The Little Known Ride of Jack Jouett


Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville, Virginia

Thanks largely to an 1860 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, most Americans have heard of the “midnight ride of Paul Revere.”  Although romanticized by Longfellow, Paul Revere is a figure in U.S. history who should rightfully be celebrated.  But was there another far more obscure ride that may have had a greater influence on American history than Revere’s?

By 1781, seven years into the American Revolution, the British had overrun much of Virginia, the largest American colony in an effort to severely damage the Colonial war effort.  On the night of June 3, 1781, a twenty-six year old captain in the Virginia militia named Jack Jouett was at the Cuckoo Tavern about 40 miles from Charlottesville, Virginia where the Virginia state legislature was assembled.  Jouett observed a group of about 250 mounted British soldiers led by a notorious and hated cavalry officer named Banastre Tarleton.

Jouett quickly realized Tarleton and his men were on the move towards Charlottesville  to capture important Virginia leaders including Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry.  He immediately took off on his his horse to warn Jefferson and the others of the approaching danger.  While Tarleton’s men took main roads towards Charlottesville, Jouett was forced to take difficult back roads through sometimes dense forest to avoid his own capture and arrive ahead of the British.  His only light through his trip was provided by a near-full moon.

After the brutal overnight ride, Jouett reached Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, before the British had.  Jefferson was there with other members of the assembly who were staying there as his guests.  Jefferson’s guests and family immediately left for safety. However, Jefferson did not realize the gravity of the situation and took his time before leaving.  Because of the delay, the capture of Thomas Jefferson was perhaps minutes away. British soldiers were on the grounds of Monticello just after Jefferson departed for a nearby home.  Although by most accounts very close, Jefferson was not captured.

jack jouett

The only know portrait on Jack Jouett as a silhouette by his son, Matthew Jouett

Jack Jouett went on to warn other members of the Virginia legislature in Charlottesville that the British were near.  There was little for them to do but move to safety, as most of Virginia’s soldiers were with General George Washington and the Continental Army.  Because of Jouett’s warnings, Tarleton was unable to do too much damage.  He did capture some members of the legislature who were unable to escape and commandeer supplies of the American war effort but these actions fell short of his goal of capturing the most influential leaders of Revolutionary Virginia.

Four signers of the Declaration of Independence avoided capture.  As well as author Thomas Jefferson, three additional signers of the Declaration, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison and Thomas Nelson, Jr. avoided capture.  The Patriot Patrick Henry, best known in history for his famous 1775 “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” speech also avoided falling into British hands.

What would have become of Jefferson and the others if they were captured?  Historians can only speculate because there is no evidence to know for sure what the British would have done with these men.  Immediate execution for treason against the British Crown, using them as bargaining chips or imprisonment in the Tower of London were all possibilities.

Thankfully none of these event occurred.  On October 19, 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his forces to George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, effectively ending the American Revolution.

Jack Jouett went on to settle in Kentucky where he had twelve children, served in Kentucky’s legislature and was a successful importer of livestock.  In recognition of his heroic act, the Virginia Assembly awarded Jouett a set of silver mounted pistols and a jeweled sword.  Jack Jouett died on his Kentucky farm on March 1, 1822, one of the many largely unheralded American patriots who put themselves in harms way for the preservation of liberty.

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From Cuckoo to Charlottesville:  Jack Jouett’s Overnight Ride by Rick Britton

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Celebrating Freedom For 240 Years!

liberty bell

240 years ago fifty-six men pledged their Lives, their Fortunes and their sacred Honor in pursuit of the least realized of all human dreams – Liberty.

On July 8, 1776, the Liberty Bell rang in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to summon citizens to the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence:

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

Column 3
John Hancock
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

Column 5
New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
Matthew Thornton

The Last Letter of Sullivan Ballou

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days – perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure – and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing – perfectly willing – to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows – when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children – is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death — and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me – perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar — that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night — amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours – always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.


This letter was written on July 14, 1861 by Major Sullivan Ballou of Rhode Island to his wife Sarah.  On July 21, Major Ballou was mortally wounded at the first major battle of the Civil War at Bull Run.  He died on July 29, 1861.  Sarah Ballou never remarried and died in 1917 at age 80. Both are laid to rest at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island.

sullivan ballou

Sullivan and Sarah Ballou

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America’s Birth Certificate

waldseemuller map

The Waldseemuller Map displayed at the Library of Congress from 1507.  The first known map to use the name America.  The map was printed on twelve individual sheets that together measure more than 4 1/2 feet by 8 feet in dimension.

How did America get its name?  Before 1507, the world was thought to have consisted of the continents of Europe, Africa and Asia. This belief dated back to the second century A.D. and the works of the Egyptian geographer Claudius Ptolemy.  Then in 1492, Christopher Columbus made his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and made landfall in the Western Hemisphere. However, Columbus believed he had landed in Asia and the recognition that there was a separate continent between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was not immediately understood.

In 1507, a German cartographer named Martin Waldseemuller began work on a new map that radically changed most peoples perception of the world.  Operating in Saint-Die, France, Waldseemuller and his colleagues, including a German scholar and poet named Matthias Ringmann, published a book called the Cosmographiae Introductio (Introduction to Cosmography).  The book declared that the known parts of the world had been joined by another.  The author states:

“These parts have in fact know been more widely explored, and a fourth part has been discovered by Amerigo Vespucci (as will be heard in what follows).  Since both Asia and Africa received their names from women, I do not see why anyone should rightly prevent this [new part] from being called Amerigen – the land of Amerigo, as it were – or America, after its discoverer, Americus, a man of perceptive character.”

Thus, America is named after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

amerigo vespucci

Amerigo Vespucci

Why Vespucci and not Columbus or another explorer?  Vespucci made at least two and as many as four voyages across the Atlantic between 1497 and 1504 where he apparently ventured into what is now South America.  Vespucci documented his travels and published a report entitled Mundus Novus (New World) where he declared that a previously undiscovered continent surrounded by water on both sides existed in the Western Hemisphere.

Although Waldseemuller and his colleagues knew about Columbus’ voyage, it was understood at the time that Columbus had discovered another part of Asia, not a new continent.  Also, Vespucci traveled south in areas that went beyond the known world as described by Ptolemy.  Waldseemuller concluded that Vespucci was the first to discover this new part of the world.  Thus, it would be named for Vespucci.  Had Columbus understood he found a new continent and written about it, we could be living in the United States of Columbia or another similar sounding name.

Oddly, subsequent maps created by Waldseemuller omitted the term America or showed the continent surrounded by water on both sides.  This has confused scholars ever since.  It is believed that the politics of the time, mainly between the exploring nations of Spain and Portugal explain this.  Creating a map with new territory likely created tension over who controlled the new land, Spain or Portugal.  Spain, who financed Columbus’ voyage in 1492, would not recognize the name America or put it on any maps for over two centuries, believing that Columbus was being denied his place in history.  It is possible Waldseemuller took the name America off his maps to appease Spain.

History took care of this naming problem.  In 1538, the most influential cartographer of the age, Gerardus Mercator, put the two names on one of his maps used today:  North America and South America.

Another aspect of Waldseemuller’s 1507 map that confuses scholars today is how accurately South America is drawn.  Vasco Nunez de Balboa is the European credited with discovering the Pacific Ocean in 1513.  Ferdinand Magellan did not round the tip of South America until 1520.  At some important points in the map, the width of South America is within 70 miles of accuracy.  Given what Waldseemuller had to work with in 1507, there appears to be more to the story.  However, this appears to be lost to history.

map.first use of america

It is difficult to see, but the term America is in the middle of this portion of the map in what is modern day Brazil.

One thousand copies of the Waldseemuller Map were printed in 1507, a large number for the time.  For hundreds of years, no known copy of the map seemed to have survived.  Then in 1901, a priest and professor of history and geography named Father Joseph Fischer was invited to examine a collection of maps and books at the Wolfegg Castle in southern Germany.  It was here that the first known surviving copy of the Waldseemuller Map was discovered.

After negotiations with the Wolfegg Castle owners and the German government, the Library of Congress purchased the map for $10 million in 2003.  In 2007, it went on permanent display at the Library of Congress at an exhibit titled, “Exploring the Early Americas.”  An important piece of history for all Americans, the map has been called by many “America’s birth certificate.”

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Chasing Pancho Villa

pancho villa

Francisco “Pancho” Villa

The United States carefully watched the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910.  By 1914, various factions in Mexico were vying to remove the Mexican President Victoriano Huerta from power.  Two former allies, Venustiano Carranza and Francisco “Pancho” Villa turned against each other after Huerta resigned.  By the end of 1915, forces loyal to Villa had been driven by Carranza into the northern mountains of Mexico.  The United States under President Woodrow Wilson formally recognized the Carranza government.  This decision almost led the United States and Mexico into a full-scale war.

Villa responded to Wilson’s support for Carranza by targeting U.S. citizens.  His men assassinated seventeen Americans on a train at Santa Isabel in Mexico.  This infuriated the American public.  However, he did not stop there.  On March 9, 1916, Villa and his men crossed over the border to the small town of Columbus, New Mexico near a U.S. Army outpost, killing an additional eighteen Americans.  Villa was pursued back into Mexico by American forces before their supplies were exhausted and they had to abandon their pursuit.  It was the first time since the British attacked during the War of 1812 that a foreign army invaded United States soil.

President Wilson responded by ordering U.S. Brigadier General John “Black Jack” Pershing to capture Villa and put an end to his incursions.  Pershing led a punitive expedition that ultimately involved approximately 11,000 American soldiers and other personnel.  What followed was eleven months of Pershing chasing Villa throughout northern Mexico.

american soldiers.mexico

American soldiers in Mexico

The American presence in Mexico for that long a period of time had consequences. Venustiano Carranza had little interest in helping the Americans capture Villa.  On April 13, 1916, soldiers in Carranza’s army attacked American soldiers at Parral, killing an American soldier and wounding another.  Fourteen Mexicans were killed.  On June 21, 1916, a more ominous and deadly encounter occurred when soldiers of the Mexican National Army attacked an American scouting party at Carrizal.  This left 12 Americans dead, 10 wounded and 24 captured.  At least 30 Mexicans were killed.

Tensions were high between the United States and Mexico.  By mid-June of 1916, President Wilson called out 110,000 National Guard troops for border service as a show of force against Mexico, although none of these men were used in the search for Villa.  Rather than a war between the two countries that neither side wanted, cooler heads prevailed.  Villa’s forces were depleted due to casualties and desertion so he did not pose the same threat as when the operation started.  The United States had a more pressing problem.  World War I was raging in Europe and, although the United States was not directly involved, the military’s focus began to shift.

By February 5, 1917, the mission in Mexico ended.  All American soldiers were out of Mexico and only small forces were maintained along the border to prevent further incursions. Pancho Villa was never captured.

For America, the Mexican Punitive Expedition opened new chapters in its history.  It marked the introduction of a new technology, the airplane.  The First Aero Squadron saw action for the American military for the first time.  Another first for the American military was the use of motorized vehicles, mostly trucks, during the expedition.  Both technologies had issues, as the roads in Mexico made it difficult for the trucks to maneuver and the high winds along the mountains made it difficult for the planes to fly.

John Pershing went on to command the American Expeditionary Force in World I.  Many men who served under his command in Mexico joined him in Europe, including a young lieutenant named George S. Patton who went on to great fame as a general in World War II.

The turmoil in Mexico did not end when the Americans left.  Venustiano Carranza became the president of Mexico on March 11, 1917 but immediately faced new rivals.  He was assassinated in 1920.  Pancho Villa reached an agreement with the new leader of Mexico, Adolfo de la Huerta to peacefully coexist.  However, Villa was assassinated at his ranch in Parral, Mexico on June 20, 1923.

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The Flags of Iwo Jima


One of the most iconic pictures in American history, five Marines and a Navy Corpsman raise the American flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

The battle against Japanese imperialism in the Pacific theater of World War II was an inch by inch struggle against a determined enemy.  Few places exemplified this better than Iwo Jima. A small island of only eight square miles that was protected by the volcano Mount Suribachi on its southern tip, Iwo Jima saw some of the fiercest combat of World War II.  Its strategic location about 700 miles from the Japanese home islands made Iwo Jima or “Sulfur Island” in Japanese and its three airfields a place where American bombers and aircraft could land and launch attacks from.  Because the island was part of Japan, the Japanese defended it to the death.

The battle opened with an intense three day American naval bombardment that proved mostly ineffective.  Before a single American made landfall on the island, the Japanese spent years creating a network of underground tunnels and defenses.  Japanese General Tadamichi Kuribayashi had two objectives for their defense of Iwo Jima:  to kill ten Marines for every Japanese soldier and to fight to the death.  On February 19, 1945, the first waves of Americans hit the beach.  Despite being under constant fire from all over the island, about 30,000 U.S. Marines established a beachhead by the end of the first day.

By February 23, after heroic and bloody fighting, the Americans took the summit of 550-foot Mount Suribachi.  An American flag was raised on top of it.  Believing the flag was too small and could not be seen from below, American Colonel Chandler Johnson ordered the flag taken down and a larger flag put in its place.  American photographer Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press along with Marine photographer Bob Campbell and Marine videographer William Genaust managed to get to the top of Mount Suribachi in time to witness the second flag raising.  Rosenthal took his famous photo at precisely the right time while Genaust caught the moment on video.

Below is video of the second flag raising on Iwo Jima:

The Six Flag Raisers:

John Bradley (Navy Corpsman):  Appleton, Wisconsin

United States Marines:

Mike Strank:  Franklin Borough, Pennsylvania – Killed in Action March 1, 1945

Harlon Block:  Rio Grande Valley, Texas – Killed in Action March 1, 1945

Franklin Sousley:  Hilltop, Kentucky – Killed in Action March 21, 1945

Ira Hayes:  Gila River Indian Reservation, Arizona

Rene Gagnon:  Manchester, New Hampshire

Joe Rosenthal’s picture made its way to the front page of almost every newspaper in America and many around the world.  It became the most reproduced photograph in history, won Rosenthal the Pulitzer Prize and still stands as an indelible symbol of World War II and the American soldier.

Many Americans believe the photo of the flag raising was taken after victory was secured.  It was not.  In fact the Battle of Iwo Jima would continue until March 26, 1945.  U.S. Marines on the island faced a largely hidden enemy that used whatever means it could to kill Americans, including suicidal charges.  The American Navy offshore had to withstand Japanese kamakazi attacks throughout the battle.  There were 6,800 Americans killed and approximately 17,000 wounded.  The American casualties represented one third of all Marine Corps casualties of World War II.  Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded, the most of any battle in American history.  Of the Japanese defenders, all but 216 of the 22,000 soldiers were killed.

Three of the 6,800 Americans killed were flag raisers.  Harlon Block and Mike Strank were killed within hours of each other on March 1.  Franklin Sousley was killed on March 21. After the battle, the three surviving flag raisers obtained notoriety and went on a tour of the country to urge Americans to buy war bonds.

Iwo Jima veteran Robert Hall, reflecting on the battle later in his life said, “I left some good friends there.  It was a battle with no front line – all man-to-man, inch by inch.” American Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet during World War II reflected on the Battle of Iwo Jima saying, “uncommon valor was a common virtue.”


Marine Corps War Memorial – Arlington, Virginia

*UPDATE*  After a Marine Corps investigation that concluded in June 2016, it was determined that John Bradley was not one of the flag raisers in the iconic Rosenthal photo.  Bradley is believed to have been part of the earlier flag raising and confused the two events.  The credit now goes to Marine Private First Class Harold Schultz of Detroit, Michigan.  Schultz was seriously injured on Iwo Jima and died in 1995 without any public acknowledgement of being in the photograph.

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America’s Long Winter

washington at valley forge

A painting of George Washington praying at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania (The Prayer at Valley Forge by Arnold Friberg 1975)  Legend has it that a local farmer named Issac Potts saw George Washington alone with his horse kneeling in prayer in the midst of the hardship at Valley Forge.  This image of Washington in prayer was replicated in various paintings throughout the years.

By December of 1777, the fate of America rested with General George Washington and the Continental Army.  As the Revolutionary War for independence continued, the Continental Army had gone through another period where the army could have unraveled and the cause lost.  Fresh off of a new campaign where the British had defeated the Americans at two key battles and occupied Philadelphia, the Continental Army was once again pressed into difficult circumstances.

As was the custom during this time due to the difficulty of moving men and materials in cold conditions, the two armies took up quarters to wait out the winter.  Washington needed to find a good defensive position to protect his men that was close enough to monitor the British but not too close that the army would be vulnerable to a surprise British attack. He choose Valley Forge, Pennsylvania about twenty miles north of Philadelphia.  Washington arrived with between 11,000 and 12,000 soldiers along with approximately 500 woman and children.  The Continental Army began the difficult task of constructing simple barracks and surviving the harsh winter conditions.

The time the Continental Army spent at Valley Forge was a pivotal moment in American history.  All the elements of the army’s collapse were present.  The under supplied Americans were cold, hungry and lacking basic winter clothing.  Washington estimated that about one-third of his men did not have shoes.  Disease was the biggest concern.  Of the approximately 2,000 men who did not survive Valley Forge, about two-thirds died because of diseases while others died because of cold and starvation.  Washington not only had to worry about supplying his army but of desertions by his soldiers or even a mutiny.  There were also some in the Continental Congress that discussed removing Washington from command.

valley forge barracks

Image of a barracks at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania

The Continental Army survived Valley Forge and so did the American Revolution.  George Washington implemented strict discipline against any wayward soldiers.  He reassigned officers to tasks oriented towards the management of the camp, thus freeing himself to concentrate on war strategy.  One such officer was the Prussian Baron Friedrich von Steuben who went to work training the army on advanced battle tactics and who also implemented policies to improve hygiene in the camp.  Another important officer was Nathanael Greene who set up a system to get supplies moving into camp.  By early spring 1778, supplies came to Valley Forge and conditions improved.

The American fortunes improved again in May 1778 when the French declared their recognition of the United States as a sovereign power.  By June of 1778, the British evacuated Philadelphia in anticipation of French intervention.  After six months at Valley Forge the renewed Continental Army departed with perhaps 8,000 soldiers and headed towards New Jersey to once again engage the British.

In the end it was the soldiers themselves that kept the American Revolution moving forward. Their willingness to endure terrible conditions and continue in the fight is why Valley Forge is looked at with such reverence.  As the Valley Forge National Historic Park states on its website, “Few places evoke the spirit of patriotism and independence, represent individual and collective sacrifice, or demonstrate the resolve, tenacity and determination of the people of the United States to be free as does Valley Forge.”

George Washington wrote many letters to the Continental Congress and other figures to try and secure desperately needed supplies during his time at Valley Forge.  One such letter to New York Governor George Clinton shows the state of the Continental Army during its time at Valley Forge:

To Governor George Clinton
Head Quarters, Valley Forge, February 16, 1778

Dear Sir: It is with great reluctance, I trouble you on a subject, which does not fall within your province; but it is a subject that occasions me more distress, than I have felt, since the commencement of the war; and which loudly demands the most zealous exertions of every person of weight and authority, who is interested in the success of our affairs. I mean the present dreadful situation of the army for want of provisions, and the miserable prospects before us, with respect to futurity. It is more alarming than you will probably conceive, for, to form a just idea, it were necessary to be on the spot. For some days past, there has been little less, than a famine in camp. A part of the army has been a week, without any kind of flesh, and the rest for three or four days. Naked and starving as they are, we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery, that they have not been ere this excited by their sufferings, to a general mutiny or dispersion. Strong symptoms, however, discontent have appeared in particular instances; and nothing but the most active efforts every where can long avert so shocking a catastrophe.

Our present sufferings are not all. There is no foundation laid for any adequate relief hereafter. All the magazines provided in the States of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, and all the immediate additional supplies they seem capable of affording, will not be sufficient to support the army more than a month longer, if so long. Very little has been done to the Eastward, and as little to the Southward; and whatever we have a right to expect from those quarters, must necessarily be very remote; and is indeed more precarious, than could be wished. When the forementioned supplies are exhausted, what a terrible crisis must ensue, unless all the energy of the Continent is exerted to provide a timely remedy?

Impressed with this idea, I am, on my part, putting every engine to work, that I can possibly think of, to prevent the fatal consequences, we have so great a reason to apprehend. I am calling upon all those, whose stations and influence enable them to contribute their aid upon so important an occasion; and from your well known zeal, I expect every thing within the compass of your power, and that the abilities and resources of the state over which you preside, will admit. I am sensible of the disadvantages it labours under, from having been so long the scene of war, and that it must be exceedingly drained by the great demands to which it has been subject. But, tho’ you may not be able to contribute materially to our relief, you can perhaps do something towards it; and any assistance, however trifling in itself, will be of great moment at so critical a juncture, and will conduce to keeping the army together till the Commissary’s department can be put upon a better footing, and effectual measures concerted to secure a permanent and competent supply. What methods you can take, you will be the best judge of; but, if you can devise any means to procure a quantity of cattle, or other kind of flesh, for the use of this army, to be at camp in the course of a month, you will render a most essential service to the common cause. I have the honor etc.

G. Washington

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Christmas 1941


Christmas is always a special time of year for millions of American families.  1941 was not an ordinary Christmas in America or around the world.  By Christmas 1941, Nazi Germany had conquered most of Europe and its armies were moving deep into Russia.  Great Britain, led by Winston Churchill, had been at war against Germany since September 1939.  The Japanese Empire had spread its reach across the Pacific Ocean and Southeast Asia.  Millions were suffering as totalitarianism controlled much of the world.

The United States was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941 and brought to war against Japan, Germany and Italy.  The Christmas season of 1941 brought the realization that many hardships and uncertainties lay ahead.  Despite the world situation, traditions such as the National Christmas Tree Lighting at the White House continued.  That year the two leaders of the free world were together on Christmas Eve.  How did they view the Christmas season in light of the world war?  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave the following joint address on December 24, 1941 at the White House in Washington, D.C.:

Even during a time when evil was spreading throughout the world, Christmas was a time to pause and reflect on the best aspects of the human experience.  (President Roosevelt speaks at 9:08 while Prime Minister Churchill speaks at the beginning of Part II.)

Below is President Roosevelt’s speech:

Fellow workers for freedom:

There are many men and women in America- sincere and faithful men and women—who are asking themselves this Christmas:

How can we light our trees? How can we give our gifts?

How can we meet and worship with love and with uplifted spirit and heart in a world at war, a world of fighting and suffering and death?

How can we pause, even for a day, even for Christmas Day, in our urgent labor of arming a decent humanity against the enemies which beset it?

How can we put the world aside, as men and women put the world aside in peaceful years, to rejoice in the birth of Christ?

These are natural—inevitable—questions in every part of the world which is resisting the evil thing.

And even as we ask these questions, we know the answer. There is another preparation demanded of this Nation beyond and beside the preparation of weapons and materials of war. There is demanded also of us the preparation of our hearts; the arming of our hearts. And when we make ready our hearts for the labor and the suffering and the ultimate victory which lie ahead, then we observe Christmas Day—with all of its memories and all of its meanings—as we should.

Looking into the days to come, I have set aside a day of prayer, and in that Proclamation I have said:

“The year 1941 has brought upon our Nation a war of aggression by powers dominated by arrogant rulers whose selfish purpose is to destroy free institutions. They would thereby take from the freedom-loving peoples of the earth the hard-won liberties gained over many centuries.

“The new year of 1942 calls for the courage and the resolution of old and young to help to win a world struggle in order that we may preserve all we hold dear.

“We are confident in our devotion to country, in our love of freedom, in our inheritance of courage. But our strength, as the strength of all men everywhere, is of greater avail as God upholds us.

“Therefore, I… do hereby appoint the first day of the year 1942 as a day of prayer, of asking forgiveness for our shortcomings of the past, of consecration to the tasks of the present, of asking God’s help in days to come.

“We need His guidance that this people may be humble in spirit but strong in the conviction of the right; steadfast to endure sacrifice, and brave to achieve a victory of liberty and peace.”

Our strongest weapon in this war is that conviction of the dignity and brotherhood of man which Christmas Day signifies-more than any other day or any other symbol.

Against enemies who preach the principles of hate and practice them, we set our faith in human love and in God’s care for us and all men everywhere.

It is in that spirit, and with particular thoughtfulness of those, our sons and brothers, who serve in our armed forces on land and sea, near and far- those who serve for us and endure for us that we light our Christmas candles now across the continent from one coast to the other on this Christmas Eve.

We have joined with many other Nations and peoples in a very great cause. Millions of them have been engaged in the task of defending good with their life-blood for months and for years.

One of their great leaders stands beside me. He and his people in many parts of the world are having their Christmas trees with their little children around them, just as we do here. He and his people have pointed the way in courage and in sacrifice for the sake of little children everywhere.

And so I am asking my associate, my old and good friend, to say a word to the people of America, old and young, tonight Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Prime Minister Churchill’s speech:

I spend this anniversary and festival far from my country, far from my family, yet I cannot truthfully say that I feel far from home.  Whether it be the ties of blood on my mother’s side, or the friendships I have developed here over many years of active life, or the commanding sentiment of comradeship in the common cause of great peoples who speak the same language, who kneel at the same altars and, to a very large extent, pursue the same ideals, I cannot feel myself a stranger here in the centre and at the summit of the United States.  I feel a sense of unity and fraternal association which, added to the kindliness of your welcome,  convinces me that I have a right to sit at your fireside and share your Christmas joys.

This is a strange Christmas Eve.  Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other.  Ill would it be for us this Christmastide if we were not sure that no greed for the land or wealth of any other people, no vulgar ambition, no morbid lust for material gain at the expense of others, had led us to the field.  Here, in the midst of war, raging and roaring over all the lands and seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and homes, here, amid all the tumult, we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home and in every generous heart.  Therefore we may cast aside for this night at least the cares and dangers which beset us, and make for the children an evening of happiness in a world of storm.  Here, then, for one night only, each home throughout the English-speaking world should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace.

Let the children have their night of fun and laughter.  Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play.  Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.

And so, in God’s mercy, a happy Christmas to you all.

Giving Thanks

bald eagle.sunset

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

image of fall season

Washington, D.C.

October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

New Beginnings


Image of the Mayflower

On September 16, 1620 (September 6 according to the Old Style calendar), 102 passengers plus crew members set sail from Plymouth, England on a dangerous 66 day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World aboard the Mayflower, a ship approximately 100 feet long and 25 feet wide.  The passengers had previously left in July with a second ship called the Speedwell, but that ship had to turn around because it was unseaworthy.  All the passengers had to fit in one ship rather than two, in quarters designed to store cargo, not families.

History does not remember the Speedwell, but it certainly remembers the Mayflower. Although there were times it was unclear if the Mayflower would make it to the New World during the worst of the storm season, it was determined that repairs made along the way were adequate enough to continue the journey.  As William Bradford, the early governor of the Plymouth Colony stated in his book Of Plymouth Plantation, those on board “committed themselves to the the will of God and resolved to proceed.”  One member of the crew died on the trip across the Atlantic while a baby boy named Oceanus was born.

The perilous journey across the Atlantic didn’t just batter the Mayflower but it also sent it off course.  The passengers had contracted with the English government to settle on land near the mouth of the Hudson River in what was then considered Virginia but what is now present-day New York.  However, they landed further to the north in what would become Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  This created a problem.  Many of the passengers believed they had no right to be there.

The core group of Mayflower passengers consisted of Separatists or those who sought religious freedom and a split from the Church of England, the only legal church in England at the time.  This group had lived in Holland but felt the culture there was not beneficial for raising children.  They were joined by other English families, who although religious, were not necessary motivated to undertake the voyage to split from the Church of England.

In order to bridge any disagreements between different factions and to create legitimacy for the establishment of a new colony, a solution to ending up in the wrong place had to be found.  This came in the form of an agreement that would later be known as the Mayflower Compact.  Its significance was not appreciated at the time but the first governing document of the New World was a social contract of self-government between equals.  It wasn’t forced upon the signatories by a monarch or other unequal.

The text of the Mayflower Compact is below:

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together in a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.


A rendering of the Mayflower Compact being written on November 21, 1620 (November 11 according to the Old Style calendar).  It was signed by 41 adult males before they left the Mayflower for land.

Of the original 102 Mayflower passengers, only 53 survived the first winter living on the ship (half the crew also died).  These 53 would eventually be known as the Pilgrims. On April 5, 1621, the Mayflower returned to England leaving the Pilgrims in the New World.  It is widely believed the Mayflower was eventually sold for scrap shortly after its return to England.

Eventually, with the help of the native Wampanoags Indians, the Pilgrims established the second English colony in the New World (Jamestown, Virginia was the first).  By the fall of 1621 they celebrated what is considered the first Thanksgiving.  The Mayflower Compact remained in effect until the Plymouth Colony was absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.

Most importantly, self-government was established as the governing philosophy of the early colonies that later became the United States of America.  It is estimated that 10% of Americans today can trace their ancestry back to the Mayflower.