Saturday, June 01, 2019

The Exchange Hotel and Civil War Medical Museum, Gordonsville, Virginia

The Exchange Hotel: Gordonsville, Virginia

Gordonsville Virginia’s Exchange Hotel opened in 1860 and provided an elegant stopping place for passengers on the Virginia Central Railway.  In March, 1862 the Confederate army transformed the hotel into the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital.  Dr. B.M Lebby of South Carolina was the director of the hospital and its operations continued under his leadership until October 1865.

The wounded and dying from nearby battlefields such as Cedar Mountain, Chancellorsville, Brandy Station, and the Wilderness were brought to Gordonsville by the trainloads. Although this was primarily a Confederate facility, the hospital treated the wounded from both sides. By the end of the war, more than 70,000 men had been treated at the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital and over 700 were buried on its surrounding grounds and later interred at Maplewood Cemetery in Gordonsville.

By the end of the Civil War, Virginia had fifty three Receiving Hospitals similar to this one.  All were burned to the ground by the Union army except the Gordonsville Receiving hospital.

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.

A quick look at women doctors and medicine in the Civil War for the general reader. Technologically, the American Civil War was the first “modern” war, but medically it still had its roots in the Middle Ages. In both the North and the South, thousands of women served as nurses to help wounded and suffering soldiers and civilians. A few women served as doctors, a remarkable feat in an era when sex discrimination prevented women from pursuing medical education, and those few who did were often obstructed by their male colleagues at every turn.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Could George Armstrong Custer Have Been President?

George Armstrong Custer

William W. Belknap was a Civil War Union Brigadier General, and later served as Secretary of War during the Grant Administration.  By 1875 allegations of bribery surrounded Belknap because of his appointment of post traders who sold merchandise on military installations.  George Armstrong Custer was called to testify before Congress in the matter. Custer accused President Grant's brother and Secretary of War Belknap of corruption. Belknap was impeached and sent to the Senate for trial.  An enraged President Grant stripped Custer of overall command of a column chosen to subdue the Sioux and placed him under the command of Brigadier General Alfred Terry. 

Before Custer became the mythic figure we know today, he was a lieutenant colonel desperate to find a way to salvage his reputation after this run-in with President Grant.  Custer was on the brink of professional and financial ruin, having run up massive gambling debts (which took years for his widow to pay off) and then having alienated the President of the United States.

Only one thing could save Custer, victory on the battlefield.  If Custer could win a smashing victory over Indians in the West, all would be well again. In his most hopeful fantasies Custer imagined a draft Custer for President Movement at the Democratic convention which was to open in St. Louis on June 27, 1876.  Custer had spent part of his trip East jawboning with political “King Makers”.  More realistically he could expect accolades at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and big box office receipts for a lecture tour for which he was already booked.

Instead of being swept into the White House in a wave of martial euphoria, George Armstrong Custer met his death along the bluffs overlooking the Little Bighorn River, in Montana, on June 25, 1876.  Custer’s death was immediately politicized.  Enemies of the administration …pointed accusing fingers at President Grant, blaming him for Custer’s death, urging voters to settle with Grant and the Republican Party in the fall elections.  Grant’s partisans struck back vilifying Custer.  Grant weighed in personally claiming that Custer overextended himself and his men to deprive fellow officers of their share of victory.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Napoleon's Hat: What Price Glory?


Napoleon’s signature two-cornered hats, known as a “bicorne,” were common among military men of the early 1800s.  Napoleon, however, wore his in a distinctive way.  Napoleon wore his hat sideways to make him stand out and be easily identifiable.  Few historical figures can be identified by a single item.  In the case of Winston Churchill, it was his cigars.  In the case of Napoleon it was the way he wore his hat.

It is estimated that Napoleon wore 120 bicorne hats during his career.  Of these, nineteen survive.  Most of these are housed in museum collections, but one privately owned by the Prince of Monaco was auctioned in 2014 for $2.4 million to a South Korean businessman.  Another of Napoleon’s hats, lost at Waterloo, and rather battered from the experience, sold at auction to a European buyer for $400,000 in 2018.

General George S. Patton once said, “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” Here are four stories about the history of the world IF wars we know about happened differently or IF wars that never happened actually took place.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Psychologist Looks at George Armstrong Custer

George Armstrong Custer

Dr. Charles Hofling, a psychiatrist actively interested in western Americana, wrote the first full-length psychohistory of George Armstrong Custer in 1981 entitled, Custer and the Little Big Horn: A Psychobiographical Inquiry.

Some of what Hofling says about Custer could be said of virtually anyone in any age, “What kind of man was Custer?  It is the thesis of this book that a fuller understanding of the man can shed further light on the Battle of the Little Big Horn.  When one seeks this understanding objectively, without any interest in making of Custer either a hero or a villain, what emerges is the picture of an interesting and moderately complex personality, with specific strengths and weaknesses, personal conflicts and defenses, reacting to the stresses of life in ways which have a certain inner consistency.” (Hofling, 84)

     We learn that Custer had a narcissistic personality disorder that offended many persons, but was mild enough “to have permitted friendships, camaraderie, and even love….” (Hofling, 86)  Why did he have this sort of personality?  “One of the key features in any personality consists of the psychological maneuvers, particularly the deep-seated ones…by means of which anxiety is warded off and an equilibrium maintained.  In Custer’s case, it is postulated that the principal anxiety came from his tendency to regress to the passive situation of infancy….The principal defense mechanism used to ward off regression and its attendant anxiety seems very clearly to have been reaction-formation….In other words, tendencies toward assuming the passive, help-seeking, nourishment-needing attitude of the first year…were turned into the confident, aggressive attitude typical of an outward-directed older boy.  As is usually the case when a defense mechanism is used unconsciously, there is a tendency toward exaggeration in the resulting attitudes.  Thus independence, confidence, and socially acceptable aggression tend to become flamboyance and belligerence.” Hofling goes on to write, “The exaggerated quality of Custer’s daring, his tendency to bravado and unnecessary heroics, is suggestive of the use of reaction-formation in a rather specific way, producing what is often called a counterphobic reaction.  In such a reaction the subject does not show or even consciously feel the anxiety or fear which would be natural, but instead rushes to meet or even seeks out the dangerous situation.  One cannot, of course, be certain, but some of Custer’s actions seem to fall in this category.  Sometimes a cavalry charge is not the ideal way of handling a military situation….” (Hofling, 91)

     Because of some unknown and unknowable event in his infancy Custer’s life was a self-perpetuating cycle.  “A sense of humiliation and shame led to vigorous efforts at achievement, restoring feelings of well-being; after a time, a sense of guilt led to self-destructive behavior.  The resulting loss of status gave fresh stimulation to the sense of humiliation and shame and the cycle started over.” Hofling goes on to write, “Custer reacted to a sense of humiliation…with a surge of glory-seeking activity designed to wipe out the negative emotions.”(Hofling, 93)  Custer was a prisoner of his psychology, which impacted his judgment and led to his defeat.

Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history.

General George S. Patton once said, “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” Here are four stories about the history of the world IF wars we know about happened differently or IF wars that never happened actually took place.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Lost Dutchman Mine: A Treasure Map

Treasure Map

Legend tells of a fabulous mine in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. So alluring is the prospect of unlimited wealth that it said that hundreds have died searching for the lost mine. 
The entire story began in 1748 when the Peralta family began mining silver and gold. According to family records this wealthy family operated eighteen silver and gold mines in the Superstition Mountains. With the Mexican War of 1848, law and order disintegrated in the area and the Apache Indians grew increasingly hostile, attacking the miners almost continuously. Disaster finally overtook the Peraltas in September 1848 with a general massacre by the Apaches. Following this massacre the Apaches controlled the Superstition Mountains until 1865.

Jacob Walz (or Waltz), the “Dutchman” enters the picture in 1871 with his partner Jacob Weiser.  The two immigrants purchased a map drawn by the original Peralta family and located the mine “within an imaginary circle whose diameter is not more than five miles and whose center is marked by the Weaver’s Needle.”

Weiser soon vanished...the victim of either, Indians, desperados, or Walz. The Dutchman continued working the mine, carrying the secret of its location to the grave.  It was 1891. Jacob Waltz, the “Dutchman”, was dead. But the clues he left as to the location of his mine remained alive in the dreams of Julia Thomas. Julia had looked after Walz before he died, and was the first of a long line of hunters for the Lost Dutchman’s Mine.  Julia sold all of her worldly possessions to finance a search for the mine. Armed with clues left by Walz on his deathbed, Julia and two friends spent about four weeks searching the canyons and ravines adjacent to Weavers Needle, and the west side of Bluff  Spring Mountain. The weather was so hot they spent the afternoon in the shade, and did their searching in the mornings. After suffering in the heat, and lacking sufficient water for their animals, the disappointed treasure hunters abandoned the search.  Julia then came up with a brilliant idea and began to produce maps illustrating the exact location of the lost Dutchman mine.  Although the maps were complete fabrications, the treasure maps produced a nice income for Julia.  There are more ways than one to find gold.

       Video: Is There Gold in the Superstition Mountains?

A lively history of the Civil War sprinkled with tales of over 60 buried treasure in sixteen states. History buffs and adventure seekers will enjoy this work.

The history of Virginia told through treasure tales about pirates, Indians, Revolutionary War heroes and Civil War raiders. The full text of the famous Beale Treasure cipher is included along with some sixty other legends. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The First African American Cowboy Movie Star

Bill Pickett

William M. “Bill” Pickett was the most famous African American rodeo performer of all time, and the first black cowboy movie star.  In 1905 he joined the Miller Brother’s 101 Range Wild West Show.  Pickett invented “bulldogging”, now called steer wrestling.  Charging in on his horse, Pickett came up alongside a long horn steer and dropped down on the steer’s head, twisting its head toward the sky.

In 1922, Pickett starred in the silent movie The Bulldogger, a western featuring an all African American cast.  Unfortunately, only a few fragments of the original film still exist.

Pickett was inducted into the national Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1972.  In 1993, the United States Post Office issued a stamp in his honor, as one of the “Legends of the West.”

Steer Wrestling

Since his death along the bluffs overlooking the Little Bighorn River, in Montana, on June 25, 1876, over five hundred books have been written about the life and career of George Armstrong Custer. Views of Custer have changed over succeeding generations. Custer has been portrayed as a callous egotist, a bungling egomaniac, a genocidal war criminal, and the puppet of faceless forces. For almost one hundred and fifty years, Custer has been a Rorschach test of American social and personal values. Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history. This book presents portraits of Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn as they have appeared in print over successive decades and in the process demonstrates the evolution of American values and priorities.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

George Washington and the Problem Child

John Parke "Jacky" Custis

Washington’s step son, John Parke “Jacky” Custis was destined to inherit his late father’s huge fortune.  George Washington wanted to make sure the boy was prepared for the responsibilities that so much wealth entailed.

Jacky’s early education was initially handled by his mother, Martha.  But in 1761, when the boy was about seven, a Scottish tutor named Walter Magowan was brought to live at Mount Vernon to begin Jacky’s formal education.  Unfortunately the boy was lazy, head strong, and had no interest in his studies.

In 1768 Jacky was sent away to a boarding school in order to prepare him for college.  George Washington wrote to the Reverend Jonathan Boucher, an Anglican minister who ran the school for boys noting that Jacky had been introduced to both Greek and Latin by his tutor and described his stepson as a boy “…about 14 yrs. of age, untainted in his morals, and of innocent manners.” He considered him “a promising boy” and expressed “anxiety” that as “the last of his Family,” who would be coming into “a very large Fortune,” he wanted to see the boy made “fit for more useful purposes, than a horse Racer.”

The next five years were frustrating for both George Washington and Reverend Boucher. When Jacky Custis was sixteen, Washington wrote to Boucher that his stepson's mind was wholly centered on “Dogs, Horses, and Guns,” as well as Dress and equipage.”  Boucher was unable to give Washington any reassurances noting that young Jack “…does not much like books”.  Warming to his subject, Boucher reported that Jack was the laziest boy he had ever known and also “so surprisingly voluptuous: one would suppose Nature had intended Him for some Asiatic Prince.”

Jacky was always full of surprises.  In 1773, he announced his engagement to fifteen your old Eleanor Calvert, who came from a prominent Maryland family. Washington was outraged; Martha was delighted. Washington was initially able to convince the young couple to postpone the marriage until after Jack had finished college and could “thereby render himself more deserving of the Lady and useful to Society.”  Jack lasted a few months at King’s College (now Columbia University) in New York City before bolting for home.  On February 3, 1774, Jack, now nineteen years old and Eleanor, sixteen, were wed.

Prospects for the young couple were bright.  After all, Jack had inherited an enormous fortune.  But what the father had made, the son could not keep.  Jack bought a plantation called Abingdon in Fairfax County, Virginia.  The seller, one Robert Alexander, took every advantage of the inexperienced and impetuous Jack.  When he learned of the terms of the purchase, George Washington informed Custis that “No Virginia Estate (except a few under the best management) can stand simple Interest how then can they bear compound Interest?”

George Washington wrote in 1778: “I am afraid Jack Custis, in spite of all of the admonition and advice I gave him about selling faster than he bought, is making a ruinous hand of his Estate.” By 1781, the financial strains of the Abingdon purchase had almost bankrupted Jack Custis.

No hand at business, Jack Custis proved himself equally poor at politics.  In 1778 he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses as a delegate from Fairfax County.  Taking time out from his duties as a general in the field, commanding the Continental Army, engaged in a desperate war, Washington wrote to the young politician, “I do not suppose that so young a senator as you are, so little versed in political disquisition, can yet have much influence in a popular assembly, composed of various talents and different views, but it is in your power to be punctual in attendance.”  Custis won reelection but missed assignments to important committees because of his habitual late arrival, usually the result of personal matters.

Despite Washington's frequent criticism of Jack, the young man described their relationship fondly. Custis wrote Washington that, “It pleased the Almighty to deprive me at a very early Period of Life of my Father, but I cannot sufficiently adore His Goodness in sending Me so good a Guardian as you Sir.” He went on to assure Washington that, “He best deserves the Name of Father who acts the Part of one. . . .”

As the Revolutionary War came to a close, Custis persuaded Washington to allow him to join the general’s suite at Yorktown as a “civilian aide-de-camp.”  This turned out to be another unfortunate choice.  Soon after the British surrender, Jack was stricken with the contagious fever spreading throughout the crowded army camps. On November 5, 1781, shortly before his twenty seventh birthday, John Parke Custis died.

Neither Martha Washington nor the women of the South’s leading families were marble statues, they had the same strengths and weaknesses, passions and problems, joys and sorrows, as the women of any age.  So just how did they live?

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in colonial America and the early republic.