This Week in American Military History:
Feb. 1, 1800: The frigate USS Constellation (the first of four so-named American warships) under the command of Capt. Thomas Truxtun defeats the French frigate La Vengeance under Capt. F.M. Pitot in a night battle lasting several hours. The engagement, fought during America’s Quasi War with France, is – according to Truxtun – “as sharp an action as ever was fought between two frigates.”
Feb. 1, 1862: Julia Ward Howe’s poem “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which begins “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” is published in the Atlantic Monthly. It will become a Union Army ballad. Today, the ballad is a martial hymn sung in American military chapels worldwide and by descendents of Union and Confederate soldiers alike.
Feb. 1, 1961: The Minuteman I intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) – the first three-staged, solid-fueled ICBM – is launched for the first time in a successful “all systems” test.
Minuteman I is the first missile in the still-operational Minuteman family. Minuteman IIIs are still deployed. The name “Minuteman” comes from the famous “minutemen” of America’s colonial militia.
Feb. 1, 2003: The doomed Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-107) disintegrates upon reentering the earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crewmembers, including:
• U.S. Air Force Col. Rick D. Husband, mission commander
• U.S. Navy Commander William C. McCool, pilot
• U.S. Navy Capt. David M. Brown, mission specialist
• U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson, payload specialist
• U.S. Navy Commander Laurel B. Clark, mission specialist
• Israeli Air Force Col. Ilan Ramon, payload specialist
• Civilian research scientist Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist
Feb. 2, 1848: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo – which begins, “In the name of Almighty God” – is signed by representatives of the United States and Mexico, officially ending the Mexican-American War. According to the Library of Congress, the treaty “[extends] the boundaries of the United States by over 525,000 square miles. In addition to establishing the Rio Grande as the border between the two countries, the territory acquired by the U.S. included what will become the states of Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, most of New Mexico and Arizona, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.”
Feb. 2, 1901: Congress authorizes the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps under the Army Medical Department.
Feb. 3, 1801: Nearly one year to the day after Constellation’s thrashing of La Vengeance, the U.S. Senate ratifies the Mortefontaine treaty, officially ending the Quasi War with France.
Feb. 3, 1961: Two days after the Minuteman I test-launch, the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command (SAC) launches its EC-135 flying command post – codenamed “Looking Glass” – in order to maintain seamless and secure command-and-control of U.S. nuclear forces in the event ground-based command-and-control is wiped out in a nuclear attack. “Looking Glass” aircraft will be airborne 24/7 for the next three decades. According to the U.S. Strategic Command (which replaced SAC): “On July 24, 1990, Looking Glass ceased continuous airborne alert, but remained on ground or airborne alert 24 hours a day.”
Today, the U.S. Navy’s E-6B Mercury is America’s “Looking Glass.”
Feb. 4, 1779: Continental Navy Capt. John Paul Jones takes command of the former French frigate, Duc de Duras, renaming her Bonhomme Richard (after Benjamin Franklin’s pen name). It will be aboard the Richard – badly damaged and sinking during the famous battle in the North Sea with the Royal Navy frigate HMS Serapis on Sept. 23 – that Jones refuses a surrender demand, allegedly replying, “I have not yet begun to fight!” It has also been widely reported that when the Serapis’ Captain Richard Pearson inquired as to whether or not Jones had lowered or struck his colors, Jones shouted back, “I may sink, but I’ll be damned if I strike!”
Incidentally, Bonhomme Richard (the first of five so-named American warships) does sink: But not before Pearson himself surrenders (believed to be “the first time in naval history that colors are surrendered to a sinking ship”), and Jones transfers his flag to his newly captured prize, Serapis.
Jones is destined to become “the Father of the American Navy,” though – in some circles – it is argued that title belongs to Commodore John Barry.
Feb. 4, 1787: Shays’ Rebellion – a short-lived Massachusetts uprising led by former Continental Army Capt. Daniel Shays and spawned by crippling taxes and an economic depression in the wake of the American Revolution – is quashed by Massachusetts militia.
Feb. 4, 1944: Kwajalein Atoll is secured by U.S. forces.
Feb. 4, 1945: The Big Three – U.S. Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin – meet at the Crimea Conference (best known as the Yalta Conference) to discuss among other points what was to become of soon-to-be conquered Germany and the nations the Nazis had previously defeated.
Feb. 5, 1918: U.S. Army Lt. Stephen W. Thompson, a member of the American 1st Aero Squadron, is invited by French aviators to fly in a French Breguet bomber as a gunner on one of their missions. It is on that mission that Thompson shoots down a German Albatross fighter over Saarbrucken, Germany; making him the first American in uniform to shoot down an enemy airplane.
Today, the U.S. Air Force’s 1st Reconnaissance Squadron traces its lineage back to the 1st Aero Squadron.