June 11, 1775 The Battle of Machias

Called by some the “Lexington of the Sea”, the little-known episode was the first naval battle of the American Revolution.

In the Passamaquoddy tongue, “Machias” roughly translates into “bad little falls”, after the river that runs through the place. Five hours and 15 minutes drive-time from Boston, Machias Maine sports a campus for the University of Maine, a municipal airport and, even today, a year-round population barely exceeding 2,000.

BAD LITTLE FALLS KC.JPG
Machias-area residents who discussed downtown revitalization Tuesday evening said the Bad Little falls was the town’s most distinctive element. (KATHERINE CASSIDY PHOTO)

Not necessarily a place where you’d expect the first naval combat of the American Revolution.

In 1775, the modern state of Maine was still part of Massachusetts. Machias itself, a small fishing village on the “Down East” New England coast, was a thorn in the British side since the earliest days of the Revolution.   A local pilot intentionally grounded the coastal patrol schooner HMS Halifax that February, in Machias Bay.  The place also served as a base from which privateers preyed on British merchant shipping.

In April, a British foray from the occupied city of Boston had culminated in the Battle at Lexington Green.  While the King’s troops held the ground in the wake of the early morning skirmish, the decision of the afternoon’s battle at nearby Concord was quite different.  The colonial’s response to the column of “Regulars” was that of a swarming beehive, resulting in a Patriot victory and a British retreat under fire, all the way back to Boston.

Siege-of-Boston-1-AB

Boston was all but an island in those days, connected to the mainland only be a narrow “neck” of land.  A Patriot force some 20,000 strong took positions in the days and weeks that followed, blocking the city and trapping four regiments of British troops (about 4,000 men) inside of the city.

For General Thomas Gage, in charge of all those troops, the best hope for resupply was by water.

British Royal Navy Admiral Samuel Graves wanted the guns from the wreck of the Halifax, concerned they would otherwise fall into rebel hands.  Gage wanted lumber, with which to build barracks.  So it was that the wealthy merchant and Tory loyalist Ichabod Jones was enlisted to help, blissfully unaware of the dim view in which his activities were held by fellow colonials.

Jones arrived at Machias on June 2 aboard the merchant ships Unity and Polly, under guard of the armed schooner HMS Margaretta, commanded by Midshipman James Moore.  They had come to trade food for lumber but the townspeople were split, and voted against doing business with Jones.  This provoked a threat from the Margaretta, which moved into range to bombard the town.  The action resulted in a second vote and the trade was approved, but Jones’ response was ham-fisted.   The merchant would only do business, with those who had voted with him in the first place.

margaretta
HMS Margaretta

Local militia leader Colonel Benjamin Foster conceived a plan to seize the merchant, and saw his opportunity on June 11, when Jones and Moore were in church.  They almost had the pair too, but Jones saw some twenty men approaching, and fled for the woods.  Moore was able to get back to the Margaretta, but events soon spun out of control.

Colonel Foster and his brother, a man with the delightful name of Wooden Foster, seized the Unity.  A group of thirty began to construct breastworks to serve as protection, while others commandeered the coastal packet Falmouth.   There was gong to be a fight.

machias_me

A group of Machias men approached Margaretta from the land and demanded her surrender, but Moore lifted anchor and sailed off in attempt to recover the Polly.  A turn of his stern through a brisk wind resulted in a boom and gaff breaking away from the mainsail, crippling the vessel’s navigability. Unity gave chase followed by Falmouth.

Musket fire was exchanged from both sides and hand grenades were thrown onto the decks of the Unity.   Soon, the Margaretta was boarded from both sides, the fighting hand to hand.

Called by some the “Lexington of the Sea”, the little-known episode was the first naval battle of the American Revolution and ended in victory for the Patriot side.  Four Royal Navy seamen were killed outright and another ten wounded including Moore himself, who received a musket ball to the chest and died the following day.

Patriot losses amounted to ten killed and another three wounded.

HMS Margaretta served out the remainder of the Revolution as the renamed Machias Liberty.  British payback came on October 18 when Falmouth Massachusetts, the modern-site of Falmouth Maine and not to be confused with either of the modern-day towns of  Falmouth Massachusetts, or Falmouth Maine, was burned to the ground.

British forces attempted a second assault on Machias, with an amphibious landing of 1,000 troops over the 13th – 14th of August, 1777.  The attempt was beaten back by local militia and their Passamaquoddy and Penobscot allies, with both sides claiming victory.  The nearby village of Castine would be occupied in 1779 as would Machias itself during the War of 1812.  On both occasions, captured territories were re-dubbed the Crown Colony of “New Ireland”, a refuge for Loyalists and a base for future military operations.

The Crown Colonies of New Ireland survived for four years in the first instance and eight months in the second.  The failed Penobscot expedition of 1779 to retake the colony would result in the most catastrophic defeat suffered by American Naval forces until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 162 years later, but that must be a story for another day.

800px-PenobscotExpeditionBySerres
Britain defending New Ireland from the Penobscot Expedition by Dominic Serres

June 10, 1944 Ghost Village

Down this road, on a summer day in 1944. . . The soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When they had gone, the community which had lived for a thousand years. . . was dead”.

It was D+4 in the invasion of Normandy. The 2nd SS Panzer Division (“Das Reich”) had orders to stop the Allied advance. They were passing through the Limousin region in west central France when SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann received word that Waffen-SS officer Helmut Kämpfe was being held captive, by French Resistance forces in the village of Oradour-sur-Vayres.

June 10, 1944 Oradour-sur-Glane

Forget for a moment the idiocy of our age and incontinent use of the term, “Nazi”. The people who committed the atrocity at Oradour-sur-Glane are like unto beasts and not to compared with anyone, from the modern world. May it come to pass that we never see their kind, again.

Oradour-sur-Glane-Streets

Diekmann’s battalion sealed off the nearby village of Oradour-sur-Glane, unaware they had confused the place with another village. Everyone in the town was ordered to assemble in the village square to have identity papers examined. The entire population of the village was there plus another 6, unfortunates caught riding their bicycles in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Women and children were locked in a village church while German soldiers looted the town. The men were taken to a nearby barn where machine guns were already set up.

Oradour-sur-Glane.jpg 1

The Germans aimed for the legs when they opened fire, intending to inflict as much pain as possible. Five escaped in the confusion before the SS lit the barn on fire. 190 men were burned alive.

Oradour-sur-Glane-Church

Nazi soldiers then lit an incendiary device in the church and gunned down 247 women and 205 children, as they tried to escape.

Oradour-sur-Glane.jpg 4

642 inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane age one week to 90 years, were murdered in just a few hours. The village was razed to the ground.

After the war a new village was built on a nearby location, and given the same name. President Charles de Gaulle ordered the original site to remain as is; a memorial to the cruelty of collective punishment and the savagery committed in countless places, by the Waffen-SS: the French towns of Tulle, Ascq, Maillé, Robert-Espagne, and Clermont-en-Argonne; the Polish villages Michniów, Wanaty and Krasowo-Częstki, Warsaw; the Soviet village of Kortelisy; the Lithuanian village of Pirčiupiai; the Czechoslovakian villages of Ležáky and Lidice; the Greek towns of Kalavryta and Distomo; the Dutch town of Putten; the Yugoslavian towns of Kragujevac and Kraljevo, and the village of Dražgoše, in what is now Slovenia; the Norwegian village of Telavåg; the Italian villages of Sant’Anna di Stazzema and Marzabotto. And on, and on, and on.

Oradour-sur-Glane-Hardware

In 1999, French President Jacques Chirac dedicated a memorial museum, the “Centre de la mémoire d’Oradour”. The village stands today as the Nazis left it, 78 years ago today.

It may be the most forlorn place on earth.

Oradour-sur-Glane.jpg 5

The story was featured in the 1974 British television series “The World at War”, narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier. The first and final episodes of the program began with these words:

Down this road, on a summer day in 1944. . . The soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When they had gone, the community which had lived for a thousand years. . . was dead. This is Oradour-sur-Glane, in France. The day the soldiers came, the people were gathered together. The men were taken to garages and barns, the women and children were led down this road . . . and they were driven. . . into this church. Here, they heard the firing as their men were shot. Then. . . they were killed too. A few weeks later, many of those who had done the killing were themselves dead, in battle. They never rebuilt Oradour. Its ruins are a memorial. Its martyrdom stands for thousands upon thousands of other martyrdoms in Poland, in Russia, in Burma, in China, in a World at War”.

Oradour-sur-Glane.jpg 3

June 9, 721 Odo the Great

In history as in life, time and place is everything.  Today, “Odo the Great” is all but forgotten. We remember Charles “The Hammer” Martel as the savior of western civilization, as well we should. And yet, we need not forget the man who made it possible, who gave Martel time to gather the strength, to forge the fighting force which gave life to such an unlikely outcome. 1,301 years ago, today.


In AD732, a Frankish military force led by Charles Martel, the illegitimate son of Pippin II of Herstal, met a vastly superior invading army of the Umayyad Caliphate, led by Abd Ar-Rahman al Ghafiqi.

The Islamic Caliphate had recently defeated two of the most powerful militaries of the era.  The Sassanid empire in modern day Iran had been destroyed altogether, as was the greater part of the Byzantine Empire including Armenia, North Africa and Syria.

Islamic+Conquests+By+the+7th+century+Islamic+people+overran+the+Sasanid+empire+and+threatened+Constantinop+le+(674-678,+717-718)

As the Caliphate grew in strength, European civilization faced a period of reduced trade, declining population and political disintegration characterized by a constellation of small kingships evolving and squabbling for suzerainty over the common people.

The “Banu Umayya”, the second of four major dynasties established following the death of Muhammad 100 years earlier, was already one of the largest, most powerful empires in history. Should the Frankish defenders fail, no force remained sufficient to prevent a united caliphate stretching from the Atlantic coast of Spain to the Indian sub-continent, from Sub-Saharan Africa to the North Sea.

Carolingian Empire Map

With no cavalry of his own, Charles faced a two-to-one disadvantage in the face of a combined Islamic force of infantry and horse soldiers.  History offers few instances of medieval armies withstanding the charge of cavalry, yet Charles had anticipated this moment. He had trained his men, they were ready.

The story is familiar.   Charles “The Hammer” Martel met the invader at a spot between the villages of Tours, and Poitiers.  Despite all odds the Frankish force and their Aquitanian allies emerged victorious from the Battle of Tours, also known as the Battle of Poitiers. Western civilization would remain free to make its way into an uncertain future.

Battle of Tours, 732

Forgotten in this narrative is the story of the man who made it all possible.

Twenty years earlier, a combined force of 1,700 Arab and North African horsemen, the Berbers, landed on the Iberian Peninsula led by Tariq Ibn Ziyad.  Within ten years the Emir of Córdoba ruled over most of what we now know as Portugal and Spain, save for the fringes of the Pyrenean mountains and the highlands along the northwest coastline.

In AD721, Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani, wali (governor) of Muslim Spain, built a strong army from the Umayyad territories of Al-Andalus and invaded the semi-independent duchy of Aquitaine, a principality ostensibly part of the Frankish kingdom but for all intents and purposes ruled as an independent territory.

Odo_I
Duke Odo, I

Duke Odo of Aquitaine left his home in Toulouse in search of help from the Frankish statesman and military leader, Charles Martel.  This was a time (718 – 732) of warring kingdoms and duchies, a consolidation of power in which Martel preferred not to step up on behalf of his southern rival but to wait, and see what happened. Odo, Duke of Aquitaine, was on his own.

At this time, Toulouse was the largest and most important city in Aquitaine.  Believing Odo to have fled before their advance, the forces of al-Andalus laid siege to the city, secure in the belief that their only threat lay before them.  For three months, Odo gathered Aquitanian, Gascon and Frankish troops about him, as his city held on.

Overconfident, the besieging army had failed to fortify its outer perimeter, or to scout the surrounding countryside.  On June 9 with Toulouse on the verge of collapse, the armies of Duke Odo fell on the Muslim rear as defenders poured from the city gates, an avenging army.    Sources report Duke Odo’s forces numbered some 300,000, though the number is almost certainly exaggerated.

bataille_de_toulouse2

Caught at rest without weapons or amour, the surprise was complete.  Some 350,000 Umayyad troops are said to have been cut down as they fled, but again, the number is probably inflated.  Al-Samh himself was mortally wounded, and later died in Narbonne.

Be that as it may, the battle of Toulouse was an unmitigated disaster for the Arab side.  Some historians believe that this day in 721 did more to check the Muslim advance into western Europe, than did the later battle at Tours.  For 450 years,  Arab chroniclers at Al-Andalus described the battle as Balat al Shuhada (‘the path of the martyrs’), while Tours was remembered as a relatively minor skirmish.

Ch-Martel

One of those to escape with his life was a young Abd Ar-Rahman al Ghafiqi.  Eleven years later in 732, the now – governor of Al-Andalus would once again cross the Pyrenees, this time at the head of a massive army of his own.  Al Ghafiqi’s legions laid waste to Navarre and Gascony, first destroying Auch, and then Bordeaux.  Duke Odo “The Great” was destroyed at the River Garonne and the table set for the all-important decision of Tours.

In history as in life, time and place is everything.  Today, “Odo the Great” is all but forgotten. We remember Charles “The Hammer” Martel as the savior of western civilization, as well we should. And yet, we need not forget the man who made it possible, who gave Martel time to gather the strength, to forge the fighting force which gave life to such an unlikely outcome. 1,301 years ago, today.

June 8, 1959 Rocket Mail

1,200 letters were packed into a rocket fuselage in July 1934 and fired between Harris Island in the Hebrides and Scarp island in Scotland, a distance of some 1,600 meters (1 mile). The first rocket blew up so they gathered all the letters they could find, and packed them into a second. That one also exploded.

To talk about Rocket Mail sounds like we’re speaking of the early free webmail services, something like Hotmail or a few others.  Not that we ever delivered the mail on real rockets.

Yes we did. Well, sort of.

89987-004-3A10E441

In the early 19th century, expanding western settlement meant that a letter sent to California could one of several routes. Earlier stagecoach passages were replaced by steamship routes traveling around South America, or by overland transfer across the Isthmus of Panama or the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in Mexico. By mid-century the rapid dissemination of information was becoming ever more important, even as the simmering tensions which would bring the nation to Civil War proved such a system, inadequate.

The Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company, better known as the Pony Express, was the short-lived effort to speed up the process. Between April 1860 and October ’61, continuous horse-and-rider relays carried letters the 2,000-mile distance from St. Joseph Missouri to Sacramento, California.

138706-004-0303CD27

Individual riders covered 75 – 100 miles at a time, on somewhere between five and ten horses.  The Pony Express compressed the standard 24-day schedule for overland delivery to ten days, but the system was a financial disaster.  Little more than an expensive stopgap before the first transcontinental telegraph system.

Throughout post-war reconstruction and on toward the turn of the century, individuals living in more remote precincts had to pick up the mail at sometimes-distant post offices. Either that or they had to pay private carriers.

The Post Office began experiments with Rural Free Delivery (RFD) as early as 1890, but the system was slow to catch on. Georgia Congressman Thomas Watson pushed RFD legislation through the Congress in 1893, making the practice mandatory. Implementation was slow and RFD wouldn’t be fully adopted until 1902, but elected officials were quick to implement this new way to reach out to voters.

220px-Par_avion_air_mail

The first mail carried through the air arrived by hot air balloon on January 7, 1785, a letter written by Loyalist William Franklin to his son William Temple Franklin, at that time serving a diplomatic role in Paris with his grandfather, the United States’ one-time and first postmaster, Benjamin Franklin.

The first (unofficial) mail delivery by aircraft took place on February 17, 1911, when Fred Wiseman flew three letters between Petaluma and Santa Rosa, California. Comprehensive airmail rules were adopted by the Universal Postal Union in 1929. Since then, airmail was often marked “Par avion”: “By airplane”.

Section 92 of the 1873 Postal Laws and Regulations book states that carriers would deliver “as frequently as the public convenience may require.” What exactly constitutes “Public Convenience” was open to interpretation but, in some cities, business districts received between three and five daily deliveries and twice a day to residential areas.

6a01157147ecba970c01b8d1be010c970c-800wi

In 1950, the Postmaster General ordered residential deliveries reduced to once a day and, by the early 1990s, businesses had learned to live with the same.  There was little to be improved upon in this happy state of affairs.  Unless of course you’re receiving your mail, by rocket.

The concept is older than you might think.  German novelist Heinrich von Kleist (1777 – 1811) was the first to bring up the idea in 1810, calculating that a network of batteries could relay a letter from Berlin to Breslau, a distance of 180 miles, in half a day. Such a system was attempted using Congreve rockets in 19th century Tonga, but proved unreliable. By 1929, American ambassador to Germany Jacob Gould Schurman was discussing the finer points of transatlantic rocket mail delivery, with a German reporter.

A 1936 experiment with rocket-powered mail delivery between New York and New Jersey ended with 50-pounds of mail, stranded on the ice of frozen Greenwood Lake.

From India to the United Kingdom, the 1930s were a time for experimentation with rocket-propelled mail delivery. 1,200 letters were packed into a rocket fuselage in July 1934 and fired between Harris Island in the Hebrides and Scarp island in Scotland, a distance of some 1,600 meters (1 mile). The first rocket blew up so they gathered all the letters they could find, and packed them into a second. That one also exploded.

10394

As a piece of technology, the rockets’ origins are both simple and ancient. A rocket quite simply is a vessel, powered by stored propellant such as gunpowder, kerosene, or liquid hydrogen & oxygen. A missile is a vehicle propelled by rockets whose purpose it is, to deliver a payload.

Vought_SSM-N-8_Regulus_I_(ID_unknown)_(30571413366)
Regulus Cruise Missile

In 1959, the diesel-electric submarine USS Barbero officially became a branch location of the United States Post Office, for purposes of “delivering” mail to Naval Station Mayport, in Jacksonville, Florida. The nuclear warhead was removed from a Regulus Cruise missile and two Post Office-approved containers installed.  3,000 letters and postcards were inserted, addressed to President Eisenhower, Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield and other dignitaries.

On June 8, the 13,685-pound, 32-foot cruise missile launched from the decks of USS Barbero, two Aerojet-General 33,000 lb solid-propellant boosters giving way to the turbojet engine which would guide the missile onto its target.   Twenty-two minutes later the missile struck, the Regulus opened and the mail forwarded to the Jacksonville post office for sorting and routing.

Missilemail

Postmaster Summerfield was effusive, proclaiming the “historic significance to the peoples of the entire world”.  “Before man reaches the moon”, he exclaimed, “mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”

ea2ad7a5fac60ef99d3742e9ea44331c

Arthur Summerfield’s golden future of missile mail was never meant to be.  Despite the postmaster’s enthusiasm, the system was Way too expensive.  The Defense Department saw the first and only mail delivery by intercontinental ballistic missile in history as more of a demonstration of the weapon system’s capabilities.  In any case, aircraft were  delivering airmail by this time, in less than a day.

0831713

The Regulus was superseded by the Polaris missile in 1964, the year in which Barbero ended her nuclear strategic deterrent patrols. She was struck from the Naval Registry that July, and suffered the humiliating fate of becoming target vessel, sunk by the nuclear submarine USS Swordfish off the coast of Pearl Harbor on October 7.

USS Barbero is gone but that US mail container lives on, at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton Connecticut. Launched from a Balao-class sub June 8, 1959, sixty-three years ago today.

A Trivial Matter: The first post office established in colonial America began in a bar and the home of one Richard Fairbanks, whose tavern was known for the sale of “stronge waters”. At one time the Postmaster General was in line of succession for the Presidency. Today Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is the third-highest paid employee in the federal government earning $303,260, ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris with a base salary of $261,400 and behind President Joe Biden with a presidential salary of $400,000. Dr. Anthony Fauci was the highest paid employee in the federal government in 2019 at $417,608, more than six times the average American household income for the same year.

June 7, 1942 To Alaska

Construction began in March as trains moved hundreds of pieces of construction equipment to Dawson Creek, the last stop on the Northern Alberta Railway. At the other end, 10,670 American troops arrived in Alaska that spring to begin what officers called “the biggest and hardest job since the Panama Canal.”

In 1865, Western Union contemplated plans to install telegraph wires from the US to Siberia, sparking discussions of an road to the Alaskan interior. The proliferation of automobiles in the 1920s caused the idea to pick up steam but the project was a hard sell, for Canadian authorities. Such a road would necessarily pass through Canadian territory while the government believed the project would have little impact, benefiting no more than a few thousand people in the Yukon.

In the days following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Guam and Wake Island fell to Imperial Japanese forces , making it clear that parts of the Pacific coast were vulnerable.

Priorities were changing for both the United States, and Canada.

The Alaska Territory was particularly exposed. Situated only 750 miles from the nearest Japanese base, the Aleutian Island chain had but 12 medium bombers, 20 pursuit planes, and fewer than 22,000 troops in the entire territory, an area four times the size of Texas.

Surviving-AK-blog-1

Colonel Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., son of the Confederate commander who famously received Ulysses S. Grant’s “Unconditional Surrender” ultimatum at Fort Donelson (“I propose to move immediately, upon your works”), was in charge of the Alaska Defense Command.  Buckner made his made point, succinctly. “If the Japanese come here, I can’t defend Alaska. I don’t have the resources.”

The Army approved construction of the Alaska Highway in February 1942, the project receiving the blessings of Congress and President Roosevelt within the week. Canada agreed to allow the project, provided that the United States pay the full cost, and the roadway and other facilities be turned over to Canadian authorities at the end of the war.

Construction began in March as trains moved hundreds of pieces of construction equipment to Dawson Creek, the last stop on the Northern Alberta Railway. At the other end, 10,670 American troops arrived in Alaska that spring to begin what officers called “the biggest and hardest job since the Panama Canal.”

4517139905_887f3c484a_b
Dawson Creek, 1942

In-between lay over 1,500 miles of unmapped, hostile, wilderness.

The project received a new sense of urgency on June 7, when a Japanese force of 1,140 took control of Attu Island and murdering Charles Jones, a ham radio operator and weather reporter from Ohio. Japanese forces took 45 Aleuts into captivity along with Jones’ wife, Etta.  Adding to the urgency was the fact that the Alaskan winter permits no more than an eight-month construction window.  That period was already well underway.

Construction began at both ends and the middle at once, with nothing but the most rudimentary engineering sketches. A route through the Rocky Mountains had yet to be identified.

06162017_HighwayRadios of the age didn’t work across the Rockies, and the mail was erratic.  The only passenger service available was run by the Yukon Southern airline, a run which locals called the “Yukon Seldom”.  For construction battalions at Dawson Creek, Delta Junction and Whitehorse, it was faster to talk to each other through military officials in Washington, DC.

Moving men to assigned locations was one thing.  Transporting 11,000 pieces of heavy equipment, to say nothing of supplies needed by man and machine, was quite another.

alcan-hwyTent pegs were useless in the permafrost, while the body heat of sleeping soldiers meant waking up in mud. Partially thawed lakes meant that supply planes could use neither pontoon nor ski, as Black flies swarmed the troops by day.  Hungry bears raided camps at night, looking for food.

Engines had to run around the clock, as it was impossible to restart them in the cold. Engineers waded up to their chests building pontoons across freezing lakes, battling mosquitoes in the mud and the moss laden arctic bog. Ground which had been frozen for thousands of years was scraped bare and exposed to sunlight, creating a deadly layer of muddy quicksand in which bulldozers sank in what seemed like stable roadbed.

Alaska Highway Black Soldiers

That October, Refines Sims Jr. of Philadelphia, with the all-black 97th Engineers, was driving a bulldozer 20 miles east of the Alaska-Yukon line when the trees in front of him toppled to the ground. Sims slammed his machine into reverse as a second bulldozer came into view, driven by Kennedy, Texas Private Alfred Jalufka. North had met south, and the two men jumped off their machines, grinning. Their triumphant handshake was photographed by a fellow soldier and published in newspapers across the country, becoming an unintended first step toward desegregating the US military.

24SOLD-popup

A gathering at Soldier’s Summit on November 21, 1942 celebrated “completion” of the route, though the “highway” remained impassable for most vehicles, until 1943.

Alaska-Hwy-historyNPR ran an interview about this story back in the eighties, in which an Inupiaq elder was recounting his memories. He had grown up in a world as it existed for hundreds of years, without so much as an idea of internal combustion. He spoke of the day that he first heard the sound of an engine, and went out to see a giant bulldozer making its way over the permafrost. The bulldozer was being driven by a black operator, probably one of the 97th Engineers Battalion soldiers.  The old man’s comment, as best I can remember it, was a classic. “It turned out”, he said, “that the first white person I ever saw, was a black man”.

REBRANDSD2997_THC_MDRN_3703_HVG_000_2997_60_20160202_00_HD

A Trivial Matter: “There were many timber bridges built by civilian workers on the Alaska Highway, the Kiskatinaw Bridge is the only one still in use. It is also one of the most unusual, curving nine degrees along its 162.5 metre (534 foot) length”. Hat Tip http://www.alcanhighway.org

May 24, 1935 Under the Lights

The first night came in history occurred on September 2 1880 when teams from the RH White and Jordan Marsh department stores played to a 16-all tie. Organized baseball would be slow to accept the arc light.

The-lamplighter

In 18th century London, going out at night was a bad idea. Not without a lantern in one hand and a club in the other.

The city introduced its first gas-lit street in 1807 on the Central London Pall Mall, between St. James’s Street & Trafalgar Square. Before long, hundreds of “Lamp Lighters” could be seen with their ladders, gas lights bathing the city in a soft, green glow.

The Westminster Review newspaper opined that gas lamps had done more to eliminate immorality and criminality on the streets, than any number of church sermons.

The United States followed nine years later when the city of Baltimore lit up, in 1816.

Thomas Edison patented the first carbon-thread incandescent lamp in 1879.  The first baseball game played “under the lights” took place the following year near Nantasket Beach, in the ‘south shore’ town of Hull, Massachusetts.

It was September 2, 1880 when two teams sponsored by the RH White & Co. and Jordan Marsh department stores of Boston, played a full nine innings to a 16-all tie.  The era of the night game had arrived. The lamp lighters of London are still around to this very day albeit, fewer in number.

Except, no, it didn’t work out that way.  The lamp lighter part is true enough.  Today, five gas engineers keep the Victorian era alive, winding and checking the mechanisms, polishing the glass and replacing the mantles of some 2,000 gas lamps.

00E97E09000004B0-2848038-It_is_one_of_the_rare_places_in_the_city_where_a_walker_can_imag-4_1416898177238
Modern-day “Lamp Lighter” H/T UK Guardian

Across the pond though, organized baseball took another fifty years to give the arc light another try.

Evidence exists of other 19th-century night games, but these were little more than novelties. Holyoke Massachusetts inventor George F. Cahill, creator of the pitching machine, devised a portable lighting system in 1909. With the blessing of Garry Herrmann, President of the Cincinnati Reds, Cahill staged an exhibition game on the night of June 19, between the Elk Lodges of Cincinnati and Newport, Kentucky.

The crowd of 3,000  had little trouble following the ball and Cahill was an enthusiastic salesman for his invention, but the man was doomed to frustration and disappointment.  Night-time exhibition games were regularly met with great enthusiasm, yet organized baseball was slow in catching on.

The Class B New England league played a night exhibition game on June 24, 1927 before a crowd of 5,000, sponsored by the General Electric Employees’ Athletic Association. The Washington Senators were in town at that time to play the Boston Red Sox.  Delegations from both clubs were on-hand to watch Lynn defeat Salem in a seven-inning game, 7-2.

Washington manager Bucky Harris and Boston manager Bill Carrigan, were impressed. Senator’s star outfielder Goose Goslin expressed a desire to play a night game. Claude Johnson, President of the New England League, predicted that all leagues would have night baseball within five years, including the majors.

Lighting_Baseball2As the Great Depression descended across the land, minor league clubs folded by the bushel basket. Small town owners were desperate to innovate. The first-ever night game in professional baseball was played on May 2, 1930, when Des Moines, Iowa hosted Wichita for a Western League game.

The game drew 12,000 spectators at a time when Des Moines was averaging just 600 per game.  Soon, minor league owners were finding night games a key to staying in business.

Even then, the Poobahs of Major League Baseball were slow to catch on.  Five years later, the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in the first-ever big league game played under the lights.

A crowd of 25,000 spectators waited on this day in 1935, as President Roosevelt symbolically turned on the lights from Washington DC.  The Reds played a night game that year against every National League opponent and, despite a losing record of 68-85, enjoyed an increase of 117% in paid attendance.

6DZG7YeE
The first night game in Major League Baseball was played on this day in 1935, when the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 2-1

Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, teams upgraded facilities to include lights and, before long, most of Major League Baseball had night games on the schedule. Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs and the second-oldest MLB stadium after Fenway Park, was the last to begin hosting night games. To this day, the Cubbies remain the only major league team to host the majority of its games, during the day.

The first officially recorded night game at Wrigley field ended in a 6-4 win over the New York Mets on August 8, 1988.

May 21, 1944 Hammerberg

Let the man’s Medal of Honor citation tell his story. He didn’t live long enough to read it for himself.

From June to November 1944, forces of the United States Marine Corps and US Army conducted an offensive intended to dislodge Japanese forces from the Mariana Islands and the island nation of Palau, with operations supported by elements of the US Navy and code named, Operation Forager.

Part of the island-hopping strategy employed to defeat the Japanese empire, Operation Forager followed the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign and had as its objective the neutralization of Japanese bases in the central Pacific, support for the Allied drive to retake the Philippines, and to provide bases for strategic bombing raids against the Japanese home islands.

LST_Sicily
LST in Sicily

In May 1944, the naval anchorage at Pearl Harbor was a rush of activity, building up for the planned invasion.  78 years ago today, twenty-nine LSTs (Landing Ships, Tank) were tied beam-to-beam on six piers in the “West Loch” loading munitions, high octane gasoline and other equipment.

Shortly after 15:00 local time, LST-353 exploded causing a chain reaction down the line. Munitions exploded hurling men and equipment into the air. 200 men and more were hurled into the water in explosions powerful enough to knock over vehicles. On shore eleven buildings were destroyed altogether. Another nine were damaged.

Firefighting efforts were slow to get underway due to the heat and the inexperience of many of the crew. Some LSTs were able to move away under their own power or with the assistance of tugs. Others were left adrift and afire and slowly sinking, into the channel.

pearlharbor_sm-640x533
A NASA image of Pearl Harbor. The disaster occurred in West Loch which is to the left side of the photo, where the water is lighter in color.

Burning gasoline spread across the water and ignited other ships, left unharmed by the initial explosions. Fires burned for twenty-four hours as yet other vessels were intentionally sunk to contain the disaster.

Casualty figures are surprisingly inexact. Most sources report 163 personnel killed in the incident in West Loch and another 396, wounded. Some sources put the number of dead as high as 392.  Eleven tugboats were damaged while engaged in fire control efforts.  Six LSTs were sunk, two already carrying smaller, fully loaded Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs) lashed to their decks.  Several others were heavily damaged and/or run aground.

A press blackout was ordered immediately after the incident, and military personnel were ordered not to talk. A Naval Board of Inquiry was opened the following day. The disaster at West Loch was initially believed to be caused by Japanese submarines. The idea was dismissed due to the shallow depth of the harbor, and the presence of anti-submarine nets.

lst-480_following_west_loch_disaster-640x505
The wreckage of the LST 480 following the West Loch Disaster.

The precise cause of the accident remained elusive, as everyone near the initial explosion was dead. Army stevedores were unloading mortar ammunition at the time, using an elevator just fifteen feet from 80 drums of fuel. Some believe a mortar round was accidentally dropped and exploded. Others contend that fuel vapors were ignited by a cigarette, or welder’s torch.

Subsequent salvage and removal efforts on the West Loch brought up the remains of a Japanese midget submarine, now believed to be the fifth such sub used in the attack from two years prior.

Details of the West Loch disaster would remain classified until 1960, explaining why the incident is so little known about the incident, today.

1000w_q95

Less still is remembered about the men who came to clean up the mess. The last fatality from the disaster at West Loch occurred nine months later during salvage operations, for a sunken LST.

In February 1945, five teams of hardhat divers were brought in to raise these hulks and clear the channel. Working under the mud and the water of West Loch, four teams using jet nozzles successfully cleared tunnels under some of the wrecks, the first stage in refloating the sunken hulls.

Disaster struck as the fifth team labored to clear a tunnel under one sunken LST. We can only imagine the blackness down there in all that swirling mud as divers George Fuller and Earl Brown labored with jet nozzles, to clear the way. Suddenly steel wreckage overhead, caved in. Buried alive with lifelines and air hoses hopelessly tangled in jagged shards of steel, the pair was trapped under 40-feet of water and some 20-feet of muck. 

Other divers attempted t0 reach the pair but only stirred up more mud. A US Department of Defense website page describing the event relates that even a special dive team, declined to take further risk.

There seemed no chance for either man’s survival when fellow Navy diver Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg slipped into the water.

Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg

Owen Hammerberg had nothing to prove when it came to guts, and cold courage. Once stationed aboard the USS Advent Hammerberg dove into the water to free cables, snarled about a live mine. Imagine being down there, so close as to touch a mine powerful enough to blow himself to rags and atoms and sink the ship, on which he was stationed. And yet the man patiently labored until finally freeing the cable, without explosion.

Now working in the swirling mud and pitch blackness beneath the bottom of Pearl Harbor, the diver worked desperately to wash another tunnel under the sunken LST.  After five hours of exhausting labor Hammerberg was able to locate and free the first man, George Fuller. Following later inquiry congressional records state “Fuller, who had been pinned by a steel plate, shook Hammerberg’s hand underwater before heading to the surface for safety”.

Though physically tired Hammerberg labored on to reach Earl Brown, the second trapped diver. Eighteen grueling hours after the rescue began he finally found his man.

I do office work and I’m worn out after an eighteen hour day. What one man experienced after such a span of time down there, we will never know. Suddenly the whole mess caved in and a great piece of steel pinned Owen Hammerberg on top of Earl Brown.

Two days later a Filipino father and son team of divers at last rescued one of them and recovered the dead body, of the other. The cave-in had killed Owen Hammerberg even as his body protected that of the second man.

Navy diver and Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg was the only service member in all of World War 2 and the last man ever to receive the Medal of Honor as the result of heroism performed outside of combat.

Let the man’s Medal of Honor citation tell his story. He didn’t live long enough to read it for himself.

Cmoh_army

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a diver engaged in rescue operations at West Loch, Pearl Harbor, 17 February 1945. Aware of the danger when 2 fellow divers were hopelessly trapped in a cave-in of steel wreckage while tunneling with jet nozzles under an LST sunk in 40 feet of water and 20 feet of mud. Hammerberg unhesitatingly went overboard in a valiant attempt to effect their rescue despite the certain hazard of additional cave-ins and the risk of fouling his lifeline on jagged pieces of steel imbedded in the shifting mud. Washing a passage through the original excavation, he reached the first of the trapped men, freed him from the wreckage and, working desperately in pitch-black darkness, finally effected his release from fouled lines, thereby enabling him to reach the surface. Wearied but undaunted after several hours of arduous labor, Hammerberg resolved to continue his struggle to wash through the oozing submarine, subterranean mud in a determined effort to save the second diver. Venturing still farther under the buried hulk, he held tenaciously to his purpose, reaching a place immediately above the other man just as another cave-in occurred and a heavy piece of steel pinned him crosswise over his shipmate in a position which protected the man beneath from further injury while placing the full brunt of terrific pressure on himself. Although he succumbed in agony 18 hours after he had gone to the aid of his fellow divers, Hammerberg, by his cool judgment, unfaltering professional skill and consistent disregard of all personal danger in the face of tremendous odds, had contributed effectively to the saving of his 2 comrades. His heroic spirit of self-sacrifice throughout enhanced and sustained the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.”

Author’s note: I have searched without success for the names of the Filipino father and son divers who rescued Earl Brown and recovered the body of Owen Hammerberg. Kindly let me know if you find that information. They too have earned the right to be remembered.

Feature image top of page: “Divers are lowered into Bikini Lagoon during an Operation Crossroads survey in July 1947”. Hat tip Naval History and Heritage Command

March 28, 1892 Two-Gun Hart, Prohibition Cowboy

Hart was loved by temperance types and hated by the “wets”, and famous across the state of Nebraska. The Homer Star reported that this hometown hero was “becoming such a menace in the state that his name alone carries terror to the heart of every criminal.”

A boy was born on this day in 1892 in the south of Italy, James Vincenzo, the first son of a barber named Gabriele and his wife, Teresa. A second son named Ralph came along before the small family emigrated to the United States in pursuit, of a better life.

Hart
Silent film cowboy star William S Hart

Gabriele and Teresa would have seven more children in time: Frank and Alphonse followed by Ermina who sadly died in infancy, John, Albert, Matthew and Mafalda.

Most of the brothers followed a life of petty crime but not Vincenzo, the first-born who would often take the ferry to Staten Island to escape the overcrowded mayhem, of the city.

Vincenzo got a job there with help from his father. He was cleaning stables and learning how to care for horses. He even learned to ride and preferred the more “American sounding” part of his name, of “James”.

James newfound love of horses led to a fascination with Buffalo Bill Cody and the “Wild West” shows, popular at this time. At sixteen he left the city for good. James family had no idea where he had gone until a letter, a year later. James was in Kansas he wrote working as a roustabout, with a traveling circus.

This was the age of the silent film, William S. Hart one of the great “cowboy” stars of the era. Hart was larger than life, the six-gun toting cow-punching gunslinger from a bygone era.

The roustabout idolized the silent film star and adopted his mannerisms, complete with low-slung six-shooters, red bandanna and ten-gallon hat. He worked hard to lose his Brooklyn accent and explained his swarthy southern Italian color, saying he was part native American.

James even adopted the silent film star’s name and enlisted in the Army as Richard James Hart claiming to be a farmer, from Indiana. Some stories will tell you that Hart fought in France and rose to the rank of Lieutenant, in the military police. Others will tell you he joined the American Legion after the war only to be thrown out when it was learned, that the whole story was fake.

Be that as it may Vincenzo legally changed his name to Richard James Hart.

Richard Hart stepped off the freight train in 1919, a walking, talking anachronism. He was a 19th century Wild West gunfighter, from his cowboy boots to his embroidered vest to that broad-brimmed Stetson hat. This was Homer Nebraska, a small town of about 500, some seventeen miles from Sioux City Iowa.

Richard James “Two Gun” Hart

He claimed to be a hero of the Great War, personally decorated by General John J. Pershing. Intelligent, ambitious and not afraid of a little hard work, Hart took jobs as paper hanger, house painter, whatever it took.

He was short and powerfully built with the look of a man who carried mixed Indian or Mexican blood, regaling veterans at the local American Legion with tales of his exploits, against the Hun.

The man could fight and he knew how to use those guns, amazing onlookers with feats of marksmanship behind the Legion post.

Any doubts about Hart’s physical courage were put to rest that May when a flash-flood nearly killed the Winch family of neighboring Emerson Nebraska. Hart dashed across the raging flood time after time to bring the family to safety.  Nineteen-year-old Kathleen was so taken with her savior she married the man that Fall, a marriage that later produced four boys.

The small town was enthralled by this new arrival, the town council appointing Hart as Marshall. He was a big fish in a small pond, elected commander of the Legion post and district commissioner for the Boy Scouts of America.

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on January 16 of that year, the Volstead Act passed by the United States Congress over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson on October 29. “Prohibition” was now, the law of the land. It was now illegal to produce, import, transport or sell intoxicating liquor.

Richard-shaking-hand

Richard Hart became a prohibition agent in the Summer of 1920 and went immediately to work, destroying stills and arresting area bootleggers.

Hart was loved by temperance types and hated by the “wets”, famous across the state of Nebraska. The Homer Star reported that this hometown hero was “becoming such a menace in the state that his name alone carries terror to the heart of every criminal.

Officials at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs took note and before long, Hart was performing the more difficult (and dangerous) job of liquor suppression on the reservations.

two-gun-hart-lawman-cowboy-and-longlost-brother-of-al-capone-1-638

Hart brought his chaps and his six-shooters to South Dakota where the Yanktown reservation superintendent reported to his superiors in Washington “I wish to commend Mr. Hart in highest terms for his fearless and untiring efforts to bring these liquor peddlers and moonshiners to justice. …This man Hart is a go-getter.”

Hart became proficient in Lakota and Omaha dialects. Tribal leaders called him “Two Gun”, after the twin revolvers he wore. Some members of the Oglala tribe called him “Soiko”, a name roughly translating as “Big hairy boogey-man”.

By 1927, Two-Guns Hart had achieved such a reputation as to be appointed bodyguard to President Calvin Coolidge, on a trip through the Black Hills of South Dakota.

By 1930, Richard James Hart was so famous a letter addressed only as “Hart” and adorned with a sketch of a brace of pistols, arrived to his attention.

Hart became livestock inspector after repeal of prohibition, and special agent assigned to the Winnebago and Omaha reservations.  He was re-appointed Marshall of his adopted home town but, depression-era Nebraska was tough.  The money was minuscule and the Marshall was caught, stealing cans of food.

181580_max

The relatives of one bootlegging victim from his earlier days tracked him down and beat him so severely with brass knuckles,  the prohibition cowboy lost his sight sight in one eye.

Fellow members of the American Legion had by this time contacted the Army to learn Hart’s WW1 tales, were fake.  Richard James Hart was never in the Army though his namesake Richard Jr. died fighting for the nation, in World War 2.

Turns out that other parts of the lawman’s story were phony, too.  A good story but altogether fake, just like the Italian American actor Espera Oscar de Corti better known character “Iron Eyes Cody” the “crying Indian”, who possessed not a drop of native American blood.  Nor did the mixed native American pretender, Richard James Hart.

CryingIndian

The lawman had left the slums of Brooklyn to become a Prohibition Cowboy while that little brother Alphonse, pursued a life of crime.  Richard James Hart was James Vincenzo Capone, long lost brother of Alphonse “Scarface” Capone.

A Trivial Matter
James Vincenzo Capone’s strange double-life came to the public eye for the first time in 1951, when defense attorneys subpoenaed Richard Hart to testify on behalf of his brother Ralph Capone. Hart faded into anonymity following a rash of newspaper stories, and died within a year at his adopted home town of Homer, the small Nebraska town where he stepped off that freight train, some 33 years earlier.

May 18, 2011 Smoke, the Donkey

The humor of the situation was hard to resist, and the “ass jokes” all but told themselves.  (Sorry, but we’re talking about Marines, here).  Dozens of Marines laughed uproariously in that mess hall in 2009, belting out a mangled version of an old Kenny Rogers song: “Yes, he’s once, twice, three times a donkey…. I loooooove youuuuuuuuu.”

Al Taqaddum Airbase or “TQ” in military parlance is a military airbase, 45 miles west of Baghdad on the Habbaniyah Plateau of Iraq. In 2008, Al Taqaddum was home to the 1st Marine Logistics Group, under the command of Colonel John D. Folsom.

wwfs-colonel-folsom-small

Early one August morning, Colonel Folsom awoke to a new sound. The thwap-thwap-thwap of helicopters, the endless hum of the generators – those were the sounds of everyday life. This sound was different. This was the sound of braying donkey.

Folsom emerged from his quarters to find the small, emaciated animal, tied to a eucalyptus tree.  Standing all of 3′ tall, a sergeant had spotted the donkey roaming outside Camp Taqaddum and thought it would be amusing to catch him.  Folsom thought it might be fun to have one around. Time would tell they were both right.

Smoke visits Sgt Lonnie Forrest
Smoke visits Sgt Lonnie Forrest

The website for a UK donkey sanctuary recommends a diet of highly fibrous plant material, eaten in small quantities throughout the day. I read the list twice and nowhere will you find bagels and yet, for this little Iraqi donkey, there was nothing better.  Preferably frozen.  He’d hold them in his mouth and walk along, scraping the bagel in the dirt before eating it.  He liked to play the same game, with a deflated rubber ball.

You won’t find cigarettes on the list either, but he stole one once, and gobbled it down.  It didn’t seem to matter that the thing was lit.  For that reason and because of the color of his coat Marines called him, “Smoke”.

Smoke-the-donkey-MattShelatoBefore long,  Smoke was a familiar sight around Camp Taqaddum.  After long walks around the wire, Smoke learned to open doors and wander around.  If you ever left a candy dish out on your desk, you were on your own.

Smoke

Regulations prohibit the keeping of pets in a war zone.  A Navy Captain helped get Smoke designated as a therapy animal, and he was home to stay.  As it turned out, there was more than a little truth to the label.  For young women and men thousands of miles from home in a war zone, the little animal was a welcome reminder of home.

The humor of the situation was hard to resist, and the “ass jokes” all but told themselves.  (Sorry, but we’re talking about Marines, here).  Dozens of Marines laughed uproariously in that mess hall in 2009, belting out a mangled version of an old Kenny Rogers song: “Yes, he’s once, twice, three times a donkey…. I loooooove youuuuuuuuu.”

That was the year Folsom’s unit cycled out of Camp Taqaddum, to be replaced by another contingent of Marines.  These promised to look after the 1st MLG’s mascot, but things didn’t work out that way.  A Major gave the donkey away to a Sheikh who in turn dumped him off on an Iraqi family, and that was the end of the story. 

Except, it wasn’t.

Smoke-Home-LowerColonel Folsom couldn’t get the little animal out of his head and, learning of his plight in 2010, determined to get him back.  There were plenty of kids who had survived trauma of all kinds in his home state of Nebraska.  Folsom believed this animal could do them some good, as well.

You can even find his poster if you like, on sale on the internet, for about nineteen bucks

There ensued a months-long wrangle with American and Iraqi authorities, who couldn’t understand why all the fuss over a donkey.  For the family who now owned him, the  neglected, half-starved pack animal out back suddenly became a “beloved pet”.  They couldn’t possible let him go for anything less than $30,000, US.  (But, of course).

900 donors pitched in and, despite seemingly endless obstacles and miles of red tape, Smoke the Donkey slowly made his way from al-Anbar to Kuwait and on to Turkey and finally, to a new home in Nebraska.

smoke-donkey-omaha.600pjpg
Smoke the Marine Corps Donkey, at his new home in Omaha

ABCNews.com broadcast this announcement on May 18, 2011. Smoke the Marine Corps Donkey, “mascot, ambassador, and battle buddy” was now, an American.  Semper Fi, Smoke.

May 17, 1781 Faces of the Founders

To look into the eyes of the men who fought the Revolution is to compress time, to reach back before the age of photography, and look into the eyes of men who saw the birth of a nation.

Imagine for a moment, being able to see the faces of the American Revolution.

Dr Eneas Munson

Not the paintings. Those are nothing out of the ordinary, save for the talent of the artist.  I mean their photographs. Images that make it possible for you to look into their eyes.

In a letter dated May 17, 1781 and addressed to Alexander Scammell, General George Washington outlined his intention to form a light infantry unit, under Scammell’s leadership.

Comprised of Continental Line units from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Milford, the Massachusetts-born Colonel’s unit was among the defensive forces which kept Sir Henry Clinton penned up in New York City, as much of the Continental army made its way south, toward a place called Yorktown.

FOTR, Rev Levi Hayes
Reverend Levi Hayes was a fifer with a Connecticut regiment

Among the men under Scammell’s command was Henry Dearborn, future Secretary of War under President Thomas Jefferson. A teenage medic was also present.  His name was Eneas Munson.

One day that medic would become Doctor Eneas Munson, professor of the Yale Medical School in New Haven Connecticut and President of the Medical Society of that state. 

And a man who would live well into the age of photography.

The American Revolution ended in 1783.  By the first full year of the Civil War, only 12 veterans of the Revolution remained on the pension rolls of a grateful nation.

Two years later, Reverend EB Hillard brought two photographers through New York and New England to visit, and to photograph what were believed to be the last six.  Each was 100 years or older at the time of the interview.

FOTR, Peter Mackintosh
Peter Mackintosh was apprenticed to a Boston blacksmith, the night of the Boston Tea Party

William Hutchings of York County Maine, still part of Massachusetts at the time was captured at the siege of Castine, at the age of fifteen.  British authorities said it was a shame to hold one so young a prisoner, and he was released.

Reverend Daniel Waldo of Syracuse, New York fought under General Israel Putnam, becoming a POW at Horse Neck.

Adam Link of Maryland enlisted at 16 in the frontier service.

Alexander Millener of Quebec was a drummer boy in George Washington’s Life Guard.

Clarendon, New York native Lemuel Cook would live to be one of the oldest veterans of the Revolution, surviving to the age of 107.  He and Alexander Millener witnessed the British surrender, at Yorktown.

FOTR, Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith Fought in the Battle of Long Island on August 29, 1778

Samuel Downing from Newburyport, Massachusetts, enlisted at the age of 16 and served in the Mohawk Valley under General Benedict Arnold.  “Arnold was our fighting general”, he’d say, “and a bloody fellow he was. He didn’t care for nothing, he’d ride right in. It was ‘Come on, boys!’ ’twasn’t ‘Go, boys!’ He was as brave a man as ever lived…He was a stern looking man, but kind to his soldiers. They didn’t treat him right: he ought to have had Burgoyne’s sword. But he ought to have been true. We had true men then, twasn’t as it is now”.

Hillard seems to have missed Daniel F. Bakeman, but with good reason.  Bakeman had been unable to prove his service with his New York regiment.  It wasn’t until 1867 that he finally received his veteran’s pension by special act of Congress.

FOTR, James Head
James Head was only thirteen when he joined the Continental Navy. Head was taken prisoner but later released in Providence, and walked 224 miles home to Warren, Maine.

Daniel Frederick Bakeman would become the Frank Buckles of his generation, the last surviving veteran of the Revolution. The 1874 Commissioner of Pensions report said that “With the death of Daniel Bakeman…April 5, 1869, the last of the pensioned soldiers of the Revolution passed away.  He was 109.

Most historians agree on 1839 as the year in which the earliest daguerreotypes were practically possible.

When Utah based investigative reporter Joe Bauman came across Hillard’s photos in 1976, he believed there must be others. 

Photography had been in existence for 35 years by Reverend Hillard’s time.  What followed was 30 years’ work, first finding and identifying photographs of the right vintage and then digging through muster rolls, pension files, genealogical records and a score of other source documents, to see if each was involved in the Revolution.

FOTR, George Fishley
George Fishley served in the Continental army, and served in the Battle of Monmouth

There were some, but it turned out to be a small group.  Peter Mackintosh for one, was a 16-year-old blacksmith’s apprentice, from Boston.  He was working the night of December 16, 1773, when a group of men ran into the shop scooping up ashes from the hearth and rubbing them on their faces.  It turns out they were going to a Tea Party.

James Head was a thirteen year-old Continental Naval recruit from a remote part of what was then Massachusetts.  Head would be taken prisoner but later released. He walked 224 miles from Providence to his home in what would one day be Warren, Maine.

Head was elected a Massachusetts delegate to the convention called in Boston, to ratify the Constitution.   He would die the wealthiest man in Warren, stone deaf from his service in the Continental Navy.

FOTR, Simeon Hicks
Rehoboth, Massachusetts “Minuteman” Simeon Hicks mobilized after the battles of Lexington and Concord, and help to seal off the British garrison in Boston.

George Fishley served in the Continental army and fought in the Battle of Monmouth, and in General John Sullivan’s campaign against British-allied Indians in New York and Pennsylvania.

Fishley would spend the rest of his days in Portsmouth New Hampshire, where he was known as ‘the last of our cocked hats.”

Daniel Spencer fought with the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons, an elite 120-man unit also known as Sheldon’s Horse after Colonel Elisha Sheldon.  First mustered at Wethersfield, Connecticut, the regiment consisted of four troops from Connecticut, one troop each from Massachusetts and New Jersey, and two companies of light infantry. On August 13 1777, Sheldon’s horse put a unit of Loyalists to flight in the little-known Battle of the Flocky, the first cavalry charge in history, performed on American soil

FOTR, Daniel Spencer
Daniel Spencer fought with the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons, an elite unit of 120 also known as Sheldon’s horse and known for the first cavalry charge, ever carried out on American soil

Bauman’s research uncovered another eight in addition to Hillard’s record, including a shoemaker, two ministers, a tavern-keeper, a settler on the Ohio frontier, a blacksmith and the captain of a coastal vessel, in addition to Dr. Munson.

The experiences of these eight span the distance from the Boston Tea Party to the battles at Monmouth, Quaker Hill, Charleston and Bennington.  Their eyes saw the likes of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton & Henry Knox, the battles of the Revolution and the final surrender, at Yorktown.

Bauman collected the glass plate photos of eight and paper prints of another five along with each man’s story, and published them in an ebook entitled “DON’T TREAD ON ME: Photographs and Life Stories of American Revolutionaries”.

To look into the eyes of such men is to compress time, to reach back before the age of photography, and look into the eyes of men who saw the birth of a nation.

%d bloggers like this: