Archive for March, 2013

Ernest Shackleton – Lost in the Ice

March 29, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in Exploration by

Crew of the Endurance

Crew of the Endurance

Right after returning on the Nimrod, Shackleton had declared that he was finished with exploring, and would settle down at home. But as his finances failed to improve, he determined to head south again. The south pole had already been reached, by both Amundsen and Scott, so Shackleton determined on a crossing of the entire continent. He wrote:

After the conquest of the South Pole by Amundsen who, by a narrow margin of days only, was in advance of the British Expedition under Scott, there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeyings – the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea. After hearing of the Norwegian’s success, I began to make preparations to start the last great journey, so that the first crossing of the last continent should be achieved by a British Expedition.1

He set about his fund raising, and although the public was interested in the expedition, he did not appeal to them for funds, but instead used his charm on his rich friends.

Just as the Endurance was ready to set sail in the summer of 1914, World War I was declared. The expedition which Shackleton had spent so much time and labor preparing for was in jeopardy. Willing to abandon his expedition for his duty to his country, Shackleton offered the Endurance and her crew to the Admiralty if they were needed for the war. Not knowing how large the war would become, First Lord Winston Churchill sent word for the expedition to continue. The Endurance set sail from Plymouth, England on August 8, 1914, Shackleton stayed behind to finish last minute business arrangements, and then took passage on a faster ship to catch up.

The Endurance, after stopping in Argentina for a coat of fresh paint and more supplies, left civilization for the last time on December 5, leaving the small whaling island of South Georgia, that would play an important role in the rest of Shackleton’s story. It was just two days later when ice was sighted, much further north than Shackleton had hoped. The ship maneuvered through the floes for many days, stopping and starting again whenever passages would open up. Eventually she made it deep into Weddell Sea, and although they came within reach of a landing place, Shackleton decided to push on forward hoping to make it a bit further south before landing. But on January 19 they became trapped in pack ice, within sight of the mainland.

The Endurance Trapped in the Ice

The Endurance Trapped in the Ice

On the Ice

They would remain in encircled in the ice all winter, an effort to cut their way out proving futile. Waiting was hard for Shackleton, a man of action, but he kept a bold face as leader of the expedition. The ice gripped the ship tighter and tighter through the southern winter. The ice, pinching the sides of the Endurance, caused the ship to role over on her side. On October 24, 1915, the sternpost was wrenched off, and the ship began to leak badly. Inside the ship, the grinding of the ice and creaking of the boards were terrible. It sounded like “heavy fireworks and the blasting of guns.” On October 27, Shackleton gave the order to abandon ship. The lifeboats and supplies had been removed from the ship. Shackleton knew that there was little hope a rescue. He was not expected to return from his crossing of Antarctica for sometime, and even if it was known they were lost, rescuers would have no idea where to look for him in the vast polar sea. If they were going to survive, it would be through their own hard work.

Shackleton watches the Endurance sink

Shackleton watches the Endurance sink

Shackleton planned to march across the ice as far as he could, and then embark in the lifeboats and set sail for civilization. When they began their trek on October 30, it was found to be much more difficult than they anticipated. The ice was in bad condition, and in three days they had only progressed two miles. Shackleton, realizing his plans were flawed, called a halt at what was called Ocean Camp, deciding to wait there until the ice floated closer to land or sea.

It was in these conditions that Shackleton shone. His expedition preparations were faulty. He had left woefully incomplete the preparations of the Ross Sea Party, who laid the depots on which his crew would have depended on if they had crossed the continent. But here, camped on the ice of the Wendell Sea, in terrible conditions, his leadership shone. Although in a seemingly hopeless situation, he kept up his men’s courage. With just the right mixture of familiarity and aloofness, he won almost all their hearts, while he himself struggled with impatience and a desire to be moving.

On December 23, Shackleton began another march across the ice, but he found conditions to be no better than back in October. After seven days of very hard work, dragging boats and supplies across the ice, they had made only seven and a half miles. Again they halted at Patience Camp, there to remain for the next three months. As they approached open water, Shackleton decided they would head for Elephant Island, a desolate mountain rising out of the southern sea, about 100 miles north of their position.

Arriving at Elephant Island

Arriving at Elephant Island

Elephant Island

Their journey started suddenly, for on April 8, the ice floe on which they were camped began to split. After a sleepless night spent watching the ice and hoping they would not fall into the water, they set out. They had three small life boats, the Stancomb Wills, Dudley Docker and James Caird, the largest and the one commanded directly by Shackleton. The journey through the stormy polar seas was miserable. They had little food, little water, little space, and were lashed by the icy seas. The navigation also was very difficult. It was based off of catching sightings of the sun, and working out their movements through dead reckoning. But Frank Worsley amazingly brought the boats right on course. They were reunited at Elephant Island on April 14 after having been separated the previous night in a storm. They found a landing place on the rocky coast, and the men finally landed on dry land after months on water and ice.

Although they were back on dry land, they were far from safe. Elephant Island was an inhospitable island, away from the usual path of whalers. It wouldn’t be long before Shackleton set out on another perilous boat journey to try to save his men.

The James Caird at Elephant Island

The James Caird at Elephant Island

1South by Ernest Shackleton, p. 1.

Mussolini’s Secret Bunker Discovered

March 25, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in World War II by

A walkthrough of the bunker. For a translation, see The History Blog.

Workers recently discovered an unfinished bunker built by WWII Italian dictator Mussolini. It is inside the Palazzo Venezia, a 15th century palace which Mussolini used as his offices. It is the 12th bunker discovered, and as it is unfinished, it will probably be the last. Workers in the place were cleaning a room to prepare it for public display, when they discovered a wooden trap door in the floor. Going down, they found an amazing nine room compound underneath the building. The rooms had thick concrete walls to protect from dangers of a bombardment. It was never finished, as shown by the unconnected sewage and electric systems, and an incomplete escape route.

It did not take a bombardment to bring down Mussolini. After Axis forces were defeated, he was dismissed from the government and arrested. He was rescued by Hitler’s Germans, and for two years he maintained a puppet government. In 1945, while trying to escape the country in disguise, he was captured by communists. He was shot the next day, on April 27, 1945.

The Great Dayton Flood of 1913

March 25, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in American, American Other by

After the great tornadoes which struck Omaha 100 years ago, the United States was soon struck again with more natural disasters. The storm that caused the great tornadoes in Omaha encountered two other weather fronts, causing record-breaking rainfall. The ground was already soaked with rain from other storms, so when 8-11 inches of rain quickly fell, little of the water soaked into the ground. Instead it ran off into the streams and rivers, and the deluge of water caused them to quickly overflow.

Flooded Mail Street

Flooded Mail Street

Cities were often founded along rivers, as they were avenues for travel and commerce. Dayton, Ohio was no exception. It was built where three tributaries flowed into the Great Miami River. On March 24, 1913, after the heavy rains, the river quickly rose. Early on the morning of March 25 the police were informed that the levees were nearly breaking, and it wasn’t long before the water began rushing over at 100,000 cubic feet per second. The city was built on the river’s floodplain, so the water came through the streets of the downtown business district and quickly rose. Derbies had been allowed to pile up in the water under the city’s bridges. This restricted the flow of water and creating dams which held back the flood waters and diverted them into the town.

Footage of the 1913 flood

The water appeared on Main Street at 9 am, and within an hour it was three feet deep. By 1 pm it was ten feet deep. Half of the city was flooded. Millions of dollars worth of property was destroyed, and thousands of people were marooned in their houses. In many places the water flowed too fast to allow a chance to swim. The boats in the town were all in use, though many had capsized because of the flood. People escaped as best they could, some even walking across the telephone lines. The situation was made even worse by fires caused by open gas lines. They engulfed several blocks, forcing the inhabitants to try to flee across the roofs of the houses.

Nature on the night of Sunday, March 23, 1913 and the week following proved to modern men that they still are pigmies. Thousands of lives were taken and millions of property destroyed in a few short hours and for days homes were beneath the muddy waters from deforested hills. Never before was the United States so smitten by a calamity, nor one so wide spread as that which began on Monday of the fatal week.1

Dayton wasn’t the only city effected by the water. Twenty others were flooded, but it was by far the worst. Many people were stranded and without drinking water for over two days. The governor called up the National Guard, but it took them days to arrive because of the flooding. Instead, locals rose to the occasion when they could. John Patterson owned the National Cash Register Company, which had a large number of employees and even their own water systems. His workers built 500 boats to rescue those stranded, and the company offices were turned into an emergency shelter, providing lodging and medical care and distributing thousands of meals.

Rubble after the Flood

Rubble after the Flood

The water peaked at 20 feet deep in downtown at 1:30 am on March 26. When the flood receded, it left much destruction in its wake. 360 people had died. Business was brought completely to a standstill. There were shortages of food, and 65,000 were displaced, dependent on charity. 20,000 homes were destroyed, some buildings were even moved off their foundations by the force of the current. The damage to property ran to $100 million, or $2 billion in modern dollars. It took a year for the town rebuild, but the economic impacts were felt even longer. A book written not long after said this:

We are very busy now putting our city in good working order and succeeding remarkably well, but when a moment comes for quiet thought we wonder in a dazed sort of way, what protecting Power saved our lives, numbering so many thousand, for a horrible death. And since we knelt at our mother’s knee, until we gave up hope of life on that terrible night, we had perhaps forgotten to pray.

If the mad waters have taught us a becoming humility, and that human intelligence is but microscopic as compared to the All Wise Creator of us all, it may be yet a blessing in disguise.2

Linden Avenue

1. Tragic Story of America’s Greatest Disaster by Marshall Everett (Chicago, Illinois: J. S. Ziegler Company, 1913) p. 25.

2. A Pictorial History of the Great Dayton Flood by Nellis R. Funk (Dayton, Ohio: The Otterbein Press, 1913) p. 5-6.

Omaha Tornado of 1913

March 23, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in American, American Other by

1913 Tornado

1913 Tornado

March 23, Eastern Sunday, 1913, dawned a beautiful day in eastern Nebraska. But towards evening the sky began to darken and threaten rain, but none fell. The day changed unexpectedly as the first tornado touched ground at 5:20 pm near Craig, Nebraska, destroying a dozen houses. Ten minutes later another tornado hit Yutan. As it made its way through the town 20 people were killed and 40 homes destroyed. To the south, another tornado leveled the village of Berlin and another dozen people were killed.

Path of the Tornado through Omaha

Path of the Tornado through Omaha

The worst tornado of the day began a few miles outside Omaha. In Ralston, outside the city, the tornado killed eight people and tore up the business district. Growing in size as it went, it cut a quarter mile wide path as it made its way toward Omaha. People had little warning, and few were able to take shelter before the storm hit. It cut through the city, spreading death and destruction on either side. 100 people were killed and hundreds more were injured. 2,000 buildings were destroyed. The area hit worst was along North 24th and Lake Streets. One building containing a group of African Americans meeting for Easter Sunday was leveled, injuring two dozen. A streetcar was moving down 24th in the path of the tornado, and although it badly twisted, the quick thinking of the operator, Ord Hensley, led to all of the passengers to make their escape. Charles Williams, a passenger, said of the experience:

Looking up the street we saw the cyclone coming. It looked to me like a big, white balloon. Of course everybody was scared and a number of the women passengers screamed.

Wrecked Streetcar

Wrecked Streetcar

Shouting, ‘Everybody keep cool and lie in the center of the car,’ Conductor Hensley set the example and everybody did as he said. In an instant every bit of glass in the car was shattered and boards and other debris were hurled against the car’s side. Many heavy boards came through the windows. One heavy beam came in a window and one side and was left there, sticking through a window on the other side.

In a brief glimpse I had of the approaching tornado, I could see houses tumbling and trees being torn up. After the tornado passed we left the car, being careful to avoid the live wires, which was another suggestion of the conductor’s, and helped in the rescue work.1

Overturned Streetcar

Overturned Streetcar

Today tornadoes are measured on the Fujita scale. It was introduced over half a century later, based on eyewitness accounts many of the tornadoes that hit the Midwest are categorized as F-4. Very rare, they have wind speeds over 200 mph. They cause devastating damage, leveling even well built houses, blowing weaker structures across the ground. With winds this speed cars can be thrown around, and objects can be picked up by the wind large enough to prove serious missiles. These tornadoes were the deadliest in Nebraska’s history, and a very exceptional occurrence as they all struck in the same storm.

Although the death toll was severe, there were also miraculous stories of survival. One five-month old baby was picked up by the wind and blown out the window. Her mother in the house was killed, but she was found alive, a quarter mile away. In the six block wide swath cut by the cyclone, some houses were ripped to bits while the neighbor’s was unscathed.

Even the tornadoes were soon gone, the sufferings of the people of Omaha were just beginning. After the fierce wind storms rain and snow fell, causing great suffering among the many homeless families. Gas lines were broken in the wreckage and fires sprang up, causing even more damage. The city sprang to action to help those who were injured. The police had their hands full trying to prevent looting, and citizens worked through the night to pull the wounded from the wreckage. Militia and soldiers arrived to aid in the rescue and stand guard. Marked was the conduct of the girls working the telephone switchboards. Although covered in blood from injuries, they continued to work, keeping the town’s communication open.

Many were shocked by this great disaster, but the nation would be rocked yet again, just two days later, with the Great Dayton Flood.

Ruins of Omaha

1 Story of the Great Flood and Cyclone Disasters: America’s Greatest Calamity edt. Thomas H. Russell (Robt. O. Law Co., 1913) p. 299.

Union Soldier Recognizes a Picture of His Regiment

March 22, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War by

For the 50th anniversary of the Civil War the 10 volume set Photographic History of the Civil War was published. As Union veteran William Silkworth was looking through the pictures, he was shocked to see an image he recognized. It was the one above, showing Company B of the 170th New York on picket-duty in 1863. He wrote:

In looking the pictures over, you cannot appreciate or understand fully my amazement and joy in discovering that one was my old Company B, 170th Regt. N.Y. Vol. Why, I could scarcely believe my own eyes, so wonderful was it, that after forty-seven years, this picture should come to me. But there they were, some of them looking right at me, who had been dead for forty-six years- and there was no getting away from the picture.

Today I am a boy again, living once more with the boys, the old army life. There were about twenty-five of us, school friends, who enlisted together, at Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

There right in the front of the picture sits my brother playing cards (You will note that he is left-handed. We laid him away in front of Petersburg). With him is John Vandewater, Geo. Thomas and Wash. Keating. There is Charlie Thomas and all the rest as large as life. With the exception of two, I have not seen any of the boys for thirty years.

Some younger eyes then mine, say that they can see a figure in the background with a flag. If so, it must be me for I was Color Sergeant.

170th in Color

Colorization by Joshua Horn. Thanks to Mads Madsen.

These pictures were taken by Matthew Brady, or one of the other photographers working with him. They took several other images of the 170th New York. Three were taken of different ground of men around what looks to be an oven or furnace on a hill overlooking a camp.

170th New York

Two of the pictures show the officers of the 170th. The commander, Lt. Colonel Michael Murphy, was born in Ireland, as were most of the men. He would earn the Medal of Honor, and after the war would turn to politics, serving in the New York Legislature from 1867-1870, and from 1881-1889. He was appointed the first police commissioner of New York City, but within a year he had to resign because of ill health. He died on March 4, 1903.

Officers of the 170th, Murphy 4th from left

Officers of the 170th, Murphy on left

Thanks to the Irish in the American Civil War Blog for originally posting about this story.

Violin of the Titanic’s Bandmaster Found

March 15, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in European, European Other by

Violin from the Titanic. Image from Daily Mail.

Violin from the Titanic. Image from Daily Mail.

The story of the Titanic is well known, how the “unsinkable” ship sank on her maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg. Many acts of heroism were performed that day, as the men gave up their seats for women and children in the boats, but no action is more famous than that of the band. They famously played on as the ship sank, encouraging the passengers and crew reportedly with the song Nearer by God to Thee. When the ship finally sank, not one of the band survived the icy waters. However, a violin was pulled from those icy waters, and it was recently proved to be the violin of the bandmaster, Wallace Henry Hartley.

Wallace Henry Hartley

Wallace Henry Hartley

Hartley was only 33 when he died on the Titanic. He was from England, and had been raised in the church and had followed his father into music. He had served on several ships before being assigned as bandmaster for the eight musicians aboard the Titanic. Hartley was engaged to Maria Robinson, and she had given him the violin. When Hartley and the other musicians could no longer play because of the rising water, he jumped into the water using the violin and it’s leather case as a life jacket. When his body was recovered from the frigid water, his violin was forwarded to his fiancée.

RMS Titanic

RMS Titanic


Scientists examining the violin have recently confirmed after years of study that they believe it to be genuine. You can see more pictures at The Daily Mail.


Momentos with the Violin

Mementos with the Violin

History of the Filibuster

March 11, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in American, Videos, Weekly Video by

Video on the history of the filibuster! Discover the fascinating story of the filibuster, from Cato the Younger to Rand Paul.

On March 6, 2013 Senator Rand Paul began a filibuster of the appointment of John Brennan as head of the CIA. He did this to try to get a clear statement from the White House that they will not use drones to unconstitutionally kill Americans in the United States suspected of terrorism.

Paul continued for 12 hours 52 minutes from help from several other Senators, making headlines across the nation. Soon after Paul finished Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter saying the White House would not use drones to kill Americans not engaged in combat. Senator Paul’s nearly 13 hour speech is impressive, but there have been other occasions when Senators have spoken even longer on the issues they have seen as extremely important.

The term filibuster comes from the Dutch word vrijbuiter, meaning pirate or robber, which word is also the root of freebooter. It was used to refer to William Walker, who led a group of Americans to Nicaragua in 1855 to aid in a revolt to overthrow the government. For a time he was successful and was able to take leadership of the nation, but his regime was ended when he was attacked by surrounding nations. The term in its legislative sense was first used by Congressman Albert Brown of Mississippi in 1853, referring to Abraham Watkins Venable’s speech against “filibustering” intervention in Cuba.

Although the term has only been used since the 19th century, the practice was used only before. In the time of the Romans it was used most famously by Cato the Younger in his opposition to Julius Caesar. The rules in the Roman Senate were that all proceedings had to be ended before nightfall, so Cato simply talked until sunset, and the bill could not pass that day.

Filibusters do take place in the British Parliament, but they are not nearly as long winded. The record longest speech in the House of Commons is six hours, set by Henry Brougham in 1828. However, this was not even a filibuster. Filibusters were used most commonly against the Irish Coercion Acts by those who were trying to get independence for Ireland. They were able to delay the passage of the bills for years. The 21st century record was set in 2005 by Andrew Dismore, who spoke for three hours and 17 minutes.

There are two types of filibusters in the U.S. Senate today. Most common one is called a silent filibuster. At the beginning of the nation both the House and Senate allowed the debate to be ended by a previous question motion, which could be passed by a simple majority. However, it seems as though this was not normally used to stifle debate. In the Senate this rule was dropped in 1806 when Aaron Burr, Vice-President of the United States said it was redundant. This accidentally opened the door for Senators to continue to talk as long as they could to delay the bill from passing. In 1917, Senate Rule 22 was added, allowing debates to be limited when a Cloture Motion is passed with a 3/5 majority. This means that as long as a third of the Senators do not want a bill to come to the floor, they can block it by continuing to speak and refusing to vote or a Colture Motion. Today, it is a silent filibuster because the Senators do not even have to talk at all, because if a third of them threaten a filibuster the Senate moves on to other business knowing they will never be able to finish the debate. This means that now important votes require 3/5 of the votes to pass rather than just a majority because they can not close debate. These filibusters have increased in recent years, and the record number of cloture votes was in 2008. In fact, while Rand Paul was speaking on the Senate floor, Republicans were participating in a silent filibuster of appointment of Caitlin Halligan to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, a filibuster that has been going on and off since 2010. There have been vacancies on the court since 2005.

Rand Paul’s filibuster was of the second kind, called a “talking filibuster.” If a third of Senators will not join in refusing to close debate, one member can continue speaking as long as he can, refusing to yield the floor to allow the bill to proceed. But the rules don’t make it easy for them. They can not take any breaks from speaking, and can not even sit down. They can take questions without yielding the floor, allowing their fellow Senators to give them a break with very long winded questions. However, the Senator conducting the filibuster is still not allowed to leave the room. These rules have led to some very dramatic events through the history of the Senate.

In the 1930s Louisiana Democrat Huey Long filibustered several bills. In arguing against a bill he believed was unfair to the poor he recited recipes for salad dressing and discussed at length the best way to fry oysters. His most famous filibuster was on June 12, 1935, used against a bill that would give jobs under the National Recovery Act to his political opponents. He was able to speak without stop for 15 hours and 30 minutes. Running out of things to say about the bill, he offered to give advice on any subject someone requested. No other Senators would give him anything to talk about, but people in the galleries sent down notes giving him more topics to speak on.

In 1953, Independent Wayne Morse of Oregon set a new record by filibustering for 22 hours and 26 minutes against the Tidelands Oil legislation.

Senator Strom Thurmond broke this record in three years later by filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for 24 hours and 18 minutes, a record which remains unbroken to this day. Thurmond from South Carolina and the bill that he was opposing was designed to prevent discrimination against black voters in the south by prohibiting intimidating anyone on voting issues. The Southern Democrats had agreed not to filibuster the bill, but Thurmond decided to do it on his own. He came prepared, bringing food, water and lozenges with him. He had also spent time in a sauna dehydrating himself so he wouldn’t have to use the bathroom. His 24 hour speech included reading aloud the voting laws of each US state George Washington’s Farewell Address, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Cots were brought in from a hotel so that the other Senators could sleep without leaving the chamber. He was given a break about four hours in by Barry Goldwater. Goldwater asked him how long he could continue without using the restroom, and Thurmond said only about another hour. Goldwater gave him the opportunity to slip out by moving for something to be read to the Congressional Record without Thurmond yielding the floor. Technically by leaving the room he would have lost the floor but the technicality was ignored, as also hen he sat down for a time and left the room to quickly eat a sandwich in the cloakroom. In the middle of his speech he allowed the majority leader, Lyndon B. Johnson, to conduct minor Senate business, including swearing in a new Senator, all while Thurmond still technically held the floor.

Thurmond drew laughs at the end of his speech when he said, “Mr. President, I urge every Member of this body to consider this bill most carefully. I hope the Senate will see fit to kill it. I expect to vote against the bill.” The bill would eventually pass, and Thurmond was just a the beginning of a long career in the Senate. He would serve for 48 years, and when he left the Senate 2003 he was the longest-serving Senator in the body’s history, and the only one to serve pass 100.

The House of Representatives does not have the filibuster. They did until 1842, when debate was limited as the number of members was growing. The minority then switched to the disappearing quorum tactic, where they would refuse to answer the role call, forcing the House to adjourn as they had less than a quorum. The practice was ended on January 29, 1890, by Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed. 163 Democrats had refused to vote on a bill to decide a contested West Virginia election. But in doing the role call Reed directed the Clerk to record all those in the chamber even if they didn’t answer. The House immediately erupted in uproar, the Democrats rushed for the doors to escape the room but found them locked. They all shouted for recognition, calling Reed a Czar and a tyranny. They tried to hide under their desks so they could not be seen, but all to no avail. After several more days of wrangling the bill was passed, and the rules were amended to outlaw the disappearing quorum.

It makes Constitutional sense for the Senate to have the filibuster, but not the House. In original Constitution the Senate represented the states, and the House the people. The Senate was intended to be a more deliberative body, and the members had six year terms rather than two. They also have to be 30, rather than 25 in the House, and have to have been a citizen for longer.

Most famous filibuster didn’t even occur it in the Senate. It was in the in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Junior Senator Jefferson Smith, played by Jimmy Stewart, talks for 24 hours against the corruption in the Senate which was about to get him expelled.

Some see the talking filibuster as a waste, as a useless obstruction of the Senate to prevent it from getting real work done. However, this is far from true. The filibuster is important because it gives the opportunity for one man to make his case heard. The ultimate goal in a filibuster is not to prevent the bill from passing, a dozen hours one way or another normally will not make much of a different. The purpose of a filibuster is for one Senator to bring his argument before his colleagues and the nation by making a dramatic stand and saying that this issue is so important that he is willing to stand on the floor of the Senate for hours to make his argument heard.

John Brown’s Raiders – The Oberlin Cenotaph

March 7, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in Videos, Weekly Video by

Join us in Oberlin Ohio, and see why there is a monument there to John Brown’s Raiders who attacked Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.

This video is part of our DVD series, Causes of the Civil War. Purchase it from our store!

Deo Vindice: Motto of the Confederacy

March 5, 2013 with 3 Comments and Posted in Civil War by

Confederate Great Seal

Confederate Great Seal

Soon after it’s formation, the new Confederate government took upon itself the task of choosing a seal and motto for itself. The seal deserves a post in its own right, but the motto is of special interest. The final motto agreed upon was Deo Vindice, meaning “With God, our Defender” or “Under God as our Vindicator.” However, this was not the first motto proposed. The motto under consideration in the House was Deo Duce Vincemus, meaning “under the leadership of God we will conquer.” But that was changed after a speech given by Thomas Semmes from Louisiana, reporting to the Senate on the actions of his committee. By now it was April 27, 1864, the government having been slow to move in this matter. Semmes said this:

The committee are dissatisfied with the motto on the seal proposed by the House resolution. … The word ‘duce‘ [lead, command] is too pagan in its signification, and is degrading to God, because it reduces him to the leader of an army; for scarcely does the word ‘duce‘ escape the lips before the imagination suggests ‘exercitus,’ an army for a leader to command. It degrades the Christian God to the level of pagan gods, goddesses and heroes, as is manifest from the following quotation; ‘Nil desperandum Tenero duce.’ [Never despair, if Teucer leads]1 This word duce is particularly objectionable because of its connection with the word ‘vincemus‘–(we will conquer). This connection makes God the leader of a physical army, by means of which we will conquer, not must conquer. If God be our leader we must conquer, or he would not be the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, nor the God of the Christian. This very doubt implied in the word ‘vincemus‘ so qualifies the omnipotence of the God who is to be our ‘leader,’ that it imparts a degrading signification to the word ‘duce‘ in its relations to the attributes of the Deity.2


Virginia Capitol, 1865

Virginia Capitol, 1865

The Committee thought that by saying “under the leadership of God we will conquer,” they were insulting God by making him equal to the weak pagan gods, who were not always successful in their wars. They also did not like that the motto implied that they would always be at war:

The word ‘vincemus‘ is equally objectionable because it implies that war is to be our normal state; besides, it is in the future tense –‘ we will conquer.’ The future is always uncertain, and, therefore, it implies doubt. What becomes of our motto when we shall have conquered? The future becomes an accomplished fact, and our motto thus loses its significance. …

Having discarded the word ‘duce,’ the committee endeavored to select in lieu of it a word more in consonance with the attributes of the Deity, and therefore more imposing and significant. They think success has crowned their efforts in the selection of the word ‘vindex,’ which signifies an assenter, a defender, protector, deliverer, liberator, a mediator and a ruler or guardian. ‘Vindex’ also means an avenger or punisher.

No word appeared more grand, more expressive or significant than this. Under God as the asserter of our rights, the defender of our liberties, our protector against danger, our mediator, our ruler and guardian… What word can be suggested of more power, and so replete with sentiments and thoughts consonant with our idea of the omnipotence and justice of God?3

In this short speech we can see how the Confederate were being very careful to explicitly acknowledge God in a meaningful way. In this they were setting themselves apart from the original War for Independence, where “Nature’s God” is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, but no reference to the deity appears in the Constitution other than “In the Year of Our Lord.” When the Confederates wrote their Constitution they added a reference to God in the preamble, and their chosen motto was equally Christian in intent.


1. From Horace’s Odes, Book I, Ode VII.

2. The Louisiana Book: Selections from the Literature of the State by Thomas M’Caleb (New Orleans: B. F. Straugham, 1894) p. 161.

3. Ibid, p. 162.

Ernest Shackleton – Nimrod Expedition

March 2, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in Exploration by


On his return to England, Shackleton was in high demand and the first of the explorers to come home. He assisted the Admiralty in the preparations of a relief ship for Scott, and was offered the command. Surprisingly, he turned down the offer. Although the chance to return to Scott as his rescuer, instead of an invalid must have been tempting, he had other things on his mind.

On April 9, 1904 he married Emily Dorman, who he had known for years. They would have three children. Ernest Shackleton would prove to be a bad husband. His lack of patience, a character fault throughout his life, would demonstrate itself here. He had many affairs, and preferred to travel the world rather than stay at home to be a husband and father.

Emily Dorman

Emily Dorman

Shackleton failed to gain lasting fame from the Discovery expedition, so he turned to other ways of gaining fame and fortune. He was impetuous and lacked patience. He wanted to get rich quick, without having to devote himself to a profession. He was, however, very persuasive and charismatic and could often pull people into his schemes. He was very similar to his brother Frank Shackleton. Frank, like Ernest, was very persuasive, and had a drive to rise in society. He was a homosexual, and strove to live by his wits in high society. But, like his brother, he was bad with money. He tried many schemes, which all proved to be failures. On July 6, 1907 it was found that the Irish Crown Jewels were missing. Frank Shackleton was a prime suspect. Although enough evidence was never found to convict Frank, he later went bankrupt, was charged with several crimes, and died in poverty under an assumed name. Ernest was a similar man in many ways, and he may have turned out the same if he had not devoted himself to Antarctica.

Ernest Shackleton went through many jobs in a short time, working at a newspaper, being elected the Secretary to the Royal Geographic Society, and forming a company to transport troops to Russia. He was found to be a good public speaker, and ran for Parliament in the election of 1906, only to be defeated with the rest of his party. Unsuccessful in his business dealings and with his finances in disarray, Shackleton decided to go back to Antarctica. As one of his friends at the Geographic Society said, “He cannot settle to sedentary work but is splendid at bustling around!”1

The Nimrod

Nimrod Expedition

Shackleton worked hard to raise money from his wealthy friends and was eventually successful – but just barely. He set off in the small ship, the Nimrod, leaving New Zealand on January 1, 1908. Shackleton’s original plan had been to use the old Discovery quarters in McMurdo Sound, but had been persuaded to promise to find another, as Scott was thinking of making another expedition and claimed a right to his old quarters. However, when Shackleton reached the inlet in the great Barrier where he planned to make his camp, he found that that section of the ice had collapsed, and had been replaced by a huge bay. He decided it was too dangerous to camp on the ice, and with the season drawing to a close and the looming prospect of being frozen in, he decided to break his promise and camp near the Discovery quarters.

After landing supplies, a party of men, not including Shackleton, made the first ascent of the nearby volcano Mount Erebus. Throughout the long, discouraging winter, Shackleton was successful in maintaining his men’s high spirits. He was what Scott was not, a natural leader. Most of the men loved him and would follow him to the end of the world.

Winter Quarters

Winter Quarters

Great Southern Journey

On October 19, 1908 Shackleton set off on the Great Southern Journey toward the South Pole, accompanied by Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams. Although he had fixed some of the mistakes that Scott had made, such keeping the men at the hut supplied with fresh meat to prevent scurvy, he still repeated some of the same mistakes. He brought ponies instead of dogs, because of the experience of the Discovery expedition. If he had talked to other explorers, like the Norwegians, he could have learned how well dogs could perform under the right drivers.

Beardmore Glacier, Discovered by Shackleton

Beardmore Glacier, Discovered by Shackleton

The four men encountered great hardships on their journey. The ponies were a failure. They were not suited as dogs were to the cold temperatures and icy surface. However, on November 26 the men passed Scott’s Furthest South, having covered the same distance in a much shorter time. The Barrier surface became more broken, and they encountered a range of high mountains rising out of the ice. They discovered and named Beardmore Glacier, and with a difficult climb, made it up the glacier onto the Polar Plateau. There were tensions between the explorers, with Frank Wild thinking that Marshall and Adams did no work at all, but Shackleton was at his best in a crisis. He remained calm, patient and cheerful. They came very close, within 97 miles of the Pole. But Shackleton knew he had to turn back. The way had been cleared for the next explorer. Doubtless Shackleton could have made it, but they would have died on the return journey, as Scott did on his next expedition. It took more courage of Shackleton to turn back nearly within sight of the pole, what had been his goal for so long. But as Shackleton told his wife, “a live donkey is better than a dead lion.”2

Adams, Wild and Marshall at their southmost position. Taken by Shackleton

Adams, Wild and Marshall at their southmost position. Taken by Shackleton

Although they had turned back in time, the return journey was still very difficult. The ponies long dead, they were man-hauling the sleds on half rations. They barely made the supply depots without starving. Shackleton was very sick, but as Adams said, “the worse he felt, the harder he pulled.”3 On January 31, Shackleton gave his morning biscuit to Wild, a gesture which meant much while nearly starving in such conditions. Wild wrote, “BY GOD I shall never forget. Thousands of pounds would not have bought that one biscuit.” Arriving back on the Barrier they made good time, helped along by a sail attached to the sled. However, 38 miles from their camp, they encountered a blizzard which confined them to the tent. Shackleton knew he had to hurry, because the ship was set to leave Antarctica on March 1, so setting off with only Wild, they marched as fast as they could. Desperate to attract the attention of the ship before it left, they even set fire to a wooden hut to make sure they reached the ship in time. When they finally arrived and set eyes on the Nimrod, Wild recorded “no happier sight ever met the eyes of man.” Soon Marshall and Adams were rescued, and the expedition set off north on their return journey to England.

On the Return Journey

On the Return Journey

Although he had not been successful in reaching the pole, Shackleton was heralded as a hero on his arrival to England. Roald Amundsen, a great explorer himself, said, “Sir Ernest Shackleton’s name will always be written in the annals of Antarctic exploration in letters of fire.” He was knighted by the king, and given a medal by the Royal Geographic Society. He was a celebrity in high demand, and had a constant round of dinners, speaking engagements and parties to attend. He did not, however, receive large financial benefits. His finances were in disarray, as usual, and he still owed much money for the Nimrod expedition. He was saved for the time by a 20,000 pound grant from the government, but still neglected to pay the salaries of many of the crew. He again tried many schemes to gain quick riches, but they all failed, and he went on rounds of lecture tours to pay his family’s expenses.

South Pole Party (L to R) Wild, Shackleton, Marshall and Adams

South Pole Party (L to R) Wild, Shackleton, Marshall and Adams

1. Shackleton by Roland Huntford, p. 138.
2. Ibid, p. 300.
3. Shackleton’s Forgotten Expedition: The Voyage of the Nimrod, by Beau Riffenburgh, p. 252.

Historic Picture – Charleston’s Exchange and Provost

March 1, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War by



One great way to study the Civil War is through photographs. It brings written descriptions to life, helps us put faces to the names we hear and allows us to study details no one thought to record. This image is of the Exchange and Provost building in Charleston, South Carolina. It was built before the War for Independence, and over the years was used as a custom house, prison, barracks, and exchange market. By the time of the Civil War it was a post office, and it was damaged by artillery fire during the siege of the city. You can read more about this building at the NPS website. It stands to this day, and we filmed there for our video series on the Causes of the Civil War. The photographer was the famous Matthew Brady, or someone working for him, and it was taken in 1865 after the Union army finally captured Charleston.

The image is from the Library of Congress. There are two more images there of the same scene, available here and here. They were taken right after each other, and are the same except for the movements of the people in the street.

A similar view today. Via Google Maps.

A similar view today. Via Google Maps.