Articles

How Russia guaranteed a Union victory in the Civil War

It's hard to determine which is more surprising: the British aching to send troops and materiel to aid the Confederacy during the Civil War or that the first "Special Relationship" was between the U.S. and Russia against the British. Both of these facts are true and for the latter negating the former, we can thank one Cassius Marcellus Clay.


Clay was more than just a namesake for the greatest boxer of all time. He was also a politician, representative, officer in the Mexican War and Civil War, abolitionist, and ambassador with a pedigree in badassery. This man once frightened an opponent so much that the man killed himself the night before they were supposed to duel, which is probably the only duel story to top Andrew Jackson's.

There was also a lot of screaming. Probably.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, he tapped Clay to be his ambassador to the Imperial Russian Court in St. Petersburg. Since the Civil War broke out before Clay left for Russia in 1861 and there were no Federal troops in Washington at the time, Clay raised an Army of 300 volunteers to maintain an active defense of the capital until troops arrived.

The Kentucky politician started his life born to a family of planters (who fought in both the Revolution and the War of 1812) and became one himself before his foray into politics. Despite being a wealthy planter from Kentucky, the Yale-educated Clay became a staunch Abolitionist, opposed to slavery in any form, which would eventually cost him his seat in the legislature.

He started an anti-slavery newspaper called True American which immediately earned him death threats. He was threatened so often and he was so steadfast in his beliefs, he had to seal himself and his press in his office in Lexington, defending the building with two four-pounder cannons.

While giving a speech promoting the abolition of slavery, he was attacked by six brothers for expressing these views. They beat him, stabbed him, and tried to shoot him, but Clay fought off all six with his Bowie knife, killing one of them in the process.

Minus the gunshot wound, this is the only way my brain will process the way that scene started.

Clay was so infuriating to his pro-slavery opponents, they hired a political gun to assassinate him. The would-be assassin shot Clay in the chest, but the bullet didn't kill him. Despite being restrained by the assassin's friends, Clay drew his Bowie knife and cut off the man's nose and left ear, then gouged out his eye before throwing him over a wall and into a nearby river.

The Russian-British rivalry raged during the American Civil War. British politicians openly advocated intervention in the war and even had a secret plan to burn Boston and New York in sneak attacks from Canada. E. D. Adams' Great Britain and the American Civil War notes the U.S. considered Russia a "true friend" and was suspicious of British neutrality while Secretary of State William Seward actively advocated war with France.

While in St. Petersburg, Clay won the support of Russia for the Union cause and convinced Tsar Alexander II to threaten worldwide war with England and France to keep them from intervening on the side of the Confederacy, with whom they both sympathized. The Russian Baltic Fleet arrived in New York harbor in in September 1863 and the Russian Far East Fleet arrived in San Francisco that October. The Tsar ordered his Navy to be under Lincoln's command if war broke out.

Clay was recalled by Lincoln in 1862 and commissioned a Major General in the Union Army. He refused to accept the commission unless Lincoln freed slaves under Confederate control. The President ordered him to Kentucky to assess the effect of Emancipation on the population there, as Kentucky was seen as a vital border state. When Clay returned, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. He left for Russia again the next year and served there until 1869, where he helped secure the Purchase of Alaska, presumably because the Tsar was afraid of him.

"He just kept barking at me."

In his later years, Clay had so many enemies, he kept cannons to defend his home and office. His daughters became staunch Women's Rights advocates.

 

NOW: 7 times the U.S. almost stumbled into war with Russia >

OR: How a modern battalion of Army Rangers would fare in the Civil War >

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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Although the Air Force has released very limited guidance on what the new branch will do, how it will roll out, or basically anything at all except that it's called the 'Space Force' and will exist one day, the excitement the idea of a space force brings the military community is palpable.

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