How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

The Post Office is in dangerous peril right now, and like most Americans, you might be wondering what you can do to help. Well, the most obvious thing is to send more mail. Buying a pack of Forever stamps helps, and so does sending little notes in the mail. It’s fun to send postcards and notes and equally exciting to receive something besides junk mail or bills, plus you’re doing your civic duty in helping prop up a bona fide American institution. One other thing you can do is get a clear understanding of how our post office came to be and what factors contributed to its formation.

The USPS got its start in 1775 during the Second Continental Congress. During the Revolutionary War, American colonies relied on communication via horseback riders who transported messages between cities, towns, and the battlefields. Making sure the mail was delivered quickly and efficiently was difficult. Still, it was also critical to the survival of the colonists and the service personnel who were fighting the Revolutionary War. Because of its vast importance to the earliest days of America, it’s often said that the post office helped create American democracy. Though the earliest Americans might not have realized it at the time, introducing a standardized postal service was the first step in creating a connected and unified country.


Three months after the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Concord, the Continental Congress looked to Benjamin Franklin to formally establish a postal service. As the first Postmaster General, Franklin had a lot of work to do, with limited time and a limited budget. But one thing he did have on his side was the support of leadership and the early American public’s support. Everyone understood that there was something very important to be gained by establishing a national postal service and something critical that would be lost without it.

Franklin was the publisher of The Pennsylvania Gazette, and the year he was appointed postmaster, he leaned into a distinct fringe benefit of his new role. He was able to send his newspaper to readers at no cost. This helped the Pennsylvania Gazette gain a large circulation and helped serve another purpose as well – it educated the public on what was happening with the war. In 1753, Franklin was appointed the postmaster of all 13 colonies. During his tenure, he traveled extensively along the postal routes to find the most reliable and efficient route for riders. This helped lay the groundwork for our current post office, and it helped create a system of communication for everyone living in the country at the time.

The connections Franklin created on postal routes also allowed battle messages to reach leadership faster. Being up to date on troop movements, morale, and supply needs helped command chains stay ahead of the British and contributed greatly to the Revolutionary War effort.

Of all the founding institutions introduced during the earliest days of forming America, the Post Office is incredibly overlooked and undervalued, underappreciated, and unstudied. For many decades, the post office served as a de facto connection between citizens and the government. Prior to introducing the post office, knowledge of public affairs had always been limited to a specific and elite population. America needed something new, something that would allow news to be circulated throughout the entire country. The founding members of the Continental Congress wanted something different for the country they were creating and realized early on that a post office would be the central network by which they could spread information and provide access to knowledge.

Unlike other post offices in mainland Europe, Franklin wanted the American post office to transport not just mail but also ideas. In addition to delivering letters and cards, the post office creation subsidized the delivery of newspapers, which helped create an informed electorate. This was unmatched at the time and helped bind together the early colonists and set the expectation that Americans should always have open access to information. Now more than ever, that open access to information is important, just as Franklin knew two hundred years ago.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 craziest ways you could fight in the World Wars

The two World Wars were some of the first true industrial wars, forcing leaders to innovate so they would lose fewer troops and have a chance at victory. While some were slow to change, some leaders figured out truly novel ways of using everything from bicycles to railroads to artists. Here are just seven of the crazy jobs that were created:


How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

German bicycle troops in World War I.

Bicycle troops

Believe it or not, bicycles were a huge part of World War I. France and Britain has about 250,000 troops in bicycle units by the end of the war, and most major combatants had at least a couple thousand. This included bicycle couriers, reconnaissance cyclists, and bicycle infantry, all of which were exactly what they sounded like.

But there were also more surprising applications. Some bicycles were welded into tandem, side-by-side configurations that allowed cyclists to create silent, mobile machine gun platforms, ambulances, and even vehicles with which to tow small artillery.

American motorcycle Corps Train

www.youtube.com

Motorcycle tank repairman

Want to work on two wheels but don’t want to pedal so much? Fair enough, maybe the motorcycle corps was for you. Motorcycles were used for everything that bicycles were, and occasionally even pressed into service as anti-tank weapons. But the craziest way to use motorcycles was definitely tank recovery.

See, before a random tank operator thought to convert some tanks into recovery vehicles, the Army used motorcyclists to deliver tools and spare parts to tanks under fire on the battlefield. While this was fast, it meant that a motorcycle rider had to tear through No Man’s Land under fire that had just crippled or bogged down a tank.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

A fake M4 Sherman, an inflatable decor, sits on the ground in World War II.

(U.S. Army)

Fake Army/city creator

On both sides of World War II, artists were put to work creating decoy forces or, in the case of Britain, decoy cities to draw away attackers and waste the enemy’s resources. The most famous of this is likely America’s “Ghost Army,” a collection of mostly inflatable military hardware complete with fake radio traffic that caused the Germans to overestimate the enemy they were facing and even got them to think D-Day was a feint.

But perhaps the most ambitious program was in England where engineers created entire fake cities and landing strips, complete with lights, ammo and fuel dumps, and planes. They were able to convince German bomber crews at night that they had reached their targets, resulting in thousands of tons of bombs dropping on fake targets.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

British Chindits, guerrilla fighters from Britain who fought in Burma, discuss operations in a captured town.​

(Imperial War Museum)

Guerrilla warfare fighter/trainer

For major combatants with lots of territory to fight over, it’s always easier if you can put a small number of troops or trainers into position and force a much larger enemy force to remain there to fight them. That’s what America achieved with guerrilla trainers like Detachment 101 and the British achieved with guerrilla units like the Chindits.

In both cases, sending in a couple dozen or a couple thousand men tied down entire Japanese divisions and inflicted heavy losses. The situation was similar in Europe. A Marine guerrilla warfare unit of just six men provided support to French resistance fighters and killed so many Nazis that the Germans assumed they were an entire battalion. And they achieved this despite losing two Marines on the jump into France.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

“Mad” Jack Churchill leads his troops off the boats during a training exercise while preparing for D-Day. He’s the one with the sword at far right.

(Imperial War Museum)

Bagpiper/swordsman/bowman

Granted, these jobs only came up under one commander: Jack “Mad Jack” Churchill, a British officer who led his men onto the beaches of Normandy while carrying a claybeg (basically a smaller claymore) and a longbow. And he did use the weapons in combat, at one point riding through France on a bicycle with his quiver hanging from the frame.

And, on D-Day, British soldier Bill Millin, a personal piper to Lord Movat, was ordered to play his bagpipes as his unit hit the sands of Normandy. The Millin wasn’t shot and asked a group of Nazi prisoners of war why no one hit him since he was such an obvious target. The German commander said “We thought you were a ‘Dummkopf,’ or off your head. Why waste bullets on a Dummkopf?

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

Poison gasses float across a battlefield in World War I.

(Public domain)

Chemical warfare operator

The first large-scale deployment of chemical weapons came at Ypres, Belgium, in 1915, but, luckily, was largely outdated by changes in international law before World War II, so there were just a couple of years in history where offensive chemical warfare operators were a real thing.

That first attack required hundreds of German soldiers to bury 6,000 steel cylinders over a period of weeks, but allowed them to break French lines across an almost 4-mile front. But it was hard to exploit gaps from chemical attacks since, you know, the affected areas were filled with poison.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

U.S. sailors fire a 14-inch railway gun in France during World War I.

(U.S. Navy)

Railway gun operator

If you’ve never seen one of the railway guns from World War I and II, then just take a look at the picture. These weapons were massive with 14-inch or larger caliber guns mounted on railway carriages. When the U.S. joined the war, they immediately sent five naval railway guns across the Atlantic.

Railway artillerymen were usually outside of the range of enemy fire, so it was relatively safe. But expect some serious hearing loss and even brain damage. Massive amounts of propellant were required to launch these huge shells.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the battle behind ‘the Star-Spangled Banner’

The Star-Spangled Banner” is known from sea to shining sea, but few know the circumstances under which Francis Scott Key wrote America’s national anthem. Oddly enough, it was penned just after the short but bloody Battle of Baltimore.

In September of 1814—two years into the war between the U.K. and the U.S.—the British navy turned its attention towards Baltimore, Maryland. As a busy port, the city would either prove a devastating American loss, or a crucial victory if they managed to thwart the attack on Baltimore Harbor’s Fort McHenry.


As 5,000 British troops marched towards Fort McHenry, they encountered an unexpected setback at the Battle of North Point. There, American troops were lying in wait, prepared to stall the British until Baltimore’s defenses could be finalized. When they were satisfied with their delay, the Americans retreated, then awaited the main attack from within the city.

At dawn the very next day, approximately 4,300 British troops began to advance, forcing the U.S. troops to fall back. Still, the battle wasn’t easy for the British: They were startled to find that the Americans had 100 cannons and over 10,000 troops. Not long after they breached Balitmore’s inner defenses, the British soldiers fled to their ships, wanting to regroup for a less frontal attack.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

Meanwhile, at Fort McHenry, 1,000 U.S. troops awaited the British navy, who arrived in a rain of rockets and mortar shells. Harsh fire ensued for 27 hours, though this did not deter the Americans’ from their daily reveille: As the fighting drew to a close on the morning of September 14, an oversized American flag—made by a local woman and her 13-year-old daughter—was raised over Fort McHenry. In response to this sign of American strength, an encampment of British soldiers fired a final taunting round at the sky. With that, the Battle of Baltimore was officially over.

But prior to this, Francis Scott Key stood aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant, negotiating the release of Maryland resident Dr. William Beanes. Having succeeded in his mission, Key and the newly-freed Beanes watched the battle unfold from their enemy’s decks. At the sight of the raised American flag, Key was struck by a burst of poetic inspiration. He quickly scribbled a series of verses on a scrap of paper, not knowing these words would become an enduring symbol of American patriotism.

Originally titled “Defence on Fort M’Henry”—and then renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner” shortly thereafter—the poem became a sensation after its publication in the Baltimore American. Over 100 years later, Congress made it the national anthem of the United States.

But what exactly was going through Key’s mind as he jotted down the lyrics to the song of our country? In The Dawn’s Early Light, historian Walter Lord describes the Battle of Baltimore in vivid detail, providing intimate insight into the birth of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and the man who wrote it.

Click here to read an excerpt of The Dawn’s Early Light, and then download the book.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time American POWs refused a CIA rescue mission in Vietnam

Mental torture, starvation, and daily physical beatings were just a few of the dreadful aspects American POWs had to endure on a daily basis during their stay at the “Hanoi Hilton.”


Although prisoner leadership secretly spoke of escape between one another, the odds of a successful attempt was near impossible. But what the prisoners didn’t know was that the CIA had already approved a plan to have a sub-transport take SEAL Team One to an island off the coast of North Vietnam to intercept them upon escape.

Related: 3 heroes who became POWs twice

After sending a coded message to Washington, the Hanoi prisoners asked for “an unmistakable signal from the heavens” to show President Nixon supported the mission.

So on May 2nd, 1972, three S-71s delivered that message. As they approached the Hanoi prison, they flew so close to the sound barrier that the ensuing roar alerted the prisoners of their presence, and the message was received.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Prisoners were paraded before angry crowds in Hanoi, where loudspeakers blared insults and encouraged the crowd’s added abuse. Many from the crowd did attack the near defenseless POWs. (Source: National Museum)

Some of the Hanoi prisoners never thought the rescue mission would get approved, which caused conflict among them as they questioned whether they should take the chance.

For the next three days, the SEAL Team would monitor the coast, awaiting their American brothers.

After several intense discussions, the prisoners came to a final decision whether they should embark on the daring escape: they voted no — and with good reason.

If the attempt failed, the remaining prisoners might face even harsher punishment, and they couldn’t allow that. They made the right decision.

Also Read: Clint Eastwood once helped fund a Vietnam POW rescue mission

Towards the end of the war, Nixon ordered a bombing run to force the enemy to accept the peace terms. After the aerial attack had ceased, the North claimed the Hanoi POWs had all been killed, but with a smuggled transmitter, the brave prisoners sent out a coded message that reached the White House which read:

“Vietnamese lie, we’re okay.”

The incoming message sparked Nixon to continue the bombing raids. Then, in early 1973, the North accepted Nixon’s terms, ending the Vietnam war and the strong-willed Hanoi prisoners finally came home safely.

Watch the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to witness the heroic story unfold for yourself.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)

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A sixth grade history project exonerated the captain of the USS Indianapolis

In 1945, the USS Indianapolis completed its top secret mission of delivering atomic bomb components to Tinian Island in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The heavy cruiser was sunk on its way to join a task force near Okinawa. Of the ship’s 1195 crewmembers, only 316 survived the sinking and the subsequent time adrift at sea in the middle of nowhere. Among the survivors was the captain of the Indianapolis, Charles B. McVay III.


McVay would be charged with negligence in the loss of the ship. Even though he was restored to active duty after his court-martial and retired a rear admiral, the guilt of the loss haunted him for the rest of his life. He committed suicide with his Navy revolver on his own front lawn with a toy sailor in his hand.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Even he doubted his own innocence. (US Navy)

McVay did everything he could in the wake of the torpedoing of the Indianapolis. He sounded the alarm, giving the order to abandon ship and was one of the last men off. Many of the survivors of the sinking publicly stated he was not to blame for its loss. But this wasn’t enough for the family members of the ship’s crew, who hounded McVay year after year, blaming him for the loss of their sons.

The Navy was partly to blame. They didn’t warn Indianapolis that the submarine I-58 was operating along the area of the ship’s course to Okinawa. They also didn’t warn the ship to zigzag in its pattern to evade enemy submarines. When the Indianapolis radioed a distress signal, it was picked up by three Navy stations, who ignored the call because one was drunk, the other had a commander who didn’t want to be disturbed, and the last thought it was a trap.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
(National Archives)

Three and a half days later, the survivors were rescued from the open water, suffering from salt water poisoning, exposure, hypothermia, and the largest case of shark attacks ever recorded. It was truly a horrifying scene. The horror is what led to McVay’s court martial, one of very few commanders to face such a trial concerning the loss of a ship. Even though the Japanese commander of I-58, the man who actually destroyed the Indianapolis, told the U.S. Navy that standard Navy evasion techniques would not have worked – Indianapolis was doomed from the get-go. Even that didn’t satisfy McVay’s critics.

It wasn’t until sixth-grader Hunter Scott began a history project in school about the sinking of the Indianapolis. He poured through official Navy documents until he found the evidence he needed to conclusively prove that McVay wasn’t responsible for the loss of his ship. His project caught the attention of then-Congressman Joe Scarborough and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who helped pass a Congressional resolution exonerating McVay. It was signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000.

USS Indianapolis
Admiral Raymond Spruance, Commander, U.S. Fifth Fleet, awards a Purple Heart to RM1c Joseph Moran and his fellow survivors of the loss of USS Indianapolis (CA-35) at Base Hospital #18 Guam. The other two Sailors pictured are BGM3c Glenn Morgan (left) and S1c Louis Bitonti (right). (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Hunter Scott, the onetime sixth-grader and eternal friend to the crew of the Indianapolis, is now a naval aviator. He attended the University of North Carolina on a Navy ROTC scholarship and joined active duty in 2007. He even spoke at the dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.


Feature image: US Navy photo

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This Army dentist died mowing down 98 attacking Japanese soldiers

The only dentist to receive the Medal of Honor did so posthumously, 58 years after his death, for his World War II exploits defending his patients. He killed a few enemy soldiers in hand-to-hand combat before slowly falling back with a machine gun and killing dozens more, totaling 98 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing his patients to escape to safety before he died of fatal wounds.


How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
U.S. Army dentist Capt. Benjamin Salomon (U.S. Army)

 

 

A young Benjamin Salomon fought for entry into the University of Southern California’s dental program despite the fact that many American universities at the time had a cap on how many Jewish applicants they would accept. When he graduated in 1937, he immediately tried to join both the Canadian and American armies, possibly because of how his brethren were being treated in Europe at the time.

Both armies rejected him and the young man started a successful dental practice in Beverly Hills instead. In 1940, he had a small client base that included aspiring actors in Hollywood when he was drafted into the American infantry as a private.

While it may seem odd that a man with a doctorate of dental medicine was an infantryman, Salomon reportedly took to the training and became a top-tier machine gunner. He gave free checkups and cleanings to his friends in the barracks until, in 1942, the Army commissioned him into the dental corps. Salomon tried to refuse the commission to stay in his position as sergeant of a machine gun team, but his request was denied.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
(U.S. Army)

He was sent to the Pacific Theater with the 27th Infantry Division. There, during the Marianas Island Campaign, a battalion surgeon was wounded. Capt. Salomon offered to fill in until a new surgeon could be assigned and sent.

It was in this role that the 29-year-old was serving when, on July 7, 1944, the Japanese commander ordered waves of suicide attacks against American positions, calling for each attacker to kill 10 Americans before dying.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
(U.S. Army)

Salomon saw his first attacker while working on a patient. The Japanese man emerged from the brush and began bayoneting wounded troops lined up for treatment. Salomon grabbed a rifle and shot the man down and tried to return to his patient.

But two more attackers rushed through the front. Salomon clubbed both, then bayoneted one and shot the other before soldiers started to climb in under the tent walls. The dentist shot one, knifed one, bayoneted a third, and head-butted the fourth.

Seeing that the situation was desperate and the hospital would be lost, he ordered the medics to assist the wounded in a withdrawal while he provided cover.

Contact with Salomon was lost for 15 hours as the American force conducted a withdrawal and then slowly took the territory back. When they found Salomon, he was laying on a machine gun, dead, with 76 bayonet and bullet wounds. Dozens of enemy dead were arrayed before him, a blood trail showed where he had repositioned the gun multiple times, almost certainly while fatally wounded, to continue covering the retreat.

While Salomon’s exploits were well investigated and documented, the recommendation for a Medal of Honor was rejected by Gen. George W. Griner who believed that Salomon’s actions were a violation of the Geneva Convention, which generally bars medical personnel from carrying or using offensive weapons.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
(U.S. Marine Corps)

But medical personnel are allowed to use weapons in final defense of themselves or their patients, and a review of the case decades later resulted in a 2002 ceremony in the Rose Garden where President George W. Bush presented the medal to Dr. Robert West, one of the Salomon supporters who worked for years to get the award approved.

The medal is now on display at the University of Southern California.

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NORAD prepares to track Santa

We all know Santa’s making a list, checking it twice… probably with some help from the NSA. Meanwhile, North American Aerospace Defense Command is also making a list and checking it twice to ensure their considerable assets are ready to help ensure that Santa accomplishes his mission safely.


How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
An F-35 and F-16 fly side by side. These are some of the assets NORAD has available to ensure that Santa can carry out his Christmas Eve mission safely. (US Air Force photo by Jim Hazeltine)

This long-running tradition started by accident during the height of the Cold War. But it’s stuck around, even in the post-9/11 era. According to a 2008 Air Force release, the accident occurred in 1955, when NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense command, or CONAD, got a call from a kid. A newspaper had misprinted a phone number to allow kids to track jolly old St. Nick. Instead of the local Sears store, they got the operations hotline for CONAD.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Col. Harry Shoup, the operations officer at NORAD on Dec. 24, 1955, answered a child’s wrong-number call and began the tradition of NORAD tracking Santa.(Courtesy photo from USAF.mil)

Colonel Harry Shoup was the director of operations on that Christmas Eve. Tracking Santa had not been something he’d prepared for or had been briefed to do. But when each kid called, he provided them Santa’s position, saving Christmas for the kids by assuring them that Santa was safe and on the job. The next year, CONAD did it again, and did so the year after that. When NORAD took over for CONAD in 1958, they assumed that Christmas Eve duty – and tradition – as well. In 2015, a DOD release noted that over 1500 volunteers helped carry out the mission.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Eastern Air Defense Sector (EADS) personnel conduct training in preparation for Santa tracking operations at their headquarters in Rome, N.Y. on Dec. 11, 2016. Pictured from front to back, are: Sgt. Thomas Vance of the Royal Canadian Air Force, a member of EADS Canadian Detachment; and Master Sgt. Michelle Gagnon, Master Sgt. Lena Kryczkowski (standing) and Master Sgt. Shane Reid, all members of the New York Air National Guard’s 224th Air Defense Squadron. (DOD photo)

The official web site, www.NORADSanta.org, includes videos, games, music, and a gift shop. There is also a Facebook page for that in this era of social media. And yes, there are apps for tracking Santa on Windows phones, Android phones, and iPhones. NORAD says that starting at 2:01 AM Eastern Standard Time on Dec. 24, they will have video of Santa making preparations for his mission. At 6 AM EST that day, live phone operators will be available at 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an email to noradtrackssanta@outlook.com. And check out this video of the history of how NORAD got started.

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Here’s the most influential US general you’ve never heard of

Winfield Scott, the longest-serving general officer in the history of the United States Army, served an astonishing 53 years in a career stretching from the War of 1812 to the Civil War. Known as “Ol’ Fuss and Feathers” for his elaborate uniforms and stern discipline, he distinguished himself as one of the most influential U.S. commanders of the 19th century.

Born in Virginia , he briefly studied at the College of William and Mary before leaving to study law, and served for a year as a corporal in the local militia. He received a commission as a captain of artillery in 1808, but his early career was less than auspicious. He vehemently criticized Senior Officer of the Army James Wilkinson for allegations concerning treason, and after a court-martial was suspended by the Army for a year.

After being reinstated, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel as the War of 1812 was getting underway. Serving in the Niagara Campaign, he was part of surrendering American forces during the disastrous crossing of the river into Ontario and exchanged in 1813.

After his successful capture of Ft. George, Ontario in 1813, he was promoted to brigadier general at the exceptionally young age of 27. He played a decisive role at the battles of Chippewa and Lundy’s Lane, earning him acclaim for personal bravery and a brevet promotion to major general, but his severe wounds during the second battle left him out of action for the rest of the war.

Following the war, Scott commanded a number of military departments between trips to Europe to study European armies, whom he greatly admired for their professionalism. His 1821 “General Regulations of the Army” was the first comprehensive manual of operations and bylaws for the U.S. Army and was the standard Army text for the next 50 years.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Legend says he can be summoned if you put your hands in your pockets while in uniform and say “Winfield Scott” three times. (Portrait by George Caitlin/ Wikimedia Commons)

After serving in a series of conflicts against the Indians, including the Blackhawk, Second Seminole and Creek Wars. When President Andrew Jackson ordered the Cherokee removed from Georgia and other southern states to Oklahoma in 1838-39, Scott commanded the operation in what became known as the “Trail of Tears,” when thousands of Cherokee died under terrible conditions during the long journey.

In 1841, Scott was made Commanding General of the U.S. Army, a position he would serve in for 20 years. When President James Polk ordered troops to territory disputed with Mexico along the Texas border, Scott appointed future president general Zachary Taylor to lead the expedition while he stayed in Washington. This was under pressure from Polk, who worried about Scott’s well known presidential aspirations. When the Mexican War subsequently broke out, Taylor grew bogged down in northwest Mexico after an initial series of victories, and it became clear that the northern route to Mexico City was no longer viable. Scott decided to personally lead a second front in order to break through to the Mexican capital.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
A little war going on is no excuse to not look your best. (Copy of lithograph by Nathaniel Currier, 1847/Wikimedia Commons)

Scott and his army’s landing at Vera Cruz, Mexico marks the first major amphibious landing by a U.S. army on foreign soil, and they seized the strategic port after a short siege. Roughly following conquistador Hernan Cortes’s historical route to Mexico City, U.S. forces won a series of victories against generally larger Mexican armies. Scott showed great skill in maneuver warfare, flanking enemy forces out of their fortifications where they could be defeated in the open. He successfully gambled that the army could live of the land in the face of impossibly long supply lines and after six months of marching and fighting, the U.S. seized the capital, putting the end to most resistance. The campaign had been a resounding success, with no less an authority than the Duke of Wellington, hero of Waterloo, declaring him “the greatest living general.”

Scott was an able military governor, and his fairness towards the conquered Mexicans gained him some measure of popularity in the country. But his vanity and political rivalry with Taylor, along with intercepted letters showing a scathing attitude towards Washington and Polk, lead to his recall in 1848.

Scott’s presidential aspirations were dashed when he badly lost the 1852 election to Franklin Pierce after a lackluster campaign. Continuing as commander of the Army, he was only the second man since George Washington to be promoted to Lieutenant General. By the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, however, Scott was 75 years old and so obese he couldn’t even ride a horse, and Lincoln soon had him replaced by general George B. McClellan. His strategic sense had not dulled. His “Anaconda Plan” to blockade and split the South, first derided by those seeking a quick victory, proved to be the strategy that won the war.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Scott’s Great Snake by J.B. Elliot (Library of Congress)

Scott was a vain man, prone to squabbling with other officers he held in contempt, and his political aspirations lead to great tensions with Washington during the Mexican War. His command of the “Trail of Tears” put him at the forefront of one of the most disgraceful episodes in the U.S. treatment of Native Americans. But his determination to turn the U.S. Army into a professional force, his immense strategic and tactical skill, and a career that spanned over five decades makes him one of the most influential figures in U.S. military history.

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4 times North Korea held American troops hostage

The recent release of Otto Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia who was held for over a year for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster from his hotel room, means that now three Americans are currently being held by North Korea. Warmbier suffered what some reports describe as extensive brain damage, and he is currently being treated.


But these are not the first Americans to have been held hostage. A 2017 list from USA Today before Warmbier’s release noted some other incidents dating from 2009 to the present. These cases have involved civilians. However, prior to 1996, when Evan Hunziker swam across the Yalu River, there had been some incidents where American troops were held hostage.

Here are four of them, from a 2003 Congressional Research Service report and other sources.

1. January 23, 1968

The environmental research ship USS Pueblo (AGER 2) was attacked and captured by North Korean Forces. One American was killed in the initial attack, while 82 others were held for 11 months. The vessel is still in North Korean hands.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
USS Pueblo (AGER 2).

2. July 14, 1977

A CH-47 Chinook was shot down by North Korean forces, killing three of the crew. The surviving crewman was briefly held by the North Koreans until he was released, along with the bodies of the deceased.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
A CH-47 in flight. (Photo: US Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

3. December 7, 1979

An American foot patrol strayed into a North Korean minefield. One was killed, at least two were wounded. While the wounded were able to return to friendly territory, the body of the dead American was held for a few days.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Serving on the DMZ… just not during declared conflict.

4. December 17, 1994

A U.S. Army OH-58 Kiowa was shot down by the North Koreans. One crewman was killed, the other was held for 13 days.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo

Most returns took place at the Joint Security Area, near Panmunjom, the site where a village stood until the armistice that ended the fighting of the Korean War.

MIGHTY CULTURE

These World War I troops claimed to be rescued by angels

In August, 1914, British troops were in full retreat from the World War I Battle of Mons in Northern France. The Germans chasing them were far greater in number, and the men were desperate. In a turn of good luck, they happened to pass a celebrated old battle site that turned the tide of their retreat, in an almost supernatural way – and that’s exactly how it was remembered.


The Battle of Mons went as well for the Brits as could be expected. It was the first test of the British Expeditionary Force in continental Europe. They fought hard, and the Germans paid dearly for their advance. But the French Fifth Army gave way to the Germans, and the British could not hold the line on their own. An orderly battle turned into a two-week rout that would end with the epic Battle of the Marne – but not unless the BEF could escape the oncoming Germans. They retreated south as orderly as possible.

On their way, they passed the site of the famous medieval Battle of Agincourt, where King Henry V’s English longbowmen devastated a French Army that outnumbered the English with estimates as high as 6-to-1. The retreating British troops of 1914 were on the run from a numerically superior German force when legend says a British soldier said a prayer to Saint George that changed the outcome of their retreat.

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St. George, the Christian dragon slayer.

George was a Roman Praetorian Guard for Emperor Diocletian, and was executed for not recanting his professed Christian faith centuries before the emperor converted the empire to Christianity. He is probably the most prominent of all soldier-saints. So, when a retreating British soldier asked St. George for help, it makes sense for the men of the retreating army to believe he may have intervened when the Germans suddenly broke off their pursuit.

After the battle, men present during the fighting chalked the sudden turn of events up to a number of supernatural explanations, each more awe-inspiring than the next. In the most prevalent retelling, the prayer to St. George caused an army of spectral English bowmen to appear, which both frightened and slaughtered the pursuing Germans.

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Looks like St. George needs to train his angels a bit.

The claims of the English soldiers were grounded by a fictional short story called “The Bowmen” written by Arthur Machen after the battle. In the book, angelic archers appear after a British soldier prays for help from St. George. Led by the patron saint of England, a thousand archers appeared and mowed down the enemy. Afterward, the German generals determined the BEF must be using a new gas weapon, as there were no wounds on the dead German troops.

Machen’s story was a fabrication, of course, based on a different story by Rudyard Kipling. That one was set in Afghanistan. But veterans of the Battle of Mons soon began to claim they were eyewitness to the spectral event. In each retelling, the story changes: German soldiers are found with arrow wounds, the ghost army was actually a team of angels in the form of medieval knights and led by St. George, or the BEF was able to retreat into a wall of clouds.

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World War I Ex Machina.

The Angels of Mons very quickly entered the lore and legends of the First World War, joined there by stories of ghouls living in No Man’s Land, crucified Canadian soldiers, and the end of the war by Christmas.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How to rise to power in a dictatorship without getting killed

The problem with being a rising star in a dictatorship where the only rules are the whims of one individual is that you tend to attract a lot of attention. This, of course, could put a target on your back. If you outlive the dictator, the purges, and the possible wars, however, it could be you occupying the big chair when the dust settles. Nowhere is this more clear than in the life of Nikita Khrushchev.


Before rising to the top of the Soviet Union’s oligarchy, Khrushchev started his Communist career as a political commissar during the Russian Civil War, was then sent to Ukraine to carry out Stalin’s purges, and somehow survived World War II’s Eastern Front, where Communist Commissars were specifically targeted by the Third Reich. After the war, he spent much of his time very close to Stalin…and survived.

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He even told the USSR that Stalin was stupid and his policies sucked. Not in those words, but that was the gist.

Khrushchev implemented many of Stalin’s policies without question, and did as he was told throughout his ascendancy. He also didn’t make any move against his boss while he was alive. Instead, Khrushchev waited until after the death of Stalin to denounce the “Man of Steel,” along with his domestic policies, his personality cult, and probably his mustache. But while Stalin was alive, Khrushchev was the best salesman for global Communism Stalin could have had.

During his time as the leader of the Soviet Union, he met with everyone who would have him, including famed anti-Communist Richard Nixon. He even managed to avoid a nuclear war with the U.S. President Kennedy. He didn’t need the bravado the Red Army wanted him to show during the Cuban Missile Crisis – Khrushchev already showed his by surviving every deadly situation thrown at Russia.

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If you can survive Stalingrad, you can survive anything.

Khrushchev survived Stalin because he’d proved his mettle many times over. Khrushchev was the epitome of the Soviet worker class. He was from a poor family of peasants, he went on strike against the Tsarist government as a metal worker in World War I, and he chose the right brand of Communism when the time came. When given a choice between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, he chose the group who prioritized winning over everything else. He was so loyal to Communist ideals that he refused to allow his wife a religious funeral after she died. That’s dedication.

He immediately joined every Communist government program and school he could, using connections to get into everything, like a good oligarch. When it came time for Stalin to purge, Khrushchev was in a trusted position. To maintain that trust, Khrushchev was willing to send his closest friends and coworkers to the gulag and the executioner.

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In case you were wondering, he killed a lot of people. Like, a lot.

So to survive the dictator’s whimsy, you have to prove you aren’t out to topple the dictator. The best way to do that is help kill the dictator’s enemies… before someone else accuses you of being the dictator’s enemy. The second best way is not to make waves. When Khrushchev appealed to Stalin to help fight the famine in Ukraine, Stalin thought Khrushchev was getting weak and sent him an overseer from Moscow. Khrushchev promptly became “ill” and all but disappeared for two years.

Not annoying Stalin about starving people probably saved his life and career. In Stalin’s last days, Khrushchev was called to be near Stalin and in the dictator’s inner circle. Here, the future Soviet leader survived many long nights of drinking and dancing at Stalin’s command, coining the saying: “When Stalin says dance, a wise man dances.”

Krushchev learned to take a nap in the afternoon so he wouldn’t fall asleep in front of his boss.

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These guys killed several hundred thousand people, maybe more. That’s not even counting the famines.

After Stalin died, his inner circle vied for power and fought amongst one another publicly. Not Khrushchev – he was demoted and accepted his situation. He soon found the others had fought themselves out of a job while “humble” Khrushchev was elevated to the title of First Secretary of the Communist Party. By not overstepping his bounds as his rivals did, Khrushchev became the least objectionable choice. It didn’t hurt that he was generally very good at whatever his job was.

He was so good even after he was ousted from power, Khrushchev managed to avoid being murdered by enemies like most powerful people in dictatorships so often are. He retired to a dacha in the countryside and died of a heart attack.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The M45 ‘Meat Chopper’ butchered the Axis and a bunch of commies

In World War II, the United States had outstanding fighters like the P-51 Mustang and the P-47 Thunderbolt. Allies tossed in excellent aircraft as well, like the Spitfire.


But while the Allies won the air-to-air battle against the Axis, it doesn’t mean that the ground troops could forego ground-based air defense.

The U.S. had one weapon that they used for that role — especially front-line grunts. It was the M2 machine gun, known as “Ma Deuce.” One could do some serious damage, firing up to 635 rounds per minute according to the FN website.

Now imagine what four of these could do to troops — or anything short of an armored vehicle or bunker, come to think of it.

In World War II, the United States deployed the M45 Quadmount, with four M2s, each of which were fed by a 200-round drum of ammo. As an anti-aircraft weapon, it was fierce against prop-driven planes like the Me-109, the FW-190, and the Ju-87.

However, grunts often don’t see what a weapon was designed to do. They quickly can come up with “off-label” uses for weapons they are issued, and the M45 Quadmount — initially designed to kill Axis planes — soon was used on Axis ground targets.

The system soon got nicknames like “Meat Chopper.” The M45 mount was used on trailers, but also on the M16 half-track, where it was called the MGMC for “Multiple Gun Motor Carriage” — in essence, a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. One version was even tested on the chassis of the M3 light tank — but that version didn’t go into production.

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M16 MGMC. (Photo by US Army Signal Corps)

The M45 “Meat Chopper” didn’t leave when World War II ended. In fact, it managed to stick around for the Korean War and the Vietnam War — in both cases serving as a very deadly infantry-support platform.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 captains who went down with the ship

“The captain goes down with the ship” is a maritime tradition suggesting that a captain is honor-bound to stay on a sinking ship until all passengers and crew members have been safely evacuated.

In 2012, Captain Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia came under fire for allegedly leaving the ship while passengers were still on board when the vessel crashed off the coast of Italy. Thirty-two passengers died, and Schettino was sentenced to sixteen years in prison: ten years for manslaughter, five years for causing the shipwreck, and one year for abandoning his passengers.


The expectation that a ship’s captain would stay on board until everyone had been evacuated developed in the mid-19th Century, but it could be argued that the sentiment has gone too far. What about ship captains that go down with their ship even after they’ve ordered it abandoned?

Here are four notable cases of captains who went down with the ship:

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Rear Admiral Giovanni Viglione

On May 30, 1918, the U-boat UB-49, captained by Kapitänleutnant Hans von Mellenthin, torpedoed the Pietro Maroncelli, an Italian steamer ship off the coast of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea. Rear Admiral Giovanni Viglione, who was on board as the convoy commodore, ordered all the survivors into the lifeboats, then chose to stay aboard and go down with the ship.

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Capitano di Corvetta Lorenzo Bezzi

On June 27, 1940, an Allied destroyer group spotted the Italian submarine Console Generale Liuzzi while she was on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea. Her captain, Capitano di Corvetta Lorenzo Bezzi, determined that the submarine was unable to flee nor fight the destroyers, so he therefore, ordered his crew to abandon and scuttle the ship. Bezzi, however, decided to go down with the Console Generale Liuzzi, for which he would be posthumously awarded the Gold Medal.

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Captain Ryusaku Yanagimoto

On June 5, 1942, U.S. naval forces launched an attack against the Japanese Imperial Navy that would turn the tide of World War II in the Pacific. The Japanese carrier fleet was crippled with multiple losses, including the Akagi and Kaga, and later the Hiryu, but it was the loss of the Soryu — and her beloved captain that would strike at the hearts of the Japanese sailors.

After Captain Ryusaku Yanagimoto gave the order to abandon the burning ship, it was discovered that he had remained aboard. When Chief Petty Officer Abe was chosen to retrieve the captain, Abe found Yanagimoto standing on the Soryu’s bridge, sword in hand. Abe reported that the “strength of will and determination of his grim-faced commander stopped him short.” Abe left Captain Yanagimoto, who calmly sang Kimigayo, the Japanese national anthem.

He watched with the other survivors as the Soryu sank along with the bodies of 718, including her captain.

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Commander Howard W. Gilmore

On Feb. 7, 1943, a Japanese gunboat attacked the American submarine USS Growler, captained by Commander Howard W. Gilmore, who gave the order to clear the bridge. Two Americans were shot dead while Gilmore and two others were wounded — and time to save the crippled sub was running short. When the survivors entered the sub, Commander Gilmore gave his final order: “Take her down.”

His executive officer closed the hatch and submerged the USS Growler to safety. Commander Gilmore posthumously received the Medal of Honor:

“For distinguished gallantry and valor above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the USS Growler during her Fourth War Patrol in the Southwest Pacific from 10 January to 7 February 1943. Boldly striking at the enemy in spite of continuous hostile air and anti-submarine patrols, Comdr. Gilmore sank one Japanese freighter and damaged another by torpedo fire, successfully evading severe depth charges following each attack. In the darkness of night on 7 February, an enemy gunboat closed range and prepared to ram the Growler. Comdr. Gilmore daringly maneuvered to avoid the crash and rammed the attacker instead, ripping into her port side at 11 knots and bursting wide her plates.

“In the terrific fire of the sinking gunboat’s heavy machine guns, Comdr. Gilmore calmly gave the order to clear the bridge, and refusing safety for himself, remained on deck while his men preceded him below. Struck down by the fusillade of bullets and having done his utmost against the enemy, in his final living moments, Comdr. Gilmore gave his last order to the officer of the deck, ‘Take her down.’ The Growler dived; seriously damaged but under control, she was brought safely to port by her well-trained crew inspired by the courageous fighting spirit of their dead captain.”

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