The Duke of Wellington contemplates a wax model of the dead Napoleon at Madame Tussaud’s in London. Wellington was one of the exhibition’s first visitors, and this was one of his favorite figures.
Napoleon and Wellington were both born in 1769, and each had four brothers and three sisters. Each was educated at a French military academy, speaking French as a second language, and each lost his father during adolescence. In 1796 Napoleon changed his surname from Buonaparte to Bonaparte; in 1798 Wellington changed his surname from Wesley to Wellesley. Both admired Hannibal above all other military heroes and gave special attention to topography in making war. Both took Caesar’s Commentaries on campaign. Napoleon saw his first action at Toulon in 1793, Wellington in Holland almost precisely a year later. They shared two mistresses, and Wellington’s brother married Napoleon’s brother’s ex-wife’s sister-in-law. Each man received a great early opportunity through the intercession of his brother, and each came to prominence fighting on a peninsula.
“But there the similarities cease,” writes Andrew Roberts in Napoleon and Wellington (2001). “For by the time Wellington gained his first European command of any great note, in Portugal in 1808, Napoleon was already master of the continent.”
When Wellington died in 1852, Tussaud’s successor created a wax figure intended to reflect his visits to the collection. So visitors to Tussaud’s saw the wax figure of a real man who was viewing the wax figure of a real man.
In August 1865, Col. P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tenn., wrote to his former slave Jourdon Anderson, now emancipated in Ohio, and asked him to return to work on his farm. Anderson dictated this letter in response:
Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.
I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy, — the folks call her Mrs. Anderson, — and the children — Milly, Jane, and Grundy — go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, ‘Them colored people were slaves’ down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.
As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.
In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve — and die, if it come to that — than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.
Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
From your old servant,
That’s Ronald Reagan, just before being shot by John Hinckley outside the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981. The man in the white raincoat is Secret Service agent Jerry Parr; after the shooting, it was Parr who pushed Reagan into a limousine, noticed he was bleeding, and directed the driver to take them to a hospital, probably saving Reagan’s life.
Parr had been inspired to pursue his career by the 1939 film The Code of the Secret Service, in which dashing agent “Brass” Bancroft survives a shooting in Mexico. Bancroft was played by a 28-year-old Ronald Reagan.
In June 1744, the College of William & Mary invited the Indians of the Six Nations to send six young men to be “properly” educated. They received this reply:
We know that you highly esteem the kind of learning taught in those Colleges, and that the Maintenance of our young Men, while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinc’d, therefore, that you mean to do us Good by your Proposal; and we thank you heartily. But you, who are wise, must know that different Nations have different Conceptions of Things; and you will therefore not take it amiss if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same with yours. We have had some Experience of it: Several of our young People were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your Sciences; but when they came back to us, they were bad Runners, ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, unable to bear either Cold or Hunger, knew neither how to build a Cabin, take a Deer, or kill an Enemy, spoke our Language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters, Warriors, or Counsellors; they were totally good for nothing. We are, however, not the less oblig’d by your kind Offer, tho’ we decline accepting it; and, to show our grateful Sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take great Care of their Education, instruct them in all we know, and make Men of them.
A senior relief official during the Irish potato famine was named Edward Pine Coffin.
Excerpt from a letter from U.S. Army major Sullivan Ballou to his wife, July 14, 1861:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days — perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more. …
Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the brightest day and in the darkest night — amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours — always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.
He never sent it. It was found in his trunk after he was killed in the First Battle of Bull Run.
- No point in Great Britain is more than 75 miles from the sea.
- MOONLIGHT = THIN GLOOM
- 2427 = 21 + 42 + 23 + 74
- Sweden had a Charles VII, but no Charleses I-VI.
- “If a man who cannot count finds a four-leaf clover, is he entitled to happiness?” — Stanislaw Lec
The Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine declared its independence from Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939. It was annexed by Hungary the next day. It had been independent for only 24 hours.
In December 2006, Belgian public television station RTBF reported that Dutch-speaking Flanders had declared independence and that Belgium as a nation had ceased to exist. Panicked viewers placed 2,600 calls to the station and crashed its website as they sought further information.
The station kept up the story for two hours, then admitted it was a hoax. “It’s very bad Orson Welles, in very poor taste,” said a spokesman for Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. “We obviously scared many people,” acknowledged news director Yves Thiran. “Maybe more than we expected.”
In October 1864, Indiana farmer John VanNuys received a letter informing him that his son had been killed in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm in Virginia. He had been shot in the throat while retreating from a line of Confederate rifle pits. “Within twenty minutes our forces rallied and took the ground,” wrote the quartermaster, “but while the rebels held the ground, they had stripped your son of everything except shirt and drawers.”
A few days later VanNuys received an envelope postmarked “Old Point Comfort, Oct. 10.” Inside was a note in his son’s handwriting:
This testament belongs to Captain S.W. VanNuys, Acting Ass’t. Adj’t. General 3d Brigade, 3d Div., 18th Army Corps. Should I die upon the field of battle, for the sake of a loving mother and sister, inform my father, John H. VanNuys, Franklin, Indiana, of the fact.
Below this someone had written:
Mr. John H. Vanings: It is my faithful duty to inform you that your son was killed on the 29th of the last month near Chaffins farm, Va. I have his testament. I will send it if you wish it. From your enemy, one of the worst rebels you ever seen.
The sender had signed it only “L.B.F.” His identity is unknown.
John VI of Portugal was hard of hearing, so he had a throne built whose leonine arms captured sound and directed it to a listening tube.
“Requiring anyone who wishes to speak with you to kneel and address you through the jaws of your carved lion might be fun for an hour or so,” notes neuroscientist Jan Schnupp, “but few psychologically well-balanced individuals would choose to hold the majority of conversations in that manner.”
Alfonso XIII of Spain was “the most tone-deaf man I ever knew,” remembered Artur Rubinstein. “From the time he was seven, he was accompanied by a man assigned to nudge him whenever the national anthem was played.”
From Andrew Carroll’s Behind the Lines (2005) — during World War II, the parents of William Kyzer received this letter from their son, an infantry rifleman stationed in the Pacific:
Dear Dad & Carmilita
I’m OK, days flies by here in
Well maybe it can be all again soon. I’m praying for it. Write soon Nothing like getting a letter from home. Here on
P.S. They may censor this letter
Carroll writes: “In fact, Kyzer’s mail was not edited at all; he simply hated writing letters and only penned the few sentences at the top and bottom so that his folks would believe that the censors were responsible for slicing out the rest.”
Wandering the French countryside in 1914, German soldier Hans Fleischer made a remarkable discovery:
Through the thick underbrush, I meandered my way through a small path. Wonderful woods all around me. Not too long thereafter, I came upon a lighted area, and before me lay in the middle of a blooming flower garden, in peaceful silence, the castle of Baron de Turckheim. I stood struck in sight of it, and slowly I went closer to the gentle hills. Behind me lay Blamont. A wonderful picture, this little city with its red-brown roofs, built into a rolling valley, and marked by the old weathered ruins that Bernhard once destroyed during the Thirty Year’s War, and the high, double towered gothic church. Like an old, good Swabian town, there it lay, an image of freedom in the middle of the destruction of war. I went further through the garden and fields, past Weihern, and soon I stood on the terrace of the glorious construction. With astonishment, I climbed the stair and went in.
What a miserable image of destruction! The whole glory and wonder of this castle had become ruins and piles of rubble, everything cut down and in pieces, the wonderful chamber with its glorious library and its heavy, gold shrine, the woodwork covered room with its proud row of ancestor’s portraits, the lovely living room with its uncommon furniture — everything forever demolished. With a shudder, I went through the rooms. There! In one corner in the back — was that not a grand piano? I stood in my tracks, and then almost fell down with shock. Right! A grand piano: Steinway & Sons and untouched. A miracle! Finally, finally, music! How painful and with what longing I had missed just this holiest of all arts, and now I find in the middle of all of this rubble a grand piano! The room became like a temple to me, and I sat down as if at an altar. I began slowly, my fingers gliding tremblingly over keys no different than others I have played on. All of my longings became swelling tones that went out into the summer morning. They were holy moments of the blissful memories of the world, whenI was able to make music again for the first time. I awoke like out of a dream when I stopped.
But there! What was lying right under the piano? Did I see correctly? Right, sheet music! In haste I grabbed for the ‘The Valkyries.’ That was the culmination of my happiness, to find my Valyries here! Soon, the sound rang out. Joyously and then more so. The old, raw soldier’s playing became more relaxed, and seldom has a song of love and springtime and inner power emanated from me with more emotion. Outside, the destructive struggle between life and death, with all of its terrible incidents and gruesomeness — and here, in this moment, a German song of love. Rare, unforgettable hours! Feeling deeply fulfilled and happy, I had been taken back to my peaceful garden house. I was at home. I had made German music, and now I could go into war again. Blessed, I returned to my comrades.
From Andrew Carroll’s book Behind the Lines. Fleischer is believed to have been one of 95,000 Jews fighting for the German Army. If he survived, he would have been the victim of constant persecution in the Nazi regime, even having fought for Germany. What became of him is unknown.
According to tradition, barristers wear black because they’re still in mourning for Queen Mary II, who died in 1694.
Or, properly speaking, they adopted black on Mary’s death at the wish of William III and have retained it as a convenient costume ever since.
Mary is most commonly cited; sometimes another Stuart queen is named. Sir Frederick Pollock, who served as Chief Baron of the Exchequer for more than 25 years, famously joked that the whole bar went into mourning in the time of Queen Anne (Mary’s younger sister) and never came out again.
He wrote, “I have always been told that formerly the Bar wore, in Court, coats, &c. of any colour under the gown, which also need not have been black; but that on the death of Queen Anne the Bar went into mourning, and since then every barrister has generally worn black.”
In July 1948, 27-year-old Air Force lieutenant Gail Halvorsen was flying food and supplies into West Berlin, which was blockaded by the Soviet Union. One night he encountered a group of hungry children who had gathered near the runway to watch the planes land.
“They could speak a little English,” he recalled later. “Their clothes were patched and they hadn’t had gum and candy for two or three years. They barely had enough to eat.”
Halvorsen gave them two sticks of gum and promised to drop more candy for them the next day from his C-54. He said he’d rock his wings so that they could distinguish him from the other planes. Then he returned to the base and spent the night tying bundles of candy to handkerchief parachutes.
Over the next three days he dropped candy to growing crowds of West German children. He had wanted to keep the project secret (“It seemed like something you weren’t supposed to do”), but when a newsman snapped a photograph Halvorsen began receiving boxes of candy from all over the United States, many with parachutes already attached. Halvorsen went home in February 1949, and the blockade was lifted three months later.
In 1998, when Halvorsen returned to Berlin, a “dignified, well-dressed man of 60 years” approached him. He said, “Fifty years ago I was a boy of 10 on my way to school. The clouds were very low with light rain. I could hear the planes landing though I couldn’t see them. Suddenly out of the mist came a parachute with a fresh Hershey chocolate bar from America. It landed right at my feet. I knew it was happening but couldn’t believe it was for me. It took me a week to eat that candy bar. I hid it day and night. The chocolate was wonderful but it wasn’t the chocolate that was most important. What it meant was that someone in America knew I was here, in trouble and needed help. Someone in America cared. That parachute was something more important than candy. It represented hope. Hope that some day we would be free.”
Brothers Alphonse, Kenneth, and Mayo Prud’homme were playing with a foot-long toy cannon in Natchitoches, La., in September 1941 when they saw a man peering at them through binoculars from the opposite side of the Cane River. “We just fired a shot at him to see what would happen,” Kenneth remembered later. “He bailed out of the tree and went flying back down the road in a cloud of dust.”
Presently the man returned with infantry. “They started shooting back at us, and when they’d shoot, we’d shoot back.”
This went on for half an hour, escalating gradually. The boys’ father added firecrackers to their arsenal; their opponents set up smoke screens and readied a .155 howitzer. At last an Army officer appeared at their side and said, “Mr. Prud’homme, do you mind calling off your boys? You’re holding up our war.”
The boys, ages 14, 12, and 9, had interrupted war games involving 400,000 troops spread over 3,400 square miles in preparation for America’s entry into World War II. At the sound of the cannon, George S. Patton had stopped his Blue convoy and engaged what he thought was the opposing Red army. His men were firing blanks, but the maneuvers were real.
“That’s my one claim to fame,” Kenneth told an Army magazine writer in 2009. “I defeated General Patton.”
Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis both died without a country.
In 1865 Lee applied for pardon and completed an amnesty oath, fulfilling terms required by Andrew Johnson. But the documents were never recognized, and Lee died without citizenship in 1870. A century later a worker discovered the oath in the National Archives, and Gerald Ford restored Lee’s citizenship posthumously in 1975.
After the fall of Richmond, Davis was imprisoned for treason. When he emerged two years later, his citizenship was denied — he could not run for office, and he could not vote. Like Lee, he passed the remainder of his life without a nation; Jimmy Carter finally restored his citizenship in 1978.
Why do we say “The United States is” rather than “The United States are”? The founding fathers tended to use are — in 1783 John Adams wrote, “The United States are another object of debate,” and the 13th Amendment declares that slavery shall not exist “within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The standard answer is that the Civil War established the country as a unified nation in the modern consciousness. In 1887 a writer in the Washington Post declared that the war had “settled forever the question of grammar. … The surrender of Mr. Davis and Gen. Lee meant a transition from the plural to the singular.” “Since the civil war the tendency has been toward such use,” confirmed John W. Foster in the New York Times in 1901.
It’s not quite so simple, of course — authoritative writers can be found who used is before the war or are afterward. William Cullen Bryant banned the singular use from the New York Post in 1870, and Ambrose Bierce was pressing for the plural as late as 1909. (In 1881 New Englander C.H.J. Douglas proposed “The United State of America,” but he got nowhere.)
But the standard answer is essentially true. “The rebellion made the State rights and State sovereignty idea very obnoxious to loyal people, and gave corresponding prominence and popularity to the idea of nationality,” observed the New York Times in 1895. “The United States is, not are,” concluded Carl Sandburg in 1958. “The Civil War was fought over a verb.”
Frontiersman Samuel Brady was being chased through northern Ohio by a band of Sandusky Indians in 1780 when he found his way blocked by the Cuyahoga River:
“He made his way to Standing Rock, and intended to cross at that ford, but the Indians were awaiting him, and he ran farther along the bank, to a place where the rocks rose at some points to a height of twenty-five feet. The body of the river at the narrowest part was from twenty-three to thirty feet wide, and was deep and dangerous. There was no other ford than Standing Rock for miles, and the Indians felt assured of their prize, but faint heart was not known to the Captain of the Rangers, and even a rushing torrent of water did not stop him in his course. Gaining a less precipitous edge of the cliff, he ran back into the forest, to get a good start, and was so near the approaching red men, that he heard their shots and exclamations. Across the expanse of water, at a height of probably twenty or twenty-five feet, he bounded, and with the eye of a practiced marksman, struck the bank on the other side, and stood on the cliff, as the wild yell and wilder appearance of the first pursuer denoted his disappointment and rage.”
Could this have happened as described? The river is broader and its banks much lower than in former times, so it’s hard to judge. The best evidence I can find supporting the tradition is an 1856 letter by Frederick Wadsworth, who writes that “many years ago” he had visited the spot with a companion who had heard the tale from Brady himself. “We measured the river where we supposed the leap was made, and found it between twenty-four and twenty-six feet; my present impression is that it was a few inches less than than twenty-five feet. There were bushes and evergreens growing out of the fissures in the rock on each side of the stream. He jumped from the west to east side; the banks on each side of the stream were nearly of the same height, the flat rock on the west side descending a very little from the west to the east.” Decide for yourself.
n. a helper of the blind
I was recently told the following story of a piece of silverware now existing in the plate-room at Marlborough House. One day the Prince of Wales, on alighting from his carriage at the door of a house where he was about to pay a visit, saw a blind man and his dog vainly trying to effect a passage across the thoroughfare in the midst of a throng of carriages. With characteristic good-nature the Prince came to the rescue, and successfully piloted the pair to the other side of the street. A short time afterwards he received a massive silver inkstand with the following inscription:– ‘To the Prince of Wales. From one who saw him conduct a blind beggar across the street. In memory of a kind and Christian action.’ Neither note nor card accompanied the offering, and the name of the donor has never been discovered. But I think that this anonymous gift is not the least prized of the many articles in the Prince’s treasure chamber. I can vouch for the authenticity of this anecdote, as it came to me direct from a young English lady who, by the kindness of a member of the Prince of Wales’ household, was shown through Marlborough House during the absence of its owners, and the inkstand in question was pointed out to her by her conductor.
— Unsigned article, The Australian Journal, January 1893
The wife of a Russian soldier received this letter, handwritten in cursive, during World War I:
My Dear and Beloved Wife!
I am sending you, my dear, a little note about myself from far away. I am, thank God, alive and well and feel good about myself. Write me about your health and the health of our dear children. If only you knew, how my heart longs for you and the children, if only I could hold you to my chest and kiss you from the bottom of my heart.
I ask you, my darling spouse, write me even more often. I live by your letters alone. As soon as I receive communication from you, I read it through and through several times, and it’s as if I see you and the children, as if I am right next to you.
Every day I pray to our Good Lord above for you and for our children, and I ask Him, so that He, the Merciful, would let us meet again. And I believe, that happy day is not far off. Or, my dearest one, do not despair but instead as soon as you receive my letter, write me back about everything in great detail, for I eagerly await your note. I rely on the Lord, Our God, that I will find you and the dear children in good health and happiness.
I am sending heartfelt greetings to all our friends and family. Let them not forget me, for I shall not forget them.
I remain your loving and faithful husband.
“What is unique about the letter is that the government, not the soldier, authored it,” writes Andrew Carroll in Behind the Lines (2005). “Recognizing the importance of mail to bolster spirits on the home front as well as the battlefield, the Russian government provided these prewritten letters, which soldiers could simply fold up and send to the designated recipient.”
In 1915, after being cut off from his regiment in northern France, British Army private Patrick Fowler found his way to the farmhouse of Marie Belmont-Gobert in the German-occupied town of Bertry. He implored her to hide him, but she had space only in an oaken cupboard in the living room.
Incredibly, Fowler spent three years and nine months in a space 5.5 feet high and 20 inches deep while more than 20 German musketeers were billeted in the same house. “He was there at times when unsuspecting Germans were actually sitting around the fire in the same room,” reported the New York World in 1927. “Often they came down to the ground floor quarters of the Belmont family and made coffee on the fire there.”
The Germans even made periodic searches. “[A German captain] and his men sounded the walls and floors for secret hiding places, uttered awful threats,” reported Time. “Mme. Belmont-Gobert only sat passive in her sitting room. At last the captain wrenched open the right-hand door of her large black armoire, snorted to see it divided into small shelves incapable of holding a rabbit, banged the right-hand door shut without opening the left-hand door, strode away.”
The Germans finally left Bertry on Oct. 10, 1918, and Fowler returned to his unit. Nine years later, in recognition of her act, the French government granted Belmont-Gobert a pension, and Britain named her a Dame of the Order of the British Empire. The cupboard resides today in the King’s Royal Hussars’ Museum in Winchester.
- Connecticut didn’t ratify the Bill of Rights until 1939.
- Can one pity a fictional character?
- 64550 = (64 – 5) × 50
- BILLOWY is in alphabetical order, WRONGED in reverse.
- “The essence of chess is thinking about the essence of chess.” — David Bronstein
In order to hide it from Japanese bombers during World War II, Lockheed covered its entire Burbank, Calif., manufacturing plant with a camouflage net of chicken wire, poles and cables, feathers, and tar. From the air it looked like another residential section of Burbank, complete with trees, roads, sidewalks, and houses:
“It was an engineering marvel,” reported Gil Cefaratt in his history of the company, “but when it rained, [engineer Richard P.] DeGrey remembers the odor of millions of wet chicken feathers almost made work impossible for a couple of days.”
Written in prison by Arthur Connor, a prominent figure in the Irish Rebellion of 1798:
The pomps of Courts and pride of kings
I prize above all earthly things;
I love my country, but the King,
Above all men, his praise I sing.
The Royal banners are displayed,
And may success the standard aid.
I fain would banish far from hence
The “Rights of Man” and “Common Sense.”
Confusion to his odious reign,
That foe to princes, Thomas Paine.
Defeat and ruin seize the cause
Of France, its liberties and laws.
Connor escaped in 1807 and made his way to France, where he became a general in the army. “These two apparently loyal verses, if properly read, bear a very different meaning,” writes Henry Dudeney. “Can you discover it?”