Friday, May 14, 2021

Captain James Gordon: The Real Horatio Hornblower

 


Sir James Gordon

British forces routed American troops at the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814 and marched into Washington City.  The British commander reported to London, “I reached [Washington] at 8 o’clock that night. Judging it of consequences to complete the destruction of the public buildings with the least possible delay, so that the army might retire without loss of time, the following buildings were set fire to and consumed: the capitol, including the Senate house and House of representation, the Arsenal, the Dock-Yard, Treasury, War office, President’s Palace, Rope-Walk, and the great bridge across the Potomac: In the dock-yard a frigate nearly ready to be launched, and a sloop of war, were consumed.”

While Washington still smoldered, seven British warships under the command of Captain James Gordon (thought by some to be the inspiration for C.S. Forester’s fictional hero Horatio Hornblower) appeared on the Potomac River headed for the Alexandria, just south of the city.  On the morning of August 28, 1814, a committee led by Alexandria Mayor Charles Simms rowed south to meet the British and request terms of surrender. Gordon and his fleet arrived in front of Alexandria in the evening. The next morning, the British lined up their gun boats with cannons bristling at the ready.


At the mercy of the British squadron, the town council agreed to the enemy's demands, and for the next five days the British looted stores and warehouses of barrels of flour, hogsheads of tobacco, bales of cotton, along with wine, sugar and other items.

While the British confiscated goods in Alexandria, American forces were setting up a battery on the river at White House Landing below Mount Vernon. On September 1, Captain Gordon sent two of his ships to fire on the battery to impede its completion, but by evening the Americans had five naval long guns and eight artillery field pieces in place.  On September 6, the entire squadron engaged the battery destroying all thirteen American guns within forty five minutes.  All seven British warships and twenty one captured merchant vessels returned to the main fleet.



Warsand Invasions (Four alternative history stories)

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, May 11, 2021

The Real Sergeant York

 

Sergeant Alvin C. York was one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War I.  He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack if a German machine gun nest, capturing 35 machine guns and 132 enemy soldiers.




American DomesticPropaganda in World War I

A brief look at the changing historical views (1920 to the present) on the uses and abuses of American domestic propaganda during World War I. Was this a necessary evil or a gross infringement of civil liberties? How, when, and why has opinion changed?


Monday, May 10, 2021

Union Hospital Ships in the Civil War


During the Civil War, the Union outfitted hospital ships to care for the wounded.  The Hospital Transport System was run by the United States Sanitary Commission.  Large steamers were outfitted as hospital vessels. The ships had beds, medical supplies, surgeons, nurses, ward-masters, apothecaries, and other personnel, and were all provided without cost to the government.  A contemporary account describes the scene:

 “Imagine an immense river-steamboat filled on every deck: every berth, every square inch of room, covered with wounded men, even the stairs and gangways and guards filled with those who were less badly wounded; and then imagine fifty well men, on every kind of errand, hurried and impatient, rushing to and fro, every touch bringing agony to the poor fellows, whilst stretcher after stretcher comes along, hoping to find an empty place; and then imagine what it was for these people of the Commission to keep calm themselves, and make sure that each man, on such a boat as that, was properly refreshed and fed. Sometimes two or even three such boats were lying side by side, full of suffering and horrors.”



    The Great Northern Rebellion of 1860 (alternate history)

In 1860, disgruntled secessionists in the deep North rebel against the central government and plunge America into Civil War.

                  On Amazon 


 

Women Doctors and the Union Army


 Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell

     In the mid-nineteenth century, sex discrimination prevented women from pursuing medicine, and those few who did were often obstructed by their male colleagues.  The University of Pennsylvania, established the first medical school in the country, and set the pattern of barring women from obtaining medical degrees.  It was not until January 23, 1849 that Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive a medical degree in America.

     Blackwell received her medical degree despite the odds.  She started her quest in 1847, applying to every medical school of which she knew, and was rejected by all nineteen schools.  In the end a small school in upstate New York, Geneva Medical College, accepted Blackwell.  The male students thought her admission a hilarious joke, but later learned to respect her brains and talent. Blackwell later wrote,

 

“I had not the slightest idea of the commotion created by my appearance as a medical student in the little town. Very slowly I perceived that a doctor's wife at the table avoided any communication with me, and that as I walked backwards and forwards to college the ladies stopped to stare at me, as at a curious animal. I afterwards found that I had so shocked Geneva propriety that the theory was fully established either that I was a bad woman, whose designs would gradually become evident, or that, being insane, an outbreak of insanity would soon be apparent. Feeling the unfriendliness of the people, though quite unaware of all this gossip, I never walked abroad, but hastening daily to my college as to a sure refuge, I knew when I shut the great doors behind me that I shut out all unkindly criticism, and I soon felt perfectly at home amongst my fellow students...”

 

     Elizabeth Blackwell graduated first in her class.  Blackwell’s sister, Emily, soon followed her older sister into the field of medicine.  She faced the same obstacles that her sister had faced.  Emily Blackwell’s applications for admission were rejected by twelve medical schools, including Geneva Medical College, her sister's alma mater, which had re-thought the whole notion of women doctors.  Emily Blackwell was eventually accepted at the Western Reserve University medical school in Cleveland, Ohio, where she earned her medical degree in 1854, becoming the third woman to earn a medical degree in the United States.  The obstacles encountered by the Blackwell sisters were common for women seeking a medical education in the decades prior to the Civil War. 

     When the Civil War broke out, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell helped organize the Women’s Central Association of Relief in New York City, which collected and distributed life-saving food and medical supplies.  Blackwell also joined with several other physicians in New York City to offer a training course for 100 women who wanted to be nurses for the army. This was the first formal training for women nurses ever to have been offered in America.

     In 1861 there were only some 250 women doctors in the entire United States.  Some of these pioneering women would serve in the war directly supporting the Union army.





Friday, April 16, 2021

American Civil War Medicine 1861-1865


 Of the approximately 600,000 soldiers who died in the American Civil, fully two-thirds died from disease.  It is estimated that some 300,000 men died from sickness caused by intestinal disorders alone, mainly typhoid fever, diarrhea, and dysentery.  The fault lay with the shocking filth of the army camps themselves.  A Federal inspector reported in late 1861 that Union camps were, “ littered with refuse, food, and other rubbish, sometimes in an offensive state of decomposition; slops deposited in pits within the camp limits or thrown out of broadcast; heaps of manure and offal close to the camp.” Confederate camps were no better.  Bacteria and viruses spread through the camps.  Typhoid fever, caused by the consumption of food or water contaminated by salmonella bacteria was devastating.  Poor diet and exposure to the elements often developed into pneumonia, which was the third great killing disease of the war, after typhoid and dysentery.  Tuberculosis was a common disease among the troops.  Camps populated by soldiers from small rural areas, who lacked immunity to common contagious diseases, were stricken by outbreaks of measles, chickenpox, and mumps. Additionally, epidemics of malaria spread through camps located near swamps.

 Approximately 110,000 Union and 94,000 Confederate soldiers died of battle wounds.  Most of the wounded were treated within the first forty eight hours.  Emergency medical care on the battlefield consisted of bandaging a soldier’s wounds as fast possible, and giving him whiskey and morphine, if necessary, for pain. Primary care took place in field hospitals.  Those who survived were then transported in overcrowded ambulance wagons to rail lines where they were put on box cars and rushed to nearby cities and towns, where doctors and nurses did their best to care for them in makeshift hospitals.

The most common battlefield operation was the amputation of arms and legs.  Amputation was a quick and reliable answer to the severe wounds created by the .58 caliber Minie ball used during the war.  This heavy bullet of soft lead caused large gaping wounds that filled with dirt and pieces of clothing.  It shattered bone.  Surgeons usually chose amputation over trying to save the limb.  Heavy doses of chloroform were administered and some seventy five percent of all soldiers survived the operation.  The poet Walt Whitman, who served as a nurse in the Union army at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, recounted seeing, “a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, etc, a full load for a one-horse cart.”

 When the Civil War began, the Federal army had 98 medical officers, and the Confederate army had 24 medical officers. By the end of the war in 1865, some 13,000 Union doctors had served in the field and in the army hospitals; in the Confederacy, about 4,000 medical officers treated war casualties.


Exchange Hotel and Civil War Hospital: Gordonsville, Virginia





Despite the horrors of war, or maybe because of them, humor still had a place in American life. Abraham Lincoln best summed up the role of humor in the war when he said, “With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.”

A brief but fascinating look at humor in the Civil War including: (1) Stories Around the Campfire, (2) Parody, (3) the Irish, (4) Humorous Incidents, (5) Civil War Humorists, and (6) Lincoln.


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Why Custer Lost the Battle of the Little Bighorn (Custer's Last Stand)


 Custer's Last Stand

In 1926, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, William A. Graham published the first authoritative book on the battle entitled The Story of the Little Big Horn: Custer's Last Fight.

Graham’s book was based largely on the voluminous information provided during the 1879 Court of Inquiry into the conduct of Major Reno.

Of the number, intention and armaments of the Indians, Graham writes: “The Seventh Cavalry was sent by (General) Terry to round up a band of recalcitrant variously estimated at between eight and fifteen hundred fighting men.  They found almost three times the number at the highest estimate. 

They rode to locate and to drive or capture a band which, judged by all past experiences, would scatter and run at their approach; they found instead a force of stern warriors who fought with determination and tenacity equal to their own….

They thought to find a band equipped with ancient muskets and discarded rifles, with primitive spear and bow and arrow.  Instead, they found a foe far better armed than they themselves, possessing Winchester rifles of the latest pattern and stores of ammunition that seemed inexhaustible.”

Graham writes, “When Reno rode into the attack with his pitiful force of 112 men, his was the only part of the regiment on the western or village side of the river….Benteen’s battalion was at this time miles away to the left and rear, its whereabouts unknown, and had no orders to cooperate with Reno or with Custer.  Reno, when he crossed the river, believed and had reason to believe that he was expected to bring only an advance-guard action, and that Custer, with his larger and stronger force would deliver the main attack, supporting his charge from the rear.  But instead of supporting, Custer changed direction and rode five miles down the river without notifying Reno of his change of purpose.”

     Of Custer’s flawed logistics, Graham writes, “The pack train, which with its escort accounted for 130 men, more than twenty per cent of the regiment, and which had in charge all the reserve ammunition, had been left far back on the trail, to struggle along the best it might.  The men of the (other) three battalions carried only one hundred rounds apiece of carbine ammunition, and four loadings, or twenty-four rounds, for their pistols.  When the fight in the valley began, therefore, not one of the three fighting battalions had ammunition sufficient for prolonged combat, nor was within communicating distance of the reserve supply; nor was any one of the four detachments of the regiment within supporting distance of either of (the) others.”

      One of the interesting aspects of Graham’s book is that he effectively provides a timeline of the events of June 25, 1876.  (1) 12:07 PM, Custer divides his command, Benteen marches south; (2) 2:30 PM Reno crosses the river and commences offensive operations; (3) 3:00 PM Reno retreats to the timbers; (4) 4:00 PM Reno retreats to the bluffs; (5) 4:00 PM Benteen receives the “Come quick” order from Custer; (5) 4:30 PM Benteen joins Reno. Firing is heard downriver. Captain Weir marches to the sound of the guns; (5) 5:00 PM the last of the pack train joins Reno and Benteen; (6) 6:00 PM Reno and Benteen join Weir and are engaged by the Sioux; (7) 7:00 PM Reno and Benteen complete a fighting withdrawal and take up the command’s original defensive positions.



Custer’s Last Stand: Portraits in Time

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.

 

Paperback:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/charles-a-mills/custers-last-stand-portraits-in-time/paperback/product-21812285.html

E-Book:

All other:  https://books2read.com/u/3nWD6m

Amazon:  http://amzn.to/2qwUlCP


Monday, March 29, 2021

George Armstrong Custer and the Judgement of History




George Armstrong Custer

Is it possible to write “objective” history? Every writer is a prisoner of his/her own time and personal biases (both intentional and unintentional). “Good history” is as subjective a term as “good law”, both are subject to the shifting values of the times and subject to the vagaries of advocacy. Just as there is “Enough law for every client’s position”, so too there appears to be enough history to serve a multitude of worthy ends if one doesn’t insist on one eternal, immutable and knowable Truth. Worthy ends such as: (1) History as art (fact based expositions of the human condition much like the fictional exposition of the human condition found in novels), (2) history as predictive tool (e.g. military after action reports), and (3) history as an instrument of socialization (an inclusive and expanding public mythology for an immigrant nation). History is not an immutable thing, but a process and a set of relationships…fragile, contested, unstable, and sometimes explosive. Robert M. Utley perhaps said it best in remarks made at the ceremonies commemorating the centennial of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. “The fact is that history, like life, is complex, contradictory, and ambiguous. There are few genuine heroes or villains in real life, merely people who are sometimes heroic, sometimes villainous, but most of the time simply human.”


The Tragic story of Marcus Reno



Custer’s Last Stand: Portraits in Time

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.

 

Paperback:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/charles-a-mills/custers-last-stand-portraits-in-time/paperback/product-21812285.html

E-Book:

All other:  https://books2read.com/u/3nWD6m

Amazon:  http://amzn.to/2qwUlCP


Monday, January 25, 2021

The Only Roman Catholic Chaplain in the American Revolution

 


The efforts of the Continental Congress to gain support for the American Revolution in Canada led to the organization of two pro-American Canadian regiments, the 1st and 2nd Canadian Regiments.  There were many French Canadians only too willing to help oust the British from North America.

On January 26, 1776, Father Louis Eustace Lotbiniere, although more than sixty years old, was appointed chaplain of the First Canadian Regiment and became the first Roman Catholic chaplain in the United States Army.  Father Lotbiniere was a native French speaker and ministered to the French-Canadian troops rallying to the American cause.

With the failure of the invasion of Canada, the First Canadian Regiment was transferred to the vicinity of Philadelphia.  Fathter Lotbiniere died in poverty in October 1786.  In support of American liberty he had given up his parish, his family associations, incurred the censure of his Bishop and spent his last years in exile among a strange people whose language he could scarcely speak.



Love, Sex, and Marriage in Colonial America 1607-1800

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