The First First Lady

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2016-2017, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the September 2016 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.


September 14, 2016 was the date of the first meeting in the presidency of the second woman president in the history of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable. In recognition of that milestone, this history brief is about the first first lady of the United States. The obvious person to have the distinction of being the first first lady is Martha Washington, the wife of the first president of the United States. However, Martha Washington was never called first lady while her husband served as president. In fact, Martha Washington was typically called Lady Washington, a name that she reputedly expressed a preference for. More than 40 years after Martha Washington’s death, an article by a poet named Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney complimented Martha Washington for never taking on an air of pretentiousness despite her husband’s lofty stature. The compliment read, “The first lady of the nation still preserved the habits of early life.” Although the title of first lady was applied to Martha Washington in this article, this was done decades after her death, and there is no evidence that this title was ever used for Martha Washington while her husband was president. Dolley Madison was another presidential wife in our nation’s early history to whom the title first lady may have been applied. This may have occurred when President Zachary Taylor reputedly eulogized Dolley Madison in 1849 by calling her “the first lady of the land for half a century.” However, no written documentation exists for this statement, and even if the statement is factual, the comment was made many years after Dolley Madison’s husband was president. During James Madison’s presidency, his wife was called Presidentess or Presidentress, not first lady.

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Marching Home to the Beat of a Purloined Melody

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2018-2019, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the March 2019 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.


On August 31, 1976 a district court in New York City ruled that former Beatle George Harrison was guilty of copyright infringement. Harrison was ordered by the court to pay nearly $1.6 million to the publisher of the song that Harrison had plagiarized, although that amount was subsequently amended to $587,000. The lawsuit involved Harrison’s song “My Sweet Lord,” which rose to number one in the U.S. and in so doing made Harrison the first of the former Beatles to have a number one song as a solo artist. The song that Harrison plagiarized is “He’s So Fine,” which was released by the singing group The Chiffons in December 1962 and became a number one song in 1963. Although the presiding judge in the trial, Richard Owen, acknowledged that he believed that Harrison had not deliberately plagiarized “He’s So Fine,” the judge nevertheless asserted that what Harrison did was “under the law, infringement of copyright, and is no less so even though subconsciously accomplished.” U.S. copyright laws were certainly different at the time of George Harrison’s trial compared to the mid-19th century, but a judicial fate like that of George Harrison’s could have befallen the person who composed one of the most popular and uplifting songs of the Civil War.

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The Man Whose Torpedoes Farragut Damned

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2017-2018, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the September 2017 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.


One of the most famous quotes in U.S. naval history purportedly occurred at the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, when Union Admiral David Farragut famously ordered, or maybe did not order, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” Whether or not Farragut actually said these exact words, this quote has become one of the most esteemed wartime quotes in U.S. history, because it embodies the qualities of bravery and determination to press on even in the face of life-threatening danger. Farragut certainly deserves much credit for making this decision and for stating his decision in such forceful and memorable language. However, Farragut does not deserve all of the credit for this superb quote. In fact, some of the credit for this quote should go to a Confederate general. It may not be clear why a general in the Confederate army deserves some of the credit for something that was said by a Union admiral in a naval battle. The reason is that, without this Confederate general, there would not have been any torpedoes for David Farragut to damn, because it was a Confederate general, Gabriel J. Rains, who was chiefly responsible for the torpedoes in Mobile Bay and in other places that the Confederacy protected with torpedoes. (Gabriel Rains’ younger brother, George, also made an indispensable contribution to the Confederate war effort by implementing and overseeing the production of gunpowder. George Rains is the focus of the October 2017 history brief, which is titled The Chief Chemist of the Confederacy.)

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The Chief Chemist of the Confederacy

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2017-2018, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the October 2017 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.


The statement, “An army marches on its stomach,” has been attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, but it may have originated with Frederick the Great. It may even be that this statement, or at least the concept embodied in it, originated much earlier with the Roman physician Claudius Galen. But whoever deserves credit for this anatomically incorrect statement, it is meant to convey that an army must be well provisioned in order to conduct operations. Nevertheless, an army has to do more than just march and eat. Often when an army arrives at its destination, it then has to fight, and to do this it needs more than just food, unless the battles resemble the cafeteria scene from the movie Animal House. For the Confederacy, one important ingredient necessary to fight Civil War battles was in perilously short supply early in the war. Fortunately for the secessionist war effort, a resourceful and industrious person who was knowledgeable in chemistry found a way to provide ample amounts of this ingredient, although this person’s success worked to the detriment of any Union military personnel who were killed or wounded by projectiles that were propelled by gunpowder.

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Like Father, Like Son…or Not

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2017-2018, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the November 2017 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.


I remember when I was much younger, maybe age 12, my father took my brother and me to see the movie Taras Bulba. The movie stars Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis as, respectively, a father and son, and I suppose that this pairing strains credulity for genetic inheritance of physical appearance. The father and son in the movie are members of a Cossack community, and this community is in conflict with a Polish principality. During the movie, the son falls in love with a Polish woman and makes the decision to fight with the Poles in their conflict against the Cossacks. Near the end of the movie, the enraged father kills his son for supporting the cause that he opposes. As it happens, the Civil War had something of a Taras Bulba episode, and it occurred at the Battle of Galveston.

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Jubal Early: Lee’s Bad Old Man

By Dennis Keating
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2017, All Rights Reserved


Edward H. Bonekemper III, our September 2017 speaker on “The Myth of the Lost Cause,” writes of Jubal Early in his 2015 book:

Early, who faltered at Gettysburg, lost the Shenandoah Valley and his corps, been relieved of his command by Lee, and fled the country for a few years after the war, was an early critic of Longstreet and others who could be blamed for Lee’s shortcomings. Early was a better propagandist than general. As an author and president of the Lee Monument Association, the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia, and the Southern Historical Society, he acted as Lee’s chief votary for three decades.

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