History's Trainwrecks

History's Trainwrecks

This is the stuff they never taught us in history class. Ever wonder why famous historical figures like Aaron Burr, George McClellan, Douglas MacArthur, Cato the Younger, Julius Caesar, and many others fell from the great heights to which they had ascended to end up in death or disgrace? History's Trainwrecks explores the self-destructive tendencies of historical figures who lose everything even when the prize of a lifetime is in reach, often costing them a treasured place in history. History is full of trainwrecks, and we can’t look away. Support the show with a one-time gift! or Help keep Trainwrecks on the tracks with a paid membership! Subscribe to History's Trainwrecks Support this show http://supporter.acast.com/historys-trainwrecks. Help keep trainwrecks on the tracks. Become a supporter at https://plus.acast.com/s/historys-trainwrecks. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.


September 12, 2023 40 mins

Building Hoover Dam was difficult and deadly work. But there was a Great Depression going on and dam work paid real money. If it could be said that there was a choice between your family starving to death or you risking your life on building the engineering marvel of the age, you chose the dam.

Author Kelly Stone Gamble’s historical novel Ragtown tells the story of the dam and the desperate people who lived in its shadow. It’s ...

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On our last episode of History's Trainwrecks, we left our major characters in serious predicament: oppositionally-defiant crank Charles Lee was in British captivity, although he did have his dogs and thirty shillings a day in expenses. General Richard Prescott was unwisely spending his nights away from his army, and George Washington and the Continental Army were having a bad winter at Valley Forge.

Colonel William Barton had a...

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August 11, 2023 13 mins

American Major General Charles Lee had picked a great place to hide.

Like big-city mobsters two centuries later, George Washington’s second in command had discovered that New Jersey was a great place to lay low if someone was after you.

Charles had a lot of people after him in December 1776. First and foremost was the British Army, commanded in that area by Lord Charles Cornwallis. After a string of British successes against ...

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February 24, 2023 36 mins

There's an awful lot of testosterone on History's Trainwrecks. I tend to think it's because men are far more likely than women to self-sabotage in a big way. But as Abigail Adams told her husband John, we should always "remember the ladies."

Samantha Wilcoxson, author of the phenomenal Women of the American Revolution, joins me to talk about her book and see how the stories we've always been told about the women of the founding ...

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It occurred to me that we’ve been doing quite a lot of talking about George Washington in this series—or more accurately, talking AROUND George, so I thought it would be a good time to stop and focus on the man himself, and delve into what made him so darn indispensable.

I didn’t exactly HAVE a George Washington episode, but I knew someone who did.

If you’ve been listening for a while, you know that I am a huge fan of the D...

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American major general Charles Lee is free of British captivity and gets one more chance to redeem himself at the Battle of Monmouth Court House in summer, 1778.

But he doesn't take it. By the time of the second anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Charles is facing a court martial. He never commands troops in the field again.

Being Charles, he goes on the attack against Washington and the Congress...

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Christmas 1776 wasn't such a great time for two American generals. George Washington was wrapping a Christmas present for the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey. He was going to cross the Delaware and drop it down their metaphorical chimney like some kind of badass Santa Claus.

Second in command Charles Lee had checked into a tavern and sent his dogs and his army down the road a ways. With only a few guards and a dirty shir...

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As Christmas, 1776 approached, it sure looked like the cause of American liberty was going to find a lump of coal under the tree.

The British had taken New York and had George Washington's army on the run. They had a massive force pointed right at Philadelphia, the American capital. The Continental Congress had placed their hopes in one man to swoop in and save them.

And it was NOT George Washington.

This gave General Char...

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1776 was a great year for Charles Lee. He had overseen the defensive preparations in New York, Virginia, and North Carolina. The British didn't attack those places, which Charles called a win. He successfully led the defense of Charleston, South Carolina against a British assault, which he also put in his win column. 

Then he was ordered to New York, which was under serious threat from the British, and where he would be, fo...

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Brand new Major General Charles Lee was looking pretty darn indispensable in the early days of the American Revolution.

After the British abandoned Boston, their next move was unclear. The Continentals believed that the next attack would either hit Canada, New York City, or the Southern colonies.

It is worth noting that new General Charles Lee was appointed to each of these commands. He became the early Revolution's troublesh...

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If Charles Lee was alive today, he would be considered a master networker.

That guy knew EVERYBODY.

As we’ve seen in prior episodes, Charles was pals with a few kings and kings-in-waiting like Stanislaus of Poland, Frederick I of Prussia and his son, future king Frederick Wilhelm, as well as Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. He wasn’t a fan of King George III, but still managed to get a meeting with him.

Like any modern-day Wa...

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Major General Charles Lee was a complainer.

It didn’t start when he joined the Continental Army in 1775. Charles was predisposed to crabbiness. His father was a British major general and his mother was descended from landed gentry. He was the youngest child, and the only son to survive to adulthood. A place of stature had been carved out for Charles, and he meant to have it.

He pursued a career in the British Army and served ...

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September 24, 2022 18 mins

Was George Washington truly America's indispensable man? 

John Adams thought so, and lots of later historians agreed. Washington had the qualities the country needed at the time - dignity, gravitas, and integrity. He was perceived to be above the kind of petty squabbles that would doom the newborn republic. 

But things very nearly didn't go his way. After his defeat at the Battle of New York in 1776, the war, and wi...

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I’m trying to figure out who REALLY killed Huey Long.

Don’t worry. Your favorite history podcast hasn’t suddenly turned into a true crime show. Neither has this one.

There are few viable ways to stop a dictator. Julius Caesar and a disturbingly large number of Roman emperors were assassinated in order to end their reigns. Benito Mussolini’s execution and subsequent “corpse dragged through the streets of Milan and hung upside...

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Huey Long was losing political control of Louisiana, thanks to the Depression-era policies of the new President. Federal jobs, which were literal lifesavers, were given to Huey's opponents.

Huey's own dictatorial behavior was costing him support among the people of the state, so he took his show on the road, appealing to masses of poor Americans and fueling the fire for a 1936 presidential run.

FDR's Justice Department starte...

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August 20, 2022 43 mins

We're counting down to number one - the biggest historical trainwreck of all time.

Can you guess who it is?

Check out the Beyond The Big Screen Podcast at the link below.


George McClellan

Aaron Burr

Marcus Crassus

Douglas MacArthur

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Support this show http://supporter.acast.com/historys-trainwrecks.

Help keep trainwrecks on the tracks. B...

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August 13, 2022 41 mins

I love a good trainwreck. I mean, who doesn’t?

One day, historian and podcaster Steve Guerra, host of the Beyond the Big Screen Podcast, asked me what I call The Big Question: of all the trainwrecks you’ve studied so far, who is on your top ten list of all time?

It gave us the opportunity to better define a historical trainwreck, and it got us thinking about who wasn’t on the list and who should be.

Long time listeners of ...

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Huey Long was the bull in the United States Senate’s china shop.

He stormed into the world’s greatest deliberative body in 1932 after it had already been in session for two months. In a room full of men in dour blue suits, Huey wore “flashy brown tweeds, beautiful white shirts of the finest fabric with his monogram embroidered on one sleeve, a bright red silk necktie, and, according to one chastising reporter, ‘a handkerchief re...

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The most famous American in the world was about to have one of the worst days of his life, and everyone who was anyone in London wanted to be there to see it.

Benjamin Franklin had been summoned to the Cockpit, a room King Henry VIII had once used for cockfighting, to appear before the King’s Privy Council in late January 1774. His ostensible purpose for being there was to deal with a petition sent by the Massachusetts colony to...

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As you surely know by now, I love history. I always have. If you do too, you know that studying history invariably leads to learning about politics.


It’s inescapable. The Greek city-states, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, monarchies and religious wars, the Enlightenment that led to the establishment of constitutional democracies, the growth of superpowers.


Regionalism and factionalism and schisms and wars. If you ...

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