Jean Baptiste Charbonneau – Our Decisions Affect Our Children…

Today in History, December 23, 1829:

Prince Paul Wilhelm of Wurttemberg leaves St. Louis and heads up the Missouri River. This was actually the second exploration of the American wilderness by the scientifically inclined German prince.

But a side note is what I find fascinating… Several years earlier, in 1822, the Prince had undertaken his first expedition into the west. To do so he needed the permission of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in St. Louis, William Clark of “Lewis and Clark” fame, who had originally explored the West.

Clark had a foster son, the son of an Indian girl who had greatly assisted the Lewis and Clark Expedition: Sacagawea. Her son, Clark’s foster son, was Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.

Clark was so impressed with the Prince that when the Prince completed his first expedition in 1822, he allowed Jean (age 16) to accompany the Prince to Europe.

The young Jean was the Prince’s constant companion as they toured Europe and North Africa. Jean learned French, German and Spanish and became quite cosmopolitan. The trip back to the wild of America in 1829 was taken in order to bring Jean back to his home with Clark.

An interesting story, and what I take from it is the impact of decisions we make on our fate and the fate of those around us. Sacagawea could have led out her life quietly; but she made a decision that led her son on an odyssey she likely could never have imagined.

Raison D’être – Sam Finishes His Book

Today in History, July 16, 1885: Sam finishes his book.

Sam had led a bit of a rough life. He saw great success, no doubt, but he was also an alcoholic. His father struggled with the demon for a time, and his grandfather had succumbed to it. In those days they didn’t realize it was often a family trait or a disease…it was simply a weakness. Sam had fought the demon his entire adult life. He was brilliant at is chosen profession. He quit it for a time because of his drinking and tried other jobs…farmer, realtor, shopkeeper…none worked out. As brilliant as he was, he had another weakness; he had a big heart and was much to quick to trust people with his money. So Sam spent most of his life broke.

Even with this, events in his life led him in a round about way to the pinnacle of success. He succeeded where others failed miserably due to his tenacity, his organizational skills and his ability to see the big picture. Yet through it all, no matter how much he achieved, his detractors never forgot, and certainly never let him forget, his demons.

Sam had made his fortune at last…but then, in his older years when there was little to no chance of building success anew, his other failure reared its ugly head again. The people he trusted with his money were scoundrels, and he found himself…and more importantly to him, his family, destitute once again.

Living on borrowed money, things got worse. One day while eating a peach his wife had given him, he felt as if he had been stung by something within it. He had no time for doctors and stubbornly toiled for months until the pain was unbearable to relent to his wife’s demands to see his physician. By then, it was too late. The mouth and throat cancer was advanced, and all that could be done was to provide him with pain killers until the end would come.

Sam’s father had been an inveterate braggart, a schemer and an incessant talker. It embarrassed Sam so that he became the exact opposite. Quiet and humble to a fault, it took everything he had to do what he had refused for years…to blow his own horn and tell his own story. But now it was the only way he could leave his wife and children with a means of support. So he threw himself into the task.

For over a year he wrote. He wore a muffler to cover the baseball sized tumor at his throat. Typical of his demeanor, he never complained of the excruciating pain that wracked him day and night…his family only saw him grimace from the pain when he was asleep and unable to hide it.

Sam worked with a purpose…he amazed his publisher by finishing 10,000 words in a day, written out. Mark couldn’t believe it…Mark was one of the most prolific story-telling authors of his time, and could never match Sam, who disliked the task of telling his own story. But now he had to…for his family…for his legacy because his old detractors were only too happy to repeat their own refrain, “See, we told you so.”

Fighting past the pain and past the fog of his medications, he toiled even when he could no longer write, and tortured himself to dictate his story to others.

Finally on July 16, 1885, Sam completed his autobiography. Mark had promised to publish it for a handsome price which would see to it that Sam’s family did not want for anything. It was suspected that Mark had ghostwritten the work…which he adamantly and angrily denied. His friend Sam had written the work…brilliant and surprising as usual.

Having won his last battle, he could let go now. Seven days later on July 23, 1885, Hiram Ulysses Grant, “U.S. Grant” due to an Army administrator’s error in his youth, Sam to his friends, a drunk to his detractors, an amazing horseman and hero of the Mexican-American War, General of the Army and President of the United States, passed from this earth.

Mark Twain saw that “The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant” was published and the family was treated fairly and well. Sam had found someone trustworthy this time. I’ve read General Grant’s memoirs, and they would be impressive if written by someone in perfect health. They are nothing less that heroic considering the suffering he endured during his final work.

Carpathia – History Connections

Today in History, July 17, 1918:

Crossing paths in history.

As most know, on April 12, 1912, RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank within 4 hours.

The nearest ship to receive her distress signal was the RMS Carpathia, which sped at full speed for two hours to the disaster scene. Upon her arrival, she rescued 705 survivors from the freezing waters of the North Atlantic.

The Carpathia’s crew became heroes, being awarded medals. Her Captain, Arthur Henry Rostron, was knighted and was a guest of President William Taft in the White House.

During WWI the Carpathia served as a troop ship, transporting thousands of American soldiers across the Atlantic to the war in Europe.

One of those doughboys was Frank Buckles, who would become the last surviving American Soldier from WWI before his death in 2011.

He was a prisoner of war in the Philippines during WWII (as a civilian) and a strong advocate for a WWI Memorial, which…led him to be a guest of President George W. Bush in the White House.

On this date in 1918 the Carpathia was sunk by German U-Boat U-55. All but 5 of her crew managed to escape to lifeboats.

They were in turn saved by the Sloop HMS Snowdrop, which arrived and drove off the German sub before it could machine gun the crew in their boats.

Everything is connected in history…you just have to find it. We usually know only a snippet of people’s lives. But they normally touch so much more.

Also on this date, in 1763, John Jacob Astor was born in Germany. He would immigrate to America and become America’s first millionaire. His grandson, John Jacob Astor IV, the world’s richest man, would die during the Titanic disaster.

Gen. Carl Spaatz dies

Today in History, July 14, 1974:

General Carl Spaatz dies.

Spaatz was a fighter pilot in his youth during WW1.

He remained in the Army Air Corps, and when WW2 began went to England.

As German bombs fell and everyone else ran for the shelters, Spaatz sat on rooftops to gain knowledge of German tactics.

When America entered the war, he became the commander of the Eighth Air Force as it began daylight bombing raids over Germany.

After the war, the Army Air Corps was separated from the US Army and became its own military branch, the US Air Force. Spaatz was it’s first Chief of Staff.

A Day for Historic Battles

Today in History, July 1:

A day for historic battles.

1863 – The Union and the Confederates first clash at The Battle of Gettysburg, and both send reinforcements. The first day went badly for the Union, but the largest battle in North America had three more days to go, and would become a major turning point in the Civil War.

1898 – The Battle of San Juan Hill becomes a major victory for the US in the Spanish-American War as the US Army’s Fifth Corps takes the heights over Santiago de Cuba. It also set the stage for Colonel Theodore Roosevelt to become President as he became famous for leading his Rough Riders up Kettle Hill (not San Juan).

1916 – The Battle of the Somme in France; after a week’s bombardment with over 250,000 shells, the British launch an attack into no-man’s land. The Germans had retained many machine guns despite the bombardment, and the British soldiers were slaughtered. With 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded in one day, it was one of the worst defeats for the British military’s history.

1942 – The Battle of El Alamein; In North Africa Erwin Rommel’s army had routed the British and their allies, driving them back so quickly that they had to leave much of their equipment behind. But on today’s date the British Army, resupplied by Americans and reorganized, turned the tide back on Rommel at El Alamein.

AMC – American Motor Company is Born

Today in History, January 14, 1954:

The Hudson Motor Company and the Nash-Kelvinator Motor Company form the largest merger in American history (at that point) to form the American Motor Company (AMC).

Under the control of George Romney (Mitt’s father and future Michigan Governor) and others, AMC would fight it’s way to #3 after GM and Ford.

Many impressive automobiles would be produced by the company…and some not so much.

Francis Salvadore – Jewish-American Pioneer

Today in History, January 11, 1775:

Francis Salvador becomes the first American of Jewish descent to hold public office in America, being named to the South Carolina Provincial Congress.

Salvador had immigrated from London and almost immediately took up his adopted nation’s cause for independence.

It was against the law for Jews to hold public office in the colonies, but his neighbors didn’t care and elected him anyway.

In the months to come the English used Indian and Loyalist allies to create havoc in the back country. On July 1st Salvador rode 28 miles to warn others of impending attacks.

One month later he was leading a militia group when it was ambushed.

He was shot during the attack and scalped by the Indians, making him also the first Jewish-American killed during the War for Independence.

Thomas Paine learns to stay out of domestic disputes

Today in History, December 28, 1793:

Ever been given the sage advice to stay out of other people’s quarrels because the combatants tend to turn on you?

Thomas Paine, much respected author of “Common Sense” which inspired the rebels in the American Revolution, learned this lesson the hard way.

When the American Revolution was over, and the French Revolution was in progress, Paine moved to France for the express purpose of becoming involved in that conflict (bored? Wanted attention?).

He was received as a hero by the French revolutionaries, even being awarded honorary French citizenship.

Paine was devoutly, and vocally, anti-death penalty…which didn’t set well with the French Revolutionaries who were in the middle of sending their former enemies to the guillotine.

He was arrested and, thanks to his honorary citizenship, charged with treason.

He was treated well in captivity, and it was less than a year before diplomatic pressure from America saw his release.

Paine returned home after an American uproar over his imprisonment.

While in prison he wrote another book, “The Age of Reason” in which he denounced organized religion and said man had no influence from God.

The publication of this book took him from war hero to pariah.

“Respectfully, It is my honor to be, your humble and obedient servant…” History & Context

– Opinion –

In times past, this is how people signed their letters to each other. It seems very obsequious, huh? We would certainly find it ridiculous today.

In fact, being a history buff, awhile back I decided to use it as the closing on my emails. That did not last very long. Very few of the recipients got it, and the jokes about my being obedient were plentiful.

The signature was not in any way servile…In it’s time it was similar to “respectfully” or “sincerely.”

As with the correspondence between Union General Sherman, Confederate General Hood and local Southern politicians about Atlanta, the narrative could be quite heated, and still close the same way.

One might call the recipient a low-life SOB, threatening to gut them and hang their entrails from the nearest tree…and still close with “I have the honor to be your obedient servant.”

It is similar to the southern colloquial “Well, bless your heart…” If you are from the south, you know you are not being blessed…quite the opposite.

I had a co-worker who used this with me…unaware I knew what they were saying each time they said it. There were other things I knew that they did not…confidences I could not share. So I put it on context and let it slide.

Here is my point…”your obedient servant” has to be viewed in the context of the times in which it was used…and not judged by modern standards.

The people who lived in centuries past should be judged in context of the times they lived in also. Of course there are events and actions which are timeless…Benedict Arnold would be a traitor today also.

America has its sins, and thankfully we are changing. We cannot blame someone who was born a sod buster in 19th century Louisiana for not being able to fix the world’s evils around them.

A hundred years hence, we too will be judged.

The French Retreat from Moscow

Today in History, October 19, 1812:

Napolean Bonaparte’s French army of 500,000 men had invaded Russia and made their way to Moscow, pushing back a weaker Russian army.

However when they got to Moscow, they found it all but deserted, devoid of food and supplies they desperately needed, and partially afire.

After occupying it for a month, Bonaparte realized the expected surrender was not to be and had to retreat himself as his Grande Armee was starving.

On this date in 1812 the retreat began. The Russian army attacked the retreating French, who were also starving and freezing to death in the Russian winter. By the time they made it back to French soil, approximately 400,000 had perished.

Today in History, October 11, 1809:

We all know of the adventures of Lewis and Clark.

But on this day in 1809, Meriwether Lewis died. The big question is whether it was murder or suicide.

He was, at the time, the Governor of Upper Louisiana, and traveling the Natchez Trace to bring information to Washington, DC about his efforts as Governor and as an explorer.

He was staying at Grinder’s Stand, an inn along the Trace, when the owners and other travelers heard “several” gunshots ring out.

Depending on who you talked to, he suffered through the night, either by gunshots by his own hand or by murderers who stole the money he had with him.

Clark and President Jefferson, who knew him best, were easily convinced that he killed himself.

Others believed he was murdered by one of the many pirates along the trace. I have to wonder about the “several shots” at a time of flintlock pistols. How determined would a suicidal person have to be to shoot himself several times to complete a suicide then, or even now?

The cash he was carrying with him was never found. Those reporting the demise of one of our most significant explorers suddenly came into money.

Presidential Leadership Averts Disaster – 1902 Coal Strike

Today in History, October, 1902:

President Theodore Roosevelt becomes the first president to intervene in a labor dispute.

Anthracite coal miners, organized by the United Mine Workers, were asking for fewer work hours and more pay. The mining companies refused and the miners went on a strike that had lasted for months at this point.

American industry and transportation relied almost exclusively on coal at this time in our nation’s development, as did very many homes for heat.

The dispute had already had a significant effect on the country, and winter was coming on. The potential for countless citizens freezing to death was quite real.

President Roosevelt felt he had to act to prevent a national catastrophe. He invited both parties to the White House to mediate an agreement on behalf of the American people.

The miners agreed to negotiate, the Coal companies were not so inclined.

Roosevelt, never shy to take the bull by the horns, promised to have the military take over the industry if a settlement was not reached.

By October 23rd the miners were back to work, with less hours and more pay. The coal companies did not, however, recognize the UMWA, and the story was far from over.

But a disaster had been avoided and Roosevelt’s re-election was assured.