September 21, 1776 One Life to Lose

An ardent patriot in the cause of American independence, the young school teacher turned spy placed his trust, where it did not belong.

From the earliest days of the American Revolution, the nine Hale brothers of Coventry Connecticut fought on the Patriot side. Five of them were there to help out at the battles at Lexington and Concord. The youngest and most famous brother was still at home in New London at the time, finishing the term of a teaching contract.

Nathan Hale’s unit participated in the siege of Boston. Hale himself joined General 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.

On June 29, General Howe appeared at Staten Island 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. Washington declined to receive the letter, saying there was no one present by that address. Howe tried the letter again on the 16th, this time addressing “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, saying “Those who have committed no fault 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 that the adversary was trapped and waiting to be destroyed at their convenience.

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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 there.

The surprise was complete for the British side, on waking for the morning of the 30th.  The Patriot 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, altogether.

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

Nathan Hale Capture

Washington 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 untrained 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 Patriot cause.

The hanging of Nathan Hale

Hale took Rogers into his confidence, believing the two to be playing for the same side.  Barkhamsted Connecticut shopkeeper Consider Tiffany, a British loyalist and himself a sergeant of the French and Indian War, recorded what happened next, in his journal: “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 is a story for another day.

Nathan Hale was arrested on September 21, 1776, and hanged as a spy. He was 21. CIA.gov describes 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.  He gave Hull the following account: “‘On the morning of his execution,’ said Montresor, ‘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‘.

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September 15, 1814 The Star Spangled Banner

The naval bombardment taking place that night, is scarcely to be imagined. At first exchanging shot for shot with the garrison the warships soon pulled back, out of range of the fort’s guns. For 27 hours in a driving rain, nineteen warships pounded shot, shell and rocket by the thousands onto the 1,000-man garrison.

3,000 years ago, the Greek poet Anacreon composed lyric verse intended to be recited or sung to musical accompaniment, usually that of the lyre.

Anacreon. Marble. Roman copy of the 2nd century A.D. after a Greek original of the 5th century B.C. Inv. No. 491. Copenhagen, New Carlsberg Glyptotek.

Today, Anacreon himself is all but unknown, save for the efforts of the Anacreontic Society of 18th century, Great Britain.

The English composer and church organist John Stafford Smith founded the Anacreontic Society somewhere around 1766, the group meeting in various taverns before settling on the old coffee house on Ludgate Hill, in London. A gentlemen’s club of amateur musicians and professionals meeting monthly and dedicating themselves to “wit, harmony and the god of wine”, the society presented regular concerts, the high point of which came in January 1791 with the attendance the Austrian composer, Joseph Haydn.

The low point came somewhere in 1792 when the Duchess of Devonshire attended a meeting and found the entertainments, displeasing to the fairer sex. That October it was reported, “The Anacreontick Society meets no more; it has long been struggling with symptoms of internal decay“.

Success has many fathers but failure, is an orphan. Today the Anacreontic Society itself is all but forgotten but for the theme song written by society member and lyricist Ralph Tomlinson and put to music by John Smith, remembered by the first four words: “To Anacreon in Heaven“.

From the first signs of discontent in the American colonies to the dissolution of the Articles of Confederation and adoption of our own modern constitution, the life of the Anacreontic Society tracks with the British colonies in North America’s struggle for independence.

Within a decade of that constitution the rise of a certain Corsican corporal embroiled Great Britain in a series of international coalitions against the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte and his Grande Armée. The former American colonies benefited from the European conflict, remaining on the sidelines and doing business with (while earning the animosity of) both sides.

Anachronistic to that collection of agreements both written and unwritten which together comprise the Constitution of the United Kingdom, the practice of Impressment traces back to the time of Edward Longshanks the Hammer of the Scots, King of England between 1272 to 1307. Naval service imposed massive manpower requirements in the age of sail. Several European navies employed the use of “press gangs” to forcibly “impress” (read, kidnap) the unsuspecting into terms of service at sea though the dominance of the British navy largely associates the practice, with that of the United Kingdom.

1780 caricature of the Press Gang

Widely detested on both sides of the Atlantic, the practice nevertheless survived a number of court challenges. Impressment of American sailors appears in the Declaration of Independence, along with 26 other grievances against King George III. While not entirely the cause of the War of 1812, impressment remained one among a number, of casus belli.

Neither side was ready for it when war broke out between the United States and the United Kingdom in June, 1812. Most of the British war machine was busy with that “Little Corporal”, whose “Waterloo” remained, two years in the future.  America had disbanded the National Bank by that time and 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.

New England may have actually seceded following the Hartford Convention of 1814 if not for future President Andrew Jackson’s overwhelming victory at the Battle of New Orleans. A battle I might add took place after the treaty of Ghent formally ending the war, but now I’m getting ahead of the story.

Like nearly everyone else in Baltimore, Fort McHenry commander Major George Armistead expected an attack, on the port city. Never one to run away from a fight Armistead wanted “a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance.”

In July of 1813, Armistead ordered an enormous garrison flag measuring 30 x 42-feet and a smaller storm flag of 17 x 25 feet.  The job went to a 37-year-old widow and seamstress named Mary Pickersgill.  

Today the flag contains 50 stars, one for each state in the union and 13 stripes representing each of the original colonies. It was the practice in 1813 to add a star and a stripe for every state. In Mary’s time, there were 15 of each.

Using over 400 yards of hand-dyed fabric she fashioned white stars two feet across on a blue canton with stripes measuring two feet tall and assembled it all on the main floor, of a nearby brewery.

Such a project is beyond the abilities of a single seamstress. Mary enlisted the aid of her 13-year-old daughter Caroline, two nieces, 13-year-old Eliza Young and 15-year-old Margaret Young and a 13-year-old African-American girl named Grace Wisher indentured to her by her mother Jenny for a period of six years. Some sources report that Jenny Wisher, a free black woman, helped out.

Mary received $405.90 for the larger flag and $168.54 for the smaller. She was given 6 to 8 weeks in which to finish the commission, the largest one of her career. She completed the job in seven, delivering the two flags on August 19, 1813. Thirteen months later Mary Pickersgill, her flags and the team of women who helped her, took their place in American history.

This most unpopular of wars became even more so, following the sack of Washington and burning of the United States Capitol and the White House, in August, 1814. Major General Robert Ross’ men were met on this occasion by an inexperienced and poorly equipped militia of some 6,000 American forces at Bladensburg, Maryland, whose comprehensive defeat and humiliating rout went into the history books as the “Bladensburg Races”.

A month later the force facing General Ross’ 4,700 troops landing at North Point were not that hastily assembled collection of Maryland and DC militia routed at Bladensburg, but a thoroughly prepared force led by Brigadier General John Stricker, dug in across a narrows bristling with small arms and a battery of six 4-pounder field guns and flanked by tidal creeks, all but nullifying the invaders’ numerical advantage.

General Ross himself was shot in the engagement and mortally wounded, leaving British forces in confusion as the Americans affected a strategic retreat. While a tactical victory for the British side, the delay bought the Americans precious time in which to strengthen the defense.

The following day British troops encountered a massive force of some 10,000 men and 100 cannon astride the Philadelphia Road blocking the advance, on Baltimore. Invading forces were at a two-to-one, disadvantage and in need of naval support to dislodge American ground forces. There would be no advance on Baltimore harbor while Fort McHenry, remained in American hands. Fort McHenry had to be taken.

A lawyer and amateur poet called Francis Scott Key was on-hand at the time, a prisoner exchange negotiator along with Colonel John Stuart Skinner, dining as guests aboard the HMS Tonnant. The two had an inside view of British naval capabilities in the harbor and were held, pending the outcome of the battle.

So it is this Baltimore lawyer had a front row seat, as that battered storm flag disappeared in the twilight’s last gleaming.

The naval bombardment taking place that night, is scarcely to be imagined. At first exchanging shot for shot with the garrison the warships soon pulled back, out of range of the fort’s guns. For 27 hours in a driving rain, nineteen warships pounded shot, shell and rocket by the thousands onto the 1,000-man garrison.

Sometime during the night that battered storm banner was taken down and replaced by the garrison flag. By the dawn’s early light of September 14 This was the banner, which now came into view. Nineteen warships had taken their best shot and yet, the garrison held. Key was so moved by the sight he dashed out a few lines on the back of an envelope. He called his poem, Defence of Fort M’Henry.

Without Fort McHenry in British hands there would be no occupation of Baltimore harbor, no assault upon the city. Colonel Arthur Brooke’s forces were withdrawn, by September 15. Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane sailed for New Orleans to regroup for the next, and last, battle of the War of 1812.

Over the years some 200 yards were removed in souvenir chunks from the “Great Garrison Flag reducing the banner from 30 x 42 to 30 x 34.

It was Key’s brother-in law Joseph H. Nicholson who first noticed the words fit nicely, with the popular melody of “The Anacreontic Song”. The Baltimore Patriot and The American printed the song on September 20 with the note “Tune: Anacreon in Heaven”. A short time later Thomas Carr of the Carr Music Store in Baltimore published words and music together under the title “The Star Spangled Banner”.

The song grew in popularity throughout the 19th century to be played at 4th of July celebrations, military ceremonies and other patriotic occasions. By World War 1 many of the more stridently anti-British verses had been removed from sheet music to avoid giving offense, to our British allies.

The anthem was played during the 7th inning stretch of game one of the 1918 World Series, believed to be the first time the song appeared, at a baseball game. Six legislative attempts came and went during the 1920s, to make Star Spangled Banner the national anthem of the United States. In the end a petition from the Veterans of Foreign Wars did the job. President Herbert Hoover signed the bill into law on March 4, 1931.

While all four verses are included according to United States code, the last three are all but unknown today and rarely sung, if at all.

Long may it wave.

O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
    What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
    O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
        And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
        Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there —
            O! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
            O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
    Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze o’er the towering steep,
    As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
        Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
        In full glory reflected now shines on the stream —
            ‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
            O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
    That the havock of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
    Their blood has wash’d out their foul foot-steps’ pollution,
        No refuge could save the hireling and slave,
        From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave;
            And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
            O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
    Between their lov’d home, and the war’s desolation,
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
    Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
        Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
        And this be our motto — “In God is our trust!”
            And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
            O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

September 11, 2001 Ogonowski

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 benefactor had been hijacked and murdered, his aircraft flown into a New York skyscraper.

At the turn of the 20th century, a great wave of immigrants came to the United States, 20 million Europeans and more making the long journey to become Americans.

Among those multitudes came the Ogonowski family, emigrating from Poland and making a new home in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts, along the New Hampshire line.

Those early members of the Ogonowski family received invaluable assistance from Yankee farmers, well accustomed to growing conditions in the harsh New England climate.  Generations later, the family still tilled the soil of the 150-acre “White Gate Farm” in Dracut, Massachusetts.

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Graduating from UMass Lowell in 1972 with a degree in nuclear engineering, John Alexander Ogonowski joined the United States Air Force.  During the war in Vietnam, this farmer-turned military pilot would ferry equipment from Charleston, South Carolina to Southeast Asia, often returning with the bodies of the fallen aboard that giant, 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 friends and family. The two would later marry and raise a family of three daughters, Laura, Caroline, and Mary Catherine.

Twelve days a month, Ogonowski would leave the farm in his Captain’s uniform, flying jumbo jets out of Logan Airport.  When he was finished , he would always return to the land he loved.

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

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John Ogonowski helped to create the Dracut Land Trust in 1998, working to conserve the growing 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 the farm Service Agency in Westford came looking for open agricultural land, for Cambodian immigrants from Lowell.

“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”. – Margaret “Peggy” Ogonowski

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It was a natural fit. Ogonowski felt a connection with these people, based on his time in Southeast Asia. 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 ancestors.

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. They raised taro and Laotian mint, coconut amaranth, pickling spices, pea tendrils and more. It was the food they grew up with, the food they knew.  They would sell their produce into nearby immigrant communities, and to the high-end restaurants of Boston.

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The program was a great 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 may have been the first to die, attacked from behind and murdered in his cockpit by terrorist savages.

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 benefactor had been hijacked and murdered, his aircraft flown into a New York skyscraper.

Ogonowski 1

The White Gate Farm was closed for a week, but the Ogonowski family was determined.  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.

9-11 as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge

John Ogonowski was working with the Land Trust at the time of his death, in an effort  to raise $760,000 to purchase a 34-acre farm in Dracut, slated for development.  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 one day that changed the world.   And to John Alexander Ogonowski.  Pilot.  Farmer.  Fallen angel.

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Loyalty

Another tale to emerge from that awful day concerns one of the many first responders who rushed to the inferno, and never returned. This was one of the lucky ones, in a way. This firefighters family had a body to mourn over.

The night before the funeral, the firefighters wife and his buddies “stole“ the body, casket and all, with the connivance of the folks at the funeral home. They brought him to the beach where they spent that last night with a case of beer, laughing together, crying and sharing stories. The next morning, they brought him back to the funeral home as promised, and their loved one was buried with honors.

I don’t know the name of this man or that if his wife, but that part matters more to those precious few. For the rest of us, this is a story of a short life well lived, a story of love and friendship and loyalty. May we all be so fortunate, as to be blessed with friends such as these.

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August 31, 1959 Sergeant Reckless

Reckless was the first horse in Marine Corps history to participate in an amphibious landing. She was wounded twice, and later awarded two Purple Hearts and a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal. Her name appears on Presidential Unit citations both from the United States and the Republic of Korea.

A Recoilless Rifle is a type of lightweight tube artillery. Think of a portable cannon. Kind of a bazooka, really, only the Recoilless fires modified shells rather than rockets. The back blast of the shell compensates for the mule’s kick which would otherwise be expected from such a weapon, making the rifle “recoilless”.

While it reduces projectile range, reduced gas pressures permit a thinner-walled barrel, resulting in a weapon light enough to be served by a 2 to 3-man crew and shoulder fired by a single infantryman.

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The “RCLR” weapon system has provided the punch of artillery to mobile troop formations since the early days of WWII including Airborne, Special Forces and Mountain units.

The problem arises when combat operations consume ammunition faster than the supply chain can replace it. Mountainous terrain makes the situation worse. Over the last 20 years in the more mountainous regions of Afghanistan, there were times when the best solution for the problem, is horsepower.

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Ah Chim-hai was a chestnut mare of mixed Mongolian and Thoroughbred lineage, a race horse at the track in Seoul, South Korea. Her name translated as “Flame of the Morning”.

Lieutenant Eric Pedersen of the recoilless rifle platoon, anti-tank company of the 5th Marine Regiment, needed a pack animal to carry the weapon’s 24-pound shells up Korean mountain passes. In October 1952, Pederson received permission from regimental commander Colonel Eustace P. Smoak, to buy a horse for his platoon.

Lt. Pederson and stable boy Kim Huk-moon agreed on a price of $250, and Pederson paid with his own money. Kim cried on watching his “Flame” leave the stable, but the sale had a higher purpose.  The boy’s sister had stepped on a land mine, and badly needed a prosthetic leg.

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The Marines called the new recruit “Reckless” – a nod to the weapon system she was meant to serve, and to the fighting spirit of the 5th Marines.

Pederson wrote to his wife in California to send a pack saddle, while Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham and Private First Class Monroe Coleman provided for her care and training.

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Navy Hospitalman First Class George “Doc” Mitchell provided most of Reckless’ medical care, Latham taught her battlefield skills: how to step over communication wires, when to lie down under fire, how to avoid becoming entangled in barbed wire. She learned to run for cover at the cry “Incoming!”

The platoon built her a bunker and fenced off a pasture, but soon Reckless was allowed to roam freely throughout the camp. She’d enter tents at will, sometimes spending the night if it was cold.

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She’d eat anything: bacon, mashed potatoes, shredded wheat. She loved scrambled eggs and just about anything else a Marine wasn’t watching closely enough. Reckless even ate her own horse blanket once, and she loved a to have a beer. Mitchell had to warn his fellow Marines against giving her more than two Cokes a day, which she’d drink out of a helmet. One time, Reckless ate $30 worth of winning poker chips.

General Randolph McCall Pate, a veteran of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Korea, served as the 21st Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1956 – ’59.  Pate wrote: “I was surprised at her beauty and intelligence, and believe it or not, her esprit de corps. Like any other Marine, she was enjoying a bottle of beer with her comrades. She was constantly the center of attraction and was fully aware of her importance. If she failed to receive the attention she felt her due, she would deliberately walk into a group of Marines and, in effect, enter the conversation. It was obvious the Marines loved her.”  Reckless was a Marine.

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Reckless “went straight up” the first time she heard an RCLR go off, despite being loaded down with six shells. All four feet left the ground and she came down trembling with fear, but Coleman was able to soothe her. The second time she snorted. By the fourth she didn’t do much as bother to look up, happily munching on a discarded helmet liner.

Recoilless rifle tactics call for fire teams to expend four or five rounds, and then relocate before the enemy can shoot back. Reckless usually learned the route after one or two trips, often traveling alone to deliver supplies on the way up, and evacuate wounded on the way down.

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In February 1953, Captain Dick Kurth and his Fox Company were fighting for a hill called “Detroit”. Reckless made 24 trips by herself, carrying a total 3,500-pounds of ammunition over 20 miles. She made 51 solo trips that March, during the battle for Outpost Vegas. Reckless carried 9,000lbs of ammunition in a single day, over 35 miles of open rice paddies and steep hills. At times, artillery exploded around her at the rate of 500 rounds per minute. That night, she was too exhausted to do anything but hang her head while they rubbed her down.

Reckless was the first horse in Marine Corps history to participate in an amphibious landing. She was wounded twice, and later awarded two Purple Hearts and a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal. Her name appears on Presidential Unit citations both from the United States and the Republic of Korea.

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On August 31, 1959, Reckless was promoted to Staff Sergeant in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton. 1,900 of her 5th Marine comrades attended, as did two of her sons, “Fearless” and “Dauntless”. A third, “Chesty”, was unavailable to attend.

General Pate wrote: “In my career I have seen many animals that have been adopted by Marines, but never in all my experience have I seen one which won the hearts of so many as did. . .Reckless.”

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Life Magazine published a collector’s edition in 1997, listing 100 heroes from American history. Alongside the names of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Sally Ride and Abraham Lincoln, was that of a small Mongolian horse. Sergeant Reckless.

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August 30, 1776 1776

The astonishing part of this story is it all took place in the midst of a plague vastly more deadly than the COVID-19 pandemic, of our own age.

When George Washington raised his sword under the branches of that ancient elm on Cambridge commons, by that act did the General take command of an “army” equipped with an average of nine rounds, per man.

1776 started out well for the cause of American independence, when the twenty-six-year-old bookseller Henry Knox emerged from a six week slog through a New England winter, at the head of a “Noble train of artillery’.   Manhandled all the way from the wilds of upstate New York, the guns of Fort Ticonderoga were wrestled to the top of Dorchester Heights, overlooking the British fleet anchored in Boston Harbor.  General sir William Howe now faced the prospect of another Bunker Hill, a British victory which had come at a cost he could ill afford, to pay again.  

The eleven-month siege of Boston came to an end on March 17 when Howe’s fleet evacuated Boston Harbor and removed, to Nova Scotia.  Three months later, a force of some 400 South Carolina patriots fought a day-long battle with the nine warships of Admiral Sir Peter Parker, before the heavily damaged fleet was forced to withdraw.  The British eventually captured Fort Moultrie and Charleston Harbor with it but, for now, 1776 was shaping up to be a very good year.

The Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, that July.

Tory and Patriot alike understood the strategic importance of New York, as the center of communication between the upper and lower colonies. Beginning that April, Washington moved his forces from Boston to New York placing his troops along the west end of Long Island, in anticipation of the British return.

The fleet was not long in coming, the first arrivals dropping anchor by the end of June.  Within the week, 130 ships were anchored off Staten Island under the command of Admiral sir Richard Howe, the General’s brother. 

The Howe brothers attempted to negotiate on July 14 with a letter to General Washington, addressed: “Georg Washington, Esq.” The letter was returned unopened by Washington’s aide Joseph Reed who explained there’s nobody over here, by that address. Again the letter came back addressed to “George Washington, Esq., etc.,” the etc. meaning… “and any other relevant titles.” That letter too came back unopened but this time, with a message. The general would meet with one of Howe’s subordinates. The meeting took place on July 20 when Howe’s representative offered pardon, for the American side. General Washington responded as they had done nothing wrong his side had no need, of any pardons. But thanks anyway.

By August 12 the British force numbered some 400 vessels with 73 warships and a force of 32,000 camped on Staten island.

“British troops in the type of flat-bottomed boat used for the invasion of Long Island. Hessians in their blue uniforms are in the two boats that are only partly visible”. H/T Wikipedia

Patriot forces were badly defeated at the Battle of Brooklyn, fought on August 27, 1776. In terms of number of troops deployed and actual combat it was the largest battle, of the Revolution. The British dug in for a siege, confident their adversary was cornered and waiting only to be destroyed at their convenience while the main Patriot army retreated to Brooklyn Heights.

Cornered on land with the British-controlled East River to their backs, it may have been all over for the Patriot cause, but for one of the great tactical feats of all military history.   The surprise was complete for the British side, on waking for the morning of August 30 to discover the 9,000-strong Patriot army, had vanished. The silent evacuation over the night of August 29-30 had averted disaster, a feat made possible only through the nautical skills of the merchants and rum traders, the sailors and the fishermen of Colonel John Glover’s Marblehead Massachusetts militia, the “Amphibious Regiment”.

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 from enveloping Washington’s position, altogether.

Desperate for information about the attack he was sure would come Washington dispatched a 22-year old Connecticut schoolteacher named Nathan Hale on September 10, to keep an eye on British movements. Disguised as a Dutch schoolteacher, Hale naïvely placed his trust, where it didn’t belong. He was betrayed in just over a week.

As expected, Howe landed a force at Kip’s Bay on September 15 and the Redcoats quickly occupied the city. Patriots delivered an unexpected check the following day at Harlem Heights against an overconfident force of British light troops. It was to be the only such bright spot for the Americans who were now driven out of New York and into New Jersey and finally, to Pennsylvania.

A great fire broke out on the 21st that destroyed as much as a quarter of all the buildings on Manhattan Island. Both sides pointed the finger of blame at the other but the cause, was never determined. Nathan Hale was hanged for a spy the following day with the words, ‘I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country‘.

That October, the defeat of General Benedict Arnold’s home-grown “Navy” on the waters near Valcour Island in Vermont, cost the British fleet dearly enough that it had to turn back, buying another year for the Patriot cause.

Reduced to a mere 4,707 fit for duty, Washington faced the decimation of his army by the New Year, with the end of enlistment for fully two-thirds of an already puny force.  With nowhere to go but the offense, Washington crossed the Delaware river in the teeth of a straight-up gale over the night of December 25 and defeated a Hessian garrison at Trenton in a surprise attack on the morning of December 26.

While minor skirmishes by British standards, the January 2-3 American victories at Assunpink Creek and Princeton demonstrated an American willingness, to stand up to the most powerful military of the age.  Cornwallis suffered three defeats in a ten day period and withdrew his forces from the south of New Jersey.  American morale soared as enlistments, came flooding in.

The American war for independence had years to go.  Before it was over, more Americans would die in the fetid holds of British prison ships than in every battle of the Revolution, combined.  Yet, that first year had come and gone and the former colonies, were still in the fight. 

The astonishing part of this story is it all took place in the midst of a plague vastly more deadly than the COVID-19 pandemic, of our own age. Of 2,780,369 counted by the 1770 census* in this country no fewer than 130,000 died in the smallpox pandemic of 1775-1782. That works out to 4,815 per 100,000. Contrast that with a Coronavirus death rate of 194.14 per 100,000 according to Johns Hopkins University a death rate, of less than .2% *This figure does not include Native Americans who were not counted in the US census, until 1860.

A generation later and an ocean away, Lord Arthur Wellesley described the final defeat of a certain Corsican corporal at a place called Waterloo.  Wellesley might have been talking about the whole year of 1776 in describing that day in 1815, when he said  “It was a damn close run thing”.

Feature image, top of page: Battle of Long Island, by Alonzo Chappel.

August 29, 1854 The Resolute Desk

Once hopelessly caught in arctic ice the British vessel HMS Resolute was returned to her majesty Queen Victoria’s government and now serves as a desk for virtually every US President from Rutherford B. Hayes, to Joseph R. Biden.

Since the time of Columbus, European explorers have searched for a navigable shortcut by open water, from Europe to Asia.   The “Corps of Discovery“ better known as the Lewis and Clark expedition, departed the Indiana Territory in 1804 with, among other purposes, the intention of finding a water route to the Pacific.

Forty years later, Captain sir John Franklin departed England aboard two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, to discover the mythical Northwest Passage.

The two vessels became icebound in Victoria Strait near King William Island, in the Canadian Arctic.

Ship

Prodded by Lady Jane Franklin, the hunt for her husband’s expedition would continue for years, at one time involving as any as eleven British and two American ships.  Clues were found including notes and isolated graves, telling the story of a long and fruitless effort to stay alive in a hostile climate.  The wreck of HMS Erebus would not be discovered until 2014, her sister ship, two years later.

In 1848, the British Admiralty possessed few hulls suitable for arctic service. Two civilian steamships were purchased and converted to exploration vessels: HMS Pioneer and HMS Intrepid, along with four seagoing sailing vessels, Resolute, Assistance, Enterprise and Investigator.

HMS Resolute was a Barque rigged merchant ship, purchased in 1850 as the Ptarmigan and refitted for Arctic exploration. Renamed Resolute, the vessel became part of a five ship squadron leaving England in April 1852, sailing into the Canadian arctic in search of the doomed Franklin expedition.

Neither Franklin nor any of his 128 officers and men would ever return alive.  What HMS Resolute Did find was the long suffering crew of the HMS Investigator, hopelessly encased in ice where, three years earlier, she too had been searching for the lost expedition.

resoluteice2

Three of the Resolute expedition’s ships themselves became trapped in floe ice in August 1853 including Resolute, herself. There was no choice but to abandon ship, striking out across the ice pack in search of their supply ships. Most of them made it despite egregious hardship, straggling into Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, between May and August, of the following year.

The expedition’s survivors left Beechey Island on August 29, 1854, never to return. Meanwhile Resolute, alone and abandoned among the ice floes, continued to drift eastward at a rate of 1½ nautical miles per day.

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The American whale ship George Henry discovered the drifting Resolute on September 10, 1855, 1,200 miles from her last known position. Captain James Buddington split his crew, half of them now manning the abandoned ship. Fourteen of them sailed Resolute back to their base in Groton CT, arriving on Christmas eve.

The so-called ‘Pig and Potato War” of 1859 was resolved between the British and American governments with the loss of no more than a single hog, yet a number of border disputes made the late 1850s a difficult time, for American-British relations. Senator James Mason of Virginia presented a bill in Congress to fix up the Resolute and give her back to her Majesty Queen Victoria’s government, as a token of friendship between the two nations.

$40,000 were spent on the refit. Resolute sailed for England later that year. Commander Henry J. Hartstene presented the vessel to Queen Victoria on December 13. HMS Resolute served in the British navy until being retired and broken up in 1879. The British government ordered two desks to be fashioned from the English oak of the ship’s timbers, the work being done by the skilled cabinet makers of the Chatham dockyards.

In 1880, the British government presented President Rutherford B. Hayes the gift, of a large partner’s desk. A token of gratitude for the return of the HMS Resolute, 24 years earlier.

The desk, known as the Resolute Desk, has been used by nearly every American President from that day, to this. Every president from Hayes through Hoover used the desk either in the White House Green Room, the president’s study or working office. FDR moved the desk into the oval office where he had a panel installed in the opening, as he was self conscious about his leg braces.

There was a brief period of climate controlled storage during the Truman era as the White House went through major renovation. It was Jackie Kennedy who brought the desk back, into the Oval Office. There are pictures of JFK working at the desk while a young JFK, Jr., played underneath.

Stanley Tretick’s October 2, 1963 photo of John F. Kennedy Jr. playing in the kneehole of the Resolute desk

Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford were the only ones not to use the Resolute desk, as LBJ allowed it to leave the White House following the Kennedy assassination.

The Resolute Desk spent several years in the Kennedy Library and later the Smithsonian Institute, the only other time the desk has been out of the White House.

Resolute, Reagan

Jimmy Carter returned the desk to the Oval Office where it has remained through the Presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald J. Trump and, as of this article, Joe Biden.

August 26, 1918 The Computer Wore a Skirt

“So the astronaut who became a hero, looked to this black woman in the still-segregated South at the time as one of the key parts of making sure his mission would be a success.”

In plasma physics, the Heliosphere is a vast cavity formed by the Sun, a “bubble” continuously “inflated” by plasma originating from that body known as “solar wind’ and separating our own solar system, from the vastness of interstellar space. The outermost reach of the Heliosphere comprises three major sections called the Termination Shock, the Heliosheath, and the Heliopause, so called because solar winds and interstellar winds meet to form, a zone of equilibrium.

Image converted using ifftoany

Only five man-made objects have traversed the heliosphere to penetrate interstellar space: Pioneer 10 and 11 launched in 1972-73, Voyager 1 and 2 launched in 1977 and New Horizons which left earth’s atmosphere, in 2006. Of those five only three remain active and continue to transmit data back to our little blue planet.

Voyager 2 Spacecraft

Spectacular images may be found on-line if you’re inclined to look them up. Images such as this jaw dropping shot of the ‘Blue Planet” Neptune taken two days before point of closest contact in August, 1989.

This picture of Neptune was taken by Voyager 2 less than five days before the probe’s closest approach of the planet on Aug. 25, 1989. The picture shows the “Great Dark Spot” – a storm in Neptune’s atmosphere – and the bright, light-blue smudge of clouds that accompanies the storm. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Or these images of the rings of Neptune taken on this day thirty two years ago before Voyager 2 left the last of the “gas giants”, behind.

Voyager 2 took these two images of the rings of Neptune on Aug. 26, 1989, just after the probe’s closest approach to the planet. Neptune’s two main rings are clearly visible; two fainter rings are visible with the help of long exposure times and backlighting from the Sun.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Few among us are equipped to understand the complexity of such flight. Precious few. One such was a little girl, an American of African ancestry born this day in 1918 in White Silver Springs, West Virginia. The youngest of four born to Joyletta and Joshua Coleman, Creola Katherine showed unusual mathematical skills from an early age.

For black children, Greenbrier County West Virginia didn’t offer education past the eighth grade, in the 1920s. The Colemans arranged for their kids to attend high school two hours up the road in Institute, on the campus of West Virginia State College. Katherine took every math class offered by the school and graduated summa cum laude with degrees in mathematics and French, in 1937.

There were teaching jobs along the way at all-black schools and a marriage to Katherine’s first husband, James Goble. The couple would have three children together before James died of a brain tumor. Three years later she married James A. “Jim” Johnson.

With all that going on at home, Katherine found time to become one of only three black students to attend graduate school at West Virginia University and the only female, selected to integrate the school after the Supreme Court ruing Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada.

Careers in research mathematics were few and far between for black women in 1952, but talent and hard work wins out where ignorance, fears to tread.

So it was Katherine Johnson joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), in 1952. Johnson worked in a pool of women who would read the data from aircraft black boxes and carry out a number of mathematical tasks. She referred to her co-workers as “computers who wore skirts”.

Flight research was a man’s world in those days but one day, Katherine and a colleague were asked to fill in, temporarily. Respect is not given it is earned, and Katherine’s knowledge of analytic geometry made quick work of that. Male bosses and colleagues alike were impressed with her skills. When her “temporary” assignment was over it no longer seemed all that important to send her, back to the pool.

Katherine would later explain that barriers of race and sex continued, but she could hold her own. Meetings were taken where decisions were made, where no women had been before. She’d simply tell them that she did the work and this was where she belonged, and that was the end of that.

Johnson worked as a human computer through most of the 1950s, calculating in-flight problems such as gust alleviation, in aircraft. Racial segregation was still in effect in those days according to state law and federal workplace segregation rules introduced under President Woodrow Wilson some forty years, earlier. The door where she worked was labeled “colored computers” but Johnson said she “didn’t feel the segregation at NASA, because everybody there was doing research. You had a mission and you worked on it, and it was important to you to do your job … and play bridge at lunch. I didn’t feel any segregation. I knew it was there, but I didn’t feel it.”

“We needed to be assertive as women in those days – assertive and aggressive – and the degree to which we had to be that way depended on where you were. I had to be. In the early days of NASA women were not allowed to put their names on the reports – no woman in my division had had her name on a report. I was working with Ted Skopinski and he wanted to leave and go to Houston … but Henry Pearson, our supervisor – he was not a fan of women – kept pushing him to finish the report we were working on. Finally, Ted told him, “Katherine should finish the report, she’s done most of the work anyway.” So Ted left Pearson with no choice; I finished the report and my name went on it, and that was the first time a woman in our division had her name on something”.

Katherine Johnson

Katherine worked as an aerospace technologist from 1958 until retirement. She calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 flight to become the first American, in space. She worked out the launch window for his 1961 Mercury mission and plotted navigational charts for backup in case of electronic failure. NASA was using electronic computers by the time of John Glenn’s first orbit around the earth but Glenn refused to fly until Katherine Johnson personally verified the computer’s calculations. Author Margot Lee Shetterly commented, “So the astronaut who became a hero, looked to this black woman in the still-segregated South at the time as one of the key parts of making sure his mission would be a success.”

Katherine Johnson retired in 1986 and lived to see six grandchildren and 11 “Greats”. Everyone should live to see their own great grandchild. Not surprisingly, Johnson encouraged hers to pursue careers in science and technology.

President Barack Obama personally awarded Johnson the medal of Freedom in 2015 for work from the Mercury program, to the Space Shuttle. NASA noted her “historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist.”

A delightful side dish for this story is the Silver Snoopy award NASA gives for outstanding achievement, “For professionalism, dedication and outstanding support that greatly enhanced space flight safety and mission success.”

Following the Mercury and Gemini projects, NASA was searching for a way to focus employees and contractors alike on their own personal contribution to mission success. They wanted it to be fun and interesting, like the Smokey the Bear character, of the United States Forest service. Al Chop of the Manned Spacecraft Center came up with the idea.

Peanuts creator Charles Shulz, a combat veteran of WW2 and avid supporter of the space program, loved the idea. Shulz drew the character to be cast in a silver pin and worn into space, by a member of the Astronaut corps. It is this astronaut who personally awards his or her Snoopy to the deserving recipient.

The award is literally once in a lifetime. Of all NASA personnel and that of many contractors fewer than one percent have ever receive the coveted Silver Snoopy.

Astronaut and former NASA associate administrator for education Leland Melvin personally awarded Johnson her own Silver Snoopy at the naming ceremony in 2016, for the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Astronaut and former NASA associate administrator for education Leland Melvin presents Katherine Johnson with a Silver Snoopy award. / Credit: NASA, David C. Bowman

August 24, 1855 An Ungainly Old Chimney

193 engraved stones arrived from around the world but none met with half the fuss of that brought forth from the ancient Roman temple of Concordia and engraved with the words, ROME TO AMERICA. The gift of Pope Pius IX. The Catholic haters were aghast.

With a second Catholic president in the White House, it may surprise some to learn. This nation once harbored considerable anti-Catholic bias. Candidate John F. Kennedy tackled the issue head-on, addressing a Houston meeting of 300 Protestant ministers in an effort to separate the “honestly fearful”, from genuine bigots.

The strategy worked. Today, Catholic-issues voters have more in common with evangelical voters, than what separates them. Americans have come a long way but it wasn’t always, thus.

The Popes of the early middle ages were heavily involved in secular affairs. Chosen by predecessors, popular acclaim, family connection or simony (the purchase of ecclesiastical office), many were less than pious men. At one time the papacy itself was as political, as any public office..

The Protestant Reformation began with a series of events in the 16th century, aimed at correcting what were seen as errors and excesses of the Catholic Church.

Proponents of the Reformation strongly opposed the clerical hierarchy and particularly, the papacy. The Church of England broke with Catholicism under Henry VIII but, even then, groups such as Puritans and Congregationalists saw much to dislike in Church of England doctrine, based as it was on Catholic teachings.

So it was some of the earliest emigrants to the New World, harbored deep anti-Catholic bias.

George Washington was a passionate believer in religious tolerance and the importance of Christian virtue, in civil society. As General, Washington banned anti-Catholic celebrations such as Guy Fawkes day. Sensible of the indispensable contributions to independence made by Catholic France and Spain, many abandoned such prejudice for a deep and personal dislike, for British King George III.

Even so, some ideas die hard.

The Native American political party founded in 1844 had nothing to do with first nations. Originally begun as a secret society, the party was anti-Catholic, anti-Irish, anti-immigration, xenophobic and populist. The party held many views considered “progressive” in modern parlance, including opposition to slavery, support for an expansion of the rights of women, regulation of industry and a need for increased government spending. An early forerunner in the American temperance movement, the group’s strong anti-Catholic stance would later form the basis of the American Protective Association, and the Ku Klux Klan.

“The Subtle Conspirator,” a 1926 anti-Catholic political cartoon by former Ku Klux Klan preacher Branford Clarke in the newsletter “Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty.” (Public Domain)

Immigration soared during the first half of the 1850s, to levels five times more than the previous decade. Most were poor Catholic peasants and laborers from Ireland and Germany, spawning conspiracy theories that the Pope was personally selecting these people, in order to exert influence.

Adherents to the self-described “American” party would claim ignorance when asked for specifics, by outsiders. Opponents derided them as “Know Nothings”.

Pierre L’Enfant was a French engineer who served with the Continental army, during the Revolution. In 1791, President George Washington appointed L’Enfant to design a home for the federal government, on the banks of the Potomac. George Washington personally laid the cornerstone, of the new Capitol building.

L’Enfant envisioned a large equestrian statue of the President, but Congress did nothing about it. Private enterprise stepped up to do the job in 1833 with the formation of the Washington National Monument Society founded by Chief Justice John Marshall, Librarian of Congress George Watterston and former President, James Madison.

Fundraising began in 1835 with donations limited to $1 per person, per year.

Architect Robert Mills’ plan was approved in 1845 for a 200-foot flat-topped obelisk, crowned with a statue of Washington in a chariot and surrounded by the 12-foot diameter columns of a “National Parthenon”, dedicated to heroes of the Revolution and signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The original vision of the Washington Monument looks quite different, from what we have today.

On July 4, 1848, the 24,500 pound cornerstone was laid for the now-familiar Washington Monument in the nation’s capital. Inside a carved niche was placed a zinc capsule containing mementoes of the day including copies of the founding documents, currency, newspaper clippings and a long list of donated items.

Know-Nothings briefly emerged around this time, as a major political party. Future President Abraham Lincoln denounced the lot of them on August 24, 1855 in a letter to his close friend, Joshua Speed:

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy”.

A. Lincoln

Peak year for the Know-Nothings came in 1856 with candidates elected to local office, and to the United States Congress. Meanwhile, fundraising continued for President Washington’s monument. It wasn’t just money, either. Engraved tablets came in from around the world, from individuals, Sunday school classes and Indian tribes. Organizations from the Masons to the Sons of Temperance, military units and the Odd Fellows all sent stones. At the 220-foot landing there’s a tablet from a group of Chinese Christians, all the way from Ningo, Chekiang Province, China.

193 engraved stones arrived from around the world but none met with half the fuss of that brought forth from the ancient Roman temple of Concordia and engraved with the words, ROME TO AMERICA. The gift of Pope Pius IX was announced on February 7, 1852 in the Daily National Intelligencer of Washington, D.C., page 4.

The Catholic haters were aghast.

Speeches were made and petitions went around. “This gift of a despot“, read one New Jersey petition, “if placed within those walls, can never be looked upon by true Americans but with feelings of mortification and disgust.

The Pope’s stone arrived in early 1854: 3-feet in length, 18-inches in height and 10-inches thick. It was placed in a shed on monument grounds called a lapidarium, there joining several other gift stones awaiting installation.

In a stunt familiar to anyone ever “fact checked’ on Facebook, Know-Nothings now changed tactics, demanding a “protest stone” be installed directly above the Pope’s tablet, and inscribed with some suitable refutation.

Then came the night of March 5-6. The heist. With night watchman George Hilton inside his guard shack, a group of men tied ropes around the hut, trapping Hilton inside. Newspapers were posted to cover the windows nearest the obelisk as the pope’s stone was wrestled, onto a hand cart.

The Potomac river was much closer in those days, before the land reclamation of the 1870s and ’80s. The stone was rowed out to the middle and splashed, to the muddy bottom.

The Monument Society put up a reward of $500, equivalent to ten times that amount today, but the bad guys were never caught. Hilton was suspected to be in cahoots with the thieves and fired, as he couldn’t explain why he couldn’t have opened the window or why that double barreled shotgun, remained by his side.

Know-Nothings not only destroyed the pope’s stone but now, members insinuated themselves into the Monument Society, itself. Contributions all but dried up particularly from Catholic donors and work ground to a halt, in 1858. For twenty years the thing sat. Incomplete. Mark Twain called the 153-foot stump of Washington’s monument, “An Ungainly Old chimney”.

Work resumed in 1878 but now stone was cut, from a different quarry. If you look closely you can see to this day the slight variation, in color.

It’s tough to get anything out of a bunch of guys, called Know-Nothings. Not until 1883 when an anonymous saloon keeper, probably one of the thieves, talked to the Washington Post. “If the dredges at work in the Potomac strike the right spot, they will fish up something that will create a sensation.” That’s just what happened in 1892 when a diver found a beautifully polished slab of pink marble on the muddy bottom engraved with the words, “Rome to America”. A few souvenir chunks were crudely chopped, out of the side.

Inscribed on the aluminum cap placed at the apex of the largest obelisk in the world are inscribed the words “Laus Deo”. Latin for “Praise be to God.”

Only two days later the stone was stolen once again, from a construction shack.

Nearly 100 years later a priest from the Other Washington – Washington state, commissioned a second stone.

In 1982, Pope John Paul II sent a white marble tablet bearing the Latin inscription, “A ROMA AMERICAE” – “Rome to America.”

That first stone, was never found. The second was installed at the 340-foot level where it remains, to this day.

August 23, 1784 The Lost State of Franklin

The Free Republic of Franklin went on for four years despite them all with it’s own Indian treaties, its own constitution and its own system of barter, taking the place of currency.

The American Revolution came to an end with the Treaty of Paris of September 3, 1783. Thirteen former colonies were now independent states, an experiment in self-government encompassing a relative sliver along the eastern shore of a nation one day destined to measure some 2,680 miles across and 1,582 miles from north, to south.

By no means was it foreordained that the United States, would have a Pacific coastline.

In the 18th century, factions developed between established coastal cities and farms and the western pioneers eking out a living, along the frontier. Many so-called eastern “elites” considered these to be outside of the fledgling nation and, for them, that was alright. Frontier communities had a choice between forming jurisdictions within existing states, creating new states or going off on their own to build entirely new countries.

Most of us are well aware that Texas was once such an independent Republic. Many know the same of the Republic of West Florida, the Original Lone Star Republic. (Sorry, Texas). But who knew the modern US contains no fewer than Ten formerly independent states: The Republic of Vermont (1777-1791), Kingdom of Hawaii (1795-1898), Republic of West Florida (1810), Republic of Texas (1836-1846), Republic of Rio Grande (1840), Provisional Government of Oregon (1843-1849), Republic of California (1846), State of Deseret (1849-1850), Republic of Sonora (1853-1854) and the Republic of Baja California (1853-1854).

Republic of West Florida

The war had yet to be formally ended when the state of North Carolina ceded the four western counties between the Alleghenies, and the Mississippi River. Representatives from Washington, Sullivan, Spencer (modern-day Hawkins) and Greene counties declared independence from North Carolina on August 23, 1784.

Congress had yet to act on the matter and North Carolina rescinded its cession nearly a year later and began to organize an administration, within the counties. That the federal government was considering selling the region to France or Spain at this time to settle war debt had nothing to do with any of it, I’m sure.

The following May, the counties petitioned for statehood. They called it “Frankland” at first but that was changed to Franklin, to gain the support of Benjamin Franklin and his allies.

The Republic won over a majority of the congress but never did achieve the 2/3rds required to make statehood, a reality.

The Free Republic of Franklin went on for four years despite them all with it’s own Indian treaties, its own constitution and its own system of barter, taking the place of currency.

North Carolina ran a parallel government the whole time, within the state of Franklin. This did little to strengthen an already weak economy when Governor John Sevier petitioned the Spanish, for foreign aid. Horrified at the idea of a Spanish client state at its border North Carolina, arrested the Governor.

Cherokee, Chickamauga and Chickasaw war bands piled on attacking settlements, within the borders of Franklin. It was all over by 1788 as Franklin rejoined North Carolina to gain the protection, of the state militia.

Today, the formerly Free Republic of Franklin makes up the easternmost 12 counties of Tennessee admitted as the 16th state on June 1, 1796.

Of the ten independent Republics listed above plus four others who tried and failed, Franklin remains unique in that the state resulted from both a cession, and secession.

Tennessee went on to earn the nickname “The Volunteer State” during the War of 1812 and cement the label during the Mexican-American war when the secretary of War requested 2,800 volunteers and got, 30,000. Tennessee was the last of the southern states to secede from the union and the first to rejoin, having provided more Confederate soldiers of any state save Virginia and more units of soldiers for the Union army, than any of the Confederate states.

Fun Fact: William Strickland, the engineer and architect who built the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, died in 1854 before the building’s completion. At Strickland’s request he was entombed within the walls of the structure and remains there, still.

George Washington, the only politically Independent President in our nation’s history warned against factions dividing Americans into “distinct peoples”. He had seen how parties had driven England to civil war with the Jacobite uprising, of 1745-’46. He well understood the murderous tendencies unleashed by the politics, of the French Revolution. He detested the endless sniping of factions within his own government and the “infamous scribblers” of the newspapers, of his day.

Washington warned us all against political parties in his farewell address, parties already well formed and tearing, at the nation’s fabric:

“…They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction…”

George Washington, farewell address

I wonder what the Father of the Country would say about our politics, today.

August 19, 1906 The Damn Thing Works!

A baby was born this day in 1906 in a small log cabin near Beaver, Utah. His name was Philo, the first born child of Louis Farnsworth and Serena Bastian. He would grow to be the most famous man, you probably never heard of.

Inventor Thomas Edison was once asked about his seeming inability, to invent artificial light. “I have not failed”, he explained “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

A baby was born this day in 1906 in a small log cabin near Beaver, Utah. His name was Philo, the first born child of Louis Farnsworth and Serena Bastian. He would grow to be the most famous man, you probably never heard of.

Birthplace of Philo Taylor Farnsorth

Philo was constantly tinkering. He was the kind who could look at an object and understand how it worked and why this particular one, didn’t. The family moved when he was 12 to a relative’s ranch near Rigby, Idaho. Philo was delighted to learn the place had electricity. 

He found a burnt out electric motor thrown out by a previous tenant and rewound the armature, converting his mothers hand-cranked  washing machine, to electric. 

It must’ve seemed like Christmas morning when he found all those old technology magazines, in the attic. He even won a $25 prize one time in a magazine contest, for inventing a magnetized car lock.

Farnsworth was fascinated with the behavior of molecules and excelled in chemistry and physics, at Rigby high school. Harrowing a field one day behind a team of two horses, his mind got to working. What if I could “train“ electrons to work in lines like I’m doing here, with these horses? Electrons are so fast the human eye would never pick up, the individual lines. Couldn’t I use them to “paint“ an electronic picture?

Image dissector

Philo sketched his idea of an “image dissector” for his science teacher Mr. Tolman, who encouraged him to keep working on his idea. Justin Tolman kept the sketch though neither could know at that time.  Farnsworth’s 1922 drawing would prove decisive one day in a court of law, over who invented all-electronic television.

From Japan to Russia, Germany and America more than fifty inventors were working in the 1920s, to invent television. History remembers the Scottish engineer John Logie Baird as the man who built and demonstrated the world’s first electromechanical television. Amazingly, it was he who invented the first color TV tube, as well.

Scotsman John Logie Baird invented the first (electromechanical0 TV

It was all well and good but Baird’s spinning electromechanical disk was as a glacier, compared with the speed of the electron. Clearly, the future of television, lay in the field of electronics.

The Russian engineer Vladimir K. Zworykin applied for US patent on an electron scanning tube in 1923, while working for RCA. He wouldn’t get the thing to work though, until 1934. Meanwhile, Philo Taylor Farnsworth successfully demonstrated the first television signal transmission on September 7, 1927. The excited telegram Farnsworth sent to one of his backers exclaimed, “The damn thing works!”

Farnsworth’s successful patent application in 1930 resulted in additional funding to support his work and a visit, from Vladimir Zworykin. RCA offered Farnsworth $100,000 for his invention and, when he declined their offer, took him to court over his patent.

“If it weren’t for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, we’d still be eating frozen radio dinners”.

Johnny Carson

What followed was a bruising, ten year legal battle, a David vs. Goliath contest Farnsworth would win in the end, but at enormous cost both financial, and physical.

In another version of this story, the one that never happened, Philo Farnsworth went on to great fame and fortune to enjoy the fruits of his talents, and all his hard work. Instead World War 2 happened. Farnsworth’s hard fought patent rights quietly expired while the world, was busy with something else.

Ever the tinkerer, Farnsworth went on to invent a rudimentary form of radar, black light for night vision and an infrared telescope. Despite all that his company never did run in the “black”. He sold the company in 1949, to ITT.

From the 1950s on, the man’s primary interest, was in nuclear fusion. In 1965 he patented an array of tubes he called “fusors” in which he actually started a 30-second fusion reaction.

Farnsworth never did enjoy good health. The inventor of all-electronic television died of pneumonia on March 11, 1971 with well over 300 patents, to his name. Had you bought a television that day you would have owned a device with no fewer than 100 inventions, by this one man.

Ever the idealist Farnsworth believed television would bring about ever greater heights in human learning and achievement, foster a shared experience bringing about international peace and understanding. Much the same as some once believed of the internet where the sum total of human knowledge was now available for a few keystrokes, and social media fosters new worlds of harmonious relations where cheerful users discussed the collected works of Shakespeare, the Codes of Hammurabi and the vicissitudes, of life.

Right.

Farnsworth was dismayed by the dreck brought about, by his creation. “There’s nothing on it worthwhile” he would say“, and we’re not going to watch it in this household. I don’t want it in your intellectual diet…Television is a gift of God, and God will hold those who utilize his divine instrument accountable to him“. – Philo Taylor Farnsworth

That all changed if only a bit, on July 20, 1969. American astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon and declared, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was probably a misspeak. Most likely he intended to say “one small step for A man” but, be that as it may. The world saw it happen thanks to a miniaturized version of a device, invented by Philo Farnsworth.

Farnsworth himself was watching just like everyone else alive, that day. Years later Farnsworth’s wife Emma, he called her “Pem”, would recall in an interview, with the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences: “We were watching it, and, when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, Phil turned to me and said, “Pem, this has made it all worthwhile.” Before then, he wasn’t too sure”.