AUGUST   2020


Friday, January 08, 2016


I think the cow was as much a victim of panic as the humans. On Wednesday morning, 24 June, 1863, about 3 miles west of the farming hamlet of New Oxford, near the bridge over Bush Run, the unnamed bovine bolted in front of a speeding locomotive going about 15 miles an hour.
Although tragically, Bossie was killed, no humans were seriously injured. But the collision did throw the small utility engine (above) off the tracks, forcing the impatient Colonel William W. Jennings to walk to his destination. His mission was urgent. Time was running out, according to Major Granville Owen Haller, 7th United States infantry regular army, who, with less than 100 volunteer cavalry troopers, was praying for Jennings arrival in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
William Wesley Jennings had gone to work as a mold maker in his father's Harrisburg iron foundry when he was 15 years old. By the age of 22 he was running the place, active in Republican politics and the Feemasons. He'd been elected a lieutenant in the 3 month volunteers who had rushed to defend Washington during the first summer of the civil war.  Two summers later, when the rebel Army of Northern Virginia threatened again, Jennings had volunteered again, helping raise and drill the 26th Emergency Volunteer Regiment of 700 - mostly students, middle aged mechanics, lawyers and farm hands. On Tuesday, 23 June, 1863, the Governor ordered Jennings to take his barely trained men by rail to Gettysburg, and consult there with Major Haller. It was the next day that bossy threw herself across his tracks, 35 west of Harrisburg, and derailed his schedule.
Setting out on foot from the wreck site, Jennings took Company A with him mostly because its' 83 members were all from Gettysburg. It took the Colonel most of Thursday to cover the 12 miles, arriving in Gettysburg (above) just before dusk .
Meanwhile, help for the rest of the stranded regiment had arrived from Hanover Junction. The steam engine was remounted on the tracks, and at 9 on the morning of Friday, 26 June, the rest of the regiment arrived at the 3 year old Gettysburg station (above). Ominously, as soon as the regiment had disembarked, the train backed out of the station and retreated all the way back to Harrisburg, proving it was more valuable than the men.
Meeting in the Eagle Hotel (above), on the central square - "the diamond" -  of Gettysburg,  the 43 year old Major Haller, still weak from the fever he had contracted a year ago in Virginia, “suggested” the 25 year old Colonel Jennings entrench his men along Marsh Creek,  just to the west of Herr Ridge, about 3 miles outside of Gettysburg, astride the Chambersburg Pike. Jennings protested, but the Major insisted. Harrisbug had to know if the rebel army had turned at Gettysburg, and in what strength.
Gettysburg (above) - just 10 miles north of the Maryland border - had only 2,400 residents, and just 450 buildings – including six hotels and taverns, and 7 churches  But the town was important because of the roads that radiated like the hands of a clock from the town's "diamond" central square. 
At nine o'clock,  running 8 miles to the west  alongside an unfinished railroad cut was  the Chambersburg turnpike (above)  which crossed Willoughby Run and Marsh Creek before climbing uphill to...
Cashtown (above) - not a town but a roadside inn and store,  whose owner was famous for demanding cash. It sat at the eastern foot of...
“Black's Gap” ((above)  through the 1,900 foot high South Mountain – front ridge of the Appalachians. 
From the gap the road led to Chambersburg, which sat astride the Cumberland valley, the north-south route through the interior, and joined with the Shenandoah Valley, south of the Potomac River..
Running out from the square at ten o'clock and climbing over Oak Ridge, was the Mummasburg road, named for the village 10 miles to the north, north-west of Gettysburg., where South Mountain began to curve to the east.
At noon was the north bound road that ran just past the northern end of South Mountain before reaching Carlise. From Carlise a road led 25 miles due east to the railroad bridge over the Susquehanna River and the state capital of Harrisburg.
At one o'clock out from the Gettysburg "diamond" was the 25 mile east bound road and the Gettysburg railroad line. Both crossed Rock Creek to New Oxford, then continued to Hanover Junction and then York. And 10 miles east of York was another railroad bridge at Wrightsville over the Susquehanna. At three o'clock was the 12 mile east bound road to the industrial town of Hanover and the Harrisburg to Baltimore road. 
At four o'clock the Baltimore Pike left the "diamond" at the center of Gettysburg (above), heading south east first to Tanytown, Maryland, 20 miles to the south southeast, with Baltimore 45 miles farther and Washington, D.C.just beyond that.
Splitting off from the Baltimore Pike south of town (above),  at seven o'clock,  was the Emmitsburg Road – heading 18 miles to the southwest, with Montery Pass through South Mountain just beyond. Occupy Gettysburg and you were a day's march from Baltimore or Harrisburg. And you were just a day's march from the safety of the Potomac. Capture either Baltimore or Harrisburg and the north might sign a peace. And that was why Major Haller had advised the Governor that the Emergency Militia must be sent to Gettysburg as quickly as possible - and why Haller had ordered Jennings to send his tiny detachment, minus a company held back in Gettysburg, to meet the rebel army.
At about 10:30 that foggy Friday morning, in a cold “drizzling rain” and “meeting refugees at every step”, the reluctant Colonel Jennings marched his 700 men 3 miles west on the Chambersburg Pike, to a farm owned by lawyer Edward McPherson, atop Herr Ridge. Descending the west face of the ridge and approaching the bridge over the meandering Marsh Creek, Jennings sent 80 men across under Captain Warner H. Carnahan as a picket line. He then led the rest of his regiment into the woods north of the pike where they stacked arms, built fires and even pitched tents.
The nervous Jenning's (above) was feeling like a sacrificial lamb. His only support was provided by 33 year old local farmer Robert Bell, who had brought 45 volunteer mounted scouts, each supplied with a new Spencer carbine and a navy Colt pistol by the state. Bell picketed his men in a clover field south of the bridge. Then Colonel Jennings and Captain Bell rode up the next rise, Knoxlyn knoll, to look for rebels. They found them ¾ of a mile away, coming down the slope right toward them.
It was Jenning's nightmare - 150 butternut brown, grey and captured blue clad rebel cavalry - the 35th Virginia “White's Commanches”, named after their commander, 31 year old Elijah Viers “Liege” White (above), "an excitable, impetuous sort of personage, of large build and auburn complexion.” 
Behind them, visible through the dank rain, was a full brigade of 1,500 veteran infantrymen under a "tall, lanky, and straight as a ramrod " Georgia lawyer, the audacious, deeply racist and often wounded General John Brown Gordon. 
One member of the 26th would give voice to Jennings' emotions at the moment - Haller's orders, the man wrote, had sent “raw and comparatively undisciplined troops into the very jaws of the advancing Confederates.” Jennings started to order his aide to warn Major Haller back in Gettysburg, but Captain Bell interrupted, telling the Colonel his “supreme necessity” was to save his regiment from capture.
It actually was worse than Captain Bell knew. Gordon's brigade was part of Jubal Early's 5,000 man division. In capturing Cashtown the day earlier - Thursday, 25 June - Brigadier-General Early (above) had also captured two of Bell's scouts, who said Gettysburg was expecting infantry reinforcements. Not sure how strong the federals would be, Early decided to approach the crossroads from two directions. He sent Gordon and White's command directly down the Chambersburg Pike, while he took the bulk of his command - Hay's, Smith's and Hoke's brigades - north to Mummasburg. He then sent General Henry T. Hays and his 1,500 Louisiana Tigers, along with 250 troopers of the 17th Virginia cavalry, under ex-realitor Colonel William Henderson French, to approach Gettysburg down the Mummasburg road. This put French and Hays in the perfect position to cut Jenning's tiny command off from Gettysburg, and capture them all.
Unaware of this, Jennings galloped back across the Marsh Creek bridge, and sharply ordered his men to fall into marching formation. Then, instead of falling directly back on Gettysburg, Jennings enlisted one of the men from Company A, Private Baugher, to slide his regiment out of the rebels' way, heading a mile north, first to the Belmont Road which they followed to the Mummasburg Road. Colonel Jennings left Captain Carnahan's 80 pickets, supported by Bell's 40 cavalrymen, along the Chambersburg Pike to cover his own retreat. But he had just failed to do the same for Major Haller and the unsuspecting troops and citizens back in Gettysburg.
At first sight of the militia baring his way, Methodist minister Lt. Harrison Strickler, commander Company E in White's Comanche's, typically ordered his men to charge. According to rebel Captain Frank Myers, White's Comanches “came with barbarian yells and smoking pistols, in such a desperate dash, that the blue-coated troopers wheeled their horses and departed ... without firing a shot.”  All 80 infantry men were captured. Added Myers, “nobody was hurt, if we except one fat militia Captain, who, in his exertion to be first to surrender, managed to get himself run over by one of Company E’s horses, and was bruised somewhat.” It was a triumphal moment for the rebel troopers, and most of them then splashed across the creek and descended upon the abandoned tents left behind by the 26th. The looting delayed them more than the union soldiers had.
In a reverse of Paul Revere's ride, Robert Bell and his irregulars galloped directly back to Gettysburg (above), spreading panic like a virus as they did. The refugees from Chambersburg and Cashtown found the energy to run, to drive their horses to a gallop. It took less than ten minutes for the infection to reach the town..
In Gettysburg itself, at 43-45 Chambersburg road - two blocks and around the corner from the train station -  Hugh Scott, the telegraph operator, saw Ball's men gallop past, heard their cries and saw their terror. He responded as he had prepared to. He ripped the telegraph equipment from its table, threw it in the buggy he had borrowed and whipped the horse down the road toward New Oxford and York.
Captain Ball paused long enough at the Eagle Hotel to inform Major Granville Haller (above) of the collapse of the 26th.. and to infect him with the panic. Haller, a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, tried to telegraph Harrisburg, but found the telegraph office empty, the equipment gone. So he threw himself on a horse. He did not stop until he had reached Hanover. He telegraphed the Governor at 8:00 that night. “… Rebels in Gettysburg. Ran our cavalry through town; fired on them; no casualties. Horses worn out. Ordered all troops to York. … Cavalry officers and men did well.” But he had no word of praise for Colonel Jennings or the 26th regiment.
Meanwhile, back along the Mummasburg road, the 26th was wheeling column right, marching eastward toward Gettysburg, when Colonel French's mounted Virginians appeared from the Northwest. With the enemy so close, Jennings had no choice but to throw his Pennsylvanians into a battle line, behind the split rail fences. As French's cavalry approached, the militia fired a volley. A few rebels fell from their saddles, and the cavalry returned fire, but they then fell back. It was obvious the militia were retreating, and Colonel French realized they were going to capture Gettysburg, so why lose any more men?
Colonel Jennings fulfilled his role, slowly leapfrogging his men down the slope toward Gettysburg. As they approached the town he saw the rebel cavalry had beaten him there, and he redirected his men toward Hunterstown, 5 miles north on the Carlise road. The first day of fighting in Gettysburg was almost over. And so far, despite all the shooting, not a single human had been killed.
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Sunday, January 03, 2016


I would say that never have so many labored so hard to obscure what was so obvious to so many as during the spring of 1944. Every school child in Europe knew that sooner or later the allies were going to hurl themselves against the Atlantic coast of France. 
And there were only two places with beaches close enough for unlimited air support from Britain and wide enough for major military operations - the Pa de Calais, just 20 miles across the channel, and 75 miles away, in Normandy. But it was vital the 400,000 German defenders not know which of these two spots was the eventual target, or exactly when the invasion would occur. The planned date and location of the invasion was maybe the second biggest secret of the 20th century.
It would take 1 ½ million military personnel, and probably another 2 million civilians to prepare and launch the invasion. And 4 million people can not keep a secret. So the invasion was divided into pieces, each given a code name to disguise how it fit into all the others. 
The over all plan was code named “Overlord”. 
Misinformation fed to confuse the Germans was code named “Bodyguard”.  Bombing to isolate the beaches was code named “Point Blank”. 
Naval operations were code named “Neptune”. Operation “Tonga” was the code name for the British parachute and glider attacks behind the beaches. 
The British beaches were “Gold” and “Sword”, the Canadian beach “Juno”, and the American beaches “Utah” and “Omaha”. 
Architectural drawings for the two floating harbors built in England and towed across the channel were “Mulberry”.
And the flexible gasoline pipeline rolled out and laid down under the channel after the invasion was named “Pluto”.
Out of the millions of documents generated for “Overlord” - the 9th Air Force's plan for the airborne troops parachute  drops alone was 1,376 pages and weighed 10 pounds - ranged from shipping bills of lading to company rosters. Only a few thousand of these referred to the actual time and place of the invasion. But almost all of them hinted at one or both. 
Besides being stamped with “Top Secret” and "Eyes Only", these few documents also had the word “Bigot” stamped on them. Only a few thousand people with an absolute “need to know” were allowed to handle or read “Bigot” papers. These people were given special security clearances, and were described as “Bigots
or “Bigoted”.
There were, of course, slip ups. In March a U.S.sergeant accidental used “Bigot” papers as packing for a present sent to his sister. When the package broke open in transit, workers in the Chicago Post Office were put under FBI surveillance. Some wind and an open window forced British staffers to spend two hours recovering 12 copies of a “Bigot” memo from a Whitehall street.  An abandoned briefcase containing “Bigot” papers was turned in to a train station master in southern England. And several officers were reduced in rank and relived for talking too much at cocktail parties. But the British domestic Military Intelligence Service - MI 5 - thought all the leaks had been plugged.  At least until they picked up a copy of a London newspaper on 2 May, 1944.
The Daily Telegraph - “The Largest, Best, and Cheapest Newspaper in the World” - started out as a penny tabloid in the 1850's.  By the 1930's it had built a circulation of almost 1 million readers by assuming its audience was intelligent, middle class and progressively conservative.  The Telegraph helped make Winston Churchill Prime Minister in May of 1940., and in late 1941 the paper printed an offer to donate £100 to charity for each person who could solve the paper's crossword puzzle in less than 12 minutes. Winners were then ordered to report as code breakers to Beletchley Park, home to the Twentieth Century's ultimate secret. 
And then on Tuesday, 2 May, 1944, a “Bigoted” officer was solving the Telegraph crossword and stumbled over the clue for 17 across - “One of the U.S. (4 letters)” 
The next day the paper published the solution -  “Utah” - one of the intended American invasion beaches (above).
It was most likely  a coincidence. Right? Well, paranoia being an occupation hazard for intelligence officers, this hyper vigilant one decided to look closer.  And ominously,  a review of solutions to April's crosswords turned up more invasion beaches - “Gold”, “Sword” and “Juno” 
Well,  gold and sword were common crossword words, and even if Juno was unusual it was decided an investigation might draw too much attention  And for ten days the Telegraph crosswords were clueless, as least as far as military intelligence was concerned. 
And then on Monday, 22 May, 1944, the clue for 3 down - “Red Indian on the Missouri (5 letters) – led to the obvious solution published on Tuesday, “Omaha”. -  the other intended American invasion beach (above). And now that their suspicions had been aroused, in the same puzzle the word “dives” appeared, which might refer to the Normandy river named Dives, at the eastern edge of the invasion target area. And also in the puzzle there was the name “Dover” which did not have any special importance to the invasion, but which, at this point just sounded suspicious. MI 5 decided to assign two agents to investigate.
It didn't seem the newspaper itself could be responsible. The owner and editor-in-chief, William Berry, was so trusted he had briefly served as the Minister of Information. But agents learned the crosswords were written ahead of time not by a staffer, but by a 54 year old freelance “compiler”, a legendary amateur football player and “stern disciplinarian” headmaster of the Strand School for boys, Mr. Leonard Sydney Dawe (above). And the agents had questioned Dawe once before about his crosswords and a security breach.
On Sunday, 17 August, 1942, a puzzle composed by Mr Dawe contained the clue “French Port (5 letters), and the answered confirmed on Monday, 18 August, by the word “Dieppe”. At 5:30 in the morning of Wednesday 19 August, 1942, 5,000 men from the 2nd Canadian infantry Division, 1,000 British Commandos and 500 U.S. Army Rangers landed on the stone beaches of the French harbor of “Dieppe” (above). Their objective was to seize and hold the port for 24 hours.
But the Nazis were waiting as if they had been forewarned. Less than 6 hours after landing the Canadians had suffered 50% causalities (above) and the surviving men had been withdrawn. MI 5 had interrogated Dawe for several hours then, and come to the conclusion that the word “Dieppe” had been “a coincidence”. But as they say in the intelligence game, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice and you are in BIG trouble.
The puzzle published on Saturday, 27 May, 1944 was the final straw. Almost as if Dawe were taunting officials one of the clues to that day's puzzle was “...some bigwig like this...”(8 letters)”, which led to the solution on Sunday, 28 May of “Overlord” - code name for the entire invasion! .Leonard Dawe was arrested at the school's temporary home in Effing and brought in for questioning. As he had two years earlier, Dawe denied having any inside knowledge, and kept denying it  “They turned me inside out,” he said later. “But they eventually decided not to shoot me after all.”
Meanwhile Dawe's crosswords kept indicting him. Tuesday, 30 May the clue was “This bush is the center of nursery revolutions”. The answer, printed on Wednesday 31 May  was “Mulberry” - the name for the floating artificial  harbors. And then on Thursday, 1 June the clue for 15 down was “Britannia and he hold the same thing.” The solution published on 2 June was “Neptune” - code name for the naval operations within Overlord. It seemed to some that disaster was certain. But shortly after that the Daily Telegraph crossword didn't matter anymore.
Just fifteen minutes into Tuesday, 6 June, 1944 the first paratroops landed on French soil. At 5:45 in the morning the Operation Neptune bombardment began. And at 6:30 troops began landing on the American beaches of Omaha (above) and Utah . An hour later the British and Canadians followed. 
By 3:00 that afternoon the first sections of a Mulberry harbor breakwater were sunk off the beaches. By nightfall, the allies had landed 156,000 men along 50 miles of Normandy coast, and penetrated up to 6 miles inland. The invasion was a success, so far..
On Wednesday, 7 June, Leonard Dawes was released by MI 5, and after reporting to the schools managing board - who were close to firing him - the first person he wanted to see a 14 year old student named Ronald French. Having called the boy into his office, Dawe immediately, “...asked me point blank where I had got the words from. "I told him all I knew...” And what young Mr. French knew would have sent the spooks from MI 5 into a faint.
According to Roland, the school's temporary home was surrounded by Canadian and American military camps, filled with young soldiers, most no more than four or five years older than him, all in training for the invasion.  ”I was totally obsessed about the whole thing. I would play truant from school to visit the camp. I used to spend evenings with them and even whole weekends...I became a sort of dogsbody about the place, running errands and even, once, driving a tank.” 
He explained that the soldiers talked freely in front of him... "because I was obviously not a German spy. Hundreds of kids must have known what I knew.". Bryan Belfont, a younger student recalled, ““The soldiers were obviously lonely...they more or less adopted us. We’d sit and chat and they’d give us chocolate.” But just how much did these children know?
Everyone knew the outline of the invasion plan and they knew the code words”, said Roland. “Omaha and Utah were the beaches, and these men knew the names but not the locations. We all knew the nickname for the operation was Overlord....Hundreds of kids must have known what I knew.” As proof Roland showed Dawes the composition books he had filled with diary like notes. According to Roland, Mr. Dawe “was horrified and said the books must be burned at once.” And while  the book burned, Dawes lectured the boy on national security, and war time censorship. “He made me swear on the Bible I would tell no one about it.” Roland was so traumatized he stopped doing crosswords, even though he had enjoyed them up to this point.
So there was the great leak, the hole in the allied security net. Thousand of young soldiers talking to other young soldiers, overheard by boys.  It was to be expected.  It was even allowed for. Knowing the code words would tell the Germans almost nothing essential. But after 6 June 1944 the invasion was no longer a great secret. Why did Leonard Dawe insist the boy swear never to reveal the details? The answer was that Dawes was protecting  his own “Butt” (1 down, 3 letters) . Because Leonard Dawes was a bit of an “ass”.
Dawes had created more than 5,000 crosswords for the Telegraph since 1925, and over the following decade had stumbled upon the easiest working method. He would lay out the crossword grid on a sheet of paper pinned to his wall. There were no letters in the grid, just empty squares with some blacked out for random aesthetics. And he would then invite his students to fill in the blocks, telling them it was a to improve their “mental discipline”.  In truth it was to improve his income. Dawes would then write clues to match the words provided by his 14 and 15 year old wordsmiths. In their naivety they considered him “...a man of extremely high principle.” But if the truth had come out the newspaper would have fired him for plagiary, and the school for lying.
Leonard Sydney Dawe died in January of 1963.. But Roland French, like the other adolescent wordsmiths, kept his school master's secret for another two decades, finally revealing the the truth in an interview in 1984. And only then did Roland French feel he could start enjoying solving crossword puzzles again..
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