Jul 23, 2011

Thoughts of Lake George...

Lake George
During the 1940's, my family rented a place at Lake George for the entire month of August.  The cabin was on Basin Bay and was named "The Birches."  It was owned by a family in Albany from whom my parents rented it.  I recall what a big deal it was to get ready to go on our annual vacation.  You'd think we were driving to the West Coast!

Both gasoline and tires were rationed during the war years.  My father would be careful to save up enough gasoline ration coupons to be able to put gas in our 1940 Chevrolet for the trips up to Lake George and back.  He would join us every weekend after spending the first week.  So the car made a total of 4 or 5 round trips.  The distance from our house in Schenectady to the cabin was about 60 miles, so the total driving involved each August could amount to as much as 600 miles, a distance that might involve lots of gasoline ration coupons.  Gasoline was a commodity that was rationed according to "differential coupon rationing."  The amount allowed to various individuals was based on need.  My dad was a dentist and therefore had a so-called "B" ration sticker which authorized him to buy eight gallons of gasoline per week.

The Birches, Basin Bay, Lake George, New York, as seen from the lake

My sister and brother and I always looked forward to going to Lake George.  I can still recall the strong scent of the balsam firs that surrounded the cabin.  The place was populated by dozens of chipmunks that were tame enough to eat out of our hands.  The decor of the cabin, a two-story structure with a couple of upstairs bedrooms, was early hand-me-down.  My parents always had a house full of guests.  We kids slept on swings and hammocks on the screened in porch.  At night, even in August, the temperature would drop to the 60's.  We had a dock and a lapstrake fishing boat with a 16-horsepower outboard.  We swam and fished and explored for a whole month.  I can't imagine a more wonderful place for kids to experience a summer vacation.

El Lagarto, piloted by George Reis
The other day, I was reading an article on the H.A.M.B. about the styling of early competition speedboats.  It reminded me of a memory from Lake George that I hadn't thought about for many years.  A gentleman named George Reis had a prominent home on the lake.  His claim to fame was that he was a veteran boat racer whose career dated back to 1916 when he took third-place in the Gold Cup.  My interest in Mr. Reis was because he owned an incredible boat named "El Lagarto," -- the lizard.

El Lagarto's
 remarkable career began inauspiciously with an eleventh-place performance in the 1922 Gold Cup at Detroit as Miss Mary II.  Designed and built by John Hacker as a V-bottom displacement-type of boat, she measured 25 feet 10 inches in length with a 5-foot 6-inch beam and originally used a 150-horsepower Peerless engine.   Reis purchased El Lagarto from original owner Ed Grimm in about 1925.  He named the craft after his brother's estate in Palm Springs, California, which was named "El Lagarto" because of an abundance of lizards in that vicinity.  George installed a rebuilt 621 cubic inch Packard engine and used her as a pleasure craft on Lake George for several years.  These huge Packard six-cylinder engines produced around 260 horsepower.  In 1935, Reis piloted El Lagarto to a record 72.727 miles per hour in a one-mile trial on Lake George.  That stands as the fastest straightaway speed ever attained by a restricted Gold Cup class boat.  He occasionally entered her in free-for-all races against such local contenders as Jolly Roger, Falcon, and Hawkeye.

On Sunday mornings, we would hear the roar of El Lagarto's engine as it approached from the north.  We kids would run to a favorite vantage point to observe the spectacle.  Down the lake she would roar at speeds of seventy miles per hour -- unheard of in the gasoline-rationed society with a national highway speed limit of 35 miles per hour!*  We'd see her vanish to the south, soon to return on her homeward leg, still throwing up a rooster's tail 30 feet into the air.  What a spectacle!  And it repeated nearly every weekend.

After Margo passed away, my good friends Forrest and Sue Frueh from Norman, Oklahoma, invited me to join them for a few days at Lake George.  Sue's family had had a place on the lake when she was a little girl.  It was a perfect getaway.  The smell of balsams flooded my mind with memories.  One day we drove up to Basin Bay and The Birches is still there, looking unchanged since the 1940's.  And I thought I heard the echoes of a long-remembered racing boat.

* On 1 December, 1942, 
Gas rationing and a 35 mph speed limit on all roads that had been in effect along the East Coast for 7 months was extended nationally to conserve gasoline and rubber.  That speed limit remained in effect until 15 August, 1945, when it was raised to 50 miles per hour.

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Jul 7, 2011

The Acorn Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree...

Yesterday I was visiting Dan and Deron Shady.  Deron's son Daniel was there (Whom do you suppose he was named after???).  I wanted to try taking a video with the camera I've been using for at least a couple of years.  I'm embarassed to admit I just discovered you can take movies with it.  Here's the first result:

Jul 5, 2011

Shiloh Monday...

A contemporary etching of the battle of Shiloh
Mary Ann and I have talked for years about visiting the Shiloh battlefield.  Today we finally went there.  It's only a little more than 100 miles from our home, but sometimes it's hard to get motivated.  It was interesting to celebrate our nation's birthday by visiting the site of a Civil War battle.  And what a battle it was!

When you visit this rural site, described by one reference as, "one of the most pristine battle sites of the Civil War," it's hard to conceive of the carnage that took place there.  Consider the following: 40,000 Confederate troops, 63,000 Union troops, a battle lasting 2 days resulting in over 23,000 killed, wounded, or missing.  I suggest to anyone interested in the Civil War that they read some of the battle synopses that are available on the Internet.

We chose to start at the Visitor's Center where we watched an introductory film, the award-winning Shiloh: Portrait of a Battle.  We went through the small museum within the Visitors Center.  They have very good displays that illustrate the types of armaments in use, the conditions met by the soldiers, the medical practices of the period, and the topography of the battlefield.  We then proceeded to the bookstore across the parking lot where we purchased a CD with a guided audio tour of the battlefield.  Equipped with this CD and its accompanying map, we embarked on a two-hour tour of the battlefield, which covers many square miles.

As we covered battle sites, skirmish sites, places where heroes of both sides fell, and the "bloody pond," where the wounded tried to cool themselves and get a sip of water, we were constantly reminded of Theodore O'Hara's Bivouac of the Dead:

The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last Tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.
The Shiloh Church, near where the first engagement of the battle started April 6, 1862.
Harper's Weekly, the predominant news magazine of the time, described the battle with a large centerfold etching and a description straight from the Cincinnati Times:

WE publish on pages 264 and 265 a large illustration of the BATTLE OF PITTSBURG LANDING, TENNESSEE, fought on 6th and 7th between the Union army, under Generals Grant and Buell, and the rebels, under Beauregard and Sydney Johnston. The point selected by our artist for illustration represents the final charge of our army under General Grant at 3 P.M. on 7th. The Cincinnati Times gives the following account of the battle:

Our forces were stationed in the form of a semicircle, the right resting on a point north of Crump's Landing, our centre being in front of the main road to Corinth, and our left extending to the river in the direction of Hamburg, four miles north of Pittsburg Landing. At two o'clock on the morning of the 6th 400 men of General Prentiss's division were attacked by the enemy half a mile in advance of our lines. Our men fell back on the Twenty-fifth Missouri, swiftly pursued by the enemy. The advance of the rebels reached Colonel Peabody's brigade just as the long roll was sounded and the men were falling into line. Resistance was but short, and they retreated under a galling fire until they reached the lines of the Second division.

At six o'clock the attack had become general along our whole front. The enemy in large numbers drove in the pickets of General Sherman's division, and fell on the Forty-eighth, Fiftieth, and Seventy-second Ohio regiments. Those troops were never before in action and, being so unexpectedly attacked, made as able a resistance as possible, but were, in common with the forces of General Prentiss, forced to seek support of the troops immediately in their rear. At one o'clock the entire line on both sides was fully engaged. The roar of cannon and musketry was without intermission from the main centre to a point extending half-way down the left wing. The rebels made a desperate charge on the Fourteenth Ohio battery, which, not being sufficiently supported by infantry, fell into their hands. Another severe fight occurred for possession of the Fifth Ohio battery, and three of its guns were taken by the enemy.

By eleven o'clock a number of commanders of regiments had fallen, and in some cases not a single field-officer remained; yet the fighting continued with an earnestness which showed that the contest on both sides was for death or victory. Foot by foot the ground was contested, and finding it impossible to drive back our centre, the enemy slackened their fire, and made vigorous efforts on our left wing, endeavoring to outflank, and driving it to the riverbank. This wing was under General Hurlburt, and was composed of the Fourteenth, Thirty-second, Forty-fourth, and Fifty-seventh Indiana; Eighth, Eighteenth, and Twenty-first Illinois. [The Fourteenth Indiana Regiment was not there. It is serving under General Shields in Virginia. —ED.] Fronting its line, however, was the Fourteenth, Fifty-seventh, and Seventy-seventh Ohio, and Fifth Ohio Cavalry, of General Sherman's division. For nearly two hours a sheet of fire blazed from both columns, the rebels fighting with a vigor that was only equaled by those contending with them. While the contest raged the hottest the gun-boat Tyler passed up the river to a point opposite the enemy, and poured in broadsides from her immense guns, greatly aiding in forcing the enemy back. Up to three o'clock the battle raged with a fury that defies description. The rebels had found every attempt to break our lines unavailing. They had striven to drive in our main column, and finding that impossible, had turned all their strength upon our left. Foiled in that quarter, they now made another attempt at our centre, and made every effort to rout our forces before the reinforcements, which had been sent for, should come up.

At five o'clock there was a short cessation in the fire of the enemy, their lines falling back for nearly half a mile, when they suddenly wheeled and again threw their entire forces upon our left wing, determined to make a final struggle in that quarter; but the gun-boats Tyler and Lexington poured in their shot thick and fast with terrible effect. Meanwhile General Wallace, who had taken a circuitous route from Crump's Landing, appeared suddenly on the enemy's right wing. In the face of this combination of circumstances the rebels felt that their enterprise for the day was a failure, and as night was approaching fell back until they reached an advantageous position somewhat in the rear, yet occupying the main road to Corinth.

The gun-boats continued to throw shell after them until out of range. After a wearied watching of several hours of intense anxiety, the advance regiments of General Buell appeared on the opposite bank of the river. The work of passing the river began, the Thirty-sixth Indiana and Sixty-eighth Ohio being the first to cross, followed by the main portions of Generals Nelson and Bruce's divisions. Cheer after cheer greeted their arrival, and they were immediately sent to the advance, where they rested on their arms for the night. All night long steamers were engaged ferrying General Buell's force across, and when daylight broke it was evident the rebels too had been strongly reinforced.

The battle on Monday was opened by the rebels at seven o'clock from the Corinth road, and in half an hour extended along the whole line. At nine o'clock the sound of artillery and musketry fully equaled that of the previous day. The enemy was met by our reinforcements and the still unwearied soldiers of the previous day with an energy they certainly could not have expected. It became evident they were avoiding the extreme of our left wing, and endeavoring, with perseverance and determination, to find some weak point by which to turn our force. They left one point but to return to it immediately, and then as suddenly would, by some masterly stroke of generalship, direct a most vigorous attack upon some division where they fancied they would not be expected; but the fire of our lines was as steady as clock-work, and it soon became evident that the enemy considered the task they had undertaken a hopeless one. Further reinforcements now began to arrive, and took position on the right of the main centre under General Wallace.

Generals Grant, Buell, McClernand, Nelson, Sherman, and Crittenden were everywhere present, directing movements for a new stroke on the enemy. Suddenly both wings of our army were turned upon the enemy, with the intention of driving them into an extensive ravine; at the same time a powerful battery, stationed in the open field, poured volley after volley of canister into the rebel ranks. At half past eleven the roar of the battle shook the earth. The Union guns were fired with all the energy that the prospect of the enemy's defeat inspired, while the rebels' fire was not so vigorous, and they evinced a desire to withdraw. They finally fell slowly back, keeping up a fire from their artillery and musketry along their whole column as they retreated. They went in excellent order, battling at every advantageous point, and delivering their fire with considerable effect; but from all the divisions of our lines they were closely pursued, a galling fire being kept upon their rear.

The enemy had now been driven beyond our former lines, and were in full retreat for Corinth, pursued by our cavalry.

The forces engaged on both sides in this day's battle are estimated at about seventy thousand each—an entire force of one hundred and forty thousand men.

Another correspondent, in the same paper, thus mentions the final charge:
The enemy, after maintaining their ground till 3 P.M., gave way. The decisive blow was given by General Grant, who headed a charge of six regiments in person, precipitating his whole body on the enemy's centre with such desperate force that they broke and ran. Retreat at once became general. Within half an hour the whole rebel army was falling back in dismay. Our rejoiced soldiers followed them, driving them through our camp in complete disorder. They were soon driven into a broken country, where they would not form or fight. There was no relaxation in the pursuit.

At the last accounts the cavalry were eleven miles from the river, still following. The fugitives, exhausted, lay down and waited to be taken prisoners.