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.