How the Civil War created photojournalism - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Civil War created photojournalism

The first photojournalist to capture wartime photographs was an unknown American attached to US Army forces fighting in the Mexican War between 1846 and 1848. These images were developed using the daguerreotype process invented by French scene painter Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, which required mirrors and chemicals to fix an image on a sheet of copper plated with silver. During the Crimean War, British photographer Roger Fenton traveled in his photographic van to take more than 350 photos that depicted landscapes and soldiers. The American Civil War, however, is considered the first major conflict to be photographed extensively — and to have given rise to photojournalism as a widespread form of storytelling.

From the beginning of the Civil War, Mathew Brady and his team of photographers followed the Union and snapped photographs of battlefields, camps, towns, soldiers, and slaves. Brady was already one of the most prominent photographers in the US, opening Brady’s National Photographic Art Gallery in 1858, when he felt the urge to capture America’s bloodiest war himself. 

“I felt that I had to go,” he said. “A spirit in my feet said ‘Go,’ and I went.”

How the Civil War created photojournalism
Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

But the primitive technology and equipment required subjects to be perfectly still at the moment the camera’s shutter snapped, and so battle scenes were absent from those wartime portfolios. Although this crucial element to the history of warfare was missing, Brady recruited a world-class team including Alexander Gardner, George Barnard, and Timothy O’Sullivan to present the rawness and emotion to the general public. Here are some of their photographs that encapsulate the American Civil War, as well as images from lesser-known photographers of this era.

Brady and his photographers used mobile photography units such as wagons to carry equipment, mix chemicals, and even serve as makeshift darkrooms. Brady’s is pictured above in a field in Petersburg, Virginia, 1864.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
Timothy O’Sullivan’s “Harvest of Death,” 1863. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

O’Sullivan’s “Harvest of Death” shows dead bodies that await burial after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. This image first appeared among 10 photographic plates of Gettysburg published in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866), America’s first anthology of photographs. O’Sullivan served as Gardner’s field operator during the war. About O’Sullivan’s image, Gardner wrote, “It was, indeed, a ‘harvest of death.’ […] Such a picture conveys a useful moral: It shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry. Here are the dreadful details! Let them aid in preventing such another calamity falling upon the nation.”

How the Civil War created photojournalism
African American men collecting bones of the dead in Virginia, 1865. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

John Reekie briefly worked under Mathew Brady’s supervision. Like that of O’Sullivan, his work appeared in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War. The above image shows African American men collecting bones from soldiers killed in battle at Cold Harbor, Virginia, in April 1865.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
Mathew Brady captured this photo May 3, 1863. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Brady famously took images of camp life, daily routines of Union soldiers, mission planning, moments prior to battle, and, as the image above shows, the aftermath of battle: At Mayre’s Heights, Fredericksburg, Virginia, a Confederate caisson and eight horses were destroyed by a Second Massachusetts siege gun. 

How the Civil War created photojournalism
Mathew Brady, 1863. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The photo above captures a Confederate method of destroying railroads. The railroad ties were set on fire, and the heat bent the rails to render them useless. Brady’s desire to photograph more than human subjects gave historians visual evidence of some of the tactics used during the war.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
Photo by Dr. Reed Brockway Bontecou, 1865, courtesy of the Met Museum, public domain.

Professional photographers weren’t the only ones to use photography to document wounds sustained by soldiers. Dr. Reed Brockway Bontecou, a surgeon for the Union Army, captured the above clinical photograph of Samuel Shoop, a private of the 200th Pennsylvania Volunteers, whose leg was amputated after he suffered a gunshot wound. This photograph served as a teaching tool for future medical students and other Army surgeons.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this World War I doughboy was killed the day the war ended

The horrors of war are probably only fully appreciated by those who have served their countries in battles on land, at sea, or in the air. Nearly every history buff has watched Saving Private Ryan or read Unbroken, from which we glean a taste of what it might be like to kill or be killed for a cause–or to simply survive.

It’s all too easy to forget about the pure hell and random misfortunes that men and women are subjected to so that the rest of us can live free and safe. Sometimes, historical accounts from people who have experienced the burden of combat help us understand the sacrifices those soldiers and others have made. I am in possession of photocopies from a journal written by one of my wife’s relatives, a soldier who served at the end of World War I. He died in France on Armistice Day — November 11, 1918. He may well have been the last American killed in the Great War.


Private Joseph Sommers was born in Springfield, Illinois. After boot camp at Camp Logan in Houston, Texas, he was sent to fight for America and her allies on the front lines in France during the summer of 1918. What you are about to read are excerpts from Private Sommers’s journal: The soldier was my wife’s great-great uncle. Most of the spelling and grammar is presented as written, though some capitalization and periods have been added to improve readability. The images described within the 5000-word manuscript and the emotions they elicit might leave an indelible impression upon your mind, heart, and soul–they are deeply affecting.

While you read the following, try to place yourself in the French countryside walking along battle-scarred roads on a journey situated somewhere between beautiful and truly horrific. Become the imaginary comrade of Private Joseph Sommers, Company C, 124th Machine Gun Battalion, 23rd Division. A young soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice, so that others might live free.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
Pages from the journal of Private Joseph Sommers.

Left Camp Logan 5/4/18. Sunday. We always leave on Sunday.

Arrived in Hoboken, NY. 5/16/18. Sailed on SS Mount Vernon ship, formerly the pride of the Kaiser. Ship very crowded. Mess was bad. 132nd Infantry Wolves hogged the boat.

Arrived in Brest, France on 5/24/18 and debarked.

5/26/18 Harbor filled with transports. A beautiful site coming into the harbor. Hills studded with guns. Airplanes and dirigibles guard harbor from subs. Very hot, overcoats on.

Oisemont 5/29/18. Arrived at our present camp. We are expected to be called to the front most any time. Anti-aircraft guns fired at airplanes. White puffs of shrapnel. Elusive planes. The rumble of guns very plainly heard, never ceasing, 25 miles back of the line. Bombing of towns close by continues nightly. I expect ours to be bombed most any time.

6/18/18 Going to machine gun school today for 12 days. Boche [German] planes, 10 in one bunch, 11 another bunch. Antiaircraft guns firing, very few hits made. We are now attached to the British Army. A visit to the lines on the night of July 3. We approached within 3 miles of the front line. Shells began to burst and I wished at the moment that our helmets was large as umbrellas. It is surprising how small you can make yourself when shells are bursting all around you. Ammunition dump struck by airplane bomb near Amiens. The whole heavens lighted with red flare, a wonderful thing.

7/7/18 An observation balloon high in the air, a cigar shaped affair with elephant ears, sways with the wind. It is held in position by a big cable which is attached to a motor car weighing 6 tons. The cable winds around a drum, and the balloon is either brought down or rises in the sky. The observer cuts loose his parachute, it drops. It fails to open like an umbrella. He is finished.

7/20/18 A doctor was found at the operating table standing over a patient in the act of operating on him when the gas struck both and they died. The graveyard at Biere was shelled so much by the Germans that the caskets and bodies and tombstones were scattered all over. There are quite a few soldiers graves here, from all regiments.

7/29/18 Our home in the woods was visited by Fritz’s [German] planes. He dropped about 12 bombs, luckily no one was hit. I would rather dodge 100 shells then hear one bomb whistle through the air.

8/7/18 Arrived at our positions at 12:45 A.M. On our way to this place we met some trucks and ambulances loaded with wounded and gassed, also many wounded walking to the first aid station.

8/7/18, 4:30 A.M. The British opened a terrible barrage. The sound was deafening. The shells were bursting through the air with such speed as to liken the sound of Niagara Falls. Previous to that time Fritz had been sending over gas shells by the hundreds, Mustard Gas which is one of the worst gases Jerry [Germans] uses. We had to wear our gas mask for over two hours.

9/18/18 The trees split as under their naked trunks against the skyline. Nature itself seems to be dead. In that dreary space not a living thing moves, save an occasional bird. “Dead Man’s Hill” is close by. The bones, skulls of men still thickly cover the ground. The rats are tame enough in our dugout to eat out of your hand. They sit and wink at you.

9/24/18 Turned in all our surplus stuff in the A.M. We are now traveling light. The Stunt is near being pulled off and by the looks of things it is going to be a big one. The Germans dropped some Gas and High Explosives pretty close today. We are bringing up ammunition in great quantities. We are waiting for zero hour.

9/26/18, 2:15 A.M. Gen. Jack Pershing and our Captain bid us God Speed and good luck. Up and among them soon. We opened our barrage which lasted for one hour starting at 5:30 AM. We hopped over the top amid the hell of machine gun bullets and ducking big shells. We saw plenty of dead lying on the battlefield which had been a battlefield for four different battles.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
Sommers’s obituary

9/27/18 We advanced three and half miles yesterday. The Germans left in a hurry. The water was still in the stoves that they were making coffee. Water was still hot. The Meuse River is about 800 yards in front of us.

10/2/18 Great artillery this A.M. on both sides. It was a little stronger than the usual morning song. Heard tonight that Bulgaria and Austria had surrendered.

10/5/18 Still in the line. Artillery still hammering away and also some machine gun firing.

10/9/18 Orders to move forward. Fired a machine gun barrage and orders came to remove guns and seek shelter in a deep dugout. Still waiting for orders to go forward.

10/10/18 Still in reverse. Got mail from Sister. Beautiful day, sun shining. The sky was full of airplanes, never saw so many. The sky was full of them just like birds. Have been in the line, for five weeks now. Still looking every day for relief.

This entry on October 10, 1918 was Private Sommers’s last. He died on November 11, Armistice Day, during an attack near Bougainville, France. While the armistice took effect at 11 a.m. on November 11, family lore has it that Sommers was actually killed later that day. I’ve thought about trying to help prove he was in fact the last American killed in the Great War. I struggle with whether that matters.

All photos courtesy of Ken Cruickshank

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

National Wreaths Across America Day has become such a big tradition that it’s hard to believe it began from just one personal tribute.

How it Happened

The Worcester family of Harrington, Maine, owns their own tree farm. In 1992, they had a surplus of wreaths during the holiday season, so the family patriarch, Morrill — who had long felt indebted to our fallen veterans — got help from a Maine politician to have those spare wreaths placed beside graves in Arlington National Cemetery in areas that received fewer visitors each year.


Several volunteers stepped up to help, including veterans from American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and a truck company owner who transported the wreaths to Arlington, Virginia, where a small ceremony was held at the cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This remained a small yearly tradition for nearly 15 years until a photo taken at the 2005 ceremony went viral. Almost immediately, thousands of people wanted to know how to help or how they could begin a similar tradition in their states.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

Christmas wreaths adorn headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., in December 2005.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi)

By the next year — with the help of some civic organizations and volunteers, including in the trucking industry — there were 150 simultaneous ceremonies held across the country. By 2008, the movement to remember, honor and teach had grown so much that Congress had declared the third Saturday in September National Wreaths Across America Day.

By 2014, the now-nonprofit Wreaths Across America had reached its goal of placing a wreath at all 226,525 graves in the cemetery.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

Navy personnel from the Navy International Programs Office, Washington, distribute wreaths to volunteers during the Wreaths Across America event at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Dec. 15, 2012.

(Photo by Chief Master Sgt. Robert W. Valenca)

Wreaths Across America today

The event continues to grow. In 2018, the organization shipped a staggering 1.75 MILLION wreaths to 1,640 locations that held ceremonies across the U.S. A few dozen locations overseas also participated. According to the organization, this was the first year it was granted permission to place wreaths at Normandy to honor those who died during World War II’s D-Day invasion.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Charles C. Orf salutes a headstone at Fort Richardson National Cemetery during the annual Wreaths Across America Day at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Dec. 16, 2017.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson)

Veterans and Gold Star families are many of the roughly 2 million volunteers who prepared the wreaths, shipped them across the country, and put them on graves.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

John A. asks: Are there any real examples of medieval castles having alligators in the moat to keep out intruders?

A common image in pop-culture is that of a castle moat filled to the brim with water and hungry crocodiles. So did anyone ever actually do this?

The short answer is that it doesn’t appear so. That said, while there’s no known documented instance of crocodiles intentionally being put into moats, we do know of at least one castle that had (and has, in fact) a moat full of bears…


Before we get to that and why crocodiles in moats are probably not the best idea in the world, or at least not a very efficient use of resources if your concern was really defense of a fortress, we should address the fact that the common image most people have in their heads of a moat isn’t exactly representative of what historical moats usually looked like.

To begin with, moats have been around seemingly as long as humans have had need of protecting a structure or area, with documented instances of them appearing everywhere from Ancient Egypt to slightly more modern times around certain Native American settlements. And, of course, there are countless examples of moats being used throughout European history. In many cases, however, these moats were little more than empty pits dug around a particular piece of land or property- water filled moats were something of a rarity.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

Bodiam Castle, a 14th-century castle near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, England.

(WyrdLight.com, CC BY-SA)

You see, unless a natural source of water was around, maintaining an artificial moat filled with water required a lot of resources to avoid the whole thing just turning into a stinking cesspool of algae and biting bugs, as is wont to happen in standing water. As with artificial ponds constructed on certain wealthy individuals’ estates, these would have to be regularly drained and cleaned, then filled back up to keep things from becoming putrid.

Of course, if one had a natural flowing water source nearby, some of these problems could be avoided. But, in the end, it turns out a water filled moat isn’t actually that much more effective than an empty one at accomplishing the goal of protecting a fortress.

And as for putting crocodiles (or alligators) in them, introducing such animals to a region, beyond being quite expensive if not their native habitat, is also potentially dangerous if the animals got out. Again, all this while not really making the act of conquering a fortress that much more difficult- so little payoff for the extra cost of maintaining crocodiles.

Unsurprisingly from this, outside of a legend we’ll get to shortly, there doesn’t appear to be any known documented cases of anyone intentionally putting crocodiles or alligators into their water filled moats.

It should also be mentioned here that while at first glance it would appear that the key purpose of a moat is to defend against soldiers attacking at the walls, they were often actually constructed with the idea of stopping soldiers under the ground. You see, a technique favoured since ancient times for breaching cities, fortresses and fortified positions was to simply dig tunnels below any walls surrounding the position and then intentionally let them collapse, bringing part of the wall above that section tumbling down. Eventually this was accomplished by use of explosives like gunpowder, but before this a more simple method was to cart a bunch of tinder into the tunnel at the appropriate point and set the whole thing ablaze. The idea here was, after all your diggers were out, to destroy the support beams used to keep the tunnel from collapsing while digging. If all went as planned, both the tunnel and the wall above it would then collapse.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

North view of the fortress of Buhen in Ancient Egypt.

To get around this very effective form of breaching fortifications, moats would be dug as deeply as possible around the fortification, sometimes until diggers reached bedrock. If a natural source of water was around, surrounding the fortress with water was a potential additional benefit over the dry pit at stopping such tunneling.

Either way, beyond making tunneling more difficult (or practically impossible), dry and wet moats, of course, helped dissuade above ground attacks as well thanks to moats being quite good at limiting an enemy’s use of siege weaponry. In particular, devices such as battering rams are rendered almost entirely useless in the presence of a large moat. Though the later advent of weapons such as trebuchets made moats less effective overall, they still proved to be formidable barrier capable of kneecapping a direct assault on a castle’s walls.

All this said, it wasn’t as if proud moat owners didn’t put anything in them. There are plenty of ways to beef up moat defences without the need for water and crocodiles. Pretty much anything that slows an enemy’s advance works well. And, better year, anything that is so daunting it deters an attack at all.

In fact, archaeological surveys of moats have found evidence of things like stinging bushes having once grown throughout some moats. Whether these were intentionally planted on the part of the moat owners or just a byproduct of having a patch of land they left unattended for years at a time isn’t entirely clear. But it doesn’t seem too farfetched to think this may have been intentional in some cases. As you might imagine, wading through stinging or thorny plants while arrows and rocks and the like are raining down at you from above wasn’t exactly tops on people’s lists of things to do.

As for moats that were filled with water, while filling them with crocodiles or alligators wasn’t seemingly something anyone did, some savvy castle owners did fill them with fish giving them a nice private fishery. (As mentioned, artificial ponds built for this purpose were also sometimes a thing for the ultra-wealthy, functioning both as a status symbol, given maintaining such was incredibly expensive, and a great source of food year round).

Moving back to the dry bed moats, when not just leaving them as a simple dug pit or planting things meant to slow enemy troops, it does appear at least in some rare instances fortress owners would put dangerous animals in them, though seemingly, again, more as a status symbol than actually being particularly effective at deterring enemy troops.

Most famously, at Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic there exists something that is most aptly described as a “bear moat”, located between the castle’s first and second courtyard. When exactly this practice started and exactly why has been lost to history, with the earliest known documented reference to the bear moat going back to 1707.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

(Flickr photo by Soren Wolf)

Whether designed to serve as a stark warning to potential intruders, a status symbol, or both, the castle’s grizzliest residents were tended to by a designated bearkeeper until around the early 19th century when the practice ceased. This changed again in 1857 when the castle’s then resident noble, Karl zu Schwarzenberg, acquired a pair of bears from nearby Transylvania intent on reviving the tradition. From that moment onward, outside of a brief lapse in the late 19th century, the castle’s moat has almost always contained at least one bear.

Today the bears are most definitely completely for show, and each year bear-themed celebrations are held at Christmas and on the bears’ birthdays during which children bring the bears presents.

If bears aren’t you thing, Wilhelm V, the Prince Regent of Bavaria, in the late 16th century supposedly kept both lions and a leopard in the moat of Trausnitz Castle while he lived there. However, again, it appears that Prince Wilhelm kept the animals more for show and fun than he did for defence. Beyond dangerous creatures, his moat also contained pheasants and a rabbit run.

Moving back to crocodiles being put in moats, the earliest reference to something like this (though seemingly just a legend), appears to be the legend of the Coccodrillo di Castelnuovo.

This story is recounted by the 19th and 20th century historian and politician Benedetto Croce in his “Neapolitan Stories and Legends“:

In that castle, there was a moat under the level of the sea, dark, humid, where the prisoners, who they want to more strictly castigate, were usually put. When, all of a sudden, they started to notice with astonishment that, from there, the prisoners disappeared. Did they escape? How? Put a tighter surveillance and a new guest inside there, one day they saw, unexpected and terrifying scene, from a hole hidden in the moat, a monster, a crocodile entering and, with its jaws, it grasped for the legs the prisoner, and dragged him to the sea to eat him.

Rather than kill the creature, the guards decided to make the fearsome creature an “executor of justice”, sending prisoners condemned to death to meet their end in its toothy maw. Exactly where the crocodile came from and when this supposedly happened depends on which version of the legend you consult, though our favourite version suggests that Queen Joanna II smuggled it over to Naples from Egypt sometime in the 15th century with the sole intention of feeding her many, many lovers to it.

A consistent element in most versions of the legend is that the beast bit off more than it could chew when it tried to eat a leg of a giant horse, ultimately choking on it.

Of course, this is generally thought to be nothing more than a legend, with no evidence that it actually occurred or even exactly when. At least the story does show that the idea of a crocodile in a moat isn’t just something found in modern pop culture.

Bonus Facts:

  • Moats are starting to make a bit of a comeback in modern times, such as used to protect certain embassies from car bombings. There’s also a concrete moat around the parts of Catawba Nuclear Station that isn’t bordered by a lake, again for the purposes of protecting against car bombings and the like.
  • On the note of poky plants planted in moats, there are variations of a popular Scottish legend that have the thistle playing a key role in foiling the attack of an invading force. In one such version of the legend, a nighttime raid on Slains castle in modern day Aberdeenshire was foiled when sneaking Norsemen stepped on the thistles and cried out in pain, alerting the guards that a surprise attack was eminent. It is sometimes further stated that this is how The Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Thistle of Scotland was established and how the national flower of Scotland was chosen. Of course, there isn’t any documented evidence that exists to support the various versions of this legend.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The most ‘Murican moments of every presidency, part four

Here we go. Rounding out the list of the most patriotic, most ‘Murican moments of every U.S. Presidency are the presidents of our age, numbers 35 through 44. Abraham Lincoln is already the all-time best, James Buchanan is the all-time worst — and no one gives a sh*t about Rutherford B. Hayes.


How the Civil War created photojournalism
Sorry, but it’s true. Now stop staring at us like that.

Since we’re approaching today’s era, it’s important for me to remind you all that We Are The Mighty is an apolitical organization and the last time we sided with a political party, the Whigs dissolved like… a week later. This is about America, and no matter how much you dislike(d) one of our Chief Executives, they all led the country to moments of American Glory.

This list is for the Presidents who have completed their time in office, so Trump won’t be on here — perhaps his most patriotic moment is yet to come.

John F. Kennedy

JFK’s time in office was tragically cut short, but his effect on American life is one that endures for the ages. In May, 1961, he addressed Congress to discuss America’s urgent national needs. In that speech, he challenged the United States to send a man to the moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the next decade — calling for a plan that would find success after Kennedy left office (if he had lived).

But it wasn’t just that challenge that inspired America. It was Kennedy’s re-assertion of that challenge the next year while speaking at Rice University where he described the spirit of the United States. This is where he delivered the immortal line about why the United States takes on challenges like going to the moon — “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

How the Civil War created photojournalism

Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon Johnson was a man of action, ready and able to push business through the political machine of the United States Congress at any cost. This made Johnson an extremely capable Chief Executive, whether you liked him or not. In the middle of the Cold War, during the very hot Vietnam War, amidst all the cultural revolutions that swept the U.S. in the 1960s, everyone could count on calm, collected leadership in the White House.

But his most American moment was forcing the passage of Civil Rights Acts through a Congress that didn’t always agree with that kind of legislation. Johnson, a Texan and devout Christian since age 15 believed in equal rights for all Americans and that it was the duty of Christians everywhere to deliver social justice in God’s name. So he put his infamous temper to work to pass Civil Rights legislation, even though it cost him and his party dearly.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon took office during one of the most tumultuous times in American history ever. The year 1968 was a turning point for the people and culture of the United States and, despite his overall failure to maintain the solemnity of the office of president, Richard Nixon wasn’t a bad president at all. Had he not tried to cover up his role in the Watergate Scandal, he might have been remembered more fondly by history.

But while he was in office, he was the master of American foreign policy and used his skill to manage the Soviet Union and Communist China (which, by this time, were much less than friends) and use them to bring North Vietnam to the negotiating table. Where Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev trounced Kennedy in their first meeting, he couldn’t kick ol’ Nixon around. And, as they still say sometimes, “only Nixon could go to China.”

How the Civil War created photojournalism

This is how cool you think you look while smoking a pipe. You don’t, but he does.

Gerald Ford

Ford is, interestingly, the only President who was never elected to the White House. He ascended to the vice-presidency after his predecessor, Spiro Agnew, resigned in 1973 and became president the next year. Ford’s most American moment will also forever be his most controversial. As representative, as house speaker, and as vice president, Ford faced very little (if any) in the way of scandals, but one of his first acts as President was to pardon Richard Nixon for any wrongdoing associated with Watergate.

My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice, but mercy. … let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and hate.

The pardon was highly controversial at the time but history proved President Ford correct, so much so that incoming President Jimmy Carter thanked Ford for it as his 1977 inauguration.

“For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.”

Jimmy Carter

President Jimmy Carter is considered an unsuccessful President by most – including the former President himself. Carter always said his post-presidency was way more successful than his presidency. Carter’s administration was plagued by high inflation, an inherited energy crisis, and, of course, the Iran Hostage Crisis.

Carter’s most American moment came when he was originally supposed to address the nation about energy for the fifth time. Instead of rehashing what he’d said before, Carter laid out everything that was really plaguing the United States: mistrust in government, disrespect for American institutions, petty Washington politics, failures of his own leadership — a crisis of confidence. He told Americans the sad truth, unusual for a politician seeking re-election to any office.

This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth … and it is a warning.

But Carter also discussed how Americans could best the Crisis of Confidence. The Chief Executive and baptist minister implored Americans to have faith — faith in each other, faith in American institutions, and faith in our ability to govern ourselves. Although the speech was initially well-received, the “malaise” speech was a downer and came to be associated with his failed presidency.

Ronald Reagan

President Reagan was elected in a landslide over Carter, whose Presidency was marked by economic trouble and hostages in Iran, which Carter seemed impotent to free. Reagan offered Americans a new morning, augmented by his near-trademark humor and sunny disposition.

The only people who seldom saw that disposition were the Soviets, who were often on the receiving end of Reagan’s stellar speech-making abilities. Nowhere was this more apparent than during a speech late in the President’s second term where Reagan spoke at the Brandenburg Gate, site of the infamous Berlin Wall, and called out Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s new openness policy, saying if he truly desired peace he would come to the gate and “tear down this wall.”

How the Civil War created photojournalism

George H.W. Bush

President Reagan’s Vice-President George H.W. Bush was Reagan’s successor who handily won the election of 1988. But during the run-up to the election, Bush — a World War II aviator and former head of the CIA — was labeled a “wimp” by Newsweek Magazine.

Yet, when Iraqi troops poured across the Kuwaiti border and the rest of the world told him sanctions would bring Saddam to his knees, it didn’t take the President long to decide to check Saddam Hussein’s aggression. He moved so many troops to Saudi Arabia to prevent an Iraqi invasion that an offensive move seemed imminent. In 1991, Desert Shield switched to Desert Storm and expelled the Iraqis from Kuwait in some 40 days. Not only were the United States and her allies victorious, the looming shadow of military failure in Vietnam was broken.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

Bill Clinton

Love him or hate him, no one felt the pressure of partisan politics like Bill Clinton. After the 1992 election, his party controlled the White House and the Congress but two years later, he felt a wave of pressure as the opposition swept Congress in the midterms. To say the rest of his time in office was “rocky” would be the understatement of the century.

Still, despite the scandals that rocked his administration, Clinton was the first real post-Cold War president and his administration was the first to deal with being the world’s only superpower. Though he faced serious foreign policy challenges over eight years, he used the opportunity to turn attention to America’s domestic issues, including child health care, federal investment in local law enforcement, and securing a balanced budget (and surplus) before leaving office.

George W. Bush

Another “love him or hate him” President, the younger Bush was able to enjoy the Pax Americana for just a few short months before the whole world changed before all our very eyes. George W. Bush was known for a lot of things, but being a fantastic public speaker was not one of them — few would ever dispute that fact. But his most American moment came right after the attacks that changed the world, when he was trying to talk to the American people.

Bush was in the middle of a speech at Ground Zero, delivering his perspective on where the United States would go from here, when, from the background, people complained of not being able to hear what he was saying. Bush’s off-the-cuff response was just f*cking great.

Barack Obama

The election of Barack Obama was a historic first that foretold a shift away from the policies of the previous administration. But there was one policy of the United States that remained unchanged since the years of Bill Clinton – the hunt to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.

The day finally came on May 1, 2011. Then, President Barack Obama was able to inform Americans that forces of the United States finally got to the world’s most wanted terrorist. Jubilant crowds gathered everywhere, not just in front of the White House, but at baseball games, at Times Square, and in towns across America. If you’re not a fan of Obama’s measured tone and think it calls for more celebration, you can see what happened when John Cena broke the news to WWE fans in Tampa, Florida at about the same time.

For a look back at part three, click HERE.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time infantry captured a Nazi train filled with lingerie

In August 1944, the successes of D-Day were in the rear-view mirror and American troops were engaged in the long slog to Berlin. One group of American soldiers got a surprise when, while chasing German soldiers east, they captured a military train only to find that sections of it were filled with lingerie, perfume, and other treats.


How the Civil War created photojournalism

(Chris Tingom, CC BY 2.0)

After Allied troops took the beachheads at D-Day, there were optimistic predictions that they could take Berlin by Christmas. But it wasn’t to be. It took weeks just to fight through the hedgerows of Normandy, and Germany stiffened its resistance everywhere possible.

Free French forces, resistance members, and British and American units maneuvered east, trying to keep as much pressure on German troops as they could.

As the line shifted east, German troops would burn supplies they were abandoning, but tried to keep vehicles, especially tanks, in good working order, so they could use them to kill American and other Allied soldiers. So the attackers quickly learned to seize as much as they could whenever possible.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

German armored troops roll through Denmark in April 1940.

(Danish Ministry of Defence)

As June ground into July and then August, the push east accelerated. Paris was liberated and, on August 26, Free French General Charles de Gaulle led a parade into the city.

About that time, the 3rd Armored Division was pushing to Soissons, a city 55 miles northeast of Paris. German soldiers pulling back were using railroads to quickly move equipment but, according to a story in Stephen E. Ambrose’s book Citizen Soldiers, one unit had overestimated how long it had to load onto the train and get going.

When U.S. troops arrived, they saw a train preparing to roll out with tanks and armored vehicles loaded onto it. Every armored vehicle that escaped would need to be killed in eastern France, Belgium, or Germany. The train had to be stopped.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

U.S. troops fire their machine gun during battle in Aachen, Germany.

(U.S. Army)

U.S. tanks and half-tracks opened fire as machine gunners and mortarmen rushed into position. Most of their rounds were bouncing off the German armor, but the sheer volume of fire was keeping German drivers and crew out of their vehicles, allowing American troops to keep the upper hand.

Most of the Germans who stayed to fight were killed or captured, and those who escaped into the woods were rounded up by the French resistance. The Germans had dallied too long, and now the train belonged to the U.S. troops.

When they began assessing their find, they were surprised to find little ammunition, medical supplies, or food, all materiel that they needed. Instead, the Germans had loaded the train with candy, women’s lingerie, and lipstick.

It appeared that the German soldiers had raided French shops and, when it came time to run, had prioritized gifts for girlfriends and family over packing or destroying their own supplies, getting a faster exit to save the vehicles, or even just absconding with their lives and arms.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

A woman writes a message on a U.S. tank in Belgium

(U.S. Army)

Their mistake was U.S. gain. The 3rd Armored took the vehicles, other U.S. troops seized millions of pounds of beef, grain, flour, coal, and more. Many items were given to the French public to alleviate shortages caused by Nazi occupation, but other items were pressed into the war effort to keep American troops moving.

Ambrose doesn’t reveal what happened to the love train’s more romantic contents, but it’s likely that some of it made it back to the states in reverse care packages, but most of it probably stayed right there in France, consumed by the people lucky enough to get their hands on it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 deadliest battles for troops to fight in

For better or worse, the grunts handle the main chunk of the fighting. These are your combat arms troops — infantry, scouts, tankers, artillerymen, etc.


The supply guys in the back can usually get a bit comfy knowing that they probably won’t get called to the front line — except in the case of total war when the front line is so decimated that everyone, back to front, needs to push into the fray.

To quantify the level of suck, we’ve ranked the following battles by a metric that measures the percentage of casualties in relation to troops present on the battlefield and total loss of life from both sides. Thankfully, for today’s troops, full-scale battles aren’t as catastrophic as they were before the advent of modern medicine.

6. Battle of Antietam (Civil War)

Fatality Rate: 3.22%

Starting things off is the single bloodiest day in American military history: Sept. 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam. Within the span of 12 hours, around 25 percent Union troops and 31 percent of Confederate troops were wounded, captured, or killed. Six Generals died as a result of the battle along with 3,454 other troops.

The battle is considered a Union victory strategically and it paved the way for the Emancipation Proclamation, delivered just five days later. But, when the dust settled outside of Sharpsburg, Maryland, no one knew who won. If the Confederacy waited a few more hours, it could have gone in their favor, Lincoln would have never had the confidence to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, and the South would have had stronger European allies, thus drastically changing the course of the war.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

5. Battle of Gettysburg (Civil War)

Fatality Rate: 4.75%

The three-day battle between Gen. Meade’s Army of the Potomac and Gen. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would be remembered both as the turning point of the Civil War and for the enormous loss of life.

With between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties on both sides, the Battle of Gettysburg is the costliest battle in U.S. history. The fighting for the “Little Round Top” alone left nearly 1,750 dead.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
Time to do grunt stuff, boys!

4. Battle of Tuyuti (Paraguayan War)

Fatality Rate: 8.71%

The Paraguayan War became the bloodiest of all Latin American wars when Paraguay pushed its boundaries on all sides, unifying the previously-uneasy alliances between Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.

While the entire war would cost Paraguay nearly 70 percent of its total adult male population, the Battle of Tuyuti cost the Paraguayans nearly their entire force in a failed surprise attack on the Triple Alliance encampment.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
Note to self: Never piss off all of your neighboring countries at the same time.

3. Battle of Okinawa (World War II)

Fatality Rate: 35.48%

The battles of the Pacific Theater finally culminated in one of the last major battles of WWII, which saw the deaths of 240,931 troops and Okinawan conscripts. While the American troops suffered over 82,000 casualties with 14,009 deaths, the Japanese lost up to 80% of their defense forces.

The reason for such a high Japanese death toll is two-fold: First, pitting untrained, conscripted Okinawan civilians against the battle-hardened American forces that fought through the Pacific isn’t exactly an even match. Second, the Japanese refused to surrender. After witnessing the horrors of Okinawa, mental fatigue was widespread among American GIs.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

2. Battle of the Argonne Forest (World War I)

Fatality Rate: 39.48%

The final Allied offensive of World War I was also its bloodiest. For years, German troops pushed down the French and British troops, but they finally managed to stand up again with the aid of the Americans. When H-Hour finally began on Sept. 26th, the Allies expended more ammunition than both sides of the American Civil War – in just the first three hours.

The loss of life was astounding on both sides. 28,000 Germans, 26,277 Americans, and an estimated 70,000 French soldiers were on the push towards Sedan, France. French forces finally managed to recapture the Sedan railway hub in the final days. Then, it was announced that the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11th, 1918, bringing an end to the war.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
It was also the largest American military operation with 1.2 million troops operating under Gen. Pershing’s command.

1. Battle of Cannae (Second Punic War)

Fatality Rate: 53.42%

This battle is remembered throughout history for many reasons. Hannibal’s impressive march on a Roman Army twice as large, the first recorded use of the “Pincer movement,” but also the overwhelming defeat of that massive Roman army.

The scholar Polybius estimated that, of the 86,400 Romans who fought, only 770 Romans made it out alive. The Carthaginian forces managed to only lose 5,700 of their 50,000 and only 200 out of their 10,000 cavalrymen.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
Everyone thought elephants in battle would be a terrible idea until they had to fight elephants in battle.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This teenage soldier survived 6 months in a Nazi POW camp

At just 18 years old, Hjalmar Johansson was given a choice: either serve in the infantry or work as a nose gunner in a B-24 bomber. Johansson decided he would be best in the air and was quickly assigned to a ten-man aerial crew headed off to fight in World War II. His first flight in a war zone was over Italy, during which his aircraft was to bomb enemy petroleum plants. His squadron started taking heavy anti-aircraft fire, which punctured a hole in his bomber’s wing.

Then, out of nowhere, German fighter planes flew into position. headed straight toward the American bombers. Johansson, sitting in his front gunner’s position, squeezed his machine gun’s trigger, sending hot lead at his sworn enemy.

Just as Johansson was making a dent in the German forces, one of his weapon systems jammed. Soon after, his second gun went down. He was left without defenses.

Nobody could’ve prepared for for what happened next…


Also Read: Watch rare footage of a Kamikaze attack caught on film

How the Civil War created photojournalism

POWs at Stalag 11B at Fallingbostel in Germany welcome their liberators, 1945.

With his plane’s wing on fire, Johansson thought to himself, “I’m not going home in this plane.”

The captain gave the order to bail out. Johansson quickly put on his parachute, leaped out of an open door, and careened head-first toward the ground.

He deployed his chute, hit the dirt, and located his tail gunner — just as small arms fire rang out in their direction. He could hear Germans shouting nearby. Johansson was captured, transported to an interrogation center, and then locked in solitary confinement.

He was officially a POW.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
Hjalmar Johansson personal dog tags.

 

While confined, Johansson vowed to not give the Germans any information besides name, rank, and serial number. Soon after, Johansson and other POWs were loaded on a train and transferred to a permanent prison camp. The brave nose gunner estimated he and the others were on that transport train for roughly one-week.

For the next several months, Johansson ate nothing but weed soup and his body was riddled with lice.

“We didn’t live through it, we existed through it,” Johansson recalls.

www.youtube.com

For months, Johansson and the rest of the POWs endured brutal beatings and freezing temperatures. Then, one morning, after all hope seemed lost, the brave POW noticed the prison’s guards had disappeared. The Americans looked out to find that Russian Army had broken through.

Russian forces tore down the barbed wire that held the men captive for so long and opened the prison’s front gates. Johansson tasted freedom for the first time in six months. He was finally sent back home to New York City, where he would spend his life working hard and retelling his incredible story.

Hjalmar Johansson passed away on June 30, 2018, at the age of 92.

Check out the History Channel’s video below to hear this incredible story from the legend himself.

Articles

5 real life games you can play to get ready for war

Most service members played Army when they were kids. And throughout our childhood educational years, we were presented with a host of games that stretch our minds and hone our analytical skills.


In the military, the goal isn’t much different — though the information is just delivered through alternative means like “death by PowerPoint.” And isn’t nearly as much fun

Related: 5 crazy games you played while in the military

So to avoid the boredom of paper and screens, we compiled a list of real life games you can play stateside that will increase your unit’s communication, physical stamina, and mental toughness.

1. Laser Tag

Running into a low-lit terrorist cell with weapons at the ready with your adrenaline pumping and still being ready to “expect the unexpected” while you clear the room can be incredibly stressful.

Dial back the dangerous nature of the mission and you could have a friendly game of laser tag.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

2. Treasure hunt

In grade school, we used to bury or hide objects at the playground, draw a detailed map where we left them and dare our friends to hunt down the prize — sounds easy.

Pretty much what land navigation is today minus the prize, it’s now your objective.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

3. Flag football

It was in the late 1860s that the football game kicked off between Princeton and Rutgers — and at the time, players typically played both offense and defense. This game requires plenty of communication and sets each player into different jobs and rolls.

While on patrol or in a convoy, if allied forces take contact from the bad guys, it’s up to the leader to “quarterback” the defensive strategy and instruct men how to bring the fight to the enemy.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
The Company Grade Officers Council goes for another touchdown during their flag football game at Eglin Air Force Base, (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

4. 52 cards

You can pull many different infantry games from a deck of playing cards. The main focus is to develop a game to build muscle memory. Assign an exercise or action drill for every suit in the deck and use the cards’ face value for the number of repetitions.

First one through the deck is the winner.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

Also Read: 5 things I wish I knew before deployment

5. Blindfolded tag

We conduct military operations at night, attacking the enemy once the sun goes down when they least expect it. There’s no better way to learn to fight if your night vision goes down while you’re stateside than blindfolded tag.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

At the height of World War I, British intelligence provided the United States with a secret telegram sent from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman to the government of Mexico. The telegram promised the Mexicans a military alliance if the United States entered the war against Germany. The Germans promised Mexico it would help them recover the American territories of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico it lost in the Mexican-American War.

The interception of the telegram was one of the earliest big wins for signals intelligence. Maybe the Kaiser shouldn’t have sent it via Western Union.


How the Civil War created photojournalism

“Hopefully no one breaks this code STOP It would mean we lose the war STOP We’re paying by the word STOP”

The note from Zimmerman was sent to the German ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, letting him know that the German high command intended to resume its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in the coming days. This strategy, while effective at keeping the British Isles from getting its necessary supplies also had the adverse effect of killing innocent civilians from neutral countries – countries like the United States.

On May 7, 1915, this policy resulted in the sinking of the luxury liner RMS Lusitania, killing some 1,128 people. And 128 of those people were American civilians bound for England. The incident was illegal under international law and sparked widespread anti-German outrage in the U.S. You know relations are strained when Americans rename their food to sound less German.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

“Sauerkraut” is still “Liberty Cabbage” to me.

The note read:

We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain, and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President’s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.
Signed, ZIMMERMANN

This wasn’t even the first time the Germans tried to incite the Mexicans against the U.S. There were at least five other occasions when the German Empire funded or assisted efforts to create tensions in North America. President Wilson even had to send U.S. troops to occupy Veracruz during his administration. What the Germans didn’t take into account was the fact that Mexico was already in the middle of its own civil war, Mexico didn’t stand a chance against the U.S., even then, there was already a peace agreement in place, and Mexico knew Germany couldn’t actually support it in any meaningful way.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

“Mexico: We are with you. But not like… there. We have to be here. But good luck in your war with the US.”

The British sent the telegram to the U.S. Ambassador to Britain, who eventually got it to President Wilson. Wilson promptly gave it to the American media. When delivered to the American people, who were already anti-Mexican and anti-German, the result was explosive. To make matters worse, Zimmerman admitted the telegram was genuine in a speech to the Reichstag, and the Germans soon sunk two American merchant ships with u-boats. Three months later, in the face of American public opinion, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war.

Articles

This sub sank because its commander couldn’t flush his toilet

In April 1945, being a German submariner was a dangerous prospect. Allied sub hunters had become much more effective and German u-boats were being sunk faster than they could be built. Technical breakthroughs like radar and new weapons like the homing torpedo were sinking the Germans left and right.


For the crew of U-1206, the greatest threat was actually lurking in their commander’s bowels. German Navy Capt. Karl-Adolf Schlitt was on his first patrol as a commander when he felt the call of nature and headed to the vessel’s state-of-the-art toilet.

While Allied subs had toilets that flushed into a small internal tank that took up needed space in the submarine, the Germans had developed a compact system that expelled waste into the sea. The high-tech system even worked while the sub was deep underwater.

Unfortunately, the toilet was very complex. By doctrine, there was a toilet-flushing specialist on every sub that operated the necessary valves. The captain, either too prideful or too impatient to search out the specialist, attempted to flush it himself. When it didn’t properly flush, he finally called the specialist.

The specialist attempted to rectify the situation, but opened the exterior valve while the interior valve was still open. The ocean quickly began flooding in, covering the floor in a layer of sewage and seawater. The specialist got the valves closed, but it was too late.

The toilet was positioned above the battery bank. As the saltwater cascaded onto the batteries, it created chlorine gas that rapidly spread through the sub and threatened to kill the crew. Schlitt ordered the sub to surface.

The sub reached the surface about 10 miles from the Scottish coast and was quickly spotted by British planes. One sailor was killed as the sub was attacked. The order was given to scuttle the ship and escape. Three more sailors drowned attempting to make it to shore. The other 37 sailors aboard the U-1206 were quickly captured and became prisoners of war.

Luckily for them, the war was nearly over. The sub sank April 14, 1945. Hitler killed himself April 30 and Germany surrendered May 8.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The creator of ‘Amazing Grace’ was a sailor with a foul mouth

John Newton was not what you’d call a lucky man. One day, he went off to visit some friends in London and was caught up along the way by a press gang – Royal Navy troops sent just to force people into serving aboard the king’s ships. He found himself a midshipman on the HMS Harwich, a position he of course tried to desert immediately. But he was found out, flogged in front of the ship’s company and even attempted suicide.

But the hard luck doesn’t end there. The man who penned the hymn “Amazing Grace” sure lived a life that would inspire such work.


How the Civil War created photojournalism

If you ever have a bad day, remember John Newton through his autobiographical writing.

John Newton’s luck was bad even before his impressment. He was practically an orphan; his mother died of tuberculosis when he was six and he was forced to live with a cold, unfeeling relative. After joining the Navy, Newton renounced his faith and plotted to kill his shipmates. He was so difficult to work with, the crew of the Harwich decided to transfer him to the HMS Pegasus en route to India. The Pegasus was a slave trader, but the change in ships did not suit Newton’s temper. The Pegasus decided to leave him in West Africa during one of its slaving missions.

Not quite marooned but not far from it, Newton connected with an actual slaver. He joined the crew of a slave ship and openly challenged the captain by creating catchy songs about him filled with curses and language unlike anything anyone had ever heard. Sailors were known for their foul mouths, but Newton’s was so bad the slaver’s captain almost starved him to death for it.

That’s when a large storm hit their ship.

How the Civil War created photojournalism

Life aboard a British slaver in the mid-1700s.

The storm nearly sunk the ship, but Newton and another crewman tied themselves to the ship’s pumps and began to work for 11 hours to keep it from capsizing. After their miraculous escape, Newton saw the storm as a message from God. He began to work harder, eventually commanding his own slaving ship and sailing between ports in Africa and North America. Eventually, the man collapsed from overwork. He returned to England and never sailed again.

It was in his adopted home of Olney where he wrote a series of autobiographical hymnals, including the well-known “Amazing Grace” as we call it today. In this work, Newton learned how he was a “wretch” due to his participation in the North Atlantic Slave Trade. In life, he set out to help abolish it in England. Newton new connected with William Wilberforce, the British Parliamentarian who led the charge against slavery in Britain and ended it in the Empire in 1807.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the Coast Guard’s largest loss of life in a single event

“I felt and saw two flashes after which only the bow of the ship was visible. The rest had disintegrated and the bow sank soon afterwards.” – Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Perry Stinson, USS Serpens commanding officer

The quote above refers to the Coast Guard-manned USS Serpens. Nearly 73 years ago on Jan. 29, 1945, a catastrophic explosion destroyed the transport. In terms of lives lost, the destruction of the Serpens ranks as the single largest disaster ever recorded in Coast Guard history.


In March 1943, an EC-2 class “Liberty Ship” was laid down under a Maritime Commission contract as “Hull #739” by the California Shipbuilding Corporation of Wilmington, California. It was launched less than a month later as the SS Benjamin N. Cardozo. Two weeks later it was transferred to the U.S. Navy and designated AK-97. The transport was 442 feet in length, displaced 14,250 tons and had a top speed of 11 knots. For defense it carried one 5-inch gun, one 3-inch gun, two 40mm and six 20mm anti-aircraft cannons. Its crew consisted of 19 officers and 188 enlisted men. In late May, the Navy renamed the transport Serpens, after a constellation in the Northern Hemisphere, and commissioned the vessel in San Diego under the command of Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Magnus Johnson.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
USS Serpens at anchor somewhere in the Pacific islands with derricks extended to take on cargo.
(U.S. Navy photo.)

Following a shakedown cruise off Southern California, Serpens loaded general cargo at Alameda, California, and, on June 24, set sail to support combat operations in the Southwest Pacific. It steamed between the supply hub of New Zealand and various Pacific islands, such as Tonga, Vitu Levu, Tutuila, Penrhyn, Bora Bora, Aitutaki, and Tongatabu. In early December, Serpens moved its operations into the southern Solomons, re-supplying bases and units on Florida Island, Banika Island, Guadalcanal and Bougainville. In February 1944, its crew was ordered back to New Zealand for dry-dock and, for another four months, they delivered materials to bases in the New Hebrides and Solomons.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
An aerial view of Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, during World War II showing the airfield captured by the U.S. Marines early in the campaign.
(U.S. Navy photo)

In late July 1944, Lt. Cmdr. Perry Stinson assumed command from Johnson. From that time into the fall of 1944, Serpens resumed operations carrying general cargo and rolling stock between ports and anchorages within the Solomon Islands. In mid-November, it loaded repairable military vehicles from the Russell Islands and Guadalcanal and sailed for New Zealand. After offloading in New Zealand, three of its holds were converted for ammunition stowage. Late in December 1944, Serpens commenced loading at Wellington, completed loading at Auckland, New Zealand, and returned to the Solomons in mid-January 1945.

Monday, January 29, found Serpens anchored off Lunga Point, Guadalcanal. Lunga Point had served as the primary loading area for Guadalcanal since the U.S. military’s first offensive of World War II began there in August 1942. Serpens’s commanding officer, a junior officer and six enlisted men went ashore while the rest of the crew loaded depth charges into the holds or performed their usual shipboard duties. Late in the day, in the blink of an eye, the explosive cargo stowed in Serpens’s holds detonated. An enlisted man aboard a nearby Navy personnel boat gave the following eyewitness account:

“As we headed our personnel boat shoreward, the sound and concussion of the explosion suddenly reached us and, as we turned, we witnessed the awe-inspiring death drams unfold before us. As the report of screeching shells filled the air and the flash of tracers continued, the water splashed throughout the harbor as the shells hit. We headed our boat in the direction of the smoke and, as we came into closer view of what had once been a ship, the water was filled only with floating debris, dead fish, torn life jackets, lumber and other unidentifiable objects. The smell of death, and fire, and gasoline, and oil was evident and nauseating. This was sudden death, and horror, unwanted and unasked for, but complete.”

How the Civil War created photojournalism
A chart of Iron Bottom Sound, located north of Guadalcanal, showing the numerous ships lying on the seafloor, including the remains of USS Serpens at Lunga Point.

After the explosion, only the bow of the ship remained. The rest of Serpens had disintegrated, and the bow sank soon after the cataclysm. Killed in the explosion were 197 Coast Guard officers and enlisted men, 51 U.S. Army stevedores, and surgeon Harry Levin, a U.S. Public Health Service physician. Only two men on board Serpens survived–Seaman 1/c Kelsie Kemp and Seaman 1/c George Kennedy, who had been located in the boatswain’s locker. Both men were injured, but were later rescued from the wreckage and survived. In addition, a soldier who was ashore at Lunga Point was killed by flying shrapnel. Only two Coast Guardsmen’s bodies were recovered intact and later identified out of the nearly 250 men killed in the explosion.

How the Civil War created photojournalism
USS Serpens crew’s caskets arrive at Arlington National Cemetery from Guadalcanal in 1949.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

At first, the loss of Serpens was attributed to enemy action and three Purple Heart Medals were issued to the two survivors and posthumously to Levin. However, a court of inquiry later determined that the cause of the explosion could not be established from surviving evidence. By 1949, the U.S. Navy officially closed the case deciding that the loss was not due to enemy action but an “accident intrinsic to the loading process.”

How the Civil War created photojournalism
Retired Coast Guard officer Richard Stoud plays taps at the Serpens Memorial in November 2013.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Today, all that remains of the Serpens is the bow section sitting upside down on the sea floor off Lunga Point. The dead were initially buried at the Army, Navy and Marine Corps Cemetery at Guadalcanal. The crew’s mortal remains were later exhumed and shipped to Arlington National Cemetery for burial. On June 15, 1949, Serpens’s Coast Guardsmen were interred on Arlington Cemetery’s Coast Guard Hill. A monument to the Serpens listing all of the lost crewmembers was erected over the gravesite and dedicated on Nov. 16, 1950.

This article originally appeared on the United States Coast Guard. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

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