HP008: Prince Henry of Portugal vs. Zheng He

HP008: Prince Henry of Portugal vs. Zheng He

Prince Henry of Portugul is know as ‘Henry the Navigator’, but why? Why not Zheng He? Zheng who? Exactly! He is listed as the 14th most important person in the last 1,000 years by Life magazine. Zheng He was a Chinese mariner and explorer. He made the voyages collectively known as “Zheng He to the Western Ocean’. Known more for being a eunuch (castrated male) then his spectacular voyages.

Prince Henry never really left land, while Zheng He commanded fleets consisting of hundreds of ships. Emperors in the Ming Dynasty during 1405 – 1433 created a fleet to make seven expeditions into the Indian Ocean. Each expedition would last nearly two years. Zheng He was selected to command these voyages. He was born into a Muslim family sometime in 1371 (no one is sure of this exact date of birth or death) in the province of Yunan. When the first Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhnag conquered his province in 1381 he enslaved Ma He to be a harem guard. At 20 Ma He he began serving the prince Zhu Di and was shortly promoted to junior officer in a civil war. To superintendent of the office of enunchs and gained the surname Zheng.

In 1405 – 1407 commanded his first voyage of 28,000 men and 317 ships. Columbus only had 120 men and 3 ships when he traveled to North America. On his expeditions he visited India, the Persian Gulf, Mecca and Africa. He gave gifts to the rulers of the lands he visited. He recorded the culture of the places he visited and kept a record of the in his diary.

All in all, Zheng He visited 37 countries and brought back a Griaffee and a Zebra, both of which few had ever seen. In 1435 Chinese oversea expenditions halted suddenly. Zheng He died on the seventh voyage and was buried at sea. By 1500 it was a capital offense to build a boat with more than one mast and in 1525 all ships were destroyed. This great navy was destroyed and we are not sure why.

Prince Henry of Portugul was to become a legend in Eurpoean history. He was born in 1394 of King John I and Queen Philippa of Portugul. He would be the third son of the couple. Without Henry’s expeditions during the first half of the fifteenth century other explorers like Bartholomeu Dias would not have been able to round the Cape of Good Hope in 1487 and Columbus would not have sought a sea path to the Indies in 1492

It is important to note that Henry never personally navigated any ships. However, he did send out ships with great zeal. He would outfit the ships himself or outsource to private captains and ask for five percent of any earnings. In the beginning Henry spent far more than he earned from these expeditions. The expeditions would hug the coast line of Africa. Many of the crews were afraid to go too far south because it was said that the sea boiled in the heat of the equator and the sun could pour down liquid fire.

The Portuguese caravels were light, fast, maneuverable ships that could be sailed inshore. In 1460, the year of Henry’s death, Pedro de Sintra reached Sierra Leone. In 1411 slaves where brought back to Portugal and more sailors were willing to participate in the expeditions. Henry built the first slave trading post in 1448 on the Arguin Island. Securing slaves was not Henry’s original intent, but this practice did not bother him.

While Zheng He had had no religious reasons for sailing Henry wanted to spread the faith. Zheng He left a tablet in Ceylon in 1409 that had inscriptions in Chinese, Persian and Tamil. In it he offered thanks to Buddha, Allah and Vishnu. Henry would have baulked at such an idea. While Henry sailed to rid the world of the Muslim Moors and spread the Christian faith, Zheng He sailed for knowledge of customs, rare goods, and political and nautical information.

Henry continued to reap financial gains for explorations and was granted the fees from fishermen and 5 percent of everything brought back from south of Cape Bojador. However, he most likely died poor, because he continued to re-invest all his earnings back into exploration. His efforts were supported because of the potential finances gained from slave trade and exploration. Portuguese pirates would even raid and pillage under the guise of exploration. And of course the Catholic Church supported him because he was helping spread the good word.

Both explorers found economic domination acceptable as it was done for the mother country. Both sought power for the rulers and both had sailing vessels capable of long voyages. For Zheng He his travels marked an end of sea travel for his people for Henry a beginning. The Chinese had magnetic compasses and technically superior ships to the European ones. They also had a balanced rudder (one that can be raised and lowered) and watertight storage compartments. This begs the question, what would the World be like if they had not stopped with Zheng He? Zheng He could not go and do what he wanted. His ruler limited his exploration and his growth. A servants glass-ceiling. Farming was China’s big thing not sea exploration. China was happy being isolated and independent. On the other hand, Portugal was into domination. Henry was not limited and had the resources to explore.

HP007: Lawrence of Arabia

HP007: Lawrence of Arabia

Born August 16 1888 T.E. Lawrence or Thomas Edward, he preferred the letters T.E. to Thomas Edward. He was scarcely the picture of Victorian England. His father Thomas Chapman had left his wife four years earlier for the nanny Sara Maden. He was ashamed of this fact. They had five sons in addition of Lawrence.

At the age of 12 or 13 Lawrence broke his leg. This slow healing fracture or a bout of the mumps stunted his growth and he only made it to 5′ 5.5″. He entered Oxford University’s Jesus College in 1907. There he took interest in Medieval Military architecture. He studied castles in Syria and Palestine in 1909. Submitting his thesis on the subject in 1910 he won first class honors. It was published Crusader Castles in 1936. As a protégé of David George Hogarth he was granted demy ship (traveling fellowship) from Magdalen College and joined an expedition excavating the Hittie settlement of Carchemish on the Euphrates from 1911 to 1914. Here Lawrence fell in love with the people and their culture.

He used his free time to travel and lean the language of the people. On one of these traveling trips he would visit northern Sianai on the Turkish frontier of east Suez. The trip was in fact a map-making reconnaissance from Gaza to Aqaba. The cover study of scientific exploration was of scholarly significance and a book was written by Lawrence and Sir Leonard Woolley called The Wilderness of Zin in 1915.

In December 1914 he was assigned to intelligence where he spent more than a year interviewing prisoners, drawing maps, receiving and processing data from agents behind enemy lines and producing a handbook on the Turkish Army. In 1915 his brothers Will and Frank were killed in the war at France. He joined an Arabian Army as a political and Liaison officer. He became know for his brains, organizing force, the liaison to Cairo, and a military technician. He lead hit and run gorilla warfare actions destroying bridges and supply trains. This kept the Damascus-to-Medina railway out of commission.

Twice in 1917 Lawrence broke behind enemy lines to cause damage. However at the village of Derea in Syria in November he was detained by the Turks. What happened next is unknown and hotly debated by historians. He may or may not have been recognized and homosexually brutalized before he was able to escape. The experience variously reported or disguised by him afterward left emotional and physical scars from which he never recovered.

In May 1916 Britain and France agreed to share the Middle East territories and so the Arab’s had no independence. Lawrence went on to write that he “could see the promises to the Arabs were dead paper.” He regretted having sent his men to risk their lives for such a meaningless reward. Lawrence returned to Britain to try to fight the Sykes Picot Agreement, but to no avail.

Disgusted with politics Lawrence retired to Oxford. In August 1922 he enrolled in the Royal Air force for a short time. He was re-enrolled in Military service in March 1923 as a private in the tank corps. 2 years later he rejoined the Royal Air Force and remained there for 10 years. He was discharged for the last time on February 26 1935 at the age of 46.

Riding his motorcycle Lawrence was dogging 2 young boys on bicycles who had come out behind a car. Lawrence missed the 2 boys but lost control of this motorcycle and went over the handlebars. 6 days later he died of his injuries.

HP005: Hernán Cortés

HP005: Hernán Cortés

500 years ago with weapons of Spanish swords Hernán Cortés would meet his adversaries the Aztecs. Who were under the command of Montezuma using primitive weapons like fragile small blades.

Born in a poor family in Spain he was trained by father in swordplay and horse riding. His formal schooling included the study of law and diplomacy, making him one of the best-educated conquistadors. Corte’s knew he had to leave his home to seek the fame and fortune he desired, so he sailed to the new world, which was a 3-month trip.

In 1504 19 yr. old Cortés landed at Hispanolia the Spanish colony now known as the Dominican Republic. At 25 Cortés became friends of a well-known conquistador by the name of Valezquez. He joined Valzques in his conquest of Cuba. Cuban natives were no match for the Spanish army. In the16 century Spaniards were the most effective military force in all of Europe.

By 1511 Cuba was conquered and Valezquez became the governor. Those who came with him like Cortés were rewarded with land. Valzquesz soon made Cortés magistrate of Santiago. This made Cortés not wealthy but a very important person on the island of Cuba.

On behalf of the king of Spain Valzquez sent expeditions from Cuba to Mexico. The first expedition left in 1517 these conquistadors returned with gold and slaves. Not to mention stories about people who ritually gave human sacrifices. In 1518 a second expedition went and never returned. Cortés saw his chance. He mortgaged everything he owned and offered to finance the expedition. Valezquez in turn named him the captain general.

His ambitions were fueled by stories of the great Aztec empire and the riches they held. Valezquez did not trust Cortés and he worried that Cortés would try to take over Mexico for himself. Valequez sent men to stop Cortés, but Cortés recruited the men into his expedition party. He departed without approval with 11 ships and over 500 men.

February 1519 they land at Cozeumel on the Yucatan coast. Where he establishes a landing for all the Spanish ships.

For Cortés to conquer Mexico he would have to conquer Montezuma.

Montezuma was born in 1466 and became emperor of the Aztecs in 1502. Descended from royalty he inspired his people through fear. They worshipped him as a deity. Common citizens were not allowed to look directly into his eyes.

For Cortés to conquer Mexico he would have to conquer Montezuma.

Cortés had canons with him. The Aztecs had never seen them. They also had crossbows and matchlock muskets. Not to mention dogs and horses.

On March 22, 1519 he arrives at Potonchan. An early expedition to this area had been given gold. Cortés was seeking similar results, but it didn’t happen.

Bull Dogs were sent in to attack the Aztecs. Horses were also brought. The natives thought these were dragons. Every psychological advantage Cortés could get he would take. Natives were terrified of horses. He was victorious at Potochan.

All of the natives had to pay taxes to Montezuma. They were not happy campers. The capital was an island in the middle of a lake. The city was very well defended. Montezuma had spy’s everywhere and he had been watching Cortés since he landed. He sent gifts to pacify Cortés and promised more if he would leave and not attack. Cortés told Montezuma’s emissaries that he would come and visit anyway. Montezuma feared Cortés even though he had 100,000 warriors to Cortés’ 500.

The Aztec calendar didn’t allow Montezuma to go to war or even plan one. It was also a sacred year when a bearded Aztec God called Ketsalquatal would return on a ship from the east and rule the land of the Aztecs. Cortés had a beard and had come from the east. Montezuma thought Cortés was a God and he feared him. The conquistadors were angry about attacking the capital, as these were not their orders, they talked of rebellion. Cortés established Vera Cruz and made himself governor. This way he would no longer be under Valezquea’s power. Now he answered only to the king of Spain. At his point Cortés burned all his ships. This was a bold move. He was telling his troops that we would win or die; there would be no retreat. But this also meant he could not re-supply his army.

At Cempoala he recruited more men and made and alliance with their chief who was angry about Montezuma’s huge taxes. The chief was honored to provide his support and gave Cortés 400 porters to carry all the weapons the Spaniards had brought for the conquest of Mexico.

Next Cortés visited the Aztecs greatest enemies. They didn’t want to talk to Cortés and sent warriors in many waves. They could not win against the cannons. Cortés had them join his army.

On October 12 1519 in Cholua Cortés’ army massacred the village and gained more recruits for his army.

In November 1519 Montezuma allows Cortés’ army to ride into the city. Montezuma showed the conquistadors how they sacrificed humans and scared many of the conquistadors. They rushed to Cortés and told him that they needed to leave immediately certain that these savages would sacrifice them. Cortés took Montezuma hostage and convinced Montezuma to do as he said. No one really knows why Montezuma went so willingly. All the accounts of this time period where written decades after the events occurred.

With his newfound power Cortés halts the sacrifices and places crosses in the temples. In April 1520 an arresting party of 900 conquistadors arrive to find Cortés and hang him. Cortés convinces them that they will gain riches if they join him.

On May 1520 Cortés is outside the city in a battle with more natives. The man Cortés left in charge of the city misunderstands a celebratory feast for an attack on his soldiers and surrounds many of the Aztecs with his men and opens fire, killing hundreds. The Aztecs fight back and the conquistadors are surrounded. Cortés arrives to find that he has to fight his way back into the city. He sends Montezuma to tell his people to stop fighting. The Aztecs attack Montezuma during his speech. Montezuma will not survive this attack and dies a few days later. The conquistadors are pushed out of the city losing half of their army.

In the summer of 1520 he regained 200 more men who had come from another expedition. Another surprise was in store for Cortés. A ship arrived that was sent by his father, which contained more supplies and horses.

Back in the capital of the Aztecs the effects of small pox, which the Spaniards brought with them, have taken a huge toll. Cortés fought his way back into the city. It took 80 days. The Aztecs could not get any food or supplies and were trapped in their own city.

From the time Cortés landed in Mexico it took 2 ½ years, but he was successful in conquering Mexico.

HP004: Stonewall Jackson

HP004: Stonewall Jackson

Welcome to HistoryPodcast number four. Thank you for subscribing. Our email address is historypodcast@gmail.com and the website slash show notes can be found at historypodcast.blogspot.com

Today’s show is special, because we have our first request. Michelle from Irvine would like to know more about Stonewall Jackson.

I am assuming Michelle is making reference to the American Civil War general. There is a 1960s country music artist by the same name, and a submarine called the USS Stonewall Jackson.

Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson born January 21, 1824 and died May 10, 1863. He was an American teacher and soldier. He became a famous Confederate general during the American Civil War, and was killed during the conflict. Jackson is often considered one of the most gifted battlefield commanders in American history, and his death was a major setback for the Confederacy.

Jackson was the third child of Julia Neale Jackson and Jonathan Jackson, an attorney. Both of Jackson’s parents were natives of Virginia. The family already had two young children and was living in Clarksburg, in what is now West Virginia, when Jackson was born.

Two years later, tragedy struck the family when Jackson’s father and sister Elizabeth (age six) died of typhoid fever. Jackson’s mother gave birth to Thomas’ sister Laura Ann the next day. Julia Jackson was widowed at 28 and was left with much debt, selling all the family’s possessions to pay them. She declined family charity and moved into a small one-room house. Julia took in sewing and taught school to support herself and her three young children for about four years. In 1830, she remarried, but her new husband, also an attorney, did not like his stepchildren, and there were continuing financial problems. Then, after giving birth to Thomas’ half-brother, she died of complications, leaving her three children orphaned. Julia was buried in an unmarked grave in a homemade coffin in a small town along the James River and Kanawha Turnpike in Fayette County.

Jackson was seven when his mother died, and he and his sister Laura Ann were sent to live with their paternal uncle, Cummins Jackson, who owned a grist mill in Jackson’s Mill (near present-day Weston). Cummins Jackson was strict to Thomas Jackson. Thomas Jackson looked up to Cummins as a schoolteacher. Their older brother, Warren, went to live with other relatives on his mother’s side of the family, but he died of tuberculosis in 1841 at the age of 20.

Jackson helped around his uncle’s farm, tending sheep with the assistance of a sheepdog, driving teams of oxen and helping harvest the fields of wheat and corn. Formal education was not easily obtained, but he attended school when and where he could. Much of Jackson’s education was self-taught. He would often sit up at night reading by the flickering light of burning pine knots. The story is told that Thomas once made a deal with one of his uncle’s slaves to provide him with pine knots in exchange for reading lessons. This was in violation of a law in Virginia at that time that forbade teaching a slave to read or write, but nevertheless, Jackson taught the man as promised. In his later years at Jackson’s Mill, Thomas was a schoolteacher.

In 1842, Jackson was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Because of his inadequate schooling, he had difficulty with the entrance examinations. As a student, he had to work several times harder than most cadets to absorb lessons. However, displaying a amazing determination that was to characterize his life, he became one of the hardest working cadets in the academy. Thomas Jackson graduated 17th out of 59 students in the Class of 1846.

Young Lieutenant Jackson began his U.S. Army career in the First Artillery Regiment. He was sent to fight in the Mexican War from 1846 to 1848. Again, his unusual character emerged. When he refused what he felt was a “bad order”, to withdraw his troops, another superior confronted him. He explained his rationale, and claimed that, with only 50 more troops, he could persevere and win the particular situation. His judgment proved correct, earning field promotion to the temporary rank of major.

While serving in Mexico, Jackson first met Robert E. Lee.

In the spring of 1851, Thomas Jackson was offered and accepted a newly created position to teach at the Virginia Military Institute, in Lexington, Virginia. He became Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Instructor of Artillery. Jackson’s teachings are still used at VMI today. However, despite the quality of his work, he was not popular as a teacher. The students mocked his apparently stern, religious nature and his eccentric traits. Little as he was known to the white inhabitants of Lexington, he was revered by the slaves, to whom he showed uniform kindness, and for whose moral instruction he worked unceasingly. During this time Jackson even began a Sunday school for blacks, both slave and free.

While an instructor at VMI, in 1853, Thomas Jackson married Elinor “Ellie” Junkin, whose father was president of Washington College in Lexington. A son was born to them but unfortunately, Ellie died during childbirth and the newborn child died immediately following the birth.

After a tour of Europe, in 1857, Jackson married again. Mary Anna Morrison was from North Carolina, where her father was the first president of Davidson University. They had a daughter named Mary Graham on April 30, 1858, but the baby died less than a month later. Another daughter was born in 1862, shortly before her famous father’s death. The Jackson’s named her Julia Laura, after his mother and sister.

In 1861, as the American Civil War broke out, the Confederate Army had a lot of new recruits and he became a drill master of new army recruits. He was eventually given command of a brigade. On April 27, 1861, Virginia Governor John Letcher ordered Colonel Jackson to take command at Harpers Ferry, where he would assemble the famous “Stonewall Brigade”. The fabled brigade included the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia infantry regiments. All of these units were from the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia.

During the charge that took place at Harpers Ferry, Colonel Jackson jumped in front of a soldier who was about to be killed by a sword thrust and killed the man that was attacking the soldier. After the Battle of Harpers Ferry, because of his bravery, he was promoted to brigadier general.

Jackson rose to prominence and earned his nickname after the first battle of Bull Run (known as the First Battle of Manassas in the South) in July 1861, when Brigadier General Barnard E. Bee exhorted his own troops to reform by shouting, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall. Rally behind the Virginians!” Jackson was quickly promoted to divisional command.

In May and June of 1862, he was given an independent command in the Shenandoah Valley. Stonewall Jackson’s reputation for moving his troops earned them the description of “foot cavalry”.

Jackson’s troops served well under Robert E. Lee in the series of battles known as the Seven Days Battles, but Jackson’s own performance in those battles is generally considered to be lackluster. The reasons are disputed, although a severe lack of sleep after the grueling march and railroad trip from the Shenandoah Valley was probably a large factor. Both Jackson and his troops were completely exhausted.

Jackson was now a corps commander under Lee. At the Second Battle of Bull Run (or the Second Battle of Manassas in the South), he helped to administer the Federals another defeat on the same ground as in 1861.

At the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson’s forces flanked the Union army, and in an intense battle deep in the tangled woods drove them back from their lines. Darkness ended the assault, and by bad luck Jackson and his staff were mistaken for a Union cavalry force by Confederate troops and fired upon. Jackson was hit by three bullets; his left arm had to be amputated by Dr. Hunter McGuire, and he died seven days later of pneumonia. Jackson’s dying words: “Let us cross the river and rest in the shade of the trees”.

Upon hearing of Jackson’s death, Robert E. Lee mourned the loss of both a friend and a trusted commander. The night Lee learned of Jackson’s death, he told his cook, “William, I have lost my right arm” (deliberately in contrast to Jackson’s left arm) and “I’m bleeding at the heart”.

Jackson is considered one of the great characters of the Civil War. He was profoundly religious, a deacon in the Presbyterian Church. He disliked fighting on Sunday, though that did not stop him from doing so. He loved his wife very much and sent her tender letters. He generally wore old, worn-out clothes rather than a fancy uniform, and often looked more like a moth-eaten private than a corps commander. He was also known to regularly chew lemons during marches, a taste for which he had acquired during his time in Mexico. In command Jackson was extremely secretive about his plans and extremely punctilious about military discipline.

The South mourned his death; he was greatly admired there. Many theorists through the years have postulated that if Jackson had lived, Lee might have prevailed at Gettysburg. Certainly Jackson’s iron discipline and brilliant tactical sense were sorely missed, and might well have carried an extremely close fought battle. He is buried at Lexington, Virginia, near VMI, in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. He is memorialized on Georgia’s Stone Mountain, in Richmond on historic Monument Avenue, and in many other places.

After the War, his wife and young daughter Julia moved from Lexington to North Carolina. Mary Anna Jackson wrote two books about her husband’s life, including some of his letters. She never remarried, and was known as the “Widow of the Confederacy”, living until 1915. His daughter Julia married, and bore children, but she died of typhoid fever at the age of 26 years.

HP003: Filibuster Movement

HP003: Filibuster Movement

As many of you, I know the term filibuster to mean a long speech that a senator makes when trying to stall for time. Also, like many of you I associate this term with the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. However, there is another meaning of this term: “An adventurer who engages in unauthorized warfare against a country with which his own country is at peace.”

Works Cited:
American History Illustrated, El presidente gringo, Feb 1989, Vol. 24 Issue 10, p.14


As many of you, I know the term filibuster to mean a long speech that a senator makes when trying to stall for time. Also, like many of you I associate this term with the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. However, there is another meaning of this term: “An adventurer who engages in unauthorized warfare against a country with which his own country is at peace.”

This is a little known part of history, just before the civil war in America. This is exciting history to me. There is very little written about it. It was mentioned on a PBS program called The History Detectives. Yes, I am a total nerd I watch PBS. I managed to dig some things up regarding this Filibuster period.

Filibusterers were active in the decade preceding the American Civil War. They started in 1849 with Narciso Lopez who led three unsuccessful campaigns against Cuba. On his last attempt he was murdered with 50 southern volunteers by Spanish military authorities.

The most well known filibuster was William Walker a Californian. Walker had heard legends from Central American Indians about a gray-eyed man of destiny. This man was supposed to bring peace and liberate the Indians. They would lay fruit before this man and hail him as a messiah. Walker had gray eyes and is quoted as saying, “I am not ashamed to say that I am favored by the Gods.” According to the History Illustrated article Walker believed that the pure white race would triumph. He said, “World history was abounding with examples of superior races overwhelming the inferior.” The article touts him as an American Caesar. However, to the people of Nicaragua Walker embodies all that is unholy. There is a statue of a boy who killed one of Walker’s soldiers in the small town of San Jacinto.

Walker was an odd-looking fellow, and unlikely explorer. He was scarcely 120 pounds. He had a sharp shaky voice and flimsy blonde hair. He often wore un-matching comical clothing. His only desire was fame and recognition.

He was born in 1824 of a Scotch father. His father was a Nashville dry-goods merchant who had made his riches in the insurance business. Both of Walker’s parents were members of the fundamentalist sect, Disciples of Christ. The wanted Walker to study religion and become a minister, but Walker instead turned his attention to medicine. He was a very gifted student and graduated from the University of Nashville at the age of 14. At the University of Pennsylvania he obtained his Medical degree at the age of 19. Unable to stand the gross conditions of the sickly and perhaps more importantly his inability to cure his mother’s acute rheumatism he moved away from medicine.

His next interest was law and then Journalism. His restlessness had now lead him to Ellen Martin a deaf and mute woman that he fell in love with. Martin soon contracted cholera and died suddenly. After her death he escaped to San Francisco. Where he began work as a writer for a local paper. There he was fascinated by the hot topic of the time, slavery. Here he also heard of other’s attempts to take over Latin countries and turn them in to slave states.

On October 15, 1853, he sailed from San Francisco with a small force, of about 45 men. Their mission, he stated was to protect women and children living along the Mexican border from attacks by the Apache Indians and to bring democracy and stability to the troubled land. After landing in La Paz, he proclaimed Lower California and Sonora an independent republic. The new republic would bring a flag, a cabinet and constitution all developed by Walker. As the enterprise began to fall apart Walker executed two of his troops for trying to flee. Nevertheless, more and more troops began to leave him. Lack of supplies and Mexican resistance forced him back to the US on May 8, 1854, his 30th birthday. Walker stumbled back to the states wearing one boot and a makeshift sandal. Most of his men had been lost in the attacks. In November 1854 he was tried for violating neutrality laws and was acquitted of all charges in 8 minutes.

After the unsuccessful attempt at Baja California turned his attention to Nicaragua. He left the US exactly a year after being forced back on May 1855. A revolutionary faction invited him during a civil war there. Walker and 58 men arrive in June 1855. The faction gives him 150 more men, which he uses to battle his way through the country. After many of his battles he ordered his men not to kill those who surrendered but to mend their wounds. These were his first steps in showing the people of Nicaragua that he would be a great ruler. He also published a manifesto to the Nicaraguan’s glorifying his hope to create a true democracy.

When some of the Nicaraguan people asked Walker to accept the presidency Walker declined. This so impressed the US minister to Nicaragua Wheeler, that he began work on Walker’s behalf without asking the US government first. Walker became president of Nicaragua on June 29, 1856. He ignored the fact that the Nicaraguan constitution excluded non-native born people from taking office.

In the US Walker became something of a folk hero. Another man hungry for American adventure has made good in abroad. The newspapers followed his exploits.

On September 22, 1856 Walker canceled legislation that had abolished slavery several decades earlier. This move opened up Nicaragua for the American’s Southern slaveholders, who now had a place to go where they would not be in jeopardy of losing their free labor. Wheeler, the American Ambassador to Nicaragua thought this to be pure brilliance as he was a slaveholder himself from North Carolina. The Richmond Inquirer stated, “This [is a] a magnificent country that General Walker has taken possession of in the name of the white race.”

At this time Nicaragua was a key transport link between Atlantic and Pacific Ocean shipping.

Two officers of the Accessory Transit Company gave financial assistance slash bribery to Walker so that he would turn it over to them. He seized the company on the pretext of a charter violation and turned it over to the two officers.

When Walker seized control of the Accessory Transit Company, Cornelius Vanderbuilt, the steamship and railroad financer and owner, he ran into some serious opposition. Vanderbuilt formed a coalition of Central American States against Walker. Walker surrendered to the US Navy on May 1, 1857 in order to evade capture by the coalition.

Once back in the states Walker received a hero’s welcome. Many Southern supports were willing to finance more ventures into Central America. The US Government issued vague warnings stating the Filibusterism was a violation of neutrality laws. They added that any individuals involved in military expeditions against foreign nations must be detained. However, later in June 1857 Walker met with President Buchanan and said that the President had encouraged him to return to Nicaragua.

On an attempt to reach Nicaragua again Walker and his crew of 50 men was arrested by the USS Saratoga and brought back to the US. Southerners were outraged and wanted the captain of the Saratoga court-martialed. Walker was tried in New Orleans and acquitted by 10 of the 12 jurors, another fine example of American justice. Walker lost no time and was soon off on another try at Nicaragua. This time his ship was stopped by a reef and sunk. Again the Navy rescued him and again he returned to much fan fair from his Southern supporters.

On his last attempt, he was taken into custody by the British Navy on the coast of Honduras. The British Navy was there because Walker had taken the port of Truxillo where the revenue from customs had originally been going to the British government. Walker had surrendered under the impression that the British Navy would surely return him to the States where he could once again depart for Nicaragua . Instead captain Norvell Salmon turned him over to Honduras authorities. They in turn put him to death by firing squad on September 12, 1860.

With the American Civil war and Abolition southern support for land conquest died out.

HP002: American Spy Plane Shot Down Over Russia

HP002: American Spy Plane Shot Down Over Russia

An American U-2 spy plane is shot down over Russia it’s pilot captured and later traded for a Russian Spy.

Works Cited:

  • American Heritage Magazine, Sept. 2000, Vol. 51 Issue 5 p.36, The Day we Shot Down the U-2 by Sergei Krushchev

More information:

This story comes from the American Heritage magazine. The author was Sergei Khrushchev, Nikita Khrushchev’s son. Nikita Khrushchev was the soviet primer during this period of the cold war. The article provides a point of view that many Americans never get to hear. The other sides point of view.

I thought this article was worth mentioning simply because of unique perspective it provides. Following the World War II, the relations between the US and Russia were stressed. In the 1955 Geneva meeting between the four super powers of the time – USSR, US, Great Britain, and France – Eisenhower proposed ‘Open Skies’, which stated that opposing blocs could fly over the territories of adversaries in order monitor their nuclear arms.

Khrushchev denied opposed this agreement. According to the article not because they had any weapons, but instead because they had no weapons. Khrushchev feared that the US might attack if they thought the USSR was in a weak position.

President Eisenhower approved flights of the U2 over Russia even though, Khrushchev had denied signing the Open Skies proposal. The images taken from this plane were truly incredible for their time. They were taken from a height of six miles. The U2 was the pride of Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin). It’s designer Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson obtained worldwide fame for the plane. He is also known for developing the SR71 Blackbird. It was thought to be untouchable because of the miraculous height that the plane was able to achieve.

Several U2 flights went near and through Russia. The first of these flights to be fatal was on April 9th, 1960. The plane came from the direction of Pakistan and was detected at 4:47 AM when it was 150 miles from the Afghan border and already deep inside the USSR.

Capt. Vladimir Karachevsky was sent to intercept it. However, his MiG19 lost altitude and crashed into a forest. The U2 plane escaped and Russia said nothing of this incident. The next flight was planned for May 1. It would mark the 24th U2 mission over Russia. The path would be the same as a previous flight. The now famous Francis Gary Powers would be the pilot of this flight. A Su9 and four Mig’s were sent after Powers. The Su9 would get the first chance on Powers. He flew on an intercept course at 1,200 miles an hour, afterburners blazing and flew over Powers. Neither pilot even saw each other.

Powers had no idea he was in danger. The moment Powers plane was within the range of a missile base the instructions to launch three soviet V750 missiles was made. Even though, regulations called for only 2. After the button was pushed only one of the missiles fired. At 8:53 AM Moscow time there was an explosion. The second part of the article written by Powers son states that the missile exploded just behind the plane but near enough to a fragile section to send the U2 into a nose dive.

Powers had been jolted during the explosion in such a way that if he used the ejection seat his legs would be severed. He decided to open the canopy and crawl out of the plane. He successfully made it out of the plane and deployed his parachute. Stories differ on what happened when he landed near Sverdlovsk, Soviet Union. While Powers is floating safely to earth the Russian’s are still trying to decide if they had, in fact, shot him down or not. Another missile battery had already fired three of its missiles toward where they thought the U2 was. Now the only planes in danger were the MiG’s the Su9 had already been told to return home after going through all of his fuel at full afterburners trying to intercept the U2.

One of the MiG’s was low on fuel and dove for the landing strip, but one of the missiles got to him before he could land. The Russian’s had shot down one of their own planes. The excuse for this to the higher ups in the Russian air force was that the MiG’s transponder was not working. This was a lie. The transponder was working it was just using an old code because the ground crew had not updated it. This old code made the friend and enemy and was thus shot down. This was originally brought to light later. I would like to play some of Power’s plea to the Russian Court now.

Powers was tried in Moscow and sentenced to three years in prison and seven years in a corrective labor facility. I find myself wondering which would be better a Russian prison or a quote-unquote corrective labor facility. However, before his sentence could be carried out he was exchanged for a Soviet spy, Coronal Rudolf Abel in 1962.

Many people have the misimpression that CIA operatives are supposed to kill themselves if captured. According to the second article, they are to surrender and be cooperative but withhold any information about the plane.

Powers received the Intelligence Star for valor, the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross and later his family was presented with the CIA’s Director’s Medal for “extraordinary fidelity and essential service” and the POW Medal.  Of course, Khrushchev now has proof that despite what they had agreed upon Eisenhower still approved flight surveillance flights over Russia. Khrushchev demanded and an apology from Eisenhower, and did not receive it. As a consequence, the Paris Summit on May 16, 1960, collapsed. The US’s explanation for the U2 being over Russia was absurd. They said it was part of a weather research project and simply got lost.

Many of the details of this flight are still a mystery. The advances in satellites have made high-altitude surveillance planes unnecessary. American Discover satellites were launched in August 1960 that was developed as part of the CORONA project.

As a final note, the Russians did have spies in the US, even before WWII. They actually penetrated the Manhattan Project (the project that was developing the atomic bomb). They escaped safely back to Russia with 10,000 pages of documents of technical material which Igor Kurchatov (head of the soviet atomic bomb effort) used to create Russia’s first atomic bomb.

What Happened?


Over the last several months, I have had serious issues with malware on this website. Google blocked the site and my host, bluehost could not help me. I tried to fix things, but I made it mostly worse. So, I have restarted. I only ever wanted this content to be evergreen and always available for free. In an effort to make all episodes of historypodcast available online for free forever, I have moved the site to dreamhost and will begin the long process of republishing all 120 episodes of historypodcast.

To the podcast

Short answer: I had kids. Long answer: I got promoted at work a few times and now I have a lot less time to do personal projects. Also, podcasts have changed a lot since 2005! Now everyone expects NPR quality production on any podcast. Thats not me.

To episode 51 &79

I don’t know. Somewhere over the past 15 years I misplaced those particular episodes. If you have them email me at historypodcast[at]gmail.com and send it my way. Thanks!

To Peloponnesian War Part II

That particular episode was a guest host and while they did do the first part they never sent the second part, hence why there is no part II.

HP001: The Only Atomic Bomb Ever Dropped on America

History Podcast #1 – The Only Atomic Bomb Ever Dropped on America

This is an actual event that occurred on March 11, 1958. This is the era of the Cold War. At precisely 4:19 PM a B-47E medium bomber serial number 53-1876A accidentally released their atomic bomb over the Gregg family property in Mars Bluff, South Carolina.

Hello, and welcome to the first History Podcast. Before I start I would like to thank Robert Packett for not only inspiring me to start a podcast but for giving me a subject to podcast about. He is doing a wonderful job with his podcast called History According to Bob. I encourage anyone who is interested in History to subscribe to his podcast. His website is located at summahistoica.com.

While Bob is a history teacher, I am not. But like Bob I do have a passion for history. I invite comments to each podcast and if relevant I will post them on historypodcast.blogspot.com and now historyonair.com.

One of Bob’s subjects on a recent podcast was Mars Bluff. I had never heard of this event before Bob’s podcast. It was when the United States Air Force accidentally dropped a 30 kiloton nuclear atomic bomb on the small rural area of Southern Carolina.

This is an actual event that occurred on March 11, 1958. This is the era of the Cold War. At precisely 4:19 PM a B-47E medium bomber serial number 53-1876A accidentally released their atomic bomb over the Gregg family property in Mars Bluff, South Carolina. The event of a bomb being lost by the military is apparently so commonplace it has a code name. The 1996 film of the same name popularized the term, “broken arrow”, directed by John Woo, starring John Travolta and Christian Slater. This event also as the prestige of being the only nuclear bomb ever dropped on America.

That morning at the Hunter Air Force Base in Savannah the crew, Captain Earl Koehler, pilot; Captain Charles Woodruff, co-pilot; Captain Bruce Kulka, navigator/bombardier were readying their plane for the coming mission called Operation Snow Flurry. Snow Flurry was not a regular mission or training. It was part of the Unit Simulated Combat Mission and Special (or Nuclear) Weapons Exercise. Two generals had appeared at the briefing for this exercise 10 days ago to emphasize the important of the mission. The mission was to carry the bombs to Bruntingthorpe Air Base, England. Aircraft 53-1876A was to be accompanied by two other aircraft also carrying atomic bombs, all of the planes were part of the 375th Bombardment Squadron. (An Esquire article asserts that it was the 308th Bombardment Wing.).

There was to be a practice bomb run in England using a signal that would be transmitted to the ground where computers could calculate the accuracy of the bombing. Points would be awarded to the team with the most accurate bombing. In the morning a specialized two-man crew took just over an hour to load Aircraft 53-1876A. This two-man crew had trouble setting the steel locking pin in place. The specialized crew calls over the supervisor for help engaging the pin. The supervisor has the bomb lifted so the pin can be put in place with the aid of a hammer. The crew then proceeded to their pre-flight check in a hurry. If they did not finish by 10:30 they would be docked points for this mission. Because of the hurry, no one bothered to check the release mechanism of the steel pin.

For some reason, the policy of the Air Force was the release the pin before take off in case it needed to be dropped. And then at 5,000 feet the pin was to be re-inserted until the time came to drop it.

When aircraft 53-1876A took-off they released the pin as per Air Force policy. Then once they had reached 5,000 feet the co-pilot reached down and pulled the lever that would re-insert the pin. The lever failed and the pilot’s instrumentation notified them that the pin was not set properly.

As the bombardier, Bruce Kulka’s job was to help find targets and destroy them. As the person responsible for the bomb, Kukla was instructed by the pilot to go back there and figure out what is wrong. Because the bomb bay compartment is not pressurized the entire plane had to be depressurized and the whole crew had to go on oxygen.

The space in the plane where the bomb is stored is very tight. In fact, it was so small a space Kukla could not wear a parachute back there. The 7,600-pound bomb with dimensions of 10 feet, 8 inches long and 61 inches in diameter was just about as large as the inside of the B-47E. Kukla had to blindly reach up and try to re-insert the pin. Now remember, this place is cramped, Kukla can’t even see what he is doing and he is hauling around an oxygen tank. Turns out that instead of the pin Kukla grabs the emergency-release lever. The bomb drops onto the bomb bay doors with Kukla on top of the bomb. The co-pilot would later remark, “I wouldn’t even try to imagine what he was feeling in those seconds.” With the combined weight of Kukla and the bomb, the doors give way and the bomb and Kukla begin to drop. Having better luck now, Kukla manages to grab onto something and stop his fall towards Earth.

After, pulling himself back into the plane Kukla notifies the pilot of what has transpired. As per Air Force regulations, the pilot has a special code to transmit back to base in this case of an accidental drop. Because the procedure had never been used the operations center at Hunter Air Force Base did not recognize the coded transmission. As a final resort, the pilot was forced to radio into Florence airport, six miles from Mars Bluff, and ask them to telephone Hunter and notify them that Aircraft 35-1876A had lost a “device”.

Meanwhile, on the ground at the Gregg Family property. The bomb was impacting. The explosion was not a full nuclear explosion. Thankfully, Air Force policy is such that at peacetime, the fissionable nuclear core of the weapon is to be stored elsewhere in the aircraft, in what is called a “birdcage”. The explosion injured all five members of the Walter Gregg family and destroyed practically everything standing. Mrs. Gregg was sewing on the front porch; her son and husband were in the tool shed. The two Gregg girls were 65 feet from where the bomb struck, playing with their cousin Ella Davis at the playhouse their father had constructed for them. Ella was to receive 31 stitches and was the only one who had to stay overnight at the Florence hospital. That evening at the hospital was when Walter Gregg learned that the explosion was from an Air Force bomb.

Where the heck is Mars Bluff. Don’t feel bad you’re not the only person who has never heard of it. It has no post office and the United States Postal Service website has no zip code for it. However, some have found the crater of 50-70 feet in diameter and 25-30 feet deep. There is an article at Tybee Bomb.com that has a picture and instructions to the crater. The saying, it is a small world, goes to extremes with this next tidbit of information. It turns out that another cousin of Walter Gregg, Amelia Wallace Vernon published a book in 1993 called, African American at Mars Bluff, South Carolina. The book documents the cultivation of rice by slaves in Mars Bluff. Interestingly enough many of the rice fields she mentions in the book come very close to the crater.

The Air Force offered the Gregg Family $44,000 for damages. This amount came nowhere close to what the damages actually were. The Air Force sent a senior legal officer to figure out this amount. He didn’t even give the Gregg’s a housing allowance while their home was being re-built. The values that the senior legal officer gave all the damaged goods was the depreciation value, not the replacement value. Another interesting tidbit, the Gregg’s owned free-range chickens. Free-range means the chickens are not in a cope but roam around the property. Several of the chickens were vaporized upon the bomb impact. Therefore, the Air Force would not settle on an exact number of chickens destroyed. So, the official record reads 6-14 chickens may have been lost.

The Gregg’s received a special private bill signed by President Eisenhower to sue the U.S. Government. Which they promptly did. After three years in court, they received $54,000 of which they now had to pay lawyer fees.

Kukla now resides in Thailand and when visiting the states stays on the West Coast in a hotel. He does not respond to questions for an interview. The Air Force has changed the way the bombs go off. They no longer explode on impact, but only when a signal is transmitted to them. In a recent article from The State, a South Carolina newspaper, Clyde Gregg, nephew of Walter Gregg says he is going to sell the supposed fragments from the bomb that fell on his Uncle’s home 47 years ago. The link to this story is also in the show notes. The crater is still there today. It is behind a new housing development called Francis Marion Forest. About 100 feet off Lucius Circle you can see the crater, a link is in the show notes. Also, in the show notes is a link to a news brief video on vce.com. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend reading the American Heritage and the Esquire article.

Thank you for listening to this first show of historypodcast. I hope you subscribe.  You can email me at historypodcast@gmail.com. Suggestions and comments are encouraged.

Special Thanks to:

Works Cited

  • Esquire Magazine, May 2005, Vol. 143 Issue 5, p. 122, A Perfectly Understandable Mistake
  • American Heritage Magazine, September 2000, Vol. 51 Issue 5, p.50, ‘Aircraft 53-1876A has lost a device’.

Links to more information: