Happy Birthday to one of my favorite sources! On this date the Library of Congress was established. Congress allocated $5,000 for the initial purchase of books from London. The Library was charged with providing source material for Congress and for the American people. President John Adams signed off on the creating legislation. His successor, Thomas Jefferson, supported the Library also. Adams and Jefferson, once friends, became estranged after Jefferson defeated Adams for the Presidency.
But they both remained true to the Library of Congress. After the British invaded DC and burned the Library in the War of 1812, Jefferson sold his own vast library to the government to seed the recreation of the Library. In the late 19th century the charge of the Library was expanded to not only books, but photos and items of importance. The LOC now has over 135 million items for the Congress and the public to utilize…all books, pamphlets, maps, prints, photographs, and pieces of music registered for copyright have two copied registered in the library. Today, the Library is utilizing the latest technology to place as many of those items as possible online…so that it will truly be a source for all Americans.
By the way…those fast friends, Adams and Jefferson, who helped create America together in 1776, then became enemies, never speaking to each other in person after that fateful election? They exchanged somewhat conciliatory letters in their old age….but the old rivalry never expired. On July 4, 1826, the Nation’s 50th birthday, Adams died. His last words reportedly were, “Thomas Jefferson lives…”. But it was not so. Jefferson died a few hours before Adams on the same date.
The Texas City Disaster, the worst industrial disaster in US History.
A French ship, the SS Grandcamp, loaded with 2300 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in the port city of Texas City, across from Galveston, in the channel leading to Houston, explodes, devastating the city.
All but one of the town’s fire department were killed, and several other fires were ignited on other ships and in the oil town in the following days. Most of the city was destroyed, and at least 581 people were killed.
This post will be a little longer; I usually cover only one day in history, but April 12 just seemed to find importance over and over in the American Civil War.
Today in History, April 12, 1861:
South Carolina batteries fire on the Union held Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor. This began the American Civil War, although it will depend upon who you ask which side started the conflict. Most historians will say that Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s order for the bombardment began the war. Some in the South still refer to the war as the “War of Northern Aggression”, and consider that the fact the Union refused to leave the fort in what they considered sovereign South Carolina territory as the trigger.
When President Lincoln took office, closed his inaugural address, ” In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail YOU. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.”
“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not BE enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
In 2019 we visited Ft. Sumter, and I was honored to be able to assist in lowering the colors at the end of the day. It was a very moving experience for me.
Today in History, April 12, 1864:
“The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for two hundred yards. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed, but few of the officers escaping. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.”
–Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest describing the attack (massacre) at Ft. Pillow, 40 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee.
Forrest was a very successful Cavalry commander, making raids behind enemy lines that kept the Union army on it’s heels. During one of those raids he decided to attack Fort Pillow, wanting to collect it’s livestock and supplies for his army. There are no indications that he knew more than the fort was protected by a force of about 600, which he felt he could defeat.
Ft. Pillow was defended by an approximately equal amount of white and “colored” Union soldiers. During the attack, they initially refused to surrender, because Confederates had threatened to kill any black Union soldiers, or return them to slavery, rather than take them prisoner. There is no documentation that the acts at Ft. Pillow were policy rather than blood lust…but in the end, at least 80% of the “colored” troops were hunted down, shot, bayoneted, burned alive; murdered by Forrest’s troops.
The rebels did not attempt to maintain the fort, leaving it the same day. This is certainly a sad day in American history. For anyone finding excuses, Forrest was, after the war, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
President Lincoln and his cabinet discussed how to respond…some wanting to treat Confederate prisoners with the same “tolerance”. In the end, the act did not have the effect Forrest desired…”Colored” regiments led the way into Richmond on it’s surrender, and were present at Appomattox.
TODAY IN HISTORY, APRIL 12, 1865:
The Union Army accepts the arms and colors of the Army of Northern Virginia, four years to the day after Confederates fired on Ft. Sumter.
“It was now the morning of the 12th of April. I had been ordered to have my lines formed for the ceremony at sunrise. It was a chill gray morning….We formed to face the last line of battle, and receive the last remnant of the arms and colors of that great army which ours had been created to confront…We were remnants also….
We could not look into those braved, bronzed faces, and those battered flags we had met on so many fields where glorious manhood lent a glory to the earth that bore it, and think of personal hate and mean revenge. Whoever had misled these men, we had not. We had led them back home….
Forgive us, therefore, if from stern and steadfast faces, eyes dimmed with tears gazed at each other across that pile of storied relics so dearly laid down, and brothers’ hands were glad to reach across that rushing tide of memories which divided us, yet made us forever one.” –Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 20th Maine, hero of Little Round Top, at Appomattox.
“To the Allies. To the army of General Patton. This is the Buchenwald concentration camp.
We request help. They want to evacuate us. The SS wants to destroy us.”
The Allies were driving across Europe, and as a result, the German War Machine was in panic. When the Russians overtook concentration camps on their front, the Germans “evacuated” thousands of Jews, Gypsies and prisoners of war to their second largest concentration camp, Buchenwald, Germany.
Buchenwald had housed slave labor, and murdered thousands, since 1937. EIGHT interminable years of forced labor, torture, rape, experiments on human beings.
Now when the Americans approached Buchenwald, the SS planned to “evacuate” the prisoners there, and destroy the camp to destroy the evidence.
The hundreds of thousands of prisoners were…evidence.
The prisoners had managed to construct a makeshift transmitter and sent the above message in several different languages in desperation.
After years of no hope, of unimaginable horrors….they received a reply, “KZ Bu. Hold out. RUSHING TO YOUR AID. Staff of Third Army.” The prisoner who had risked his life to send the plea for assistance…fainted.
Emboldened, several prisoners who were able, charged the machine gun towers surrounding them and took control of the main camp (there were several satellite camps).
On April 11 elements of the US 9th Armored Infantry Battalion, U.S. 6th Armored Division, US Third Army (Patton’s Army) entered Buchenwald and liberated it.
US Army commanders ordered the Mayor and citizens of the nearby towns to provide food for the starving prisoners until US supplies could arrive.
Reportedly Patton ordered that the citizens of nearby towns, who had known of the atrocities but remained silent, to tour the camps that included stack after stack after stack of bone thin bodies. A lesson?
Each generation thinks that they have “progressed” beyond such inhumanity. It is a delusion. As long as man exists, evil will exist. It must be recognized and guarded against.
A Kamikaze in….London. In the 1930’s most nations were attempting to set aircraft range records…for the sake of doing so and for military purposes.
The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun sponsored the flight of the “Kamikaze-Go”, a long range reconnaissance aircraft from Tokyo to London in honor of the coronation of King George VI.
Arriving at it’s destination in a little over 51 hours, the aircraft was greeted in London by cheering crowds. It’s pilot, Masaaki Iinuma, became a Japanese national hero, hailed as the Japanese Lindbergh.
He and his navigator, Kenji Tsukagoshi would both be killed during WWII, the aircraft would crash, be recovered, and placed in a museum which would be destroyed by bombing in WWII. The aircraft type would be used as a long range recon plane during the war. The whole thing began as the Japanese designed aircraft that could reach their far-ranging territories.
NASA announces the identities of “The Mercury Seven”, America’s first astronauts.
Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton, 3 from the USAF, 3 from the USN, and one Marine.
The seven, all test pilots, had been selected from over 500 applicants after arduous testing. The astronauts had to have at least a bachelor’s degree and among other specs, could not be over 5’11” tall so they could fit into the space capsules.
They would take flight in all of the space missions through the space shuttle program. 36 years later, Senator John Glenn would become the oldest astronaut to fly a mission (so far) at age 77.
President Woodrow Wilson asks Congress for a Declaration of War.
“It is a war against all nations. American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways which it has stirred us very deeply to learn of, but the ships and people of other neutral and friendly nations have been sunk and overwhelmed in the waters in the same way. There has been no discrimination. The challenge is to all mankind. Each nation must decide for itself how it will meet it.
The choice we make for ourselves must be made with a moderation of counsel and a temperateness of judgment befitting our character and our motives as a nation.
We must put excited feeling away. Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion.”