Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, New York

This magnificent fort at the mouth of the Niagara River preserves the scene of several battles, including a 20-day siege during the French and Indian War.

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The Battle of Fort Niagara was fought from July 6 to July 26, 1759 between French forces under the command of Captain Pierre Pouchot and British forces under the command of Brig. Gen. John Prideaux and their American Indian allies at the confluence of Lake Ontario and the Niagara River during the French and Indian War. The 20-day siege ended in British victory and French capitulation after French reinforcements were scattered at the Battle of La Belle-Famille.

In early July 1759, Brig. Gen. John Prideaux marched approximately 3,500 British and Iroquois forces along Lake Ontario to Fort Niagara, floated a battery of artillery across the Niagara River to Montreal Point, and began to lay siege. Captain Pierre Pouchot had sent away most of his troops, so he had about 520 French regulars, militia, and Seneca Iroquois allies on hand to defend the fort. Unfortunately for him, many of his Seneca allies deserted when the British arrived.

To make matters worse, the British ambushed and destroyed a relief column under the command of Col. François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery at La Belle-Famille on July 24. Pouchot sent an officer to British lines to meet the wounded Lignery and confirm reports of the ambush. Seeing little hope, he surrendered on July 26.

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Unfortunately, Just Mercy Was Based on a True Story

This film about one of the most egregious modern cases of racism and injustice mostly sticks to the facts.

One thing I didn’t like about Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (2018) was that it invented events to make its antagonists more menacing than they really were. It’s a habit in Hollywood to insert or amplify racism in historical films, which is weird because there are plenty of actual historical examples of racism to make movies about.

Case in point: Just Mercy (2019), written by Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham and directed by Cretton, based on the book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Just Mercy follows the case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who was wrongly convicted of the 1986 murder of a white woman in Monroeville, Alabama and sent to death row. Years later, attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) successfully appealed McMillian’s conviction and won his freedom.

McMillian, who was having a very public affair with a white woman named Karen Kelly, was hosting a fish fry at his home with his wife, Minnie (Karan Kendrick), surrounded by about a dozen witnesses, when the murder occurred. Despite this, Sheriff Tom Tate (Michael Harding) arrested him for the crime. And despite not yet being convicted, he was sent to death row while awaiting trial.

Judge Robert E. Lee Key, Jr. (yes, that was actually his name) moved the trial to a different county where it would have a majority white jury. The judge overrode the jury’s decision of life imprisonment and imposed the death penalty. McMillian sat on Alabama’s death row from 1988 to 1993, when the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled he had been wrongfully convicted.

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Fort Henry National Historic Site in Kingston, Ontario

Built for a war with the U.S. that never came, this nineteenth century relic is a treasure of Canadian military history.

The War of 1812 left relations between the United States and Great Britain at an all-time low. Raids along the Saint Lawrence River were common during the war, and Kingston, Ontario in what was then Upper Canada was seen as potentially vulnerable. The British eyed Point Henry as an ideal place for what became known as the “Citadel of Upper Canada”.

Early in the war, British Canadians erected a blockhouse and artillery battery on Point Henry to help defend Kingston and its naval dockyards. They continued fortifying it throughout the war, calling it Fort Henry after Henry Hamilton, one-time Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Quebec and Governor of Bermuda.

After the War of 1812, the British saw a need to strengthen their defenses around Kingston and Rideau Canal, which connects the Canadian capitol to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River. Between 1832 and 1836, they built a more permanent stone fort in place of the old wooden one.

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Glover’s Rock and the Battle of Pell’s Point

In this little-known Revolutionary War battle in the Bronx, skillful planning and marksmanship by American militia delayed a British landing long enough for George Washington’s army to escape destruction.

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The Battle of Pell’s Point (aka the Battle of Pelham) was fought on October 18, 1776 between American forces commanded by Col. John Glover and British forces commanded by General Henry Clinton near Pelham Manor (The Bronx), New York during the American Revolutionary War. The battle was a British victory, but delayed them long enough for General George Washington’s army to escape White Plains.

In the fall of 1776, American aspirations of independence were at a low point. British Gen. Sir William Howe had overwhelmed and driven the Continental Army commanded by Gen. George Washington out of New York City and Long Island. Washington aspired to escape north to White Plains to avoid being surrounded in Manhattan. He left several thousand men at Fort Washington and a brigade of 750 men commanded by Col. John Glover to contest a British landing at Pell’s Point.

At dawn on October 18, a British force of 4,000 men (mostly Hessian mercenaries) began landing on shore. Col. Glover saw their approach and carefully prepared a defense in depth, arranging his brigade in rows behind several stone walls. As the British approached, each row would fire and fall back to avoid being overwhelmed. Glover’s first line waited until the British troops were less than 30 yards away, then stood and poured a deadly volley into the redcoats.

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A Trip to Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

As part of our trip to West Virginia last month, my wife and I stopped by the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, a destination that’s been on my bucket list for a while. Yes, it’s appeared on just about every paranormal-themed TV show, but it has an interesting history dating back to the Civil War as well.

Welcome Home

Designed by Baltimore architect Richard Snowden Andrews in Gothic and Tudor Revival styles, construction on the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum began in 1858. In 1861, the Civil War’s outbreak interrupted construction on Virginia’s new asylum as Union troops seized its construction funds from a local bank (totaling nearly $30,000.00 in gold) and used them to help fund a pro-Union Virginia government in Wheeling. It opened in 1864, though construction wasn’t fully completed until nearly 20 years later.

The Institution

During the mid-twentieth century, it was notoriously overcrowded and closed in 1994. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. After sitting abandoned for several years, it opened for tours as a museum and it slowly being restored.

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The Battle of Trenton, New Jersey

George Washington’s daring raid across the icy Delaware River revived his battered army’s spirits and prevented total disaster for the Patriot cause. Today, the Capitol of New Jersey commemorates Washington’s 1776 victory.

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The Battle of Trenton was fought on December 26, 1776 between American forces commanded by General George Washington, Major Generals Nathanael Greene and John Sullivan, and Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer, and British forces commanded by Col. Johann Rahl in Trenton, New Jersey during the American Revolutionary War. The battle was an American victory and a much-needed boost to Patriot morale.

After a string of defeats around southeastern New York and Long Island, George Washington’s army withdrew across the Delaware River to lick its wounds. Washington was joined by several other prominent American commanders, who needed a victory to hold together their ragtag band of militia over the winter. The victorious British commander, Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis, spread his army along the east bank of the Delaware to await the spring.

Washington decided to attack an isolated contingent of approximately 1,500 Hessian mercenaries camped at Trenton. A driving snowstorm prevented some of his plan from being implemented, but Washington crossed the icy Delaware under cover of darkness with 2,400 men. The Hessians, thinking victory was at hand, had spent Christmas celebrating and hadn’t provided proper security. As a result, they were caught off guard in the town streets.

After a running battle, Hessian Col. Johann Rahl made several attempts to organize his men and counter attack, but was mortally wounded. The remaining Hessians surrendered. Relatively light American casualties sweetened Washington’s victory. The Patriots lost only four killed and eight wounded to the Hessians’ 40 killed, 66 wounded, and 918 captured.

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