Revolutionary Irish

Today in History, March 17: 1780 – “The General directs that all fatigue and working parties cease for to-morrow the SEVENTEENTH instant,” read the orders, “a day held in particular regard by the people of [Ireland].”

General George Washington’s Army was bedded down amidst 6 foot snow drifts, suffering through the worst winter on record…even worse than Valley Forge.

Recently the Irish, who were also in rebellion against the Crown, had declared themselves AMERICANS in solidarity with the American colonists that were fighting for their independence.

At least a quarter of Washington’s army was Irish…and a vast majority of his commanders shared that distinction. So GW decided that St. Patrick’s Day…(not Christmas, nor Easter)…would be a day of rest and celebration for his army.


Today in History, March 16: 1916 – German Admiral, and commander of the German Navy Alfred von Tirpitz, submits his resignation to kaiser Wilhelm, who accepts it. Tirpitz had been a trusted advisor to the kaiser, overseeing the build up of the Navy begun in 1897.

Despite his best efforts, the German surface fleet never became a match for the Royal Navy. In 1914 Tirpitz began unrestricted submarine warfare in the war zone…sinking neutral ships as well as combatants. When the Lusitania was sunk, with significant loss of neutral American lives, Wilhelm became nervous that America would enter the war, and Tirpitz, formerly a national hero, fell out of favor. Thus his resignation. The ship pictured was commissioned in 1936 and named after Tirpitz. It would be sunk by RAF bombers in 1944.

The Eisenhower Tunnel

Today in History, March 15: 1968 – Construction begins on the Eisenhower Tunnel west of Denver, Colorado. The highest vehicle tunnel in the world, the tunnel cuts 1.6+ miles at over 11,000 feet, cutting through the Continental Divide and connecting Interstate 70. It takes much longer, and is much more dangerous to cross the Divide by driving over the mountain.

The tunnel was named after President Dwight Eisenhower, who was President in the 50’s when the Interstate road system was begun. As a young Army Major in 1919 Eisenhower had been involved with a transcontinental convoy that traveled from Washington, DC to San Francisco. The convoy averaged 5 mph and faced much difficulty in navigating the country’s poor road system. This experience is why creating a modern, safe road system was one of President Eisenhower’s primary goals.

The Untamed

Today in History, March 14: 1919:

The first “Max Brand” western novel, “The Untamed” is published. Max Brand was a pen name for Frederick Faust, one of 21 that he used.

He never used his actual name, however, being embarrassed by his stories, which he saw as poor quality.

He also wrote medical dramas (Dr. Kildare) and spy thrillers under other names. The history channel reports that Faust / Brand wrote over 500 western serials and novels, making him “perhaps” the most prolific western writer of all time.

I thought perhaps Louis L’Amour would give him a run for his money, but found that L’Amour reached perhaps 135. The books made Faust incredibly rich (bringing him out of poverty); for all of the money he made from westerns, he disliked the west with a passion…most of his books were written from his Italian Villa and he spent most of his life in Europe, although born in Seattle and raised in California.

Uncle Sam Finds His Stride…


Today in History, March 13: 1852:

The first cartoon image of Uncle Sam appears in “The New York Lantern” newspaper, drawn by cartoonist Frank Henry Bellew. Uncle Sam had been used to represent the US Government for years, becoming most popular during the War of 1812, but Bellew’s was the first cartoon to portray him. The cartoon was critical of the US government, expressing that “John Bull” (representing the British government) was helping the US shipping industry while Uncle Sam stood by and did nothing for the industry. The use of Uncle Sam became popular when Samuel Wilson, who provided meat products to the military during the War of 1812. He stamped the products with “US” for United States. However when someone asked a worker what it stood for, the reply was “Uncle Sam” (for Sam Wilson). The moniker stuck.

“You May Cast Off, Buck, When You Are Ready.”

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Today in History, March 11, 1942:

General Douglas MacArthur is evacuated from the Philippines at the order of President Franklin Roosevelt.  At the beginning of WWII the previous December the Japanese had invaded the Philippines; the American and Filipino forces, commanded by MacArthur, had been fighting off persistent advances ever since.  At the outset the American air forces had been almost completely destroyed on the ground, caught by surprise by the initial attacks.  Now they had been backed up to the peninsula of Bataan, and in the middle of the bay, the island of Corregidor.

General MacArthur was already quite famous when the war began; his father Arthur was also a noted American general, Douglas served in WWI and was in command in Washington, DC when protesting WWI veterans were dispersed during the Depression.  He and his father would become the first father and son to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

American morale was already suffering, and the President did not want an additional blow of MacArthur being taken prisoner when the Philippines fell, which was a foregone conclusion at this point.  So he ordered MacArthur to evacuate to Australia, leaving General Jonathan Wainwright in command of the fall.

MacArthur had the choice to leave by submarine, aircraft, or by PT (patrol torpedo) boat.  He knew and trusted the commander of PT squadron 3, Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley, so he chose to leave by boat.

On the evening of March 11, 1942, Lt. Bulkeley’s PT-41 was alongside the north pier at Corregidor with General MacArthur and his family aboard, when the General looked to the Lieutenant and said, “You may cast off, Buck, when you are ready.”  Thus began a 600 mile run to Mindanao through minefields and enemy infested waters which MacArthur would later liken to a ride in a cement mixer.  Almost everyone was seasick.  Bulkeley would meet up with the remainder of his PT squadron, their decks filled with gasoline drums so they could make the trip.  It was a harrowing journey; from Mindanao MacArthur and his staff would continue the journey by air.

The journey, how it came to be, and it’s aftermath are all worth more detail.  But for this post, I can’t help but focus on MacArthur’s words as he set sail from his defeat in Manila Bay…

“You may cast off, Buck, when you are ready.”

General MacArthur was an intelligent, educated man, a West Point graduate and a fast climber through the ranks.  What was in his mind as he escaped one of the worst military defeats in American history that day?  The MacArthur family was also already a significant part of Philippine history.  Nearly forty-four years earlier, in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, Arthur MacArthur had been victorious during the Battle of Manila.  He would then command during the Philippine-American War and become the Military Governor General of the Philippines until he got sideways when the Civilian Governor of the Philippines, William Howard Taft.

At the outset of the Spanish-American War, the Philippines were a Spanish possession.  The war was significant because with it, America would become a player on the world stage, defeating one of the European colonial powers.

With the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, the US Navy would show it’s mettle in easily defeating the Spanish fleet stationed there.  Admiral George Dewey commanded the US Asiatic Fleet from the bridge of his flagship, the USS Olympia.  As they approached the Spanish ships, Dewey spoke a now famous phrase to the commander of the Olympia, Captain Charles Gridley…

“You may fire when ready, Gridley.”

To enter Manila Bay from the South China Sea, Admiral Dewey and his fleet would have sailed past the island which guarded the entrance to the bay, Corregidor.  Hours before his famous victory, Admiral Dewey would have sailed within a few hundred yards of where MacArthur would stand in 1942, having lost all Dewey had gained.  In his mind’s eye, was he watching the Olympia pass by?

“You may cast off, Buck, when you are ready.”

You Can’t Cheat the Undertaker

Today in History, March 10: 1891:

Almon Brown Strowger, a Topeka, Kansas undertaker, felt that he was being cheated. His competitor’s wife happened to be the operator for the town’s telephone exchange; Almon suspected that each time someone rang the operator and asked for “the undertaker”, that she would route the calls to her husband, cheating Almon out of much needed business.

So, with several relatives, he strove to put her out of business by inventing the Strowger stepping switch, which made automated telephone exchanges feasible.

On today’s date he received a patent for his invention, and installed the first Exchange in La Porte, Indiana. In 1896 Strowger sold his patents for a pittance of $1,800 and eventually returned to undertaking. In 1916 his patents would be resold for $2.5 million.