This week in American military history:
Apr. 6, 1862: Confederate Army forces under the command of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston attack Union Army forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Shiloh (Shiloh Church), Tennessee.
The fighting is desperate on both sides — described as “a murderous fistfight” — and the bloodiest battle to date in American military history. Confederate and Union casualties combined will exceed well over 23,000 in two days. The Confederates carry the first day, but Johnston is killed. In the end, Grant wins the Battle of Shiloh (also known as the the Battle of Pittsburg Landing), stiff Union resolve and reinforcements determining the outcome.
Apr. 6, 1917: Pres. Woodrow Wilson signs a joint resolution of Congress declaring war on Germany.
Wilson had appealed to Congress for a war declaration on Apr. 2: The appeal stemming from Germany’s renewal of its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare as well as the British-intercepted Zimmermann telegram revealing Germany’s promise to Mexico of a huge chunk of U.S. territory (predicated, of course, on a German victory) if Mexico would ally itself with Germany.
Wilson dreads entering the war, but as he says, “Right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts — for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.”
Apr. 8, 1956: In what will become known as the “Ribbon Creek Massacre,” six Marine recruits drown during a night-march through a rain-swollen tidal estuary at the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C.
The deaths — which will result in the trial and conviction of the drill instructor responsible — spawn widespread public condemnation of the Marines’ so-called “ruthless” training methods. The incident will add to the mystique of geographically isolated Parris Island (near Beaufort). And it will fuel the already-held reputation of Marines as being some of the world’s “toughest” fighting men for simply having survived the Corps’ notorious boot camp. It is a reputation that continues today.
Apr. 9, 1865: The war lost, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee concludes, “There is nothing left for me to do, but to go and see Gen. [Ulysses S.] Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”
Lee formally surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at the home of Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia.
Still-operating Confederate forces will surrender within months.
Apr. 10, 1942: The infamous Bataan Death March begins.
Following the fall of the Bataan peninsula to Japanese forces, some 78,000 Americans and Filipinos — huge numbers of them sick, starving, and wounded (those who are not, soon will be) — are force-marched in extreme heat and humidity some 80-90 miles to a Japanese prison camp in the backcountry of Luzon.
Along the way, thousands of captives are beaten, raped, bayoneted, disemboweled, beheaded, or shot. Those too weak to keep up with the march — or who stop to relieve themselves — are summarily executed. All are deprived of food and water. Fewer than 55,000 survive. Fewer still will survive the prison camps or the so-called “hell ships” delivering them to labor facilities in Japan.
Apr. 11, 1783: British forces having been defeated in the former colonies, the Congress of the Confederation (the post-Continental Congress precursor to the U.S. Congress) declares a “cessation of arms” between the U.S. and Great Britain.
A portion of the declaration reads: “… we hereby strictly Charge and Command all our Officers, both by Sea and Land, and others, Subjects of these United States, to Forbear all Acts of Hostility, either by Sea or by Land, against His Britannic Majesty or his Subjects, from and after the respective Times agreed upon between their Most Christian and Britannic Majesties as aforesaid.”
Apr. 11, 1951: Pres. Harry S. Truman relieves Gen. Douglas MacArthur of command of U.S. and United Nations forces in Korea, replacing MacArthur with Gen. Matthew Ridgway.
Truman fires MacArthur for reasons centered around the president’s desire for a limited war in Korea; MacArthur’s insistent, outspoken desire to expand the war (which Truman feared would lead to a third world war), and a personality clash between the two men making it difficult for the president to control his subordinate general.
In eight days, MacArthur — a Medal of Honor recipient and one of America’s greatest generals — will address a joint session of Congress and utter the now-famous line, “old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: “This Week in American Military History,” appears every week as a feature of HUMAN EVENTS.
Let’s increase awareness of American military tradition and honor America’s greatest heroes by supporting the Medal of Honor Society’s 2010 Convention to be held in Charleston, S.C., Sept. 29 – Oct. 3, 2010 (for more information, click here).