January 31, 1917: Germany Announces the Resumption of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare


In a letter dated January 31, 1917 the German ambassador to the United States,  Count Johann von Bernstorff, informed Robert Lansing, the US Secretary of State, that Germany was resuming unrestricted submarine warfare: (more…)

Published in: on January 31, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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January 30, 1865: Sherman’s March Through South Carolina Begins


On this day Sherman began his march through the Carolinas, with his ultimate destination Lee’s army, trapping it between his army and Grant’s army.  Most Union troops had very little love for the Palmetto State, blaming it for starting the War, and Sherman’s boys were strictly on their worst behavior in South Carolina, as this diary entry by Lieutenant Colonel George Nichols, a Union staff officer, indicates:

January 30th-The actual invasion of South Carolina has begun. The 17th Corps and that portion of the 15th which came around by way of Thunderbolt Beaufort moved out this morning, on parallel roads, in the direction of McPhersonville. The 17th Corps took the road nearest the Salkahatchie River. We expect General Corse, with the 4th Division of the 15th Corps, to join us at a point higher up. The 14th and 20th Corps will take the road to Robertville, nearer the Savannah River. Since General Howard started with the 17th we have heard the sound of many guns in his direction. To-day is the first really fine weather we have had since starting, and the roads have improved. It was wise not to cut them up during the rains, for we can now move along comfortably. The well-known sight of columns of black smoke meets our gaze again; this time houses are burning, and South Carolina has commenced to pay an installment, long overdue, on her debt to justice and humanity. With the help of God, we will have principal and interest before we leave her borders. There is a terrible gladness in the realization of so many hopes and wishes. This cowardly traitor state, secure from harm, as she thought, in her central position, with hellish haste dragged her Southern sisters into the caldron of secession. Little did she dream that the hated flag would again wave over her soil; but this bright morning a thousand Union banners are floating in the breeze , and the ground trembles beneath the tramp of thousands of brave Northmen, who know their mission, and will perform it to the end.


To Anacreon In Heaven

Francis Scott Key set The Star-Spangled Banner to the tune of the song To Anacreon in Heaven.  Anacreon was a Greek lyric poet of the Sixth Century BC, famous particularly for his drinking songs.  The  Anacreontic Society was a club of amateur gentlemen musicians in Eighteenth Century London.   Ralph Tomlinson, the club president, penned the words of what was initially known as The Anacreontic Song.  The tune was composed by another member of the club John Stafford Smith in the 1760s.  The song was published in 1778.

The song became popular in America with new lyrics, Adams and Liberty, written by Robert Treat Paine, Jr. in 1798.

Here is the text of the orignial song: (more…)

Published in: on January 29, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on To Anacreon In Heaven  
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January 28, 1861: Sam Houston Stands Alone



But if, through division in the ranks of those opposed to Mr. Lincoln, he should be elected, we have no excuse for dissolving the Union. The Union is worth more than Mr. Lincoln, and if the battle is to be fought for the Constitution, let us fight it in the Union and for the sake of the Union. With a majority of the people in favor of the Constitution, shall we desert the Government and leave it in the hands of the minority? A new obligation will be imposed upon us, to guard the Constitution and to see that no infraction of it is attempted or permitted. If Mr. Lincoln administers the Government in accordance with the Constitution, our rights must be respected. If he does not, the Constitution has provided a remedy.

Sam Houston, September 22, 1860

It took a fair amount of courage to stand against the tide of secession in the South in 1860-1861, but not even his most determined enemy, and he had many enemies, could say that Sam Houston ever had a shortage of that virtue.   As an ardent Unionist he  fought secession every step of the way.  As I outlined in an earlier post, which may be read here,  he realized that secession was a disaster for the South, and with eerie accuracy predicted a great war and military defeat for the South.

Houston, as governor of Texas, refused to bring the state legislature back into session to consider secession.  The Secession Convention, which held its opening session on January 28, 1861, voted to abrogate the treaty of annexation with the US on February 1.  Secession was put to a popular vote and won at the ballot.  Texas was admitted to the Confederacy on March 1, 1861.  Houston never recognized the legality of any of this, and refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy.

“Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas….I protest….against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.

Houston was removed from office on March 16, 1861.  On September 22, 1860 he had made a pro-Union speech.  It is a fascinating document.  If this gallant old man had been heeded, the nation would have avoided a fratricidal war that claimed 620,000 American lives.  Here is the text of the speech: (more…)

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Battle of Blue Licks

An often overlooked part of the Revolutionary War is the conflict in the trans-Appalachian region.  Very sparsely populated, American settlers fought against hostile Indians, Tories, and the British who supported them.  The war was usually waged with no quarter asked or given.  America emerged victorious from this savage conflict, which makes it ironic that one of the last battles fought in the American Revolution was an American defeat in this theater of the war.

A raiding party of 50 Tory Rangers and 300 Indians, led by Simon Girty, William Caldwell and Alexander McKee besieged the settlement of Bryan Station on August 15, 1782.  They abandoned the siege on August 17 when they learned that a force of Kentucky militia was on the way to relieve Bryan Station.  The militia, 182 men, arrived at Bryan Station on April 18.  Colonel John Todd was in overall command, with Lieutenant Colonels Stephen Trigg and Daniel Boone (yes, the famous Daniel Boone) underneath him.

Pursuing the raiding party the militia came to Licking River on August 19.  A few Indian scouts could be seen on the other side of the river.  Boone advised against crossing the river, stating that the Indians had been leaving a very obvious trail and that he suspected they were trying to lure them into an ambush. Boone’s advice was ignored.  He said as they crossed the river, “We are all slaughtered men.”

After crossing the river the militia dismounted and began to climb a hill.  As they reached the crest, the concealed Indians and Tories opened a devastating fire.  After 5 minutes the militia ran for their lives.  The militia lost 11 captured and 72 killed, among them Boone’s son Israel.  The Tories and Indians sustained loses of 7 killed and 10 wounded.

The battle had no strategic importance, but it did humiliate American pride.  An offensive against the Shawnees was undertaken in November during which five Shawnee villages were destroyed.

Published in: on January 27, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Battle of Blue Licks  
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Custer the Goat

George Armstrong Custer established a record that is still talked about at West Point.  He graduated dead last in his class of 1861, 34th out of 34.  This made him the class goat. He also compiled more demerits for misconduct than any other cadet who went on to graduate.

Interestingly enough, being the class goat is considered almost an honor at West Point.  At graduation ceremonies the goat always receives the loudest cheers when his name is announced to receive his diploma.  More than a few goats have attained the rank of general, military life and war often requiring qualities and abilities that are difficult to test in the classroom.

So it was with Custer.  Within two years of graduation he was a brigadier general of volunteers.  By the end of the Civil War he was commanding a cavalry division with the rank of major general of volunteers.  Custer’s defeat at the Little Big Horn in 1876 gained him immortality, but also an undeserved reputation as a brave bumbler.  Actually Custer was a skilled commander of troops, as his record in the Civil War amply demonstrates.  Not bad for a goat.


Published in: on January 26, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Custer the Goat  

January 25, 1890: Nellie Bly Completes 72 Day Trip Around the Globe

Born in 1864, Elizabeth Jane Cochran, better known by her journalism pen name of Nellie Bly, began her career when she wrote an angry rebuttal to an anti-woman piece in the Pittsburg Dispatch entitled What Girls are Good For.  The editor offered her a job and Bly never looked  back, becoming an internationally known reporter.  Perhaps her most famous exploit started in November 1889 when she embarked on an around the world trip to beat the fictional journey of Phineas Fogg’s  depicted in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.  Her paper, the New York World, offered a contest for their readers to guess how long the trip would take her.  During the trip she met Jules Vernes and developed a global following as she filed stories throughout her journey.  She set a world record when she arrived back in New York on January 15, 1890, seventy-two days after she set out.

Published in: on January 25, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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The Vikings and America

I have always loved the introduction to the movie The Vikings (1958) with Orson Welles narrating and Bayeux Tapestry effects!  The Vikings and their attempted colonization of “Vinland” in North America demonstrates that certain harsh facts cannot be overcome by will alone.  It was a tour de force for the Vikings to even get to America considering the technology of the time.  However, long term colonization proved impossible for them, I assume because of the sheer difficulty of getting there, the relatively scanty numbers of potential colonists in Scandinavia and the fact that the Vikings were not that far in advance of the Indians as to weapons technology.

Published in: on January 24, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Vikings and America  
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Joseph Duncan

Continuing our review of the governors of Illinois down to the end of Reconstruction, we have come to the sixth governor, Joseph Duncan.

Born on January 22, 1794 in Paris, Kentucky,  he enlisted in the Army at the outset of the War of 1812.  He served with the 17th Infantry throughout the War, being mustered out as a Lieutenant.  He settled in Illinois in 1818, the same year that Illinois was admitted into the Union.

Residing in Jackson County, Illinois, he began to purchase land in several counties in Illinois, and embarked upon a career in politics by being elected Justice of the Peace in Jackson County from 1821-23.  In 1824 he was elected to the State Senate.  While in the Senate he became Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs and helped draw up an act reorganizing the state militia.  In 1826 he was elected to the US House of Representatives in which he served until 1834.  He was a supporter of Andrew Jackson and helped organize the Democratic party in Illinois. (more…)

Published in: on January 23, 2022 at 5:23 am  Comments Off on Joseph Duncan  
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The Wearing of the Gray


A stirring rendition of Wearing of the Gray, sung by The Wolfe Tones, an Irish group usually known for singing Irish rebel music.

Published in: on January 22, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Wearing of the Gray  
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