The History Place - Frequently Asked Questions

United States History

Which of the 13 original American colonies were considered New England, Middle, and Southern colonies?

New England colonies: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island.
Middle colonies: New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania.
Southern colonies: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia.

Was there a real Liberty Tree in Boston during the American Revolution?

Yes. The Liberty Tree was an Elm tree believed to be about 120 years old at the time of the Revolution and was known originally as the Great Tree due to its massive size and handsome shape. It was located on present day Washington Street at Essex, next to a former 17th century dwelling.

One August morning in 1765, Bostonians awoke to discover two effigies of British officials hanging from the lower limbs, with one of them labeled as "The Stamp Officer."

The Great Tree then became known as The Liberty Tree and was used as a rallying place for American Patriots. The Tree became famous throughout the American colonies and in England as well. It was eventually cut down by the British and gleefully turned into 14 cords of wood.

What city was the first U.S. capital?

In 1789, New York City was selected as the first capital of the United States, but just a year later the capital was moved to Philadelphia. In October of 1800, the government moved from Philadelphia to Washington onto a parcel of land along the Potomac River personally chosen by George Washington.

Did Abraham Lincoln ever own slaves?

No.

How tall was Abraham Lincoln?

Lincoln was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed about 180 pounds.

President Lincoln's letter to Mrs. Bixby, a mother who was believed to have lost five sons in the Civil War.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

What kind of gun was used to kill Lincoln?

On Friday, April 14, 1865, President Lincoln and his wife Mary attended a performance of the comedy "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater, located about five blocks from the White House. About 10:13 p.m., during the third act of the play, John Wilkes Booth shot the president in the head at point-blank range using a small muzzle-loading derringer pistol which measured only six inches in length, but fired a bullet measuring nearly a half-inch in diameter. Lincoln never regained consciousness and died at 7:22 the next morning.

When was the Lincoln penny first issued?

The penny was issued in 1909, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. It was the first U.S. coin to bear the portrait of an actual American. In 1959, on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, the reverse side of the coin was redesigned to include a view of the Lincoln Memorial.

Who were the Buffalo Soldiers?

The term was originated by American Indians in the Old West to describe U.S. Army soldiers who happened to be African Americans. The Indians saw a physical resemblance between the black soldiers' hair and the shaggy coats of the buffalo. The animals were considered sacred by the Indians and thus the term was also a tribute to the bravery of the black soldiers they encountered in battle.

In 1866, an Act of Congress had established four all-black Army regiments, the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. They were sent to the western frontier to serve as peacekeepers and to aid in the ongoing war against the Indians. Patrolling vast areas of land, Buffalo Soldiers chased outlaw bandits, protected settlers and fought Indians.

The well-disciplined, steadfast Buffalo Soldiers had the lowest rate of desertion in the West and far fewer disciplinary problems than white soldiers. Eleven Buffalo Soldiers and seven white officers who led them were awarded America's highest military award, the Medal of Honor, for their heroism on the western frontier.

Where did the term Doughboys originate in referring to U.S. soldiers?

The exact origin is unknown but it is believed to have originated in the mid 1800s in reference to large round brass buttons worn by American infantrymen which looked like little round doughnuts called doughboys. The term was first used to describe the buttons and then became the common slang for the infantrymen themselves and was especially popular during World War I.

Who was the only U.S. Congressman to vote against entering World War II?

Actually, it was a woman. On December 8, 1941, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 388-1 to enter the war. The only no-vote came from Republican Representative Jeannette Rankin, a pacifist from Montana.

Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973) was the first woman ever elected to the House and served two terms, separated by many years. During her first term from 1917 to 1919, she voted against U.S. entry into World War I and subsequently lost her bid for re-election.

Her second term was from 1941 to 1943. Her vote against U.S. entry into World War II, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, caused a sensation and she did not seek re-election. She devoted the remainder of her life to pacifism and feminism. In 1968, feisty 87-year-old Jeannette Rankin led an anti-war march of 5,000 women in Washington, D.C., protesting the Vietnam War.

Was there a formal declaration of war by the U.S. for the Korean or Vietnam Wars?

No.

U.S. involvement in the Korean War began after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on June 27, 1950, requesting member countries to assist South Korea which had been invaded by North Korea two days earlier. Although 16 member nations sent troops, the United States under President Harry Truman ultimately provided 90 percent of the military aid to South Korea. North Korea received aid from China and the Soviet Union. The conflict lasted until July 27, 1953, when a cease-fire agreement was signed. However, there was no formal peace treaty and thus the U.S. still maintains military forces in South Korea to prevent another invasion.

U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War first began in the 1950s as French forces battled North Vietnamese communists/nationalists led by Ho Chi Minh. The U.S. provided up to 80 percent of military supplies to the French. However, the French were defeated in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu and withdrew completely from Vietnam. The U.S. then assumed the role of defending South Vietnam by providing military equipment and training. But by the early 1960s, the U.S. began direct combat involvement to aid the sagging South Vietnamese army. In the summer of 1964, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution empowering President Lyndon Johnson to take all necessary measures to protect U.S. forces in the region following a North Vietnamese gunboat attack on a U.S. Navy destroyer. Massive U.S. escalation then began with American forces in Vietnam peaking at over 500,000 soldiers. By 1968, one thousand Americans were killed each month. As public support for the war seriously eroded, the U.S. under President Johnson and his successor, President Richard Nixon, began a gradual military withdrawal while negotiating for peace with the North Vietnamese. In January 1973, a peace treaty was signed in Paris and the U.S. withdrawal was complete. The U.S. continued to supply the South Vietnamese army but chose not to resume an active combat role after the North Vietnamese army successfully invaded the South in 1975.

What was the quote by President John F. Kennedy about how we all came from the sea?

The quote is actually a one paragraph excerpt from an address the President gave during a dinner hosted by the Australian Ambassador in Newport, Rhode Island, during the 1962 America's Cup festivities at The Breakers, the former Cornelius Vanderbilt estate.

"I really don't know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it is because in addition to the fact that the sea changes and the light changes, and ships change, it is because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came."

World War II

What does the D in D-Day stand for?

It stands for the Designated Day for Operation Overlord, the code name for the Allied invasion of Northern France on June 6, 1944, during World War II.

Each major offensive during the war had a code name. For example - Operation Torch was the name for the Allied invasion of North Africa. Each Operation also had its own D-Day, the actual day on which the attack would begin. Within each D-Day, there was an H-Hour, designating the starting time for the attack, usually just before dawn at 0500 hours in military time, or 5 a.m. in civilian time.

Operation Overlord is now popularly referred to simply as D-Day, a practice begun by news correspondents covering the invasion, given the tremendous significance of the day in which the long hoped-for liberation of northern Europe finally began.

Who made the 'And I did nothing' statement concerning the Nazis?

It was Rev. Martin Niemoeller, a German Protestant Pastor, who initially supported Hitler but later became an outspoken critic of the Nazis. He was arrested in 1937 and spent most of the war in German concentration camps.

His statement on how the Nazis took over Germany:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.

Why did the Nazis burn books?

The burning of books containing "un-German ideas" by Nazi storm troopers and Nazi-affiliated college students in May 1933 was a symbolic act demonstrating that the new Nazi regime would not tolerate artistic, literary, scientific, or political ideas that differed from their own anti-Semitic, nationalist ideology, and also indicated they would use violence to silence any opposition.

In the early 1800s, over a hundred years earlier, the German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine had stated, "Where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too."

What does 'Sieg Heil' actually mean?

It means 'Hail to Victory.'
Heil - Hail
Sieg - Victory
But due to rules of German grammar, the sentence order is reversed to Sieg Heil. It was a triumphal salute commonly used at Nazi gatherings.

What did SA and SS stand for?

SA was the commonly used abbreviation for the German term Sturmabteilung, which means 'storm detachment' or 'storm troopers,' the brown-shirted Nazi street fighters. The SA was a violent revolutionary political organization of young men that helped Hitler achieve power by roaming the streets, battling political opponents, and intimidating all those opposed to Hitler.

However, after Hitler came to power in 1933, he had much less need for this revolutionary force and wanted to diminish it, instead relying on traditional German institutions such as big industry and the Army to consolidate his position as leader. But SA leaders wanted to continue in their revolutionary role and even wanted to replace the traditional German Army. This led Hitler to conduct a 'Blood Purge' in 1934 of the top SA leadership and also led to the rise of the SS.

SS was the commonly used abbreviation for the German term Schutzstaffel, which means 'defense echelon' or 'elite guard,' the black-shirted personal guard of Adolf Hitler.

Founded in 1925 as Hitler's body guard, the organization grew under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler and was ultimately responsible for all police functions in Germany and throughout occupied Europe. The SS also operated the Nazi network of concentration camps as well as extermination centers such as Auschwitz in occupied Poland, where nearly two million civilians were murdered.

SS personnel wore lighting-bolt styled SS letters on their collars and helmets styled after the ancient Germanic 'Sieg' letter, meaning victory.

The military branch of the SS was known as the Waffen (Armed) SS and featured troops with a reputation as fanatical fighters and ruthless executioners.

How many Germans were actually card-carrying Nazi Party members?

Before Hitler seized power (in 1933) only 850,000 out of 66 million Germans were card-carrying Nazis. After the Nazi seizure of power, there was a big surge in membership. At its peak, Party membership reached 8 million out of 80 million Germans in 'Greater Germany' or about ten percent of the population.

Did Adolf Hitler have a middle name?

No. He was listed in the baptismal registry simply as Adolfus Hitler.

How tall was Hitler?

He was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed about 150 pounds.

Did Hitler have a favorite pet animal?

"Blondi" was the name of Hitler's Alsatian dog, which he was very fond of. It was even with him in his Berlin bunker at the end of the war and was destroyed on Hitler's orders with poison shortly before his own death.

What kind of pistol did Hitler use to shoot himself?

Hitler used a 7.65-caliber Walther pistol to kill himself inside his Berlin bunker about 3:30 p.m. on April 30, 1945.

Does the Munich beer hall from Hitler's Beer-Hall Putsch still exist?

No. The Bürgerbräu Keller, which could seat over 2,000 persons, was the place where Hitler, Göring and a few hundred Nazi storm troopers launched the failed Munich Putsch (rebellion) on November 8, 1923, in an attempt to topple Germany's democratic government. In November 1939, on the 16th anniversary of the Putsch, a bomb was planted inside the beer hall and exploded shortly after Hitler left the building. The impact was so severe that it caused the roof to cave in. The hall was later rebuilt and used as a service club for American troops after the war but was demolished in 1958.

A second beer hall in Munich frequently used as a meeting place by Hitler and his followers is called the Hofbräuhaus. This is where Hitler outlined the 25 Points of the Nazi Party program in 1920. This building was heavily damaged during World War II but was restored and today serves as a popular tourist destination.

Where did the term Holocaust originate?

Holocaust is a word originally derived from the Greek language, literary meaning 'burning.' The term is also found in the Old Testament as a reference to burnt sacrifices. In 1956, Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, wrote a book entitled "And the World was Silent" which applied the term Holocaust to the Nazi murder of six million Jews during World War II. Over time, Wiesel's special usage of the term became part of the English language and today is understood worldwide as a reference to the systematic destruction of Europe's Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. In Israel, among those who speak the Hebrew language, the term Shoah is commonly used instead of Holocaust. Shoah is a Hebrew term from the Old Testament meaning desolation or total destruction.

During World War II did the Japanese ever attack the U.S. mainland?

Yes. On February 23, 1942, the oil refinery at Ellwood near Santa Barbara, California, was shelled by a Japanese submarine using its 5.5 inch deck gun. This was the first attack on the U.S. mainland. Then on June 7, Japanese soldiers invaded the U.S. Aleutian Islands off Alaska and remained there until American troops retook the islands in May 1943.

 What are the names of the men in this famous photo?

During World War II in the Pacific, five U.S. Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman raised the flag on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, using a piece of Japanese pipe as a mast, on February 23, 1945.

The photo, which actually shows the second flag raising on Mount Suribachi, was taken by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press and became the most famous photo of the war.

There are four men seen in the front and two somewhat hidden in the back. The front four are - left to right, Pfc. Ira Hayes, Pfc. Franklin Sousley, Navy corpsman PhM 2/c John Bradley, and Cpl. Harlon Block. The back two are - Sgt. Michael Strank, behind Sousley, and Pfc. Rene Gagnon, behind Bradley.

Three of the flag raisers, Franklin Sousley, Harlon Block, and Michael Strank, were later killed as the fighting raged on. By March 16, 1945, when Iwo Jima was declared secured, 6,821 Americans and 21,000 Japanese (the entire force) had died.

After the war, the three survivors of the flag raising, Rene A. Gagnon, Ira Hayes, and John Bradley, posed for sculptor Felix W. de Weldon, who constructed a statue inspired by the scene which became the Marine Corps War Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Inscribed on the statue's base is the tribute of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz to the fighting men of Iwo Jima: "Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue." Opposite this, is the inscription: "In honor and in memory of men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 10, 1775." The Memorial was officially dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954.

What was the name of the plane that dropped the (second) atomic bomb on Nagasaki?

The B-29 Superfortress was named "Bock's Car" by Commander Frederick Bock, and was piloted by Major Charles Sweeney, the only man to fly in both of the atomic missions during World War II. On August 9, 1945, "Bock's Car" departed the tiny island of Tinian in the South Pacific, overcame a series of technical difficulties, and dropped the plutonium-based bomb nicknamed "Fat Man" on Nagasaki. The original (primary) target had been the city of Kokura, but it was bypassed due to heavy cloud cover. At Nagasaki, the bomb, equivalent to 22,000 tons of TNT, destroyed nearly half the city and killed over 25,000 persons, with another estimated 45,000 later killed by radiation poisoning.

How about the famous photo of the kissing sailor at the end of the war?

Times Square, New York, August 14, 1945. The photo was taken by Lt. Victor Jorgensen of the U.S. Navy. His caption -- "New York City celebrating the surrender of Japan. They threw anything and kissed anybody in Times Square."

When did World War II officially end?

On December 31, 1946, President Harry Truman issued a proclamation of formal cessation of World War II hostilities.

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