The Explainer General
The Revolutionary War should have won us independence from Britain. Britain’s Royal Navy didn’t care. In the early 1800’s it was busy fighting Napoleon but it had time to stop United States merchant ships on the high seas from trading with France or British colonies. It always needed sailors, so its officers seized our sailors, claiming they were Royal Navy deserters.
We needed a more independent independence. President James Madison declared a second war against Britain in 1812. Britain declared an embargo, forbidding our ships to leave port.
The Royal Navy had hundreds of big warships; we had six. To supplement our tiny Navy, the United States issued letters of marque, government licenses for privateers, private men o’war.
The boldest and most successful privateer was Captain Thomas Boyle’s Chasseur. It was a new kind of vessel, a Baltimore pilot schooner, the fastest ship afloat.
No sailboat can go directly into the wind. A square-rigged ship could manage to sail only 80° to the left or right of the wind’s direction. The Chasseur sailed 55° off the wind. Working into the wind by tacking (sailing to one side of the wind, then the other) she could go 10 miles to windward by sailing about 24 miles on diagonal courses. The Royal Navy’s square rigged men o’war would log almost 59 miles to reach the same point.
Chasseur carried only 16 small cannon – no match for a big man o’war’s 30 to 40 guns. But Boyle had no intention of slugging it out. If a man o’war appeared, he would scamper away to windward. Chasseur couldn’t be caught.
Boyle crossed the Atlantic and quickly took 18 British merchant ships. He was bold as a lion: he sent the last vessel back into port, so its captain could nail a proclamation to the door of Lloyd’s Coffee House, where London ship-insurers gathered. It was a politely worded embargo on all the British Isles – the same embargo Britain had attempted to force on the United States!
Did Boyle succeed? Yes and no. Many British ships sailed, but fear of the Chasseur raised the price of insurance 300%! Some of Lloyd’s insurers wouldn’t write policies on ships voyaging near America. Our Navy was small but mighty: our six heavy frigates (including Constitution, “Old Ironsides”) beat many Royal Navy frigates ship-to-ship. Our combination of daring, skill and brass audacity won the War of 1812 against the largest navy in the world.
You know all about pirates. They were big guys with fancy hats, silk jackets, peg legs, and parrots cursing on their shoulders. They sailed big ships with brass guns and made lubbers walk the plank . . . right?
Wrong! If you want to know what pirates were really like, then read Jan Adkin's book, What if You Met a Pirate? Click here for more information.
Jan Adkins is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Adkins, Jan. "The Man Who Held Up Britain." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 6
Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Incoming shell! Whenever ten-year-old Lucy McRae heard that distinctive sound, she froze, allowing the explosive to fly on over her. Then she hurried into the safety of the family’s cave.
It was 1863 and Vicksburg, Mississippi, was being bombarded by Union artillery. It was located strategically on the Mississippi River. All along the waterfront, Confederate cannon prevented Union ships from taking control of the river and using it to invade the South. President Lincoln said that for the North to win the war, those cannons must be silenced. He selected General Ulysses Grant to force Vicksburg to surrender.
Grant’s army sieged the city of 5,000, cutting off food supplies and fresh water. Then he rained shells day and night on the Confederate troops defending Vicksburg and on its terrified civilians. But townspeople had no intention of giving up. Most of their men were off fighting, but those remaining were stalwart: there would be no surrender.
Instead, they dug more than 500 caves into the sides of Vicksburg’s many hills, where they took refuge. Everyone lived side by side, rich and poor, masters and slaves. Cooking tents were set up outside the entrances, and during lulls in shelling, residents hastily prepared whatever food they had. Lucy always stayed outside until the moment shelling started again.
The caves were hot, dark, dank, and crowded, and were home to spiders, scorpions, lizards, mosquitoes, and snakes. “It was living like tree roots,” one woman said. People brought in rugs, bedding, books and favorite artwork to make their surroundings more tolerable. Sometimes there were close calls when a shell hit a cave. Once Lucy was buried under a mound of sliding dirt for several minutes. When her frantic mother pulled her out, she gasped for air, her mouth and nose full of dirt.
Although the town was severely damaged by the shelling, because of the caves only a dozen people died in the forty-seven-day siege. Townspeople wanted to hold out, but daily rations of water and food were almost gone, forcing the city’ surrender on July 4, 1863.
The South’s loss of Vicksburg helped the North win the war. But the bravery of townspeople like Lucy, who held fast in the face of overwhelming odds, was never in dispute.
Howard Pyle painting of terrorized people spotting a rocket shell.
Photo of a cave entrance after the siege., Note the unexploded shells.
If you’d like to know more about the Siege of Vicksburg, Andrea Warren tells the whole story of Lucy and other children caught up in that dramatic event in her award-winning book Under Siege! Three Children at the Civil War Battle for Vicksburg. For more on her books, visit her website at AndreaWarren.com.
Andrea Warren is a member of Authors on Call. Here's a link to her interactive video conference: What Children Experienced in the Civil War: Three Young People at the Siege of Vicksburg. (Note to teachers: you may have to register at CILC to reach this website. It's free and it's a GREAT resource).
MLA 8 Citation
Warren, Andrea. "Living in Caves to Survive the Siege of Vicksburg." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 3 Jan. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/Living-in-Caves-to-Survive-the-Siege-of-Vicksburg.
Why is Black History Month celebrated in February?
The answer is really quite love-ly.
For Black people enslaved, a birthday was as hard to come by as justice. But, never one to be outdone by the “impossible,” Frederick Bailey wanted a birthday—and a birthday he was going to have. First, he'd have to find out when it was.
He’d heard that his father was the slave owner from whom he'd escaped, so he couldn't ask him. His mother, Harriet Bailey, had been sold away from him when he was only five, so he couldn't ask her. But, he could remember stories she'd told him before they’d been separated.
She said he was born on a Maryland plantation in the ‘teens. He chose the mid-teens, 1818, for his birth year. She always called him her “little valentine.” He chose Valentine’s Day for his birth date. With that, Frederick finally had the birthday he'd always wanted: February 14, 1818.
Then . . .
In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson wanted to solve a problem. For centuries, Americans were taught to believe that African Americans had “no history or culture.” Now that is, of course, impossible. Everyone inherits the history and culture of their family elders. But, this horrific idea was used to justify slavery and segregation by making Black people seem less than human.
Dr. Woodson had a better idea: he’d tell the truth. He would research and share the true history of Black people in countries throughout the world over.
To promote his idea, he created Negro History Week (now, Black History Month). He chose February in honor of two birthdays. Born on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was the first American president to take action to end slavery. Born on February 14, 1818 Harriet Bailey’s “little Valentine's” became the noted Underground Railroad conductor, abolitionist, and publisher, Frederick Douglass. As a special adviser to President Lincoln, he proposed—and the president wrote and signed—the “Emancipation Proclamation”; ending slavery.
Such is the power of love.
We never know how we will remember what our parents say or what their words will mean to us when we need them most. Frederick's mother—an enslaved woman with so little to give—empowered her son for life with the gift of her enduring love.
For this love-ly reason, February is Black History Month.
Frederick Bailey's mother was sold to a new owner, leaving the 5-year-old behind. This was a common practice in the slavery era.
Abraham Lincoln's successful campaign to end slavery in the United States culminated in the Emancipation Declaration of 1863. Alexander Gardner via Wikimedia Commons
;In 1926, Carter G. Woodson (left) shown here as a young man, pioneered the celebration of "Negro History Week" during the second week in February, to coincide with marking the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (above) and Frederick Douglass (right). Black United Students and Black educators at Kent State University expanded the celebration to become Black History Month on February 1, 1970. Woodson Courtesy of the New River Gorge National River website, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, United States Government; Douglass via Wikimedia Commons.
Janus Adams has produced Steal Away-- a package of a book, an audio and a game about the Underground Railroad. You can learn more about her award-winning series of adventure and travel books, audios and games on her website called Back Pax Kids.
MLA 8 Citation
Adams, Janus. "Title tbd." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 28 Feb. 2018,
Carla Killough McClafferty
illuminating lives from the past, impacting lives in the present
Every fall, the smell of popcorn and hot dogs fills the air as fans make their way into stadiums to cheer for the home team. Football is such a big part of our world that it is hard to imagine life in America without the sport.
But in 1905, football was nearly cancelled—forever. By the end of the year, nineteen boys had died as a result of playing football. Because of these deaths and the many injuries that occurred during the season, Columbia University in New York City decided they would no longer have a football team. Other colleges considered banning their football teams too.
At the time, Teddy Roosevelt was President of the United States. He was a football fan and believed young Americans should live a “strenuous life” filled with hard work and physical activity. President Roosevelt did not want America to lose football, but he also understood the game needed to be less brutal that it was. So he called a meeting between the coaches of Harvard, Yale and Princeton on October 9, 1905. The coaches joined Roosevelt at the White House to discuss how to make football safer.
As the season drew to a close, the future of football was still in question. In December Walter Camp, the man who invented American football, led a group called the Intercollegiate Rules Committee to make rule changes. As part of the changes, the Committee wanted officials to enforce rules against kneeing, kicking and punching on the field. For the first time football would include a forward pass. They also changed the distance it would take for a first down—it had been five yards, but the new rules changed it to ten yards.
The rule changes of 1905 are still part of football today, and so is Walter Camp’s Committee. Today it is known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) which still governs the rules of college football.
Did you know that football was almost banned in 1905 because nineteen players were dead and countless others injures? Carla McClafferty has written a book that balances the love of America’s most popular spectator sport with a hard look at its costs for players. This is a must read for players and coaches.
Carla McClafferty is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
McClafferty, Carla Killough. "The Near-Death Experience of Football."
Nonfiction Minute`, iNK Think Tank, 1 Feb. 2018,
celebrating nature, inspiring good writing
In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and a team of men on a vital mission to explore the wild, unmapped West.
Lewis brought his dog along. According to journals kept by several of the explorers, the dog helped a lot. He retrieved animals that had been shot for food. He scared away grizzly bears, and a bull bison that charged into camp.
The old journal pages are often hard to read, and this led to a misunderstanding of the dog's name. People thought that he was called Scannon. Not until 1985 did a historian carefully examine every mention of the dog. He found that Lewis had actually named the dog Seaman. The dog was a Newfoundland, a breed often kept on ships. They are great swimmers, and could save people from drowning.
In the expedition's journals, Seaman was last mentioned in July, 1806, two months before the explorers returned from the West and reached the little town of St. Louis on the Mississippi River. After that, there is no word about the dog in letters or reports written by Lewis, Clark, or others.
The mystery of what happened to Seaman was solved in the year 2000, thanks to the work of historian James Holberg. He had found a book, written in 1814 by historian Timothy Alden, which told of a little museum in Virginia. Alden found a dog collar displayed there that William Clark had given to the museum. On the collar were these words: "The greatest traveller of my species. My name is SEAMAN, the dog of captain Meriwether Lewis, whom I accompanied to the Pacifick ocean through the interior of the continent of North America."
The collar was later destroyed by fire, but in his 1814 book Timothy Alden also wrote further details about Seaman. Historians report that after the expedition, Meriwether Lewis' life became one of failure and despair. In October 1809 he took his own life. Alden wrote that Seaman was there when Lewis was buried, and "refused to take every kind of food, which was offered to him, and actually pined away and died with grief upon his master's grave."
People who know Newfoundland dogs say that this could be true, because these dogs are fiercely loyal to their owners. Unless historians find some new evidence, that is how the life of this great dog hero ended.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition was the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States, departing in May 1804, from near St. Louis on the Mississippi River, making their way westward through the continental divide to the Pacific coast. Seaman was along on every bit of the round trip expedition of over seven thousand miles. However, like the explorers, he traveled many of those miles on a keel boat or canoe--up the Missouri and other rivers, downstream to the Pacific Ocean, and then the return journey to St. Louis in 1806.
Laurence Pringle has written a book about Seaman. This richly detailed account of the Lewis and Clark expedition includes its planning, its adventures and discoveries, and its aftermath. With intriguing sidebars, historical illustrations, journal excerpts, and original art, this account of what became known as the Corps of Discovery features the remarkable dog that was the expedition's most unusual member. For more information click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Pringle, Laurence. "Did the Hero Dog Survive?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 29 Jan. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/