Episode Archives

Conspiracy theories: JFK and Pearl Harbor

Mark interviews historian Marty Morgan on “Conspiracy theories: JFK and Pearl Harbor.” They discuss Lee Harvey Oswald, the new JFK documents being released and conspiracy theories that have revolved around the Pearl Harbor attack.

Patton Part II: Post WWII

Historian Kevin Hymel returns for a discussion of General George S. Patton’s post-war governance in Germany and the actual story of his fatal accident and death. The is Part II of a two-part episode.

General George S. Patton: Early Years and WWII

Kevin Hymel, writer and Patton historian, joins Mark to discuss one of America’s greatest generals. They cover General George S. Patton’s background, his early years, and his career leading up to and into WWII.

Civil War New Orleans: Prelude to Conflict

Mark takes a comparative look at developments leading up to the Civil War and the importance of the city of New Orleans to the Confederacy.

Civil War New Orleans: Prelude to Conflict

A comparative look at the economic differences between the Confederate states and those of the Union shows a staggering disparity. SEE COMPARATIVE CHART The Southern states had few advantages, except in certain agricultural areas and any semblance of parity here, arose from the Border States, primarily Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri. These three states were divided between Union and Confederacy in sympathies, and more concretely in supplying officers and men under arms. Nevertheless, they remained in the Union and are represented accordingly in terms of these resource statistics.

Wars are costly—certainly in terms of life and devastation of property—and since they are, those who wage them need money and goods to collect and trade. The chief cash crop for the South was cotton, to a lesser extent tobacco was significant but cotton was king. King Cotton was one of the Confederacy’s mainstays and sources of income. However, to collect payment for this white gold, the seller must be able to get it to market. The textile mills of New England and for that matter, Old England, became starved for raw cotton. And, because in 1860, the southern United States produced 90% of the world’s cotton, the mills became idle and workers went without wages. The conduit for getting cotton to markets outside the South was the Mississippi River. The wharves, warehouses and agents who facilitated getting the product to the manufacturers were in New Orleans.

At the beginning of the Civil War, New Orleans was the largest exporting port in the world. New York was the greater of the two city ports in general, but New Orleans sent the most product abroad. Chief among these, at least in terms of financial importance, was cotton. If the Union could interdict shipping to and from New Orleans, it would be a great, perhaps mortal, blow to the Confederate economy. If the Union could cripple the economy of the seceding states, it would win the economic war. If preserving the Union was the ultimate goal, then defeating the South economically was the first part of the equation. The second part, achieving military victory would follow. Another factor was the morale of the people, which came later, but military thought in the North focused on the tactics and strategies that would break the South’s economy and shatter its armies.

Click here for the Comparative Chart

Antietam II

Historian Gerry Prokopowicz returns to discuss the battle, its consequences and aftermath and the response from both sides. We include Abraham Lincoln’s writing the the Emancipation Proclamation.

Antietam I

Professor Gerry Prokopowicz joins Mark to discuss the events leading up to the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. We cover the Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) that August, Robert E. Lee’s reasons for taking the Army of Northern Virginia into Maryland and the beginning of the battle.

Antietam Part I – Summary

The Battle of Antietam took place near Sharpsburg, MD on 17 September 1862. It is often referred to as the bloodiest day of the war. The battle was the culmination of the Maryland Campaign which actually had its roots in earlier in actions that occurred in Virginia in the late spring and early summer of 1862.

The Antietam Battle itself pitted rising star Robert E. Lee, the Virginian who had recently taken the reins of the Confederate army in the east, against the young, ambitious Union General George B. McClellan. Lee had faced McClellan a few months earlier in southeastern Virginia and had thwarted McClellan at the end of the Peninsula Campaign, his grand plan to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond.

During the spring and early summer, General McClellan had moved his army up the Virginia Peninsula, pushing the Confederates back in a series of engagements that began near Fort Monroe at the Chesapeake Bay and ended near the outskirts of Richmond. The Seven Days battles at the end of June were successive battles in which McClellan had done well—he even could be considered victorious in 4 out of 5 battles. However, Robert E. Lee had taken over the Confederate command after Joseph Eggleston Johnston was seriously wounded at Seven Pines in May. Lee was able to stop McClellan on the outskirts of Richmond and the campaign, in which McClellan had started with great hopes and a massive army ended in failure. Afterwards, President Lincoln replaced McClellan in northern Virginia, with John Pope, who had been fairly successful in the west, capturing Island No. 10 in the Mississippi River. Lee subsequently defeated Pope soundly at Second Manassas, or Bull Run.

Stonewall Jackson waged a brilliant campaign in the Shenandoah Valley in the Spring of 1862. He had beaten and outmaneuvered three Union armies, successfully keeping them away from pressuring Richmond. In June, he led his men on a forced march to join Lee near Richmond for the Seven Days battles.

Preview of Autumn Historians and Topics

Mark Bielski provides information on the background of the historical topics he’ll be discussing and the historians who will join him on History with Mark Bielski this fall.

Ghost Army – Part II

Writer and filmmaker Rick Beyer returns to discuss in further detail the extraordinary deception soldiers better known as the Ghost Army. Rick made the PBS documentary The Ghost Army and co-authored the book, The Ghost Army of World War II.

As we discussed in Part I, the Ghost Army specifically refers to the 23rd HQ Special Troops. They ran series of deception operations so secretive that few of their fellow GIs knew anything about it, and the Army kept it top secret—during the war and for decades afterwards. To put it succinctly, The Ghost Army was about fooling people. Their goal was to make the enemy believe that something is happening even though it is not. Imagine the German soldiers on the front lines thinking there is an armored division moving into position just beyond the woods on their perimeter. Or, Luftwaffe air reconnaissance reporting back to HQ that there were scores of American tanks and aircraft preparing for invasion. Imagine is the key word, because the Ghost Army made it all happen with illusion and trickery.

Rick Beyer produced the PBS special entitled The Ghost Army of WWII, as well as co-authored with Elizabeth Sayles, the book of the same name. It is most likely a story you did not find in your history text books. In the interview, as well as in the film and book, writer and producer, Rick gives us an excellent portrayal of the vital and technologically amazing work this unit produced in WWII. Wizardry is a more than apt term for it and one need not wonder why the U.S. Army kept it under wraps for so long. Especially with the commencement of the Cold War that occurred almost immediately following the German surrender signing.

Rick leads a tour for Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours that traces the steps of the Ghost Army in Europe as well as covering the key battles and operations of which they were a vital part. His next tour is September 2018.

The following maps and images augment the Ghost Army Part II podcast.

Ghost Army – Part I

Filmmaker and author Rick Beyer visits with Mark to discuss the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, the extraordinary deception soldiers better known as the Ghost Army. Rick made the PBS documentary The Ghost Army and co-authored the book, The Ghost Army of World War II.

The Ghost Army that we discuss in this episode, conducted a series of deception operations that took place once we had American troops on the ground in Europe. The appellation specifically refer to the 23rd HQ Special Troops, an outfit that later became known as the Ghost Army. It was a little-known operation, and it was extremely secretive. Not even the soldiers, in close proximity on the front lines, knew anything about what the men of the 23rd were doing. They conducted twenty-one different deception operations as, with “stagecraft and sleight of hand.” Everything they did was top secret—certainly during and for decades after the war. Their operations called for creative imagination, and often artistic interpretation that worked in concert with the brute military force enacted by the armed units. The Allies absolutely needed military force, and success in the field of battle. The Ghost Army helped our advancing forces be successful.

To put it succinctly, “miltary deception is much like a successful magic trick. It is about fooling people into believing that something is happening that isn’t.”

As writer and producer, Rick provides an excellent portrayal of the vital and technologically amazing work this unit produced in WWII. It sometimes bordered on WIZARDRY, and there is little wonder why the U.S. Army kept it secret for a long time after the war.

Learn more about Rick Beyer at his website.

In Normandy with Mort Sheffloe – Part II

Combat veteran Mort Sheffloe and Mark continue their discussion about his WWII experiences in Normandy and Brittany in 1944. Mort talks about Operation Cobra and being shot by a German sniper near Brest. This is Part II of a two-part episode.