Monday, October 31, 2022

The Value of Humor in War and Elsewhere


Humor had its place in even the toughest situations. During the Civil War, a Confederate veteran remembered many years later, “While on that raid we marched and fought for days and nights in succession. Late one dark night we were on the march; it was raining, and we were all wet, cold, tired, sleepy, and hungry. We were bunched up in a creek bottom waiting for those in front to cross the stream. Not a word was being spoken. Old sore-backed horses were trying to rub their riders off against some other horse. We knew we would have fighting to do as soon as day broke, and we had the blues. All at once Joe Leggett said: ‘Boys, I have become reckless; I've got so I don't care for nothing. I had just as soon be at home now as to be here.’ The effect was magical. While the skill and bravery of our generals and the fighting qualities of our soldiers could not have been excelled, if it had not been for those jolly spirits to animate others the war would have come to a close much sooner.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

A Soldier Defends a Hopeless Position in the Civil War


A soldier had lost his bayonet and whittled one from wood so he could stand inspection. He was hoping not to be discovered until the regiment had gone into battle where he could pick up one from a dead soldier. At an inspection, an officer asked to see his bayonet. The soldier stated “Sir, I promised my father I would never unsheathe my bayonet unless I intended to kill with it.” The Officer insisted he hand over the bayonet. Taking it out, the soldier looked skyward and declared “May the Lord change this bayonet to wood for breaking my vow.”

Monday, October 24, 2022

Black Soldiers in the American Revolution


During the American Revolution, the British lacked sufficient manpower to put down a revolt by a “people numerous and well-armed”.  This manpower shortage made the use of slaves all the more appealing to the British since slaves constituted some twenty percent of the total population of the colonies.  On June 30, 1779, Sir Henry Clinton the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America, promised in the so-called Philipsburg Declaration that "every NEGRO who shall desert the Rebel Standard, [is granted] full security to follow within these Lines, any Occupation which he shall think proper." Now it was not hundreds of slaves seeking refuge in British lines but tens of thousands.  Some one hundred thousand slaves (out of a population of 500,000 slaves) are estimated to have sought freedom with the British over the course of the next four years.  The number might have climbed even higher had slaves not feared brutal retaliation against their families if they fled from their masters.

By freeing the slaves, the British forced slave masters to guard slaves, one of their chief economic assets, instead of fighting British troops. The British were willing to emancipate slaves if by so doing they could first cripple and then crush the rebellion.  Much as in the later American Civil War, military necessity rather than morality acted as the catalyst of history. The use of slaves by the British for military purposes soon prompted the American rebels to begin recruiting blacks.  George Washington gave his approval to Rhode Island's plan to raise an entire regiment of black slaves (the state bought and emancipated slaves willing to become soldiers). Similarly, Massachusetts raised an all-black unit, the Bucks of America under Samuel Middleton, the only black commissioned officer in the Continental Army. In October 1780, even Maryland accepted "any able-bodied slave between 16 and 40 years of age, who voluntarily enters into service . . . with the consent and agreement of his master." New York began recruiting slaves in March 1781.  By June 1781 some 1,500 (25 %) of the 6,000 troops under George Washington’s direct command were black.

Who Were the Slaves of the Founding Fathers?

How Martha Washington Lived: 18th Century Customs

Thursday, October 13, 2022

The Grave of a Hero of the Titanic


One of the notables honored at Arlington National Cemetery is Major Archibald Butt (1865-1912).  Archibald Butt was the military aide to both Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.  Butt and his housemate (some say lover), the painter Francis Davis Millet, died during the sinking of the Titanic.  Butt was universally recognized for his heroic conduct during the tragedy. His body was never recovered.  President Taft who had come to regard Major Butt, “as a son or a brother”, praised him as a Christian gentleman and the perfect soldier.  Taft wrote, “I knew that he would certainly remain on the ship's deck until every duty had been performed and every sacrifice made that properly fell on one charged, as he would feel himself charged, with responsibility for the rescue of others.  At a May 5 ceremony, Taft broke down weeping, bringing his eulogy to an abrupt end.

As the Titanic sank, the crew prepared the lifeboats and Major Butt helped in the rescue efforts.  One survivor described him as calm and collected, “Major Butt helped…frightened people so wonderfully, tenderly, and yet with such cool and manly firmness.  He was a soldier to the last.”  A cenotaph was erected in the summer of 1913 by his brothers in Section 3 at a point that Major Butt had previously selected as his gravesite.  The Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain, a private memorial fountain, located in the President’s Park, adjacent to the White House, was dedicated in October 1913.  Powerful friends argued that Butt (who was an aide to the president) and Millet (who was vice chair of the United States Commission of Fine Arts at the time of his death) were both public servants who deserved to be memorialized separately from private citizens who died in the Titanic disaster.

 Legends of the Superstition Mountains

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

The Grave of the First Man to Reach the North Pole ?

 The Grave of Robert E Peary

One of the notables buried at Arlington National Cemetery is Robert E. Peary (1856-1920), an American explorer who claimed to have reached the North Pole on April 6, 1909. Peary's claim was widely credited for most of the 20th century. The first undisputed explorers to reach the North Pole were documented in 1969.  Some historians believe that Peary was guilty of deliberately exaggerating his accomplishments.

Women Doctors in the Civil War

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Grave of William Howard Taft


One of the notables buried at Arlington is William Howard Taft (1857 – 1930), the 27th President of the United States and later the tenth Chief Justice of the United States.  Taft is the only person to have served in both offices.  Taft and John F. Kennedy are the only U.S. Presidents buried at Arlington.


Taft is not only one of two presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery, he is also one of four Chief Justices buried there (the others are Earl Warren, Warren Burger, and William Rehnquist). Taft was the first president to throw out the baseball at a season opener, in a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics in 1910. Taft's wife, Helen Herron Taft, who died in 1943, was instrumental in bringing Japanese cherry trees to Washington, D.C.  A fourteen foot tall granite monument, inspired by ancient Greek burial steles, marks the graves of Taft and his wife. Mrs. Taft arranged with James Earl Frazer, a New York sculptor, to design this private monument for the grave. The design was approved by the Commission of Fine Arts and the secretary of war. It was erected by the Taft family in early 1932.

How Sherlock Holmes Lived

Haym Salomon: A Jewish Patriot of the American Revolution


Haym Salomon, a Polish-born Jewish businessman immigrated to New York City in 1775 and became a financial broker for merchants dealing in overseas trade.  Salomon joined the Sons of Liberty and was arrested by the British in September 1776 as a spy.  He was detained on a prison ship for eighteen months before being released.  He returned to spying and was arrested again, this time being condemned to death.  After a daring escape, Salomon made his way to the Patriot capital in Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, because of this financial expertise and language skills, Salomon helped convert French loans into ready cash by selling promissory notes.  He also negotiated large donations from the wealthy, and donated his entire fortune to the patriot cause.

In 1781, George Washington sent for Salomon to raise money for the Yorktown campaign when no money and no credit was available.  Salomon worked his magic and Washington was able to pay the army that won the American Revolution.

How Martha Washington Lived: 18th Century Customs