Essays on the American Civil War Now Available in Paperback and PDF

JDB Communications, LLC, is pleased to announce the availability of a new edition of Essays on the American Civil War by John D. Beatty in paperback and PDF at The Book Patch, while the first edition in Kindle will still be available for a limited time.  From the Introduction:

The American Civil War (even the way it is written: always capital “C,” capital “W”) sits isolated in a pristine crystal dome of American history, separate from all other events.  There are certain ways to write about it that make it acceptable to Civil War scholars and their audiences, and these rules must be observed else the offending material will be relegated to the isle of broken essays.

As the “Forlorn Hope” essay explains, American treatment of the 1861-65 conflict is always an exception to every rule of writing history, and American writers at all levels treat it as their private preserve.  Parallels with any other conflict are impossible for many Civil War buffs and not a few scholars, as are ties with any other non-American conflict.  Suggestions that the economic and political issues not related to slavery were eerily similar to those surfacing during the Tudor and Stuart periods in England—and may actually be connected—were dismissed with derision, ridicule, and often, suggestions of racism on those heretics with such insolent ideas.

How casualties were created should be a no-brainer, but as “The Butcher’s Bill” explains, for 19th century warfare that just ain’t so.  The mechanics of cavalry, too, should be obvious, but as “Cavalry in Blue and Gray” shows, it’s a lot harder when there was no real need for it in its wartime form before the war.

The distinct and contrarian position in some of these essays is unacceptable to “mainstream” Civil War scholarship: Civil War battlefield presentation isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, as “Of Parks and Excuses” explains; the Southern Confederacy, always a “Forlorn Hope,” could not have gotten what she wanted by military means.  Grant and Lee’s legacy to history is both more and less than many want to think, as “Bigger than History” explains.

Finally, “The Turning Point” and “The Unknown Gettysburg” are, again, my attempts at jousting with the immortal dragon that is Gettysburg. That one fight in Pennsylvania has so much emotional baggage attached to it that…well, it’s a tempting target.

Essays on the American Civil War retails at $4.99 in paperback, $1.99 in PDF exclusively at The Book Patch.

Operation WATCHTOWER and National Lighthouse Day

Yeah, I know…running late.  Sue me.

So, 7 August marks a number of auspicious events, among them being the creation of the Order of the Purple Heart in 1782 (making 7 August Purple Heart Day), the US War Department in 1789,  the patenting of the revolving door in 1888, the beginning of the Battle of the French Frontiers in 1914, and the passing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964.  But today, we talk about Guadalcanal, and lighthouses.

The exgenesis of what would become the Guadalcanal campaign of WWII is shrouded less in mystery than in myth.  Yes, the big island at the far eastern end of the Solomons Islands chain had a central plain large enough to support an airstrip, but that’s not why the Japanese went there: that’s why the Americans went there.  The Japanese were more interested in Tulagi, the smaller island to the north of Guadalcanal that had a longer, deeper beach that could support a seaplane base: the strip they started on Guadalcanal that so alarmed the Australians was to be for fighters to protect the seaplane base.  Japan wanted a seaplane base from which they could control the waters on the northern side of the Coral Sea and around New Zealand and New Caledonia, further isolating Australia; the Americans wanted to prevent both from happening, to build an airfield from which they could control those same waters, and as a starting point in the isolation of not only Rabaul but the Marshall Islands.

So was born Operation WATCHTOWER (colloquially, as Operation “Shoestring” for the meager support it got in the early months), the naval/ground/air operation in the eastern Solomons Islands that ran from the Marine landings on 7 August 1942  to 9 February 1943 when the Americans declared the island secure. Guadalcanal, in Navy/Marine parlance, was Task One for the South Pacific, and in many respects it was the most important single operation for both the Americans and their allies and for Japan.  Control  of the Eastern Solomons by either side meant control of the waters around eastern Australia, the springboard for the southern Pacific offensive. against Japan.  But too, it was the first test of Japanese resilience in the face of an Allied counter-offensive, of their ability to control events far from Japanese waters, and without strategic initiative.  As the end of the Guadalcanal offensive showed, Japan’s ability to outlast the Allies was wanting.  It was the first major chink in Japan’s island cordon.

The Guadalcanal campaign is well-covered by several authors, but for my money the best is The Guadalcanal Campaign by Richard Frank.  His dynamic, nearly day-by-day account of the three-month long campaign best covers both American and Japanese problems, but the one Japanese issue that Frank does not cover is the increasing desperation not of the senior commanders or even the common soldiers, but of the ever-increasing weariness of the overworked aircrews and their mechanics, which is best described in Okumiya Masatake’s Zero!. 

As some of you know, my co-author. Lee Rochwerger, and I have been working on a…retooling…of our What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan at War (Merriam Press 2009) book.  The new version, Why the Samurai Lost, will be bigger and better, with maps and tables that the first version lacked, and more information on the infighting between the Japanese Army and Navy.  Expect to see Why the Samurai Lost at the end of 2018.  Of which, more later.

On 7 August 1789 the US Congress approved an act for the support of “Lighthouses, Beacons, Buoys and Publik Piers” that marked the beginning of what would become the Lighthouse Service, which would be eventually be rolled into the Coast Guard. Two hundred years later, Congress passed a commemorative bill designating 7 August as National Lighthouse Day.

Sometime in the 1960s, the Coast Guard determined that the older the lighthouse, the more costly it would be to knock down because of their stout construction. As of the 1980s, all of these innocuous structures that dot the coastlines of every major body of water in the US  have been automated, many shut down and abandoned. The Lighthouse Preservation Society is dedicated to keeping at least some of these landmarks as monuments, museums, or other repurposed function. For those of you who live on or near the Great Lakes or one of the three major coastlines of the US, have a look at those old brick piles with the big light domes and remember: it’s likely at least one of you had some friend or relative that counted on that light to keep from being wrecked on some rock or shoal.

George H. Thomas, Andrew Johnson, and National Mutt Day

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: OK, you delusional clown, what could possibly associate these three?  And what, in the name of heaven, can you ever think that the last day in July wouldn’t have more topical or interesting events than…these?  Well, I reply casually, Columbus did land on Trinidad on this day in 1498, and Ignatius of Loyola–founder of the Jesuits–died on this day in Rome in 1556.  Then there’s Third Ypres in Flanders in 1917, and there’s Jimmy Hoffa’s last sighting in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan at the Fox & Hounds (which closed its doors exactly thirty years later) in 1976.  But today we talk about the American Civil War, and dogs.

George Henry Thomas, old Slow Trot, the Rock of Chickamauga, was born on 31 July 1816 to a slave-owning family in Southampton County, Virginia. As a young man, he and his family had to hide out in the forest during the Nat Turner rebellion in 1931. Before joining the Army, his thoughts on slavery as an institution are unknown, but legends abound about his position on the Peculiar Institution before the war.  Thomas fought in Mexico and Florida, and won steady promotion until the Civil War.  Though he did not “go south” as many of his colleagues did, the Army didn’t trust Southern-born officers.  Because he didn’t “go south, Thomas’s family never spoke to him again.

For the entirety of the war, Thomas served the Union with distinction, winning more fights than any other Union general, and more than most Confederates.  At Chickamauga in September 1863 he held his position on Horseshoe Ridge that the rest of William S. Rosecrans’ broken army could (and did) rally around, turning what could have been a disaster into a mere defeat.  Thomas and his staff did yeoman duty during William Sherman’s Atlanta campaign the next year. Outside of Atlanta, John B. Hood’s attack at Peachtree Creek in July 1864 broke against Thomas’s stalwart defense.  That same winter, when Hood tried to lure Sherman away from Georgia, Thomas instead raced Hood north, defeating him at Franklin in November, and crushing him at Nashville in December.

After the war, President Johnson offered Thomas Grant’s three stars (while Grant got four), but Thomas declined.  Assigned to command the Department of the Pacific by President Grant in 1869, Thomas died after a stroke in San Francisco in 1870.  Though he was memorialized by his colleagues after his death, not many of them, including Grant and Sherman, seem to have liked him very much. Thomas is buried in New York, and not a single family member attended his funeral.

Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina in December 1808.  Trained as a tailor, Johnson settled in Tennessee as a young man and entered local politics. His meteoric rise from alterman to mayor to the Tennessee House, the US Congress, the Governor’s mansion and the White House is the stuff of legend for someone who was never trained in the law, and never saw the inside of a university classroom.  Johnson is a member of the small club of American professional politicians who was not also a lawyer.

His tenure as president was the most controversial, and began with his swearing in while in wine (but it would have been hard to expect him to have been sober expecting not to be required for anything by Lincoln). Johnson, like Lincoln, wanted a quick reconstruction of the country after the Civil War while the Congress wanted to punish the South.  Neither side got their way, really, but in the meantime the former slaves were left with little in the way of protection.  For his staunch perfidy Johnson was impeached by the House but was acquitted by the Senate in 1868.  After Grant’s inauguration in 1869 Johnson slid into national obscurity, though he was lionized in Tennessee.  On 31 July 1875, Andrew Johnson died in Elizabethton, Tennessee while visiting his daughter.  To this day he has been the only president to serve without a vice-president.

And, mutts.  Lovable, loyal, playful dogs with more than one “breed” in their bloodlines.  Many end up in animal shelters, many end up in medical labs.  For whatever reason, they are not often seen as working dogs, though there’s no real reason for that discrimination.  Purebred dogs often have genetic disorders known to their kind: what makes them special?  Of all the dogs I’ve ever owned or lived with (a dozen over six decades), none of the purebreds from accredited kennels were any more special than the “Heinz 57” dogs from a shelter, or free from good owners, or just picked up off the street.

Dogs, well cared for and not abused, are only as good as their environment, but they can be a handful.  I’ve had one, just one and only for a week, who was uncontrollable, and Tiger was a AKC registered German Shepherd.  Most are good foot-warmers, great listeners, fetchers of whatever, and eaters of nearly everything.  Some bark a lot, most bark some, some don’t at all.  And yes, most of them shead, want your attention when you least expect it, and lick their privates in front of your in-laws. But, if you want a loyal companion who will occasionally make a mess, visit a local shelter or, failing that, help the ASPCA rescue the abused animals who, after all, only want to please someone.

Three Essays on Strategy Now Available in Paperback and PDF

JDB Communications, LLC is proud to announce the availability of Three Essays on Strategy by John D. Beatty in paperback and PDF from The Book Patch.

Walcott, Iowa, and Wall, South Dakota may seem to be unlikely places to talk about in an essay collection on strategy, but examining these institutions is a good introduction to the ideas of how strategy is made.  For those who have never been to Walcott, Iowa, it is the home of the world’s largest truck stop.   To earn this distinction, the ne plus ultra of road trip rest emporiums rises from the Iowa prairie along Interstate 80.  It began in 1964 as a simple gas station and lunch counter, according to the web site, and has by this writing grown to a sprawling complex that offers everything from a museum to a pet wash stand, four eateries, a laundromat and even a chiropractor and a regular doctor, in addition to the usual fuel found at any such, smaller establishment.  Wall Drug started even earlier, in 1931, offering free ice water to thirsty travelers in the Badland’s summer heat.  When this correspondent saw it, Wall Drug had been joined by over fifty-odd other store fronts plying everything from food to footgear, from books to jewelry, and from tourist souvenirs (including the ubiquitous bumper stickers) to fuel.  How these two mid-America roadside behemoths got where they are, how they got to be bigger than their host communities, is part marketing of course, but also by employing the theme of these essays: strategy.

Alfred T. Mahan’s series of Naval War College lectures, published as The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 (1890) were inconsequential, but the 110-page introduction formalized strategic thought and theory for the first time.  Using Britain as a model, he outlined a fleets-make-bases-make-ports-make- trade-makes-money-makes-fleets formula that had been in use, if unacknowledged, ever since wood was made to swim and carry a load.  This model of strategy was designed not for just for military gain but to advance and secure economic power.  To emphasize this point, Mahan wrote his introduction out of economic necessity: his original manuscript had been rejected, and he penned the famous introduction to get it sold.

That this formalization of what every major state since the beginning of recorded history had practiced should come from a naval officer from the greatest commercial power of its age was almost anticlimactic.  Of all human enterprises, up until Mahan’s time ships and the sea were simultaneously the most lucrative and the most expensive to build and maintain.  The United States, of all the world’s commercial powers, took advantage of America’s many international coasts and harbors to build an overseas trading empire that dwarfed both its competitors and its partners by the middle of the 20th century.

Scratch any historian, politician, wargamer, monarch, or businessperson and you’ll likely get a different definition for “strategy” from each.  Each will be correct—as far as their specialized viewpoint is concerned.  Politicians need to keep getting elected, so their concern is for their electorate, which often means jobs.  Monarchs have some of the same concerns—though usually for their own fortunes and for those of their supporters.  Business always looks for markets, for resources, for labor, but most often for political and economic stability.  Wargamers, working in a different kind of environment altogether from the rest, seek to succeed in whatever game they are playing at the moment, but only within the confines of the game.  For the historian, “strategy” is the sum of what social groups and states plan to do, and what they actually execute, to achieve their goals.  As such, “strategy” is the overall idea that monarchs, tradesmen, politicians or anyone else start out with—or what they develop over the course of years or centuries—to either achieve a defined goal, to ensure their commonweal, or to just survive.

These essays were written in a time when the concept of “strategy” had been formally defined for over a century, and in a world where the concept of “strategy” was intentionally driven by policy.  As these essays show, strategy has been an evolution, a development of policy-making that stretches back millennia, and was sometimes driven by accident, sometimes by design.  During the time period covered by the first two, dealing with the Mediterranean’s ancient world and with Europe and Asia in the early modern period, strategy was a matter of royal prerogative and trade demands.  In the third, dealing with the United States and Japan in the Pacific in the 19th century, strategy was the prerogative, at least in part, of democratically elected representatives.  What is interesting is how similar the strategic choices are, and how similar the alternatives are.  The greatest difference is that of scale.

But too there’s geography, and the tremendous role played by simply stopping in the right place.  Human communities grow where there are resources and conditions that support them.  Even if commercial enterprises like the I-80 truck stop and Wall Drug make their own conditions, that’s not always possible.  Drive along an interstate highway in the US on either side of Wall or of Walcott, and that becomes apparent.  The successful stops are built where on and off ramps provide easy access, but there are nearly as many tall road signs standing next to empty concrete slabs as there are those next to bustling enterprises.  Those that are further down the frontage roads or farther from the ramps rarely survive more than a few years unless they offer something else that weary travelers needed or, like Wall Drug did in the beginning, gave away ice water in summer.  In some places along the highway are the artifacts of failed truck stops, motels and even whole towns that may have thrived once, but no longer.  Many of the abandoned gas stations along the highway lost business when the range of vehicles increased, others because the price of fuel made their continued operation unprofitable, and still others because the owners retired or died.  But, these relics of bygone days were often the casualties of strategic changes made by their competitors and the changing tastes of consumers that they failed to meet.  Often as not, they are the losers in a strategic game that they lost, or perhaps that they didn’t even consciously play.

The social groups and countries described in these essays, like the truck stops and the drug stores that fail while others succeed, are all subject to someone’s strategy.  The trick is being in a position to take advantage of successful strategies or be able to withstand bad ones.

Three Essays on Strategy is another of the growing essay collection from JDB Communications, LLC. that retails for $3.99 for paper, $1.99 for PDF from The Book Patch.

Wrong-Way Corrigan and Yellow Pig Day

Well, we all know the story of ol’ Wrong Way (though most of what we “know” ain’t so), but of other things that happened on 17 July there are legion, including the final surrender of Napoleon at Rochefort in 1915, the founding of Harvard’s Dental School of Medicine in 1867, the execution of the Romanovs in 1918, the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Port Chicago explosion in 1944, the opening of Disneyland in 1955, and the TWA 800 explosion in 1996.  It’s also National Peach Ice Cream Day and World Emoji Day.  I can get (almost) all but that last one.

The whole world “knows” that Douglas Corrigan took off from New York on 17 July 1938 planning to go to California, but landed twenty-eight hours later in Ireland.  The sobriquet “Wrong Way” got stuck to him immediately thereafter and stuck for the rest of his life.  Trouble is, that’s not really what happened.  He wasn’t authorized to make a trans-Atlantic jump because the authorities that were in charge of such things deemed his aircraft (that he built himself) to be unsafe.  It was important for public relations reasons at that time that as few air-travel disasters as possible were enabled, and Corrigan was a fairly well-known airplane builder (he had worked on Lindberg’s Spirit)  and pilot.

The truth was that he had always planned a trans-Atlantic flight, and he was by no means the first to solo across the pond.  He took off after anyone who could stop him had gone home, turned around above the cloud deck, and headed for Ireland.  But he enjoyed more fame as a poor navigator than he did as a miscreant, so he never admitted that it was intentional.  Corrigan died in 1995, and Wrong Way Corrigan Day commemorates his achievement.

Someone is seriously going to have to explain this one to me.  Yellow Pig Day is July 17, has been since the 1960s, apparently. The way I get it, yellow pigs have seventeen eyelashes, and a couple of math geeks at Princeton named Kelley and Spivak were obsessing over the number 17…yeah.  Anyway, the two of them invented yellow pigs with seventeen toes and seventeen teeth…and on and on, and…maybe you need to be a mathematician to appreciate it. At any rate, Yellow Pig Math Days are celebrated at Hampshire College as a convocation of budding mathematicians, and are also held at various other locations to emphasize mathematics in education. As someone who always considered abstract mathematics as stupid human tricks, I don’t get it, but I don’t need to.

Gettysburg, a Smorgasbord of National Days, and the Consequences of Belief

Huh, you say…what is he up to now?  Well, as it happens, I just want to put some stuff out there so you, my dear readers, can argue about lots of different things that have nothing to do with anything, like our current Fearless Leader in the White House duking it out with the Mass Media into all sorts of nothing sandwiches while he quietly gets the regulatory swamp drained.  Such is life.  Misdirection, you see.

Just like Lee was snookered into Gettysburg.  Sure, he wanted a fight outside Virginia…but then what?  The Confederacy was already losing half its food supply when US Grant finished clearing the Mississippi Valley with the capture of .  The Richmond/Washington corridor was, in comparison, as sideshow.  But the history books, driven by the Lost Cause Mythology (LCM) that demands that All Things Lee must be Earth-shatteringly vital, says that Gettysburg was the battle of the Civil War.  Some American history textbooks mention Bull Run, Gettysburg and Appomattox, foregoing all other actions  as unimportant.  Lee is mentioned, of course, and Lincoln, but Grant?  Meade? Even Halleck?  Not on a bet.

But…you moan.  Lee was snookered into Gettysburg?  Tricked?  Well, in a way, yes, he was.  Though the “strategy” that he outlined to Jefferson Davis demanded a fight with the Army of the Potomac, but he didn’t say just where or how.  So he split up his army to join it up somewhere in Pennsylvania so he could thrash “those people” (the term that LCM insists Lee always used when referring to the Union Army…except when he didn’t) once and for all.  Trouble with that was that, without a definite plan, the various pieces of his army were just going to be out foraging as he looked for a place to get together.  Lee wasn’t expecting to get it together in southern Adams County, but that was where Buford’s cavalry encountered Ewell’s corps.  Then there was Howard’s and Reynold’s corps, and Ewell had a real fight on his hands.

Suddenly Lee’s army had to come together, and he had no idea that Meade’s whole army was on hand because Stuart’s cavalry was off on another “ride around” the AoP and thus out of communications, but unlike 1862, the propaganda value to the Bold Cavalier’s exploits was nil.  However, the military value of bruising Stuart’s ego in June at Brandy Station was tremendous, and to salvage his sinking reputation he took his horsemen off on another wild ride.

So Lee was blinded by Stuart’s absence…or at least that’s what LCM claims.  You see, it just isn’t possible that Lee had so little control over his subordinates that such things could happen, so it has to be Stuart’s fault.  Just as on 3 July 1863 it was Longstreet who failed against Meade’s center because Lee cannot fail…ever.  And Lee, the ever-stainless Marse Robert Edward Lee, cannot be faulted for fighting at a severe terrain disadvantage in Pennsylvania.  It had to have been his subordinates who failed him. And so it goes.

But too, today is National Chocolate Wafer Day, National Eat Your Beans Day, and National Fried Clams Day.  Now, only Fried Clams Day has a known origin–3 July 1916 was the first time anyone suggested deep-frying clams–but the other two are mysteries.  A snack stand in Essex, Massachusetts battered and fried a batch after a customer suggested it, and first served them during Fourth of July festivities.  It sort of took off.  I have some rather fond memories of fried clams at Howard Johnson’s restaurants, which dates me.  The national day started in 2015.

Now, the consequences of belief.  There are, you know.  As Lee found out in Pennsylvania, believing that he could steal a march on Meade was, in his case, catastrophic. Similarly, German belief in their capacity to knock France out of the war before having to deal with the Russians in 1914 was similarly disastrous.  Germany did it again in 1939, taking on the whole world by 1941.  But that was a consequence in Hitler’s “unshakeable belief” in so many things that were just–demonstrably–wrong.

But no one can escape the consequences of belief, because what you believe guides what you do.  And if what you believe is accurate, all is well until someone decides that what you believe is simply wrong.  If that disagreement is a simple “I don’t think so,” there it  ends.  But if someone believes–and has the power to enforce–that you must change your belief and behavior or face a fatal consequence…that’s different.

But that’s where “free speech” and “censorship” and “hate speech” and “blasphemy” and “sedition” get all tangled up.  Opinions (personal, not legal) can’t be “wrong” if they don’t deny facts–they’re just beliefs.  Today is Monday.  If you say that it’s Wednesday, you would be wrong, incontrovertibly.  That is not an opinion, but a fact.  If you believe that persons of another faith or skin color are all evil, or want to destroy those of your faith or skin color, that is an opinion because it’s simply too broad a spread.  But if you act on that belief, it stops being an opinion and starts being a motive for whatever it is you wish to do.

The painting that heads this little missive is a good example.  It was painted to meet a commercial need, and to satisfy an audience that would find “Hancock at Gettysburg” to be inspiring. It’s not a photograph, and abounds with historical inaccuracy.  But it was commercially successful despite all that. Point at it as say “Pickett’s Charge” if you want; no one will kill you for it, but it’s “Hancock at Gettysburg.”  But say that a TV personality is wrong, or ugly, or–horrors–unworthy of your time, and you may be in for a fight.  Attractiveness is unquantifiable, and thus not a matter of “fact.”

What anyone says about anyone’s looks or appearance is, long run, irrelevant to living, or governing, or ruling.  The accuracy of paintings, too, is pretty irrelevant.  And so is this blog.  I write it because I want to; you read it for the same reason.  No harm no foul if you don’t or I don’t.  But it’s not “censorship” if you don’t follow me, just as my not watching the endless reruns of the same twisted plots of TV sitcoms isn’t “censorship,” or my not caring what your sexual proclivity is or your gender identity or your personal pronouns isn’t “anti-gay,” and it is not yet illegal to not care.  That may come, but not yet.

 

Ellen Church and National Nylon Stockings Day

Among aviation pioneers, the name of Ellen Church is not exactly up there with the Wright Brothers or Louis Bleriot, Jimmy Doolittle or John Glenn, but she was pretty important in her own quiet way as the first “stewardess”. But the Ides of May (every month has ides, defined as the middle of the Roman calendar month, not just March that Shakespeare and Caesar made famous) is also known for the beginning of the Seven Years’/French and Indian War in 1756, the 1864 battle of New Market in the American Civil War, the birth of Madeline Albright in Prague in 1937, the beginning of the Women’t Army Corps in 1942, and shooting of George Wallace in Laurel, Maryland in 1972. But today, stewardesses and nylons.

In September 1904 Ellen Church was born in Cresco, Iowa, and had an early fascination with airplanes and flying. She studied nursing at the University of Minnesota and took off for San Francisco, where she took flying lessons and managed to get a job at Boeing Air Transport (BAT), the forerunner of United Air Lines.  Though they would not hire her as a pilot, Church had the idea that nurses acting as flight attendants on board (the term stewardess wouldn’t come into use until the late 1930’s) would be good for publicity, making flights seem safer.  Thought there had been stewards on airships since 1910, there were no women before Church first took to the air on a 20-hour flight from San Francisco to Chicago on 15 May 1930–with thirteen stops and fourteen passengers.

After Church’s first flight, BAT hired more “sky girls”–registered nurses, younger than 25, single, weighed less than 115 pounds and were less than 5’4″. The physical requirements saved weight, and allowed the young women to stand up while serving drinks and snacks in the small passenger cabins of the time. In addition to their cabin duties, they also had to help fuel the airplanes and move them in and out of the hanger.  For this they were paid the then-princely sum of $125 a month–nearly twice what most nurses made, and almost as much as the average civil pilot.  While she liked the work, a car accident  ended her career with BAT after a year and a half.  She went back to nursing, and in 1942 she joined the Army Nurse Corps and rose to the rank of captain.  Church was responsible for training evacuation nurses in preparation for the Normandy invasion in 1944. Ellen Church was active to the end of her life, when she was killed in a horse-riding accident in 1965.

Now, as you ladies who read this blog at all regularly (bless you, you poor dears) know,  I have very little experience with wearing nylon stockings myself (though I have done so for a few hours at a time as a preventative against man-of-war stings), so at least some of my remarks about National Nylon Stockings Day (and no one knows why its 15 May) will seem insensitive or sexist or something.  So, as always…get over it.

The DuPont Chemical Company first made their miracle of chemistry dubbed “nylon” in 1935: a woven material made of threads manufactured in chemical factories and thus, theoretically infinite.  The product’s first practical commercial product had been nylon toothbrushes first marketed in 1938.  In 1939, legend has it, that a young woman who worked for at the DuPont Experimental Station in Delaware complained that her silk stockings didn’t fit right.  Seeking a wider market, the company reasoned that weaving nylon threads into a fabric pulled over a mold in the desired (by the makers) shape and color (early formulas could be made in nearly any color by adding aniline dyes) of a woman’s legs would be technically feasible. The rest, as they say, is history…maybe.  Still, legends often have roots in facts, so it sounds plausible.

At the World’s Fair in 1939, DuPont showed their mass-produced ladies nylon stockings to rave reviews, and sales of the more easily-obtainable stockings (more available than silk since Japan’s war with China started in 1937) skyrocketed right up until 1942, when manufacture of stockings was suspended for the duration of the war.  Manufacture resumed in 1945 and has continued unabated, with demand far outstripping supply in the 1940’s to the point of riots in late 1945 and early 1946.

But there was (and is) a catch: nylons weren’t and aren’t perfect.  They are more flexible than the cotton and silk they replaced, but not infinitely: until the 1980’s and the introduction of longer-chain “memory” polymer yarns, they squeezed the leg into the shape of the maker’s dies whether the wearer’s flesh was that shape or not.  This created not just discomfort but, in some cases, pain.  Modern hose are more forgiving of thicker thighs or longer calves but are still very form fitting, so the slightest hair stubble will catch in their mesh.  And shaving legs is not like shaving faces, you guys: leg skin never really toughens up like cheeks and chins…so I’m told. Further, the seams were unsightly (though they were eliminated by continuous weaving in 1965) and hard to keep straight.

Worldwide sales of nylon stockings has always been high and is still mind-boggling.  Since their introduction sales of nylon hosiery has been consistently in the mid-hundreds of millions of units–at first because of their fragility, and then because of population explosions, the introduction of nylons for younger girls, and increasing social acceptability of…well, more exposure of the leg. Since 1958 and the development of panty hose the sale of accompanying garters  and belts has declined: since 1980 panty hose demand has exceeded single hose demand.

The silky wonders of science are still popular, despite the discomfort to the wearers. Demographically, regular nylon wearers have been women under fifty since wearing trousers became fashionably acceptable for ladies in the 1960’s.  I’m told by reliable authorities (better than you, wiseguy) that this has been first because of the shaving requirement, second the expense (better-quality units can run $25 and more, and only last three months of weekly wear), and third because of the general discomfort that accompanies having one’s flesh squeezed into someone else’s idea of what their legs should look like because sizing–even three quarters of a century–hasn’t been perfected.

Ellen Church almost certainly wore nylons: hard to imagine such a trailblazer not wearing them at least once.  One wonders if she stood in one of those outrageously long lines for them. My late mother once said she stood in line for half a day outside Hudson’s in Detroit for a pair in about 1946: she would have been 23 or so, a bride of three years.  Then again, that may be more legend than fact, too.  Still, a bit of personal history for context.