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7 Reasons Ulysses S. Grant Was One of America’s Most Brilliant Military Leaders

May 13, 2020 in History

By Elizabeth D. Samet

What he lacked in knowledge of military art and science, he made up for with tenacity and grit.

In March 1864, Ulysses S. Grant went to Washington, D.C., to receive his commission from Abraham Lincoln as lieutenant general in command of all the Union armies. After several years of frustration with a parade of unsuitable commanders, the president had finally found the man who would defeat Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and thus effectively end the Civil War. The choice was surprising to many who had known Grant in former days. Ten years before, in April 1854, Captain Grant had submitted his resignation under a cloud.

In one of history’s unexpected developments, the military profession Grant “had always disliked,” in the words of his biographer Bruce Catton, ultimately “turned out to be the calling made for him.” How did an ambivalent soldier who had been away from the army for several years—and who had drifted during that interval from one civilian occupation to another in search of elusive success—end up leading a vast force to victory and saving the Union?

Grant’s predecessors in command of the Union Army were far more accomplished in military art and science. Winfield Scott, whose experience dated back to the War of 1812, had led the army since 1841. George B. McClellan, who replaced the aging Scott early in the Civil War, was an able administrator who organized the Army of the Potomac. In the 1850s, McClellan had studied the Crimean War at first hand as a member of an official delegation of American observers. Henry W. Halleck, the author of Elements of Military Art & Science, was regarded as a master theoretician.

READ MORE: The Key Way West Point Prepared Ulysses S. Grant for the Civil War

Yet McClellan and Halleck both proved reluctant to take decisive action in the field. After the Battle of Shiloh, it took the latter almost a month to advance 20 miles south to attack the vital Confederate railroad junction at Corinth, Mississippi. Lincoln grew so frustrated with McClellan’s inaction that he responded to the general’s October 1862 request for more horses with an exasperated telegram: “I have just read your despatch about sore tongued and fatiegued [sic] horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigue anything?”

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Source: HISTORY

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Smallpox Inoculations in 1770s Were Risky, But Helped George Washington Win the War

May 13, 2020 in History

By Dave Roos

As commander of the Continental Army, Washington faced dual enemies: the British and smallpox. So he made a risky call.

When .

Washington also knew that his American-born soldiers were far more susceptible to the disease than the European enemy. That’s because smallpox was endemic in England, meaning that a high percentage of British troops had already contracted the disease as children and now carried lifelong immunity.

In contrast, relatively few New Englanders and Southerners had ever been exposed to the virus. For example, only 23 percent of North Carolina soldiers who enlisted in 1777 had ever had smallpox.

Armed only with a primitive understanding of contagion and immunity, Washington had to decide between several anti-smallpox schemes, each with its own significant risks.

“It comes down to herd immunity,” says Fenn. “You either have to let people be exposed to the disease and naturally acquire immunity, which could be devastating for his troops and have devastating consequences for the war. Or somehow quarantine your troops, which means they’re not going to be able to fight. Or immunize them.”

READ MORE: Full Pandemics Coverage

Immunization in 1770s Was Crude and Risky

An illustration of the hand Edward Jenner used as a source for his smallpox vaccine that was developed in 1796.

But immunization in the 1770s was not what it’s like today with a single injection and a low risk of mild symptoms. Edward Jenner didn’t even develop his revolutionary cowpox-based vaccine for smallpox until 1796. The best inoculation technique at Washington’s disposal during the Revolutionary War was a nasty and sometimes fatal method called “variolation.”

“An inoculation doctor would cut an incision in the flesh of the person being inoculated and implant a thread laced with live pustular matter into the wound,” explains Fenn. “The hope and intent was for the person to come down with smallpox. When smallpox was conveyed in that fashion, it was usually a milder case than it was when it was contracted in the natural way.”

Variolization still had a case fatality rate of 5 to 10 percent. And even if all went well, inoculated patients still needed a month to recover. The procedure was not only risky for the individual patient, but for the surrounding population. An inoculee with a mild case might feel well enough to walk around town, infecting countless others with potentially more serious infections.

READ MORE: How an African Slave in …read more

Source: HISTORY

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When Biosphere 2 Became a Grand Experiment in Self-Isolation

May 12, 2020 in History

By Christopher Klein

In the 1990s, eight adventurers spent two years separated from the rest of the world inside a futuristic greenhouse meant to mimic a spaceship—on Earth.

It was the ultimate social-distancing experiment.

On September 26, 1991, four men and four women in dark-blue spacesuits waved goodbye to friends, families and a bank of television cameras as they stepped through an airtight door to embark on an unprecedented mission. In spite of their “Star Trek” styled uniforms, the eight adventurers did not blast off to outer space but sealed themselves off from the outside world for two years inside Biosphere 2—a three-acre, glass-and-steel terrarium in the Arizona desert.

“The future is here!” declared crew member Jane Poynter as she stepped inside the $150 million ecological laboratory and planetary commune prototype that featured 3,800 species of plants and animals and five miniature biomes—a rainforest, coral reef ocean, marsh, savanna and desert.

To test the human capacity for living in isolation in outer space, the eight “Biospherians” hoped to be entirely self-sufficient by growing their own food and recycling all air, water and waste. While they could communicate with the outside world by email, telephone and fax, for two years there would be no hugs with loved ones, no food deliveries, not even any toilet paper.

READ MORE: Who Invented Toilet Paper—and What Came Before

A Countercultural Commune Launched Biosphere 2

The idea for Biosphere 2 (Earth being the first biosphere) emerged from an avant-garde theater and ecological commune known as the “Synergists” that originated in San Francisco in 1967. “What distinguished this group from other counterculture types is they identified as capitalists,” says Matt Wolf, director of “Spaceship Earth,” a 2020 documentary about Biosphere 2. “Their model was to create enterprises designed to be both economically and ecologically sustainable.”

The Synergists operated ecological projects from the tropical rainforest in Puerto Rico to the Australian outback and even built their own ship that they sailed around the world. They were led by charismatic polymath John Allen, a Harvard MBA and metallurgist who penned poems and short stories under the pseudonym Johnny Dolphin and who, according to the Arizona Daily Star, was “described by those who’ve known him as both a visionary and an abusive mind-control guru.”

Billionaire Edward Bass, the maverick son of an oil tycoon and a self-styled “ecopreneur,” was among those drawn to Allen after visiting his Synergia Ranch …read more

Source: HISTORY

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How the Vietnam War Draft Spurred the Fight for Lowering the Legal Voting Age

May 12, 2020 in History

By Dante A. Ciampaglia

As growing numbers of young men were conscripted to fight in the war in Vietnam, a hit song helped drive the push to lower the voting age to match the draft age.

In the summer of 1965, support for the the Court deemed unconstitutional lowering the voting age to 18 in state and local elections but affirmed that change for federal elections. An amendment was now all but necessary to reconcile the inconsistency.

The 26th Amendment, ensuring the “right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age,” passed the Senate 94-0 on March 10 and, 13 days later, the House of Representatives 401-19. It was ratified by three-fourths of the states on July 1. In all, ratification took 100 days—faster than any amendment in US history—and minted 11 million new voters.

Nixon certified the amendment on July 5 in the East Room of the White House, in front of the 500-member choral group Young Americans in Concert. He even randomly selected three 18-year-old members to sign the amendment as witnesses.

“For more than 20 years, I have advocated the 18-year-old vote. I heartily congratulate our young citizens on having gained this right,” Nixon said upon ratification. “I urge them to honor this right by exercising it—by registering and voting in each election.”

…read more

Source: HISTORY

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5 US Wars Rarely Found in History Books

May 11, 2020 in History

By Jessica Pearce Rotondi

History is full of forgotten conflicts that are commonly overlooked in U.S. history.

You’ve heard of the Vietnam War, but what about the “secret war” in Laos? Over 16 million members of the Greatest Generation fought in : The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902, writes that the Philippine-American War “was our last war of manifest destiny and western expansion and our first imperial land war in Asia. It was the United States testing out what role it would have on the world stage and bringing with it all the complicated racial and cultural attitudes that shaped American society at home.”

2. The Korean War: ‘The Forgotten War’

As U.S. infantrymen pass a line of fleeing refugees during the Korean War, circa 1950.

The Korean War (1950-1953) was the first military action of the Cold War, though it’s often overshadowed by the victory of the Allies in World War II, earning it the nickname “the Forgotten War.” It began when soldiers from the communist North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38 parallel into the pro-Western Republic of Korea (today’s South Korea). American troops were sent to support the South and by the time a ceasefire was proclaimed in 1953, over five million soldiers and civilians had died. To this day, a formal peace treaty has not been signed.

Sheila Miyoshi Jager, professor of East Asian Studies at Oberlin and author of Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea, writes, “Most histories of the Korean War stop with the armistice; the fact that no peace treaty was ever signed is presented in most history books as an unusual fact and that is all. However, the absence of a final conclusion to the Korean War has kept it alive as a major influence on Asian affairs.”

3. The ‘Secret War’ in Laos


Bomb craters dating to the Vietnam War are seen in Xiang Khwang province of Laos, photographed in 1991.

Laos is the most heavily-bombed country per capita in the world. The U.S. bombing of Laos (1964-1973) was part of a clandestine attempt by the CIA to wrest power from the Pathet Lao, a communist group allied with North Vietnam and the Soviet Union during the Vietnam War. Laos was critical to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Domino Theory of keeping communism at bay, and presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon all escalated the …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Teddy Roosevelt’s trip to San Francisco is captured on film

May 11, 2020 in History

By History.com Editors

On May 12, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt’s trip to San Francisco is captured on moving-picture film, making him the first president to have an official activity recorded in that medium.

READ MORE: 7 Little-Known Legacies of Teddy Roosevelt

A cameraman named H.J. Miles filmed the president while riding in a parade in his honor. The resulting short move was titled The President’s Carriage and was later played on “nickelodeons” in arcades across America. The film showed Roosevelt riding in a carriage and escorted by the Ninth U.S. Cavalry Regiment, which was unusual for the time, according to the Library of Congress and contemporary newspapers, because it was an all-black company.

Roosevelt was the first president to take advantage of the impact motion pictures could have on the presidency. The photogenic president encouraged filmmakers to document his official duties and post-presidential personal activities until his death in 1919. He purposely played directly to the camera with huge gestures and thundering speeches. The Library of Congress holds much of the original film footage, including that of his second inaugural ceremony in 1905, a visit to Panama in 1906 and an African safari in 1909. Roosevelt appeared on camera with many notable people of his time, including European kings and queens, as well as Hopi Indians and Masai warriors in Africa. In 1912, Roosevelt’s unsuccessful campaign for president on the Progressive ticket was also captured on film. Later that year, Roosevelt again made two presidential “firsts.” On October 11, 1910, he became the first (former) president to not only fly in an airplane but also to be filmed while flying in an airplane.

Even Roosevelt’s funeral in Oyster Bay, New York, in 1919 was memorialized on camera. The filmmaker documented the procession and memorial service, and included shots of Roosevelt’s successor, William Howard Taft.

…read more

Source: HISTORY

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The Real Story Behind the ‘Migrant Mother’ in the Great Depression-Era Photo

May 8, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Uncovering the woman behind Dorothea Lange’s famous Depression-era photograph.

It’s one of the most iconic photos in American history. A woman in ragged clothing holds a baby as two more children huddle close, hiding their faces behind her shoulders. The mother squints into the distance, one hand lifted to her mouth and anxiety etched deep in the lines on her face.

From the moment it first appeared in the pages of a San Francisco newspaper in March 1936, the image known as “Migrant Mother” came to symbolize the hunger, poverty and hopelessness endured by so many Americans during the

In the mid-1930s, the Farm Security Administration’s Resettlement Administration hired photographers to document the work done by the agency. Some of the most powerful images were captured by photographer Dorothea Lange. Lange took this photo in New Mexico in 1935, noting, “It was conditions of this sort which forced many farmers to abandon the area.”

View the 10 images of this gallery on the original article

…read more

Source: HISTORY

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How Willie Nelson Helped Build Farm Aid

May 8, 2020 in History

By Colin Bertram

In the mid-1980s American farmers faced a dire future. Willie Nelson and other artists decided to help using what they knew best—music.

By the mid-1980s American farmers were facing economic hardships not seen since the Great Depression. Droughts in 1980 and 1983 had wrought devastation in the Corn Belt, Midwest States and Northeast. Land values and farm product prices plummeted as loan interest rates soared, unfair lending practices flourished, and millions of people were forced from their land facing bankruptcy and foreclosure. According to a study by the National Farm Medicine Center at the time, suicides among male farmers in the Upper Midwest was double the national average.

Willie Nelson, a country artist who grew up in rural Texas during the Great Depression, felt something needed to be done. Building on an idea from fellow music artist, Bob Dylan, Nelson began working on a plan that would feature something he knew better than anything else—music.

Live Aid Inspires Farm Aid

It was the 1985 Live Aid benefit that originally sparked the idea to hold the first Farm Aid concert event. Dylan suggested doing something similar to help American farmers while performing at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium during Live Aid. The off-the-cuff remark settled in Nelsons brain and grew into what would become Farm Aid.

Unlike the one-shot gathering in response to famine in Africa, the Farm Aid gathering, which aimed to “raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep families on their land,” began what would become a yearly occurrence stretching across four decades and raising $57 million.

Enlisting the help of music artists Neil Young and John Mellencamp, along with Illinois governor Jim Thompson, Nelson set about organizing what would the first Farm Aid benefit concert held September 22, 1985 in Champaign, Illinois. Then the largest combined rock and country event in America’s history, it drew a crowd of almost 80,000 people and featured performances by Dylan, Young, Mellencamp, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Joel, B.B. King, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Roy Orbison, Charley Pride, June Carter and Johnny Cash, among others. The first event raised $7 million.

Willie Nelson, performing in 1975.

The plight of American Farmers was now center stage, with Young going so far as to place a full-page ad in USA Today on October 4 with an open letter to President Ronald Reagan asking, “Will the family farm in America die as a result …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Bankrupt and Dying from Cancer, Ulysses S. Grant Waged His Greatest Battle

May 8, 2020 in History

By Christopher Klein

Aided by Mark Twain, the former president and Civil War hero raced to complete a literary masterpiece that saved his wife from destitution.

Shortly before noon on May 6, 1884, .

For years Twain had suggested that Grant pen his memoirs. Now destitute, the former president finally agreed to cash in on his celebrity. In need of financial rescue himself after a series of failed investments, the debt-ridden Twain inked Grant to a contract with his newly launched publishing house and gave him a $1,000 check to cover living expenses.

Engaged in a furious race against time as the cancer attacked his body, Grant dug into his writing with military efficiency, churning out as many as 10,000 words in a single day. “Grant approached his memoirs with the same grit and determination as he tackled his Civil War battles,” says Chernow, who also serves as executive producer of HISTORY’s documentary series “Grant.” “As in those encounters, he was thorough and systematic, a real stickler for precision and the truth. In his home, he amassed tall stacks of orders and maps that helped him to recreate his most famous battles with minute fidelity. In war and in writing, Grant had the most amazing ability to marshal all his energy in the pursuit of a single goal.”

Grant astounded Twain with not just the quantity, but the quality of his prose. “Grant prided himself on his writing skills,” Chernow says. “His wartime orders were renowned for their economy and exactness, and he made a point of writing all his own speeches as president—something unthinkable today.”

READ MORE: President Ulysses S. Grant: Known for Scandals, Overlooked for Achievements

With just weeks to live, Grant made one final push

Ulysses S. Grant reading on a house porch, thought to be the last photograph taken before his death, 1890.

Grant penned his manuscript until his hand grew too feeble in the spring of 1885, forcing him to employ a stenographer. Even speaking, however, became laborious as his condition deteriorated. Following the advice of doctors who vouched for the salubrious power of pure mountain air, Grant decamped at the onset of summer from his Manhattan brownstone to an Adirondack resort north of Saratoga Springs. In a cottage on the slopes of Mount McGregor, Grant launched his final campaign to complete his tome.

With excruciating pain accompanying every swallow, Grant was unable to eat solid food. His body withered …read more

Source: HISTORY

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President Nixon meets with anti-war protestors at the Lincoln Memorial

May 7, 2020 in History

By History.com Editors

In the early hours of May 9, 1970, a frazzled President Richard Nixon embarks upon what his Chief of Staff will describe as “the weirdest day so far” of his presidency. Preoccupied with the recent Kent State shootings and the unrest that has spread to college campuses across the country, Nixon makes an impromptu and bizarre visit to a group of anti-war protesters at the Lincoln Memorial.

On the Friday after the Kent State massacre, in which Ohio National Guard killed four students and wounded nine during an anti-war protest, Nixon was unable to sleep. Around 4 in the morning, after spending several hours making phone calls, he roused his personal valet, Manolo Sanchez, and asked him if he had ever seen the Lincoln Memorial at night. Knowing he would encounter a crowd of student protesters that had camped out on the National Mall, Nixon set off with Sanchez, his physician and a Secret Service team.

READ MORE: How Nixon’s Presidency Became Increasingly Erratic After Kent State

Nixon’s account of the event differs greatly from that of the protesters, although both confirm it was a strange moment. Nixon described the students he met there as “overawed” and portrayed the conversation as a civil one. He told the protesters that he understood their hatred of the war, saying, “I know probably most of you think I’m an SOB. But I want you to know that I understand just how you feel.” Trying to start a friendly conversation, he asked where they went to school, and when some replied that they had come from Syracuse the president responded by talking about the school’s football team. “Here we had come from a university that’s completely uptight, on strike,” one student recalled, “and when we told him where we were from, he talked about the football team.” Nixon opined on the benefits of travel, particularly to Prague, Warsaw and Asia, but his audience struggled to follow along. “As far as sentence structure,” one of them later told a reporter, “there was none.”

The conversation lasted over an hour and both sides at least managed to explain their views on the war, although neither convinced the other. Nixon did not sleep that night, instead insisting he take Sanchez to see the floor of the House of Representatives before eating breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel. A diary entry written later that day by H.R. …read more

Source: HISTORY