Posted in Military History

23 October: Today in U.S. military history

Today’s post is in honor of Lance Cpl. Stephen E. Spencer, 23, or Portsmouth, R.I., who was one of 241 Marines, sailors, and soldiers killed in the Beirut Barracks Bombing (see below). A majority of the casualties from the terrorist attack were members of 1st Battalion, 8th Marines.

1864: In Westport, Mo. (present-day Kansas City), Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis’ 22,000-man Army of the Border defeats a heavily outnumbered Confederate force commanded by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price in the largest battle fought west of the Mississippi River. The Union brings an end to Price’s Missouri Expedition with his defeat in the “Gettysburg of the West,” and Price retreats into Kansas. After the Battle of Westport, the border state of Missouri will remain under Union control for the rest of the Civil War.

1918: When a battalion commander needs to send a message to an endangered company on the front lines, he realizes sending a runner would be too hazardous due to heavy incoming fire. However, Pfc. Parker F. Dunn volunteers for the job and races through the fire-swept terrain toward the unit. He is hit once and gets up. He is hit again, and continues. Undaunted, Dunn carries on towards his objective, but is finished off by an enemy machinegun burst. He is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

1942: On Guadalcanal, Imperial Japanese soldiers and tanks attempt to cross the Matanikau River, and are quickly defeated — signaling the beginning of the Battle for Henderson Field. Over the next three days the 1st Marine Division and the 164th Infantry Regiment, supported by the “Cactus Air Force,” shatter wave after wave of Japanese assaults on the ground and in the air. The battle marks the final major Japanese ground operation before they abandon the island.

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Posted in Military History

Today in U.S. military history: a secret Space Shuttle mission

Today’s post is in honor of the crew of FROSH 10, a B-52C that crashed into a mountain in Maine during a training mission on this day in 1963. The airmen were testing terrain-following radar and flying at near-treetop levels when they encountered severe turbulence from the mountains, completely shearing off their rear stabilizer. While the pilot and navigator survived, Maj. Robert J. Morrison, Lt. Col Joe R. Simpson, Jr., Maj. William W. Gabriel, Maj. Robert J. Hill, Jr., Capt. Herbert L. Hansen, Capt. Charles G. Leuchter and Tech. Sgt. Michael F. O’Keefe of the 99th Bombardment Wing, Heavy perished.

1847: Col. Sterling Price (future major general in the Confederate Army) learns a force of nearly 2,000 Mexicans and Pueblo Indians is preparing to assault U.S.-held Santa Fe, in modern-day New Mexico. He assembles his 353 soldiers, militia, and volunteers and heads out to meet the enemy, which occupy houses and the heights overlooking Price’s position.

Despite the terrain disadvantage and five-to-one numerical odds, Price’s heavily outnumbered force routs the insurgents.”In a few minutes,” Price reported, “my troops had dislodged the enemy at all points, and they were flying in every direction.”

1944: As Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas’ VI Corps expand the beachhead at Anzio, Adolf Hitler orders his troops to defend the Gustav Line (situated between Anzio and Monte Cassino) to the last man. The nihilistic dictator’s order comes a year — to the day — after ordering Gen. Friedrich Paulus’ shattered Sixth Army to fight to the death at Stalingrad. Paulus and his men only hold out for another week.

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Posted in Articles Fitness

Lewis and Clark (virtual) Ride: Bushwackers, dysentery, and hemp bales

[This is part seven in a series of articles documenting my virtual bike ride across America, following the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For previous posts, click here.]

Tracing Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s route to the Pacific from over 200 years ago, I strap back into the pedals of my PROFORM Tour de France bike and pick up the trail in modern-day Saline county, just west of where the Chariton River empties into the Missouri River. My virtual route, which follows the river as closely as roads allow, meanders through the western portion of Missouri’s “Little Dixie” region. This part of the “Show-Me State” got its name from the plantation owners that migrated here from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia in the 19th Century, bringing their slaves with them, and establishing hemp, tobacco, and cotton farms.

Typically, the Google Street View images displayed by my bike look great. But certain stretches of Missouri backroads aren’t the greatest, such as this (heavily retouched) screen capture over the Missouri River, near Miami, Mo. Imagery along this stretch of Missouri Route 41 dates back to 2009, while the old steel truss bridge pictured above (built in 1939) was still standing. Today, a new concrete girder bridge stands in its place.

The explorers had been traveling upriver for a month at this point, and Capt. Clark writes that the men were “much aflicted [sic] with boils and several have the Decissentary [dysentery].”

If you played Oregon Trail as a kid, some of your poor characters probably died of dysentery.

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Lewis and Clark (virtual) Ride: Boonslick Country to Missouri’s Grand Divide

[This is part six in a series of articles documenting my virtual bike ride across America, following the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For previous posts, click here.]

In this post, I pick up the trail west of Jefferson City, Mo. and continue along the Missouri River until reaching the Chariton River.

Along the way is the town of Boonville, Mo., which was the site of a tiny battle that had a huge impact on the Civil War.

On May 10, 1861, just days after the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter (S.C.), several hundred Missouri militiamen were drilling at Camp Jackson, just outside the city limits of St. Louis. A pro-confederate force had recently overrun the federal arsenal at Liberty, Mo., and Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon suspected the force amassed at Camp Jackson was going to seize his large arsenal in St. Louis and he ordered his federal troops to capture the Missouri Volunteer Militia members.

As the Union troops marched their prisoners through town, they were harassed and pelted with rocks and other objects by a secessionist mob. Lyon’s men eventually opened fire on the crowd, killing 28 civilians and wounding dozens more. Missouri’s pro-confederate governor Claiborne Jackson and Missouri State Guard commander Maj. Gen. Sterling Price (a former brigadier general of volunteers and veteran of the Mexican-American War who opposed secession until the Camp Jackson incident) met with Lyon and told him that his federal troops were not to travel beyond St. Louis. Lyon responded by saying their demand “meant war” and declared his men would have free passage throughout the state. He allowed Jackson and Price safe passage out of St. Louis and the pair fled west to Jefferson City. However, Lyon and his force of U.S. Army regulars and Missouri militia were hot on their tail.

Looking east from the Boonslick Bridge, just north of Boonsville, Mo. (Google Street View image)

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