THE UNFOLDING JOURNEY is a new blog written in association with Legacy Genealogy.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#22)
Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign Continues: Engagements at Pine Mountain and Lost Mountain.

Monday evening, May 24th, the 4th Corps (including the 57th Indiana) crossed the Etowah River by a substantial bridge which had been seized from the enemy by our cavalry, and continued its march to the rear of the rebel position at Altoona Mountain.

In due time Gen. Joseph Johnston divined the strategic movement by which Sherman was intending to reach his rear, and he immediately made preparations to confront us and thwart the purpose of our commander. In the heavy forests, two miles north of Dallas, the point at which Sherman was aiming, the enemy were posted in force. They had erected earth-works and made every possible preparation to stop the progress of our army.

Nevertheless, Gen. Hooker continued to advance, driving the rebel forces before him. Before dark he drove them from the creek, saved the bridge, and compelled them to fall back upon their main line. Hooker’s troops were now relieved by the 4th Corps which advanced and formed lines in close proximity to the enemy. The night was cool and rainy, and the pickets on each side seemed disposed to remain quiet.

On the 27th at 10:00 am, Gen Wagner (Brigade Commander) ordered the 57th to advance in front of our works, deploy one wing of the regiment, and drive the enemy inside their works and keep them there. Accordingly, the left wing consisting of companies H, F, G, and C, commanded by Major McGraw, advanced as directed, pushed the enemy back into their entrenchments, and held a position within forth yards of their line. A constant fire was kept up from behind tress, logs, and such shelter as could be found in the timber. About noon the right wing moved forward and relieved the left wing which was now nearly out of ammunition. In this skirmish the regiment lost three men killed and twenty-four wounded, some of them mortally and nearly all the others severely. Our position was so close to the enemy that every shot which took effect was almost invariably serious. The command sustained a great loss in the death of our regimental ward-master, Alex Massy. Regardless of his own safety, he was making an effort to get a wounded comrade to the rear when he was shot through by a rebel ball; which entered the breast-bone and passed between the lungs, coming out at the back.

Two nights later, the enemy made a desperate assault on our lines but was repulsed with heavy loss. We were constantly harassed by night-alarms, and almost every night we were called into line a number of times. No man was allowed to take off his accoutrements when he laid down.

Friday, June 10th, found us once more on the move southward. Brisk skirmishing ensued between our advance and the rear guard of the rebels. At dark they had been forced back to their first line of defense, north of Pine Mountain. That night the pickets of the 57th threw up barricades within forty yards of the rebel rifle-pits. When day dawned we discovered that their works were evacuated, and no enemy in sight. The rebels had fallen back to a strong line of entrenchments extending from Pine Mountain on the left to Lost Mountain on the right.

The 4th Corps advanced in the center, Hooker on the right, and McPherson on the left. Soon after, Gen. Oliver Howard (4th Corps Commander) visited the outposts, dismounted from his horse and, taking two men from Company H, advanced some distance beyond the line, to reconnoiter the position of the enemy. At 8:00 pm that same night, the brigade was massed in double column. Regiments formed in columns by division. In the rear of us the other regiments of the brigade were formed in similar manner; and the whole corps, containing nine brigades, was to support our advance. We were ordered to leave everything behind except accoutrements and canteens. Gen. Sherman had decided to break the center of the rebel lines between Pine and Lost mountains, and the 4th Corps was designated for the attack.

At 5:00 am, Col. Blanch turned to the 57th and said, ‘Men of the 57th, we are directed by order of Gen. Sherman to attack the enemy in their works and drive them out with the bayonet. No man is to fire a gun as we advance upon the works. I have the assurance from Gen. Sherman that our assault will be supported, and that the works will be carried.’ The line of battle charged them, capturing some prisoners from whom we ascertained that the position of the rebel forces was such that the assault would undoubtedly prove a failure.

We continued making gradual approaches to the enemy’s line until the night of June 16th when the rebels again withdrew and occupied another line, running from the NE to the SW, which entirely loosened their hold on Lost Mountain. This movement caused the troops of the 4th and 20th Corps to make a half-wheel to the left, where we once more confronted them in their first line of Kennesaw Mountain.

It had been raining almost constantly for 24 hours and our position was anything else than pleasant. At daylight the rain again commenced falling, which continued until noon. The trenches were fast filling with water and it became necessary for us to move in some direction. The 57th, without further delay, rose in the trenches, scaled the works, and advanced on the double-quick, crossed the creek, where the water was nearly waist deep, raised a yell, charged the rifle-pits, and captured nearly the whole of the line in front of the regiment. This all was accomplished inside two minutes from the time of leaving our works. Had the enemy known our real force, they could easily have driven us back by a flank movement; but every man was ordered to yell like a demon and shoot with all his might. They doubtless supposed we were in force. During the skirmish, Lt. B. F. Beitzel of Company C was killed. He had started to move over to the right to request the skirmishers of Wood’s division to advance and support our movements in that direction. Fearlessly he started on his perilous duty. Another officer called to him and cautioned him to be careful or those gray-backs up there might hit him to which he replied, ‘Oh, they’re not afraid of me’ and passed on. But a moment later, just as we were called to charge, he fell dead. He was a brave and good officer, and his death was a loss to our regiment and our state.

Thursday, June 23rd, found the 57th again at the front. One half of the regiment was thrown forward and occupied a line of rifle-pits, which were thrown up during the previous night by our Pioneers (engineers). About two hundred yards in the rear lay the balance of the regiment, behind a line of works, as a reserve. These gradual advances were always made in the evening, so that the ground which we held could be fortified at night.
Wearied by hard fighting and almost exhausted by exciting scenes of charges, our faces begrimed with powder and dirt, and the bottom of the pit dampened by the crimson stream of life that gurgled from a dying comrade, we wondered when the conflict would close.

In a series of brilliant movements executed by the western army, Gen. Sherman had succeeded in dislodging Johnston’s army from every position, whether on mountain top, on the hills, or in the valleys. So after six days of operations in front of Kennesaw Mountain, he resolved to make a bold strike, and, if successful, drive the enemy in confusion across the Chattahoochie River toward Atlanta. 

(Atlanta Campaign, northern Georgia, May-June, 1864)

Excerpts taken from “Annals of the Fifty-Seventh Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry: Marches, Battles, and Incidents of Army Life” written by Asbury L. Kerwood immediately after the war.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


This is the story of a woman who became pregnant in her teens and gave birth out of wedlock, answered to the name “Flossie,” had a personal astrologer, was an expert poker player, an amateur bartender, loved jazz, wore trendy clothes, and was accused of poisoning her husband.

She was also the smart and ambitious First Lady of the United States, married to our 29th President, Warren G. Harding. She was the 1st First Lady to vote, fly in an airplane, operate a movie camera, own a radio, and entertain Hollywood celebrities at the White House. Florence Kling Harding was a force of nature.

Her story began in 1860 in Marion, Ohio, where she was born. Her ancestry was French Huguenot and German. Her father, Amos Kling, was the wealthiest man in Marion; but he was also the most tyrannical and ordered Flossie to be raised as a boy until adolescence. As a result she thought of herself as the equal of any boy or man. At 19, she ran away with a neighbor boy, Henry DeWolfe. She allegedly married him (although no marriage certificated has ever been found) and shortly after gave birth to his son. Henry was a heavy drinker and abusive, and abandoned his wife and child early on.

For several years, Florence supported herself and her child by teaching piano at $ .25 an hour. One of her students was the sister of the young man who published the town’s newspaper. He was strikingly handsome and had a reputation for being an “amiable rake.” His name was Warren Harding. Florence found him attractive but he had little interest in her, especially since she had a small child. But she pursued him boldly until he finally grew fond of her. They married in 1891. Florence was 30, Warren was 25. All was not picture perfect during the marriage though. Warren had a series of dalliances with other women; not only at first but throughout his life.

Three years into the marriage, Warren went off to the Kellogg Sanitarium in Michigan for treatment of some unspecified nervous ailment. Florence was left behind in Marion to manage the newspaper. She took on the job with vigor. She created a circulation department, mapped out delivery routes, and hired and trained a team of newsboys. She gave them whistles to blow when the paper was being thrown to customers’ doors. Florence renegotiated lower interest loans to buy new printing equipment, purchased all company supplies, repaired broken machinery to save on expenses, and subscribed to the first news wire service to bring global news to the community within 24 hours. When Warren left for Michigan, the newspaper was struggling to survive but when he returned it had been revived and was growing. Thanks Florence!

Warren Harding became a leading citizen in Marion. He was elected to the Ohio State Senate for two terms (1900-1904), and then served as Lieutenant Governor (1904-1906). Florence managed his social and political contacts, his finances, his public addresses, and his clothing. In 1905, she underwent emergency kidney surgery and a long recuperation. It was a condition that lasted for the rest of her life. During her convalescence, Warren began a long, passionate relationship with a neighbor and a close friend of his wife. When she learned of the affair, Florence considered divorce. She changed her mind when Warren apologized and told her it would never happen again - but it did, with at least five other women.

In 1914, the Harding’s moved to Washington as Warren had become a U.S. Senator. Florence formed a close friendship with Evalyn McLean, whose husband owned the Washington Post newspaper. The two ladies had much in common. There was the newspaper business, of course, but they also shared a strong belief in astrology and the supernatural. They both consulted with fortune-teller Marcia Champrey on a regular basis. In 1920, Champrey predicted that if Warren won the Republican nomination for president, he would win the general election and become the next president; BUT, he would not live to complete a full term. Florence publically wanted her husband to win the nomination but when interviewed once she said she saw “only one word above my husband’s head and that word is tragedy.” No one knew what she meant at the time.

The 1920 presidential campaign went on in spite of Champrey’s dire prediction. Harding’s campaign headquarters was on the family’s own front porch in Marion, Ohio. With her years of running a newspaper business, Florence was comfortable with the press corps. On the porch she could play both the role of a traditional homemaker and a contemporary activist. It was said that, “one day she wore an apron to pare apples and chat with farmers’ wives, another she told how she refused to wear a wedding ring because it was a symbol of bondage.” She worked hard to create a good public image for Warren, and herself. She edited press releases and wrote portions of the presidential candidate’s speeches. Unlike previous potential First Ladies, she offered her political opinions on a variety of issues. She was intensely opposed to the U.S. joining the League of Nations and just as intensely in favor of women’s suffrage.

Warren G. Harding, with no small credit to his wife, won the election and became the 29th President of the United States. He probably should never have been elected President. He attained the highest office in the land not because of past performance or potential for leadership but because he looked the part. Meanwhile, Florence became known as that “blue-eyed, gray haired, bespectacled First Lady with the black velvet neckbands” (called “Flossie Clings”). During Warren’s inauguration speech, she was seen mouthing the words that her husband was saying; suggesting that she in fact had written at least some of it herself.

When the couple arrived at the White House, she was quoted as saying, “Well, Warren, I have gotten you to the Presidency. What are you going to do with it?” But Florence knew exactly what SHE was going to do. She made clear her choices on appointments both to Warren and his cabinet. The Attorney General once said about her, “I always give her instructions preference over his (the President’s).” The extent to which Florence involved herself in political matters was reported in the press but, unlike other First Ladies, she was praised rather than criticized. Prevailing support for women’s activism was strong in the 1920’s. Her greatest influence was on the President. He consulted with her on all of his political decisions. She read and edited all his major speeches.

Florence Harding was one of the first of the President’s wives to believe that her constituency and her role were greater than being the White House hostess. She was anxious for the women of the country to understand their government. “I want women to meet their Chief Executive and to understand the policies of the administration,” she said. She campaigned for the appointment of women to important political and government positions. Her efforts to promote economic, political, and social equity for women won her praise across the country. She predicted that in the future women would be the primary breadwinners for most families, even though it was traditionally a man’s role. Florence Harding was a woman ahead of her times.

She also reflected the popular culture of 1920’s America. She played jazz on the radio, loved mah-jongg and ate Eskimo Pies. She was the first First Lady to have Hollywood feature movies played after state dinners, with the performers as honored guests. Florence was also fascinated with airplanes. She would dress in pants, helmet, and goggles to experience flying first hand. But some did not appreciate her independence and modern ways. She was chastised for having jazz combos perform at the White House playing those “sinful syncopations” or the fact that she and Warren took part in some of the “new” dances. Although Prohibition was in force, the Harding’s always managed to have a well-stocked bar to entertain their guests. Florence would act as bartender. Allegedly, the alcohol was provided by the Justice Department from supplies confiscated in government raids.

But all of this ended sadly, and according to the fortune-tellers prediction. In 1923, Warren and Florence decided to travel to Alaska (she was an early advocate for Alaskan statehood). The President was in failing health however. Florence had sought the advice of a new astrologer who assured her that there would be no problem. The attending Naval physician was alarmed by Warren’s enlarged heart and advised against the trip. But plans could not be changed. After eating some seafood, the President fell ill. He was rushed back to San Francisco but died at the Palace Hotel there. Medical records indicate that Warren Harding may have had a heart attack brought on by being given a stimulus by accident. Florence would not allow an autopsy to be performed which led to suggestions that she had poisoned him; either due to his continuing affairs or because he was caught in the arms of another woman. Such accusations have never been proven.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


We have been taught that the populating of the Americas began with the migration of Asian peoples across the land bridge from Siberia to Alaska, and this is true. They were followed thousands of years later by European explorers, mostly Spanish, and then by European settlers. It was only later that African peoples arrived in the New World as part of the transatlantic slave trade. But Africans, both slave and free, arrived beginning with Columbus at the end of the 15th Century, more that 100 years before the English and Dutch appeared. Gathered together here are a number of stories about individuals of African ancestry and their experiences in the New World. ALL of these people and events were prior to the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620.


THE STORY OF PEDRO ALONSO NINO (1492 through 1505)

A navigator and explorer of African ancestry, Pedro Alonso Nino traveled with Christopher Columbus’ first expedition to the New World in 1492. He was also known as “El Negro” (The Black). Pedro Nino was the pilot of Columbus’ ship the “Santa Maria.” In 1493, he also accompanied Columbus on the explorer’s second voyage which discovered Trinidad and the mouth of the Orinoco River in South America, piloting one of the 17 ships in the fleet. This voyage also brought the first Africans, who were actually free men, to Hispaniola. Pedro Nino led his own expedition, financed by the Council of Castile, to find gold and pearls in areas not already discovered by Columbus. He returned to Spain very wealthy but did not live up to an agreement he had with the King to turn over 20% of his treasure (known as “The Royal Fifth”). He was arrested and died in prison before his trial.


Vasco Nunez de Balboa founded the first permanent European settlement on mainland American soil in 1510. It was called Santa Maria and was located near today’s Cartagena, Columbia. Balboa brought in enslaved Africans from Hispaniola to help construct the village. Three years later, with 190 Spanish Conquistadores and 30 African auxiliaries, Balboa sailed to the Isthmus of Panama. The expedition headed overland through the dense rainforests. Along the way, his men fought many local Indians, killing hundreds and taking their gold. From a hilltop in modern Panama, Balboa became the first European to see the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean, which he claimed for Spain. The African contingent became the first of their race to see the Pacific as well.


Bishop Bartolome de Las Casas petitions Spain to allow the importation of 12 enslaved Africans for each household immigrating to the colony in Hispaniola. Africans were used to replace the devastated native population as enslaved laborers. Criticisms of Las Casas point to him as responsible for starting the transatlantic slave trade. Yet later in life, he apologized for his earlier views and declared that all forms of slavery were wrong.

THE STORY OF JUAN GARRIDO (1513 through 1538)

He was born in Africa. As a young man he was taken to Seville as a slave. There is no record of his tribal name, but he took the name Juan Garrido meaning “Handsome John” while a servant to the Spaniard Pedro Garrido. About 1502, Juan arrived in Santo Domingo as part of an expedition to the new world. He was among the first Africans to land in the Americas. He was trained in the military arts of the “conquistadors.” Garrido was counted among the men that went with Ponce de Leon on his search for the Fountain of Youth in Florida in 1513.

In 1519, he was a member of the expedition led by Hernan Cortes that invaded Mexico, beginning the conquest of the Aztecs. They laid siege to the city of Tenochtitlan and conquered it. The following year, Juan Garrido built a chapel to honor the many Spanish soldiers killed by the Aztecs. But the Aztecs regrouped and retook the city. In 1521, the Spanish finally defeated the native population and Tenochtitlan was renamed Mexico City.

Garrido settled in Mexico City, married, and raised a family but he was denied land and Spanish citizenship because of his ancestry. After years as a soldier, he had to provide proof of his service. In 1538, he testified, “I, Juan Garrido, black in color, a resident of this city appear before Your Mercy to provide evidence. I served Your Majesty in the conquest and pacification of New Spain, from the time when Hernan Cortes entered it. And in his company, I was present at all the invasions which were carried out. All of which I did at my own expense without being given either salary or allotment of natives. I went to discover and pacify the islands of Puerto Rico, and also I went on the conquest of the island of Cuba with Diego Velazquez. For thirty years I have served Your Majesty.” Juan Garrido received his allowance of land and became a farmer. Later he produces the first commercial wheat crop in the New World.


The Spanish expedition of Lucas Vasquez Allyon planned to establish a European colony on the coast of North Carolina. In late 1526, six hundred settlers landed and laid out the village of San Miguel de Gualdape. Time was running short as winter approached so a group of Africans were brought in to erect the settlement. It was the first instance of African slave labor to be used within the territory of today’s United States. The colony only lasted for six months as the severe winter, hunger, and disease ravaged the population. When disputes arose between groups of Europeans, the slaves took an opportunity to gain their freedom. They fled to the interior and settled among the local Indian populations, or “re-indigenized.” It was the first recorded slave rebellion in North America.


THE STORY OF ESTEBAN (1527 through 1539)

Estevanico, better known to history as Esteban (or “Little Stephen”) is considered the first Black Conquistador. Born in Africa, the ten-year old was brought to Spain in 1513 as a slave. The boy became the personal servant of his master, Andres de Dorantes.


A decade later both Dorantes and Esteban joined the expedition of Narvaez to conquer Florida for Spain. The Spanish King had granted to Narvaez all of what is today the Gulf Coast of the U.S. provided he establish several villages and forts in the region. Six hundred Spanish, Portuguese, and African troops arrived in Santiago, Cuba, in the autumn of 1527. In April of 1528, the expedition entered Tampa Bay and landed near present day St. Petersburg. Narvaez was declared the Royal Governor of La Florida. Not long after, Timucua and Apalachee warriors attacked the expedition using guerrilla tactics.


The Spanish struggled for survival and had to build new boats using tools recast from their iron weapons. Only 242 soldiers remained. Gulf storms then reduced this number to 80. A hurricane washed the last remaining four men ashore near the site of Galveston, Texas. Surviving was Cabeza de Vaca (an explorer), Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, Dorantes, and his servant Estaban. They were the first men from Europe and Africa to enter the southwestern part of the U.S.


Esteban was captured by natives and held as their slave for five years. He finally escaped and rejoined the other three. Esteban was adept at learning native languages and acted as a translator for the group. These four men proceeded to walk from south Texas through New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico all the way to Mexico City. Their journey took four years  


In 1536, Estaban accompanied Cabeza de Vaca on explorations in northern Mexico. He served as an interpreter and scout for the de Vaca Expedition; and later took command of the group after natives killed its leader. Three years later, he was part of an expedition led by Friar Marcos de Niza from Mexico City into the far north of New Spain. It was a reconnaissance in force that scouted the terrain for Francisco Coronado’s search for the “Seven Cities of Gold.” Esteban was popular with the native tribes he encountered until reaching northeast New Mexico. There, the Zuni’s saw him as a harbinger of death. He was killed at the Zuni town of Hawikuh, just east of the present day border of Arizona and New Mexico. His reports indicated that he had seen a city “as large as Mexico City” on a hill and that it looked wealthy - but Coronado was never able to find the city that Esteban saw.


THE BLACK CONQUISTODORS (1520 through 1600)

Although most Africans came to America, in the early days, as slaves; records show that many black freedmen from Seville and other Spanish cities found passage to the New World either to settle in the Caribbean region or to follow the conquests of Mexico and Peru. They identified themselves as Catholic subjects to the King with the same privileges as opportunities as white Spaniards.

Many people of African descent used military service as a means to emancipation and inclusion in Spanish society. As the numbers of settlers in Spanish territory increased, the Black Conquistadors acted as pacifiers and security forces. Some of them were awarded land grants and special recognition.

Notable Black Conquistadors included Juan Garrido and Estaban (both mentioned earlier) as well as Sabastian Toral who fought in the conquest of the Yucatan and Juan Valiente who helped pacify Guatemala, Peru, and Chile. Some, like Juan Garcia, fought well then returned to Spain as wealthy men.

Conquistadors of African ancestry accompanied the expedition of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado from Mexico City to what is now central Kansas. Some Africans remained behind in Kansas and New Mexico after Coronado departed, and are believed to have been absorbed into the native tribes.


Between 1519 and 1600, about 151,000 “Spanish” Africans arrived in the Americas. The population of colonial Mexico included 20,600 blacks and 2,500 mulattoes. This is more than three decades before the first English colonists arrive in the Virginia.


Isabel de Olvera, a free woman living in Mexico, accompanied the Juan Guerra de Resa Expedition which colonized what is now New Mexico. She is best known for a deposition given before a Spanish court avowing her rights before her journey.

“I am going on the expedition to New Mexico and have some reason to fear that I may be annoyed by some individuals since I am a mulatta, and it is proper to protect my rights in such an eventuality by an affidavit showing that I am a free woman and the legitimate daughter of Hernando, a Negro, and an Indian woman. I therefore request your grace to accept this affidavit which shows that I am free and not bound by marriage or slavery. I request that a properly certified and signed copy be given to me in order to protect my rights, and that carry full legal authority. I demand justice.” Despite her fear, Isabel made the journey.


Gaspar Yanga, a slave but also a member of the royal family of Gabon in western Central Africa, becomes a leader of revolting African slaves near Vera Cruz, Mexico, during the height of the Spanish Empire. His people escaped bondage and hid in the forests of the Mexican highlands for thirty years. They survived in the rugged terrain by capturing Spanish supply caravans.

In 1609, the Spanish government decided to end this revolt once and for all. A force of 600 troops moved into the area to face Yanga’s outnumbered and poorly armed colony. At first Yanga offered peace terms similar to those accepted from native tribes. They were refused by the Spanish. Therefore, Yanga decided to use his knowledge of the terrain to resist the invasion
; inflicting enough pain that the Spanish would withdraw. A battle was fought yielding heavy losses on both sides. When the colonial troops could not complete a military victory, they agreed to discuss other options. By 1618, a treaty was consummated which allowed Yanga’s people to remain on their land and were allowed to build a town of their own. The town of “San Lorenzo de los Negros” received a charter from Spanish officials and becomes the first officially recognized free settlement for blacks in the New World. The town, renamed Yanga, remains today.


One of the few recorded histories, and taken from court records, of an African in America tells the story of “Antonio the negro.” He was brought to the Jamestown colony in 1619. His name is recorded in the 1625 Virginia census. English law does not define racial slavery, so he was called simply an indentured servant. After securing his freedom by paying off his debt, Antonio changed his name to Anthony Johnson, married an African woman, and had four children; and the family was free. They went on to own land, buildings, and livestock. Still, by 1650, the Johnsons were only six of the 400 Africans among the Virginia Colony’s 19,000 settlers.

Friday, July 12, 2013


Charles Elwood Yeager is an American hero and an aerospace pioneer without peer. He was a fighter pilot in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam (flying over 200 combat missions); a test pilot for the Air Force and NASA; commanded the Flight Test Pilot School; was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame; and, oh yes, became the first person to break the sound barrier. He has flown 201 different types of aircraft and logged 14,000 flying hours (almost four times the hours of all seven Mercury astronauts, combined!).

Yet Chuck Yeager is a man who many Americans don’t know.

Chuck was born in West Virginia in 1923. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps just before Pearl Harbor and was trained as an aircraft mechanic. Private Yeager was destined for bigger things though. When the Army allowed enlisted personnel without college degrees to train as pilots, he showed his natural talent for flying. After completing his training, Yeager was sent to England to fly combat missions in P-51 Mustangs. He had a beautiful girl friend back home named Glennis; and for the next 35 years of his military career, Chuck always named the aircraft assigned to him as “Glamorous Glennis.”

One of Hitler’s “secret weapons” was the Messerschmitt Me 262. It was the world’s first operational jet fighter and saw its initial combat in April of 1944. Pilots of this airplane claimed 542 Allied kills. But on one mission a young pilot named Chuck Yeager claimed one of the few victories over this secret weapon. Later, he said, “The first time I ever saw a jet, I shot it down.” Yeager flew 64 missions over Germany and occupied France during 1944-45. The Messerschmitt Me 262 became one of his 13 kills. Yeager also became a member of a very select pilot’s club called “Ace in a Day” when he shot down five enemy fighters in a single day.

On his eighth mission, Lt. Yeager was shot down over France. With the help of the French Maquis, guerilla bands of resistance fighters, he was able to cross the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. Before returning to England, he assisted and trained many of these freedom fighters. As an “escaped pilot,” Yeager was not permitted to fly missions over French territory for fear that if captured he might be forced to reveal information about their activities. He wanted desperately to fly again and took his plea directly to Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower who concurred with Yeager. Chuck flew another 56 combat missions in Europe.

He returned to the U.S. in February of 1945 and became a test pilot as well as an evaluator of German and Japanese aircraft brought back after the conflict. Two years later, Yeager was reassigned to Edwards Air Force base in California as a project officer for the experimental rocket plane, the Bell X-1. He had it marked the “Glamorous Glennis” of course (see the photo below).

On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager made aeronautical history in the skies over the Mojave Desert. He volunteered to attempt to break the mysterious sound barrier in the X-1. But two days prior to the effort, Yeager had broken two ribs in a horse riding accident. He concealed this fact from all but Glennis and his best friend. On the day of the test, in intense pain, he climbed into the cockpit. The X-1 was suspended from the belly of a B-29 bomber and both went airborne. At 45,000 feet, the Glamorous Glennis was dropped and Yeager took it up to Mach 1.07, being the first person to travel faster than the speed of sound. “The real barrier wasn’t in the sky but in our knowledge of supersonic flight” he said.

Six years later, another U.S. pilot reached Mach 2.0 (twice the speed of sound). Yeager would have none of that and later that same year, he took his X-1A to Mach 2.44 . It almost cost him his life. The aircraft lost aerodynamic control at 80,000 ft. It dropped one thousand feet per second for 51 seconds. Finally, Chuck Yeager was able to reestablish control at 29,000 ft and landed the airplane without injury or damage.

When depicted in the 1983 film “The Right Stuff,” Yeager was portrayed as making quick, impulsive decisions about piloting test aircraft. This was never the case. Chuck Yeager was courageous, yes; but he was never fool hardy. He once said, “I was always afraid of dying. Always. It was my fear that made me learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment; it kept me respectful of my machine and always alert in the cockpit.” In 1962, Yeager became the first commandant of the USAF Flight Test Pilot School, training astronauts for NASA and the Air Force.

The following year, he faced death in the air again. While testing an NF-104 rocket augmented aerospace trainer, the craft went out of control at 108,700 ft (the edge of space). Chuck Yeager valiantly tried to regain control as the airplane plummeted to 8,500 ft before he ejected. This real life event was dramatized in the climax of the film “The Right Stuff.” 

During the balance of the 1960’s and early 1970’s, He commanded four different fighter squadrons and became a Brigadier General and Vice-Commander of the 17th Air Force. In Vietnam, Yeager (in his late forties) flew another 127 missions. In 1973, he became the first and youngest military pilot to be inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame. Chuck Yeager retired from the Air Force in 1975 but remained as a consultant for them for the next 25 years. He was paid $1 a year; but was allowed all the flying time he wanted.

In 2004, Congress recommended that Chuck Yeager be promoted to Major General. He became only the third man ever promoted after retirement from the military. The other two, Billy Mitchell (father of the Air Force) and Jimmy Stewart, both had continued to contribute to the service well after their retirement, as did Yeager. The only list longer than the aeronautical records he set is the number of decorations he earned including the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Special Congressional Silver Medal (the equivalent of the Medal of Honor), the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and many others.

On October 14th of last year (2012), on the 65th anniversary of his first breaking the sound barrier, Chuck Yeager once again climbed aboard a new Air Force F-15 Eagle and set out from Nellis AFB, Nevada. Not being able to help himself, he once again piloted this aircraft into breaking the sound barrier one more time. An astonishing feat for a man who was 89 years old. “Somehow I always managed to live to fly another day.”

Charles Elwood Yeager is a man thought by many to be the greatest pilot in American history.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


For 2,000 years there have been stories about female pirates. But were these stories just delusional tales told by drunken sailors and aggrandized by poets? Well, some were legends, but some were real.

During the 18th Century, women usually faced a life of domestic servitude. For some, a chance to sail away from poverty, oppression, bad marriages, or boredom was grasped as their last hope for escape. But the world of piracy was a man’s world. If a woman was to be a pirate, she had to dress like a man, drink like a man, and fight like a man. Here is the true tale of two famous lady pirates who were crew mates and comrades to the end.

ANNE BONNY (depicted below) was the illegitimate daughter of lawyer William Cormac and his serving maid. She was born in County Cork, Ireland, sometime between 1697 and 1700. After leaving his wife, Cormac took young red-headed Anne with him to the South Carolina colony where he prospered as a plantation owner. Anne was a rowdy and troublesome young woman with a quick and violent temper. One story says that she, at age 13, stabbed her maid to death over a disagreement. Some years later, Anne met and married a sometime-pirate named James Bonny. When her father found out that he was only after the family’s wealth, he disinherited his daughter. The newly married couple took off for Jamaica.

Anne became disgusted with James, and spent her days socializing with pirates at local taverns. One day she met John Rackham, a pirate captain also known as Calico Jack. She signed on as a crew member aboard his ship and became his mistress. They had a child in Cuba. Meanwhile back in Jamaica, James Bonny appealed to Governor Rogers to bring Anne back to finalize a divorce. Calico Jack and Anne had an amnesty agreement with Rogers (as they had once saved his life) but the Governor was duty-bound to return Anne to her husband. James Bonny was terrified that Anne would kill him, which she was capable of doing, and was relieved when she ran off again with Calico Jack.

At this point, our second lady pirate, MARY READ, enters. Although there is no agreed upon date, Mary was born in England near the end of the 1690’s. She was the illegitimate child of a sea captain and a widow. In order to continue to receive financial support from Mary’s paternal grandmother, her mother represented Mary as her already deceased, but legitimate, older brother. To accomplish this Mary was dressed as a boy. For the rest of her life, Mary Read wore nothing but men’s clothing. In her teens she ran away to join the British army still disguised as a male. Stationed in Holland, she fell in love and married another soldier. Their close comrades knew she was a woman but the army did not. Using their combined funds, Mary and her husband opened an inn.

Her husband died unexpectedly so Mary sold the inn and returned to the army. After peace with France had been accomplished, there was no longer any place in the army for her; so aboard ship, she headed for a fresh start in the West Indies. Then her life took a dramatic turn. Her ship was captured by pirates and Mary, still disguised as a man, joined the pirate crew.

In 1720, she joined anther crew - captained by Calico Jack Rackham and his partner Anne Bonny. Anne took an interest in Mary Read which infuriated Calico Jack. He intended to kill Mary until Anne stepped in and revealed that Mary was actually a woman. It didn’t take long for Calico Jack to decide to break tradition and allow both women to remain on his ship. Rackham, Bonny, and Read stole another ship, the “Revenge,” from the Nassau harbor and began terrorizing merchant ships across the Caribbean. They very hugely successful and amassed a fortune in treasure. Both Anne and Mary fought alongside the men, gaining the respect of the crew.

But every pirate’s life must come to an end sooner or later. Jonathan Barnet, a noted “pirate hunter” was commissioned by the British to track down and capture Calico Jack and his men. Supported by British soldiers, Barnet found and boarded the Revenge in the middle of the night. Calico Jack and most of the crew were below decks either drunk or sleeping when the soldiers arrived. Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and one other pirate were on watch on deck. They fought valiantly defending the ship but could not arouse their comrades down below. The ladies were overwhelmed and the entire crew was captured.

In Jamaica, they were tried for piracy and sentenced to be hanged. As Calico Jack was led to the gallows, Anne’s final words to him were “If you had fought like a man, you would not now be dying like a dog.” All the male crew members were executed, but Anne Bonny and Mary Read were pregnant and “pleaded their bellies” which, by English common law, would allow them to remain alive (at least until the babies were born). The following year, Mary Read died in prison of a fever before giving birth. Anne Bonny strangely disappeared without a trace and was never seen again. Historians believe that her wealthy father had bribed guards to “look the other way” while Anne escaped. Some think that she returned to South Carolina and lived a long life on her father’s plantation.

In the old Appalachian folk song “Jack-a-roe,” the lyrics read:

“She went down to a tailor shop and dressed in man’s array,

She climbed on board a vessel to convey herself away,

Before you step aboard sir, your name I’d like to know,

She smiled in all her countenance, they call me ‘Jack-a-roe’

Your waist is light and slender, your fingers neat and small,

Your cheeks too red and rosy, to face a cannonball.”

Friday, July 5, 2013


According to many historians, after the death of Abraham Lincoln at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865, the most powerful man in America became Edwin McMaster Stanton. Stanton was a famous lawyer and politician; a man at the very center of power during the American Civil War. He was born in 1814 to a Quaker family in Ohio. Edwin practiced law in Ohio and Pennsylvania until 1856; then moved to Washington D.C. where he expanded his practice and represented important clients before the Supreme Court.

Edwin M. Stanton was appointed as U.S. Attorney General by Democrat lame duck President James Buchanan in December of 1860 (Abraham Lincoln having won the presidential election the month before). There was little to do for Stanton during his four month term of office; but he did convince Buchanan to abandon his position that state secession from the Union might be acceptable. Always the staunch Democrat, Stanton was sharply opposed to the new Lincoln administration. In a letter to Buchanan in 1861 he wrote, “The imbecility of this administration has culminated in a catastrophe (the Battle of Bull Run) and irretrievable misfortune and national disgrace . . . as the result of Lincoln’s running the machine for five months.”  


For the first year of his administration, Abraham Lincoln had Simon Cameron as his Secretary of War, with Edwin Stanton as the secretary’s legal adviser. In early 1862, Lincoln and Cameron had a falling out when Cameron, in a report, called for the President to arm freed slaves to fight against the Confederacy. Lincoln was opposed to this policy, but Cameron refused to delete the statement and was replaced. Surprisingly, the President named Edwin Stanton his successor. Lincoln was never aware that it was actually Stanton who wrote the report for which his boss was fired.

After taking office, Stanton wasted no time making his presence known. First, he took over control of all the telegraph lines in the north. He then began a campaign to censor the press over all war news; keeping the public from hearing anything of which he didn’t approve.

There were those who warned Lincoln about his new Secretary of War, but the President responded, “We may have to treat him as people are sometimes obliged to treat a minister I know out west. He gets wrought to so high a pitch of excitement in his prayers that they are obliged to put bricks in his pockets to keep him down. We may be obliged to treat Stanton in the same way, but I guess we’ll let him jump a while first.”

According to historian David Long, “Stanton would become furious and fly into fits of rage at Lincoln time and again.” Edwin Stanton’s arbitrary temper was heightened by his habit of jumping to conclusions. He would take a stand on an issue just to demonstrate his authority. He was known for being intolerant and for holding onto prejudices and grudges.


The new Secretary of War continued to be critical of the administration of which he was a member. He confided to a friend, “(there is) no token of any intelligent understanding of Lincoln, or the crew that governs him.” He sometimes bristled at the President’s directions and occasionally refused to obey them. He even conspired with other cabinet members behind Lincoln’s back.

But amazingly in spite of this, Lincoln and Stanton worked well together. The President knew Stanton’s intense and irritable nature. He knew how the excitement of the times tried the nerves of men. Lincoln frequently let Stanton’s indignations unacknowledged. Both Lincoln and Stanton were professional politicians who tolerated each other to accomplish a common goal. Their dedication to preserve the Union and end slavery was the glue that kept their relationship functioning.

Once, a congressman from Illinois suffered a brusque rejection by Stanton when he delivered an order from the President. The Secretary of War said the order was issued by a “damned fool.” The congressman went back and told Lincoln immediately.

“Did Stanton say I was a damned fool?” asked Lincoln.

“He did, sir; and repeated it.”

After a moment’s pause, the President said, “If Stanton said I was a damned fool, then I must be one, for he is nearly always right, and generally says what he means.”  

(The implication was that Lincoln could not control Stanton. In reality, Lincoln was the actual leader of the country and whenever he chose, he could control Edwin Stanton.)


In 1862, the overly zealous Stanton far exceeded his authority by issuing an order to arrest anyone discouraging voluntary enlistment in the army, or committing any other disloyal activities related to the war effort. This was a clear violation of civil rights even in the nineteenth century.

Early on in the Civil War, Edwin Stanton was a close friend of General George McClellan. But by 1862, he conspired with other cabinet members to block McClellan from being given the command of the Union Army. Lincoln appointed the general anyway, suffering a chorus of complaints from Stanton and others. Years after the war, McClellan wrote about Stanton saying, “Stanton told me that the great aim of the war was to abolish slavery, and to end the war before the nation was ready would be a failure. The war must be prolonged and conducted so as to achieve that.” This was clearly a misunderstanding as Stanton, like Lincoln, had always hoped for an early end to the war.

By 1863, an agreement was reached that prisoners of war would be exchanged. Although considered by most as a humanitarian gesture, Edwin Stanton (with the support of Ulysses Grant) knew that the Confederate Army would have much more difficulty replacing captured soldiers than would the north. Stanton fought hard to reverse the agreement, or at least delay its implementation. The following year, he refused to exchange Confederate prisoners for the 32,000 Union captives held at Andersonville Prison in Georgia. The suffering at Andersonville was epic but, when made aware of it, Stanton remained opposed to any exchange and ordered that Confederate prisoners of war would have their meager rations reduced by 20% in response.

Also in 1863, Stanton named Lafayette Baker as the head of the new National Detective Police; a federal undercover, anti-subversive organization. Although successful, Baker and his subordinates were accused of carrying out brutal interrogations and imprisoning many suspects who were later found to be innocent. Baker himself was suspected of corruption by arresting and jailing people who refused to share their illegally gotten war supply profits with him.  

When the war ended with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Stanton tendered his resignation due to poor health. It was rejected by Lincoln who is quoted as saying, “Stanton, you cannot go. Reconstruction is more difficult and dangerous than construction or destruction. You have been my main reliance; you must help us through this final act.” ‘Final act’ may have been prophetic words.


As Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton was in charge of all internal security, including security for the President. As such, he was blamed in part for the death of Abraham Lincoln. Having a growing concern for the President’s safety and the inadequacy of security, Stanton tried to keep President and Mrs. Lincoln from going to Ford’s Theatre on April 14th. He thought that he could convince the Lincolns to stay in the White House that night by ordering his subordinates not to accompany them. They went in spite of this, and it became the greatest mistake of Stanton’s life.

Edwin Stanton was one of the first officials to arrive at the gruesome scene as Lincoln lie dying in a Peterson House bedroom across the street from the theatre. He immediately took charge. He sent for his subordinate, Lafayette Baker (head of the National Detective Police) saying, “Come here immediately and see if you can find the murderer of the President.” Trying to bring order out of chaos, Stanton ordered the distraught Mary Lincoln out of the room saying, “Take that woman out and do not let her in again.” Mary wept in the parlor, never seeing her husband alive again. When the President died, Stanton wept openly and said, “Now he belongs to the ages” (some present reported the last word was ‘angels’ instead of ‘ages.’)

Over the next two days, Baker’s men had taken four “conspirators” into custody and knew the names of two others, including John Wilkes Booth. He dispatched a cavalry troop to pursue and capture Booth, thought to be hold up at a Virginia farm. After a standoff, Booth was shot and killed by one of the soldiers. Booth carried a small diary that contained very recent entries. The diary was confiscated and delivered to Edwin Stanton.

Many citizens were arrested and jailed in connection with the investigation. Stanton favored the tactic of arresting anyone who could be remotely responsible, and then releasing them if no culpability was found. Even the owner of Ford’s Theatre was held in jail for forty days. Ultimately, seven men and one woman, Mary Surratt, were accused.


On May 1, 1865, President Andrew Johnson authorized a commission to try the charged conspirators. Stanton argued vehemently with Johnson that the trail must take place in a military court. He asserted that since Lincoln was the Commander in Chief and the defendants were in fact “enemy combatants,” a civil trial (with more civil protections) would not be acceptable. Most of the President’s cabinet disagreed, but Johnson and his key advisors backed down. High ranking officers were chosen as jurors. Some of whom reported years later that they were told that if a guilty verdict was not returned, their military careers would be terminated.

The trial began on May 10th and lasted seven weeks. Hundreds of witnesses testified. Several claimed that Stanton, through his subordinates, had tried to alter their testimony. Trial observers alleged that witness tampering was widespread. The eight defendants were held in isolation. They were not allowed to speak to each other. Stanton ordered that, “The prisoners, for better security against conversation, shall have a canvas bag put over the head of each and tied around the neck, with holes for proper breathing and eating, but not seeing.” A one inch thick cotton pad was placed over their faces. Thus, they were not allowed to speak or see, and feeding was very difficult. No bathing or washing was allowed. The male defendants were also hobbled with wrist and ankle irons.

On June 29th, all eight defendants were found guilty. They were denied any appeal, except by the President. All were executed. In the excellent 2010 film “The Conspirator,” Edwin Stanton is depicted as the driving force behind the prosecution of those allegedly plotting the assassination. 


Although generally not supported by most historians, some people have put forth a theory that Edwin Stanton was the real mastermind behind Lincoln’s assassination.   Several hypotheses were put forth to give credence to these accusations. Stanton’s last minute removal of security officers assigned to accompany Lincoln to Ford’s Theater and his failure to promptly close the bridges and roads leading away from Washington on the night of the assassination were seen as evidence of Stanton’s involvement. He ordered the defendants to be kept in isolation and hooded during the trial to keep them from talking, and his censure of news coming out of the courtroom was seen to cover up his participation.

There was an accusation that Andrew Johnson did not replace Stanton immediately after taking office because Johnson himself knew about the plot. Another claim was made that 11 congressmen and 15 high ranking officers were involved in the plot. Lafayette Baker, head of Stanton’s secret agents, claimed that Stanton included him in the conspiracy after the fact; then later forged documents showing that Baker himself was in charge of the plot. His claim was written in code and not discovered until 1960.

The diary taken off the body of John Wilkes Booth included evidence that the plot was hatched by Stanton himself. After the diary’s existence became public in 1867, Congress demanded that Stanton turn it over. He did, but 18 pages had been removed while in his possession.


Edwin Stanton remained the Secretary of War, under Andrew Johnson, until 1868. He found it almost impossible to agree with anything the new President did however. Their primary conflict was over the implementation of reconstruction terms. Johnson favored the readmission of seceded states to the Union as easily and quickly as possible. Stanton argued that some guarantee of civil rights for freed slaves must be included in the readmission of these states.

Congress agreed with Stanton’s ideas and passed the first Reconstruction Act which did provide for Negro suffrage (voting). Johnson vetoed the legislation but was overruled by Congress. The President did manage to delay the program’s start which undermined its effectiveness. This infuriated Stanton. So Andrew Johnson, tying to eliminate this opposition from within his own cabinet, tried to force Edwin Stanton out of office. Stanton refused to go and barricaded himself in his office. The Senate supported Stanton.

Shortly before this standoff, the Congress had passed the “Tenure of Office Act” which required, for some specific positions in the government, the approval of the Senate before an official could be removed from his position. In November of 1867, the Senate voted that Johnson should be impeached for high crimes including pardoning traitors, profiting from the sale of government property, defying Congress, attempting to prevent the ratification of the 14th Amendment (civil rights), and . . . illegally trying to remove Edwin Stanton from office.  

Edwin M. Stanton left office and returned to his private law practice. In 1869, he was appointed by President Grant to the U.S. Supreme Court. Four days after he was confirmed by the Senate, but before taking his seat in the court, Stanton died of an asthma attack. He had a tumultuous career during a most critical period in our history. He could be a loyal friend and a bitter enemy, occasionally at the same time.