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Saturday, September 08, 2018

FAKE NEWS WITH A PURPOSE

I cannot conceive of a worst possible moment for the young men to deliver their false missive. Two weeks before, the 3 day battle of the Wilderness had killed and wounded some 17,666 Federal soldiers.  Three days ago,   in the Shenandoah Valley yet another Federal Army had been ambushed by an even smaller rebel force in the Battle of New Market. And this morning, 18 May, 1864, General Grant was leading his weary army into the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia, which would kill and wound another 18,400, including legendary Union General John Sedgwick. It seemed as if everything the Federal government attempted in this third spring of the American Civil War, was producing only disaster. And these young men arrived at 3:30 in the morning, with their missives, to seemingly drop the other shoe. 
It purported to be a bulletin from the Associated Press, which had been in business since 1848, and contained the text of a White House Proclamation. The operative passage began in the third paragraph. “In view, however, of the situation in Virginia...and the general state of the country, I, Abraham Lincoln...by virtue of the power vested in me by the Constitution...call forth the citizens of the United States, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years, to the aggregate number of four hundred thousand, in order to suppress the existing rebellious combinations...”
The reaction to news of a new half million man draft, in the city which the year before had produced three days of rioting (above) in response to Lincoln's first draft call was expected to be even more violence. One hundred twenty had died in the summer of 1863, at least eleven African-Americans had been lynched, untold numbers beaten, and fifty large buildings had been burned down. Many on Wall Street took this as a sign the Federal government was losing the war, and they expected investors  to dump their stocks for gold.
At first glance the notice seemed legitimate. It was written on the same cheap oily tissue paper used by the Associated Press. But it had not arrived in the usual fashion. Several editors were suspicious, but there were only moments before the deadline to start the presses for the morning papers. Under this time constraint, and fearing they would be “scooped” by competitors, three Democratic leaning papers rushed the story into the print – The World, the Journal of Commerce, and the Brooklyn Eagle. But the night editor of the Times, a Republican paper, did not recognize the handwriting, and found it had not been delivered in an AP envelope. He held his own presses while he dispatched a messenger for confirmation. The AP editor replied, “The 'Proclamation' is false as hell and not promulgated through this office. The handwriting is not familiar.”
Wall Street was in an uproar that morning, with investors and brokers crowding all the newspaper offices (above), demanding an answer. Was the proclamation real or not? When the markets opened, the price of gold rose about 10%, but quickly fell back after William Seward, Secretary-of-State and Edward Stanton, Lincoln's Secretary-of-War, both declared the report to be “an absolute forgery.” And if the Lincoln administration had stopped there everything would have been all right. But Lincoln himself ordered the Military commander in New York City, General John Dix, to seize the offices of the Journal of Commerce and the New York World, and to ”arrest and imprison...the Editors, proprietors, and publishers.” It seemed the bloody mess in Virginia was making everybody a little jumpy.
The Journal of Commerce was a small anti-slavery newspaper founded by Arthur Tappan and Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph. But the owners opposed the Lincoln administration's decision to use force to put down the rebellion. So the Postmaster General had refused to deliver the JOC via the mail, crippling the paper outside New York City, where most of its 35,000 readers lived. William Prime, business manager of the JOC, wrote to his wife that afternoon, “Found on coming down town that we, in common with the World...had been hoaxed by a most ingenious scoundrel.” That evening Federal soldiers arrived to close down the paper and arrest the guiltless Mr. Prime.
Considerably less innocent was the two cent per copy, “New York World”. The paper was owned by the Democratic National Committee, and directed by the DNC chairman, August Belmont. In its pages anything with a whiff of Lincoln or Republicanism about it was opposed. Every day the paper was filled with articles warning of the threat of the ballooning war debt, and criticism of the administration's military strategy. Its editorials called for repeal of the emancipation proclamation, and a negotiated peace with the Confederacy. It was the platform of the Democratic Party in 1864. But these were not  the position of the World's editor, Mr. Manton Malone Marble.
Marble  (above) was a newspaperman with printer's ink in his veins. Employed as the Night Editor, he had bought the bankrupt World in 1861, dreaming of a non-partisan fact based style of journalism. But after just six months he had been forced to seek new backers, and the Democratic Party had eagerly stepped in. Marble lost friends and staff members when he signed the deal, and the joke among journalists in the city was that Marble was now little more than a conductor for the stories Belmont wanted in the paper day in and day out. But there was still a spark of independence in the man, and when he learned from an alert staffer, before dawn on the morning of 18 May, 1864, that his paper had published the proclamation, he ordered all copies still unsold to be withdrawn from street vendors, and dispatched a fast ship to stop and board the steamer “Nova Scotia”, carrying bundles of the newspaper bound for England. Marble even ordered the ship's captain to buy back the free copy provided to the Nova Scotia's purser. It made no difference. Marble was arrested the evening of 18 May, and the offices of “The World” padlocked shut.
That very night the member papers of the Associated Press telegraphed the President, strongly defending Prime and Marble. The next day several of the editors, including Horace Greeley, of the Republican leaning Tribune, joined the chorus of demands that Marble and Prime be released. And it began to occur to Lincoln, that he had stepped into something unpleasant. He also had the calming influence of General Dix, who seems to have quickly suspected, along with the members of the AP, that this was not a rebel plot, nor even a Democratic one.
 
At the same time he arrested Prime and Marble, Dix also ordered the arrest of Joseph Howard, night editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, the only other paper to actually publish and distribute the false proclamation. Within a day Howard confessed. He assumed the false proclamation would drive up the price of gold, in preparation for which he had bought gold futures “short”, on credit. As one historian has noted, “Nothing worse was ever done for the purpose of speculation.” Two days later, on Saturday morning, 21 May,  police detectives stopped and arrested Francis Mallson, a reporter for the Eagle, who had actually authored the fake telegram.  Francis had just been drafted into the army. He hoped the scam would provide for his family while he was away at war. The next day, Sunday 22 May, military authorities released both Prime and Marble. But the damage had been done.
Marble was in a rage. He clearly felt betrayed and laid the blame for his arrest directly on Lincoln's head - where it belonged. On Monday, 23 May he unleashed his pen, in a letter that took up several columns of "The World".  “Not until today,” Marble wrote, “has The World been free to speak. But to those who have ears to hear, its absence has been more eloquent than its columns could ever be.” Lincoln had acted, wrote Marble, “for the purpose of gratifying an ignoble partisan resentment”  He wondered “would you, Sir, have suppressed the Tribune and the Times as you suppressed the World and the Journal of Commerce?” He then answered the question for Mr. Lincoln. “You know you would not... Can you, whose eyes discern equality under every complexion, be blinded by the hue of partisanship.” George Templeton Strong, an diarist and observer of politics in New York, noted, “The martyred newspaper...vomits acid bile most copious.”
Marble now became the publicist for the Democratic Party, and its champion, General McClellan (above, center). He spent the next six months retelling and even creating every lie conceivable about Lincoln, charging him with wanting to force race mixing on the public, and ignoring the pain and sacrifices of Union soldiers on the battlefield. 
And it might have cost Lincoln the election that November , excerpt that on 2 September, 1864,  Union General William Tecumseh Sherman captured Atlanta, Georgia, the rail and industrial heart of the Confederacy. In that instant it was clear Lincoln was winning the war, and the Democrats were revealed as defeatists, with no answers, only protests. That November Lincoln received only 33% of the vote in New York City.  Despite that, he won the state, if barely, on his way to re-election, 55% of the popular vote, and 212 electoral votes to Democrat General George McClellan's 21
The World did not accept defeat, disparaging Lincoln's speech the day after Lee had surrendered, on the night of 13 April, 1865.  It described the President as groping “like a traveler in an unknown country, without a map.” The following night John Wilkes Booth murdered the President, transforming Lincoln into a martyr, and the The New York World and it's editor into a petty, vindictive and racist party mouthpiece.  History does that every once in awhile.
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Friday, September 07, 2018

VICKSBURG Chapter Eighty

The citizens of Mexico City  (above) had been hearing echoes of the bugles from the approaching  Chasseurs de Vincinnes for a week.  It was their looming threat which drove the 12,000 defenders of the Mexican Republic to abandon their capital on the last day of May.   If the “Hunters of Vincinnes” had pushed, they could have sauntered into the capital that, Saturday, 1, June, 1863.  
Instead they took their time. The campaign had already been set back a year by recklessness and arrogance. This time French General Élie Frédéric Forey was taking nothing for granted. He judged it better for the residents of the Mexican capital to sniff the rot of anarchy first. After which the boot about to be applied to their necks, would seem a welcomed stability.
In the beginning it had all been about money. Having been forced to an expensive suppression of an 1860 rebellion by the wealthy and the church, the new reform President Benito Juarez, declared a 2 year moratorium on international debt payments. But the bankers in London, Madrid and Paris were not interested in the stability of Mexico. They dispatched ships and troops to seize the Gulf of Mexico port of Veracruz, to use as leverage.
United States bankers had also made loans to the Juarez government, and the aggrieved Europeans offered to include American debt in their ransom for Veracruz. American Secretary of State William Seward (above) might have invoked the 40 year old Monroe Doctrine.  Mexico clearly fit its definition of a government, “...who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have... acknowledged...” In such cases the United States was supposed to see any foreign intervention “... for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling...their destiny...as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”
Several other beneficiaries of the Monroe Doctrine - recently liberated colonies in south and central America – sought United States leadership in a unified resistance to the Mexican intervention. And the mind boggles at the possible future of the western hemisphere if that option had been explored. But such a course of action never had a chance of being taken. The slave states' bloody Götterdämmerung precluded such a gradual political evolution on anybody's part.
The United States was consumed by a civil war costing its 19 million northern citizens $2.5 million dollars - in 1863 -  and 133 lives on average, every day.   Given that distraction, Seward and Lincoln could only respond to the European offer with a “thanks, but no thanks”, and a bit of groveling. “The President does not feel himself at liberty to question, and he does not question, that the sovereigns....have the undoubted right to decide...whether they have sustained grievances, and to resort to war with Mexico for the redress thereof...”
Both Lincoln and Seward also seemed to understand that the 3 nation alliance was unlikely to hold together for long. And even before the shooting started in the Charleston harbor, Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, aka Napoleon III Emperor of France, showed that he was more interested in empire building than in debt collecting.  The still young Queen Victoria was  driven lecture her own foreign minister, “The conduct of the French is everywhere disgraceful. Let us only have nothing to do with them in future.”
It did not matter. When his allies pulled out of the alliance early in 1862, Napoleon carried on alone, pushing the 6,000 man army of the smug, certain Charles-Ferdinand Latrille, Comte de Lorencez (above) , up the 250 mile invasion route previously followed by Cortés. 
First he marched southwest to the town of Cotaxla on the Rio Jamapa. Then up that river to Cordoba. Another single days march took Lorencez's army to the Metlac River. 
Crossing this and turning southwest, brought him to the village of Orizaba, at the foot of the Acultzingo pass, squeezed between 10,000 foot summits. On 27 April, 1862, Lorencez pushed aside a Mexican force there, and gained access to the central “cold country”, where his men need no longer fear malaria.
By 5 May, 1862, Lorencez was facing the highland city of Peubla, founded by Franciscan monks. The local landowners and clergy assured the Comte that the city would eagerly surrender.  But the local peasants volunteered to defend their republic. Their commander, 33 year old General Ignacio Zaragoza, told his men, ““Our enemies may be the world’s best soldiers, but you are the best sons of Mexico”.
Two times the French artillery pummeled the forts and three times the infantry attacked. And 3 times the Mexican peasant soldiers threw them back. 
Then, as the exhausted French retreated the last time, Zaragoza unleashed the young Porfirio Diaz and his 650 lancers. 
Without artillery support, the French were scattered and driven back in confusion. Only a sudden thunderstorm which turned the battlefield into mud, and an unexpected escarpment, blocking the Mexican cavalry, saved the French army.
The French admitted to 460 causalities, the Mexican's half that number. Cinco de Mayo became a Mexican national holiday, and the city was renamed Puebla de Zaragoza. The French retreated 90 miles back to the pass before Orizaba, where the Comte Lorencez contracted malaria. And then in September, reinforcements arrived from France, including the 59 year old professional General Forey. The fever stricken Comte Lorencez returned home.
This time Forey's army was 24,000 men strong. This time they were accompanied by 2,000 Mexican imperialist soldiers. This time the 22,000 Mexican Republicans defending Peubla were without the genius of General Zaragoza, who died typhoid fever in February of 1863. And this time, in March, the French army surrounded the town. By 16 May, 1863 – just as Grant was grasping the city of Vicksburg in his hands - the defenders of Peubla were starved into surrender. They laid down their guns and went home. The next day, the Chasseurs de Vincinnes began a slow careful march on Mexico city.
First they turned northwest to Santa Rita, on the Rio Tlahuapan. Westward was the village of Rio Frio de Juarz , which sat at the eastern edge of the El Guardio pass, between Monte Taloc and the strato-volcano Iztaccihuati. In front of the hunters was now is the plain of Mexico City. But keeping the Cinco de Mayo of 1862 in mind, General Forey (above)  remained cautious. 
Not until 10 June, 1863, did the French army paraded through the streets of the Mexican capital. They crossed under an endless series of flowered triumphal arches, at almost every street corner. Bells rang from every cathedral and church. Priests and nuns were singing hosannas all along the parade route. The wealthy landowners and the professional businessmen were cheering. But the peasants continued to resist.
Secretary Seward was of the opinion that “...the destinies of the American continent are not to be permanently controlled by the political arrangements...in the capitals of Europe.” Moreover, he felt certain the Mexican people would never accept the imported younger brother of an Austrian Archduke as their Emperor, particularly when that choice was dictated by the Emperor of France (above). And America refused to recognize the French backed government of Ferdinand Maximilian. Worse, no European government was willing to finance the French intervention.
Meanwhile, Seward calculated the United States could prolong France's Mexican intervention through loans to the Mexican state, at least until America would “... be able to rise without great effort to the new duties which in that case will have devolved upon us.” In other words, as soon as the rebellion of the slave states had been defeated.
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Thursday, September 06, 2018

PAST AS PROLOGUE

I begin our story not where it began, nor, unfortunately, where it ended. Instead we begin just after eleven in the morning, Friday, 20 June, 1913, with 29 year old Heinz Schmidt bounding up a staircase, carrying a heavy briefcase in his left hand.  In his right hand he carried a gun.  The first person Heinz met at the top of the stairs was Maria Pohl.  She had never seen him before but he looked agitated, so she started to ask what was wrong.  Without a word, Heinz pushed a Browning semi-automatic pistol into Maria's face. Instinctively Maria ducked, and when the gun went off it sent a .9mm lead pellet at 1,150 feet per second a quarter of an inch past her right ear.  Maria continued her ducking movement, pushing open the door of classroom 8a. She locked the door behind her. Frustrated, Heinz pushed on the unlocked door of classroom 8b. He burst in upon 60, five to eight year old girls of Mrs. Pohl's class. He was the only adult in the room. He opened fire.
In 1884 French chemist Paul Vielle (above)  mixed nitrocellulose with a little ether and some paraffin and produced what he called pourdre blanche – white powder. It would not ignite unless compressed. But when ignited it was three times as powerful as black powder, gave off very little smoke, and left little residue behind to clog machinery.  Thousands of gunsmiths scrambled to take advantage of Vielle's smokeless powder, in particular a mechanical genius, the son of a gunsmith, living in Ogden, Utah: John Moses Browning.
In Mrs. Poole's classroom, on the mezzanine level of the St. Marien Shule (St. Mary's School) in the Bremen, Germany, the Catholic girls were screaming, diving under tables, and dieing.  One was heard to cry out, “Please, Uncle, don't shoot us.” But Heinz was not listening.  He fired until his gun was empty, then reloaded a new clip, and continued firing.   Two of the girls were shot dead on the spot, Anna Kubica and Elsa Maria Herrmann, both seven years old.  Fifteen other girls were wounded. When his gun jammed,  Heinz pulled from his bag yet another Browning model 1900 semi-automatic pistol. In the momentary lull, the girls rushed out of the classroom, trying to escape down the stairs.
When John Moses Browning's own son asked if the old man would have become a gunsmith if his father had been a cheese maker, John pondered the question for a moment before admitting he probably would not have. Then he burst out laughing and assured his son, “I would not have made cheese, either.” But John's Mormon father had been a gunsmith, and a good one. And John was a better one, so famous he would eventually be known as “The Father of Automatic Fire.” He would hold, in the end, 128 patents and design 80 separate firearms.  One website contends, “It can be said without exaggeration that Browning’s guns made Winchester. And Colt. And Remington, Savage, and the Belgium firm, Fabrique Nationale (FN). Not to mention his own namesake company, Browning”  John Browning developed the Browning Automatic Rifle (the BAR), used in two world wars, as well as both the thirty and “Ma-Deuce” fifty caliber machine guns still in use by the US military, almost century later, all of which he sold to the U.S. government for a fraction of their royalty value.   But in the beginning, his most profitable work was his invention of semi-automatic pistols.
Heinz ran after the girls, firing from his fresh pistol - he had eight more in the bag, and a thousand rounds of ammunition. Eight year old Maria Anna Rychlik died at the top of the stairs. In her panic, little seven year old, Sophie Gornisiewicz, tried to climb over the stairwell banister. She slipped and fell and when she landed, Sophie snapped her neck. Following the screaming children, fleeing for their lives, Heinz ran down the first flight of stairs to the landing.
John Browning never worked from blueprints. In his own words, “A good idea starts a celebration in the mind, and every nerve in the body seems to crowd up to see the fireworks.” John would sketch rough designs of the tools he would need to make his gun, to explain them for assistants and lathe operators. Between 1884 and 1887, he sold 20 new designs to Winchester firearms. Explained one of the men who worked with him, “He was a hands-on manager of the entire process of gun making, field-testing every experimental gun as a hunter and skilled marksman and supervising the manufacturing.  He was also a shrewd negotiator. He was the complete man: inventor, engineer and entrepreneur.”
On the landing, Heinz paused to lean out a window and fire at boys, who were running away from the school. He wounding five of them. A carpenter working on a nearby roof was hit in the arm. Several apartments in the line of fire were penetrated by shots from Heinz's Browning hand guns.  But as he paused to reload, the gunman was now interrupted when a school custodian named Butz landed on his back. The two struggled for a moment until Heinz shot the janitor in the face. Grabbing his brief case still heavy with guns and ammo, Heinz ran back up the stairs.
Browning's design philosophy on reliability was simple. “If anything can happen in a gun it probably will sooner or later.” In his new ingenious blow-back pistol, the breech which received the bullet's propelling explosion was locked in place by two screws. Instead, the “action” which converted the recoil was a reciprocating “slide”, attached front and rear to the gun's frame. When the gun was fired the barrel and slide recoiled together for two-tenths of an inch, and then the barrel disengaged from the slide. The barrel swung downward clearing the breech, so the spent shell casing could be ejected.
As Heinz reached the top of the stairs again, stepping over the bodies of the wounded girls, he was confronted by a male teacher, Hubert Mollmann. They struggled for a moment before Heinz shot him in the shoulder. Mollman fell, but the teacher still clawed at the shooter, tackling him and bringing him to the floor. Kicking free, Heinz sat up and shot Mollmann in the stomach. Heinz then stood over the moaning instructor, reloaded, picked up his brief case, and waked quickly down the stairs for a final time. Outside, a crowd of neighbors and parents had just reached the school.
The retreating slide compresses a recoil spring. Once fully compressed, this forces the slide back. As it does it strips a new round off the top of the magazine and rejoining the barrel, slides the new round against the breech. The gun is now ready to fire again. All that is required it to pull the trigger again. When the Belgium firm Fabrique Nationale tested a Browning prototype in 1896, it fired 500 consecutive rounds without a failure or a jam, far superior performance to any other gun then on the market. In July of 1897 FN signed a contract to manufacture the weapon, and over the next 11 years would sell almost one million of the small lightweight pistols to European military - and some 7,000 to civilians.
Cornered at last on the ground floor of the school, Heinz was swarmed by men, pummeling and beating him to the ground. The briefcase was wrenched from his grip, and the Browning pulled from his hand. The crowd dragged him outside and there the beating continued. It seems likely he would have been lynched, had not the police arrived to place him under arrest. As they dragged him off to jail, Schmidt called out, “This may be the beginning, but the end is yet to come.”
The United States Army liked the Browning 1900, and its improved model 1903. But they wanted more stopping power. So John Browning went back to his work bench and within a few months redesigned the weapon to fire a larger, forty-five caliber round. That weapon, the Browning model 1911 pistol, would be the standard American military pistol until it was replace by a 9mm weapon in 1985.  Interestingly, when John Browning died of heart failure at his work bench (above), on 26 November, 1926, the weapon he was designing would evolve into the gun that replaced the Browning 1911.   In his obituary, it was said of John Browning, “Even in the midst of acclaim, when the finest model shops in the world were at his disposal, he preferred his small shop in Ogden. Embarrassed by praise, indifferent to fame, he ended his career as humbly as it started.”
The attack on the St. Mary's School in Bremen lasted no more than fifteen minutes, from first shot to last. During that time, Heinz Schmidt had fired 35 rounds. Eighteen children had been wounded, and five adults. Three girls had died instantly of gunshot wounds. Little Sophie with the broken neck, died within a day.   Four days after the bloodbath, the four little girls were buried. Three thousand marched in their funeral procession (above) . Four weeks later, the fifth victim, five year old Elfried Hoger, succumbed to her wounds an died. All that has changed since 1913 is the technology used to design and make guns.  And yet we continue to pretend that nothing has changed.
“This may be the beginning, but the end is yet to come.”
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