WATCH: The strange history of Fort Miles - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: The strange history of Fort Miles

Cape Henlopen, Delaware, located on the Delaware Bay, provides direct access to Philadelphia and Wilmington. Because of this strategic location, the US decided to build Fort Miles here. Construction on the installation began in 1938 in response to World War II. Its primary purposes were to defend both the Delaware Bay and the Delaware River. It also protected domestic shipping from enemies during the war and later, throughout the Cold War.

The Enemies Would Have Never Thought to Look Under the Sand Dunes

Thankfully, Fort Miles never came under direct attack, but the threat of attack during conflicts had always been there. The post became a crucial part of the country’s coastal defense. Around it were massive batteries created to fire on ships and submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. Most of them were build inside of Cape Henlopen’s giant sand dunes to keep them hidden from enemies. Your naked eye would not be able to tell those batteries and bunkers were there.

Of all the coastal batteries at Fort Miles, the four largest are Battery Smith, Battery Herring, Battery Hunter, and Batter 519. And here’s an interesting tidbit about that: Battery 519 does not have a name like the others because it was built too late in the war. World War II utilized all of the batteries. Herring point was also used throughout the Cold War for top-secret military operations.

An Effective Fort Deserves an Effective Team

Because each gun in the batteries was mounted on a railcar, Soldiers could easily position and move them for firing. The guns were also able to turn full circle, 360 degrees, making them difficult targets. If the Germans managed to make it to our shores, we were definitely at the ready.

During its peak use, more than 2,200 service members called Fort Miles home. All that training and not much else to do served its purpose. At the height of the installation, Fort Miles’ coastal artillery units outperformed all other artillery units in the Army. Yet if it hadn’t been for the constant threat of those pesky enemy boats, the Soldiers may have actually had a moment to enjoy the spectacular Atlantic views. No such luck, of course.

Little by Little, Fort Miles Closed

Cape Henlopen State Park, established in 1964, expanded over time as the federal government donated more and more Fort Miles land to the state of Delaware. By 1983, the US government deemed Fort Miles no longer necessary and gave all the land to the state of Delaware, specifically for use as a public park or another kind of public recreational space.

Now, the retired Fort Miles attracts tons of visitors every year, especially military buffs and veterans. Not only is it part of a beautiful coastal park, but it also serves as an educational space. The enormous 15,000 square foot Battery 519 houses a museum and artifacts from the wars Fort Miles has been through. There are hiking trails, an observation tower from the fort that visitors can climb, and beach access. What a great use of an old fort.

Related: Check out these six secret installations that changed history.

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NORAD prepares to track Santa

We all know Santa’s making a list, checking it twice… probably with some help from the NSA. Meanwhile, North American Aerospace Defense Command is also making a list and checking it twice to ensure their considerable assets are ready to help ensure that Santa accomplishes his mission safely.


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An F-35 and F-16 fly side by side. These are some of the assets NORAD has available to ensure that Santa can carry out his Christmas Eve mission safely. (US Air Force photo by Jim Hazeltine)

This long-running tradition started by accident during the height of the Cold War. But it’s stuck around, even in the post-9/11 era. According to a 2008 Air Force release, the accident occurred in 1955, when NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense command, or CONAD, got a call from a kid. A newspaper had misprinted a phone number to allow kids to track jolly old St. Nick. Instead of the local Sears store, they got the operations hotline for CONAD.

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Col. Harry Shoup, the operations officer at NORAD on Dec. 24, 1955, answered a child’s wrong-number call and began the tradition of NORAD tracking Santa.(Courtesy photo from USAF.mil)

Colonel Harry Shoup was the director of operations on that Christmas Eve. Tracking Santa had not been something he’d prepared for or had been briefed to do. But when each kid called, he provided them Santa’s position, saving Christmas for the kids by assuring them that Santa was safe and on the job. The next year, CONAD did it again, and did so the year after that. When NORAD took over for CONAD in 1958, they assumed that Christmas Eve duty – and tradition – as well. In 2015, a DOD release noted that over 1500 volunteers helped carry out the mission.

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Eastern Air Defense Sector (EADS) personnel conduct training in preparation for Santa tracking operations at their headquarters in Rome, N.Y. on Dec. 11, 2016. Pictured from front to back, are: Sgt. Thomas Vance of the Royal Canadian Air Force, a member of EADS Canadian Detachment; and Master Sgt. Michelle Gagnon, Master Sgt. Lena Kryczkowski (standing) and Master Sgt. Shane Reid, all members of the New York Air National Guard’s 224th Air Defense Squadron. (DOD photo)

The official web site, www.NORADSanta.org, includes videos, games, music, and a gift shop. There is also a Facebook page for that in this era of social media. And yes, there are apps for tracking Santa on Windows phones, Android phones, and iPhones. NORAD says that starting at 2:01 AM Eastern Standard Time on Dec. 24, they will have video of Santa making preparations for his mission. At 6 AM EST that day, live phone operators will be available at 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an email to noradtrackssanta@outlook.com. And check out this video of the history of how NORAD got started.

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How the Navy kept its Vietnam river forces going

For a lot of sailors serving in the Vietnam War, especially those on aircraft carriers, the war effort was a matter of routine. For many, that daily routine didn’t involve much combat. But for the Navy’s river force, among a few other units, it was a different story. The pilots who flew from carriers or land bases, the SEALs and members of the Underwater Demolition Teams, and Navy corpsmen all saw plenty of action, among others.

One other group of sailors who often saw combat was the Navy’s riverine force. This force, known as the “Brown Water Navy,” took on the Viet Cong (and later, the North Vietnamese Army) in the Mekong Delta. These days, there are much newer, riverine combat vessels in service, and “brown water” sailors have seen action during Operation Iraqi Freedom.


In Vietnam, two classes of vessel primarily carried out operations. The first were PBRs (Patrol Boat Riverine). The Navy bought 32 of these 32-foot long vessels, each of which displaced seven tons. For small ships, they packed a huge punch: Three M2 .50-caliber machine guns and a Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher came standard. These small boats could be loaded up extras, too, including 7.62mm machine guns, 60mm mortars, and even flamethrowers!

Whatever configuration, these river force boats brought a lot of firepower for a crew of four to unleash on the enemy.

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A crewman rests near the forward gun turret of a PBR.

(US Navy)

The other vessel was the Patrol Craft Fast, known as the PCF or “Swift Boat.” This vessel, famous for being served on by former Secretary of State John Kerry (whose service drew controversy in 2004), packed three M2 .50-caliber machine guns and had a crew of six. 193 were built, and while they’re most famous for their service in Vietnam, the PCF was also exported.

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Swift Boats take South Vietnamese Marines to their infiltration point.

(US Navy)

While the sailors who went into harm’s way deserve our thanks, they could never have done it without the help of those who carried out maintenance on the vessels that brought them to the fight.

See how those maintainers kept the PBRs and Swift Boats in service and in action below!

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MIGHTY HISTORY

This general is the reason why working girls are called Hookers

In American history, good men have answered the call of duty to march in defense of freedom. They sacrifice privacy, comfort, and intimacy for months and sometimes even years. Troops find ways to relieve stress by working out and by communicating with loved ones. However, during the Civil War, it wasn’t as easy as calling your love via long distance and paying the charges.

Union and Confederate armies were followed from camp to camp by ladies of the night. Yet, one General was so enthusiastic about keeping the morale of his men high that he became a legend. He supported this kind of capitalistic free market to the point that it cemented the nickname for these entrepreneurs with his namesake. You’ve partied, yes, but you’ll never party like General Hooker.


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Battle of Chancellorsville

Public Domain

General Joseph “fighting Joe” Hooker

Joseph Hooker was a Union Army officer that served as major general during the Civil War. On June 17, 1863, he moved the entire Army of the Potomac north through Loudoun. His army was to prepare to battle Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Where his massive army went, so did a large number of Soiled Doves that became known “Hooker’s Brigade.”

The Battle of Chancellorsville lasted from April 30 to May 6, 1863. General Hooker was not a decisive leader and took his time issuing orders, because of this, General Lee was able to make a risky decision and divide his smaller army in two. General Lee was able to outmaneuver and defeat a larger force due to this dichotomy of personalities. This loss followed General Hooker like a recurring VD.

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(Public Domain)

The legend of General Hooker’s “hookers” became a slang term for a prostitute, and is derived from his last name but also due to the lack of military discipline at his headquarters near Washington, D.C. He would throw parties like the world was going to end and kept the parties going with him wherever he went.

Early in 1863, a new commander of the Army of the Potomac encouraged prostitutes to visit the troops as a morale measure, and reportedly used their services liberally himself. His name has been associated with the profession, he was General Joseph Hooker. – AN ANALYSIS OF THE MEDICAL PROBLEMS OF THE CIVIL WAR, ALFRED JAY BOLLET
Futurama: Blackjack and hookers

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Etymology

Hooker (n.) “one who or that which hooks” in any sense, agent noun from hook (v.). Meaning “prostitute” (by 1845) often is traced to the disreputable morals of the Army of the Potomac (American Civil War) under the tenure of Gen. “Fighting Joe” Hooker (early 1863), and the word might have been popularized by this association at that time. – etymonline.com

Now, there will be some people who will say that the word ‘hooker’ was in the Oxford English Dictionary since 1567, which they are correct; It meant to pickpocket, swipe, or steal. However, the invention of the word is not what is in question here, it is the fact that this General partied so hard that he changed what the word meant.

Futurama: Blackjack and hookers

youtu.be

Legacy

In the end, General Hooker’s embarrassing loss to General Lee is overshadowed by the legacy of his parties and dedication to troop welfare, although, symbolically because they did get a lot of STDs. Actual troop welfare was terrible.

“People will think I am a highwayman or a bandit.” – “Hooker’s Comments on Chancellorsville,” Battles and Leaders, General Hooker
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Germany bombed New York but it was blamed on insects

Typically, when there’s a deadly terrorist attack, the tragic news spreads around the world almost instantly and hangs in the global consciousness for years to come. But history shows us that covering up one of these terrible events might be as easy as finding something to pin it on.


In 1916, Germany was getting tired of the United States’ double talk. The U.S. continuously stated its intent to remain a neutral party while supplying weapons to allied forces throughout World War I. So, the Germans wanted to send America a bloody message — they needed to showcase their anger.

German spies targeted Black Tom Island, a large, man-made island off the coast of Jersey City, New Jersey that housed ammunition for the government. They laid time-delayed glass bombs at the site, waited, and then…

Boom! The delayed fuses set off 100,000 pounds of TNT.

 

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The blast was so powerful that it sent hot shrapnel more than 2,000 feet in all directions — flying far enough to damage the famous torch of the Statue of Liberty. Although it’s estimated that the Statue gets nailed by lighting close to 600 times per year, this was the first time it was struck by metal fragments. As a result of the damage, the torch portion of the statue closed to tourists. It hasn’t been opened since.

After the smoke finally cleared, the damage was assessed. Hundreds of civilians were injured from the blast and five people were reported dead.

The next day, The New York Times covered the terrorist attack on the front page. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation claimed the event wasn’t an attack, but an accident.

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Workers at ground zero did what they could to look for survivors.

One of the early assumptions was that a swarm of mosquitoes were at fault. Guards on the island lit smug pots to get rid of the insects and that’s what they believed caused the explosion.

Determined to remain neutral during the ongoing war, President Woodrow Wilson labeled the sad event as a “regrettable incident at a private railroad terminal.”

Check out American Heroes Channel’s video below to watch the story of a massive terrorist cover-up.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller wasn’t just a great warfighter, he was an icon of Marine military prowess and culture, embodying and helping shape what it would mean to be a 20th-Century Marine. Here are five times that Puller proved himself to be one of the greatest Marines, from heroics to hard work to partying, this is the warrior your platoon sergeants told you about:


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Marine Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller in Korea after the Inchon landings.
(U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant M. Shutak)

 

His legendary breakout from Chosin Reservoir

It was possibly Puller’s most heroic feat. Puller was temporarily in command of the 1st Marine Division when Chinese forces overwhelmed American and UN troops at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. The entire X Corps was vulnerable to annihilation at the hands of the Chinese, but the top commanders had a workable plan to save the tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines. That plan relied on 1st Marine Division.

The Marines, under Chesty, served at times as both vanguard and rearguard for the “advance in a different direction” that was, effectively, a withdrawal. Puller kept his men’s morale up as they knocked three Chinese divisions out of the fight despite constant supply shortages and the necessity of leapfrogging their artillery. This saved thousands of American lives and helped ensure that the Chinese advance could be halted before South Korea was lost.

Lt. Col. Lewis "Chesty" Puller at a command post at Guadalcanal in World War II.
Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller at a command post at Guadalcanal in World War II.
(U.S. Marine Corps)

 

Guadalcanal, from smoking under bombardment to directing naval artillery

Then-Lt. Col. Puller landed on Guadalcanal in September, 1942, as the proud commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. Unfortunately, he was the only member of the unit with combat experience, and he had to keep his men on the straight and narrow. On their first night, the Marines came under naval bombardment and many had failed to dig their assigned foxholes.

Puller spent the bombardment yelling at the men to keep their heads down and remain behind available cover. When it was over, he walked the lines with a pipe, calmly smoking it and reassuring the Marines while giving them practical advice. As the fight ground on, Puller tried to get his men past the Japanese defenses.

When an amphibious landing failed and Marines were trapped under fire, Coast Guard Signalman Douglas Munro led a fleet of landing craft in to rescue them, and Puller rushed to ships off the coast to personally direct the naval artillery fire to ensure the Marines got off safely.

Marine First Lt. Lewis "Chesty" Puller with Sgt. William "Ironman" Lee during jungle fighting in the 1930s.
Marine First Lt. Lewis “Chesty” Puller with Sgt. William “Ironman” Lee during jungle fighting in the 1930s.
(U.S. Marine Corps)

 

After missing out on World War I, he deployed to Nicaragua and Haiti

Puller grew up listening to his relatives talk about their experiences in the Civil War, and he was eager for combat when World War I rolled around. He volunteered late in the war in order to get to France, but was sent to officer training and missed out on the actual fighting. Instead, the Corps offered him a billet helping allied governments stand up or bolster national guards in South America.

The jungle fighting was fierce, and Puller was in charge of leading jungle raids and patrols against rebels in Haiti and then Nicaragua. It was in Nicaragua that he earned his first two Navy Crosses, both awarded for valor under fire. One was for leading five successful raids on an extensive mission, and the other was for leading his platoon back safely after defeating multiple well-prepared ambushes that left Gunnery Sgt. William “Ironman” Lee wounded.

Puller during the Korean War.
Puller during the Korean War.
(U.s. Marine Corps)

 

A dedication to close combat that included mounting bayonets on flamethrowers

Puller was known, at least in part, for his bomb quotes. You know, things like, “don’t forget that you’re First Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!” and “hit hard, hit fast, hit often.” But one of his most iconic quotes came when he first saw a flamethrower demonstration.

“Where the Hell do you put the bayonet?” he asked. And like all three of those quotes show, Puller believed in violence of action, in closing with the enemy and killing them before they could kill you. That mentality was part of what made him such an icon in a Marine Corps on the rise, transforming itself from a largely reserve force of the Civil War to one of the dominant fighting forces of World War II, Korea, and today.

Chesty Puller and other officers enjoy themselves.
Chesty Puller and other officers enjoy themselves.
(U.S. Marine Corps Archives)

 

A tendency to accrue legends, some based in fact and others in fiction

And, like the Marine Corps itself, Puller had a tendency to accrue legends — some completely true, some plausible, and some over-the-top. The true ones included things like when he led an overnight defense against a mile-long assault by Japanese forces on Guadalcanal and the aforementioned victories at Chosin and in Nicaragua.

But his prowess was so great that he also become the subject of all sorts of hyperbole, like a rumor that his nickname was Chesty because so much of his chest had been hacked off in the jungle wars that his rib cage had been remade of literal iron.

It’s no surprise, really. When you’re arguably the most decorated Marine is history, it’s hard for people to keep the details straight.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The time a Nazi submarine captain nominated his enemy for the Victoria Cross

The tale of Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Gerard Roope is quite amazing – particularly given that it was a Nazi, Hullmuth Heye, who recommended Roope for the Victoria Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest medal for gallantry in combat. But Heye wasn’t the only Nazi to recommend a Victoria Cross for a foe.


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The Victoria Cross. (Wikimedia Commons graphic by Anathema)

Oberleutnant Klemens Schamong was commanding the German submarine U-468, a Type VIIC U-boat, during World War II. U-boat.net reports that U-468 displaced about 871 tons submerged, and was armed with five torpedo tubes (four forward, one aft) as well as an 88mm deck gun and other smaller anti-aircraft guns. According to U-boat.net, this sub is credited with sinking one ship — the motor tanker Empire Light, in March of 1943.

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The Nazi submarine U-52, a Type VII U-boat similar to U-468. (British government photo)

But an incident off West Africa five months after U-468’s lone ship kill would leave Schamong in a unique position. The sub was caught on the surface at about 9:45 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 11, 1943, by a B-24 Liberator provided to the Royal Air Force under Lend-Lease and piloted by Royal New Zealand Air Force Flying Officer Lloyd Allan Trigg. During the war, many B-24s were used as maritime patrol aircraft due to their ability to operate at long range and still carry a heavy payload.

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B-24 Liberator in flight. (Photo from San Diego Air and Space Museum)

According to the London Gazette, Trigg began to approach the U-boat and came under heavy fire. The B-24 was damaged and started to catch fire. Trigg could have pulled away to make a water landing, but instead he chose to press the attack. He dropped depth charges that left U-468 in a sinking condition. The B-24 then crashed into the sea. None of the Liberator’s crew survived.

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Flying Officer Lloyd Allan Trigg, Royal New Zealand Air Force, a B-24 pilot whose attack fatally damaged U-468. (Imperial War Museum photo)

But a rubber dinghy from the crashed aircraft floated on the sea, near where the U-boat went down. Schamong and six of his crew would reach that life raft, where two days later, a Royal Navy Flower-class corvette, HMS Clakia, would find them. As a POW, Schamong reported the actions of the B-24’s pilot to the British, who awarded Trigg the Victoria Cross posthumously.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 things everyone should know about Russia’s October Revolution

Communism was not the best experiment for the Russian people. If they had known that the revolution against the Tsar and the Imperial government was going to lead to decades of rule by the repressive Soviet Regime, they might have thought twice.


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Worst. Boy band. Ever.

Of course, when you take a look at the life of a common Russian before the October Revolution, you can kind of understand why they took their chances with the Bolsheviks.

Submit to the present evil, lest a great one befall ye.

6. Russian peasants were serfs for 600 years.

European feudalism in the 11th century bound poor peasants to work the land for their noble masters. Until Tsar Alexander II abolished the practice in 1861, the common Russian was essentially a slave to the imperial aristocracy. Working the land for someone else meant very little time for subsistence farming – and that the Russians were always just one bad season from starvation.

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Just plowing away, rethinking that whole Napoleon thing.

Russians were practically enslaved from the time of the First Crusade until the start of the American Civil War.

5. The people never forgot the “bloody Sunday” of 1905.

Russian people, upset at the low standard of living and scarcity of food, staged a series of strikes around the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. Led by an Orthodox Priest — and completely unarmed — the demonstrators aimed to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II, demanding things like working hours, wages, and improved conditions.

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First you emancipate them and then they ask for crazy things, like not dying at work.

Instead, the Russian Imperial Guard slaughtered them, firing into the crowd and killing or wounding 1,000. The Tsar agreed to share power with the state Duma, a parliament. But the revolution was coming.

4. World War I didn’t help.

The Russian military before World War I was large, but led by ineffectual generals and filled with obsolete technology. To make matters worse, the conditions in the field were as deplorable as the working conditions in the factories on the home front. Paying for the war left the Russian economy in shambles as food prices soared.

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The economic trouble compounded the calls for higher wages and better working conditions. Soldiers would join workers in forming the “soviets” that would help oust the Tsar from power when the time came.

3. The Tsar was already out of power.

As a matter of fact, by the time the Bolsheviks seized power in October, the entire Romanov family was already captured by the government. The October Revolution came eight months after the February Revolution when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and his brother declined power.

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The government ended up in the hands of the Duma and a lawyer named Alexander Kerensky in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) and in small councils across Russia, called “soviets” at the local level. It was during this period of shared power that the old and new order clashed and vied for power.

2. It sparked a civil war.

It was the only time the American Army and the Red Army fought in an official battle between the two. Shortly after the October Revolution, the new government made peace with the Central Powers still fighting World War I, as it became embroiled in a Civil War that pit Red Russians (the Bolsheviks) against White Russians (an amalgamation of monarchists, capitalists, and social democrats).

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Yeah, well… that’s just like, your opinion, man.

Soldiers and sailors from all across the empire chose sides as Red Army formed and took on conscripts. Former Tsarist officers defected back and forth between the Red  Army and its White Resistance. There was also a non-ideological Green movement that had the support of the peasants, but not were reluctant to actually fight.

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Just like in America!

1. The U.S. invaded Russia.

In order to reopen WWI’s Eastern Front, the Allied Powers landed a number of international units in Russia, to both keep the peace and bolster the White Army to keep Communism from spreading to Europe, if possible. The Americans were deployed in the Siberian city of Arkhangelsk, near the Arctic Circle.

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Dubbed the “Polar Bear Expedition,” the Americans joined a British contingent who attempted to fight their way to link up with the Czechoslovak Legion, which held the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Great War ended before any significant headway could be achieved and the Allies eventually left Russia altogether.

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That time George Washington’s dentures were stolen from a museum

The Smithsonian Institution is one place you’d think relics from America’s founding were safe. The security there must be pretty good, right? Well, tell that to a pair of George Washington’s dentures.


According to a 1982 New York Times article, the false teeth were discovered missing on June 19, 1981, by a curator who had gone to the basement of the American Museum of Natural History. The lower portion of the dentures turned up in a secure area of the Smithsonian in May, 1982. They were made of gold, lead, elephant ivory, and possibly human teeth — not wood, as many people believe.

“We never made any effort to have the value of the gold appraised,” Lawrence E. Taylor, a spokesman for the Smithsonian said. “It would be minuscule compared to the historic value of the teeth.”

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Wooden tooth jokes are as funny as actual wooden teeth.

According to Smithsonian magazine, Washington needed dentures because he’d lost most of his teeth from a combination of bad genes and worse dentistry practices at the time. This lead Washington to take measures to correct the tooth loss, including purchasing teeth from African-Americans, according to the official web site of Mount Vernon.

That site also notes that Washington was sensitive about the state of his teeth and tried to keep his dental condition a secret. Documents show he was particularly embarrassed to find out that the British had intercepted a letter in which he asked for a set of tooth scrapers to be sent to him in New York. That said, the intercepted letter helped mislead the British as to his intentions, ensuring the success of the Yorktown campaign.

 

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George Washington

According to a timeline at the official site of Mount Vernon, Washington was down to one tooth when he was inaugurated as the first President of the United States in 1789. That tooth would be removed in 1796, before his term of office ended.

To hear Brad Meltzer describe the heist of the dentures, and to get a quick take on the theft, watch the video below.

Articles

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.


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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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

A rare look beyond the gates at Ellsworth AFB

Ellsworth Air Force Base just northeast of Rapid City, South Dakota includes a section called the Munitions Storage Area. You’re probably picturing your average weapons depot, right? Turns out, the reality is more explosive than you might think. The Ellsworth Munitions Storage Area has been nicknamed the “Bomb Dump,” and for good reason. 

Even bombs need to have a home somewhere

The 28th Munitions Squadron is in charge of every single explosive at the base as well as making sure that B1 launching equipment is always ready to go. That means no accidents can occur here or the whole thing could blow up. 

The outside world rarely gets to see this part of Ellsworth, which makes sense. Severely limiting access is necessary because it is such a dangerous place. How dangerous, you ask? Well, there are 678,500 pounds of net explosive weight. That’s why the Munitions Storage Area is far, far away from any populated areas of Ellsworth. 

ellsworth
A 122nd Fighter Wing munitions storage facility sits under a fresh coating of snow, Jan. 10, 2016, at the Indiana Air National Guard Base, Fort Wayne, Ind. The aging facility was originally constructed in 1991 and has served as munitions storage for both F-16 and A-10C aircraft. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. William Hopper)

Clumsy folks beware

Strictly speaking, munitions are anything that contain explosives. Small things like bullets, bomb bodies, and grenades are stored at the Ellsworth Munitions Storage Areas. However, so are a five-hundred-pound bomb body, a two-thousand-pound bomb body, and loaded cruise missiles. In other words, if you’re clumsy, this place is probably not for you.

To enter the Munitions Storage Area at Ellsworth, you have to pass through additional security beyond the gate. The Bomb Dump is so exclusive that many of the base’s employees have never even been inside of the 647 acres of the Munitions Storage Area. 

Talk about a no-risk area

If you do find yourself in this volatile area, first you’ll have to give up your cell phone, as their signals could accidentally set off sensitive explosives. After all, the risks here are no joke, and they’re not taking any risks. 

Inside, you’ll find 86 facilities. They are all neatly in a line and aptly named Long Row. The structures are built beside one another, but they don’t touch. Long Row was specifically designed for extra security, just in case there is a problem. For instance, if a bomb exploded in one of the buildings, the building beside it won’t sympathetically detonate. 

One bomb, two bomb, red bomb, blue bomb

The Munitions Storage Area also includes free-standing carts out in the open loaded with non-explosive bombs used for training. They are color-coded blue to indicate that they are trainers. 

On the Munitions Storage Area grounds, you’ll also find a bunch of “igloos” covered in earth. They were built in the 1950s with the idea that they would last quite a while. They sure are living up to their goals. 

A minimum of 24 inches of soil plus a concrete topper covers each igloo for protection from what’s inside: many different types of explosives. At least one of the igloos serves as munitions inspection, where every single explosive device that enters Ellsworth must pass through.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s the gear an average soldier carried in the Civil War

In the chaotic days of the American Civil War, troops from both the sides used to storm the battlefield and go head-to-head in a ruthless campaign to destroy the opposition — an opposition filled with those they once called fellow countrymen. The multi-year war was the deadliest to ever take place on American soil. Approximately 620,000 people were killed during the war, leaving several Southern states in ruin.

To fight a ground war, troops need supplies. But back in the mid-19th century, the way we outfitted our troops was very different from today. Budgets and technologies were limited.

Outside of itchy and hot uniforms, the gear each man carried was very similar on both sides.


WATCH: The strange history of Fort Miles
The North and South duke it out while fighting in the Civil War.

There was a small variety of weapons to choose from. Most ground troops took up either a Lorenz, Springfield, or a Colt revolving rifle. In order to fire those weapons, they needed ammo, percussion caps, and black powder. All these items were usually stored in a cartridge box, typically mounted on a troop’s belt for easy access.

In the event that the enemy was quickly approaching and there wasn’t any time to reload, troops always kept a sharp bayonet close by. Swords and sabers were commonly used by officers and NCOs to cut through the enemy. When these blades weren’t tearing through blue or grey uniforms, they were used for directing troops.

WATCH: The strange history of Fort Miles
Two civil War troops are loaded up ready for combat.

It’s reported that many ground troops had to purchase their own mess kits, which usually contained a metal plate and cup. They would often store around three days’ worth of food in their haversacks. Tobacco, fruit, and some soap could also be found in their pouches.

Outside of food and ammo, troops often carried a copy of the Bible, a mirror, a sewing kit, and some playing cards. They didn’t have the weapon systems we have today, but modern infantrymen still carry virtually the same types of gear today — but our versions have seen some upgrades.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch the first of these never-before-seen D-Day videos in stunning 4K

While 4K video was far from the technology of the day, the people over at AARP pulled out all the stops to get the legendary footage of history’s largest amphibious landing into the viewing technology of today. Narrated by acclaimed actor Bryan Cranston, the video series presents the personal letters and feelings of the men who landed on the beaches of Occupied France that day.


The first in the series, “Landing on Omaha Beach,” is the story of the landing through the eyes of Pfc. Dominick Bart, a 32-year-old infantryman who landed on the beach during the first wave. Cranston brings Bart’s experiences alive as he reads about the Private First Class’ experience on the beaches in Bart’s letter to his wife, Mildred.

Omaha was just one of five Allied sectors invaded that day, and one of two that would fall to the American invasion forces. Omaha’s principal challenge was the 150-foot cliffs overlooking the beach, from which Nazi guards rained death on the invaders.

WATCH: The strange history of Fort Miles

Some 43,000 men assaulted Omaha Beach alone that day, and by 7:30 in the morning had managed to get through the beach to the cliffs. A half hour later, 900 American GIs were at the tops of the bluffs and assaulting the entrenched enemy positions. By 9:00 a.m., U.S. troops had cleared the beach and began moving inland. An estimated 2,000 – 5,000 men were killed and wounded in the assault on Omaha Beach alone, not to mention the four other sectors engaged by British and Canadian troops.

For the Americans, it was their finest hour.

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