Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Glorious Third

On this date in 1863, General George Meade accepts the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg. Meade's actions following the failure of Pickett's Charge most likely hastened the Union victory by at least a year, if not more. Late on the evening of the 2nd, General Meade correctly predicted that Lee would make a massive assault on his center at Cemetary Ridge. Meade knew that his men could defeat such an assault, and began preparing his men for a counterattack. He ordered his Sixth Corps, due to arrive early on the 3rd, to move to the west to block Lee's predicted escape route. Meade was gambling, however; if Lee's charge succeeded, the Sixth Corps would be too far away to be of any assistance. However, Meade was correct, and as Lee started to retreat from the battlefield, the relatively undamaged Twelfth Corps began demonstrating towards Lee in order to pin him down. When Lee moved against the Twelfth, the Sixth Corps blocked his main line of retreat on the Hagerstown road. Lee made several counterattacks in order to resecure his line of communication and supply, but the Sixth Corps was well entrenched and held off the Army of Northern Virginia. Although Meade's army was badly battered, he still held numerical superiority over Lee and had some of his army unengaged from the previous days' fighting. With the loss of his supply line to Richmond and his line of retreat, Lee had no choice but to surrender his army to Meade. This, combined with the fall of Vicksburg the next day, led to the surrender of the Confederate government on July 20th.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


On this day in 1863, Confederate and Union forces begin the battle of Gettysburg, PA. Robert E. Lee had no intention of becoming engaged, but his III Corps under Gen. A.P. Hill ran into Union General John Buford's cavalry division north of the town. Buford skillfully held off Hill until the Union I Corps under John Reynolds was able to relieve him, but as the Confederate army began to converge on Gettysburg, the I Corps was forced to fall back to the town itself, where they met up with O.O. Howard's XI Corps. As senior commander, Reynolds decided to make his stand on the hills south of the town, ordering his I Corps to fortify Cemetary Hill on his left and the XI Corps to move onto Culp's Hill on the right. The XI Corps had just started to move into position when "Allegheny" Johnson's division of the Confederate II Corps marched up. Johnson, immediately grasping the importance of the heights, ordered his division to take the hill at all costs. Although the mostly German XI Corps put up a tough fight, they were no match for the likes of the Stonewall Brigade, and Johnson soon sent Howard's men running south. Within an hour, Johnson was reinforced by Jubal Early's division, but the commander of the II Corps, Dick Ewell, hesitated to attack Cemetary Hill, now only held by a badly beaten I Corps and fragments of the XI Corps. However, an officer arrived from General Lee, with a message stating "carry the hill occupied by the enemy, if he found it practicable, but to avoid a general engagement until the arrival of the other divisions of the army." Ewell, recently promoted and eager to show his mettle, assaulted Cemetary Hill and rapidly drove the Union forces off, sending them racing down the Baltimore Pike, where they ran into Henry Slocum's XII Corps. Slocum immediately sent a courier to Gen. Meade, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, who ordered his forces to establish a defensive line on Pipe Creek, well to the south of Gettysburg.

Friday, June 27, 2008

"Lafayette, we are here!"

On this date in 1917, the first American troops arrive in France, at the Atlantic port of Saint-Nazaire. The Americans were derided by the veteran Brits and French as being too unexperienced, and General John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), put his troops through a strict training program for the next four months. However, when the first American troops entered into combat on the Western Front in late October, they took heavy casualties from German attacks. This worried the Allied high command, who feared a disaster in the spring when the Germans would likely launch a massive offensive. This was realized on March 21, 1918, when the Germans launched Operation Michael, the beginning of their Spring Offensive. They initially attacked the railway junction at Amiens, capturing it after taking heavy casualties from British troops. The Germans then launched Operation Georgette, their drive to seize the Channel ports of Calais, Boulogne, and Dunkirk, on April 4. Although they suffered large losses here as well, by April 12 the Germans were in posession of Boulogne, thereby cutting off the other two major ports to the north. This was a huge blow to the Allies, as a large number of their munitions and other supplies came in from Britain through these ports. On March 27, the Germans launched Operation Blucher-Yorck, an assault towards Paris, between Soissons and Reims. This was a huge success, with almost the entire Allied front collapsing. The Germans were almost in Paris by June 1 when they encountered the American 2nd and 3rd Divisions at the Belleau Wood. In an extremely vicious and bloody battle, the Germans forced the US Marines in the wood to retreat, one of the few in the Marines' history. By June 4 the Germans were on the outskirts of Paris and were firing artillery on targets throughout the city. Although the Germans had by this point suffered extreme casualties during the offensive, they were determined to take Paris and drove into the city on June 8, marching down the Champs-Elysees.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Duke

30 years ago today, former President of the United States M. Michael 'Duke' Morrison passed away in his Newport Beach, California home due to a lengthy bout with stomach cancer. He was born in Winterset, Iowa in 1907 but moved to Glendale, California in 1911. He was given the nickname 'Duke' because as a child he was constantly followed by his dog, 'Little Duke'. Morrison attended USC and was an excellent football player until a leg injury forced him to quit the team. He considered going into the movie business, but was drawn to politics and began working in the office of Los Angeles Mayor George Cryer, a Republican who had considerable influence on Morrison. Morrison worked in L.A. City Hall, becoming chief assistant to Mayor John Porter, a connection that would later come back to haunt him. In 1936 he ran for the House of Representatives, winning by a handful of votes. He served in the House until 1950, when he won election to the U.S. Senate. Morrison faced a challenge in the Republican primary from his fellow Congressman Richard M. Nixon, but was able to defeat Nixon by making him appear to be shifty and dishonest. Morrison was asked to be Dwight Eisenhower's running mate in 1952, but turned the offer down, reportedly telling Ike, "I was elected to serve California until 1956. If you win this election, and want a running mate in '56, well, then, you've got your man." Eisenhower easily defeated Adlai Stevenson, and in 1956 dumped VP Thomas Dewey for Morrison. The two easily defeated Stevenson and Estes Kefauver, setting up Morrison's presidential bid in 1960. Morrison and his running mate, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, faced off against Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Senator George Smathers of Florida. In the first televised presidential debate, the charismatic Morrison easily defeated the young Kennedy, at one point calling him 'pilgrim', a reference to Kennedy's birthplace of Massachusetts (even though as the descendent of Irish Catholics, Kennedy was hardly a pilgrim). The campaign was extremely tough, with Morrison referencing Kennedy's extreme health problems, his alleged marital infidelities, and his father's alcohol smuggling operations during Prohibition. Kennedy punched right back, making it known that Morrison had worked for a known Klansman (L.A. Mayor John Porter), and that Morrison had supported Japanese-American internment in his California congressional district during WWII. Morrison eventually won by only 470,000 votes, becoming the first President from California. His first major test came with the Bay of Pigs operation, which Morrison derided as "a damn-fool idea" and refused to give support to. On October 16, 1962, President Morrison was informed that the Soviets were setting up medium-range nuclear missile sites in Cuba. "Ri-goddamn-diculous!” he is said to have responded. For the next thirteen days, the President and his advisors were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union over the placement of the missiles. Most of Morrison's Cabinet (including his VP, Barry Goldwater) wanted air strikes on the sites, followed by a seaborne invasion by US troops, but Morrison refused to consider direct military action. "I won't be the son-of-a-bitch who starts the end of the world", he told Goldwater. Finally, on October 28, an agreement was reached where the USSR would dismantle the missile sites in exchange for the United States' removal of missiles in Turkey. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev reportedly said afterwards, "President Morrison reminds of a cowboy in the American Western movies. Always ready for a fight, but not willing to sacrifice innocents to win that fight." Morrison, troubled by his past actions in dealing with racism, signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1963. As he and his VP, were both former senators, they had considerable influence in Congress and were able to use it to good effect. When President Morrison signed the act into effect on July 4, 1963, he then turned to an aide and said, "Now all we've got to do is enforce it." Morrison and Goldwater easily won reelection in 1964 over the Democratic ticket of Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. Morrison's second term in office was relatively quiet, and was focused mainly on civil rights and the growing conflict in Vietnam. Morrison was a fierce believer in stopping Communism in Southeast Asia, and pushed for large amounts of aid to South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to fight Communist guerillas. By the end of his Presidency, the conflict in Vietnam was nearly over, with the 'hearts and minds' campaign having won over all but a few diehard Communists in the North. Vice President Goldwater was elected President in 1968 on a platform of continuing Morrison's policies, and the now-former President Morrison retired to his home in California, where he quietly lived out the next ten years. Asked in 1974 as to what was the defining moment of his presidency, he responded, "Well, now, that's a tough one. Probably the Civil Rights Act. That took true grit."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sir Thomas Jefferson

On this date in 1743, Sir Thomas Jefferson was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. Jefferson was serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses when, in 1775, he was called upon by the Second Continental Congress to draft a letter to King George III that sought to reconcile the colonies with their mother country. The petition stated that the colonies did not wish to revolt, but simply sought the right to fair taxation and trading rights. The petition reached London in mid-August, and, combined with the news of the battles of Lexington and Concord, convinced the King that the Americans were determined to achieve equal rights, by any means necessary. The King quickly appointed a joint British-American commission to solve the problem of American sovereignty, and in September of 1776 the commission signed an agreement which was soon ratified by the King and Parliament. The main points of the agreement were that:

1. Americans would be taxed at the same rate as British citizens, but that the collected taxes would only be used in America.

2. The Thirteen Colonies were allowed to seat representatives in Parliament, three from each colony, and that the representatives would have full voting rights on all issues pertaining to the Colonies. Also, the Continental Congress would be recognized and expanded as the official representative body of the Colonies.

3. The Thirteen Colonies would be formed into a new dominion, the Confederation of New Britain, and that a Viceroy (always an American) would be appointed to serve much as a Prime Minister.

The agreement took effect on January 1st, 1778, and although denounced by a number of hard-liners (notably Samuel Adams in Boston), the vast majority of Americans supported the agreement, officially known as the Colonial Representation Act. Sir Benjamin Franklin served as the first Viceroy, unfortunately for only three years until his death in December 1790. Sir Thomas Jefferson served as the third Viceroy, from 1807 until 1819. Upon his retirement, he focused on furthering higher education in Virginia, establishing the University of Virginia in 1825. He died on July 4, 1826, a few hours ahead of John Adams, the Royal Governor of Massachusetts.

Friday, April 11, 2008


On this date in 1814, George, Prince of Wales, ruling as Prince Regent in place of his ill father, George III, officially abdicates the British throne. After the fall of London to French troops (spearheaded by a daring cavalry assault by Marshal Murat on Buckingham Palace) on 18 August 1813, the British Government had fled north to Scotland. For the next 7 months, the French gradually pushed north from their main base in Essex, eventually reaching Edinburgh by the end of March. An attempt by General Arthur Wellesley to land in southwest England and attack the French forces from the rear had failed when Ney routed the British at Exeter on 22nd March 1814. Upon receiving news of this defeat, the Prince Regent began negotiations with Napoleon, culminating in his abdication on this day. The Prince Regent and the Royal Family were subsequently exiled to Canada, where they would be of little harm to the French. Another stipulation of the British surrender was that Ireland be given total independence; although this was a bitter pill for the British to swallow, they had no choice. On 9th May the Treaty of Calais was signed, officially ending the war between Great Britain and France; on 1st January 1815, Ireland became the Republic of Ireland. Napoleon added a new title to an already long list: Roi d'Angleterre.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

American Guerillas

On this date in 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee issued the fateful order for the Army of Northern Virginia to disband and to take to the wilderness to act as guerilla fighters. His aide Walter Taylor apparently suggested the idea to him, and Lee, grief-stricken by the recent death of his wife Mary, and of the death of his son William as a Union prisoner, approved it. For the next 5 years, a reign of terror ruled the South as shootings, lynchings, and bombings became the norm. Anyone suspected of Union sympathies or those who collaborated with the occupation forces were frequently killed as an example to others, and the Union Army gradually laid a heavier and heavier hand on the South, taking civilians as hostages and conducting frequent reprisals. After the assassination of President Andrew Johnson in 1868, Democrat Horatio Seymour defeated former general Ulysses S. Grant for the Presidency. Seymour immediately opened talks with the rebel leaders, most notably Nathan B. Forrest and John Mosby. A deal was struck with the rebels that the South would recieve limited autonomy, with the ability to opt out of trade deals and tariffs, but in return, slavery would be phased out over 20 years, with slaveowners receiving compensation. On January 1st, 1870, the agreement (now referred to as the Washington Agreement) officially took effect, and is now regarded in the South as a quasi-Independence Day.