The mushroom clouds from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs.

Dutch Van Kirk Signed Photograph

Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk (1924-2014) was the navigator on the Enola Gay when it dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II on August 6, 1945. As navigator, Van Kirk was responsible for guiding the plane to its target destination and confirming where exactly to drop the bomb. As the last surviving member of the crew, Dutch Van Kirk often spoke about the reasons behind employing the atomic bomb and how it led to the end of World War II. In the WallBuilders collection we have a picture of the destruction at Hiroshima inscribed by Dutch Van Kirk with the following statement:

Most people do not recall why we dropped the atomic bombs. It was forgotten after 64 years only remembering the large casualties they caused. We dropped the bombs to end the war and stop the killing by destroying military and military support facilities defending against an invasion. Earlier we dropped millions of leaflets which were largely ignored.

The leaflets Van Kirk refers to warned the Japanese citizens of the impending bombs and advised them to evacuate the cities targeted beforehand. (You can see some and read their translations at WallBuilders.)

Below is an picture of Van Kirk’s message:

Celebrating America’s Military

Armed Forces Day — a day set aside to honor all those who are either currently serving or have served in all branches of our nation’s Armed Forces – occurs on the third Saturday of May.

In 1947 America’s military was combined under the Department of Defense. Two years later, the Secretary of Defense created Armed Forces Day to replace the separate celebrations of each military branch. The first celebration was held in 1950 and included parades in Washington DC, Berlin, and New York City. For this day, President Truman urged all Americans to:

display the flag of the United States at their homes…and to participate in exercises expressive of our recognition of the skill, gallantry, and uncompromising devotion to duty characteristic of the Armed Forces in the carrying out of their missions.

Other presidents and government officials since 1950 have issued proclamations and given speeches to celebrate Armed Forces Day, including General Dwight Eisenhower who reminded the nation:

It is fitting and proper that we devote one day each year to paying special tribute to those whose constancy and courage constitute one of the bulwarks guarding the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world.

Armed Forces Day was set as the third Saturday of the month of May in 1961 with President Kennedy’s proclamation that encouraged Americans “as an expression of support for their armed forces and as a symbol of their unity in devotion to the preservation of our country, to display prominently the flag of the United States.”

For this special celebration day, you can show your support for our military by flying the US flag, thanking a military member you know, and sending messages of support to those serving.

Ten Facts About George Washington

From the $1 Bill to the capital of America, George Washington’s name appears more often than probably any other name in American history. Being the most prominent Founding Father, everyone learns how Washington led the Continental Army against the British during the War for Independence and eventually became the first President of the United States. But there are plenty of stories and facts that are rarely taught in schools today. Watch the video and then read below about ten facts you probably do not know about George Washington.

1. George Washington did not chop down a cherry tree.

“I cannot tell a lie,” a young George Washington is reported to have said—but his biographers sure can! The famous story originates from the 5th edition of the popular biography The Life of Washington the Great by Mason Weems.1 Published in 1806, seven years after Washington’s death, there are no primary sources attesting to its truthfulness. All things considered, its late appearance and the complete lack of evidence has led most to consider it apocryphal.

2. He was most embarrassed about his lack of education and his bad teeth.

The most persistent enemy to Washington were not his political or military opponents, but his teeth. By the time he was sworn in as the first President of the United States he only had a single original tooth left.2 Over the course of his life he had a number of dentures made from a wide variety of materials.3 The dentures of the time were large, bulky, and burdensome which worked together to make Washington quite self-conscience about them leading him to be more introverted than perhaps he might have been.4

On top of this, George Washington did not have the same high level of education his older brothers received due to the death of their father when he was only eleven years old. This tragedy led Washington to become a surveyor (which incidentally provided the exact education he needed to accomplish the amazing things God had planned for him). When standing next to the genius level intellects of Jefferson, Adams, and others it was easy for Washington to feel at an embarrassing disadvantage to his more educated peers.5 That said, Washington was still incredibly intelligent on account of his extensive reading throughout his life in order to make up for his perceived lack of formal education.

3. He was nominated to be commander of the colonial army by John Adams.

“I do not think myself equal to the Command I am honored with.”6 It was with these words that the ever-humble George Washington accepted the unanimous appointment to command the soon-to-be-created Continental Army. The official vote happened on June 15, 1775, with John Adams credited as being the one who recommended and nominated Washington to the position.7 On the occasion, Adams wrote to his wife explaining how Congress elected the, “modest and virtuous, the amiable, generous and brave George Washington,” and solemnly proclaimed that, “the Liberties of America, depend upon him.”8

4. George Washington was described as being taller than the average man.

In an era when the average man stood at 5’7″, noted early biographer Jared Sparks clocked Washington in at an impressive 6’3″ tall.9 John Adams, later in life, wrote to fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Rush, that Washington had, “a tall stature, like the Hebrew sovereign chosen because he was taller by the head than the other Jews.”10

A military observer repeatedly called attention to the vast stature of Washington, explaining, “it is not difficult to distinguish him from all others; his personal appearance is truly noble and majestic; being tall and well proportioned.”11 He continues to write that Washington, “is remarkably tall, full six feet, erect and well proportioned…This is the illustrious chief, whom a kind Providence has decreed as the instrument to conduct our country to peace and to Independence.”12 George Washington was a tall man with an even bigger purpose.

5. He encouraged his troops to go to church.

As General, Washington would issue orders throughout the army instructing them on daily operations. On June 23, 1777, he issued the following order:

“All chaplains are to perform divine service tomorrow, and on every other succeeding Sunday, with their respective brigades and regiments, when their situations will admit of it, and the commanding officers of the corps are to see that they attend. The Commander-in-Chief expects an exact compliance with this order, and that it be observed in future as an invariable rule of practice, and every neglect will not only be considered a breach of orders, but a disregard to decency, virtue, and religion.”13

Being a man of great piety and sincere religion himself, it is no surprise that Washington placed such an extraordinary emphasis on his soldiers’ corporate worship. In fact, when Washington believed the chaplains were not making regular church services a proper priority, he required all the chaplains to come to a meeting to address the issue and then report back to him.14

Washington’s devotion to Christ was so apparent in the camp that the Rev. Henry Muhlenberg, father of Major General John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, remarked:

“His Excellency General Washington rode around among his army yesterday and admonished each and every one to fear God, to put away the wickedness that has set in and become so general, and to practice the Christian virtues. From all appearances this gentleman does not belong to the so-called world of society, for he respects God’s Word, believes in the atonement through Christ, and bears himself in humility and gentleness. Therefore the Lord God has also singularly, yea, marvelously, preserved him form harm in the midst of countless perils, ambuscades [ambushes], fatigues, etc. and has hitherto graciously held him in His hand as a [chosen] vessel. II Chronicles 15:1-3.”15

6. He forbade his officers to swear.

Along the same lines as the previous fact, Washington focused on making the American military not only righteous but also respectable. To this end, on July 4, 1775, he issued the following order:

“The General most earnestly requires, and expects, a due observance of those articles of war, established for the government of the army, which forbid profane cursing, swearing and drunkenness. And in like manner requires and expects, of all officers, and soldiers, not engaged on actual duty, a punctual attendance on Divine Service, to implore the blessings of Heaven upon the means used for our safety and defense.”16

7. He was the only President elected unanimously.

After the ratification of the Constitution, the first order of business was to fill the newly created positions of government. The most important question was, “who will be our President?” For the Americans of 1789, that was apparently an easy answer. “George Washington of course!” With that resolution, Washington, “by no effort of his own, in a manner against his wishes, by the unanimous vote of a grateful country.”17 In the history of the United States, there has been only one other unanimous vote for President — Washington again for his second term.18

8. George Washington added “So help me God” to the Presidential Oath of Office.

Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution states that when the President is sworn into office, he is to say the following oath:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

With his hand laid upon the open Bible, Washington repeated the oath. He then sealed the oath by with a solemn, “so help me God,” and reverently bowed down and kissed the Bible.19 One eyewitness to the event recalled that, “it seemed, from the number of witnesses, to be a solemn appeal to Heaven and earth at once.”20

9. He was elected to be a vestryman at local churches.

In early American Episcopalian churches, vestrymen were, “a select number of principal persons of every parish, who choose parish officers and take care of its concerns.”21 This included making sure the poor, widows, and orphans were taken care of, and even extended to major decisions about the church as a whole.

George Washington was elected (perhaps his first election) to be a vestryman in two different parishes. In March of 1765, he was chosen in Fairfax Parish with 274 votes, and then four months later he was again chosen in Truro Parish with 259 votes.22 Washington was extremely active as a vestryman.23

On one occasion, Washington even went toe-to-toe with George Mason (fellow future delegate to the Constitution Convention) about relocating the church to a new site. After an impassioned speech by Mason which seemingly settled the question, Washington unassumingly rose and used a surveying map to show where the new site would be and how it would be better for each parishioner. This sudden recourse to sound reason and just sensibilities restored the council to their senses and they voted with Washington to move the church to the new site.24

10. George Washington was killed by his doctors.

This characterization might be a little uncharitable—the doctors were doing the best they could with the knowledge they had—but it doesn’t mean it’s not true. The old General fell sick after riding out on Mount Vernon during the cold rain. Soon, he was struggling to breathe. The following is taken from the journal of George Washington’s lifelong friend and physician, James Craik:

“The disease commenced with a violent ague, accompanied with some pain in the upper and fore part of throat, a sense of stricture in the same part, a cough, and a difficult rather than paint deglutition, which were soon succeeded by fever and a quick and laborious respiration. The necessity of blood-letting suggesting itself to the General, he procured a bleeder in the neighborhood, who took from his arm, in the night, twelve or fourteen ounces of blood.”25

Medical science at the time thought that a number of sicknesses were caused because of some issue with the person’s blood itself. To fix the disease, therefore, a common “solution” would be to bleed a patient out in order to get rid of the bad blood.

Once more doctors had been called to the scene, Craik continues:

“In the interim were employed two copious bleedings; a blister was applied to the part affected, two moderate doses of calomel were given, and an injection was administered, which operated on the lower intestines—but all without any perceptible advantage; the respiration becoming still more difficult and distressing.”26

Even more blood was taken, and now the doctors applied hot irons to his throat because they thought that an accumulation of blood in Washington’s throat was what caused the difficulty breathing. Calomel is a kind of mercury chloride, which, we now know to be quite toxic! This, along with the bleedings and the injections were a long way off from helping Washington recover. But the doctors weren’t done yet:

“Upon the arrival of the first of the consulting physicians, it was agreed… To try the result of another bleeding, when about thirty-two ounces of blood were drawn, without the smallest apparent alleviation of the disease… ten grains of calomel were given, succeeded by repeated doses of emetic tartar, amounting, in all, to five or six grains, with no other effect than a copious discharge of the bowels. The powers of life seemed now manifestly yielding to the force of the disorder. Blisters were applied to the extremities.”27

More blood-letting, more toxic calomel, more blisters. The biggest variation in this round of treatments is that they gave Washington another poisonous substance—emetic tartar. Altogether, it served only to give the dying President diarrhea.

Finally, Dr. Craik relates the end to his friend’s suffering:

“Speaking, which was painful from the beginning, now became almost impracticable; respiration grew more and more contracted and imperfect, till… when retaining the full possession of his intellect, he expired without a struggle.”28

A contemporary doctor estimated the total amount of blood drawn to be, “the enormous quantity of eighty-two ounces, or above two quarts and a half of blood in about thirteen hours.”29 The same doctor goes on to accurately explain that:

“Very few of the most robust young men in the world could survive such a loss of blood; but the body of an aged person must be so exhausted, and all his power so weakened by it as to make his death speedy and inevitable.”30

The average amount of blood in someone of Washington’s size and stature is around 210 ounces. If, as the doctor estimates, somewhere around 82 ounces were taken, then Washington lost nearly 40% of his blood. This amount is nearly tantamount to exsanguination (death by bleeding out), and when combined with the blisters, calomel, emetic tartars, and the various vapors, it appears to be the unfortunate conclusion that the doctors killed George Washington.31


1. Mason Locke Weems, The Life of Washington the Great (Augusta: George P. Randolph, 1806), 8-9.
2. “Washington Tooth Troubles,” Mount Vernon (accessed March 29, 2019).
3. “False Teeth,” Mount Vernon (accessed September 18, 2023).
4. “Washington Tooth Troubles,” Mount Vernon (accessed March 29, 2019).
5. “Education” Mount Vernon (accessed March 29, 2019).
6. June 16, 1775, Journal of the Proceedings of the Congress, Held at Philadelphia, May 10, 1775
7. John Adams autobiography, part 1, through 1776, Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society.
8. John Adams to Abigail Adams, June 17, 1775, Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society.
9. Jared Sparks, The Life of George Washington (Boston: Ferdinand Andrews, 1839), 102n.
10. John Adams to Benjamin Rush, November 11, 1807, Founders Online (accessed March 29, 2019).
11. James Thacher, A Military Journal During the American Revolutionary War (Boston: Richardson and Lord, 1823), 37.
12. Thacher, Military Journal, 182-183.
13. George Washington, General Order, June 28, 1777, Records of the Revolutionary War (New York: Pudney & Russell, 1858), 330.
14. Washington, General Order, October 6, 1777, Records of the Revolutionary War, 345.
15. Henry M. Muhlenberg, The Journals of Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg (Philadelphia: The Muhlenberg Press, 1958), III:149, journal entry for May 7, 1778.
16. George Washington, General Orders, July 4, 1775, Library of Congress (accessed September 18, 2023).
17. Washington Irving, Life of George Washington (New York: G. P. Putman & Company, 1857), IV:516.
18. Annals of Congress (1873), 2nd Congress, 2nd Session,  874-875, February 13, 1793; Jared Sparks, The Life of George Washington (Boston: Ferdinand Andrews, 1839), 445.
19. Irving, Washington, IV:475.
20. “Philadelphia, May 8. Extract of a Letter from New York, May 3,” Gazette of the United States (May 9 to May 13, 1789).
21. Noah Webster, “Vestry-man,” American Dictionary of the English Language (1828).
22. Jared Sparks, The Life of George Washington (Boston: Ferdinand Andrews, 1839), 520.
23. “Churchwarden and Vestryman,” Mount Vernon (accessed April 1, 2019).
24. Sparks, Washington, 106.
25. James Craik, “From The Times, A Newspaper printed in Alexandria (Virginia), dated December, 1799,” The Medical Repository (New York: T. & J. Swords, 1805), III:311.
26. Craik, “From The Times” Medical Repository, III:311-312.
27. Craik, “From The Times” Medical Repository, III:312.
28. Craik, “From The Times” Medical Repository, III:312.
29. John Brickell, “Medical Treatment of General Washington,” Transactions of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Printed for the College, 1903), 25:93.
30. Brickell, “Medical Treatment” College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 25:93.
31. For a more technical examination of the medical circumstances surrounding Washington’s death see, Dr. Wallenborn’s, “George Washington’s Terminal Illness: A Modern Medical Analysis of the Last Illness and Death of George Washington,” The Washington Papers (November 5, 1997).


* Originally posted: May 9, 2019


George Washington 1785 Letter

Below is an original letter in WallBuilders’ collection, from George Washington, dated February 1, 1785. This letter was written during a short period of retirement for Washington, following the War for Independence and before the Constitutional Convention. After resigning his military commission, he settled back in Mount Vernon following an almost continuance absence of eight years.


Mount Vernon 1st Feb. 1785


You may think me very troublesome – and the reason I assign for being so (that I am of the opinion you can serve me better than any other) no good apology for the liberty I take.

My Miller (William Roberts) in now become such an intolerable serv, and when drunk so great a madman, that he never unwilling I am to part with an old servant (for he has been with me 15 years) I cannot with propriety on common justice to myself bear with him any longer.

I pray you once more, therefore, to engage & forward to me, a miller as seen as you may have it in your power; and whatever engagement you shall enter into on my behalf I will religiously fulfil. I do not stipulate for the wages at altho’ my Mill (being on an indifferent stream & not constant at work) can illy [sic] afford high wages.

My wishes to procure a servant who understands the manufacturing business perfectly – and who is sober and honest, that I may even at the expense of paying for it, have as little trouble as possible with him. If he understood the business of a Mill _____ and was obliged by his attitude to keep the Mill works in repair, so much the better. Whatever agreement you may enter into on my behalf, I pray you to have it reduced to writing, & specially declared, that there may be no misexception [sic] or disputes thereafter.

The House in which such Muller will live, is a very comfortable one, within 30 yards of the Mill (which works two pairs of stones one pair of them french Burns) – it has a small Kitchen convenient thereto and a good garden properly paled it. There is a Coopers shop within 50 yards of the Mill, with three Negro Coopers which will also be under the direction of the Miller. Whose allowance of meat, flour, & privileges of every kind, I would have ascertained, to prevent after claims. I do not object to the Mans having a family (a wife I could wish him to have) but if it was a small one, it would be preferable.

At any rate be so good as to let me hear from you, that I may know on what to depend, as it is no longer safe for me to entrust my business to the care of Willi’m Roberts. It only remains now for me to ask your sanguineness for this trouble & to assure you of the esteem with which I am


Your friend & very Humble

G. Washington

Mess. Lewis’s


* Originally Published: July 23, 2018

Siege of Yorktown

Ending of a War

The Siege of Yorktown is recognized as the final major military action in the War for Independence. This three-week long battle (September 28-October 19, 1781) secured American independence after 6 years of active fighting. Some interesting aspects surrounding the siege of Yorktown makes this victory even more amazing.

For example, a black man, James Armistead, played a major role in securing the victory. A Virginia slave who wanted to help his country, four months before the battle, working with General Marquis de Lafayette, he successfully infiltrated the camp of British commander Lord Cornwallis, serving as a spy for the American forces. Armistead was able to collect intelligence on British movements and sent it back to George Washington. Lafayette later petitioned for Armistead’s freedom (in Virginia, it took an act of the legislature to free a slave for meritorious service), and after being freed, Armistead was granted a retirement pension for his military service.

Cornwallis was heavily outnumbered (there were some 17,600 American/French troops against his 8,300 British troops), so on October 16, he attempted a last-ditch attack. (In the WallBuilders’ Collection we have an unexploded mortar shell–pictured on the left.) Under the cover of darkness, the British attempted to flee but a storm arose, forcing them to remain.

Running short of supplies and with reinforcements not arriving, the British surrendered on October 19. George Bancroft, the “Father of American History,” recorded how the Continental Congress responded upon hearing the good news:

When the letters of Washington announcing the capitulation [surrender] reached Congress, that body, with the people streaming in their train [that is, following them], went in procession to the Dutch Lutheran church to return thanks to Almighty God.

And John Hancock issued a proclamation announcing the victory and calling for a time of thanksgiving and prayer to God Almighty. (We have an original of this proclamation in the WallBuilders Collection.)

So it was in October 1781, that the battle of Yorktown was won, and Americans openly thanked God for His role in protecting America. Now is a good time for us likewise offer thanks for the blessings He has bestowed on our nation.

*Originally Posted: June 22, 2018

Civil War Christmas Card

Below, from WallBuilders’ Collection, is a Christmas Card from Frank Browning (a Civil War quartermaster) to his sister, dated December 25, 1864.

The Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father
who art in Heaven.
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy
will be done on earth as
it is in heaven. Give us this
day our daily bread…And
forgive us our debts as we
forgive our debtors. Lead
us not into temptation but
deliver us from evil. For
thine is the kingdom &
the power & the glo-
ry forever.
H. Heath. Artist.

Executed by                                    Lieut. Heath

from                                                  to
Quartermaster                                Sister
Frank Browning                             Carrie,
U.S.A.                                                With love.

Dec 25, ’64
Merry Christmas.

The USS Arizona sinks after it's bombed during the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941.

Pearl Harbor Day

Seventy-six years ago today, on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was treacherously attacked by the Japanese, killing more than 2,000. This date was described by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as “a date which will live in infamy.” It was the worst naval disaster in American history, and brought declarations of war by Japan, Germany, and Italy against the United States, and by America against them. For four long years following this event, American men and women served and died on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific.

One story from this day at Pearl Harbor relates to the USS California (a battleship, pictured on the right in the aftermath of the attack). During the attack, it took three direct hits — two torpedoes and one bomb, killing about 100. It caught fire and the remainder of the crew made their way to shore before the ship sank. The California was salvaged, repaired, and returned to service during World War II (pictured on the left is the rebuilt ship).

WallBuilders Collection includes the December 7, 1941 “Orders of the Day” for the USS California for the day of the attack. Since that day was a Sunday, the orders include times and locations for church services for the ship’s crew:

745 — Rig for church (starboard forecastle, weather permitting).

0750 — Send boat to Officers’ Club landing for Chaplain Maguire.

0830 — Chaplain’s Bible discussion class (port side Crew’s Reception Room).

0830 — Confessions (Crew’s library).

0900 — Divine Service (Catholic).

1000 — Divine Service (Protestant)

Obviously the attack, which began around 8 am, interrupted this schedule, preventing these church services from taking place. This document is an incredible glimpse into the normal routine these sailors were expecting for the day — events that never happened.

On Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we remember the men and women who lost their lives. We also honor our veterans who have faithfully served our nation throughout the generations.

WallBuilders Live (our radio program hosted by Rick Green, David and Tim Barton) has interviewed WWII veterans who were Pearl Harbor survivors. Listen to their stories today.

Don Stratton

Jackson Davis

James Womack

Ray Emory

The USS Arizona sinks after it's bombed during the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941.

Pearl Harbor – Orders of the Day for the USS California

The USS California (a battleship stationed in the Pacific) was one of the eight battleships sunk at Pearl Harbor. During the attack on December 7, 1941, it took three direct hits — two torpedoes and one bomb, killing over 100 crew. The California caught fire and the remainder of the crew made their way to shore before the ship sank. It was later salvaged, repaired, and returned to service during World War II before being decommissioned in 1947.

Below is the December 7, 1941 “Orders of the Day” for the USS California, from WallBuilders’ Collection. Since that day was a Sunday, the orders include notations for church services for the ship’s crew.


Sunrise: 0626                                                                                                                                         Sunset: 1720

MEDICAL GUARD: 00-09 PENNSYLVANIA                                                                               09-24 MARYLAND

GUARD SHIPS: 00-09 PENNSYLVANIA                                                                                     09-24 MARYLAND


Sunday 7, December 1941


1. Duty boats: 2 M.S.; 2 & 4 M.L.’s; 2 M.W.B.

2. Duty sections: Officers, 2: Crew, 2. Gasoline Petty Officers, a.m. JUHL, S.F. 3c.; p.m. LEHNE, S.F.3c.

3. Working division, F; Relief working division, 6-S.


0545 – Send 40′ M.L. with four hands (anchor watch) to Merry Point Naval Stores Landing to pick up ice. Wood, L.K., Sea. lc., in charge.

0600 – Send M.W.B. with signalman to ascertain ships in this sector.

0745 – Rig for church (starboard forecastle, weather permitting).

0750 – Send boat to Officers’ Club landing for Chaplain Maguire.

0830 – Chaplain’s Bible discussion class (port side Crew’s Reception Room).

0830 – Confessions (Crew’s library).

0900 – Divine Service (Catholic).

0945 – Quarters for duty section.

1000 – Divine Service (Protestant).

1700 – Supper for crew.

1930 – Movies on quarterdeck.


1. There will be another Flying Squadron dance at the Aiea Club house on Tuesday, December 9, at 2000. There are 23 tickets available. Men desiring to go register names at ship’s library immediately.

E.E. Stone.

* Handwritten Note (top right): “Dope Sheet from U.S.S. California for the day she was sunk.”


** Originally Posted: Dec. 7, 2017

Yorktown Mortar Shell

Throughout the War for Independence, from the Siege of Boston to the Battle of Yorktown, artillery played a decisive role in securing America’s freedom.

Starting on September 28th and ending with British capitulation on October 19th, the Battle of Yorktown was the last major military engagement of the war. Commanders for the Allied land forces included Generals Henry Knox, Marquis de Lafayette, and Rochambeau under George Washington, while the Allied naval forces consisted of the French fleet led by Comte de Grasse. Most of the engagement at Yorktown centered on the artillery of the two sides, while the main infantry movements were the capture of Redoubts 9 and 10.

The military journal of Major Ebenezer Denny, a Pennsylvanian recruit present at the Battle of Yorktown, describes the stages of the siege and the dramatic effect the artillery had. On the 28th of September, the beginning of the engagement, Major Denney noted that:

One-third of the army on fatigue every day, engaged in various duties, making gabions,[i] fascines,[ii] saucissons,[iii] &c., and great exertions and labor in getting on the heavy artillery. Strong covering parties (whole regiments) moved from camp as soon as dark, and lay all night upon their arms between us and the enemy. … Now and then a heavy shot from the enemy’s works [artillery pieces] reached our camp.[iv]

After getting the artillery parks in place and operational, he gives an account of siege works and the nightly barrages:

At length, everything in readiness, a division of the army broke ground on the night of the 6th of October, and opened the first parallel [trench] about six hundred yards from the works of the enemy. Every exertion to annoy our men, who were necessarily obliged to be exposed about the works; however, the business went on, and on the 9th our cannon and mortars began to play. The scene viewed from the camp now was grand, particularly after dark—a number of shells from the works of both parties passing high in the air, and descending in a curve, each with a long train of fire, exhibited a brilliant spectacle.[v]

On October 11th he explains that the:

Second parallel [was] thrown up within three hundred yards of the main works of the enemy; new batteries erected, and additional number of cannon brought forward—some twenty-four pounders and heavy mortars and howitzers. A tremendous fire now opened from all the new works, French and American. The heavy cannon directed against the embrasures and guns of the enemy. Their pieces were soon silenced, broke and dismantled. Shells from behind their works still kept up.[vi]

Shell Cross Section

Major Denny mentions all three types of artillery—cannons, howitzers, and mortars. Denny noted that of these three, the mortars were the ones most notable for firing the distinctive bomb shells which left the long trains of fire. Mortars have short barrels with an extremely large bore in proportion to the length. Their main purpose was to “throw hollow shells, filled with powder, which falling on any building or into the works of a fortification, bust, and their fragments destroy everything within reach.”[vii]

Major Denny participated in the assault led by Alexander Hamilton upon the redoubts on the 14th of October, and the next day he noted:

Heavy fire from our batteries all day. A shell from one of the French mortars set fire to a British frigate; she burnt to the water’s edge, and blew up—made the earth shake. Shot and shell raked the town in every direction. Bomb-proofs the only place of safety.[viii]

General Cornwallis, realizing that his troops could not continue through such an unrelenting barrage and seeing that his supplies were dwindling due to the French blockade, made the decision to surrender. After the articles of capitulation were signed and the British grounded their weapons on the 19th of October, Major Denny and the rest of the troops took possession of Yorktown, whereupon he stated:

Never was in so filthy a place—some handsome houses, but prodigiously shattered. Vast heaps of shot and shells lying about in every quarter, which came from our works. The shells did not burst as expected.[ix]

Powder Chart from 1801 Manual

The shells Major Denny refers to were mortar-fired hollow casings made of iron which would have a hole an inch in diameter for the fuse to enter. In operation, the shells would be filled with powder, a fuse would be fed through the hole, and the hole would be sealed with a plug of either cork or wood.[x] The bombs themselves would be prepared during the days leading up to the engagement in what was called the laboratory.[xi] When packing the shells in the laboratory, it was generally accepted that, in order to achieve the most complete fragmentation, the shell should not be completely filled; with some saying that it should be as much as 1/3 empty.[xii] What exactly Major Denny meant when he said that the shells failed to burst as expected could mean two things. It could mean that the shells did not fragment at all, due to a failure in the fuse or powder;  it could just mean that the fragmentation was not even or to the desired degree.

Whatever the case, is was the incredible skill of the French and American artillery men which forced General Cornwallis to surrender Yorktown to George Washington, thereby ensuring independency for the American people.[xiii]

In our collection at Wallbuilders we have an unfragmented mortar shell excavated near Yorktown at the site of an overturned wagon. It is 8 inches in diameter making it a medium sized mortar. The pitted surface was standard among the shells from all nations. You can clearly see the hole which the fuse would be fed through and the seam connecting the two halves of the shell.

[i] Gabions are cages made from wicker which then are filled with either stones or soil in order to construct defensive fortification such as parapets.

[ii] Fascines are bundles of sticks tied together which are employed for crossing marshy ground or trenches, and sometimes used for supporting the sides of preexisting earthen works.

[iii] Saucissions, deriving their name due to perceived similarities to French sausages, are longer versions of fascines which typically take more than one man to transport, typically being from 18 to 20 feet long. See The British Military Library, or, Journal Comprehending a Complete Body of Military Knowledge (London: J. Carpenter and Co., 1801), Vol. II, p. 531.

[iv] Ebenezer Denny, The Military Journal of Major Ebenezer Denny, an Officer in the Revolutionary and Indian Wars (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1859) September 28, p. 40. (Read here)

[v] Denny, Military Journal, 41.

[vi] Denny, Military Journal, 42.

[vii] The British Military Library, Vol. II, p. 508.

[viii] Denny, Military Journal, 43.

[ix] Denny, Military Journal, 45.

[x] The British Military Journal  Vol. II, pp. 570-571.

[xi] The British Military Library, Vol. II, p. 415.

[xii] John Muller, Treatise of Artillery (London: John Millan, 1768), 90. (Read here)

[xiii] Jerome A. Greene, The Guns of Independence: The Siege of  Yorktown, 1781 (New York: Savas Beatie, 2005), 384. (Read here)


*Originally Posted: October 6, 2017

American troops land at Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings of 1944.

WWII – Crickets in Normandy

Maxwell Taylor

The landings which took place on the coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944, remain one of the most notable episodes of bravery throughout military history. Prior to the deployment on the beach, however, 13,000 American troops from the 82nd and 101st Airborne landed in the dark behind enemy lines to secure targets which would prevent a heavy German counter attack.[i]

The commander of the 101st, Major General Maxwell Taylor, realized that in the confusing pre-dawn hours of the attack, troops would need a way to signal to others that they were friendly without giving their position away to the Germans. To solve this problem he turned to a clicker device known as a “cricket,” and issued them for the 101st to use during the mission.[ii] Taylor explained:

It rose out of my experiences earlier in the Mediterranean and from our Eagle exercise in England. There was so much dispersion in Sicily that I realized we needed some method of identification behind enemy lines. Eagle convinced me more than ever. We needed a little noisemaker a man could carry in his hand. The cricket seemed just right.[iii]

James Gavin

In operation, the lower tab made a “click” sound when depressed and another upon release. Thus the call would result in a “click-click” sound. The response, signaling that the recipient was friendly, involved pressing the cricket twice, producing a “click-click, click-click.” General Taylor himself, who jumped with the troops, used the cricket to locate his soldiers among the dark French hedgerows. [iv]

General James Gavin, commander of the the 82nd, decided against using the device and instead used only a vocal password-answer system in which a soldier would call out “Flash” and expect the reply “Thunder.” When asked about his decision to not issue the crickets to his troops, Gavin remarked:

There was a lot of gadgetry around, and a lot of it didn’t make much sense. In Normandy, the 82nd used only an oral password. It’s always more important to carry more ammunition … to stay alive … to fight … to get there. I even cut the fringes off the many maps I carried so there’d be more room for ammunition.[v]

Members from the 82nd did still acquire various styles of clickers to be used, though these were not issued by Gavin. Private Don Lassen who served in the 82nd Airborne’s 505th recalls using one during his drop on D-Day:

When I landed at about 2 am, it was darker than pitch. I was totally alone in a field, and tracers were going all around me. I couldn’t find anyone, so I went to get closer because I wanted to be sure that whoever it was would hear my click. As the sound got closer and closer I finally clicked. Sure enough, the person approaching me, someone from the 101st as it turned out, clicked his cricket and we both were OK.[vi]

Another member of the 82nd was Walter Barbour, who acquired and kept several cricket-style clickers he used during the war. Pictured below is Mr. Barbour during the war and one of those crickets which he carried.

[i] John M. Taylor, “World War II: 101st Airborne Division Participate in Operation Overlord,” Military History Quarterly (2006) (at

[ii] Gerald Astor, June 6, 1944: The Voices of D-Day (New York: Dell Publishing, 2002), 154.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Cornelius Ryan, The Longest Day: June 6, 1944 (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1987), 141.

[v] Astor, June 6, 1944, 155.

[vi] Richard A. Berantly, “The Airborne Infantry “Cricket”: Dime Store Toy Becomes D-Day Legend,” Warfare History Network (December 31, 2015) (at


* Originally posted: Sept. 26, 2017.