Monday, September 27, 2010

Civilization 5: Play as George Washington and Lead Your Civilization to Greatness

Sid Meier's Civilization V has hit the marketplace, and it's so popular that stores are having a tough time keeping copies in stock. Civilization V is literally flying off the shelves. And no one should be surprised. This fifth installment of what is perhaps the greatest PC strategy game franchise of all time is well worth the purchase price. And, yes, you can play as George Washington! (You could play as George Washington in Civilization IV as well, but the animations are even better in Civ V!)

As my readers know, I like to occasionally deviate from the serious stuff -- and just have some fun. PC and board games are a great way to have fun with history. My dad and I used to play tabletop wargames all the time, as I was growing up. Among our favorites were the classics Gettysburg and Rise and Decline of the Third Reich. Unfortunately, Dad passed away in 1992, too soon to enjoy the wave of PC wargames that swept the marketplace in the 1990s and continue to be enormously popular today. Nevertheless, if Dad were alive today, I know he and I would be playing Age of Empires II, Age of Empires III, and now Civilization V quite a bit.

Those unfamiliar with Civilization may wonder why I'm blogging about it here. Well, as my readers know, I generally don't blog about things, unless the topics relate directly with early American history. And this is no exception. While the Civilization games encompass all of history, that history includes the colonial period. In fact, you might say that the transition between the Renaissance-era Middle Ages and the Industrial Age is the most significant point of the game. If you don't transition your civilization quickly and effectively from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Age, you will likely lose.

In fact, this period is so critical, that the Civilization franchise includes a standalone title called Civilization: Colonization. It plays similarly to Civilization IV, and features a great system of trade and economy as you settle a new continent and then try to break away from Europe. A word of's very tough to successfully declare independence from Europe. But I digress.

With Civilization 5 (as in the previous installments), you take over a fledgling, nomadic, and primitive people - and lead them through the span of history to (hopefully) become a powerful, dynamic civilization. And did I mention that you can play as George Washington? In fact, you can play as a very long-living George Washington! This immortal aspect to your character is why Civilization is often called a "god game." As a pastor, I'm of course uncomfortable looking at it that way. And, in fact, the only "divine" characteristic you possess in the game is an immortal lifespan. Still, however you want to accept (or not) that aspect of your game's character, Civilization is a fun franchise to tackle.

Every single installment of Civilization has been addictive and immersive. Civilization V ups the ante with expanded visuals, absorbing audio (though Leonard Nimoy's narration from Civilization IV is missed), and adjustments / improvements in game play. Two big changes from Civilization IV are the absence of religion and the shift to a hex-based map. The jury is still out on whether the former is a good change, but I definitely approve of the latter. Hexes make for a richer, more tactical experience than squares.

Civilization V gets a solid A+. 5 stars out of 5. Whatever grading system you want to use, Civilization V rocks the house. :-)  It's well with your time. And, believe me, it will soak up LOTS of your time.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Congress Approves the Bill of Rights on September 25, 1789

On September 25, 1789, the First Congress approved twelve (12) amendments to the new Constitution of the United States. Upon congressional passage, those twelve amendments went to the states for ratification. The states ratified ten (10) of the amendments, forming what we now know as the Bill of Rights.

Origin of the Bill of Rights

Rights were critical to the Founders of the United States. Virtually all of them embraced Imago Dei (the Judeo-Christian principle that Man is created in the image of God) as well as the natural law theories of John Locke. Deeply influenced by English traditions of limited government and popular rights (traditions echoed in documents such as Magna Carta and the 1689 English Bill of Rights), the Founders believed that the people derive their fundamental rights from the Creator, whereas government derives its authority from the governed.

These values were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and in the various state constitutions and bills of rights. One of the most notable expressions of these rights at the state level was penned by George Mason. The author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, Mason was a staunch advocate of limited government and individual liberty.

When the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was called to address the failures of the Articles of Confederation, there was great reluctance to give too much power to the national government and thus compromise the liberties of the American people and of the various states. George Mason was among the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, and he ultimately refused to sign the document for lack of a bill of rights. Returning to Virginia to join anti-Federalists (opponents of the Constitution) like Patrick Henry, Mason exerted his influence against this new form of government.

As a means of insuring ratification of the Constitution, James Madison agreed to introduce a bill of rights, once the new Constitution went into effect. When Madison was elected to the First Congress, he moved to honor his agreement. Writing to a friend, the Virginia patriot said the amendments are "limited to points which are important in the eyes of many and can be objectionable in those of none. The structure & stamina of Govt. are as little touched as possible.”

Congress Passes Twelve Amendments

On September 25, 1789, the First Federal Congress sent twelve amendments to the state legislatures for ratification. The first two amendments, dealing with numbers of constituents and congressional pay, initially failed to get the requisite number of states to agree to them. Consequently, amendments three (3) through twelve (12) were ratified, becoming the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The amendment concerning the number of constituents remains dead and will likely never again see the light of day. The original second amendment, however, was resurrected nearly 200 years later. It dealt with congressional pay was finally ratified on May 7, 1992, long after Madison and his colleagues were dead.

The Bill of Rights

Upon ratification by the requisite number of states, the Bill of Rights went into effect in 1791. The first ten amendments of the Constitution of the United States of America are as follows:

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

For more information, visit the Library of Congress exhibit page on the Bill of Rights.

Friday, September 24, 2010

September 24 in History: The Judiciary Act of 1789

On September 24, 1789, President George Washington signed into law the first Judiciary Act under the newly ratified Constitution. The Judiciary Act of 1789 filled out the judicial branch of government, which had been established (but not composed) by Article III of the U.S. Constitution. This first Judiciary Act established the structure and jurisdiction of the federal court system and created the position of attorney general.

Upon signing the statute, President Washington nominated John Jay to be the first Chief Justice of the United States and named John Rutledge, William Cushing, John Blair, Robert Harrison, and James Wilson to be associate justices. Edmund Randolph became the nation's first attorney general.

For more on this important landmark in U.S. judicial history, visit the Library of Congress "Primary Documents of American History" section on the Judiciary Act of 1789.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Revolutionary War Costumes: This Halloween, Get Your History On!

Listen up, history buffs! Halloween is right around the corner! If you're looking for Revolutionary War costumes this Halloween,  you've come to the right place. Halloween isn't just about zombies, vampires, and all that. It's also a great time for history buffs to showcase their creative flair and love for the past. For Revolutionary War fans, it's a chance to highlight what is arguably the most important era in American history.

Halloween Costume Ideas For History Buffs

If you're a history buff looking to dress up in a Revolutionary War costume this Halloween, here are some ideas and suggestions as to where, when, and how to make that happen...
  • Attend or host/organize a historical costume party
  • Participate in a local "Trunk or Treat" (many churches do these)
  • Go trick-or-treating with your kids as a costumed chaperone
  • Organize a history event at a local hobby or miniature gaming store
  • Connect with a local reenactor / living history group for further possibilities
  • Does your office have a dress-up day? If so, there you go!
Revolutionary War Costumes

Get your history on with these great Halloween costume possibilities...

British Officer Uniform

Want to dress up as the Bad Guys...errr...I mean "British"? :-)  Then grab this British Officer Uniform, which features red gabardine tail coat with white lining and blue collar, button lapel, and cuffs. The uniform has gold buttons down front, around the cuff, and yellow-gold braiding. Also includes white gabardine vest and knickers with elastic waist.

Colonial Woman

Dress up as a woman from the colonial American period. Check out this adult Colonial Woman costume, which includes dress and bonnet.

American Patriot (for Men)

This budget-conscious male Patriot costume features a blue jacket with attached gold vest, cuffs and accents, matching pants with attached black boot tops, white ascot, and basic ticorn hat. Supplement with a wig, deluxe tricorner hat, and/or a stage or imitation musket or sword.

Patriot Costume (for Kids)

Amazon's 1776 Revolutionary Patriot Kids Costume features a blue jacket with attached gold vest and cuffs, tan pants with attached black boot tops and white ascot. No sword or hat are included, so you'll need to get those separately.

There are many other possibilities as well. Check out this great selection of historical costumes at Amazon for more. And have fun this Halloween.

How Much Do You Know About The Constitution?

In honor of Constitution Day, I thought I'd offer a brief quiz to test your knowledge of the Constitution of the United States. Let's see how you do...

1) The Virginia Plan served as the blueprint for the new Constitution. Who was the author of the Virginia Plan?

2) Who refused to attend the Constitutional Convention because he "smelt a rat?"

3) The executive branch of the U.S. government is addressed in which Article?

4) Which Virginia delegate to the convention refused to sign the Constitution, primarily because it lacked (at the time) a bill of rights?

5) How many delegates actually signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787?

Post your answers in the comments!  Should be pretty easy for you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Guest Article: The Top 10 American History Games

Periodically, I like to post articles from guest bloggers, other blogs, or article directories. This particular article was submitted to me by a reader as a guest post. While some of its content steps outside of our typical focus (early US history), I thought it might be of interest to you all, especially those of you who like computer games, since James' article deals mainly with PC games. Personally, I've played about half the games James references, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. :-)


The Top 10 American History Games
by James Mowery

1) Oregon Trail is probably the game most people associate with American History, and many students probably played it in school. Originally released in 1971, the game continues to see some niche releases to help modern Americans continue the life of a 19th century pioneer.

2) Gold Rush! was another classic game that might bring back a lot of nostalgia for older players. While it may be kitschy by today’s standards, it had very accurate depictions of the transit problems early America faced.

3) 1602 AD is probably one of the best demonstrations of what colonial building in early America was like. It’s therefore ironic that Sunflowers, the company that developed the game, is actually based in Austria. By establishing different economic and social centers, a player needs to grow their colony into something truly awesome.

4) 1503 AD is the sequel to 1602 AD. Like it’s older brother, it was actually developed in Europe. Continuing to expand upon economics, some aspects of the game rather realistically model food production
and distribution in the earliest days of colonial America.

5) Rails Across America, by Flying Lab Software, is one of the greatest demonstrations of the business aspect of the railroads that built America. It focuses on the strategy of developing a railroad company as a whole.

6) Railroad Tycoon does for industry what Rails Across America did for business simulation. The game, and its sequels, goes in depth about what sets American railroading into a class of it’s own. To this end, it allows the unique aspect of comparing American operations to those of foreign countries.

7) The History Channel’s Civil War offering has an interesting duality about it. On one hand, the game is somewhat similar to a chess match fought between the Union and the Confederacy. However, when pieces
collide, a real time strategy combat session ensues.

8) American Conquest is a unique real time strategy game that allows a player to either play as a colonial power, or oppose them as a Native American nation. This dynamic adds to the interest and intrigue of the

9) Another one of the games that show just how different the incredible American spirit is, Chris Sawyer’s Locomotion allows a player to explore how exceptional our nation’s industries are.

10) Sid Meier’s Gettysburg!, as well as it’s Antietam themed successor, is interesting in the way that it allows alternate possibilities for the Civil War to be played out. There’s a fairly large player modification community built up around it that continues to develop add on modules for the game, as well.

--James Mowery is a computer geek that writes about technology and related topics. To read more blog posts by him, go to LedTV.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Important Facts About General George Washington

George Washington is perhaps the most familiar name in the United States and one of the best known names in the world. Yet few people actually know much about George Washington, beyond the basic, elementary facts of his resume and a few well-worn (largely discredited) cliches involving cherry trees and wooden teeth.

A few years ago, while teaching American history in high school, I used to challenge my students with the question: "Do you think you know a lot about George Washington?" Since Washington is one of my heroes (and my students thus had heard me talk about him a fair amount), they were convinced they did. So, I would have them take out a piece of paper and write ten of Washington's specific deeds or accomplishments. I still recall how their confidence would inevitably and very quickly evaporate. Like most Americans, my students seemed unable to retain much in the way of specifics when it came to George Washington.

Several years ago, James Rees, resident director of Historic Mount Vernon, lamented this growing ignorance of America's father. "Among young people, and young adults, we find many who don't know Washington was the first president and can't say what century he lived in," said Rees. "My fourth grade textbook had 10 times as many pages on Washington as the one the same school uses now. And there is a sizable fraction of our visitors who can't tell you whose portrait is on the $1 bill."

This particular post will look at the most important facts about George Washington's military career. In a future post, we'll look at Washington's presidency.

Important Facts About General George Washington
So, what are the most important facts about George Washington's military leadership? Here are the basics:
  • George Washington was a respected Virginia plantation owner, colonial politician, and French and Indian War (Seven  Years' War) veteran on the eve of the American Revolution. (It is, of course, also important to know that the Seven Years' War or French & Indian War preceded the American Revolution, and helped set the stage for it.)
  • Washington supported colonial rights during the buildup of tensions with Great Britain, serving in both the First Continental Congress (1774) and Second Continental Congress (1775). 
  • Based on John Adams' recommendation, George Washington was appointed by the Second Continental Congress to command the Continental Army and lead armed resistance against the British Empire.
  • As Commander-in-Chief of the nascent and evolving Continental Army, Washington declined to be paid for his services, but kept meticulous records of his expenses during the war (which he submitted for reimbursement).
  • Washington became Continental Army general at age 43. Most movies and paintings show Washington leading American troops as an old man with white hair. In fact, Washington was tough, healthy, middle-aged man at the time of the Revolutionary War.
  • From 1775 until 1783, General Washington presided over the growth of a largely untrained, thoroughly ill-equipped and ill-prepared "army" into a formidable (albeit still inadequately paid and poorly supplied) fighting force.
  • Washington was a brave and courageous leader, risking his life under fire numerous times.
  • Washington was a creative, but inexperienced battlefield tactician. Though he made several battlefield mistakes, he nevertheless demonstrated great charisma, strong courage, dogged persistence, and a brilliant grasp of the strategic picture.
  • General Washington arguably saved the American Revolution with his famous, and quite audacious, crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Night 1776 to attack the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey.
  • The last major battle of the American Revolution was at Yorktown, Virginia (1781), where a combined French and American land force, supported by the French navy, bottled up Lord General Charles Cornwallis and his British forces. This resulted in a change-of-government in London and the beginnings of peace negotiations between Colonial America and the British Empire.
  • With peace negotiations ongoing, Washington kept his poorly supplied and insufficiently paid troops in the field for nearly two full years, working diligently to ease tensions and preserve domestic peace.
  • Washington flatly refused offers of any sort of dictatorship, and instead appealed to his officers at a famous speech in Newburgh to support the civilian government and stand down from any talk of insurrection.
  • Britain granted American independence in 1783, and George Washington resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief, becoming one of the only revolutionary leaders in world history to walk away from power. 
George Washington would, of course, come out of retirement in 1787 to preside over the Constitutional Convention and would soon become the nation's first President  under the new Constitution. But were it not for Washington's military leadership during the Revolutionary War, there would've been no Constitution and no presidency.

George Washington's generalship and his statesmanship (in the war's final stages) are what made America possible. This is something that all Americans should appreciate and never forget.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Help Save One of America's Historic Warships

With apologies to my readers, I am stepping outside the normal historic parameters of this site with this post, but I feel it's a worthy cause -- one that will be of interest to anyone interested in United States history, especially US military history.

Moored along the Delaware River in Philadelphia is the oldest steel warship in the world still afloat and the last surviving US combat vessel which took part in the Spanish-American War. The 5,500-ton Olympia, however, may soon see its last days. Without extensive repairs and refurbishing, the Olympia either will sink at its moorings, be sold for scrap, or be scuttled for an artificial reef.

While this blog normally stays within the pre-Civil War period, the historic significance of the Olympia is something of which all Americans should take note. For this reason, I'm asking all my readers to check out Friends of The Cruiser Olympia, read about the ship and its legacy, and see if there is any way you can help. Even small donations can add up. If you can help, I hope you'll consider doing so.