April 5 in Military History

[This Day in Military History is originally published at OpsLens.com]

1862: On the same ground where the Continental Army defeated Lord Cornwallis’ Redcoats and secured American independence 81 years before, the Army of the Potomac – the largest army fielded in the United States to that point – clashes with Confederate forces at Yorktown (Va.). Although outnumbered significantly, Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder maneuvers his two divisions in such a way that tricks Union Maj. Gen. George McClellan into thinking that there are far more Confederates than there actually were.

A 13-in. mortar of the Connecticut Heavy Artillery during the Siege of Yorktown. (Library of Congress photo)

A cautious McClellan orders his troops to dig trenches, beginning a month-long siege. By the time his massive artillery pieces and naval artillery are in place in May, the Confederates manage to slip away.

1911: The Army creates a provisional aero company in Fort Sam Houston (Texas) as part of the military buildup on the southern border to discourage Mexican revolutionaries. The new outfit is commanded by Capt. Paul W. Beck, who is joined by 1st Lt. Benjamin Foulois, 2nd Lt. George E.M. Kelly, and 2nd Lt. John C. Walker, Jr.

Lt. Foulois and Orville Wright in 1909. (Photo courtesy of the Goodier Collection, Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ill.)

Among the pioneer’s many firsts, Foulois holds the distinction of being the United States’ first military aviator, flying the airship “Army Dirigible No. 1” in 1908. All four pilots previously served as infantry officers before earning their wings.

1945: 18 U.S. divisions begin their attack on 370,000 encircled German soldiers in the Ruhr Pocket. With Nazi Germany on their last legs, much of the fighting force consists of old men (including many World War I veterans) with the Volksturm militia and boys of the Hitler Youth – so poorly supplied that many didn’t even have weapons. While some units resist fanatically, most are captured.

Meanwhile, a German firing squad executes the former commandant of the Buchenwald concentration camp SS-Standartenführer Karl-Otto Koch for heinous crimes and brutal treatment of prisoners.

1951: Corpsman Richard De Wert, serving with the 7th Marines in Korea, rushes through enemy fire to retrieve a wounded comrade. While wounded himself, De Wert refuses to stop to be treated and returns for another fallen Marine. Hit again, he braves incoming fire a third time, and on his fourth trip into the kill zone, the corpsman is mortally wounded.

1964: Retired general Douglas MacArthur passes away at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.. The veteran of Mexican campaigns, both World Wars, and the Korean War is given a state funeral, and 150,000 will pay their respects at the Capitol.

Author: Chris Carter

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