Monday, September 29, 2014

My Top Five American Generals


I am currently taking some courses to finish my Masters in Criminal Justice. I was a cop, so it kinda makes sense if you think about it. I still keep my peace officer license and my peace officer instructor license current and I figure that if I can't get a full time job teaching history, then criminal justice is another option for me. Anyway, the course I am taking now is Leadership in Criminal Justice. I looked forward to this with about the same level of anticipation as one awaits a colonoscopy without benefit of anesthesia. But the class has been very interesting as we study different leadership styles. And, of course, it got me thinking about it in a historical context.

In graduate school I focused on military history, with an emphasis on 19th Century America. I thought since I had spent so much time as a Civil War reenactor (in lieu of dating) that I had picked up some useful tidbits that may help me in class. It really didn't. But I did develop a healthy interest in what makes a good commander in the field. So, I'm going to give you my top five American generals. The criteria that I used was that it had to be pre-1960. I consider Confederate generals to be American too. Feel free to disagree with me as to my list and I fully expect that some of you will. That's fine. Healthy debate makes us all smarter. Or at least it makes me smarter. I confess in advance that this list is very heavy on the 19th Century, as that is what I specialized in. Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

So, in no particular order I give you the Half A$$ Historians top five American generals.

1. Patrick Cleburne

Though technically I guess he isn't American because he was born in Ireland on Saint Patrick's Eve, he did fight in our Civil War. Many of you may never have heard of him before. Cleburne first saw service in the British Army, as did many Irishmen of his era, but he immigrated to the United States around 1849/50 and found himself living in Arkansas of all places. That is a long way from County Cork! Cleburne was quite popular with the townsfolk first as a pharmacist and then as an attorney. Once he and a friend were ambushed by some ne'er do wells from the Know Nothing Party. Cleburne was shot in the back but turned around and shot his assailant dead. When the war started, though he owned no slaves, he threw his lot in with the Confederate cause and enlisted in the Yell Rifles as a private. They elected him Colonel and he rose up from the ranks from there. His men were the shock troops of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. He was a master at using terrain to his advantage. No task was too difficult. But here is what made him great. Cleburne won accolades for himself but always said that the credit belonged to his men. He saw to their needs before his own. And they loved him for it. Also, Cleburne put forth a detailed proposal to the Confederate government arguing that they should free slaves in exchange for military service. This cost him politically as he was not promoted again. Sadly, Cleburne fell at the Battle of Franklin in November of 1864 at the head of his troops, leading them in a suicidal charge ordered by General Hood. Once of his contemporaries, General Govan, said that when he last spoke to Cleburne, Govan said "It looks like many of us won't make it back to Arkansas to tell of this fight." Cleburne, with tears in his eyes said "Well Govan, if we are to die, let us die like men." And that is exactly what this Rebel Son of Erin, nicknamed the Stonewall of the West did. I cannot tell you how proud I am to have some other Rebel Sons of Erin, namely a few of my ancestors, who served with him in his brigade and then in his division. They made that fateful charge at Franklin by his side. They'd have charged the very gates of hell if he had ordered it. That, Dear Readers, is the mark of a good commander.

2. George Henry Thomas

General Thomas makes for a nice contrast with the above General Cleburne. Whereas we have the foreign born non-slaveholding Confederate General, we also have the Union General born and raised on a plantation in Virginia. Odd, isn't it? Thomas, an Old Army guy, stayed loyal when Virginia seceeded from the Union even though some contemporaries did not. This cost him dearly. His family disowned him. His sisters destroyed his letters and turned his picture around facing the wall. When asked later they said that they had no brother. Ouch! Unfortunately, he labored under a cloud of suspicion as to his true loyalty even though his battlefield record was stellar. Thomas and his eventual superior, Grant, did not get along all that well. He also had General Schofield stabbing him in the back frequently. But look at what he did where it matters. His brilliant defense of Horseshoe Ridge during the Battle of Chickamauga prevented a rout at the least and saved the Army at best. While the Union right was collapsing into disorder, Thomas patched together some units and held out desperately. None other than a future president, James Garfield, reported to General Rosecrans that Thomas was "standing like a rock" and thus he became The Rock of Chickamauga. Later at the Battle of Nashville, Thomas all but destroyed the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Sadly, the Union generals spent as much time fighting each other as they did the Rebs, which served to keep Thomas from taking his rightful place among the best commanders the North produced during the Late Unpleasantness. 

3. Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson committed more acts of badassery than any other person who ever occupied the Oval Office with the exception of Theodore Roosevelt. Consider this, while fighting a duel with a man who accused him of cheating in a bet on a horse race and then doing then unthinkable, insulting his wife Rachel, Andrew Jackson took a bullet to the chest. He very calmly steadied his aim, with blood running down his shirt, and then shot his assailant dead. No Southern man, or probably a Northern one either, would stand for having his wife insulted. Not that I condone dueling, but in certain situations I certainly understand it. While President, a would be assassin accosted him and Jackson proceeded to beat the crap out of him with his cane. But being his own Secret Service detail came after he put an ass kicking on the English that they haven't forgotten. During the War of 1812, our forgotten war, Jackson took command of perhaps the motliest crew of soldiers ever commanded by an American general. His troops were rough frontiersmen from Tennessee, pirates, free persons of color from the city, and even a Native American or two. They stood fast in front of New Orleans against the very cream of the British Army. The British sent their "A" team to New Orleans and Jackson's troops gave them hell. During the midst of the battle where, for a moment, it looked as though the day might go against them, Jackson calmly stood at the center of his lines oblivious to the shot and shell which rained around him. This inspired his men to hold fast, and hold they did, inflicting about 2500 casualties on the British with the loss of less than 400 of their own. Understandably Jackson is not held in high regard by Native Americans today and with good reason. But this doesn't take away from his accomplishments (and those of his soldiers) in front of New Orleans in 1815. Plus, it gave us one of the catchiest tunes of all time. You can listen to it here.

4. Nathan Bedford Forrest

Let me start off by saying that, contrary to what has seemingly entered the national conscious as fact, Forrest did NOT found the Klan. Was he connected with them after the war? Probably. Did he use his influence later to induce them to disband. The historical record indicates that perhaps he did. In his last public speech, reported by the New York Times, he accepted a bouquet of flowers from a black woman and spoke on the need for reconciliation between the races. That often gets left out. I say all this because he has become a polarizing figure after the war as people on both sides use him to promote their own agendas. None of that is why I included him on my list. I did so because he was a damn good commander on the battlefield. He is another example of a person going from private to general during the Civil War. As a cavalry commander, he moved his troops like lightening. His battle exploits are like something out of Greek mythology. At Parker's Crossroads when his troops were being attacked from two sides, he ordered his men to "Charge em in both directions." Or after one engagement, his report said "I saw Grierson make a bad move and I rode right over him." Forrest was personally brave as well. Some credit him with dispatching 30 Yankees in combat while having 29 horses shot out from under him. His bravery is beyond question. As to his post war activities, well, that is exactly that, post war. What he did with the men in his command is the stuff of legend, which is exactly why it is.

5. George S. Patton

And there you were thinking that I had left him off the list! No list of great American generals would be complete without including General Patton. I really don't even need to say anything about him other than having his picture grace the presence of this blog. What his 3rd Army did while moving ot the relief of Bastogne is a feat unparalleled in the annals of American military history. There was so much more to Patton than simply ivory handled revolvers and a fetish for properly attired soldiers. He was very intelligent and almost philosophical. I urge all of you to read Carlo D'Este's wonderful biography of him to see a deeper picture of a man we know more for the movie than what he did in real life. My grandfather once had to hide from him in a cabinet under a counter in a shop in Paris to avoid being caught out of uniform! Later he had a chance to meet him while properly attired. General Patton is one of the best commanders this country has ever produced and even though his methods may have been unorthodox or even perhaps harsh, he got results.

So there you have it. I know there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth for not including Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, or George Washington. I mean to take nothing away form any of them. I tried to think a little bit outside the box on this one and include some names like Thomas and Cleburne that normally don't get brought up when we discuss great American commanders. I considered this from strictly a military point of view, so spare me any comments about Confederates, slavery, or Patton's penchant for slapping soldiers. I considered them only in light of what they did on the battlefield. I'm curious if any of you have some other 20th Century (pre-1960) generals to offer. (Pershing, etc) 

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who wears a shirt and tie to work every day lest the ghost of General Patton catch me and issue me a fine and a tongue lashing.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Chivalry Is Not Dead: Wherein the Hero of the Tale Rescues the Damsel And Slays the Dragon

Dear Readers,

I, like many of you, have heard the oft repeated phrase "Chivalry is dead." But what is chivalry? Where does it come from? Is it dead? And should we care? I shall do my utmost to answer said questions with today's blog post. For you see, just as the knights of old, I too once donned armor as I went to work. Mine was not visible as it was concealed beneath my uniform shirt. I sallied forth each day not to slay dragons but rather to fulfill the obligations of my sacred oath of office; defend the defenseless, protect the innocent, and stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. It was a solemn and sacred duty that I bore upon my shoulders. To this day I carry the scars, both mental and physical, but I do so with the knowledge that I was a man who was not afraid to face whatever dangers the world might throw my way. Police officers are modern day knights. So too are firefighters and our EMS workers. But I digress.

What is Chivalry? As with many things, it depends upon whom you ask. For such weighty questions as these, I ask the dictionary. My trusty volume which imparts definitions tells me that chivalry is one of two things. Either one can define it as "the medieval knightly system with its religious, moral, and social code" or it can be defined as "the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight; especially courage, honor, courtesy, justice, and a willingness to help." Admittedly the term is an old one and so too is the definition. I do believe that the latter definition comes the closest to answer the question. But one does not have to be a knight to be chivalrous.

Note that she is a redhead! The knight who pens today's
blog post would surely come to her assistance!

As referenced in said definition, chivalry originated in the Middle Ages, growing up around the warrior class of European knights. One might draw parallels with the Japanese Code of Bushido. It was celebrated in song and verse as men of noble birth were taught the virtues of conducting themselves in a chivalrous fashion at all times. Middle Ages chivalry involved three elements; Duty to Country, Duty to God, and Duty to Women. All three were important. A knight served his country and owed a certain responsibility to his other knights. He also served his church. Last but not least, a knight served one lady in particular but owed a duty to all ladies to treat them with courtesy and respect at all times. But how do we translate that into the modern era?

A chivalrous man is polite to all. He respects himself and those around him. If a woman is carrying a heavy load, he asks her if she would like him to help. Naturally he will hold the door open for people, male or female. That is just the polite thing to do. A chivalrous man removes his hat when indoors, though this seems to be more of a Southern thing. Even when outdoors, a man ALWAYS removes his hat when speaking to a woman. You should stand when a woman enters the room, if practical. The chivalrous man treats everyone around him with dignity and respect. Dear Readers, I ask you this; How many people do you know do these things on a regular basis? Other than your humble servant who pens these lines today.

Alas, chivalry has it's critics. Some say that those who behave chivalrously do so out of a misogynistic belief that women are inferior to men and thus incapable of taking care of themselves. Those people are WRONG! Chivalry recognizes the importance of women and treats them with the dignity and honor required of their exalted position in society. You see, a chivalrous man does not hold a door open for a lady because he thinks she cannot do it herself. No. He does so as a way to show his respect for her. It matters not if said man knows the women he holds the door open or removes his hat for. You see, by treating a woman who is a stranger with such courtesies, he is also treating his own wife, mother, or sister in such a way.

My friends, chivalry is not dead but it is on life support. Today, young people prefer to hook up in bars for wild sex-capades and do not seem to care about building a relationship with someone. Young men suffer from an apparent lack of respect for women. And I'm sad to say, some young women do not respect themselves. My suggestion to my male readers is to make an effort this week to engage in at least a couple of chivalrous acts. Ladies, for those of you who are not married, DEMAND that your boyfriends treat you this way. If they don't find one who will. There are good men out there who do all of these things. When you find that man, don't let him get away.

And to my readers who have or are still working in the public safety field, go to work knowing that you are part of a proud, noble tradition of knighthood. Though you may have a Dodge Charger rather than a trusty steed and you carry a Glock instead of a sword, you are still a modern day knight fighting for justice, honor, and dignity for all. I salute you all and I ask that you keep up the good fight. Alas my body no longer permits me to stand beside you in person, but I'm with you in spirit. 6 Forever.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian. And note that in my case, my redhead was not a damsel in distress. It was I, the knight, who needed saving.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Patriots, Pillow Talk, and the Shot Heard Round the World

Dear Readers,

It was May 13th, 1774. Friday the 13th to be exact. A British warship entered Boston harbor with an important man aboard, General Thomas Gage. His mission was simple; replace the ousted Royal Governor and assume control of the rebellious colony of Massachusetts. The beleaguered Thomas Hutchinson (no relation) relinquished the post with some sense of relief, I'm sure as he was frequently the target of colonial ire. A mob once went so far as to loot his home during protests over the Stamp Act. In truth, his removal was due to a petition sent to the British Government by the Colonial Assembly. As Hutchinson set sail for England, he did so convinced that he had taken appropriate measures while occupying the highest post in Massachusetts.

General Gage was well known to the colonists. In a way, he was almost one of them. Nine months earlier when Gage and his pregnant wife set foot in England, it marked the first time he had been home in seventeen years. All of those years he spent in the colonies. He knew the colonists and he knew how they thought. Gage was seen as a decent fellow who was not entirely unfriendly towards the colonial issues. No one doubted Gage's bravery. He served as a young officer at the bloody Battle of Fontenoy. Later, he was present at the brutal battle of Culloden which broke the power of the highland clans in Scotland for good. In 1755, Gage arrived in the colonies for the first time and saw service with Braddock's expedition which ended with the Battle of Monongahela, a battle which saw a young colonial militia officer named George Washington distinguish himself. Based on his experience in trying to move heavily equipped British infantry through the wilderness that made up much of North America, he came up with an idea for using light infantry instead. The British Army adopted his idea and began to use light infantry regiments when the situation demanded it.

Gage soon wore out his welcome in Boston by trying to implement various portions of what the colonists called the Intolerable Acts. Still, Gage tried not to needlessly antagonize his American hosts. Some of his subordinates grew critical of him for not moving to arrest all of the members of the Sons of Liberty. One of them wrote that by allowing them to exist, Gage only caused the colonists to grow "more insolent." In January of 1775, Gage received orders from London to take decisive action. Word had reached both Gage and London that the Americans were hoarding weapons, powder, and ball near Concord. It is at this point that the story gets interesting.

By all accounts, Gage's wife Margaret was a beautiful woman. 14 years his junior, she was of Greek, Spanish, English and Native American heritage which must have lent her an exotic appearance. Margaret was also an American, born in the colonies. They met while Gage was stationed near Brunswick, New Jersey during the French and Indian War. When she joined her husband in Boston, rumors began to circulate about her close friendship with a well known patriot, Dr. Joseph Warren. How friendly were they? No one knows for sure but as you can imagine, rumors spread through the prudishly Puritan Boston.

As Gage made his plans for the operation that would take a column of British troops to Lexington and then on to Concord, he did so with a measure of secrecy. In fact, on the night the soldiers left Boston, they weren't even told that an operation was planned until two hours before they were to move out in an  attempt to keep things quiet. So how then did the colonists know to be on the lookout for British troops leaving the city? And who was the "highly placed informant" that warned Dr. Warren on the eve of the mission? Perhaps, Dear Readers, it was Margaret Gage!

Is there any solid evidence to support this? Alas, no there isn't. However, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence. She would have been privy to her husbands activities. Certainly Gage at some point (either at the table or perhaps the bed) mentioned that he was planning an operation and what their objective was. Plus, she was an American and was maintaining a friendship with a prominent patriot leader. Someone tipped them off and the expedition to Lexington and Concord ended with the British failing to arrest Hancock and Adams and also failing to uncover all of the weapons they sought to confiscate. Of course, they also got into a bit of a scrap on Lexington Green where some unidentified person fired the shot that started the Revolution.

There is one more damning piece of evidence. In June of 1775, just a few weeks removed from teh April 19th raid, Gage sent his wife back to England. Was this because he had suspicions as to her activities? Or was it simply to remove her from the city lest it fall into patriot hands? We'll never know. But how cool would it be if the General's wife was having an affair and that helped us get independence.

And what of Dr. Warren? He fell on June 17, 1775 at the Battle of Bunker Hill. History did not record when or even if Margaret learned of his death. Her reaction might have shed even more light on the nature of their "friendship".

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who had some Irish ancestors who fought at Lexington and Concord.......on the British side!

             Thomas Gage                                                   Margaret Kemble Gage

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Police Commissioner Roosevelt: Or Ro-Ro and the Po-Po!



Theodore Roosevelt was a badass. Today we know him best as the guy who charged up Kettle Hill (not San Juan as history records) on horseback. He was the only guy on the whole freaking battlefield on horseback!  That took some cojones. Some may know him from his Presidency. Personally I think he was the last good president we had. We all know one thing that Roosevelt gave us, or rather gave us a name for; the Teddy Bear! But before all of this, Roosevelt held a different post. New York City Police Commissioner. A job for which he may not have been overly qualified for but one that he relished nonetheless.

In 1894 Roosevelt was appointed to be the president of the New York City Police Commissioner's Board. This was a group of civilians (all political appointees) who oversaw the operation of NYPD. At the time, NYPD was said to be the most corrupt police agencies in America. Roosevelt planned to change all that. One thing that can be said about Roosevelt is that he had a very clear and strong moral compass. He did not see any gray areas in the world. Everything was black and white.

At the time, certain practices were commonplace among urban law enforcement agencies. Officers might duck into an alley and catch a nap. They also accepted a little extra cash from business owners to make sure that those establishments stayed crime free. Officers routinely took free merchandise (meals, clothing, etc) from shopkeepers. Roosevelt would tell you in no uncertain terms that there was no such thing as a free cup of coffee. He would have his work cut out for him.

Roosevelt went out at night in disguise trying to catch officers behaving badly. If he caught you, then you'd face a disciplinary board. The officers HATED him! He was so effective that after a few years, the political bosses decided that they were going to eliminate the commissioner's board and replace it with just one commissioner. Ironically enough, as Governor of New York it was TR himself who signed that law! It wasn't just about enforcing ethical rules though. Roosevelt also tried to appoint officers for their mental and physical abilities rather than who they knew or voted for. He also standardized departmental weapons and demanded officers know how to use them.

But do you know what they funny part of this story is? After he went on to fame as the commander of the Rough Riders and became a popular President, the sentiment of many NYPD officers changed. They began to brag about getting busted by Commissioner Roosevelt. It almost became a badge of honor to have been brought up on charges by him. It sort of reminds me of how people who played for a real hardass of a coach in high school whom they all hated at the time will reminisce fondly about the coach at the high school reunion and try to top each other with tales of getting in trouble.

Allow me to close with one more feat of badassery from my favorite President. While giving traveling to give a speech in 1912, an assassin shot him in the chest as Roosevelt stepped out of the car. Roosevelt determined that since he was not coughing up blood that he would live! He then went in and spoke for 90 freaking minutes with a bullet in his chest and blood running down his shirt! There will never be another Theodore Roosevelt.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian rather than a Bada$$ President.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

Late one night when we were all in bed
Old Mrs. Leary left a lantern in the shed
And when the cow kicked it over
She winked her eye and said
There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight

Dear Readers,

Few words struck terror in the hearts of 19th city dwellers as did the word "fire." In an era when cities were made of wood a single spark could wreak havoc on an entire neighborhood or, in the case of Chicago, an entire city. The summer of 1871 was hot and dry. The city of Chicago had only received one inch of rain between July 4th and October 9th turning the city into a tender box. This kept the 200 or so men of the Chicago Fire Department with their 17 fancy horse drawn steam engines busy. Very busy. They ran from alarm to alarm knowing full well that if a fire got out of hand it could turn into a disaster.

Around 9pm on the night of October 8th, someone reported a fire in a barn behind 137 DeKoven Street. The Fire Department responded quickly but in a strange twist of fate, the fire was reported to be in a different location and so they initially showed up at the wrong place. This slight delay of a few minutes allowed the fire to take hold. By they time they corrected their error, the barn was fully involved and the fire was spreading.

137 DeKoven Street. The scene of the "crime".

Freakishly strong winds were pushing the fire to the southwest, towards the city's business district. The fire began to take on a life of its own. You see, fire is a living thing, just like we are. It requires oxygen and fuel (food) in order to survive. As the fire grew bigger, so too did its appetite. The winds blowing across the fire grew hot enough to ignite dry wood (similar to Santa Anna winds in California). The fire jumped the Chicago River and raced through the business district. Panic set in. People loaded up their possessions onto carts and tried to escape. The fire itself took on a tornado like appearance. Something you your normally see with massive wildfires out west or cities that were firebombed during World War Two. Around 2:30 in the morning, the bell atop the city courthouse collapsed. Witnesses heard the crash from miles away. The city lost its water supply when the building which housed the city waterworks burned. They were now powerless to help; 

The fire continued to burn well into the evening of October 9th. By the time Mother Nature showed mercy on the battered firemen of Chicago and allowed some rain to fall, the fire had more or less burned itself out though there were still some hot pockets that needed watching through October the 10th. The scope of the damage defies attempts to describe it. 2,000 acres burned. 100,000 people left homeless (1/3rd of the city's pre-fire population). The path of destruction was said to be four miles long and 3/4s of a mile wide but estimates vary a little.

Intersection of Dearborn and Monroe

So what started the fire? In the 19th Century, when in doubt, blame an Irish person. Mrs. O'Leary who lived in the home on DeKoven Street became almost an urban legend. It was widely believed that her cow kicked over a lantern in the shed and that started the fire. As a former arson investigator with an excellent track record of successful cases, I call bullshit on that theory. So what did cause the fire? No one can agree. It could have been burning embers from someone's chimney landing in her shed given the wind conditions that night. Some witnesses reported seeing men gambling in her shed by lantern light early that evening. Yet no real move was made to track them down. Also, we cannot forget Peg Leg Sullivan. He was present that night and placed himself, via his testimony, at the scene of the fire. He claims to have walked the length of half a football field, into a burning barn, tried to put out the fire and tried to rescue animals and then walked out of the barn and back to where he started from in the space of just a few minutes. Without receiving a scratch or appearing out of breath. I also call bullshit on his story. Peg Leg Sullivan, you are lucky I wasn't alive back then. We'd have gotten to know each other really well in the interrogation room.

Mrs. O'Leary's house was spared as the winds pushed the fire away from it. Her home was still standing into the 1950s when the city of Chicago purchased it and tore it down. In its place they built..........wait for it..........the Chicago Fire Academy! I love a city that would do something like that. (Unlike Houston that bulldozes anything older than 30 years for no good reason.) Of course, the incident is also preserved in the name of Chicago's Major League Soccer team, the Chicago Fire. They have one of the better MLS names. Much better than Real Salt Lake. 

So just a reminder, Dear Readers, be careful where you toss your cigarette butts and burning coals from your barbecue pits lest you be the cause of the next urban conflagration. Also, beware of people gambling in your garage and shady characters with wooden legs who hang around you yard for no reason. Don't say I didn't warn you.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who was a damn good arson cop even though I never investigated an urban conflagration of this magnitude. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Night With Venus

Dear Readers,

Hank Hill once said "If it is meant to be covered up with clothes, it aint meant to be talked about." Maybe that is true. But then we'd miss out on so many fun and inappropriate conversations! Let us turn our attention to the Columbian Exchange. This process began upon the "discovery" of the New World by the much maligned explorer Christopher Columbus. (The fact that the Vikings got here first, albeit temporarily doesn't seem to matter to some people.) The phrase Columbian Exchange refers to the transfer of plants, animals, people, technology, and disease between peoples of the Old World and New. The Europeans brought horses and smallpox. In exchange they received potatoes and syphilis.

Ah yes, syphilis. The gift that keeps on giving. Soon it grew rampant in Europe. In an era with no "safe sex" and legalized prostitution, it is no wonder that it became the most feared of all STDs. No effective treatment existed to cure it. That did not, however, did not stop people from trying. One such treatment was to use mercury by either rubbing it on the skin or injecting it. This gave rise to the saying "A night with Venus and a lifetime with Mercury." This was sort of the first "Just say no" type campaign! Few listened as syphilis continued to be a major problem until the discovery of penicillin.

The list of syphilis cases reads like a Who's Who of European society. Writers such as James Joyce and Guy de Maupassant experienced the joys of syphilis as did philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche. Let us not forget the artists who did the same like Gauguin and Van Gogh. It wasn't the IRS that brought down Al Capone, it was syphilis! (Well, permanently brought him down that is.) It did not discriminate and effected the rich and poor alike. For every Capone or Joyce there were hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals known today only to their Creator who suffered as well.

So what prompted me to write a blog post about disease of the hooty hoo? Many moons ago I attended a Civil War reenactment at Old Fort Jackson about sixty miles south of New Orleans. This was the May prior to Hurricane Katrina if my memory serves me correctly. Anyway, one of the sutlers was selling a reproduction Old West badge. It was too good to pass up and so I bought it. I happened to glance at it while I was thinking about what to write about today and there you have it. Today's blog post. I have included a photo of said badge below.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who, if I were alive in the Old West, might like to have this job!

Did this job require a college degree? 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Famous Redheads From History

Dear Readers,

I do not hide the fact that I am partial to ladies with red hair.  If you ask anyone who has known me for longer than five minutes, they can probably tell you that.  Given my Irish ancestry, perhaps there is a genetic reason for that attraction.  Or I am just a glutton for punishment.  One or the other.  Redheads have, throughout history, been persecuted, revered, feared, and worshiped.  The early Christian Church often depicted Eve as having red hair because, you know, only a redhead could get Adam to do something so stupid!  Wonder why redheads were targeted during the witch trials in Europe?  It is all Eve's fault.  The Church believed that red hair was the mark of the devil!  But not everyone feels that way.

In Ireland they say "Lucky a man is to have a redheaded wife!"  In other parts of the world though they are still feared, which, I must say, if you have been on the receiving end of a redheaded woman's temper, makes perfect sense.  Redheads are passionate people and thus a few have made their stamp on history.  So without further delay, I give you my top five redheads in no particular order.

1.  Judas Iscariot: Now, do we really know if Judas Iscariot had red hair?  Not really.  But the early Catholic Church often depicted him as such.  Why is Judas in the top five?  Who can argue that he didn't have an impact on history after the whole selling out Jesus thing?  I'd say that is pretty important from a theological standpoint and from a historical standpoint.  There is also an old Catholic saying "There never was a Saint with red hair!"  It isn't true, or course, but it is a fond saying nonetheless. Ol' Judas came to a bad end for giving Jesus up for some silver.  Would he have done it if he had brown hair?  Probably.  I'm thinking it had more to do with the money than his hair color.

2.  Queen Boudica: She is one of my favorites.  She previously gained attention in my list of the Top Five Bada$$es of History. This is what I had to say about her. "Ever heard of Xena Warrior Princess?  I admit, I watched the show religiously while I was in college.  I even had a Xena action figure which is, among other things, probably why I didn't date that much.  Move over Xena.  Celtic Queen Boudica is a bigger badass than you!  Celts tended to treat women with a little more respect than many other ancient tribes.  However, Boudica ran afoul of the Romans.  Her daughters were raped while she was forced to watch.  While this was going on, the Romans were also flogging her.  There is one thing you should never, never do.  Piss off a redhead.  She raised an army and led a revolt against Roman rule in Britain and even waxed a couple of Roman units in battle.  Legend has it that she rode into battle in a chariot with her daughters on both sides of her.  Alas, ultimately might prevailed and she was defeated.  No one knows the exact site of her death.  Nor do we really know how she died.  Some say she fell in battle.  Others say she killed herself to avoid being taken prisoner and tortured to death by the Romans.  I say maybe there is another option.  She didn't die but was simply taken up to Heaven by the gods.  But for a brief moment in time, a redheaded woman made the whole of the Roman Empire tremble in fear."  You can see that list here.

3.  Elizabeth I: Redheaded women hold strange powers over men.  Look in a redheaded girl's eyes for too long and you'll fall in love.  Men have a tendency to do stupid things trying to impress women, red hair or not.  Phillip II of Spain wanted to change the fact that Elizabeth was the Virgin Queen.  He sent marriage proposals which were rebuffed.  Not to be outdone, he then decided to invade England and force her to marry him.  Now I'm no Dr. Phil, but had his plan succeeded I rather doubt that would have been a recipe for a happy marriage.  In 1588 his armada sallied forth to take on the Royal Navy, seize the English throne, and deflower the Virgin Queen.  Thanks to foul weather and Sir Francis Drake, his mighty force was destroyed.  He made a few other attempts that also ended in failure in subsequent years.  The defeat of his mighty fleet of ships made it possible for England to make its first serious attempts at colonization, giving rise to the first permanent English settlement in North America at Jamestown in 1607.  Her Most Brittanic Majesty's Fleet would be the most powerful navy in the world until the 20th Century.  The Spanish Empire entered into a long, slow period of decline.  It wasn't all a bed of roses though.  Elizabeth made war on my people, the Irish, whom she described as "a nasty and brutish race".  Tens of thousands were slaughtered as her armies ravaged the Emerald Isle.  But, as Muricans, we have to acknowledge that we owe our country's existence to this redheaded gal.  And also to the next person on our list.

4.  Thomas Jefferson: A lot of folks don't know that Ol' Tom was a redhead.  Like most men of his class and position, he wore a powdered wig most of the time.  But underneath it he sported red hair.  Jefferson was perhaps the most gifted writer of his era.  The Declaration of Independence is a masterful document that was the product of a group assignment gone horribly wrong.  We've all been there.  You get put into a group and then get stuck doing all the work yourself!  Unfortunately for Thomas, he's being written out of the history books for political reasons.  Those on the far right dislike him because he dared stand up for a man's belief to practice any religion he wanted.  Those on the left don't like him because he owned slaves.  None of that can or should take away from his accomplishments.  Jefferson once wrote "It bothers me not if my neighbor worships one god or many.  It neither breaks my arm nor picks my pocket."  I think we should all keep those words in mind before we criticize another's religious beliefs.

5. Winston Churchill: No list of famous redheads from history would be complete without including Winston Churchill.  I don't really know what to say about him because there is so much.  An unrepentant imperialist, he managed to keep England from folding in the dark days of 1940.  His speeches inspired the English people to absorb everything the Germans could throw at them.  "Keep Calm and Carry On" was the watchword of the day, not something invented recently like so many people think.  Perhaps my favorite Winston quote was when he said "History shall be kind to me for I intend to write it."  And by and large it has.  Sure he had his faults, but we all do.  He was a masterful politician and a charismatic leader who inspired a small island country to stand in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and come out on top. Ever notice how all newborn babies look like Winston?

Honorable Mention: There are two other worthy people I'd like to add.  Mark Twain, the greatest of all American humorists, was a redhead.  He also liked cats.  That makes him one of my favorite writers.  I feel as though I should also include the artist Van Gogh.  When I took art appreciation in college, the teacher went around the room and made us say who our favorite artist was on the first night of class.  When she got to me I said "I don't know what they guy's name is.  I don't know a single thing he painted. But I like the guy that cut his ear off and mailed it to a prostitute."  The class was amused.  The professor was not.  Well, the guy's name was Van Gogh and he was a redhead.  They have a habit of doing crazy things when you anger them.

I consider myself lucky to be married to a beautiful little redhead who exhibits all of a redheads good traits, mixed in with the famous temper!  But I have learned the secret to being married to a redheaded gal.  Do what she says and she won't murder you in your sleep.  There is nothing in the world like the love of a redheaded woman.  Bruce Springsteen certainly got that right!  I consider myself lucky and blessed.  

My redhead.  She is little. But dynamite also comes in small packages.