This Week in American Military History
William Clark Quantrill
Aug. 21, 1863: Confederate guerrillas under the command of William Clark Quantrill (operating outside the control of regular Confederate forces) launch a bloody raid on Lawrence, Kansas.
Quantrill – who purportedly once served in the Missouri State Guard – is widely considered a brigand and a cutthroat. That reputation continues today. To some, however, he remains a folk hero.
Aug. 21, 1942: Just after 3:00 a.m., “Banzai”-screaming Japanese assault forces – primarily members of the elite Japanese Special Naval Landing forces – attack U.S. Marine positions on Guadalcanal in what will become known as the Battle of the Tenaru River.
Members of the Japanese Special Naval Landing forces
The first wave is momentarily slowed as the Japanese struggle to get through the Marines’ barbed wire and American rifle machinegun fire rip into their ranks. At one point, the enemy breaks through and the fighting degrades into a savage hand-to-hand struggle with knives, machetes, swords, rifle butts, and fists. The Marines kill scores and hold their positions.
Subsequent Japanese attacks follow, but all are beaten back with heavy losses.
Aug. 23, 1775: Less than two months after the Second Continental Congress issues its “Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms [against the British]” in which the Congress resolves “to die free men rather than live as slaves,” King George III issues his own proclamation declaring the American colonies to be in a state of rebellion.
The king adds, “not only all our Officers, civil and military, are obliged to exert their utmost endeavours to suppress such rebellion, and to bring the traitors to justice, but that all our subjects of this Realm, and the dominions thereunto belonging, are bound by law to be aiding and assisting in the suppression of such rebellion, and to disclose and make known all traitorous conspiracies and attempts against us, our crown and dignity.”
Aug. 23, 1864: Union Naval forces under the command of Adm. David Glasgow Farragut – best known for purportedly uttering the command, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” – take Fort Morgan, effectively ending the near-month-long battle of Mobile Bay.
Aug. 24, 1814: British forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Robert Ross close-with and defeat a mixed American force of Continental Army regulars, Marines, sailors, and militia under overall command of U.S. Army Brig. Gen. William Henry Winder in the battle of Bladensburg, Maryland on the road to Washington, D.C. during the war of 1812.
The charred and abandoned White House and surrounding grounds after fire set by the British Army in 1814. President James Madison and his wife Dolly escaped with state papers and their lives.
The disastrous defeat of the Continentals at Bladensburg will enable the British to march on, sack, and burn the nation’s capital within a few hours. But according to legend, the British are so impressed by the indomitable stand of the American Marines and sailors – who “broke two British regiments” during the fighting – that the commandant’s house and the Marine barracks will be spared the torch when Washington is burned.
A ceiling mural in the Capitol
Aug. 25, 1944: U.S. and French Army forces liberate Paris. The Germans fall back.
The BBC reports: “This evening French, American and Senegalese troops marched triumphantly down the Champs Elysee to ecstatic cheers of Parisians, young and old.”