Executing the Tsar and his Family

The war was going badly, shortages were commonplace, food scarce, protestors roamed the streets daily, violence threatened, and the demand for change was deafening. Something had to be done and Nicholas II would return from Army Headquarters with some urgency, but it would not be the Tsar who would do it. On 15 March 1917, the Imperial Train was halted on its way to St Petersburg and the Tsar forced to abdicate.  On the orders of the new Provisional Government the Imperial Family were placed under house arrest.

Treated with at least a degree of respect and dignity it was at first a benign captivity though it would become somewhat harsher when they were moved to Tobolsk for reasons of their own safety, and would change altogether when in October 1917 the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin seized power.

The attitude toward the Imperial Family now hardened; they were stripped of their household retinue and made to wear plain clothes, forced to live on soldiers rations and were regularly mocked by their guards.

At the end of April 1918 they were moved once more this time to the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg soon to be known somewhat ominously as the House of Special Purpose. Here conditions hardened even further though the man under whose care they now fell, Yakov Yurovsky, did not seem entirely unsympathetic to their plight. He ordered the guards to behave with greater courtesy in their presence, returned goods that had previously been stolen from the family, and provided the tsar with the cigarettes he so craved, even sometimes coffee. Not that he should be seen as anything than a dedicated Bolshevik who saw the entire Romanov Dynasty as little more than a criminal enterprise worthy of revolutionary justice.

With plans to rescue the Imperial Family thwarted and negotiations for their exile abroad having come to nothing an atmosphere of despair prevailed at the Ipatiev House but one hope still remained; that the Civil War now underway might turn in their favour.  The sound of friendly gunfire could be heard in the distance, the White Russian Armies were closing in. Something would have to be done and soon.

Pavel Medvedev was one of those guarding the Imperial Family when on 16 July he was summoned into Yurovsky’s presence. This is his account of the nights events:

“In the evening between seven and eight pm, when the time of my duty had just begun; Commandant Yurovsky, ordered me to take all the Nagan revolvers from the guards and to bring them to him. I took twelve revolvers from the sentries as well as from some other of the guards and brought them to the commandant’s office.

Yurovsky said to me, ‘We must shoot them all tonight; so notify the guards not to be alarmed if they hear shots.’ I understood, therefore, that Yurovsky had it in his mind to shoot the whole of the Tsar’s family, as well as the doctor and the servants who lived with them, but I did not ask him where or by whom the decision had been made. At about ten o’clock in the evening in accordance with Yurovsky’s order I informed the guards not to be alarmed if they should hear firing.

About midnight Yurovsky woke up the Tsar’s family. I do not know if he told them the reason they had been awakened and where they were to be taken, but I positively affirm that it was Yurovsky who entered the room occupied by the Tsar’s family. In about an hour the whole of the family, the doctor, the maid and the waiters had all got up and washed and dressed themselves.

Just before Yurovsky went to awaken the family, two members of the Extraordinary Commission [of the Ekaterinburg Soviet] arrived at Ipatiev’s house. Shortly after one o’clock a.m., the Tsar, the Tsaritsa, their four daughters, the maid, the doctor, the cook and the waiters left their rooms. The Tsar carried the heir in his arms. The Emperor and the heir were dressed in soldiers’ shirts and wore caps. The Empress, her daughters and the others followed him. Yurovsky, his assistant and the two above-mentioned members of the Extraordinary Commission accompanied them. I was also present.

During my presence none of the Tsar’s family asked any questions. They did not weep or cry. Having descended the stairs to the first floor, we went out into the court and from there to the second door where we entered the ground floor of the house. When the room (which adjoins the store room with a sealed door) was reached, Yurovsky ordered chairs to be brought, and his assistant brought three chairs. One chair was given to the Emperor, one to the Empress, and the third to the heir.

The Empress sat by the wall by the window, near the black pillar of the arch. Behind her stood three of her daughters (I knew their faces very well, because I had seen them every day when they walked in the garden, but I didn’t know their names). The heir and the Emperor sat side by side almost in the middle of the room. Doctor Botkin stood behind the heir. The maid, a very tall woman, stood at the left of the door leading to the store room; by her side stood one of the Tsar’s daughters (the fourth). Two servants stood against the wall on the left from the entrance of the room.

The maid carried a pillow. The Tsar’s daughters also brought small pillows with them. One pillow was put on the Empress’s chair; another on the heir’s chair. It seemed as if all of them guessed their fate, but not one of them uttered a single sound. At this moment eleven men entered the room: Yurovsky, his assistant, two members of the Extraordinary Commission, and seven Cheka Secret Policemen.

Yurovsky ordered me to leave, saying, ‘Go on to the street, see if there is anybody there, and wait to see whether the shots have been heard.’ I went out to the court, which was enclosed by a fence, but before I got to the street I heard the firing. I returned to the house immediately (only two or three minutes having elapsed) and upon entering the room where the execution had taken place, I saw that all the members of the Tsar’s family were lying on the floor with many wounds in their bodies. The blood was running in streams. The doctor, the maid and two waiters had also been shot. When I entered the heir was still alive and moaned a little. Yurovsky went up and fired two or three more times at him. Then the heir was still.”




Evacuating Dunkirk

On the night of 23 May 1940, Lord Gort, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force, recognising that the battle for northern France had already been lost, ordered that it withdraw to the port of Dunkirk for possible evacuation despite having received instructions to the contrary. It was a brave decision, but it was also the right decision. The military situation was stark and his army was in danger of being cut off and destroyed. So, a perimeter was created, a corridor carved out, and a desperate rearguard action fought as hundreds of thousands of men hurried towards a port already under bombardment to take refuge among the sand dunes and burned out buildings hoping for rescue.

Even the most optimistic estimate suggested no more than 40,000 could be safely evacuated before the city fell when on 24 May, Adolf Hitler ordered his Panzer Divisions to halt. It provided time, priceless time, and the order went out for every available craft of shallow draft to assemble at the Channel ports, the soon-to-be famous ‘Flotilla of Little Ships.’

Operation Dynamo was underway – a miracle of deliverance would follow.

Arthur Devine manned a boat that ferried troops from the beach to larger vessels further offshore. This is his description of events:

“It was the queerest, most nondescript flotilla that ever was, and it was manned by every kind of Englishman, never more than two men, often only one, to each small boat. There were bankers and dentists, taxi drivers and yachtsmen, boys, engineers, fishermen and civil servants. . .

It was dark before we were well clear of the English coast. It wasn’t rough, but there was a little chop on, sufficient to make it very wet, and we soaked the Admiral to the skin. Soon, in the dark, the big boats began to overtake us. We were in a sort of dark traffic lane, full of strange ghosts and weird, unaccountable waves from the wash of the larger vessels. When destroyers went by, full tilt, the wash was a serious matter to us little fellows. We could only spin the wheel to try to head into the waves, hang on, and hope for the best. . .

Even before it was fully dark we had picked up the glow of the Dunkirk flames, and now as we drew nearer the sailing got better, for we could steer by them and see silhouetted the shapes of other ships, of boats coming home already loaded, and of low dark shadows that might be enemy motor torpedo boats.

Then aircraft started dropping parachute flares. We saw them hanging all about us in the night, like young moons. The sound of the firing and the bombing was with us always, growing steadily louder as we got nearer and nearer. The flames grew, too. From a glow they rose up to enormous plumes of fire that roared high into the everlasting pall of smoke. As we approached Dunkirk there was an air attack on the destroyers and for a little the night was brilliant with bursting bombs and the fountain sprays of tracer bullets.

The beach, black with men, illumined by the fires, seemed a perfect target, but no doubt the thick clouds of smoke were a useful screen.

The picture will always remain sharp-etched in my memory – the lines of men wearily and sleepily staggering across the beach from the dunes to the shallows, falling into little boats, great columns of men thrust out into the water among bomb and shell splashes. The foremost ranks were shoulder deep, moving forward under the command of young subalterns, themselves with their heads just above the little waves that rode in to the sand. As the front ranks were dragged aboard the boats, the rear ranks moved up, from ankle deep to knee deep, from knee deep to waist deep, until they, too, came to shoulder depth and their turn.

The little boats that ferried from the beach to the big ships in deep water listed drunkenly with the weight of men. The big ships slowly took on lists of their own with the enormous numbers crowded aboard. And always down the dunes and across the beach came new hordes of men, new columns, new lines.

On the beach was a destroyer, bombed and burned. At the water’s edge were ambulances, abandoned when their last load had been discharged.

There was always the red background, the red of Dunkirk burning. There was no water to check the fires and there were no men to be spared to fight them. Red, too, were the shell bursts, the flash of guns, the fountains of tracer bullets.

The din was infernal. The 5.9 batteries shelled ceaselessly and brilliantly. To the whistle of shells overhead was added the scream of falling bombs. Even the sky was full of noise – anti-aircraft shells, machine-gun fire, the snarl of falling planes, the angry hornet noise of dive bombers. One could not speak normally at any time against the roar of it and the noise of our own engines. We all developed ‘Dunkirk throat,’ a sore hoarseness that was the hallmark of those who had been there.

Yet through all the noise I will always remember the voices of the young subalterns as they sent their men aboard, and I will remember, too, the astonishing discipline of the men. They had fought through three weeks of retreat, always falling back without orders, often without support. Transport had failed. They had gone sleepless. They had been without food and water. Yet they kept ranks as they came down the beaches, and they obeyed commands. . .

We stayed there until everybody else had been sent back, and then went pottering about looking for stragglers. While we were doing that, a salvo of shells got one of our troopships alongside the mole. She was hit clean in the boilers and exploded in one terrific crash. There were then, I suppose, about 1000 Frenchmen on the mole. We had seen them crowding along its narrow crest, outlined against the flames. They had gone out under shellfire to board the boat, and now they had to go back again, still being shelled. It was quite the most tragic thing I ever have seen in my life. We could do nothing with our little park dinghy.

Going home, the Jerry dive bombers came over us five times, but somehow left us alone though three times they took up an attacking position. A little down the coast, towards Gravelines, we picked up a boatload of Frenchmen rowing off. We took them aboard. They were very much bothered as to our ‘ship’ and, said quite flatly that it was impossible to go to England in a thing like ours.



Julius Caesar: A Portrait

In his book The Twelve Caesars written in 121 AD the Roman historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquilus, better known simply as Suetonius, provides us with our most vivid account of Julius Caesar, his physical appearance, his personality, and his character.  The man, who though he would never be Emperor himself destroyed the Roman Republic and paved the way for the greatest Empire the world had then seen; the man  whose name all future Emperor’s would take and would later be adapted to include Kaiser and Tsar. The man who would be assassinated on the Ides of March, 44 BC, before his ambition could be realised by those he thought were his friends

This is the man Gaius Julius Caesar according to Suetonius:

“He was tall, of a fair complexion, round limbed, rather full faced, with eyes black and piercing; he enjoyed excellent health except toward the close of his life when he was subject to sudden fainting fits and disturbances in his sleep. He was likewise twice seized with the ‘falling sickness,’ while engaged in active service.

He was extremely nice in the care of his person, and kept the hair of his head closely cut and had his face smoothly shaved. His baldness gave him much uneasiness, having often found himself on that score exposed to the jibes of his enemies. He used therefore to brush forward the hair from the crown of his head, and of all the honours conferred on him by the Senate and People, there was none which he either accepted or used with greater pleasure than the right of wearing constantly a laurel crown.

It is said that he was particular in his dress, for he wore the (special toga only Roman senators could wear) with fringes about the wrists, and always had it girded about him, but rather loosely.

He was a notable lady’s man, and indulged in many intrigues; he was especially intimate with Servilia, the mother of Marcus Brutus,] for whom’ he purchased in his first consulship . . . a pearl which cost him 6,000,000 sesterces and in the Civil War, besides other presents assigned to her -for a trifling consideration -some valuable farms that had been set up at public auction.

He was perfect in the use of arms, an accomplished rider, and able to endure fatigue beyond all belief. On a march he used to go at the head of his troops, sometimes on horseback, but oftener on foot, with his head bare in all kinds of weather. He would travel post in a light carriage without baggage, at the rate of one hundred miles per day; and if he was stopped by floods in the rivers, he swam across, or floated on skins inflated in the wind, so that he often anticipated the tidings of his movements.

Often he rallied his troops by his own personal exertions, stopping those who fled, keeping others in their ranks, and seizing men by the throat, turned them again towards the enemy, although numbers were sometimes so terrified that an eagle bearer thus stopped made a thrust at him with the spearhead, and another on a like occasion left the standard in his hand.”



William Jennings Bryan’s Cross of Gold

William Jennings Bryan’s famous Cross of Gold speech was delivered to the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago on July 9, 1896. The issue it addressed regarding a move away from strict adherence to the Gold Standard and the minting of silver coin to make money cheaper and more accessible, or bimetallism as it was known may appear arcane to us now but it had dominated American politics for many years.

When Bryan, who had long campaigned for ‘Free Silver,’ stood up to address the Convention he was not among the front runners for the Presidential nomination but by the end of his speech inside an electrified auditorium and with the delegates putty in his hands he was the only candidate left standing:

I would be presumptuous, indeed, to present myself against the distinguished gentlemen to whom you have listened if this were a mere measuring of abilities; but this is not a contest between persons. The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty-the cause of humanity.

When this debate is concluded, a motion will be made to lay upon the table the resolution offered in commendation of the Administration, and also, the resolution offered in condemnation of the Administration. We object to bringing this question down to the level of persons. The individual is but an atom; he is born, he acts, he dies; but principles are eternal; and this has been a contest over a principle.

Never before in the history of this country has there been witnessed such a contest as that through which we have just passed. Never before in the history of American politics has a great issue been fought out as this issue has been, by the voters of a great party. On the fourth of March 1895, a few Democrats, most of them members of Congress, issued an address to the Democrats of the nation, asserting that the money question was the paramount issue of the hour; declaring that a majority of the Democratic party had the right to control the action of the party on this paramount issue; and concluding with the request that the believers in the free coinage of silver in the Democratic party should organize, take charge of, and control the policy of the Democratic party. Three months later, at Memphis, an organization was perfected, and the silver Democrats went forth openly and courageously proclaiming their belief, and declaring that, if successful, they would crystallize into a platform the declaration which they had made. Then began the struggle. With a zeal approaching the zeal which inspired the Crusaders who followed Peter the Hermit, our silver Democrats went forth from victory unto victory until they are now assembled, not to discuss, not to debate, but to enter up the judgement already rendered by the plain people of this country. In this contest brother has been arrayed against brother, father against son. The warmest ties of love, acquaintance, and association have been disregarded; old leaders have been cast aside when they have refused to give expression to the sentiments of those whom they would lead, and new leaders have sprung up to give direction to this cause of truth. Thus has the contest been waged, and we have assembled here under as binding and solemn instructions as were ever imposed upon representatives of the people.

We do not come as individuals. As individuals we might have been glad to compliment the gentleman from New York, but we know that the people for whom we speak would never be willing to put him in a position where he could thwart the will of the Democratic Party. I say it was not a question of persons; it was a question of principle, and it is not with gladness, my friends, that we find ourselves brought into conflict with those who are now arrayed on the other side. .

When you come before us and tell us that we are about to disturb your business interests, we reply that you have disturbed our business interests by your course.

We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in the spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.

Ah, my friends, we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic Coast, but the hardy pioneers who have braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose, the pioneers away out there [pointing to the West] who rear their children near to Nature’s heart, where they can mingle their voices with the voices of the birds-out there where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their young, churches where they praise their Creator, and cemeteries where rest the ashes of their dead-these people, we say, are as deserving of the consideration of our party as any people in this country. It is for these that we speak. We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest; we are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned; we have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded; we have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!

The gentleman from Wisconsin has said that he fears a Robespierre. My friends, in this land of the free you need not fear that a tyrant will spring up from among the people. What we need is an Andrew Jackson to stand, as Jackson stood, against the encroachments of organized wealth.

They tell us that this platform was made to catch votes. We reply to them that changing conditions make new issues; that the principles upon which Democracy rests are as everlasting as the hills, but that they must be applied to new conditions as they arise. Conditions have arisen, and we are here to meet those conditions. They tell us that the income tax ought not to be brought in here; that it is a new idea. They criticize us for our criticism of the Supreme Court of the United States. My friends, we have not criticized; we have simply called attention to what you already know. If you want criticisms read the dissenting opinions of the court. There you will find criticisms. They say that we passed an unconstitutional law; we deny it. The income tax was not unconstitutional when it was passed; it was not unconstitutional when it went before the Supreme Court for the first time; it did not become unconstitutional until one of the judges changed his mind, and we cannot be expected to know when a judge will change his mind. The income tax is just. It simply intends to put the burdens of government justly upon the backs of the people. I am in favor of an income tax. When I find a man who is not willing to bear his share of the burdens of the government which protects him, I find a man who is unworthy to enjoy the blessings of a government like ours.

They say that we are opposing national bank currency; it is true. If you will read what Thomas Benton said, you will find he said that, in searching history, he could find but one parallel to Andrew Jackson; that was Cicero, who destroyed the conspiracy of Cataline and saved Rome. Benton said that Cicero only did for Rome what Jackson did for us when he destroyed the bank conspiracy and saved America. We say in our platform we believe that the right to coin and issue money is a function of government. We believe it. We believe that it is a part of sovereignty, and can no more with safety be delegated to private individuals than we could afford to delegate to private individuals the power to make penal statutes or levy taxes. Mr. Jefferson, who was once regarded as good Democratic authority, seems to have differed in opinion from the gentleman who has addressed us on the part of the minority. Those who are opposed to this proposition tell us that the issue of paper money is a function of the bank, and that the government ought to go out of the banking business. I stand with Jefferson rather than with them, and tell them, as he did, that the issue of money is a function of government, and that the banks ought to go out of the governing business.

They complain about the plank which declares against life tenure in office. They have tried to strain it to mean that which it does not mean. What we oppose by that plank is the life tenure which is being built up in Washington, and which excludes from participation in official benefits the humbler members of society. .

And now, my friends, let me come to the paramount issue. If they ask us why it is that we say more on the money question than we say upon the tariff question, I reply that, if protection has slain its thousands, the gold standard has slain its tens of thousands. If they ask us why we do not embody in our platform all the things that we believe in, we reply that when we have restored the money of the Constitution, all other necessary reform will be possible; but that until this is done, there is no other reform that can be accomplished.

Why is it that within three months such a change has come over the country? Three months ago when it was confidently asserted that those who believed in the gold standard would frame our platform and nominate our candidates, even the advocates of the gold standard did not think that we could elect a President. And they had good reason for their doubt, because there is scarcely a State here today asking for the gold standard which is not in the absolute control of the Republican Party. But note the change. Mr. McKinley was nominated at St. Louis upon a platform which declared for the maintenance of the gold standard until it can be changed into bimetallism by international agreement. Mr. McKinley was the most popular man among the Republicans, and three months ago everybody in the Republican Party prophesied his election. How is it today? Why, the man who was once pleased to think that he looked like Napoleon-that man shudders today when he remembers that he was nominated on the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo.

Not only that, but as he listens, he can hear with ever increasing distinctness the sound of the waves as they beat upon the lonely shores at St Helena.

Why this change? Ah, my friends, is not the reason for the change evident to anyone who will look at the matter? No private character, however pure, no personal popularity, however great, can protect from the avenging wrath of an indignant people a man who will declare that he is in favor of fastening the gold standard upon this country, or who is willing to surrender the right of self-government and place the legislative control of our affairs in the hands of foreign potentates and powers.

We go forth confident that we shall win. Why? Because upon the paramount issue of this campaign there is not a spot of ground upon which the enemy will dare to challenge battle. If they tell us that the gold standard is a good thing, we shall point to their platform and tell them that their platform pledges the party to get rid of the gold standard and substitute bimetallism. If the gold standard is a good thing why try to get rid of it? I call your attention to the fact that some of the very people who are in this Convention today and who tell us that we ought to declare in favor of international himetallism-thereby declaring that the gold standard is wrong and that the principle of bimetallism is better-these very people four months ago were open and avowed advocates of the gold standard, and were then telling us that we could not legislate two metals together, even with the aid of all the world. If the gold standard is a good thing, we ought to declare in favor of its retention and not in favor of abandoning it; and if the gold standard is a bad thing why should we wait until other nations are willing to help us to let go? Here is the line of battle, and we care not upon which issue they force the fight; we are prepared to meet them on either issue or on both. If they tell us that the gold standard is the standard of civilization, we reply to them that this, the most enlightened of all the nations of the earth, has never declared for a gold standard and that both the great parties this year are declaring against it. If the gold standard is the standard of civilization, why, my friends, should we not have it? If they come to meet us on that issue we can present the history of our nation. More than that; we can tell them that they will search the pages of history in vain to find a single instance where the common people of any land have ever declared themselves in favor of the gold standard. They can find where the holders of fixed investments have declared for a gold standard, but not where the masses have. Mr. Carlisle said in 1878 that this was a struggle between the “idle holders of idle capital” and “the struggling masses, who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country,” and, my friends, the question we are to decide is: Upon which side will the Democratic party fight; upon the side of “the idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses”? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic Party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic party. There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.

You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard; we reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.

My friends, we declare that this nation is able to legislate for its own people on every question, without waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation on earth; and upon that issue we expect to carry every state in the Union. I shall not slander the inhabitants of the fair state of Massachusetts nor the inhabitants of the state of New York by saying that, when they are confronted with the proposition, they will declare that this nation is not able to attend to its own business. It is the issue of 1776 over again. Our ancestors, when but three millions in number, had the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation; shall we, their descendants, when we have grown to seventy millions, declare that we are less independent than our forefathers?

No, my friends, that will never be the verdict of our people. Therefore, we care not upon what lines the battle is fought. If they say bimetallism is good, but that we cannot have it until other nations help us, we reply, that instead of having a gold standard because England has, we will restore bimetallism, and then let England have bimetallism because the United States has it. If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost. Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

Pat Garrett kills Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid was not a man of the West, but was in fact born and spent most of his life in the slums of New York where he was known by his birth name of Henry McCarty. It was only when his widowed mother moved the family to Silver City, New Mexico to escape the deprivations of the city that the young Henry began to take on the character of Billy Bonney, a name common in the popular dime novels of the day. If this lends one to think he was of a romantic then he rarely showed it, though he wasn’t yet the ruthless killer he would become.

By 1877 he was working on the ranch of John Tunstall, an émigré Englishman who had dreams of creating a business empire in his new home. He was good to Billy and though he was by no means old enough John Henry Tunstall became something of a father figure to him, so when on 18 February 1878 he was murdered in the Lincoln County turf war Billy took it personally.  He vowed vengeance on those responsible, and was to prove as good as his word with both the local Sheriff and a Deputy among his first victims.

Billy was soon tracked down and arrested by Pat Garrett, the ex-occupier of a Louisiana Plantation and itinerant cowhand who had been elected the new Sheriff of Lincoln County.

Billy was found guilty of murder at his trial and with his plea of clemency denied was in prison awaiting execution when he escaped killing his two guards as he did so.  It once more fell to Pat Garrett to bring him to justice. Having received news that Billy was hiding out in an abandoned Fort he set off in pursuit.

Garrett’s attempt to arrest Billy the Kid would result in him being accused of having murdered the outlaw in cold blood. Taken from his book ‘The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid,’ written the year following the events described this is Pat Garrett’s account of what happened next:

I then concluded to go and have a talk with Peter Maxwell in whom I felt sure I could rely. We had ridden to within a short distance of Maxwell’s grounds when we found a man in camp and stopped. To Poe’s great surprise he recognised in the camper an old friend and former partner, in Texas, named Jacobs. We unsaddled here, got some coffee, and, on foot, entered an orchard which runs from this point down to a row of old buildings, some of them occupied by Mexicans, not more than sixty yards from Maxwell’s house. We approached these houses cautiously, and when within earshot, heard the sound of voices conversing in Spanish. We concealed ourselves quickly and listened; but the distance was too great to hear words, or even distinguish voices. Soon a man arose from the ground, in full view, but too far away to recognize. He wore a broad-brimmed hat, a dark vest and pants, and was in his shirtsleeves. With a few words, which fell like murmur on our ears, he went to the fence, jumped it, and walked down towards Maxwell’s house.

Little as we then suspected it, this man was the Kid. We learned, subsequently, that, when he left his companions that night, he went to the house of a Mexican friend, pulled off his hat and boots, threw himself on a bed, and commenced reading a newspaper. He soon, however, hailed his friend, who was sleeping in the room, told him to get up and make some coffee, adding: ‘Give me a butcher knife and I will go over to Pete’s and get some beef; I’m hungry.’ The Mexican arose, handed him the knife, and the Kid, hatless and in his stocking-feet, started to Maxwell’s, which was but a few steps distant.

When the Kid, by me unrecognized, left the orchard, I motioned to my companions, and we cautiously retreated a short distance, and, to avoid the persons whom we had heard at the houses, took another route, approaching Maxwell’s house from the opposite direction. When we reached the porch in front of the building, I left Poe and McKinney at the end of the porch, about twenty feet from the door of Pete’s room, and went in. It was near midnight and Pete was in bed. I walked to the head of the bed and sat down on it, beside him, near the pillow. I asked him as to the whereabouts of the Kid. He said that the Kid had certainly been about, but he did not know whether he had left or not. At that moment a man sprang quickly into the door, looking back, and called twice in Spanish, ‘Who comes there?’ No one replied and he came on in. He was bareheaded. From his step I could perceive he was either barefooted or in his stocking-feet, and held a revolver in his right hand and a butcher knife in his left.

He came directly towards me. Before he reached the bed, I whispered: ‘Who is it, Pete?’ but received no reply for a moment. It struck me that it might be Pete’s brother-in-law, Manuel Abreu, who had seen Poe and McKinney, and wanted to know their business. The intruder came close to me, leaned both hands on the bed, his right hand almost touching my knee, and asked, in a low tone: -‘Who are they Pete?’ -at the same instant Maxwell whispered to me. ‘That’s him!’ Simultaneously the Kid must have seen, or felt, the presence of a third person at the head of the bed. He raised quickly his pistol, a self-cocker, within a foot of my breast. Retreating rapidly across the room he cried: ‘Quien es? Quien es?’ ‘Who’s that? Who’s that?’) All this occurred in a moment. Quickly as possible I drew my revolver and fired, threw my body aside, and fired again. The second shot was useless; the Kid fell dead. He never spoke. A struggle or two, a little strangling sound as he gasped for breath, and the Kid was with his many victims.”


St Just’s letter to Robespierre

Louis Antoine Leon de Saint-Just was a young man desperate to participate in the Revolution that so enthralled him – but how, exactly?  He was a provincial man with few connections and even less friends. He joined the local National Guard and rose quickly through its ranks but this counted for little. Yet within five years he would be a deputy in the National Convention, a leading member of the Committee of Public Safety, and one of the main architects of the ‘Terror’ earning himself the title of ‘Angel of Death.’ What was responsible for this remarkable rise to power? A letter he wrote in the autumn of 1790 to Maximilien Robespierre, the central figure at the Jacobin Club in Paris who would soon come to dominate the National Convention and determine the course of the French Revolution.

The letter was short, vacuous, flattering, deeply ingratiating, and much to Saint-Just’s surprise, replied to. Robespierre was impressed it seems, and the two men would correspond further over the next few months forming a relationship that would see Saint-Just emerge as Robespierre’s most devoted follower and effective right-hand man. They would henceforth work closely together and they would die together, guillotined on the same day, 28 July, 1794, before cheering crowd in Paris.

St Just’s short letter of introduction, for that was its real intention, had turned out to have a significance way beyond even its authors wildest dreams:

Saint-Just, constituent of the department of Aisne to Monsieur de Robespierre in the National Assembly in Paris.

Blérancourt, near Noyon, August 19, 1790.

You who supports the tottering country against the torrent of despotism and intrigue, you whom I only know, like God, through his wonders; I speak to you, sir, to ask you to unite with me in order to save my sad country. The city of Gouci has relocated (this rumour goes around here) the free markets from the town of Blérancourt. Why do the cities devour the privileges of the countryside? Will there remain no more of them to the latter than size and taxes?

Support, please, with all your talent, an address that I make for the same letter, in which I request the reunion of my heritage with the national areas of the canton, so that one lets to my country a privilege without which it has to die of hunger.

I do not know you, but you are a great man. You are not only the deputy of a province, you are one of humanity and of the Republic. Please, make it that my request be not despised.

I have the honour to be, Monsieur, your most humble, most obedient servant.



The Murder of the Princes in the Tower

Few men wielded as much influence over the young Henry VIII as Sir Thomas More his educator, confidante and friend. It was a relationship that developed over time benefitting both men with Sir Thomas rising in status from a practitioner of law to become a member of the King’s Privy Councillor and eventually Lord Chancellor. Henry meanwhile, basked in the reflected glory of a man renowned across Europe as an enlightened thinker, a social reformer, and the author of Utopia.

The fledgling Tudor Dynasty needed men like Thomas More to lend it legitimacy and he was happy to comply doing so unequivocally and with enthusiasm. In 1517 he began writing his History of King Richard III, the book upon which Shakespeare largely based his play of a similar name. In it Sir Thomas provides a detailed account of the fate that befell the sons of Edward VII that paved the way for Richard’s usurpation of the throne. Written just thirty years after the events he describes some of those named were still alive or had died only recently so he had an access to evidence denied us now, and he was known for being an honest man.  Even so, his account has to be tempered by the fact the book is intended as a work of Tudor propaganda.

According to Sir Thomas it was King Richard himself who ordered that the Constable of the Tower of London hand over the keys to the chamber where the Princes were being held to Sir James Tyrell who would then settle the matter to his satisfaction.

Sir James Tyrell devised that they should be murdered in their beds. To the execution whereof, he appointed Myles Forest, one of the four that kept them, a fellow hardened in murder before that time. To him he joined one John Dighton, his own housekeeper, a big, broad, square strong knave. Then all the others being removed from them, this Myles Forest and John Dighton about midnight (the innocent children lying in their beds) came into the chamber  and suddenly lapped them up among the bedclothes – so be-wrapped them  and entangled them, keeping down by force the featherbed and pillows hard unto their mouths, that within a while, smothered and stifled, their breath failing, they gave to God their innocent souls into the joys of  heaven, leaving to the tormentors their bodies dead in the bed.

Which after that the wretches perceived, first by struggling with the pains of death, and after long lying still, to be thoroughly dead, they lay their bodies naked out upon the bed, and fetched Sir James to see them. Who upon the sight of them caused those murderers to bury them at the stair foot, suitably deep in the ground, under a great heap of stones.

Then rode Sir James in great haste to King Richard and showed him all the manner of the murder, who gave them great thanks and, as some say, there made him a knight. But he allowed not, as I have heard, the burying in so vile a corner, saying that he would have them buried in a better place because they were a king’s sons. Lo, the honourable nature of a king!  Whereupon they say that a priest of Sir Robert Brackenbury took up the bodies again and secretly buried them in a place that only he knew and that, by the occasion of his death, could never come to light.

Very truth it is , and well known, that at time such s Sir James Tyrell was in the Tower – for treason committed against the most famous prince, King Henry VII – both Dighton  and he were examined and confessed the murder  in the manner above written, but to where the bodies were removed, they could nothing tell. And thus, as I have learned of them that much knew and little cause had to lie, were these two noble princes – these innocent, tender children born of most royal blood, brought up in great wealth, likely long to live, to reign, and rule in the realm – by traitorous tyranny taken, deprived of their estate, swiftly shut up in prison, and privately slain and murdered, their bodies cast as God knows where by the cruel ambition of their unnatural uncle and his merciless tormentors.



The Duel: Burr Kills Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were once able to make good in a common cause but those days were long past and by 1804 they had become bitter political rivals.

As the United States first Secretary of the Treasury and a major contributor to the Federalist Papers which outlined at length the form the new Republic should take Alexander Hamilton has his place in history. Aaron Burr was Thomas Jefferson’s Vice-President and is most remembered now for killing Alexander Hamilton.

With a Presidential Election on the horizon Burr was keen to keep his place as Jefferson’s running mate and so was furious when a letter was published from an acquaintance of Hamilton’s which suggested that he had made disparaging remarks regarding Burr’s fitness for high office. He demanded a retraction and an apology from Hamilton. When he refused on the grounds that he could not be held responsible for another man’s interpretation of what he may or may not have said, Burr in a state of high dudgeon challenged him to a duel. Despite the fact that duelling was illegal and the penalties for doing so often harsh a combination of honour and hatred saw Hamilton unable to decline.

The two men faced one another early on the morning of 11 July, 1804, in woods near Weehawken, New Jersey, their weapon of choice the pistol.

Hamilton, who may have been aiming deliberately wide of Burr did not receive the same generosity of spirit in return and was shot through just above the hip. The wound proved mortal and he died the following day.

Burr was charged with murder and fled south – it seems honour doesn’t extend to taking responsibility for one’s actions. In the event his case never came to trial but he was removed as the Vice-Presidential candidate and proved incapable of reviving his political career.

Hamilton’s second Nathaniel Pendleton and Burr’s second William van Ness along with the physician David Hasock who was also present would later come together to publish their account of events:

“Colonel Burr arrived first on the ground, as had been previously agreed. When General Hamilton arrived, the parties exchanged salutations, and the seconds proceeded to make their arrangements. They measured the distance, ten full paces, and cast lots for the choice of position, as also to determine by whom the word should be given, both of which fell to the second of General Hamilton. They then proceeded to load the pistols in each other’s presence, after which the parties took their stations. The gentleman who was to give the word then explained to the parties the rules which were to govern them in firing, which were as follows: The parties being placed at their stations, the second who gives the word shall ask them whether they are ready; being answered in the affirmative, he say shall say – present! After this the parties shall present and fire when they please. If one fires before the other, the opposite second shall say one, two, three, fire, and he shall then fire or lose his fire.


He then asked if they were prepared; being answered in the affirmative, he gave the word present, as had been agreed on, and both parties presented and fired in succession. The intervening time is not expressed, as the seconds do not precisely agree on that point. The fire of Colonel Burr took effect, and General Hamilton almost instantly fell. Colonel Burr advanced toward General Hamilton with a manner and gesture that appeared to General Hamilton’s friend to be expressive of regret; but, without speaking, turned about and withdrew, being urged from the field by his friend, as has been subsequently stated, with a view to prevent his being recognized by the surgeon and bargemen who were then approaching. No further communication took place between the principals, and the barge that carried Colonel Burr immediately returned to the city. We conceive it proper to add, that the conduct of the parties in this interview was perfectly proper, as suited the occasion.”

Dr Hosack now rushed to the prostrate Hamilton’s side:

When called to him upon his receiving the fatal wound, I found him half sitting on the ground, supported in the arms of Mr Pendleton. His countenance of deat I shall never forget. He had at that instant just strength to say, ‘This is a mortal wound, doctor;’ when he sunk away, and became to all appearance lifeless. I immediately stripped up his clothes, and soon, alas I ascertained that the direction of the ball must have been through some vital part. His pulses were not to be felt, his respiration was entirely suspended, and, upon laying my hand on his heart and perceiving no motion there, I considered him as irrecoverably gone. I, however, observed to Mr. Pendleton, that the only chance for his reviving was immediately to get him upon the water. We therefore lifted him up, and carried him out of the wood to the margin of the bank, where the bargemen aided us in conveying him into the boat, which immediately put off. During all this time I could not discover the least symptom of returning life. I now rubbed his face, lips, and temples with spirits of hartshorn, applied it to his neck and breast, and to the wrists and palms of his hands, and endeavoured to pour some into his mouth.

When we had got, as I should judge, about fifty yards from the shore, some imperfect efforts to breathe were for the first time manifest; in a few minutes he sighed, and became sensible to the impression of the hartshorn or the fresh air of the water. He breathed; his eyes, hardly opened, wandered, without fixing upon any object; to our great joy, he at length spoke. ‘My vision is indistinct,’ were his first words. His pulse became more perceptible, his respiration more regular, his sight returned. I then examined the wound to know if there was any dangerous discharge of blood; upon slightly pressing his side it gave him pain, on which I desisted.

Soon after recovering his sight, he happened to cast his eye upon the case of pistols, and observing the one that he had had in his hand lying on the outside, he said, “Take care of that pistol; it is un-discharged, and still cocked; it may go off and do harm. Pendleton knows ” (attempting to turn his head towards him) ‘that I did not intend to fire at him.’ ‘Yes,’ said Mr. Pendleton, understanding his wish, ‘I have already made Dr. Hosack acquainted with your determination as to that’ He then closed his eyes and remained calm, without any disposition to speak; nor did he say much afterward, except in reply to my questions. He asked me once or twice how I found his pulse; and he informed me that his lower extremities had lost all feeling, manifesting to me that he entertained no hopes that he should long survive.”




Remembering Waterloo

In late February 1815, the former Emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte escaped his enforced exile on the island of Elba landing on the mainland near Cannes on the French Riviera. Learning of his arrival King Louis XVIII in Paris soon took fright and fled.  He was right to do so, restored to the throne by the victorious Allied powers the Bourbons remained deeply unpopular and the French people soon rallied to their former Emperor who had made them proud.

By the summer he had reconstituted his army to something of its former glory and on 16 June he routed the Prussian Army at Ligny. Badly mauled he assumed they would retreat eastwards to protect their lines of communication and so now turned to confront the British Army commanded by the Duke of Wellington that had taken up a position near the village of Waterloo south of Brussels.

As the two armies faced one another the fate of Europe lay in the balance.

These are the reminiscences of Captain Rees Howell Gronow of the Grenadier Guards who was present throughout on that fateful day.

“On the morning of the 18th the sun shone most gloriously, and so clear was the atmosphere that we could see the long, imposing lines of the enemy most distinctly. Immediately in front of the division to which I belonged, and, I should imagine, about half a mile from us, were posted cavalry and artillery; and to the right and left the French had already engaged us, attacking Huguemont and La Haye Sainte. We heard incessantly the measured boom of artillery, accompanied by the incessant rattling echoes of musketry.

The whole of the British infantry not actually engaged were at that time formed into squares; and as you looked along our lines, it seemed as if we formed a continuous wall of human beings. I recollect distinctly being able to see Bonaparte and his staff; and some of my brother officers using the glass, exclaimed, ‘There he is on his white horse.’

I should not forget to state that when the enemy’s artillery began to play on us, we had orders to lie down, when we could hear the shot and shell whistling around us, killing and wounding great numbers; then again we were ordered on our knees to receive cavalry. The French artillery – which consisted of three hundred guns, though we did not muster more than half that number we committed terrible havoc during the early part of the battle, whilst we were acting on the defensive.

“About four P.M. the enemy’s artillery in front of us ceased firing all of a sudden, and we saw large masses of cavalry advance: not a man present who survived could have forgotten in after-life the awful grandeur of that charge. You discovered at a distance what appeared to be an overwhelming, long moving line, which, ever advancing, glittered like a stormy wave of the sea when it catches the sunlight. On they came until they got near enough, whilst the very earth seemed to vibrate beneath the thundering tramp of the mounted host. One might suppose that nothing could have resisted the shock of this terrible moving mass. They were the famous cuirassiers, almost all old soldiers, who had distinguished themselves on most of the battlefields of Europe. In an almost incredibly short period they were within twenty yards of us, shouting ‘Vive l’Empereur!’ The word of command, ‘Prepare to receive cavalry,’ had been given, every man in the front ranks knelt, and a wall bristling with steel, held together by steady hands, presented itself to the infuriated cuirassiers.

I should observe that just before this charge the duke entered by one of the angles of the square, accompanied only by one aide-de-camp; all the rest of his staff being either killed or wounded. Ou

r commander-in-chief, as far as I could judge, appeared perfectly composed; but looked very thoughtful and pale.

The charge of the French cavalry was gallantly executed; but our well-directed fire brought men and horses down, and ere long the utmost confusion arose in their ranks. The officers were exceedingly brave, and by their gestures and fearless bearing did all in their power to encourage their men to form again and renew the attack. The duke sat unmoved, mounted on his favourite charger. I recollect his asking the Hon. Lieut.-Colonel Stanhope what o’clock it was, upon which Stanhope took out his watch, and said it was twenty minutes past four. The Duke replied, ‘The battle is mine; and if the Prussians arrive soon, there will be an end of the war.’ “

“It was about five o’clock on that memorable day, that we suddenly received orders to retire behind an elevation in our rear. The enemy’s artillery had come up en masse within a hundred yards of us. By the time they began to discharge their guns, however, we were lying down behind the rising ground, and protected by the ridge before referred to.

The enemy’s cavalry was in the rear of their artillery, in order to be ready to protect it if attacked; but no attempt was made on our part to do so. After they had pounded away at us for about half an hour, they deployed, and up came the whole mass of the Imperial infantry of the Guard, led on by the Emperor in person. We had now before us probably about 20,000 of the best soldiers in France, the heroes of many memorable victories; we saw the bearskin caps rising higher and higher as they ascended the ridge of ground which separated us, and advanced nearer and nearer to our lines.

It was at this moment the Duke of Wellington gave his famous order for our bayonet charge, as he rode along the line: these are the precise words he made use of – ‘Guards, get up and charge!’ We were instantly on our legs, and after so many hours of inaction and irritation at maintaining a purely defensive attitude – all the time suffering the loss of comrades and friends – the spirit which animated officers and men may easily be imagined. After firing a volley as soon as the enemy were within shot, we rushed on with fixed bayonets, and that hearty hurrah peculiar to British soldiers.”





Witnessing the Charge of the Light Brigade

William Howard Russell was one of the first official War Correspondents working for both the Times Newspaper and the Illustrated London News. On 25 October 1854, he witnessed one of the most momentous events in the annals of warfare, the Charge of the Light Brigade under its commander James Thomas Brudenell, Lord Cardigan.

The Battle of Balaclava had started earlier in the day with a surprise Russian attack on the Allied positions. The assault had already begun to peter out when Lord Lucan, in command of the British Cavalry received the order to capture the enemy guns. But what enemy guns exactly? The only guns he could see were those at the end of a long treeless valley loaded, primed, and ready to fire with thousands of Russian troops on either side their aim unimpeded on a clear day.

There had clearly been a miscommunication but with Lucan and Cardigan, who was his brother-in-law, barely on speaking terms neither was willing to admit as much. So the Light Brigade would attack as ordered, let the blame fall where it may.

Russell’s dispatch from the Crimea did not arrive in London for some time and was not published in the Times editorial until 13 November by which time it was already old news to those present. Even so, it caused a sensation being seen as an event of outstanding courage as indeed it was and of reckless foolhardiness which it also was, making instant heroes of the participants. As the facts became more widely known however, it would instead become a great scandal; a story of stubborn pride, military incompetence, and a careless waste of human life:

“They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendour of war. We could hardly believe the evidence of our senses! Surely that handful of men were not going to charge an army in position? Alas! it was but too true – their desperate valour knew no bounds, and far indeed was it removed from its so-called better part – discretion.

The first line was broken – it was joined by the second, they never halted or checked their speed an instant. With diminished ranks, thinned by those thirty guns, which the Russians had laid with the most deadly accuracy, with a halo of flashing steel above their heads, and with a cheer which was many a noble fellow’s death cry, they flew into the smoke of the batteries; but ere they were lost from view, the plain was strewed with their bodies and with the carcasses of horses. They were exposed to an oblique fire from the batteries on the hills on both sides, as wed as to a direct fire of musketry.They advanced in two lines, quickening their pace as they closed towards the enemy. A more fearful spectacle was never witnessed than by those who, without the power to aid, beheld their heroic countrymen rushing to the arms of death. At the distance of 1200 yards the whole line of the enemy belched forth, from thirty iron mouths, a flood of smoke and flame, through which hissed the deadly balls. Their flight was marked by instant gaps in our ranks, by dead men and horses, by steeds flying wounded or riderless across the plain.

Through the clouds of smoke we could see their sabres flashing as they rode up to the guns and dashed between ‘them, cutting down the gunners as they stood. We saw them riding through the guns, as I have said; to our delight we saw them returning, after breaking through a column of Russian infantry, and scattering them like chaff, when the flank fire of the battery on the hill swept them down, scattered and broken as they were.

The Russian gunners, when the storm of cavalry passed, returned to their guns. They saw their own cavalry mingled with the troopers who had just ridden over them, and to the eternal disgrace of the Russian name the miscreants poured a murderous volley of grape and canister on the mass of struggling men and horses, mingling friend and foe in one common ruin. It was as much as our Heavy Cavalry Brigade could do to cover the retreat of the miserable remnants of that band of heroes as they returned to the place they had so lately quitted in all the pride of life.Wounded men and dismounted troopers flying towards us told the sad tale. At the very moment when they were about to retreat, an enormous mass of lancers was hurled upon their flank. Colonel Shewell, of the 8th Hussars, saw the danger, and rode his few men straight at them, cutting his way through with fearful loss. The other regiments turned and engaged in a desperate encounter. With courage too great almost for credence, they were breaking their way through the columns which enveloped them, when there took place an act of atrocity without parallel in the modem warfare of civilized nations.

At twenty-five to twelve not a British soldier, except the dead and dying, was left in front of these bloody Muscovite guns.”