Thursday, April 30, 2015

April 1915

In April 1915 poison gas is used for the first time on the Western Front as the German Army makes another attempt to eliminate the Ypres salient in Belgium.  In the Ottoman Empire, Armenian Christians are accused of undermining the war against Russia; executions and forced deportations ensue.  The campaign to force the Dardanelles becomes a ground war as Allied forces are landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula; poet Rupert Brooke dies before he gets there.  Italy decides to join the war on the side of the Allies.  German cruisers seek refuge in an American port.  The civil war in Mexico intensifies as Constitutionalist forces rout Pancho Villa.  In the United States, Leo Frank loses his last appeal.  Former President Roosevelt goes on trial for libel and blasts pacifists, comparing them to Civil War Copperheads.  President Wilson advocates "America First" in a speech to the Associated Press.  Jess Willard ends Jack Johnson's reign as heavyweight champion, and Charlie Chaplin invents a new character in "The Tramp."


German Attack on the Ypres Salient Begins With a Gas Attack

The Belgian town of Ypres is once again the focus of bitter combat on the Western Front.  Hill 60, named for its height in meters, was created years ago by earth excavated for construction of a nearby railroad.  Located at the southeastern edge of the salient formed around Ypres by the German advance through Belgium, it provides an excellent view of the surrounding countryside and a useful vantage point for directing artillery fire.  This month British sappers dug a tunnel under Hill 60 and packed it with explosives which, when detonated on April 17, demolished the crest of the hill and killed hundreds of German soldiers.  German counterattacks on Hill 60 were followed on April 22 by a German assault on the northeastern edge of the salient.  This attack introduced a new and terrifying weapon, poison gas.  Released from canisters and carried by a favorable breeze over the Allied positions, the chlorine gas triggered a panicked retreat, leaving a wide gap in the Allied lines.  Like the Allies last month following their initial success at Neuve Chapelle, however, the lack of an effective follow-up plan prevented the Germans from exploiting their breakthrough.

Talat Pasha

After the failure of the Ottoman Army's January offensive in the Russian Caucasus, Turkish Minister of War Enver Pasha blamed the local Armenian Christian population for siding with Russia.  This month the Turkish Army began rounding up and executing thousands of Armenian men and forcibly deporting many more thousands of Armenian women, children and elderly men to Cilicia, Syria and Mesopotamia.  On April 24, Interior Minister Talat Pasha issued an order shutting down Armenian political organizations and ordering the arrest of Armenian community leaders and intellectuals in Constantinople.  The German and American governments have been asked to intervene.

General Hamilton (right) with Admiral de Robeck (center) and Commodore Roger Keyes

The Allied operations designed to send a fleet through the Dardanelles, capture Constantinople, and force the Ottoman Empire out of the war resumed this month with Allied landings on the Aegean coast of the Gallipoli Peninsula.  On April 25, the British 29th Division was put ashore at Cape Helles, on the extreme southern tip of the peninsula, and the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac), including the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, landed in a cove some twelve miles up the coast.  In both locations, the Turkish opposition was stronger than expected and the Allies have been unable to secure the heights overlooking the landing areas.

The Marquis Guglielmo Imperiali

On April 26, Italy and the members of the Triple Entente signed the Treaty of London, in which Italy promises to declare war against Germany and Austria-Hungary within 30 days and the Allies promise in the event of victory to grant substantial territorial gains to Italy, mostly at the expense of Austria-Hungary.  Italy's principal negotiator was its ambassador to Great Britain, the Marquis Guglielmo Imperiali.

Kronprinz Wilhelm, still flying the German flag, interned at Newport News

Prinz Eitel Friederich Before the War

On April 11 the German passenger liner S.M.S. Kronprinz Wilhelm entered Hampton Roads, Virginia and was interned at Newport News.  She had been at sea since leaving Hoboken, New Jersey, on August 3, the day before Great Britain declared war on Germany.  Shortly after her departure from Hoboken, she was armed with guns removed from a captured British cruiser and she began operation as an auxiliary cruiser, attacking Allied shipping in the South Atlantic. Until this month, she was believed to be the only German warship still on the high seas.  As the Royal Navy gained control of the world's oceans, her opportunities for commerce raiding dwindled, as did her ability to obtain fuel and provisions, and she chose internment in a neutral port.  Another converted German cruiser is also interned at Newport News.  S.M.S. Prinz Eitel Friedrich, detached from the German East Asia Squadron last August for independent operations off the coast of Australia, entered Newport News for repairs on March 10.  She was interned April 7 when her captain decided not to try to escape the British and French cruisers patrolling outside the entrance to Chesapeake Bay.

General Alvaro Obregon

Beginning April 8, a series of battles were fought near the city of Celaya in the Mexican state of Guanajuato  between forces loyal to the Constitutionalist President Venustiano Carranza, commanded by General Alvaro Obregon, and a rebel army under the command of Francisco "Pancho" Villa, which controls much of northern Mexico.  Taking advantage of Villa's over-aggressiveness, Obregon achieved a decisive victory.  The fighting ended on April 15 with Villa's retreat.

Mr. Justice Holmes

In 1913 Leo Frank, owner of the National Pencil Factory in Atlanta, was tried and convicted of murder in the death of Mary Phagan, a thirteen-year-old factory employee, and sentenced to death by hanging.  When his appeals to the Georgia courts were unsuccessful, he sought review in the federal courts by way of a petition for habeas corpus, arguing that the atmosphere of violence and antisemitism surrounding the trial deprived him of his Constitutional right to due process of law.  Mobs surrounded the courthouse during the trial demanding a conviction, and the trial judge suggested that Frank and his lawyer for their own safety not be present in the courtroom when the verdict was announced.  When the jury pronounced Frank guilty, the polling of the jury had to be suspended because it could not be heard over the cheers of the crowd.   On April 19, the Supreme Court denied Frank's petition.  Justice Mahlon Pitney, writing for the Court, held that any trial impropriety had been addressed adequately in the state appellate process.  Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, joined by Justice Charles Evans Hughes, dissented.  Reviewing the facts alleged in the petition, he concluded that "it is our duty . . . to declare lynch law as little valid when practiced by a regularly drawn jury as when administered by one elected by a mob intent on death."

Roosevelt on Trial

During the 1914 campaign for governor of New York, former President Roosevelt supported former State Senator Harvey D. Hinman for the Republican nomination.  In his statement announcing his endorsement, Roosevelt linked the Republican and Democratic Party machines, led respectively by Republican Party Chairman William J. Barnes, Jr. and Charles F. Murphy, the Democratic boss of Tammany Hall.  His statement charged that "the state government is rotten throughout" and attributed its rottenness to "the dominance in politics of Mr. Murphy . . . aided and abetted when necessary by Mr. Barnes and the sub-bosses of Mr. Barnes."  Despite Roosevelt's endorsement, Hinman lost the Republican nomination to New York District Attorney Charles S. Whitman, who went on to win the governorship, defeating the incumbent Democrat Martin H. Glynn.  Meanwhile, taking umbrage at Roosevelt's statement, Barnes sued Roosevelt for libel.  The trial began on April 19 in Syracuse after being transferred from Albany to avoid Barnes's local influence in the state capital.

The Federal Trade Commission (George Rublee top right, Chairman Joseph E. Davies seated center)

Before leaving for Syracuse, Roosevelt took time to reply to a letter from Mrs. George Rublee, wife of one of the members of a new federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission.  Mrs. Rublee had asked Roosevelt's opinion of a new organization called the Women's Party for Constructive Peace.  In his reply, a copy of which was obtained by the Chicago Herald, Roosevelt denounced the statement of principles enclosed with Mrs. Rublee's letter as "both silly and base."  He compared the organization to "the Copperheads of the North" in the Civil War, who he said "held exactly the views about peace which are set forth in the platform you enclosed and to a man they voted against Abraham Lincoln."  The party's principles, he wrote, are "base as well as futile [because] there is nothing more repulsive than to see people agitating for general righteousness in the abstract when they dare not stand up against wickedness in the concrete."  According to Roosevelt, "the professional pacifist leaders in the United States are in exactly this position" in light of the "frightful wrongs [that] have been committed against the men, women and children of Belgium," no mention of which, he notes, is found in Mrs. Rublee's letter or its enclosure.  Until they "do something to show that they mean what they say and that they are really striving for righteousness," Roosevelt advises that "every upright man and woman refuse to have anything more to do with a movement which is certainly both foolish and noxious, which is accompanied by a peculiarly ignoble abandonment of national duty and which if successful would do only harm, and the mere attempt to accomplish which rightly exposes our people to measureless contempt."

The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, 34th Street and Fifth Avenue

On Tuesday, April 20, President Woodrow Wilson traveled to New York City with his secretary Joseph Tumulty, his physician Dr. Cary Grayson, and Secretary of the Navy Daniels, to address a luncheon of the Associated Press at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  He told the audience of newspaper editors and publishers that they should guard against disturbing the "unstable equilibrium" of the world by reporting based on "rumor" or "imaginative combinations of circumstances."  Regarding America's policy of neutrality, he said the United States is "the mediating nation of the world" and that "our whole duty for the present, at any rate, is summed up in this motto: 'America First.'  Let us think of America before we think of Europe, in order that America may be fit to be Europe's friend when the day of tested friendship comes."  "My interest in the neutrality of the United States," he said, "is not the petty desire to keep out of trouble. . . .  I am interested in neutrality because there is something so much greater to do than fight, because there is something, there is a distinction waiting for this nation that no other nation has ever yet got.  That is the distinction of absolute self-control and self-mastery."  After his address, followed by a reception, the President took an automobile trip uptown to visit Grant's tomb, then returned to Pennsylvania Station where he boarded his special car (named "Superb") attached to the Sunset Limited for a 4:35 departure.

William Rockhill Nelson

William Rockhill Nelson, editor and publisher of the Kansas City Star and one of the most influential newspaper proprietors in the country, died on April 13 at his home in Kansas City.

Frederick W. Seward During the Civil War

Frederick W. Seward died April 25 at the age of 84.  He was Assistant Secretary of State, serving under his father, William.H. Seward, during the Civil War and thereafter until 1869.  He returned to his former position in the Rutherford B. Hayes administration, serving from 1877 to 1879.  On April 14, 1865, he fought with Lewis Powell when Powell invaded his father's house on Lafayette Square as part of the plot to assassinate President Lincoln and other senior administration officials.

Rupert Brooke

The well-known English poet Rupert Brooke died April 23 on the Island of Skyros in the Aegean Sea at the age of 27.  He had contracted blood poisoning from an infected mosquito bite.  When the war began he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and participated in the defense of Antwerp.  In February he sailed to Gallipoli with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.  His best-known lines are from his "War Sonnets," published shortly before his departure:

     Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,
     And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping.
     [Sonnet I: "Peace"]


     If I should die, think only this of me:
     That there's some corner of a foreign field
     That is forever England.
     [Sonnet V: "The Soldier"]

The Willard-Johnson Fight in Havana -- A Panoramic View

Jess Willard and Jack Johnson -- The Knockout

In a bout that "restored pugilistic supremacy to the white race" according to the New York Times, Jess Willard defeated the reigning heavyweight champion Jack Johnson on April 5 at Oriental Park in Havana, winning by a knockout in the 26th round.  Ever since Johnson, a Negro, captured the title in 1908 by defeating Canadian Tommy Burns, white boxing fans have longed for a "Great White Hope" to regain the title.  The previously undefeated former champion, Jim Jeffries, tried and failed to do so in 1910.  After the fight, Willard was modest and unassuming and refrained from making any boastful comments.  Johnson, who has announced his retirement from the ring, said "it was a clean knockout and the best man won."

Charlie Chaplin, the former vaudeville comedian turned motion picture producer, director and actor, has moved from Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios in Los Angeles to the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company in Niles, California, across the bay from San Francisco.  On April 11 the studio released his latest production, The Tramp.  In a departure from his prior films, in which he played mostly slapstick comedy, The Tramp is a bittersweet story about a character who gallantly rescues the girl of his dreams (played by Edna Purviance) from a gang of robbers, falls in love, but loses her in the end (click to play):

April 1915 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, May and June 1915
New York Times, April 1915

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
Patrick Devlin, Too Proud to Fight: Woodrow Wilson's Neutrality
Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309 (1915)
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume III: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916
Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig, Decisions for War, 1914-1917
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Theodore Huff, Charlie Chaplin
John Keegan, The First World War
Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
Erik Larson, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: The Struggle for Neutrality, 1914-1915
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Barbara W. Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram