Monday, January 16, 2017

Fake News in the American Civil War

Confederate President
Jefferson Davis (1861)

Apparently the news media has been in the habit of producing “fake news” for a very long time.

In late 1861, the New York Herald reported: “Our latest telegraphic advices from Louisville, Washington and Fortress Monroe assure us positively of the death of Jefferson Davis….Considering that his health has been in a very shattered condition for several years, and considering his extraordinary labors, anxieties, and exhausting excitements of the last five months, we think it remarkable that he was not carried off three or four months ago.”

This was a case of wishful thinking.  Davis was alive and active.  Indeed, he lived another twenty eight years, dying at the age of 81.

Southern editors lambasted the article as “Yankee delusion and unreliability,” denouncing the Herald as a “mendacious journal…(with) a record for lying second to none.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Jefferson Davis Funeral (1889)

In 1860, disgruntled secessionists in the deep North rebel against the central government and plunge America into Civil War. Will the Kingdom survive? The land will run red with blood before peace comes again.

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Why the Allies Won World War II

Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995

Richard Overy asks the question: Why did the Allies win the Second World War? Overy’s argues that, contrary to the conventional answer that the overwhelming material resources of the Allies won the war, “the outcome had not just a material explanation but also important moral and political causes”. Additionally, Overy argues that it was not Axis mistakes that led to Allied victory, but “on a very great improvement in military effectiveness of Allied forces.” Overy cautions, “…statistics do not simply speak for themselves; they require interpreters”. For example, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Soviet Union fielded some fifteen thousand tanks compared to 3,648 German tanks, and yet it was the Germans who won the initial victories. Similarly, an American fleet defeated a greatly numerically superior Japanese fleet at Midway. In terms of productive capacity, Overy notes that during the critical middle years of the war the balance of economic resources was not yet weighted heavily in the Allies’ favor. (P.181) The outcome of the war was not inevitable. “Materially rich, but divided, demoralised, and poorly led, the Allied coalition would have lost the war….” (P. 325)

Overy focuses his discussion of the War on what he considers the decisive parts of the conflict. He identifies four main zones of combat: the war at sea, the Eastern front, the bombing offensive, and the reconquest of Western Europe. Success in combat in these zones was determined in great measure by issues of production, scientific discovery, military reform and social enthusiasm. Activities in each combat zone influenced and was influenced by activity in each of the other combat zones. The bombing campaign against Germany, for example, resulted in German forces being denied approximatley half their battle front weapons and equipment in 1944. “It is difficult not to regard this margin as decisive.” (P. 131)

So why did they Allies win the war? Overy points out that the Allies were more agile in adapting to changing circumstances, quickly instituting reforms that covered both the organization of forces, their equipment and operational skills. These reforms achieved improvements in the qualitative performances of all Allied forces and technology in the middle years of the war, “without which later quantitative supremacy would have availed little”. (P. 318) While the gap between the two sides narrowed in every sphere of combat, Axis forces did little to alter the basic pattern of their military organizations and operational practice, or to reform and modernize the way they made war. They responded more slowly to the sudden swing in the balance of fighting power evident in 1943. In Germany and Japan much greater value was placed on operations and on combat than on organization and suppply. (P. 318) Industry was central to the Allied view of warfare. Germany and Japan did not consider economics as central to the war effort, focusing on willpower, resolve, and endurance as the prime movers in war.( P. 206) Eventually, factory for factory, the Allies made better use of their industry than their enemies thereby winning the long war of attrition.

How effective is Overy’s argument? Overy’s description of the organizational skills and adaptability of the Allies is extremely compelling and perfectly captures the concept of the so called “Boyd Cycle” (a concept applied to the combat operations processes by military strategist John Boyd). According to Boyd, decision-making occurs in a recurring cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. An entity that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby "get inside" the opponent's decision cycle and gain a military advantage. In short, the one with the shortest Boyd cycle wins. Overy’s insistence on the importance of the moral cause for which the Allies fought is less compelling. “The moral forces at work on the Allied side kept people fighting in a common cause; but as the war went on Axis populations suffered a growing demoralisation, a collapse of consensus….(P. 286)” Overy himself acknowledges that “Words like ‘will’ and ‘courage’ are difficult for historians to use as instruments of cold analysis. They cannot be quantified; they are elusive of definition….” One might postulate that if the war had been going more favorably for Germany and Japan, the populations of the Axis powers would have had higher morale.

Overy’s analysis of the roots of Allied victory, a complex and highly interrelated topic, is brilliant in both its nuance and treatment of hard, quantifiable numbers. His dismissal of gross statistics and mastery and interpretation of specific statistics, such as the shipping losses in the Atlantic (“After years of painful attrition the U-boat threat was liquidated in two months.” ( PP. 58-59)) is eriudite and compelling. In the final analysis, even Overy, however, acknowledges that victory was won by a very narrow margin and that the element of chance was an important variable. “If war had not started until the mid-1940s Germany might well have proved unstoppable” (P. 200) “The decisive engagement at Midway Island was won because ten American bombs out of the hundreds dropped fell on the right target.” (P. 320) “…if Eisenhower had decided at that critical moment to wait for the next brief period when the moon and tides held good the invaders would have been swallowed up by the great gale….”(P. 178)

A first person account of the Normandy campaign from D-Day + 1 to the liberation of Paris. 

War from the perspective of the average citizen soldier.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The First Temporary Insanity Defense

Dan Sickles

Daniel Sickles, New York Assemblyman, well known lady’s man, and rising star in the Democratic political machine, married Teresa Bagioli in 1852.  He was thirty three, she was fifteen.  Teresa’s family refused to give their consent to the marriage, so the couple married in a civil ceremony.  Seven months later a daughter was born.

In 1856, Sickles was elected to the U.S. Congress.  Teresa was bored and lonely in Washington.  Teresa struck up an innocent friendship with Philip Barton Key, Washington D. C. District Attorney and son of Francis Scott Key.  What began as innocent meetings soon blossomed into a romantic affair.

Precautions to elude detection were taken.  Key rented a house in a poor section of town so they could meet in private.  Despite the precautions the affair became the stuff of tittle tattle in Washington social circles.  Finally, an anonymous letter was sent to Sickles informing him that, “I do assure you he (Keys) has as much use of your wife as you do.”  Sickles confronted Teresa and after a heated, emotional, and tearful scene, forced her to sign a full confession.
The next day, Sunday February 27, 1859, Sickles spotted Key (unaware of the events of the previous night) standing in Lafayette Park across the street from the Sickles' home waving a handkerchief to get Teresa's attention. Dan Sickles saw the signal and went into a rage. He rushed across the street armed with several pistols and said, “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my home; you must die.”

Sickles fired at close range but only slightly wounded Key's hand. Key grabbed Sickles and the two men wrestled. Sickles drew another pistol and fired again. Key fell to the ground and Sickles fired a third shot into Key’s chest.  Horrified onlookers took Key to a nearby house where he soon died.

Sickles was arrested for murder. In an unprecedented legal strategy, Sickles pled innocent by reason of insanity.  This was the first use of a temporary insanity defense in the United States.  The attorney for the defense argued that Sickles had been driven insane by his wife's infidelity.  The jury agreed and acquitted Sickles.  Sickles publicly forgave Teresa, and “withdrew” briefly from public life, although he did not resign from Congress.

Sickles weathered the public outrage over his forgiveness of the adulteress Teresa and went on to become a Major General in the Union army during the Civil War. 

We think we know the Victorians, but do we? The same passions, strengths and weaknesses that exist now, existed then, but people organized themselves very differently.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Victorian Love Affair with Champagne

Sherlock Hound recommends:

Edward VII, while still Prince of Wales, is credited with having popularized champagne in England.  Edward preferred light Chablis and extra dry champagne, and these were produced specially for the English market, with spectacular results.  In 1861, some three million bottles of champagne were exported from France to England.  By 1890, England was importing over nine million bottles of French champagne annually, almost half of all of the champagne being produced.

Champagne is at its very best from seven to ten years after bottling.  After that, except in very exceptional years, it will not stand up well. 

In Victorian times, the Imperial pint (60 centilitres) was the ideal size for a temperate man who might consider that a bottle of champagne with his meal was just a little more than he wanted, but who would not be satisfied with a half bottle.  Provisions were made, however, for varying degrees of satisfaction:

Demie:  ½ bottle

Bottle:  One bottle

Magnum:  Two bottles

Jeroboam:  Four bottles

Rehoboam:  Six bottles

Methuselah:  Eight bottles

Salmanazar:  Twelve bottles

Balthazar:  Sixteen bottles

Nebuchadnezzar:  Twenty bottles

Victorian Army Drinking Customs

Sherlock Hound Recommends

 Dr.  John H. Watson, late of Her Majesty’s Army Medical Department and chief chronicler of the dramatic career of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, was not unfamiliar with drink.

In 1881 Dr. Watson was recuperating from wounds incurred during the Second Afghan War.  Watson had gone out to India in 1878, attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as Assistant Surgeon ( A STUDY IN SCARLET).  For an officer, army life revolved around the regimental mess.  It was much like a private club and was often the center of an officer’s social activities.  Captain R.W. Campbell observed, “the mess is the school for courage, honour, and truth.  In the British officer’s anteroom you will find the foundations of that splendid chivalry which has given us fame.”

Watson would have quickly learned the customs of the mess, particularly the drinking customs.  These customs were extremely important, since wine drinking at table was not simply an accompaniment to the food, but part of the ceremony of dining. 

In most regiments, the first toast of the evening after dinner was the sovereign’s health (e.g. “Gentlemen, The Queen”.)  This toast, the so-called “loyal toast”, was an invention of the Hanoverian dynasty.  The toast to the sovereign’s health began with an order from King George II in 1745, after the suppression of the Stuart uprising led by “Bonnie Prince Charlie”.  The toast was meant as a pledge of an officer’s loyalty to the Hanoverian dynasty.  Those loyal to the Stuarts circumvented the pledge by passing their glasses over their finger bowels, the toast becoming for them:  “To the king across the water” (i.e. the exiled Stuart claimant).

In every regiment there was what was called the “Regent’s allowance.”  This allowance consisted of two bottles of wine, usually one of Port and one of Madeira, one of which was served each night through the generosity of the sovereign.  The custom began when the Prince Regent (later King George IV) noticed that a few officers did not drink the loyal toast (the threat of the Stuarts now being a distant memory, the loyalty of these officers was not  in question).  When told that the unfortunate officers could not afford wine, the Prince thought this such a shame that he pledged himself to provide each regiment’s mess with two bottles to be used in drinking the King’s health.  Every sovereign after George IV continued the custom.  By 1900, however, the bottles had been converted into a cash equivalent and added to the general mess fund.

After the obligatory toasts to Royalty, many regiments followed the routine laid down by the Duke of Wellington:
Monday, “Our Men”; Tuesday, “Our Women”; Wednesday, “Our Swords”; Thursday, “Ourselves”; Friday, “Our religion”; Saturday, “To Sweethearts and Wives” (waggish Colonels followed with, “May they never meet”); Sunday, “To absent friends”.

Dr. Watson would also have learned something of whisky while in India.  The “whisky-peg” (SIGN OF FOUR) was most popular.  This was Anglo-Indian slang for whisky with soda.  The usual explanation for the name is that the whisky was so bad, that each drink you took was a peg in your coffin.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Edward Dickinson Baker. The only U.S. Senator ever to die in battle.

Edward Dickinson Baker (1811 – 1861) served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois and later as a U.S. Senator from Oregon.  He was a long-time friend of President Lincoln.  Baker served during both the Mexican-American War and the Civil War.  On October 21, at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, he was struck by a volley of bullets that killed him instantly. Lincoln cried when he received the news of Baker’s death. At Baker’s funeral, Mary Todd Lincoln scandalized Washington by appearing in lilac rather than the traditional black.  Col. Edward D. Baker is buried in San Francisco.  This memorial stone was placed at Ball’s Bluff to mark the spot of Baker’s death, and to honor the memory of the only sitting U.S. Senator to have ever died on the field of battle. Baker once said, “The officer who dies with his men will never be harshly judged.”

Balls Bluff National Cemetery

In October, 1861, Union forces tried to cross the Potomac River near Leesburg, Virginia and were disastrously repulsed on the steep cliffs at a place called Ball’s Bluff.  Many fleeing Union soldiers were forced into the Potomac River, where they drowned.  Bodies of Union soldiers floated down the Potomac and washed up in Washington, demoralizing Northern morale.

Most of the fallen Union soldiers found on or near the battlefield were buried in shallow, mass graves.  In 1865, the Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania tried to have Pennsylvania’s dead returned home.  Four years after the war, however, individual remains could not be identified, so the U.S. Army decided to establish a cemetery here for the Union dead.

Twenty five graves here in one of America’s smallest national cemeteries contain the partial remains of 54 Union soldiers killed at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff on October 21, 1861.  All are unidentified Union soldiers, except Pvt. James Allen of Northbridge, Massachusetts, who served with the 15th Massachusetts Infantry.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Treasure Legends: The Tomb of Alexander the Great

By the time he was thirty two, Alexander the Great had conquered almost all of the then known world and given history a new direction.  In 334 B.C., at the age of twenty two, Alexander crossed from Greece into Asia Minor at the head of an army of 35,000.  He defeated the Persian king Darius at Isus and then turned south toward Egypt.  In 332 B.C. he conquered Egypt.        

The Pharaoh Amasis had built a temple in Siwa in the western desert to the god Amun.  The temple's oracle became renowned throughout the ancient world.  Alexander went to Siwa to see the oracle and was declared divine, the son of Amun.  The oracle told him that he would conquer the world.  Alexander went on to fulfill most of the prophecy, taking the Greek army all the way to India before turning back to regroup and recruit a new army.  At this point the conqueror died under mysterious conditions. 

Rivalries immediately broke out among Alexander's generals and his body became a prize and source of dispute.  Where should he be buried?  Macedonia, the land of his birth; the great Egyptian city of Alexandria which he founded; or Siwa, where he was declared divine and given his worldly mission?       

Preparations for the funeral were magnificent.  The coffin was of beaten gold, the body within was mummified and embedded in precious spices.  Over the coffin was spread a pall of gold-embroidered purple, and above this a golden temple was built.  Gold columns supported a shimmering roof of gold, set with jewels.  The great edifice was drawn by sixty four mules each wearing a gilded crown and a collar set with gems.

Most historians, citing ancient Greek and Roman writers, believe Alexander was buried in a great marble sarcophagus in the Mediterranean port city he founded--Alexandria.  The Roman Emperor Augustus supposedly gazed upon the body three hundred years after Alexander's death.  Recently, the archaeological world has been rocked by a new theory regarding the last resting place of the great conqueror.      

The body of Alexander the Great may rest at the lonely oasis of Siwa.  An hour's drive from the Libyan border, the supposed tomb sits atop a desolate hill, a crumbling heap seen only by village farmers.  In 1995, a Greek archaeological team claimed to have found three crumbling stone tablets.  One of the tablets bears an inscription believed to have been written by Alexander's general Ptolemy, describing how he secretly brought the dead king to Siwa, "For the sake of the honorable Alexander, I present these sacrifices according to the orders of the god, (and) carried the corpse here...."  The second tablet says the shrine was built for Alexander.  The third tablet mentions some 30,000 soldiers who were appointed to guard the Siwa tomb.     

Alexander's tomb in Alexandria is thought to have been looted and destroyed sometime during the third century A.D..  The finds in the western desert bring in an element of mystery.  It is known that Alexander himself wished to be buried at Siwa and that alternate sites were considered only because of the political rivalries of Alexander's generals.  Ptolemy, one of Alexander's most loyal and beloved generals, may have built two tombs for Alexander, one in Siwa and another in Alexandria.  Is it possible that the mummy on display in Alexandria was not the real Alexander?   

Etched on tablet one of the Siwa find, Ptolemy supposedly writes, (in a very rough translation) "It was me who was caring  about his secrets, and who was carrying out his wishes.  And I was honest to him and to all people, and as I am the last one still alive I hereby state that I have done all the above for his sake."     

Treasure: The Holy Grail

In 1910, workmen digging a well in Antioch, Syria, spotted the gleam of shining metal in the sunlight.  Scrapping away the dirt, they unearthed a curious object, a set of two cups, one set within the other.  The outer cup was made of silver.  The inner cup was made of plain clay, and was the type from which a humble artisan might have drunk.  Excitement pulsated throughout the Middle East as the possible discovery of the Holy Grail electrified the world.            

Today, this artifact can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  It is called the "Antioch Chalice", and after extensive testing has been found not to be the Holy Grail.  Experts list the age of the Antioch Chalice as being fourth or fifth century, very early but not the Holy Grail.         

Just what is the Holy Grail?   The Holy Grail is the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper.   Besides being an archaeological artifact of unbelievable importance,  the cup is said to have certain powers, including:  (1)healing and restorative ability; (2) conveys knowledge of God; (3) invisible to unworthy eyes; (4)ability to feed those present (e.g. the miracle of the loaves and fishes);  and (5) it bestows immortality  on the possessor.        

What happened to the Grail?  The Grail supposedly passed into the hands of Joseph of Arimathea.   Joseph appears briefly in the Gospels as a wealthy member of the Jewish council in Jerusalem and secret disciple of Christ, who obtained the body of Christ after the Crucifixion and laid it in the tomb.

In the twelfth century,  non-scriptural writings began to appear telling how the hallowed vessel of the Last Supper came into Joseph's possession and had been conveyed to Britain.  Why Britain?  Some suggest that the wealthy Joseph made his money in the tin trade with Cornwall and had made frequent voyages to Britain in the past.
According to legend Joseph of Arimethea brought the Grail to England in 37 A.D. and founded an abbey upon the Island of Glass (present day Glastonbury).

Where is the Holy Grail now?  A great hill (tor) towers over the peaceful village of Glastonbury.   Atop the hill are the remains of St. Michael's church.  Legend says that the hill is hollow and is the secret entrance of the underworld.  There are numerous tales of disappearances into the Tor; usually in the form of people entering and returning mad.  In one of these stories thirty monks, engaged in chanting in the Abbey, found a tunnel opening up before them.  The monks bravely went inside.   Some great disaster befell them.  The full story could never be recovered from the survivors, two of whom were insane and one of whom had been struck dumb.  There are, in fact, large caves beneath the hill and at least one theory holds that the Holy Grail rests in one of these caves.    

Whatever the truth of the legends surrounding Glastonbury, it is, undoubtedly, the jumping off place for a search for King Arthur.  The historic Arthur was a Roman-British warlord who resisted the barbarian invasions as the Roman Empire collapsed.  The dates usually attributed to King Arthur lie between 460 -540 A.D.     

Cadbury Castle is thought to be the actual site of mythic Camelot.  In 1966 archaeologists found artifacts linking this site with the historic Arthur.  Excavations revealed a rich and powerful settlement.  A castle in name only, Cadbury has no moats or turrets.  It was an earthen hill fortress. Curiously enough, Cadbury (Camelot) is now privately owned.  The man who owns Camelot possesses what may be the most beautiful spot in England, where sheep graze sleepily upon rich green hills under an English sun and the only sound is the wind rushing through fields of wildflowers.         

It is possible that the historic Arthur could have been familiar with the legend of Joseph of Aramethea's presence in Britain, and sent followers in search of relics, the whole story being picked up and embellished by later Medieval storytellers into the now well known Quest for the Holy Grail.
Cadbury Castle is a thirty minute drive from Glastonbury.  It was to Glastonbury ("the isle of Avalon") that the wounded and dying Arthur was brought.  Legend says that Arthur sleeps inside Glastonbury Tor, until that time England shall need him most.  In 1191, a log coffin was found buried between two stone crosses in the burial ground beside St. Mary's chapel at the foot of Glastonbury Tor.  In the coffin, the monks found the bodies of a tall man and a delicate woman.  A leaden cross beneath the lid told them who there lay buried, "Here lies buried/The famous King/Arthur in the/Isle of Avalon."  Today the tumbled down walls of the abbey evoke thoughts of ruined Camelot.  Eyeless windows look out over Arthur's burial site, which is crossed reverently with red and white carnations.          

There are other possible Grail sites, including Roslin Chapel in Scotland.  The 3rd Earl of Orkeny built Roslin Castle during the 14th century.  Roslin Chapel, founded in 1446, was dissolved in 151l, and left in disrepair until restored in 1842.  The chapel is noted for a superabundance of ornament, and the famous Prentice Pillar, a beautiful, ornately carved work of art that graces the chapel.  In 1962, the famous Grail scholar Trevor Ravenscroft announced that he had finished a twenty year quest in search of the Grail and proclaimed Roslin Chapel to be its resting place.  Ravenscroft claimed that the Grail was inside the Prentice Pillar.   Metal detectors have been used on the pillar and an object of appropriate size is said to be buried in the middle of the ornate pillar.       

There are several alternate theories concerning the whereabouts of the Grail.  In the Caucasus Mountains of Russia there lives a small group of people who have stories of a magical cauldron called the Amonga.  This chalice has properties similar to those attributed to the Grail, serving food, giving knowledge and being able to choose those worthy to serve it.

Another theory argues that the physical cup of the Last Supper is gone forever but that it is an important metaphor for powerful universal energies that we can all tap into if we dare.  The "Silver Chalice", as disciples of this theory refer to the Grail, is the set of blood vessels in the neck and the base of the skull which feed the brain.  The "silver energy" can be used to increase the usefulness of the brain thus giving people able to tap into this energy almost superhuman powers.