A Hanging in 18th Century London

With more than 200 criminal offences on the Statute Book carrying the death penalty public hanging was a regular occurrence in 18th century England providing an opportunity for a great social gathering and considerable revelry with food sold, alcohol readily available, and even fairground attractions.

Notice of execution was posted well in advance to allow people to arrange excursions with multiple hangings and the execution of Highwaymen, the folk heroes of their day particularly popular with more than 200,000 people attending the hanging of the notorious Jack Shepherd.

Indeed, such was the love of the English people for an execution that it often left foreign visitors bemused. Here a Frenchman in London on business describes the process:

Criminals are not executed immediately after their trial, as they are abroad, but are given several days to prepare for death. During that time they may ask for anything that they require either for the soul or for the body. The chaplain of the prison (for there is one) does not leave them, and offers every consolation in his power. The day before the execution those who desire it may receive the sacrament, provided the chaplain thinks that they have sincerely repented and are worthy of it.

On the day of execution the condemned prisoners, wearing a sort of white linen shirt over their clothes and a cap on their heads, are tied two together and placed on carts with their backs to the horses’ tails. These carts are guarded and surrounded by constables and other police officers on horseback, each armed with a sort of pike. In this way part of the town is crossed, and Tyburn, which is a good half-mile from the last suburb, is reached, and here stands the gibbet.

One often sees criminals going to their death perfectly unconcerned, others so impenitent that they fill themselves full of liquor and mock at those who are repentant. When all the prisoners arrive at their destination they are to mount on a very wide cart made expressly for the purpose, a cord is passed round their necks and the end fastened to the gibbet, which is not very high.

The chaplain who accompanies the condemned men is also on the cart; he makes pray and sings a few verses of the Psalms. Relatives are permitted to mount the cart and take farewell. When the time is up – that is to about a quarter of an hour – the chaplain and relations get off the cart, the executioner covers the eyes and faces of the prisoners with their caps lashes the horses that draw the cart, which slips from under the condemned men’s feet, and in this way they remain all hanging together. You often see friends and relations tugging at the hanging men’s feet so that they should die quicker and not suffer.

The bodies and clothes of the dead belong to the executioner; relatives must, if they wish for them, buy them from him, and unclaimed bodies are sold to surgeons to be dissected. You see most amusing scenes between the people who do not like the bodies to be cut and the messengers the surgeons have sent for bodies; blows are given and returned before they can be got away, and sometimes in the turmoil the bodies are quickly removed and buried.

There is no other form of execution but hanging; it is thought that the taking of life is sufficient punishment for any crime without worse torture. After hanging murderers are, however, punished in a particular fashion. They are first hung on the common gibbet, their bodies are then covered with tallow and fat substances, over this is placed a tarred shirt fastened down with iron bands, and the bodies are hung with chains to the gibbet, which is erected on the spot, or as near as possible to the place, where the crime was committed, and there it hangs till it falls to dust. This is what is called in this country to ‘hang in chains’.

Meeting Attila and His Huns

By the Fifth Century the once mighty Roman Empire was in irreversible decline. Hounded and harassed by nomadic tribes such as the Visigoths and Ostrogoths hailing from the East they would soon face an even greater enemy, a race of warrior tribesmen from the plains of modern Hungary, the Huns, and their fearsome leader, Attila – the Scourge of God.

The Roman historian Ammanianus Marcelinus described them:

attila2-main-x

Though they do just bear the likeness of men, of a very ugly type, they are so little advanced in civilization that they make no use of fire or use any kind of relish in the preparation of their food, instead they feed upon the roots they find in the fields, and the half-raw flesh of any sort of animal.

When attacked, they will sometimes engage in regular battle going into the fight in order of columns and filling the air with varied and discordant cries. More often however they fight in no regular order of battle, but by being extremely swift and sudden in their movements, they disperse, and then rapidly come together again in loose array, spread havoc over vast plains, and flying over the rampart, they pillage the camp of their enemy almost before he has become aware of their approach.

When in close combat they fight with swords without regard for their own safety, and while their enemy is intent upon parrying the thrust of the swords, they throw a net over him and so entangle his limbs.

attila-invades-rome-port-x

In 451, Attila led his hordes into the heart of Western Europe but was defeated by Rome and its Ostrogoth Allies at the Battle of Chalons, now considered one of the great turning points of history.

But for Attila it was merely a setback and he would return the following year to rampage across Italy looting and pillaging at will. Yet he turned back at the Gates of Rome when the city appeared to be at his mercy. Why, remains a mystery.

A man of fierce demeanour who struck terror into the hearts of those brought before him, Attila was someone whom it was wise not to offend.

attila-feast-x

Priscus, an envoy of the Byzantine Empire was invited to dine with the Scourge of God.

This is his account:

We waited for the time of the invitation, and then all of us, the envoys from the Western Romans as well, presented ourselves in the doorway facing Attila.

In accordance with national custom we were given a cup for us to make our libations before we took our seats. When that had been done we went to the chairs where we would sit to have dinner. All the seats were ranged down either side of the room, up against the walls. In the middle Attila was sitting on a couch with a second couch behind him. Behind that a few steps led up to his bed, which for decorative purposes was covered in ornate drapes made of fine linen, like those which Greeks and Romans prepare for marriage ceremonies.

The more distinguished guests were on Attila’s right and the second rank on his left where we were along with Berichos, a man of some renown among the Scythians who was sitting in front of us.

To the right of Attila’s couch was Onegesios, and opposite him were two of the king’s sons on chairs. The eldest son was sitting on Attila’s own couch, right on the very edge, with his eyes fixed on the ground in fear of his father.

When all were sitting properly in order, a cupbearer came to offer Attila an ivy-wood bowl of wine, which he took and drank a toast to the man first in order of precedence. The man thus honoured rose to his feet but it was not right for him to sit down again until Attila had drank some or all of the wine and had handed the goblet back to the attendant. The guests, taking their own cups, then honoured him in the same way, sipping the wine after making the toast.

One attendant went round to each man in strict order after Attila’s personal cup-bearer had gone out.

When the second guest and then all the others in their turn had been honoured, Attila greeted us in like fashion in our order of seating.

A lavish meal, served on silver trenchers, was prepared for us and the others, but Attila just had some meat on a wooden platter, for this was one aspect of his self-discipline.

For instance, gold or silver cups were presented to the other diners, but his own goblet was made of wood. His clothes, too, were simple, and no trouble was taken except to have them clean. The sword that hung by his side, the clasps of his barbarian shoes and the bridle of his horse were all free from gold, precious stones or other valuable decorations.

As twilight came on torches were lit, and two barbarians entered before Attila to sing some songs they had composed, telling of his victories and his valour in war.

The guests paid close attention to them, and some were delighted with the songs, others excited at being reminded of the wars, but others broke down and wept if their bodies were weakened by age and their warrior spirits forced to remain inactive.

After the songs, a Scythian entered, a crazy fellow who told a lot of strange and completely false stories, not a word of them true which made everyone laugh. Following him the moor, Zerkon, totally disorganized in appearance in clothes, voice and words who by mixing up the languages of the Italians with those of the Huns and Goths, he fascinated everyone and made them break out into uncontrollable laughter. All that is except Attila, he remained impassive, without any change of expression, and neither by word or gesture did he seem to share in the merriment except that when his youngest son, Ernas, came in and stood by him, he drew the boy towards him and looked at him with gentle eyes.

I was surprised that he paid no attention to his other sons, and only had time for this one. But the barbarian at my side, who understood Italian and what I had said about the boy, warned me not to speak up, and said that the seers had told Attila that his family would be banished but would be restored by this son.

After spending most of the night at the party, we left, having no wish to pursue the drinking any further.

.

Mussolini’s Declaration of War: An Ignoble Gesture

On 10 June 1940, speaking from the balcony of the Palazzo Venetia in Rome before a large and enthusiastic crowd of his black-shirted supporters Benito Mussolini, Il Duce, declared war on Britain and France.

He had wisely chosen to remain neutral in the conflict but believing that German victory was imminent and he would be denied his share of the spoils he wanted a thousand Italian dead to ensure a place at the Conference Table:

Soldiers, sailors, and aviators! Black-shirts of the revolution and of the Fascist Legions! Men and women of Italy, of the Empire, and of the kingdom of Albania! Pay heed!

An hour appointed by destiny has struck in the heavens of our fatherland.

To cries of War! War!

The declaration of war has already been delivered to the ambassadors of Great Britain and France. We go to battle against the plutocratic and reactionary democracies of the west who at every moment have hindered the advance and have often endangered the very existence of the Italian people.

Recent historical events can be summarized in the following phrases: promises, threats, blackmail, and finally to crown the edifice, the ignoble siege by the fifty-two states of the League of Nations. Our conscience is absolutely tranquil.

mussolini-war-crowd-x

The entire world is witness that Fascist Italy has done all that is humanly possible to avoid the torment which is throwing Europe into turmoil; but all was in vain. It would have sufficed to revise the treaties to bring them up to date with the changing needs of the life of nations and not consider them untouchable for eternity; it would have sufficed not to have begun the stupid policy of guarantees, which has shown itself particularly lethal for those who accepted them; it would have sufficed not to reject the proposal for peace that the Fuhrer made on 6 October of last year having finished the campaign in Poland.

But now all of that belongs to the past.

If now today we have decided to face the risks and the sacrifices of a war it is because the honour, the interests, and the future impose an iron necessity. If a great people are truly such it must consider sacred its own duties and does not evade the supreme trials which determine the course of history.

We take up arms to resolve the problem of our land frontier, the problem of our maritime frontiers; we want to break the territorial chains which suffocate us in our own sea; since a people of forty-five million is not truly free if it does not have free access to the ocean.

This gigantic struggle is nothing other than a phase in the logical development of our revolution; it is the struggle of peoples that are poor but rich in workers against the exploiters who hold on ferociously to the monopoly off all the riches and all the gold of the earth; it is the struggle of the fertile and young people against the sterile people moving to the sunset; it is the struggle between two centuries and two ideas.

Now that the die is cast, I solemnly declare that Italy does not intend to drag into the conflict other peoples bordering her on land or on sea. Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey.

Egypt take note of these my words for it depends on them and only on them whether or not they will be rigorously confirmed.

Italians!

In a memorable meeting which took place in Berlin, I said that according to the laws of Fascist morality, when one has a friend, one marches with him to the end.

Cries of Duce! Duce! Duce!

This we have done with Germany, with its people, with its marvelous armed forces.

On this eve of great events we direct our thoughts to the majesty of the King and Emperor who as always has understood the soul of the fatherland. And we salute with our voices the Fuhrer, the head of our great ally Germany.

Proletarian and Fascist Italy stands up strong, and proud, and united as never before, one order both obligatory and categorical already spreads and fires hearts from the Alps to the Indian Ocean – Victory!

And we will win in and bring peace with justice to Italy, to Europe, and to the world.

People of Italy!

Rush to arms and show your spirit, your courage, your valour!

Winston Churchill: We Shall Never Surrender

On 4 June 1940, following the successful evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches of Dunkirk, Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons with a speech the stirring final paragraph of which made plain his Governments position and rallied the British people for the long struggle ahead.

Britain would fight on, alone if necessary – it would never surrender!

Even if he did mutter to a colleague:

“We’ll fight them with the butt end of beer bottles for that’s all we bloody well have.”

It has since become one of the most famous perorations in history:

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Christmas on the Western Front, 1914: A Soldiers Account

Private Frank Richards of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers was a Reservist re-called to the Colours upon the outbreak of war in 1914. In his personal memoir of the war, ‘Old Soldiers Never Die’, a war in which he fought throughout and never received a wound of any consequence, he provides a first-hand account of the so-called Christmas Truce:

On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with ‘Merry Christmas’ on it. The enemy had stuck up a similar one.

Platoons would sometimes go out for twenty-four hours’ rest – it was a day at least out of the trench and relieved the monotony a bit – and my platoon had gone out in this way the night before, but a few of us stayed behind to see what would happen.

Two of our men then threw their equipment off and jumped onto the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all started to leave the trench.

Our Company Commander, who we named Buffalo Bill, rushed into the trench and endeavoured to prevent it, but he was too late: the whole of the Company were now out, and so were the Germans. He had to accept the situation, so soon he and the other company officers climbed out too.

We and the Germans met in the middle of no-man’s-land.

Their officers was also now out. Our officers exchanged greetings with them. One of the German officers said that he wished he had a camera to take a snapshot, but they were not allowed to carry cameras. Neither were ours.

We mucked in all day with one another. They were Saxons and some of them could speak English. By the look of them their trenches were in as bad a state as our own. One of their men, speaking in English, mentioned that he had worked in Brighton for some years and that he was fed up to the neck with this damned war and would be glad when it was all over. We told him that he wasn’t the only one that was fed up with it.

The German Company-Commander asked Buffalo Bill if he would accept a couple of barrels of beer and assured him that they would not make his men drunk. They had plenty of it in the brewery.

He accepted the offer with thanks and a couple of their men rolled the barrels over and we took them into our trench.

The German officer then sent one of his men back to the trench, who appeared shortly after carrying a tray with bottles and glasses on it. Officers of both sides clinked glasses and drunk one another’s health. Buffalo Bill had presented them with a plum pudding just before.

The officers came to an understanding that the unofficial truce would end at midnight.

At dusk we went back to our respective trenches.

xmas-truce2-main-x

The two barrels of beer were drunk, and the German officer was right: if it was possible for a man to have drunk the two barrels himself he would have burst before he had got drunk – French beer was rotten stuff.

Just before midnight we decided not to commence firing before they did. At night there was always plenty of firing by both sides if there were no working parties or patrols out. Mr Richardson, a young officer who had just joined the Battalion and was now a platoon officer in my company wrote a poem during the night about the Briton and the Bosche meeting in no-man’s-land on Christmas Day, which he read out to us. A few days later it was published in The Times or Morning Post, I believe.

During the whole of Boxing Day we never fired a shot, and they the same, each side seemed to be waiting for the other to set the ball rolling. One of their men shouted across in English and inquired how we had enjoyed the beer. We shouted back and told him it was very weak but that we were very grateful for it. We were conversing off and on during the whole of the day.

We were relieved that evening by a battalion of another brigade. We were mighty surprised as we had heard no whisper of any relief during the day. We told the men who relieved us how we had spent the last couple of days with the enemy, and they told us that most of the British troops in the line, with one or two exceptions, had mucked in with the enemy.

They also told us that the French people had heard how we had spent Christmas Day and were saying all manner of nasty things about the British Army.

.

The Death of Socrates: According to Plato

In 399 BC, the 70 year old philosopher and opponent of Athenian democracy, Socrates, who had long been a thorn in the side of the Authorities, was arrested and charged with not recognising the State sanctioned Gods and of corrupting the city’s youth.

Brought before a jury of 500 of his peers his accusers were given three hours to prove his guilt, likewise Socrates was given three hours in which to defend himself.

Once the respective cases had been made the jurors made their decision and placing a small token in the appropriate urn they found him guilty by 280 votes to 220.

The jurors then had to decide his fate – Socrates suggested a small fine, his accusers demanded the death penalty. The jurors chose the death penalty.

Socrates was sentenced to die by his own hand, drinking the poison hemlock.

His friend and former pupil Plato, though he was not present claims to provide a verbatim account of Socrates final moments relayed to him by those who were.

His narrator, however, is a fictional character named, Phaedo:

The boy went out, and returned after a few moments with the man who was to administer the poison which he brought ready mixed in a cup. When Socrates saw him, he said:

‘Now, good sir, you understand these things. What must I do?’

‘Just drink it and walk around until your legs begin to feel heavy, then lie down. It will soon act.’
With that he offered Socrates the cup.

He took it quite cheerfully without a tremor, there was no change of colour or expression, he just looked at the man sternly and asked – is it permissible to pledge this drink to anyone?

The answer came, ‘We allow reasonable time in which to drink it.’

‘I understand’, he said, ‘we can and must pray to the gods that our sojourn on earth will continue happy beyond the grave. This is my prayer, and may it come to pass.’

With these words, he stoically drank the potion, readily and cheerfully.

Up till this moment most of us were able to hold back our tears, but when we saw him drinking the poison to the last drop, we could restrain ourselves no longer. In spite of myself the tears came in floods, so that I covered my face and wept – not for him, but at my own misfortune at losing such a man as my friend.

Crito, even before me, rose and went out when he could check his tears no longer.

Apollodorus was already steadily weeping, and by drying his eyes, crying again and sobbing, he affected everyone present except for Socrates himself.

He said – ‘You are strange fellows; what is wrong with you? I sent the women away for this very purpose, to stop their creating such a scene. I have heard that one should die in silence. So please be quiet and keep control of yourselves.’

These words made us ashamed, and we stopped crying.

Socrates walked around until he said that his legs were becoming heavy then he lay on his back, as the attendant instructed. This man then examined his feet and legs squeezing hard and asking if he felt anything. Socrates said that he did not. He did the same to his calves and going higher, showed us that he was becoming cold and stiff.

Then he felt him a last time and said that when the poison reached the heart he would be gone.

As the chill sensation got to his waist, Socrates uncovered his head and said his last words:

‘Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Do pay it. Don’t forget.’

‘Of course’, said Crito. ‘Do you want to say anything else?’

‘There was no reply to this question.

After a while he gave a slight stir, and the attendant uncovered him and examined his eyes. Then Crito saw that he was dead.

This was the end of our friend, the best, wisest and most upright man of any that I have ever known”

Churchill’s Finest Hour Speech

At 3.49 on the afternoon of 18 June 1940, following the announcement that the Government of Marshal Petain in France was seeking a cessation of hostilities and armistice terms from Nazi Germany, Prime Minister Winston Churchill stood up to address the British House of Commons.

In a speech lasting some 36 minutes, without recrimination or blame, he outlined the causes of the catastrophe that had recently occurred.

Then in a final emotional paragraph he issued not just a rallying cry to the British people but an appeal to the world and in particular the United States, and a warning too.

In doing so he transformed a conflict between nations into a battle of Good against Evil – what had once been a war was now a Crusade.

What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over – the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation; upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say – This was their finest hour.

Erwin Rommel Chooses Suicide: (His Son’s Account)

Implicated in the plot, the so-called Operation Valkyrie, to assassinate Hitler on 14TH October 1944, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel , received a visit at his home in Herrlingen from two Nazi Generals who politely but curtly informed him that he is to commit suicide on the orders of the Fuhrer. If he does not do so then he would be arrested, charged with treason, and face a public trial which once his guilt was confirmed would be extended to his family.

He faced a stark choice – this is his fifteen year old son Manfred’s account:

At about twelve o’clock a dark-green car with a Berlin number plate stopped in front of our garden gate.

The only men in the house apart from my father, were his aide Captain Aldinger , a badly wounded war veteran, and myself.

Two generals, Burgdorf, a powerful florid man, and Maisel, small and slender, alighted from the car and entered the house. They were respectful and courteous and asked my father’s permission to speak to him alone. Aldinger and I left the room.

“So they are not going to arrest him,” I thought with relief, as I went upstairs to find myself a book.

A few minutes later I heard my father come upstairs and go into my mother’s room. Anxious to know what was afoot, I got up and followed him. He was standing in the middle of the room, his face pale. “Come outside with me,” he said in a tight voice. We went into my room.

“I have just had to tell your mother that I shall be dead in a quarter of an hour. To die by the hand of one’s own people is hard but the house is surrounded and Hitler is charging me with high treason.

In view of my services in Africa I am to have the chance of dying by poison. The two generals have brought it with them. It’s fatal in three seconds. If I accept, none of the usual steps will be taken against my family. They will also leave my staff alone.”

“Do you believe it?” I interrupted. “Yes,” he replied. “I believe it. It is very much in their interest to see that the affair does not come out into the open. By the way, I have been charged to put you under a promise of the strictest silence. If a single word of this comes out, they will no longer feel themselves bound by the agreement.”

I tried again.

“Can’t we defend ourselves? He cut me off short.
“There’s no point,” he said.

“It’s better for one to die than for all of us to be killed in a shooting affray. Anyway, we’ve practically no ammunition.”

It was soon after announced that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox and Hero of the Third Reich, had succumbed to wounds sustained in an attack upon his Staff Car in Normandy some weeks earlier.

His State Funeral, the centre-piece of which was a wreath sent by the Fuhrer, was filmed for propaganda purposes.
It was to be his final contribution to the regime he had served so loyally but latterly come to despair of.

Witnessing Pickett’s Change

At 2pm on 3 July 1863, after two days of intense and bitter fighting in and around the small town of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, some 13,000 Confederate troops left their positions on Seminary Ridge to advance almost a mile over open ground and in intense heat to assault the centre of the Union line.

General Robert E Lee intends it to be the decisive blow in a battle which he had so often seemed about to prevail.
Named after the flamboyant General George E Pickett and his Virginia Brigade ‘Pickett’s Charge’ has become a by-word for folly and courage (two words so often linked) but its outcome though a turning point of sorts was never fully exploited and it was not to prove as decisive as at first thought.

Below are accounts of the charge by both participants and observers, the fighting itself and its aftermath:

Pickett’s Division swept out of the wood and showed the full length of its gray ranks and shining bayonets, as grand a sight as any man ever looked upon (Colonel Edward Porter Alexander).

pickett-bowman-young-x

Jesse Bowman Young, who as a young Lieutenant in the Union Army fought at Gettysburg and later provided a narrative account of events, described the scene:

Standing on the hill where the Union troops are posted, let us try to picture that almost matchless moment. A stone fence is immediately in our front, with batteries of artillery lining the slope. Here are bronzed and worn veterans in blue, with a set and dogged expression on their lips and in their eyes, line after line of them, massed on both slopes of Cemetery Ridge and on its crest in support of the batteries. In front, toward the west, is the advanced line of the Union troops, beyond them pleasant fields rolling in beauty. The fences are mostly broken down. The Emmitsburg Road crosses the landscape toward the south-west and a mile away toward the region of the setting sun is Seminary Ridge crested with woods and orchards.

Over this plain, against these batteries and upon this, stone wall more than 10,000 men are about to be led with a furious and indomitable courage not to be paralleled by any other martial achievement hitherto wrought by the Army of Northern Virginia.

As we look, with bated breath and quivering nerves on the landscape, we behold the shimmer and steel along the distant ridge, and then the flutter of banners, and then an advancing line of men.

picketts-charge-forbes-x

Lieutenant Edmund Rice (Union Army):

A line of Confederate skirmishers sprang lightly forward and moved rapidly down into the open fields, closely followed by a line of battle, then by another, and by yet a third, almost a mile in length. Both sides watched this never-to-be-forgotten scene – the grandeur of an attack by so many thousands of men.

Gibbon’s Division which was to stand the brunt of the assault looked with admiration on the different lines of Confederates marching forward with easy swinging step, and our men were heard to exclaim – Here they come! Here they come!

Lieutenant G W Finley (Army of Northern Virginia, Pickett’s Division):

Where I marched through a wheat field that sloped gently toward the Emmitsburg Road, the position of the Federals flashed into view. Skirmishers lined the fences along the road, and back of them, along a low stone wall or fence, gleamed the muskets of the first line. In rear of this, artillery, thickly planted, frowned down upon us.

As we came in sight there appeared to be a restlessness and excitement along the enemy’s lines, which encouraged some of us to think they would not make a stubborn resistance. Their skirmishers began to run in, and the artillery, opened upon us all along our front. I also noticed that shells were coming from our right. I discovered it was coming from the Round Tops and whenever it struck our ranks it was fearfully destructive. One Company a little to my right, numbering thirty-five to forty men, was almost swept to a man, from the line by a single shell. We had not advanced far beyond our own guns when our gallant Colonel Stuart fell mortally wounded.

picketts-charge-schurz-x

General Carl Schurz (Army of the Potomac):

The alignment was perfect. The Battle Flags fluttered gaily over the bayonets glittering in the sunlight. Through our field glasses we could distinctly see the gaps torn in their ranks and the ground dotted with dark spots – heir dead and wounded. Now and then a cheer went up from our lines when our men saw some of our shells striking right among the advancing enemy and scattering death and destruction around. But the brave rebels promptly filled the gaps from behind or by closing up on their colors; and unshaken and unhesitating they continued their onward march.

Lieutenant G W Finley (Army of Northern Virginia, Pickett’s Division).

Steadily on with the artillery fire growing ever more furious and deadly our men advanced. As we neared the Emmitsburg Road, the Federals behind the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge opened a rapid musket fire upon us – men were falling all around. Cannon and muskets were raining death upon us. Still on and up the slope toward that stone wall our men steadily swept.

When we were about seventy-five or one hundred yards from the stone wall some of the men holding it began to break for the rear, without orders our lines our line poured a volley or two into them, and then rushed upon the wall.
Just as I stepped upon the stone wall I noticed for the first time a line of troops just joining upon our left.

They were from Archer’s Tennessee Brigade, this gallant Brigade had been terribly cut-up in the first days fight, and there was but a fragment of them left. Some of them with us seized and held the stone wall in front of us. For several minutes there were no enemy immediately in front of us but to our left the Federal line was still unbroken. This fact was impressed upon my mind from by our brave General Garnet riding to our left with his eyes fastened upon the unbroken line behind the stone wall with the evident intention of making such a disposition of his men as to dislodge them.

At that instant, suddenly a terrific fire burst upon us from our front, and, looking around I saw a fresh line of Federals trying to force us from the stone wall, but after exchanging a few rounds with them they fell back leaving us still in possession of the stone wall.

Under this fire I immediately learned that General Garnet had fallen dead. Almost simultaneously General Armistead, on foot, strode over the stone wall, leading his Brigade most gallantly, with his hat on his sword, and calling upon his men to charge. A few of us followed him until, just as he put his hand upon one of the abandoned guns, he was shot down.

Charles Carleton Coffin (Journalist with the Army of the Potomac)

There are bayonet thrusts, sabre strokes, pistol shots . . . hand-to-hand contests; recklessness of life, determination of purpose; oaths, yells, curses, hurrahs; men going down on their hands and knees, gulping up blood, falling – legless, armless, headless. There are ghastly heaps of dead men.

The rebel column has lost its power. The lines waver. The soldiers of the front rank look round for support. They are gone – fleeing over the field, broken, shattered, thrown into confusion by the remorseless fire. The lines have disappeared like a straw in a candle’s flame. The ground is thick with dead, and the wounded are like the withered leaves of autumn. Thousands of rebels throw down their arms and surrender as prisoners.

How inspiring the moment! How thrilling the hour! It is the high water-mark of the Rebellion – a turning point of history and of human destiny.

Lt Jesse Bowman Young (Army of the Potomac).

Cheer after cheer rose up from the triumphant boys in blue, echoing from Round Top, re-echoing from Cemetery Ridge, resounding in the vale below. And making the very heavens throb.

General Carl Schurz (Army of the Potomac).

Here and there the men began to sing John Brown’s Body. The song swept weirdly over the bloody field.

picketts2-longstreet-x

General James Longstreet (Army of Northern Virginia)

I fully expected to see Meade (Commander of the Army of the Potomac) ride to the front and lead his forces in a tremendous counter-attack.

picketts-freemantle-2x

Colonel Arthur Freemantle (British Military Observer)

He said to me (General Lee) this has been a sad day for us, Colonel, a sad day, but we can’t expect always to gain victories.

I saw General Cadmus Wilcox, an Officer who wears a short round jacket and a battered straw hat – come up to him and explain, almost crying, the state of his Brigade. General Lee immediately shook hands with him and said cheerfully. ‘Never mind, General, all this has been my fault; it is I who has lost this fight, and you must help me out of it the best way you can.’

In this manner I saw General Lee encourage and reanimate his somewhat dispirited troops, and magnanimously take upon his own shoulders the whole weight of the repulse.

Titanic IV: Searching for Bodies (A Captain’s Account).

On 17 April 1912, three days after the RMS Titanic had struck an iceberg and sunk in the North Atlantic with great loss of life the CS Mackay-Bennett (soon to become known as the Morgue or Hearse Ship) set sail from Halifax, Nova Scotia on behalf of the White Star Line to recover what bodies they could.

Due to heavy fog and rough seas it was to take them a further four days to reach the Titanic’s last estimated location.

In an operation lasting a week 306 bodies were recovered 116 of which were re-committed to the sea.

Upon the Mackay-Bennett’s return to Halifax its Captain Frederick H Lardner provided an account of which this is an extract:

We reached the spot where I thought the Titanic had sunk just after the first watch began, and we shut down and let the ship drift with whatever current chose to carry her, on the theory that where the ship would be carried there we would find the bodies.

One pack of bodies we sighted at a distance looked like seagulls swimming on the water, the flapping in the breeze of the loose ends of their lifebelts making the resemblance to wings almost complete.

When we bore down upon them the bodies looked like swimmers asleep. They were not floating but bolt upright, with heads up. The arms were outstretched, as if supporting the body.

All faced one way – the way they were drifting.

titanic-iceberg-x

We saw a big berg when we made this pack. It may have been the berg that sunk the liner. She was long and low-lying, rising perhaps 125 ft, or maybe 160 at her highest point which was well in from a bunch that sloped into the water. It was surrounded by wreckage and several bodies.

The bodies were floating some near together, some far apart. There seemed no order among them – none were hand-in-hand or had embraced.

titanic-upturned-boat-x

There were doors, chairs, and wood from the Titanic spread over thirty miles. We found a broken empty lifeboat upside down with a few bodies near it. It was a flat boat of the collapsible type. We found no sign of shooting on any of the bodies. We found several men in evening dress, but found no bodies lashed to doors. Those whom we found it necessary to bury were not men of prominence.

In my opinion the bulk of the bodies are in the ship. I think when she went down the water broke into her with great force and drove them into the hull.

I explain the reason that so many of the bodies picked up were members of the crew because they probably jumped before the ship took the fatal plunge. They were used to the ways of the sea and knew the danger of staying aboard her until the end. The passengers stayed with her and went down with her. They were crushed down in her as they sunk, and deep in her body they are finding their graves.

Those aboard her, the doctors think, were killed almost instantly by the terrible pressure in the vortex.
Those who got away died later of freezing, I think few were drowned.