This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

John Harrison Simpson was just 16 when he enlisted in the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry (Federal), Company I in 1863. Lying about his age to enlist, Simpson was joined by his father, Green B. Simpson. Despite Tennessee’s secession from the Union, many towns in the state’s eastern region remained pro-Union and sent men to the Federal Army.

In September 1864, the 3rd Tennessee was sent to northern Alabama to guard a federal railroad. Vital to the Union supply line, it was a prime target for the Confederacy. The railroad was attacked by the infamous Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalrymen. The rebels routed the men of the 3rd Tennessee and surrounded them at Sulphur Creek Trestle, forcing them to surrender.

During the battle, the younger Simpson was wounded in the initial rebel cavalry charge. As the horsemen broke the Union line, a Confederate horse stepped down and smashed Simpson’s thigh and side. He carried the scars of these wounds with him for the rest of his life.

Following the Union surrender, the survivors of the 3rd Tennessee were sent to Cahaba prison camp, also known as Castle Morgan, near Selma, Alabama. Despite the deep southern heat and humidity, the camp was not nearly as bad as the notorious Andersonville prison camp in Georgia. However, Cahaba was closed at one point during the war. The prisoners that it housed, including Simpson and the other 3rd Tennessee cavalrymen, were sent to Andersonville. It was only in the last six months of the war that Cahaba reopened and then prisoners were sent back.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
The doomed steamboat Sultana (Public Domain)

In March 1865, just a few weeks before the end of the Civil War, the 3rd Tennessee was part of a large prisoner exchange. They were marched west from Cahaba to Vicksburg, Mississippi. From there they would travel upriver by boat to Ohio where they would be mustered out of service. However, the boat they boarded was the doomed Sultana.

Thousands of weary Union prisoners from both Cahaba and Andersonville were crammed into every open area of the steamboat. Designed to carry 376 passengers, 2,155 men were crammed on board. Simpson, who was 17 at the time, is believed to have been on the third deck. On April 27, the Sultana steamed just north of Memphis, Tennessee near Marion, Arkansas when disaster struck.

Horrifyingly, three of the ship’s four boilers exploded, instantly killing hundreds of men. Sultana burned to the waterline and eventually sunk, taking 1,192 lives with her. Locals, including freed slaves, saw the disaster unfold from the riverbank and rushed to help. About 750 survivors were rescued with 31 later dying from injuries or exposure. Over the next several months, bodies were continuously recovered from the river. Incredibly, both Simpsons survived the Sultana disaster.

The Sultana memorial is dedicated on July 4, 1916 (Sultana Disaster Museum)

John Simpson made his way to Nashville, Tennessee where he was mustered out of the Army on June 10. Green left the cavalry shortly thereafter. Despite the petitions of Sultana survivors for a special pension and a national monument to those killed, Congress never authorized any funds. Instead, the Sultana Survivor’s Association took it upon themselves to commemorate their fallen comrades with a marble memorial in Tennessee. Simpson, a member of the association’s Knoxville chapter, was a promoter of the monument.

By the time sufficient funds were raised, Sultana survivors were getting on in age and dwindling in number. Simpson, who headed the memorial effort, was a member of the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Knoxville. He chose the church’s hilltop cemetery as the memorial site. On July 4, 1916, the pink marble memorial was dedicated. It bears the names of 365 Tennesseans who died on the Sultana, most of whom were members of the 3rd Tennessee. Simpson served as president of the Southern contingent of survivors until his death in 1929. He is buried in the Mount Olive Cemetery not far from the Sultana memorial.

Simpson (second from the right) with other Sultana survivors at the 1920 Knoxville reunion (Knox County Public Library)
MIGHTY HISTORY

Britain unveils drone that will protect vulnerable warships

Britain’s Ministry of Defence has announced the successful testing of a new kit that turns small combat boats into drones that can protect larger warships, warning them of drones, small enemy vessels, and shore defenses, among other threats.


The British Royal Navy attached a kit to the Pacific 24 rigid inflatable boat. The resulting Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed was 13 meters, or 43 feet, in length, so it is known as MAST-13. Because Britain likes to name their things simply.

The MAST-13 was demonstrated at the Defence and Security Equipment International Conference on September 10 in London as senior members of the British defense community looked on. The MAST-13 was tasked with protecting the HMS Argyll in the London Docklands. The MAST-13 detected threats on the riverbed and transmitted them back to Argyll.

“MAST-13 is pioneering the future of Unmanned Surface Vehicles for our world-leading navy,” said U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. “The development of unmanned technology is vital for success in modern warfare, going beyond the capability of traditional ships to attack and defend in uncertain environments.

“As more advanced technology and new threats continue to evolve, collaborative technology development ensures we are constantly pushing the boundaries to give our armed forces the best capabilities possible,” he continued.

Britain is investing heavily in protecting large ships as its navy has constructed new carriers that it can ill-afford to lose. This makes force protection a key mission for the Royal Navy moving forward, and the MAST-13 could be perfect for that mission.

In addition, the Royal Navy expects to use the program in anti-piracy and border control operations.

The technological developments necessary for MAST-13 fall under Britain’s NavyX program to develop autonomous vessels. The Programme Director for NavyX, Royal Navy Commander Sean Trevethan, said, “Ultimately this will change the way we fight, through integrated command and control, and lead to the development of new tactics, techniques, and procedures.”

He also said, “This is much more than an autonomous surface vessel demonstration for the Royal Navy. What we are doing is the first step of exploiting system architecture in a complex warship to integrate an unmanned system into the ship.”

Vessels like the MAST-13 would be highly valued in the potential, but still unlikely, war with Iran. Iran has historically put pressure on the international community by restricting movement through the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian territory dominates the narrow waterway.

The MAST-13 could help larger ships moving through the strait avoid mines and other threats in the case of open conflict.

BAE Systems, the company which makes the PAC24 RIB, has also created an autonomous system for the Pacific 950 RIB.

MIGHTY HISTORY

VA recognizes Band of Brothers leader and hero of Brecourt Manor

Richard “Dick” D. Winters was born in rural New Holland, Pa. in January 1918. Richard graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 1941 with a bachelor degree in economics. On Aug. 25 of the same year, he enlisted into the Army to fulfill a one-year service requirement. He said he had done this as an attempt to avoid completing a full three-year tour if he had been drafted.


Nonetheless, he reported for basic training at Camp Croft, S.C. In 1942, Richard was selected to attend the Army Officer Cadet School (OCS) in Fort Benning, Ga. Once he completed his time at OCS he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division commissioned as a second lieutenant. In the 101st, Richard volunteered for the rigorous paratrooper training program and was assigned to Company E, commonly referred to as “Easy Company,” of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 2ndPlatoon, where he was made platoon leader. The regiment was considered experimental at the time as they were part of the first soldiers to be given airborne training. While still in paratrooper training, Richard would receive another promotion, this time to the rank of first lieutenant and assigned the role of executive officer of 1st Platoon. Richard, along with the rest of the 101st Airborne Division, was deployed to England in September 1943 to begin preparing for the invasion of Normandy.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

Richard “Dick” Winters.

Eventually, this training was put into action and in the early hours of June 6, 1944, Easy Company was deployed alongside the 82nd and the rest of the 101st Airborne Divisions to commence Operation Overlord and the D-Day invasion. During the early moments of this operation, the plane carrying all of Easy Company’s leading officers, who made up the company’s headquarters, was shot down, which left Richard, a first lieutenant, as the acting commanding officer. In the following days, he destroyed a full battery of German howitzers and the platoon that commanded them, as well as acquired key information detailing German defenses at Utah Beach. Richard achieved these feats with only 13 of his men used in the action dubbed, the Brecourt Manor Assault. Richard was recommended for the Medal of Honor and received the Distinguished Service Cross and a promotion to the rank of captain for his actions. He would go on to fight heroically in Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. On March 8, 1945, Richard was promoted to the rank of major.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sgJC_vQAL4
Major Richard “Dick” Winters Tribute

www.youtube.com

After World War II, he stayed in Europe as part of the occupation and demobilization effort even though he had the option of returning home. Richard was later offered a regular commission, as opposed to his reserve commission, but declined and was discharged Jan. 22, 1946. Upon his return to the United States, Richard would meet and marry Ethel Estoppey on May 16, 1948. In 1951, Richard was reactivated by the Army and trained infantry and Army Rangers at Fort Dix, N.J.for three more years. He then moved to Hershey, Pa. with his family and founded his own company, R.D. Winters Inc., which sold feed for livestock to Pennsylvania farmers. After retirement, he would speak with historian Stephen Ambrose who would turn his stories into a book named Band of Brothers in 1992. In 2001, actor Tom Hanks adapted that book into an Emmy winning HBO miniseries. Richard would go on to publish his memoirs and give public speeches. Richard passed on Jan. 2, 2011 in Campbelltown, Pa.

We honor Richard’s service.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Hair today, gone tomorrow: 62 years ago, Elvis joined the Army

When Elvis Presley turned 18 years old in 1953, he registered for the draft – just like every other young American male during that time. The rules governing the draft stated that all young men that were in good health were required to serve in the United States military for a minimum of two years. When he signed his name on that line, promising to serve, he had no idea of the superstar fame that would soon be coming his way.


After signing up for the draft, he graduated high school and soon began his entertainment career. Three years later in 1956, he was a film and recording star. Presley was in the middle of filming King Creole when he received his draft notice. He requested a delay so he could finish filming, which he was granted.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

On March 24, 1958, with his family and friends by his side, The King reported to the Memphis draft board. Once he was sworn in and processed with others into the Army, he boarded a bus to Arkansas.

He would go on to coin the phrase “hair today, gone tomorrow” after he received his G.I. haircut.

Once Presley finished his basic training, he was on leave and managed to do a concert and recording session in Nashville. He then headed back to Ft. Hood, Texas, to complete his advanced training. His mother became ill during this time and passed away and Presley was granted leave to be with her.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

When he returned to Ft. Hood, he was assigned to the Third Armored Spearhead Division. He soon boarded the U.S.S. Randall and sailed for Germany. Upon arrival, he served in Company C, which was a scout platoon. He was declared off limits to the press.

Presley would be right there in the thick of things alongside his unit. He completed all required duties. Some research suggested that he did more than what was required of him because he didn’t want people to assume he got special treatment. He would go on to earn a medal for expert marksmanship and rise to the responsibility of an NCO, all without seeking celebrity treatment.

He was honorably discharged from active duty in 1960.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Despite what many think, the Thompson submachine gun was not the first submachine gun.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

But many will argue it was the best submachine gun ever put in the hands of fighting men – whether they were “good guys” or “bad guys.”

Well-made, robust, capable of firing more than 800 rounds a minute in some models and chambered for the man-stopping .45-caliber ACP round, the gun lived up to one of its original names: The Annihilator.

“I knew several soldiers who used Thompsons for special operations in Vietnam,” said Alan Archambault, a retired U.S. Army officer and former supervisory curator for the U.S. Army Center of Military History. “Even in the 1960s, the Thompson was still an iconic weapon for U.S. soldiers. Often when one soldier would rotate to the U.S., he would pass the Thompson on to another soldier in theater.”

The brainchild of Gen. John T. Thompson, a former chief of small arms for the Ordnance Department and firearms designer, the stalemate on the Western Front during The Great War (a.k.a. World War I) convinced him the ordinary infantryman needed a new weapon. Thompson wanted something he called “a trench broom.”

“Our boys in the infantry, now in the trenches, need a small machine gun, a gun that will fire 50 to 100 rounds, so light that he can drag it with him as he crawls on his belly from trench to trench, and wipe out a whole company single-handed,” Thompson wrote in a 1918 memo to firearms designers. “I want a little machine gun you can hold in your hands, fire from the hip and reload in the dark. You must use ammunition now available and I want it right away.”

Designers produced a prototype by 1919, but the first practical models were too late for the war. Still, Thompson convinced Colt to produce 15,000 M1921 submachine guns.

Early observers of the M1921 test-fired on the range were impressed by how much firepower the “little machine gun” delivered.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

The problem was Thompson had no steady stream of customers, even when Thompson’s company Auto-Ordnance Corp. released the M1928 – considered by many the definitive Tommy gun model.

True, the U.S. Marine Corps purchased Thompsons and used them effectively in China and during the Latin American “banana wars” of the 1920s. The Postal Service armed its security personnel with Thompsons as well.

But the weapon was expensive – very expensive. Adjusted for inflation, its $200 price tag is roughly equivalent to $2,300 today.

To put things in perspective, consider the contemporary cost of prime, high-end arms like the Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal SCAR 17S 7.62×51 millimeter NATO – it costs about the same as a Tommy Gun did during the Roaring ’20s.

Besides, for better or worse the Thompson gained a “bad boy” reputation. A handful of criminals such as John Dillinger and George “Machine Gun” Kelly gave the weapon a bad name.

At first, potential customers such as the British government considered the Thompson “gangster weapons” and refused to purchase the submachine gun.

But by 1939, all that changed. Great Britain entered World War II starved for armaments.

The War Office eagerly purchased every M1928 it could, and the weapon was a hit with the Tommies – particularly the Commandos.

The weapon’s reliability and ability to bring devastating automatic fire to close quarters combat made the Thompson a favorite of the Commandos.

They even honored the weapon in the design of their unit recognition flash: A stylized Thompson superimposed on an anchor headed by an eagle.

There were also many American G.I.s who even relished the gangster panache of the Tommy Gun. Images of actors like James Cagney in “The Public Enemy” – easily one of the most violent movies of its time – ducking around a corner as a gangster fired on him with a Thompson were unforgettable.

“It was often seen in gangster films that were watched by impressionable young men who came of age during World War II,” Archambault said.  “So, even before its use in World War II, it was an iconic weapon.”

Sure, the M-1 Garand was the basic weapon for the American infantryman. But the Thompson found its way into the hands of officers, squad leaders, paratroopers, U.S. Marines and any soldier lucky enough to grab one.

Also, G.I.s and Marines were fighting all across the globe in battlefield environments that included deserts, jungles and snow. The sheer reliability of the Thompson, particularly in its less-expensive but equally deadly M1A1 model, made it the perfect weapon to endure the lousiest battlefield conditions.

Eventually, the cost of the Thompson prompted development of the M-3 “Grease Gun,” which could be produced in greater quantities for far less money than even the M1A1.

But by the Korean War, the Army relegated the Thompson to a secondary role. By Vietnam, the first M-16s were in the hands of GIs and the military considered the Thompson obsolete.

Today, Thompson submachine guns are in high demand among collectors legally authorized to own full-auto weapons. On average, the price for a clean Tommy Gun is about $25,000.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The GOER Truck was a multipurpose vehicle ahead of its time

Today, the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, or HEMTT, is one of the military’s most important but unheralded vehicles. This eight-wheeled behemoth has been around since 1982, but its highly-capable predecessor saw action well before the HEMTT hit production lines.

That predecessor was the GOER family of vehicles. GOER is short for Go-ability with Overall Economy and Reliability. These four-wheeled vehicles had an articulating front section (which allowed it to make sharper turns) and amphibious capabilities (it used its wheels to propel through water), making it extremely versatile. These vehicles could operate in front-wheel drive while on the road, but could shift to four-wheel drive for the paths less traveled.


This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

Two of the unique features of the M520 Goer are on display: Its amphibious capacilbity, and its articulated structure.

(US Army)

The GOER was first developed in the early 1960s and saw some field tests in Germany and Vietnam. Four versions of this vehicle emerged: The baseline M520, an eight-ton truck; the M533, a wrecker (really, a big tow truck); the M559, a fuel tanker; and the M877, an eight-ton truck with a crane.

After yielding outstanding test results in Vietnam in 1971, the Army placed a production order with Caterpillar to create 1,300 trucks — a mix of the four variants mentioned above. But its run would prove short. By 1976, a number of the vehicle’s shortcomings came to light. One of the most notable was the lack of suspension, which made the ride very difficult. The GOER was also just too big, and there were safety issues with the way the front part of the trucks oscillated.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

The GOER family of vehicles also included a wrecker.

(US Army)

To address these problems but maintain the capabilities of this versatile truck, the DOD sought a replacement. Thus, the HEMTT family of vehicles emerged. Most of the GOERs never saw the civilian market, but were instead scrapped.

See this vehicle be put through its paces in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZZqx0iptnM

www.youtube.com

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The 5 greatest warships of all time

The US Naval Institute completed a poll of its readers to determine the best warships of all time. The Naval Institute urged readers to consider vessels from ancient times to now, and with more than 2,600 votes and almost 900 written responses, they’ve developed a diverse list spanning hundreds of years.


This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

In some cases, readers wrote in recommending whole classes of ships, like aircraft carriers or nuclear submarines, but the list below will only reflect the five specific ships that made the grade.

5. USS Nautilus

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
The USS Nautilus permanently docked at the US Submarine Force Museum and Library, Groton, CT. | Victor-ny via Wikimedia Commons

Congress authorized the construction of the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine in 1951, and in 1954 first lady Mamie Eisenhower christened it.

The Nautilus changed the game when it came to naval warfare, and it ushered in an entirely new era for submarines. This nearly silent sub could hide among the ocean floor undetected, while offering up substantial contributions to surface warfare with cruise, or even nuclear, missiles.

The nuclear sub would go on to form one-third of the US’s nuclear triad.

4. HMS Dreadnought

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
Wikimedia Commons

The HMS Dreadnought ushered in a new era of “all big-gun ships.” Unlike battleships before it, the Dreadnought only had 12-inch cannons aided by electronic range-finding equipment. For defensive, the ship was completely encased in steel.

The Dreadnought presented a suite of technologies so cutting edge that it is often said that it rendered all battleships before it obsolete.

Though the Dreadnought did not have a distinguished service record, it did become the only surface battleship to sink a submarine. It is remembered largely for shifting the paradigm of naval warfare, as opposed to its victories in battle.

3. USS Enterprise

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
USS Enterprise in 1939. | US Navy

Unlike the Dreadnought, the historians remember the USS Enterprise for its outstanding record in combat.

As the sixth aircraft carrier to join the US Navy in 1936, the Enterprise was one of the first craft to respond after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it survived major battles in Midway, Guadalcanal, Leyte Gulf, and the “Doolittle Raid” on Tokyo during World War II.

After the war, the Enterprise was decommissioned as the most decorated ship in US naval history.

2. Korean Turtle Boats

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
Wikimedia Commons

Korean Turtle Ships served with the Korean navy for centuries, first coming into play in the Seven Years’ War (1592-1598) between Korea and Japan.

The idea behind the Turtle Ship was to provide an impenetrable floating fortress optimized for boarding enemy craft. The side of the ship is dotted with holes from which the crew can fire cannons and other artillery, while the top of the ship is covered in iron spikes, making it especially dangerous for enemy sailors to board the vessel.

With up to 80 rowers pulling along the heavy craft, the Turtle Ships were brutal but effective.

1. USS Constitution

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
The USS Constitution underway. | Wikimedia Commons

The USS Constitution, or “Old Ironsides,” as it is affectionately known, first hit the seas as one of the first six frigates in the newly formed US Navy of 1797.

The Constitution had both 30 24-pound cannons and also speed. Not only was it technologically sound for its time, but it was also simply unparalleled and undefeated in battle.

Famously, in 1812, the Constitution fought against the HMS Guerriere, whose guns could not pierce the heavily armored sides of the Constitution.

The Constitution is still commissioned by the Navy today, considered the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and the only currently commissioned US Navy ship to have sunk an enemy vessel. It is in every way worthy of the title “greatest warship of all time.”

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You sing it, but do you really know what ‘The Star Spangled-Banner’ is about?

The “Star-Spangled Banner” is American lyrics laid on top of a British song to make one glorious national anthem. It details the endurance of American troops against a British naval bombardment at the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1814.


But while Americans singing the song at baseball games know that the U.S. came out victorious, Francis Scott Key and other witnesses of the battle had little to be optimistic about. The British brought more ships to the fight than the Americans had cannons on the fort.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
Lots of ships versus one teeny fort. (Image: Public Domain)

In Sep. 1814, America was reeling from the sacking and burning of Washington D.C. The first lady, Dolly Madison, had made it out of the city with crucial documents and a portrait of George Washington, but the presidential mansion and much of the capital was destroyed. The victorious British military made its way up the coast, this time targeting the important port at Baltimore.

The British planned a two-pronged assault on the city. The army would march overland to attack the city on foot while the navy was to destroy Fort McHenry and follow the river to the city. There, it would bombard the city and assist in its capture.

The ground attack seemed doomed from the start. About 12,000 American troops, many more than the British had expected, were guarding the city. So the British troops sat back and waited as dozens of British ships, including five of Britain’s eight bomb ketches, moved forward to bombard the fort that only had 19 guns with which to defend itself.

Luckily for the Americans, shallow waters around the fort kept some of the ships away. Unluckily for them, 16 ships were able to get within range of the fort while staying outside the range of the American guns.

Starting early on Sep. 13, the British fired on McHenry with rocket ships and bomb ketches. Bomb ketches were ships with a mortar or howitzer built into the deck. The gun could not be turned, so the ships were pointed at the fort and kept in place with spring-loaded anchor lines. The “bombs bursting in air,” came from these devastating ships.

Meanwhile, ships firing Congreve rockets sailed into range as well. The rockets were made in a variety of sizes. The ones that lit the night at Fort McHenry were mostly 32-pound rockets that carried seven pounds of explosives. They could explode in the air but were designed to be incendiary weapons, setting fires within forts and enemy ships.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
Col. William Congreve, the inventor of Congreve rockets, created this lithograph to show how rocket ships worked in fleet action. (Image: Public Domain by British Col. William Congreve)

One moment was more dangerous than any other for the defenders; a bomb fired from one of the ketches landed in the fort’s gunpowder supply. It failed to go off and the troops were able to split the gunpowder into smaller stores around the tiny island.

At another point, British Rear Adm. George Cockburn thought the fort had been badly damaged and moved the ships closer for better accuracy. American artillerymen rushed through the incoming shells and began firing when the British came within range, driving them back.

The intense naval attack lasted for 25 hours.

Key watched the battle play out from a small American sloop behind the British force. He had been rowed into the harbor to negotiate the release of a friend held prisoner by the British. He and his friend were both allowed to leave the British prisoner ship as long as they did not return to shore until after the British bombardment.

The men weren’t allowed to row ashore because the British suspected they had heard the British plans to destroy the city. Key had and knew that a collapse of Fort McHenry spelled certain doom for Baltimore. Throughout the night, he watched the fort’s small storm flag wave through the wind and rain as rockets and bombs rained on the defenders below.

In the morning, he looked to the flagpole at first light to see if the fort had survived. If British colors were flying, Baltimore would be destroyed and America would lose a second major city in less than a month.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
Spoiler alert: The flag still flies over Fort McHenry. (Photo: Owen Byrne Halifax CC BY 2.0)

The flag had changed overnight, but not to the Union Jack. A storm that raged throughout the battle had forced the fort to fly its smaller American flag. Since the morning dawned clear, the garrison changed to its normal flag, a 42-foot by 30-foot beast.

Key saw the garrison flag filling the morning sky and wrote the lyrics to the future national anthem in a fit of inspiration. Contrary to popular belief, the amateur poet wrote them as lyrics from the start, not as a poem. He was familiar with the popular song, “To Anacreon In Heaven” and wrote the lyrics to match up with it.

Meanwhile, the British troops ashore saw the American flag flying and knew that the naval assault had failed. They withdrew and left Baltimore in relative safety.

The “Star-Spangled Banner” would be published in newspapers up and down the coast over the following few days under a variety of names, usually “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” One publication called it, “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the name stuck.

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 Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

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 Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

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 Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

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.

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This is the Soviet soldier found alive 30 years after dying in Afghanistan

Shortly after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the Russian 101st Motorized Rifles were caught in a firefight with the Mujahideen near the city of Herat. A young soldier, 20-year-old Bakhretdin Khakimov, was wounded in the fighting, lost on the battlefield, and presumed dead.


Until recently.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
Bakhretdin Khakimov in 1980 and now.

Khakimov was a draftee from Samarkand who had only been in the Red Army a short time when he was injured in Herat Province, near Shindand. Some 30 years later, a group of Soviet war veterans founded the Committee for International Soldiers, a group whose mission is to find and identify missing Soviet soldiers or their remains. Most, like Khakimov, are presumed to be dead.

The young soldier now goes by the name of Sheikh Abdullah. He was rescued from the battlefield by locals, nursed back to health and opted to stay with those that helped him survive. He later married an Afghan woman and settled down to a semi-nomadic life. His wife has since died and he does the same work as the man who rescued him.

“I was wounded in the head and collapsed. I don’t remember much about that time,” he told TOLO news.

There are an estimated 264 Soviet soldiers currently missing from the 1979-1989 Afghan War. The Committee for International Soldiers actually found 29 living servicemen, 22 of which were repatriated to the former Soviet Union. The rest stayed in Afghanistan. The CIS has also identified 15 graves of Soviet war dead, exhuming and identifying five of those.

It is estimated that the decade-long war cost the Soviet Union 15,000 lives — not to mention those of an estimated one million Afghan civilians.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
Khakimov poses with an old photo of himself in the Shindand area of Herat Province.

Bakhretdin Khakimov was an ethnic Uzbek, with family roots not far from Afghanistan’s northern borders. Staying in the country was dangerous for Khakimov and those like him. The USSR would trade submachine guns to locals in exchange for “turncoats” trying to defect from the Red Army.

Russians captured by the Mujahideen did not fare so well — they could expect to be tortured to death. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the Soviet soldiers were often brutally mistreated by their own officers. They would then take out their rage on the civilian population, sometimes even wiping out entire villages.

The last two battalions of Russian spetsnaz crossed the “Friendship” Bridge into neighboring Uzbekistan on Feb. 15, 1989. At that moment, Lt. Gen. Boris Gromov, commander of Soviet forces in Afghanistan, told reporters, “There is not a single Soviet soldier or officer left behind me.” He was wrong.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
Soviet Troops Withdraw from Afghanistan into Uzbekistan, Feb. 15, 1989.

Articles

This is how the Pentagon had over 120,000 extra Purple Heart medals

Since 9/11, almost 58,000 American troops have either been killed or wounded in the war on terrorism. And according to the Pentagon, each of those casualties qualifies for the Purple Heart medal — whether awarded in person or posthumously.


But it turns out that most of those pinned with the distinctive badge would wear an actual medal that’s been in DoD stocks for over 70 years.

How is this possible? Believe it or not, according to a Dec. 2003 report by HistoryNewsNetwork.com, the military had over 120,000 Purple Heart medals in stock at the time, even after suffering almost 81,000 killed in action and nearly 257,000 wounded in action between the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
The Purple Heart, the oldest American military decoration for military merit, is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who have been killed or wounded in action against an enemy. It is also awarded to soldiers who have suffered maltreatment as prisoners of war. Purple Heart day is dedicated to honoring service members, past and present, who have received the Purple Heart medal.

How did the Department of Defense end up with so many spare Purple Hearts on hand? The answer goes back to 1945.

We may remember it as the year the war ended, but back then, the question was how it would end.

The United States was planning for the invasion of Japan, codenamed Operation Downfall. The fight was expected to be very nasty. A 1998 article in Air Chronicles cited one estimate of 394,859 casualties. The Department of Defense ordered nearly half a million Purple Heart medals to award to casualties.

According to a 2015 post at HotAir.com, Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu involving 14 divisions of troops, was slated to take place on Nov. 1, 1945. Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu with 25 divisions, would have begun four months later.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
(Photo: AP)

Thanks to a pair of airplanes named Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, the invasion of Japan never took place. Many of the implements used to win World War II were either scrapped, sold off, or disposed of. But the medals were kept. The book “Blood Trails” by Christopher Ronnau described how Vietnam vets received Purple Hearts originally meant for use two decades earlier.

HistoryNewsNetwork.com reported that in 2000, the government finally ordered the production of more Purple Heart medals, but only to re-stock what was then known as the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy way British pilots took out incoming V-1 missiles

One week after D-Day, Germany began launching a new, secret weapon at London. The distinctive roar of V-1 flying bombs would slowly fill the air and then suddenly cut out, followed shortly by the massive explosion as a warhead went off. Dozens would fall in the first week, and the Royal Air Force had to scramble to stop them.


This led some pilots to, after expending all of their ammunition, take more drastic measures to stop the bombs: flying wingtip to wingtip until they either crashed or tipped the bomb off course.

The V-1s had pulsejet engines, and prop-driven planes couldn’t keep up with them. But, if a pilot flew to high altitude and then dove toward a passing V-1, the speed from the descent would allow them to keep up.

The first intercept took place on June 15, 1944, the third day of V-1 attacks. A Mosquito pilot was able to shoot one down with his guns, and others soon followed.

But the pilots had limited ammunition, and it was tough to hit the fast-flying V-1s. And each bomb could kill multiple Londoners if it wasn’t intercepted.

So some pilots began to experiment with a risky but valuable alternative. If a plane flew close enough to a V-1, the wind off the plane’s wings could nudge the flying bomb off course. And if the disturbance was enough to flip the V-1 over, known as “turtling,” then it would often fail to explode.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

A Spitfire nudges a V-1 missile off course during World War II.

(Public domain)

But this had obvious risks. If the pilot accidentally bumped the V-1, they could crash into the ground alongside the bomb. A soft bump was obviously no big deal. It would just help the pilot tip the bomb over. But a harder strike was essentially a midair crash, likely clipping or breaking the pilot’s own wingtip.

Despite the risks, the work of pilots and gunners on the ground saved London from much of the devastation. 1,000 of the bombs were shot down or nudged off course in flight. And, the bombs were famously inaccurate, which was lucky for Britain. Of the approximately 10,000 flying bombs fired at the city, around 7,000 missed, 1,000 were shot down, and about 2,000 actually hit the city and other targets.

Eventually, this would result in about 6,000 fatalities and 16,000 other casualties.

In October 1944, Allied troops captured the V-1 sites targeting London and were able to stop the threat there. Unfortunately, that was right as the Germans got the V-2 program up and running, The faster, rocket-powered V-2s were essentially unstoppable with anything but radar-controlled guns.

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history

An American JB-2 Loon based on the German V-1 missile.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum)

After the war, Allied powers experimented with the weapons and some, including America, made their own knockoffs. Some were shot down as flying targets for pilots, but others were held in arsenals in case they were needed against enemy forces. Eventually, the invention of modern cruise missiles made the V-1s and V-2s obsolete.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how a British sniper took out six terrorists with one shot

Snipers live by the mantra of “one shot, one kill.” Whenever they find themselves in combat, they must remain true to this law. They can take whatever time they need to calculate all the variables, but they have to make it count. That single shot must land exactly where it needs to be, and a sniper needs to get the heck out of dodge as soon as possible.

But in some cases, one shot means more than one kill. Such was the case with an unidentified Lance Corporal in the British Army who stopped a massive assault by Taliban insurgents all by himself, with one perfectly placed bullet.


This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
The Coldstream Guards also famously guard Buckingham Palace and rotate into combat zones like the rest of the British Army.
(UK Army photo by Capt. Roger Fenton)

Not much is known about the sniper, as the British military has kept his identity classified for safety concerns. What is known, however, is that he was a 20-year-old Lance Corporal with the 1st Battalion of the Coldstream Guards.

This Lance Corporal must have made a name for himself within his unit because he was handed the bolt-action L115A3 AWM .338-caliber sniper rifle early on in his career. Another story about him says that his very first shot fired in combat went directly into the chest of a Taliban machine gunner from 1,465 yards away.

His skill with a sniper rifle is unquestionable — so don’t go calling his amazing shot a matter of luck.

On a cold December morning in 2013, somewhere in Helmund Province, Afghanistan, the Coldstream Guards were out on a routine patrol when this unknown sniper spotted a large group approaching their location, so he radioed in their suspicious activity. There was about to be a massive assault by the Taliban. It wasn’t long before the group pulled out their weapons and opened fire in the direction of the British forces.

The distant end on the radio gave him the all-clear to engage all hostile forces, and he quickly calculated his shot. The Taliban insurgents were peeking from outside of a rock, but he couldn’t get the right angle. Six of the insurgents made their way into a ditch, and everything was perfect for the Lance Corporal. From 930 yards away, he fired directly into the chest of the terrorist in the middle… And boom!

A massive explosion detonated inside the ditch. The round penetrated a suicide vest that was said to have 44 lbs of explosives, and the round prematurely detonated the vest, in what could have been a devastating attack on the Brits. It’s unknown what substance was in the vest, but for reference, this is what 42 lbs. of tannerite will do:

This Civil War soldier survived the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history
I like to imagine that he’s relaxing at some British pub, drinking a beer, and laughing to himself when someone can’t even throw a dart properly from 2.37 meters away.
(Photo by Jim Linwood)

The fighting ended immediately, and the remaining Taliban forces dispersed like cockroaches in the light. When everything went quiet, he was also said to have gotten on the radio and awkwardly said “I… I… think I’ve just shot a suicide bomber.

His single shot saved the lives of countless British soldiers that day. The identity of this heroic badass is still unknown and, frankly, may never be revealed. As he was a member of the Coldstream Guard, it wouldn’t be uncommon for him to have rotated back to England and pulling guard duty at Buckingham Palace. A skilled marksman like him is perfectly suited to protect Queen Elizabeth II.

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