Category Archives: History

Remembering the Edmund Fitzgerald (10 Nov 1975)

Edmund Fitzgerald(1971) Photo: Greenmars(Wikipedia)
Edmund Fitzgerald(1971)
Photo: Greenmars(Wikipedia)

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on 10 Nov 1975 taking with her a crew of 29. The ship was launched in 1958 and was owned by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. As a freighter, the ship primarily carried taconite iron ore to iron works in various Great Lake ports. The ship set records for hauling ore during its career.

On 9 Nov 1975, the Fitzgerald under the command of Captain Ernest McSorley, embarked on her final voyage of the season fron Superior, Wisconsin to a steel mill near Detroit, Michigan. She met up with another freighter, SS Arthur Anderson, while enroute. The next day a severe winter storm hit with near hurricane force winds and waves that reached 35 feet in height. Sometime around or after 7:11 p.m., the Fitzgerald sank in Canadian waters approximately 17 miles from Whitefish Bay near the cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. While McSorley had reported difficulty earlier, his last message was “We are holding our own.”

The cause of the sinking has stirred debate and controversy with competing theories and books on the issue. The various theories are:

(1) Inaccurate weather forecasting. The National Weather Service forecast had said the storm would pass south of Lake Superior but instead it tracked across the eastern part, exactly where the Edmund Fitzgerald and Arthur Anderson were. So they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

(2) Inaccurate navigational charts. The Canadian charts in use came from 1916 and 1919 surveys and did not include more updated information that Six Fathom Shoal was about 1 mile further east than shown.

(3)No Watertight Bulkheads
The ship did not have watertight bulkheads and more like barges rather than freighters. So a serious puncture could sink a vessel like Fitzgerald while ships that had such bulkheads, even if seriously damaged, had a better chance of survival.

(4)Lack of Sounding and Other Safety Instruments
Fitzgerald lacked the ability to monitor water depth using a fathometer( a device that uses echo sounding to determine water depth). The only way the Fitz could do soundings was using a hand line and counting the knots to measure water depth. Nor was there any way to monitor if water was in the hold or not (some was always present reports suggest)unless it got high enough to be noticed by the crew. However on that night, the severity of the storm made it difficult to access the hatches from the spar deck. And if the hold was full of bulk cargo, it was virtually impossible to pump out the water.

(5)Increased Cargo Loads Meant Ship Was Sitting Lower In Water
The load line had been changed in 1969, 1971, and 1973 with U.S. Coast Guard approval. This resulted in Fitzgerald’s deck being only 11.5 feet above the water when she faced massive 35 foot waves on that day. She was carrying 4,0000 more tons than what she was designed to carry. Which meant the buoyancy of the ship was an issue who fully loaded resulting in reports the ship was sluggish, slower, and reduced recovery time.

(6)Maintenance
The US National Transportation and Safety Board believes that prior groundings caused undetected damage that led to major structural failure during the storm. Since most Great Lakes vessels were only inspected in drydock once every five years, such damage would not have been easily detected otherwise. Concerns have also been raised that Captain McSorley did not keep up with routine maintenance. Photographic evidence indicates the hull was patched in places and the failure of the U.S. Coast Guard to take corrective action is also an issue considering that various things were not properly maintained.

(7)Complacency
Captain McSorley rarely pulled his ship into a safer harbor to ride out a storm. Nor did he heed a warning from the U.S. Coast Guard issued at 3:35 p.m. to seek safe anchorage. Possible pressure from ship owners to deliver cargo on time is considered a factor for some captains like McSorley to ride out storms rather seek safe anchorages. The U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board concluded that complacency is a major factor in what happened to Fitzgerald and generally a problem for Great Lakes shipping. Critics point out the Coast Guard failed in its own tasks of properly requiring those repairs and lacked the means to rescue ships in distress on the Great Lakes.

The wreck was found on 14 Nov 1975 using technology to find sunken submarines. The U.S. Navy dived to the wreck in 1976 using an unmanned submersible. The wreck was found to be in two pieces with taconite pellets in the debris field. Jacques Cousteau dived to it in 1980 and speculated it had broken up on the surface. A three day survey dive in 1989 organized by the Michigan Sea Grant Program was done to record the wreck for use in museum educational programs. It drew no conclusions as to the cause of the sinking. Canadian explorer Joseph MacInnis led six publicly funded dives over three days in 1994 to take pictures. Also that year sport diver Fred Shannon and his Deepquest Ltd did a serious of dives and took more than 42 hours of underwater video. Shannon discovered when studying the navigational charts that the international boundary had changed three times. GPS coordinates showed the wreck was actually in Canadian waters because of an error in the boundary line shown on official lake charts. MacInnis went back to the wreck in 1995 to salvage the bell and it was financed by the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians. A replica bell and a beer can were put on Fitzgerald. Scuba divers Terrence Tysall and Mike Zee used trimix gas to dive to the wreck and set records for deepest scuba dive on Great Lakes. They were the only divers to get to the wreck without a submersible.

The wreck is now restricted under the Ontario Heritage Act and has been further amended that a license is required for dives, submersibles, side scan sonar surveys and even using underwater cameras in the designated protected area. And they added a steep fine of 1 million Canadian dollars for violating the act.

Fitzgerald was valued at $24 million. Two widows filed suit seeking $1.5 million from the owners and operators of the ship. The owners filed suit to reduce to limit their liability. However the claims never went to trial as the company paid compensation to the surviving families who signed confidentiality agreements. It is believed the owners and operator wanted to avoid a court case where McSorley was found negligent as well as the operator and owner. Changes to Great Lakes shipping did occur such as requiring fathometers in ships above a certain tonnage, survival suits, locating systems for ships (LORAN originally now GPS), emergency beacons, better wave predictions, and annual inspections of ships in the fall to inspect hatch and vent closures.

Annual memorials take place though the one made famous by Gordon Lightfoot, the Mariners Church in Detroit, now honors all who perished on the Great Lakes.

Sources:
1. SS Edmund Fitzgerald(Wikipedia)
2. Mariners Church, Detroit, Michigan
3. Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
4. Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
5. The sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald – November 10, 1975 (University of Wisconsin)
6. National Transportation Safety Board:Marine Accident Report
SS Edmund Fitzgerald-Sinking In Lake Superior (4 May 1978)
7. Marine Historical Society of Detroit

Remembering History: Kristallnacht (9-10 Nov 1938)

Kristallnacht, 1938, Magdeburg
German Federal Archives

On November 9-10 1938, a violent wave of anti-Jewish pograms broke out in Germany, Austria and Sudetanland. Called Kristallnacht (means literally Night of Crystal but commonly called Night of Broken Glass) violent mobs destroyed synagogues, looted Jewish owned businesses, homes and schools, and arrested 30,000 Jewish men who were sent to concentration camps. Police and fire were ordered to stand down and only act to prevent damage to German buildings. Nearly all the Jewish synagogues were torched, except those close to historical sites or buildings.

Thanks to the presence of foreign reporters in Germany at the time, this event became known to the world changing perceptions about the Nazi regime.

Nazi officials depicted the event as a genuine response of the people to the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris by Herschel Grynszpan on 7 Nov 1938. Grynszpan, a 17-year old boy, was distraught over his family’s deportation from Germany to Poland. Vom Rath’s death two days later coincided with the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. The Nazi Party leadership assembled in Munich used the occasion to push for demonstrations against the Jews arguing that “World Jewry” had conspired to commit the assassination. However, Hitler ordered that the demonstrations should not look they were prepared or organized by the Nazis’. They had to look spontaneous. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was the chief instigator following Hitler’s orders in his speech to the assembled party officials.

The regional Nazi party leaders issued instructions to their local offices about how to proceed. Reinhard Heydrich, as head of the Security Police, sent instructions to headquarters and stations of the State Police and SA leaders about the upcoming riots. The SA, Hitler Youth and others were ordered to wear civilian clothes so it would like genuine public reaction. Heydrich ordered the rioters to not endanger non-Jewish German life or property.  The rioters were also ordered to remove all synagogue archives prior to vandalizing and destroying them. Police were ordered to arrest as many young Jewish men their jails would hold.

Violence began to erupt in the late evening of 9 November and in the early morning hours of 10 November. The two largest Jewish communities, Berlin and Vienna, would see massive destruction. Mobs of SA and Hitler Youth shattered store windows. They attacked Jews in their homes and looted. They publicly humiliated Jews in the streets. Many Jews were killed as well though numbers vary but likely in the hundreds. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. Those who were arrested by the SS and Gestapo ended up in Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen and other camps as well.  Many would die in the camps and many who were released had promised to leave Germany. Kristallnacht would spur Jews to emigrate from Germany.

Aftermath

German leaders blamed Jews for the riots and fined the Jewish community one billion Reich Marks. To pay the fine, Germany seized property and insurance money. This left Jewish owners personally responsible for repair costs. Kristallnacht accelerated more laws and decrees to deprive Jews of the property and their ability to make a living. The Aryanization of businesses required many Jewish owned businesses and property to be transferred to non-Jews. Usually they got paid a fraction of the true value of the business or property. By this time, Jews could not be government workers or in any aspect of the public sector. Now many professions in the private sector were unavailable as well (doctors, lawyers, accountants etc.). Jews were no longer allowed to have a driver’s license, expelled from any German school they were still attending, be admitted to German theaters (movies and stage) or concert halls.

Kristallnacht was covered by newspapers in the United State and elsewhere. It was front page news in the United States in large banner headlines and perhaps the largest story of Jewish persecution to be reported during the Nazi years. Despite attempts by German censors to prevent images from getting to newspapers in the United States, pictures got out and got printed in the 28 November 1938 issue of Life magazine. A telling heading published on the front page of the Los Angeles Examiner says it all:

Nazis Warn World Jews Will Be Wiped Out Unless Evacuated By Democracies (23 Nov 1938)

President Roosevelt denounced the attack on Jews at a press conference on 15 November 1938 and recalled the US ambassador to Germany (the US was the only one to do this) and not replaced till 1945. A chargé d’affaires would handle diplomatic relations with Germany until war was declared in 1941. The US and other countries had restrictive immigration quotas in place at the time. However, 12,000 German Jews already in the United States were allowed to stay and not be sent back to Germany. Attempts to allow refuge for children under 14 were introduced in Congress but despite widespread support did not get voted into law.

Kristallnacht is rightly seen as the turning point in Nazi policy and world-wide opinion of the regime. The Nazi’s began concentrating their pogroms into the hands of the SS and more restrictive policies on the Jews. They radicalized and expanded the measures to remove Jews from the economic and social life of Germany. It would lead to policies of forced emigration and deportations to the East and the goal of Judenrein-a Germany free of Jews.

Sources:

This Day in History (History.com)
Kristallnacht (Brittanica.com)
Kristallnacht (Holocaust Encyclopedia-US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

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Remembering History: Beer Hall Putsch (8-9Nov 1923)

Munich Marienplatz during the failed Beer Hall Putsch (9 Nov 1923)
Photographer unknown
German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons

The end of World War I had left Germany in dire economic straits. The allies demanded reparations through the Versailles Treaty resulting in staggering inflation as Germany tried to pay. By 1923 the German mark was valued at four billion marks per dollar causing many who disliked the new democratic government to join the nationalist Nazi Party. Others were drawn the Nazi’s as well for their strong anti-communist views and their vocal dislike of Jews.

Adolf Hitler planned a coup in Bavaria that he hoped would spread and bring down the central government. On 8 November 1923, Hermann Goering surrounded the Munich beer hall where Bavarian officials were meeting with local business leaders. Hitler, with the aid of Nazi stormtroopers, charged into the hall with Hitler firing off a gun proclaiming the revolution has begun. The Bavarian officials decided to reluctantly support Hitler. However, the following day they would rescind that support and ordered troops to surround the Nazi forces that had taken control of the War Ministry building. Hitler decided to lead a March to the center of Munich. He had 3,000 marchers with him to 100 or more policemen blocking them. Shots were fired and 16 Nazis and 3 policemen were killed. Goering was wounded the groin and Hitler had a dislocated shoulder and managed to escape.

The Beer Hall Putsch collapsed, and Hitler was arrested. He was charged with treason and sentenced to 5 years in jail. During his time in the Landsberg fortress, he wrote his autobiography Mein Kampf. Political pressure on the Bavarian government got his sentence commutated and he ended up serving only nine months in jail. The Nazi movement would continue to grow in strength in the 1920’s gaining more support against the Weimar government, Communism and Jews. The Beer Hall Putsch would be remembered by the Nazi Party.  Although they lost, they used it for propaganda purposes and celebrated the heroes of that day.

Sources:

Remembering History: The Bolsheviks Seize Power in Russia (7 Nov 1917)

Lenin making a speech in the Red Square, May 1919
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

On 6 November 1917*, the Bolshevik Party led by Vladimir Lenin (real name Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov) launched a coup d’ Etat against the Russian provisional government. With their allies, the Bolsheviks occupied key government buildings in Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg) and formed a new government within two days with Lenin heading the new state. Bolshevik Russia, later to be formally called Union of Soviet Socialist States, was the first Marxist state in history.

Russia had allied with Britain and France in fighting Germany and the Central Powers in World War I. The war had gone very badly for Russia. They had sustained massive casualties and the economy had been devastated by the war effort. Food and other necessities had become scarce leading to unrest. Troops had been demoralized by defeats and ineffective military leadership. With riots breaking out and unrest spreading, trust in Tsar Nicholas II had evaporated even among the ruling class. He was forced to abdicate on 15 March 1917 (called the February Revolution since it took place in February under the Julian calendar). A Provisional Government was put in place which shared power with councils of soldiers and workers committees. However, the new government choose to keep Russia in the war setting the state for the next phase.

Russia in the 19th and early 2oth centuries tried to portray itself as emulating Europe with its art, science, and music. However, this culture represented a small fraction of Russian society at the time. Three quarters of the population were agrarian and lived in a whole different world that had little or no contact with Western civilization. They were not all farmers, but land was important to each of the communities. They were tied to the Russian Orthodox Church and to the monarchy. Nor did they believe they were oppressed. They were not fertile ground for revolution as the they wanted to be like their wealthy neighbors.

Industrialization began late in Russia in the 1890’s. This helped form the social democracy movements that would arise the address this issue. Russia was moving fast and would soon acquire capitalism. Violence had failed to topple the regime (it actually made people turn against them) so the movements focused on peaceful and focusing on industrial workers. The goal was to first get rid of the aristocracy and create a weak government. Then the second goal was to overthrow this government and implement a socialist regime. The movement split into two factions: the Mensheviks who believed this could be achieved without violence and the Bolsheviks (Lenin’s group) who believed in revolution. The two factions would never reconcile.

Lenin was born in 1870 to a conservative family. His father was devout Orthodox and a school inspector. The high rank of his father qualified both him and his offspring for membership in hereditary nobility (this was not uncommon in old Russia). Many children during this time felt guilt over their status and became radical in college. Lenin’s brother Alexander was executed in 1887 for his involvement to assassinate Tsar Alexander III. Lenin’s sister got into trouble as well and went to prison. As the brother of an executed terrorist, Lenin was expelled from the University of Kazan. His anger and hatred at the regime that had executed his brother and imprisoned his sisters would drive him to want to bring it down.

He was able to attend school again in 1890 and obtained a law degree. Moving to Petrograd, he associated himself with revolutionary Marxist circles. He worked to organize Marxist groups and enlist workers. But in December 1895, he and other leaders were arrested and jailed. And then he was exiled to Siberia for three years. After that between 1900-1917, he would spend most of his time abroad working further develop his revolutionary ideals and fight those internally who opposed his goals.

One hurdle that Lenin had to overcome was standard Marxist doctrine that mandated stages in which the final revolution would take place. Russia was barely an industrial state compared to the West. Marx argued that you needed a “bourgeois” stage in order for the revolution to occur. Lenin argued this was unnecessary and that Russia was already in the throes of capitalism. This change would encourage revolutions much later in countries that had little or no industrial sector. He also formed alliances with groups he would not normally align with to bring about the revolution in Russia.

Winter Palace in Petrograd after Bolshevik Seizure of Power in 1917
Public Domain

With the outbreak of World War I, Lenin opposed citing it as an imperialistic war. The abdication of Tsar Nicholas II opened the opportunity to take Russia out of the war. Germany allowed Lenin and his lieutenants passage through Germany in a sealed railway car from Switzerland to Sweden. The thinking was by allowing anti-war Socialists to Russia would help undermine the Russian war effort. Lenin immediately called for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and was called a German agent. He had to flee to Finland but the call for “peace, land, and bread” was very popular. And it resulted in the Bolsheviks getting more support and a majority in the Petrograd council (called soviet). He returned secretly to Petrograd on 6 November led the coup that overthrew the Provisional Government.

Aftermath

Lenin would the supreme leader of the first Marxist state in the world. Russia, despite objections from Britain and France, made peace with Germany. The new state would nationalize all industry and seized all land (the peasants had everything seized, including farming tools, and had to get permission from the commissar to do anything on their former farms). Civil war erupted in 1918 against Tsarist forces that ended in 1920 with their defeat. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was proclaimed in 1922. The USSR did promote revolution activity in India and Afghanistan but were thwarted by British agents. Russia suffered a devastating famine from 1921-22 due to the Russian Revolution and Civil War. Russia had to accept help from European and American relief efforts to help alleviate the severe conditions the famine caused. When Lenin died in 1925, Stalin became leader and would remain so until 1953. The Communist regime did not fulfill the Marxian hope of government withering away to allow people the fullest possible freedom. Instead it became an oppressive totalitarian society complete with massive internal police to monitor its citizens. During Stalin’s tenure, the infamous purges and show trials took place. It was no joke to wonder if you might be picked up and never return home at the end of the day.

*Russia was still using the Julian calendar at this time, so it took place on October 25, 1917 in Russia. That is why it is also called the October Revolution.

Sources:
This Day in History (History.com)
Russian Revolution (Brittanica.com)

 

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Happy Sunday and Standard Time (1 Sunday November)

Fall Back Time Change
Cynthia Stevens
publicdomainpibtures.net

Daylight Savings Time ended at 2am this morning. If you did not set your clock back one hour, now is the time to set your clocks back. The debate over changing how we set the hours in a day has been going on for a long time. In olden times, people pretty much went by the sun and its position in the sky. Then as we got more sophisticated, we developed devices that measured how time passed during the day. To help people who did not have such devices, churches or government buildings rang bells hourly. Ships had bells that chimed off the watch so the crews knew exactly what time it was. The standardization of time was encouraged by railroads and steamships that needed to have accurate schedules for trains to run. That led to international standards being developed and time zones created.

Most were fine with standard time, which simply put is when the sun comes up and goes down according to the astronomical calendar. That generally means more sunlight in spring and summer and less sun in the autumn and winter. It was during World War I that the first use of what is called Daylight Savings Time. Germany introduced to conserve fuel by extending the clock by one hour. The US introduced it as well in 1918 which had it begin in March 1918 and end in October. Once the war was over though, the law was repealed. Daylight Savings was unpopular in many areas (mostly rural). Some cities kept though (like New York City). Nationwide Daylight Savings was reintroduced in 1942 but made year-round during the war. After the war, many states adopted the use of Daylight Savings as summer Daylight Savings Time. Not all did though, which led to confusion with transportation timetables. Pressure was brought to bear on the federal government to act.

In 1966 the Uniform Time Act was enacted imposing nationally both Standard and Daylight Savings Time. Starting in 1967, clocks were advanced one hour on the last Sunday in April and fell back one hour on the last Sunday in October. States were given the option whether to change their clocks or not. Daylight Savings was once again imposed nationally during the Arab Oil Embargo between 1973-1975. It started out popular but quickly faded. My mother didn’t like it since mornings were very dark in the winter during this time. Its popularity dropped and it came to an end. In 2007 the start of Daylight Savings was changed to starting on the second Sunday in March and ending on the first Sunday in November. The downside was and still is that some areas have sunrise during Daylight Savings as late as 8:30 am.

Various states and groups have sought for the reintroduction of national Daylight Savings to avoid the changing of the clocks. Many cite the hassles and the fact it causes problems adjusting to changing forward and back. States passed laws in support of the change. In 2022 the U.S. Senate passed the Sunshine Protection Act to impose Daylight Savings nationally. It went to the House of Representatives but has not been acted upon. A lot of groups protest the change and so it has not been brought to a vote.

Remembering History:Carter Finds Door To King Tut’s Tomb (4 Nov 1922)

The Mask of Tutankhamun; circa 1327 BC
Image: Roland Unger (Wikimedia)

On 4 November 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter found steps near the entrance of King Ramses IV in the Valley of the Kings. By this time many of the ancient Egyptian tombs had been discovered but not the little-known King Tutankhamen, who died at age 18. The discovery of the steps would lead Carter and his fellow archaeologist Lord Carnarvon to enter the interior chambers of the tomb finding them intact. It would start a large excavation process in which Carter explored the four-room tomb over several years and cataloguing its contents. The best known was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin (made of solid gold), was Tutankhamen’s mummy preserved for over 3,000 years. Since many royal tombs had been looted in the past, finding an intact tomb and its mummy was a rare archaeological find. The Cairo Museum houses the treasures from the tomb.

Sources:

This Day in History (History.com)
King Tut (National Geographic)
Tutankhamun (Britannica)

Remembering History: The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755

 

Copper engraving from 1755 showing the catastrophe of the day when the earthquakes hit, the tsunami, and the fires.
Unknown author
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Portugal was a prosperous country in the 18th century. It had acquired immense wealth thanks to its colony in Brazil and its trade in Asia. Lisbon had become a bustling center of trade and one of the busiest ports in the Atlantic. Roughly 10 percent of its population lived in Lisbon and many had become wealthy off the trade generated in gold and diamonds. It would all change on All Saints Day in 1755.

Around 9:40 am three tremors struck Lisbon and one of them is thought to have been 8.0. The shaking was so violent that it was felt in Morocco. The earthquakes caused considerable damage but something far worse occurred. A 20-foot tsunami generated by the earthquakes raced ashore knocking down everything in its path. Since it was All Saints Day many were in churches where candles were lit. When the earthquakes hit, churches and buildings were toppled killing many right away and injuring scores others. The lit candles then ignited fires and were fanned by the winds. The fires would burn for days, and aftershocks would cause more damage and death,

Most of the destruction in Lisbon took place along the Tagus River and the center of the city. The destruction took with it priceless works of art and homes of both the wealthy and the poor. Other areas of Portugal were affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Lisbon saw great cathedrals toppled along with the grand library and the royal palace. Those who had fled down to the docklands saw water had retreated. Some went into the shallow water to try to retrieve treasure from sunken ships not knowing the great danger they were in. When the tsunami hit, everyone in docklands were swept away and perished. Many who had made it out of the city after the earthquake or after the tsunami would never return. Great works of art, literature and prized buildings for their architecture were all gone.

It was a stunning blow to Portugal and the city had to be rebuilt from scratch. 85% percent of the infrastructure was gone. The old city had been built in medieval times with narrow streets and confusing layout. The Marquis of Pombal, the prime minister, was given the task of rebuilding Lisbon. Lisbon would be modeled on French architectural trends of the time that called for wider streets, squares, and avenues. Using the military as a guide, buildings were put up in manner followed an exact pattern making it prefabricated for its time. And they made sure the buildings were made strong so as not to collapse from an earthquake again. The earthquake greatly affected the economy of Portugal that took a while to recover. While price controls were enacted, there were still volatile swings in prices. If there was an upside, construction workers got paid well for their efforts (comparative to what they made before the catastrophe). Also, the economy was reformed in the process making the country less dependent on Great Britain.

The Marquis of Pombal sent out a survey to all local parishes asking them for information about what happened. He was the first person to do this and the preserved detailed responses he got back are a wealth of information as to how much the earthquake did in many areas of the country. This has allowed a scientific reconstruction of the earthquake (and tsunami as well) allowing scientists to understand more fully what these natural forces can do. In effect, Pombal began the science of seismology, the collecting of data about such events.

Today if you visit Lisbon, you can see the effects of the reconstruction and how its people adapted to this massive reconstruction. Rick Steves covers it in his travel to Lisbon. Old world charm with very modern touches.

Sources:

Shop for Lisbon Earthquake Books

Remembering History: Charge of the Light Brigade (25 October 1854)

Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville Jr.
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville Jr, 1894
Public Domain (Wikimedia)

From 1853-1856, Britain and France were at war with Russia. Russia had sought to pressure Turkey in supporting its goals but sent troops to take control. This threatened British commercial and strategic assets in the Middle East (and to a smaller extent France). France used the tension to bolster an alliance with Britain and to bolster its military power. The allies landed in the Crimea in September 1854 to destroy both Sevastopol and the Russian fleet. The Allies, after taking two weeks to set things up, started bombarding Sevastopol on 17 October. The Russians were well prepared but tried to break the siege attacking the British supply base in the fishing village of Balaclava.

The Russians were repelled but occupied the Causeway Heights outside of the town. Lord Raglan, the British Commander-In-Chief, wanted to send in both Heavy and Light Calvary supported by infantry to get to the Russians and get back any British artillery they may have taken. Raglan wanted them to move immediately (meaning send in the calvary with the infantry to follow later). However the calvary commander George Bingham, the earl of Lucan, thought the order meant both calvary and infantry together. This caused a delay as they had to wait for infantry to arrive. Raglan issued a new order to advance rapidly to stop the Russians from taking any guns away. Bingham did not see this happening. He asked Raglan’s aide where to attack, and he pointed in the general direction of the Russian artillery at the far end of the valley. Lord Lucan conferred with his brother-in-law, James Brudenell, the earl of Cardigan who commanded the light brigade. Neither liked each other and apparently they were not respected by those under them. Both decided to follow Lucan’s order without checking first to confirm it. 670 members of the light brigade drew their sabers and lances and began the infamous mile and a quarter charge into the valley.

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

 

The Russians began shooting at them from three different angles (not at the same time though). Onward they rode though they took severe casualties. Descriptions of survivors reported horrors of horses covered in blood, arms and heads being carried off by gunfire or artillery, and human brains on the ground. The area was so thick with smoke from Russian gunfire that some said it resembled a volcano. Amazingly the Light Brigade reached its destination crashing the enemy lines and holding it for a brief time. They were forced back, and Russian artillery fired from Causeway Heights. The Heavy Brigade had been turned around before it went further into the valley. When it was all over, 110 were dead and 160 injured and 375 horses were lost. 60 were taken captive. Reaction from many was to admire the bravery and honor of the calvary who were in the charge, but not so much their commanders that had ordered the attack. It took three weeks for it to be reported in Britain and recriminations would fly.

Raglan blamed Lucan and Lucan was angry at being made a scapegoat. Raglan would argue that Lucan should have used his discretion while Lucan argued he was obeying orders. Cardigan blamed Lucan for giving the orders. Cardigan returned home a hero and was promoted. Lucan continued to defend himself in public and parliament and escaped blame as well. However, he never saw active duty again though promoted to general and later field marshal. In short recalled, promoted, and sent to the rear where he could do the least harm. The charge is still studied today of what happens when military intelligence is lacking, and orders unclear. The Russians would claim victory despite never taking Balaclava and paraded the captured weapons in Sevastopol. However, the Allies in 1855 were able to cut Russian logistics and force them out of Sevastopol when it fell between 8-9 Sept 1855.

Other battles in the Baltic in 1854 and 1855 had not gone well for the Russians either. The British appeared to be ready to destroy both Cronstradt and St. Petersburg in 1856 using naval forces. The Russians accepted defeat and sought peace in early 1856. Russia had lost 500,000 troops in the war (not from battle but apparently from diseases and malnutrition amongst other things) and its economy was ruined. They also lacked the industrial infrastructure to build modern weapons. The Peace of Paris on 30 March 1856 formally ended the Crimean War. Britain got what it wanted: the independence of Ottoman Turkey. The Black Sea was made a neutral zone (no warships allowed to enter), and the Danube opened to all commercial shipping. Bessarabia became part of Moldavia along with Walachia to become autonomous states (later Romania). Russia in 1870 would repudiate the Black Sea neutrality to rebuild its naval fleet.

The Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote an evocative poem called The Charge of the Light Brigade which was published on 9 December 1854. He praises the brigade while mourning the futility of the charge.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!” Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew Someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell Rode the six hundred.

Flashed all their sabres bare, Flashed as they turned in air, Sabring the gunners there,Charging an army, while All the world wondered. Plunged in the battery-smoke Right through the line they broke;Cossack and Russian Reeled from the sabre stroke Shattered and sundered. Then they rode back, but not Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them, Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell. They that had fought so well. Came through the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of hell, All that was left of them,Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wondered. Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!

Sources:


Remembering History: The Telegraph (24 Oct 1861)

On 24 October 1861, Western Union built the first transcontinental telegraph uniting both sides of the country resulting in the speed of communication to be drastically improved. So why was the telegraph so important to the world? Let’s take a look.

Samuel Morris,Paris,1840 Public Domain(Wikipedia)For many of us it is hard to conceive a world without television, telephones, and the Internet. Sending important communications took time if significant distance was involved. And would increase exponentially if the recipient was on another continent. The speed of the horse, the foot, and how good the wind was would determine how quickly the message was delivered. Samuel Morse on 6 Jan 1838 demonstrated for the first time how electric impulse could transmit messages. He was not the only one who was working on the same concept but the first to get it beyond a concept to a working means of communication.

His prototype demonstrated the use of using dots and dashes to represent letters and numbers. In the demonstration of 1838, he showed that this method of communication was possible. Morse, who had attended Yale University interested in art and electricity, became intrigued when he learned coming home from Europe about the newly discovered electromagnet and decided to work on the telegraph. Convincing skeptics took some doing. Not many were convinced sending messages in this fashion were possible or practical. It required the use of telegraph lines that would transmit the data over long or short distances. And it meant people would have to be trained to understand this Morse code. Morse convinced U.S. Congress to fund construction of the first telegraph line between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland. The first telegram sent in May 1844 said: “What hath God wrought!”

Telegraph Connections (Telegraphen Verbindungen), 1891 Stielers Hand-Atlas, Plate No. 5, Weltkarte in Mercator projection Public Domain (Wikipedia)
Telegraph Connections (Telegraphen Verbindungen), 1891 Stielers Hand-Atlas, Plate No. 5, Weltkarte in Mercator projection
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

Soon private companies would emerge using Morse’s patent to set up telegraph lines all over the American Northeast. Western Union, formerly called the New York and Mississippi Valley Company, completed the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861. Telegraph systems would spread in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Underwater cables would connect both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Messages of all kinds could be sent by telegraph. Since telegraph companies charged by the word, messages became succinct no matter whether it was happy or sad news. The period was replaced in most messages with the word “stop” as that was free.

One of the chief constraints of the telegraph is that it relied on the telegraph line and undersea cables. Thus messages could be delayed or lost by downed poles, military actions, weather related issues, or problems in the receiving office. Radio telegraphy was developed by Guglielmo Marconi in 1895. Sending the same messages over the air meant they were no longer restricted to telegraph lines. But it too could have its problems as what happened with Titanic. You have messages get mixed and mashed up resulting inaccurate information being reported. Radio telegraphy would lead to radio transmission allowing voices to be heard for the first time and the radio would be born. Wireless telegraphy would continue for business and governments and develop ultimately into the radioteletype networks.

The old fashioned telegraph continued on. Western Union introduced the singing telegram in 1933 and was still a means of communication until after World War II. During the war the sight of a Western Union courier became dreaded because the War Department sent telegrams to families informing of a death or sometimes a serious injury. The scene in A League of Their Own where Tom Hanks grabs the telegram from the messenger so that he could deliver it was not made up but reflected what most knew telegrams would announce.

The old reliable rotary dial phone. The basic rotary dial had different looks but remained the same until the 1980’s when touch tone replaced it. A remarkably simple device that needed no batteries or internet connection.
Photo: R Sull (Wikimedia Commons)

The telephone though ultimately replaced the telegraph for most communications. When you could pick up a phone and tell someone important news, there was no need to go down to the Western Union office and pay by the word for a short succinct message when an inexpensive phone call would do it. Telegraph companies folded up, were bought up by larger companies, or completely rebranded. Today Western Union primarily transfers money (money orders, money transfers, and commercial transactions) and no longer performs any telegraph service.

The development of the telegraph allowed for more rapid dissemination of information unlike anything before. No longer were messages tied to the speed of ships, horses, trains and even feet. Major events could be learned quickly rather than weeks or months. It was a major technological step that unlocked other technologies that has changed the world dramatically.

 

Sources:
Samuel Morse (Encyclopedia Britanica)
Morse Code & the Telegraph (History.com)

REMEMBERING HISTORY: Battle of Trafalgar (21 Oct 1805)

Battle Of Trafalgar by William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931)
Public Domain (US)
Wikimedia

The Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) saw many battles on land but the most pivotal naval one was on 21 Oct 1805. It was the naval battle that established British naval supremacy for 100 years. It was fought west of Cape Trafalgar, Spain putting it between Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar. 18 French and 15 Spanish ships would fight a British fleet of 27 ships. Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve commanded the combined French/Spanish fleet while Admiral Horatio Nelson commanded the British fleet. Villeneuve had hoped to avoid battle with the British when he slipped the fleet out of Cadiz on 19-20 October heading for the Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately, Nelson caught him off of Cape Trafalgar on 21 October. Villeneuve ordered his ships to form a single line heading north. Nelson order his fleet into two squadrons and to attack from the west at right angles. He signaled his famous message at 11:50 am from his ship Victory: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Nelson’s squadron attacked the van and center in Villeneuve’s line.*  Nelson’s squadron broke through ignoring six leading French and Spanish ships in the first attack. Those six ships under Admiral Pierre Dumanoir did turn around to help but were driven off. The rear of Villeneuve’s fleet was destroyed, and Villeneuve was himself captured. The battle ended around 5:00 pm with 19 or 20 French & Spanish ships surrendering with crews and prisoners of war around 14,000 men. Admiral Nelson died during the battle but knew before he died of British victory. The British lost no ships but 1,500 crewmen were either killed or injured. The Battle of Trafalgar ended forever any dreams Napoleon had to invade England. Aftermath Napoleon did not learn of the defeat for many weeks due to being involved in military battles on land. He censored news of the defeat in Paris for a month. And then in a brazen propaganda move had the French newspapers portray it as a great victory over the British. Villeneuve would return to France in 1806 but was found dead in an inn room with six stab wounds from a knife. It was ruled a suicide, but some suspect he was killed. The battle made it clear Britain was master of the seas, but it did not slow Napoleon down on his strategy to conquer and defeat the Third Coalition and Austria. Napoleon buttoned up the continent to deprive British trade. French and Spanish armies would occupy Portugal in 1807. In 1808, Napoleon uneasy with his Spanish allies, invaded and took control of Spain. French troops and their supporters were disliked by many Spanish who took up arms. The British, after liberating Portugal, would drive out the French and used the Spanish guerrillas to harass the French. British forces under General Wellington would drive the Spanish out after the Battle of Salamanca in 1812. The French forces in Madrid would surrender ending the Peninsular War but starting the final campaign to drive Napoleon from power. *During the age of sail, fleets were divided into van, center, or rear squadrons and named after each squadrons place in the line of battle. You can read about how this was developed here.

Sources:

Brittanica Online

Military.wikia.org

Wikipedia

 

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