Saturday, December 16, 2023

Fennario: Scottish Folk Song Becomes Americanized

By Robert A. Waters

Fennario, a town mentioned in an old folk song, does not exist in Scotland...or America. The fictionalized city was actually a small town near Aberdeen called Fyvie. The original title of the tune may have been "Peggy-O" or "The Bonnie Lass of Fyvie." Although the author is unknown, the song is thought to have been written around 1640. (That seems amazing to me--this tune of the common folk is nearly 400 years old and still being sung in various forms.)

The story is about the captain of an invading army who falls in love with a beautiful girl in the town he has conquered. In many versions, the girl rejects him and the captain "dies for love." The ballad is often sung in the third person, by one of the captain's soldiers.

In an earlier iteration, the song starts with the following lines: "There once was a troop of Irish dragoons/Cam marching doon through Fyvie-O." In an Americanized version, lyrics to the song begin: "As we marched down to Fennario/We marched down to Fennario/Our captain fell in love with a lady like a dove/And they called her Pretty Peggy-O."

In America, numerous versions are extant. While the Grateful Dead never recorded the song, they played it often in their concerts. Bob Dylan called the song "Peggy-O" and recorded it on his first album. Joan Baez recorded the tune during the folk revival of the 1960s. Many others have put it on tape, vinyl, or CDs.

How did a song sail across three thousand miles of ocean and land in America?

In the 1700s, many immigrants from Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland settled in the southern Appalachians. These states include North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky. Life on the frontier was often brutal, but settlers brought their music with them. Initially, they would sing the old songs with the same lyrics they had learned back in the old world. But eventually, lyrics changed to reflect life in the new world. 

For instance, the popular country song, "Knoxville Girl," began its life in the English town of Wittam. The song had numerous versions as it wandered through the English countryside. At some point, someone decided to transport the murder of an innocent girl from England to Knoxville, Tennessee. In the early 1900s, as technology evolved so voices and musical instruments could be recorded, "Knoxville Girl" became a standard in the repertoire of many folk and country crooners.

Life in the Appalachians was hard. For more than a century, the average lifespan of those who settled there was about 35 years. Accidental death, violent death, and early death from natural causes, including childbirth, was prevalent. (Check out the photo below to see the home of an Appalachian family.) 

While the original song allegedly took place in a war between Ireland and Scotland, the lyrics in America morphed into a different conflict: the Civil War.

The Journeymen, a 1960s folk group, recorded this version of the tune:

Fennario (Click link to hear the song)

As we marched down to Fennario,

We marched down to Fennario,

Our captain fell in love with a lady like a dove

And they called her Pretty Peggy-O.

Come trippin' down the stairs, Pretty Peggy-O,

Trippin' down the stairs, Pretty Peggy-O,

Come trippin' down the stairs combin' back your yellow hair

And waitin' for you there is sweet William-O.

"Oh, would you marry me, Pretty Peggy-O?

Would you marry me, Pretty Peggy-O?

If you'll marry me then the city will go free

And it's this I promise thee, Pretty Peggy-O."

"I would marry you, Sweet William-O,

I would marry you, Sweet William-O.

I would marry you, but you wear that coat of blue,

I'm afraid my ma would be angry-o."

"If ever I return, Pretty Peggy-O,

If ever I return, Pretty Peggy-O,

If ever I return then the city I will burn,

And destroy all the ladies in the are-o."

"Sweet William, he is dead, Pretty Peggy-O,

William, he is dead, Pretty Peggy-O,

Sweet William, he is dead, and he died for a maid,

And he's laying in the Louisiana country-o."

If this story interested you, here are a few more folk songs I've written about.

Knoxville Girl - Louvin Brothers

The Hills of Roane County - Tony Rice

The Titanic - Graveyard Johnny Fast

Delia's Gone - Johnny Cash

NOTE: The photo shown in the article is of an Appalachian home in Andersonville, Tennessee and was copyrighted in 1910 by M. H. Gass.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

"Which one of you guys wants to die first?"

Violent Bank Robbery Stuns Peaceful Community

By Robert A. Waters

There are no mountains anywhere close to Mount Dora, Florida. However, it is situated on a plateau 185 feet above sea level. In 1888, surveyors, possibly in jest, named the town after an early settler and its high elevation. The normally peaceful community sits in Lake County. A hundred years after receiving its name, Mount Dora had a population of about 10,000 souls.

At 11:51 A.M., March 20, 1999, a 9-1-1 call crackled in from the Publix grocery store in Mount Dora. 

Dispatcher: 9-1-1. Do you need police, fire or rescue?

Caller: Police. There's been a shooting over at the bank at United Southern.

Dispatcher: In Southern?

Caller: Yes. Everybody's running in here screaming, saying there's been a shooting over at the bank.

Dispatcher: Hold on...(internal dialog to police officers) There's been a shooting at United Southern Bank. There's a shooting at United Southern Bank.

(Internal dispatch dialog)

Dispatcher: Did they say how many people are involved?

Caller: I have no idea...people were just screaming and crying.

(More internal dialog)

Dispatcher: Can you stay on the line? Can anyone give you a description? See if anyone can give you a description.

(More internal dispatch dialogue)

(A second voice appears on the line)

Dispatcher: Did you see the shooter?

Second voice: Well, I saw...I walked into the bank, and there was nobody in the lobby. And I heard screams...And there was somebody in the vault...

Mount Dora police officers arrived at the bank within seconds of the call.

It was a placid morning when thirty-one-year-old Fred Anderson, Jr. (pictured below) entered United Southern Bank for the second time in two days. Earlier, he had informed bank employees he was a college student writing a paper on banking and finance, and wanted to learn all he could about the subject. With no reason to suspect treachery, the manager chatted with Anderson for nearly an hour. When he left, staff seemed impressed with the "student."

He came back the next day. Anderson vs State lays out what happened: "Anderson took a second revolver from his mother's house (he had another gun he'd stolen) and headed to USB with donuts and juice, ostensibly to thank the employees for their help the day before. Victims Heather Young and Marishia Scott (pictured below) were the only employees working at the time. After leaving the bank briefly [Anderson] returned with both revolvers, forced Young and Scott into the bank vault, and ordered them to fill a trash bag with money. Then after asking the women who wanted to die first, Anderson began firing both [.22-caliber] revolvers, killing Young and paralyzing Scott. Anderson fired a total of ten shots, nine of which hit the victims."

As the robbery and murder was unfolding in real time, Sherry Howard entered the bank with her two children. She saw Anderson in the vault firing multiple handguns, and quickly exited. Anderson had not seen her. She raced to Publix and yelled for someone to call police. Howard later testified she heard Scott yell, "Please don't" or "Please, no." Immediately after that, the witness heard additional gunshots.

After cops arrived, officers spotted Anderson still inside the bank, attempting to remove a VCR containing surveillance video. More officers arrived and arrested Anderson holding a "trash can" containing $75,000.

Paramedics rushed Young and Scott to local hospitals.

Heather Young died while being transported to the hospital. According to court documents, "the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Heather Young testified that Young had a total of seven gunshot wounds. She said that all of Young's wounds could have been fatal, with the possible exception of a wound that had entered Young's chin and exited near the eye. [Another] of the wounds had a pattern of gunpower 'tattooing' around it, which indicated that it had been fired at close range."

Scott had been shot twice. One round hit her in the shoulder. Another struck her neck, severing her spinal cord. She would be a paraplegic for the rest of her life.

The verdict in Anderson's trial was a foregone conclusion. Overwhelming evidence included DNA matches of the victims' blood on Anderson's clothing and shoes; ballistics matches of bullets from one of the guns used in the crime; the killer having been caught at the scene; and several confessions. At trial, Anderson was convicted of the first-degree murder of Young, attempted first-degree murder of Scott, armed robbery, and grand theft of a firearm. The jury unanimously sentenced him to death.

On February 4, 2015, Marishia Scott died of complications from her paralysis. Her death ended sixteen years of hard suffering.

Before being shot, Scott had been at a good point in her life. A "country" girl, she lived on a farm with her long-time partner and fiance, Clint Brighurst. In addition to farming, they raised cattle. One friend told reporters that Marishia was "such a happy person. Both she and Clint are very hard workers, and they were always planning ahead." From 1999 to her death 16 years later, Scott remained a paraplegic.

Heather Young's longtime boyfriend, David Curlow, spoke of romantic trips they'd taken to the Caribbean, of parasailing in Key West, and of spending "quiet evenings in lawn chairs by the lake."

After Scott's death, prosecutors considered charging Anderson with her murder. However, they, along with Scott's family, decided not to take him to trial. Scott has run out of appeals on his death sentence, and the district attorney knew a conviction in Scott's case would open a pandora's box of future appeals.

When will Anderson face the vaunted needle? Who knows? It might be decades. It could be never. Many people realize there's little real justice in America. This case proves the point.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

McCown's Longspur Is No More


The Moralists Among Us

By Robert A. Waters

Like so many Southerners in 1861, Tennessean John P. McCown (pictured below), a career soldier and graduate of West Point, joined the Confederate army. His resume up to that point had been typical of lifers. He’d fought with the United States army in the Mexican American war, the Seminole Wars, and in Utah, Nebraska, and the Dakota Territory. His service, while not spectacular, was above average.

In the Civil War, his record was spotty. In 1863, Confederate General Braxton Bragg court-martialed McCown, ostensibly for disobeying orders at the Battle of Murfreesboro in Tennessee. After his six-month suspension without pay, he continued to fight until the very end. He surrendered and was paroled on May 12, 1865. (Later evidence indicates the court-martial of McCown was likely triggered by his virulent criticism of the tactics of Bragg and CSA President Jefferson Davis.)

While serving in the west before the Civil War, McCown became interested in ornithology.

According to Audubon Magazine, "In 1851, John P. McCown, an amateur ornithologist and army officer stationed in Texas, shot a group of larks on the prairie. Examining his kills, he noted two examples of birds he'd never seen before: pale gray longspurs with a spot of chestnut on the wings and prominent white patches in the tail. After preparing the specimens, he sent [them] off to an ornithologist friend, who gave it the name McCown's Longpsur."

In the 1800s, amateur ornithologists across the country often mailed specimens to places such as the Smithsonian Institution for identification. Many times, new birds would be named for its discoverer or the place it was found. This method of documenting species led to the naming of thousands of birds, fish and animals.

But in 2018, ornithologists began a campaign to rob many a bird of its given name. Slave-owners, colonizers, Confederates, alleged white supremacists, and other "deplorable" humans were to be banned from having his or her name grace any fowl.

Even John James Audubon doesn't make the cut with ornithologists now because he owned slaves and hated abolitionists. In the near future, we can expect the Frenchman who did so much to define our natural environment to be banned from polite society with other reviled Americans, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and, of course, Robert E. Lee. 

In fact, almost no person who lived 150 years ago or more can meet the insane standards of today's moralists. (NOTE: If you don't believe it, look up some of Abraham Lincoln's comments about black Americans.)

So, goodbye McCown's Longspur. Hello Thick-Billed Longspur.

It might be wise for the name-changers to remember the old saying, "What goes around comes around."

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

New Review of A Wilderness of Destruction

Here is another review of my brother Zack's great Civil War book, A Wilderness of Destruction, about Florida's role in attempting to save the homeland during that devastating conflict. Zack has several possible awards coming up, and I hope he is honored for the massive amount of research he did and the fine writing that he is known for.

Perspectives on the Civil War Era from the Journal, Civil War Book Review

A Wilderness of Destruction: Confederate Guerrillas of East and South Florida, 1861–1865

Author: Zack C. Waters

Book Review by Ralph Mann

University of Colorado

Zack Waters, a veteran researcher and writer on Florida’s Civil War, has written a very comprehensive survey of guerrilla warfare in east and south Florida. It is based on a huge amount of reading and research in the available secondary literature, as well as in the records of Florida’s Civil War government and federal records of the War of the Rebellion (OR) and Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (ORN). He looks at engagements at all levels, from ambushes to pitched, although small-scale, battles. He recounts Union officers being captured while partying and wagon trains seized on the way to Union-held towns and fortifications, as well as battles for towns—Gainesville, Jacksonville. It is hard to imagine a fight he has missed, including a bloodless skirmish on a creek I crossed every day going to junior high and high school. As long as the conflict can be classified as a guerrilla action, or involves men he identifies as guerrillas, he recounts it. 

This coverage is vital for understanding Florida’s Civil War, because all the Confederate government wanted from Florida [were] soldiers and cattle, and it essentially abandoned the state early in the war. Florida’s Confederate soldiers would fight in the Armies of Northern Virginia and Tennessee, leaving the defense of the state to its own resources—which, as Florida’s governor, John Milton, quickly realized, meant a regiment under state control. His efforts resulted by mid-1862 in the 2nd Florida Cavalry, raised by locally influential men, generally large planters, and soon operating as guerrillas. One of the companies, from Marion County (Ocala), was led by John J. Dickison, who would be the state’s most effective partisan raider, and whose memoir would become Waters’ prime source for combat descriptions.

Waters is very aware of the dangers of research into a topic as controversial, then and now, as guerrilla warfare. His sources are inherently biased—often for self-glorification or self-defense. Postwar memoirs could easily be caught up in “Lost Cause” rhetoric of gallant knights and loyal squires. Northern newspapers were just as prone to puffery as Southern, and even Dickison, Waters notes, was never modest. 

Waters deals with this by juxtaposing accounts by both sides, to an effect that sometimes makes it hard to believe they are depicting the same engagement. Civilians caught up in the fighting suffered disproportionately and bitterly resented guerrilla leaders who enforced conscription or impressed supplies. Especially late in the war, the fighting devolved into robbery, revenge murder, arson, and family rivalry for local power, completely divorced from military goals. Race, of course, was central to the war, and Waters does not shy away from the bigotry that hamstrung cooperation between white unionist Floridians and the African Americans in the United States Army. It is clear that some guerrillas imprisoned white captives but lynched black ones as runaways or “deserters.” (Waters applauds Dickison for, unlike other guerrillas, not killing captives white or black.) And, in the end, there were totally meaningless murders.

The book is organized chronologically and by region, and that results in some repetition. And while Florida was isolated from the rest of the Confederacy, some national policies relevant to the Florida conflict should be noted. Particularly relevant is the Confederate Partisan Ranger Act of 1862, which attempted to regulate partisan warfare—and its subsequent revocation because partisan warfare, independent and close to home, was too attractive and drew men from the regular army. Did the act have any impact on Florida? The Lieber Code of 1863, which defined how Union troops were supposed to distinguish between legitimate partisans and outlaws, might also have been worth discussion, as some Florida battles combined units of the 2nd Florida, temporary outfits led by local politicians, and random rebel enthusiasts with rifles.

Was the Lieber Code ever applied in Florida? But it is never fair to ask an author to write about issues outside of his primary goal in a book, and taken as it is, it is hard to imagine that anyone else will try to duplicate Waters’s exhaustive coverage of Florida’s war.

Ralph Mann, who is Emeritus in history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, graduated from Nathan Bedford Forrest High, in Jacksonville, Florida.

Monday, October 30, 2023

The Schoolgirl Killer

Murder of 11-year-old Elizabeth DeBruicker

By Robert A. Waters

On Friday, July 21, 1939, in Attica, Indiana, local newspaper headlines speculated on the intentions of Adolf Hitler. The Fuhrer had assured the world that the German people were "100% against going to war." Few believed him, with good reason. Just two months later, Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II.

Elizabeth DeBruicker (pictured), 11, had no interest in happenings 3,000 miles away. She lived with her parents and two sisters on a small farm two-and-a-half miles from town. The Lafayette (IN) Journal and Courier wrote that "at about noon, Peter DeBruicker arrived in Attica…to deliver two of his young daughters to Attica School, where their 4-H club was meeting. He planned to drive back into town later in the afternoon and pick them up." Peter was described in the newspapers as a "Dutchman" who ran a modest spread.

The club meeting ended at 1:00, and an excited Elizabeth informed her sister, Loretta, that she planned to go swimming at the Harrison Hills Country Club pool, a few blocks away. Elizabeth told her sister and a friend, Lorraine Ward, to meet her at the pool at 3:00. As the sun scorched the earth, Elizabeth, a smart, pretty seventh grader who attended Logan Township School, walked away.

At the time, the rural community of Attica had about 3,700 residents.

When Elizabeth's sister and friend made it to the pool, they found no sign of her. They asked around, but no one had seen the girl. Peter arrived and quickly began searching for his daughter. The search soon spread into town, but the child had vanished.

Finally, as darkness fell, Peter reported the missing girl to police.

Early the next morning, searchers began combing the country club and golf course. The Journal and Courier reported "their search of the rolling golf greens was soon rewarded when [Ike] Rensville found Elizabeth’s sewing basket and powder compact beneath a tree. Nearby was a 300-foot-long rainwater catch basin, and near the pond, [a] trio of searchers found a mound of freshly turned earth. A mere six inches beneath the gravel they found the child’s body.  The belt of her dress, used to strangle her, still was knotted tightly around her neck. Her shoes were missing."

An autopsy confirmed investigators' worst fears: Elizabeth had been brutally raped as well as strangled.

The greenskeeper of the country club, Thomas Allen Boys, 27, was brought in for questioning. His home lay directly on the route Elizabeth would have taken from the school to the pool. Police knew he’d been convicted of molesting a 9-year-old girl several years before, but surprisingly, had only received a 6-month suspended sentence for the crime. (He had offered the child a nickel to undress for him.) Boys had a wife and three sons.

Lt. Paul Rule, commander of the West Lafayette State Police, interrogated Boys. After many hours of questioning, the suspect broke.

Rule made the following statement to reporters: "[Boys] told us he saw the little girl walking across the sixth green at the golf course Friday afternoon and that he called to her to walk across to the other side of the course with him. They sat down on a hillside and he became familiar with her. He became panicky and made a garrote from her belt and strangled her. After that, he related, he carried her body down to a small pond and held her face under the water until he was satisfied she had drowned. He said he then buried her in the place where her body was found."

Boys denied raping Elizabeth but since the autopsy revealed she'd been "criminally assaulted," no one believed his denial.

Boys admitted he dug the shallow grave with his hands, and, when one of Elizabeth's shoes fell off, he threw it in the pond. Searchers located the shoe where he said it would be. Near the grave, they discovered the sewing basket. In the basket, cops found sewing items (for her 4-H club meeting), a bloodstained handkerchief, and Elizabeth’s "underclothing."

After searching Boys' home, investigators found bloody pants and a shirt.

During that era, lynchings were always a possibility in crimes against children. As cops questioned the suspect, more than 300 people gathered outside the Attica jail. To keep him safe, Lt. Rule transferred Boys to the Marion County jail in Indianapolis, about eighty miles away.

On March 12, 1940, Boys was being held in the Montgomery County jail. The Capital Times reported: "Late yesterday, Harry Anderson, 60-year-old day jailor, was taking Boys back to his second-floor cell from the basement, where the prisoner had bathed. Suddenly, Anderson said, Boys kicked him in the groin, beat him with a broomstick he had snatched up somewhere, and, trampling him, ran downstairs and out the front door. The spring lock had failed to catch."

He fled into a nearby back yard as eighty officers searched for him. He stated he went to sleep, and when he awoke, asked the resident, Louis Stanford, to call police. Within four hours, the escaped suspect was back in jail.

On May 1, 1940, Boys, after having pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, was convicted of the first-degree murder and rape of Elizabeth DeBruicker. He escaped the death penalty, however, and was sentenced to life in prison.

In 1956, Boys applied for clemency, but was denied.

NOTE: Boys' name was sometimes misspelled "Boyce" by news agencies.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Story of the First Submarine in History to Sink an Enemy Ship

The CSS H. L. Hunley Rises Again

By Robert A. Waters

“[The Hunley] is more dangerous to those who use it than the enemy.” Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard.

George E. Dixon and Queenie

On April 6, 1862, a year after the United States of America invaded the Confederate States of America, the two armies collided near a small village called Pittsburgh Landing, in southern Tennessee. The carnage at what was later called the Battle of Shiloh was unprecedented in the history of the Americas. In two days of fighting, tens of thousands were killed or wounded. One Alabama regiment, the 21st, lost 200 men out of 650. Sergeant George E. Dixon, a Kentuckian who had enlisted with the regiment in Mobile, was among the injured. Before the war, he had worked as a steamboat engineer in New Orleans, but resided in Mobile when the war broke out.

Dixon should have been just one more dead soldier hauled from the field and hastily interred in a mass grave. But he was lucky. Before he left for battle, his teenaged girlfriend and Mobile resident, Queenie Bennett, slipped a newly-minted twenty-dollar gold coin into his pocket as a good luck charm. In the battle, Dixon was shot point-blank. The Yankee Minnie ball struck the coin in his trouser pocket. Instead of plowing through flesh and bone and arteries, it absorbed the impact, sparing Dixon's life.

Queenie, daughter of a prosperous steamboat captain, was known around Mobile as the “the little Rebel.” Dixon, a blonde-haired, highly intelligent 22-year-old, was smitten with Queenie and, had he survived the war, they likely would have married.

Dixon’s wound was severe, a broken left femur, which caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his short life.

When he returned from Shiloh to Mobile to recuperate, Dixon became aware of a “torpedo boat” being constructed nearby. The project was supposed to be top-secret, concocted by local pro-Southern entrepreneurs and the Confederate Secret Service. One of those loyal benefactors was Horace Lawson Hunley, a wealthy marine engineer originally from Tennessee. Dixon became friendly with Hunley as the Confederate Navy feverishly attempted to mold the submarine into a viable weapon. The Kentuckian would eventually be promoted to lieutenant and given command of the torpedo boat.

The Confederacy’s purpose in building a workable submarine was a direct result of the Union blockade of New Orleans, Mobile and other ports. The shutting down of Southern harbors had been one of the first actions taken by Abraham Lincoln and his war machine. While in New Orleans, Horace Hunley and others had begun a serious quest to build an underwater “fish” that could blow up the blockaders.

The Torpedo Boat

During 1862 and the early part of 1863, attempts to construct a workable submarine had failed miserably. As boat after boat sank or capsized during trials, resulting in the deaths of numerous crew members, the project faltered. But as the war progressed and the South continued hemorrhaging its limited manpower in battle after battle, the situation became dire. The charismatic general P. G. T. Beauregard issued a command that the new submarine, the Hunley, be moved from Mobile to the besieged city of Charleston, South Carolina. On August 12, 1863, the submarine arrived by rail.

In a test trial while still in Mobile, this underwater torpedo boat had blown up an antique coal-hauling barge, bringing a glimmer of hope to those in the know.

Constructed from iron boilerplate, the submarine was shaped like a shark, 40 feet long and just wide and high enough to carry her cramped crew. “The Hunley could dive by opening a valve and letting sea water fill the ballast tank,” wrote Gerald Teaster. “A set of crude diving planes, sticking out the side of the boat, was also provided for up and down motion. A mercury manometer, or pressure gauge, was mounted inside to show the depth. Two small hatches were installed on the top of the boat for getting in and out. Each of these had a small glass viewing port.” The propeller in the back of the submarine rotated inside a circular metal shroud that protected it from snagging on nets or other debris. Eight hand-cranks were spaced so the crew could sit along the length of the torpedo ship and drive the propeller shaft.

On its final voyage, the shark-boat held seven crew members as well as Captain Dixon. The crew, using the hand-cranks, was responsible for propelling the ship. Dixon stood in the front of the boat with his head in the forward hatch, looking out the glass window and guiding the crew. He also operated the diving planes and was responsible for setting off the explosive.

A press release from the Hunley excavation team explained that “the Hunley used an innovative lanyard system to detonate the torpedo. The idea was to ram the spar torpedo into a target and then back away, causing the torpedo to slip off the spar. A rope from the torpedo to the submarine would spool out. Once the submarine was at a safe distance, the line would tighten and detonate the warhead.” The shark-boat had to be up close and personal to work effectively.

In Charleston, the Hunley team took the boat out into the harbor numerous times to test it. However, on August 29, 1863, it sank, killing all its crew. The boat was raised and refurbished and new trial runs began. On October 15, 1863, it sank again. Four of its crew died, including Horace L. Hunley, while three survived.

After this new debacle, General Beauregard famously said, “[The CSS Hunley] is more dangerous to those who use it than the enemy.” But he reluctantly agreed to let Lieutenant Dixon have one last opportunity to prove that a submarine could sink an enemy vessel.

Engineers again raised the boat and began new tests. They renamed it CSS H. L. Hunley, for the man who had done so much to bring it to life.

The Attack

Like a shark, the gray boat knifed through the water. Just beneath the glassy sea in Charleston Harbor, the hunter had set her sights on an outsized prey.

The night of February 17, 1864 saw calm seas in the harbor. Seven miles out, the silhouettes of many Yankee ships could be seen waiting to apprehend smugglers and blockade-runners. But Dixon noticed a lone Union vessel anchored just four miles away. It was the USS Housatonic, a three-master that was 207 feet long. The sixteen-gun “sloop of war” had been instrumental in capturing several blockade runners. As she sat in the harbor, Captain Charles R. Pickering kept the boilers running and nine guards on deck.

The Confederate torpedo boat, CSS Hunley, was about to make history. Never in the history of the world had a submarine made a successful attack on an enemy ship.

Just a few hundred yards from the Housatonic, Lieutenant Dixon urged on his crew as they sped the boat forward. Besides Kentuckian Dixon, three came from the states of Alabama, Florida and Maryland. Little is known about the other four except they were of foreign descent. At least one, who was only known only as “Miller,” hailed from Germany.

One hundred fifty sailors manned the Housatonic. At 8:45 P.M., through the darkness, several men standing guard noticed a wake streaking towards their ship. At first, they thought it was a log, but soon determined it was moving too fast to be a natural phenomenon. By then, the shark-boat was closing fast. The Housatonic crew did what they could: they opened fire with rifles. Captain Dickering rushed up on deck and fired a double-barrel shotgun at the intruder. The small arms fire ricocheted off the iron skin of the submarine, and it kept coming.

Less than two minutes later, an explosi0n rocked the Housatonic. The copper keg, filled with 135 pounds of black powder, detonated just below the waterline at the stern of the ship. The explosion was muffled, but sent a cascade of sea-water billowing toward the sky. Five sailors died instantly, and two were wounded. Within five minutes, the ship had sunk to the bottom.

The Union sailors were lucky. The ship came to rest with part of its masts rising out of the shallow water. Many sailors climbed the masts, holding on for dear life until the USS Canandaigua appeared to rescue them. Other crew members boarded lifeboats and were rescued.

The Housatonic was lost.

But what happened to the Hunley? No one knew. It never returned to shore--it had just vanished.

Raising the first submarine to sink an enemy ship

Fast forward to May 3, 1995. Archeologists from the National Underwater and Marine Agency, financed in part by novelist and adventurer Clive Cussler, discovered a rusted hull at the bottom of Charleston Harbor. Four miles offshore, it lay in 30 feet of water. After lying on the ocean’s floor for 131 years, experts identified the ship as the fabled CSS Hunley.

In 2000, as millions watched on television, the ship was raised intact from the ocean. A time capsule, it contained bodies of the crew and artifacts of the soldiers. Because of the delicate condition of the ship, it was placed in a 75,000-gallon steel tank filled with fresh water to protect the boat. From there, archaeologists would spend years excavating the H. L. Hunley.

Among the interesting finds was a $20.00 Lady Liberty gold piece. The coin and a gold pocket-watch lay underneath the skeletonized remains of George Dixon. For more than a century, historians had debated whether the story of Queenie and the gold coin that saved the young Kentuckian was true. Many thought the tale, like countless war-time stories, had been fabricated. But the finding of the coin confirmed the story. Dixon had engraved the following statement into the back of the coin: “Shiloh. April 6th, 1862 My Life Preserver G. E. D.”

In addition to Dixon’s artifacts, archaeologists found artillery buttons, a pipe, a pencil, a leather wallet, and other personal items. One item stirred much interest. A Union dog tag was found beneath the body of crew member Joseph Ridgeway. At first, researchers thought he may have been a spy, but later determined that he had picked up the souvenir after one of the battles he’d fought in.

How did the Hunley sink, and how did the crew die? These questions loomed large throughout the years as archaeologists worked to uncover the mystery. There had been little damage to the boat, eliminating the possibility that it had been sunk by enemy fire or had been blown up when the dynamite exploded.

CBC News reported that “the crew were killed by massive lung and brain injuries caused indirectly by their own torpedo…The exit hatches were closed and the bilge pumps that would have been used if the sub started to take on water were not set to pump, suggesting that the crew never tried to save themselves as the sub sunk.”

Dr. Rachel Lance, who graduated from Duke University with a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, said “There were some holes in the hull that were the result of time under the sea. But there was no actual damage caused by the blast itself.”

CBC News reported that “when the charge exploded, the blast would have caused the submarine’s hull to transmit a powerful, secondary shock wave into the submarine, crushing their lungs and brain (sic) and killing them instantly.”

While there are other theories about how the Hunley met its doom, this seems to be the most likely.

On April 17, 2004, the crew of the first submarine to sink an enemy ship were interred. Thousands of Americans, many of them descendants of Confederate veterans, attended the funeral. After a memorial service and a four-and-a-half mile march through Charleston, the eight-man crew was laid to rest at Magnolia Cemetery.

My friend and fellow-Southerner, Max Northcutt, made the trip from Tennessee to South Carolina to attend the services. He was kind enough to lend me his extensive archives about the Hunley, which I used for this story. 


The Confederate Submarine H. L Hunley by Gerald F. Teaster

The CSS Hunley: The Greatest Undersea Adventure of the CIVIL WAR by Richard Bak

The CSS H. L. Hunley: Confederate Submarine by R. Thomas Campbell

The Hunley website: The Friends of The Hunley – The World's First Successful Combat Submarine 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Mystery on Route 66

Infatuated Uncle Kidnaps, Murders 11-Year-Old Niece

By Robert A. Waters

On November 17, 1954, Jeanette Earnest disappeared. She’d been waiting for her mother to pick her up at a Fort Worth, Texas washateria after school. But when Nadine Earnest arrived, Jeanette was gone.

The hairs on Nadine's neck stood up. She knew immediately who had taken her daughter.

A few months before Jeanette went missing, Nadine had developed strong suspicions about her brother-in-law, forty-eight-year-old Thurman Priest. She abruptly moved her family's worshipping place from the Baptist Church they attended to a nearby Methodist Church. It wasn’t because of doctrinal issues—it was because Thurman, married to Nadine's sister, had started attending eleven-year-old Jeanette's Sunday School class. It seemed so weird that even the minister got involved, asking Priest to take part in one of the adult classes instead.

Married to Nadine’s sister, Priest worked as a bookkeeper for a local airline company. Newspapers characterized him "as a strange little man." In his spare time, he'd begun coming over to the Earnest home to play with Jeanette and her brothers and sisters. After it became obvious that Priest had developed a crush on the young girl, Nadine forcefully warned him to stay away.

The concerned mother had even considered moving out of state to eliminate the problem.

Now that Jeanette had vanished, Nadine called police and reported her daughter missing. She  informed investigators about Priest, describing his obsession with Jeanette. Then she called her estranged husband and Jeanette's father, H. M. Earnest, who became so upset he had to be administered sedatives.

Fort Worth Police Department officers began a frantic search for Priest. He had a head start of several hours and could be anywhere. But cops knew the danger and made the case a top priority. In addition to launching a manhunt locally, they contacted surrounding states asking that their lawmen "be on the lookout" for Priest.

As he drove out of Fort Worth, Priest told Jeanette they were moving to Ohio. She asked if "Auntie" was coming. (Auntie was Priest's wife, Etta Mae.) Priest informed the child that when he found a job, Auntie would join them.

After less than an hour on the road, Priest stopped at a motel in Irving, Texas, but spent only an hour there. No one knows what happened in that room because Priest never told.

Their next stop was a tourist court called the Holiday Motel, in Baxter Springs, Kansas. Priest rented a cabin for one night. In a later interview, the manager, Mrs.  Johnnie Page, told investigators a frightening story. She said Jeanette ran out of the cabin Tuesday afternoon, in obvious distress. Priest chased her down, shoved her into the car, and sped off. Later, a maid found bloodspots on the bathroom floor of the cabin, a small bloodstain on a towel, and an earring cops identified as Jeanette's. (Inexplicably, Page had not called police. With a phone call, Jeanette's life may have been saved.)

A few hours later, Priest stopped at a tourist court in Stanton, Missouri. There he registered the two as man and wife. At about 6:00 A.M. Wednesday morning, they left.

Jeanette was never seen alive again.

Mount Vernon, Missouri police arrested Priest after he stopped at a motel and called his wife. Etta Mae spoke to the manager and asked if a little girl was with Priest. When the manager responded that Thurman was the only person in his car, Etta Mae asked her to call police.

Detectives interviewed the suspect. At first, he claimed he didn't remember what happened to Jeanette. But when one of the interrogators mentioned that she was a "beautiful girl," it was like turning on a faucet. He turned "dreamy-eyed" and assured the detective he was right.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Priest "admitted Sunday he killed his 11-year-old niece, Jeanette Earnest, and led officers to a spot four miles east of [Lebanon, Missouri] where he had hidden the body."

The reporter wrote that "the child's fully clothed, unburied body was found in a heavy oak grove about three hundred yards off U. S. Highway 66 and almost eight miles from where the girl's blouse was found Wednesday. She had been shot once in the right temple with a .32 automatic."

During the police interview, Priest told cops where they could find the gun used to murder Jeanette. The Star-Telegram reported the FBI "identified a .32 automatic pistol and an empty cartridge found near the girl's body as having microscopic marks which showed it had been fired in the chamber of the pistol." 

The community of Fort Worth reeled in horror. Her classmates had prayed en mass for Jeanette's safe return at school on Tuesday. Her father was still bed-ridden. But Nadine remained stoic in public. Her focus was on bringing Priest to justice.

Priest claimed he and Jeanette were in love. "The last two years," he said, "I [was] always so lonesome and depressed when [Jeanette] wasn't with me. I just couldn't stand it. I was afraid the family was going to take the girl away from me. If I couldn't have her, no one could."

He claimed he loved her like a father and had never "raped" her. But Dr. Paul Jenkins, who performed the autopsy, stated he "could not determine whether she had been criminally assaulted. [He] also could not definitely show that she hadn't been."

On April 29, 1955, Priest was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

On July 6, 1960, Thurman Priest died of a heart attack while still in a Missouri prison.

In his confessions, Priest alleged that Jeanette "loved" him. That is doubtful. When she was younger, she may have been flattered by his attentions as they played children's games, but later she told her mother she viewed him as a nuisance. She also said she was embarrassed when he began attending Sunday School with her.

After abducting Jeanette, it's likely he made sexual advances toward her. At the cabin in Baxter Springs, he almost certainly attempted to molest the child. She likely fought back and tried to escape. In addition to the constant threat of sexual assault, Jeanette likely felt uncomfortable spending hours and hours alone in a car with Priest. 

Perhaps Nadine said it best: "I think he was mad at her because she was crying and wanted to go home. He decided that if he couldn't have her he didn't want anyone else to have her and decided to kill her." 

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Women and Self-Defense

Compilation: Female Victims Fighting Back--Stories from my Blog

By Robert A. Waters

I started my blog in 2008. Over the years, I’ve published more than 700 stories. Most deal with crime, although I also enjoy writing about the Civil War, historical events, archaeological discoveries, my family’s genealogy, etc. I also occasionally write book reviews, but only about books I enjoy.

One of my major interests concerns citizens using guns in self-defense. As a storyteller, I seldom engage in political discussions. I feel that a dramatized account of what occurred is more effective than a long political lecture. Of the 700 posts, about 100 recount true, documented stories of citizens defending themselves (or others) with firearms.

This blog entry will provide the reader a compilation of ten of those stories--focusing on women and their guns. Whether you believe a gun is an equalizer or not, check these stories.

Young home invader forces elderly, disabled Shreveport woman to open her safe. Fatal mistake.

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Protecting Her Own (

Persistent career criminal breaks into an elderly widow's home and pays the price.  

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Woman Kills Intruder in Self-Defense (

Young Chinese businesswoman is racially profiled by three armed robbers in Georgia. One invader dies at the scene, the others flee like cowards. High-definition video records the entire gunfight.

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Video Shows Chen Fengzhu Self-Defense Shooting (

Pretty real estate agent uses concealed carry handgun to fight off would-be rapist.

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Real Estate Agent Uses Gun to Survive Attack (

Armed mother hides in a secluded closet with her young twins waiting as home intruder comes closer...and closer. 

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Self-Defense Files 7 (

Two armed robbers burst into a check-cashing store and...surprise...surprise.

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Life and Death at Mr. Money USA by Robert A. Waters (

Elderly St. Petersburg woman hears a noise just outside her home. A stranger tries to climb in through a window...

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: A Lady and Her Ruger (

Trapped in her bedroom, a wife and gang member engage in one of the wildest gun battles you'll ever read about.

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: GUNS SAVE LIVES - Chapter 1 - POINT BLANK (

Criminal on the run from police breaks down a 150-pound steel door. He meets a woman with her .38. 

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Self-Defense in Knightdale, North Carolina (

Milwaukee nurse returning home after her shift stops a violent carjacker.

Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem: Justice for a Carjacker (

For much more detailed full-chapter stories of armed self-defense, check out my latest book, co-written with Sim Waters, at Guns and Self-Defense.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Video Shows Chen Fengzhu Self-Defense Shooting

Female Restaurant Owner Routs Home Invaders

By Robert A. Waters

"Find a Chinese neighborhood 'cause they don't believe in bank accounts." Lyrics from a popular rap song instructs armed robbers to invade the homes of successful Chinese business owners. YG—Meet the Flockers


On September 16, 2016, at 3:43 A.M., three robbers kicked in the door of a home occupied by restaurant owner Chen Fengzhu (pictured). Each carried a gun and began searching for valuables. The entire incident was filmed on high-definition surveillance video.

The 36-year-old Chinese woman quickly sent the three panicked home invaders fleeing. Cameras show Chen raining bullets on the surprised trio as she races out of her bedroom dressed in pajamas. 

Daily Mail reported "incredible footage has been released showing the moment a Georgia woman rushed out of the bed in the middle of the night and opened fire at three armed men who broke into her house, killing one. The surveillance footage, released by the Gwinnett County [Georgia] Police Department, shows the intruders—all of whom are carrying guns—bursting through the front door and rummaging the house…"

Chen explained her actions to a reporter. "I didn’t have any choice," she said, "so I had to take out the gun I’d hid there. Then I loaded my pistol and walked out of my bedroom. I shot at the invaders when I saw them. One of them fled quickly, and another one ran away from the front door. Then I shot again. The one inside my house broke the glass on the back door and ran away. I didn’t feel scared at the moment and all I thought about was how to deal with the situation."

Responding officers found Antonio Leeks, 28, lying in the driveway of the home. "Police took off the burglar’s clothes," Chen said, "and attempted to resuscitate him for about 15 to 20 minutes and they told me they had failed to save him." Investigators later reported he had died from a bullet wound to his "torso."

Cops arrested one of the invaders, Bernard Little, a year and a half later. He still carried a cell phone he had stolen from the house.  The third suspect has not yet been apprehended.

Cpl. Deon Washington of the Gwinnett County Police Department told reporters the resident acted appropriately. "She exercised her right to defend her livelihood and property," he said.

But there's a back-story here, one few people know.

Many robbers target Chinese business owners because it’s rumored they keep lots of cash in their homes. Police speculated the invaders in Gwinnett County specifically targeted Chen for that reason. Once inside, the robbers began searching for cash and valuables. This gave Chen the opportunity to wake up and get her firearm.

Chen surprised the thieves with a blitz attack, emptying the magazine in her semiautomatic handgun. The video shows each robber fleeing in different directions. 

Investigators released the video in order to identify the two surviving invaders. 

Why Little was walking the streets is another back story. Born in 1982, he committed a series of violent crimes in 1997 when he was just 15 years old. The courts convicted Little of the following: kidnapping, hijacking a motor vehicle, rape, aggravated sodomy, armed robbery, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during a crime. He received sentences for each conviction, totaling 136 years. It’s probable he was released because of his age when he committed the crimes. The question remains: should anyone, even a teenager, be released early after committing all these violent crimes?

He had been on the streets for only six months before encountering Chen.

Little was convicted of the following offenses against Chen: burglary, aggravated assault, home invasion 1st degree, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, armed robbery, and murder. He is currently serving out his sentence. According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, Little's "maximum release date is March 28, 2043."

Does that mean he can be released earlier than 2043?   

The third intruder has never been caught. (See picture below.) If you recognize him, please call the Gwinnett County Police Department at 770-513-5000.

Robert A. Waters is the author of Guns and Self-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms, co-written with Sim Waters. For more than 30 years, Waters has researched defensive shootings in America. He has penned 4 books describing in detail many of those cases.

Friday, September 22, 2023

“Look at my Face”

Changes in Attitudes

By Robert A. Waters


On September 7, 2023, ABC channel KSTP-TV reported that Democratic Farmer Labour Party second vice chairwoman Shivanthi Sathanandan was “injured after being attacked by a group of armed men who carjacked her in the driveway of her Folwell neighborhood home…”

Shivanthi described the attack in brutal detail. I'm publishing this remarkable statement verbatim: “Yesterday my children and I were violently car jacked in the driveway of our home in Minneapolis. Four very young men, all carrying guns, beat me violently down to the ground in front of our kids. The young men held our neighbors up at gunpoint when they ran over and tried to help me. All in broad daylight.

“Look at my face in the picture. This is the face of a mother who just had the sh-t beaten out of her. A mother whose only thought was, ‘let me run far enough and fight hard enough so that my kids have a chance to get away.’ This is the face of a mother who just listened to her four year old daughter screaming non-stop, her 7 year old son wailing for someone to come help because bad guys are murdering his Mama in the back yard, her neighbors screaming in outrage…all while being beaten with guns and kicks and fists.

“I have a broken leg, deep lacerations on my head, bruising and cuts all over my body.

“And I have rage.

“These men knew what they were doing. I have NO DOUBT they have done this before. Yet they are still on OUR STREETS. Killing mothers. Giving babies psychological trauma that a lifetime of therapy cannot erase. With no hesitation and no remorse.

“I’m now part of the statistics. I wasn’t silent when I fought these men to save my life and my babies, and I won’t be silent now. We need to get illegal guns off our streets, catch these young people who are running wild creating chaos across our city and HOLD THEM IN CUSTODY AND PROSECUTE THEM.


“Look at my face. REMEMBER ME when you are thinking of letting juveniles and young people out of custody to roam our streets instead of HOLDING THEM ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS.

“You could have been reading the obituary for me and my children today. But instead I’m here. To write this.

“Look at my face. These criminals will not win. We need to take back our city. And this will not be the last you hear from me about this.

“Thank you to the incredible Minneapolis 4th Precinct Officers, Mayor Frey, Chief O’Hara, Paramedics, neighbors, friends and DFL family, who all came to our aide during this terrifying experience. I’m so grateful for this community that wraps us in love.”

This response is a far cry from a Facebook post Shivanthi made on June 5, 2020, after George Floyd ‘s death.

“We are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. Say it with me.


“As allies, what can we do right now. LISTEN and LEARN from our Black siblings. And then AMPLIFY this message right now, in this moment. MPD has systematically failed the Black Community, they have failed ALL OF US. Its time to build a new infrastructure that works for ALL communities. If you are still disagreeing with that BASIC FACT, I don’t know what to say to you.”

On November 2, 2021, USA Today reported “Minneapolis residents voted not to replace the city’s police department.”

Two days after the carjacking, Minneapolis police located Shivanthi’s abandoned car. It's not known if police have identified or arrested the carjackers.

Unlike many who have called out Shivanthi’s “hypocrisy,” I’m saddened by the attack on her and her family. For a mother to have been beaten by four thugs in front of her young children is horrendous. She’s right, those kids will likely suffer trauma for a lifetime. She's also right that her attackers are likely hardened criminals who have violently assaulted others. And she's right in calling for these attackers to be severely punished. There’s no excuse for such violence.

Here’s hoping those who committed this act will be found quickly. And I hope Shivanthi and her children make a full recovery.

Robert A. Waters is the author of Guns and Self-Defense, written with co-author Sim Waters. For more than 30 years, Waters has researched “righteous” defensive shootings. He has penned four books describing in detail many of those cases. If this story intrigued you, check out our book. Chapter 4 recounts the true story of a black female Milwaukee nurse who used her concealed carry pistol to single-handedly stop a violent carjacking ring. The night before, the carjackers had shot an innocent man, shattering his jaw in an attempt steal his vehicle. In addition to this exciting case, our book describes two dozen more inspiring stories of ordinary citizens who used guns to save their own lives or the lives of others.