“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 world will little note, nor long remember what we say here…” And Yet…We Do

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Today in History, November 19, 1863:

“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” -Edward Everett, popular orator that spoke with President Lincoln at Gettysburg to commemorate those that died there during the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg earlier in the year.

President Lincoln spoke briefly, and his speech was criticized at the time by some media, but has become legendary for it’s prescience. See below for the full text….

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

NYC Draft Riots

Today in History, July 13, 1863:

Just days after men had died fighting at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Irish immigrants began rioting in New York City against a draft.

The poor immigrants, who had recently come to America to escape the famines in Ireland, and who were living in poverty, were not happy to be drafted into military service when rich men could buy their way out of the draft for $300.

They were also competing directly with black freedmen for jobs, so the riot soon took on a racial component…even a black orphanage was burned.

Those men that had fought at Gettysburg? They had to leave their dead and move quickly to New York City to put down the insurrection. The NYC Draft Riots remain the most damaging in our history.

As an aside, to remain true to history…my favorite President’s father, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. was one of the wealthy men that bought his way out of service. Making up for that is part of the reason TR gave up a safe position as Under Secretary of the Navy to head up the Rough Riders in Cuba.

Gettysburg

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Today in History, July 4, 1863:

On the same day, half a continent away, Confederate General Robert E. Lee leads his defeated Army of Northern Virginia south away from the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. No official surrender here…Lee’s army would survive to fight another day. While both battles were turning points, they did not spell the end of the South as many believe. There were years of hard, bitter fighting still to come with ghastly losses in life and injury. Gettysburg was, however, the last serious attempt by the South to invade the North.

The Great Gettysburg Reunion

Today in History, June 25, 1913:

“We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.” –President Woodrow Wilson.

The Great Civil War Reunion at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Nearly half a century after the end of the Civil War, aged men and women who had been sworn enemies, who had lost loved ones on both sides of the great conflict, began to gather at Gettysburg for a reunion to honor those they had lost…and each other.

Men missing limbs commiserated with each other, slapped backs, shared stories, joined together as brothers…Union, Confederate, White, Black, recognized that the War was history and they were comrades again. If men and women that were so committed to killing each other could do this….can’t we?

The First Use of the “Temporary Insanity” Defense

Today in History, February 19, 1859:

New York Congressman Daniel E. Sickles is acquitted of murder using a temporary insanity defense, the first time this defense was used in US courts.

Sickles was quite a character…he had been censored by Congress more than once, most prominently for having brought a known prostitute into the House chamber, and then taking her to England and introducing her to Queen Victoria while his wife was at home pregnant.

Despite this, he was enraged when his wife confessed to him that she had been carrying on an affair with the District Attorney for the District of Columbia, Phillip Barton Key II (Francis Scott Key’s son…you know..the Star Spangled Banner author).

Sickles confronted Key in Lafayette Square, across the street from the Executive Mansion (White House) and shot him dead. Sickles then went to the Attorney General’s home, turned himself in and confessed.

Future Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton defended Sickles at his trial, painting the wife as a cheating harlot, and securing Sickles’ acquittal. Sickles went back to his wife, which enraged his supporters much more than the murder.

When the Civil War began, Sickles used his influence to recruit NY volunteers and gain a political generalship, something that was possible in those days. With no military experience he actually made a good accounting of himself in several battles.

Ironically, his most controversial act was yet to come.

At the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg, his III Corps was assigned a portion of the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge. On his own he decided to move his unit forward to higher ground, which thinned his lines and left a gap in the Union lines, and blatantly ignored the orders of the commander of the Army of the Potomac, General Meade.

Confederate General James Longstreet’s Corps attacked and decimated Sickles’ command, costing Sickles his leg.

The controversy amongst historians is whether Sickles sacrifice of his Corps helped or hurt the Union’s chances of victory. In the end the Union could count Gettysburg as a victory, but in my humble opinion, the ambitious Sickles had little to do with it. He put it at risk.

In his later years Sickles served as Minister to Spain (continuing his womanizing there) and returned to the legislature.

He spent much effort in creating the Gettysburg National Military Park and in denigrating Gen. Meade, while promoting himself as the true reason for the victory at Gettysburg. After lobbying for 34 years, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery in the battle. Perhaps most telling is the fact that there are memorials to almost all of the generals involved in the battle at the Park, but not for Sickles.

Good or bad, between his killing of Francis Scott Key’s son, his pioneering use of the insanity defense, and his military career, Sickles’ story is fascinating.

“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Today in History, November 19: 1863 – “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” -Edward Everett, popular orator that spoke with President Lincoln at Gettysburg to commemorate those that died there during the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg earlier in the year. President Lincoln spoke briefly, and his speech was criticized at the time by some media, but has become legendary for it’s prescience. See below for the full text….

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. A Date Full of Historic Significance!


Today in History, July 4: This is my favorite day of the year to post, not only because it is America’s birthday, but because the date is so rich in American History. 

 1754 – During the French and Indian Wars, a young colonial member of the British Army abandons “Fort Necessity” after surrendering it to the French the day before. The officer, 22-year-old Lt. George Washington had also commanded British forces in the first battle of the war on the American continent weeks before. The French and Indian Wars were only part of a global conflict between England and France, the Seven Years War. His experience here would serve Washington well in our War for Independence. 

 1776 – The second Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence from England after years of conflict as colonists, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

 1803 – President Thomas Jefferson announces the signing of a treaty in Paris formalizing the Louisiana Purchase, effectively doubling the size of the United States in one day for $15M. 

 1826 – 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, two of it’s signers, second President John Adams and third President Thomas Jefferson, die on the same day. The two had become bitter political enemies for years (Adams a devout Federalist, Jefferson an equally devout state’s rights man, in addition to vicious political vitriol the two had exchanged). But in 1812 they made amends and began a years’ long correspondence, making them good friends again. It is said that Adams’ last words were, “Jefferson survives”. He was wrong, Jefferson had died five hours before. Many Americans at the time saw their death on the same day 50 years after the Nation’s birth as a divine sign. 

 1863 – Confederate General John C. Pemberton surrenders Vicksburg, Mississippi to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Pemberton had sent a note asking for terms on the 3rd, and initially Grant gave his usual “unconditional surrender” response. He then thought about what he would do with 30,000 starving Southern troops, who he had lay siege to since May 18th, and granted them parole, accepting the surrender on the 4th. The capture of Vicksburg effectively secured the main artery of commerce for the Union and cut off of the Confederate states west of the Mississippi (and their supplies) from the South. Grant’s parole of the rebels would come back to haunt him, as the Confederacy did not recognize it’s terms and many of the parolees fought again…which came back to haunt the Confederacy because as a result the Union stopped trading prisoners.  Celebrated as a great victory by the North, but by Vicksburg not so much. The Citizens of the Southern city had to take to living in caves during the siege as US Navy and Army continuously bombarded their homes.  Starving and desperate, they saw Grant’s waiting a day to accept surrender as malicious.  Independence Day would not be officially celebrated in Vicksburg for a generation. 

1863 – On the same day, half a continent away, Confederate General Robert E. Lee led his defeated Army of Northern Virginia south away from the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This was no small matter…”Bobby Lee” had been out-foxing and out-maneuvering multiple Union Generals practically since the war began. No official surrender here…Lee’s army would survive to fight another day. While both battles were turning points, they did not spell the end of the South as many believe. There were years of hard, bitter fighting still to come with ghastly losses in life and injury. Gettysburg was, however, the last serious attempt by the South to invade the North. 

 1913 – President Woodrow Wilson addresses the Great 50 Year Reunion of Gettysburg, attended by thousands of Veterans from both sides, who swapped stories, dined together…and it would seem, forgave for a time. 

 1939 – “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth”. After 17 years as a beloved member of Major League Baseball, New York Yankee Lou Gehrig stands in Yankee Stadium and says goodbye to his fans, having been diagnosed with a terminal disease that now bears his name. I doubt there was a dry eye in the house. I’ve posted the video below. 

God Bless America! And thank you to our service men and women that continue to make our freedoms possible.

Gettysburg, Day Three. 


Today in History, July 3: 1863 – Pickett’s Charge, the 3rd and last day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had assaulted the Union positions on the left and the right; today he ordered an artillery barrage and an all out frontal assault on the Union center on Cemetery Ridge, which seems to be prophetic. Gen. George Pickett and his superior, Gen. Longstreet had doubts, but when it looked as if the Yankees were retreating, they implemented Lee’s command. 12,500 rebels assaulted the ridge…to do so they had to climb over a fence and advance nearly a mile across open ground to reach the ridge…but the Union troops were not retreating, and they had held most of their cannon fire during the Confederate barrage.

The Union troops opened up with a fierce cannon barrage of their own, coupled with intense rifle fire. The few Confederates that reached the Union positions had left fully half of their brethren dead or injured on the field. After this massacre, Lee rode out onto the field, reassuring his men, “This has all be my fault”. It was not a self-pitying statement; it was reassurance to his adoring men that the failure was not theirs to carry. The ever resourceful Lee had to retreat, and Union Gen. Meade’s Army was in no shape to pursue. The Union lost 23,000 dead and wounded, the South 25,000+. It would be hard to say who “won” with those numbers, but i there was a winner, it was the Union. Lee and the South would never again be able to take the offensive against the North. On the 4th, Pickett wrote to his fiancee, “It is all over now. Many of us are prisoners, many are dead, many wounded, bleeding and dying. Your soldier lives and mourns and but for you, my darling, he would rather be back there with his dead, to sleep for all time in an unknown grave.”