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Archive for 'Myth or History'

Happy July 2, John Adams!

Fireworks seen from the grounds of the White House on July 4, 1969 (ARC 6721930)

There wasn’t supposed to be a Fourth of July celebration in the vision of John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers and our second President.

But in that Philadelphia summer of 1776, having successfully argued for the Second Continental Congress to declare the United States independent of Great Britain, Adams was excited.

The day after the Congress approved the resolution declaring independence on July 2,  Adams penned one of the many letters he wrote home to his wife, Abigail. He wrote, in part:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

Adams got his pomp and parade and his bells and bonfires—and from one end of the continent to the other—but he was off by two days.

The Congress did indeed declare the United States independent on July 2, and Adams … [ Read all ]

A wedding gift for (history) lovers

Today’s post comes from Christopher Abraham at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. He answers a question each week on Facebook. This week’s special, matrimonial edition of Ask an Archivist comes from the Netherlands, and we thought it would be fun to post it in honor of the Eisenhowers’ 97th wedding anniversary.

“My friends Jerom and Natasja are getting married and I would like to give them something special. Since they are both lovers of American history and trivia, I’d love to give them some unexpected knowledge. I am writing a large group of American museums to ask if they could send me an anecdote, a factoid or a bit of trivia that surprises their visitors when they tour the museum; something that makes them laugh, think or realize a connection to American history they hadn’t known before. Would you please send me a contribution as well?” – Lambert Teuweissen

Wedding gifts run the gamut from appliances to zeolites (always appropriate for the love-besotted mineralogist in one’s life), but the gift of historical knowledge? Genius!

We think this is the first time that staff have been asked to contribute to the launch of a happy marriage, but we are confident that we can meet the challenge. This might be the start of a wedding registry service for history lovers if it goes well!

While that remains … [ Read all ]

The true story behind the Gettysburg sharpshooter

Today’s post comes from curator Bruce Bustard. These photographs and documents are on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC, until July 15 in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

"A Sharpshooter's Last Sleep" on the Gettysburg battlefield (165-SB-40; ARC 533314)

On July 5, 1863, photographer Alexander Gardner and his assistant, Timothy O’Sullivan, arrived at the site of the Battle of Gettysburg. The battle had ended two days earlier. On parts of the battlefield, bodies were still unburied.

Over the next three days, Gardner did not hesitate to photograph the carnage. On July 6, when he saw the body of a Confederate soldier in an area called “Devil’s Den,” he photographed it. He and O’Sullivan then saw an opportunity for another, more dramatic photograph. They moved the corpse more than 40 yards to what they believed to have been the sharpshooter’s position, and O’Sullivan made another exposure.

"The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter" (165-SB-41; ARC 533315)

The photographs became two of the most famous of the Civil War, but for over 100 years historians did not question the captions Gardner wrote for them in his Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War. These described a “sharpshooter” who had died a slow death and who had spent his final moments thinking of his family. Gardner also wrote that when he … [ Read all ]

Did Knute Rockne ever box Dwight D. Eisenhower?

Today’s post comes from Christopher Abraham at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. He answers a question each week on Facebook. This week’s Ask an Archivist query comes from Kansas.

“Did Knute Rockne ever box Dwight D. Eisenhower? I heard that this took place in Abilene, Kansas, around 1913.” – Anonymous

We have heard this story before. The legend goes that Rockne, who would later gain fame as a football coach for Notre Dame, traveled the country as an exhibition boxer and took on a young Dwight D. Eisenhower in Abilene. Rockne then attempted to convince him to become a professional boxer.

Unfortunately for presidential and sports historians, this event never took place.

This photograph shows Cadet Eisenhower kicking a football at West Point while NOT being coached by Knute Rockne (Eisenhower Presidential Library).

In a 1947 letter to his former aide Harry Butcher, Eisenhower wrote “There is no truth whatsoever in the story about Knute Rockne trying to interest me in a professional boxer’s career. The people who got that story started took two or three little different incidents, put them all together into a single story, and came up with some weird and wonderful ideas.”

Ann Whitman, the president’s personal secretary, wrote in 1956 that, “the President says there is not a word of truth in this–-and that he never met Knute Rockne until … [ Read all ]

Eisenhower and (Tank) Driver’s Ed

Today’s post comes from Christopher Abraham at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. He answers a question each week on Facebook. This week’s Ask an Archivist query comes from Pennsylvania.

“Did Eisenhower teach Patton how to drive a tank at Camp Colt in Gettysburg?” Anonymous

Captain George S. Patton knew how to drive a tank by the time Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower was in command of Camp Colt. In November 1917, Patton visited a French light tank training session in the forest of Compiegne where he drove a Renault tank and fired its gun. He was so interested in the machine that his instructors had to find a mechanic to answer his questions.

After the closure of Camp Colt in late 1918, Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower (shown here standing in front of the tank) continued serving with the Tank Corps until 1922 when he left Camp Meade, Maryland (where this photograph was taken) to serve as executive officer for the 20th Infantry Brigade in the Panama Canal Zone. (Eisenhower Presidential Library, ARC 876971)

After taking a course at the army’s first tank school at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Eisenhower was ordered in November 1918 to report to Camp Meade, Maryland. There he joined the 65th Engineers and organized what would become the 301st Tank Battalion. In March he was told that the battalion would go to … [ Read all ]