Today in 1861 the earliest military action recognized with a Medal of Honor award was performed by Colonel Bernard J.D. Irwin, an assistant army surgeon. Near Apache Pass, in southeastern Arizona, Irwin volunteered to go to the rescue of Second Lieutenant George N. Bascom, who was trapped with 60 men of the U.S. Seventh Infantry by Chiricahua Apaches. Irwin and 14 men began the 100-mile trek to Bascom’s forces riding on mules. They reached Bascom’s forces on February 14 and proved instrumental in breaking the siege.
Although Irwin’s bravery was the earliest Medal of Honor action, the award itself was not created until 1862, and it was not until January 21, 1894, that Irwin received the nation’s highest military honor.
Today in1945 the most controversial Allied air raid against Germany began as hundreds of British bombers loaded with incendiaries and high-explosive bombs descend on Dresden, a historic city located in eastern Germany. Dresden was neither a war production city nor a major industrial center, and before the massive air raid had not suffered a major Allied attack. By February 15, the city was a smoldering ruin and an unknown number of civilians–somewhere between 35,000 and 135,000–were dead.
The city’s air defenses were so weak that only six Lancaster bombers were shot down. By the morning, some 800 British bombers had dropped 1,478 tons of high-explosive bombs and 1,182 tons of incendiaries on Dresden, creating a great firestorm that destroyed most of the city and killed numerous civilians. Later that day, as survivors made their way out of the smoldering city, over 300 U.S. bombers began bombing Dresden’s railways, bridges, and transportation facilities, killing thousands more. On February 15, another 200 U.S. bombers continued their assault on the city’s infrastructure. All told, the bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air Force dropped 954 tons of high-explosive bombs and 294 tons of incendiaries on Dresden. Later, the Eighth Air Force would drop 2,800 more tons of bombs on Dresden in three other attacks before the war’s end.
The Allies claimed that by bombing Dresden, they were disrupting important lines of communication that would have hindered the Soviet offensive. This may be true, but there is no disputing that the British incendiary attack on the night of February 13-14 was conducted also, if not primarily, for the purpose of terrorizing the German population and forcing an early surrender.
Because there were an unknown number of refugees in Dresden at the time of the Allied attack, it is impossible to know exactly how many civilians perished. After the war, investigators from various countries, and with varying political motives, calculated the number of civilians killed to be as little as 8,000 to more than 200,000. Estimates today range from 35,000 to 135,000. Looking at photographs of Dresden after the attack, in which the few buildings still standing are completely gutted, it seems improbable that only 35,000 of the million or so people in Dresden that night were killed. Cellars and other shelters would have been meager protection against a firestorm that blew poisonous air heated to hundreds of degrees Fahrenheit across the city at hurricane-like speeds.
American author Kurt Vonnegut, who was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the Allied attack and tackled the controversial event in his book Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), said of postwar Dresden, “It looked a lot like Dayton, Ohio, more open spaces than Dayton has. There must be tons of human bone meal in the ground.”
Today in 1991 Sotheby’s announced the discovery of a long-lost manuscript of Huckleberry Finn. by Mark Twain.
The manuscript was the first half of Twain’s original version, heavily corrected in his own handwriting, which had been missing for more than a century. The manuscript surfaced when a 62-year-old Los Angeles librarian finally got around to sorting through some old papers in six trunks sent to her when an aunt from upstate New York died.
Twain, it turned out, had sent the second half of the manuscript to the librarian’s grandfather, James Gluck, who had solicited it for the Buffalo and Erie Library in Buffalo, New York, where Twain had once lived. At the time, Twain was unable to find the entire manuscript, and it was presumed lost for more than 100 years. However, it turned out that Twain did eventually find the manuscript and send it to Gluck.
A custody war over the manuscript ensued, with the sisters, the library, and the Mark Twain Papers Projects in Berkeley, California, squabbling over rights to the papers. Ultimately, the three parties struck a deal: The library would hold the rights to the physical papers, but all three parties would share in the publication rights. Because the novel contained previously unpublished material, and showed Twain’s edits, interest in publishing the manuscript was high, and in 1995 Random House won the rights to publish the book for an undisclosed price.
Today in 1915 the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) was founded.
Among the founding members of ASCAP were the musical giants of the day: Irving Berlin, James Weldon Johnson, Jerome Kern, and John Philip Sousa. Protection from unauthorized printed reproduction of their compositions was a right clearly established under U.S. copyright law, but it was a novel contention at the time that the composer had a further right to a share of any other revenue stream to which his work was a contributing factor. This was the claim made by ASCAP, which said that its fundamental goal was to “assure that music creators are fairly compensated for the public performance of their works, and that their rights are properly protected.”
“If music did not pay, it would be given up,” wrote Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the Supreme Court decision of Herbert v. Shanley Co in1917. The decision forced Shanley’s Restaurant in New York City to pay a fee to Victor Herbert for playing a song of his on a player-piano during dinner service.
In the wake of the successful Shanley decision, ASCAP adopted the royalty-payment mechanism that is still in use today. The size of the ASCAP catalog, and the popularity of the roughly 8.5 million songs it encompasses, effectively force commercial music users to become ASCAP licensees. Today, ASCAP reports that it distributes upwards of $650 million in royalties annually to its members.
Today in 1635 Boston Latin School, the first tax-payer supported (public) school in America was established in Boston, Massachusetts.
Happy birthday Grant DeVolson Wood, artist, born today in 1891 at Anamosa, Iowa.
He is best known for his paintings depicting the rural American Midwest, particularly American Gothic (1930), an iconic image of the 20th century.
Wood died February 12, 1942, one day before his 51st birthday, at Iowa City, Iowa. His estate went to his sister, Nan Wood Graham, the woman portrayed in American Gothic. When she died in 1990 Wood’s personal effects and various works of art became the property of the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.