The Day When We Almost Lost the Army

Debate over America's involvement in World War II came to a head in July 1941 as the Senate argued over a draft extension bill. The decision would have profound consequences for the nation.

On July 19, 1941, when Gen. George Catlett Marshall, Army chief of staff, stepped before the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, his gray civilian suit could not disguise the proud bearing of a soldier and commander of men. His shoulders squared, but not conspicuously so, his chin receding slightly, and thin lips compressed with resolution, his tall figure exuded dignity, authority, and singleness of purpose. He considered his mission that day as among the most vital of any during his distinguished 39-year career in uniform: to save the still anemic U.S. Army from emasculation. Read more »

Ethan Allen’s Ill-Fated March on Canada

A new look at a famous Revolutionary figure questions whether history’s long-standing judgment is accurate

AT 9 O’CLOCK ON THE morning of September 25, 1775, a French Canadian habitant banged on the main gate of Montreal. The Americans were coming, he blurted breathlessly to a British officer. As drums began to rattle out the alarm and a panicky crowd filled the Place d’Armes, the farmer told Sir Guy Carleton, governor general of Canada, that an American army had crossed the St. Lawrence during the night and was marching south down the island. The invaders numbered in the hundreds.Read more »

Snapshot in Time

Restoration experts make a startling discovery that an 1848 daguerreotype hides a wealth of insight into life in a pre-war riverside town

In 2006, conservator Ralph Wiegandt flipped on his Zeiss Axio stereomicroscope and peered at the surface of an 1848 daguerreotype. The Cincinnati Public Library had entrusted him to clean its prize possession, a rare five-and-a-half-foot-long, eight-plate panorama photograph of the city’s waterfront. Working out of the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, he found the image’s surface strewn with corrosive particles, as he had expected. But at the same time extraordinary details from the image jumped out at him: letters on a billboard, a face in a window.Read more »

An Ignoble Profession

The business of forging George Washington’s signature and correspondence to sell to unwitting buyers goes back 150 years

As the editor of the papers of George Washington at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, I have the privilege of intersecting with many people who come bearing documents supposedly signed by the first president. More often than you might think, I have the unenviable task of informing them that their letter‚ often lovingly framed and passed down for decades in their family is a fake. An office file, which we've marked "Forgeries," overflows with dozens of similar examples.Read more »

Girl Computers

In a top-secret program, talented, young female mathematicians calculated the artillery and bomb trajectories that American GIs used to win World War II

The air at 20,000 feet above Schweinfurt, Germany, was icy cold, but the bombardier crouching in the nose of the B-17 hardly noticed. Sweat poured down his forehead as flak rocked the aircraft, periodically spattering his compartment's Plexiglas bubble with fragments. He focused intently on preparing for the final bombing run.Read more »

Adventures in Paris

American artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens finds inspiration in France to create one of America’s most iconic sculptures, a memorial to Civil War hero Adm. David Farragut

AUGUSTUS SAINT-GAUDENS came to Paris for the first time in 1867, the year it seemed the whole world came to Paris for the Exposition Universelle, the grand, gilded apogee of Second Empire exuberance. He arrived on an evening in February, by train after dark and apparently alone. He was 19 years old, a redheaded New York City boy, a shoemaker's son, who had been working since the age of 13. He was not one of the first ambitious young Americans to come to Paris following the Civil War.Read more »

How America Helped Build The Soviet Machine

To bring their nation to the leading edge of technology, Soviet leaders are turning to the United States. Their grandfathers did the same thing.

Our usual picture of the Soviet Union and its history is strictly political and economic. We trace the many struggles for leadership power and the ups and downs of the Soviet economy. We chart the rise of Stalin and the battles for party domination that followed him, and we watch Mikhail Gorbachev avow glasnost (political openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring).Read more »

Mutiny At West Point

In 1817, “Old Pewt’s” rebellious cadets met their master in Sylvanus Thayer

It was June 15, 1817, and up at West Point newly elected President James Monroe, staunch friend of the Military Academy, was in a towering rage. The place was in poor shape, its curriculum had unraveled, examinations were unknown, and discipline was non-existent. The acting superintendent, Captain Alden Partridge, Corps of Engineers, seemed to be running a “Dotheboys Hall” of sorts, where favoritism governed and cadets were being graduated without reference either to academic standing or military ability.Read more »

Who Was Wyatt Earp?

From law officer to murderer to Hollywood consultant: the strange career of a man who became myth

Late in his life Henry Fonda, at dinner with a producer named Melvin Shestack, recalled meeting an old man who said he had firsthand knowledge of a memorable Fonda character, Wyatt Earp, the legendary frontier lawman of John Ford’s classic My Darling Clementine .Read more »

The Overlord Embroidery

A vast tribute in cloth to the victors of D-day is good art, good history—and surprisingly affecting

In the ancient seafaring town of Portsmouth, England, overlooking the English Channel, stands the D-Day Museum. This June it will be at the center of ceremonies commemorating the forty-fifth anniversary of the day when Allied troops—many of them embarked from this port—breached Hitler’s Fortress Europe. The museum is full of telling exhibits, but most impressive by far is the Overlord Embroidery, which tells the story of the Normandy landing in glowing fabric. Read more »