This Week in American Military History:
May. 8, 1846: In the first major battle of the Mexican War, U.S. Army forces under the command of Gen. (future president) Zachary Taylor decisively defeat Mexican forces under Gen. Mariano Arista in the Battle of Palo Alto (Texas). The Mexicans will retreat to a seemingly more defensible position at Resaca de la Palma the following day, but Taylor will pursue and beat them badly there too.
May. 8, 1864: Union Army forces under the command of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee clash in the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.
The outcome of the battle will be inconclusive and the casualties terribly heavy. In less than two weeks, Grant will break contact and advance toward Richmond.
May. 8, 1911: The U.S. Navy places its first order with the Curtiss aircraft company for two biplanes. Thus, May 8 becomes the official birthday of Naval Aviation.
May 10, 1775: British-held Fort Ticonderoga falls to American Colonels Ethan Allen – leader of the famous Vermont guerrilla force, the “Green Mountain Boys” – and Benedict Arnold (four years before Arnold turns).
According to tradition, Allen demands the surrender of the British garrison under Capt. William Delaplace. In response, British Lieutenant Jocelyn Feltham shouts back, “On whose authority?” to which Allen replies, “in the name of Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.”
Meanwhile, the Second Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia. Within days, the Congress will formally place the colonies in a “state of defense,” and by mid-June name George Washington commander-in-chief of the new Continental Army.
May 10, 1797: The frigate, USS United States – the first of four so-named American Navy vessels and the first commissioned warship for the new U.S. Navy — is launched.
United States will be seized by Confederate forces in 1861 and rechristened CSS United States.
May 10, 1863: In the wake of the Confederate victory at Chancellorsville (Virginia), Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson – his left arm shattered and subsequently amputated following a friendly fire shooting – dies of pneumonia.
Prior to Jackson’s death, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is said to have remarked, “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm.”
May 10, 1960: The submarine, USS Triton (the third of three so-named American Navy vessels), returns to port following the first-ever completely submerged circumnavigation of the Earth.
Skippered by Capt. Edward L. Beach Jr. – a Navy Cross recipient and best-selling author of “Run Silent, Run Deep” – Triton has followed a trek closely paralleling that of the first-ever global circumnavigation led by Portugese Capt. Ferdinand Magellan in the 16th century. Magellan, however, was killed during his expedition.
May. 10, 1969: The 10-day Battle of Hamburger Hill (officially Hill 937 or Ap Bia Mountain) opens, pitting U.S. forces (primarily elements of the Army’s famed 101st Airborne Division) and their South Vietnamese allies against well-entrenched Communist forces.
Bitter fighting ensues: the Americans will ultimately become kings of the hill, but will abandon the position with weeks of taking it.
According to the late U.S. Army Col. Harry G. Summers, Jr.: “Losses were high, [but] Hamburger Hill was not the bloodiest fight of the war … but they [the losses] set off a firestorm of protest back home. The American people were growing more weary of the war. A February 1969 poll revealed that only 39 percent still supported the war, while 52 percent believed sending troops to fight in Vietnam had been a mistake. Politicians were quick to seek advantage in those numbers.”
May. 11, 1846: In an address before Congress, Pres. James K. Polk announces: Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil.”
War with Mexico – already being waged – is formally declared within two days.
May 11, 1864: A day beyond the one-year anniversary of Stonewall Jackson’s death, Gen. Lee suffers another irreplaceable loss when Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart is mortally wounded during a cavalry action at Yellow Tavern, Virginia.
May 12, 1780: Charleston, S.C. falls to British forces. But British operations in the Southern colonies will quickly prove to be the undoing of the king’s men in North America.