23 March: This Day in U.S. Military History

1775: In a speech before the House of Burgesses, future Virginia governor (and colonel of the 1st Virginia Regiment) Patrick Henry exclaims, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

1776: As a force-multiplier for the fledgling Continental Navy, the Continental Congress authorizes the employment of privateers (privately owned and armed merchant ships) against “enemies of these United Colonies,” specifically Great Britain, her commercial shipping, privately owned vessels, and ships of the Royal Navy.

1815: Though the War of 1812 has officially ended – communications being what they are in the early 19th century – the Royal Navy sloop-of-war HMS Penguin under the command of Capt. James Dickenson engages the sloop USS Hornet (the third of eight so-named American Navy ships) under Capt. James Biddle off the South Atlantic archipelago Tristan da Cunha. The fighting is quick and hot: Both captains are wounded; Dickenson mortally. HMS Penguin surrenders in less than one-half hour.

1943: Elements of Germany’s vaunted Afrika Korps clash with U.S. Army forces led by Lt. Gen. George Patton near the oasis of El Guettar in Tunisia. The fighting marks the first time U.S. troops manage to defeat German armor.

1945: When the U.S. Third Army, the Second British Army, and the First Canadian Army cross the Rhine River Adolf Hitler orders a counterattack. However, the Fuhrer is advised that there are no longer any reserve troops available.

1965: A Titan II rocket blasts Gemini 3 astronauts Gus Grissom (USAF) and John Young (USN) into space on the first manned Gemini mission. The four-hour spaceflight is the first time a spacecraft makes an orbital maneuver and is the first time NASA sends two men into space.

1994: An Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon collides with a C-130 Hercules while both aircraft attempt to land at Pope Air Force Base. The fighter pilots eject, and their crippled F-16 slams into an area where 82d Airborne paratroopers were preparing for a jump. A C-141 Starlifter on the ground is destroyed, 24 paratroopers are killed, and over 100 soldiers are wounded in the “All American” division’s worst loss of life since World War II.

2003: Task Force Tarawa (2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade) under the command of Brig. Gen. Richard F. Natonski attack – and will ultimately defeat – Iraqi forces in heavy fighting at An Nasiriyah.

Author: Chris Carter

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