A FAMOUS POEM DIDN’T QUITE GET IT RIGHT
For decades, schoolchildren had to memorize a famous poem that begins with these words:
“Up from the meadows rich with corn,
clear in the cool September morn;
The clustered spires of Frederick stand,
green-walled by the hills of Maryland.”
It’s John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Barbara Fritchie,” an American classic. The story of how as Confederate troops are passing through her town, elderly Barbara Fritchie bravely snatches a banner that was shot down by Rebel bullets and shouts the poem’s famous lines. Continue reading
The Dead Letter Office Photos
Frequent readers know I’ve been a certified Civil War nut since age 9. I’ve visited every major battlefield. In my younger (and thinner) days I was a Civil War reenactor. I even have a collection of 5,000 original War-era photos.
One image especially stands out. Not because of what it depicts, but because of what happened to it.
This is the story of the pictures that never made it home. Continue reading
HOW A 14-YEAR-OLD EARNED THE MEDAL OF HONOR
There I was the day before Memorial Day, walking through Springfield National Cemetery in southwest Missouri, paying my respects to the Civil War dead. It’s one of the few national cemeteries where men from both sides rest.
One marker caught my eye. Its inscription said, “Orion P. Howe, Medal of Honor.”
A Medal of Honor recipient in an obscure Ozarks cemetery? This merited investigation. And what I learned astonished me.
Meet the Drummer Boy Hero. Continue reading
A UNIFORM’S COLOR NEARLY LOST AN IMPORTANT TOOL
You’ve got one. I’ve got one. Everyone from professional plumbers to weekend do-it-yourselfers has one. But a common tool came within a whisker of becoming a casualty of the Civil War because of confusion caused by the color of a uniform. Really.
Here’s how it happened. Continue reading
AMERICA’S FAVORITE MONTH TO GO TO WAR
War clouds may be gathering over the Koreas. Again. And the timing couldn’t be worse to those who know history. Because April is when America most often goes to war.
Fate has a thing for April. It loves unleashing major events then. More serious history has been made in this one month than any other: Paul Revere’s ride (1775); Lincoln’s assassination (1865); Jesse James killed (1882 – click here for more); the Titanic sank (1912); Martin Luther King’s assassination (1968), plus many more.
Here’s another little-known fact: the majority of American wars began in April. Continue reading
Did you know three major historical events happened on April 12?
1861: The Civil War began with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Charlestonians watched in fascination from The Battery. The attack triggered the bloodiest conflict in American history (which ended almost exactly four years to the very day later).
1945: President Franklin D. Roosevelt died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia. FDR successfully kept his physical disability due to polio out of the public eye; and although he had been in visibly failing health for several years, the extent of his decline was kept secret from the public and even the man who followed him in the White House, Harry Truman.
1961: Soviet Yuri Gagarin became the first human to enter outer space with a single orbit around Earth. (American Alan Shepard quickly followed on May 5.) The Space Age had officially begun. Gagarin died seven years later when his training jet crashed.
Each event was highly significant. But to have three major milestones occur on the same date is simply amazing.
I’ll be back soon with next week’s regular forgotten tale from history. See you here Sunday!
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How Simple Politeness Caused His Demise
Watch out for unintended consequences. They’ll get you every time.
It happened 154 years ago when a simple act of courtesy set in motion a chain of events that wound up taking a famous American’s life.
When I say the name Ulysses S. Grant, what comes to mind? Big drunk and even bigger cigar smoker. (The more scholarly-minded among you probably answered, “Victor at Appomattox” or “18th President of the United States.” But salacious sells, so we’ll save the academic stuff for another time.) Continue reading
The one decision that cost him a bundle
Every so often, inspiration strikes and inventors devise the gadgets that move society forward. Such as the automobile. The personal computer. The Pet Rock.
Inspiration visited a young army officer one day. The things he created found an eager market. But because of just one decision, he didn’t make a dime off them.
The next time you feel like you can’t catch a break, remember Henry Hopkins Sibley, and you’ll know what bad luck really is. Continue reading
“There was a good deal of confusion in men’s minds during the first months of the great trouble, a good deal of unsettledness, of leaning first this way then that, and then the other way. It was hard for us to get our bearings.” -Mark Twain
If you are of a certain age, you probably remember being herded en masse onto a grade school stage and forced to warble Fifty Nifty United States to beaming moms, dads and grandparents.
“Fifty, nifty, United States, from thirteen original colonies,” the song cheerfully began. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to it beyond rhyming “fifty” and “nifty.” It eventually meandered through a roll call of the “nifty” states in alphabetical order. Missing from that roster was the Kingdom of Calloway. And the Free State of Winston. And the Free State of Jones.
But each one briefly existed (more or less) during the turbulent time known as the Civil War. And it’s worth revisiting their short, strange stories to fully understand just how mixed-up that era was. Continue reading
Folks in the Volunteer State disagree about many things. Are you a Vanderbilt fan, or do you root for the University of Tennessee? Do you vote for the Democrats, or the Republicans? (The state swings both ways.) Appalachian bluegrass, or Memphis blues?
But people there unanimously agree on one thing: Parson Brownlow is the most hated man in Tennessee history. Nearly 150 years after his death, just mentioning his name can trigger a firestorm of epic proportions.
He passionately despised (in no particular order) Baptists, the Devil, Democrats, Confederates, Andrew Johnson, and basically anyone who disagreed with him. And he fought them all with every ounce of energy he possessed. Continue reading