Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Paws, Pee and Mice

As a cat lover and a lover of medieval history, I found this story irresistible.  I had to share it.  It is re-blogged from here:

Cats among Medieval Manuscripts

Everyone who has ever owned a cat will be familiar with their unmannerly feline habit of walking across your keyboard while you are typing. The medieval manuscript pictures above reveals that this is nothing new.
Although the medieval owner of this manuscript may have been quite annoyed with these paw marks on his otherwise neat manuscript, another fifteenth-century manuscript reveals that he got off lucky. A Deventer scribe, writing around 1420, found his manuscript ruined by a urine stain left there by a cat the night before. He was forced to leave the rest of the page empty, drew a picture of a cat and cursed the creature with the following words:
“Hic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum istum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem ubi cattie venire possunt.”
[Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.]
Given their inclination to defile beautiful books, why were cats allowed in medieval libraries at all? A ninth-century poem, written by an Irish monk about his cat “Pangur Bán”, holds the answer:
I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.
'Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.
The cats were there to keep out the mice. For good reason, because a medieval manuscript offered a tasty treat for the little vermin, as this eleventh-century copy of Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae illustrates. The manuscript has been all but devoured by rats and mice and every page shows the marks of their teeth.  (Note from erasgone: Medieval manuscripts were written on velum and parchment, both cured and dressed animal skins, and potentially tasty to rodents!)
Aside from their book-endangering eating habits, mice could be an annoying distraction, as illustrated by the twelfth-century scribe Hildebert. The illustration shows how a mouse has climbed up Hildebert’s table and is eating his cheese. Hildebert lifts a stone in an apparent attempt to kill the mouse. In the book that he was writing, we find a curse directed at the cheese-nibbling beast: “Pessime mus, sepius me provocas ad iram; ut te deus perdat” [Most wretched mouse, often you provoke me to anger. May God destroy you!]
So, while at least two cats are responsible for leaving their unwanted marks on manuscripts, the cat’s mouse-catching abilities may have saved a large number of manuscripts from ending up in a mouse’s belly and may have enabled many a scribe to focus on his work, knowing that his lunch would remain untouched.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A priceless American document that you have never heard about

The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured ... by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union."  Abraham Lincoln, 1861
Few Americans are aware that our union of states predates the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence.  During Lincoln’s time this document was still celebrated, but the legacy of this important document has now been forgotten by all but the most dedicated students of history.
The Articles of Association was drawn up and signed by members of the First Continental Congress in 1774.  The intent of the Congress and the Articles was to unify the British American colonies into a cohesive political body which could resist the high taxation and economic sanctions that the Crown had imposed on them.  There was no intent to sever allegiance, only to alter Britain's policies towards the colonies and to repeal the Coercive Acts that had been passed by Parliament.
Twelve of the future thirteen colonies sent delegates to Philadelphia to First Continental Congress in September 1774.  Georgia did not, as they were preoccupied with war against the Muskogee Indian Nation at the time.  The colonies of East Florida and West Florida never did agree to send delegates to the Continental Congress. (East and West Florida were the fourteenth and fifteenth colonies in what was to become the United States.  We have somehow collectively forgotten that they existed, but that is another story!)
On October 20, 1774 the First Continental Congress passed the Articles of Association which laid out grievances and fourteen economic and boycotting measures that the colonies would take against the Crown and British commerce.  More importantly, the colonies had taken the first step in coalescing into and union of states that would culminate in the Constitution thirteen years later.  The signers considered the Articles of Association as a contract, which universally pledged all the colonies together under "self rule."  In some ways, the Articles of Association is just as important as the Declaration of Independence.  The complete text of the Articles of Association can be found here:

One of the surviving 1774 printed version of Articles
Copies of the Articles were sent to all the colonies and to Great Britain, but the original, with the signatures of fifty three of our founding fathers, was lost.

Fast Forward to 1978
In 1978 a collector who was visiting Knoxville Tennessee on business went into a used book store in hopes of finding a first edition copy of "Lee and His Lieutenants," which was published in 1867.  He was thrilled to find just what he was looking for.  When he got home, he discovered a large document folded neatly and resting between the leaves of the book.  He did not know what he had found, but he could not miss the signatures of George Washington, John Adams, Roger Sherman and fifty other men.
The document was later authenticated by scholars at the Smithsonian and other institutions.  It was page four, the signature page, of the original hand drafted Articles of Association.  The fate of pages 1 - 3 is still a mystery.  But, if only one page was to survive, this was the page to have!  The document is still owned by the original finder and has been safeguarded since 1978. 

The signature page of the Articles of Association as it is being displayed while on tour
Recently the owner has graciously allowed Bill Stone, a member of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) to take the document on the road to be shared with the public.  Bill will be showing the Articles of Association to schools, SAR/DAR chapters and other patriotic organizations across Alabama in the coming year. 

Mr. Bill Stone visited the Huntsville, Alabama chapter of the
Sons of the American Revolution on February 11th, 2013 and told
the fascinating story of the Articles and their rediscovery in 1978


A close up of the signatures of Virginia Delegation, including George Washington and Richard Henry Lee

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Remains of Monitor Sailors to be Interred at Arlington

Reblogged from:

By Lt. Lauryn Dempsey, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced Feb. 12 that remains recovered from the USS Monitor will be interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

A ceremony will be held March 8 to honor the two unknown Sailors.

The specific date of the interment was chosen to honor Monitor's role in the Battle of Hampton Roads 151 years ago.

"These may very well be the last Navy personnel from the Civil War to be buried at Arlington," said Mabus. "It's important we honor these brave men and all they represent as we reflect upon the significant role Monitor and her crew had in setting the course for our modern Navy."

The Brooklyn-built Monitor, the nation's first ironclad warship, made nautical history after being designed and assembled in 118 days. Commissioned Feb. 25, 1862, the Monitor fought in the first battle between two ironclads when it engaged CSS Virginia in the Battle of Hampton Roads March 9, 1862. The battle marked the first time iron-armored ships clashed in naval warfare and signaled the end of the era of wooden ships.

Though the Monitor's confrontation with the Virginia ended in a draw, the Monitor prevented the Virginia from gaining control of Hampton Roads and thus preserved the Federal blockade of the Norfolk-area.

Months later, 16 Sailors were lost when the Monitor sank Dec. 31, 1862 in a storm off Cape Hatteras, N.C. Her wreck was discovered in 1974 was designated the nation's first national marine sanctuary, managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Starting in 1998, the Navy, NOAA and the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Va., began working together to recover artifacts from Monitor.

During the summer of 2002, while attempting to recover the ship's 150-ton gun turret, Navy divers discovered human remains inside the turret. The remains were transported to Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii for possible identification.

JPAC, with the assistance of the Navy Casualty Office and NOAA, conducted a comprehensive effort to identify the remains of the unknown Sailors, to include time-demanding and detailed genealogical research. Given the age of the remains, efforts to identify them were unsuccessful. However, JPAC was able to narrow down possible descendents of the unknown Sailors to 30 family members from 10 different families.

"The decision to lay these heroes to rest in Arlington, honors not only these two men but all those who died the night Monitor sank and reminds us, that the sacrifices made a hundred and fifty years ago, will never be forgotten by this nation", said David Alberg, Superintendent of NOAA's Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.
The facial reconstruction of two Sailors whose remains were discovered inside the gun turret of the USS Monitor after it was raised from the ocean floor in 2002 are revealed during a ceremony sponsored by the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation. The ceremony is part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 8 and 9, 1862, when Monitor and CSS Merrimac fought in the first ironclad battle in naval history. Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C. later that year. While much has been learned about the physical characteristics of the two Sailors, their identities remain a mystery. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gina K. Morrissette/Released)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Baseball From Shiloh Battlefield

The game of baseball has been an American tradition for much longer than most Americans realize.  We have not always called it baseball, however.  It has been known as "rounders," "town ball" and other names but the basics were the same. Some scholars believe it had it origin in games brought to North America in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The game gained in popularity in the decades before the Civil War.  Soldiers, North and South took the game with them when they marched off to war.

After the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee in April 1862, an African-American orderly in the Union Army found a baseball among the debris of that horrendous fight.  No one knows if its former owner wore blue or gray, or if he was one of the 23,000 Americans who were killed or wounded during those two days of hell.

Giles Hellum inscribed the ball: “Picked Up on the Battle Field at Shiloh by G.F. Hellum.”  Hellum later became a soldier himself  in the 69th United States Colored Infantry.  The 69th U.S.C.T. was recruited around Pine Bluff and DeValls Bluff Arkansas, and spent its enlistment serving in eastern Arkansas.

Baseball found on the battlefield of Shiloh by Giles Hellum
According to an new on-line baseball museum the artifact is a “lemon peel ball,” much looser and softer than today’s baseballs, and it is hand-stitched in a figure 8 pattern with thick twine.  I've reproduced these balls in the past for playing rounders at Civil War living history events.  They took some amazing punishment, but we never split a seem or tore the leather on a lemon peel ball.
Along with other artifacts, this rare ball will be unveiled on Opening Day this year at the new online baseball museum and archive.


Monday, February 4, 2013

A Lost King Is Found - UPDATE!

This is a follow up to a blog entry that I posted on September 12, 2012.  See it at:

Last September I posted an article about the archaeological work preformed by my old alma mater, the University of Leicester.  They were searching for a lost church, where they hoped to find the lost bones of the last Plantagenet king.  Historical records tell us that the Greyfriers buried Richard III under the choir of their church after he was slain at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.  The work at the parking lot did uncover the remains of the Greyfriers' Church and a skeleton right where research suggested it should be. 

Richard III skeleton has it was found under the choir of the Greyfrier's Church in Leicester, England.
Photo: Un of Leicester
But was it King Richard III?  Richard is the only English monarch whose resting place is unknown.  Archaeological evidence suggested that this indeed was the lost king.  Only extensive laboratory work could confirm if these remains were those of Richard.

The University of Leicester announced today, with certainty, that Richard III has been found.  Mitochondria DNA taken from the skeleton match samples taken from distant, living relatives.  Carbon 14 dating places the bones at the right age and ten gristly battle wounds match those suggested from written historical accounts.  The spine of the skeleton also showed clear signs of scoliosis, a debilitating physical condition that Richard was known the have. 

Richard's skull showed several injuries that were inflicted at the Battle of Bosworth Field.  More than one of the wounds would have been fatal.  The most significant is this hole where part of the lower skull was cleaved away with a sword or poleaxe. Photo: Un of Leicester

The University of Leicester has an excellent web site devoted to this project.  Laboratory analysis, photos and videos provide amazing information about Richard's remains.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

FLINTLOCK: The Battle for Kwajalein Atoll

By Mark E. Hubbs

Most of this article came from a Kwajalein Battlefield Tour Guide that I prepared for the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command many years ago.
February 1, 2013 marks the sixty-ninth anniversary of Operation FLINTLOCK, the battle to seize the Marshall Islands from the Japanese.  Most Americans, even those who are not students of history, have at least heard the names "Iwo Jima," "Tarawa" or " Peleliu."  Few have heard of Kwajalein although it was the first Japanese owned territory, the edge of the Japanese Empire itself, that was taken during the war.  Operation FLINTLOCK was very big news in 1944, its overwhelming success has resulted in its obscurity today.  Other WWII island campaigns, which were not as successful or resulted in crippling American casualties, have now overshadowed events in the Marshalls. 

The Japanese presence in the Marshalls was of grave concern to American military officials, because the islands provided sheltered bases from which Japanese ships and planes could interdict the American supply lines to the Philippines.   Army and Navy war planners had labored since 1904 to devise a strategy that, in the event of a Japanese attack, would allow American forces to move across the Pacific Ocean to relieve the Army garrison in the Philippines.  Early war planners devised a scheme that called for the invasion of the Marshall Islands before advancing further across the Central Pacific.  A foothold in the Marshalls would provide American forces with a base of operations that would assure the recapture of the Philippines.   

These plans were renewed during World War II.  Admiral Chester Nimitz was not satisfied with attack plans against the outer islands of the Marshalls.  He insisted on a bolder move. He would go straight to the center of the Marshalls to the Japanese fleet headquarters at Kwajalein Atoll.  The invasion of Kwajalein Atoll would be the second time that an American force was thrown against a fortified island.  The first attempt, at Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands approximately 300 miles southeast of Kwajalein, had been a near disaster, with 990 Marines killed, 2,286 wounded.  Japanese casualties, 4,690 killed, left little doubt that they would fight to the last man.  Thus, many military planners questioned if an amphibious assault against a fortified position could ever work.  For this reason, the success or failure of the Marshalls invasion could affect future Allied strategy in the Pacific and in Europe.

The invasion of the Marshalls was a textbook operation.  Army, Navy, and Marine Corps planners carefully applied the lessons learned from Tarawa.  These included longer periods of aerial bombardment and naval gunfire support, the use of tracked amphibians, and the first use of frogmen (forerunners of Navy SEALS) to scout beaches and destroy underwater obstacles.  Maximum use of close-air support and the early introduction of armor and artillery were also used to great effect in the Kwajalein invasion.  The invasion fleet assembled off of Kwajalein in January,1944 was the largest ever assembled up till that time in World War II. The result was a nearly perfect operation that proved the utility of amphibious assault against fortified positions.  

The air campaign against the Marshall Islands began months before the invasion

Plans for the invasion of the Marshall Islands, code named Operation FLINTLOCK, were issued on December 20, 1943.  The 7th Infantry Division was designated the strike force for the invasion of Atoll's main island of Kwajalein Islet.  The 4th Marine Division were assigned the twin islets of Roi and Namur, forty five miles north of Kwajalein Islet.  Opposing the 7th Infantry Division on Kwajalein Islet were approximately 5,000 Japanese soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Korean laborers.  After several months of air strikes against many of the islands in the Marshalls, the five day operation began on January 31, 1944, when elements of the 7th Infantry Division began to seize small islands near Kwajalein to use as supply and fire support bases.

American artillery support was provided by 105mm and 155mm howitzers emplaced on Carlson (Enubuj) and Carlos (Ennylabegan) islands, which are north west of Kwajalein up the west reef.  Upwards of 29,000 rounds were fired against the landing beaches to soften up Japanese defenses. Starting at 0930 on February 1, 1944, the 7th Infantry Division landed over 1,200 troops in the first fifteen minutes of the invasion, and continued bringing men and equipment ashore during the entire operation.  The assault was conducted by the 184th Infantry regiment, which was responsible for moving up the lagoon side of the island, while the 32nd Infantry Regiment was responsible for the ocean side.  This end of the island, divided by the Japanese airstrip, provided an excellent sector line between the units. 

The 184th Infantry Regiment had been a California National Guard organization before the war and was added to the 7th Division during mobilization.  The 184th performed admirably during Operation Flintlock and subsequent 7th Division campaigns. 

Japanese defenses included elaborate concrete bunkers as well as coconut log machine gun nests.  Satchel charges and flame throwers were the only way to root out the defenders
By the end of the first day, American forces had grown to six infantry battalions, an engineer battalion, an armor battalion with sixty tanks and various support units.  During the day, most of the Japanese had fought from inside bunkers and pillboxes.  As night fell, the Japanese emerged from their bunkers and pillboxes during a chilling rainstorm and attacked American forward positions.  The first night for the Americans was long and dismal and filled with terror and confusion.

By the end of the second day (February 2) the full length of the airfield had been secured.  This was open ground, dotted with numerous concrete bunkers and rifle pits.  Each was taken in turn, but the assault remained on schedule.
A rifleman takes a K-Ration break while a BAR gunner cleans his weapon with dead Japanese nearby

American commanders expected to conclude the battle on February 3 against light Japanese resistance.  They were mistaken. The “Admiralty Area” just north of tip or the airfield, was the scene of some of the most intense fighting on Kwajalein.  Named by American intelligence officers because of the suspected location of the Japanese Naval headquarters, it was heavily developed with a large number of supply and administrative buildings, most of which had been reduced to rubble by bombing and shell fire.  This provided excellent cover for the Japanese defenders who had concentrated in this area.  They made the Americans pay for every inch of ground.  By day’s end, the 184th Infantry, still on the lagoon side of the island, and the 32nd Infantry on the ocean side, had not even reached that day’s first objective near present day 6th Street.  This day of fighting cost 310 Americans killed and wounded.  Over 1,100 Japanese died as well.  Many enemy soldiers committed suicide rather than surrender to the Americans.  Over two hundred dead Japanese were found in one large blockhouse.

American casualties began to mount on D+3

The 7th Infantry Division continued to meet stiff opposition on the last day of the battle. February 4th became the most difficult day as Japanese resistance strengthened while American soldiers pushed the Japanese to the end of the island.  A slight elevation in terrain near the end of the original islet (the modern Kwajalein is longer and wider than it was during WWII due to post War dredging and filling) marks the location of of a Japanese 5 inch dual-purpose gun mount.  The guns were captured late in the afternoon on February 4th by G Company, 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment.  Kwajalein was officially declared secure by General Charles Corlett, Commander of the 7th Infantry Division at 1610 hrs.  However, fighting continued to eradicate the last scattered Japanese resistance.  Captain Albert W. Pence of Company G, one of the last American casualties, was shot near this spot about 1900 hrs.   The last day of the battle proved to be the most costly, 317 Americans were killed and wounded on the 4th of February.

Tangled coconut trees offered cover for both friend and foe

Kwajalein Islet was only about 1.5 miles long and 1/2 mile wide at its widest point.  It took four days of fighting to secure it using every infantry battalion of the 184th and 32nd Regiments.  The division's reserve regiment, the 17th Infantry, was landed on Ebeye Islet a mile up the reef.  There it secured the Japanese sea plane base during two days of fighting.

Casualties for the 7th Division for all southern atoll islands were killed - 142, wounded - 845.  Japanese dead numbered 4938, with 206 captured (127 were Korean laborers).  US Marine losses on Roi-Namur Islet, forty five miles north of Kwajalein, included 190 Marines killed in action; and 547 wounded.  Japanese losses included 3,472 killed.  Fifty-one Japanese were captured along with 40 Korean laborers.

A battalion aid station stabilizes wounded GIs before they are evacuated from the island to ships offshore.  American KIAs were temporarily laid to rest on nearby Ennylabegan Island.  They were removed to cemeteries in the United States after the War.
The overwhelming number of Japanese dead after the battle resulted in a serious health hazard.  Some were gathered and placed in mass graves.  Others, such as these were buried in the fighting positions that they defended.  They remain still at Kwajalein in hundreds of un-marked and unknown graves. 
In a future blog entry, I'll describe the discovery and excavation of an inadvertently discovered mass burial at Kwajalein Island
The campaign for the Marshalls was best summed up by Marine Corps General Holland Smith who concluded that “very few recommendations can be made to improve upon the basic techniques previously recommended and utilized in the Marshalls.”  Lessons learned at Kwajalein were incorporated into every amphibious operation later in the war, including the landings in Normandy four months later.
Some on-line videos about Operation FLINTLOCK
1944 Newsreels, the Army on Kwajalein
1944 Newsreels, the Marines on Roi-Namur
Short History Channel video of the Kwajalein landing
Color video of the Marines at Roi-Namur