Category Archives: History

Remembering Christopher Columbus

Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547)
Public Domain

Today is Columbus Day in the United States.  Celebrating Columbus began in 1792 in New York City and became an annual tradition.  As a result of 11 Italian immigrants being murdered by a mob in New Orleans in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day as a one-time national celebration. This was also part of a wider effort to ease tensions and to placate Italian Americans and Italy, which had expressed official dismay at the murders. Italian Americans began using Columbus Day to not only celebrate Columbus but their heritage as well.

Serious lobbying was undertaken to enshrine the holiday in states and ultimately the federal government. Colorado proclaimed it a holiday in 1905 and made it an official holiday in 1907. In 1934 after lobbying from the Knights of Columbus and New York City Italian leader Generoso Pope, Congress passed a statute requiring the president to proclaim October 12 as Columbus Day each year and asked Americans to observe it with “appropriated ceremonies” in schools, churches, and other places. However, it was a not yet a federal holiday. The effort to make it a federal holiday began in 1966 when the National Columbus Day Committee lobbied to make it a federal holiday. This was achieved in 1968 and has been a federal holiday since then.

Like most federal holidays, it is often celebrated on a Monday of the week the date it falls on. The exception being if falls on a Saturday, it would be celebrated on Friday.

Columbus is recognized for his discovery of the New World. He, like many, were eager to discover the riches of Cathay, India, and Japan. Since the Ottoman Empire closed off using Egypt and the Red Sea to Europeans (land routes were closed as well), European explorers were eager to find a sea route. Columbus (and he was not the only one) held the belief that by sailing west they would be able to get to the Indies. While many educated Europeans (like Columbus) believed the Earth was round, they had no concept of how it big it really was. Thus, they thought East Asia was closer than it was.

After securing financing from the Spanish monarchy, Columbus set sail on 3 August 1492 with three ships-Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina–from Palos, Spain. On 12 October 1492 land was sighted. They would find Cuba later and Columbus thought it was Japan. They landed on Hispaniola in December and left a small colony behind. Returning to Spain in 1493, he was received with high honors by the Spanish court.

Columbus would lead four expeditions to the New World exploring the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and South and Central American mainland. His original goal of finding a western ocean route to Asia was never accomplished. And he likely never truly understood the full scope of what he had accomplished. The New World–North America, the Caribbean, Central and South America–would open new opportunities for exploration and wealth. Spain would become one of the wealthiest and powerful nations on Earth as a result.

Sea travel of great distances in the 15th century was quite a challenge, fraught with all kinds of uncertainty and dangers. They had to depend on the wind, current and favorable weather, and the stars. The sextant had not been invented yet, so they used a procedure called Dead Reckoning. This required the use of simple arithmetic and process to determine their location. A long rope was used, a piece of wood, an hourglass, and a compass. The navigator would record in a log book the daily speed and direction. The rope was knotted every four to six feet along its length. Arithmetic tells us that distance traveled in a single direction can be measured by multiplying the speed with the time. You might have done some of this in grade school. A car traveling at 30 miles per hour for two hours would travel 60 miles (speed x 2). A navigator would log the speed, direction, and time in the log. In this way they could measure the distance traveled to and from where they departed from. Changes in wind speed and other things would be recorded as well. Columbus used his own version, gained from experience sailing, of determining the speed and direction to enter in his log. He could feel the keel moving through the water and with his sense of the wind, knew what the speed of his ship was.

It was a remarkable and historic undertaking. Long sea voyages were often avoided because you were away for years at a time and dependent a great deal on nature to survive. And there was the terrible specter of scurvy. Many would die on long sea voyages from this scourge, which came from the lack of vitamin c in the diet. Fresh water in kegs often wet bad after a month, so beer and spirits (often rum), was where you got water from. Fruits and vegetables would only last so long, and meat had to be cured for long term use. So food was rationed carefully. Later when it was realized that having citrus would alleviate this condition, sailors would get lime or lemon juice as part of their daily food ration. It became so common on British Royal Navy ships the sailors were called Limeys.

Italians and Spanish are rightly proud of his accomplishment. Others had touched upon America (the Vikings for one) prior to Columbus but none had opened the door as he did to a new part of the world that had been undiscovered. Like all our accomplished heroes of the past, he had his faults. In fact, not one hero you can point to doesn’t have faults. The ancient Greeks knew this and what defined a hero was someone who rose above them to do something extraordinary. The Greek hero Heracles (Hercules in Latin) had all kinds of faults but did things that rose above them. Columbus should be remembered for the courage, bravery, and fortitude to sail over the horizon to see what lay beyond. It would change the world and end the Venetian and Ottoman control of trade to the East forever. Columbus died on 20 May 1506. Gout was considered the cause of his death, but doctors today believe it was reactive arthritis.

For information about Christopher Columbus, here are some sources online to view:
Britannica Online
History.com

 

 

GREAT CHICAGO FIRE OF 1871

Currier & Ives lithograph shows people fleeing across the Randolph Street Bridge. Thousands of people literally ran for their lives before the flames, unleashing remarkable scenes of terror and dislocation. “The whole earth, or all we saw of it, was a lurid yellowish red,” wrote one survivor. “Everywhere dust, smoke, flames, heat, thunder of falling walls, crackle of fire, hissing of water, panting of engines, shouts, braying of trumpets, roar of wind, confusion, and uproar.”
Original Source: Chicago Historical Society
Public Domain

On 8 October 1871, what became known as the Great Chicago Fire began and would last till 10 October. The fire began around 9 pm on October 6 possibly at a barn owned by the O’leary family or in the nearby area southwest of city center. It consumed a shed on that farm and then spread outward. Due to a period of hot, dry and windy conditions, the fire would spread rapidly. With homes and buildings built mostly of wood, it also provided fuel for the fire as well.

The fire leapt the south branch of the Chicago River destroying central Chicago. It leapt across the main river branch and consumed the north side as well. 300 people were killed and a large swath of the city (about 3.3 square miles) was destroyed. 100,000 people were left homeless because of the fire. After the fire help poured in from all over the country and internationally as well. Money from Great Britain helped build the Chicago Public Library that would be free to everyone.
After the great Chicago fire of 1871, corner of Dearborn and Monroe Streets
Public Domain
The aftermath brought reconsideration of many things particularly in the area of building construction. Fire prevention became a big topic and construction of brick rather than wood buildings would result. With the right infrastructure in place, it would prevent such a catastrophe from happening again. Rebuilding began right away with higher standards and sometimes with buildings that were considered better than the ones that burned down.
Sources:

REMEMBERING HISTORY: END OF WARSAW UPRISING

On 2 October 1944 the Warsaw Uprising came to an end with the surrender of surviving Polish rebels to German forces. The uprising began two months earlier when the Red Army was approaching Warsaw. The rebels supported the Polish government-in-exile and hoped to gain control of the city before the Soviets arrived. They did not want the Russians to gain the city and establish a communist regime in Poland.

While the rebels had initial gains, they were poorly supplied. Hitler sent reinforcements and the rebels and German soldiers engaged in brutal street fights. The Red Army did take a suburb of Warsaw but proceeded no further. Stalin ordered the Red Army not to assist the rebels and denied a request to use their airbases to supply the rebels. This would be remembered down the road by the Polish people. Both Churchill and Roosevelt asked for his assistance. Churchill, without Soviet approval, had supplies dropped by the RAF, the South African Air Force, and the Polish Air Force. Stalin finally relented and gave air clearance for the U.S. Army Air Force to make supply drops. However, it was too late by the time the supplies came.

Warsaw, the capital of Poland, destroyed by German Nazis, January 1945.
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

Out of arms, supplies and food, there was no choice.  After 63 days, they had no choice but to surrender. In retaliation for this uprising, the remaining population of Warsaw was deported. The Polish people were always meant to be eradicated as were the Jews. Plans had been drawn up before the war to turn Poland into a German colony. Warsaw was to be Germanized. Once the remaining population was deported, German destruction of Warsaw was sped up. They had started after the earlier Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Using flamethrowers and explosives, special teams went to work destroying whole neighborhoods, historical monuments, archives, and any place of interest.

By January 1945, 85% of the buildings in Warsaw were gone. Approximately 25% was done during the Warsaw Uprising. The losses are staggering to consider:

  • 10,455 buildings
  • 923 historical buildings (94% of these were destroyed)
  • 25 churches
  • 14 libraries which includes the National Library
  • 81 schools
  • 64 high schools
  • The University of Warsaw and Warsaw University of Technology

Of course, prior to this all Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were seized, looted and destroyed as well.

Aftermath

The Soviets took the position that the rebels did not coordinate their plans with them. Of course, the chief reason they did not aid them is that they supported the democratic Polish government-in-exile in London. And Stalin was not interested in supporting them. His goal had been before the war to allow the west to fight themselves to exhaustion allowing for the Soviet Union to expand in their direction. Those that led the uprising and members of the Home Army were persecuted by the Soviets after the war. They were arrested, tried, and deported to Soviet gulags. They had a show trial, not unlike ones during the Great Purge, where confessions were introduced to show they were actually in league with the Germans!

Warsaw Uprising Monument
Source: Dhirad 2004

Fortunately, those captured by the Germans and freed by American-British forces were spared this. Stalin and his propaganda machine twisted the facts to show the failings of the Home Army and the Polish government-in-exile. All criticism of the Red Army and Soviet Union by Polish people were forbidden. All references to the Home Army were censored, all books and movies on the Warsaw Uprising were either banned or edited out the Home Army. When that did not work, they made the Home Army soldiers into heroes that were betrayed by their corrupt officers. This would remain in effect until the 1980’s with the rise of Solidarity that challenged the Soviet backed regime. It was not until 1989 that a monument was built in Poland.

In the West, stories of the heroism of the Home Army were told. They were valiant heroes fighting against the Germans. The Soviets were criticized for their non-involvement and that it helped them get rid of partisans that would have opposed them. Despite all the official censorship that existed, many Poles knew what happened and led to growing anti-Soviet sentiment that manifested into the Polish labor movement Solidarity. This peaceful movement in the 1980’s would effect change in Poland and later, as the days of the Soviet Union waned, Poland would gain back the freedom it had lost in 1939.

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Happy Monday: Ships Bell on Display on Nomadic, Sinking of Ship Possibly Triggered Economic Crisis

 

SS Nomadic (1911) is now a museum ship in Belfast. Photo taken in 2018.
Image Credit: Irid Escent/Wikimedia Commons

Ship’s Bell Donated By Bempton Man Now On Display As Part Of SS Nomadic Exhibition In Belfast (Bridlington Free Press, 16 Sept 2021)

A ship’s bell donated by a Bempton man has gone on display on the restored SS Nomadic vessel, which has close connections to the Titanic. This month he received a message from its Chief Executive Officer Kerrie Sweeney saying the display on the Nomadic was complete with all three of his nautical items on show. The Nomadic was a Tender to RMS Titanic and is the last remaining White Star Line ship in the world. It is located near the Titanic Quarter attraction at Belfast’s historic Hamilton Dock.

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Gold-Laden Ship’s Sinking Off NC Coast Sparked Economic Crisis (DailyAdvance.com, 16 Sep 2021)

In 1857, just before the beginning of the Civil War, the sinking of the S.S. Central America 200 miles off the North Carolina coast caught so much attention it could be called the 19th century’s Titanic. But unlike the Titanic, a hurricane was to blame for this shipwreck that resulted in the loss of hundreds of lives and significant amounts of gold. The amount of gold lost was in fact so great that it could be directly associated with the economic downturn that took place in 1857. It was a very short crisis that was sparked by a loss of public trust in financial institutions after gold payments were suspended. The crisis, along with the shipwreck itself, has been greatly overshadowed by the Civil War that began just a few years later. That said, both events were major news stories at the time.


Remembering 9/11/2001

he northeast face of Two World Trade Center (south tower) after being struck by plane in the south face.
September 11, 2001
Source: Robert (Flickr(

It was a day that changed America. Planes hijacked by terrorists flew into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center. Another plane would crash into the Pentagon. And a fourth plane that was destined for a target in Washington D.C. crash-landed into a field in Pennsylvania. The extreme heat caused by the fires from the impact of the planes would cause the collapse of the two towers.

Picture of the World Trade Center on 9/11 shortly after the WTC1 had collapsed.
September 11, 2001
Source: Wally Gobetz

Firefighters and police raced to the towers trying to rescue those trapped inside the burning buildings. Stories of their heroism in getting people out are extraordinary examples of courage that are both remarkable and breathtaking. Things were so dire at one point that some jumped out of windows to the shock of people watching. And when the buildings collapsed, many of these brave firefighters and police were killed. As the rubble was cleared later, every body of a fallen firefighter and police officer was removed with great care and respect.

Ground Zero, New York City, N.Y. (Sept. 17, 2001)
Source: U.S.Navy
Public Domain

More than 3,000 people were killed (including 400 police and firefighters). Over 10,000 were wounded during the attacks on 9/11. Some suffered long term effects due to smoke inhalation and toxic chemicals that were burning at the time. The attacks of 9/11 was the most devastating foreign attack on American soil since the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

We take time today to remember the fallen of 9/11. They went to work, got on planes, and did countless other things not knowing the evil that was about to take place. Countless lives were changed that day. Families were shattered with the loss of a husband or wife, beloved son or daughter. Friends were never seen again having perished in the towers, the Pentagon, or a passenger on the planes used as weapons.

We cannot forget those who perished on this day. And the heroic sacrifices of first responders- firefighters and police-who tried to save lives cannot be forgotten either.

We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope.

(Part of Pope Benedict XVI prayer from his visit to New York Ground Zero in 2008.)

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Battle of Lake Erie (10 Sept 1813)

Battle of Lake Erie by William Henry Powell (1823–1879)
U.S. Senate Art Collection, U.S. Capitol, Washington D.C.
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Battle of Lake Erie (10 September 1813)

 During the War of 1812, control over Lake Erie and the Northwest were crucial to both the British and the United States. The War of 1812 between the British and the United States resulted from simmering tensions between the two since the end of the American War of Independence. Though long over by this time, tensions existed between the two.  The British had attempted to restrict U.S. trade. During the Napoleonic Wars, the U.S. was neutral, but the British were not happy with American merchant ships supplying the French with supplies. Another issue was the forced impressment of American seamen. To fill out their crews, the British Royal Navy would stop merchant ships and take some of their crews forcing them into Royal Navy service. Additionally, tension over the U.S. desire to expand its territory led to clashes with the British as well.

These and other things led President James Madison to declare war on Great Britain on 18 June 1812. While it passed Congress (barely), it was not popular in New England since they heavily relied on trade. Western and Southern states generally supported the war. However, the realities of war would soon set in. The attempt to take Canada was a failure and resulted in a humiliating defeat on 16 August 1812 with Detroit being surrendered without firing a shot. The American Navy was aided early on with the fact the British were also fighting Napoleon so not all their ships were committed. One notable naval battle was at Lake Michigan in 1813. At stake in this battle was control of Detroit, Lake Erie, and nearby territories the U.S had claims on.

The American naval forces were led by Captain Oliver Hazard Perry, who had nine ships. The British had six warships led by Commander Robert Heriot Barclay. Barclay was an experienced naval officer who had served under Nelson at Trafalgar. The British were armed with long gun cannons that gave them a range of about a full mile, while the Americans used carronades that had half the range of the British cannons. This meant that Perry would inflict a lot of damage but at closer range. At first the wind was against Perry in the morning and then shifted giving him an advantage. He would raise a famous navy-blue banner written with the words “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP” as the slogan to rally his officers.

The ensuing battle would last for hours, and Perry would lose his flagship Lawrence. He transferred his flag over to the Niagara and then sailed straight into the British line firing broadsides that ultimately gave him the win when they surrendered. Perry lost 27 sailors and 96 wounded, while the British lost 40 dead and left with 94 wounded. Perry sent a famous dispatch to U.S. General William Henry Harrison that said, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” The British were forced to abandon Detroit after the Battle of the Thames resulting in American control of the area.

Aftermath

The victory was an important one when many battles had gone against the United States. The Royal Navy was still fighting Napoleon so not of its navy was committed to North America. This would change in April 1814 when Napoleon was defeated. With both ships and troops now freed up, they raided Chesapeake Bay and moved on the capital of Washington D.C. burning it and other government buildings to the ground on 24 August 1814.

On 11 September 1814, the American navy defeated the British fleet at the Battle of Plattsburgh at Lake Champlain, New York. A furious battle at Fort McHenry in Baltimore took place on 13 September 1814 and withstood 25 hours of bombardment by the British navy. After the bombardment had ended, the Americans raised a large flag over the fort to show they had survived the bombardment. Seeing the flag being raised inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem that later would be set to music called “Star Spangled Banner.” British forces withdrew and prepared to act against New Orleans. Negotiations for a peace settlement were undertaken not long after in Ghent (modern day Belgium). The resulting Treaty of Ghent would abolish the taking of American sailors from merchant ships for British naval service, solidify the borders of Canada as we know them today, and end British attempts to create an Indian state in the Northwest. The treaty was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814. Formal ratification would be in February 1815.

It was during this time that the famous Battle of New Orleans would occur. On 8 January 1815, British forces (unaware of the peace deal yet due to slow communications of the time) launched a major attack on New Orleans. General Andrew Jackson led the Americans in this famous battle and defeated the British soundly. News of the battle was another boost to American morale and likely convinced the British that they were right to get out of this war as well. For Canadians and Native Americans, it ended their attempt to govern themselves. For Americans, it ushered in a new time of good feelings ending the partisan divisions that had grown since the Revolutionary War. National self-c0nfidence would ensue and a growing spirit of expansionism that would shape the rest of the 19th century. The country resulting from it would be comprised of states and territories that went from New York on the Atlantic Ocean to San Francisco on the Pacific making it one of the largest countries in the world.

Sources:

Happy Labor Day! (US)

Labor Day Postage Stamp (1956)
United States Post Office
Public Domain

Labor Day is a U.S. federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September. It became a federal holiday in 1894 to celebrate workers and their achievements. It has also become the unofficial end of summer as schools have reopened and summer vacations have ended. As a federal holiday, all federal offices are closed as are banks and the stock market. All states celebrate it as well so state, county, and city offices are closed as well. Nearly all professional offices are closed and most construction workers have the day off as well. Retail and fast food employees do not get the day off except in areas where due to the holiday they get virtually no business.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Have a nice Labor Day everyone!

Remembering History: Hitler Invades Poland (1939); Japan Surrenders Ending World War II (1945)

Hitler attends a Wehrmacht victory parade in Warsaw on 5 October 1939
Public Domain

On 1 September 1939, German forces using the pretext they were acting in self-defense against Poland, invaded. The German infantry was not fully mechanized but had Panzers and fast-moving artillery that included truck mounted artillery. The German strategy was to quickly concentrate forces and encircle an enemy quickly. Thanks to the relatively flat terrain of Poland, it made it easy to move mobile infantry about. The invasion came one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact on 23 August. This non-aggression pact meant neither side could assist the enemy of the other. A secret protocol to the agreement defined German and Soviet spheres in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. This protocol would not be proved until the Nuremberg Trials. So, when Germany invaded, Poland was already split with defined borders between the two countries. With this pact, Poland signed defense agreements with Britain and France. Talks between those powers and Germany did take place and the invasion was held up until they were concluded. Hitler did not believe they would declare war, and if they did would be willing to compromise after the invasion of Poland. Germany wanted the restoration of Danzig (in Polish Gdansk) as a free city (it had a large German population), the Polish Corridor, and the safeguarding of Germans in Poland. Germany demanded that a Polish representative with the power to sign such an agreement be present. The British, remembering what happened before when Czechoslovakia was forced to capitulate to the Germans, did not like that demand. When the Polish representative met with Ribbentrop on 31 Aug, he was dismissed when he had no power to sign. The Germans then claimed that Poland had rejected their demands and Hitler ordered the invasion for 1 September. The Germans were better prepared for war than the Polish. They had higher numbers of troops and had air superiority. Poland had older fighters while the bombers were more modern. They waited too late to upgrade so newer fighters and bombers would not be there when the Germany invaded. Poland had two armor brigades and its 7TP light tank was better armed than the German Panzer. But they only had 140 of those and 88 tanks they imported from Britain and France. The Polish Navy was a small fleet with destroyers, submarines and support vessels. Most of the surface vessels escaped and joined the British Royal Navy. Submarines did engage German shipping in the Baltic Sea but it was not successful. Polish merchant ships that did escape or elsewhere would join the allies and take part in wartime convoys. By 3 October both German and Soviet forces had secured their spheres ending the Second Polish Republic. Both German and Soviet governments quickly took control of their territories, organizing and annexing, and setting up regional controls. Government and military leaders who did escape would form a military force in support of the Polish government-in-exile. In response to the invasion of Poland, Britain and France formally declared war on Germany on 3 September but little else (France did invade the Saar but quickly withdrew). ==

Japan Surrenders

Surrender of Japan, Tokyo Bay, 2 September 1945: Representatives of the Empire of Japan on board USS Missouri (BB-63) during the surrender ceremonies.
Army Signal Corps, Public Domain

On the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, the Japanese formally surrendered ending World War II. By this time Japan was no longer the military power it once was. The Battle of Midway in June 1942 had been the turning point when four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk. Since then Japanese control over its captured territories were pushed back under massive effort of U.S. and Allied forces. By the summer of 1945, and with the capture of Okinawa, Japan was being blockaded and being bombed often. Plans for the invasion of Japan had been drawn up. After the bloody experience of capturing territory such as on Iwa Jima, it was expected to be a difficult invasion that would cost a lot of allied lives. However, the dropping of two atomic weapons on Japan in August on Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed things dramatically. Members of the Japanese War Council and Emperor Hirohito favored accepting the peace terms; some objected and acted to stop a surrender. On 15 Aug a coup was attempted against Prime Minister Suzuki, but it was crushed. At noon that day, and for the first time in Japanese history, Emperor Hirohito addressed the nation by radio. “We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.” The US and the allies accepted the surrender.  

 

 

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)

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