1898: Spanish forces under the command of Gen. José Toral surrender Cuba to Gen. William R. Shafter, practically ending Col. (and future president) Teddy Roosevelt’s “splendid little war.” In December, the Treaty of Paris puts an official end to the Spanish-American War.
1927: When Nicaraguan rebels attack the Marine garrison at Ocotal, Maj. Ross E. Rowell’s Marine Corps DeHavilland DH-4 biplanes disperse the force with strafing runs – and the first use of dive bombing in support of ground forces. The American occupation of Nicaragua will last another six years, but after Ocotal, rebels will never again make the mistake of mounting a large scale attack on U.S. forces.
1944: Two transport ships are destroyed – along with over 300 sailors and civilians killed and nearly 400 wounded – when ammunition being loaded aboard the ships at Port Chicago, Calif. explodes. One vessel is so badly obliterated that no identifiable pieces can be found. The explosion was reportedly heard 200 miles away, and registered a 3.4 on the Richter scale.
1861: Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell’s 35,000-man army departs Washington, D.C., marching to meet Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederate force assembled along Bull Run some 25 miles away. Just weeks ago, McDowell was a major and now leads the largest field army assembled in North America to that point.
1945: (featured image) The atomic age dawns when man’s first nuclear weapon is tested at Alamogordo Air Base, N.M. (present-day White Sands Missile Range). The shock wave from the 19-kiloton device, nicknamed “Gadget,” could be felt 100 miles away and the mushroom cloud reached over six miles in the air. (note: the above image is taken just 16 milliseconds after detonation. The fireball is already 660 feet high.)
Within hours of the Trinity test, the cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) departs San Francisco on a top-secret mission. The un-escorted cruiser sprints across the Pacific at a record-setting pace, bound for Tinian. On board is the uranium and parts for the “Little Boy” weapon that will level Hiroshima on August 6.
1775: Gen. George Washington, the newly appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, takes formal command of his troops in Cambridge, Mass.
1778: A force of 1,000 Loyalists and Iroquois warriors commanded by Col. John Butler attacks American fortifications and settlements in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, killing some 360 militiamen and destroying 1,000 houses. Reportedly, women and children are also killed in Butler’s “Wyoming massacre,” and those that escape the slaughter will die of starvation and exposure.
1863: During the third – and final – day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Gen. Robert E. Lee orders three divisions of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s Confederate soldiers across open ground to assault the Union position on Cemetery Ridge. Union fire shatters the rebels, inflicting thousands of casualties before the troops can return to the Confederate lines after the failed attack, which becomes known as “Pickett’s Charge.”
Fearing a Union counter-attack, Lee orders Maj. Gen. George Pickett to rally what is left of his division, Pickett replies, “General, I have no division.” After three days of fighting at Gettysburg, Lee abandons his invasion and retreats to Virginia. In terms of total casualties, Gettysburg is the deadliest battle of the Civil War with some 50,000 soldiers from both armies killed, wounded, or captured.
1775: John Adams of the Second Congressional Congress nominates George Washington, a fellow congressional delegate and veteran of the French and Indian Wars, to lead the newly formed Continental Army. Washington is unanimously elected.
1864: Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton signs an order setting aside 200 acres of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s estate as a cemetery for fallen Civil War soldiers. Today, Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place to over 400,000 fallen military members.
1877: Former slave Henry O. Flipper is the first black cadet to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. 2nd Lt. Flipper will lead the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry during the Apache Wars.
1944: Following a three-hour Naval and air bombardment, 8,000 Marines under the command of Maj. Gen. Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith (a recipient of France’s Croix de Guerre for his actions during the battle of Belleau Wood in World War I), hit the beaches of Saipan. The Japanese war planners are caught by surprise, and by nightfall the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions have a beachhead spanning six miles and reaching inland nearly 1,500 yards. Japanese propaganda leads its people to believe that unspeakable acts await anyone unlucky enough to be captured by the U.S. military, and thousands of Japanese civilians will leap to their deaths from the cliffs of Saipan.
On July 7, some 3,000 Japanese troops charge forward in the largest banzai charge of the war, nearly wiping out two battalions of soldiers from the 27th Infantry Division. The Japanese defenders inflict 14,000 casualties on the Americans, but the island is declared secure on July 9.
1775: Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Second Continental Congress establishes the Continental Army. Ten rifle companies are formed: six from Pennsylvania, two from Maryland, and two from Virginia. The force is disbanded after the American Revolution, but in 1792, President George Washington forms the Legion of the United States – the nation’s first “professional” fighting force – renamed the United States Army in 1796.
1777: Congress formally declares the “Stars and Stripes” as the official flag of the thirteen United States. The declaration resolves that it consists of “thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”
1863: Days after bragging that he could hold the town of Winchester (Va.) against a Confederate force of any size, Maj. Gen. Robert H. Milroy’s garrison is surrounded and defeated by a corps led by Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell. The Rebels capture 4,000 Union troops, hundreds of wagons and horses, and 23 artillery pieces at the cost of only some 250 casualties in the Second Battle of Winchester.
1918: During a German artillery barrage of explosive and gas shells, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Fred W. Stockton gives his gas mask to a wounded comrade, exposing himself to the deadly agent. Stockton will die eight days later from gas exposure. 20 years later, his former lieutenant during the Battle of Belleau Wood (Clifton B. Cates, who will become the 19th Commandant of the Marine Corps) and Barak Mattingly (the man Stockham saved), succeed in their efforts to award Stockham the Medal of Honor, and a destroyer is later named in his honor.
1777: Marquis de Lafayette lands in South Carolina, having crossed the Atlantic on a ship that the 19-year-old French officer purchased with his own money. He soon makes fast friends with Gen. George Washington and the Continental Congress, and is offered a commission as a major general.
1917: Taking off from bases in Belgium, German Gotha bombers target London for the first time. Hundreds of civilians are killed and the air raids would continue, virtually unopposed, for the next month.
1942: While patrolling a beach on New York’s Long Island, Coast Guardsman John C. Cullen catches four German saboteurs posing as stranded fishermen. The Germans escape, but the leader turns himself in to the FBI – kicking off a two-week manhunt for the remaining Abwehr military intelligence operatives (all are American citizens born in Germany). The lid is blown off “Operation Pastorius,” the German plot to sabotage strategic American targets. All of the agents are captured and six are executed.
1943: 76 B-17F Flying Fortress bombers set out to attack the U-boat pens at Kiel, Germany. 60 “Forts” hit the pens, and Luftwaffe aircraft knock 22 more out of the sky in the heaviest fighter attacks on the Eighth Air Force to date. While gunners claim at least 39 German aircraft, 23 bombers are damaged – one so critical that it is no longer operable. Three airmen are killed, 20 wounded, and 213 are missing in action. The costly raid will lead war planners to realize that the heavily armed B-17s can no longer defend themselves against German aircraft. Escort fighters will begin accompanying bombers into Europe.
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On June 12, 1944 (D-Day + 6), Paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division capture Carentan, France after three days of heavy urban combat, finally linking the Utah and Omaha beachheads. Meanwhile, a third wave of troops and supplies land at the beaches of Normandy. Over 300,000 men, tens of thousands of vehicles, and hundreds of thousands of tons of materiel have hit the beach so far.
That same day in the Pacific, airplanes from Adm. Marc Mitscher’s Task Force 58, consisting of nine aircraft carriers and six light carriers, pound Japanese positions in the Marianas Islands in preparation for the upcoming invasions. The next day, over a dozen battleships join in the attack and being leveling the defenses of Saipan.
This week also marks the first American bombing missions of both world wars. On June 12, 1918, eight pilots of the 96th Aero Squadron conduct the first-ever American bombing mission in Europe, attacking rail yards at Etain, France. 24 years later (to the day), Col. Harry A. Halverson leads a flight of 13 B-24 Liberator bombers from Libya 1,000 miles to the Axis oil fields at Ploesti, Romania. One plane has to turn back due to mechanical issues, and the bombers inflict minimal damage to the target. Crews land at Turkey (where they are interned), Iraq, and Syria.
1775: British Gen. Thomas Gage declares that the city of Boston is under martial law until the colonists repay for the tea they destroyed during the Boston Tea Party. Gage will pardon all colonists who lay down their arms except Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who are to be hanged.
Meanwhile, British ships arrive at Machiasport (present-day Machias, Maine) to commandeer a load of lumber for the construction of barracks during the colonists’ Siege of Boston. 31 militia members, led by Jeremiah O’Brien, board the merchant ship Unity and engage the British armed sloop HMS Margaretta. After an hour of fighting, Margaretta is captured and the British flag is surrendered to the colonists for the first time. The U.S. Merchant Marine traces their roots to the Battle of Machias.
1862: Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, the new commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, orders Brig. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart to investigate the Union army’s right flank during the Peninsula Campaign. Stuart and his 1,200 troopers determine that the right flank is vulnerable, and with Union cavalry is in pursuit (led by Stuart’s father-in-law, Brig. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke), Stuart and his men ride a 100-mile circle around Gen. George McClellan’s 105,000-man Army of the Potomac – capturing soldiers, horses, and supplies. Four days later, Stuart arrives in Richmond to a hero’s welcome.
1871: Rear Adm. John Rodgers’ Asiatic Squadron lands 650 sailors and Marines on the Korean Peninsula. The force storms the Citadel, later known as Fort McKee, and after 15 minutes of fierce close combat, 243 Koreans lay dead and the American flag flies over the fortress.
1903: U.S. Military Academy cadet Douglas MacArthur graduates at the top of his class and receives his commission as a second lieutenant in the Engineer Corps. His father Arthur served as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and earned the Medal of Honor during the Civil War, and the MacArthurs own the distinction of being the first father and son to earn the Medal of Honor.
1909: Another famous West Pointer is commissioned: 2nd Lt. George S. Patton Jr., who becomes a cavalry trooper. “Old Blood and Guts” is the grandson of Col. George S. Patton and great-nephew of Lt. Col. Waller T. Patton – both of whom fought and died for the Confederacy.
As of June 4, 1940, the British Expeditionary Force, along with thousands of French and other Allied forces trapped at Dunkirk, were safely back on the shores of England. One-third of a million troops had been saved, but a dozen destroyers and hundreds of small vessels lay at the bottom of the English Channel, while enough vehicles, ammunition, and equipment to outfit nearly ten divisions have fallen into enemy hands.
Why Hitler inexplicably halted his Panzer corps and allowed the Allies to escape remains a source of debate to this day, but nearly two years after the miracle at Dunkirk, the Fuhrer orders the construction of the Atlantic Wall – a massive defensive fortification which ran from France’s border with Spain to the northern tip of Denmark in preparation for the inevitable Allied invasion of Europe.
In early 1944, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel takes charge of the Atlantic Wall. Having witnessed first-hand the strength of Allied air power while in North Africa, and realizing that Germany’s only hope for victory was to stop the Allies on the beach, Rommel beefed up the wall by adding more minefields and gun emplacements. American paratroopers will tell you that where Germany went wrong on the Atlantic Wall was they forgot to put a roof on it.
As the sun sets on airfields across England on June 5, 1944, 13,000 American paratroopers with the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions (along with nearly 8,000 British and Canadian paratroopers) board the C-47 transports and gliders that will carry them behind Nazi lines on “the Great Crusade.” 1,000 British bombers pound German defenses at the beaches of Normandy while thousands of ships carrying some 130,000 Allied soldiers steam towards France.