The White House

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One of the last places I got to see on my journey to Washington, D.C. earlier this year was the White House itself, the residence of the President of the United States of America!

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Me and my brother across from the White House (No, we did not see Donald Trump there)

 

Construction on the White House began in 1792, and every president has occupied the famous mansion except for George Washington himself. In November of 1800, Washington’s successor, John Adams, became the first president to occupy the White House, though would not be officially named so until Theodore Roosevelt occupied it; it was previously known as the Executive Mansion. In a letter to his wife Abigail, John Adams wrote a prayer for the house: “I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings to this house, and all that hereafter shall inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” The White House would be burned by British Soldiers in 1814 as part of the War of 1812, and had to be reconstructed. Decades of poor maintenance meant that the White House was unstable when Harry S Truman was president, hinted at when a piano leg fell through the floor. Thus, the historic house was again reconstructed, with Truman moving to the Blair House across the street for two years.

The White House also holds a Theater, Bowling Alley and Tennis Court, among other recreational activities.

The White House is a symbol of the Executive Branch of government and of the choices that America has made over it’s long history. The men who have occupied it (or will occupy it) forever have a legacy of dedication to the United States, and this will never be forgotten. There are many trials upon us now and these men are flawed, but we must trust them nonetheless to lead us through this struggle regardless of our political party, and to stand up for what we believe in.

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The Pastry War

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Another unusual war caused by a relatively minor dispute was the Pastry War from 1838-1839 between the French and Mexican armies.

A French pastry chef named Remontel was the focus of the large-scale conflict. In 1828 during a military coup in Mexico, angry mobs destroyed large parts of Mexico City, and Remontel’s shop was ransacked by looters. After his complaints were rejected by Mexican officials, Remontel asked the French Government for 60,000 pesos (a hefty sum at the time) as compensation for the robbery. For a decade, his petition went unchecked, but when King of France Louis-Philippe saw the petition in 1838, he also saw an excuse to exact revenge on Mexico, and unexpectedly declared war using Remontel’s claim as the basis.

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, former president and Mexico’s most prestigious war hero, came out of retirement to aid Mexico in military operations against the French. In the ensuing conflict, Anna lost his leg, and would later eloquently use the situation of his war wound to catapult himself back into power.

The so-called Pastry War ended in 1839, with Mexico agreeing to give France the 600,000 pesos now demanded by the French as compensation for Remontel and many other Frenchmen who were robbed. Mexico’s subsequent failure to pay the 600,000 pesos was one of the causes of the second French intervention into Mexico in 1861.

The Battle of Perryville

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One of the most important battles in the American Civil War occurred in Kentucky, a key border state for both the Union and the Confederacy at the time.

The Confederacy wanted Kentucky because of its many rivers and its key central position. It could also be used as a base to invade the Union and end the Civil War. Confederate general Braxton Bragg mustered 21,000 men to seize Kentucky by force. However, Union general Don Carolos Buell was waiting for the Confederates, and battle commenced on October 8, 1862.

Bragg’s army engaged a smaller contingent of the Union army first, as Buell did not send reinforcements until later in the day. However, Confederate successes were doused by the arrival of the rest of the Union army. Bragg and the Confederates won a tactical victory, forcing the Union position back a mile, but it was a strategic Union victory, as the Confederate position was deemed unfeasible and Bragg was ordered to retreat to Tennessee. Buell gave a half-hearted pursuit, resulting in his replacement by William S. Rosecrans.

History will forever remember the sacrifices made and the outcome of this famous battle. Kentucky would never be conquered by the Confederacy, and this battle would help change the course of the American Civil War.

The Capitol Building

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On my vacation to Washington, D.C. I visited the United States Capitol Building, the home of the legislative branch of the United States government.

Pierre Charles L’Enfant was charged with creating the basic plan for Washington D.C. and the Capitol Building. George Washington laid the cornerstone in of the Capitol Building 1793, though the House of Representatives wing was not completed until 1811. In the early days, the Capitol was also used as a Church, attended by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Capitol was burned by the British in 1814, and reconstruction proved a long and difficult process. The dome was finally reconstructed during the Civil War.

The Capitol Building features many historical paintings that most people have only seen in books, and I recommend visiting it sometime! The Capitol gives tours, and you may even see Congress in Session  (I saw the House of Representatives in Session, and saw Paul Ryan there).

Though the building may be magnificent all by itself, it is just a piece of an ever-growing nation now 241 years old.

Washington, D.C.

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After visiting Jamestown and Yorktown, I next saw Washington, D.C, the nation’s capital.

Washington, D.C. was approved  for construction in 1790 between Maryland and Virginia, and Congress and the President first presided there in 1800. Although George Washington was heavily involved in the construction of the nation’s capital, he remains the only president to have never entered the White House. In 1814 during the War of 1812, British soldiers burned important buildings (such as the White House and the Capital) in Washington, D.C. that were not rebuilt for years.

The Twenty-Third amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowed D.C. to vote in U.S. Presidential elections, giving the District three electoral votes, first exercised in 1964. D.C. is home to many historically important buildings, such as the Capital Building, White House, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial, plus a few sports teams, like the Washington Nationals (baseball) and Washington Redskins (football).

The District of Columbia is one of the greatest cities in the world, created to show America’s commitment and perseverance through its many ages. It is the capital of an ever growing nation.

Siege of Yorktown

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Yorktown redoubt

Me at one of the redoubts in Yorktown

While in Virginia, I visited Yorktown and the site of its very famous siege, the one that ended the American Revolutionary War.

 

After mixed fortunes in the Southern colonies, the British decided to protect Yorktown and face the Continental Army. Lord Charles Cornwallis was the commander of about 7,500 experienced British soldiers, while American General George Washington led an army of over 18,000 Frenchmen and Continentals. On September 29, 1781, the siege began, and Cornwallis pulled back his troops from the outer defenses of Yorktown. Cornwallis was expecting British reinforcements from the sea, but the British were held back by the French fleet aiding the Americans. The Continentals built a trench and assaulted redoubts 9 and 10, along with their French allies (A redoubt is basically a ditch with a wall in front of it, built from the dirt from the ditch. They were helpful outposts used for increased protection). Interestingly, future Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, was the commander of the assault on redoubt 10. Through heavy fighting, both redoubts fell, and the British feared a general attack. Though it did not come, Cornwallis agreed to surrender.

The treaty of surrender was signed on October 19, 1781. The British were not given the traditional honors of war due to having deprived the Americans the same honor after the siege of Charleston. The Siege of Yorktown was destined to be the last major battle of the American Revolutionary War, and a peace treaty two years later would confirm American Independence. An upstart British colony had taken on the world’s largest and most feared empire, and had won.

Jamestown

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Woodson Rifle

Me and my brother admiring the Woodson Rifle at the Virginia Museum of History in Richmond

Two weeks ago, my family and I visited Virginia on our way to see the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. Our first historical visit was to the original Jamestown Settlement.

 

Jamestown, Virginia was first settled in May of 1607 by English colonists looking for treasure, comparable to Spain’s motivation to colonize the New World. Spain had successfully extracted tons of gold from the New World, and had fleets of treasure ships full of the valuable metal. The English settlers had failed to produce a permanent colony in Roanoke, all of the colonists there having mysteriously disappeared. Jamestown was chosen because there were no Native American tribes nearby, though at first the location seemed very bad. The majority of the colonists died in the next few years, though fortunes changed under the effective leadership of  John Smith, who had ironically been charged with mutiny and locked in the hold of his own ship throughout the voyage to America.

A prominent member of the Jamestown crew was my ancestor John Rolfe, who is most famous for his successful tobacco harvesting and his marriage to Pocahontas, the Native American daughter of Chief Powhatan. In 1619, the House of Burgesses was formed, although relations with the Native-Americans deteriorated under Chief Opchanacanough, Powhatan’s brother. In 1622 the Native Americans massacred over 300 colonists in a raid, and the colonists fought back under John Woodson (another ancestor of mine). In 1644, chief Opchanacanough came back in full force and killed Woodson. One of Woodson’s friends, Robert Ligon held off a Native-American attack on the Woodson home with the family’s rifle. The Woodson family rifle is currently on display at the Virginia Museum of History, which I visited. Opchanacanough was killed in 1646, and the Powhatan Confederacy declined while Jamestown grew.

In 1699, Virginia’s capital became Williamsburg, which replaced Jamestown. Although the original settlers of Jamestown (the first permanent colony in America) did not find any gold, they began something amazing, colonizing what would become the Eastern half of the United States of America. Jamestown will not be forgotten: it was a time when surviving wasn’t a game.

Bonnie and Clyde

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Me and my brother next to the original car that Bonnie and Clyde were killed in

One of the most infamous gangs in U.S. History, led by Bonnie and Clyde, oversaw at least twelve bank robberies and more murders.

Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were two romantically involved cold-blooded killers. The truth is that, although always pictured together and given equal fame, it was Clyde who was the one killing officers and civilians and robbing banks and smaller stores, with Bonnie as his accomplice. Clyde was initially in prison in the 1920’s for more minor causes such as a rental car he failed to return on time. However, it was noticed that Clyde truly became a criminal while in prison, even having a fellow inmate cut off some of his toes with an axe simply because he detested labor.

Immediately after Clyde was released from prison, he formed a gang that included Bonnie, and began a killing spree in 1932. The duo were made infamous over the next few years for the murders and robberies associated with them. Clyde saw his actions as retaliation for how the Texas prison system had treated him during his time in jail. Texas officer Frank Hamer began tracking Bonnie and Clyde, and on May 23, 1934 Bonnie and Clyde were finally lured into a trap while driving In their automobile. The officers on scene shot over 130 rounds at the vehicle, emptying their automatic rifles, shotguns, and pistols. Bonnie and Clyde were killed instantly, having suffered over twenty distinct bullet wounds each.

Bonnie and Clyde may have met their ends in 1934 on that road, but their fame outlived them, and they are now symbols of infamy in the United States.

Strange Wars, Vol. 2

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If you were waiting for more strange and unnecessary wars, here they come!

War of Jenkins’s Ear, 1739-1748:

The War of Jenkins’s Ear was started over just that. In 1731, the Spanish boarded an English merchant ship, and Robert Jenkins, the Captain, had his left ear cut off by the Spanish for being accused of smuggling. The story goes that Jenkins presented his ear to the British parliament, preserved in a jar. In 1739, the British finally declared war due to public outrage against Spain. Over the course of the nine-year war, neither side gained an advantage, and peace was declared in 1748.

The Three Hundred and Thirty Five Years War, 1651-1986:

The longest official war in modern history, this war has a disputed history of its own. In 1651, The Netherlands was allied to Great Britain’s parliamentary government, and therefore was against the Royalist armies led by Charles II. The Royalist navy used Sicily as a base, and had inflicted heavy losses upon the Dutch. That same year, a Dutch admiral visited Sicily demanding reparation from the Royalist fleet for the goods taken from them. As Sicily was not a part of this ongoing feud, they declined to grant the Netherland’s request. As a result, the Netherlands were said to be in a state of war with Sicily. Not a shot was fired, though the Royalist fleet left Sicily shortly afterwards. Like many wars of its era, this war was soon forgotten by both nations. In 1985, a Sicilian historian wrote to the Dutch Embassy to dispose of the myth that the two countries were still at war. The Dutch Embassy instead found that the myth was accurate and still ongoing, and a peace treaty was signed the following year.

Paraguayan War, 1864-1870:

The Paraguayan War (or the War of the Triple Alliance), no doubt the most famous of all the unusual wars, proves that you really don’t need an excuse to declare a war. One can only guess what President Solano Lopez was thinking when he declared war on the Empire of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. It may have been brought on by the Uruguayan War beforehand. In any case, Lopez declared war on the most powerful countries in South America simultaneously, and Paraguay would pay the price. The war was a disaster: Paraguay was devastated, disputed territory given to the Triple Alliance, and about 70% of the male population of Paraguay was killed. After the loss of conventional warfare, Lopez resorted to guerrilla warfare, with even more devastating results. Lopez himself was killed in battle in 1870, thereby ending the bloody war.

These three wars were very Strange indeed. This just goes to show that many nations have used anything (or nothing at all) as an excuse to declare war upon each other.

 

 

Strange Wars

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There are many strange and ridiculous wars that have occurred throughout history. All of these wars were caused by a singular and very minor dispute.

The Aroostook War, 1838-1839:

The first of these strange and ridiculous wars is one the United States itself was involved in. In the early 1800’s, Canada (then under the governance of the United Kingdom) and the United States had not agreed on a border between the two countries. This resulted in much controversy, as the people living in the land claimed by both nations had no clue as to which country’s laws applied to their own land, and numerous arrests were made against “trespassers”. It was only a matter of time before the dispute boiled to a head. In 1838, a farmer from the United States lost a pig that he owned, and began searching for it. While doing so, he crossed into the modern-day Canadian province of New Brunswick (a disputed territory at the time), and killed a few pigs owned by a British farmer there. The British were angered by this “act of war,” and thus New Brunswick was authorized to raise an army of volunteers to defend British territory. In response, the United States state of Maine was given $10,000,000, and militias were raised. The “war,” though undeclared, would last about a year (1838-1839). In 1839, peace was achieved, and in 1842, a treaty was signed, finally settling the dispute and fixing the border.

The Soccer War, 1969:

Also known as the Football War, the Soccer War occurred in Central America, and was the result of a conflict between El Salvador and Honduras over which country had won  a soccer match. This soccer match was important because the winner would qualify for the 1970 FIFA World Cup, and the match was won by El Salvador 3-2. However, El Salvador accused Honduras of cheating, and took the next logical step: it invaded Honduras with full military force on three fronts. In a war that lasted four days, over 300,000 civilians were displaced and around 3,000 more were killed. El Salvador qualified for the World Cup, although its temper tantrum did not help it win the World Cup.

The War of the Bucket, 1325:

This is possibly the most ridiculous war ever recorded, and my personal favorite to share. The war was between the city-states of Bologna and Modena in Italy. Disputes between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire were tearing the Italian cities apart. Modena was on the side of the Emperor, while Bologna supported the Pope in the dispute over who controlled Italy. In 1325, some Modenese soldiers stole a bucket from the main city well in Bologna, and Bologna, humiliated, declared war on Modena. However, the army from Bologna that invaded Modena was routed, with 4,000 men being killed during the course of the battle. The Modenese army then marched to the Bolognese capital and stole another bucket from the gatehouse before leaving. Both buckets reside in Modena to this very day.

You might have noticed a recurring theme here: all of these wars were caused by a minor dispute that turned into a full-on confrontation. The reasons for that were pride and greed. These countries were only looking for an excuse to declare war, and how the disputes occurred just shows how desperate they were for it. These wars are very strange to consider, but aren’t all wars ridiculous?