The Count

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For eight long and brutal years, from 1775-1783, the Continental Army fought to liberate the United States from British oppression. During the conflict, fifty thousand Continental troops were killed, wounded, died of disease or perished as prisoners of war. Not all the casualties were native-born Americans, however. Numerous European officers crossed the Atlantic and pledged fidelity to the “glorious cause.” Most famous were France’s Marquis de Lafayette and Prussia’s Baron von Steuben, both of whom remained by George Washington’s side until the final victory was won. Both men displayed military prowess on battlefields across the country, and by war’s end, they were two of Washington’s most trusted subordinates. Other foreign patriots similarly fought tenaciously against the British, and several laid down their lives on the altar of freedom. Among them was a Polish nobleman who had championed, and fought for, liberty in his native land. Though forced to flee, his ardor still burned bright. His name was Casimir Pulaski. This is the story of his faithful service to the United States as a ferocious cavalry officer.

Having entered the world at a time when most of Europe’s monarchs ruled with an iron fist, Casimir Pulaski devoted his life to freedom’s crusade. He was born in Warsaw, Poland in March 1747 to a wealthy and respected magistrate and came of age during the rule of Stanislaw Augustus, lover and puppet of Russian Empress Catherine the Great. Like his father, Casimir vehemently opposed Russian interference in Polish affairs. In 1768 he, along with the rest of the revolutionary Confederation of Bar, took up arms to drive Russian forces out of Poland. Though only twenty-one, Pulaski quickly rose to prominence among the rebellion’s leaders, often leading four thousand men at a time into battle. As fighting raged from western Poland to the Carpathian Mountains on the southern border, the zealous young officer won renown for his daring military operations against the hated enemy. In addition to guerrilla attacks on Russian supply depots, he showed no hesitation in assaulting superior forces. At the fortress of Okope, for example, he led two hundred horsemen down a rocky precipice and, screaming like the proverbial Turks, charged the Russians below. On another occasion, he lured a body of Russian soldiers into a swamp and overwhelmed them. Even when Russia drove his rebels into Hungary, Pulaski refused to surrender. Rather, he marshaled his troops, and in late 1770 he marched back into Poland, intent on capturing Warsaw. In January 1771 he achieved a stunning victory at Czenstokow where his men repulsed waves of Russians using fireballs and rocks. In the battle’s aftermath, he resumed his guerrilla attacks on the enemy before supporting a plot to abduct King Stanislaw, who had assisted the Russian war effort. The attempt failed due to the incompetence of Polish troops, and, with the aid of Austria and Prussia, Russian forces quickly crushed the rebellion. Labeled a regicide and condemned to death, Pulaski had no choice but to flee Poland in disgrace.

With nowhere to go, Casimir escaped south to Turkey, then part of the Ottoman Empire, where he pressed the country’s rulers to declare war on Russia. When his petition was rejected, he headed west. By 1776 he was in France, and it was there he first heard of the fight for liberty raging across the Atlantic. Heartened to hear of another people resisting oppression, Pulaski saw a chance for redemption. In America, he could strike the blow for freedom that had been denied him in Poland. Determined to see America victorious, Count Pulaski, as he now styled himself, met with U.S. representative Benjamin Franklin and pledged his undying fidelity to the “glorious cause.” Franklin readily accepted Pulaski and penned a glowing endorsement, calling Pulaski an “officer famous throughout Europe for his bravery and conduct in defense of the liberties of his country.” Within days, Casimir boarded a ship bound for the United States and arrived in the nascent republic in late summer 1777.

Stepping foot on American soil, Pulaski immediately travelled to George Washington’s headquarters where he so impressed the commanding general that Washington encouraged the Continental Congress to commission the Count a Continental cavalry officer. Before Congress could act, however, British General William Howe appeared outside Philadelphia, then the U.S. capital. Though without a command, Pulaski still determined to fight the British. On September 11, 1777, he watched as Hessian General Wilhelm von Knyphausen stormed across Brandywine Creek. Almost simultaneously, gunfire was heard from further north where Howe and the main army had crossed the creek and struck the American right flank. American soldiers ran in terror. Seizing the initiative, Pulaski rode to the front of the thirty horsemen comprising Washington’s personal guard, and as the general himself watched, the gallant officer charged forward. As he had in Poland, Pulaski swept into the British ranks with such ferocity the enemy was caught by complete surprise. Slashing his saber first to the right, then the left, he engaged his adversaries in hand-to-hand combat. Taking advantage of the Pole’s daring assault, Washington evacuated the army to safety. As Pulaski prepared to follow, he observed British troops closing in on the road to Chester, Pennsylvania, the Continental Army’s main supply route. Wasting no time, he assumed command of nearby Continental troops and led them against the front and flank of the British column. Once again, he stopped the advance, not only saving the army but much-needed supplies as well.

In recognition of his courageous actions, the Continental Congress commissioned Pulaski a brigadier general and gave him command of the Continental Army’s 539-man cavalry division. He first led his new command into action at the October 4th Battle of Germantown when General Washington attacked British forces outside Philadelphia. After initially driving the British back, American troops were repulsed by an enemy counter attack. As the Continental Army fell back, Pulaski, once again, held the rear guard and was the last officer to leave the field. Soon after, he took up winter quarters at Trenton, New Jersey where he ensured the region was free of Loyalist raids. He also skirmished with British forces, such as at Chestnut Hill where he killed five men and took two prisoners. At another skirmish at Haddonfield, New Jersey, in late February 1778, Pulaski audaciously led fifty horsemen in striking a 2,000-man British column, which threatened American foraging parties. During the fighting, he had five horses shot out from under him, but he refused to quit the field. When not actively engaged, he lobbied Washington and Congress to consolidate the disparate cavalry units into a unified command and use it as a mobile strike force. When such hopes proved futile, he raised his own legion, comprising over three hundred cavalry and infantry. In October he led the command against British raiders at Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey and sent them fleeing. Four months later, in February 1779, he received orders to march to South Carolina where his legion was desperately needed.

Unable to achieve a decisive victory against American forces in the northern U.S., British forces had invaded the American South and quickly captured Savannah, Georgia. Dispatched to Charleston to join General Benjamin Lincoln, Pulaski reached the city on May 11th, the same day as British forces. Without stopping to rest, the general led his troopers along the road leading out of Charleston and met the advancing British in open battle. Twice, he charged British lines, and despite heavy casualties, he so overawed the British they halted their advance, allowing Lincoln time to bring in additional reinforcements and save the city. As the townspeople breathed a sigh of relief, they hailed Casimir Pulaski as a national hero. While he welcomed such acclaim, the Count recognized British forces still menaced Charleston from their base at Savannah. Along with General Lincoln, Pulaski determined the best way to keep Charleston safe was by driving into Georgia and recapturing the British bastion.

Along with General Lincoln, Pulaski advanced south and arrived outside Savannah in late September where they were joined by French Admiral Comte d’Estaing. The two armies quickly surrounded the five British redoubts protecting the city, and on October 9, 1779 the attack began. D’Estaing led four thousand French and American troops against the redoubt at Spring Hill. As the Allies pressed forward, British artillery opened fire. D’Estaing himself fell with wounds to the arm and leg. Seeing their commander struck down, the assault began to falter. It was at this critical moment that General Casimir Pulaski appeared on the scene. He galloped to the front of the charge and attempted to rally the retreating soldiers. Seeing the enemy defenses just a few yards ahead, he determined to push into the British works. Shouting for two hundred horsemen to follow him, he ploughed forward. Suddenly, a British artillery round struck him in the groin and upper right thigh. He was carried to the brig Wasp where surgeons worked diligently to save this remarkable warrior. Sadly, gangrene set in, and the man who opposed tyranny on two continents died of his wounds on October 11th. Accounts vary as to Pulaski’s final resting place, but it is known that upon the Wasp’s arrival in Charleston, South Carolina, the city held a grand procession commemorating all Casimir Pulaski had done for the cause of freedom.

Although not born in the United States, Casimir Pulaski embraced the highest ideals that Americans have always held dear. He sought to bring liberty and justice to his native Poland and risked death to defy tyrannical Russia. He enthusiastically battled freedom’s enemies, and even when he was driven out of his homeland, he refused to forsake the cause. Instead, he found a land that loved liberty as much as he did. To this new country, he gave what Abraham Lincoln later called the “last full measure of devotion.” America so valued his heroic service that in 2009 he was made an honorary citizen of the United States — only the seventh person ever to receive the honor. Today, America fondly refers to Lafayette as “the Marquis” and to von Steuben as “the Baron.” In the same spirit, Casimir Pulaski deserves remembrance as “the Count.”

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One of the Few, One of the Proud

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On December 8, 1941, the day after Imperial Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on the island nation during his celebrated “Day of Infamy” speech. Quickly mobilizing, the U.S. counterattacked in 1942, and by the fall of 1944 American forces were within two thousand miles of Japan. Vicious fights had raged from the beginning, but some of the fiercest battles still lay ahead. In mid-September U.S. troops landed on a six-mile coral and limestone landmass in the Palau Islands of the western Pacific known as Peleliu. Among those who fought their way ashore before pushing inland was a U.S. Marine officer from Massachusetts. He knew well the Japanese’s ferocity, for he had previously witnessed their determination to die rather than shame themselves, at least in their eyes, by surrendering. He soon found himself in the battle of his life. His name was Everett Pope. This is the story of how his gallant assault and then defense of Hill 154 won him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Even before the United States entered World War II, Everett Pope embarked on a career in the U.S. military. He was born in July 1919 in Milton, Massachusetts but later moved to the Boston suburb of North Quincy. After high school, he attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, the alma mater of Gettysburg hero Joshua L. Chamberlain who won the Medal of Honor for his defense of Little Round Top. While there, Pope captained the championship tennis team and earned a degree in French. He graduated magna cum laude and a member of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa honor society in 1941. Soon after, having been captivated by the presentation of a Marine recruiter he met on campus, Everett enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. During basic training, he demonstrated such natural leadership that his superiors recommended him for Officer Candidate School. On November 1st he was commissioned a second lieutenant and posted to Quantico, Virginia, and later the Marine base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for additional training. He was still there when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, hurtling the United States into World War II. With the outbreak of war, it was only a matter of time before Everett received orders to ship out for distant battlefields.

In June 1942 Lieutenant Everett Pope, leading a platoon in the 1st Marine Regiment’s 1st Battalion, boarded a troop ship bound for the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific as part of the U.S. invasion of Guadalcanal. The campaign was designed to protect Allied forces in Australia. On August 7th Pope and his “leathernecks” stormed the beach and surged inland to secure the island’s airfield, labeled Henderson Field in honor of Marine pilot Lofton Henderson who was killed in the June Battle of Midway. Within days, however, the new officer found himself face-to-face with an intransigent Japanese Army. Along with his fellow servicemen, Pope doggedly engaged enemy troops across the island. He proved so ferocious a fighter that he later won the Bronze Star for meritorious service. The platoon stayed on Guadalcanal until early 1943 when it was sent to Melbourne, Australia for much-needed rest and relaxation.

During this time of rejuvenation, Pope was promoted to captain and assumed command of Company C. That fall, he and his men prepared to attack a second Japanese bastion — Cape Gloucester in New Britain. American commanders sought to isolate Japanese forces on Rabaul and thereby safeguard the sea-lanes linking New Britain with New Guinea. Fighting raged from the last days of 1943 until April 1944. As the campaign ended, Pope was charged with sweeping through the wild countryside to ensure no pockets of enemy resistance remained. On one patrol across twelve miles of jungle trails, he and fourteen comrades killed twenty enemy combatants. More amazing, however, he successfully captured seven Japanese soldiers and marched them back to American lines for interrogation. With New Britain secure, Pope’s company boarded transports and embarked for the western Pacific to join other U.S. forces in launching the first stages of a drive on Japan itself.

By late 1944 U.S. forces had driven Japan out of the South and Central Pacific, and U.S. commanders began debating future military operations. Despite the Navy’s objections, General Douglas MacArthur pressed for and achieved permission for a long-awaited attack to reclaim the Philippines. In preparation for the invasion, MacArthur sought to stabilize his right flank with an assault on the Japanese-held island of Peleliu. The island would also serve as a base from which U.S. aircraft could launch air raids on the Japanese homeland. Once the strategy was approved, vessels carrying the 1st Marine Regiment, including Captain Pope and his 235-man Company C, anchored offshore. There, the troops waited for the moment when they would spill onto the coral beaches facing them. On September 15th Everett Pope charged ashore at the head of his Marines and doggedly fought inland, set on capturing the island’s strategic airfield. Once the airfield was secured, he faced an even more daunting and costly task — clearing the Umurbrogol ridges of Japanese troops. During the next four days, Company C suffered thirty percent casualties. The loss of so many skilled fighters forced Pope to employ cooks, bakers and clerks as riflemen. In addition, Japanese soldiers infiltrated American lines on the night of September 18th, preventing the captain and his men from getting even a little sleep. The next morning, Captain Everett Pope received the orders that would change his life forever.

As dawn broke on September 19th, the 1st Marine’s legendary commander, Colonel Lewis “Chesty” Puller, directed Pope to lead his remaining 90 men against a coral outcropping, labeled Hill 154, along the slope of what came to be called, for obvious reasons, Suicide Ridge. Despite the climate’s oppressive heat, which consistently rose above 100 degrees, and the lack of suitable drinking water, the company prepared to carry out its orders. Pope led the way through a swamp and then up the hill. Despite covering fire from American mortars and machine guns, Japanese mortars and field guns opened enfilading fire from adjacent heights along the ridge and inflicted heavy damage. Additionally, Japanese troops emerged from their caves dug into the hillside and fired on the Marines. As men fell around him, Pope knew he could not remain where he was and ordered his men to fall back. Still, he determined to achieve the objective, and after regrouping, he charged forward a second time. Again, the enemy met him with fierce opposition, but Pope refused to back down this time. Exhorting the Marines around him, he secured a foothold and began pushing the Japanese back. No matter how hard they tried, Japanese soldiers could not dislodge the stalwart Marines. As the sun sank towards the horizon, Captain Everett Pope and thirteen fellow Marines stood atop Hill 154. He had taken the hill at a huge cost, but even so he knew the battle was not over yet.

Surveying his position, Pope saw the hill was open to attack on three sides, and the barren terrain allowed Japanese troops to pour unobstructed fire on the Marines. Knowing he must hold out as long as possible, the captain deployed his men at vital positions across the hill and listened for the enemy’s approach. The first wave of attackers came just after darkness fell. In ones and twos, the Japanese stealthily climbed the hill wearing black uniforms and split-toed shoes with rubber soles. The defenders were ready though and opened fire using a handful of tommy guns, rifles, one light machine gun and several hand grenades. Pope watched as these small teams fell back, only to repeat the same strategy minutes later. Scattered fighting continued until midnight when the Japanese rejected such spoiling raids in favor of all-out assaults. Waves of twenty-five soldiers stormed the American position again and again, but each time Pope’s men fired on the enemy and repulsed the surges. During one attack, shrapnel struck Pope in the thigh; despite excruciating pain, however, Pope stayed in command and refused to abandon his men until the life or death contest was decided.

As the night progressed, Japanese soldiers proved so determined as to come within the Marines’ lines, resulting in hand-to-hand fighting on occasion. Still, the Americans held their ground, but by the early hours of September 20th, the troops were running low on ammunition. Worse, they could see Japanese officers had redoubled their efforts to recapture Hill 154. Flares erupted overhead in the darkness, allowing the Japanese to direct small-arms fire on the Marines. Pope’s men returned fire with their few precious grenades. As the Japanese lobbed their own grenades at the defenders, the Americans threw them back before they could detonate. Soon, however, the supply ran low. Refusing to give up, Pope ordered his men to throw rocks to keep the enemy off balance. Due to the darkness, the Japanese were unable to tell if the Marines were throwing rocks or the real thing — grenades. Still the enemy was undeterred, and under orders from their officers, they swarmed up the hill again.

As the Japanese closed in, Pope and his men fired off their last rounds of ammunition. In desperation, he ordered empty ammunition boxes hurled at the attackers, but in moments, enemy soldiers were amongst his own men. There was now only one course of action left. The injured Pope raised his fists and led his few able-bodied men in hand-to-hand combat. A bare-knuckled brawl erupted. Overwhelmed by the unexpected tenacity, the Japanese fell back. As they did so, dawn appeared on the horizon. As the morning sun dispelled the darkness, Japanese troops spied the crest of Hill 154 and gaped openly at the sight before them — only nine U.S. Marines stood atop the hill. Japanese commanders immediately rallied almost one hundred soldiers to attack en masse. Looking on, Pope knew he and his men would not survive what was coming. Suddenly, however, orders arrived for him to fall back. Not wasting any time, he led his troops down the hillside and back to American lines.

In the days after his heroic defense of Hill 154, Captain Everett Pope continued to battle the Japanese across Peleliu, returning to Hill 154 nearly two weeks after leaving to bury his dead. He remained in the Pacific theatre until November. Two months later, in January 1945, he was promoted to major and assigned to a Japanese language course at Yale University in anticipation of the U.S. invasion of Japan itself, scheduled for later that year. At the same time, word of his valiant actions on Peleliu had reached the highest corridors of power in Washington, D.C. On June 15, 1945 President Harry Truman presented Everett Pope with the nation’s highest award for bravery — the Congressional Medal of Honor — for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” The war ended two months later with the Japanese surrender. Though placed on inactive duty in July 1946, he commanded the Marine Corps Reserve’s 2nd Infantry Battalion in Hingham, Massachusetts, and with the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, he briefly returned to active duty as executive officer of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He resigned from the Marine Corps in 1951 and spent twenty-five years as a Boston, Massachusetts bank president. He later served on Bowdoin College’s governing boards where he established a scholarship as well as an award honoring classmate and fellow Marine Captain Andrew Haldane, who had been killed on Peleliu. Major Everett Pope died in Bath, Maine on his 90th birthday in July 2009 and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in recognition of his devoted service to the United States during World War II.

Throughout his military career, Everett Pope proved himself the quintessential combat officer willing to face any peril. On numerous islands across the Pacific, the gallant commander charged headlong into Japanese positions, but nowhere was his bravery more evident than on Peleliu on September 19-20, 1944. Despite seemingly impossible odds, Pope and just a handful of men first took Hill 154 and then proceeded to hold it against repeated Japanese onslaughts. Even in the face of annihilation, he refused to back down. Through his unflagging courage and devotion to duty, U.S. Marine Corps Captain Everett Pope not only became a national hero but also joined an elite band of warriors decorated for giving of themselves far above and beyond the call of their country. As such, his actions should live forever in the memories of his countrymen.

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Great Scott

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During the winter of 1864, the fourth year of the American Civil War, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman led 60,000 Northern soldiers on his famed March to the Sea from Atlanta, Georgia to Savannah. Along the way, his troops burned and plundered farms scattered across the state. Sherman fully condoned such tactics not only for strategic purposes but also to teach the Southern populace the true meaning of war — a concept now referred to as “total war.” The campaign transformed Sherman into a national hero. It is often forgotten, however, another U.S. commander conducted just as daunting a campaign nearly fifteen years earlier and was just as spectacularly successful. The expedition marked the climax of a long and illustrious career, and it cemented his reputation as America’s foremost soldier. His name was Winfield Scott. This is the story of his campaign from the gulf coast into the heart of Mexico City.

Winfield Scott first rose to national prominence during the War of 1812. He was born in June 1786 in Petersburg, Virginia to a former Continental Army officer and the granddaughter of a wealthy Virginia planter. After attending Virginia’s prestigious College of William and Mary, he briefly pursued a legal career, but mounting tensions over Britain’s impressment of American sailors into the Royal Navy persuaded young Winfield to trade the law for the U.S. military. In 1808 he was commissioned a light artillery captain and began a lifelong habit of wearing ornate uniforms — earning him the nickname “Old Fuss and Feathers.” By the time Congress declared war on Britain in June 1812, Scott was lieutenant colonel of the Second Artillery Regiment. On October 12th he crossed the Niagara River to Queenston, Canada as part of an American invasion force. There he heroically repulsed British attacks to drive the Americans back, at one point leading a counterattack in full-dress uniform. Nonetheless, overwhelming enemy superiority forced him to surrender, and during his five-week captivity, he resolved to never fight defensively again. He proved the value of the offensive in 1813 when he led an audacious attack that routed British troops from Newark, Canada. Hailed as a national hero, the twenty-seven-year-old colonel was promoted to brigadier general in March 1814, making him the youngest in the army. His star rose higher in July 1814 after he executed a masterful flank attack that drove the British from the field during the Battle of the Chippewa. Later that same month, Scott impetuously attacked a British-held ridge at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane and suffered heavy casualties. Nevertheless, the exploits earned Scott the country’s admiration, and he emerged from the war as one of the Army’s top officers.

After the war ended in 1815, Winfield Scott dedicated himself to creating a professional army. He headed a board of officers which adopted French tactics for the U.S. Army, and in 1821 he published a book outlining military regulations. He also championed the establishment of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and its mission to transform young men into effective leaders. Despite these efforts, Congress increasingly called for reducing the Army. Scott perceived such measures as a threat to America’s national security, as well as his own career. In response, he successfully lobbied for preservation of a corps of experienced officers as well as 5,500 soldiers. His actions proved wise. During the 1830s he was frequently called on to mobilize troops to quell various dissident groups opposed to the federal government — first when Indian Chief Black Hawk led an uprising in 1832 in Illinois and again in 1833 when South Carolina nullified a national tariff and threatened war. Three years later in 1836 he led an expedition against Florida’s Seminole Indians and Alabama’s Creeks that, while unsuccessful, imparted valuable lessons about campaigning in enemy territory, notably how to counter guerrilla warfare. The general also used a combination of military force and diplomacy to ease tensions with Britain resulting from disputes along the northern border. In 1841 he achieved his dream of becoming the Army’s commanding general. He was still in that position five years later when war erupted between the United States and Mexico.

By the mid-1840s, expansionist fever gripped the nation, beginning with the Republic of Texas’s admission to the Union. Following Texas’s annexation in December 1845, the U.S. and Mexico clashed over the international boundary — whether it should follow the Rio Grande (the U.S.’s claim) or the Nueces River (Mexico’s claim). President James Polk exacerbated the dispute with his wish to acquire Mexico’s western territory and his decision to send troops to the disputed territory. In May 1846 fighting erupted along the Rio Grande, and Winfield vowed to prosecute the war to the end. In late October General Scott proposed to President Polk and to Secretary of War William Marcy that he, despite his position as top general, lead an expedition into the field to capture the Mexican port of Veracruz and then march into the heartland to “compel [the Mexican] people to sue for peace.” With Polk’s approval, Scott arrived on the island of Lobos, the invasion’s staging point, in late February 1847 to find 9,000 men waiting for him. On March 2, 1847 he sailed south and sighted the “Gibraltar of Mexico” two days later. The invasion began on March 9th as surfboats carried troops to Collado Beach, two-and-a-half miles from the city. It was the largest U.S. amphibious landing until the November 1942 Allied invasion of North Africa during World War II. After securing the beachhead, Scott encircled Veracruz from the south, west, and north, and after observing the formidable defenses, he determined to bombard the Mexican forces into submission rather than lose scores of men in a futile frontal assault. He strategically stationed five batteries around the city, one of which was made up of Naval artillery, and on March 22nd he opened fire on the enemy. After five days, the Mexicans surrendered, and Winfield Scott prepared to embark for Mexico’s historic capital.

Departing Veracruz on April 8th, General Scott led his men along the National Road, the same route used by Spaniard Hernan Cortez and his conquistadores on the expedition against the Aztecs from 1519 to 1521. Three days later, the army’s vanguard encountered enemy troops led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at Cerro Gordo Pass. The Mexican commander, most famous for his slaughter of Texas defenders at the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, had placed artillery along ridgelines covering the road as well as on a 600-foot rise known as El Telegrafo. He left a third hill, Atalaya, only lightly defended. When Scott arrived on April 14th, he rejected a frontal attack and dispatched Captain Robert E. Lee, later of Civil War fame, to find a route around the army. After Lee found a path around Atalaya, Scott ordered General Gideon Pillow to demonstrate (make a show of force) against Santa Anna’s front while David Twiggs’s division attacked the enemy’s left flank. The battle began on April 17th as Twiggs stormed Atalaya, driving the enemy before him. He proceeded up El Telegrafo but was beaten back. Scott was undaunted, however, and directed the assault to resume the next day. This time Twiggs succeeded in seizing the high ground and the National Road, capturing over 3,000 Mexican soldiers and forcing the rest to flee in terror.

Determined to capitalize on the victory, Scott pressed on to Jalapa and then Puebla where he halted to await reinforcements and replenish his supplies. All along the way, “Old Fuss and Feathers” exercised strict control over the troops so as to lessen the depredations committed on the Mexican populace. He imposed martial law and directed all criminals to be tried by military tribunal — whether Mexican or U.S. servicemen. In both Jalapa and Puebla, he also established friendly relations with inhabitants, particularly clergymen. This respect encouraged residents to respond in kind, such as selling much needed supplies to the army. By the time Scott left Puebla, his efforts had largely succeeded in ensuring his rear was free of guerrilla activity. Nevertheless, he perceived the danger of maintaining a communications and supply link with American forces on the coast. Knowing the coming battles with Santa Anna required him to be at full strength, he refused to dispatch troops to protect that line. In a maneuver later mimicked by General William T. Sherman, Scott made the momentous decision to sever all contact with the coast, his supply source. He then turned his back on Puebla and led his soldiers out of the rich farmland. He and his men ascended the mountains surrounding Mexico City, and after four days of marching, during which the troops climbed to an altitude of more than 10,600 feet, he looked down on the campaign’s prize — the Valley of Mexico, with Mexico City at its heart.

As he surveyed the valley, Scott saw that Santa Anna had fortified the city’s southern and eastern approaches to repel American attacks. Not willing to risk battle with a superior force, he bypassed both positions using a southern route thought to be impassable and then pushed through the villages of San Agustin and Contreras by way of a dried lava bed known as the Pedregal. On August 20th Scott launched a pincer attack against Mexican forces, which had moved to meet the threat. Gideon Pillow’s troops surged across the lava field into the camps while General William Worth’s command assaulted Mexican positions around nearby San Antonio. Terrified Mexicans abandoned the field and raced to Santa Anna’s headquarters at Churubusco. Determined to keep up the pressure, Scott pressed both commanders to continue the attack. American forces hurled themselves at the Mexican positions around the Churubusco monastery and the bridge over the Churubusco River. At the cost of only 1,000 casualties, American forces inflicted ten times as many casualties on the enemy and drove the rest back into Mexico City itself.

Following the resounding victory, Scott briefly engaged in peace negotiations in hopes the war would end without additional bloodshed. Such hopes dimmed after he learned Mexican leaders made unrealistic demands and Santa Anna had used the temporary cease-fire to bolster his defenses. Convinced that only a decisive American victory would bring peace, “Old Fuss and Feathers” readied his men to attack the bastions facing them. On September 8, 1847 he ordered William Worth to strike the stone structures of Molino del Rey and Casa Mata, rumored to house gunpowder and a foundry for casting cannon. As Worth commenced the attack, Scott likely felt a jolt of panic as Mexican forces inflicted carnage on the first wave, causing the Americans to fall back. To his vast relief, however, the troops charged back into the fray. Bloody fighting erupted among the combatants. U.S. forces lost a total of 791 men, but Worth finally routed the enemy. Scott now intended to use the captured positions to launch his attack on the castle of Chapultepec. His men could then enter the capital from the west, rather than the more heavily defended south. On the morning of September 13th, U.S. troops stormed the hillside, scaled the castle’s walls and jumped over the parapets. In less than an hour and a half, the American flag flew over this symbol of Mexican military might. But the battle was not over yet. Spurred on by the prospect of delivering a knockout punch, American troops surged up the causeways and into the western edge of the city. Though he had not ordered the pursuit, Scott congratulated his subordinates on a well-executed battle. He still expected Santa Anna to defend his capital street by street. As dawn rose on September 14th, however, he was stunned to find the Mexican army gone and the city’s gates opened for his grand entrance.

As he entered the plaza facing Mexico’s National Palace, Winfield Scott cemented his status as an American hero. In only six months, he advanced more than 250 miles, and at the cost of only 3,200 casualties, he inflicted almost five times that many on the enemy. Looking around, he must have swelled with pride at the realization that he had done all he set out to do. Following his triumph, he devoted himself to occupation duty. So judicious was his administration that several influential leaders approached Scott and asked him to be Mexico’s new president, but disputes with Generals Worth and Pillow, and with President Polk, led to his recall in early 1848. Upon his return, he sought to transform his battlefield glory into political success, and in 1852 he became the Whig Party’s presidential nominee. The campaign proved unsuccessful, and he returned his attention to military affairs. In February 1855 Congress honored his military accomplishments by awarding him the rank of lieutenant general. In that position, he directed a military expedition against Mormons in Utah Territory and helped settle a dispute with Great Britain over San Juan Island in Oregon. As the nation drifted towards civil war in early 1861, Scott strengthened federal installations in the new Confederacy, and he increased the troops protecting Washington, D.C. After Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter in April, he devised a grandiose strategy to blockade Southern ports and send Union troops down the Mississippi River. The strategy, derisively labeled the Anaconda Plan by critics, convinced certain Union leaders Scott was too old to direct the war effort. After twenty years as general-in-chief, Winfield Scott left the U.S. Army on October 31, 1861 and retired to the Military Academy at West Point where he died in May 1866. Befitting his long service to the nation, he was buried in the Academy’s cemetery.

Throughout his life, Winfield Scott strove to advance the banner of the United States. He learned the art of warfare fighting the British along America’s northern border, and he carried the lessons with him as he built the U.S. Army into a professional force able to match any opponent. His greatest moment, however, occurred when he led 10,000 American troops into the heartland of Mexico and soundly defeated Santa Anna. The campaign earned him the undying admiration of his subordinates, many of whom adopted Scott’s tactics and aggressiveness when they fought each other during the American Civil War. While some of those officers and their campaigns, notably William Tecumseh Sherman’s 1864 March to the Sea, came to overshadow Scott’s accomplishment simply because of the enormous scale of that epic war, the 1847 Mexico City campaign and its grand architect still deserve all the praise and recognition so graciously bestowed in that day. When he learned of the American victory, no less than the Duke of Wellington, conqueror of Napoleon, placed on Winfield Scott a mantle few would ever attain — “the greatest living soldier.”

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The Man Behind the Signature

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Due in part to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s celebrated poem, Paul Revere’s midnight ride on April 18, 1775 is one of the American Revolution’s most iconic events. Leaving Boston, the daring patriot crossed the Charles River to Charlestown where he mounted his horse and tore off into the Massachusetts countryside. As he passed each house, he shouted for his countrymen to grab their muskets and prepare to resist the advancing Redcoats. Sounding the alarm was not his only mission, however. He was also desperate to reach Lexington and alert the colony’s two leading patriots of the imminent peril. Both men had long topped Britain’s most wanted list and were, therefore, coveted prizes for the expedition. First and foremost was the fiery Sam Adams who had passionately defended American liberty for ten years and led Boston’s Sons of Liberty against Parliament’s repressive policies. British leaders considered him a rabble-rouser, but his fellow patriot was just as dangerous. Unlike Adams, he came from a well-to-do background and had initially been more moderate in opposition. As Britain cracked down though, he assumed a larger role in the patriot cause. His name was John Hancock. This is the story of how British oppression transformed him from a loyal British subject into a revolutionary American patriot.

By the climactic spring of 1775, John Hancock had risen from humble origins to become one of Boston’s wealthiest inhabitants. He was born in January 1737 in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, outside of Boston, to a Congregational minister. He enjoyed an idyllic childhood traversing the fields alongside future President John Adams. At age seven, however, his father died, and he faced an uncertain future. Yet, it was at this bleak moment fortune smiled down on young John with the arrival of his Uncle Thomas, a successful merchant who operated Boston’s prestigious House of Hancock. With his mother’s agreement, he travelled to Thomas’s mansion on Beacon Hill and quickly adjusted to the trappings of wealth — riding in a gilt-laden carriage and wearing velvet breeches and a satin shirt with lace ruffles. He also mastered social etiquette and behaved as if he had been born into high society. In fall 1745 Hancock entered Boston’s Public Latin School where he perfected the sweeping handwriting that later made him famous. He then attended Harvard University and spent four years gaining valuable business and social skills. When he graduated in 1754, he was ready to join the House of Hancock.

Taking his place beside his uncle, Hancock devoted himself to becoming a worthy heir and partner. He spent hours pouring over account books and toiling in the firm’s stores, and at other times he traversed the city’s wharves visiting with ship captains or strolled Faneuil Hall’s market stalls conversing with fellow merchants. John gradually assumed greater responsibility, particularly as the French and Indian War raged throughout the 1750s and the House of Hancock served as a major military supplier. He gathered wagons and additional supplies for expeditions against the French, and with his uncle involved in crafting military strategy, his name appeared on supply orders with increasing regularity. His success persuaded Thomas Hancock John was ready to become his senior partner. In 1760, therefore, John visited London and met his uncle’s agents. He also cultivated relationships with British merchants. Returning to Boston in October 1761, he managed the House of Hancock’s daily operations while his uncle remained nominally in charge. That changed three years later, when on August 1, 1764, Thomas Hancock died of a stroke, leaving his nephew to carry on his legacy.

Now one of Boston’s most prominent citizens, John Hancock took to his position with all the dignity and grace expected of him. He forged tighter bonds with Boston’s business and royal elite, often hosting them at lavish dinner parties at the Beacon Hill mansion he inherited from his uncle. Despite enjoying an active social life, however, he also devoted himself to expanding his business empire by contracting with Nantucket whalers to dominate the whale oil industry. He filled his ships with the lucrative commodity and sent them to Britain in hopes of winning the highest bids. He also sent to London for merchandise to stock his stores in expectation of future sales. But it was not to be. The colonies already suffered an economic slump with the end of the French and Indian War, and that slump soon turned into a full-scale depression. There was little need for British goods, as shown by the low turnout at his annual Christmas sale. Adding to his troubles, faster ships carrying cheaper whale oil beat his to London and won the best bids. The House of Hancock was in dire straits, and John desperately sought to prevent bankruptcy, which had already occurred to many of his colleagues. He called in debts owed to his uncle, sold goods on credit and even did the unthinkable — canceled orders for spring and summer goods. It was at this critical moment that he learned of Britain’s intent to levy direct taxes on the colonies.

Even though colonists were suffering economic hardship, British officials determined to raise funds to provide for Redcoat garrisons across North America. Royal authorities also sought to crack down on trade violations. To accomplish these objectives, Parliament adopted the 1764 Sugar Act, which placed a three pence tax on British West Indian molasses while prohibiting the importation of foreign molasses. The act also required colonists to purchase foreign goods from British merchants at higher prices, and it strengthened customs officials’ authority by tightening ship inspections and registration procedures. When he learned of the new legislation, Hancock immediately saw the act as a threat to colonial trade. More personally, the higher prices and the enforcement of customs duties took their toll on his business, and by early 1765, he had only two thousand pounds sterling to cover fourteen thousand pounds of debt. He retained his personal wealth by keeping separate accounts, but he knew he could not last long under current circumstances. In desperation, Hancock warned his London agent of the devastation new laws like the Sugar Act could wreak on the colonies, and he begged for relief. Instead, Parliament passed even more repressive laws such as the Stamp Act, requiring all paper documents to bear a royal stamp, which carried with it an associated tax.

Caught up in the political firestorm engulfing the colonies, Hancock labeled all incoming stamps as the “most disagreeable commodity that were ever imported,” and he wrote how the act “will entirely stagnate trade here, for it is universally determined here never to submit to it.” To prove his opposition, he led 250 Boston merchants in boycotting British goods. When his ships arrived from London, he unloaded them but gave instructions for no more goods until the Stamp Act was repealed. His agents, like other British merchants, lost a tremendous amount of capital and pressured Parliament until the government relented and repealed the despised measure. Hancock himself announced the news when word reached Boston in May 1766. The twenty-nine-year-old merchant was as jubilant as anyone and anticipated carrying on his affairs without further interference. He increased exports to Britain, built more retail stores, and ordered eight thousand pounds worth of merchandise to stock the shelves. Despite his grand hopes, however, British leaders remained determined to assert royal authority over the colonies. Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend convinced Parliament to levy taxes on imported glass, lead, paint, paper and tea — the Townshend Acts.

Upon learning of the new taxes, Hancock bristled with outrage. No matter how fervently he and others protested, British officials seemed intent on nothing less than the subjugation of the colonies. He resolved to take action against the mother country and immediately persuaded Bostonians to declare commercial independence by adopting nonimportation and nonconsumption agreements. Due to this resistance, customs commissioners struggled to collect duties on taxable goods, and they increasingly saw Hancock as the source of their troubles. The animosity was mutual. He expressly denied officials permission to board his ships, and he even refused to speak or share the same room with such men. Then in April 1768 tensions reached a tipping point when one official boarded his brig Lydia to search for tea, paper and other such commodities. Hancock was waiting for him and asked to see the writ of assistance, or search warrant, allowing him to conduct the search. Told there was no writ, Hancock ordered the ship’s mate and boson to seize the official and dangle him over the water. The terrified commissioner said he had no interest in searching the ship and quickly returned ashore. Commissioners appealed to the attorney general, but he determined that Hancock had acted “within the bounds of the law.” In response, customs officials awaited the opportunity to strike back.

The chance came in June after British forces began arriving in Boston to quell the rising passions. With the backing of the world’s strongest military, customs commissioners declared Hancock had not provided a correct inventory for his ship Liberty and had offloaded valuable cargo at night — though no such signs were apparent when the ship had arrived a month earlier. They declared the Liberty government property and ordered Royal Marines to seize it. Though deeply distressed, Hancock accepted the financial loss and assumed the role of martyr for the patriot cause. His humiliation was not over yet, however. In November Royal Governor Francis Bernard charged Hancock with smuggling, along with encouraging assault and imprisonment of a British agent. (In reality, Bernard sought to bankrupt Hancock and by extension the patriot movement.) During the three-month trial, the public cheered the well-to-do Hancock as a champion for colonial resistance.

Although he still maintained a moderate outlook, it was clear Hancock was approaching a personal break with Britain. In 1772 he signed a series of resolutions denouncing King George III’s decision to pay colonial judges directly rather than through the legislatures. He also vilified Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson for advocating an “abridgement of what are called English liberties.” Most important of all, however, was Parliament’s passage of the 1773 Tea Act, which allowed the East India Company to sell tea directly to colonial consumers — bypassing colonial merchants like Hancock. Adding insult to injury, Governor Hutchinson’s two sons and Richard Clarke, father-in-law to one son, were appointed distribution agents. Consequently, Hancock was convinced of a plot to drive him and his associates out of business and provide Hutchinson a trade monopoly. He enthusiastically joined in calling for the three men to resign and for the tea to remain unloaded when the ships arrived in late November. While he likely did not directly participate in the December 16th Boston Tea Party, he did send his own tea back to Britain in an open act of rebellion. He had made his choice, and on March 5, 1774, the fourth anniversary of the Boston Massacre, he severed all ties with Britain when he delivered a spellbinding oration. He viciously denounced British tyranny before calling on patriotic citizens to arm themselves and “be ready to take the field whenever danger calls.” He even suggested a union of the thirteen colonies into an independent nation.

Now committed to the “glorious cause,” John Hancock devoted himself to the struggle for freedom. In late 1774 he was chosen president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, prompting British troops to threaten his life and property. In April 1775, therefore, he departed Boston for nearby Lexington. When Paul Revere warned of the advancing Redcoats on the morning of April 19th, Hancock desired to stand and fight, but Sam Adams persuaded him to travel on to Philadelphia and the Continental Congress. Elected president of that august body, he chaired congressional debates and corresponded with colonial leaders. Of course, his greatest accomplishment occurred on July 4, 1776 when he signed, with a stroke bold enough for even a king to see, the Declaration of Independence — in effect becoming president of the United States. Often overlooked is the fact that for almost a month, until August 2nd when the rest of Congress signed, Hancock’s was the only signature affixed to the openly seditious document. Though he briefly entertained the notion that he might be named commander of the new Continental Army, an honor that quickly went to George Washington, he remained head of Congress for another year, mediating state differences and ensuring passage of the Articles of Confederation. He left Congress in late 1777 due to overwork, but he still served his nation by strengthening social ties with French officers and commanding Massachusetts’ militia with the rank of major general. In 1780 he was elected governor and remained in office through the end of the Revolution in 1783, supporting George Washington to the end. Hancock retired from office in 1785, only to return in 1787 after an uprising by disgruntled farmers known as Shays’ Rebellion. Convinced the U.S. was in jeopardy, he supported the new Constitution and led the fight for ratification. Due to his efforts, Massachusetts was the eighth state to approve America’s new plan of government, and Hancock fervently supported the union until his death in October 1793. His funeral was the largest the country ever saw — befitting the man who had led its inhabitants from subjects of an empire to citizens of a new and sovereign country.

From the very beginning of the American Revolution, John Hancock played a vital role in leading his countrymen to freedom. He was one of the richest and most influential men in Boston, yet he willingly sacrificed his fortune and business interests in the name of the greater good. His countrymen understood this, and they followed him to freedom. By the time he signed the Declaration of Independence, he was more than just the president of Congress — he was the head of a republic. Sam Adams and others are remembered as Sons of Liberty, but it was John Hancock who was one of the true Fathers of the new nation.

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Seeing It Through

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Achieving the “impossible” has long been part of the American dream. For most of the recorded past, it seemed most of the attention was on men. But by the twentieth century, that began to change. American women too sought to break barriers. One of the most famous was Amelia Earhart. With dreams of soaring high, she took to the skies and became the first woman to fly across the continental United States before following Charles Lindbergh in soloing across the Atlantic in 1932. Her reputation increased even more in 1935 when she crossed the Pacific from Hawaii to California in 1935. Then two years later, she embarked on her last and greatest quest — her attempt to fly around the world. She remains one of America’s top aviators, but she was not the only one to achieve immortality by following her dreams. At the same time Earhart was sweeping through the clouds, a California woman was cementing her own reputation on the waves below. This woman came to be one of America’s preeminent swimmers, and she proved it by refusing to allow herself to be defeated. Her name was Florence Chadwick. This is the story of her fortitude and perseverance in overcoming a heartbreaking setback to swim over twenty treacherous miles between Catalina Island and the California coastline.

Florence Chadwick gained an abiding love for the water at an early age and dreamed of becoming a long-distance swimmer. She was born in San Diego, California in November 1918, and entered her first competition at age six — coming in last. Subsequently, she “made up [her] mind to become the best swimmer in California.” At age ten, she came in fourth in a two-and-a-half mile “rough water” swim, and a year later, she won a long-distance race across the mouth of San Diego Bay. Having found her calling, Chadwick began competing in rough water events all across Southern California. She was active all through high school and won every competition, but was most successful in the 2.5-mile race off La Jolla, California — ultimately winning ten times in eighteen years. Her career blossomed, and soon she entertained ambitions not just of being the best in California but of being a world champion.

To achieve her goal, Florence determined to follow the example of Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel. In 1948 Chadwick moved to Saudi Arabia where she worked for the American oil company Aramco, earning money for the endeavor and training in the warm Persian Gulf twice a day. By 1950 she was ready and travelled to London to apply to the Daily Mail, which sponsored the race. To her shock, she was denied entry due to lack of a reputation. Undaunted, however, Florence paid for her own boat and navigator. Following an unsuccessful attempt in July, she prepared for another go on August 8th. That day she entered the chilly waters off Cape Gris-Nez, France and embarked for the opposite shore — almost twenty-one miles away. Despite the channel’s choppy waves, she kept up a steady pace, all the while fed sugar cubes by her father and encouraged by friends from Saudi Arabia. Finally, she saw the English coast, and a short time later, she stepped foot near Dover as two fishermen looked on — the only witnesses to her extraordinary feat. She made the crossing in thirteen hours and twenty minutes — beating Gertrude Ederle’s 1926 world record by one hour and eleven minutes. Asked how she felt, she replied she was ready to swim in the opposite direction. It was no idle boast. A year later she completed the more rigorous swim from England to France in sixteen hours and twenty-two minutes — becoming the first woman to swim the Channel both ways. Her greatest enterprise, however, was yet to come.

Upon returning home, Florence sought to become the first woman to swim the twenty-mile channel between Catalina Island and the California mainland, a cold and dangerous stretch of water. She spent the remainder of 1951 and the first part of 1952 preparing for the massive undertaking. On July 4th she stood on the island’s shore and gazed toward the distant coastline. Florence knew she had to swim against the frigid California Current, a part of the North Pacific Gyre which brings the cold waters of the North Pacific southward along the U.S.’s west coast. Seawater lapped against her feet, and she shivered from the intense cold. Most problematic of all, however, was the dense fog that covered the channel, another summer phenomenon caused by the cold waters. It was impossible to see more than a few feet in front of her. Still, Florence thought the fog would dissipate soon, so she decided to go ahead and set out for the hidden shore. She dove into the water and began kicking with all her might. Boats filled with support crew followed her, and at times, the crew fired rifles into the water to scare off nearby sharks as they began to circle the determined young woman. Thankful for these efforts, Florence continued to glide through the water, but as the hours passed, the strain began to take its toll. The fog refused to lift, and she began to feel discouraged. She had no way of knowing where she was or how much farther she had to go.

By the time she had been in the water for fifteen hours, she had nearly reached her limit. She called out to her mother and trainer in one of the boats and told them she did not think she could finish. Both women told her to keep going. They insisted she was near her objective, and it would not be long before she stood on the beach at Palos Verde, California. Florence took a deep breath and pushed ahead, but a few minutes later, she raised her head and felt nothing but a numbing exhaustion. Fog was everywhere, and suddenly, Florence Chadwick doubted herself. Admitting defeat, she asked for a nearby crew to help pull her out of the water, and a moment later, she stood on the deck of the boat heading towards shore. It was the first time she had given up and not completed a swim. Her disappointment was magnified minutes later when the boat docked and she realized she had been less than a mile from shore. Standing in front of reporters, she candidly said, “If I could have seen land I know I could have made it.”

For the next two months, Florence reminisced how she allowed the fog to keep her from achieving her dream. She was so close — if only she had been able to see her goal. She then determined it would not happen a second time. That distant shore would never leave her mind’s eye. In September she announced she would be swimming the channel again. Days later, she was back on the Catalina beach looking towards California. With steely resolve, she dove into the water and pushed with all her might. Again, fog descended over the ocean, but this time she was not discouraged. She knew somewhere ahead lay the coastline, and she kept that thought continuously before her. She steadily ploughed forward barely noticing the cold or the fatigue that wracked her body. Each stroke brought her closer to her goal. Minutes turned into hours and hours into a seeming eternity, but there was no quit in her this time. Finally, she felt rocks and sandy soil beneath her and realized she had made it across. Standing up, she felt a burst of pride surge through her. Pushing through all obstacles for thirteen hours and forty-seven minutes, Florence Chadwick became the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel — breaking the men’s record by over two hours. She had come back from an agonizing defeat and was now one of the greatest swimmers in history.

Following her amazing comeback and newfound confidence, Florence continued to prove her prowess in the water. In 1953 she returned to Great Britain and crossed the Channel from England to France in a new women’s record of fourteen hours and forty-two minutes. She also swam the Straits of Gibraltar, off the Spanish coast, in five hours and six minutes — setting a new record for men and women. Then, in the space of just a few weeks, she successfully crossed Turkey’s Bosporus Straits, which separates Europe and Asia, and the Dardanelles. In 1955 she made history one more time by swimming the English Channel in thirteen hours and fifty-five minutes. Though ultimately unsuccessful, Florence also attempted to cross the Irish Sea, which separates Ireland and Scotland, as well as Lake Ontario before retiring in 1960 at age forty-two. Long afterwards, however, she remained an ardent champion of long-distance swimming, and in 1970 she was proclaimed one of the greatest swimmers of all time with her induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Florence Chadwick died in her hometown of San Diego in March 1995, and befitting her love of the ocean, her ashes were scattered over the Pacific off Point Loma.

Like her contemporary Amelia Earhart, Florence Chadwick was a great American woman who set out to achieve the “impossible.” She embodied those personal traits so many Americans admire — fortitude, resilience, determination and unyielding perseverance. Her example stands as a beacon for all to see and to follow. Her story reminds us to never lose sight of our goals, for as she said following that rare defeat off the California coast — if she could have seen the prize, she would have stayed the course. It was a lesson Florence Chadwick never forgot, nor should we.

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The Other Indispensable Lee

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By the early Civil War summer of 1862, it appeared the Confederate States of America would soon be defeated. In the west Ulysses S. Grant ousted Southern troops from Tennessee and drove into northern Mississippi. At the same time, Admiral David Farragut captured New Orleans and prepared to attack the all-important bastion at Vicksburg, Mississippi, which would ensure Union control of the Mississippi River. In the east, too, Union forces seemed on the cusp of victory. General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was less than ten miles from the Confederate capital of Richmond, close enough to hear the bells in the church steeples. At this critical moment, the South turned to one of its most talented officers — General Robert E. Lee. Within a month of taking command, Lee hurled McClellan away from the city and prepared to strike another army threatening his beloved Virginia. Among those he turned to for leadership was a young cavalry officer already known for his bravery and commitment to the Confederacy. He had previously served in the United States cavalry, and he was now one of Jeb Stuart’s most trusted subordinates. His name was Fitzhugh “Fitz” Lee, nephew of the commanding general. This is the story of how he helped turn the war’s momentum by his heroic actions during the victorious Second Manassas campaign in August 1862.

As a scion of Virginia’s foremost family, it was natural for Fitzhugh Lee to dedicate his life to his state and his nation. He was born in November 1835 on the estate of Clermont, west of Alexandria, Virginia to Sidney Smith Lee, a respected Navy officer. As a boy, Fitz, as family and friends called him, thrived on the adventures of his grandfather, “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, a cavalry officer in the Revolution, and Uncle Robert, who served under Winfield Scott during the 1846-48 Mexican War. His father too saw action in the war before joining Commodore Matthew Perry’s expedition to Japan in 1852. That same year, Fitz entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York where his uncle served as superintendent. He faired poorly academically and in discipline, graduating forty-fifth out of forty-nine in the Class of 1856, but he excelled in horsemanship. While at the Academy, he also befriended an upperclassman named James Ewell Brown (Jeb) Stuart. After graduation, Fitz was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. 2nd Cavalry, a unit which included a large number of officers destined for greatness in the Civil War, including his uncle. He spent months traversing the plains of Texas in search of hostile Indians. On May 13, 1859 he fearlessly led dismounted troopers in attacking Comanches along Crooked Creek in Indian Territory, modern Oklahoma, suffering an arrow wound to the right lung. Upon recovering, he led an expedition to reclaim stolen livestock and killed an Indian in hand-to-hand combat in the process. By late 1860 Fitz, now back at West Point as a cavalry tactics instructor, enjoyed a reputation as a fierce warrior, but with war looming between the North and South, he had to choose whether his loyalty belonged to Virginia or to the United States.

Like most other Southern officers, including his father and uncle, Fitzhugh Lee believed his primary loyalty lay with his state and his family. Consequently, he resigned his commission in late April 1861 and joined the Confederate Army as a captain. As an aide to General Richard Ewell, Fitz was present at the July 21st Battle of First Manassas (or Bull Run as the North called it), but he spent the day marching and countermarching across the battlefield without seeing any action. Two months later, however, he was transferred to the 1st Virginia Cavalry with the rank of lieutenant colonel. There he was reunited with his old West Point classmate Jeb Stuart, and he quickly impressed Stuart, as well as army commander Joseph E. Johnston, by leading patrols into enemy territory around his native Alexandria and skirmishing with enemy troops. On November 18th, for example, he attacked a group of New York Zouaves at Falls Church, Virginia, and after heavy fighting, he captured ten “Red Legs,” as they were called for their bright red trousers. Fitz continued to monitor enemy activity throughout the winter of 1861-62, and in March 1862 he informed Stuart that Union General George McClellan was preparing to advance south. In the weeks to come, he covered the withdrawal of General Johnston’s army and led forays against the advancing enemy at Warrenton Junction. These bold attacks so surprised General McClellan he shifted his attention to the Virginia peninsula between the York and James Rivers. Along with the rest of the army, Fitz Lee raced south to defend the Confederate capital of Richmond.

Riding at the head of the 1st Virginia, newly promoted Colonel Lee joined Confederate forces around Yorktown, Virginia in early April and spent the next month clashing with Union troops as they advanced up the peninsula. In May he struck the enemy at Slatersville and succeeded in slowing McClellan’s march so much Union troops were unable to reach the outskirts of Richmond until month’s end. Like his horsemen, Fitz was desperate to save the capital, and although he took no part in the fighting, he applauded Johnston’s assaults at Seven Pines and Fair Oaks on May 31st and June 1st. While likely saddened to hear of Johnston’s wounding, he must have cheered when told his Uncle Robert now commanded the Army of Northern Virginia. Eager to serve, Fitzhugh joined Jeb Stuart’s famed ride around McClellan’s army gathering intelligence on enemy troops. In the subsequent Seven Days’ Battles, Colonel Lee spearheaded Stonewall Jackson’s attacks at Mechanicsville on June 26th and Gaines’s Mill on June 27th before marching on the main Union supply base at White House, the home of his cousin and fellow colonel Rooney Lee. There Fitz attacked the gunboat USS Marblehead and drove the vessel away, after which he destroyed those supplies his men could not take with them. He then resumed pursuing the Army of the Potomac until it encamped at Harrison’s Landing on the James River. Richmond was safe, but Fitz, now a brigadier general, had no time to rest on his laurels. Word had just arrived that another Union force was moving south into northern Virginia.

This new army, ironically styled the Army of Virginia, was led by General John Pope, a braggart who claimed his “headquarters [were] in the saddle,” and whose purpose it was to draw Lee’s troops away from Richmond and into open battle. Realizing McClellan was no longer a threat, Robert E. Lee dispatched Stonewall Jackson to engage Pope’s command and readied the rest of the army, including Fitz’s brigade, to follow. Before moving north, however, the cavalry had to confront Union raiders operating along the Virginia Central Railroad. The rail line was not only the army’s lifeline to the Shenandoah Valley, the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy,” but it was also the thoroughfare Robert E. Lee intended to use to move the army north. Knowing he must safeguard the army’s march, Fitz led his brigade to the Rappahannock River, and on August 6th, he spied Union infantry and cavalry at Massaponax Church, Virginia. Without hesitation, the daring officer unsheathed his sword and struck “like a thunderbolt upon the enemy,” according to Jeb Stuart. Riding at the forefront of the 3rd and 4th Virginia, Fitz plunged into the rifles of the 6,000-man force. Pistol shots filled the air as did the clang of sabers, and in minutes, the enemy was in full retreat with Fitz’s men in hot pursuit. He captured over eighty prisoners and eleven wagons, but more importantly, he ensured safe passage for the army as it marched northeast to battle “those people,” as Uncle Robert called the Union forces.

As Fitzhugh moved to support Confederate infantry, his uncle prepared to turn the Army of Virginia’s left flank, but due in part to captured dispatches, Pope became aware of the danger and fell back. Still, the Confederate commander refused to abandon his strategy and ordered his nephew forward in pursuit. In the coming days, Fitz Lee engaged Union General John Buford’s cavalry along the Rappahannock River, in one fight capturing the greatest prize for a cavalryman — a regimental guidon. He also ferociously battled his old West Point classmate George Bayard at Rappahannock Station. Still, the Confederates could not deliver the fatal blow to Pope’s force. Realizing more audacity was required, Fitz circumnavigated Pope’s right flank and stormed the Union rear. He struck a Union garrison protecting Pope’s headquarters at Catlett’s Station and so surprised the enemy troops that many surrendered without firing a shot. In addition to forage and other supplies, he captured General Pope’s uniform, which he delighted in modeling for his fellow officers. He also secured vital documents outlining Pope’s disposition of forces as well as details concerning George McClellan’s imminent arrival with reinforcements. Fitzhugh quickly passed this news on to General Stuart who in turn passed it on to Robert E. Lee, who decided to attack Pope before McClellan arrived.

Early on August 26th General Fitzhugh Lee and his brigade left camp and accompanied Stonewall Jackson’s infantry on a march towards the old Manassas (Bull Run) battlefield where Jackson’s troops engaged a brigade of New Jerseymen. During the night of August 27th, Fitz advanced on Fairfax Court House to cut off the brigade’s retreat and to prevent Union officials in Washington, D.C. from resupplying Pope’s army. The next morning the brigade ran into Union cavalry just outside of town, and Fitz quickly realized Pope’s command was attempting to reach defensible ground along Bull Run creek at Centreville. Eager to slow the march, he ordered his cousin Rooney to attack, and he watched in pride as the Union troopers fell back into the arms of waiting infantry. Try as he might however, he could not drive the infantry away, so he rejoined Jackson’s force at Groveton, Virginia. Taking up his position along the Confederates’ left flank, he spent August 29th watching Pope attempt to dislodge Jackson’s force, only to be routed by James Longstreet’s counterattack on August 30th. In the aftermath of the victory, Fitzhugh energetically pursued the fleeing enemy until they reached the safety of Washington, D.C. For the Confederacy, the nearly disastrous summer of 1862 was coming to an end. Though his was not a major part in the actual three day Battle of Second Manassas, Fitz Lee’s relentless attacks throughout the campaign helped ensure John Pope was driven from Virginia. The valor and courage displayed during the campaign only served to enhance his reputation as one of the Confederacy’s greatest cavalry officers.

Following Second Manassas, Fitz led his men north as part of Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland, fighting at Turner’s Gap and Boonsboro before again supporting Stonewall Jackson’s men during the September 17th Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day in American history. He and his brigade then served as the rear guard as the army withdrew across the Potomac River into Virginia. Union troops pursued and subsequently attacked Robert E. Lee at Fredericksburg on December 13th. Though Fitz saw no action during the battle, he was instrumental in directing Stonewall Jackson’s attack on the Union right flank at Chancellorsville in May 1863. Following that victory, he was part of Jeb Stuart’s controversial ride around the Union army just prior to the climactic Battle of Gettysburg, a glory-seeking maneuver which ended up depriving the commanding of vital intelligence and earning Stuart a stern rebuke from General Lee. Rejoining the army on July 3rd, Fitz attacked General George Armstrong Custer at the same time George Pickett led his legendary charge up Cemetery Ridge — both of which were defeated. That fall Fitzhugh was promoted to major general, and in May 1864 he faced Philip Sheridan’s Union horsemen at Spotsylvania and Yellow Tavern. At Yellow Tavern Jeb Stuart was mortally wounded, dying of his wounds on May 12th. Despite the heartbreaking loss, Fitz continued to serve the Confederate cause, first in the Shenandoah Valley and then as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry corps. He remained by his uncle’s side during the war’s final weeks in early 1865, and after briefly considering further resistance, he surrendered to Union authorities on April 12th.

With the war over, Fitzhugh Lee settled on the estate of Richland in Stafford County and became a “model farmer,” as he called himself. In addition to the land, he embarked on several lucrative enterprises, such as a stud farm, which allowed him to remain financially stable, even through the depressions that rocked the country in the late nineteenth century. Fitz’s reputation also enjoyed a surge in popularity after he began writing and lecturing on his war experiences and calling for reconciliation. This national appeal led him to enter politics, and in 1885 he was elected governor. In that capacity, he sought to reform Virginia by championing state-sponsored public schools and the state’s industrialization through Northern investment and immigration of Northern craftsmen. After leaving the governor’s office, Fitz served as U.S. Consul General to Cuba where he enthusiastically supported Cuban independence. After the battleship USS Maine was destroyed in Havana harbor in February 1898, Fitz returned home, and following America’s declaration of war, he was commissioned major general of volunteers. He reported for duty in Florida, but the old warrior was to see no action, as his command was still forming when fighting ended in early July. He did, however, head the Department of the Province of Havana after Spain surrendered. After two years of occupation duty, Fitz returned to the homeland to command the Department of the Missouri. He retired from the Army in March 1901 and died four years later at the end of April 1905. He was buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery, not far from his old friend and commander Jeb Stuart, beside whom he had so proudly fought as a young officer in Confederate gray.

Throughout his long life of service, Fitzhugh Lee was a credit to his family, his state, and his nation. Despite the prestige of the family name, he was certainly his own man. He gallantly served in both blue and gray, but irrespective of the uniform, he was ferocious in battle. In every engagement he was found in the thick of the fight, unleashing his fury on his opponents. Thanks to him, the Confederate cavalry was feared by its enemies and loved and respected by its people. The campaign he waged in the summer of 1862 helped change the momentum of the war, though the ultimate outcome could not be avoided. Of his importance, Robert E. Lee could only say, “I cannot spare General Fitz Lee.” For a Southern officer, no higher praise existed.

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Fighting Father

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During the early years of the American Revolution, the Continental Army struggled to match up against the might of the British Army. In nearly every engagement, from Brooklyn Heights to Brandywine, Pennsylvania, the superior leadership, firepower and discipline of the Redcoats proved decisive. However, in the winter of 1777-78, a stunning transformation in the American ranks occurred in the unlikeliest of places. Valley Forge, Pennsylvania would be the crucible for that change. Baron von Steuben is often seen as the driving personality behind the transformation, but he was not the only one responsible. A young American officer, who had recently settled in the colonies, assisted in turning the Continentals into a cadre of professionals. More importantly, once the groundwork was laid, this newly-minted officer turned the tide from certain defeat into celebrated victory at one of the defining battles of the American Revolution. His name was Alexander Hamilton. He is well known as one of America’s foremost Founding Fathers, but this is the story of how he helped lead the Continental Army to victory at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey.

Alexander Hamilton’s lifelong commitment to the United States stemmed from a love for the land that offered him a second chance in life. Born on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies in January 1755 (though he later claimed it was 1757), he was the illegitimate offspring of a Scottish immigrant father and a mother who had separated from her husband. Such a heritage not only barred Alexander from society but also ensured he was denied his inheritance upon his mother’s death in February 1768, which followed fast on the heels of his father’s abandonment. Then in July 1769 his cousin, who had become his guardian, failed to provide for the fourteen-year-old boy in his will before committing suicide. Now alone and penniless, Hamilton clerked for the mercantile company of Beekman and Cruger on the island of St. Croix. He was a capable administrator and gained valuable knowledge of global commerce. Still, he desired to rise above his humble, some would say shameful, origins. He became self-educated, and with financial support from sponsors, he departed for college in America. Hamilton settled in Elizabethtown, New Jersey to attend preparatory school, and to his delight, he quickly entered the town’s social scene. Circumstances like one’s birth no longer seemed to matter, as proven by his blossoming friendships with such wealthy and influential leaders as William Livingston, Elias Boudinot and William Alexander, called Lord Stirling due to his claim to a Scottish earldom. After graduating from Elizabethtown Academy, he applied to Princeton but was rejected. With help from Lord Stirling, Hamilton entered King’s College, today’s Columbia University, and soon found a home in the burgeoning community of New York City.

Following his arrival in New York in late 1773, Alexander Hamilton joined the patriots and committed himself to the “glorious cause” of liberty. He devoured books by Enlightenment authors like John Locke and David Hume, and he participated in discussions about the colonies’ deteriorating relationship with Britain. On July 6, 1774 the nineteen-year-old collegian attended a rally on the grounds of the New York Common where he viciously denounced the “Intolerable Acts,” which closed Boston Harbor and placed Massachusetts under military control in response to the December 1773 Boston Tea Party. Realizing Britain had to be stopped, he advocated for colonial unity and a boycott of British goods so as to prevent “fraud, power, and the most odious oppression [from rising] triumphant over right, justice, social happiness, and freedom.” Having taken the first step toward rebellion, Hamilton proceeded to publish a series of essays defending American liberty from fall 1774 to spring 1776. Simultaneously, he enlisted in the militia, and in August 1775 he braved fire from British ships to transport artillery from Fort George at the base of Manhattan Island to safety near King’s College. In March 1776 the twenty-one-year-old West Indian immigrant was commissioned a captain in a New York artillery company and was ordered to participate in the Continental Army’s defense of New York against an imminent British invasion.

Although he apparently took no part in the crucial Battle of Brooklyn Heights, Captain Hamilton was instrumental in protecting the American rear after British troops invaded Manhattan at Kip’s Bay on September 15th and gained control of the city. As the Continental Army fell back, he led his artillerists against the British at White Plains, New York and along the Raritan River in New Jersey. Desiring to hit back, he accompanied George Washington in the crossing of the Delaware River on December 25th for the attack on the Hessians encamped at Trenton, New Jersey. On January 3, 1777 he participated in a second assault on nearby Princeton. These victories brought young Hamilton to Washington’s attention, and as the army settled into winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey, the commander-in-chief appointed the artillery officer as his aide-de-camp with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Hamilton quickly became Washington’s chief secretary and proved a valued member of the general’s “military family.” He remained by Washington’s side during the battles around Philadelphia in the fall of 1777, and during the ensuing winter at Valley Forge, he worked diligently alongside Baron von Steuben to transform the ragtag Continental Army into a band of professional soldiers capable of bringing about American victory. It was a massive and risky undertaking, but the potential benefits were huge. By late spring 1778 Hamilton believed the army was ready to face the British in open combat, and he determined to be part of the coming fight.

As June began, Hamilton and the rest of the American army learned British General Sir Henry Clinton was preparing to abandon Philadelphia and return to New York in anticipation of the arrival of French forces, following an alliance between France and the United States. At the same time, General Charles Lee returned to American lines after fifteen months spent in British captivity following his careless personal actions which led to his capture. Hamilton, like other Continental officers, greeted Lee with barely-concealed hostility. Convinced of his own martial superiority, the general had been a long-time critic of Washington, saying the commander-in-chief “was not fit to command a sergeant’s guard.” Lee also belittled Hamilton and Steuben’s efforts to instill professionalism among individual soldiers. Hamilton’s antipathy for Lee increased after a council of war on June 24th during which Lee vocally opposed Washington’s proposed strike on the British rear guard as the enemy marched toward New York. Lee argued the army would be soundly defeated. To Hamilton’s dismay, numerous Continental officers agreed with Lee, but he watched in pride as Washington chose to proceed. The young officer spent the next three days scouting enemy positions and reporting his observations to his superiors. On the night of June 27th he rode into Lee’s camp with orders for Lee to move into position the next morning and skirmish with the British long enough for Washington and the main army to arrive.

On June 28, 1778 American troops struck their enemy outside the village of Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey. Upon hearing the sounds of battle, Colonel Hamilton raced forward to ascertain Lee’s progress. Arriving on the scene, shock and horror rippled through him as he saw American troops falling back in confusion. It looked like his efforts to prepare the army for this kind of fight had been for naught. Suddenly the horror gave way to fierce determination, and he resolved to reverse the situation. Looking around, he spotted General Lee and dashed over. As Hamilton later testified at Lee’s court-martial, he berated Lee for lacking the moral courage to see the assault through. He then exclaimed, “I will stay here with you, my dear general, and die with you! Let us all die rather than retreat.” Lee was flabbergasted this young aide would speak to him as an equal, but Hamilton was not done yet. Seeing British cavalry approach, he directed the clearly shaken Lee to send General Lafayette to attack the enemy. Lee did so just as George Washington, who had learned of the retreat, rode up. Much like Hamilton, the commander-in-chief was outraged his strategy appeared to be undone. As Hamilton and others looked on, Washington lost his temper for one of the few times in his life and, according to one observer, swore “till the leaves shook on the trees.” The general ordered Lee to the rear and took command of the troops himself. As Washington rallied the men and led them against the British, Hamilton charged forward to do his part.

Starved for combat, the twenty-three-year-old colonel plunged into the fight in a “sort of frenzy of valor,” according to Lee. As he raced across the field, Hamilton came upon a brigade, which was falling back and leaving its artillery without support. With “heat and effervescence,” in the words of General Henry Knox, Washington’s artillery commander, Hamilton seized command of the troops and promptly restored order. He then led the brigade in a bayonet charge against the Redcoats. As he rode forward, he was so focused on the enemy he paid little attention when his hat fell off and he was exposed to the scorching sun. Like many soldiers, he began suffering the effects of heat exhaustion — not surprising with the temperatures in the high nineties. Still, he pressed on until his horse was shot out from under him, and he toppled to the ground badly injured. He was removed from the field, but his actions had helped turn the tide of battle. Shortly thereafter, the British army withdrew, giving Hamilton and the Continental Army the satisfaction of driving the enemy from the field. It proved to be a turning point in the war for independence.

Following the much-needed victory, Hamilton returned to being Washington’s de facto chief-of-staff, and in that capacity, he witnessed such events as Benedict Arnold’s 1780 plot to turn over West Point to the British. Fluent in French, he also served as a liaison officer to French forces. Still, he yearned for a field command, and in July 1781 he took charge of a New York light infantry unit. In October he led the American attack on British fortifications at Yorktown, Virginia which forced General Lord Charles Cornwallis to surrender. With the war all but over, Hamilton retired from the army and settled in New York in early 1782 to pursue a legal career.

Still a young man, in November Hamilton took a seat in the Continental Congress, now the Confederation Congress following adoption of the Articles of Confederation. Along with fellow Congressman James Madison, he saw the need to strengthen the government’s authority, particularly in financial matters, and he became an outspoken champion of centralized power. His was one of the loudest voices calling for the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and as a delegate there he insisted the government possess sovereignty over the states as well as the power to levy taxes on the states. After signing the document on September 17th, Hamilton energetically campaigned to see the Constitution ratified, collaborating with Madison and John Jay to author the Federalist Papers and serving as a delegate to New York’s ratifying convention. In late July he watched as New York became the eleventh state to ratify the Constitution, and he was subsequently lauded for his role in the victory.

As the new government took shape under President Washington, Hamilton became the first Secretary of the Treasury and set about restoring the nation’s public credit. In this capacity, he established a Customs Service and, after a long and bitter fight, gained congressional approval for federal assumption of state debts left over from the Revolution. He also convinced Congress to charter a national bank and mint and to pass a series of taxes, including one on whiskey that led to the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion he helped suppress. These efforts, along with his opposition to the French Revolution, drew the ire of Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. Still, Hamilton remained Washington’s right-hand man until he left government service in early 1795. Even afterwards, he exercised leadership during national emergencies, as shown by his fierce defense of John Jay’s 1794 treaty with Britain and assuming command of the American army in 1798 as war loomed with France. Then in 1800 he clashed with President John Adams during the presidential election and divided the Federalist Party, thereby ensuring Thomas Jefferson’s election. The race also brought Hamilton into conflict with fellow New Yorker Aaron Burr who tied with Jefferson in electoral votes. With the decision now up to the House of Representatives, Hamilton chose to support the principled Jefferson over the man he believed was devoid of any. He took satisfaction in denying Burr the presidency and looked on as Burr was largely excluded from official business. The two antagonists attacked each other in newspapers over the next few years, and their private war climaxed in mid-1804 when Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. On July 11, 1804 Alexander Hamilton met Aaron Burr at Weehawken, New Jersey and was mortally wounded in the ensuing gunfire. He died the next day and was subsequently buried in New York City’s Trinity Church graveyard. He was mourned by the grateful nation he helped create.

Throughout his life, Alexander Hamilton continually placed himself at the service of his adopted country. In war or peace, he was always in the thick of the action. During the eight-year War of Independence, he never shirked his duty — whether it was enduring the miserable conditions of camp life at Valley Forge and other places, preparing the soldiers for battle, handling administrative functions, or rallying the troops to ensure victory at the pivotal battle of Monmouth Courthouse. Then, when the Revolution ended, he dedicated himself to advancing the cause of freedom by helping to establish a national government capable of surviving political infighting as well as external threats. Through his extraordinary actions, Alexander Hamilton has certainly earned a privileged place in the hallowed pantheon of America’s Founding Fathers.

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The Secret Legs of Democracy

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Throughout the 1930s, world leaders watched as Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich grew more powerful, but many turned a blind eye to the danger facing them. Those daring enough to speak out, such as Winston Churchill, were denounced as warmongers who threatened the peace that had existed for twenty years. It was only after Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939 that Britain and France declared war on Germany. In less than a year, however, France was overrun, British troops had evacuated European soil, and Hitler’s armies were preparing to invade Britain. Now Prime Minister, Winston Churchill promised to fight the Germans “on the beaches, … in the fields and in the streets,” but he could not defeat Hitler alone. He needed help, but with Europe engulfed, aid could only come from only one place — the United States. Across the Atlantic, President Franklin Roosevelt knew he must act, so he dispatched a renowned American hero to Britain to gather intelligence on British capabilities. This former officer devoted himself to the task and to finding a way for America to save Britain from conquest. His name was William “Wild Bill” Donovan. This is the story of how he paved the way for the British-American alliance that led to Nazi Germany’s defeat.

In departing America for Britain, William Donovan was about to confront Germany for the second time in his life. He was born in Buffalo, New York on New Year’s Day, 1883 to a railroad yardmaster and grew up amid the poor Irish workers inhabiting the Lake Erie waterfront. Despite this low social status, he attended Columbia Law School, studying alongside Franklin D. Roosevelt, and upon graduating, he returned to Buffalo and opened his own practice. Desiring to serve his nation as well as his community, the young lawyer joined New York’s National Guard and rose to command Troop (Company) I of the 1st Cavalry. In late 1914, however, his attention shifted across the Atlantic as Europe was engulfed in war. When the U.S. entered the struggle in April 1917, Donovan was commissioned a major in the 165th Infantry, called the “Fighting 69th” due to its previous designation as the 69th New York, a regiment whose exploits dated back to the Civil War. His troops soon took to calling him “Wild Bill” for his bold leadership. Arriving in Europe in November 1917, he spent the winter preparing for combat, and in February 1918 he led his men to the front. After seeing action around Luneville, France and in the Meurthe Valley, “Wild Bill” assaulted German soldiers at Chateau-Thierry on July 25th. Despite suffering from a gas attack, and receiving wounds to the hand and leg, he drove the Germans from their positions. He refused to let up, however, and pursued the enemy along the Ourcq River. In September, he spearheaded an attack against German forces at St. Mihiel. Outracing British and French tanks, Lieutenant Colonel Donovan and his men seized the fortifications, halting only after they passed their objective. Donovan’s supreme moment, however, occurred during the Argonne Offensive in mid-October when he heroically rallied his men in the face of stiff resistance while assaulting German troops outside Landres and St. Georges, France, even exercising command for a full day after sustaining a second wound to the leg. His actions earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor and a promotion to colonel. After the war ended in November, Donovan and the regiment served on occupation duty in Germany before returning home in April 1919. The war was over, but “Wild Bill’s” service to his country had only begun.

No sooner had he been mustered out of the army than William Donovan embarked on his long career as an intelligence operative. At the behest of President Woodrow Wilson, he traveled to Russia in July 1919 to investigate the civil war raging between the communist Red Bolsheviks and the anti-communist White Russians. He found the Whites’ morale was deteriorating, and he concluded it would not be long before the Reds emerged triumphant. Returning home by way of Japan, he noted the prevalent anti-American attitude and the unabashed desire to expand the island nation’s sphere of influence, which eventually resulted in the Japanese invasion of China in the early 1930s. Shortly after, Donovan realized peace was just as fragile in Europe. In 1920 he visited Germany, only to find the country gripped by political and economic chaos. He listened as inhabitants denounced the humiliating terms of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, particularly the loss of territory such as the Rhineland, the reduction of the army to 100,000 men, and most importantly, the assumption of responsibility for the war and the payment of reparations. He recognized such national disgrace ensured a second war was all but inevitable. This view intensified in 1923 after he met a young, charismatic politician named Adolf Hitler. Donovan kept an eye on German affairs throughout the 1920s, even while serving in the U.S. Justice Department. In 1932 he returned to Europe to find principled leaders like Franz von Papen struggling to prevent the Nazi Party from assuming its position as the majority party in the Reichstag, Germany’s Parliament. “Wild Bill” considered it a last-ditch effort to avoid a future conflict. Unfortunately, it was to no avail. His worst fears were realized on January 30, 1933 when Adolf Hitler was proclaimed Chancellor. Less than two months later, the Third Reich was born, and the countdown to war had effectively begun.

As the likelihood of war increased, Donovan frequently ventured overseas to ascertain Germany’s military capabilities. In 1937 he witnessed the Wehrmacht (German Army) test its newest tank, the Panther, in field maneuvers, and a year later, he viewed the tank and the Stuka dive-bomber in action as they were utilized in support of the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War. He stared in awe at the destruction reaped by both weapons, and he easily recognized Germany was gauging the weapons’ capabilities in wartime. He also observed German soldiers engaging in exercises at Nuremberg. To him, it was clear the army was readying for a war of lightning fast movement, and the likely targets of the campaign were the Low Countries of Belgium and the Netherlands. Hitler proved Donovan correct in May 1940, following quickly on the heels of the invasions of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Poland in September and Norway in April 1940. After driving through the Low Countries, German troops stormed into France, and by early June, only Britain stood alone against the Nazi juggernaut.

The situation grew worse throughout July as the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) pounded British airfields and towns despite the Royal Air Force’s stubborn efforts to stem the tide. From the American Embassy, U.S. Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, father of future President John F. Kennedy, pessimistically touted Germany’s seemingly inevitable triumph. Intelligence officers shared this defeatist outlook — predicting the RAF’s collapse in weeks. Realizing he needed a more objective opinion, Franklin Roosevelt dispatched his old law school classmate to London as an unofficial representative. Upon arriving, Donovan met King George VI, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Admiral John Godfrey, head of naval intelligence and found each fully committed to the ongoing struggle. As he toured the country, he discovered that determination resonated in the hearts of British pilots and individual citizens. He also spoke with U.S. officers like Lieutenant Colonel Carl Spaatz, a future Air Force general, who told Donovan he expected British forces to prevail. In the wake of the discussions, “Wild Bill” observed the superiority of British Spitfires as they dueled with German fighters in the skies over London. He determined Britain could hold out, and he resolved to urge President Roosevelt to give greater support to Britain, most importantly through ensuring adequate military supplies.

Upon arriving back home in August, Donovan reported to President Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and proposed America provide its surplus military stockpiles to Churchill’s government. He urged the transfer of old destroyers to the Royal Navy to help protect food convoys crossing the Atlantic as well as the sale of Enfield rifles to equip Britain’s home defense forces. He found an enthusiastic supporter for his plan in President Roosevelt who, until he convinced his countrymen of the need to join the fight, desired to show Churchill America would not let Britain fall from lack of military stores. It would also demonstrate to Hitler the U.S. steadfastly opposed his designs for world domination. However, Roosevelt faced an uphill battle with his political foes, primarily Republicans, for his willingness to involve America in “European affairs. Determined to overcome the isolationists, “Wild Bill” consistently lobbied Congress to trade 50 aging destroyers for 99-year leases on British bases in Bermuda, the Caribbean, and Newfoundland. Likely due in part to his efforts, Congress passed legislation providing for “Lend-Lease” in March 1941. With supplies finally on their way to Britain, Donovan set about cooperating with British officials to halt further Nazi aggression.

Returning to London in December 1940, Donovan learned of Hitler’s intentions to invade the Soviet Union, and, along with Winston Churchill, he hatched a plan to establish resistance in the Balkans so as to delay the invasion as long as possible. Accompanied by British Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Dykes, “Wild Bill” stopped in Greece, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia and encouraged each nation to defy the Nazis massing along their borders. (After German forces drove into the Balkans in April 1941, it took five weeks to subdue the resistance, thus postponing the Russian invasion and possibly ensuring its ultimate failure.) Leaving southern Europe, Donovan made his way to Spain where, along with British Ambassador Sir Samuel Hoare, he coerced Fascist dictator Francisco Franco to reject an alliance with Hitler, thus giving Britain continued control of Gibraltar. Back in the U.S., he frustrated Nazi efforts by gathering intelligence in conjunction with British operatives like Ian Fleming, who later created the famed spy of book and film — James Bond. International cooperation deepened upon the founding of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which later transformed into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). America’s chief spy even opened a London office in late October 1941. By the time Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and Germany declared war two days later, “Wild Bill” Donovan was ready to officially join his British comrades in eradicating Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich.

Upon America’s entry into World War II, newly-reinstated Brigadier General William J. Donovan conducted intelligence operations across the globe, but like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he considered the first order of business to be the destruction of Nazi Germany. He began the long march to victory in early 1942 by laying the groundwork for the Allied invasion of North Africa, codenamed Operation Torch. He sent operatives to coordinate with the French resistance and to investigate those beaches and harbors chosen for the landings. He also ordered them to neutralize enemy aircraft and enemy artillery batteries. These efforts ensured Operation Torch was a success, and in the ensuing months, Donovan watched in pride as his spies provided the tactical intelligence allowing for German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s defeat. With North Africa secure, he assisted the drive into Italy and the subsequent capture of Rome by cooperating with the Italian underground. Then in early 1944 he dispatched teams to Normandy, France and gathered such critical information as the location of the feared Panzer Lehr Division. During the Allied landings on “D-Day,” June 6th, he directed the OSS and French Resistance activities behind enemy lines. As Allied troops pushed inland, operatives roamed the countryside with impunity. In late August “Wild Bill” led a team into Paris and personally liberated the Ritz Hotel. As the war drew to a close, he ordered 200 agents into Germany to further destabilize Hitler’s regime. Like those he led, Donovan celebrated the Allies’ hard fought victory over Germany in May 1945.

Following war’s end, Donovan remained in Europe and participated in the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. Simultaneously, he perceived the rising danger of the Soviet Union. This experience led him to champion a comprehensive and centralized intelligence agency. In 1947 his dream was realized with the CIA’s creation. He also called for stronger ties among European nations, including Germany, to deter Soviet aggression. In 1953 Dwight Eisenhower appointed Donovan U.S. Ambassador to Thailand. In this position, America’s aging spymaster witnessed Communism’s rise in China and in nearby Vietnam, and he feared a “domino effect” throughout Southeast Asia. Ultimately, the cumulative strains of his years of service became too great, and he resigned his post before returning home to New York. In March 1957, he developed a blood clot in his brain, and he was further incapacitated by two strokes. William “Wild Bill” Donovan died at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C. in February 1959 and was deeply mourned by the nation he strove to protect for so many years.

Throughout his life, William Donovan understood the U.S. had a responsibility to serve as the “arsenal of democracy.” When liberty was most strenuously threatened, he, perhaps more than any other American, grasped the gravity of the situation. As he watched Nazi Germany menace Britain, Donovan knew he could not stand by as western democracy faced annihilation. He had to act, so he did. Befitting the warrior he always was, “Wild Bill” fought tenaciously to provide material support to Britain, and he cultivated contacts with British leaders that proved invaluable to the U.S. upon its entrance into the war. Today, it is Franklin Roosevelt who is primarily credited with cementing America’s alliance with Britain, but in reality, that praise rightfully belongs to the man Roosevelt called “my secret legs” —- William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan.

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The Shores of Tripoli

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Since 1991, and particularly for the last fifteen years, the United States has been engaged in conflicts across the Middle East, primarily in Afghanistan and in Iraq. America embarked on each campaign with the stated purpose of safeguarding its citizens. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the country could not ignore those who posed a “clear and present danger” to its security. To that end, the U.S. employed all methods available, even toppling the existing governments and helping establish elected governments friendlier to the United States. This was not a new strategy, however. It first came into being over two hundred years ago. Then, as now, American interests were threatened by Islamic extremists — in this case, state-sponsored pirates living along the North African coast. One of those most committed to combating the new enemy was an American soldier turned diplomat turned soldier. He determined to end the threat these extremists posed, and he did so with a bold new strategy known as “regime change.” His name was William Eaton. This is the story of how he led a campaign to eradicate a direct threat to America’s national interests during the Barbary Wars.

William Eaton’s military career began long before he rode at the head of an army across the Libyan desert. He was born in February 1764 in Woodstock, Connecticut to a middle-class farmer, but like others his age, he yearned for a life of adventure. Consequently, in 1780, at age sixteen, he ran away from home and joined the Continental Army. Although the Revolution was winding down, Eaton remained with the colors, ultimately attaining the rank of sergeant, before Britain formally recognized the United States as an independent nation in 1783. After the war, he returned home and entered New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College. He graduated in 1790 and briefly served as a clerk for Vermont’s legislature, but it was not long before a military life again called to him. In 1792 Eaton rejoined the U.S. Army as a captain and soon found himself part of the expedition against the Indian tribes residing in the Ohio River Valley. Under General “Mad Anthony” Wayne’s direction, Eaton spent two years defending forts such as Fort Recovery, Ohio and scouting Miami Indian villages. He also sporadically engaged Indian warriors in battle. His efforts helped the U.S. secure the Northwest Territory, present-day Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. In 1795 he transferred to Georgia to protect inhabitants from menacing Creek warriors and Spanish invaders coming from Florida. Although successful, clashes with his commanding officer forced him to resign in 1797. Eaton soon found, however, that his exploits had impressed Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, who appointed the former officer U.S. Consul to the Barbary State of Tunis in North Africa.

After arriving in Tunis in January 1799, William Eaton watched as the Barbary States of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli took delight in humiliating the U.S. These nations had long preyed on American vessels in the Mediterranean, seizing cargo and crew, which they held for ransom. Now, the Barbary rulers, exploiting a radical Islamic worldview, insisted on receiving lavish “tributes,” essentially blackmail money, in exchange for peace between themselves and America. Tunis, for example, required America to pay $20,000 a year as well as provide a keg of gunpowder for every cannon salute (a traditional sign of respect among nations) an American ship received. As if paying “tribute” was not enough, several Barbary leaders audaciously added to their demands, such as when Tripoli’s Bashaw Yusuf Qaramanli called for $10,000 following George Washington’s death as well as a down payment of $225,000 prior to further negotiations, even though a peace treaty already existed. Eaton was enraged that peace should be bartered for, especially at such an exorbitant price. He wrote to the U.S. State Department that the “more you give the more the [Barbary States] will ask for.” His fury intensified in September 1800 after the dey (ruler) of Algiers commandeered the USS George Washington and forced the crew to ferry his ambassador and accompanying entourage to Constantinople, now Istanbul, to pay homage to his Ottoman Empire overlords. Appalled at the thought of a U.S. warship becoming nothing but a glorified taxi service, Eaton questioned how long his country would remain silent in the face of such degrading insults. A fledgling nation based on freedom and the rule of law was confronted with a direct threat from religiously inspired despots. The country’s national honor was at stake. As for himself, he believed America should launch an immediate military campaign against the Barbary States.

In early 1801 Consul Eaton wrote to President Thomas Jefferson in Washington, D.C. of the mounting tensions between America and Tripoli and how the U.S. needed to project a strong military presence into North Africa. His worst fears were realized when Tripoli declared war on America in May. Two months later, Commodore Richard Dale and four warships arrived off the Barbary Coast, signaling a dramatic shift in American policy. Despite achieving a victory over a Tripolitan ship, however, Dale’s blockade of Tripoli was largely ineffectual. A second squadron under Captain Richard Morris met with even less success, as Morris preferred paying social calls to European nations over engaging the Tripolitans in battle. Believing a new strategy was called for, William Eaton saw an opportunity to execute a daring new operation — one that promised to secure American interests as well as undo a travesty of justice.

Eaton had recently learned Bashaw Yusuf Qaramanli was not the rightful ruler of Tripoli. The throne actually belonged to Hamet Qaramanli, Yusuf’s older brother who had been deposed and exiled. In return for Eaton’s help in regaining power, Hamet promised to establish a lasting peace with America and allow the U.S. use of Tripoli as a military base. In a letter to President Jefferson, Eaton proposed to lead an army against Tripoli. Commodore Edward Preble, the new American commander in North Africa, supported Eaton’s endeavor. Preble believed such land-sea cooperation would ensure Tripoli’s defeat in only a few months. As Jefferson contemplated Eaton’s proposal, disaster again befell America when the USS Philadelphia was captured in late October 1803 off the Tripolitan coast and all 307 crewmembers were made prisoner. Efforts to secure the prisoners’ release proved futile as Bashaw Yusuf remained defiant. In addition to the promises previously extracted, therefore, the exiled Hamet agreed to free the Philadelphia’s crew unconditionally. Convinced restoring Hamet was America’s best option, Eaton, having returned to the U.S., persuaded both Congress and Jefferson to back his venture. By the end of 1804 he was in Cairo, Egypt telling Hamet their operation was on.

On March 6, 1805 General William Eaton, as he had styled himself, departed Cairo at the head of a four hundred-man army — comprising eight U.S. Marines, ninety Tripolitans and three hundred Greek and Arab mercenaries. With this force, he intended to march five hundred miles across the desert and capture Derne, Tripoli’s second-largest city, before marching to Benghazi where U.S. warships would transport his men to Tripoli City for the final attack that would end the war. As he advanced, his ranks swelled to nearly seven hundred men as dozens of Bedouin warriors flocked to his colors. He believed his army was more than an equal match for Bashaw Yusuf’s army, but soon the expedition threatened to dissolve as supplies ran low. Matters came to a head in early April when the mercenaries refused to go any further until a rendezvous was scheduled with the supply ship USS Argus at Bomba, nearly ninety miles away. Eaton knew the army could not stop or it faced extinction, so he ordered rations ceased until the mercenaries agreed to press on. Outraged, the Arabs prepared to storm the supply tent and seize the rations by force. Eaton was prepared for this eventuality and, together with Marine Lieutenant Pressley O’Bannon, he stood firm as two hundred Arabs charged toward him. Seeing he would not back down, Arabian sheiks ordered their men to fire on him and the marines, but Eaton still refused to capitulate. Joined by Hamet’s officers, he forced the Arabs to rejoin the column, and soon after, the army reached Bomba where they rested and resupplied before covering the final distance to Derne.

Arriving outside Derne on April 25th, Eaton found four thousand Tripolitans defending the city. He had less than a thousand. Hoping to avoid battle, he dispatched a message to the city’s governor claiming he had no wish to seize territory but only wished to see Hamet restored to power. He requested safe passage through town as well as supplies. The governor answered in unambiguous terms — “My head or yours.” With little choice, the general prepared to attack. He directed three American ships, Argus, Nautilus, and Hornet, to bombard Derne from the sea while he employed field guns against the city’s southeastern defenses. With the enemy focused on the Americans, Hamet would attack the city from the west. At 1:30 on the afternoon of April 27th, the bombardment began. From his position overlooking the city, Eaton watched the Hornet close to within one hundred yards of the shore at the same time Lieutenant O’Bannon’s marines opened fire with muskets and round shot. In forty-five minutes, defenses had crumbled, but the Tripolitans refused to give up. Training their cannons on the marines, the Tripolitans disabled the Americans’ field gun and threw the marines into confusion.

Sensing the marines were faltering, William Eaton unsheathed his sword and shouted for them to charge down the hill — straight into the enemy’s guns. Mounted atop his horse, he rode in the forefront of the attack as his men crossed the open beach. From the ramparts, Tripolitans leveled their muskets and opened fire. One marine fell severely wounded, and another dropped dead with a shot to the chest. The remaining soldiers pressed on, however, with Eaton at their side. Five bullet holes were later discovered in Eaton’s robes, but the only wound he sustained was a musket ball to the left wrist. Forced to halt, he watched as Lieutenant O’Bannon covered the last few yards to the city’s walls where he planted the Stars and Stripes. He then led his men to the cannons lining the walls and turned them on the fleeing Tripolitans. As Eaton looked on, word reached him that Hamet’s forces had driven into the city, and the exiled bashaw was, at that very moment, raising his own flag over the governor’s palace. Derne had been taken in only two and a half hours.

Eaton was jubilant at his victory, and he prepared to march on Tripoli City. He requested additional supplies and reinforcements, but instead he was told how U.S. Consul General Tobias Lear had brokered peace with Yusuf Qaramanli. In return for $60,000 and a promise that foreign forces would leave Derne, Yusuf released the Philadelphia’s crew. Eaton was flabbergasted that Lear would negotiate with a tyrant. Worse, he viewed the deal as a betrayal of all he and his men had fought and bled for. He bid farewell to Hamet, who spent the remainder of his life in Egypt, and sailed for the U.S. Despite being disheartened, he returned home a national hero for leading American soldiers into battle on foreign soil for the first time. Massachusetts awarded him ten thousand acres in Maine, and in 1807 Congress presented him with a settlement of over twelve thousand dollars for expenses incurred during the campaign. That same year he performed his final act of service when he testified at the treason trial of Vice-President Aaron Burr. Shortly thereafter, he settled in Brimfield, Massachusetts where he died in June 1811. Not only did he leave behind a legacy to inspire American actions during the early twenty-first century, but he also established the standard of heroism that echoes forever in the words of the Marine Corps Hymn — “to the shores of Tripoli.”

Since its earliest days, America has refused to allow its national interests and its citizens to be threatened by extremists who may hide behind the banner of religious zealotry. One of the greatest threats to peace and security today has ties to a time over two hundred years ago when this country confronted the forces of oppression along the Barbary Coast of North Africa and sought to bring about stability and safety through regime change. William Eaton was willing to be the instrument of that change, for he recognized the need to take firm action. Though he respected the power of diplomacy, he fully understood that at times military force is the only effective tool left to employ. While his plan was not allowed to be fully executed, William Eaton stands proudly among those oftentimes forgotten patriots whose ultimate loyalty and dedicated service to country serve as a clarion call to us that there finally comes a time to take a stand.

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Soldier Spy

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Although the United States ultimately triumphed in the American Revolution, there were many dark chapters in the long and bitter struggle before final victory was achieved. One of the bleakest came in late fall 1776 as George Washington and the Continental Army fought to keep New York City out of British hands. Heavy fighting raged across Long Island and Manhattan as Washington contested the British advance, but by mid-November, the British had driven him off Manhattan island altogether, ensuring New York City remained under British occupation for the remainder of the war. Despite never regaining control of the city until after the British departed in December 1783, General Washington continually sought to drive out the British invaders. It was a desire steadfastly shared by another young Continental officer as well. Hailing from Long Island himself, the officer was particularly zealous in his desire to liberate the island from British oppression. Though his renown largely resulted from his role as Washington’s chief spymaster, he also proved himself a fierce guerrilla fighter. His name was Benjamin Tallmadge. This is the story of how he relentlessly led raids on the British garrisons across Long Island during the final years of the American Revolution.

Despite coming from an area later known for its staunch loyalty to the Crown, Benjamin Tallmadge was fully committed to the ideals of the Revolution. He was born in Setauket, Long Island in late February 1754 to the town’s Presbyterian minister. As a young boy, he acquired an abiding love for liberty and self-government, and his convictions deepened after he entered Yale in 1769 and befriended fellow patriot Nathan Hale. After graduating in 1773, Tallmadge moved to Wethersfield, Connecticut to teach school. There he was caught up in the uproar erupting over Parliament’s passage of the “Intolerable Acts,” which closed Boston Harbor and imposed martial law on Massachusetts in retaliation for the December 1773 Boston Tea Party. Along with such Connecticut patriots as Silas Deane, a future American diplomat, and Jeremiah Wadsworth, the future Commissary General for America’s French allies, Benjamin came to believe the British desired nothing less than to stamp out American liberty. In April 1775 word reached him of the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, and he journeyed north to British-occupied Boston where he took heart at the sight of thousands of militiamen besieging the town. Desiring to free his country from British oppression, Tallmadge quickly returned to Connecticut where he obtained a lieutenant’s commission in a local regiment, and within a year he faced the British in battle — almost literally in his back yard.

After the British evacuated Boston in March 1776, the Continental Army, now including young Benjamin Tallmadge, assumed defensive positions around New York City in anticipation of a British attack. Deployed to Long Island, Benjamin enjoyed a brief reunion with his family before taking up his assigned post at Bedford Pass, one of the critical passes leading directly to the American bastion at Brooklyn Heights. When the British attacked on August 27th, he fought off repeated enemy charges on his position, but despite his valiant efforts, he was forced to fall back with the rest of the army. Still, Lieutenant Tallmadge’s courage so impressed his superiors that he was chosen to hold the rear guard as the Continental Army escaped across the East River to Manhattan. In the weeks to come, he sporadically engaged the British as the Americans fell back across the island to White Plains, New York, just north of the city, where on October 28th he held Chatterton’s Hill, the key to the American right flank, against repeated Hessian attacks. As the Americans were forced back, Tallmadge was almost captured when a clergyman leapt on his horse, which threw both men into the swirling waters of the Bronx River. As British soldiers chased after him, the young lieutenant dashed up the opposite bank, leapt on his horse, and raced to alert General George Washington of the impending disaster. Following this defeat, Tallmadge remained in the Hudson Highlands as part of a force ordered to monitor the British forces in New York while Washington and the main Continental Army fell back into Pennsylvania, from where the Americans attacked enemy garrisons at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey. Following these much-needed victories, Washington ordered the army’s reorganization as new recruits filled the ranks.

During this reorganization, Tallmadge’s Connecticut regiment disbanded, but he quickly signed on with the Second Continental Light Dragoons. Promoted to captain, he spent the winter outfitting the regiment with horses as well as carbines and pistols. He also instilled tight military discipline among the men and exhibited such a professional demeanor he was promoted to major in April 1777 at age twenty-three. That fall he led his men into action against the British in and around the nascent nation’s capital at Philadelphia. At the Battle of Germantown on October 4th, Tallmadge and his troops struck the British left flank and drove the enemy back. Soon, however, the assault broke down, and the British launched a counterattack, which routed the Americans. As soldiers fell back around him, Tallmadge desperately fought to stem the flood. Try as he might, however, the task proved impossible. Still, he refused to join those fleeing for their lives and led his men forward to hold the enemy back, just as he had at Brooklyn Heights. His defense helped slow the British long enough for the army to reach safety, though it could not save Philadelphia. With the defeat, the British spent the winter of 1777-78 enjoying the city’s comforts, but they were not left in peace. Tallmadge camped within a short distance of the city so as to monitor British activity, occasionally clashing with British cavalry patrols. As winter came to an end in early 1778, the British returned to their base at New York, and Washington and Tallmadge once again shifted their attention to that city and its environs.

With the British back in New York, Washington realized he needed reliable and accurate information regarding British forces; consequently, he appointed Major Benjamin Tallmadge as his chief spymaster. In this capacity, the major drafted his childhood friends Abraham Woodhull and Caleb Brewster, who lived on Long Island, as spies and received frequent reports from both men as well as from Robert Townsend, an operative who lived and worked in New York itself. As he read the reports, Tallmadge was incensed at the treatment of his fellow Long Islanders at the hands of British soldiers. Homes were occupied, and inhabitants were physically brutalized if they disagreed with their British masters. Rage soon blossomed into loathing, however, when he discovered that British soldiers had transformed his father’s church in Setauket into a barracks and destroyed the graveyard to construct fortifications. He immediately resolved to strike at the British and set his sights on the newly constructed Fort Franklin, named for Benjamin Franklin’s Loyalist son William, near Oyster Bay. On the night of September 5, 1779, Tallmadge and 130 dragoons, Continental troops and Long Islanders crossed Long Island Sound from Connecticut and marched on the fort. Approaching their objective, they came upon a contingent of Loyalist whaleboat men, and Tallmadge immediately ordered his men to charge. The Loyalists opened fire on the advancing Americans, but in moments, resistance crumbled as the Americans swept into camp. Most of the Loyalists were captured, but enough escaped to harass Tallmadge as he pressed on towards the enemy garrison. Realizing surprise was lost and the Redcoats were now prepared for him, he called off the attack and led his men back to Connecticut, but he refused to abandon his oppressed countrymen.

Almost immediately, Tallmadge began planning a second expedition across Long Island Sound, but he was soon sidetracked by Benedict Arnold’s treasonous plot to turn over the fort at West Point to the British. Only after the conspiracy was foiled and Arnold had fled to New York did Tallmadge return his attention to the British occupiers. In late fall 1780 he received a report from Abraham Woodhull detailing the construction of a new British stronghold, named Fort St. George, on the island’s south shore. He persuaded General Washington to approve an audacious strategy whereby he would cross over Long Island Sound and destroy the fort as well as a large supply of hay and forage at Coram. Accompanied by 100 dragoons, Tallmadge left his base at Stamford, Connecticut on November 21st and sailed across twenty miles of open water to Mt. Sinai. After being delayed nearly twenty-four hours due to a heavy rainstorm, he led his men on a daring night march across Long Island and arrived opposite Fort St. George at 3:00 a.m. on the 23rd. As he prepared to attack, he ordered the dragoons to leave their muskets unloaded — the fort would be taken at bayonet point. At 4:00 a.m. he charged forward with his men right behind him shouting “Washington and Glory!” In a matter of minutes, they were inside the fort, and the British were so overwhelmed they struck their colors, though a brief and brutal fight occurred as several soldiers fired on the Americans in the aftermath of the surrender. As the fighting ended, Tallmadge ordered his men to destroy the fort and a nearby supply ship. When that was done, he directed all but twelve men back to the boats. He then led his twelve comrades to Coram where they torched between 100 and 300 tons of supplies. Satisfied by all he had accomplished, he led his troops back to Connecticut where word of the triumph swept through the countryside. The young officer received praise from both General Washington and the Continental Congress, but he still yearned to restore all of Long Island to American control.

His desire to drive the British from the island did not abate, even as Washington focused his sights on the British army encamped at Yorktown, Virginia. While Washington led the main army south to defeat British General Lord Charles Cornwallis, Tallmadge and his men remained outside New York to convince the British commander-in-chief, General Sir Henry Clinton, that the true attack was poised against him. As part of that diversion effort, the daring major devised an attack on the British garrison at Fort Slongo, near the village of Huntington. On October 2nd his men embarked from Norwalk, Connecticut and crossed over to Long Island. They positioned themselves in front of the fort, and with a shout, they surged forward with such ferocity that only a solitary British soldier had time to fire his musket before fleeing for his life, not even bothering to shut the fort’s gate. Once inside the fort, Tallmadge’s soldiers engaged in heavy fighting with the defenders. In moments, all but a handful were prisoners. Knowing they could not stay long, the troops destroyed the bastion and the supplies they could not take with them and returned to the mainland where their comrades once again celebrated their exploits. On the other side of the line, Fort Slongo’s fall further demoralized those British officers and men already reeling from the disastrous defeat at Yorktown, and Tallmadge sought to further capitalize on their weariness. In November he led his raiders across Long Island Sound to gather intelligence, though he also seized the opportunity to engage in sabotage. During the expedition, he recognized that the war was winding down, but he wanted one more chance to strike at the hated enemy. In December 1782 he determined to strike a Loyalist force at Huntington, but weather and Loyalist whaleboats in Long Island Sound thwarted his designs, though he did capture two boats and their crews. He also captured two British privateers operating in Long Island Sound in February 1783. Shortly thereafter, he learned American and British diplomats had signed the Treaty of Paris ending the war, and in December he returned to his beloved Long Island, at last free of British oppression, thanks in no small part to his incessant forays against the British occupiers.

With the war over, Benjamin Tallmadge turned to more peaceful pursuits, though he did maintain an interest in national affairs. He settled in Litchfield, Connecticut and engaged in such business ventures as operating a merchant firm and selling real estate. Through these enterprises, he remained in close contact with George Washington, particularly during the general’s tenure as the country’s first president. Like his commander-in-chief, he ardently supported the strong, new government taking shape under the U.S. Constitution, and he became a staunch Federalist. After serving as Litchfield’s postmaster, Tallmadge was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1800 where he joined in debating such critical issues as the War of 1812. He served a total of eight terms before leaving Congress in 1817. Interestingly, just before retiring, he voted against increasing pensions for the three Americans responsible for capturing British Major John Andre, who had turned the pliable Benedict Arnold into a traitor. Despite exiting politics, however, the aging warrior continued to correspond with his friends in Congress regarding matters of national importance, including vocally denouncing President Andrew Jackson’s decision to relocate the Cherokee Indians from Georgia to Oklahoma. He spent his last years at home in Litchfield writing his memoirs of the American Revolution. Benjamin Tallmadge died in early March 1835, and every newspaper to record his death began by honoring his gallant service along the shores of Long Island Sound.

Although espionage was the primary focus for many of his military exploits, Benjamin Tallmadge was so much more than just George Washington’s spymaster. He was a daring and energetic officer immune to danger and eager to risk all to secure victory for himself and for his cause. Like his commander-in-chief, he refused to abandon his post, and he relentlessly battled the British across the fields of Long Island until they were worn down and had no choice but to leave the U.S. for good. To his great credit as well, he continued to faithfully serve his beloved country long after the war ended. In evaluating Tallmadge’s military career, some believe his tenacity parallels that of another famous Continental officer, known to history as the “Swamp Fox.” For one so devoted to America, there could be no more fitting tribute than to label Major Benjamin Tallmadge as the “Francis Marion of the North.”

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