During World War II, aerial bombardment laid waste to Tokyo and its surrounding suburbs. After the war, cuttings from the cherry trees of Washington were sent back to Japan, to restore the Tokyo collection.
George Hawthorne Scidmore was a career diplomat, serving assignments throughout the Asian Pacific between 1884 and 1922. Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore was as accomplished as her brother: American author and socialite, journalist and world traveler. She was the first female board member of the National Geographic Society.
Frequent visits with her brother led to a passionate interest in all things Japanese, most especially the Japanese cherry, Prunus serrulata, commonly known as the Sakura. The Japanese blossoming cherry tree. She called them “the most beautiful thing in the world”.
In January 1900, President William McKinley summoned Federal judge William Howard Taft to Washington, for a meeting.
Taft hoped to discuss a Supreme Court appointment, but it wasn’t meant to be. One day, judge Taft would get his wish, becoming the only man in United States history to serve both as President, and as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
For now, the American war in the Philippines was ongoing. Judge Taft was bound for the Pacific, to head up a commission to organize civilian self-government in the island nation.
While the future President labored in the Philippines, Helen Herron Taft took up residence in Japan, where she came to appreciate the beauty of the native cherry trees.
Years later, the Japanese Consul in New York learned of the First Lady’s interest in the Sakura and suggested a gift from the city of Tokyo to the government of the United States. A grove of Japanese cherry trees,
For Eliza Scidmore, it was a dream some 34 years, in the making. The people and the government of Japan would present this gift to the government and the people, of the United States. It was Eliza Scidmore who raised the money, to make it all happen.
On March 27, 1912, the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador to the United States joined First Lady Helen Taft, in planting two Japanese Yoshino cherry trees on the bank of the Potomac River, near the Jefferson memorial.
Those two ladies planted the first two trees, in a formal ceremony. By the time the workmen were through, there would be thousands of them.
This was the second such effort. 2,000 trees had arrived in January 1910, but these had not survived the journey. So it was a private Japanese citizen, donated the funds to transport this new batch of trees.
3,020 specimens were taken from the bank of the Arakawa River in the Adachi Ward suburb of Tokyo, to be planted along the Potomac River Basin and White House grounds.
The beautiful March blossoms were overwhelmingly popular with visitors to the Washington Mall. In 1934, city commissioners sponsored a three-day celebration of the blossoming cherry trees, which grew into the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
During World war II, aerial bombardment laid waste to Tokyo and its surrounding suburbs. After the war, cuttings from the cherry trees of Washington were sent back to Japan, to restore the Tokyo collection.
It’s not clear to me, if the trees which grace the Arakawa River today are entirely composed from the Potomac collection, or some combination of American and native stock. After the cataclysm of war in the Pacific, I’m not sure it matters. That might even be the whole point.
Five musicians were shocked to realize the shooter was the man they had worked for in those earlier months at that burned out dive bar. The Skyline Lounge.
Jacob Leon Rubenstein was a problem child, growing up on the west side of Chicago. Marked a juvenile delinquent in his adolescence, Rubenstein was arrested for truancy at age 11, eventually skipping enough school to spend time at the Institute of Juvenile Research.
As with Peanuts cartoonist Charles M Shulz, those who knew Jacob Rubenstein called him “Sparky”. Some say the nickname came from a resemblance to “Sparkplug”, the old nag with the patchwork blanket from the Snuffy Smith cartoon strip.Rubenstein hated the nickname and was quick to fight anyone who called him that. It may have been that hot temper, that made the name stick.
Rubinstein spent the early 1940s at racetracks in Chicago and California, until being drafted into the Army Air Forces, in 1943. Honorably discharged in 1946, he returned to Chicago before moving to Dallas, the following year.
Rubenstein managed a seedy collection of Dallas nightclubs and strip joints, featuring such fine ladies as “Candy Barr” and “Chris Colt and her ’45’s”. Somewhere along the line, Rubinstein shortened his name to “Ruby”.Ruby was a low-rent gangster, involved in typical underworld activities like gambling, narcotics and prostitution. There were rumored associations with Mafia boss Santo Trafficante.
Not-so-honest members of the Dallas police force knew that Ruby was always good for free booze, free prostitutes, and other favors.
This was not a good guy.Today, you may know Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson as musicians who played with Bob Dylan in 1965, later going on the road as “The Band” and performing such rock & roll standards as “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down”, “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Weight”.
In the early days, these guys were playing with a Canadian/American rocker named Ronnie Hawkins. The joints these guys played were so rough they performed with blackjacks, hidden in special pockets sewn into their coats. Robertson writes in a new memoir: “We bought small derringer pistols, switchblades, black-jacks, brass knuckles, even tear-gas pens – whatever could be easily concealed and quickly accessed”.
In 1963, the group played a week in one “burnt out, blown up” dump in Fort Worth. It was an enormous venue with no one there that first night, save for two couples, a pair of drunk waiters and a one-armed go-go dancer. The band had yet to finish the first set when a fight broke out. Some sort of weapon came out and a man was tear-gassed at point blank range. Coughing and choking the band played on for no one, with teargas wafting across the stage and faces wet with tears.Part of the roof had blown off this joint. Either that or it burned off, depending on which version you believed. Jack, the club owner, tore off the rest of it and kept the insurance money, calling this fine establishment, the “Skyline Lounge”.
Jack felt no need to pay for security, not even with the roof gone. Jaws grinding from a seemingly endless appetite for “uppers”, Jack said “Boys, this building ain’t exactly secure enough for you to leave your musical equipment unattended.” Band members were told they’d best stay overnight, with guns, lest anyone come over the wall to steal their equipment.
That November, John Fitzgerald Kennedy came to Dallas. The Presidential motorcade departing Love Field the morning of November 22. The open car with the President in the back with First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. Texas Governor and First Lady John and Idanell “Nellie” Connally, in the jump seats. At 12:29, the Presidential limousine executed a right turn from Main Street onto Houston Street and entered Dealey Plaza. A minute later, shots rang out.
The President of the United States was shot, the first bullet striking the upper back and exiting his throat. With mouth open in anguish and clenched fists rising to his face and neck, the stricken man turned to his wife as his head exploded, the second shot tearing into the right side of his skull. The First Lady, splattered with the blood and brains of her husband and now screaming, crawled onto the trunk as Secret Service Agent Clint Hill scrambled on board the car, now speeding away. Somewhere along the line, Governor Connally was also shot. A spectator was wounded by flying debris.
The nation was stunned. It was the first Presidential assassination in over a half-century. I was 5 at the time and remember that day, like it was just last week.
Abraham Zapruder Film, European/French Copy, HD, stabilized and slow Motioned
An hour after the shooting, a former marine and a rare defector to the Soviet Union named Lee Harvey Oswald killed Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, who had stopped him for questioning. Thirty minutes later, Oswald was arrested in a movie theater.
By Sunday, November 24, Oswald was formally charged with the murders of President John F. Kennedy and Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit. He was taken to the basement of Dallas police headquarters, where an armored car waited to transport the prisoner to a more secure county jail. The scene was crowded with press and police.
Half the country watched on live television as a figure came out of the crowd, firing a single bullet from a .38 revolver into the belly of Lee Harvey Oswald. Five musicians were shocked to realize the shooter was the man they had worked for in those earlier months at that burned out dive bar. The Skyline Lounge.
Lee Harvey Oswald was taken unconscious to Parkland Memorial Hospital. The same hospital in which the president had died, two days earlier. Within two hours he too, was dead.
On March 14, 1964, Jack Ruby was sentenced to death in the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Ruby’s conviction in October 1966, on the grounds that the trial should have taken place in a different county than that in which his high profile crime, had taken place. Ruby died of lung cancer the following January, while awaiting retrial.The Warren Commission found no evidence linking Jack Ruby’s murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, to any broader conspiracy to assassinate the President. What became of Jacob Leon “Sparky” Rubenstein’s Skyline Lounge, is unknown to this writer.
This particular nuke was unarmed that day but three tons of conventional explosives can ruin your whole day. The weapon scored a direct hit on a playhouse built for the Gregg children, the explosion leaving a crater 70-feet wide and 35-feet deep and destroying the Gregg home, the farmhouse, workshop and several outbuildings. Buildings within a five-mile radius were damaged, including a local church.
If you’re ever in South Carolina, stop and enjoy the historical delights of the Pee Dee region. About a half-hour from Pedro’s “South of the Border”, there you will find the “All-American City” of Florence, according to the National Civic League of 1965. With a population of about 38,000, Florence describes itself as a regional center for business, medicine, culture and finance.
Oh. And the Federal Government dropped a Nuke on the place. Sixty-two years ago, today.
To anyone under the age of 40, the Cold War must seem a strange and incomprehensible time. Those of us who lived through it, feel the same way.
The Air Force Boeing Stratojet bomber left Hunter Air Force Base in Savannah, on a routine flight to Africa via the United Kingdom. Just in case thermonuclear war was to break out with the Soviet Union, the B47 carried a 10-foot 8-inch, 7,600-pound, Mark 4, atomic bomb.
The Atlantic Coastline Railroad conductor, WWII veteran & former paratrooper Walter Gregg Sr. was in the workshop next to his home in the Mars Bluff neighborhood of Florence, South Carolina while his wife, Ethel Mae “Effie” Gregg, was inside, sewing. The Gregg sisters Helen and Frances, ages 6 and 9, were playing in the woods with their nine-year-old cousin Ella Davies as the B47 Stratojet bomber lumbered overhead.At 15,000-feet, a warning light came on in the cockpit, indicating the load wasn’t properly secured. Not wanting a thing like that rattling around in the back, Captain Earl E. Koehler sent navigator Bruce M. Kulka, to investigate. Kulka slipped and grabbed out for something, to steady himself. That “something” just happened to be, the emergency release.
Bomb bay doors alone are woefully inadequate to hold back a 4-ton bomb. The thing came free and began a 15,000-foot descent, straight into the Gregg’s back yard.
The Mark 4 atom bomb employs an IFI (in-flight insertion) safety, whereby composite uranium and plutonium fissile pits are inserted into the bomb core, thus arming the weapon. When deployed, a 6,000-pound. conventional explosion super-compresses the fissile core, beginning a nuclear chain reaction. In the first millisecond, (one millionth of a second), plasma expands to a size of several meters as temperatures rise into the tens of millions of degrees, Celsius. Thermal electromagnetic “Black-body” radiation in the X-Ray spectrum is absorbed into the surrounding air, producing a fireball. The kinetic energy imparted by the reaction produces an initial explosive force of about 7,500 miles, per second.
This particular nuke was unarmed that day but three tons of conventional explosives can ruin your whole day. The weapon scored a direct hit on a playhouse built for the Gregg children, the explosion leaving a crater 70-feet wide and 35-feet deep and destroying the Gregg home, the farmhouse, workshop and several outbuildings. Buildings within a five-mile radius were damaged, including a local church. Effie gashed her head when the walls blew in but miraculously, no one was killed except for a couple chickens. Not even the cat.
Three years later, a B-52 Stratofortress carrying two Mark 39 thermonuclear bombs broke up in the air over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Five crew members ejected from the aircraft at 9,000-feet and landed safely, another ejected but did not survive the landing. Two others died in the crash.
In this incident, both weapons were fully nuclear-enabled. A single switch out of four, is all that prevented at least one of the things, from going off.
Walter Gregg described the Mars Bluff incident in 2001, in director Peter Kuran’s documentary “Nuclear 911”. “It just came like a bolt of lightning”, he said. “Boom! And it was all over. The concussion …caved the roof in.” Left with little but the clothes on their backs, the Greggs eventually sued the Federal Government.
The family was awarded $36,000 by the United States Air force. It wasn’t enough to rebuild the house let alone, replace their possessions. Walter Gregg resented it, for the rest of his life.
Over the years, members of the flight crew stopped by to apologize for the episode.
The land remains in private hands but it’s federally protected, so it can’t be developed. They even made a path back in 2008 and installed a few signs, but those were mostly stolen by college kids.
You can check it out for yourself if you want to amuse the locals. They’ll know what you’re doing as soon as you drive through the neighborhood, the second time. Crater Rd/4776 Lucius Circle, Mars Bluff, SC (Hat tip roadsideamerica.com)
A month before the Mars Bluff incident, a hydrogen bomb was accidentally dropped in the ocean, off Tybee Island, Georgia. Incidents involving the loss or accidental detonation of nuclear weapons are called “Broken Arrows“. There have been 32 such incidents, since 1950. As of this date, six atomic weapons remain unaccounted for, including that one off the Georgia coast.
Feature image top of page; “C. B. Gregg looks at the bomb damaged home of his brother Walter Gregg who was injured after an Air Force bomb hit about 100 yards away on March 12, 1958, in Florence, S.C. (AP Photo) H/T Military Times
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor it was never more clear. The Pacific coast was vulnerable to foreign attack.
Discussions concerning a road to Alaska began as early as 1865, when Western Union contemplated plans to install a telegraph wire from the United States to Siberia. The concept picked up steam with the proliferation of automobiles in the 1920s but the idea was a hard sell for Canadian authorities. Such a road would necessarily pass through their territory, and the Canadian government believed the project would have little impact, benefiting no more than a few thousand people in the Yukon.
As the first wave of Japanese aircraft descended to the final attack on Pearl Harbor, a force of some 5,900 soldiers and marines under Lieutenant General Tomitarō Horii invaded the American garrison on Guam, some 4,000 miles to the west. American forces on Wake Island held out a bit longer but, by the 23rd it was over.
Priorities were changing for both the United States, and Canada. It was never more clear that the Pacific coast, was vulnerable to foreign attack.
The Alaska Territory was particularly exposed. Situated only 750 miles from the nearest Japanese base, the Aleutian Island chain had but 12 medium bombers, 20 pursuit planes and fewer than 22,000 troops to defend an area four times the size of Texas.
Colonel Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., son of the Confederate commander who famously received Ulysses S. Grant’s “Unconditional Surrender” ultimatum at Fort Donelson (“I propose to move immediately, upon your works”), was in charge of the Alaska Defense Command. Buckner made his made point, succinctly. “If the Japanese come here, I can’t defend Alaska. I don’t have the resources.”
The Army approved construction of the Alaska Highway in February 1942, the project receiving the blessings of Congress and President Roosevelt within the week. Canada agreed to allow the project, provided that the United States pay the full cost, and the roadway and other facilities be turned over to Canadian authorities at the end of the war.
Construction began on March 9 as trains moved hundreds of pieces of construction equipment to Dawson Creek, the last stop on the Northern Alberta Railway. At the other end, 10,670 American troops arrived in Alaska that spring, to begin what their officers called “the biggest and hardest job since the Panama Canal.”
In-between lay over 1,500 miles of unmapped, hostile, wilderness.
The project received a new sense of urgency on June 7, when a Japanese force of 1,140 took control of Attu Island and murdering Charles Jones, a ham radio operator and weather reporter from Ohio, and taking his wife Etta prisoner, along with 45 Aleuts. Adding to the urgency was the fact that the Alaskan winter permits no more than an eight-month construction window. That period was already well underway.
Construction began at both ends and the middle at once, with nothing but the most rudimentary engineering sketches. A route through the Rocky Mountains had yet to be identified.
Radios of the age didn’t work across the Rockies, and the mail was erratic. The only passenger service available was run by the Yukon Southern airline, a run which locals called the “Yukon Seldom”. For construction battalions at Dawson Creek, Delta Junction and Whitehorse, it was faster to talk to each other through military officials in Washington, DC.
Moving men to assigned locations was one thing. Transporting 11,000 pieces of heavy equipment, to say nothing of supplies needed by man and machine, was quite another.
Tent pegs were useless in the permafrost, while the body heat of sleeping soldiers meant waking up in mud. Partially thawed lakes meant that supply planes could use neither pontoon nor ski, as Black flies swarmed the troops by day. Hungry bears raided camps at night, looking for food.
Engines had to run around the clock, as it was impossible to restart them in the cold. Engineers waded up to their chests building pontoons across freezing lakes, battling mosquitoes in the mud and the moss laden arctic bog. Ground which had been frozen for thousands of years was scraped bare and exposed to sunlight, creating a deadly layer of muddy quicksand in which bulldozers sank in what seemed like stable roadbed.
That October, Refines Sims Jr. of Philadelphia, with the all-black 97th Engineers, was driving a bulldozer 20 miles east of the Alaska-Yukon line when the trees in front of him toppled to the ground. Sims slammed his machine into reverse as a second bulldozer came into view, driven by Kennedy, Texas Private Alfred Jalufka. North had met south, and the two men jumped off their machines, grinning. Their triumphant handshake was photographed by a fellow soldier and published in newspapers across the country, becoming an unintended first step toward desegregating the US military.
A gathering at Soldier’s Summit on November 21, 1942 celebrated “completion” of the route, though the “highway” remained impassable for most vehicles, until 1943.NPR ran an interview about this story sometime in the eighties, in which an Inupiaq elder was recounting his memories. He had grown up in a world as it existed for hundreds of years, without so much as an idea of internal combustion. He spoke of the day that he first heard the sound of an engine, and went out to see a giant bulldozer making its way over the permafrost. The bulldozer was being driven by a black operator, probably one of the 97th Engineers Battalion soldiers. The old man’s comment, as best I can remember it, was a classic. “It turned out”, he said, “that the first white person I ever saw, was a black man”.
“We are now told, in tones of lofty exultation, that the day is lost all lost and that we might as well give up the struggle. The highest authority has spoken. The voice of the Supreme Court has gone out over the troubled waves of the National Conscience, saying peace, be still . . . The Supreme Court of the United States is not the only power in this world. It is very great, but the Supreme Court of the Almighty is greater”. – Frederick Douglass
Dred Scott. His given name may have been “Etheldred”. He was born into slavery in Southampton County, Virginia sometime in the late 1790s, home of Nat Turner’s rebelion, some 70 years before.. In 1818, Scott belonged to Peter Blow, who moved his family and six slaves to Alabama, to attempt a life of farming. The farm near Huntsville was unsuccessful and the Blow family gave up the effort, moving to St. Louis Missouri in 1830 to run a boarding house.
Blow died in 1832 and Dred Scott was sold to Dr. John Emerson, a surgeon serving in the United States Army.
As an army officer, Dr. Emerson moved about frequently, bringing Scott with him. In 1837, Emerson moved to Fort Snelling in the free territory of Wisconsin, now Minnesota. There, Scott met and married Harriet Robinson, a slave belonging to fellow army doctor and Justice of the Peace, Lawrence Taliaferro.
Taliaferro, who presided over the ceremony, transferred Harriet to Emerson, who continued to regard the couple as his slaves. Emerson moved away later that year, leaving the Scotts behind to be leased by other officers.
The following year, Dr. Emerson married Eliza Irene Sanford, and sent for the Scotts to rejoin him in Fort Jesup, in Louisiana. Harriett gave birth to a daughter while on a steamboat on the Mississippi, between the free state of Illinois and the Iowa district of the Wisconsin Territory.
Dr. Emerson died in 1842, leaving his estate to his wife Eliza, who continued to lease the Scotts out as hired slaves.
Four years later, Scott attempted to buy his freedom for the sum of $300, equivalent to about $10,000 in 2020. Mrs. Emerson declined the offer and Scott took legal recourse. By this time, Dred and Harriett Scott had two daughters who were approaching an age where their value would be greatly increased, should they be sold as slaves. Wanting to keep his family together, Scott sued.
Ironically, Dred Scott’s suit in state court, Scott v. Emerson, was financially backed by three now-adult Blow children, who had since become abolitionists.
The legal position stood on solid ground, based on the doctrine “Once free, always free”. The Scott family had resided in free states and territories for two years and their eldest daughter was born on the Mississippi River, between a free state and a free territory.
The verdict went against Scott but the judge ordered a retrial, which was held in January, 1850. This time, the jury ruled in favor of Dred Scott’s freedom. Emerson appealed and the Missouri supreme court struck down the lower court ruling, along with 28 years of Missouri precedent.
By 1853, Eliza Emerson had remarried and moved to Massachusetts, transferring ownership of the Scott family to her brother, John Sanford. Scott sued in federal district court, on the legal theory that the federal courts held “diversity jurisdiction”, since Sanford lived in one state (New York), and Scott in another (Missouri). Dred Scott lost once again and appealed to the United States Supreme Court, a clerical misspelling erroneously recording the case as Dred Scott v. Sandford.
On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the 7-2 majority opinion, enunciating one of the stupidest decisions, in the history of American jurisprudence: “[Americans of African ancestry] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it”.
The highest court in the land had ruled that slaves were private property and not citizens, with no right to legal recourse. Furthermore, the United States Congress had erred in attempting to regulate slavery in the territories and had no right to revoke the property rights of a slave owner, based on his place of residence.
Response to the SCOTUSdecision was immediate, and vehement. Rather than settle the issue once and for all, the ruling inflamed public opinion, further dividing an already fractured nation. Frederick Douglass assailed Chief Justice Taney’s opinion, noting that:
“We are now told, in tones of lofty exultation, that the day is lost all lost and that we might as well give up the struggle. The highest authority has spoken. The voice of the Supreme Court has gone out over the troubled waves of the National Conscience, saying peace, be still . . . The Supreme Court of the United States is not the only power in this world. It is very great, but the Supreme Court of the Almighty is greater”.
The Supreme Court had spoken, but Dred Scott’s story was far from over. Eliza Irene Emerson’s new husband was Calvin C. Chaffee, an influential member of the United States Congress. And an abolitionist.
Following the Dred Scott decision, the Chaffees deeded the Scott family over to Henry Taylor Blow, now a member of the United States House of Representatives from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional district, who manumitted the family on May 26.
Dred Scott had lost at virtually every turn, only to win his freedom at the hands of the family who once held him enslaved.
For Harriett and the two Scott daughters, it was the best of all possible outcomes. For Scott himself, freedom was short-lived. Dred Scott died of tuberculosis, the following year.
Nationally, the Dred Scott decision had the affect of hardening enmities already nearing white-hot, increasing animosities within and between pro- and anti-slavery factions in North and South, alike. Politically, the Democratic party was broken into factions and severely weakened while the fledgling Republican party was strengthened, as the nation was inexorably drawn to Civil War.
The issue of Black citizenship was settled in 1868, via Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, which states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside …”
Dred Scott is buried in the Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. The marker next to his headstone reads: “In Memory Of A Simple Man Who Wanted To Be Free.”
On this day in 1770, the insults of a cocky 13-year-old led to one of the seminal events, of the American Revolution.
In living memory, France and Great Britain have always been allies. In war and peace from the Great War to World War 2 to the present day, but such was not always the case. Between the Norman Invasion of 1066 and the Napoleonic Wars of 1802-1815, the two allies have found themselves in a state of war no fewer than forty times.
Throughout most of that history, the two sides would clash until one or the other ran out of money, when yet another treaty would be trotted out and signed.
New taxes would be levied to bolster the King’s treasury, and one or the other would be back for another round. The cycle began to change in the late 17th century for reasons which may be summed up with a single word. Debt.
In the time of Henry VIII, British military outlays as a percentage of central government expenses averaged 29.4%. By 1694 the Nine Years’ War had left the English Government’s finances in tatters. £1.2 million were borrowed by the national treasury at a rate of 8 percent from the newly formed Bank of England.
The age of national deficit financing, had arrived.
In one of the earliest known debt issues in history, Prime Minister Henry Pelham converted the entire national debt into consolidated annuities known as “consols”, in 1752. Consols paid interest like regular bonds, with no requirement that the government ever repay the face value. 18th century British debt soared as high as 74.6%, and never dropped below 55%.
The Seven Years’ War alone, fought on a global scale between 1756 to 1763, saw British debt double to the unprecedented sum of £150 million, straining the national economy.
American colonists experienced the conflict in the form of the French and Indian War, for which the Crown laid out £70,000,000. The British government saw its American colonies as beneficiaries of their expense, while the tax burden on the colonists themselves remained comparatively light.
For American colonists, the never ending succession of English wars had accustomed them to running their own affairs.
The “Townshend Revenue Acts” of 1767 sought to force American colonies to pick up the tab for their own administration, a perfectly reasonable idea in the British mind. The colonists had other ideas. Few objected to the amount of taxation as much as whether the British had the right to tax them at all. They were deeply suspicious of the motives behind these new taxes, and were not about to be subjugated by a distant monarch.
The political atmosphere was brittle in 1768, as troops were sent to Boston to enforce the will of the King. Rioters ransacked the home of a newly appointed stamp commissioner, who resigned the post following day. No stamp commissioner was actually tarred and feathered, a barbarity which had been around since the days of Richard III “Lionheart”, though several such incidents occurred at New England seaports. More than a few loyalists were ridden out of town on the backs of mules.
The Massachusetts House of Representatives sent a petition to King George III asking for the repeal of the Townshend Act. A Circular Letter sent to the other colonial assemblies, called for a boycott of merchants importing those goods affected by the act. Lord Hillsborough responded with a letter of his own, instructing colonial governors in America to dissolve those assemblies which responded to the Massachusetts body.
The fifty gun HMS Romney arrived in May, 1769. Customs officials seized John Hancock’s merchant sloop “Liberty” the following month, on allegations the vessel was involved in smuggling. Already agitated over Romney’s impressment of local sailors, Bostonians began to riot. By October, the first of four regular British army regiments arrived in Boston.
On February 22, 1770, 11-year-old Christopher Seider joined a mob outside the shop of loyalist Theophilus Lillie. Customs official Ebenezer Richardson attempted to disperse the crowd. Soon the mob was outside his North End home. Rocks were thrown and windows broken. One hit Richardson’s wife. Ebenezer Richardson fired into the crowd, striking Christopher Seider. By nightfall, the boy was dead. 2,000 locals attended the funeral of this, the first victim of the American Revolution.
Edward Garrick was a wigmaker’s apprentice, who worked each day to grease and powder and curl the long hair of the soldier’s wigs.
Weeks earlier, the wigmaker had given British Captain-Lieutenant John Goldfinch, a shave.
A cocky 13-year old, Garrick spotted the officer and taunted the man, yelling “There goes the fellow that won’t pay my master!”
Goldfinch had paid the man the day before. The officer wasn’t about to respond to an insult from some snotty kid but private Hugh White, on guard outside the State House on King Street, took the bait. White said the boy should be more respectful and struck him on the head, with his musket. Garrick’s buddy and fellow wigmaker’s apprentice Bartholomew Broaders began to argue with White, as a crowd gathered ’round to watch.
As the evening pressed on, church bells began to ring. The crowd, now fifty and growing and led by the mixed-race former slave-turned sailor Crispus Attucks threw taunts and insults, spitting and daring Private White to fire his weapon. The swelling mob turned from boisterous to angry as White took a more defensible position, against the State House steps. Runners alerted Officer of the Watch Captain Thomas Preston to the situation, who dispatched a non-commissioned officer and six privates of the 29th Regiment of Foot, to back up Private White.
Bayonets fixed, the eight took a semi-circular defensive position with Preston himself, in the lead. The crowd, now numbering in the hundreds, began to throw snowballs. Then stones and other objects. Private Hugh Montgomery was knocked to the ground and, infuriated, came up shooting.
The two sides stopped for a few seconds to two minutes, depending on the witness. Then they all fired. A ragged, ill-disciplined volley. There was no order, just the flash and roar of gunpowder on the cold late afternoon streets of a Winter’s day. It was March 5. When the smoke cleared, three were dead. Two more lay mortally wounded and another six, seriously injured.
The mob moved away from the spot on King Street, now State Street, but continued to grow in the nearby streets. Speaking from a balcony, acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson was able to restore some semblance of order, only by promising a full and fair inquiry.
Future President John Adams defended the troopers assisted by Josiah Quincy and Loyalist Robert Auchmuty. Massachusetts Solicitor General Samuel Quincy and private attorney Robert Treat Paine handled the prosecution in two separate trials, one for Captain Preston, the other for the eight enlisted soldiers.
Two were convicted but escaped hanging, by invoking a medieval legal remnant called “benefit of clergy”. Each would be branded on the thumb in open court with “M” for murder. The others were acquitted, leaving both sides complaining of unfair treatment. It was the first time a judge used the phrase “reasonable doubt.”
The only conservative revolution in history, was fewer than six years in the future.
There is a circle of stones in front of the Old State House on what is now State Street, marking the site of the Boston Massacre. British taxpayers continue to this day, to pay interest on the debt left to them, by the decisions of their ancestors.
“As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect;—stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness. ‘Can this be hell?’”.
In the early days of the Civil War, the government in Washington refused to recognize the Confederate states’ government, believing such recognition tantamount to legitimizing an illegal entity. Accordingly, the Union refused formal agreement regarding the exchange of prisoners. Following the capture of over a thousand federal troops at the first battle of Bull Run (1st Manassas), a joint resolution in Congress called for President Lincoln to establish a prisoner exchange agreement.
In July 1862, Union Major General John Dix and Confederate Major General D. H. Hill met under flag of truce to draw up an exchange formula, regarding the return of prisoners. The “Dix-Hill Cartel” determined that Confederate and Union Army soldiers were exchanged at a prescribed rate: captives of equivalent ranks were exchanged as equals. Corporals and Sergeants were worth two privates. Lieutenants were four and Colonels fifteen, all the way up to Commanding General, equivalent to sixty private soldiers.
Similar exchange rates were established for Naval personnel.
President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation of September 1862 not only freed those enslaved in Confederate territories, but also provided for the enlistment of black soldiers. The government in Richmond responded that such would be regarded as runaway slaves and not soldiers. Their white officers would be treated as criminals, for inciting servile insurrection.
The policy was made clear in July 1863, following the Union defeat at Fort Wagner, an action depicted in the 1989 film, Glory. The Dix-Hill protocol was formally abandoned on July 30. Neither side was ready for the tide of humanity, about to come.
The US Army began construction the following month on the Rock Island Prison, built on an Island between Davenport Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois. In time, Rock Island would become one of the most infamous POW camps of the north, housing some 12,000 Confederate prisoners, seventeen per cent of whom, died in captivity.
On this day in 1864, the first prisoners had barely moved into the most notorious POW camp of the Civil War, the first Federal soldiers arriving on February 28.
This was Camp Sumter, better known as Andersonville. Conditions in this place defy description. Sergeant Major Robert H. Kellogg of the 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, entered this hell hole on May 2:
“As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect;—stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness. ‘Can this be hell?’”.
Over 45,000 Union troops would pass through the verminous open sewer known as Andersonville. Nearly 13,000 died there.
Now all but forgotten, the ‘Eighty acres of Hell’ located in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago was home to some forty thousand Confederate POWs between 1862 and 1865, seventeen per cent of whom, never left. No southern soldier was equipped for the winters at Camp Douglas, nor the filth, or the disease.
Nearby Oak Woods Cemetery is home to the largest mass grave, in the western hemisphere.
Union and Confederate governments established 150 such camps between 1861 and 1865, makeshift installations of rickety wooden buildings and primitive sewage systems, often little more than tent cities. Some 347,000 human beings languished in these places, victims of catastrophically poor hygiene, harsh summary justice, starvation, disease and swarming vermin.
The training depot designated camp Rathbun near Elmira New York became the most notorious camp in the north, in 1864. 12,213 Confederate prisoners were held there, often three men to a tent. Nearly 25% of them died there, only slightly less, than Andersonville. The death rate in “Hellmira” was double that of any other camp in the north.
Historians debate the degree to which such brutality resulted from deliberate mistreatment, or economic necessity.
The Union had more experience being a “country” at this time, with well established banking systems and means of commerce and transportation. For the south, the war was an economic catastrophe. The Union blockade starved southern ports of even the basic necessities, while farmers abandoned fields to take up arms. Most of the fighting of the Civil War took place on southern soil, destroying incalculable acres of rich farm lands.
The capital at Richmond saw bread riots as early as 1862. Southern Armies subsisted on corn meal and peanuts. The Confederate government responded by printing currency, about a billion dollars worth. By 1864, a Confederate dollar was worth 5¢ in gold. Southern inflation climbed past 6000 percent, by 1865.Captain Henry Wirz, commandant of the stockade at Camp Sumter, was tried and executed after the war, only one of two men to be hanged for war crimes. Captain Wirz appeared at trial reclined on a couch, advanced gangrene preventing him from sitting up. To some, the man was a scapegoat. A victim of circumstances beyond his control. To others he is a demon, personally responsible for the hell of Andersonville prison.
I make no pretense of answering such a question. The subject is capable of inciting white-hot passion, from that day to this.
A personal note:
Six generations from his immigrant ancestor, James Tyner could trace his lineage through veterans of the Indian wars, the Revolution and the War of 1812. One of those farmers who left the soil to fight for his country, Tyner died in captivity in “Hellmira”, about a month before General Robert E. Lee met General Ulysses Grant, at Appomattox.
Corporal Jacob Deppen of the 128th PA Infantry was captured and held prisoner for a time, before being paroled. Deppen re-enlisted with the Army of the James. He and the sole surviving member of the four Tyner brothers, Nicholas Tyner, would lay down their weapons at Appomattox. Former enemies turned countrymen, if they could only figure out how to do it.
William Christian Long, the first to ‘anglicize’ his name from Wilhelm Lang, was Blacksmith to the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Long survived the war, his name may be found on the Pennsylvania monument, at Gettysburg.
Archibald Blue of Drowning Creek North Carolina wanted no part of what he saw as a “rich man’s war” and ordered his five sons away. He was murdered for his politics in 1865. The killer was never found.
Four men who played a part in the most destructive war, in American history. Without any of these four, I wouldn’t be here to tell their story.