September 27, 1943 A Sweet, Sad Story

World War 2-era reporter Ernie Pyle lamented “The daily record for forty-four years, one of the most legendary figures of the Seven Seas, kept in her own hand, gone up in smoke in two minutes”.

Following the War of 1812, President James Madison ordered a series of coastal fortifications to be built, to protect the young nation from foreign invasion. Fort Pulaski, located on Cockspur Island between Savannah and Tybee Island, Georgia, is one of them.

Florence Margaret Martus was born there in 1868 where her father was an ordnance sergeant. She spent her childhood on the south channel of the Savannah River, at 17 moving in with her brother, keeper of the Cockspur Island Lighthouse.

cockspur

Sometime around 1887 while still a young girl, Florence began waving at ships passing by. By night she’d use a lantern and a white handkerchief, by day.

It started with friends, working the river.  Harbor masters, bar pilots and tugboat captains.  Before long, “the waving girl” and her collie were familiar figures, greeting every ship that came or left the port of Savannah.  Sailors would look for her and salute in return. Vessels would blow their horns, but few ever met her in person.

The Waving Girl Statue
The Waving Girl Statue

Legends grew up around her. She had fallen in love with a sailor. She wanted him to find her when he returned buy he’d been lost at sea.

The sweet, sad truth was less dramatic than that. Florence later said, “That’s a nice story. But what got me started – I was young and it was sort of lonely on the island for a girl. At first I would run out to wave at my friends passing, and I was so tickled when they blew the whistle back at me“.

And so, Miss Martus would take out her handkerchief by day or light her lantern by night, and she would greet every vessel that came or went from the Port of Savannah.  Every one of them.  Some 50,000, over 44 years.

Florence Martus
Florence Margaret Martus

In 1893, Martus and her brother braved hurricane conditions, rowing out to save several men from a sinking boat.

She waved an American flag at the troop ship St. Mihiel after WWI, on its return to Savannah carrying the United States Army of the Rhine.

“The Waving Girl” had taken it upon herself to greet every single ship entering or leaving the Port of Savannah, from a young girl until her old age.

She stopped only when she was forced to do so when her brother, then 70, had to leave his lighthouse job and the home that went with it.

All that time she kept a careful record of every ship:  name, date, where it was from and the type of vessel.  It must have broken her heart to move because she burned the entire record, one night.  44-years’ worth. World War 2-era reporter Ernie Pyle lamented “The daily record for forty-four years, one of the most legendary figures of the Seven Seas, kept in her own hand, gone up in smoke in two minutes”.

Martus never reconciled herself to the move, saying, “It’s just like trying to dig up that big oak tree and get it to take root someplace else.”

The artist Felix de Weldon, who sculpted the United States Marine Corps Memorial outside Arlington National Cemetery erected a statue of the Waving Girl and her collie. You can see it in Morrell Park, on the west bank of the Savannah River.

1200px-The_Marine_Corps_War_Memorial_in_Arlington,_Va.,_can_be_seen_prior_to_the_Sunset_Parade_June_4,_2013_130604-M-MM982-036

Florence Martus passed away on February 8, 1943, following a brief bout with bronchial pneumonia.  One of many Liberty ships built in Savannah during World War II, was named in her honor. The SS Florence Martus was officially christened seven months later, September 27, 1943.

FlorenceMartusTheWavingGirl

September 25, 2022 Gold Star Mothers and Families

If you see a Gold Star Banner this weekend or someone wearing a Gold Star Pin, don’t pass by. Say hello. Ask for the name of the daughter or the son who gave their all in the defense of this nation. And then say it. Say their name out loud. For they may be gone but they are never truly dead. Until we have forgotten their names.

Suppose you were to stop 100 randomly selected individuals and ask them:  

Of all the conflicts in American military history, which single battle accounts for the greatest loss of life“.  

I suppose you’d get a few Gettysburgs in there, and maybe an Antietam or two.  The Battle of the Bulge would come up and there’s bound to be a Tarawa or an Iwo Jima.  Maybe a Normandy.  I wonder how many would answer, Meuse-Argonne.

80th-Div-No3

The United States arrived late to the Great War, entering the conflict in April 1917 when President Woodrow Wilson asked permission of the Congress, for a “War to end all wars”.  American troop levels “over there” remained small throughout the rest of 1917, as the formerly neutral nation of  fifty million ramped up to a war footing.

US_Marines_during_the_Meuse-Argonne_Campaign
US Marines during Meuse-Argonne offensive of 1918

The trickle turned to a flood in 1918, as French ports were expanded to handle their numbers.  The American Merchant Marine was insufficient to handle the influx and received help from French and British vessels.  By August, every one of what was then forty-eight states had sent armed forces, amounting to nearly 1½ million American troops in France.

After four years of unrelenting war, French and British manpower was staggered, the two economies, nearing collapse.  Imperial Russia DID collapse dissolving into not one but two revolutions, freeing tens of thousands of German troops from the east, to the western front.  The American Expeditionary Force was arriving none too soon.

Gun crew , 1918
“Gun crew from Regimental Headquarters Company, 23rd Infantry, firing 37mm gun during an advance against German entrenched positions. , 1918”, H/T Wikipedia

Following successful allied offensives at Amiens and Albert, Allied Supreme Commander Ferdinand Foch ordered General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing to take overall command of an offensive, intended to cut off the German 2nd Army. Some 400,000 troops were moved into the Verdun sector of northeastern France.  It was to be the largest AEF operation of World War I. With a half-hour to go before midnight on September 25, 2,700 guns opened up in a six hour bombardment against German positions in the Argonne Forest, along the Meuse River.

Montfaucon American Monument, World War I, France
Butte de Montfaucon, today

Some 10,000 German troops were killed or incapacitated by mustard and phosgene gas another 30,000 plus, taken prisoner.  The Allied offensive advanced six miles into enemy territory, but bogged down in the wild woodlands and stony mountainsides of the Argonne Forest.

dc582ea834d6854175ae8bb8b2a316b1
Meuse-Argonne American cemetery near Romagne, in France

The Allied drive broke down on German strong points like the hilltop monastery at Montfaucon and others, and fortified positions of the German “defense in depth”.

Pershing called off the Meuse-Argonne offensive on September 30, as supplies and reinforcements backed up in what can only be termed the Mother of All Traffic Jams.

MeuseArgonneTraffic

Fighting resumed four days later resulting in some of the most famous episodes of WW1 including the “Lost Battalion” of Major Charles White Whittlesey, and the single-handed capture of 132 prisoners by Corporal (later Sergeant), Alvin York.

The Meuse-Argonne offensive would last forty-seven days, resulting in the death of 26,277 American troops.  More than any other battle in American military history.  Another 95,786 were seriously wounded.

20150618_wp_meuseargonne_ABMC_0146
Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, outside of Romagne, France

Grace Darling Siebold was prominent in Republican political circles, a personal friend to the wife of the future president, Calvin Coolidge. Grace’s son George was a 23-year-old realtor when the United States entered the war in April, 1917. Mother and son alike were enthusiastic supporters of the war effort. George enlisted to serve during the first few days.

George Siebold found civilian life, dull. Life in military aviation was anything but. Only the daring flew the rickety, unreliable aircraft of World War 1. It was said you knew the pilots not by the goggles and scarves they wore but rather the slings and the crutches. George got his wish. He would train outside of Toronto to fly for the Royal Flying Corps out of British Canada. He married his sweetheart Kathryn and shipped, out the following day.

gold-star-mothers-monument-at-the-putnam-county-veteran-memorial-park-james-connor
Gold Star Mother’s Monument At The Putnam County (NY) Veteran Memorial Park, photograph by James Connor

George sent frequent letters home to his newlywed wife Kathryn and to his mother, Grace. Grace focused on volunteer efforts visiting the wounded in hospital and helping to found American War Mothers forming a mutual support network and organizing hospital visits. George sailed the North Atlantic in January 1918, writing home how the troop ship in front of his took a torpedo, and sank. Once in France he joined the 148th aero squadron, a unit of American flyers serving under British officers. He wrote letters every week, with tales dogfights, crashed enemy aircraft and even a citation he received from the British government, for distinguished service.

Then in September, the letters stopped. A week went by and then a second, and a third. Grace searched the hospital wards for her son and finally reached out to the War Department. She was told the government didn’t “keep tabs” on those under British command.

There’s a story that Grace Siebold received a box on Christmas eve. The label read “Effects of deceased officer 1st Lieutenant George Vaughn Siebold, attached to the 148th Aero Squadron, British Royal Flying Corps”. The story isn’t entirely true the box arrived in October. Two weeks later, the war was over.

“Grief” she later explained “if self-contained, is self-destructive.” Grace continued to work with wounded veterans and reached out to other mothers of the fallen, providing consolation and the opportunity to take up the cause, just as Grace herself had done.

With two sons “over there” US Army Captain Robert L. Queissner created what is now called the “service flag” depicting a blue star, for every family member in the military during times of hostilities . If that service member was killed the blue star was replaced, with a gold star.

President Woodrow Wilson is believed to have coined the term, “Gold Star Mother”. In May of that year, Wilson approved a suggestion from the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defenses, that such women wear black bands on the left arm bearing a gilt star for every family member who had given his life, on behalf of the nation.

A friend who lost her son Mark in Fallujah, calls it that most exclusive of clubs, no one ever wanted to join.

GoldStar1

Founded by Grace Siebold, American Gold Star Mothers Inc was established in 1929. In 1936, a joint resolution of congress designated the last Sunday in September Gold Star Mothers Day. President Franklin Roosevelt noted that “the American mother is the greatest source of the country’s strength and inspiration.” “We honor ourselves and the mothers of America” he said, “when we revere and give emphasis to the home as the fountainhead of the state.”

Today, Title 36 § 111 of the United States Code provides that the last Sunday in September be observed as Gold Star Mother’s Day, requesting that the president “issue a proclamation calling on United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings, and the people of the United States to display the flag and hold appropriate meetings at homes, churches, or other suitable places, on Gold Star Mother’s Day as a public expression of the love, sorrow, and reverence of the people for Gold Star Mothers”.

“Gold Star Mothers, who suffered the loss of a son or daughter killed while serving in the military, joined thousands at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., for a Veterans Day ceremony and the 15th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, Nov. 11, 2008. DoD photo by Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carde”

April 5 is set aside as Gold Star Spouse’s Day.

Recently, Presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joseph Biden have signed such proclamations. President Obama expanded the occasion to Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day.

At first a distinction reserved only for those mothers who had lost sons and daughters in WW1, that now includes a long list of conflicts, fought over the last 100 years.  Today there are some 470,000 gold star families in this nation, of some 320 million. They are so few who pick up this heaviest of tabs, on behalf of the rest of us.

So, if you see a Gold Star Banner this weekend or someone wearing a Gold Star Pin, don’t pass by. Say hello. Ask for the name of the daughter or the son who gave their all in the defense of this nation. And then say it. Say their name out loud. For they may be gone but they are never truly dead. Until we forget their names.

September 22, 1776 One Life to Lose

The young and unseasoned Patriot-turned spy placed his trust, where it did not belong. It would prove to be a fatal decision.

From the earliest days of the American war for independence, the nine Hale brothers of Coventry Connecticut fought on the Patriot side.  Five of them helped to fight the battles at Lexington and Concord.  The youngest and most famous brother was home in New London at the time, finishing the terms of a teaching contract.

Nathan Hale’s unit participated in the siege of Boston. Hale himself joined George Washington’s army in the spring of 1776, as the army moved to Long Island to block the British move on the strategically important port city of New York.

General Howe appeared at Staten Island on June 29 with a fleet of 45 ships.  By the end of the week he’d assembled an overwhelming fleet of 130.

There was an attempt at peaceful negotiation on July 13, when General Howe sent a letter to General Washington under flag of truce. The letter was addressed “George Washington, Esq.”, intentionally omitting Washington’s rank of General. Washington declined to receive the letter, responding there was no one there by that address. Howe tried the letter again on the 16th, this time addressing it to “George Washington, Esq., etc., etc.”.  Again, Howe’s letter was refused.

British Landing
British Landing on Long island

The next day, General Howe sent Captain Nisbet Balfour in person, to ask if Washington would meet with Howe’s adjutant, Colonel James Patterson.  A meeting was scheduled for the 20th.

Patterson told Washington that General Howe had come with powers to grant pardons.  Washington refused. “Those who have committed no fault” he said, “want no pardon”.

Patriot forces were comprehensively defeated at the Battle of Brooklyn, fought on August 27, 1776. With the Royal Navy in command on the water, Howe’s army dug in for a siege, confident the adversary was trapped and waiting to be destroyed at their convenience.

Retreat-from-LI
British retreat from Long Island

On the night of August 29-30, Washington withdrew his army to the ferry landing and across the East River, to Manhattan.

With horse’s hooves and wagon wheels muffled, oarlocks stuffed with rags, the Patriot army withdrew as a rearguard tended fires, convincing the redcoats in their trenches that the Americans were still present.

The surprise was complete for the British side, on waking for the morning of the 30th.  An entire army had vanished.

The Battle of Long Island would almost certainly have ended in disaster for the Patriot cause, but for that silent evacuation over the night of August 29-30.

Following evacuation, the Patriot army found itself isolated on Manhattan island, virtually surrounded.  Only the thoroughly disagreeable current conditions of the Throg’s Neck-Hell’s Gate segment of the East River, prevented Admiral Sir Richard Howe (William’s brother), from enveloping Washington’s position.

Expecting a British assault in September, General Washington grew increasingly desperate for information on British movements.

Nathan Hale Capture

The general asked for volunteers for a dangerous mission, to go behind enemy lines, as a spy.  Up stepped a volunteer.  His name was Nathan Hale.

Hale set out on his mission on September 10, disguised as a Dutch schoolmaster. He was successful for about a week but appears to have been something less than “street smart”.  

The young and unseasoned Patriot-turned spy placed his trust, where it did not belong.

Major Robert Rogers was an old British hand, a leader of Rangers during the earlier French and Indian War.  Rogers must have suspected that this Connecticut schoolteacher was more than he pretended to be and intimated that he himself, was a spy in the cause of Liberty.

The hanging of Nathan Hale

Hale took Rogers into his confidence, believing the two to be playing for the same side. It was a fatal error in judgement.

Barkhamsted Connecticut shopkeeper Consider Tiffany, a British loyalist and himself a sergeant of the French and Indian War, recorded what happened next: “The time being come, Captain Hale repaired to the place agreed on, where he met his pretended friend” (Rogers), “with three or four men of the same stamp, and after being refreshed, began [a]…conversation. But in the height of their conversation, a company of soldiers surrounded the house, and by orders from the commander, seized Captain Hale in an instant. But denying his name, and the business he came upon, he was ordered to New York. But before he was carried far, several persons knew him and called him by name; upon this he was hanged as a spy, some say, without being brought before a court martial.”

The “stay behind” spy Hercules Mulligan would have far greater success reporting on British goings-on, from the 1776 capture of New York to the ultimate withdrawal seven years later.  But that must be a story for another day.

Nathan Hale was brought to the gallows on September 22, 1776 and hanged as a spy.  He was 21.  CIA.gov describes Nathan Hale as “The first American executed for spying for his country”.

Nathan Hale

There is no official account of Nathan Hale’s final words, but we have an eyewitness statement from British Captain John Montresor, who was present at the hanging.

Montresor spoke with American Captain William Hull the following day under flag of truce, where he gave the following account: “‘On the morning of his execution, my station was near the fatal spot, and I requested the Provost Marshal to permit the prisoner to sit in my marquee, while he was making the necessary preparations. Captain Hale entered: he was calm, and bore himself with gentle dignity, in the consciousness of rectitude and high intentions. He asked for writing materials, which I furnished him: he wrote two letters, one to his mother and one to a brother officer.’ He was shortly after summoned to the gallows. But a few persons were around him, yet his characteristic dying words were remembered. He said, ‘I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country‘.

George-Washington-Brooklyn-Heights

September 11, 2001 Ogonowski

Twelve days a month John Ogonowski would leave the farm in his Captain’s uniform to fly jumbo jets out of Logan Airport, but he always returned to the land he loved.

A great wave of immigrants came into the United States around the turn of the 20th century, 20 million Europeans or more making the long journey to become Americans.

Among these was the Ogonowski family, who emigrated from Poland to make their home in Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley, along the New Hampshire line.

The earliest members of the family received invaluable assistance from Yankee farmers, well acclimated to growing conditions in the harsh New England climate. Four generations later the Ogonowski family still tilled the soil on their 150 acre “White Gate Farm” in Dracut, Massachusetts.

Ogonowski 2

Graduating from UMass Lowell in 1972 with a degree in nuclear engineering, John Ogonowski joined the United States Air Force.  During the war in Vietnam, the farmer-turned-pilot would ferry equipment from Charleston, South Carolina to Southeast Asia, sometimes returning with the bodies of the fallen aboard his C-141 transport aircraft.

Ogonowski left the Air Force with the rank of Captain, becoming a commercial pilot and joining American Airlines in 1978. There he met Margaret, a flight attendant, “Peggy” to her friends. The two would later marry, and raise three daughters.

Twelve days a month Ogonowski would leave the farm in his Captain’s uniform to fly jumbo jets out of Logan Airport, but he always returned to the land he loved.

Family farming is not what it used to be, as suburban development and subdivisions creep into what used to be open spaces. “When you plant a building on a field” he would say, “it’s the last crop that will ever grow there”.

Ogonowski 3

Ogonowski helped to create the Dracut Land Trust in 1998, working to conserve the town’s agricultural heritage. He worked to bring more people into farming as well.  The bumper sticker on his truck read “There is no farming without farmers”.

That was the year when the farm Service Agency in Westford came looking for open agricultural land, for Southeast Asian immigrants from Lowell.

mrkimcilantro

It was a natural fit. Ogonowski felt a connection to these people, based on his time in Vietnam. He would help them, here putting up a shed, there getting a greenhouse in order or putting up irrigation. He would help these immigrants, just as those Yankee farmers of long ago had helped his twice-great grandfather.

Cambodian farmers learned to grow their native vegetables in an unfamiliar climate. They would lease small plots growing water spinach, lemon grass, pigweed, Asian basil, and Asian squash. There was taro and Laotian mint, coconut amaranth, pickling spices, pea tendrils and more. It was the food they grew up with, and they would sell it into nearby immigrant communities and to the high-end restaurants of Boston.

Ogonowski farm

The program was a success.  Ogonowski told The Boston Globe in 1999, “These guys are putting more care and attention into their one acre than most Yankee farmers put into their entire 100 acres.”

So it was that, with the fall harvest of 2001, Cambodian immigrants found themselves among the pumpkins and the hay of a New England farm, putting on a special lunch spread for visiting agricultural officials from Washington, DC.  It was September 11.

By now you know that John Ogonowski was flying that day, Senior Captain on American Airlines flight 11.

He was one of the first to die, murdered in his cockpit by Islamist terrorist Mohammed Atta and his accomplices.

It’s a new perspective on a now-familiar story, to think of the shock and the grief of those refugees from the killing fields of Pol Pot, on hearing the news that their friend and mentor had been hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center.

The White Gate Farm was closed for a week, but the Ogonowski family was determined that John’s dream would not die.  Peg said it best:  “This is what he was all about. He flew airplanes, he loved flying, and that provided all the money, but this is what he lived for. He was a very lucky man, he had both a vocation and an avocation and he loved them both.”

John Ogonowski had been working with the Land Trust to raise $760,000 to purchase a 34 acre farm in Dracut, previously slated to be developed into a golf course with housing.  Federal funds were raised with help from two members of Congress.  The “Captain John Ogonowski Memorial Preservation Farmland” project was dedicated in 2003, a living memorial to Captain John Ogonowski.  The pilot, and the farmer.

September 10, 1813 We Have Met the Enemy, and They are Ours

The war of 1812 was fought in a series of land and sea battles along three fronts: The Atlantic Ocean & East Coast, the Southern States, and the Great Lakes & Canadian Frontier.


In June 1812, neither the United States nor the British Empire were prepared for war. Most of the British war machine was busy with a “Little Corporal” whose “Waterloo” lay two years into in an uncertain future.  

The Fledgling United States had only just disbanded the National Bank and now had no means of paying for war, while private northeastern bankers were reluctant to provide financing.

Support for the War of 1812 was bitterly divided, between the Democratic-Republicans of President James Madison, and the Federalist strongholds of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  Of the six New England states, New Hampshire alone complied with President Madison’s requests for state militia.

War-of-1812-Hartford-Convention-2
William Charles certoon, satirizing Thomas Pickering and the radical secessionist movement discussed at the Hartford Convention. H/T Smithsonian Magazine, for the image

It may have been the most unpopular war in United States’ history.  Much of New England threatened to secede, their position bolstered by the sack of Washington in August, 1814.

New England may have followed through with secession following the Hartford Convention of 1814, had not the Federalist position been made risible by future President Andrew Jackson’s overwhelming victory at the Battle of New Orleans.

Hartford Convention delegates ended with a formal report, resolutions from which would resurface decades later in a doctrine we know as nullification.

Opposition to America’s first declared war was vehement, and often bloody.  Four days after it began, the office of the Baltimore Federal Republican newspaper was burned to the ground by an angry mob, infuriated by the anti-war editorials of Alexander Contee Hanson.

settingstage2_stsp
Tip of the hat to historiograffiti, for this image

Hanson reopened his paper a month later, shielded by Revolutionary War veterans James Lingan and “Lighthorse Harry Lee”, father of Civil War General Robert E. Lee. The armed protection did him little good. Another mob formed within hours, this time torturing and severely beating Hanson, Lignan and Lee, before leaving them for dead.

James Lignan died of his injuries. Hanson recovered and went on to serve in the House of Representatives. Lee survived the beating but remained partially blind from hot wax poured into his eyes by the mob.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake claimed 200 years later, that, “Our city has a long history of peaceful demonstrations.”  With all due respect to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore has been known as “Mobtown”, for at least that long.

The war of 1812 was fought in a series of land and sea battles along three fronts: The Atlantic Ocean & East Coast, the Southern States, and the Great Lakes & Canadian Frontier.

The British Navy had virtually unchallenged control of the Great Lakes in 1812, with several warships already on station. The only American warship on Lake Erie was the brig USS Adams, pinned down in Detroit and not yet fitted for service.

War of 1812

Detroit fell almost immediately and remained in British hands for over a year. The Adams was captured along with the town and renamed “HMS Detroit”.

Meanwhile, Americans captured an English brig, the Caledonia, and acquired three civilian vessels, the schooners Somers and Ohio and the sloop-rigged Trippe. All four were converted into warships, which Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry had towed by oxen up the Niagara River. The operation which took six days. Once in Lake Erie they sailed down the coast to Presque Isle, on the Pennsylvania coast.

Chesapeake Bay and Pittsburgh foundries produced guns and fittings, while two more warships were ordered built at Presque Isle. Meanwhile, Perry drafted 50 experienced sailors from USS Constitution, then undergoing refit in Boston Harbor.

Presque Isle, Pennsylvania
Presque Isle, Pennsylvania

The American squadron was almost complete by mid-July, but there was a problem. The sand bar at the mouth of Presque Isle Bay is only 5-feet deep. This sand bar kept the British blockade at bay, with a little help from 2,000 Pennsylvania militia and several shore batteries. Once ready though, American ships had to contend with the same obstacle.

British Commander Robert Heriot Barclay was forced to lift his blockade on July 29, due to a supply shortage and bad weather. Perry immediately began the exhausting process of moving his vessels across the sandbar. Guns had to be removed, the larger boats raised between “camels”:  barges lashed together and emptied of ballast to lift the ships high in the water. When Barclay returned four days later, he found the Americans had nearly completed the task.

What followed was one of history’s great head fakes. Naval warfare in the age of sail was typically conducted by two parallel lines of ships, pounding one another with cannon until one side could no longer take the punishment. Perry’s largest brigs were unready when the British fleet returned, yet the American gunboats formed into line of battle so quickly and with such confidence, that Barclay withdrew to await completion of HMS Detroit.

Put-In-Bay

Perry’s fleet established anchorage at Put-in-Bay on the Ohio coast. It was there that Barclay’s fleet came for them on September 10.

Battle lines converged outside the harbor shortly after 11:00am. Perry’s flagship USS Lawrence took a savage beating, the longer guns of HMS Detroit having 20 minutes to do their work before Lawrence could effectively reply.

Imacon Color Scanner
Battle of Lake Erie by William Henry Powell, painted 1865, shows Oliver Hazard Perry transferring from Lawrence to Niagara

HMS Queen Charlotte added her gunfire to that of Detroit. Soon the American flagship was a wreck, with 80% casualties. Perry transferred his flag and rowed to the USS Niagara half a mile away, the brig being almost unscathed in the action, up to this point.

Damaged masts and rigging on the British side resulted in collision between Detroit and Queen Charlotte. They were still snarled up as Niagara broke through the British line, pounding them with broadsides from 18 32-pounder carronades and two 12-pounder long guns. Smaller English ships attempted to flee but were quickly overtaken.

U.S. Brig Niagara
Brig USS Niagara, 2013

That afternoon American and English vessels, the latter now prizes of war, were anchored with hasty repairs already underway. Oliver Hazard Perry took an old envelope and scrawled his now famous message to future President William Henry Harrison. “Dear General, We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry“.

Niagara remains in service to this day, a Coast Guard sail trainer and outdoor exhibit for the Erie Maritime Museum.  One of the last surviving ships, from the War of 1812.

September 6, (est) 1673 A Locker Room Joke

On or about this day in 1673, Father Marquette asked the Chief of the Peoria about another tribe living down the river.

Marquette_Joliet

On May 17, 1673, Father Jacques Marquette set out with the 27-year old fur trader Louis Joliet to explore the upper reaches of the Mississippi River.

The voyage established the possibility of water travel from Lake Huron to the Gulf of Mexico, helping to initiate the first white settlements in the North American interior and bestowing French names on places from La Crosse to New Orleans.

Relations with natives were mostly peaceful at this time, as several tribes jockeyed for advantage in the lucrative French fur trade.

Marquette Joliet Route

On or about this day in 1673, Father Marquette asked the Chief of the Peoria about another tribe living down the river.

Having no desire to share such a privileged position, the chief indicated that those people down the river…they didn’t amount to much. Don’t even bother. The chief called the group “Moingoana”, a name later transliterated into French as “Des Moines”.

Marquette was expert by this time, in several native dialects. Even so, the chief may have indulged himself in a little gag at the expense of the priest. The Miami-Illinois language is extinct today, but linguists suggest that Moingoana may derive from “mooyiinkweena”, translating if I may be polite, as, “those excrement-faces.”

Marquette and Joliet didn’t discover the Mississippi River, Native Americans had been there, for thousands of years. The Spanish explorer Hernan DeSoto had crossed the “Father of Waters” 100 years before. What they did was to establish the feasibility of travel from the Great Lakes, to the Gulf of Mexico. Armed with this information French officials led by the explorer LaSalle would erect a 4000-mile system of trading posts nearly exterminating every fur-bearing mammal in the upper Midwest and permanently altering indigenous cultures, along the way.

As for Des Moines there are alternate explanations of where the name comes from. They are much to be preferred I’m sure, by residents of the Hawkeye state. Even so it’s just possible Father Marquette had one put over on him that day, in 1673. That perhaps the Capital City of Iowa bears the name, of a 350-year-old locker room joke.

September 4, 1886 Geronimo

One of eight brothers and sisters, the boy was called by the singularly forgettable name of “Goyahkla” meaning,, “one who yawns”.  Those who faced the man in combat knew him to be anything but, forgettable.

He was born on June 16, 1829 to the Chiricahua Apache, in the Mexican-occupied territory of Bedonkoheland, in modern-day New Mexico. One of eight brothers and sisters, he was called by the singularly forgettable name “Goyahkla”, translating as “one who yawns”.

Geronimo, younger

Much has been written of the conflict between Natives and American settlers, but that story has little to compare with the level of distrust and mutual butchery which took place between Mexico and the Apache.

First contact between the Crown of Castile and the roving bands of Apache they called Querechos, took place in the Texas panhandle, in 1541.

Initial relations were friendly, but 17th century Spanish slave raids were met by Apache attacks on Spanish and Pueblo settlements, in New Mexico

By 1685, several bands of Apache were in open conflict with the polity which, in 1821, would become known as the United States of Mexico.  Attacks and counter attacks were commonplace, as Presidios – Spanish fortresses – dotted the landscape of Sonora, Chihuahua and Fronteras. 5,000 Mexicans died in Apache raids between 1820 and 1835 alone.

Over 100 Mexican settlements were destroyed in that time.  The Mexican government placed a bounty on Apache scalps in 1835, the year that Goyahkla turned 6.

01f/17/arve/g2061/052

Goyahkla married Alope of the Nedni-Chiricahua band of Apache when he was 17.  Together they had three children. On March 6, 1858, a company of 400 Mexican soldiers led by Colonel Jose Maria Carrasco attacked the native camp as the men were in town, trading. Goyahkla came back to find his wife, children, and his mother, murdered. 

He swore that he would hate the Mexicans for the rest of his life.

Chief Mangas Coloradas sent him to Cochise’ band to help exact retribution on the Mexicans.  It was here that Goyahkla earned a name that was anything but forgettable.

Ignoring a hail of bullets, he repeatedly attacked the soldiers with a knife, killing so many that they began to call out to Saint Jerome for protection. The Spanish name for the 4th century Saint was often the last word to leave their lips: “Geronimo”.

Geronimo Portrait

In 1873, the Mexican government and the Apache came to peace terms at one point, near Casa Grande. Terms had already been agreed upon when Mexican soldiers plied the Apaches with Mezcal.  Soon, soldiers began murdering intoxicated Indians, killing 20 and capturing many more before the survivors fled into the mountains.

Geronimo would marry eight more times, but most of his life was spent at war with Mexico, and later with the United States. According to National Geographic, he and his band of 16 warriors slaughtered 500 to 600 Mexicans in their last five months alone.

Geronimo_in_a_1905_Locomobile_Model_C

By the end of his military career, Geronimo was “the worst Indian who ever lived”, according to the white settlers. He and his band of 38 men, women and children evaded thousands of Mexican and US soldiers.  Geronimo was captured on this day in 1886, by Civil War veteran and Westminster, Massachusetts native, General Nelson Miles. With the capture of Geronimo, the last of the major US-Indian wars had come to an end.

Geronimo became a celebrity in his old age, marching in Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905.  He converted to Christianity and appeared in county fairs and Wild West shows around the country.

Geronimo in old age

In his 1909 memoirs, Geronimo wrote of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair:  “I am glad I went to the Fair. I saw many interesting things and learned much of the white people. They are a very kind and peaceful people. During all the time I was at the Fair no one tried to harm me in any way. Had this been among the Mexicans I am sure I should have been compelled to defend myself often”.

Geronimo was thrown from a horse in February 1909 and contracted pneumonia after a long, cold night on the ground. He confessed on his deathbed that he regretted his decision to surrender. His last words were to his nephew, when he said “I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive”.

August 29, 1893 Nothing to See Here

To this day there remains no clear standard as to what’s in the public interest to know, and where lies the individual’s right, president or not, to a modicum of privacy.

“Rare photograph of Roosevelt in a wheelchair, with Ruthie Bie and Fala (1941)” – H/T Wikipedia

In the summer of 1921, a 39-year old Franklin Delano Roosevelt was enjoying some family vacation time at Campobello Island, off the coast of Maine. On August 10 he complained of fever and chills, and took to bed. The condition persisted for weeks. Four Physicians attended the future president of the United States, the diagnosis, poliomyelitis.

Roosevelt would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, able to stand only for brief and painful moments with the help of leg braces. During four elected terms the press went to great lengths to deemphasize if not hide altogether, the president’s disability.

On October 2, 1919, a near fatal stroke left President Woodrow Wilson incapacitated, unable to speak or move. First Lady Edith Wilson jealously guarded her husband’s condition from the press and the president’s opponents, blocking access and screening presidential paperwork. Sometimes she even signed her husband’s name, without his knowledge or consent. Edith denied usurping the presidency to herself but claimed instead to be acting only as “Steward”.

If you were around in 1978 you may remember the cringeworthy media coverage of Jimmy Carter’s hemorrhoids, raising the question of what’s in the legitimate public interest and what if any right does a president have to any sense of personal dignity, let alone privacy.

Fun fact:  The only former executioner ever elected President of the United States, Stephen Grover Cleveland is best remembered for being the only President to ever serve two non-consecutive terms.  The 22nd and 24th President of the United States was also, something of a medical miracle.

President Cleveland was inaugurated for the second time in the midst of the Panic of 1893, the worst economic downturn in American history, until the great depression. The nation suffered vast unemployment with hundreds of businesses closing down.  The railroad industry was devastated.  With a nation struggling, many looked to the new President to provide hope and a new direction.

Early in his second term, the President noticed a bumpy and rapidly growing patch on the roof of his mouth.   White House physician Dr. Robert Maitland O’Reilly took one look and pronounced:  “It’s a bad looking tenant, and I would have it evicted immediately”.

The health of the famously rotund, cigar chomping President was already a matter of public concern. Cleveland feared a cancer diagnosis would set off a panic.  The tumor would have to be removed and the whole procedure, kept secret.

121015_HistoryofMedicine_PresidentCleveland

The only answer to the prying eyes of the press was to do it on the move, so there could be no scar.  President Cleveland  announced a four-day vacation aboard the private yacht Oneida, a cruise through Long Island Sound to Buzzard’s Bay and on to the President’s summer home called Gray Gables, on Cape Cod.

What followed is enough to amaze an oral surgeon and make the rest of us squirm. On July 1, 1893, the President was strapped to a chair and anesthetized with ether.  The tumor extended through the president’s hard palate and upper jaw and nearly to his left eye. A surgical team of six removed nearly the entire left side of the upper jaw along with the tumor, and five teeth.  The operation had taken ninety minutes and there was no external incision. It was all done through the President’s mouth. The trademark mustache remained undisturbed. Later on the president was fitted with a rubber prosthesis restoring Cleveland’s speech, and facial disfigurement.

The procedure was carried out in strict secrecy but didn’t remain that way, for long. On August 29, 1893, reporter Elisha Jay Edwards of the Philadelphia Press broke the story of a presidential surgery too bizarre to be true. White house staff denied the story, and launched a coordinated smear campaign against the journalist. Even the steward on board the Oneida stuck the story, declaring the president never missed a meal on that summer cruise. Other newspapers piled on denouncing Edwards as a “liar” and a “disgrace to journalism”.

A medical miracle for its time, what really transpired onboard the Oneida remained secret until 1917, nine years after Cleveland’s death. 

One of the foremost newspapermen of the age Elisha Edwards was ruined and struggled even to find work, for the next fifteen years. The man wouldn’t see his reputation restored for 24 years.

To this day there remains no clear standard as to what’s in the public interest to know, and where lies the individual’s right, president or not, to a modicum of privacy.

August 19, 1812 Single Combat

On the afternoon of August 19, 1812 Constitution spotted a large frigate to leeward, some 400 miles off the coast of Halifax. She was that same 38 gun frigate HMS Guerriere, from the earlier pursuit. This time there would be no flight. There was about to be a fight.

When the United States first won independence from Britain in 1783, the young nation soon learned that freedom had some disadvantages. One big one being that America had lost its protector, at sea.

British and French vessels alike harassed American merchant shipping, often kidnapping American sailors and forcing them to serve in their own navies.

barbary-war

Barbary pirates were a problem for Mediterranean and Atlantic shipping alike, harassing American shipping as early as 1785. 

In 1793 alone these brigands captured 11 American vessels holding the ships and crew, for ransom.

Congress passed the Naval Act of 1794, appropriating funds to build a fleet of 6 three-masted, heavy frigates for the United States Navy. The act included a clause halting construction, in the event of a peace treaty with Algiers.   No such treaty was ever concluded.

Named by George Washington himself and launched October 21, 1797, USS Constitution was one of these six. With hull made from the wood of 2,000 Georgia live oak trees, she was built in the Edmund Hartt shipyard of Boston, Massachusetts.

USS_Constitution_underway

Constitution’s first duties involved the “quasi-war” with France, but this was not the France who helped the US win the war for independence. The French monarchy was swallowed up by this time in a revolution of its own, radical leftists calling themselves “Jacobins” sending the Bourbon King and his Queen Consort Marie Antoinette, to the guillotine. Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette and Hero of the American Revolution, languished in an Austrian prison.

The French Monarchy would be restored one day, but not before a certain Corsican Corporal rose to the rank of Emperor to meet his Waterloo, fighting (and winning) more battles than Julius Caesar, Frederick the Great, Alexander the Great, and Hannibal, combined.  But I digress.

The Barbary pirates were paid “tribute” during this time to keep quiet, but that ended in 1800.  Yusuf Karamanli, Pasha of Tripoli, demanded $225,000 from the incoming Jefferson administration. Jefferson refused and Constitution joined in the Barbary Wars in 1803, a conflict memorialized in a line from the Marine Corps Hymn “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.”

USS_Constitution_underway, turning

In July 1812, Constitution put to sea off the coast of New Jersey intending to join the five ship squadron of Commodore John Rodgers. Spotting sail over the night of July 17 and thinking that they had found their rendezvous, Constitution was soon disabused of that notion. Lookouts reported 4 British warships heading west and a 5th, the 38-gun frigate, HMS Guerriere, heading straight for her.

The 64-gun ship of the line HMS Africa soon joined the chase along with the frigates Shannon, Aeolus and Belvidera. That soon to be famous “iron” hull would be useless in a 5 to 1 fight.

With light winds that sometimes died down altogether Constitution dropped her boats, to tow the ship. Captain Philip Broke followed suit ordering the boats of his entire fleet to join in, towing HMS Shannon. Captain Isaac Hull ordered nine tons of drinking water pumped overboard but still, her pursuers closed the distance. First Lieutenant Charles Morris suggested “kedging“, where Constitution’s boats were rowed out to drop small “kedge anchors”. Sailors would then haul the frigate up the anchor chain. British ships imitated the tactic but the fire of Constitution’s aft guns kept the adversary at bay.  Before it was over this slow motion race for survival lasted 57 hours, in the July heat.

h52488

Constitution sailed for Boston to replenish drinking water supplies after this episode and returned to sea on August 2, to raid British shipping off the coast of Halifax. Meanwhile Broke detached Guerriere to return to Halifax, for a much needed refit.

On the afternoon of August 19, 1812 Constitution spotted a large frigate to leeward, some 400 miles off the coast of Halifax. She was that same 38 gun frigate HMS Guerriere, from the earlier pursuit. This time there would be no flight. There was about to be a fight.

Aboard Guerriere Captain James Richard Dacres was holding the American merchant Captain William Orne, captive. Dacres asked the American who this might be and Orne replied she was without doubt, American. The British captain remarked he’d be “made for life” to be the first to capture an American frigate.

Both vessels shortened to ‘fighting sail’, preparing for action. Watching a ball bounce harmlessly off Constitution’s 21” thick oak hull, one American sailor exclaimed “Huzzah! her sides are made of iron!” The two ships closed to “half a pistol shot” range and pounded each other with broadsides the Constitution to starboard and Guerriere, to port.

The larger guns and thicker hull of USS Constitution took their toll and Guerrier’s mizzenmast fell, as Constitution turned to deliver another broadside. Guerrier’s bowsprit became snarled in Constitution’s rigging and now the two ships were locked together, slowly rotating clockwise and exchanging fire, at point-blank range. Boarding parties were made ready but heavy seas prevented anything but musket shot. Soon the aft cabin was ablaze on the American ship but the English, were taking a pounding.

Like prize fighters locked in a clinch the two ships finally parted as Guerriere’s foremast and mainmast, snapped off at the deck. Her “power plant” thus crippled Dacres ordered sail set on the bowsprit as Constitution ran downwind, repairing rigging before once again, turning to the battle.

In twenty minutes Guerriere was reduced to an unsalvageable hulk. Ten American sailors were discovered afterward, “pressed” into service aboard the British frigate. Captain Dacres had allowed them to remain below decks, rather than fight their countrymen. Dacres was escorted aboard Constitution where Hull refused his sword, saying that he could not take the sword of a man who had fought so gallantly.

Captain Hull wanted to tow the hulk into port as a prize, but she was beyond salvage. Guerriere was burned to the waterline. With shot embedded in her lower masts Constitution returned to port, unable to continue her cruise. Captain Dacres returned to England to stand court-martial, for the loss of his ship.

Isaac Hull could have joined the likes of John Paul Jones, David Farragut and Chester Nimitz as naval heroes of the young nation, but he would never again hold a fighting command. His brother had died and Hull was duty bound to support his widowed sister-in-law, and her children. Permission was asked and granted, that he switch commands with Captain William Bainbridge. Bainbridge would go on to a long an illustrious career at sea and service, under six presidents. Hull served out his career as commander of the Boston Navy Yard.

USS Constitution is still in service today, the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel, still afloat. She went into dry dock for major overhaul in October 2014 and re-floated in July, 2017.  Freshly restored and re-fitted, Old Ironsides can be boarded at your convenience at Charlestown harbor. But this time, you needn’t bring a musket.

Old Ironsides, Drydock

August 18, 1587 Lost Colony of Roanoke

What happened to the lost colonists of Roanoke, remains a mystery. They may have died of disease or starvation, or they may have been killed by hostile natives.


The 16th century was drawing to a close when Queen Elizabeth set out to establish a permanent English settlement in the New World. The charter went to Walter Raleigh, who sent explorers Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe to scout out locations for a settlement.

The pair landed on Roanoke Island on July 4, 1584, establishing friendly relations with local natives, the Secotans and Croatans. They returned a year later with glowing reports of what we now call the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Two Native Croatans, Manteo and Wanchese, accompanied the pair back to England. All of London was abuzz with the wonders of the New World.

Sir Walter Raleigh (?)
Explorer Sir Walter Raleigh

Queen Elizabeth was so pleased she knighted Raleigh.  The new land was called “Virginia” in honor of the Virgin Queen.

Raleigh sent a party of 100 soldiers, miners and scientists to Roanoke Island, under the leadership of Captain Ralph Lane. The attempt was doomed from the start. They arrived too late in the season for planting, and Lane alienated the neighboring tribe when misunderstanding led to the murder of their chief, Wingina. By 1586 the new arrivals had had enough, and left the island.

Ironically, their supply ship arrived about a week later. Finding the island deserted, the vessel left 15 men behind to “hold the fort” before they too, departed.

The now knighted “Sir” Walter Raleigh was not to be deterred. He recruited 90 men, 17 women and 9 children for a more permanent “Cittie of Raleigh”, appointing John White governor. Among the colonists were White’s pregnant daughter, Eleanor, her husband Ananias Dare, and the Croatans Wanchese and Manteo.

Wanchese, Manteo
Wanchese, Manteo

The caravan stopped at Roanoke Island in July, 1587, to check on the 15 men left behind a year earlier.  Raleigh believed that the Chesapeake afforded better opportunities for his new settlement, but his Portuguese pilot Simon Fernandes had other ideas.

Fernandes was a Privateer, impatient to resume his hunt for Spanish shipping.  He ordered the colonists ashore on Roanoke Island. It could not have lifted the spirits of the small group to learn that the 15 left by the earlier expedition, had disappeared.

Eleanor Dare gave birth to a daughter on August 18, 1587, and called her Virginia.  She was the first English child born to the new world.

Fernandez departed for England ten days later, taking along an anxious John White, who wanted to return to England for supplies. It was the last time Governor White would see his family.

croatoan(2)White found himself trapped in England by the invasion of the Spanish Armada, and the Anglo-Spanish war.  It would be three years before he could return to Roanoke. He arrived on August 18, 1590, three years to the day from the birth of his granddaughter. White found the place deserted, save for the word “CROATOAN”, carved into a fence post.  The letters “CRO” appeared on a nearby tree.

croatoan(1)

White had hopes of finding his family at Croatoan, the home of Chief Manteo’s people to the south, on modern day Hatteras Island.

A hurricane came up before he could explore further, his ships so damaged that he had return to England. Despite several attempts he never raised the resources to return.

What happened to the lost colonists of Roanoke, remains a mystery. They may have died of disease or starvation, or they may have been killed by hostile natives.

Perhaps they went to live with Chief Manteo’s people, after all. One of the wilder legends has Virginia Dare, now a young woman, transformed into a snow white doe by the evil medicine man Chico, but that must be a story for another day.  The fate of the first English child born on American soil may never be known.

white-deer

Seventeen years later another group of colonists would apply the lessons learned in Roanoke, founding their own colony a few miles up the coast at a place called Jamestown.

One personal anecdote involves a conversation I had with a woman in High Point, North Carolina, a few years back. She described herself as having Croatan ancestry, her family going back many generations on the outer banks. She described her Great Grandmother, a full blooded Croatan. The woman looked like it, too, except for those crystal blue eyes. She used to smile at the idea of the lost colony of Roanoke. “They’re not lost”, she would say. “They are us”.

%d bloggers like this: