The legendary career of the Coast Guard's first commandant - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

. . . [Captain] Fraser opposed an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and this official’s hostility proved fatal to the Captain’s long career: by an arbitrary abuse of power, the administration in 1856 revoked his commission summarily. Both indefensible and stupid, this action resulted wholly from personal animosity and cost the government one of the most far-sighted and loyal men who ever sailed in the Revenue-Marine.
Capt. Stephen Evans, U.S. Coast Guard, retired. “The United States Coast Guard: A Definitive History”

As the quote above indicates, Capt. Alexander Vareness Fraser, first commandant of the service, was a visionary and a man of character. During his four years as head of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, he did his best to professionalize and modernize the service. Many of his innovations were ahead of their time taking place decades after he tried to implement them.


Fraser was born in New York, in 1804, and attended the city’s Mathematical, Nautical and Commercial School. In 1832, he applied for a commission with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. President Andrew Jackson signed his commission as second lieutenant aboard the cutter Alert. Fraser served as boarding officer when the service ordered his cutter to Charleston during the infamous “Nullification Crisis” in which South Carolina officials defied federal law requiring merchant ships arriving in Charleston to pay tariffs. During this event, political tempers cooled and a national crisis was ultimately averted.

After the Nullification Crisis, Fraser was offered command of a merchant vessel destined for Japan, China and the Malayan Archipelago. Upon his return two years later, Fraser received appointment as first lieutenant aboard the Alert. Soon thereafter, Congress passed a law authorizing revenue cutters to cruise along the coasts in the winter months to render aid to ships in distress. Fraser returned to New York before any cutters actually started this new duty, and he applied for it, taking command of the Alert when its captain was too sick to go to sea. He spent three years performing this mission, becoming the first cutter captain to carry out the service’s official search and rescue mission.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
Rare pre-Civil War photo of Alexander Fraser in dress uniform.
(U.S. Coast Guard Collection)

In 1843, Treasury Secretary John Spencer created the Revenue Marine Bureau to centralize authority over the cutters within the department and appointed Fraser head of the Bureau. As head of the service, Fraser busied himself with all financial, material and personnel matters concerning the revenue cutters. During his first year in office, he assembled statistics and information for the service’s first annual report and he outlawed the use of slaves aboard revenue cutters. He instituted a merit-based system of officer promotion by examination before a board of officers. He also began the practice of regularly rotating officers to different stations to acquaint them with the nation’s coastal areas. He tried to improve the morale of the enlisted force, raising the pay of petty officers from $20 a month to $30; however, he also prohibited the drinking of alcohol onboard cutters. He made regular inspection tours of lighthouses and tried to amalgamate the Lighthouse Board with the Revenue Marine Bureau, a merger that finally occurred nearly 100 years later. With construction of the 1844 Legare-Class cutters, Fraser introduced the service to iron hulls and steam power. However, these hull materials and motive power were experimental at the time and the new cutters proved unsuccessful.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
Early photo of a Legare-Class iron cutter converted to lightship use.
(U.S. Coast Guard Collection)

In November 1848, Fraser completed his four-year tenure as commandant. He asked for command of the new cutter C.W. Lawrence on a maiden voyage that would round Cape Horn bound for the West Coast. This journey placed him in charge of the first revenue cutter to sail the Pacific Ocean. The Lawrence arrived at San Francisco almost a year after departing New York and, during this odyssey, Fraser took it upon himself to educate his officers in navigation and seamanship much like the Revenue Cutter Service School of Instruction did after its founding in 1876. Unfortunately, all of these trained officers resigned their commissions when they reached California to join the Gold Rush.

On the San Francisco station, Fraser had an exhaustive list of missions to perform with a crew depleted by the lure of gold. He not only enforced tariffs and interdicted smugglers; he provided federal law enforcement for San Francisco, relieved distressed merchant vessels and surveyed the coastline of the new U.S. territory. Fraser had a busy time with 500 to 600 vessels at anchor in San Francisco harbor, many with lawless crews. There were no civil tribunals to help with law enforcement, so Fraser did his best to enforce revenue laws while aiding shipmasters in suppressing mutiny.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
Painting of Alexander Fraser showing his home town of New York and the cutter Harriet Lane in the background.
(U.S. Coast Guard Collection)

After completing his assignment on the West Coast, Fraser returned to New York City. There, he was suspended and investigated on the charge of administering corporal punishment in San Francisco. The case was unsuccessful so he retained his captaincy in New York. In 1856, the merchants of New York decided they needed a new cutter because the port had become such an important commercial center. Fraser favored building a steam cutter and visited Washington to lobby for new construction. Congress appropriated funds for the steam cutter Harriet Lane, which later earned fame in the Civil War.

Because Fraser had lobbied Congress directly, without permission from the Department of the Treasury, his commission was revoked in 1856. He went into private business in New York as a marine insurance agent, but he retained a sincere interest in military service. He applied for reinstatement in the service during the Civil War and, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed a captain’s commission for Fraser. By then, however, personal matters intervened and Fraser regretfully declined the appointment. He died in 1868 at the age of 64 and was laid to rest in a Brooklyn cemetery.

Fraser introduced the service to professionalization, new technology and moved a reluctant service toward reforms and innovations that would take place long after his death. As the first commandant, Fraser’s foresight and enlightened leadership set the service on course for growth and modernization. He was a true seaman, a visionary and a member of the long blue line.

This article originally appeared on Coast Guard Compass. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

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6 reasons why an Afghanistan deployment is just like ‘Star Wars’

There aren’t any real ways to describe what Afghanistan was like to civilians. Life on deployment is just so bizarre that the only thing you can do is compare it to something else.

You could say that it’s a blisteringly hot desert with creepy-ass bugs that’s peppered with some assholes who want us dead, but a more telling analogy would be to compare it to Star Wars‘ desert planet of Tatooine.


The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

But you might find something that someone else might find interesting. Won’t be you though.

(Photo by photo by Senior Airman Jessica Lockoski)

Constantly looking around for nothing

There are moments on deployment when things get intense. That’s not up for debate. But there is a significant difference between the number of troops who’ve been deployed and the number of troops who’ve seen actual combat. For the most part, patrols come back having received nothing more than a few glares from the locals.

You might have one of the few grunts who was constantly on-mission for duration of your deployment, but for the other 99.99 percent of us, there’s a lot of nothing going around.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

…during which, you guessed it, nothing will happen again.

(Photo by Sgt. Steven Quinata)

Nothing to do if you’re on an outlaying FOB

Even when troops get back to the FOB — surprise! — there’s still nothing going on.

The two-thirds of the “Fobbits” who didn’t join you have nothing interesting to talk about and you’re just twiddling your thumbs waiting until the next time you can go out on patrol.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

Chances are, you’re not going to find a droid with an encoded message from a princess, so just enjoy your recording of a movie that came out three years ago.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. David Carbajal)

The locals sell old hand-me-downs

Despite popular civilian belief, you actually can snag some solid quality-of-life things from the local bazaars.

But it’s never anything actually useful — unless you’re interested in a collection of ripped DVDs of some 90s sitcom. It’s like the old hunk-of-junk droids that Luke buys. I mean, yeah, they kick off the Hero’s Journey for Luke, but everyone else who buys that crap is probably going to hawk it off to the next guy.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

Definitely smells about the same…

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka)

The main airfields were just weird

At first glance, Kandahar Airfield sounds like a Mos Eisley-esque, wretched hive of scum and villainy. Many years ago, that may have been true, but now it’s just… odd.

Everyone from all the NATO nations are headquartered there and with that diversity comes an odd mixture of cultural identities. Everyone seems so happy for no reason, despite there being a literal pond full of sh*t just downwind.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

Both aren’t known for their spectacular aim, either.

(Courtesy Photo)

The terrorists are basically the Tusken Raiders

Terrorists are aggressive and attack when you least expect them to. Once, there was a time when they were feared for their ability in battle.

Truth is, they’re garbage and get wasted pretty fast whenever they show their faces.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

It’s hard to differentiate the two sometimes. They’re usually the only fat people people in a war-torn and impoverished nation, but no one ever says anything about it…

(Photo by Sgt. Tracy Smith)

The warlords are basically Jabba the Hutt

The Afghan leadership thinks they have control over the warlords, but they really don’t. No one wants to call them out for their criminal enterprises; it’s not a fight anyone is willing to take.

Accepting that you have to pay off the Hutts to get things done is the norm on Tatooine. It’s basically the same in Afghanistan.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia’s new stealth fighter isn’t actually all that stealthy

Russia’s “fifth-generation,” “combat-tested,” “stealth” fighter jet has a lot of dubious claims made about it, but recent close-up photography of the plane from Russia’s Victory Day parade on May 9, 2018, reveals it’s just not a stealth jet.

Russia has tried to sell the plane as a stealth jet to India, but India backed out. Considering a shrinking economy and defense spending, it’s unclear now if Russia will ever produce the Su-57 in reasonable quantities.


Business Insider asked a senior scientist working on stealth aircraft how to evaluate the plane’s stealth, and the results were not good.

Take a look at the pictures below and see if you can spot what’s wrong:

The scientist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of stealth work, pointed out six major problems from the pictures.

First, take a look at the seams between the flaps on the aircraft — they’re big. For reference, look at the US’s F-22, the stealthiest fighter jet on earth:

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
(Photo by Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois)

The flaps at the end of the wing have very tight seams, which don’t scatter radar waves, thereby maintaining a low profile.

Secondly, look at the Su-57’s vertical rear tails. They have a wide gap where they stray from the fuselage. Keeping a tight profile is essential to stealth, according to the scientist.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
An earlier version of the Su-57.
(Photo by Marina Lystseva)

Look at the F-35’s rear tails for reference; they touch the whole way.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
(Lockheed Martin)

Third, look at the nose of the Su-57. It has noticeable seams around the canopy, which kills stealth. The F-35 and F-22 share a smooth, sloped look.

It’s likely Russia doesn’t have the machining technology to produce such a surface. The actual nose of the Su-57 looks bolted on with noticeable rivets.

Finally, take a look at the underside of the Su-57; it has rivets and sharp edges everywhere. “If nothing else convinces that no effort at [stealth] was attempted, this is the clincher,” the scientist said.

Russia didn’t even try at stealth, but that’s not the purpose

Su-57

As the scientist said, Russia didn’t even appear to seriously try to make a stealth aircraft. The Su-57 takes certain measures, like storing weapons internally, that improve the stealth, but it’s leaps and bounds from a US or even Chinese effort.

This highlights the true purpose of Russia’s new fighter — not to evade radar itself, but to kill US stealth jets like the F-35 and F-22.

The Su-57 will feature side mounted radars along its nose, an infrared search-and-track radar up front, and additional radars in front and back, as well as on the wings.

As The Drive’s Tyler Rogoway writes, the side-mounted radars on the Su-57 allow it to excel at a tactic called “beaming” that can trick the radars on US stealth jets. Beaming entails flying perpendicular to a fighter’s radar in a way that makes the fighter dismiss the signature of the jet as a non-target.

Any fighter can “beam” by flying sideways, but the Su-57, with sideways-mounted radars, can actually guide missiles and score kills from that direction.

Russia has long taken a different approach to fighter aircraft than the US, but the Su-57 shows that even without the fancy percision-machined stealth of an F-22, Moscow’s jets can remain dangerous and relevant.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Amtrak is offering veteran and military member discounts

Veterans receive a 10% discount on the lowest available rail fare on most Amtrak trains.

Use the Fare Finder at the beginning of your search on www.amtrak.com and select ‘Military Veteran’ for each passenger as appropriate to receive the discount.


Military personnel save 10% and get ahead of the ticket line

With valid active-duty United States Armed Forces identification cards, active-duty U.S. military members, their spouses and their dependents are eligible to receive a 10% discount on the lowest available rail fare on most trains, including for travel on the Auto Train.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

An Amtrak train at Penn Station, NYC.

Just use the Fare Finder at the beginning of your search on www.amtrak.com and select ‘Military’ for each passenger as appropriate to receive the discount.

Additionally, Amtrak supports and thanks troops by welcoming uniformed military personnel to the head of the ticket line.

  • The veteran/military discount is not valid with Saver Fares or weekday Acela trains.
  • The veteran/military discount does not apply to non-Acela Business class, First class or sleeping accommodation. Veterans can upgrade upon payment of the full accommodation charges.
  • The veteran/military discount is not valid for travel on certain Amtrak Thruway connecting services or the Canadian portion of services operated jointly by Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada.
  • The veteran/military discount may not be combined with other discount offers; refer to the terms and conditions for each offer.
  • Additional restrictions may apply.

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

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The only Native American general in the Civil War wore gray

According to a pair of memos produced in during Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, the Union and the Confederacy combined for roughly one thousand generals during the Civil War. Of those hundreds of generals, only one was a Native American — and he fought for the South.


Brigadier General Stand Watie isn’t that well-known, mostly because he was fighting in what the Confederates called the Trans-Mississippi Department. This region did not see battles on the scale of Antietam, Gettysburg, or Shiloh. Instead, the Civil War was more a collection of raids or guerilla warfare – and it wasn’t always the nicest of affairs.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
Battle of Pea Ridge (Library of Congress)

Stand Watie was familiar with violence. As a major leader of the Cherokee Nation, he had seen family members killed and had himself been attacked in the aftermath of the removal of the Cherokee to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. Many of the Cherokee owned slaves, and took them west during that removal. This lead a majority of the Cherokee to support the Confederacy when the Civil War started.

The Oklahoma Historical Society notes that Stand Watie was commissioned as a colonel in the Confederate Army after he had raised a cavalry regiment. He was involved in a number of actions, including the Battle of Pea Ridge.

The Cherokee soon were divided in the Civil War, and a number began defecting to the Union. Watie and his forces were involved in actions against pro-Union Cherokee. Watie was promoted to brigadier general, and his command would encompass two regiments of cavalry as well as some sub-regimental infantry units. His best known action was the capture of the Union vessel J. R. Williams in 1864 and the Second Battle of Cabin Creek.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
Map of the Cabin Creek battlefield. (Graphic from Wikimedia Commons)

By today’s standards, his unit also committed some grave war crimes, including the massacre of Union troops from the First Colored Kansas Infantry and the Second Kansas Cavalry regiments in September 1864.

Watie would later be given command of the Indian Division in Indian Territory, but never mounted any operations. By 1865, he would release his troops. He would be the last Confederate general to surrender his forces, doing so on June 23, 1865. After the war, Watie tried to operate a tobacco factory, but it was seized in a dispute over taxes.

He died in 1871.

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The thing everyone gets wrong about post-apocalypse vehicles

Every generation has concerns about the apocalypse. From doomsday prophets to Y2K bugs, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an era of humanity that didn’t include some portion of the population that sincerely believed they were living in the end times. My generation is different, however.


We may be the first generation that seems to be hoping for it.

Between popular blockbusters depicting the end of the world, popular TV shows dramatizing post-apocalyptic survival, and seemingly ever-rising tensions between very real global powers on the world’s stage, my generation didn’t grow up with the specter of nuclear war quite like our parents did. Instead, we grew up in the cynical aftermath: wedged somewhere between the Baby Boomers in power and the young millennials clamoring for it. Those of us in the middle have grown up with a romanticized idea of the end times, if only as a refuge from the problems of today.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
Everybody seems to think they’d be the guy IN the car, rather than the one strapped to the front. (Warner Brothers Pictures)

 

There’s a big difference between fantasizing about the end of the world and surviving it

Many of us like to be “prepared” for a bad situation. Maybe that’s because people my age are all old enough to have already lived through one or two. But some take that drive to be prepared a few steps further, intent on not just being ready for the end of the world, but genuinely hoping to thrive once it comes about. Of course, some others settle for wistfully talking about what they’d do if the zombies descended on their house: head to Walmart to stock up, load up on firearms at the local gun store, and then swing by the National Guard armory for a Humvee, right?

No credit scores. No social obligations. No debts, bosses, or reason to get up early. Just you, your survival ride, and hordes of the undead to roll over. There’s just one problem with that idea: your dream survival rides would all get you killed.

Whether you hope to take to the streets in a muscle car like Mad Max or Will Smith in I am Legend, or you plan to drive over your problems in an armored military vehicle, you’re screwed either way.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
This thing would be awesome until anything broke. (U.S. Marines)

 

Armored and specialized survival rides aren’t maintainable

Sure, cruising through the apocalypse in an up-armored humvee or MRAP sounds like your best bet, but those planning on raiding the Motor T lot of their local National Guard center seem to forget that in order to operate all those armored vehicles, the United States employs a veritable army of maintainers, mechanics, and service technicians each with specialized skills and a fair amount of training.

You can’t service these massive vehicles with the floor jack out of your Honda Accord either, and that’s why those pesky diesel mechanics usually have their own building chock-full of heavy lifts and power tools. Ever changed the tire on a Humvee? Even with the right tools on hand, it can be a real pain in the ass. I’d imagine that only gets worse when the old Motor T guys are trying to eat your brains while you’re at it.

Big, specialized vehicles aren’t just hard to work on; they’re hard to find parts for. Specialty vehicles need specialty dealers, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find some other Mercedes 6×6 trucks to cannibalize parts from in a jam. You’re better off on a Vespa that runs than you are in a Mercedes that doesn’t.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
The least believable part of “I am Legend” was a Mustang Cobra driving on these streets. (Warner Brothers Pictures)

 

Sports cars and muscle cars won’t go anywhere

Maybe you’ve got a less pragmatic approach to survival and after a world-ending cataclysm your first priority would be getting your hands on the keys to a brand new mid-engine Corvette, or that ’68 Charger you’ve always dreamed of. After all, with all the current owners dead or zombified, what’s to stop you? Well, the roads for one thing.

Despite the number of potholes on my street, we do tend to enjoy fairly well maintained and clear roads here in the United States. That stops immediately when all the hard-working folks responsible for that start eating each other. That means your super-low sports car will have trouble making it anywhere at all, let alone at the speeds it was designed to achieve.

And then, of course, we get back to that first problem with finding parts and having the know-how required to repair or maintain your vehicle. In many newer performance cars, repairs are as much a digital effort as they are a physical one, and unless you have the specialized equipment you need to communicate with a car’s ECU (or other form of on-board computer), you’re going to be sh*t out of luck when it comes time to throw some wrenches at a problem.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The US military could soon be flying one of the fastest helicopters ever

Helicopters have been very versatile, serving as anything from transports to gunships. But they haven’t been all that fast. According to AirForce-Technology.com, the fastest helicopter in military service is the CH-47F Chinook, which has a top speed of 195 mph.


That could change if the Sikorsky S-97 enters service with the U.S. Army. With a top speed of at least 253 mph, it blows the competition away — even if it isn’t quite as fast as Airwolf.

But hey, the technology is getting pretty close.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
The S-97 Raider showing the new technology that enables it to fly at speeds of at leas 220 knots. (Lockheed photo)

But the S-97 isn’t just fast. According to Lockheed, this futuristic helo, with contra-rotating main rotors and a pusher in the tail, can carry AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, Hydra 2.75-inch rockets, and will shoot a 7.62mm machine gun or a .50-caliber machine gun. Four can fit inside a C-17 Globemaster transport. Lockheed notes that the S-97 can also carry up to six troops in its cabin.

Lockheed says that the S-97 could fill other roles besides the armed reconnaissance role that the AH-64 Apache has taken over, including as a search and rescue helicopter, a multi-mission special operations helicopter — and there’s even a proposed unmanned variant. The S-97 can also be refueled in flight.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
The S-97, this time showing a gun pod on the left side. (Lockheed photo)

One area the helicopter could excels is in the so-called “high and hot” climates that have often limited other helicopters. Lockheed claims the helicopter can hover at 10,000 feet in an air temperature of 95 degrees.

Lockheed is marketing the S-97 Raider to not just the Army and Special Operations Command, but states that the S-97 could also fill missions for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. You can see a video about this futuristic helicopter below.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why names are added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

Known simply as “The Wall” to the men and women who can find the name of a loved one inscribed on it, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall lists the names of those who fell during the Vietnam War. The names are arranged first by date, and then alphabetically. There are more than 58,000 names on more than 75 meters of black granite, memorializing those who died in service to that war.


The eligibility dates span Nov. 1, 1955, through May 15, 1975, though the first date on The Wall during its dedication was from 1959. A service member who died in 1956 was added after The Wall was dedicated – and names have actually been added on multiple occasions.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

(Hu Totya)

When The Wall was completed in 1982, it contained 57,939 names. As of Memorial Day 2017, there were 58,318 names, including eight women. There are veterans still eligible to have their names inscribed with their fellow honored dead. The Department of Defense decides whose name gets to go on The Wall, but those inscribed typically…

  • …died (no matter the cause) within the defined combat zone of Vietnam (varies based on dates).
  • …died while on a combat/combat support mission to/from the defined combat zone of Vietnam.
  • …died within 120 days of wounds, physical injuries, or illnesses incurred or diagnosed in the defined combat zone of Vietnam..

Currently, victims of Agent Orange and PTSD-related suicide are not eligible to have their name inscribed on the memorial wall. You can request to have a name added at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website.

10 more names were added to The Wall in 2012 and the statuses of 12 others were changed. The 10 servicemen came from the Marine Corps, Navy, Army, and Air Force, and died between 1966 and 2011. The Department of Defense determined that all deaths were the result of wounds sustained in Vietnam.

As for the status changes, the names are still recorded on The Wall. For those who’ve never seen The Wall in person, each name is also accompanied by a symbol. A diamond means the person was declared dead. A name whose status is unknown is noted by a cross. When a missing person is officially declared dead, a diamond is superimposed over the cross. If a missing person returned alive, the cross would be circumscribed with a circle.

The latter has never happened.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial features more than just The Wall, it also includes the Women’s Memorial and “The Three Soldiers” statue.

Status changes happen all the time, as the remains of those missing in action are found, identified, and returned home.

While the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall doesn’t include the names of service members who died through diseases related to Agent Orange exposure, other state and local memorials may include them. As recently as October, 2018, the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall began to include those who died through such illnesses.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Only one US senator was ever killed in battle

Oregon Sen. Edward Dickinson Baker was a veteran of the Mexican-American War, friend of President Abraham Lincoln, and respected legislator when he appeared before the Senate in full military uniform and delivered an impassioned speech on the Union cause to his colleagues.


 

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

Baker’s “Call to Arms” became famous and included the impassioned line:

We will rally the people, the loyal people, of the whole country. They will pour forth their treasure, their money, their men, without stint, without measure!

This was the second time that Baker had addressed the American legislature in uniform. Before shipping off to the Mexican-American War, Baker was a representative from Illinois and had addressed the House of Representatives in full dress.

Unfortunately for Baker, his Civil War adventure did not go as well as his trip to Mexico.

On Oct. 20, 1861, he and his brigade camped along the Potomac River. Another unit was sent at night to scout enemy positions on the other side and reported that they had spotted a Confederate camp that was completely unguarded.

A force was raised to attack the camp but it discovered that the “rows of tents” spotted by the scouts had actually seen a row of short trees that they confused for tents in the dark. Confederate sentries spotted the Union troops and quickly set up a skirmish line.

Baker was sent to figure out what was going on and take command of the Union forces in the battle. He and his men began moving across the river but there were precious few boats to ferry troops.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
Painting: Public Domain

By the time that Baker and his men were properly placed, the Confederates had enjoyed plenty of time to reinforce their positions on the high ground above the river. When Baker led his assault, he was quickly shot down. His men attempted to flee but rushed so fast that many fell over a 70-foot cliff into the river. Baker’s 1,700-man brigade suffered almost 1,000 killed, wounded, and captured in the battle.

The defeat was so crushing that Congress established an investigating committee to look into how the Battle of Ball’s Bluff and other prominent Union losses went so wrong.

Active duty service by congress members was banned by the War Department in World War II. Modern legislators are forbidden from serving on active duty by the Incompatability Clause of the Constitution which prevents members of Congress from holding office in another branch of government.

So far, service in the Reserves or has not been interpreted as violating the clause so long as the legislator is not called to active duty for anything but training. So hopefully Baker will hold his distinction as the only senator killed in battle for a long time.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The top 6 Army-Navy Game uniforms ever worn for the big rivalry

For the past few years, both Army and Navy break out with new uniforms to honor some aspect of their service or academy heritage during the much-anticipated Army-Navy Game. The 2019 game will feature the Black Knights honoring the 1st Cavalry Division with their uniforms while Navy is wearing throwback unis reminiscent of the days of Navy legend Roger Staubach – who will surely be in attendance.

While it’s cool to see all the thought and effort that goes into making one of college football’s biggest rivalries an epic game, not all of the uniforms were on target. Here are a few of the all-time best.


The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

6. Navy’s 2013 “Don’t Give Up The Ship”

These majestic blue and gold digs honored not only the traditions and history of the Naval Academy but also included a traditional design with a historical, entirely relevant message underneath the uniform. Navy didn’t give up the ship, beating Army 34-7.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

5. Army’s 2012 “1944” Tribute

This year, Army sported black and gold uniforms that honored its World War II heritage, incorporating real-world battle maps of the 1944 Battle of the Bulge. Their helmets this year also featured the black spade logo to honor the 101st Airborne Division. But badass uniforms were not enough to beat Navy, who won 17-13.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

4. Navy’s 2015 Ship Helmets

While Navy’s uniforms this year may be par-for-the course college football jerseys, each helmet was specifically painted with a different kind of ship in the Navy’s fleet. Ranked Navy beat Army 21-17.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

3. Army’s 2017 10th Mountain White-Outs

Almost as if Army predicted the weather, the Black Knights’ 2017 all-white tribute to the 10th Mountain Division came when the game was pretty much played in the middle of a snowstorm. Army topped Navy 14-13.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

2. Navy’s 2019 Staubach-Era Throwbacks

Yes, it may seem unfair to add this year’s Navy uniform to the list, but choosing to honor the Staubach-era Navy team by wearing a throwback to their uniforms is a thoughtful touch for the aging “Comeback Kid,” who will turn 78 in 2020. Staubach led the Mids to numerous come-from-behind victories, including over vaunted rival Notre Dame. The Heisman Trophy-winner then led the team to the 1964 National Championship, but fell to number one Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

1. Army’s 2018 “Big Red One” Uniforms

In 2018, the Black Knights honored the 100th Anniversary of the End of World War I with an homage to the 1st Infantry Division with these sweet black and red combo uniforms. I’m not saying this is why ranked Army topped Navy for the third year in a row, but I’m also not ruling it out.

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This dad asked about his son, and the Bismarck was doomed

In the early days of World War II, battleships were still considered kings and all of the combatants hunted for their enemies’ greatest ships. The battleship Bismarck, the largest battleship in commission at the start of 1941, was the pride of the German Kriegsmarine and an epic combatant. Britain desperately wanted to sink her before she could break into the open Atlantic.

Luckily for Britain, a badly timed, badly encoded radio transmission allowed British warships to find and kill the vessel.


The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
The Bismarck fires during the Battle of the Denmark Straits in May, 1941. It sank the pride of the Royal Navy, the HMS Hood, during the engagement. (German federal archives)

 

In May, 1941, the U.S. and Russia had not yet joined the Allies as combatants, and Britain had already been pushed entirely off the continent. Morale was low in Great Britain, and its control of the seas was challenged by German U-boats that preyed upon convoys from the U.S.

One of Britain’s greatest fears was that Germany would starve the island kingdom out, potentially by sending more and larger ships into the Atlantic to prey on shipping. One of the most frightful possibilities was the Bismarck, a massive craft that was, at the time, the largest battleship in active service in the world (Japan’s Yamato-class and America’s Iowa-class would later beat its records).

The Bismarck had 16-inch guns and thick armor, and it could hit most convoys with impunity if it ever broke out of the Baltic and North seas. In May, 1941, it attempted to do just that.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
Spoilers are above, but this story originally played out over 70 years ago, so you should’ve seen it already by now. (Citypeek, CC BY-SA 3.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Bismarck left port on May 18 and attempted to slip out undetected. It made it through the North Sea with the Prinz Eugen as well as a number of smaller vessels. But when the flotilla passed between Denmark and Sweden into the North Sea, Norwegian resistance members and Swedish forces got a good look at the ships, and someone passed the report to Britain.

It’s unsure how much detail Britain received (Norwegian resistance members only identified “two unidentified major ships”), but British naval officers immediately suspected that the Bismarck was breaking out.

On May 21, the ships were spotted, and the British gave chase. The full story is great, from British cruisers tailing the massive vessel to attackers hiding in fog banks to when the Bismarck sank Britain’s pride and joy, the HMS Hood, with a single hit from the Bismarck’s main guns. The YouTube channel Extra History has a great series on the hunt, available here for all who want to watch it.

But we’re going to skip ahead to the final days of the chase.

By dawn on May 25, the Hood was sunk, the Prinz Eugen had escaped into the Atlantic, and the Bismarck had evaded the British cruisers in pursuit. But the Bismarck had been wounded and was now leaking oil across the ocean, limiting its range and speed.

The British, more desperate than ever to prevent the Bismarck from joining the war in the Atlantic as well to avenge the loss of the Hood, had called every available ship into the hunt.

But the days of naval maneuvering had left the Bismarck hundreds of miles out to sea, and the British didn’t know if the ship would head to Norway or France for repairs. Britain didn’t have enough ships to search both routes.

 

The British commander sent most of the fleet north to search the route to Norway, leaving one battleship and a few other vessels within range of the route to France.

This problem was compounded when the Bismarck made a monumental mistake, sending two 30-minute radio transmissions, but some of the British intercept officers made a mistake and pinpointed the transmission as coming from the route to Norway, when the transmission actually came from the route to France. It would take them hours to catch the mistake.

At this moment, the Bismarck’s path into France was relatively clear. The German vessel had the lead, and the British fleet was headed the wrong way. But the rumors of the Bismarck’s fighting had made it to the continent, and a concerned father made one of the worst mistakes of the war.

The general had a son on the Bismarck, and he asked after his son’s status. The request was transmitted to the Bismarck, and the Bismarck responded. Then, that response was relayed back to the general. It said the Bismarck had suffered no casualties and was now headed to Brest, a port city in France.

When the message was relayed, though, it was done on a Luftwaffe Enigma machine with only four wheels instead of the more secure, five-wheel model used by the Admiralty. The British quickly decoded the message, and the entire British fleet turned back south to intercept the Bismarck before it could reach Brest.

On May 26, the HMS Ark Royal, an aircraft carrier, was chasing down the Bismarck as night came on. It was mere hours till darkness would halt any more attacks. By morning, the Bismarck would be under the protection of Luftwaffe planes taking off from France.

It was now or never, and the Swordfish planes flying from the Ark Royal had just enough time for two attacks. But the first attack was a ridiculous catastrophe. The British planes made a mistake, attacking the British ship chasing the Bismarck instead of the Bismarck itself. Luckily, they were equipped with magnetic detonators that set off the torpedoes as they hit the water.

The Swordfish returned to the Ark Royale to re-arm, and then headed back out for Britain’s last chance at the Bismarck before it was safely in France.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
The HMS Ark Royal sails with its swordfish overhead. (U.K. Government)

 

The planes chased down their quarry, and the Swordfish flew into the teeth of the Bismarck’s guns. The rounds shredded the canvas wings of the planes, but the planes managed to drop a spread of torpedoes anyway.

There were two hits. One struck the Bismarck’s armor belt and did little damage, the other struck low in the water but did no visible damage. The Swordfish pilots turned home in dismay.

But when they landed, they learned glorious news. The Bismarck had been in a hard turn to port when the second torpedo struck, and the strike had knocked out rudder control. Since the Bismarck had been in a hard turn at the time, it was now stuck turning in tight circles in the Atlantic, out of range of Luftwaffe protection.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant
The HMS Dorestshire rescues survivors of the Bismarck. Only about 114 sailors made it out. (Royal Navy)

 

The rest of the British fleet barreled down on the stricken foe, and eventually, four battleships and cruisers were circling the Bismarck, pounding it with shell after shell. They knocked out turrets, they shredded the decks, and they terrified the crew.

It only ended when the British fleet ran low on fuel. It was under orders to sink the Bismarck at all costs, so as most of the ships headed to refuel, the HMS Dorsetshire was left to finish the job. It dropped torpedoes into the water, and finally, the Bismarck suffered holes beneath the waterline. The Bismarck sank. The pride of the German fleet was done. Just over 100 sailors survived of the 2,200-man crew.

If the general had loved his son a little less, or, you know, if signals officers had been more careful to use the best available encryption or leave the ship’s destination out of the message, the Bismarck likely would have made it to France without further damage.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Israeli fighters dominating Russian-made defenses in Syria

Russia deployed some of its best air defenses to Syria to keep US missiles and jets at bay as the US military’s immense air and naval power fought ISIS in close proximity — but the supposedly airtight defenses are routinely defeated by Israel.

In February 2017, a Syrian-manned Russian-made S-200 missile defense system shot down an Israel F-16 returning from a massive raid targeting Iranian forces in Syria.


In response, Israel launched another raid that it claimed took out half of Syria’s air defenses, of which older Russian systems comprised the majority.

In April 2018, Syria got rocked by a missile attack that appeared to ignite a munitions depot hard enough to register as a 2.6 magnitude earthquake and is believed to have killed dozens of Iranians.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

Reported image of a strike on Iranian soldiers in Syria.

(Danny Makki/Twitter)

In May 2018, Israel released video of one of its bombs destroying a Russian air defense system, Russian media offered excuses as to why it failed to stop the incoming missile.

Israel rarely confirms individual airstrikes, and either confirmed or didn’t deny these attacks.

In September 2018, another Israeli raid on Iranian weapons stockpiles in Syria saw a Russian Il-20 surveillance and control plane downed by Russian-made air defenses fired off in error by Syrian air defense units, killing 15.

Russia accused Israel of purposefully flying under the Il-20 to confuse the Syrian air defenses into shooting down a friendly plane and quickly shipped the more advanced S-300 missile defenses to Syrian hands.

Russia thinks highly of its S-300 and other missile defenses, and has publicly mocked the US over its stealth jets, implying it could shoot them down. At the time, Russia said it would shut down satellite navigation in the region and that it expected its new defenses would preclude further Israeli attacks. So far, they were wrong.

Somehow Israel has continued to hit targets in Syria at will with F-16s, non-stealthy fourth-generation fighter-bombers.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

On Jan. 14, 2019, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that his country’s air force had carried out hundreds of raids in Syria, with a recent one hitting Iranian weapons near Damascus International Airport.

Russia initially deployed air defenses to Syria to keep powerful countries like the US from attacking Syrian President Bashar Assad, and later to protect its own air force fighters stationed there.

The US has long opposed Assad, as he violently shut down peaceful protesters in 2011 and has stood accused of torture, war crimes, and using chemical weapons against civilians during the country’s maddening 7-year-long civil war.

But the US has attacked Syria twice with cruise missiles, and Syria has never proven a single missile intercept.

According to experts, there’s two likely reasons why Syria’s Russian-made air defenses can’t get the job done: 1. Israel is good at beating Syrian air defenses. 2. Syria is bad at beating Israeli jets.

Israel is good at this

“One of the Israeli hallmarks when they do these sort of fairly bold strikes within the coverage of the Syrian air defenses is heavy electronic warfare and jamming,” Justin Bronk, an aerial combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute told Business Insider.

Bronk said that Israel, a close US ally that takes part in major training events in the US, has become adept at knocking over Syrian air defenses.

Israel sees Iranian arms shipments through Syria as an existential threat. Although Israel has relationships to maintain with the US and Russia — both key players in the Syrian quagmire — Netanyahu has said resolutely that Israel will stop at nothing to beat back Iran.

The legendary career of the Coast Guard’s first commandant

Israel’s air force.

In more than 100 raids admitted by Netanyahu, Israel has only lost a single aircraft. Bronk attributes this to “many, many tricks developed over decades” for the suppression of enemy air defenses developed by Israel.

Retired US Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Berke, a former F-35, F-22, and F-18 pilot, told Business Insider that Israel finds “innovative, creative, and aggressive ways to maximize the capability of every weapons systems they’ve ever used.”

Syria is bad at this

Syria has demonstrably failed on many occasions to stop air attacks on its territory. While Russia’s air defenses do give US military planners serious pause, Syria’s have yet to prove themselves.

With US Tomahawk cruise missile strikes in consecutive Aprils in 2017 and 2018, Syria claimed both times to have blocked a significant portion of the attack, but never provided any evidence of an intercept.

Additionally, photos from the second US Tomahawk strike on Syria show Syrian air defenses firing interceptor missiles on ballistic trajectories.

This strongly indicates that the Syrians simply fired blindly into the night sky, unable to detect a thing as US missiles rocked targets across the countryside.

Finally, Syria shooting down a friendly Russian plane evidences a lack of coordination or situational awareness, whether due to old hardware, Israeli electronic warfare, or simply poor execution.

Israel’s most recent attacks in Syria took place smack in the middle of Damascus, Russian and Syrian air defenses make for some of the world’s most challenging airspace.

That Israel can still fight in Syria among top Russian air defenses shows either that their force has its tactics down pat, that Syria can’t field decent air defense regimes, or that Russia has turned a blind eye to Israel pounding on Iranian advances in the region.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Video shows sheriff’s deputy get hit by train and survive

A sheriff’s deputy received minor injuries after his vehicle was struck by a train in Midland, Texas on May 21, 2019.

Two Midland County Sheriff’s Office SUVs attempted to drive around a slow-moving, west-bound train at a railroad crossing when an east-bound train struck the lead vehicle.

The west-bound train had offloaded some cars and was trying to get out of the deputy’s way, Midland County sheriff Gary Painter said during an interview with KWES. The west-bound train; however, blocked the deputy’s view of the incoming east-bound train that was moving “at a high rate of speed.”


The railroad crossing sign was functioning at the time of the crash, but the deputy made the decision to cross the railroad tracks, Midland Reporter-Telegram reported.

The deputy’s vehicle flipped over after it was struck by the moving train. Video footage from a witness showed the scene:

The deputy behind the impacted vehicle pulled the injured deputy through his windshield, according to KWES. The deputy who was hit sustained minor injuries and was taken to a hospital.

The deputies were initially responding to a call of a baby who wasn’t breathing, KWES reported. (The baby is alright, Painter told KWES.)

The Federal Railroad Administration estimated in 2015 that motorists are 20 times more likely to die in a collision with a train than with a vehicle. Most of the collisions involved trains traveling less than 30 miles per hour.

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

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