This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

Elephantry in the ancient world was the weaponized manifestation of an emperor’s power and wealth. India was the first and the last country to officially use them in direct combat. These majestic beasts were captured and trained to serve as ‘tanks’ from as early as 1500 B.C. to 1800 A.D.


They also served as beasts of burden for engineers in World War II.

 

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
You thought your enlistment was bad?

 

Male elephants were captured in the wild and were trained to indiscriminately attack humans. It was once thought that elephants could not tell the ethnic differences between people, but modern studies have debunked this myth. Considering this, armies would dress in vivid colors to differentiate themselves from the enemy. However, it didn’t always work out so well.

Warfare evolves and, as a result, war elephant armor went from mundane and utilitarian to extravagant. Towers were tied onto their backs like saddles to house up to six warriors. Mounted personnel would consist of one officer, archers, and spearmen who, while astride the elephant, would have a mobile height advantage and protection. Spikes or swords were fastened onto the tusks and ankles of the elephant to increase lethality. They were raised to spearhead formations and break the lines of a phalanx. Their purpose was to instill terror and exacerbate the fog of war.

To ensure maximum aggression, handlers would serve elephants wine before battle then prod them at the ankles to direct their anger forward. The elephants would charge into formations, blinded by rage, and unleash a symphony of violence and death.

 

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

Dumbo, drinking the grog at the Marine Corps Ball, circa 1996, colorized. (Image from Disney’s Dumbo)

At the Battle of the Hydaspes, in 326 B.C., King Porus of Paurava and King Alexander III of Macedon showcased how elephantry was employed and taken down in battle. Alexander ordered his Phalanx to take on Porus’ elephantry, but their sheer size and fearsome force were enough to break the lines in several places. Seeing his infantry decimated, he ordered his cavalry to reinforce the lines.

On Alexander’s orders, the light infantry sent javelins into the eyes of the beasts in tandem with the heavy infantry who cut at their hamstrings with axes and scimitars. The elephants, wild with pain and fear and unable to defeat the Phalanx, stampeded onto their own troops. King Porus’ ordered a full attack as a last-ditch effort to retake the initiative, but his forces were slaughtered. The surviving elephants were then captured and used by Alexander in subsequent battles.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
(United States Military Academy map by Frank Martini, cartographer)

As exciting as it may be to imagine something out of a Greek epic, the quality of life for these creatures was often abhorrent. Elephants are one of the few animals in the animal kingdom to mourn friends and relatives. Their intelligence and memory have become synonymous with serenity and grace.

These veterans of the ancient world have done their service and are no longer used in battle. Their watch has ended.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Listen to a sailor tearfully recall losing a shipmate in the deadly terror attack on his ship USS Cole

The US Navy released a powerful video Monday of retired sailors and a Gold Star mother recounting the deadly bombing of the destroyer USS Cole twenty years ago today.

In one heartbreaking scene, retired Master Chief Paul Abney breaks into tears as he remembers the loss of fellow sailor Operation Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Saunders. Abney said he stood watch with Saunders every day.


“Both of his legs were busted up so bad,” he recalled. “They were out of shape, they were all twisted on the Stokes stretcher they were carrying him on.”

Tears fill his eyes as he continues. “Still the same cheery personality, he gives me two thumbs up and says, ‘They’re taking care of me, master chief,’ as they were carrying him off on a Stoke stretcher.”

“He was the only shipmate who made it off and to the hospital that passed away over there,” he said. “Every other one that we got off the ship and triaged to get off soon enough they made it. The rest of them died before we ever got them off the ship.”

USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers in a boat packed with explosives while in port in Yemen on October 12, 2000. The explosion tore a hole in the ship so large the crew spent several days containing the flooding that endangered the ship. “We almost lost her,” retired Command Master Chief James Parlier said in the video.

“The pressure of it knocked me back in my chair,” Abney said. “Along with it, all the lights went out. The next thing that I can really recall from the blast was this putrid, kind of acrid smoke. It was kind of hard to breathe. Everybody was choking from the smoke.”

Seventeen sailors were killed, and another 39 others were injured in the attack.

Among the deceased was James McDaniels. His mother, Dianne McDaniels, learned about the attack on the news. That evening, she was informed that her son was gone. “I’m glad he did what he did as far as serving because that’s what he wanted to do,” she said.

“These were young men and women that you knew personally. We had a crew of 275,” Parlier said. “Respectfully, to put them in a body bag is the worst thing I can ever think of.”

The attack was attributed to al Qaeda, which carried out attacks in the US a little over a year later on September 11, 2001.

It took a little over a year to repair USS Cole and return her to sea. Parlier said that when the ship was finally fixed and sailing again, he felt pride “because we told them son of a b——s that we were not defeated and that we were coming back.”

Remembering the Terrorist Attack on USS Cole (DDG 67), Oct. 12, 2000

www.youtube.com

In January of last year, the US military killed Jamel Ahmed Mohammed Ali Al-Badawi, an al Qaeda operative believed to have helped orchestrate the bombing of USS Cole, in an airstrike in Yemen.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These letters home give a peek at life in Vietnam War

Letters are a very personal and specific method of communicating, filled with all the details about feelings and moments that would get left out of official reports and summaries. That’s why they’re so loved by historians.


This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

Military police escort a captured Viet Cong fighter during the Tet Offensive.

(U.S. Army Don Hirst)

In these letters from the U.S. Army Heritage Education Center, a man identified as “Cofty” writes to his family about his experiences fighting in the jungles and front lines of Vietnam.

The first letter comes from Feb. 2, 1968, near the start of the Tet Offensive. The author and his unit were part of forces sent to counter the North Vietnamese attacks which had slammed into major U.S. posts at Long Binh and Bien Hoa. Saigon was also already under attack.

Though the writer couldn’t know it at the time, his unit was quite successful in driving the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces back, and attacks on Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would cease the same day he wrote this letter.

(The author mistakenly put that his unit moved out on the 31st of December. The post-it notation on the letter is to amend “December” to “January.” The letter was written on February 2, 1968.)

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

The attack on the prisoner of war camp resulted in about 26 North Vietnamese dead and no U.S. or South Vietnamese casualties. There were at least two platoons involved in the fighting there, an infantry platoon and a cavalry platoon. It seems that the author was likely part of the cavalry platoon as, in an earlier letter available below, he refers to his squadron and his troop. Troops and squadrons are unit types predominantly used in cavalry organizations.

(A cavalry troop is roughly the same size as an infantry company, and a cavalry squadron is roughly the same size as an infantry battalion.)

While Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would be relatively safe within hours of this letter being completed, attacks would continue across the front for months, including in Saigon where an embassy was partially overrun and then re-secured.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

Marines push through the alleys of Hue City in February 1968, attempting to retake areas seized by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces during the Tet Offensive.

(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. W. F. Dickman)

North Vietnamese forces launched approximately 120 attacks during the surprise offensive, greatly overstretching their forces and creating a situation where U.S. and South Vietnamese forces could quickly counterattack and retake the ground.

The offensive resulted in a large military defeat for the North Vietnamese, but early successes by the communist forces broke American morale at home, and the NVA achieved a major strategic victory despite their severe losses.

The other letter from this young soldier is dated January 19, a few weeks before the Tet Offensive began. It provides a little more “day-in-the-life” as the author details what search and destroy missions were, where his unit was located, and how hard it was to fight in the jungles near Cambodia.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
MIGHTY HISTORY

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

In 1981, the United States accused the Soviet Union of providing chemical weapons to Communist countries in Southeast Asia to test a new kind of toxin for use in the ongoing arms race. Hmong tribesmen who fought with the US and South Vietnamese before the end of the Vietnam War described a kind of “yellow rain” pouring down on them from the skies.

The truth was a relief to both the villagers and the bees – and was actually kind of worse, in some ways.


This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

Today is the day you readers learn that bees poop.

Refugees fleeing the reprisals from the Communist governments of Laos and North Vietnam reported to their American allies that low-flying helicopters had dumped an oily yellow liquid on them en masse. Those hit by the liquid claimed to have suffered from seizures, headaches, and blindness, as well as some internal bleeding. The United States didn’t know exactly what the substance was, but they believed it was a chemical agent the Soviets were testing on these unwitting refugees.

President Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig accused the Soviet Union of doing as much in 1981:

For some time now, the international community has been alarmed by continuing reports that the Soviet Union and its allies have been using lethal chemical weapons in Laos, Kampuchea, and Afghanistan. … We have now found physical evidence from Southeast Asia which has been analyzed and found to contain abnormally high levels of three potent mycotoxins—poisonous substances not indigenous to the region and which are highly toxic to man and animals.
This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

We’ll give him partial credit.

The Soviets, of course, denied every word of this. They would have denied it even if it was true. And you can’t blame Haig, this totally sounds like something the Soviet Union would do. But to get the international community behind the accusation, the United States needed to prove it – that would prove to be a huge problem.

The refugees were inconsistent with their stories, and the so-called samples of the agent proved inconclusive in laboratory testing. Furthermore, the sufferers of the effects of the “toxin” were actually suffering from fungal infections in their skin. No one knew exactly what was happening until a Harvard researcher decided to check it out once and for all. Biologist Matthew Meselson traveled to the affected areas to do his own legwork, separate from the official investigation. Traveling to Laos, he recreated the events surrounding the alleged attack and found that it wasn’t a strange chemical substance. It wasn’t even strange. In fact, it was fairly common.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

Because everybody poops.

Meselson’s team found the yellow raindrops clinging to leaves in northern Laos. Once they concluded that this is what the refugees were describing, they conducted a test on the matter and found many kinds of pollen grains in it, typical of those digested by bees. It was, in fact, bee poop. Huge clouds of bee poop fell on those people.

When his study went up for peer review, it was found that villages in China had the same experience, only instead of chemical weapons, the villagers thought the yellow rain foretold a dangerous earthquake.

Articles

The proud World War II history of Navy ship DD-214

The Army has a saying, “Ain’t no use in looking down, ain’t no discharge on the ground.” But for some old sailors, looking down would have revealed a DD-214, just not the kind of DD-214 that are discharge papers.


This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
(Meme via Sh-t my LPO says)

That’s because the USS Tracy — a destroyer and minesweeper — was commissioned as the DD-214, the Navy’s 208th destroyer (DD-200 through DD-205 were canceled).

The Tracy was laid down in 1919 and commissioned in 1920 before serving on cruises around the world prior to World War II. It was at Pearl Harbor undergoing a massive overhaul when the Japanese attacked in 1941.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
The USS Tracy in Bordeaux, France, sometime prior to 1936. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Tracy’s gun batteries, boilers, ammunition, and most of her crew had been removed during the overhaul but that didn’t stop the skeleton crew on the ship from taking action that December morning.

The duty watch kept a log of all their actions, including dispatching fire and damage control crews to other ships and setting up machine guns with borrowed ammunition to fire on Japanese planes attacking the nearby USS Cummings and USS Pennsylvania. The Tracy suffered one man killed and two lost during the battle.

The crew of the Tracy got it back in fighting shape quickly and the ship took part in minelaying activities in March 1942. A few months later, the Tracy joined Task Force 62 for the assault on Guadalcanal.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
The USS Tracy sometime before 1936. (Photo: Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum)

As part of the fighting around Guadalcanal, Tracy led the minelaying mission that doomed the Japanese destroyer Makigumo just a year after it was launched.

The Tracy then supported the American-Australian offensive at Bougainville Island before heading back north to take part in the Okinawa invasion, rescuing survivors of a ship hit by a suicide boat attack.

The war ended a short time later and Tracy emerged from the conflict nearly unscathed with seven battle stars.

While it’s great to imagine an entire generation of sailors that had to serve on the DD-214 while dreaming of their DD-214 papers, no old seamen were that unlucky. The DD-214 discharge form wasn’t introduced until 1950, four years after the Tracy was decommissioned and sold for scrap.

The primary source of USS Tracy history for this article comes from the Naval History and Heritage Command article on the ship.

Articles

This fake stealth fighter helped secure the real one

As we all know by now, the F-117 Nighthawk was America’s first combat-capable stealth aircraft. According to an Air Force fact sheet, it entered service in 1983, and was retired in 2008. It had a very effective career, serving in Operations Just Cause, Desert Storm, Allied Force, and Iraqi Freedom.


But one reason the F-117 was effective was because the Americans managed to keep it secret for the first five years it was in operation. As a result, many figured America’s stealth fighter would be named the F-19 – and in two techno-thrillers, the F-19 had major roles.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
Photo: Air Force Master Sgt. Edward Snyder

It was best-known as the F-19 Ghostrider in Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising.” In that novel, the planes carry out a daring raid to destroy Soviet Il-76 “Mainstay” radar planes, enabling NATO to secure air superiority in the early stages of the war. One F-19 crew later takes out a Soviet theater commander.

Clancy’s F-19 was very different from the F-117. It had a crew of two, and was capable of breaking Mach 1. It also carried weapons externally, including Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, and had a radar. While some sources, like Combat Aircraft Since 1945, credited the F-117 Nighthawk with the ability to carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder, most sources claim that the F-117 has no air-to-air capability.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
A three-view graphic of what the F-19 was believed to look like. (Graphic from Wikimedia Commons)

The other appearance of the F-19 was in Dale Brown’s “Silver Tower.” This time, it had the right name, Nighthawk, but it also had a crew of two. Brown didn’t go into the detail of his F-19 that Clancy did in Red Storm Rising. Brown’s F-19s had one notable success, where they bluffed their way in to attack a Soviet base in Iran during Silver Tower. Both planes were shot down and their crews killed.

After the F-117’s public reveal, the speculative F-19s were largely forgotten. But the “F-19” speculation helped keep the F-117 secret – and that secrecy was critical to the battlefield success of America’s first stealth fighter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first machine gun was invented before the Revolutionary War

If you don’t think East-West relations have come very far in the past few centuries, consider the fact that James Puckle’s flintlock revolver fired two types of ammo: round shot for use against Christians, and square shot for use against Muslims. The square shot was supposed to hurt more, convincing Muslims of the superiority of Christian life.


This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

Invented in 1718, his “Puckle Gun” is the first weapon to be called a “machine gun,” even if it doesn’t fit the modern definition of the word. The Puckle Gun was tripod mounted, intended for use on ships but had field uses as well. The cylinders revolved manually, firing 32mm shot through a 3-foot barrel and loaded while detached from the main gun.

The main problem was that instead of shooting a series of shots, the chamber had to be unscrewed before the handle could revolve the ammo, then screwed in again to seal the breech to the barrel. In demonstrations, the Puckle Gun could fire nine rounds per minute, tripling the output of disciplined troops, whose rate was three rounds per minute.

The armed forces of Britain didn’t respond favorably to the weapon. As a result, neither did the investors of the time. Only two models of the Puckle Gun exist today, at the homes of members of the Montagu family, the only people to ever buy Puckle Guns with the intention of using them.

Montagu, while acting as Britain’s Master-General of the Ordnance, purchased this first machine gun for use on a doomed expedition to capture St. Vincent and St. Lucia. It’s unknown if they were ever used in combat.

Articles

Thousands of Irishmen deserted their military to fight Hitler

It’s sometimes easy to forget that World War II wasn’t originally a world war and that many countries hoped to let continental Europe fight it out against each other (including the United States). Some countries held on to hopes of remaining neutral and passed strict laws to prevent their people from joining the fight.


For those who wanted to take the fight to the Nazis, this was a bit of a problem. A few dozen U.S. pilots defied neutrality laws to join the Royal Air Force while some American soldiers like Lewis Millet ran away to join the Canadian Army.

For Irish soldiers, approximately 4,500 of them, the best option was to run away from the Emerald Isles and join the British Army. Irish Brigades had served well in other conflicts including World War I, the Mexican-American War (against the U.S), and the American Civil War (on behalf of the Union).

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
Irish soldiers kill time during the first World War. Photo: Public Domain

The men were grouped into the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade which was formed at the request of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The 38th was commanded by Brig. Morgan John Winthrop O’Donovan.

O’Donovan was a World War I veteran who received the Military Cross for bravery. He led the 38th Brigade from soon after its formation in early 1942 to July of that year, overseeing the initial training and preparations to ship out to North Africa.

O’Donovan was later replaced by Brigadier Nelson Russell, another World War I veteran and holder of the Military Cross. Russell got his for leading a daytime raid of an enemy trench as a 19-year-old lieutenant.  He was also known for a stint playing cricket for Ireland.

Under Russell, the 38th Irish Brigade was sent to the invasion of French North Africa. After suffering a bomb attack by the Luftwaffe as they were getting off of their ships, the Irish Brigade fought its way through Africa alongside the British and American forces. The Irish were deployed into the mountains around Tunis during the battle for the capital.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
The war in Tunisia was characterized by tank combat and blistering temperatueres. Here, British soldiers practice anti-tank marksmanship in the Tunisian Desert. Photo: British Army Sgt. Loughlin

When the Allies made it into the city, the Irish Brigade was the first to march through the streets. After the celebrations at Tunis, the 38th was sent with other victorious units to prepare for the landings at Sicily in Operation Husky.

The Allies landed on Jul. 9, 1943. The 38th’s major objective was a small village at the center of the Axis defenses in the Sicilian mountains. They made it to the objective and, on Aug. 3, began their assault against it. In a single night of fighting, they pushed the Axis our of the village and away from the ridgeline. They continued to push forward, helping other Allied soldiers capture and kill Axis forces.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
Soldiers with the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade search houses in Sicily in 1943. Photo: Public Domain

On Aug. 17, after just over 5 weeks of fighting, the Axis had been pushed off the island and forced to return to Italy.

The Irish Brigade was then sent to take part in the invasion of Italy, a task which would occupy them for the rest of the war. They came ashore just a few days after the initial landings and then began pushing the Germans north past one defensive line after another. By this time, the Italian Army had withdrawn from the war and it was only German soldiers holding the peninsula.

Still, the Fuhrer’s troops made the Allies fight for every mile with well-established defensive lines that the 38th Irish and the other Allied forces had to break through. The Irish didn’t make it out of Italy and into Austria until May 8, 1945, the same day that Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies.

Since the men of the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade were mostly deserters from the Irish Army, they were officially blacklisted in Ireland from any jobs that received any money from the state and were branded as traitors by both the government and the population.

This punishment lasted for nearly 70 years until a 2013 pardon cleared all men of the Irish Brigade of wrongdoing.

For a more detailed account of the Irish Brigade’s exploits in Tunisia and Italy, check out the Irish Brigade’s campaign narratives and suggested reading.

Articles

4 incredible women in military history you need to know about

International Women’s Day has been celebrated across the world since 1909, and is used as a day to laud the important contributions women make.


Women have long-since served in the U.S. military, even before they were officially allowed to enlist. From covert spy operations to battles on the front lines, women have been there for all of it.

Nancy Morgan Hart

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
Public domain image

During the American Revolution, Hart was supposed to stay and take care of her children at their Georgia home while her husband fought in the war, like many military spouses today do. However, Nancy couldn’t sit idly by while a war raged around her.

Related: The only 7 women to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross

Pretending to be a crazy man, Hart was able to gain access to British camps in Augusta, where she successfully gathered intelligence and reported it back to the Continental Army. Hart also wasn’t afraid to defend her home against the enemy, as evidenced when six Loyalist soldiers entered her home and demand she feed them. While they were occupied with food, she hid their weapons and held them hostage with one, killing two when they tried to overpower her, until her husband and a neighbor came home.

Dr. Mary E. Walker

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
Library of congress photo

Walker volunteered her expertise as a surgeon with the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War, despite women not being allowed to serve as doctors. She was captured and became a prisoner-of-war after she was caught crossing enemy lines to treat wounded soldiers. She was considered a spy by the Confederates and was held until eventually released in a prisoner exchange.

For her bravery and willingness to confront the enemy to save Union soldiers, President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor, after a recommendation by Gen. William Sherman, becoming the first and only women ever to be awarded the highest military honor.

Col. Eileen Collins

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
NASA photo

Collins became the first female to pilot a shuttle in space in 1995, and was also the first female commander of a U.S. spacecraft in 1999.

During her time in the Air Force, Collins served as an instructor for the T-38 Talon at Vance Air Force Base, and eventually transitioned to an assistant professor role at the U.S. Air Force Academy, teaching mathematics and instructing T-41 pilots.

Sarah Emma Edmonds

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
Public domain image

Edmonds fled to Michigan from Canada, escaping an abusive marriage. While traveling, she found that dressing like a man made life considerably easier, and eventually joined the military as a male nurse out of a sense of obligation. Edmonds used the alias “Franklin Thompson,” and served as a spy for Union soldiers until she was confronted with a bout of Malaria. Knowing she would be punished if Army doctors discovered she was a woman, Edmonds abandoned her male disguise and continued to serve as a female nurse in Washington D.C.

After she wrote a memoir about her time as a spy, Edmonds contributions to the war were accepted, and she received an honorable discharge, as well as a government pension for her service.

Articles

This is the rifle Vasily Zaytsev used to wage a one-man war in ‘Enemy at the Gates’

First used by the Russians in 1891, the Mosin-Nagant was modified from a standard service weapon to a sniper rifle in the 1930s. This five-shot, bolt-action rifle was a highly effective killing tool on the battlefield because of its sturdy construction and accuracy.


The Mosin-Nagant rifle typically weighs in at 8.8 pounds and has a muzzle velocity of nearly 3,000 feet per second — but the rifle is only as good as the man or woman who pulls its trigger.

During the Battle of Stalingrad, talented Russians snipers used the Mosin-Nagant PU version to wreak plenty of havoc against their Nazi adversaries. One of those talented sharpshooters was none other than the Soviet hero himself, Vasily Zaytsev.

Related: The 6 best Hollywood sniper shots ever

Zaytsev’s remarkable story was brought to life in 2001’s feature film “Enemy at the  Gates” starring Jude Law.  As a young boy, he learned his expert marksmanship skills while hunting game and tracking wolves near his home in desolate Siberia.

In 1937, Zaytsev was recruited into the Red Army, volunteered to be transferred to the front lines and waged a one-man war against the Nazis and reportedly killed 250 enemy troops with his Mosin-Nagant.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
The Hero of the Soviet Union Vasily Zaitsev (left)

Reportedly, Zaitsev was involved in a historical sniper duel with Maj. Konig, the former head of the German Army’s sniper school. During an afternoon of stalking one another, Zaitsev scored a righteous kill shot eliminating the German sniper from the war — using his famous Mosin-Nagant.

Roughly, 17 million Mosin–Nagant were produced during War World II, and its devastating 7.62 x 54R round is still used today in several Russian-made weapons.

Also Read: These 4 guns were used to make the longest sniper kills in history

Check out Lightning War 1941’s video to see this effective sniper rifle in action for yourself.

YouTube, LightningWar1941

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first commissioned female officer served in the Civil War

Some might scoff at the idea of a Confederate Army officer being counted in U.S. military history, but Sally Tompkins is one worth noting. Not only was she a commissioned female officer in a world of men, Capt. Sally Tompkins’ hospital had the lowest death rate of any hospital on either side of the war.


The Confederate Army was staffed and run by officers who had earned their ranks through the same means as U.S. government Army officers, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Their judgment can be said to be markedly similar – and in some cases much better – than their Union Army counterparts. After all, the North suffered a series of stunning defeats at the hands of these generals early on in the war.

So to say that Sally Tompkins was appointed by officers whose judgment would probably have been accepted in the United States Army is a point worth making. She first came to run a hospital out of the home of Richmond, Va. Judge John Robertson while just 27 years old. Soon after, Confederate President Jefferson Davis mandated that all Confederate military hospitals be run by Confederate military officers. Miss Tompkins was suddenly Capt. Tompkins, CSA.

But Tompkins was the only officer that would refuse to be paid for her work.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

The Robertson Hospital, Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1861.

She was the daughter of a Revolutionary War veteran and thus appreciated the sacrifices made by men on the battlefields. As a native Virginian, she swore loyalty to her native state, and when the time came for her to help the cause, she picked up the slack where she could. That time just happened to come right after the First Battle of Bull Run, near Manassas, Va. Richmond was quickly overloaded with dying and wounded soldiers. Civilians were asked to open their homes to those men, and that’s how she started overseeing the Robertson home.

Throughout the war, Capt. Tompkins and her hospital served some 1,300 wounded troops, losing only 73 of them. Tompkins kept a register of each patient’s name, company, commanding officer, regiment, infliction, and discharge information for everyone at the hospital throughout the war. Tompkins’ mortality rate was the lowest on either side of the war, losing only 73 of those 1,300 – just five percent.

For this achievement, she became known as “The Angel of the Confederacy.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This 103-year-old vet served 22 years in the Navy – after being a POW

Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. For retired commander Jack Schwartz, that seems to be the case.

The 22-year navy Veteran spent 1,367 days in captivity as a prisoner of war during World War II. He turned 103 years old April 28, 2018.

For Schwartz, it all started just three days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 10, 1941, he was a navy lieutenant junior grade stationed in Guam as a civil engineer responsible for the water supply, roads, the breakwater and some construction.


“We only had 100 marines on the island – about 400 of us total, to include those who worked at the naval hospital,” Schwartz said. “And there were about 4 or 5,000 Japanese soldiers. They sank one of our ships, a mine sweeper, and nine sailors were killed.”

“We didn’t put up much of a fight.”

Schwartz said he was held by the Japanese there in Guam for about 30 days.

“There was plenty of food on Guam, but they deliberately starved us to make us weak,” he said.

After 30 days, they were transported by ship – all 400 U.S. POWs to include Schwartz – to Shikoku Island in Japan. They stayed there for about eight months, in some old barracks left over from the Japanese war with Russia, before being moved again.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
In this Japanese propaganda photo released in March 1942, U.S. service members from Guam arrive at Zentsuki POW camp on Shikoku Island in Japan. Jack Schwartz was one of about 400 U.S. POWs captured at Guam and taken there.

The next place Schwartz was sent to was Kawasaki, between Tokyo and Yokohama. There were already POW camps and prisoners there when Schwartz including U.S. service members captured in the Philippines and from U.S. ships.

More than 300 prisoners were there, but just a few were officers, he said.

“I was the senior U.S. officer there so they put me in charge of the camp,” Schwartz said. “As a prisoner, I had absolutely no authority to do anything, but if anything went wrong it was my fault.”

“Every month or two I got a beating by the Japanese guards – nothing too serious – just to show me they’re in charge.”

After two years, Schwartz said he was sent back to Shikoku Island to the same POW camp he was at previously.

“This was a camp for officers – not just U.S. but English and Dutch. This was where the Japanese would invite the Red Cross to show how nice the conditions were,” Schwartz said. Schwartz would be separated, segregated and moved several times before the Japanese finally surrendered to the Allies on Aug. 14, 1945.

“The day the war with Japan was over, a Japanese officer lined us up outside and told us hostilities have ceased,” Schwartz said. He and the other Japanese officers and guards just walked away.

They made a big sign in white paint on the roof that read POW. After a couple of weeks, a U.S. B-29 bomber spotted us, and a few hours later they started dropping parachutes full of food. “Naturally we all started stuffing ourselves and got sick.”

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants
POW Jack Schwartz, World War II POW from Dec. 10, 1941 to Aug 14, 1945, pictured here at Kawasaki POW camp, Japan.

Upon release – after being held POW for 3.75 years – Schwartz made the decision he would not end his career with the Navy and instead, he continued serve for another 18 years.

The Caltech graduate – who was born in San Francisco but moved to Hollywood with his parents at an early age – would eventually retire from the Navy with honors and distinction and move to Hanford, Calif., in 1962. He then worked for 18 years as Hanford’s Public Works Director and city Engineer before retiring a second time.

Schwartz said he now receives his medical care from the VA Central California Health Care System and is treated very well. “I still remember my first doctor there at the VA, Dr. Ron Naggar. And Dr. Ivance Pugoy is one of my current doctors,” Schwartz said. “You get a feeling they actually care. They make you feel like you are not just a name. You are a person. They do an excellent job for all the POWs,” he said.

Schwartz and several of his fellow POWs from the Central Valley were honored April 9 at VA Central California as part of National Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why disfigured World War I veterans had their own park benches

It wouldn’t do much good for a wounded World War I veteran trying to reintegrate into society to have a passersby gasp in shock and horror every time they saw him. The town of Sidcup in England attempted to ameliorate this shocked, audible response by attempting to warn the locals about the tenants of a nearby soldiers hospital.

Seeing a man on a blue bench when all the other benches in town were a different color warned the locals the image of a man sitting on it might come as a shock – and the veterans were grateful.

WARNING: Some of these images might be disturbing to even modern eyes.


This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

A World War I veteran who was treated at Sidcup

World War I was an entirely different kind of warfare than the world had ever known previously. With that new, modern, and mechanized destruction, came new wounds and scars that would mark its veterans forever. Few in any military had ever seen anything like the gruesome scars of war left on World War I vets, so it’s safe to say that few civilians had either.

The Great War was packed with horrifyingly disfiguring weapons similar to wars past. Bullets are nothing new, neither was shrapnel. But the new weapons of war were able to unload hundreds of bullets in a minute and fire high explosives and poison gas from places the soldiers on the ground couldn’t even see. Soldiers on both sides suffered disfigurement at an astonishing rate. For the lucky ones who survived, that meant coming home to a population that wasn’t entirely prepared to see the horrors of the war.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

The effects of the earliest plastic surgery on World War I veterans, this work done in London.

Sidcup, England had a hospital devoted to such soldiers. The hospital held hundreds of troops whose facial features were an object of terror to the unprepared. The benches of Sidcup were a warning to passersby that a veteran sitting on the bench might be disfigured, and it’s best not to stare. While this may seem offensive to us these days, for veterans who suffered from these afflictions, it was a blessing. Sidcup became the one place in the world where wounded, disfigured vets could walk around without the gasps and cries found everywhere else.

More than that, such hospitals featured pioneering medical techniques to attempt to mitigate the physical damage and return some kind of normalcy to the subject. World War I veterans were essentially the world’s first plastic surgery recipients. For those who couldn’t get that kind of work done, masks were an option – a painted replica of an unwounded face, covering the wounds of war that marked their daily lives.

This is how ancient troops stopped ground elephants

Masks for WWI-era wounded soldiers were usually specially designed for the individual, created for the subject’s unique injury or war wound, and then painted one by one to ensure the look and fit of the mask matched the person wearing it. There are many occasions where (albeit in black and white photos) it’s hard to distinguish the masked face from what might be the soldier’s undamaged face.

They were remarkably accurate and allowed the soldiers a degree of freedom, walking around without the horrors of war written upon their faces.

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