Today's Springfield Armory isn't your grandpa's Springfield Armory - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

When people think of American firearm manufacturers, legendary names like Colt, Smith & Wesson and Springfield come to mind. However, the modern firearms that today’s Springfield Armory makes like the M1A, SAINT AR-15s, XD pistols and Hellcat sub-compact pistol have little, if any, relation to classic American firearms like the M1903 Springfield and M1 Garand rifles that served in the World Wars. To explain, we have to go back to America’s fight for independence.

In 1777, George Washington was searching for a suitable location for an arms repository. General Henry Knox, chief artillery officer of the Continental Army, recommended Springfield, Massachusetts. Though the town was small and possessed little industrial capacity, it was not meant to host any sort of firearms manufacturing facilities. Rather, the Continental Army needed a central location to store and distribute firearms and munitions throughout New England. Springfield lay at the intersection of three rivers including the Connecticut River and four major roads that led to New York City, Boston, Albany, and Montreal. After scouting the site, Washington approved the location and the Springfield Armory was born.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
Shays’ Rebellion is driven away from Springfield Armory (National Archives)

Although the armory did not produce any firearms, musket cartridges and gun carriages were produced there to support the war effort. As intended, the armory continued to stockpile and distribute muskets, cannons, and other weapons throughout the war. By the 1780s, Springfield Armory was America’s premiere ammunition and weapons arsenal. This made it a prime target for Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays and his Regulators.

Burdened by debts and taxes from the war, Shays and other veterans felt betrayed by the government that they had fought to establish. In an effort to overturn it, Shays and his followers marched on Springfield Armory on January 25, 1787. The armory was defended by state militia who fired grape shot at the rebels, forcing them to flee. Four Regulators were killed and 20 were wounded. The rebellion was routed and eventually put down and the armory was untouched.

In 1794, construction of manufacturing facilities began at Springfield Armory. The next year, the armory began producing its first firearms. Though the it employed just 40 workers and produced 245 muskets, it was the start of American national firearms manufacturing. Congress would later establish a second national armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). However, Harpers Ferry would never grow to match Springfield and would be destroyed during the Civil War.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
Springfield Armory c. 1850 (National Park Service)

Throughout the 19th century, Springfield became a hub for firearm design, research, and production. This national armory model mirrored European nations who had dedicated facilities that were funded, maintained, and operated by the government. Under this model, military firearms like the Trapdoor rifle, M1903 Springfield, and M1 Garand were designed and primarily built by the Springfield Armory. Though private companies like Winchester and Remington were contracted to produce rifles during wartime, the manufacturing processes and procedures were all developed and standardized by Springfield.

By WWII, Springfield Armory had over 15,000 employees and was producing a majority of military firearms. However, employment and production was scaled down significantly after the war. Though Springfield did develop and build the M14 to replace the M1 in 1959, U.S. defense policy was changing.

The idea of maintaining a national armory at the expense of the tax-payer was brought into question in the 1960s by then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. He believed that it would be more economical to contract private industry for the design and manufacture of military firearms. Rather than having to constantly scale a national armory between peace and wartime, private companies could be lobbied and compete for government contracts when necessary. Under McNamara’s guidance, the Springfield Armory was slowly scaled back.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
Springfield Armory’s experimental shop where John Garand developed the famous M1 (National Park Service)

By 1968, Springfield Armory was completely shut down. Future rifles like the M16/M4 were designed and built by private companies like Armalite, Colt, and FN. However, just a couple years later, the Springfield Armory name was trademarked by Elmer Balance. Through his Texas-based company, LH Manufacturing, Balance had the idea to build a civilian version of the military M14 rifle and market it with the Springfield name. Using surplus M14 parts, Balance created what we know today as the Springfield M1A.

In 1974, Balance sold his entire enterprise, tooling, trademarks, and all, to the Reese family in Geneseo, Illinois. Springfield relocated from Texas to Illinois where it remains today. Though the M1A is a derivative of the M14 that was designed and manufactured by the original Springfield Armory, the rifle is the closest relation that the modern Springfield Armory has to its Revolutionary War-era namesake.

Despite this, Springfield Armory, Inc. maintains the federal logo of two crossed cannons with a cannonball and the writing “Since 1794”. Moreover, many of the company’s firearms are sub-contracted to other manufacturers including the XD pistol series and Hellcat pistol which are made in Croatia.

Today, the actual Springfield Armory facility in Massachusetts is owned and maintained by the National Park Service as a historic landmark. Though the national Springfield Armory is gone, its impact on American history is undeniable. In addition to designing and building war-winning weapons like the M1903 and M1 Garand, Springfield also revolutionized the manufacturing industry with innovations like interchangeable parts and the Blanchard lathe. The national armory also introduced modern business practices like hourly wages. While the modern private company is a cornerstone of the American firearms market, it’s important to note the difference between it and the national armory that it draws its name from.

MIGHTY HISTORY

In 1866, 80 men went to war — this is why 81 came home

Today, Liechtenstein is a small country – the fourth smallest state in Europe and sixth smallest in the world. It rests on the banks of the Rhine between Switzerland and Austria. It was named after the Princes of Lichtenstein, who united the County of Vaduz and the lands of Schellenberg in 1719, forming their small but charming Principality of Liechtenstein.

They managed to remain neutral (and thus largely avoid) both world wars. In 1943, the principality went so far as to ban the Nazi party. By this time, indeed, they didn’t even have an army, having disbanded it completely in 1868.

And yet their final deployment in 1866 remains notorious for two reasons: first, they lost no battles and suffered zero casualties (having avoided all fighting). Second, they left with a force of 80 men — and returned home with 81.

Or so the legend goes…


Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Liechtenstein sent an army of 80 strong to guard the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy while a reserve of 20 men stayed behind. While the deployed force was there to defend the territory against any attack from the Prussian-allied Italians, according to War History Online, “there was really nothing to do but sit in the beautiful mountains, drink wine and beer, smoke a pipe and take it easy.”

In the main theater of the war, the Battle of Königgrätz would earn Prussia a victory, decisively ending the war.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

The Battle of Königgrätz by Georg Bleibtreu

So the men of Liechtenstein marched home. When they returned, however, their numbers had grown to 81.

But who was the extra man?

According to The World at War, an Austrian liaison officer joined them. Lonely Planet seems to share a version naming the newcomer an “Italian friend” — other sources have suggested that he was a defector.

None of the stories seem to be substantiated — but no one has debunked them either.

Meanwhile, Liechtenstein remains a thriving and successful country — that still has no army to this day.

Articles

This presidential nominee’s campaign was tanked by a tank

In the 1988 presidential campaign, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for President, had a problem: he needed to look credible as a commander-in-chief during a time when Democrats were being criticized for their defense policies.


Throughout the 1980s, the Reagan Administration had been pushing through a major peace-time military build-up.

According to CQ Researcher, a large portion of the Democrats in Congress had opposed that build-up in the 1984 elections. That caused the perception that the Democrats were being weak on defense, which led to Reagan’s 49-state landslide.

Dukakis had been among those who were critical of the buildup, the mainstays of which — the B-1B Lancer, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, and a host of other weapon systems – are in service today (with a few exceptions).

 

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
An E-2C Hawkeye early warning and control aircraft flies over the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zackary Alan Landers/Released)

Worse, according to a 2013 article in Politico, during the month of August, Dukakis had gone from leading Vice President George H.W. Bush by 17 points to trailing him, and one big reason was that 54 percent of Americans felt that then-Vice President Bush would do a better job on national security, while only 18 percent thought Dukakis would.

To counter that, Dukakis went on a swing that discussed defense, but one event was marked by defense workers jeering him. Then, he went on a visit to a General Dynamics plant in Michigan where he planned to ride in an M1 Abrams tank, a key part of the buildup that Democrats had criticized.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
Aerial drone image of an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank crew. (Dept. of Defense image)

 

However, to do the ride, Dukakis was told he had to wear protective headgear. He did so, and ended up sealing his fate.

Within a week, the photo of Dukakis in the helmet had become a joke (think Kushner in his vest), but the worst was to come when operatives with Bush’s campaign developed an attack ad. Using 11 seconds of footage, they highlighted Dukakis’s opposition to the Reagan buildup and foreign policy.

Dukakis, who had already been trailing, and already saw 25 percent of Americans less likely to vote for him, was now in freefall. He eventually lost the 1988 election by seven million votes.

You can see a video by Politico on the infamous tank ride below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 incredible photos of Navy ships barely fitting through the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is a man-made 52-mile-long waterway through Panama that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. When it opened in 1914, about 1,000 vessels transited the canal. By 2012, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through. In 2016, the waterway was expanded to allow larger vessels with more cargo. Here are five impressive pictures of massive U.S. naval vessels passing through the Panama Canal.

1. USS Saratoga (CV-3)

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
USS Saratoga (CV-3) transits the canal during the inter-war period (U.S. Navy)

2. USS Lexington (CV-2)

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
USS Lexington (CV-2) in one of the Panama Canal’s locks in March 1928 (U.S. Navy)

3. USS Boxer (CVS-21)

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
USS Boxer (CVS-21) passes through the canal in 1958 before she was redesignated as an experimental amphibious assault ship (LPH-4) in 1959. Note the personal vehicles carried on her flight deck (U.S. Navy)

3. USS Valley Forge (CV-45)

ship in panama canal
USS Valley Forge (CV-45) was one of the last aircraft carriers to transit the Panama Canal (U.S. Navy)

4. USS Missouri (BB-63)

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
USS Missouri (BB-63) had just 8 inches of clearance on either side (U.S. Navy)

5. USS New Jersey (BB-62)

ship in panama canal
USS New Jersey (BB-62) transits the Panama Canal in 1984 (USS New Jersey)

6. USNS Comfort (T-AH-20)

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) passes through the Miraflores Lock (U.S. Navy)
MIGHTY HISTORY

You have to hear Muhammed Ali’s take on North Korea

Dennis Rodman wasn’t the first professional athlete to visit North Korea. He probably won’t be the last either. In 1995, Japanese pro wrestler – as in, WWE-level sports entertainment pro wrestler – invited fellow wrestling superstar Ric Flair and boxing legend Muhammed Ali to visit the Hermit Kingdom with him on a goodwill tour.

It didn’t take long for “The Louisville Lip” to speak his mind, even in the middle of the most repressive country on Earth.


Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

This is what happens when you get on the wrong side of Muhammed Ali.

Ali was never one to keep his thoughts to himself – and he always accepted the consequences. In 1967, he was stripped of his title, sentenced to five years in prison, and fined ,000 for not obeying his call to be drafted saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”

While Ali did not end up going to prison, his stance left him nearly broke and destitute, exiled from boxing for years. The experience didn’t curb his mouth one bit. He has always put his money where his mouth is, even when his voice was ravaged by Parkinson’s Disease.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

But even a debilitating degenerative disease couldn’t stop him from lighting the Olympic torch in 1996.

So when The People’s Champion was invited to visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1995, it should have been a surprise to no one that he would still speak his mind. Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki invited Ali and fellow wrestler Ric Flair on a goodwill tour of the country in 1995. The group was part of the DPRK’s International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace. Also coming with the group was Rick and Scott Steiner, Road Warrior Hawk, Scott Norton, Too Cold Scorpio, Sonny Onoo, Eric Bischoff, and Canadian Chris Benoit.

Flair and Inoki would headline two main events from Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium in front of more than 150,000 North Koreans. Muhammed Ali was just a wrestling fan. But when they arrived in the North Korean capital, things immediately got weird for the athletes.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Inoki, Flair, and Ali in Pyongyang 1995.

Their passports were confiscated, and they were assigned a “cultural attache” who followed their every movement and marked their every word. They were not left alone, even for a moment, even as they discussed the show they would put on later that night. One night, the group was sitting at a large table eating dinner with North Korean bigwigs, when one of the officials began some big talk about how North Korea could take out Japan and/or the United States whenever they wanted.

In his biography Ric Flair described Ali speaking up, his voice clear and loud as if his Parkinson’s Disease didn’t exist, saying:

“No wonder we hate these motherf*ckers.”
Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Antonio Inoki and Muhammed Ali in Pyongyang for the 1995 International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace.

When they were ready to go, Ric Flair was asked to say a few words about how great North Korea is and how much the United States paled in comparison. Flair demurred, instead thanking the North Koreans for their hospitality and complimenting them on their capital city.

Muhammed Ali was not asked to say anything before leaving.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Experts dispute what really killed Stonewall Jackson

Did friendly fire really kill Confederate Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, or is this just a myth of the Civil War?


We all know the story (or should).

On May 2, 1863, Jackson was conducting a reconnaissance mission in the last stages of the Battle of Chancellorsville when he was accidentally shot by Confederate troops. He would die eight days later, after an operation to amputate his left arm.

 

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Today, were someone to be wounded in the left arm and right hand, combat medics would rapidly be working on him to stabilize his condition. Once that was done, a MEDEVAC flight would get him to a combat hospital for further evaluation. Surgery on the arm might not even take place in a combat hospital – Jackson would likely have been transported to a place like Walter Reed for the actual surgery.

He might not lose the arm. He probably would not have died.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
Army medics unload a mock casualty from a UH-60 Black Hawk medevac helicopter during a training exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center. | U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

But this was 1863, and Jackson died. Why? According to one coroner in a History Channel video, the wounds Jackson received when he was accidentally shot by Confederate sentries while on a reconnaissance mission during the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863, were not the direct cause of his death.

Instead, the blame may very well fall on the poor medical treatment he received after his wounds. The methods used to keep General Jackson under while his arm was amputated using the techniques of the time triggered the pneumonia that killed him, the coroner claims.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Is he right? Watch the video for yourself and let us know what you think!

History, YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time US troops found 200 tons of stolen Nazi gold

In the closing months of World War II, the defeated Nazi Army scrambled to hide the hundreds of tons of gold they had despicably stripped from various nations during their occupation. As they hurriedly stashed their ill-gotten gains, they were unaware that the Allies were drawing near.


Operation Safe Haven was well under way. Allies were on the hunt to locate the enormous amount of looted wealth the Germans viciously seized and stored and put it into the hands of humanitarian groups who would, hopefully, send the wealth to its rightful owners. U.S. troops were trained to search for assets in the form of paper money, coins, and gold bullion.

 

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
Troops from the Army’s 90th Infantry Division as they push their way through enemy lines.

 

 

On April, 6, 1945, MPs from the 3rd Army’s 90th Infantry Division were on a foot patrol in the town of Merkers, Germany when they discovered a useful clue. They spotted two women walking down the street and soon found out that the ladies were French DPs, or “displaced persons.”

These DPs were taken from their French home and transported to Germany to do forced labor. They informed the MPs about a salt mine that hid a surplus of gold — and that the Germans would frequently bring in truckloads of precious metals. The MPs quickly relayed this information to higher command.

Soon after, Generals Eisenhower and Patton traveled to the mine and discovered years’ worth of stolen Nazi gold.

 

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
Generals Eisenhower and Patton inside the Merker’s mine.

U.S. troops found roughly 7,000 sacks of gold bullion neatly piled in the underground area, measuring approximately 75-feet deep and 150-feet wide.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Additionally, the mine contained 98 million French Francs. However, that enormous sum of cash wasn’t the most shocking thing found down there. Allied troops found luggage containing gold fillings extracted from those forced into the concentration camps.

It’s believed that the gold fillings were to be used in the dental care of several SS officers.

Check out American Heroes Channel’s video below to see incredible footage of this opulent discovery.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what it took to be an executioner in medieval times

Mary A. asks: How did someone get the job of an executioner in medieval times?

Few occupations from history are as maligned as that of Medieval-era executioner. Popularly painted as gleeful dispensers of death and torture, the truth seems to be that many executioners throughout this period usually treated the occupation with a certain reverence and exhibited an extreme dedication to duty. Beyond trying to minimize the suffering of those slated to be executed, this was, among other reasons we’ll get into, because it would often mean the life of the executioner if they ever botched an execution or otherwise weren’t extremely professional in carrying out their job.


So, moving beyond any Hollywood depictions, what was it actually like to be an executioner in the ballpark of Medieval times and how did someone get the job in the first place?

A thing to note before we continue is that the duties expected of and performed by executioners, as well as what life was like for specific executioners, has varied wildly across time and regions. For example, as we’ve talked before, those condemned to death in the Ottoman empire during the 18th century could potentially get off scot-free by challenging the executioner to a footrace. In this case, in addition to doling out lethal justice with their bare hands, executioners also worked as both bodyguards and gardeners.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

That caveat out of the way, how did one become an executioner in the first place? It turns out that many European Medieval executioners were former criminals themselves. You see, for reasons we’ll get into shortly, the role of executioner was so unpopular that finding someone to do the job often required either forcing someone into the profession or offering the gig to someone who was slated to be executed themselves.

Scandinavian countries were known to make extensive use of this novel hiring practice, with a little twist thrown in- they’d maim executioners by cutting off one or both of their ears so that they could be easily identified by the public. It also wasn’t uncommon for people made executioners in this way to be branded somewhere on their head, once again for the purpose of their new profession being, in this case literally, written all over their face. For example, as noted in Hugo Mathiessen’s Boddel og Galgefugl,

“In the year 1470, a poor thief stood at the foot of the gallows in the Swedish town Arboga and was waiting to be hanged. The public attending the spectacle had pity on the sinner and when he, to save his neck, offered to become executioner in the town, it was agreed. He was pardoned and the red-hot iron was used to brand his body with both thief and executioner mark.”

In Germany, on the other hand, as author Joel Harrington notes in a discussion of his book, The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century, while “standing executioners on salary were the norm” throughout Germany during the 1600s, for many centuries prior to this it was commonplace to thrust role of executioner upon a victim’s oldest male relative.

This all brings us around to why so many avoided the profession like the plague. To begin with, the general consensus among most was that in taking such a job, one was then sure to be damned in the afterlife. This was despite the fact that in some regions, such as France, executioners were by official church decree absolved of the sins committed while performing their duties.

This still didn’t stop the general public from considering executioners unclean, leading to the more practical problem with the job- nearly being completely ostracized from society. Coming back to those condemned to die instead becoming an executioner, people seem to have been perfectly fine with this as the criminal’s life would still be forfeit, just in a more metaphorical sense.

For example, throughout Medieval Europe executioners were often forced to live in houses outside of the city or town they plied their trade in. In cases where this wasn’t possible, they tended to live near things like public latrines, lepertoriums, or brothels. Executioners were similarly often denied citizenship to the towns and cities they served (and thus had few rights in the town) and were largely barred from holding office or even entering churches, pubs, bathhouses, etc- basically most public establishments were off limits to the executioner.

Thus, despite executioners being deemed critical for a society to remain civilised, they were paradoxically generally forced to live apart from that civilised society.

In fact, some places across Europe went as far to institute laws specifically targeting executioners and what they could and could not do in their day to day lives. For example, the Bavarian town of Memmingen enacted an ordinance in 1528 that forbade members of the general public dining with an executioner.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Such laws and just general attitudes effectively limited the people an executioner could interact with in their day to day lives to their own family and those from the criminal underworld who simply didn’t care that the executioner was unclean. On top of this, an executioner’s children and spouse were likewise similarly shunned by anyone but the underbelly of society.

This, combined with the fact that the children of executioners could usually only find mates with children of other executioners, understandably led to the role of executioner becoming a macabre family trade that resulted in executioner dynasties that spanned centuries.

Beyond being ostrosised and damning your progeny to a similar life, as well as an afterlife full of hellfire, while there were potentially ways for an executioner to make a killing within the profession, it turns out for most there simply weren’t enough executions themselves to make ends meet. Alternate work was limited to jobs nobody else wanted. This included all manner of things, from disposal of corpses (animal and human), emptying cesspools, collecting taxes from the diseased and prostitutes, etc.

Oddly, at least from a modern perspective, another common profession for a well trained executioner was that of a doctor and surgeon. You see, beyond executing people, another thing executioners were often called to do was torture people for various reasons. These two things, combined with the close-knit community of executioners sharing their knowledge amongst themselves, resulted in lifelong executioners generally having exceptional knowledge of human anatomy, and thus they were commonly called on to treat various medical maladies.

In fact, one rather famous 17th century German executioner, Frantz Schmidt, noted in his journal that over the course of his near five decade career he had over 15,000 people he treated as a doctor, while executing only 394 and disfiguring or otherwise torturing or flogging roughly the same number- meaning most of the time he functioned as a doctor, despite society at the time considering him an executioner.

Schmidt was one of those thrust into the profession as his father was strong-armed into becoming an executioner, condemning Schmidt to the same life once he came of age, though Schmidt’s story has something of a happy ending.

Like many executioners, Schmidt was given a wide berth by the public in his day-to-day life, but the incredible professionalism with which he conducted his grisly duties earned him the begrudging respect of both the general public and those in power. In his later years, Schmidt was able to parlay this into a meeting with Nuremberg authorities and then was able to appeal to Emperor Ferdinand II himself, with the goal of restoring his family honor.

Swayed by not just Schmidt’s words, but also letters from city council members and other notable people extolling Schmidt’s character and dedication to his duty, the then 70 year old executioner was granted both Nuremberg citizenship and had his family name cleared, allowing his progeny to escape the bloody spectre of his work.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Of course, being ultra-professional with the profession was something of a necessity for Schmidt as, at the time in Germany, there was a law stipulating that any executioner tasked with doling out death by the sword (a form of execution largely reserved for especially important individuals) who took more than three swings to behead a victim would be condemned to die themselves.

Even where such laws didn’t exist, the job of an executioner was extremely dangerous as executioners were also at risk of being killed either by vengeful relatives or the crowd witnessing an execution. In regards to the latter, if an executioner was especially cruel in their meting out of punishment, simply incompetent to the point that they caused undue suffering, or just otherwise acted in an unprofessional manner in performing their duties, it wasn’t unheard of for a crowd to retaliate by killing the executioner on the spot, generally with no consequence to anyone in the mob.

This constant danger of the job was something Schmidt himself talked about several times in his journal, though he only notes one instance where the crowd turned into a mob. This occurred during a flogging he was performing, with the person being beaten ultimately stoned to death by the crowd.

As you might imagine from this, in cases like Schmidt who was trained from childhood to take over the job from his father, a rather lengthy apprenticeship was called for, including a robust education from one’s parent, followed by assisting in executions and torture from a young age. Schmidt also notes that he practiced executions extensively on various animals before being allowed to actually execute a human himself. The end goal of all of this was to make sure he wouldn’t screw up, as raucous mobs didn’t really care if it was someone’s first day on the job or not.

Now, although being an executioner came with some massive downsides, it wasn’t all bad. Enterprising executioners could actually earn a fairly decent living doling out torture and capital punishment on command if they were smart about it. For example, especially skilled executioners who didn’t mind traveling could take advantage of the scarcity of people willing to do their job by plying their trade across whichever country they happened to live in, rather than just staying local.

Executioners also frequently earned extra money in the form of bribes from the condemned or their families, invariably given in the hopes that the executioner would ensure death was as swift and painless as possible, or otherwise allow the condemned extra comforts leading up to the execution. This might include, for example, slipping them extra alcohol or the like to make the execution a little easier to handle.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

On top of this, throughout much of Medieval Europe a perk of being an executioner is that it was customary for whatever property was worn at the time of death to be granted to the executioner.

Additionally, executioners in Germany were frequently tasked with things like arbitrating disputes between prostitutes and driving lepers out of town, among other such jobs, all of which they could charge a premium for because nobody else was willing to do the job.

Executioners were also sometimes not just given the job of disposing of animal carcasses, but also in some regions the explicit right to all stray animal carcasses found in a town. Depending on the animal, this could mean the rights to valuable hides, teeth, etc.

An even greater benefit for certain executioners, this time in France, was the idea of droit de havage. In a nutshell, because executioners were so ostracized and couldn’t in some regions, for example, just go down to the market and shop freely, under droit de havage, executioners were more or less allowed to tax those who sold various food and drink items. This came in the form of being able to demand goods for free.

Finally, there’s the money an executioner would be paid for performing an execution, flogging, or the like. Although it’s hard to say exactly how much an executioner could earn per hanging or beheading in today’s currency due to the inherent difficulty of gauging the value of historic currencies, it’s evident that it was a good amount, at least relative to the generally low social standing of executioners.

For example, according to information gleaned from an old statute dated to a small German town in 1276 an executioner could earn the equivalent of 5 shillings per execution. This is an amount roughly equal to the amount of money a skilled tradesmen could earn in about 25 days at the time. Likewise, an executioner operating in England some two centuries later in the 1400s could reportedly earn a fee of 10 shillings per execution, or roughly 16 times the amount a skilled tradesmen could earn in a single day.

Granted, as you might have deduced from the aforementioned case of Frantz Schmidt only executing about 400 people and flogging a similar number in his near five decades on the job, nobody was getting rich doing this by itself, it at least wasn’t bad pay per hour of work.

Finally, we’d be remiss in any discussion of Medieval executioners to not point out that the idea of executioners wearing masks to hide who they were does not appear to have actually been much of a thing. Beyond, as mentioned, in many regions being literally branded as executioners, even large cities for much of history weren’t actually that large; so people knew who the executioner in a given region was, if not directly, by being marked such. Thus, wearing a mask would have been pointless.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The British fought Vietnam alongside Gurkhas, Indians, and Japanese POWs – and won

For hundreds of years, the country we know today as Vietnam has been invaded and occupied by outsiders the world over. At the end of World War II, the Vietnamese had enough of colonialism and external rule by a foreign power. They were going to gain independence by any means necessary.

In the annals of military history, the occupiers and invaders of Vietnam most often remembered are the French and the Americans, neither of which truly succeeded in subduing Vietnam. Even China’s invasion of the country was short-lived. 

For a short period of time after the end of World War II the United Kingdom went to war in Vietnam. The only difference was they were successful in achieving their wartime aims.

The United States spent almost 20 years aiding South Vietnam and preventing a Communist takeover of the country from its northern neighbor. Before that, Vietnam fought a war for independence from French colonial rule in the years following World War II. 

What neither country could fully grasp from the locals was that the Vietnamese saw themselves as fighting for freedom from outside rule. They wanted a Vietnam run by the Vietnamese, and they were willing to pay any price to get it. That price was very high. 

War with the west wasn’t always the one way forward for Vietnam. During World War II, Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh fighters sided with the United States and the Office of Strategic Services to harass Japanese forces and rescue American pilots. After the war’s end, Ho declared independence for Vietnam, directly quoting the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

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Hồ Chí Minh, 1921 (Public Domain)

Ho used the excerpt to get American support in keeping the French out of Vietnam after the war. It didn’t work. Just 11 days after the official surrender of Japan aboard the USS Missouri, fighting broke out in South Vietnam between the Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh and a surprising mix of allies set to impose colonial rule on the country. 

Before World War II ended, it was decided that the Chinese under Chiang Kai Shek would receive the Japanese surrender in Northern Indochina while the British would accept a Japanese surrender in the South. Just before the Allies arrived, the Viet Minh had taken control of the government and imprisoned a French garrison as POWs.

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Chiang Kai-shek (Flickr, Public Domain)

The POWs were eventually released, rearmed, returned to control of Saigon. But the Viet Minh began cutting off the city from the rest of the country. The impending return of French rule had turned the once-friendly communist forces against the Allies. 

By October 1945, Allied forces formed a motley crew of British, Indian, and French troops along with Nepalese Gurkhas and Japanese POWs to launch a campaign to push the Viet Minh away from Saigon and back north. The Viet Minh saw some successes in small unit combat, but were devastated by British air power and machine guns and, on one occasion, a Gurkha kukri knife charge. 

In the last major battle of the campaign, the Viet Minh were cut down in overnight fighting, losing 100 troops to British machine gun nests. The defending British and Indian troops didn’t have a single fatality. The Viet Minh spent the rest of the conflict conducting ambushes and hit-and-run attacks. 

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General Leclerc reviews troops of the 20th Indian Division, Saigon, French Indochina, 22 December 1945.

The British left Indochina in mid-1946 and the French took back control over the country. The win was fleeting, however. The French would have nominal control over Vietnam, fighting the Viet Minh until being forced to withdraw in 1954.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Roosevelt was the only soldier disabled for the same wound in two wars

Leave it to a man with the last name Roosevelt to lead the charge into two World Wars. Like his father, President Theodore Roosevelt, when it came time to defend the United States of America, Archibald Roosevelt couldn’t sign up fast enough. 

Also just like his dad before him, he would lead American troops into combat, practically daring the enemy to hit him. In the case of Archibald Roosevelt, they did. Twice. 

Archibald Roosevelt was everything one might expect the son of Teddy Roosevelt to be. He was intelligent, athletic, and rowdy with his brothers. Like his famous father, he also attended Harvard University, graduating in 1917. 

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Archie Roosevelt with his pony, Algonquin on the White House Lawn in 1902. (LOC, Public Domain)

That same year, the United States finally had enough of Germany’s transgressions and entered the great war raging across Europe for the previous four years. Like his three brothers, Archie entered the U.S. Army as an officer and was almost immediately sent overseas to fight in France. 

There was no avoiding combat duty when you’re the son of the most “bully” former president of the day. Only one of his sons was given a job training other men for combat and though the former president lost his son Quentin and his other sons were wounded, he was contemptuous of rich men who let their sons avoid their duty.

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Archibald “Archie” Roosevelt in World War I after being wounded at the front. (Public Domain)

While fighting with the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, he earned two Silver Stars and the French Croix de Guerre. He was wounded while fighting in France, earning his second Silver Star citation in 1918. Roosevelt was hit in the trenches during an enemy artillery bombardment. The wound in his leg left him completely disabled in the eyes of the Army and he was discharged with the rank of captain. 

In the interwar years, Theodore Roosevelt died and his son Archibald entered civilian life as an oil executive, but resigned following the Teapot Dome Scandal that rocked the government. He then went into the family’s investment business. 

Then, the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor. Despite being considered disabled, he was still a Roosevelt, and petitioned then-President Franklin Roosevelt to let him and his skilled leadership rejoin the Army to fight America’s new enemy. The president approved. 

Between 1943 and 1944, now Lt. Col. Roosevelt was leading a regimental combat team in New Guinea. His unit’s fight against the Japanese there was so consequential that a key ridge near his position was called “Roosevelt Ridge” unofficially by the soldiers there. When it came time to write Army history in New Guinea, the name was official. During this command, he earned two more Silver Star medals. 

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Lt Col Archibald Roosevelt 3rd son of 26th US President, Theodore Roosevelt (Public Domain)

On August 12, 194 a Japanese grenade exploded near his position, wounding his already-disable leg in the same place he was injured in World War I. He recuperated from the wound and eventually returned to his unit, he would be medically retired from the military following the war’s end. 

Archibald Roosevelt, who earned two Silver Star medals in two World Wars, was rated as 100% disabled for his latest injury. To this day, he’s still the only American to be disabled twice for the same wound incurred in two different wars. 

After the war, Roosevelt went into business for himself, joined a number of political action groups, and became a staunch anti-communist, along with other public activities. He died in 1979 at age 85, due to a stroke.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how Vietnam almost became a protectorate of the US

It’s no secret by now that Ho Chi Minh really admired the founding principles of the United States. He even quoted Thomas Jefferson from the American Declaration of Independence in his declaration of independence for Vietnam.


Many academics say, he was really into self-determination and appreciated America’s history.

 

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Until the early 1960s. Probably.

And he was right to trust the World War II-era United States to ensure a free Vietnam after WWII. Except he wasn’t dealing with the same America after that war ended. Instead, the high-minded anti-colonial Roosevelt administration was gone, replaced by the anti-communist Truman administration.

As World War II came to a close, Uncle Ho was an agent of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services. As the OSS man in Vietnam, he was the chief organizer of anti-Japanese resistance. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies, ending WWII, he moved to ensure the French didn’t return. And history shows, the French weren’t exactly the kindest of colonizers.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
Maybe if they fought in Paris as hard as they fought in Algeria the French wouldn’t have lost Vietnam in the first place.

 

It turns out Ho Chi Minh sent a number of telegrams to President Truman after the end of WWII. At the same time, he urged the Vietnamese people to rise up, capture arms and rice stocks, and keep the French from replacing the Japanese as their imperial masters. Truman never read any of the telegrams – there isn’t even evidence that the President received Ho’s messages.

One of the telegrams, written in 1945, asked Truman to make Vietnam an overseas protectorate of the United States, on par with Puerto Rico’s relationship with America. He was willing to trade complete independence of his country for American democracy – better than British, French, or Japanese Imperialism… at least it was in Ho’s mind.

 

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Until the early 1960s. Probably.

Protectorates are officially “insular areas of the United States.” They are administered by the federal government, but are not part of a state or federal district. Many of the U.S.-occupied islands in the Pacific would become American protectorates after World War II, so the idea isn’t as outlandish as it seems today.

The Marshall Islands, Samoa, Guam, and the Marianas all have protectorate status.

It might have actually been a good plan for the long term. If Truman accepted Ho’s idea, there have been many examples of U.S. protectorates that gained full independence after a while. The Philippines and Cuba are a couple of examples of this kind of self-determination. They weren’t examples of clean history and not a clean break, but still a break.

On Oct. 16, 1945, just a few weeks after the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri, Japanese and British planes bombed French positions in a coordinated attack to promote the French position there. Ho Chi Minh got his answer from the West. France broke its promise to Franklin Roosevelt, who demanded the French give up its colonies in Indochina.

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Japanese sentries salute French officers in Saigon, 1945.

 

Not all of America was behind supporting the French. General Douglas MacArthur, for example, was livid.

“If there’s anything that makes my blood boil,” MacArthur said, “it is to see our allies in Indochina deploy Japanese troops to reconquer those little people we promised to liberate.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Delta Force Marine earned the Navy Cross in Benghazi

Minutes after Tate Jolly arrived at the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, a mortar hit the compound where an ambassador and another American had been killed and dozens more were trapped.

The Marine gunnery sergeant was one of only two U.S. troops with a small task force that rushed to respond to what quickly became clear was a coordinated attack on the U.S. State Department facility.

It was a remarkable mission. The closest military backup was hours away, which later led to fierce debate about how U.S. troops should be postured to protect Americans and diplomatic posts overseas.


“There was no one even remotely close to being able to go and get them in North Africa,” a source familiar with the operation planning said. “The nearest airplanes were hours away and the nearest ground troops a day away or further.”

The source spoke under the condition of anonymity to talk freely about the Sept. 11, 2012, incident, which remains a topic of controversy in Washington seven years later.

The scene was chaotic when the team arrived, and they quickly tried to restore order. There were nearly 30 panicked people who needed to be evacuated quickly, but the compound was under fire from multiple sides.

“Unfortunately, it was not a whole lot of offense; it was a whole lot of just holding guys off as long as they could to try and get out,” the person familiar with the mission said.

Jolly, who declined a request for an interview, would ultimately be awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism there. The soldier with him, Master Sgt. David Halbruner, received the Army‘s Distinguished Service Cross. The valor awards are exceeded only by the Medal of Honor.

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Navy Cross.


Little has been known about the Jolly’s actions in Benghazi. There was no public ceremony when he received his valor award and, until recently, his name has not been publicly tied to the mission in media reports.

His hometown paper in North Carolina, the Wilkes Journal-Patriot, recently reported that the 36-year-old who’d graduated from high school about 90 miles north of Charlotte was the Marine who’d gone above and beyond to save other Americans. Jolly recently retired as a master sergeant.

According to testimony, public documents and the person familiar with his actions, Jolly was calm in the face of deadly chaos. He and Halbruner are credited with saving numerous lives that day.

With a rifle strapped to his back amid an onslaught of mortars and machine-gun fire, Jolly tended to the wounded, at one point throwing a man onto his back and shuffling him down a ladder amid a barrage of enemy fire. He helped some get back into the fight and provided vital care to others with life-threatening injuries.

Here’s how then-Gunnery Sgt. Jolly helped get other Americans to safety during a situation that caused a years-long political firestorm thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C.

A Delta Force Marine

Jolly, an infantry assault Marine, was assigned to a Delta Force detachment in Libya at the time of the Benghazi attack. It’s rare, though not unheard of, for Marines to join the elite Army special-operations teams.

The Marine had deployed to Iraq twice before joining the secretive counterterrorism force, spending about five years carrying out clandestine missions before the Benghazi attack and another five after, according to information about his career obtained by Military.com.

He racked up more than a dozen total deployments with Delta Force.

The Navy Cross Jolly received for his actions in Benghazi was his fourth valor award. He has two Bronze Stars with combat “V” devices — one of which he earned for undisclosed reasons during his time with Delta Force, and a second from a 2004-2005 deployment to Ramadi, Iraq.

Jolly also earned a Navy Commendation Medal with combat distinguishing device and a Purple Heart for injuries sustained during that deployment.

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Purple Heart.

(Senior Airman Dennis Sloan)

According to his award citations, Jolly repeatedly braved enemy fire in Ramadi to help take out an enemy sniper who had ambushed a government center. He received the Navy Commendation Medal for risking his life to destroy roadside bombs when an explosive ordnance disposal team couldn’t reach his unit.

On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Jolly was about 600 miles away from Benghazi in Tripoli — roughly the same distance between Chicago and Washington, D.C. Since Jolly and Halbruner were some of the only troops in-country, the operation was coordinated not by U.S. Africa Command, but the CIA.

Team Tripoli, made up of Jolly, Halbruner and five others, arrived in Benghazi at about 1:30 a.m. That was about four hours after the attack began, and two since Ambassador Christopher J. Stevens had last been seen alive.

The team was led by Glen Doherty, a Global Response Staff (GRS) security officer and former Navy SEAL, who was later killed. He was Team Tripoli’s medic.

The plan, according to the person familiar with the mission, was to leave the airport and head to the hospital, where they believed Stevens was being treated. When they found out Stevens had died, the first ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979, the team headed to the consulate to bolster the diplomatic security personnel and GRS, a group of private military contractors who were fending off the attackers.

“It could’ve gone really, really bad,” said the source familiar with the mission. “It could’ve become 30 American hostages in North Africa. There were seven shooters going in to protect people who don’t shoot for a living.”

By the time they arrived, Sean Smith, a State Department foreign service officer, had also died. It was still dark, just after 5 a.m., according to a congressional timeline of the attack. Within minutes, the first mortar hit.

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Sean Smith.

The attacks continued, with one witness estimating there were as many as 100 insurgents spotted surrounding their location in 20- or 30-man groups. It was a skilled enemy, one of the troops there later told members of Congress.

“It’s not easy … to shoot inside the city and get something on the target within two shots — that’s difficult,” the witness testified. “I would say they were definitely a trained mortar team or had been trained to do something similar to that.

“I was kind of surprised,” the service member added. “… It was unusual.”

They were there a matter of hours, but at times witnesses said the team feared they wouldn’t make it out alive. It began to “rain down on us,” one of them told lawmakers.

”I really believe that this attack was planned,” the witness said. “The accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any regular revolutionaries.”

In total, six 81-millimeter mortars assaulted the annex within a minute and 13 seconds, a congressional report on the attack states. Doherty and Tyrone Woods, another former SEAL with the GRS, didn’t survive.

Dave Ubben, a State Department security agent, and Mark “Oz” Geist, another GRS member, were badly hurt. The men were defending the compound from the rooftop, determined to make it look like they had a lot more firepower than they actually did.

“There was a lot of shooting, a lot of indirect fire and explosions,” the source with knowledge of the response said. “It was just guys being really aggressive and doing a good job at making it seem like their element was bigger than it was, like they were less hurt than they were.”

Ubben — who’d testified before a federal court in 2017 that he took shrapnel to his head, nearly lost his leg, and had a grapefruit-sized piece of his arm taken off — was losing blood fast. Geist also had a serious arm injury that needed immediate attention.

Jolly and Halbruner were determined to save them. Amid the fight, they were tying tourniquets to the men’s bodies.

Ubben is alive because Jolly helped move him from the rooftop to a building where diplomatic personnel were hunkered down. Gregory Hicks, who became the acting chief of mission after Stevens died, later described how the gunny did it during a congressional hearing.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Ambassador Christopher J. Stevens.

“One guy … full of combat gear climbed up [to the roof], strapped David Ubben, who is a large man, to his back and carried him down the ladder, saved him,” Hicks said.

Jolly and Halbruner also went back out to the rooftop to recover the bodies of the fallen.

“They didn’t know whether any more mortars were going to come in. The accuracy was terribly precise,” Hicks said. “… They climbed up on the roof, and they carried Glen’s body and Tyrone’s body down.”

It was for Jolly’s “valorous actions, dedication to duty and willingness to place himself in harm’s way” to save numerous unarmed Americans’ lives that he earned the Navy Cross, according to his citation.

Bracing for the worst

That attack was traumatic for many of the civilians trapped inside one of the buildings, according to the person with knowledge of the operation. They’d lost their ambassador and another colleague, and they had no experience being caught in a life-and-death combat situation.

Once Jolly and Halbruner brought the injured men in from off the rooftop, the diplomatic staff helped treat their wounds, according to the source familiar with the situation. It gave them a mission as the onslaught continued outside.

As the sun came up, the remaining team members worried that terrorists would overtake the facility. First believed to be the work of the Benghazi-based Ansar al-Sharia group, the attack was coordinated by several networks in the region, including al-Qaida affiliates.

Throughout the night, the Americans had the advantage of night vision, the person familiar with the mission said. In the daylight, it could quickly become an even playing field.

Surprisingly though, it got quieter. They gathered inside one of the buildings and formed an evacuation plan to move the diplomatic staff to the airport and eventually out of Benghazi.

“[They had to talk about] things like, ‘What happens if they came under attack on the way out? Do you know where to go if you are separated from the group or are being shot at?'” according to the person familiar with the plans.

They prepared for the worst: that as the convoy left the compound, they’d be ambushed, everyone would panic, and the terrorists would take hostages. But they made it to the airport without issue and, by 7:31 a.m., the first plane with survivors took off for Tripoli.

“Who would’ve thought seven people could go into Benghazi and get more than 25 people out? Especially without traditional military support?” the person familiar with the mission said. “… But you can do a lot if you’re determined and have no other choice.”

The Defense Department and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later faced a host of criticism over their response to the attack. Critics called it too slow — a congressional investigation finding that despite President Barack Obama and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta clearly ordering the military to deploy response forces, none were sent until almost eight hours after the attacks began.

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President Obama and Secretary Clinton honor the Benghazi attack victims at the Transfer of Remains Ceremony held at Andrews Air Force Base on Sept. 14, 2012.

(State Department photo)

Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey was asked to explain why he hadn’t dispatched F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets from Italy. He told lawmakers it would’ve been “the wrong tool for the job.”

The Marine Corps, the nation’s go-to crisis-response force, has been particularly responsive in the aftermath of the attack. Since there aren’t enough amphibious ships to stage Marines everywhere they’d like to be at sea, they’ve set up land-based crisis-response forces built to respond to emergencies quickly. Those units include up to 2,200 personnel, along with aircraft and logistics capabilities.

Those units are now based in Europe, the Middle East and Central America. Those assigned to Africa and the Middle East have fielded several State Department requests to evacuate embassy personnel or shore up security when intelligence has indicated a high risk for attack.

The Marine Corps and State Department have also bolstered the number of embassy guards placed at diplomatic posts around the world, standing up dozens of new detachments that previously did not have military personnel.

It was a tragedy to see a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans killed in Benghazi but, sadly, it sometimes takes an awful situation to get the attention of those in charge of policy, the person familiar with the response said.

“It was a bad situation, but a lot of priorities changed after this tragedy that would otherwise never have gotten fixed.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Arlington National Cemetery was owned by General Lee and confiscated for back taxes

Arlington National Cemetery is a well-known tourist spot in which soldiers and civilians alike can pay their respects. The military cemetery is known for the perfectly aligned headstones, the ceremony of guards and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. These, of course, are only a few of the features of Arlington National Cemetery. It’s a massive 639 acres that was established during the Civil War. 

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The U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own,” supports an Armed Forces Full Honors Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, Oct. 25, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser / Arlington National Cemetery /released)

How the land got its start, however, is far less known … yet extremely interesting. The acreage has an entire historical background of significance that the general public knows little about. 

General Lee occupies Arlington

After the death of Martha Washington’s first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, she was left in charge of five plantations, including the land that would eventually become Arlington National Cemetery. The land was passed down to her son (who died young) and later grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, when he turned 21, being conceived to be “of age” to become a landowner. 

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A portrait of Martha Washington (Rembrandt Peale – Heritage Auction Gallery, Public Domain)

In 1802, he began building the Arlington House, naming it after his family’s original home, Arlington Gloucestershire in England. The estate was then left to Custis’s daughter, Mary Anna (Martha Washington’s great-great grandaughter), who happened to be married to Robert E. Lee. Mary Anna’s inheritance allowed her to live on the property, but gave no rights to sell the property or any of its parcels. 

The Lees occupied the land, living in what was known as the Custis-Lee Mansion for years, including during Lee’s time in the U.S. military. 

However, Lee resigned his post in April of 1861 upon the start of the Civil War, when he took command of military forces within the Commonwealth of Virginia, which later became the Army of Northern Virginia. 

The Lee estate is populated by the Union

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
General Robert E. Lee

At the start of the war, Confederate forces stayed upon the Arlington land and buildings. An order was put out by the Union forces to remove anti-Union military from Alexandria, Virginia. Under the impression that the home would soon be captured, soldiers retreated and Mary Anna Lee begrudgingly left her home. It’s said that she buried family treasures before leaving for her sister’s home in Fairfax County. The grounds of Arlington were then soon taken by Union forces. 

As the Civil War raged on, military cemeteries were filling up and the government was looking to acquire new land in which Union soldiers could be buried. With eyes on the Arlington land (it sat above flood plains and had a view of Washington D.C.), it was soon noted that the Lees had not paid their taxes. For Union forces, it’s said that the land fulfilled two boxes: 1) it was ideal for burial grounds and 2) it was a dig at General Lee to use his family land to bury the soldiers whose lives he’d taken. 

Around that time, Mary sent an agent to pay their taxes, as she did not want to appear in person — they owed $92.07 (more than $1,500 today), but the agent was sent away. Historians agree this was likely a political move to obtain the land. The government then hosted a tax sale, purchasing the land for $26,800 (nearly $450,000 in 2021 values). 

Military burials began in June of 1864, and the land was desegregated in 1948.

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The Arlington Mansion, when it was known as Custis-Lee Mansion, seen with Union soldiers on its lawn on June 28, 1864

After the end of the war and the death of Mary and Robert Lee, the estate was willed to their eldest son, Custis Lee. He sued the U.S. government for ownership of the land, a case that made it to the Supreme Court. In 1882, they ruled 5-4 in his favor, deciding that “Arlington had been confiscated without due process.” The land was returned to Custis Lee. However, now covered in graves, he had no use for the property. In 1883 he sold the land back to the U.S. for $150,000 ($2.5 million today), wherein the cemetery was named part of a military reservation.

President Hoover held the first National Memorial Day in 1929, starting one of the area’s long standing traditions.

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