Who Do You Trust

Today in History, August 23: 1861 – Widow and Washington, D. C. socialite Rose O’Neal Greenhow is arrested and placed under house arrest in her home by Allan Pinkerton and his agents.  Her story exemplifies the atmosphere at the outbreak of the Civil War. Many of those loyal to the Confederacy went south, but many stayed put. 

Mrs. Greenhow, a fiercely loyal Confederate spy, used her intellect, her many connections and her wiles to provide information to Confederate Gen. PGT Beauregard prior to the Civil War’s first battle (First Battle of Bull Run or First Manassas) which contributed greatly to a Southern win, such as it was. 

 She continued to obtain and sneak out information, but Pinkerton was pretty smart himself and after surveillance and investigating, built his case. Even under house arrest she continued her operations and eventually she and her young daughter “Little Rose” were imprisoned. The conditions were horrible, the child often going hungry. Rose remained arrogant and rebellious throughout and in 1862 was paroled and sent South. 

She would then be sent to Europe in an attempt to gain support for the Confederacy. Sailing for home in 1864, she was almost there when a Union ship appeared. Rather than be taken prisoner again, she attempted to swim to shore, but drowned in the process.

“There is no Second, Your Majesty”

Today in History, August 22: 1851 – Members of the New York Yacht Club had designed and built a radically new yacht and named it “America”. 

 They sailed it across the Atlantic and challenged the old world sailing experts in The Royal Yacht Squadron’s “One Hundred Guinea Cup”. Seeing her speed, nobody would challenge her until the final day in the final 53 mile race around the Isle of Wight. After she sailed across the finish line 18 MINUTES ahead of her nearest competitor.

Queen Victoria, watching, asked, “Who came in second?”, and was answered with, “There is no second, your Majesty.” The British, rewarding the cup to “The America”, changed the name of the race to “The America’s Cup”. 

 The America would be sold to several different private owners in the coming years, would serve as a combatant for the Confederacy in the US Civil War as a blockade runner, be sunk, raised by the Union, once again renamed America, and serve as a blockade ship, sinking blockade runners. 

 The US Navy would use her as a training ship, she would once again see private hands and then be given back to the Navy. 

 Unfortunately she fell into disrepair and the shed she was kept in collapsed on her in the 1940’s. She and the shed were scrapped. What a shame.

A Theft for Honor?

Today in History, August 21: 1911 – On the 22nd, French painter Louis Beroud carries his easel into the Louvre and sets it up in front of The Mona Lisa, preparing to paint her. But when he looks up he sees only a blank wall where she should be. He notifies the museum’s guards, who thought she was being photographed elsewhere. They soon found that not to be true and the investigation began. 

 Several people were questioned, including Pablo Picasso. Many believed Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece was gone forever. 

 Then, two years after the theft, former Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia, attempted to sell the painting to a museum in Florence, Italy and was arrested. He had hidden in the museum during business hours, and then smuggled Mona Lisa out under his coat. 

Peruggia was an Italian nationalist who believed The Mona Lisa should be displayed in Leonardo’s home country. She was displayed around Italy, then returned to the Louvre. Peruggia served less than a year in jail and was released, hailed as a hero by many Italians.

So Much Owed by So Many to So Few

Today in History, August 20: 1940 – “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives the fourth of his famous WWII speeches to Parliament, inspiring his countrymen and women to fight on. The German Luftwaffe had been very effective in smashing the military and war making abilities of the other European nations; now Britain stood alone against the onslaught. Waves of Nazi bombers and fighters brought the Blitzkrieg across the English Channel, bombing civilians and military targets alike. The RAF had few fighters, but they did have drive and radar, which they used to target the enemy bombers without wasting precious flying time. “The Few”, RAF Fighter Command, flew their Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes almost continuously throughout the Battle of Britain, and eventually dashed Hitler’s hopes for an invasion of Britain.

USS Constitution “Old Ironsides” Earns Respect for the Nation


Today in History, August 18: 1812 – During the War of 1812, the USS Constitution defeats the Royal Navy Frigate Guerriere off Boston. It had been assumed that the Royal Navy had better ships, better commanders, better tactics than the young American Navy. On this date, the British sailors said their shot bounced off of the Constitution as if she were made of iron rather than wood, thus her historic name “Old Ironsides”.

The Frigate had originally been one of six ships built for defense and to fight Barbary Pirates.  The peace treaty ending the Barbary wars was signed on her deck.

The American ship out maneuvered and out fought the British ship, de-masting her and leaving her a wreck. This was not to be a one time affair, either, as the Constitution went on to defeat 7 more of the King’s best during the war. From fighting Barbary Pirates to a world good will tour in the 1840’s, Old Ironsides served the nation well. Today she is the world oldest commissioned warship, docked at Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.

She has been in the news lately as she was placed in dry dock and underwent and extensive refurbishment, returning to “sea” just recently.

Untimely Ends


Today in History, August 19: 1895 – An El Paso policeman, John Henry Selman, Sr, ends the notorious career of outlaw John Wesley Hardin in a bar in El Paso.

Hardin had killed many men…one allegedly just for snoring; he had idolized lawman Wild Bill Hickock…who had let him live once in a bad situation.  Hardin claimed to have killed 27 men before being sentenced to 25 years hard labor in 1878.  He would be released in 1894, now an attorney!

Hardin set up shop in El Paso, intending to keep straight, which didn’t last.  He was involved in some shady dealings involving a prostitute legal client, which ended with the death of her husband during the husband’s arrest by Texas Rangers.

John Selman, Senior’s son, John Selman, Jr., also an El Paso Constable, made an unrelated arrest of Hardin’s girlfriend / client,  On today’s date Hardin and Selman, Sr. argued in the street, as Hardin threatened Jr. and Sr.

And that turned out to be a mistake, for Selman, Sr. also had a checkered past.  He had been a Texas militia member during the Civil War, a lawman, outlaw, then lawman again.  He had already shot and killed another lawman…ironically with the last name “Outlaw” and been acquitted of murder charges.

Later the same day of the argument, Hardin was playing dice in the Acme Saloon when Selman, Sr. stepped into the bar and shot Hardin once in the back of the head, the added shots to his midsection to make sure of the result.

Within months of killing Hardin, in April, 1896, Selman got into an argument with US Deputy Marshal George Scarborough, who shot Selman dead with four shots.  Four years later to the day, Scarborough would be shot and killed in a gunfight with robbery suspects.

Hardin’s end was ironic, considering the man he idolized (although certainly did not emulate) died nearly the same way.  August 2, 1876, “Wild Bill” Hickok was shot in the back of the head while playing cards in a Deadwood, South Dakota saloon.

US Exploring Expedition 

Today in History, August 18: 1838 – At Hampton Roads, Virginia, The United States Exploring Expedition, consisting of USS Vincennes, USS Porpoise and others, weighs anchor and begins a four year adventure. The US government had made the decision to fund a scientific venture around the world, but specifically to explore the Pacific. Also known as the “Ex. Ex.” and the Wilkes Expedition after it’s commander, US Navy Lt. Charles Wilkes, the group of sailors, scientists and artists would face terrible weather, murderous natives, intrigue and sometimes poor leadership. 

 Not all of their ships, nor all of their crews would make it home. On the way they discovered parts of Antarctica, previously unknown species and islands. They collected thousands of samples, many of which would be lost. 

 America was placed on the scientific map by the men of the expedition. If you want a good read, it’s “Sea of Glory” by Nathaniel Philbrick, which details their exploits.

Wilkes place in history did not end with the Expedition. He would operate in the Naval Observatory in Washington on the scientific side. Then during the Civil War he would create an international incident when he commanded ships which would stop an English ship and sieze two Confederate emissaries enroute to London. The US would eventually release the Confederates…preventing England’s entrance into the war.