These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War - We Are The Mighty
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These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

Birkenhead, England, is an odd place for a discussion of the U.S. Civil War, but two ships built in the Laird and Sons Shipyard there nearly provided the seapower necessary for the South to break the blockade, get recognized as a sovereign nation, and win their war for independence.


These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
The HMS Wivern was originally commissioned by the Confederate Navy and was expected to tip the Civil War for the Confederacy. (Photo: U.S. Naval Historical Center)

All that stood in the South’s way was a group of dedicated diplomats and spies who managed to get the ships seized, guaranteeing Union naval superiority and helping end the war.

The Laird shipyards had a strong preference for Confederates during the war and had constructed a number of ships ordered through Confederate Comdr. James D. Bulloch, an uncle to future-President Theodore Roosevelt.

The most famous Laird ship ordered by Bulloch for the Confederacy was the CSS Alabama. The Alabama was technically ordered as a British merchant ship but was outfitted with a Confederate crew and weapons after launch. It went on to destroy 67 Union vessels — mostly merchant ships — before it was sunk.

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
Confederate officers aboard the CSS Alabama, 1863.

But Bulloch and the Laird company had plans for two even more ambitious and imposing ships. The “El Tousson” and “El Monassir” were, on paper, destined for Egypt but were actually commissioned by Bulloch for the Confederacy.

The two ships are often described as the most powerful in the world at that time and they were custom-built for breaking the Union blockade of the South and with it the Union’s grand “Anaconda Plan” for the war. The Anaconda Plan rested entirely upon Union control of the seas and rivers.

The “Laird Rams” — as they were known — were nearly identical copies of one another. Each ship was 242 feet long and equipped with a seven-foot ram at the front that would allow them to punch holes in enemy ships below the waterline. Each ship also boasted iron armor and two turrets carrying 220-pounder Armstrong cannons.

For those unfamiliar with naval armaments, “220-pounder” doesn’t refer to the weight of the gun, it refers to the weight of each shell. And each gun was “rapidly firing” for the time.

And that iron armor was a game changer in the Civil War. Sufficient iron armor made a ship nearly invulnerable, as the navies learned after the first battle between ironclads took place in 1862. The three-hour battle on March 9, 1862, ended as a tie because neither ship could sufficiently damage the other.

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
(Painting: J.O. Davidson)

The “Laird Rams” were so imposing that Assistant Secretary of the Navy G. V. Fox wrote to John M. Forbes, an American sent to England to either get the rams for the Union or else stop the delivery to the Confederates:

You must stop them at all hazards, as we have no defense against them … As to guns, we have not one in the whole country fit to fire at an ironclad…it is a question of life and death.

Early indications were that the British would allow the rams to launch and eventually join the Confederate cause, but diplomats pressuring Great Britain to follow its neutrality obligations slowly made headway.

At the start of the war, the British position was that it couldn’t allow its shipbuilders to sell any warships to a belligerent in war, but that they could sell unarmed merchant ships to anyone without concern as to whether the ship would be later outfitted with weapons.

This was how the Confederacy received many of its early ships. But the Union State Department pressured the English government to start blocking the launches of ships that were destined for wartime duty by basically threatening war if they didn’t.

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
The HMS Scorpion was originally ordered by the Confederate Navy. (Engraving: U.S. Naval Historical Center)

But the British required a high threshold of proof that a ship was destined for the war before they would seize it from the shipyards. American consuls and spies in England gathered information on every ship as fast as they could.

Their first major target, the CSS Florida, was still able to reach the water because the evidence against the ship was improperly collected and documented and therefore inadmissible. The consuls and spies tried again with the Alabama and were successful, but not in time. The Alabama launched just before British forces could arrive to seize her.

When it came to the two Laird rams, though, the U.S. pulled out all the stops. They bribed dock officials, recruited spies and informants, and even promised a young mechanic help getting a job in America if he first worked in the Laird shipyards and collected information for them.

The mechanic agreed but was just a boy. When the child’s mother learned of the plan, she threatened to expose the spy operation and the U.S. backed off.

The first ram, the El Tousson, was launched into the water and was being equipped for sea while its sister ship was receiving final touches in the shipyard in October 1863. The U.S. made its final, last-ditch case to the British that the ships were destined for the Confederate war effort.

To add to the pressure, the U.S. ambassador promised war if the ships were allowed to launch, and the English government gave in.

The British Royal Navy deployed two warships, the HMS Liverpool and the HMS Goshawk, to prevent the rams leaving the docks. British sailors were deployed aboard each ship to ensure that no Confederate or allied crew could steal them from the docks. The ships were eventually purchased by the British as the HMS Scorpion and HMS Wivern.

This likely saved the war for the Union. While other Confederate ships made their names sailing the high seas and attacking Union merchant ships, the rams were designed to break the back of the Union ships enforcing the blockade.

Two nearly indestructible ships capable of sinking almost any ship in the blockade would have allowed the Confederacy to sweep it away, re-opening the smuggling trade that helped finance the land war early on. The Union Army would have been hard pressed to win with the two rams erasing the Union’s naval dominance.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The British trained ex-slaves to fight the US in the War of 1812

If there was a real weakness in the system of the early United States, it was slavery. The practice of slavery kept a lot of American ideals just out of reach and was used against the young country on multiple occasions. During the War of 1812, the British attempted to exploit this weakness by training a group of former slaves to fight for a country that needed them to fight as free men.


These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

War of 1812 re-enactors, bring the Battle of Pensacola back to life, using the British Colonial Marines.

These days when we think of Colonial Marines, we’re thinking of the gung-ho Space Warriors from the movie Alien. But back when Lord Cochrane decided to resurrect his Corps of Colonial Marines, he was set on fighting the Americans on their home turf.

Cochrane first formed his Colonial Marines in response to a lack of proper Redcoats on British-held Caribbean territories. He believed a fighting force made up of men born and raised in the islands of the Caribbean would be hardier than importing British regulars from overseas. Having grown up around the tropics (and the diseases that come with the region) the men would be less prone to illness, a major problem with armed forces of the time.

For the slaves, enlistment meant instant freedom. Cochrane’s Marines served admirably from 1808 until they were disbanded two years later.

It was during this time Great Britain was fighting one of her greatest wars, the war against French Emperor Napoleon. Napoleon was considered by many in the British service to be an existential threat to the home islands, and as such, Britain drew on a large number of imperial troops, manpower, and resources to fight Napoleon in Europe. The problem was they also drew on resources that didn’t belong to the Empire, namely, American sailors. Since many of the American sailors were born in Britain, they rationalized, they could be impressed into the Royal Navy from American merchant ships.

This didn’t sit well with the Americans. For that (and a host of other reasons, many of which were less than noble) the United States declared war on its old mother country. For Cochrane, Britain was now fighting a world war. When appointed commander of the North American station, Cochrane realized the immediate need for more men, so he resurrected his Colonial Marines.

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

Cochrane, creator of the Colonial Marines, also masterminded the burning of the White House.

Cochrane raised his new Colonial Marines in Florida, which served a strategic purpose, being so close to the former colonies. There, the unit was able to bolster the strength of British positions so close to Georgia and South Carolina. Its proximity to the land border of the U.S. also served to help raise men for the unit, taking in as many escaped slaves as it could train. The idea of an armed band of former slaves so close to the slaveholding South alarmed many in the former colonies.

The former slaves were lauded for their performance in combat by the Admiralty, who marveled at their discipline and ferocity. Colonial Marines participated in the Chesapeake Campaign during the War of 1812, which saw some of the heaviest fighting between the British and the Americans. This campaign included the Battles of Bladensburg, Baltimore, and Fort McHenry, as well as the burning of Washington. The Colonial Marines fought so well, it was said that Admiral George Cockburn preferred the Colonial Marines to regular Royal Navy Marines.

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

Francis Scott Key may have made references to Britain’s Colonial Marine force at Fort McHenry in “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Colonial Marines were largely disbanded after the war’s end, but they weren’t abandoned. Some were still in the King’s service, being sent back to Britain or to Canada. Those who opted to leave the continental United States with the British forces were either in service on the island of Bermuda, or became civilian farmers, maintaining their status as free men.

For those who stayed in Florida after the war, the British allowed them to keep their fortifications and their arms, along with a substantial sum of money. But now that the war was over, Southern American slaveholders, still unhappy about the presence of a trained military force of armed former slaves so close to their homes decided to move on them. Under the command of Gen. Andrew Jackson, the Americans invaded Spanish Florida and burned the fort.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US Postal Inspection Service: America’s first and oldest federal law enforcement agency

Before the FBI or any other federal law enforcement agency locked criminals behind bars in the United States, the most important crime fighting squad was the US Postal Inspection Service. From the 18th century to present day, surveyors, special agents, and inspectors investigated the nation’s most newsworthy crimes. They investigated mail train robberies committed by notorious outlaw “Billy the Kid,” were amongst the first federal law enforcement officers to carry the Thompson submachine gun (commonly known as the “Tommy Gun”) to fight 1920s mobsters, and even had an integral role in capturing Ted Kaczynski, sensationalized in the media as the “Unabomber,” bringing an end to one of the most sophisticated criminal manhunts in US history.

The US Postal Inspection Service is the most storied federal law enforcement agency in the country, and since widespread crime is often connected by mail, their jurisdiction to investigate any related crime from anywhere around the world is unrestricted. This freedom began from one of America’s Founding Fathers, and since its establishment, the agency has participated in the largest criminal investigations of each century.


These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

After the American Civil War, “snake oil salesmen” and “scalp tonic salesmen” used the mail to con unsuspecting victims. Screengrab from YouTube.

In 1737, Benjamin Franklin, the newspaper printer known for historic contributions to the nation, was also appointed by the British Crown as postmaster of Philadelphia. In addition to his day job, he had duties and responsibilities to regulate and survey post offices and post roads. As the first Postmaster General under continental Congress, Franklin abolished the British practice that determined which newspapers traveled freely in the mail and established foundational mandates of the “surveyor” position to ensure the organization could grow beyond a one-man show.

Franklin recognized the task was too much to handle alone and appointed William Goddard as the first surveyor of the new American Postal Service. His first day in office — Aug. 7, 1775 — became known as the birth of the Postal Inspection Service. The surveyors investigated thefts of mail or postal funds committed by writers, innkeepers, and others with access to the mail or post offices. The frequency of mail crimes became such a nuisance, Congress approved the death penalty as a viable punishment to enforce the serious offenses.

At the turn of the 19th century, surveyors became known as special agents, and among the first three was Noah Webster, the man responsible for compiling the dictionary. During the War of 1812, special agents observed and reported activities of the British Fleet along the Potomac River, and during the 1840s and 1850s, their roles magnified to coexist with western expansion in the United States. Special agents were needed across Texas, Oregon, and California to ensure new postal services were completed, as well as to keep order amongst mail carriers on horseback, railroads, or traveling by steamboats or stagecoaches.

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

During World War II, 247 US Postal Inspection Service inspectors established a mailing system that is still in use to this day. Photo courtesy of worldwarphotos.info.

Following the American Civil War, Congress imposed two new statutes still in use today. The first was the Mail Fraud Statute of 1872, which enforced a crackdown against swindles including the infamous “snake oil salesman” or the “scalp tonic salesman.” The second was the Postal Obscenity Statute of 1873, which made it illegal for anyone to “to sell, give away, or possess an obscene book, pamphlet, picture, drawing, or advertisement.” Special agents assumed the name of “Post Office Inspectors” in 1880 to differentiate from other special agents privately employed by railroad and stagecoach companies.

During the 20th century is when the US Postal Inspection Service earned its reputation for bringing down the hammer on gangs, mobsters, and armed robbers. The most scandalous criminal outfit was the organized secret society operating in New York City known as the Black Hand. They terrorized the public, the police force, and especially Italian immigrants, all frequent targets of murder, extortion, assassination, child kidnapping, and bombings. The bombing attacks were so frequent that the police referred to the Italian neighborhood as “The Bomb Zone.” Police reports indicated that there were more than 100 bombings in 1913 alone.

The Black Hand wrote menacing letters to their victims. “De Camilli, from one of our secret spies, we have learned that you have informed the police, contrary to our warnings,” Salvatore Lima, the Black Hand’s leader wrote. “Therefore, it is time to die. And on the first occasion, you will feel a bullet in your stomach, coward. You have willed it, and you will die like a dog. The terrible Black Hand.”

History of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service

www.youtube.com

Post Office Inspector Frank Oldfield tracked 14 members of the Black Hand and nabbed and convicted the vicious and violent gang by targeting their paper trail through the mail. Elmer Irey, one of the great detectives of the 20th century and former post office inspector, used similar methods to nab Chicago Outfit’s Al Capone through tax fraud. Post office inspectors also captured and convicted Charles Ponzi — the mastermind and father behind the infamous pyramid “Ponzi Scheme” — and brought Gerald Chapman — America’s first “Public Enemy Number One” — to justice. After a three-year manhunt, forensic science put away the DeAutremont brothers, a trio who used dynamite to blow open mail train cars to scoop the cash inside.

Inspectors were also instrumental in the delivery and protection of over billion worth of gold transported along the “Yellow Brick Road” from New York City to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to establish the Fort Knox Bullion Depository in 1937. During World War II, 247 post office inspectors helped create Army Post Offices (APOs) and Fleet Post Offices (FPOs). Through their efforts, soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines could communicate with their loved ones back home. This system remains in effect to this day.

Later in the century, as their investigations adapted with the times, they received newer challenges through the security of commercial aircraft and the threats of mail package bombs aboard airplanes. In 1963, Postal Inspector Harry Holmes interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald to investigate the mail-order rifle he used to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. Only minutes after Oswald left Holmes’ office, he was gunned down — furthering the conspiracy theories of suspected involvement.

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

A laboratory technician holds the anthrax-laced letter addressed to Senator Patrick Leahy after safely opening it at the US Army’s Fort Detrick bio-medical research laboratory in November 2001. Photo courtesy of FBI.gov.

The Postal Inspection Service remains just as important today as when it was created, and with the increase in funding in other federal agencies, their prestige has emboldened their legacy as more than what was once perceived as “The Silent Service.” Days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Silent Service investigated the Anthrax biohazard letter attack — the worst biological attack in US history — and has since increased their efforts against illegal drug trafficking, suspicious mail, mail and package theft, money laundering, cybercrime, and child exploitation.

In the 1920s, Charles Ponzi scammed his investors out of an estimated million during his time as a conman and swindler — some 90 years later, just as the Postal Inspector Service had before, they nabbed Allen Stanford, a fraudster who convinced investors to buy certificates of deposit from his offshore Stanford International Bank with the promise of high returns. Stanford’s two-decade-long, billion Ponzi scheme was discovered through exhaustive investigations by a task force comprised of the IRS, the FBI, and the Silent Service. Stanford was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to serve 110 years in prison.

As long as there is mail to be delivered, there are inspectors who stand ready to ensure the safety of the American citizens.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

Were iron maidens ever actually used?

PandaGuy5 asks: Were people ever really tortured in Iron Maidens?

The people of the Middle Ages have a reputation for wanton brutality and, as supposed evidence of this, countless instruments of torture sit in museums around the world, arguably the most famous of which being the Iron Maiden. This hellish contraption supposedly caused unthinkable pain and anguish for those unlucky enough to be sentenced to suffer its merciless sting, condemning them to a slow and agonizing death. Or, at least, that’s what the stories say, because as far as anyone can tell, the Iron Maiden didn’t exist as a real world object until the 19th century- and for reference here the so-called “Medieval Times” are generally considered to have ended around the end of the 15th century.

So who invented the Iron Maiden and why, how did it become the face of Medieval torture, and has anyone actually ever been killed in one?


As for historical examples, there are a couple references to similar devices in history, with the oldest being a device known today as the “Iron Apega”, supposedly made about 2,200 years ago. Described by Greek historian Polybius, the device was an automaton replica of the wife of 2nd and 3rd century BC Spartan leader Nabis, with the woman in question named- you guessed it- Apega.

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

Various neo-medieval torture instruments. An iron maiden stands at the right.

The automaton was apparently lavishly dressed up in one of Apega’s outfits, with Polybius then stating of those who were made to meet the wife replica,

When the man offered her his hand, he made the woman rise from her chair and taking her in his arms drew her gradually to his bosom. Both her arms and hands as well as her breasts were covered with iron nails … so that when Nabis rested his hands on her back and then by means of certain springs drew his victim towards her … he made the man thus embraced say anything and everything. Indeed by this means he killed a considerable number of those who denied him money.

So in a nutshell of the whole story, anyone who refused to pay their taxes would be made to give this mechanical version of his wife a hug, with at any point them being able to make the hug of death stop if they agreed to pay. If they did not, the hug continued until they died. Whether this device actually existed or not, or was just an allusion to Apega’s supposedly ruthless nature to match the reported cruelty of her husband, isn’t know.

Moving on from there, we have an account from one of the earliest Christian authors and the so-called “Father of Latin Christianity”, Tertullian, who lived in the second and third century AD. In his work “To the Martyrs”, he states of the death of Roman General and consul Marcus Atilius Regulus,

It would take me too long to enumerate one by one the men who at their own self-impulse have put an end to themselves…. Regulus, a Roman general, who had been taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, declined to be exchanged for a large number of Carthaginian captives, choosing rather to be given back to the enemy. He was crammed into a sort of chest; and, everywhere pierced by nails driven from the outside, he endured so many crucifixions.

A follow up account by Augustine of Hippo in his 5th century “City of God” elaborates on the tale of Regulus’ death,

Marcus Attilius Regulus, a Roman general, was a prisoner in the hands of the Carthaginians. But they, being more anxious to exchange their prisoners with the Romans than to keep them, sent Regulus as a special envoy with their own ambassadors to negotiate this exchange, but bound him first with an oath, that if he failed to accomplish their wish, he would return to Carthage. He went and persuaded the senate to the opposite course, because he believed it was not for the advantage of the Roman republic to make an exchange of prisoners. After he had thus exerted his influence, the Romans did not compel him to return to the enemy; but what he had sworn he voluntarily performed. But the Carthaginians put him to death with refined, elaborate, and horrible tortures. They shut him up in a narrow box, in which he was compelled to stand, and in which finely sharpened nails were fixed all round about him, so that he could not lean upon any part of it without intense pain; and so they killed him by depriving him of sleep…

That said, whether any of that actually happened or not is up for debate as 1st century BC Greek historian Diodorus claims Regulus died of natural causes, with no mention of such a torture device involved.

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

Regulus returning to Carthage (1791) by Andries Cornelis Lens.

Moving on from there are old European fairy tales of unknown dating and origin, in which certain individuals were killed by being placed inside casks that had nails driven in. The cask would then apparently be rolled down a steep hill, sometimes into water… which if we’re being honest almost sounds worse than the actual Iron Maiden. Sort of the spiked version of death by a thousand papercuts and then as a reward at the end, terrifying slow drowning as you writhe in agony from all the little holes in your body; no doubt also trying to reflexively break the cask to get out once it starts to fill with water, creating some more holes in the process. We suppose at least this one’s a bit quicker, if a lot more dramatic.

Other than that, there are no references to such an Iron Maiden-like device until just before the 19th century. This first reference comes from German philosopher, linguist, archeologist, and professor at the University of Altdorf, Johann Philipp Siebenkees in 1793.

According to Siebenkees, on August 14, 1515 a coin forger was sentenced to die in a casket that had metal spikes driven into various parts lined up with particularly sensitive bits of the forger’s anatomy. Writes Siebenkees,:

the very sharp points penetrated his arms, and his legs in several places, and his belly and chest, and his bladder and the root of his member (penis), and his eyes, and his shoulders, and his buttocks, but not enough to kill him; and so he remained making great cry and lament for two days, after which he died.

Of course, if this was a real method of execution used, each such cask would have had to have been custom spiked for each new victim in order to line everything up perfectly, given people come in all shapes and sizes. This creates something of a logistical problem that many other means of torturing and killing someone wouldn’t have. Nevertheless, Siebenkees claimed it happened at least this once. So did it?

Well, given the complete lack of evidence or even reference to any other such Iron Maiden-like device used elsewhere in this era, nor who this forger was or any such pertinent details other than the oddly specific date, most historians think he made it up, or that this was an exaggerated tale of the use of a device that we do know existed in Europe.

So what was this real instrument of torture? Sometimes called the Schandmantel (“coat of shame”), the “Drunkard’s Cloak”, or the “Spanish Mantle”, this was essentially a wooden cask someone who was being punished for some crime would be made to wear about town- sort of a mobile version of stocks with similar purpose- mocking someone publicly and having people throw random things at them, in this case as they trudged along.

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

The Schandmantel.

Consider this account from Ralph Gardiner’s 17th century England’s Grievance Discovered,

men drove up and down the streets, with a great tub, or barrel, opened in the sides, with a hole in one end, to put through their heads, and to cover their shoulders and bodies, down to the small of their legs, and then close the same, called the new fashioned cloak, and so make them march to the view of all beholders; and this is their punishment for drunkards, or the like.

Jumping across the pond to the land of the free, at least some soldiers were not always so free, as noted in an article titled “A Look at the Federal Army,” published in 1862 where the author states,

I was extremely amused to see a ‘rare’ specimen of Yankee invention, in the shape of an original method of punishment drill. One wretched delinquent was gratuitously framed in oak, his head being thrust through a hole cut in one end of a barrel, the other end of which had been removed; and the poor fellow ‘loafed’ about in the most disconsolate manner, looking for all the world like a half-hatched chicken…

In another account by one John Howard in 1784 in his “The State of Prisons in England and Wales”, he writes,

Denmark-
Some of the lower sort, as watchmen,coachmen, etc., are punished by being led through the city in what is called ‘The Spanish Mantle.’ This is a kind of heavy vest, something like a tub, with an aperture for the head, and irons to enclose the neck. I measured one at Berlin, 1ft 8 in. in diameter at the top, 2 ft. 11 in at the bottom, and 2 ft. 11 in high… This mode of punishment is particularly dreaded, and is one cause that night robberies are never heard of in Copenhagen.

Of course, much like the Iron Maiden, as you’ll note from the dates mentioned here, most detailed contemporary accounts of these devices of humiliation and sometimes torture seem to indicate they weren’t really a Medieval thing, despite sometimes claimed to go back to the 13th century in Germany.

In any event, whether Siebenkees’s much more elaborate cask with spikes put in was really just a tale he picked up that was exaggerating these “coats of shame”, he made it up completely, or whether some inventive executioner thought to add the addition of spikes to such a cask and a forger really was executed in this way in the 16th century isn’t known, with most leaning towards Siebenkees making it up. Even if it did really happen, however, this still is post Medieval times by most people’s reckoning.

Whatever the case, a handful of years after Siebenkees’ account, the first known actual Iron Maiden appeared in a Nuermburg museum in 1802 not far away from Siebenkees’ home in Altdorf. This device was supposedly “discovered” in a German castle in the late 18th century. Not just a cask, this killing machine was roughly human shaped, made of iron, and even had a face, supposedly based on the face of the Virgin Mary, hence the torture instrument’s name- the Iron Maiden.

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

The Madonna in Sorrow.

(Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato)

This probably first real Iron Maiden was sadly destroyed during WW2 by Allied bombers, but a copy created “as decoration for the ‘Gothic Hall’ of a patrician palace in Milan” in 1828 survived and currently resides in the Rothenburg, das Kriminalmuseum (Museum of Crime). From this copy, we can see that the device was certainly designed to cause unimaginable agony in its victims. Along with having strategically placed spikes designed to pierce approximately where a person’s vital organs and sensitive nether-region dangly bits are, the face of the Maiden did indeed have spikes designed to pierce a victim’s eyes upon closing, assuming the person wasn’t vertically challenged.

This copy did a lot to help popularize the idea of the Iron Maiden as a real thing thanks to its prominent display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago, and subsequent tour across the United States to much fanfare.

Incidentally, this was the same World’s Fair that gave us the name “Ferris Wheel” for a device previously called a “pleasure wheel,” with George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.’ iconic version being rather massive compared to anything that had come before, holding an astounding 2,160 people at a time. This was also the same fair that saw famed serial killer H.H. Holmes taking advantage of the extra people in town looking for a place to stay, keeping business booming at his so-called “House of Horrors Hotel”.

Going back to the Iron Maiden, beyond the tour of one of the originals and extra exposure at the World’s Fair, another man largely credited with popularising the idea of the Iron Maiden was 19th century art collector Matthew Peacock. Among other things, he managed to collect a wide variety of historic torture devices to, as he put it: “Show the dark spirit of the Middle Ages in contrast to the progress of humanity.”

You see, at the time it was en vogue to not just act like people from Medieval Times were all Scientific rubes (which is where the myth that people in Medieval Times thought that the world was flat came from despite all evidence to the contrary), but also that they were extremely barbaric, with the Iron Maiden creating a rather nice illustration of this supposed fact.

Naturally, unable to find the Real McCoy, Peacock cobbled together an Iron Maiden apparently partially from real artifacts of other means of torture, and then donated it to a museum to be displayed as a symbolic representation of the former era’s cruelty.

The public ate all of this up and the idea of the Iron Maiden slowly permeated throughout society to the point that most today assume it was a real thing used to kill people in a slow and very painful way during Medieval Times.

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

An open iron maiden.

This all brings us the question of whether anyone has ever actually been tortured or killed in one? The answer, surprisingly, is possibly, but not in Medieval Times, nor even apparently in historic ones, unless you consider a couple decades ago historic.

Enter Uday Hussein. The eldest son of Saddam started his murderous rampage apparently by bludgeoning to death one Kamel Gegeo, who was at the time Saddam’s bodyguard, valet and food taster. This murder was done in front of a host of party guests in 1988. The party in question was in Egypt, in honor of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne. As to what Gegeo did to incite Uday’s rage, he apparently hooked Saddam up with a woman, Samira Shahbandar. Samira was married when Saddam met her, but that was quickly taken care of, freeing him up to take her as one of his mistresses and, later, as his second wife.

While still in the mistress stage, Uday decided to kill Gegeo for the facilitation of Saddam’s illicit relationship, which Uday seems to have felt was an affront to his own mother.

Saddam did sentence his son to death for this murder, but a few months later switched to exiling him to Switzerland, with the Swiss government allowing the well-known recent murderer to enter the country for some bizarre reason. However, after frequent run-ins with the law there, the Swiss finally gave him the boot and he returned to Iraq without apparent consequence. If all that wasn’t enough of a testament of what a swell fella’ Uday was, beyond some confirmed assassination attempts and other murders by the lovable rapscallion, rumors of frequent rape of random women swirled around Uday…

This all brings us back to the Iron Maiden and Uday’s eventual appointment as the chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and the Iraq Football Association. In those positions, accusations were rampant that Uday occasionally had various athletes tortured when they were thought to have either under performed or otherwise screwed up in some way in competition. These included doing things like ripping their toenails off, scalding their feet, subjecting them to extreme sleep deprivation, having them kick cement balls, and dragged across gravel roads followed by being dipped into sewage… Allegedly after a 4-1 loss to Japan in the Asian Cup in 2000, he also had three of the players deemed responsible for the defeat beaten repeatedly for a few days.

As for the Iron Maiden, after Uday’s death and the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, a mere twenty or so meters away from the Iraqi Football Association headquarters an Iron Maiden was found on the ground. Time Magazine’s Bobby Ghosh states of this find,

The one found in Baghdad was clearly worn from use, its nails having lost some of their sharpness. It lay on its side within view of Uday’s first-floor offices in the soccer association. Ironically, the torture device was brought to TIME’s attention by a group of looters who had been stripping the compound of anything of value. They had left behind the iron maiden, believing it to be worthless.

That said, despite this report, there is no actual hard evidence the Iron Maiden was used, nor blood found on the device or the like. But given all the rumors of Uday’s penchant for torturing people, and some of the confirmed things he did do, as well as the device’s location, at the least he is presumed to have used it as a method of terrorizing people, as was more the norm even in Medieval Times with actual real world torture devices, rather than frequently using them.

All that said, given his proclivities for murdering people who upset him, it is further speculated by many that he might have actually followed through and killed someone with it at some point. But, again, despite reports, so far there has never been any concrete evidence of this, so it’s still not wholly clear if anyone was ever actually killed by an Iron Maiden or not.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

Also read:

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  • The Soldier Who Voluntarily Became A Prisoner in Auschwitz
  • The Curious Practice of Execution By Golden Shower
  • “No”- The Remarkable Story of Lauritz Sand
  • The Twisted Tale of Delphine LaLaurie and Her House of Horrors
  • Articles

    The US military took these incredible photos this week

    The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:


    AIR FORCE:

    Staff Sgt. Brian Alfano, a survival, evasion, resistance and escape instructor with the 103rd Rescue Squadron, 106th Rescue Wing, demonstrates an overt method for marking a drop zone during a bundle drop training flight at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., Jan. 19, 2016.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    U.S. Air National Guard photo/Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy

    First Lt. Matthew Sanders, a 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, prepares for a combat sortie in an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Jan. 17, 2016. Airmen assigned to the 421st EFS, known as the “Black Widows,” are deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and NATO’s Resolute Support missions.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys

    ARMY:

    A U.S. Army Soldier, assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), completes a routine safety measure in preparation for a static line jump from a Ch-47 Chinook helicopter assigned to the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, on to St. Mere Eglise Drop Zone on Fort Bragg, N.C., Jan. 6, 2016.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    U.S. Army photo

    Soldiers, assigned to the US Army Golden Knights parachute demonstration team, conduct a training jump over Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., Jan. 19, 2016.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Muncy, The National Guard

    Soldiers assigned to 2d Cavalry Regiment, United States Army Europe – USAREUR, conducts convoy operations with Stryker armored combat vehicles during Exercise Allied Spirit IV at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Hohenfels, Germany, Jan. 20, 2016.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William A. Tanner

    NAVY:

    CHANGI, Singapore (Jan. 13, 2016) Hull Maintenance Technician 1st Class James Strotler secures a bolt in place for the retractable bit for towing aboard USS Fort Worth (LCS 3). Currently on a rotational deployment in support of the Asia-Pacific Rebalance, Fort Worth is a fast and agile warship tailor-made to patrol the region’s littorals and work hull-to-hull with partner navies, providing 7th Fleet with the flexible capabilities it needs now and in the future.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Antonio Turretto Ramos

    GULF OF OMAN (Jan. 14, 2016) Marines and sailors aboard the USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) unload boxes during a replenishment at sea in the Gulf of Oman. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is embarked on the Kearsarge Amphibious Readiness Group and is deployed to maintain regional security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough

    MARINE CORPS:

    U.S. Marines with Maritime Raid Force, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conduct a deck shoot during Sustainment Exercise aboard the USS Boxer, January 18, 2016. SUSTEX is designed to reinforce and refine the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group/MEU’s execution of mission essential tasks in preparation for their upcoming deployment.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Hector de Jesus

    Marines with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose MAGTF – CR – CC, recover a simulated casualty as part of a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel exercise at an Undisclosed Location in Southwest Asia Jan. 12, 2016. SPMAGTF-CR-CC is ready to respond to any crisis response mission in theater to include the employment of a TRAP force.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Akeel Austin

    COAST GUARD:

    The HC144 Ocean Sentry prepares for an evening training flight at Air Station Cape Cod. Frequent night flights like this one allow crews to remain proficient and ready to respond no matter the time of day or night.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    USCG Photo

    Air Station Cape Cod is the only airfield whose maintenance and operation is entirely run by the Coast Guard. As a result, planes and helicopters aren’t the only heavy machinery that we get to manage!

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    USCG photo

    Articles

    The Navy converted side-wheel paddle steamers into WWII aircraft carriers

    Paddle steamers are usually associated with 19th century cruises on the Mississippi river. Modern representatives like the Mark Twain Riverboat at Disneyland preserve this quaint and picturesque scene in American culture. However, during WWII, two side-wheel paddle steamers found themselves in a very different type of scene. Desperate for more ships, the Navy converted these two-paddle steamers into aircraft carriers.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    Luxury cruise ship Seeandbee in 1919 (Public Domain)

    To be fair, these makeshift flattops were not truly weapons of war. Unlike purpose-built aircraft carriers like USS Hornet (CV-12) and USS Lexington (CV-16), the steam-powered carriers lacked armor, a hangar deck, elevators and weapons of any sort. Additionally, the flight decks built on top of the steamers were shorter and lower than regular carriers. However, the converted carriers weren’t built for combat; they were built to train aviators.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    Greater Buffalo on its way to be refit in 1942 (U.S. Navy)

    In 1942, the Navy purchased the side-paddle steam cruise ships Seeandbee and Greater Buffalo. The Great Lakes passenger ships were acquired as a cost-saving measure to build trainer aircraft carriers for flight students at the Naval Air Technical Training Center.

    Both ships were stripped of their superstructures and luxury cabins during the Navy refit. To become aircraft carriers, the steamers were fitted with a bridge island, arresting cables, and of course, a flight deck. Seeandbee’s flight deck was made of wood while Greater Buffalo’s was made of steel. Following their refit, Seeandbee and Greater Buffalo were renamed USS Wolverine (IX-64) and USS Sable (IX-81), respectively.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    USS Wolverine and USS Sable docked at Navy Pier in 1945 (U.S. Navy)

    Supporting NATTC training, Wolverine and Sable moored at and operated from Chicago at what today is known as Navy Pier. Wolverine began her training duty first in January 1943. Sable followed in May that same year. Together, the Great Lakes carriers were nicknamed the “Corn Belt Fleet.”

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    An FM-2 Wildcat takes off from USS Sable on Lake Michigan (U.S. Navy)

    Pilot training on the carriers took place seven days a week. They provided critical training to thousands of naval aviators and a smaller number of Landing Signal Officers. One of these naval aviators was future president George H. W. Bush, who trained on Sable.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    An FM-2 Wildcat barrier crash aboard USS Sable (U.S. Navy)

    After WWII ended, the need for the Corn Belt Fleet had run its course. In November 1945, Wolverine and Sable were decommissioned, struck from the Navy register, and sold for scrap.

    Together, the two ships trained 17,280 naval aviators in 116,000 carrier landings. They remain the only freshwater, coal-driven, side-wheel paddle steam aircraft carriers used by the Navy.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    USS Wolverine takes on coal at anchor on Lake Michigan (U.S. Navy)

    Feature Image: U.S. Navy photo

    MIGHTY HISTORY

    7 ways your first year in the military mirrors freshman year

    The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and crust adorns your bright eyes as you open them to your earliest taste of freedom. Your room is decked out according to how you want it and what mommy and daddy say or think is no longer the deciding factor in what you will or won’t do for the day.


    This day could easily belong either to Private Joe from Anytown, America or Johnny Freshman in any university dorm. There are some surprising similarities between those earliest days in the military and the typical freshman year of college.

    Related: 8 reasons being in the military is like being in a sorority

    7. You’re beyond lost

    When you first encounter military instructors, as a military member, it is anything but pleasant.

    Go this way! Go that way! Pick it up! Put it down!

    Add that to the fact that you have zero idea where you’re going (and sometimes even where you’re coming from) and confusion is the only real outcome.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    Pictured: The inside of a first-year service member’s mind (Photo from The Odyssey Online).

    6. You have no idea what to do now that you’re away from home

    The first time away from home can be extremely frightening for many. Even if your parents and/or guardians empowered you with freedom and responsibility, chances are that going to college or joining the military is your first time being away from home in a real way.

    This isn’t taking a break for a few days or weeks, you have left the nest and flying solo can be scary.

    Newness is very exciting but it also carries a certain measure of suck.

    5. Boot camp is like pledging a fraternity/sorority

    No disrespect to any fraternity or sorority, but actual military boot camp is one of the toughest things anyone will ever do, but there are similarities to rushing. There is information cramming, adapting to a new culture, an embarrassing haircut, frowned-upon hazing, and the list goes on.

    Truthfully, the brotherhood of arms is very much a fraternity for some and a sorority for others. Our letters aren’t Greek but they do all start with “U.S.”

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

    4. Dorm rooms

    The only way to avoid time in a dorm room is getting married but, chances are, being fresh to the military means you aren’t ready for marriage. That doesn’t stop many young troops from walking down the aisle, but I digress…

    Regardless of which service you join, the early stages of your enlistment will involve some type of dorm life. You simply can’t avoid it.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    The look you make when you thought you got your own dorm room. Should’ve joined the Air Force. ( Photo from YouTube | Jon Richie)

    3. The “freshman 15”

    Besides the Marines, no other service as a whole just stays in shape. Every single service has physical training programs, sure, but not every branch will ride you and expect you to stay in the same shape you achieved in basic/boot.

    This makes gaining weight too easy. Even if you adhere to the same standards training-wise, the availability of good eats can lead to a military version of the infamous “freshman 15.”

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    Trust me, it’s not that hard to get out of shape (Photo from Gawker).

    2. Underage drinking

    Yes, as a military member, you end up shouldering a lot of weight that most civilian teenagers wouldn’t. There is no denying that.

    There is also no denying that a dorm party in the military looks a lot like a dorm party in college. There are kegs, there are guys and girls, there are food platters, and there are a lot of people alternating between throwing up and turning up. You know what there isn’t a lot of, though? Anyone checking identification!

    Although it’s a rampant and completely normalized part of early enlisted life, underage drinking is 100% illegal in America and is a punishable offense.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    A little early for a drink, Timmy (Photo from The Telegraph)

    Also Read: 6 reasons being E-4(ish) mafia is the best

    1. Growing up

    Eventually, you learn your way and you become who you’ll be. Now, I’m not saying this happens by the end of that first year, but it does happen after some time. Until then, life is basically a series of hard knocks, adaptations, and semi-pleasant surprises.

    It works out for most of us… well, for some of us.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    You’ll get there, hopefully, one day (Photo from Minnesota National Guard).

    Articles

    North Korea threatens pre-emptive strikes after ‘madcap joint military drills’

    North Korea has threatened its own pre-emptive strikes in response to recent drills for “decapitation” strikes by U.S. and South Korean special operations forces aimed at taking out the leadership in Pyongyang.


    The simulated strikes reportedly targeted the upper echelons of the North Korean regime, including leader Kim Jong Un, as well as key nuclear sites.

    They also involved the participation of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 — the outfit famed for killing al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, the Asahi Shimbun reported earlier this month. Media reports said a number of U.S. special operations forces also participated, including U.S. Army Rangers, Delta Force and Green Berets.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    North Korea recently launched satellite-carrying Unha rockets, which is the same delivery system as North Korea’s Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, which was tested successfully in December 2012 and January 2016. (Photo: Reuters/KNCA)

    In a statement released March 26 by the Korean People’s Army (KPA), a spokesman said the “madcap joint military drills” would be met with the North’s “own style of special operation and pre-emptive attack,” which it said could come “without prior warning any time.”

    The statement, published by the official Korean Central News Agency, said the U.S. and South Korea “should think twice about the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by their outrageous military actions.

    “The KPA’s warning is not hot air,” the statement added.

    In mid-March, several U.S. Marine F-35B stealth fighter jets conducted bombing practice runs over the Korean Peninsula as a part of the joint exercises, the South’s Yonhap news agency reported Saturday.

    The dispatch of the fighters, based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, was the first time they had been sent to the Korean Peninsula. The fighters returned to Japan after the drills wrapped up.

    Pyongyang has stepped up efforts to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile over the last year and a half, conducting two atomic explosions and more than 25 missile launches — including an apparent simulated nuclear strike on the U.S. base at Iwakuni.

    In the event of conflict on the Korean Peninsula, U.S. troops and equipment from Iwakuni would likely be among the first deployed.

    The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is in the midst of a policy review on North Korea, and has said all options, including military action, remain on the table.

    But this review could be bumped up Trump’s list of priorities in the near future.

    U.S. and South Korean intelligence sources, as well as recent satellite imagery, has shown that the North is apparently ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test at any time, media reports have said.

    Articles

    Robot soldiers are coming! Robot soldiers are coming!

    Boston Dynamics has come out with a new version of its Atlas robot that is more mobile, more agile, lighter, quieter, and doesn’t require a power tether.


    The new robot was introduced in a YouTube video this morning where it was shown escaping a building and marching through the snow:

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    GIF: YouTube/Boston Dynamics

    Then it stacked boxes like some sort of Robo-POG:

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    GIF: YouTube/Boston Dynamics

    Like other POGs, the Atlas was bullied pretty harshly on the job:

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    GIF: YouTube/Boston Dynamics

    The new generation Atlas weighs only 180 pounds, approximately half the weight of its 330-pound predecessor. It is powered by onboard batteries and can navigate obstacles that tripped up earlier Atlas robots at the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

    Boston Dynamics has withdrawn from the DARPA challenge to focus on building commercially-viable robots, meaning they might try to sell the robot to the military or other buyers within the next few years.

    Still, the Atlas is far from reaching the battlefield. The new improvements could get it ready to serve behind the lines, but it’s about as noisy as the BigDog robot which was shelved by the Marine Corps for being too loud. And there are no signs that it’s ready to carry its own weapon.

    For now, developers will probably continue to target disaster response and similar missions.

    MIGHTY HISTORY

    This Canadian liberated a Dutch town on his own

    Canadian sniper Pvt. Leo Major could have taken a ticket home after the Normandy invasions when he lost part of his vision to a phosphorous grenade blast or later that year when his back was broken in a mine strike. Instead, he stayed in theater and went on to single-handedly liberate a Dutch town from the Germans by convincing them that a massive Canadian attack was coming.


    Major’s unit approached the town of Zolle in the Netherlands in April 1945 and asked for two volunteers to scout for enemy troops, an easy observe and report mission. Major and his buddy, Willy Arseneault, volunteered to go.

    They were told to establish communications with the local Dutch resistance and warn them to take cover if possible, since the morning’s attack would open with heavy artillery and the Canadians wanted to limit civilian casualties.

    Arseneault and Major moved forward but quickly ran into trouble. They were caught by a German roadblock and Arseneault was killed in the ensuing confrontation. Arseneault killed his attacker before he died and Major used a fallen soldier’s machine gun to kill two and chase off the rest.

     

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    The German troops in Zwolle numbered in the hundreds but they were scared off by a single Canadian on a rampage. (Photo: German Bundesarchiv)

     

    Major could have turned back at this point and reported the loss of his friend, or he could have carefully completed the mission and carried news of the German strength back to his command. Instead, he decided to go full commando and sow terror in the hearts of his enemies.

    He captured a German driver and ordered his hostage to take him into a bar in Zwolle. There, Major found a German officer and told him that a massive Canadian attack was coming.

    The Canadian then gave the German hostage his weapon back and sent him into the night on his own. As the rumor started to spread that Canadians were in the town and preparing a massive assault, Major went on a one-man rampage.

     

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    A U.S. Army Ranger candidate fires the Carl Gustav submachine gun. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. David Shad)

     

    He tossed grenades throughout the town, avoiding civilians and limiting damage to structures but sowing as much panic as possible. He also fired bursts from a submachine gun and, whenever he ran into Germans, he laid down as much hurt as possible.

    At one point, he stumbled into a group of eight Germans and, despite being outnumbered, killed four of them and drove off the rest.

    He also lit the local SS headquarters on fire.

    Major’s campaign of terror had the intended effect. The German forces, convinced they were under assault by a well-prepared and possibly superior force, withdrew from the city. Hundreds of Germans are thought to have withdrawn from the town before dawn.

    A group of Dutch citizens helped Major recover Arseneault’s body and the sniper returned to his unit to report that little or no enemy troops were present in Zwolle.

    The Canadians marched into the town the next day and Major was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He is the only Canadian to receive DCMs for two wars.

     

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    A U.S. infantryman receives the Distinguished Conduct Medal from King George V. The DCM is second only to the Victoria Cross in British Valor Awards. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

    He was nominated for a capturing 93 German troops in 1944 but refused it because he though Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery was too incompetent to award medals. But Major received the DCM for capturing Zwolle. In the Korean War he received another DCM after he and a team of snipers took a hill from Chinese troops and held it for three days.

    He became an honorary citizen of Zwolle in 2005 and died in 2008. Soon after his death, Zwolle named a street after their Canadian liberator.

    MIGHTY HISTORY

    The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

    Brig. Gen. Walter McIlhenny is one of the greatest US Marine Corps war heroes that you’ve never heard of. The World War II officer of the 1st Marine Division received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts during the Guadalcanal campaign. After an intense battle, he even captured the same Japanese sword he’d been struck in the helmet with. But “Tabasco Mac” is most remembered as the driving force behind bringing tiny bottles of Tabasco hot sauce to every American GI’s C rations during the Vietnam War. 

    In 1949, the Marine took the reins of his family’s McIlhenny Co., producer of the world-famous Tabasco red pepper hot sauce, and remained in charge until his death in 1985. The spicy empire was the brainchild of his great-grandfather, Edmund A. McIlhenny, an amateur gardener and banker. When Edmund McIlhenny returned to his home on Avery Island in the Louisiana bayou country following the American Civil War, he discovered his crops of capsicum peppers had survived. He took three basic ingredients — peppers, salt from the island’s salt mines, and vinegar — and aged them together for 30 days to create the special potion that has been admired for generations.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    A Japanese soldier attacked a GI with his sword but in the heat of the moment forgot to remove the scabbard. The dented helmet and sword were donated to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans by the GI — who was Walter McIlhenny. Photo courtesy of Forgotten Weapons.

    McIlhenny’s red hot pepper sauce was first bottled into discarded cologne containers and referenced informally in conversation as “That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes.” His first commercial pepper crop emerged in 1868, and he sent 658 bottles at $1 apiece to grocery stores around the Gulf Coast, mainly in New Orleans. Two years later, McIlhenny secured a patent for Tabasco red pepper sauce — named in honor of the Mexican state where the peppers were sourced — and added a sprinkler fitment to ensure the concentrated sauce was sprinkled and not poured. 

    Walter McIlhenny, the World War II Marine general, received several handwritten letters mailed from American GIs in Vietnam requesting tasty recipes. His great-grandfather’s original resolve to add flavor to the boring and monotonous diets of those in the Reconstruction South inspired him to do the same with ground troops’ C rations. The obligation to produce a fun and easy-to-follow guide led to the 1966 publication of The Charlie Ration Cookbook, or No Food Is Too Good for the Man Up Front.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    The Charlie Ration Cookbook, or No Food Is Too Good for the Man Up Front was published in 1966 by the maker of Tabasco hot sauce to give Vietnam soldiers an easy-to-follow guide to spicing up their C rations. Screenshot from the book.

    The camouflaged cookbook with cartoon illustrations and clever recipes inside was wrapped around a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco and placed in a waterproof container to be shipped overseas to Vietnam. Some of the more popular and humorous recipes included Fox Hole Dinner for Two (Turkey and Chicken Poulette), Cease Fire Casserole, and Fish with Frontline Stuffing.

    The recipes spoke to the grunts and were a reminder of home. “The casserole can be elegant, but as most men know, women often use it as a camouflage for a hasty meal after a long bridge game,” reads the recipe for Tin Can Casserole. “Here’s a recipe to put the Old Lady’s Bridge Casserole to shame.” The Breast of Chicken Under Bullets recipe suggests “breast of chicken under glass was never intended for areas where glass and shrapnel fly.”

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    A waterproof container with a Charlie Ration Cookbook and bottle of Tabasco inside. The container, sent upon request to a soldier in Vietnam, came back to the McIlhenny Co. marked “KIA” for killed in action. Screenshot via YouTube.

    George Creighton, a veteran of two tours in Vietnam, put Tabasco on everything. “The rations get boring and you just need something to liven them up and Tabasco does that,” Creighton told the Baltimore Sun in 2003. He added Tabasco to his beef, to his peas, and to his spaghetti. A favorite, according to Creighton, was a mixture of water buffalo meat with C rations — “like a mulligan stew with rice and put in Tabasco sauce and add flavor to the whole mix.”

    Tabasco continued the tradition into the 1980s and through Operation Desert Storm and published The Unofficial MRE Recipe Booklet providing creative alternatives for soldiers looking to please their palates. The innovative American family also collaborated with comic strip writer Mort Walker to illustrate it with the famous Beetle Bailey characters. Inside McIlhenny’s second cookbook he promised “Meals, Ready-to-Excite” with recipes of Paratrooper Pork and Beans, 40 MM Beanwiches, Chopper Chipped Beef in Cream Gravy, Ham Grenades, and Victory Pot Pie. The cookbook kept with tradition from Vietnam and came in a Tabasco quick-draw camouflaged holster with a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce. 

    The most famous hot sauce brand in the world is synonymous with flavorful and fun experiences for American service members from Vietnam to present day. “It’s a little touch of home in far-flung places,” said Paul McIlhenny, who was president of Tabasco from 1998 to 2012. “We want to defend the world against bland food, wherever it may be.” Thanks to Tabasco, and with help from the Charlie Ration Cookbook, GI Joe has gone gourmet.

    This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

    Articles

    75th anniversary of Battle of Midway marked in San Diego

    On June 5th, seven veterans of the Battle of Midway joined about 1,000 people aboard a retired US Navy aircraft carrier to mark the 75th anniversary of the turning point in World War II’s Pacific Ocean theater.


    Two F/A-18 Hornet fighter planes, blocked by clouds, thundered above the USS Midway, a Navy carrier that was commissioned in 1945 to commemorate the battle. The carrier was decommissioned in 1992 and has been in a military museum in downtown San Diego since 2004.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    Photo from Wikimedia Commons

    Well-wishers lined up to shake hands with 102-year-old Andy Mills and other wheelchair-bound Midway veterans after a 90-minute ceremony that recounted how the landmark battle unfolded. One Midway veteran came from hospice care.

    The 1942 battle occurred six months after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor after Navy code breakers broke complex Japanese code to reveal a plan to ambush US forces. The Japanese planned to occupy Midway, a strategic U.S.-held atoll 1,300 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor, and destroy what was left of the Pacific fleet.

    When Japanese planes began bombing Midway, American torpedo planes and bombers counter-attacked in waves, bombing and sinking four Japanese carriers on June 4. The fighting continued for another three days before the United States proved to be victorious.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    The USS Maryland received little damage during the attack on Pearl Harbor, but the hull of the capsized USS Oklahoma and the burning USS West Virginia are visible in this photo with it. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

    Adm. John Richardson, chief of U.S. naval operations, told the audience that a string of “effective but decisive” actions led to a victory with razor-thin room for error.

    “In hindsight, when you review the Battle of Midway, you can see like a series of strokes of amazing luck. And when you put those strokes together, it’s like a miracle occurred at Midway. It trends towards the miraculous,” he said.

    Anthony J. Principi, who served as secretary of veterans affairs from 2001 to 2005, wrote in the Military Times that that Navy commanders made “coordinated, split-second, life-and-death decisions.”

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War
    US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean Furey

    “We won because luck was on our side, because the Japanese made mistakes and because our officers and men acted with great courage amidst the chaos of battle,” he wrote.

    The Midway, which has more than 1 million visitors a year, has hosted college basketball games, parties during the Comic-Con pop culture extravaganza, and TV tapings for shows like ABC’s “The Bachelor.”

    MIGHTY HISTORY

    The Gurkha who obliterated Japanese defenders with grenades and a bayonet

    Havildar Bhanbhagta Gurung was a rifleman in the Indian Army when, in 1945, he rushed past his pinned-down platoon under sniper, machine gun, and rifle fire to take the fight to the Japanese on his own, cutting down five enemy positions and capturing a hill which he then defended against counterattack.


    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

    Gurkha infantry marches through the streets of Japan after the war.

    (British Army)

    Bhanbhagta Gurung joined the Indian Army, then part of the British Empire, soon after the outbreak of World War II and was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles, otherwise known as the Sirmoor Rifles.

    The unit was assigned a dangerous mission in the Burma theater of the war: Sneaking behind Japanese lines and wreaking havoc until hunted down by Japanese forces, then dispersing to start all over. This “chindit” operation was successful but costly. Bhanbhagta Gurung’s unit was sent for refit and he was promoted to corporal and given command of a rifle section.

    Initially, he did well in the position, but was charged with neglect of duty and demoted after his section held the wrong hill during an operation. Bhanbhagta Gurung maintained for his entire life that he had occupied the hill he was ordered to take, and it’s thought that his platoon leader had relayed the orders wrong but let Bhanbhagta Gurung take the rap.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

    Gurkha soldiers train in Malaya in 1941.

    (British Army photo by Lt. Palmer)

    Bhanbhagta Gurung was sent to another company in disgrace, but he would prove his heroism within months. In March, 1945, he was sent with the 25th Indian Division to the Burma coast with orders to proceed to the Irawaddy River through the An Pass.

    Japanese defenders put up a stiff resistance to the oncoming Gurkha forces. Bhanbhagta Gurung’s company was sent against an objective code-named Snowdon East. The hill was crisscrossed with trenches and foxholes.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

    Gurkha artillerymen fire in Tunisia during World War II.

    (British Army photo by Capt. Keating)

    The Gurkhas were making their way up when enemy mortar and machine gun fire pinned them down. Grenades rained down and inflicted additional casualties. As the men looked for a way out of their predicament, a Japanese sniper in a nearby tree began picking them off.

    Meanwhile, the men suffered friendly fire from their own artillery because of the odd ballistics required by firing up the hills. The big guns stopped firing, leaving the infantry without support.

    Bhanbhagta Gurung decided to take care of one problem at a time. Unable to get a good shot at the sniper from his prone position, he stood up with machine gun fire flying past him and mortars and grenades exploding everywhere. He aimed his rifle into the tree and ended the unit’s sniper problem.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

    Gurkha forces practice using explosives to expel enemy soldiers from trenches.

    (British Library)

    The section moved forward again, but only made it 20 yards before the withering fire resumed. Bhanbhagta Gurung decided that he wasn’t getting pinned down again and rushed forward on his own while under the accurate machine gun fire of a nearby bunker.

    He hit the first enemy foxhole and tossed in two grenades, killing both defenders, before he rushed to the next position and cleared it with his bayonet.

    The rest of his section was still taking fire from two foxholes, so Bhanbhagta Gurung went to them, again turning to grenades and bayonet to clear them. By this point, he was right at the machine gun bunker that had been trying to kill him and his section for the entire assault.

    These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

    A British infantryman places his Bren light machine gun into operation in 1944.

    (British Army photo by Sgt. Laing)

    He rushed up, still under fire, and climbed onto the roof of the bunker. Completely out of grenades and low on ammo, he grabbed two smoke grenades and tossed them through the bunker’s slit. The smoke was created by white phosphorous and the defenders rushed out, nearly blinded by it.

    Bhanbhagta Gurung grabbed his traditional kukri knife and used it to kill the Japanese troops. Still, a machine gunner remained inside, raining fire on the platoon — so Bhanbhagta Gurung crawled in. He found that there wasn’t enough room to swing his knife and instead used a rock to end the gunner’s life. The hill now belonged to the Gurkhas.

    Some of the Japanese defenders that had fled next organized a counterattack. Bhanbhagta Gurung organized a defense, including placing a Gurkha machine gunner in the captured bunker. The Gurkhas fended off the Japanese attack and held the hill.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX99xJLbpzI

    www.youtube.com

    The Gurkhas had suffered heavy losses — approximately half the company had been killed or wounded. But the casualty rate would likely have been much higher if not for Bhanbhagta Gurung. In fcat, they may have failed to take the hill at all. Bhanbhagta Gurung was put in for the Victoria Cross and later received it.

    He was also promoted, eventually regaining the rank of corporal. When the war ended later that year, he decided to get out of the military and care for family at home. He was later given a ceremonial promotion to sergeant in honor of his service and was awarded the Medal of the Order of the Star of Nepal by the King of Nepal.

    The family he raised included three sons who joined the Gurkha rifles and later retired from the military. He died in March 2008 in Gorkha, a region of Nepal.

    In 2015, re-enactors recreated his stunning success during a celebration marking 200 years of Gurkha service in the British military. The video is embedded above.

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