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Happy 697th anniversary.
July 24, 2011

At Bannockburn arose a king
Whose valor would be known 'er more
Brave Bruce's boldness would be seen
A' setting right the Scottish scores
He gathered up the Scottish bands,
Without allowing cowards rest
And by example lead the Clans
And so restored old Scotland's crest.
Yes, thank the men who followed Bruce,
Without them surfs today we'd be
All hangin high in Edward's noose,
Instead of men remaining free.

"Wha, for Scotland's king and law, Freedom's sword will strongly draw, Freeman stand or Freeman fa', Let him on wi' me."

Posted by Joshua Phillips at 04:43 PM |

Pardoned, Payed, and Flayed
April 25, 2011

The following historical anecdote is based on a story from Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1.

The year is 1199. Richard the Lionhearted is besieging a small castle owned by the lord of Chaluz. Riding too close to the walls, King Richard is mortally wounded by a crossbow bolt. He arranges his affairs and orders the captured archer into his presence. Noble man that he is, Richard pardons the archer and gives him a sum of money. Soon after, he dies of gangrene. The archer is promptly flayed alive.

Moral of the story: If you shoot a king, don't get caught.

G. A. Henty also wrote about the time of King Richard in Winning His Spurs, which follows a young Englishman through baron wars, the crusades, Saracen captivity, and much more. It's available from Vision Forum here.

Tueri a vulnere,


Posted by John Horn at 06:20 PM |

The Battle of Hastings
March 05, 2011

The Battle of Hastings The Battle of Hastings


The bloody battle fought near Hastings, England, in 1066, created much more than an impressive list of dead nobility. It profoundly changed the history of England. Because of the battle's outcome, Norman influence united the country, lifted the island nation into a place of prominence in European affairs, and strengthened the Catholic Church's sway. No Hastings, no modern England.


Edward the Confessor was a gentle, frail man, well-suited for a monk. Unfortunately, he wasn't a monk. He was the King of England. His mainstay was Earl Godwin of Wessex, and, after the Earl's death, Godwin's eldest son, Harold, who was a brave and competent man, well-loved by most Englishmen.

William, Duke of Normandy William, Duke of Normandy

William, Duke of Normandy, was a shrewd, calculating soldier and ruler with concentrated designs on England's throne. According to William, the vacillating Edward had promised him that he would be heir to the coveted position. Whether or not this was true, it gave the wily Duke some justification in his claims, while an unplanned shipwreck and a brilliant though shady plan gave him an advantage over his most likely opponent, Harold Godwinson.

Harold in William's Hands

While on a voyage, probably in 1064[1], adverse winds wrecked Earl Harold on the French coast, where he quickly came into William's hands. The Duke treated him honorably and the two became friends, William bestowing costly gifts upon the Earl, and Harold aiding the Duke against a revolt of Breton subjects. This seeming friendship lasted some time, but Duke William never forgot his ambitious object. According to the Normans, William "invited Harold to make a pact with him whereby he himself should become King of England, and Harold Earl of the whole splendid province of Wessex. . ."[2]. Harold agreed. Unbeknown to the noble Englishman, however, the altar over which he swore this oath contained a sacred relic, binding Harold even firmer to his words.

Although the wisdom of swearing this oath can be disputed, if Harold had not sworn, it's likely that he would never have returned to England alive.


Edward the Confessor died on January 5, 1066, and a successor was needed. The Witan, or Council of England, refused William's claims, and instead decided to elevate Earl Harold. The Earl accepted, regardless of his oath, and prepared to defend his position against all disputants. William, he soon learned, was not the only impending threat--another man wanted England's throne, and he had an army to help.

Battle of Stamford Bridge Battle of Stamford Bridge

King Harold Hardrada of Scandinavia, along with Earl Harold's traitorous half-brother, Tostig, landed with their army in early September and began to ravage and plunder the area. King Harold led an army of levies and faithful house-carls, or "house men," against the invaders. They met in what became known as the Battle of Stamford Bridge, a fierce and bloody conflict which ended with the defeat of the Vikings and their expulsion from the country. There was little time, though, for jubilation. The Normans had come.

The Battle of Hastings

A fleet of European adventurers and Normans under Duke William landed at Pevensey Bay in East Sussex on September 28. Harold rushed across England with his core of house-carls, reduced but not destroyed by the Battle of Stamford Bridge. As he recrossed England towards the Normans, Harold's ranks swelled with hastily collected and poorly armed levies. According to Winston Churchill's account, it was "in the evening of October 13 [that Harold] took up his position upon the slope of a hill which barred the [Norman's] direct march upon the capital."[3]

The hill was originally called "Santlache" by the English, meaning "Sandy Stream," probably because of a narrow stream that wound down the mound. After the battle the Normans changed the spelling slightly, so that it read "Sanguelac," or "Blood Lake." The name was shortened for records with customary British brevity to Senlac, by which it is still known. Whether Santlache, Sanguelac, or Senlac, though, it was about to become a bloody scene.

A Saxon Warrior A Saxon Warrior

On the morning of October 14, 1066, the axe-men of King Harold formed their famous shield-wall and prepared for the enemy's attack. The trained house-carls held the center, while the inexperienced levies were given the flanks. They had no cavalry, as horses were only a means of transport for the sturdy warriors, who preferred their feet on the ground and a trusty comrade at their shoulder for battle.

William arranged his men in three lines. The archers advanced first, to shake the shield-wall with their missiles. Next, the men-at-arms cleared away the palisades and impediments, to allow the third wave's attack. Here was massed the pickings of the chivalry of Normandy, France, and a variety of other nations, massed together with the hope of plunder, land, and the blessing of the church for their efforts against the perjured King Harold.

As usual, historians disagree on the numbers of men engaged. William probably had somewhere between five to seven-thousand, and Harold had a few thousand more, though many of his men were insufficiently accoutered.

As planned, the archers began the battle with their bows, unanswered by the bowless English. Though annoying, the arrows failed to break the firm shield-wall. Upon this, William's mail-clad knights thundered into battle, shouting their war-cry, "God help us!", against which the English screamed their own, "God Almighty and the Holy Cross!"[4]

Undaunted, the shield-wall repulsed every attack. Men fell by the scores, skewered by Norman lances or crushed by English axes. Discouraged, the Norman's left flank fell into confusion and retreated. The zealous levies instantly broke rank, regardless of King Harold's strict orders, and fell upon the retiring horsemen. For a moment the battle appeared to favor the English, but Duke William ordered his center into the levies' flanks, decimating the broken ranks, and saving the day.

The cavalry advanced again, and again they were fiercely resisted. Dead men and horses lay in heaps, but the shield-wall still held. Seeing this, William remembered the levies' fatal mistake, and resorted to stratagem. He feigned a retreat. The levies took the bait and rushed after the Normans with cries of victory. As soon as they were strung out over the hilld, William's horsemen turned and mercilessly butchered the tricked English, while the loyal house-carls in the center formed themselves for the last desperate stand.

William's archers released flights of high-arching arrows over the shield-wall with deadly effect. King Harold glanced to the sky, and a descending arrow pierced his right eye, felling him to ground. Enraged at the fall of their leader, the house-carls continued to fight until darkness allowed the few survivors to escape, but all knew that the victory was Duke William's. The Battle of Hastings was over. England would never be the same.


The Battle of Hastings was the decisive combat of the Norman conquest. Other minor conflicts took place for years, but the combatants were insufficiently organized, and could never again present a unified face, as when under King Harold. Norman and Saxon civilization eventually blended together and formed the foundation for England as we know it today. Winston Churchill, in his Volume One of A History of the English Speaking Peoples, thus summed the change:

The spirit of the long-vanished Roman Empire, revived by the Catholic Church, returned once more to our Island, bringing with it three dominant ideas. First, a Europe in which nationalism or even the conception of nationality had no place, but where one general theme of conduct and law united the triumphant martial classes upon a plane far above race. Secondly, the idea of monarchy, in the sense that Kings were the expression of the class hierarchy over which they presided and the arbiters of its frequently conflicting interests. Thirdly, there stood triumphant the Catholic Church, combining in a strange fashion Roman imperialism and Christian ethics, pervaded by the social and military system of the age, jealous for its own interests and authority, but still preserving all that was left of learning and art.[5]

Recommended Resources for Further Study

A History of the English Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1, by Winston Churchill
Wulf the Saxon, by G. A. Henty
The Battle of Hastings Website:
Collier's Encyclopedia, Volume 11, Battle of Hastings

1.A History of the English Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1, by Winston Churchill, pg. 155
2.A History of the English Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1, by Winston Churchill, pg. 156
3.A History of the English Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1, by Winston Churchill, pg. 162
4.Wulf the Saxon by G. A. Henty, pg. 334
5.A History of the English Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1, by Winston Churchill, pg. 178

Tueri a vulnere,


Posted by John Horn at 01:58 PM |

Jules Verne
February 08, 2011

Born On This Day 183 Years Ago:
Jules Verne; The father of Science Fiction

Hurrah for Jules Verne! One of my all time favorite authors. Since today is Verne's birthday, I thought I would give a short review of my top 5 favorite of his books.

~ Michael Strogoff
I've always enjoyed Michael Strogoff for Verne's ability to paint verbal pictures that give such clear and accurate description of the times. I also really loved Strogoff's extremely good plot. (Weeell I must admit, the N.C. Wyeth illustrations and my part-Russian background may have had an influence as well.)

~ Around the World in Eighty Days
About 7 or 8 years ago, Dad read Around the World in Eighty Days out loud to the family. So it has been a family favorite for a long time. Verne really did a great job of portraying a humorous, and sometimes serious, journey of Phileas Fogg, the unique nobleman bachelor of London, and his newly valet, Passepartout, as the try to go around the world in 80 days.

~ The Mysterious Island and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
The father of Science Fiction The Mysterious Islands/20,000 Leagues Under the Sea/Capt. Grant's Children Trilogy is definitely one of the greatest adventure trilogies ever. No wonder so many stories, books, shows, films and games have been based off them. (Heh, and you wonder where we got our film title from...)

Many people wish there was more information about the life of Captain Nemo in the series. However, it appears that Verne was trying to illustrate a larger character map throughout the trilogy. There is also a lot of speculation about whether or not Verne was creating a larger "puzzle" story through all of his books... Who knows, either way, he was still brilliant.

~ Paris in the 20th Century
As for Paris in The Twentieth Century, both the history of the book itself and Verne's foresight while writing it are incredible! He really had an amazing ability to look to the future throughout all his works. There's a reason he made it to Google today.

Speaking of Google, today the website posted a really neat Happy Birthday to Verne blogpost on the Google Blog. I really enjoyed Ms. Hom's post so I've included part of it here and you can go here to read the rest.

Happy birthday from 20,000 leagues under the sea

It wasn't very difficult for something to spark my imagination when I was a child--whether it was a pile of leaves or a couch of stackable cushions, just about anything could jump-start my creativity. My first encounter with Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, however, sent my imagination into hyper drive.

I first found the novel while browsing through a random aisle in my local library. The cover was dark, murky and a little worn--but it was the most spectacular thing I'd ever seen. A pair of old-fashioned divers drag their feet over the ocean floor, watching a school of fish drift by. They don't seem to notice the twisting silhouette of a monster inching toward them.

The cover alone pulled me in, but I didn't want to spoil all of the possible story lines by actually reading the book. Looking back, I realize that what fascinated me most was the unknown: a creative spark and the imaginative exploration that followed. Since then, I've become more familiar with his work and still believe that exploration is the essence of Verne's novels. His stories pull the readers into a world filled with infinite potential--be it in the clouds, on land or under the sea...

Posted by Joshua Phillips at 01:18 PM |

Napoleon Stumbles upon a Rock, by Lucas Botkin
December 01, 2010

Just recently one of BTB's corespondents, Lucas Botkin, wrote an article on the discovery of the Rosetta Stone for Navigating History, an online video series designed to teach history, geography, and current affairs to a young Christian audience. This first season of Navigating History has sent a fantastic team of guys into the heart of Egypt to deal with it's rich history and pivotal position in Middle Eastern politics ancient and modern. If you haven't heard about it I highly recommend you take a moment to check their website out. You can follow the NH team on Twitter and Facebook. Navigating History has kindly allowed us to reprint Lucas's article.

~Joshua Titus

Napoleon Stumbles upon a Rock: How a Short Emperor's Blunder Helped Us Decipher the Hieroglyphics

Napoleon Bonaparte was a short, young, reckless, proud, and French general. He conquered the Italians and the Austrians, but that wasn't enough for him... he wanted to conquer the Egyptians. In 1798, after dodging Admiral Horatio Nelson's British warships stationed in the Mediterranean, he landed his army at the mouth of the Nile.

Napoleon set about marching his sweating army up the Nile towards Cairo, but before reaching their destination, they met a considerable force of Egyptian cavalry and camelry. Obviously, the locals weren't too happy with a foreign army messing up their landscape with millions of footprints. What occurred next must have been a most spectacular sight: French soldiers in their red and blue uniforms battling Egyptians mounted on horses and camels... at the foot of pyramids!

<center>"The Battle of the Pyramids"</center>
"The Battle of the Pyramids"
Napoleon was the victor and marched the streets of Cairo. But what happened next was quite unfortunate. Horatio Nelson, who didn't like the fact that Napoleon's fleet had slipped by him, sailed up the Nile and burned all of Napoleon's ships. Thus, Napoleon was stranded. Not one to sit and rot in Cairo the rest of his life, he decided to make the best use of his time by marching towards Constantinople with the intent of crushing the Ottoman Turks (who had just declared war on France) and anyone else foolish enough to get in his way.

Their march across the desert was a failure. The wool uniforms issued to his soldiers turned out to be impractical for desert conditions so 5,000 soldiers died along the march. But upon his return to Cairo, Napoleon -- always the optimist -- reported to his superiors in France that his Egyptian campaign was a rousing success and arranged a way to get himself back home (since he was getting bored with sand and ancient architecture).

At the beginning of his Egyptian campaign, Napoleon had instructed his soldiers to report any unusual archeological finds And just as he was on the brink of his return to France, word of a very interesting discovery by an officer in his engineer corps was brought to him.

It was a large slab of basalt almost a foot thick, about four feet high and two and a half feet across, which was decked out with inscriptions in hieroglyphics, something that appeared to be gibberish, and some Greek. Part of the top right corner was broken off (or missing - if you have an adventurous mind.)

This rock slab contained the key to understanding the Egyptians' mysterious system of writing in pictures, which archeologists had been trying to decipher for years.

Because the rock slab was excavated near the town of Rosetta, we know it today as the Rosetta stone, even though the name it was given by its French discoverers was something much longer, and in French.

The stone remained in Egypt after Napoleon's return to France in August 1799, but various technical experts devised ways to copy the inscriptions on the stone so replicas could be transported to Paris, for analysis by scholars.

The French troops left behind by Napoleon were in a sticky situation. Not only were they stuck in a hot foreign land, they had to fend off attacks from the British and the Ottomans. Probably to their relief, after 18 months of this, they were overcome by the British in March, 1801. To make a long story short, or shorter, the British transported the Rosetta Stone back to England where it remains to this day.

There are inscriptions in three different languages on the Rosetta Stone: Egyptian hieroglyphics, something like cursive Coptic, called Demotic text, and Greek. Thank goodness for the Greek -- this was the language that would enable the French philologist, Jean-Francois Champollion, to solve the riddle of hieroglyphics which had mystified archeologists and scholars for hundreds of years. The Greek text served Champollion as a guide which he compared to the hieroglyphics. Finally, he figured it out, published a pamphlet on the results of his work and that's how we are able to understand hieroglyphics.

Today, the Rosetta stone can be found in the British Museum sitting alongside lots of other artifacts from Egypt. If it wasn't for Napoleon's expedition to Egypt, and his engineer's discovery of the Rosetta stone, we may not have the understanding of the Egyptians that we have today.

So, after all that effort, what do the mysterious inscriptions on the stone actually say?

The Rosetta Stone text was a declaration by Egyptian priests to commemorate the crowning of Ptolemy V Epiphanes, the king of Egypt.

For more articles and information on Egypt, ancient and modern, check out and be sure to sign up!

Posted by Joshua Phillips at 08:00 AM |

Andrew Jackson: Steady Through Sorrow
March 29, 2010

Andrew Jackson is known for his Indian campaigns, the victorious battle of New Orleans, and two terms of presidency. His rugged exterior, noble heart, and fiery temper have all become legendary. What is not so well known is the sorrow-stricken childhood he experienced.

A month before Andrew Jackson, the famous soldier and politician was born, his father, also named Andrew Jackson, strained himself while at work on their farm and died. His wife was left with two boys, which quickly became three as Andy saw the light of his first day.

Jackson was born in the tumultuous year of 1767. The passions of American colonists mounted as the years rolled towards that glorious day in 1776 when our rights would be declared inviolable as a separate country from Great Britain. When fighting broke out, Andy's elder brother, Hugh, quickly entered the contest and was killed in battle against the redcoats. Passionate young Andrew, fully engaged in the feelings of his countrymen and devoted to American independence, joined the army as a courier in 1780 at the tender age of thirteen, along with his sixteen-year-old brother.

Andrew made himself useful carrying dispatches and orders along the southern roads from commander to commander. During one of the frequent British raids, he and his brother were captured and taken prisoners of war. When commanded to black the commanding officer's boots, Jackson refused, receiving a deep saber cut for his response. His brother was also wounded by the same soldier, after which both were placed in the rotting, fever-infested prison quarters at Camden, South Carolina.

Both lads became ill during their interment, and their brave mother, determining not to let her boys suffer alone, convinced the commanding British officer to let her nurse her sons. Eventually they were released, but Robert, Andrew's only remaining brother, died in quick succession as a result of is incarceration. As a final blow, Elizabeth Jackson also succumbed to the disease, leaving Andrew Jackson as the sole member of his family by the age of fourteen.

These times must have been very black indeed to a young boy just starting in life. However, he buckled to his tasks, and, endowed with a decent amount of capital from his father's estate, provided for himself. He could have wallowed in his misery, bemoaning his losses and feeling sorry for himself. Instead, he "girded up his loins" like a man, and set out on the rough road of life.

Although I don't agree with everything Andrew Jackson did, or believed in, he is an example of a young man who lived through tremendous hardship and grief without giving in. His will was inflexible, his sense of honor impeccable, his temper a glowing ember. However, he had an enormous love for children, and, although not blessed with any progeny, he played a father's role in many children's lives, including that of the famous Sam Houston. Remembering the pain as a child of lacking a father, Jackson filled this role to many of the children who grew up around his home.

Andrew Jackson is another example of an imperfect but noble man, who rose above the conditions in which he found himself, showing indomitable courage, unquenchable energy, and untarnished honor. It is my hope that we all will bear in mind his example!

Tutela ex Vulnero,


Posted by John Horn at 07:36 AM |

The First Barbary War
January 18, 2010

After the American War for Independence, the fledgling United States had no navy and little military standing in the eyes of the world. American merchantmen in the Mediterranean became valuable prizes to the corsairs of Algiers, Tripoli, Tunis and Morocco, the four members of the Barbary States.

These Muslim nations were the scourges of the sea, and many countries felt the sting of their depredations. Most of the victimized nations preferred to buy off the pirate states with annual tributes and presents rather than deal with them by force. For years America was forced to take this approach as well, due to our lack of naval power.

After a close-fought presidential race, the newly elected Thomas Jefferson issued commands for increased naval construction, as well as sailing orders to our existing warships, sending them to the sunny Mediterranean in what would become the First Barbary War. For several years they carried on a blockade of Tripoli, which served as a main capitol for piratical crews.

Commodore Edward Preble Commodore Edward Preble

The first several years of the conflict were relatively calm, consisting mostly of blockading the coast and giving protection to America's increasing merchant fleet. Neither Admiral Richard Dale, nor his successor, Richard Morris, showed much interest in their duties, preferring the lush ballrooms of surrounding friendly nations. It was not until the fighting Commodore Edward Preble, already recognized as a rising star in naval operations, was appointed Admiral that the war took a more serious turn. Preble captured numerous enemy ships, and bombarded the city of Tripoli itself.

While I do not have space or time to set down the many glorious events of the First Barbary War, it is a fascinating struggle, and one which I recommend for readers to study. Interestingly enough, it was this conflict that trained the sailors who fought in the subsequent War of 1812 against British high-handedness and hostility.

<em>USS Enterprise</em> defeats the pirate ship <em>Tripoli</em> USS Enterprise defeats the pirate ship Tripoli

So, you might ask, how does this tie in with R. M. Ballantye, the Scottish novelist? Well, one of RMB's most famous books, The Pirate City, is based in Algiers and gives a wonderful feeling for the way in which that city commanded tribute of the greatest nations on the earth. After studying the war from a historical view point, it's a lot of fun to dive into the winding streets, meeting famous characters and trudging along in chains with captive Christians, as pictured by the pen of R. M. Ballantyne!

Tutela ex Vulnero,


Posted by John Horn at 08:39 PM |

The "Scotch Thistle"
December 30, 2009

The "Scotch Thistle" The "Scotch Thistle"

Imprinted on the cover of each Vision Forum reproduced "Ballantyne" book is a thistle. This, however, is no ordinary thistle. Instead, it is the beloved Scotch Thistle, the emblematic flower of Scotland. Why is this humble, weed-like flower beloved by the Scotch people? Read and find out!

Long ago, wild Norseman pillaged the coast of Scotland, spreading rapine and destruction among the scattered villages near the. Occasionally, whole armies of the wild pagans would invade the craggy Scottish countryside, giving battle to all they met.

One particular night, as legend would have it, the daring invaders hatched a plan to surprise a Scotch encampment, taking advantage of the darkness. The fierce warriors crept carefully forward, sure of an easy victory and much plunder. The grass was wet with dew as they neared the encampment. Each step brought them nearer to their unsuspecting victims.

All at once, one of the creeping soldiers pressed his foot down, expecting soft, cool grass to meet his tread, but instead a thistle pierced his skin. The spiky leaves cut into his foot, eliciting a shout of pain. With that shout, the Scottish soldiers sprung to their arms now aware of the invaders' proximity. Disheartened by the failure of their surprise, the barbarians could not defeat the awakened defenders, and the attempt failed.

While the legend could very well be false, there's a good possibility that at least the foundation was set in truth. In my opinion, it's a likely story. At any rate, the Scotch Thistle has been a national emblem since the 1200's, and has been found imprinted on coins since James III's reign in 1470.

The reason Vision Forum chose the thistle emblem is to represent the strong ties which R. M. Ballantyne felt towards his homeland of Scotland. The author was firm in his patriotism and love for the old times of Scotland as expressed by Burn's Auld Lang Syne:

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

For those more scientifically interested, the "official" name of the Scotch Thistle is Onopordum acanthium. It's a biennial, with spiky leaves, (which the Norseman found out to his regret.) Hurrah for Scotland, and the Scotch Thistle!

Tutela ex Vulnero,


Posted by John Horn at 02:39 PM |

Important Events of 1825
December 12, 2009

When studying history, I find it very helpful to see what else was happening in the world around the time that I am learning about. It was in 1825 that R. M. Ballantyne was born, and so I decided to give a list of other interesting events that happened that same year, both in American and European history.

  • March 4 - John Quincy Adams succeeds James Monroe as President of the United States.

  • September 27 - The world's first modern railway, the Stockton and Darlington Railway, opens in England.

  • October 5 - First Photograph ever taken.

  • October 26 - The Erie Canal opens, providing passage from Albany, New York to Lake Erie.

  • November 9 - A. P. Hill, future general for the Confederacy, is born.

  • The first horse-drawn omnibuses established in London.

  • The first roller skates are invented.

  • Aluminum is discovered.

  • Estimation: London becomes the largest city of the world, taking the lead from Beijing.

  • The Panic of 1825 is the first modern stock market crash in London.

  • Trade unions become tolerated in England.

I wonder what interesting occurrences this year will be pointed to by others in years to come.

Tutela ex Vulnero,


Posted by John Horn at 10:17 PM |

Happy Birthday G.A. Henty
December 08, 2009

George Alfred Henty was born 177 years ago today. Happy Birthday, Mr. Henty.

Posted by Joshua Phillips at 03:15 PM |

Ships of 1812
November 09, 2009

As I said in a previous post, I've been studying the War of 1812, spending a lot of time on the naval combats which ensued during the contest. I have a great interest in the different types of ships used during the Age of Sail, specifically in this time period, the Napoleonic Era. In this article I intend to list different types of ships, mostly those used during the War of 1812, and I will compare effectiveness between the different models.

Before I do this you must know that there are great differences of opinions upon these matters, and throughout the ages different terms have meant different things to different nations. Hopefully, however, at least these general classifications will be of help.


The smallest vessel used in warfare was normally the sloop, which is often called a sloop-of-war to differentiate it from types not used in battle. The term embraces a number of ship types, because most combat vessels smaller than twenty guns were grouped together under the name of "sloop." Sometimes they had only one mast, but this was not uniformly the case. Their use was primarily for communications, intelligence, and other small work, not being large enough to take their place in a line of battle.

Two types of sloops are the "brig sloop" and the "ship sloop." The brig sloop contained two square-rigged masts, but still only one deck. The term "ship sloop" may be confusing, but it is due to the common practice of reserving the term "ship" to a vessel that has three masts or more. As you probably guessed, the ship sloop has at least three masts, and one deck.

<center>Sloop-of-war, USS <em>Constellation</em></center>
Sloop-of-war, USS Constellation


Next in line is the brig, (a true brig, not a brig sloop,) containing two square-rigged masts, but still only one deck. The dividing line between sloops and brigs is very thin and hard to determine. Brigs were much more common to be used in actual battle operations, and were known for speed and maneuverability. Nowadays, the prisons aboard ships are called brigs, which may be confusing. It does not mean that a brig in the Age of Sail was a prison ship, although most prison ships were brigs. This is probably the case because the brig contains more room for prisoners than a sloop, without depriving the fleet of a really powerful fighting vessel.

The brig is a version of a brigantine, a slightly different craft, but not dissimilar enough to warrant a separate section in this article. A very famous brigantine is the Mary Celeste, which became a so-called "ghost ship" when it was discovered sailing towards Gibraltar with its entire crew missing, but no marks of bloodshed, mutiny, theft, or anything else. There are a number of very interesting hypothesis about the fate of the crew, but it remains one of the biggest maritime mysteries ever.

The brig, USS <em>Niagra</em> The brig, USS Niagra


The Frigate is more powerful than a brig, being a two-decker, with at least three masts. The famous USS Constitution was a frigate. It's interesting to note that during the War of 1812, British frigates were ordered not to attack American frigates, unless they had a ratio of at least 2:1, because of our superior weight of metal. Frigates were very popular fighting ships, and used often in the Napoleonic Wars.

The frigate, USS <em>Constitution</em> The frigate, USS Constitution


This term is derived from the actions of these ships, which fought line against line, broadside to broadside. In this type of fighting, the goal was to have the heaviest metal and strongest ship. They would blast at each other until unable to return fire. Ships-of-the-line had multiple decks, two, three, sometimes even four, and many masts. They were the real "queens of the sea."

Ship-of-the-Line, HMS <em>Victory</em> Ship-of-the-Line, HMS Victory

Throughout the ages there have been many other types of ships, and different classification systems, so I want to emphasize that this information is concerning the time period of the Napoleonic Era.

Tutela ex Vulnero,


Posted by John Horn at 08:34 AM |

USS Constitution vs. HMS Guerriere
November 05, 2009

R. M. Ballantyne loved ships. Because of this, and because of recent personal studies, I decided to write a little bit about the far famed combat of the USS Constitution versus the HMS Guerriere.


In 1812, the British navy was mistress of the seas. No other power could combat her effectively upon the ocean. The French had been warring for years, but most sea battles ended with British victories. Because of this preponderancy, Napoleon could not get his numerically superior land troops across the channel, onto British soil, although he had been trying for years.

With these successes in mind, British sailors and captains reveled in their authority and looked down upon other nations' naval efforts, especially disregarding those of America. At the time, the American navy was tiny in size and inexperienced in battle. The only real military experience held by our crews were gained in fighting pirates off the coast of Tripoli.

Although the British were such good sailors, they had one problem: a lack of men. English ships were notoriously undermanned, and the press gangs were continuously in use. They practiced impressment, which means that ships belonging to the British Navy could at any time send gangs of men to shore or to other vessels and sweep up all the men they could find for service aboard ship. (This was, of course, as long as they were British citizens.)

Unfortunately, they carried their authority a little too far and began to use impressment on American sailors. You see, a British ship would meet an American ship on the high sea. They would come alongside each other and then the Brit would request the American to summon all crew to deck. After this, they would go among the crew and pretend to find British citizens serving among the crew. If the crew member was an English citizen, they could lawfully use impressment upon him, and force him to leave his ship, and join their's.

In most cases, the seamen they chose were actually American sailors, not British, but we did not have the power to fight back against this injustice, so they would be impressed anyway. This practice was one of the many causes of the War of 1812.


With this as the setting, Congress declared war upon Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Many various underlying conflicts and territorial issues were at play in the reasoning behind the declaration of war, but one primary goal in the formal announcement was to stop the continued illegal impressment of American citizens into British ships. The young republic would once again fight the greatest nation in the world in a much forgotten but important war.

Simply put, British sailors were puffed up about their naval successes and power. They expected easy victories over the fledgling American navy, and a speedy end to the war. This, however, was not to be.


One of the most famous vessels in American naval history is the USS Constitution. Launched in 1797 from Boston, she was one of three sister frigates commissioned by Congress. She gained renown under Commodore Preble, in the fighting off Tripoli a decade earlier, but her real fame was yet to come.

In the month of August, 1812, the Constitution was on a cruise along the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, looking for enemy vessels. It was on the 19th of that month that she came across a worthy opponent. The HMS Guerriere was originally a French ship which was captured by the British, and turned into an English vessel, now under the command of a Captain Dacres.

As the ships engaged, Dacres began firing broadsides into the Constitution. Due to special construction designs on the hull, the Constitution did not receive damage from these somewhat distant broadsides, the British shot simply bouncing off the reinforced sides. Jubilant at this sign of strength, legend has it that an American sailor called out -"Hurrah, her sides are made of iron," or something similar. Whatever the exact words were, from then on she was known as "Old Ironsides".

The ships closed in, and Captain Hull of the Constitution fired the starboard broadside. Again and again both ships fired, but the superior metal of the Constitution paid off, as the Guerriere's mizzenmast toppled over. In an effective raking maneuver, Hull brought his ship across the British vessel's bow, delivering a devastating broadside with his fresh port guns.

Attempting the movement again, the Constitution's rigging entangled with the Guerriere's bowsprit, pulling both ships together. Boarding parties were summoned, but before hand-to-hand fighting broke out the British foremast fell, causing the Guerriere to lose most of her way and allowing the American frigate to break free. As Hull prepared to rake the enemy with yet another broadside, the Brit fired a cannon to leeward, the direction opposite the Constitution. This signaled surrender, and was occasioned because there were no flags left in the rigging to pull down as a signal.

As an American lieutenant stepped aboard the damaged British vessel, he looked for Captain Dacres. "Captain Hull presents his compliments, Sir, and wishes to know if you have struck your flag?" The story goes that Dacres replied, "Well, I don't know. Our mizzen mast is gone, our fore and main masts are gone - I think on the whole you might say we have struck our flag."

The victory sent shock waves through America and Britain. Morale soared in North America as accounts of the glorious victory appeared in every paper, while across the ocean, British citizens struggled to realize that a despised American vessel had actually beaten a British ship of similar size in a fair fight. Although this was but the beginning of the war, the fight was to go down in history as a spectacular victory, proving to American seamen their capability of defeating their foes.

The USS Constitution is still commissioned as a navy vessel today, and is docked in Boston where a full complement of American sailors give tours of the ship. To find out more about this ship, click here to visit its website.

The USS Constitution is still afloat
Tutela ex Vulnero,


Posted by John Horn at 08:20 AM |

Special on This Day Note: John Brown Takes Harpers Ferry
October 16, 2009

Today and tomorrow are rather important days (historically speaking) because this is the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, and the 17th and 18th are the anniversary of Brown's capture.

John "Ossawattomie" Brown John "Ossawattomie" Brown
It can be argued that Brown is responsible for many of the events leading up to the War Between the States. And there is a great deal that could be said of John Brown, but, to sum it up, this self proclaimed "man of God" who firmly believed that the ends justify the means, was no less than a terrorist, murderer, traitor, lier, and thief -- not fighting for the real freedom of mankind, but rather for his ultimate agenda.

Brown was already widely know as the leader of the terrorists in what was then called "bloody Kansas". He had came to Kansas with six of his sons in 1855. They targeted a number of families in the region and in the middle of the night, Brown and his gang took swords and slashed several fathers and sons to death. Several other fights took place in which one of Brown's sons died.

Brown than returned east to try and gather more help -- and ammunition. Towards this end, he decided to capture the arms stored at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (what is now West Virginia.)

Robert E. Lee Robert E. Lee
On the Morning of the 16th of October, John Brown and his men took the armory at Harpers Ferry. As soon as the government was alerted to this, Robert E. Lee, future general of the Confederate army, and a company of Marines were sent to take Brown and his men. Once they arrived, Lee gave orders to the Marines to hold their fire on the fort because he did not want to harm the hostages being held within, one of whom was Colonel Lewis Washington, a grandnephew of President George Washington.

J.E.B. Stuart, U.S. Army lieutenant, was also there, acting as Lee's aide. He was given the duty of presenting the terms of surrender to Brown. Brown's response was to say that if they weren't going to accept his terms, he "prefer[ed] to die here!" (His terms were that he and all his men were to be allowed to come out, weapons and all, and that they were to have "a specified start on the pursuit".

In the Fort In the Fort
Obviously, this was not going to work. Stuart promptly leapt back and gave the signal to Lee by waving his feathered hat. (Being a dashing bloke, no other way to signal would have been appropriate.)

The battle then began. Lieutenant Israel Green cried to his men to take up a ladder which was lying on the ground, and to use it as a battering ram against the doors of the fort. By the second shock, the right hand door splintered open. Green and Stuart led the charge into the building. Brown was captured and the fort was taken. The next day Brown talked on and on -- mainly lies about his role as a peaceful man and the "purity" of his motives.

J.E.B. Stuart J.E.B. Stuart
J.E.B. Stuart was the only man who could identify "old Brown" as the "Ossawattomie Brown" of Kansas due to his previous time spent with Colonel Sumner's cavalry in Kansas. It is recorded that Stuart asked Brown point blank, "But, Captain Brown, don't you believe the Bible?" Brown could return no answer! He only remarked that, in Kansas, he could have "killed [Stuart], just as easily as I could kill a mosquito" but that he simply chose not to. (JEB Stuart, John Thomason, pg. 55)

It is very important for us to take note of events such as these and to remember that even if we believe we are fighting for a just cause, the ends never justify the means. It is also interesting to note that, even though the sound of war was approaching, America as a nation still understood that what Brown had done was wrong. After a week long trial, on November 2, 1859, John Brown was found guilty on three counts and was sentenced to death by hanging.

On December 2nd, Brown was escorted to the gallows. Everyone was there. This was a gathering to be remembered for a very long time. Because he had refused a minister, Brown was only accompanied by a sheriff and his men. He died still unrepentant for his murders.

This was the last time that so many leaders of these United States would stand together on an issue of such significance and controversy, before our national split. Many of the men on both the Southern and Northern side of the aisle stood behind Brown's execution. But there were those who thought Brown should have been given a place of immortality. Ralph Waldo Emerson (a unitarian) stated that John Brown would "make the gallows glorious like the Cross." It was all too soon after this that America would be completely split.

This is a sad note to end on, but this was the event that set the stage for the next 50 years. We must look to the past to prepare for the future. We must not copy the mistakes of past generations, but, rather, following their good examples.

Joshua Titus

P.S. To read more on the subject check out the following books and links:
- The Secret Six by Otto Scott [Link]
- JEB Stuart by John Thomason [Link]
- John Brown: The Legend Revisited by Merrill Peterson [Link]
- Article by Bill Potter

Posted by Joshua Phillips at 02:22 PM |

Quote of The Day
July 31, 2009

<center>Walt Disney</center>
Walt Disney

"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates loot on Treasure Island, and best of all you can enjoy these riches every day of your life!" - Walt Disney

Posted by Joshua Phillips at 10:55 AM |

"Killiekrankie, O!"
July 27, 2009

Here's an interesting "on this day" note; this is the 320th anniversary of the battle of Killiecrankie. On July 27, 1689, during one of the numerous Jacobite" rebellions", the Battle of Killiecrankie took place at the town of Killiecrankie, in Scotland. This battle is a rather interesting example of the old adage that "a victory can also be loss."

<center>"Clavers" </center>
Commanding the the government forces (about 4,000 men) was General Hugh MacKay, serving William III, (who was in the process of ousting James II from the throne.) In command of the 3,000 Jacabites was John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee. "Clavers", not the greatest chap, is today remembered for his persecution of the Covenanters, during the 1670s and 80s, and also for his role in the Jacabite wars.

Clavers decided to start the battle off in spite of his inferior numbers. Mackay responded by extending his line (which meant thinning it.) Dundee extended his line to match in length but increased the gaps between his highlanders. The battle of Killecrankie really only lasted 10 minutes. But, that's not too surprising when you consider the fact that the Highlanders didn't like to dilly or dally on the field of battle. Their favorite tactics: a wild highland charge and than close quarter fighting.

The first and last sign that the battle was over was the highland charge of the Jacobites, which took the government forces, under MacKay, by surprise. Mackay and his men were completely overwhelmed in only 10 minutes. Only a quarter of the government force made it back to Stirling 36 hours after the battle.

But ultimately, the loss was only a short lived one. The biggest plus for Mackay and his men was the fact that Dundee was no more. During the battle Clavers was shot on his horse, and then fell to the ground, mortally wounded. Even though the Jacabite forces "won " the battle, in reality it was Mackay who came off with points. Eventually, William III won the whole war.

Over the generations the Scots have remembered all their greatest (and lowest) moments in song. I first heard about the battle of Killiekrankie listening to Mr. Charlie Zahm sing the great Scottish Ballads. One of my favorites is the song "Braes O' Killiekrankie." This is a very fun ballad which tells of the battle from the perspective of one of Mackay's soldiers.


Posted by Joshua Phillips at 07:33 PM |

Events of the day. . . historically
March 03, 2009

Just thought I would post a couple of interesting ways that today is tied to history.

On This Day:


<center>A.G. Bell</center>
A.G. Bell
Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of a very useful little devise known as the telephone (1876), was born today in 1847 in Edinburgh! He was an audiologist and was granted 18 individual patents, and 12 with collaborators, over the course of his career.


Modern-day American adventurer (I love that title!) Steve Fossett became the first person to do a complete nonstop circumnavigation of the globe, solo, AND without refueling. He landed in Kansas after more than 67 hours in flight today in 2005. Sadly, his plane crashed in 2007 on another adventure, and his death was confirmed in the fall of 2008.

On this day in 1934, an American bank-robber, John Dillinger made a "most daring escape" from the prison at Crown Point, Indiana. With only a razor and a piece of wood, Dillinger carved a fake pistol, painted it black with some bootblack, and forced his way past the prison guards to escape, while singing, "I'm heading for the last roundup." A naughty chap.

The image to the right is the "Defence of Fort McHenry", this poem would later become known as The Star-Spangled Banner. Today in 1931, by act of Congress, "The Star-Spangled Banner," written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812, was officially adopted as the national anthem of the United States.

AgB, VoD, Joshua Titus

Posted by Joshua Phillips at 10:39 PM |

Some Thoughts on the Motto "Victory or Death!" On the Anniversary of the Travis Letter.
February 24, 2009

On this day, one hundred seventy three years, one of the great figures in Texas history penned the words "Victory or Death."

For William Barrett Travis, the defense of the Alamo may have been a desperate cause, but he believed it was his duty to the people of Texas, for whom he was fighting.

Travis lost. Everyone died.

One hundred seventy three years later, some might ask, " Was Travis right?" Was he right to make "Victory or Death!" his motto and lead 189 men to their deaths? Was this declaration the mark of heroic bravery or fool-hearty recklessness? Is it ever time to give up?

Some of you who have emailed me may have noticed that, in addition to the motto Alba Gu Bra, I sometimes use "Victory or Death!" ("Buaidh No Bas" in Gaelic.) This battle cry was not only used by Travis, but has also been sounded for generations in war and peace, going back hundreds of years in almost every country.

The essence of the motto "Victory or Death!" is a simple proposition: It is important for men to be willing to lay down their lives for a godly cause. Or, very simply, "I will fight to the death for what is right and nothing this side of death will stop me!"

When properly applied in the right context, "Victory or Death!" is a message of manhood, self-sacrifice, and courage that should inspire all Christian men because it is a biblical message. There really are battles worth fighting for.

After noting a comment I posted that "G.A. Henty boys are not wimps or saps," a reader of emailed me, questioning whether it is really so bad to be wimpy.

He asked how anyone could biblically justify the "intense physical violence and bloodshed" which some Henty boys experience on the battlefield. Stating that courage is not shown in "conquest or dominion,", he closed by saying,

I am left to wonder: what is God's biblical idea of manhood and courage? Is it defending your name, your family, your religion, or your country? Or is it something deeper than that, a man who knows the Truth, believes the Truth, proclaims the Truth, and is willing to give all that he holds dear in the defense and maintaining of it?

Reflecting on these questions, I thought, what sort of man would question defending your name, family, religion, and country? Is it not clear in the Bible that we are to to live with a sword in one hand and a trowel in another as Nehemiah did, and say with him, "Be not ye afraid of them: remember the LORD, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses!" [Neh. 4:14]

To be a man who "knows the Truth, believes the Truth, proclaims the Truth, and is willing to give all that he holds dear in the defense" of the 'Truth', I must defend my family, religion, and country in obedience to the Scripture, which is the only "Truth!" I might even go so far as to say that in certain situations, I must defend my name and honor to uphold that very same "Truth."

Another verse this gentleman included in his email was the famous, "Put up again thy sword into [its] place: for they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matt. 26:52) quote. What he didn't include was an equally important verse, also spoken by Jesus while on the earth, "... he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one." (Luke 22:36) I think it should be clear here that Jesus is not condemning owning weapons or even being ready to fight. Rather, in the Mathew 26:52 verse, he is pointing out that it was time for the fulfillment of his duty (on the Cross), not time to start chopping folks' ears off.

Going back to the idea of "Victory or Death," if you are going to fight for something (I mean literal battle), it better be worth dying over. Biblically, it seems that, if you are not fighting for victory, you are fighting for defeat, and that means the loss of whatever it is that you are fighting for. If you are fighting for your family, home, religion, or even honor, you can't afford to lose. That's part of the reason why it is so important to only have biblical warfare. Don't start a war if you aren't going to really try and win it. (And don't chop off anyone ears unless it is time for battle.) Choose your battles carefully.

So, what about Travis?

Here in Texas, when you hear someone refer to the motto "Victory or Death!" it's a pretty safe thing to guess that they are referring to the words of W.B.Travis at the famous Battle of the Alamo.

Let's review the facts:

<center>Col. Travis</center>
Col. Travis
Travis was the second highest ranking officer at the Alamo after Col. Neill who left before the final battle, transferring his command to Travis. On the day after the siege began, Travis wrote a letter to "The People of Texas and All Americans in the World." In the letter he announced his need for volunteers to defend the Alamo. He also declared that he would "never surrender or retreat!" He ended his famous appeal with the words, "Victory or Death!" On February 24, 1836, one hundred seventy three years ago today, Col. Travis penned these important words.

Travis could have tried to surrender the Alamo. He could have tried to flee with his men. But he didn't. Instead Travis stood and held his ground, knowing that short of a near-impossible victory, he and everyone of his men would lose their lives.

Travis drew a line in the sand and offered every man in the Alamo an "honorable" way out of this death trap. Out of 190 men, only one crossed that line.

Each of those men died. But they sent a message to the world that Texans would not surrender their homes, their families, or their freedom. They also held the Alamo long enough to set things in motion for the men who would ultimately defeat the Santa Anna. If it weren't for the Alamo defenders who refused to flee or surrender, there might not be a Texas today.

I am grateful for Travis' cry of "Victory or Death!" As a Texan, I am especially thankful for those men who gave their lives for what they believed was worth dying for: freedom. They believed their cause was just, and they were right.

Of course, modern man is uncomfortable with statements like "Victory or Death." It is too dogmatic, too uncompromising, too unrealistic. But the problem is not with the statement. The problem is with modern man.

There is a time when Christian men must be willing to say, "I will fight, to the death, for what is right and nothing this side of death will stop me!" Whether it was Patrick Henry's "Give me Liberty or give me Death" speech, Colonel Travis' letter from the Alamo, or even the echo of William Wallace's battle cries, you can feel the sentiment coming through that they will fight to the death for victory and never give up.

I believe that it is our duty to take this message, and particularly Travis's closing line, and "never surrender or retreat" when we are on the Lord's side. Even in times of great angst and trouble, when our country is in distress, it is our duty not to give up, but to fight to defend our families, religion, and country. And ultimately the honor of the "Truth." To live well, we must realize that some things are worth dying for.

The film Braveheart popularized another important motto: "Every man dies. Not every man truly lives." Behind this sentiment is the belief that only those who are willing to lay down their lives in a meaningful cause have something worth living for.

Travis would have agreed.

So, was Travis right to declare "Victory or Death" in the face of almost certain immediate disaster?

I believe he was. The simple fact is this: His death purchased Texas' independence. My state, my community, my family, and I continue to benefit from his sacrifice.

Travis was right. So was Patrick Henry. And Nehemiah. And the Scots. And George Washington fighting for our national freedom. And so are all the martyrs and defenders of Godly causes through all time who lose their life in service for the Lord, living out "Victory or Death!"

"Buaidh No Bas." -JT

Posted by Joshua Phillips at 09:42 AM |

The British Museum: Looking Straight at History
January 15, 2009

Here is an interesting "fact of the day":
250 years ago today the British Museum in London was opened to the public. Established by an act of Parliament in 1753, the British Museum -- which counts among its world-renowned antiquities and archaeological holdings the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone (And even a crystal skull!) -- was finally opened this day in 1759.

<center>The British Museum<center/>
The British Museum

In June of last year I had the privilege to visit the British Museum while traveling in the U.K. I think that the British Museum is definitely in the top 3 or 4 places that we visited while over there. The libraries, collections of artifacts, mass information, and amazing architecture will always come to mind whenever I enter a museum.

Posted by Joshua Phillips at 06:45 PM |

History of the Postage Stamp
December 09, 2008

Dear Sir, Seeing that Ballantyne wrote a book called "Post Haste", which I unfortunately have not had the opportunity of reading, I thought you might be interested in a little information on the world's first postage stamp.

On May 6, 1840, Great Britain issued the first Penny Blacks, which were one penny stamps of a black color. On the stamp is a portrait of Queen Victoria, and since then it has been tradition for Great Britain not to print the name of their country on the stamp, but to put a small picture of the Queen on the top right of the stamp. There were several million Penny Blacks printed, and though they are worth quite a bit, they are not considered rare. Unused Penny Blacks are worth $4,500, used, $270. For a period of time after they were issued, people would adorn vases, fans and other items with them. The Penny Black had gum on the back, and was not perforated. Perforations were developed sometime later, presumably to avoid having to cut sheets of stamps. Stamps prior to the Penny Black were not the postage stamps we know nowadays, but were similiar to rubber stamps, because they were merely ink stamped onto the letter. The Penny Black was followed by the Two Penny Blue and the Penny Red.

I hope you have found this of interest. -K.S.

Thank you very much for your interesting history of the postage stamp. I definitely found this of interest.

AGB, Joshua Titus

Posted by Joshua Phillips at 10:31 PM |

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