Eye-witness Account

Pacific Paratrooper

Jack Wilde, WWII

Jack Wilde woke up covered in blood. The gore gushed down his leg. His head pounded.

The second lieutenant had been hunched over in the cramped tail section of the B-25, so he didn’t really know what had happened.

He remembered the plane banking and suddenly starting to climb. Moments later he’d heard branches hitting the port tail wing. “I thought to myself, ‘Boy, that’s something to write home about,’ ” he recalled years later. “And about that time, it really was something to write home about because we hit the top of the mountain.”

Jack Wilde had found himself flying over the New Guinea jungle in January 1945 because his infantry division was part of the Allied forces leapfrogging across the Dutch East Indies toward Japan.

Intelligence had come in indicating that Japanese detachments were working their way toward the U.S. base at Sansapor, so commanders…

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The 25 Book Challenge

Amy's Scrap Bag: A Blog About Libraries, Archives, and History

In September, I received a Facebook challenge from a friend and mentor. It was to post for 25 consecutive days covers of books I love or that for some reason occupy a special place in my personal library. Those who participate are to post no explanations or commentary related to the books. Participants are then to challenge one additional person each day to participate.  I thought I’d share my list for your reading exploration:

  1. All Creatures Great and Small/All Things Bright and Beautiful omnibus by James Herriot
  2. The Ariadne Objective: The Underground War to Rescue Crete from the Nazi’s by Wes Davis
  3. Christy by Catherine Marshall
  4. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
  5. City of Flight: The History of Aviation in St.  Louisby James J. Horgan
  6. Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy
  7. A Distant Melody by Sarah Sundin

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Presidential Campaign Scandals in History

John Quincy Adams was in trouble… in his reelection bid in 1828.  Andrew Jackson built a nationwide network of support during Adams’ term in office.  Jackson’s campaign structure was the first of its kind and by 1828 there were pro-Jackson committees in every state.  All property requirements for voting had been removed, drastically increasing the electorate.  Jackson’s populist message resonated with the newly enfranchised voters.  In many ways, the election of 1828 was our first modern election.  Adams was forced to resort to another modern strategy to win a second term, scandal.

Avenging 1824 (LOC)

Andrew Jackson was a man with… many skeletons in his closet.  Jackson was a hard-drinking gambler who killed Charles Dickinson in a duel.  The Adams campaign  publicized all of Jackson’s indiscretions, even attacking his mother’s honor.  But it was the salacious reporting on Jackson’s marriage to Rachel Donelson Robards that dragged the campaign into modernity.  Cincinnati newspaperman Charles Hammond asked,  “Ought a convicted adulteress and her paramour husband be placed in the highest offices of this free and Christian land?”

Rachel Donelson Robards was in a loveless marriage… when she met Andrew Jackson in 1788.  Divorces were difficult in the 18th century and women had few recourses other than waiting for a husband to file papers.  Rachel left her husband in 1790 to live with Jackson in Natchez, Mississippi territory.  Believing that Lewis Robards had finalized the divorce, Jackson married Rachel in August of 1791.  Due to a technicality, the divorce was not finalized in time,  making Rachel a bigamist.  Robards finally secured the divorce in 1793.  Andrew and Rachel were remarried in Tennessee a year later.  The charge of bigamy followed the Jacksons throughout their marriage, prompting Jackson’s duel against Charles Dickinson in 1806.

(LOC)

American voters rejected the negative campaign… of John Quincy Adams, and Jackson won in a landslide.  Rachel’s health deteriorated  during the campaign and the scandalous attacks made her condition worse.  She died December 22,1828.  Jackson would go to Washington alone.  Old Hickory blamed Adams and Henry Clay for her death,  “I can and do forgive all my enemies. But those vile wretches who have slandered her must look to God for mercy.”  The American voters did a great service rejecting the smear tactics of the Adams campaign.  Unfortunately, private lives of politicians and the scandals associated with them continue to dominate American political campaigns.  A return to the spirit of 1828 is needed.

Eavesdrop on Voices from the Past at the Burgwin-Wright House

M.A. Kleen

Remnants of a Colonial-Era jail where prisoners were held in appalling conditions make this centuries-old home ripe for ghostly tales.

Click to expand photos.

In its early days as a British colony, North Carolina was perceived as a backwoods territory full of crime, indentured servants, pirates, and other rough characters. Many ended up locked behind iron bars in the old Wilmington jail, over which John Burgwin built this home. Today, you can tour the house and see its history firsthand, but don’t be surprised if you hear something unusual.

Wilmington’s original wood, brick, and stone jail, known as a gaol, stood at the corner of Market and Third Streets from 1744 to 1768, when it burned in a fire. Nearby was Wilmington’s historic public courtyard, where debtors and lawbreakers were hanged or pilloried. Sensing an opportunity, a British merchant named John Burgwin purchased the property, along with its…

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Theodore Roosevelt and the Judge: 1904

Presidential History Blog

Theodore Roosevelt ran for President in 1904…

The Big Surprise

…but the big surprise was that he was already President.

He had planned to run for POTUS in ’04 some years back. He may have dreamed about running in ’04 a dozen years earlier when he was too young for the position. But the ’04 year was definitely on his youthful agenda.


Garret Hobart, deceased

Meanwhile, as surprises go, with “many a slip,” TR was coerced into the Vice Presidential spot in 1900, following the sudden death of William McKinley’s Vice President Garret Hobart several months earlier. McKinley and Hobart had gotten on extremely well, and had he lived, Hobart would surely have been on the ticket again.

In addition, following the mercifully short War with Spain in 1898, TR, the Colonel of the now legendary Rough Riders, a volunteer unit, had become a national hero. Barely 40, he was…

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Burnside Bridge too Far

General George McClellan ordered the Union IX Corps…. across the Antietam creek as early as 9am on September 17, 1862.  As the battle raged to the North, General Ambrose Burnside’s men stumbled about the East side of the creek searching for an easy ford.  The Rohrbach bridge was defended by Confederates protected in rifle pits.  The proper fords were not located in time to coordinate with the hasty assault on the bridge.  Burnside later claimed that his orders called for an assault on the bridge, but the presence of McClellan’s chief engineer in the search for a ford indicates that multiple crossings were ordered.  The carnage that followed led to charges of incompetence hurled at Burnside.  Colonel James Nagle described his regiment’s attempt…

“Of the first hundred men who passed through the opening in the fence, at least nine-tenths were either killed or wounded.  Such sweeping destruction checked the advancing column, but the men sheltered themselves behind logs, fences, and whatever other cover they could find, and bravely held the ground already gained.”

NPS

A young officer named George Crook could not contain… his frustration with the poorly conceived tactics:

 “I was expected to accomplish with my brigade what a division had failed to do, and without ever getting the benefit of the knowledge he had gained in his reconnaissance. Such imbecility and incompetency was simply criminal…”

Confederate commander, Robert Toombs, could not…. believe his luck that day:

“Though the bridge and upper ford were thus left open to the enemy, he moved with such extreme caution and slowness that he lost nearly two hours in crossing and
getting into action on our side of the river, about which time General A. P. Hill’s division arrived from Harper’s Ferry.”

Toombs’ subordinate, Colonel Henry Benning, did not understand… the fixation on taking the bridge:

“The creek was fordable everywhere above and below the bridge; in most places not more than knee-deep.”

So why Burnside’s bridge?

Duel at the Sunken Road

Lee’s army was under pressure the morning of…. September 17, 1862.  The flow of reinforcements from the southern end of his line to the maelstrom in the Cornfield created weaknesses in the Confederate positions.  Fresh troops crossing the Antietam extended the Union front to the south- and the exposed Confederate line.  The center of Lee’s line was held by one division, D.H. Hill’s , along an old sunken farm road.  The better part of three Union divisions were on a collision course with the well entrenched Confederates.  The next two hours would forever enshrine this road as the Bloody Lane.  Confederate Colonel John B. Gordon described the Union onslaught….

NPS- Sunken Road today

“The day was clear and beautiful, with scarcely a cloud in the sky. The men in blue filed down the opposite slope, crossed the little stream (Antietam), and formed in my front, an assaulting column four lines deep. The front line came to a charge bayonets, the other lines to a “right shoulder shift.” The brave Union commander, superbly mounted, placed himself in front, while his band in rear cheered them with martial music. It was a thrilling spectacle.  Their gleaming bayonets hashed like burnished silver in the sunlight. With the precision of step and perfect alignment of a holiday parade, this magnificent array moved to the charge, every step keeping time to the tap
of the deep-sounding drum. As we stood looking upon that brilliant pageant, I thought, if I did not say, ” What a pity to spoil with bullets such a scene of martial beauty!”…My rifles flamed and roared in the Federals’ faces like a blinding blaze of lightning accompanied by the quick and deadly thunderbolt. The effect was
appalling. The entire front line, with few exceptions, went down in the consuming blast. The gallant commander and his horse fell in a heap near where I stood…”

General Francis Meagher, Commander of the Irish Brigade… led the gallant Irishmen into the Confederate fire.  The Irish Brigade advanced closer to the Sunken Road than any other Union troops.  Meagher described the struggle…

NPS

 “Advancing on the right and left obliquely from the center, the brigade poured in an effective and powerful fire upon the column, which it was their special duty to dislodge. Despite a fire of musketry, which literally cut lanes through our approaching line, the brigade advanced under my personal command within 30 paces of the enemy, and at this point, Lieut. Col. James Kelly having been shot through the face and Capt. Felix Duffy having fallen dead in front of his command, the regiment halted…the charge of bayonets I had ordered on the left was arrested, and thus the brigade, instead of advancing and dispersing the column with the bayonet, stood
and delivered its fire, persistently and effectually maintaining every inch of the ground they occupied…Of other transactions on the battle-field in connection with the Irish Brigade I will not presume to speak. My horse having been shot under me as the engagement was about ending, and from the shock which I myself sustained, I was obliged to be carried off the field.”

It was only 11am….

Through the Cornfield

Before dawn on September 17, 1862…. Maj. General Joseph Hooker’s men waited pensively in the woods North of Sharpsburg, Maryland.  Neither Hooker nor his troops knew what awaited them on the other side of the Miller cornfield.  Through the pre-dawn mist, Hooker could barely make out a small white building, that would be their target.  Hooker was on his own that morning, tactics were left to his discretion;  his commander was nearly three miles away, on the other side of the Antietam creek.  Hooker’s men crossed the cornfield with military precision and entered a maelstrom.

“Through the Cornfield” by Keith Rocco-Tradition Studios

 “At daylight Gibbon’s and Hartsuff’s brigades were thrown forward, supported with the brigades of their respective divisions, while Meade followed them up in the center, instructed to spring to the assistance of either, as circumstances might require.  We had not proceeded far before I discovered that a heavy force of the enemy had taken possession of a corn-field (I have since learned about a thirty-acre field) in my immediate front, and from the sun’s rays falling on their bayonets projecting above the corn could see that the field was filled with the enemy, with arms in their hands, standing apparently at “support arms.” Instructions were immediately given for the assemblage of all of my spare batteries, near at hand, of which I think there were five or six, to spring into battery, on the right of his field, and to open with canister at once. In the time I am writing every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they stood in their ranks a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battle-field”   Maj. General Joseph Hooker, Commanding, First Army Corps

The day had just started…..

Facts in Five

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The Young Napoleon Edition

 

  • George McClellan’s father was a renowned physician and founder of the Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia
  • McClellan graduated West Point ranked second in the vaunted class of 1846- his classmates included Thomas J. Jackson, Jesse Reno, Cadmus Wilcox, AP Hill, and George Pickett
  • Jefferson Davis was an influential mentor in McClellan’s life- sending him on secret reconnaissance missions into the Caribbean, and to the Crimea as our official observer during the Crimean War
  • Small victories in western Virginia would pave the way for West Virginia statehood- a profile of him in the New York Herald brought national attention to the “Napoleon of the present War”
  • Winfield Scott cautioned Lincoln against appointing McClellan General-in-chief in addition to his army command- Little Mac’s response was, “I can do it all” 

Lincoln_and_McClellan_1862-10-03

Presidential Election Upsets Ranked

Many Presidential elections are decided… long before the votes are cast.  Technology makes predicting election results an acceptable part of the modern campaign cycle.  Historical analysis provides election scorecards on races prior to modern media technology.  Despite all the prognostication, there are several key elections which defied expectations.

5.  1892–  Grover Cleveland became the first candidate to be nominated by a party three times and was seeking his second (non-consecutive) term.  Benjamin Harrison was a solid, but uninspiring incumbent who had narrowly defeated Cleveland four years earlier.  Republicans spent millions in a campaign centered on currency policy.  Harrison enlisted allies like Ohio Governor William McKinley but was unable to campaign personally because of the death of his wife in October, 1892.  Cleveland overcame the powerful Republican campaign and the sympathetic figure cut by his opponent to win easily in what must be considered an upset.

4.  1960–  John F. Kennedy was young and relatively inexperienced when he challenged two-term Vice President, Richard Nixon.  The Cold War was the dominant issue of the day and no one seemed to have stronger anticommunist credentials than Nixon.  Kennedy attacked the failures of the Eisenhower administration including the U2 incident and the fall of Cuba to Castro’s communists.  He even went as far as to fabricate statistics to accuse Nixon and Eisenhower of allowing the Soviets to pull ahead in the arms race.  Kennedy pulled out one of the narrowest victories of the 20th century.  Illinois was the swing state and Kennedy’s victory there has long been disputed.  Kennedy became the youngest man elected President and used  current technology to secure the upset.

3.  1844–  The first election to feature a dark-horse candidate, James K. Polk emerged from the pack and upset perennial challenger Henry Clay.  Democrats were hoping to restore the Jacksonian policies that had them in power for over a decade.  Finding a successor to Jackson had proven impossible, but Polk emerged from an uninspired field to win the nomination.  The Whigs nominated their ideological leader, Henry Clay (his 4th presidential run.)  The annexation of Texas and westward expansion dominated the campaign and Polk presented a strong expansionist platform.  Clay was better known, but the American people were ready for expansion and embraced Polk’s fiery rhetoric.

2.  1824–  Andrew Jackson rode the wave of his popularity to what seemed to be an election victory.  Regional voting results divided the electoral count so no candidate secured a majority of the votes.  Jackson won a plurality in the electoral and popular results.  The matter was turned over to the House of Representatives where Henry Clay used his influence to secure the election for John Quincy Adams.  In return, Adams named Clay as his Secretary of State.  Jackson claimed collusion by his arch-enemy Clay and publicly denounced the “Corrupt Bargain.”   Adams’ victory was a clear upset over the wildly popular Jackson.

1.  1948–  Discussed in an earlier post, Truman’s victory was the greatest upset in Presidential election history.  Thomas Dewey enjoyed comfortable leads in almost every national poll.  This caused Dewey to run an uninspired campaign, rarely leaving his home state of New York.  Truman launched an aggressive rail campaign across the country, taking the fight to all Republicans, not just Dewey.  Truman won the key states of Ohio, Illinois, and California by less than 1%.  The pro-Republican Chicago Daily Tribune made sure that Truman’s victory became iconic.