1846: Three days after Gen. Zachary Taylor’s forces defeat the Mexican Army in the Battle of Palo Alto, Pres. James K. Polk tells Congress: “Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil.”
The Mexican-American War – already underway – is formally declared within two days.
1864: During the Battle of Yellow Tavern, Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart is shot by a dismounted Union cavalry trooper north of Richmond, Va. “The greatest cavalry officer ever foaled in America” is mortally wounded and will die the next day.
1889: An Army wagon train leaves Fort Grant loaded with $28,000 in gold and silver coins (nearly the equivalent of one million dollars today) to pay U.S. troops stationed in Arizona Territory, guarded by a dozen Buffalo Soldiers from the 24th Infantry and 10th Cavalry regiments. A band of highwaymen ambush the convoy and manage to make off with the money following a 30-minute firefight that wounds eight soldiers.
1775: The famous Vermont guerrilla force the “Green Mountain Boys”, commanded by Col. Ethan Allen, and state militiamen led by Col. Benedict Arnold catch the British troops at Fort Ticonderoga (present-day Ticonderoga, N.Y.) by surprise. The Americans charge into the fort, chasing off the lone sentry and begin disarming the sleeping defenders.
When the British commander demands to know under what authority are the men entering, Allen replies, “The Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!” The strategic fort is captured without a shot fired. The cannon and armaments are sent to Boston where they will be used to break the British siege.
1797: The 55-gun heavy frigate USS United States is launched at Philadelphia, becoming the first commissioned ship of the U.S. Navy. The warship will see action during the Quasi-War with France, the Barbary Wars (see entry below), and the War of 1812 before she is seized by Confederate forces in 1861 and re-christened CSS United States.
1801: Following Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration, Yusuf Karamanly – the Pasha of Tripoli – demands tribute from the United States to prevent the Barbary pirates from continuing their practice of taking hostages and capturing ships. President Jefferson refuses, and the Pasha declares war.
[Featured image: future top Naval ace and Medal of Honor recipient David McCampbell (right) exchanges caps with Royal Canadian Air Force pilot Jerry Smith after Smith lands his Spitfire aboard USS WASP.]
1865: After learning that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the previous month, Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest surrenders his men at Gainesville, Ala.. Forrest orders his men to “submit to the powers to be, and to aid in restoring peace and establishing law and order throughout the land.”
The infamous cavalry officer, whom Union general William Tecumseh Sherman would refer to as “that devil Forrest,” is considered one of the most brilliant tacticians of the Civil War; a remarkable feat considering he enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private with no prior military experience.
1926: Naval aviators Lt. Commander Richard E. Byrd and Chief Aviation Pilot Floyd Bennett take off from Spitsbergen, Norway and head north. In about eight hours, they will report that they have reached the North Pole, becoming the first men to do so by air.
Congress will award both men the Medal of Honor for their flight, which remains surrounded by controversy as Byrd is reported to have said that an oil leak in their Fokker Trimotor aircraft during the nearly 16-hour flight may have caused the explorers to turn around prematurely. However in three years, Commander Byrd will – without a doubt – fly over the South Pole.
1846: In the first major battle of the Mexican War, U.S. Army forces under the command of Gen. (and future president) Zachary Taylor decisively defeat Mexican forces under Gen. Mariano Arista in the Battle of Palo Alto (Texas). The Mexicans will retreat to a seemingly more defensible position at Resaca de la Palma the following day, but Taylor will pursue and beat them badly there too.
1864: Union Army forces under the command of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee clash in the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. The outcome at Spotsylvania Courthouse will be inconclusive and the casualties terribly heavy. In less than two weeks, Grant will again break contact and continue his advance toward Richmond.
1904: U.S. Marines land at Tangier, Morocco to protect the Belgian legation.
1911: U.S. Navy Capt. Washington I. Chambers places an order for two A-1 Triad floatplanes from the Curtiss aircraft company. Thus, May 8 becomes the official birthday of Naval Aviation.
1945: V-E Day: The unconditional surrender of German forces signed by Gen. Alfred Jodl at the “little red schoolhouse” (supreme allied headquarters in Reims, France) the previous day becomes official. Although clashes between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army will continue for another day, Nazi Germany has laid down their arms.
[Featured image: A U.S. warplane taking off from USS Yorktown (CV-5) shortly before the Battle of the Coral Sea.]
1873: Marines from the USS Pensacola and USS Tuscarora land at the Bay of Columbia to protect American citizens and interests as local groups fight for control of the Panamanian government.
1915: Just off the coast of southern Ireland, the submarine U-20 spots the massive ocean liner RMS Lusitania, steaming from New York and hoping to sneak through Germany’s blockade of the British Isles . The U-boat fires a single torpedo at the ship and Lusitania sinks in just 18 minutes, taking 1,198 people – including 128 Americans – with her to the bottom.
While the British government maintained for years that Lusitania was purely a passenger liner, the secondary explosions which caused the vessel to sink so quickly may have been from the tons of ammunition secretly being transported from an allegedly neutral United States. The sinking of Lusitania will be a major factor in the United States declaring war on Germany two years later.
1864: Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all Union forces, moves the Army of the Potomac out of their winter encampments and 100,000 Union soldiers cross the Rapidan River in Virginia, kicking off the campaign that will set the stage for the defeat of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
Union losses in the Overland Campaign – the bloodiest in American history – are heavy, but Grant’s troops are replaceable. Lee’s are not.
1916: To avoid a diplomatic break with the United States, Germany announces it will abandon its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. Rather than continuing to indiscriminately sink all vessels in the British Isles, German subs will only torpedo those found to carry war materials.
Germany will reverse course in less than a year, sparking America’s entry into World War I on April 6, 1917.
On Tuesday, a Russian fighter engaged in yet another “unprofessional” intercept of a U.S. military plane in international airspace. The Su-27 Flanker reportedly flew within 20 feet of a Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance/patrol aircraft over the Baltic Sea.
The Department of Defense has given little information on the nine-minute encounter other than stating that interactions with foreign militaries are routine and that this event was considered “safe” but “unprofessional.” Military aircraft are free to operate in international airspace and will likely be met when operating near the border of another nation. But with a string of recent provocative and dangerous antics in the air, Russia looks like a nation that has developed an inferiority complex.
On January 29, 2018 another Su-27 harassed a U.S. Navy EP-3 Orion reconnaissance plane in a similar event over the Black Sea. The U.S. 6th Fleet, which covers the European and African area, issued a statement declaring that the confrontation lasted for two hours and 40 minutes, with the Russian jet closing to “within five feet” from the American plane.
The fighter flew “directly through the EP-3’s flight path, causing the EP-3 to fly through the Su-27’s jet wash,” prompting the State Department to issue a press release voicing their “highest level of concern.”
Spokesperson Heather Nauert called on Russia to “cease these unsafe actions that increase the risk of miscalculation, danger to aircrew on both sides, and midair collisions.”
Why does Russia do it? It’s a dominance thing.
[Featured image: the wreckage of Hot Stuff. The Eighth Air Force’s B-24 crew was the first to reach the milestone of 25 missions. 13 perish in the crash, leaving only one survivor: tail gunner, Staff Sgt. George Eisel.]
1898: Following the Battle of Manila Bay, Marines from the cruisers USS Baltimore (C-3) and USS Raleigh (C-8) raise the Stars and Stripes for the first time in the Philippines over Cavite, the historical capital.
1923: 26 hours and 50 minutes after taking off in New York, Army Air Corps first lieutenants Oakley Kelly and John Macready touch down at Rockwell Field, San Diego, becoming the first aviators to fly non-stop across the United States. The specially modified Fokker T-2 passenger plane averaged a blistering 92 mph.
1942: Off the Florida coast, two German U-boats each sink a cargo ship, killing a total of 23 sailors. U-109 heads back to the German sub pens at Lorient, France after her attack and U-564 will damage another two vessels over the next two days. The Royal Air Force will sink both subs the following year.
1943: Lt. Gen. Frank M. Andrews, the commander of all U.S. Forces in the European Theater, is killed when the B-24 Liberator bomber carrying the former cavalry trooper and pilot during World War I to Iceland on an inspection tour crashes. Andrews is replaced by generals Jacob Devers and ultimately Dwight Eisenhower.
[Featured image: Brooklyn legends (left to right) Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and fellow Army veteran Jackie Robinson]
1939: New York Yankee ironman Lou Gehrig tells manager Joe McCarthy that he is taking himself out of the starting lineup.
Gehrig will never play again.
His record of 2,130 straight games played will stand until Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken tops the streak in 1995.
1949: Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe gets his first career start, shutting out the Cincinnati Reds 3-0. He goes on to lead the Dodgers’ pitching rotation with 17 wins on their way to a National League pennant. Newcombe will lose two seasons to the Army during the Korean War.
1954: The St. Louis Cardinals’ Stan “The Man” Musial, who served in the Navy during World War II, hits five home runs in a double header against the New York Giants.
Musial’s victims that day are pitchers Johnny Antonelli (who served in Korea), Jim Hearn (an Army artilleryman during World War II), Ray Jablonski (an Army military policeman in France during World War II), and Hall of Fame knuckleballer Hoyt “Old Sarge” Wilhelm (fought and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge).
In the Sportsman’s Park stands watching is eight-year-old St. Louis native Nate Colbert, who will go on to hit five home runs for the San Diego Padres in a 1972 double header.
1863: During day two of the Battle of Chancellorsville, Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson is shot by a Confederate sentry while performing a leaders-reconnaissance mission. Following the amputation of Jackson’s shattered arm, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee will lament, “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm.”
The revered Jackson will die in eight days of pneumonia.
1945: Soldiers with the 82d Airborne and the 8th Infantry Division liberate the Wöbbelin concentration camp in northern Germany. The Nazis allowed many of the 5,000 inmates to starve, and U.S. soldiers found 1,000 dead upon arrival.
The soldiers force nearby German townspeople to visit the camp and bury the dead. Conditions were so extreme at Wöbbelin that some of the inmates had resorted to cannibalism, and hundreds more would die after the camp’s liberation.