Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Eighteenth Century Courtship

Courting took place at organized functions such as dances, horse races and church. Dancing was an important courting ritual among the wealthy. It was considered a good way to determine a potential marriage partner’s physical soundness, as well as the state of their teeth and breath. Dancing taught poise, grace and balance, especially important to women who had to learn to remain in their “compass”, or the area of movement allowed by their clothing. Balls often lasted three to four days and took all day and most of the night. 

Women, then as now, had ways of making themselves more alluring.  Among the elite, cosmetics were commonly worn.  Almost everyone had a pock marked face due to the widespread scourge of smallpox, but a handsomely pocked face was not considered unattractive, only an excessively pocked one.  Flour, white lead, orrisroot and cornstarch were common bases to produce the esthetic of a pure white face. Over these red rouge was used to highlight cheekbones, in a manner that would be considered exaggerated by modern standards, but was most effective in the dim light afforded by candles in the eighteenth century. Lip color and rouge were made from crushed cochineal beetles. Cochineal was an expensive imported commodity; country women substituted berry stains. Carbon was used to highlight eye brows and lashes, which were groomed with fine combs.  The key aspects of the 18th century cosmetic look were a complexion somewhere between white and pale, red cheeks, and red lips.  The ideal woman had a high forehead, plump rosy cheeks, pale skin, and small lips, soft and red, with the lower lip being slightly larger thus creating a rosebud effect. Although bathing one’s entire body was not a regular occurrence in the eighteenth century, the daily washing of one’s face and hands was the norm in elite social circles.

An almanac essay entitled Love and Acquaintance with the Fair Sex assures us that men were incapable of “resistance” against a woman’s, “attractive charms of an enchanting outside in the sprightly bloom of happy nature; against the graces of wit and politeness; against the lure of modesty and sweetness.”  Of course some men felt uneasy about female allurements which could account for the introduction of a bill before the British Parliament in 1770 entitled, “An Act to Protect Men from Being Beguiled into Marriage by False Adornments”. The proposed act read, “All women, of whatever rank, age, profession or degree, whether virgins, maids or widows, that shall, from and after such Act, impose upon, seduce or betray into matrimony, any of His Majesty's subjects, by the use of scents, paints, cosmetic washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes and bolstered hips, shall incur the penalty of the law in force against witchcraft and like misdemeanours and that the marriage upon conviction shall stand null and void.”  To the everlasting regret of some the Act did not become law.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Sneak Attack! (Four Alternative History Stories)

Sun Tzu, the Master of War, once said, “Those who are skilled in producing surprises will win. In conflict, surprise will lead to victory. ” 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.

1.The Hostage, in which Abraham Lincoln is kidnapped by the rebels.
2.The German Invasion of America of 1889, in which Germany unexpectedly launches its might against the United States.
3.The Invasion of Canada 1933, in which the new American dictator launches a sneak attack on Canada.
4.Cherry Blossoms at Night: Japan Attacks the American Homeland (1942), in which Japan attacks the American homeland in a very surprising way.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ivy Hill Cemetery and Wernher von Braun

Ivy Hill Cemetery

The thousands of headstones at Alexandria’s Ivy Hill Cemetery are a portal to the city’s rich past.  Here lie descendants of Thomas Jefferson, Union and Confederate soldiers, members of some of the city's oldest families, and the rocket scientist Wernher von Braun.

Dr. Wernher von Braun is best known as the father of the American space program.   His NASA team developed the Redstone booster, which launched America's first satellite, and the giant Saturn V, which launched America’s missions to the Moon.

Although he worked on Nazi military rocket development during the first half of his career, Wernher von Braun claimed his work on military rockets was ultimately motivated by his dream of utilizing the technology for peaceful space exploration. 

In 1949 von Braun wrote a science fiction story, Project Mars: A Technical Tale,  based on detailed science.   He wanted to inspire people to embrace the challenge of human space exploration.  This story was only published some thirty years after his death and fifty seven years after it was written.

Some readers have noted an odd coincidence in this early work of science fiction which relates to today’s foremost proponent of Mars exploration, Elon Musk.  Von Braun writes on page 177, “The Martian government was directed by ten men, the leader of whom was elected by universal suffrage for five years and entitled “Elon.” Two houses of Parliament enacted the laws to be administered by the Elon and his cabinet. The Upper House was called the Council of the Elders and was limited to a membership of 60 persons, each being appointed for life by the Elon as vacancies occurred by death.”

This never-before-printed science fiction novel by the original "rocket man," Wernher von Braun, combines technical fact with a human story line in the way that only a true dreamer can realize. Encompassing the entire story of the journey, this novel moves from the original decision for a Mars mission, through the mission planning, the building of the mighty space ships, the journey, the amazing discoveries made on Mars, and the return home. The author's attention to the actions and feelings of the characters—both those who went and those who stayed behind—makes this an adventure of human proportions, rather than merely another fanciful tale. This exclusive von Braun treasure comes complete with an appendix of his original technical drawings, made in the late 1940s, on which the story's plot is based.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Mutiny on the Bounty and Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Island was sighted on 3 July 1767 by the crew of the British sloop HMS Swallow. The island was named after Midshipman Robert Pitcairn, who was the first to sight the island.  The island is best known as the final refuge of the mutineers from HMS Bounty.

On April 4, 1789, the Bounty embarked on the return journey to England from Tahiti. Three weeks later the crew, led by first mate Fletcher Christian, mutinied against Captain William Bligh.  Bligh and eighteen loyal sailors were set adrift in a 23-foot open boat, finally reaching safe harbor seven weeks later.

After the mutiny, Christian and the other mutineers returned to Tahiti, where sixteen of the twenty-five men decided to remain. Fletcher Christian, with eight others, their Tahitian women, and a handful of Tahitian men then sailed in search of a safe hiding place from the British fleet that was sure to scour the Pacific in search of them.  They arrived at Pitcairn Island on January 23, 1790. The island’s location had been incorrectly charted and was therefore an ideal refuge.  The Bounty was burned to prevent detection and the fugitives settled into their new home.  The British navy spent three months searching for the mutineers but never found Pitcairn Island.  The mutineers who had remained on Tahiti were quickly captured and brought to trial in England.

It was not until 1795 that the first ship was seen from the island, but it did not approach. A second ship appeared on the horizon in 1801. The American trading ship Topaz was the first to visit the island and make contact in February 1808, eighteen years after the mutineers first landed. 

The Americans discovered that eight of the nine mutineers had been either murdered, committed suicide, or died of illness during their eighteen years on the island.  Fletcher Christian had not created a paradise on earth.  Mr. Christian had three children by his Tahitian wife but was killed along with four of the other mutineers by the Tahitian men who had accompanied them to the island.  The Tahitian men had grown disillusioned with Christian and the others for treating them little better than slaves.

The remaining four mutineers and the Tahitian wives of the murdered men turned on the Tahitian men and killed all of them.  Four European men now remained, along with ten women and their children.  In the succeeding years, one of the men was executed for the “well-being” of the community, one died a natural death, and one committed suicide by leaping off a cliff.

Pitcairn flourished under the leadership of the last surviving mutineer, John Adams. As leader of the community of ten Polynesian women and twenty-three children the former able seaman, John Adams, showed himself to be capable and compassionate.  Adams insisted on Sunday services, family prayers and grace before and after every meal. Adams saw to it that the land was cultivated and the livestock tended.  The small community prospered in amity.

In 1814 HMS Briton and HMS Tagus rediscovered the island.  The British commanders were charmed by the simplicity and piety of the islanders. Favorably impressed by Adams and the example he set, they agreed it would be “an act of great cruelty and inhumanity” to arrest him.

In 1825, a British ship arrived and formally granted Adams amnesty, and on November 30, 1838, the Pitcairn Islands (which also include three uninhabited islands–Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno) were incorporated into the British Empire.

Today Pitcairn Island is a British possession.  The eighteen square mile island has a population of sixty seven, most descendants of the Bounty mutineers. Pitcairn Island does not have an airport or seaport; the islanders rely on longboats to ferry people and goods ashore across Bounty Bay. A dedicated passenger/cargo supply ship, chartered by the Pitcairn Island Government, is the principal transport to and from the outside world, via Mangareva, Gambier Islands, French Polynesia.  The islanders speak a dialect that is a hybrid of Tahitian and eighteenth-century English.

Phrases in the Pitcairnese Dialect:

I starten. – I'm going.

Bou yo gwen? – Where are you going?

I gwen down Farder's morla. – I'm going down to Father's place tomorrow.

Bou yo bin? – Where have you been?

I gwen out yenna fer porpay. – I'm going out yonder for red guavas.

Foot yawly come yah? – Why did you come here?

Up a side, Tom'sa roll. – Up at that place, Tom fell down.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

American Civil War Demobilization

Grand Review of the Armies May 23-24, 1865

      With the end of the Civil War, the Union army gathered for one last grand victory parade in Washington.  Anne Frobel wrote in May 1865, “Today we see tents and camps spring up in every quarter…. The roads filled with soldiers as far back as we can see through the woods, coming-coming-coming, thousands and tens of thousands. I hardly thought the world contained so many men and the wagons, O the wagons, long lines of white wagons coming by roads and crossroads...Tomorrow there is to be a 'grand review' of the 'grand' U.S. Army at Washington and great has been the stir of preparation...Rose Hill is literally covered with Sherman's army and such immense, immense numbers of splendid horses and mules.”

      The one million men under arms in the Union army at the end of the Civil War were largely volunteers and wanted to go home. (Many professional Prussian officers derided the armies of the American Civil War as, “Two armed mobs colliding.”)  Almost all of the volunteers were mustered out by late October 1867.  Congress voted for the establishment of a regular army of 54,302 officers and enlisted men on July 28, 1866.  This number was reduced to 27,442 in 1876.  The army was scattered over a vast continent, mostly in the West.  America’s defense depended almost completely on the same thinking that existed at the time of the American Revolution, “leave it to the volunteer militias”.

     In November 1889, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy called for the rapid expansion of the United States Navy, stating that since the end of the Civil War the fleet had been neglected and become technologically obsolete.  America stood twelfth among the naval powers of the earth.  The U.S. fleet consisted of 11 armored and 31 unarmored vessels, whereas the British fleet boasted 76 armored and 291 unarmored vessels.  The German fleet had 40 armored and 105 unarmored ships.  The American fleet was outranked by even the eleventh rate navy of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire which had 12 armored and 44 unarmored ships.  Secretary Tracy complained, “We have an exposed coast line of 13,000 miles upon which are situated more than twenty great centers of population, wealth, and commercial activity, wholly unprotected against modern weapons.  These are inviting objects to attack, with a wide range of choice as to the points to be selected.”

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.

Monday, February 26, 2018

George Armstrong Custer: Why All the Controversy?


     In his book, Custer and the Great Controversy, Robert Utley writes, “Almost every myth of the Little Bighorn that one finds today masquerading as history may be found also in the press accounts of July 1876.”  In the bitter election year of 1876, the Custer tragedy was a godsend for Democrats to use against their Republican opponents.  “The Little Bighorn disaster…instantly became a pawn on the political chessboard.” (Utley, 39)

     Utley writes that the New York Herald launched a vicious attack on the Grant administration, denouncing President Grant as, “the author of the present Indian war.”  On July 16 the Herald asked “Who Slew Custer?”, and in answer declared, “The celebrated peace policy of General Grant…that is what killed Custer.” The press placed the battle “…in a political context that assured its rise to a national issue of the first magnitude.”  (Utley, 39, 41) 

     After the initial wave of political hysteria abated, the press insured that the Custer controversy would be constantly reignited by readily publishing the prejudices, opinions, and grievances of officers who had served with Custer or on the frontier. Pro-Custer editor’s rushed to Custer’s defense.

     And so it continued between pro and anti-Custer partisans for half a century.  Utley concludes that it was the press that, “laid the foundations for the evolution of the history of the Little Bighorn into one of the most misunderstood, confused, and controversial events in American history.” (Utley, 48)

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.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

George Armstrong Custer: Hero or Villain?

George Armstrong Custer

     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.  The earliest works portrayed Custer as a romantic, knightly figure, a paragon of virtue and chivalry.  Custer was the valorous paladin killed in the cause of Christian civilization and American Manifest Destiny.
     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.  
     The broader importance of the controversy that rages around the Battle of the Little Bighorn centers on the nature of truth.  The battle (which by modern standards would be classified as little more than a frontier skirmish) lasted at most six hours, and yet, after almost one hundred and fifty years, we cannot agree upon what happened, why, or who was responsible.  This roiling controversy forces us to ask, “How do we know what we know, and how do we know if it is true?”

Last Stand Hill

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Custer Conspiracy

Marcus Reno

Frederick Benteen

    In 1954, a small book entitled Kick the Dead Lion: A Casebook of the Custer Battle appeared.  Some seventy-five years after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, pro-Custer and anti-Custer partisans continued to lob incendiary charges at Reno and Benteen on the one hand and at Custer on the other.  This book repeats the standard pro-Custer line in a venomous and emotionally charged voice: Reno was a coward, a drunkard, and a man of low character whose cowardice led to the Custer disaster.  Benteen was jealous, peevish, and insubordinate.  His failure to obey Custer’s orders was criminally negligent.

     There would be little of interest in this book except that, for the first time, DuBois challenges the underlying evidence upon which anti-Custer historians such as Frederic Van De Water, E.A. Brininstool and Fred Dustin relied, namely the testimony of the first hand witnesses.  DuBois challenges the motivations of the witnesses. “Much of the testimony taken at the Reno Court of Inquiry was not, as tradition demands, ‘The whole truth and nothing but the truth.’  Especially is this true of statements made under oath by Captain Frederick W. Benteen, Major Marcus Reno and a select group of subordinate officers who felt some inexplicable obligation either to actually change their testimony or to phrase it in such a manner as to cast a different implication on Reno’s various actions.” (DuBois, 46)

    DuBois goes on to take issue with the so called “Enlisted Men’s Petition” (which lauded the actions of Reno and Benteen and called for their immediate promotion), cited so tellingly by Graham and Van De Water in vindication of Reno and Benteen.  According to DuBois, the former Superintendent of the then Custer Battlefield National Monument, Major Edward S. Luce, submitted the signatures on the petition together with a photostatic copy of a payroll of the 7th Cavalry to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for a comparison of handwriting.  In a November 1954 report the FBI concluded that in the case of 79 of the 236 signatures on the petition, “…variations were noted which suggest in all probability that the signatures on the petition are forgeries.”(DuBois, 49)

    DuBois goes on to make the case that Reno and Benteen conspired to introduce exculpatory evidence into the record almost immediately after the battle.  On July 4, 1876, only nine days after the battle, Reno and Benteen concocted the Enlisted Men’s Petition.  “Only an enormous sense of guilt would compel Reno and Benteen to attempt to pre-arrange the evidence in advance of any possible inquiry, and a complete vindication by the enlisted men would weigh heavily in any decision that might be made later.” According to DuBois it was probably Benteen’s first sergeant Joseph McCurry who circulated the petition and in all probability forged signatures when necessary.  DuBois concludes, “The reader must bear in mind that these allegations are hypothetical even though they have basis in reason.” (DuBois, 54) 

    DuBois introduced the concepts of “cover up” and “manufactured evidence” into the story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn at precisely that time in American history when conspiracy explanations had come into vogue.  For a period of years in the early 1950s Senator Joseph McCarthy launched a series of widely publicized (but largely unsubstantiated) charges of communist infiltration into the State Department, the Truman administration, the Voice of America and the United States Army.  In response to McCarthy's initial charges with regard to alleged communists within the State Department, Democratic Senator Millard Tydings convened hearings.  The Tydings Committee concluded that the individuals on McCarthy's list were neither communists nor pro-communist, and labeled McCarthy's charges a “fraud and a hoax”.  The Committee’s report said that the result of McCarthy's actions was to “confuse and divide the American people…to a degree far beyond the hopes of the Communists themselves”. Republicans responded that Tydings was guilty of “the most brazen whitewash of treasonable conspiracy in our history”.

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.

Gifts for Dogs and Dog Lovers

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Custer Legend and Arlington National Cemetery

William Belknap

The legend of George Armstrong Custer began at the First Battle of Manassas.  Custer would enjoy a spectacularly successful military career until massacred by Sioux Indians in 1876 at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Custer is buried at West Point but some of those involved in his legend are buried at Arlington.

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.  President Grant stripped Custer of overall command of the column chosen to subdue the Sioux and placed him under the command of Brigadier General Alfred Terry.  Custer lost his life trying to regain his career.

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.

Gifts for Dogs and Dog Lovers

Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Union Army’s Railroad Genius: Herman Haupt

Railroads in the 1860s were small scale local enterprises. The Union army wanted priority treatment, but railroad managers still had an obligation to maintain civilian traffic and make money. In January 1862, the United States Congress authorized President  Lincoln to seize control of the railroads and telegraph for military use. Operations were turned over to the new War Department agency called the U.S. Military Rail Roads (USMRR). Herman Haupt, once the chief engineer, of the Pennsylvania Railroad, became chief of construction and transportation in the Virginia theater of operations. He also eventually attained the rank of brigadier general.  Haupt’s Construction Corps emphasized speed, rather than permanence, and his well-organized trains kept the Union Army supplied, and carried thousands of Union wounded to hospitals.

Trains traveled five times faster than mule-drawn wagons, which reduced the number of supply vehicles required. Faster travel meant cargoes arrived at the front in better condition. Troops traveling by train experienced less fatigue. Railroads boosted logistical output by at least a factor of ten having a profound impact on the outcome of the Civil War.  

When defeated the Union army, an army supplied by rail, could often be reinforced before its Confederate enemies, supplied by wagons could exploit success. Confederate tactical victories seldom led to strategic gains.

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.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Queen Victoria's Wedding

Queen Victoria

     White did not become a popular option for wedding dresses until 1840, after the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.  Victoria wore a white gown for the event so that she could incorporate lace of sentimental value into the design of the dress.  Victoria’s wedding picture was widely published in America and many American brides opted to wear a similar dress. Today’s “white wedding” continues the tradition, though prior to Victorian times, a young bride was married in any color except black (the color of mourning) or red (which was connected with prostitutes).   

Why did Queen Victoria select white?  Many theories have been put forward including: (1) color symbolism,(2) to represent purity of heart and the innocence of childhood, (3) an effort by the Queen to promote lace sales, and (4) to encourage conspicuous consumption by status-conscious families. Later, it was believed that the color white symbolized virginity and should be only be worn by virgin brides.

There was a great deal of cake at Buckingham Palace in February 1840.  Queen Victoria's wedding cake weighed three hundred pounds and measured nine feet across and fourteen inches high and was adorned with roses. An ice sculpture of Britannia surrounded by cupids capped the cake. Traditional white wedding cake or bride's cake did not appear in the United States until the 1860's. Prior to this, cakes served at wedding receptions were a dark and spicy concoction. A more refined cake was created with the introduction of finely ground white flour and the manufacture of baking powder and baking soda. The heavier "fruitcake" was relegated to being the "groom's cake."

The Civil War Wedding, an entertaining look at the customs and superstitions of weddings during the Civil War era.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Duke Street Slave Pen, Alexandria Virginia 1861

The Duke Street Slave Pen
(Now the Offices of the Urban League)

     Alexandria, Virginia was a major center for the domestic slave trade during the antebellum period.  Hundreds of thousands of slaves were shipped to the labor hungry cotton fields of the Deep South. 

Slaves being sold to cotton planters further south were brought into Alexandria from the countryside and housed in the slave pen until the time for sale.  After sale, they were herded to the Alexandria wharves and shipped out in lots by steamboat.  Lewis Bailey, taken from his family and sold as a young boy walked back to Alexandria from Texas after the Civil War to be re-united with his mother. Masters were forced to explain why contented and well cared for servants ran away so frequently and in such large numbers.  Many owners concluded that frequent runaways were mentally imbalanced.  Masters devoted considerable energy to controlling the movement of slaves.  Written passes were needed to leave the plantation.  Overseers watched the slave quarters, slave patrols were formed, professional slave hunters were employed, and rewards were offered.

Slave trader George Kephart went out of business abruptly on May 24, 1861 as the Union army marched into Alexandria.  When Federal troops arrived at the slave pen on Duke Street, the pen was in complete disarray, the sole occupant one old slave still chained to the floor.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Falls Church, Virginia in the Civil War

The Falls Church

The Falls Church, the church for which the city is named was first built in 1734. The present-day brick church, replaced the wooden one in 1769. By 1861, Falls Church had seen the arrival of many Northerners seeking land.  The township's vote for secession was about seventy five percent for and twenty five percent against.

The Falls Church was vandalized by occupying Union troops.  The 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry, camped near Falls Church, confiscated fences and gates for firewood and even harvested five acres of potatoes.  Volunteers of the 40th New York took pride in the name the “Forty Thieves” because they could find plunder where others failed. 

A dedication marker at The Falls Church recognizes unknown Union soldiers who were buried in unmarked graves in the church yard during the Civil War. The soldiers were from the 144th and 80th New York Volunteer Infantry regiments stationed at Upton’s Hill. The soldiers all died of disease, with the exception of one who was “accidentally shot.”

There are currently two markers at The Falls Church, one for unknown Union soldiers and one for Confederate soldiers.  These markers are located in the front of the church yard on South Washington Street and were dedicated on Memorial Day, 2004. The remains of a single unknown Confederate soldier were removed after the war.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Centreville, Virginia in the Civil War

Centreville in the Civil War

On July 16, the great Union army, marched out of Washington City to meet the Confederates at Manassas Junction. The Union Army marched through the sleepy village of Centreville, Virginia (seen above).  On July 21, 1861, the two great armies grappled. Both sides had armies of about 35,000 men.

The Union Army was defeated on the plains of Manassas.  The retreat was relatively orderly until the cry went up, “The Black Horse Cavalry are coming.”  At the Bull Run crossings (below) the retreat became a humiliating route, as soldiers streamed uncontrollably toward Centreville, discarding their arms and equipment.

Ruins of the Stone Bridge across Bull Run

The Summers family, whose house, north of Fairfax Court House, was in the path of the retreating soldiers, woke up to find bales of blankets and uniforms in the yard, along with barrels of fish and flour and beef tongues, and even a crate of champagne, all left behind in the panic of retreat.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Under Construction 1922 - 1932

Sitting high atop Shuter’s Hill in Alexandria, Virginia, once considered as the site for the U.S. Capitol, the Alexandria-Washington Freemason Lodge No. 22 dominates the local skyline, as well it might, being the Lodge of none other than Worshipful Brother George Washington.  In Masonic terms, George Washington was, "a just and upright Mason", a "living stone" who became the cornerstone of American civilization.  Washington 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.  A family cemetery was located to the right of the George Washington National Masonic Shrine (seen here under construction). In early America small family cemeteries were common.  An English visitor to colonial Alexandria, noted, “It is the custom of this place to bury their relatives in their gardens.”

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Alexandria’s Military Prisons in the Civil War

The Cotton Factory

The Union Army operated five prisons in Alexandria, Virginia during the Civil War.  The Mount Vernon Cotton Factory, now transformed into luxury condominiums, housed some 1,500 Confederate POWs. Prisoners housed at this Washington Street prison were generally in route to prison camps in the North.  Spies and enemy sympathizers were housed in Odd Fellows Hall. 

The Duke Street slave pen

The Duke Street slave pen was used to house drunken and disorderly Union soldiers. Union deserters were imprisoned in the Prince Street prison (formerly Green’s Furniture Factory which had been requisitioned by the Army).  The old Alexandria Jail, in use since 1826 was also used.  Captain Rufus D. Pettit served as superintendent of U.S. Military Prisons in Alexandria (1864-65).    In November, 1865, Pettit was court-martialed for his brutal treatment of prisoners he believed to be deserters from the Union army, found guilty and dishonorably discharged.