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.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

George Washington: Death of a Child


George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis on January 6, 1759.  He was 26, she was 27.  Washington suddenly found himself responsible for a ready-made family.  Martha Parke “Patsy” Custis aged two, and John Parke “Jackie” Custis aged four.  In addition to the normal duties of a father in terms of providing love, warmth, and sympathy, George Washington was also charged with being the administrator of the children’s business affairs, which were not inconsiderable, considering that their late father, Daniel Parke Custis was perhaps the wealthiest man in Virginia.  Martha Washington, herself, was required to relinquish her rights in the dower share of her late husband’s estate to the management of her new husband (If unmarried, Martha would have received 1/3 of Daniel’s Parke Custis’ estate for her use and maintenance during her lifetime.  As it was the use of this money was left to the decisions of her new husband, George Washington). By all accounts George Washington was not only a loving husband and step father, but a conscientious guardian of the property rights of both his wife and her children. 

The stage was set for familial peace and tranquility, but fate took a hand.  By the time Patsy was eleven, she was plagued with seizures. Patsy was afflicted with epilepsy. The progression of Patsy’s epilepsy can be traced in George Washington’s diaries but only with difficulty.  Washington’s diary entries are sparse, and never betray his inner emotions, which were under tight control.

George and Martha Washington were willing to try almost anything, even improbable folk remedies. The distraught parents relied, mainly, on conventional 18th-century medical treatments for epilepsy.  This was doomed from the start.  In colonial times, most physicians were either self-trained or trained by another physician.  No medical college existed in the colonies before the Revolution.  Lack of knowledge of the causes and cures of most diseases, effective medicines and pain-killers, and instruments such as the thermometer and stethoscope handicapped colonial doctors. The doctor's principal role was to provide comfort and support, set broken bones, and prescribe herbal remedies.  Theories of medicine at the time were based on the notion that disease was caused by an imbalance in bodily "humors," or fluids. The practice of bloodletting for almost any disease was universal.  Doctors also employed emetics, diuretics and leeches.  The cures often killed the patient more quickly than did the disease.

The Washingtons consulted with numerous doctors to no avail.  Patsy's seizures increased. George Washington kept a log of these episodes.  During an eighty-six day period, Patsy had seizures on twenty-six days.

Around four in the afternoon on June 19, 1773, after everyone had finished dinner, Patsy (aged 17) and a girl friend were talking quietly. Patsy went to her room to retrieve a letter. Hearing a strange noise coming from Patsy's room, her friend found Patsy in the throes of a life-threatening seizure.
Martha Washington was frantic.  George Washington knelt beside his beloved step daughter he had raised from infancy with tears running down his cheeks.  She was dead within two minutes.

In a letter to his brother-in-law written the following day, George Washington relayed the news that Patsy, described as his "Sweet Innocent Girl," had been buried earlier in the day and that the situation had “… reduced my poor Wife to the lowest ebb of Misery.”

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 quick look at murder most foul in the Virginia of colonial times and the early Republic. Behind the facade of graceful mansions and quaint cobblestone streets evil lurks.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Mystery of George Washington's Cook

"George Washington's Cook"


Hercules was born in 1754, and came to Mount Vernon in 1767 as part of payment owed George Washington. He went to work as the ferryman at the Mansion.  It is not certain how he made his way to the kitchen, but it was a blessing that he did.  Here he apprenticed to “Old Doll”, the plantation’s chief cook who had come to Mount Vernon with Martha Washington.  By 1786, Hercules had become the chief cook at Mount Vernon.

Hercules was summoned to Philadelphia in November 1790 to become now President George Washington’s personal cook. The clearest account of Hercules as a chef was written by George Washington Parke Custis, President Washington’s step grandson

“The chief cook would have been termed in modern parlance, a celebrated artiste. He was named Hercules, and familiarly termed Uncle Harkless.

Trained in the mysteries of his part from early youth, and in the palmy days of Virginia, when her thousand chimneys smoked to indicate the generous hospitality that reigned throughout the whole length and breadth of her wide domain, Uncle Harkless was, at the period of the first presidency (Philadelphia 1789-1797), as highly accomplished a proficient in the culinary art as could be found in the United States.

He was a dark brown man, little, if any, above the usual size, yet possessed of such great muscular power as to entitle him to be compared with his namesake of fabulous history.

The chief cook gloried in the cleanliness and nicety of his kitchen. Under his iron discipline,  (woe) to his underlings if speck or spot could be discovered on the tables or dressers, or if the utensils did not shine like polished silver. With the luckless wights (unfortunates) who had offended in these particulars there was no arrest of punishment, for judgment and execution went hand in hand.

The steward, and indeed the whole household, treated the chief cook with much respect, as well for his valuable services as for his general good character and pleasing manners.

It was while preparing the Thursday or Congress dinner that Uncle Harkless shone in all his splendor. During his labors upon this banquet he required some half dozen aprons, and napkins out of number. It was surprising the order and discipline that was observed in so bustling a scene. His underlings flew in all directions to execute his orders, while he, the great master-spirit, seemed to possess the power of ubiquity, and to be everywhere at the same moment.

When the steward in snow-white apron, silk shorts and stockings, and hair in full powder, placed the first dish on the table, the clock being on the stroke of four, ‘the labors of Hercules’ ceased.

While the masters of the republic were engaged in discussing the savory viands of the Congress dinner, the chief cook retired to make his toilet for an evening promenade. His perquisites from the slops of the kitchen were from one to two hundred dollars a year (about $5,000 in today’s money). Though homely in person, he lavished the most of these large avails upon dress. In making his toilet his linen was of unexceptionable whiteness and quality, then black silk shorts, ditto waistcoat, ditto stockings, shoes highly polished, with large buckles covering a considerable part of the foot, blue cloth coat with velvet collar and bright metal buttons, a long watch-chain dangling from his fob, a cocked-hat, and gold-headed cane completed the grand costume of the celebrated dandy .. for there were dandies in those days.. of the president's kitchen.

Thus arrayed, the chief cook invariably passed out at the front door, the porter making a low bow, which was promptly returned.”

In November 1796, during a visit of the president and his entourage to Mount Vernon, Hercules’ son was caught stealing. Washington suspected that father and son were planning to run away. Washington was taking no chances.  When Washington returned to his presidential duties in Philadelphia, Hercules was left behind at Mount Vernon reduced to the status of a common laborer on the farm, digging clay for bricks, and wearing the outfit of a common field hand. This type of punishment, a humiliating loss of status within the slave community itself, had been used before by Washington to exert his authority over recalcitrant slaves.

It was Hercules, however, who was to have the last word.  On February 22, 1797, George Washington’s sixty fifth birthday, Hercules made his bid for freedom, escaping from Mount Vernon forever.  He first made his way to the port city of Alexandria, some eight miles from Mount Vernon, then on to Philadelphia where he had many friends in the free black community and among the abolitionist Quakers.

Washington was angered and confused by the actions of Hercules, believing that Hercules lived a privileged life.   On March 10, 1797, Washington indicated that he wanted Hercules to be found and returned to Mount Vernon, as soon as possible.  This never happened.  Hercules was spotted in Philadelphia in January 1798, but no steps were taken to apprehend him.  Doing so would have created an embarrassing uproar in abolitionist Pennsylvania.  Hercules was last spotted on December 15, 1801 in New York City.

On November 13, 1797, a distressed Washington stated that while he “had resolved never to become the master of another slave by purchase,” because of Hercules' absence, “this resolution I fear I must break.”

Although Hercules vanishes from recorded history on December 15, 1801, there is some evidence that he may have made his way to Europe.  In the galleries of Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, located near the Prado Museum in what is known as Madrid’s “Golden Triangle of Art”, hangs a portrait called “George Washington’s Cook”, and is presumed to be Hercules.  The painting was previously in a British collection, and a French collection, before making its’ way to Spain.  The painting is by Gilbert Stuart, the American artist who painted many of the iconic likenesses of George Washington, including the portrait that appears on every one dollar bill.  These paintings were completed between 1795-1797.

The question is “Who commissioned the painting and why?”   It is unlikely that Washington commissioned the painting, for even though Washington bestowed many favors on Hercules, theirs’ was a strictly master/servant relationship.  Commissioning such a painting of Hercules, a full and solitary frontal picture of the man in the full confidence of his chef’s regalia, would have been totally out of keeping with Washington’s character.  Hercules may have spent some his hard earned money on commissioning a portrait of himself from the very same artist who had been commissioned to paint a portrait of George Washington. This remains one of history’s mysteries.

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.

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?

Friday, February 22, 2019

Happy Birthday to George Washington

On February 22, 2019, we celebrate the 287th anniversary of George Washington’s Birthday.  Have a piece of cherry pie in honor of the birthday boy!

Here are some interesting facts about the birthday:

Alexandria, Virginia hosts the nation’s oldest and largest George Washington Birthday Parade, capping off a month of tributes to Washington, including the costumed “Birthday Ball” held at Gadsby’s Tavern.

Alexandria, Virginia Parade

GeorgeFest is the longest running festival celebrating Washington’s Birthday.  Started in 1902 in Eustis, Florida, the festival features outdoor dining, music, fireworks, carnival rides, a float parade and an annual 5K run.  It is held annually in the last weekend of February

The federal holiday honoring Washington was originally implemented by an Act of Congress in 1879.

In 1782, Washington created the Purple Heart (which bears his likeness) to recognize meritorious service during the Revolution.  The medal fell into disuse, but was revived in 1932 to mark the bicentennial of Washington’s Birthday.  The revived medal recognizes wounded soldiers.

Since 1862 there has been a tradition in the United States Senate of reading George Washington’s Farewell Address on his birthday, which in part reads:

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection….” 

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?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Real Scarlett O'Hara?

Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara

In 1936, a young former reporter for the Atlanta Journal published her one and only novel, a book called Gone With the Wind, about the American Civil War and Reconstruction in Georgia.  Even in the 21st century, a Harris poll found that it is the second most popular book among American readers.  Second only to the Bible.  Thirty million copies have been sold worldwide.

Interestingly, it was the mother of President Theodore Roosevelt, Martha “Mittie” Bulloch Roosevelt who provided much of the inspiration for the character of Scarlett O’Hara in the book.

"Mittie" Bulloch Roosevelt

In 1839, Mittie’s father, Major James Bulloch moved his family to Cobb County Georgia.  He built a fine mansion called Bulloch Hall.  Mittie was a true Southern belle, who in 1853, at the age of eighteen, married Theodore Roosevelt Sr. of New York .

Bulloch Hall

In his autobiography published in 1913, her son Theodore Roosevelt Jr. described his mother, “My mother, Martha Bulloch, was a sweet, gracious, beautiful Southern woman, a delightful companion and beloved by everybody. She was entirely 'unreconstructed' to the day of her death.”

Margaret Mitchell, the author of Gone With The Wind, lived her entire life in Atlanta, absorbing local stories told by those who had lived through the Civil War and Reconstruction.  Mitchell had, in fact, interviewed Mittie's closest childhood friend and bridesmaid, Evelyn King, for a story in the Atlanta Journal.  In that interview, Mittie's beauty, charm, and fun-loving nature were described in detail, making her the perfect prototype for the character of Scarlett O’Hara.  Originally, however, Mitchell named her heroine Pansy O’Hara.  Scarlett seems more appropriate, all things considered.

The last death agonies of the Confederacy captured in pictures.

A portrait of Holly Springs, a small but prosperous town in northern Mississippi’s Marshall County, during the years of the American Civil War and the era of Reconstruction. This is a glimpse of life in Mississippi during these dramatic years, relying on the words of the people who lived during that time and on other primary historical sources to tell the story.