We have received several comments on our recent video about the CSS Neuse questioning our statement that the American ironclads had a major impact on naval technology. They point out, and rightly so, that European nations already had ironclads. We have a video addressing them that will be released soon, but we just wanted to answer some of these questions.
Several “floating batteries” were built in the Crimean War, primarily designed to fight forts. In 1859 the French built an “ironclad frigate” called La Gloire. It was 250 feet long, carried 38 cannon, was covered in over 4 inches of iron and could travel 12 knots. To keep up with France, Britain built the HMS Warrior in 1860, the largest ironclad at that point in time. By 1862 Britain and France had 16 ironclads completed or under construction, and Austria, Italy, Russia and Spain were building them as well. It was generally recognized that iron-clad warships would be the future of ironclad warfare.
Although they were not the first of their kind, the Civil War ironclads were very important. They were used for the first time in ship-to-ship combat. It was shown exactly how invulnerable their plates were to shot, and how helpless traditional wooden ships were before them. It caused England and other naval powers to question their supremacy on the seas. America emerged from the war as an important player in maritime affairs.
In the video, we talk about about a monitor that crossed the Atlantic and gave Britain a scare. This ship was the USS Miantonomoh. Launched in 1863 from Brooklyn, she crossed the Atlantic in 11 days in June, 1866. She was a symbol of America, for she carried Gustavus Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, on a mission to the Czar to express sympathy for the recent attempt on his life. The English papers were very impressed when she stopped there. The Times said, “The wolf is in our fold; the whole flock at its mercy.”1 Before this point the British had seen the American ironclads as coastal vessels that did not pose a real threat to them. After all, didn’t the Monitor itself sink in a storm, even while being towed? The voyage of the Miantonomoh, although it was towed across the ocean, dealt a blow to that view. As the Times said, “The Monitors have won. It is plain that they do not longer need advocacy.”2 Another paper wrote, “Now the Miantonomah [sic] has crossed the Atlantic, we shall have to re-construct our Navy after her pattern, to be a match for the Americans.”3 The importance of the American monitors was seen even in the highest reaches of politics, with Palmerston writing, “we must keep Pace with France, America and Russia,” as “the Fleets numerically smaller of the lesser Maritime Powers will tell more effectively than in the olden Time because of their modern Construction.”4
So although the British had ironclads before the Americans, they still took a hard look at the new iron American navy, and the comparisons they drew were not always favorable for them. Historian Kenneth Bourne has written this:
The British were certainly worried for a time about pacing and overtaking the Americans in the production of armored warships and about the relative merits of their armor and armor-piercing guns. In the spring and summer of 1862 Russell, among others, was warning that the United States might very well get the lead in numbers of ironclads within as little as six months… Thus the 1860s found the government comparing their ironclad navy as much with the American as with the French. Their investigations certainly exposed considerable discrepancies in the Americans’ favour. At the very end of 1864 some seventy-one of the Union navy’s 671 vessels building and afloat were ironclads, against a mere thirty in the British steam navy of 417.5
1. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, by James L. Mooney (Government Printing Office) vol. 4, p. 348. 2. Clad in Iron: The American Civil War and the Challenge of British Naval Power by Howard J. Fuller (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008) p. 282
3. Ibid, p. 281
4. Ibid, p. 282-283
5. Britain and the Balance of Power in North America, 1815-1908 by Kenneth Bourne (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967) p. 275
Today is the 281st birthday of George Washington, born February 22nd. His birthday has been celebrated ever since the revolution, and it was made an official federal holiday in 1879. In 1971 it was moved to third Monday in February and turned into a celebration of the presidents as Presidents Day. It officially still is George Washington’s birthday, although strangely enough the dates on which it can fall, February 15 – 21 do not cover either February 11, Washington’s birthday according to the Julian calendar, in use in America at the time, or February 22, the date in the Gregorian calendar.
Washington Resigns His Comission
But more important than the date on which his birthday is celebrated is how we remember him. George Washington truly was, “first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.” He led the Continental army through the War for Independence, led the nation to form the government in the Constitutional Convention, and served as the first president. Although he is by no means a perfect man, his actions fundamentally changed America for the better.
Washington is most commonly remembered with his Farewell Address, when he preformed one of the most important acts of his life by declining to run for a third term as president, thus stopping the presidency from turning into a monarchy with elections being only a formality. The Farewell Address is read every year on this day in the United States Senate, a custom that dates back to the times of the Civil War, when George Washington was the greatest hero in both the North and the South. In his Address he gave warnings to the people of America, and advice how to preserve a free nation. You can read it in full here, one section is below.
It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
Shackleton’s life would change forever in 1900, when he heard of an expedition that was going to Antarctica. Shackleton was very ambitious, and desired to make a name for himself, so he jumped at this chance for distinction. One of Shackleton’s most notable qualities was his charm – he could convince most people to do just about anything, and in this case he put that skill to use. He had heard about the expedition from Cedric Longstaff, and was able to meet his father, a major financier of the expedition, and convince him to recommend that he be be given a place on the trip. Longstaff senior recommended Shackleton to Sir Clement Markham, who was organizing the expedition, and on February 17, 1901, Shackleton was appointed third officer on the Discovery.
Captain Robert Scott
The Discovery was captained by Robert Scott, an ambitious naval officer. This was his first expedition to Antarctica, but he would go on to become a famous explorer, dying on the return journey from the South Pole. Scott would play an important role in Shackleton’s life, but they got off to a bad start as Scott was an officer of the Royal Navy, and did not appreciate civilians being appointed to his ship.
The Discovery set sail on July 31, 1901, arriving in Antarctica and setting up base in McMurdo Sound to stay there for the winter of 1902 (summer in the northern hemisphere.) Through the long months of close confinement, the relationship of Shackleton and Scott worsened. Shackleton, unlike Scott, was a natural leader. He was very popular with the men, and Scott may have seen him as a threat to his authority.
In the long, dark months of waiting for summer, when they could travel, the men had various pursuits. The scientists worked in the laboratories and gave lectures, and the men prepared the stores. There were also amusements to be had. Football was played on the ice, and Shackleton edited a newspaper, the South Polar Times. One thing that was neglected was training for the coming journey. Scott was not good at preparations, and did not have his men gain the experience in skis and sled dogs which they lacked. Shackleton, who was more inclined to fervent bursts of energy rather than the slow, patient, hard work, did not go out on his own to remedy the problem.
It was during the winter that Scott announced his choices for companions on the push for the south pole. He chose Dr. Edward Wilson and Shackleton, although tensions were high between them. The group that set off on November 2, 1902, was largely unprepared. They lacked necessary skills in dogs and skiing that would have made traveling much easier. As one historian has said, “where life might depend on technique, these men were but beginners.”1
Traveling across the Barrier, which was later found to be an ice sheet jutting many miles from land out to sea, they made relatively slow progress. However, on November 11 they passed the previous Furthest South set by Borchgrevink a few years before. For there on they were traveling in unknown land. Their support parties turned back on November 15, and the three men began relaying because they had too much supplies and equipment to haul in one load. The dogs were not much help, for although they could be tremendously useful if treated properly, Scott, Shackleton and Wilson were ignorant in dog driving. The rations for the dogs were also wrong, and so they had to kill them, one by one, as they fell too sick to work.
Shackleton, Scott and Wilson (L to R)
As the men pushed forward across the cold and lonely expanse of ice, it quickly became apparent that the pole was out of reach. They were falling sick from scurvy, a deficiency of Vitamin C. Humans do not produce the vitamin, and have to get it from fresh food. Its onset is slow because we have large reserves in our bodies, and the horrible symptoms quickly fade when fresh food is restored. It was not known at the time what caused the disease. In previous decades it had been known that lemon juice would prevent the disease, which was a standard requirement on British ships, but the knowledge had been lost when the navy switched to lime juice which contained less Vitamin C. The symptoms of scurvy that the explorers suffered were horrible.
Shackleton, Scott and Wilson Sledging
Although he did not like to admit it, it was clear that Shackleton was the worst. He also suffered from a more mysterious disease, a trouble with his heart. Throughout his life he was very mistrustful of doctors, and would not let them examine him. He would eventually die from heart disease, and this problem, combined with the scurvy and cold, left him very sick. As they turned back on December 30th, still on the Barrier, he was still unable to pull the sledge, and at times even had to ride. He was very short of breath, and was constantly coughing. However, with an incredible will power, he continued to press on through his sickness and keep moving, helping to pull the sledge when he could. It was clear that Scott had cut their margins too close. Their food was running so low that if they encountered a bad blizzard they probably would not have made it. Under this pressure, Shackleton and Scott lost their tempers with each other. With his calm, patience and cool head, Wilson took over the real leadership of the expedition, preserving the peace between Shackleton and Scott.
Wilson, Scott and Shackleton finally reached the ship on February 4, 1903. Although they had not been able to reach the pole they had set a new record of Farthest South. The relief ship the Morning had arrived, but with the Discovery still in the ice, Scott decided to stay another year. Shackleton, however, had to go. He and Scott had quarreled, and Shackleton had fallen sick. He was returned home, an invalid, although others who were sick were allowed to stay. Shackleton never quite forgave Scott for this. He was determined to return to Antarctica and succeed where Scott had failed. He was too much of a natural leader for Scott to keep. Scott chose to blame his failures in the southern journey on Shackleton, portraying himself as a rescuer of a sick comrade.
Sir Ernest Shackleton is one of the most famous explorers in history. He is remembered for his expedition in the Endurance from 1914 to 1917, in which his ship sunk in the ice, and he led his men back to safety through many dangers and hardships, including an amazing journey in an open boat through one of the world’s most stormy seas. He is seen as an example of courage, leadership and heroism, and was ranked as the 11th Greatest Briton in a 2002 BBC poll. However, the story of Shackleton goes much beyond his most famous expedition, and there are many other lessons that can be learned from his life.
Shackleton was born in Ireland on February 15, 1874 to a family of English descent. He was the second of ten children, one of whom, his younger brother Frank, we will meet again in this story. The family moved to England when Ernest was 10, and he was educated at Dulwich College. He was a vivacious reader, but was bored by his studies and neglected them. Nonetheless, he ranked fifth in his class of thirty-one.
Dulwich College. Via Wikipedia
He was able to leave school at the age of 16 and go to sea. His father was not wealthy enough to get him a commission in the navy, so he went before the mast, learning sailing and working his way up as he traveled all over the world in the merchant marine. In 1894 he passed his examination to become Second Mate, and four years later he was qualified to command a ship, which he did for several years.
Shackleton’s life would change forever when he joined the Discovery expedition. Learn about that in our next blog post on Shackleton!
It has recently been announced that Pope Benedict will be resigning. Although this is unprecedented in recent years, it is not the first time this has happened. The last time was some 600 years ago with the resignation of Pope Gregory XII, ending what was called the Great Schism or Western Schism in the Catholic church. It began with the search for a successor after the death of Pope Gregory XI in 1377. Rome broke out in riots intended to ensure the appointment of a Roman as Pope, but the cardinals selected Bartolomeo Prignano of Naples, who became known as Pope Urban VI, because they said there were no suitable Roman candidates. But within just a few months many of those same cardinals were dissatisfied with the new Pope. They repaired to Anagni in central Italy, and appointed Robert of Geneva as Pope Clement VII. This second appointment threw the Catholic church into disorder. There had been rival popes popes before, but now the same group of cardinals had appointed two popes! Nations aligned themselves behind different candidates, and the church would remain split for decades. It became an important factor in European diplomacy, with rival nations supporting different popes. Even when the initial claimants died, the crisis did not end. Urban was replaced by Pope Boniface IX in 1389, and Clement in Benedict XIII in 1394. When Boniface died in 1404, the cardinals of the Roman faction promised to not elect a rival pope in Benedict would resign, but when the Avignon papacy refused, they elected Innocent VII, and then Gregory XII.
The schism was finally resolved with the Council of Constance in 1414. Gathered in Constance, Germany, the council was composed of all the great leaders of the Catholic church. It recommended that both Benedict and Gregory resign, along with Pope John XXIII, an antipope, or illegitimate pope. Gregory had empowered his representatives to present his resignation. He did this to reunify the church, and was appointed to the second-highest rank in the Catholic church. Benedict refused to resign, and was excommunicated.
But the Council of Constance did more than just resolve the Great Schism. In the early 15th century the Protestant Reformation was just beginning. The Council condemned the doctrine of John Wycliff and his followers. One of these was John Huss, who was called to appear before the Council. Huss was a Czech reformer, and he knew the danger that awaited him when he set out to appear, he had already been excommunicated. He only came when he received a safe passage from the Emperor. But the promise was broken and Huss was arrested. Refusing to recant, he was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415. His dying words were, “Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on us!”