Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Grand Army of the Republic 1866 -1956

Established in 1866, The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was a fraternal organization of Union veterans.  This photograph shows Union veterans marching at the 36th National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) in Washington, D.C. on October, 1902. The organization disbanded in 1956 with the death of the last Union veteran.

The last Union veteran, Willard Woolson died in 1956 at the age of 106. Woolson was a drummer boy.  The last Union combat soldier, James Hard, died in 1953 at the age of 109. 

Claims and counter-claims swirl around the age and status of the last veterans, both Union and Confederate. The last verifiable Confederate veteran is thought to have been Pleasant Riggs Crump (1847-1951), although several men subsequently claimed to be the “oldest” Confederate soldier.  Crump was from Alabama and served at the siege of Petersburg.  

The last American slave is thought to have been Sylvester Magee who died in 1971 at the purported age of 130. There is no birth certificate to verify his birth date.

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.

Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Civil War

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.

Monday, August 07, 2017

George Washington’s Church During the Civil War

Christ Church

While many churches were turned into hospitals and stables during the occupation of Alexandria, Virginia, Christ Church’s reputation as George Washington’s place of worship preserved it as a church. 

Union Army Lt. Charles Haydon found Alexandria, “A quaint, old looking place….There is not a half hour in the day that I do not have his (George Washington’s) presence associated with the surrounding scenery.”  Lt Haydon mused, “It would do us all good to spend an hour at the grave of Washington in tears over the fate of our country.” Union army chaplains conducted services in the church, where a Union army congregation grew up.  Most of the original parishioners worshipped with other Southern sympathizers elsewhere.  

Union soldiers vandalized the grave of Eleanor Wren at Christ Church, changing her age at death from “32” to “132”.  According to contemporary reports, “The streets were crowded with intoxicated soldiery; murder was of almost hourly occurrence, and disturbances, robbery, and rioting were constant.  The sidewalks and docks were covered with drunken men, women, and children, and quiet citizens were afraid to venture (out)”.

By the summer of 1863 the Alexandria Gazette reported, old residents of Alexandria had mostly departed.  When the war ended, Christ Church was returned to its parishioners with its interior intact.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Remeum: The Remey Mausoleum

Remains of the Remeum

The “Remeum” was a huge family mausoleum erected, on land belonging to Pohick Church in Lorton Virginia, by controversial Baha’i faith leader, Charles Mason Remey. The Remeum was constructed over a twenty year period (1937-1958) until a disagreement between the Pohick Church and Remey resulted in legal action.  The mausoleum was designed by Charles Remey as a memorial to his family’s contributions to America.  According to the Washington Evening Star and Daily News of April 9, 1973, the mausoleum was planned as a magnificent complex of walled courtyards, underground chambers with soaring vaulted ceilings, marble reliefs and statues, carved pillars, chapels and burial vaults.” Remey devoted most of his fortune to building this burial complex.  Some two million bricks were used in its construction.  Remey planned to build a huge three story structure above the underground mausoleum which would have dwarfed Pohick Church.

The completed sections of the Remeum complex included outer courtyards, an atrium, and the underground mausoleum. Costing millions of dollars, the complex featured bas reliefs and sculptures by the famous American sculptor Felix de Weldon, who created the iconic flag-raising Iwo Jima U.S. Marine Corps memorial located in Rossyln, Virginia. There were also sculptures by other artists decorating the various tombs, alcoves, and hallways of the gargantuan structure. Historic events in which the Remey family participated, from the landing of the Pilgrims to Pearl Harbor, were depicted.  Two massive sleeping lions sculpted by Felix de Weldon guarded the entrance to the mausoleum.  Inside the memorial chapel were life size statues depicting “Faith”, and “Charity.”   Another series of carved reliefs illustrated the lives of saints. The complex was lit by electric chandeliers, had an extensive ventilation system, and plumbing.

Unguarded in what was then rural Virginia, the Remeum was frequently vandalized.  Hundreds of vandals defaced the complex over the years.  Fragments of smashed marble reliefs and statues littered the floors.  Discarded beer cans and whiskey bottles were mixed with broken funeral urns and the ashes of the dead.  Statues too large to steal were chipped or painted.  With construction halted, Remey relinquished all rights to the Pohick Church in 1968. Remey was given five years to remove anything of value from the mausoleum.  Remey’s brother-in-law, a navy Admiral,  transferred the remains of fifteen family members to Pompey, New York.  Remey’s wife Gertrude was reinterred in the Pohick Church Cemetery.  The marker over her grave appears to be a marble plaque from the Remeum.  The complex was dismantled over a period of ten years, being finally bulldozed over in 1983.

Northern Virginia’s cemeteries are time capsules reflecting the region’s 350 years of history. They offer a glimpse into the lives and fortunes of the famous, the infamous, and those who are remembered for loving their families, tending to their business, and quietly supporting their communities. There are some 1,000 cemeteries in Northern Virginia, ranging from small family plots to huge national cemeteries covering hundreds of acres. This book presents the history of the region through the medium of cemeteries. Every gravestone has a story to tell. Confederate raiders, freedmen, eccentrics, and nation builders lived and died in Northern Virginia. Sometimes, tombstones are all that remain of their stories. Often, finding their tombstones is the first step in rediscovering the stories of these figures.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Creation of Fort Belvoir, Virginia (1918)

     The federal government acquired the Belvoir Peninsula in 1910 with plans to develop the area into a reformatory.  Local citizens banded together with patriotic organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in opposing the establishment of a reformatory so close to Mount Vernon.  The reformatory idea was scrapped and Congress transferred the property to the War Department in 1912, following a request by the U.S. Army's Engineer School to use the area as a training site.  The Army’s Engineer School, located in Washington, needed field training areas and rifle ranges.  The Belvoir Peninsula provided challenging terrain where soldiers could build pontoon bridges and conduct rifle practice.

     America entered World War I in April, 1917.  In January 1918, camp A.A. Humphreys, named after Union Civil War General and former Chief of Engineer Corps Andrew A. Humphreys, was established on the Belvoir Peninsula.  Within only four months of the start of construction, Camp A.A. Humphreys was in operation. Over the course of eleven months, extensive camp facilities were constructed, with most of the heavy labor being done by segregated African-American service battalions.  To accommodate the twenty thousand troops who were to use the camp, seven hundred and ninety temporary wood-frame buildings were constructed. A newly constructed dam across Accotink Creek and a water filtration plant assured a steady flow of fresh water.  Transportation systems and utilities were also improved.  The unpaved Washington-Richmond Highway was surfaced in concrete within six months and a plank road was built linking the camp to the Highway. Standard gauge and narrow gauge railways followed.  Building these transportation systems facilitated deliveries to the camp, and provided engineer training experience for troops being sent to Europe. During 1918, some sixty thousand troops received training in engineering, trench warfare, and gas warfare.  After the war Camp A.A. Humphreys became a permanent installation and was renamed Fort Belvoir in the 1930s.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Creation of Quantico Marine Base (World War I)

     America entered World War I in April, 1917. Told to expand its training capabilities, the U.S. Marine Corps began inspecting promising sites in the spring of 1917.  Some five thousand acres along Quantico Creek in Prince William County, Virginia, were leased from an ailing development company which had been promoting the area for recreation.  The area was largely uninhabited.  There was an officially incorporated town, a shipyard, and a small hotel that had been built to attract tourists.  The first Marine contingent to arrive consisted of ninety one enlisted men and four officers.  Soon thousands would come pouring in for training.  There were not enough barracks, and the troops did their laundry in the river.  Troops unaccustomed to a Virginia summer complained, “Quantico was hotter than a pistol and muddier than a pigsty”.

   Aviation first arrived at Quantico in July 1918, when two kite balloons were flown to spot artillery fire. Soon four seaplanes were assigned to Quantico. Naval aviation actually began in 1911, only six years after the Wright brothers’ first successful flight, with a Congressional appropriation of $25,000.  This money went for the purchase of three aircraft, one from the Wright brothers themselves.  The first Marine aviator (he was the fifth Naval aviator) was 1st Lt. Alfred A. Cunningham.  On December 7, 1917, the Marine aviators were ordered overseas to fight in France, and to take part in anti-submarine warfare.  In 1919, a flying field was laid out at Quantico and land leased to accommodate a squadron returning from combat in Europe. The facility was later named Brown Field, in memory of 2nd Lt Walter V. Brown, who lost his life in an early accident at that location. 

     By 1920 Quantico Marine Corps Base had become a permanent fixture in Northern Virginia, as Marine Corps schools were founded and the Corps embarked on the mission to, “make this post and the whole Marine Corps a great university."

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Secrets of Fort Hunt (Alexandria, Virginia)


     John Gunther Dean, a young American soldier whose Jewish family had fled Germany in the late 1930s was summoned to the Pentagon, where an Army officer asked him if he knew how to speak German.
      'Yeah, I speak German like a native,'" said Dean.
     Dean was handed a nickel and a phone number and then mysteriously dropped off in the middle of Alexandria.  Dean went into a drugstore and dialed the number.  A voice on the other end said,  “Dean, you stay outside and we'll pick you up in a staff car.”   Minutes later he was being driven south toward Mount Vernon, ending up at Fort Hunt on the banks of the Potomac
     Fort Hunt, a sprawling military base supporting shore batteries on the river, was built in 1897 just prior to the Spanish American War.  In the 1930s the now defunct fort was turned over to the Park Service.  With the outbreak of World War II, Fort Hunt was transferred back to the military “for the duration”.  The fort was turned into a top secret intelligence facility used for the interrogation of German prisoners of war and captured German scientists.    

    Known only by its’ secret code name  “P.O. Box 1142” throughout the war, Fort Hunt mushroomed into a substantial installation with one hundred and fifty new buildings, surrounded by guard towers and multiple electric fences. The intelligence operations being carried out were so secret that even building plans were labeled "Officers' School" to throw curious workmen off the scent.  Nearby residents watched unmarked, windowless buses roar toward the fort day and night.

     The Military Intelligence Service (MIS) had two special operations units working at Fort Hunt known as MIS-X and MIS-Y, one charged with interrogating high level German prisoners of war, and the other devising ways of communicating with and assisting the escape of American POWs held by the Nazis.

     At first, prisoners were mostly U-boat crew members who had survived the sinking of their submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. As the war progressed, P.O. Box 1142 shifted its attention to some of the most prominent scientists in Germany, many of whom surrendered and gave up information willingly, hoping to be allowed to stay in the United States. Germany had superior technology, particularly in rocketry and submarines, and the information obtained at Fort Hunt was critical to the security of the United States as it moved into the Cold War and the space age.  Nearly 4,000 German POWs spent some time in the camp's 100 barracks.  Among the prisoners were such notables as German scientist Wernher von Braun, who would become one of America's leading space experts; Reinhard Gehlen, a Nazi spymaster who would later work for the CIA during the Cold War; and Heinz Schlicke, inventor of infrared detection.

    One of the reasons for secrecy was the fact that the interrogation operations at Fort Hunt were not strictly in accordance with the Geneva Code Conventions.  The whereabouts of the German POWs were not immediately reported to the International Red Cross as required.   Prisoners from whom military intelligence thought it could obtain valuable information, particularly submarine crews, were transferred to Fort Hunt immediately after their capture. There they were held incommunicado and questioned until they either volunteered what they knew or convinced the Americans that they were not going to talk. Only then were they transferred to a regular POW camp and the International Red Cross notified of their capture.

     Although the mere existence of this unit and its intent violated the Geneva conventions on POW protocol, extracting information was done without torture, intimidation or cruelty.  The average stay for a prisoner at Fort Hunt was three months, during which time he was questioned several times a day.  Interrogating officers soon found that they learned more from bugging the conversations of their prisoners than they did from formal interrogation sessions.  Many prisoners spoke freely with each other, providing American intelligence officers with much valuable information on war crimes, the technical workings of U-boats, and the state of enemy morale.  Even rocks and trees were bugged, and the location of prisoners carefully monitored throughout the day to allow the correlation of taped conversations with particular prisoners.

     Almost all of the American interrogators were Jewish immigrants from Germany; some of whom had lost entire families in the Holocaust. They were recruited to P.O. Box 1142 for their language skills and, in the cases of Fred Michel and H. George Mandel, for  their scientific backgrounds.  Any anger toward their captives had to be suppressed.  Some found it difficult to watch German Generals having a dunk in the camp pool as a reward for cooperation.

      Only one POW was shot trying to escape.  Lieutenant Commander Werner Henke, the highest-ranking German officer to be shot while in American captivity during World War II, was killed while attempting an escape from Fort Hunt in 1944.  Henke, the commander of the German submarine U-515 was captured with forty of his crew on April 9, 1944 when his U-boat was sunk.  The British press had earlier labelled Henke “War Criminal No. 1”, for machine gunning survivors of the passenger ship SS Ceramic that U-515 sank on December 7, 1942.  When interrogators threatened to turn Henke over to the British to face war crime charges unless he cooperated, Henke attempted an escape and was shot.

     The unit also provide support to captured American POWs in German hands.  Packages, purportedly from loved ones, contained baseballs, playing cards, pipes, and cribbage boards.  Crafted at Fort Hunt, these innocous items cleverly hid compasses, saws, escape maps, and other items such as wire cutters.

     After the War, Fort Hunt was returned to the National Park Service which continued to develop the site as a recreational area. All of the buildings connected with the interrogation center were demolished.  Not  a single trace of the Top Secret facility remains except a commemorative plaque near the flagpole which honors the veterans of P.O. Box 1142 and their invaluable service to their country.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis

Artist John Trumbull served in the Revolutionary War as an aide to George Washington.  After the war he pursued a career as an artist.  In 1785 he began sketching out ideas for a series of large scale paintings to commemorate the major events of the American Revolution.  In 1791 he went to Yorktown, Virginia to sketch the site of the British surrender to General George Washington.

Some twenty five years later, Congress commissioned Trumble to paint four large paintings to be hung in the U.S. Capitol rotunda, one of these, The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis was completed in 1820, and depicts the surrender of Lt. General Charles, the Earl Cornwallis at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.  Trumbull received $8,000 for the painting (which would be approximately $200,000 in today’s money).

George Washington did not think that Yorktown would be the last battle of the Revolutionary War, and felt that it was his duty to keep the Continental Army together until a final peace treaty was signed.  Despite the devastating loss at Yorktown, loyalist militias continued to fight throughout the back country.

Peace talks began in April 1782.  A preliminary treaty finally came on November 30, 1782, more than a year after Yorktown. The final treaty was signed on September 3, 1783, and ratified by the Continental Congress early in 1784.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Hiram Powers, "The Greek Slave"

In 1844, American sculptor Hiram Powers completed a sculpture he called, “The Greek Slave”, which was to become one of the most popular art works of the 19th century.  The statue is of a naked young woman, bound in chains.  In one hand she holds a small cross.

Powers described the work:

The Slave has been taken from one of the Greek Islands by the Turks, in the time of the Greek revolution, the history of which is familiar to all. Her father and mother, and perhaps all her kindred, have been destroyed by her foes, and she alone preserved as a treasure too valuable to be thrown away. She is now among barbarian strangers, under the pressure of a full recollection of the calamitous events which have brought her to her present state; and she stands exposed to the gaze of the people she abhors, and awaits her fate with intense anxiety, tempered indeed by the support of her reliance upon the goodness of God. Gather all these afflictions together, and add to them the fortitude and resignation of a Christian, and no room will be left for shame.”

The statue became a rallying symbol for a number a groups.  In 1848, Lucy Stone saw the statue and broke into tears, seeing the statue as the symbol of man’s oppression of the female sex.  Stone took up the cause of women’s rights.  Abolitionists drew parallels between the plight of The Greek Slave and the plight of slaves in the American South.

Hiram Powers' studio produced six full-scale marble versions of The Greek Slave for private collectors.  The statue is now on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., among other places.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Washington's Prayer at Valley Forge

Arnold Friberg painted "The Prayer at ValleyForge" in 1975 in time for the Bicentennial of American Independence. The painting has become a modern icon.  Friberg visited Valley Forge during the winter to immerse himself in the conditions faced by Washington and the American patriots.
The original  story of Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge may be apocryphal, having originated with an account by Reverend Nathaniel Snowden which began to circulate in the early 1820s.  Reverend Snowden recounted that one of Washington’s soldiers, a man named Isaac Potts testified to him: 
“I tied my horse to a sapling and went quietly into the woods and to my astonishment I saw the great George Washington on his knees alone, with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at Prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching to interpose with his Divine aid, as it was ye Crisis, and the cause of the country, of humanity and of the world.

“Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying. I went home and told my wife. I saw a sight and heard today what I never saw or heard before, and just related to her what I had seen and heard and observed. We never thought a man could be a soldier and a Christian, but if there is one in the world, it is Washington. She also was astonished. We thought it was the cause of God, and America could prevail.”
Many historians question Reverend Snowden’s story, if not that Washington was a man who prayed.  Snowden is seen as another storytelling clergyman like Mason Locke Weems (1759 -1825), known to history as Parson Weems, who invented the famous story of George Washington and the cherry tree in 1800 (“I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet.”).  Weems wrote biography to amplify his subject. His subject was “... Washington, the hero, and the demigod.”  It has been said of his writing, “If the tales aren’t true, they should be. They are too pretty to be classified with the myths.” 
There are numerous examples of Washington invoking the blessings and protection of the Almighty, including at the time of his leaving the Army:
“I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fake News in 1931

Stanley Baldwin

Fake news has been around a very long time, and its’ methods haven’t changed much.

In 1931 British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin blasted the press with unusual harshness,

“They are engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal vices, personal likes and dislikes of (hostile press barons Rothermere and Beaverbrook).  What are their methods?  Their methods are direct falsehoods, misrepresentations, half-truths, the alteration of the speaker’s meaning by publishing a sentence apart from the context….What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Review: Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music

In Romancing the Folk, Benjamin Filene traces the development of the folk music movement since 1900. His primary focus is the cultural “middlemen”, who discovered folk musicians and promoted them as exemplars of America’s musical roots. These individuals made judgments about what constituted America’s true musical traditions, helped shape what “mainstream” audiences recognized as authentic, and inevitably, transformed the music that the folk performers offered. (Filene, 5)

What is fascinating about these cultural brokers is how their endeavors reflect one of the ongoing themes in American history, the dichotomy between the vision of man in society versus the vision of the noble savage, the individual in a simpler more natural time. The earliest folklorists were bent on cataloging and preserving original songs. These early catalogers saw the propagation of folk culture as a means of knitting society back together and restoring it to a simpler era. John and Alan Lomax went farther, recording the sounds of authentic performers and introducing authentic performers to the public.

Industrial development in America increasingly diminished the autonomy of the individual in favor of the demands of industrial discipline. Technology forced the worker into what the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) called, “a common servitude of all workers to the machines which they tend”. Disillusioned with bourgeois culture’s corrupt materialism and constraining standards of propriety folklorists depicted roots musicians as the embodiments of an anti-modern ethos. The appeal of folk performers to the public was their non-middleclass “otherness”. In his public persona Huddie Ledbetter (aka “Lead Belly”), an ex-convict singer John and Alan Lomax brought to public attention, was cast as an archetypal ancestor, pre-modern, emotive, non-commercial. The “outsider” was the persona expected of the folk performer, even though many of the performers themselves, including “Lead Belly” and “Muddy Waters” ( McKinley Morganfield) were both willing and anxious to adapt their music to be more commercially viable.

During the great national crises of the Depression and the Second World War, the folk music movement was officially embraced by the government as a method of enhancing national pride and cohesion. Folk songs were identified with Americanism. The ruling elite used a cultural tool to energize crowds to identify with the prevailing ideology of the elite. After the war, the official embrace of folk music faded and folk music resumed its role as an activity of “otherness”.

One of the primary forces in the folk movement in the post-war years was Pete Seeger. Pete Seeger and his followers, constituted an early wave of the 1960s counterculture, pushing against the empty homogeneity of bourgeois life. Interestingly the two most influential figures in the folk movement, Seeger and Bob Dylan were not, in fact, of the working class. Seeger was the son of privilege, the product of elite eastern prep schools, and Harvard. Dylan (Robert Zimmerman)was the product of a conventional middle class family from Minnesota. Both donned working class clothes and developed an ersatz working class lifestyle, despite background and income, rejecting even bathing and hygiene in a quest for “authenticity”.

In many ways both Seeger, Dylan, and the folk movement can be seen as part of the tradition of the nineteenth century utopianism, hankering after a simpler and nobler American community.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Historic Blenheim: Civil War Graffiti

Historic Blenheim

As fighting surged across Northern Virginia during the four years of the American Civil War, many curious reminders were left behind for future generations to ponder. Near the City of Fairfax, for example, the historic mansion “Blenheim” boasts the largest collection of Civil War graffiti in the nation. Blenheim was a new and luxurious home at the beginning of the war, having just been completed in 1859. During the course of the war the Union army occupied the property on three separate occasions, with at least twenty two different regiments of the Union Army using the house at one point or another. For almost a year Blenheim was used as a convalescent hospital. The Union soldiers passing through Blenheim left a "diary on walls" providing insight into typical soldier life during the Civil War. One soldier from 4th New York Cavalry wrote along the walls of a staircase,

“First month’s hard bread, hard on stomach.”

“Second month, pay day. Patriotic-hic Ale. How we suffer for lager.”

“Fourth month: no money, no whiskey, no friends, no rations, no peas, no beans, no pants, no patriotism.”

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, June 06, 2017

Washington Crossing the Delaware

In 1851, German American painter Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze painted the iconic picture Washington Crossing the Delaware, which portrayed the events of the night of December 25-26, 1776.  The river was icy and the weather severe.  Two detachments of soldiers were unable to cross the river, leaving Washington with only 2,400 men under his command to launch a surprise attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey. The Hessian garrison was caught off guard early on the morning of December 26.  After a short, sharp battle, most of the Hessian’s surrendered.  The victory at Trenton came at a critical moment.  Badly battered over the course of several months, the morale of Washington’s army was collapsing.  This much needed victory boosted the Continental Army's flagging morale, and inspired re-enlistments.
Leutze painted three versions of Washington’s crossing.  One version, hanging in Germany, was destroyed in a bombing raid during World War II.  The other two versions are now in the possession of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Art of Sword Fighting

                                                               The Rapier

The art of sword fighting has been a vital part of life for centuries and remains a popular hobby even today.

The following video takes an in-depth look at historical sword fighting:

Medieval Combat

The wearing of chain mail has been an effective means of protection in combat. Its use dates back to the Roman Empire. The medieval era knights are best remembered for their elaborate chain mail in different designs. The most important period of chain mail armor use ran from about the early 1300's to about the mid to late 1500's.

The following videos give detailed insights into Medieval combat:

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

George Washington: Freemason

George Washington in Masonic regalia

Freemasonry became very popular in colonial America. The earliest of American lodges were the First Lodge of Boston, established in 1733, and one in Philadelphia, established about the same time.  Benjamin Franklin served as the head of the fraternity in Pennsylvania, as did Paul Revere and Joseph Warren in Massachusetts. Other well-known Masons involved with the founding of America included John Hancock, John Sullivan, Lafayette, Baron Fredrick von Steuben, Nathaniel Greene, and John Paul Jones. 

George Washington joined the Masonic Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia at the age of 20 in 1752. His Masonic membership, like the others public titles and duties he performed, was expected from a young man of his social status in colonial Virginia.  Not much is known of Washington’s Masonic life during the quarter century following his induction into the fraternity.  Tradition puts him in various military lodges during the time, but because of their traveling nature, there remains no record of his attendance.

Washington returned to Mount Vernon in 1783 after the Revolutionary War.  He was invited to joint Lodge No. 39 and later became the first Worshipful Master of the newly established Grand Lodge of Virginia (Lodge No. 22).  He served some twenty months in this post.  During his tenure as Worshipful Master of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, Washington was inaugurated President of the United States, becoming the first and only Mason to be President of the United States and Master of his lodge at the same time.

President Washington took his oath of office on a Bible from St. John's Lodge in New York, at his first inauguration in 1791.  During his two Presidential terms, he visited Masons in North and South Carolina and presided over the cornerstone ceremony for the U.S. Capitol in 1793, laying the cornerstone of the United States Capitol in Masonic garb, as chronicled by the Alexandria Gazette of September 25, 1793.  In retirement, Washington sat for a portrait in his Masonic regalia, and in death, was buried with Masonic honors.

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?

These are the often overlooked stories of early America. Stories such as the roots of racism in America, famous murders that rocked the colonies, the scandalous doings of some of the most famous of the Founding Fathers, the first Emancipation Proclamation that got revoked, and stories of several notorious generals who have been swept under history’s rug.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Civil War Unknowns Monument at Arlington National Cemetery

The first memorial constructed at Arlington national Cemetery was the Civil War Unknowns Monument which was meant as a tribute to Union soldiers.  Bodies of 2,111 dead soldiers were collected within a thirty five mile radius.  Most were full or partial remains discovered unburied and unidentifiable. An inscription on the west face of the memorial describes the number of dead in the vault below, “Beneath this stone repose the bones of two thousand one hundred and eleven unknown soldiers gathered after the war from the fields of Bull Run, and the route to the Rappahannock.  Their remains could not be identified, but their names and deaths are recorded in the archives of their country; and its grateful citizens honor them as of their noble army of martyrs. May they rest in peace! September. A. D. 1866.” This site was once a grove of trees near one of the estate’s flower gardens.

Originally, a Rodman gun was placed at each corner, and a pyramid of shot adorned the center of the lid.  By 1893, the memorial had been redesigned.  The plain walls had been embellished, and although the inscription had been retained, the lid was replaced by one modeled after the Ark of the Covenant.

Several hundred Confederate dead were buried at Arlington by the end of the war in April 1865. Some were prisoners of war who died in custody.  Some were executed spies.  Some, because of the inability to identify remains, were probably buried in the monument to the Union dead. 

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.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Confederates in Brazil

Dom Pedro II Emperor of Brazil

The under-populated Brazilian Empire saw an opportunity in the collapse of the Confederacy to develop its vast wilderness interior.  Emperor Dom Pedro II, encouraging the southern colonization societies that sprang up throughout the South after the war, offered to pay one third of the ships passage of all emigrants from any southern port to Rio de Janeiro.  The Brazilian government also agreed to sell land at modest prices in any locality desired by the colonists.

To some southerners the Brazilian offer seemed heaven sent.  It was a land where they could live with dignity.  The climate was mild and good for cotton.  Land and labor were cheap, and Brazil protected the institution of slavery (which was not abolished until 1888).  The people were easy going and receptive to strangers.  In a short time some of the emigrants had already become wealthy.  The Rev. Joshua Dunn, for example, had acquired one and a half million square acres of coastal land for rice and sugar cultivation and was instrumental in establishing three new navigation companies by 1867.

The man fated to make the most lasting contribution among the Confederates in Brazil was the indefatigable Colonel William Hutchinson Norris.  Norris, the image of a Biblical patriarch, with his great beard and flowering mane, set out for Brazil in 1866, at the age of 65.  A native Georgian, and former Alabama State Senator, Norris was not easily intimidated by either man or nature.  Settling in Sao Paulo state, Norris burned back the jungle, built his shelters, and set about introducing modern agricultural techniques to Brazil.  He soon turned a profit growing both cotton and watermelons.  Other Confederates emigrants, many of whom had tried earlier to establish themselves in other parts of Brazil and failed, soon learned of Norris’ good luck and moved to this region to join him.  The harder Norris worked the luckier he became.

Nine years after the arrival of William Norris a railroad was extended from the city of Sao Paulo to the area where the Confederates were living.  The place became officially known as Vila Americana.  Later it was incorporated as the city of Americana.  Today, Americana, a prosperous little city of eighty thousand, has only three hundred Confederate descendants who still have ties with the city.  Four times a year they celebrate a Protestant religious service, enjoy a picnic of southern fried chicken, pecan pie and cornbread.

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.

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.