“I have not yet begun to fight!”

The USS Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis

From W. Thomas Smith, Jr.’s “This Week in American Military History” article in Human Events:

Sept. 23, 1779: The famous battle of the North Sea opens between Continental Navy frigate Bonhomme Richard under the command of Capt. John Paul Jones​, and Royal Navy frigate HMS Serapis.

During the height of the fighting, Serapis’ Captain Richard Pearson issues an appeal to Jones that the American ship surrender. Jones refuses.

According to the story, the British captain – aware that Bonhomme Richard is badly damaged and sinking – shouts across the water between the two dueling ships, inquiring as to whether or not Jones has lowered or struck his colors. Jones shouts back, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

It has since been widely reported that Jones reply was, “I may sink, but I’ll be damned if I strike!”

In fact, Bonhomme Richard does sink: But not before Pearson himself surrenders (believed to be “the first time in naval history that colors are surrendered to a sinking ship”), and Jones transfers his flag to his newly captured prize, Serapis.

The American fleet sailed the Dutch port of Texel Roads, but Jones had to transfer the entire fleet – minus the USS Alliance – to the French due to political pressure. Jones may have lost his fleet, but his remarkable victory would earn him the title “the Father of the American Navy.”

Posted on September 20, 2011 at 14:10 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Sgt. William Jasper

Charleston, 28 June 1776 By H. Charles McBarron (Source: U.S. Army Center of Military History)

From the U.S. Army Center of Military History:

In June 1776 British Admiral Peter Parker ‘s fleet, loaded with troops commanded by General Henry Clinton, made an appearance off Charleston, South Carolina. The city, feverishly preparing for an attack, had partially completed Fort Sullivan, Charleston’s key defense position. The 30-gun fort on Sullivan’s Island was hastily constructed from the moat abundant materials available, palmetto logs and sand. The garrison, commanded by Colonel William Moultrie, contained over 400 men including 22 artillerists and the 2d South Carolina Provincial Regiment.

Because of a sand bar the British delayed their attack on Charleston until 28 June 1775 while they lightened ship. Clinton’s 2,000 British soldiers, landing on adjacent Long Island, were unable to cross an estuary to join in the attack. The fleet began its bombardment at a range of about 400 yards. Low on powder, Moultrie directed his men to fire slowly and accurately in reply.

During the engagement a shell struck the flagpole, and the blue South Carolina banner fell outside the fort. Sergeant William Jasper retrieved it and, oblivious to British fire, secured the flag to a makeshift staff.

The falling shells, absorbed by the soft palmetto loge and sand, caused little damage to the fort and few casualties. Even shells that did enter the fort buried themselves in the swampy parade ground. The wooden frigates on the other hand were riddled with shot. One explosion blew away Sir Peter Parker’s breeches.

Finally, after more than ten hours of firing, the British fleet withdrew and several weeks later sailed for New York. For three years following the defeat at Charleston the British were to leave the South unmolested and the Southern Tories, who were undoubtedly numerous, without succor.

Posted on May 3, 2010 at 11:44 by Chris Carter · Permalink · 2 Comments
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This Week in American Military History

From W. Thomas Smith, Jr.’s series at Human Events:

Mar. 8, 1965: The lead elements of 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines begin coming ashore at Da Nang, South Vietnam. Within hours, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines will arrive aboard transport aircraft at the nearby airbase. The Marines of 3/9 and 1/3 – both part of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade – are the first of America’s ground-combat forces destined for offensive operations against the enemy in Southeast Asia, once again putting teeth in the Marine Corps’ claim that it is “first to fight.”

Mar. 9, 1847: Thousands of American soldiers and a company-sized force of Marines (though referred to as a battalion) under the overall command of U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott and “Home Squadron” Commodore David E. Conner begin landing at Collado Beach, Mexico, just south of Vera Cruz.

In what will prove to be “a model” for future amphibious operations, the landings are unprecedented: The largest American amphibious operation to date, conducted in less than five hours without a single loss of life.

A portion of Conner’s dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy reads:

“Gen. Scott has now with him upwards of 11,000 men. At his request, I permitted the Marines of the squadron, under Capt. [Alvin] Edson, to join him, as a part of the 3rd Regiment of artillery. The general-in-chief landed this morning, and the army put itself in motion at an early hour, to form its lines around the city. There has been some distant firing of shot and shells from the town and castle upon the troops as they advanced, but without result.”

Though the landings are bloodless, grim fighting will continue in the Mexican-American War.

This Week in US Military History

From W. Thomas Smith, Jr.’s series at Human Events:

Mar. 2, 1943: Elements of the U.S. Army Air Forces and Royal Australian Air Force intercept and all-but-destroy an entire Japanese troop-transport convoy in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Several enemy ships, scores of enemy aircraft, and thousands of enemy soldiers will be sent to the bottom. Gen. Douglas MacArthur will remark that Bismarck Sea “cannot fail to go down in history as one of the most complete and annihilating combats of all time.” Japanese Navy Capt. Tameichi Hara will refer to the battle as “shocking” and “unbelievable.”

Mar. 3, 1776:  A force of 250 Continental Marines and sailors under the command of Marine Capt. (future major) Samuel Nicholas land on New Providence in the British-held Bahamas and quickly seize Fort Montague in the first amphibious operation in American military history. The landing – largely unopposed (the British garrison spiking their own guns and fleeing) – nets for the Americans much-needed powder, shot, nearly 50 serviceable cannon, and a few mortars.

An avid foxhunter and the highest-ranking leatherneck in the American Revolution, Nicholas will lead Marines alongside Army forces in the future battles of (second) Trenton and Princeton. He is considered to be the first commandant of the Marine Corps.


Military Milestones from Golden Hill to Desert Storm

From W. Thomas Smith, Jr.’s This Week in American Military History Series:

Jan. 17, 1991: Two-hundred-ten years to the day after the Battle of Cowpens (see last week); American, British, and French forces — this time all three on the same team — kick off what Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein predicted would be “the Mother of all Battles” with a series of blistering air attacks aimed at destroying the Iraqi Air Force, Iraq’s air-defense forces and overall command and control. It is day one of Operation Desert Storm.

Jan. 18, 1911: Flying over San Francisco Bay in his Curtiss Pusher Model “D” aircraft, pioneer aviator Eugene B. Ely approaches the anchored cruiser USS Pennsylvania and manages to land onto a special platform fitted with a makeshift tailhook system aboard the ship. Upon landing, he purportedly says, “It was easy enough. I think the trick could be successfully turned nine times out of ten.”

Ely’s landing is the first-ever airplane landing aboard a ship. Ely already had become the first man to take off from a ship in November. In July, he will be commissioned a second lieutenant in the California National Guard. In October, he will be killed in a crash during an aerobatic demonstration in Macon, Georgia.

Jan. 19-20, 1770: The little-known but historically significant Battle of Golden Hill erupts in New York City between a group of angry Manhattan patriots and a contingent of British soldiers.

The clash begins when members of the patriot organization “Sons of Liberty” snatch a few of the King’s men, who are cutting down wooden “liberty poles” (symbols of resistance against British rule) which had been erected by the “Sons.” The redcoats also were reportedly posting bills condemning the Sons of Liberty as “the real enemies of society.” A struggle ensues. Redcoats from the nearby barracks respond, and a bayonet charge is ordered. Several are wounded on both sides, and one civilian is killed.

Less than seven weeks before the Boston Massacre, the Battle of Golden Hill is considered by some historians as the first armed clash of the American Revolution.


Posted on January 25, 2010 at 17:17 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Military Milestones from Cowpens to ‘Gratitude’

From W. Thomas Smith, Jr.‘s This Week in American Military History Series:

Jan. 12, 1945: Warplanes from the U.S. Navy’s carrier Task Force 38 under the command of Vice Adm. John Sidney McCain Sr. (father of Adm. John S. McCain Jr. and grandfather of Sen. John S. McCain III), attack enemy convoys and bases along the coast of Japanese-held French Indochina (Vietnam) in the Battle of the South China Sea.

Codenamed “Operation Gratitude,” the attacks are wildly successful. Despite rough seas and high winds from a dangerously close typhoon, Japanese bases at Saigon, Cape Saint Jacques (Vung Tau), Cam Ranh Bay, Qui Nhon, and Tourane Bay (Da Nang) are hit hard, resulting in the destruction of docks, barracks, weapons depots, hangars, and scores of Japanese seaplanes and other aircraft, as well as the sinking of more than 40 enemy ships.

Adm. McCain – who Adm. William “Bull” Halsey refers to as “”not much more than my right arm” – will die of a heart attack on Sept. 6, 1945, four days after witnessing the Japanese surrender ceremony aboard USS Missouri. He is posthumously awarded a fourth star.

Jan 13, 1865: U.S. soldiers, sailors, and Marines under the joint command of Maj. Gen. Alfred Howe Terry and Rear Adm. David Dixon Porter begin landing operations – in what will prove to be the largest American amphibious operation until World War II – aimed at seizing Fort Fisher, N.C., a Confederate stronghold near the port city of Wilmington.

The fort — commanded by Confederate Col. William Lamb (the fort’s ultimate responsibility was that of Gen. Braxton Bragg, and yes, Fort Bragg, N.C. is named in his honor) – will fall to Union forces within two days.

More than 50 Medals of Honor will be awarded to those who participated in the assault.

Jan. 14, 1784: The U.S. Congress, temporarily meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, ratifies the Treaty of Paris, officially ending America’s War of Independence.


Posted on January 18, 2010 at 12:13 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Military Milestones from the King of Battle to Second Fallujah

By W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

Originally published at Human Events

This Week in American Military History:

Nov. 16, 1778: In a letter to Frenchman Jacques Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, an intermediary between King Louis XVI and American emissaries seeking support for the American Revolution (including ships), Continental Navy Capt. John Paul Jones writes, “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm’s way.”

Readers will recall Jones dramatic refusal-to-surrender — “I have not yet begun to fight!” — the following year during the famous battle of the North Sea between the Continental Navy frigate Bonhomme Richard and the British frigate HMS Serapis.

Nov. 16, 2004: Nine days after launching Operation Phantom Fury — the Second Battle of Fallujah (Iraq) — U.S. Marines and soldiers (as well as a few British and Iraqi troops) begin the mopping-up phase of what has since been described as the most intense urban combat since the bloody battle for the Vietnamese city of Hué in 1968.

It is during the height of the battle for Fallujah, that a radio transmission is intercepted by U.S. forces in which a panicking al-Qaeda insurgent is heard exclaiming to his chief: “We are fighting, but the Marines keep coming! We are shooting, but the Marines won’t stop!”


Military Milestones from Greene’s Tigers to MacArthur’s Promise

This Week in American Military History (by W. Thomas Smith Jr.):

Oct. 18, 1859: U.S. Marine Lt. Israel Greene and a detachment of Marines – under the overall command of U.S. Army Col. (future Confederate general) Robert E. Lee – storm the now-famous fire-engine house at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Inside the building, abolitionist John Brown and his raiders have barricaded themselves following a failed attempt to spark a slave uprising in the town.

The signal for Greene’s Marines to attack is a simple waving of U.S. Army Lt. (future Confederate general) James Ewell Brown “J.E.B.” Stuart’s plumed hat, after Stuart (Col. Lee’s aide and the designated negotiator) fails to persuade Brown to surrender.

Signal given, the Marines rush forward. Two leathernecks attempt to batter down the door with sledgehammers. Greene then orders 10-12 men to break through the door by ramming it with a wooden ladder. They do, and Greene leads his Marines into the breach.


From the Navy’s Birthday to Black Thursday

LCdr. Virgil C. "Squash" Griffin becomes the first man to take off from an aircraft carrier in 1922.

LCdr. Virgil C. "Squash" Griffin becomes the first man to take off from an aircraft carrier in 1922.

This Week in American Military History (by W. Thomas Smith Jr.):

Oct. 12, 1862: Confederate cavalry commander Gen. James Ewell Brown “J.E.B.” Stuart completes his “second ride” around Union Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.

Oct. 13, 1775: Happy Birthday U.S. Navy!

According to the Naval History and Heritage Command:

“…meeting in Philadelphia, the Continental Congress voted to fit out two sailing vessels, armed with ten carriage guns, as well as swivel guns, and manned by crews of eighty, and to send them out on a cruise of three months to intercept transports carrying munitions and stores to the British army in America.

“This was the original legislation out of which the Continental Navy grew and as such constitutes the birth certificate of the navy.”

Oct. 14, 1943: In what will become known as “Black Thursday,” U.S. Army Air Force B-17 Flying Fortresses – elements of the famed 8th Air Force – attack the ball-bearing plants (critical to Germany’s aviation industry) at the heavily defended Bavarian city of Schweinfurt. Though the raid is successful, scores of bombers – and more than 600 airmen – are lost.

According to Bruce Crawford writing for Aviation History magazine: “There is not much there to commemorate the carnage that took place overhead so many years ago, and that is too bad, because Schweinfurt should rank with Pickett’s Charge, Bataan, Chosin and other battlefields as an epic of American heroism. As it is, we can only look at grainy wartime pictures of the bombers going down in flames, and try to imagine what it was like for the men trapped inside.”


Military Milestones from Second Saratoga to Striking the Taliban

This Week in American Military History (by W. Thomas Smith Jr.):

Oct. 7, 1777: Continental forces under the command of Gen. Horatio Gates decisively defeat British forces under Gen. John “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne in the Second Battle of Saratoga (also known as the Battle of Bemis Heights).

According to the National Parks Service, “This crucial American victory renewed patriots’ hopes for independence, secured essential foreign recognition and support, and forever changed the face of the world.”

But the war is far from over.

Oct. 7, 1780: Three years to the day after Second Saratoga, patriot militia forces armed with rifles, knives, and tomahawks decisively defeat musket-armed Loyalist militia under the command of British Army Maj. Patrick Ferguson (who will be killed in the fighting) in the bloody Battle of King’s Mountain on the N.C.-S.C. border.

Among the patriots is John Crockett, father of Davy Crockett.


Posted on October 9, 2009 at 11:21 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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