Stranger than Fiction, i.e. when History meets Family

March 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

ImageThe chapter that I’m writing right now, the first chapter (not sequentially, but in terms of planned completion) is on the U.S.’s military fortification of Manila Bay.  Included in the plans is the construction of Fort Drum, aka “the concrete battleship” — an outcropping of rocks razed down to water level and recast in a dreadnaught shape, constructed in order to be impregnable to naval attack. The strange twist of fate, however was that in the same year that they began construction of Fort Drum, Charles S. Wallace of the Army Signal Corps had signed a contract with Orville and Wilbur Wright commissioning the U.S.’s first military aircraft. Charles S. Wallace, by the way is my fiancé’s great-great grandfather. Pictured above is the 1908 Wright Military Flyer arriving in Fort Myer, Virginia for a test flight. It is fairly likely that Charles S. Wallace is in that photo, being the Signal Corps’ resident balloon expert. The dawn of military aviation, as I will write about it in this chapter rendered the ambitious fortification of Manila Bay with hundred of thousands of barrels of cement almost totally obsolete, as Paschal N. Strong (Army Corps of Engineers) would write:

I suspect that the Department Commander had sleepless nights as he considered the bird’s-eye view of a fortress (Fort Drum) designed when the Wright brothers first flapped their wings. I remember especially our only two really long range guns, Smith Number One and Smith Number Two. Sited the middle of a circular concrete blanket, they resembled from the air two inviting bull’s eyes. And while they and other guns could be partially concealed by umbrella camouflage, undoubtedly the enemy already had every gun position on his maps. And nowhere in the three square miles of the “Rock” was there an air-raid shelter where even a rabbit could hide.

This is a critical moment in my chapter, as the turn of the century arms race significantly re-shifts in anticipation of military aviation.  And in terms of my own ‘pre-history’ …just as  Charles Wallace was observing the first tests the Model A “lighter than air” fllyer, my grandparents would be born just south of Manila Bay. There’s much more to say about Charles S. Wallace, I’m sure, but I have to dig more up. He ended up working for the Signal Corps, taking pioneering images overland with Signal Corps balloons and eventually laying the first telegraph and telephone wires in the Islands.  As an aside the telegraph plays a crucial role in the concluding twist to John Sayles’ Amigo… which I will probably write a post about soon. In any case, according to the 1900 War report, his telegraph work was made treacherous by the constant aim of insurgent fire. In a way, this is sorta like when brother meets brother during the Civil War… actually, not really. But I wonder what Charles S. Wallace would have made of the fact that his great great grandson would be marrying someone who looked alot like those ‘insurgents.’

See a longitudinal section of Fort Drum following the jump. showthread


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