Captain Michael “Hell Roarin'” Healy, known for bringing the reindeer to Alaska, had another claim to fame in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, forerunner to the modern-day Coast Guard.
Healy had a no-nonsense, often violent, style of command. Rumors spread that he had unruly people hung by their hands or feet in the hull of the ship. (And he weathered a couple of failed mutinies as a result.) When dealing with those who tried to block what he felt was the protection of the native people of Alaska, he could turn violent and belligerent until he got what he wanted. He stood for law and order along the 30,000 mile long Alaskan coast.
After multiple courts martial for drunk and disorderly conduct in the late 1890s, Healy was sent to a trial board for abusive conduct towards junior officers while intoxicated. While the trial board recommended him for discharge, Secretary of the Treasury John Carlisle instead removed him from command and placed him on shore duty for four years. Healy was also publicly humiliated by having his punishment read to every commissioned officer on every cutter in the service.
Healy was back on dry land for the first time after nearly 42 years at sea.
This punishment furthered Healy’s paranoia that “they” had been working to drive him out of the service, which he first expressed as early as 1893. While some officers thought this was the beginning of the end of Healy, they were wrong. The Healy family believed their lives could not be ruined any further. They did not know the true tragedy that would come.
At the end of his four year punishment, Healy’s life would take an ironic and drastic turn. Capt. W.C. Coulson, who had sat on the trial board and recommended his discharge, asked for Healy by name to replace him as the commanding officer of the Revenue Steamer McCulloch when his wife fell ill. While he served aboard the McCulloch, Healy received orders to serve upon the Cutter Seminole out of Boston. After more than twenty years on the west coast and nearly a decade in Alaska, he saw the transfer as another punishment because his wife had made her home in the west and his son, now grown, had started his own family there.
When he received these orders, his mental health took a turn for the worst. He was found sitting outside of the stateroom of a passenger on the McCulloch, yelling and threatening to kill himself. The following day, Healy attempted to throw himself overboard, stopped only after being violently wrestled to the deck by Second Assistant Engineer J.J. Bryan. At that point, executive officer 1st Lt. P.W. Thompson brought Healy to the ward room and informed him that he was longer in command of the McCulloch.
Healy was to be guarded in his cabin until Thompson was able to contact the Treasury. On the morning of July 10, 1900, Healy again attempted to throw himself overboard. While he was out of his bunk, he grabbed a piece of glass, and two days later almost succeeded in using it to kill himself. One onlooker offered an explanation for the suicide attempts as a cry for help as Healy was just returned to the ship after a drunken night out and would again be court-marshaled and kicked out of the service.
In 1903, Healy quietly exited the service at the mandatory retirement age and died a year later of a heart attack. He was buried in Colma, California, where he and his family finally settled.
Healy carried secrets with him that could never be uttered in early-twentieth century America. His wife, Mary Jane Roach, was a second generation Irish immigrant but despite eighteen pregnancies, they only had one child. He was constantly criticized for being Catholic, something that was still looked down upon at the turn of the century. In addition, Healy was the child of Michael Morris Healy, an Irish immigrant and slave owner and his slave, Mary Eliza Smith. This was kept a secret even from parts of his family. After his death, Healy’s daughter-in-law destroyed his four-volume diary. She was contacted by a film studio on the possibility of a movie based on his life and they wanted to see his diary in the writing of the film. As she read the diary for the first time, she discovered her husband’s grandmother was a slave.
Today, Healy is known as one of the great giants of Coast Guard history. He singlehandedly saved large groups of natives from starvation, and his courage was unmatched by anyone else at the time. History was kind to him and glossed over his negative personal record in favor of his accomplishments. In honor of his legacy of arctic service, the Coast Guard’s newest ice breaker was named in his honor in 1997.
The joke came on Aug. 11, 1984. Reagan was in the middle of a re-election campaign, and so he had a big announcement planned for his weekly radio address to America. He was going to be at his ranch in California, and so he asked National Public Radio engineers to do the address from there. They agreed.
But they weren’t the only ones who had heard the remarks. The audio was already being sent to some of the radio stations that would broadcast the remarks, and those stations were recording the feed in case they missed the start of the presidential address.
And not all of them were part of the agreement to hold recordings not meant for broadcast. Someone leaked the audio.
Most of the world got that it was a joke and the punditry class took on its typical role of either condemning or praising the remarks. Most condemned, especially in those countries in Europe that Russia’s missiles could reach. The Soviet Union was also predictably, not a fan.
But one group of Soviet soldiers weren’t entirely sure that it was a joke. There were reports of a low-level Soviet commander putting his troops in Vladivostok on a wartime footing on August 13, in the belief that America really was going to war with the Soviet Union.
There are moments in history that are nothing short of monumental, but they aren’t broadly celebrated or acknowledged. Juneteenth is one of those days.
You may have heard the word Juneteenth at some point in your life but have no idea what it’s about. It’s a turning point in our country that isn’t emphasized in history books, so it’s easy to skate past the day with little care. But it’s time we give the respect it deserves.
Here’s the story about Juneteenth, and why we all should know it.
Remember learning about when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery during the Civil War? The executive order went into effect on January 1, 1863, but it wasn’t an immediate victory. It would take two and a half more years before the news that slavery had ended would reach remote Texas.
Up to this point, black people (who were captured and brought to America) were viewed and treated as property and animals, not humans with rights. Their purpose was that of free labor for farming, working as servants and basically doing whatever their owners commanded. Many people saw slavery as immoral and wanted to end it. Confederates didn’t agree that the federal government had the right to do so, which was a major factor in them separating from the Union. Subsequently, the Civil War began.
In 1865, the Confederate states were defeated.
Two months after the Civil War ended, General Gordon Granger announced federal order in Galveston, Texas, the last Confederate state holding onto their human property. Granger declared that all previously enslaved people were free, and he was backed by Union troops to enforce the decree.
This climax of freedom took place on June 19, 1865, therefore, Juneteenth. It is the annual celebration of African Americans being released from the last shred of slavery in this country. Some communities hold gatherings, parades and festivals in commemoration.
The happenings of June 19 were major progress, not just for black Americans, but for our nation! It was a beginning step toward equality and to be treated as people and not property.
Our country explodes in celebration recognizing July 4, 1776 (Independence Day). But black people were still enslaved. Juneteenth is the African American day of freedom. To acknowledge it is to say, this happened, and it is a day we honor, value and will make noise about in celebration together.
Changes are happening as Americans of varying nationalities are screaming in the streets that Black Lives Matter and demanding social justice. Recognizing Juneteenth is a part of that package.
Nike, New York Times, Target, Lyft, JCPenney and many other companies are making Juneteenth an annual paid holiday. They encourage employees to use this time to reflect on the many injustices black people have faced in America, and to connect to the community.
While 47 of the states acknowledge Juneteenth in some capacity (North Dakota, South Dakota and Alaska do not), Texas, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania are the only ones recognizing it as an official paid holiday for state employees.
While Juneteenth is not yet a national holiday, the significance of this time is starting to catch hold. While many white Americans are acknowledging the pattern of struggle that African Americans still face daily, we have long strides to make.
Recognizing the ending of slavery as a nation is a good start! Happy Juneteenth!
In September 2005, Mexican Marines arrived under the Mexican flag to Harrison County, Miss. It was the first time in 159 years that Mexican troops operationally deployed inside the United States. There, they met U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy sailors. But they weren’t there to do battle; they were there to clear the debris.
Harrison County was hit by one of the most intense hurricanes ever to hit the United States. Harrison County was devastated by the strongest winds of the whole storm.
Hurricane Katrina making landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast, August 2005.
Hurricane Katrina was the fourth most intense storm ever to hit the United States. The storm killed more than 1,800 people, making it the deadliest to hit the United States since 1928. It was also the costliest hurricane in terms of physical damage done to the areas affected by the hurricane. In all, the total price tag for Katrina’s damage came to a whopping 5 billion – but just throwing money at a problem doesn’t fix it.
Damage wrought on communities by storms like Katrina require an all-hands approach to recovery, especially in the immediate aftermath. Charitable organizations like the American Red Cross, Oxfam, and Habitat for Humanity responded. So did many members of the international community, even those considered to be at odds with American foreign policy at the time. Those who offered assistance included traditional allies Germany, the UK, and Canada. But even those who did not have the considerable resources of the West, like Mexico. That’s how Mexican Marines ended up clearing timber from schools around Mississippi.
Sailors from the Dutch and Mexican navies distribute water and Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs) to residents of D’Iberville, Miss.
(FEMA photo by Mark Wolfe)
In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, then-President of Mexico Vicente Fox sent a message to the United States, saying:
“In the name of the people and of the government of Mexico, I assure you of my deepest and most sincere condolences for the devastating effects caused by Hurricane Katrina.”
Mexico’s Red Cross sent Rescue Experts to New Orleans while the Mexican Navy deployed off the American Gulf Coast with helicopters, ATVs, amphibious ships, tankers, medical personnel, and tons of food aid. The Mexican Air Force later flew 200 more tons of food in as a convoy of trucks from Mexico shipped hundreds of tons more. It was the first time since the Mexican-American War (which ended in 1848) that Mexico’s troops were inside the United States, and they were here to help.
The Mexicans also helped clear debris and distribute supplies to Harrison County, hit especially hard by Katrina’s intense winds. Gulfport, Miss. took the brunt of the damage, but the surrounding areas were devastated as well. The following month, having finished cleaning up and distributing supplies, the mission ended, and Mexico went home.
Someone went and moneyball-ed military history. Ethan Arsht applied the principles of baseball sabermetrics to the performances of history’s greatest generals’ ability to win battles. It starts with comparing the number of wins from that general to a replacement general in the same circumstances.
The math is tricky but the list is definitive. There are just a few caveats.
First, where is all this information coming from? Although an imperfect source, Arsht complied Wikipedia data from 3,580 battles and 6,619 generals. He then compiled lists of key commanders, total forces, and of course, the outcome. The general’s forces were categorized and his numerical advantage or disadvantage weighted to reflect tactical ability. The real power is ranking the general’s WAR score, the aforementioned Wins Above Replacement.
For each battle, the general receives a weighted WAR score, a negative score for a loss. For example, at the Battle of Borodino that pitted Napoleon against Russian General Mikhail Kutuzov, the French had a slight numerical advantage against the Russians. So, the model devised by Arsht gave Bonaparte a WAR score of .49, which means a replacement general had a 50 percent chance of still winning the battle. Kutuzov gets a -.49 for Borodino, meaning a replacement for him had a 51 percent chance of losing anyway.
The more battles a commander fights and wins, the more opportunities to raise their scores. Fighting fewer battles doesn’t help, either. There were some surprises in the model, like the apparent failures of generals like Robert E. Lee and more modern generals. For the more modern generals like Patton, that can be attributed to the relatively small number of battles commanded.
For more about Arsht’s results, responses to criticism, and his findings, visit his post on Medium’s Towards Data Science. To see every general’s data point and where they sit in the analysis, check out the Bokeh Plot, an interactive data visualization. Remember, this has nothing to do with overall strategy and it’s all in good fun. Arsht does acknowledge his shortcomings, so check those out, too.
10. Alexander the Great
As previously mentioned, Alexander was a great strategist, but since his life was cut short and he had only nine battles from which to draw data, it leaves the model very little to work with. Still, the conqueror of the known world is ranked much higher than other leaders with similar numbers, including the Japanese Shogun Tokugawa, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, and Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart.
It should be noted that Alexander’s per-battle WAR average is higher than anyone else’s on the list.
9. Georgy Zhukov
Zhukov has only one more battle than Alexander and his overall score barely squeaks by the Macedonian. Interestingly enough, his score is far, far above that of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Confederate Generals Jubal Early and John Bell Hood. That’s what overcoming the odds does for your WAR score.
8. Frederick the Great
Ruling for more than 40 years and commanding troops in some 14 battles across Europe earned the enlightened Prussian ruler the number 8 spot on this list. His per-battle average was also lower than Alexander’s but, on the whole, he was just a better tactician.
7. Ulysses S. Grant
Grant’s performance commanding Union troops in 16 battles earned him the seventh spot on the list – and the U.S. presidency. Although his performance on the battlefield is clearly much better than those of his contemporaries, it should be noted that his Civil War arch-rival, Robert E. Lee, is so far below him on the list that he actually has a negative score.
6. Hannibal Barca
Hannibal, once captured by Scipio Africanus, is believed to have given his own ranking system to Scipio, once the two started talking. His personal assessment wasn’t far off from the truth. He listed Alexander the Great and himself. Both of whom are in the top ten, even centuries later.
5. Khalid Ibn al-Walid
Khalid was a companion of the Prophet Mohammed, and one of the Islamic Empire’s most capable military leaders. In 14 battles, he remained undefeated against the Byzantine Empire, the Sassanid Persians, and helped spread Islam to the greater Middle East. Compared to others who fought similar numbers of battles, his score eclipses even Frederick the Great.
4. Takeda Shingen
Being one of the best military minds in feudal Japan is a really big deal, because almost everyone seemed to be a military mind and being better than someone else might mean you get challenged to a duel. After 18 battles, the Tiger of Kai reigned supreme – in Japan, anyway.
3. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
It’s a pretty big deal to be the guy who delivered a solid defeat to the man they called “Master of Europe.” Napoleon’s old nemesis, the Duke of Wellington, also saw command of 18 battles, but his WAR score is considerably higher than that of Takeda Shingen, his nearest challenger.
2. Julius Caesar
Caesar didn’t have command in as many battles as Shingen or the Duke of Wellington, but his WAR score reflects a lot more risk and shrewdness in his battlefield tactics. But Caesar also couldn’t top Alexander’s per-battle WAR average.
1. Napoleon Bonaparte
Yes, you might have guessed by now, but the number one spot belongs to l’Empereur. Napoleon is so far ahead of the normal distribution curve created by the data for these 6,000-plus generals, it’s not even close. After 43 battles, he has a WAR score of more than 16, which blows the competition away. There can be no question: Napoleon is the greatest tactical general of all time, and the math proves it.
The communist forces of Vietnam were largely successful, and for a lot of reasons. They were willing to undergo extreme discomfort and suffer extreme losses for their cause, they were resourceful, and they became more disciplined and well-trained over time. But there was a nightmare infrastructure that they created that also led to success: Those terrifying tunnels.
The fighting in Vietnam dated back to the 1940s when corrupt democratic officials turned the population largely against it. Communist forces preyed upon this, rallying support from the local population and building a guerrilla army, recruiting heavily from farming villages.
The ruling democratic regime patrolled mostly on the large roads and through cities because their heavy vehicles had trouble penetrating the jungles or making it up mountains.
By the time the U.S. deployed troops to directly intervene, regime forces had been overrun in multiple locations and had a firm foothold across large patches of the jungle, hills, and villages.
And while U.S. forces were establishing a foothold and then hunting down Viet Cong elements, the Viet Cong were digging literally hundreds of miles of tunnels that they could use to safely store supplies, move across the battlefield in secret, and even stage ambushes against U.S. troops.
The original Viet Cong tunnels were dug just after World War II as Vietnamese fighters attempted to throw off French colonial authority. But the tunnel digging exploded when the U.S. arrived and implemented a heavy campaign of airstrikes, making underground tunnels a much safer way to travel.
And with the increased size of the tunnel network, new amenities were added. Kitchens, living quarters, even weapon factories and hospitals were moved underground. The Viet Cong now had entire underground cities with hidden entrances. When the infantry came knocking, the tunnels were a defender’s dream.
The tight tunnels limited the use of most American weapons. These things were often dug just tall and wide enough for Viet Cong fighters, generally smaller than the average U.S. infantryman, to crawl through. When corn-fed Nebraskans tried to crawl through it, they were typically limited to pistols and knives.
Even worse for the Americans, the Viet Cong were great at building traps across the battlefield and in the tunnels. Poisoned bamboo shoots, nails, razor blades, and explosives could all greet an attacker moving too brashly through the tunnel networks.
This led to the reluctant rise of the “Tunnel Rats,” American warfighters who specialized in the terrible tasks of moving through the underground bases, collecting intelligence and eliminating resistance. Between the claustrophobia and the physical dangers, this could drive the Tunnel Rats insane.
Once a tunnel was cleared, it could be eliminated with the use of fire or C4. Collapsing a tunnel did eliminate that problem, and it usually stayed closed.
But, again, there were hundreds of miles of tunnels, and most of them were nearly impossible to find. Meanwhile, many tunnel networks had hidden chambers and pathways within them. So, even if you found a tunnel network and began to destroy it, there was always a chance that you missed a branch or two and the insurgents will keep using the rest of it after you leave.
And the tunnels even existed near some major cities. Attacks on Saigon were launched from the Cu Chi Tunnels complex. When U.S. and South Vietnamese troops went to clear them, they faced all the typical traps as well as boxes of poisonous snakes and scorpions.
And the clearance operation wasn’t successful in finding and eliminating the bulk of the tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunnels were the ones used as staging points a weapons caches for the Tet Offensive.
The Pentagon can resist all it wants, but beards have made a comeback.
The Official Journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society even conducted a study to explore how individuals with (or without) facial hair are perceived by others. Women rated men with facial hair as more attractive and appearing healthier than those who were clean-shaven — and now male service members want change.
Today’s military men, however, are just going to have to rely on the uniform to gain an edge over civilians — since the advent of the gas mask, facial hair has been strictly regulated by the military. There are certain exceptions, however, such as a new regulation that will allow service members to wear a beard for religious reasons or operations where a beard could help service members blend in better with the local population.
But until the U.S. military embraces the beard, it’ll remain a rare sight on our warriors.
All the more reason to admire the best military beards in history.
Harry served from 2005-2015, even secretly deploying on combat missions in Afghanistan before his location was publicized and he was pulled out for security reasons. He’s the epitome of cool, he fully recognizes the meaning and importance of service, and he’s proof that a military beard can still look professional.
Ulysses S. Grant
The man led the Union to victory and served two terms as president. That is the beard of victory right there.
Maj. Gen. George Crook
Crook cut his teeth fighting Native American tribes in Oregon before the Civil War. When he was called on to serve the Union, he used the same tactics in the face of the rebel enemy. His beard is exactly the kind you’d expect from a man the Apaches called “Grey Wolf.”
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When most people retire from the military, they look forward to spending more time with family, relaxing, and maybe pursuing their hobbies.
Neall Ellis isn’t most people.
After a successful career in both the Rhodesian and South African militaries, Ellis became bored with civilian life. Rather than sit back and relax, he decided to pursue the only hobby he knew — kicking ass.
With plenty of strife and a need for fighters throughout the African continent, Ellis decided to become a mercenary. He wasn’t going to be just any mercenary though. Ellis recruited a team and procured an Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship.
Ellis’ mercenary work eventually brought him to Sierra Leone, which was in the midst of a civil war in the late 1990s. The government of Sierra Leone, backed by the British, was attempting to quell a rebellion by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
Ellis saw things differently. Though the rebels were attacking at night, and he had no night vision devices, he proposed that he and his crew fly out to meet them and try to drive them off. To his crew, this sounded foolish and none would agree to fly the mission. Unperturbed, Ellis, piloting his helicopter alone, flew against the rebel onslaught.
In the dead of night, with no crew and no night vision, Ellis fought off the rebel advance. When the rebels came again, Ellis once again flew alone and turned them back from Freetown. Only when his helicopter broke down and he was unable to fly did the rebels finally take the city.
But Ellis wasn’t done fighting. Even though the government of Sierra Leone had lost the capital and could no longer pay him or his crew, they kept flying.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Ellis told them, “I have not been paid for 20 months. I do it because I don’t know what else to do. I enjoy the excitement. It’s an adrenaline rush.”
His staunch defense of Freetown had also drawn the ire of the RUF. His actions had so angered the RUF that they sent him a message: “If we ever catch you, we will cut out your heart and eat it.”
Ellis’ response was epic.
Ellis loaded up his bird and flew out to deliver a message of his own.
Arriving over the rebel camp they proceeded to drop thousands of leaflets, with a picture of their helicopter and the words “RUF: this time we’ve dropped leaflets. Next time it will be a half-inch Gatling machine gun, or 57mm rockets, or 23mm guns, or 30mm grenades, or ALL OF THEM!”
And he meant it. Although heavily outnumbered, Ellis kept fighting the rebels.
Eventually, his efforts drew the attention of the British, who decided not only to return to Sierra Leone, but also to provide support to Ellis and work in conjunction with him.
His vast knowledge of the country made him a valuable asset to the British and he actively participated in operations.
In September 2000, Ellis flew his helicopter in support of Operation Barras, a rescue mission of several soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment who had been captured. He would also flew missions with the British SAS.
Ellis and his crew would stay in Sierra Leone until the defeat of the RUF in 2002.
Ellis’ reputation earned him a trip to Iraq working with the British during the invasion in 2003.
The pop culture lexicon often depicts troops from WWII and Vietnam as having a playing card, usually the Ace of Spades, strapped onto their helmet. Although the Vietnam-era “Death Card” is an over-exaggeration of Screaming Eagles believing the urban legend that Vietnamese feared the Spade symbol (they didn’t) and later as a calling card and anti-peace sign, it remains a symbol for unit identification.
Most specifically within the 101st Airborne Division.
The practice of painting the symbol onto a helmet was created in England just before the Normandy Invasion. The purpose was that when a soldier jumped or glided into Normandy and got separated from a larger portion of the unit, the easily identifiable symbol would easily mark a soldier as being apart of a specific regiment and a small dash at the 12, 3, 6, or 9 o’clock position specified the battalion.
Spades were designated for the 506th Infantry Regiment, Hearts for the 502nd, Diamonds for the 501st, and clubs for the 327th Glider Infantry. The ‘tic’ marks went from 12 o’clock meaning HQ or HQ company, 3 o’clock being 1st battalion, 6 o’clock being 2nd, and 9 o’clock being 3rd battalion.
Today, the symbols are still used as a call back to the 101st Airborne’s glory days in WWII.
The regiments are more commonly known by as Brigade Combat Teams and the symbols are each given as Clubs to the 1st BCT, Hearts to the 2nd BCT, Spades to the now deactivated 4th BCT, and Diamonds to the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade along with the 1st Battalion, 501st out of Alaska under the 25th ID. The Rakkasans of the 101st Airborne’s 3rd BCT wear a Japanese Torii for their actions in the Pacific and being the only unit to parachute onto Japanese soil at the time.
While getting divorced in modern times in most nations isn’t exactly a walk in the park, options at least do exist in much of the world, even in cases where one spouse would rather stay together. But this is a relatively modern phenomenon. Classically, getting divorced was almost impossible. So much so that at one point about the only way a woman could manage to get a legal divorce from her husband was to prove in court he couldn’t finish the deed in bed by, if necessary, even attempting to have sex with him with court representatives standing by to observe.
Perhaps not coincidentally around the same time these impotence trials were going on throughout parts of Europe, a rather different means of divorcing one’s spouse popped up in Britain — putting a halter around your wife, leading her like an animal to a local market, loudly extolling her virtues as you would a farm animal, including occasionally listing her weight, and then opening up bidding for anyone who wanted to buy her. On top of this, it wasn’t uncommon for children to be thrown in as a package deal…
While you might think surely something like this must have only occurred in the extremely distant past, this is actually a practice that continued into the early 20th century. So how did this all start and why was it seen as an perfectly legal way for a couple to divorce?
Well, it turns out that nobody is exactly sure how the practice of auctioning a wife got started. There is a mention of it going back all the way to at least 1302 where an individual deeded his wife to another man, but the next known instances didn’t start popping up until the late 17th century, with one of the earliest occurring in 1692 when one John Whitehouse sold his wife to a “Mr. Bracegirdle”.
However, noteworthy here was that four years later, when a man by the name of George Fuller sold his wife to Thomas Heath Maultster, Thomas was nonetheless later fined and ordered to perform a penance for living with his purchased wife. This was despite that all parties involved were in agreement over the sale, seemingly indicating this practice was not yet widely accepted at this point as it would come to be.
On that note, the rise in popularity of this method of divorce came about after the passage of the Marriage Act of 1753 which, among other things, required a clergyman to perform a marriage to make it legally binding. Before that, while that certainly was a common option, in Britain two people could also just agree that they were married and then they were, without registering that fact officially. Thus, without an official registration anywhere, it was also easier to more or less undo the act and hitch up with someone else without officials being any the wiser if neither the husband nor wife complained about the separation to authorities.
As a fun brief aside, the fact that members of the clergy and other officials at this point were often unaware of things like the current marital status of two people is more or less how the whole “If anyone can show just cause why this couple cannot lawfully be joined together in matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace,” thing started. Not at this point a meaningless part of the marriage ceremony, at the time the minister was really asking if anyone knew, for instance, if one or both of the couple he was marrying might already be married or there might be any other legal reason why he shouldn’t marry the couple.
In any event, after the passage of the Marriage Act of 1753 and up to about the mid-19th century, selling your wife at auction seems to have become more and more popular among commoners particularly, who otherwise had no practical means of legally separating. The funny thing about all this is, however, that it wasn’t actually a legal way to get a divorce. But as the commoners seemed to have widely believed it was, clergy and government officials for a time mostly turned a blind eye to the whole thing, with some exceptions.
Illustrating both sides of this, in 1818 an Ashbourne, Derby magistrate sent the police out to break up a wife auction. This was documented by one Rene Martin Pillett who witnessed the event and subsequently wrote about it in his book, Views of England. In it, he states:
In regard to the sale at Ashburn, I will remark that the magistrate, being informed that it would take place, wished to prevent it. Constables were dispatched to drive off the seller, purchaser, and the woman for sale, when they should make their appearance in the market place to perform the ceremony, but the populace covered the constables with mud, and dispersed them with stones. I was acquainted with the magistrate, and I desired to obtain some information in regard to the opposition he had endeavored to make to the performance of the ceremony, and the right which he assumed at that conjuncture. I could obtain no other than this: “Although the real object of my sending the constables, was to prevent the scandalous sale, the apparent motive was that of keeping the peace, which people coming to the market in a sort of tumult, would have a tendency to disturb. As to the act of selling itself, I do not think I have a right to prevent it, or even to oppose any obstacle to it, because it rests upon a custom preserved by the people, of which perhaps it would be dangerous to deprive them by any law for that purpose.”
Pillett goes on, “I shall not undertake to determine. I shall only observe that this infamous custom has been kept up without interruption, that it is continually practised; that if any county magistrates, being informed of a proposed sale, have tried to interrupt it, by sending constables, or other officers to the place of sale, the populace have always dispersed them, and maintained what they consider their right, in the same manner as I have seen it done at Ashburn.”
That said, the press, in general, seemed to have almost universally condemned the practice from the way they talked about it. For example, as noted in a July of 1797 edition of The Times: “On Friday a butcher exposed his wife to Sale in Smithfield Market, near the Ram Inn, with a halter about her neck, and one about her waist, which tied her to a railing, when a hog-driver was the happy purchaser, who gave the husband three guineas and a crown for his departed rib. Pity it is, there is no stop put to such depraved conduct in the lower order of people.”
Nevertheless, particularly in an age when marriage was often more about practical matters than actually putting together two people for the purposes of being happy with one another, there were a lot of unhappy couples around and if both people agreed they’d be better off splitting, a means was needed to do so. The British commoners, having almost no other feasible way to do this, simply got inventive about it.
This might all have you wondering what rationale was used to justify this exact method of divorcing and why people just didn’t split and forget about what authorities thought. As to the latter question, people did do that in droves, but there was legal risk to it to all involved.
You see, at this point a wife was in a lot of ways more or less considered property of her husband. As noted by judge Sir William Blackstonein in 1753, “the very being… of the woman, is suspended during the marriage, or at least is consolidated and incorporated into that of her husband…”
In turn, the husband was also expected to do his part to take care of his wife no matter what and was responsible for any debts she incurred, etc. Just as importantly, while a man having a mistress wasn’t really that uncommon, should a wife find her own action on the side, perhaps with someone she actually liked, this was by societal standards of the day completely unacceptable. This didn’t stop women from doing this, of course, even occasionally leaving their husbands completely and living with a new man. But this also opened up a problem for the new man in that he had, in effect, just stolen another man’s property.
Thus, the dual problem existed that the husband still was legally obligated to be responsible for any debts his wife incurred and to maintain her. He could also be prosecuted for neglecting his duty there, whether his wife had shacked up with another man or not. As for the new suitor, he could at any point also be subjected to criminal proceedings, including potentially having to pay a large fine to the husband for, in essence, stealing his property, as well as potential jail time and the like.
Thus, the commoners of England decided leading a wife as if she was cattle to the market and auctioning her off was a legal way to get around these problems. After all, if the wife was more or less property, why couldn’t a husband sell her and his obligations to her in the same way he sold a pig at market?
While you might think no woman would ever agree to this, in most of the several hundred documented cases, the wife seemingly went along happily with the whole thing. You see, according to the tradition, while the wife technically had no choice about being auctioned off in this way, she did have the right to refuse to be sold should the winning bidder not be to her liking, at which point the auction seems to have continued until a suitable buyer was found. For example, in one case in Manchester in 1824, it was reported that, “after several biddings she [the wife] was knocked down for 5s; but not liking the purchaser, she was put up again for 3s and a quart of ale.”
Further, there are a few known instances of the wife buying herself, such as in 1822 in Plymouth where a woman paid £3 for herself, though in this instance apparently she had a man she’d been having an affair with that was supposed to purchase her, but he didn’t show up… Ouch…
On that note, it turns out in most of the documented instances, the buyer was also usually chosen long before the actual auction took place, generally the woman’s lover or otherwise the man she wanted to be with more than her former husband. And, as she had the right to refuse to be sold, there was little point in anyone else bidding. In fact, accounts exist of the after party sometimes seeing the husband who sold the wife taking the new couple out for drinks to celebrate.
Owing to many involved in such divorces being poor and the suitor often being chosen before hand, the price was usually quite low, generally under 5 shillings, even in some reported cases a mere penny — just a symbolic sum to make the whole thing seem more official. For example, as reported in February 18, 1814,
A postillion, named Samuel Wallis, led his wife to the market place, having tied a halter around her neck, and fastened her to the posts which are used for that purpose for cattle. She was then offered by him at public auction. Another postillion, according to a previous agreement between them, presented himself, and bought the wife thus exposed for sale, for a gallon of beer and a shilling, in presence of a large number of spectators. The seller had been married six months to this woman, who is only nineteen years old.
Not always cheap, however, sometimes honor had to be served when the more affluent were involved. For example, in July of 1815 a whopping 50 guineas and a horse (one of the highest prices we could personally find any wife went for), was paid for a wife in Smithfield. In her case, she was not brought to market via a halter either, like the less affluent, instead arriving by coach. It was then reported that after the transaction was complete, “the lady, with her new lord and master, mounted a handsome curricle which was in waiting for them, and drove off, seemingly nothing loath to go.”
Perhaps the most famous case of someone among the wealthy purchasing an eventual wife from another involved Henry Brydges, the Duke of Chandos. It is not clear how much he paid nor when exactly the transaction took place, but while traveling to London sometime in the 1730s, the Duke stopped at an Inn called the Pelican in Newbury. It was later reported in an August of 1870 edition of Notes and Queries,
After dinner there was a stir and a bustle in the Inn Yard. The explanation came that “A man is going to sell his wife and they are leading her up the yard with a halter round her neck”. “We will go and see the sale,” said the Duke. On entering the yard, however, he was so smitten with the woman’s beauty and the patient way she waited to be set free from her ill‑conditioned husband, the Inn’s ostler, that he bought her himself.
He did not, however, initially take her as his wife, as his own wife was still alive at the time. However, he did have the woman, former chambermaid Anne Wells, educated and took her as his mistress. When both his own wife and Anne’s former husband died within a few years of each other not long after, he married Anne himself in 1744. Their marriage was apparently a happy one until her own death in 1759. An 1832 edition of the The Gentleman’s Magazine concludes the story:
On her death-bed, she had her whole household assembled, told them her history, and drew from it a touching moral of reliance on Providence; as from the most wretched situation, she had been suddenly raised to one of the greatest prosperity…
Not always a completely happy ordeal, however, there are known cases where the sale followed a husband finding out his wife was cheating on him, and then the man she was having an affair with simply offering to buy her to avoid the whole thing becoming extremely unpleasant for all involved or needing to involve the courts.
It has been suggested this may be why elements of the spectacle were rather humiliating to the women. Perhaps early on when the tradition was being set some husbands who had wives that had been cheating on them or otherwise just making their lives miserable took the opportunity to get a last jab at her before parting ways.
Not always just humiliating via being treated as an animal in front of the whole town, sometimes verbal insults were added. For example, consider the case of Joseph Tomson. It was reported his little sales pitch for her was as follows:
Gentlemen, I have to offer to your notice my wife, Mary Anne Thomson, otherwise Williams, whom I mean to sell to the highest and fairest bidder. Gentlemen it is her wish as well as mine to part for ever. She has been to me only a born serpent. I took her for my comfort, and the good of my home; but she became my tormentor, a domestic curse, a night invasion, and a fairly devil. Gentlemen, I speak truth from my heart when I say may God deliver us from troublesome wives and frolicsome women! Avoid them as you would a mad dog, a roaring lion, a loaded pistol, cholera morbus, Mount Etna or any other pestilential thing in nature. Now I have shewn you the dark side of my wife, and told you her faults and failings, I will introduce the bright and sunny side of her, and explain her qualifications and goodness. She can read novels and milk cows; she can laugh and weep with the same ease that you could take a glass of ale when thirsty. Indeed gentlemen she reminds me of what the poet says of women in general: “Heaven gave to women the peculiar grace, To laugh, to weep, to cheat the human race.” She can make butter and scold the maid; she can sing Moore’s melodies, and plait her frills and caps; she cannot make rum, gin, or whisky, but she is a good judge of the quality from long experience in tasting them. I therefore offer her with all her perfections and imperfections, for the sum of fifty shillings.
Not exactly an effective sales pitch, nobody bid for about an hour, which perhaps was further humiliating motivation for such a pitch. Whatever the case, he then dropped the price and eventually got 20 shillings and a dog from one Henry Mears. Apparently Mears and his new wife parted in, to quote, “perfect good temper” as did Thomson.
All this said, while many known accounts seem to be of people where both the husband and wife were in agreement about the separation and use of the auction as the method of divorce, this wasn’t always the case on both sides. For instance, we have the 1830 case in Wenlock Market where it was reported that the woman’s husband “turned shy, and tried to get out of the business, but Mattie mad’ un stick to it. ‘Er flipt her apern in ‘er gude man’s face, and said, ‘Let be yer rogue. I wull be sold. I wants a change’.” She was subsequently sold for 2 shillings and 2d.
In another case, one drunk individual in 1766 in Southwark decided to sell his wife, only to regret the decision later and when his wife wouldn’t come back to him, he killed himself… In a bit more of a happy ending type story, in 1790 a man from Ninfield was at an inn when he decided to sell his wife for a half a pint of gin. However, he would later regret the loss, so paid some undisclosed price to reacquire her, an arrangement she would have had to agree to for it to be completed.
On the other side, there do seem to be some cases where the woman was seemingly auctioned against her will. However, for whatever it’s worth, again, in these cases by tradition she did always have the option to refuse a sale, though of course not exactly a great option in some cases if it meant going back to a husband who was eager to be rid of her. Nonetheless, this may in part explain why there are so few known accounts of women not seeming to be happy about the whole thing. While it might be going to an uncertain future if a man hadn’t already been prearranged, at least it was going to someone who actually wanted her, and willing to outbid other bachelor’s around town (in these cases being a legitimate auction).
Going back to the legality of it all, at least in the minds of the general public, it would seem people considered it important that the whole thing needed to be extremely public, sometimes even announcing it in a local paper and/or having a town crier employed to walk through town announcing the auction and later sale. This made sure everyone around knew that the husband in question was no longer responsible for his wife, nor her debts or other obligations, and announced that the husband had also agreed to dissolve any former rights he had to his wife, ensuring, again at least in the minds of the general public, that the new suitor could not be criminal prosecuted for taking the wife of another man.
For further legal protection, at least in their minds, some would even go so far as to have a contract drawn up, such as this one from Oct. 24, 1766:
It is this day agreed on between John Parsons, of the parish of Midsummer Norton, in the county of Somerset, clothworker, and John Tooker, of the same place, gentleman, that the said John Parsons, for and in consideration of the sum of six pounds and six shillings in hand paid to the said John Parsons, doth sell, assign, and set over unto the said John Tooker, Ann Parsons, wife of the said John Parsons; with all right, property, claim, services, and demands whatsoever, that he, the said John Parsons, shall have in or to the said Ann Parsons, for and during the term of the natural life of her, the said Ann Parsons. In witness whereof I, the said John Parsons, have set my hand the day and year first above written. JOHN PARSONS. ‘Witness: WILLIAM CHIVERS.’
While none of this was legally binding in the slightest, for whatever it’s worth, there is at least one case where a representative of the state, a Poor Law Commissioner, actually forced a sale of a wife. In this case, they forced one Henry Cook to sell his wife and child to avoid the Effingham workhouse having to also take in his family. The woman was ultimately sold for a shilling. The parish did, at the least, pay for a wedding dinner after the fact… So only 99.9% heartless in kicking a man while he was down.
In any event, there were also known court cases where the courts upheld such a divorce, though seemingly always jury trials. For example, in 1784 a husband tried to claim his former wife as his own again, only to have a jury side with the new couple, despite that there was literally no law on the books that supported this position.
On the flipside there were many more cases where the courts went the other way, such as the case of an 1835 woman who was auctioned off by her husband and sold for fifteen pounds, with the amount of the transaction indicating this person was likely reasonably well off. However, upon the death of her former husband, she went ahead and claimed a portion of his estate as his wife. The courts agreed, despite the objections of his family who pointed out the previous auction and that she had taken up a new husband.
Now, as you can imagine, literally leading your wife by a halter around her neck, waist, or arm to market and putting her up on an auction block, even if seemingly generally a mutually desired thing, from the outside looking in seemed incredibly uncivilized and brutish. As such, foreign entities, particularly in France, frequently mocked their hated neighbors in England for this practice.
From this, and the general distaste for the whole thing among the more affluent even in Britain, the practice of auctioning wives off began to be something the authorities did start to crack down on starting around the mid-19th century. As noted by a Justice of the Peace in 1869, “publicly selling or buying a wife is clearly an indictable offence … And many prosecutions against husbands for selling, and others for buying, have recently been sustained, and imprisonment for six months inflicted…”
In another example, in 1844 a man who had auctioned off his former wife was being tried for getting married again as he was, in the eyes of the state, still considered to be married to his original wife. The seemingly extremely sympathetic judge, Sir William Henry Maule, admonished him for this fact, while also very clearly outlining why many of the less affluent were forced to use this method for divorce, even in cases where the wife had left and taken up with another man:
I will tell you what you ought to have done; … You ought to have instructed your attorney to bring an action against the seducer of your wife for criminal conversation. That would have cost you about a hundred pounds. When you had obtained judgment for (though not necessarily actually recovered) substantial damages against him, you should have instructed your proctor to sue in the Ecclesiastical courts for a divorce a mensa et thoro. That would have cost you two hundred or three hundred pounds more. When you had obtained a divorce a mensa et thoro, you should have appeared by counsel before the House of Lords in order to obtain a private Act of Parliament for a divorce a vinculo matrimonii which would have rendered you free and legally competent to marry the person whom you have taken on yourself to marry with no such sanction. The Bill might possibly have been opposed in all its stages in both Houses of Parliament, and together you would have had to spend about a thousand or twelve hundred pounds. You will probably tell me that you have never had a thousand farthings of your own in the world; but, prisoner, that makes no difference. Sitting here as an English Judge, it is my duty to tell you that this is not a country in which there is one law for the rich and one for the poor. You will be imprisoned for one day. Since you have been in custody since the commencement of the Assizes you are free to leave.
In the end, thanks to the masses having to resort to such extreme measures as simply abandoning a spouse and never legally separating, auctioning the wife off as if she was an animal, and the aforementioned impotence trials, divorce law was eventually revamped in Britain with the passage of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, finally allowing at least some affordable means of divorce for commoners, particularly in cases of abandonment or adultery. This, combined with the courts cracking down on wife auctions, saw the practice more or less completely die off by the end of the 19th century, though there were a few more known cases that continued in Britain all the way up to 1926 where one Horace Clayton bought a woman he then called his wife for £10 from her previous husband.
In case anyone’s wondering, while there are only a handful of known cases of it happening, there were a few husbands sold as well, though as part of the point of the whole thing was for the husband to publicly declare he was no longer obligated to his wife and for the woman in question to agree to be wed to another man, with rights to her transferring to him, the auction of a husband didn’t really make a lot of sense from a practical standpoint. Nevertheless, it did happen. For example, consider this case reported a March 18, 1814 edition of the Statesmen:
On Saturday evening an affair of rather an extraordinary nature was brought before his Lordship the Mayor of Drogheda. One Margaret Collins presented a complaint against her husband, who had left her to live with another woman. In his defense, the husband declared that his wife was of a very violent disposition, which her conduct before the magistrate fully proved; that in her anger she had offered to sell him for two pence to her in whose keeping he then was; that she had sold and delivered him for three halfpence; that on payment of the sum, he had been led off by the purchaser; that several times, his wife, the seller, in her fits of anger had cruelly bitten him; that he still bore terrible marks of it (which he showed) although it was several months since he belonged to her. The woman who purchased, having been sent for to give her evidence, corroborated every fact, confirmed the bargain, and declared that she every day grew more and more satisfied with the acquisition; that she did not believe there was any law which could command him to separate from her, because the right of a wife to sell a husband with whom she was dissatisfied, to another woman who was willing to take up with him ought to be equal to the husband’s right, whose power of selling was acknowledged, especially when there was a mutual agreement, as in the present instance. This plea, full of good sense and justice, so exasperated the plaintiff, that, without paying any regard to his lordship, she flew at the faces of her antagonists, and would have mangled them with her teeth and nails, if they had not been separated…
It’s also worth noting that at least some English settlers to America carried on the tradition there, such as this account reported in the Boston Evening-Post on March 15, 1736:
The beginning of last Week a pretty odd and uncommon Adventure happened in this Town, between 2 Men about a certain woman, each one claiming her as his Wife, but so it was, that one of them had actually disposed of his Right in her to the other for Fifteen Shillings this Currency, who had only paid ten of it in part, and refus’d to pay the other Five, inclining rather to quit the Woman and lose his Earnest; but two Gentlemen happening to be present, who were Friends to Peace, charitably gave him half a Crown a piece, to enable him to fulfill his Agreement, which the Creditor readily took, and gave the Woman a modest Salute, wishing her well, and his Brother Sterling much Joy of his Bargain.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
America’s first tank unit, known as the “Treat ’em Rough Boys,” rushed through training and arrived in Europe in time to lead armored thrusts through Imperial German forces, assisting in the capture of thousands of Germans and miles of heavily contested territory.
The tankers were vital to the elimination of the famous St. Mihiel salient, a massive German-held bulge in the lines near the pre-war German-French border.
American forces joined the war late, participating in their first battle on Nov. 20, 1917, over three years after the war began and less than a year before it ended.
America had never attempted to create a tank before its entry into World War I. So while American G.I.s and other troops were well-supplied and fresh, most weren’t combat veterans and none had any tank experience.
Into this gap rode cavalry captain George S. Patton. He lobbied American Expeditionary Force Commander Gen. John J. Pershing to allow him to establish a tank school and take command of it if the U.S. decided to create a tank unit.
Patton also pointed out that he was possibly the only American to ever launch an armored car attack, a feat he had completed in 1916 under Pershing’s command in Mexico.
The first-ever American tank unit consisted of the light tank units organized by Patton and heavy tanks with crews trained by England.
When it came time for the AEF to lead its first major operation, the St. Mihiel salient was the obvious target. Other allied forces had already pacified other potential targets, and the salient at St. Mihiel had severely limited French lines of communication and supply between the front and Paris since Germany had established it in 1914.
The tanks led the charge into the salient on Sept. 12 with two American light tank battalions, the 326th and the 327th, backed up by approximately three battalions worth of French light tanks and two companies worth of French-crewed heavy tanks.
Infantry units moved into battle just behind the tanks, allowing the tracked vehicles to crush barbed wire and open the way.
Per Patton’s design, the tank companies were equipped with a mix of heavy guns to wipe out machine gun nests and other prepared defenses and machine guns to mow down infantry that got within their fields of fire. This mix allowed for rapid advancement except where the Germans had dug their trenches too deep and wide for the Renaults to easily cross.
The American infantry attacked the remaining resistance after the tanks passed and then took over German positions.
Of course, the first American armored offensive was not without its hiccups. The French-made Renault tanks got bogged down in deep mud. While German artillery was only able to knock out three American-crewed tanks, another 40 were lost to mud, mechanical breakdowns, and a lack of fuel at the front.
Patton continued refining American tank deployments, ordering that U.S. tanks carry fuel drums strapped to the back of the tank. At the suggestion of an unknown private, he also began equipping one tank per company as a recovery and repair tank, leading to the dedicated recovery vehicles in use today.
The tank corps went on to fight in the Meuse-Argonne offensive through the end of the war, this time with their heavy tanks there to support the infantry alongside their light armored friends. All of the tanks continued to face greater losses from terrain and mechanical breakdown than they did from enemy forces.
The greatest enemy threat to the tanks was artillery and mines, but the Germans learned to place engineering barriers such as large trenches to slow down the advance, and early anti-tank rifles took a small toll.
The United States hasn’t always been a multi-party system. Today, Republicans and Democrats make up a majority of the political population, while institutions like Reform, Libertarian, Socialist, Natural Law, Constitution and Green Parties all come into play. But before there were donkeys and elephants, there were original political parties … and a debate as to whether the parties should exist at all.
The First Party System
It began in 1792 with the country’s First Party System, which lasted until 1824. During this time there was the Federalist Party and the Anti-federalist party, which was known by several additional names, including the Democratic-Republican Party, and Jeffersonian Republic.
It’s worth noting that there were two parties based on talks among George Washington and his advisers, such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. However, these two advisers in particular were actually against political parties. So much so, they wrote the Federalist Papers, discussing the dangers of such allegiances. However, as time went on, they actually helped form the system itself, with Hamilton leading the Federalist party and Madison and Thomas Jefferson taking over the Democratic-Republicans.
Federalists: Led by Alexander Hamilton, he was Washington’s Secretary of Treasury. His stance was a strong, unified government. He also wanted a central bank system, staying close with Britain, and keeping close lines of communication between rich landowners and the government. They eventually lost power by remaining too selective, with few men meeting their standards.
Democratic-Republicans: Meanwhile, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were opposed to the Federalist ideas. Hence, their original name of the Anti-Federalists. They wanted everything the Federalist party did not want: less government involvement, rights to vote by the common man, and freedom in the banking system. By 1800 they came into power as the Jeffersonians, effectively taking over the Federalists. However, around 1824, at the end of James Monroe’s presidency, its support dwindled. The sense of unity that was once among Americans died down and Monroe’s attempt to lessen political party led way to an entirely new system.
The Second Party System
During this time, just after the election of 1824, new political parties were also in various stages of being formed, with certain states gaining more traction than others. This system lasted until the mid-1850s.
The Whig Party: Led by Henry Clay, a prolific politician who served in the Senate, House, and Secretary of State, evolved from the once Democratic-Republican Party. It was also evolved into the Anti-Jacksonian Party, the National Republican Party, and simply Republicans.
Whigs wanted Congress to be the government’s executive branch. They grappled with others over the federal banking system — which eventually led to collapse and creation of state banks — and nepotism/favoritism among federal elected officials. With Whigs being for the former and against the latter. The party collapsed in the 1850s due to disagreements over slavery.
The Democratic Party: Hailing from Andrew Jackson’s beliefs, the Democrats were formed in 1828, making it today’s oldest political party. During the Second Party System, Jackson was at the head of the movement, pushing for a strong presidential power. (They wanted the President to remain over other government branches.) And they were against the Federal Government’s bank, the Bank of the United States. They also disliked programs that were becoming more modern, as they believed it would be at the expense of farmers. Democrats were pro-slavery, believing that it was a practice that helped boost farming and its profits.
The Third Party System
From the 1850s until the 1890s, the U.S. took on a third party system, featuring the previous Democrats and the newly formed Republican Party.
The Republican Party: Not surprisingly so, the Republican Party took its ties from the Whigs, which was once the National Republican Party. The Republicans are largely viewed to have had political success over this time. They claimed credit for winning the civil war and therefore saving the Union, as well as abolishing slavery. They also included several Whig mantras, such as national programs like banks, railroads, veteran pensions, and land grant colleges. Northern and Western states were mostly Republican-led, with certain states being more equally matched, like New York and New Jersey.
The Democratic Party: This time period is considered the “Republican Interlude,” with the Democrats seeing most support in the South. The party gained from Reconstruction, and was eventually able to regain power of Congress when there was a national depression that took place in 1873.
From then on, more states were added and therefore, the amount of land covered has also expanded. However, we continue to use these main political parties to this day.
From the American Revolution and beyond, Black service members have had an irreplaceable role in the trajectory and success of the United States military. Their contributions have helped shape the outcome of individual battles and missions, as well as paved the way for changes regarding equality in the armed forces. Here are three service members who each played unique and incredibly important roles during their time in the service.
Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr.
Pilot and instructor of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, history’s first Black military pilots, Gen. James has an untouchable legacy of accomplishments. From the time he was young, Chappie, a nickname gifted by his brother, had always wanted to be a pilot. At 19, he would become a Tuskegee graduate and respected instructor. In July of 1943, as a Second Lieutenant, he became a pilot and member of the Tuskegee Airmen.
His time as a fighter pilot only bolstered his reputation. During the Korean War, he flew over 100 combat missions. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1950, for his leadership over a flight of F-51 Mustangs (a 1947 re-designation of the legendary P-51) during a close air support mission for U.N. troops, which saved U.S. soldiers from a serious and fatal threat.
Following the Korean War, James quickly began rising in the ranks, and by 1967, as a colonel, he became Vice Wing Commander of the Eighth Tactical Fighter Wing in Thailand, and flew 78 combat missions over North Vietnam. The most notable of which being Operation Bolo, which is considered to be one of the most successful tactical missions against Vietnamese fighter forces during that time.
In addition to all of James’s war efforts, he made an important impact on issues of racial equality, both within and outside of the military. One of his first assignments with the Tuskegee Airmen involved training in B-25 Mitchells at the Freeman Field in Indiana. Here, a group of Black service members were arrested and charged with mutiny and disobeying orders when they entered a “white only” officers’ club. When asked to sign an order supporting the need for racial segregation, James, along with 100 other Black officers, refused to do so. James, who was a Lieutenant at the time, was instrumental in aiding communication between those who were arrested and those in the public, in order to bring attention to what was happening. This incident led to Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War at the time, to ban access to facilities based on race, including officers’ clubs.
In 1975, James became the first Black four-star general in the armed forces. He was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1993. Prior to his death in 1978, he was asked to reflect on his life and service in the United States military, to which he responded, “I’ve fought in three wars and three more wouldn’t be too many to defend my country. I love America and as she has weaknesses or ills, I’ll hold her hand.”
Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown
Following President Truman’s ban on segregation and discrimination in the military in 1955, Johnson-Brown joined the U.S. Army, having previously graduated from the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing. She served in the Army from 1955 to 1983, becoming the first Black female Brigadier General in 1979.
Her unparalleled skills as a nurse as well as her leadership capabilities contributed greatly to her successes throughout her career. Her ability to lead was evident when, over time, she was named both Director of the Walter Reed Army Institute School of Nursing as well as Chief Army Nurse in South Korea. She was also named the first Black Chief of the United States Army Nursing Corps, which granted her the distinguished responsibility of not only overseeing 7,000 Army nurses, but also the entirety of eight Army medical centers, 56 community hospitals, and 143 freestanding clinics both in the United States and around the world.
During her time in the Army, she received numerous awards and recognition for her work and contributions. Among them were the Army Commendation Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Meritorious Service Award, Legion of Merit as well as being named Army Nurse of the Year twice. Her time in the service was spent at a variety of medical facilities, some of the most notable being Valley Forge General Hospital and the 8169 Hospital, Camp Zama, Japan.
Johnson-Brown’s ability to lead and inspire continued in her life as a civilian following retirement. She was a professor of nursing at Georgetown University, as well as George Mason University in Virginia, where she played a large role in developing and implementing the Center for Health Policy, which aimed not only to educate nurses in health policy and policy design, but to also actively involve them in the process.
She was also an advocate for racial equality, and was said by many to have challenged the inequalities she witnessed. In reference to a recent promotion, Johnson-Brown was asked about the potential impact of her race on her advancement, to which she responded “Race is an incidence of birth. I hope the criterion for selection didn’t include race but competence.”
Doris “Dorie” Miller
A perfect example of an unsung hero, Dorie Miller’s bravery and actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor saved countless lives and helped change history. As a means to provide more financial stability for his family, Miller enlisted in the Navy in 1939. He received training in Virginia and was promoted to Mess Attendant Third Class which, due to existing segregation in the Navy, was one of the few ranks afforded to Black service members at the time.
In 1940, Miller was transferred from the USS Pyro, to the USS West Virginia, which was where he was on December 7th, 1941. What was a normal work day for him, which began with gathering laundry, quickly shifted to what would become his defining moment. Upon hearing an alarm sound, Miller then went to his assigned battle station, which had already been destroyed by a torpedo, so he returned to seek reassignment.
Since Miller had the well known reputation of being the ships heavy-weight boxing champion, he was tasked with helping wounded soldiers to safety, which included the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Mervyn Sharp Bennion, who had been severely injured.
Following that, Miller was ordered to begin feeding ammunition into an unmanned .50-caliber Browning machine gun, despite having never been trained to use them due to his rank. He manned not one but two of these weapons until he ran out of ammunition and the USS West Virginia began to sink. He was one of the last three men to abandon ship.
In recognition of his actions and heroism, Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, by Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. At the time, this was the third-highest combat related Naval award, and Miller was the first Black sailor to be awarded the medal. He was also the recipient of a Purple Heart, World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic-Pacifc Campaign Medal and the American Defense Service Medal.
While it has never been definitively proven just how tactically effective Miller’s manning of weapons was, his dedication to protection and service in the face of adversity is what makes him such an integral part of history. Miller continued his service until November 24th, 1943, when he and two-thirds of the crew of the USS Liscome Bay died or went missing following a Japanese torpedo strike. The USS Miller, a U.S. Navy Knox class destroyer, was launched in 1972, with its name honoring Dorie.