Cold War

http://books.google.com/books?id=RpIxyTwgGSkC

The least sanguinary battle of the Civil War was a snowball fight among Confederate troops near Port Royal, Va., on Feb. 25, 1863. A participant described the melee in the Savannah Daily Morning News:

We finally got our column in line and advanced with a shout — but a new mistake precipitated the catastrophe. The ‘Tar-heels’ had provided themselves with haversacks filled to the brim with ammunition — whereas we only had a ball or two in our possession. When these were exhausted, of course, we had to improvise for the occasion, while our foes could pelt us mercilessly with an unremitting hail and thus interfere materially with the process of manufacturing ours. Under these circumstances our plan of attack should have been to charge furiously to a distance of five paces of the Van Winkle, fire one volley and then charge again, making the contest a hand to hand one. Had we done so, I have no doubt we would have swept the encampment. But on the contrary we charged up very near and then halted and commenced to fire. The consequence was that our ammunition was soon exhausted, while that of the Rips was only lightened enough to expedite their movements.

“Thus ended one of the most memorable combats of the war,” he concluded. “A part of it was witnessed by Gen. Jackson and his staff. I wish the old faded uniforms could have participated in it. I want to throw one snow-ball at Stonewall Jackson.”

Good Enough

Ixonia, Wisconsin, was named at random.

Unable to agree on a name for the town, the residents printed the alphabet on slips of paper, and a girl named Mary Piper drew letters successively until a name was formed.

The town was christened Ixonia on Jan. 21, 1846, and it remains the only Ixonia in the United States.

Misc

  • Colombia is the only South American country that borders both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
  • GRAVITATIONAL LENS = STELLAR NAVIGATION
  • 28671 = (2 / 8)-6 × 7 – 1
  • Can a man released from prison be called a freeee?
  • “Nature uses as little as possible of anything.” — Johannes Kepler

Sergei Prokofiev died on the same day that Joseph Stalin’s death was announced. Moscow was so thronged with mourners that three days passed before the composer’s body could be removed for a funeral service.

(Thanks, Alina.)

Sounds of War

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What was it like to be shelled in World War I? Here’s one description, from German officer Ernst Jünger’s 1920 memoir Storm of Steel:

It’s an easier matter to describe these sounds than to endure them, because one cannot but associate every single sound of flying steel with the idea of death, and so I huddled in my hole in the ground with my hand in front of my face, imagining all the possible variants of being hit. I think I have found a comparison that captures the situation in which I and all the other soldiers who took part in this war so often found ourselves: you must imagine you are securely tied to a post, being menaced by a man swinging a heavy hammer. Now the hammer has been taken back over his head, ready to be swung, now it’s cleaving the air towards you, on the point of touching your skull, then it’s struck the post, and the splinters are flying — that’s what it’s like to experience heavy shelling in an exposed position.

And several more, collected in Arnold D. Harvey’s A Muse of Fire: Literature, Art and War (1998):

For the civilians herded into the ranks the sounds of shell and bullet were strange and unexpected as well as frightening and called out for description. At close quarters an artillery barrage sounded ‘as though the earth were cracking up like an egg of super-gigantic proportions tapped by a gargantuan spoon’: it created, according to the same witness, ‘A veritable crescendo of sounds, so continuous as to merge and blend into a single annihilating roar, the roar of a train in a tunnel magnified a millionfold: only the rattle of the machine-gun barrage, like clocks gone mad, ticking out the end of time in a final breathless reckoning, rises above it’. At a greater distance it was ‘like someone kicking footballs — a soft bumping, miles away’, or a noise, felt rather than heard ‘like the beating of one’s heart after running’. A German infantry officer recalled, ‘If you put your hands over your ears and then drum your fingers vigorously on the back of your head, then you get some idea of what the drumfire sounded like to us’.

“The sound of an approaching shell, it was claimed, ‘can be imitated by a suitable rendering of the sentences, “Who are you? I am (these words being drawn out to full length) — (a slight pause) — Krupp (very short and sharp!).”‘”

(Thanks, Ross.)

Extended Tour

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In 1938, 18-year-old Korean soldier Yang Kyoungjong was conscripted into the Japanese army to fight against the Soviet Union.

He was captured by the Red Army, which pressed him into fighting the Nazis on the eastern front.

In 1943 he was captured by the Germans, who forced him to fight the invading Allies at Normandy.

There he was captured by American paratroopers in June 1944.

This means he fought for three different armies during World War II, and was captured each time. He died in Illinois in 1992.

A Penny Saved

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Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “I have sometimes almost wished it had been my destiny to have been born two or three centuries hence.” In one ingenious way he managed to touch the 20th century directly.

In 1785, French mathematician Charles-Joseph Mathon de la Cour wrote a parody of Poor Richard’s Almanac in which the idealistic main character deposits a small amount of money to collect interest over several centuries, enabling him to fund valuable projects after his death. Franklin, who was 79 years old, thanked him for the idea and bequeathed £1,000 each to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, stipulating that it gather interest for 200 years. When it came due in 1990, the Philadelphia fund had accumulated $2 million, which the city spent on scholarships for local high school students. The Boston trust amassed nearly $5 million, which went to establish the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology.

“What astonished me in reading his will was how much energy, intelligence and vigor came through after 200 years,” lawyer Gerard J. St. John, who oversaw the distribution of the Philadelphia funds, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I began to have a greater appreciation for Franklin’s place in history.”

Gun Play

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This would have been deadly if it had worked: In 1862, Confederate private John Gilleland of Georgia’s Mitchell Thunderbolts designed a double-barreled cannon. Gilleland intended that the barrels would fire two balls connected by a chain that would “mow down the enemy somewhat as a scythe cuts wheat.”

Unfortunately he couldn’t devise a way to fire both muzzles at the same instant, so in testing the chain simply snapped and sent both balls off on unpredictable trajectories. The cannon was never used in battle, and today it’s displayed as a curiosity before the city hall in Athens, Ga.

R&R

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Grover Cleveland underwent a secret surgery for cancer during his second term as president. The United States was in the grip of a financial panic in 1893 when Cleveland noticed a sore on the roof of his mouth. Doctors diagnosed a cancer and urged the president to have it removed, but Cleveland insisted on secrecy — Ulysses Grant’s death by an apparently similar cancer only eight years earlier had unsettled the nation, and Cleveland was loath to publicize his health concerns in the midst of an economic depression.

So on June 30 Cleveland boarded a friend’s yacht under the pretense of a four-day fishing trip to the president’s summer home in Cape Cod. The ship’s saloon had been outfitted as an operating room, and six doctors quietly joined the president before the yacht set sail. Cleveland was anesthetized and surgeon Joseph Bryant removed five teeth and a large portion of his palate and upper jawbone. The team fitted him with a rubber prosthesis to conceal his disfiguration and told the press that only two bad teeth had been removed.

The secret was nearly lost when E.J. Edwards, a reporter for the Philadelphia Press, published an article about the surgery after confirming it with one of the doctors. But Cleveland denied it flatly and launched a smear campaign against him. The president returned to health, served out the remainder of his second term, and died finally in 1908. The disgraced reporter was vindicated only 24 years later, when one of the surviving doctors finally published an article acknowledging the truth.

(Thanks, Colin.)

Word of Mouth

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Letter to the Times, Jan. 15, 1915:

Sir,

May I add another illustration to those which have already appeared in your columns, showing how near two lives can bring together events which seem so far apart? I remember my father telling me how, when he was attending a country grammar school in 1805, one day the master came in, full of a strange excitement, and exclaimed, ‘Boys, we’ve won a great victory!’ Then he stopped, burst into tears, and added, ‘But Nelson — Nelson is killed!’ When I was myself a boy Waterloo was a recent event, and even ‘the ’45’ was remembered and talked about.

In a few weeks I shall be 85, but I can still ride my bicycle.

William Wood, DD