Sunday, January 13, 2008

The "American Army of Two"

Approximately 15 miles north of the historic settlement of Plymouth, the town of Scituate, Ma. was settled in 1627 by members of Plymouth Colony. By the late 1700's, Scituate had a thriving fishing fleet and a growing population.
By the early 1800's, the local mariners petitioned the town selectmen for a lighthouse to mark the entrance of Scituate Harbor. Due to shallow areas and mud flats, the harbor could be treacherous to enter, especially in foul weather, without the aid of a lighthouse to show the way. The selectmen referred the problem to their local congressional representative, and federal funds were appropriated in 1810 to build a lighthouse at the entrance to the harbor.
The Scituate Lighthouse, pictured above, was completed in 1811 and put into service in April of 1812. Simeon Bates, a local ship captain, was assigned the job of keeper, and moved into the adjacent keeper's house with his wife and nine children.
These were treacherous times in America. The War of 1812 had broken out, and many towns along the coast were plundered and burned by British warships. In early June of 1814, the harbor of Scituate was attacked, and although they didn't make landfall, ten fishing vessels were burned by the British.
Upon the British attack, the local militia was called out to stand guard over the town in the event of another Redcoat visit. Sentinels were placed at the lighthouse, as well as other strategic spots within town, with the expectation that the British would soon return.
As summer wore on, there was no sign of the British. The lighthouse sentinels befriended the Bates family, especially daughters Rebecca, (age 21), and Abigail, (conflicting sources place her age somewhere between 15 and 17). Abigail was taught how to play the drums, and could replicate the different military signals, and Rebecca was taught four different military songs on the fife, of which "Yankee Doodle" was the one she felt she did especially well.
After months of no British activity, the militia was slowly called back from their posts. By late summer, all of the sentinels, including the ones at the lighthouse, were no longer posted.
It was on one of these late summer days, when Simeon Bates was away from the lighthouse, during one of his frequent trips to town, that the British returned. Remaining at the lighthouse were only Rebecca, Abigail, and their mother. As Rebecca was beginning to prepare the evening meal, she spotted through the kitchen window the British frigate HMS Bulwark anchored outside the harbor. Running to the top of the lighthouse to get a better look, she and Abigail saw first one, then a second barge filled with Redcoats being lowered from the ship and headed toward the harbor.
Memories of the earlier British attack were still in the girls' memories. Knowing that once again what was left of the town's fishing vessels were in danger of being destroyed, let alone the town itself, brought great trepidation to the Bates girls. Also to consider were the two cargo ships which lay anchor in the harbor, their holds filled with flour. Food was scarce at this juncture of the war, and the flour would be just as coveted by the British soldiers as it was by the townfolk.
Knowing that the girls could never get to town quick enough to warn the citizens, Rebecca had to think fast to try to save the town. The girls ran back down the stairs of the tower and to a storeroom, where the sentinels had left their muskets. Considering the action of using the muskets to fire upon the British, Rebecca quickly dismissed the idea because she knew that not only were they outnumbered greatly by the soldiers, but that would also draw cannon fire to the lighthouse from the warship. Quickly considering other plans of action, she came upon another idea.
Rebecca and Abigail grabbed their drum and fife from the storeroom, and ran as quickly as they could to the water's edge. Hiding behind a grove of trees near the beach, Rebecca instructed Abigail to play "Roll Call" on her drums, while she fervently belted out "Yankee Doodle" on her fife. The girls played as loudly as they could, and the sound drifted upon the approaching British.
Looking through the thickets and trees, the girls could see that the British in both barges had stopped rowing. "Could it be that they've heard us?", Rebecca thought to herself, and played her fife with even more spirit than before. Indeed, not only the sailors in the barges heard the girls, but those on the frigate as well. Not able to see who was actually playing the instruments, the British assumed that the local militia had been alerted to their arrival and was gathering to meet them. A signal appeared from the frigate, and the men on the barges turned around and returned to the ship. It wasn't long afterwards that the frigate raised its anchor and left Scituate for the open sea.
Recounting the story years later, Rebecca was adamant that the story was true, despite the fact that there were a number of "naysayers" which scoffed at the idea. Upon review by many local historians, although the story hasn't been 100% corroborated, many believe it to be the truth.

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Biography- Orlando Metcalfe Poe

Some of the most ornate and architecturally sound lighthouses on the Great Lakes were designed and built by the army's Chief Engineer of the Upper Great Lakes Lighthouse District, Orlando Metcalfe Poe.

Poe was born on March 7, 1832, in what is now the Village of Navarre, Ohio. Located on the banks of the Tuscarawas River, Navarre is adjacent to the town of Canton, which houses the American Fooball Hall of Fame, and approximately 40 miles south of Cleveland.

Entering the United States Military Acadamy, (West Point), at the age of 20 in 1852, Poe graduated sixth in his class in 1856. Assigned to the Corps of Topigraphical Engineers, (the map makers of the Army), he was promoted to First Lieutenant in 1860 while he was Asst. Topographical Engineer on the Survey of the Northern Great Lakes from 1856-1861.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Poe returned to Ohio and assisted in the recruiting of volunteers to aid the Northern cause. He soon caught the attention of General George McClelland and was assigned to the general's staff. It was in this capacity he participated in the battle of Rich Mountain.

When McClelland was promoted to General of the Army of the Potomac by President Lincoln, Poe was also promoted. The newly appointed colonel of the 2nd Michigan volunteers was in command of the defenses around Washington D.C. He also took part in the battles of the Virginia Peninsular campaign, leading his men from Yorktown through the battle of Seven Pines, then given a field command prior to Second Bull Run.

On November 29, 1862, Poe was commissioned Brigadier General of volunteers, (a commission which never was confirmed by Congress), and took part in the battle of Fredricksburg.

Reverting back to his rank of captain, Poe was transferred to the Western Campaign as chief engineer of XXIII Corps, the Army of the Ohio. It was during this time that he successfully led the defenses of Knoxville, Tennessee against the Confederate army of General James Longstreet. It was because of these efforts that Poe was selected to be General William T. Sherman's chief engineer in his march through Georgia. It was Poe who was responsible for the almost total annihilation of Atlanta, as he directed the destruction forces there. He continued as chief of engineers for the remainder of Sherman's march to the sea, as well as the subsequent final battles of the war.

At the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, Poe was appointed the Lighthouse Board's chief engineer. In 1870, he was reassigned to the position of Chief Engineer of the Upper Great Lakes Lighthouse District.It was in this position that Poe designed some of the best-known and best built lighthouses on the Great Lakes.
The first light he designed, the new Presque Isle light station in 1870, displayed the distinctive Poe signature which would be found in many of his lighthouses. These tall brick structures, gently tapering from top to bottom, displayed an embellished array of masonry gallery supports and arched top windows. This unique mix soon came to be known as the "Poe style". Other "Poe style" lighthouses included South Manitou Island, (constructed in 1872), Outer Island, Au Sable, and Little Sable, (all built in 1874), Grosse Point, (1873), and Wind Point, (1880). All of these lights remain standing to this day.

Along with all of the previous land-based lighthouses, Poe was instrumental in designing one of the very first off-shore lighthouses, Spectacle Reef. The Spectacle Reef Lighthouse took nearly three years to build and cost a whopping $406,000, much more than the average $40-$70,000 lightstation cost at that time. During this time, he also served as general Sherman's aide-de-camp from 1873-1883.

In 1883, Poe's engineering role was once again redefined, as he became Superintendent Engineer of improvements of rivers and harbors on Lakes Superior and Huron. It was in this role that he designed what many believe to be the finest work of his career, the Poe Lock at Sault Ste Marie. At a length of 800 feet and a width of 100 feet, it was, at the time it was completed in 1896, the largest in the world.

Unfortunately, Poe never got to see the completed project. While inspecting a problem at the lock, he slipped and fell, breaking a number of bones in his body. While bedridden and recovering from the accident he contracted what was believed to be malaria and died ten days later, on October 2, 1895 at the age of 67. Lieutenant-Colonel Orlando M. Poe, a career military man, was buried with honor at Arlington National Cemetery. Buried with him are his wife Eleanor, sons Orlando Wanrner and Charles, and daughter Winifred.

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