This Week in American Military History


Pickett’s Charge

July 3, 1863: Day Three of the Battle of Gettysburg: Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett leads his ill-fated division against Union Army forces under the command of Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock positioned on Cemetery Ridge. Said to be “the highwater mark of the Confederacy,” Pickett’s charge will fail. 


Gen. Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia, had ordered the charge. Lee’s subordinate corps commander, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, had argued against such a charge. But following Lee’s orders, Longstreet directed Pickett to attack. 

Years later, Pickett will be asked why his attack failed. His reply: “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”

Nobel prize-winning author William Faulkner will write, “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position… .”

July 4, 1776: The American colonies – already at war with Great Britain – declare their independence.

July 4, 1802: The U.S. Military Academy at West Point opens its doors.

July 4, 1863: The Confederate city of Vicksburg, Mississippi falls to Union Army forces under Maj. Gen. (future U.S. pres.) Ulysses S. Grant. It will be decades before the city celebrates the 4th of July again.


July 5, 1814: Brig. Gen. Winfield Scott – a 28-year-old master of Napoleonic infantry tactics destined to become general-in-chief of the U.S. Army and affectionately known as “the Grand Old Man of the Army” – leads his gray-clad infantry brigade forward against British Army forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Phineas Riall in the Battle of Chippewa (Canada along the Niagara River).

Scott’s men, though regular Army, are dressed in militia-gray because of a shortage of blue material. As a result, Riall incorrectly identifies Scott’s advancing force as militia, and deploys his own forces haphazardly, mistakenly believing the Americans will break after the proverbial “whiff of grapeshot” from the Royal Artillery.

But as the Americans begin to close the distance in near-perfect parade formation, Riall realizes he has disastrously erred, exclaiming, “Those aren’t militia! Those are regulars by God!”

The Americans win the battle. And according to tradition, the famous cadet-gray uniforms of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point are worn in commemoration of Scott’s victory at Chippewa.

July 5, 1912: The first military aviator certificates are presented to Capt. Charles deForest Chandler, Lt. Thomas DeWitt Milling, and Lt. Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold.

Chandler is destined to become a colonel and the chief of the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps. Milling will become a brigadier general in the Army Air Corps. Arnold will become the first and only five-star “General of the Air Force.”


July 8, 1950:  “Pursuant to the [United Nations] Security Council resolution,” Pres. Harry Truman names U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur commander-in-chief of all United Nations forces in Korea.

July 9, 1776: Following a reading of the newly published Declaration of Independence to Continental Army soldiers in New York, a group of Manhattanites and members of the Sons of Liberty, topple King George III’s statue in the city. The lead from the statue will be melted down to make musket balls

In a letter to Continental Army Gen. Horatio Gates, future postmaster general Ebenezer Hazard, writes: “The King of England’s arms have been burned in Philadelphia and his statue here [in New York] has been pulled down to make musket balls … so that his troops will probably have melted Majesty fired at them.”

July 9, 1798: Its treaties with France rescinded, the U.S. Congress authorizes “U.S. Naval vessels to capture armed French vessels anywhere on the high seas.” The Quasi War with France has begun.

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