This Week In American History: From a "Murderous Fistfight” to the "Ribbon Creek Massacre”

This Week in American Military History: 

Apr. 6, 1862:  Confederate Army forces under the command of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston attack Union Army forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Shiloh (Shiloh Church), Tennessee.


The fighting is desperate on both sides – described as “a murderous fistfight” – and the bloodiest battle to date in American military history. Confederate and Union casualties combined will exceed well over 23,000 in two days. The Confederates carry the first day, but Johnston is killed. In the end, Grant wins the Battle of Shiloh (also known as the the Battle of Pittsburg Landing): stiff Union resolve and reinforcements determining the outcome.

Apr. 6, 1917:  Pres. Woodrow Wilson signs a joint resolution of Congress declaring war on Germany.

Wilson had appealed to Congress for a war declaration on Apr. 2: The appeal stemming from Germany’s renewal of its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare as well as the British-intercepted Zimmermann telegram revealing Germany’s promise to Mexico of a huge chunk of U.S. territory (predicated, of course, on a German victory) if Mexico would ally itself with Germany.

Wilson dreads entering the war, but as he says, “Right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts — for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.”


Apr. 8, 1956:  In what will become known as the “Ribbon Creek Massacre,” six Marine recruits drown during a night-march through a rain-swollen tidal estuary at the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C.

The deaths – which will result in the trial and conviction of the drill instructor responsible – spawn widespread public condemnation of the Marines’ so-called “ruthless” training methods. The incident adds to the mystique of geographically isolated Parris Island (near Beaufort). And it will fuel the already-held reputation of Marines as being some of the world’s “toughest” fighting men for simply having survived the Corps’ notorious boot camp. It is a reputation that continues today.

Apr. 9, 1865:  The war lost, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee concludes, “There is nothing left for me to do, but to go and see Gen. [Ulysses S.] Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

Lee formally surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at the home of Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

Still-operating Confederate forces will surrender within months.

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