This Day in History: the Battle of Mill Springs

Today, January 19th, is the 157th anniversary of the Battle of Mill Springs, fought between Union and Confederate forces in south-central Kentucky in 1862. It was the first important Federal victory of the war after the terrible defeat at the (First) Battle of Bull Run the previous July.

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My Time as a VIP and the National Park Service

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Stones River.  I could do a long post about what happened on this day in 1863 but instead I want to talk about my own personal experience with the National Park Service, which is currently suffering from the government shutdown, and how that shutdown affects the NPS.

For over a decade I was a member of the Volunteers-in-Parks program for the National Park Service and really enjoyed it.  I spent most of my time at the Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, although I also spent some time at other nearby parks, especially Fort Donelson National Battlefield and Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.

When I first joined the National Park Service as a volunteer, it was so I could join the living history program at Stones River.  My first year I probably put in something like 150 to 200 hours of volunteer work, and afterward I was probably regularly doing at least 75 to 100 hours a year.  Even after I moved back to Huntsville and lived 2 hours away, I still managed to put in some hours for the NPS.  Why did I do this?  Because it was wonderful.  In fact, I view my time with the NPS as one of the most positive experiences I have ever had.  The people were just great, and I truly enjoyed interacting with visitors and the public in general.  Although I had done some public speaking before, I really developed that skill with the NPS.  It also gave me the chance to interact with some great historians, like Ed Bearss.

But right now, the NPS suffers from being massively understaffed.  The Trump administration apparently thought they could alleviate some of the effects of the shutdown on the National Parks by allowing them to be open during the shutdown, as opposed to closing them like the government did back in 2013.  It sounds great, at least on paper.  But allowing the public to continue to use the parks even though most park service employees are absent means that no one is cleaning the bathrooms, or handing out maps, or emptying the garbage cans.  It also means no one is collecting admission fees or enforcing rules.  And so the amount of wear and tear that is taking place is pretty bad.  And so many sites are being forced to close their doors.  A recent article from a Nashville TV station showed that many of the Civil War sites where I had volunteered are being affected by the shutdown.

So I hope that the shutdown does not last too long, as I hate to see so many of these parks get wrecked with no one to do any cleaning up.  And maybe one day I will be able to do some history volunteering again.  We’ll see.

~Geoff

Today in history: the mystery flood of 1607

Today is the 410th anniversary of an event that affected the southwest England and Wales.  Around noon on January 30th, 1607, the sea rose dramatically in low-lying areas of the Bristol Channel, inundating areas as far as 14 miles from the coast and submerging them under as much as nearly 8 meters of water.

1607 flood

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Seventy-five years ago this week… a “miracle” changes the course of the war

This week is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, one of the most decisive naval battles in American history, and possibly in world history.  It was certainly the first major Allied victory against the Japanese fleet in World War Two.

Why is this American victory called a “miracle”, most notably by renowned historian Gordon Prange in his bestseller Miracle at Midway? Because the possibility of an American victory seemed so remote, and the circumstances of the American victory were so unlikely.

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Today is the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor

I haven’t done a lot of posts lately, much less history posts.  But today is an important anniversary, and will probably be the last major anniversary for this event in which there are still a number of people alive who remember it.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was one of those events that defined my grandparents’ generation, and virtually everyone could tell you where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.  And of course, President Roosevelt’s speech  to Congress the following day is one of the most famous in American history.

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A terrible anniversary today – the Freedom Summer Murders

Fifty two years ago tonight, three young men were murdered by a group of white Mississippians in the Ku Klux Klan.  Among the men complicit in this crime were members of the Neshoba County Sheriff’s office and the Philadelphia (Mississippi) Police Department.

This was a mere six years before I was born.  Many people of my generation are familiar with this event through the 1988 film Mississippi Burning, although the film doesn’t even cover everything that happened that awful summer.

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