This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution

The success of the American Revolution was far from certain in the early months of 1781. The patriots managed to gain French support and survived five years of fighting yet had still not been able to win a decisive victory.


But after a fake retreat baited a ruthless British commander into a bloody ambush, the tide slowly began to turn in the Americans’ favor and eventually led to the Crown’s defeat later that year.

In March 1780, the British invaded South Carolina and captured Charleston. When the crown won a lopsided victory at the Battle of Camden, it strengthened their hold on the southern colonies and routed the Continental Army in the south.

General George Washington sent Gen. Nathaniel Greene to take command the Patriots in the south. Greene immediately dispatched Gen. Daniel Morgan into the Carolina backcountry to harass Lord Cornwallis and interdict his supply lines. In response, Cornwallis sent Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, a brutal young commander, to stop Morgan.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds, in the uniform of the British Legion, wearing a “Tarleton Helmet“.
National Gallery, London. (Joshua Reynolds – Official gallery link)

The next January, Tarleton learned of Morgan’s presence and began a pursuit. Morgan began retreating north to avoid being caught between Tarleton’s and Cornwallis’ forces. Flooded rivers slowed his progress. Morgan decided to stand and fight Tarleton rather than get caught attempting to cross a river.

Although Morgan had a formidable force of over 1,000 men, Tarleton did as well. Unfortunately for Morgan, the majority of his force consisted of colonial militiamen, untested in battle. Morgan’s “green” militia had a tendency to break and run at the first hint of a real fight. Morgan knew it. Tarleton knew it. But Gen. Morgan was a clever chap.

He decided to use the untested militia as bait to draw Tarleton into a trap. Morgan devised an ingenious, if unorthodox, tactical plan. The Cowpens, a flat grazing area in backcountry South Carolina would be the place to make his stand. He used three lines of men to oppose Tarleton’s advance.

The first consisted of sharpshooters to harass the British and pick off officers. The sharpshooters would then fall back to the second line, made up of militiamen. The militia would fire off two volleys before feigning a rout and retreating to the third line. Morgan wanted the British to assume they defeated an untrained militia force and charge forward. Instead of finding a fleeing militia they would meet Lt. Col. John Howard’s colonial regulars holding the third line. In reserve, Morgan had a small force of Continental cavalry.

At dawn on January 17, Tarleton arrived at Cowpens and advanced on Morgan. Tarleton’s arrogance played right into Morgan’s trap. Although slightly outnumbered, the British had more cavalry, regular infantry, and artillery – which the colonials lacked.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
This painting depicts the British regulars engaging the Continentals at close range.

The British launched a frontal assault with infantry in the center and dragoons on the flanks. As they advanced, patriot sharpshooters hit the dragoons hard, taking out numerous officers and disorganizing their advance. They fell back to the second line to join the militia, as planned. When the Redcoats pressed the attack, militia fired off two volleys then began their false retreat. That’s when the British cavalry unexpectedly charged, sending the militia into a real retreat. They flew past the third line where they were supposed to reform.

The Continental cavalry, led by  Lt. Col. William Washington (cousin of  George Washington) came out of nowhere on the British right flank and dispersed their cavalry. The remaining British were still lured into the trap by the retreating militia and engaged the Colonial regulars.

Sensing victory, Tarleton committed his reserve infantry. When Lt. Col. Howard gave ordered his men to face the British reserve, a miscommunication sent them into retreat. Morgan, seeing this, quickly rode and turned the men around. They turned and fired a near point-blank volley into the advancing British infantry. It was the same trick the Americans were using in the center and it worked like a charm.

The rebels then surged into the demoralized British from all directions. As Morgan’s third line rushed forward with bayonets, the cavalry attacked from the right flank while the once-retreating militia reformed and hit the left. Many British soldiers surrendered on the spot. The rest fled.

Tarleton attempted to rally his men. He was met by Lt. Col. Washington who engaged him in hand-to-hand combat. Washington narrowly avoided being killed when his trumpeter appeared in time to dispatch a charging Redcoat. Tarleton escaped with what remained of his force.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
The Battle of Cowpens, painted by William Ranney in 1845. The scene depicts an unnamed black soldier (left) firing his pistol and saving the life of Colonel William Washington (on white horse at center).

The battle lasted one hour but was a decisive victory for the Americans. The British lost over 100 killed, over 200 wounded, and over 500 captured along with two cannons. The Americans lost 12 killed and 60 wounded.

Cornwallis, fed up with the Americans, marched to meet them himself. He won a pyrrhic victory at Guilford Courthouse before seeking refuge at Yorktown. Gen. Washington laid siege to Yorktown and received the British surrender there on October 18, 1781.

Articles

This American tractor became the world’s first-ever tank

Benjamin Holt was a proud industrialist creating tractors and other farming equipment when World War I broke out. While he prided himself on innovation, he stuck to creating better and better farming equipment rather than trying to create arms for the war effort.


But it turns out his farming equipment was actually destined to become one of the greatest innovations of war to emerge from that conflict.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
The original Caterpillar Tractor from Holt. (Photo: HoltCat.com)

That’s because Holt had developed a new tractor design in 1904, the “Caterpillar,” which used treads instead of wheels, allowing it to stay above the mud of the San Joaquin River Delta near Sacramento, California.

Holt replaced the steam engines of his original design with gasoline power ones in 1908, and the design took off. When World War I opened, horses butchered in front line fighting were slowly replaced with tractors, including Holt’s.

His design was actually a favorite on the front lines because the amazing grip of his caterpillar treads allowed the tractor to operate in heavy mud and to pull itself out of shell craters.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
An early Caterpillar Tractor from Holt pulls artillery in World War I. (Photo: HoltCat.com)

So there was little surprise when the British government placed an order for about 1,000 Holt Caterpillar tractors.

But when those same tractors rolled onto the battlefield, there was plenty of reason for German soldiers to sh-t their pants.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
(Newspaper: Evening Public Ledger/Library of Congress)

That’s because those tractors had undergone the “Mad Max” treatment courtesy of the Royal Navy, who covered them in thick metal plates, packed them with machine guns and cannon, and sent them crawling across the battlefield at a whopping 4 mph.

And that’s how the first-ever tank was born.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
(Photo: Public Domain/British Government)

The British Mark I Tanks, built on the Holt Caterpillar tractor, were custom-made to end the stalemate of trench warfare. Their long bodies and treads allowed them to roll over many trenches and barbed wire obstacles like they weren’t there while their guns wiped out enemy defenses and infantry.

Behind them, infantrymen poured through the gaps created by the tanks and quickly seized German trenches and territory.

While the first attack at Flers Courcellette had its issues — mostly that the tanks broke down and were too slow to reposition themselves after the advance to prepare for the German counterattack — their rapid drive toward the objective served as their proof of concept.

British Gen. Douglas Haig, the commander of Allied forces at the Somme, requested hundreds more of the makeshift tanks, and armored warfare quickly became a new standard.

Better French and British tank designs soon followed the Mark 1, but it was an American tractor that carried the first tanks to fight in war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Ukraine’s Navy: A tale of betrayal, loyalty, and revival

When Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Ukraine’s navy lost nearly all of its ships and most of its sailors quit or defected. Now, with help from its allies, Ukraine is slowly getting its sea legs back. This is the story of those who remained loyal to Ukraine and were forced to choose between family and country when they left Crimea. But, as they rebuild their lives and their nation’s fleet, rough waters lie ahead with Russia flexing its maritime muscle on the Black Sea.


MIGHTY HISTORY

The Coast Guard wants your help remembering World War I dead

Nov. 11, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of the end of hostilities during World War I. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of November 1918, the guns that caused such destruction fell silent, ending what to that time was the most bloody conflict humanity had ever fought.

To mark this solemn occasion, the United States WWI Centennial Commission is calling on Americans across the nation to toll bells at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2018, in remembrance of those who served during that conflict.


The tolling of bells is a traditional expression of honor and remembrance. WWICC’s “Bells of Peace” initiative is a national event to honor the 4.5 million Americans who served in uniform, the 116,516 Americans who died and more than 200,000 who were wounded in what was referred to as the Great War.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution

USS Tampa, prior to the First World War.

(US Navy photo)

During the “war to end all wars,” the Coast Guard served as part of the Navy, with many cutters taking part in combat with the nation’s enemies. The Coast Guard, too, paid dearly. The USS Tampa sunk after being attacked by a German U-Boat, with all 130 souls aboard, including 111 Coast Guardsmen, 4 Navy members and 15 British passengers. 11 Coast Guardsmen from the USS Seneca also perished during a rescue attempt off the coast of France while 70 others were lost to drowning, disease and collisions, among other causes.

To honor those whom we lost, the Coast Guard, in concert with our Navy shipmates, ask commands and members to toll their bells 21 times — the highest honor afforded by U.S. naval tradition. Please honor and remember those that have gone before us, especially those who gave their lives to preserve the freedoms we have, by ringing a bell 21 times.

You may find more information about the event here.

This article originally appeared on All Hands Magazine. Follow @AllHandsMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The United Kingdom had special battalions for short soldiers in World War I

At the outbreak of the 20th century’s first global conflict, when you might think they’d take anyone who wanted to fight,  the British Army was actually turning able-bodied men away. 

On the surface, that’s nothing new. Armies all over the world turn men away all the time. The U.S. military will turn troops down for things like flat feet, scoliosis, or hemorrhoids (to name a few). 

But in 1914, the British were turning men down for lack of height, even if they were roaring to fight the German menace. 

There was one miner from Birkenhead, Cheshire who couldn’t make the minimum height of 5’3”, and was turned away from every recruiting station in which he tried to enlist. Frustrated, he challenged to fight anyone who said his height mattered – and took down six people before the police had to step in. 

But word got around to the local Member of Parliament, the ironically-named Alfred Bigland. Bigland reached out to Secretary of State for War Lord Herbert Kitchener about the plight of the vertically-challenged in his district.

Bigland believed that refusing these otherwise healthy and fit men service in the Army was a mistake and that the Kingdom should form a regiment to prove they were just as capable as taller men.

Kitchener and the War Office replied with the military equivalent of “sure, whatever,” agreeing to allow Bigland to raise a regiment of short people but opting not to fund it at all. 

The result was that the 15th Battalion, 1st Birkenhead, The Cheshire Regiment was formed, calling for men between 4’10” and 5’3” to enlist in the British Army. Men came from across Britain and Canada to finally get their chance to fight in France.

Originally, they were known as the Bantams, but when other height-capable units were raised, they became known as “Bantam battalions.” Though small in stature, they did not shy away from conflict – and when it came time to fight, they did not disappoint. 

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
A British trench near the AlbertBapaume road at Ovillers-la-Boisselle, July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. The men are from A Company, 11th (Service) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment.

Even if those fights were in the taverns of Glasgow with fellow British Empire troops, scuffles which earned them the backhandedly complimentary nickname “Devil Dwarfs.” 

In battle against the Germans, however, the Bantams earned a reputation for bravery and ferocity that had Entente soldiers talking about them wherever they were found along the front. 

As the war ground on and the British were forced to be less choosy about who they decided to accept (and then who they had to conscript), the Bantam battalions faded away as a separate unit, replaced by a regular mix of tall and not-so-tall soldiers. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 6 scariest military vehicles of WWI and WWII

When the military needs to get where they’re going, they climb into some of the most intimidating vehicles on the planet. Gun turrets, inches of armor, and aggressive stylings all make sure enemies know death is bearing down on them. In the World Wars though, many of the vehicles of industrial warfare were just getting started. These are six of the scariest military vehicles that generation served in.


Diesel Submarine

 

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Though quieter in a dive than their nuclear counterparts, diesel submarines were fraught with dangers. The batteries could catch fire and asphyxiate the crew or explode and sink the boat. Sub crews also had to fear their own weapons as torpedoes would sometimes “circle run,” traveling in a loop and hitting the sub that fired them.

M4 Sherman Tank

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Photo: German Wikimedia Commons

Early design flaws, such as ammunition storage in the tank turret, made these military vehicles susceptible to large explosions from minor hits. While the flaws were later fixed, it was just in time for the tanks to start facing off against newer Axis tanks with larger guns and thicker armor than the M4. Tank crews were forced to sandbag the inside of their vehicles and weld spare steel or old vehicle tires to the outside. The 3rd Armored Division deployed with 242 tanks and lost 1,348 over the course of the war.

Flying Aircraft Carrier

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Two were built: The USS Akron and the USS Macon. The Akron was introduced to the fleet at the end of 1931 and experienced fatal accidents in 1932 and 1933. The first occurred while the ship was attempting to moor in California. Three ground crew members were killed and one was injured. In 1933, a crash at sea resulted in 73 of the 76 members of the crew dying and the total loss of the ship.

One of the survivors, Lt. Cmdr. Herbert Wiley, later took command of the USS Macon. Another storm at sea in 1934 brought down the Macon, but due to the addition of life jackets and the launching of rescue boats, only two members of the crew died. All three fatal accidents involving the airships, as well as multiple other crashes, were caused or complicated by trouble balancing the large ships’ lift and ballast. Flying aircraft carriers were largely abandoned until November of last year when DARPA put out a call for new designs to carry drones.

Mark I Tank

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The first tank to see combat, the British Mark 1 was revolutionary, but serving in it was rough. Inadequate ventilation meant the crew breathed carbon monoxide, fuel and oil vapors, and cordite fumes. Temperatures in the tank could climb to over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Crews endured the heat and noxious gasses while wearing metal face masks because rivets from the hull would shoot through the cabin when struck by enemy rounds.

Albatross D.III

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Within two months of fielding, multiple wing failures led to the aircraft being grounded until it could be reinforced. One of the failures occurred while the famed Red Baron piloted it. In addition, the radiator was positioned immediately above the pilot, meaning holes from enemy fire caused the hot radiator fluid to immediately boil onto the pilot’s face.

Sherman DD Amphibious Tank

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

A descendant of the M4 Sherman above, the DD carried a rubber screen that would hold out water and allow it to float. But the craft could only handle waves up to one foot. They were deployed at D-Day where many sank due to rough seas and being launched far from shore. Crews were given breathing apparatuses in case they floundered, but the equipment only provided five minutes of air.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

7 amazing missions by Britain’s Royal Marines

Britain is one of America’s closest allies and its service members are pretty impressive. One of its greatest forces is the Royal Marines, now known as commandos, who have fought on behalf of the British Crown since their original formation as the “Duke of York and Albany’s maritime regiment of Foot” in 1664.


Since then, they’ve proven themselves in hundreds of battles and dozens of conflicts everywhere from Massachusetts to Korea to the Falklands. Here are some defining moments from Royal Marine Commando history:

1. The Royal Marines carved out their names during the battle to take and hold the island fortress of Gibraltar.

 

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
(Painting: The Siege and Relief of Gibraltar by John Copley)

 

In 1704, during the War of Spanish Succession, a combined force of 1,900 English Royal Marines and 400 Dutch marines hit the island fortress of Gibraltar in what was the largest English amphibious assault at that point in history. A large and unexplained explosion set the attackers back but the fortress was taken with relative ease.

Unfortunately, that triggered a nine-month siege, during which the marines fought valiantly. During one close call, French attackers had breached two defensive lines and had 500 men attacking 17 Royal Marines in the Round Tower. The marines held out even after 11 of them fell, leaving only six defenders.

2. Royal Marines slay bodies at Bunker Hill

 

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
The American dying in the center of this painting is American Maj. Gen. Joseph Warren. The stabber with the bayonet was a Royal Marine. Awkward. (Painting: John Trumbull, Public Domain)

 

One of the Royal Marines’ prouder moments actually came in 1775 while fighting against the U.S. when British army regulars twice attacked during the Battle of Bunker Hill and failed to capture it. As the army melted back, the marine commander yelled, “Make way for the marines, break and let the marines through!”

The third assault, conducted by columns of marines instead of lines of British regulars, was successful and resulted in the British capturing the fortifications. But the losses for the regulars and the marines were high: 1,054 versus American losses of 400.

3. They give up half their strength to take Graspan in the Boer War

 

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Illustration of the Battle of Graspan where royal Marines fought Boers. (Illustration: Public Domain)

 

Tensions between the English and the Boers in the late 1800s resulted in two Boer Wars. In 1899, Royal Marines and other troops were sent to attack Graspan in South Africa. Intelligence screw ups led the leadership to believe that the attack would be lightly opposed.

But it wasn’t. Boer riflemen and field artillery fiercely fought off the attackers. Despite heavy losses to include the commander and other officers, the marines and their compatriots rallied for a final attack and charged with their bayonets against the Boer positions, pushing the defenders off though failing to capture the enemy artillery.

4. Marines are instrumental in blocking Zeebrugge

 

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Royal Marines charge off the HMS Vindictive against the Mole at Zeebrugge, Belgium. (Painting: Imperial War Museums Art)

 

During World War I, the Royal Marines provided the landing parties and some of the gunners for a daring raid against the German U-Boats in Bruges. The plan called for ships to be sunk in the long canal from Bruges to the English Channel, but someone had to fight pitched battles against the German defenders on the coast to make it possible.

Yup, Royal Marines volunteered. They landed on the port’s mole with a specially modified ship, the HMS Vindictive. The marines and sailors landed on April 23, 1918, and wrought absolute havoc with machine guns and rifles, naval artillery, and flamethrowers.

Eight Victoria crosses were awarded to sailors and marines for their actions that night.

5. The commandos capture an entire port as well as bridges and towns on D-Day

 

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Royal Marine Commandos move inland from Sword Beach on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944. (Photo: Capt. J.L. Evans, Imperial War Museums)

 

The Royal Marines, by this point known as (RM) Commandos, were obviously a big deal at one of history’s largest amphibious assaults. Five units landed on D-Day where their biggest job was capturing Port-en-Bessin between Gold and Sword beaches, an objective the 47 (RM) Commando completed on July 8.

The four other commando units hit targets at Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches. Two units were deployed against a gap between British and Canadian units, holding back German panzers that might have otherwise counterattacked and thrown off the invading forces.

6. Commandos capture an entire island to open a Belgian port

Walcharen was an island on the coast of Amsterdam in 1944, and Germans occupying it were making logistics challenging for Allies fighting their way to Berlin. So, the Royal Marines teamed up with Canada for Operation Infatuate, a week-long attack against the island.

The air forces breached the walls of Walcharen before the commandos landed, allowing sea water to rush in and flood most of the island. The English and Canadians fought viciously against the artillery and infantry that remained, inflicting heavy casualties while suffering their own losses until the German leadership surrendered on Nov. 8, 1944.

7. Commandos capture Port Said from Egypt

 

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
British helicopters deliver Royal Commandos to Egypt on Nov. 6, 1956, in history’s first heliborne assault. (Photo: Imperial War Museums)

 

Operation Musketeer was an honest-to-God conspiracy between Israel, Britain, and France to ouster Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. Britain’s main goal was to regain control of the Suez Canal, a strategic asset nationalized by Nasser. The plan was for Israel to initiate a conflict with Egypt. France and Britain would mediate unacceptable terms, and then they would invade.

The role of Royal Commandos was to seize Port Said through the first ship-to-shore heliborne assault in history. The two commando units involved were also backed up by a small number of tanks and armored vehicles. Their mission was successful and almost achieved its objective on the first day, but orders from Nasser kept, leading to the commandos capturing the local Egyptian commander and his staff.

Ultimately, the commandos did amazing work but political condemnation for the mission stripped France and England of most of their gains.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Army-Navy game of 1944 stopped World War II

In December 1944, the United States was in the throes of World War II. The Normandy invasion of June 6 was fresh in memory but setbacks throughout Europe and bloody battles in the Pacific theater left a nation fatigued by the strains of war. As the casualty count increased and the war waged on, the air in America felt heavy. But for a moment in December, there was one thing taking everyone’s mind off the fighting: Army-Navy football.

Army was ranked #1 and Navy, #2. The media declared the match up the “National Championship” game.

Well-known sportswriter Grantland Rice predicted it would be “one of the best and most important football games ever played.”

It was Navy’s turn to host and the game was slated for Thompson Stadium in Annapolis. As global excitement around the match-up mounted, government officials considered moving it due to Thompson’s limited capacity of 19,000. On November 17, Baltimore’s Municipal Stadium was announced as the chosen venue by the Associated Press. There were 30,000 tickets available to the general public, but with a catch: you had to live within 8.3 miles of the stadium, and you had to purchase a $25 war bond through the Maryland State War Finance Committee in order to secure your seat. It was certainly a cause Americans could get behind: all of the tickets were claimed within 24 hours and the Army-Navy ticket drive raised over $58.6 million to support the war effort.

A sold-out crowd of 66,659 attended the Army-Navy game on December 2, 1944 in frigid temperatures. The teams arrived in style: the Navy, by boats sailed across the Chesapeake; the Army, accompanied by Navy destroyers, arrived on troopships.

The game didn’t disappoint. Entering into the fourth quarter, Army led just 9-7. With two touchdowns in the 4th, Army won 23-7 after five years of Navy victories.

General MacArthur sent a telegram to the Army’s head coach, Earl “Red” Blaik, saying: “The greatest of all Army teams—STOP—We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success. MacArthur.”

And just like that, for a perfect moment in time, the war stopped to celebrate Army’s victory. Exactly two weeks after the game, Germany launched a surprise attack through the Ardennes Forest, later to be named the Battle of the Bulge, resulting in some 89,000 American casualties.

The Army-Navy rivalry is one of the most storied in American history. But as we watch Saturday’s game may we all remember that in the hearts of the players on the field and the cadets and the midshipmen in the stands, there is so much more than football.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Civil War infantrymen slaughtered one another

If you think that troops marched at each other with muskets and rifles in the Civil War because they were too dumb to maneuver, you’re dead wrong. Civil War formations were the pinnacle of strategy at the time, allowing commanders to bring maximum force to bear at a crucial moment as long as they could think far ahead of their enemy.


Infantry Tactics: The Civil War in Four Minutes
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Infantry in the Civil War typically marched in lines or columns, quite similar to their forebears in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. This technique is sometimes ridiculed since it gives the enemy a long warning that attackers are headed for them. But these massed formations usually worked better for attackers than small groups, like those we use today.

Typically, unless there was particularly valuable terrain or cover nearby, troops that marched in small groups against an enemy were destroyed by the enemy’s concentrated fire.

So, instead, troops marched in large blocks that would be recognizable to George Washington or Andrew Jackson. But warfare and the necessary tactics had changed a lot in the decades between those men leading armies and the Civil War.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
“Let’s get into a straight line and walk slowly forward to attack.” A good idea, surprisingly.
(Thure de Thulstrup, Library of Congress)

The biggest surprise for Washington or Jackson would come when an attacking force drew within 400 yards of their target. That was when defenders would raise their rifles and deliver their first volley at the attacking force, 300 yards further than was typical for earlier soldiers.

Remember the old saying from the Battle of Bunker Hill, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes”? That’s a bad adage for the Civil War thanks to the increase in rifled weapons.

Rifling dated back to before 1500, but rifled weapons feature a spiraling groove down the barrel that increases accuracy but greatly increased load time. Most commanders and procurement officers went with cheaper, smoothbore muskets that could be fired much more quickly.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Minie balls feature a small cavity on the bottom that would fill with hot gasses and expand when fired. This allowed the rounds to be small enough to be quickly loaded but then become large enough to grip the barrels of rifles.
(Mike Cumpston, public domain)

But improvements in manufacturing and metallurgy had made it much easier and cheaper to produce quality rifles and, probably even more important, French inventor Claude-Étienne Minié figured out how to create quality ammunition for rifled weapons that could be quickly loaded.

The Minié ball was slightly smaller than the barrel it would be loaded into, allowing it to easily slide down the barrel without getting caught on the grooves. But it had a small opening in its base, not unlike the small opening on the bottoms of most cans and bottles you see today. When the weapon was fired, the hot gasses would push into that little cavity and expand the bottom of the round, making it grip the grooves and spin as it left the barrel.

So, suddenly, infantrymen could fire rifled weapons just as fast as smoothbores while still enjoying the massive improvements in accuracy and range. For troops in defensive positions, this meant that they could launch multiple volleys while attackers were marching up. If there were walls, fences, or ditches in the way, like during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, each obstacle gave a chance for defenders to launch an additional volley.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Reenactors during a rifle firing demonstration.
(National Parks Service)

The only way an attacker could survive these volleys is if they arrived with a large enough force to absorb multiple volleys until they closed the gap, then attacked with the survivors of the charge. When possible, there was a way for attackers to turn the power balance back in their favor: flanking.

Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson made his career partially thanks to his ability to drive his men to conduct quick and sometimes covert marches during battles, like those at Chancellorsville and Second Manassas. These marching skills allowed his men to flank the enemy, attacking them from the sides.

Formations in combat were typically quite wide and could not change their overall direction of fire quickly or easily. If a formation was able to hit its enemy from the side, the flanking force could bring all of its guns to bear while the soldiers who had been flanked could respond with just a few shooters on the edge of the formation.

The best way out of this was a well-organized retreat or, rarely, an advance past the flanking force. Attempting to stand and fight was nearly always a recipe for disaster.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
You don’t want to end up in bayonet range, but you want to be ready if you do.
(Kurz and Allison, Library of Congress)

But of course, with skilled infantrymen firing about 2-4 shots per minute, it was still quite common for competing forces to fire their weapons while in short ranges and then have to defend or attack with no time to load another round. Then, it was time for rifle and bayonet combatives.

The butt of the rifle was a great club, and the bayonet at the front was a slashing and stabbing weapon. If attackers and defenders closed into bayonet range, men would swarm one another and attempt to fight in small teams that would slash their way through enemies.

But there was one technology, deployed in limited numbers during the Civil War, that changed all of this. Repeating rifles could fire anywhere from six to 15 rounds without reloading, allowing them to hit rates of fire of 15 or more per minute. Like rifled muskets, they were typically accurate to 400 yards or more.

When employed, this allowed the men with repeating rifles to inflict severe losses on their enemy even when outnumbered. In some cases, a force with repeating rifles could even ward off a flanking attack since each rifleman at the edge of the formation could fire as fast as 10 musket-wielders.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Canadian officer rescued the real Winnie the Pooh

We’ve written before about how the stories of Winnie the Pooh were, at least in part, the result of a World War I veteran trying to explain war, and his own PTSD, to his son. But Pooh bear was inspired by an actual bear at the London Zoo, Winnipeg, rescued by a Canadian cavalry veterinarian on his way to France for combat.


The Winnipeg connection to Winnie the Pooh

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Harry Colebourn was born an Englishman but moved to Canada to study veterinary surgery. When World War I broke out and British subjects were called up to defend the empire, he joined the unit of Fort Garry Horse to treat the horses. On Aug. 24, 1914, he was traveling with his unit by train when they stopped at a small lumber town.

Colebourn got off to stretch his legs like everyone else, but he spotted a trapper standing near the train, trying to sell a small bear cub. Colebourn got into veterinarian sciences because of his love of animals, and the baby bear captured his heart almost immediately.

The trapper explained that he had killed the mother, but then couldn’t do the same to the cub. He was asking for the cub, about the same as 0 today. It was a princely sum for a bear cub, but Colebourn paid it out. He named the cub “Winnipeg Bear” after his adopted hometown.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution

1914 photo of Colebourne and Winnipeg the Bear.

(Library and Archives Canada)

The bear cub followed Colebourn around during training, climbing trees and begging for treats as the cavalrymen and the veterinarian trained to take on the Kaiser’s armies. Winnie quickly rose to be the regimental mascot. By October, the men were on their way to England with Winnie in tow for final training and then deployment.

In England, Winnie was once again popular, but it was quickly clear that the front in France would be no place for the animal. Colebourn, hoping that the war would be over within months, arranged for Winnie to spend a little time in a brand new bear habitat at the London Zoo. He promised her that they would return to Canada together once the war ended.

But, of course, the war did not end quickly. Colebourn went to the front in December 1914, and the war would go on for almost four more years. He visited Winnie whenever the unit was granted leave or pass in England, but the war dragged on too long for their relationship. By the time it was over, Winnie was well-established in London and pulling her out would have been a disservice.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution

Harry Colebourne and Winnipeg the Bear when Winnie was still young.

(Manitoba Provincial Archives)

So she remained there, a celebrity of the post-war city. Children, especially, loved their war-time gift from the Canadian officer. It was there that a young Christopher Robin Milne, the proud owner of a Teddy Bear named Edward first met Winnie. He was smitten with the black bear and renamed his teddy to “Winnie the Pooh,” combining her name with the name of a swan he used to feed.

The boy’s father, A.A. Milne, began using Christopher’s stuffed animals to tell him stories, including stories about his own responses to the war. A.A. Milne had fought on the Western Front, same as Colebourn, and it was a horrible place to be.

The stories that the prolific author told his son were first included in a collection in 1924, followed by a book of stories focused on “Winnie-the-Pooh” in 1926. Today, the stories of the adorable bear and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood endures, largely thanks to a Canadian veterinarian who saved the cub and an English veteran who told the stories.

By the way, Winnie really did love honey, and Christopher Robin was able to feed it to her on at least one occasion. Unfortunately, her sweet tooth and the tendency of the English to let her indulge led to her developing periodontitis, a painful gum disease.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Friendship in Death: The Nimitz Plot at Golden Gate National Cemetery

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the World War II Commander of the Pacific Fleet, delivered remarks at Golden Gate National Cemetery on the 10th Anniversary of V-J Day, August 14, 1955. The remains of many men who died under his command had been repatriated and rested before him. Nimitz took the loss of life made by his decisions personally and carried the burden with him throughout his life. He spoke directly to his fallen men on this occasion and promised them that the survivors of the war would honor their memory by maintaining military strength to deter future calamity.

Over the next decade, Admiral Nimitz decided that, in death, he wanted to join his men at Golden Gate with a standard military funeral and regulation headstone. He took steps to assure that the shipmates closest to him during World War II could join him as well.


Admiral Nimitz was a humble and no-frills type of man; still, his funerary and burial decisions surprised some. He was the third of four admirals promoted to the rank of Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy during WWII. All were entitled to a state funeral and three accepted.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution

Fleet Admiral Nimitz’s family standing outside of Golden Gate National Cemetery’s chapel, February 24, 1966. Mrs. Nimitz is seated in front of her son and daughters. (U.S. Navy Photo 1115073, NARA II, College Park, Md.)

When the Kennedy administration approached Nimitz—the last of the surviving Fleet Admirals—about planning his own state funeral and burial in Arlington, Nimitz balked. He told his wife Catherine that “He did not love Washington, he loved it out here, and all of his men from the Pacific were out here.”

Instead, Nimitz had only one special request: that the five stars of his Fleet Admiral insignia be placed in the space reserved for an emblem of belief on his headstone. His biographer, E.B. Potter, speculated that Nimitz, a religious man outside of denominations, made the decision to show that “He had done his best in life.”

There were spaces for six graves in Nimitz’s designated burial plot at Golden Gate. When asked if he had preference for who went into the other four graves, Nimitz said, “I’d like to have Spruance and Lockwood.”

Admirals Raymond Spruance and Charles Lockwood were two of Nimitz’s closest friends during the war and after. Their competency as warfighters and leaders contributed greatly to victory in the Pacific. Spruance delivered key victories, such as Midway, the Philippine Sea, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Lockwood commanded the successful U.S. submarine operations in the Pacific.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution

Admiral Chester Nimitz (CINCPAC) gives a dinner party in Hawaii for First Lady Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt on September 22, 1943. (L-R): Rear Admiral Charles Lockwood, Mrs. Roosevelt, Admiral Nimitz, Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance. (NH 58521, Naval History and Heritage Command, WNYD)

As a bonus, another close friend and architect of all major Pacific amphibious landings, Admiral Richmond Kelley Turner already occupied a grave very close to the Nimitz plot. When Nimitz posed the idea to Spruance, he “took to the thing like a duck to water,” as Mrs. Nimitz recalled. Lockwood agreed with the plan as well.

A friend in death

Nimitz died February 20, 1966, with his wife Catherine at his side. He was laid to rest on the cold and blustery afternoon of February 24 (his 81st birthday). Admiral Spruance, recovering from the flu, respectfully stood at attention in his uniform throughout. Mrs. Nimitz found some humor in the day when an uninvited sailor who had served in the Pacific Fleet arrived at the grave dressed in his best cowboy boots and hat. He refused to leave because “This was his commander, [and] he was going to be there come hell or high water.”

While this circumstance would likely have annoyed many, this type of admiration from those who served under him embodied the leadership style of Nimitz. Two nineteen-gun salutes, a 70-plane flyover, and the playing of “Taps” concluded the service.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution

Funeral of Fleet Admiral Nimitz. Procession about to begin journey from the chapel to the gravesite at Golden Gate National Cemetery, February 24, 1966. (U.S. Navy Photo 1115072-B, NARA II, College Park, Md.)

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

Colonel Young rode 450 miles to get a new Army rank. Here’s why.

By the time of his death, Col. Charles Young boasted an incredible military career. He was one of just three African-American officers to graduate from West Point. He led troops on the western frontier, became one of the first-ever U.S. military attachés overseas, and commanded troops in the Philippines and Mexico. Teddy Roosevelt even wanted him to lead a volunteer regiment in World War I.

There was just one problem: Colonel Young was black.

For the talented Young to lead troops in World War I meant that he would have to be promoted to Brigadier General. Young was a West Pointer who was so good at leading his troops in combat, he became the first black man to make the rank of colonel and even commanded Fort Huachuca, Ariz. Young literally wrote the book on why racial integration in a democratic society is good for its armed forces.


This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Seriously.

By the time the United States was ready to enter World War I, Young was the highest-ranking African-American officer in service. When the U.S. entered, he would likely earn a promotion to a general’s rank, which did not sit well with his inferior, white officers. These officers wrote the civilian members of the war department, complaining about the situation and then demanding a solution.

That solution was to get Col. Charles Young fired from the Army. The reason, the Army said, was that Col. Young suffered from high blood pressure. This wasn’t true, of course, it was just the best way to go about unfairly firing a skilled officer for racial reasons. Young couldn’t just complain about the fix to newspapers – he loved the Army, and he wanted that promotion. So, he did the next best thing.

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
Also the most badass thing, especially in 1918.

In June, 1918, Young took to his horse and rode the 450-plus miles from Wilberforce, Ohio, to the nation’s capital at Washington, D.C. to prove that not only was he fit to perform his duties, but he was also fit to take on any hardship World War I might have to offer.

He rode directly to the War Department and met with then-Secretary of War Newton Baker, who asked if he wanted to see combatant duty. When Young said that he did, Newton ordered a new physical assessment. It was done, albeit not as quickly as Young would have liked. He was sent to Illinois, awaiting the results. When the good news came, the war was conveniently nearly over.

Major Charles Young, age 52, during the Punitive Expedition with the 10th Cavalry in Mexico, 1916.
Major Charles Young, age 52, during the Punitive Expedition with the 10th Cavalry in Mexico, 1916.

Young was ultimately sent to West Africa – a strange posting for someone allegedly too chronically ill to go to Europe for war. He posted as a military attaché in Liberia. He helped create stability and security for the country, fighting tribesmen in the wild areas away from the coast.

Unfortunately, this post is where he also met his demise. He contracted a form of kidney disease in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1922. He fell ill and died there. He was buried with full military honors in Nigeria, but his body was soon exhumed and repatriated to the U.S. Now Charles Young rests in Arlington National Cemetery.

His remains were welcomed in New York like the return of a conquering hero.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy

At the height of the Vietnam War, up-and-coming commo guys who wanted to learn the art of radio operation would walk into a classroom and see a huge number five written on the chalkboard.

Inevitably, someone’s curiosity would win out and they’d ask what the big number meant. The instructor would then calmly tell them, “That’s your life expectancy, in seconds, in a firefight. So, listen up and you might learn something that’ll keep you alive.”

That number wasn’t some outrageous scare tactic. During the Vietnam War, the odds were tremendously stacked against radio operations — and that 5-second life expectancy was, for some, a grim reality.


 

This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution
(USMC Historical Archives)

To make matters worse, you can’t really control the volume on those radios since the dial was on the wearer’s back. Radio chatter could give your position away, too.

In all fairness, that number was on the more extreme side of estimates. The life expectancy of a radio operator in the Vietnam War ranged between five to six seconds all the way up to a slightly-more-optimistic thirty seconds, depending on your source. If you look at all of the things the radio operators were tasked with, it becomes abundantly clear why commo guys weren’t expected to last long.

The first and most obvious tally in the “you’re screwed” column was the overall weight of the gear radio operators were expected to carry into battle. The PRC-77 radio system weighed 13.5 lbs without batteries. Toss in batteries, some spare batteries, and the unsightly, large encryption device called the NESTOR and you’re looking at carrying 54lbs on your back at all times. Now add your weapon system onto that and try to keep up as you fight alongside your unencumbered brethren. It took a lot of getting used to — but they managed.

If the weight wasn’t problem enough, next comes the antennae. They weren’t all too heavy, but they were extremely uncomfortable to use and would often give your position away to the enemy. The three-foot version was easier on the radio operator, but it wouldn’t work in thick jungles. For that environment, the radio operator needed a ten-foot whip antenna to stick out of their back, which was a great way to draw unwanted attention.

The Viet Cong knew what it meant to take out a guy with a giant, ten-foot antenna sticking out of their back — you might as well have painted a bullseye on them. You take out the radio operator and you effectively avoid dealing with air support. Additionally, it was well known that a radio operator’s place in the marching order was at the heels of the officer-in-charge — two high-priority targets in one spot.

And it wasn’t just the bullets that radio operators had to watch out for. The large antenna also acted as a targeting point for mortars and other explosives. All they had to do was aim for the antenna and they could wipe out anyone near the radio operator. As terrible as it sounds, this meant that the radio operator would sometimes move in isolation, away from the rest of the squad.

It’s unclear exactly how many radio operators lost their lives during the Vietnam War. While many radio operators were fulfilling their MOS, others just had a radio strapped to them in times of need. One thing is for certain, though: Being a radio operator back in the Vietnam War puts you among the most badass troops the military has to offer.

To hear one of these badasses explain what life was like in his own words, check out the video below.

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