2nd QUARTER 2015

Jake Jacobson




July 3, 1863:  Today is the third day of battle at Gettysburg, and out of the trees on Seminary Ridge and across the broad fields will march and then charge some 15,000 Confederates.  Their intention – the intention of General Lee – is to break the center of the Union line.  This, “the most celebrated forty minutes in all of American military history,” however, is not the only action this day.  About three miles east of Gettysburg, beyond the Confederate lines and behind the Union lines, is fought a desperate cavalry battle, which in history has gone down more-or-less as an afterthought to the Battle of Gettysburg.  Leading the Confederates, of course, was the dashing General J. E. B. Stewart.  One of the Union officers opposing him was the newly promoted Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer.   Much has been made of Stewart’s part – or lack of it – in the Battle of Gettysburg; primarily his late arrival on the 2nd day of battle.  Writings both condemning and supporting Stewart have discussed his role since almost the moment the last shot was fired.  One popular source today is Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Killer Angels, and its Turner film partner, Gettysburg.  In both the book (remember it is a novel) and film, General Lee reprimands General Stewart with the wonderful line, “Without your cavalry we are blind, and that has happened once but must never happen again.”  We get the impression that Stewart was “joy riding for glory” and ignoring his true duty.  Then, beyond the late arrival but adding to the fault, is Stewart’s defeat in the July 3rd cavalry battle by a force half his size.  What if Stewart had victoriously cleared that field, and rode on to attack the rear of the Union center in support of Pickett?  So, what is the reality of all this?  Prior to the battle, Lee spoke to General Isaac Trimble, one of the generals who led Pickett’s Charge, saying, “Our army is in good spirits, not overfatigued, and can be concentrated on any one point in twenty-four hours…they (the Union army) will come up broken down with hunger and hard marching, strung out on a long line, and much demoralized…I will throw an overwhelming force on their advance, crush it, follow up the success, drive one corps back upon another…create a panic and virtually destroy the army.”  He then pointed at Gettysburg on the map predicting a great battle would be fought thereabouts.  Lee later wrote that not having Stewart was “an embarrassment,” but Lee knew what was coming.  As to reprimanding Stewart, witnesses said Lee simply commented to Stewart, “Well, General Stewart, you are here at last.”  It was a reprimand, but mildly so.  The truth is that General Stewart’s cavalry had been riding hard; some 210 miles in eight days, often at night; approximately twenty-six miles per day.  He engaged with the enemy several times, and, in fact, had to disengage at Carlisle upon learning the Battle of Gettysburg had commenced. Those eight days came directly upon the heels of more than two weeks of hard riding and battle.  In short, Stewart’s cavalry was worn out, and the battle of July 3rd simply proved it so.               


July 16, 1911:  On this date the Sunday New York Times published an interview with a gentleman named Emmanuel Rauch who claimed that as a boy of 10 he was ringing the Liberty Bell when it cracked.  According to his story, as he and several other boys were walking through Philadelphia ’s State House Square on Washington’s Birthday in 1835, the steeple-keeper, Major Jack Downing, invited them to ring the bell.  After they had rung the bell about a dozen strokes, the boys and Major Downing recognized a change in the bell’s sound.  After stopping the bell, they found a crack over a foot long.  Whether this story is really true is questionable, but so is the traditional belief that the bell cracked while tolling the death of John Marshall on July 8, 1835.  At any rate, the Liberty Bell at that time was actually called the Old State House Bell, and it had actually cracked the very first time it was rung (1753).  Two local craftsmen, John Pass and John Stow, then recast a new bell using the metal of the original bell.  The name, Liberty Bell, stems from an 1839 poem published by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison published in his anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator.  The famous zig-zag crack that ended the use of the Liberty Bell occurred on Washington’s Birthday in 1846.  The Philadelphia Public Ledger stated that “The Old Independence Bell” had been repaired by having the edges of its previous crack filed “so as not to vibrate against each other,” and that with such repair had “gave out clear notes and loud.”  But the newspaper went on to say that about noon it had “received a sort of compound fracture in a zig-zag direction…which put it completely out of tune and left it a mere wreck of what it was.”  Today some 1,500,000 people yearly view the Liberty Bell at Philadelphia ’s Liberty Bell Center .     


July 29, 1838:  The following newspaper report was printed in The Brunswick Advocate on August 9, 1838: 


On Saturday night, last, in the neighborhood of Kettle Creek, Ware County, and within a very short distance of Okefinoke, a horrible slaughter occurred in a family named Wildes.  This family consisted of ten persons of whom seven were killed.  Two children escaped, and one, a boy, was taken prisoner by the Indians, it is supposed, as he is missing.  One of those who escaped is a boy about twelve years of age.  He says that just before daybreak the savage yell was raised at each corner of the house and was followed by a discharge of rifles.  Mr. Wildes fired his rifle at once at the assailants, then fled through a back door, but was pursued and shot dead after going 100 yards.  An indiscriminate slaughter then took place among the children, all of whom it appears were shot except one, of 3 or 4 years old, who was found with its brains beaten out, and the instrument of death (a pine knot) lying close by with the marks of destruction upon it.  Mrs. Wildes was among the slain.  The boy says this was the work of six Indians.  After the massacre, the house was burned to the ground.  Within a few miles of this, Maj. Dearborn’s detachment of Regulars were encamped, and upon first news, marched to the place, but only arrived to behold the scattered wreck.


The Indian attack described in this article was led by Chief Holata Micco, a Seminole leader commonly called Billy Bowlegs.  The next day in the same area of Ware County , Georgia , a second attack killed fourteen members of the John Davis family.  Encroachment by settlers seeking “free land” had been a constant source of conflict since the establishment of the Seminole reservation in 1823.  These two attacks added to a litany of frontier guerilla warfare in Southern Georgia and Florida and helped lead President Andrew Jackson into believing right or wrong that the only solution was removal of the southeastern Indian tribes to Oklahoma, Territory.




August 3, 1492:


In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

He had three ships and left from Spain ;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.

He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.


And, so goes the first three stanzas of the old familiar poem; it was on this date that the Italian-born Columbus set sail from Spain.  On October 12, 1492, the ships sighted land, probably Watling Island in the Bahamas , and Columbus went ashore to claim the land for Spain .  The poem goes on to say of this:


Day after day they looked for land;
They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.

October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!


Happy to see land?  One would definitely think so, for the three ships Columbus piloted across that seemingly unending sea were questionable for the duty.  The largest, Columbus ’ flagship, was the Santa Maria.  She was a merchant ship approximately 75 feet long with a 25 foot beam and sat deep in the water.  She was, in fact, a floating tub that Columbus thought ill-designed for exploration.  This proved true as the Santa Maria was abandoned after she ran aground off Hispaniola .  The Nina and Pinta were much smaller than the Santa Maria.  Their design was called a caravel, which had a square-rigged foremast and a triangular or “lateen sail” mainmast.  Caravels were easy to control and their shallow draft allowed them to sail near shore or into bays and the mouths of rivers.  There was little extra room on a caravel and the twenty or so men it took to man them usually slept on deck.  One can only imagine living in such a condition during a voyage of unknown duration into virtually the unknown – but on the bright side, it might afford the opportunity for a fearful crew to see the edge of a flat earth before plunging off of it. 


August 19, 1812:  When the United States declared war on England (June 18, 1812), the young nation was profoundly ill prepared.  There was virtually no standing army and the seagoing navy consisted of just nineteen vessels.  Seven of those vessels, however, were wonderfully constructed frigates; a handful of the world’s finest warships.  They were fast enough to escape from heavily armed ships-of-the-line, and capable of out-gunning any other frigate.  But reality was grim, as the Royal Navy possessed more than 600 active war vessels with an availability of 250 more.  On this date some 750 miles east of Boston , the American 44-gun frigate Constitution encountered the British 44-gun frigate Guerriere.  Although the number of guns seemed to indicate an even match, the Constitution mounted heavier guns.  Yet there was no give in the British frigate, and at maximum range they opened fire with two full broadsides.  The 

effect was negligible, and yet to fire, the Constitution moved closer.  At 75 yards the Guerriere’s guns raked Constitution, each gun firing as it came to bear.  Damage again was minimal, and First Lieutenant Morris asked Captain Hull, “Shall we return fire?”  The Constitution remained silent, the men at their stations, the only sounds an occasional order and the rush of the wind and sea.  Coming within pistol-shot range, Captain Hull ordered adjustments in the sails to slow the ship and to Morris said, “Yes sir, you may now fire.”  Constitution shuddered with the eruption of a full broadside; each gun double loaded with round ball and grapeshot.  Immediately the gun crews shouted a triple cheer that could be heard on the Guerrier’s suddenly mangled deck, and as the wind cleared the smoke, the results of that initial broadside became clear.  One of the Guerrier’s masts was falling over the side, yardarms were crashing down, sails dragging in the water, and the deck was littered with dead and wounded.  Climbing the mizzenmast to get a better look, Captain Hull shouted, “By God, that ship is ours!”  The battle was not yet over, but the outcome was already clear.  Then, as tradition has it, one of Guerrier’s 18-pound cannon balls bounced harmlessly off Constitution’s oaken side, a member of the crew yelled, “Her sides are made of iron!”   And so, the nickname of “Old Ironsides” was born.  Today the Constitution; Old Ironsides, still exists, and as the world’s oldest warship still in service, she can be visited in Boston Harbor .


August 25, 1804:  The father of this author of Historical Footnotes was born and raised near Wakonda, South Dakota; a small farming town just off State Route 19 northeast of Vermillion and Yankton.  Once, while on vacation visiting the family farm, my father took us over to see Spirit Mound.  I was a little boy then, and when we got there I just couldn’t understand the fuss over what appeared to me as a small hill sticking up in a corn field.  After all, we usually spent our vacations amid the peaks and lakes of California’s High Sierra.  They are a far cry from little hills.  (It should be noted that today Spirit Mound has been “reclaimed” as a S.D. State Park: 55 or so years ago it was not.)  But on this date, Spirit Mound was a significant thing, for Captains Lewis and Clark in the company of several men and Lewis’s dog, Seaman, walked some nine miles from the Corps of Discovery’s camp on the Missouri River to see it.  They wanted to see this thing that was apparently so feared by the local Indians.  Clark commented in his journal that the Indians believed of Spirit Mound:


…is Suppose to be the residence of Deavels.  That they are in human form with remarkable large heads, and about 18 inches high, that they are very watchful and are arm’d with Sharp arrows with which they Can Kill at a great distance: they are Said to Kill all persons who are So hardy as to attempt to approach the hill: they state that tradition informs them that many Indians have Suffered by these little people.  So much do the Maha (Omaha), Soues (Sioux), Ottoes (Otoes) and other neighboring nations believe this fable, that no Consideration I Sufficient to induce them to approach the hill.


Although simply a walk across the relatively flat Dakota plains, the heat of the day was troublesome.  Seaman had to be returned to the refreshment of the river.  However, the view from the top of Spirit Mound was worth the effort.  The explorers …beheld a most beautiful landscape; Numerous herds of buffalo were seen feeding in various direction; the Plain to the North N.W. and N.E. extends without interruption as far as can be seen.




September 2, 1944: On this date 20-year-old Navy pilot George Bush, who would eventually become the 41st President of the United States and fathered the 43rd President, is shot down over the little Pacific island of Chichi Jima.  Japanese soldiers on the island watched him parachute into the sea to soon be picked up by a patrolling American submarine (USS Finback).  In 2002, the then ex-president Bush visited the islands of Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima.  He became only the second president to stand where the US Marines raised the flag on Iwo Jima, and when he visited Chichi Jima he spent time with one of the ex-Japanese soldiers who had watched him parachute into the sea some 58 years before.  That same Japanese soldier, Nobuaki Iwatake, had known another American flyer that had been brutally executed on Chichi Jima.  (It is a seldom-discussed fact that American pilots were decapitated with Samurai swords by Japanese officers on Chichi Jima; their livers then eaten as cocktail party delicacies.) The same fate had awaited George Bush had he swam into the island rather than be picked up by submarine.  As they stood together quietly looking out to sea, Iwatake said to the ex-president, “Do you know what the Japanese soldier next to me said when we saw the submarine that rescued you?  He said, ‘Americans sure take good care of their pilots!’  Sending a sub for one pilot was something Japan would never have done.”   Fifty-eight years before Bush and Iwatake had been enemies and representatives of two totally different cultures.  Time and understanding rendered that into friendship. 


September 14, 1786: On this date, the first foreign ships to ever visit Spain’s California colonies sail out of the fog into Monterey Bay.  It has been 17 years since San Diego , the first Spanish mission / village in California was founded, with Monterey being founded a year later.  The presidio at Monterey and the nearby mission at Carmel are still just rudely constructed mud huts.  Word of the ships had preceded their arrival via the very occasional traffic along the rough north-south trail between the settlements with the overly impressive name of “El Camino Real” (The King’s Highway).  Considering how busy and populated California is today, it is hard to comprehend how isolated it was in 1786.  The Spanish mother-colonies in Mexico were 2000 miles away.  Only a single supply ship was expected each year, and because of this, the arrival of such a ship constituted the single great event of the year.  Its late arrival resulted in almost intolerable frustration and anxiety.  The Pacific Ocean, which stretched endlessly away from the California coast, was virtually unexplored.  Neither was the interior of California , with its broad, swampy valley of the San Joaquin River and eastern wall of snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains .  The numbers, kinds, and attitudes of the Native Americans that might inhabit this uncharted land could only be imagined.  However, today the arriving French ships were bringing a real treat, for aboard were scientists, navigators, cartographers, illustrators, and physicians.  Among the needed goods carried in the ships’ holds were cloth, tools, seeds, and musical instruments.  But, the most valuable and sought after of all the cargo, was news.        


September 20, 1968: One of the difficult problems in the Vietnam War was finding the enemy.  By the time American troops entered Vietnam in the early to middle 1960’s, the Vietnamese had been fighting for years.  They had dug miles of tunnels to evade the French, and they continued the practice against America .  The tunnels were extensive, sometimes ran for miles, were several stories deep, interlocked with special trap doors, included meeting rooms, sleeping quarters, supply depots, and even hospitals with surgeries.  Difficulty in the field for American forces, led to ingenuity in the American lab, as devices – gadgets – were developed to assist the troops.  One such gadget was the “People Sniffer.”   Officially called the Olfractronic Personal Detector, the gizmo was attached to a helicopter and detected “humans by acquisition and sensing of natural human exudates and effluvia, either vaporous or particulate.”  In other words, when the Viet Cong climbed out of their tunnels at night to fight and in the process took the obvious opportunity to answer “nature’s call,” the People Sniffer detected the ammonia and methane gas from these natural body functions.  Although the People Sniffer could not differentiate between Viet Cong urine and American urine, surprisingly, under certain circumstances the contraption worked, but not for very long.  Through their amazingly efficient spy system or whatever, the cagey Viet Cong caught on.  By hanging bags of buffalo urine in trees, they fooled the People Sniffer and American artillery zeroed in on the trees.





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