Thursday, December 22, 2016

Civil War Graves of Northern Virginia

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Victorian Love Affair with Champagne

Sherlock Hound recommends:

Edward VII, while still Prince of Wales, is credited with having popularized champagne in England.  Edward preferred light Chablis and extra dry champagne, and these were produced specially for the English market, with spectacular results.  In 1861, some three million bottles of champagne were exported from France to England.  By 1890, England was importing over nine million bottles of French champagne annually, almost half of all of the champagne being produced.

Champagne is at its very best from seven to ten years after bottling.  After that, except in very exceptional years, it will not stand up well. 

In Victorian times, the Imperial pint (60 centilitres) was the ideal size for a temperate man who might consider that a bottle of champagne with his meal was just a little more than he wanted, but who would not be satisfied with a half bottle.  Provisions were made, however, for varying degrees of satisfaction:

Demie:  ½ bottle

Bottle:  One bottle

Magnum:  Two bottles

Jeroboam:  Four bottles

Rehoboam:  Six bottles

Methuselah:  Eight bottles

Salmanazar:  Twelve bottles

Balthazar:  Sixteen bottles

Nebuchadnezzar:  Twenty bottles

Victorian Army Drinking Customs

Sherlock Hound Recommends

 Dr.  John H. Watson, late of Her Majesty’s Army Medical Department and chief chronicler of the dramatic career of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, was not unfamiliar with drink.

In 1881 Dr. Watson was recuperating from wounds incurred during the Second Afghan War.  Watson had gone out to India in 1878, attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as Assistant Surgeon ( A STUDY IN SCARLET).  For an officer, army life revolved around the regimental mess.  It was much like a private club and was often the center of an officer’s social activities.  Captain R.W. Campbell observed, “the mess is the school for courage, honour, and truth.  In the British officer’s anteroom you will find the foundations of that splendid chivalry which has given us fame.”

Watson would have quickly learned the customs of the mess, particularly the drinking customs.  These customs were extremely important, since wine drinking at table was not simply an accompaniment to the food, but part of the ceremony of dining. 

In most regiments, the first toast of the evening after dinner was the sovereign’s health (e.g. “Gentlemen, The Queen”.)  This toast, the so-called “loyal toast”, was an invention of the Hanoverian dynasty.  The toast to the sovereign’s health began with an order from King George II in 1745, after the suppression of the Stuart uprising led by “Bonnie Prince Charlie”.  The toast was meant as a pledge of an officer’s loyalty to the Hanoverian dynasty.  Those loyal to the Stuarts circumvented the pledge by passing their glasses over their finger bowels, the toast becoming for them:  “To the king across the water” (i.e. the exiled Stuart claimant).

In every regiment there was what was called the “Regent’s allowance.”  This allowance consisted of two bottles of wine, usually one of Port and one of Madeira, one of which was served each night through the generosity of the sovereign.  The custom began when the Prince Regent (later King George IV) noticed that a few officers did not drink the loyal toast (the threat of the Stuarts now being a distant memory, the loyalty of these officers was not  in question).  When told that the unfortunate officers could not afford wine, the Prince thought this such a shame that he pledged himself to provide each regiment’s mess with two bottles to be used in drinking the King’s health.  Every sovereign after George IV continued the custom.  By 1900, however, the bottles had been converted into a cash equivalent and added to the general mess fund.

After the obligatory toasts to Royalty, many regiments followed the routine laid down by the Duke of Wellington:
Monday, “Our Men”; Tuesday, “Our Women”; Wednesday, “Our Swords”; Thursday, “Ourselves”; Friday, “Our religion”; Saturday, “To Sweethearts and Wives” (waggish Colonels followed with, “May they never meet”); Sunday, “To absent friends”.

Dr. Watson would also have learned something of whisky while in India.  The “whisky-peg” (SIGN OF FOUR) was most popular.  This was Anglo-Indian slang for whisky with soda.  The usual explanation for the name is that the whisky was so bad, that each drink you took was a peg in your coffin.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Edward Dickinson Baker. The only U.S. Senator ever to die in battle.

Edward Dickinson Baker (1811 – 1861) served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois and later as a U.S. Senator from Oregon.  He was a long-time friend of President Lincoln.  Baker served during both the Mexican-American War and the Civil War.  On October 21, at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, he was struck by a volley of bullets that killed him instantly. Lincoln cried when he received the news of Baker’s death. At Baker’s funeral, Mary Todd Lincoln scandalized Washington by appearing in lilac rather than the traditional black.  Col. Edward D. Baker is buried in San Francisco.  This memorial stone was placed at Ball’s Bluff to mark the spot of Baker’s death, and to honor the memory of the only sitting U.S. Senator to have ever died on the field of battle. Baker once said, “The officer who dies with his men will never be harshly judged.”

Balls Bluff National Cemetery

In October, 1861, Union forces tried to cross the Potomac River near Leesburg, Virginia and were disastrously repulsed on the steep cliffs at a place called Ball’s Bluff.  Many fleeing Union soldiers were forced into the Potomac River, where they drowned.  Bodies of Union soldiers floated down the Potomac and washed up in Washington, demoralizing Northerners.

Most of the fallen Union soldiers found on or near the battlefield were buried in shallow, mass graves.  In 1865, the Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania tried to have Pennsylvania’s dead returned home.  Four years after the war, however, individual remains could not be identified, so the U.S. Army decided to establish a cemetery here for the Union dead.

Twenty five graves here in one of America’s smallest national cemeteries contain the partial remains of 54 Union soldiers killed at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff on October 21, 1861.  All are unidentified Union soldiers, except Pvt. James Allen of Northbridge, Massachusetts, who served with the 15th Massachusetts Infantry.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Treasure Legends: The Tomb of Alexander the Great

By the time he was thirty two, Alexander the Great had conquered almost all of the then known world and given history a new direction.  In 334 B.C., at the age of twenty two, Alexander crossed from Greece into Asia Minor at the head of an army of 35,000.  He defeated the Persian king Darius at Isus and then turned south toward Egypt.  In 332 B.C. he conquered Egypt.        

The Pharaoh Amasis had built a temple in Siwa in the western desert to the god Amun.  The temple's oracle became renowned throughout the ancient world.  Alexander went to Siwa to see the oracle and was declared divine, the son of Amun.  The oracle told him that he would conquer the world.  Alexander went on to fulfill most of the prophecy, taking the Greek army all the way to India before turning back to regroup and recruit a new army.  At this point the conqueror died under mysterious conditions. 

Rivalries immediately broke out among Alexander's generals and his body became a prize and source of dispute.  Where should he be buried?  Macedonia, the land of his birth; the great Egyptian city of Alexandria which he founded; or Siwa, where he was declared divine and given his worldly mission?       

Preparations for the funeral were magnificent.  The coffin was of beaten gold, the body within was mummified and embedded in precious spices.  Over the coffin was spread a pall of gold-embroidered purple, and above this a golden temple was built.  Gold columns supported a shimmering roof of gold, set with jewels.  The great edifice was drawn by sixty four mules each wearing a gilded crown and a collar set with gems.

Most historians, citing ancient Greek and Roman writers, believe Alexander was buried in a great marble sarcophagus in the Mediterranean port city he founded--Alexandria.  The Roman Emperor Augustus supposedly gazed upon the body three hundred years after Alexander's death.  Recently, the archaeological world has been rocked by a new theory regarding the last resting place of the great conqueror.      

The body of Alexander the Great may rest at the lonely oasis of Siwa.  An hour's drive from the Libyan border, the supposed tomb sits atop a desolate hill, a crumbling heap seen only by village farmers.  In 1995, a Greek archaeological team claimed to have found three crumbling stone tablets.  One of the tablets bears an inscription believed to have been written by Alexander's general Ptolemy, describing how he secretly brought the dead king to Siwa, "For the sake of the honorable Alexander, I present these sacrifices according to the orders of the god, (and) carried the corpse here...."  The second tablet says the shrine was built for Alexander.  The third tablet mentions some 30,000 soldiers who were appointed to guard the Siwa tomb.     

Alexander's tomb in Alexandria is thought to have been looted and destroyed sometime during the third century A.D..  The finds in the western desert bring in an element of mystery.  It is known that Alexander himself wished to be buried at Siwa and that alternate sites were considered only because of the political rivalries of Alexander's generals.  Ptolemy, one of Alexander's most loyal and beloved generals, may have built two tombs for Alexander, one in Siwa and another in Alexandria.  Is it possible that the mummy on display in Alexandria was not the real Alexander?   

Etched on tablet one of the Siwa find, Ptolemy supposedly writes, (in a very rough translation) "It was me who was caring  about his secrets, and who was carrying out his wishes.  And I was honest to him and to all people, and as I am the last one still alive I hereby state that I have done all the above for his sake."     

Treasure: The Holy Grail

In 1910, workmen digging a well in Antioch, Syria, spotted the gleam of shining metal in the sunlight.  Scrapping away the dirt, they unearthed a curious object, a set of two cups, one set within the other.  The outer cup was made of silver.  The inner cup was made of plain clay, and was the type from which a humble artisan might have drunk.  Excitement pulsated throughout the Middle East as the possible discovery of the Holy Grail electrified the world.            

Today, this artifact can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  It is called the "Antioch Chalice", and after extensive testing has been found not to be the Holy Grail.  Experts list the age of the Antioch Chalice as being fourth or fifth century, very early but not the Holy Grail.         

Just what is the Holy Grail?   The Holy Grail is the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper.   Besides being an archaeological artifact of unbelievable importance,  the cup is said to have certain powers, including:  (1)healing and restorative ability; (2) conveys knowledge of God; (3) invisible to unworthy eyes; (4)ability to feed those present (e.g. the miracle of the loaves and fishes);  and (5) it bestows immortality  on the possessor.        

What happened to the Grail?  The Grail supposedly passed into the hands of Joseph of Arimathea.   Joseph appears briefly in the Gospels as a wealthy member of the Jewish council in Jerusalem and secret disciple of Christ, who obtained the body of Christ after the Crucifixion and laid it in the tomb.

In the twelfth century,  non-scriptural writings began to appear telling how the hallowed vessel of the Last Supper came into Joseph's possession and had been conveyed to Britain.  Why Britain?  Some suggest that the wealthy Joseph made his money in the tin trade with Cornwall and had made frequent voyages to Britain in the past.
According to legend Joseph of Arimethea brought the Grail to England in 37 A.D. and founded an abbey upon the Island of Glass (present day Glastonbury).

Where is the Holy Grail now?  A great hill (tor) towers over the peaceful village of Glastonbury.   Atop the hill are the remains of St. Michael's church.  Legend says that the hill is hollow and is the secret entrance of the underworld.  There are numerous tales of disappearances into the Tor; usually in the form of people entering and returning mad.  In one of these stories thirty monks, engaged in chanting in the Abbey, found a tunnel opening up before them.  The monks bravely went inside.   Some great disaster befell them.  The full story could never be recovered from the survivors, two of whom were insane and one of whom had been struck dumb.  There are, in fact, large caves beneath the hill and at least one theory holds that the Holy Grail rests in one of these caves.    

Whatever the truth of the legends surrounding Glastonbury, it is, undoubtedly, the jumping off place for a search for King Arthur.  The historic Arthur was a Roman-British warlord who resisted the barbarian invasions as the Roman Empire collapsed.  The dates usually attributed to King Arthur lie between 460 -540 A.D.     

Cadbury Castle is thought to be the actual site of mythic Camelot.  In 1966 archaeologists found artifacts linking this site with the historic Arthur.  Excavations revealed a rich and powerful settlement.  A castle in name only, Cadbury has no moats or turrets.  It was an earthen hill fortress. Curiously enough, Cadbury (Camelot) is now privately owned.  The man who owns Camelot possesses what may be the most beautiful spot in England, where sheep graze sleepily upon rich green hills under an English sun and the only sound is the wind rushing through fields of wildflowers.         

It is possible that the historic Arthur could have been familiar with the legend of Joseph of Aramethea's presence in Britain, and sent followers in search of relics, the whole story being picked up and embellished by later Medieval storytellers into the now well known Quest for the Holy Grail.
Cadbury Castle is a thirty minute drive from Glastonbury.  It was to Glastonbury ("the isle of Avalon") that the wounded and dying Arthur was brought.  Legend says that Arthur sleeps inside Glastonbury Tor, until that time England shall need him most.  In 1191, a log coffin was found buried between two stone crosses in the burial ground beside St. Mary's chapel at the foot of Glastonbury Tor.  In the coffin, the monks found the bodies of a tall man and a delicate woman.  A leaden cross beneath the lid told them who there lay buried, "Here lies buried/The famous King/Arthur in the/Isle of Avalon."  Today the tumbled down walls of the abbey evoke thoughts of ruined Camelot.  Eyeless windows look out over Arthur's burial site, which is crossed reverently with red and white carnations.          

There are other possible Grail sites, including Roslin Chapel in Scotland.  The 3rd Earl of Orkeny built Roslin Castle during the 14th century.  Roslin Chapel, founded in 1446, was dissolved in 151l, and left in disrepair until restored in 1842.  The chapel is noted for a superabundance of ornament, and the famous Prentice Pillar, a beautiful, ornately carved work of art that graces the chapel.  In 1962, the famous Grail scholar Trevor Ravenscroft announced that he had finished a twenty year quest in search of the Grail and proclaimed Roslin Chapel to be its resting place.  Ravenscroft claimed that the Grail was inside the Prentice Pillar.   Metal detectors have been used on the pillar and an object of appropriate size is said to be buried in the middle of the ornate pillar.       

There are several alternate theories concerning the whereabouts of the Grail.  In the Caucasus Mountains of Russia there lives a small group of people who have stories of a magical cauldron called the Amonga.  This chalice has properties similar to those attributed to the Grail, serving food, giving knowledge and being able to choose those worthy to serve it.

Another theory argues that the physical cup of the Last Supper is gone forever but that it is an important metaphor for powerful universal energies that we can all tap into if we dare.  The "Silver Chalice", as disciples of this theory refer to the Grail, is the set of blood vessels in the neck and the base of the skull which feed the brain.  The "silver energy" can be used to increase the usefulness of the brain thus giving people able to tap into this energy almost superhuman powers.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Making College Safe Again (Social Satire)

     In early June the Del Boca Gazette broke the story under the banner headline, “ 1 in 5 Del Boca scholars say they were bilked.”    The scholars to whom the article referred were the scores of Del Boca university students attending college in nearby Andromeda city.  Typical was the case of twenty year old Eden Forbes, who remembers going to a tailgate party where she got “blackout drunk”.  The next thing she knew she woke up in a strange bed with three goats, a feral cat, and a bill of sale with a scrawl on it which purported to be her signature.  “I was bilked against my will”, said Forbes, “like, if I was in my right head that’s not something I would do.  I don’t even like cats.”

     The disturbing revelations in the Gazette article electrified Del Boca.  An emergency meeting of the Neighbors and Friends Association was convened to discuss the problem of non-consensual bilking.  Morgana Worth, Andromeda University’s Dean of Student affairs, and Simon Gatsby the Police Chief of Andromeda City, were invited to explain themselves to the good people of Del Boca.
     “We send our kids off to Andromeda,” said Francine Frei, “and what happens?  They get bilked against their will!  What are you people doing to protect our kids!?”
     “Well, it is a difficult problem,” said Morgana Worth, “Everyone knows that bilking is bad, but with the alcoholic haze that hovers over America’s universities today it is sometimes difficult to know when you have a binding contract and when you’ve been bilked.  Much lies in the perception of the contracting parties, and when they are both drunk it is sometimes difficult to sort out intent.”
      “Sounds like you want our kids to stop partying.” said Francine Frei, “The Constitution says they have the right to party.  It guarantees them the right to do whatever they want to do without being hassled.”
      “Well, of course adults and near adults should be free to drink as much as they want, whenever they want, wherever they want,” said Morgana Worth, “but being drunk can place you at greater risk of something bad happening to you.”
      “That just sound like victim bashing.” said Estrellita Charnovsky, “The University needs to make sure that everyone respects each other at all times no matter what condition they are in.  What are we paying you people for anyway?”
     “Well there are some bad people out there who will always take advantage,” interjected Chief Gatsby.
      There was an audible gasp from the assembled crowd.  The clicking of Tweets drowned out every other sound:  “#Chief Gatsby calls People bad.”  “Gatsby thinks we are still living in #20th century where #the People are the enemy”.  “No bad people.  Just #bad cops.”
     “I mean, I’ve read about such people in history,” the Chief quickly back-peddled, “not that there is anybody bad out there now.  I’m just saying”
     “What are you saying Chief Gatsby,” said Francine Frei.
     “Well, it’s just if you have a big fat old wallet full of cash, or a purse stuffed with cash and credit cards it might not be the best idea to get blackout drunk just on the off chance that one of those ‘bad people’ from the old days might just happen to show up and bilk you.  A fool and her money are soon parted.”
     “I for one,” said Ned Clapp, “can’t waste my time arguing up hypothetical non-existent ‘bad people’.  We have a serious problem here and we need real solutions.  Perhaps the solution is to lower the drinking age to six or seven so young people can learn to drink responsibly before they get to college.”
    Principal Violet Bell, from Del Boca Elementary, perked up at this suggestion.  She thought that wine and cheese should have replaced milk and cookies long ago.
     “I’m not sure I agree with that approach,” said Morgana Worth, “as an educator I think it is more important that younger children learn to wash and dress themselves and learn how to read before they  learn the finer points of beer pong, body shots, and keg stands.  Children need to learn self-discipline and self-restraint.”
     The room erupted in Tweets: “Andromeda U run by #fascists!” “Sieg Heil Andromeda U”      
     Francine Frei tried to calm the crowd and return the conversation to something reasonable and achievable.  “I’m going to recommend that we petition the University and the Mayor to make it mandatory that people wear warning labels, so that our kids will know who to look out for.”
     “Brilliant!” said Ned Clapp, “A scarlet letter B sewn on the front of a garment to signify ‘Bilker’, and maybe ‘CF’ for crypto-fascist,” he said, looking squarely at Morgana Worth.
      When the meeting broke up, the people of Del Boca knew that they had done all THEY could by voting to lower the drinking age and to compel everyone to wear warning labels, but they were not quiet in their minds.  It would probably take intervention by the Federal government to clean up the mess the university and police had made of their children’s lives.

Grievances (Social Satire)

     Trudy Grassmeade was bombarded by things that offended her.  It started when she stopped for coffee.  Washington, Jackson, Franklin.  Slave owners all.  What were they doing on our money? 
     Trudy carried a great many fives.  She could trust good old “Honest Abe”.  But even he had now fallen under suspicion.  She had recently read what Lincoln had said of a former girlfriend, “I knew she was called an 'old maid,' and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appellation; but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features, for her skin was too full of fat to permit its contracting in to wrinkles; but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head, that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy, and reached her present bulk in less than thirty five or forty years…”  As a former girlfriend herself (an experience she enjoyed on many occasions including the present one), Trudy could tell that Lincoln didn’t respect women.  She would have to look more closely into his record.  Maybe he didn’t deserve that big marble monument.  
     As Trudy walked down Thomas Jefferson (TJ) Avenue she made a note to ask the Neighbors and Friends Association why they named a street after the sexual harasser of underage girls.  This street should be named after the victim, Sally Hemings, not after someone who belonged on a register of sex offenders.  And then there was St. Anselm’s church.  She knew what was in there.  Stained glass windows depicting Roman soldiers walking cheerfully through the streets of Jerusalem on their way to the Crucifixion.  Roman soldiers!  The Roman Empire was a military tyranny that oppressed people for a thousand years and yet someone in that church thought it was a good idea to put their likenesses in the stained glass windows.  She could never go into a church that had depictions of Roman soldiers in the windows.  The thought made her cringe.  It may have been two thousand years since the Romans burned the ancestral village, but Trudy kept the memory green. Romans belonged in museums, not in church windows. 
     And so it continued as she made her way down TJ Avenue and up Poplar Street, getting angrier and angrier.  There was the post office sporting an American flag.  So militaristic.  All of that “rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air”, stuff.  Why couldn’t the country’s flag convey something more positive?  Maybe happy faces instead of stars, and multi-colored stripes instead of boring red and white.  There was that awful Porky’s Barbecue Pit, which sold sugary drinks that would make children obese.  And here up the street came that poor exploited rooster Machiavelli, who had to work for chicken feed while H.C. Clarke raked in who knew how much money because of Machiavelli’s efforts.  This walk was like Trudy’s own personal march to Calvary (minus the Romans of course).
     Finally she reached the Del Boca Medical Arts Center and the office of her therapist Dr. Humphrey Smothers.
     “I am so angry Doctor Smothers!” Trudy began.
     “Oh, I know, I know,” said the sympathetic Doctor Smothers, “shall we start where we left off last time.  You were telling me how angry you were because Turner Classic Movies had the effrontery to run the movie “The Littlest Rebel”, starring Shirley Temple.
     Trudy began spewing forth in a torrent all of the pent up outrage and anger of the previous week, occasionally interrupted by Dr. Smothers interjecting a sympathetic, “Tell me more,” or “I know, I know.”
     While doing no actual good Dr. Smothers, to his credit, was doing no actual harm.  He was performing the same sort of service that any friend would perform, he was being a good listener.  In his case, of course, he was being very well paid to listen.
     Dr. Smothers knew, that like many other people in Del Boca, Trudy Grassmeade actually enjoyed being wedded to her grievances.  She found comfort, purpose and identity in her righteous indignation.  What Dr. Smothers longed to say was, “Get a grip!  Opinions are like a**holes.  Everyone has one.  Yours are no more valid than anyone else’s !”  But then that would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg.  So instead he said, “Oh, I know, I know.”
      “So you see Doctor Smothers,” said Trudy, “if I am ever to be happy and know peace everyone else in the world is simply going to have to change!”
     “Oh, I know, I know,” said Doctor Smothers, nodding sagely, “but now I see our time is up. Shall we continue next time from the same place?”

Saturday, November 26, 2016

American Civil War Campfire Humor

Stories such as these were told around the campfire during the American Civil War:

A young soldier left home to join the army. He told his girl friend that he would write every day. After about six months, he received a letter from his girlfriend that she was marrying someone else. He wrote home to his family to find out who she married. The family wrote back and told him. It was the ....mailman.

A soldier announced to all the men in his company and surrounding companies that he was swearing off drinking and that all the other soldiers should do the same.  The other soldiers teased him and gave him whiskey to get him drunk.  Every night he ended up drunk, but every morning he would be back preaching about the evils of alcohol.  Finally one of his tent mates told him he should give up preaching about the evils of drink since he always ended up drink.  “What” he asked, “and give up all that free whiskey?”

Troops on both sides enjoyed a joke at the expense of officers.  One anecdote that made the rounds involved General Ambrose Burnside.  General Grant and his staff in Virginia stopped to rest at a plantation. Grant fell into conversation with the two women of the house, when the portly Ambrose Burnside rode up, made an exaggerated bow, and conversationally inquired as to whether the ladies had ever seen so many Yankee soldiers before.

“Not at liberty, sir,” one of the women snapped back.

American Civil War Humor and Jokes

Brady's National Photographic Portrait Galleries
A political cartoon depicting Uncle Sam arguing with a woman while a slave on the right tiptoes by the couple. Uncle Sam holds a newspaper marked "united", the woman has a newspaper behind her back marked "states".

Humor (even if somewhat grim) made its appearance early during the American Civil War.  When President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers in April 1861 to put down the rebellion, rebel jokers published advertisements for “75,000 Coffins Wanted.” Bill Arp, a popular Georgia humorist, wrote a letter to President Lincoln thoughtfully worrying that the Union’s military strategy might be, “too hard upon your burial squads and ambulance horses.” 

At first jokes in camp were relatively tame. Some soldiers wondered how many court-martials a barrel of rum held. Others joked that draft exemptions were only open to, “dead men who can establish proof of their demise by two reliable witnesses.”  Spirits were high and men engaged in practical jokes.  In the winter, one of the favorite tricks that the soldiers would play on the bugler was to put water in his bugle at night and let it freeze. The next morning the bugler would be unable to blow reveille until he thawed out his bugle.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The Importance of Historical Perspective

     The men and women who lived a hundred plus years ago possessed the same passions, strengths and weaknesses that we possess today.  Being born, struggling for food and shelter, mating, dying; the basic rhythms of life remain the same from century to century.  The ordering of these rhythms of life by social custom and political institutions depends largely on technology and the prevailing ideology of the day.  Can we ever judge if the ordering was right?  Should we even try?  History is a kaleidoscope, the view changes with the values of each succeeding generation.  What was moral and right in 1861 is today unacceptable.  What is moral and right today will be unacceptable tomorrow.

    What history can give us is perspective.  History shows that this moment is not the only moment, but rather is part of a continuum.  Without perspective life becomes self-absorbed, and degenerates into either solemn and stressful or frivolous and trivial.  Hopefully, with perspective, we can find balance.

My titles on Amazon

My titles at Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Fifers and Drummers in the American Revolution

The Spirit of 76

Artist Archibald Willard made fifers and drummers an American icon when he painted, “The Spirit of 76” in 1875.  Willard’s father Samuel was the model for the drummer.  The painting was originally known as “Yankee Doodle”.

Don Francisco - Fifer

During the American Revolution, armies used music to communicate over long distances.  In infantry units, the fife was used because of its high pitched sound and the drum because of its low pitched sound. Both instruments can be easily heard at great distances even through the din of battle. Music gave instructions for advance or retreat and helped keep order on the battlefield.  Drummers would play beatings telling soldiers to turn right or left as well as to load and fire their muskets. There was a tune called “Cease Fire” that fifers and drummers played to instructs troops to stop firing.  Fifers and drummers were used to help regulate camp life as well. Fife and drum calls signaled the commencement of daily tasks such as waking up, eating meals, and performing camp chores.

Each company in an American infantry regiment during the Revolution (a full strength company was made up of 40 privates, 3 corporals, 1 ensign, 1 Lieutenant, and a Captain) would have had 1-2 fifers and 1-2 drummers.

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 historical 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.

Monday, October 17, 2016

How many soldiers died of wounds in the Civil War?

     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.”

In 1860, disgruntled secessionists in the deep North rebel against the central government and plunge America into Civil War. Will the Kingdom survive? The land will run red with blood before peace comes again.

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.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

How did George Washington travel?

Washington's carriage

Road travel in the eighteenth century was nasty, brutish and slow.  Those vehicles, most often slow moving stage coaches, that did venture out on the roads were covered with mud or dust from top to wheel, rattled along uncomfortably, sometimes overturned and frequently sank into bogs.  Large rivers were difficult to bridge.  Ferries were used instead.  The ferry was either a barge or a raft and was pulled across by work horses or oxen on shore.  Since they were skittish, horses were prone to cause accidents.  George Washington recounted a typical road mishap, “In attempting to cross the ferry at Colchester with the four horses harnessed to the chariot…one of the leaders got overboard when the boat was in swimming water and fifty yards from the shore….His struggling frightened the (other horses) in such a manner that one after another and in quick succession they all got overboard…and with the utmost difficulty they were saved (and) the carriage escaped being dragged after them.”

Early colonists used a network of paths made long before by Indians and wild animals to shape the earliest pattern of roads. The first turnpike in the country began construction in Virginia in 1785 running from Alexandria into the lower Shenandoah Valley.  This wide, comfortable, toll road only spanned thirty four miles and took twenty six years to complete, being completed in 1811.  It was a marvel to travelers.  In some cases local governments built new roads, but more frequently private corporations were set up for the purpose, and a profit of twenty percent earned from tolls was not uncommon. Notwithstanding these efforts, Virginia’s roads had not improved much by the 1860s.  No less a personage than General Robert E. Lee complained, “It has been raining a great deal . . . making the roads horrid and embarrassing our operations.”  Army wagons simply broke down on the roads because of the mud and rocks.

What is the Bruton Parish Mystery?

Bruton Parish Church

     There exists a cache of hidden documents, the contents of which are so powerful, that their release could forever change the course of world civilization.  For centuries these documents have been protected by a secret society known as the Order of the Illumined, or the Illuminati.  These documents have been deemed so critical to mankind’s future that they have been called the Seventh Seal.  Interestingly, these keys to the future of mankind are buried in the cemetery of the Bruton Parish Episcopal Church in colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.  The Seventh Seal cache is said to be housed in a brick vault constructed by Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a favorite courtier of Queen Elizabeth I.  Apparently some of Bacon’s papers were also left behind in the vault, including documentation proving his authorship of the Shakespearian plays, his original Tudor birth records showing him to be the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth I, an unabridged version of the King James Version of the Bible, translated by Bacon, and more, including GOLD!
     On September 9, 1991, a group of New Age mystics did an unauthorized dig for the Bruton Vault in the dark hours of the night.  Their intention was to follow up on a dig performed in 1938 which uncovered the church’s original foundations, and to bring to the public’s attention knowledge of the precious hidden national treasure buried at Bruton Parish. Church elders were not happy with the midnight digging, and by court order, the New Age seekers were forbidden from returning to Virginia.
     In an attempt to put an end to this urban legend, Bruton Parish followed up on the midnight dig by commissioning archaeologists, including Colonial Williamsburg archaeologist Marley Brown, to retrace the steps of the 1938 excavation to answer a question that arose in 1985.  In 1985, surface tests using radar-like equipment indicated that there was something under the Bruton Parish cemetery different from untouched soil.  That something could be, the hidden Vault, a tree root, or surface dirt used to fill in the 1938 excavation.
     After seven days of once again uncovering the remains of the original church walls, workers looking for Sir Francis Bacon's vault dug about 9 feet deep and reportedly found an object with brass tacks in it. Church officials said it was a casket and would not allow them to dig further.  By August 1992 the archaeologists hired by the Parish concluded that there was no hidden Vault.  End of story.
     But this is a story that will never end because of the way it began.  New Age followers claim the 1992 church sponsored dig was bogus.  The Parish knowingly dug in the wrong places.  There may also be sinister forces at work to suppress the release of the great secret, according to some conspiracy theorists.  These sinister forces may include the Skull & Bones secret society at Yale University (of which George W. Bush is a member), as well as Colonial Williamsburg's benefactor, the Rockefeller family.
     So just how did this urban legend get started in the first place?   There was, of course, a Sir Francis Bacon.  Bacon was a well-known English philosopher, statesman, and scientist.  Bacon is regarded as the father of empiricism and the modern “scientific method”. Bacon's movement for the advancement of learning was connected with the German Rosicrucian movement. The Rosicrucians were and are a secret society built on esoteric truths of the ancient past, which, concealed from the average man, provide insight into nature, the physical universe and the spiritual realm.  Bacon's book New Atlantis portrays a land ruled by Rosicrucians. How did Francis Bacon, the Renaissance intellectual, become the center piece of an urban legend?  Enter one Manly Palmer Hall.
     A junior high school dropout from a broken home, Manly Palmer Hall, who had a photographic memory, became a one-stop scholar of ancient ideas.  In 1920, at the age of nineteen, the charismatic and movie star handsome Hall was running a church in Los Angeles. He delivered Sunday lectures about Rosicrucianism and Theosophy, the mystical philosophical system founded by Madame Helena Blavatsky; as well as other esoteric teachings. Alternative religious movements were busting out all over Southern California in the first half of the 20th century and the devastatingly handsome Manly Palmer Hall attracted many rich female followers, which allowed him to produce his masterwork, The Secret Teachings of All Ages.  Through his writings and endless lecturing, Manly Palmer Hall became one of the people principally responsible for the birth of the New Age religious movement in the United States, first in California, starting in the 1920s, and then beyond.
      Manly Palmer Hall and his second wife Marie Bauer Hall (they were married in 1950) are the source of the Bruton Parish mystery.  While acting as a volunteer at Hall’s church in the 1930s, the then Marie Bauer, struck up a conversation with a visitor waiting to see Hall.  The visitor was a scholar who claimed to have deciphered codes hidden in Shakespeare’s plays that told of a treasure hidden by Sir Francis Bacon under a church in Virginia.  Marie Bauer, who said she was clairvoyant, felt an immediate connection between the lost treasure described by the visitor and Bruton Parish Church.  Bauer had once been given a tea towel from Williamsburg that included a picture of Bruton Parish Church.
     Marie took her finding to Manly Hall, and together they spent many happy hours deciphering hidden codes placed in various writings contemporary to Francis Bacon, including A Collection of Emblems (George Wither, 1635) and various Shakespearean plays, which demonstrated, at least to them, that a 10 ft. by 10 ft. brick vault was buried 20 ft. deep at the Bruton Parish Church, its exact location marked by certain, strategically placed encoded memorials in the Church cemetery.  In 1938, Marie Bauer initiated an excavation which revealed the foundations of the original Bruton Church, but no hidden vault.  Marie would have been happy to continue digging up the church graveyard, but further excavation was halted by Church officials.