Ulysses S. Grant, D-Day, and the French telegraph system of the 1790s; plus Solon and a solon: newsletter, June 8, 2018

June 11, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter.

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,364) on June 8, 2018


The rains we had in East Tennessee last week worked their usual miracles on our garden. Everything we planted is growing, and I was able to get into the garden with a hoe and tiller early this week to do battle against the weeds. This is one of my favorite times of the season because the plants are beginning to produce. We dug our first potatoes a couple of days ago.

As usual, my reading proclivities cast a wide net this week: Churchill, U.S. Grant, the news of D-Day, and the first long-distance communication system in France. Some of those things and more are below. Enjoy.

Have a great weekend.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

The surprising source of the first news of D-Day

Every June 6 (which came and went this week) American news media faithfully observes the Normandy invasion by Allied forces during World War II. It’s an important anniversary because it marked an key point in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

But how did America first learn of the Normandy landings?

The first news came from a surprising source: Nazi Germany.

Early in the morning of June 6, 1944, NBC came on the air with the news of the invasion at about 12:45 a.m., three minutes after receiving an Associated Press bulletin. CBS broadcast the news at 12:48 a.m., waiting for confirmation from a second source. The first reports clearly identified the German news agency TransOcean as the source of the information.

There was ample reason to be cautious. Three days before that, the Germans had issued news of the invasion in an attempt to get the Allies to reveal something about their plans. The Associated Press issued a flash bulletin based on that information and then had to resend it within minutes.

This time, however, the news was the real thing, and the invasion was on.  

Source: ‘D-DAY HAS COME’: How News Of The Normandy Invasion First Broke | HuffPost

Here is George Hicks‘ recording from within the convoy heading to Normandy beach:


The New York World Telegram called it “the greatest recording yet to come out of the war.” This was the amazing recording made by George Hicks, London Bureau Chief for the Blue Network (soon to become ABC) of the beginning of the D-Day Normandy Invasion. Added to the Library of Congress Audio Archive.


A telegraph network 50 years before the telegraph – le systeme Chappe

A full half-century before Samuel Morse demonstrated his electric telegraph system in America, a long-distance and extremely effective communication network existed in France.

The network was developed by Claude Chappe (1763-1805), a scientist who realized that the human eye was an excellent device for discerning angles, even at long distances. He took that idea and developed into a long vertical pole that supported a horizontal beam.

At each end of the horizontal pole was a shorter pole. The two end poles could be put into seven different positions through a system of ropes and pullies. That allowed operators to develop 49 different signals.

These ponderous devices were placed on hilltops so they could be visible to each other through telescopes. Once an operator at one station received a signal, he would reproduce that signal so that the next station could also reproduce the signal.

The French revolutionary government authorized the first system in 1793- le systeme Chappe. The first line was from Paris to Lille. When Napoleon took power, he saw the value in the system immediately and expanded the network in all directions. At its most extensive, the network contained more than 500 stations and covered more than 3,000 miles. A message could go from Paris to the farthest French border in three to four hours — not the three to four days that it would take a horse rider.

When the electric telegraph came into use in the 1840s, the French continued to use their systeme Chappe for a while, but its slowness and limitations (mainly weather and costs) could not compete with the new technology. In the 1850s, it was abandoned and pretty much forgotten.

Chappe himself came to a bad end. In 1805 he committed suicide, said to be depressed over accusations that he had pilfered the idea of his system from others.

More on the early French telegraph system from the BBC: How Napoleon’s semaphore telegraph changed the world – BBC News

And from The Economist: How the system was hacked: The crooked timber of humanity | 1843



The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”


Ulysses S. Grant: triumphs, defeats, and a final conquering

Ulysses S. Grant lived a life of devastating defeats and mind-boggling triumphs. As such, he gives biographers a rich mine of material to work with. The latest biographer, Ron Chernow, seems to have done fairly with the material of Grant’s life, according to the book’s critics.

One such critic is David Blight, an American History prof at Yale University who in a recent essay in The New York Review of Books, The Silent Type, writes of  Grant:

In the end, he ruthlessly crushed the experiment of the Confederacy and became a national hero. He has variously been considered a military icon who won a total victory; a presidential model for overcoming his own considerable flaws and a tragic weakness for scoundrels to achieve fame and glory; a literary phenomenon who crafted the most famous deathbed writing in American letters; and a celebrity who was a paragon of humility and modesty.

And he writes of Chernow’s book:

Chernow is one of Grant’s affectionate biographers: it is hard not to love a soldier on the right side of a just war who drinks too much, smells perpetually of cigars, rarely wears uniforms of his rank, is expressionless and tough, and who, as Lincoln put it about his military leadership, “makes things git!” Chernow gives us a troubled, humble warrior, a man lost and yet found through amazing feats if not grace.

Blight saves his highest praise in his essay for  The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: The Complete Annotated Edition, edited by John F. Marszalek, with David S. Nolen and Louie P. Gallo (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 784 pp.) Of that volume, he writes:

. . . John F. Marszalek, and his colleagues at the Grant Papers at Mississippi State University have brought together a wealth of helpful information for all future readers and researchers on Grant, his two wars, and his era. The notes are a scholarly achievement, and they could have helped Chernow craft part of his military narrative. Grant probed deeply into his memory and his documents while enduring unbearable pain from throat cancer, which rendered him near the end unable to speak or eat. He settled a few scores, put a few myths to rest, described campaigns and battles with his distinctive clarity, defended himself, hid many elements of his life, and told his favorite stories with an abiding humility.

I have written before about Grant and the writing of his memoirs at the end of his life. It was indeed a triumphal way to exit this existence.

7 errors grammar checkers usually miss

If you use an electronic grammar checker to help you with your writing, this is a good list: 7 Errors Grammar Checkers Miss | Alliance of Independent Authors: Self-Publishing Advice Center.

The seven errors: cliches, homophones (words that sound alike but are spelled differently), redundancies, readability scores, repeated words and phrases, sentence length, and vague words.

And, as a former writing teacher, I can’t resist adding to the writing no-nos list: word inefficiency – using too many words. Edit, edit, edit. Look for words and phrases and see what you can cut without losing information or meaning.

Solon – an ancient sage and a synonym

If you read the quotations from the speeches of John F. Kennedy in my post about them or in last week’s newsletter, you might remember one of his references to someone named Solon, whom he identified as an Athenian lawmaker.

Solon (638-558 BC) was more than that. He is listed as one of the Seven Sages of Antiquity.

Solon was indeed a lawmaker, but he is credited with many of the ideas and law that established Athenian democracy. Solon proposed a number of reforms that generally expanded the government to include more than a few elites. He also had ideas about economic reforms that would be of benefit to the general public.

Solon was a poet who was concerned about the greed, arrogance, and general moral decay of the Athenian citizenry. He also formalized sexual mores of his time.


I first encountered the word “solon” early in my journalistic career. Headline writers, searching for a shorter word than “legislature” or “lawmaker” would sometimes use “solon” as a synonym. The problem was that newspaper readers did not know what this odd word meant, and thus confusion abounded. Solon became one of the words we were taught NOT to use in a headline.

Now that I know where the word originates, I think it said that we had to discontinue its use.


And more on the Seven Sages of Antiquity later.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Ulysses S. Grant (caricature)

I had a lot of fun doing this caricature and took some caricaturist’s license in some of the exaggerations, particularly the beard. Also, I’ve never seen a picture of Grant in that kind of cap, although he was famous for dressing below his rank. I was inspired by some of the reading on Grant I had been doing this week. The pen-and-ink next to the item on Grant above was one of the preliminary drawings I did for this caricature.

Best quote of the week:

“Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education.” Alfred Whitney Griswold (1906-1963), historian and president of Yale University, 1959.

Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who need our help. It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here). When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org)is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall 


You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Louisa May Alcott, The Times of London, Dostoyevsky, and a few presidents here and there: newsletter, June 1, 2018




Get a FREE copy of Kill the Quarterback

Get a free digital copy of Jim Stovall's mystery novel, Kill the Quarterback. You will also get Jim's newsletter and advanced notice of publications, free downloads and a variety of information about what he is working on. Jim likes to stay in touch, so sign up today.

Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *