Category: Military

WHY DO WE HAVE VETERANS DAY? by Cheryl Pierson

united-states-flag_2188_130213397[1]I know this year Veterans Day fell on Friday, the 11th of November–the actual day of the holiday. But did you know that if it falls on a Sunday, it’s celebrated on Monday, and if it falls on a Saturday, it’s celebrated on Friday?  So, that being said, since we are “in the ballpark”, I couldn’t let this day go by without talking about the meaning of Veterans Day and how it came to be in our country. When I was a young child, I remember asking my parents about Veterans Day–but my mom always called it “Armistice Day”. When she told me the story about “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”, it always seemed like a magical spell–and maybe that’s what the world hoped it would be–the war to end all wars had already been fought, and so there wouldn’t be anymore. But there were.

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

The Last Two Minutes of FightingSoldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities.  This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect. It’s called “THE LAST TWO MINUTES OF FIGHTING”.

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

(WWI SCOTTISH PIPER IN TRADITIONAL KILTS, STANDING TALL ON THE BATTLEFIELD–OVER 1000 PIPERS WERE KILLED IN WWI)

WWI Scottish PiperThe original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of    peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

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An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

united-states-flag_2183_58326922[1]From 1971-1978, Veterans Day was celebrated on October 25. In 1975, then-President Gerald Ford signed a bill that would return it to November 11 again starting in 1978.

Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

Do you remember the poem by Canadian John McCrae “In Flanders Fields”? Many of us had to memorize this in elementary school. McCrae was a physician/surgeon during WWI–he died of pneumonia not long before the war ended. Take a minute to listen to this recitation of “In Flanders Fields” by the late Leonard Cohen. It is haunting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKoJvHcMLfc&feature=share

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CREDIT GIVEN TO:  Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs website for much of the text and one picture in this post.

 

Chasing Samuel Hawken by Claudette Greene

Claudette Greene in Buckskins

Claudette Greene in Buckskins

In 1972 the movie Jeremiah Johnson hit the big screen bringing with it an interest in the HAWKEN rifle, a gun that Jeremiah coveted and eventually acquired. This movie sparked considerable interest in owning a firearm of this sty le. Many companies in the muzzle-loading field quickly brought forth their rendition of a HAWKEN rifle. Not many people knew “HAWKEN” was the name of an actual man with a shop building rifles in St. Louis in the 1800’s. No, not many knew but there was one.

In 1960 after 20 years of military service my father opened a small gunsmithing shop on Whidbey Island in Washington state. I joined him in the business and began attending trade shows to see what was new in the firearms industry. On one such trip at a very large show I ventured down an isle and was surprised to see that among the men in sport coats and ties was a man in full buckskin attire.

Samuel Hawken

Samuel Hawken

He was standing in a booth amid racks of HAWKEN rifles with other men dressed in a similar fashion. The display tables were draped in buffalo skins with tomahawks, powder horns, knives and other accouterments set about. I felt as if l had taken a step back in time and was comfortable in the atmosphere it all created. Then I saw it, hanging high above it all, a sign that read The HAWKEN Shop. While talking with the men in the booth, I learned that these rifles marked HAWKEN really were HAWKEN rifles. These were not imitations, they were the real deal! I was hooked and the HAWKEN rifle was embedded in my mind. The HAWKEN rifle came about from a need of people moving westward for firearms capable of taking down game larger than the rabbits, squirrels, and deer they hunted in the east. Moving westward, they would encounter elk, bear, and bison. A larger caliber rifle would be in demand.  sam-1muzzleloading-pistol-and-powder-horn

I learned that in the 1970’s this buckskin clad man had brought the HAWKEN SHOP back to life. He was an estate buyer in St. Louis and had purchased what was left of the shop from the 1800’s. His plan was to once again offer these rifles to the general public. This he did. He took original parts from the rifles and had molds made to assure that rifles of current manufacture would be a continuation of those built in the 1800’s. With letters from HAWKEN descendants attesting to their authenticity, he made the HAWKEN rifle again available. Rifles from the HAWKEN shop were carried by such men as Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, and other mountain men of notoriety. HAWKEN rifles found their way across the prairie, they accompanied trappers upriver in their quest for furs, and traveled on wagon trains heading for the gold fields. The rifle being of sturdy build could come in handy as a pry bar to loosen your wagon should it bog down in the mud. The HAWKEN rifle is as steeped in history as the men who carried it.

claudette-greenes-gunshopIn the late 1970’s the proprietor of the HAWKEN shop experienced some personal difficulties, forcing closure of the shop, and it was again put into storage. The HAWKEN shop never totally left my mind, and I went in search to find it. In 1990 my partner and myself located the owner and purchased the HAWKEN shop and are again offering this historically correct rifle. We have traveled to museums, historical landmarks, and forts, following the trails of the mountain men. We continually strive to learn more of the man Sam Hawken and his rifle and continue efforts to preserve this part of our country’s history.

Claudette Greene is offering an historical board game she developed and sells in her store.  It involves several years of research and is about the Hawken muzzle-loading rifle and the mountain men that tamed the West. Leave a comment for a chance to win.

Updated: September 15, 2016 — 9:10 am

Into the Valley of Death: Texas’s Immortal 32

Kathleen Rice Adams header

 

Bejar, Feby. 24th. 1836

To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World—

Fellow Citizens & compatriots—

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna — I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man — The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken — I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch — The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country — Victory or Death.

William Barrett Travis.

Lt.  Col. comdt.

 

The Alamo, 1854

The Alamo, 1854

At dawn on March 1, 1836, the only reinforcements to respond to Travis’s urgent appeal fought their way into the Alamo. The Gonzales Ranging Company of Mounted Volunteers, a hastily organized cadre of boys and men ages 16 to 54, forged through a line of 4,000 to 6,000 Mexican soldados, dodging fire from their compatriots atop the mission’s walls.

All but three of the Rangers rode into history as the Immortal 32.

The story started months earlier in Gonzales, a town in DeWitt’s Colony. Established in 1825, Gonzales became known as “the Lexington of Texas” when the first shot in the Texas Revolution was fired there Oct. 2, 1835. The Battle of Gonzales began over a cannon the Mexican government had given to the Texians in 1831 so they could protect themselves from frequent Indian attacks. In September 1835, as disputes between the Texians and the Mexican government heated up, the governor of Coahuila y Tejas sent 100 Mexican soldiers to retrieve the cannon.

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This cannon, displayed at the Gonzales Memorial Museum, may be the disputed artillery. (photo by Larry D. Moore)

The men of Gonzales — all eighteen of them — refused to give up the artillery. Defiant to the core, they told the soldados  “Come and take it.” The Mexicans tried, the men of Gonzales — later known as the Old Eighteen — held their ground until reinforcements arrived, and the resulting skirmish went to the Texians.

The Mexican Army did not take the defeat well.

Four months later, when Travis, already besieged, sent his final appeal, the men of Gonzales and the surrounding area felt honor-bound to go to the defense of the Alamo defenders. Twenty-five men left Gonzales on the evening of February 27. More joined the group as it traveled. When they reached San Antonio de Béxar, they spent two days trying to figure a way past the sea of Mexican troops. At 3 a.m. on March 1 — knowing their chances of survival were slim — the Rangers made a mad dash for the mission gates, braving the fire of Alamo sentries who mistook them for enemy combatants.

Alamo Defenders Ashes

the crypt

The Immortal 32 fell with the Alamo on March 6. They composed about 20 percent of the Anglo casualties. Mexican troops burned the bodies of all the Alamo defenders, whom they considered traitors.

A crypt in the San Fernando Cathedral purports to hold the ashes of the Alamo defenders. Historians believe it is more likely the ashes were buried near the Alamo.

The majority of the Immortal 32 were husbands, fathers, and landowners. Five had been among the Old Eighteen, and one was the younger brother of an Old Eighteen member.

 

The Immortal 32:

Isaac G. Baker, 21

John Cain, 34

George Washington “Wash” Cottle, 25 (brother of an Old Eighteen)

David P. Cummins, 27

Jacob C. Darst (Old Eighteen), 42

John Davis

Squire Daymon, 28

William Dearduff , 25

Charles Despallier, 24

Almaron Dickinson (Old Eighteen)

William Fishbaugh

John Flanders, 36

Dolphin Ward Floyd, 32

Galba Fuqua, 16

John E. Garvin, about 40

John E. Gaston, 17

James George, 34

Thomas Jackson (Old Eighteen)

John Benjamin Kellogg II, 19

Andrew Kent, 44

George C. Kimble, 33

William Philip King, 16

Jonathan L. Lindley, 22

Albert Martin (Old Eighteen), 28

Jesse McCoy, 32

Thomas R. Miller (Old Eighteen), 40

Isaac Millsaps, 41

George Neggan, 28

William E. Summers, 24

George W. Tumlinson, 22

Robert White, 30

Claiborne Wright, 26

Three men who rode in with the Immortal 32 survived because they were sent out March 3 as couriers or foragers. All three were attempting to return to the Alamo when it fell.

Byrd Lockhart, 54, later served in the Texas army.

John William Smith, 44, became the first mayor of San Antonio.

Andrew Jackson Sowell, 21, became a Texas Ranger.

A monument in the Alamo Shrine commemorates the valor of the Immortal 32, as does an entire cemetery in Gonzales’s Pioneer Village.

Commemorative_monument,_the_Alamo,_San_Antonio,_Texas,_June_4,_2007

A stone memorial on the Alamo grounds honors the Immortal 32. (photo by TheConduqtor)

“Remember the Alamo.”

 

A Veteran’s Day Salute to Army Laundresses

An army may travel on its stomach, but  soldiers also appreciate clean underwear. In honor of Veteran’s Day, I’m saluting the only women recognized by the US Army during the 19th century—the military laundresses.

Laundry was an arduous task before the advent of the washing machine. After sorting the clothing, stains were treated with chalk, clay or lye, depending on the kind of stain. Clothes were soaked, sometimes for days, then washed, scrubbed on a scrub board, rinsed and then boiled to kill lice and take out the last of the harsh soap. After that, the clothes were rinsed and hung to dry, then ironed with heavy flat irons. Imagine a hundred soldiers tending to their laundry in a camp environment on top of their other duties. Laundresses were essential, so in March of 1802, the “Act Fixing the Military Peace Establishment in the United States” recognized women retainers as military personnel.

According to the Act, up to four women were allowed to accompany a company of 100 men, and each woman would receive one ration of
meat, bread and whiskey a day. (The ratio later changed to one laundress per 19 ½ men.) In addition to their food ration, they were also allowed bedding straw, fuel and the services of the surgeon. If the laundress was married,  she shared quarters with her soldier husband. If not, she shared housing with the other laundresses, as well as a hatchet, a camp kettle and two mess pans. Housing consisted of tents when on the move and actual quarters when serving at post, although at some posts, the laundress quarters, located on suds row, were the most cramped and squalid.

When payday rolled around, the soldiers’ debts to the laundresses were paid before their debts to the sutlers, or merchants. The amount the laundresses were paid was set by the camp administrators. In 1851 at For Crawford, the laundresses received 50 cents for two shirts, two pair of underwear and two pairs of socks. In Fort Boise in 1866, enlisted men paid $2.00 a month and officers paid $5.00, since their uniforms might require starch or bluing. Soap was a rare commodity, so the price shifted according to who supplied the soap. In addition to doing laundry, laundresses served in other capacities,  cooking, cleaning and acting as midwives. Many baked and mended for extra money.

Soldiers were free to do their own laundry if they did not wish to hire a laundress. Some soldiers, particularly those who were convalescing from injury or illness, made extra money doing laundry for their fellow soldiers.

 

Interestingly, the wives of officers were not recognized as essential company personnel and could be banned from the post by the commanding officer. Not so the laundresses. They traveled with the Army, except in combat situations. Once combat was over, the laundresses once again joined the company. As recognized retainers, the laundresses were subject to Army regulations and there are records of laundresses being brought before military courts.

Where did the laundresses come from? They were often the wives of senior enlisted men and their pay helped to support the family. Widows or mothers of soldiers also became laundresses. The captain of the company hired the laundresses, who were required to have a letter of recommendation or a certificate of good character. No woman of bad character was allowed to follow the Army.  However, that didn’t mean these women were refined. Most were illiterate, so there are no written journals or diaries of laundresses. Most information about the laundresses comes from soldiers’ letters and military records.

In 1875, the Army started looking at laundresses from an economic point of view and realized that rations, quarters and fuel used by laundresses came to almost $200,000. In 1883, the Army stopped issuing rations to laundresses, although laundresses married to soldiers were allowed to stay with the company until the husband’s enlistment was up.

There are a lot of fascinating stories and lore about individual laundresses, and I really enjoyed reading about these tough women who provided such an essential service to our armed forces over a century ago.

I

Capt. William J. Fetterman: Fatal Hubris

Kathleen Rice Adams header

 

William J. Fetterman, Capt., U.S. Army

William J. Fetterman, Capt., U.S. Army

“Give me eighty men and I’ll ride through the whole Sioux Nation.”

So said Capt. William J. Fetterman in late 1866 as he assumed command of a U.S. Army detail tasked with defending a woodcutting expedition against Indians in the Dakota Territory. A fellow officer had declined the command after mounting, and failing to sustain, a similar effort two days earlier.

Fetterman overestimated his abilities and severely underestimated his opponent.

Born in Connecticut in 1833, William Judd Fetterman was the son of a career army officer. In May 1861, at the age of 28, he enlisted in the Union Army and immediately received a lieutenant’s commission. Twice brevetted for gallant conduct with the First Battalion of the 18th Infantry Regiment, Fetterman finished the Civil War wearing the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel of volunteers.

After the war, Fetterman elected to remain with the regular army as a captain. Initially assigned to Fort Laramie with the Second Battalion of the 18th Infantry, by November 1866 he found himself dispatched to Fort Phil Kearny, near present-day Sheridan, Wyoming. Since the post’s establishment five months earlier, the local population of about 400 soldiers and 300 civilian settlers and prospectors reportedly had suffered fifty raids by small bands of Sioux and Arapaho. In response, the fort’s commander, Col. Henry B. Carrington, adopted a defensive posture.

Red Cloud, ca. 1880 (photo by John K. Hillers, courtesy Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Red Cloud, ca. 1880 (photo by John K. Hillers, courtesy Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Fetterman immediately joined a group of other junior officers in openly criticizing Carrington’s protocol. Although the 33-year-old captain lacked experience with the Indians, he didn’t hesitate to express contempt for the enemy. His distinguished war record lent credence to his argument: Since the Indian raiding parties consisted of only twenty to 100 mounted warriors, the army should run them to ground and teach them a lesson.

Fetterman’s voice and continuing raids eventually convinced the regimental commander at Fort Laramie to order Carrington to mount an offensive. Several minor scuffles, during which the soldiers proved largely ineffective due to disorganization and inexperience, merely bolstered the Indians’ confidence. Carrington himself had to be rescued after a force of about 100 Sioux surrounded him on a routine patrol. Even Fetterman admitted dealing with the “hostiles” demanded “the utmost caution.”

Jim Bridger, at the time a guide for Fort Phil Kearny, was less circumspect. He said the soldiers “don’t know anything about fighting Indians.”

On December 19, an army detail escorted a woodcutting party to a ridge only two miles from the fort before being turned back by an Indian attack. The next day, Fetterman and another captain proposed a full-fledged raid on a Lakota village about fifty miles distant. Carrington denied the request.

On the morning of December 21, with orders not to pursue “hostiles” beyond the two-mile point at which the previous patrol had met trouble, Fetterman, a force of seventy-eight infantry and cavalry, and two civilian scouts escorted another expedition to cut lumber for firewood and building material. Within an hour of the group’s departure from the fort, the company encountered a small band of Oglala led by Crazy Horse. The Indians taunted the army patrol, which gave chase … beyond where they had been ordered not to go.

The great Sioux war leader Red Cloud and a force of about 2,300 Lakota, Arapaho, and Northern Cheyenne waited about one-half mile beyond the ridge. In less than twenty minutes, Fetterman and all eighty men under his command died. Most were scalped, beheaded, dismembered, disemboweled, and/or emasculated.

Plaque at the site of the battle (courtesy Phil Konstantin)

Monument at the site of the battle (courtesy Phil Konstantin; used with permission)

The Indians suffered sixty-three casualties.

Among the Sioux and Cheyenne, the event is known as the Battle of the Hundred Slain or the Battle of 100 in the Hands. Whites know it better as the Fetterman Massacre, the U.S. Army’s worst defeat on the Great Plains until Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer made a similar mistake ten years later at Little Big Horn in Montana.

Whether Fetterman deliberately disobeyed Carrington’s orders or the commander massaged the truth in his report remains the subject of debate. Although officially absolved of blame in the disaster, Carrington spent the rest of his life a disgraced soldier. Fetterman, on the other hand, was honored as a hero: A fort constructed nearly 200 miles to the south was given his name seven months after his death. A monument dedicated in 1901 marks the spot where the officers and men fell.

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A war of another kind erupts within the pages of Prodigal Gun, the only novel-length western historical romance ever nominated for a Peacemaker Award. A Texas fence war pits cattlemen against sheepmen and barbed wire, bringing a notorious gunman home sixteen years after the Confederate Army declared him dead. The book is available in trade paperback and all e-formats at virtual bookstores everywhere. (An excerpt is here.)