Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Real Story of Paul Revere and His Midnight Ride

From The Paul Revere Album (1903)
“Listen my friends and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.” Or at least that’s how Longfellow’s poem begins its telling of the legend of the Revolutionary War hero.

The real truth is somewhat different.

Two riders set out from Boston that night, and were eventually joined by a third. The only catch is none of the three men completed their mission, not on horseback anyway..


Paul Revere was a Boston silversmith and sometime spy. He oftentimes carried secret messages between Boston, New York and Philadelphia. So it’s no surprise as the Battles of Lexington and Concord loomed before them that Bostonites recruited Paul Revere to spread word of the British advance.

On April 16th Dr. Joseph Warren dispatched Revere to Lexington to warn Sam Adams and John Hancock that the British would soon be on the move. Everyone surmised the target would be the ammunition depot at Concord.

Revere’s first ride to Lexington went off without a hitch. On the way back he visited Colonel William Conant in Charlestown, and let him know he would spread the warning when the British troops started to move. The signal he arranged was one if by land, and two if by sea. The signal light was to be hung from the steeple of old North Church.

From The Paul Revere Album (1903)
Two days later on April 18th some 700 troops under the command of Colonel Francis Smith left Boston Common headed towards Lexington and Concord. Their orders from General Gage were to seize and destroy all the ammunition, small arms, and artillery they found along the way.

General Gage assumed the rebels would turn and run at the sight of the Redcoats.

As soon as it was determined the British were headed for Concord, Revere headed to old North Church. He instructed Robert Newman, the sexton of North Church, to flash two lights (meaning the British were coming by boat).

Once the signal lights were lit Revere set off on his journey.

What most people don’t know is a second rider, William Dawes, a young shoemaker from Boston, was dispatched as a backup in case Revere did not get through. Dawes was sent by the land route where he passed through British troops on the Boston Neck.

Revere rowed across the Charles River where he met Colonel Conant and his waiting troops. After consulting with Conant, Revere borrowed a horse from Deacon John Larkin and began his ride towards Lexington some twelve miles away.

Just after 11:00 PM, Revere passed through a flat marshland known as Charlestown Common. Ahead of him Revere spotted a British patrol and quickly changed his course making his way towards Medford. “In Medford,” Revere wrote, “I awaked the captain of the minute men; and after that, I alarmed every house, till I got to Lexington.”

In Lexington Revere met up with the other rider, William Dawes, at the home of Reverend Jonas Clark. After grabbing food and refreshments, Revere and Dawes set off for Concord. Doctor Samuel Prescott joined them en route.

They stopped at each house they came to and woke the inhabitants shouting “the British are coming.”

From The Paul Revere Album (1903)
Midway to Concord the three riders encountered a British patrol. Prescott and Dawes managed to escape. Revere was captured and held prisoner for a short period of time. In his account of the incident Revere says, “I saw four of them [British soldiers], who rode up to me, with their pistols, in their hands, said [goddamn] you stop if you go an inch further, you are a dead man.”

When questioned, Revere spilled the beans telling the British he had been alerting the countryside to their coming. Hard as it is to believe the British released Revere, a self-confessed spy, less than an hour later.

After his release Revere made his way back through the fields to Reverend Clark’s house in Lexinton.

With the British just a few miles behind him, Revere found Adams and Hancock packed and ready to make their getaway. He helped Hancock’s secretary hide some of his papers, and made his break for it just as the first shots were being fired on Lexington Green.

Thus ends the “midnight ride of Paul Revere.” While he was not entirely successful, the venture was good enough to secure the silversmith his place in history.


Here are some little known facts about Paul Revere.
  1. Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre helped to fan the flames of revolution by portraying the British Soldiers as cold-blooded killers. Captain Preston was shown with an evil smile as he pulled out his sword and ordered his men to fire.
  2. Revere was a member of the Sons of Liberty and played an active part in the Boston Tea Party.
  3. As a soldier in the Revolutionary War Revere rose to the rank of major and served in the Massachusetts artillery and infantry. Early in the war he served at Castle William, the Battle of Bennington, and later at Penobscot and Fort George.
  4. Prior to his famous midnight ride Paul Revere had served as a secret courier (spy) for the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. 
(Excerpt from my upcoming book history-bytes 47 Little Known Facts About American History)

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Charles Julius Guiteau Assassination, Insanity, and Celebrity

Assassination of President Garfield
Most Americans alive today have never heard of Charles Julius Guiteau.

It’s a sign of our love hate relationship with history. Guiteau was a drifter and failed lawyer from Freeport, Illinois who made his way to Washington, DC with delusions of receiving a public appointment, possibly even of becoming president.

Instead he wound up assassinating President James Garfield, and spawning a trial that enthralled the nation during the hot summer of 1881.

Guiteau testified, “I was in my bed … and I was thinking over the political situation, and the idea flashed through my brain that if the President was out of the way everything would go better … the only way to unite the two factions of the Republican party, and save the Republic from going into the hands of the rebels and Democrats, was to quickly remove the President.”

Later during his trial Guiteau told Judge Cox, “I presume I shall live to be President. Some people think I am as good a man as the President (Chester A. Arthur) now.

“Providence and I saved the nation, and why should I not be a hero and the equal of Washington, Lincoln, and Grant?”
It was a crazy mixed up summer.

A drifter from Illinois made his way to Washington determined to kill the President of the United States. Fate seemed as if it would intervene to keep Guiteau from his task, but on the morning of July 2nd, 1881 the shooter seized his opportunity.

The place was the Baltimore and Potomac Railway Station in Washington, DC. According to Guiteau he “was about three or four feet from the door. I stood five or six feet behind him, right in the middle of the room, and as he was walking away from me, I pulled out the revolver and fired. He straightened up and threw his head back and seemed to be perfectly bewildered. He did not seem to know what struck him. I looked at him; he did not drop; I there upon pulled again. He dropped his head, seemed to reel, and fell over.”

White smoke and powder filled the area around the fallen president.

By some miracle Garfield didn’t die on the spot. He lingered on the brink of death throughout the summer of 1881. Several times it appeared as if he would recover, but the president passed away on September 19th, 1881.

Guiteau’s erratic actions during his trial made him a media sensation.

He pled not guilty on three counts.
  1. Insanity
  2. “It was God’s act, not mine.” Garfield’s doctors killed him, not Guiteau. It was a simple case of malpractice.
  3.  Lack of jurisdiction.

The trial lasted over three months.

Garfield just after he was shot
Guiteau’s brother-in-law, Charles J. Scoville, acted as counsel for the defense. He dismissed the last two pleas and focused on the “insanity” defense.

On the witness stand Guiteau testified, “It was on the inspiration of the deity. I never would have shot the president on my own personal account.”

Later he was asked, “You did not succeed in the Divine will?”

He responded, “I think the doctors finished the work.”

Recent studies tend to favor the malpractice defense.  Many doctors at that time were unaware of the need for proper sanitation as a result they moved from patient to patient without washing their hands or sanitizing medical equipment, spreading germs and infections as they went.

According to medical reports doctors believed a bullet was lodged in the president’s chest. Without X-ray machines or other modern diagnostic equipment doctors used the only tools available to them at the time. They jammed their dirty fingers and instruments into the wound probing deeper and deeper in their attempts to find the lost bullet.

Guiteau was like a madman at the trial—pacing, and spouting crazy ideas, that he was a messenger from God, and God inspired him to remove the president.

Reporters ate it up, spreading reports of the trial across the nation.

The questions continued:

“Do you think it was the Will of God that you should kill the president?”

“I believe that it was His will that he should be removed, and I was appointed the agent to do it.”

“Did he give you a commission in writing?”

 “No sir.”

“Did he give it to you audibly?”

“No sir.”

“He did not come to you as a vision in the night?”
Hanging of Charles Julius Guiteau

“I do not get my inspiration in that way.”

The testimony goes on and on. Each side dragged doctors and lawyers before the court. The defense to demonstrate Guiteau was certifiably insane. The prosecution to show it was all an elaborate scam.

In the end the jury returned a guilty verdict after only twenty minutes of deliberation.

When he received his death sentence Guiteau screamed, “My blood will be upon the heads of the jury; don’t you forget it.

“God will avenge this outrage!”

Charles Julius Guiteau was hung by the neck until dead on June 30, 1882. After a half hour of dangling by a rope his body was taken down and placed in a waiting coffin.

Thus ended Guiteau’s fifteen minutes of fame.

(Excerpt from my upcoming book history-bytes 47 Little Known Facts About American History)
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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Zachary Taylor & the Defense of Fort Harrison

Defense of Fort Harrison
Zachary Taylor’s first test as a soldier occurred early in the War of 1812. No sooner had he taken command of Fort Harrison, a small stockade style fort on the Wabash River in Indiana, when a band of Indians from the Prophet’s town attacked.

The attack came about 11:00 pm. A shot rang out from a sentinel, and then a warning that the Indians had set fire to the lower blockhouse. Harrison ordered his men to water down the blockhouse to keep it from burning, and hurriedly built a breastwork so they could defend themselves when the Indians charged in. As daylight approached the defenders were able to return fire driving the Indians back.

When they discovered they couldn’t take the fort, the Indians faded away into the forests.

On the 16th the garrison was reinforced with six hundred mounted rangers and five hundred infantry led by Colonel Russell. Shortly after that Major General Hopkins arrived with another four thousand men.

On November 19th the army attacked the Prophet’s town, destroying everything – huts, cornfields, etc.

When he returned to Fort Harrison Taylor received notification President Madison had made him a brevet major for his services in the defense of the fort.

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Baron Von Steuben At Valley Forge

A savior came to the army at Valley Forge in the form of a stubby, foul mouthed, Prussian 
drill master, Baron Friedrich Von Steuben.

The man chosen to whip America’s troops into shape didn’t speak a word of English, only German, and a smattering of French. Yet in less than six months he transformed Washington’s army into a well-disciplined fighting force.

A crazier sight was never seen.

Steuben trained the men in groups. He started with 100 men. When they were trained, he had them help train the other brigades. When things didn’t work out the way he wanted, which was often, he blasted the men with a string of curses in German and French. When he realized no one understood him, he got his aide Captain Benjamin Walker to curse them in English.

The local farmers were no help, either. Many of them held back cattle desperately needed by Washington’s troops hoping to make more money selling them in the spring. Others crossed the lines sneaking beef to the British in Philadelphia for a larger profit.

Of the 12,000 soldiers who went into winter quarters with Washington nearly a quarter died from disease, malnutrition, and the weather. A thousand more chose not to reenlist and returned home.

The only good news for Washington was the men who left Valley Forge with him were a better trained and more disciplined fighting force than any he’d had up until that point.

(excerpt from my book - Bad Ass Presidents)
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Attempt to Assassinate Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson has the distinction of being the first president to have an assassination attempt made against him.

Picture this: Sixty-three year old Andrew Jackson is walking across the Capitol Rotunda, when Richard Lawrence, an unemployed house painter moves to the front of the crowd, and fires two pistol shots into the President.

 By luck, both pistols misfire. The aging Jackson charges the attempted assassin, beating him to the ground.
That may be how it happened.

Another story says Davy Crockett was in the Rotunda that day and tackled the assassin bringing him to the ground.

Either story is pretty cool.

Talk about balls. Barrack Obama or George Bush would have pissed their pants if the same thing happened to them.

Jackson was no stranger to death or weapons. In his life time he fought two duels, faced down the Creek Indians, and ultimately fought the final battle of the War of 1812 at New Orleans.

(excerpt from my book - Bad Ass Presidents)

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It Takes More Than That to Kill a Bull Moose

The attempt on Theodore Roosevelt’s life came just after he had finished dinner at the Hotel Gilpatrick in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The day was October 14, 1912.

Roosevelt was waving his hat to the crowd when a man came up out of nowhere, and fired a shot into the former President. The bullet struck Roosevelt in the chest. At first he didn’t think he was hit. But, when they checked him over in the car, there was blood on his shirt, and a bullet hole in his chest.

The shooter John Schrank, an unemployed New York saloon keeper had been stalking Roosevelt for weeks waiting for an opportunity to take his shot. A letter was later discovered on the gunman. It said, “To the people of the United States…In a dream I saw President McKinley sit up in his coffin pointing at a man in a monk’s attire in whom I recognized Theodore Roosevelt. The dead president said—‘This is my murderer—avenge my death.’” And, so he dogged the former President for thousands of miles, and took his shot.

For Roosevelt’s part, he was scheduled to make a campaign speech that night before thousands of people, and that he did, despite his doctors and advisors requests that he should immediately go to the hospital.

What saved his life was a fifty page speech he had, folded in two in his breast pocket, and a steel eye glass case. They slowed down the bullet just enough, so that Roosevelt wasn’t severely injured. The bullet went into the chest near his right nipple, and burrowed in about three inches deep. It was never removed, and remained in the former President’s body until the day he died.

That night at his speech Roosevelt told listeners, “It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!”
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Abraham Lincoln - The Fourteenth of April

(Thought I would share the introduction to my new novel. Would love to get your feedback on it. What do you think of the concept? Does it work for you?

Let me know what you think.)

Editor’s Note

The extraordinary document you are about to read was purportedly written by Abraham Lincoln in the last month of his life.

How, I came by it, is now well known in most circles, but for those of you unacquainted with the details, I will give you a brief run down.

I have been fortunate enough to procure several rare documents on eBay over the years. Among them an 1822 paper detailing the autopsy of Napoleon Bonaparte written by his physician; a letter from George Washington, written during the darkest days at Valley Forge, suggesting to Congress that they should surrender the cause; a 1789 printing of the Declaration of Independence, printed side by side with Jefferson’s original notes, and beside it, an actual autograph by Thomas Jefferson.

But, this is by far, my most amazing discovery.

The bidding on eBay was fast and furious for this collection of Civil War memoirs. What caught my eye was the seller’s opening line,

…hand written manuscript, dated April 15th, 1865. First paragraph reads as follows, “Made a speech outside of the White House today (April 11). With the war over, Lee having surrendered just two days ago, I could finally speak my peace on the blacks. I expressed my opinion that we should embrace ‘the elective franchise for the colored man.’ That night, Mary told me she saw the actor, J. Wilkes Booth watching my talk.”

Note: Inscription on inside cover dated – March 15, 1865. A.L.

The letters, A. L. got my juices flowing. Lincoln signed most of his correspondence A. L.

Ever since the assassination there have been rumors of a Lincoln autobiography, but to my knowledge no one has ever laid eyes upon it.

My own knowledge of it was vague. Years ago, I’d read bits about it in the letters of John Hay, the President’s personal secretary. Several times he said he’d entered the President’s office, and each time, “Lincoln shuffled papers around, hiding something he was working on. At first, I thought it was a letter from Robert [Lincoln’s oldest son]; General Grant had given him leave from the battlefield to visit. But several more times I caught him hiding papers when I entered his office. Nicolay said the same thing had happened to him. He said he’d caught a few glimpses of it, and it looked like Abe was writing the story of the war.”

Nothing else was said.

 After acquiring the document, I showed it to several Lincoln experts. Like all experts, they were divided on its authenticity. Three of them said there was no doubt, that it was real. Three more, said the facts were incorrect in several places and the writing although very much like Mr. Lincoln’s, it could not be proven conclusively.

The date on the inscription was April 15th, the Great Man’s last day upon this earth. That, coupled with Mary Lincoln taking note of Booth in the audience, listening to Lincoln’s last speech is amazing enough. As I read on, Lincoln shared in great detail three separate attempts upon his life. His descriptions of his contemporaries are scathing; his faith in Grant, unshakeable; the details on some of the battlefields he visited – graphic and gory.

More startling, are his accounts of meetings with J. Wilkes Booth, at several White House receptions, early in his administration.

If only half of the information in this manuscript is accurate, it could cause a rewrite of the Civil War as we know it.

Lest I spill any more secrets, read on, and discover the details for yourself…

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