The USS Kearsarge Ends CSS Alabama’s Run

Today in History, June 19, 1864:

The Battle off Cherbourg. In 1861 the screw sloop CSS Alabama was launched in England, which was just the beginning of the intrigue involving the Confederate cruiser that wreaked havoc on Union shipping until her demise on this date in 1864.

The British gov’t had ordered no ships be built or sold to the rebels, but the company that built the Alabama did so clandestinely. During the intervening years the Alabama, which had both steam engines and sails, circled the globe sinking Union merchant shipping (60 at least) and a Union warship.

She had put in at Cherbourg, France for much needed repairs, but was rebuffed. Before she could leave, the Union screw sloop USS Kearsarge arrived outside the harbor.

Capt. Charles Pickering and many other Union Captains had been searching for the infamous Alabama and Capt. Raphael Semmes for years. Semmes set out to engage the Kearsarge, firing the first shot. The two ships parried, but the Kearsarge had some advantages; powerful new “Dahlgren” guns and chains draped over her sides for protection. Within an hour the Kearsarge’s crew sent the Alabama to the bottom. Semmes escaped on a passing British ship to England with 41 of his crew.

The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot

Today in History, June 19, 1944:

Reversal of Fortunes, exhibited by “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”, or the First Battle of the Philippine Sea.

US Marines, supported by their parent service, the US Navy, are invading Saipan and other islands in the Marianas Islands, which is such a threat to Japan that the Imperial Japanese Navy finally comes out to fight a definitive battle.

When the war began the Japanese had the most advanced aircraft available, while the US Navy lagged sorely behind. The Japanese Zero, for example, was much faster and more maneuverable than the American Wildcat fighter. But by 1944 the American industrial complex had engaged fully. As late as 1943 the USS Enterprise stood alone in the Pacific against numerous IJN Carriers.

But by June of 1944 the Americans put to sea 15 Aircraft Carriers in 4 Task Groups equipped with modern aircraft that far out matched Japan’s aircraft, which had not been updated since the war began. In addition, Japan’s air service had lost nearly all of it’s experienced pilots, while the Americans had thousands of combat hardened, well-trained pilots and crews.

When the IJN sent it’s carriers and their crews against TF 58, they were massacred. In two days the Japanese lost over 400 aircraft and their crews, 3 aircraft carriers they could not spare, and the Americans lost 29 aircraft (some of the crews were rescued) and no ships. So many Japanese aircraft fell from the skies that a Lexington pilot referred to it as an old time turkey shoot, and the name stuck.

The air crews of the task force had been launched late in the day on the 20th to attack the Japanese fleet. When they returned, it was well after dark and they began landing their planes in the sea, unable to see the carriers well enough for landings aboard.

With the threat from enemy submarines and aircraft during the war, blackout conditions were the rule. Admiral Marc Mitscher wasn’t going to lose his boys and their planes, however. With his order the fleet lit up, and the planes began landing on fumes.

Kansas City Officers, FBI Agent, and an Oklahoma Chief of Police Lose Their Lives in the Kansas City Massacre

I’ve posted this story before. After losing two Officers in Kansas City this week, and the FBI taking it on the chin lately, I thought it worth repeating.

Today in History, June 17, 1933:

The Kansas City Massacre. This story is important to FBI history and to Oklahoma history.

As a young man, Frank Nash began his criminal career by robbing a Sapulpa, Oklahoma business of $1,000. He then shot his accomplice in the back of the head so he could have the loot all to himself. He managed to talk his way out of prison by convincing the warden he wanted to fight for his country in WWI.

Years, several crimes, and two prison sentences later, he had escaped federal custody.

Apprehended in Arkansas by an FBI agent and by MacAlester Chief Otto Reed, he was being transported back to Leavenworth when four gunmen attacked the officers at the Kansas City Railroad Station, in an attempt to rescue Nash (maybe…some versions have it as a hit, to keep Nash from talking).

Two Kansas City police officers, an FBI agent, and Chief Reed were all killed in the attack…along with Nash.

The importance in history for the FBI? Agents went from being unarmed without arrest powers to being armed with pistols, Winchesters and Tommy guns and having arrest powers within the year.

And for Oklahoma? Well…an Oklahoma lawman had tracked the bad guy down and his actions resulted in historic changes…not the first time and certainly not the last time.

Today in History, June 16, 1816:

Lord Byron hosts a party at Villa Diodati. His guests include the Shelleys, Percy and Mary, Claire Clairmont and John Polidori.

They partake in a reading of the horror collection Fantasmagoriana and Byron challenges his fellow authors to write a ghost story. The result is Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” and Byron’s “Darkness”.

General Slocum

Today in History, June 15, 1904:

The General Slocum Disaster. The St. Mark’s German Lutheran Church charters the River Boat General Slocum to transport their teachers and children across the East River to Brooklyn to hold their annual picnic.

Keep in mind this was 1904, and Brooklyn was not part of a metropolis. One of the 1,360 passengers, a child, went to the boat’s captain to report that he had seen fire in a room below decks. The Captain responded basically with “go away kid”. By the time the crew found the fire, it was too late.

The Captain, Captain Van Schaik, decided to beach to boat on an island rather than at a dock where fire crews could have assisted with the fire. The boat’s rescue boats were tied down tight, so they couldn’t be used. The life preservers were not buoyant, so the children that donned them sank to the bottom of the river.

Over 1,000 of the passengers were either burned to death or drowned in the conflagration. The “Knickerbocker Company” was charged, but only the Captain actually served any time for the disaster. President Theodore Roosevelt fired the inspector responsible for the safety of the General Slocum.

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette

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Today in History, June 13, 1777:

A 19-year-old boy, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, Marquis de Lafayette, arrives at North Island, Georgetown, South Carolina from his native France. He had been a commissioned officer in the French Army since he was 13.

I’m sure Lafayette seemed somewhat ridiculous to many in the Continental Army at first, but he was dedicated to the American cause and soon gained the confidence of Gen. George Washington. He served with distinction in several battles, including the siege of Gen. Cornwallis at Yorktown. His influence as a French aristocrat gained vital support for the US cause from the French King and populace.

Americans were thoroughly impressed with him, and he idolized Washington…his only son would be named George Washington Lafayette. He would go on to be a key figure in the French Revolution, penning “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” with the assistance of Thomas Jefferson.

“Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall”

Today in History, June 12, 1987:

President Ronald Reagan had taken actions that helped win the Cold War that our nation had fought for forty years, brought back our economy, and on this date traveled to Berlin. He was received by Germans with the same fervor as when Kennedy spoke there years earlier when he spoke those now famous words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear DOWN this wall.”