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Archive for June, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way to the Revolutionary War

"Betsy Ross making the first flag, 1776 [according to legend]" Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer
“Betsy Ross making the first flag, 1776 (according to legend)”


On New Year’s day in 1776, Gen. George Washington and the Continental Army were laying siege to the British-controlled city of Boston. From Prospect Hill, General Washington ordered the Grand Union flag hoisted “in compliment of the United Colonies,” accidentally ending the Revolutionary War.

Or so the British thought.

In Boston, a speech by King George that offered favorable terms of surrender for the colonialists was making the rounds. Loyalists in the besieged city were elated when they saw what looked like the Union Jack flying above General Washington’s encampment at Prospect Hill, taking it as a sign that the Continental forces has accepted the terms and were calling it quits.

Washington remarked on the event in a letter to Joseph Reed on January 4: “By this time, I presume, they begin to think it strange we have not made formal surrender of the lines.”

That the Grand Union flag was so easily mistaken for the British Union Jack made it clear that, certainly, the 13 colonies had a flag problem.

Thankfully, on June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress took up the problem and declared “that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: Battle of the Crater


Oddly enough, Facial Hair Fridays is teaching this former medieval art historian a fair amount about the Civil War. (Teachers, take note!) Many of  the images in ARC are portraits of Civil War soldiers, and I’ve had to go and look up these generals to put them into a context beyond their finely groomed faces.

I wanted to feature Burnside after finding this picture of him. His mustache and sideburns create an amazing lasso of hair around his face.  A quick poke around the Internet suggests that he may have been the inspiration for the phrase “sideburns” but I soon became curious about one of the disastrous battles that he was involved in: the Battle of the Crater.

At the Battle of Crater, Union soldiers decided to dig a tunnel under the Confederates at Elliott’s Salient in Virginia and blow them up.

The idea seems a little less crazy when you consider that among Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside’s IX Corps was the 8th Regiment, the Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry, many of whom were coal miners.

The actual digging of the tunnel and the explosion were successful.The 586-foot-long tunnel was started on June 25 and was completed on July 23.

But the original plan, which was to send in a large number of African American troops, was scrapped the night before. According to, … [ Read all ]

Soccer fans, do you know who this player is?

We’ve all seen the photo of when Nixon met Elvis, but the King wasn’t the only celebrity President Nixon brushed shoulders with. Can you identify the famous soccer player in this picture?  Enter your guess below and then click on the image for the answer!

President Nixon getting an autograph from one of the world's most famous soccer players

President Nixon getting an autograph from one of the world's most famous soccer players

[ Read all ]

Avatar, Clash of the Titans, First Battle of Manassas?

Three Confederate prisoners captured at Gettysburg. (National Archives, LC-CC-2288)

Three Confederate prisoners captured at Gettysburg. (National Archives, LC-CC-2288)

Long before blue Nav’is were defending their home planet Pandora from Colonel Quaritch, another fight was taking place on American soil: the Civil War. Worlds apart they may be, but both conflicts were captured in 3-D.

Join us at the McGowan Theater this Thursday, June 10, at 7 p.m. as we don our (free) 3-D glasses and have a look at the Civil War stereoscopic-style.

John Richter, the historian who has possibly uncovered the only stereoscopic image of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, along with Bob Zeller, the president of the Center for Civil War Photography, will present “Lincoln in 3-D,” a whirlwind tour of the Civil War in the third-dimension, including photos of the Great Emancipator and other famous Civil War photographs.

For more on the Civil War from Pulitzer Prize–winning authors and “Discovering the Civil War” curators, pick up a hard copy or iPad–friendly version of the latest issue of Prologue.
[ Read all ]

The Japanese Invasion of America

While June 6, 1944, is best known as the day when Allied forces invaded Nazi-occupied Europe, there was another invasion that took place on almost the same day, just two years prior: the Japanese invasion of the United States.

On June 7, 1942, Japanese forces moved onto the Alaskan territorial island of Attu—an Aleutian Island closer to Japan than to mainland Alaska, setting the stage for the only land battle in World War II that would take place on U.S. soil.

When the Japanese invaded, there were only two non-native Americans on the island, Charles and Etta Jones, and about 45 Aleuts.

According to one account of the invasion, when the Japanese arrived, they came into the Joneses’ home and poked 62-year-old Etta with a bayonet, asking in English, “How many are here?”

“Two,” Etta replied. “How many have you?”

“Two thousand” was the answer.

By 1943, the island population had swelled to over 2,300, all of whom were Japanese soldiers settling in to defend the island, and on May 11, 1943, the Battle of Attu began.

The barren island was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific campaign.  American forces landed uncontested while the Japanese dug in at higher ground, and when the attack came, it was brutal: there were 549 U.S. deaths, and 2,351 Japanese deaths. Perhaps more … [ Read all ]