March 11, 1918 Plague

“Antigenic Shift” occurs when two or more DNA strands combine, instantaneously forming a new virus sub-type. Like the dealer at some giant, cosmic poker table, this process may deal us a pair of twos. Occasionally, fate deals us aces & eights. The death hand.

In the world of virology, “Antigenic Drift” describes changes which happen slowly, the random mutation of virus DNA which takes place over months, or years. It’s why we get a new flu vaccine every year, even though there’s already some level of “herd immunity”.

“Antigenic Shift” occurs when two or more DNA strands combine, instantaneously forming a new virus sub-type. Like the dealer at some giant, cosmic poker table, this process may deal us a pair of twos. Occasionally, fate deals us aces & eights. The death hand.

Antigenic shift vs antigenic driftWhen the “Great War” broke out in 1914, US Armed Forces were small compared with the mobilized forces of the European powers. The Selective Service Act, enacted May 18, 1917, authorized the federal government to raise an army for the United States’ entry into WWI. Two months after the American declaration of war against Imperial Germany, a mere 14,000 American soldiers had arrived “over there”. Eleven months later, that number stood at well over a million.

General “Black Jack” Pershing insisted that his forces be well trained before deployment. New recruits poured into training camps by the tens of thousands, while somewhere, some microscopic, chance recombination of surface proteins created a new virus, novel to nearly every immune system, in the world.

Reconstructed_Spanish_Flu_Virus (1)On the morning of March 11, 1918, most of the recruits at Fort Riley, Kansas, were turning out for breakfast. Private Albert Gitchell reported to the hospital, complaining of cold-like symptoms of sore throat, fever and headache. By noon, more than 100 more had reported sick with similar symptoms.

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Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas – 1918

Ordinary flu strains prey heavily on children, elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Not this one. This flu would kick off a positive feedback loop between small proteins called cytokines, and white blood cells. This “cytokine storm” resulted in a death rate for 15-34 year olds 20 times higher in 1918, than in previous years. Perversely, it was their young and healthy immune systems that were most likely to kill them.

Physicians described the most viscous pneumonia they had ever seen, death often coming within hours of the first symptoms. There’s a story about four young, healthy women playing bridge well into the night. By morning, three were dead of influenza.

eb89bde48830Over the next two years, this strain of flu infected one in every four people in the United States, killing an estimated 675,000 Americans. Eight million died in Spain alone, following an initial outbreak in May. Forever after, the pandemic would be known as the Spanish Flu.

In 1918, children skipped rope to a rhyme:

“I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
and in-flu-enza”.

In the trenches, the flu cut down combatants on every side. “Operation Michael”, the final, no holds barred German offensive which would determine the outcome of the war, launched from the Hindenburg line in March. Crown Prince Rupprecht wrote in August, “poor provisions, heavy losses, and the deepening influenza have deeply depressed the spirits of men in the 3rd Infantry Division”.

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Some sources report as many as half the Americans killed in WWI, died of the flu.

The parades and parties following the cease fire of November 11 threw gas on the flames.  Millions more contracted the flu and thousands more died. President Wilson himself fell ill, while participating in 1919 treaty negotiations in Versailles.  From a public health point of view, the end of war was a disaster.

Around the planet, the Spanish flu infected half a Billion people. A third of the population of the entire world, at that time. Estimates run as high 50 to 100 million killed. For purposes of comparison, the “Black Death” of 1347-51 killed 20 million Europeans.

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History has a way of swallowing some events whole, like they never happened. Today, the Spanish flu is all but overshadowed by the War to end all wars.  Even though in the end, the flu pandemic of 1918-19 proved a far deadlier adversary, than the war itself.

 

A Trivial Matter

In the 17th century, it was cheaper to import some things from England, than to produce them here.  The first bible printed in the future United States came off the press in 1661 in the Algonquin language, a tongue all but extinct in this country, today.
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March 10, 1864  General Grant’s Tomb

Though his life is remembered for other things, the final chapter of Ulysses S Grant’s story is one of the finest tributes to the common Family Man, in American history.

Hiram Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio on April 27, 1822. His family called him by his middle name Ulysses, or sometimes just “Lyss”, for short.

A clerical error changed the name of the future Commander-in-Chief during his first days at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He didn’t seem to mind though, probably thinking that “US Grant” was preferable to “H.U.G.”, embroidered on his clothes. Predictably, Grant became known as “Uncle Sam” or simply “Sam.”  It was as good a name as any though, as with future President Harry S. Truman, the “S” doesn’t actually stand for anything.

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The 1862 Civil War Battle of Fort Donelson secured the name, when then-Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant received a request for terms from the fort’s commanding officer, Confederate Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner. Grant’s reply was that “no terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately, upon your works.” The legend of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant, was born.

70675-004-F36BC7D1Grant was a light smoker before Donelson, generally preferring a pipe, if anything. A reporter spotted him holding an unlit cigar during the battle, a gift from Admiral Foote.  Soon, ten thousand cigars were sent to him in camp. The general gave away as many as he could, but the episode started a cigar habit which became one of his trademarks, and probably led to his death of throat cancer, in 1885.

On this day in 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a document promoting Ulysses S. Grant to the rank of Lieutenant General of the United States Army, officially putting then-Major General Grant in charge of all Union armies.  Lincoln preferred Henry Wagner Halleck for the promotion, at the time fearing  Grant would challenge him for the 1864 Republican Presidential nomination.  Lincoln submitted to the will of Congress only after Grant publicly dismissed the idea of running for office.

46-year-old U.S. Grant was elected the 18th President of the United States four years later, going on to serve two terms after becoming, at that time, the youngest man ever so elected.

Memoirs-of-GrantGrant bought a house in New York City in 1881 and invested his considerable fortune with the investment firm of Grant and Ward in which his son Ulysses, Jr., was a partner. The firm collapsed in 1884, investors fleeced and left penniless, by Ferdinand Ward.

Broke, humiliated and already suffering the pain destined to be diagnosed as throat cancer, Grant took pen to paper, and began his memoir.

The penning of that autobiography is a story in itself.  Gravely ill and financially destitute, Grant soon understood with certainty, he was dying of throat cancer.  The proceeds from his unwritten memoirs were his only means of supporting his family after his death.

The former President suffered constant and unbearable pain during his last year, as the cancer literally throttled the life from his body. Grant wrote at a furious pace despite his suffering, often finishing 25 to 50 pages in a day.  No re-writes, no edits. There was no time for that. Grant wrote every word with his own hand, every word of the two-volume memoir a literal race with death.

Many of his wartime contemporaries felt they received too little credit in Grant’s retelling of events.  That may be understood under the circumstances.

In June 1885, the cancer spread throughout his body, the Grant family moved to Mount MacGregor, New York to make him more comfortable. Propped up on chairs and too weak to walk, Grant worked to finish the book as friends, admirers and even former Confederate adversaries, made their way to Mount MacGregor to pay their respects.

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US Grant in 1885

Ulysses S Grant Grant was a gifted writer.  He finished the manuscript on July 18, 1885.  Five days later, he was gone. On release, the book received universal critical praise. Mark Twain, who published the memoir, compared the work to the Commentaries of Julius Caesar. Gertrude Stein admired the book, saying she could not think of Grant, without weeping. Ulysses Grant’s memoirs quickly became a best seller, his family receiving 75% of the net royalties after expenses.  The book earned $450,000, over $10 million in today’s dollars, comfortably re-establishing the Grant family fortune.

Grant’s wife Julia died on December 14, 1902, and was buried with her husband in Grant’s monumental tomb overlooking the Hudson River, in New York City.

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So, next time someone asks you who’s buried in Grant’s tomb, you can tell them.  It’s Hiram Ulysses Grant.  If you really want to show off, don’t forget to include his wife, Julia.

A Trivial Matter

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant was arrested for speeding. In a horse-drawn carriage.

March 9, 1974 The Last Holdout

Japanese explorer and adventurer Norio Suzuki set out, looking for “Lieutenant Onoda, a wild panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order”.

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Ford Island Burning

On December 7, 1941, Imperial Japanese air forces attacked the US Pacific Naval anchorage at Pearl Harbor.

The attack killed 2,335 and wounded another 1,178.  Four battleships and two other vessels were sunk to the bottom.  Thirteen other ships were damaged or destroyed.

188 aircraft were destroyed and another 159 damaged, most while still on the ground.  All eight battleships then in harbor, were damaged.

The following day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress, asking for a declaration of war.  Little did anyone know.  The war with Imperial Japan would rage for 33 years.

Wait.  What!?

Alright, not really. Representatives of the Empire of Japan signed the instruments of surrender aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, formally ending the war in the Pacific.

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Except, some were so isolated from the chain of command, they never got the message.  Others believed it to be a ruse.  So steeped were these guys in the warrior code of bushido, it was impossible to believe their leaders had accepted dishonorable surrender.  Still others were true believers, fanatically dedicated to the mythical “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”.  Never mind those mass graves, over there.

Whatever it was, WW2 came and then left without them.  For thousands, the war went on.

On June 7, 1944, the largest gyokusai (honorable suicide) of World War 2 exploded from three sides against United States Army and Marine Corps troops, on Saipan.  Some five thousand Japanese emerged shrieking from caves and hiding places, in the largest Banzai Charge of WW2. Savage fighting was hand to hand, the tide of humanity overrunning American forward positions and penetrating miles, into the rear. One rear-echelon regimental headquarters was overwhelmed.

Bonsai chargeThe struggle raged for fifteen hours.  In terms of American casualties, the Battle for Saipan was the third costliest battle of the Pacific war, after Okinawa and Iwo Jima. Some 4,300 Japanese troops were killed in the Bonsai charge of June 7.  William O’Brien of Troy, New York, Benjamin Lewis Salomon of Milwaukee Wisconsin and Thomas Alexander Baker of Troy New York all earned the Medal of Honor. Posthumously.

Following the Battle of Saipan, Captain Sakae Ōba led a small band of survivors in guerrilla actions against American troops.  The small group couldn’t know, the fleet of Japanese ships expected to bring relief from the Philippines was destroyed in the largest naval action of the war, in Leyte Gulf.   And so they fought on, 47 men raiding by night, and taking pot shots, from a distance.  When medical supplies ran out, Ōba cannily inserted the weak and infirm into American POW stockades, taking with him a like number among the strongest.  He was “the fox”:  so clever was this guy at evading capture.

Photographs were dropped after the war, depicting the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, pictures Ōba deemed to be fakes.  When Americans set up outdoor movie theaters in the fields of Saipan, none could know.  Captain Sakae Ōba sat in the (way) back seat.

Captain Ōba’s band held out, for 512 days.

Oba Surrender
Captain Sakae Ōba surrenders his sword to Lieutenant Colonel Howard G. Kirgi

20 Imperial Japanese Army personnel emerged from a tunnel on Corregidor, surrendering to an American serviceman.  Navy Lieutenant Hideo Horiuchi was arrested by on August 13, 1946, while recovering from wounds received in a battle with Dutch troops.

Lieutenant Ei Yamaguchi led 33 soldiers in an attack on an American Marine Corps detachment on Peleliu in March, 1947. Reinforcements were sent in, including a Japanese admiral who finally convinced these guys the war was over. The group surrendered in April, 1947.

• On May 12, 1948, two Japanese soldiers surrendered to civilian policemen in Guam.
• Two machine gunners from the Imperial Japanese Navy surrendered on Iwo Jima on January 6, 1949.
• Several went on to fight for the Viet Minh against French Imperial troops, in Indochina.
• Seaman Noburo Kinoshita hanged himself in the Luzon jungle in 1955, rather than “return to Japan in defeat.”

Private Bunzō Minagawa and Sergeant Masashi Itō held out for sixteen years on the American territory of Guam.  Minagawa described the experience:

“We ate roots, worms, grass, and grasshoppers. It’s no use telling you because you wouldn’t believe it. You can’t imagine such a life. We were sleeping every night in the rain on the ground“.

The pair surrendered in May 1960, rotted uniforms hanging in tatters from from their bodies. Shoichi Yokoi also served under Itō.  Corporal Yokoi evaded capture, for another twelve years.

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A cleaned-up and no doubt sweeter smelling Masashi Ito and Bunzo Minagawa in hospital, following capture

In June 1941, 36 soldiers and sailors survived the sinking of 3 Japanese supply ships off Anatahan, swimming ashore on the tiny speck of an island in the Marianas chain.

Anatahan island had two occupants at the time, the Japanese head of a coconut plantation, and his wife.  Kikuichiro Higa “disappeared” under mysterious circumstances while his wife Kazuko, became the object of affection for thirty-six starving castaways.

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Japanese ship sinking under allied attack

Kazuko, a “lantern jawed” woman the Japan Times “charitably described” as “handsome’, “married” Kikuichiro Higa as protection, from the rest. Higa was soon shot and Kazuko’s third “husband”, had his throat slit. For six years, a dwindling number of starving waifs vied for the affections of the island’s only female.

Over the years, one erstwhile beau was stabbed, thirteen times.

After twelve murders and countless assaults and fist fights, “The Queen Bee of Anahatan Island” returned to Japan in 1951. Press adulation was short lived.  Kazuku Higa fell into a life of prostitution and died in abject poverty at age 51, while working as garbage collector.

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The media highly glamorized (and highly sexualized) the dismal story of 36 soldiers and sailors and one civilian woman stranded on Anahatan Island

After the war, 2nd Lieutenant Hirō Onoda took to the mountains of Lubang Island along with Private Yūichi Akatsu, Corporal Shōichi Shimada and Private First Class Kinshichi Kozuka, carrying out guerrilla raids and engaging in shootouts with local police.  Akatsu left the other three in 1949, and surrendered six months later.  Shimada was killed by a search party in 1954.  Kozuka was shot and killed by local police in 1972, while burning rice collected by farmers.

Two years later, Japanese explorer and adventurer Norio Suzuki set out, looking for “Lieutenant Onoda, a wild panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order“.  On February 20, 1974, the pair met.  Suzuki nearly got himself shot for his troubles, but he was quick.  “Onoda-san”, he said, “the emperor and the people of Japan are worried about you.” Years later, Onada himself described the encounter:  “This hippie boy Suzuki came to the island to listen to the feelings of a Japanese soldier. Suzuki asked me why I would not come out…

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Hirō Onoda – CNN

I am a soldier and remain true to my duties.” Onada would surrender when ordered to do so by a superior officer.  Not before. Suzuki returned to Japan and located Onoda’s commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who was now working in a book store. The pair flew to Lubang, where Taniguchi issued the following orders:

“In accordance with the Imperial command, the Fourteenth Area Army has ceased all combat activity.
In accordance with military Headquarters Command No. A-2003, the Special Squadron of Staff’s Headquarters is relieved of all military duties.
Units and individuals under the command of Special Squadron are to cease military activities and operations immediately and place themselves under the command of the nearest superior officer. When no officer can be found, they are to communicate with the American or Philippine forces and follow their directives”.

Thus properly relieved of duty, Onada surrendered, turning over his sword, his rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition and a number of hand grenades along with the dagger his mother had given him.  To kill himself, should he ever be captured.  It was March 9, 1974.

Private Teruo Nakamura, born Attun Palalin to the aboriginal Amis people native to the island nation of Taiwan, was the last confirmed holdout of WW2.  Nakamura, who spoke neither Japanese nor Mandarin, was discovered by the Indonesian Air Force on Morotai.  He surrendered to a search patrol on December 18, 1974.

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Teruo Nakamura

Twenty-nine years, three months, and sixteen days after the Japanese instrument of surrender, World War Two was finally over.

Afterward

51D9hvd+N+L._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)As a member of the Japanese Army, Hirō Onada received back pay and a pension equal to $160,000(US), equivalent to $850,000, today.  Not so, Teuro Nakamura. As a member of a colonial army, Nakamura’s thirty-years service to the former Japanese Empire got him $1,186(US) and a trip back to Taiwan where he died of lung cancer, in 1979.

Private 1st Class James Donald “Don” Jones of Eastland County, Texas was a veteran of Tulagi, Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Tinian and helped defeat the great bonsai charge of Saipan, in 1944.  Curious about his own history, Don Jones met with Captain Ōba in 1980, and returned the former geography teacher, his sword.  You can read Private Jones’ story in his own words, if you like.  It’s available from $16.93, in hard cover.

A Trivial Matter

On March 16, 1631, the first recorded fire in the city of Boston burned the home of Thomas Sharp to the ground.  Thatch roofs and wooden chimneys were outlawed, not long after.

March 8, 1863  I Can’t Replace those Horses

Some sources report the general was “sleeping it off”, possibly following an evening’s celebration with a young lady of southern sympathies. 

Small and frail as a boy, John Singleton Mosby was often the target of much larger bullies.  Many years later, he’d write in his memoirs.  He never won a fight.  Seems that he never backed down from one, either.

Like fellow Virginian Robert E. Lee, Mosby opposed secession.  When it came, he left the Union along with his home state of Virginia.

Mosby participated in the 1st Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) as a member of the Virginia Volunteers Mounted Rifles, later joining James Ewell Brown “JEB” Stuart as a Cavalry Scout.  A natural horseman and gifted tactician, information gathered by Mosby aided Stuart in his humiliating ride around McLellan’s Army of the Potomac in June, 1862.

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Dr William Gunnell House

In 1863, JEB Stuart authorized Mosby to form and take command of the 43rd Battalion of the Virginia Cavalry, a regiment sized unit operating out of north central Virginia.  These “Partisan Rangers”, 1,900 of whom served between January 1863 and April 1865, were under the authority of Stuart and Lee and subject to their commands, but were not a traditional army unit.  “Mosby’s Rangers” shared in the spoils of war but had no camp duties, and lived scattered among civilian populations.

Known for lightning raids on the Virginia countryside, Mosby’s 43rd Cavalry would be called together to strike a specific target, dispersing afterward and making themselves next to impossible to run to ground.  So successful were they that parts of Virginia’s Piedmont region are known to this day, as “Mosby’s Confederacy”.

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Union Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton

In Early March 1863, a Federal brigade was stationed near Fairfax Court House south of Washington.  Mosby received word that two ranking officers, Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton and Colonel Sir Percy Wyndham, were headquartered in the town itself.

“Sir” Percy Wyndham was an English officer and adventurer, a professional soldier and veteran of the Italian Risorgimento, the French Navy and the Austrian Army’s 8th Lancers Regiment. In October 1861, the Englishman came to America, to offer his services in the American Civil War.

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Colonel Sir Percy Wyndham

For some time now, Wyndham had chased Mosby’s rangers across the Virginia countryside. There was a special kind of hate between these two men. Sir Percy had even gone so far as to call the man, a horse thief.  Mosby retorted “The only horses he had every stolen had Union troopers on their backs armed with two pistols and a saber.”

With his nemesis in sight, Mosby’s Rangers formed up for a raid on the night of March 8, 1863.

As it turned out, Wyndham was away that night, visiting in Washington city.   General  Stoughton was asleep in his quarters in the home of Dr. William Gunnell.

The “Gray Ghost” and a small detachment entered the Gunnell home in the small hours of March 9.  Mosby’s rangers quickly overpowered a handful of sleepy guards, and crept upstairs to where the General slept.

Let Mosby’s own words, paint the picture:

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The Fairfax Raid, by Civil War artist Mort Kustler

“There were signs in the room of having been revelry in the house that night. Some uncorked champagne bottles furnished an explanation of the general’s deep sleep. He had been entertaining a number of ladies from Washington in a style becoming a commanding general”.

Entering the chamber, Mosby lifted the general’s nightshirt and slapped his bare backside, with a sword. Confused, Stoughton sputtered awake, demanding “What is the meaning of this“. “General, did you ever hear of Mosby“, came the question.  Stoughton replied, “Yes, have you caught him?” “I AM Mosby,” said the Gray Ghost, “he has caught you. Stuart’s cavalry has possession of the Courthouse;.  Be quick and dress.”

That night, John Singleton Mosby and 29 rangers captured a Union General, two Captains, 30 enlisted men and 58 horses, all without firing a shot.  On hearing the story the next day, President Lincoln lamented:  “I can make another Brigadier in 5 minutes, but I can’t replace those horses“.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

March 7, 1912 The Heroic Age of Polar Exploration

The final camp became their tomb, a high cairn of snow erected over it. Ship’s carpenters built a wooden cross, inscribed with a line from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Ulysses: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”.

The fourth son of a family of Norwegian shipowners and captains, Roald Amundsen always wanted to go to sea. His mother wanted no such thing and made him promise he’d go to school to become a doctor. Amundsen was 21 when his mother died. He kept his promise until that day.  There would be no more school after that.

Roald Amundsen
Roald Amundsen

Amundsen wanted to become an explorer, taking inspiration from the doomed Franklin Arctic Expedition of 1848, and Fridtjof Nansen’s crossing of Greenland in 1888.

It’s been called the “Heroic Age” of polar exploration.

Amundsen was drawn to it as much as he helped create it. He was part of the Antarctic expedition of 1897-99 aboard the RV Belgica, the first to winter in Antarctica. He led the first expedition to successfully navigate Canada’s Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, in 1903–06.

Amundsen’s attempt to reach the South Pole set out on September 8, 1911. Using skis and dog sleds, Amundsen and his men created supply depots at 80°, 81° and 82° south, along a direct line to the Pole. The effort proved to be premature and had to be abandoned due to extreme cold.

A second attempt departed on October 19 with four sledges and 52 dogs, along the previously unknown Axel Heiberg Glacier.  The team of five men and 16 dogs arrived at 90° 0′ S on December 14, 1911,  the first team in history to reach the South Pole.

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Amundsen expedition plants the Norwegian flag on the South Pole, December 14, 1911.

Amundsen expedition plants the Norwegian flag on the South Pole, December 14, 1911.

English explorer Robert Falcon Scott had attempted the South Pole in 1901–04, and was doing so once again in 1911. Though he’d had to turn back, the earlier expedition had established the southernmost record for that time, at 88° 23′ S. 97 miles short of the pole.

Unlike Amundsen who adopted the lighter fur-skins of the Inuit, the Scott expedition wore heavy wool clothing, depending on motorized and horse-drawn transport, and man-hauling sledges for the final drive across the polar plateau. Dog teams were expected to meet them only on the way out, on March 1.

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The doomed Scott party used a string to take this “selfie”, the day after becoming 2nd to reach the South Pole

Weak, poorly acclimated ponies slowed the depot-laying part of the Scott expedition, four horses dying of cold or having to be shot because they slowed the team. When Scott decided to locate “One-Ton Depot” 35 miles short of its planned location at 80°, expedition member Lawrence Oates warned “Sir, I’m afraid you’ll come to regret not taking my advice.”

Routes taken by Scott (green) and Amundsen (red) expeditions to the South Pole.
Unlike the previous attempt, Scott made it this time, only to find that Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition had beat him by five weeks. The anguish in Scott’s diary entry for January 17, 1912, is clear: “The worst has happened.  All the day dreams must go.  Great God! This is an awful place”.

Roald Amundsen returned safely and publicly announced his attainment of the South Pole on March 7, 1912.

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Routes taken by Scott (green) and Amundsen (red) expeditions to the South Pole.

Defeated, the five-man Scott party began the 800-mile, frozen slog back from the Pole on January 19. Team member Edgar Evans’ condition was visibly deteriorating as early as the 23rd. A bad fall on Beardmore Glacier on February 4 left him “dull and incapable”. Another fall on the 17th left him dead at the foot of the glacier.

Dog teams failed to materialize at the appointed time.  By March 16, Lawrence Oates was severely frostbitten. He left his tent for the last time in a valiant act of suicide, in the forlorn hopes that his comrades, might live.  Oates stepped into the maelstrom, saying “I am just going outside and may be some time”.  He never returned.

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RV Belgica frozen in the ice, 1898

The last three made their final camp on March 19, with 400 miles to go.   A howling blizzard descended on camp the following day and lasted for days, as Scott and his companions wrote good-bye letters to mothers, wives, and others. The last words in his diary, were: “Last entry.  For God’s sake look after our people”.

The frozen corpses of Scott and his comrades were found 8 months later, the last diary entry dated March 29, 1912.  A high cairn of snow was erected over it all, that final camp becoming their tomb. Ship’s carpenters built a wooden cross, inscribing on it the names of those lost: Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans. A line from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses, appears on the cross:

“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”.

The team was eleven miles from the next supply depot.

Grave_of_the_Southern_PartySatellites measured the coldest temperature in recorded history on August 10, 2010 at −93.2 °C (−135.8 °F), in East Antarctica.   The Amundsen-Scott weather station at the South Pole reports the average daily temperature for March, at -50.3°C (-58.54°F).

A century of ice and snow have covered bodies, camp and the cross alike. Now encased 75′ down in the Ross Ice Shelf and inching their way outward, the bodies are expected to reach the Ross Sea sometime around 2276, perhaps to float away in an iceberg.

In 1926, Amundsen and a team of 15 reached the North Pole in the airship Norge. Three previous claims to have attained the North Pole: Frederick Cook (1908), Robert Peary (1909), and Richard E. Byrd (1926), have all been disputed as being of dubious accuracy or downright frauds, leaving Amundsen the undisputed first to have reached both poles.

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The Observation Hill cross memorial to the Scott expedition, erected 1913.

Roald Amundsen and a crew of five disappeared into the Arctic on June 18, 1928, lost in the search for survivors following the crash of the Airship Italia.

Despite efforts to find them as late as August 2009, neither aircraft nor bodies were ever found.On hearing the details of Scott’s end, Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen is quoted as saying “I would gladly forgo any honour or money if thereby I could have saved Scott his terrible death”.

Peter Markham Scott, the only child produced by the marriage of Robert Falcon and Kathleen Bruce Scott, went on to found the World Wide Fund for Nature, which operates to this day as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Shackleton advert

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

March 6, 1836  Remember the Alamo

The final assault began at 5:00am, on Sunday, March 6, 1836. 1,800 troops attacked from all sides.  Santa Anna’s troops were shattered by concentrated artillery fire, but the numbers were overwhelming.

In 1831, Mexican authorities gave the settlers of Gonzales, Texas a small cannon, a defense against Comanche raids.  The political situation deteriorated in the following years.  By 1835, several Mexican states were in open revolt.  That September, commander of “Centralist” (Mexican) troops in Texas Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea, came to take it back.

Dissatisfied with the increasingly dictatorial policies of President and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the colonists had no intention of handing over that cannon.  One excuse was given after another to keep the Mexican dragoons out of Gonzalez, while pleas fr assistance secretly went out to surrounding communities.  Within two days, 140 “Texians” had gathered in Gonzalez, determined not to give up that gun.

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Militarily, the skirmish of October 2 had little significance, much the same as the early battles in the Massachusetts colony, some sixty years earlier.  Politically, the “Lexington of Texas” marked a break between Texian settlers, and the Mexican government.

Settlers continued to gather, electing the well-respected local and former legislator of the Missouri Stephen F. Austin, as their leader.  Santa Anna sent his brother-in-law, General Martin Perfecto de Cos to reinforce the settlement of San Antonio de Béxar, near the modern city of San Antonio.  On the 13th, Austin led his Federalist army of Texians and their Tejano allies to Béxar, to confront the garrison.  Austin’s forces captured the town that December, following a prolonged siege. It was only a matter of time before Santa Anna himself came to take it back.

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Two forts – more like lonely outposts – blocked the only approaches from the Mexican interior into Texas: Presidio La Bahía (Nuestra Señora de Loreto Presidio) at Goliad and the Alamo at San Antonio de Béxar.  That December, a group of volunteers led by George Collinsworth and Benjamin Milam overwhelmed the Mexican garrison at the Alamo, and captured the fort  The Mexican President arrived on February 23 at the head of an army of 3,000, demanding its surrender.  Lieutenant Colonel William Barret “Buck” Travis, responded with a cannon ball.

Knowing that his small force couldn’t hold for long against such an army, Travis sent out a series of pleas for help and reinforcement, writing “If my countrymen do not rally to my relief, I am determined to perish in the defense of this place, and my bones shall reproach my country for her neglect.” 32 troops attached to Lt. George Kimbell’s Gonzales ranging company made their way through the enemy cordon and into the Alamo on March 1. There would be no more.

Estimates of the Alamo garrison have ranged between 189 and 257 at this stage, but current sources indicate that defenders never numbered more than 200.

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The final assault began at 5:00am, on Sunday, March 6, 1836. 1,800 troops attacked from all sides.  Santa Anna’s troops were shattered by concentrated artillery fire, but the numbers were overwhelming. The walls were breached and to hand fighting moved to the barracks, ending in the chapel. As many as seven defenders remained alive when it was over.  Many believe former Congressman Davy Crockett was among them.

Santa Anna ordered them all, executed.

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By 8:00am there were no survivors, saving a handful of noncombatant women, children, and slaves, slowly emerging from the smoking ruins. These were provided with blankets and two dollars apiece, and given safe passage through Mexican lines with the warning:  a similar fate awaited any Texan who continued in their revolt.

On April 21, a force of 800 Texans shouting “Remember the Alamo!” and led by Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna’s force of some 1,500 at San Jacinto, near modern day Houston. The victory secured Texan independence.  Mexican troops occupying San Antonio were ordered to withdraw by May. Texas became the 28th state of the United States on December 29, 1845.

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Santa Anna went on to lose a leg to a cannon ball two years later, fighting the French at the Battle of Veracruz. following amputation, the leg spent four years buried at Santa Anna’s hacienda, Manga de Clavo, in Veracruz. When Santa Anna resumed the presidency in late 1841, he had the leg dug up and placed in a crystal vase, brought amidst a full military dress parade to Mexico City and escorted by the Presidential bodyguard, the army, and cadets from the military academy. This guy was nothing if not a self-promoter.

The leg was reburied in an elaborate ceremony in 1842, including cannon salvos, speeches, and poetry read in the General’s honor. The state funeral for Santa Anna’s leg was attended by his entire cabinet, the diplomatic corps, and the Congress.

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Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna served 11 non-consecutive terms as Mexican President, spending most of his later years in exile in Jamaica, Cuba, the United States, Colombia, and St. Thomas. In 1869, the 74-year-old former President was living in Staten Island, trying to raise an army to return and take over Mexico City.  In a bid to raise the money, Santa Anna brought the first shipments of chicle to the United States, a gum-like substance made from the tree species, Manilkara chicle.  This, he proposed to use as rubber on carriage tires.

Thomas Adams, the American assigned to aid Santa Anna’s stay in the US, also experimented with chicle as a substitute for rubber. He bought a ton of the stuff from the General, but those experiments would likewise prove, unsuccessful. Instead, Adams helped to found an American chewing gum industry with a product he called “Chiclets”.

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March 5, 1776 Head Fake

It’s doubtful whether Washington possessed either powder or shot for a sustained campaign, but British forces occupying Boston didn’t know that.

Over the night and the following day of April 18-19, 1775, individual British soldiers marched 36 miles or more, on the round-trip expedition from Boston.  Following the early morning battles at Lexington and Concord, armed colonial militia from as far away as Worcester swarmed over the column, forcing the regulars into a fighting retreat.

In those days, Boston was a virtual island, connected to the mainland by a narrow “neck” of land.  More than 20,000 armed men converged from all over New England in the weeks that followed, gathering in buildings and encampments from Cambridge to Roxbury.

siege-of-boston-1775-1776-grangerA man who should have gone into history among the top tier of American Founding Fathers, the future turncoat Benedict Arnold, arrived with Connecticut militia to support the siege.  Arnold informed the Massachusetts Committee of Safety that Fort Ticonderoga, located along the southern end of Lake Champlain in northern New York, was bristling with cannon and other military stores.  Furthermore, the place was lightly defended.

The committee commissioned Arnold a colonel on May 3, authorizing him to raise troops and lead a mission to capture the fort.  Seven days later, Colonel Arnold and militia forces from Connecticut and western Massachusetts in conjunction with Ethan Allen and his “Green Mountain Boys” captured the fort, and all its armaments.

The Continental Congress created the Army that June, appointing General George Washington to lead it.  When General Washington took command of that army in July, it was a force with an average of nine rounds-worth of shot and powder, per man.  British forces occupying Boston, were effectively penned up by forces too weak to do anything about it.

The stalemate dragged on for months, when a 25-year-old bookseller came to General Washington with a plan. His name was Henry Knox. His plan was a 300-mile, round trip slog into a New England winter, to retrieve the guns of Ticonderoga:  brass and iron cannon, howitzers, and mortars.  59 pieces in all.  Washington’s advisors derided the idea as hopeless, but the General approved.

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Knox set out with a column of men in late November, 1775.  For nearly two months, he and his team wrestled 60 tons of cannons and other armaments by boat, animal & man-hauled sledges along roads little better than foot trails.  Across two barely frozen rivers, and through the forests and swamps of the Berkshires to Cambridge, historian Victor Brooks called it “one of the most stupendous feats of logistics” of the Revolution.  It must have been a sight on January 24, 1776, when Knox returned at the head of that “Noble Train of Artillery”.

For British military leadership in Boston, headed by General William Howe, the only option for resupply was by water, via Boston Harbor.  Both sides of the siege understood the strategic importance of the twin prominences overlooking the harbor, the hills of Charlestown to the north, and Dorchester heights to the south.  It’s why British forces had nearly spent themselves on Farmer Breed’s hillside that June, an engagement that went into history as the Battle of Bunker Hill.

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With Howe’s forces in possession of the Charlestown peninsula, Washington had long considered occupying Dorchester Heights, but considered his forces too weak.  That changed with the guns of Ticonderoga.

In the first days of March, Washington placed several heavy cannon at Lechmere’s Point and Cobble Hill in Cambridge, and on Lamb’s Dam in Roxbury.  The batteries opened fire on the night of March 2, and again on the following night and the night after that.  With British attention thus diverted, American General John Thomas and a force of some 2,000 made plans to take the heights.

As the ground was frozen and digging impossible, fortifications and cannon placements were fashioned from heavy 10′ timbers.  With the path to the top lined with hay bales to muffle their sounds, these fortifications were manhandled to the top of Dorchester heights over the night of March 4-5, along with the bulk of Knox’ cannons.

General Howe was stunned on awakening, on the morning of March 5.  The British garrison in Boston and the fleet in harbor, were now under the muzzles of Patriot guns.  “The rebels have done more in one night”, he said, “than my whole army would have done in a month.”

Plans were laid for an immediate British assault on the hill, as reinforcements poured into the position.  By day’s end, Howe faced the prospect of another bunker Hill, this time against a force of 6,000 in possession of heavy artillery.

A heavy snowstorm descended late in the day, interrupting Howe’s plan for the assault.  A few days later, he had thought better of it.  A tacit cease-fire settled in over the next two weeks, with Washington’s side declining to open fire, and Howe’s side refraining from destroying the town, in the course of withdrawing from Boston.

British forces departed Boston by sea on March 17 with about 1,000 civilian loyalists, resulting in a peculiar Massachusetts institution which exists to this day. “Evacuation Day”:

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British evacuation of Boston. March 17, 1776

It’s doubtful whether Washington possessed either powder or shot for a sustained campaign, but British forces occupying Boston didn’t know that. The mere presence of those guns moved General Howe to weigh anchor and sail for Nova Scotia. The episode may be the greatest head fake, in military history.

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