Tagged: OnThisDay

The Battle of the Alamo

The Fall of the Alamo, by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk, 1903

In the summer and autumn of 1835, Texian and Tejano separatists threw out the Mexican troops of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the reigning dictator of the Centralist Republic of Mexico, due to his heavy handed rule and revocation of the Constitution of 1824. The Texian success sparked rebellions across the length of Mexico. In the winter of 1835/36, Santa Anna’s army brutally suppressed those rebellions, and then turned north on Texas. After the disastrous Texian invasion of Matamoros, Gen Sam Houston’s volunteers needed time to retrain and organize to repel Santa Anna. To buy him that time, Col William Travis, decided to occupy and hold the old Franciscan Alamo mission outside of the town of San Antonio de Bexar.

Travis, a regular army officer, shared command with famed knife fighter Col Jim Bowie, a Texian volunteer with ties to Bexar. But even with a group of Tennessee volunteers under frontiersman and former US congressman Colonel Davy Crockett, The Texian defenders of the Alamo still amounted to less than 200 men, and Travis sent increasingly desperate (and dramatic) letters asking for reinforcements. On 23 February 1836, Santa Anna’s army arrived in Bexar. It would take ten days for Santa Anna’s entire army of 4000 to arrive, while Travis and Bowie received less than 80 reinforcements. As Santa Anna’s army gathered, he besieged the Alamo for 13 days.

At dawn on 6 March 1836, Santa attacked the Alamo to the sounds of Deguello bugle calls which announced no quarter for the “pirates” as Santa Anna had decreed the Texians. He attacked with four columns of a total of about 1800 men: one column from each cardinal direction. He hoped to overwhelm the overextended defenders of the Alamo’s long walls. However, the north, east, and west columns all massed on the north wall in the confusion of two previous failed attacks.

The third assault finally carried the north wall after a hastily patched breach, caused by ten days’ worth of bombardment, was finally captured and opened, allowing Mexican soldiers to stream into the mission. (Travis was killed defending this breach.) Texian soldiers on the south wall turned their cannons around and attempted to defend in both directions but were soon overwhelmed. (Crockett, with his Tennesseans, initially defended the low wall outside the chapel. He died fighting along the makeshift wall facing north. Or, according to one report, was captured and executed there.) Many of the remaining defenders attempted to escape but were cut down by Mexican cavalry. Those that didn’t barricaded themselves in the barracks and chapel, where they were systematically rooted out and killed (which was where an ailing Bowie died). Any prisoners were slaughtered and only a few Texian non-combatants walked away from the assault. However the defenders sold themselves dearly and the Mexicans took about 600 casualties.

Santa Anna thought the utter destruction of the Alamo’s defenders would end Texian resistance but he was gravely mistaken. Texian civilians fled Santa Anna and volunteers flocked to Gen Sam Houston’s retreating army. Santa Anna would follow but Houston’s galvanized army would turn and attack at the Lynchberg ferry on the San Jacinto river. Houston’s Texian victory at the Battle of San Jacinto captured Santa Anna, and subsequent negotiations led to the Texian independence from Mexico.

Operation Hailstone: The Raid on Truk, the “Japanese Pearl Harbor”

The invasion of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands finally exposed the Japanese shortfalls in naval and land based aviation to American intelligence officials. Additionally, the increasingly one sided air battles over Rabaul after the invasion of Bougainville proved that the quality of Japanese airpower was in serious decline. To ensure adequate numbers to face the American fighter sweeps over Rabaul, the Japanese were required to “rob Peter to pay Paul” to feed the defense of the South Pacific. Squadrons were transferred from far flung Japanese possessions, including the Gilberts and Marshalls, and sent to Rabaul. The nearly nonexistent Japanese air response to the invasion of Kwajalein convinced Admiral Nimitz to push up the timetable in the Central Pacific, and more specifically the invasion of Eniwetok. However, Eniwetok was within striking distance of the Japanese main naval base in Central Pacific: the Truk Atoll in the Caroline Islands. The “Gibraltar of the Pacific” was essentially a sunken mountain range surrounded by coral reefs and has, by far, the best natural lagoon in the Central Pacific. Its 50 by 30 mile sheltered anchorage has so far in the war allowed the Japanese to strike Pearl Harbor and conduct continuous operations in the South Pacific.

Like Rabaul for Allied planners, Truk was The Lair of the Boogeyman from which All Bad Things Emerged.

Nimitz needed to neutralize Truk. His plan for the Central Pacific involved a future invasion, but the operation to secure the Marshalls meant something had to be done immediately.

By the beginning of 1944, American industry produced enough new aircraft carriers to allow the formation of fast carrier “strike groups”. These strike groups raided Japanese held airfields, anchorages and shipping all throughout the Central and South Pacific. Nimitz formed the largest such strike group so far in the war, Task Force 58 under Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher of five fleet carriers, six light carriers, and seven new fast battleships with accompanying cruisers and destroyers as escorts.

Task Force 58 was a massive force, nearly double the Japanese strength against Pearl Harbor just two years before, but it was still headed for Truk. The idea of willingly sailing aircraft carriers into range of major land based airpower was still alien and unthinkable to most carrier admirals. (The only reason the Japanese did it at Pearl Harbor was because they hadn’t declared war yet. Even at Midway, the main threat was still the island, all the way up until four of their carriers were sunk.) And Truk was the biggest Japanese base outside of Japan. On 15 February when Mitscher announced over the loudspeaker their destination for Operation Hailstone, one of his pilots said, “I nearly jumped overboard.”

However, as early as October 1943, the Japanese recognized they could no longer hold the outer perimeter of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, and settled on a smaller more easily defensible perimeter to gather strength for a counter attack. They withdrew most of the capital ships from Truk back to the Palaus, so few of the juicy targets remained. The mighty Yamato and Musashi had spent almost 18 months at Truk and had only recently departed. Nevertheless, the withdrawal to the inner perimeter meant that much of the shipping form the outer bases went to Truk first, a major transit point, before heading west. Mitscher’s raid caught the lagoon without capital ships, but filled with arguably more important transport and cargo ships that the Japanese could ill afford to spare.

On the morning of 17 February 1944, Task Force 58 approached Truk behind a storm front and struck the airfields first just as the Japanese did on the morning of the 7th of December 1941. American surprise was complete. Japanese pilots were mostly on shore leave, but the 90 or so Mitsubishi “Zeros” that went up were promptly shot down. By 1944, the Zero was outclassed in almost every category by the new American Hellfighters and Corsairs, and due to fuel and training shortfalls, American pilots had hundreds of more hours in the air than their Japanese counterparts. By the afternoon, any Japanese air response was non-existent, and the Mitscher’s dive and torpedo bombers attacked Truk’s lagoon and shore facilities with impunity. They only had to worry about a few manually controlled anti-aircraft guns and these were quickly dispatched once they revealed their positions.

Unlike Nagumo’s raid at Pearl Harbor, Mitscher didn’t withdraw after two strikes, but launched 13 separate strikes against Truk. Even Mitscher’s boss, Adm Ray Spruance, wanted to get in on the action. He took tactical command of the battleships New Jersey and Iowa and some escorts to chase down fleeing Japanese ships that managed to escape the lagoon. Only darkness ceased Operation Hailstone.

And it was in the darkness that the Japanese managed to strike back: a single torpedo from a “Kate” night bomber penetrated the screen and struck the carrier Intrepid.

For the loss of about 25 planes, most whose pilots were rescued and about 40 personnel, mostly from the Intrepid, Mitscher sunk five cruisers, four destroyers, and almost forty support, transport and cargo ships, including the all-important fleet oilers, and damaged many more. His fliers either shot down or destroyed on the ground almost 250 planes, and over 4500 Japanese personnel were killed, and twice that number wounded, most of whom could not be evacuated.

The destruction of the Truk anchorage convinced Nimitz that it could be bypassed and that an invasion was unnecessary. In the space of just 12 hours, the mightiest Japanese naval base outside of the home islands went from being the focus of all American operations in the Pacific to a tiny and obscure footnote in most Pacific War history books.

The Six Days’ Campaign

La Grande Armée was no more. The victors of a hundred battles lay dead in the snows of Russia and fields of Germany. It seemed as if Napoleon had lost his tactical brilliance after the catastrophic meat grinding battlefield losses in 1812 and 1813 against the nations of the Sixth Coalition. By early 1814, Napoleon was forced to fall back on Paris with a 70,000 man shell of his Grande Armée. Four Allied armies numbering more than 600,000 men followed closely behind.

Napoleon was defeated or so the world thought.

Unexpectedly, Napoleon turned to the defense of France with a verve not seen since his campaigns in 1805 and 1806, almost a decade earlier. First, his negotiations with Austria caused significant hesitation in Austria’s Prince Schwarzenburg’s Army of Bohemia (Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise, was an Archduchess of Austria and Schwarzenburg’s niece). The second Allied Army, the primarily Swedish and German Northern Army under Napoleon’s former subordinate and now Swedish Crown Prince Jean Bernadotte experienced supply difficulties in the winter weather while slowly moving through the Netherlands. The third Allied Army, the Duke of Wellington’s Peninsular Army, was still crossing the Pyrenees far to the south. With the Austrians, Swedes and British too far away to help, Napoleon turned on Field Marshal Prince von Blücher’s Prussian Army of Silesia on 29 January 1814. Napoleon fixed Blucher in place at the Battles of Brienne and the desperate defense of La Rothiere. He used the respite to gather fresh conscripts and collect garrisons to reinforce his army.
In the freezing weather, with green troops and few supplies, Napoleon struck back.

Using his advantage of interior lines of communication to great effect, Napoleon turned on Blucher on 10 February 1814. Over the next six days Napoleon, with an army of just 30,000, won four major victories over Blucher, at the Battles of Champaubert, Montmirail, Château-Thierry, and Vauchamps. He then crushed Blucher’s Russian and Prussian reinforcements on 17 February at the Battle of Mormans. Schwarzenburg paid for his indecisiveness on the 18th when Napoleon defeated him at the Battle of Montereau. In a period of just 20 days, Napoleon and his marshals with a combined force of just 45,000 won ten separate major battles against 400,000 Allied troops. The Austrians and Prussians streamed back east.

The Six Days’ Campaign, and the battles in the days before and after, was a masterpiece of tactical maneuver warfare, a tribute to the courage of the French character, and a testament to the inspired leadership that coaxed the new French conscripts to victory over an overwhelming number of Allied veterans. Unfortunately for Napoleon, the problem with relying on interior lines is that it rarely, if ever, leads to the complete destruction of one’s enemy. Napoleon couldn’t finish the job and still cover Paris.

Napoleon’s inability to pursue allowed the Allies to recover by the end of month. When Blucher and Schwarzenberg returned in March, Napoleon was not be able to repeat the brilliance of the Six Days’ Campaign the month before, despite severing the Allies’ supply lines to the east at the beginning of the month. Blucher and Schwarzenburg just ignored the maneuver and drove on the French capital. On 30 March, the Allies triumphantly entered Paris. Napoleon abdicated the French throne five days later after his marshals mutinied, thus ending the War of the Sixth Coalition. He was sent into exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba, where he would spend the rest of his days.

Or so the world thought…

Dungeons and Dragons

In 1969 and 1970, friends Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson regularly played a miniature based Napoleonic tabletop wargaming system at the Lake Geneva Wargaming Conference (GenCon). However, their games in those years became smaller and soon revolved around special individual soldiers and their stories. In 1970, they transferred the concept to a medieval setting because Gygax, a Dark Age enthusiast, found the appropriate miniatures. They used the rules from the game “Chainmail”, which Gygax had written with a friend, to resolve individual actions. Together, they developed a generic fantasy wargaming system that focused solely on individuals and their stories instead of armies and groups of soldiers.

In 1971, Arneson added a storytelling role to the referee, a fixture in the contentious world of tabletop wargaming, who was usually a neutral observer and adjudicated disputes. The “Game Master” guided the players on quests and played the monsters. At Gencon that year, Arneson and a few of his friends ran Gygax and a few of his friends through a “six level dungeon” where the big bad at the end was a “troll in magic armor”. Gygax was enamored with the “funhouse” aspect of the game and immediately saw the creative and commercial possibilities. Over the next year Arneson and Gygax developed the rules for their game, which then went by the working title “Blackmoor”, and created a fictional and vaguely Tolkein-esque setting centered on “The Great Kingdom” for use with the system.

In December 1973, they formed Tactical Studies Rules with two other friends to self-publish their new tabletop gaming system because no established gaming company was interested. The first run of the newly named “Dungeons and Dragons” was only 1000 copies that were assembled in Gygax’s garage. On 26 January 1974, Gary Gygax invited everyone over to his house for the first session of Dungeons and Dragons which only became available to the public that day.

Pennsylvanians in the Ardennes: the 28th and 99th Infantry Divisions

On 16 December 1944, Operation Wacht am Rhein, Hitler’s Ardennes Counteroffensive and the eventual “Battle of the Bulge”, initially crashed into two units originally formed in the Grand Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: the US 28th Infantry Division on the southern shoulder of the Bulge, and the US 99th Infantry Division on the northern shoulder of the Bulge.

In the south, MG Norman Cota’s 28th “Keystone” Infantry Division of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, aka “The Bloody Bucket”, had its three regimental combat teams (RCTs) on line facing the entirety of both the XLVIII Panzer and LXXXV Corps. Each RCT had more than two German divisions opposite them.

After the initial surprise on 16 December 1944, the 28th’s northernmost RCT, the 112th from Butler and northwestern PA, held the Our River bridge at Ourthe for over two days against overwhelming odds before falling back in good order to St Vith to take part in the critical defense there with the US 7th Armored Division. The Germans expected to capture the Our River Bridge in the first hours of the first day.

In the south, the 109th RCT from Scranton and northeastern PA, defeated the 352nd Volksgrenadier Division and rendered them combat ineffective for the rest of the battle. The 109th only fell back when their positions became untenable because of the breakthroughs to their north in the 110th RCT’s sector. The entire 109th RCT received Luxembourg’s Croix De Guerre for their defense of the small duchy.

In the center of the 28th’s line, the 110th RCT from Uniontown and southwestern PA felt the full weight of three German divisions: the 2nd Panzer, Panzer Lehr and 26th Volksgrenadier divisions. Although the initial attacks were repulsed, sheer weight of numbers broke through the forward defenses along “Skyline Drive”, the north-south highway along which they defended. Still, isolated companies and platoons of the 110th fought the Germans to a standstill for two critical days before they were broken. The 110th’s stand culminated with the defense of Clervaux on the Clerf River where the scouts, cooks, bakers, and staff personnel of the 110th’s HQ Company held the fortified chateaux until they ran out of ammunition. That bridge was another initial German objective that took two full days to capture. The time the 110th bought allowed some of Eisenhower’s only reserves, the 101st Airborne Division, to arrive at the key crossroads town of Bastogne before the Germans. By the 19th, most of the 110th RCT was either dead, wounded, or captured, but the survivors formed the core of “Team Snafu” which would play a vital role in the 101’s defense of Bastogne.

In the north, the US 99th “Checkerboard” Infantry Division had only recently arrived in Europe, but it was in position just west of the Siegfried Line long enough to adequately dig in, if only to keep warm. The 99th formed in 1942 from mostly Western Pennsylvanians and eastern Ohioans, and took their division insignia from the shield used on the Pittsburgh city crest and the emblem of Pittsburgh’s recently renamed football team, the Steelers.

On 16 December 1944, the division was struck by the vanguard of the 6th SS Panzer Army, and many units broke under the onslaught. However, isolated companies and platoons fought back savagely and prevented a German breakthrough. Though the center collapsed, on the far left of the 99th’s line, three companies of the 395th RCT at Hofen defeated the 396th Volksgrenadier Division. On the far right at the other end of the line, a single Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon of 22 men under LT Lyle Bouck fought off the entire German 9th Parachute Regiment near the Belgian town of Lanzerath.

On the night of the 16th, the commander of the unit behind the paratroopers, the infamous Jochim Peiper of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment of the 1st SS Panzer Division, stormed into their command post demanding to know why the attack stalled. The commander of the 9th told him there was an entire battalion dug in and fiercely defending the ridge above the town. Peiper ordered the paratroopers to support his Panther and King Tiger tanks in a deliberate attack that night. He was furious to find out that only a single platoon had held up an entire panzer corps for 24 hours.

Although chaos reigned throughout the 99ths sector on 16 December, they held the Germans long enough for LTG Gerow of the US V Corps to unilaterally order the US 2nd Infantry Division to the twin towns of Rocheroth and Krinkelt. On the 15th, the 2nd was attacking the Siegfried Line to the north of the 99th and immediately stopped, turned and headed south to help the 99th. The 2nd held the towns long enough for the remains of the 99th to pass through and set up a new defensive line on Elsenborn Ridge, less than 10 miles from their original positions.

The 6th SS Panzer Army broke out to the west but their objective was Antwerp which was to the north. As Peiper and the 1st SS Panzer Division proceeded west instead of northwest they were increasingly pushed onto roads designated for other German units further to their south, which caused massive traffic jams. The 2nd and 99th Divisions (with the 1st Infantry Division to their right at Bullingen) held Elsenbrn Ridge and the northern shoulder of the Bulge for the rest of the battle despite furious and increasingly desperate German attacks to move forward.

On the 16th of December 1944, surprise was complete and the majority of the American units in the Ardennes collapsed. However some did not, despite the German’s best efforts. By the end of the day the Germans’ strict timetable was already irreparably upset. The Battle of the Bulge was all about roads, road marches, and road junctions. On Day One, the NCOs, and junior and field grade officers of the 28th and 99th Divisions denied the attacking German Army the roads and time they needed to win the battle.

The Battle of Chattanooga

In late September 1863, Union Major General William Roscrans’ Army of the Cumberland invaded Georgia from Tennessee and was decisively defeated at the Battle of Chickamauga. Only the personal leadership of MG George H Thomas, nicknamed the “Rock of Chickamauga” by Ulysses S Grant, prevented the Army of the Cumberland’s total destruction. Rosecrans retreated to Chattanooga, Tennessee where Confederate General Braxton Bragg occupied the heights above the city and prepared to starve out the Union troops.

By November 1863, President Lincoln and General Grant realized that the war would only end with an invasion of the Deep South. The first step, and Gateway to the South, was the strategically vital rail hub of Chattanooga, then under siege by the Confederates. On 23 and 24 November, William Sherman’s Army of Tennessee maneuvered on Bragg’s positions but it was a disaster. The only successful action was Joe Hooker’s fight in Lookout Valley which nearly unhinged the Confederate line. However, Sherman’s troops could not capitalize on the near-success. At the end of the day, the entire army was divided and neither Hooker nor Sherman could support each other. The Union Army was in a terrible predicament the next morning. In desperation, Grant asked Thomas (who replaced Rosecrans as the commander of the previously discounted troops inside Chattanooga) for a supporting attack against the heavily entrenched Missionary Ridge in order to take some pressure off of Sherman. Grant wasn’t expected much from the “demoralized” and “defeated”, albeit fresh, Army of the Cumberland.

On Wednesday afternoon, 25 November 1863, Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland stepped out of the sleepy town of Chattanooga to attack Missionary Ridge. Assaulting the entrenched troops at the end of the long open slope was a tough, nearly suicidal, assignment and they knew it. But to the Army of the Cumberland, the entire Union Army was in this position because of their failure. Now they were given a nearly unheard of second chance.

Their Day of Redemption was at hand.

First at the quick step, then at a double, then in ones and twos they sped up and broke ranks toward the Confederate lines. Soon entire regiments were in a full sprint and fixing bayonets on the run. Thomas’ blue tide swept over the first line of trenches as if they weren’t there. Then it clawed its way up the steep slope toward the second, with soldiers shouting “Chickamauga!” at the top of their lungs. The unstoppable Army of the Cumberland soon took the second trenchline and broke the rebels. Not stopping, they continued over the top of Missionary Ridge and down the far slope. In full view of a flabbergasted Grant and Sherman, Thomas’ soldiers impossibly cleared the ridge of Confederates, which forced Bragg to retreat.

The news of the dramatic victory would reach Washington DC the next day, where President Lincoln was celebrating America’s newest national holiday, the first official Thanksgiving Day.

The Treaty of Easton and Forbes Captures Fort Duquesne

In the early days of the French and Indian War on the Pennsylvania frontier, newly formed Pennsylvania regulars and militia counter raided Ohio Indian villages, while the forts completed in 1757 brought some semblance of security to the frontier. In Philadelphia, the Quakers went on their own “peace offensive” against the Ohio Indians. The official position of the Pennsylvania Assembly was that the land west of the Juniata and East Susquehanna River valleys belonged to the Iroquois Confederation and that the colonists were interlopers. This caused a deadlock in the Assembly about negotiating with the Indians. Israel Pemberton, the Quakers’ leader in the Pennsylvania Assembly, formed the “Friendly Association for Preserving and Regaining Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures.” The “Friendly Association” took advantage of the lack of French and British traders in some Delaware lands to begin negotiations with Indians desperate for trade goods that weren’t forthcoming because of the war parties. Pemberton brought food and goods in exchange for temporary cease fires among the isolated tribes.

Pemberton’s efforts were rewarded when in 1758, the Ohio Indians, the Iroquois, and peace delegates led by Conrad Weiser from Pennsylvania met in Easton. The Delaware half-king Teedyuscung declared himself the “King of the Delawares” and he took the lead in most of the peace negotiations with the Pennsylvanians on behalf of the Ohio Indians. The Iroquois were neutral in the French and Indian War, and felt that to resume subjugation of Teedyuscung and the Ohio Indians, who had grown beyond their control, peace was needed on the frontier. Until the French and Indian War, the Iroquois ruled over their Ohio Indian subjects, the Delaware, Shawnee, and Monongahela, through the Mingo. The Treaty of Easton in October 1757 resulted in the nullification of the Albany Purchase and an agreement that no colonial would settle the lands beyond the crests of the highest mountains, as implied in the original Lancaster Treaty, but was specified in the Easton Treaty.

Along with the Quaker peace overtures at Easton, Christian Frederick Post, a Moravian missionary who was married to a Delaware woman and was known to most of the Delaware tribes, travelled the Ohio country spreading the news of the conference at Easton. Many of the Ohio Indians seemed to warm to the peace initiatives because Great Lakes Indians were no better overlords than the Iroquois, and the French didn’t seem to want to depart their land either. They were also concerned with Brigadier General John Forbes’ expedition which was just ascending the east slopes of the Allegheny Mountains, building a road and constructing forts along the way. Like the disastrous Braddock expedition the year before, Forbes was tasked with expelling the French from the Ohio Country. Post told the Ohio Indians that as long as the French were in the Upper Ohio Valleys, Forbes would continue and the British would stay.

General John Forbes was a regular British officer sent to the colonies to attempt what had eluded Gen Braddock – seize Fort Duquesne and the French forts below the southern shore of Lake Erie. Fort Duquesne was the primary staging ground for all of the Great Lakes’ Indian raids on the Pennsylvania frontier and served as their “village.” To assist Forbes in this endeavor was the man who would come to epitomize the frontier soldier in Pennsylvania: Colonel Henri Bouquet.

Bouquet was a colorful Swiss mercenary with extensive experience fighting in the Europe and America. He accepted a commission during King George’s War in the 60th “Royal American” Regiment, a regular British regiment recruited specifically to fight in America and easily recognized by their distinctive forest green uniforms. Despite the only surviving portrait of him as a portly cleft chinned gentlemen, Bouquet was a rugged, creative and competent frontier soldier. Bouquet understood the realities of frontier fighting. Although he shared the typical British officer’s disdain of colonial militia, he recognized that militia understood frontier fighting and were better suited to a variety of roles that would cause regulars to be underutilized, such as vanguard, flank and rear guard, and manning fortifications. Moreover, he was quick to see that in the militia there were true frontiersmen sprinkled about. These special individuals could serve as scouts and raiders modeled of Maj. Robert Rogers’ Rangers in New York. Finally, Bouquet knew the potential of regular troops and if trained properly could assume the roles of light fighter and raider as necessary. To this end he encouraged his men to “brown their musket barrels”, doff their bright red uniforms and replace them with “browns and greens”.

Lt. Col. Bouquet’s scouts and rangers found that the best route to Fort Duquesne was not via Fort Cumberland and Virginia in the south, but from Fort Lyttleton in the east. The Pennsylvania militia agreed wholeheartedly, as the route gave them better claim to the Ohio country than the Virginians. The Virginians, led by Lt-Col George Washington, protested vehemently, and even suggested a separate thrust via Cumberland. Forbes, trusting in Bouquet’s assessment, ordered the expedition to assemble at Fort Lyttleton.

As Post and Pemberton were hammering out a peace treaty with Teedyuscung and the Ohio Indians, Forbes’ Expedition was slowly cutting a road over the mountains (Today’s US 22). Forbes periodically stopped and built forts to secure his communications and logistics to the east. These forts, such as Fort Ligonier and Fort Bedford among other smaller outposts, provided a secure place to withdraw in the event of difficulties, safely rest and water the horses, and stockpile provisions. They also provided spots for scouts to return to in a timely manner with information regarding Indian war parties transiting east or returning west. Unfortunately, Forbes became increasingly invalided with “the flux” (probably stomach cancer), and by the time Fort Ligonier was established, he was carried in a litter and Bouquet was the de facto expedition commander.

When Bouquet’s column arrived in the vicinity of Fort Duquesne, he dispatched Maj James Grant with his Highlander regulars and some provincial militia to conduct a reconnaissance in force of the fort. Grant was instructed to withdraw if he encountered any Indians, and ambush the inevitable pursuit. Grant, a British officer in the Braddock mold, advanced in formation with drums pounding and pipes playing. Grant’s column was ambushed and wiped out after torching several of Fort Duquesne’s outlying blockhouses. This was an unfortunate turn of events because at that moment Christian Post was negotiating the withdrawal of all of the Ohio Indians from French service. Had Grant done what he was supposed to do, his men would have survived. Post brought peace belts and the news of the Treaty of Easton to Fort Duquesne’s Ohio Indians. When Bouquet arrived with the main column, he met Post and the Ohio Indians on the way back to their villages. With most of their Ohio Indian “auxiliaries” gone, the Great Lakes’ Indians deserted the French, and with few Indian allies remaining the French withdrew to Fort Venango and burned Fort Duquesne to the ground. As Bouquet and Post approached the ruined fort on 25 November 1758, they were greeted with the scalps, bloody kilts, and mutilated bodies of Grant’s Highlanders.

Lt. Col. Bouquet, the senior capable British officer on the Pennsylvania frontier, had to return to Philadelphia with the incapacitated Forbes and the vast majority of the 5000 man army. He left 200 men under Cpt. Hugh Mercer to hold the Forks of the Ohio that winter, maintain relations with Indians, and keep track of French movements. Like most militia, Hugh Mercer was a recent immigrant, specifically from Scotland, where he was a doctor in the army of the Jacobite Rebellion. However, he was an experienced frontiersman. In the confusion during John Armstrong’s withdrawal from Kittanning in 1757, the wounded Mercer became separated, and it took the tough Scotsman 14 days of living on berries, hiding during the day and traveling at night to reach the safety of one Pennsylvania’s new forts. He received his commission in the militia after that, and became one of Bouquet’s most trusted subordinates, along with Lt.-Col Washington of Virgina, during the construction of Forbes’ Road to the Forks.

Mercers’ first priority after constructing a small fort to shelter his men from the winter weather and French attack, was maintaining the neutrality of the Ohio Indians. He could only do this by continually assuring the Mingo half-kings and Ohio Indian chiefs, such as Shingas and Tamacua, who were instrumental in Post’s peace deal that the British would depart when the French were gone. In December 1758, Mercer called a great council fire with the Ohio Indian chiefs where he stressed that the Treaty of Easton would be honored. He even recruited Iroquois to back his message, who were happy in any attempt to reassert their control over the Ohio Indians. However, as was suspected by the Ohio Indians, the British and their Iroquois allies had no intention of departing the Ohio Country despite the Easton Treaty, (or the later Proclamation of 1763). In the spring of 1759, the Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo looked on with suspicion when Cpt. Henry Gordon, a Royal Engineer, with 200 artificers arrived at the growing village, Pittsburgh, outside of Mercer’s small fort. Gordon had orders to build what became the second largest fort in colonial America, Fort Pitt.

Though the French and Indian War continued for three more years, violence on the Pennsylvania frontier declined dramatically after Bouquet seized the remains of Fort Duquesne and Mercer constructed Fort Pitt.

The American Declaration of Independence

On 4 July 1776, the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence. The vote to break with the Kingdom of Great Britain and its Empire actually occurred two days before on 2 July 1776 when the Second Continental Congress unanimously approved the independence clauses of the Lee Resolution. That day, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America”.

The vote on the Lee Resolution had been postponed for nearly a month since it was submitted on 13 June. The decision for independence needed to be unanimous and that wasn’t going to happen until the colonies formally approved. Most colonial legislatures had already approved of independence (North Carolina was first on 12 April 1776) and had directed their delegates in the Continental Congress to do the same. The only holdouts were New York, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. New York and Rhode Island were the most loyal of the North American colonies contemplating Independence, and Pennsylvania’s Quakers didn’t want to make a complete break with Britain. However, as the “keystone” of the twelve colonies (Delaware was still technically part of Pennsylvania), Pennsylvania had the most to lose from independence but also the most to gain. If Pennsylvania could be convinced then the other two would follow its lead. The Double Benjamins of Colonial America, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush, dedicated their very considerable talents of diplomacy to bringing around the pro rebellion, but anti independence Quaker delegates in the Pennsylvania Upper House.

Franklin and Rush had a cunning plan to sway their fellow Pennsylvania delegates. First Franklin convinced Delaware to formally secede from Pennsylvania. It didn’t take much because the Delawarians (?) were tired of waiting for the delegates from Pennsylvania’s upper counties to make a decision and were unwilling to wait on Franklin and Rush to persuade the anti independence Penn family Old Guard. So on 15 June 1776, the Assembly of the Lower Counties of Pennsylvania declared itself independent of Great Britain AND Pennsylvania, and became the Thirteenth Colony: Delaware.

Then Rush seized the moment and implemented Phase Two: He formed the Pennsylvania Provincial Conference consisting of the more pro independence elements of the Assembly of Upper Counties of Pennsylvania. They were almost exclusively from Philadelphia, the largest and most prosperous city in the now Thirteen Colonies. Rush floated the idea of a Fourteenth colony, Philadelphia. After letting the idea marinate for a few days, Franklin landed the coup de grâce: He addressed the staunchly Quaker and anti violence Penn family delegates to the effect of: nice province we have here, it would be a shame if we lost any more of it…

The Assembly for the Upper Counties of Pennsylvania voted for independence from Great Britain on 23 June 1776.

While Benjamins’ worked over the Quakers, the Second Continental Congress appointed a five person committee to draft a declaration to publicly release once the independence clauses in the Lee Resolution passed. “The Committee of Five” consisted of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut.

For the next several weeks, the Committee of Five debated the exact wording of the declaration. However, the tedious job of physically writing it out went to the youngest member of the committee, 33 year old Thomas Jefferson, after the rest of the committee refused. The declaration went through several revisions and the last edits were completed on the morning of 2 July, 1776, just before the vote on the Lee Resolution. When the independence clauses of the Lee Resolution were approved by a unanimous vote (though New York abstained), the actual Declaration of Independence document that was releasable to the public still had notes in the margins.

The next day, Jefferson rewrote the entire document. This final draft was then circulated among the committee and members of Congress for approval on the evening of the 3rd and all morning on the 4th of July. That afternoon the Second Continental Congress approved the wording of the Declaration of Independence. But it wasn’t announced yet, as Congress wanted the Declaration of Independence read simultaneously across the Thirteen Colonies. Copies were made of the written, but unsigned, Declaration and sent by fast dispatch rider to each of the Thirteen Colonies.

But the word was out and that wasn’t going to happen. On 8 July 1776, COL John Dixon, commander of the Philadelphia militia regiment, “The Associators”, publicly read the Declaration of Independence for the first time from the steps of the Pennsylvania State House. The next day, Washington had the Declaration read to the Continental Army and citizens of New York, while British troops and Hessian mercenaries were landing on Staten Island in full view of the audience. When the Declaration was read to the local 4th New York Regiment, the inspired residents of the city marched over to Bowling Green Park, and pulled down the statue of King George III at its center. The statue ended up at the house of General Oliver Wolcott, where it was broken up (Loyalists stole more than a few pieces, including the head). As a local blacksmith had the king melted down for musket balls, the delegates from New York formally approved the Declaration of Independence, even though they never actually approved the independence clauses of the Lee Resolution. Nonetheless, from that point on all Thirteen Colonies were united in their war for independence from Great Britain.

It would take seven more years of war to make American Independence a reality.

The Battle of Monmouth

The commander of the Continental Army, Lieut Gen George Washington, wanted a professional army. He needed one to defeat the British. The militia, and the irregulars harassing the British Army, would not accomplish this feat. Only a professional army that could meet the British on equal terms could end the American War of Independence. Valley Forge provided the perfect crucible: professional volunteers, notably Von Steuben, DeKalb, and the young Marquis de Lafayette, turned the inexperienced but dedicated Continental Line into a rival to the best Europe had to offer.

During the winter of 1777/78, America’s rebellion against Britain became a world war after France declared. King George III had to worry about the entirety of his empire, no longer just about America. The expansion of the war meant that the British did not have the troops to isolate New England from the rest of the Thirteen Colonies and the “Grand Plan” was in tatters. After their loss at Saratoga, Lord Howe was recalled and General Sir Henry Clinton was given command of British troops in North America. In Philadelphia, Clinton was ordered to withdrawal from the former rebel capital and consolidate in the loyalist enclave of New York City, and if necessary withdraw further to Nova Scotia. The British abandonment of Philadelphia was the perfect opportunity for Washington to showcase the newfound professionalization of his army and test its mettle, and bloody the remaining British in America in the process. The British column that left Philadelphia was nearly 15 kms long, with the majority being loyalist civilians and wagons of loot from the thoroughly plundered city. Washington ordered the Continental Army to give chase.

Unfortunately, Washington had a problem: he was forced to give command of the vanguard to arguably his weakest senior officer: Charles Lee, his own second-in-command. Charles Lee was a former British regular officer and in 1775, Washington’s chief competition for Commander in chief of the Continental Army. When Washington was chosen, the arrogant and proud Lee was furious, and said Washington “wasn’t fit to lead a sergeant’s guard.” Lee’s hatred of Washington caused considerable political trouble in the Army and in Congress. That trouble subsided somewhat when Lee was captured in his night gown by British cavalry after a night of drinking with his staff in a tavern about three miles away from his command in December 1776. (This act probably saved the rebellion. If Lee hadn’t been comfortably having dinner with his captors during Washington’s disastrous year of 1777, his incessant politicking would have almost certainly gotten Washington replaced, with himself of course.) However, Lee was recently exchanged for a captured British general, and had only just arrived in camp. Washington really had no choice but to give Lee the command of the initial attack to force the British to battle, even though he had a number of impressive, and now experienced, commanders, such as Stirling, Greene, Wayne, and the very deserving aforementioned trainers at Valley Forge.

The experienced and tactically capable, but plodding and indecisive, Lee caught up to the British rear guard as it decamped near the Monmouth Courthouse in New Jersey on 28 June 1778. However, as the Continentals slowly formed (due to confusing and contradictory orders from Lee) the British rear guard under Lord Cornwallis quickly seized the initiative and attacked. The sight of British bayonets didn’t unnerve the Continentals, but it did unnerve their commander. Lee had missed Valley Forge and his last experience commanding troops was the woeful New York campaign where American militia routinely broke at the sight of a British bayonet, and the Continental Line consistently overwhelmed by disciplined and steady British firepower. The panicked Lee immediately ordered his men to retreat, which they did in good order.

Cornwallis, sensing weakness and an opportunity to destroy a part of the Continental Army, pressed the attack. Only the actions of Lafayette, who knew the worth of the troops he helped train at Valley Forge, prevented Lee’s division from being annihilated. Nonetheless, Lee’s retreat quickly became disorganized and the men streamed westward back toward Washington and the main body. Washington, hearing the fighting to his front, thought all was well. That is until a babbling fifer appeared and told of absolute disaster. Soon entire formations were flowing past. The surprised Washington queried the retreating troops as to who ordered the withdrawal. Upon learning it was Lee, Washington grew apoplectic, “Damn him!”, and galloped forward searching for his wayward subordinate. In the scorching heat and humidity, Washington literally rode his horse to death looking for Lee. When he found him, Washington had one of his rare public displays of anger and admonished Lee right on the road. The two had words, and Washington had Lee arrested and sent to the rear.

Washington rallied the two remaining regiments of Lee’s rear guard, both of whose commanders were out of action. One was mortally wounded rallying his men when he saw Washington. The other was captured: In the confusion of the fighting retreat, Lt Col Nathaniel Ramsay of the 13th Maryland calmly sidestepped a charging dragoon, killed him with his saber, and in the same motion swung into the saddle as the dead dragoon fell off. Ramsay then rode between the lines hurling insults and challenges to Cornwallis’ entire astonished army. A dozen dragoons took up his gauntlet and subdued the bold American. (Clinton, who had finally arrived on the field, was so taken with the daring display, he later pardoned Ramsay).

The day seemed to require great personal sacrifice among the American commanders and Washington was no exception. He also placed himself in full view of the British lines to inspire the wavering regiments of Lee’s rear guard. Hundreds of Brown Bess muskets took aim and fired at the towering figure of Washington prancing, now mounted on a chestnut mare borrowed from one of his staff, in front of the lines yelling to his men. But none hit. Washington’s stand delayed Cornwallis just long enough for the rest of the army to deploy.

“Mad” Anthony Wayne had taken control of part of Lee’s former command and with his own men held Cornwallis along the West Ravine just south of the Freemont Meeting House. Greene deployed his division to Wayne’s right and Stirling on the left. Lafayette was formally given Lee’s division and he rallied its remains as the reserve.

Cornwallis was undeterred by the determined and professional looking troops to his front. He had the best the British army had to offer. Cornwallis’ men included some of the most storied and professional regiments in the service, the Black Watch and the Coldstream Guards to name just two. Cornwallis hurled them at the American lines.

For five brutal hours, the two armies locked horns under the pitiless sun on the cloudless New Jersey summer day. Temperatures soared above a hundred degrees and sunstroke killed as many as gunpowder and cold steel. Camp followers, wives and daughters of the men on the field, known as “Molly Pitchers” brought water to the parched men at great danger to themselves. One cannoneer’s wife, Mary Hays McCauley, took her fallen husband’s place on the crew, calmly ramming home the rounds, as shot and shells rained thick among the dueling cannon.

Each British assault was thrown back, and British officers were surprised to find they were followed quickly American bayonet assaults, a rarity so far in the war. Cornwallis attempted to outflank Stirling but again Lafayette was in the right place at the right time and stymied the assault. The fighting was so close, that each side’s officers could hear the orders of their opponents through the din. One British Lieut Col, Henry Monckton, was reported by Anthony Wayne as having said, “Forward to the charge, my brave Grenadiers!” to which Wayne, 40 yards away, calmly told his own men, “Steady! Steady! Wait for the word — then pick out the king birds”.

The bitter stalemate continued. As evening began, Greene’s division occupied Comb’s Hill on Cornwallis’ left. Greene managed to get a battery on the hill which enfiladed Clinton’s line, and Washington planned to assault both of Clinton’s flanks. But darkness and exhaustion prevented the attack from beginning. Washington’s coup d’grace would have to wait until morning.

When darkness fell on the night of 28 June 1778, both sides still held the field, though Clinton pulled his men back behind the Middle Ravine to prevent the Americans from hearing his withdrawal. Clinton was in command of the only significant British force in North America, and he knew if stuck around to face Washington in the morning, he would lose the war the next day. Taking a page from Washington’s own playbook, Clinton gave his men a few hours rest then escaped in the darkness. When the sun rose, the British were gone.

Despite Lee’s bumbling, the Battle of Monmouth was the first time during the American Revolution that the Continental Army stood its ground on even terms with the British Army. The excruciatingly painful experience at Valley Forge had paid off. The actions of the American commanders, especially Washington, Stirling, Wayne, and the young Lafayette endeared them to their men, and they vowed to “follow them to Hell.” There was no more talk of Washington being replaced.

The Continental Army had come of age.

The Battle of Attu

On 11 May 1943, the 17th Infantry Regiment of the US 7th Infantry Division invaded the Aleutian island of Attu which had been occupied by the Japanese a year earlier. The rocky terrain, fanatical resistance, and arctic weather conditions caused thousands of casualties on both sides. On 29 May 1943, the 1200 remaining Japanese defenders banzai charged their attackers and broke through the American lines. The Japanese attack was only stopped after vicious hand to hand combat with the regiment’s rear echelon troops. The Japanese secretly withdrew from the nearby island of Kiska shortly thereafter. The Battle of Attu was the only battle fought on US territory in North America during the Second World War.