“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.

The Real “First” World War?

Today in History, February 10: 1763 –

“The Seven Years War”, or as it was known in the colonies, “The French and Indian War” ends with the Treaty of Paris. Britain and France had been battling for years in America, Europe, India and on the high seas over their competing imperial interests. Spain had taken sides with France. Both Britain and France had their allies in what could be considered a World War.

After several British victories on land and at sea, and after several of France’s allies had signed separate peace treaties, France and Spain finally came to the table. France gave up several of her holdings including in Canada, America and India.

The Spanish received the Louisiana Territory, the British received Spanish Florida.

Probably the most important issues for the American colonies however, are these: Many Americans, such as George Washington, gained extensive military experience fighting the French and their Indian allies during the war. And when Americans decided less than two decades later to fight for their independence from the British Crown, the French had a grudge to settle; it wasn’t that difficult for Ben Franklin to convince France to come in on the side of the Colonials. French Naval might was pivotal to the American victory.

Aerial Bombing Begins in Britain

Today in History, January 19, 1915:

Germany begins aerial bombing of Britain using dirigibles, mostly Zeppelins during WWI.

The attacks would cause many deaths, but would be mostly ineffective and inaccurate.

The Zeppelins would eventually be replaced with aircraft. The bombings would lead to an early warning system and tactics by the Royal Air Force which would carry into the Battle of Britain during WWII.

Many civilians would die in the Zeppelin raids, leading to them being labeled “baby killers”, raising anger rather than the intended demoralization.

The Trent Affair

Today in History, December 26: 1861 – The “Trent Affair” ends with the release of Confederate envoys James Mason and John Slidell into British custody. Seems mundane initially, but this is a fascinating story that helps define American character. Earlier in the year, Union forces had been made aware that Confederate emissaries were being sent to Britain…believing that the desire for Southern cotton (King Cotton) by British merchants would inspire the UK Government to recognize the Confederacy as as separate nation, and to support her against the North. The USS San Jacinto, commanded by US Navy Captain Charles Wilkes, found the HMS Trent, a mail “packet” ship carrying Mason and Slidell to Britain to lobby for recognition and for support. He ordered the ship boarded and the envoys arrested as “contraband”, taking them to a Union port. Wilkes had led the American Exploring Expedition years earlier…science was his domain, not international relations. He created an international incident….the British were outraged that one of their ships had been boarded and her passengers seized. Ironically, by international law, had he seized the entire ship and brought her to port pending a trial, nobody would have been offended. US Secretary of State William Seward had to deal with the situation. American public sentiment was that the Southerners were taken legitimately. But if you looked at American history to that date…the Revolution had been won partially because Americans had gained foreign recognition by France. So was the Confederacy really doing anything that the Americans of the Revolution hadn’t done? Subsequently, the War of 1812 had been fought largely because Americans were tired of the British boarding their ships and seizing the ships crewmen. So could Capt. Wilkes’ actions be defended? Foremost in Seward’s thinking (and Lincoln’s) was that the Union would be hard pressed to win the Civil War if Britain came in on the side of the Confederacy, deciding that the CSA was a nation unto itself rather than a rebellious segment of one nation. In the end Seward voiced an eloquent conciliatory message to the British, released the Southern envoys to the British government, and avoided creating another enemy the North could not fight. Mason and Slidell continued on to Britain, but their efforts came to naught.