Wednesday, July 23, 2014
“I have witnessed since my sickness just what I have wished to see since the war: harmony and good feeling between the sections...”
These were the words of Ulysses S. Grant to Simon Bolivar Buckner during a visit to Grant. President and General Ulysses S. Grant died on today's date, July 23 in 1885. Grant had always wanted to finish what he saw as the unfinished purpose of the Civil War, which was to reunify the North and South into one country. He had been unable to achieve that either as a General, or as the President of the United States. But as his life came to an end, he was grateful to see some signs that his death may have been bringing this about.
General Ulysses S. Grant
It would be difficult to imagine a more unlikely candidate for the title "Savior of the Union" than Ulysses S. Grant. He was a man who prior to the Civil War had proven an almost total failure at anything he tried other than war and marriage. As a boy he had shown himself to have a natural way with horses. At West Point he was good at math but little else. In the Mexican War he distinguished himself as a brave and resourceful officer. And after that he married Julia Dent with whom he
the Battle of Fredricksburg, he said: "No general yet found can face the arithmetic, but the end of the war will be at hand when he shall be discovered." But in U.S. Grant he at long last found his man: a General who could face the arithmetic that the North' superior numbers in man power gave the Union a decisive edge, and who was willing to press that edge to victory. As a Commanding General in the field Grant was very efficient and unlike so many of his predecessors he was uncommonly cool-headed under fire.
But as a peace-time leader, he faced different difficulties than those he faced in combat. At a meeting shortly before the war's end Lincoln met with Grant, General Sherman, and Admiral Porter (below) and made it
General Lee when he surrendered at Appomattox, but also in his reaction to the news of Lincoln's death a few days later:
"It would be impossible for me to describe the feeling that overcame me at the news...I knew of his goodness of heart, his generosity.... and above all his desire to see all the people of the United States enter again upon the full privileges of citizenship with equality among all."
Clearly, Grant had his eye on the future of his country, and winning the war itself was only the first step. The South need to be brought back into the union, with former slaves enjoying equal rights. But with Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson having no interest in equal rights for African Americans, and the Radical Republicans bent on vengeance on the old Confederacy, it was North -vs- South again as if the war had never ended.
President Ulysses S. Grant
Grant hoped that as President he would be able to heal this division. Unfortunately Grant was totally unsuited to the vagaries of the world of politics. The efficiency and decisiveness that served him so well in the war wherein men had to honestly follow orders simply didn't work in politics where nobody had to follow orders, let alone be honest about it.
Grant Approaches Death
So it was that as he approached his death he hoped to see some sign of reconciliation between the North and the South. A lifetime of smoking an average of twenty cigars a day had left Grant with throat cancer. His investment in the firm of Grant and Ward wherein Ferdinand Ward was bilking investors blind in Pyramid schemes like a 19th Century Bernie
Ulysses Grant died on this date in 1885, just a few days after completing his memoirs. His dying wish to restore his family fortunes did indeed come true, as his book became a huge best-seller bringing in over $500,000.00 over the years immediately following his death. And he went a step further in his death towards reconciliation, leaving instructions in his will that his pall bearers were to be Union Generals William T. Sherman and Phillip Sheridan on one side, and Confederate Generals Simon Bolivar Buckner, and Joseph E. Johnston on the other. Harmony between the sections was gradually restored, but unfortunately, African Americans would have to wait until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's before they began acquiring the equal rights which Grant had hoped to assure for them during his presidency.
"The American Experience: Ulysses S. Grant; Warrior - President" written by Adriana Bosch and Elizabeth Deane, PBS, 2002.
"At Lincoln's Side: John Hay's Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings" Ed. by Michael Burlingame, Southern Illinois Univ., 2000.
"Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant" by Ulysses S. Grant, World Publ. Co., New York, 1952.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
"FOOTSTEPS ON MOON!"
So read the breathless headlines here on earth, as you can see from the Cincinnati Enquirer at left. Yes on today's date*, July 20 in 1969, 45 years ago, human beings made their first steps onto the surface of another world outside of earth. My purpose here today will not be to fill you in on the details of the moon flight, as you can get better accounts of that elsewhere. I will attempt to convey some of the excitement of this moment. I can tell you that the one memory of
"They got back in. Both men had returned to the Eagle at 1:11 A.M. (EDT).
"SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) - Two Americans landed and walked on the Moon Sunday, the first human beings on its alien soil. They planted their nation's flag and talked to their President on earth by radio telephone.
"Millions on their home planet 240,000 miles away watched on television as they saluted the flag, and scouted the lunar surface.
"The first to step on the moon was Neil Armstrong, 38, of Wapokoneta, Ohio. He stepped into the dusty surface at 10:56 p.m. (EDT). His first words were, 'That's one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind.'
"Twenty minutes later, his companion, Edwin E. (Buzz) Aldrin Jr., 39, of Montclair, N.J. stepped to the surface (below) His words were, 'Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. A magnificent desolation.'
"They had landed on the moon nearly six hours before, at 4:18 p.m.
"President Nixon's voice came to the ears of the astronauts on the moon from the Oval Room at the White House.
" 'I just can't tell you how proud I am... Because of what you have done the heavens have become part of man's world.'
"Armstrong's steps were cautious at first. He almost shuffled. 'The surface is fine and powdered, like powdered charcoal to the soles of the foot." he said. 'I can see my footprints of my boots in the fine sandy particles.' Armstrong read from the plaque on the side of Eagle, the spacecraft that had brought them to the surface. In a steady voice, he said, 'Here man first set foot on the Moon, July, 1969. We came in peace for all mankind.' "
Later, Armstrong would comment:
"I was really aware, visually aware that the moon was in fact a sphere not a disc. It seemed almost as if it were showing us its roundness; its similarity to the shape of our earth in a sort of welcome. I was sure it would be a hospitable host. It had been awaiting its first visitors for a very long time..."
"The moon was a very natural and pleasant environment in which to work. It had many of the advantages of zero gravity, but it was less lonesome than Zero G, where you always have to pay attention to securing attachment points to give you some means of leverage."
Above, the Apollo 11 crew, L to R: Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin
"The Cincinnati Enquirer" 129th Year No. 103 -- Souvenir Edition, Monday Morning July 21, 1969.
"Eyewitness to History", Edited by John Carey, Avon Books, New York, 1987.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
"I am aware that the precise circum- stances of the annihilation of the imperial family are still, nearly sixty years later, in dispute. What is not in dispute, I believe, is that a crime of remarkable (above, L to R: Marie, Alexandra, Alexis, Olga Tatiana, Nicholas, Anastasia) vileness, involving the murder of children in cold blood, was committed by the Bolsheviks..."
Edward Crankshaw, 1976.
"Six men who had been in the room described what happened that night. And something incredible happened What was supposed to remain secret forever was laid out in all its details. That entire impossible, inhuman night. Now we shall let them speak."
- Edward Radzinsky, 1992.
In the very early morning hours of today's date, July 17 in 1918, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, his wife Alexandra, and their whole family: four beautiful young girls, Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia, and their son the Tsarevitch Alexis were all murdered by their Bolshevik jailers, who were acting on the orders of their government. Along with them were also murdered Dr. Sergei Botkin, the family physician, chambermaid Anna Demidova, and the cook, Ivan Kharitanov. This was indeed "a crime of remarkable vileness", as Mr. Crankshaw said above writing in 1976. But since that time, documents have become available which shed a bleak light on this act of bloody savagery. As Mr. Radzinsky, writing in 1992 said, "now we shall let them speak."
What To Do With Nicholas?
The comatose regime of the Czar had been overthrown by the Revo- lution of March, 1917. The leader of the new Provisional Govern-
"We must shoot them all tonight..."
According to Pavel Medvedev (below), one of the soldiers guarding the family:
"Commandant Yurovsky, [the head of the execution squad] ordered me to take all the Nagan revolvers from the guards and to bring them to him. 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....
"About midnight (July 17) Yurovsky (below) woke up the Tsar's family. I do not know if he told them the reason they had been awakened and
Yakov Yurovsky told the family that they needed a group photograph, and arranged them as if for such a photo. He and Alexander Strekotin then take up the macabre narrative:
Yurovsky: “When they were all standing, the detachment was called in. When the detachment com[ mandant] walked in, he told the R[ omanov] s: ‘In view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Sov[ iet] Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you.’ Nicholas turned his back to the detachment, his face to the family, then sort of came to and turned around to face the com[ mandant] and asked: ‘What? What?’”
Strekotin: “Yurovsky was standing in front of the tsar, his right hand
Yurovsky: “The detachment had been told beforehand who was to shoot whom, and they had been ordered to aim straight for the heart, to avoid excessive quantities of blood and get it over with quicker.” The com[ mandant] quickly repeated it and ordered the detachment to get ready.… Nicholas did not say anything more, having turned back toward the family; the others uttered a few incoherent exclamations. It all lasted just a few seconds.”
Strekotin: “At his last word he instantly pulled a revolver out of his pocket and shot the tsar. The tsaritsa and her daughter Olga tried to make the sign of the cross, but did not have enough time. Yurovsky: “ Nich[ olas] was killed by the commandant, point blank. Then A[ lexandra] F[ eodorovna] died immediately.”
The squad of murderers then apparently went wild, firing hysterically. Some of the bullets bounced off of their hapless victims, which caused considerable fear to these thugs until it was later discovered that this had been caused by the bullets hitting diamonds and other precious gems which had secretly been sewn into the corsets worn by the girls.
Pavel Medvedev : “The blood was gushing out … the heir was still alive— and moaning. Yurovsky walked over to him and shot him two or three times at point-blank range. The heir fell still. The scene made me want to vomit.”
Strekotin: “The smoke was blocking out the electric lamp. The shooting was halted. The doors of the room were opened for the smoke to disperse. They started picking up the bodies.”
The bodies were loaded on trucks and taken to a lonely spot off the roads to an abandoned mine shaft where they were stripped of clothing, all of which was burned. The bodies were thrown down into the mine shaft to be followed by several hand grenades, the explosion of which was meant to cause the mine shaft to collapse, which it did. Then they all returned to Ekaterinburg by 10:00 in the morning. Yurovsky noted with a blood-thirsty satisfaction that only a true Bolshevik could manage that his part of the "process" (the actual murders themselves, and the loading of the trucks) had only taken twenty minutes.
Pictured above is the burial site, found in 1979, as it looks today. The remains of the Czar and his family were re-buried in St. Petersburg in 1998.
For further commentary on Nicholas II, his reign and the meaning of it and his death go to my posting for May 26 about his coronation, and read the remarks by myself, and Mr. Massie and Crankshaw...
"The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II" by Edward Radzinsky, 1992, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
"The Romanovs - the Final Chapter" by Robert K. Massie, Randon House, New York, 1995.
"In the Shadow of the Winter Palace" by Edward Crankshaw, Viking Press, New York, 1976.
Monday, July 14, 2014
THE MOB IN NEW-YORK.
Resistance to the Draft--Rioting and Bloodshed.
Conscription Offices Sacked and Burned.
Private Dwellings Pillaged and Fired.
An ARMORY AND A HOTEL DESTROYED.
Colored people Assaulted--An Unoffending Black Man Hung.
The Tribune office Attacked--The Colored Orphan Asylum Ransacked and Burned--Other Outrages and Incidents.
A DAY OF INFAMY AND DISGRACE
These are the details which greeted New Yorkers on the front Page of the New York Times on the morning of July 14, detailing the mayhem and destruction which was visited the previous day. It was on July 13, 1863 that three full days of riots broke out in New York City in reaction to the new Draft Law which had been passed in Congress to raise more men to fight in the Civil War. The headlines are to be sure, lurid and sensational. But they are essentially correct. And it would take troops brought directly from the Battle of Gettysburg and a Napoleonic "Whiff of Grapeshot" to finally quell the riots.
The Draft Law
The draft law was adopted to fill the ranks of the Union Army which had been sorely depleted by the recent Gettysburg campaign, as well as
Monday, July 13
The method for drawing the names for this, the first such draft in U.S. history was to place the names of in a giant wheel, spin it, and then draw names from it until quota of men needed was filled. The first day of such drawings on July 11 had come off peacefully. So it was that nobody was prepared for what happened on July 13 at the U.S. Provost Marshall's Office at 47th St. and Third Avenue when the wheel began turning and the crowd got ugly. The New York Times reported:
"Scarcely had two dozen names been called, when a crowd, numbering perhaps 500, suddenly made an irruption in front of the building, attacking it with clubs, stones, brickbats and other missiles... Following these missiles, the mob rushed furiously into the office on the first floor, where the draft was going on, seizing the books, papers, records, lists, &c. all of which were destroyed..... The drafting officers were set upon with stones and clubs, and, with the reporters for the Press and others, had to make a hasty exit through the rear. They did not escape scatheless, however, as one of the enrolling officers was struck a savage blow with a stone, which will probably result fatally, and several others were injured."
The rioters were made up primarily, but not exclusively of Irish immigrants who feared loosing their jobs to blacks. But there were a good many others involved as well, mostly white and poor. The riots quickly took on an anti-black mood spread through to other parts of the city. One of President Lincoln's aides, William O. Stoddard wrote of his surprise:
"We took our breakfasts early that July morning in New York City Hall Park. Not a word of any uprisings such as were going on uptown had been heard. Suddenly I saw a cart, driven furiously, on which lay a Negro, while a small mob of ruffians appeared to be trying to drag him off. In another direction a Negro was being chased and maltreated, and the air was full of dire exclamations and prophecies."
The worst of the rioting took place at the Colored Orphans Asylum on 5th and 43rd St. as reported in the Times (pictured above):"The Orphan Asylum for Colored Children was visited by the mob about 4 o'clock... Hundreds, and perhaps thousands of the rioters, the majority of whom were women and children, entered the premises, and in the most excited and violent manner they ransacked and plundered the building from cellar to garret.... the entire building had been ransacked, and every article deemed worth carrying away had been taken -- and this included even the little garments for the orphans... -- the premises were fired on the first floor."
Troops are Brought In
The rioting and destruction went on largely unchecked for another three days. This was because most of the Army troops which had been in New York had been sent to Gettysburg to take part in the huge battle which raged there from July 1 through
the 3rd, and the police were over- whelmed. Finally, these troops were brought back to New York and in addition to New York State Militia numbered some 6,000 by Thursday the 16th. These troops who came with artillery batteries were obliged to line up their guns across street intersections, and dispense grapeshot (a pack of small metal balls or slugs bunched tightly into a canvas bag) - just as Napoleon did against the mobs of revolutionary Paris over 60 years earlier in order to restore law and order. The New York City Draft Riots stand as the worst civil insurrection (apart from the Civil War itself) in American History. The exact death toll is unknown, but at least 120 civilians were killed, and eleven black men were lynched over five days, and anywhere between 19 and 95 million dollars in damage (in today's dollars) was sustained. Historian Samuel Elliot Morrison wrote that it was "...equivalent to a confederate victory." But New York remained quiet for the rest of the war.
"Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2006
"The Most Notorious Crimes in American History", Robert Sullivan, Editor ,Life Books, New York, 2007
Image: Riot at the Provost Marshall's Office = http://chnm.gmu.edu/lostmuseum/lm/345/
Friday, July 11, 2014
"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."
- Nathaniel Pendleton, W.P. van Ness
This was the joint account written by the seconds to a duel between Vice President Aaron Burr and the former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Alexander Hamilton which took place on today's date, July 11 in the year 1804. The seconds in a duel are essentially assistants to the dueling parties. And in this case the two dueling parties were two men who had nursed a blood political feud for some 15 years, which had become very personal. This day would finish both men. Hamilton would die literally, and Burr would die politically, and this moment on the shores of New Jersey would link their names forever.
Burr and Hamilton: A Study in Contrasts
Aaron Burr was born in Newark New Jersey on February 6, 1756. Burr
Not so for Alexander Hamilton. Born almost a year after Burr
Burr and Hamilton Square Off
Well it didn't take too long for these two very brilliant and highly ambitious men to run into each other. Hamilton, together with John Jay and James Madison wrote the Federalist Papers, which served as a basis for our Constitutional system of government. Hamilton, viewing mankind as essentially greedy and corrupt favored the system of checks and balances which was eventually adopted. But in one of the first elections for a Senate seat in the State of New York, Hamilton found his own candidate, his father in law, being out-done by the wily Aaron Burr and his political games. "I fear that Mr. Burr is unprincipled as both a public and a private man." he said. "In fact, I take it that he is for or against nothing but as it suits his interest and ambition!" he protested. Burr won the Senate seat but Hamilton got back at him in a huge way in the Presidential election of 1800 when he arranged for his supporters to block Burr from taking the Presidency from Thomas Jefferson. So when in 1804, Burr found himself under attack in the press from Hamilton again, he struck back. He wrote to Hamilton that opinions which he expressed in public to a Dr. Cooper were defamatory and called the accusations an "Affair of Honor" which meant he was being challenged to a duel. Hamilton tried to back out of it, but could not bring himself to make a public apology. So the duel was set.
July 11, 1804 at Just After Dawn:
The account of the seconds continued: "He then asked if they were prepared; being answered in the affirmative... both parties presented and fired in succession. 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 be expressive of regret; but, without speaking, turned about and withdrew, being urged from the field by his friend... 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." There have been differing accounts of whether Hamilton deliberately fired over Burr's head as if to let the whole matter drop, or if he simply missed. But whatever the case, Burr had the next shot and he did not miss. Burr it is said, went home and ate a hearty breakfast. Hamilton, mortally wounded in the stomach lingered on before dying the next day.
Hamilton is today enshrined in our nation's memory as one of our founding fathers with his worrisome visage looking out upon us from the ten dollar bill. Aaron Burr was prosecuted for murder, as dueling, however much practiced in some circles was nevertheless illegal. When it became clear that he was going to lose, he was obliged to leave the state of New York and the Vice Presidency. In 1807, he was brought to trial for treason by another of his old targets, Thomas Jefferson after a foolish and ill-conceived attempt to invade Mexico and form a separate country with some American territories. He was acquitted, but was this time obliged to leave the United States altogether. He lived for some time in a house on Craven Street in London (it's true... he really did!!). Late in life he returned to the United States where he died on Staten Island on Sept. 14, 1836. He is buried in New Jersey. And to this day, he is remembered almost entirely for his connection to a man whom he sought to eliminate from his life completely, by an "Affair of Honor".....
"Notorious New Jersey" by Jon Blackwell, Rutgers University Press, New Jersey, 2008
"Affairs of Honor" by Joanne B. Freeman, Yale University Press, 2003
Monday, July 7, 2014
"You ask how they treated us? If there was room the soldiers put the women and children on the wagons. Some even let them ride behind them on their horses. I have never been able to understand a people who killed you one day and on the next played with your children...?"
- Very Slim Man, Navajo elder.
On today's date, July 7, 1863 troops commanded by Colonel Kit Carson began a campaign to (above, Navajos, circa 1866) force the Navajo Indian tribes of the American Southwest into reservations. While the campaign was successful, the reservation was a total failure, and in the process Carson's name became symbol of evil among the Navajo people.
The Navajo Problem and Kit Carson
The Navajo Indian tribes were related to the Apaches, and had by the 1860's been living in more or less continuous strife with settlers in and around their native lands for nearly a century. The Navajos were fighters, but had learned some amount of small scale farming as well as sheep raising and weaving from the Pueblos, and the Mexicans. But by the 1860's the new government of this area, which roughly comprised
Carson's Removal Campaign
Carson, who was now a Colonel in the U.S. Army took the field on today's date in 1863 at the head of the 1'st Cavalry of New Mexico Volunteers, marching into high plateau country filled with high peaks and deeply cut canyons. His mission was to round up the Navajos by any means necessary, and force them onto a reservation on the Pecos River next to Fort Sumner called the "Bosque Redondo" - which was Spanish for "round grove of trees". Neither Carson nor the Navajos realized what was in store for them over the coming months: the doom of the Navajos as a free people. The Navajos lived in arid country which could barely support them under the best conditions. And even though he had a reputation of being sympathetic to many of the Indigenous American tribes with which he had dealt, Carson waged a brutal campaign designed primarily at starving the Navajos into submission. There were no large battles during this campaign, just a series of raids and counter-raids in which Carson conducted a ruthless scorched earth policy of destroying everything he could lay his hands on: burning any and all crops, all Navajo dwellings (called "hogans") and any livestock possessed by the Navajos.
"The Long Walk"
With the Navajos being too scattered and ill-organized to defeat him, by January of 1864, the last of the starving, dispirited survivors surrendered. Then in the spring, with thousands more Navajos on his hands than he was expecting Carson received orders to march them across the New Mexico Territory to the Bosque Redondo. Navajos were forced to walk some thirteen miles a day at gunpoint from what is now Arizona to eastern New Mexico. Some 53 different forced marches occurred between August 1864 and the end of 1866. At least 200 died during the 18-day, 300-mile trail. About 8,000 to 9,000 people were packed into an area of 40 square miles, with a population that reached 9,022 by the spring of 1865. This treacherous march has since become known in the Navajo culture as "the Long Walk", and as a part of that tradition the name of Kit Carson has become a symbol of evil among the Navajos. And what was worse is that this resettlement was a complete failure. The crops failed at the Bosque Redondo, and the Mescalero Apaches with whom they were obliged to share this reservation were constantly raiding the Navajos, and vice-versa. Finally, the U.S. government admitted thta the whole thing had been a mess, and signed the Treaty of Bosque Redondo on June 18, 1868 which returned the Navajos to their native lands in New Mexico wherein they have flourished peacefully ever since.
An excellent discussion on why it was that Kit Carson became the leader of this act of genocide against the Navajos can be found at http://wildwesthistory.blogspot.com/2013/02/christopher-kit-carson-his-puzzling.html . It is a Blog by Darla Sue Dollman, and it is entitled "Christopher "Kit" Carson: His Puzzling Involvement in the Navajo Long Walks". I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in further discussion on this troubling topic.
"The Great West" by Charles Neider, Bonanza Books, New York, 1958
"The Indians" by Benjamin Capps; part of "The Old West" Series by Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1973.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
"... I will entertain you at the present with what happened this week at the Banks side. The King's players had a new play called All is True, representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry the Eighth... Now King Henry making a Masque at the Cardinal Wolsey's house, and certain cannons being shot off at his entry, some of the paper or other stuff, wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch, where being thought at first but idle smoak, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very ground. This was the fatal period of that virtuous fabrick, wherein yet nothing did perish but wood and straw, and a few forsaken cloaks; only one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broyled him, if he had not by the benefit of a provident wit, put it out with a bottle of ale."
This was how Sir Henry Wotton described the fire which burned the Globe Theater in London on the evening of today's date, June 29 in 1613. Sir Henry was writing in a letter on July 2 of that year, and the fire must have a big impression on him and the others who witnessed it, although happily nobody seems to have been killed, and apparently the only injury came to the man with the flammable breeches.
The Globe: A Fire Waiting to Happen!
Built in 1599, the Globe Theater had seen some of the finest plays of William Shakespeare's career as a much celebrated dramatist. But there had been competition with other theaters to see who could stage the most elaborate productions, complete with gunfire and flames at times. So here was the Globe with a thatched roof, and made mostly of timber, with an interior which was also made of wood. It had three tiers of roofed galleries with balconies with three rows of wooden benches which got larger towards the back, which followed the shape of the structure of the building. There were about 1500 people in attendance for Globe theater plays. and no plans in place for evacuation in the event of a fire.
(Below: a modern re-construction of the Globe Theater in performance).
A Cannon Fires and There Goes the Globe...
The Globe Theater had for several years used cannons for special effects without any significant problems. But the danger persisted. For this performance of "Henry VIII" by Shakespeare (which was in fact what was being performed that night) the cannon was situated inside the house, in close proximity to the thatched roof. The cannon was used to create a dramatic special effect such as announcing entrances of great characters. This was a particularly popular effect in the plays which were about a famous event in history. The cannon was loaded with gunpowder and wadding, and sparks from the cannon fire landed on the thatched roof on that night in June, starting a massive fire.
"It was a great marvaile..."
"The burning of the Globe or playhouse on the Bankside on St. Peter's day cannot escape you; which fell out by a peal of chambers, (that I know not upon what occasion were to be used in the play,) the tampin or stopple of one of them lighting in the thatch that covered the house, burn'd it down to the ground in less than two hours, with a dwelling-house adjoyning; and it was a great marvaile and a fair grace of God that the people had so little harm, having but two narrow doors to get out."
- From a letter by Mr. John Chamberlaine to Sir Ralph Winwood, dated July 8, 1613
Not only were there in fact two exits, but as stated at the beginning, nobody seems to have been seriously injured in this blaze. William Shakespeare himself was comfortably in retirement at Stratford at the time that this happened, and would only live three years longer. Although his reaction to the fate of the scene of so many of his greatest plays was never recorded, one can only imagine....