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Today, 11-11-18, at 11 a.m. Paris time, the guns went silent.   One hundred years ago today in 1918, the world collectively let out a sigh of relief as the killing officially ended. Europe remembered the end of World War I earlier today.  It was designated that on the 11th day of the 11th month, at the 11th hour in that cold morning of 1918, the great war would end as swiftly as it had begun.   We are seven hours behind the hour that marked the end of the war one hundred years ago today.   For Americans living in the four states area, World War I would have ended on November 11, 1918, at 4:00 a.m. in the morning. As the end came, one single gun was designated to fire the last shot.  The 11th Field Artillery Regiment of the United States named their gun Calamity Jane, and she fired her last shot of the war at exactly 11:00 a.m.  The day would become known as Armistice Day and it would be celebrated around the world.  The great war was over.  A war that had introduced trench warfare to the world, the ability to kill almost unseen from the air, a modified machine gun that could rip down rows of men, and chemicals that could cripple, burn, and kill a person through the air had ended.  Up until this point, the world had never known so much destruction, death, and warfare as was introduced during those early years of the last century. In the years that would follow, annual celebrations would be held around the four states area and most of the world.  War memorials would be built to honor those who had fallen.  Parades would celebrate those who survived.  Widows, orphans, and parents would tell stories of their brave soldier who went “Over there” and never came back when it was finished over there. Today, 100 years later, as we face a time period when all those who fought in the war and even those who remember the war have faded, it is fitting and right that we should take a moment to remember them.  There is no better way to honor them than a moment of silence since that is what so many on the front longed to the hear back then…the silence of the guns. Continue Reading →

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Remembering Otis Henry

Bowie County, TX: Many people have heard the name Otis Henry around Texarkana.  The VFW Post 2549 has Otis’ name as did the previous post.  Rose Hill Cemetery has a historical designation for the monument at Otis’ grave and children have heard stories about the grave being haunted for years.  One person said that if you go up to the gates at Otis’ grave and ask “Otis, what are you doing?” that Otis will respond, “Nothing.”  It was not clear if the response would be the word “Nothing” or if nothing would be heard by anyone listening, but it was shared by one person who did this in his youth.  The cemetery is now locked at night, but the memorial remains. While people have heard the name Otis Henry, they may not know the story behind the young man.  It is really a simple story and there is not much to it as it goes.   On June 22, 1894, Susan Henry brought into this world her pride and joy, a small baby boy, in Denison, Texas.   They would name him Otis.  Otis would grow up in Denison until his father passed away in his youth and mother and son would move to Texarkana.   Otis’ mother would remarry once to a Mr. Tate while Otis was still alive and again after her son passed away.  Otis was by all accounts just a regular young man of the times.  He went to school, graduated, and went to work to help the family.  When the world war came along, Otis would respond to his draft, go to war, get gassed in the trenches of that war to end all wars and die a few days later.  In all, it would be a simple footnote in history except for two facts.  Otis would be the first to die in what would become known as World War I from Bowie County, and he would leave behind a mother determined to ensure her son would be remembered forever. When Otis Henry answered his draft call he was working as a soda dispenser out of Shreveport, Louisiana.  The company most likely delivered soda fountain supplies and bottles in the Texarkana area.   Otis lived at 1002 South Lelia Avenue with his mother and step-father in Texarkana.   Otis was twenty-two at the time of his draft and listed no reason that he could not be drafted.  As happens in war, Otis was drafted,  enlisted in the United States Army, and trained for war. Otis would end up serving with the 359th Infantry, 90th Division and company H.  He would become a Corporal, and his military service seems fairly routine for a soldier fighting in the war. Continue Reading →

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My Experiment (2009 – 2018)

Every month for 9 years, I have shared a portion of our American history.  In sharing our history, I wanted to see if I could help create more excitement in my community for our Founding history.  Could that excitement lead others to become more involved in my community? Could I help increase local shopping, a higher interest in local civics, and an increase in voter turnout?  I also wanted to see if I could help lessen some of the divisions created by political parties and, instead, bring more unity.  Did my experiment work?  I do not see a difference, but maybe I planted some seeds. I, for one, gained valuable knowledge and respect for our Founding history.  The opportunity to share what I have learned in front of audiences helped strengthen my public speaking and confidence.  The supportive feedback from many of you has been encouraging.  By far, the strangest thing that occurred was when some believed two of my letters were political, thereby ending their use in local schools.  (Marquis de Lafayette: Lafayette loved America (1777) & Marquis de Lafayette: America loved Lafayette (1834))

My life has taken a new turn, therefore, my November 2018 history letter will be my last.  RetraceOurSteps.com  is still available and currently has over 2000 quotes from our Founding Fathers.  I hope to continue adding to this resource as time permits. What is next in my life?  I am not sure.  I am positive, however, and believe that with God, life will continue to be very blessed. Continue Reading →

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Battle of Monmouth (1778)

In June 1778, the British abandoned Philadelphia and began their march to New York City.  The British column stretched for 12 miles and was vulnerable to attack.  Washington sent a small force to engage the enemy until he could arrive with the main force from Valley Forge.  General Charles Lee engaged the British at Monmouth Courthouse but was soon in full retreat.  Washington met his retreating forces and rallied his troops.  Throughout the afternoon, average temperatures were over 100 degrees and many soldiers died from heat stroke.  Several women brought water to the troops and one woman took her husband’s place loading the artillery after he was wounded.  The army demonstrated the effectiveness of Baron von Steuben’s training and Washington considered the battle a victory. “… on the appearances of the enemy’s intention to march thro’ Jersey… I had detached [forces]… to interrupt and impede their progress… so as to give time to the Army under my command to come up with them…   [To] my great surprise and mortification, I met the whole advanced Corps retreating…   I proceeded immediately to the Rear of the Corps, which I found closely pressed by the Enemy, and gave directions for forming part of the retreating troops, who by the brave and spirited conduct of the Officers, aided by some pieces of well served Artillery, checked the Enemy’s advance…  [The Army] remained upon the Ground, they had been directed to occupy, during the Night, with intention to begin the attack early the next morning… and about 12 o’clock at Night [the enemy] marched away in… silence…   The extreme heat of the Weather— the fatigue of the Men… and the distance the Enemy had gained by marching in the Night, made a pursuit impracticable and fruitless…   The Behavior of the troops in general, after they recovered from the first surprise occasioned by the Retreat of the advanced Corps, was such as could not be surpassed.”  George Washington, Letter to Henry Laurens, July 1, 1778

James Still (Oct 2018), RetraceOurSteps.com

“At Monmouth I commanded a division, and… [observed] our beloved Chief [Washington], who, mounted on a splendid charger, rode along the ranks amid the shouts of the soldiers, cheering them by his voice and example…  I thought then, as now that never had I beheld so superb a man.”  Marquis de Lafayette, Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington by George Washington Parke Custis, 1860

“The Men are to wash themselves this afternoon & appear as clean and decent as possible.  Seven o’clock this evening is appointed that we may publicly unite in thanksgivings to the supreme Disposer of human Events for the Victory which was obtained on Sunday over the Flower of the British Troops.”  George Washington, General Orders, June 30, 1778

“… should we wander from [the Founding Principles]… let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.”  Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

RetraceOurSteps.com Continue Reading →

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Cmr Bush: SBOE Committee Recommendation to Remove Travis “Victory or Death” Letter Dilutes Heroic Story of Alamo Defenders from Texas History Curriculum

AUSTIN- On Thursday, Texas Monthly reported that the State Board of Education Social Studies TEKS Streamlining Work Groups recommended deleting Alamo commander, Lt. Col. William Barret Travis’ stirring “Victory or Death” letter calling for reinforcements during the 1836 siege from the state curriculum. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, a Navy veteran of the war in Afghanistan and former history teacher, urges the committee to drop its recommendation and retain Travis’ historic letter in its entirety. “Travis’ ‘Victory or Death’ letter is the heart of Texas history,” Commissioner Bushsaid. “This kind of politically correct nonsense is why I will always fight to honor the Alamo defenders’ sacrifice. Continue Reading →

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Franco-American Alliance (1778)

Following the American victory at Saratoga, negotiations between French and U.S. Diplomats culminated in the signing of two treaties.  The Treaty of Amity and Commerce encouraged trade between France and America.  The Treaty of Alliance provided a military alliance against Great Britain.  Ratified by Congress on May 4, 1778, these became the first treaties entered into by the U.S. government.  The Convention of 1800 dissolved the Franco-American Alliance.  Upon learning of the alliance, General Washington ordered a celebration. “It having pleased the Almighty ruler of the Universe propitiously to defend the Cause of the United American-States and finally by raising us up a powerful Friend among the Princes of the Earth to establish our liberty and Independence upon lasting foundations, it becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowledging the divine Goodness & celebrating the important Event which we owe to his benign Interposition. The several Brigades are to be assembled for this Purpose at nine o’clock tomorrow morning…  At half after ten o’clock a Cannon will be fired, which is to be a signal for the men to be under Arms…  At half after eleven a second Cannon [will] be fired as a signal for the march…   A third signal will be given upon which there will be discharge of thirteen Cannon; When the thirteen have fired, a running fire of the Infantry will begin on the right of [Gen.] Woodford’s [Brigade] and continue throughout the whole front line…
Upon a signal given, the whole Army will Huzza! “Long Live the King of France” —The Artillery then begins again and fires thirteen rounds, this will be succeeded by a second general discharge of the Musketry in a running fire —Huzza!—“And long live the friendly European Powers”— Then the last discharge of thirteen Pieces of Artillery will be given, followed by a General running fire and Huzza! “To the American States.”  George Washington, General Orders, May 5, 1778
James Still (Sep 2018), RetraceOurSteps.com
“I have mentioned the matter [Franco-American Alliance] to such Officers as I have seen, and I believe no event was ever received with a more heartfelt joy.”  George Washington, Letter to Henry Laurens (Congress), May 1, 1778

“His Excellency desires that you will towards Evening send out patrols under vigilant officers… Continue Reading →

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Crockett descendants support Alamo Master Plan

AUSTIN – An editorial written by a descendant of legendary frontiersman and Alamo defender David Crockett is making the rounds in Texas newspapers this week. Some are calling the editorial, which applauds and supports Alamo Master Plan, a boost to the ambitious project. Here is the text by Errol Flannery in full:

I am a direct descendant of David Crockett. He was my great-great-great-great-grandfather through his second wife, Elizabeth Patton. My ancestor came to Texas and quickly got involved in the fight to free it from the tyrant Santa Anna. Continue Reading →

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Separation of Church and State [National] (1802)

Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father, author of the Declaration of Independence and America’s third president.  In his First Inaugural Address, Jefferson encouraged citizens to be “enlightened by a benign [kind] religion…”and hoped God would, “lead our [government] councils to what is best…”  The Danbury Baptists wrote Jefferson to warn him that some in government positions would seek “power and gain” and “make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.”  In his response, Jefferson described how the U.S. Constitution constructed a wall around our National government to prevent it from taking any action concerning religion.  Jefferson understood freedom of religion was a matter of conscience and a natural right under the oversight of state or church officials.  “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State [National].  Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.”  Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Danbury Baptists, January 1, 1802

James Still (Aug 2018), RetraceOurSteps.com

“In our village of Charlottesville…  We have four sects [doctrines], but without either church or meeting-house.  The court-house is the common temple, one Sunday in the month to each.  Here, Episcopalian and Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist, meet together, join in hymning their Maker, listen with attention and devotion to each others’ preachers, and all mix in society with perfect harmony.”  Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, November 2, 1822

“In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the constitution independent of the powers of the general [National] government.  I have… Continue Reading →

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The Newburgh Veterans (1783)

Ten years after the American Revolution, Elias Boudinot gave a speech on the Fourth of July, reminding his audience of the Newburgh Conspiracy.  During the war, soldiers had been fighting and dying for their country while their families were surviving mostly upon charity.  Now that the war was over, Congress was still broke and it looked as though the soldiers would return home with nothing.  When George Washington learned of a military coup against Congress, he ordereda meeting with the Officers and promised to do whatever he could on their behalf. The Officers quickly denounced the scheme.  In closing, Boudinot encouraged his audience to emulate the Newburgh Veterans. “The war-worn soldiers, reduced to the calamities of a seven years arduous service, now solemnly pause and reflect on… their critical situation…   want and dire distress stare many in the face…  [And now,] Their country’s exhausted treasury cannot yield them even the hard-earned pittance of a soldier’s pay…

Brotherly affection [however] produces brotherly relief [and] the victorious bands unite together… and instead of seizing their arms, and demanding their right by menace and violence, they… determine to give one more proof of unexampled patriotism…    [They] unite in a firm, indissoluble bond… to continue their mutual friendship… and to effectuate [offer] every act of beneficence [benevolence]… to any of their number and their families who might unfortunately be [in need]…

[Allow] me to congratulate you on this seventeenth anniversary of our happy independence.  Long, long, even to the remotest ages, may the citizens of this rising empire enjoy the triumphs of this day!  May they never forget the invaluable price which it [Independence] cost…  [And] May we, by the uniform conduct of good citizens, and generous, faithful friends, show ourselves worthy of such valuable connections!”  Elias Boudinot, Oration before the Society of the Cincinnati, July 4, 1793

James Still (July 2018), RetraceOurSteps.com

“… the good sense of the Officers has terminated this Affair in a manner, which reflects the greatest glory on themselves and demands the highest expressions of gratitude from their Country.”  George Washington, Letter to Benjamin Harrison, Sr., March 19, 1783

“If the whole Army has not merited whatever a grateful people can bestow… then shall I have learned what ingratitude is… Continue Reading →

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June 6, 1944, The Day We Came Together

June 6, 1944, has now been 74 years ago and the accomplishments, valor, bravery, and determination of those who lived is still a shining example of courage against tyranny to the world.  June 6, 1944, is called “D-Day” by most historians, but it could just as easily be called a “Unified Day.”  In the United States, we tend to think of our brave men storming ashore under the constant gunfire with tracer bullets zipping past them, tearing into, and for some ending them before they could even reach the beach.  It’s a day of honor because these men went in knowing the worst was waiting for them.  Many of them had fought in Africa and other places around the world.  They knew that Nazi Germany was not simply going to roll out a welcome rug and open their doors.  No, the soldiers waiting on the beach had no intention of simply allowing the allies to come ashore untouched.  Americans stormed in, and Americans died.  But while we tend to see pictures in our mind of the heroic Americans, we sometimes forget that this was the day the world truly came together. Across the landing places of D-Day, the nations joined forces to go against the greatest evil threat the world had ever known.  They came as forces from governments in exile such as the Dutch Government, the Norwegian government, Free Czechoslovak forces, Free Luxembourgish forces, free Belgian forces, Free France, the Greek government, and even the Polish armed forces in the west converged on the beaches that day.  They came without homes because the Nazis had taken those homes.  They came to free their homes, free their families and in some cases to avenge the losses of their homes and families.  Some of them would never return to their homelands as they once had been, but on June 6, 1944, that did not matter.  What mattered was beating the Nazis back, forcing them back to Berlin and retaking each beach, farmland, forest, city, town, hamlet, and home the Nazi’s had so brutally taken. While the forces of the exiled and lost nations took to the beaches, they were joined by the countries that had allied themselves with the United States.  The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all sent men to the beaches.  These men went not because their homelands had been taken, but because they knew that with the Nazi goal of world domination they would be next.  The United Kingdom itself had watched as thousands of their civilians had been slaughtered by the Nazi air raids.  Defiant to the last, the Kingdom served as the launching point for the invasion, a logical choice, but certainly one that would have brought harsh repercussions had the allies failed on that day. Together, thirteen nations swarmed the beaches on D-Day.  Thousands would die in the water, on the beaches, and from wounds received on that day and the following days.   The ones that made it through would push to take bunkers and reach toward the troops dropped behind the lines to join them.  The world, on this day 74 years ago, would collectively hold its breath as the largest invasion of all time started.  In the end, a sigh of relief would be let out as we all held the beach together. Continue Reading →

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