Saturday, January 29, 2011

Great Britain's Nazi King?

My wife and I recently saw the new film "The King's Speech," which is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. The acting was superb and the historical accuracy was fairly good (a few issues but nothing major) in my opinion. I have always enjoyed studying British history and took several courses on that topic in college. As such, the movie refreshed my interest in the nation's World War II-era history. It also increased my already immense respect for King George VI, his wife Queen Elizabeth, and the leadership they provided during the war.

At the same time, I was both alarmed and intrigued by how the King's brother, the former King Edward VIII (later known as the Duke of Windsor) was depicted in the film. Not that I thought the depiction was wrong - I thought the actor who portrayed him did a fine job. I was just shocked to see how the Duke conducted himself during his tenure as king. While I have ready plenty about the Duke of Windsor, seeing a visual representation of him on film allowed me to see him in a whole new light - and it was not a good one. While it was not covered in the film, the aspect of the Duke's life that intrigues me most was his supposed relationship with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany. In the late 1930s, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were considered to be pro-Nazi in British political circles and were the cause of great concern for Winston Churchill. Supposedly, the Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson) kept in regular touch with Nazi authorities during the early stages of World War II when she and the Duke were living in France. It is no wonder that he was later appointed Governor of the Bahamas in order to get him and the Duchess as far away as possible from Europe.

Anyway, I did a major research paper on the Duke of Windsor and his supposed pro-Nazi sympathies about ten years ago when I was an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary. After reading some of the major biographies on him and consulting other secondary sources (I did not get into studying primary sources extensively until graduate school), my conclusion was that while he may have displayed incredibly bad judgment during this period - especially during his 1937 trip to Germany with his wife - and while he may have been charmed by all of the lavish attention provided to him by the Nazis, he was in actuality not a full-blown Nazi himself.

However, after reading some more about him and hearing about the contents of recently declassified FBI documents on the Duke and Duchess, I am no longer so sure. He appeared to be very impressed with Adolf Hitler as well as the Nazi Party, and consistently urged reconciliation with that regime during the war. It also appears that the British Government had to suppress the release of interviews he gave during the war (at least on one occasion), because he sounded so defeatist (concerning the British war effort) and complimentary of Nazi Germany. There is also proof that his wife was a keen admirer of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany as a whole.

I look forward to reading more about the Duke of Windsor in the months ahead and want to learn more about his alleged Pro-Nazi sympathies. However, there seem to be a lot more questions than answers when it comes to this topic. In the end, at least it is clear that his December 1936 abdication (while very difficult for the British people at the time) was a blessing in disguise for that nation, as it brought onto the throne the type of authentic, inspirational leaders they needed for the coming war - King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

The Life and Times of George McClellan Jr.

Continuing on the theme of profiling descendants of prominent Civil War commanders, I wanted to highlight the son and namesake of Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan - George B. McClellan Jr. Through the Arlington Cemetery website, I came across this interesting biographical sketch:

"McClellan, George Brinton (November 23, 1865 - November 30, 1940), politician and university professor, was the older of two children and the only son of General George Brinton McClellan and Mary Ellen (Marcy) McClellan. Born in Dresden, Saxony, while his parents were visiting Europe, he belonged to a family whose Scottish forebears had emigrated to New England in the eighteenth century. His grandfather, Dr. George McClellan, was a prominent Philadelphia anatomist and surgeon; his father was the most controversial, if not most effective, Union general in the Civil War. His maternal grandfather, Randolph B. Marcy, was a regular army officer who served as General McClellan's chief of staff from 1861 to 1863.

McClellan's boyhood was spent in New York City, Baltimore, Trenton, New Jersey), and Europe. His early education was entrusted in large part to governesses and tutors, but in 1877 he was sent to St. John's, a boarding school at Sing Sing (later Ossining), New York. In 1882 he entered the College of New Jersey (Princeton). Following his graduation, in 1886, he traveled abroad for two years. Returning to the United States, he became a newspaper reporter, working successively for the New York Morning Journal, World, and Herald. Despite the demands of newspaper work, he found time to attend the New York Law School, and in 1892 he was admitted to the bar.

McClellan's political career began in 1889 with his appointment as treasurer of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge. In the same year he joined Tammany Hall, and by the mid-nineties he was a sachem and one of the organization's most prominent orators. In 1892 he was elected to the presidency of the New York City board of aldermen, and in 1895 he began the first of five terms as a Democratic Congressman. In the House of Representatives he became something of an authority on military affairs, was recognized as a better than average speaker, supported his party's stand on low tariffs and anti-imperialism, and was a member of the Ways and Means Committee. Although McClellan was a man of considerable ability and even distinction, his rapid rise in politics was due almost entirely to Tammany's desire to capitalize on his famous name. For his part, McClellan assured Richard Croker, Tammany's boss in the nineties: "I know that I owe . . . to you . . . everything . . . that I have in politics."

McClellan's career in Congress ended in 1903, when he was recalled to New York by Charles F. Murphy, who had succeeded Croker as boss of Tammany Hall, to run for mayor against Seth Low, the Republican incumbent. He defeated Low with relative ease; two years later he was reelected to a four-year term over William Randolph Hearst, who ran on the ticket of the Municipal Ownership party, and William M. Ivins, the Republican candidate, in one of the closest elections in the city's history. In his first term McClellan was a superior machine mayor who, while making no pretense of being a reformer, was able to keep a restraining hand on the more avaricious members of the organization. Following the election of 1905 he broke with Murphy in a dispute over patronage, and his second term was characterized by a pronounced independence.

Among McClellan's notable accomplishments as mayor was a program of public works that included new bridges across the East River, establishment of municipal ferries, creation of a new and improved system of docks, additional parks and playgrounds, extension of the city's subway facilities, the start of the Catskill water project, and construction of the city's Municipal Building. As mayor, McClellan proved to be an efficient and imaginative administrator, with a wide knowledge of city affairs and an unchallenged reputation for integrity. Even his Republican critics conceded that his intellect and courteous manner gave the office a distinction that it had never known under other Tammany mayors.

When McClellan left City Hall at the end of 1909 his break with Murphy had already precluded whatever chances he might have had for political preferment. For a year he practised law in New York City, but the experience was not a happy one, and in 1911 he welcomed the opportunity to become a university lecturer on public affairs at Princeton. A year later Princeton appointed him professor of economic history. At the outbreak of the first World War he aroused considerable opposition by his outspoken demands for the strictest interpretation of American neutrality. The Heel of War, a collection of essays on conditions in the belligerent countries which he published in 1916, was condemned by most reviewers for what they considered its pro-German bias. Nevertheless, when the United States entered the war McClellan volunteered, became a major in the ordnance department, served overseas, and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Following the armistice he returned to his professorship at Princeton, where he remained until his retirement in 1931.

Throughout his life McClellan was a knowledgeable student of art and history. An incorporator and vice-president of the American Academy in Rome, he was also a member of several organizations of artists and architects in the United States. One of the few Americans of his time who was an authority on Italian history, he was the author of The Oligarchy of Venice (1904), Venice and Bonaparte (1931), and Modern Italy (1933). In addition he wrote numerous newspaper and magazine articles on both current affairs and history.

In 1889 McClellan married Georgiana Louise Heckscher, a niece of the wealthy New York capitalist August Heckscher. McClellan and his wife shared many interests, particularly their affection for Italy, which they visited almost annually. They had no children. Following McClellan's retirement from Princeton they moved to Washington, and it was there that he died. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

McClellan's life was compounded of paradoxes. He was an ultra-conservative in a period of far-reaching reform, an avowed aristocrat who welcomed the chance to become a Tammany sachem, and a cynic who consistently sought the prizes he professed to scorn. He joined Tammany partly to serve his own ambitions, but partly because he felt that citizens of the "better type" should take part in such an organization. As a young man he had been determined to avenge his father's failure in politics, but he too failed. Like his father before him, he never forgave the American people for refusing to bestow on him the rewards that he thought he deserved."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Robert E. Lee's Organ Cave - Revisited

I wanted to share this post that first appeared on this blog back in 2009. It is a neat story about one of the Confederacy's greatest wartime secrets:

This is a really incredible story I learned just recently. Apparently, in the early stages of the Civil War, the Confederates ran a top-secret mine in a West Virginia cave known as "Organ Cave." Under the guidance of Robert E. Lee, Confederate troops mined and processed nitre/salt peter, which is critical in the manufacturing of gun powder. Most of the processing equipment is still there. At one point, this cave provided the majority of the Confederacy's salt peter supply! Since the cave is quite large, Confederate officials also occasionally held Sunday church services in the cave, attracting hundreds of Confederate troops. Most incredibly, although Union forces were later camped on top of this cave, they had no idea that the Confederates were there mining below them. The cave was later abandoned around 1863 after its personnel were drawn away to participate in a nearby battle. The U.S. Government knew nothing about it until after the war! Shown here is a photo of the cave (photo by Valerius Tygart). For more information about the cave, go to It provides a good historical overview about the cave and information about visiting it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Searching for Lt. J.W.J. House, CSA

As a Civil War historian, I feel fortunate to have relatives who served on both sides of the conflict. Through my maternal grandmother's family, I have several great-great-great granduncles and cousins who served in the Union Army (mostly from Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia). I also have a distant cousin who was a brigadier general in the Confederate Army (more on all of them later).

Further, through marriage, I am related to an individual who has fascinated me for quite some time: James Washington John (J.W.J.) House (1833-1924) of North Carolina. J.W.J. is my wife Katey's great-great-great grandfather. Fortunately, my wife's grandparents have had copies of his military records for quite some time, which help to tell a quite remarkable story about his service to the Confederacy.

It appears that J.W.J. was from Edgecombe County, North Carolina, and enlisted in the Confederate Army (30th North Carolina Infantry, Co. F) on August 31, 1861. From there, he saw action with the Army of Northern Virginia in all of its campaigns from the Seven Days Battles (1862) to Cold Harbor (1864). Sometime in either late 1862 or early 1863, J.W.J. was promoted to sergeant and was later wounded during the March 17, 1863 Battle of Kelly's Ford (near Culpeper, VA). After recovering from his injuries, he returned to active service and was later awarded the Confederate Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Battle of Chancellorsville (General Order 131/3, October 3rd, 1863). However, due to a scarcity of metal, no medals were actually awarded. Instead, the honorees names were placed on a Roll of Honor in the Confederate Adjutant & Inspector General's Office.

J.W.J. was later elected a 2nd lieutenant (though some sources claim he ultimately became a 1st lieutenant) on May 24, 1864. After serving with the 30th North Carolina in the Shenandoah Valley, J.W.J. surrendered with the remnants of his regiment and other Confederate forces at Appomattox in April 1865. Somewhere along the way, he had also sustained an injury in his right foot. J.W.J. later concluded his military career as a POW at Ft. McHenry, MD, but was later released in June 1865 upon taking the Union oath of allegiance. Luckily, he went on to live a long and productive life in North Carolina after the war, finally passing away in 1924.

Since he was an individual who witnessed and survived some of the most famous battles of the Civil War, I have long been intrigued by J.W.J. By all accounts, he was an excellent soldier who was highly regarded by his brothers in arms. Anyway, one of my desires over the past few years has been to track down a picture of J.W.J. - preferably one in uniform (if such an image exists). My wife's family has no such images in its possession, and I am currently trying to track down more distant relatives (who are also House descendants) to see if they have any. I like to imagine J.W.J. as looking like the Confederate officer depicted in the attached image - but it would be nice to track down a real photograph.

Anyways, I know that many of the readers of this blog are quite knowledgeable about where to find images of Confederate soldiers, etc. If any of you have ideas or suggestions as to which institutions, websites, or books I should consult to find such a picture, please let me know by posting a comment below. Thanks!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Blue and the Gray meet the two World Wars

Building on my previous post about Stonewall Jackson's great-grandson, Col. Thomas Jonathan Jackson Christian Jr., it is fascinating to study the military careers of other descendants of prominent Civil War commanders. Sadly, a noticeable number were killed in action during the two World Wars. For instance, E. Porter Alexander III (a grandson of the Confederate artillery commander) was killed in France during the World War I (in 1918) while serving as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

At least three descendants of well-known Civil War commanders were killed in battle during World War II. In addition to the previously-mentioned Colonel Christian, Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. (a son of the Confederate general) - who is shown here - was killed by Japanese shell fire during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. I believe he was one of the highest-ranking American military commanders to be killed in battle during the entire conflict. In a previous post, I discussed how Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest III (the Confederate cavalry general's great-grandson) was shot down over Germany during a bombing run while serving with the U.S. Army Air Corps.

While I am showcasing individuals who lost their lives in battle, there were several other descendants who were fortunate enough to survive their service in World War I and/or World War II. They all brought great honor to their Civil War ancestors by providing outstanding leadership and valor in later conflicts. I will discuss more of these descendants in future posts. While much scholarship is focused on the Civil War commanders themselves, I think it is both useful and fascinating to study the lives and careers of their descendants. As I have mentioned before, the lives these individuals led were often just as fascinating as that of their Civil War ancestors.

Stonewall Jackson's Great-Grandson: WWII Hero

As I have mentioned in previous posts, one of my primary interests as a Civil War historian is to research the life and times of descendants of top Civil War commanders - particularly their namesakes. I find that in many cases, their careers and contributions to society were just as fascinating as that of their Civil War ancestors. Today, I highlight the great-grandson of Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson - Col. Thomas J. Jackson Christian, Jr. - who performed heroic service as a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot during World War II. The highlighted photograph and biographical summary below are from the Texas State Cemetery website:

"CHRISTIAN, JR., THOMAS JONATHAN JACKSON (1915~1944) Thomas Jonathan Jackson Christian, Jr., Colonel in the United States Army Air Force and great grandson of Confederate General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, was born on November 19, 1915, in San Francisco, California to Thomas Jonathan Jackson Christian, Sr. and Bertha Marguerite Cook.

Christian attended the University of Chicago before entering the United States Military Academy at West Point on July 1, 1935. On June 12, 1939, he graduated 45th in a class of 456 and chose to enter the Field Artillery branch of the U. S. Army, his father's branch of service, where he was appointed a Second Lieutenant. Soon after making his branch decision, Christian changed his mind and joined the Army Air Corps.

From 1939 to 1941, Christian was a student in Texas at the Air Corps Primary Flying School at Love Field in Dallas, the Air Corps Training Center at Randolph Field and the Air Corps Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, both in San Antonio.

After receiving training as a pilot, Christian was assigned to the Philippines, where, after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, he was reassigned to Bataan, Mindanao, Australia, and Guadalcanal. While there, he flew B-17s and was shot down and declared missing in action somewhere in the South Pacific. He was able to return to the base after living with natives in the jungle.

With the 1st Air Group, Christian landed on Guadalcanal on August 15, 1942. While there, he flew more than 60 hours in combat missions and was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry.

After being granted leave, Christian returned to the United States, where on January 2, 1943, he married Marjorie Lou Ashcroft, whom he met while in Dallas. Their permanent residence was Sulphur Springs.

While in the U. S., he formed and trained the 361st Fighter Group. They were sent to England in November 1943. In Europe, Christian flew more than 70 combat missions and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart. In March 1944 he was promoted to full Colonel.

While overseas, Christian became a father. His daughter, Lou Ellen, was born in January 1944, in Dallas.

Having never met his daughter, Christian was killed in action on August 12, 1944, while flying a P-51 Mustang, which was named Lou IV, in honor of his daughter. Colonel Christian was shot down over Arras, France and his body was never recovered."

Upcoming Revolutionary War Magazine Articles

Tidewater Historian is back after a short hiatus! I spent the bulk of November, December, and early January completing some writing projects and tending to my wife (who is pregnant with our first child), so please forgive the lack of posts lately. Anyways, I am pleased to announce that I will have two articles published in upcoming issues of "Patriots of the American Revolution" magazine. "Patriots" is great, up-and-coming publication that fills an important void in the world of magazines devoted to American history. While we have many great Civil War magazines in circulation, there has not been as much out there devoted to the American Revolution, so kudos to "Patriots" editor Tim Jacob and his team for providing this great resource!

Anyways, the first article that will be published is a biographical piece on Maj. Gen. Edward Hand (1744-1802), who served as George Washington's adjutant general during the Battle of Yorktown. General Hand was one of those rare military leaders during that era who could function equally well as either a combat commander or an administrator, so he had a quite eventful career during the war. I have several friends who are Hand descendants, and had the privilege last fall of speaking at their family reunion held in Hand's hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Thus, I am quite interested in doing more research and writing on General Hand and will keep you posted as more of my work on him appears in print.

The second article (that will be published in a separate issue) is a biographical piece on my distant cousin, Maj. Gen. William Heath (1737-1814) of Massachusetts. Like General Hand, William Heath worked closely with George Washington over the course of the war. However, Heath was more effective as an administrator than a combat commander during the conflict, and was best known for the challenging job of managing British John Burgoyne's surrendered convention army following the Battle of Saratoga. As with General Hand, I plan on doing more research and writing on General Heath in the future.

Ultimately, I really enjoy highlighting the work of Continental Army commanders who served faithfully during the conflict, but are not as well known to history as some of their peers (i.e. Daniel Morgan, Nathanael Greene). If you happen to come across "Patriots of the American Revolution" while visiting your local Barnes & Noble or other bookstore, please take a look!