One hundred, fifty-seven years ago, today, President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous speech at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg. The Battle of Gettysburg had just been 4 1/2 months prior. Lincoln was in the early stages of a mild case of small pox.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Sixty-five years ago, today, the war film To Hell and Back was released, originally in San Antonio. Directed by Jesse Hibbs and based on the book of the same name, it starred Audie Murphy, Marshall Thompson, Charles Drake, Jack Kelly, Gregg Palmer, Paul Picerni, David Janssen, Denver Pyle, Brett Halsey (Admiral’s great-nephew) and Gordon Gebert as a young Audie.
Biopic of the wartime exploits of Audie Murphy (played by himself), the most decorated US soldier in World War II. Starting with his boyhood in Texas, where he became the head of his family at a young age, the story follows his enrollment in [the] Army where he was assigned to the 3rd Division. He fought in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, before landing in southern France and, eventually, fighting in Germany. A Medal of Honor recipient, he also received battle honors from the French and Belgian government.
The highly variable Audie Murphy delivers his best screen performance as “himself” in Universal‘s To Hell and Back. Based on the star’s autobiography, this is the story of how Murphy became America’s most-decorated soldier during WW II. After dwelling a bit on Murphy’s hard-scrabble Texas upbringing, the story moves ahead to 1942, when, as a teenager, Audie joined the army. Within a year, he was a member of the 7th Army, serving in North Africa, Italy, France and, ultimately, Germany and Austria. One by one, the members of Murphy’s Company B are killed in the war, until only three men from the original company are left. [The] others appear at the finale as ghostly images […]. The bulk of the film is given over to Murphy’s conspicuous acts of combat bravery and his killing of 240 enemy soldiers. Highlighted by excellent battle sequences, To Hell and Back is a serviceable tribute to a most complex individual.
♦ Filmed at Fort Lewis, WA, Yakima River, WA, Oak Creek Wildlife Area, WA and Universal Studios.
♦ Audie Murphy originally declined the opportunity to portray himself in the movie, not wanting people to think that he was attempting to cash in on his role as a war hero. Murphy initially suggested his friend Tony Curtis to play him.
♦ Audie Murphy’s war buddy Onclo Airheart was slated to play himself, but he declined due to the fact that the movie was to be shot during planting season.
♦ [Author] David Morell [sic] cites Audie Murphy as the inspiration for the character of John Rambo.
♦ In the movie, […] Murphy does his one-man standoff on top of a medium M-4 Sherman tank. [In] real life it happened on top of an M10 Wolverine tank destroyer.
♦ Audie Murphy’s feats of heroism and his much decorated status have been compared to those of his counterpart during World War I, Sgt. Alvin C. York […].
Murphy […] wrote poetry and songs, and, himself a sufferer, was among the first advocates for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He died on May 28, 1971, when the private airplane in which he was riding crashed.
One-hundred, ten years ago, today…
The Duigan […] biplane was an early aircraft which made the first powered flight by an Australian-designed and built machine when it flew in Victoria in 1910. The aircraft was constructed by John Duigan, with help from his brother Reginald, on their family farm at Mia Mia. The effort was especially significant in that the brothers built the aircraft almost entirely by themselves and without input from the pioneering aviation community. [A] photo-postcard of the Wright Flyer inspired the design and Sir Hiram Maxim‘s book Artificial and Natural Flight provided the theoretical basis. The only components not built by the Duigans themselves were the engine, made by the J. E. Tilley Engineering Company of Melbourne and the propeller. However, both of these components were extensively modified by John before they could be used.
The aircraft flew for the first time on July 16, 1910, taking off under its own power and flying [24 feet] (7 meters). Within two months, this had been extended to [300 feet] (90 meters) and, soon thereafter, to [590 feet with an altitude of 12 feet] (180 meters [with] an altitude of 3.5 meters). By the end of the year, Duigan had made a flight of [nearly a mile] (1 km) at an altitude of [100 feet] (30 meters).
Duigan informed the Department of Defence of his achievements, hoping to claim a £5,000 prize that had been offered in September 1909 for the construction of an aircraft suitable for military purposes. Duigan was ineligible for the prize, which had expired at the end of March 1910 but, was asked to demonstrate his aircraft for the military anyway. He also flew it in a public demonstration in front of a crowd of 1,000 spectators at Bendigo Racecourse in January 1911. In 1920, Duigan donated the aircraft to the Industrial and Technological Museum of Victoria, which was later absorbed into Museum Victoria.
Museum Victoria also preserves a flying replica of the Duigan biplane built by Ronald Lewis and flown in 1990. It was donated to the museum in 2000.
Additional Reading & Sources:
John Duigan Truths Uncovered (Australian Flying)
A Flying Life (Museums Victoria)
Australian Aviator (Trove: National Library of Australia)
Duigan Biplane (Web Archive)
Duigan Centenary Of Flight (Web Archive)
Flight Global Archive (Web Archive)
Genesis of Military Aviation (Web Archive)
Duigan Pusher Biplane (Wikipedia)
Sixty-four years ago, today…
Also known as the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (Public Law 84-627), [it] was enacted on June 29, 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law. With an original authorization of $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles (66,000 km) of the Interstate Highway System, supposedly over a 10-year period, it was the largest public works project in American history [at] that time.
The addition of the term defense in the act’s title was for two reasons. First, some of the original cost was diverted from defense funds. Secondly, most U.S. Air Force bases have a direct link to the system. One of the stated purposes was to provide access in order to defend the United States during a conventional or nuclear war with the Soviet Union and its communist allies. All of these links were in the original plans, [though] some, such as Wright Patterson AFB, were not connected […] in the 1950s but, [were] later.
The money for the Interstate […] and Defense Highways was [drawn from] a Highway Trust Fund that paid for 90% of highway construction costs, with the states required to pay the remaining [10%]. It was expected that the money would be generated through new taxes on fuel, automobiles, trucks and tires. As a matter of practice, the federal portion of the cost of the Interstate Highway System has been paid for by taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel.
Eisenhower‘s support of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 can be directly attributed to his experiences in 1919 as a participant in the U.S. Army’s first Transcontinental Motor Convoy across the United States on the historic Lincoln Highway, which was the first road across America. The convoy was memorable enough for a young Army officer, 28-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Dwight David Eisenhower, to include a chapter about the trip, titled Through Darkest America With Truck and Tank in his book At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends (Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1967).
Following completion of the highways, the cross-country journey that took the convoy two months in 1919 was cut down to five days.
Additional Reading & Sources:
Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956: Creating The Interstate System (Federal Highway Administration)
Federal Highway Act of 1956 (Web Archive of the Class Brain Site)
Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (Wikipedia)
Five hundred, fifty-eight years ago, today…
The Night Attack at Târgoviște (Romanian: Atacul de noapte de la Târgoviște, Turkish: Tirgovişte Baskını) was a battle fought between forces of Vlad III Țepeș (Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula), Prince of Wallachia and Sultan Mehmed II (Mehmed the Conqueror) of the Ottoman Empire on […] June 17, 1462.
The conflict initially started with Vlad‘s refusal to pay the jizya (tax on non-Muslims subjects charged at 2.5%) to the sultan and [it] intensified when Vlad invaded Bulgaria. In response, Mehmed raised a great army with the objective to conquer Wallachia and annex it to his empire. The two leaders fought a series of skirmishes, the most notable one being the Night Attack where Vlad attacked the Turkish camp in the night in an attempt to kill Mehmed. The assassination attempt failed and Mehmed marched to the Wallachian capital of Târgoviște, where he found a few men with cannons. After leaving the capital, Mehmed discovered 23,844 impaled Turks whom Vlad had killed during his invasion of Bulgaria. The number is mentioned by Vlad himself in a letter to Matthias Corvinus (Matthias I). The sultan, and his troops, then sailed to Brăila and burned it to the ground before retreating to Adrianople. Both sides claimed victory in the campaign and Mehmed’s forces returned home with many captured slaves, horses and cattle.
Additional Reading & Sources:
The Night Attack on Targoviste (Burn Pit Website)
The Night Attack on Targoviste (Weapons and Warfare Website)
Night Attack at Târgoviște (Wikipedia)
Ottoman War (Wikipedia)
Submission of Wallachia (Wikipedia)
Battle of Targoviste Part I
Battle of Targoviste Part II
There is a LOT of data on this siege and I’m not re-writing history. This will serve as a highlight, only. I will provide links to more information, below. ~Vic
Four hundred, fifty-five years ago, today, the island of Malta was attacked and nearly invaded by the Ottoman Empire, it’s second attempt.
If it had not taken place, the Great Siege would no doubt have been dreamt up for the screenplay of an epic film. Few other historic episodes rival it for sheer heroism, the bloodshed of war and military strategy. The story of the siege is interwoven with the tale of two adversaries, the ageing Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette, and his contemporary, the Barbary Corsair Dragut Reis who commanded the fleet of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. It is also the story of thousands of lives of Maltese Islanders, men at arms to the Knights of St. John.
The years leading up to the siege saw the Islands under constant threat from the Ottoman Turks […]. The Knights knew they were vulnerable in Malta despite the harbours and their two forts […]. Grand Master La Valette had done his best to build defences and had requested extra forces from the Emperor Charles V, the Pope and the Viceroy of Sicily. But, no help came. In May, 1565, a vast Ottoman fleet, some 40,000 men, lay siege to the Islands.
The Knights were heavily outnumbered with a mere 700 or so men and around 8000 Maltese regular troops. The Islanders took refuge in the fortified towns [..] destroying crops and poisoning wells as they fled.
The Ottomans first decided to attack isolated Fort St. Elmo […]. Repeated assaults were launched over 36 days but, the small garrison of Knights held on to the fort for far longer than Suleiman‘s men anticipated. After four weeks, they finally overran St. Elmo but, at a heavy price […]. The Turkish commander Dragut was fatally injured during the taking […].
It is the battle for [Fort] St. Angelo which saw some of the bloodiest episodes of this Holy War. It was to [be] the basis of legends for centuries to come. [Some] 10 attacks [were launched] on [its] walls [and], when a huge part of the defences were breached, the Ottomans failed to take the Fort.
At one point in the battle, the Ottomans floated the headless corpses of captured Knights across Grand Harbour. The act was returned in kind [as] Valette ordered all Ottoman prisoners to be executed and their heads used as ‘cannon balls’ to fire back toward their compatriots in St. Elmo.
[Valette]’s long-awaited relief forces [finally] appeared […] and took control of high ground inland. [The] Ottoman troops retreated […].
The Turks fled to their ships, and from the islands, on September 13 (almost four months had passed). Malta had survived the Turkish assault, and throughout Europe, people celebrated what would turn out to be the last epic battle involving Crusader Knights.
Malta’s magnificent capital, Valletta, was founded by and named after Grand Master Jean de la Valette. Valette, himself, was buried in the city some three years later.
Additional Reading & Sources
Siege of Malta (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
Siege of Malta 1565 (Military Wiki)
The Whole World Was About to Explode (PJ Media)
The Great Siege 1565 (Visit Malta Site)
Great Siege of Malta (Wikipedia)
I posted about Hillsborough’s Old Courthouse this past Tuesday. The first picture was a marker about the Kentucky Expedition, led by Daniel Boone in 1775. The information was fashioned out of metal from the USS Maine, the very ship sunk in Havana Harbor that touched off the Spanish-American War. Spain declared war on the U.S. one-hundred, twenty-two years, ago, today and, the U.S. declared war the following day. Historically, the day of declaration is retroactively moved to April 21 as that was the day Spain severed diplomatic relations and the U.S. Navy began a Cuban blockade (the first of two). At the time of my Town Tuesday post, I didn’t realize that I actually posted it on the same day as the corrected date.
After first landing on an island then called Guanahani, Bahamas (San Salvador), on [October 12], Christopher Columbus commanded his three ships […] to land on Cuba’s northeastern coast on [October 28], 1492. Columbus claimed the island for the new Kingdom of Spain and named it Isla Juana after Juan, Prince of Asturias.
The main issue was Cuban independence. Revolts had been occurring for some years in Cuba against Spanish rule. Hostilities began in the aftermath of the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in Cuba, leading to U.S. intervention in the Cuban War of Independence.
The growing popular demand for U.S. intervention became an insistent chorus after the (still) unexplained sinking [of the Battleship Maine], which had been sent to protect U.S. citizens and property after anti-Spanish rioting in Havana. [P]olitical pressures from the Democratic Party pushed [President] McKinley into a war that he had wished to avoid. McKinley signed a joint Congressional resolution demanding Spanish withdrawal and authorizing the President to use military force to help Cuba gain independence […].
The ensuing, ten-week war, fought in both the Caribbean and the Pacific, was pathetically one-sided, since Spain had readied neither its army, nor its navy, for a distant war with the formidable power of the United States.
An army of regular troops, and volunteers, under General William Shafter, with Theodore Roosevelt (then, Assistant Secretary of the Navy) and his 1st Volunteer Cavalry, (The Rough Riders), landed on the coast, east of Santiago and, slowly advanced on the city […]. Madrid sued for peace after two Spanish squadrons were sunk in Santiago de Cuba and Manila Bay and a third, more modern, fleet was recalled home to protect the Spanish coasts.
The result was the 1898 Treaty of Paris. In it, Spain renounced all claim to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States and, transferred sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States for $20 million.
♦ In 1976, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover commissioned a private investigation into the [USS Maine] explosion and, the National Geographic Society did an investigation in 1999, using computer simulations. All investigations agreed that an explosion of the forward magazines caused the destruction of the ship but, different conclusions were reached as to how the magazines could have exploded.
♦ [T]heodore Roosevelt, who eventually became Vice President and, later, President of the United States […] was, posthumously, awarded the Medal of Honor in 2001 for his actions in Cuba and, became the only U.S. President to win the award.
♦ The defeat and loss of the last remnants of the Spanish Empire was a profound shock to Spain’s national psyche […]. [There was a] philosophical and artistic re-evaluation of Spanish society known as the Generation of ’98.
Cuba: Population, History and Resources 1907 (Google Books)
Destruction of the Maine (PDF Library of Congress)
Spain Declares War Against The United States (On This Day Website)
Spanish-American War (The History Channel)
What Destroyed The USS Maine (The Spanish-American War Centennial Site)
Cuba: A New History (Web Archive)
Battle of San Juan Hill (Wikipedia)
Cuban War of Independence (Wikipedia)
Generation of ’89 (Wikipedia)
Spanish-American War (Wikipedia)
Treaty of Paris (1898) (Wikipedia)
The Story of the USS Maine
Smithsonian Channel Explosion of the USS Maine
History Channel Spanish-American War Documentary
Yep…another new post heading. I will be doing a series of shots from my town. Hillsborough is one of the oldest towns in North Carolina and was the Capitol for a short time. It’s a very interesting, eclectic place. All photos are my personal collection. © ~Vic
Previous Post: The Town.
I haven’t done a Military Monday since 2018. One-hundred, fifty-nine years ago, today…~Vic
In 1861, Virginia joined the Confederate States of America. Fearing that the Confederacy would take control of the [Navy yard] facility, the shipyard commander Charles Stewart McCauley ordered the burning of the shipyard.
[The USS Pawnee was] dispatched to Norfolk to secure the ships and stores of the Gosport Navy Yard. Arriving at Norfolk the night of [April 20], she found that all ships, save [the] USS Cumberland, had been scuttled […]. [So], an attempt was made to destroy the Naval stores and the dry dock. Their efforts were largely unsuccessful but, she took Cumberland in tow and saved the frigate.
On Saturday evening, at 9 o’clock, the Pawnee arrived from Washington with 200 volunteers, and 100 marines, besides her own crew […]. [At] once, the officers and crew of the Pawnee and Cumberland went to the Navy yard and, spiked and disabled the guns, [plus], threw the shot and small arms into the river. At 10 o’clock, the marines, who had been quartered in the barracks, fired them and came on board the Pawnee. A party of officers, [in the] meantime, were going through the different buildings and ships, distributing waste and turpentine, and laying a train, so as to blow up the dry dock. At this time, the scene was indescribably magnificent, all the buildings being in a blaze, and explosions, here and there, scattering the cinders in all directions.
The Confederate forces did, in fact, take over the shipyard and did so without armed conflict through an elaborate ruse orchestrated by civilian railroad builder William Mahone (then President of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad and soon to become a famous Confederate officer). He bluffed the Federal troops into abandoning the shipyard in Portsmouth by running a single passenger train into Norfolk with great noise and whistle-blowing […]. [T]hen, much more quietly, [he sent] it back west […]. [He returned] the same train, again, creating the illusion of large numbers of arriving troops [with] the Federals listening in Portsmouth across the Elizabeth River (and just barely out of sight).
Burning of Gosport Navy Yard (The New York Times)
The History of Norfolk Naval Shipyard (The Virginian-Pilot Online)
This Day in Naval History (US Navy Website)
How Fear, Deception and Indecision Nearly Destroyed Norfolk Naval Shipyard (USN History)
Norfolk Naval Shipyard (Wikipedia)
Clip from Hearts in Bondage (1936)
Two-hundred, seventy-four years ago, today, the Battle of Culloden (east of Inverness), also referred to as the Battle Of Drummossie was the last confrontation of the 1745 Jacobite Rising (Forty-Five Rebellion).
The battle […] is significant as the last pitched battle fought on the British mainland. It was also the last battle of the final Jacobite Rising that commenced in 1745 when Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), grandson of the exiled King James VII & II, arrived in Scotland from France in July and raised his standard at Glenfinnan [in August]. His aim was to put his father on the throne in place of the Hanoverian George II.
The battle was a total and bloody defeat for the Jacobites which effectively marked the end of almost sixty years of the Jacobite struggle, as never again would an armed uprising be used in the attempt to return the Stuarts to the throne. The government victory also paved the way for a sustained programme to destroy the power base of the rebel clans.
Culloden (pronounced culawden, with the emphasis on ‘oden‘) is one of the most important battles in the history of the British Isles and has international significance. It is the final battle fought on the British mainland and brings to an end more than half a century […] of Jacobite conflict, itself played out against a background of wider international wars. Its aftermath transforms the Highlands, bringing to an end the traditional way of life of the area and contributing to the subsequent clearances. The battle also holds a prominent place within the Scottish cultural legacy, frequently depicted, and commemorated, in art, music, literature and film. The battlefield, itself, is one of the most visited tourist sites in the Highlands […]. [T]he site holds a particularly high significance, and emotional connection, to many within Scotland and to the ancestors of the Scottish Diaspora.
The official return for British Army casualties (government troops) was 50 officers, and men, killed and 259 wounded [with] one missing (a proportion of the wounded later died of their wounds). Jacobite fatalities have been estimated at between 1,200-1,500 with between 400 and 500 prisoners taken in the immediate aftermath and many more in the days which followed. Only the Irish and Scottish troops in French service were treated as bona fide prisoners of war, the rest as rebels.
The battle, which lasted only 40 minutes, resulted in bitter defeat for the heavily outnumbered Jacobites. Led by the Duke of Cumberland, son of King George II, [the] devastating slaughter of the Jacobites was the result of the opening British cannonade and, subsequent tactics of the Redcoats during the attack […] when each British soldier, instead of attacking the Highlander directly in front of him, bayoneted the exposed side of the man to his right. The Highlanders finally broke and fled […].
Hunted by troops and spies, Prince Charles wandered over Scotland for five months before escaping to France and final exile. The [battle] […] marked the end of any serious attempt by the Jacobites to restore the Stuart dynasty to the British throne.
A generation before, a previous Jacobite rebellion had been thwarted by the king’s officer, George Wade, who had “pacified” and “disarmed” the highland clans. So concerned was the English establishment, and relieved by Wade’s actions, that an additional verse to the National Anthem was penned:
God grant the Marshal Wade
May be thy Mighty aid,
May he sedition hush,
And like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush,
God save the king
Fallout (Late Add):
The high ranking “rebel lords” were executed on Tower Hill in London. Britain enacted punitive laws to prevent the clans rising, again:
(1) Episcopal clergy were required to swear allegiance to the House of Hanover.
(2) The Heritable Jurisdictions Act 1749 abolished judicial rights of heritors, stripping estates from lords and clan chiefs.
(3) The Act of Proscription 1746 was enacted to destroy the clan system.
(4) The Dress Act 1746 made wearing the Highland Dress illegal in Scotland, except for the military-based kilt wearing of the Black Watch
Addendum: “Culloden is viewed by the Scottish people as a war grave. To my fellow Americans, stepping onto the Culloden battlefield would be like visiting Gettysburg or Normandy. And, since Scotland views it as a grave, you could also liken it to Arlington Cemetery. You don’t simply walk onto any of these places with a light spirit.” ~Brit At Heart
Ascanius (Web Archive)
Battle of Culloden (Britannica)
Battle of Culloden (British Battles)
Battle of Culloden (Historic Environment Scotland)
Battle of Culloden (Wikipedia)
Battle of Culloden Moor (Web Archive)
Culloden (National Trust for Scotland)
Culloden 1745 Culloden 2010 (Bluestocking)
Culloden Ghosts (About Aberdeen)
Culloden Moor (Web Archive)
The Battle of Culloden (Historic UK)
2020 Anniversary Lament
Documentary From 1964
In an address to the demonstrators, King declared that the Vietnam War was “a blasphemy against all that America stands for.” He also stated that “we must combine the fervor of the civil rights movement with the peace movement.” King first began speaking out against American involvement in Vietnam in the summer of 1965.
In addition to his moral objections to the war, he argued that the war diverted money and attention from domestic programs to aid the black poor. He was strongly criticized by other prominent civil rights leaders for attempting to link civil rights and the antiwar movement.
Dr. King had never been neutral on the war in Vietnam but, he had been silent. He felt, as did the leaders of most other civil rights organizations, that the movement should concentrate on the domestic struggle. They were concerned that opposition to President Johnson’s foreign policy would result in loss of support for passing and enforcing civil rights laws at home. On July 5 1965, Dr. King told a college audience in Virginia that “the war in Vietnam must be stopped.” His friends and contacts in the Johnson Administration told him he was treading in dangerous waters and should back off.
By 1967, Dr. King was ready to speak his mind publicly. His first statement was made on February 25 at an anti-war conference in California, along with several Senators who also opposed the war. He said it was immoral and, also, took money and attention from the anti-poverty program. After the walk down State Street on March 25, Dr. King addressed a rally.
There are videos of March 25, 1965 and videos of April 1, 1967 but, nothing for this date. ~Vic
Sources & Additional Reading:
MLK Leads Chicago Antiwar March (The History Channel)
Vietnam War (Stanford University King Institute)
Jack D. Speigel (Chicago Tribune)
Saturday, March 25, 1967 (Wikipedia)
King At Chicago (Jo Freeman’s Website)
Launched on September 5, 1843, the very first USS Princeton was a steam-driven propeller warship of the U.S. Navy, commanded by Captain Robert Stockton. It was the first screw-sloop in the fleet. During a cruise down the Potomac River with President John Tyler, federal officials, politicians, attorneys, a former First Lady and several hundred guests, there was a terrible long gun explosion, due, possibly to old forging technology.
President Tyler hosted a public reception for Stockton in the White House on February 27, 1844. On February 28, [the] USS Princeton departed Alexandria, Virginia, on a demonstration cruise down the Potomac with Tyler, members of his cabinet, former First Lady Dolley Madison, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri and about 400 guests. Captain Stockton decided to fire the larger of her two long guns, Peacemaker, to impress his guests. Peacemaker was fired three times on the trip downriver and was loaded to fire a salute to George Washington as the ship passed Mount Vernon on the return trip. The guests aboard viewed the first set of firings, [then] retired below decks for lunch and refreshments.
Secretary [of the Navy] [Thomas Walker] Gilmer urged those aboard to view a final shot with the Peacemaker. When Captain Stockton pulled the firing lanyard, the gun burst. Its left side had failed, spraying hot metal across the deck and shrapnel into the crowd. Instantly killed were Gilmer, Secretary of State [Abel P.] Upshur, Captain Beverley Kennon, who was Chief of the Bureau of Construction [Equipment] and Repairs, Virgil Maxcy (a Maryland attorney with decades of experience as a state and federal officeholder), David Gardiner (a New York lawyer and politician) and the President’s valet, a black slave named Armistead. Another 16 to 20 people were injured, including several members of the ship’s crew, Senator Benton and Captain Stockton. The president was below decks and not injured.
The disaster on board the Princeton killed more top U.S. government officials in a single day than any other tragedy in American history.
Additional Reading & Sources
Fatal Cruise of the Princeton (Naval History/military.com/Wayback Machine)
USS Princeton (ibiblio.org)
Princeton I (Naval History and Heritage Command site)
Accident on a Steam Ship (Google Books)
Tyler Narrowly Escapes Death (The History Channel site)
How the USS Princeton explosion changed U.S. history.