Battle of Ball's Bluff

Battle of Ball's Bluff

A scouting mission turned into a rout at Ball’s Bluff on October 21, 1861, when a fierce Confederate attack and a shortage of boats on the Potomac left Union soldiers terribly exposed. Read more »

October 21, 1861
Date of Event: 
Monday, October 21, 1861

Race Cleansing In America

A nationwide gene-purity movement promoted methods that eventually were adopted by the Third Reich. And everyone from John D. Rockefeller to W. E. B. Du Bois supported it.

Carrie Buck was in her third year at the State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded in Lynchburg, Virginia, when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the state’s right to sterilize her. Seventeen at the time she had been institutionalized, the child of a feeble-minded mother and the mother to an illegitimate daughter of her own, Buck had refused to submit to sterilization, and the case had finally made its way to the nation’s highest court.

 
 
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Why We Hate To Love Judges

As the 2000 election made very clear, we are torn between revering judges and despising them. It’s in the nature of the job.

A judge, the old saw goes, is a lawyer who knew a governor (or a President or a senator). In most states, a judge is a lawyer who knows how to attract voters. Whatever the judge’s secret, the contempt underlying that catchphrase suggests the palpable disdain that tints our view of the whole legal system. We speak with scorn of the “courthouse gang,” meaning the petty politicians who loiter in the temple of justice. We like to think of judges as above all that, yet we continue to regard the administration of justice as a mere extension of politics. Read more »

Enlisted For Life

Oliver Wendell Holmes was wounded three times in some of the worst fighting of the Civil War. But for him, the most terrible battles were the ones he had missed.

He was born in 1841, in a Boston that took its water from backyard wells and its light from whale-oil lamps. He died ninety-four years later in a nation that the army pilot James Doolittle had just crossed in twelve hours. Between the birth and the death came a career and a renown few achieve, and thirty years of serving as one of the most brilliant, influential, and revered Justices of the Supreme Court.Read more »

Military Medicine

How our wartime experience conquered a wide range of problems from hemorrhagic shock to yellow fever

WHEN HIPPOCRATES wrote in the fifth century B.C. that “he who would learn surgery should join an army and follow it,” he illuminated the central irony of military medicine. Destructive as war is, it makes possible quantum leaps in the art of healing. And it is the surgeon who benefits most directly: war has been described as an “epidemic of trauma,” and the vast supply of wounded men provides opportunities for experimentation and innovation unthinkable in a world at peace.Read more »

They Didn’t Know What Time It Was

On November 18, 1883, the nation finally settled on the method of synchronizing all clocks that we call standard time. Why did it take so long to figure that one out?

THROUGHOUT MOST of the last century, very few Americans could agree on the time of day. Every town kept its own time. A pocket diary for the year 1873 contains two tables, one showing the difference in time between Boston and other cities, the second giving the time in other cities when it was noon in New York. With a little calculating, a Boston salesman bound for St.Read more »

William James Finds His Vocation

One of America s truly great men—scientist, philosopher, and literary genius—forged his character in the throes of adversity

THE YEAR IS 1890 and the place Cambridge, Massachusetts. On one of the streets leading northeast along the Harvard Yard a man in early middle age—he is, in fact, fortyeight years old, of slight build and medium height but vigorous motion—is walking with a pair of students, boy and girl, who have followed him out of his class in experimental psychology. His face is bearded and his eyes bright blue, and his features reflect the rapidity of his thought. He is William James, the scientist and philosopher.Read more »

The Sun Paintings Of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes

 
 

No nineteenth-century American was more enthusiastic about the advent of the camera than Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes.Read more »

Melville Meets Hawthorne

HOW A CHAMPAGNE PICNIC ON MONUMENT MOUNTAIN LED TO A PROFOUND REVISION OF Moby Dick —AND DISENCHANTMENT

A little group of American men of affairs and letters met along with their ladies on the morning of August 5, 1850, to hike up Monument Mountain, one of the more prominent features of the landscape surrounding Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The intention was purely social, and socially the day proved a smashing success, leading five of the ten hikers to record the event in letters, journals, articles, and books. For two of them, however, the climb was the beginning of one of the strangest episodes in the history of American literature.Read more »

Last Footnotes

Catherine Drinker Bowen—historian, musician, and most of all biographer—said in our sister magazine, HORIZON , in an article written shortly before her death, that all of her biographical heroes were possessed by a sense of urgency.Read more »