Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 22, 2015
General Anthony McAuliffe

General Anthony McAuliffe

December 22, 1944: General Anthony McAuliffe responds to an order for surrender. The Battle of the Bulge was a German offensive campaign during World War II. The battle line was through the dense forests of the Ardennes region of Belgium, France, and Luxembourg. Allied forces were caught completely off guard and woefully out gunned. At the time of the initial attack, the German forces were about 200,000 strong while the Allies had about 83,000 men with which to defend their positions. The Allies were able to resupply their lines with men and munitions while the Germans were not able to move in as many men. The American forces took the brunt of the action and suffered the most casualties at 89,500 with 19,000 killed and 47,500 wounded. Another 23,000 Americans were captured or missing.

Allied forces were led by Dwight Eisenhower and Bernard Montgomery from Britain. Omar Bradley, Courtney Hodges, and George Patton were in command of various US Army division while McAuliffe was in charge of the 101st Airborn Division. The German assault began on December 16, 1944 at 5.30 AM when the Germans began a 90 minute artillery barrage in which they launched 1,600 artillery pieces across an 80 mile front. Heavy snowstorms made the battle even more chaotic. The snows kept the Allied planes grounded but it also caused severe traffic jams for the Germans who were then faced with shortages on their front lines.

The Siege of Bastogne is often credited as the point at which the German advance was stopped. The battle at Eisenborn Ridge was another major component of the Battle of the Bulge and may have been even more of a turning point. It was at the Siege of Bastogne, fought between December 20-27, 1944, where General McAuliffe was in charge, supported by William Roberts and Creighton Abrams. The Germans were driving for the harbor at Antwerp in order to stop supply lines for the Allies. The Allies were determined to keep the supply lines open as they desperately needed the men and supplies to combat the still superior German forces.

On this day, under a flag of truce, a German major, lieutenant, and two enlisted men entered the American lines southeast of Bastogne. They carried a message from General von Lüttwitz to General McAuliffe. The message follows in the quotes and demanded a surrender of the US troops. McAuliffe read the message and issued a one word response. Others around him tried to sweeten the response but instead, decided it was the best response possible and so they sent a message to the German Commander. NUTS! And signed it from the American Commander. When the German major received and read the message, he was confused so an American translated it for him, “In plain English? Go to hell.” The Americans eventually won the Siege of Bastogne and the Allies were victorious in the Battle of the Bulge which was called a German operational failure.

To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.

The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.

There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.

If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term.

All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity. – The German Commander.

Also on this day: March to the Sea – In 1864, General Sherman finished his march into Savannah, Georgia.
First PM – In 1885, Ito Hirobumi became the first Prime Minister of Japan.
Fly Ash – In 2008, the TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant’s dike collapsed.
Under Water – In 1937, The Lincoln Tunnel in NYC was opened.
Heavens! – In 1891, Brucia was discovered.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 22, 2014
Max Wolf

Max Wolf

December 22, 1891: 323 Brucia is discovered. It was the first asteroid to be found by means of astrophotography. It is part of the Main belt (the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It is about 22.25 ± 1 miles across. It is also a Mars-crosser which means that the orbit of the asteroid crosses the orbit of Mars at some point. The body was discovered by Max Wolf and named in honor of Catherine Wolfe Bruce, a patron of the science of astronomy. She had donated $10,000 for the construction of the telescope used by Wolf to find the asteroid.

Max Wolf was born in Heidelberg, Germany in 1863. His father was a medical doctor and encouraged an interest in the sciences. Wolf made his first astronomical discovery, comet 14P/Wolf, when he was just 21, four years before receiving his PhD from the University of Heidelberg. He went to study in Stockholm for a year and it was the only significant time he spent away from his home town. He returned and was made privat-docent in 1890. He was a popular lecturer and received offers from many other universities but declined them all. In 1902 Wolf was made Chair of Astronomy and Director of a newly built observatory at the University. He held these positions until his death, thirty years later.

On this day, he discovered 323 Brucia, his first asteroid. He went on to discover 247 more. Wolf was an early adopter of astrophotography. This specialized form of taking pictures of objects in the night sky began with a picture of the Moon taken in 1840. It wasn’t until later in the century when technology caught up with the idea, that detailed stellar photographs could be made. With the ability to picture the night sky has come images not only of the Moon, Sun, and local planets and objects within our own solar system, but we also have pictures of objects invisible to the human eye. With long time exposure possible, we have seen dim stars, nebulae, and galaxies.

Within our solar system is a mass of uncollected matter scattered between Mars and Jupiter called the Main belt. About half the mass of the entire asteroid belt is collected into the four largest bodies: Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea. Ceres is the only dwarf planet with a diameter of about 600 miles. The other three have a mean diameter of about 250 miles. The remaining material is scattered so thinly that our unmanned spacecraft have traversed the region without problem. Collisions between larger asteroids do take place and then they form an asteroid family where members have similar orbital characteristics. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of known asteroids and the total number is thought to be in the millions.

Astronomy? Impossible to understand and madness to investigate. – Sophocles

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day, but when I follow the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth; I ascend to Zeus himself to feast me on ambrosia, the food of the gods. – Ptolemy

The universe is then one, infinite, immobile. . . . It is not capable of comprehension and therefore is endless and limitless, and to that extent infintite and indeterminable, and consequently immobile. – Giordano Bruno

The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons. – Edwin P. Hubble

Also on this day: March to the Sea – In 1864, General Sherman finished his march into Savannah, Georgia.
First PM – In 1885, Ito Hirobumi became the first Prime Minister of Japan.
Fly Ash – In 2008, the TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant’s dike collapsed.
Under Water – In 1937, The Lincoln Tunnel in NYC was opened.

First PM

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 22, 2013
Itō Hirobumi

Itō Hirobumi

December 22, 1885: Itō Hirobumi becomes the first Prime Minister of Japan. Japan had been ruled by Shoguns for centuries, sometimes with nods to the Emperor and sometimes not. The Meiji Restoration was a period of conflict between Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last of the shoguns, and Emperor Kōmei (Emperor Meiji’s father). On November 9, 1867 the 15th Tokugawa Shogun placed “his prerogatives at the Emperor’s disposal.” Ten days later, he resigned as Shogun.

The English-language term for the head of government is Prime Minister. In Japan, the literal translation for the post is “Prime Minister of the Cabinet.” The Emperor of Japan appoints the Prime Minister after the Diet (bicameral legislature of Japan) puts forth one of their members for the post. The Prime Minister must have the support of the House of Representatives. As head of the Cabinet, the Prime Minister controls who becomes and retains the positions of Ministers of State.

Hirobumi was born in 1841 to an adopted son of a lower class samurai. He received samurai status in 1863 and was one of the Chōshū Five, five young men permitted to study in London. He was influenced by Western culture during his year at University College London. He returned to Japan and counseled against foreign wars. After the Meiji Restoration, Hirobumi was appointed governor of Hyōgo Prefecture, junior council for Foreign Affairs, and sent to the US to study Western Currency systems.

Hirobumi was the 1st, 5th, 7th, and 10th Prime Minister of Japan, spending about 8 years in the role overall. The post was created based on Western systems of governance. Hirobumi resigned on April 30, 1888 to head the Privy Council where he could retain power behind the scenes. He again took on the role of Prime Minister with varying degrees of success. Tired of the political games, in-fighting, and back stabbing, he resigned for good in 1901. In 1905 he became Resident-General of Korea and was assassinated by a Korean national on October 26, 1909.

“Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” – P.J. O’Rourke

“No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe.  No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise.  Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been tried from time to time.” – Winston Churchill

“The worst thing in this world, next to anarchy, is government.” – Henry Ward Beecher

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Japan is an archipelago to the east of continental Asia. There are 6,852 islands making up the nation with the four largest being Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Tokyo is the capital and located on Honshu. The greater metropolitan area holds 30 million people making it the largest metropolitan area in the world. There is no official language for the 126 million Japanese citizens, but four languages predominate with several other dialects available. They give the date of February 11, 660 BC as their founding date with the Meiji Constitution coming into effect on November 29, 1890 and their current constitution taking effect May 3, 1947. Emperor Akihito rules with the help of Prime minister Shinzō Abe. Japan has officially denounced the right to declare war, but it still maintains a military presence backed with a budget that make it the fifth largest in the world, just slightly ahead of the France’s.

Also on this day: March to the Sea – In 1864, General Sherman finished his march into Savannah, Georgia.
Fly Ash – In 2008, the TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant’s dike collapsed.
Under Water – In 1937, The Lincoln Tunnel in NYC was opened.

Under Water

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 22, 2012
Opening day for the Lincoln Tunnel

Opening day for the Lincoln Tunnel

December 22, 1937: The Lincoln Tunnel opens. Originally called the Midtown Vehicular Tunnel, the planners opted to give the structure a bit more cachet. In keeping with the George Washington Bridge, they named the tunnel after Abraham Lincoln. The 1.5 mile long tunnel connects Weehawken, New Jersey with Manhattan, New York City via a pathway under the Hudson River. It was designed by Ole Singstad and was funded by the New Deal’s Public Works Administration. The first or central tube was the first to be built and construction began in March 1934. It opened on this day and charged users fifty cents per passenger car. The construction cost of this first tube was $85,000,000 (about $4.15 billion today).

Originally designed as two tubes, construction on the second tube was halted in 1938 and resumed in 1941. But because of a shortage of materials due to World War II, it was not completed until 1945. The construction cost of the second tunnel was $80,000,000 (about $2.2 billion today). On February 1, 1945, Michael Catan (known as Mr. First after attending over 525 opening day events) was chosen to lead the way through the newly opened tube. Eventually it was noted that a third tube would be helpful and after much negotiation, it was built and opened on May 25, 1957. It was south of the original two tubes. They are all side by side on the New Jersey side, but this third tube is a block away on the New York side.

The toll for cars using the (eastbound) tunnel today is $12 if using cash and with E-ZPass it is $9.50 during peak hours and $7.50 for off-peak hours. There are about 110,800 daily users of the tunnels that are 21.5 feet wide (each tunnel has two lanes) with a vertical clearance of 13.5 feet. They are maintained by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. This year will mark the 75th anniversary of the tunnel opening. The Holland Tunnel in nearby New Jersey is ten years older. Both tunnels are prime terrorist targets and therefore require some extra monitoring.

The center tube has one traffic lane called XBL for exclusive bus lane during rush hours. During the morning rush hour, the central tunnel is only in the direction toward Manhattan. During the evening rush hour, the central tunnel is only New Jersey bound. Outside of rush hours, traffic flows in both directions in the central tunnel. Tolls are collected on the New Jersey side without collections on the return trip. Each morning rush hour sees about 1,700 buses and 62,000 commuters using this monumentally busy artery.

Traffic signals in New York are just rough guidelines. – David Letterman

Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic. – Dan Rather

Traffic is only one of the side effects of growth. – Roy Barnes

I’m the worst person to be stuck with in a traffic jam. – Larry King

Also on this day:

March to the Sea – In 1864, General Sherman finished his march into Savannah, Georgia.
First PM – In 1885, Ito Hirobumi became the first Prime Minister of Japan.
Fly Ash – In 2008, the TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant’s dike collapsed.

Tagged with: ,

Fly Ash

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 22, 2011

Aerial view of the damage caused by the spill

December 22, 2008: The largest release of fly ash in US history takes place just before 1 AM. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s  Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill took place in Roane County, Tennessee. The byproduct of coal combustion used to create power is fly ash. These fine particles were placed in water to create a slurry. The slurry was then stored in wet form in dredge cells. The resulting sludge was gray in color and viscous. The entire process was created to keep the fly ash from contaminating the air. The ash was instead stored in a retaining pond covering 84 acres. The dike holding back this mess ruptured and the slurry spewed forth.

The spill released 1.1 billion gallons of goo that eventually covered 300 acres in gray sludge. While located in a rural area, this still caused much property damage. The mudflow wave covered 12 houses, pushing one off its foundation and caused damage to 42 residential properties. It also broke a water main, obstructed a rail line, and downed trees and power lines. The volume of liquid released would fill 1,660 Olympic sized swimming pools and was about 101 times as great at the Exxon Valdez oil spill. A spokesman at the time said that ⅔ of the 2.6 million cubic yards was spilled, however analysis shows more than that amount was covering the area. Some areas were covered with as much as six feet of sludge on Christmas Day when aerial photos were taken which tripled the estimated size of the disaster.

With the release of this slurry, locals worried about contamination of the water supply. Testing by the company responsible and done at the time of the spill showed the water to be safe with “barely detectable” levels of mercury and arsenic. However, on January 1, 2009, and independent test of the waters near the breach showed significantly raised levels of many toxic metals including arsenic, barium, copper, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, and thallium.

The breach may have been caused by high levels of rain at the time. During the first three weeks of December, 6.48 inches of rain fell. That was on top of 1.16 inches that fell the last two days of November. The amount of rain, combined with temperatures that dropped to 12⁰ F weakened the earthen embankment, according to the TVA. In October 2008, an examination of the dam had revealed a “minor leak” in the structure. Two prior leaks had occurred in 2003 and 2006. The dam had been repaired each year since 2001. Greenpeace asked for a criminal investigation and landowners filed a lawsuit asking for $165 million.

“Modern technology / Owes ecology / An apology.” – Alan M. Eddison

“Because we don’t think about future generations, they will never forget us.” – Henrik Tikkanen

“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” – Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us.  When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” – Aldo Leopold

Also on this day:

March to the Sea – In 1864, General Sherman finished his march into Savannah, Georgia.
First PM – In 1885, Ito Hirobumi became the first Prime Minister of Japan.

March to the Sea

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 22, 2010

William Tecumseh Sherman

December 22, 1864: William Tecumseh Sherman captures Savannah, Georgia in the US Civil War. Ulysses S. Grant had two main objectives for the year 1864: his own leadership to the capture of Richmond, Virginia – the capital of the Confederacy and Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, Georgia.

On May 6 Sherman left the Chattanooga, Tennessee area on his march to Atlanta with nearly 100,000 men. Prior to the Atlanta campaign, Sherman was asked what his objective was and he caustically replied, “Salt water.” He captured Atlanta on September 2. Sherman sent wounded men and excess supplies back north intending to live off the land on his march to Savannah, on the Atlantic Ocean.

His armies left on November 12 arranged in two columns, one led by General Howard and the second led by General Slocum. Without supplies, men called “bummers” were to obtain supplies from the countryside. Sherman ordered that these men should not enter dwellings, insult the people, and they were not to leave the residents destitute but leave some food. These orders were not enforced. In his memoirs, Sherman estimated the damage to property, willfully destroyed without need, to be about $80,000,000. It is noted that his destruction of supplies may have hastened the end of the war. Although many Confederate soldiers were starving, it was not because of lack of food, but because of the destruction of the rail system and the inability to move the food to the front lines. Sherman’s destruction of crops and livestock exacerbated this problem.

Sherman reached the Savannah area on December 10 and began his siege. His 62,000 veterans were no match for the 10,000 mostly untrained men left to defend the area. The distance from Atlanta to Savannah is 255 miles by today’s highway system. Sherman’s march destroyed a 60 mile wide swath of land. Savannah’s fall was the last stop before Sherman entered the Carolinas, sweeping North to victory.

“I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.” – telegram to President Lincoln from Sherman

“War is cruelty. There’s no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”

“It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace.”

“Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.” – all by William Tecumseh Sherman

Also on this day, in 1885 Ito Hirobumi became Japan’s first Prime Minister.