“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

15095673_10205637473094905_7511930771750709076_n

 

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

11540900_10202999878156680_755858072849452079_n

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.