May 31, 1916: Battle of Jutland Begins

It is often said that generals usually are preparing to win the last war.  That was certainly the case with admirals during World War I.  They imagined a clash of mighty battleships, dreadnaughts, and auxiliaries, that would prove decisive like the battle of Tsushima in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.  Of course little thought was given about what would happen if the weaker side did not obligingly steam their fleet out to be obliterated.  That is just what happened in 1914-1918 where the British Grand Fleet kept the German High Seas Fleet bottled up in its ports, a bystander to the War.  One hundred years ago however, the High Seas Fleet made its major sortie of the War and the world held its breath for two days as these two mighty antagonists came to blows.

Admiral Reinhard Scheer had commanded the High Seas Fleet only since January of 1916.  Scheer reflected the general German opinion that the defensive stance of the fleet had to change in order for it to play a productive part in the War.  He hit upon the scheme of having the fleet sortie into the Skagerrak  that lay north of the Jutland peninsula that made up most of Denmark.  He planned to sink or capture many British cruisers and merchant ships and then retreat back to port.  It wasn’t a bad plan.  The problem for Scheer is that the British knew all about it.  The British code breaking wizards of Room 40 had broken the German naval code in 1914, and the British could decipher intercepted German radio communications swiftly, and thus the Grand Fleet knew precisely what the Germans were doing.  Here was a brilliant opportunity for the British to inflict a decisive defeat on their adversaries.  It did not turn out that way.

Over two days, May 31-June 1, a confused series of clashes took place during which the British lost 6,094 killed, 674 wounded, 177 captured, 3 battle cruisers, 3 armored cruisers and 8 destroyers to German losses of 2,551 killed, 511 wounded, 1 battle cruiser, 1 pre-dreadnaught, 4 light cruisers and 5 torpedo boats.  The German loss in tonnage was just over half what the British was.  The German fleet retired to its ports with the British losing a good opportunity to intercept them.  Jutland was a clear tactical defeat for the Grand Fleet and the British held plenty of commissions in the months and years following to figure out what went wrong.

Aside from command mistakes, and there were plenty of them, here is what went wrong. (more…)

Published in: on May 31, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 31, 1916: Battle of Jutland Begins  
Tags: ,

May 30, 1922: Dedication of Lincoln Memorial

IN THIS TEMPLE

AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE

FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION

THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN

IS ENSHRINED FOREVER

Inscription over the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial

Well, it took long enough.  Lincoln had been dead for almost half a century before work finally began on his memorial in Washington, with a dedication ceremony occurring on his birthday in Washington DC a hundred years ago.  Plans to memorialize Lincoln in Washington had been mooted about since the time of his death, but in Washington, then and now, nothing moves swiftly.  Controversies about cost and just what form the memorial should take had delayed the project for decades.  The final plan to erect a Greek styled temple to house a Lincoln statue appalled some Lincoln admirers who thought a log cabin memorial would better suit a man as humble as Lincoln.

The building of the memorial would take eight years, with it being completed and opened to the public on Memorial Day, May 30, 1922.

The dominating feature of the memorial is of course the brooding statue of a seated Lincoln.  Sculpted by Charles David French, the statue, standing 19 feet, dominates the memorial.  Open 24 hours a day and free for all, the memorial is visited by six million visitors a year and has become a symbol of American freedom  and union, the causes for which Lincoln lived and died.

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on May 30, 2022 at 10:01 am  Comments Off on May 30, 1922: Dedication of Lincoln Memorial  

Top Ten Civil War Movies For Memorial Day

 

 

Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.

Shelby Foote

It is fitting that Memorial Day arose out of our bloodiest war, our war without an enemy.   Films to watch over the weekend:

10.    Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940)-The showcase of this film biopic of Lincoln is the above depiction of one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.   The debate portrayed has remarks culled from all the debates,  is an excellent recreation of the main arguments made by each of the men, and is evocative of their speaking styles.

Ironically neither of the actors portraying Lincoln and Douglas were Americans.  The actor portraying Douglas was Gene Lockhart, a Canadian.  If his voice sounds vaguely familiar to you, it is probably because you recall him as the judge in Miracle on 34th Street.  His daughter June Lockhart, of Lassie and Lost in Space fame, carried on the thespian tradition of the family.

Lincoln was portrayed by Raymond Massey, also a Canadian.  Massey was one of the great actors of his day and bore a strong physical resemblance to Lincoln.  Massey served in the Canadian Army in both World War I, where he saw combat on the Western Front as an artillery officer, and World War II, becoming a naturalized American citizen after World War II.  Like Lincoln he was a Republican and made a TV ad for Goldwater in the 1964 campaign.

The film helps explain why the Civil War happened.  A nation like America could not endure forever denying freedom to millions of Americans on the basis of race.  That we did not free the slaves peacefully led to the most terrible war in our history.

9.    Friendly Persuasion (1956)-Starring Gary Cooper as Jess Birdwell, the head of a Quaker family in southern Indiana during the Civil War, the film is a superb mix of drama and comedy as the Quakers have to determine whether to continue to embrace their pacifist beliefs or to take up arms against General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry during his Great Raid of the North in June-July of 1863.  When the oldest son of the Birdwell family, portrayed by Anthony Perkins in his pre-Psycho days, takes up arms, his mother, played by Dorothy McGuire is aghast, but Cooper, as Jess Birdwell, defends him.  Although he remains true to his pacifist convictions, Birdwell understands that his son is acting in obedience to his conscience, and, as he tells his wife, “A man’s life ain’t worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience.”

8.    Major Dundee (1965)-Sam Pekinpah’s flawed, unfinished masterpiece, the film tells the fictional account of a mixed force of Union soldiers, and Confederate prisoners, who join forces to hunt and ultimately defeat an Apache raider, Sierra Charriba, in 1864-65.  Charlton Heston gives an outstanding performance as Major Amos Dundee, a man battling his own personal demons of a failed military career, as he commands this Union-Confederate force through northern Mexico on the trail of the Apache, with fighting often threatening to break out between the Union and Confederate soldiers.  Use of Confederate prisoners as Union soldiers in the West was not uncommon.  Six Union infantry regiments of Confederate prisoners, called “Galvanized Yankees”, served in the West.   The final section of the film involving a battle between Major Dundee’s force and French Lancers, the French occupying Mexico at the time, has always struck me as one of the best filmed combat sequences in any movie.

7.    The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid.

Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavalry raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg.

John Wayne gives a fine, if surly, performance as Colonel Marlowe, the leader of the Union cavalry brigade.  William Holden as a Union surgeon serves as a foil for Wayne.  Constance Towers, as a captured Southern belle, supplies the obligatory Hollywood love interest.

Overall the film isn’t a bad treatment of the raid, and the period.  I especially appreciated two scenes.  John Wayne refers to his pre-war activities as “Before this present insanity” and Constance Towers gives the following impassioned speech:

“Well, you Yankees and your holy principle about savin’ the Union. You’re plunderin’ pirates that’s what. Well, you think there’s no Confederate army where you’re goin’? You think our boys are asleep down here?   Well, they’ll catch up to you and they’ll cut you to pieces you, you nameless, fatherless scum. I wish I could be there to see it.” (more…)

Battle Hymn of the Republic

Something for the weekend.  I can think of no finer song for a Memorial Day weekend than the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

 

Published in: on May 28, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Battle Hymn of the Republic  
Tags: ,

May 27, 1865: Military Prisoners Discharged

17

 

Lots of unfinished business after the War and an Executive Order took care of one piece of such business on May 27, 1865.  With the armies demobilizing it was decided to send military prisoners home.  Death penalties would have dealt with serious malefactors, and with the War concluded it was not necessary for the maintenance of discipline for incarceration to continue of those convicted of lesser offenses.  Here is the text of the order:

 

 

WAR DEPARTMENT

Ordered , That in all cases of sentences by military tribunals of imprisonment during the war the sentence be remitted and that the prisoners be discharged. The Adjutant-General will issue immediately the necessary instructions to carry. this order into effect.

By order of the President of the United States:

EDWIN M. STANTON,

Secretary of War.

 

Published in: on May 27, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 27, 1865: Military Prisoners Discharged  
Tags: ,

May 26, 1917: Killer Tornado Hits Mattoon and Charleston

 

At the start of my career as an attorney, my bride and I lived in Mattoon, Illinois for just under three years. Charleston was the country seat of Coles County, and I spent a lot of time over there in court. Only twelve miles separate the two towns.

Beginning on May 25, 1917 an eight day sequence of killer tornadoes struck the mid section of the country, wreaking havoc and death in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama, leaving 383 people dead.

The tornado that struck Mattoon and Charleston began in Missouri and tracked a 293 mile course across Illinois, traveling at 40 mph, with the whirling winds that made up the tornado attaining 400 mph. The skies darkened over Mattoon and Charleston around 2:00 PM May 26, 1917 with air sultry and oppressive. At 3:00 PM a black nimbus cloud appeared and produced frequent lightning. A greenish-black cumulo-nimbus cloud appeared from the West around 3: 45 pm. The tornado struck soon thereafter. A contemporary account described what happened:

The greatest destruction was wrought in Coles County, where the tornado
struck the districts occupied by workingmen ‘s homes in the cities of Mattoon
and Charleston, the former with a population of 12,000 and the latter with
6,000. The tornado passed through this county between 3 and 4 p. m., a
time of day in which tornadoes are generally most disastrous. In Mattoon,
at 3 :30 p. m._, sixty people were killed, and ^yq hundred homes demolished
and others seriously damaged. Traveling at about 45 miles per hour the
storm struck Charleston, 11 miles east of Mattoon, at 3:45. Here, thirty-
five persons were killed, over four hundred houses and fifteen industrial
establishments partially or wholly wrecked, the two railway stations de-
molished, and all telegraph and telephone connections destroyed.

In addition to the deaths, some 583 people were injured. Estimates of property damage exceeded 55 million dollars.
The 14th most deadly tornado in US history, the killer tornado was long remembered and was still talked about in the eighties of the last century.

Published in: on May 26, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 26, 1917: Killer Tornado Hits Mattoon and Charleston  
Tags: , , ,

May 24, 1865: Grand Review-Sherman’s Army

 

 

The day after the Army of the Potomac marched in final review through Washington, it was the turn of the 65,000 men of Sherman’s Army of Georgia.  Sherman was afraid that his weathered Westerners would make a poor showing in comparison to the spit and polish Army of the Potomac.

There had long been a keen rivalry between the Union troops in the East and the Union troops in the West.  The troops in the West thought the Army of the Potomac got all of the publicity while the troops in the West were winning the War.  The informal Westerners derided the Easterners as “paper collar” toy soldiers.  The Army of the Potomac tended to look upon the Western troops as uncouth barbarians, more armed mobs than armies, and men who won victories against second rate Confederate troops and generals while they did battle with Robert E. Lee and his first team of the Army of Northern Virginia.

There was no way Sherman’s men were going to let Uncle Billy down and let the Army of the Potomac show them up.  When they stepped off their uniforms were clean and repaired and they marched as if they had spent the War doing formal dress parades.  Sherman was immensely pleased: (more…)

May 23, 1865: Grand Review-Army of the Potomac

 

 

Doubtless many men who fought in the Civil War thought, and dreaded, that the War might go on forever.  Now, however, it had ended with Union victory.  Some European powers speculated that the United States would now use its vast armies to take foreign territory:  perhaps French occupied Mexico, maybe settle old scores by taking Canada from Great Britain, Cuba, held by moribund Spain was certainly a tempting target.  But no, the armies had been raised for the purpose of preserving the Union.  Now the men in the ranks were eager to get home, and the nation was just as eager to enjoy peace.

One last duty remained however:  an immense victory parade in Washington.  On May 23, 1865, the 80,000 strong Army of the Potomac marched happily through the streets of Washington on a glorious spring day.  For six hours they passed the reviewing stand, where President Johnson, the cabinet, General Grant and assorted civilian and military high brass, received the salutes of, and saluted, the men who had saved the Union.  Most of the men had hated the Army, and were overjoyed to be going home, but for the rest of their lives they would remember this day and how all the death and suffering they had endured over the past four years had not been in vain after all.    Almost all of them were very young men now, and many of them would live to old age, future generations then having a hard time picturing them as they were now:  lean, battle-hardened and the victors of the bloodiest war in the history of their nation.  When they died iron stars would be put by their graves, and each Decoration Day, eventually called Memorial Day, flags would be planted by their graves, as if to recall a huge banner draped over the Capitol on this day of days:

“The Only National Debt We Can Never Pay, Is The Debt We Owe To Our Victorious Soldiers.”   (more…)

Published in: on May 23, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 23, 1865: Grand Review-Army of the Potomac  
Tags: , , ,

May 22, 1958: Earliest Known Color Videotaping

 

The things you find on the internet!  The earliest color videotaping that has survived was performed on May 22, 1958 and featured President Eisenhower dedicating the color television studio of NBC.

Published in: on May 22, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 22, 1958: Earliest Known Color Videotaping  
Tags: ,

The Ten Commandments

 

 

Something for the weekend.  The soundtrack to The Ten Commandments (1956).

 

Bonus:

Soundtrack to The Prince of Egypt (1998).

Published in: on May 21, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Ten Commandments  
Tags: ,