7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

In the late second century BC, the Roman Republic seemed to be flourishing. After over a century of war with its ancient enemy Carthage, Rome now stood as the sole superpower of the western Mediterranean Sea. Under the brilliance of this victory, however, there was a storm coming. As Rome expanded, the Republic became increasingly stratified between rich and poor, and tensions were on the rise. It was in this turbulent time that the Gracchi brothers Tiberius and Gaius entered the political scene. Their reforms would result in both of their deaths, but their actions would change the course of Roman history. Here are seven things to know about the Gracchi brothers.

1. Rome was becoming a powder keg

As Rome had expanded from a small settlement in central Italy to the master of the Mediterranean, there opened a gulf between the upper and lower classes. The old ideal of the citizen-farmer, the self-sufficient man who owned his own land, was increasingly out of reach. Lands once divided into independent family farms were being absorbed into massive private villas owned by aristocrats and worked by slaves. Many Roman citizens were forced into the city, where they were forced to depend on handouts from the state. This left many Romans from all classes discontent.

Buildings in Rome were stunning like this one, but most citizens were poor.

2. Tiberius was tribune of the plebs

The tribune of the plebs was the representative of the plebeians, or Roman masses; he was responsible for checking the power of the Senate, which was dominated by the patricians, the nobility. In the year 133 BC, Tiberius Gracchus was elected tribune on a platform of land reform. He invoked the Lex Licinia Sexta, an ancient set of laws that placed a limit on land ownership, to redistribute excess land from the wealthy to the poor. The problem was, the laws had not been enforced in decades, and enforcing them would be an uphill battle.

3. Tiberius was the first populist

The elder Gracchi was known for violating Rome’s political traditions. It was customary to bring a new bill to the Senate for debate, but Tiberius took his land reform bill directly to the citizen-assemblies to be voted on. When the infuriated Senators stepped in to prevent the bill from passing, Tiberius spent the rest of his time as tribune disrupting other attempts at legislating, in order to hold the Senate hostage.

4. Tiberius’s murder changed Roman politics

The position of tribune was considered sacred, so the Senate could not touch Tiberius until his one-year tenure was over. Tiberius attempted to run for tribune a second time in a row, which was illegal. The Senate responded by storming one of the Gracchi’s rallies, beating Tiberius and many of his supporters to death. This was the first time in centuries that Roman politics had been determined by violence, but it would not be the last.

Ancient forum in Rome
An ancient Roman forum is now a historical site.

5. Gaius was also tribune

Ten years later in 123 BC, the younger Gracchi Gaius was elected tribune on the same platform as his brother. Where Tiberius was more idealistic and placed his trust in the people, Gaius knew that he would need the upper classes on his side. He appealed to the equestrians, the class just below the patricians, to push forward his reforms. He promoted land reform, limiting military conscription to the age of 17 or older, providing grain for the poor citizens and equipment for the poor soldiers (before, Roman conscripts had to pay for their own armor and weapons), and various other public works projects.

6. Gaius couldn’t keep the support of the people

His popularity, however, would not last forever. In the late Republic many Italian peoples were allied with Rome, but were not full Roman citizens. Gaius proposed extending citizenship to these allies, but this was a political miscalculation. The Roman people realized they would have to share the redistributed land with an influx of new citizens, and this they could not abide. Gaius’s days were numbered.

7. Gaius took his own life

Tensions eventually boiled over when a massive pro-Gracchi rally ended in violence. One of Gaius’s opponents was killed, as Gaius’s supporters were illegally carrying weapons within the city of Rome. This prompted the Senators to pass for the first time in history the Senatus consultum ultimum, a law that empowered the Senate to put a citizen to death without a trial. For a Roman man capture and execution was less honorable than suicide, so Gaius fell on his own sword.

The Gracchi brothers were only the start of the crisis in the late Republic. The tensions between upper and lower classes would become more extreme, prompting the rise of newer, more ruthless politicians. The Senate would continue to abuse its power over life and death. For the first time in centuries, Roman law was made secondary to violence. The Republic would eventually descend into civil war, but thanks to Romans like the Gracchi, the dream of Rome would continue to inspire us for centuries.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan

Remember when 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi came out and everyone joked that Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) got bored of his office job at Dunder Mifflin so he left and became an operator? Well, that’s basically what Koshiro Tanaka did in 1985. He hated communists, so he went to Afghanistan to fight them.

After WWII, the Soviet Union retained the historically Japanese Kuril Islands, a major point of contention for Tanaka against both the Soviet and Japanese governments. He believed that Japan should have fought to at least preserve its cultural land. By the 1980s, he saw the growing Soviet presence as an existential threat to his country. Because Japan only had a 250,000-strong Self Defense Force, not a military, Tanaka feared the result of a possible Soviet invasion. “If Japan started fighting a war now, 50 million Japanese would die,” he said. “They [the Soviets] don’t want peace, they want land.”

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
A Japanese office worker fighting with Afghan guerrillas using U.S.-supplied weapons against Soviet troops (Koshiro Tanaka)

Tanaka worked in a typical office job in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district when he decided to take up arms against the Soviets in Afghanistan. However, the 44-year-old was not without any training. Though he never served in the JSDF, Tanaka was a sixth-degree black belt in Kyokushin Karate and an instructor in the martial art. He brought his skills with him to Afghanistan and taught hand-to-hand combat to the U.S.-backed mujahideen.

Though he fought alongside them, Tanaka did not adopt the tenets of Islam that the Afghan guerillas fought under. Rather, he went into battle with the mindset of a samurai. Tanaka found that there were parallels between the two cultures. Where a mujahideen fighter could earn a spot in Heaven through martyrdom in the holy war, Tanaka sought glory and honor in combat like the samurai warriors of old. “I hope in my mind that I will have the samurai spirit when it is time to die,” he said. He even carried an extra grenade at all times to martyr himself rather than suffer the shame of capture.

Tanaka’s first combat experience in Afghanistan was a shock. He accompanied a mujahideen raid on a communist Afghan government post near Jadladak, 25 miles east of Kabul. “I didn’t know how to fight, how to move,” he recalled. “I felt a bullet go by my ear. I got a shot of adrenaline.” After that experience, Tanaka applied the same discipline he used in karate to learning how to fight with a Kalashnikov. He developed a reputation as a foreign fighter and even had numerous propaganda reports of his death published by the Afghan government. During his time in Afghanistan, Tanaka endured malaria, jaundice, kidney stones, and a broken foot bone.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
Tanaka in Afghanistan in 1987 (Koshiro Tanaka)

Between 1985 and 1987, Tanaka made at least seven trips to Afghanistan. However, his actions were frowned upon by his own government and were denounced. “His characteristics are beyond our understanding,” said a Japanese Foreign Ministry representative. “He is kind of strange as a Japanese.” Though Tanaka’s views were shared by some of his countrymen who donated funds to his mercenary trips, he largely paid for them out of his own pocket.

In 1987, Tanaka wrote a book detailing his experiences in Afghanistan called Soviet Soldiers in a Gun Sight, My Battle in Afghanistan. He used the proceeds from the book to fund another trip to Afghanistan and purchased supplies for the mujahideen. “[They] need help, any kind of help,” Tanaka said in a plea for Japanese support. “They need weapons, bread, food, anything.”

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
Tanaka with Mujahideen fighters (Koshiro Tanaka)

Tanaka’s next trip took him to the Panjshair Valley where he linked up with the famous Afghan commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud. The mujahideen leader had taken up karate, but Tanaka reported that, “he’s not so good.” Massoud became a military and political leader in the Northern Alliance alongside Abdul Rashid Dostum of 12 Strong fame, but was assassinated two days before 9/11 in an al-Qaeda/Taliban suicide bombing.

Tanaka’s fight in Afghanistan ended with the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. He returned to karate and has taught in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Hawaii, and Germany. He remains an outspoken supporter of a democratic Afghanistan, often sporting a pin of the Japanese flag alongside the Afghan flag.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
Tanaka hosted two members of the Afghan Olympic Committee in Tokyo in February 2020 (Koshiro Tanaka)
MIGHTY HISTORY

Epic tale of Rhodesian Commandos gets a reprint

It has been 32 years ever since Chris Cocks first published his acclaimed book narrating his experiences with the elite Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI). Now, five editions later, he is reprinting his masterpiece.

But it’s not just a reprint. Cocks has gone in and re-wrote the book to make it even better.


“Over the last three decades, the book has undergone around five editions with various publishers, some good, some not so good,” said Cocks “I decided, therefore, to re-write the book and take out a lot of fluff and waffle, and then self-publish.”

The Rhodesian Bush War (1964-1980) was a small but intense Cold War conflict. The Rhodesian government was faced by a Communist insurgency that had shrewdly sold itself in the international community as a liberation front aiming to end White-rule in the Southern African country.

Formed in 1961, the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) was an airborne all-white unit focused on direct action operations. (Most units in the Rhodesian military were mixed, usually Black soldiers led by White officers; the RLI and the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS) were some of the few all-White outfits.) Three years later, in 1964, the unit was retitled to 3 Commando, The Rhodesian Light Infantry, to better reflect its Special Operations role.

The unit was broken down to four Commandos of 100 men each and a headquarters company. The majority of the RLI troopers were Rhodesian regulars or reserves. There was, however, a significant foreign presence (Americans, French, Germans, British, Australians, New Zealanders).

“As a 20-year-old lance-corporal, I found myself in command of a troop (a platoon),” he recalls. “As a junior NCO, I never lost a man in combat, but I think that was luck. But I’m still proud of that.”

The airborne capabilities of the unit paired with its lethality made the RLI the bane of the communist insurgents. It is estimated that as part of Fire Force missions, which were introduced in 1974, the RLI killed 12,000 insurgents. At some point during the Bush War, the operational tempo was so high, that RLI troopers were conducting three combat jumps a day. Rapid deployment of troops was key to the Fire Force concept. Jumps, thus, were made at 300-500 feet without reserve parachutes. Indeed, they were flying so low that as the last jumper of the stick exited the aircraft, the first hit the ground. To this day, an RLI trooper holds the world record for most operational jumps with an astounding 73.

Chris Cocks’ book provides an original account of the Rhodesian Bush War. Several pictures breathe life into the men and their feats. The illustrations on the Fire Force are elucidating. Perhaps what sets Cocks’ book apart from similar narratives is its dual nature: a lover of narrative history will gain as much as a student of military history. (I’ve personally used Cocks’ book as a primary source for a paper that was published in the West Point’s military history journal.)

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

The cover of the latest edition.

Dr. Paul L. Moorcraft, a British journalist and academic who has written extensively on the Rhodesian Bush War, said that “Cocks’s work is one of the very few books which adequately describes the horrors of war in Africa … Fire Force is the best book on the Rhodesian War that I have read… it is a remarkable account that bears comparison with other classics on war … a tour de force.”

Cocks first wrote the book in the mid-1980s. He sought to understand why so many had died (over 50,000 dead on both sides) and why Zimbabwe had fallen to Communism. “Essentially, we lost not only the war, but our country,” said Cocks. “For what? I needed to record that, somehow. To be honest, I just started writing, with no particular end point in mind. It all came tumbling out.”

This is a book worth reading. You can purchase it on Amazon.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.


Articles

9 military badasses with awesome nicknames

A lot of accomplishments in the military get overlooked or rewarded with a couple metal baubles to be worn on the chest.


But sometimes, a man leads a couple of invasions and gets to keep his callsign for the rest of his life as a nickname, or someone leaves their job as a respected religious leader to become a major general known as “The Fighting Bishop.” Here are nine awesome nicknames bestowed on military badasses:

1. Gen. Jim “Chaos” Mattis

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
(Photo: Department of Defense D. Myles Cullen)

While many more people know retired Marine Corps general and current U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis as “Mad Dog,” that nickname was actually foisted upon him by the press, and he apparently doesn’t like it.

His nickname among his men was his callsign, “Chaos.”

2. Adm. Arleigh “31-Knot” Burke

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Navy Adm. Arleigh Burke — yeah, the guy those destroyers are named after — was ordered to shut down a major Japanese troop transfer near the end of the Solomon Islands Campaign. But Burke’s ships were in need of repair and the convoy couldn’t attempt to move at its top speed, 38 knots.

So Burke’s commander sent him orders that began, “THIRTY-ONE KNOT BURKE GET …” and Burke readily agreed, pushing his convoy task force to 31 knots and getting to the Japanese evacuation just in time to launch a skilled attack on Thanksgiving morning that sank three of the five Japanese ships.

3. Maj. Gen. Leonidas “The Fighting Bishop” Polk

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
(Photo: Public Domain)

The story of Leonidas Polk‘s nickname is pretty simple. He attended West Point, left the military for religious life, became a bishop, and then returned to the military as a Confederate general in the Civil War.

He was a bishop who fought in a war, and his men started calling him “The Fighting Bishop.”

4. Gen. George “Grey Wolf” Crook

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
Awesome nickname, better beard. (Photo: Public Domain)

Union Gen. George Crook was a bottom-of-his-class West Point graduate who distinguished himself in the Civil War and Indian Wars. It was during the Indian Wars that the Apache gave Crook the nickname “Nantan Lupan,” which translates to Grey Wolf.

5. Eugene “Black Swallow of Death” Bullard

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
Eugene Bullard. (Photo: Department of Defense)

American Eugene Bullard emigrated to France just before Germany invaded it. He joined the French Foreign Legion and became in infantry hero before an injury ended his ground combat time. So, he joined the French Escadrille and became a fighter pilot, possibly the first black one. He also served as a spy in World War II.

Oddly enough, Bullard’s nickname, “The Black Swallow of Death,” was bestowed for his prowess as an infantryman, not for his two aerial kills as a pilot.

6. Gen. George “Old Blood and Guts” Patton, Jr.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
(Photo: U.S. Army)

Legendary Army officer Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., America’s first and possibly greatest tank officer, promised his junior leaders that World War II would be full of grisly horror. He told them, “You will be up to your neck in blood and guts.” The men decided that was the perfect nickname for him.

7. Pvt. Edwin “Balaclava Ned” Hughes

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
Painting: Richard Caton Woodville, Jr., Public Domain

British Pvt. Edwin Hughes had a pretty unfortunate nickname. He was one of the cavalrymen who took part in the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854. That famous charge took place in the Battle of Balaclava, and Hughes’ “friends” apparently thought he would want a constant reminder of the day that all of his friends died, because they gave him the nickname “Balaclava Ned.”

8. Sir Douglas “Butcher of the Somme” Haig

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
(Portrait: Imperial War Museum)

Sir Douglas Haig was the British Field Marshal in World War I, commanding the entire British Expeditionary Force. He was well-regarded by the British public immediately after the war, but there were lingering questions about whether his offensive tactics led to too many British casualties.

At the Battle of the Somme, the severe British losses led to Haig being dubbed “The Butcher of the Somme.”

9. Gen. Joe “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
(Photo: U.S. Army)

Joe Stilwell was one of America’s greatest generals in the 20th Century, rated higher than famous names like Patton and Bradley in a pre-war survey of military leadership. And Stilwell had a reputation for a mouth that would’ve made Patton blush, lots of curse words and colorful insults. That led to his nickname, “Vinegar Joe,” referring to how caustic his tongue was.

Unfortunately for Stilwell, his skills with the Chinese language led to him losing command of the Africa invasion and getting a diplomatic mission to China instead. After the Chinese kicked him out a few years later, Stilwell was given command of the invasion of Japan, an invasion that never happened.

Wonder what Joe had to say about those two events?

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Germany bombed New York but it was blamed on insects

Typically, when there’s a deadly terrorist attack, the tragic news spreads around the world almost instantly and hangs in the global consciousness for years to come. But history shows us that covering up one of these terrible events might be as easy as finding something to pin it on.


In 1916, Germany was getting tired of the United States’ double talk. The U.S. continuously stated its intent to remain a neutral party while supplying weapons to allied forces throughout World War I. So, the Germans wanted to send America a bloody message — they needed to showcase their anger.

German spies targeted Black Tom Island, a large, man-made island off the coast of Jersey City, New Jersey that housed ammunition for the government. They laid time-delayed glass bombs at the site, waited, and then…

Boom! The delayed fuses set off 100,000 pounds of TNT.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

The blast was so powerful that it sent hot shrapnel more than 2,000 feet in all directions — flying far enough to damage the famous torch of the Statue of Liberty. Although it’s estimated that the Statue gets nailed by lighting close to 600 times per year, this was the first time it was struck by metal fragments. As a result of the damage, the torch portion of the statue closed to tourists. It hasn’t been opened since.

After the smoke finally cleared, the damage was assessed. Hundreds of civilians were injured from the blast and five people were reported dead.

The next day, The New York Times covered the terrorist attack on the front page. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation claimed the event wasn’t an attack, but an accident.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
Workers at ground zero did what they could to look for survivors.

One of the early assumptions was that a swarm of mosquitoes were at fault. Guards on the island lit smug pots to get rid of the insects and that’s what they believed caused the explosion.

Determined to remain neutral during the ongoing war, President Woodrow Wilson labeled the sad event as a “regrettable incident at a private railroad terminal.”

Check out American Heroes Channel’s video below to watch the story of a massive terrorist cover-up.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Marines’ hero of Guadalcanal died at Iwo Jima

For an ordinary man, ‘Manila John’ Basilone did extraordinary things. Despite a short life, Basilone accomplished great acts of heroism and patriotism. Born on Nov. 4, 1916, in Ruritan, New York, Basilone would go on to become the first U.S. Marine of enlisted rank to earn the Medal of Honor during World War II. He was also the only enlisted Marine to earn the Navy Cross posthumously.


Basilone hadn’t begun his career in the Marine Corps. Basilone enlisted in the U.S. Army just before his 18th birthday in 1934. He was sent to the Philippines as an infantryman from 1934 to 1937. While in the (at the time) U.S. colony, Basilone became a champion boxer and fell in love with his style of life there. Three years after his return to the United States, Basilone enlisted in the Army, thinking he would be more likely to return to the Philippines in that service. His Marine service did take him to the Far East, but, sadly, he never saw his beloved Manila again.

After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. joined the fight against Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy. America’s late entry into WWII has drawn criticism, but there was no doubt that once America joined it came with full force. Basilone’s unit (1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division) soon found themselves in the thick of the fighting defending the island of Guadalcanal. Guadalcanal was where this ordinary man’s extraordinary courage first showed itself.

Guadalcanal was as rough a posting as any soldier could want, or fear. Sited well within Japan’s emerging empire, it was vital to the Americans–and the Japanese wanted them out. Allied forces had captured an airstrip at Henderson Field, which allowed Allied aircraft to strike Japanese forces. In response, the Japanese naval force known as the Tokyo Express regularly bombarded the airfield and American positions. The fight for Guadalcanal was long and bloody. Basilone was smack in the middle of it.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
John Basilone awarded the Medal of Honor 1943

During Oct. 24-25 in 1942, the Marines faced a frontal assault from over 3,000 Japanese troops of the Sendai Division. The Japanese, probably World War II’s best jungle fighters, attacked in typical Samurai fashion. The troops regarded death in battle as something to aspire to, not fear. Commanding two machine gun sections, Basilone readily obliged their aspirations. The citation for his Congressional Medal of Honor described his efforts in the battle.

“In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sgt. Basilone’s sections, with its guncrews, was put out of action, leaving only two men able to carry on. Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived.”

A brave effort indeed, but ‘Manila John’ wasn’t finished yet. His citation continues:

“A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through enemy lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment.”

Thirty-eight bodies were left around the gun that Basilone had personally manned. His mission to collect ammunition for his gunners saw him fighting through Japanese lines on foot both ways, using a pistol. Not surprisingly, his commander Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis ‘Chesty’ Fuller recommended Basilone receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was well deserved.

Newly promoted to Gunnery Sergeant Basilone, CMH, USMC, he was sent home for publicity tours, using his celebrity status. He wasn’t happy. Like many soldiers, Basilone disliked celebrity and hero-worship. Like many Marines, he said as much. Within months, he requested re-assignment to the Pacific. The Corps refused, offering a commission and a safe posting stateside.

His national war bond tour had earned him ticker-tape parades, newsreel coverage, and a spot in Life magazine, but he wanted to be in the front line with his fellow Marines. He reportedly said, “I’m just a plain soldier and want to stay one. I ain’t no officer and I ain’t no museum piece. I belong back with my outfit.”

Eventually, the Corps relented. Basilone went to Camp Pendleton to train for combat in the Pacific. There he met his wife, fellow Marine Sergeant Lena Mae Riggi, who became Mrs. Basilone in July 1944. In December, Basilone returned to the Pacific, headed for Iwo Jima. He never saw his wife again.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
Basilone, right, wearing his Medal of Honor.

Iwo Jima was a bloodbath. Over 20,000 Japanese troops defended it: Only about 200 of them are known to have survived. The Marine Corps suffered nearly 26,000 casualties, of whom nearly 7,000 were killed in action. On the first day of the invasion, Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, CMH, USMC became one of the fatal casualties.

Attacking the Japanese-held Airfield One on Feb. 19, 1945, Basilone was killed. By then he’d already risked his life pushing two bogged-down Sherman tanks out of mud, by hand, and had killed numerous Japanese soldiers. According to his Navy Cross citation:

‘In the forefront of the assault at all times, [Basilone] pushed forward with dauntless courage and iron determination until, moving upon the edge of the airfield, he fell, instantly killed by a bursting mortar shell.’

He was 28 years old. Basilone’s actions just before his death would posthumously earn him a Navy Cross and Purple Heart. Basilone was the only Marine who was awarded these three major citations (Navy Cross, Purple Heart, and Medal of Honor) during World War II.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

Basilone’s wife, Lena Mae, never remarried. She died in 1999 and was buried wearing her wedding ring. Aside from numerous decorations, Basilone received other honors. The U.S. Navy named a destroyer after him in 1945, which Lena Mae christened. Another USS John Basilone is scheduled for commission in 2019. He also appeared in the ‘Distinguished Marines’ postage stamp series and was a central character in the HBO series The Pacific.

The U.S. Marine Corps still consider him a soldier’s soldier, a Marine’s Marine. He lies beside many of America’s heroes in Arlington National Cemetery. You can find Basilone’s grave in section 12, Grave 384.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: A brief explanation of the Frontier Wars

Here’s something you might not know. The Frontier Wars in Maine lasted for almost 100 years. These intermittent wars began in 1675 and were a conflict between Anglo, French, and Native populations. Many people believe the independent spirit and abundant wilderness of Maine exist as a result of these wars. 

It didn’t take long for the tension to begin between Anglo settlers in southern New England and the Native Americans. Land disputes often led to violence. Metacom, who the Anglos nicknamed King Phillip, was the leader of Natives in the region. He started a war intended to stop the Anglos from taking over their land: King Phillip’s War. 

No Food, No Peace

That war, which began in Massachusetts, eventually spread up to Maine. This was thanks to Massachusetts officials insisting that the Maine Natives be disarmed, even though everything was still peaceful up there at the time. Disarming the Natives left them without a way to hunt and eat. Therefore, going to war against the Anglo colonists was their only option for survival. Their first point of attack was Arrowsic Island, the largest trading post in eastern Maine. 

King Phillip’s War lasted from 1675 to 1678, leaving most of Maine in ruins. The Natives who once lived there moved north or east, where the French took them in as refugees. The settlers in Maine also had to leave. They took refuge in Massachusetts. This bloody conflict was a big turning point in history. It sadly destroyed any hope of peace between the English and the Native Americans. 

War Is Never Pretty

Five other wars in Maine followed over the next century. So much violence occurred in Maine in particular for one reason: European powers were fighting for as much territory as they could get, and Maine was their bargaining chip. 

An especially tragic aspect of the wars had to do with how friendly the Anglo colonists had once been with the Natives. To suddenly watch people you knew well destroying your property was devastating both practically and spiritually. And property wasn’t the only thing taken. Many were brutally killed or taken hostage, including women and children. What a terrible thing to witness. 

Why Maine Is What it Is Today

Once the French-Native alliance deteriorated in the early-1700s, the conflict between the English and the Natives mainly turned into ineffective raids. Then in 1759, the British forces defeated the French in Quebec. That ended the English-French rivalry over control of the North American territories. It also ended any support the French could give to the Natives, leaving them without a hope of defeating the British. As a result, Maine was finally a safe place for Anglos to settle by the late 1700s. 

While the Frontier Wars were ugly and brutal, Maine was left unsettled for nearly 100 years because of it. All the while, the rest of New England was advancing and growing. If there’s one positive thing to take out of the bloody Frontier Wars, it’s all the pristine wilderness that still remains in Maine today. 

Related: Bob Ross was so lovable because of the skills he developed in the Air Force.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘terrorist uniform’ you’ll probably wear this winter

Plaid fabric is fairly innocuous. It’s been borrowed by all sorts of groups in America, from hipsters to lumberjacks and punk rockers to professors.

But, in the 18th century, it was the semi-official uniform of Scottish rebels branded as terrorists by the Protestant King George II.


7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

King James II and his wife, Anne, before they were violently deposed and forced to flee to France and exile.

The problems started in 1688 when Catholic King James II was overthrown by a Protestant rebellion. In his absence, who, exactly, would be the legal holder of power in England was thrown up for debate. Would the Catholic king, who had cast away the Seal of the Realm while fleeing to France, or the Protestant William III and his wife, Mary, be the true authority of England?

Different political bodies in England and in other European capitols came down on different sides of the debate, but Mary was crowned queen and her husband became king. But the descendants of James II maintained their claim to the throne in exile. In 1745, James II’s grandson, Charles, made a play for the throne.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

“Bonnie Prince Charlie,” the world’s hardest pandering claimant to the English throne in 1745.

(John Pettie)

Boasting Scottish blood, Charles decided to start his campaign in Scotland in 1745. The Parliament of Scotland had initially acquiesced to the rise of Queen Mary and King William III, but the Scottish, as a whole, still supported Catholic rule. And Scotland had been angered by a series of acts by London and the Crown during the early 1700s, including the dissolution of the Parliament of Scotland.

To cement his political standing with the Scots, Charles arrived in the country in a plaid coat. Plaid patterns in Scotland are known as tartans, and they had been a popular part of Scottish identity for centuries.

The ploy worked, and many Scots, especially Highland Scots, decided to support the invasion, creating the Jacobites, as they were known. But, some Lowland Scots supported Mary and William, leading to fighting in Scotland even before Charles began his push south.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

Soldiers of a Highland Regiment just before the Jacobite uprising. After the uprising, soldiers serving the British crown could continue to wear patterns like this, but it was banned for nearly all others.

The Highland Scots, often wearing their traditional garb made with tartan fabrics, delivered a number of victories to “Bonnie Prince Charlie” (Think Braveheart clothing but The Patriot weapons).

But popular support for Charles and the House of Stuart dried up the further the Jacobites marched south, and so they were soon forced to start pulling back north with his largely Scottish forces.

This led to the Battle of Culloden in April, 1746, where Charles and the Scots attempted to score a defensive victory against government forces led by the Duke of Cumberland. Both sides were bogged down in the mud, but greater numbers on the Protestant side allowed them to pin down Scottish fighters with some units while others maneuvered. Their artillery advantage played a large role, as well.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

Battle of Culloden, where a Jacobite uprising supporting a Catholic claim to the British throne was ended by government forces.

(David Morier)

But the real brilliance of the Protestant attack came in how they ordered men to attack with bayonets during hand-to-hand fighting. Rather than fencing with the man directly in front of them, as was normal, the men were ordered to thrust into the exposed right side of the enemy adjacent to them.

Charles fled the country, never to return. But the Scots he left behind found themselves in the unenviable position of being stuck in the kingdom they had just rebelled against.

They were branded as terrorists and insurgents, and many of those who took part in the rebellion were hunted and executed. Meanwhile, their traditional fabric had been outlawed for general wear. Only highlanders who joined the British military were allowed to wear tartan fabrics, and usually only in Scottish units.

The ban was lifted in 1782, but by then, many of the traditional patterns had been lost and weavers had died. Still, it slowly grew in popularity once again.

Oddly enough, its popularity had greatly grown among Lowland Scots who had fought against their tartan-wearing brethren. They collected tartan patterns like souvenirs of their fathers’ victories over the Catholics.

Finally, the Protestant aristocracy embraced the pattern after King George IV visited Edinburgh and led a tartan procession of Highland chiefs through the Scottish city.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

Now, of course, its popular around the world, but known as plaid in the States. Scottish clans reclaimed their historic patterns or generated new ones that would be tied to families forever. It’s no longer the fabric of a military rebellion. It’s just a cool pattern, often woven of warm cloths, like flannel.

In fact, the rebellious nature of the pattern has been so degraded that one of the most recognizable and broadly used tartan patterns is that of the the Royal House of Stewart, the royal family of England which defeated the 1745-1746 Jacobite Rebellion and then outlawed the fabric for almost 40 years. Oddly enough, it’s very similar to the “Jacobite” pattern worn by the rebels.

So, enjoy your flannel, but maybe tip a Scotch whisky over for the tartan-wearing warriors in the sky while you do so.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy used to have nuclear-powered cruisers

While nuclear-powered carriers and submarines are all the rage in the U.S. Navy today, the sea-going service used to have a much wider nuclear portfolio with nuclear-powered destroyers and cruisers that could sail around the world with no need to refuel, protecting carrier and projecting American power ashore with missiles and guns.


7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

The USS Long Beach fires a Terrier missile in 1961.

(U.S. Navy)

The first nuclear surface combatant in the world wasn’t a carrier, it was the USS Long Beach, a cruiser launched in 1959. That ship was followed by eight other nuclear cruisers, Truxtun, California, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The Arkansas was the last nuclear-powered cruiser launched, coming to sea in 1980.

During the same period, a nuclear-powered destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, took to the seas as well. Due to changes in ship nomenclature over the period, it was a frigate when designed, a destroyer when launched, but would be classified as a cruiser by the time the ship retired.

The head of the Navy’s nuclear program for decades was Adm. Hyman G. Rickover who had a vision for an entirely nuclear-powered carrier battle group. This would maximize the benefits of nuclear vessels and create a lethal American presence in the ocean that could run forever with just an occasional shipment of food, spare parts, and replacement personnel.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

The Navy launched Operation Sea Orbit where nuclear-powered ships sailed together in 1964. This is the USS Enterprise, a carrier; the USS Long Beach, a cruiser; and the USS Bainbridge, classified at the time as a destroyer.

(U.S. Navy)

The big advantage of nuclear vessels, which required many more highly trained personnel as well as a lot of hull space for the reactor, was that they could sail forever at their top speed. The speed thing was a big advantage. They weren’t necessarily faster than their conventionally fueled counterparts, but gas and diesel ships had to time their sprints for maximum effect since going fast churned through fuel.

That meant conventional vessels couldn’t sail too fast for submarines to catch them, couldn’t sprint from one side of the ocean to the other during contingency operations, and relied on tankers to remain on station for extended periods of time.

Nuclear vessels got around all these problems, but their great speed and endurance only really helped them if they weren’t accompanied by conventional ships. After all, the cruisers and destroyer can’t sprint across the ocean if that means they are outrunning the rest of the fleet in dangerous waters.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

The Navy detonates an explosive charge off the starboard side of the USS Arkansas, a nuclear-powered cruiser, during sea trials.

(U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Toon)

That’s why Rickover wanted a full nuclear battle group. It could move as a single unit and enjoy its numerous advantages without being slowed down by other ships.

And the ships were quite lethal when they arrived. Nuclear carriers at the time were similar to those today, sailing at a decent clip of about 39 mph (33.6 knots) while carrying interceptor aircraft and bombers.

The 10 nuclear cruisers (counting the Bainbridge as a cruiser), were guided-missile cruisers. Four ships were Virginia-Class ships focused on air defense but also featuring weapons needed to attack enemy submarines and ships as well as to bombard enemy shores.

The other most common nuclear cruiser was the California Class with three ships. The California Class was focused on offensive weaponry, capable of taking the fight to enemy ships with Harpoon missiles, subs with anti-submarine rockets and torpedoes, and enemy shores with missiles and guns. But, it could defend itself and its fleet with surface-to-air missiles and other weapons.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

Ticonderoga-class cruisers like the USS Hue City, front, and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers like the USS Oscar Austin, rear, replaced the nuclear cruisers.

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristopher Wilson)

But the nuclear fleet had one crippling problem: expense. Rickover knew that to ensure that the larger Navy and America would continue to embrace nuclear power at sea, the ships had to be extremely dependable and secure. To do this, ships needed good shielding and a highly capable, highly trained crew.

Nuclear cruisers had about 600 sailors in each crew, while the Ticonderoga-class that took to the sea in 1983 required 350. And the Ticonderoga crew could be more quickly and cheaply trained since those sailors didn’t need to go through nuclear training.

Also, the reactors took up a lot of space within the hull, requiring larger ships than conventional ones with the same battle capabilities. So, when budget constraints came up in the 1990s, the nuclear fleet was sent to mothballs except for the carriers.

And even at that stage, the nuclear cruisers cost more than their counterparts. Conventional cruisers can be sold to allied navies, commercial interests, or sent to common scrap yards after their service. Nuclear cruisers require expensive decommissioning and specially trained personnel to deal with the reactors and irradiated steel.

Articles

These are the only 2 subs that sank enemy ships in combat since 1945

Submarines were very proficient ship-killers in World War II. Nazi U-boats hit 3,474 Allied ships. Allied submarines in the Pacific sank 1,314 ships from Japan’s navy and merchant marine.


But since 1945, submarines have had a mostly dry spell. In fact, most of the warshots fired by subs since then have been Tomahawk cruise missiles on land targets – something Charles Lockwood and Karl Donitz would have found useful.

There are only two submarines that have sunk enemy ships in the more than 70 years since World War II ended.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
PNS Hangor deploys in the early days of the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1. PNS Hangor

The sub that provides the first break in the post World War II dry spell is from Pakistan. The Pakistani submarine PNS Hangor — a French-built Daphne-class boat — was the vessel that pulled it off during operations in the Arabian Sea during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War.

According to Military-Today.com, a Daphne-class vessel displaced 1,043 tons, had a top speed of 16 knots, and had 12 22-inch torpedo tubes (eight forward, four aft), each pre-loaded.

On Dec. 9, 1971, the Hangor detected two Indian frigates near its position. The submarine’s captain dove deep and got ready to fight.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
INS Khukri, a Blackwood-class frigate that holds the distinction of being the first ship to be sunk by an enemy submarine since World War II. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

India had sent two Blackwood-class frigates, INS Khukri and INS Kirpan, out of three built for them by the United Kingdom to patrol in the area. These frigates were designed to hunt submarines. Only this time, the sub hunted them.

According to Bharat-Rakshak.com, the Hangor fired a torpedo at the Kirpan, which dodged. Then the Khukri pressed in for an attack. The Hangor sent a torpedo at the Khukri, and this time scored a hit that left the Indian frigate sinking. The Kirpan tried to attack again, and was targeted with another torpedo for her trouble.

The Kirpan evaded a direct hit, and Indian and Pakistani versions dispute whether that frigate was damaged. The Hangor made her getaway.

It didn’t do India that much harm, though. India won that war, securing the independence of what is now Bangladesh. Pakistan, though, has preserved the Hangor as a museum.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
This 2006 photo HMS Conqueror (on the right in the foreground) show her awaiting scrapping. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2. HMS Conqueror

Just over 10 years after PNS Hangor ended the dry spell, HMS Conqueror got on the board – and made history herself. The Conqueror so far is the only nuclear submarine to sink an enemy warship in combat.

The Conqueror, a 5,400 ton Churchill-class submarine, was armed with six 21-inch torpedo tubes. With a top speed of 28 knots, she also didn’t have to come up to recharge batteries. That enabled her to reach the South Atlantic after Argentina’s 1982 invasion of the Falklands, touching off the Falklands War.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome
The General Belgrano underway prior to the Falklands War. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In a sense, the Argentinean cruiser ARA Gen. Belgrano — formerly known as USS Phoenix (CL 46) — really didn’t stand a chance. GlobalSecurity.org notes that the 12,300 ton cruisers were armed with 15 six-inch guns, eight five-inch guns, and a host of lighter anti-aircraft guns.

As the Gen. Belgrano approached the exclusionary zone declared by the Brits, the Conqueror began to track the cruiser. Finally, on May 2, 1982, she got the orders to attack. The Conqueror fired three Mark 8 torpedoes and scored two hits on the cruiser. The General Belgrano went down with 323 souls.

The Conqueror’s attack sent the rest of the Argentinean fleet running back to port. The British eventually re-took the Falkland Islands. The Conqueror is presently awaiting scrapping after being retired in 1990.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the 3rd amendment was so crucial for a post-Revolution US

Ask any American to list the rights enshrined by the United States Constitution and they’ll be awfully quick to tell you the first two. Hell, take a drive on any freeway in America and you’ll see a couple of bumper stickers supporting the right to free speech and right to bear arms.

Then, there’s the third amendment, which states, “no soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

It remains the least controversial amendment in the Constitution and is rarely litigated. To date, there has never been a Supreme Court ruling that has used the third for the basis of a decision. Today, the idea of troops seizing and occupying a U.S. citizen’s home sounds absurd. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case back when the Constitution was written.


7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

Emphasis on the “maybe.”

(Hessian troops in British pay in the US war of independence, C. Ziegler After Conrad Gessner, 1799)

In 1765, the British Parliament needed to shelter their troops as they fought in the French and Indian War. So, the Crown did what they liked to do and made a decision that benefited British troops. They enacted the Quartering Acts of 1765, which stated that inns, stables, taverns, and wineries were required to house troops at the discretion of a British officer. Troops were allowed to take as they pleased, which would run taverns and wineries dry.

The cost of quartering troops would often fall on the shoulders of local business owners. Eventually, their expenses were reimbursed by colonial authorities — not the British government. Soon, British troops started taking refuge in private homes. Without fear of penalty, they could barge into your house, kick you out of your bed, take your food, and tell you that you’d (maybe) be paid back in a few months.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

Taking colonists’ homes was so despicable that Washington and his men would rather freeze than stoop to the Brits’ level.

(Washington’s Army as it marches toward Valley Forge, William Trego, 1777)

To the colonists, this was a headache, but at least there was a reason for it — for a time. After the French and Indian War ended, the British troops continued to use private residences. Many returned to their own fortifications, but many others continued to exploit the Quartering Acts for their own gain.

This, coupled with the fact that the colonists were still paying for a foreign standing Army for no discernible reason, fostered resentment towards the British by many Americans. Then, the Boston Tea Party happened. The Brits saw a rebellion brewing and enacted the Quartering Acts of 1774. This time around, it clearly gave all British troops the right to occupy any building they saw fit without any obligation to reimburse the owner.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

While everyone argues about everything else in politics, at least we can all agree that this was an amazing right.

(Jon Stewart Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear)

Most colonists weren’t personally affected by the tea tax and were simply inconvenienced by the stamp tax. Having Brits come into your home without warning or cause and being forced to give them whatever they pleased, however, was the straw that broke many colonists’ back.

When the dust settled and the American colonists became American citizens, one of the concerns they voiced most was that something like the Quartering Acts never happen again. And it became so when it was enshrined in the Bill of Rights and became the Third Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time when British Commandos rode an AH-64 Apache helicopter to combat

“No one left behind” is an often-heard mantra in military units. Popularized by feats like the ‘Black Hawk Down’ operation, it enhances esprit de corps in a unit. It also emboldens warriors to perhaps go a step further during combat, assured that they wouldn’t be left alone in case things turn sour. But how far would a unit go to recover one of its own?

Helmand Province, Afghanistan, January 15, 2007.

Royal Marines Commandos from Z Company of 45 Commando launch an assault on a Taliban fort. The 200 Commandos enjoy armor and 155mm artillery support. Overhead, U.S. B-1 bombers and British Apache Longbow AH-64 helicopters provide a silent assurance with their potent arsenal and infrared cameras.


The Jugroom Fort, a strategically vital position in Garmsir, Southern Helmand, overlooks the Helmand River. Today, it’s packed with Taliban fighters.

The Marines ford the river in their Viking APCs and assault the fortified structure. Heavy combat ensues. Despite their overwhelming firepower, the Commandos are forced to withdraw. Once back in their launching position, a muster goes around, and a grim discovery is made: Lance Corporal Mathew Ford is missing.

Using its infrared camera, one of the AH-64 Apaches spots a lone figure pulsing with a weak heat-signature tucked away in a corner of the Fort. The Taliban all around seem impervious to its existence—but for how long?

A rescue operation must be shift before the insurgents realize what’s going on.

The Commando officers argue for a ground rescue operation, but the higher-ups back in Camp Bastion waiver fearing more casualties. Meanwhile, LCpl. Ford’s brothers-in-arms fume. They decide to take the situation into their own hands. Alongside some of the Apache pilots, they devise a bold rescue plan. Four Commandos strap themselves to the wings of two of the Apaches. A third chopper will follow and try to suppress any Taliban.

The Army Air Corps’ pilots fly their Apaches just 20ft above the ground, at 60mph.

The British Commandos land within the Fort’s walls. The Commandos jump from the wings and begin searching for the missing comrade. A few of the pilots join them armed with their personal sidearms.

They find LCpl. Ford—he is unconscious.

Recovering their fallen comrade, they re-mount the choppers and safely fly back to their positions.

It was later discovered that the 30-year-old Ford was dead when the rescue force arrived. But the grimmest discovery came in the autopsy. Ford had been zipped by friendly-fire. It later became known that one of his buddies mistook a hand-grenade flash close to Ford’s position for gunfire and shot him.

Despite rumors of a court-martial for their actions, the whole rescue team was honored. Two of the Apache pilots received the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the highest military awards. The rest of the pilots alongside the four Commandos received the Military Cross.

So, if you find yourself alongside Royal Marines Commandos or any British Apache pilots, you can rest assured that they won’t leave you behind.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The slave who stole a confederate ship and sailed his way to freedom

On May 12, 1862, a gentleman named Robert Smalls was aboard a Confederate transport ship pretending to be doing his normal duties. In reality, he was preparing to take a risk that could cost him his life.


Smalls was a pilot for the Confederate Navy’s military transport, CSS Planter, and picked up four captured Union guns, over 200 rounds of ammunition, and other supplies. The Planter was a lightly armed ship that skirted up and down the coast and down rivers and allowed the Confederate military to move troops, supplies, and ammunition while staying away from the Union blockade that was set up a few miles out to sea. It also laid mines to keep the Union fleet away from the harbor.

When the ship got back to its dock, the three officers on board left Smalls in charge and went to their homes to sleep. They had no reason to think that Smalls or the crew would do anything crazy.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

Around 3 a.m. that night, Robert and the crew cast off. Instead of heading for their intended destination, they had to backtrack into the harbor. They made one stop where they onboarded several women and children and started off again. The Planter wasn’t exactly quiet. Literally anyone standing watch would hear and see her coasting along the harbor. Robert knew this from his years of experience piloting the boat.

He put on his captain’s spare uniform and a straw hat that was made to look like his captain’s. Along the way, the Planter passed by several Confederate lookout posts. As they approached each one, Robert would give the passcode and salute in the same mannerism as his captain. By 4:30 a.m., the ship was passing Fort Sumter. The old Union Fort was the site of the beginning of the war and full of Confederate soldiers guarding the harbor against the United States Navy.

As they passed the imposing walls of the Fort, Smalls being as cool as a cucumber, took off his hat and waved it. At the same time, he sounded the ships whistle with the correct number of blows.

A Confederate sentry yelled, “Blow the damned Yankees to hell, or bring one of them in.” Robert simply replied, “Aye Aye” and continued on.

As if the night wasn’t already stressful enough, Robert now headed straight to a Union blockade in a ship flying both the Confederate Stars and Bars as well as the South Carolina State Flag.

He ordered the flags lowered and a white flag raised. But there were two problems. It was still too dark to clearly see, and the morning fog came in pretty thick. It would be a tragedy to come all this way just to be blown out of the water. The Planter headed toward the USS Onward, which by now had taken sight of the ship and prepared its guns to sink it, at first assuming it was trying to attack the blockade.

As the Union shouted warnings at the Planter, they noticed the white flag and its occupants celebrating on the deck while gesturing furiously and cursing at Ft. Sumter.

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

As the Planter pulled alongside the Onward, the Union captain started looking for the presumed Confederate captain. A man in a Confederate captain uniform came forward, took off his hat, and proclaimed, “Good morning, sir! I’ve brought you some of the old United States guns, sir! That were for Fort Sumter, sir!” Shock registered across the Union sailors’ faces as they finally cast eyes on the Planters “captain.”

Robert Smalls was a slave.

His entire crew was also slaves, and their families were aboard too. A bunch of slaves had just escaped from bondage by stealing a Confederate Naval vessel, and sailing right passed the Rebel’s own eyes!

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

The Union realized that not only did they get a ship and its cargo, but a trove of valuable intelligence. On board was a book with all the Confederate passcodes as well as a map detailing the layout of mines in Charleston harbor, and Smalls own detailed knowledge of which forts were manned, gunned and their supplies.

As news spread Northward, the press took the story and ran with it. Smalls was an instant celebrity in the North. In the South, there was considerable embarrassment that a slave would be able to steal a naval vessel. Slaves had previously escaped by using hand made canoes and rafts as a means to get to the Union blockade. But to have slaves steal a ship of the Confederate Navy was too much. The three officers who left the ship were court-martialed. They claimed they wanted to spend time with their families, although many suspected they never fathomed that slaves would be smart enough to steal the ship.

They obviously didn’t know their pilot very well.

Robert Smalls was born in Beaufort, South Carolina to a slave mother and her owner. When he was 12, he was loaned out to work in the shipyards of Charleston. The practice was that slaves would work in urban areas in skilled positions, and the master would collect the wages for himself. Slaves in this position would be able to move around the city from their lodging to their place of work. Some even were able to save money on their own. Smalls worked his way up from a longshoreman to being a pilot of boats that traveled up and down the coast. From age 12 to 23, Smalls mastered the art of piloting ships and absorbed everything around him; the harbor, fortifications, passcodes, whistle codes, and when the war started, all the military intelligence he would learn.

When he was 17, Smalls married a slave that worked in a local hotel. By the time of his escape at 23, he had a family that he was worried about. He was conscripted into the Confederate Navy, but he knew with the war going the way it was at the time there was a chance the Rebels could win. He also was under constant duress that his wife and kids would be sold at a whim, never to be seen again. He knew at some point he had to do something, and on the morning of May 13, he sailed his way into history.

You would think at this point, with his family and his freedom that Smalls would be content to just relax and enjoy his celebrity status.

Robert Smalls had only just begun to fight.

Smalls traveled to D.C. as part of an effort to convince Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, and through him, President Abraham Lincoln, of the need to allow blacks to serve in the United States military. Smalls own daring escape was one of the examples used, and soon after, Lincoln allowed units to be formed consisting of escaped slaves and freedmen.

Smalls then became a civilian contractor in the Navy. The captured Planter was valuable because of its shallow draft and his combination of pilot skills and knowledge of mine placements made Smalls a valuable commodity. He later was transferred to the Army when ships like the Planter were deemed more suitable for Army operations. He ended up seeing action in 17 Civil War engagements.

In one engagement, the Planter came under heavy Confederate fire. The Captain of the ship ran from the pilothouse down to the coal room expecting the ship to be captured. Smalls, knowing that black crew members would be killed if captured, decided that surrender wasn’t exactly in his best interest. He took control of the ship and piloted the Planter through a heavy barrage and into safety. For this action, General Quincy Adams Gilmore gave him the rank of captain, making him the first African American to command a U.S. ship. (After the war, the military contested the rank saying it wasn’t a true military rank. Smalls fought them on this, and eventually earned the pension of a Navy captain).

In 1864, Smalls was then picked to be one of the freedmen delegates to the Republican National Convention. It was to be held in Philadelphia that year. While in Philadelphia, an incident happened that would motivate Robert Smalls for the rest of his life. While on a trolley car, he was ordered to give up his seat to a white man and move. He instead got off and protested his treatment as a war hero. The city was embarrassed, and local politicians began a concentrated effort to desegregate public transportation in Philadelphia. They succeeded in 1867.

After the war, Smalls returned to Beaufort. He purchased the home of his old master, which was seized during the war. He allowed his old masters family to live on the premises while he started out on his new life. One of the first things he did was learn to read and write. Intelligence had already been seen in Smalls, but he knew he could do more.

And he did.

He opened a store, started a railway, and began a newspaper. He also invested heavily in economic development projects in Charleston. Smalls spoke with a Gullah accent, and this made his extremely popular with local African Americans as he was one of them but had become very successful. Smalls took the opportunity to get involved in politics.

Smalls was a die-hard Republican once saying it was…”the party of Lincoln…which unshackled the necks of four million human beings” and “I ask that every colored man in the North who has a vote to cast would cast that vote for the regular Republican Party and thus bury the Democratic Party so deep that there will not be seen even a bubble coming from the spot where the burial took place.”
7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

Smalls knew that post-war, newly freed slaves would bear the wrath of Southern Democrats and got heavily involved in politics. He first served in the South Carolina State Legislature from 1868 to 1874.

In 1874, he took his talents to Washington D.C. as a newly elected member of the House of Representatives. He served until 1887. Along the way, his career was hampered by Southern Democrats’ furious efforts to gerrymander districts, stop African Americans from voting, remove Federal troops from the South, and personal assaults. His career effectively came to an end when he was accused by Democrats of taking a bribe (a charge he was later pardoned for).

After his national career was over, Smalls remained active as a community leader. He most famously stopped two African American men from being lynched. He died in 1915 at the age of 75.

On his tombstone was a quote from his political career.

“My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be the equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”