This week in American military history:
May 18, 1775: Future turncoat Col. Benedict Arnold leads a successful surprise attack against a British fort and the adjacent shipyards at St. Johns, Canada. Among Arnold’s prizes is the British sloop HMS George which he renames “Enterprise,” the first of eight so-named American Navy ships.
May 18, 1863: Union Army forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant move against the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Vastly outnumbered Confederate forces under Lt. Gen. John Pemberton fall back on prepared defenses. Pemberton’s army is quickly surrounded. Grant strikes Pemberton’s positions the following day hoping to destroy his army before it is properly positioned. Losses are heavy among the ranks of the assault forces. The siege of Vicksburg has begun.
May 21, 1881: Clara Barton, the Civil War’s famous “angel of the battlefield,” founds the American Red Cross.
May 22, 1968: The fast-attack submarine USS Scorpion (the sixth of six so-named American Navy vessels) is mysteriously lost at sea several hundred miles off the Azores. All hands — 99 sailors — perish: A stark reminder of the risks associated with “the silent service” in peace and war.
May 22, 1912: The aviation arm of the U.S. Marine Corps is born with the arrival of 1st Lt. Alfred A. Cunningham at the Naval Aviation Camp, Annapolis, Md. There, Cunningham will begin his flight training and with less than three hours of instruction, he will solo in a Wright Model B-1 biplane.
In a World War I diary entry (Dec. 18, 1917), Cunningham — then an observer attached to the French — will write:
“Persuaded a French pilot of a biplane fighting Spad to take me over the lines. We went up like an elevator and talk about speed! We were over the lines in no time and I was all eyes. The archies [World War I term for antiaircraft fire] bursting near us worried me some and made it hard to look all the time for Boches [slang for German]. I saw something to one side that looked like a fountain of red ink. Found it was the machinegun tracer bullets from the ground. After a few minutes we sighted a Boche two-seater just below us. We made for him. It was the finest excitement I ever had. I got my machinegun ready. Before we got to him, he dived and headed for home. On one of our rolls, I let loose a couple of strings of six at him, but it was too far for good shooting.”
May 23, 1862: Confederate forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson strike, outmaneuver, and — with textbook coordination of infantry, cavalry, and artillery — decisively defeat Union Army forces under Col. John R. Kenly at Front Royal, Virginia.
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).