Differences between Hellenistic and Hellenic Greek Civilization

Hellenic studies focuses on the study of the Ancient Greeks. It also studies the impact of Hellenic civilization on other time periods, such as the Medieval period, the Renaissance, and modern times. This study, however, is limited in scope to Ancient Greek civilization between 510 BCE and 323 BCE, a period known as “Classical Greece.”

Classical Greece is primarily characterized as a period where Ancient Greece was dominated by Athens. This was because many of the dominant scholars and writers of the period were born in Athens, though we do have sources from other Greek city-states. The Hellenic Period occurs after what is known as the Archaic Period, the formative period of Ancient Greece from the 8th century BCE (700’s BCE) to 510 BCE. In 510 BCE, the first democracy was created in Athens following the overthrow of the last Athenian tyrant, due to the efforts of Cleisthenes. The resulting democracy allowed for the flourishing of free-thinkers and writers, producing some of the most well-known achievements in art, literature, science, philosophy, and other sciences.

Hellenistic studies focus on the study of the Ancient Greeks between 323 BCE and 146 BCE. The difference between the Hellenic period and Classical Greece lies in the date of 323 BCE: When Alexander the Great died.

As a result of Alexander’s campaigns, the Greek world was forever changed after his death in 323 BCE. Alexander’s campaigns had brought the Greeks into contact with a multitude of Asian cultures, and Alexander had sought to incorporate Greek and Macedonian cultures with the cultures he encountered – discouraging later practices of “conquer and assimilate.” Thus, the Hellenistic period is characterized by changes in traditional Ancient Greek culture as a result of these contacts, and so history separates the two periods.

The Hellenistic period ended when the Romans came to town. Between 146 BCE and 30 BCE, the Romans conquered the Greek world piece by piece, until finally conquering the entire Mediterranean world in 30 BCE with the conquest of Egypt. Greek culture became absorbed by the Romans, beginning the “Roman Greece” period which lasted until 330 CE. After Roman Greece, Christianization of the European and Mediterranean worlds began, resulting in the final decline of Ancient Greece through 529 AD, when the Byzantine ruler Justinian I closed the Neoplatonic Academy (which had been founded by the Greek philosopher Plato).

For more information on the history of Ancient Greece, Buzzbee has created an excellent hub.

The Hellenic period witnessed the invention of philosophy. There were many individual philosophers during this time, each of whom had followers that often branched out from the original philosopher’s train of thought. One of the most notable works of this time is Plato’s Republic, which was the earliest systematic treatment of political philosophy. Other philosophers include Aristotle and Socrates.

The Hellenistic period witnessed philosophers who focused on reason rather than the quest for truth. These philosophers possessed a fundamental regard for reason as the key to solving problems, and they denied the possibility of attaining truth. Instead, we see philosophers revert to a reliance on faith – accepting the inability to know truth. The major philosophical groups of this period include the Cynics, Epicureans, Stoics, and Skeptics. Unlike the Hellenic period, very few individual philosophers existed independent of these schools of thought.

The Homeric epics originated during the Hellenic period, reinforcing faith in human greatness and delighting in the beautiful aspects of life. Lyrical poetry thrived in its gentle and personal style. Tragic dramas – such as Antigone and Oedipus – were the supreme achievement of the Hellenic world, incorporated in many outdoor festivals for audiences of thousands. And comedy, notably those by Aristophanes, lacked the politeness and subtlety of other genres.

During the Hellenistic period, however, that all changed. Comedies became more akin to dramas, as evidenced in the works of Menander. Theocritus wrote pastorals that created make-believe worlds, rather than commenting on his own. And prose became dominated by historians, biographers, and authors writing of utopia.

Art in the Hellenic world is what we recognize as Greek art today. It embodied exuberance, cheerful sensuality, and coarse with. Marble statues and reliefs depicted human greatness and sensuality. A notable achievement is the rise in architecture of the Doric and Ionic columns.

In the Hellenistic world, art became less “art” and more “commodity.” This shift in focus led to the creation of many “trash” works. Sculpture of the period emphasize extreme naturalism and unashamed extravagance, rather than the former idyllic beauties and perfect Davids. The arts of this time were supported by many wealthy patrons, who used art for show rather than pursue it for its own pleasure.  The architecture of this period also reflected the inherent materialism of art, emphasizing grandeur and luxuriance.  However, some architectural achievements include the first lighthouse, the citadel of Alexandria, and the Corinthian column.

The Hellenic world witnessed the birth of many of the world’s most well-known ancient scientists and theories.  In astronomy, Thales predicted a solar eclipse.  In math, Pythagorean invented his theorem.  Aristotle engaged in metaphysics and syllogism.  It was science as we know it today: systematic investigation coupled with rational inquiry, in the pursuit of the truths of the universe.  In medicine, many scientists used philosophy rather than science.  Most “doctors” considered that regularities divorced from supernatural causes created illness and health (i.e., God doesn’t like what you did to your sister, so now you’re sick!).  However, this period also witnessed the achievements of Hippocrates, who is considered the “father” of modern medicine and invented the practice of bleeding patients to release the toxins.

The Hellenistic world, unlike its faults in many of the other arts, actually built upon the foundation laid by Hellenic scientists.  Considered the First Great Age of science, intellectual inquiry was supported by wealthy patrons who helped the sciences to thrive.  The elements of geometry, physiology, and Archimedes’ principle of specific gravity are only few of the many achievements of the period.  In medicine, achievements also continued: including describing the brain, determining pulse and its meaning, and determining that the arteries only contain blood.

Religion in the Hellenic world derived from the debates of philosophers. There were debates over the goals of existence, which mostly led to some kind of intellectual cultivation and the search for the highest good. The Ancient Greek pantheon of gods had been developed by this time, but the nature of the pantheon left humans able to question and debate the significance of the gods and their actions.

The Hellenistic period witnessed some major developments in religion. Zoroastrianism arose as one of the first documented monotheistic religions, with Ahura-Mazda as the single god and the intercession of magi (priests) on earth. Mystery cults also permeated the period, stressing ecstatic mystical union and otherworldly salvation. Mithraism, another monotheistic religion, also arose in the this time period, with the god Mithra having been born on December 24 and holding Sunday as a sacred day. (Does Mithra sound familiar?)

Has God Always Been God? Egyptian Sacred Writings and the Old Testament

Interpreting an ancient text is not always an easy task. If we fail to understand the cultural and historical context in which that work was composed, it can be easy to misinterpret its author’s intention. This is just as true of the books of the Bible as it is of other ancient works, whether that be Homer’s Iliad or the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and for that reason scholars have long sought to understand what similarities the ancient Hebrews who composed the Old Testament scriptures shared with their neighbors.

Unfortunately, this practice has led many to emphasize similarities to the point of dismissing aspects of the Old Testament which were wholly unique to Jewish thought. One striking example of this unfortunate overstep is the effort among some to demonstrate the ancient Hebrews conceived of their God as ontologically (in the nature of His being) similar to the gods of other middle eastern religions.

Boiled down to its simplest form, this argument goes as follows: Middle Eastern religions, in particular Egyptian sacred writings, describe their gods as “eternal,” while holding to a mythology in which these same gods have a beginning to their existence – an origin. Therefore, when the Hebrew scriptures apply such terms as “eternal” or “everlasting,” we must understand them in the same context.

But is this a valid argument? To decide, let us consider first the Egyptian conception of time and eternity, and then the Hebrew, allowing both cultures to define their own terms.

Since we are comparing the God of the Jews to those of the Egyptians, it would be helpful to first understand the origin of the gods according to Egyptian myth. Though Egyptian creation mythologies vary greatly, and are seemingly self-contradictory by nature, what they have in common is the idea that all things (including the gods^) emerged first from the “primordial waters” personified by the masculine entity Nun1.

Here we see our first paradox: although Nun is personified to the point of being masculine (and in many myths has a feminine consort, Naunet), Nun is not a true god, but rather a Primeval Force or Creative Element. Although all things arose from Nun, there were no temples or priests devoted to him2, and yet all temples had some symbol (such as a pool) which represented him. In early Egyptian creation myths, Nun and his consort were also together with six other creative forces which made up an Ogdad (group of eight forces) responsible for all things coming into being. Of these eight, none were afforded any place beyond a mere “Force” originally. Later, however, one of these forces – Amun, who represented the masculine form of “air” or “That which is hidden,” was considered a true divinity in his own right, particularly once conflated with the sun god Ra to form Amun-Ra, we will return to Amun-Ra later.

To us who are bound by western thought, these creation myths must be unsatisfactory. There is no attempt to explain where Nun or the rest of this Ogdad of personified-non-entities stem from. Even when we interpret Nun as “nothingness” envisioned as water, we still have no sense that a true “beginning” to all things has been explained, as there is no explanation as to why gods and the world should arise from Nun. This however, is at least in part due to the fact that the Egyptians did not have a conception of “Time” and “Eternity” which we, influenced by Judeo-Christian thought, take for granted as universal and obvious.

The terms often translated as “Time” (Neheh) and “Eternity” (Djet) in Egyptian texts are merely translated that way in order to allow the reader some general grasp of what it being conveyed, yet the Egyptian terms themselves are so fundamentally different that there is no true English (or any other Western tongue) equivalent3.

Perhaps the best understanding of Neheh is to understand it as “change” or “occurrence.” The occurrence itself has a lasting effect which continues on, and this lasting effect is “Djet” – the enduring continuation or result of that which has occurred.

The Egyptians visualized Neheh as the rising sun, and Djet as the evening sun when it sets. There is no attempt to incorporate anything that lays beyond the start of the day, or what comes after the end, into the Egyptian perception of reality, there is simply Neheh, the rising of the sun, and Djet, the completion or fullness of Neheh’s effect4. The two terms are entirely temporal.

When we understand this, we see why there was no attempt to explain Nun – the waters from which all things emerged – or what came before him, or how Nun came to be. There was simply Neheh, (the first rising up out of the waters) followed by its lasting effect – Djet, and Egyptian mythology did not even think to reach beyond those two concepts.

With this understanding, we can see a new dimension to references in Egyptian writings to a god, such as Osiris, as “Djet.” Osiris is called “he who remains matured,” he is Djet, because he endures as the fully realized effect of his Neheh* (his occurrence or origin). Osiris is not “eternal,” on the contrary, he is very temporal, as the Egyptians simply had no category for that which existed outside the bounds of his beginning and its enduring result.

Even myths from later periods in Egypt’s history do not escape these confines. Amun-Ra eventually became unique among the “Primordial Forces” as the only one to be worshiped as a true god in his own right. One sacred inscription describes him as the one who “came into being by himself,” yet virtually in the same breath says he rose out of the primordial waters (Nun) as a living fire5. This living fire rising out of the waters is the first rising of the sun (Neheh), and Amun-Ra is Djet.

From the very first line of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures draw a stark contrast between their YHWH and the gods of the Egyptians. Moses, while leading his people out of the land of Egypt, opens his account with the declaration “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.6

Armed with an understanding of Egyptian semantics, how can we not read “Neheh” in the word “beginning?” And yet the God of the Bible does not originate at this Neheh, he preexists it. Indeed, he is the origin of this first Neheh. While the Egyptians could fathom only personal deities that exist inside the temporal framework of their understanding, Moses begins by preaching a God who existed before the beginning.

Before the Exodus, when Moses was confronted by this God in the image of a burning bush, he asks what god he should tell the Israelites has sent him, to which God replied “I am who I am,7” which can also be rendered, “I am the one who is, tell them the I Am – the existing one – sent you.” This simple response not only denies the existence of other gods, it rises above the very framework of their existence. God is the one that simply exists, not the one that came to be and is now “Djet.”

Fifteen hundred years after the Exodus, New Testament writers (themselves Jews) reaffirmed and strengthened Moses’ understanding of God. In the prologue to his Gospel, the Apostle John affirms that the Jewish God originated all things, yet himself is without origin. He parallels the first lines of Genesis and declares “through him all things came into being, and without him nothing came into being that has come into being.8” God himself did not come into being, but all things which have such an origin are derived from Him. He simply exists.

This radically different God of the Bible becomes for us the foundation of our understanding of time and eternity. Since all things have a beginning when God created them, eternity must by necessity rest outside time, where God is. Eternity does not merely stretch forward into infinity as the result of an original “Neheh,” it stretches backward into infinity as well. Thus when we read the Bible declaring “From everlasting to everlasting, you are God,**” we cannot merely understand this as lasting from the temporal horizons of sunrise to sunset, but rather a declaration that God truly always was, is, and will be.

^ For example, in the earliest reference to the first god, Atum, it is said that a hill rose out of the water of Nun, upon which Atum “created himself,” and then began the creation of all the other gods.

* C.F. A Hymn to Osiris Un-Nefer at the opening of the book of the dead. Osiris holds all the attributes of classic Egyptian “Djet” – he is everlasting, king of eternity who traverses millions of years in his existence, yet he is the “eldest son of Nut,” begotten by Keb.

** Psalm 90:2 – “Before the mountains were born, or you gave birth to the earth, and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”


  1. ancientegyptonline.co.uk – Ogdad of Hermopolis [For a simple version of Egyptian creation mythology, see the British Museum’s presentation – http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/gods/story/page1.html# ]
  2. ancientegyptonline.co.uk – Nun
  3. Jan Assman, “The Search for God in Ancient Egypt”
  4. C.F. Egyptian Book of the Dead, chapter 17 – the dead are said to join “Neheh” when it rises in the morning and “Djet” when it set in the evening.
  5. Theban tomb 53, see Assman, chapter 9
  6. Genesis 1:1
  7. Exodus 3:14
  8. John 1:3 – of particular importance in this discussion is John’s use of the word “Egeneto” – “To begin, to come into existence.” – Panta dia auto egeneto, kai xwris autou egeneto oude en ho gegonen. “All through him came into being, and without him came into being nothing which has come into being

Hamlet’s Synopsis, Analysis, and All Seven Soliloquies

The Tragical History Of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or, as it’s more simply known, Hamlet, is a play that holds immense importance in English literature.

This drama was written by William Shakespeare between 1599 and 1601. The plot is set in the country of Denmark, and the main protagonist is Prince Hamlet.

Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest drama. It is still considered a pioneer in English literature. Several films and plays have been made as adaptations featuring many renowned actors.

Hamlet is the prince of Denmark. He is abroad, studying in Germany, when his father, the king, dies. He is summoned back to Denmark in order to attend his father’s funeral.

Already drowning in grief, Hamlet becomes even more upset by the fact that his mother has married his uncle—the brother of her recently departed husband.

Hamlet does not think she mourned his father for a reasonable amount of time before marrying again, and the hasty marriage also means that his uncle, now King Claudius, sits upon the throne rather than himself. Hamlet suspects foul play.

One night, Hamlet sees the ghost of his father, who tells him that his death was not natural. Rather he was killed, and says his death was a “foul and most unnatural murder.”

The ghost of Hamlet’s father tells Prince Hamlet that he was murdered by his own brother, King Claudius, who now holds his throne and is even married to his wife. He commands Hamlet to seek revenge for his dead father’s murder. Hamlet swears to fulfill his revenge and to kill King Claudius.

But later, Hamlet faces a dilemma. Can he trust the ghost? Is the vision of a spirit enough reason to kill his uncle, the king?

Later in Shakespeare’s great literary work, Hamlet toys with many options to escape his unhappy situation, including suicide.

The play includes many philosophical situations and heart-wrenching scenes. This drama is worth reading for any person interested—even a little bit—in literary work, Shakespeare, drama, or just an amazing piece of writing.

From time to time in the play, Hamlet delivers a soliloquy, or a speech that the audience can hear, but the other characters cannot. These speeches let us know what Hamlet is thinking but not saying, and there are seven soliloquies in all.

If you are not familiar with what a soliloquy is, read “What is a Soliloquy?” The article provides a definition of a soliloquy, discusses the soliloquy’s purpose and why they’re important, and provides examples, including a video, for better understanding.

To really understand the plot development of Hamlet, one needs to understand the actual meaning and concept of each of Hamlet’s soliloquies. Since the text of that era is hard to understand for today’s students, I made seven different articles for each soliloquy, so you could understand them easily. These articles each contain the original text of the soliloquy, as well as a summary and an explanation of that soliloquy.

In these seven soliloquies, Hamlet shares his inner feelings, thoughts, and plans for the future. These soliloquies are the pivotal pillars of the drama and are still considered some of Shakespeare’s most brilliant writing. You will likely recognize lines, such as the famous “To be or not to be…” Without reading these seven soliloquies, one cannot enjoy the true experience of this amazing drama.

1. Hamlet’s First Soliloquy

O that this too too solid flesh would melt,

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!… (Act 1, Scene 2)

2. Hamlet’s Second Soliloquy

O all you host of heaven! O earth! what else?

And shall I couple hell? O, fie! — Hold, my heart… (Act 1, Scene 5)

3. Hamlet’s Third Soliloquy

Ay, so, God b’ wi’ ye!

Now I am alone.

O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!… (Act 2, Scene 2)

4. Hamlet’s Fourth Soliloquy (to be or not to be)

To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them?… (Act 3, Scene 1)

5. Hamlet’s Fifth Soliloquy

‘Tis now the very witching time of night,

When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out

Contagion to this world…

Soft! now to my mother…

Let me be cruel, not unnatural;

I will speak daggers to her, but use none… (Act 3, Scene 2)

6. Hamlet’s Sixth Soliloquy

Now might I do it pat now he is praying,

And now I’ll do it, and so he goes to heaven.

And so am I revenged, that would be scanned… (Act 3, Scene 3)

7. Hamlet’s Seventh Soliloquy

How all occasions do inform against me

And spur my dull revenge!… (Act 4, Scene 4)

Hamlet’s Evolution Through Soliloquies

The play Hamlet is one of William Shakespeare’s most well-known plays of all time. Written in the early 1600s, Hamlet includes a series of the protagonist character’s soliloquies that to this day have been referenced in many other works. In this play the protagonist, Hamlet goes through a major change from the beginning of the play to the end. Hamlet’s transformation from a helpless man in despair into a determined, confident man is revealed in the soliloquies which are reflections of his experiences of self-realization. There is a drastic change from the first soliloquy to the seventh soliloquy by Hamlet’s character. His growth is seen best through the soliloquies being that is the only time that Hamlet is able to truly open up and let out his inner thoughts and feelings.

The first soliloquy is where Hamlet’s true self is first shown to the reader. This soliloquy is in Act 1 Scene 2. At this point in the play Prince Hamlet is depressed and in what was called a deep melancholy state which the King and Queen believe has taken over Hamlet. There are many reasons behind Hamlet’s depression which include the death of his father, his mother remarrying his uncle so quickly, and as a result of the marriage his uncle is appointed as his father’s replacement at king.

The death of the King is still fresh at this point and Hamlet is upset about the court not grieving for a lengthier period because the king and queen do not believe the court cannot afford a large amount of time to mourn. Since the king, queen and all of the court act this way about Hamlet’s father’s death, Hamlet refers to the world as an unweeded garden meaning the world is a place where only bad things grow, referring to the people in the court as bad people for not grieving the death of their king for long enough. The death of a father is never an easy task to overcome and it does not help Hamlet’s case when he does not agree with their short period of mourning in comparison to how he feels for it is not just a man, but the late King of Denmark. Hamlet is also told that he should not mourn any longer by Queen Gertrude which only adds to his anger and sadness.

After the death of the King, Hamlet’s mother Queen Gertrude quickly jumps into another marriage with Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. This action of Gertrude’s added to the melancholy suffering consuming Hamlet, worsening his depression and sparking his anger further. In this soliloquy Hamlet states, “O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason would have mourn’d longer” (1.2.150-151), Hamlet is claiming that a beast would mourn a death like this for more time than his mother did; saying that what she did is worse than what even a beast would do. This shows that Hamlet’s depression is not just because of his father’s death but also because he feels betrayed by his mother’s disloyalty to his father. This affects Hamlet intensely showing the reader how much Hamlet loves and cares for his father, and how loyal he is to him.

This soliloquy is the start of Hamlet’s depression and anger towards his uncle and his mother’s disloyalty. Hamlet is severely upset about all the new changes in his life that he deliberates suicide; although he knows he cannot do that the thought is still there. This soliloquy is only the start of the emotions that this character goes through throughout the play. The character Hamlet starts off feeling depressed, frustrated, defeated, and angry towards all of the new changes that happened within only a month of his life. What Hamlet refers to in this soliloquy shows that he is feeling this way because of his uncle being king and marrying his mother after his father so recently deceased.

After the first major soliloquy from Act 1, another one takes place in Act 3, Scene 1. Hamlet states a lot of what he is feeling in this soliloquy that is actually emotions that are far worse than the ones that took place in Act 1. Before this, Hamlet had created a plan and was starting to regain a sense of confidence back only to have it crash and his depression become far worse than it has already been. In this soliloquy Hamlet is beginning to play mind games with himself which causes him to be unsure of what action to take and penalize himself for slacking on revenging his father’s death.

The first part of this soliloquy includes the most famous lines of the play Hamlet, “To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (3.1.56-58). In this section Hamlet is playing with the idea of suicide again because he does not want to continue the suffering. At this point Hamlet is so depressed that he wants to commit suicide just to be free of the depression within him and the cruelties of what fate has brought him. Hamlet’s inner turmoil of whether he should suffer through what his life has become or fight against the misfortunes. Hamlet is unsure of what he wants because he wants to be free of the misery he feels all the time but he is terrified of death. Hamlet does not know what waits for him in the afterlife and is afraid of what it might be adding to the inner battle with himself. This shows that Hamlet’s depression is worse at this point in comparison to the first soliloquy because he is debating further about suicide and deeply thinking about it rather than suicide just being a simple thought he had. He also is having an inner battle in his mind of what he should do where in the first soliloquy he was not fighting with himself that way.

Another issue Hamlet is having in this soliloquy is he is holding off on killing Claudius. Hamlet has chastised himself in the past for his lack of fulfilling his father’s deed of revenging his death. Hamlet now gives himself reason for holding off on murdering the Claudius. Hamlet’s reasons for not killing the king is that he believes that if he murders Claudius that he will have himself condemned to a similar fate. By that Hamlet means that he will make his soul impure and lose his chances of going to heaven. Hamlet is now scared of murdering the king because he wants to stay pure. This causes Hamlet’s depression to deepen and causes a lot of conflict and self-hate for being afraid of revenge.

In this part of the play Hamlet’s character has evolved from someone who is depressed into someone with a deeper depression who lacks confidence and is even scared. Before Hamlet at least knew that he wanted to kill his uncle to avenge his father’s death and now he is unsure if killing Claudius is even a good idea and is worried about the consequences of it. Overall Hamlet’s character has become significantly worse compared throughout the course of the play.

The seventh soliloquy in this play occurs in Act 4 Scene 4 and portrays an entirely new Hamlet compared to the previous one. This soliloquy occurs after Hamlet learns that Fortenbras is about to invade a part of Poland. Hamlet is beginning to turn himself around and be rid of the melancholy mood that was occurring within him. He realizes at this point what he wants to do and evolves into a better person compared to the Hamlet that has been seen throughout almost the entire play.

Hamlet’s change shown in this soliloquy is how Hamlet finds the courage to finally do his dead father’s deed. After hearing that Fortenbras is about to invade Poland Hamlet scolds himself again for holding off on getting his revenge. Hamlet thinks to himself that if a thousand soldiers are willing to die for a piece of land then surely he could die on behalf of his father. Hamlet believes that every man should live with a purpose that should be fulfilled and he realizes that his purpose is to avenge his father’s murder by killing Claudius in return. At the very end of this soliloquy Hamlet says, “O, from this time forth my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth” (4.4.65-66). This shows Hamlet’s determination to finally take his revenge and is no longer scared to do so. Hamlet knows now what actions he must take and has gained confidence that he lost when he first heard of his father’s death. He finds his motivation when he claims, “That have a father kill’d, a mother stain’d. excitements of my reason and my blood, and let all sleep while to my shame I see the imminent death of twenty thousand men” (4.4.57-60). He decides now that he is done being depressed and playing games with himself. Hamlet has become an entirely new character now who is confident, ready for action, and no longer going to sit around in despair.

This part of Hamlet is also shown in Act 5 with “The readiness is all” scene. Although this does not include a soliloquy, it further shows Hamlet’s characters evolution from a depressed man into a confident one when Hamlet displays how prepared he is to take on Laertes in the sword fight. Hamlet claims that he has been practising and strongly believes that he may be able to beat him which portrays how he has gained confidence back.

“Hamlet By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act V: Scene 2.” Hamlet: Act V Scene 2 3 Summary & Analysis. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. .

“Hamlet Play History: Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Chamberlain’s Men.” Hamlet Play History: Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Chamberlain’s Men. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2014. .

“Hamlet’s Seventh Soliloquy – Original Text & Summary.” HubPages. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014. .

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. N.p.: Oxford UP, 1992. Print.


Don Bosco’s Mysterious Dog

If you offered your dog some tasty food and he refused, you may well believe that he’s ill. If this dog lived for over thirty years and never ate, you may think he’s a ghost. On the other hand, if this dog mysteriously came to your side at every moment of danger, you may consider him an angel in a furry disguise. If such an animal sounds implausible, consider the case of Grigio, Don Bosco’s mysterious dog.

Don Bosco (1815-1888), also known as Saint John Bosco, was born into a poor farming family in northern Italy. His father died when he was young, leaving the mother, Margarita, to raise her three boys alone. When John felt called to the priesthood, his elder brother Antonio placed many obstacles in the way. Antonio didn’t want to be stuck with all the farm work. Nonetheless, John persevered through these difficulties and was ordained in 1841.

His first assignment was in Turin, where the population suffered many of the effects of industrialization and urbanization. The sight of so many disadvantaged youths walking the streets aimlessly moved him to pity. To prevent them from turning to crime, he vowed to spend his life for their betterment. He established schools, apprenticeship programs, and eventually a religious congregation known as the Salesians, to carry on the work. His teaching methods emphasize love rather than punishment, a method known as the Salesian Preventive System.

One evening in 1852, Don Bosco was crossing late through a rough section of Turin, known as the Valdocco. He traveled cautiously as he had been attacked more than once. There were many anti-clerical factions in Italy at that time. Suddenly a huge gray dog trotted up to him. The good priest was startled at first, but as the dog showed signs of friendliness, he let him walk along with him. When they arrived at the gate of his home, known as the Oratory, the dog trotted away. This same scenario occurred every time he had to walk home late. The dog would appear out of nowhere, accompany Don Bosco to his home, and then disappear. He named the dog Grigio, (GREE-jo), “the gray one.”

As Don Bosco made this trek one night, he met a good friend who accompanied him for a few blocks. When the time came to go separate ways, Grigio arrived on the scene. Don Bosco’s friend was terrified and started yelling at Grigio. “Don’t worry,” said Don Bosco “Grigio is my friend.” The man was not convinced and threw a couple stones at him, but Grigio didn’t show the least reaction. “It can’t be a real dog!” said his friend, “It’s a ghost!”

The man was so perplexed that he decided to walk all the way to the Oratory. Once there, Grigio vanished. “What is this?” his friend asked, “Where did he go? Was he a real dog?!” The man was so frightened, that two students of the Oratory had to accompany the man home.

The time came when Grigio would prove his worth. Don Bosco explains, “Around the end of November of 1854, one dark, rainy night, I was returning home from the city…At a certain point, I realized that two men were walking a short distance in front of me. When I quickened my steps, they quickened theirs; when I slowed down, they slowed down. I then tried to retrace my steps but it was too late; suddenly, taking two leaps towards me, they quietly threw a dark cloak over my face. I struggled to free myself, but it was useless. One was trying to gag me. I tried to shout, but in vain.”

Suddenly, there was a terrific howl. Grigio appeared and leaped on the man holding the cloak, forcing him to let go. He then bit the second one and brought him to the muddy ground. When the first man tried to escape, Grigio went after him and likewise rolled him into the mud. He stood over him, growling ferociously.

“Call off your dog!” they shouted, “Call off your dog!” “I’ll call him off if you allow me to go my way in peace.” “Yes, yes,” they said, “but call him off!” As soon as Don Bosco said, “Come, Grigio,” the dog obediently trotted over and walked the remainder of the way with him.

If Grigio was indeed an angel, he disguised himself very well. One of the students at the Oratory, Carlo Tomatis, described him in this way: “It had a truly frightening appearance. Every time she saw it, Mama Margarita would unfailingly say, ‘Oh, what an ugly beast!’ It looked like a wolf, with a long snout, erect pointed ears, and gray fur. It was over three feet tall.”

One night as Don Bosco made his way home, a man behind an elm tree fired a gun at him twice. Having missed the mark, the shooter came out and leaped on Don Bosco. At that very moment, Grigio appeared and sprang on the assailant. After giving him a savage growl, the man ran off petrified.

On another occasion, Don Bosco heard someone running behind him. He looked back and saw a man coming at him with an uplifted club. Don Bosco started to run and reached a slope in the road where several more men were waiting for him at the bottom. He switched directions and punched his pursuant in the stomach. As the man doubled over in pain, his fellow henchmen came running with clubs in their hands. When the thugs surrounded Don Bosco, Grigio appeared with a blood-curdling howl. He circled round and round his master, revealing his ferocious smile. As the gang dispersed like flies, Grigio accompanied Don Bosco home to safety.

“John, please don’t go out,” urged Mama Margarita, “you know how dangerous it is after dark.” Yet, he had to attend to an urgent matter. He reassured his mother, saying he would take some of the students to walk with him. As they went out, who should they find stretched out in front of the gate? Grigio, the faithful. The gatekeeper tried shooing him away, to no avail.

“Oh, it’s you Grigio,” Don Bosco exclaimed, “Fine. The more the merrier. Come along; let’s go.” Curiously, Grigio refused to budge, and even growled at Don Bosco. One of the boys gently kicked the dog, and Grigio let out a terrifying bark. When Don Bosco tried to slip past him, the dog stood up and prevented him. Upon seeing this, Mama Margarita told her son, “Don’t go out John; if you won’t listen to me, at least listen to that dog; he has more sense than you have.” About fifteen minutes later, a neighbor came to the Oratory and said that three or four dangerous men were lurking in the neighborhood. Once again, Grigio spared Don Bosco’s life.

Grigio accompanied Don Bosco for so many years that one person considered it impossible for a dog to live that long. Don Bosco responded with a twinkle, “Maybe he is the son or the grandson of the first one.” Even so, years passed with Grigio out of sight. Was he possibly dead?

One evening, Don Bosco visited an old friend who lived out in the country. As usual, he traveled with some trepidation in the dark. He remembered that one of the vineyards had two savage guard dogs. “I wish I had Grigio here,” he thought to himself. As if his desire produced him, Grigio appeared and ran with delight to Don Bosco. They walked together like old friends. Suddenly, the two guard dogs came charging out at them, but with a superior menace, Grigio sent them back with their tails between their legs.

When Don Bosco reached his friend’s house, all were astonished at such a magnificent dog. They sat down to eat, with Grigio lying beside them. Don Bosco arose midway through the meal to offer Grigio some food, but he had vanished. Since the family had closed all the windows and doors, Grigio’s disappearance remains a mystery.

Angels are pure spirits and so have no bodily form, despite Fra Angelico’s masterful depictions. Nonetheless, angels often appear in the Bible in the guise of a human body, such as when the Archangel Raphael assisted Tobias. (Tob 3:17) Sometimes, God assigns animals to help his servants, as when the ravens fed Elijah in the wilderness. (1 Kings 17:3-6) Likewise, Balaam’s donkey not only saw an angel but also spoke like a human. (Num 22:28)

St. John Bosco received a very special mission from God to help the youth. The congregation he founded, the Salesians, now number over 15,000 priests. They primarily run schools that provide technical, vocational, and language instruction, all over the world, as well as shelters for homeless persons.

This good priest’s life was spared innumerable times by an intelligent dog who apparently never ate, drank, or aged. Grigio would appear mysteriously at the very moment of danger and disappear just as quickly. May he have been Don Bosco’s guardian angel in a furry disguise?


The Biographical Memoirs of Saint John Bosco, Vol IV, by Giovanni Lemoyne, S.D.B.Salesiana Publishers, 1967

Saint John Bosco: The Friend of the Youth, by F.A. Forbes,

Salesiana Publishers, 1941

This biography of St. John Bosco is in the public domain.

Facts About Alexander Graham Bell and the Telephone

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 3, 1847.

His father was Alexander Melville Bell and his mother was Eliza Grace Symonds Bell.

The young ‘Aleck’ as he was known, was the couple’s second child and was given the name of his father and grandfather as was the tradition of the time.

Sadly, both of his two brothers died from the disease of tuberculosis which was a common cause of infant mortality (or child death) in those days.

Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, was then widely known as ‘The Athens of the North’ because it was such a vibrant center of culture, education and learning. The truth is, it still is. Growing up in the city, the young Aleck was greatly influenced by the atmosphere of exploration and discovery in science and the arts.

He was also very much influenced by his grandfather after whom he had been named. His grandfather was a well-respected and admired teacher, a professor of elocution (the study of formal speaking and grammar).

Aleck’s mother was deaf and yet, despite this disability, had become an accomplished pianist. Alexander Graham Bell would later attribute his determination to overcome difficulties and adopt a problem-solving approach to the influence of his mother.

Alexander Graham Bell didn’t go to school. He was educated at home by his mother. Together, they explored anything and everything that interested them, leading to the healthy development of wide-ranging interests and an insatiable curiosity about the world and its works in the young boy.

He did, later, go to a private school for one year in order to ready him for two years of more formal education at The Royal High School.

It was while he was at the High School, at the age of only twelve, that he made his first successful invention. He and a friend had been observing the operations of a flour mill and Aleck had been frustrated to note how difficult and long-winded the process of removing the husks from the grain was. Puzzling over the problem, he eventually developed a set of revolving paddles with rows of nails set into them which worked automatically to de-husk the wheat. It was a great success.

When he reached the age of sixteen, Aleck started his early researches into ‘speech mechanics.’ Even at such a young age, he took up a post at the Weston House Academy, teaching both music and elocution.

He continued to promote the technique of Visible Speech, which was a method whereby the deaf could learn the physical position of the organs associated with speech, such as the lips, tongue, and palate, in order to generate the phonetic sounds by following a visual representation even if they could not themselves hear the result.

Eventually, in the year 1870, Aleck and his family emigrated across the ocean to start a new life in Canada.

It was the following year that he moved to the United States to teach, delighting in the rich intellectual atmosphere of the city of Boston.

It was there, in 1872 that Alexander Graham Bell founded a training school, using the techniques he had developed, for teachers of deaf people. The school was eventually amalgamated with Boston University. At that point a professorship was created and Aleck became the first Professor of Vocal Physiology in 1873. In 1882, he became a fully fledged citizen of the USA.

The idea of actually transmitting speech electronically over long distances had always been a concept that had fascinated Aleck. He had already given a lot of thought as to how it might be done, inspired by his investigations into the telegraph.

In 1875 he produced his first simple receiver which was capable of transforming electrical impulses into audible sound.

Aleck finally created a machine that could both transmit and receive sound and the patent for this remarkable and world-changing invention was registered by him in 1876.

Unlike many new inventions, the telephone was adopted quickly. After only a year the very first telephone exchange had been constructed in Connecticut, and the Bell Telephone Company was founded. In consequence of the rapid spread of telephonic communications, Alexander Graham Bell soon became a very wealthy man.

Bell was awarded a number of prestigious prizes and went on to further develop experiments in many fields. He continued to develop technologies to help deaf people.

He also founded The National Geographic Society and was one of the first presidents and editors of the magazine.

He passed away peacefully in spring of 1922.

Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone ignited a revolution in communications that would reshape the world.

Before it, the telegraph and Morse Code were the latest thing, the most up-to-date technology.

Inspired by his work teaching speech to the deaf coupled with his technical understanding of the ‘morse telegraph’, Bell developed his first ‘acoustic telegraph’ later refined and renamed ‘the telephone.’

The first transmitting telephone that Alexander Graham Bell made would hardly be recognized today for what it was.

It was made of a double electromagnet with a membrane stretched in front of it, rather like the skin of a drum. In the center of the membrane was positioned a strip of iron. There was a mouthpiece that was shaped like a funnel, similar to those used in old gramophones. When words were spoken into this horn, it would cause a series of vibrations in the membrane which would be transferred to the iron and generate oscillating electrical currents. These would then be passed down the wire.

The receiver at the other end of the wire was a metal disc at the end of a tube which attached to another electromagnet. The incoming electromagnetic impulses caused the disc to vibrate, making sound waves that corresponded to the speaker’s voice.

Bell worked quickly after this initial experiment, to refine the design and improve the functionality of his telephone, which he had called ‘the acoustic telegraph.’

The very first telephone call ever transmitted was made, not surprisingly, by Alexander Graham Bell himself.

Bell had an assistant, his electrical mechanic, whose name was Thomas Watson. To try out the new machine, he sent Watson out of the workshop to a nearby room where he had set up a receiver.

He called and when Watson answered he said simply, “Mr. Watson? Come here, I want to see you!”

It would be many years later and after much development of the instrument that he would make the first public demonstration of a long distance call between New York and Chicago.

This article gives you the basic facts about Alexander Graham Bell but as you can imagine, there is much more to his life and work that you can still discover.

I hope you enjoy finding out more about Alexander Graham Bell.

There is no doubt that the ability to communicate instantly across vast distances – even from distant space – has revolutionized our world and was one of the key inventions which ushered in all the wonders of the modern world.

Next time your ringtone sounds in your pocket, remember Alexander Graham Bell.

And just before you ring off, take a moment to answer the poll!

  • Encyclopedia Britannica
  • BBC History
  • Alexander Graham Bell Historical Site
  • Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell. Charlotte Gray. ISBN13: 9780002006767

51 of the Greatest Women in India’s History

Do you know who was the first female pilot from India? Or the first female freedom fighter? Have you heard about brave women like Chand Bibi and Obavva? In modern India, women have held high offices including that of the President and Prime Minister. Not only did these women make an impact on India, but they are also some of the most influential women in history.

Find out more about these extraordinary women here. I have arranged the list alphabetically.

I have included more than 50 women on this list, but I wanted to highlight five whose achievements changed the course of history.

  1. Anandi Gopal Joshi: She was the first female doctor in India and the first Indian woman to obtain a medical degree in the United States.
  2. Indira Gandhi: She was the first and only woman to be the Prime Minister of India.
  3. Justice Anna Chandy: She was the first female judge in India.
  4. Kalpana Chawla: She was the first Indian woman in space and died tragically in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
  5. Mother Teresa: She dedicated her life to helping the poor and was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.
  • Major achievements: Queen of Malwa; philosopher queen; ideal ruler
  • Why I included her on this list: After the death of her husband Khanderao Holkar, Ahilyabai Holkar became the queen of Malwa (present-day Malwa falls into western Madhya Pradesh and southeastern Rajasthan). Under her, the capital of the kingdom was Maheshwar, which is now a small town in Madhya Pradesh. Her reign lasted for 30 years and she ruled with the utmost compassion and pride. During her time, the region prospered and scaled many new heights. She is often cited as the “philosopher queen” and an “absolute ideal ruler.” She even personally led armies into battle. As a tribute, Indore’s domestic airport and university are named after her.
  • Major accomplishments: Known for her efforts in the advancement of women’s education and her contribution towards the alleviation of the condition of widows
  • Why I included her on this list: Abala Bose was an early feminist and frequently wrote about why women needed more education and stressed that women’s minds were just as important as men’s. Later in her life, she set up the Nari Shiksha Samiti, a nonprofit whose mission was to educate girls and women. She also opened a home for widows and a rehabilitation center for women.
  • Major achievement: Pioneer of modern Indian art
  • Why I included her on this list: Amrita Sher-Gil was born in 1913 and started painting at the age of eight. She is one of the pioneers of modern Indian art and was known as India’s Frida Kahlo. She died at the early age of 28, but her artwork is still praised and sold for top dollar. She received recognition with her oil painting named Young Girls in 1932.
  • Major achievements: First female doctor in India and the first Indian woman to obtain a medical degree in the United States
  • Why I included her on this list: Anandi died at a tender age of just 21 (just before her 22nd birthday). But before that, she became the first female physician in 1887. Her condition was deteriorating while she was in the second year of studies. Yet, she still completed her studies and returned to India. She was later diagnosed with tuberculosis, which ultimately caused her death. She opened the gates for many young Indian women who wanted to do more than devote their life to household chores.
  • Major achievement: Trailblazer in women’s labour rights
  • Why I included her on this list: Anasuya Sarabhai completed her higher education at the London School of Economics. She could have settled in any foreign country and led a life of comfort. But she chose India where she helped women by advocating for labour rights. She founded the Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association, India’s oldest union of textile workers, in 1920, becoming the first female leader of a trade union in India. On her 132nd birthday, Google India celebrated with a doodle remembering her achievements.
  • Major achievements: First Indian and Asian woman to swim across the English Channel in 1959; first female sportsperson to be awarded Padma Shri—the fourth highest civilian award in India—in 1960
  • Why I included her on this list: She completed this feat in 14 hours and 20 minutes in 1959. at the age of 19. The distance across the Channel is approximately 33 kilometers. Let that sink in!
  • Major achievements: Female leader of the Quit India Movement and a Bharat Ratna recipient.
  • Why I included her on this list: She was an active freedom fighter who came into prominence during the Quit India movement in 1942. Her hoisting the flag during the movement at the August Kranti Maidan brought her to the forefront. She became Delhi’s first mayor in 1958. Later, she became the third female recipient of Bharat Ratna, receiving it posthumously in 1997.
  • Major achievements: First female scientist in India; conducted research in organic chemistry and medicinal plants
  • Why I included her on this list: Asima Chatterjee became the first female scientist in India when she received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. She devoted her time extensively to developing anti-epileptic and anti-malarial drugs. She also wrote numerous research papers illustrating the medicinal properties of plants. Google honored her in 2017 on what would have been her 100th birthday with a doodle.
  • Major achievements: Mallika-e-Ghazal, Padma Bhushan recipient
  • Why I included her on this list: Begum Akhtar is known as “Queen of Ghazals” in Indian classical singing circles. Most famous for ghazals, she also composed them. She is also a Padma Bhushan recipient. Her death was rather tragic. During one of the performances in Kerala, she raised the pitch of her voice as she felt that her singing had not been as good as she had wanted it to be and felt unwell. The stress she put on herself under resulted in her falling ill, and she was rushed to the hospital. Just days later, she took her last breath on October, 30th, 1974.
  • Major achievements: Took control of Awadh after he husband was exiled; rebelled against the British East India Company during the Indian Mutiny of 1857
  • Why I included her on this list: Mahal was shrewd and took charge of the state of affairs of Awadh after her husband was exiled to Calcutta. She and a band of supporters rebelled against the Britsh in 1857, and she was able to take control of Lucknow as well. She had planned for her son to take over Awadh, but she had to abandon those plans when the British recaptured Lucknow. She retreated to Nepal where she died in 1879.
  • Major achievements: First female commercial pilot in India; winner of the National Air Race; first British-Indian woman pilot license holder
  • Why I included her on this list: Captain Mathur was rejected by eight private airlines just because she was a woman. However, she finally landed a job at Deccan Airways. Inthe 1940s, most women were not even allowed to venture out of their home. The patriarchal system of our society didn’t help. And then there were women like Prem Mathur who were committed to making a positive change.
  • Major achievement: Defended Ahmednagar against Mughal emperor Akbar
  • Why I included her on this list: One of the bravest women of her times, she successfully defended her throne when Akbar’s forces invaded. In fact, she defended her reign twice. She was unfortunately killed in the third battle by her own companions as a rumors spread that she was joining hands with the Mughals.
  • Major achievement: One of the first two female graduates of the British Empire in 1882 along with Kadambini Ganguly
  • Why I included her on this list: Now, this may not feel like a significant thing. But mind you, they achieved this at a time when the English ruled. Though, the English were never against women’s education.
  • Major achievements: First female advocate in India; first woman to study law at Oxford University
  • Why I included her on this list: Cornelia Sorabji was admitted to Oxford in 1892, a milestone that predates the women’s suffrage movement in Britain. Upon returning India, she helped many women with legal matters. It’s been discovered that she helped nearly 600 clients over the course of her career, which is no small feat given the obstacles he had to overcome.
  • Major achievement: One of the first practicing women doctors in India; part of a landmark case that ultimately resulted in the enactment of the Age of Consent Act in 1891
  • Why I included her on this list: Along with Dr. Kadambini Ganguly, Dr. Rakhmabai was one of the first women to practice medicine in India after receiving her degree from the London School of Medicine for Women. She was also part of a high-profile court case after refusing to move in with her future husband’s family at the tender age of 12 (her step-father supported her decision). The judge ruled in favor of her prospective husband, but she still refused. Her defiance brought about a discussion of the practice of child brides and consent. In 1891, legislation was enacted that changed the age of consent from 10 to 12 years across British India. Dr. Rakhmabai practiced medicine until her retirement in 1929.
  • Major achievements: Participated in an armed revolution against the British; famous for escaping with Bhagat Singh after Saunder’s killing
  • Why I included her on this list: As I write this, I am getting the shivers just thinking of her bravado. It reminds me of the movie Rang De Basanti in which Soha Ali Khan did justice to her character. Durga Bhabhi was one of just a few women who participated in an armed revolution against the British.
  • Major achievements: First and only female Prime Minister of India; first female recipient of the Bharat Ratna award
  • Why I Included her on this list: Indira Gandhi served as Prime Minister from 1966-1977. She was a strong-willed, disciplined, and ruthless leader when it came to defending Indian interests. My father used to be a big fan of hers and collected various articles from newspapers and magazines. I too admire her. In my opinion, she is the most successful prime minister of India. Unfortunately, she was assassinated in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards, in response to her storming of the Golden Temple.
  • Major achievements: Recipient of the Ghalib award, Filmfare award (best story), and Padma Shri
  • Why I included her on this list: Ismat Chugthai is considered the first Urdu writer who highlighted and wrote on female sexuality, femininity, and women rights. After tasting success in the literature world, she also wrote stories for mainstream cinema. Some of her notable films include Ziddi (1948), Aarzoo (1950), and Garam Hawa (1973).
  • Major Achievements: conducted research on sugarcane and eggplants (brinjal); first Indian woman with a Ph.D. in botany
  • Why I included her on this list: The sugarcane juice that you had the other day might have been cultivated from the research findings of this lady. In India, she created a new kind of sugarcane which could grow well within the country, and which was considered good enough to put India on the sugarcane map. So next next time you quench your thirst with a glass of sugarcane juice, think of her.
  • Major achievements: Ideal mother; Rajmata
  • Why I included her on this list: There are many stories of Jijabai and her upbringing of Shivaji, founder of Maratha Empire. It is her teachings that made Shivaji a warrior. Jijamata fostered Shivaji with faith, courage, and valor.
  • Major achievements: First female judge in India; founded a magazine named Shrimati, which aimed to promote the cause of women’s rights
  • Why I included her on this list: She achieved this feat in the pre-independence era in 1937. After independence, in 1948, she became a district court judge. After serving 11 years at that position, in 1959, she was promoted to the high court in Kerala. She wrote an autobiography, Atmakatha, that discussed her achievements and inspired future generations.
  • Major achievements: Winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award (Bengali), Padma Vibhushan recipient
  • Why I included her on this list: Apart from making a name for herself with short stories, poetry, novels, etc., she was also a vocal advocate for the rights of tribal people. Her major works include Hazar Churashir Maa and Aranyer Adhikar.
  • Major achievement: First Indian woman in space
  • Why I included her on this list: I remember when Kalpana made her way onto the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 since it was a big moment in India’s history. At school, one of our assignments was to collect newspaper cutouts and write an essay on her. She, unfortunately, passed away in the infamous Columbia disaster in 2003 at the early age of 42. On that mission, she worked as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator.
  • Major achievements: Padma Vibhushan recipient, received the Ramon Magsaysay award; first female candidate to run for a Legislative seat in India
  • Why I included her on this list: Kamaladevi was a leader when it came to uplifting women. She did extensive work for women’s rights and participated in the independence movement. Several cultural institutions in India today exist because of her vision, including the National School of Drama, Central Cottage Industries Emporium, and the Crafts Council of India.
  • Major achievements: Winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award; widely read columnist
  • Why I included her on this list: She moved to the limelight when she got her autobiography published. The controversial nature of the book worked to her advantage. Many of her columns in major newspapers were widely circulated. She again courted controversy when she converted to Islam at the age of 65 after criticising Hinduism.
  • Major achievements: Female warrior and patriot; led an armed rebellion against the British East India Company in 1824
  • Why I included her on this list: When the British started annexing the many princely states of India, she was one of the first people who resisted it. She defended her state for quite some time but, unfortunately, troops could not sustain the continued assault. Eventually, she was captured and imprisoned until her death.
  • Major achievements: Senior leader in the Indian National Army; Padma Vibhushan recipient
  • Why I included her on this list: I’m sure you’ve seen photos of Subhash Chandra Bose and his army, which will almost include this young lady as she was Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan. Lakshmi had many roles in her life, including a doctor, revolutionary, and political candidate (she ran for President in 2002 but lost).
  • Major achievements: Most-Awarded Indian singer; Bharat Ratna recipient; Legion of Honor recipient
  • Why I included her on this list: She is known all over the world for her melodious voice. Her career began in 1942 and has spanned over six and a half decades. There has never been a singer like her and never will be. She has sung thousands of songs and her versatility in singing is unquestioned.
  • Major achievement: Prominent personality in India’s first war of Independence (1857)
  • Why I included her on this list: She formed a volunteer army consisting not just of men, but also women. Her sacrifices made her an icon of the Indian Independence Movement. Read the poem below that captures the essence of her courage. Note that this is just an excerpt.
  • Major achievement: First female poet to have a diwan of her work, a compilation of Urdu Ghazals named Gulzar-e-Mahlaqa, published posthumously
  • Why I included her on this list: Mah Laqa Chanda was one of the most influential women during her time and was an advisor to the royal court. In fact, she was the only woman to be given recognition publicly in Hyderabad State. Her work influenced many generations that came after her.
  • Major achievements: Known as the Queen of Music; the second woman to receive Bharat Ratna; first Indian musician to receive the Ramon Magsaysay award, often considered Asia’s Nobel Prize
  • Why I included her on this list: She dedicated her life to classical singing that showed the world the tradition of India. Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru regarded her as the “Queen of Music” after seeing her perform live.
  • Major achievement: Prominent leader in the independence struggle
  • Why I included her on this list: Madam Cama was fierce in her approach and never batted an eye when it came to going the extra mile—so much so that she contracted the plague while helping other patients. Fortunately, she survived and continued her nationalistic activities until her death in 1936.
  • Major achievement: Indian freedom fighter
  • Why I included her on this list: The history books that you studied in school do not mention her, but until her last breath, she participated in various movements organized for attaining complete freedom. She, unfortunately, was shot dead by the British Indian police in 1942. She was affectionately known as Gandhiburi, which is Bengali for old lady Gandhi.

  • Major achievements: Known for her extensive work for the poor; Bharat Ratna recipient; first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979
  • Why I included her on this list: She dedicated her life to working for the poor people of India. She received many awards in India and elsewhere in the world. Through her Missionary of Charities organization, she personally cared for thousands of sick and dying people in Calcutta. She also worked tirelessly 24/7 to eradicate poverty and improve lives around the world. She is frequently featured on any list of “women who changed the world.”
  • Major achievements: First female legislator in India; Padma Bhushan recipient; first female student to be admitted to a men’s college; first woman House Surgeon in the Government Maternity and Ophthalmic Hospital
  • Why I included her on this list: The achievements above don’t even cover all of the things Muthulakshmi Reddi accomplished during her lifetime. She was also a big activist and social reformer—she was one of the women pioneers who stood for the cause of liberating India from the British. And in 1954, she opened a hospital for cancer patients, Adyar Cancer Institute—it was only the second of its kind in India and is still a world-renowned institution today.
  • Major achievement: Fought the troops of Hyder Ali (Sultan of Mysore) all alone
  • Why I included her on this list: The story of her single-handedly killing forces of Hyder Ali is now a part of the folklore. She killed Hyder Ali’s army with a pestle when she saw them, effectively saving Chitradurga Fort from getting captured.
  • Major achievements: Known as Pandita for her knowledge of Sanskrit at an early age; Saravasti recipient for her scholarly work by Calcutta University
  • Why I included her on this list: In addition to her achievements above, she also participated in the freedom movement but was largely known for her advocacy of women’s rights, especially in education and politics.
  • Major achievements: Regarded as the first female freedom fighter of India; fearless queen

  • Why I included her on this list: Before the British came to set East India company, it was the Portuguese who as well came to capture several parts of India. Queen Abakka defended her kingdom, Ullal, for more than 40 years. She was one of the earliest Indians to fight the colonial powers.
  • Major achievement: Participated in the 1857 revolt; Lodhi queen
  • Why I included her on this list: Avantibai became the queen when her husband fell ill. But she was more than capable of handling the affairs. She is often compared to Rani of Jhansi and Kittur Chenamma. She fought the British during the 1857 uprising for Independence.
  • Major achievement: Queen of Gondwana
  • Why I included her on this list: After her husband died, Rani Durgavati took control of Gondwana since her son was just five years old at the time. She fought off many attacks during her reign, but she was unable to defend her kingdom from the invasion of the Mughal forces. Rather than admit defeat, she killed herself on June 24, 1564. The day is known today as Balidan Diwas. In 1983, the University of Jabalpur was renamed as Rani Durgavati Vishwavidyalaya in her memory.
  • Major achievement: Defended Rajput pride by self-immolation when Alauddin Khalji wanted to capture her
  • Why I included her on this list: She is technically not Indian since she was born in Sri Lanka. However, in her time, it was all Hindustan so she was a Hindustani, of course. There are so many stories of her beauty and courage that you could write a book.
  • Major achievement: Historically known as Maharaja, though she was a queen
  • Why I included her on this list: As one of the most powerful female rulers of the Kakatiya dynasty, she saved her kingdom from many invasion attempts. She was one of the very few women to rule as monarchs in India and promoted herself as a male ruler in order to do so. History remembers her with exceptional qualities with no one coming close to her personality.
  • Major achievement: First and only female ruler of India
  • Why I included her on this list: Some may disagree that she was the only female ruler of India, but she undoubtedly was the first. She ruled the Delhi Sultanate for a short period of four years. Her rule of law was overturned when she fell in love with Yakut (a slave in her kingdom). Her death still remains shrouded in mystery. There are claims of at least three places of her burial in Kaithal, Tonk, and Delhi.
  • Major achievements: Revived Bharatnatyam; Padma Bhushan recipient; the first woman to be nominated in Rajya Sabha
  • Why I included her on this list: She is also featured in the list of the top 100 people who shaped India. Rukmini Devi also devoted time towards animal welfare and rights. She was once offered the post of President of India by Morarji Desai, but she chose dance over the highest office in India.
  • Major achievements: The first woman to get her pilot license and clock more than 1000 hours of flying
  • Why I included her on this list: Sarla Thakral was only 21 years old when she received her license to fly an aircraft. She was working towards getting licensed when her husband died in a plane crash. Later in life, she became a painter and designed clothes, jewelry, etc.
  • Major achievements: Started the first girl’s school with her husband; opened a care center for pregnant rape victims
  • Why I included her on this list: Married at the age of nine, Savitri saw firsthand the plight of girls her age. This inspired her to start the first all women’s school in 1848. She was also the first teacher at the school. She also opened a care center named Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha for pregnant rape victims and helped to deliver their children. She brought about many social reforms and changed the mindsets of many. The University of Pune is renamed after her—it’s now known as Savitribai Phule Pune University.
  • Major achievement: Empress of Dance (Nritya Samragni); Kathak queen
  • Description: She propagated the Kathak style of dancing and did shows all around the world. She also appeared in numerous movies as a dancer, including Mother India, Usha Haran, and Roti. However, she stopped performing in movies in 1957, saying they were adversely affecting her study in kathak On her 97th birthday, Google India dedicated its homepage by showing a doodle on her.
  • Major achievements: Known as the “The Nightingale of India;” second Indian woman to be president of the Indian National Congress and the first to be appointed an Indian state governor
  • Why I included her on this list: Sarojini Naidu, a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi, founded the Women’s India Association in 1917. Having been the President of Indian National Congress in 1925, she participated in the freedom struggle. Two years before her death, India finally gained its independence as a sovereign nation, becoming the largest democracy in the world. She is also remembered for her books, including The Broken Wing and The Gift of India.
  • Major achievement: Defended the Maratha empire against the Mughals
  • Why I included her on this list: Tarabai led her army and successfully defended it against foreign powers. The widowed queen was brought to the forefront when her husband Rajaram Bhosle died. She was a genius strategist with immense political acumen.
  • Major achievements: Padma Vibhushan and host of the secret Congress Radio during Quit India movement.
  • Why I included her on this list: She participated in the independence struggle and was jailed for six months for hosting a secret radio show, which provided information to various leaders who fought against the British. After independence, she became a lecturer at the University of Bombay. Usha Mehta advocated Gandhi’s philosophy and teachings throughout her life.
  • Major achievement: First South Indian queen to fight against the East India Company of British
  • Why I included her on this list: Aptly nicknamed Veeramangai—which translates into a brave woman—she successfully fought British by forming an alliance with nearby kings of princely states. Legend has it that the British never came back to conquer her kingdom while she ruled.

I did extensive research to write this article. Hope you like it and have discovered many new great personalities and are inspired by them.

Grand Canyon Pioneers: The Early Settlers and Explorers

I used to be a guide at Grand Canyon National Park, where I led both rim tours on the South Rim and day-hikes into the canyon. On those tours and hikes, I’d talk about everything from flora and fauna to geology, park statistics and the Native American cultures that made the Grand Canyon their home hundreds and thousands of years ago. I also talked a lot about one of my favorite topics — the pioneer times in the canyon in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

This page highlights some of my favorite Grand Canyon pioneers and explorers from that time period, along with links to additional reading.

March 24, 1834 – September 23, 1902

On the afternoon of May 24, 1869, at Green River Portage in what is now the state of Wyoming, a one-armed Civil War veteran along with a team of nine that included geologists, scouts and geographers, set off in four wooden rowboats to fill in a big blank: to explore and map one of the last and largest unknown areas of the United States–roughly 1,000 miles of the Colorado River through the rugged, desolate deserts and canyons of Utah and Arizona, including the mile-high cliffs of Grand Canyon.

Major John Wesley Powell was that one-armed veteran and leader of the expedition, who eventually became the head of the U.S. Geological Survey. The story of his and his crew’s daring adventure along that wild, yet unexplored river is one of countless and perilous twists and turns and surprises, mutiny and massacre, extreme beauty and amazing discovery.

Read more about this fearless Grand Canyon explorer in The John Wesley Powell Archive

October 21, 1863 – February 12, 1953

It’s always fun to have a character to poo-poo, isn’t it? Completely justified or not, Ralph Henry Cameron fills that role in Grand Canyon pioneer history.

A politician, businessman and miner, Cameron, was very much opposed to Grand Canyon becoming a National Park. But he was all for charging people a toll to use “his” trail–the South Rim’s Bright Angel Trail, now the most heavily used trail in the Park–which he’d expanded in 1890-91 from what had formerly been a rough Havasupai Indian route, in order to gain easier access to his mining claims. Cameron believed those claims, legitimate or not, entitled him to charge others to enter and exit the area, regardless of the fact that this was public land.

In fact, in his attempt to control Grand Canyon, Ralph Cameron built a hotel and attempted to make a number of illegitimate mining claims at other strategic locations.

The Federal government, however, disagreed with Cameron’s claim of entitlement and put a stop to his toll business, eventually evicting Cameron and his workers from Indian Garden in 1920. But that didn’t stop his continued disputes with the Feds and others over his use of public lands, which he attempted to bolster with political power when he was elected to the U.S. Senate that same year.

By 1924, Federal authorities had formally returned the remainder of Cameron’s bogus mining claims to the public domain, then becoming part of the national park.

See: Who Owns Grand Canyon?

Emery: 1881-1976 / Ellsworth: 1876-1960

I would say that Emery and Ellsworth Kolb are my favorite “personalities” of Grand Canyon pioneer history. While many of the details I used to pepper my stories with as a Grand Canyon guide have slipped into the depths of my memory, I do remember the recurring vision I used to have of these two ambitious entrepreneurs as I described to visitors how the brothers would snap photos of tourists as they set off on mule-back down the Bright Angel Trail, then literally run past them, 4.5 miles and 3,000 vertical feet down to Indian Garden, where there was the pure water needed to develop the film. Then the brothers would run all the way back up the trail — which is difficult enough walking — to get there before the tourists returned, so the Kolbs could sell them the photos.

First Emery in 1901 and then Ellsworth a year later came to Grand Canyon from Williams, Arizona, with their photographic equipment and worked out a deal with the man who controlled the Bright Angel “toll road”–Ralph Cameron–to set up a tent at the top of the trail. Their darkroom at the canyon began as a small cave in the side of the canyon wall, with a blanket covering the entrance. In 1904, they began construction on Kolb Studio, a building perched right on a “shelf” blasted into the edge of the rim, at the head of the Bright Angel Trail. The building was expanded more than once, including the addition of a studio and a three-story section for a residence for the Kolb brothers and their families.

But the brothers weren’t just photographers; they were also daring adventurers who went to great lengths … and depths … to get their photos, including Ellsworth balancing one foot on either side of a very long way down, while dangling Emery (with the camera) from a rope. See the famous photo of this maneuver at MousetrapVintage.com.

In 1912, the brothers completed a boat trip down the Colorado River, becoming the first to record such a trip down the river with a movie camera. After a promotional tour around the country to show their film, they returned to Grand Canyon.

A Record-Breaking Film

Emery Kolb ran the film of their river adventure each day in the studio showroom from 1915 until his death in 1976 at the age of 95, making it the longest-running movie in history.

The film’s recorded narration was added in 1932, but Emery still introduced the film to the live audience himself. After doing so, he would claim that he was too old and weak to narrate the whole movie … then he would spring past the surprised audience, up the stairs to start the projector.

It’s fun to imagine this scene today, standing in that same showroom, where a variety of exhibits are presented throughout the year.

October 2, 1849 – March 7, 1933

In 1885, William W. Bass set up a primitive tent camp on the South Rim, about 25 miles west of what is now Grand Canyon Village, where Ralph Cameron was collecting his tolls. Bass was himself also a miner–a true prospector, that is–and a friend to the Havasupai Tribe, with whom he improved an old Native American trail from his camp to the inner canyon, calling it the Mystic Spring Trail. Later, from the improved tent site called Bass Camp, he led visitors into the canyon and also used the trail for prospecting.

W.W. Bass and his crew eventually established more than 50 miles of trails below both the South and North Rims. They also erected a tramway across the river. Today, the trails remain, including my favorite hike in the canyon (See: Hiking the South Bass Trail in Grand Canyon for photos and information), but the tram no longer exists.

Something else that does still exist, aside from the wonderful, remote hiking trails, are remnants of Bass Camp, including a bunch of “historical trash” in the form of rusted old cans and other junk, along with foundations and the remains of fencing, which you can see in the area around the South Bass trailhead and down in the canyon too.

The Bass Family of Grand Canyon

Easterner Ada Lenore Diefendorf was vacationing at the Grand Canyon when she met and later married W.W. Bass, with whom she raised four children, all the while assisting her husband with every area of his business. Ada Bass was the first white woman to raise a family at the South Rim.

Disappeared, 1928

What could be better than a combination of love and mystery in a Grand Canyon tale?

In October, 1928, in a 20-foot wooden sweep scow that Glen Hyde built himself, he and his new bride set off on a honeymoon adventure down the Green River, connecting with the Colorado River and rowing on towards the Grand Canyon. Glen’s goal was to set a speed record for traveling through the Grand Canyon, while also making Bessie, a novice on the river, the first documented woman to run the canyon. Romantic, huh?

But the romance was apparently cut short. The last time the couple was seen was on November 18, 1928, after hiking up the Bright Angel Trail out of the canyon to resupply. On that side trip, they visited photographer Emery Kolb at his studio home on the South Rim, where they were photographed before going back to their boat. A man named Adolph Sutro hiked back into the canyon with the Hydes, taking photos and going a short distance downriver with them in the scow. After he was dropped off, Sutro was the last person to see the Hydes, as they again launched at approximately river mile 95.

When the couple failed to return to their home in Idaho by December, a search was initiated, during which a search plane spotted their scow drifting around river mile 237, upright and intact with the supplies still strapped in. A camera found in the boat revealed that the last photo had been taken near river mile 165, on or about November 27th. There is even evidence indicating the Hydes made it as far as river mile 225, where it’s believed they camped. No other trace of the Hydes has ever been found.

Legends and Rumors

Among the stories and theories that have sprung up over the years about what really happened to the Hydes was the claim made by an elderly woman on a commercial Grand Canyon rafting trip in 1971, when she announced to other rafters that she was in fact Bessie Hyde, and that she had stabbed her abusive husband to death and escaped the canyon on her own. The woman later recanted this story.

1840 – January 26, 1919

There were times when I was a guide when I wished I could summon the ghost of John Hance to come tell his tall tales to visitors who didn’t seem too impressed with mere fact, staring blankly at me as I spoke with all the necessary enthusiasm and gestures at that grandest of canyons we were standing next to or hiking into. Or perhaps it was my story-telling that wasn’t hitting the mark. I’ll bet they would have found John Hance entertaining, though. After all, he was as much an attraction as the canyon itself, drawing crowds of tourists who wanted to hear what fantastical tales he might come up with.

Captain John Hance was an Army captain and a businessman, who was one of the first settlers to make money leading tourists into the canyon by mule . He was also well known for “stretching things” a bit, like telling his audience with a straight face that he’d dug the canyon himself and deposited all the excavated dirt near Flagstaff, single-handedly creating the San Francisco Peaks.

Hance arrived at the Grand Canyon in the early 1880s, becoming the first non-Native resident. He made an asbestos mining claim in the canyon, improved an ancient trail to gain easier access to that claim, then built himself a cabin east of Grandview Point at the head that trail. Completed in 1884, the trail was commonly called the Old Hance Trail. When that trail had been basically destroyed by rockslides and falls, Hance built the NEW Hance Trail, which was and still is (if you can find it) as treacherous as the first. (I’ve never attempted the New Hance Trail, but I’m told by my fiancé, who has, that it’s “straight down” and very difficult to follow. He said he picked it to hike because it was the shortest direct trail to the river from the South Rim … not realizing what that really meant.)

Hance, who passed away at the age of 80 in 1919, the year Grand Canyon became a National Park, was the first person buried in what would become the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery.

An enjoyable read: Captain John Hance Impresses Early Grand Canyon Tourists with Tall Tales

A John Hance Tall Tale

From the Captain John Hance Photo Album:

“In those days there were thousands of buffalo on the Texas plains. So when I wanted to come to Arizona, I waited until I saw a herd of buffaloes that was migrating to the west. Then I climbed up into the branches of a big mesquite tree, and when a big bull buffalo passed underneath, I dropped down onto his back. There I stayed until the herd reached Arizona, fifteen days later.

The hump of the buffalo was right in front of me, the tastiest part of the animal. I ate off that – had all the meat I wanted.”

–Captain John Hance


“To THE PATRONS OF THIS VOLUME: This is not a descriptive writing on the Grand Canon of the Colorado River, but a record of the impressions created upon the minds of individual visitors, at various times and under different circumstances, and written in the private visitors’ book of Capt. John Hance, the famous Grand Canon guide. It covers a period of ten years, and partially describes the trip by stage from Flagstaff, Arizona, and return, under the management of G. K. Woods, General Manager of the Grand Canon stage line, owned and operated by J. Wilbur Thurbur.


FLAGSTAFF, A. T., March I, 1899.”

You can see the full text at Archive.org.

April 4, 1869 – January 8, 1958

Fred Harvey, whose namesake company was the first owner and operator of concessions at Grand Canyon National Park, was well known for employing young women from the East coast to come out west and work in his hotels as waitresses, hostesses and shop attendants. These women became known as the “Harvey Girls.” Through some contacts, Mr. Harvey hired another woman as the interior decorator of a New Mexico hotel. Her name was Mary Colter.

In 1902, Mary became the chief architect and decorator for the Fred Harvey Company and remained so until 1948. Mr. Harvey commissioned her to design all of his company’s buildings on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where her structures clearly reflected her fascination with the Native American history, architecture, and landscape of the American Southwest.

On the South Rim, Mary Colter designed the Bright Angel Lodge, Hopi House and Lookout Studio at Grand Canyon Village, Hermit’s Rest several miles to the west, and the Watchtower (pictured here) at Desert View at the east end of the Park. She also designed Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon, near the Colorado River. All of these buildings were intentionally designed to look old, even like ruins in some cases, rather than modern buildings of the time.

While Mary Jane Colter may be best known for her Grand Canyon architectural designs, she designed many other buildings and interiors as well.

Read more about this successful woman in what was largely a man’s world at the time in Artist Hero: Mary Jane Colter.

Colter did more than “just design buildings.” She also created stories to go along with them. One of her biographers, Arnold Berke, wrote that “each building had its own ‘reality’ constructed in Colter’s mind as the product of fastidious research and planning, then later planted in the imagination of the traveler.”

Colter also designed gardens, furniture, china–even the maids’ uniform for the La Posada hotel in Winslow, Arizona, which she considered her masterpiece.

A chain-smoker herself, Mary Colter designed this ashtray, inspired by Native American motifs.

Mary Colter may well be the best-known unknown architect in the world: her buildings at the Grand Canyon National Park-which include Lookout Tower, Hopi House, Bright Angel Lodge, and many others-are admired by almost five million visitors a year.

This extraordinary book about an extraordinary woman weaves together three stories-the remarkable career of a woman in a man’s profession during the late 19th century; the creation of a building and interior style drawn from regional history and landscape; and the exploitation, largely at the hands of the railroads, of the American Southwest for leisure travel.

Destiny Delayed: Custer and the Trading Post Scandal

Every nation has its heroes and battles that become part of the national culture. A myth builds up around them. New lexicons emerge. Books are written. Movies made. Nowhere is this more the case than in the legend of George Armstrong Custer and The Battle of the Little Bighorn. Better known as Custer’s Last Stand, it is still embedded in the national psyche the way Pearl Harbor and Gettysburg continue to be.

The death of Custer and his battalion of 210 men from the 7th Cavalry Regiment shocked the nation. Occurring on the late afternoon of June 25, 1876, just days before the Centennial celebration, the timing could not have been worse.

Since his death, he has been viewed as a hero, patriot, egomaniac, racist, good soldier and most recently, just a man of his time. Thankfully, his Native American opponents have come to be viewed in a different light as well. Once seen as a wild band of savages, the Sioux nations are now considered to have been a people just fighting for their existence in a rapidly changing world. The overwhelming victory gave Sitting Bull, the Hunkpapa Sioux Chief, notoriety. But that only forestalled the inevitable. It also made him public enemy number one. The battle had been a long time coming and it was really the Sioux’s last hurrah on the open plains.

In some ways, Custer’s defeat at the Little Bighorn was his destiny. He was always a bit reckless in action and words. His boldness was based on military insight; something innate that did not reflect in his poor academics at West Point. Many of his officers commented on how he studied a battlefield, getting to know the terrain intimately.

A Far Away Look

This last campaign was different. He underestimated his opponent, and many spoke of his changing demeanor during the march from Fort Lincoln. What was bothering him? The usual military matters troubled him: supply, horses and disagreements over strategy; nothing unusual about that.

A self-reflection seemed to be creeping into his psyche in late May and early June of 1876. Was he just tired? There were his fellow commanders, Major Reno and Captain Benteen. Both disliked their flashy colleague. Was he just tired of it and keeping his distance? One officer described speaking to Custer in his tent days before the battle. There was an empty stare that lingered too long. The men had never seen that before in their usually confident, talkative commander. Something weighed on him.

The ups and down of the past two months had taken its toll. But there were others, mostly the enlisted men, who saw Custer as the same old swashbuckler they had come to know and love. Several times throughout June he had talked about pulling away from the expedition and winning a great victory. Could he have been driven by an obsession to make amends for a humiliation from the President? To find an answer, one has to study the man himself and his changing fortunes in the first half of 1876.

Impetuous Warrior

Custer was always described as a man with a flair for publicity. The long blond hair and thick mustache that came down around the corners of his mouth made him stand out even in an era of almost ubiquitous facial hair. The collars on his cavalry uniform were upturned and he wore his hat rakishly, usually tilted to the right. Despite the histrionics, he was a complex figure. Equal parts chivalrous and vain, he could be ruthless towards his enemies (both Confederate and Indian). Depending with whom you spoke, he was both loved and hated. That was not surprising. He was also obsessed, many thought, with being the hero.

Despite graduating near the bottom of his class of 1861, he emerged a hero from the Civil War, becoming the Union’s answer to Jeb Stuart, the famed Confederate Calvary commander. Some historians feel he saved Gettysburg for the much criticized General Meade. He cut swaths through many a skirmish line. He finished the war a general, but that was a brevet rank, and he soon returned to the rank of captain.

The next ten years were filled with as much adventure, despair and turmoil as any man could have. In 1867, he was even court-martialed for being AWOL. He had left the post to go see his fiercely loyal wife Libby, who was sick. He got off with a year’s suspension, but he had a powerful friend in General Phillip Sheridan, so Custer was able to come back by mid-1868.

In the struggle for the West, being unconventional was the only way to be. The 7th Calvary needed a man like Custer, flaws and all. Charging headlong into his opponent had become a way of life for him. At the Battle of the Washita in 1868 (Oklahoma), it almost cost him a command. Many of his fellow officers felt he needlessly risked the lives of his men by just taking off into the fight. One of those officers, Frederick Benteen, would be with Custer at the Little Bighorn, but survive. Though he was later credited with saving the remnants of the regiment, it was Benteen’s refusal to take bold action that many believe led to Custer’s death.

The 19th Century western frontier was a tough place. Life could be short and brutal. The US Army reflected that. Corruption was rife; as was drunkenness. There was the usual collection of desperate men, and glory-seekers, sprinkled with the occasional idealist out to do his duty. And that was just the officer corps. The enlisted ranks read like a foreign legion, with the ranks filled out by newly arrived Irish and Germans, along with a few Italians. It was not unusual to find men who had fought with Garibaldi in Italy during their war of unification. In fact one of Custer’s most trusted officers, Myles Keogh, an Irish immigrant, had fought in the Papal Army during that conflict.

Custer had almost left the army several times in the wake of the Civil War, but each time he persuaded himself to stay. As the mid-1870s came, he lived his life like a man possessed. He needed one more big battle to silence his critics and rivals. Then he could leave the Army and go work for the all powerful railroads or maybe a mining company. A fortune was just waiting to be made. He and Libby could live a life of luxury. All he needed was one last glorious campaign.

But in 1876, a new problem surfaced, one that has been overlooked by many: the Trading Post Scandal. New enemies emerged in the form of Washington Bureaucrats, and even the President, Ulysses S. Grant. When politicians and the military tangle, the result is usually the damning of reputations. This time, it may have cost lives.

In March of that year, Custer left Fort Lincoln (South Dakota) for Washington to testify before Congress about the scandal involving the Secretary of War, William Belknap. It involved a kickback scheme in which Secretary Belknap and a civilian contractor to the military received payments from a merchant at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. As a result of the hearings, the campaign against the Sioux was put on hold.

We hear the term “civilian contractor” a lot these days when it comes to the military, particularly for the Army. They now handle much of the mess duties, transportation and even external security in some hot spots. Many would be surprised to hear that the US Army of the 19th Century used them as well. They were called sutlers. Sutlers were private contractors who were awarded what were termed traderships at Army posts. This wasn’t a candy store franchise; these men ran the supply store. It was akin to being the de facto quartermaster on post. It was a lucrative business and became even more so during the Civil War. Goods were sold at higher than market prices. The soldiers had no other options. They couldn’t run to the mall in the next town. The traders also did an illicit business with the tribes, selling them weapons and other goods that were later used against the troops. In an ironic twist, the Sioux warriors at the Bighorn were better armed than Custer’s men. In the early 1870s, Congress gave the exclusive power to appoint post sutlers to the Secretary of War.

In 1870, at the urging of his then wife, Belknap gave the trading post contract for Fort Sill to a man named Caleb Marsh. But there was one problem: the Fort already had a sutler named John Evans. They came up with an ingenious solution. A partnership was formed in which Evans kept the trading post, with the provision that he give Marsh $12,000 a year in profits (through quarterly payments). Marsh then had to split that in half with Belknap’s wife. This was an enormous amount of money for that time. $12,000 a year in 1870 converts to about $120,000-130,000 annually today. Like all good schemes, news eventually would leak out.

Belknap’s wife died later that year, but her husband kept accepting payments for the “care of their child.” Then the child died in 1871. Still, Sec. Belknap kept receiving money. After he remarried, the cash flow continued. The plot was finally exposed in 1876, leading to Belknap’s resignation. Articles of impeachment were drawn up and a trial ensued. Amazingly, the Secretary was acquitted, based mostly on a technicality about the timing of his resignation. But it was the investigation into the matter that strained relations between Custer, Grant and many others.

A series of articles in a New York newspaper exposed the schemes, using what we would term today as anonymous sources. One of those sources was rumored to be George Custer, with an accusation that he may have even authored one of the articles. He was called to testify for the first time on March 29, 1876 and then on April 4. His testimony was earth-shaking as he went on to describe what he felt was going on at his own post, Fort Lincoln. During the prior year, he noticed that his men were paying higher than normal prices for their goods and supplies. Upon looking into the matter, he found that the sutler was only getting $2,000 for every $15,000 of profits. Custer made the connection that the other $13,000 was going to either some illegal partnership or the Secretary himself. But then came the real dirt. He stated that Orvil Grant, brother of the President, was one of the culprits. Orvil had been an investor in what appeared to be legal partnerships with three trading posts, one of them supposedly Fort Lincoln. I think it’s safe to assume there were audible gasps in the committee that day. He told the committee that a fellow officer, who had tried to expose these arrangements, had been transferred against his wishes. Even his staunchest ally, Phil Sheridan, was angered with this last bit.

As his testimony ground on, Custer continued with accusations. Major Lewis Merrill of the 7th Calvary, a Civil War veteran (brevetted brigadier general) and the man who was given credit for almost destroying the KKK in South Carolina after the War was accused of taking a bribe many years before at Fort Leavenworth. Merrill responded vociferously, with letters to the editors of many newspapers. The dominant members of this committee were Democrats with Southern sympathies. Merrill was not popular with these men. His promotions had already been held up because of his tough stance during Reconstruction. So this charge may have been a way for Custer to ingratiate himself further with those Congressmen. In all likelihood, Custer truly believed that Merrill had taken the money. He had previously accused Merrill of stealing band equipment in 1874. There was never any evidence of a bribe. Merrill was vindicated and went on to continue his stellar career. However, he did not receive his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel until the year he retired.

Custer also testified about the “corn story.” A shipment of corn had arrived at Fort Lincoln earlier that year. Custer determined at the time that it was meant for the Indian Department, which ran the reservation nearby. Apparently he saw this as an attempt to sell the corn to the Army for a profit because the Army could have been charged at a much higher price. But the real problem was his claim that he wrote a report and passed it on to General Alfred Terry (his immediate superior), who supposedly passed it up through the normal channels (Sheridan, Sherman, etc.). Custer claimed that he received orders from Belknap (through Terry) to receive the corn. The problem was that Terry never sent the report out to anyone. Terry stated he made an inquiry on his own and determined the corn shipment to be valid. For a man such as George Custer, to whom honor was everything, this was a slap in the face. By not sending the report and letting Custer believe he had, Terry made Custer look silly.

The attitude of the press was mixed. Many newspapers in those days did not hide their political biases. It was not uncommon for editors or reporters to sway a story at the behest of a Congressman or Senator. Insinuations were made throughout an article. Payments to the press were not all that unusual. So it’s not surprising to read the press clippings about Custer’s testimony and see him called a liar. Speaking with reporters after the testimony, the Secretary stated that Custer had testified “like one spurred by a grievance.” Some of his testimony was called a “virtuous story.” At best, Custer was portrayed as an overly chivalrous officer who had taken offense too easily. One story published in the New York Times called his chances for promotion dim.

Whether or not Custer knew immediately of the hornet’s nest he had just stirred up, we don’t know. It’s hard to imagine him not being aware of the criticism. Reporters would have certainly sought him out during his stay in the Capital. His testimony had the desired effect, at least temporarily. Belknap was indicted. After waiting in Washington for almost two weeks, Custer was told by Congress, he was no longer needed. He had friends in New York and with the Centennial celebration upon the country, he decided make a couple of stops. He was back in D.C. by the 21st and prepared to leave for Fort Lincoln. However, he was stunned to find out he had been accused of perjury by some members of the press. As per usual, his fellow officers were leading the charge against him. Nevertheless, Sherman asked the Secretary of War for his release to Fort Lincoln in order get the campaign under way. Grant, who by now was furious, personally stepped in and told Secretary Taft (who replaced Belknap) to appoint a new commander of the expedition. Custer was going nowhere. To accuse the relative of a sitting President of illegalities was beyond contempt to Grant. He had given his blessing to the deals. In his mind, they were perfectly legal.

Sherman informed General Terry, who had been appointed to lead the expedition against the Sioux, that he would have to make do with a new commander of the 7th. Custer was shocked. He was going to be robbed of his chance for redemption. Desperate, he sought out members of the committee to secure his release. Before he left, Custer was told by Sherman to see the President. Through an intermediary, Custer sent word to the White House requesting a meeting. Grant refused. Left with no place to go, he departed for Chicago, and then on to Ft. Lincoln.

The drama did not end there. Upon arrival in Chicago, he was arrested per orders of Sherman. Sheridan not only had the distasteful duty to arrest an officer he admired and a onetime protégé’, but he had to order the soon to be infamous Major Marcus Reno to replace Custer. Custer was brought to Fort Snelling, Minnesota to meet with General Terry. The look of despair on Custer’s face was stunning. A sense of pity fell over Terry. A man of such boundless energy and confidence had been reduced to pleading for his career. And Terry wanted Custer back. Polar opposites in temperament, he knew defeating the growing numbers of Sioux who were leaving the reservations required boldness. He would plead for Custer’s return. Sheridan and Sherman endorsed the effort. As was true throughout his career, just when things looked darkest, Custer’s luck turned. Public pressure of the perceived poor treatment of an American hero caused Grant to reverse his stance. With the Centennial upon the nation, America needed to fulfill its destiny to tame the wild lands of the American west. Grant had misgivings about the treatment of Native Americans, but politics was politics. Failing to secure a victory against the Sioux that summer would erode his public standing even more. Putting aside his moral sympathies, he acquiesced. By the middle of May, Custer was back in command. Within days he was back at Fort Lincoln, and prepared to lead his men against the Sioux and Cheyenne.

Trouble had been brewing in the Great Plains all spring. While the Army was immersed in the politics of Washington, Sitting Bull was growing in strength. Rumors were rife all over eastern Montana territory. Young warriors began flocking to his growing band. Cheyenne warriors began arriving as well. No one seemed to know where Sitting Bull was. The Army sent out patrols to no avail. Ascertaining the size of his band was impossible. Long depressions in the grasslands were seen and the trail was picked up. They lead nowhere. Tepee poles were found strewn along the route. Still no sign of life. How big could they be? They could not challenge the 7th Calvary, could they?

The plan was for a large pincer movement with the 7th Calvary coming from the east, Colonel John Gibbon coming from the northwest and George Crook coming up from Wyoming. While the 7th marched due west, on May 28th, General George Crook led his men in the Battle of the Rosebud just south of the Bighorn, where approximately 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors led by Crazy Horse took on Crooks’ 1,000. The fierceness of the Indian resistance caused Crook to withdraw with heavy casualties. He then retreated to Fort Sheridan. Word never reached Custer. Gibbon was somehow delayed as well. The now bloodied Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, full of confidence, prepared for more fighting.

Within a month, Custer was dead. So were two of his brothers and many of his long-serving men. A reporter along to record the great victory (despite orders to the contrary) had been killed as well. The reasons for the disaster are many. Like so many great events in history there was not just one factor, but a confluence of events, that lead to the defeat. How much Custer contributed to his own demise is still up for debate. He was mercurial; that’s not always a great quality in a military man leading a complex campaign. Was he really a desperate man? Certainly. Did the delays in getting the campaign started allow Sitting Bull to muster enough men for one last battle? There’s no doubt about that. If the campaign had started in late April, the Battle of the Little Bighorn would have been a footnote in history, if it had happened at all.

Characters like George Custer have existed for centuries. Yet there is a more modern parallel to Custer. A man of ambition, boundless energy, equally poor grades and one who had a knack for getting into trouble with his superiors: General George S. Patton. Joining the cavalry right out of West Point, Patton quickly developed a reputation similar to Custer’s: an arrogant publicity seeker with a flair for the dramatic. It was said soon after World War II ended in Europe in May 1945, that peace would be hard on Patton. A man of such drive would get bored and probably talk his way into trouble. And he did. His deeds awed and his words angered. I think the same could be said for Custer. Could we have imagined it any other way? Custer the gentleman farmer or corporate executive is hard to fathom. Peace would have been hard on him.

Donovan, James. A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn – The Last Great Battle of the American West (Little Brown 2008).

Philbrick, Nathan. The Last Stand (Viking 2010).

Utley, Robert. Cavalier in Buckskin: George Armstrong Custer and the Western Military Frontier. (University of Oklahoma Press 1988).

Wert, Jeffry D. Custer: The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer. (Simon & Schuster 1996).

On the web: http://www.shapell.org/manuscript.aspx?169434.

“Notes from the Capital.” New York Times. April 7, 1876. Via the King County Library database at kcls.org.

“General Custer’s Testimony-His insinuating corn story: A complete examination in which Custer appears to little advantage.” New York Times. May 5, 1876. Via the King County Library database at kcls.org.

“Gen Custer and Gen Merrill.” New York Times. April 19, 1876. Via the King County Library database at kcls.org.

General George G. Meade: Hero of Gettysburg or Goat?

By winning the Battle of Gettysburg, General George Gordon Meade made a monumental contribution to preserving the Union and dooming the Confederacy’s bid for independence. But by only wounding Robert E. Lee’s army and not destroying it before it could retreat back to Virginia, Meade broke Abraham Lincoln’s heart. As a result of Meade’s failure to prevent Lee’s escape, the war continued for another two bloody years.

But should Meade really be blamed?

Robert E. Lee and his Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had invaded Pennsylvania in the hope of possibly ending the Civil War by defeating the Union’s main army on its own territory. But when the two forces met at the little Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, Meade’s Army of the Potomac emerged victorious, forcing Lee to retreat.

Meade had scored a magnificent triumph, both military and personal.

Having been suddenly and unexpectedly appointed to replace Joseph Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac after the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania was already under way, George Meade had quickly organized his force, moved it to the scene of battle, successfully countered every move the Confederates attempted, and inflicted on the Southern army a smashing defeat. Now, throughout the North Meade would be acclaimed, and rightly so, as the hero of Gettysburg.

But President Abraham Lincoln wasn’t satisfied. He wasn’t just looking to send the Confederates packing back south of the Mason-Dixon line. He saw Lee’s defeat on Northern territory as a unique opportunity to not just repel, but destroy the greatest fighting force of the Confederacy. It was Lincoln’s conviction that if Lee’s army could be cut off and effectively dismantled before it could retreat from Pennsylvania, that event, along with General Ulysses S. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, would effectively end the war. All that was required was for General Meade to vigorously pursue Lee and attack him before he could get his shattered army reorganized and resupplied.

Through his general-in-chief, Henry Halleck, Lincoln sent message after message to Meade urging him, imploring him, almost pleading with him to go after Lee before the Confederate force could escape back across the Potomac River.

With the Confederates having lost more men at Gettysburg than the Union army did, Meade now enjoyed a significant advantage in numbers. And even during the battle, the Southern army had run out of artillery ammunition. Now, with a number of its generals dead or severely wounded, and faced with the necessity of beginning an immediate retreat with no time to reorganize, the effectiveness of the Army of Northern Virginia as a fighting force had to be at its low point. Everything seemed to line up for Meade to successfully attack, defeat, and perhaps destroy the South’s main army.

Even the weather seemed to work for Meade. As the Army of Northern Virginia slowly gathered itself together and began its retreat, the rains came. Lee’s army found itself trapped on the wrong side of a surging Potomac River, with no way to cross until the water level began to recede. If attacked in that position, it could not retreat, and would have to fight, with no hope of reinforcement or resupply. Had Meade forced that battle, with Lee’s army at its most vulnerable, the Army of Northern Virginia might have been prevented from ever getting back to its namesake state. And without Robert E. Lee and his army, the Confederacy simply could not survive.

But it didn’t happen. Realizing that his own army had become almost as disorganized in victory as Lee’s had in defeat, Meade believed that the immediate, vigorous push Lincoln urged him to make was unwise. His army needed rest and reorganization before it could take the offensive.

So from the afternoon of July 3 when, in the aftermath of the disastrous defeat the Confederates suffered with the failure of Pickett’s charge, through the night of July 13, when Lee’s army was trapped with its back against the Potomac, Meade waited. He followed and reconnoitered and probed, but never launched the all-out attack Lincoln pleaded for.

And in the end, Lincoln’s greatest fear came true. By the time Meade finally felt he was ready to move against Lee on July 14, there was no army there for him to attack. The waters of the Potomac had receded to the point that the Confederates were able to build pontoon bridges, and Lee had gotten his troops across during the night. The Southern army had made a successful and practically unopposed retreat, and was soon back home in Virginia.

And Abraham Lincoln was devastated by the lost opportunity.

That same day, July 14, 1863, President Lincoln sat down to write what he intended to be an encouraging letter to General Meade, thanking him for the great victory at Gettysburg. But in the course of his writing, the President’s feelings began to overflow, and his bitter disappointment found its way into the words his pen set on paper.

After briefly speaking of his gratitude for Meade’s Gettysburg victory, the President couldn’t help expressing his distress that far from seeking to immediately confront Lee’s fleeing army, Meade and his generals seemed to be, as Lincoln put it, “trying to get him across the river without another battle.” The president wrote:

The case, summarily stated is this. You fought and beat the enemy at Gettysburg; and, of course, to say the least, his loss was as great as yours. He retreated; and you did not, as it seemed to me, pressingly pursue him; but a flood in the river detained him, till, by slow degrees, you were again upon him. You had at least twenty thousand veteran troops directly with you, and as many more raw ones within supporting distance, all in addition to those who fought with you at Gettysburg; while it was not possible that he had received a single recruit; and yet you stood and let the flood run down, bridges be built, and the enemy move away at his leisure, without attacking him…

Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so South of the river, when you can take with you very few more than two thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect, and I do not expect you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.

As it turned out, this is perhaps the most famous letter in American history that was never sent. Upon rereading what he had written, the president realized that far from being encouraging to Meade, it would devastate him. His own feelings somewhat relieved by expressing them on paper, Lincoln didn’t send the letter, but put it away in an envelope labeled “To Gen. Meade, never sent or signed.”

Lincoln was certainly correct about one thing. Meade would never again be able to “effect much” against Robert E. Lee. It would not be until Ulysses S. Grant became the Commanding General of all US forces, and effectively took personal control of the Army of the Potomac, that Lee would finally be vigorously pressed and brought to bay.

But was the President right about Meade having missed a golden opportunity to end the war in 1863, rather than after an additional two years of bloody fighting?

Is it really true that Meade could have, and should have, staged a vigorous pursuit of Lee’s retreating army, and brought it to battle before it could retreat back across the Potomac? Or was Meade correct in his belief that making such an attempt would have been extremely dangerous, and would have run the risk of turning the great victory at Gettysburg into a disheartening and disastrous defeat?

General Meade laid out his reasoning for not immediately pursuing Lee in his testimony to the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War on March 5, 1864:

Having, however, been in command of the army not more than twelve or fourteen days, and in view of the important and tremendous issues involved in the result, knowing that if I were defeated the whole question would be reversed, the road to Washington and to the north open, and all the fruits of my victory at Gettysburg dissipated, I did not feel that I would be right in assuming the responsibility of blindly attacking the enemy without any knowledge of his position…

It is proper I should say that an examination of the enemy’s lines, and of the defenses which he had made – of which I now have a map from an accurate survey, which can be laid before your committee – brings me clearly to the opinion that an attack, under the circumstances in which I had proposed to make it, would have resulted disastrously to our arms.

As his testimony indicates, Meade had some undeniably compelling reasons for caution:

  • He was entirely new to command. Although he had a good record as a corps commander, prior to his appointment just a few days earlier as head of the Army of the Potomac, Meade had never exercised independent command. Compared to his opponent, the masterful Robert E. Lee, Meade still had a lot to learn.
  • Three of Meade’s seven corps commanders had been put out of action at Gettysburg: Reynolds killed; Hancock and Sickles severely wounded. In addition, when Meade moved up to army command, he himself had to be replaced as commander of his old Corps. So, more than half of the second highest tier of leadership in the army were new in their positions.
  • The Army of the Potomac had suffered very high losses. Of the 93,921 men with which it began the battle of Gettysburg, 23,049, or 24.5 percent, were listed as killed, wounded or missing. It may not have been immediately apparent to Meade that the Confederates had suffered even higher losses: of the 71,699 men Robert E. Lee brought to the battlefield, 28,063 (39.1 percent) became casualties.
  • Once Lee got a head start by moving quickly to begin his retreat on July 5, he would likely be able to choose the ground on which any battle would be fought if Meade caught up to him. Engaging the Army of Northern Virginia when they were dug in and expecting a fight was sure to result in a very high casualty count.
  • Probably the biggest factor in Meade’s reluctance, though he might not have admitted it in so many words, was Robert E. Lee. As Ulysses Grant would later discover, Lee had almost as high a reputation among the Army of the Potomac as he did with the Army of Northern Virginia. He had proved adept at making unwary Northern commanders who thought they had him in a box pay for that misapprehension. Meade had no wish to add himself to the list of Lee’s foes, including McClellan, Pope, Burnside, and Hooker, that the wily Confederate had out-generaled and humiliated.

I think President Lincoln understood Meade’s difficulties. But he also knew that Lee was confronted to an even greater degree with similar issues. In every way that mattered, Meade’s army was in better shape than Lee’s. If battle were joined, Meade would have the advantage.

Lincoln might well have asked Meade the question he asked General McClellan when, after forcing Lee to retreat at the battle of Antietam in 1862, McClellan, too, had failed to pursue and destroy his formidable but outnumbered adversary.

“Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you can not do what the enemy is constantly doing?” the President had demanded of McClellan. Now, watching Meade list reasons for not attacking, just as McClellan had done, I’m sure Lincoln had a discouraging sense of déjà vu.

So, who was right? Was Lincoln right in urging Meade to take the kind of aggressive action that might end the war immediately? Or was Meade right in refusing to pursue a course that, if things went wrong, could result in losing all the fruits of the Gettysburg victory while opening the way for Lee’s army to possibly capture Washington, Philadelphia or Baltimore?

I think both were right.

Lincoln was right to want what he wanted; Meade was right to not attempt it.

Lincoln was right in that he sensed an opportunity to end the war that if missed, could never be reclaimed. The consequence of Meade’s failure to grasp that opportunity was another two years of bloodshed that Lincoln wanted desperately to avoid.

Meade, on the other hand, was also right. Not because Lincoln didn’t have the right strategy; but because he didn’t yet have the right man. One thing every Northern commanding general before Grant had proved was that if a commander didn’t have the killer instinct, he didn’t have it, and there was no way to infuse it into him. Without that quality, if Meade had brought Lee’s army to battle during the retreat from Gettysburg, Meade’s prediction of probable disaster would very likely have come true.

It was not until Ulysses S. Grant became General-In-Chief in 1864 that Lincoln finally found the man who had the killer quality necessary to bring Robert E. Lee to bay, and end the war.

General Grant, who on July 4 was in Mississippi receiving the surrender of Vicksburg, was not yet available to command the Army of the Potomac. It would be eight more months before he was finally in charge. He would then show the aggressiveness and tenacity that Meade seemed to lack, but which was absolutely necessary to having any chance of finishing off Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.

But what would Grant have done if he had been in charge of the Army of the Potomac at the end of the Gettysburg battle? I think we can see a clue to how he might have handled that situation in his reaction to a near-disaster the befell him the previous year during his attack on Fort Donelson in Tennessee.

With the Confederate garrison confined within the fort, Grant positioned his forces to block every avenue of escape. That evening he left his army and went to confer with the commander of the Navy gunboat fleet that supported his attack. While he was gone the Confederates attempted to smash their way out of the fort. By the time Grant realized a battle was in progress and hurried back, one wing of his army was in panicked retreat. Not only did Grant quickly organize his force to retake the ground that had been lost, but he saw the Confederate near-breakout as a great opportunity. What he said to a member of his staff shows his attitude when he sensed his opponent was vulnerable:

Some of our men are pretty badly demoralized, but the enemy must be more so, for he has attempted to force his way out, but has fallen back: the one who attacks first now will be victorious and the enemy will have to be in a hurry if he gets ahead of me.

To Meade the fact that both his own and his opponent’s armies had been disordered by battle was a reason to hang back. But for Grant the mutual demoralization of his and the enemy’s forces was a spur to get in the first blow before the opposing army could recover its equilibrium. That, to me, is the difference between the cautious attitude that characterized Meade, and the aggressive, go-for-the-jugular mindset that was typical of Grant. I think that if he had been in charge at Gettysburg, he definitely would have struck a blow at Lee.

Confederate colonel (later general) E. Porter Alexander, who was Longstreet’s chief of artillery at Gettysburg, perhaps summed it up best. His memoir Fighting for the Confederacy is considered by historians to be one of the most perceptive and reliable accounts written by any participant in the war. In it Alexander gives us his comparison of Meade, Grant, and Hooker, all of whom he fought against:

But Hooker’s third & last blunder [when Hooker retreated at the battle of Chancellorsville] was the greatest of all. He lost confidence even in being able to repulse Lee with his whole army united behind the short line which any engineer would pronounce impregnable…

Had it been Grant in command he would not have dreamed of giving up the fight. But Grant had been built up by successes in the West, & the Army of the Potomac had never had the luck necessary to properly educate a general. When we come to write of Gettysburg, Meade, too, one of the bravest of men personally, will be found permeated with the same timidity we see here in Hooker.

(Emphasis added).

President Lincoln eventually came to see General Meade in a more charitable light than he did immediately after Lee’s escape. In a July 21 letter the president spoke of his change of heart:

A few days having passed, I am now profoundly grateful for what was done, without criticism for what was not done. Gen. Meade has my confidence as a brave and skillful officer, and a true man.

At Gettysburg George Gordon Meade met a critical leadership challenge that few men could have handled, and won a decisive victory that was crucial to the final outcome of the war. To demand that he follow up that victory by immediately committing his disorganized force to an attempt to cage and destroy Robert E. Lee’s still-intact and highly dangerous army of seasoned veterans would be to ask of a good man and an excellent general something he simply was not equipped to do.

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