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

“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.

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.

You Must First Catch the Rabbit…

Today in History, May 19, 1863:

The Siege of Vicksburg continues.

After two failed assaults, the Union troops and the Union Navy settle in for an extended siege.

After 44 days, during which Vicksburg would be compared to a “Prairie Dog Town”, with most of the population living underground, the Vicksburg newspaper, “The Daily Citizen” was reduced to printing it’s media on used wallpaper,

By day 44, the paper printed, “[T]he great Ulysses—the Yankee Generalissimo, surnamed Grant—has expressed his intention of dining in Vicksburg on Saturday next, and celebrating the 4th of July by a grand dinner and so forth. When asked if he would invite Gen. Jo Johnston to join he said. ‘No! for fear there will be a row at the table.’ Ulysses must get into the city before he dines in it. The way to cook rabbit is ‘first catch the rabbit.’ &c.” A week later, the Union troops had taken over the paper, having taken Vicksburg, and added and addendum, “Two days bring about great changes, The banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg, Gen. Grant has ‘caught the rabbit;’ he has dined in Vicksburg, and he did bring his dinner with him. The ‘Citizen’ lives to see it. For the last time it appears on ‘Wall-paper.’ No more will it eulogize the luxury of mule-meat and fricasseed kitten—urge Southern warriors to such diet never-more.”

“I Cannot Spare This Man…He Fights!”

Today in History, May 18, 1863:

Running the Table.

Gen. Grant planned the taking of Vicksburg and Admiral David Dixon Porter’s running of the guns at that fortress city. In the interim between then and today’s date, Grant’s army was taken across the Mississippi from several victories in Louisiana, won five major victories in Mississippi, including taking the capitol of Jackson. He pushed Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton back to the Big Black River Bridge, which Pemberton burned on the 14th during his retreat to Vicksburg.

Pemberton could no longer face Grant in the field, having lost three quarters of his army. Grant had the bridge rebuilt by the 18th, and the siege of Vicksburg had begun.

Grant made two unsuccessful attempts to take the city and then determined to have no more losses, lay siege to the city. The siege involved entrenchments, mines and bombardment by land based artillery as well as by Admiral Porter’s ships.

The civilians and soldiers in the city had to live underground. By July 4th, his troops and civilians starving and demoralized, Pemberton agreed to surrender. Grant initially demanded his trademark “Unconditional Surrender”, then reconsidered. Even after having lost 3/4 of it’s manpower, Pemberton’s army still numbered 30,000 famished troops. He decided instead to utilize a long respected military method of “paroling” the rebel troops. That meant that they would be freed as long as they never took up arms against the Union again. It would have taken months and a great deal of manpower Grant did not want to expend to move 30,000 prisoners north. The Confederates agreed to the terms. Yet many of them were back in battle against Union troops by Pemberton could no longer face Grant in the field, having lost three quarters of his army. Grant had the bridge rebuilt by the 18th, and the siege of Vicksburg had begun. Grant made two unsuccessful attempts to take the city and then determined to have no more losses, lay siege to the city. The siege involved entrenchments, mines and bombardment by land based artillery as well as by Admiral Porter’s ships. The civilians and soldiers in the city had to live underground. By July 4th, his troops and civilians starving and demoralized, Pemberton agreed to surrender. Grant initially demanded his trademark “Unconditional Surrender”, then reconsidered. Even after having lost 3/4 of it’s manpower, Pemberton’s army still numbered 30,000 famished troops. He decided instead to utilize a long respected military method of “paroling” the rebel troops. That meant that they would be freed as long as they never took up arms against the Union again. It would have taken months and a great deal of manpower Grant did not want to expend to move 30,000 prisoners north. The Confederates agreed to the terms.

Yet many of them were back in battle against Union troops by September. This ended the act of paroling for the remainder of the war.

After Vicksburg and Port Hudson fell in July, President Lincoln proclaimed, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.” This victory was considered the turning point in the Civil War; Union control of the Mississippi not only allowed US Navy movement and resupply all along it’s course, it effectively cut the Confederacy in half, depriving it of the resources and armies of the west. This battle is also largely the reason Grant was advanced to command of all Union Armies…as Lincoln said, “I cannot spare this man…he fights!” A quality the President found lacking in many of his other Generals.

Lincoln’s Assassin Killed

Today in History, April 26, 1865:

Union Army forces track down John Wilkes Booth 12 days after he assassinated President Lincoln.

In the meantime, he had been hidden by Confederates, treated by Doctor Samuel Mudd (your name is mud) and hidden in a barn on the Garrett farm in Virginia, where he was found. The barn was set afire and his associate surrendered.

Booth refused…a Union soldier, Boston Corbett, saw Booth inside the barn and fired his Colt revolver…causing a mortal wound to Booth.

Many Confederates saw Booth as a hero. However many Southerners wept openly at Lincoln’s death, and Confederate Generals, including Lee and Johnston, denounced Booth’s actions.

Fortunately, in the interim between his deed and his death, Booth was able to see news accounts that recorded his benefactor’s denunciation of his act. So when he died, he knew what he was.

Irredeemable Loss & Grief…Assassination of President Lincoln

Today in History, April 14, 1865:

Within a week of the surrender at Appomattox, a coward assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

If you were old enough on 9/11, you experienced the indescribable loss, grief, and helplessness we all experienced.

I use this in an attempt to fathom the emotions Americans must have felt at the loss of Lincoln. He had led them through the most traumatic time in our nation’s history…the times ahead were still uncertain. How would the North and South reunite? Was the war really over? They needed his steady hand on the rudder stearing the ship of state more than ever.

And suddenly Abraham was gone.

I post “O Captain! My Captain!” By Walt Whitman almost every year on this date, because I believe he came closest to capturing the grief the nation must have felt.

O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.