Welshman Henry Morton Stanley — famous for seeking explorer David Livingstone in Africa — fought on both sides in the American Civil War.
In April 1862, when just 21 years old, he fought in the Confederate Army’s 6th Arkansas infantry regiment at the Battle of Shiloh. Captured, he swore allegiance to the United States and joined the Union Army in June. He was discharged after two weeks’ service due to severe illness, but recovered and went on to join the U.S. Navy in 1864.
In The Galvanized Yankees, Dee Brown writes, Stanley “probably became the only man ever to serve in the Confederate Army, the Union Army, and the Union Navy.”
In 1959, Texas journalist John Howard Griffin darkened his skin and lived for six weeks as a black man in the segregated South. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe his harrowing experience and what it taught him about the true state of race relations in America.
We’ll also ponder crescent moons, German submarines, and griffins in India and puzzle over why a man would be arrested for winning a prize at a county fair.
Also: accitment for excitement, ceep for keep, coummling for Cumberland, dyereaer for diarrhea, experdission for expedition, eyedear for idea, forchin for fortune, horspitibel for hospitable, mungunry for Montgomery, pestearred for pestered, physitian for physician, rumatis for rheumatism, saft for safe, sity for city, snode for snowed, tords for towards, unbenoing for unbeknown, and wonst for once.
Wiley writes, “The ordinary Reb was nearly always subject to greater defeat by a word like Chattanooga than by the Yankees.”
After Robert E. Lee formally surrendered to Ulysses Grant in the parlor of Virginia grocer Wilmer McLean, relic hunters descended on the house. “Large sums were offered Major Wilmer S. McLean for the chairs in which the generals sat during the meeting — for the tables on which the writing was done — for substantially every article of furniture,” wrote correspondent Sylvanus Cadwallader. Many souvenirs were taken without McLean’s permission — including the rag doll belonging to his 8-year-old daughter, Lula, “which the younger officers tossed from one to the other, and called the ‘silent witness.'”
In a 1951 Saturday Evening Post article, “The Lost Rag Doll of Appomattox,” Dorothy Kunhardt wrote, “Eighty-six years ago a little girl lost her rag doll. It was a very much hugged and slept with and beloved rag doll, homemade; no china head and kid-glove fingers and lacy dress, but stumpy burlap arms and legs, clothes assembled from the family rag bag and a small, potato-shaped head with not much stuffing on it.”
Philip Sheridan’s aide-de-camp Thomas William Channing Moore took the doll home with him to New York, and it was passed down within his family for 128 years. Finally, in 1993, when Moore’s grandson Richard died, his wife called the Appomattox park authorities to say that they were ready to return it. “The men in our family never wanted to give her up,” Marjorie Moore said. “The women thought Appomattox would be the best place for her.”
The doll resides today in the Appomattox visitors’ center, but perhaps that’s too late to redress the harm. Years earlier, after ranger Cynda Carpenter had told the story to one group of visitors, an older woman approached her and identified herself as Lula McLean’s great-granddaughter. “She said that Lula never got over the hurt caused by the loss of her doll,” she said. “She said that Lula told her, ‘The Yankees stole my doll.'”
Until 1890, the minority party in the U.S. House of Representatives could block a vote by “disappearing”; they’d demand a roll call, remain silent when called upon, and then declare that too few members were “present” for the House to conduct its business.
To incoming speaker Thomas Brackett Reed this was a “tyranny of the minority,” and on Jan. 28 he resolved to break it. When Democrats demanded a roll call and refused to answer to their names, Reed marked them present anyway; when Kentucky representative James B. McCreary objected, Reed said sweetly, “The Chair is making a statement of fact that the gentleman from Kentucky is present. Does he deny it?”
There followed a sort of ontological shooting gallery. Democrats hid under their desks and behind screens to avoid being observed to exist. When they tried to flee the chamber entirely, Reed ordered the doors locked, which started a scramble to get out before the next vote. Representative Kilgore of Texas had to kick open a locked door to escape. Amid the howled objections, Confederate general “Fighting Joe” Wheeler came down from the rear “leaping from desk to desk as an ibex leaps from crag to crag,” and one unnamed Texas Democrat “sat in his seat significantly whetting a bowie knife on his boot.” Finally the Republicans mustered a majority even with the Democrats entirely absent, and the battle was over: Reed’s new rules were adopted on February 14.
Throughout all this Reed had seemed imperturbable, “serene as a summer morning.” He told a friend later that he had made up his mind what he would do if the House did not support him. “I would simply have left the Chair and resigned the Speakership and my seat in Congress,” he said. “I had made up my mind that if political life consisted in sitting helplessly in the Speaker’s Chair and seeing the majority helpless to pass legislation, I had had enough of it and was ready to step down and out.”
(From Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower.) (Thanks, Zach.)
Felix von Luckner was a romantic hero of World War I, a dashing nobleman who commanded one of the last sailing ships to fight in war. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Luckner’s uniquely civilized approach to warfare, which won admiration even from his enemies.
We’ll also puzzle over how a product intended to prevent drug abuse ends up encouraging it.
Among Union Army regiments, the 33rd Illinois became known as the “brains” regiment because it contained so many teachers. “It was stated derisively that the men would not obey orders which were not absolutely correct in syntax and orthography and that men who were discharged from it for mental incapacity, at once secured positions as officers in other regiments.” Many of them came from Illinois State Normal University; of the 97 teachers and pupils on the university’s rolls in 1860-1861, 53 entered the army.
(Charles A. Harper, Development of the Teachers College in the United States, With Special Reference to the Illinois State Normal University, 1935.)
Amazingly, we have a photograph of a man who crossed the Delaware with George Washington. This is Conrad Heyer, born in 1749 and photographed in 1852 at age 103. He served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, crossed the Delaware with Washington in December 1776, and fought in several major battles. The Maine Historical Society says that this makes him the earliest-born human being ever to be photographed.
The footage below shows Despina, the grandmother of Balkan film pioneers Yanaki and Milton Manaki, spinning and weaving in the Ottoman Balkans in 1905. She was 114 years old at the time, which means we have video of a person born in the 1700s.
The 11th Pennsylania infantry regiment was beginning its training at the fairground in West Chester, Pa., in 1861 when a local resident presented a wicker basket to one of the officers. In the basket was a 4-week-old black female terrier puppy. The dog, quickly named Sallie after a local beauty whom the soldiers admired, made hundreds of friends among the men and was adopted as the regiment’s official mascot.
“Sallie knew the drumroll announcing reveille,” writes James Robertson in The Untold Civil War. “She was first out of quarters to attend roll call. During drills, she latched on to a particular soldier and pranced alongside him throughout the exercise. At dress parade, the dog marched proudly beside the regimental colors. At encampments, she slept by the captain’s tent after strolling leisurely through the grounds on her own kind of inspection.”
She accompanied the regiment into battle at Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, standing stoutly on the front lines and barking ferociously at the enemy. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln tipped his hat to her as he reviewed the Army of the Potomac. On the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg, the regiment was driven back a mile from its original position and she was feared lost; she was discovered three days later standing guard over the wounded and the dead.
She survived, in fact, nearly to the end of the war. On Feb. 5, 1865, at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run during the Siege of Petersburg, men in the second wave of a Union attack found her dead on the battlefield, shot through the head. She had died instantly.
In 1890, the surviving veterans of the 11th Pennsylvania erected a monument at Gettysburg. From a distance it looks like other regimental memorials, a defiant soldier atop a marble pedestal. But on a ledge near the base of the monument lies a small bronze dog.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, war planners recognized a special threat: If Japan invaded Hawaii, it could seize millions of dollars in U.S. currency from the islands’ people and businesses — currency that would remain valuable since it was indistinguishable from that on the mainland.
They came up with a novel solution: In January 1942 the government recalled all regular paper money on the islands, except for an allowance of $200 per individual and $500 per business. Then it issued new notes stamped with the word HAWAII. Now if Hawaii fell to Japan these “overprinted” notes could be declared worthless.
After the new notes were distributed, citizens were asked to trade in their remaining regular currency. Two hundred million dollars was burned, and between August 1942 and October 1944 Hawaiians were required to conduct their business using the overprinted notes.
Happily, the invasion never came, and after the war the Hawaiian notes were exchanged for regular currency again. Today they’re collectors’ items.