The Day Before December 7

Today in History, December 6, 1941:

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV6) was at sea, returning to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii after delivering a squadron of Marine fighter planes and their pilots to Wake Island.

Seas had been rough, and the Task Force’s speed was not what they wanted.

The sailors were looking forward to Saturday night on Oahu and Sunday morning relaxing on the golf course or at the Royal Hawaiian.

Instead the destroyer sailors spent the night being tossed about; the Enterprise crew, aboard a larger ship, sat down in the hangar deck to watch the now famous motion picture, “Sergeant York” about a heroic soldier from WWI.

Some of the viewers were considered lucky because they would be aboard the scout flights assigned to fly ahead to Pearl the next morning, and would be dead within hours.

The rest would be the lucky ones…because of the delay, the Enterprise was not at her berth on the morning of December 7th. I wonder if she would have been the most decorated ship of WWII if she had been?

A Snapshot in Time

Today in History, September 4: 1886 – Apache Warrior Geronimo surrenders to US Army General Nelson Miles in Skeleton Canyon, Arizona. As a young man living with his family in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Spaniards brutally murdered his wife and children in a raid.

Geronimo would have a hatred for Mexicans from then forward. Leading raids against non-Indian settlers, he prevented settlement of Apache lands for years. After nearly 30 years of fighting, he came to the conclusion that further fighting was pointless due to the endless numbers of settlers. 

 After his surrender, he ended up in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma Territory where he converted to Christianity and became a successful farmer. He became quite the celebrity, even riding with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 inaugural parade.

“These Proceedings…Are Closed.”  Historic Connections 

Today in History, September 2: 1945 – A Japanese delegation signs surrender documents aboard the Battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, bringing WWII to an end. Even after atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (more people were killed in bombings by B-29’s in other bombings, ironically) killing tens of thousands, the Japanese military only came to terms with defeat after much gnashing of teeth, threats of assassinating each other and finally a direct order from the Emperor himself, who was mortified by the suffering of his people. 

 A couple of interesting asides to the story. In the first photo you will notice an American flag, framed “backwards” as to appear to be flying, mounted on the bulkhead of the Missouri. The flag had flown at the mast of Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s flagship in 1853 as he made his second visit to Tokyo, which resulted in the closed nation of Japan trading with westerners for the first time in 200 years. The flag had been flown by special courier from the States especially for the surrender ceremony. 

 This detail seemed so fantastic to me that I had to research it until I found confirmation from the Naval History and Heritage Command’s website. Perry was the younger brother of Oliver Hazard Perry, helped advance the steam powered US Navy, and fought in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War in addition to his Japanese exploits. A replica of the Perry flag is positioned in the same location aboard the Missouri, which is now docked in Pearl Harbor near the USS Arizona. 

 Another sad point I found was that on September 2, 1945, as Gen. MacArthur concluded the surrender with the words, “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are closed”, Ho Chi Minh, who had cooperated with the Japanese occupation of “Vietnam” during the war, was participating in declaring the independence of the “Democratic Republic of Vietnam” in North Vietnam. This would lead to the Indochina Wars and eventually to American involvement in the Vietnam War. It seems it never ended.

Surrender at New Orleans

Today in History, April 29: 1862 – The surrender of New Orleans. The Confederacy was determined to protect the jewel of the South, it’s largest port and therefore source of supply from abroad. They were convinced the attack would come from the north, and placed the bulk of their army forces and naval forces in Tennessee and Mississippi. This left New Orleans to be defended by about 3,000 militia and two forts below her on the River, Ft. Jackson and Ft. St. Phillip. Union Flag Officer David Farragut took his force of Union ships and tried to silence the forts, and failing that decided to run past the batteries in a fierce battle. By the 28th his fleet lay off the city on the Mississippi. If you’ve ever been to the French Quarter and watched ships move by ABOVE you on the river, you’ll understand why the Confederate commander there told the mayor the battle was already lost and withdrew his forces. The next day, the 29th, Farragut’s childhood home surrendered to him. David Farragut was adopted by Capt. David Porter after his mother died, and began his naval career at age 9. He would become the first Rear Admiral, the first Vice Admiral, and the first Admiral in the US Navy. His adoptive brothers, David Dixon Porter and William Porter would also be naval heroes that attained flag rank. The capture of New Orleans by Union forces helped cut off the Confederacy from outside supply, and from their territories in the west.

Coincidentally, on this same date in 1629, 17-year-old Joan of Arc led a force that liberated Orleans, France from the English. 

Brothers, Enemies, then Brothers Again…a Lesson in Honor

Today in History, April 26: 1865 – Following Robert E. Lee’s action on the 9th, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrenders the largest Confederate army to Union General William T. Sherman at Durham, North Carolina. Wow. An event on a date in history. But there is so much more, as there usually is. Both men had been graduates of West Point, and both had served with distinction in the US Army. Johnston was Quartermaster General when he resigned to return to his home of Virginia at the beginning of the war. Sherman would face off against Johnston several times during the war, most notably at Kennesaw Mountain, where the Union won a strategic, if not technical victory, causing CS President Jefferson Davis to relieve Johnston, which was probably a mistake. After the war, the two men often met in DC for dinner, if not close friends, at least comrades. In February of 1891, Sherman had taken cold and eventually died of pneumonia. At his funeral in New York City, General Johnston stood over him, hat in hand. A fellow attendee asked him to put on his hat, it was cold. Johnston replied, “If I were in his place and he were standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat.” Johnston caught cold that day, and within a month shared the fate of his comrade, his adversary, his contemporary. I love history and the people that made it for us.

Reversal of Fortunes Among Friends

Today in History, February 18, 1862:  “I know you are separated from your people, and perhaps you need funds.  My purse is at your disposal.”  Union General Ulysses Grant to Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner as Buckner prepared to board a river boat taking him north to a Yankee prison.

On February 16, 1862 after a hard-fought battle and investment, Confederate Fort Donelson in Tennessee had surrendered to Union forces.  Tennessee was a strategic area in the Civil War, providing resources, people and a launching point to move against the rest of the South.  General U.S. Grant had been little known to the public before this battle, but the battle would change all that.  He coordinated with the US Navy to bombard Ft. Donelson and surround the 12,000 men there.  After assaults and counter assaults, the Confederate commanders came to the realization loss of the fort was a foregone conclusion, a tragedy for the South.  Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner was actually third in command.  His superiors resigned their positions so they could sneak out and escape.  Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest took some of his Cavalry and fled also, leaving Buckner to stay with his men and surrender.

Buckner sent a note through the lines asking Grant for terms.  And here is where Grant became famous.  He wrote out his response for delivery to Buckner,

No terms except unconditional and imme­diate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.

In a time when furloughs and exchanges were common in battle, Buckner found the response to be “ungenerous and unchivalrous.”  Yet he had no choice, his only option was surrender.  Having had little but bad news for some time, the Northern papers seized upon the victory.  They used Grants initials to rename him “Unconditional Surrender Grant.”  Turns out it wasn’t the first name others had changed his name for him, but that’s another story.  The public was finding out something those serving with Grant had learned…he was unpretentious, unceremonious and tenacious.  He got results.  President Lincoln would eventually say of him, “I can’t spare this man; he fights.”

If you want History to be more than dates on a page, watch out for the back stories…the facts that bring out the humanity in what you’re reading.

The story reads good already.  But lets dig further.

When Grant was younger, he wanted an education.  His father worked hard and secured him an appointment to West Point.  Initially, Grant didn’t want to go.  But once in, he liked it.  His uncanny horsemanship impressed fellow cadets and instructors.  And he made friends among the other cadets, including Simon Bolivar Buckner, who was attending at the same time.

Grant and Buckner, among many other officers in the US Army, served together and performed heroics in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.

After that conflict Grant found himself assigned to the frontier in California, where he missed his family grievously and took to drink.  In July of 1854 he suddenly resigned his commission from the Army and sought transport home.

Grant found himself in New York without even enough money to get a meal or pay for a room.  And then he happened upon an old classmate and friend, Simon Bolivar Buckner.  The two enjoyed a visit, talked old times and Buckner, who was doing much better financially, paid for his friend’s room and board.

In the intervening years until 1861 and the beginning of the Civil War, Grant was somewhat of a hard luck case.  He tried farming, he tried real estate, nothing worked.  When the war began he was working for his brothers and his father in a store as a clerk.

When Southern states began seceding many in the US Army that were from those states, resigned their commissions and joined the Confederate Army, including Buckner.  Thus the old friends found themselves on opposite sides.  And Grant sought out Buckner before he went off to prison in an attempt to return an old favor.

Grant, of course, would become commander of all Union Armies and eventually President.  Buckner would eventually be exchanged for a Union general officer and continue to serve in the Confederate Army.  He surrendered in New Orleans in 1865 for a second time.  He would become Governor of Kentucky among other political successes.  In 1904 he visited the White House and asked President Theodore Roosevelt to appoint his son to West Point.  TR quickly agreed.  Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr would be killed at Okinawa in WWII, the highest ranking officer killed by enemy fire in WWII.