October 14, 1912 Can’t Stop a Bull Moose

The 9000+-member audience was stunned when Roosevelt announced “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot—but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!”

The first “Progressive” era began as a local movement in the 1890s, largely in response to the corruption of the political machines, and the monopolistic corporate excesses of the “gilded age”.  By the 1920s, Progressivism had come to dominate state and national politics, bringing with it the national income tax, direct election of Senators, and Prohibition, with the 16th, 17th and 18th amendments, respectively.

progressiveGreat believers in the perfectibility of the public sphere, Progressives eschewed old methods as wasteful and inefficient, leaning instead toward the advice of academics and “experts”, looking for that “one best way” to get things done.

Progressive politicians covered both sides of the political aisle, with leaders such as Wisconsin Senator Robert M. La Follette Sr. and Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes on the Republican side, and Woodrow Wilson, and the attorney, politician and orator William Jennings Bryan (he of the famous “Monkey Trial”), on the side of the Democrats.

When Theodore Roosevelt first appeared on the political scene at age 23, there was little to hint at the Progressive he would later become.  “TR” was sworn into office in 1901, following the assassination of President William McKinley.   At 42 he was the youngest man to ever take the oath of office, and possibly the most energetic.

As President, Roosevelt pushed executive power to new heights, attacking “Captains of Industry” with a two-pronged strategy of anti-trust legislation, and regulatory control.  TR was the “Conservation President”, creating the United States Forest Service (USFS) and establishing no fewer than 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments.  All told, Roosevelt protected approximately 230 million acres of public land.

william-howard-taft-nationalRoosevelt retired from politics after two terms to go on African safari, backing William Howard Taft for the Republican nomination.

Taft easily defeated Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan in the 1908 election, but his presidency proved to be a disappointment to the Progressive wing of the party.

The more conservative Taft didn’t take the expansive view of his predecessor.  By 1910, Roosevelt had returned to a public speaking tour against his own hand-picked successor.

The federal government needed to assume a larger role in the lives of every-day Americans, argued Roosevelt, who, despite repeated assurances that he was done with politics, challenged Taft for the 1912 Republican nomination.  When asked if he was up to another campaign season, Roosevelt replied he was ready and felt as “fit as a bull moose”.

The final split came with the June Republican party convention in Chicago, when the party rejected Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” platform, nominating Taft as its standard bearer for re-election.  Roosevelt and his reform-minded supporters broke with the party, forming the “Progressive”, or “Bull Moose” party, as the Democratic convention selected former Princeton University President and New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson, to be its candidate.  This was going to be a three-way race.

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1912 Election

John Flammang Schrank emigrated to America in 1885, at the age of 9.  His parents died a short time after, leaving him to work for an uncle, a tavern keeper in the Kleindeutschland, (“Little Germany”) section of New York.  Schrank’s aunt and uncle left him a sizeable inheritance on their passing, in hopes that he would live a quiet and peaceful life.  Schrank was heartbroken at losing this, his second set of parents.  When his first and only girlfriend Emily Ziegler died in the General Slocum disaster of 1904, John Schrank became unhinged.

He drifted up and down the east coast for several years.  In September 1912, he became obsessed with Theodore Roosevelt.  For three weeks, John Schrank followed the Roosevelt campaign, stalking the candidate across eight states.  On the afternoon of October 14, Roosevelt was in Milwaukee, dining with local dignitaries at the Hotel Gilpatrick, before a planned speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium.  As the former President was getting into his vehicle, he turned to wave to well-wishers. Schrank was four or five feet away when he fired his .38 caliber revolver, hitting the former President in the chest.

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John Flammang Schrank smiles as he’s taken into custoy for the attempted assassination of Theodore Roosevelt

The bullet pierced the fifty folded pages of Roosevelt’s speech and a metal spectacle case, before lodging in his chest.  The former President coughed once into his hand, to see if there was blood.  Seeing none, TR concluded that his lungs were fine, and decided to give the speech.  The 9000+-member audience was stunned when the candidate announced “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot—but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!” Roosevelt spoke for 80 minutes, before going to a Milwaukee hospital for treatment.

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Roosevelt x-ray

Theodore Roosevelt lived the rest of his life with that bullet in his chest.  Six more years. As for John Schrank, he claimed in a letter found on his person, that the ghost of William McKinley had instructed him to avenge his death with the assassination of his former Vice President.  He would live out the rest of his days at the Central State Mental Hospital for the criminally insane, in Waupun, Wisconsin.

Schrank letter

Woodrow Wilson easily defeated his opponents to become the 28th President of the United States, garnering 435 electoral votes to his opponents’ combined total, of 96.

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Fifty pages long and folded in half, Elbert Martin holds the speech that saved TR’s life
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October 12, 1859 American Emperor

Though he was penniless, the “Official Norton Seal of Approval” was good for business. Some restaurants even put out brass plaques, declaring their “Appointment to his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton I of the United States”.

Joshua Abraham Norton was born around 1818, in England.  He lived most of his early life in South Africa, immigrating to the United States in 1849 following an inheritance of $40,000 from his father – equivalent to $1½ million, today.

As a San Francisco businessman, Norton sextupled his fortune to $250,000, then blew it all on a bad Peruvian rice deal.  A lawsuit followed, which the now-formerly wealthy businessman, lost.  Somewhere along the line, Joshua Norton appears to have lost his mind.

Emperor_Joshua_A._Norton_IFor a time, Norton disappeared from the public eye.  In September 1859, he proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States, his Royal Ascension announced to the public in a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Bulletin.   “At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens”, it read, “I, Joshua Norton…declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these United States.” The letter went on to command representatives from all the states to convene in San Francisco, “to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring.”

The edict was signed  NORTON I, Emperor of the United States”

To many of his “subjects”, “Emperor Norton” was a harmless eccentric.  A kook.  Many were pleased to go along with the gag.

On October 12, Emperor Norton abolished the United States Congress, declaring “fraud and corruption prevent a fair and proper expression of the public voice…in consequence of which, we do hereby abolish Congress.”

When Congress failed to disperse, Norton issued a second edict, ordering General Winfield Scott to Washington to rout the rascals. “WHEREAS, a body of men calling themselves the National Congress are now in session in Washington City, in violation of our Imperial edict of the 12th of October last, declaring the said Congress abolished;  WHEREAS, it is necessary for the repose of our Empire that the said decree should be strictly complied with;  NOW, THEREFORE, we do hereby Order and Direct Major-General Scott, the Command-in-Chief of our Armies, immediately upon receipt of this, our Decree, to proceed with a suitable force and clear the Halls of Congress”.

ProclamationBuildThat December, Norton fired Virginia Governor Henry Wise for hanging abolitionist John Brown, appointing then-vice President John C. Breckinridge in his stead.

As America teetered on the brink of Civil War in 1861, Norton abolished the Union altogether and established an absolute monarchy, with himself at the helm.  France invaded Mexico later that year, when Norton added “Protector of Mexico” to his titles.

images (4)Norton wore an elaborate blue uniform with gold epaulettes, carrying a cane or saber and topped off with beaver hat with peacock feather.  By day he “inspected” the streets and public works of San Francisco, by night he would dine in the city’s finest establishments.  No play or musical performance would dare open in the city, without reserved balcony seats for Emperor Norton.

Mark Twain, who lived for a time in Emperor Norton’s San Francisco, patterned the King in Huckleberry Finn, on Joshua Norton.  Among his many proposals, Norton envisioned flying machines, the League of Nations, and the construction of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

Though he was penniless, the “Official Norton Seal of Approval” was good for business. Some restaurants even put out brass plaques, declaring their “Appointment to his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton I of the United States”.

Norton was often accompanied by two stray dogs.  “Bummer” and “Lazarus” became quite the celebrities themselves, and usually dined for free along with the Emperor.

nortonsmIn 1867, police officer Armand Barbier arrested Norton, attempting to have him involuntarily committed to an insane asylum.  The public backlash was so vehement that Police Chief Patrick Crowley ordered Norton’s release and issued a public apology.  The episode ended well, when Emperor Norton magnanimously pardoned the police department.  After that, San Francisco cops saluted Emperor Norton whenever meeting him in the street.

The 1870 census records one Joshua Norton, age 50, occupation, Emperor, along with a note, declaring him to be insane.

Admiring supporters gave aid in the guise of “paying taxes”.  A local printer even printed “Imperial bonds”, emblazoned with Norton’s likeness and official seal.  To this day, Norton’s Notes are highly prized collector’s items.

Norton10dThe San Francisco Board of Supervisors once bought him a new uniform, when the old one got too shabby.  Norton responded with a very nice thank you note, issuing each of them a “Patent of Nobility in Perpetuity”.

On the evening of January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed on a sidewalk and died before help could arrive.  The San Francisco Chronicle published his obituary on the front page, under the headline “Le Roi est Mort” (“The King is Dead”). “On the reeking pavement”, began another obituary, “in the darkness of a moon-less night under the dripping rain…, Norton I, by the grace of God, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, departed this life.”

Emperor Norton’s funeral was attended by 10,000 loyal “subjects”.  His reign had lasted for twenty-one years.

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October 11, 1776 Valcour Island

One day, Benedict Arnold would enter history as a traitor to his country. For now, he had bought his young nation, another year in which to fight.

In the early days of the American Revolution, the 2nd Continental Congress looked north, to the Province of Quebec. The region was lightly defended at the time, and Congress was alarmed at its potential as a British base from which to attack and divide the colonies.

The Continental army’s expedition to Quebec ended in disaster on December 31, as General Benedict Arnold was severely injured with a bullet wound to his left leg.  Major General Richard Montgomery was killed and Colonel Daniel Morgan was captured, along with about 400 fellow patriots.

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Profile of the schooner “Liberty”

Quebec was massively reinforced in the Spring of 1776, with the arrival of 10,000 British and Hessian soldiers. By June, the remnants of the Continental army had been driven south to Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point.

Congress was right about the British intent to split the colonies.  General Sir Guy Carleton, provincial governor of Quebec, set about doing so almost immediately.

Retreating colonials took with them or destroyed almost every boat along the way, capturing and arming four vessels in 1775:  the Liberty, Enterprise, Royal Savage, and Revenge.  Determined to take back the crucial waterway, the British set about disassembling warships along the St. Lawrence, moving them overland to Fort Saint-Jean on the uppermost navigable waters leading to Lake Champlain, the 125-mile long lake dividing upstate New York from Vermont.

There they spent the summer and early fall of 1776, literally building a fleet of warships along the upper reaches of the lake.  120 miles to their south, colonials were doing the same.

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Sawmill at Fort Anne

The Americans had a small fleet of shallow draft bateaux used for lake transport, but needed something larger and heavier to sustain naval combat.

In 1759, British Army Captain Philip Skene founded a settlement on the New York side of Lake Champlain, built around saw mills, grist mills, and an iron foundry.

Today, the former village of Skenesborough is known as “Whitehall”, considered by many to be the birthplace of the United States Navy.  In 1776, Major General Horatio Gates put the American ship building operation into motion on the banks of Skenesborough Harbor.

Hermanus Schuyler oversaw the effort, while military engineer Jeduthan Baldwin was in charge of outfitting. Gates asked General Benedict Arnold, an experienced ship’s captain, to spearhead the effort, explaining “I am intirely uninform’d as to Marine Affairs”.

200 carpenters and shipwrights were recruited to the wilderness of upstate New York. So inhospitable was this duty that workmen were paid more than anyone else in the Navy, with the sole exception of Commodore Esek Hopkins. Meanwhile, foraging parties scoured the countryside looking for guns, knowing that there was going to be a fight on Lake Champlain.

It is not widely known, that the American Revolution was fought in the midst of a smallpox pandemic. General George Washington was an early proponent of vaccination, an untold benefit to the American war effort.  Nevertheless, a fever broke out among the shipbuilders of Skenesborough, that almost brought their work to a halt.

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Lake Champlain:  Garden island (right), Valcour Island (left)

It was a hastily built and in some cases incomplete fleet that slipped into the water in the summer and autumn of 1776.  In just over two months, the American shipbuilding effort produced eight 54′ gondolas (gunboats), and four 72′  galleys.  Upon completion, each hull was rowed to Fort Ticonderoga, where it was fitted with masts, rigging, guns, and supplies. By October 1776, the American fleet numbered 16 vessels, determined to stop the British fleet heading south.

As the two sides closed in the early days of October, General Arnold knew he was at a disadvantage.  The element of surprise was going to be critical.  Arnold chose a small strait to the west of Valcour Island, where he was hidden from the main part of the lake. There he drew his small fleet into a crescent formation, and waited.

Carleton’s fleet, commanded by Captain Thomas Pringle, entered the northern end of Lake Champlain on October 9.

Valcour 2Sailing south on the 11th under favorable winds, some of the British ships had already passed the American position behind Valcour island, before realizing they were there. Some of the British warships were able to turn and give battle, but the largest ones were unable to turn into the wind.

Fighting continued for several hours until dark, and both sides did some damage.  On the American side, Royal Savage ran aground and burned. The gondola Philadelphia was sunk. On the British side, one gunboat blew up. The two sides lost about 60 men, each.  In the end, the larger ships and the more experienced seamanship of the English, made it an uneven fight.

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Only a third of the British fleet was engaged that day, but the battle went badly for the Patriot side. That night, the battered remnants of the American fleet slipped through a gap in the lines, limping down the lake on muffled oars. British commanders were surprised to find them gone the next morning, and gave chase.

One vessel after another was overtaken and destroyed on the 12th, or else, too damaged to go on, was abandoned.  The cutter Lee was run aground by its crew, who then escaped through the woods.  Four of sixteen American vessels escaped north to Ticonderoga, only to be captured or destroyed by British forces, the following year.

Valcour 1On the third day, the last four gunboats and Benedict Arnold’s flagship Congress were run aground in Ferris Bay on the Vermont side, following a 2½-hour running gun battle.  Today, the small harbor is called Arnold’s Bay.

200 escaped to shore, the last of whom was Benedict Arnold himself, personally torching his own flagship before leaving it for the last time, flag still flying.

The British would retain control of Lake Champlain, through the end of the war.

The American fleet never had a chance and everyone knew it.  Yet it had been able to inflict enough damage at a point late enough in the year, that Carlton’s fleet was left with no choice but to return north for the winter. One day, Benedict Arnold would enter history as a traitor to his country.  For now, the General had bought his young nation, another year in which to fight.

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A 1905 postcard displays the remains of Benedict Arnold’s flagship, the “Congress”.

October 7, 1777 A Hero with No Name

Burgoyne had no choice but to capitulate, surrendering his entire force on the 17th of October, a devastating defeat for the British cause which finally brought France in on the side of the Americans.  The American Army had gone toe to toe with the most powerful military on the planet, and it was still standing.

Three hours from the upstate New York village of Sleepy Hollow, in the woods of Schuylerville, there stands the statue of a leg.  A boot, actually, a man’s riding boot, along with an epaulet and a cannon barrel pointing down, denoting the death of a General.  It seems the loneliest place on earth out there in the woods, with nothing but a footpath worn into the forest floor to lead you there.

It was October 7, 1777, the last day of the Battle of Saratoga.  General Horatio Gates was in overall command of American forces, a position which greatly exceeded his capabilities.  Gates was cautious to the point of timidity, generally believing his men to be better off behind prepared fortifications, than taking the offensive.

Benedict Arnold
General Benedict Arnold

Gates’ subordinate, General Benedict Arnold, could not have been more different.  Arnold was imaginative and daring, a risk taker possessed of physical courage bordering on recklessness.  The pair had been personal friends at one time.  By this time the two were often at odds.

British General John “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne led a joint land and water invasion of 7,000 British and Hessian troops south along the New York side of Lake Champlain, down the Hudson River valley.

It had started out well for him with the bloodless capture of Fort Ticonderoga, but Burgoyne ran into a buzz saw outside of Bennington, Vermont, losing almost 1,000 men to General John Stark’s New Hampshire rebels and a militia unit headed by Ethan Allen, calling itself the “Green Mountain Boys”.

Burgoyne intended to continue south to Albany, linking up with forces under Sir William Howe and cutting the colonies in half.  The 10,000 or so Colonial troops situated on the high ground near Saratoga, New York, were all that stood in his way.

Burgoyne's Route to SaratogaAmerican forces selected a site called Bemis Heights, about 10 miles south of Saratoga, spending a week constructing defensive works with the help of Polish engineer Thaddeus Kosciusko.  It was a formidable position:  mutually supporting cannon on overlapping ridges, with interlocking fields of fire.  Burgoyne knew he had no choice but to stop and give battle at the American position, or be chopped to pieces trying to bypass it.

The Battle of Freeman’s Farm, the first of two battles for Saratoga, occurred on September 19.  Technically a Patriot defeat in that the British held the ground at the end of the day, it was a costly victory.  English casualties were almost two to one.  Worse, the British column was out at the end of a long and tenuous supply line, while fresh men and supplies continued to move into the American position.

Freeman’s Farm could have been a lot worse for the Patriot cause, but for Benedict Arnold’s anticipating British moves, and taking steps to block them in advance.

The personal animosity between Gates and Arnold boiled over in the days that followed.  Gates’ report to Congress made no mention of Arnold’s contributions at Freeman’s Farm, though field commanders and the men involved with the day’s fighting unanimously crediting Arnold for the day’s successes.  A shouting match between Gates and Arnold resulted in the latter being relieved of command, and replaced by General Benjamin Lincoln.

Saratoga ReenactmentThe second and decisive battle for Saratoga, the Battle of Bemis Heights, occurred on October 7, 1777.

Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich Christoph Breymann’s Hessian grenadier regiment formed the right anchor of Burgoyne’s line, manning a wooden fortification some 250′ wide by 7′ high.  It was a strategically important position, with nothing between itself and the regiment’s main camp to the rear.

Even though relieved of command, Benedict Arnold was on the field, directing the battle on the American right.  As the Hessian position began to collapse, General Arnold left his troops facing Balcarre’s Redoubt on the right, riding between the fire of both armies and joining the final attack on the rear of the German post.  Arnold was shot in the left leg during the final moments of the action, shattering the same leg that had barely healed after the same injury at the Battle of Quebec City, almost two years earlier.

It would have been better in the chest, he said, than to have received such a wound in that leg.

Burgoyne had no choice but to capitulate, surrendering his entire force on the 17th of October.  It was a devastating defeat for the British cause, which finally brought France in on the American side.  A colonial Army had gone toe to toe with the most powerful military on the planet, and was still standing.

A British officer described the battle:  “The courage and obstinacy with which the Americans fought were the astonishment of everyone, and we now became fully convinced that they are not that contemptible enemy we had hitherto imagined them, incapable of standing a regular engagement, and that they would only fight behind strong and powerful works.”

Three years later, Benedict Arnold betrayed the American fortifications at West Point to John André.  The name of one of our top Revolution-era warriors, a General whom one of his own soldiers later described as “the very genius of war,” became that of Traitor.

One of Arnold’s contemporaries commented that, if the Patriots ever caught him they would hang him, and then they would bury his leg with full military honors.

Saratoga Arnold Monument

So it is that there is a statue of a leg in the forest south of Saratoga, dedicated to a Hero of the Revolution who has no name.  On the back of the monument are inscribed these words:

“In memory of

the most brilliant soldier of the

Continental Army

who was desperately wounded

on this spot the sally port of

BURGOYNES GREAT WESTERN REDOUBT

7th October, 1777

winning for his countrymen

the decisive battle of the

American Revolution

and for himself the rank of

Major General.”

Saratoga ObeliskToday, the Saratoga battlefield and the site of Burgoyne’s surrender are preserved as the Saratoga National Historical Park.  On the grounds of the park stands an obelisk, containing four niches.

Three of them hold statues of American heroes of the Battle.  There is one for General Horatio Gates, one for General Philip John Schuyler and another for Colonel Daniel Morgan.

The fourth niche, where Benedict Arnold’s statue would have gone, remains empty, to this day.

October 4, 1918 The Lost Battalion

“WE ARE ALONG THE ROAD PARALELL 276.4. OUR ARTILLERY IS DROPPING A BARRAGE DIRECTLY ON US. FOR HEAVENS SAKE STOP IT”.

The Argonne Forest is a long strip of wild woodland and stony mountainside in northeastern France, a hunting preserve since the earliest days of the Bourbon Kings.  For most of WWI, the Argonne remained behind German lines.  On October 2, 1918, nine companies of the US 77th “Metropolitan Division”, roughly 554 men, came to take part of it back.

Lieutenant Colonel CW Whittlesey
Lieutenant Colonel CW Whittlesey

Their objective was the Charlevaux ravine and a road & railroad on the other side, cutting off German communications in the sector.

As heavy fighting drew to a close on the first day, the men found a way up hill 198 and began to dig in for the night.   Major Charles White Whittlesey, commanding, thought that things were too quiet that first night.  Orders called for them to be supported by two American units on their right and a French force on their left.

That night, the voices drifting in from the darkness, were speaking German.

The 77th had come up against a heavily defended double trench line and, unknown at the time, allied forces to the left and right had been cut off and stalled. Now they were alone, and surrounded.

The fighting was near constant on the fourth, with no chance of getting a runner through.   Whittlesey dispatched a message by carrier pigeon, “Many wounded. We cannot evacuate.”

The last thing that German forces wanted was for an enemy messenger to get through, and the bird went down in a hail of German bullets.  Whittlesey grabbed another pigeon and wrote “Men are suffering.  Can support be sent?”.  That second bird would be shot down as well.

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Cher Ami

On day three, the “lost battalion” came under fire from its own artillery.  Whittlesey grabbed his third and last carrier pigeon, “Cher Ami”, and frantically wrote out his message.

German gunfire exploded from the high ridges above them as this bird, too, fluttered to the ground.  Soon she was up again, flying out of sight despite the hail of bullets.  She arrived in her coop 65 minutes later, shot through the breast and blind in one eye.  The message, hanging by a single tendon from a leg all but shot off, read:  “WE ARE ALONG THE ROAD PARALELL 276.4. OUR ARTILLERY IS DROPPING A BARRAGE DIRECTLY ON US. FOR HEAVENS SAKE STOP IT“.

Drops of food and supplies were attempted from the air, but all ended up in German hands.

lost battalion, map

The lost battalion was isolated for 6 days. Food and ammunition were running out.  Water was available from a nearby stream, but only at the cost of exposure to German fire.  Bandages had to be removed from the dead in order to treat the wounded. Medicine was completely out and men were falling ill.  All the while, they were fighting off German attacks from all sides.

When they were finally relieved on the 8th, only 194 were able to walk out on their own.

Edward Grant attended Dean Academy in his home town of Franklin, Massachusetts, before graduating from Harvard University.  “Harvard” Eddie Grant became a Major League ballplayer, playing utility infielder for the Cleveland Indians as early as 1905.  Grant would aggravate his fellow infielders, calling the ball with the grammatically correct “I have it”, instead of the customary “I got it”.  Grant played for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds, before retiring from the New York Giants and opening a Law Office in Boston. He was one of the first men to enlist when the US entered WWI in 1917, becoming a Captain in the 77th Infantry Division, A.E.F.

Captain Grant was killed leading a search for the Lost Battalion on October 5, becoming the first major league baseball player to die in the Great War.

Captain Eddie Grant
Third Baseman-turned soldier, Captain Edward Leslie Grant, the 1st Major League ball player killed in WW1

Eddie Grant was honored on Memorial Day, 1921, as representatives of the US Armed Forces and Major League Baseball joined his sisters to unveil a plaque in center field at the Polo Grounds. From that day until the park closed in 1957, a wreath was solemnly placed at the foot of that plaque after the first game of every double header.  He is memorialized by the Edward L. Grant Highway in The Bronx, and by Grant Field at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts.

Cmoh_armyMajor Whittlesey, Captain George McMurtry, and Captain Nelson Holderman, all received the Medal of Honor for their actions atop hill 198.  Whittlesey was accorded the rare honor of being a pallbearer at the interment ceremony for the Unknown Soldier, but it seems his experience weighed heavily on him.  Charles Whittlesey disappeared from a ship in 1921, in what is believed to have been a suicide.

James Leak described his experience with the Lost Battalion, at an Abilene Christian College gathering in 1938.  “[T]he “Lost Battalion””, he said, is entirely a misnomer…it was not “Lost”. We knew exactly where we were”, he said, “and went to the exact position to which we had been ordered”.

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Monument to the Lost Battalion, Argonne Forest, France.

September 30, 2013 Living Memorial

The final resting place of over 400,000 honored dead is a living memorial, combining tens of thousands of native and exotic plants in a unique blending of landscapes, combined with formal and informal gardens. More than 8,600 native and exotic trees representing 325 varieties and species fill the landscape with color.

Think for a moment of an empty and lifeless stone mausoleum, and then forget it.  That’s not what it’s like, at Arlington.

80 to 100 military service members, veterans and their loved ones go to their final rest in Arlington National Cemetery, every week.  Not one of them goes alone. Since 1948, a volunteer with the “Arlington Ladies” attends each and every one of them, 365 days a year, seven days a week.

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The final resting place of over 400,000 honored dead is a living memorial, combining tens of thousands of native and exotic plants in a unique blending of landscapes, combined with formal and informal gardens. More than 8,600 native and exotic trees representing 325 varieties and species fill the landscape with color.  The first and last impression of the visitor is that of beauty and a sense of peace.

Three of these trees are Virginia state champions and one is state co-champion, including the Royal Paulownia, below.  State champion trees are those having the greatest height, crown spread and trunk circumference, for their species.

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Royal Paulownia at Arlington Cemetery Photo © 2015 by Greg Zell

Take a single species of tree, for instance, the eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), of which 165 specimens live at Arlington. Each tree stands 10′ to 30′ tall, with pink and purple flowers emerging directly from bark and branches in early April. Five-inch wide, heart shaped leaves emerge later in the spring. At first a glossy purple, by summer they have turned to green and pods have begun to grow.  Like pea pods, they grow green to reddish during the early months, later turning to black before falling off. In late winter, there is no more striking contrast with a fresh fall of snow.

The cemetery also has 24 Chinese Redbuds, a strain native to central China. These are only two of Arlington’s hundreds of varieties of flowering trees.

About 200 trees are removed every year, and 240 planted.  Every tree in the place will be pruned at least once, every four years.

Arlington in snow

Bring your walking shoes, and you’ll have to leave your pooch, behind.  In 2013, cemetery authorities permitted bicycles on a specified route between 8:00 a.m. and 6:45 p.m., from April 1 to September 30.  Today, be prepared to walk. Effective October 26, 2016, policy prohibits bicycles on Cemetery grounds, without a family pass.  “As there are no bike paths on the cemetery grounds, mixing cyclists with pedestrians and vehicles creates a safety hazard”.images (2)

The Cemetery’s horticulture division recently installed 297 tree labels, identifying many of the cemetery’s noteworthy specimens. 36 of them form a right angle along Farragut & Wilson Drive, lending a sense of history as each is a direct descendant of a famous ancestor, each a living memorial to recipients of the Medal of Honor.

Ancestors of these “tree descendants” include the Cottonwood of Delta Colorado, which shaded the peace meetings between settlers and Ute tribes in 1879. The Sweetgum of the Westmoreland, Virginia home of four generations of the Lee family, including Richard Henry and Francis “Lightfoot” Lee.  The only brothers to have signed the Declaration of Independence. The great Charter Oak of Connecticut is represented there, a specimen sprouted sometime in the 12th or 13th century. There is the American Sycamore descended from a “witness tree” at Gettysburg. There is the Red Maple from Walden Woods, outside of Boston, and the Sycamore Maple, witness to George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware.

Picture2Other tree ancestors include the Water Oak next to the Brown Chapel African Methodist Church in Selma, where Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “We Shall Overcome” speech, before setting out on the 50-mile march to Montgomery.  The George Washington American Holly was grown from seeds gathered at Mount Vernon. Helen Keller climbed the 100-year-old Water Oak, as a child.  The Overcup Oak descends from a tree which shaded the birthplace of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

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“The 17th Airborne Division donated the Japanese Zelkova tree shown at the right. It is located in Section 33”. – http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Memorial-Arboretum-and-Horticulture/Trees/Memorial-Trees

For years, the 624-acre grounds at Arlington have been a living memorial.  Some of the most beautiful gardens you are ever going to see, the work is performed by a full-time staff of only three Master Gardeners, and an army of contractors. In 2013, the cemetery received official accreditation as a level II arboretum by the Morton Register of Arboreta. A living memorial taking its place on the nation’s most comprehensive list of arboreta and public gardens, designated the Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Arboretum.

 

This “Today in History” is dedicated to my paternal grandfather, Norman Francis Long, United States Army, who left us the night his namesake, my brother, came into the world.  December 18, 1963.  It was too soon.  Arlington National Cemetery – Section 41, plot #2161Norman Francis Long

September 29, 1780 John André

In an age before radio or television, John André was an interesting guy to be around. He was a gifted story teller with a great sense of humor. He could draw, paint and cut silhouettes. He was an excellent writer, he could sing, and he could write verse.   John André was a spy.

In an age before radio or television, John André was an interesting guy to be around. He was a gifted story teller with a great sense of humor. He could draw, paint and cut silhouettes. He was an excellent writer, he could sing, and he could write verse.  André was a British Major at the time of the American Revolution, taking part in his army’s occupations of Philadelphia and New York.

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Adjutant General John André

John André was a spy.

Major André was a favorite of Colonial-era Loyalist society. For a time, André dated Peggy Shippen, the daughter of a prominent Philadelphia loyalist. She married an important Patriot General in 1779, a relationship which provided the connection between the British spy and a man who could have gone into history as one of the top tier of our founding fathers.

Had he not turned his coat.  Peggy Shippen’s husband was Benedict Arnold.

Arnold was Commandant of West Point at the time, the future location of one of our great military academies. At the time, West Point was a strategic fortification on high ground, overlooking the Hudson River. The British capture of West Point would have split the colonies in half.

John André struck a bargain with Benedict Arnold that would turn a Hero of the Revolution into a name synonymous with “Traitor”.  General Arnold would receive £20,000, over a million dollars today, in exchange for which he would give up West Point.

Benedict Arnold
General Benedict Arnold

André sailed up the Hudson River in the Sloop of War HMS Vulture on September 20, 1780. Dressed in civilian clothes, Major André was returning to his own lines on the 23rd, six papers written in Arnold’s hand hidden in his sock. André was stopped by three Patriot Militiamen; John Paulding, David Williams and Isaac Van Wart. One of them was wearing a Hessian overcoat, and André thought they were Tories. “Gentlemen”, he said, “I hope you belong to our party”. “What party”, came the reply, and André said “The lower (British) party”. “We do”, they said, to which André replied that he was a British officer and must not be detained. That was as far as he went.

The discovery of those papers brought Benedict Arnold’s treachery to light. Arnold immediately fled on hearing of André’s arrest, even as George Washington was headed to his place for a meeting over breakfast.

John André was tried and sentenced to death as a spy, and jailed on September 29. He asked if he could write a letter to General Washington.  In it he asked not that his life be spared, but that he be executed by firing squad, considered to be a more “gentlemanly” death than hanging.

Peggy-Shippen
Peggy Shippen

General Washington thought that Arnold’s crimes were far more egregious than those of André, and he was impressed with the man’s bravery.  Washington wrote to General Sir Henry Clinton, asking for an exchange of prisoners.

Having received no reply by October 2, Washington wrote in his General Order of the day, “That Major André General to the British Army ought to be considered as a spy from the Enemy and that agreeable to the law and usage of nations it is their opinion he ought to suffer death. The Commander in Chief directs the execution of the above sentence in the usual way this afternoon at five o’clock precisely.”

John André was executed by hanging in Tappan, New York, on October 2, 1780. He was 31.
Andre Postcard

John André had lived in Benjamin Franklin’s house during his nine month stay in Philadelphia, while the British army occupied the city. As they were packing to leave, a Swiss-born citizen named Pierre Du Simitiere came to say goodbye. He was shocked to find a Gentleman such as André looting the Franklin residence. The man had always been known for extravagant courtesy, and this was completely out of character. He was packing books, musical instruments, scientific apparatus, and an oil portrait of Franklin, offering no explanation or response to Du Simitiere’s protests.

Long afterward, in the early 20th century, the descendants of Major-General Lord Charles Grey returned the painting to the United States, indicating that André had probably looted Franklin’s home under orders from the General himself. A Gentleman always, it would explain the man’s inability to defend his own actions. Today, the oil portrait of Benjamin Franklin hangs in the White House.

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Benjamin Franklin, Oil on canvas, by David Martin, 49″ x 40″