Howe to Prolong a War

The British defeat at Saratoga…in October of 1777 was clearly the turning point of the Revolutionary War.  The surrender of an entire British army finally brought the French recognition and aid the Americans desperately needed.  The defeat also put tremendous pressure on the administration of Lord North and its failing war policies.  What is often overlooked is how close the war came to ending following Burgoyne’s surrender.  Just days before Saratoga, Washington’s army had launched a surprise attack on Sir William Howe’s army near the sleepy village of Germantown, Penna.  Two crushing defeats, nearly on top of one another, would have surely spelled the end of  the North ministry.  His replacement would have pursued resolution.


Fighting an increasingly unpopular war

The British forces and Germantown never expected… Washington’s bold stroke.  Just three weeks earlier, the redcoats routed the Americans at Brandywine, the largest battle of the war.  British commander Sir William Howe was not expecting an attack as his forces rested on the outskirts of Germantown.  The battle that occurred on October 4, 1777 could have helped end the Revolution…..The British survived:

British stubbornly defend the Chew House

  • Fog blanketed much of the field that morning, obscuring vital marching routes and confusing commanders on both sides.
  • Washington’s plans were complex, too complex for his poorly trained army.  His forces had to advance 16 miles on a night march in four separate columns.  Orders were confused, troops became lost, and the attacks were not coordinated.
  • At a pivotal moment early in the fighting, General Howe personally rallied his retreating troops, and was nearly killed by American artillery.
  • Significant confusion led to a destructive round of friendly fire, which forced Washington’s men to disengage at the British center.
  • British reinforcements were able to exploit the American disorder and drive the Continentals from the field.

Washington’s audacity at Germantown… attacking a numerically superior foe, just weeks after suffering a serious defeat, did not go unnoticed in Europe.  The French were every bit as impressed by Washington’s near victory in Pennsylvania, as they were by the British surrender in New York.

Washington’s nemesis


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Women and Computers in WWII – Intermission Story (22)

Pacific Paratrooper

Women with the ENIAC computer

Before the invention of electronic computers, “computer” was a job description, not a machine. Both men and women were employed as computers, but women were more prominent in the field. This was a matter of practicality more than equality. Women were hired because there was a large pool of women with training in mathematics, but they could be hired for much less money than men with comparable training. Despite this bias, some women overcame their inferior status and contributed to the invention of the first electronic computers.

In 1942, just after the United States entered World War II, hundreds of women were employed around the country as computers. Their job consisted of using mechanical desk calculators to solve long lists of equations. The results of these calculations were compiled into tables and published for use on the battlefields by gunnery officers. The tables allowed soldiers…

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Review of “Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President” by Robert Dallek

My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies

Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President” is Robert Dallek’s 2004 abridgment of his two-volume series on LBJ which was published between 1991 and 1998. Dallek is a retired professor of history and the author of nearly two-dozen books including a bestselling biography of JFK (which I recently read) and a more recent dual-biography of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.

For many readers, the brevity of “Portrait of a President” (with just 377 pages) will make it a tempting alternative to Dallek’s full series which clocks in at more than 1,200 pages. Other than the missing notes and bibliography, this single-volume abridgment is extremely faithful to the underlying series, packing nearly all the punch of the two volumes but in just one-third the space.

Like the series, “Portrait of a President” is more a political than personal biography. Readers learn almost nothing of LBJ’s family…

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President Grant and the First State Dinner

Presidential History Blog

King David Kalakaua of the Sandwich Islands.

The first sovereign of a foreign country to be hosted at a White House State Dinner was the King of the Sandwich Islands – in 1874.

State Dinners

From the beginning of the United States as a nation, elegant dining was an essential practice. A little upstart country with even smaller claims to “culture” needed to prove itself equal (or almost equal) to the great countries of Europe, with centuries of history and tradition.

This does not mean that the US was backward or inhospitable. George and Martha Washington were wealthy Virginians, to whom elegance, taste and “southern hospitality” was natural. Their “official” presidential house on Cherry Street in New York City, albeit rented, was chosen specifically because its ballroom could accommodate a hundred people.

The White House State Dining Room, perhaps around the 1870s.

John and Abigail Adams were considered gracious hosts…

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Weekly History News Roundup

Egyptian pet cemetery discovered… 1,800 year old site contains remains of dogs, cats, and monkeys


Finalist for National Book Awards announced


Genetics and DNA changing the story of North America… tests causing archaeologists to rethink theories about settlement


Few Americans remember America’s worst maritime disasterUSS Sultana disaster killed 2,000 people


Congress works to preserve land and Brandywine Battlefield… over 100 key acres to be protected at the site of the largest battle of the Revolutionary War.


General Washington thanks you



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Movie Review- The Revenant

The Revenant- 2015   Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 20th Century Fox


The second Hollywood production detailing the harrowing plight… of mountain man Hugh Glass, Leonardo DiCaprio won an Academy Award for his performance.  Mauled by a bear and left for dead by his companions, Glass miraculously survived and in an improbable 200 mile journey, traveled to safety at Fort Kiowa in present day South Dakota.   “The Revenant” plays fast and loose with history, creating a curious subplot involving a Pawnee wife and son who never existed.  Instead of portraying actual events, screenwriter Mark Smith creates a frontier revenge fantasy- Glass’s motivation is changed from simply recovering his property to avenging his murdered family(fictional.)


The 1823 Ashley Expedition was a who’s who… of American frontier history: Jim Bridger, Jedidiah Smith, Giles Roberts, and Glass were all members of the ill fated journey up the Missouri River.  “The Revenant” relegates the mighty Bridger to the minor role of conniving thief and does not mention Smith at all.  The climactic death struggle between Glass and Fitzgerald is another Hollywood creation.  Glass did confront the men who abandoned him, but history shows a simple exchange of money, not the blood and guts which sell movie tickets.


The true star of the film is the bleak North American landscape… filmed primarily in Northern Alberta, the cinematography is stark and stunning; effectively illustrating the hopeless nature of Glass’s journey.  Tom Hardy is an effective villainous presence, but the rest of the cast is swallowed by the expansive scenery.  Long stretches of the film focus exclusively on DiCaprio’s vengeful Glass, the lack of dialogue  drawing more attention to the desolate backdrop.  Despite his best efforts, DiCaprio is unable to compensate for the simplistic and historically inaccurate script.




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The Frequency is, Kenneth

Dan Rather was attacked by a mentally disturbed man outside his Park Avenue apartment… October 4, 1986.  The assailant screamed, “KENNETH, WHAT IS THE FREQUENCY?”  repeatedly at Rather.  The doorman rescued the battered anchorman and the crazed attacker disappeared into the urban jungle.

The wrong man…

For years, comedians, writers, rock bands, and colleagues wanted to know…. who is Kenneth?  What prompted the attack on the CBS News anchor?  History now shows us, it was most likely a case of mistaken identity.

Rock and Roll tech wiz

Kenny Schaffer, the inventor of electric guitar relays… was giving a speech at Columbia University on October 4th.  Schaffer had developed an ingenious method of intercepting Soviet TV and radio signals- a cool idea that he refused to share with greedy peers.  William Tager, the deranged attacker, confused Rather for Schaffer that October day.  He believed the S0viet signals were entering his brain and wanted Schaffer to stop them- so he attacked.. and created a pop-culture phenomenon.

And I feel fine…

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