May 10, 1917: Pershing Appointed to Lead the AEF

Wednesday, May 10, AD 2017

After the death of Frederick Funston on February 19, 1917, it was inevitable that the newly promoted Major General John J. (Blackjack) Pershing would command the American Expeditionary Force that would be sent to France.  It must have seemed somewhat dizzying to him.  Nineteen years before he had been an overage thirty-eight year old First Lieutenant who would be lucky to make Major before retirement.  In 1893 he obtained a law degree in case he decided to leave the Army, fed up by the slow promotions offered by the minuscule peace time Army.

The Spanish-American War and Theodore Roosevelt made him.  At the battle of San Juan Hill he made a lifelong friend of Theodore Roosevelt.  Under fire he was as “cool as a bowl of cracked ice”, as one observer noted.  Rising to the temporary rank of Major of Volunteers he gained a reputation as a good combat officer in both Cuba and the Philippines and would serve as Adjutant General of the Philippines Department.

After the Spanish-American War he reverted to the regular army rank of Captain.  In 1905 Captain Pershing was promoted to Brigadier General Pershing by President Roosevelt over the heads of 835 officers more senior than him.  Surprisingly there was not much animosity over this, Pershing enjoying a reputation of extreme professional competence in the Army, a soldier’s soldier.

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Fearless Freddie Dies

Tuesday, May 9, AD 2017


All but forgotten today, Major General Frederick Funston would almost certainly would have led the American Expeditionary Force in World War I if he had not died at age 51 of a heart attack on February 19, 1917.  Nicknamed “Fearless Freddie” he was perhaps the most famous American soldier between the Civil War and World War I.  He had a very unique career.  Always in ill health, he was a physically small man, 5 foot, 5 inches, and throughout his life never weighed more than 120 pounds.  After failing an admissions test to West Point in 1884 he pursued a career in botany.  Tiring of the quiet life he enlisted in the Cuban Revolutionary Army fighting against Spain.  Contracting malaria his weight fell to an alarming 95 pounds and he was granted medical leave in the United States.

After the declaration of war against Spain he was commissioned colonel of the 20th Kansas Infantry.  Fighting against the Filipino Insurrection, he became a national hero by capturing the Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo.  A separate action earned him a Medal of Honor.  Playing a leading role in putting down the Insurrection, Funston came under attack by critics for the severe measures he took.  The pen of Mark Twain was enlisted against him:

If this Funstonian boom continues, Funstonism will presently affect the army. In fact, this has already happened. There are weak-headed and weak-principled officers in all armies, and these

are always ready to imitate successful notoriety-breeding methods, let them be good or bad. The fact that Funston has achieved notoriety by paralyzing the universe with a fresh and hideous

idea, is sufficient for this kind—they will call that hand if they can, and go it one better when the chance offers. Funston’s example has bred many imitators, and many ghastly additions to

our history: the torturing of Filipinos by the awful “watercure,” for instance, to make them confess—^what? Truth? Or lies ? How can one know which it is they are telling ? For under

unendurable pain a man confesses anything that is required of him, true or false, and his evidence is worthless. Yet upon such evidence American officers have actually—but you know about

those atrocities which the War Office has been hiding a year or two; and about General Smith’s now world-celebrated order of massacre—thus summarized by the press from Major Waller’s


“Kill and burn—this is no time to take prisoners—the more you kill and burn, the better—Kill all above the age of ten—make Samar a howling


Funston was completely unrepentant:

I personally strung up thirty-five Filipinos without trial, so what was all the fuss over Waller’s ‘dispatching’ a few ‘treacherous savages’? If there had been more Smiths and Wallers, the war would have been over long ago. Impromptu domestic hanging might also hasten the end of the war. For starters, all Americans who had recently petitioned Congress to sue for peace in the Philippines should be dragged out of their homes and lynched.

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4 Responses to Fearless Freddie Dies

  • Sanity and actions of warriors…. rarely do they dance nicely together all the time. Depending, I suppose, on the amount of hand to hand in your face combat, one could easily become the savage he so desperately despises.
    The rarity are the likes of Desmond Doss. Heroism bordering the supernatural realm.

    As for Freddie? I wouldn’t want to be fighting against him. He would never run out of rope.

  • “As for Freddie? I wouldn’t want to be fighting against him. He would never run out of rope.”

    That is a very safe statement!

  • You want to really have some fun? Here in the Most Perfect and Highly Intellectual Society :roll:, San Francisco, Fort Funston is a park and part of the Golden Gate Natl Recreation Area:

    If they only knew they were desecrating their feet with a memorial to Funston, what would our dear safe-place friends do?

  • 👿 You know, this article, if forwarded to the City and County of the Most Perfect Society, would cause an uproar.

There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town

Saturday, January 19, AD 2013

Something for the weekend.  Hands down the favorite song of the troops during the Spanish-American War was the ragtime hit, written in 1896 by Theodore August Metz, There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Time Tonight.  This presented something of a generational music gap as most of the older officers were used to the more sedate melodies of the earlier Nineteenth Century, but most of the men in the ranks and the younger officers were more attuned to ragtime and its syncopated style. 

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2 Responses to There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town

  • The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band still does a rendition of this tune, arranged as a military march. It often follows the “Aggie War Hymn”. However, it’s called “Hot Time in Austin” and the lyrics are as follows:

    Late one night, when the teasips were in bed,
    Old Sul Ross took a lantern in the shed.
    The Aggie kicked it over, he winked and then he said,
    “It’ll be a hot time in Austin tonight.”

  • I have always respected Teddy Roosevelt. Thank you for letting me know why.

    The Aggie War Hymn if indeed inspiring to this former University of Arkansas band member, and no stranger to any Southwest Conference School of the late 40s I can appreciate Big Tex’s humor.

Grover Cleveland and the Great Confederate Battle Flags Furor

Thursday, May 19, AD 2011

During the Civil War, the flags carried by military units had intense emotional significance for the men who fought and died under them.  The flags not only symbolized the nation or state, but also stood for the units that carried them and the men who bled in their defense.  At the end of the War hundreds of captured Confederate battle flags were held by the Federal government and the victorious Union states.  Objects of pride for the men who had fought for the Union, their treatment as war trophies by the victorious North was a sore point in the vanquished South.

In 1887 Grover Cleveland was President.  The first Democrat elected to hold the office since the Civil War,  Cleveland was also the only non-Civil War veteran to hold the office since the end of the War.  During the War he had hired a substitute to fight in his stead, a perfectly legal, albeit unheroic, method of not having to fight one’s self in the conflict.

In 1887 the Secretary of War mentioned to Cleveland that the Adjutant General of the Army had suggested that the return of the battle flags to the Southern states would be a graceful gesture that would be appreciated in the South.  No doubt thinking that after more than two decades wartime passions had subsided, Cleveland ordered the return of the captured flags to the Southern governors.  This was a major blunder.

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2 Responses to Grover Cleveland and the Great Confederate Battle Flags Furor

  • Sort of off the subject but just read a book by a Louisiana Baptist Minister you might like. “Nathan Bedford Forest’s Redemption” by Shane Kastler. Pelican Press.

    Might be worth your wild to order through Library Loan

  • That one would join jh the already thirteen bios I own of the wizard of the saddle! I might look into it however. Forrest’s late in life turn to Christianity and his speech attempting to heal the divisions between black and white is truly fascinating.

Theodore Roosevelt: They Don’t Come Any Tougher

Friday, March 25, AD 2011

A recording of a speech by that force of nature otherwise known as Theodore, he hated being called Teddy, Roosevelt during his “Bull Moose” campaign for president in 1912.  Note the clear delivery and diction.  Note also his references to French history:   politicians did not assume that they had to talk down to the average voter in those days.  By splitting the Republican vote, Roosevelt getting the larger share, Roosevelt’s third party campaign ensured the election of Woodrow Wilson.  Although he failed to win, during the campaign Roosevelt established beyond doubt that he was one of the toughest men ever to be president.

On October 14, 1912, Roosevelt was giving a speech in Milwaukee.  A deranged saloonkeeper, John Schrank, shot him in the chest.  Roosevelt refused to cancel a scheduled speech.  His opening is perhaps one of the most memorable for any speech:

Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet – there is where the bullet went through – and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.

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7 Responses to Theodore Roosevelt: They Don’t Come Any Tougher

  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris is a good read although more hagiography than biography. Morris goes out of his way to turn Teddy into a near-saint, downplaying his flaws, which included shooting just about anything on four legs and bragging about it. Roosevelt’s imposing presence was enough to cause one foreign visitor to exclaim: “Do you know the two most wonderful things I have seen in your country? Niagara Falls and the President of the United States, both great wonders of nature!”

    As Teddy would react: “Dee-lighted!”

    Perhaps lost in history is the “nature fakers” controversy in the early 20th century in which Roosevelt was a key participant. It was an intense debate at the time, highlighting the conflict between science and sentiment in popular nature. There were those who ascribed anthropomorphic features to animals and those who didn’t; Roosevelt being in the latter camp by publicly siding with the latter by publishing his article “Nature Fakers” in the September 1907 issue of Everybody’s Magazine. (some of this can be found on Wikipedia, not the best source but certainly valid).

    Roosevelt popularized the negative colloquialism by which the controversy would later be known to describe one who purposefully fabricates details about the natural world. The definition of the term later expanded to include those who depicted nature with excessive sentimentality.

    Jack London, for one, famed for Call of the Wild and White Fang in which dogs and wolves took on almost human qualities, and Roosevelt publicly feuded for awhile over this and then the whole issue died down, although now and then it comes up with a Disney movie comes out and turns animals into human models.

    Just a footnote, of course, to the larger theme put forth by Don, which spoke of Roosevelt’s tremendous courage and, hence, leadership. Taken as a whole, he was arguably the best President after Lincoln and certaintly the greatest of the 20th century. When contrasted to the current officeholder, one can only cringe as to how far we have descended into mediocrity.

  • I’ve always admired TR, but lately I’ve grown weary of him. I want to like him- there is so much one cannot help but admire- but one of the main things that concerns me is his elitist Drawinian trend toward eugenics. Any thoughts on this?

  • Roosevelt’s views on many issues are hard to translate into simple terms. Often quotes by him that float around the internet are taken out of context from fairly lengthy articles he wrote. Eugenics is a prime example. Go to the link below to read an article entitled Twisted Eugenics that he wrote in 1914 in response to the idea that war lowers the racial stock of a nation:

    Roosevelt attacked that notion in the article. In that article he also makes statements in favor of eugenics, large families and against birth control. He notes that immigrants in New England will inherit, and should inherit, New England because the old Puritan stock were not having children. Roosevelt’s main concern in this area was that too many people were, as he would have phrased it, “shirking their duty” of having offspring.

The Fighting Chaplain

Monday, January 4, AD 2010

William Henry Ironsides Reaney was a cradle Catholic.  He was also cradle Navy, having been born to Commander Henry Aubrey Vailey Reaney and his wife Anne on July 21, 1863.  His middle name was Ironsides after the steamer his father was serving aboard.  Some accounts say that his birth came unexpectedly as his mother was visiting his father aboard ship.  The proud father then asked the crew what name they should call the baby boy and they shouted out, “Ironsides”!  Probably apocryphal, but it was a fitting beginning for the man if true.

After the Civil War, Henry Reaney stayed in the Navy, eventually reaching the rank of Captain, while he and his wife had six children in addition to their first born, William.  The family settled in Detroit, and William graduated from Detroit College.  Deciding on becoming a priest, William enrolled at the Saint Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.  He was ordained by Cardinal Gibbon at the Cathedral in Baltimore in 1888.  From 1889-1891 he was pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

The ancestral lure of the sea called to Father Reaney, and in 1892 he was appointed a chaplain in the Navy, the second Catholic chaplain in that branch of the service.  He served on many ships as a Navy Chaplain, perhaps the most notable being the Olympia, the flagship of Admiral Dewey during the Spanish-American war.

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