Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Lafayette "Fayette" McMullen (1805-1880): Obituary

Lafayette "Fayette" McMullen was my first cousin four times removed, the nephew of my three times great grandmother, Mary (McMullin) Beard. He was born on 18 May 1805 in Bedford County, Virginia, and died from injuries sustained after being hit by a train on 8 November 1880 in Wytheville, Virginia. He served in the Virginia Senate from 1839-1849, U.S. House of Representatives from 1849 to 1857, as the second territorial governor of Washington Territory from 1857-1859, and in the Confederate House of Representatives from 1864 to 1865.

On 9 November 1880, the following article was published on page 3 of the Daily Dispatch, a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper:

As published in the Daily Dispatch on 8 November 1880; courtesy of the
Library of Congress' Chronicling America website

Accident to Governor McMullin
[Special telegram to the Dispatch]

WYTHEVILLE, VA -- November 8. -- Ex-Governor Fayette McMullin was struck by a train here tonight and seriously hurt. He attempted to cross the track in front of the engine, and was struck by the pilot and knocked down. His hip, it is thought, is broken. He also received some severe cuts and bruises about the face.

A day later, on 10 November 1880, his obituary was published in the same paper on page 2:

Death of Hon. Fayette McMullin

The accident to Hon. Fayette McMullin which was chronicled in our issue of yesterday resulted in his death the same day.

Mr. McMullin had been a public man in Virginia for perhaps fifty years. He served for many years as a member of one or the other branch of the State Legislature. He was rendered famous during that period by a newspaper controversy between him and the notorious William G. Brownlow, of Tennessee. But all of Brownlow's libels went for nothing with the unflinching friends of Mr. McMullin in "Little Tennessee," and he was not only continued in the General Assembly of Virginia as long as he desired to remain in that body, but when in 1849 (our elections were then held in May) he ran for the National House of Representatives he was easily elected. He served in that body until March, 1855, In May, 1857, he was appointed by President Buchanan Governor of the new Territory of Washington. Whilst there he committed what we suppose we may pronounce the greatest blunder of his life, as well as his most censurable act, in procuring a divorce from the wife of his youth.

After his return to Virginia, Governor McMullin became a candidate for the Confederate House of Representatives, and was elected to that body, serving until the close of the war. In 1868 he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and aided in the nomination of Seymour and Blair. Since then he has been standing Independent candidate for Congress, but has always been beaten. His lat defeat he suffered on the 2nd instant, when he was distanced.

Governor McMullin was between seventy-five and eighty years of age at the time of his decease. He was a man of no cultivation, and was, we might add, but poorly qualified for the important legislative places to which he aspired and was elected. But he had a hold upon the honest yeomanry of Southwest Virginia which lasted until after the close of the late war between the States. There are still a good many devoted friends of the "Old Waggoner's" in his original congressional district who will say with Prince Hal, "We could have better spared a better man."

Governor McMullin was universally known throughout Virginia, and may friends will be pained to bear of his death. Peace to his ashes.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Video about the 314th Engineers During World War I

In 2015 I wrote a post about the World War I experiences of my first cousin twice removed, Alexander Hutchison entitled "An American's Experience During World War I." Alex served with the 314th Engineers, which were attached to the 89th Division. His parents, Alexander Hutchison and Janet "Jessie" Semple, had immigrated from Scotland; married in Streator, Illinois; returned to Scotland when Alex was three years old; and came back to the U.S. nine years later, settling in Novinger, Missouri.

Alex Hutchison was inducted into the U.S. Army on 2 April 1918, trained at Camp Funston in Kansas, was sent overseas on 12 June 1918, and was honorably discharged on 26 May 1919. During the war his division participated in the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives.

Recently, I was contacted by Susan Barrett Price. Her grandfather, Walter Price, also served with the 314th Engineers. Susan produced a video of his World War I experience and graciously allowed me to share it on my blog.

Thank you, Susan!

The book Susan mentioned in her video, American Armies and Battlefields in Europe may be downloaded from the Center of Military History (CMH). Other helpful CMH publications about World War I may be found here.

An American's Experience During World War I

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Halsey's Typhoon

Guest Author: John E. Jennings, my brother and amateur historian.

After discovering a distant cousin was killed during World War II when his ship went down during a typhoon, I asked my brother to write about the disaster that caused his death. Machinist Mate 1st Class Edward Henkel's name is included on the Walls of the Missing at the American Memorial Cemetery in Taguig City, Philippines.

Almighty Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep:
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.

This old Royal Navy hymn was popularized in the days of sail, but was still readily on the lips of sailors in the closing stages of World War II, for even ships made of steel and powered by steam-turbines had to take heed of Mother Nature’s wrath. Case in point was the typhoon that struck the United States fleet in the Pacific on 18 December, 1944.

By that late stage of the war U.S. 3rd Fleet, commanded by Admiral William F. Halsey—known by the nickname “Bull” because of his single-minded devotion to attacking the enemy—was an all-conquering force, the most powerful armada ever assembled in history. The fleet consisted of 13 aircraft carriers, eight battleships, 15 cruisers and about 50 destroyers. They were supported by a Logistics Group (Task Force 30) of tankers, escort carriers and destroyers, ready to resupply the warships at sea so they could remain longer in the combat zone. Just two months before, Halsey’s fleet had destroyed virtually the entire Japanese Combined Fleet during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. But, there was still plenty of fighting left. MacArthur’s army forces had just invaded Mindoro in the Philippines and Halsey’s carriers operated in support of the ground troops, flying attack missions against Japanese air bases in the northern Philippines. By mid-December, though, his ships were running low of fuel, so he took his fleet far to the east into the Philippine Sea, out of range of enemy aircraft, to rendezvous with TF 30 and refuel.

The rendezvous point lay in the typical path of typhoons for that time of year, but all hands were much more concerned about getting back to fighting the Japanese then they were about the potential for storms. Even as the weather started making up on the 17th, little heed was given to what seemed by all data available to be a rather small tropical disturbance. Typhoon Cobra, however, would fool the fleet’s meteorologists; it worked up from a disturbance to a full-fledged typhoon in short order and was so densely packed that it spun off few tell-tale signs. So as Halsey’s fleet steamed toward its refueling rendezvous, nobody realized they were sailing directly into the path of a fierce typhoon. By the early hours of the 18th, as the wind picked up to more than 30 knots, Halsey realized he was “confronted by serious storm conditions.” He cancelled the planned refueling at 0500 hours and ordered his fleet due south into what he thought would be the calmer southern quadrant of the storm. But his meteorologists had miscalculated the storm’s true position, so this course change brought his ships into the worst of the gathering storm. By 1000 the barometer plunged and winds gusted to more than 70 knots. Seas built into pyramid shaped mountains and slammed into the ships. At 1149 Halsey ordered all units to take the most comfortable course, giving up any semblance of fleet formation. Escort carrier Kwajalein hove to in order to reduce the pounding it was taking after rolling so severely she scooped up green water with her flight deck catwalks. On other carriers planes broke their lashings and crashed about the hangar deck, causing fires aboard light carriers Monterey and Cowpens. In total 146 aircraft were lost, either wrecked or heaved overboard.

Waves breaking over a Navy oiler during Typhoon Cobra, better known as
Halsey's Typhoon; courtesy of the National Archives and Records

But it was Task Force 30, the Logistics Group and easternmost of all the fleet units, that caught the worst of the storm. And the destroyers suffered the most. Hull was a smallish (1370 tons displacement) destroyer of an older design. She had been modified during the course of war, being fitted with over 500 tons of extra equipment and armament on her decks, which made her top heavy. Worse still she had several half empty fuel tanks, which can be dangerous in heavy seas because the ship’s center of gravity changes as the contents shift, a dynamic which tends to exaggerate rolls. Naval regulations at the time did not advise re-ballasting under such conditions, although it certainly would have helped stabilize the ship. Hull’s skipper, Lieutenant Commander J. A. Marks had experienced storms in the North Atlantic, but not a typhoon like the one now bearing down on his little ship. At 1100, with wind increasing to over 100 knots, the TF 30 commander (Captain Jasper. T. Acuff) ordered a course change to 140°. It proved a death knell for Hull. The ship failed to respond during the course change and ‘lay in irons’ with the northerly wind on her port beam. She was pounded by one, two and then three monstrous waves, rolling the ship over to 70° each time. Her whaleboat, depth charges and nearly everything on deck was carried off by the sea. Then a strong gust of 110 knot wind knocked her down and kept her pinned on her beam ends. The pilothouse flooded and sea poured into her inner spaces through the stacks. Hull sank shortly after noon, taking with her all but 62 out of a crew of 264.

Hull was not the only ship to go down on 18 December, 1944 in what has come to be known in naval
annals as “Halsey’s Typhoon.” Destroyers Monaghan and Spence also capsized and sank. Nine other
ships were damaged badly enough to need repairs. 790 men were lost. A board of inquiry placed
responsibility for the losses on Halsey, but assigned no negligence to the admiral, finding that his errors in judgment stemmed from a “commendable desire to meet military requirements.” It was also found that lack of suitable weather stations in the Western Pacific contributed to the ignorance of the fleet to the approaching storm. Within months the Fleet Weather Center was established on Guam and weather stations staffed at various other islands to keep track of tropical storms. Guidelines were put in place for destroyers to re-ballast half-empty fuel tanks and flood empty tanks in certain sea conditions.

Edward Henkel (1923-1944): Killed During Typhoon Cobra