Thursday, June 1, 2017

Who Walked on Water?

“If one morning I walked across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim.’”

– Lyndon B. Johnson

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day, 2017

A battle we should not forget. Year: 1862.  Place:  Frankfurt, Kentucky.

Confederates capture Kentucky capital, Frankfurt.  Install Confederate Governor and state government.  Lengthy Inaugural Address.  Hearing cannon fire in distance.  Union army approaching.  Inaugural ball postponed.

Battle of Perryville.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Swiss Win Independence

Cantons unite to overthrow Emperor.  Swiss Confederation United

The decisive and brilliant battle of Sempach, the second of the long roll of victories that mark the prowess of the Swiss, is thus described by an old writer:

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Vicksburg Falls

Confederate States of America cut in two.  Confederate army surrenders to Grant.  Mississippi River now controlled by Union.

Vicksburg had a double importance for the Confederacy. Its height, at a bend of the Mississippi, gave its guns command of the river, so that the Union vessels could not pass up or down. Even more important than this was the fact that a large part of the supplies for the Confederate armies was drawn from the country west of the Mississippi. These were brought by rail to a point opposite Vicksburg, ferried across, and again loaded upon rail-cars and carried to the east. The capture of the city, therefore, would rob the Confederacy of both these advantages.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

The Reign of Terror in France (1793-1794)

It forever shamed the French Revolution. It began in March, 1793, when the Revolutionary Tribunal was established by the National Convention.  This series is written by François P. G. Guizot the Prime Minister who ended absolute monarchy in 1830 but was retired in the Revolution of 1848.

The judges sat with pistols ready to hand; the President cast his eyes over the lists for the day and called upon the accused. "Dorival, do you know anything of the conspiracy?" "No!"

"I expected that you would make that reply; but it won't succeed. Bring another."

"Champigny, are you not an ex-noble?"


"Bring another."

"Guidreville, are you a priest?"

"Yes, but I have taken the oath."

"You have no right to say any more. Another."

"Ménil, were you not a domestic of the ex-constitutional Menou?"



"Vély, were you not architect for Madame?"

"Yes, but I was disgraced in 1789."


"Gondrecourt, is not your father-in-law at the Luxembourg?"



"Durfort, were you not in the bodyguard?"

"Yes, but I was dismissed in 1789."


So the examination went on. The questions, the answers, the judgment, the condemnation, were all simultaneous. The juries did not leave the hall; they gave their opinions with a word or a look. Sometimes errors were evident in the lists. "I am not accused," exclaimed a prisoner one day.

"No matter; what is thy name? See, it is written now. Another."

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Vasco da Gama Opens Sea Route to India

Europe now able to bypass Levant.  Hostile Ottoman Empire no longer can block Europe out of Orient.  Terrifying voyage.  Most crewmen killed.  When way-stations planted, future voyages to be safer.  Vasco da Gama’s own officer writes this series.

Vasco da Gama on a horse, with all the men of the fleet on foot, richly dressed in liveries, and accompanied by all the gentlemen of the court, went down to the wharf on the bank, and embarked in their boats, and the standard went in that of Paulo da Gama. Then, taking leave of the gentlemen, they went to the ships, and on their arrival, they fired all their artillery, and the ships were dressed out gayly with standards and flags and many ornaments, and the royal standard was at once placed at the top of the mast of Paulo da Gama; for so Vasco da Gama commanded. Discharging all their artillery, they loosened the sails, and went beating to windward on the river of Lisbon, tacking until they came to anchor at Belen, where they remained three days waiting for a wind to go out.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

France Annexes Burgundy

Eliminates rival.  Major expansion of territory.

Burgundy was a huge territory on France’s eastern border.  The Duke of Burgundy’s lands included modern Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxemburg.  Then he held lands south of that to include Alsace and lands south to the Swiss border.  From there his lands extended west into the heartland of modern France.  During the Hundred Years War, Burgundy’s alliance with England had been a major factor in France’s difficulty defending itself.

Then catastrophe struck.  The King of France’s chief advisor writes this short chronicle which begins:

The Duke of Lorraine and his army of Germans broke up from St. Nicholas, and advanced toward the Duke of Burgundy, with a resolution to give him battle.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Bolivar and South American Independence

3 Great Epics in South American History:  (1) Spanish/Portugese discovery and conquest; (2) Colonial Period; (3) Revolutions Period.  Among the most important revolutionary leaders is Bolivar.  Who to tell it?

For the history of South America, from its discovery to the early 20th. century, there is no authority to be preferred to Débérle, whose work, from which the following narrative is taken, is based upon those of the best previous authors, and verified from authentic documents — many of them never before published — in archives and public and private libraries, in America and Spain.

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Crown TV Series

Clair Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in the Netflix series.
Fair Use image from Netflix.
It is a lavish production and historians have generally given it high marks for historical accuracy.  It covers the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and is projected to go multiple seasons.  Season 1 is on Netflix now.  The producers plan on addressing the aging problem by switching out the lead actors every two seasons.

What I’ve seen so far -- few thoughts.

Monarchies have gone from one extreme (absolutism - not portrayed here but part of the backstory) to the other extreme that is depicted here. In one scene Churchill declares that the government controls every aspect of the royals’ life and Elizabeth knuckles under and accepts that. For example, she considers it a victory when the cabinet grants permission for Phillip to take flying lessons “though no loops or rolls”. The family and by extension the entire system looks ridiculous. Assuming that the Netflix’s story is accurate, I wish that Elizabeth had shown a little more spunk and insisted on control of her family’s private life. While this might have provoked a Charles-I-kind of a row, she would have been on solid ground and if the monarchy had fallen as a result of that, at least it would have been for something noble.

As it is, the series makes her look weak and ridiculous. It could be because that is what she was.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Boer War

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote more than just the Sherlock Holmes stories.  He also wrote a history of this war.  I added to the selected passage from his book by selections from a journalist’s eye-witness account of the Boer Government and an additional selection from a historian with a special perspective on the conflict.

On the causes of the conflict, Doyle writes:

In 1890 the inrush of outsiders alarmed the Boers, and the franchise was raised so as to be attainable only by those who had lived fourteen years in the country. The Uitlanders, who were increasing rapidly in numbers and were suffering from a formidable list of grievances, perceived that their wrongs were so numerous it was hopeless to have them set right seriatim, and that only by obtaining the leverage of the franchise could they hope to move the heavy burden that weighed them down. 

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Man in the Arena

You folks probably know the TR quote that is today’s History Moments post but I’m putting it here because it is worth another read.

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

– Theodore Roosevelt
“Citizenship in a Republic,” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Italy Finally United

The unification of Italy, for which Italian patriots had longed and labored through many generations, was one of the most signal events of the nineteenth century. The story of Italy includes two heroes: the dashing fighter Garibaldi and the calculating statesman Cavour.  The struggle lasted with intermissions from 1848 to 1871, over 20 years.

From Pietro Orsi’s history:

Thus, this valiant family, of which one had already fallen gloriously at Varese in the campaign of 1859, and another had died in Sicily of exhaustion during the toilsome march of “the Thousand,” now yielded a fresh contingent to the band of Italian martyrs in the cause of freedom. 

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Normans Conquer England

Battle of Hastings.  William the Conqueror Defeats Harold’s Saxons.  Normans came from Vikings.  Centuries of Viking Invasions end in English Defeat. 

Political/genealogical considerations being secondary to military ones, the invasion of England by Normandy, the Battle of Hastings, and the subsequent conquest of England by the William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy and then the King of England, is one of the celebrated stories of the Medieval Age.

Story told by the great Edward Creasy:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Japan’s Constitutional Revolution

World War II established in the public mind a Japan that was militaristic and expansionist.  In the decades around 1900 Japan was moving towards democracy and constitutional monarchy.  It took a series of assassinations and coups for the military to take control.  Here’s a series of histories and memoirs from contemporary Japanese writers.

I was one of the first Japanese to visit foreign lands, and was able to do so only by stealth, escaping to Shanghai in 1863. The country was only just opened to foreign intercourse, and Japanese subjects were not yet allowed to leave the country. By Ito Hirobumi, Prime Minister.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Texas Declares Independence

Mexican army crosses border.  Disaster at Alamo.  Massacre at Goliad.  Sam Houston writes (referring to himself in the third person):

San Antonio had been taken in 1835. Troops were to remain there. It was a post more than seventy miles from any colonies or settlements by the Americans. It was a Spanish town or city, with many thousand population, and very few Americans. The Alamo was nothing more than a church, and derived its cognomen from the fact of its being surrounded by poplars or cottonwood trees. The Alamo had been known as a fortress since the Mexican revolution in 1812. The troops remained at Bexar until about the last of December.

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