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.
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.
Featured image: “… to the shores of Tripoli…” Lt. Presley O’Bannon leading Marines during the Battle of Derna, inspiring the famous opening line to the Marine Corps Hymn. (painting by Col. Charles Waterhouse, USMC art collection)
1805: Following an extremely difficult march across a 500-to-700-mile stretch of North African desert, a force of eight U.S. Marines, two Navy midshipmen, and band of Arab and Greek mercenaries commanded by U.S. Army officer William Eaton have reached the fortress at Derna (modern-day Libya) during the First Barbary War.
Supported by three warships (USS Nautilus, USS Hornet, and USS Argus), Eaton personally leads the two-and-a-half-hour assault on the fortress. One Marine is killed in action and another mortally wounded in the first U.S. land battle on foreign soil. The Battle of Derna also marks the first time the U.S. flag is raised over foreign soil.
Legend states that newly installed, pro-American pasha Hamet Karamanli was so impressed with Marine 1st Lt. Presley O’Bannon’s leadership and heroics that he presents O’Bannon with a Mameluke sword. U.S. Marine officers today still carry the Mameluke sword, whereas Marine NCOs carry the traditional Naval infantry saber.
1813: Brig. Gen. Zebulon Pike’s 1,800-man American infantry force lands west of the Canadian town of York (present-day Toronto). Supported by a 14-ship naval flotilla, the Americans inflict heavy losses on the outnumbered British regulars, Canadian militia, and Ojibwe warriors. The fort’s magazine explodes during the battle, killing 38 Americans (including Pike) and wounding over 200. York is burned after the town’s capture, enraging the British and inspiring them to retaliate by burning Washington, D.C. the next year.
1865: The overcrowded Mississippi River steamboat Sultana, carrying 2,400 Union soldiers just released from Confederate prison, explodes and sinks just north of Memphis. At least 1,500 soldiers perish in the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history.
1953: As armistice negotiations begin, Gen. Mark Clark – the commander of UN forces in Korea – informs Communist pilots through shortwave radio broadcasts in Russian, Chinese, and Korean that defecting MiG-15 pilots would receive political asylum and $50,000 (the first defecting pilot would be awarded $100,000) to fly an operational jet to South Korea. The Russian MiG-15 was considered to be superior to any Allied fighter at the time and had inflicted heavy casualties on Allied airmen.
Although no pilot would take up the offer until September, Operation MOOLAH had the indirect effect of grounding MiG-15 sorties for several days – perhaps as Communist Party leaders investigated the loyalty of their pilots. And following Clark’s broadcasts, there would be no more sightings of Russian pilots or aircraft, which were considerably better pilots than their Chinese or North Korean MiG counterparts.
[This Day in Military History is regularly published at OpsLens.com]
1846: When Maj. Gen. (and future president) Zachary Taylor receives reports that Mexican forces – seeking to reclaim Texas – have crossed the Rio Grande, he dispatches two companies of dragoons (mounted infantry) to investigate. The American soldiers are ambushed by some 1,600 Mexican soldiers and those not killed are taken prisoner.
The Mexican-American War has begun.
1914: Navy lieutenant (future vice admiral) Patrick N.L. Bellinger flies the first Naval combat mission when his AB-3 flying boat conducts reconnaissance of Veracruz and searches the Mexican harbor for mines. Bellinger also becomes the first American aviator to be fired upon by the enemy.
1915: Australian and New Zealand soldiers land on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula and face fierce resistance from Lt. Col. Mustafa Kamal’s Turks. Kamal orders his defenders, horribly outnumbered and out of ammunition: “Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die. In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place.”
After an eight months of fighting and 300,000 casualties, the Allies withdraw. Kamal, later known as Ataturk, will become Turkey’s first president.
1944: When an Army Air Forces plane carrying wounded British soldiers goes down 100 miles behind Japanese lines in Burma, Lt. Carter Harmon conducts the first known military helicopter rescue. His YR-4B helicopter can carry only one passenger, so Harmon has to fly four trips to everyone back to safety.
1945: A U.S. Army reconnaissance patrol crosses the Elbe River and makes contact with a forward element of the Russian Guards. The German Wehrmacht is effectively split in two. Meanwhile, the Nazi occupation army in Italy surrenders and the last German troops in Finland evacuate.
World War II will be over in days.
[This Day in Military History is published at OpsLens.com]
1778: Capt. John Paul Jones, commanding the Continental sloop-of-war Ranger, leads a daring ship-to-shore raid on the British fortress at Whitehaven, England. Jones’ sailors and Marines spike the enemy’s guns, burn a few buildings, and set fire to a ship before withdrawing. The raid is the first on British soil by an American force.
1918: Near Saint-Gobain, France 1st Lt. Paul Baer of the 103rd Aero Squadron shoots down his fifth enemy aircraft, becoming the U.S. Army Air Service’s first ace. Baer flew with the French Escadrille Américaine prior to America’s entry into World War II, and will ultimately claim nine confirmed victories (plus an additional seven unconfirmed) before being shot down himself and spending the rest of the war in a German prisoner of war camp.
Before becoming a pilot, Baer fought in Mexico under Gen. John J. Pershing’s in the Punitive Expedition. He managed to escape German captivity but was captured quickly. He was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses in addition to his numerous French decorations. After the war, he flew as a mercenary against Bolsheviks in Poland.
1945: A U.S. Navy PB4Y-2 Privateer of Patrol Bombing Squadron 109 (VPB-109) launches two Bat missiles against Japanese shipping at Balikpapan, Borneo. While both of the radar-guided homing missiles malfunction in their combat debut, Bats will send several Japanese ships to the bottom before the World War II ends.
1951: When his company’s outpost is overrun by enemy forces in a fierce nighttime attack, Tech. Sgt. Harold E. Wilson ignores wounds in his head, shoulder, arm, and leg, resupplying his fellow Marines and coordinating his unit’s defense with his company commander. Wounded again by a mortar blast, the platoon sergeant refuses medical assistance for himself and continues to support his men and treat the wounded. Despite being covered with serious wounds he stays in the fight until the last enemy assault has been defeated. He then walks a mile to the rear, but only after ensuring that all of his Marines are accounted for.
For his actions, Wilson is awarded the Medal of Honor. Prior to the battle, he served in the Pacific Theater of World War II, was wounded in the Chosin Reservoir, and would later serve in Vietnam.
On this day in 1939 at Yankee Stadium, a young rookie named Ted Williams makes his big league debut. He faces New York ace Red Ruffing, striking out twice but slapping a double as Ruffing shuts out the visiting Boston Red Sox 2-0.
Williams will spend three baseball seasons serving his country during World War II, earning his Naval aviators wings and then as an instructor pilot at Pensacola Naval Air Station (Fla.) for the Vought F4U Corsair fighter plane. While he awaited assignment for combat duty, the war in the Pacific ended before Williams had to fight.
When war breaks out in Korea, the Marines recall Capt. Williams in 1952. He trains on the Grumman F9F Panther jet fighter and ships out with Marine Attack Squadron 311 (VMF-311) to Pohang, South Korea. Williams will often fly as wingman for fellow Marine and future astronaut John Glenn.
On one of his 39 combat missions, damage from enemy flak forces Williams crash-lands his crippled jet at Suwon’s K-13 airstrip. During a massive 200-plane raid on a troop encampment, Williams was hit by enemy ground fire which knocked out his instrument panel, landing gear, and hydraulic system; damaged his control surfaces; and set the plane on fire.
Rather than eject (and risk damaging his knees) Williams brings the plane down on its belly and skids down the runway for over a mile before the mortally wounded plane comes to a stop. A bout with pneumonia will disqualify Williams from flight duty and he is able to return for the final stretch of the 1953 season and resume the rest of his Hall of Fame baseball career.
Also on this date in 1944, a B-26 Marauder flown by Capt. Elmer Gedeon of the 586th Bombardment Squadron is shot down while attacking a V-1 flying bomb site in France. The former Washington Senators outfielder becomes the first of two professional baseball players to be killed during World War II.
In 1942, while Gedeon served as navigator aboard a B-25 Mitchell during training in the United States, his bomber crashed in North Carolina shortly after takeoff, killing two of his fellow crew. After managing to escape the burning aircraft, Gedeon ignored severe burns and broken ribs and crawled back into the fuselage to rescue another comrade. For his actions, Gedeon was awarded the Soldier’s Medal.
While not related to military history, it is interesting to note that the April 20, 1939 Red Sox-Yankee game marks the only time Williams will face Yankee Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig. The “Iron Horse” goes 0-for-4 and grounds into two double plays.
In just ten days (April 30) Gehrig will take the field for the last game, setting a remarkable streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. After the team enjoys a day off, Gehrig informs Yankee manager Joe McCarthy that he is benching himself.
He will never play again.
[The series “This Day in U.S. Military History” is regularly published at OpsLens.com]
1781: Commanding 1,600 British troops, the American turncoat – now a British brigadier general – Benedict Arnold captures and burns Richmond, Va.
1855: A landing party from the USS Plymouth skirmishes with Chinese forces near Canton during the Taiping Rebellion.
1861: After South Carolina secedes from the Union, Fort Sumter (in Charleston Harbor) is surrounded by Confederate forces and in need of supplies. The civilian merchant vessel Star of the West departs New York on this date for the besieged Federal troops with supplies and 250 reinforcements. Upon arriving four days later, shore batteries attack the vessel, forcing it to turn around. The standoff continues until April, when the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter.
1875: Cdr. Edward Lull (USN) leads an expedition to locate the best route for the Panama Canal.
1904: Marines arrive in Korea to defend the U.S. legation assembly at Seoul.
1945: Japanese pilots receive their first order to execute kamikaze suicide tactics. At Okinawa alone, 1,465 kamikaze pilots destroy at least 30 U.S. warships and kill 5,000 Americans.
1951: 59 B-29 “Superforts” hammer Pyongyang with nearly 700 tons of bombs and the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group takes off from Suwon Air Base for the final time. The base is destroyed in the face of an advancing Chinese and North Korean military.
1967: U.S. and South Vietnamese Marines conduct a joint amphibious assault of the Mekong Delta. The goal of Operation “Deckhouse V” is to capture Viet Cong prisoners from the Thanh Phu Secret Zone, and it is the first time U.S. troops operate in the delta.
1970: Staff Sgt. Franklin D. Miller was leading a long range patrol of Special Forces soldiers and Montagnards in Laos when a booby trap wounded several members. A firefight ensued, wounding the entire patrol. Despite a serious chest wound, Miller is the last man standing and keeps up the fight for several hours, holding off repeated enemy assaults against their position. That evening, as he is about to exhaust his ammunition, a team arrives to relieve the Green Berets.
Miller would serve over six years in Southeast Asia. When asked by Richard Nixon upon awarding Miller the Medal of Honor, the president asks him where he wanted to be assigned next. Miller’s answer: “Vietnam.”
2002: Air Force C-17 cargo planes deliver materials at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba so the “Seabees” can construct a detention facility for captured Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees.
1917: Four U.S. battleships, USS Delaware (BB-28), USS Florida (BB-30), New York (BB-34), and USS Wyoming (BB-32) arrive in British waters and join the British Grand Fleet for service during World War I. That same day, the United States declares war on Austria-Hungary.
1941: At 3:57 a.m. the minesweeper USS Condor spots a periscope at the entrance to Pearl Harbor. The ship signals the nearby destroyer USS Ward, whose crew begins searching for the unidentified vessel. At 6:37 a.m., Ward spots the periscope as a two-man Japanese mini sub attempts to follow a U.S. cargo ship into the harbor and sinks the enemy warship – the first U.S. shots of World War II.
Having achieved total tactical and strategic surprise, Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo’s 1st Air Fleet begins their attack on Pearl Harbor. The strike is conducted in two waves: The first wave of 183 enemy aircraft strikes just before 8:00 a.m. The second wave of 170 planes hits a little after 8:30 a.m.
Of the ships anchored at Pearl Harbor, five of the eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were either sunk or severely damaged. By day’s end, 2,718 American sailors, 582 soldiers (including Army Air Forces personnel), 178 Marines, and 103 civilians will be dead, dying or wounded. Japanese losses were minimal: 30 planes, five minisubs, 65 killed, and one Japanese sailor captured. All but two of the battleships – Arizona and Oklahoma – are raised to fight again.
Meanwhile, Japanese forces bomb Guam and Wake as destroyers and planes attack Midway. Other Japanese targets include Shanghai, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies.
1942: USS New Jersey (BB-62), one of the world’s largest battleships ever built, is launched. The “Big J” will serve a total of 21 years in the active fleet, seeing action in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. In 1982 the Iowa-class battleship will put to sea once again after being modified to carry Tomahawk cruise missiles, and is decommissioned for the last time in 1991.
1943: At the Bernhardt defensive line in Italy, Lt. Gen. Mark Clark’s Fifth Army secures the Mignano Gap.
1944: Patton’s Third Army crosses the Siegfried Line at Saarlautern.
In the Pacific, the 77th Infantry Division lands at Ormoc in the Philippines as one of the escort destroyers, USS Ward (the same ship that sunk the midget submarine three years ago at Pearl Harbor), is sunk by kamikaze attacks. Nearby, the USS Mahan is also sunk by kamikaze attacks.
1950: Air Force cargo planes drop eight “Treadway” bridge spans in the Funchilin Pass, enabling the First Marine Division to cross the most difficult natural obstacle on their breakout of the Chosin Reservoir.
1952: U.S. Air Force F-86 “Saber” pilots shoot down seven of 32 enemy aircraft – the highest tally of the Korean War.
1959: America’s first operational ballistic missile, the PGM-17 “Thor”, is successfully launched at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
1972: Apollo 17 launches for NASA’s final lunar mission. Aboard are two U.S. Navy captains: Eugene A. Cernan and Ronald E. Evans, and Harrison H. Schmitt – a civilian geologist.