Monday, January 21, 2008

Mardi Gras
New Orleans

Let The Good Time Roll

Fat Tuesday will be Feb. 5.

Big Easy will rock again. If you want to have a good time, join the party.

How did Mardi Gras get started? Pull up a chair and I will tell you. Mardi Gras is also celebrated in Pensacola, Florida, my transplanted hometown, and it's celebrated in Mobile, Alabama, 50 miles west of Pensacola. But the city of New Orleans, does it best.

The history of a Mardi Gras celebration existed many years before Europeans came to the New World. Some time in the Second Century, during mid-February (usually February 15 according to the Julian calendar), Ancient Romans would observe what they called the Lupercalia, a circus-type festival which was, in many respects, quite similar to the present day Mardi Gras. This festival honored the Roman deity, Lupercus, a pastoral God associated with Faunus or the Satyr. Although Lupercus is derived from the Latin Lupus (meaning "wolf"), the original meaning of the word as it applies to Roman religion has become obscured over the passage of time.

When Christianity arrived in Rome, the dignitaries of the early Church decided it would be more prudent to incorporate certain aspects of such rituals into the new faith rather than attempt to abolish them altogether. This granted a Christian interpretation to the ancient custom and the Carnival became a time of abandon and merriment which peceded the Lenten period (a symbolic Christian pentinence of 40 days commencing on Ash Wednesday and ending at Easter). During this time, there would be feasting which lasted several days and participants would indulge in voluntary madness by donning masks, clothing themselves in the likeness of spectres and generally giving themselves up to Bacchus and Venus. All aspects of pleasure were considered to be allowable during the Carnival celebration and today's modern festivites are thought by some to be more reminiscent of the Roman Saturnalia rather than Lupercalia, or be linked to even earlier Pagan festivals.

From Rome, the celebration spread to other European countries. In medieval times, a similar-type festivity to that of the present day Mardi Gras was given by monarchs and lords prior to Lent in order to ceremoniously conscript new knights into service and hold feasts in their honor. The landed gentry would also ride through the countryside rewarding peasants with cakes (thought by some to be the origin of the King Cake), coins (perhaps the origin of present day gifts of Mardi Gras doubloons) and other trinkets. In Germany, there still remains a Carnival similar to that of the one held in New Orleans. Known as Fasching, the celebrations begin on Twelfth Night and continue until Shrove Tuesday. To a lesser degree, this festivity is still celebrated in France and Spain. A Carnival season was also celebrated in England until the Nineteenth Century, originating as a type of "renewal" festival that incorporated fertility motifs and ball games which frequently turned into riots between opposing villages, followed by feasts of pancakes and the imbibing of alcohol. The preparing and consumption of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (also known as "Pancake Day" or "Pancake Tuesday" and occurring annually between February 2 and March 9, depending upon the date of Easter) is a still a tradition in the United Kingdom, where pancake tossing and pancake races (during which a pancake must be tossed a certain number of times) are still popular. One of the most famous of such competitions, which takes place in Olney, Buckinghamshire, is said to date from 1445. It is a race for women only and for those who have lived in the Parish for at least three months. An apron and head-covering are requisite. The course is 415 yards and the pancake must be tossed at least three times during the race. The winner receives a kiss from the Ringer of the Pancake Bell and a prayer book from the local vicar. "Shrove" is derived from the Old English word "shrive," which means to "confess all sins."

It is generally accepted that Mardi Gras came to America in 1699 with the French explorer, Sieur d'Iberville. The festival had been celebrated as a major holiday in Paris since the Middle Ages. Iberville sailed into the Gulf of Mexico and, from there, launched an expedition along the Mississippi River. By March 3, 1699, Iberville had set up a camp on the West Bank of the River...about 60 miles South of the present day City of New Orleans in the State of Louisiana. Since that day was the very one on which Mardi Gras was being celebrated in France, Iberville named the site Point du Mardi Gras in honor of the festival. According to some sources, however, the Mardi Gras of New Orleans began in 1827 when a group of students who had recently returned from school in Paris donned strange costumes and danced their way through the streets. The students had first experienced this revelry while taking part in celebrations they had witnessed in Paris. In this version, it is said that the inhabitants of New Orleans were swiftly captured by the enthusiasm of the youths and quickly followed suit. Other sources maintain that the Mardi Gras celebration originated with the arrival of early French settlers to the State of Louisiana. Nevertheless, it is known that from 1827 to 1833, the New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebrations became more elaborate, culminating in an annual Mardi Gras Ball. Although the exact date of the first revelries cannot be determined, the Carnival was well-established by the middle of the Nineteenth Century when the Mystick Krewe of Comus presented its 1857 Torchlight Parade with a theme taken from "Paradise Lost" written by John Milton.

In French, "Mardi Gras" literally means "Fat Tuesday," so named because it falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, the last day prior to Lent...a 40-day season of prayer and fasting observed by the Roman Catholic Church (and many other Christian denominations) which ends on Easter Sunday. The origin of "Fat Tuesday" is believed to have come from the ancient Pagan custom of parading a fat ox through the town streets. Such Pagan holidays were filled with excessive eating, drinking and general bawdiness prior to a period of fasting. Since the modern day Carvinal Season is sandwiched between Christmas and Lent, with Christmas Day being December 25 on the Gregorian Calendar as set by the Roman Catholic Church, this means that other Holy Days are "floating" in nature. Easter always falls on a Sunday, but it can be any Sunday from March 23 through April 25, its actual date being the Sunday which follows the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox. Mardi Gras is always 47 days prior to this alloted Sunday (the 40 days of Lent plus seven Sundays). The beginning of the Carnival Season itself, however, is also fixed...being January 6, which is the Feast of the Ephiphany, otherwise known as Little Christmas or Twelfth Night. Since the date of Mardi Gras thus varies, the length of the Carnival Season also varies accordingly from year-to-year. The origin of the word "Carvinal" is from the Latin for "farewell to the flesh," a time when one is expected to forego earthly pleasures prior to the restrictions of the Lenten Season, and is thought to be derived from the feasts of the Middle Ages known as carnis levamen or "solace of the flesh."

In 1833, Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville, a wealthy plantation owner, solicited a large amount of money in order to help finance an organized Mardi Gras celebration. It was not until 1837, however, that the first Mardi Gras Parade was staged. Two years later, a description of the 1839 Parade noted that it consisted of a single float. Nonetheless, it was considered to be a great success and apparently, the crowd roared hilariously as this somewhat crude float moved through the streets of the city. Since that time, Mardi Gras in New Orleans has been an overwhelming success, continuing to grow with additional organizations participating each year.

The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple (symbolic of justice), green (symbolic of faith) and gold (symbolic of power). The accepted story behind the original selection of these colors originates from 1872 when the Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff of Russia visited New Orleans. It is said that the Grand Duke came to the city in pursuit of an actress named Lydia Thompson. During his stay, he was given the honor of selecting the official Mardi Gras colors by the Krewe of Rex...thus, did these colors also become the colors of the House of Romanoff. The 1892 Rex Parade theme ("Symbolism of Colors") first gave meaning to the representation of the official Mardi Gras colors. Interestingly, the colors of Mardi Gras influenced the choice of school colors for the Lousiana arch-rival colleges, Louisiana State University and Tulane University. Whe LSU was deciding on its colors, the stores in New Orleans had stocked-up on fabrics of purple, green and gold for the upcoming Mardi Gras Season. LSU, opting for purple and gold, bought a large quantity of the available cloth. Tulane purchased much of the only remaining (Tulane's colors are green and white).

Today, Louisiana's Mardi Gras is celebrated not only in New Orleans, but also in numerous smaller cities and towns around the State and in the neighboring Gulf Coast Region. Similar celebrations are also held in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro...arguably the world's most elaborate Carnival location with its Samba Dromo parades, which annually attract a huge number of tourists from all corners of the globe. Regardless of where the festivals take place, however, all share a common party atmosphere inherently associated with the celebrations.

Friday, January 18, 2008

James L. Day
After Corporal Day earned the Medal of Honor, it required over a half century before this United States Marine Corps hero received the award.
Major General James Lewis Day (5 October 1925 - 28 October 1998) was a United States Marine, who as a Corporal, during World War II in the Battle of Okinawa, displayed "extraordinary heroism, repeated acts of valor, and quintessential battlefield leadership, ...inspired the efforts of his outnumbered Marines to defeat a much larger enemy force", for which he was ultimately awarded the Medal of Honor. Day continued his distinguished service with the Marine Corps as an officer, reaching the rank of Major General.

James Day was born 5 October 1925, in East St. Louis, Illinois. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1943.
Day participated in combat action during World War II in the Marshall Islands, on Guam and on Okinawa, where for his heroic actions during the fight for Sugar Loaf Hill he was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
Day holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science and a Masters of Business Administration degree.

In September 1952, he completed The Basic School at Quantico, Virginia, and was transferred to Korea where he served with Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines and the 1st Reconnaissance Company.

First Lieutenant Day served as the S-3 officer, Marine Corps Supply Center, Barstow, California, until July 1954, when he was transferred to Camp Pendleton, California, for duty as Commanding Officer, Company C, Marine Corps Test Unit One. He was promoted to captain in December 1954. Capt Day remained at Camp Pendleton until May 1956, and was then assigned as Operations Officer of the Recruit Training Command, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

In September 1957, he was transferred to Okinawa and served as Commanding Officer, 4.2 Mortar Company, and later served as a battalion operations officer with the 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. Returning stateside in December 1958, he was assigned as Instructor, Tactics Group, The Basic School, Quantico. He was promoted to major in August 1962 and attended the Amphibious Warfare School, also at Quantico.

Major Day was transferred to the 4th Marine Corps District in July 1963 and served as Inspector-Instructor, 43rd Rifle Company, Cumberland, Maryland. In April 1966, Maj Day served his first tour in Vietnam as Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. Returning to Camp Pendleton in June 1967, he was assigned as the Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in July 1967 and in January 1968, he was reassigned as Battalion Commander, 2nd Infantry Training Regiment, Camp Pendleton.

Lieutenant Colonel Day served at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from July 1969 to June 1971 and attended the Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, from July 1971 to June 1972. After graduation, he served his second tour in Vietnam as Operations Officer, 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade, III Marine Amphibious Force. He was reassigned as Commanding Officer, Camp Fuji, Japan, in March 1973.

He was promoted to colonel in November 1973 and was transferred to Philadelphia for duty as Deputy Director, and later, Director, 4th Marine Corps District. He remained in that billet until 1 April 1976, when he was advanced to brigadier general. He assumed duties as Assistant Depot Commander, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, in May 1976, and on 1 November 1977, he became Commanding General of the Depot, serving in that capacity until 11 March 1978.

On 29 April 1978, he was assigned duty as Deputy Director for Operations, J-3, NMCC, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, D.C. During July 1979, BGen Day was assigned duty as the Assistant Division Commander, 1st Marine Division/Commanding General, 7th Marine Amphibious Brigade, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, Camp Pendleton. He was promoted to major general on 1 August 1980, and assumed duty as the Commanding General, 1st Marine Division, and was ultimately assigned the additional duty as Commanding General, I Marine Amphibious Force, on 1 July 1981. He served in that capacity until August 1982 when he was assigned duty as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C. In July 1984, he was assigned duty as the Commanding General, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler/Deputy Commander, Marine Corps Bases, Pacific (Forward)/Okinawa Area Coordinator, Okinawa, Japan. He served in this capacity until his retirement on 1 December 1986. Upon his retirement, he was presented the Distinguished Service Medal for exceptionally meritorious service to the Government of the United States for duties while serving in his final duty station.

Major General Day was presented the Medal of Honor on 20 January 1998, over a half a century after the World War II battle on Okinawa in which he distinguished himself.

He died of a heart attack later that year on 28 October 1998 in Cathedral City, California. He was laid to rest in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.

Major General Day's personal decorations included the Medal of Honor, the Silver Star Medal with two gold stars in lieu of second and third awards; the Defense Superior Service Medal; Legion of Merit with combat "V;" the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V;" the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat "V" and gold star in lieu of a second award; and six Purple Hearts.

Medal of Honor citation
While a Corporal in World War II, James L. Day's heroism at Okinawa in 1945, while serving with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 6th Marine Division was honored with the nation's highest award, the Medal of Honor. The citation reads:
The President of the United States in the name of the Congress takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to

for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a squad leader serving with the Second Battalion, Twenty-Second Marines, Sixth Marine Division, in sustained combat operations against Japanese forces on Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands from 14 to 17 May 1945. On the first day, Corporal Day rallied his squad and the remnants of another unit and led them to a critical position forward of the front lines of Sugar Loaf Hill. Soon thereafter, they came under an intense mortar and artillery barrage that was quickly followed by a fanatical ground attack of about forty Japanese soldiers. Despite the loss of one-half of his men, Corporal Day remained at the forefront, shouting encouragement, hurling hand grenades, and directing deadly fire thereby repelling the determined enemy. Reinforced by six men, he led his squad in repelling three fierce night attacks but suffered five additional Marines killed and one wounded whom he assisted to safety. Upon hearing nearby calls for corpsman assistance, Corporal Day braved heavy enemy fire to escort four seriously wounded Marines, one at a time, to safety. Corporal Day then manned a light machine gun assisted by a wounded Marine, and halted another frenzied night attack. In this ferocious action, his machine gun was destroyed, and he suffered multiple white phosphorus and fragmentation wounds. Assisted by only one partially effective man, he reorganized his defensive position in time to halt a fifth enemy attack with devastating small arms fire. On three separate occasions, Japanese soldiers closed to within a few feet of his foxhole, but were killed by Corporal Day. During the second day, the enemy conducted numerous unsuccessful swarming attacks against his exposed position. When the attacks momentarily subsided, over 70 enemy dead were counted around his position. On the third day, a wounded and exhausted Corporal Day repulsed the enemy's final attack and dispatched around 12 of the enemy at close range. Having yielded no ground and with more than 100 enemy dead around his position, Corporal Day preserved the lives of his fellow Marines and made a primal contribution to the success of the Okinawa campaign. By his extraordinary heroism, repeated acts of valor, and quintessential battlefield leadership, Corporal Day inspired the efforts of his outnumbered Marines to defeat a much larger enemy force, reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Medal of Honor
On December 9, 1861 Iowa Senator James W. Grimes introduced S. No. 82 in the United States Senate, a bill designed to "promote the efficiency of the Navy" by authorizing the production and distribution of "medals of honor". On December 21st the bill was passed, authorizing 200 such medals be produced "which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen and marines as shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war (Civil War)." President Lincoln signed the bill and the (Navy) Medal of Honor was born.

Two months later on February 17, 1862 Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson introduced a similar bill, this one to authorize "the President to distribute medals to privates in the Army of the United States who shall distinguish themselves in battle." Over the following months wording changed slightly as the bill made its way through Congress. When President Abraham Lincoln signed S.J.R. No. 82 on July 12, 1862, the Army Medal of Honor was born. It read in part:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause two thousand "medals of honor" to be prepared with suitable emblematic devices, and to direct that the same be presented, in the name of the Congress, to such non--commissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities, during the present insurrection (Civil War)."

With this simple and rather obscure act Congress created a unique award that would achieve prominence in American history like few others.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Natchez Trace
Noah's note: I was born and raised within miles of where Meriwether Lewis died.

The Natchez Trace, a 440-mile-long path extending from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, linked the Cumberland, the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. It was used extensively by Native Americans and early European explorers as both a trade and transit route in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Today, the trail has been commemorated with the 444-mile-long Natchez Trace Parkway which follows the approximate path of the trace. The trail itself has a long and rich history, filled with brave explorers, dastardly outlaws and daring settlers. Parts of the original trail are still accessible.

Origins of the Natchez Trace
Many early footpaths were created by the wanderings of bison, deer and other game. In the case of the Trace, bison travelled north to find salt licks in the Nashville area. After Native Americans first began to settle the land, they began to blaze the trail further, until it became a relatively (for the time) well-worn path traversable by horse in single-file.

The first recorded European Explorer to travel the Trace in its entirety was an unnamed Frenchman in 1742, who wrote of the trail and its "miserable conditions", though it may have been traveled in part before, particularly by famed Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. For early European explorers the assistance of Native Americans -- specifically, the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw— proved vital. These tribes had used the Trace for trade among themselves.

Development and Disappearance of the Trace
d Disappearance It was not until 1801, when the United States Armed Forces began blazing the trail for use as a postal route, that major work was performed on the Trace to prepare it as a thoroughfare for travelers. Treaties were signed with the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes, and work began. First it was done by soldiers reassigned from West Tennessee, and then later by civilian contract. By 1809, the trail was fully navigable by wagon. Critical to the success of the Trace as a trade route were the development of inns and trading posts, referred to at the time as "stands." For the most part, the stands developed southbound from the head of the trail in Nashville.

Many of the first settlements in Mississippi and Tennessee developed along the Natchez Trace. Some of the most prominent of these were Washington, the old capital of Mississippi; "old Greenville", where Andrew Jackson plied his occupation as a slave trader; and Port Gibson, among others.

By 1816, the continued development of both Memphis and Jackson's Military Road, a direct line to New Orleans, Louisiana from Nashville, began shifting trade both east and west. The Trace entered a steady decline. As as author William C. Davis writes in his book A Way Through the Wilderness, it was "a victim of its own success." It had highlighted the benefits of trade with the mouth of the Mississippi. Because of the improved ease of water-bound trade, particularly with the dawn of steamboat culture, the Trace became obsolete. In 1830, the Trace was officially abandoned as an official road. It began to disappear back into the wilderness.

Bushwhackers, Bibles, and Boats
Despite its brief lifespan, the Trace served an essential function in the years it was in existence. It was the only reliable and most expedient link between the goods of the North and the trading ports of Louisiana. This brought all sorts of people down the Trace: itinerant preachers, highwaymen and traders were just a few.

The circuit preachers were some of the most notable of the lot. Unlike its physical development, the "spiritual development" of the Trace started from the Natchez end and moved up. Several Methodist preachers began working a circuit along the Trace as early as 1800. By 1812 they claimed a membership of 1,067 Caucasians and 267 African-Americans.

The Methodists were soon joined in Natchez by other Protestant religions, including the Baptists and Presbyterians. The Presbyterians and their offshoot, the Cumberland Presbyterians, were more active than the Methodists or Baptists in procuring converts along the Trace itself. Converts were made among Native Americans, too. The Presbyterians started working from the south; the Cumberland Presbyterians worked from the north, as they had migrated into Tennessee from Kentucky.

As with much of the unsettled West, banditry freely occurred along the Trace. Much of it centered around Natchez Under-The-Hill, as compared with the tame sister of Natchez atop the river bluff (the current Natchez). Under-the-Hill, where Mississippi River steamboats docked, was a hotbed for gamblers, prostitutes and drunkenness. The rowdiest of them all were the Kaintucks, the wild frontiersmen from upriver who came in on the steamboats and flatboats loaded with goods. They left the goods in Natchez in exchange for pockets full of cash, and summarily treated Natchez Under-the-Hill as what could be generously called an early 1800s Las Vegas, Nevada or Amsterdam.

Still worse dangers lurked in the wilderness outside the city boundaries on the Trace itself. Highwaymen such as John Murrell and Samuel Mason terrorized travelers along the road. They operated large gangs of organized brigands in one of the first examples of land-based American organized crime.

The Mystery of Meriwether Lewis
Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition fame, met his mysterious end while traveling on the Trace. Lewis had stopped at Grinder's Stand near current-day Hohenwald, Tennessee for rest. Extremely depressed by the state of his financial affairs (he was deeply in debt), he became drunk as he had many times during the trip. He asked the owner of the stand for gunpowder. Intimidated by his behavior, she gave it to him. A few hours later, two shots rang out in the night -- Lewis had apparently shot himself twice (highly improbable, given the difficulty of [re]loading muzzle-loading firearms, especially after being wounded), once in the head and once in the chest. He lived until the next morning.

His death went unquestioned as a suicide for many years. As time passed, more details and questions emerged -- had he also been stabbed? Had one of his rivals, particularly Robert Grinder, owner of the stand, killed and robbed him? Or was it a more politically motivated killing, an assassination against the governor of the Louisiana Territory?

In 1996 James E. Starr, a professor at George Washington University, attempted to procure permission to exhume Lewis' remains for study, to put the mystery to rest. Although his efforts were supported by several researchers and 160 descendants of Lewis, the National Park Service (NPS), which oversees the grave site in Hohenwald, denied permission. A court later ruled that the exhumation was justified, but the NPS has successfully resisted pressure to exhume Lewis.

Today, Grinder's Stand and the city of Hohenwald lie in Lewis County, Tennessee.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

William Henry Rupertus
Major General, US Marine Corps
William Henry Rupertus was born November 14, 1889, in Washington, D.C. Rupertus began his military career immediately after high school, originally intending to serve as a cutter captain in the United States Revenue Cutter Service (the earlier version of the modern Coast Guard). However, his excellent marksmanship led to his being recruited by the Marine Corps, and he accepted a commission in November of 1913. Rupertus served on the Marine Corps rifle team, earning the Distinguished Marksman badge and winning a number of shooting matches.

Rupertus was serving aboard the USS Florida (BB-30) when the United States entered World War I. He was called back to the U.S. to command a detachment of Marines headed for Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Rupertus served in Haiti until after the war, when he was sent to staff officer training and then made Inspector of Target Practice in the Operations and Training Division at Marine Corps Headquarters.

In July 1937, Rupertus was a battalion commander in the 4th Marines when the Japanese attacked Shanghai in the Second Sino-Japanese War.

During World War II, he served as Assistant Division Commander of the 1st Marine Division under Major General Alexander Vandegrift. It was around this time that Rupertus is said to have penned The Rifleman's Creed, with the intent of encouraging expert marksmanship and Marines' trust in their weapons.

Rupertus commanded the Landing Task Force Organization which captured the islands of Tulagi, Gavutu and Tanambogo in the Guadalcanal campaign. After Vandegrift left the division in 1943, Rupertus took command. He led the 1st Marine Division during the Battle of Cape Gloucester and the Battle of Peleliu.

In November 1944, Major General Rupertus became Commandant of the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia. The tenure was short, however, as he died of a heart attack just four months later. In 1945, the destroyer USS Rupertus (DD-851) was named in his honor.

The Rifleman's Creed by Major General W. H. Rupertus, USMC
THIS IS MY RIFLE. There are many like it but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I master my life. My rifle, without me is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than any enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will.... My rifle and myself know that what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit... My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weakness, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will... Before God I swear this creed. My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life. So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy, but Peace

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A New Constellation
The STARS AND STRIPES sustained our young nation through its five-year battle for independence. From 1781 to the ratification of our Constitution in 1788, this same flag was the one symbol of unity that bound together political leaders of persuasions so different that their philosophies threatened to be more dangerous to the survival of the Republic than the British armies. The flag embodied both prevailing thoughts on the design of the new country. The distinct representation of individual States by their own star in the field of blue attested to the the individuality of each. The Federalists approach was represented in the fact that these 13 individual states had representation in a single flag, uniting them all.

By tradition, the arrangement of the stars in the blue union is based upon the order of admission of each state. The star for each of the first 13 states is assigned on the chronological order in which they ratified the United States Constitution.

A New Star in the Constellation
Tucked into the area of the New England states was a small, independent republic called Vermont. The territorial rights of the republic were somewhat in dispute. In 1749 New Hampshire governor Benning Wentworth had granted an area for establishment of the town of Bennington. The surrounding area became known in 1763 as VERD-MONT, a word meaning "green mountain". The name was unofficial however. Colonial leaders were still in disagreement over Governor Wentworth's right of grant, with New York claiming ownership to much of the area. A year later by royal order, the area west of the Connecticut River and from the north boundary of Massachusetts was annexed to New York.

Most of the colonies refused to become involved in the ownership issues contested by New York and New Hampshire. Seven months later, on January 15, 1777 the people of the disputed territory declared themselves to be the free, independent republic of New Connecticut. The effort was quickly denounced by New York and subsequently rejected by Congress. Lacking acceptance by the Continental Congress, six months later the stubborn citizens of New Connecticut established their own constitution providing for a governor and a general assembly, and re-named their republic "Vermont". The constitution of Vermont included a ban on slavery, the first such action in the American colonial region.
Vermont's Green Mountain Boys established a reputation as fierce defenders of independence during the Revolutionary War. You have seen the Bennington flag that was reportedly flown during the Battle of Bennington, Vermont. But the republic of Vermont was not represented by a star on that flag or the opportunity to ratify the United States Constitution years later. Though many of Vermont's 80,000 residents desired union with the 13 United States they had courageously defended during the Revolution, their defiance of New York's claims to ownership left them ostracized. By 1783 the dispute had reached such magnitude that George Washington reported to Congress that Vermont might have to be subdued by armed invasion. The stalemate was finally broken by Vermont's payment of $30,000 dollars to New York for the lands in question, and on March 4, 1791 Vermont became our 14th state.
A year before the American Revolution, a rugged frontiersman named Daniel Boone blazed a trail called the Wilderness Road into western regions claimed by Virginia and ultimately named Kentucky. During the Revolutionary War the British successfully pitted the native Indians against the increasing population of white settlers in Kentucky. Boone himself was named a captain of militia and fought both the British and Indians during the war. War with Kentucky's Indian population continued on after the British departed, however.

In 1781 and again in 1787, Daniel Boone represented the "county of Kentucky" in the Virginia Legislature. Following the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782, Indian resistance was broken. With a new sense of safety, thousands of white settlers, including large numbers of Revolutionary War veterans, flooded the area. By 1790 the population of Kentucky reached 74,000.

Many of the settlers who made their home in Kentucky, saw in the new region the potential for a whole new nation. Others, with their strong allegiance to Virginia, urged maintaining the county as a holding of that state. Debate on Kentucky's status began in earnest in 1786 and continued for eight years. Finally, on June 5, 1792 the issue was resolved when the Commonwealth of Kentucky became the 15th United State of America.

The Star Spangled Banner
In January of 1794 the United States Congress adopted a resolution to alter the flag to represent the Nation's two new states. At first glance the flag that would become our official standard for a quarter-century differed little from the first Navy Stars and Stripes. It is only on closer examination that one realizes that not only was the number of stars increased, but the number of red and white stripes was increased as well. Indeed, from 1794 until 1818, the flag of the United States consisted of FIFTEEN stripes (8 red and 7 white), with fifteen white stars in the union of blue.
It was just such a flag that was the first United States flag to fly over a fortress of the "Old World" when, on April 27, 1805, US Marines raised it above the pirate stronghold in Tripoli. It was this flag that was the ensign of the American forces in the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, and General Andrew Jackson flew this flag in 1815 at the infamous "Battle of New Orleans". Here (at left) it is seen flying from the mast of "Old Ironsides" during the War of 1812.

Baltimore's Mary Pickersgill, who had made flags of the 13-star variety during the Revolutionary War, completed one such flag and delivered it to Fort McHenry on August 19, 1813. The flag itself measured 42 feet long and was 30 feet high, each stripe a full 24" in width. The fifteen stars each measured two feet from point to point. Years later Mary's daughter wrote that the flag "contained four hundred yards of bunting, and my mother worked many nights until twelve o'clock to complete it in a given time." For her services Mrs. Pickersgill was paid $405.90.
Thirteen months later, as Washington, D.C. lay in ruin from invading British Soldiers, Mrs. Pickergill's huge flag was flying over Fort McHenry as the enemy moved their attack towards Baltimore. At sea and a prisoner aboard an enemy ship, a young attorney watched throughout the night as the brave defenders at Fort McHenry repulsed the British Navy. As dawn broke he strained his eyes against the horizon to see if his countrymen had survived. The bright 24 inch stars and 42 foot long stripes were hard to miss. As his heart swelled with relief at the sight, the young attorney wrote a poem on the back of a crumpled envelope. Francis Scott Key's poem was titled "The Star Spangled Banner". As a result the flag of 15 stars and 15 stripes gained a new name. Mary Pickergill's original STAR SPANGLED BANNER has undergone extensive repair and restoration since 1814, and can be seen at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.