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Kennedy Hickman

Kennedy's Military History Blog

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Civil War 150th: Grant's Regret

Sunday June 1, 2014

May 31-June 12, 1864 - Union and Confederate armies meet at the Battle of Cold Harbor. Pushing south after the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant dispatched Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's cavalry to capture the crossroads of Old Cold Harbor. Taking them on May 31, the Union horse defeated a Confederate counterattack the next morning. Later on June 1, the Union VI and XVIII Corps arrived on the scene and launched a major assault on the Confederate lines. Thrown back, the Union troops dug in after retreating. Wishing to attack again on June 2, Grant was forced to wait until early on June 3. Sending three corps forward against Gen. Robert E. Lee's entrenched army, his troops were cut down en masse and forced to seek cover until they could safely retreat. After pausing for several days, Grant slipped away from Cold Harbor on June 12 and moved south towards the James River and Petersburg. He later admitted that he always regretted the June 3 attack at Cold Harbor.

Civil War in the East - 1864:

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

World War I: USS North Dakota (BB-29)

Friday May 30, 2014

Commissioned in 1910, USS North Dakota (BB-29) (right) was the second ship of the Delaware-class of battleships.  Approved due to the perceived inferiority of the earlier South Carolina-class relative to HMS Dreadnought, the Delaware-class featured ten 12" guns spread through five twin turrets.  Along with its sister ship, North Dakota was a key asset for the Atlantic Fleet in the years before World War I.  Largely operating in the Atlantic and Caribbean, it aided in the US occupation of Veracruz in 1914. With the US entry into World War I in 1917, North Dakota was ordered to remain in home waters due chronic issues with its engines.  Operating in the Chesapeake Bay, it trained gunners and engineers for the fleet.  Resuming normal duties with the Atlantic Fleet after the war's end in November 1918, it continued in this role until being retired in 1923.  Converted to a target ship, North Dakota fulfilled this duty until 1930.  It was later sold for scrap in 1931.

Early Dreadnought Battleships:

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

Russo-Japanese War: Russians Crushed at Tsushima

Wednesday May 28, 2014

May 27-28, 1905 - The Japanese destroy the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima. Following several reverses in the conflict, Tsar Nicholas II dispatched five divisions of the Baltic Fleet to the Pacific to aid in breaking the siege of Port Arthur and to reclaim naval supremacy from the Japanese. Forced to steam around Africa, the Russian fleet, led by Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky, traveled over 18,000 miles before approaching the Strait of Tsushima. Having been informed of Port Arthur's fall, it was Rozhestvensky's goal to make for Vladivostok. Alerted to the Russian fleet's approach, Japanese Admiral Togo Heihachiro sortied the Combined Fleet and moved to intercept them in the strait. Attacking on May 27, Togo's skilled gunners pounded the Russian fleet's older battleships, sinking four. As the sun set, Togo unleashed torpedo boats upon Rozhestvensky's battered ships. When the fighting ended late on May 28, the Russian fleet was effectively destroyed with 21 ships sunk and 6 captured. Japanese losses in the stunning victory were only 3 torpedo boats.

Russo-Japanese War:

Photograph Source: Public Domain

American Civil War: Battle of Big Black River Bridge

Monday May 26, 2014

Fought May 17, 1863, the Battle of Big Black River Bridge saw Union forces drive Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton's men from their defenses.  Having won at Champion Hill on May 16, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant pushed west in pursuit of the enemy.  Early the next day, Union troops encountered Pemberton's new line in front of two bridges spanning the Big Black River.  Though the Confederate position was strong, Brig. Gen. Michael K. Lawler's brigade from Maj. Gen. John McClernand's (right) XIII Corps succeeded in exploiting the terrain on the Union right to approach the enemy trenches.  Charging forward, they broke through drove back Pemberton's men.  This led to the collapses of the Confederate position as Lawler drove south and additional Union forces attacked.  Though many of the Confederates were able to reach the west bank of the river, 1,751 were captured after Pemberton's engineers burned the bridges.  Beaten, the Confederate commander withdrew to Vicksburg where he came under attack two days later.

Civil War in the West - 1863:

Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

World War II: British Escape Dunkirk

Saturday May 24, 2014

May 25, 1940 - British General Lord Gort decides to evacuate troops from France (right) beginning the Battle of Dunkirk. On May 24, 1940, Hitler urged General Gerd von Rundstedt to push forward the infantry of Army Group B with the goal of destroying the British Expeditionary Force in northern France. The next day, with the Allied situation in France rapidly decaying, the commander of the BEF, General Lord Gort, made the decision to evacuate his force back to England. Retreating 30 miles northwest, the BEF and other Allied forces formed a pocket around the port of Dunkirk. To remove the forces from the Dunkirk pocket, the Royal Navy organized Operation Dynamo. Using destroyers, merchant ships, and over 700 "little ships" (privately owned, smaller boats), rescue operations began on May 26. Despite Luftwaffe attacks, the evacuation proceeded for nine days ultimately rescuing 338,226 men. Among these were 139,997 French, Belgian, and Dutch soldiers. Though much of their heavy equipment was lost in France, the successful evacuation ensured that Britain would be able to continue the war against Germany.

World War II in Western Europe

Photograph Courtesy of the US Department of Defense

War of the Spanish Succession: Marlborough Triumphant at Ramillies

Thursday May 22, 2014

May 23, 1706 - The Duke of Marlborough (left) crushes the French at the Battle of Ramillies. Advancing through the the Spanish Netherlands, an army of the Grand Alliance, led by the Duke of Marlborough, encountered a mixed French-Bavarian army led by the Duc de Villeroi near Ramillies. Occupying a position along a ridge with his forces occupying the villages of Autre Eglise, Offus, Ramillies, and Taviers, Villeroi prepared to fight a defensive battle. Advancing Dutch infantry on his left, Marlborough was able to capture Taviers and destabilize the French right flank. Pushing on the left against Autre Eglise, he forced Villeroi to shift his forces to meet this threat. This led to a weakening of the French center around Ramillies. Sending his infantry forward against the village, Marlborough also ordered his cavalry to attack to the south. As both fights raged, the Duke shifted forces from his right to build numerical superiority at the points of attack. This movement was not noticed by Villeroi and soon the French were at a disadvantage. The first breakthrough came when the Danish cavalry pierced the French lines and turned their flank. This was quickly followed by a penetration in Ramillies. With their lines crumbling, Villeroi's army began to collapse which quickly deteriorated into a rout.

Photograph Source: Public Domain

World War I: USS Delaware (BB-28)

Tuesday May 20, 2014

Entering service in 1910, USS Delaware (BB-28) (right) was the lead ship of its class of battleship.  Authorized due to the perceived inferiority of the earlier South Carolina-class relative to HMS Dreadnought, the Delaware-class featured ten 12" guns spread through five twin turrets.  Along with its sister, USS North Dakota, Delaware formed part of the backbone of the Atlantic Fleet in the years prior to World War I.  After supporting the US occupation of Veracruz in 1914, the battleship sailed for Britain after the US entered World War I in 1917.  Serving in the 6th Battle Squadron based at Scapa Flow, Delaware helped escort convoys in the North Sea as well as took part in the operations of the British Grand Fleet.  Returning home in the summer of 1918, it remained active until 1923.  Decommissioned late that year, it was sold for scrap in February 1924.

US Navy - Early Battleship Classes:

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

American Civil War: Victory at Champion Hill

Sunday May 18, 2014

May 16, 1863 - Union forces triumph at the Battle of Champion Hill.  Having crossed the Mississippi River on April 30, 1863, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (right) commenced a campaign against the Confederate fortress of Vicksburg, MS.  Located on bluff overlooking the river, the town was critical to controlling traffic on the waterway.  Capturing Jackson, MS, Grant turned west towards Vicksburg and sought to engage Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton's army.  Having fought with his superior, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, over strategy, Pemberton found himself halfway between Vicksburg and Jackson.  Ordered to assault Grant's rear on May 16, he found himself under attack at the Battle of Champion Hill before he could act.  In a back and forth fight, Grant overwhelmed the Confederates and drove them from the field.  A key victory for the Union, it ensured that Pemberton and Johnston could not unite and forced the former's army back towards Vicksburg.  Fighting would be renewed the next day when Grant's men triumphed at the Battle of Big Black River Bridge.

Civil War in the West - 1863:

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

World War II: The Dambusters Strike

Friday May 16, 2014

May 17, 1943 - British bombers conduct the famous Dambuster Raids. Seeking to inflict damage on water and electricity production in the Ruhr, the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command began planning a raid on the dams at Möhne, Sorpe, and Eder. For the mission, a specially designed "bouncing bomb" known as Upkeep was designed by Barnes Wallis. Spun backwards in the bomb bay of specially modified Avro Lancaster bombers, the bomb was intended to skip over the water before sinking and detonating at the base of the dam. To undertake the raid, a new unit, 617 Squadron, was created under the command of Wing Commander Guy Gibson. Taking off in three groups on May 17, Gibson led successful attacks against the Möhne and Eder dams. The second group suffered heavy losses during the outbound flight and was reinforced by aircraft from the reserve third group. Striking the earthen dam at Sorpe, they failed to breach it. Though the military effects of the mission were short-term, its overall success provided a high boost to British morale.

World War II Bombers:

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Civil War 150th: VMI Cadets Help Win Battle of New Market

Wednesday May 14, 2014

May 15, 1864 - Confederate forces win the Battle of New Market. Operating in conjunction with Lieutenant Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's main advance in Virginia, Major General Franz Sigel marched into the Shenandoah Valley in May 1864. Tasked with clearing the area of Confederate forces, Sigel began moving up the Valley. To block this Union thrust, Major General John C. Breckinridge gathered what Confederate troops he could find including the 257-man Corps of Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute. Encountering Sigel near New Market on May 15, Breckinridge formed his men for battle, but deliberately placed the cadets in the reserves with hope that the boys, aged 15 to 21, would not be needed. Advancing on Sigel's position, the Confederate lines were hit hard with artillery and musket fire. Seeing Breckinridge's line faltering, Sigel ordered his men to attack. With a gap forming in his lines, Breckinridge ordered the cadets forward into the breach. Meeting the Union charge, the Confederates held and then launched a counterattack. Surging forward with the cadets in the lead, Breckinridge's men drove the Union troops from the field, forcing Sigel to retreat down the Valley. The Battle of New Market cost VMI ten cadets who either died during the fighting or later from their wounds.

Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley:

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