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Bill Thayer

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American & Military History

A site dedicated to
the Corps of Cadets
at the United States Military Academy,a
West Point, NY

September 11 has changed us all, or should have. Online since Aug 97 with a growing set of resources mostly related to ancient Rome, I've decided to do my own small part in the war for America: so, within the limitations of what an individual can do working more or less alone, this site will be presenting material useful to the education of our young military leaders.

At the same time, I cannot, nor would I wish to, avoid a distinctly personal take; and first of all, I am a civilian: one of those millions of Americans you will be called to defend.

That being said, in this section of my site above all, I expect to bring the most meticulous care and attention — to fact, to detail, to presentation. Please alert me to any shortcomings.

A bare index to the books onsite — just the books, though well over 100 of them — is available here.

The People

Gen. Robert E. Lee (USMA, 1829) is an outstanding example of the American character at its best, and remains in many ways the quintessential American historical figure: the first item on this site was a complete transcription of the 2400‑page 4‑volume life of him, R. E. Lee, by Douglas S. Freeman, still today viewed as definitive, that won its author the 1935 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

2421 pages of print; 64 photos, 155 maps — 169 webpages  ]

Place of honor also to whom honor is due: George Rogers Clark's Memoir is one of the best books on my site, a fascinating record of the American Revolutionary War campaign that gave us the Northwest Territory without which our history would have taken a vastly different and less happy turn. A key primary source written by the victorious commander himself, it not only gives an interesting picture of conditions on the western frontier at the time of the birth of the Republic, but also of a special forces operation on a shoestring budget with minimal support; and most of all, a good look inside the mind of the campaign's military chief, who succeeded in winning the hearts and minds of civilian populations, and did so by relying on the intrinsic advantages in being an American. This is all of such topical interest in our own time that I hope it's required reading for the professional American Soldier, and any who would lead them.

[ primary source:
175 + xii pages of print, 1 photo — 9 webpages ]

Much less honorable a man, but nearly as important in the early history of the republic, Major-General James Wilkinson had something to do with just about everything on the American frontier, from the abortive invasion of Canada in the War of 1812 to the Spanish intrigues in Kentucky and Louisiana, to the first stirrings of Texan independence. Since very little of it was aboveboard it all affords room for wide-ranging disagreement among historians. Onsite, a complete biography of him, two diametrically opposed but equally detailed treatments of his activities, and several smaller articles: a collection to which I'll likely continue to add; loathsome as he was, he's a fascinating character.

[ about 550 pages of print, including 1 complete book;
8 maps, 15 other illustrations — 25 webpages ]

The Life of Woodrow Wilson written by his Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, provides a clear if eulogistic and rather summary account of the President's life, and a somewhat more compelling insight into his character.

[ primary source: 375 pages of print
— 39 webpages; 32 photos ]

The Story of Chaplain Kapaun Patriot Priest of the Korean Conflict tells the heroic story of Captain Emil J. Kapaun, U. S. Army, recently awarded a long-overdue Medal of Honor. Part of the American Catholic History section of this site, since the man was a Roman Catholic priest.

[ 255 pages of print
— 22 webpages; 70 photos ]

Pioneers of the Old Southwest by novelist Constance Lindsay Skinner lays out the establishment of Tennessee and Kentucky, from the 17c and 18c colonial migrations to the "Back Country" of North Carolina to the time of Daniel Boone's death in Missouri in 1820. The early settlements, the Indian wars, the Revolutionary War battle of King's Mountain, the French and Spanish intrigue, and the State of Franklin are engagingly and often very clearly covered.

[ 292 pages of print
— 13 webpages; unillustrated ]

"James Wilson and the Constitution": this paper — the first biography of one of the greatest of American Founding Fathers, who for various reasons is still very much overlooked today — was the opening address in the series of official events (1906) known as the James Wilson Memorial, in which his remains were removed from his first burial place and transported to honored reburial in Philadelphia.

[ 38 pages of print ]

A far lesser figure in our history, William Hyde (1818‑1874) was nonetheless a participant in one of the great pioneer sagas that made this country what we are. His Private Journal records his early days in upstate New York and his conversion to Mormonism, his trek across the continent as a sergeant in the Mormon Battalion of the U. S. Army (which takes up half the work), his missionary endeavors in Australia, and the end of his life, spent building the State of Utah. An interesting account of one of the world's great military marches, it also throws some light on the uneasy and shifting accommodation between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the United States government.

[ primary source:
80 typescript pages, 1 engraving — 6 webpages  ]

The United States have always been a place of refuge; not always for the poor huddled masses, though — sometimes for those who, once powerful, have got themselves in hot water. The Bonapartes in America details the American stories, schemes, marriages, properties and lives of Napoleon's relatives and their descendants. It's amazing how many of them found their way to our shores, some of them even becoming good Americans. A fascinating if uneven book.

[ 277 pages of print
— 18 webpages; 9 photos, 11 engravings ]

Topics in Depth

American Naval History includes a very fine history of the United States Navy written as a textbook for the U. S. Naval Academy by its then Commandant of Midshipmen; somewhat overlapping, a set of brief biographies of naval officers who shaped America's history and exemplified the spirit of the Navy; an important book on the early days of naval aviation; a book on the naval armament limitation conferences after World War I, and another on the general state of the Navy in 1928; the Navy's air war in World War II; biographies of Commodore Truxtun and Admiral William V. Pratt; books on naval policy and geopolitics, privateering, piracy, the Coast Guard, and Annapolis; a few smaller items. More is on the way.

[ 10/25/14: 11 books, plus other material
— 3950 pages of print, 288 webpages, 330 photos,
34 maps and diagrams, 17 other illustrations ]

In the 19c and the early 20c, the United States were welded together in large part by railroads, the invention of which came providentially at just the time needed for spanning their territory. Trains and rail are a magnificent technological achievement; but my American Railroad History subsite will focus more particularly on how the web of steel and wood contributed to the building of a nation.

[ 10/1/10: 4 books, 1159 pages of print,
— 73 webpages, 93 photos, 12 maps, 30 engravings ]

My American Catholic History subsite will look at the contributions of the Roman Catholic Church to American history, and in particular, I hope, to the development of the frontier. For now, the bulk of the site is devoted to a history of a Cistercian monastery in Iowa and two biographies: one of the church's most prominent prelates, and a pioneer priest of Kentucky. More is on its way.

[ 12/25/13: 4 books, 1322 pages of print,
— 93 webpages, 77 photos, 4 other illustrations  ]

The Army

William A. Ganoe's The History of the United States Army (1942) covers its topic in detail, from the "drab beginnings" of 1775 thru the American surrender of Bataan in the early days of an uncertain World War II. The author focuses, often passionately, on two themes: the importance of a fully and systematically trained military, and the need for legislators to be proactive instead of indulging in alternate bouts of demagoguery and responding to the crises that inevitably result, as Congress has done for two hundred years.

[ 6/22/14: 529 pages of print
— 15 webpages; 8 illustrations ]

West Point Material

Various items on the history of the Military Academy itself are accessible from an orientation page on The History of West Point. They include three book-length histories of West Point (by Roswell Park, 1840; by William Godson, 1934; by Elizabeth Waugh, 1944); an important address by Gen. Francis Henney Smith, 1879; the farewell speech of Gen. Douglas MacArthur to the Corps, 1962; over 2900 entries from Cullum's Biographical Register (including 71 complete class rosters); a 70‑page booklet on the Cadet Chapel; and other material.

[ 9/12/14: 4094 pages of print
— 3263 webpages; 174 illustrations ]

The States

In August 2005 Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, causing several breaks in the levees that defend the city against high waters and a consequent flood disaster unprecedented in any large American city. The event prompted me to put onsite a selection of historical documents on Louisiana. Much of it is about New Orleans — including two entire books on the history of the city — but the site also includes a complete transcription of Gayarré's four-volume History of Louisiana, a book on the Republic of West Florida, and other material. [Some primary sources]

[ 9/11/10: over 4000 pages of print
— 153 webpages, 59 photos, 13 maps, 120 engravings ]

Since I live in Chicago, I'm developing a small site on the History of Illinois. The first installments: Illinois in 1818, a very good book by Solon J. Buck on the state's pioneer history, its land and its economy, its pathway to statehood; and — by no means as good a book, but sketching a richly anecdotal picture of the 19c here — John Drury's Old Illinois Houses.

[ 12/17/07: 538 pages of print
— 106 webpages, 88 photos, 3 maps, 3 engravings ]

The History of Iowa is represented onsite by Iowa As It Is in 1856, a contemporary handbook and promotional book for immigrants to the new State; Albert Miller Lea's classic Notes on the Wisconsin Territory (1836: a description of Iowa, in fact); Richman's survey history of the State thru the late 19c; a small autobiographical booklet by a pioneer of the 1830s and 1840s; plus items on the Indian Agency in Wapello County, on Dutch, Polish and Mormon settlements, and the Iowa-Missouri boundary dispute. [Some primary sources]

[ 1/20/12: 4 complete books, and other material,
over 800 pages of print
— 63 webpages, 1 map, 17 illustrations ]

History of North Carolina includes Connor's The Colonial and Revolutionary Periods (1584‑1783), Boyd's The Federal Period (1783‑1860), Hamilton's North Carolina since 1860 (1860‑1919); small books on the Indian wars, the heyday of piracy in the area, and the Revolutionary War; and a dozen or so journal articles on the history of the State, mostly of the colonial and Revolutionary period.

[ 8/1/13: 2014 pages of print
— 127 webpages, 120 photos, 10 maps, 61 other illustrations ]

A small section on The History of Florida has items on Jesuits killed by Indians in the 16c, the Spanish siege of Pensacola in 1783, and Dade's Massacre of 1835 that opened the Second Seminole War. [A book on The Republic of West Florida is also included under Louisiana, above.]

[ 5/30/14: 157 pages of print
— 9 webpages, 2 engravings ]

A small section on The History of Georgia has articles on early colonization and land schemes, her boundary disputes with Florida and North Carolina, etc.; and links include other Georgia material elsewhere onsite.

[ 8/24/10: about 45 pages of print
— 3 webpages ]

My pages on The History of Kentucky don't yet include a general history of the Commonwealth, but instead, several partial and very diverse aspects of that history treated in detail: the life of the early‑19c pioneer Fr. Charles Nerinckx, founder of many Catholic churches in central Kentucky; the history of the coal mining towns of Jenkins and Seco in the southeast corner of the state; the Kentucky intrigues of James Wilkinson; and the Marked Rock of Manchester.

[ 6/16/09: 150 pages of print
— 34 webpages, 22 photos ]

A section on The History of Maryland comprises a history of the city of Annapolis; and a contemporaneous pamphlet on the Great Baltimore Riot of 1812 (primary source).

[ 5/7/13: 2 books totaling 370 pages of print
— 31 webpages, 15 illustrations ]

A small section on The History of Missouri includes an account of its early Catholic history, and articles on the founding of New Madrid and the State's disputed boundary with Iowa.

[ 7/29/10: about 105 pages of print
— 6 webpages ]

A small section on The History of Nebraska includes an article attempting to locate the vexed kingdom of Quivira, and another on Mormon settlements in the Missouri Valley.

[ 10/17/11: 30 pages of print
— 2 webpages ]

The History of New York is represented onsite by Fiske's Dutch and Quaker Colonies, mentioned elsewhere on this page, but also by a book on the New York Central railroad system, various items that also fall under the history of West Point, a booklet on the history of Fort Niagara, a chapter on Joseph Bonaparte in upstate New York, and other material.

[ 10/15/13: 228 pages of print
— 10 webpages, 1 photo, 1 map, 34 other illustrations ]

An orientation page to The History of Tennessee leads to a very thorough book on the State of Franklin as well as to various items elsewhere onsite: the Journal of Gov. John Sevier, articles on early pioneers Richard Henderson and John Montgomery, several chapters on the history of Holston, Watauga (and Franklin again), and more. [Some primary sources]

[ 8/5/13: 94 webpages ]

A small section on The History of Texas includes the official Mexican report of 1828 on the Texas-Louisiana boundary, articles on the battle of Resaca de la Palma (1846) and the Mexican raid of 1875 on Corpus Christi, as well as links to other material onsite.

[ 7/28/10: about 40 pages of print
— 6 webpages ]

An orientation page to The History of Utah includes the Memorial of the Legislative Assembly of the Proposed State of Deseret; and points to the Utah sections of William Hyde's diary, already linked above. [Some primary sources]

[ 3/13/11: about 20 pages of print
— 1 webpage ]

A section on The History of Wisconsin includes a detailed history of Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien (a canvas in fact for a history thru the mid‑19c of Wisconsin and Iowa and to some extent Minnesota and Illinois); several articles on Dutch immigration in the mid‑19c; an additional small item on the Black Hawk War.

[ 4/18/13: 1 book, 364 pages of print,
— 26 webpages, 5 photos, 4 maps, 7 other images ]

The History of Wyoming is represented by a booklet on Fort Laramie and a journal article on the petroglyphs at Dinwoody.

[ 8/28/13: 1 book, 53 pages of print,
— 9 webpages, 23 photos, 4 maps, 20 other images ]

Studies of Various Topics

One of the earliest real wars fought on the soil of the United States was also the bloodiest of our history in terms of the casualty rate; and in some respects similar to the Twin Towers War we are now fighting. King Philip's War by George Ellis and John Morris is a serviceable account of it.

[ 315 pages of print
— 20 webpages, with 24 photos ]

Onsite link

[ primary source: ]

John Easton's Relation of the Indian War is one of the most important contemporaneous source documents for the history of King Philip's War.

Modern Americans tend to forget that not all the colonies were English! The Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America, by John Fiske, is a very readable yet nicely comprehensive account of its subject.

[ 617 pages of print
— 20 webpages ]

Herbert E. Bolton's The Spanish Borderlands presents the history of Spanish exploration and colonization of the territories within the present boundaries of United States, which are viewed as defensive border marches protecting Mexico, the far more important possession from Spain's standpoint.

[ 303 pages of print
— 11 webpages; unillustrated ]

Arthur Preston Whitaker's book, The Spanish-American Frontier: 1783‑1795, subtitled The Westward Movement and the Spanish Retreat in the Mississippi Valley, is a clear, readable, detailed exposition of its subject, from the backwoods of Kentucky and the stillborn state of Franklin to Natchez and New Orleans and diplomatic manoeuvres in European capitals.

[ 245 pages of print
— 15 webpages, with 3 maps ]

Washington and His Colleagues is a fairly straightforward account by Henry Jones Ford of the two-term presidency of George Washington: the United States were new then, and so was everything about their government; and yet they had to face Arab piracy, the destabilizing designs of France — and the rights of the several States, which the author, a Hamiltonian, seems to put in the same bag as the other two.

[ 11/17/07: 229 pages of print
— 11 webpages; unillustrated ]

Francis Beirne's The War of 1812 covers the conflict thoroughly: the causes of the war, the well-known American naval successes, but also the land campaigns which today are pretty much forgotten, and the final peace negotiations. A good concluding chapter details how the war remains relevant to the United States today in a way which for example the War between the States is not. The book is graced by some unusually fine maps.

[ 8/1/08: 395 pages of print
— 32 webpages; 11 maps ]

Dwight Lowell Dumond's The Secession Movement, 1860‑1861 details how the North and South pulled apart. It's far more complex than is presented in school texts, which after all are designed as propaganda. Everyone had a share in the blame, with the bulk of it going to intransigent Northern moralism and its accompanying taste for coercion.

[ 8/1/08: 286 pages of print
— 14 webpages; unillustrated ]

The Complete Story of the San Francisco Horror is a lurid piece of rip-off journalism about the 1906 earthquake. It's poorly written, prurient, and disorganized: but it was churned out within a few weeks of the event with a shrewd eye to what the public wanted to read, and contains eyewitness accounts and many photographs. Verdict: worth reading, if only to get an insight into the impact of the quake at the time.

[ 266 pages of print, 68 photos, 1 drawing, 1 map
— 22 webpages ]

[image ALT: a blank space]

In 1891, at the request of the Military Service Institution, Lt. James Leyden wrote a brief article on the history of his unit; not quite brief enough: it was published as a separate booklet, A Historical Sketch of the Fourth Infantry from 1796 to 1861.

[ 1 webpage, 18 pages of print ]

[image ALT: a blank space]

Buried in the 20th Annual Report of the Bureau of Animal Industry — at the time, an office of the Federal Government — can be found a curious and not altogether irrelevant article titled The United States Government's Importation of Camels: A Historical Sketch: recounting the Army's acquisition and testing of the humpèd beasts as pack animals.

[ 1 webpage, 19 pages of print ]

[image ALT: a blank space]

In wartime, secrecy and silence are paramount. In 1943, a four-page pamphlet was issued to all American troops overseas by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall reminding them of that. It includes interesting information on the management of communications to and from war zones: U. S. War Department Pamphlet No. 21‑1.

[ primary source: 1 webpage ]

The first battle of the September 11 War was a tactical draw, but a strategic victory for the United States: although United Flight 93 was crashed into the farmland of Pennsylvania, the amazing resources of American technology and communications served to mobilize our first heroes of the war, who prevented our enemies from doing incalculably worse damage with that plane. Something that looks like a U. S. Government transcript — heavily redacted — is available here, among many other places online.

[ primary source: 1 webpage ]

American History Notes is a growing collection of articles from various journals in U. S. history and related fields. Since copyright law restricts me to rather older material, the history doesn't go much past World War I; which doesn't stop these papers from being interesting. [Some primary sources]

[ 6/4/14: 173 articles;
2669 pages of print, 50 photos, 8 maps, 30 other images ]

Other Military History

Talk of fighting the last war! How about the wars of 2000 years ago? Yet, though we are in another world technologically, the basics haven't changed, and Roman Military History still has lessons for today's Soldier. The student will find here a collection of many different kinds of resources, including complete texts of Greek and Roman military writers and historians (among them, all of Caesar); encyclopedic articles on many facets of ancient warfare, a photosampler of Roman defensive works, and other material.

If, unfamiliar with the Romans, you wonder just how relevant they might be, here is Duty, Honor, Country in the 2c A.D.:

For how can men who stand upon the verge of battle banish all the crowding fears of hardship, pain and death from their minds, unless those fears be replaced by the sense of the duty that they owe their country, by courage and the lively image of a soldier's honour? And assuredly the man who will best inspire such feelings in others is he who has first inspired them in himself.

Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, XII.I.28

(A suggestion for Bugle Notes, of course:
the quote isn't in there, but should be.)

[ some 6,000 pages of print in over 200 webpages;
with 46 drawings, 20 photos, 21 plans & diagrams, 13 maps ]

The Rulers of the South — Sicily • Calabria • Malta is a history of Southern Italy from prehistory down to the sixteenth century; though only a few battles are dealt with in tactical detail, it is primarily military history, offering an excellent readable overview faithfully based on the old sources.

[ 16 webpages: 775 print pages;
123 lithogravures or photos, 3 maps ]

Other items — American history, military history, or both — are in the queue, bearing constantly in mind of course the limitations of copyright. Your advice is welcome; triply so if you are a USMA Cadet or a faculty member at the Academy.

[decorative delimiter]

As often in wartime, the means available to those of us not in the service to support the war for America are somewhat limited. They are not, however, completely absent. See these sites for ways in which you can support our Soldiers and returning Veterans:

Trek for our Troops (a project of a Cadet at the Academy)

also:
Adopt a Platoon AMVETS Any Soldier Leonidas International Operation Dear Abby Pets for Patriots Soldiers' Angels USO Wounded Warrior Project

[decorative delimiter]

And finally, on an American history site this large, some will be expecting to find a comprehensive link list. Now a catalogue raisonné of good websites is an extremely useful resource, but for myself, I've learned over the years not to deal in such things — the constantly moving pages and their shifting contents never fail to remind me of the croquet game in Alice in Wonderland — so I leave the exercise to others. These are among the better ones out there:

Harrold.Org WWW‑VL



[image ALT: an apparently abstract pattern of three V's stacked one above the other — both arms of each V end in a trefoil, and the apex of the V is a small round button; superimposed on this design, three narrow parallel lines extending diagonally from the upper right to the lower left. It is a fairly close rendering of the device on the sleeve of the uniform of a First-Class cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point; and is used on this site to indicate the American and Military History section of the site.]
		
[image ALT: An even quincuncial pattern of fifty stars: nine rows of alternately six and five, which can also be viewed as eleven columns alternating five and four stars. It is the 50‑star marine jack of the United States; and is used on this site to indicate the American and Military History section of the site.]

The icon I use to indicate this American History subsite is generally the sleeve insignia of a First Classman at the Military Academy; but on naval history pages it seemed inappropriate, and I use the 50‑star naval jack instead: while not the current naval jack as of writing (2013), the design, with a varying number of stars, was in use for almost all the history of the United States.


Note:

a If, familiar maybe with my Roman or Umbrian sections, you roamed here from there and are puzzled by the page now before you: Plutarch's essay On the Glory of Athens, also onsite, will give you the key. If, conversely, you're a Soldier (whether a Cadet or serving in any other capacity) and are wondering what on earth some of this has to do with you: the same essay will make it clear, with my own note there to dot the i's and cross the t's.


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Site updated: 25 Oct 14