Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Bloody and Treasonable Doctrine: An Urban Insurgency During the CivilWar


Imagine New York City in 1863. It consisted only of Manhattan as Brooklyn was a separate city across the East River. A million people crammed into its narrow confines. A large percentage of them were foreign born, Irish and German mostly. Politically the city was solidly in the Democratic Party folds. Modern New Yorkers would be shocked to learn that the city voted 2-1 AGAINST Lincoln in 1860 and again in 1864. This due to the fact that Tammany Hall and the likes of Boss Tweed controlled the city with an iron fist. The immigrants were loyal to the Democratic Machine and the Irish remembered the fact that prior to the establishment of the Republican Party, many prominent Republicans had been Know Nothings, an anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic organization. In fact, textbooks today leave out the fact that many prominent abolitionist were rabidly anti-Catholic. I find this interesting since the very fact that George Washington owned slaves now means that he is a bad person to a lot of historians yet they ignore the prejudices of the people they profess to admire. But I digress. Given the very close business relationship between New York City and the South, Mayor Fernando Wood proposed seceding from the Union and declaring NYC to be an “open city”, free to trade with either side. New York City business leaders were afraid that they would lose a tremendous amount of money if the war kept them from doing business or if the slaves were freed and their cotton imports dried up.

And what of the city itself? We have a wonderful portrait of the city by virtue of a book called Sunshine and Shadow in New York written by an English visitor in the immediate post war period. It is out of print but you can download it for free on the internets. The population of Gotham doubled between 1825 and 1845 and that is BEFORE the Irish Potato Famine (really more of a genocide, but that is another topic for another day) brought hundreds of thousands of poor Irish men, women, and children flooding into the city. By 1860, they made up a quarter of the population. They were crammed into some of the worst urban slums on the planet at the time. While they lived in squalor and extreme poverty on the Lower East Side, a few blocks to the north, the wealthy lived in opulent mansions seemingly oblivious to the plight of so many of their fellow New Yorkers. Crime and poverty go hand in hand and the city was known as a home to every vice imaginable. They city boasted 600 houses of prostitution and scores of other “houses of assignation”. Then you had saloons, lots of saloons. Some of the saloons on the East Side had “waiter girls” which shocked the sensibilities of the English author of the book. He said “waiter girls are not of the highest moral order”. Seeing as how my redhead was a waitress when I met her, I will not comment on that.

The NYPD and the Fire Department were overwhelmingly Irish, a fact that did not escape the notice of the wealthy Protestants in the city. They feared an urban uprising. When the day arrived, would they city’s protectors side with the rioters? Or would they protect the lives and property of the wealthy? No one wanted to find out for sure, though in the summer of 1863, they would. The Fire Department officially carried about 4,000 volunteers on the rosters but only about half of them were active. The police department, led by Superintendent Kennedy numbered around 2,100 men. Both had received plenty of bad press in the 1850s. Their manpower was down due to the number of men enlisting in the Army at the outset of the war, but by 1863, enthusiasm had grown very thin.

Superintendent Kennedy

 That diminished enthusiasm is exactly why Congress enacted the Enrollment Act. It was signed into law in March of 1863. Each Congressional District received a quota that they were to fill from the ranks of men between the ages of 20 and 45. It was widely unpopular for two reasons. To escape the draft, you could pay a substitute to go in your stead, something only a wealthy person could do. Or if not substitute could be found, you could pay the princely sum of $300 which represented the average annual wage of a working class person. One thing that often gets left out in the discussion of the draft is why it was needed in the first place. People often ignore the effect that the Emancipation Proclamation had on recruitment. Notice that after the Proclamation was announced, they suddenly needed to institute a draft. A lot of Civil War historians try to excuse that away because it doesn’t fit the idea of Northern soldiers fighting to free the slaves. When the Confederate Congress passed their draft law the previous year, it exempted those who owned 20 or more slaves or those who worked as overseers on plantations. In both cases, this was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. In New York City, the ability of the rich to hire substitutes or pay $300 is ultimately what would cause this unrest.

Rumors ran throughout the Sixth Ward (aka: Bloody Sixth) in the days leading up to the draft days. On Saturday, July 11th, the first names were drawn, slightly over 30. The crowd gathered to listen were somewhat boisterous. They made jokes as the names were read aloud, mostly Irish. Not a wealthy man among them. “Well a nice vacation from the wife, Johnny”. The draft ended and people went home. Two days later, July 13th dawned hot and clear. As crowds began to gather in Lower Manhattan, the police were on high alert. A large crowd congregated around the 9th District draft office, led by firefighters of Engine Company 33, the Black Joke. (meaning dark sense of humor, not race) A pistol discharged and they stormed the building. The men of the Black Joke were upset because their captain had been draft on Saturday. There is a difference between a crowd and a mob. A crowd is just a large group of people. A mob is something quite different. People in a mob get a certain amount of anonymity and a mob mindset can take over quickly, as it did on that hot July day.

 Superintendent Kennedy arrived to try and see firsthand what was taking place. The mob recognized him despite his not being in uniform. They dragged him out of his carriage and nearly beat him to death. From the onset, he would be out of commission. The police, armed with clubs and revolvers, charged the crowd but were beaten back. The police took heavy casualties. As buildings were set alight, the fire department responded to the alarms but the mobs cut their fire hoses and attacked them with clubs. The mob then turned its anger on black residents of New York City. Why? The reason is a little more complicated than you may realize. Yes, the fear that freed slaves would come up North and take jobs away from the Irish was true. That idea had been mentioned in Irish newspapers. However, the predominantly working class Irish mobs vented their anger on black residents of New York City because they saw them as symbol. They represented the elite white New Yorkers who, though often abolitionist in sentiment, despised the Irish. Remember the mobs that burned down Catholic Churches just ten years before. Many of the leaders in that movement were now abolitionist and since the Irish could not attack them directly, they instead focused their rage on the people who the abolitionists cared about.

On Monday evening a mob lynched a black man and set his body on fire as he hung from a rope, strangling to death. In an eerie scene, something out of the Middle Ages, people danced around the burning body. Another mob marched on the Colored Orphan Asylum with the express intent of burning it down and perhaps murder the children inside. In a feat unparalleled in the history of the police and fire services, a small group of police officers and firefighters fought the mob long enough to allow the children to be safely brought to safety out the back door. The Chief Engineer of the Fire Department, a position similar to that of the Fire Chief, was grabbed by the mob. They slipped a rope around his neck and were about to hoist him skyward when he said “If you kill me, you will only stop my draft.” The crowd began to laugh. They patted him on the back and sent him on his way. Remember, the Irish were considered to be “black” by the elites in New York City. By attacking blacks, they were trying to racialize themselves as “white”. Of course, they also attacked the homes of the wealthy and Protestant churches, all people who had victimized them in the past. This was an uprising of oppressed underclasses that targeted everyone who upset them. The rich. The military. The city itself. And the black workers of New York who represented the threat of a non-union labor force and who the abolitionist cared more for than the poor Irish immigrants.

Desperate calls for reinforcements went out from city leaders and the War Department rushed soldiers to the city to restore order. New York Governor Horatio Seymour, who was a little pro-South as it was, told Lincoln “Remember this—that the bloody and treasonable doctrine of public necessity can be proclaimed by a mob as well as by a government." Many of the reinforcements had recently fought at Gettysburg. The mob attacked them too. They pulled up bits of the pavement and carried it to the rooftops. When dropped on the street, the paving stones and bricks shattered, peppering the ranks of police officer and soldiers with shrapnel. Accounts speak of cannons being fired and pitched gunfights in the streets between the mob and the military. I don’t know how accurate those accounts are, but they ring true. And what of those gallant men of the New York City Police Department? They fought armed mobs often armed with nothing more than clubs themselves. Teams of them would stream inside their stations for a break from the action, battered and bruised. Many sported bandages on their heads and supported broken limbs as they walked. After a brief respite they would form up and go back into the fray, clubs tapping out a beat on the pavement as they marched. No one knows for sure how many of them died over the course of those few days, somewhere in the vicinity of 10. A few hundred were injured, some so severely that they could never work again.

From the moment the war ended, there was a constant effort to downplay this incident in the official histories and to turn it into a race riot. It was a race riot, but it morphed into that. The Irish did not wake up that day and say “Let’s go kill some black people.” It started as a riot against the draft which was seen as an unfair and corrupt. Remember, when the war started the Irish were among the first to enlist. Tens of thousands of them fought with gallantry and honor. Historians also like to gloss over this incident because, as I mentioned in the beginning, it doesn’t fit in their nice little Civil War box whereby the North, a paragon of freedom and equality, fought against the slavish backwards South. This is an example of the victors writing the history.

Furthermore, the official casualties that historians cite are so far off the mark to be laughable. James McPherson states that around 120 civilians died, including 11 black men who were lynched. I will call bullshit on that for a few reasons. First of all, there are plenty of accounts of a few black women being lynched too. He must not be aware of that. Second, you don’t have pitched gunfights in narrow streets for three or four days with only 120 deaths. Third, there are plenty of accounts that say that the mob slipped out under the cover of darkness each night and removed their dead. Finally, what of the military casualties, which are thought to be pretty severe, as are the police department losses. Superintendent Kennedy estimated that around 1,100 people died, which is probably more accurate. Herbert Asbury estimates 2,000 deaths and that is probably too high. Bodies were incinerated in burning buildings, tossed in the rivers, or dragged away and a count of 120 is absolutely insane. I could go on about McPherson's creative use of only the sources that agree with his viewpoint, but I won’t. I will say this, use his estimate of the deaths as a bit of proof for what I said. These riots are downplayed and when discussed at all, it is turned into a race riot when it was really an example of class warfare. And since many historians, it seems, come from the middle or upper middle class strata of society, they just don’t understand the mindset of working class people. If you have spent your life in an ivory tower and never seen what a mob of people can do, then you will have a hard time grasping what happened that long hot summer in New York City and why.  

 So, as you can see, history is not, pardon the pun, a black and white thing. It is nuanced and not as simple as we try to make it. Some blame this “dumbing down” of history on things like the History Channel, but I disagree. I think it has more to do with our idea of a story having good guys and bad guys and a clear distinction between right or wrong. There is nothing wrong with this, of course. But we also need to understand that the truth is always more complicated. Every historian has his or her biases that keep them from being truly objective. The more they claim that they don’t, the more likely they probably do. Remember, the guilty man flees when no man pursueth. I have mine too. And I freely admit them. As proud as I am of my heritage, murdering innocent people is wrong, no matter what justification you attach to it. 

Let us remember that intrepid band of police officers and firefighters who fought back angry mobs of their own people to save innocent lives and property, as they were sworn to do. They were the true heroes of this sad tale. And let us ask ourselves what we would have done. Remember too, that the Draft Riots of 1863 is the worst case of urban rioting in American History, bar none. The term riot here is almost too "friendly" a word to use to describe what happened. It was more of an uprising or insurgency than a riot.   

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who is sad that this incident happened. It is not “My People’s” finest hour to say the least. But just as we discuss the great things the Irish have done in this country, we must too mention the bad.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

From Huddled Masses To Heroes


I have previously referenced some of my Irish ancestors.  Really, all I have is Irish ancestors, so it is more of a matter of picking which once to reference at a given point.  Anyway, since many of us come to an appreciation of the Civil War based on our ancestor's experiences, I thought that sharing some of my ancestors' stories might be an appropriate topic of today's post.  If it turns out to be too lengthy, please forgive me in advance.

Let us travel back in time to the year 1845.  I had relatives living in numerous Irish Counties. (Antrim, Galway, Clare, Wexford, Cork, Fermanagh, and Mayo)  This post will focus on those leaving from Galway and Wexford.  At that time, my family lived as tenant farmers, as did much of the Irish peasants.  I hate to use that term since they weren't peasants prior to the occupation and exploitation of their country by a foreign government. Nonetheless, they were treated as second class citizens in their own country.  Those in Galway were Irish speaking and unable to read and write.  Those in Wexford spoke both Irish and English and had enough schooling to be able to write their names at least.  Their lives were hard.  But they carried on as their ancestors had done and their descendants, myself included, still do.  Then disaster struck.

We now know that the blight that attacked the potato crops in Ireland probably originated in North America, an irony not lost on me.  Some accounts from the west of Ireland say that they countryside was covered in a fog the night before the blight was first discovered in 1845.  Since it is mentioned in several sources, it might very well be true, thought that had nothing to do with the blight itself.  I can only imagine the horror experienced by my family when they found their crops had been ruined by this unknown enemy.  The first year did not effect the entire crop in the whole country, and so there was enough left to carry on.  And then it came again.  And again.  And again.  Soon, starvation and disease ravaged the countryside.  Scenes like the below were all too familiar

I don't know at what point my family decided to leave.  I don't know for sure if it was an actual choice or if they were evicted.  Regardless, they made their way down roads littered with corpses, sometimes witnessing starving dogs eating the human remains, only to book a passage on a ship that would turn out to be a almost as dangerous as remaining behind in Ireland.  The Coffin Ships that they sailed on were not meant for comfort.  In fact, some of the same ships that carried the Irish to America a few years before had carried slaves from Africa.  And in similar conditions.  My family would have spent most of their time below decks in truly disgusting conditions.  Imagine people who were already weakened from the hunger or disease crammed into a small space that rocked back and forth constantly.  They lived, ate, and slept in absolute filth.  The space reeking of unwashed bodies, vomit, urine, feces, and above all, death.  It was not abnormal for as many as a third of the passengers to die on this trip.  It has been said by smarter people than I that if you could walk from Cork to New York City along the body of the Atlantic that you could so so without ever stepping on the ocean floor.  You could just step from one Irish body to another the entire way.

These two branches of my family arrived in the United States but in two different locations.  One ship landed in New Orleans and one in New York.  My family who came in through New Orleans fared a little better than those who arrived in New York.  Though they faced hardships, it was nowhere near as bad as what my family faced in New York.  The following cartoon is just one of many.  (And keep in mind this one was published in 1871!)

I am not an expert in the history of race relations in the United States. I'll defer to my better informed colleague Andrew P. on this point. But the Irish were not considered "white" despite their skin color. In the North they were racialized as being black. In fact, you will notice that they were depicted (in the above cartoon) in the same way that Africans were depicted. They were not considered "white" until after the Civil War ended. I think it is interesting how fluid race can actually be. This is a very good indication. Pardon the bad pun, but in the case of the Irish it wasn't a black and white issue. Society considered them something less than white. I wonder if they had been wealthier or Protestant if that would have made a difference. I'm sure it would. Below is another cartoon which illustrates the point. And when the day came that the Irish "became white", they did not identify with the people whom they were once compared to (the blacks) and instead strove to become accepted by the very upper class white society that once rejected them. Here is an excellent book on the subject.

But when Civil War came, my ancestors threw in their lot with their adopted part of the country.  I really doubt the enlisted "for the cause" as it were.  They didn't seem like that kind of people really.  My great-grandmother told me once that the reason her grandfather enlisted was so that he could learn useful skills.  (She knew him and that quote is directly from him.)  I always wondered what that meant.  He was a child when he came over with his family on the New Orleans trip.  I later found at what.  He was an active Fenian.  His service saw him at all of the major battles in the Western Theater and he came through it all without a scratch.  Talk about luck of the Irish!  On the New York side, my third great grandfather, who also made the trip as a teenager, enlisted in the 160th New York Infantry and was killed in Louisiana.  He is buried in the National Cemetery in Baton Rouge.  He gave his life for a country that, at the time, scorned and ridiculed him in the manner of the cartoon above.

I don't know why I am making this lengthy post.  I don't know if you are even still reading it at this point.  My ancestors were tough, proud people.  They fought against the English invaders of their country and they fought for their respective sides here in the United States as well.  England tried to eradicate them from the face of the earth.  The United States was less than welcoming.  But they survived.  And as a consequence, I am here today because of that strength.  Allow me to close with a quote from the book Paddy's Lament by Thomas Gallagher.  You will find it on page 295.  When speaking of the perseverance of the Irish immigrant, he said the following "But whatever name he goes by now.....he will forever, with his battered high hat, ragged swallow-tailed coat, dangling breeches, and bare feet, haunt not only Irish memory, but also the halls and chambers of Westminster Palace, where Parliament tried for so long, without success, to do him in."

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who only hopes that I can live in a manner to bring honor to my ancestors.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How Lewd: The Flying Lingerie Adds That Helped Win The War

Luscious Lucy, 1944

“To the German pilots honing in on our American bombers, it must have looked as though they were being attacked by a wave of flying underwear catalogs.”
            Capt. Robert Morgan, as quoted by Donald Miller in Masters of the Air, pg. 117-8.


When you think of the aircraft that won the war, one of the first things that come to mind is the pictures of cartoons, names, or more often, scantily clad women painted on them. The Air War over Europe was fought by young men. This is something the movies always seem to get wrong. Actors playing the roles are often in their late 20s or 30s. The men who flew the B-17s, B-24s, P-47s, P-51s, etc, were more often in their early twenties or late teens. As such, they tended to be interested in girls of the same age. Given the fact that we were engaged in a brutal worldwide war and for the men of the Army Air Corps (no Air Force during WW2) in Europe, life was the moment. There was no guaranteed future for them and for many, there was no future. Given the losses they suffered, who can blame them for living in the moment and grabbing whatever pleasure they could from their short time on earth.

Some named their aircraft after their mothers or a cartoon character or movie quote. But that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Others named their plane after a wife or girlfriend (as in the case of the Memphis Belle). More still came up with a name that may be lewd or a double entendre. Here are just a few names from the 100th Bomb Group: Pasadena Nena, Angel’s Tit, Jersey Lilly, Sweater Girl, Mismalovin’, Miss Chief, Miss Behavin’, and Liberty Belle. My wife’s grandfather was the waist gunner on a B-17 named Luscious Lucy. It seems that they were split between blondes and redheads as the hair color of choice on their planes. Given the paint schemes on the aircraft, black or brunette would not have show up as well I think.

Growing up, I had a strange fascination with World War Two aircraft. I could give you all sorts of details, armaments, turning radius, rate of climb, etc that was unusual for a child my age. What makes it even stranger is that I have a deep fear of flying. It was a strange juxtaposition that I cannot explain. I was lucky enough to know some of the men who flew these planes. My grandparents had a friend that we went to church with (his wife taught my Sunday School class) who was a co-pilot on a B-17. He was shot down and spent a year in a German POW camp. I’ve met a few others along the way too. Brave men, all. I wish I had known my wife’s grandfather as I am sure that he had stories to tell, though, like many of his generation, he was tight lipped about it. He flew seven missions as a waist gunner, including the first daylight raid over Berlin. On one mission, one of his fellow crewmembers was struck in the chest and eviscerated by a 20mm cannon round fired by a German fighter. His blood froze on the clothing of his crew.

Why yes! Yes she is!

Now I know that by our standards today, such images as those that decorated the planes of World War Two are seen as sexist, degrading, and/or objectifying of women. But I humbly state that they lived in a different era with different standards. We should not judge unless we too flew those brutal missions over Germany. Only those who have been there can fully understand. I will now leave you with a quote from a poem by Randall Jarrell entitled Losses. It is, in my opinion, some of the best words written in the English language about warfare:

In our bombers named for girls we burned
The cities we had read about in school  

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who doesn't know what his plane would have been named, but I lean towards Miss Behave, with a scantily clad redhead, of course.  

My hot little redhead who was having an exceptionally good hair day.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Murder, Utility Knickers, and the Seamy Side of Wartime England


Arson investigators have a difficult job since the crime in their case, fire, can do a number on your crime scene! (as can the firefighters sometimes) That said, it leaves evidence behind also. You just have to know where to look for it. Fires leave patterns, accelerants leave traces, and people leave clues. This makes a tough task a little easier. Imagine returning to the scene of a murder only to find out that it has been bombed into oblivion. That, Dear Readers, was the task faced by the intrepid Inspectors from Scotland Yard during the Second World War.
Though often we look at times of national catastrophe or struggle as a uniting factor that brings people together, that does not negate the fact that under it all a criminal element still lurks in the shadows. In the case of the blacked out cities of Europe, those shadows grew larger and the hiding places more numerous. Even Berlin, the city at the center of Hitler’s Empire was rocked by a series of bizarre sex murders in 1940 though the government kept it secret as the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo) quietly worked the case. In fact, as we will see, secrecy was a big issue in dealing with crimes in wartime.

Sir Robert Peel created the Metropolitan Police in London in 1829 while serving as Home Secretary. This paved the way for the first large professional police force in the world. And, maybe more important, it led to police officers being called “Bobbies” or “Peelers”. In fact, the Irish (my people!) brought the term “Peeler” with them to the United States and it was the first commonly used slang for police officers in eastern cities in the US. Can’t say it is all that popular anymore. I never got called that during my time in law enforcement. But it would have been cool if I had. By the time England declared war on Germany in September 1939, the British police force and the government intelligence branches (MI 5 and 6) were up to the challenge. Just as they had with the Fire Service, the government hired thousands of auxiliary policemen to help fill the spots left open by those who left to enlist in the military. However, the detective inspectors tended to be long term men who knew their way around a crime scene.

When I was a “peeler”, I worked weekends, holidays, and night because crime doesn’t take a vacation or sleep. Nor does it disappear just because your country is at war. As soon as war was declared, the British police force helped the government in rounding up enemy aliens and people with suspicious loyalties for internment. Some of those interned were British citizens, but that did not stop them, just as it did not stop us from interning Americans citizens with Japanese ancestry.  One question that we must consider is why did crime rates in England go up during the war years? I suppose there are a variety of factors. First, large numbers of people are thrown together in stressful circumstances. That is a major part of it. Second, we have the fact that for soldiers and civilians alike in England, death could come on any given night. This can give rise to a certain sense of fatalism and an anything goes attitude. And then you add in the increased opportunity for crime with blackouts and the like. Thus wartime England was not as safe as you might think.

To begin with, the fact that London remained blacked out for much of the war and people spent a lot of time in bomb shelters meant that your everyday burglars had a field day. Rings of mostly youth with a few professionals thrown in, would watch houses after dark. When the air raid sirens went off, they would see if the people left to go to a public shelter. If so, they could break into the house with little fear of detection. As an added plus, if the house was hit by a bomb or incendiary, then it would obliterate the evidence! Perfect! The British government took a dim view of this as they also did looting bombed out homes but with their resources already stretched thin, combating it proved to be a very tough task. Fraud and the black market also consumed resources, but more important than that was the “serious” crimes of rape and yes, even murder.

Time and space dictate that I can only share a few cases with you. First, we have the Dobkin Case. Apparently Mr. Dobkin got tired of his wife Rachel and decided to kill her. Plenty of murders have their origins here it seems. Anyway, he murdered her and buried her body under the rubble of a bombed out church hoping that if she was discovered, the authorities would write it off as a bombing victim. Almost, Mr. Dobkin. Almost! It took over a year for anyone to discover the body and owing to the fact that she had obviously been dead a while, an autopsy was conducted. During said autopsy, the intrepid pathologist Dr. Simpson discovered that the hyroid bone was fractured, thus indicating Rachel died of strangulation. Oops! And as an added oops, Mr. Dobkin covered her body in lime hoping to speed the decomposition but he used the wrong type! (Builder’s lime rather than quicklime) That may have actually preserved the body better than it would have otherwise been! The jury convicted him in less than a half hour and he was promptly hanged. Makes you wonder if other people tried this very thing and got away with it, doesn’t it?

Though often called a serial killer, our next dealer of death is really more of a spree killer. In serial murders, the killer has a “cooling off” period in between according to the almighty F.B.I. Young Gordon Cummins did not. He went on a six day murder spree earning him the very English name, “The Blackout Ripper”. On February 10, 1942, the body of a 40 year old woman was found in an air raid shelter. She had been strangled and her handbag was stolen. Inspectors and the pathologist surmised that the killer may have been left handed. The next day, a prostitute was found murdered in her apartment. The victim had been strangled, had her throat cut, and had her sexual organs mutilated with a can opener which was left at the scene. The scene was eerily reminiscent of Scotland Yard’s most famous open case, Jack the Ripper, as it looked like one of his crime scenes. Luckily, they were able to get prints off the can opener. The Home Office clamped down on the story as they did not want to spark a panic. However, worse was to come. And quickly. 

Gordon Cummins

The next day, yet another prostitute was discovered murdered in her apartment. The scene was one of the most brutal you could encounter back then. She had been strangled with a stocking. The killer took the time to mutilate her with several objects and to violate her body with a candlestick. The next day, he struck again. This time the victim was not a prostitute but a 32 year old married woman. She too was strangled and mutilated. Word reached the press despite the wishes of the Home Office and they dubbed the killer the “Blackout Ripper”. Unlike Jack, this guy wouldn’t quit. He took a day off after his fourth murder and on Valentine’s Day, he struck again. This time his dastardly deeds were interrupted by the arrival of a delivery boy and his victim survived. She reported he was wearing an RAF uniform and when he made his getaway, he left his gas mask and its case behind! Hours later a prostitute reported she had been approached and then attacked by a man in an RAF uniform too. She fought him off and he left his belt behind during his escape.

His gas mask had a serial number and inspectors tracked it to a Gordon Cummins. Upon searching his apartment, they found items belonging to the victims and matched his prints to the one on the can opener. Naturally, he was promptly convicted and even more promptly hanged, during the middle of an air raid, no less! He may have killed other women and there were some within Scotland Yard who believed he did.

Evelyn Oatley
The Blackout Ripper's beautiful second victim

 As much as we would think that hard times bring a country together, as you can see, the worst elements of our society are still very much present for duty also. When the Americans arrived in England, our cousins across the pond liked to blame the presence of our soldiers for the increase in crime. They said at the time that the problem with the Americans was that they were “overpaid, oversexed, and over here!” I doubt that had all that much to do with the increased crime rates though it not doubt added to the rate of unwed pregnancies, after all, some of the English women wore utility knickers. One Yank and they were off! VD rates soared as did prostitution. I've seen estimates that one out of every ten American soldiers in Europe during the war contracted some sort of "unwanted guest" but I do not know how accurate those statistics are.

"Hey lady, on a scale of zero to America how free are you tonight?

So next time you peelers on patrol complain about your hours or working conditions, remember that at least you are not required to patrol while bombs fall all around you. And when you detectives complain about the uncanny ability of patrol officers to make a cock up (to use an English phrase) of your crime scene, be glad your scene won’t be obliterated by a bomb before you are finished with it.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who never met an English girl wearing utility knickers, unfortunately. 

P.S.: For more along these lines, check out Murder on the Home Front by Molly LeFebure and the PBS film by the same name.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Bodyguard of Lies: How a Fake Army Helped Win The War in Europe

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
---Sun Tzu

He who defends everything defends nothing.
--Frederick the Great

In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.
--Winston Churchill


The success of the allied war effort did not lie solely on the battlefield or in the skies over Europe. Countless men and women toiled behind the scenes, engaged in the intricate art of deception. Agents parachuted into Occupied Europe, sometimes disappearing under the German Nacht und Nabel program. Others survived and sent valuable intelligence back to England. Theirs was a secret war where few won medals but many died, often after being tortured by their captors. It is the stuff that makes great spy novels or movies, but receives little serious study. Don’t worry! I don’t plan to do any serious study here either!

The origin of the deceptive operations surrounding the Normandy Invasion began shortly after the Fall of France. Following the unsurprisingly rapid surrender of the French (they have a habit of that after all!), the Germans set about preparing for a future invasion of the French Coast. This was before the United States even entered the war. By June of 1944, the Germans had four years to ready themselves for an all out assault. Given that, all things being equal, an amphibious operation favors the defender, this presented a major challenge for the Allies. When Normandy was selected as the invasion site, this was the most precious and highly guarded piece of information held by a select few people. If it fell into German hands, the war might very well be lost. Enter Operation Bodyguard.

This was an appropriately named operation as the lies served as the bodyguard for the truth, just as Winston Churchill said. This was a very large plan with numerous smaller plans, each with their own operational names. Some tried to sell a fake invasion site, others spread misinformation via double agents, and others conducted counter surveillance to make sure the Germans did not find out the truth. Here we would call this operation “Top Secret” but the British, with their greater grasp of a language which is, after all, their own, classified it “Most Secret”.  Of all the operations, the one that I will focus on here is Operation Fortitude, specifically, Operation Fortitude South.

The Germans logically believed that the invasion would happen at the Pais de Calais as it was the most narrow point of the English Channel, only 22 miles from the English Coast. The goal of this operation was to sell Calais as the invasion point, in other words, tell the Germans what they want to hear. But how? The Germans were not stupid, after all, they had conquered much of Europe. Simply leaking fake invasions plans would not work. No, you have to make it look like an army is preparing to invade. But how do you do that?

The answer is simple enough to be obvious. You have to make a fake army. We created a fictional paper army called the First U.S. Army Group and let it out that it was commanded by General Patton. This again was a smart move because the Germans considered him to be our best commander. I believe Hitler once called him the “crazy cowboy general.” British intelligence had an ongoing operation called Double Cross which involved sending misinformation through double agents. Selected bits of information would be passed through them to reinforce the overall operation. Bogus wireless messages were sent between fake units to make it look like an army was staged just across the Channel from Calais. But the best part was creating the fake army. Literally.

German spies on the ground might try to get close to the staging camps to photograph units and so Allied Intelligence came up with a secret evil plan to fool them. They built fake tanks and fake aircraft. They also built real camps but with no real soldiers in them. How well did this work? So well that when three days after D-Day, the Germans stumbled across a real copy of our plans in an abandoned landing craft, Hitler thought they were fake! He insisted that the Normandy invasion was a diversion and the real invasion would come at Calais. This bought valuable time for the Allies and kept the vaunted Desert Fox, General Erwin Rommel, from throwing the invasion back into the sea. By the time Hitler realized the error of his ways, it was too late.

So here’s to the unsung heroes of Operation Bodyguard and its subcomponents.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian. Note: My grandfather was temporarily in charge of a unit charged with sending fake wireless messages. He also helped coordinate the movement of the fake army.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"All Hell Exploded in Our Faces": A 'First Hand' Account of the Battle of Franklin

Through the travail of the ages
Midst the pomp and toil of war
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star
Gen. George Patton


The following comes from a dream I had many years ago. I woke up drenched in sweat. I could taste the gunpowder in my mouth and I could smell the sulfur based black powder on my fingers. I was in a cold sweat but at the same time I felt strangely calm. I feel a strange kinship with the author of the above verse, General George Patton.  I think maybe he and I would have much to talk about.

I stand in a line of battle, gazing out across the valley. It is a beautiful Indian summer day. The temperature is cool, but not cold. The sun is beginning its descent in the west, leaving a crimson streaked sky behind. A sign of things to come perhaps. I, along with the other men in my regiment, am angry. Schofield and his Yankees gave us the slip down at Spring Hill. I don’t know which of our officers made a mess of that. We were close, so close, to bagging the lot of them. But now the bird has flown. Word has trickled down the line that the Yankees are dug in and waiting for us. Now more good men will die because of some general’s mistake. Unfortunately this is not the first time in this d—n war that this has happened. General Bragg had a particular talent for that sort of thing. Hood has proven himself equal to the task too. Folks say he is a Texan, but I also heard he was from Kentucky. I’m not sure which is true or why that even matters. I saw him a few days back, perched in his saddle with his wooden leg sticking out at an odd angle and his useless arm limp at his side. Hardly an inspiring sight. Now here we stand.

If I crane my neck, I can see the whole Army of Tennessee stretched across the valley, one brigade behind another. I think there’s something like 20,000 of us now. Far fewer than just a few months back. I marched off to war in 1861 in a company of 100 men and a regiment of over 1,000. Now there’s just about 20 of us left in the company, and a few of them are replacements. Our regiment numbers around 350. The sickness has carried off a good number of us, though that number has grown fewer over time. Yankee bullets and artillery have done in the rest. But through it all, we’ve given a good account of ourselves. I’ve already lost a brother and two cousins. And I’ve marched through more states than I can count. We’ve shed and spilt blood in places with names that no one had ever heard of until we died there; Shiloh, Perryville, Chickamauga, Murfreesboro, Kennesaw Mountain, and more that I can’t remember myself. I’ve come close to meeting my maker a few times. A spent musket ball gave me one hell of a headache at Missionary Ridge. Another Yankee put a round through my calf outside Atlanta. Another inch and it would have taken out my shin bone. I count myself fortunate to be among the living. But as I look across the valley, I don’t know for how much longer.

Two places down in the ranks, Charles O’Neill, an Irishmen, is performing his usual pre-battle ritual of entertaining those around him with a ribald tale of lewd conduct in a New Orleans brothel. He does this before every fight. I guess it calms his nerves. Behind me, our resident expert on tactics, Haywood Galloway is prattling on about our chances for success. When he boasts that we will drive the heathen Yankee into the Harpeth River in a half hour’s time, I turn and remind him that he also said that we would never lose Atlanta. He admits that he was mistaken as to that point but reminds me that we met the Yanks at Kennesaw Mountain and “smote them hip and thigh.” Henry Ferguson, the man on my right, hands me his rifle. He steps out of the ranks, bends over, and vomits the contents of his stomach onto the grass. Then he wipes his mouth with the sleeve of his coat, takes his rifle back, and resumes his place. No one says a word to him as this is his usual pre-battle routine. I wish Charles would do more vomiting and less talking.

I can no longer remember why I enlisted. They tell us we are fighting for “The Cause” but no one seems clear on what that cause is. I, along with the rest of my company, don’t own a slave. I’ve never given it much thought, really. The d—n planters look down on us just as they do their slaves. You ask me, I’d trade most plantation owners for a Yankee any day of the week, even if they do talk kind of funny. I’ve met a few of them while on picket duty. They don’t seem like bad fellows. I can’t consider them the enemy since we speak the same language and pray to the same God. I do know one thing, they can put up one hell of a fight if they have to. All that talk about one Southerner licking ten Yankees that the newspapers were full of when the war started has proven to be a lie. No, I can’t remember why I signed up. But I know why I’m still here. I fight for the boys on either side of me and behind me in the ranks. We’ve been through hell on many fields together and I’ll stay with them no matter what. If that means I have to die today then so be it. I can’t give up on my friends. Our battle scarred regimental flag floats proudly above us. I’d die to protect that too, as it is a symbol of the only thing that matters to me anymore, the regiment and my comrades.

Some of the boys are reading versus from little Bibles they carry with them. Others are absently staring into space, lost in their own thoughts, as I am. Down the line, one officer is reading the Bible aloud to his men. His passage is from the book of Psalms. “A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall nigh come near thee.” I think maybe he could have picked a better verse. And since I am to the right of them, I can’t help but feel a little nervous. But death in war is random. It is all by chance. One step sooner and you’d have missed the round that hit you. One place to the right of where you stood in line and the cannonball would have missed. I’ve seen the man to my right take a musket ball in the face mid sentence. It could have been me, but I don’t like to dwell on that. So far, I’m grateful for the fact that when it comes to me the Yankees have poor aim.

I hear another regiment singing softly, in unison, with their chaplain leading them. I recognize the hymn but as I was never much on church attendance before the war, I can’t say I know the words.

Oh land of rest for thee I sigh
When will the moment come
When I shall lay my armor by
And dwell in peace at home

Henry nudges my ribs and says “I think that moment has come.” I chuckle and earn a glare from the Lieutenant who commands our company as he paces back and forth in front of us like a caged animal. He is young and wholly incompetent. Part of me hopes that he catches a bullet soon before he gets more of us killed than necessary, though I suppose that goes against my upbringing. And then I hear it, a single cannon shot from behind us atop Winstead Hill. The orders echo down the line. “Shoulder arms.” “Forward march!” Here we go. Behind me, Charles begins to recite a Hail Mary. He does this every time as I am sure he wants to ensure he goes to heaven after telling his lurid stories. I’m not Catholic, but I’ve memorized the prayer after fighting in plenty of battles with him. I join in, silently, just for good measure.

The valley shakes with our footsteps. Each shrunken regiment moves behind their flags and it gives the impression that we march behind an ocean of red. Up ahead of us, I catch a glimpse of what looks like a small unit of Yankees out in advance of their main line. We are going to overlap their lines with ease. Maybe this won’t be as bad as I thought. “At the quick step!” We pick up our pace. And then it starts. Whooooooooooooooo-eeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Whooooo-eeee! Our yell. I’ve heard the Yanks cheer moving forward, but nothing like our Rebel Yell. Prisoners say it scares the daylights out of the Yankees. With good reason too. As I join in, the hair on the back of my neck stands up. If we can’t drive them out with force, then maybe we can yell them out.

We get so close that I can see the individual faces of the Yankees in the advanced line. They stare at us with eyes wide with a mixture of fear and awe. I hear their officers urging them to open fire. Then all hell explodes in our faces. I feel sudden space to my left but I don’t turn and look. Someone else slides into the place. We quickly fire one volley into their ranks though I don’t think I heard the order to do it. The Yanks turn and bolt for the safety of their main lines. Our officers are yelling at us to follow them and we do, matching them step for step. We even pass a few of them. I imagine someone will be along to gather them up and direct them to the rear.

There is a road that runs through the Yankee lines and they didn’t bother to block it though they erected pretty extensive breastworks everywhere else. The Yanks hold their fire, not wanting to shoot their own men who are running between us and the Yankee positions. We smash into them like an ocean wave. It is mass confusion. Soldiers are running in every direction. The powder smoke is thick and I have a hard time seeing much of anything in the gathering twilight. Suddenly, a phantom group of Yanks looks like they appear from the very ground itself. Screaming like demons from hell they run towards us. For the first time, I feel fear.

My hands shake as I try to load my musket. I manage to get one shot off and hit a young private in the chest. There’s no time to reload. Jesus Christ it’s going to be hand to hand. I hate this. Killing at a distance is one thing, but killing up close is something quite different. A Federal soldier lunges at me with his bayonet. I parry his strike and smash him across the jar with the butt of my musket. The air is filled with the sounds of desperate men. I can hear the screams of enraged men, the shrieks of the wounded which always turn my stomach, and the roar of gunfire. I turn and see a Federal battery preparing to fire into another advancing regiment behind us. First I hear the roar of the cannon. Then I can hear the crushing sound of bones shattering under the impact of double canister rounds. Body parts fly dozens of feet into the air. My ears bleed from the concussion of the blasts.

There is a tug at my elbow. I look down and see Henry kneeling by my side. He pulls at my sleeve with his left hand while he tries to stuff his intestines back into the gaping hole in his stomach with his right hand. I drop my rifle and grab him under the arms. I try to pull him away to the safety of the other side of the breastworks, but as I pull him his intestines snake out of his stomach forming a trail. I set him down. His eyes are glazing over and I know that he won’t be much longer for this earth. I grab the nearest rifle and locate a large Federal sergeant who is kneeling atop our hapless Lieutenant, hands locked around his throat. Oh the temptation to turn away. But it isn’t the Lieutenant’s fault that he is an imbecile. I plunge my bayonet into the Sergeants back and give it a quarter turn to the right. He stiffens and screams as I withdraw it. The Lieutenant scrambles out from under him, picks up his sword, and stabs the sergeant through the neck. He is covered in spurting blood. As the Lieutenant turns to move away, he drops to the ground without a sound. He doesn’t get back up.

As I try to load my rifle again, I see soldiers weeping hysterically as they try to do the same. Some are wandering around in circles laughing, their minds broken by what we are doing to each other. Two officers in the middle of the road are fighting with their swords as if they are medieval knights. But that is officers for you. They always have to be the center of attention. I look to my left and right and notice a few of my company and regiment still in the area. We move to seek refuge on the other side of the Federal positions, facing the spot where we started our attack. The Yanks dug deep ditches there and I think we’ll be much safer.

We keep up as steady a rate of fire as we can over and through the wooden logs at the Yankees just on the other side. But our losses are mounting. Blood is starting to fill the bottom of the ditch. The air is thick with the acrid, sulfuric stench of the gunpowder that smells, I imagine, like hell itself. The coppery scent of blood makes me want to vomit. I gag involuntarily as I try to load my rifle with shaking hands. Some of the men are praying aloud as they go through the motions of firing their rifles. Others are screaming curses at the Yanks, at the Confederacy, at General Hood, or at all three. “God have mercy on us!” I hear from down the line. As I turn, I see the Yanks preparing to fire a cannon down the length of the ditch. Then I feel nothing.

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises
Many names but always me

So forever in the future
Shall I battle as of yore
Dying to be born a fighter
But to die again, once more
Through a Glass, and Darkly by General George S. Patton

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian. I cannot explain the dream and I had, but I know it was real. Maybe it was the experiences of one of my many ancestors who fought there. Or maybe it was my own. I don't know. What I do know is this. The brave Confederate soldiers who made that charge are the epitome of brave. They were afraid, but they went anyway. That, Dear Readers, is the definition of courage.