10 Things To Know About Europe During The American Civil War

Here are ten things you’ll want to know about Europe and European rulers and their roles during the American Civil War. The facts we’re briefly presenting tie to the blockade runner situation, and it’s not a comprehensive list. Europe and the American Civil War is a complicated topic, and today is a cliff-note version.

(My apologies for missing the maritime post last week. You’ll get an extra post soon!) Continue reading

Preach, Heal, Proclaim, Open

As I look at the historical accounts of the liberation of Europe from the Nazi power, I’m reminded of a Scripture verse from the book of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me…to preach good tiding to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” (Isaiah 61:1)

To the civilians and prisoners of Europe – long oppressed by fear – the arrival of the Allied troops meant liberty. What were some of the interactions? How did they learn they were free again? Taking a few key words and themes from the Scripture verse, let’s examine the history…

Allied Troops and Civilians1. Preach

…to preach good tidings to the poor. Preaching is proclaiming. Telling something in a strong voice, telling something important. Some families in German-occupied Europe had hidden radio sets which they used to tune into Allied stations. There, they would have heard the electrifying news of the coming liberation on the radio broadcasts. Those proclamations kept the people’s hopes alive.

When the actual liberation came to a small village, the American troops probably did not stand up and make a glorious speech. Sure, they were friendly to the people, but speech-making was not high on their priorities. While there might not have been a grandiose verbal proclamation of freedom in a little town square, the message was clear. With each turn of the tank’s tracks and each crunch of a GI’s boots, the proclamation was made: we’re free!

American Soldiers and Civilians

An American medical unit tries to communicate with civilians. (Note the translation book.)

2. Heal

…heal the brokenhearted. War scars the body and the mind. We recognize that it scars soldiers physically, mentally, and emotionally, but we often forget its same injuries to civilians.

American military medical units and the Red Cross traveled with the armies. They did not neglect the civilian populations; they reached out to heal the physical injuries and illnesses.

I think it’s safe to say the soldiers did their part in the healing work too. Imagine spending years hiding in terror because the Nazis might kill you because of your ethnicity; you emerging from your shelter one spring day, still afraid of these new soldiers, and one approaches you saying, “you’re free…you don’t need to be afraid.” That’s a healing action. Or think of a young woman, frightened by the attitudes of the occupying German soldiers – then one day they’re gone. The next soldier you see is a “GI Joe” who gifts you a candy bars, compliments your pretty smile in a genuine respectful way, and then heads on down the road. That’s a healing action.

3. Proclaim

…proclaim liberty to the captives. As the American force moved into Germany, they found prisoner of war camps. The prisoners were promptly liberated, welcomed, fed, gifted with supplies, and started on their journey back to their families.

Not all prisoners of war were treated kindly by the Germans. One particular group of POWs captured during the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944) endured harsh prison conditions before their transfer to and starvation in a work camp. Their ordeal didn’t end there, however; in the spring of 1945, they were forced on a horrible death march. They’d prayed for deliverance and dreamed of a day when Patton’s tanks would come. One morning during the death march, the POWs refused to get up and then…

“A Sherman tank rolled in front of the barn… ‘I saw the white star on the side of the tank, and then some men started to shout and scream that they are Americans. It was after some time, just sitting there and hearing the commotion, that I realized that I was liberated.’ ”  (“Given Up For Dead” by Flint Whitlock, 2005, page 191-192)

Eisenhower (center) and generals at Buchenwald

Eisenhower (center) and generals at Buchenwald

4. Open

…opening of the prison to those who are bound. Many of the Nazi death camps were located east of Berlin and were therefore liberated by the Soviets. However, there were several death camps and work camps which the Americans discovered.

In an effort to keep this blog friendly for readers of all ages, I’m not going to share graphic details regarding what the American troops found. But I will tell you this: they opened the prison gates, they cut through the barbed wire, they brought medical aid and comfort to thousands of men, women, and children who had suffered years of indescribable cruelty because of their religion or nationality.

While the American soldiers broke down the physically barriers of the prison camps, the generals made certain the truth was also “set free.” General Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander, took some of his subordinate generals and the press to walk through the horrifying scenes of prison camp at Buchenwald. He was determined that the world would know the atrocities committed by the Nazis. The prison doors were open, and the truth would also be told.


Before you start thinking of the liberation of Europe through completely rose-colored spectacles, let me destroy that idea. Allied army headquarters received quite a few complaints about soldiers’ bad behavior.

However, I think it’s safe to say that many of the GI’s had compassion for the European people they were freeing from oppression.

Whether they realized it at the time or not, the Allied soldiers were exemplifying strong character and God-honoring actions as they brought hope, healed injuries, rescued prisoners of war, and flung open the gates to death camps.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What part of Europe’s liberation seems most dramatic to you? Share your thoughts in a comment.


The Battles for Berlin

Unbelievable that it’s May already…but I’m so excited to start the historical theme for this month – Victory in Europe: 1945 I’ve got all the Friday posts for the month planned as we remember World War II drawing to a close 70 years ago. (And before you Civil War history buffs go into mourning, don’t worry Back to Gettysburg on Tuesday continues…)

Ruins of the Reichstag in Berlin after the battle, 1945

Ruins of the Reichstag in Berlin after the battle, 1945

Next Friday will actually be the anniversary of VE Day (that’s abbreviation for Victory in Europe), but do you know what was happening today 70 years ago? Battle of Berlin.

No, I didn’t misspell the title of my blog post by adding an extra “s.” After reading and referencing several in-depth sources on this military situation, I’ve decided to address the Battles for Berlin. There was the military fight, but there were several other conflicts occurring simultaneously, so let’s dig deeper into the history and find out a little more of what was really happening.

1. Morale Conflict

The Nazi Party had never had any trouble lying to the German people, and in 1945 the lies continued. However, this time, there was a serious conflict. The radio broadcasts claimed victories, but, in the winter and spring, with Allied bombers attacking Berlin everyday, German troops retreating, and little food left in Berlin, there was serious cause for doubt.

The more insightful were very suspicious; the blind-believers consumed the propaganda. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of the conflicting feelings was the change in forms of greetings; no longer were people greeting each other with the famous honorary salutation to Hitler. Now, the greeting was “Bleib ubrig” which translates to “Survive.”

2. Leadership Conflict

Always suspicious, Adolf Hitler’s paranoid fears reached an all-time high as Allied troops closed in on Berlin. Formerly trusted advisors, political leaders, and generals were raged at, accused of treason, arrested, and sometimes executed.

The German generals realized the increasing hopelessness of the situation. By the last weeks of April, some were willing to ask the Allies for terms of surrender. A couple actually dared to send the request, believing there was little purpose in prolonging the fight and killing more people. Hitler found out and…well…retribution was swift.

Out of touch with reality and descending into some form of madness, Hitler cowered in his bunker, firmly believing his Reich would again rise and conquer the world. Thus, casualties mounted, and the generals fought on, waiting for the day Hitler would be out of the way.

3. Moral Conflict

Young German Soldier receives honor Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J31305 / CC-BY-SA

Young German Soldier receives honor
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J31305 / CC-BY-SA

How was there a moral conflict? you’re wondering. I know, it seems hard to understand, especially when Hitler and his political party were capable of such horrible atrocities. However, the moral conflict wasn’t with them. They called out a German militia of young boys and elderly men and gave orders for this “militia” to be sent into the jaws of the advancing Russian army.

However, some of the military commanders had serious doubts as to the effectiveness of these “militias” and furthermore, they felt terrible about sending 14 and 70 year olds to bloody battlefield deaths. Sadly, if those military leaders had openly protested, they would have been shot for not following orders…so they obeyed and wrote their regret and guilt in their journals.

4. Allied Conflict

Transitioning our perspective away from the Germans and Berlin, we’ll focus on the Allied Forces in Europe. The most powerful were United States, England, and Russia. And there is the problem.

Russia – properly called the Soviet Union at this time in history – was Communist while the United States and England were Capitalist. (In case, you don’t know, these are two very different economic and political forms based on vastly different ideologies.) Thus, there were mini-conflicts within the Allied Powers.

To summarize, Stalin wanted to take Berlin. Churchill (British leader) really didn’t want the Soviets to take Berlin because he was afraid they might not give all that territory back (he was right). General Eisenhower – American and the supreme commander of all Allied Forces – was in a difficult situation and eventually decided to allow the Russians the “pleasure” of taking Berlin.

But the political/military under-surface conflict continued to simmer. Stalin (Soviet leader) would not communicate clearly with Eisenhower. Stalin would also not give his generals clear commands, using their rivalries to compound the situation. Ugh…headache.

5. Military Conflict (Summary)

Starting in January 1945, the Russian armies launched an offensive movement toward the heart of Germany. Tanks blasted the way forward and infantry followed, pushing the German troops steadily backward. Arching through the east and north of Germany, they closed on Berlin, the German capital.

From the West, Eisenhower and the Western Allies also advanced and cut off German retreat via the west and south. (Since the Russian actually took Berlin, we’ll focus on them this week, more is coming on the American troops later in the month.)

Soviet Army captures Berlin, 1945 Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R77767 / CC-BY-SA

Soviet Army captures Berlin, 1945
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R77767 / CC-BY-SA

By the end of April, the Soviets were shelling Berlin and shortly thereafter the attack began. The fighting raged from street to street and bunker to bunker. Fierce fighting was followed by brutal prisoner treatment, looting, and harming the civilians. On May 2, 1945, the city unconditionally surrendered to the Russian Army.

Hitler was dead and the German commanders were free to ask for surrender terms for the entire country. Six days after the surrender of Berlin, the entire world would be celebrating because… (Come back next week for the rest of the story!)

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Had you considered some of the other conflicts mentioned here? Can you think of any others you would add to the list?

Did you know you’re missing out on over the half the history on Gazette665? If you haven’t LIKED the Facebook Page you’re depriving yourself of extra historical quotes and inspiration for writers. (If you have liked the page, here’s big thank you!)


Hannibal’s Alps & Life’s Challenges

The Italian Alps

Forbidding mountains reaching to touch the sky. Beyond them hostile, enemy armies. What to do? Where to go? Forward.

In 218 B.C. a Carthaginian general and his army cross the Italian Alps and entered the heartland of the Roman Republic. The general was Hannibal, a man considered by his peers and later historians to be one of the greatest generals of ancient history. During January 2015 our history posts on Fridays will be examining the leadership and historical account of this momentous undertaking.

You might have a lot of questions right now, so lets do some fast facts on the topic.

1. Exactly how long ago did this event happen? 218 BC is two hundred and eighteen years before Christ was born, so approximately 2,233 years ago. By the way, I’m old-fashioned and like to use BC (Before Christ) rather than BCE (Before The Common Era)

2. Where on earth was Carthage? In North Africa, modern day Tunisia. Carthage was founded by Phoenician exiles (more about that next week) and was the Roman Republic’s main rival in the Mediterranean region. Both Carthage and Rome wanted to destroy each other and they fought the Punic Wars. Hannibal crossed the Alps during the Second Punic War.

3. So if Carthage is in Africa, why was Hannibal in Europe? Great question! Carthage had colonies in Spain; Hannibal was the general in that region. He was fighting both native European tribes and the Romans. He actually went through the Pyrenees, crossed the Rhone River, and headed for the Alps with a Roman army on his heels.

4. What time of year was it when Hannibal got to the Alps? Late autumn. Snowstorms were a problem. (Understatement). However, the general knew if he delayed, the Roman provinces in Italy would have time to raise an army to oppose him. He wanted to be there and ready to fight in the spring, while the Romans were still squabbling about who should lead their army.

5. Why is this important in history? It’s the first time in known military history that an army crossed the Alps. And remember, these are the days before radios, tanks, and really warm uniforms; the Carthaginians had elephants, horses, and wood fires. (More on the elephants later!) Hannibal fought the Romans in their own territory, but, as we shall study later on, he was not ultimately successful. However, the invasion of their homeland, prompted the Roman Republic to organize a powerful military force which became their tool to conquer the Mediterranean world.

My Thoughts

I’m excited to write about this topic. I enjoy ancient history…well, if you haven’t guess by now…I enjoy all eras of history.

I was thinking about the leadership challenges Hannibal faced today as I was struggling through a not fun editing project. At the moment it felt like the “insurmountable Alps” were looming before me. I was tired. (I needed a coffee break). But I was determined to get the project finished. And one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time, I was able to finish the task. Right now, it’s all good. The work’s finished, and I get a relaxing Friday evening (Huzzah!), but that wouldn’t have happened if I quit. And Hannibal wouldn’t have almost conquered Rome if he quit in the mountains.

So, just my thoughts as we introduce the Carthaginians and their trek across the Alps: Don’t give up. Remember why you’re “fighting.” And remember…the “plains of Italy” will be in sight, if you continue the upward climb!

Happy Friday and Weekend! Best wishes and encouragement for whatever “upward climb” of life you’re facing right now…go on, it’s worth the view of success from the top.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Your thoughts on Hannibal’s Crossing of the Alps and the metaphor to life’s challenges? Had you heard of Hannibal before? What challenges are you facing right now?

MacBeth: Fact or Fiction?

Ancient Scotland. A murdered king. A guilt crazed nobleman and lady. Guess which Shakespearean we’re discussing today… If you said “MacBeth”, you are correct. Let’s explore one of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedies and uncover the historical threads in the playwright’s fiction.

The Play *Warning: Spoilers* MacBeth, a trusted nobleman of King Duncan, has just won a splendid victory against enemies of the realm. As he and his friend, Banquo, travel across a lonely heath, they come across three witches who prophecy that MacBeth will receive a new noble title and become king and Banquo will be the father of kings. King Duncan gives MacBeth a new title (thus supposedly fulfilling the witches’ words) and announces that he will stay the night at the MacBeth castle. MacBeth arrives home and tells his wife about the prophecy; they eventually agree to murder King Duncan, though they welcome him warmly into the castle. With much fear and searing of conscience they prepare their daggers and in the night, MacBeth murders the king. The princes of Scotland flee, fearing foul deeds, and MacBeth is crowned the new king. MacBeth and his lady are tormented by their guilt and begin killing noblemen around them who suspect their deeds; Banquo is brutally murdered and MacBeth sees his ghost. Lady MacBeth descends to madness. Meanwhile, a Scottish nobleman enlists the help of an English army and marches to overthrow MacBeth. The wretched king finds the witches who assure him his kingdom is safe unless the forest marches against the castle and he cannot be killed by a man of woman born. Still MacBeth mused on the futility of life and on his guilty conscience. In the end the English use the branches of forest trees to cover their advance on MacBeth’s castle and in the final battle he is killed by Macduff. King Duncan’s son is crowned the new king of Scotland.

1577 Illustration of MacBeth, Banquo, and the Three Witches

1577 Illustration of MacBeth, Banquo, and the Three Witches

The History Once upon a time Holinshed’s Chronicles was considered the definitive text on English history. In the text a man named Donwald discovers that several of his family have been killed by the king for consorting with witches; in revenge Donwald kills the king. Also in Chronicles, Macbeth and Banquo meet the three witches and then the noblemen plot the murder, at Lady Macbeth’s urging. Macbeth has a long, ten-year reign before eventually being overthrown by Macduff. Now, it is important to note that some modern scholars feel the story of MacBeth in the Chronicles is fictional; however, it is interesting that Shakespeare took an accepted historical event of his time and built a story around it. In the play the first battle MacBeth wins is against the Danes who were raiding along the Scottish coast. Also, remember the prophecy of the witches that Banquo’s children would be kings? That doesn’t happen in the play, but it was common belief in Shakespeare’s time that James IV of Scotland (James I of England) was a descendant of Banquo!

The Fiction Shakespeare took a story of witches, a murdered king, and characters named MacBeth and Banquo and invented a plot with great drama. He used what were accepted “historical facts” (in his era) and built his play around them. Unlike Henry V where almost everything is historically based, MacBeth takes the skeleton of a historical event (no puns intended) and transforms into a deep study of man’s ambition, turning from righteousness, and the torment of a guilty conscience.

Analysis MacBeth has a historically setting and borrows some basic historical facts from a history book of Shakespeare’s time, but it must be acknowledged that much of the drama of the work is fiction. Shakespeare’s understanding of human nature produces a dramatic fictional work, underscored with historical themes. Thus, while coming from a history/legend book, it is best to appreciate the author’s skill of portraying human nature and drama rather than take our Ancient Scottish history from this play.

On the whole the play is very, very dark (of course, it’s a tragedy), but I see value in the study of this classic work. It is a powerful literary example of Biblical truth. James 1:14-15 reminds us: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” MacBeth was tempted by the witches’ prophecies, desired to be king, committed murder, and, in the end, was haunted by his deeds until his death.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Have you read MacBeth? What did you think of it?

You can find the full text here.

I have seen a film version, but I cannot recommend it. I watched what is called the least gruesome MacBeth film, and while not gory, it was really creepy and frightful (in a bad way). I’d highly recommend reading the play if you’re 16 or older, but would suggest skipping all film versions.