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Archive for November, 2010

The Medal of Honor


A letter from William Carney acknowledging receipt of his Medal of Honor (Records of the Adjutant General's Office, RG 94; ARC 594895)

According to Army Regulation 670-1, a soldier can now receive 31 military decorations “as a distinctively designed mark of honor denoting heroism, or meritorious or outstanding service or achievement.” During the Civil War, there was only one: the Medal of Honor.

The U.S. Army does not have a longstanding history of handing out awards. During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington handed out exactly three awards to recognize “any singularly meritorious action.”

Certificates were handed out for soldiers who distinguished themselves during the Mexican-American War, but that was discontinued when the conflict ended. At the start of the Civil War, there was no way to recognize the merit of the nation’s soldiers.

Gen. Winfield Scott approved of this. He believed medals smacked of European affectation.

By the summer of 1861, however, Congress had approved a medal of valor for the Navy, and within a year the Army had followed suit with a medal of honor “to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldierlike qualities, during the present insurrection.” By 1863, Congress had modified the law to include officers and expanded its tenure beyond the Civil War.

In 1862, Secretary of War Edwin … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: “Howe” do they do it?

We may be a litttle short-staffed on this quasi-holiday, but I couldn’t let Facial Hair Friday go by without a nod to some historic beards. Today’s honoree is Gen. Albion P. Howe, veteran of the Mexican War and the Civil War.

Gen. Albion P. Howe (111-B-4713; ARC 528831

Gen. Albion P. Howe (111-B-4713; ARC 528831)

When a captain in the U.S. Army,  Howe served under Col. Robert E. Lee at Harper’s Ferry in the action against John Brown. During the Civil War, he served in the Army of the  Potomac and led his division in the Battle of Fredericksburg. After the war he was a member of the honor guard that watched over Abraham Lincoln’s body and was appointed to the military commission that tried the Lincoln conspirators.







Elias Howe, Jr. (208-PU-86a-2)

Elias Howe, Jr. (208-PU-86A-2)

I came upon the general serendipitously. I was actually looking for information about sewing machine inventor Elias Howe, Jr.,  when I chanced upon the general’s flowing mustachios. Further research into Howe brought me back to Facial Hair Friday for June 25, 2010, when Hilary presented Col. Marshall Howe’s amazing neck beard.

What is it about Howes and facial hair? One even sees a progression of hair upward, moving from Marshall’s neck to Elias’s lower chin to Albion’s extravagent mustache and full beard. Keep your eyes peeled. If you come across any more Howes with noteworthy facial hair, let us … [ Read all ]

Thanksgiving: Another FDR Experiment

Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt host Thanksgiving dinner at Warm Springs, GA, November 23, 1939. (Roosevelt Library)

Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt host Thanksgiving dinner at Warm Springs, GA, November 23, 1939. (Roosevelt Library)

Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving, as usual, on the fourth Thursday of November. Today shoppers are hitting the stores for “Black Friday” super discounts to kick off holiday shopping.

But until 1939, Thanksgiving Day was traditionally the last Thursday in November. That year there were five Thursdays in the month, and concern about a shortened shopping season prompted President Franklin Roosevelt to break tradition and move the holiday a week back.  His action pleased retailers but rattled calendar makers. Read all about it in:

Prologue Magazine – “Thanksgiving: Another FDR Experiment”

[ Read all ]

Thanksgiving, as American as apple pie

Here, in short, are the documents that made Thanksgiving.

George Washington's proclamation to give thanks for the Constitution and the country (ARC Identifier 299956)

George Washington's proclamation to give thanks for the Constitution and the country (ARC Identifier 299956)

On October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789, as an official holiday of “sincere and humble thanks.” The nation then celebrated its first Thanksgiving under its new Constitution.


Page one of Lincoln's Thanksgiving Procalamation which set the holiday as the fourth Thursday in November (ARC 299960)

On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln made the traditional Thanksgiving celebration a nationwide holiday to be commemorated each year on the fourth Thursday of November. In the midst of a bloody Civil War, President Lincoln issued a Presidential Proclamation in which he enumerated the blessings of the American people and called upon his countrymen to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”

The House Joint Resolution Making the Last Thursday in November a Legal Holiday, Pearl Harbor had occured just over two weeks earlier (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives)

The House Joint Resolution Making the Last Thursday in November a Legal Holiday. FDR would sign this into law on December 26, just two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives)

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday of November to lengthen the Christmas shopping season and boost the economy which was still recovering from the Depression. This move, which set off a … [ Read all ]

Why does the President pardon a turkey?

George HW Bush enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with troops (ARC 186423)

George H.W. Bush enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with troops in 1990. (Bush Library, ARC 186423)

As I write this, two turkeys are living it up at the “W” hotel across the street from the White House. The turkeys will be dining at the exclusive POV restaurant (as guests, not as dinner) when they aren’t roaming about their suite, and the truth is, no one is quite sure what they’re doing there.

Yes, it’s expected that Barack Obama will use his Constitutionally endowed Presidential pardon to spare the poultry from the chopping block, but no one is quite sure where this turkey tradition began.

Many believe that it was President Truman who first pardoned a turkey in 1947. That was the first year the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board began presenting the White House with a turkey, but all signs indicate that the gobbler was gobbled. In fact, for most of the 20th century, only a few Presidents showed compassion to their feathered friends.

One reporter noted that President Lincoln pardoned a turkey at his son Tad’s request in 1864, and there was an isolated moment in 1963, when President Kennedy allegedly gave the White House turkey an informal reprieve before his death, but these are the only two instances of a President showing pity on their poultry until 1989. It was … [ Read all ]