Archive for April, 2011

Oliver Cromwell


Oliver Cromwell was born on April 25, 1599 in Huntington, England to a Robert Cromwell and an Elizabeth Steward.

Cromwell was known as a military leader and as a politician but he is probably best known as the individual responsible for the overthrow of Charles I and the temporary institution of republicanism in England.  He served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Cromwell was born into the landed gentry class.  His grandfather, Sir Henry Williams had amassed a great deal of wealth by confiscating monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII when he broke with the Church of Rome.

There is very little record of his early life.  He was baptized on April 29, 1599 at St. John’s Church and he attended Huntington Grammar School and after that he attended Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge but there is no evidence that indicates that he graduated.

On August 22, 1620 at St. Giles-without-Cripplegate, London he was married to an Elizabeth Bourchier.  Together they had nine children.

Through his father-in-laws connection, Cromwell became acquainted with and under the influence of the earls of Warwick and Holland.  In the future they would both become critical in Cromwell’s future military and political career.

During the late 1620’s and early 1630’s there is evidence that Cromwell went through a personal crisis of some sore although there is no evidence to indicate exactly what that crisis was.

In 1628, Cromwell sought out the services of a physician, Theodore de Mayerne for depression.

In 1631, Cromwell sold most of his properties in Huntington and bought a farmstead in St. Ives.  In British society, this was a major step down for him.  This “step down” seems to have had a significant emotional and spiritual impact on Cromwell.  In 1638 he wrote one of his cousins, the wife of Oliver St. John that he was “the chief of sinners” and that he had been called to the “congregation of the firstborn.” The letter was also filled with bible quotations indicating that Cromwell’s conversion from the Church of England to Puritanism was well underway if not complete.

In 1636, Cromwell inherited some properties from his uncle as well as his job as a tithe collector at the cathedral in Ely.  This increased his income enough to allow him to return to the gentry class that he had left earlier in his life.  By this time he was a committed Puritan and he established ties with leading Puritan families in London and Essex.

In the years of 1628 and 1629, Cromwell was a Member of Parliament representing Huntington.  He made little if any impression.  He made only one speck against a bishop and the speech was not received well by his fellow members.

Charles I dissolved Parliament in 1629, Charles I ruled without a parliament for eleven years.

Due to a shortage of funds because of a Scottish rebellion called the Bishop’s Wars, Charles called parliament back into session in 1640.  This was known as the Short Parliament because it only lasted for three weeks.  When this session ended in 1640 is when Cromwell moved his family from Ely to London. 

Another Parliament was called in 1640 and this one lasted for two years and is remembered as the Long Parliament.  Cromwell was again a member and he was put in charge of presenting a petition asking for the release of a Puritan named John Liburne, who had been arrested for importing religious tracts from Holland. 

In this parliament, Cromwell had linked himself with “godly” groups in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords who favored “godly reformation”, an executive checked by regular parliaments and a slight extension of personal liberties.  In this parliament, Cromwell helped to draft the Root and Branch Bill which advocated abolishing the episcopacy

Because the Long Parliament and Charles I was unable to resolve their differences, the First English Civil War broke out in the autumn of 1642.  Cromwell recruited a cavalry troop at Cambridge and participated in the stalemated Battle of Edgehill on October 23, 1642.  By 1643 his troop was made into a regiment and became part of the Eastern Association under the command of the Earl of Manchester.  Cromwell gained experience and on July 28, 1643, he was part of the decisive victory at the Battle of Gainsborough.  After this battle he was made Governor of Ely.

At the Battle of Marston Moor Cromwell was a Lt.-Colonel of Horse.  This battle was a decisive victory for the parliament.

His major contribution was that his cavalry was able to break the ranks of the Royalist cavalry and after that was able to attack the Royalist infantry from the rear which allowed the Parliamentarians to win a decisive victory.  Cromwell led his cavalry through the entire engagement and was only slightly wounded in the neck. 

As a result of this victory, the Parliamentarians now had control of northern England but the Royalist army was far from defeated.

Because the Parliamentarian army was unable to capitalize on their victory at Marston Moor Parliament passed the Self-Denying Ordinance in 1645.  This ordinance forced members of the House of Commons and Lords to choose between civil office or military command.  As a result of this ordinance, every Member of Parliament except Cromwell chose to keep their seats in Parliament.

The measure also ordered that the army was to be remodeled away from local units into a national army.  In April of 1645, the newly remodeled army took the field with Sir Thomas Fairfax in command and Oliver Cromwell as Lt.-General of cavalry and second-in-command of the entire army.

In June 1645, the Battle of Naseby occurred.  In this battle the New Model Army virtually destroyed the King’s main army and on July 10, 1645, at the Battle of Langport, the last sizable Royalist army was defeated.  On May 6, 1646, Charles I surrendered ending the First English Civil War.

At the conclusion of the war there was an issue on what exactly to do with the surrendered king.  A majority of both houses supported a measure that would pay off the Scottish army that had assisted them; disband the New Model Army and the Scottish Presbyterian model taking over from the Church of England.

Cromwell opposed this mostly because he didn’t want to replace on ecclesiastical hierarchy with another.  He opposed both of these churches; he was a Puritan in and out.

The New Model Army was owed a great deal of money and negotiations between them and the Parliament did not resolve the issue and on June 1647, a cavalry troop under the command of Coronet George Joyce seized the king from Parliament’s imprisonment.

Parliament was unable to negotiate a political agreement with the King and in 1648; the Second English Civil War broke out when Charles I attempted to regain power by force of arms.  Cromwell put down an uprising in south Wales and after that he went to the northern part of England and engaged a far superior pro-Royalist Scottish army who had invaded England.  Even though Cromwell was outnumbered two to one, Cromwell won a decisive victory.

Because Parliament was once again attempting to negotiate a political agreement with the King; Cromwell believed that both the King and Parliament had ceased to have God’s support.  He believed that he and the army were now the instruments of God.  Cromwell believed this because of the victorious battles that he had recently won.

In December of 1648 an event occurred called Pride’s Purge.  All members of Parliament who supported negoiting with the King were prevented from talking their seats in Parliament.  The remaining members including Cromwell supported trying the King for treason and having him executed.

The trial of Charles I began on January 20, 1649 and ended on January 27, 1649 with a conviction and a sentence of death.  Charles I was executed on January 30, 1649.

After the death of Charles I, England was declared a republic known as the Commonwealth of England.  Parliament held both executive and legislative powers and there was a Council of State that had some executive powers as well.  Cromwell was a member of both Parliament as well as the Council of State.

Meanwhile, the Royalists had regrouped in Ireland and Cromwell was selected by Parliament to lead a campaign against them in Ireland.  In July of 1649 Cromwell departed from Bristol it commence the now infamous invasion of Ireland.

Parliament believed that the Royalist-Irish alliance was the biggest threat to the Commonwealth.  Even though Ireland was fractured between different groups they felt that this alliance was a direct threat.

Cromwell’s hostility towards the Irish wasn’t just political, it was religious too.  He was passionately opposed to the Roman Catholic Church because he felt that they put the papacy over the Bible and to him that was heresy.  He also blamed all Catholics for the persecution of Protestants on mainland Europe as well.  This hatred was deepened by the Irish Rebellion of 1641, when the Irish were alleged to have massacred English and Scottish settlers in Ulster who were placed there by Henry VIII when he had left the Church of Rome.  It was as a result of these factors that Cromwell’s invasion took the brutality that it did.

As previously stated, Cromwell’s invasion was particularly brutal.  After the Siege of Drogheda in September of 1649 when the town was taken over 3,500 people were massacred including all the men, prisoners and all of the Roman Catholic priests.  Cromwell believed that this was a righteous act committed against “barbarous wretches.”

At the Siege of Wexford in October of 1649 another 3,500 people were massacred including 1,500 civilians.

After Cromwell had negioated with Irish Protestants to switch sides and fight with his forces word came to him that Charles II had landed in Scotland and the Scots had declared him King.  Cromwell departed for England on May 26, 1650 to meet this new threat but many of Cromwell’s troops remained in Ireland for another three years to continue the fight with the Irish.

The fight continued on and in April of 1653, the last Catholic controlled town, Galway surrendered to Parliament forces.  As a result of Irish capitulation, the public practice of Roman Catholicism was banned and all Roman Catholic priests were murdered when found.

Another result of the Parliamentary victory was the Act For The Settlement of Ireland 1652.  This act gave all Catholic-owned land to English and Scottish settlers.  Any remaining landowners were relocated to the province of Connacht where the land was much poorer.  Under Commonwealth rule, Catholic land ownership dropped from 60% to a paltry 8%.

When Cromwell left Ireland to fight Charles II in Scotland he was much less brutal with the Scots as he was with the Irish.  This was mostly due to religion.  He believed that the Scottish Presbyterians, he believed feared the right god, but were only “deceived.”  He made an appeal to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to not ally themselves with Charles II but the petition was denied.  This made war inevitable between the Commonwealth and Scotland.

At the Battle of Dunbar, Cromwell destroyed the main Scottish army and killed 4,000 soldiers and captured another 10,000.

In 1651, Charles II made a last attempt to invade England and capture London while Cromwell was occupied in Scotland.  At the Battle of Worchester, on September 3, 1651, the last remaining Scottish loyalist army was destroyed.  Charles II was almost captured but he was able to escape to France where he would remain in exile until 1660.

During the Commonwealth years, Scotland was ruled directly from England and the military occupied Scotland during all of the Commonwealth years except for the Highlands region.  The Highlands was sealed off with a line of fortifications in order to prevent them from interfering with Commonwealth rule.  The Highlands are where most of the Scottish troops were recruited from to fill the Scottish Royalist ranks.

Followers of the Presbyterian Church were allowed to practice their faith but the Scottish Church did not have the backing of the civil courts as it had previously.

From 1649 until 1651, Parliament had split into factions.  With no king and Cromwell away fighting the war there was no unifying force to unite Parliament.

When Cromwell returned, he wanted Parliament to establish new elections and to unite England, Scotland and Ireland into one political entity.  He also wanted Parliament to recognize one national church.  Furthermore Cromwell demanded that Parliament set up a 40 man caretaker government then dissolve itself.  Of course, Parliament refused to do this.

Cromwell became angry and on April 20, 1653, he cleared the Parliament chamber by force and dissolved Parliament.

On July 4, 1653 a new assembly was seated.  It was called the Barebone’s Parliament.  This assembly was short lived and it was dissolved on December 12, 1653 because it was feared that Royalists were going to take control.

After the Barebone’s Parliament was dissolved, a new constitution was brought forth.  It was known as the Instrument of Government.  This constitution made Cromwell Lord Protector for life.  He was sworn in on December 16, 1653.  At the ceremony he wore plain black clothing but in reality that was probably the only departure from an actual monarch that he used.  He signed his name, “Oliver P.” the “P” standing for protector.  This was nor unlike the signatures of monarchs during this era.  He was also addressed as “Your Highness” as well.

Cromwell believed that he had two main objectives as Lord Protector.  The first objective was to heal the wounds of the nation after the controversial regicide and two civil wars.  He did not introduce many reforms but he did reduce direct taxation a little bit and he ended the First Anglo-Dutch War.

Cromwell’s second objective was for spiritual and moral reform.  He set up committees to judge whether preachers and schoolteacher were up to the moral standards that the Puritans believed in.  If someone was found to be sub standard, they were replaced with someone else and there individuals were regularly monitored as well.

After another Royalist uprising in March of 1655, Cromwell divided England into sectors, with a major-general in charge of the region.  These generals were answerable only to him.  Cromwell called them “godly governors”. 

Not only were these godly governors sent to control the area, but they were also there to monitor the morality of the citizens.  This was done by utilizing small groups of radical Puritans who monitored the activities in the county in which they resided.

In 1657, Cromwell was offered the crown by Parliament.  He agonized over the decision for six weeks before declining.  He believed that God was opposed to the monarchy.  Instead, he was reinstalled as Lord Protector on June 26, 1657 at Westminster Hall.  The office of Lord Protector was not to be a hereditary office.  Cromwell did have the right however to name a successor.

On September 3, 1658 at age 59, Oliver Cromwell died and his son Richard succeeded him.  Richard did not have the power base in Parliament or the army to maintain control.  He resigned in 1659.  In 1660, the monarchy was restored and Charles II returned to England from exile in France.









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The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world by size and number of books.  It is the official research library of the United Stated Congress and is the unofficial library of the United States.

The primary mission of the library is to facilitate the research requests of members of Congress through the Congressional Research Services.  Although the library is open to the public only members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices and other high ranking members of the federal government may check out books.

The Library of Congress came into existence on April 24, 1800 when President John Adams signed an Act of Congress transferring the seat of government from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to the new city of Washington, D.C.  The initial piece of legislation appropriated $5,000 for the purchase of books and for “fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them.”  Books were purchased in London and the initial collection consisted of 740 books and 3 maps and was housed in the new Capitol building.  The collection was mostly legal in nature because the intent of the library was to aide members of Congress in researching pending legislation.

On January 26, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed into law a bill establishing a structure for the Library of Congress.  In this bill were provisions setting up a presidentially appointed Joint Committee on the Library which would oversee all library operations.  Also, a presidentially appointed Librarian of Congress was established.  Another provision of this law gave the President and Vice-President the right to borrow books.

In August of 1814, during the War of 1812, British troops burned down the Capitol building which housed the library.  All 3,000 books in it were destroyed in this fire along with the Capital.  The Executive Mansion (White House) was destroyed by fire as well.

After the fire, former President Thomas Jefferson offered his entire personal library to the Library of Congress as a replacement for the books that were destroyed.

Actually the books that Jefferson had donated were far superior to the books that were previously housed in the library.  He had been collecting them for years and the subject matters were very diverse and many of the books were in foreign languages and covered a wide variety of topics like religion, philosophy, literature and there were even some cook books as well.

During the early 1850’s there was an intense struggle between the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution.  The institution’s librarian, Charles Coffin was lobbying hard to have the Smithsonian Institution declared as the official national library.  This was settled by the Smithsonian’s Secretary, Joseph Henry who wanted to focus on scientific research.  As a result the Smithsonian’s Librarian was forced to resign and the issue was settled once and for all.

The largest fire in the history of the Library of Congress occurred on December 24, 1851.  Over 35,000 books which were roughly two-thirds of the library’s 55,000 book collection were destroyed including two-thirds of Jefferson’s original contribution.

In 1852, Congress appropriated funds to replace the destroyed books but no authorization was given for the purchase of any additional new books.  This marked the beginning of a conservative approach to administrating the library which would last until the end of the Civil War in 1865.

After the Civil War, the library slowly began to come back to life.  Under the administration of Ainsworth Rand Spofford who was the Librarian of Congress from 1865 until 1897.

After the Civil War, the federal government expanded significantly.  Spofford was able to build bipartisan support for the library in Congress. He was able to focus increasing the library’s collections especially in Americana and American Literature.  This resulted in a much needed expansion of a new building to house the library and all of its resources.

Between 1865 and 1870, Congress appropriated enough funds to allow the construction of the Thomas Jefferson Building.  In this building was housed all of the copyright and deposit activities that were under the library’s control and the international book exchange program was reinstated.

During this period of time, the Library of Congress had also acquired the vast library of the Smithsonian which significantly increased its scientific and Americana collections.  By the time the library moved to its new building it had amassed over 840,000 volumes of books.

In 1886, the Joint Library Committee held hearings to plan for the future growth of the library and to determine the current condition of the Library of Congress.  Librarian Spofford sent a team of experts from the American Library Association and as a result of their convincing testimony Congress more than doubled their staff from 42 to 108.

The next librarian was John Russell Young.  He served from 1897 to 1899.  Even though his tenure was short his contributions were significant.  He overhauled the library’s bureaucracy and through his channels in the Foreign Service he was able to procure more overseas collections.  He also offered library assistance programs to the blind any physically handicapped years before any governmental department was forced to by statue.

Herbert Putnam was the next librarian.  He served from 1899 to 1939.  Putnam focused his attentions on making the library more accessible for the public and for other libraries as well.

Putnam also diversified the libraries collections.  In 1903, he persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to order the State Department to transfer control of the papers of the Founding Fathers to the control of the Library of Congress.

He also started the interlibrary loan service thus making the Library of Congress the “library of last resort.”

Putnam also expanded the library’s foreign collection.  He was able to purchase an 80,000 book collection from a Russian library as well as an Imperial Russian collection from the Romanov family totaling 2,600 volumes and a wide variety of subjects.  He was also able to procure some Chinese and Japanese collections as well.  He was also able to purchase one of the four remaining perfect Guttenberg Bibles for the library.

In 1939, Putnam retired and Archibald MacLeish replaced him.  MacLeish served as Librarian of Congress until 1944.  He was the most visible librarian and he encouraged all librarians to promote democracy and denounce fascism whenever possible.

MacLeish dedicated the South Reading Room of the Adams Building and created a “democracy alcove.”  He commissioned artist Ezra Winter to paint four themed murals for the room.

During the war, the Library of Congress arranged to have Ft. Knox store the original Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution for safekeeping just in case something tragic happened.  The Library of Congress also provided U.S. pilots with weather information for missions during the war as well.

In 1944, MacLeish was replaced by Luther H. Evans.  Evans main contribution was the establishment of Library of Congress Missions throughout the world.  These missions served different functions from acquiring European collections to helping the United Nations in San Francisco become established by assisting delegates with vital information.  The mission in Japan helped the new Japanese government establish a National Diet Library for their legislative body.

Quincy Mumford took over in 1953 and remained as librarian until 1974.  During this period there was an increased emphasis on educational spending and Mumford took advantage of this trend and set up new acquisition centers in Cairo, Egypt and New Delhi, India.

In 1967, a preservation office was set up.  There various techniques were established to preserve books.  This was to become the largest conservation and preservation effort for books in the United States.

In 1962, there was a movement to refocus the Library of Congress to its original role for providing information to the Congress.  Some members of Congress felt that the emphasis should be placed on assisting the government with vital information rather than becoming a “national” library.  This effort was let by Claiborne Pell, the chairman of the Joint Library Committee.  Debate on this continued until 1970 when the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 which put the Library of Congress back to its legislative duties and in this act the Legislative Reference Service was renamed the Congressional Research Service.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford nominated Daniel J. Boorstin.  Boorstin served as librarian until 1987.  He significantly increased the amounts of collections and thanks to increased budgets was able to establish and strengthen ties with scholars, authors, publishers, educators and leaders of industry.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan appointed James H. Billington as the Librarian of Congress.  Billington still holds this office as of today.  Thanks to advances in the internet, Billington was able to set up the library to all major educational institutions throughout the United States.  After the end of the Cold War, the library has managed to assist emerging Eastern European countries in setting up libraries to assist their legislatures.

In the mid 1990’s, Billington began a program that is somewhat controversial amongst traditional librarians.  He set up a program whose ultimate goal is to digitally preserve books.  The program is called the National Digital Library.  The library is still working with other libraries to set this up world wide calling it the World Digital Library.

The Library of Congress has grown from a small collection of books sitting in the Capitol Building to one of the biggest libraries as far a size of collections in the entire world.  John Adams and Thomas Jefferson would be shocked and amazed on how much it has grown in 200 years.  I think that they would also be very proud of the library’s achievements and with the advance of digital technologies; I think that the best years are yet to come.


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Stephen Arnold Douglass was born in Brandon, Vermont on April 23, 1813 to a Stephen Arnold Douglass and a Sarah Fisk.  A number of years later he dropped the second “s” from his name.

In 1833, he moved to Illinois and settled in Jacksonville.  There he taught and studied law.

Douglas decided to enter politics and his rise in the political scene in Illinois was meteoritic even by the standards of the day

In 1834, he was appointed as Morgan County State Attorney and he served in that capacity until 1836.

He was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives and he was appointed to be an associate justice of the Illinois Supreme Court in 1841 and the very young age of 27.

In 1842 and 1844, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and in his second term he served alongside future President Abraham Lincoln who at that time was a Whig and they developed an intense rivalry and friendship as well.

Douglas was a supporter of the Mexican War and he was a proponent of territorial expansion as well.

In 1846, he was elected by the legislature to serve in the U.S. Senate.  He was re elected in 1852 and 1858.

In 1858, his main challenger was Abraham Lincoln.   Their nationally recognized debates significantly boosted Lincoln’s name recognition and Douglas commented later that the Senate Election of 1858 was only a ruse by Lincoln.  Douglas believed to his dying day that Lincoln’s ambitions were for the presidency all along and Douglas also felt that Lincoln was a very talented politician in spite of his popular mantra as a simple “rail splitter.”

While in the Senate, Douglas was Chairman of the Committee on Territories.  In this capacity he was almost wholly responsible for The Compromise of 1850 as well as the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed the people of new territories determine whether they were to become free or slave.  The term “popular sovereignty” was the term coined and it was this term which was the nail in the coffin so to speak for the Whig Party and it was also the phrase which started the Republican Party.

Douglas also supported the Dred Scott Decision of 1857 that stated that parts of the Missouri Compromise were unconstitutional and that slaves were not citizens and under the current Constitution they would never be and therefore had no right to sue in federal court.

Douglas was a strong advocate of democracy.  He believed that the will of the people was paramount.  When President James Buchannan attempted to pass a federal slave code, Douglas strongly opposed it and the measure failed.  This let to a split in the Democratic Party into two wings, a pro-slavery Southern wing and an anti-slavery Northern wing.  This split would affect the entire country in 1860-1861.

At the 1860 Democratic National Convention which was held in Charleston, South Carolina, the convention split because of the failure to include slave codes for the new territories in its platform.  Consequently, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, Texas and Arkansas withdrew their delegations.

The convention reconvened in Baltimore, Maryland and the states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland withdrew as well.

At this convention, Stephen Douglas was nominated for President by the Northern Democrats.  The Southern Democrats would eventually nominate their own candidate, John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky.

During the election Douglas fought hard to maintain the Union.  The South was already stating that if Lincoln was elected President, they would secede.

In the final results, Douglas came in second in the popular vote (1,376,957) but in the Electoral College, he came in last with only 12 votes compared to Lincoln’s 180.  Most of his support in the North came from the Irish Catholics and the poor farmers and in the South most of his support came from the Irish Catholics.  It just simply wasn’t enough to defeat Lincoln and win the presidency.

After the election, Douglas fought long and hard to preserve the Union.  He campaigned tirelessly to try to convince the South to recognize Abraham Lincoln’s election.  Even as late as December of 1860, Douglas wrote a letter to Alexander Stephens, a senator from Georgia and future Confederate Vice-President, offering to annex Mexico and offer it to the South as a slave state.  Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829.  Exactly how Douglas was going to accomplishment this is unclear even though there was talk in the early stages of the Lincoln Administration by Secretary of State William H. Seward of doing just this, in a last ditch attempt to unify the country.

After the southern states started seceding, Douglas denounced these acts as criminal.  He was a strong supported of preserving the Union at all costs.

When war finally did break out, Lincoln dispatched Douglas to the Border States and the Midwest urging everyone to support maintaining the Union.  He spoke in Virginia, Ohio and Illinois.

Stephen Arnold Douglas was one of the greatest Senators to ever serve.  His nickname was “Little Giant” in the Senate.  Although he was small in stature he was considered one of the greatest Senators to ever serve, whether you disagree with his positions or not, his primary motivation was the preservation of the Union.  He believed in the Union above everything else.

In 1861, Stephen Douglas contracted typhoid fever and he died in Chicago, Illinois on June 3, 1861 and he was buried in Chicago on the shore of Lake Michigan.

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The Red Baron


Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen popularly known as “The Red Baron” was born on May 2, 1892 in Breslau, Germany which is now known as Wroclaw, Poland.  He was the son of a Major Albrecht Phillip Karl Julius Freiherr von Richthofen and a Kunigunde von Schickfuss und Neudorff.  They were all members of a prominent Prussian aristocratic family with close ties to the King of Prussia who was also the Imperial German Emperor (Kaiser).

Von Richthofen was educated at home and he began his military training at age eleven which was not uncommon for the children of German nobility at this time.

When his training was completed in 1911, von Richthofen joined a Uhlan cavalry unit named Ulanen-Regiment Kaiser Alexander der III von Russland. 

During the early phases of World War I von Richthofen served as a cavalry reconnaissance officer on both the Western and Eastern Fronts.

Military tactics had changed over the years.  Weaponry and technology had changed since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 and cavalry units were not being deployed in their traditional manner mostly due to the advent of the machine gun, barbed wire and primitive tanks.

Von Richthofen was really disappointed about not seeing more action and he was really impressed with the manner in which airplanes were being utilized in the order of battle, von Richthofen applied for transfer to the Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches (Imperial German Army Air Service) later to be known as Luftstreitkräfte.  Much to his surprise, von Richthofen’s application for transfer was approved in May of 1915.

From the months of June through August 1915 von Richthofen served as an observer on reconnaissance missions over France and later on the Eastern Front as well. 

In October of 1915, von Richthofen began training as a pilot.  At first, his pilot skills were subpar.  He had a difficult time controlling his aircraft and managed to crash his plane on his first solo flight.

Slowly, his skills had improved significantly and in August 1916, Oswald Boelcke, a famous German fighter ace selected von Richthofen to be a member of a newly formed fighter unit, Jagdstaffel 2 and it was this unit that von Richthofen, on his first military engagement as a pilot flew on September 17, 1916 over Cambrai, France.

Von Richthofen did not believe in utilizing risky and dangerous tactics.  He was more of a conservative flyer and did not believe in fancy complex maneuvers with his aircraft.

He adopted the principles of his mentor, Oswald Boelcke who was killed earlier that year in von Richthofen’s presence.  Those tactics were called the Dicta Boelcke.  Its fundamental precepts were as follows:

  1. 1.  Try to secure the upper hand before attacking.  If possible keep the sun behind you.
  2. 2.  Always continue with an attack you have begun.
  3. 3.  Open fire only in close range, and then only when the opponent is squarely within your sights.
  4. 4.  You should always try to keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.
  5. 5.  In any type of attack, it is essential to assail your opponent from behind.
  6. 6.  If your opponent dives on you, do not try to get around his attack, but fly to meet it.
  7. 7.  When over enemy lines, always remember your own line of retreat.
  8. 8.  Tip for Squadrons:  In principle, it is better to attack in groups of four to six.  Avoid two aircraft attacking the same opponent.

Between November 1916 and April of 1917, von Richthofen went on a tearing rampage.  During this time he had twenty-six confirmed kills and in January of 1917, after his 16th confirmed kill he was awarded the Pour le Mérite popularly referred to as the “Blue Max.” This was the highest military honor in Germany at the time. 

After this award von Richthofen assumed command of Jasta 11 which comprised many of the elite German pilots who were mostly trained by von Richthofen personally.  It was at this time that he had his aircraft painted a bright red which was to become his signature.  Many of the squadron members painted their aircraft red as well because they were afraid that von Richthofen might be singled out during combat by the enemy.  Eventually red became the official color of the squadron.

Von Richthofen led his new unit to many successes including a period called “Bloody April” in 1917 where he personally downed twenty-two British aircraft which raised his official count to fifty-two.

In June of 1917, he was made commander of Jagdgeschwader 1 which was a larger wing formation consisting of four squadrons.  Later this wing would be known as von Richthofen’s “Flying Circus.”

Von Richthofen’s style of command was different then his mentor, Boelcke.  He preferred to lead by example rather than by inspiration.  The one cardinal rule that he stressed to his pilots was this:  “Aim for the man and don’t miss him.  If you are fighting a two-seater, get the observer first; until you have silenced the gun, don’t bother about the pilot.”

On July 6, 1917 while in aerial combat over Belgium, von Richthofen sustained a serious head wound which caused unconsciousness, spatial disorientation as well as partial blindness.  He was able to regain consciousness just in time to level his plane and make a rough forced landing in friendly territory.

This injury caused him to have several surgeries to remove bone splinters and grounded him for over an extended period of time.

This head injury is believed to have caused permanent damage to von Richthofen.  He was returned to active duty in October of 1917 but as a result of his injuries, he suffered from headaches and he had repeated cases of post flight nausea.  It is also reported that he had undergone a personality change as well.  This is not uncommon with traumatic head injuries.

By 1918, von Richthofen had become such a legend that the Imperial German Staff feared that if he had died in battle that it would be a severe blow to German morale.  Von Richthofen had become such an icon that German women would carry his picture with them and it was not uncommon to see a picture of von Richthofen in German households in a place of honor right next to the Kaiser’s picture. 

The General Staff repeatedly asked von Richthofen to refrain from harm and take a desk position.  He repeatedly refused stating that the average German soldier had no choice then he shouldn’t either.

Von Richthofen was fatally wounded on April 21, 1918 while flying near Morlancourt Ridge near the Somme River in France.

At the time he was in pursuit of a Sopwith Camel flown by Canadian pilot Lieutenant Wilfrid May of the Royal Air Force.

During this pursuit, von Richthofen was hit by a single .303 bullet which severely damaged his heart and lungs.  In the final seconds of his life he managed to force a controlled landing in an area controlled by the Australian Imperial Force.  When the Australian forces arrived at the scene von Richthofen was still alive and it was reported that his last word was “kaputt” (finished).

The official credit for the death of von Richthofen was given to Canadian RAF pilot Captain Arthur Brown.  Many years later it was found out that the most likely credit should have been given to an anti-aircraft gunner from the 24th Australian Machine Gunner Company, a Sergeant Cedric Popkin.

The closest air squadron in the area took control of von Richthofen’s remains.  This was No. 3 Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps commanded by a Major David Blake.  Blake like most allied fliers had a great deal of respect and admiration for von Richthofen.  He organized a full military funeral complete with a color guard.  All pallbearers were of the rank of captain the equivalent rank of von Richthofen who was still a cavalry rittmeister.  He was buried in the cemetery in the town of Bertangles, France.

In the 1920’s the French government created a new military cemetery at Fricourt and reinterred many bodies of war dead including von Richthofen and several other Germans.

In 1925, the von Richthofen family had his body moved back to Germany.  The family wanted the body to be buried next to his father and brother in the Schweidnitz cemetery but the German government requested that the final resting place be in the Invalidenfriedhof Cemetery in Berlin where many past military heroes and past German leaders were buried.  The family agreed to this.  In 1975 his remains were moved once again to a family plot at the Südfreidhof in Wiesbaden.

There have been a number of theories discussed over the years as to why von Richthofen flew his last mission in the manner that he did.

As an experienced pilot, he was well aware of the dangers of flying too low.  Fire from ground troops was a hazard that could easily have been avoided.  It probably would have been wiser for von Richthofen to break off the attack.  Chasing one measly pilot wasn’t worth the risk.

There have been theories postulated over the years that von Richthofen suffered from cumulative combat stress is simply a more complex term for combat fatigue or shell shock which was the term for it during World War I.  Because of this stress he failed to realize until it was too late that he had put himself in an untenable position.

Another theory is that von Richthofen made some poor judgment decisions in his final mission as a result of his previous injury to his head.  People who suffer from severe head injuries often display poor decision making processes.  This may have been the reason that he flew at a low altitude putting himself in great personal danger.  From all of the first hand accounts it sounds like von Richthofen was suffering with target fixation which means that he had focused so much on his target that he wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings.

I believe that the real reason that he made these poor decisions was due to his head injury.  I don’t think that any modern qualified Flight Surgeon of today would have ever allowed von Richthofen back in an airplane as a pilot.

Having stated all of that and in spite of the poor decisions that he made in his last mission, Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen was the greatest pilot of World War I.  He was honored and respected by both Allied and Central Powers personnel.  It is so unfortunate that his great career and his life had to end so young and abruptly on a European battlefield that has seen too many battles and too many wars.


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 John Mercer Langston was born on December 14, 1829 in Louisa County, Virginia.  He was the son of Ralph Quarles, a white plantation owner and Lucy Jane Langston a freedwoman of mixed African and Native American roots.

Langston was primarily noted for being the first African-American member of Congress.  He was elected in 1888 from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Mercer was also an attorney, educator, abolitionist and political activist.  He was also the great-uncle and namesake of Langston Hughes.

He was also the first Dean of the law school at Howard University and helped to create the Law Department there sand he was also the first president of the present day Virginia State University.

Langston began his career in Ohio where he began his life long work for freedom and equality for African-Americans.  He was one of the first African-Americans ever elected to public office anywhere in the United States when he was elected to a town clerk’s position in Ohio in 1855.

All his life he fought for equality and opportunity for African-Americans in the areas of freedom, suffrage and equal rights.

Langston was born free in 1829 in Louisa County, Virginia.  His mother was freed in 1809 after the birth of her eldest daughter.  Langston’s parents had maintained their relationship for over twenty-five years and his father wanted all of his children born free.

Langston’s parents died when he was four.  He was sent to Chillicothe, Ohio to live with a friend of his father’s, a William Gooch and his family.

While living with the Gooch family, Langston enrolled in the preparatory program at Oberlin College when he was fourteen.

While at Oberlin he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1849 and a master’s degree in theology in 1852.

Langston then applied to various law schools in Ohio and New York but was denied admission because of his race.  He studied law under attorney and Republican Congressman Philemon Bliss and was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1854.

In 1854, Langston married a Caroline Matilda Wall who like Langston had a white father and African-American mother.  She was a freedwoman as well and an Oberlin College graduate.  Together they had five children.

Langston along with his older brothers Gideon and Charles became active in the abolitionist movement.  He and his brothers actively assisted runaway slaves escape to freedom as part of the Underground Railroad.

In 1858 he became president of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society and Langston travelled throughout the state recruiting and organizing local units while his brother Charles remained in Cleveland as executive secretary.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Langston lobbied hard to permit African-Americans to serve in the army.  Finally in 1863 the United States approved the formation of the United States Colored Troops, Langston was appointed to recruit African-Americans to fight for the Union Army.

Langston recruited hundreds of African-American men for the Fifty-Fourth and Fifty-fifth Regiments as well as over 800 African-Americans for a regiment from Ohio.

After the Civil War ended, Langston was appointed inspector-general for the freedman’s Bureau.  This organization assisted newly emancipated slaves adjust to their new freedoms and they also ran schools and a bank to further assist the African-American community.

Langston worked and fought hard for equal rights and suffrage rights for African-Americans.  He believed that because of how valiantly African Americans had fought for their freedom that the right to vote should be theirs as well.  The right to vote was paramount for African-Americans if they were ever going to gain equality in American society.

In 1864, Langston chaired a committee whose responsibility was to report to a black national convention on African-American rights.  Their agenda which was approved by this convention called for the abolition of slavery, the support of racial unity and self help and equality before the law.  To meet these goals, the convention founded The National Equal Rights League and appointed Langston its first president.  He served in that capacity until 1868.  This organization was the precursor to the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The League was organized to have many state and local organizations.  Langston travelled throughout the U.S. organizing and recruiting.  By the end of the war there were chapters in every state in the Union.

In 1868, Langston moved to Washington, D.C. where he established the law department at Howard University and served as its first dean.

In 1872, he became the acting president of the university and a vice-president of the school as well.  Langston advocated establishing strong academic standards and he wanted to see the same type of open environment at Howard that he had enjoyed as a student at Oberlin.  He was passed over for selection as the first President of the Howard University College of Law.  No reason was ever publicly given.

In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Langston to be U.S. Minister to Haiti and he also served as chargé d’affaires to the Dominican Republic.

In 1885, Langston returned to the United States and settled in Virginia.  There he became the first president of the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (Virginia State University) in Petersburg.

In 1888, Langston was urged to run for Congress as a Republican by both white and black Republicans.  He ran in the election but was defeated by his Democratic opponent.  Langston contested the elections due to the fact there were many accusations of fraud and many reports of voter intimidation.  

After eighteen months Langston was declared the winner of the election and took his seat in the U.S. Congress for the remaining six months of his term.  He lost re-election in 1890 but he was the first African-American to be elected to the Congress and in the Commonwealth of Virginia it would be over fifty years before another African-American would be elected.

Langston was also named as a member of the board of trustees of St. Paul Normal and Industrial School (St. Paul’s College, Virginia) in its organization papers passed by an act of the Virginia General Assembly in 1890.

Langston died on November 15, 1897 in Washington, D.C.

John Mercer Langston was one of the earliest pioneers for equal rights for African-Americans.  Along with Fredrick Douglass he paved the way for the civil rights movement that occurred as century later.  It’s unfortunate that his accolades are not well known but I believe that without the efforts of people like John Mercer Langston civil rights in the United States would be much further back than they currently are.





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Baltimore Riot of 1861

Baltimore Riot of 1861


On April 19, 1861 in Baltimore, Maryland the Baltimore Riot of 1861 also known at the Pratt Street Riot or the Pratt Street Massacre occurred.  The participants were Confederate sympathizers and members of the Massachusetts Militia who were en route to Washington, D.C. to report for federal service.  This is considered by many historians as the first engagement of the Civil War which resulted in bloodshed.

The Civil War for all practical purposes had begun the week before on April 12th with the Confederate batteries firing on Ft. Sumter.  At this point four southern states had yet to secede.  They were:  Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas.  There were other slave states that did not secede but at the time it wasn’t guaranteed that they would remain in the Union although eventually they would.  They are:  Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky.

Many influential Marylanders were supportive of secession dating back to the days of John C. Calhoun and the Nullification Crisis thirty years prior.

The secession movement was very popular in Maryland and in Baltimore in particular especially after President Lincoln called up for troops from the states for 90 days to repel the insurrection.  In fact, during the Election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln only received 1,100 votes out of over 30,000 votes cast in the city of Baltimore alone.

Needless to say Baltimore was a hotbed o secession activity and the only way to get to Washington, D.C. by train at the time was through Baltimore.

On April 18th, a unit of militiamen from Pennsylvania came through Baltimore and anti-Union forces were surprised and not ready but they vowed to be ready the next time this happened.

The next day, on April 19th, the anti-Union forces would get their chance.  The Union’s Sixth Massachusetts Regiment was attempting to transfer between stations when a mob of secessionists attacked the train cars and blocked the route.

When it became apparent that they could not proceed the soldiers disembarked from the train and proceeded to march through Baltimore on foot.

The mob followed the soldiers.  They threw rocks, bricks and even fired pistols at them.  At this point the soldiers started firing into the crowd and a general melee occurred between the soldiers, the secessionists and even the Baltimore Police who were trying to put a buffer between the two groups.

The soldiers finally made it to Camden Station but they had to leave most of their equipment behind.

Four soldiers were killed in the attack; Corporal Sumner Needham, Privates Luther C. Ladd, Charles Taylor and Addison Whitney.  Twelve civilians were also killed and the total wounded is unknown.

After the riot some small skirmishes occurred through Baltimore and the rest of Maryland for the next month.  Both the Mayor of Baltimore and the Governor of Maryland begged President Lincoln to ovoid sending troops through Baltimore.  Lincoln replied that there was no other way to Washington by rail except through Baltimore so their request was denied.

On April 20th, more Massachusetts troops under the command of General Benjamin Butler arrived in Annapolis via ship.  Butler bullied the Governor to permit them to travel to Washington via the rail line leaving Annapolis.

There was a lot of support from residents for the legislature to declare secession in the wake of the riots.  Since Annapolis was under control of Federal troops, the Governor had the legislature move to Fredrick, Maryland which was in the western part of the state and predominately unionist.

More Union troops began to arrive and on May 13th, Butler sent troops into Baltimore and declared martial law.  He arrested the mayor, the city council and the police commissioner had had them incarcerated at Ft. McHenry because they were pro secession and were either unable or unwilling to maintain order.

The legislative session in Fredrick continued through all of this and several secession votes came up but were voted down because many legislators felt that they didn’t have the authority without approval of the citizens.

There was a plan to reconvene the legislature on September 17th; however on that day Federal troops arrested several pro secession members and the session was canceled due to a lack of a quorum.

As a result of these events, Delaware was occupied in the same manner as Maryland with the same results.  Kentucky declared its neutrality even though later they decided to remain in the Union.  Missouri remained in the Union camp but there were Confederate governments-in-exile established in Arkansas and Texas.

Even though this riot was small in nature to many of the battles of the Civil War, it was nonetheless extremely important.

In order for the Union to survive, its capital could not be surrounded by the Confederacy which was for all intents and purposes a hostile enemy.

There may have been some unconstitutional irregularities but considering the time it was quite necessary.




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 Everybody is familiar with the Longfellow poem of Paul Revere’s famous ride, “Listen my friends and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere….” We’ll it didn’t actually quite happen in the way that Longfellow so eloquently worded it.

After the Boston Tea Party the British authorities closed Boston Harbor and regular Army British soldiers were garrisoned in Boston at the colonist’s expense.  Mind you these were regular soldiers often referred to as the “King’s Soldiers” and the move was very unpopular with the public especially with those colonists that favored independence.

The army was under constant surveillance by patriot groups and there were rumors rampant that the army was planning some sort of action against the patriots up to and including the arrest of John Hancock and Samuel Adams who were at Lexington, Massachusetts at the time.

Prior to the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and William Dawes were instructed by Dr. Joseph Warren to ride to Lexington to warn Hancock and Adams of the impending movement by the British Army.

Revere instructed the sexton of the Old North Church to light one lantern in the steeple if the army was going to move by land or two lanterns if the army was going to go by sea, meaning crossing the Charles River into Charlestown.  This system was devised to alert the citizens of Charleston in the event that Revere and Dawes were captured by the British.

On the night of April 18, 1775, the British Army made its move.  They started their long march to Lexington by crossing the Charles River and entering Charlestown.  From there they would proceed to Lexington.

At 11PM, Revere began his now famous ride by crossing the Charles River to Charlestown to begin his ride to Lexington to warn Hancock and Adams.

William Dawes was sent the long way around by land via the Boston Neck to commence his ride to Lexington.

Revere began his ride towards Lexington warning fellow patriots of the impending arrival of the British Army.  Thereupon other riders commenced traveling throughout Middlesex County warning other patriots of the army’s impending arrival.  By the end of the night there were over forty riders spreading the word.  Contrary to popular myth Revere never uttered the words “the British are coming!”  That would have been a dangerous thing to do since at this point everyone still considered themselves British subjects.  Independence was only advocated by radical rebels at this point, most notably Samuel Adams.  What Revere actually stated was “the Regulars are coming out!”

Revere arrived in Lexington around midnight.  He proceeded to the house where Hancock and Adams were staying.  Dawes arrived about a half hour later. 

After warning them Revere and Dawes decided to head towards Concord where the patriot’s arms were hidden from the British.

On the way to Concord, both Revere and Dawes were stopped by British troops at a roadblock.  Dawes managed to escape but he fell off his horse and was unable to complete his ride. 

Revere was detained and questioned by British officers.  After this transpired he was escorted at gunpoint back to Lexington.

At daybreak just as Revere and the British officers were approaching the Lexington meeting house, shots were heard.  The officers became alarmed and at this point they commandeered Revere’s horse and headed towards the shots which appeared to come from the direction of the meeting house.

Revere who was horseless headed through a cemetery and a series of pastures to the house where Hancock and Adams were staying.  As the Battle of Lexington was being waged, Revere helped Hancock and Adams escape along with their personal belongings including a chest of Hancock’s papers.

There have been a number of myths associated with Paul Revere’s famous ride mostly due to the Longfellow poem which sections of it were memorized by American schoolchildren throughout the years.  The poem alludes to the fact that Revere was the only rider, this is incorrect.  In fact there were several riders dispatched to warn the patriots of the impending arrival of the British Army.

Another myth has to do with the lanterns at the Old North Church.  The poem makes one believe that the signal was intended for Revere when in reality the signal was for the Charlestown residents in the event of the rider’s capture.

Another myth is that Revere’s rode into Concord to warn people just prior to the army’s arrival instead of Lexington where he actually arrived.  In fact, the poem makes his ride last far longer then it actually did.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, was accepted for many years as a historically accurate account of the ride of Paul Revere.  Further investigation into the actual events has proven that the poem was a gross exaggeration of the event.

Having stated all of this was Paul Revere’s ride a success?  It was a success because the first leg of his journey was completed and both he and Dawes were able to get to Lexington in order to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the impending arrival of the British Army.

Furthermore the rides of Revere and Dawes were successful because they were able to warn other patriots and these other groups were able to set up successful guerrilla operations that harassed the British Army when they marched back to Boston after the Battle of Lexington and Concord was completed.  In fact, the patriots were able to repulse the British at Concord largely due to the advance warnings of the midnight riders.

Therefore one could state that the midnight ride of Paul Revere was a huge success because the warnings were carried out in ample time and the British were repulsed at Concord and harassed all the way back to Boston.  Without these midnight riders, Hancock and Adams may have very well had been arrested and the American Revolution would have ended even before it began.






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