The Conquest of America
Part 4 out of 4
"Why?" He flashed a straightforward look out of his handsome eyes.
"Because I'm sick of the whole rotten game. I've played my cards and
lost. I'm sure to be found out--some navy man will recognise me, in spite
of this moustache, and--you know what will happen then. I'll be glad of
it, but--before I quit the game I want to do one decent thing. I'm going
to tell you where they've taken Edison."
"You know where Edison is?"
"Yes. Don't speak so loud."
Ryerson leaned closer and whispered: "He's in Richmond, Virginia."
Silently I studied this unhappy man, wondering if he was telling the
truth. He must have felt my doubts.
"Langston, you don't believe me! Why should I lie to you? I tell you I
want to make amends. These German officers trust me. I know their plans
and--Oh, my God, aren't you going to believe me?"
"Go on," I said, impressed by the genuineness of his despair. "What plans
do you know?"
"I know the Germans are disturbed by this patriotic spirit in America.
They're afraid of it. They don't know where hell may break loose
next--after Boston. They're going to leave Boston alone, everything alone
for the present--until they get their new army."
"Yes--from Germany. They have sent for half a million more men. They'll
have 'em here in a month and--that's why I want to do something--before
it's too late."
As I watched him I began to believe in his sincerity. Handsome fellow! I
can see him now with his flushed cheeks and pleading eyes. A spy! It
would break his sister's heart.
"What can you do?" I asked sceptically.
He looked about him cautiously and lowered his voice.
"I can get Edison away from the Germans, and Edison can destroy their
"Perhaps," said I.
"He says he can."
"I know, but--you say Edison is in Richmond."
"We can rescue him. If you'll only help me, Langston, we can rescue
Edison. I'll go to Richmond with papers to the commanding German general
that will get me anything."
"Papers as a German spy?"
"You can't get to Richmond. You're a prisoner yourself."
"That's where you're going to help me. You must do it--for the
country--for my sister."
[Illustration: AND ON THE MORNING OF JULY 4, TWO OF VON KLUCK'S STAFF
OFFICERS, ACCOMPANIED BY A MILITARY ESCORT, MARCHED DOWN STATE STREET TO
ARRANGE FOR THE PAYMENT OF AN INDEMNITY FROM THE CITY OF BOSTON OF THREE
HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS.]
"Does your sister know--what you are?"
He looked away, and I saw his lips tighten and his hands clench.
"Do you want me to tell her?"
He thought a moment.
"What's the use of hiding it? She's bound to know some day, and--she'll
be glad I've had this little flicker of--decency. Besides, she may have
an idea. Mary's got a good head on her. Poor kid!"
I told Ryerson that I would think the matter over and find some way to
communicate with him later. Then I left him.
I telegraphed at once to Miss Ryerson, who hurried to Chicago, arriving
the next morning, and we spent most of that day together, discussing the
hard problem before us. The girl was wonderfully brave when I told her
the truth about her brother. She said there were circumstances in his
early life that lessened the heinousness of his wrong doing. And she
rejoiced that he was going to make amends. She knew he was absolutely
I suggested that we go to General Wood, who was friendly to both of us,
and tell him the whole truth, but Miss Ryerson would not hear to this.
She would not place Randolph's life in jeopardy by revealing the fact
that he had been a German spy. Her brother must make good before he could
hope to be trusted or forgiven.
"But he's a prisoner; he can do nothing unless he has his liberty," I
"We will get him his liberty; we _must_ get it, but not that way."
For a long time we studied this question in all its phases. How could
Lieutenant Ryerson gain his liberty? How could he get a chance to make
amends for his treachery? And, finally, seeing no other way, we fell back
upon the desperate expedient of an exchange. I would obtain permission
for Miss Ryerson to visit her brother, and they would change clothes, she
remaining as a prisoner in his place while he went forth to undo if
possible the harm that he had done.
The details of this plan we arranged immediately. I saw Ryerson the next
day, and when I told him what his sister was resolved to do in the hope
of saving his honour, he cried like a child and I felt more than ever
convinced of his honest repentance.
We decided upon December 28th for the attempt, and two days before this
Randolph found a plausible excuse for cutting off his moustache. He told
General Langhorne that he had become a convert to the American fashion of
a clean shaven face.
As to the escape itself, I need only say that on December 28th, in the
late afternoon, I escorted Miss Ryerson, carefully veiled, to the Hotel
Blackstone; and an hour later I left the hotel with a person in women's
garments, also carefully veiled. And that night Randolph Ryerson and I
started for Richmond. I may add that I should never have found the
courage to leave that lovely girl in such perilous surroundings had she
not literally commanded me to go.
"We may be saving the nation," she begged. "Go! Go! And--I'll be thinking
of you--praying for you--for you both."
My heart leaped before the wonder of her eyes as she looked at me and
repeated these last words: _"For you both!"_
We left the express at Pittsburg, intending to proceed by automobile
across Pennsylvania, then by night through the mountains of West Virginia
and Virginia; for, of course, we had to use the utmost caution to avoid
the sentries of both armies which were spread over this region.
In Pittsburg we lunched at the Hotel Duquesne, after which Ryerson left
me for a few hours, saying that he wished to look over the ground and
also to procure the services of a high-powered touring car.
"Don't take any chances," I said anxiously.
"I'll be careful. I'll be back inside of two hours," he promised.
But two hours, four hours, six hours passed and he did not come. I dined
alone, sick at heart, wondering if I had made a ghastly mistake.
It was nearly ten o'clock that night when Ryerson came back after seven
hours' absence. We went to our room immediately, and he told me what had
happened, the gist of it being that he had discovered important news that
might change our plans.
"These people trust me absolutely," he said. "They tell me everything."
"You mean--German spies?"
"Yes. Pittsburg is full of 'em. They're plotting to wreck the big steel
plants and factories here that are making war munitions. I'll know more
about that later, but the immediate thing is Niagara Falls."
Then Ryerson gave me my first hint of a brilliant coup that had been
preparing for months by the Committee of Twenty-one and the American high
command, its purpose being to strike a deadly and spectacular blow at the
"This is the closest kind of a secret, it's the great American hope; but
the Germans know all about it," he declared.
"It's a big air-ship, the America, a super-Zeppelin, six hundred feet
long, with apparatus for steering small submarines by radio control--no
men aboard. Understand?"
"You mean no men aboard the submarine?"
"Of course. There will be a whole crew on the air-ship. Nicola Tesla and
John Hays Hammond, Jr., worked out the idea, and Edison was to give the
last touches; but as Edison is a German prisoner, they can't wait for
him. They are going to try the thing on New Year's night against the
German dreadnought _Wilhelm II_ in Boston Harbour."
"Blow up the _Wilhelm II_?"
"Yes, but the Germans are warned in advance. You can't beat their
underground information bureau. They're going to strike first."
"Where is this air-ship?"
"On Grand Island, in the Niagara River, all inflated, ready to sail, but
she never will sail unless we get busy. After tomorrow night there won't
be any _America_."
In the face of this critical situation, I saw that we must postpone our
trip to Richmond and, having obtained from Ryerson full details of the
German plot to destroy the _America_, I took the first train for Niagara
Falls--after arranging with my friend to rejoin him in Pittsburg a few
days later--and was able to give warning to Colonel Charles D. Kilbourne
of Fort Niagara in time to avert this catastrophe.
The Germans knew that Grand Island was guarded by United States troops
and that the river surrounding it was patrolled by sentry launches; but
the island was large, sixteen miles long and seven miles wide, and under
cover of darkness it was a simple matter for swimmers to pass unobserved
from shore to shore.
On the night of December 30th, 1921, in spite of the cold, five hundred
German spies had volunteered to risk their lives in this adventure. They
were to swim silently from the American and Canadian shores, each man
pushing before him a powerful fire bomb protected in a water-proof case;
then, having reached the island, these five hundred were to advance
stealthily upon the hangar where the great air-ship, fully inflated, was
straining at her moorings. When the rush came, at a pre-arranged signal,
many would be killed by American soldiers surrounding the building, but
some would get through and accomplish their mission. One successful fire
bomb would do the work.
Against this danger Colonel Kilbourne provided in a simple way. Instead
of sending more troops to guard the island, which might have aroused
German suspicions, he arranged to have two hundred boys, members of the
Athletic League of the Buffalo Public Schools, go to Grand Island
apparently for skating and coasting parties. It was brisk vacation
weather and no one thought it strange that the little ferry boat from
Buffalo carried bands of lively youngsters across the river for these
seasonable pleasures. It was not observed that the boat also carried
rifles and ammunition which the boys had learned to use, in months of
drill and strenuous target practice, with the skill of regulars.
There followed busy hours on Grand Island as we made ready for the
crisis. About midnight, five hundred Germans, true to their vow, landed
at various points, and crept forward through the darkness, carrying their
bombs. As they reached a circle a thousand yards from the huge hangar
shed they passed unwittingly two hundred youthful riflemen who had dug
themselves in under snow and branches and were waiting, thrilling for the
word that would show what American boys can do for their country. Two
hundred American boys on the thousand yard circle! A hundred American
soldiers with rifles and machine guns at the hangar! And the Germans
We had learned from Ryerson that the enemy would make their rush at two
o'clock in the morning, the signal being a siren shriek from the Canadian
shore, so at a quarter before two, knowing that the Germans were surely
in the trap, Colonel Kilbourne gave the word, and, suddenly, a dozen
search-lights swept the darkness with pitiless glare. American rifles
spoke from behind log shelters, Maxims rattled their deadly blast, and
the Germans, caught between two fires, fled in confusion, dropping their
bombs. As they approached the thousand-yard line they found new enemies
blocking their way, keen-eyed youths whose bullets went true to the mark.
And the end of it was, leaving aside dead and wounded, that _two hundred
Buffalo schoolboys made prisoners of the three hundred and fifty German
And the great seven-million dollar air-ship _America_, with all her radio
mysteries, was left unharmed, ready to sail forth the next night, New
Year's Eve, and make her attack upon the superdreadnought Wilhelm II, on
January 1, 1922. I prayed that this would be a happier year for the
United States than 1921 had been.
NOVEL ATTACK OF AMERICAN AIRSHIP UPON GERMAN SUPER-DREADNOUGHT
I come now to the period of my great adventures beginning on New Year's
Day, 1922, when I sailed from Buffalo aboard the airship _America_ on her
expedition against the German fleet. For the first time in my modest
career I found myself a figure of nation-wide interest, not through any
particular merit or bravery of my own, but by reason of a series of
fortunate accidents. I may say that I became a hero in spite of myself.
In recognition of the service I had rendered in helping to save the great
airship from German spies, I had been granted permission, at General
Wood's recommendation, to sail as a passenger aboard this dreadnought of
the skies and to personally witness her novel attack with torpedoes
lowered from the airship and steered from the height of a mile or two by
radio control. Never before had a newspaper correspondent received such a
privilege and I was greatly elated, not realising what extraordinary
perils I was to face in this discharge of my duty.
I was furthermore privileged to be present at a meeting of the Committee
of Twenty-one held on the morning of January 1st, 1922, at the Hotel
Lenox in Buffalo. Various details of our airship expedition were
discussed and there was revealed to me an important change in the
_America's_ strategy which I will come to presently.
Surveying the general military situation, John Wanamaker read reports
showing extraordinary progress in military preparedness all over the
country, especially in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the
women, recently victorious in their suffrage fight, were able to make
their patriotic zeal felt in aggressive legislation. Strange to say,
American wives and mothers were the leaders in urging compulsory physical
and military training, a year of it, on the Swiss plan, for all American
young men of twenty and a month of it every five years afterwards for all
men up to fifty.
The Committee were in the midst of a discussion of Charles M. Schwab's
plan providing that American soldiers carry armour, a helmet, breastplate
and abdominal covering of light but highly tempered steel, when there
came a dramatic interruption. A guard at the door of the Council Room
entered to say that Mr. Henry A. Wise Wood, President of the Aero Club of
America, was outside with an urgent communication for the Committee. Mr.
Wise Wood was at once received and informed us that he had journeyed from
Pittsburg bearing news that might have an important bearing upon the
"As you know, gentlemen," he said, "we have a wireless station in the
tower of our new Aero Club building in Pittsburg. Yesterday afternoon at
three o'clock the operator received a message addressed to me. It was
very faint, almost a whisper through the air, but he filially got it down
and he is positive it is correct. This message, gentlemen, is from Thomas
"Edison!" exclaimed Andrew Carnegie, "but he is a prisoner of the
"Undoubtedly," agreed Mr. Wise Wood, "but it has occurred to me that the
Germans may have allowed Mr. Edison to fit up a laboratory for his
experiments. They would treat such a man with every consideration."
"They would not allow him to communicate with his friends," objected
"He may not have asked permission," laughed George W. Perkins. "He may
have rigged up some secret contrivance for sending wireless messages."
"Why don't you read what he says?" put in J.P. Morgan.
Mr. Wise Wood drew a folded yellow paper from his pocket and continued:
"This message is unquestionably from Mr. Edison, in spite of the fact
that it is signed _Thaled_. You will agree with me, gentlemen, that
Thaled is a code word formed by putting together the first two letters of
the three names, Thomas Alva Edison."
"Very clever!" nodded Asa G. Candler.
"I don't see that," frowned John D. Rockefeller. "If Mr. Edison wished to
send Mr. Wise Wood a message why should he use a misleading signature?"
"It's perfectly clear," explained James J. Hill. "Mr. Edison has
disguised his signature sufficiently to throw off the track any German
wireless operator who might catch the message, while leaving it
understandable to us."
"Read the message," repeated J.P. Morgan. Whereupon Mr. Wise Wood opened
the yellow sheet and read:
"Strongly disapprove attack against German fleet by airship _America_.
Satisfied method radio control not sufficiently perfected and effort
doomed to failure. Have worked out sure and simple way to destroy fleet.
Details shortly or deliver personally. THALED".
This message provoked fresh discussion and there were some, including
Elihu Root, who thought that Mr. Edison had never sent this message. It
was a shrewd trick of the Germans to prevent the _America_ from sailing.
If Mr. Edison could tell us so much why did he not tell us more? Why did
he not say where he was a prisoner? And explain on what he rested his
hopes of communicating with us in person.
"Gentlemen," concluded Mr. Root, "we know that Germany is actually
embarking a new army of half a million men to continue her invasion of
America. Already she holds our Atlantic seaboard, our proudest cities,
and within a fortnight she will strike again. I say we must strike first.
We have a chance in Boston Harbour and we must take it. This single coup
may decide the war by showing the invader that at last we are ready.
Gentlemen, I move that the airship _America_ sail to-night for Boston
Harbour, as arranged."
I longed to step forward to tell what I knew about Edison, how he was a
prisoner in Richmond, Virginia, and how an effort was actually on foot to
rescue him, but I had promised Miss Ryerson not to betray her brother's
shame and was forced to hold my tongue. Besides, I could not be sure
whether this wireless message did or did not come from Edison.
The Committee finally decided that the _America_ should sail that
evening, but should change her point of attack so as to take the enemy
unprepared, if possible; in other words, we were to strike not at the
German warships in Boston Harbour, but at the great super-dreadnought
_Bismarck_, flagship of the hostile fleet, which was lying in the upper
bay off New York City.
I pass over the incidents of our flight to Manhattan and come to the
historic aerial struggle over New York harbour in which I nearly lost my
life. The _America_ was convoyed by a fleet of a hundred swift and
powerful battle aeroplanes and we felt sure that these would be more than
able to cope with any aeroplane force that the Germans could send against
us. And to avoid danger from anti-aircraft guns we made a wide detour to
the south, crossing New Jersey on about the line of Asbury Park and then
sailing to the north above the open sea, so that we approached New York
harbour from the Atlantic side. At this time (it was a little after
midnight) we were sailing at a height of two miles with our aeroplanes
ten miles behind us so that their roaring propellers might not betray us
and, for a time, as we drifted silently off Rockaway Beach it seemed that
we would be successful in our purpose to strike without warning.
There, just outside the Narrows, lay the _Bismarck_, blazing with the
lights of some New Year's festivity and resounding with music. I remember
a shrinking of unprofessional regret at the thought of suddenly
destroying so fair and happy a thing.
I was presently drawn from these meditations by quick movements of the
airship crew and a shrill voice of command.
"Ready to lower! Let her go!" shouted Captain Nicola Tesla, who had
volunteered for this service.
"Bzzz!" sang the deck winches as they swiftly unrolled twin lengths of
piano wire that supported a pendant torpedo with its radio appliances and
its red, white and green control lights shining far below us in the void.
"Easy! Throw on your winch brakes," ordered Tesla, studying his dials for
A strong southeast wind set the wires twisting dangerously, but, by
skillful manoeuvring, we launched the first torpedo safely from the
height of half a mile and, with a thrill of joy, I followed her lights
(masked from the enemy) as they moved swiftly over the bay straight
towards the flagship. The torpedo was running under perfect wireless
control. Tesla smiled at his keyboard.
Alas! Our joy was soon changed to disappointment. Our first torpedo
missed the Bismarck by a few yards, went astern of her because at the
last moment she got her engines going and moved ahead. Somehow the
Germans had received warning of their danger.
Our second torpedo wandered vainly over the ocean because we could not
follow her guide lights, the enemy blinding us with the concentrated
glare of about twenty of their million-candle power searchlights.
And our third torpedo was cut off from radio control because we suddenly
found ourselves surrounded y the two fleets of battling aeroplanes,
caught between two fires, ours and the enemy's, and were obliged to run
for our lives with an electric generator shattered by shrapnel. I was so
busy caring for two of our crew who were wounded that I had no time to
observe this thrilling battle in the air.
It was over quickly, I remember, and our American aeroplanes, vastly
superior to the opposing fleet, had gained a decisive victory, so that we
were just beginning to breathe freely when an extraordinary thing
happened, a rare act of heroism, though I say it for the Germans.
There came a signal, the dropping of a fire bomb with many colours, and
instantly the remnant of the enemy's air strength, four biplanes and a
little yellow-striped monoplane, started at us, in a last desperate
effort, with all the speed of their engines. Our aerial fleet saw the
manouver and swept towards the biplanes, intercepting them, one by one,
and tearing them to pieces with sweeping volleys of our machine guns, but
the little monoplane, swifter than the rest, dodged and circled and
finally found an opening towards the airship and came through it at two
miles a minute, straight for us and for death, throwing fire bombs and
yelling for the Kaiser.
"Save yourselves!" shouted Tesla as the enemy craft ripped into our great
yellow gas bag.
Bombs were exploding all about us and in an instant the _America_ was in
flames. We knew that our effort had failed.
As the stricken airship, burning fiercely, sank rapidly through the
night, I realised that I must fight for my life in the ice cold waters of
the bay. I hate cold water and, being but an indifferent swimmer, I
hesitated whether to throw off my coat and shoes, and, having finally
decided, I had only time to rid myself of one shoe and my coat when I saw
the surging swells directly beneath me and leapt overside just in time to
escape the crash of blazing wreckage.
Dazed by the blow of a heavy spar and the shock of immersion, I remember
nothing more until I found myself on dry land, hours later, with kind
friends ministering to me. It seems that a party of motor boat rescuers
from Brooklyn worked over me for hours before I returned to consciousness
and I lay for days afterward in a state of languid-weakness, indifferent
DESPERATE EFFORT TO RESCUE THOMAS A. EDISON FROM THE GERMANS
I wish I might detail my experiences during the next fortnight, how I was
guarded from the Germans (they had put a price on my head) by kind
friends in Brooklyn, notably Mrs. Anne P. L. Field, the Sing-Sing angel,
who contrived my escape through the German lines of occupation with the
help of a swift motor boat and two of her convict proteges.
We landed in Newark one dark night after taking desperate chances on the
bay and running a gauntlet of German sentries who fired at us repeatedly.
Then, thanks to my old friend, Francis J. Swayze of the United States
Supreme Court, I was passed along across northern New Jersey, through
Dover, where "Pop" Losee, the eloquent ice man evangelist, saved me from
Prussians guarding the Picatinny arsenal, then through Allentown, Pa.,
where Editor Roth swore to a suspicious German colonel that I was one of
his reporters, and, finally, by way of Harrisburg to Pittsburg, where at
last I was safe.
To my delight I found Randolph Ryerson anxiously awaiting my arrival and
eager to proceed with our plan to rescue Edison. We set forth for
Richmond the next day, January 16th, 1922, in a racing automobile and
proceeded with the utmost caution, crossing the mountains of West
Virginia and Virginia by night to avoid the sentries of both armies.
Twice, being challenged, we drove on unheeding at furious speed and
escaped in the darkness, although shots were fired after us.
As morning broke on January 20th we had our first view of the
seven-hilled city on the James, with its green islands and its tumbling
muddy waters. We knew that Richmond was held by the Germans, and as we
approached their lines I realised the difficulty of my position, for I
was now obliged to trust Ryerson absolutely and let him make use of his
credentials from the Crown Prince which presented him as an American spy
in the German service. He introduced me as his friend and a person to be
absolutely trusted, which practically made me out a spy also. It was
evident that, unless we succeeded in our mission, I had compromised
myself gravely. Ryerson was reassuring, however, and declared that
everything would be all right.
We took a fine suite at the Hotel Jefferson, where we found German
officers in brilliant uniforms strolling about the great rotunda or
refreshing themselves with pipes and beer in the palm room nearthe white
marble statue of Thomas Jefferson.
"If you'll excuse me now for a few hours," said Ryerson, who seemed
rather nervous, "I will get the information we need from some of these
fellows. Let us meet here at dinner."
During the afternoon I drove about this peaceful old city with its
gardens and charming homes and was allowed to approach the threatening
siege guns which the Germans had set up on the broad esplanade of
Monument Avenue between the equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee and the
tall white shaft that bears the heroic figure of Jefferson Davis. These
guns were trained upon the gothic tower of the city hall and upon the
cherished grey pile of the Capitol, with its massive columns and its
shaded park where grey squirrels play about the famous statue of George
My driver told me thrilling stories of the fighting here when Field
Marshal von Mackensen marched his army into Richmond. Alas for this proud
Southern city! What could she hope to do against 150,000 German
soldiers? For the sake of her women and children she decided to do
nothing officially, but the Richmond "Blues" had their own ideas and a
crowd of Irish patriots from Murphy's Hotel had theirs, and when the
German army, with bands playing and eagles flying, came tramping down
Broad Street, they were halted presently by four companies of eighty men
each in blue uniforms and white plumed hats drawn up in front of the
statues of Stonewall Jackson and Henry Clay ready to die here on this
pleasant autumn morning rather than have this most sacred spot in the
South desecrated by an invader. And die here they did or fell wounded,
the whole body of Richmond "Blues," under Colonel W. J. Kemp, while their
band played "Dixie" and the old Confederate flags waved over them.
As for the Irishmen, it seems that they marched in a wild and cursing mob
to the churchyard of old St. John's where Patrick Henry hurled his famous
defiance at the British and in the same spirit--"Give me liberty or give
me death"--they fought until they could fight no longer.
As we drove through East Franklin Street I was startled to see a German
flag flying over the honoured home of Robert E. Lee and a German sentry
on guard before the door. I was told that prominent citizens of Richmond
were held here as hostages, among these being Governor Richard Evelyn
Byrd, John K. Branch, Oliver J. Sands, William H. White, Bishop R. A.
Gibson, Bishop O'Connell, Samuel Cohen and Mayor Jacob Umlauf who, in
spite of his German descent, had proved himself a loyal American.
I finished the afternoon at a Red Cross bazaar held in the large
auditorium on Gary Street under the patronage of Mrs. Norman B. Randolph,
Mrs. B. B. Valentine, Miss Jane Rutherford and other prominent Richmond
ladies. I made several purchases, including a cane made from a plank of
Libby prison and a stone paper weight from Edgar Allan Poe's boyhood home
on Fifth Street.
Leaving the bazaar, I turned aimlessly into a quiet shaded avenue and was
wondering what progress Ryerson might be making with his investigations,
when I suddenly saw the man himself on the other side of the way, talking
earnestly with a young woman of striking beauty and of foreign
appearance. She might have been a Russian or an Austrian.
There was something in this unexpected meeting that filled me with a
vague alarm. Who was this woman? Why was Ryerson spending time with her
that was needed for our urgent business? I felt indignant at this lack of
seriousness on his part and, unobserved, I followed the couple as they
climbed a hill leading to a little park overlooking the river, where they
seated themselves on a bench and continued their conversation.
Presently I passed so close to them that Ryerson could not fail to see me
and, pausing at a short distance, I looked back at him. He immediately
excused himself to his fair companion and joined me. He was evidently
"Wait here," he whispered. "I'll be back."
With that he rejoined the lady and immediately escorted her down the
hill. It was fully an hour before he returned and I saw he had regained
"I suppose you are wondering who that lady was?" he began lightly.
"Well, yes, just a little. Is she the woman you told me about--the
"No, no! But she's a very remarkable person," he explained. "She is known
in every capital of Europe. They say the German government pays her fifty
thousand dollars a year."
"She's quite a beauty," said I.
He looked at me sharply. "I suppose she is, but that's not the point.
She's at the head of the German secret service work in America. She knows
all about Edison."
"She has told me where he is. That's why we came up here. Do you see that
I followed his gesture across the valley and on a hill opposite saw a
massive brick structure with many small windows, and around it a high
white painted wall.
"That's the state penitentiary. Edison is there in the cell that was once
occupied by Aaron Burr--you remember--when he was tried for treason?"
All this was said in so straightforward a manner that I felt ashamed of
my doubts and congratulated my friend warmly on his zeal and success.
"Just the same, you didn't like it when you saw me with that woman--did
you?" he laughed.
I acknowledged my uneasiness and, as we walked back to the hotel, spoke
earnestly with Ryerson about the grave responsibility that rested upon
us, upon me equally with him. I begged him to justify his sister's faith
and love and to rise now with all his might to this supreme duty and
He seemed moved by my words and assured me that he would do the right
thing, but when I pressed him to outline our immediate course of action,
he became evasive and irritable and declared that he was tired and needed
a night's rest before going into these details.
As I left him at the door of his bedroom I noticed a bulky and strongly
corded package on the table and asked what it was, whereupon, in a flash
of anger, he burst into a tirade of reproach, saying that I did not trust
him and was prying into his personal affairs, all of which increased my
"I must insist on knowing what is in that package," I said quietly. "You
needn't tell me now, because you're not yourself, but in the morning we
will take up this whole affair. Goodnight."
"Goodnight," he answered sullenly.
Here was a bad situation, and for hours I did not sleep, asking myself if
I had made a ghastly mistake in trusting Ryerson. Was his sister's
sacrifice to be in vain? Was the man a traitor still, in spite of
Towards three o'clock I fell into fear-haunted dreams, but was presently
awakened by a quick knocking at my door and, opening, I came face to face
with my companion, who stood there fully dressed.
"For God's sake let me come in." He looked about the room nervously.
"Have you anything to drink?"
I produced a flask of Scotch whiskey and he filled half a glass and
gulped it down. Then he drew a massive iron key from his pocket and threw
it on the bed.
"Whatever happens, keep that. Don't let me have it."
I picked up the key and looked at it curiously. It was about four inches
long and very heavy.
"Why don't you want me to let you have it?"
"Because it unlocks a door that would lead me to--hell," he cried
fiercely. Then he reached for the flask.
"No, no! You've had enough," I said, and drew the bottle out of his
reach. "Randolph, you know I'm your friend, don't you? Look at me! Now
what's the matter? What door are you talking about?"
"The door to a wing of the prison where Edison is."
"You said he was in Aaron Burr's cell."
"He's been moved to another part of the building. That woman arranged
He looked at me in a silence of shame, then he forced himself to speak.
"So I could carry out my orders"
"Orders? Not--not German orders?"
He nodded stolidly.
"I'm under her orders--it's the same thing. I can't help it. I can't
stand against her."
"Then she _is_ the countess?"
He bowed his head slowly.
"Yes. I meant to play fair. I would have played fair, but--the
Germans put this woman on our trail when we left Chicago--they
mistrusted something and--" with a gesture of despair, "she found me
in Pittsburg--she--she's got me. I don't care for anything in the world
but that woman."
"It's true. I don't want to live--without her. You needn't cock up your
eyes like that. I'd go back to her now--yes, by God, I'd do this thing
now, if I could."
He had worked himself into a frenzy of rage and pain, and I sat still
until he grew calm again.
"What thing? What is it she wants you to do?"
"Get rid of you to begin with," he snapped out. "It's easy enough. We go
to the prison--this key lets us in. I leave you in the cell with Edison
and--you saw that package in my room? It's a bomb. I explode it under the
cell and--there you are!"
"You promised to do this?"
"Yes! I'm to get five thousand dollars."
"But you didn't do it, you stopped in time," I said soothingly. "You've
told me the truth now and--we'll see what we can do about it."
He scowled at me.
"You're crazy. We can't do anything about it. The Germans are in control
of Richmond. They're watching this hotel."
Ryerson glanced at his watch.
"Half-past three. I have four hours to live."
"They'll come for me at seven o'clock when they find I haven't carried
out my orders, and I'll be taken to the prison yard and--shot or--hanged.
It's the best thing that can happen to me, but--I'm sorry for you."
"See here, Ryerson," I broke in. "If you're such a rotten coward and liar
and sneak as you say you are, what are you doing here? Why didn't you go
ahead with your bomb business?"
He sat rocking back and forth on the side of the bed, with his head bent
forward, his eyes closed and his lips moving in a sort of thick mumbling.
"I've tried to, but--it's my sister. God! She won't leave me alone. She
said she'd be praying for me and--all night I've seen her face. I've seen
her when we were kids together, playing around in the old home--with
Mother there and--oh, Christ!"
I pass over a desperate hour that followed. Ryerson tried to kill himself
and, when I took the weapon from him, he begged me to put an end to his
sufferings. Never until now had I realised how hard is the way of the
I have often wondered how this terrible night would have ended had not
Providence suddenly intervened. The city hall clock had just tolled five
when there came a volley of shots from the direction of Monument Avenue.
"What's that?" cried my poor friend, his haggard face lighting.
We rushed to the window, where the pink and purple lights of dawn were
spreading over the spires and gardens of the sleeping city.
The shots grew in volume and presently we heard the dull boom of a siege
gun, then another and another.
"It's a battle! They're bombarding the city. Look!" He pointed towards
Capitol Square. "They've struck the tower of the city hall. And over
there! The gas works!" He swept his arm towards an angry red glow that
showed where another shell had found its target.
I shall not attempt to describe the burning of Richmond (for the third
time in its history) on this fateful day, January 20th, 1922, nor to
detail the horrors that attended the destruction of the enemy's force of
occupation. Historians are agreed that the Germans must be held blameless
for firing on the city, since they naturally supposed this daybreak
attack upon their own lines to be an effort of the American army and
retaliated, as best they could, with their heavy guns.
It was days before the whole truth was known, although I cabled the
London _Times_ that night, explaining that the American army had nothing
to do with this attack, which was the work of an unorganised and
irresponsible band of ten or twelve thousand mountaineers gathered from
the wilds of Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky and Tennessee.
They were moon-shiners, feudists, hilly-billies, small farmers and
basket-makers, men of lean and saturnine appearance, some of them horse
thieves, pirates of the forest who cared little for the laws of God or
man and fought as naturally as they breathed.
These men came without flags, without officers, without uniforms. They
crawled on their bellies and carried logs as shields. They knew and cared
nothing for military tactics and their strategy was that of the wild
Indian. They fought to kill and they took no prisoners. It seems that a
Virginia mountain girl had been wronged by a German officer and that was
For weeks the mountaineers had been advancing stealthily through the
wilderness, pushing on by night, hiding in the hills and forests by day;
and they had come the last fifty miles on foot, leaving their horses back
in the hills. They were armed with Winchester rifles, with old-time
squirrel rifles, with muzzle loaders having long octagonal barrels and
fired by cups. Some carried shot guns and cartridges stuffed with
buckshot and some poured in buckshot by the handful. They had no
artillery and they needed none.
The skill in marksmanship of these men is beyond belief, there is nothing
like it in the world. With a rifle they will shoot off a turkey's head at
a hundred yards (this is a common amusement) and as boys, when they go
after squirrels, they are taught to hit the animals' noses only so as not
to spoil the skins. It was such natural fighters as these that George
Washington led against the French and the Indians, when he saved the
wreck of Braddock's army.
The Germans were beaten before they began to fight. They were surrounded
on two sides before they had the least idea that an enemy was near. Their
sentries were shot down before they could give the alarm and the first
warning of danger to the sleeping Teutons was the furious rush of ten
thousand wild men who came on and came on and came on, never asking
quarter and never giving it.
When the Germans tried to charge, the mountaineers threw themselves flat
on the ground and fought with the craft of Indians, dodging from tree to
tree, from rock to rock, but always advancing. When the Germans sent up
two of their scouting aeroplanes to report the number of the enemy's
forces, the enemy picked off the German pilots before the machines were
over the tree tops. Here was a mixture of native savagery and efficiency,
plus the lynching spirit, plus the pre-revolutionary American spirit and
against which, with unequal numbers and complete surprise, no
mathematically trained European force had the slightest chance.
The attack began at five o'clock and at eight everything was over; the
Germans had been driven into the slough of Chickahominy swamp to the
northeast of Richmond (where McClellan lost an army) and slaughtered here
to the last man; whereupon the mountaineers, having done what they came
to do, started back to their mountains.
Meantime Richmond was burning, and my poor friend Ryerson and I were
facing new dangers.
"Come on!" he cried with new hope in his eyes. "We've got a chance, half
Our one thought now was to reach the prison before it was too late, and
we ran as fast as we could through streets that were filled with
terrified and scantily clad citizens who were as ignorant as we were of
what was really happening. A German guard at the prison gates recognised
Ryerson, and we passed inside just as a shell struck one of the tobacco
factories along the river below us with a violent explosion. A moment
later another shell struck the railway station and set fire to it.
Screams of terror arose from all parts of the prison, many of the inmates
being negroes, and in the general confusion, we were able to reach the
unused wing where Edison was confined.
"Give me that big key--quick," whispered Ryerson. "Wait here."
I obeyed and a few minutes later he beckoned to me excitedly from a
passageway that led into a central court yard, and I saw a white-faced
figure bundled in a long coat hurrying after him. It was Thomas A.
Just then there came a rush of footsteps behind us with German shouts and
"They're after us," panted Randolph. "I've got two guns and I'll hold 'em
while you two make a break for it. Take this key. It opens a red door at
the end of this passage after you turn to the right. Run and--tell my
sister I--made good--at the last."
I clasped his hand with a hurried "God bless you" and darted ahead. It
was our only chance and, even as we turned the corner of the passage,
Ryerson began to fire at our pursuers. I heard afterwards that he wounded
five and killed two of them. I don't know whether that was the count, but
I know he held them until we made our escape out into the blazing city.
And I know he gave his life there with a fierce joy, realising that the
end of it, at least, was brave and useful.
RIOTS IN CHICAGO AND GERMAN PLOT TO RESCUE THE CROWN PRINCE
The first weeks of January, 1922, brought increasing difficulties and
perplexities for the German forces of occupation in America. With
comparative ease the enemy had conquered our Atlantic seaboard, but now
they faced the harder problem of holding it against a large and
intelligent and totally unreconciled population. What was to be done with
ten million people who, having been deprived of their arms, their cities
and their liberties, had kept their hatred?
The Germans had suffered heavy losses. The disaster to von Hindenburg's
army in the battle of the Susquehanna had cost them over a hundred
thousand men. The revolt of Boston, the massacre of Richmond, had
weakened the Teuton prestige and had set American patriotism boiling,
seething, from Maine to Texas, from Long Island to the Golden Gate. There
were rumours of strange plots and counter-plots, also of a new great army
of invasion that was about to set sail from Kiel. Evidently the Germans
must have more men if they were to ride safely on this furious American
avalanche that they had set in motion, if they were to tame the fiery
American volcano that was smouldering beneath them.
In this connection I must speak of the famous woman's plot that resulted
in the death of several hundred German officers and soldiers and that
would have caused the death of thousands but for unforeseen developments.
This plot was originated by women leaders of the militant suffrage party
in New York and Pennsylvania (the faction led by Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont
not approving) and soon grew to nation-wide importance with an enrolled
body of twenty thousand militant young women, each one of whom was
pledged to accomplish the destruction of one of the enemy on a, certain
Saturday night between the hours of sunset and sunrise.
By a miracle these women kept their vow of secrecy until the fatal
evening, but at eight o'clock the plot was revealed to Germans in
Philadelphia through the confession of a young Quakeress who, after
playing her part for weeks, had fallen genuinely in love with a Prussian
lieutenant and simply could not bring herself to kill him when the time
I come now to a sensational happening that I witnessed in Chicago, to
which city I had journeyed after the Richmond affair for very personal
reasons. If this were a romance and not a plain recital of facts I should
dwell upon my meeting with Mary Ryerson and our mutual joy in each
finding that the other had escaped unharmed from the perils of our recent
Miss Ryerson, it appeared, after the discovery of her daring disguise had
been released on parole by order of General Langthorne, who believed her
story that she had taken this desperate chance as the only means of
saving Thomas A. Edison. Mary had heard the story of her brother's heroic
death and to still her grief, had thrown herself into work for the Red
Cross fund under Miss Boardman and Mrs. C.C. Rumsey. She had hit upon a
charming way of raising money by having little girls dressed in white
with American flags for sashes, lead white lambs through the streets, the
lambs bearing Red Cross contribution boxes on their backs. By this means
thousands of dollars had been secured.
On the evening following my arrival in Chicago, I had arranged to take
Miss Ryerson to a great recruiting rally in the huge lake-front
auditorium building, but when I called at her boarding-house on Wabash
Avenue, I found her much disturbed over a strange warning that she had
"Something terrible is going to happen tonight," she said. "There will be
riots all over Chicago."
I asked how she knew this and she explained that a deaf and dumb man
named Stephen, who took care of the furnace, a man in whose rather
pathetic case she had interested herself, had told her. It seems he also
took care of the furnace in a neighbouring house which was occupied by a
queer German club, really a gathering place of German spies.
"He overheard things there and told me," she said seriously, whereupon I
burst out laughing.
"What? A deaf and dumb man?"
"You know what I mean. He reads the lips and I know the sign language."
The main point was that this furnace man had begged Miss Ryerson not to
leave her boardinghouse until he returned. He had gone back to the German
club, where he hoped to get definite information of an impending
"It's some big coup they are planning for tonight," she said. "We must
So we waited and presently, along Wabash Avenue, with crashing bands and
a roar of angry voices, came an anti-militarist socialist parade with
floats and banners presenting fire-brand sentiments that called forth
jeers and hisses from crowds along the sidewalks or again enthusiastic
cheers from other crowds of contrary mind.
"You see, there's going to be trouble," trembled the girl, clutching my
arm. "Read that!"
A huge float was rolling past bearing this pledge in great red letters:
"I refuse to kill your father. I refuse to slay your mother's son. I
refuse to plunge a bayonet into the breast of your sweetheart's brother.
I refuse to assassinate you and then hide my stained fists in the folds
of any flag. I refuse to be flattered into hell's nightmare by a class of
well-fed snobs, crooks and cowards who despise our class socially, rob
our class economically and betray our class politically."
At this the hostile crowds roared their approval and disapproval. Also at
another float that paraded these words:
"What is war? For working-class wives--heartache. For working-class
mothers--loneliness. For working-class children--orphanage. For
peace--defeat. For death--a harvest. For nations--debts. For
bankers--bonds, interest. For preachers on both sides--ferocious prayers
for victory. For big manufacturers--business profits. For 'Thou Shalt
Not Kill'--boisterous laughter. For Christ--contempt."
I saw that my companion was deeply moved.
"It's all true, what they say, isn't it?" she murmured.
"Yes, it's true, but--we can't change the world, we can't give up our
country, our independence. Hello!"
A white-faced man had rushed into the parlour, gesticulating violently
and making distressing guttural sounds. It was Stephen.
Uncomprehending, I watched his swift signs.
"What is it? What is he trying to say?"
Her hands flew in eager questions and the man answered her.
"Oh!" she cried. "The riots are a blind to draw away the police and the
troops. They're marching against the Blackstone Hotel now--a thousand
German spies--with rifles."
The Blackstone Hotel! I realised in a moment what that meant. The German
Crown Prince was still a prisoner at the Blackstone, in charge of General
Langhorne. It was a serious handicap to the enemy that we held in our
power the heir to the German throne. They dared not resort to reprisals
against America lest Frederick William suffer.
"They mean to rescue the Crown Prince?"
I rushed to the telephone to call up police headquarters, but the wires
were dead--German spies had seen to that.
"Come!" I said, seizing her arm. "We must hustle over to the auditorium."
Fortunately the great recruiting hall was only a few blocks distant and
as we hurried there Miss Ryerson explained that the furnace man, Stephen,
before coming to us, had run to McCormick College, the Chicago home for
deaf students, and given the alarm.
"What good will that do?"
"What good! These McCormick boys have military drill. They are splendid
shots. Stephen says fifty of them will hold the Germans until our troops
"I hope so."
I need not detail our experiences in the enormous and rather disorderly
crowd that packed the auditorium building except to say that ten minutes
later we left there followed by eighty members of the Camp Fire Club
(they had organised this appeal for recruits), formidable hunters of big
game who came on the run carrying the high power rifles that they had
used against elephants and tigers in India and against moose and
grizzlies in this country. Among them were Ernest Thompson Seton, Dan
Beard, Edward Seymour, Belmore Brown, Edward H. Litchfield and his son,
Under the command of their president, George D. Pratt, these splendid
shots proceeded with all speed to the Blackstone Hotel, where they found
a company of deaf riflemen, under the command of J. Frederick Meagher,
about seventy in all, guarding the doors and windows. Not a moment too
soon did they arrive for, as they entered the hotel, hoarse cries were
heard outside and presently a bomb exploded at the main entrance,
shattering the heavy doors and killing nine of the defenders, including
Melvin Davidson, Jack Seipp and John Clarke, the Blackfoot Indian, famous
for his wood carvings and his unerring marksmanship.
Meantime messengers had been sent in all directions, through the rioting
city, calling for troops and police and in twenty minutes, with the
arrival of strong reinforcements, the danger passed.
But those twenty minutes! Again and again the Germans came forward in
furious assaults with rifles and machine guns. The Crown Prince must be
rescued. At any cost he must be rescued.
No! The Crown Prince was not rescued. The defenders of the Hotel
Blackstone had their way, a hundred and fifty against a thousand, but
they paid the price. Before help came forty members of the Camp Fire Club
and fifty of those brave deaf American students gave up their lives, as
is recorded on a bronze tablet in the hotel corridor that bears witness
to their heroism.
I must now make my last contribution to this chapter of our history,
which has to do with motives that presently influenced the Crown Prince
towards a startling decision. I came into possession of this knowledge as
a consequence of the part I played in rescuing Thomas A. Edison after his
abduction by the Germans.
One of the first questions Mr. Edison asked me as we escaped in a swift
automobile from the burning and shell-wrecked Virginia capital, had a
direct bearing on the ending of the war.
"Mr. Langston," he asked, "did the Committee of Twenty-one receive my
wireless about the airship expedition?"
"Yes, sir, they got it," I replied, and then explained the line of
reasoning that had led the Committee to, disregard Mr. Edison's warning.
[Illustration: "MY FRIENDS, THEY SAY PATRIOTISM IS DEAD IN THIS LAND.
THEY SAY WE ARE EATEN UP WITH LOVE OF HONEY, TAINTED WITH A YELLOW STREAK
THAT MAKES US AFRAID TO FIGHT. IT'S A LIE! I AM SIXTY YEARS OLD, BUT I'LL
FIGHT IN THE TRENCHES WITH MY FOUR SONS BESIDE ME. AND YOU MEN WILL DO
THE SAME. AM I RIGHT?"]
He listened, frowning.
"Huh! That sounds like Elihu Root."
"It was," I admitted.
For hours as we rushed along, my distinguished companion sat silent and I
did not venture to break in upon his meditations, although there were
questions that I longed to ask him. I wondered if it was Widding's sudden
death in the Richmond prison that had saddened him.
It was not until late that afternoon, when we were far back in the Blue
Ridge Mountains, that Mr. Edison's face cleared and he spoke with some
freedom of his plans for helping the military situation.
"There's one thing that troubles me," he reflected as we finished an
excellent meal at the Allegheny Hotel in Staunton, Virginia. "I wonder
if--let's see! You have met the Crown Prince, you interviewed him, didn't
"Twice," said I.
"Is he intelligent--_really _intelligent? A big open-minded man or--is he
only a prince?"
"He's more than a prince," I said, "he's brilliant, but--I don't know how
open-minded he is."
Edison drummed nervously on the table.
"If we were only dealing with a Bismarck or a von Moltke! Anyhow, unless
he's absolutely narrow and obstinate--"
"Good! Where are the Committee of Twenty-one? In Chicago?"
"And the Crown Prince too?"
"We'll be there to-morrow and--listen! We can destroy the German fleet.
Widding's invention will do it. Poor Widding! It broke his heart to see
America conquered when he knew that he could save the nation if somebody
would only listen to him. But nobody would." Edison's deep eyes burned
with anger. "Thank God, I listened."
It seemed like presumption to question Mr. Edison's statement, yet I
ventured to remind him that several distinguished scientists had declared
that the airship _America_ could not fail to destroy the German fleet.
"Pooh!" he answered. "I said the _America_ expedition would fail. The
radio-control of torpedoes is uncertain at the best because of
difficulties in following the guide lights. They may be miles away, shut
off by fog or waves; but this thing of Widding's is sure."
"Has it been tried?"
"Heavens! No! If it had been tried the whole world would be using it.
After we destroy the German fleet the whole world will use it."
"Is it some new principle? Some unknown agency?"
He shook his head. "There's nothing new about it. It's just a sure way to
make an ordinary Whitehead torpedo hit a battleship."
Although I was consumed with curiosity I did not press for details at
this time and my companion presently relapsed into one of his long
We reached Chicago the next afternoon and, as the great inventor left me
to lay his plans before the Committee of Twenty-one, he thanked me
earnestly for what I had done and asked if he could serve me in any way.
"I suppose you know what I would like?" I laughed.
He smiled encouragingly.
"Still game? Well, Mr. Langston, if the Committee approves my plan, and I
think they will, you can get ready for another big experience. Take a
comfortable room at the University Club and wait."
DECISIVE BATTLE BETWEEN GERMAN FLEET AND AMERICAN SEAPLANES CARRYING
I did as he bade me and was rewarded a week later for my faith and
patience. I subsequently learned that this week (the time of my wonderful
experience with Mary Ryerson) was spent by the Committee of Twenty-one in
explaining to the Crown Prince exactly what the Widding-Edison invention
was. Models and blue prints were shown and American and German experts
were called in to explain and discuss all debatable points. And the
conclusion, established beyond reasonable doubt, was that German warships
could not hope to defend themselves against the Widding-Edison method of
torpedo attack. This was admitted by Field Marshal von Hindenburg and by
Professor Hugo Muensterberg, who were allowed to bring scientists of their
own choosing for an absolutely impartial opinion. Unless terms were made
the German fleet faced almost certain destruction.
The Crown Prince was torn by the hazards of this emergency. He could not
disregard such a weight of evidence. He knew that, without the support of
her fleet, Germany must abandon her whole campaign in the United States
and withdraw her forces from the soil of America. This meant failure and
humiliation, perhaps revolution at home. The fate of the Hohenzollern
dynasty might hang upon his decision.
"Gentlemen," he concluded haughtily, "I refuse to yield. If I cable the
Imperial Government in Berlin it will be a strong expression of my wish
that our new army of invasion, under convoy of the German fleet, sail
from Kiel, as arranged, and join in the invasion of America at the
earliest possible moment."
And so it befell. On January 24th a first section of the new German
expedition, numbering 150,000 men, sailed for America. On January 29th
our advance fleet of swift scouting aeroplanes, equipped with wireless
and provisioned for a three days' cruise, flew forth from Grand Island in
the Niagara River, and, following the St. Lawrence, swept out over the
Atlantic in search of the advancing Teutons.
Two days later wireless messages received in Buffalo informed us that
German transports, with accompanying battleships, had been located off
the banks of Newfoundland and on February 1st our main fleet of
aeroboats, a hundred huge seaplanes, equipped with Widding-Edison
torpedoes, sailed away over Lake Erie in line of battle, flying towards
the northeast at the height of half a mile, ready for the struggle that
was to settle the fate of the United States. The prayers of a hundred
million Americans went with them.
And now Mr. Edison kept his promise generously by securing for me the
privilege of accompanying him in a great 900-horse-power seaplane from
which, with General Wood, he proposed to witness our attack upon the
"We may have another passenger," said the General mysteriously as we
stamped about in our heavy coats on the departure field, for it was a
"All aboard," called out the pilot presently from his glass-sheltered
seat and I had just taken my place in the right hand cabin when the sound
of several swiftly arriving motors drew my attention and, looking out, I
was surprised to see the Crown Prince alighting from a yellow car about
which stood a formal military escort. General Wood stepped forward
quickly to receive His Imperial Highness, who was clad in aviator
"Our fourth passenger!" whispered Edison.
"You don't mean that the Crown Prince is going with us?"
The inventor nodded.
I learned afterwards that only at the eleventh hour did the imperial
prisoner decide to accept General Wood's invitation to join this
"I have come, General," said the Prince, saluting gravely, "because I
feel that my presence here with you may enable me to serve my country."
"I am convinced Your Imperial Highness has decided wisely," answered the
commander-in-chief, returning the salute.
An hour later, at the head of one of the aerial squadrons that stretched
behind us in a great V, we were flying over snow-covered fields at eighty
miles an hour, headed for the Atlantic and the German fleet. Our
seaplanes, the most powerful yet built of the Curtiss-Wright 1922 model,
carried eight men, including three that I have not mentioned, a wireless
operator, an assistant pilot and a general utility man who also served as
cook. Two cabins offered surprisingly comfortable accommodations,
considering the limited space, and we ate our first meal with keen
"We have provisions for how many days?" asked the Crown Prince.
"For six days," said General Wood.
"But, surely not oil for six days!"
"We have oil for only forty-eight hours of continuous flying, but Your
Imperial Highness must understand that our seaplanes float perfectly on
the ocean, so we can wait for the German fleet as long as is necessary
and then rise again."
The Prince frowned at this and twisted his sandy moustache into sharper
"When do you expect to sight the German fleet?"
"About noon the day after to-morrow. We shall go out to sea sometime in
the night and most of to-morrow we will spend in ocean manoeuvres. Your
Imperial Highness will be interested."
In spite of roaring propellers and my cramped bunk I slept excellently
that night and did not waken until a sudden stopping of the two engines
and a new motion of the seaplane brought me to consciousness. The day was
breaking over a waste of white-capped ocean and we learned that Commodore
Tower, who was in command of our main air squadron, fearing a storm, had
ordered manoeuvres to begin at once so as to anticipate the gale. We were
planing down in great circles, preparing to rest on the water, and, as I
looked to right and left, I saw the sea strangely covered with the great
winged creatures of our fleet, mottle-coloured, that rose and fell as the
green waves tossed them.
I should explain that these seaplanes were constructed like catamarans
with twin bodies, enabling them to ride on any sea, and between these
bodies the torpedoes were swung, one for each seaplane, with a simple
lowering and releasing device that could be made to function by the touch
of a lever. The torpedo could be fired from the seaplane either as it
rested on the water or as it skimmed over the water, say at a height of
ten feet, and the released projectile darted straight ahead in the line
of the seaplane's flight.
With great interest we watched the manoeuvres which consisted chiefly in
the practice of signals, in rising from the ocean and alighting again and
in flying in various formations.
"From how great a distance do you propose to fire your torpedoes?" the
Crown Prince asked Mr. Edison, speaking through a head-piece to overcome
"We'll run our seaplanes pretty close up," answered the inventor, "so as
to take no chance of missing. I guess we'll begin discharging torpedoes
at about 1,200 yards."
"But your seaplanes will be shot to pieces by the fire of our
"Some will be, but not many. Our attack will be too swift and sudden.
It's hard to hit an aeroplane going a mile in a minute and, before your
gunners can get the ranges, the thing will be over."
"Besides," put in General Wood, "every man in our fleet is an American
who has volunteered for duty involving extreme risk. Every man will give
his life gladly."
About ten o'clock in the morning on February 3rd our front line flyers,
miles ahead of us, wirelessed back word that they had sighted the German
fleet, and, a few minutes later, we saw smoke columns rising on the far
eastern horizon. I shall never forget the air of quiet authority with
which General Wood addressed his prisoner at this critical moment.
"I must inform Your Imperial Highness that I have sent a wireless message
to the admiral of the German fleet informing him of your presence here as
a voluntary passenger. This seaplane is identified by its signal flags
and by the fact that it carries no torpedo. We shall do everything to
protect Your Imperial Highness from danger."
"I thank you, sir," the prince answered stiffly.
General Wood withdrew to his place in the observation chamber beside Mr.
Swiftly we flew nearer to the enemy's battleships, which were advancing
in two columns, led by two super-dreadnoughts, the _Kaiser Friedrich_ and
the _Moltke_, with the admiral's flag at her forepeak and flanked by
lines of destroyers that belched black smoke from their squat funnels.
With our binoculars we saw that there was much confusion on the German
decks as they hastily cleared for action. Our attack had evidently taken
them completely by surprise and they had no flyers ready to dispute our
mastery of the air.
Presently General Wood re-entered the cabin.
"I have a wireless from Commodore Tower saying that everything is ready.
Before it is too late I appeal to Your Imperial Highness to prevent the
destruction of these splendid ships and a horrible loss of life. Will
Your Highness say the word?"
"No!" answered the Crown Prince harshly.
General Wood turned to the cabin window and nodded to the assistant
pilot, who dropped overboard a signal smoke ball that left behind, as it
fell, a greenish spiral trail. Straightway, the Commodore's seaplane, a
mile distant, broke out a line of flags whereupon six flyers from six
different points leaped ahead like sky hounds on the scent, shooting
forward and downward towards their mighty prey. The remainder of the sky
fleet circled away at safe distances of three, four or five miles,
waiting the result of this first blow, confident that the _Moltke_ was
Doomed she was. In vain the great battleship turned her guns, big and
little, against these snarling, swooping creatures of the air that came
at her like darting vultures all at once from many sides, but swerved at
the twelve hundred yard line and took her broadside on with their
torpedoes, fired them and were gone.
Six white paths streaked the ocean beneath us marking the course of six
torpedoes and three of them found their target. Three of them missed, but
that was because the gunners were excited. There is no more excuse for a
torpedo missing a dreadnought at a thousand yards than there is for a
pistol missing a barn door at twenty feet!
The _Moltke_ began to sink almost immediately. Through our glasses we
watched her putting off life boats and we saw that scarcely half of them
had been launched when she lurched violently to starboard and went down
by the head. Her boats, led by one flying the admiral's flag, made for
the sister dreadnought, but had not covered a hundred yards when
Commodore Tower signalled again and six other seaplanes darted into
action and, by the same swift manosuvres, sank the _Kaiser Friedrich_.
In this action we lost two seaplanes.
Now General Wood, white-faced, re-entered the cabin.
"Has Your Imperial Highness anything to say?" asked the American
Silent and rigid sat the heir to the German throne, his hands clenched,
his nostrils dilating, his lips hard shut.
"If not," continued General Wood, "I shall, with great regret, signal
Commodore Tower to sink that transport, which means, I fear, the loss of
many thousands of German lives." He pointed to an immense dark grey
vessel of about the tonnage of the _Vaterland_.
The Crown Prince neither answered nor stirred and again the American
Commander nodded to the assistant pilot. Once more the smoke ball fell,
the signal of attack was given and a third group of seaplanes sped
forward on their deadly mission. The men aboard this enormous transport
equalled in numbers the entire male population of fighting age in a city
like New Haven and of these not twenty were saved. And we lost two more
We had now used eighteen of our hundred available torpedoes and had sunk
three ships of the enemy.
At this moment the sun's glory burst through a rift in the dull sky,
whereupon our fleet, welcoming the omen, threw forth the stars and
stripes from every flyer and sailed nearer the stricken fleet hungry for
further victories. I counted twenty transports and half a dozen
battleships. Proudly we circled over them, knowing that our power of
destruction meant safety and honour for America.
In the observation chamber General Wood watched, frowning while the
wireless crackled out another message from Commodore Tower. Where should
we strike next?
In the cabin sat the Crown Prince, his face like marble and the anguish
of death in his heart.
Suddenly, a little thing happened that turned Frederick William towards a
decision which practically ended the war. The little thing was a burst of
music from the _Koenig Albert_, steaming at the head of the nearer
battleship column two miles distant. On she came, shouldering great waves
from her bows while hundreds of blue-jackets lined her rails as if to
salute or defy the tragic fate hanging over them.
As General Wood appeared once more before his tortured prisoner, there
floated over the sea the strains of "Die Wacht Am Rhein," whereupon up on
his feet came the Crown Prince and, head bared, stood listening to this
great hymn of the Fatherland, while tears streamed down his face.
"I yield," he said in broken tones. "I cannot stand out any longer. I
will do as you wish, sir."
"My terms are unconditional surrender," said the American commander, "to
be followed by a truce for peace negotiations. Does Your Imperial
Highness agree to unconditional surrender?"
"Those are harsh terms. In our talk at Chicago Your Excellency only asked
that I prevent this expedition from sailing. I am ready to order the
expedition back to Germany."
General Wood shook his head.
"Conditions are different now. Your Imperial Highness refused my Chicago
suggestion and chose the issue of battle which has turned in our favour.
To the victors belong the spoils. These battleships are our prizes of
war. These German soldiers in the troopships are our prisoners."
"Impossible!" protested the Prince. "Do you think five hundred men in
aeroplanes can make prisoners of a hundred and fifty thousand in
"I do, sir," declared General Wood with grim finality. "There's a
perfectly safe prison--down below." He glanced into the green abyss above
which we were soaring. "I must ask Your Imperial Highness to decide
quickly. The Commodore is waiting."
Every schoolboy knows what happened then, how the Prince, in this crisis,
turned from grief to defiance, how he dared General Wood to do his worst,
how the American commander sank the _Koenig Albert_ and two more
transports in the next half hour with a loss of five seaplanes, and how,
finally, Frederick William, seeing that the entire German expedition
would be annihilated, surrendered absolutely and ran up the stars and
stripes above German dreadnoughts, transports and destroyers. For the
first time in history an insignificant air force had conquered a great
fleet. The Widding-Edison invention had made good.
* * * * *
I need not dwell upon details of the German-American Peace Conference
which occupied the month of February, 1922. These are matters of familiar
record. The country went from one surprise to another as Germany yielded
point after point of her original demands. Under no circumstances would
she withdraw her armies from the soil of America unless she received a
huge indemnity, but at the end of a week she agreed to withdraw without
any indemnity. Firmly she insisted that the United States must abrogate
the Monroe Doctrine, but she presently waived this demand and agreed that
the Monroe Doctrine might stand. Above all she stood out for the
neutralisation of the Panama Canal. Here she would not yield, but at the
close of the conference she did yield and on February 22nd, 1922, Germany
signed the treaty of Pittsburg which gave her only one advantage, namely,
the repossession of her captured fleet.
It was not until a fortnight later, after the invading transports had
sailed for home and the last German soldier had left America, that we
understood why the enemy had dealt with us so graciously. On March 4th,
1922, the news burst upon the world that France and Russia, smarting
under the inconclusive results of the Great War, had struck again at the
Central Empires, and we saw that Germany had abandoned her invasion of
America not because of our air victory, but because she found herself
involved in another European war. She was glad to leave the United States
on any terms.
A few weeks later in Washington (now happily restored as the national
capital) I was privileged to hear General Wood's great speech before a
joint committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The
discussion was on national preparedness and I thrilled as the general
rose to answer various Western statesmen who opposed a defence plan
calling for large appropriations on the ground that, in the present war
with Germany and in her previous wars, America had always managed to get
through creditably without a great military establishment and always
"Gentlemen," replied General Wood, "let us be honest with ourselves in
regard to these American wars that we speak of so complacently, these
wars that are presented in our school books as great and glorious. How
great were they? How glorious were they? Let us have the truth.
"Take our War of the Revolution. Does any one seriously maintain that
this was a great war? It was not a war at all. It was a series of
skirmishes. It was the blunder of a stupid English king, who never had
the support of the English people. Our revolutionary armies decreased
each year and, but for the interposition of the French, our cause, in all
probability, would have been lost.
"And the war of 1812? Was that great and glorious? Why did we win?
Because we were isolated by the Atlantic Ocean (which in these days of
steam no longer isolates us) and because England was occupied in a death
struggle with Napoleon.
"In our Civil War both North and South were totally unprepared. If either
side at the start had had an efficient army of 100,000 men that side
would have won overwhelmingly in the first six months.
"Our war with Spain in 1898 was a joke, a pitiful exhibition of
incompetency and unreadiness in every department. We only won because
Spain was more unprepared than we were. And as to our great naval
victory, the truth is that the Spanish fleet destroyed itself.
"Gentlemen, we have never had a real war in America. This invasion by
Germany was the beginning of a real war, but that has now been
marvellously averted. Through extraordinary good fortune we have been
delivered from this peril, just as, by extraordinary good fortune, we
gained some successes over the Germans, like the battle of the
Susquehanna and our recent seaplane victory, successes that were largely
accidental and could never be repeated.
"I assure you, gentlemen, it is madness for us to count upon continued
deliverance from the war peril because in the past we have been lucky,
because in the past wide seas have guarded us, because in the past our
enemies have quarrelled among themselves, or because American
resourcefulness and ingenuity have been equal to sudden emergencies. To
permanently base our hopes of national safety and integrity upon such
grounds is to choose the course adopted by China and to invite for our
descendants the humiliating fate that finally overwhelmed China, which
nation has now had a practical suzerainty forced upon her by a much
"There is only one way for America to be safe from invasion and that is
for America to be ready for it. We are not ready today, we never have
been ready, yet war may smite us at any time with all its hideous
slaughter and devastation. Our vast possessions constitute the richest,
the most tempting prize on earth, and no words can measure the envy and
hatred that less rich and less favoured nations feel against us."
"Gentlemen, our duty is plain and urgent. We must be prepared against
aggression. We must save from danger this land that we love, this great
nation built by our fathers. We must have, what we now notoriously lack,
a sufficient army, a satisfactory system of military training,
battleships, aeroplanes, submarines, munition plants, all that is
necessary to uphold the national honour so that when an unscrupulous
enemy strikes at us and our children he will find us ready. If we are
strong we shall, in all probability, avoid war, since the choice between
war and arbitration will then be ours."
Scenes of wild enthusiasm followed this appeal of the veteran commander,
not only at the Capitol, but all over the land when his words were made
public. At last America had learned her bitter lesson touching the folly
of unpreparedness, the iron had entered her soul and now, in 1922, the
people's representatives were quick to perform a sacred duty that had
been vainly urged upon them in 1916. Almost unanimously (even Senators
William Jennings Bryan and Henry Ford refused to vote against
preparedness) both houses of Congress declared for the fullest measure of
national defence. It was voted that we have a strong and fully manned
navy with 48 dreadnoughts and battle cruisers in proportion. It was voted
that we have scout destroyers and sea-going submarines in numbers
sufficient to balance the capital fleet. It was voted that we have an
aerial fleet second to none in the world. It was voted that we have a
standing army of 200,000 men with 45,000 officers, backed by a national
force of citizens trained in arms under a universal and obligatory
one-year military system. It was voted, finally, that we have adequate
munition plants in various parts of the country, all under government
control and partly subsidised under conditions assuring ample munitions
at any time, but absolutely preventing private monopolies or excessive
profits in the munition manufacturing business.
This was declared to be--and God grant it prove to be--America's
insurance against future wars of invasion, against alien arrogance and
injustice, against a foreign flag over this land.
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