbad was banished, never to set foot on Greenland, again.  There was no end of amusement among the crew of the Campbell, that Sinbad had been brought before a Captain’s mast. It would not be his last.

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Sinbad was awarded the American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle-Eastern Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal and Navy Occupation Service Medal, which he wore, attached to his collar.

When war came, the cutter was transferred to the Navy, and the patrols became longer.

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“Sinbad’s statue in Campbell’s mess hall watching over the ship. Captain James Hirschfield believed the WWII Campbell would survive after being disabled in combat so long as Sinbad stayed aboard”.

In the winter of 1943, Campbell was assigned to convoy protection, defending the vital north Atlantic supply route from roving “wolf packs” of German submarines.  Sinbad never did get used to the sound of gunfire or depth charges, and would hide below decks, his paws over his ears.  On February 22, the German submarine U-606 unleashed a barrage of torpedoes, against an allied convoy.

A day-long game of cat & mouse ensued in which the sub would pop up for another attack, only to be swarmed and driven into yet another crash dive.  A periscope was spotted at 7:26 pm and Campbell charged in with a string of depth charges, colliding with the sub at the end of the run.  U-606 was destroyed and Campbell badly damaged, disabled and without power, due to flooding.

All but “essential personnel” were evacuated  Captain James Hirschfield felt that Sinbad was good luck.  No harm could befall the cutter while he was on board, and so he remained, essential personnel, taken under tow for repairs by the Polish destroyer, Burza.  Sinbad had remained on deck with “his boys”, throughout the action.

Sinbad’s breed was best described as “liberty-rum-chow-hound, with a bit of Bulldog, Doberman, Pinscher, and what-not. Mostly what-not”- Martin Sheridan Life Magazine, December 1943.

Sinbad was promoted in 1943 to the rank of K9C, “Chief Dog” – equivalent to Chief Petty Officer – the second of only two dogs to be classified as non-commissioned officers.  Since that time, ‘regulations’ have transformed all subsequent animals into “property” rather than personnel.

Fun fact:  The first was Sergeant Stubby, the Staffordshire Terrier who was smuggled “over there” during the Great War, and once caught a German spy by the arse while he was prowling about allied trenches.

Campbell served the duration of WW2, with Sinbad on board, the entire time.  In 1948, he was ready to retire.  Sinbad had been at sea for eleven years.   He was finally ready for shore detail.

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After eleven years at sea, Sinbad was “retired” to enjoy the comfortable life of a mascot, at the Barnegat shore station.,

The assembled media and photographers were too much that day, and Sinbad bolted across the gang plank, and down the dock.  To be AWOL from a United States Coast Guard cutter is a serious offense, and Sinbad was busted in rank, back to Dog, 1st class.  He was probably just as happy to be back with the enlisted guys.

Sinbad was transferred to the Barnegat Light Small Boat Station in New Jersey, where he served as station mascot for the duration of his military career.

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Sinbad is welcomed aboard by the crew of the Barnegat light station

Chief Dog Sinbad served all of his fourteen years with the United States Coast Guard.  He passed away on this day in 1951 at the Barnegat light station and is buried there, at the base of the flagpole.  A sailor always, Sinbad could drink with the best of them, and always enjoyed that cuppa black coffee.  Irrespective of his latest rank, he was many years, a media celebrity.  Life magazine may have said it best:  “An Old Sea Dog Has Favorite Bars and Plenty of Girls in Every Port.”

Throughout her 46 years of service, USCGC Campbell was referred to as “The Queen of the Seas”.  She was sunk as a training target in November 1984, a single harpoon missile leaving her nearly intact, as she went out of sight.  The final radio message, broadcast as she disappeared beneath the waves:  The Queen is dead.  Long live the Queen.

Today, the USCGC Campbell (WMEC-909) patrols the east coast out of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, the sixth Coast Guard Cutter to bear the name.

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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.

December 29, 1778 The Siege of Savannah

For the Americans and their allies, the frontal assault of October 9 was one of the bloodiest engagements, of the Revolution.  It could have been worse.  As battered American and French soldiers fell back, 500 free men of color known as the Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue stepped up, to cover their retreat.

Many of these Haitian soldiers went on to win their own war of independence, and credited their military experience, to Savannah.

As 1778 drew to a close, British military planners could look back on five years of trying to suppress rebellion in the American colonies, with little to show for it.   In March of that year, the British defeat at Saratoga had brought France into the war, on the side of the Rebels.

Two years of open warfare had centered mostly on the north.   Now, a “southern strategy” was devised to conquer rebellious colonies in the south, while isolating those to the north. Key to the Southern Strategy was Georgia and the colonial capital at Savannah, the southernmost commercial port of the thirteen Colonies.

General sir Henry Clinton dispatched a force of some 3,100 from New York under Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell, along with an unknown quantity of artillery. Campbell arrived outside Tybee Island on December 23.

Georgia was defended by two separate forces at this time, units of the Continental Army under the command of General Robert Howe, and state militia under the command of Governor John Houstoun.  The two men had a history of squabbling for control and most of their troops, had yet to be tried.

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Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell, British commander at the capture of Savannah in December 1778

The 850 under General Howe never really had a chance, against the battle hardened Regulars, Hessian auxiliaries and Loyalist militia, coming ashore on December 29.  Defeat turned to rout when Howe’s forces threw down their weapons and ran.  Campbell reported that “It was scarcely possible to come up with them, their retreat was rapid beyond conception.

Patriot forces suffered 83 killed, 11 wounded and 453 captured. Campbell suffered 7 killed and 17 wounded.

Howe was court-marshaled for the disaster, while Campbell bragged about being “the first British officer to [rend] a star and stripe from the flag of Congress

Brigadier General Augustine Prevost arrived from St. Augustine Florida two weeks later, with a mixed force of Regulars and Creek and Cherokee allies.   Campbell and a force of 1,000 would take the provisional capital at Augusta that February but soon retreated to Savannah, citing insufficient support among Loyalist and Native American populations.

American hopes soon fell back on their new-found alliance with France. During the following summer, French Admiral Count Charles-Hector Theodat d’Estaing captured St. Vincent and Grenada in the British West Indies, clearing the way to the Georgia coast. The powerful 47-ship French fleet arrived with 4,000 troops on September 1, surprising and capturing several British ships outside the mouth of the Savannah River.

french-shipsD’Estaing sent an ultimatum to British Commander Augustine Prevost on September 16, 1779. He was to surrender the city “To the arms of his Majesty the King of France”, or he would be personally answerable for what was about to happen. It could not have pleased General Benjamin Lincoln or his Patriot allies when d’Estaing added “I have not been able to refuse the army of the United States uniting itself with that of the King. The junction will probably be effected this day. If I have not an answer therefore immediately, you must confer with General Lincoln and me”.

“Bullet Head Prevost”, so called because of a circular scar on his temple, stalled for 24 hours, using the time in furiously building up his defenses and calling up 800 reinforcements from South Carolina.

Lincoln joined d’Estaing on September 23 with an army of 3,000 militia and Continental soldiers, laying siege to Savannah and the 2,500 British and Loyalist troops in occupation.

On October 1, a British relief column under one Captain French was coming to the city’s aid, camped on the banks of the Ogeechee River. Georgia Continental Colonel John White had two officers, a sergeant and three privates with him, when he tricked French into surrendering. These guys ran through the woods lighting so many fires that the British thought the entire continental Army was bivouacked around them. Captain French was unavailable for comment but, it must be a special feeling, knowing that you just surrendered 111 guys to six, without firing a shot.

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View of the siege works against the town at the Siege of Savannah September and October 1779 in the American Revolutionary War: contemporary picture by a French officer

Lack of horses and artillery carriages delayed the allies’ moving their cannon ashore, so French warships bombarded the city from the sea. At one point shortly after Midnight on October 3, with rum rations flowing far too freely, fire from French gunners became more dangerous to themselves than to the city itself.

For the Americans and their allies, the frontal assault of October 9 was one of the bloodiest engagements, of the Revolution.  It could have been worse.  As battered American and French soldiers fell back, 500 free men of color known as the Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue stepped up, to cover their retreat.

Many of these Haitian soldiers went on to win their own war of independence, and credited their military experience, to Savannah.

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Franklin Square Monument remembers the contributions of the Haitian militia, in the Siege of Savannah

 The siege of Savannah inflicted untold misery among the population, but Patriot forces and their French allies, never did break the city’s defenses. The siege broke a short time later, amidst recriminations on both sides.   D’Estaing returned to France, where he lost his head to the guillotine in 1794.

Savannah would remain in British hands until the end of the war, finally evacuated on July 11, 1782. A coquina marker in a small Savannah park; that soft, seashell limestone common throughout the Caribbean basin to Florida and beyond, bears a small brass plaque, darkened with the patina of age.

COMMEMORATIVE OF THE BRITISH EVACUATION OF SAVANNAH 1782
PRESENTED TO THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
BY THE
LACHLAN McINTOSH CHAPTER
DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
1904

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Attack of 2nd South Carolina Continentals on the Spring Hill Redoubt at the Siege of Savannah on 9th October 1779 in the American Revolutionary War: picture by A.I. Keller

December 28, 1981 Food Fight

In Spanish speaking countries, newspapers and television stations do gag stories on December 28.  A few years ago, headlines read that Kate Middleton was leaving Prince William for Mexican soccer star Chicharito.

In 1983, Boston University history professor Joseph Boskin explained the custom of ‘April Fools Day’ goes back to the Roman Emperor Constantine.  A group of jesters and fools informed the Emperor, that they could do his job, better.  Amused, Constantine appointed a jester named Kugel, ‘King for a Day’.

Professor Boskin went on to explain. “In a way,” he said, “it was a very serious day. In those times fools were really wise men. It was the role of jesters to put things in perspective with humor.”  The Associated Press picked up the story, and newspapers ran it, across the country.

It took AP a couple weeks to realize, the professor had made the whole thing up.  April fools.

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In one translation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, “March 32” in the year 1392 is the day the vain cock Chauntecleer was tricked by a fox. The fox appealed to the rooster’s vanity by insisting he would love to hear Chauntecleer crow, just as his amazing father did.  Standing on tiptoe with neck outstretched and eyes closed. The rooster obliged, with unfortunate, if not unpredictable results.

In most of the west, March 32 is that minor holiday on which we love to play pranks.  In Scotland, April Fools’ Day is called Hunt-the-Gowk Day. Although the term has fallen into disuse, a “gowk” is a cuckoo or a foolish person. The prank consists of asking someone to deliver a sealed message requesting some sort of help. The message reads “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile”. On reading the message, the recipient will explain that to help, he’ll first need to contact another person, sending the victim to another person with the same message.

On April 1, 1698, citizens were invited to the Tower of London to witness the “Washing of the Lions” in the tower moat. Quite a few were sucked in.  The April 2 edition of Dawks’ News-Letter reported that “Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed.” The “annual ceremony of washing the lions,” lasted throughout the 18th & 19th centuries, always held on April 1st.

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There is no “White Gate”, at the tower of London

In 1957, (you can guess the date), the BBC reported the delightful news that mild winter weather had virtually eradicated the dread spaghetti weevil of Switzerland, and that Swiss farmers were now happily anticipating a bumper crop of spaghetti.  Footage showed smiling Swiss peasants, pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees.  Apparently, an embarrassingly large number of viewers were fooled.  Many called BBC offices, asking how to grow their own spaghetti tree. “Place a piece of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce”, callers were told, “and hope for the best.”

spagtreeIn Mexico as well as Spain and most Latin countries, pranksters practice their craft not on April 1 but on December 28.  The custom goes back to the biblical story of King Herod, who is said to have killed all the baby boys in Bethlehem, to rid himself of the future ‘King of the Jews.  The “Massacre of the Innocents” is a sad story but the ‘joke’ was on Herod.  Mary and Joseph had taken the baby Jesus away, to Egypt.

So it is that el Día de los Santos Inocentes (Day of the Holy Innocents) is observed in Spanish speaking countries, on December 28.  In a sort of gallows humor, the butt of the joke is the “¡Inocente!” or “Innocent one”.

Newspapers and television stations run gag stories on December 28.  A few years ago, headlines read that Kate Middleton was leaving Prince William for Mexican soccer star Chicharito.

PrankedFor two-hundred years now, the citizens of Ibi, Alicante on the Spanish Mediterranean coast have celebrated December 28, with a giant food fight.  The practice was suspended for a time following the Spanish Civil War but revived, in 1981.  Now, it’s a big tourist attraction, and the event makes a ton of money, for charity.

Who needs to run with bulls when you have la fiesta de Los Enharinados.  “The Fiesta of the Flour-Covered Ones.”

Food fight
Participants are covered with flour at the fiesta of Los Enharinados in Ibi, Spain. Fotógrafo Ibi/Creative Commons ASA 4.0 International.

Feature image, top of page:  Food fight participants are at the fiesta of Los Enharinados in Ibi, Spain. 

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.

December 27, 1913 The Devil’s Dictionary

“In our civilization, and under our republican form of government, intelligence is so highly honored that it is rewarded by exemption from the cares of office”.
Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce first appeared in Horse Cave Creek, Ohio, the 10th of 13 children born to Marcus Aurelius and Laura Sherwood Bierce, all with names beginning with the letter “A”.

Ambrose-Bierce-fun-quotesMarcus and Laura never had much money, but were both inveterate readers who instilled a lifelong love of books in their young son, Ambrose. At 15, Bierce left home to become a “printer’s devil”, fetching type and mixing ink, following in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and his own contemporary, Mark Twain.

Bierce enlisted with the 9th Indiana Regiment at the outbreak of the Civil War, where he developed map making skills. Bierce would frequently find himself in the hottest part of the front lines, while he drew out and mapped some complicated terrain feature. He would later say of the experience that “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography”.

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For Ambrose Bierce, the Civil War ended at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, when a severe head wound took him out of the war, for good. He later headed west, making the first usable maps of the Black Hills, before winding up in San Francisco.

Long hours spent in a boring job at the San Francisco mint gave my favorite “curmudgeon” plenty of time to read up on the classics, and brush up on his writing skills. He soon found himself in the newspaper business, one of the top columnists in San Francisco.

Today, any writer who wants to be the least bit controversial had better keep his lawyer’s number on speed dial. In Bierce’s day, he’d better carry a gun. Ambrose Bierce didn’t shy away from politics, he jumped right in, often employing a mock dictionary definition to lampoon his targets. One example and my personal favorite: “Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage”.

7-ExcellentQuotations.com-Ambrose-BierceBierce worked for the Hearst Newspaper San Francisco Examiner in 1896, when he was sent to Washington to cover a railroad bill at that time, working its way through Congress.

The Union and Pacific Railroad received $130 million taxpayer dollars (about $3 billion in today’s money) laundered through the Federal Government and lent to the railroad on extremely favorable terms. One of the Union & Pacific’s builders, Collis P. Huntington, had persuaded a malleable congressman to forgive the loan altogether, if only they could keep the measure quiet.

Bierce lampooned crony capitalist and politician alike. The offending bill was anything but quiet when an infuriated Huntington confronted Bierce on the Capital steps. When asked his “price”, Bierce answered “My price is $130 million dollars. If, when you are ready to pay, I happen to be out of town, you may hand it over to my friend, the Treasurer of the United States”. The bill went on to defeat.

We can only wonder how things would be today, if such a man were to replace the partisan lapdogs passing themselves off as a national press corps.

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Bierce’s biting satire would often get Hearst and his newspaper in trouble. Nothing was off limits. Politics was a favorite target: “CONSERVATIVE, n: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal who wishes to replace them with others”, or “POLITICIAN, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When he wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive”.

1160915463-ambrose-bierce-journalist-cabbage-a-familiar-kitchen-garden-vegetableBierce’s mocking definitions became so numerous that they were compiled and published in 1906 as “The Cynic’s Word Book”. It is still in print today as the “Devil’s Dictionary”.

The topics are seemingly endless. On Motherhood: SWEATER, n.: garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly”. On the Arts: “PAINTING, n.: The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather, and exposing them to the critic”.  Or “MARRIAGE, n: the state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two”. And then there’s education, “ACADEME, n.: An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught. Academy, n.: A modern school where football is taught”.

Bierce left San Francisco in October 1913 at the age of 71, to revisit his old Civil War battlefields. He then headed south into Mexico, which was at that time a whirlpool of revolution. He joined Pancho Villa’s army as an observer in Ciudad Juárez, arriving in Chihuahua some time that December. Bierce’ last letter was written to a close friend, Blanche Partington, on December 26, 1913. He closed the note by saying, “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination.”

And then, he vanished.

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If you visit Sierra Mojada, in Coahuila, Mexico, they’ll tell you that Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was executed by firing squad in the town cemetery.  It’s as good DSD488000an ending to this story as any, as one hundred and five years ago today is as good a day as any on which to end it. The fact is that in that 105 years, there’s never been a trace of what became of him, and probably never will be.

My favorite curmudgeon would have had a good laugh, on reading the monument erected in Meigs County Ohio, in his honor.

So many words to commemorate a life, when the Master’s own words would have done so well:  “MONUMENT, n: A structure intended to commemorate something which either needs no commemoration or cannot be commemorated.”

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December 26, 1776 Hell Ships of the Revolution

British and American forces and their allies fought no less than seventy-one major engagements from the April 19, 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord, to the 1783 Battle of Arkansas Post.  The prison ships of the British killed more Americans than every single one of them, combined.

Since the first Geneva Convention of 1864, nations have attempted to codify a system of international law, concerning acceptable limits on the conduct of war.  These laws address a range of considerations including declarations of war, acceptance of surrender and proper treatment of prisoners.

Such discussions are nothing new, the earliest examples dating to the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata, and to the old testament (Torah) Book of Deuteronomy. The first Caliph, Abu Bakr, laid down ten rules of warfare for his Muslim army, in the 7th century.

In the New World British colony in North America, one of twenty-seven grievances enumerated in the Declaration of Independence was that King George IIIhas endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions“.

unknown-8-1489678956-1972The American Revolution was on its last legs in December 1776. The year had started out well for the Patriot cause but turned into a string of disasters, beginning in August. Food, ammunition and equipment were in short supply by December.  Men were deserting as the string of defeats brought morale to a new low.   Most of those who remained, ended enlistments at the end of the year.

General George Washington and a force of 5,000 performed the famous crossing of the Delaware River in the howling blizzard of Christmas day, 1776. The assault on the Hessian garrison at Trenton, was do or die. The cause of Independence needed decisive victory, or it was over. The pass word on that frigid night was “Victory”.  There was only one acceptable response: “Or Death”.

The tactical surprise was complete in the early morning hours of December 26.  Hessian losses were 22 killed, 92 wounded and 918 captured.  Only 400 escaped. The Americans suffered two who had frozen to death in the march on Trenton, and five wounded. It was the colonist’s first major victory of the Revolution.

What to do with all those prisoners was a new problem for Washington, who ordered his troops to treat them with humanity.  “Let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands.”

Washington’s position on the treatment of prisoners was clear and consistent. On September 14 of the previous year, the General wrote to Colonel Benedict Arnold then in camp in Cambridge Massachusetts: “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]…I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require.”

No such consideration was given American prisoners of his Majesty’s government.  King George III personally declared American revolutionaries to be traitors in 1775, denying them prisoner of war status.  Land based detention facilities in British-occupied cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Charleston quickly filled up when the hulks of spent vessels were brought into service as prison ships, little more than waterlogged coffins.

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Prison Ship HMS Jersey

Conditions on board these prison ships, were gruesome.  The stifling hold of  HMS Jersey alone held no fewer than 1,000 men in Wallabout Bay, modern-day site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Authorities were loath to execute detainees for “treason” for fear of inciting sympathy.  Prisoners were left instead to wallow in their own filth, starved and tormented by most every disease and parasite, known to modern medicine.   The Connecticut Gazette recounted the experience of one Robert Sheffield in July 1778, one of precious few to escape:

The heat was so intense that [the 300-plus prisoners] were all naked, which also served the well to get rid of vermin, but the sick were eaten up alive. Their sickly countenances, and ghastly looks were truly horrible; some swearing and blaspheming; others crying, praying, and wringing their hands; and stalking about like ghosts; others delirious, raving and storming, all panting for breath; some dead, and corrupting. The air was so foul that at times a lamp could not be kept burning, by reason of which the bodies were not missed until they had been dead ten days. One person alone was admitted on deck at a time, after sunset, which occasioned much filth to run into the hold, and mingle with the bilge water …

Bodies of the dead were tossed overboard, ten or fifteen every day from Jersey, alone.  Thousands of dead fouled the brackish waters of Wallabout Bay, from which water was drawn to boil “soup” for survivors, more like a toxic sludge, sometimes augmented with moldy bread or rancid meat.

Even after Cornwallis’ surrender in 1781, prisoners languished in the holds of Jersey and other Hell ships until the Treaty of Paris formally ended the war, in 1783.

A host of place names enter the popular imagination, when we think of the American Revolution.  Bunker Hill.  Trenton.  SaratogaYorktown.  British and American forces and their allies fought no fewer than seventy-one major engagements from the April 19, 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord, to the 1783 Battle of Arkansas Post.  The prison ships of the British killed more Americans than every one of them, combined.

Thousands of remains washed up on the shores of Brooklyn.  Bones were still being found in 1801, during construction of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

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Prison Ship Martyrs Memorial Fort Greene Park Brooklyn

Locals collected as many as they could for burial in a local tomb.  The bones were eventually moved to a crypt in Fort Greene Park, a half-mile south of Wallabout Bay.  Today, a 149-foot martyrs memorial topped with an eight-ton bronze brazier marks the location of their Fort Greene crypt.

In eight years, an estimated eleven to twelve thousand men perished of the filth, abuse, neglect and disease of these Hell Ships.  Untold thousands more passed through their stinking holds, and lived to tell the tale.

That such men ever lived, may be counted among the blessings of Liberty.

Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Martin “Marty” Maher is quoted in Smithsonian.com“These were ordinary citizens, fighting for a country that had barely been born. Every man was offered freedom if he would swear to stop fighting. But there’s no record that anyone took up the offer. No prisoner renounced the revolution to gain his freedom. Not one.”

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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.

December 25, 1914 A Truce to end all Wars

Nearly 100,000 Allied and German troops were involved in the unofficial ceasefire of Christmas 1914, lasting in some sectors until New Year’s Day.

“Sitzkrieg”. “Phony War”. Those were the terms used to describe the September ‘39 to May 1940 period, when neither side of what was to become the second world war, was yet prepared to launch a major ground war against the other.

The start of the “Great War” twenty-five years earlier, was different.  Had you been alive in August 1914, you would have witnessed what might be described as the simultaneous detonation of a continent. France alone suffered 140,000 casualties over the four day “Battle of the Frontiers”, where the River Sambre met the Meuse. 27,000 Frenchmen died in a single day, August 22, in the forests of the Ardennes and Charleroi. The British Expeditionary Force escaped annihilation on August 22-23, only by the intervention of mythic angels, at a place called Mons.

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First Battle of the Marne, September 1914 H/T Britannica

In the East, a Russian army under General Alexander Samsonov was encircled and so thoroughly shattered at Tannenberg, that German machine gunners were driven to insanity at the damage inflicted by their own guns, on the milling and helpless masses of Russian soldiers. Only 10,000 of the original 150,000 escaped death, destruction or capture. Samsonov himself walked into the woods, and shot himself.

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Russian soldiers, WW1, H/T BBC

The “Race to the Sea” of mid-September to late October was more a series of leapfrog movements and running combat, in which the adversaries tried to outflank one another. It would be some of the last major movement of the Great War, ending in the apocalypse of Ypres, in which 75,000 from all sides lost their lives. All along a 450-mile front, millions of soldiers dug into the ground to shelter themselves from what Private Ernst Jünger later called a “Storm of Steel”.

775px-Stabilization_of_Western_Front_WWIOn the Western Front, it rained for much of November and December that first year. The no man’s land between British and German trenches was a wasteland of mud and barbed wire. Christmas Eve, 1914 dawned cold and clear. The frozen ground allowed men to move about for the first time in weeks. That evening, English soldiers heard singing.  The low sound of a Christmas carol, drifting across no man’s land…Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht…Silent Night.

The Tommies saw lanterns and small fir trees.  Messages were shouted along the trenches.  In some places, British soldiers and even a few French joined in the Germans’ songs. Alles schläft; einsam wacht, Nur das traute hochheilige Paar. Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar

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Christmas day truce of 1914 published 1915 London illustrated news

The following day was Christmas, 1914. A few German soldiers emerged from their trenches at the first light of dawn, approaching the Allies across no man’s land and calling out “Merry Christmas” in the native tongue of their adversaries. Allied soldiers first thought it was a trick, but these Germans were unarmed, standing out in the open where they could be shot on a whim. Tommies soon climbed out of their own trenches, shaking hands with the Germans and exchanging gifts of cigarettes, food and souvenirs. In at least one sector, enemy soldiers played a friendly game of soccer.

Captain Bruce Bairnsfather later wrote: “I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything. … I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons. … I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange. … The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck.”

o-TRUCE-facebookCaptain Sir Edward Hulse Bart reported a sing-song which “ended up with ‘Auld lang syne’ which we all, English, Scots, Irish, Prussians, Wurttenbergers, etc, joined in. It was absolutely astounding, and if I had seen it on a cinematograph film I should have sworn that it was faked!”

Nearly 100,000 Allied and German troops were involved in the unofficial ceasefire of Christmas 1914, lasting in some sectors until New Year’s Day.

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A few tried to replicate the event the following year, but there were explicit orders preventing it. Captain Llewelyn Wyn Griffith recorded that after a night of exchanging carols, dawn on Christmas Day 1915 saw a “rush of men from both sides … [and] a feverish exchange of souvenirs” before the men were quickly called back by their officers.

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Ypres, Christmas Truce, Hat tip http://www.Bitaboutbritain.com. Thanks, Mike.

One German unit tried to leave their trenches under a flag of truce on Easter Sunday 1915, but were warned off by the British opposite them.

German soldier Richard Schirrmann wrote in December 1915, “When the Christmas bells sounded in the villages of the Vosges behind the lines …. something fantastically unmilitary occurred. German and French troops spontaneously made peace and ceased hostilities; they visited each other through disused trench tunnels, and exchanged wine, cognac and cigarettes for Westphalian black bread, biscuits and ham. This suited them so well that they remained good friends even after Christmas was over”.

Some will tell you, the bitterness engendered by continuous fighting made such fraternization all but impossible. Yet, there are those who believe that soldiers never stopped fraternizing with their opponents, at least during the Christmas season. Heavy artillery, machine gun, and sniper fire were all intensified in anticipation of Christmas truces, minimizing such events in a way that kept them out of the history books.

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Pvt. Ronald MacKinnon, H/T National Post

Even so, evidence exists of a small Christmas truce in 1916, though little is known of it. 23-year-old Private Ronald MacKinnon of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, wrote home about German and Canadian soldiers reaching across battle lines near Arras, sharing Christmas greetings and trading gifts. “I had quite a good Christmas considering I was in the front line”, he wrote. “Christmas Eve was pretty stiff, sentry-go up to the hips in mud of course. … We had a truce on Christmas Day and our German friends were quite friendly. They came over to see us and we traded bully beef for cigars”. The letter ends with Private MacKinnon noting that “Christmas was ‘tray bon’, which means very good.”

Private Ronald MacKinnon of Toronto Ontario, Regimental number 157629, was killed barely three months later on April 9, 1917, during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

The Man He Killed 
by Thomas Hardy

Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

I shot him dead because–
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although

He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like–just as I–
Was out of work–had sold his traps–
No other reason why.

Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown.

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Christmas truce memorial, National Arboretum, Staffordshire, England
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