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Posted in America, Christmas, Historical articles, History, Rivers, War on Friday, 17 May 2013
This edited article about the American War of Independence originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 258 published on 24 December 1966.
On Christmas Night, 1776, an event occurred which changed the history of the world. The American colonists, who had broken away from Great Britain the previous July and formed a new nation, seemed doomed. Their small army, under General George Washington, was in retreat. In early December, it crossed the icy Delaware river to the Pennsylvania side.
Washington’s men were ill-fed and raggedly dressed; some were bare-footed, and many had deserted. The European enemies of Britain had written off the Americans’ chances. But, on Christmas Eve, Washington decided to re-cross the Delaware and attack the British and their German mercenary troops from Hesse, who were in Trenton, eight miles away. His only possible advantage was that the Hessians would be busy celebrating Christmas!
The crossing started on Christmas evening in a snowstorm. The men went first, then the horses, then the artillery. The operation took nine hours and not a man was lost. Washington stood on the bank directing operations, until his horse came across, then he mounted and rode among his men, encouraging and inspiring them. The sight of their beloved leader on his horse sent their weary spirits soaring.
At 3 a.m., the march to Trenton began. By the end of the day, Washington had won a great victory. The tide turned. Europe’s interest in the American cause was re-awakened. Whatever happened now, the worst was over. The young nation would survive.
Posted in Africa, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Friday, 17 May 2013
This edited article about General Gordon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 258 published on 24 December 1966.
One of the stalwarts of the British Empire was born at 29, Woolwich Common on 28th January, 1833. A plaque there bears his name: General Charles George Gordon.
Himself a son of a general, Gordon first tasted military action as a young subaltern in the Crimean War.
He next fought in China where, in 1863, the Chinese appointed him a mandarin and commander of a small native force known optimistically as the ‘Ever Victorious Army’. Rough and ill disciplined, this ‘army’ of 3,500 men was to oppose the T’ai P’ing, a powerful and well-equipped rebel army.
Undeterred, Gordon knocked his men into shape, personally quelling two mutinies. He took them into battle himself. In two years he crushed the rebels and became known to the world as ‘Chinese Gordon’.
Refusing the rewards offered him, he returned to England and took up a quieter command at Gravesend, where he spent much of his time helping the poor, often providing food, clothing, education and work for children of the streets.
Appointed to the Danubian Commission in 1871, he one day met Nuber Pasha, Prime Minister of Egypt. As a result he became Governor of Equatoria – having first insisted that his salary be reduced to only a fifth of the £10,000 offered. In 1876, he became Governor-General of the Sudan, with responsibility for imposing order over one million square miles of territory occupied by savage and hostile tribes – a job he tackled with customary vigour.
He resigned in 1880, challenged the Egyptian premier to a duel for some unfortunate remarks about an English knight, received apologies, and returned to Britain.
Four years later he was again in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital city, charged with the difficult and dangerous task of evacuating the area and establishing a government. The job was virtually impossible because the country was in the throes of a holy war led by the powerful Mahdi. Nevertheless Gordon succeeded in sending 2,500 women and children to safety before the Mahdi’s army cut off all means of escape.
For nearly a year, at the head of a feeble and starving Egyptian garrison, Gordon kept the besiegers out of Khartoum. The feat was remarkable but in vain, for at home Gladstone and his government dithered, ignored appeals for help until too late, and solaced themselves with guilty grief when they learned that Khartoum was lost and Gordon dead, killed with his troops when the city was finally taken.
Posted in America, Politics, Ships, War on Thursday, 16 May 2013
This edited article about the Boston Tea Party originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 257 published on 17 December 1966.
The founding of Britain’s early settlements in America was the work of groups of individuals, like the Pilgrim Fathers and the Quakers, but gradually these colonies became important factors in Britain’s struggle for maritime and commercial supremacy. They were a good financial asset and boosted Britain’s revenue.
But the colonies themselves were expanding their frontiers and establishing their identity and their trade. They ignored or evaded many of the Acts passed by the British Parliament which restricted their trade with other nations.
Misunderstanding was the keynote of the relationship between Britain and her American colonies. Britain was unsympathetic, and ignored the discontent that flickered across the Atlantic. America resented British interference, for her colonies were not represented in Parliament. They had no say about the taxes and duties which were imposed on them, which they felt Parliament had no right to impose under the circumstances.
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Posted in Dance, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 16 May 2013
This edited article about the Battle of Waterloo originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 257 published on 17 December 1966.
Napoleon had returned! The news sped throughout France during the early spring of the year 1815, bringing back hope to a people suffering the bitterness of defeat.
Just a year before, the Emperor had abdicated after his disastrous defeat at Leipzig and a new king was put in his place. The Allies who had defeated him were generous enough. He was allowed to retain all his titles and a large income and was given the island of Elba off the Italian coast.
But Elba was too small a kingdom for a man who had dominated all Europe, and in February, 1815, he left. On 1st March, he landed near Cannes, in the south of France, and three weeks later he was in Paris. The people acclaimed him joyously and the famous Hundred Days had begun.
Soldiers and civilians alike expected Napoleon to hurl the foreigners out of France and re-establish the Empire, now that the puppet king had gone. The Grand Alliance which had defeated Napoleon was weakening. Only Prussia and England were prepared to overthrow him again, and their armies were separated, the Prussians being based on the Belgian town of Liege, and the English, under Wellington, on Brussels, over 100 miles away.
Moving secretly and swiftly, Napoleon marched northward from Paris and defeated part of the Prussian army. Facing him now was only Wellington’s army, half the size of his own and composed of raw troops. Wellington himself thought little of it – “the worst army ever brought together”, was his opinion – but it was all he had until the Prussians could re-form and join him. He fell back on Brussels and waited.
On the night of Thursday, 15th June, the Duke of Richmond gave a great ball in Brussels. The fashionable city was crowded with high society, apparently indifferent to the menace of the French army only a few miles away.
The thought of dancing must have been very far from Wellington’s mind, but he went, if only to keep up appearances. He seemed “preoccupied throughout the ball”, one of the young girls present confided to a Mr Creevy, a loquacious diary-writer who was in Brussels at the time.
At the height of the evening, Wellington received firm news that Napoleon was intending to give battle, but he stayed at the ball, after giving discreet orders to his staff officers who were there with him.
One by one these officers were quietly approached and a few words were exchanged. The music went on but, all over the ballroom, ladies found themselves politely escorted off the floor by partners who then bowed, apologised, and went out into the night.
At last Wellington felt that he, too, could leave, and went to his headquarters. At 2.30 in the morning, Mr Creevy, in his lodgings, noted in his diary, “The girls just returned from a ball at the Duke of Richmond’s”.
But, mingled with the sound of carriage wheels and gay laughter in the streets of Brussels, was the steady tramping of soldiers, marching out of the city into the country and down the roads that led to the little village of Waterloo.
Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Ships, War on Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This edited article about Nelson originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 255 published on 3 December 1966.
Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen
By the year 1800 Napoleon Bonaparte was at the height of his power with all Europe, it seemed, hypnotised by him. Prussia, Sweden, Denmark and Russia formed an alliance among themselves which, theoretically neutral, was in fact directed against England. The seafaring nations of Sweden and Denmark were particularly irritated by England, for the English, in their desperate struggle against Napoleon, claimed the right to board and search all neutral shipping.
The year 1801 found Horatio Nelson as second-in-command of a British fleet outside Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. He already had the brilliant victory of the battle of the Nile to his credit but now he was hampered by his commander-in-chief, Sir Hyde Parker. Parker was an older and more timorous man who clung to the idea that negotiations would solve all problems. Nelson disagreed. He had wanted to ignore Copenhagen and to take the fleet up the Baltic to attack the heart of the alliance – Prussia and Russia. But Parker over-ruled him and out of their argument they came to a compromise. Nelson would take the smaller ships of the fleet to where the Danish fleet was waiting. The water there was too shallow for the great ships-of-the-line and Parker would remain anchored with them some two or three miles off-shore.
Parker agreed and, on the night of 1st April Nelson made his preparations, working throughout the night. The battle which faced him was to be his finest exploit as a seaman. Trafalgar would later bring him undying fame but Copenhagen tested his ability as an admiral to the utmost. It was not merely a sea-battle. Throughout the engagement, the Danish ships were in contact with the city behind them and they were also supported by the great shore batteries firing directly upon the English ships. The Danish, too, were first-class seamen and knew every inch of the dangerous waters of the harbour. A line of shoals protected their ships: once the English had passed through them they could retreat only with extreme difficulty.
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Posted in America, Historical articles, History, War on Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This edited article about America originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 254 published on 26 November 1966.
Thomas Jeffords rode bravely into Chiracahua territory, and struck a bargain with the ferocious Cochise by Severino Baraldi
Fear gripped Arizona Territory. The ferocious Apaches were on the warpath, brilliantly led by Cochise, chief of the Chiricahua branch of the tribe, whose enemies grudgingly described him as the ‘Red Napoleon’.
The Apaches were supreme guerrilla fighters. They were a group of small tribes who rarely mustered more than a few hundred warriors, even when they were united against a common foe. But in the spectacular desert country of Arizona and New Mexico they were almost invincible.
They could run 40 miles a day, ride 80, and live off the desert while their enemies fought hunger and thirst. Their children were trained to run several miles in burning heat with a mouthful of water, and then spit it out to prove that they had not swallowed it.
In 1853, the Apaches’ land had been ceded by Mexico to the United States – nobody consulted the Apaches! The Mexicans were the tribe’s deadly enemies, and the Americans, greedy for land and gold, often seemed little better. But Chief Cochise saw that the only hope of survival for his small tribe was to live in peace with them.
So, while other Apaches fought, the Chiricahuas kept the peace.
Then, in 1860, a catastrophe occurred. A white boy was kidnapped by another tribe.
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Posted in Ancient History, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Sport, War on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about the Battle of Marathon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 254 published on 26 November 1966.
Pheidippides bringing news of Pan's promise to Athens in 490 BC by Alberto Salinas
The runner was at the point of exhaustion, for it was September and the land around was swimming with heat. It was an inhospitable area, this stretch of country between Athens and Sparta. The rocky ground rose steeply on each side of the track, forming cliffs pitted with deep caves.
As he reeled past one of the larger caverns the runner saw – or thought he saw – a strange figure emerging from its depths: the figure of a man with the legs and horns of a goat. It could only be Pan, the god of nature, and, in his exhaustion, the runner thought that the god spoke, promising victory to the Athenians in coming battle, if they would honour him.
The year was 490 B.C., and the Persian army was on the move – an army created out of an enormous empire that stretched from the Black Sea to Egypt – sworn to destroy the arrogant Greeks.
There could have seemed little doubt as to the issue. The Persian general had under his command Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Medes, all knitted into one great army numbering perhaps 30,000 men. Opposing it were the tiny independent cities of Greece, whom all the world knew were incapable of combining against a common enemy.
The Persians crossed from Asia into Europe by the narrow sea now known as the Dardanelles and then turned southward, but, before Athens, there was a small plain called Marathon where perhaps the great hordes could be held at bay until help came. The Athenians marched all their available troops to Marathon, but these numbered only 10,000. The Spartans had promised to send an army and therefore an Athenian citizen, the runner Pheidippides, was sent hastening to them to warn them that the time was at hand.
It was about 150 miles from Athens to Sparta – and Pheidippides covered the distance in just 48 hours! In all that time he could have snatched only the briefest periods of rest. But there was bitter disappointment for him when he arrived at the city. The Spartans agreed to send help – but not until the night of the full moon, nearly two weeks away. Pheidippides did not reproach them, for all Greeks were bound by the oracles. He turned and ran the long, weary way back to Athens with his bad news. But he brought, too, the promise of the god Pan.
There could be no further delay, for the Persian army were already at Marathon. Tradition has it that Pheidippides continued on to Marathon in time for the fantastic Greek charge which completely routed the dismayed Persians. A mile separated the two forces, but the heavily-armed Greeks charged the distance at the double in the stifling heat. The Persians fled: the Athenians believed that Pan had kept his promise and spread dismay among them, and so they later erected an altar to his honour.
Pheidippides, too, had his memorial, and one that outlasted that of Pan. The Athenians named one of the great races of their Olympic games the ‘Marathon’, after his run, and even today the name is used for any great feat of endurance.
Posted in Anniversary, Historical articles, History, London, Religion, War, World War 1 on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 252 published on 12 November 1966.
The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior
After the First World War (1914-18), many countries wanted to express their gratitude to the ordinary men who fought so gallantly in such horrifying conditions.
A British chaplain who had served in Flanders suggested that an unknown soldier be chosen from the many who lay in unmarked graves and buried in Westminster Abbey, as a representative of the multitude who had lost their lives. It was further suggested that the ceremonial burial should take place on the same day as the Cenotaph at Whitehall was formally consecrated – Armistice Day, 11 November, 1920.
Strict, precautions were taken to ensure that the chosen soldier should remain anonymous. A number of bodies were brought from different areas, and from these one was secretly chosen. A coffin bearing the body was brought to Boulogne where it was put on board ship for England.
After the ceremony at the Cenotaph, the coffin was borne in procession to the Abbey. King George V headed those who solemnly trod in its wake. It was buried in soil brought from France amidst famous men whose graves are in the Abbey.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about Stephen and Matilda originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 252 published on 12 November 1966.
Matilda escapes from Oxford Castle, wearing white as camouflage against the snow
Henry I, William the Conqueror’s youngest son, was not only King of England, but also Duke of Normandy, like his father. Henry was determined that his only child, Matilda, should succeed him both to the throne of England, and to his possessions in France.
Henry forced the most important men in the kingdom to swear allegiance to Matilda as their future queen, and he married her to Geoffrey of Anjou, his powerful neighbour in France, so that she would have a strong husband to fight for her rights.
But when Henry died in 1135, things did not work out as he had intended; another claimant for the throne appeared. He was Stephen, born of the noble French house of Blois.
Stephen hurried to England as soon as he heard of Henry’s death. Like Matilda, he was a grandchild of William the Conqueror and he held great estates in England.
The most important men in the kingdom had sworn to accept Matilda as queen, but there had never been a ruling queen of England before, and few people liked Matilda anyway, for she was both sulky and arrogant. Her husband, too, was detested both in England and particularly in Normandy.
Stephen, on the other hand, had much to recommend him. People wanted a king, not a queen, and Stephen was a pleasant, brave and generous man. Most of all, he was on the spot, in England. He was accepted as king and hastily crowned.
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Posted in America, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about America originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 252 published on 12 November 1966.
The Battle of New Orleans with portrait of the defeated British commander, General Andrew Jackson by Graham Coton
In the year 1813, as thick night mist fell over the Great Lakes of Canada, four rowboats set out across Lake Huron to attack a heavily-armed American warship, the Tigress. The eighty British soldiers and sailors in the rowboats, and the loyal Indians who paddled behind in their birchbark canoes, were led by an Indian agent and fur trader called Robert Livingston. The raiders hoped to take the Tigress by surprise, and so break the ‘invincible’ American blockade of the Upper Lakes.
Foot by foot the rowboats and canoes stole up on the sleeping ship. The men pulled steadily on their oars, which squeaked in the rowlocks and dripped noisily on the water. Suddenly a sentry on the Tigress heard them approaching, and shouted out a challenge. He fired his musket aimlessly into the darkness, and the ship’s 24-pounder sent a shot skimming across the lake.
In the burst of flame from the gun the British boats were revealed, almost up against the warship’s side. The Americans were so confident that they would not be attacked that they had hung no boarding-net to repel invaders. The British soldiers, followed closely by their Indian allies, swarmed over the rail, bayonets fixed and swords drawn. When their muskets had been fired, they used them as clubs, and the Americans fled panic-stricken to the safety of the hold. Their resistance was over, and, at the cost of two dead British sailors, the blockade had been broken.
This unusual action took place during the War of 1812-14, when America sought to gain control of the Upper Lakes and so deprive Britain of supply routes which ‘provided the gateway to half a continent’. It was the last time that British and American forces met as enemies.
The Battle of the Lakes started quietly enough when, on 9th July, 1812, news of the hostilities reached the sleepy British fort on St. Joseph’s Island, which guarded the fur-traders’ channel between Lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior.
The Lakes, and the channel between them, were used as the main trade route to the Canadian West. But despite the importance of its position and function, the fort at St. Joseph’s was in a state of dire neglect. No one realised this fact more than the commandant, Captain Charles Roberts, who heard of the American declaration of war with a heavy heart. And, after discussing the situation with Robert Livingston, the Indian agent, he decided it would be safer to strike first. The nearest US fort was on the nearby Mackinac Island, and Livingston agreed to lead his Indians south in a raid on the base.
The captain’s plan was to sail the 40 miles to Fort Mackinac, taking two of the ancient cannons, and haul them 170 feet up the cliff that overlooked the 57-strong American garrison. Then, from this vantage point, the British redcoats would demand the fort’s surrender. They hoped to conquer by stealth, without a single shot being fired.
The force of 47 redcoats and 400 Indians arrived at Mackinac shortly after dusk. They brought ashore the two cannons, and spent the night hauling them up the steep cliffs to the heights above the fort. As the sun rose, the American troops were dumbfounded at seeing the guns and muskets trained down on them. They thought there were at least 1,000 British soldiers – and even more Indians – lined along the cliff. By half-past eleven they had willingly surrendered.
Livingston’s next task was to act as a dispatch carrier between Mackinac and York (which is now Toronto), and Fort Dearburn (Chicago).
He then took part in other exciting incidents before becoming involved in a fierce battle when the Tigress and the Scorpion sailed to Nottawasaga and laid their barricade. No one knew the Lakes better than the fur trader, and it was then that he was asked to run the gauntlet of the two American ships. It was essential, he was told, that the barricade was broken, and that Mackinac Island was again accessible by water. Added to this, the Americans were also hoping to waylay the annual fur brigade, which was shortly due to sail down the Nottawasaga with a ¬£60,000 shipment of furs.
“We might be able to get by the blockade some dark night,” said Livingston. “And if our luck holds, we might capture the Tigress herself, and then deal with the Scorpion.
Livingston’s skill and daring paid dividends. After taking command of the Tigress, he then sailed in broad daylight to the Scorpion, which was anchored a few miles away. The crew were busy washing the decks as the Tigress bore down on them. Then one of the look-outs lost his nerve. “Watch out!” he shouted. “You’ll run us down!”
His warning came too late. The two ships clashed together, grappling hooks were thrown to the Scorpion’s decks, and the scrubbing buckets were perforated by a hail of bullets. The Americans who were on deck fell dead or wounded, and those below were penned in as the boarders slammed down the hatch-covers.
Minutes later, Lieutenant Commander Turner, the man who had boasted that he would easily overwhelm the British, had the humiliating experience of accepting the surrender terms which were shouted down the hatches to him. For Robert Livingston, the Rowboat War had an especially happy ending. In the hold of the Scorpion he discovered bales of his own furs and personal belongings which the Americans had stolen from his home during a raid on St. Joseph’s Island. It was all the reward he wanted.