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American History: December '00 Letters

Originally published by American History magazine. Published Online: August 11, 2000 
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GENERAL DIFFERENCES

In the article "The Great Railroad Raid" (August 2000), the locomotive identified as the General in the illustration on page 37 shows the train has a horizontal cowcatcher, yet the modern-day photograph of the General on page 42 has a vertical cowcatcher. Which is correct?

Bob Cochran
Sentinel, Oklahoma

Editor's reply: They are both correct. Confederates, fleeing Atlanta before William T. Sherman and his Union troops captured the city, sabotaged the General. After the Civil War ended, the locomotive received only minimal repairs until the early 1870s when the engine was completely rebuilt and the horizontal cowcatcher was replaced with the vertical cowcatcher seen on page 42.

 

URGENTLY NEEDED MEDICINE

In "Blackbeard's Revenge" (August 2000), Lindley S. Butler discusses the incident in which Blackbeard blockaded the port of Charleston, South Carolina. History records that the infamous pirate demanded a chest of medicine in exchange for the port's release. The author, however, offers no explanation for Blackbeard's unusual ransom. What reason would the era's most notorious criminal have for making such a "surprisingly low" demand?

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In light of the fact that a urethral syringe used for treating syphilis was found among the artifacts exhumed from the ship believed to be Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge, is it possible the pirate was seeking treatment for venereal disease? Blackbeard's reputation for promiscuity–supported by his alleged marriages to 14 women–lends further credence to this theory. Could the pirate's willingness to risk such a confrontation, in addition to the large amount of medication he demanded, indicate that numerous members of the Queen Anne's Revenge may have been similarly afflicted?

Joe McElwee
Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania

Lindley S. Butler replies: Since there had been extensive illness on the French vessel Concorde (renamed Queen Anne's Revenge by Blackbeard) prior to its capture by the pirates, the medicines on board would have been depleted. The ransom of a chest of medicine, while not high in value, was not easy to obtain. Charleston, the only port of any size south of Virginia, was the only place that Blackbeard could have found an array of drugs. The urethral syringe found on the wreck would have been a standard instrument in a physician's kit, but considering their lifestyle, it is likely that many of the pirates, including Blackbeard, were suffering from syphilis for which the accepted treatment was an injection of mercury in the urethra. Traces of mercury were found in the syringe recovered from the ship believed to be the Queen Anne's Revenge.

 

WAITING FOR A HERO

The article on the Lindbergh Crate Museum ("Museum Spotlight," August 2000) jogged my memory back to the time when I was 11 years old. I lived on Oxon Hill, Maryland, overlooking the Potomac River some 10 miles below Washington, D.C. I went with my mother and two brothers and a number of neighbors to old Fort Foote, which was located on a high bluff and offered an excellent view of the river.

We had heard that the cruiser Memphis, with Charles Lindbergh aboard, was expected to travel up the river that day, and many people wanted to see the event. We didn't see our hero, but the sight of the Memphis, possibly the largest ship ever to come up the river, was a worthy spectacle anyway.

Charles F. Janes
Greensburg, Pennsylvania

 

ORIGINALLY MISIDENTIFIED

In the "Mailbox" section of your October 2000 issue, you identified the Iwo Jima flag raisers in Joe Rosenthal's famous photograph. I am submitting a copy of a tattered newspaper clipping from 1945 that also identifies the men from information given by one of the flag raisers, Rene Gagnon. The 1945 version shows Franklin Sousley standing at the extreme left of the photograph, with Ira Hayes standing in front of him, while your identification transposed those names. More importantly, you name the soldier bending down on the extreme right of the photograph as Harlon Block, but the 1945 news clipping identifies the man as Henry O. Hansen.

Leon Pasciak
Buffalo, New York

Editor's reply: Private Rene Gagnon was the first of the flag raisers to return to the United States. Using an enlargement of the Rosenthal photograph, he identified the other men involved. He incorrectly identified Sousley as the man on the extreme left of the photograph. He also erroneously included Sergeant Hansen in their number. (Hansen was killed during the battle for Iwo Jima.) A year later Gagnon realized that the Marine he had thought was Hansen–who had taken part in the first Iwo Jima flag raising–was actually Corporal Harlon Block.

Although the man at the base of the pole with his back to the camera had been publicly identified as Hansen, Harlon Block's mother never wavered in her conviction that it was her son, who had been killed on Iwo Jima the week after Rosenthal took the photograph.



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