The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

Something for the weekend.  The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.  Not period music of course, but few songs better evoke the despair of Confederates in the aftermath of defeat.  The above version is the original one sung by The Band.  Here is the version that became the signature song of Joan Baez.

 

Published in: on October 23, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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October 22, 1962: Cuban Missile Crisis Speech

 

The world came very close to nuclear war just over half a century back.  The above video is of the speech that President Kennedy gave fifty-nine years ago on October 22, 1962.  Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in placing nuclear missiles in Cuba brought the world to the brink.  The crisis was ultimately resolved with the removal of the Soviet missiles in exchange for two  agreements between the US and the Soviet Union:  1.  No invasion of Cuba by the US and 2.  The removal of obsolete American Jupiter nuclear missiles from Turkey and Southern Italy.  Unsurprisingly the US kept secret the removal of the Jupiter missiles.  Surprisingly the Soviets also kept mum about the removal of the Jupiter missiles which led to the perception abroad and within the Soviet Union that Khrushchev had lost his confrontation with Kennedy, and paved the way for the Central Committee coup led by Leonid Brezhnev which toppled  Khrushchev from power in October 1964.  Here is the text of the speech: (more…)

Published in: on October 22, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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October 21, 1879: Thomas Edison Invents the Incandescent Light Bulb

“We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.”

                                                                                                                                                                    Thomas Edison, 1879

 

Ah, Thomas Edison, that paragon of hard work and genius.  Electric lights had been experimented with since 1802.  Making a commercially viable light bulb however, eluded the numerous scientists working on the problem until Edison succeeded.  This was the type of problem that Edison excelled at:  one that required a bit of inspiration and a large amount of perspiration.
Beginning in 1878 Edison began work on a commercially viable incandescent electric lamp.  He decided that for indoor home use the light source had to operate on low voltage.  The idea of running current through a vacuum tube to produce light had been around for decades.  With improved pumping equipment Edison was able to make a better vacuum tube, and then his research centered on a long lasting filament.  Edison spoke about the process in 1890:
I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed 3,000 different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently likely to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory. My chief difficulty was in constructing the carbon filament. . . . Every quarter of the globe was ransacked by my agents, and all sorts of the queerest materials used, until finally the shred of bamboo, now utilized by us, was settled upon.
Carbonized bamboo filaments would burn for 1200 hours.  A new age of light commenced.
Patent battles were inevitable with so many other inventors working on the light bulb.  Edison, ever the shrewd businessman, prevailed with a mixture of legal fights, purchasing patents, going into joint ventures with competitors, and buying other competitors out.  Edison’s business skills were as brilliant as his light bulb.

 

Published in: on October 21, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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And Sheridan Twenty Miles Away

 

 

Thomas Buchanan Read was an artist and poet who served as a staff officer in the Civil War.  Inspired by Sheridan’s decisive victory at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, Read dashed off the poem, Sheridan’s Ride in an hour.  The poem was a sensation throughout the North.  To a war weary population, Cedar Creek was welcome proof that the seemingly endless War would soon end in Union victory.  Public performances were held throughout the North.   Republican rallies for the upcoming election featured readings of the poem with coconut shells used to mimic the sound of the horse’s hooves on the road.  The Cedar Creek sensation helped to re-elect Lincoln.

Here is a newspaper interview of Phil Sheridan on the poem which originally appeared in the Philadelphia Press: (more…)

Published in: on October 20, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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October 19, 1864: Battle of Cedar Creek

Battle-of-Cedar-Creek

The last major battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley in the Civil War, it was fitting that the topsy turvy nature of the battle of Cedar Creek reflected the see-saw fights waged by the Union and the Confederacy for control of the Valley since the start of the War.

After his victories in the Shenandoah Valley in September, and his destruction of the most valuable agricultural regions in the Valley, Sheridan assumed that the War was at an end in the Valley for the winter, at least as far as major battles were concerned.  Delploying his 31,000 Army of the Shenandoah along Cedar Creek northeast of Strasburg, Viriginia, Sheridan felt secure enough, even with Early’s 21,000 Army of the Valley in the vicinity, to attend a conference with Grant in Washington on October 18.  On the evening of October 18 he slept at Winchester, eleven miles from his army.

Sheridan of course did not know that Early had received a letter from General Lee on October 12 urging him to attack.  Examing the Union position carefully, Early decided that an attack on the Union left, which relied for its security on natural obstacles might succeed, Early assuming correctly that the Union commanders would be more concerned about an attack from the west which was free of such obstacles.

The Confederates on the evening of October 18 in three columns made a night march against the Union left.  By 3:30 AM they were in position to laucher their attack.  The attack began at 5:00 AM in darkness and a thick fog.  Surprise was complete and the division sized Union Army of West Virginia which was at the far left of the Union force was quickly overwhelmed.  By 10:00 AM, Early had driven the seven Union divisions from the field, captured 1300 prisoners, taken 24 cannon, and his famished troops were feeding off Union supplies in the abandoned Union camps.  His troops seemed to have won an against the odds victory.  Then Sheridan arrived at the battlefield and changed everything.

At 6:00 AM pickets at Winchester reported that they heard the faint sound of artillery.  Not expecting an attack Sheridan thought nothing of it.  However he ordered his horse Rienzi to be saddled and after a quick breakfast he began at 9:00 AM to ride towards Cedar Creek.  The sounds of fighting became louder the closer approached and Sheridan realized a fight was in progress.  Sheridan was cheered by stragglers from the fight as he approached Cedar Creek.  Sheridan ordered the stragglers to follow him which most of them did, convinced that little Phil would bring them victory again.  Sheridan arrived at the battlefield at 10:30 AM.

Sheridan immediately began planning his counterattack.  Early had effectively lost control of his army due to the plundering of the Union supplies, and Sheridan had plenty of time to perfect his plan before he launched his attack at 4:00 PM.  The smaller Confederate force resisted for about an hour when its left began to crumble and the Confederates routed from the field.

Union casualties were 5,665 to 3000 Confederate.  Among the Confederate dead was Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur, who died the day after the battle in spite of the best medical care his Union captors could provide.  The day before the battle he had learned that his wife had borne him a daughter.  His last words were   “Bear this message to my precious wife—I die a Christian and hope to meet her in heaven.”  He was 27 years old.

The battle was decisive and Early’s army was no longer a threat to Union control of the Shenandoah.  The victory provided a great boost to the re-election campaign of Lincoln during the closing weeks of the campaign leading up to election day November 8.

Here is Sheridan’s account of the battle in his memoirs: (more…)

Shenandoah Valley: The Burning

 Shenandoah in Flames196

After his victory over Early at Fisher’s Hill, Sheridan decided that further pursuit of Early up the Valley would be pointless as Early’s force was too small to any longer pose a threat to Union control of the Shenandoah and his time would be better spent carrying out Grant’s wish expressed to General David Hunter that crows have to carry their own provisions over the Shenandoah Valley.  As Sheridan wrote to Grant: , “My judgment is that it would be best to terminate this campaign by the destruction of the crops, &c., in this valley, and the transfer of troops to the army operating against Richmond.”   Grant agreed, and Sheridan over the next two weeks conducted a march from Stanton north to Strasburg, a distance of 70 miles with his army covering a width of thirty miles.

 

On October 7, 1864 Sheridan reported to Grant:

I have the honor to report my command at this point to-night. I commenced moving back from Port Republic, Mount Crawford, Bridgewater, and harrisonburg yesterday morning. The grain and forage in advance of these points up to Staunton had previously been destroyed. In moving back to this point the whole country from the Blue Ridge to the North Mountains has been made untenable for a rebel army. I have destroyed over 2,000 barns filled with wheat, hay, and farming implements; over seventy mills filled with flour and wheat; have driven in front of the army over 4,[000] head of stock, and have killed and issued to the troops not less than 3,000 sheep. this destruction embraces the Luray Valley and Little Forst Valley, as well as the main valley. A large number of horses have been obtained, a proper estimate of which I cannot now make. Lieutenant John R. Meigh, my engineer officer, was murdered beyond Harrisonburg, near Dayton. For this atrocious act all the houses within an area of five miles were burned. Since I came into the Valley, from Harper’s Ferry up to Harrisonburg, every train, every small party, and every small party, and every straggler has been bushwhacked by people, many of whom have protection papers from commanders who have been hitherto in this valley. From the vicinity of Harrisonburg over 400 wagon-loads of refugees have been sent back to Martinsburg; most of these people were Dunkers and had been conscripted. The people here are getting sick of the war; heretofore they have had no reason to complain, because they have been living in great abundance. (more…)

Published in: on October 18, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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October 17, 1777: Saratoga

Yonder are the Hessians! They were bought for seven pounds and ten pence a man. Are you worth more? Prove it!

General John Stark to his men prior to the Battle of Bennington

The Fate of John Burgoyne sung by Bobby Horton, turning his attention to the music of the Revolution rather than his usual stomping grounds, the Civil War.  Two hundred and forty-four years ago the turning point of the American Revolution occurred with the surrender of his British army by Major General John “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne.  A playwright and sometime member of Parliament, Burgoyne has gone down in history as something of a fop and an amateur incompetent soldier.  This is unjust to him.  Burgoyne was a career officer who took his duties seriously and his overall military record indicates above average ability combined with a streak of ruthlessness.  However, his invasion of northern New York in 1777 with 7,000 troops from Canada was doomed by events largely out of his control.

SARAmapFOST

Supposedly his invasion was to be coordinated with the efforts of General Howe commanding the main British army in New York.  However, no orders were issued to Howe requiring such coordination and he embarked on a campaign against the American de facto capital of Philadelphia, leaving Burgoyne to fend for himself among the wilds of frontier northern New York.

His was a polyglot force, much of it ill-suited for frontier fighting.  That was certainly the case with his Hessian mercenaries and British regulars.  The Loyalists and Indians under his command were more suited for the area but brought their own problems including lack of discipline and a desire for loot and sometimes murder.

The campaign started well for Burgoyne and by July 6 he had taken the strategic fort of Ticonderoga, the gateway to northern New York.  Then the campaign went south for him as Burgoyne’s army proceeded south.  The first blow was that a column led by Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger that was to cooperate with Burgoyne, became bogged down besieging Fort Stanwix in western New York.  Patriot Tryon County militia under General Nicholas Herkimer fought a bloody battle against St. Leger’s Indian auxiliaries at Oriskany.  Losses on both sides were devastating with General Herkimer being mortally wounded.  Indian morale plummeted due to their losses.  Patriot General Benedict Arnold caused St. Leger to break the siege and retreat by using loyalist Hans Yost to spread among the Indians the news that Arnold, actually leading a small force, was on his way to relieve Fort Stanwix with an army as numerous as the leaves of a forest.  Without the support of his Indian allies, St. Leger had no choice but to retreat.

Burgoyne’s campaign suffered its worst single blow when Indians from Burgoyne’s army on July 27, 1777 murdered Jane McCrea, a young woman on her way to visit her sweetheart, ironically a Loyalist officer with Burgoyne’s army.  News of her murder spread like wildfire and converted hordes of Loyalists to being Patriots over night.  Thousands of militia poured into the American army of the North, and across northern New York a common sign on cabins, farms and businesses read:  “Gone to fight Burgoyne.” (more…)

Published in: on October 17, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (5)  
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Marching Along

 

Something for the weekend.  Marching Along by William B. Bradbury.  Bradbury was a human song writing machine of the 19th century.  Of all the songs he wrote, doubtless the best known is the tune for Yes, Jesus Loves Me which I frequently sang as a child.  He wrote that tune the same year, 1862, that he wrote Marching AlongMarching Along, appropriately enough, was a favorite marching song of the Army of the Potomac, and they sang it endlessly during their marathon marches of the Civil War.

Published in: on October 16, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Age of Marvels

From the vantage point of twenty-first technology, it is easy for us to view nineteenth century America as being technologically primitive.  Our ancestors living then certainly did not view themselves in such a light.  They thought they were living in a time of incredible technological change, and they were right.  Within 30 years of the first half of the nineteenth century, steamships, railroads and the telegraph, along with hundreds of other inventions, revolutionized life more than any change in technology that we have witnessed in our lifetimes.

Americans were proud at the time of the technological revolution they were witnessing.  In the seventh of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in Alton, Illinois on October 15, 1858, Douglas hit upon this theme: (more…)

Published in: on October 15, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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October 14, 1947: Yeager Breaks the Sound Barrier

I was always afraid of dying.  Always.  It was my fear that made me learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment, and kept me flying respectful of my machine and always alert in the cockpit.

Chuck Yeager

 

Seventy-four years ago Captain Chuck Yeager, a double ace in World War II, flying the experimental X-1, broke the sound barrier.  Two days before the flight Yeager broke two ribs and was in such pain that he could not close the cabin door without assistance.  Needless to say he did not report his injury to anyone in authority who could scrub him from the flight.  George Welch, also a World War II ace, may have broke the sound barrier on October 1, 1947, flying in an XP-86, but his speed could not be verified.

As indicated by the video clip below from The Right Stuff, the life of a test pilot in those days often ended in sudden death, so while we salute Yeager’s skill we should also be mindful of his courage and those of his brother pilots.  George Welch died in 1954 when the test plane he was flying disintegrated.  The Right Stuff consists of more than courage, but it is an essential component.

General Yeager, who died on Pearl Harbor day in 2020, wrote an account of his breaking the sound barrier for Popular Mechanics on the fortieth anniversary:

 

 

I had flown at supersonic speeds for 18 seconds. There was no buffet, no jolt, no shock. Above all, no brick wall to smash into. I was alive.

And although it was never entered in the pilot report, the casualness of invading a piece of space no man had ever visited was best reflected in the radio chatter. I had to tell somebody, anybody, that we’d busted straight through the sound barrier. But transmissions were restricted. “Hey Ridley!” I called. “Make another note. There’s something wrong with this Machmeter. It’s gone completely screwy!”

“If it is, we’ll fix it,” Ridley replied, catching my drift. “But personally, I think you’re seeing things.”

Go here to read the rest.

Published in: on October 14, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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