Opposing Forces


This is a picture of which Captain Gordon McCabe of Richmond, Virginia, writes: ‘I send photographs of two bullets, one Federal, the other Confederate, that met in mid-air and flattened out against each other. The bullets were picked up in 1865 between the lines immediately after the evacuation of Petersburg.’

— Francis Trevelyan Miller, The Photographic History of the Civil War, 1911

The Duluth Speech


In 1871 the House of Representatives was considering subsidizing railroads to serve the Midwest, including tiny Duluth, Minn. Kentucky representative J. Proctor Knott rose, produced a bucket of sarcasm, and began ladling:

Duluth! The word fell upon my ear with peculiar and indescribable charm, like the gentle murmur of a low fountain stealing forth in the midst of roses, or the soft, sweet accents of an angel’s whisper, in the bright joyous dream of sleeping innocence. Duluth: ‘Twas the name for which my soul had panted for years, as the hart panteth for water-brooks. But where was Duluth? Never, in all my limited reading, had my vision been gladdened by seeing the celestial word in print. And I felt a profounder humiliation in my ignorance, that its dulcet syllables had never before ravished my delighted ear. …

Nevertheless, I was confident it existed somewhere, and that its discovery would constitute the crowning glory of the present century, if not of all modern times. I knew it was bound to exist in the very nature of things; that the symmetry and perfection of our planetary system would be incomplete without it, that the elements of material nature would long since have resolved themselves back into original chaos if there had been such a hiatus in creation as would have resulted from leaving out Duluth.

In fact, sir, I was overwhelmed with the conviction that Duluth not only existed somewhere, but that wherever it was, it was a great and a glorious place. I was convinced that the greatest calamity that ever befell the benighted nations of the ancient world was in their having passed away without a knowledge of the actual existence of Duluth; that their fabled Atlantis, never seen save by the hallowed vision of inspired poesy, was in fact but another name for Duluth; that the golden orchard of the Hesperides was but a poetical synonym for the beer gardens in the vicinity of Duluth.

I was certain that Herodotus had died a miserable death because in all his travels and with all his geographical research he had never heard of Duluth. I knew that if the immortal spirit of Homer could look down from another heaven than that created by his own celestial genius upon the long lines of pilgrims from every nation of the earth to the gushing fountain of poesy opened by the touch of his magic wand, if he could be permitted to behold the vast assemblage of grand and glorious productions of the lyric art called into being by his own inspired strains, he would weep tears of bitter anguish that instead of lavishing all the stories of his mighty genius upon the fall of Troy it had not been his more blessed lot to crystallize in deathless song the rising glories of Duluth.

Yet, sir, had it not been for this map, kindly furnished me by the Legislature of Minnesota, I might have gone down to my obscure and humble grave in an agony of despair, because I could nowhere find Duluth. Had such been my melancholy fate, I have no doubt that with the last feeble pulsation of my breaking heart, with the last faint exhalation of my fleeting breath I should have whispered, ‘Where is Duluth?’

The bill was defeated. See American Notes.

In a Word


n. a mass execution by drowning

adj. crying out together

adj. dying together or at the same time

J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 painting The Slave Ship recalls a brutal convention in the Atlantic slave trade — an insurance company would reimburse a captain for a slave who was lost at sea, but not for one who died of illness aboard ship. In 1781 Luke Collingwood, captain of the Zong, threw 133 sick and malnourished Africans overboard so that he could claim their value from his insurers. Turner displayed the painting next to lines from his own poem:

Aloft all hands, strike the top-masts and belay;
Yon angry setting sun and fierce-edged clouds
Declare the Typhon’s coming.
Before it sweeps your decks, throw overboard
The dead and dying — ne’er heed their chains
Hope, Hope, fallacious Hope!
Where is thy market now?

Britain had already outlawed its own slave trade when the painting appeared, but its impact encouraged the empire to oppose the institution everywhere.

“The Female Soldier”


When George Washington called for volunteers for the Continental Army in 1782, 23-year-old Deborah Sampson dressed as a man and enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, giving the name Robert Shurtleff.

She served for 17 months, eating and sleeping with the troops and fighting in several battles in New York — she received a sword wound to the head and a bullet in the thigh, which she removed herself with a penknife.

A doctor discovered her identity when she was hospitalized with fever in summer 1783, but he kept her secret and she was discharged honorably shortly after the Treaty of Paris was signed in September. The government awarded her a pension for her service and extended one to her husband as well, declaring that the Revolutionary War “furnishes no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity, and courage.”

It was quickly forgotten. In 1861 Confederate general Richard Ewell remarked, “Women would make a grand brigade — if it was not for snakes and spiders! They don’t mind bullets — women are not afraid of bullets; but one big black-snake would put a whole army to flight.”

Changing Times


George Elgin’s “pistol sword,” patented in 1837, combines romance and efficiency:

The nature of my invention consists in combining the pistol and Bowie knife, or the pistol and cutlass, in such manner that it can be used with as much ease and facility as either the pistol, knife, or cutlass could be if separate, and in an engagement, when the pistol is discharged, the knife (or cutlass) can be brought into immediate use without changing or drawing, as the two instruments are in the hand at the same time.

This is one of the earliest U.S. patents — number 254.

Related: A gruesome piece of battlefield medicine from the Napoleonic campaigns of 1806 — a soldier’s face was transfixed by a bayonet that projected five inches from his right temple:

The man was knocked down, but did not lose his senses. He made several ineffectual efforts to pull the bayonet out, and two comrades, one holding the head, whilst the other dragged at the weapon, also failed. The poor wounded man came to me leaning on the arms of two fellow-soldiers. I endeavored, with the assistance of a soldier to pull out the bayonet, but it seemed to me as if fixed in a wall. The soldier who helped me desired the patient to lie down on his side, and putting his foot on the man’s head, with both hands he dragged out the bayonet, which was immediately followed by considerable hemorrhage, the blood pouring forth violently and abundantly. The patient then first felt ill, and, as I thought he would die, I left him to dress other wounded. After twenty minutes he revived, and said he was much better, and I then dressed him. We were in the snow, and as he was very cold the whole of his head was well wrapped up in charpie and bandages. He set off to Warsaw with another soldier; went partly on foot, partly on horseback, or in a cart, from barn to barn, and often from wood to wood, and reached Warsaw in six days. Three months after, I saw him in the hospital, perfectly recovered. He had lost his sight on the right side; the eye and lid had, however, preserved their form and mobility, but the iris remained much dilated and immovable.

From Paul Fitzsimmons Eve, A Collection of Remarkable Cases in Surgery, 1857.

A Look Ahead

In 1888 New York journalist David Goodman Croly published Glimpses of the Future, a collection of predictions “to be read now and judged in the year 2000.” Excerpts:

  • “The accumulation of wealth in a few hands, which is steadily going on, will unquestionably lead to a grave agitation which may have vital consequences on the future of the country. I am quite sure that the American of the twentieth century will not consent to live under a merely selfish plutocracy.”
  • “Exclusive lawyer rule will yet create violent disturbance. Our whole machinery of justice is out of gear, for it is becoming more costly and inefficient. … The legal machinery grows yearly more inefficient and wasteful of time and money. Vigilance committees will exist in every part of the country if this state of things continues.”
  • “Marriage is no longer a religious rite even in Catholic countries, but a civil contract, and the logical result would seem to be a state of public opinion which would justify a change of partners whenever the contracting couple mutually agreed to separate.”
  • “If the aërostat should become as cheap for travellers as the sailing vessel, why may not man become migratory, like the birds, occupying the more mountainous regions and sea-coast in summer and more tropical climes in winter? Of course all this seems very wild, but we live in an age of scientific marvels, and the navigation of the air, if accomplished, would be the most momentous event of all the ages.”
  • “There will be a sub-city [in New York] under the surface of the ground for conveying people, not only from the Battery to the City Hall Park, but also from the East to the North River.”
  • “True, the [chromolithograph] of to-day is looked upon as crude and inartistic; but I venture to predict that it will be so far perfected as to allow any well-to-do family to have art galleries of their own, in which will be found reproductions of all the great paintings of the ancient and modern world. The crowning glory of our age will be when the highest art is brought within the reach of the poorest purse.”
  • “[In the novel of the future,] Robert Elsmere, Catherine Langham, and the other individuals, would all be reproduced pictorially. This would dispense with a great deal of description, and much of the verbiage could be cut out. Then the reader’s conception of the characters would necessarily be much more vivid. Nor is this all. Why should not a number of graphophones be made use of, giving the words of the various conversations in the tones they would naturally use? An author then would employ a number of men and women of various ages to personate his characters. They would be like the models of an artist.”

“I have no notion of being able to tell what the future has in store for us,” he wrote. “I propose simply to take up such matters as are of everyday importance, and try to think out the future with regard to them.”



“In the year 1500 Europe knew less than Archimedes, who died in the year 212 B.C.” — Alfred North Whitehead


  • James Buchanan’s niece was his first lady.
  • FIVE THOUSAND is the highest number name with no repeated letters.
  • Ardmore, Tennessee, borders Ardmore, Alabama.
  • 9306 × 2013 = 3102 × 6039
  • “So that’s what hay looks like.” — Queen Mary

If God exists outside space and time, then how can he be omnipresent, present in all places at all times? If he exists within it, how could he have created it? How could a creation (or anything) take place outside time?

Court Card


I must tell you a nice little story which is quite true and will amuse you. The King has taken lately to writing verse. Messieurs de Saint-Aignan and Dangeau are teaching him how to set about it. The other day he wrote a little madrigal, which he himself did not think much of. One morning he said to Maréchale de Gramont, ‘Monsieur le Maréchale, will you kindly read this little madrigal and see whether you have ever seen anything so pointless? Just because it is known that I have recently taken to liking verses, people bring me all kinds.’ Having read it the Marshal said, ‘Sire, your Majesty is an inspired judge of everything, and it is true that this is the silliest and most ridiculous madrigal I have ever read.’ The King burst out laughing and said, ‘Isn’t it true that whoever wrote this is a conceited puppy?’ ‘Sire, he cannot be called anything else.’ ‘That’s excellent,’ said the King. ‘I am delighted that you have spoken so candidly; I wrote it myself.’ ‘Oh, Sire, what treachery! Will your Majesty please give it back to me, I only glanced through it rapidly.’ ‘No, Monsieur le Maréchale, first impressions are always the most natural.’ The King laughed very much at this trick, but everyone thinks it is the most cruel thing one can do to an old courtier. Personally I always like reflecting about things, and I wish the King would think about this example and conclude how far he is from ever learning the truth.

— Madame de Sévigné to Simon Arnauld, Dec. 1, 1664


In February 1864, Missouri slave Spotswood Rice enlisted as a private in the Union Army. In September, as the war neared its close, he prepared to return to Howard County with a force of 1600 soldiers. He sent this letter to slaveowner Kittey Diggs, who still held his two children:

I received a leteter from Cariline telling me that you say I tried to steal to plunder my child away from you now I want you to understand that mary is my Child and she is a God given rite of my own and you may hold on to hear as long as you can but I want you to remembor this one thing that the longor you keep my Child from me the longor you will have to burn in hell and the qwicer youll get their for we are now makeing up a bout one thoughsand blacke troops to Come up tharough and wont to come through Glasgow and when we come wo be to Copperhood rabbels and to the Slaveholding rebbels for we dont expect to leave them there root neor branch but we thinke how ever that we that have Children in the hands of you devels we will trie your vertues the day that we enter Glasgow I want you to understand kittey diggs that where ever you and I meets we are enmays to each orthere I offered once to pay you forty dollers for my own Child but I am glad now that you did not accept it Just hold on now as long as you can and the worse it will be for you you never in you life befor I came down hear did you give Children any thing not eny thing whatever not even a dollers worth of expencs now you call my children your property not so with me my Children is my own and I expect to get them and when I get ready to come after mary I will have bout a powrer and autherity to bring hear away and to exacute vengencens on them that holds my Child you will then know how to talke to me I will assure that and you will know how to talk rite too I want you now to just hold on to hear if you want to iff your conchosence tells thats the road go that road and what it will brig you to kittey diggs I have no fears about geting mary out of your hands this whole Government gives chear to me and you cannot help your self

He was reunited with his family several months later. It’s unknown whether this required a showdown with Diggs, but he was certainly ready for one. “I’ll let her know that god never intended for man to steal his own flesh and blood,” he had written to his children. “And as for her cristianantty I expect the Devil has Such in hell.” Mary, the daughter mentioned in the letter, was interviewed as part of the Federal Writers’ Project in 1937.

(Thanks, Stitch.)