December 1776: A Dying Revolution and The Old Fox

 

 

The American Revolution was in the process of dying 242 years ago as General George Washington revealed in letters to his cousin Lund Washington who looked after Mount Vernon for the General during the War.

 

Dear Lund,

* * * * * *

I wish to Heaven it was in my power to give you a more favorable account of our situation than it is. Our numbers, quite inadequate to the task of opposing that part of the army under the command of General Howe, being reduced by sickness, desertion, and political deaths (on or before the first instant, and having no assistance from the militia), were obliged to retire before the enemy, who were perfectly well informed of our situation, till we came to this place, where I have no idea of being able to make a stand, as my numbers, till joined by the [78] Philadelphia militia, did not exceed three thousand men fit for duty. Now we may be about five thousand to oppose Howe’s whole army, that part of it excepted which sailed under the command of Gen. Clinton. I tremble for Philadelphia. Nothing, in my opinion, but Gen. Lee’s speedy arrival, who has been long expected, though still at a distance (with about three thousand men), can save it. We have brought over and destroyed all the boats we could lay our hands on upon the Jersey shore for many miles above and below this place; but it is next to impossible to guard a shore for sixty miles, with less than half the enemy’s numbers; when by force or strategem they may suddenly attempt a passage in many different places. At present they are encamped or quartered along the other shore above and below us (rather this place, for we are obliged to keep a face towards them) for fifteen miles. * * *

December 17, ten miles above the Falls.

* * * I have since moved up to this place, to be more convenient to our great and extensive defences of this river. Hitherto, by our destruction of the boats, and vigilance in watching the fords of the river above the falls (which are now rather high), we have prevented them from crossing; but how long we shall be able to do it God only knows, as they are still hovering about the river. And if every thing else fails, will wait till the 1st of January, when there will be no other men to oppose them but militia, none of which but those from Philadelphai, mentioned [79] in the first part of the letter, are yet come (although I am told some are expected from the back counties). When I say none but militia, I am to except the Virginia regiments and the shattered remains of Smallwood’s, which, by fatigue, want of clothes, &c., are reduced to nothing—Weedon’s, which was the strongest, not having more than between one hundred and thirty to one hundred and forty men fit for duty, the rest being in the hospitals. The unhappy policy of short enlistments and a dependence upon militia will, I fear, prove the downfall of our cause, though early pointed out with an almost prophetic spirit! Our cause has also received a severe blow in the captivity of Gen. Lee. Unhappy man! Taken by his own imprudence, going three or four miles from his own camp, and within twenty of the enemy, notice of which by a rascally Tory was given a party of light horse seized him in the morning after travelling all night, and carried him off in high triumph and with every mark of indignity, not even suffering him to get his hat or surtout coat. The troops that were under his command are not yet come up with us, though they, I think, may be expected to-morrow. A large part of the Jerseys have given every proof of disaffection that they can do, and this part of Pennsylvania are equally inimical. In short, your imagination can scarce extend to a situation more distressing than mine. Our only dependence now is upon the speedy enlistment of a new army. If this fails, I think the game will be pretty well up, as, from disaffection and want of spirit and fortitude, the inhabitants, [80] instead of resistance, are offering submission and taking protection from Gen. Howe in Jersey. * * * I am &c. (more…)

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Published in: on December 18, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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December 17, 1941: Admiral Chester Nimitz Appointed to Command the Pacific Fleet

God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless.

Chester W. Nimitz

Few American commanders have taken over a more desperate situation than Admiral Chester W. Nimitz did when he was appointed to be commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet seventy years ago on December 17, 1941.  Reeling from Pearl Harbor and ill-prepared for the Japanese onslaught, it was probably thought by some observers at the time that Nimitz was fated to be a footnote in history:  a man destined to do the best he could in a bad situation, and be a scapegoat for the disasters surely to be experienced by the United States in the Pacific prior to US industries producing the fleets necessary to turn the tide of the war. (more…)

Published in: on December 17, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Bishop’s Wife

Dudley:

All right. Let me think. This
happened many, many years ago.
Debby:
That's not the way to begin.
Stories start "Once upon a time".
Dudley:
Yes, that's true.
Once upon a time there was a little
boy and he lived in a little town.
Debby:
- What was his name?
Dudley:
- His name was David. He was a shepherd.
The town was called Bethlehem.
Debby:
I know Bethlehem. That's
where the star was.
Dudley:
That's right. Only David
lived long before the star.
One night, David was out in
the hills tending his sheep.
- He was playing the harp and singing.
Debby:
- Was he singing "Jingle Bells"?
Dudley:
No, no. "Jingle Bells"
hadn't been written then.
David was singing songs
that he wrote himself.
Suddenly, an angel came
down and spoke to David.
Debby:
- How did David know it was an angel?
Dudley:
- He didn't know.
And that's the way it always is.
Angels come and put
ideas into people's heads
and people feel very proud of themselves
because they think it was their own idea.
This angel said to David "One
of your lambs has strayed. "
So David put aside his harp and went
into the darkness to find the lamb.
The angel guided him.
And when David found the lamb,
he saw a great big ferocious lion.
Debby:
Oh!
Dudley:
So David said to the lion
"You get away from that lamb. "
And the lion said "You get away
from me or I'll eat you too. "
Debby:
- Did David run away?
Dudley:
- No.
You know why? Because the angel
put another idea into his head.
So David took out his
sling and he hurled a stone
and hit the lion right between the eyes.
Debby:
I bet that lion was surprised!
Dudley:
Yes. And so was David because he
didn't know an angel had helped him.
Well, he picked up the lamb
and took it back to the fold.
Then he felt so happy that he made
up another song. It started out:
"The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want. "
"He maketh me to lie
down in green pastures. "
"He leadeth me besides
the still waters. "
"He restoreth my soul... "
Screenplay The Bishop's Wife

 

A fine Christmas movie is The Bishop’s Wife from 1947.    David Niven is an Episcopalian bishop of a struggling diocese;  Loretta Young (ironically one of the more devout Catholics in the Hollywood of her time) is his wife;  and Cary Grant is Dudley, one of the more unimportant angels in Heaven, sent by God to lend the Bishop a hand.  The film is a graceful comedy which effectively and quietly underlines the central importance of faith in God as we see in this little scene when undercover angel Dudley, Cary Grant, uses his powers to summon a tardy boy’s choir for an unforgettable rendition of O Sing to God:

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

Something for the weekend.  Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer sung by Gene Autry.  Rudolph first appeared in a coloring book written and drawn by Robert L. May in 1939 as a Christmas giveaway by Montgomery Ward.  The tale of Rudoplph proved immensely popular with kids, with the coloring book still being in print and sold more than seven decades latter.  The famous song was written by Johnny Marks, a song writer and world war 2 combat veteran.  It was first sung by Harry Brannon in November 1949, shortly before the singing cowboy, Gene Autry, performed his immortal rendition. (more…)

Published in: on December 15, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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December 13, 1918: Wilson Arrives in France

President Wilson arrived in France a century ago to participate in the Paris Peace Conference.  He received a rapturous reception from the citizens of France but a cooler reception from Clemenceau and the other Allied leaders.  British economist John Maynard Keynes, an acerbic critic of the Treaty of Versailles, summed up the high expectations for Wilson in the minds of many Europeans:

When President Wilson left Washington he enjoyed a prestige and a moral influence throughout the world unequalled in history. His bold and measured words carried to the peoples of Europe above and beyond the voices of their own politicians. The enemy peoples trusted him to carry out the compact he had made with them; and the Allied peoples acknowledged him not as a victor only but almost as a prophet. In addition to this moral influence the realities of power were in his hands. The American armies were at the height of their numbers, discipline, and equipment. Europe was in complete dependence on the food supplies of the United States; and financially she was even more absolutely at their mercy. Europe not only already owed the United States more than she could pay; but only a large measure of further assistance could save her from starvation and bankruptcy. Never had a philosopher held such weapons wherewith to bind the princes of this world. How the crowds of the European capitals pressed about the carriage of the President! With what curiosity, anxiety, and hope we sought a glimpse of the features and bearing of the man of destiny who, coming from the West, was to bring healing to the wounds of the ancient parent of his civilisation and lay for us the foundations of the future.

No mortal could have possibly lived up to such high hopes, and President Wilson certainly did not, as future posts will explore.

 

Published in: on December 13, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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December 12, 1944

Dewey Defeats Truman

 

 

Go here to view the issue of the Chicago Tribune, or rather the Chicago Daily Tribune as it was known then, on December 12, 1944.  The date is not chosen because it was important but because it was not.  One can learn a lot by a time period by closely examining the newspapers of the day.  What stands out to me:

1.  First, the paper was a whole three cents.

2.  War news predominates, no surprise.

3.  A cartoon shows the Russian Bear facing off against the British lion with FDR ordering that soothing music to be played, and the caption “European Power Politics”.  The coming Cold War was emerging, with most Americans not realizing the role that the US would play.  A story notes the fighting between the Brits and Communist Greek guerillas, with another story urging US intervention by Greek-Americans.  Another story notes that the Russians have again ousted a four man US military mission in Bulgaria.

4.  The ads aren’t that different from ads in papers today.

5.  A story notes that Congressman Fish wants to have Governor Dewey removed as GOP party chief in the wake of Dewey’s November loss to FDR. Rather amazing that Dewey got a second shot to run for President in 1948. (more…)

Published in: on December 12, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Francis Pharcellus Church, the Little Girl and Santa Claus

(I published this last year, and I am going to publish it each year before Christmas.  It evokes sweet memories of Christmases past when my children were young.)

Francis Pharcellus Church was a newspaper man to his marrow.  As a young man he had covered the Civil War for the New York Times and with his brother William he founded the Army and Navy Journal which dedicated itself to reporting news about the military forces of the United States, along with historical pieces on US military history, and opinion pieces about innovations or reforms in the military.  It is still being published today.

After the War he served as lead editorial writer on his brother’s newspapers the New York Sun.  He died in 1906 at 67, leaving behind no children.  Although he lived a full life, he would be all but forgotten today except for one incident.

In 1897 Virginia O’Hanlon was upset.  She was eight years old and some of her friends had been telling her that there was no Santa Claus.  Her father, Dr. Philip O’Hanlon, suggested that she write to the Sun and see what that newspaper had to say.  Virginia followed her advice and duly wrote the letter.  Mr. Church wrote the reply to the letter which appeared on September 21, 1897 in the New York Sun.

DEAR EDITOR:

I am 8 years old.   Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.   Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’   Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.

115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

 

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

 

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

 

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

 

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood. (more…)

Published in: on December 11, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Great Influenza

 

In recalling US involvement in World War I, one statistic is startling.  Combat deaths for the US totaled 53,402.  US military deaths from what was called Spanish flu totaled around 45,000.  In 1918 some 675,000 Americans died from the Spanish flue.   World War I killed some 20 million people.  From 1918 to 1920 the Spanish flu killed between 50 and a hundred million people, three to five percent of the population of the Earth at the time.  Speculations as to the origin point of the flu range from Kansas to China.  The Great Influenza gained its name of the Spanish flu, due to strict wartime censorship of the devastating swathe which the Influenza cut in the nations at war.  However, reporters were free to report on the mass mortality in neutral nations, and press coverage of the course of the Influenza in Spain produced sensational headlines throughout Europe and the US.  Considering the mortality produced by the Great Influenza, it is strange how little it bulks in memory, compared to the purely man made disaster of World War I.

Published in: on December 10, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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December 9, 1863: Mutiny at Fort Jackson

Corps d'Afrique

Fort Jackson, one of two forts guarding the Mississippi route to New Orleans, seemed to have a predilection for mutinies during the Civil War.  In 1862 the Confederate garrison mutinied after it was placed under siege by the Union.  On December 9, 1863 a mutiny occurred by the black troops of the Fourth Regiment Infantry of the Corp d’Afrique, caused by the brutal whipping of two drummer boys by Lieutenant Colonel  Augustus W. Benedict, who had engaged in ill treatment of his men prior to this incident.  About half the regiment mutinied.  No one was killed, but the disturbance lasted from the afternoon until 7:30 PM.  In the aftermath a military commission was appointed to investigate the mutiny, and punish the guilty.  Benedict was cashiered from the service.  The ringleaders of the mutiny were sentenced to punishments ranging from 30 days confinement to execution.  Go here to read an account of the mutiny which occurred in the New York Times.  Here is the report of the commission: (more…)

Published in: on December 9, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Something for the weekend.   Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  Written by Charles Wesley in 1739, the hymn we enjoy today developed and changed over a century with input from many hands.  No hymn I think better exemplifies the sheer joy that the coming of Christ should awake in the hearts of all Christians. (more…)

Published in: on December 8, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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