‘The volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire.’

George Washington engaged in his first military action 260 years ago today, May 28, 1754.

Washington arrived at the Great Meadows, as the Fort Necessity area was than called, on May 24. Although the meadow was nearly all marsh, he believed it “a charming field for an encounter” and ordered his men to set up an encampment. Three days later, after hearing that a group of French soldiers had been spotted about seven miles away on Chestnut Ridge, Washington and 40 men set out to find them. At dawn on May 28, the Virginians reached the camp of Tanacharison, a friendly Seneca chief known as the Half King. His scouts then led them to the ravine about two miles to the north where the French were encamped.

The French, commanded by Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville, were taken by surprise. Ten were killed, including Jumonville, one was wounded, and 21 were made prisoner. One man escaped to carry the news back to Fort Duquesne. Washington’s command suffered only one man killed and two wounded.

Fearing “we might be attacked by considerable forces,” Washington undertook to fortify his position at the Great Meadows. During the last two days of May and the first three days of June, he built a circular palisaded fort, which he called Fort Necessity.

Source: Fort Necessity National Battlefield

The action at what came to be called Jumonville Glen sparked the world war that we know as the French and Indian War.

For his part, Washington loved it: “I fortunately escaped without any wound, for the right wing, where I stood, was exposed to and received all the enemy’s fire, and it was the part where the man was killed, and the rest wounded. I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me there is something charming in the sound.”

The title to the post is a quotation from Horace Walpole.


May 8th Ought to Be a National Holiday

Harry Truman was born on May 8th, 130 years ago today (1884).

The Truman Library has the Truman diary online. The diary, which was just discovered in 2003, was kept intermittently by the President during 1947. It is fascinating reading.

The entry for January 3:

Byrnes & I discussed General Marshall’s last letter and decided to ask him to come home. Byrnes is going to quit on the tenth and I shall make Marshall Sec[retary] of State. Some of the crackpots will in all probability yell their heads off-but let ‘em yell! Marshall is the ablest man in the whole gallery.

Mrs. Roosevelt came in at 3 P.M. to assure me that Jimmy & Elliott had nothing against me and intended no disparagement of me in their recent non-edited remarks. Said she was for me. Said she didn’t like Byrnes and was sure he was not reporting Elliott correctly. Said Byrnes was always for Byrnes and no one else. I wonder! He’s been loyal to me[.] In the Senate he gave me my first small appropriation, which started the Special Committee to investigate the National Defense Program on its way. He’d probably have done me a favor if he’d refused to give it.

Maybe there was something on both sides in this situation. It is a pity a great man has to have progeny! Look at Churchill’s. Remember Lincoln’s and Grant’s. Even in collateral branches Washington’s wasn’t so good-and Teddy Roosevelt’s are terrible.

The entry for January 8:

The Senate took Marshall lock, stock and barrell [sic]. Confirmed him by unanimous consent and did not even refer his nomination to a committee. A grand start for him.

I am very happy over that proceedure [sic]. Marshall is, I think[,] the greatest man of the World War II. He managed to get along with Roosevelt, the Congress, Churchill, the Navy and the Joint Chief of Staff and he made a grand record in China.

When I asked him to take the extrovert Pat Hurley[']s place as my special envoy to China, he merely said “Yes, Mr. President I’ll go.” No argument only patriotic action. And if any man was entitled to balk and ask for a rest, he was. We’ll have a real State Dep[artmen]t now.

The entry for July 6:

Drove an open car from Charlottesville to Washington-starting at 9:15 Washington time.

Had a V[irgini]a Highway Policeman in a car ahead making the pace at exactly the speed allowed by V[irgini]a law. He forced all the trucks to one side as I always wanted to do. Made the drive in 3 hours. Had Sec[retary] of Treas[ury] Snyder, Adm[iral] Leahy, and Doctor Brig[adier] Gen[eral] Graham as passengers. All said they enjoyed the ride and felt they needed no extra accident coverage!

David McCullough’s Truman is superb.


U.S. Grant

Hiram Ulysses Grant was born on this date in 1822.

In 1839, his Ohio congressman nominated him for the U.S. Military Academy, but mistakenly as Ulysses S. Grant. The cadet simply adopted the name. Because his new initials were U.S., the same as those of Uncle Sam, Grant was nicknamed Sam in the Army.

The name U.S. Grant took on a whole new meaning in 1862 however.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY IN THE FIELD
Camp near Fort Donelson
February 16, 1862.
 
General S. B. BUCKNER,
Confederate Army.

     SIR: Yours of this date, proposing armistice and appointment of commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, is just received. No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
U.S. GRANT,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.
 

From then the U.S. in U.S. Grant stood for Unconditional Surrender.


Good Friday 1865

Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth on this date in 1865. Lincoln died the next morning.

As Atzerodt and Paine fanned out to seek their targets, Booth, a celebrated actor, familiar to everybody who worked at Ford’s Theatre, had no trouble in slipping upstairs during the performance of Our American Cousin. Moving quietly down the aisle behind the dress circle, he stood for a few moments near the President’s box. A member of the audience, seeing him there, thought him “the handsomest man I had ever seen.” John Parker, the Metropolitan policeman assigned to protect the President, had left his post in the passageway, and the box was guarded only by Charles Forbes, a White House footman. When Booth showed Forbes his calling card, he was admitted to the presidential box. Barring the door behind him, so as not to be disturbed, he noiselessly moved behind Lincoln, who was leaning forward, with his chin in his right hand and his arm on the balustrade. At a distance of about two feet, the actor pointed his derringer at the back of the President’s head on the left side and pulled the trigger. It was about 10:13 P.M.

When Major Rathbone tried to seize the intruder, Booth lunged at him with his razor-sharp hunting knife, which had a 7¼-inch blade. “The Knife,” Clara Harris reported, “went from the elbow nearly to the shoulder, inside, — cutting an artery, nerves and veins — he bled so profusely as to make him very weak.” Shoving his victim aside, Booth placed his hands on the balustrade and vaulted toward the stage. It was an easy leap for the gymnastic actor, but the spur on his heel caught in the flags decorating the box and he fell heavily on one foot, breaking the bone just above the ankle. Waving his dagger, he shouted in a loud, melodramatic voice: “Sic semper tyrannis” (“Thus always to tyrants” — the motto of the state of Virginia). Some in the audience thought he added, “The South is avenged.” Quickly he limped across the stage, with what one witness called “a motion…like the hopping of a bull frog,” and made his escape through the rear of the theater.

Up to this point the audience was not sure what had happened. Perhaps most thought the whole disturbance was part of the play. But as the blue-white smoke from the pistol drifted out of the presidential box, Mary Lincoln gave a heart-rending shriek and screamed, “They have shot the President! They have shot the President!”

From David Herbert Donald’s outstanding biography of Lincoln.

Read The New York Times story from the day after the assassination, headlined Awful Event.

Click for larger version.

Click for larger version.

On April 26, Booth and co-conspirator David Herold were surrounded while hiding in a tobacco shed in Port Royal, Virginia. Herold surrendered to Union troops, but Booth held out and was shot while the shed burned down around him.

Photo at top is from a Library of Congress exhibit showing the content of Lincoln’s pockets that evening plus a newspaper report of the assassination. Click image for larger version.

 

 


Actually April 13th Really Should Be a Holiday

It seems to NewMexiKen that the country could use a federal holiday during that long spell from Washington’s Birthday to Memorial Day — for shopping and sales and stuff. I propose that April 13th, Jefferson’s birthday, would be ideal.

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1800

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13th in 1743. [It was April 2nd on the calendar when he was born, but it's that old Julian-Gregorian thing again.]

Eighty-three years later, at the end of his remarkable life, he wished to be remembered foremost for those actions that appear as his epitaph:

Author of the
Declaration
of
American Independence
of the
Statute of Virginia
for
Religious Freedom
and Father of the
University of Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson


At a White House dinner honoring 49 Nobel laureates in 1962, President Kennedy remarked, “I think this is the most extraordinary talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”


The Essentials: Five Books on Thomas Jefferson

Top 10: Misconceptions about Jefferson

How Thomas Jefferson Created His Own Bible


Jefferson's draft, with a little help from his friends.

Jefferson’s draft, with a little help from his friends.


NewMexiKen photos, October 2012. Click for larger versions.

 

 


FDR

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, War President of the United States and the only Chief Executive in history who was chosen for more than two terms, died suddenly and unexpectedly at 4:35 P. M. today at Warm Springs, Ga., and the White House announced his death at 5:48 o’clock. He was 63.

The President, stricken by a cerebral hemorrhage, passed from unconsciousness to death on the eighty-third day of his fourth term and in an hour of high-triumph. The armies and fleets under his direction as Commander in Chief were at the gates of Berlin and the shores of Japan’s home islands as Mr. Roosevelt died, and the cause he represented and led was nearing the conclusive phase of success.

From The New York Times obituary, April 12, 1945, written by Arthur Krock.

There is an interesting and prescient remark in the article concerning Truman: “He is conscious of limitations greater than he has.”

When called at the Capitol and told he should rush to the White House, Truman is reported to have exclaimed, “Jesus Christ and General Jackson.” Once at the White House, Truman was told of FDR’s death by Mrs. Roosevelt.

The following day, Friday the 13th, is when Truman told several reporters: “Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when you told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”

Information and quotations from David McCullough’s outstanding biography of Truman. Photo from the National Archives via the White House web site.


Earl Warren

… was born in Los Angeles on this date in 1891.

Among the decisions the Supreme Court made under Warren as Chief Justice were those that:

  • Outlawed school segregation.
  • Enunciated the one-man, one-vote doctrine.
  • Made most of the Bill of Rights binding on the states.
  • Curbed wiretapping.
  • Upheld the right to be secure against “unreasonable” searches and seizures.
  • Buttressed the right to counsel.
  • Underscored the right to a jury trial.
  • Barred racial discrimination in voting, in marriage laws, in the use of public parks, airports and bus terminals and in housing sales and rentals.
  • Extended the boundaries of free speech.
  • Ruled out compulsory religious exercises in public schools.
  • Restored freedom of foreign travel.
  • Knocked out the application of both the Smith and the McCarran Acts–both designed to curb “subversive” activities.
  • Held that Federal prisoners could sue the Government for injuries sustained in jail.
  • Said that wages could not be garnished without a hearing.
  • Liberalized residency requirements for welfare recipients.
  • Sustained the right to disseminate and receive birth control information.

(Source: The New York Times)

Warren’s parents were born in Norway (father) and Sweden (mother). Elected governor of California three times (1942, 1946, 1950), Warren was so popular he won both the Democratic and Republican primaries in 1946. The darkest mark against Warren’s public service was the wartime internment of Japanese Americans.

President Eisenhower appointed Warren chief justice in 1953; he retired from the Court in 1969. NewMexiKen considers Warren the most significant historical figure I’ve ever seen in person (briefly at the 1964 New York World’s Fair) — and I’ve seen five presidents.