This Week in American Military History

July 11, 1864:  Confederate Army forces under the command of Lt. Gen. Jubal Early reach the outskirts of Washington, D.C.

Brief skirmishing follows. Artillery fire is exchanged. But a previous delay at nearby Monocacy Junction, Maryland, caused by a sizeable, but numerically inferior Union Army force under the command of Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace (future author of Ben Hur) buys time for Union defenders to strengthen their positions around the nation’s capital.

Early will withdraw the following day, commenting to one of his officers, “Major, we haven’t taken Washington, but we scared Abe Lincoln like hell.”

The New York Times will refer to Early’s drive toward D.C., “the boldest, and probably the most successful of all the rebel raids.”

July 11, 1955: The first U.S. Air Force Academy class begins with 306 cadets at the Academy’s temporary site, Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado. The Academy will be moved to its permanent site at Colorado Springs in 1958.

July 11, 1798: The U.S. Marine Corps – born as the Continental Marines Nov. 10, 1775 (the official birthday of the Corps) and disbanded at the conclusion of the American Revolution – is reestablished by an act of Congress.

July 12, 1862: The U.S. Army version of the Medal of Honor – the nation’s highest award for valor in combat – is signed into law, stipulating that the decoration be awarded “to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldierlike qualities, during the present insurrection.”

The Navy version (awarded to both sailors and Marines) had become law more than six months earlier, on Dec. 21, 1861.

July 14, 1813: Lt. (future Lt. Col.) John M. Gamble becomes the first – and thus far only – U.S. Marine to command a ship in action. Gamble’s vessel, the captured British whaler Greenwich, captures the British whaler Seringapatam.

Gamble – a Lieutenant (though several reputable sources say, captain) of Marines aboard USS Essex – had been awarded command of Greenwich by U.S. Navy Captain (future commodore) David Porter, who was the father of the Civil War’s famous Admiral David Dixon Porter.

Gamble’s exploits will become legendary, though few know of him outside Marine Corps circles.

July 16, 1862: The U.S. Congress establishes the rank of rear admiral for David G. Farragut, who will become best known for purportedly uttering the command, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!,” or the more likely command, “Damn the torpedoes! "Four bells. Captain [Percival] Drayton, go ahead! [Lt. Commander James] Jouett, full speed!” during the 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama.

Farragut (destined to become admiral) is the nation’s first rear admiral

July 17, 1898: Spanish forces under the command of Gen. José Toral surrender Cuba to U.S. forces under Gen. William R. Shafter during the Spanish American War.

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).