20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover

Khalid Elhassan - April 3, 2019

Did you know that the guillotine was still being used in France to behead people even as Star Wars was playing in movie theaters, or that George Washington cracked jokes about an aide’s fat butt while crossing the Delaware? History is replete with amazing tidbits and fascinating moments that are little known to most people. Following are twenty amazing, but not commonly known, historical facts.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Parliament’s soldiers in the English Civil War, fighting while a Puritan preacher encourages them by reading from the Bible. Pintrest

20. The American Revolution Was the Second Time Americans Fought a British King

King George III was the baddie of the American Revolution, upon whom the Colonists pinned the bulk of the blame for the conflict. Indeed, when one examines the Declaration of Independence and gets past the first few uplifting “We hold these truths to be self evident” sentences, the rest of the document is one long screed, decrying his tyranny and infamies. However, George III was not the first king against whom Americans took up arms: that distinction goes to king Charles I, during the English Civil War.

When king and Parliament warred in the 1640s, Puritans were a key Parliamentarian constituency. Puritans were thick in the ground in New England back then, so in 1644, a colonel Thomas Rainsborough sailed across the Atlantic with a regiment of New Englanders to fight against Charles. Presaging future events, the Americans proved radical, and pushed for universal male suffrage three centuries before it was actually granted in England. As Rainsborough put it: “I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government“.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Battle of the Severn. In Red Coat Rags Attired

19. The English Civil War Was Also Fought on American Soil

By the 1650s, Parliament had won the English Civil War. King Charles I had been captured, tried, convicted, and beheaded, his heir had fled to the continent, and England was ruled by a Lord Protector, the Puritan Oliver Cromwell. Small scale fighting still flared up every now and then between Royalists and Parliamentarians, and one such flare up, which came to be known as the Battle of the Severn, took place on American soil in Annapolis, Maryland, on March 25th, 1655.

It came about when Maryland’s governor, sworn to the colony’s royalist Catholic Lord Baltimore, sailed with a small militia to the Puritan settlement of Providence, today’s Annapolis. The aim was to surprise the Puritans and compel them to swear allegiance to Lord Baltimore, but the Puritans ended up surprising and routing the governor’s force by attacking it from the rear. By the time it was over, the governor’s militia had lost 49 men, while the Puritans lost only 2. The engagement holds the distinction of being the last battle fought in the English Civil War.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Abraham Lincoln. Quotesta

18. Abraham Lincoln Was a Borderline Marxist

The GOP has been traditionally pro business, and Republicans have usually been reliable allies of employers in disputes with labor unions and employees. Surprisingly, however, the party’s first president had some views that could qualify him as a Marxist. In his first speech as an Illinois state legislator in 1837, Abraham Lincoln stated: “These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people“. In his first Annual Message to Congress, on December 3rd, 1861, he wrote: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.

Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them“.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Karl Marx. Wikimedia

17. Abraham Lincoln Imbibed From and Corresponded With Karl Marx

Lincoln’s Marxist views most likely came from Karl Marx himself. The author of The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital had been a prolific contributor to the New York Daily Tribune, the most influential Republican newspaper of the 1850s, when the GOP was founded. In 1848, the Tribune’s publisher had invited Marx to become a correspondent, and over the following decade, Marx, sometimes with the help of Friedrich Engels, wrote over 500 articles for the Republican newspaper.

Unsurprisingly, considering how much Marx detested labor exploitation, he became a huge Lincoln fan, and cheered him on as he wrecked slavery, the era’s most exploitative labor system. In 1864, Marx wrote a letter on behalf of the International Working Men’s Association, to congratulate Lincoln on his reelection, and to wish him ultimate success in the war. Lincoln instructed the American ambassador in Britain, where Marx lived, to thank him, and let him know that the United States: “derive new encouragements to persevere from the testimony of the workingmen of Europe that the national attitude is favored with their enlightened approval and earnest sympathies“.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Charlie King’s gravestone. Find a Grave

16. The Union Army’s Youngest Fatality Was 13 Years Old

The American Civil War teemed with child soldiers serving in the armed forces of both sides, and it is estimated that roughly a fifth of all military personnel who served during the conflict were under 18. Indeed, more than 100,000 soldiers in the Union Army alone were aged 15 years or younger. The ranks of the underaged soldiers included Charlie King, of Westchester, Pennsylvania, who joined the 49th Pennsylvania Infantry as a drummer boy in 1861.

A few months later, the regiment fought in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battle, during which Charlie probably saw more death and mayhem than was good for any child. In September of 1862, his regiment participated in the Maryland Campaign, which culminated in the Battle of Antietam. During that battle, the 49th Pennsylvania came under artillery fire while deployed near the East Woods, and Charlie was grievously wounded by an exploding shell. He died of his injuries three days later, and earned the dubious distinction of being the youngest military fatality of the war.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Pancho Villa. Pintrest

15. A Dying Pancho Villa Couldn’t Think of Any Memorable Last Words, So He Asked His Followers to Make Up Some

Francisco “Pancho” Villa was a Mexican bandit who became one of the major players and military leaders during the Mexican Revolution of 1910 – 1920. Initially supported by the US government, he became governor of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, before a falling out with his allies, coupled with a withdrawal of American support, reduced his power and forced him back into banditry. Feeling betrayed by the US, he raided the American town of Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916, which triggered the Pancho Villa Expedition – a failed American attempt to capture him.

Evading the gringo pursuers cemented Villa’s place as a Mexican folk hero. He stayed on the run, until 1920, when he cut a deal with the Mexican government to lay down his arms in exchange for an amnesty and a 25,000 acre hacienda. In 1923, he declared his bid to run for president, only for his car to get ambushed and shot up soon thereafter. Fatally wounded, a dying Villa figured that a life as interesting as his should end with an interesting final statement. However, he couldn’t think of anything memorable, so his last words as he expired were: “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something!

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Hitler posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. Business Insider

14. French Saboteurs Kept Hitler From Enjoying Paris From Atop the Eiffel Tower

Throughout his life, Adolf Hitler fancied himself a man of art and architecture. Growing up, his greatest hope had been to gain admission to the prestigious Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, and the rejection of his application was the most devastating setback of his youth. So when Paris fell to the German Blitzkrieg in the summer of 1940, Hitler hurried to the captured French capital to savor his victory, and to savor the City of Lights’ art and architecture.

The Fuhrer sought to gaze at a captive Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower, but patriotic Frenchmen decided to deprive them of that satisfaction. So they severed the cables for the tower’s elevators. Without an elevator, reaching the top of the Eiffel Tower would have required a strenuous climb of 1500 steps. Hitler, in his 50s and not in the best of shape, decided to forego the pleasure. So instead of viewing Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower, the Nazi leader had to settle for having photos taken of him, with Paris’ iconic symbol in the background.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Eddie Chapman. Pintrest

13. An English Criminal Derailed Germany’s Rocket Bombardment of London

Eddie Chapman was an English career criminal, who was serving a two year prison stint for burglary in Britain’s Channel Islands, when they were captured by the Germans in 1940. He volunteered to work for the invaders, so they trained him in explosives and sabotage, before parachuting him into Britain in 1942. He was arrested soon thereafter, and immediately offered to become a double agent. His offer was accepted, and he began feeding the Nazis fake reports and carrying out fake sabotage missions, that raised his stock with German intelligence.

Chapman was recalled to Germany, lionized as a hero, and awarded an Iron Cross. He was sent back to Britain in the summer of 1944, to report on the effectiveness of the German V1 and V2 rocket bombardment of London. Back under British control, Chapman fed the Germans false information about the rockets’ impact points. That led the Germans to shift the aim points, which caused the rockets to strike parts of London with a lower population density, which resulted in fewer overall casualties.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Mitsuyasu Maeno. Historic Images

12. A Japanese Porn Actor Protested Political Corruption by Kamikaze Diving a Plane Into a Yakuza Boss’ Home

Lockheed had a problem with its F-104 fighter: it was a poorly designed airplane, that tended to spin out of control. Rather than fix the problem, Lockheed figured that it would be easier to simply bribe foreign government officials into buying the F-104, despite its defects. So Lockheed hired Yoshio Kodama, a Japanese war criminal who became a Yakuza boss after WWII, as a “consultant”, to broker bribes for Japanese government officials. About $3 million in bribes were paid to the office of a Japanese Prime Minister, and millions more went to Japanese defense officials. Japan duly inked deals to buy Lockheed airplanes.

When corruption was revealed, it rocked Japan, and protesters picketed the offices and homes of those involved. On March 23rd, 1976, throngs of news reporters covered protesters surrounding Kodama’s mansion in Tokyo, amidst a heavy police presence. While that was going on, a porn actor named Mitsuyasu Maeno took off from a nearby airport in his private airplane, determined to fly the first Japanese kamikaze mission in over three decades. His target: Yoshio Kodama’s home. After circling the neighborhood and sending a final radio message, “Long live the Emperor! Banzai!“, he dove his airplane into Kodama’s home. Maeno was instantly killed, but the Yakuza boss was in another part of the mansion, and escaped unharmed.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Ellen Rometsch. NY Daily News

11. JFK and Gerald Ford Were Intimate with the Same Communist Spy

Ellen Rometsch was an East German spy tasked with befriending powerful American politicians. She got a job as a hostess in a Washington, DC, salon organized by Bobby Baker, an LBJ aide, as a private club for politicians. Rometsch arranged for hookers, and went on dates with some of the members herself. She got Baker to introduce her to then-president John F. Kennedy. As Baker put it: “She really loved oral sex. … She went the White House several times. And president Kennedy called me and said it’s the best head-job he’d ever had, and he thanked me“. She also hooked up with Gerald Ford, then a Congressman.

After JFK was killed, Ford was appointed to the Warren Commission investigating the assassination. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was frustrated because the Commission was not sharing its findings with him. However, he had dirt on Ford: his affair with Rometsch. So he blackmailed Ford into sharing the Commission’s findings. As to Rometsch, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy got wind that the FBI was investigating her as a suspected spy, took a hard look at her trail of seductions through Washington, and decided to nip a potential scandal in the bud by deporting her.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Mariamne Leaving the Judgment Seat of Herod, 1887, by John William Waterhouse. Painting History

10. Herod the Great… the Great Necrophiliac

Herod the Great (74 BC – circa 1 AD) is best known from the Christian Gospels as the king who ordered the Massacre of the Innocents when Jesus was born. He rose to power after marrying into the ruling Jewish Hasmonean Dynasty, tying the knot with princess Mariamne, a stunning beauty and one of the last Hasmonean heirs. He then killed her relatives, and got Judea’s Roman overlords to make him king of the Jews. Herod was crazy about Mariamne, being both passionately in love with her, and insanely jealous. However, Herod’s father had killed Mariamne’s father and embalmed him in a tub of honey, while Herod had killed her brother and uncle, so she did not love him back, even as she bore him five children.

Mariamne hated Herod, and their children grew up hating him as well. So Herod eventually had Mariamne executed, as well as his two older sons. He was grief stricken afterwards, broke into uncontrollable fits of weeping, went into a deep depression, and was unable to let her go – literally. According to the Talmud, Herod had his wife’s corpse preserved in honey, and kept making love to her body for seven whole years. The Talmud described it as Herod “fulfilling his animalistic desires” with the corpse.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
The IG Farben conglomerate. AHRP

9. The Makers of the Gas Used in the Holocaust Are Thriving Today

When the Holocaust began, German authorities deemed their initial methods of killing, such as mass shootings or gassing victims in vans, were inefficient. So the chemical conglomerate IG Farben recommended the use of one of its insecticides, Zyklon-B, as a quick way to kill large numbers of people. Thus were born the gas chambers of the extermination camps. IG Farben went on to produce and supply the Nazis with all the Zyklon-B gas canisters they needed to kill millions of men, women, and children. It also set up factories in the extermination camps, where it used slave labor on a massive scale.

After the war, 24 IG Farben directors were indicted for war crimes, of whom 13 were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. All of them were released early, and most were restored to their directorships or resumed their business careers. Some of them even went on to win civilian medals from the West German government. The conglomerate itself survived the war, until it was split into its original constituent companies. They included Bayer, the aspirin maker. It is not the only surviving member of IG Farben: the chemical giant BASF, which posted sales of more than € 70 billion in 2015, was also once a part of the Nazi conglomerate.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Victim of the Wire of Death. Pintrest

8. An Electric Fence Across the Belgian-Dutch Border Killed Thousands

When Germany occupied Belgium in WWI, it was faced with a porous Belgian-Dutch border through which smugglers, spies, and saboteurs, slipped back and forth to the neutral Netherlands, and prisoners of war escaped to freedom . By the end of 1914, over a million Belgians had fled the country. Guarding that border required many German soldiers, who were desperately needed elsewhere. So the occupiers decided to economize on manpower by using an electric fence.

Early in 1915, construction commenced on a 5 to 10 foot high electric fence, with 2000 to 6000 volt wires running through it, and covering over 125 miles of border. Those caught within 100 to 550 yards of the fence who could not explain their presence were summarily shot. By war’s end, about 3000 people had been killed along what came to be known as “The Wire of Death”, and newspapers in the Netherlands carried almost daily reports of unfortunates who had been “lightninged to death”. However, the fence did not eliminate illegal crossings, although it reduced them. Many crossed the border using creative methods such as tunneling beneath the fence, pole vaulting it, using high ladders, or tying porcelain plates to their shoes as insulation.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Victorian cops. The Victorian Web

7. 19th Century Londoners Attacked Cops For Fun

For decades after London’s cops, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) were formed in 1829, the legitimacy of police and the need for their services was questioned by many Victorians. As a result, MPS officers had a fraught relationship with the public they were sworn to serve. Indeed, throughout much of the nineteenth century, MPS bobbies were held in low esteem by much of the public: they were not only derided and disrespected, but were also frequently actively trolled, baited, and attacked for fun.

Many Londoners enjoyed leading policemen on merry chases, while others simply attacked them out of the blue. More creative were some gangs of working class youths, who often collaborated to set up ambushes for MPS officers, baiting the cops into chasing them down alleys and footpaths strung with trip wires. The wires’ release would spring Loony Toons-type booby traps, causing bricks to smash into the cops, or tipping buckets full of refuse to fall upon their heads.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Victims of the Setif Massacre. World Bulletin

6. A WWII Victory Parade Ended With the Massacre of Tens of Thousands

During WWII, 200,000 Algerians were conscripted into the French military by their colonial overlords. When Germany surrendered, thousands of Algerian men, women, and children, held a victory parade in the town of Setif, to lay a wreath at a monument commemorating the Algerians killed. The parade angered French settlers and French police, because some marchers carried placards stating “We Want Equality“, and “End the Occupation“, while others called for the release of Algerian political prisoners. The French opened fire on the marchers, triggering widespread rioting, followed by attacks on French settlers in the surrounding countryside in which about 100 were killed.

The French responded with a campaign of collective punishment. French warships bombarded native Algerian neighborhoods in Setif, dive bombers flattened over 40 nearby villages, and soldiers carried out a ratissage, or “raking over” of Algerian rural communities suspected of involvement in the unrest, in which thousands were shot. French settlers went on a rampage in which they lynched Algerians seized from local jails, shot natives out of hand, tortured them to death, or doused them in fuel and set them on fire. The exact number of victims is unknown, but most historians put the death toll within a range of 6000 to 20,000, while some contemporary sources put the figure as high as 45,000.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Eighteenth century actor Charles Bannister, as Polly Peachum. British Museum

5. ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ Was So Hilarious, A Theatergoer Laughed Herself to Death

In April of 1782, a Mrs. Fitzherbert went out with some friends to see The Beggar’s Opera in London, starring a popular actor named Charles Bannister. When Bannister appeared onstage in drag, portraying a character named Polly Peachum, the audience was thrown into fits of laughter. The audience eventually collected itself, wiped the tears from its eyes, and resumed watching the play. Not so, Mrs. Fitzherbert. As described by The Gentleman’s Magazine soon thereafter: “Not being able to banish the figure from her memory, she was thrown into hysterics, which continued without intermission until she expired on Friday morning

Another contemporary source described it in more detail: “Mrs. Fitzherbert, the widow of a Northamptonshire clergyman, had been with some friends to Drury Lane on the evening of 17 April 1782 to see the transvestite ‘Beggar’s Opera’ in which Charles Bannister played Polly. This lady was overcome by laughter to the extent that she had to leave before the end of the second act. She continued in hysterics until the morning of 19 April, when she died“.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Aftermath of the Black Tom Island Explosion. National Park Service

4. Kaiser Wilhelm’s Saboteurs Almost Blew Up the Statue of Liberty

Visitors used to be able to go up to the Statue of Liberty’s torch, but today, they can only go as high as the crown, thanks to WWI German agents. Their target was Black Tom Island, a major munitions depot back then, in New York Harbor, just off the New Jersey shore. When WWI started, the island’s warehouses could barely keep up with the combatant’s orders for munitions. Both sides could technically buy American munitions, but only the Entente, whose navies controlled the seas, could transport them. So Germans agents were sent to do something about that.

On the night of July 30th, 1916, Black Tom Island had about two million pounds of munitions in freight trains and barges. Shortly after midnight, guards noticed a series of small fires on the piers, and took to their heels, fearing an explosion. At 2:08 AM, a massive explosion hurtled debris for over a mile, shattered windows up to 25 miles away, and caused about half a billion dollars in damages. The actual death toll is unknown, as there were many housing barges nearby, and many victims are thought to have been incinerated. The blast and debris struck the Statue of Liberty, popping rivets in its upraised arm holding the torch, and that part of the statue has been closed to the public ever since.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
The Black Stone of the Kaaba. Pintrest

3. Medieval Muslim Terrorists Sacked Mecca

The Qarmatians were bandits in 9th Arabia, who preyed on caravans, until they began following a mystic who preached that the End Times were nigh. They morphed into a heretical millenarian cult, and captured eastern Arabia and Bahrain, where they founded a utopian religious republic in 899. Believing that pilgrimage to Mecca, a pillar of Islam, was a superstition, the Qarmatians attacked pilgrim caravans, and in 906, massacred over 20,000 pilgrims. In 930, as part of their millenarian quest to speed up the End Days, they seized Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest cities, and sacked both.

The Qarmatians killed over 30,000 pilgrims in Mecca, desecrated religious sites, and polluted the holy Well of Zamzam by filling it with corpses. They also seized the Black Stone, a meteorite rock affixed to the Kaaba and deemed holy by Muslims, took it back to their republic, and smashed it to pieces. They held the shards for a huge ransom, that was paid by the Abbasid Caliph, who then reassembled the bits and restored them to the Kaaba. Pilgrimage ceased for nearly a decade, and only resumed after the Qarmatians were paid protection money by the region’s states to stay away from the holy cities. The payments continued until the Abbasid defeated the Qarmatians in 976.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Curved blade favored by the Sicarii. Medium

2. History’s First Terrorists Hailed From… The Holy Lands

The Zealots were 1st century AD Jewish radicals who sought to free the Holy Lands from Roman occupation. However, a splinter group known as the Sicarii thought the Zealots were too soft, so they upped the stakes and became history’s earliest identifiable terrorists. The Sicarii, named after their knives, or sicae, blended into crowds at public gatherings, then suddenly charged their victim, stabbed them, and vanished back into the crowd in the ensuing confusion. They primarily targeted the pro-Roman Jewish aristocracy, and their victims included a High Priest of the Jewish Temple, after whose killing they went on a terrifying assassination spree.

The Sicarii sought to provoke the Romans, who needed little provocation before resorting to massacres and collective punishment. That kept discontent smoldering, lit new flames of resentment, and furnished a steady stream of new recruits from the families and friends of Roman victims. The Sicarii also engaged in sabotage to worsen the public’s living conditions and keep it disgruntled. Gifted with an occupier ready to resort to indiscriminate violence, Sicarii invited massive Roman retaliation, to force the hands of fence sitters. They could do nothing and still end up massacred or enslaved by angry Romans in no mood to distinguish “good” natives from bad, or join the resistance in a bid to gain freedom, or at least the dignity of an honorable death.

20 Facts that History Class Didn’t Cover
Japanese troops shelling the German settlement in Tsingtao, China. David Doughty

1. Japan And Germany Were Enemies in WWI

Japan was WWII’s second main Axis power, but two decades early, in WWI, Japan had fought with the western democracies against Germany. It was not out of any philosophical affinity for democracy. In 1914, the Japanese government realized that its interests were best served by joining the Entente powers, so it approached Britain, with whom it had an alliance treaty, and proposed joining the war in exchange for Germany’s Pacific possessions. The British wanted Japan to counter German naval power in East Asia, so they accepted. Japan duly declared war against Germany on August 23rd, 1914, and against Austria-Hungary two days later.

Ten days later, Japanese forces besieged the German settlement in Tsingtao, China, and captured it on November 7th. Simultaneously, the Japanese Navy seized Germany’s Pacific possessions of the Marianas, Carolines, and Marshall islands. Having fulfilled its part of the bargain by suppressing the Germans in the Far East, and chasing the German East Asiatic Squadron out of the Pacific, Japan spent the rest of the war making the best of it. By 1917, millions had died in Europe, but in Japan, the conflict meant not hardship, but a wartime boom, as Japanese industry and factories went full blast in producing goods for her insatiable allies.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Baltimore Sun, March 25th, 2005 – English Civil War Led to Battle on Severn

Cracked – 6 Amazing Facts That’ll Change the Way You Look at History

Encyclopedia Britannica – Mariamne, Wife of Herod

GM Watch – Bayer and the Holocaust

International Encyclopedia of the First World War – High Voltage Fence (the Netherlands and Belgium)

Irish Times, May 8th, 2015 – Post-war Massacre Sparked Algerian Independence

Jacobin, August 28th, 2012 – Lincoln and Marx

Japan Times, May 9th, 2017 – Japan’s Little Known But Significant Role in World War I

MacIntyre, Ben – Agent Zigzag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman, Lover, Betrayer, Hero, Spy (2007)

National Park Service – Domestic Sabotage: The Explosion at Black Tom Island

New York Times, July 3rd, 2010 – America’s Revolution: The Prequel

Sandburg, Carl – Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1926)

Spartacus Educational – Ellen Rometsch

ThoughtCo – The Jewish Sicarii: First Century Terrorists

Vintage News – Eiffel Tower’s Cables Were Cut So That Hitler Would Have to Climb the Steps to the Top

Wikipedia – Qarmatians