A General Above All Others

Today in History, October 11, 1976:

Lt. Gen. George Washington is promoted to General of the Armies.

No, that is not a typo.

After leading all American Continental forces to victory in the Revolutionary War and serving two terms as our first President, George Washington maintained his rank as Lieutenant General.

In the interim, other men were promoted to Gen. of the Army…Grant, Sherman, Sheridan (4-star), Marshall, Eisenhower, MacArthur, Arnold and Bradley 5-star.). Admirals Leahy, King and Nimitz became 5-star Fleet Admirals. And John “Back Jack” Pershing.

At our Bicentenial, Congress decided, and rightly so, that no General should ever outrank the father of our nation.

So they created the rank of General of the Armies (not to be confused with Gen. of the Army), and posthumously promoted General Washington and declared none should ever exceed his rank.

——————————————–

Hereas Lieutenant General George Washington of Virginia commanded our armies throughout and to the successful termination of our Revolutionary War;

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington presided over the convention that formulated our Constitution;

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington twice served as President of the United States of America; and

Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list;

Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That

(a) for purposes of subsection (b) of this section only, the grade of General of the Armies of the United States is established, such grade to have rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present.

(b) The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.

Approved October 11, 1976.

Public Law 94-479

Meriwether Lewis: Murdered? Or Suicide?

Today in History, October 11, 1809:

We all know of the adventures of Lewis and Clark.

But on this day in 1809, only 3 years after the completion of his groundbreaking expedition, Meriwether Lewis died. He was only 35 years old.

The big question is whether it was murder or suicide. He was, at the time, the Governor of Upper Louisiana, and traveling the Natchez Trace to bring information to Washington about his efforts as Governor and as an explorer.

He was staying at Grinder’s Stand, an inn along the Trace, when the owners and other travelers heard “several” gunshots ring out.

Depending on who you talked to, he suffered through the night, the result of gunshots by his own hand or by murderers who stole the money he had with him.

Clark and President Jefferson, who knew him best, were easily convinced that he killed himself. Not publicized nearly as much as his courageous exploits is the reality that he battled depression and alcohol.

Others believed he was murdered by one of the many pirates along the trace. I have to wonder about the “several shots” at a time of flintlock pistols. How determined would a suicidal person have to be to shoot himself several times to complete a suicide then, or even now? The cash he was carrying with him was never found.

The Unknown Soldier & the USS Olympia

TODAY IN HISTORY, OCTOBER 3, 1921:

The USS Olympia sets sail for France.

Her mission: To bring the Unknown Soldier back home for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Olympia had a distinguished career. in 1898 she was Admiral Dewey’s flagship during the Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines (Spanish-American War) in which the American fleet devastated the Spanish Fleet, propelling the US to international player status.

Dewey stood on the Olympia’s bridge when he famously said, “You may fire when ready, Gridley”.

The trip back to America from France with the Unknown Soldier was not uneventful. The ship feared they would be lost to a devastating storm.

Today, the Olympia is the oldest remaining steel hulled ship of the US Navy, a nearly 130 year old museum ship. But her story is far from over. The Olympia is suffering severe natural damage and it will take millions to keep her from dissolving into the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

And of course you can visit her famous passenger at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C.

“Damn the Torpedoes!”

Today in History, August 5, 1864:

“Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!!”

The Battle of Mobile Bay. During the Civil War, Confederate “blockade runners” (Rhett Butler types) kept the South in vital supplies by running past the Union Navy blockade from Cuba to ports like Mobile Bay, Alabama.

US Navy Admiral David Glasgow Farragut was tasked with closing this last Confederate source of supplies. His fleet had to fight past the Confederate fleet of ironclads and two forts that guarded the bay. As the battle progressed, the Union fleet began to fragment, until Farragut rallied his sailors with famous admonition, winning the battle.

Mobile would remain in Confederate hands, but access to it was cut off for the duration. Farragut was the adopted son of US Naval Officer David Porter, who also raised his biological sons, famous Naval officers David Dixon Porter, and William Porter. One family played such a vital role in the glory of the US Navy. Can you imagine being a part of it?

“Steady, men….steady! ChaaaaAAAaaRRGE!!”

Today in History, July 1:

A day for important battles.

1863 – The Union and the Confederates first clash at The Battle of Gettysburg, and both send reinforcements. The first day went badly for the Union, but the largest battle in North America had three more days to go, and would become a major turning point in the Civil War.

1898 – The Battle of San Juan Hill becomes a major victory for the US in the Spanish-American War as the US Army’s Fifth Corps takes the heights over Santiago de Cuba. It also set the stage for Colonel Theodore Roosevelt to become President as he became famous for leading his Rough Riders up Kettle Hill (not San Juan).

1916 – The Battle of the Somme in France; after a week’s bombardment with over 250,000 shells, the British launch an attack into no-man’s land. The Germans had retained many machine guns despite the bombardment, and the British soldiers were slaughtered. With 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded in one day, it was one of the worst defeats for the British military’s history.

1942 – The Battle of El Alamein; In North Africa Erwin Rommel’s army had routed the British and their allies, driving them back so quickly that they had to leave much of their equipment behind. But on today’s date the British Army, resupplied by Americans and reorganized, turned the tide back on Rommel at El Alamein.

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, Marquis de Lafayette

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.

A Violent Decade of Assassinations

Today in History, June 8, 1968:

What a busy news day this must have been?!

James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr is arrested in London, England where he was attempting to make his way to an African nation run by racists (ironic). He would eventually be convicted of assassinating Civil Rights leader King.

On the same day…..

…another civil rights activist is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Robert F. Kennedy would be laid to rest within 30 yards of his brother John, assassinated only five years earlier.