Toward a Dark and Indefinite Shore

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, made this notation in his diary regarding the cabinet meeting that occurred at noon on the day of  the assassination of Lincoln:
 “Congratulations were interchanged, and earnest inquiry was made whether any information had been received from General Sherman. General Grant, who was invited to remain, said he was expecting hourly to hear from Sherman, and had a good deal of anxiety on the subject. The President remarked that the news would come soon and come favorably, he had no doubt, for he had last night his usual dream which had preceded nearly every important event of the war. I inquired the particulars of this remarkable dream. He said it was in my department — it related to the water; that he seemed to be in a singular and indescribable vessel, but always the same, and that he was moving with great rapidity toward a dark and indefinite shore; that he had had this singular dream preceding the firing on Sumter, the battles of Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, Stone River, Vicksburg, Wilmington, etc. General Grant remarked, with some emphasis and asperity, that Stone River was no victory — that a few such victories would have ruined the country, and he knew of no important results from it. The President said that perhaps he should not altogether agree with him, but whatever might be the facts, his singular dream preceded that fight. Victory did not always follow his dream, but the event and results were important. He had no doubt that a battle had taken place or was about being fought, ‘and Johnston will be beaten, for I had this strange dream again last night. It must relate to Sherman; my thoughts are in that direction, and I know of no other very important event which is likely just now to occur.
Published in: on October 31, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Toward a Dark and Indefinite Shore  
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October 30, 1938: War of the Worlds


How little it took to panic the country 91 years ago!  The War of the Worlds broadcast on Halloween Eve 1938 by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater demonstrated the power of radio and how edgy the country was.  Or did it?  Recent studies have contended that the panic was not widespread and that relatively few radios in the country were tuned to the broadcast.  At any rate there was enough of an uproar that CBS called a press conference the next morning at which Welles appeared and took questions:


MR. WELLES: Despite my deep regret over any misapprehension that our broadcast might have created among some listeners, I am even more bewildered over this misunderstanding in the light of an analysis of the broadcast itself.

It seems to me that they’re our four factors, which should have in any event maintained the illusion of fiction in the broadcast. The first was that the broadcast was performed as if occurring in the future, and as if it were then related by a survivor of a past occurrence. The date of this fanciful invasion of this planet by Martians was clearly given as 1939 and was so announced at the outset of the broadcast.

The second element was the fact that the broadcast took place at our weekly Mercury Theatre period and had been so announced in all the papers. For seventeen consecutive weeks we have been broadcasting radio sixteen of these seventeen broadcasts have been fiction and have been presented as such. Only one in the series was a true story, the broadcast of Hell on Ice by Commander Ellsberg, and was identified as a true story in the framework of radio drama.

The third element was the fact that at the very outset of the broadcast, and twice during its enactment, listeners were told that this was a play that it was an adaptation of an old novel by H. G. Wells. Furthermore, at the conclusion, a detailed statement to this effect was made.

The fourth factor seems to me to have been the most pertinent of all. That is the familiarity of the fable, within the American idiom, of Mars and the Martians.

For many decades “The Man From Mars” has been almost a synonym for fantasy. In very old morgues of many newspapers there will be found a series of grotesque cartoons that ran daily, which gave this fantasy imaginary form. As a matter of fact, the fantasy as such has been used in radio programs many times. In these broadcasts, conflict between citizens of Mars and other planets been a familiarly accepted fairy-tale. The same make-believe is familiar to newspaper readers through a comic strip that uses the same device. (more…)

Published in: on October 30, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 30, 1938: War of the Worlds  
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October 29, 1862: Battle of Mound Island


The first battle involving black troops, the battle of Mound Island in Bates County Missouri, was fought on October 29, 1862.  The First Kansas Colored Volunteers, consisting of run away slaves from Missouri and Arkansas, was formed in August of 1862.  At this time blacks were not allowed to join the Union army, and the First Kansas was not mustered into Federal service until January 13, 1863 as the 79th United States Colored Troops.

The First Kansas was sent to the Toothman Homestead in Bates County to break up a Confederate guerilla force.  Finding the Confederates in greater strength than anticipated, the First Kansas fortified the Toothman Homestead with fence rails.  Tuesday October 28 was spent in skirmishing around the Toothman Homestead. (more…)

Published in: on October 29, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 29, 1862: Battle of Mound Island  
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Shiloh, Bloody Shiloh


In the Battle of Shiloh, Union losses were 1754 killed, 8408 wounded, 2885 captured: total, 13047. Confederate losses were 1723 killed, 8012 wounded, 959 missing: total, 10694. Of the 100,000 soldiers engaged in this first great bloody conflict of the war, approximately one out of every four who had gone in battle had been killed, wounded or captured. Casualties were 24%, the same as Waterloo’s. Yet Waterlook had settled something while this one apparently had settled nothing. When it was over the two armies were back where they started, with other Waterloos ahead. In another sense, however, it settled a great deal. The American volunteer, whichever side he was on in the war, and however green, would fight as fiercely and stand as firmly as the vaunted veterans of Europe… Total American casualties in all three of the nation’s previous wars – the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War: 10623+6765+5885 – were 23,273. Shiloh’s totaled 23,741.

Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume I (1958)



Published in: on October 28, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Shiloh, Bloody Shiloh  
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October 27, 1964: A Time For Choosing

Ronald Reagan launched his political career with this speech 55 years ago on behalf of Republican Presidential Nominee Barry Goldwater.  Goldwater went on to be clobbered in November by Lyndon Johnson, but the reaction to Reagan’s speech by conservatives was overwhelmingly positive.  In 1966 Reagan ran for and won the Governorship of California.  14 years later he was elected President of the United States.  Reagan had a relatively brief political career, and it all started with The Speech as this address has gone down in history.  Here is the text of the speech: (more…)

Published in: on October 27, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 27, 1964: A Time For Choosing  
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O’ For a Muse of Fire


Something for a weekend.  Soundtrack to Henry V (1989).  Hard to believe that it has been three decades since the release of Kenneth Branagh’s masterful take on Shakespeare’s celebration of England’s greatest warrior king.  Bonus:  Henry pondering whether asserting his claim to the throne of France is moral:


Published in: on October 26, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on O’ For a Muse of Fire  
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604 Years Since Agincourt


Riding a small, grey pony – a page leading a great war-horse behind him – he rode up and down the line in front of his troops. His eve-of-battle speech struck a familiar note – he “was come into France to recover his lawful inheritance and that he had good and just cause to claim it”. He warned the archers that the French had sworn to cut three fingers off the right hand of every English bowman captured. “Sirs and fellows,” he promised his army, “as I am true king and knight, for me this day shall never England ransom pay.” When he had finished they shouted back, “Sir, we pray God give you a good life and the victory over your enemies!”

Contemporary account by an anonymous chaplain of Henry V at the battle of Agincourt.

Today, October 25, 2019, is the six hundredth and fourth anniversary of Agincourt.  I have always been fascinated by the battle and the play Henry V .

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin, Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Published in: on October 25, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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John Randolph of Roanoke and His Satanic Majesty



In the winter of 1831-1832, John Randolph of Roanoke, a brilliant orator and statesman often suspected of being more than a little mad, wrote the following letter:

To the Honorable Waller Holladay, Esquire,
of the county of Spotsylvania,
of the State of Virginia,
of the United States of America,
of the Western Hemisphere,
of the Globe.

I am sure you will he surprised and pained to hear that I was honored last night by a visit from no less a personage than His Satanic Majesty. His Majesty assured me that my only hope of much longer continuance of my mortal existence depended upon my subsisting entirely upon the milk of your fine Medley mare, which would restore health to my worn out hody. Under these melancholy circumstances, I have no choice hut to throw myself upon your friendly mercies and I implore you to let me have the mare without delay which will inevitably bring my life to its end. I will not inquire your price. Draw upon me for whatever you may think proper, but I pray and conjure you by everything you hold sacred, and in the name of humanity, to sell me the mare, that her milk may save the life of your sincere but sullcring friend.

Randolph of Roanoke

On the same day he wrote this missive, Randolph drafted his third will.  After his death, a will contest disputing the validity of this will arose.  The letter he wrote to Holladay was admitted into evidence and convinced the judge hearing the case that Randolph clearly had not been in command of his mental faculties when he drafted the third will, and the will contest succeeded.

Published in: on October 23, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  

Black Sox Scandal: A Century Later






A young boy pleaded to Jackson as he left the Grand Jury room,” Say it ain’t so, Joe, say it ain’t so.”  Jackson replied,” Yes kid, I’m afraid it is.”

“Shoeless Joe” Jackson to young boy. This is a reporter’s myth, but it should have happened, and is now enshrined in the lore of baseball.



As the above video indicates the Black Sox scandal remains controversial.  The folly of turning professional athletes into heroes was amply demonstrated by players throwing the World Series for money a century ago. The players were found not guilty in a conspiracy to defraud case in Chicago in 1921, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Legendary Federal judge, and first national Baseball Commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis had an appropriate response to the verdicts:


Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball again.

Published in: on October 22, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Black Sox Scandal: A Century Later  
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October 21, 1861: Battle of Ball’s Bluff

A complete fiasco for the Union, the minor defeat at Ball’s Bluff was not important in itself, but it became a cause celebre due to the death of Colonel Edward Baker, a Senator from California and a friend of Abraham Lincoln.  Baker at the battle of Ball’s Bluff achieved the dubious distinction of being the only United States Senator ever killed in battle, and his death was seized upon by Republican critics of the war policy of the administration, which they deemed too soft, as an excuse for a full-fledged Congressional investigation and led to the creation of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.  For the rest of the War Union commanders had to worry about not only fighting the Confederates but being crucified in front of the Committee if they did not produce victories.

Brigadier General Charles Stone, in overall command of the operation, became the scapegoat in defeat.  McClellan had him arrested, under orders from Secretary of War Stanton, on February 8, 1862, and cries that he was a traitor resounded in Congress.  He was held without charges until August 17, 1863.  Stone’s treatment was shameful and he never held an active command again during the War, except for a brief period as a brigade commander in 1864 before his resignation from the Army on September 13, 1864.  After the War, on the recommendation of General Sherman who held him in high esteem, he served from 1870-1883 in the Egyptian Army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant General and Chief of Staff.  His last service to the United States was serving as Chief Engineer in the construction of the pedestal and foundation for the Statue of Liberty. Here is his report on the battle: (more…)

Published in: on October 21, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 21, 1861: Battle of Ball’s Bluff  
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