American Dunkirk (29-30 August 1776)

 

U.S. Army-Artillery retreat from Long Island-1776
Creator: Werner Company, 1899 (Akron, Ohio)
U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph 3g03362 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g03362

 

New York had a pivotal role in the American colonies and the American Revolution. Its central position made it vital to commerce and communication with the north and south colonies. This made it a key strategic location for both the British and American forces. General George Washington knew the British would target New York City, so he transferred the Continental Army to the city to turn back or slow down the British forces that would come. Fortifications were established in stages. Many of Washington’s troops were green, never been far from home, nor served in the military before. Washington split his forces between Brooklyn and Manhattan. This made reinforcement difficult and left a hole open at the Jamaica Pass the British would exploit.

When the British fleet arrived in June, it brought 20,000 British infantry that disembarked on Staten Island. The warships also could dominate the waterways that cut through New York City. The British sent 10,000 soldiers to Long Island, but Washington did not recombine his forces to counter it. Using a distraction, British General William Howe marched into position and on 27 August launch the attack on the Americans. Fighting raged on Guan Heights in the south and at Brooklyn Heights in the north, with the bloodiest fighting at Battle Pass where hand to hand fighting between Americans and Hessian mercenaries took place. The Americans are forced to withdraw to Brooklyn Heights. A countercharge led by 400 Marylanders would allow their comrades to escape. They would later be remembered as the Maryland 400 for their bravery. When the sun went down, the British had defeated the Americans but held off further attacks until the next day.

General Washington’s options were to surrender or evacuate at this point. While the battle had been lost, the spirit of the revolution was not dimmed. He ordered an evacuation of the troops at night, with British forces not that far away. By all accounts he was calm, authoritative, and in control of the situation. And he was aided in this task by a unique group of individuals called the Marbleheaders. They had worked together as a team fishing in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. So, they understood the weather, tides and time when sailing. Under the leadership of Colonel John Glover, this group using any sailing or rowing vessel they could find, worked to move Washington’s army across the East River to safety. It was no mean feat with British forces all around them. Oars were covered in cloth to prevent making noise in the water, everyone was told to stay quiet and not cough. They used minimal lighting and did not tell the soldiers what was going on until the last minute (this was to prevent the British from finding out).

They moved all the horses, ammunition, and cannon first. Then all the injured and wounded were transported. And then the evacuation began at 10 pm of the troops. Both the tide and winds were in their favor and the water was calm. When the tide changed, it became more difficult to keep the boats from going off-course on the return trips. The Marbleheaders had to really work hard to not loose control of their vessels. Around midnight, the winds shifted making the use of sloops (which used sails rather than oars) possible. Some chaos began to erupt at the embarkation point as soldiers started to rush to the boats. Washington seeing men trying to fight for a place on the boats, threatened to sink the ship unless the men who had pushed others aside got out. This restored the calm and shows how the proper use of leadership in such exacting times can work. The evacuation took all night and was still not done by the morning on 30 August. They had accomplished an impossible task of transporting thousands of men in just nine hours. Dawn though saw Americans still manning the trenches and it spelled doom for them when the British attacked.

Then quite suddenly a thick fog appeared and cloaked the escape. Those escaping in the early morning commented on how smooth the water was. The fog came at exactly the right time and place to remove the remaining American troops to safety across the East River. Washington oversaw the retreat and encouraged his men staying ashore until the last boat was being loaded. At that point he boarded and headed across the river. Thanks to the fog, and the lack of any alarm received by the British, Washington was able to evacuate his entire army leaving the British to find them gone.

While the British defeated Americans at the Battle of Brooklyn Heights (and would hold New York till 1783), the remarkable escape of Washington’s troops would be well regarded both for the incredible evacuation and the leadership of Washington himself.  Far from dispiriting the troops or the cause, it became a source of great inspiration, and many believe the hand of God was involved as well. The fame of the Marbleheaders in being able to make the crossing possible would spread. More importantly confidence in George Washington as a capable military leader would result. He made a mistake in dividing his forces, but his remarkable leadership to save his troops would show he was a military leader both the people and his troops could rely on.

Sources

The Battle of Long Island Brooklyn Heights(TheAmericanRevolution.org)

Brooklyn, New York  |  Aug 27, 1776 (Battlefieds.org)

The Battle of Brooklyn, August 27, 1776 (Old Stone House)

Krakatoa Eruption In 1883 Kills Thousands and Heard 3,000 Miles Away

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The eruption of Krakatoa, and subsequent phenomena. Report of the Krakatoa Committee of the Royal Society (London, Trubner & Co., 1888)
Public Domain
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On 20 May 1883, Krakatau(Krakatoa)–a small volcanic island west of Sumatra in Indonesia–came alive with an eruption noticed by a passing German warship. Other eruptions would be noticed by commercial liners and those living on nearby islands for the next two months. Then on 26 Aug an enormous blast took place that destroyed nearly two-thirds of the island. Pyroclastic flows and huge tsunamis would sweep over nearby islands and coastlines. But the worst came the following morning, 27 Aug, at 05:30 am. Four eruptions would took place with the resulting sound heard over 3,000 miles away. Ash was propelled fifty miles into the air and would circulate around the globe creating colorful sunsets but also lowering temperatures worldwide by several degrees.

36,000 deaths resulted from the eruption and 31,000 were from the tsunamis created when much of the island fell into the water. The highest waves were 120 feet high when they washed over neighboring islands stripping them of people and vegetation. Pyroclastic flows that stretched as far as 40 miles claimed about 4,500.

The Krakatau eruption of 1883 is considered one of the most violent volcanic activities in modern times and even recorded history. However volcanic activity continues in that area. In 1927, a submarine lava dome was detected in the area that had been destroyed by the eruption in 1883. A new island volcano began to emerge spewing ash. Other islands also started appearing as well but eroded away by the sea. Ultimately a fourth one appeared in August 1930 and was able to last. It was named Anak Krakatau and continues to grow taller each year. It is an active volcano and seemed similar to Stromboli in its eruptions. However more recent eruptions have resulted in volcanologists to warning people to keep a safe distance away. And more ominous is that a large lava dome is growing in its crater. Signs point to one day a very explosive event occurring at this volcano.

Sources:

 


REMEMBERING HISTORY: Vesuvius Erupts And Buries Pompeii

 

Vesuvius from Portici by Joseph Wright of Derby(1734–1797)
Image:Public Domain

 

It was just around noon on 24 August 79 AD when Mt. Vesuvius erupted with a massive 10-mile mushroom cloud sent into the stratosphere. Ash and pumice would rain down on the area for over twelve hours. People who did not flee would face something much worse when a pyroclastic flow would sweep down killing everyone in its path. The choking cloud suffocated everyone even rescuers.  

The Bay of Naples where Mt. Vesuvius is located was known for trade and luxury. The cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were near the mountain and had a high standard of living. There was even a small resort town named Stabiae. The mountain was not seen as a problem as no major eruption had occurred in Roman history. Tremors had already been felt before that terrible day as excavations indicate they were repairing streets and underground plumbing. However, they had no idea the tremors related to the nearby mountain.   Pliny The Younger, staying west across the Bay of Naples, recorded what he saw in two letters he sent to Tacitus. Sadly, his uncle, Pliny the Elder, would perish when he went over in his boats to Stabiae. Pliny wrote the eruption lasted eighteen hours with Pompeii buried under 14-17 feet of ash and pumice. Herculaneum was buried under 60 feet of mud and volcanic material. Except for some who returned to reclaim what they had lost; the entire area was left buried and abandoned.  

 Significant excavations beginning in 1927 on have revealed much of what life must have been like before the destruction. More somber were the finding of some 2,000 bodies. Volcanic ash hardened and preserved the outlines of their bodies. Once the flesh had gone, the outline remained but filled in with plaster revealed those final moments of their lives. And it was not pleasant at all.

Vesuvius is still an active volcano. Its last major eruption was in March 1944  and destroyed several small villages with lava. The eruption was seen from Naples and damaged (thanks to hot ash and other things) or destroyed up to 88 B-25 medium bombers based in Terzigno, Italy. The volcano is kept under constant watch to prevent anything on the scale of the eruption of 79 AD to the people who live under its shadow.

Bay of Naples today with Mt. Vesuvius in the background. The densely populated city of Naples lies nearby.
Public Domain

 

“This is the Titanic, We’re Going Down”

[Not a Titanic story in the literal sense, but a couple got a taste of what Mother Nature can cause when lots of rain comes down suddenly. And you are caught in river of water in your car when it happens.]

Rain Flooded Country Road
Credit:Sheila Brown/Publicdomainpictures.net

A couple recently had a terrifying experience while attempting to drive through an intersection in Omaha, Nebraska. The intersection they were driving through, called a “natural valley” by the city, allows rainwater to flow directly into the Missouri River. On that night, a severe rainstorm hit turning that intersection into a river very quickly. And the car got caught in it causing it to float. This prompted Haley Graham, the fiancée of the driver, to utter “‘Babe, this is like the Titanic. We’re going down.” The car hit some light poles and then a car. A person seeing tis from their trailer yelled for them to get out of the car. Fortunately there were some good Samaritans who came to their aid and got them out their car. The car however would continue down and submerged in the rising flood of water that resulted from the rainstorm. They are grateful to be alive but now are in the market for a new car. Between crashing into poles and cars, as well as being submerged at one point, the car is totaled.

Source:
‘This Is The Titanic, We’re Going Down’: Couple Rescued From Sinking Car, ketv.com, 9 Aug 2021


Comedy Break: Carnac the Magnificent

Johnny Carson had a remarkable career and a long run with the Tonight Show. He had many wonderful recurring gags, skits, and lots of fun guests as well. One of his memorable characters was Carnac The Magnificent.

He started the act in 1964 and was popular all the way to the end of the show. Carson would come out in a large feathered turban and cape with Indian music being played by the band. He would turn towards the desk and would always stumble. Now there was one occasion where they replaced the desk with one made of Balsa wood. This allowed Carson to stumble and fall through the desk! It became favorite to be shown on anniversary shows.

The act was a simple one. He would take a letter handed to him, divine the answer with his “mystical” powers, and then open the envelope which contained the question. As always, there was a one that did not get great applause. For that he would utter a type of curse like “may a sick hippopotamus blow bubbles in your hot tub.”

Here is one classic from 1975 that shows Carson as Carnac the Magnificent in all its glory.  Enjoy.

“What A Watch Tells Us About The Titanic Final Hours”

RMS Titanic pictured in Queenstown, Ireland 11 April 1912
Source:Cobh Heritage Centre, Cobh Ireland/Wikimedia Commons

The Smithsonian magazine has an interesting story about the Titanic watch that belonged John Starr March, of New Jersey. In 1912 he was aboard Titanic as a mail clerk for the U.S. Postal Service. He was 48 years old at the time and had two daughters. His wife had passed away in 1911 and had worked on ocean liners before. During that time, he had experienced at least eight emergencies which worried his daughters. They wanted him to stay on dry land but the lure of being aboard Titanic was too good to pass up, so he went aboard to run the mailroom.

Being a mail clerk back then was an important job-whether or land or sea. You had to pass examinations and show you could handle the job of correctly sorting out mail so that it could be easily processed when it arrived for delivery in the United States. Mail clerks were initially bunked in the third-class passenger area and ate there as well. They were moved to different quarters later and ate in a private dining room after the clerks protested the arrangements.

On that fateful night, the March and the other mail clerks worked hard to save as much mail as they could. They were seem frantically trying to save mail and bought sacks up to the deck in the hopes of eventual rescue. Sadly, none of the mail clerks survived the sinking. March’s body was found and was buried in New Jersey. His engraved watch, which stopped at 1:27 am, was given to his two daughters. It now resides in the National Postal Museum. We know of many great people who were lost when it sank, and of the band that played, and stories of heroism as well. It is easy to overlook though, those who toiled to make sure that letters and packages were properly sorted for arrival in New York. And sadly, perished trying to make sure some letters were saved from the icy waters.

Source:

What a Watch Tells Us About the Titanic’s Final Hours (Smithsonian,  Aug 2021)


Remembering History: Roanoke Colony Found Empty;Hitler Suspends Euthanasia Program

The Mystery of Roanoke Colony

In 1585 the first English colony at Roanoke Island (now part of North Carolina) was established. Faced with food supply issues and Indian attacks, they left in 1586. Sir Walter Raleigh assembled another group of settlers under John White. The 100 settlers arrived in 1587 and began establishing the colony. Governor White had to return to England for more supplies but was delayed in returning due to war with Spain. When he returned on 18 August 1590, he found it deserted and no trace of its inhabitants could be found. Only the word CROTOAN carved into the palisade built around the settlement provided a clue.

Searching that island some 50 miles away proved fruitless. There was no indication of them ever being there. And nothing back at the colony suggested something violent had occurred. They did find though something had occurred since many houses had been dismantled and many items that could be carried away were gone. This suggested to White they relocated elsewhere and were not dead. However they failed to locate any evidence as to where they might be. Explorations by others failed to shed light except for John Lawson.

John Lawson’s 1701-1709  expedition of northern Carolina revealed some intriguing details. He encountered the Hatteras people and found they had some influence of English culture. They revealed that several of their ancestors had been white. Some of the people he encountered had grey eyes, which seemed to collaborate the claim. At the old colony he found the remains of the fort, some English coins and firearms. He believed the 1587 colony had been assimilated with the Hatteras when the community lost hope of hearing back from England.

Reconstructed earthworks from archeological records of Fort Raleigh in the 16th century.
Credit: Sarah Stierch (Wikimedia Commons)

Interest in what happened diminished over time and other more promising areas to colonize were used. It was not until the 19th century interest in the lost colony would be rekindled. Many theories have been put forth, including a few supernatural ones. Modern day research has shown that during the period in question, tree rings show the area suffered persistent drought. This may have caused them to leave since, without water, you could not survive. Probably the simplest explanation, and there is some genetic evidence that may support it, is that faced with drought and starvation, they lived with a local Indian tribe. And over time became assimilated into them.

Sources:

The Lost Colony of Roanoke (Britannica.com)
Roanoke Colony Deserted (History.com)

 

Hitler’s Suspends Euthanasia Program

In 1939 the systematic killing of children deemed “mentally defective” (Kinder-Euthanasie) began under the direction of SS-Oberfuehrer Viktor Brack. The program was given the code name T-4 to hide its true purpose and the euphemism used for the killings was disinfection. It was Brack’s job to determine who would be killed in the program. Six centers were set up but the most well known was Hadamar.  Children were transported to these centers and were killed. Jewish children were especially targeted but also non-Jews. Each child had to be certified mentally ill, schizophrenic, or incapable of murder. Children were either killed by lethal injection or were gassed to death. The program was expanded to adults who met the same classifications as well.

The program, however, was not well hidden and became publicly known. Doctors and clergy began voicing protests in letters to Nazi officials and even Hitler itself. In 1940 the Vatican made its opposition known to such a practice. Catholic bishops began speaking out against the program as well and there were protests. Hitler was jeered during the summer of 1941 when his train was held up while they off loaded patients into trucks. It was clear that there was serious opposition to the program, so on 18 August 1941, Hitler suspended the program. This was followed up with a formal order of 24 August 1941 which rescinded his order for the euthanasia operation. It was formally disbanded on 28 August 1941. The death toll is estimated to be 90,000. Of those 80,000 were mental patients and 10,00 came from concentration camps.

Heinrich Himmler commented that had the SS overseen the program, they would have made sure there would have been no uproar.

Sources:

Aktion T4: The Nazi Euthanasia Program (Axis History
Hitler Suspends Euthanasia Program (History.com)
Child Euthanasia In Nazi Germany (Wikipedia)

Strange Case of Chinese Titanic Replica

It appears the Romandsea Titanic Is Rusting Away
Credit: SPLASH

One of the aftereffects of James Cameron’s Titanic was the desire to recreate the ship today for people to experience. Museums offer ways to see what was like aboard the famous ship, but this was a to take it to a whole new level of being aboard a real replica of that ship. Clive Palmer famously launched his idea to the world and held events with the sophisticated and upscale crowd to get their support (and perhaps to buy tickets down the road). So off to China he went to have it built. A snag got on the way in the form of a dispute between Palmer and the Chinese government over a different problem. Despite hiring some reputable companies to do advance work, the sound of crickets could be heard at the Chinese shipyard. Nothing was being done and the Covid hit shutting everything down anyway. While stories still circulate it will eventually be built, no one is sure exactly when.

 Along the way, a Chinese company decided it would build its own Titanic replica that would be part of a theme park in Sichuan, China. The replica would be housed, anchored really since it would ever pull out to sea), at the Romandsea Seven Star International Culture Tourism Resort. The ship was to be built according to the original specifications and would even allow people to stay overnight as well. One featured attraction that garnered lots of negative press though was a Titanic Sinking Simulator. This would allow people to feel what the ship was like after it hit the iceberg and began sinking. People are attached to Titanic, especially those who are affiliated with Titanic organizations, have relatives that perished or survived, or just are amateur enthusiasts of the Titanic story. And they did not like this idea at all. It got well condemned by them in news reports and television interviews. The Chinese company appeared to have backed down on the idea.

Since then, the reports were that construction was underway and would be ready in a few years. It is now 2021 and instead of being ready for the throngs of tourists, the Global Times (a Chinese owned newspaper with direct ties to its government) ran an article recently that has been gathering rust for seven years. Contracts had been signed and a ceremony was held in 2014 to begin construction. Yet despite reports of something going on, it looks like nothing has been going on for a very long time. And there appears to be no explanation either from the company (Seven Star Energy Investment) or Su Shaojin, the chief executive of the company. Apparently more than 154 million dollars has been invested into the project.

Some news reports speculate that the backlash over the Titanic Sinking Simulator sank the project. That would seem unlikely as they could get around that easy with other activities. It is possible, like Clive Palmer, that company got into its own problems with Chinese government and the project had to be halted. Perhaps some bureaucrat or rules imposed by an agency or Beijing itself put up a barrier preventing the construction. It is obvious something stopped construction and one possible thing was investors were not so keen after all. Perhaps the controversy got to them or the costs of building the replica skyrocketed causing investors to hold back. Whatever it was, it ground construction to a halt for seven years. And there it lingers.

So far it seems the track record of so-called Titanic replicas being built stands at zero. The one and only Titanic still lies at the bottom of the Atlantic. Except for movie replicas, it seems life size versions are still just a dream. Perhaps Clive Palmer or the Chinese company should give Elon Musk a call. If anyone can breathe some life into building one, it might be him.

 Sources:

 RUST BUCKET Full-scale £110m Titanic replica lies rusting in China after outrage over plans to recreate iceberg crash (The Sun, 10 Aug 2021)

Life-size Titanic replica lies in dock for 7 years in rust in Sichuan Province (Global Times, 10 Aug 2021)


August Facts and Information

Poppy Field
Friederike Hiepko
Publicdomainpictures.net

August is the eighth month in both the Julian and Gregorian calendars and is one of the seven months that has thirty-one days. One the old Roman calendar it was the sixth month and originally called Sextilis (on that calendar March was the first month of the new year). By the time of Julius Caesar, January and February had been added to the calendar. Caesar added two days when he created the Julian calendar in 46 BC giving it the modern length of thirty-one days. It was renamed in 8 BC to honor the Emperor Augustus. August also entered the vocabulary as well. To call someone august meant they were distinguished or renowned. The same would apply if you applied it to an institution or government body as well.

August in the northern hemisphere is a time when the bounty of the season is often at its fullest (below the equator it is still winter). The birthstones are peridot and onyx, and the birth flower the poppy. For those who like to watch the stars, the Perseid meteor shower which usually occurs between July 17 and August 24. They are often the most visible between August 9 to August 13. The best time to view is usually the pre-dawn hours though you can sometimes see them earlier as well. Another fun fact to know is the Dog Days of Summer (which began on July 3) comes to an end on August 11.

Also, in August we notice, slowly at first, that the days are starting to get a little shorter. At the beginning of the month, you can have up to 14 hours of daylight. By August 31 though, it has shrunk to 13 hours. The sunset that occurred perhaps at 8:17 pm on the first day of August is now just under 7:40 am at the end. Conversely sunrise is getting later resulting in darker early mornings unlike in June or July.

Sources:

  1. August Is the Eighth Month of the Year (timeanddate.com)
  2. The Month Of August 2021: Holidays, Fun Facts, And More (The Old Farmer’s Almanac)
  3. Perseids (NASA)