April 24, 2014

Nixon's Baseball Picks

Want a spring time video? Check out Nixon talking about his baseball picks!

War of 1812: Disaster at the River Raisin

Fought January 18-23, 1913, the Battle of Frenchtown saw American forces under Brig. Gen. James Winchester (right) crushed by a combined British and Native American army.  Having pushed north towards Detroit, Winchester's men succeeded in driving enemy forces from Frenchtown along the River Raisin on January 18.  Occupying the town, Winchester failed to make the necessary defensive arrangements.  On January 22, British and Native American troops under Brig. Gen. Henry Proctor attacked.  Though the American right quickly collapsed, Kentucky regiments fought tenaciously to hold Frenchtown.  Captured early in the fighting, Winchester was asked to have them surrender.  After some negotiation, the Kentuckians agreed in exchange for British assurances that they would be treated fairly as prisoners of war.  Later in day, Proctor withdrew north and took along the uninjured prisoners.  Lacking transport for the wounded Americans, he stated that sleds would be sent south the next day.  During the night, the British guards in Frenchtown slipped away and the next morning Native American forces returned.  Looting the town, they killed those too injured to move.  The rest were taken north to be ransomed.  Quickly dubbed the Red River Massacre, the incident spurred the recruiting cry "Remember the Raisin" and led to a surge in American enlistments.


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A Little News

This week, just a few items about treasure, an archaeological find, and a modern look at a medieval king's skull.

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April 23, 2014

Burgundy and the Burgundians

The region in France that's associated with a fine wine and a deep red color has a history going back far into the early Middle Ages. Learn about the Germanic people who gave their name to Burgundy, the early medieval kingdom that rose there, and the duchy it became in this introduction.

"The Civil War Diary of Gideon Welles, Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy: The Original Manuscript Edition"

Years ago, someone asked me if I knew anything about a new edition of the Gideon Welles diary. I didn't, but this summer 2014 release -- The Civil War Diary of Gideon Welles, Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy: The Original Manuscript Edition edited by William and Erica Gienapp (Univ of Ill Press) -- is surely just what that person was looking for. I don't know anything about this diary's

April 22, 2014

Ireland: Battle of Clontarf

April 23, 1014 - Munster Irish and Leinster forces clash outside of the Dublin at the Battle of Clontarf. In 1013, the King of Leinster, Máel Mórda mac Murchada, rose in rebellion against the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru. Receiving assistance from the Dublin Vikings of Sigtrygg Silkbeard, the Manx Vikings of Brodir, and the Viking Earl of Orkey, Sigurd Lodvesson, Murchada prepared for Brian's inevitable attack. After raiding around Dublin, Brian moved to confront his enemy's army. Meeting at Clontarf, just north of Dublin, the two forces engaged in a series of champion fights before opening the main battle. Commencing on the morning of Good Friday, April 23, the fighting at Clontarf lasted throughout the day. With the battle turning in his favor, Brian returned to his tent to pray. While there, Brodir, who earlier had nearly been killed by Brian's brother, Wolf the Quarrelsome, approached the tent with a small band of followers. Attacking, they killed Brian and his retainers. On the battlefield, Brian's forces succeeded in cutting off Murchada's route of escape and began massacring his forces. As the fighting finished, Brian's army, despite his death, proved victorious and was able to kill Murchada and destroy his army. The battle eliminated much of Ireland's central leadership and the country soon sank into regionalized, factional fighting.

April 21, 2014

Crimson Field: self-inflicted wounds

I quite enjoyed the first episode of The Crimson Field,   but by the third helping it was getting a bit ridiculous. So many issues – cowardice, Ireland, homosexuals, class conflicts… And most of the characters more interested in the issues (and their personal lives) than in healing the casualties… But the big topic yesterday evening […]

Rafuse: "MANASSAS: A Battlefield Guide"

[Manassas: A Battlefield Guide by Ethan S. Rafuse (University of Nebraska Press, 2014). Softcover, maps, illustrations, appendices, source notes. Pp. 253. ISBN:978-0-8032-3643-1 $21.95] Ethan Rafuse's Manassas: A Battlefield Guide is the first title since 2008 to appear from Nebraska's This Hallowed Ground series, which has proved to be an excellent alternative to the U.S. Army War College

April 20, 2014

US Navy: USS Idaho (BB-24)

Laid down in 1904, USS Idaho (BB-24) (right) entered service four years later. The second and final ship of the Mississippi-class, the battleship intially operated in the Caribbean and Atlantic until greeting the returing Great White Fleet in February 1909.  Largely engaged in routine, peacetime operations over the next four years, Idaho did conduct a cruise to Europe and protected American interests off the Mexican coast.  Sold to Greece in the summer of 1914, the battleship entered the Royal Hellenic Navy under the name Lemnos.  Remaining active in various roles, it was sunk in April 1941 by German Ju 87 Stukas during World War II.


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April 18, 2014

New This Month: April Part 3

I thought this pair of articles deserved their own post, because it's two ways to look at the coal industry during the industrial revolution. On the one hand, you've got how coal production expanded and its economic role here, but on the other there's the human side, and we have a piece on living and working conditions in the mines.

New This Month: April Part 2

Developments in iron production were at the heart of the industrial revolution, with technological advances causing greater production and the industry to physically move to new places; here's more. However, it's steam that the most famous development, so we have a look at how it slots in.

Wilson's Letter to the Pope

You can read Wilson's reply to a letter by the Pope in 1917:
To His Holiness Benedictus XV, Pope:

In acknowledgment of the communication of Your Holiness to the belligerent peoples, dated August 1, 1917, the President of the United States requests me to transmit the following reply:

Every heart that has not been blinded and hardened by this terrible war must be touched by this moving appeal of His Holiness the Pope, must feel the dignity and force of the humane and generous motives which prompted it, and must fervently wish that we might take the path of peace he so persuasively points out. But it would be folly to take it if it does not in fact lead to the goal he proposes. Our response must be based upon the stern facts and upon nothing else. It is not a mere cessation of arms he desires; it is a stable and enduring peace. This agony must not be gone through with again, and it must be a matter of very sober judgment that will insure us against it.

His Holiness in substance proposes that we return to the status quo ante bellum, and that then there be a general condonation, disarmament, and a concert of nations based upon an acceptance of the principle of arbitration; that by a similar concert freedom of the seas be established; and that the territorial claims of France and Italy, the perplexing problems of the Balkan States, and the restitution of Poland be left to such conciliatory adjustments as may be possible in the new temper of such a peace, due regard being paid to the aspirations of the peoples whose political fortunes and affiliations will be involved.

It is manifest that no part of this program can be successfully carried out unless the restitution of the status quo ante furnishes a firm and satisfactory basis for it. The object of this war is to deliver the free peoples of the world from the menace and the actual power of a vast military establishment controlled by an irresponsible government which, having secretly planned to dominate the world, proceeded to carry the plan out without regard either to the sacred obligations of treaty or the long-established practices and long-cherished principles of international action and honor; which chose its own time for the war; delivered its blow fiercely and suddenly; stopped at no barrier either of law or of mercy; swept a whole continent within the tide of bloodпїЅnot the blood of soldiers only, but the blood of innocent women and children also and of the helpless poor; and now stands balked but not defeated, the enemy of four-fifths of the world. This power is not the German people. It is the ruthless master of the German people. It is no business of ours how that great people came under its control or submitted with temporary zest to the domination of its purpose; but it is our business to see to it that the history of the rest of the world is no longer left to its handling.

To deal with such a power by way of peace upon the plan proposed by His Holiness the Pope would, so far as we can see, involve a recuperation of its strength and a renewal of its policy; would make it necessary to create a permanent hostile combination of nations against the German people who are its instruments; and would result in abandoning the newborn Russia to the intrigue, the manifold subtle interference, and the certain counter-revolution which would be attempted by all the malign influences to which the German Government has of late accustomed the world. Can peace be based upon a restitution of its power or upon any word of honor it could pledge in a treaty of settlement and accommodation?

Responsible statesmen must now everywhere see, if they never saw before, that no peace can rest securely upon political or economic restrictions meant to benefit some nations and cripple or embarrass others, upon vindictive action of any sort, or any kind of revenge or deliberate injury. The American people have suffered intolerable wrongs at the hands of the Imperial German Government, but they desire no reprisal upon the German people who have themselves suffered all things in this war which they did not choose. They believe that peace should rest upon the rights of peoples, not the rights of GovernmentsпїЅthe rights of peoples great or small, weak or powerfulпїЅtheir equal right to freedom and security and self-government and to a participation upon fair terms in the economic opportunities of the world, the German people of course included if they will accept equality and not seek domination.

The test, therefore, of every plan of peace is this: Is it based upon the faith of all the peoples involved or merely upon the word of an ambitious and intriguing government on the one hand and of a group of free peoples on the other? This is a test which goes to the root of the matter; and it is the test which must be applied.

The purposes of the United States in this war are known to the whole world, to every people to whom the truth has been permitted to come. They do not need to be stated again. We seek no material advantage of any kind. We believe that the intolerable wrongs done in this war by the furious and brutal power of the Imperial German Government ought to be repaired, but not at the expense of the sovereignty of any peopleпїЅrather a vindication of the sovereignty both of those that are weak and of those that are strong. Punitive damages, the dismemberment of empires, the establishment of selfish and exclusive economic leagues, we deem inexpedient and in the end worse than futile, no proper basis for a peace of any kind, least of all for an enduring peace. That must be based upon justice and fairness and the common rights of mankind.

We cannot take the word of the present rulers of Germany as a guaranty of anything that is to endure, unless explicitly supported by such conclusive evidence of the will and purpose of the German people themselves as the other peoples of the world would be justified in accepting. Without such guaranties treaties of settlement, agreements for disarmament, covenants to set up arbitration in the place of force, territorial adjustments, reconstitutions of small nations, if made with the German Government, no man, no nation could now depend on. We must await some new evidence of the purposes of the great peoples of the central powers. God grant it may be given soon and in a way to restore the confidence of all peoples everywhere in the faith of nations and the possibility of a covenanted peace.
Robert Lansing,
Secretary of State of the United States of America

American Revolution: The War Begins at Lexington

April 19, 1775 - The American Revolution begins with fighting at Lexington (left) and Concord. Early on the morning of April 19, 1775, 700 British troops departed Boston with orders from Gen. Thomas Gage to search for and seize colonial munitions in the town of Concord. Alerted that the British were approaching by Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Dr. Samuel Prescott, colonial militia and "Minutemen" were able to muster. Forming his men on Lexington Green, Captain John Parker gave them strict instructions not to fire unless fired upon. After the lead elements of the British column, led by Major John Pitcairn, arrived there was an exchange of words and then a shot rang out. While it is not known who fired it, it led to a brief battle in which eight colonists were killed. Moving on the British reached Concord and began their search for munitions. Near the North Bridge, colonial militia was able to defeat a British detachment. Having completed their mission, the British began marching back to Boston. As they moved, colonial forces repeatedly sniped at and ambushed them, ultimately inflicting 273 casualties. Colonial casualties for the day numbered 94. The fighting at Lexington and Concord became the opening battles of the American Revolution.


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April 17, 2014

Laura Keene

Performing at Ford's Theatre When Lincoln Was Shot

Laura Keene was a British-American stage actress who became known was the first powerful female theater manager and is credited with establishing New York City as the leading theatrical center in the United States. She was the featured actress in the production of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre, during which John [Read More ...]

April 16, 2014

A New Religion

As most Christians (and many non-Christians) know, the early followers of Jesus were persecuted by the authorities in the Roman Empire. Christians were blamed for the Great Fire in Rome and thrown to the lions; many zealous converts were ostracized, exiled and even executed for their faith. At one point, it even became illegal to be a Christian in Rome.

Yet in the Middle Ages, an overwhelming percentage of the population of western Europe was Christian, and the bishop of Rome -- the pope -- was such a powerful cleric that the few kings who dared to disobey his commands found themselves in some difficult situations. The Christian Church had become the most influential institution in the western world.

How did this change come about? How could what can only be described as a sect within Judaism become a full-fledged, independent religion? What events made Christianity change from an oppressed and illegal following to the triumphant and official creed of the Roman Empire? And how did the city of Rome become the center of Christianity in the west?

Get the answers in the very basic introduction, A New Religion.

JFK's Harvard Application

This is a fun little thing - you can read JFK's Harvard application online!  Thoughts on this essay:
Business Insider dismisses the essay for being five sentences long (I'm not sure how much more he could have written given the space) and implies that his answer wasn't carefully considered. That's probably true—Kennedy's grades show that he wasn't an especially good student in high school, and there's not much evidence that he took his education seriously at this point in his life. Plus, as Gawker points out, Kennedy wrote nearly exactly the same essay for his Princeton application.

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Still, Kennedy's essay shows a profound, if implicit, understanding of the primary value of attending an elite school: status and personal connections, rather than mastery of academic skills and knowledge. Notice that he only makes one mention of the education he'd receive at Harvard—a passing reference to the school's superior "liberal education." The rest of the paragraph focuses on the the non-academic benefits: having a "better background," sharing the same alma mater with his dad, and enjoying the "enviable distinction" of being a Harvard Man.

American Civil War: Third Battle of Winchester

Fought September 19, 1864, the Third Battle of Winchester saw Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan advance south and attack Confederate forces led by Lt. Gen. Jubal Early.  Striking with VI and XIX Corps, his early efforts to penetrate Early's line east of Winchester failed to obtain a breakthrough despite heavy fighting.  Bringing up VIII Corps, Sheridan was able to drive back the Confederate left forcing Early to withdraw to a new position closer to the town.  Coming under coordinated assaults by Union infantry, he was nearly surrounded when Maj. Gen. Alfred Torbert appeared north of Winchester with two cavalry divisions.  This threat and the imminent danger of Sheridan shattering his line led Early to order a retreat south to Fisher's Hill.  Forming a new defensive line, he was beaten again by Sheridan two days later.


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April 15, 2014

April 14, 2014

Vietnam War: First B-52 Flies

April 15, 1952 - The B-52 Stratofortress (right) flies for the first time. Introduced in 1955 , the B-52 Stratofortress became the backbone of the US Strategic Air Command. Designed for delivering nuclear weapons in the event of war with the Soviet Union, the B-52 saw service dropping and firing conventional munitions during the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War. In addition, the aircraft has been used in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. At this time, the B-52H squadrons are stationed at Minot Air Force Base (North Dakota) and Barksdale Air Force Base (Louisiana). An economical aircraft, the US Air Force intends to retain the B-52 until at least 2040, bringing the service life of the design to a remarkable 85 years.


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April 12, 2014

US Navy: USS Mississippi (BB-23)

Commissioned in 1908, USS Mississippi (BB-23) (right) was the lead ship of its class of battleship.  Designed as a smaller version of the earlier Connecticut-class, the Mississippi-class ultimately consisted of two ships.  Entering service, Mississippi operated in the Atlantic and in early 1909 met the Great White Fleet as it returned from its around-the-world cruise.  Continuing to sail with the Atlantic Fleet, the battleship visited Europe in 1910 before delivering Marines to Cuba two years later.  In early 1914, Mississippi assisted in building Naval Air Station Pensacola.  Embarking seaplanes, it carried them south to support the American occupation of Veracruz that spring.  This marked the first combat deployment of US naval aviators.  Remaining in the vicinity for a month, Mississippi returned to Hampton Roads in the summer of 1914.  Shortly thereafter, it, and its sister ship USS Idaho (BB-24), were sold to Greece.  Renamed Kilkis, the former Mississippi remained in the Royal Hellenic Navy until being sunk during World War II.


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April 11, 2014

New This Month: April Part 1

This month we expand our industrial revolution content with a look at causes and preconditions, and the often overlooked issue of banking and finance. We also have snapshots of two key figures: Richard Arkwright and Abraham Darby I...

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Why Did Russia give Crimea to Ukraine?

Some of the press surrounding the recent acquisition of Crimea by Russia included the statement that they were changing borders established in the aftermath of World War 2. However, Crimea was transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic by the Russian Soviet Federation in 1954. The reason why is indistinct, and Mark Kramer, Director of the Cold War Studies Program at Harvard University, has posted his deduction via the Wilson Center website. If you want the shorthand, Khrushchev used sending Crimea to Ukraine to gather support in his battle for power after Stalin's death.

April 10, 2014

New Funeral Photos?

Two new photos of Lincoln's funeral procession might have been found:
Paul Taylor, 60, of Columbia, a retired federal government accountant, believes the scene is on Broadway, outside New York’s historic Grace Church.

The day is Tuesday, April 25, 1865, 11 days after Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre in Washington.
And the crowd is waiting for, and then seems to be paying homage before, a horse-drawn hearse, whose motion makes it appear as a black blur as it passes by in the second picture.
If Taylor is right, scholars say he has identified rare photos of Lincoln’s marathon funeral rites, as well as images that show mourners honoring the slain chief executive.
Plus, it appears that the photographs were taken from an upper window of the studio of famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, which was across the street from the church.
“It’s a big deal,” said Richard Sloan, an expert on the Lincoln funeral ceremonies in New York.
“What makes it even a bigger deal is to be able to study the people. Even though you can’t see faces that well, just studying the people tells a story.”
Sloan added, “It’s as if you’re there, and you can see the mood.”
Many people, including children, are in their Sunday best. A few look up at the camera. Flowers are in bloom. But there is no levity.
Sloan said he is convinced that the pictures show the funeral scenes: “There’s no doubt about it.”
But experts at the Archives caution that although the theory sounds good, there could be other explanations, and no way to prove it conclusively.

Napoleonic Wars: Fireships in Basque Roads

April 11, 1809 - Captain Thomas Cochrane opens the Battle of the Basque Roads (right).  Having blockaded a French fleet of eleven ships of the line in Basque Roads, Adm. Lord Gambier became reluctant to attack.  Annoyed by this inaction, the Admiralty dispatched the daring Cochrane to lead a fire ship attack against the French.  Delayed by Gambier on April 10, Cochrane led an assault in on the night of April 11 using two explosion ships and twenty fire ships.  While the latter were largely ineffective, the former caused great confusion and fear among the French.  As a result, many of the French ships slipped their cables and ran aground in the shallow waters of Basque Roads.  Seeing all but two of the French ships aground at dawn, Cochrane repeatedly signaled Gambier to enter the roads to complete the victory.  When it became clear that Gambier would not attack, Cochrane entered the French anchorage aboard HMS Imperieuse (38 guns) and intentionally became heavily engaged with three French ships of the line.  Signaling Gambier for aid, two British ships of the line and seven frigates finally joined the action.  Before nightfall, Cochrane had captured or destroyed four ships of the line and a frigate.  Though eager to renew the action the next morning, Cochrane was incensed when Gambier recalled the entire fleet.  Returning to Britain, Cochrane was knighted but committed career suicide through constant criticism of Gambier.  Though it became obvious to all that Gambier had failed badly, he was acquitted in a sham court-martial which cleared his name.


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April 09, 2014

News Bits

This week, just a few stories about sunken ships, found communities, and the return of what was lost.

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April 08, 2014

Civil War 150th: Taylor Wins at Mansfield

April 8, 1864 - Confederate forces win the Battle of Mansfield.  In March 1863, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks began pushing up the Red River with the goal of capturing Shreveport, LA.  Supported by RAdm. David D. Porter's gunboats, the campaign moved slowly and Banks' men became increasingly strung out due to poor roads.  Opposing the Union advance was a small Confederate army led by Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor (right).  After initially withdrawing, he was able to gather sufficient forces to make a stand just south of Mansfield.  Selecting a clearing surrounded by heavy woods, Taylor succeeded in luring Banks' lead elements into battle.  Attacking on April 8, he routed them and drove back Union forces.  Beaten, Banks consolidated his position and turned back Confederate assaults the next day at the Battle of Pleasant Hill.  Despite this success, he elected to break off the campaign and retreat south.


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April 07, 2014

April 06, 2014

Napoleonic Wars: Siege of Badajoz Begins

April 6, 1812 - The forces of the Earl of Wellington storm the city of Badajoz, Spain. Following the capture of Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo, the Earl of Wellington moved to take the city of Badajoz. Arriving outside of its walls, British troops invested the city on March 16, 1812. Outnumbering the French garrison nearly 5-to-1, the British began pushing trenches and siege lines towards the city's thick walls. After beating off numerous French sorties, they succeeded in breaching the wall in three places. On April 6, Wellington ordered his men to storm the city. Moving forward, their attacks were repeatedly beaten back by the French defenders. As Wellington began to debate ending the assault, men from Gen. Thomas Picton's division were able to gain a foothold on the walls allowing reinforcements to enter the fray. Fighting through the city, the superior British numbers turned the battle in their favor and the French were forced to retreat to the San Cristobal fortress. Surrounded and outnumbered, the French soon surrendered. In the wake of the fighting, British troops brutally looted the city.


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April 05, 2014

Lincoln's son and College

So we all worry about college entrance exams, but imagine you are Lincoln's son.  In 1859, Robert Todd Lincoln failed his entrance exams to Harvard and had to go to Phillips Exeter Academy to improve his academics.

So what happens to Robert?
Robert Todd was accepted into Harvard in 1861, his father now in the White House and the country embroiled in war. At school, he was an average student with an active social life. But he rarely got letters like the one his father wrote to Latham. "I do not possess a single letter written by my father," the president's son said later. "When I was in college he was, of course, too much occupied to be writing me, except very rarely; and it never occurred to me then to keep those letters." 

The thing that "too much occupied" President Lincoln was, of course, the Civil War—not the best time for Robert Todd to be sending home mediocre grade reports. 

Despite all the heartache over admissions, the young Lincoln became a Harvard graduate in 1864, proving that even college rejections aren't the end of the world.

April 04, 2014

Nixon and the FBI

Did you know that Nixon applied for to be a FBI agent?  I can actually see him in the FBI, I have to say....anyway, check out this cool interactive view at his application!
“It is a nice window into a moment in Richard Nixon’s life that people probably don’t think about,” says Jennifer Johnson, the exhibition’s curator. “He has just finished law school, and like everyone, he is clearly trying to figure out what he wants to do.”

As the story goes, Nixon attended a lecture by an FBI special agent while studying at Duke. Just before he graduated with his law degree in June, 1937, he formally applied to the bureau. He was contacted for an interview, which he did in July of that year, and completed a physical exam at the request of J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI. But, after that, it was radio silence. He never received a response.

On June 11, 1954, the then-Vice President Richard Nixon spoke at the FBI National Academy’s graduation. Hoover actually introduced him, saying that he took special pleasure in doing so, because Nixon had once applied to the bureau. “Having already embarked upon the practice of law, the FBI’s loss ultimately became the country’s gain,” remarked Hoover. Nixon, in a later address to the academy, said, “he never heard anything from that application.”

A Historians Shoots back at Alternate History

Richard J Evans, a historian I greatly admire, has written a book on 'counterfactual' history, a subject I find good fun (examples of counterfactual include what would have happened if Britain had stayed out of WW1). It looks an interesting read, but this review from the Times Higher Education Supplement concludes fans of alternate history will be disappointed as Evans finishes, well, not exactly a fan. Indeed, in a small interview with Evans at the end of the review he gives a definite statement on another subject: "so I gave up historical fiction; it's not really for grown-ups." Controversial, and not something I personally agree with even though I rarely read any.

Is it Richard III? Experts Preach Caution

Two experts, Michael Hicks of the University of Winchester, and Professor Martin Biddle, Director of the Winchester Research Unit, have spoken to BBC History Magazine about their great concerns regarding the identification of a skeleton found under a car park as Richard III. Both are worried by delays in releasing details on the evidence, and in what the holders of the skeleton claim. They want a coroner's style inquest into the issue, which seems fair enough.

Guest Post: Closing remarks on McClellan's telegram from Maurice D’Aoust

Closing remarks from Maurice D’Aoust: I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Sears has failed to respond to the evidence presented in my last rebuttal surrounding the phantom “idnight” in McClellan’s September 11th message to Halleck.  I must, therefore conclude that he concedes no “idnight” exists either on the microfilm copy or on Mr. Thorp’s digital rendering of the message.  I was also

Allegheny Arsenal Explosion

Civil War Women in the Arsenals

On September 17, 1862, seventy-eight girls and young women were killed in an explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - the worst civilian disaster of the Civil War. The deaths of these young women were given little press coverage because the Battle of Antietam was fought the same [Read More ...]

April 03, 2014

Guest Post: Gene Thorp offers "A brief clarification for Mr. Sears"

I would like to state clearly that I did not and do not agree with Mr. Sears that finding McClellan's original Sept. 13 Trophies telegram is theonly certain way to settle the time-stamp issue. If it can be conclusively shown that McClellan did not receive the Lost Order before noon, then it would also mean that he could not have reported it to Lincoln at noon. The misrepresentations from Mr.

April 02, 2014

Rest in Peace, Jacques Le Goff

Through works like The Birth of Europe and Medieval Civilization, groundbreaking historian Jacques Le Goff helped us all understand that the Middle Ages were not a time of darkness but the era in which many of our most fundamental modern western principles were formed. He did a great deal to change the focus of learning about the past from politics and events to attitude and anthropological matters. Two of his books are on my shelf (and several more on my wish list). Jacques Le Goff's impact has been strong these last several decades, and his works will continue to influence and inform for decades to come.

Jacques Le Goff died in Paris on Tuesday at the age of 90.

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April 01, 2014

March 31, 2014

King Francis I

A supporter of the arts, Francis I of France invited Leonardo da Vinci to spend his declining years at his summer residence. Legend has it the artist died in the arms of the king. What was this Renaissance king like? Find out in his Who's Who Profile.

More Glossary Terms

What can I say? I just added them and I thought you might like to know about them.

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Ida's tiara

Ida McKinley's tiara was featured on Pawn Stars.  The McKinley museum is trying to raise the money to bring the tiara back home to Canton:
Wm. McKinley Presidential Library & Museum has started a fund-raising campaign to purchase the diamond-crusted tiara from “Pawn Stars” celebrity Rick Harrison for the amount he purchased it — $43,000 — from a Canton family.

“We knew it existed. We borrowed it twice to display at special events,” said Kimberly Kenney, curator at the McKinley museum. “It came down through Ida’s sister’s family. When we borrowed it, it belonged to a woman who was a great-great-neice of Ida’s. She passed away and it was her family that sold it.”

Rats not to blame for the Black Death?

Every now and then some scientist or other comes out with an article or book or monograph on how the disease of the Black Death could not have been Bubonic Plague, or how "evidence shows" that multiple diseases were involved in the pandemic. Usually, they're waving their papers under our noses without first looking at the entire known history of events. Now a new theory is here to exonerate those sweet little rodents that we've always blamed as carriers (oh Remy, won't you cook me a nice batch of Ratatouille?)

Everything you know about the Black Death is wrong, claims Terrence McCoy at the Washington Post. Um, really? Everything? And Black Death wasn't actually bubonic plague, Kate Seamons of Fox News tells us. Hmmm. Why, then, did period sources describe victims with black buboes?

If you've read our little feature Death Defined, you know that scholars long ago concluded that four different manifestations of the disease spread during those horrible years. This included Bubonic, which was transmitted by fleas living on infected rats; and Pneumonic, which was airborne. The Bubonic form, which was survivable, spread more slowly and killed more slowly than the Pneumonic; but both were caused by the same bacterium, yersinia pestis. And let's not forget the Septicemic variety, which could kill a healthy individual virtually overnight if an open sore came into contact with the infection. The speed of transmission varied greatly, and the different forms of the disease can explain why.

The recent discovery of 25 skeletons under London's Charterhouse Square has provided scientists with some fascinating new data. But does any of it really contradict what we already know? Check out this article by Jill Lawless of the Associated Press, made available at SFGate, and decide for yourself.

And please, think twice before you try to pet any of the critters that may be residing in your walls.

Is graffiti Art? In this case, it's evidence

There's an ongoing discussion about modern graffiti. Is it art, or is it just vandalism? Personally, I believe that some graffiti is most definitely art, and I admire the renegade artists who made blank walls and train cars much more interesting and, yes, beautiful with their talents. On the other hand, anyone who tags art that's already been created (a mural in Austin springs to mind) is just displaying childish stupidity.

But we tend to forget that graffiti can also be a historian's friend. When archaeologists uncover long-buried buildings and discover names or slogans scratched into the walls, scholars of many disciplines tend to get pretty excited.

So here's a rather exciting story at BBC News about graffiti on the wall of a church in Suffolk, England -- not art, but an autograph by 15th-century poet John Lydgate.

March 30, 2014

Is it really Richard?

In case you haven't been keeping up with it, in August, 2012, skeletal remains were found under a parking lot in Leicester, where scholars theorized the burial site of King Richard III of England...

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March 29, 2014

March 28, 2014

Coastal Storms and Erosion Threaten British Heritage

As with the last time I spoke about the effect of the weather on heritage, I feel a little bad talking about historical sites when so many people have suffered in the storms. But after a winter of harsh weather, English Heritage have identified twenty five of its sites of particular historic interest as being at major risk from coastal erosion or flooding. There's more in this Guardian article, but what I wanted to stress was that this listing of twenty five could be vastly expanded because there are masses of interesting historical sites near the coast - Britain is an island nation after all - which are being damaged by what feels like extremes of weather. (Well, extreme for Britain.)

The Great Escape of 1918

History Extra have an interview with Saul David about a mass escape of British officers from a German prisoner of war camp in the last year of World War One. They tie it into 'The Great Escape' of World War Two, and make a claim that it should be better known.

March 25, 2014

Grover Cleveland's Affair

You can check out this article which talks about both sides of the Cleveland affair scandal.  Cleveland's side of the story was one of merely being a helpful friend:
At the time, the campaign provided this rationale: Cleveland was a bachelor, and Halpin had been rather free with her affections, including with some of Cleveland’s friends—prominent Buffalo businessmen all. As the only unmarried man of the bunch, Cleveland, though not certain the child was his, claimed paternity and helped Halpin name the boy and place him with a caring family. Really, he’d been looking out for his friends and for a woman in unfortunate circumstances. The scandal was, of course, unfortunate, but the governor’s involvement was far from nefarious, and certainly shouldn’t preclude him from serving as president (especially not when Blaine had already made it clear he was not a man to be trusted).

Halpin's story was quite different:
In an October 31, 1884, interview with the Chicago Tribune, she proclaimed, “The circumstances under which my ruin was accomplished are too revolting on the part of Grover Cleveland to be made public.”

Halpin was a 38-year-old widow in 1874, according to the Tribune, which also reported:
Halpin said that Cleveland had pursued her relentlessly, and that she finally consented to join him for a meal at the Ocean Dining Hall & Oyster House. After dinner, Cleveland escorted her back to her boarding house. In an 1874 affidavit, Halpin strongly implied that Cleveland’s entry into her room and the incident that transpired there was not consensual—he was forceful and violent, she alleged, and later promised to ruin her if she went to the authorities.

Halpin said she told Cleveland she never wanted to see him again, but “five or six weeks later” was forced to seek him out because she was in the kind of trouble only Cleveland could help her with.
The trouble, of course, was pregnancy.

Nine months later, Halpin’s son was born and promptly removed from her custody. Halpin was admitted under murky circumstances to a local asylum for the insane. Doctors from that institution, when interviewed by the press during the 1884 campaign, corroborated Halpin’s insistence that she was not, in fact, in need of committing.

March 23, 2014