Saturday, October 27, 2018

The First Great Anti-War Movie

It was not until All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) that the romantic view of war was cast aside, as movie goers were admonished that “Death is not an adventure”. Here German soldiers, all of whom look and act like wholesome “All American boy” types, are decimated by the war “with the impersonality of sausage going through a meat grinder.”  In this film the soldiers lose respect for authority after seeing the horrors of war and say such things as, “It is dirty and painful to die for your country”. The view of frontline romance is equally unsentimental, as French peasant girls give the German soldier-youths sex for food, and the men have sex with the women as a relief from the horrors of war. Ultimately, the protagonist is un-heroically killed by a sniper while huddling in a filthy trench one beautiful morning. In this film love does not conquer all. War conquers every decent impulse.

Although the leading characters in All Quiet on the Western Front are Germans, thus allowing the film to not directly condemn either the war aims or the war conduct of the United States in World War I, and although the film was both a box office hit and won the Academy Award for Best Picture (1930), there were many who saw the film as, “The most brazen propaganda film ever made in America. It undermines beliefs in the Army and in authority. Moscow could not have produced a more subversive film. Its continued uncensored exhibition especially before juveniles will go far to raise a race of yellow- streak slackers and dis-loyalists”.

All Quiet on the Western Front touched on one of the underlying problems of modern industrial society, the need for the individual to conform to industrial discipline, even if this requires that he march off into a senseless war created by competing economic elites. Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s book of the same name, the film puts provocative language into the mouths of the characters, “Who wants wars? Emperors, generals, manufacturers...” This World War I film reveals a nation turning inward rather than one looking for an imperial “policeman of the world” role.

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.

History's Ten Worst Generals

Success leaves clues. So does failure. Some of history’s best known commanders are remembered not for their brilliant victories but for their catastrophic blunders.

Prada Shoes and Accessories

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Machine Guns Wreathed in Roses: The Greatest World War I Silent Movie

The implicit historical evidence contained in a commercial film is useful to the historian in that popular films reflect the concerns of the common man rather than intellectual elites. Because studio executives seek to hit the dead center of the mass audience in order to maximize profits, common themes in movies often reflect the fears and desires of the mass audience for whom the films were created

King Vidor’s World War I epic, The Big Parade , opened at New York City’s Astor Theater on November 19, 1925, quickly became a box office smash, and is now widely regarded as the top grossing silent movie of all time (by 1930 it had grossed $15 million on production costs of $245,000).

The Big Parade chronicles the war time experiences of Jim Apperson, the son of a wealthy family. The hitherto feckless Apperson enlists in a burst of patriotic fervor brought on by marching bands, the enthusiasm of his hometown chums and the excited gushing of his girlfriend. Apperson is thrown into the army with working class men such as his new pals Slim (a steel construction worker) and Bull (a bar tender). Army life resembles a boy’s summer camp. Deployed to France, the idyll continues as Apperson falls in love with a French peasant girl, Melisande. Called to the front, the mood now shifts as Apperson is torn away from his new lady love. Now follow scenes of the horrors of No Man’s Land, the deaths of Apperson’s pals Slim and Bull, Apperson’s wounding, and his inability to find Melisande after the shelling of her village by the Germans. The war ends and Apperson returns home, having lost a leg. Apperson’s American girlfriend has taken up with his brother and Apperson is generally embittered. At the coaxing of his mother, Apperson returns to France to search for Melisande. The two lovers are re-united as the movie ends.

The Big Parade is the story of ordinary doughboys at war, and while the film is sometimes characterized as an anti-war movie, it is in fact even handed, being neither patriotic nor pacifist.  The film did not reflect a wholesale rejection of the martial virtues, but skepticism about the outcomes of policy. Here there was no Union to preserve as in the Civil War, just vague ideals betrayed at the Versailles Peace Conference. Vidor’s even handed treatment of the war coincided with the ambiguous attitudes of veterans who tried to find nobility in their personal sacrifices while confronting the futility of modem war.

The Big Parade was widely praised for its realism, and Vidor went to considerable lengths to insure visual authenticity, viewing some 8,000 feet of footage made by the Army Signal Corps during the war. Four thousand U.S. Army soldiers were actually used in the film. “Then there were men who had fought in the Argonne who re-enacted scenes for us, and while we owe the working out of the mass effects to the officers, it was often the private who suggested a telling idea, and even the German, now an American citizen, came forward and told his former foes the correct way his compatriots made a machine gun nest” (Interview with King Vidor, New York Times, November 8, 1925, Page X 5).

The War Department indicated that the movie looked just like France. “Maj .-Gen. Hines, commanding the Eighth Corps Area, issued orders that placed the entire Second Division of the Army at Fort Sam Houston, Tex. under the control of Vidor’ s megaphone for the screening of The Big Parade. That each unit of the 10,000 men comprising the infantry, the artillery, supply trains and other operational factors might be in exact position when the cameras began to crank, Brig.-Gen Malone. - . issued regulation field orders to all tactical troops” (Los Angeles Times, November 8, 1925, Page X 5). Soldiers and military groups were outspoken in praise of the films authenticity. Critics agreed, “John Gilbert’s portrayal of the American doughboy as he really was with his slang and naughty songs and devotion to comrade.., struck home with a reality that brought tears to many masculine eyes....”; and, “. . .the entrance of the soldiers into battle. It is one of the few- possibly the only — scene that has ever depicted tellingly the menace of actual battle and its effect on men” (Chicago Daily Tribune, November 15, 1925, Page 18); and “The Big Parade is great realism done in a great way. It indulges in virtually no hokum”(Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1925, Page J 6).

While a quantum leap forward from the stereotyped World War I melodramas reflecting the war fevered propaganda of lesser directors, The Big Parade, does not stand up well in terms of war “realism”. The movie presented war in terms of dramatic conventions. Individuals stood apart from the mass and were made special through devices of romantic action. The movie could not come to full grips with the anonymity of twentieth century warfare. Iris Barry, an English film critic, wrote in 1926, “No film dares show what (the war) resembled. (The Big Parade) wreathes machine-guns in roses”. 

Sun Tzu, the Master of War, once said, “Those who are skilled in producing surprises will win. In conflict, surprise will lead to victory. ” Here are four stories about the history of the world IF wars we know about happened differently or IF wars that never happened actually took place.
1.The Hostage, in which Abraham Lincoln is kidnapped by the rebels.
2.The German Invasion of America of 1889, in which Germany unexpectedly launches its might against the United States.
3.The Invasion of Canada 1933, in which the new American dictator launches a sneak attack on Canada.
4.Cherry Blossoms at Night: Japan Attacks the American Homeland (1942), in which Japan attacks the American homeland in a very surprising way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Virginia, the Birthplace of American Slavery

An 18th Century Slave Cabin in Northern Virginia

The population of England rose from three million in 1500 to four-and-one half million in 1650 without any corresponding growth in the capacity of the island’s economy to support the people. Colonization efforts were, among other things, an effort to alleviate demographic pressures in England.

At first, Virginia absorbed the new immigrants and appeared to be successfully creating a New World community on the English model. An emerging planter class, speculating in land, however, constrained access to good land in Virginia by the many.

The development of slavery in Virginia set the pattern for the development of slavery throughout the South and laid the foundations for the development of race relations in America.

In the late summer of 1619 a storm beaten Dutch ship (possibly a pirate ship) appeared in the harbor at Jamestown.  The ship had nothing to trade except twenty Africans recently taken from a Spanish vessel.  An exchange for food was made and the Dutch ship sailed away.  It is not clear if the Africans were considered slaves or indentured servants by the English settlers. There was no precedence in England for enslaving a class of people for life and making that status inevitable.  It is clear, however, that by 1640, at least one African had been declared a slave. This African was ordered by the court "to serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere."

Although blacks were held in hereditary servitude long before Virginia laws specifically recognized slavery, a large number of Virginia’s blacks worked as servants for a limited term or otherwise earned their freedom just like whites.  White and black servants worked together in the fields, shared the same punishments, the same food, and the same living quarters.  The most remarkable evidence of a racially open society comes from the records of Northampton County.  These records indicate that some twenty nine per cent of the county’s blacks were free and that a least two of these, Francis Payne and Anthony Johnson were planters (Johnson even becoming a slave owner himself). 

During the second half of the 17th century, the British economy improved and the supply of British indentured servants declined as poor Britons had better economic opportunities at home.  To lure cheap labor to America, terms of indentures became fixed and shorter.  By the 1670s Virginia had a large number of restless and relatively poor white men (most of them former indentured servants) threatening the established order of the wealthy and propertied.  A popular revolt in 1676, the so called Bacon’s Rebellion, led Virginia planters to begin importing black slaves in large numbers in preference to the more expensive and politically restive white indentured servants. 

The increasingly high price of free labor was incompatible with the profitable running of plantations. The landowners turned to slave labor, encouraging the first massive introduction of slaves from Africa in 1698.  The new labor force was more controllable because blacks, as a group, were not normally thought to be naturally guaranteed the “rights of Englishmen” accorded to white freemen.  In short, the system was to be based purely on force, and Virginia’s laws soon reflected this.

The need for long term forcible control of a large slave population (some 40% of the population of Virginia by the late 1700s) was an unintended consequence of short term decisions made by many individual for their own immediate economic gain.  From sometime ambivalent views about dark-skinned people held by Virginia’s whites, racism quickly developed as a buttress to the economic institution of slavery.

Read about the Rebel blockade of the Potomac River, the imprisonment of German POWs at super-secret Fort Hunt during World War II and the building of the Pentagon on the same site and in the same configuration as Civil War, era Fort Runyon. Meet Annandale's "bunny man," who inspired one of the country's wildest and scariest urban legends; learn about the slaves in Alexandria's notorious slave pens; and witness suffragists being dragged from the White House lawn and imprisoned in the Occoquan workhouse. 

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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Harsh Lessons of the Confederate Economy

The Exchange Bank: Richmond, 1865

The Confederate treasury could probably have raised more gold and silver from the population if it had embarked on a vigorous policy of taxation rather than trying to finance the war through the issuance of bonds. The Confederate treasury indulged, ultimately, in the perilous device of issuing unsupported paper money. In 1861 the treasury issued $100 million in paper Confederate notes and $100 million in 8 percent Confederate bonds. By 1863 the treasury was pumping out $50 million in notes a month. The Confederate public sensed that there was too much money being issued and that it was becoming progressively more worthless. Wits were soon saying, "An oak leaf will be worth just as much as the promise of the Confederate treasury to pay one dollar."

To increase its hard cash reserves, before loosing the flood of paper money on the country, the Confederate Congress made U.S. silver coins legal tender up to $10, and gave full standing, with fixed values stipulated, to English sovereigns, French Napoleons and Spanish and Mexican doubloons. This helped somewhat, and a small treasury shipment in 1862, for example, was made up of the following coins: 28 Spanish dollars, 24 Spanish quarter dollars, 8 Spanish half dollars, 8 English sovereigns, 3 Napoleons, 385 U.S. half dollars and 988 U.S. quarter dollars.

No halfway measures, however, could make up for the mismatch between revenue and the issuance of currency. Many people hoarded their hard money. Less than a month before the final collapse of the government, the Confederate Congress, seeming to believe that there was an abundance of hard money in private hands, passed a law trying to raise $30 million in gold and silver. Other estimates indicate that there may have been $20 million in U.S. coins remaining in the pockets of Confederate civilians. These coins were hoarded and did not come out except in rare instances. A Richmond editor in 1864 wondered why more copper and nickel coins did not make their appearance, "There must be any quantity of them stored away", he observed.

Cemeteries have been called open-air museums, and every gravestone has a story to tell. This book is a presentation of the Civil War history of Northern Virginia through the medium of cemeteries.

A brief 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.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Alexandria, Virginia in the Civil War 1861-1865

The Marshall House at King and Pitt

     In the 1850s, Alexandria was the commercial center for all of Northern Virginia and boasted a busy waterfront, a commercial canal and expanding railway traffic.  Alexandria took great pride in being the “home town” of George Washington.  It was on the steps of Gadsby’s Tavern (the City Hotel in 1861) that Light Horse Harry Lee declared George Washington, “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
     Alexandria, with its long history of service to the Union, initially opposed secession.  Many citizens would gladly have remained in the Union or remained neutral, but were prepared to cast their lot with the Confederacy if it came to war.  The tide turned toward secession on April 12, 1861 when South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter and Mr. Lincoln called for seventy five thousand volunteers to crush the rebellion. 
     Long before dawn on the morning of May 24, 1861 eight Union regiments crossed the Potomac River to seize Alexandria and Arlington Heights.  By two o’clock the in the morning a large luminous moon shimmered over the river as Federal long boats touched their oars into the muddy waters.  For an hour muffled oars pulled against the river.  The red trousered New York Zouaves sat tensed in silent anticipation.  They docked quickly and quietly unloaded into the deserted streets of Alexandria.
     The entrance of the Federals was unopposed.  Colonel Elmer Ellsworth led his men down the empty streets until he came to a hotel (The Marshall House) flying the Confederate flag.  Ellsworth, followed by his soldiers, went inside, hurried to the roof and, with a knife borrowed from a private soldier, cut down the emblem of rebellion.  In a shadowy hallway he met the proprietor of the inn, James Jackson.  Jackson produced a shotgun and killed Ellsworth.       War had come to Virginia.  For the next four years Alexandria was an occupied city, and became a major supply hub for the Union army.
     Alexandria was an important railroad center.  The Union army seized the railroads immediately. Brigadier General Herman Haupt, a railroad construction engineer revolutionized military transportation in the United States and was one of the unsung heroes of the Civil War.  He repaired and fortified war damaged railroad lines in the vicinity of Washington, arming and training the railroad staff, and improved telegraph communications along the railroad lines. His well organized trains kept the Union Army supplied and carried thousands of Union wounded to hospitals.
     Haupt’s nemesis was the Confederate raider John S. Mosby, who, with fewer than two hundred and fifty men, immobilized 30,000 Union troops by his daring raids.  It seemed that the “Grey Ghost” was everywhere.  He destroyed railway tracks, robbed Union paymasters, captured pickets, and shot down stragglers.  Mosby single handedly crossed Long Bridge into Washington City in the full light of day and returned unharmed to Virginia.
     Alexandria’s strategic location on the Potomac River was as important as its railroads.  Alexandria was always a busy port.  After the Federal occupation, Alexandria businessman Benjamin Barton wrote,  “Alexandria… is quite a stirring place, of course most of the business has some connection with the National government, all the supplies of the armies, in this section of Virginia, arrive here by land and by water, the great number of steamboats, sloops, schooners and brigs required, arriving at this port, and passing up to Washington, has the appearance of a fleet opposite our City.” One of the war time highlights for Alexandria was the arrival of Imperial Russian war ships on a goodwill visit.
     Alexandria became an important hospital center for the Union army.  Four churches and many large houses were converted into hospitals, totaling fourteen facilities in all.  Facilities were overcrowded and often unsanitary, especially after a major battle.  One volunteer chaplain wrote, “Through all the wards confused heaps of torn and dirty clothes and piles of bloody bandages, tired attendants doing their best to make comfortable the poor fellows torn and mangled with shot and shell in every imaginable way.”
     Alexandria was an essential link in the chain of fortifications guarding Washington.  Sixty eight major forts, connected by military roads and rifle trenches ringed the Federal capital.  This was the Union’s last line of defense against the Confederate Army.
This formidable network of earthwork fortifications bristled with more than nine hundred cannons and ninety eight mortars.  After the war, when asked why the Confederate Army did not attack Washington after the Second Battle of Manassas in 1862, Robert E. Lee said, pointing to Fort Ward, “I could not tell my men to take that fort when they had nothing to eat for three days.”  

     This book represents the most complete photographic history of Alexandria, Virginia during the period of the Civil War currently in existence.  The photographs in the book are taken from three rare photo collections: the Civil War collection of the Library of Congress, the William Francis Smith Collection of the Alexandria Library, Special Collections Branch and Mollie Somerville Collection of the Alexandria Library, Special Collections Branch.  Almost all of the photographs in this book are actual Civil War era photographs.  In a few instances, where Civil War photographs of specific significant locations were not available, we have selected photographs of the location at the nearest point in time to the Civil War as possible.

Women Doctors in the Civil War

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.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Not Your Grandmother's Southern Belle: Hispanic Woman and Confederate Soldier

Civil War re-enactors have been challenged by some women in recent years to allow them to “join the ranks”. If re-enactors today find this problematic, how must men have reacted in the Civil War? But life and history are both complex.

Cuban-born Loreta Velasquez, disguised as a man, enlisted in the Confederate army as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford in 1860. According to military records, under the name Harry T. Buford, she raised a company of volunteers from Arkansas and fought in the battles of 1st Manassas, Ball’s Bluff, and Fort Donelson. In 1862 her disguise was discovered and she was discharged from the army. Velasquez then enlisted with the 21st Louisiana Infantry regiment and went on to fight at Shiloh. Velasquez's disguise was discovered yet again and she was once again discharged. The resourceful Velasquez then became a spy for the Confederacy, often posing as a man.

After the war the now widowed Velasquez moved to Nevada, where she authored a book, "The Woman in Battle", a non-stop thriller patterned after the tales about famous gunfighters. She was married and widowed three more time before her death in 1897 at the age of fifty five (?).

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.

These fictional memoirs are based on the true story of a southern belle who defied convention to become a front line soldier and spy for the Confederacy. 

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Is There Gold in the Superstition Mountains?

The Superstition Mountains

As he seeks shelter from the unrelenting Arizona sun at Apache Junction, local resident, Keith, says, “There is no gold in the Superstition Mountains.  Never has been.”  Despite the skepticism of some, the lure of gold has brought thousands to the Superstition Mountains for over a hundred years, all in search of the Lost Dutchman Mine. 

This, one of the most sought after treasures in history, is still definitely in the lost column. 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.  Some of the dead were so close that they may have been murdered, but treasure hunter Walt “AZ” Guenther tells a different story, “They’re mostly easterners.  Come out here unprepared.  No hats.  Not enough water.”  “AZ” dismisses stories of bushwacking, and being a seasoned outdoorsman, laughs off other desert dangers like rattlesnakes, scorpions, gila monsters, and mountain lions, “No, the big killer out here is the sun…and not enough water.  If somebody offers you water…you take it.”


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.

Stone map found in the desert.

Spanish armor found in the Superstition Mountains

Jacob Walz, 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 with him in 1891.

Supposedly after the massacre of 1848 the Indians filled the mine shafts and disguised the remains. That there are eighteen mines once owned by the Peralta family in the Superstition Mountains is historical fact; their richness is legendary; their location, still a mystery.  

Looking out toward the ominous mountains, “AZ” says knowingly, “Oh, yes.  There is definitely gold out there.” 

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. 

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.