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The Signers of The Declaration of Independence Did So On August 2nd, 1776 Not July 4th

Signing the Declaration of Independence

Signing the Declaration of IndependenceToday I found out most the signers of the Declaration of Independence did so on August 2nd, 1776, not July 4th.   In fact, nobody signed it on the 4th.  This is contradictory to Thomas Jefferson’s, John Adams’, and Benjamin Franklin’s account of events.  However, as you’ll see shortly, their accounts have been shown to have been misremembered.  Incidentally, this is not the only time this has been shown to be the case with their account of events during this time.  Of course, this period would have been quite a whirlwind, so one can understand their misremembering.

In any event, the public congressional record of events actually back Jefferson’s, Adams’, and Franklin’s story.  The problem is that the Secret Journals of Congress, that were eventually made public in 1821, do not.  They contain an entry stating, on August 2nd: “The declaration of independence being engrossed & compared at the table was signed by the Members.”  Now if this was the only evidence, one might lean towards a typo in the journal and believing the above three individuals.  However, one of the other signers of the declaration, Thomas McKean, denied the July 4th signing date and backed it up by illustrating a glaring flaw in Jefferson’s, Adams’, and Franklin’s argument.  Namely, that most of the signers were not members of congress on July 4th and thus wouldn’t have been there to sign it. As McKean said in 1796: “No person signed it on that day nor for many days after.”

Further evidence comes from the interesting fact that the parchment version of the Declaration of Independence that is on display and kept in the United States National Archives wasn’t actually written until July 19th; this being a copy of the approved text that was announced to the world on July 4th, with about 150-200 copies being made on paper and distributed on that date (26 of which are still around today, thus pre-dating what is now generally thought of as the “original”).  This little tidbit also came from the Secret Journals of Congress which has an entry on July 19th stating: “Resolved that the Declaration passed on the 4th be fairly engrossed on parchment with the title and stile of “The unanimous declaration of the thirteen united states of America” & that the same when engrossed be signed by every member of Congress.”  Thus, this signed document probably would have been actually copied by Timothy Matlack, Jefferson’s clerk and certainly couldn’t have been signed on July 4th.

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Bonus Facts:

  • Thomas Jefferson was chosen to write the Declaration of Independence over the much more qualified and more skilled writer Ben Franklin.  The reason behind this, according to Ormand Seavey, editor of Oxford’s edition of Ben Franklin’s autobiography, was that Franklin was known to put very subtle satire in just about everything he wrote and, quite often, nobody but he was smart enough to comprehend it until much later.  Knowing this document would likely be examined closely by the nations of the world at that time, they chose to avoid the issue by having the much less gifted writer, Jefferson, write it instead, with Franklin and three others to help Jefferson draft it.
  • The drafters were known as the “Committee of Five”.  They were appointed to write a statement that presented to the world the colonies’ case for independence.  These five consisted of John Adams, Roger Sherman, Ben Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson.
  • Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.  Adam’s last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still survives”.  He didn’t know that Jefferson had died a few hours before.  The two were extremely bitter enemies for much of their political life, but in retirement laid aside their differences and became very close friends.
  • One other U.S. President, James Monroe, died on July 4th, 1831, five years after Adams and Jefferson.   President Calvin Coolidge, on the other hand, was born on July 4th.
  • John Adams, in his famous letter to his wife after the approval of the Declaration, predicted that July 2nd would be famed throughout America’s history, being the date the delegates voted for independence.  Little did he know, the public would celebrate independence on the date of the announcement, July 4th, rather than the date of the vote that decided on the historic course of action.
  • There is in fact writing on the back of the Declaration of Independence.  It reads: “Original Declaration of Independence, dated 4th July 1776″.  This writing appears on the bottom of the document, upside down.  We of course know that this signed version wasn’t written until July 19th, but the founding fathers probably wanted to commemorate the official date of the announcement with this copy, which was meant to last, being written on parchment instead of paper like all the other copies at that time.
  • Rather than give a formal response to the declaration, the British instead secretly commissioned John Lind to write a response entitled “Answer to the Declaration of the American Congress”.  One of the main thrusts of the response was criticizing one of the colonists’ statements and the blatant hypocrisy it demonstrated: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  All the while the same drafters of the declaration and the colonists were slave owners, denying their slaves rights and certainly rarely granting liberty or the opportunity for the slaves to pursue their own happiness.
  • This criticism was obviously valid and had been something that had been discussed heatedly by the Continental Congress.  The original declaration even included a section concerning slavery, blaming the British for their part in the original slave trade and listing this as a reason the colonists no longer wanted to be part of Great Britain.  It is generally thought that many in the congress would have liked to see the end of slavery with the birth of the nation; they were quite aware of the hypocrisy of “all men are created equal…” and the injustice of slavery.  However, this would have devastated certain of the colonies economically which could have crippled the burgeoning nation; thus, the issue was pushed aside for a later generation to address (note: this wasn’t the only key point in American history where many American leaders felt that slavery should be abolished and came very close to doing so; but  in the end, for economics’ sake, chose to push the issue aside and let another generation deal with this great American hypocrisy).
  • There are still 26 of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence that still exist today; 21 of which are owned by American institutions; 2 are owned by British institutions; and 3 are owned privately.  These surviving copies, printed on paper, are collectively known as “the Dunlap broadside”.  They are a subset of an original 150-200 copies printed on paper on the night of July 4th and thus are considered to be “original” copies, distinguished from the many thousands of copies that have been made since that date.
  • The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence occurred in the yard of Independence Hall on July 8th, read by John Nixon.
  • The current case that contains the Declaration of Independence is made from titanium and aluminum with gold plated framing and a bullet proof window so people can see it.  The inside is airtight and filled with argon gas and a controlled amount of humidity.  The Charters of Freedom and the Bill of Rights are also encased in this exact same way.
  • Being the head of the Continental Congress, John Hancock was the first to sign the document, doing so with a flourish, which has since made his name synonymous with “signature”.
  • There is currently a hand print on the bottom left of the Declaration of Independence.  Nobody knows how or when it got there.  Unfortunately, attempting to clean it off would very likely damage the fragile document.
  • Jefferson and the other four delegates charged with drafting the Declaration of Independence leaned heavily on the English Declaration of Rights as a model for their own declaration.  The English Declaration of Rights of 1689 formally ended the reign of King James II.
  • Following the announcement of the Declaration and the eventual parchment version being signed, the document itself was neglected after the revolution.  Even early celebrations of Independence Day ignored the original statement of that independence.  It was the act that was thought important, not the text.  Indeed, even while drafting the constitution, the document itself wasn’t used as a source, in terms of ideals, for how it should be drawn up.   Even the French Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen in 1789 borrowed from George Mason’s Declaration of Rights instead of the Declaration of Independence’s view on this, even though Jefferson himself was in Paris and was consulted on the French Declaration.  It wasn’t until political parties formed that anyone really thought anything of the actual text.   Once that happened, Jefferson’s supporters used the fact that he wrote it to their political advantage.  This created heated back and forth over the document’s authorship itself and eventually resulted in it being more prominently thought of in terms of importance of the text.  However, even then, it wasn’t until the 1850s that the document itself became important for more than historical reasons.  Once again centering around the “all men are created equal…” paragraph, now being used to proclaim worker’s, women’s, and once again, slave’s rights.
  • The latter usage of the text being taken up by Abraham Lincoln in 1854.  He felt that the founding fathers expected that slavery would be a dying institution in the new United States.   He also felt that the Declaration of Independence was one of the founding documents of the nation and not just a simple statement declaring secession from Britain.  He used this view frequently in his arguments against slavery: “Nearly eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a ‘sacred right of self-government.’ … Our republican robe is soiled and trailed in the dust. Let us repurify it. … Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. … If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union: but we shall have saved it, as to make, and keep it, forever worthy of the saving.”  Lincoln’s view that the Declaration was one of the founding documents in terms of defining the nation eventually became the nation’s view, even though it was not predominately so before him.  This was an extremely important development in America’s history in terms of interpreting the constitution.  Many things in the constitution were previously seen one way, but in the light of the text in the Declaration of Independence being now considered important, were now seen another way.
  • July 4th, 1054 saw the brightest known super-nova’s light reach Earth.  This dead star is now the Crab Nebula.  It shone brightly in the sky from July 4th, 1054 to July 27th, 1054.
  • Jefferson didn’t just write the Declaration of Independence, he also re-wrote the Bible to his liking.  Jefferson didn’t hold with the supernatural elements of the Bible.  He thus set about making his own Jeffersonian translation that basically excluded every part he didn’t agree with.  In his view, separating the wheat from the chaff.
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‘Uncle Sam’ was a Real Person

Uncle Sam

Uncle SamToday I found out that ‘Uncle Sam’ was a real person- Samuel Wilson, born September 13th, 1766 and died on July 31st, 1854.

In 1789, Wilson and his brother Ebeneezer moved to Troy New York where they set up a counting house. Sam Wilson later died, then came back to haunt Ebeneezer on Christmas Eve trying to get him to change his tight fisted ways… wait…  wrong story.  In fact, the two ended up setting up the business E. & S. Wilson which, among other things, dealt in meat packing.

By the war of 1812, his business was fairly prosperous.   During the war, E. & S. Wilson obtained a contract with the U.S. government to provide the army with beef and pork.  They shipped this beef in barrels and because the meat was now the property of the U.S. government, he marked them with “U.S.” on the barrels.  The teamsters and eventually soldiers took to saying that the “U.S.” on the barrels stood for “Uncle Sam”, referring to the co-owner of the supplying company, Samuel Wilson.

Eventually, they took to referring to all U.S. branded property as “Uncle Sam’s”, even though E. & S. Wilson only had supplied the beef and pork.  This soon further evolved into calling the federal government itself “Uncle Sam”.  Widespread use of this anthropomorphic figure of the U.S. government later became popular among the masses through various political cartoons; often squaring off against the English equivalent “John Bull”.

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Bonus Facts:

  • Uncle Sam was first mentioned in public print as early as 1813 and later was connected to Sam Wilson by the New York Gazette on May 12, 1830.
  • Uncle Sam was first portrayed in human form by cartoonist Frank Bellew in the March 13th, 1852 issue of the New York Lantern.
  • The “Abe Lincoln” look, along with the star spangled outfit, was the brain child of political cartoonist Thomas Nast in the late 1800s (aside: Nast was also the cartoonist who came up with the now popular image of Santa Claus, the Republican Elephant, and the Democratic Donkey)
  • The famous recruiting image of the Uncle Sam during WWI that depicted a stern Uncle Sam pointing his finger and saying “I want you” was drawn by artist James Montgomery Flagg in 1917.  This was based on a famous series of British war recruitment posters featuring Lord Kitchener and is now the standard image used to depict Uncle Sam.
  • The Senate and the House of Representatives officially saluted Uncle Sam Wilson of Troy, New York, as the progenitor of America’s National symbol of Uncle Sam, including creating a national monument marking his birthplace in Arlington Massachusetts and his burial site in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, New York.
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The United States Once Planned On Nuking the Moon


moon-nukingToday I found out the United States once planned on shooting a nuclear bomb at the moon.

If you presumed that the reasoning behind such an act was “because we can”, you are absolutely correct.  That is exactly why the U.S. wanted to do it, in order to one-up the Soviet Union, who were perceived as leading the space race at the time.

The project was labeled “A Study of Lunar Research Flights” or “Project A119″ and was developed by the U.S. Air Force in the late 1950s.  It was felt that this would be a relatively easy thing to do and would also boost public perception of how the U.S. was doing in comparison to the Soviet Union in terms of the space race.

According to one of the leaders of the project, physicist Leonard Reiffel, hitting the moon with an intercontinental ballistic missile would have been relatively easy to accomplish, including hitting the target with an accuracy of about two miles.  This accuracy would have been particularly important as the Air Force wanted the resulting explosion to be clearly visible from Earth.  As such, it was proposed that the explosion happen on the border of the visible part of the moon, so that the resulting cloud would be clearly visible, being illuminated by the sun.

The project was eventually scrapped as it was felt that the public would not respond favorably to the U.S. dropping a nuclear bomb on the moon.

One can only imagine the conversation that would have had to take place to convince the Soviet Union of the U.S.’s peaceful intent with the launch of that missile:

  • United States: “Hey Soviet Union, don’t worry about that intercontinental missile we just fired that has a nuclear warhead attached.  I swear, it’s aimed at the moon.”
  • Soviet Union: “Why would you shoot a nuclear missile at the moon?”
  • United States: “…”
  • Soviet Union: “???”
  • United States: “You know… BOOM… but in space.”

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Bonus Facts:

  • A young Carl Sagan was one of the scientists hired by Reiffel for this project.  Specifically, Sagan was hired to study how exactly the cloud would expand on the moon, so that they could make sure it would be clearly visible from Earth, which was the whole point of the project.
  • Sagan felt that the project also had scientific merit in that the cloud itself could be closely examined for possible organic material.
  • Sagan breached national security just one year after he was hired (1959) when he revealed aspects of the project when applying for the Berkeley Miller Institute graduate fellowship.  Details of this were not brought to light until a biographer, Keay Davidson, uncovered this information when doing research for a biography on Carl Sagan after Sagan’s death in 1996.
  • The Miller Research Fellowship is a program provided by Berkeley to help some of the world’s most promising young scientists launch their careers.  Winners are given a three year appointment where they are mentored by Berkeley’s faculty and are allowed to use the university’s facilities for their research, among other benefits.
  • Around 400 people have been made Miller Fellows since 1960 and there have been over 1000 scientists who have been supported through the program.  Among this very prestigious group are six Fields Medalists and seven Nobel Prize winners.
  • Carl Sagan was one of the first “Miller Fellows” inducted.  His three year term began in 1960 when the Fellowship was created.
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The American Government Once Intentionally Poisoned Certain Alcohol Supplies, Resulting in the Death of Over 10,000 American Citizens

Detroit Police During Prohibition

Detroit Police During ProhibitionToday I found out that in an effort to scare people away from drinking alcohol, the American government once poisoned certain alcohol supplies; this resulted in the death of over 10,000 American Citizens.

This, of course, was during Prohibition.  The government became frustrated with the fact that despite the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol being banned, the number of people drinking alcoholic beverages was markedly higher than it was before Prohibition.  So to try to get people to stop drinking, the government decided to try a scare tactic.

One way bootleggers of this time made alcoholic beverages was to use denatured, industrial alcohol as the base.  Denaturing the alcohol is simply a process to make it undrinkable, usually by adding something that makes it taste or smell disgusting or will induce vomiting.  This was originally done (and is still done to this day) in order to allow companies to get around having to pay the high taxes associated with the manufacturing and sale of alcohol meant to be drunk.  Alcohol used industrially, for non-beverage applications, are denatured and thus, they don’t have to pay these taxes and so it is significantly cheaper, gallon for gallon.  Without this tax break, literally thousands of industrial products would become drastically more expensive than they currently are.

During prohibition, this denatured alcohol was often stolen from companies that made industrial alcohol used in various paints and solvents and the like.  The bootleggers would then have their own chemists whose job it was to make the alcohol palatable again, basically undoing the denaturing process or to “renature” the alcohol.

With an estimated 60 million gallons of industrial alcohol stolen annually in the 1920s to be later renatured and sold as drinkable alcohol, the government, under President Coolidge, decided to up the stakes and make some of the denaturing formulas lethal, instead of just designed to make the alcohol unpalatable.  To do this, they’d generally add things like methyl alcohol (the main denaturing chemical at 10% added, even today); other chemicals added are things such as kerosene, brucine, gasoline, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, chloroform, carbolic acid, acetone, and many others that were difficult for the bootlegger’s chemists to get out when they’d renature the alcohol.

After the first 100 or so people died shortly after the new denaturing process was released around Christmas, health officials were outraged and the news media picked up the story as intended.  Unfortunately, the government’s plan didn’t quite work from that point on.  It didn’t scare people away from drinking and rather had little to no effect on people’s consumption of alcohol; instead, the estimates are that it resulted in the deaths of over 10,000 people with a much larger number severely sickened and many blinded by the poisoning.

As New York City’s medical examiner Charles Norris stated: “The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol.  Yet it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.” (Chuck Norris fighting the man even back then) ;-)

People at the time, though, were split on the poisoning program, even with the deaths that were happening because of it.  One side felt that the people who were drinking the illegal alcohol got what they deserved, particularly because they knew the risks and broke the law anyways; the other side felt it was a national experiment on exterminating members of society that the government felt were undesirable as American citizens.  As one Chicago Tribune article in 1927 stated: “Normally, no American government would engage in such business. … It is only in the curious fanaticism of Prohibition that any means, however barbarous, are considered justified.”

Now, to be clear, the various governments of the world still require denaturing of alcohol that is not for oral consumption and the standard requirement of 10% methyl alcohol is still in effect in most countries.  This isn’t really a problem anymore because people have much better ways to get their alcohol than trying to deal with denatured alcohol.  The problem at the time was that the government knew full well that people would be drinking this poisoned alcohol and they hoped the deaths that resulted from this would scare other people away from drinking.  Further, when it was clear that it wasn’t scaring anyone away from drinking and literally thousands were dying per year with significantly more than that severely sickened, they kept the program going anyways, though it was hotly debated in Congress.

So next time you start thinking the U.S. government is impossibly screwed up today; headed down the tubes; and beyond fixing, well, if you study American history much at all, it’s pretty clear it used to be a lot more screwed up than it is today, not just concerning this issue, but many, many others.  And yet, we’re still here. :-)

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Bonus  Facts:

  • The term “The Real McCoy” originated in the prohibition era.  Captain William S. McCoy was a rum runner who coordinated most rum transported by ship during prohibition.  He was known for never watering down his imports; thus, his product was “The Real McCoy”.
  • This wasn’t the only time the U.S. Government decided to poison the supply of some illegal substance in order to try to scare people away from using it.  In the 1970s the government sprayed marijuana fields with Paraquat, which is an herbicide.  They thought this had the dual benefit of killing large portions of the crop and also scaring people away from buying marijuana in those areas because the surviving plants would essentially be laced with a mild toxin.  Public outcry at the time however, forced the government to stop doing this.
  • It was the 18th Amendment, passed in 1919, which banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States (note: it didn’t ban the consumption of alcohol).  The Volstead Act, officially the “National Prohibition Act”, then laid out the rules for this ban and was passed on October 28, 1919, despite President Wilson’s veto; prohibition itself began on January 1st, 1920.  Only 1,520 Federal Prohibition agents were hired to enforce this act, nationwide.
  • The Volstead Act was amended on March 22, 1933 by the Cullen-Harrison Act, which allowed the manufacturing and sale of certain kinds of alcoholic beverages.  The 18th Amendment itself was repealed in December of 1933.    When President Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, he made the now famous remark, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”  A mere one day after the Cullen-Harrison Act went into effect on April 7, 1933, Anheuser-Busch, Inc, sent a case of Budweiser to the White House as a gift to President Roosevelt.
  • As happens quite often when people are told they can’t do something, the banning of alcohol resulted in alcoholic beverages being consumed at an estimated three times the rate it was before the banning took effect.
  • Prohibition was widely supported by diverse groups across the nation when it first was made law, even among the heavy drinkers.  It was widely thought that a ban on alcohol would drastically improve society as a whole (many of society’s problems of the day were thought to be a result of rampant alcohol use; some were even actually valid points, though many were not).  Thus, sacrificing alcoholic drinks was a little thing compared to creating a better society.  Will Rogers often joked about the southern prohibitionists: “The South is dry and will vote dry. That is, everybody sober enough to stagger to the polls.”
  • One of the chief controversies of the day among medical professionals was that alcohol was prescribed by physicians for medicinal purposes.  As such, medical professionals across the nation lobbied for the repeal of prohibition as it applied to medicinal liquors, such as beer, which was often prescribed.
  • While the Volstead Act banned the manufacturing, sale, and transport of alcohol, it did allow home brewing of wine and cider from fruit.  An individual home was allowed to produce up to 200 gallons per year.
  • Grape growers of the day began selling “bricks of wine”, which were primarily blocks of “Rhine Wine”.  These often included the following instructions: “After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine.”
  • Also because the Volstead Act did not ban the consumption or storage of alcohol, before the act went into effect, many people stockpiled various alcoholic beverages.
  • Notorious gangster Al Capone, Bugs Moran, and many others made their riches primarily through illegal alcohol sales and distribution.  Capone controlled over 10,000 speakeasies in Chicago alone.  Speakeasies were basically places that discreetly served liquor.  They often also served food and had live bands to make themselves look like credible institutions.  Others were simply regular businesses that kept alcohol on hand to sell to patrons who knew of their side-business.
  • The term “speakeasy” comes from bartenders telling patrons to “speak easy” when ordering, so as not to be overheard.
  • The repeal of the Volstead Act not only took the primary funding away from numerous gangsters, but also created thousands of new jobs at a time when they were desperately needed in the United States.
  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATF) maintains a list of approved formulas by which to render the ethanol undrinkable, which can be found here.  These range from formulas to make it taste gross all the way to being very lethal.
  • Today in the United States about 50% of people report drinking more than 12 alcoholic beverages in the last year; about 14% say they drank 1-11 alcoholic beverages in the last year; with the remaining 36% abstaining from alcoholic beverages in the calendar year the survey was done. Source: Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2008, table 27
  • The total for all alcohol related deaths per year in the United States is around 85,000 deaths a year.  For comparison, the number of deaths associated with Tobacco annually is around 400,000-500,000;  poor diet and physical inactivity at around  365,000; prescription drug related deaths around 32,000; suicide around 30,600; homicide around 20,000; gun-related deaths around 29,000; aspirin related deaths around 7,000; all illicit drug use at around 17,000; and Marijuana deaths around 0. ;-)
  • The word “prohibition” comes from the Latin “prohibitionem”, meaning “hindering or forbidding”.  It was used to mean “forced alcohol abstinence” as early as 1851.
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Sullivan Ballou’s Letter

Sullivan Ballou

Sullivan BallouToday I found out about Sullivan Ballou’s letter to his wife written just a few days before the first major land battle of the American Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run, fought this day (July 21) in 1861 in Manassas, Virginia.

Ballou was a major in the U.S. Army and a member of the Rhode Island Volunteers.  Before joining the army, Ballou was a self made lawyer and budding politician.  He lost his parents at a very young age and was forced to fend for himself, eventually attending Brown University and the National Law School in Ballston, New York.   Shortly after he began practicing law, he was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives as a clerk and eventually became speaker.  Being a big supporter of Abraham Lincoln, when war began, he left his law practice and birthing political career and volunteered for military service.

This is his letter to his wife, Sara Hunt Shumway, later named Sara Ballou.  It was written days before the first major land battle of the American Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run (also called the First Battle of Manassas by the Confederacy):

July the 14th, 1861, Washington D.C.

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death—and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar—that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night—amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.


Sullivan Ballou was mortally wounded along with 93 of his men just 7 days later at the First Battle of Bull Run and died shortly thereafter at the age of 32 with his wife being 24.  The letter was found in his trunk and delivered to his wife by Governor William Sprague, who had traveled to Virginia to retrieve the remains of the fallen Rhode Island soldiers.

Bonus Facts:

  • In an attempt to better direct his men, Ballou placed himself at the front of his regiment, rather than the traditional back as most officers would have done.  This made him easy pickings for Confederate troops.  He was hit with a 6 pound shot which tore off his leg and killed his horse.  He was then carried off the field and died a week later.
  • Sara Ballou never re-married and died at the age of 80 years old in 1917.  They are buried next to each other in the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI.
  • Sullivan Ballou’s body ended up being hard to track down when the Governor came to retrieve it.  The place where he was initially buried by U.S. soldiers had been desecrated by Confederate soldiers.  When they dug the grave, they found no body.  A young black girl recounted to them a tale of what happened to it, which was later verified.  Soldiers from the 21st Georgia Regiment had dug up the grave of Kernel Slocum and Major Sullivan Ballou.  They had decapitated Ballou and mutilated his corpse and then burned it.  They then used the bones as trophies.  His body was never found, but evidence at the scene where she said the body was burned supported the girl’s story.  Although, she thought it was Slokum, not Ballou that had been mutilated; it was later found it had been Ballou.  The ashes from the fire were taken and eventually buried in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI.
  • Union casualties in the battle were estimated at 460 killed; 1,124 wounded; and 1,312 missing or captured.  Confederate casualties were 387 killed; 1582 wounded; and 13 missing or captured.  These were staggering mortality numbers compared to most battles of the day, but would soon be eclipsed by coming battles in the Civil War, such as the battle at “The Wilderness” from May 5-7 which resulted in nearly 18,000 Federal deaths and a similar amount of Confederate deaths estimated.   For comparison, on D-Day during WWII “only” 1,465 Americans were killed and about 2,500 allied troops.
  • The total number of American deaths during the Civil War were about 292,000 in battle, which was about 2% of the population, and about 625,000 total killed as a result of the war (including those dead of disease and the like, which was a major problem in soldier’s camps).   That is a total of about 4.3% of the U.S population.  By today’s population numbers that would be about 13.32 million Americans.
  • Union casualties at the Second Battle of Bull Run were about 10,000 killed out of 62,000 that took part in the battle.  The Confederate casualties were about 1,300 killed out of 50,000 engaged.  As you can tell from those numbers, the Union suffered from a string of incredibly incompetent Generals while the South was lead by one of the greatest Generals in the history of the world, Robert E. Lee.
  • General Lee was offered the position of the head of the Union army by Abraham Lincoln, but decided to lead the Confederate army instead as he couldn’t bring himself to lead troops against his native Virginia.  Despite the Confederates being vastly outnumbered and not as well equipped as the North, Lee and his right hand man, Stonewall Jackson, managed to post victory after victory against the North, primarily due to Lee’s brilliance, Jackson’s audacity, and the North’s moronic Generals.
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No One Knows Why Maine is Called Maine

Maine Forest

Maine ForestToday I found out no one really knows why Maine is called Maine.

One of the most popular theories is that it is derived from the nautical term “the main” or “Main Land”.  Maine has an incredible number of islands off it’s coast, so perhaps sailors referred to it as “Maine”, as in “Main Land”, to distinguish it from the surrounding islands.

In 2001, the state legislature, not apparently too concerned as to if it was fact or not, adopted the resolution that stated that the state was named after the ancient French province of Maine, which was of Gaulish origin.  Maine was discovered by the French; however, the first known record of it being called Maine wasn’t until Aug. 10, 1622 when it was chartered to English Royal Navy veterans, Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Captain John Mason who “intend to name The Province of Maine”.

Mason himself served in the Royal Navy in the Orkney Islands where the main island was called “Mainland”.  Gorges also may have had something to do with this as his family came from a village which neighbored “Broadmayne” and was at times known as Maine.  There is also a small village in England that was once named Maine, though the connection to the state Maine is not known, if that is the origin.  In whatever case, the name was finally officially set by King Charles of England in 1665 when he ordered that the “province of Maine” be forever known as such.

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Bonus Facts:

  • Maine is the only state in the United States whose name has only one syllable.
  • Eastport Maine is the most eastern city in the United States.
  • About 40 million pounds of the United States’ lobster supply (about 90 percent) is caught off the coast of Maine annually.
  • Maine also produces about 25% of all the blueberries in the United States, making it the largest producer of blueberries in the world.
  • It’s other great export is toothpicks; Maine produces 90% of the United States’ toothpick supply.
  • The first English settlement in Maine was established by the Plymouth Company at Popham in 1607; this was the same year Jamestown was settled.  The Popham colony however, was not able to survive Maine’s harsh winters, which is why Jamestown is considered to be the nations first permanent English speaking settlement.
  • Maine native Joshua L. Chamberlain was the last Civil War soldier to die of wounds incurred in the Civil War.  He also has the distinction of being the only soldier to be battlefield promoted to General.
  • Maine has a total area of about 33,215 square miles making it slightly larger than the other five New England states combined.
  • 90% of the land in Maine is forested (about 17 million acres), much of which is uninhabited.
  • Maine is the only state to border just one other state, that being New Hampshire.
  • Maine became the 23rd state on March 15, 1820 through the Missouri Compromise, which allowed Maine and Missouri into the union about the same time (separated by under a year), thus keeping a balance between slave and free states.
  • The original capital of Maine was Portland, but it was later changed to Augusta in 1832 to make the capital more central within the state.
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