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.
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.
1779: Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold’s court martial begins in Philadelphia, but the trial is immediately postponed when Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton captures Stony Point, N.Y.. The Americans did not know that Arnold had already contacted Clinton about switching sides, and in July he begins to give the British intelligence on troop locations and strength.
The disaffected American officer is charged with misconduct and will be cleared of all but two minor charges in December, and 12 months later Arnold becomes a British brigadier general.
1813: The frigate USS Chesapeake – one of the United States Navy’s original six ships – clashes with British ship HMS Shannon outside Boston Harbor. After being mortally wounded by a sniper round Chesapeake captain James Lawrence’s last words to his crew are “Tell the men to fire faster and [don’t] give up the ship! Fight her till she sinks!” Shannon‘s crew boards and will capture Chesapeake, taking her crew prisoner, but Capt. Lawrence’s famous final words live on today.
Each week we will be exploring the connections (both in print and on OpsLens TV) between seemingly disconnected events that occurred this week in military history, in addition to our daily military history posts. (Originally published at OpsLens.com)
76 years ago this week was the great Naval battle of Midway – “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.” Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto hoped to lure the U.S. Pacific Fleet into a great air-sea battle and destroy it. The Japanese could then capture the strategic island, giving them an ideal staging ground for attacking Pearl Harbor, but little did he know that the Americans had the drop on them.
Naval cryptanalysts had broken the Japanese Navy’s main radio code earlier in the year, so we knew the location, date, and strength of the supposed surprise attack on the U.S. base at Midway. A fleet of submarines were already in position, the base’s garrison had been strengthened, and additional land-based planes had flown in. Admiral Chester Nimitz’s carriers were east of Midway, ready to spring the trap by the time the Japanese launched a devastating attack on the island on June 4.
As the planes returned to re-arm following their first wave of attacks, Japanese scouts discovered three American carriers, including USS Yorktown, which had to come as a complete shock since the flattop was crippled during the Battle of Coral Sea a month ago and believed to be out of action. Repair crews had performed a miracle to put her back in action while they steamed towards Midway.
[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.
[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.
1861: Col. Robert E. Lee, considered for a top command by Gen. Winfield Scott (whom Lee served as a chief aide during the Mexican-American War), and having just rejected an offer of command in the Confederate Army, reluctantly resigns his commission in the U.S. Army following the secession of his home state of Virginia.
However, in three days Lee will take command of Virginia state forces – one of the first five generals appointed to the Confederate Army.
Meanwhile, Norfolk Navy Yard is abandoned and burned by Union forces to prevent the facility from falling into enemy hands after Virginia’s secession. The Confederates would do the same when they abandon the shipyard in May 1862.
1914: Following the arrest of U.S. sailors in Veracruz and the discovery of an illegal arms shipment from Germany to Gen. Victoriano Huerta’s regime, Pres. Woodrow Wilson obtains Congress’ approval to occupy the Mexican port. The following day, Marines and Naval “Bluejacket” infantry seize the port and, supported by Naval gunfire, take the town. Marines will remain in Veracruz until November.
This date also marks the first-ever combat deployment of a Naval aviation unit: Lt. John H. Towers, 1st Lt. Bernard L. Smith (USMC), and Ens. Godfrey deC. Chevalier, 12 enlisted support personnel, and three planes board the cruiser USS Birmingham and sail for Tampico.
1918: In the skies over France, German pilot Manfred von Richtofen – the infamous “Red Baron” – guns down two Sopwith Camels of the Royal Air Force’s No. 3 Squadron within three minutes, scoring what will be his final two kills.
The next day, Richtofen (who began the war as a cavalry officer) is shot down and killed. The Australian fighter squadron credited with shooting the German ace down gives Richtofen a full military funeral. Over the course of the war, the Red Baron shoots down an incredible 80 planes – the most victories by any pilot in World War I.
1945: After five days of perhaps the most fierce urban combat of the war, the 7th Army captures Nuremberg. The Stars and Stripes are raised over Adolf Hitler Platz, the site of Nazi party rallies, on the Führer’s 56th birthday.