Friday, January 25, 2013

Cover art for my new book!

My novel, The Secret of Wattensaw Bayou, is slated to be released in early March, 2013 by Blue Water Publications.  I was very excited to see the first draft of the cover art last week.  Still a bit of work to be done, but this is essentially how the cover will appear. 

Stay tuned for an official announcement when the book is availible at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

This is the blurb that will go on the back cover.  Let me know if this would grab your attention as a potential buyer!

"In the twilight days of slavery, Ephraim Wright suffers the depredations of war along with the white family who reared him.  Raised with the family since he was two years old, he is never once required to call Jonathan Wright, his benevolent owner, "master."  He is stranded between two worlds; that of free whites, and of enslaved blacks.  His life is irreversibly changed when Confederate conscript officers take the family's oldest son at gun point and a bushwhacker gang guns down Jonathan Wright.  The law forbids a slave to touch a firearm, because a “negro with a gun is a nervous thing to white folks.”  But where his family is concerned, Ep is never one to care about what the slave laws say.  By seeking to send men to hell, will Ephraim send himself there as well?"

Monday, January 21, 2013

Rare WWII Tank Recovered In Poland

This story reminds me of a similar situation I observed at Fort Drum NY in 1982 during winter warfare training.  A M48A5 tank was mired in mud up to the bottom of its turret.  All attempts to pull it out with recovery vehicles failed, even with two M88 recovery vehicles pulling in tandem.  I remember seeing engineers wading in the deep mud placing small charges of C4 explosive under the tank in an effort to break the incredible suction from the mud that held the beast in place.  If it had been combat situation instead of training, that tank may have been abandoned like the one in this story.
River in Poland yields a Valentine
Vintage tank hunters pulled a Valentine tank from the backwaters of the Warta River in western Poland this past October.  Military vehicle collector Jacek Kopczynski of Lodz, led the recovery operation. One of the founders of the Veteran Vehicles Bazaar in Poland, Kopczynski commented a day prior to the successful recovery, “If a person could manage to recover the Valentine, it will be a sensation in the world.  This is the first of its kind found in Poland.”

The Valentine Mk X tank is believed to have fallen through ice covering a tributary of the River Warta in western Poland, as it rolled towards Berlin as part of the Soviet Red Army’s massive assault on German defences.  Around 2,000 Valentines had been delivered to the USSR as part of Western military aid. Until this recovery, only three of the lend-lease Valentines were known to exist.

“We’re having difficulties getting the machine out,” Kopczynskia remarked during the operation. “Divers are using high-pressure water jets to try and free the tank, which is apparently in a very good condition.”

Reports that the Valentine had survived its watery resting place with little decay excited historians.  “If it’s true then it would be a world sensation,” commented Janusz Zbit, a military historian.  “After three years of restoration, it might be even able to drive again, which would make it the only surviving Valentine Mk X to have seen combat.”

Though recovery attempts failed on the first day of the mission, success came on the next day. Submerged since January 1945, the Valentine finally broke the surface in October 2012.

Zbit noted that this is the only complete Soviet lend-lease Valentine in the the world, commenting, “In Poland, there is not one such machine.  Once I found the remains of a Valentine at Bydgoszcz, but it was just rust, nothing more.”  He went on to boast, “This is well preserved. In two or three years it is possible it could be restored to driving condition.”  He noted, “There are reportedly three preserved throughout the world, but this would be the only one involved in combat.
You can see a video of the recovery here:

Monday, January 14, 2013

How To Make Underwear From Parachutes

Band of mothers: Bravery of women who confronted downed Luftwaffe airman with pitchforks... to steal his parachute and make silk knickers for entire village!

By Emily Andrews, Daily Mail
When a German bomber crashed in a field on May 10, 1941, the women of Earlswood were quick to mobilise.
Seizing pitchforks, brooms and scissors, they marched two miles across the countryside towards the wreckage – and wounded wireless operator, Rudolph Budde, who ran off in fear as they approached.
But they didn’t want revenge. They wanted his silk parachute.
The canopy provided enough material to make bloomers for every woman in the village who wanted a pair at a time when new clothes were an all-but forgotten luxury, and silk a rare commodity.
Private Budde was captured the following day by the Home Guard and treated for burns at a hospital near the village, in Warwickshire. He was then held as a prisoner of war.
The remarkable story came to light thanks to Christine Thorp, who took an off-cut of the parachute to the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. Her mother, Irene Gill – at the time Irene Smith – was one of the women involved in the intrepid silk raid.
Mrs Thorp, 72, said: ‘My mother died two years ago aged 95 but a few years before she gave me the piece of the parachute as she knew I was interested in the story behind it.
‘She told me the villagers had seen this German bomber come down a couple of miles away and a handful of them – mainly women as the men were away at war or working on the farms –got together and decided to retrieve a parachute.
‘They picked up whatever weapons they could lay their hands on like pitchforks and brooms for their own protection and walked two miles across the fields.
Christine Thorp with a piece of the
German parachute
‘When they got there and found the airman, he was more scared of them. She said he must have thought he was going to be killed and ran off into the woods. They found his parachute and cut it up among themselves using the scissors. It was pure silk, very soft and fine material.
‘Women who were married during the war often had to make their own wedding dresses out of a variety of materials. They were quite resourceful.‘All the ladies in the village who wanted some silk got some but others would not touch it because it was German.
‘Mother did make some underwear out of her cut but she also got a piece that had some German printing on. It was unusable but she decided to keep it.
Irene Gill
‘I have had it for about 20 years and have washed and ironed it and now keep it in a plastic cover in my wardrobe.'
Private Budde’s Heinkel HE-III bomber was part of a large formation that attacked Birmingham on the night of May 10, 1941.
His plane was supposed to break off from the main group to bomb a factory at Longbridge, where Lancaster bombers were being made.
The four-man crew were meant to follow the Birmingham to Bristol railway line as a navigating aid but chose the wrong tracks.
The plane ended up going towards Redditch and was shot by anti-aircraft fire when it flew over RAF Wythall. It crashed in a field near Earlswood.
The pilot, Senior Lieutenant Johannes Speck von Steinberg, flight engineer Sergeant Siegfried Ruhle, who had been awarded the Iron Cross, and Sergeant Fritz Mohn were killed outright.
The Earlswood Village Museum still holds part of the wreckage of the Heinkel. It also has Sergeant Ruhle’s Iron Cross, which was found in the field weeks later.
Remains of the downed Heinkel HE-III bomber
Gefreiter Budde (bottom left) alongside the crew of the downed bomber.
He was repatriated to Germany after the war.  He died in 2003 aged in his 80s

Monday, January 7, 2013

“THE DEATH OF PACKINHAM” A Powder Horn Carried at the Battle of New Orleans

By M.E. Hubbs

January 8th marks the 198th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans.  I'll not try to repeat the story of that important, one-sided victory for the fledgling United States.  That has been chronicled by many others.  Instead here is the story of one man who was there, and the powder horn that he carried into battle.

Early powder horns with good provenance to the War of 1812 and earlier eras are quite rare.  Many that have survived did so because of well executed inscribing and carving that propelled the horn into the realm of folk art as much as historic artifact.  Other horns only survived by chance. Simple horns, carried by common soldiers are the rarest and are usually the most difficult to document.  The horn that is the subject of this article has an impeccable provenance, yet it is a simple horn, carried by an ordinary man during an extraordinary moment in history.

Thomas Whitwell was the quintessential American frontiersman of the late 18th and early 19th century.  He is remarkable only by the extraordinary amount of documentation pertaining to him that was recorded in legal and governmental records of his time.  In an era when few left a trace on the written record, evidence of Whitwell’s life stretches from Massachusetts to Louisiana and several states in between.  Most of the details of Thomas Whitwell’s life have been discovered through the diligent research of his fourth Great-Grandson, Dr. David Whitwell.  That research, coupled with family oral traditions, has pieced together a compelling story of tragedy and adventure.

Thomas was born in 1774 and was only a toddler when he was “bound out” to his maternal Grandfather at Charlotte Courthouse, Virginia.  His father had died suddenly and his newly remarried mother left him and his older brother in the care of relatives when she departed for the Kentucky wilderness with her new husband.    In 1791, when Thomas was seventeen he was either released or fled an apprenticeship with William Johnson.  Family oral traditions are that Thomas was “shanghaied” and later jumped ship in Boston.  On 12 December 1791 the Boston Gazette reported that the ship Generous Friends had arrived in Boston from Africa.  A few weeks later a Thomas Whitwell received two official “warnings” from Boston authorities to leave the city. Thomas was listed as “white” and his last residence as “Africa”.  The family stories of abduction and jumping ship appear to be true, and on a slaver no less!

Thomas next appears in Mercer County, Kentucky where he joined his older brother, Mother and Stepfather.  He married Polly Anderson there in 1798.  By 1802 he was in Barron County, Kentucky.  Just before the War of 1812, Thomas moves again to recently opened lands along Yellow Creek in Dickson County, Tennessee.  It is here in 1814, at the age of thirty nine that he and his brother-in-law and best friend, Elkanah Anderson, would join Captain Ellis’s Company of Militia.

Ellis’s company was one of about thirty companies of West Tennessee militia that were raised in the autumn of 1814.  William Carroll of Jackson’s staff was sent home to recruit a new force to assist in the defense of New Orleans.  Carroll succeeded in raising three regiments.  Ellis’s Company, raised in Dickson County, was made a part of Colonel John Cocke’s 2nd Regiment.  (This John Cocke is not to be confused with General John Cocke of the East Tennessee Militia during the Creek Indian War.) Carroll’s command made a torturous 1,300 mile, month long journey down the Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi rivers and reached New Orleans on December 20, 1814.

Carroll’s three regiments were placed near the center of the American line along the Rodriguez Canal.  They took part in the fighting on 27 and 31 December and the climatic battle on 8 January 1815.  Carroll’s regiments occupied the line just opposite of where Lieutenant General Sir Edward Pakenham was killed on 8 January.   Family tradition states that Thomas’s brother-in-law, Elkanah Anderson, was killed in the famous battle.  Muster rolls from Ellis’s company show that Elkanah died on 15 January 1815 in New Orleans.  It is not clear if the death was due to wounds received during the engagement, or from other causes.

Thomas Whitwell's Powder Horn (Photo: Shane McKinnon)

The horn is rather small in size with a total length of approximately 9 inches.  Though relatively small, the volume of the horn would comfortably hold the one quarter pound of powder that militiamen armed with rifles were required to provide for themselves under the Militia Act of 1792.   The base of the horn is 9 inches in circumference and the hardwood base cap appears to have been originally attached to the horn body with metal tacks.  Although the tacks are missing from the 14 evenly spaced holes, the tale-tale signs of the tack heads are visible around the holes.  The base cap is not lathe turned but is hand carved with the base and sling button carved from a single piece of wood. 

To prevent (or to repair) cracks the horn spout has been reinforced with lead.  It appears that the spout was cast and bored then slid over the spout mouth atop a previous sheet lead repair.  There is no way of determining if the lead spout was applied when the horn was in use by Mr. Whitwell.  The horn lacks a stopper or sling. 

Inscriptions on the horn body are rather crude.  The various lines of the 1812 era inscription appear to have been added in stages.  There is also speculation that the horn originally belonged to Mr. Whitwell’s father, also named Thomas.  This is due to the date “1775” which seems to be out of context with the rest of the inscription on the horn. This is a year after the birth of Thomas Jr. and the year of Thomas Sr.’s death.

The lines are inscribed from the base towards the spout and are generally justified on the left near the base cap.  They read:

Drawing of War of 1812 Inscriptions on the Powder Horn
Close-up of Inscription (Photo: Shane McKinnon)
The War of 1812 era inscription is followed by this:

Wm. WHiTWELL 1818

William Whitwell was Thomas’s oldest son.  It is not clear whether the “This is my father’s horn” was carved by Thomas, referring to Thomas Sr., or by William in reference to Thomas Jr.  Changes in the style of carving suggest it is the former.  From Thomas down, the horn passed through a five-generation un-broken line of descent.  Each descendant-owner inscribed a line on the horn to celebrate their generation.  Some put their names and date of acquisition; others added their name and birth date.  The last descendant-owner that appears on the horn is also the only female.  She added her name and birthday:


Leta Whitwell Johnson inherited the horn sometime after the death of her father in 1947.  After many years of correspondence with Dr. David Whitwell, who descends from Thomas through a different line, she decided to pass the horn to him to keep it in possession of a Whitwell.  David was granted the horn in 1975 and drove from California to Oklahoma to secure the treasure.  It was rescued from the Johnson family barn.  The loose base cap and long cracks in the horn are the result if it being stepped on by a cow at some time before its rescue! The horn also shows signs of earlier repairs.

Although some may be disappointed that additional lines and names were added to this horn after its first historic inscription, those carvings are indicative of the significance and importance each succeeding generation has placed on this treasured family heirloom.  Without that family perception of importance this artifact may never have survived to surpass its standing of heirloom, to become an artifact of national significance.

Acknowledgments:  My thanks to Dr. David Whitwell for remaining patient with my many emails concerning Thomas Whitwell and his horn.  And most of all for the diligent research that he as done on our common Fourth Great-Grandfather.

This article originally appeared in: Military Collector & Historian; Spring 2008, Vol. 60 Issue 1, p2 (the journal of the Company of Military Historians)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

They Gave Their Lives for Tourism, UPDATE!

This is a follow-up to my blog post of August 27, 2012 -

It is amazing how a series of obscure local events, that happened in the back woods of West Virginia 125 years ago, can still capture public imagination.  The Hatfield and McCoy feud does just that.  A recent TV mini-series starring Kevin Costner has added even more fuel to the feud fire.  Recent archaeological work has pin pointed an important battle site of the fight and plans are already moving forward to capitalize on the tourist potential of that piece of ground. 

These two re-blogged articles tell the story.

Associated Press.  By Bruce Schreiner
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Hatfield clan New Year's attack on Randolph McCoy's cabin marked a turning point in America's most famous feud -- the homestead was set ablaze, and two McCoys were gunned down. Hatfield family members and supporters were soon thrown in jail.
Artifacts recently unearthed appear to pinpoint the location of the 1888 ambush in the woods of Pike County in eastern Kentucky. Excavators found bullets believed to have been fired by the McCoys in self-defense, along with fragments of windows and ceramic from the family's cabin.
"This is one of the most famous conflicts in American history, and we've got bullets fired from one of the key battles. It doesn't get any better than that," said Bill Richardson, a West Virginia University extension professor who was part of the recent discovery.
The property is owned by Bob Scott, a Hatfield descendant who has suspected for years that the hilly land was the site of the brutal attack. He grew up listening to stories from his parents and grandparents about the 19th-century feud.
"My father told me years ago that someday this well would talk," Scott said, referring to the well on the site where Randolph McCoy's daughter Alafair died while trying to flee the attackers.
Now backed by the discovery, Scott plans to capitalize on the historic 70-acre site near the West Virginia line. The options include a housing development featuring horseback and ATV trails, he said.
Scott's home is about 75 yards from where the cabin stood. The McCoys moved to nearby Pikeville after the homestead was burned.

The Hatfields pose for a family portrait in 1897

The artifacts were found last year during filming of a National Geographic Channel show.
The bullets were discovered burrowed several inches into a hillside overlooking where the McCoy cabin stood, Richardson said. Three different calibers of bullets, including shotgun pellets, were uncovered.
The ammunition, found in an area about 30 feet wide, was traced to the same time period as the 1888 battle, Richardson said.
"The front of the cabin faces almost directly at the spot where these bullets were," Richardson said. "We know from the oral histories that they were shooting out the front of the cabin and from the upper windows. So they're exactly in the spot where they should be."
Also found during the initial search was a piece of charred wood with a nail traced to the McCoy cabin's time period, he said.
Later, an archaeological team led by Kim McBride, co-director of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, confirmed the location of the McCoy cabin. They found tiny pieces of window glass and ceramics traced to the same period, along with more nails and charred wood.
She would like to return to the site for more excavation work, which could take three to five weeks.
There were other clues connecting the property to the McCoys. The deed to the property was traced back to Randolph McCoy, she said.
"It was kind of a coming together of all the pieces of evidence," McBride said.
The discoveries come amid a surge of interest in the feud that spanned much of the last half of the 19th century. The fighting claimed at least a dozen lives by 1888 and catapulted both families into the American vernacular, becoming shorthand to describe bitter rivalries.
The History Channel aired a three-night miniseries about the feud that set basic cable viewing records. The drama starred Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton as the patriarchs -- William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield in West Virginia and Randolph "Ole Ran'l" McCoy in Kentucky.
The New Year's attack was one of the bloodiest episodes in the feud.
"It was a turning point," Richardson said. "The feud had lasted 23 years up until this battle. And then 20 days later it's virtually over."
Now, descendants of both families live peacefully among each other in the Appalachian region. And officials in both states see the potential to reap a financial windfall because of the public's fascination.
Attendance was up last June at a three-day Hatfield and McCoy festival held in Matewan and Williamson in West Virginia and in Pike County in Kentucky. The event featured tours, re-enactments, book signings, arts and crafts, and a marathon run. Descendants showed their allegiance by wearing ribbons -- red for Hatfields, blue for McCoys.
Many believe the feud was rooted in the Civil War, but the bitterness was perpetuated by disputes over timber rights and even a pig.
Historical markers describe other pivotal events in the feud, including the spot where three McCoys -- all sons of Randolph McCoy -- were tied to pawpaw trees and shot to death by an unofficial posse organized by Devil Anse Hatfield. He was avenging the death of his brother Elliston at the hands of the McCoys.
Scott counts descendants from both families as friends.
"It's very unique to stand here on New Year's Eve and realize what happened," he said. "It's sad that that occurred, but that was a way of life."
Although the artifacts were uncovered a few months ago, the discoveries weren't announced until Monday. The new National Geographic Channel series, called "Diggers," premieres Tuesday. The episode detailing the McCoy homestead discovery airs on Jan. 29.

Site of Hatfield-McCoy Feud Draws Tourists

By Roger Alford, ABC News
A wooded hillside overlooking the Tug Valley has gone from being a gruesome murder scene to a tourist attraction that draws people from around the world.
It was here that three young brothers were gunned down by a group of men set on revenge for the stabbing death of one of their own kin.
This tiny spot in the Appalachians would have been forgotten long ago had the combatants not been named Hatfield and McCoy. But because these are the nation's most notorious feuding families, the scattered places where they fought and died are being preserved in the interest of history — and commerce.
Congress has appropriated nearly $500,000 to build walkways to accommodate foot traffic and make some of the bloodiest feud sites more tourist-friendly. Local leaders are hoping for a sizable return in tourism dollars for a struggling mountain economy.
Kevin Gilliam, a Pikeville architect working to restore some of the feuding grounds, said he has been amazed by the level of interest in the feud from outside Kentucky, even outside the United States.
"People already come from all over to visit these places," he said. "From Canada, from Japan. It's unreal the people who are showing up."
A reconstructed cabin marks one of the key sites of the Hatfield/McCoy Feud.
Fight over a Pig
The feud between the McCoys of Kentucky and the Hatfields of West Virginia — believed to have stemmed from a dispute over a pig — brought national attention to the region. A court battle over timber rights escalated the tension in the early 1870s. By 1888, at least 12 lives were lost as a result of the feud that received widespread publicity in national newspapers and magazines at the time.
Already, the Dils Cemetery in Pikeville — where patriarch Randolph McCoy, his wife, Sara, and daughter Roseanna are buried — has been landscaped and stairs have been added to allow easy access for visitors. Improvements are now under way or soon will be at six other landmarks connected to the infamous feud. Some, like the cabin site where a trial was held to settle the pig dispute, are overgrown with vegetation after years of neglect.
Gilliam said he expects a replica of that cabin to be built and open to tourists by next year.
Along with the congressional appropriation, the Pike County Fiscal Court has contributed $25,000 for the feud project, and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet $100,000.
Tourism officials have added historical markers with explanations of the landmarks at seven sites. One is the place where three McCoys — Tolbert, Pharmer and Randolph McCoy Jr. — were tied to pawpaw trees and shot to death in 1882 by an unofficial posse organized by Devil Anse Hatfield, patriarch of the Hatfield family.
The McCoy boys were wanted for killing Ellison Hatfield in an Election Day fight on Aug. 7, 1882.
Feud Fuels Local Economy
Pike County Tourism Commission chief Phyllis Hunt said promoting the feud sites is good for the local economy. She said she expects visitation to skyrocket once all the improvements are completed.
"We have visitors throughout the year who come to see the feud sites," she said. "We give them directions and a map, and they're always so excited to see where it actually happened."
Visitors flood the feud sites during the annual Hillbilly Days Festival each April and the Hatfield-McCoy Reunion Festival each June in Pikeville.
Betty Howard, who traces her ancestry to both the Hatfields and McCoys, said people from outside the region often are more interested in the feud than are local residents.
Some in the Tug Valley would rather forget what they see as an ugly chapter in the history of the region, Howard said. That, she said, is why is has taken so many years to open the feud sites to tourists. Howard said people should be proud of their heritage, and the Hatfield-McCoy feud, though many wish it had never happened, is a part of that heritage.
"Some people may want the history of the feud to go away," Howard said. "But it's not going away."
If You Go…
PIKEVILLE-PIKE COUNTY TOURISM: Visit or call (800) 844-7453. HILLBILLY DAYS FESTIVAL: April 15-17, downtown Pikeville, Ky. HATFIELD-McCOY REUNION FESTIVAL: June 10-13, downtown Pikeville, Ky. HATFIELD-McCOY FEUD SITES: Look for roadside markers for these rural sites. Dils Cemetery, where Randolph and Sara McCoy are buried, along with daughter Roseanna and son Sam. Location: Chloe Road in Pikeville. Place where Ellison Mounts was hanged. He was convicted of murder for a raid on McCoy home in which two people were killed. Location: Kentucky Avenue in Pikeville. Site of hog trial, which escalated the feud between the families. Location: Route 319 in McCarr, Ky. Site of the murder of Asa Harman McCoy, the first person killed in the feud. He was a Union Army veteran and brother of Randolph McCoy. Location: Route 1056 in Blackberry, Ky. Old courthouse and jail, where murder trials were held and where combatants were incarcerated. Location: Main Street in Pikeville.
Site of grave of baby daughter of Roseanna McCoy and Johnse Hatfield. They were lovers from the feuding families. Location: Route 292 in Burnwell, Ky. Site of "PawPaw Incident," where three McCoy boys were tied to trees and shot. Location: Route 1056 at Buskirk, Ky.