Friday, November 07, 2014

Civil War Railroads


      Since the dawn of history, military strategy had been dominated by logistics.  According to an old saying, “Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics.”  During the civil War, railroads were still a military novelty.  When Union Army General John Pope needed critical supplies in August 1862, packed boxcars were sitting in Washington.  The supplies could not be moved across the Potomac River because authorities were afraid that available locomotives were too heavy for the rickety railroad bridge across the Potomac.

     A single stretch of track of the Orange and Alexandria railroad connected the Union Army of the Potomac to the vast supply depots of Washington.  Confederate raiders periodically cut telegraph lines, tore up railroad tracks and destroyed railway bridges.  Keeping the trains running was an enormous tasks and essential for Union victory.


Civil War railroads




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Friday, October 31, 2014

How Stonewall Jackson Fought War


"Stonewall" Jackson

     On July 21, 1861, Federal artillery sent shells showering over raw Confederate troops at Manassas that burst in their ranks, creating terrible slaughter. The seventh Georgia and fourth Alabama regiments were very badly cut up. At length, despite all of their valiant efforts, Brigadier General Barnard Bee was compelled to give the order to fall back. 
     Attempting to rally the retreating men, Bee used General Thomas J. Jackson’s newly arrived brigade as an anchor. Pointing to Jackson, Bee shouted, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”
     “The enemy are driving us,” Bee exclaimed to Jackson.

     Jackson replied, “Then, Sir, we will give them the bayonet.”


General Jackson's Philosophy of War




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How Ulysses S. Grant Fought War


     Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign began with the Battle of the Wilderness and continued through Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and on to Petersburg.  Unlike other Union commander’s, Grant refused to allow heavy casualties to deter him from his mission, the destruction of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
     At Cold Harbor, the Confederates blocked Grant’s path to Richmond by building six miles of strong entrenchments.  Grant assaulted the entrenchments head on.  One June 3, 1864 some six thousand Union troops were killed or wounded in the space of one hour.
     Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Herald Tribune, who had thundered, "On to Richmond!", in 1861, was appalled by the losses incurred during Grant’s Overland Campaign and now wrote President Lincoln demanding negotiations, "Our bleeding, bankrupt, almost dying country longs for peace, shudders at the prospect of fresh conscription, or further wholesale devastation, and of new rivers of human blood."

     Grant persevered despite casualties and criticism, beating the life out of the Confederacy and ending the war.


U.S. Grant: A Fighting General




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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Blackbeard the Pirate: Lost Treasure


     THE NEW YORK TIMES reported the following incident in October, 1926 concerning treasure in Burlington, New Jersey:

      "A century old legend, telling how the pirate Blackbeard buried his plunder beneath an old black walnut tree as a marker, has gained so much credence that Miss Florence E. Steward…directed a group of laborers in digging for treasure on her property....
    
     According to tradition, Blackbeard buried a Spaniard upright over the treasure chest, then sailed away never to return.  In the course of time, the walnut tree on Miss Steward's property became known as 'The Pirate Tree'.

     A human skull unearthed by school children today gave renewed zest to the hunt for buried treasure.  Believing the skull might be that of the Spaniard whom Blackbeard is supposed to have buried over the treasure, Miss Steward asked police to guard her property against further digging by volunteers until she can personally supervise the work of her own excavators."


     No treasure was found at this excavation but the legend lingers on.


More Legends of Blackbeard's Treasure





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The Legend of Mosby’s Treasure


     When famed Confederate raider John S. Mosby rode out of Fairfax Court House in March 1863 he took with him a captured Union general, two captains, thirty privates, fifty eight horses, and legend says, $350,000 (now valued at several million) worth of gold plate, jewelry, silver tableware and gold coins that Union troops had looted from neighboring southern homes.  Mosby marched his prisoners to Culpepper, Virginia where they were turned over to General J.E.B. Stuart.
     About midway between Haymarket and New Baltimore, Mosby, accompanied by only one sergeant, James F. Ames (who was captured and hanged by Union General George Custer a short time later), buried the loot between two pine trees, marking the trees with carved crosses.
      Mosby continued his activities unabated right to the end of the war when he gathered his men one last time and disbanded, never officially surrendering to Federal forces.  Mosby went on to become a distinguished railway lawyer (and attorney to the father of George S. Patton).  Shortly before his death in 1916, at the age of eighty three, he told some of his close friends:

     "I've always meant to look for that cache we buried…. Some of the most precious heirlooms of old Virginia are in that sack.  I guess that one of these days someone will find it."


Mosby's Greatest Raid





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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Burning of Richmond in 1865

     April 2, 1865 was a Sunday, and in Richmond Jefferson Davis was at church.  In the midst of the services a courier arrived with a message from the War Department: "General Lee telegraphs he can hold his position no longer."  Davis quietly left the church and set about removing his government from Richmond.
    
  By late afternoon it seemed that all who could leave the city were stampeding.  Commissary stores were thrown open, and their hoarded contents distributed to eager crowds.  As the day wore on the scenes at the various government stores changed from the fairly orderly distribution of supplies to rank plundering.  Whiskey stocks were broken into and the streets ran with liquor.

     Factories, arsenals and mills were ordered destroyed, some were blown up, others were burned.  The fires were soon out of control.  There was absolute panic in the city.  Men, women, and children hurried to and fro.  Commissary stores were destroyed.  The streets were blocked with men and beasts.  Fierce crowds of skulking men and coarse, half drunken women gathered, breaking into shops and fighting among themselves over the spoils they seized.  Through the night, drunken mobs of civilians and Army deserters roamed the city, looting and burning.




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Monday, October 06, 2014

America’s Worst General: William Hull and the Surrender of Detroit (War of 1812)


On August 13, 1812 Major General Isaac Brock and a British force of 400 regular and militia troops supported by 700 lightly armed Native American auxiliaries arrived before the American stronghold at Detroit.  Brock intended to subdue Detroit, garrisoned by 2,500 men securely situated behind 22-foot ramparts and a palisade of 10-foot hardwood spikes all defended by 33 cannons and an 8-foot moat.  How was he to do this?

Brock attacked the American “center of gravity”, which in this case was the mind of the American commander, Brigadier General William Hull, whom contemporaries described as, “a short, silver-haired, pleasant, old gentleman, who bore the marks of good eating and drinking.”
Having captured some of Hull’s dispatches, Brock knew that American morale was low, and that Hull was discouraged.  Playing on Hull’s almost hysterical fear of Indians, Brock began a campaign of psychological intimidation.  The British played on Hull's fear of the Indians by arranging for a letter to fall into American hands which asked that no more Indians be allowed to proceed as there were already no less than 5,000 at Amherstburg and supplies were running low. Brock sent a demand for surrender to Hull, stating:

“The force at my disposal authorizes me to require of you the immediate surrender of Fort Detroit. It is far from my intention to join in a war of extermination, but you must be aware, that the numerous body of Indians who have attached themselves to my troops, will be beyond control the moment the contest commences…”

Additionally, to trick the Americans into believing there were more British troops than there actually were, troops marched to take up positions in plain sight of the Americans then quickly ducked behind entrenchments, and marched back out of sight to repeat the same procedure.

Brock’s demand for surrender was rejected.  The British began bombarding Fort Detroit.  The Americans returned fire.  Seven Americans were killed and two British gunners wounded in the exchange.  On the night of August 15, some five hundred Native American warriors paddled across the unguarded river and landed below Detroit.  The British infantry and militia followed at daylight.


Hull, who had led a heroic bayonet charge at the Battle of Stony Point in 1778, was totally out of his depth in overall command and began to crack, seemingly besieged by overwhelming British forces and Indians “numerous beyond example.” At 10:00 A.M. a white flag appeared over the fort.  Despite the vehement protests of his officers and men, William Hull surrendered his command without a fight. The British captured an American army of 2,500, some thirty-three cannon, four hundred rounds of 24-pound shot, one hundred thousand cartridges, 2,500 rifles and bayonets, and a newly built 16-gun brig Adams.




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Sunday, October 05, 2014

“Bundling” in Early American courtship


Despite the best efforts of the clergy, European travelers during the second half of the eighteenth century often commented on the widespread custom of “bundling” in the northern and middle colonies among the rural and “lower people”. Andrew Burnaby, a young Englishman who toured Massachusetts in 1759, wrote about the custom, “At their usual time the old couple retire to bed, leaving the young ones to settle matters as they can, who, after having sat up as long as they think proper, get into bed together also, but without pulling off their undergarments, in order to prevent scandal.”


Johann Schoepf, who toured the region in 1783, assured his readers that “the young woman’s good name is in no ways impaired.” Visits took place neither “by stealth” nor only after the young couple was “actually betrothed”: “on the contrary, the parents are advised, and these meetings happen when the pair is enamored and merely wish to know each other better.”


European visitors were amazed by the openness with which young men and women spent the night together. “I have entered several bedchambers,” wrote Alexander Berthier, “where I have found bundling couples, who are not disturbed and continue to give each other all the honest tokens of their love.”  The degree of intimacy enjoyed during these nocturnal meetings must have varied from one couple to the next.  Although couples were supposed to keep their clothes on and to abstain from sex, the record indicates a significant number of early babies among the firstborn children of these couples after marriage. Often a couple was forced to confess their sin publicly in church before their baby could be baptized.




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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Plan Red - America's Plan to Invade Canada

     After World War I the British Empire was at the height of its world-wide power. The rivalry between the United States and Great Britain during the 1920s and 1930s over who would control the world’s oil supply led American strategic planners to envision the day when America might be at war with Great Britain. War Plan Red (“Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan – Red”), formulated and approved in 1930 and declassified in 1974, set out America’s plan to eliminate Great Britain as a significant economic rival. Most of America’s plans revolved around the annexation of Canada and the islands of Jamaica, Barbados and Bermuda. These were American imperial dreams dating to the time of the American Revolution, when American forces were repulsed in their attempt to conquer Canada. American attempts to annex Canada during the War of 1812 were similarly repulsed.

     Plan Red contemplated the immediate seizure of Halifax to deny the British an Atlantic port from which they could reinforce Canada. U.S. forces would then launch a three pronged attack, (1) an attack from Vermont to take Montreal and Quebec, (2) an attack from North Dakota to seize the strategic rail center at Winnipeg, splitting the country, and (3) an attack launched against the province of Ontario from Detroit and Buffalo. Mopping up on the West Coast was to include the seizure of Vancouver and Victoria.  Congress appropriated money to build three secret air bases near the Canadian border to be used for surprise attacks on Canada in the event of war.  Information regarding the secret air bases was accidentally leaked, and the New York Times reported the story on the front page of the May 1, 1935 issue, much to the chagrin of the Roosevelt administration.

     Canada, not unaware of America’s historical aggressive designs, had earlier developed “Defence Scheme No. 1” which, in the event of hostilities, called for flying columns to quickly enter American territory. These small mobile forces were to capture such cities as Seattle, Minneapolis and Albany, and then fall back in a scorched earth retreat that would slow down the American invaders, giving Great Britain time to re-enforce Canada.


    America had developed similar plans in case of hostilities with other countries.  Plan Orange was to be used in case of a war with Japan (or in conjunction with Plan Red in case of war with both Britain and Japan).  Plan Black was to be used in case of war with Germany.  Plan Green was for Mexico.  Plans Orange and Black were, in fact, used as the blueprints for victory over Japan and Germany in World War II.




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The Grave of the Female Stranger

The grave of the Female Stranger, in Alexandria, Virginia, remains a place of romance and mystery. 

In 1816, a young couple arrived in the port town.  The beautiful young woman soon tragically died of an illness and was buried in a grave bearing these strange words:
"To the memory of a Female Stranger
Whose mortal suffering terminated on the 4th day of October, 1816 Aged 23 years, and 8 months.
"This stone is erected by her disconsolate husband in whose arms she sighed out her latest breath, and who under God did his utmost to soothe the cold dull hour of death.
"How loved, how honor'd once avails thee not, To whom related or by whom begot, A heap of dust remains of thee
'Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be."

All of the town folk who interacted with the couple swore themselves to secrecy as to the identity of the Female Stranger.  They honorably kept the trust, and the identity of the young woman remains a mystery to this day.  Who was she?  A thwarted young lover? A European royal?  Might she have been the missing Theodosia Burr Alston?  The mystery remains.


The ghost of the Female Stranger is said to haunt Room 8 in Gadsby’s Tavern where she died.


The Female Stranger: An Archibald Mercer Colonial Detective mystery



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