American history, Britain history, England, English History, Great Britian, history and travel, Still Current, Uncategorized, Washington DC, World history

The War of 1812, America’s second revolution 

With most events in history nothing is as black and white as we think. The War of 1812 was one of those. While American history tends to focus on the American Revolution and Civil War it was the War of 1812 that would cause more changes in the Untied States. 

After President James Madison presented to Congress the grievances against Great Britain on June 1, 1812, Congress took up the debate on formally declaring war. It’s not clear if this was the intention of President Madison since his message didn’t specifically ask for a declaration of war. The House debated for four days before voting 79 to 49 for war, with the Senate agreeing with a 19 to 13 vote. This would be the first declaration of war for the new United States. On June 18, 1812 James Madison signed the declaration into law, formally starting a conflict that both the United States and Great Britain were unprepared for.

It was only twenty-nine years since the end of the American Revolution and twenty-three years since the U.S. Constitution went into effect. The United States was just beginning to learn what being a nation was about. Many of the nation’s policies before this war were based on fears it had from the Revolution and what the founders knew of Europe. One of those fears was not having a large standing army which could be used to overthrow the government. 

After the American Revolution Congress disbanded most of its standing army, depending instead on each state’s militias to handle the defenses, as had been done before the revolution. This reliance on state militias is shown in the Untied States Contitution’s Second Amendment which starts out, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,…” Congress even passed a bill limiting the size its federal forces. At the start of the War of 1812 the United States had less than 12,000 men in its regular army. The U.S. Congress turned to the state militias to take up arms in this first declared war, but what happened didn’t make them feel very secure. In some states the war was unpopular and they refused to call up their militias. At its beginnings the new United States saw each of its thirteen states as being more independent. A united federal style government was an unfamiliar concept, so some objected to fighting outside their own state. But the biggest drawback to the militia style of armed forces was that for the most part they were under trained and poorly commanded. These state militias would struggle against the well trained British soldiers causing President Madison to say,” I could never have believed so great a difference existed between regular troops and a militia force.” 

However on the Canadian front at the start of the war the United States did fairly well. This was mostly due to the fact that the greatest number of America’s regular trained army was already there from its involvement in the Indian wars. Another reason for the United States early successes was that Britain was a little busy with the French in Europe, and had little concern about their former colonies. Although the United States saw the War of 1812 as just its war it was in reality a true globe conflict. 

Through the first two years of the war most of the fighting took place along the northern border between the United States and Canada, and on the lower Great Lakes. The defense of Canada was done mostly by the Canadians because the British were heavily involved in the European War of 1812 against Napoleon Bonaparte and France. In fact many of the issues that caused the United States to declare war were based on what Great Britain had imposed on the U.S. due of their fight against France. These were trade sanctions and the U.S. merchant sailor “impressment.” It wasn’t until 1814 that things dramatically changed in the fighting in North America, and that many of the events that American’s hold dear came about during this period.  

On March 30, 1814 Napoleon surrendered to the British and their allies after his devastating defeat in Russian. On April 6 Napoleon abdicated his power in France, and although Napoleon would return to meet his Waterloo at Waterloo this short respite allowed Britain to turn their full attention to the war in America.  

On July 18, 1814, A British 74-gun ship of the line and its support ships sailed into Passamaquoddy Bay Maine. The small American detachment at Fort Sullivan, both out manned and out gunned, surrendered. This began the occupation of Maine by the British. At that time Maine was part of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and when Maine’s cry for assistance from their Massachusetts government went unheeded it would begin the movement for Maine’s eventual statehood.  1814 would also be the beginnings of the British offensive in America.

Although the British Navy had controlled the eastern seaboard of the United States since 1813 the war with France had limited a large land campaign. Britain now free from the conflict in Europe was ready to launch a major attack on the US cities of Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia. 

The first encounter was the Battle of Bladensburg, just outside of Washington DC. The majority of American troops involved where the poorly trained state militia, while the British were battle hardened and disciplined. The result of that battle was what has been termed, “the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms.” The American militia broke rank and fled, with some running through the streets of the nation’s Capital in panic. 

On August 24 the British army entered Washington as President James Madison and Congress fled. British troops burned government buildings, including the Capital and the President’s house. During the rebuilding of the President’s house it was found that white washing would hid the stains from its burning, hence the President’s house became then known as- the White House.

The taking of our capital would be the high water mark for England. The British army and navy then moved on toward Baltimore. They believed that American resistance would be equally as weak there as it had been in Washington. However on September 14 and 15, at the battles of North Point and Hampstead Hill, and the famous defense of Fort McHenry (Star Spangled Banner fame) they met a stronger and better trained American force of army regulars. The British could not break the American defenses so they withdraw back out to sea. Their new plan was to leave the U.S east coast and resume the offensive in the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans. 

From the results of the Battle of Baltimore and also their defeat in the Battle of Plattsburg New York on September 6 – 11, the British felt that there was nothing to be gained by continuing the war. The United States also saw it as a stalemate with nothing to be gained by continuing, so on December 24 1814 the US and Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent, officially ending the War of 1812. However this news of the wars end had failed to reach the British fleet and army heading for New Orleans, and the American Major General that would be there to meet them.

Major General Andrew Jackson would come out of this meeting of these two forces as a national hero that would rocket him to the Presidency. But before I discuss the Battle of New Orleans I’d like to give a brief background of this man that benefited most from that conflict.

Andrew Jackson was born to an improvised family on March 15, 1767 in ether North or South Carolina. History isn’t exactly sure on which side of the state line he was born, and both states claim him for their native son. Jackson’s lifelong hatred of the British came about due his mother and two brothers dying while the British occupied the Carolinas during the American Revolution. 

Jackson studied law and was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1787. Soon after he moved to the new territory of Tennessee and became the prosecuting attorney for what would be the city of Nashville. When Tennessee began its application for Statehood Jackson helped to write its constitution. He would also be one of Tennessee’s first members to the U.S. House of Representatives. Jackson decided not to run for reelection to the house but rather for the U.S. Senate. After only a year in that seat he resigned to take a Judgeship with the Tennessee Superior Court. While a judge he was chosen to command the state’s militia, and fate stepped in when the War 1812 broke out. 

Jackson received national notice from his five month campaign against the British supported Creek Indian Nation, and his victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Although Andrew Jackson was popular from the Indian campaign it would be the battle New Orleans that would make him an American household name. 

Hearing that the British’s were sailing to attack New Orleans Andrew Jackson raced to the city’s defense. Before he left he told his wife, “I owe to the British a debt of retaliatory vengeance, and should our forces meet I trust I shall pay the debt.” 

The attack on New Orleans was part of the British’s three part invasion strategy: Plattsburg, Baltimore and New Orleans. Their success had been checked by the Americans at both Plattsburg and Baltimore; their last chance to gain anything from the war was to win at New Orleans. Having New Orleans in British control would have given them power over the Mississippi River and American’s western trade. 

The British faced a hodgepodge American force comprised of army regulars, state militiamen, free blacks, New Orleans aristocrats, Choctaw tribesmen, and Jean Lafitte’s pirates. These numbered at around 5,300 men. Jackson and the Americans faced over 6,000 well trained British red coats that had just come from the Battle of Baltimore.    

Between December 23 and the 28, 1814 there were a few minor skirmishes between the two armies. The main battle finally occurred on January 8 1815, when British commander General Pakenham ordered a two-fold attack on the American’s. The first phase was a partial success when Pakenham’s men took a small American artillery post. However when a rifle shot killed their commander, Colonial Rennie, the British soldiers panicked into a hasty retreat. That was one of the weaknesses of the British soldiers at that time; they were effective only when an officer was leading them.  

The next phase of Pakenham’s plan was to march directly against Jackson’s main line of defense with the full body of his troops. He hoped that the morning mist would hide his men’s advancement. However the sun burned off the fog leaving the British soldiers completely visible and open to American rifle and cannon fire. The British plan unraveled, and although the red coats fought bravely the American fire was too overwhelming. After 30 minutes the British soldiers retreated in droves leaving behind a field of dead and dying. Afterwards American Major Howell Tatum said of the state of the British casualties, “truly distressing…some had their heads shot off, some their legs, some their arms. Some were laughing; some crying…there was every variety of sight and sound.” In the end the British had lost over 2,000 of its best soldiers, including General Pakenham. Andrew Jackson’s losses were less than 100 men. 

Although the stunned British army languished in Louisiana for a few days after the battle, and there was an abortive navel attack of Fort St. Philip, the fighting was over. 

As the British troops were boarding their ships for England Andrew Jackson paraded into New Orleans to great celebration, rivaling any Mardi Gras, or a Caesar marching into Rome.

Battle of New Orleans and the end of the War of 1812 gave the young United States a shot in the arm of national pride and honor. Even though strategically America gained nothing, they had beaten the great British army and navy. The War of 1812 has been called our second revolution, and this one we won on our own. 

The War of 1812 had shown that the United States needed a strong national military force, the old militia system wasn’t effective. The national pride of beating the 19th century’s superpower would inspire the United States to become more globally active, it would also give drive to the nations western expansion challenging Span and Mexico. It was the war that put the United States on the road of being a major power in the world.

Of further interest: While traveling in Canada, especially near Niagara and the Great Lakes, you’ll find monuments to the War of 1812. The differences in these, as opposed to our monuments of that war, is these hail Canadian victories over the United States.

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American history, history and travel, History in Time, Lost and Found, Myths and Legends, Still Current, Texas history, The Alamo, Travel, Uncategorized

The History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

By the end of 15th century Span had claimed for itself all of South and Central America and as far north in North American as California, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas. But claiming these lands and controlling them were two totally a different matters.

 

The professional Spanish Conquistadors sole mission was to look for gold and silver, not to create settlements for Spain. This was very true with their North America claims.  In fact Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Kansas went completely unsettled by the Spanish. The Spanish also had problems in populating the extreme northern parts of Florida and Mexico.

Although British colonists from Georgia and the Carolina colonies had begun settling in northern Florida and its panhandle it was losing their state of Texas that worried Spain the most.

In 1689, near Matagorda Bay in Texas, they found the remains of French explorer La Salle’s Fort Saint Louis. Fearing French encroachment Spain needed some way to secure the northern lands of Mexico, and the best way was to establish settlements of their own. They chose a method that had been successful in other regions of Mexico and California, Catholic Church Missions.

The Mission system was created by the Franciscan order of the Catholic Church to spread Christianity among the native peoples. But it also provided permeant settlements that could attract other Spanish colonist to move near these missions.

 

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The Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1786

Of all the missions constructed in east Texas during this period the largest concentration in North America were the five built along the San Antonio River. The first of these missions was San Antonio de Valero in 1718, followed by the missions San Jose, San Juan, Concepcion, and Espada. Each of these missions is roughly five miles apart, the distance a monk could walk in a day.

Today four of these five mission churches are still being used as active Catholic parishes. Only the first, San Antonio de Valero is not, but is by far the most famous.

In 1718, the San Antonio de Valero mission was founded near todays San Pedro Springs Park in San Antonio. San Pedro Springs would be only the first of three sites for this mission. In 1724 it moved to its present location on the east side of the San Antonio River at an oxbow bend in that river.

In 1727 a two story stone convento, or priest’s residence, was completed, and in 1744 construction began on the mission’s first stone church. A small temporary adobe building was used for mass during its construction. This first church, with its bell tower and sacristy, collapsed in the 1750’s due to poor workmanship.

Construction on the second, more ambitious, church began in 1758. Its limestone walls were four feet thick to support a barrel-vaulted roof, dome and choir loft. Its design included twin bell towers and an elaborate carved façade. During this construction the Indian population declined causing work to stop. This building would remain roofless and never finished, except for the carvings on the façade.

During this time the mission’s need for defense drastically changed due to a massacre of the missionaries and mission Indians at Santa Cruz de San Saba in 1758. Although Spanish soldiers had begun a defensive presidio (fort) across the river in San Antonio de Bexar it was never completed. Fearing for their safety the priests and mission Indians took it about themselves to fortify the mission by enclosing the complex with an eight foot high, two foot thick wall and a fortified gate. Added to its defenses were a small number of cannon provided by the Spanish military.

For the next four decades the mission San Antonio de Valero would house and support a small number of monks and declining Indian populations, while across the river the town of Bexar continued to grow.

By the late 1700’s the population of mission Indians had continued to decline throughout Texas, and also the hope that these missions would attract more Spanish settlers to northern Mexico hadn’t happen ether. In 1793 Spain began to secularize, close down, the missions in Texas.

After secularization the San Antonio de Valero mission’s grounds and buildings were given to the twelve remaining Indians still living within its walls, and the mission’s religious duties passed to Bexar’s San Fernando church across the river. Over the next decade those twelve Indians would also move, leaving the mission compound to crumb in disrepair.

As the 19th century dawned Mexican Texas’ borders were again challenged by France. There was a disagreement over were the border actually was. Spain claimed it to be at the Red River, while France claimed it to be the Sabine River, 45 miles further west. The threat to their northern frontier became even more of a concern for Spain when the United States’ purchased Louisiana in 1803. There were already illegal French and American immigrants in Spanish Texas, and now the always expanding United States was at their very doorstep.

To help guard against further illegals from settling in Texas Spain increased their military presence throughout the region. They reinforced the small company of soldiers at San Antonio de Bexar with a Calvary company of one hundred men. These were the Second Flying Company of San Carlos De Alamo De Parras, named after the small town of San Jose y Santiago del Alamo, near Parras in the Mexican state of Coahuila.

Since a proper presidio hadn’t been built in Bexar the soldiers took up residency in the already walled Valero mission. Over time the mission Valero began to be called for the Calvary stationed there, and by 1807 military documents simply referred to the place as, the Alamo.

 

The Alamo

The Alamo Church late 1800’s, after the “hump” and roof was added.

There is a legend that says that the mission’s name came from the rows of Cottonwood (Alamo is Spanish for Cottonwood) trees near it on the Alameda road. However these trees were planted long after the mission was called the Alamo.

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American history, Gettysburg, history and travel, Myths and Legends, Nationa Memorials, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, The American Civil War, Travel, Uncategorized, Washington DC

American Memorial Day

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

In the United States our Memorial Day Holiday marks for many the beginning of the summer season. It’s a weekend for picnics, parades and fireworks. But how did this holiday begin? And what was its original purpose? To find this out we need to go back to the years following our American Civil War.

 

 

Memorial Day began officially in 1868 as Decoration Day and was borne out of the post-Civil War to remember those who had died in that war. At that time the Civil War had affected more families in this country than any other before it, because both sides were Americans.

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The Tomb of the Unknown Union Civil War Soldiers. 1,001 bones of Union soldiers gathered from the battlefields rest in there.

 

 

Credit for the beginnings of Decoration Day falls to General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order N0. 11 which states, “The 30th of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” The date of May 30th was chosen by General Logan because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle.

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The original Memorial stage at Arlington National Cemetery from which James Garfield spoke to the 5,000 that were in attendance.

 

 

 

On the first Decoration Day over 5,000 participants heard General James Garfield, later the 20th President of the United States, speak at Arlington National Cemetery. After which they decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.   

 

Many states and cities claimed to be the birthplace of Decoration Day. But it was the State of New York who officially recognized the holiday in 1873, and perhaps because of this in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson declared the City of Waterloo New York as its official birthplace.

 

By the late eighteen hundreds all of the northern states had adopted the celebration; however the southern states refused to acknowledge the day because the felt it was honoring the Union dead. They chose other days to honor their fallen Confederate soldiers. That was until after World War I when the holiday was changed from just honoring those of the Civil War to all Americans who died fighting in any war.  However, still today some southern states continue to have separate dates to honor those who fought for Confederacy.

 

In 1915, Moina Michael was inspired by the World War I poem, “In Flanders Fields” and wrote her own poem to honor the war dead:

 

“We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.”

Poppies at the Tower of London

The sea of ceramic poppies fill the moat of the Tower of London in 2014. One for each of the fallen soldiers from Great Britain in Word War I.

 

 

She also developed the idea to wear a red poppy on Decoration Day to further honor those who died while serving in war. She and her friends sold poppies to raise money to help servicemen in need. When a Madam Guerin was visiting our country from France she saw what Moina Michael had started and took the idea back to France. There she began creating artificial red poppies to be sold to raise funds for the war orphaned children and widows.

 

In 1921 the Franco-American Children’s League began selling the poppies until it disbanded a year later. Needing help Madam Guerin turned to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The VFW became the first organization to sell poppies on Memorial Day in 1922. Beginning in 1924 disabled veterans began making the “Buddy” Poppies that are now sold. The United States Post Office honored Moina Michael for her work by putting her likeness on a stamp in 1948.

 

The original date for Memorial Day as May 30th was changed with the passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971. Now Memorial Day is observed as the last Monday in May. This conforms to the other Federal holidays in providing a three day weekend. 

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington

 

 

In 2000 the National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed by Congress which asks all Americans at 3pm on Memorial Day, “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to taps.

 

Today Memorial Day for many has expanded to not just honoring those who fought and died in war, but also to those who had served and are now gone.  

 

 

 

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American history, history and travel, Nationa Memorials, Still Current, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, Travel, Uncategorized, Washington DC, World history, World War II

Remembering and Honoring: Washington DC’s Wars Memorials

 

First self portrait- Ron at sixty six

Ron Current

There were no “national” wars memorials in the nation’s capital until the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was propose in the late 1970’s. Since then there are now three on, or near the National Mall. These honor those who fought in Vietnam, Korea and World War II. Here is a brief history and photos of those three memorials, and what you’ll see on your visit to Washington DC.

The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam War was my generation’s war. Many of my high school classmates went off to fight in that conflict, some not coming back. Vietnam also, because of the way our veterans were treated when they returned, helped to change the way American’s began looking at our men and women in service.

4 x 6 Veitnam War Memorial

The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial, “The Wall”

The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial was the first National wars memorial constructed in Washington DC, and was dedicated in 1982. Of the three war memorials it is the smallest, covering just two acres.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, most commonly called just “The Wall,” is located northeast of the Lincoln Memorial, and across the National Mall’s reflection pool from the Korean War Memorial. The Wall was designed by American architect Maya Lin, who was just twenty-one at the time. It also has the most basic design when compared to the other two memorials. Its design is to symbolically show a “wound that is closed and healing.”

The Veitnam Wall one

Hundreds of items are left at the base of the wall

“The Wall” is made up of two 264 feet 9 inchs long gabbro walls that are etched with the names of the men and women who were ether killed in action, missing in action, or a prisoner of war. These gabbro slabs are sunk into the ground, with the apex where the two walls meet being 10.1 feet high from its base to the top of the wall. The wall then taper off to just 8 inches at each end of its two wings. There are currently 58,307 names listed on the wall, those who died in action have a diamond design next to their names, those who are MIA or a POW have a cross next to theirs. When a death is confirmed of one of those MIA’s or a POW’s a diamond is then superimposed over the cross. Also if a MIA or POW returns home alive their name is circumscribed by a circle, as of this posting this has not yet happened.

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From the end of the wall looking down

When you gaze at the wall you can see your reflection along with the names that are etched on it, again this symbolically brings the past and present together. There is a pathway running along the base of the Wall for visitors. Along the wall are hundreds of notes, letter, and other mementos that have been left by family, friends, those who served with or knew one of those listed. These items are carefully collected by the members of the Park Service, and stored for safe keeping. I was told that there’s a plan to build a museum near by to display these items, and to also tell the story of the Wall and the War. There are also members of the Park Service there to help you to find a name listed on the Wall.

The Three Soldiers Vietnam War Memorial

“The Three Soldiers” statue near the Vietnam Wall

Off a short distance from the wall, so as not to take away from Maya Lin’s vision, were added three additional components to this memorial. “The Three Solders” bronze statue was added in 1984, The Vietnam Women’s Memorial, honoring the women who served in that war, was then added in 1993, and the Memory Plaques placed near the statues in 2004. This plaque is to remember those who fought in Vietnam but died after the war as a direct result of injuries stuffed there. The plaque reads, “In memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service. We honor and remember your service. “

The National Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Memorial was the second memorial that was built in Washington. It is located across Lincoln Memorial Circle from the Lincoln Memorial, and south of the reflecting pool on the National Mall.

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Korean Memorial States of Soldiers on patrol

The ground breaking took place on June 14, 1992, Flag Day, by President George H. W. Bush. It was dedicated on July 27, 1995, on the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended that war, by President Bill Clinton and Kim Young Sam, President of the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

The Memorial covers 2.20 acres and is in the shape of a triangle intersecting a circle. As you approach along one of the two tree covered walkways you’ll first notice the gray statues in the center. There are nineteen stainless steel statues representing a squad of soldiers on patrol, marching through juniper bushes and granite strips, these symbolizing the rugged terrain of Korea. I was told that the most moving time to visit this memorial is in the very early morning when the mist surrounds the statues. The statues range from 7 feet 6 inches to 7 feet 3 inches in height, and represents the four branches of the United States services that served there: fourteen for the Army, three for the Marines, a Navy Corpsman, and an Air Force air observer. All of the statues are all in full combat gear. One of the more haunting effects of this memorial’s statures is that no matter where you are standing along the bordering walk, one of them seems to be looking straight at you.

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Real veterans images are sandblasted on the wall of the Korean War Memorial

Going up the right side of the memorial is a 164 foot long mural wall of highly polished black granite. Sandblasted into its polished surface are 2,500 actual archival photo images of men and women who were involved in the Korean War. There is a story that actor Allen Alda, of TV’s MASH fame, was so deeply involved in getting this memorial built that his image is one of those on the wall, even though he didn’t serve in Korea.

Along the left side is the United Nations Wall, it lists the twenty-two UN member nations that contributed troops or medical support to the Korean effort. On the south side are three Rose of Sharon hibiscus bushes, the national flower of South Korea.

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No matter where you stand, one of the statues is looking at you

 

At the far end is the semicircle, at the top of the incline that the statue patrol is marching toward, is the Pool of Remembrance. This shallow 30 foot circular pool is lined in black granite and surrounded by a grove of linden trees. These trees create a barrel effect that causes the sun to reflect onto the pool. It is also here were the statistics of those killed, missing in action, or held as prisoners are engraved. Nearby is a plaque that reads, “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”

Korean War Memorial Freedom Is Not Free

There is also one other large granite wall there that bears this simple, but true, message, “Freedom Is Not Free.”

 The National World War II Memorial WW II Memorial sign

This is the newest of the three memorials, dedicated by President George W. Bush on May 29, 2004 and opened to public on April 29th. The memorial sits at the eastern end of the mall’s reflection pool, between the Lincoln and Washington monuments.

 

It is the largest of the three; the plaza is a semicircle 337 feet 10 inches long and 240 feet 2 inches wide. The plaza is ringed by 56 granite pillars, each are 17 feet high. Each pillar is inscribed with the names of the 48 states in the Union at the time of the war, as well as the District of Columbia, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii (then not states), the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

WW II Memorial Pacific

There are two triumphal arches on the north and south ends, the one on the north is engraved “Atlantic” and on the southern one, “Pacific.” These arches represent the two theaters of the war. As you enter through the main entrance off of 17th Street you walk down a slight incline of about six feet to a fountain pool at the center of the memorial. The walls that border this entrance have basic reliefs of scenes of American’s war experiences. Also inconspicuously located on these walls are two “Kilroy was here” engravings. These represent the symbol used by American soldiers to show that we were presence and protecting during the war. WW II Memorial

The large fountain pool in the memorial’s center is 246 feet 9 inches long and 147 feet 8 inches wide. On the west side of the pool is the humbling “Freedom Wall.” On it are 4,048 gold stars, each star represents one hundred Americans that gave their lives in World War II.

 

In front of this wall is inscribed a massage, “Here we mark the price of freedom.”

WW II Gold Stars on Memorial

World War I Memorial

The isn’t currently a national memorial to honor and remember those that served in World War I, there wasn’t a national memorial program at that time. It was up to each individual state, or community to erected their own memorial to honor their citizens that had served in that conflict. You can visit the District of Columbia’s  World War I memorial, it’s just a short walk south of the World War II memorial.

There is now a committee formed to work on building a national World War I memorial, there are no details as to when or where that memorial will be.

 

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American history, Gettysburg, history and travel, Still Current, The American Civil War, Uncategorized

The Battle of Gettysburg, July 1 – 3, 1863

The Ghost of Gettysburg. A Confederate officer gazes across the battlefield, waiting for the signal to attack

The Ghost of Gettysburg.
A Confederate officer gazes across the battlefield, waiting for the signal to attack

Ron Current

Ron Current

The American Civil War had been raging for a little over two years. In England Confederate ambassadors were negotiating with Britain to be recognized as a separate nation, which would then allow Britain to provide the much needed war supplies to the manufacturing poor south. The Confederate armies had won most of the major battles so far. Only at the Battle of Antietam in September of 1862, during Robert E. Lee’s first attempt to take the war into the north, did the battle end in a draw. With President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued in January of 1863, Britain, which had abolished slavery in 1833, was having second thoughts about giving their recognition to the rebellion states. And in the western campaign the tide was turning to the north. Major General Ulysses S. Grant had laid siege to Vicksburg, the last major Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River.

After his success at the battle of Chancellorsville Gen. Robert E. Lee know that he needed to shift the focus from the west. Gen. Lee believed that if he attacked as far north as Harrisburg or Philadelphia Pennsylvania he would show England that the Confederacy was still strong, and he hoped also to influence Northern politicians into giving up on the war. Lee began his second invasion of the north by taking his Army of Northern Virginia up the Shenandoah Valley into Pennsylvania. Hearing that the Union Army had crossed the Potomac River, and not knowing its strength or location, Lee order his army to concentration in the town of Cashtown Pennsylvania, eight miles from the town of Gettysburg.

Hearing that there was a shoe factory in Gettysburg Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettgrew took a company of the North Carolinians to Gettysburg in search of supplies. As they approached they noticed Union cavalry arriving to the south of the town. Pettgrew and his men returned to Cashtown and reported what he saw to his two commanders, Generals Hill and Heth. Neither general believed that it could be a large Union force, but rather only the Pennsylvania militia. They disobeyed Lee’s orders to remain at Cashtown until the entire army had arrived, and decided to make a major reconnaissance in force to determine the size and strength of the enemy at Gettysburg.

Day one, July 1st:

It was Union cavalry officer Brig. Gen. John Buford, and his small cavalry division that Pettgrew had seen the previous day.  Buford expected the Confederate army to move on Gettysburg from the northwest that day, far in advance of the newly named commander Maj. Gen. George Meade and the main body of the Army of the Potomac, marching in from the south. Buford needed to keep Lee’s men from entering the town and taking up the better positions.

The monument to the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg

The monument to the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg

To the west of the town where three ridges: Herr, McPherson and Seminary, perfect defensive positions for Buford’s small company to hold a delaying action against the larger Army of Northern Virginia. At 7:30 am, the Confederate columns advancing on the Chambersburg Pike were surprised to be fired upon by the smaller Union cavalry. The Confederates continued to receive stronger and stronger resistance from the dismounted solders as they fired from behind fencepost. Throughout the morning the Union cavalry held back the advance of the Confederates. The mission for the Union was to keep Lee from getting the higher grounds of Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge and Culp’s Hill. The fighting to hold ground and to gain ground continued throughout the afternoon, southern troops heading to Cashtown as ordered by Lee heard of the fighting and turn south toward Gettysburg. To the south Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, commanding the advance unites of Meade’s army, also hearing of the fighting raced north toward the town. The afternoon of July 1st was a constant juggling for positions by the two armys. Even though the advance unites of the Union Army had arrived they still didn’t have enough troops to effectively advance on Lee’s army, that was pouring in from the north. Gen. Howard ordered a retreat to the high ground south of town, Cemetery Hill. Gen. Lee arrived and seeing the Union forces occupying Cemetery Hill he asked Gen. Ewell to take the hill, “if practicable.” Ewell didn’t think it was practicable, and the south missed a major opportunity.

Some consider the first day of the battle simply as a prelude to the next two days. However, in itself that first day has been ranked as the 23rd largest engagement of the Civil War.

Day two, July 2nd:
Both the Union and Confederate lines are entrenched on the field of battle. Gen. Robert E. Lee launches a massive attack on the two Union flanks. On the right at Culp’s and Cemetery Hills, and on the left, Little Round Top hill.

Looking down of the "Devil's Den from the the Little Round Top

Looking down of the “Devil’s Den from the the Little Round Top

There are heavy loses to the southern troops at such infamous places as the “Wheatfield,” “Devils Den,” and the “Peach Orchard.” Finally, men from the 15th Alabama swing around under the heavy fire coming from the hilltop and begin to charge up the far left flank of the Little Round Top. At the top of the hill is Joshua Chamberlain and his men of the 20th Maine. Charge after charge is made by the men of the 15th, but Maine holds the hill and the Union left flank. Chamberlain’s men are now low on ammunition, one more charge and they will be overrun. Chamberlain plans a bold move, with the next southern charge he has his men on the left do a bayonet counter charge, swinging down and across the hill forcing the Confederates to face two attacking fronts.

Earthworks still remain at what was the left flank of the Union line, held by the men of Maine

Earthworks still remain at what was the left flank of the Union line, held by the men of Maine

Maine holds the hill and saves the Union left flank, as well as capturing 101sounthern soldiers. For this Joshua Chamber, the professor from Brewer Maine, is awarded the Medal of Honor.
The city of Brewer is just across the Panobscot River from Bangor. In the Hill House Museum of the Bangor Historical Society you can see the sword used by Chamberlain in the that famous battle. Also, just across the river in Brewer, at the corner of Wilson and Main Streets is a statue of Chamberlain, standing atop a hill made to look like the Little Round Top.

The statue of Joshua Chamberlain in Brewer, Maine.

The statue of Joshua Chamberlain in Brewer, Maine.

 

Day three, July 3rd:
Friday July 3rd: Gen. Robert E. Lee wanted to renew the battle using the basic plan of the previous day, again to attack the two flanks of the Union line. However at dawn the Union artillery began firing on the Confederate lines from Culp’s Hill, which lasted till around 11 am. This caused Lee to change his plans; instead he would have Gen. Longstreet’s Virginia division under Pickett, along with six brigades from A.P. Hill, attack the right center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. To prepare for this charge Lee ordered all of his artillery to fire, in hopes of weakening the Union positions. At around 1 pm up to 170 Confederate canon began their bombardment, one of the largest of the war. About fifteen minutes later 80 Union guns on the ridge began to return fire.
At about 3 pm the canon fire subsided, and 12,500 Southern soldiers began the three-quarters of a mile attack across the open field toward the Union lines on the ridge, “Pickett’s Charge.” The Union artillery near the center of the ridge had held their fire during the earlier artillery exchange, waiting for this attack to happen, they now unleashed their fury on the approaching Confederates. In addition there was supportive Union artillery fire coming from Cemetery Hill and Little Round Top.

Pickett's Charge

Pickett’s Charge

Crossing the field, wading through the tall grass and climbing fences, the Confederates came. They were first cut down by exploding canon shells and canister, and then from the musket fire of the entrenched Union line, and yet on they still came. Finally a small group of Confederates reached the top of the ridge at a place later called “the Angle,” and broke through, this was their “high water mark,” but quickly the Union line was reinforced, and the Confederate attack was repulsed. After which the proud Virginians began to fall back. Nearly half of the southern soldiers that came out of the ridge line on the Confederate side that early afternoon didn’t returned to it, the battle was over. The next day, July 4th, the eighty-seventh anniversary of the ratification of the Declarations of Independence, Robert E. Lee began his withdrawal back south.

Although the Civil War would continue for another two years the battle of Gettysburg, and also the fall of Vicksburg to Grant on that same July 4th, ended the south’s attempts to take the war into the north.

Sunset at Gettysburg

Sunset at Gettysburg

Now the south mostly fought defensive battles. The end of the American Civil War marked the end of the southern states ideas of secession, and preserved the Union of the United States of America.

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American history, Britain history, Great Cathedrals of the world, history and travel, History of the game of Golf, Scotland, Still Current, Uncategorized, World history

Tour of Britain continues: St. Andrews, Scotland

Ron Current

Ron Current

Although golf is what first comes to mind when you hear the name St. Andrews, however this city on the shores of the North Sea has a deep and ancient history. Besides golf St. Andrews is home to one of the oldest universities in the world and a cathedral that is said to have held the bones of one of the Apostles.
St. Andrews and the game of Golf:    

The Clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

The Clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

A form of the game of golf has been played on the links of St. Andrews since the 15th century. Links golf is also the oldest style of golf, and was developed in Scotland. The term “links” refers to the coastal sand dunes or open parkland. The word “links” means rising ground or ridge in Scots. In 1457, King James of Scotland banned the game of golf because he thought young men were playing too much golf and not enough time practicing their archery. This ban was lifted in 1502, by King James IV, who was a golfer. In 1552, Archbishop John Hamilton gave the people of St. Andrews the right to play on the links. The links were maintained by the Town Council of St. Andrews. In 1797, the town, being near bankrupt, allowed rabbit farmers to use the golf course. The golfers and rabbit farmers battled for twenty years until 1821, when a farmer, and also a golfer named James Cheape bought the course and turned it over to a public trust for golf only.

“The Old Course” is one of the oldest golf courses in the world. Although the Clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club stands at the 1st Tee and the 18th hole they do not own the course, it’s public. There are seven public golf courses in St. Andrews, the Old Course being just one. Tee times are given by a lottery. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews is one of the oldest (The Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh may be older) and the most prestigious of the golf clubs.

Swilcan Bridge

Swilcan Bridge

One of the most famous little bridges in the world is the Swilcan Bridge, that spans the first and 18th fairways; it’s a highpoint in the life of a golfer to walk across this 700 year old structure.
The University of St. Andrews:
St. Andrews University was founded in 1410, by a group of Augustinian clergy. In 1411, the Bishop of St. Andrews bestowed a Charter of Privilege onto the schools and in 1413, Avignon Pope Benedict XIII granted the school University status, and in 1532, King James V gave it a royal charter. St. Andrews University is the oldest of the four ancient universities of Scotland, and the third oldest, behind Oxford and Cambridge, in Britain.

Where Prince William met Kate

Where Prince William met Kate

St. Andrews is a public (meaning private in Britain) research university, made up of three colleges: St. Mary’s College, St. Leonard’s College and United College. Some of the University’s buildings date back to the 16th century. Two of the most historic buildings that are still in use are St. Salvator’s Chapel and St. Mary’s College quadrangle.
There is also a historical link with St. Andrews University and the United States, three signers of the Declaration of Independence attended or received degrees from there: James Wilson, John Witherspoon and Benjamin Franklin. Currently St. Andrews is known as the place were Prince William and Princess Kate met while students there.
St. Andrews Cathedral:

the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral

the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral

 

There were three different churches on the site of the cathedral, all of them now in ruin. The oldest was the Church of St. Mary on the Rock. The second, the church of St. Regulus or St. Rule, has an interesting biblical connection. Legend has it that the 4th century monk St. Regulus, who was from Petras Greece, was told in a dream by an Angel to take some of the bones (relics) of the Apostle St. Andrew to, “the end of the world” for safe keeping. St. Regulus was shipwrecked on the coast of Scotland near where the city of St. Andrews is, the town gets its name from the relics of the Apostle. The Church of St. Rule was built to honor and to hold those holy relics of the Apostle. St. Rule Church was used through the 12th century until the larger cathedral was built. All that remains of St. Rule Church is its tower, which stands at 108 feet.

St. Rules Tower

St. Rules Tower

St. Andrews Cathedral’s construction began in 1158, and was dedicated in 1318. The cathedral served as the center for the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland until the Scottish Reformation of 1559, when the building was stripped of its altars and images. In 1561, it was abandoned and left to ruin. In its day the Cathedral was 391 feet long, 168 feet wide and 100 feet high, the largest church to have been built in Scotland. Again the legend has it that the relics of St. Andrew were moved from St. Rule Church to the cathedral after its dedication; however there is no record as to where these relics went after it was abandoned.

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American history, history and travel, Still Current, Texas history, The Alamo, Uncategorized

Texas and the Alamo: Conflict between Mexico and the United States (Part V)

Memorial to Defenders

The United States’ Westward march and the Louisiana Purchase

After the American Revolution the new nation quickly began its move into the western territories. The region that would become the states of Indiana, Illinois and Michigan were known as the Northwest Territory. In the south with the signing of the Treaty of Lorenzo with Spain in 1795, gave what would be the state of Alabama to the United States. This was called the Mississippi Territory. And at the center of it all, Kentucky in 1792, Tennessee in 1796 and Ohio in 1803, were added to the union as States.

But the new nation was still limited in its growth by Britain in the north having Canada and Spain to the south, with Florida and all the lands west of the Mississippi River. Most troubling was Spain’s control of travel on the Mississippi river with them owning the port of New Orleans. In 1798, Spain revoked the treaty that they made with the U.S. in 1795, and prohibited Americans from using New Orleans. This also drew concerns by the United States as to their ownership of the Mississippi Territory (Alabama). All this would all change in 1800 with Napoleon Bonaparte’s raise to power in France.

In Europe Napoleon had made advances into Spain, and controlled certain regions of that country. Spain had become weaken, not the power it once was. Napoleon again thought of a French presence in the new world, and in 1800 he began to take back New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory for France. For the next three years New Orleans was controlled by two European nations, Spain and France. Not being aware of the transfer of this territory from Spain to France the United States became concerned when Napoleon sent troops to New Orleans in 1801, which gave rise to fears of a French invasion of the U.S.

Hearing of some sort of transfer between the two European nations President Thomas Jefferson sent his representative, Robert Livingston to France to get the details. He also authorized Livingston to make an offer to purchase New Orleans if the opportunity presented itself. Jefferson, covering all his bases, also had his personal friend Pierre Samuel du Pont, a French nobleman living in the States, to back-channel talks with Napoleon. Fearing a war with France over Louisiana Jefferson even considered an alliance with Britain, whom France was preparing to go to war with. This would be as a last resort for Jefferson, considering that relations between the States and its former mother country were not the best. Jefferson then sent James Monroe to Paris in 1802, to negotiate a settlement; if those talks failed Monroe was to then go the London.

With the coming war with Britain, trouble in the transferring of control from Spain of the Louisiana territory and a slave revolt in Haiti, Napoleon had his hands full. Unbeknownst to Spain, or the United States, Napoleon dropped his vision of a French presence in the western hemisphere and gave orders to sell New Orleans and the entire Louisiana Territory to the United States, if they met his price. James Monroe came to Paris with permission to pay $11 Million for just the city of New Orleans and the land surrounding it. What France proposed was selling the entire 828,000 square miles, or 529,920,000 acres, of the Louisiana Territory for $15 million. Jefferson jumped at it, even though some in Congress complained that he didn’t have the Constitutional right to do so.

Spain had asked that in the transfer back to France that they keep Louisiana, not selling or trading it to the United States. On November 30, 1803, Spain transferred Louisiana back to France. Three weeks later on December 30, 1803, France ceded New Orleans to the United States and on March 10, 1804, France transferred the remainder of the Louisiana Territory.

The Louisiana Purchase would be one of the highpoints of Thomas Jefferson’s Presidency. With it the United States gained what would later become the States of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Minnesota west of the Mississippi River, most of North and South Dakota; portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. Also included by France in the purchase was what would be northeastern New Mexico and northern Texas. These last two lands would be a point of friction between the United States and Spain, and later Mexico.

The Louisiana Purchase gave the United States one less European power to worry about. The concerns of an invasion by France during the negotiation, the continued bad relations with Britain, which controlled Canada, and having Spain in Florida and Texas had the young United States worried about its security. Spain saw that the purchase opened their eastern border to aggressive land hungry Americans.

 

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