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Tag: strange facts

Edgar Allan Poe’s military career? Nevermore!

cadet-poe2

(Detail from Poe's court-martial record)

(Source: Library of Congress)

(Source: Library of Congress)

“Charge 1 . . . Gross neglect of Duty.”
“Charge 2 . . . Disobedience of Orders.”

On January 28, 1831, a court-martial convened at the U.S. Military Academy found the defendant guilty of these charges and “adjudg[ed] that the Cadet E. A. Poe be dismissed.”

So ended Edgar Allan Poe’s short career at West Point. He had been admitted to the academy on July 1, 1830, and nearly seven months later, he was out.

In those months, he accumulated an impressive record—though not of the sort to which a cadet usually aspired. The Conduct Roll for July–December 1831 lists the number of offenses committed by cadets and their corresponding demerits. Poe’s name appears about midway down the list of top offenders, with 44 offenses and 106 demerits for the term. The roll for January alone shows Poe at the top of the list with 66 offenses for the month. It would appear that Poe was trying very hard to get kicked out of West Point.

As an example of his neglect of duty, the charges listed his absences from mathematics class “on the 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25 and 26 January 1831.” Just two months earlier, a weekly class report had ranked him among the best students in mathematics. The Consolidated Weekly … [ Read all ]

FHF: The Civil War story of Ben Hur

Union General Lewis Wallace and his bodacious goatee (Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 111-B-4095)

Union General Lewis Wallace and his bodacious goatee (Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 111-B-4095)

When you think of Ben Hur, your mind probably goes to Charlton Heston riding a chariot around (and around) an arena in the 1959 classic. But what you should be thinking of is Union General Lewis Wallace’s impressive goatee.

Lew not only fought in the Civil War, but authored the novel that is one of the best selling in American history. His work knocked Uncle Tom’s Cabin from its top spot, and surpassed Gone With the Wind when Charlton Heston brought it to the big screen.

But where did a Civil War general get the idea for a formative novel about ancient Rome and the story of Jesus? We might have Ulysses S. Grant to thank for that.

In the epic, a tile falls off the roof of the main character’s house when the new governor, Gratus, is passing by. The tile startles the governor’s horses and Gratus is nearly trampled. Because of this accident, Ben Hur’s childhood friend and now military officer, Messala, condemns Ben Hur to the galleys while his wife and sister are imprisoned. In short, an innocent accident destroys Ben Hur’s life and he is betrayed by an old friend.

Lew Wallace was a young general at the decisive Battle of Shiloh and … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: Civil War Beards on Film

Civil War veterans at the Blue and Grey Reunion. This is a screen from the "Inside the Vaults" video short.

Civil War veterans at the Blue and Gray Reunion. This is a screen from the "Inside the Vaults" video short.

Yesterday was Veterans Day, and many of my friends on Facebook posted tributes to their family and friends, usually mentioning their grandfathers who fought in World War II.

Now, World War II was over 60 years ago, but I personally know WWII vets—my own grandfather and great-uncle. And my father knew family members who were WWI vets.

It is easy to think of historical events as happening in the long-ago past, in a vacuum where wars have a beginning and end rather than as lives that overlap from one event to another. But things run into each other—Theodore Roosevelt saw Lincoln’s funeral, and Roosevelt’s  son Ted served in World War I and later was on the beach in Normandy in WWII, directing the troops as they came ashore.

But still, I was jolted when I saw the film footage of Civil War veterans. After all—the Civil War ended in 1865, before the invention of cars or telephone or airplanes. But there they were in motion, men who had been on the field at Gettysburg, chatting and talking, their long white beards blowing in the wind.

They were filmed in 1938, 20 years after WWI and just a few years before WWII. They had grown up with horses and trains, and they arrived … [ Read all ]

The peculiar story of Wilmer McLean

At left, Wilmer McLean's house where the Civil War began. At right, Wilmer McLean's house where the Civil War ended (111-B-4756, and 111-B-6333)

At left, Wilmer McLean's house where the Civil War 'began.' At right, Wilmer McLean's house where the Civil War ended. (111-B-4756 and 111-B-6333)

Today Part Two of “Discovering the Civil War” opens at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The exhibit is divided into a few sections, the last of which is entitled “Endings and Beginnings,” a reference to the end of the Civil War and the start of Reconstruction. As to the beginning and the end of the Civil War itself, there is only one man who book-ended it so literally. His name was Wilmer McLean.

On July 18, 1861, Confederate General Beauregard had sat down for supper in the home of a Manassas local when a cannonball pierced through the house and landed in the kitchen fireplace. It was something of a surprise, but not so overwhelming as to ruin Beauregard’s sense of humor “A comical effect of this artillery fight was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fire-place of my headquarters at the McLean House,” he wrote in his diary. Perhaps the shell would have been more of a shock had it not been just one of many volleys in the first major campaign of the Civil War: the Battle of Bull Run.

The house belonged to a man named … [ Read all ]

Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln in the same photo

Lincoln's funeral procession passing the Roosevelt Mansion in New York City (Courtesy New York Public Library)

Lincoln's funeral procession passing the Roosevelt Mansion in New York City (Courtesy New York Public Library)

History is full of strange coincidences, and the Civil War is no exception. In the 1950s, Stefan Lorant was researching a book on Abraham Lincoln when he came across an image of the President’s funeral procession as it moved down Broadway in New York City. The photo was dated April 25, 1865.

At first it appeared like one of any number of photographs of Lincoln’s funeral procession, until he identified the house on the corner as that of Cornelius van Schaack Roosevelt, the grandfather of future President Teddy Roosevelt and his brother Elliot.

The coincidence might have ended there, but Lorant took a closer look. In the second=story window of the Roosevelt mansion he noticed the heads of two boys are peering out onto Lincoln’s funeral procession.

Lorant had the rare chance to ask Teddy Roosevelt’s wife about the image, and when she saw it, she confirmed what he had suspected: the faces in the windows were those of a young future President and his brother. “Yes, I think that is my husband, and next to him his brother,” she exclaimed. “That horrible man! I was a little girl then and my governess took me to Grandfather Roosevelt’s house on Broadway so I could watch the funeral procession. But … [ Read all ]