9 Things You Should Know About The American Homefront In World War I

If you’ve been following Gazette665 for a while, you’ll know I’m interested in civilian accounts. (If you’re a new follower, welcome…and you just learned one of my “secrets.”) So, as we’re wrapping up our blog series on American entering World War I, it seems only right that we’d have a blog post about civilians and the homefront.

In keeping with the tradition of this series, here’s a list of nine things you’ll want to know about the American homefront during World War I: Continue reading

Don’t Forget – Christmas 1944

Friday after Christmas. Yawn. What shall we discuss? I suppose we could be self-centered and list what we got for Christmas, but I think not. You see, when we’re self-focused we forget to serve others.

Serving others. Honor. Duty. Country. Today, I’m remembering what happened on Christmas Day 70 years ago. From December 16, 1944 to January 25, 1945 the Battle of the Bulge was fought in the snowy woods of France. In World War II, this was Germany’s last major offensive attack. At the beginning, German units hurled into unsuspecting Allied lines, beginning a long series of battles. Stormy weather grounded air forces and the fight was mostly between the ground forces.

US troops, Battle of the Bulge (Public Domain)

US troops, Battle of the Bulge
(Public Domain)

Approximately 610,000 American troops fought in the battle; 89,000 casualties. Battle of the Bulge was one of the largest and bloodiest battles fought by the United States in World War II. In the end it was an Allied Victory

So on Christmas Day 1944 American boys were far from their safe homes, fighting to end the horrors of Nazism. They didn’t get materialistic gifts; they gave. They gave of themselves: their safety, their comfort, and their lives. Why? To defend innocent people, to protect future generations.

I usually write thank-you notes on December 26th. Today I’m writing an open thank-you note to our American troops, past, present, and future.

Dear Service Member, Thank you for defending America. Thank you keeping us and our American dreams safe. I hope you had a Merry Christmas, and even if you couldn’t have a big celebration, I hope you will not forget that we are praying for you. Thank you for your service. Sincerely, Miss Sarah

Don’t forget. Don’t get overwhelmed by materialism and forget to serve or thank others for their sacrifices.

“May your days be merry and bright…and may all your Christmases be white.” (Irving Berlin, 1941)

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

 

Benjamin Lincoln: Trustworthy Patriot

Once upon a time (in 1781) a proud British general (Cornwallis) had to surrender. He was so upset that he refused to go to the ceremony and a subordinate handed over his sword for him. The American general (Washington) refused to take the sword and called for a loyal officer to accept the surrender. There was much irony in the situation, considering this other officer had been forced to surrender without honor and ceremony months before; now he was accepting the surrender of his enemies…

The officer who accepted General Cornwallis’s sword was American general, Benjamin Lincoln.

General Benjamin Lincoln (From Wikipedia, Public Domain

General Benjamin Lincoln
(From Wikipedia, Public Domain)

Who was Benjamin Lincoln? Here are some “fast facts” about this American commander:

Early Life

  • Born on January 24, 1733, and grew up in the colony of Massachusetts
  • Was a leader in local politics (constable, town clerk, town selectman, representative in the provincial assembly)
  • Started as a volunteer in the local militia and by 1772 was the lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Regiment of Suffolk militia
  • 1756: married Mary Cushing; they would have 11 children.
  • Urged his neighbors to resist British taxation and to refuse to import foreign goods
  • In 1774 as the rumblings of political reformation began, Lincoln was a member of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and was on the committee to oversee militia organization and supply system

American War for Independence

  • After the war started in 1775, he collected supplies for the patriot army near Boston – food, blankets, gunpowder, etc. were in high demand
  • In 1776 Benjamin Lincoln was promoted to major general of the Massachusetts militia; he worked on the coastal defenses, and forced the last British ships to leave Boston Harbor as the English evacuated the city.
  • Although he had experience in militia command, the Continental Congress was reluctant to give Lincoln a commission in their army because he lacked battlefield experience.
  • September 1776: Lincoln lead a brigade of militia and joined General Washington’s army in New York.
  • In February 1777 the Continental Congress sent Benjamin Lincoln a major general’s commission – unfortunately he was defeated in a surprise attack two months later at the Battle of Bound Brook.
  • During the military movements around Saratoga in the summer and autumn of 1777, Lincoln and his troops played an important (but often overlooked role) in leading to the capture of the post and surrender of British General John Burgoyne.
  • Victories come with a cost – Benjamin Lincoln was wounded and sent home.  He worried that the army didn’t need or want him anymore, but General Washington reassured him.
  • By August 1778 Lincoln was back with the armies and was sent to the Southern theater of fighting (see N. Greene’s biography for more details).  Lincoln participated in the attempted siege of Savannah, Georgia and then retreated to Charleston, South Carolina.
  • In May 1780 Lincoln was forced to surrender Charleston and 5,000 troops to General Clinton after a three month siege. He was denied the honors of surrendering formally.  Lincoln was eventually paroled and exchanged; no charges of disloyalty, mismanagement or neglect were ever brought against Lincoln in a court of inquiry.
  • General Washington trusted Lincoln.  In the campaign and siege of Yorktown, Lincoln’s troops played a large role.
  • On October 19, 1781, the British under General Cornwallis surrendered after the siege of Yorktown.  General Cornwallis – deeply humiliated – refused to attend the surrender ceremony and sent General O’Hara with the commander’s sword.  General Washington summoned Lincoln to take the sword. Thus the general who was denied the honor of a proper surrender was the one the British commanders technically surrendered to.  (There is some debate among historians: did Lincoln actually take the sword or did he hold it and then return it to O’Hara?).

Post War

  • While America was governed by the Articles of Confederation, Lincoln served as Secretary of War from 1781-1783.
  • In 1787 Lincoln led the ratification of the US Constitution in his home-state (Massachusetts).  He understood the importance of national unity since he had been one of the military commanders to end Shays’s Rebellion earlier in the year.
  • He did receive electoral votes for president in the first election.
  • Served as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and Collector of Port of Boston.
  • Died on May 9, 1810

Benjamin Lincoln is one the early American military commanders often neglected in the history books. He didn’t have the slyness of Francis Marion, the victories of George Washington, or the scandals of Benedict Arnold. Yet Lincoln was a steady and reliable commander.  He took part in military campaigns that led to the surrenders to two large British armies (Saratoga and Yorktown).

However, I think the best testimony of his loyal character is found in the aftermath of Charleston. Forced to surrender, he returned to Washington’s Army, likely feeling worried, ashamed, and unsure what would happen. And he’s welcomed back with no formal questions or court marshals. Other generals in the same war surrendered (or were defeated) and faced disgrace: not Lincoln. It seems that his peers understood the desperate situation in Charleston and that he would not have surrendered unless there was no other option. His loyalty was never questioned.  This shows the true patriot.

Thus, although Benjamin Lincoln faced great difficulties and even defeat and surrender, his trustworthiness and dependability were well-known and he continued as a leader through the rest of the war and the in government formations years of America.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Look for some new features and changes to Gazette655 in the next couple of weeks.  And, as always, leave your questions or comments about this post!

200 Years…Star Spangled Banner

200 years ago on September 13-14, 1814, was the bombardment of Fort McHenry.  Occurring during the War of 1812 (yes, the war actually lasted 2 years: 1812-1814), this attack was part of the British attempt to seize Baltimore, Maryland.

On the morning of September 14, 1814, an American lawyer named Francis Scott Key was aboard a ship in the harbor, where he’d gone to try and negotiate the release of a prisoner. After a sleepless night listening to the cannon fire, he watched for the breaking of day, eager to see if the Americans still held the forts.  In “the dawn’s early light” he saw a large American flag still flying over Fort McHenry. He wrote a poem to remember that moment:

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

In 1931 this poem became the United States’ National Anthem. (I wish we sang the fouth verse too, but I suppose many people just want to get to “play ball.”)

The following video has a lot of good info about the Battle of Baltimore/Fort McHenry and nicely animated maps.

Well, there’s your history trivia for the weekend…

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What’s your favorite verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner”?

1775-1783: Revolution or…?

Well, it’s a new month: September! And time for a new theme; I need you to VOTE – see the comments section. We’re leaving behind WWI (now found in the August 2014 Archives) and traveling farther back in time to a conflict fought between the years 1775-1783. There is the question: what shall we call it?

Most of you probably call it “The American Revolution.”  That’s fine and is an acceptable term according to society and the dictionary. However, I prefer to call it “The American War for Independence.”

Why?

Stay with me…we’re going to get a little technical here in just a second.  First, though, you can call the conflict anything you like (within reason of course), but you may find that you prefer one term over another. So “Revolutionary War” or “American War for Independence” – that is a question. (Sorry, I’ve been watching too much Shakespeare.)

“It would be beneficial to establish a definition of the term revolution and [political] reformation…  A revolution is motivated by a desire for autonomous freedom from God’s authority as expressed in biblical revelation. It results in a violent overthrow of a government based on a radical humanistic reordering of the whole social order apart from God’s law…  [Consider the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, or Communist Revolutions and you’ll start to get the idea.]

“A political reformation or war for independence is motivated by a biblical view of liberty to serve God according to His Word. This results in a rejection of all forms of political tyranny, wherein man exalts himself above the law of God… [The so called “Glorious Revolution” and American 1775-183 conflict are examples of political reformation].

“While revolution seeks for freedom it brings a worse form of tyranny. A political reformation based upon biblical truth is the only foundation of true freedom. Thus the French Revolution brought destruction and chaos, while the Puritan political reformations brought true liberty and peace.  (Streams of Civilization, by Garry J. Moes, published by Christian Liberty Press, page 99).

Based on these definitions and analysis, I believe that it was a political reformation – not revolution – that made the American nation. Therefore, I prefer to call it “America’s War for Independence.”

Were the Founding Fathers radical in their thinking? For their era, yes. Did they intend to rule without governing laws? No. Did they acknowledge God and moral laws? Yes (“…which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them…” Declaration of Independence, 1776). Thus, according to the definitions above, was it a revolution? No.  Was it a political reformation? Yes.

Now, I hope this post doesn’t sound like endless or empty arguing. Again, you can call it whatever you like. But I’m going call it The American War for Independence because I want to subtly remind people that America was founded on principles of faith, orderly government, and moral principles. I hope using a slightly different name will make people wonder, make them ask questions.

Now, if you need a break from the technical word choice and theories – please enjoy this video of War for Independence music played by Colonial Williamsburg’s Fife and Drum Corps…

See you next Friday – and VOTE for our topics!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I need you to VOTE by leaving a comment. Each week of this month I’m going to do a short, snappy biography on an American leader from the War of Independence era. Do you want military leaders or statesmen? The choice is yours and will be by majority VOTE. (After-all, voting is one of the privileges of America’s War of Independence).

Where Was America?

Good Morning (Afternoon or Evening)!  This is the fifth and final post in the series “Demystifying WWI.”  In case you want to review or are joining us for the first time, here are some links to  the previous posts this month: Alliances, Plan for War, How It Started, and New Weapons.

You may have noticed that the United States was rarely mentioned in the last four posts.  So, where on earth was America during WWI?  (Umm…on a big continent called North America, between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans…) Okay, okay- it is a valid questions and we’ll be answering it today.

Now, before going any further, I want to make it clear that I am not advocating isolationism, international aggression, or any other policies.  I’m simply stating the facts of what happened.  I would encourage you to read the history carefully, consider our political and military situation today, and form your own opinions.

The short answer to the question is: America did not become officially involved in WWI until 1917.  Here’s what happened:

1. Neutrality  As Europe went to war, American president, Woodrow Wilson, issued a declaration of neutrality.  What’s that mean?  Imagine you’re at a sporting event and you sit without any expression of pleasure or dislike on your face, never jump and shout when one team scores, and refrain doing anything, excepting eating your own hot dog, chips, and soda.  That’s a simplified example of neutrality.  America would simply watch.

2. Sympathy  Oh, but it’s so hard to sit passively while the team (side) that you secret support is struggling.  America may have proclaimed neutrality, but the majority of leaders and citizens sympathized with the Allies (Britain, France, Russia).  There were three main factors in the foundation of this sympathy: support of political freedom, economic profits (selling lots of weapons to the Allies), and disagreement with Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare.  The latter factor was key in the minds of the American citizens.  The sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 was the first widely publicized act; the luxury ship was sunk by torpedo off the coast of Ireland and 100 Americans were among the casualties.  Then in 1916 after a French steamer, the Sussex, was sunk without warning, President Wilson declared that if German sunk anymore merchant or civilian ships, the United States would break diplomatic ties with that country.

3. Preparation  The National Defense Act was passed by Congress in 1916 and increased the American military.  It also authorized the spending of $500,000,000 for a new and modernized navy fleet

4. The President’s Plan  Woodrow Wilson was an educator and he had good intentions, but utopian ideas.  In January 1917 he spoke to Congress and presented his idea for “peace without victory” which would be a “peace between equals” in Europe’s war.  In other words he wanted no conquered nations, but rather peace and a gathering of nations in mutual respect for discussion of international affairs.  He also advocated that each nation’s people choose their own government, limitation of military armaments, freedom of the seas, and an international organization to ensure world peace.

5. Good-bye, Germany  Well, President Wilson’s ideas for peace and prosperity didn’t impress Germany.  They wanted to win the war and issued a proclamation, enforcing their policy of unrestricted submarine warfare and declaring that they would sink any vessel found in a designated war zone.  (The Germans hoped to cut the US supply line to Britain and defeat that nation before America had time to join the war.)  On February 3, 1917, the German ambassador was sent home and America broke diplomatic ties with Germany.

6. Zimmerman Note  The British managed to intercept a German secret message sent from Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman to the German ambassador in Mexico.  Basically, it offered that if Mexico and Germany formed an alliance, Germany would help Mexico invade the United States and re-claim New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona.  On March 1, 1917, the message was published in American newspapers and the citizens were horrified and angered.

7. Declaration of War  On April 6, 1917, after Germany sank 4 American merchant ships, the United States declared war and officially entered the conflict.

America mobilized quickly and the war effort was supported by the majority of citizens.  Registering for the draft, purchasing war bonds, increasing industrial output, planting victory gardens, attending patriotic events were some of the ways that Americans volunteered to support their nation and the Allies.  By the end of the war 2,000,000 American soldiers would have served in Europe.

US African American infantry unit near Verdun in WWI (Public Domain; source Wikimedia)

US infantry unit near Verdun in WWI (Public Domain; source Wikimedia)

So what happened next?

The entrance of America into the war tipped the scales in the Allies favor.  The American Navy ensured that troops and supplies could safely reach Britain.  The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) commanded by General John Pershing fought alongside the British and French troops, providing a morale boost.  Also food, sent from America, fed hungry Allied civilians.

Germany made an offensive attack in the summer of 1917.  Russia had signed the Brest-Litovsk treaty and pulled out of the war to handle a Communist Revolution within their own borders.  Germany hoped that one more offensive would break the  remaining Allies.  Fierce battles – Cantigny, Belleau Wood, Chateau-Thierry – might have made Germany victorious, but American reinforcements were with the Allies.  Then the Allies launched a counter-offensive which included the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Campaigns.  The Germans were pushed back and when their communications lines were destroyed, they agreed to sign an armistice.

In the armistice treaty the Allies forced Germany to admit sole guilt for causing the war, allow occupation of the country, and surrender most weapons, along with other harsh measures.  The Germans had little choice and signed.  November 11, 1918, was Armistice Day.  (In America we now celebrate Veterans’ Day on this date).

Well, with the war over, the victorious countries sent leaders to negogiate a treaty at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919.  President Wilson (America), Prime Minister George (Britain), Premier Clemenceau (France), and Prime Minister Orlando (Italy) were called “the Big Four” and made most of the decisions.  In summary The Treaty of Versailles required Germany to give up territory, demilitarize, admit guilt of causing war, and pay reparation.  Oh, and the League of Nations (think of it as a pre-UN organization) was founded.  America did not join the League of Nations, much to President Wilson’s dismay.

I encourage you to form your own opinions about America’s road into WWI.  However, I’m going to share my thoughts on the outcome.  1) America was now emerging as a key player in international politics  2) America was a nation that could mobilize and army and civilian support rapidly  3) America had great economic interests throughout the world  4) America learned the importance of moving into the “modern era” of technology and military preparation 

WWI ended in 1918 and, in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, the seeds of WWII were planted.  They truly believed they had fought “a war to end all wars,” but in reality they had set the stage for an even larger conflict – one where America would join more quickly and officially move to world-power status.

I believe that this often over-looked conflict called World War I ushered in the modern era of international politics and warfare, which continues to unfold today.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. So what did you think? Should America have entered WWI sooner or not at all?  Just your thoughts…

Did we remove some of the mystery surrounding WWI in the last five weeks?  I wish I had a little more time to cover more of WWI, but we’ve come to the end of August and will be moving on to a new topic next month.  If I completely missed something or if you have a question, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it briefly or at least post a helpful resource.