American History

You are currently browsing the archive for the American History category.

September 11, 2014.  I include here notes that I made immediately after the attack on September 11, 2001 so that I would not forget. At the time I was working at Bates Worldwide on 6th Avenue and 36th Street. I encourage anyone with a blog or web site to do the same so that historians may some day refer to these primary sources.


September 11, 2001

Time to finally sit down and record my recollections of Tuesday September 11, 2001.

I had just got to the office and was going to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. On the way down I met Jennifer Joshua. She said that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. My first thought was that it was some private pilot who had screwed up royally.

I went down to the staff room to watch the coverage. Whilst we were all watching a shot of the burning tower, another airliner zoomed in and crashed into the second tower. That was probably the moment we realized that these were planned acts of terrorism. In a short time we saw the report of a third airliner crashing into the Pentagon. Then there was the story of another hijacked airliner crashing in Pennsylvania. The news services quickly labelled it “Attack on America.” Impossible to conceive.

While we were standing watching the screens the first tower came down. It was a shock indescribable. All I kept thinking and feeling like was the famous recording of the radio announcer reporting the Hindenburg disaster, his voice breaking into tears of helplessness as he yelled into the mike “This is the worst thing that ever happened in the world” and “Oh, the humanity.” Finally, he just had to stop reporting. As people were dying right before his eyes, so people were dying right before ours – just a few blocks away. I felt like I should go running downtown to try to do something. But all I could do was pray for the lost, and that is what I did.

Then the second tower came down and the despair was unspeakable. They had managed to bring down both towers. Later, at 3:00 PM, 7 World Trade Center collapsed. But by that time everybody was numb.

All of us were walking around in a daze. All the television sets in the agency were turned on and people were standing in groups around the large screens. Many were crying. All were in shock and disbelief.

Throughout the day I tried to go back to work but it was impossible. My only thought was, how can a person engage in such trivia when thousands are dying just a few miles away. I have since heard that others felt the same way.

Communications were cut and all the bridges and tunnels were closed. I tried to call home and leave a message saying that I was all right, but there was no phone service. Finally, I just sent the following e-mail message which managed to get through to a lot of people.

*           *           *

From: “Chris Brune” <

To: <All Friends

Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 3:35 PM

Subject: CB OK

Just to let you know, Rachel and I are OK. Her office closed and she is at my office. The outbound Lincoln is open, so it looks like we will be able to get home tonight. Went to mass at Holy Innocents on lunch hour. What else is there?

*           *           *

The masses at Holy Innocents were packed with people lined up out into the street.

Rachel’s office had closed and she had come over to Bates. She was among many friends of staff who had come to our offices. Their companies had shut down and sent people home. It was an act of kindness that somewhat backfired. By early morning everything in New York was closed. Restaurants and stores closed up so you couldn’t get anything to eat or drink. There was no public transportation – subways, buses, rail, even taxis, all shut down. The employees were on the street with nowhere to go and no way to sustain themselves.

Bates arranged for the cafeteria to stay open for dinner and told the employees we were welcome to sleep in the conference rooms and lounges. It looked like Rachel and I were in for a night at Bates.

Once I went out into the street. It was the most eerie sight: The streets of New York completely deserted on a business day. Not one car, truck, bus or cab. Only an occasional emergency vehicle. No pedestrians.

We were getting conflicting reports throughout the day on what was open and what was not. We have to remember that the bridges and tunnels are prime terrorist targets. Later in the afternoon, I had been able to make contact with Eli. One idea I had was to take the One train (which had started operating later in the afternoon) up to the GW and walk across the bridge where he could pick us up. Finally, around 5:00 PM, we decided to go out to try to get something to eat instead of staying in the building. On the way we decided to take one more look at Port Authority to see what the situation was. A policeman there told us it would not open possibly for a couple of days. He told us that Metro North was running however.

Now, my impression was that Metro North ran out of Grand Central. So, we walked over there. I asked at information and the guy said it runs from New Jersey. We had to take the PATH to Hoboken and pick up the Port Jervis line there.

Walked back down to 34th and Broadway. The PATH trains were running for free. There were police guiding people to the trains. We got on and got to Hoboken in no time. Arrived at 7:30. The next train left at 9:35. So we walked down Main street and found a nice Italian restaurant and had a good dinner. I even went next door and picked up a bottle of wine. Turns out, the restaurant had closed. When they heard of the emergency, the staff had walked back to work (public transportation was shut down) and re-opened to serve the stranded people.

At Hoboken there were plenty of police and emergency people and volunteers handing out water, food, wet towels, and there were lawn chairs and places to sit. Rachel and I were in pretty good shape because Bates was well supplied. But many people got back to New Jersey in pretty bad shape having not eaten and having been exposed to the elements all day.

When I asked about tickets, they told us that Metro North was running for free. So we took it up to Tuxedo Junction New York. On the train we noticed many people soaking wet, shivering, covered with plastic bags. Turns out, they had been in the area and had to walk through showers to de-contaminate before they were released to make their way home. One lady said they had given them nuts and snacks afterward, but it did not make up for being freezing cold and wet.

Dottie and Chris picked us up at Tuxedo. Got the biggest hug I have received since our wedding day.

My thoughts at the end of the day: This is almost too much to contemplate. I just keep praying for the dead, wounded, and missing. I am terrified of what is going to happen over the next couple of weeks as, one by one, families find out that a loved one has perished in the holocaust. It’s like Viet Nam all over again.

On Friday evening the country agreed that everyone would be outside their homes and have candles lit. It was a wonderfully comforting feeling driving home and seeing the candles on porches and mailboxes, people standing out in their yards ready to connect with others. We put out candles and the flag and sat outside. We yelled across to the Vihti’s and other neighbors. It seemed that everyone was pulling together. And the ancient light of candles brought solace to the community.


I insert here an image of an e-mail exchange that occurred that day. Note we got the names mixed up. My message should have been signed Dad and Rachel instead of Dad and Chris. The reply should have been signed Mom and Thea instead of Mom and Dottie who are the same person. No one was thinking clearly that day.


Tags: ,

Well, there is no shortage of amateur historians who have shown that the events told in the poem are not true. And their implication is that Paul Revere has gotten a lot of credit for something he didn’t do. A couple years back, the historian David Hackett Fischer looked into the matter in depth. He found that Revere’s actions on the night of April 18 – 19, 1775 were even more heroic than the poem and were crucial to the success of the revolution.

Revere was not one of the thinkers behind the independence movement; he was a man of action, a doer. He was an artisan, or as he would call himself a mechanic. And he lead a committee of mechanics whose purpose was to watch British movements, gain intelligence, and act as “expresses,” good horsemen, fast riders who carried messages to the various. various militia leaders and Committees of Correspondence in the independence movement.

At the time the poem describes, acts of rebellion against British rule were becoming more common. General Thomas Gage, the British commander in the colonies, was under pressure from London to shut them down. Despite his own spy network, Gage could not get the goods on anybody sufficient make arrests. But the orders from London were insistent: Move quickly and decisively; arrest the ring leaders; disarm their followers; impose martial law if necessary.

Now Paul Revere had already got on the bad side of General Gage. In December 1774, Gage had gotten wind of a cache of arms that was being held in Portsmouth and sent troops there to seize it. They got there and found nothing. Who had warned them? Gage’s spies report back: Paul Revere.

Gage gets a report of arms being stored in the town of Concord. He develops a plan to send 800 troops to seize it. April 8, 1775 Gage finds out that the Concord men know about his plan. How? Again, the report comes back: Paul Revere.

April 16, the General learns that Lexington has been warned about his plan to march there and arrest Hancock and Adams and again he hears the name: Paul Revere.

General Gage began to realize that he could not make a move without Revere finding out about it and spreading the warning. He knew that he had to stop the expresses if this latest plan was to succeed. He ordered the exits to Boston sealed and sent patrols out to arrest any horsemen they encountered, but to keep a special watch for Paul Revere.

So, how were the Whigs to get messages out of Boston with the exits blocked and soldiers patrolling the roads? Revere and the Whig leaders worked out a plan of triple redundancy: They would use the usual expresses, but also special messengers who would follow clandestine routes. And they devised a system of lantern signals from Boston that could be seen across the Charles river by compatriots in Charlestown. The lanterns were to be hung in the tower of Old North Church, clearly visible across the river. And the signal was literally one light if the British moved south out of town via Boston Neck, then north and west over the Concord road; and two if they took the shorter route, crossing the Charles River and picking up the more direct Lexington Road to Concord. Now in a small town like Boston at this time, you couldn’t really hide the actions of 800 soldiers and the British fleet. From the sounding of the boson’s pipes and the gathering of longboats, it was clear that they would be moving by sea. By the afternoon of April 18, people began to realize what was up and to spread the alarm by word of mouth. Eldridge Gerry sent a dispatch to Adams and Hancock in Lexington. The messenger got there a little before 8 PM and the militia posted a guard around the house and sent scouts to follow British movements.

Revere was also getting high quality intelligence from Dr. Joseph Warren, who had a source very close to General Gage. Warren told Revere that Gage’s plan was to dispatch forces that day (April 18) to capture Adams and Hancock at Lexington then move on to seize the stores at Concord. Warren sent three riders, Revere, William Dawes, and one unnamed other, to Lexington to warn Adams and Hancock. Nothing more was heard about the unnamed rider. Dawes followed the land route and somehow managed to make it past the checkpoints.

Revere decided on the water route across the Charles River. He arranged for friends to climb the tower of Old North Church and hang two lanterns warning the Whigs on the opposite shore. Then he collected his gear and had other friends row him across the Bay to Charlestown. There the Whigs sent him out on a fast horse to Lexington. He managed to outrace one British patrol and arrived there a half hour before Dawes did.

Revere covered the 13 miles to Lexington in two hours where he delivered his warning to Hancock and Adams. But that does not give a true picture of Revere’s role in spreading the alarm. Revere knew the leaders of the movement and where to find them. Wherever he stopped on his ride to Lexington, he alerted the militia leaders who triggered their own alarm systems – cannon shots, musket shots, church bells. And he sent out other expresses who were in his network to spread the warning. In all, about 2,000 volunteers turned out over April 18 and 19, a large number of them called out by actions that Paul Revere set in motion. Dawes alerted people too, but they were one-offs – he didn’t jump start a network of warnings like Revere did.

The next mission was to warn Concord. Here Revere and Dawes were joined by Dr. Prescott. Revere convinced them that they should warn every house between Lexington and Concord they set out doing so by turns until they were captured by a British patrol. Dawes and Prescott managed to escape but Revere was held with other riders who had been captured that night.

Again, Revere displays fearlessness, audacity, and strategic thinking. With six pistols pointed at him, he addressed the officer in charge straight on.

Sergeant: “Sir, may I crave your name?”

Revere: “My name is Paul Revere.”

Sergeant: “What? The Paul Revere?”

Revere: “Yes.”

Sergeant: “Are you an express?”

Revere: “Yes. Gentlemen, you have missed your aim.”

Soldier: “What of our aim? We are simply out searching for deserters.”

Revere: “I know better. I know what you are after and I have alarmed the country all the way up.”

Revere continued the verbal attack, telling all he knew of their plans and the problems they had faced on the march up. And he told them what he had been doing that night and that he had warned the militia; their lives would be at risk if they approached Lexington. That was Revere’s strategy: Keep the British away from Lexington, Hancock and Adams.

The patrol sent for their commander, Major Mitchell. Revere continued to confront the Major with the fact that a large force was already gathering at Lexington; his patrol was in extreme danger.

Mitchell decided to take the prisoners back to Lexington. His men formed a circle around the group of prisoners and Revere’s reins were taken from him. Revere asked if he could hold the reins himself. A British officer said “God damn you, sir, you are not to ride with reins I assure you.” Major Mitchell added “We are now going towards your friends and if you attempt to run or we are insulted, we will blow your brains out.” He appointed a sergeant to keep his pistol on Revere and carry out the order if necessary.

Revere shot back, “You may do as you please.”

About a half-mile from Lexington green they heard a gunshot. Mitchell confronted Revere for an explanation. Revere told him that it was a signal “to alarm the country.”

As they got closer to Lexington they heard the sound of the town bell. One of the other captives picked up on Revere’s bravado: “The bell’s a-ringing! The town’s alarmed, and you’re all dead men.”

Mitchell was starting to get edgy. He ordered the captives to dismount and had his men cut the bridles and girths and run the horses off. Then the patrol headed to Cambridge to warn the main force that the element of surprise had been lost.

After his release Revere headed back to Lexington on foot to find Adams and Hancock still there. Apparently they had gotten a message that it was a false alarm, no need to get excited. Revere told them otherwise. Hancock considered himself a soldier and wanted to stay and fight. Revere persuaded him that he was more important to the cause as an intellectual leader and saw Adams and Hancock out of town.

On his return to Lexington, Hancock’s personal clerk ran up to Revere and said that a huge trunk of confidential papers had been left behind. The papers in it told of plans, named names, and would give General Gage all the evidence he needed to start making mass arrests. By this time, the militia had confronted the Redcoats on Lexington Common, the shot heard round the world had been fired, and a pitched battle was in progress. With bullets whizzing around their heads Revere and the clerk hauled the trunk across the common, out into the woods where they buried it. And that is the last Fischer tells us of Revere’s actions that day.

So, now about the poem: In 1860, as the Civil War was approaching, many writers were working to contribute to the Union cause. Longfellow wanted to write something also and was looking for an idea. One day, he went walking with his friend George Sumner. They passed the Old North Church and Sumner told Longfellow about Paul Revere’s ride. That was all Longfellow needed; he started work immediately. The poem was published in the Atlantic Monthly in January 1861 and had a galvanizing effect on the public, immediately stoking pro-Union sentiment.

The key to understanding the poem lies in the first and last verses. In 1860, if you mentioned April 18th 1775 to a person, it was like saying December 7th 1941 today. There were people alive who still remembered the event and many knew the stories as part of their family’s folklore. Longfellow’s grandfather Wadsworth had turned out with the volunteers on Concord green. So, from the first lines, Longfellow has grabbed his reader.

The last verse reveals the author’s purpose and delivers the call to action: This is the hour of darkness and peril and need. One man can make a difference. Waken and listen — hear the hurrying hoof beats of that steed and the midnight message. The poem was never meant to be factual. Really, Paul Revere’s Ride is the greatest recruiting advertisement ever written.

Post Script: In Fischer’s home town of Wayland, MA, the custom is to ring the town bell on April 19 at the hour that the town received the alarm. Children are included among the bell ringers so that the tradition will be understood and passed on. The town bell was made by Paul Revere.