Long before she ever served as our country’s original First Lady — the OG American leading lady — she lived a prosperous and successful life. She wasn’t “just” a homemaker or took a backseat to the political process. She was actually a prolific landowner, who was in charge of multiple plantation operations. It’s a role she came by through generations, as she herself was born on her own parents’ plantation.
In 1731, she was born as Martha Dandridge to John and Frances Dandridge. Her father was an immigrant from England (her mother was born in America), and made his living by farming in the Virginia Colony. Growing up on a plantation, she learned the business (if even indirectly) and trained for her eventual role as a land owner herself.
At just 18, she married another Virginia plantation owner, Daniel Parke Custis, who was 20 years older than she. The pair met when Martha was 16 and dealt with family disapproval through their courtship until they were wed two years later. Custis also came from a large plantation family, and as the sole heir, took over his family’s large estate — one of the wealthiest in Virginia at the time.
But in 1757, when Martha was a young woman of 26 years old, her husband Daniel passed away, leaving her the entirety of their estate. Custis did not have a will — he presumably died from a heart attack and was 37 years old — which meant she was automatically willed the land. One-third was hers for her lifetime, with the other two-thirds left to their four children once reaching adulthood. During this time, Martha successfully ran the plantation. She was in charge of more than 17,000 acres, investments, and liquid cash. Her biographer wrote that Martha “capably ran five plantations” and that she bargained with London merchants to earn more for her tobacco crops. With the assets, she was also in charge of some 300 slaves, whom her second husband, George Washington, granted their freedom upon her death. (We condemn the practice of slavery by the Washingtons and throughout the Mount Vernon estate.)
At the time, Martha was left as the wealthiest widow in Virginia, and one of the wealthiest people in the colony altogether. It was rare — but not unheard of — for women to have such roles. For two years she successfully ran five plantations as the head of household.
She then married the future First President, George Washington in 1759.
However, once she married George Washington, he took control over her inheritance under the law of seisin jure uxoris, meaning the man has a right to his wife’s possessions. (This was the culture of the time, and in fact, women in Great Britain were not legally allowed to own property until the 1880s.) Washington then became the plantation owner of the former Custis estate.
Washington remained the land and slave owner until he passed in 1799. At this time, Martha again inherited the land, until it was willed back to her son. However, Washington added a provision to his will that his own 124 slaves would be freed upon Martha’s death. Martha feared for her own safety, citing several fires that were started at Mount Vernon. Martha ended up releasing the slaves on her own accord a year before her passing in 1802.
Army Air Corps Tech. Sgt. Ernest Merle Hancock was the top turret gunner in a B-17 bomber flying into Nazi Germany from Italy in the third of three American bomber groups. The German forces at the target offered some resistance to the first two bomber groups, but they held the real fireworks for the third group.
The B-17s had no fighter cover when 200 German fighters, some of which were the feared Focke Wulf-190, rose up to attack the mere 27 B-17s in the American formation.
Despite the long odds, Hancock and the other gunners opened up with everything they had. Hancock’s plane was struck by Messerschmitt 109 and Fw-190 fire and Hancock himself suffered injuries from the enemy guns.
A fire spread through the bomber, but Hancock stayed at his post until ordered to bail out. He finally exited the burning plane as it flew near the German border with France. Unfortunately, he was captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war as a POW.
The SR-71 Blackbird was the fastest military jet that has ever taken to the skies. But there was a plane that not only went twice as fast, but it also went much higher.
That speedy plane was the North American X-15.
The X-15 was one of the first true spaceplanes, with a number of flights going beyond Earth’s atmosphere, according to a 2005 NASA release. It was capable of going over 4,500 mph, or nearly Mach 6, and it went as high as 354,200 feet – or just over 67 miles – above the Earth.
The plane didn’t actually take off from the ground. In fact, it needed the help of a B-52 bomber before it could reach those dizzying heights and super-high speeds. NASA used two of the first B-52s, an NB-52A known as the “High and Mighty One,” for some flights before a NB-52B known as “Balls 8” took over the duty.
Once released from the B-52 at an altitude of 45,000 feet and a speed of 500 miles per hour, the X-15’s Reaction Motors XLR-99 would activate providing 70,400 pounds of thrust, according to a NASA fact sheet. At most, the plane had two minutes of fuel.
Among the pilots who were at the controls of this marvel was Neil Armstrong – you’d know him as the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong didn’t get into space with this plane in any of his seven flights, but he did post the 6th-fastest speed among the X-15 sorties, according to an official NASA history.
One of those who achieved the rating of astronaut, Major Michael Adams, received the honor posthumously after he was killed in a crash of his X-15A on Nov. 15, 1967. Adams had broken the 50-mile barrier that the Air Force and NASA used to define entering space on his seventh and final flight, reaching an altitude of 266,000 feet and a top speed of 3,617 mph, according to the NASA history’s list of X-15 flights.
Below, take a look at the video from Curious Droid, which talks about the X-15 – and the awesome career it had.
In the Battle of Fallujah, Marines swept in to take the city away from insurgent forces, only to have politicians pull them out — and send them right back in months later. The first and second Battles of Fallujah have entered Marine Corps lore, alongside Iwo Jima and Chapultepec.
But what many don’t know is what happened at the Battle of Najaf, which played out before the 2nd Battle of Fallujah kicked off.
An Najaf is another sacred city in Iraq. It has approximately seven square miles of cemeteries — as above, so below. Under the cemeteries are miles of catacombs, haunting places where enemy fighters could be hiding, concealed in the dark.
A major player in the battle was the insurgent leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia cleric who brought disgruntled Iraqis together under the idea of an Islamic democracy. To enforce that idea, he created a military wing, Jaysh al-Mahdi, also known as the Mahdi Army. He suddenly turned on the coalition, demanding an immediate withdraw of all coalition forces from Iraq.
Though the mayor of An Najaf brokered a ceasefire between the coalition and the Mahdi Army in June 2004, this only lasted until the end of August. In July of that year, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit took over operational command from Task Force Dragon. That’s when the fighting in the city started to escalate.
In August, the Mahdi Army attacked the 1st Battalion 4th Marines, starting a significant battle of the new Iraq War. The next days were long and drawn out, characterized by house-to-house fighting, open-street engagements, and fighting across open farm fields. For eight days, the battle raged through the city.
Much like what happened in Fallujah a few months earlier, Marines and soldiers were taking the fight to insurgents. American troops were surprised by incoming small arms fire and indirect fire. Though the enemy forces were not well trained, there was a lot of them, which compensated for their lack of real infantry tactics.
At one point, the battle swept over the city’s huge cemetery, which was the stage for some of the most intense fighting of the entire Iraq War. Surrounded by the resting dead, Marines fought against extreme numbers and both sides suffered heavy casualties. Fighting on the surface was so brutal that soldiers and Marines were also forced to fight in the catacombs below.
Fallujah was the biggest urban battle since Hue City and An Najaf saw the first tunnel fighting since Vietnam.
The end of the battle brought with it a final tally of dead and wounded. Twelve Americans were killed in action and 94 were wounded. Iraqi soldiers also saw significant losses. The numbers for the Mahdi Army, however, are far greater, with 1,500 killed in action and an unknown number wounded, estimated to be in the thousands.
The battle removed Al-Sadr and most of those loyal to him from the city. Marines began to secure their area of operations and returned to rebuilding Najaf and the surrounding region. However, some of the Mahdi Army’s militiamen stayed in the city, challenging the 1st battalion, 4th Marines at every opportunity.
Instead of their normal black militia uniforms, they now wore street clothing. This allowed them to blend into the local populace. Coalition troops could no longer differentiate between friend or foe when the streets turned to a battlefield.
Marines and soldiers at the Battle of Najaf should be proud of the accomplishment of securing the city. As time passes, they remain hopeful that Americans will know about the heroes that came out of the battle and the ones who fell there — that we never let this battle be lost to history.
It will be remembered, just as much as The Battles of Fallujah.
Air Force Maj. Charles J. Loring Jr. was a veteran of World War II, former prisoner of war, and an accomplished fighter and bomber pilot when he took off on a mission over Korea on Nov. 22, 1952. When North Korean batteries scored hits on his plane that would normally force the pilot to abort the mission, Loring turned his dive bomber into a kamikaze plane instead.
Loring received his commission in the Army Air Forces in late 1942 and flew combat missions over Europe, notching up 55 combat missions and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross before he was shot down on Christmas Eve 1944 over Belgium and made a prisoner of war.
When Chinese and North Korean forces concentrated their artillery—including their anti-aircraft artillery—in two locations, Loring was called up to lead a bombing mission against them. Loring’s target featured 133 large guns and 24 rocket launchers for use against ground troops and 47 anti-aircraft weapons to keep men like Loring at bay.
Loring, newly promoted to major, was in the cockpit of an F-80 with three other jets on November 22 when he initiated the dive-bombing run against the Chinese positions.
But it all went to hell from there. The Chinese troops manning the guns were accurate, and they scored some hits when Loring lined up to dive on them. According to after-action reports and his medal citation, Loring had plenty of time to abort the drop, but he didn’t:
Major Loring aggressively continued to press the attack until his aircraft was hit. At approximately 4,000 feet, he deliberately altered his course and aimed his diving aircraft at active gun emplacements concentrated on a ridge northwest of the briefed target, turned his aircraft 45 degrees to the left, pulled up in a deliberate, controlled maneuver, and elected to sacrifice his life by diving his aircraft directly into the midst of the enemy emplacements.
Yeah, Loring turned his already stricken plane into the guns, hitting a cluster of them and burying them in the metal and burning fuel of his F-80. Of course, he lost his own life in the maneuver.
The U.S. Air Force nominated him for the Medal of Honor which he later received posthumously. He was one of only four airmen to receive the honor. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded the medal to Loring’s wife, he also announced that a new Air Force base in Maine would be named in his honor.
Back in the ’80s – before 9/11 when the U.S. military’s focus shifted completely to the Middle East – aircraft carriers used to spend entire deployments in the Mediterranean Sea playing cat-and-mouse with the Soviet Navy, doing bi-lateral exercises with NATO allies, and pulling great liberty in ports like Cannes and Malta. During that time there was also a persistent pain-in-the-ass named Muammar Gaddafi who was the Libyan dictator.
A few decades before Gaddafi met his untimely demise at the hands of rebels, he made a sport out of provoking the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet assets, primarily by claiming that the entire Gulf of Sidra was territorial Libyan water. He called the line along the northernmost part of the gulf the “Line of Death” and warned that any American ships or airplanes that crossed it would be met with the full force of the Libyan military.
Fighters from the aircraft carrier’s air wing would routinely fly inside the “Line of Death” as part of the American Navy’s “freedom of navigation” operations (aka “FON ops”) designed to prove a commitment to the conventions of international admiralty law that said that the Gulf of Sidra was, in fact, a gulf so therefore the only territorial waters that Libya could claim were those that extended 12 miles off the coastline.
FON ops were generally boring in that the Libyan military didn’t respond at all in spite of Gaddafi’s bluster. Fighters would spend hours on combat air patrol stations drilling holes in the sky without a single vector from the controllers in the early warning aircraft whose radar screens remained blip-free.
But that wasn’t the case on January 4, 1989 when two F-14A Tomcats assigned to “The Swordsmen” of VF-32 got the call to investigate two contacts that had launched out of Tobruk – a dream scenario for Cold War-era aviators, but one that also had a few dubious moments, particularly for the pilot and his radar intercept officer (RIO) in the lead aircraft.
The rules of engagement at that time were more lenient than previous Sixth Fleet rules had been in that a Libyan aircraft didn’t have to fire at an American to be declared hostile but simply if it had turned toward an American aircraft that had attempted to turn away three times.
Analysis of the lead Tomcat’s mission recorder reveals the following (with video time stamp in parenthesis):
(0:11) – The lead RIO transmits “Bogeys have jinked back at me for the fifth time . . .” (Contacts on the F-14’s AWG-9 radar system had a tendency to “windshield wiper” when the aircraft maneuvered, showing erroneous heading changes, but at this point the RIO believes the ROE has been met to declare the Libyans “hostile.”)
(0:19) – Lead RIO transmits “Inside of 20 miles, master arm on,” telling the pilot to flip the switch in the front cockpit. The pilot responds with “good light,” which means the missiles are now ready to fire.
(0:41) – After an exchange between the lead RIO and the wing pilot regarding the bogey’s “angels” (altitude) the lead pilot is less convinced than his RIO that the ROE has been met. He transmits “Alpha Bravo from 207” – an attempt to speak to the admiral on the carrier to get a ruling – but gets no response.
(0:50) – Lead RIO transmits “13 miles . . . Fox-1!” as he pushes the launch button in the rear cockpit and fires an AIM-7M Sparrow missile. His pilot responds by muttering “ah, Jesus” over the intercom, an indication that he’s not entirely comfortable with his backseater’s zeal.
(1:00) – Lead RIO’s excitement gets the best of him, and he shoots a second Sparrow before the first one has time to make it to the target, which prevents either missile from guiding accurately.
(1:13) – Lead RIO calls “six miles” as the wing pilot transmits “tally two” and then says “turning into me.” The crews now know for sure that they’re engaged with MiG-23 “Floggers.”
(1:25) – Lead pilot says, “Okay, he’s got a missile off” over the intercom, referring to the fact his wingman just shot a Sparrow (a forward quarter shot from about 5 miles away).
(1:33) – Lead pilot transmits, “Good hit, good hit on one,” as the wingman’s Sparrow hits one of the MiGs.
(1:39) – Lead pilot says, “I’ve got the other one” as they merge and start a hard turn to get behind the second Flogger. His RIO directs him to “select Fox-2,” meaning he needs to switch the weapons firing control from the radar-guided Sparrow missile to the heat-seeking Sidewinder missile.
(1:48) – Lead RIO says, “shoot ’em!” over the intercom, and the pilot responds with “I don’t got a tone,” which refers to the aural cue that a Sidewinder missile gives the pilot when the seeker senses a heat source. But at this point the pilot doesn’t have a tone because he still has “Sparrow” selected (not “Sidewinder”) on his control stick.
(2:01) – Lead pilot requests that his RIO “lock him up” with the radar – an unnecessary step in Sidewinder firing logic, and the RIO responds with “I can’t. Shoot him, Fox-2!” The pilot, in turn, says, “I can’t. I don’t have a fucking tone.”
(2:04) – RIO starts to command pilot to select the right missile once again, but now the pilot has figured it out. (Fortunately for the American crew the Libyan pilot wasn’t skilled enough to use the American pilot’s “switchology” mistake to his advantage.) The pilot selects “Sidewinder” and the aural tone blares in his headset, indicating the missile is ready to be launched.
(2:06) – Lead pilot transmits “Fox-2” as he fires a Sidewinder missile from about two miles behind the MiG.
(2:09) – Lead pilot transmits “Good kill! Good kill!” as the heads up display shows the second MiG exploding.
While the crews earned the title of “MiG killers,” which makes them part of a rare breed in modern warfare, instructors at the Navy Fighter Weapons School summarized the lead aircraft’s performance as “professionally embarrassing.” (One senior member of the Top Gun staff characterized the shoot down as “punching kids coming off the short bus.”)
It’s also telltale that Fighter Pilot of the Year honors that year did not go to the lead pilot – who also happened to be the squadron’s commanding officer – but instead went to the wingman, who was only a first-tour lieutenant at the time.
When the last Perry-class frigate, the USS Simpson, lowered her flag for the last time in 2015, it left only one ship in the active fleet which sank an enemy in combat. The USS Constitution sank an enemy ship, the British HMS Guerriere, during the War of 1812. The target sank by theSimpson was much more recent than that. She sank an Iranian patrol boat in the Persian Gulf in 1988.
There are just no more deepwater targets threatening the American Navy these days.
Russia’s garbage scow of a carrier can go sail off the edge of the world.
In 1988, the war between Iran and Iraq was winding down but could still break out in hot spots here and there. But the Iranian Navy’s most intense battle of the war came against the U.S. Navy, not Iraq’s. For the United States, it was the most explosive surface battle it faced since World War II. When the USS Samuel B. Roberts struck a mine in the Persian Gulf, the Navy launched Operation Praying Mantis, a massive retaliation that destroyed half the Iranian Navy and a number of the Islamic Republic’s oil drilling platforms.
The cost to the U.S. Navy was just two Marines, who died in a helicopter accident that day.
Iran’s oil platforms burning during Praying Mantis.
It was a long day for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Navy. U.S. Marines were raiding oil platforms with precision that would have made Chesty Puller proud. Naval aviators were dropping precision bombs down the enemy’s smokestacks. It was a free-for-all as the United States just unleashed the full power of the Navy in the Gulf. Frigates, gunboats, speedboats, and more all became target practice.
One of those targets was the Joshan, a Kaman-class fast attack craft that decided to run head-on against an entire surface action group. By itself.
Yeah, they all died.
Joshan engaged the USS Simpson and USS Wainwright after the latter ship’s skipper warned the Iranians that further movement would cause for the Americans to sink her. Her response to the warning was to fire a harpoon missile at the ships. Wainwright and Simpson evaded the missile using chaff and then turned their attention back to the Iranian gunboat.
It only took four missiles from the Oliver Hazard Perry-class missile destroyers to put the Joshan at the bottom of the Gulf.
Kamikaze attacks — known as “special attacks” by Japan — were an infamous tactic designed to not only destroy American ships but also strike fear in the Allied navies.
But two months before the first kamikaze attacks were carried out at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in Oct. 1944, a Japanese transport pilot pitched the idea of a kamikaze super weapon, the Oka “Cherry Blossom” Type 11 plane.
While the Oka was technically a plane, it was more like a pilot-guided missile. It was a 4,700-pound aircraft that contained 2,600 pounds of high explosives. That left only 2,100 pounds for the body, armor-piercing nose cone, and three rocket engines.
Hitting the enemy ship at up to 576 mph, it punched right through most armor and detonated its 2,600-pound payload inside the ship.
While those 2,600 pounds of explosives gave the kamikaze a big boom when it hit its target, the small control surfaces and extreme speed made it very hard to aim.
The Oka’s commonly made it past enemy defenses and outran pursuing fighters, but they sometimes missed their target entirely.
Also, the bombers carrying the Oka were susceptible to attack. While carrying the massive weapon, the planes lost maneuverability, range, and speed. The first thing a Betty with an Oka was supposed to do if it came under attack was drop the Oka and attempt to evade the fighters.
This led to another problem for the Oka pilots. When the bomber crews felt a route was too dangerous, they’d often order the Oka pilot into the suicide plane early and launch it.
The pilot would be left sitting in the cockpit, piloting his coffin into the ocean with no chance at destroying a target.
In the end, the more than 850 Oka 11s produced sank only one ship and damaged six others. Longer range variants were produced that could fly up to 81 miles. They would have been a serious threat to Navy ships during an invasion, but none ever saw combat.
One of Nazi Germany’s most deadly weapons wasn’t really a weapon at all – at least not when it first took flight. However, it did eventually became a deadly foe; not for what it could drop, but for what it could see. It also set the pattern for two iconic planes of the Cold War.
The Focke-Wolf Fw 200 Condor began its life as an airliner for Lufthansa, according to aircraftaces.com. As a civilian transport, it generated some export orders to Denmark and Brazil. As an airliner, the Fw 200 held 26 passengers, and was able to fly from Berlin to New York non-stop.
In World War II, the airliner versions were used as military transports by the Germans. But the real impact would come because the prototype for a reconnaissance version requested by the Imperial Japanese Navy. According to uboat.net, the Luftwaffe looked at the prototype, and requested that designer Kurt Tank make some changes.
What emerged was a plane that could fly for 14 hours, and carry 2,000 pounds of bombs. By February 1941 they were responsible for putting 363,000 tons of merchant shipping on the bottom of the Atlantic. That is the rough equivalent of four Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
But the Condor’s real lethality wasn’t from what it dropped, it was from what it told the Germans — namely the locations of Allied convoys necessary to keep England in the war. That allowed Karl Donitz to vector in U-boat “wolfpacks” to attack the convoys some more.
Ultimately, when the British began to field catapult-armed merchantmen and eventually escort carriers, the Germans had the Condors avoid combat and just report the positions. By 1943, though, the Condor had been shifted to transport missions.
At the end of the war, the Fw 200 returned to the maritime strike role, carrying Hs 293 anti-ship missiles.
The ultimate legacy of the Fw 200 Condor: P-8A Poseidon aircraft No. 760 takes off from a Boeing facility in Seattle, Wash., for delivery to fleet operators in Jacksonville, Fla., marking the 20th overall production P-8A aircraft for the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Boeing Defense)
The Fw 200, even though it was on the losing side of World War II, was a ground-breaking concept. In the Cold War, two major maritime patrol aircraft used by Germany’s World War II enemies — the Lockheed P-3 Orion and the British Aerospace Nimrod — were based on airliners themselves (the Lockheed Electra and the de Havilland Comet). The Boeing P-8 Poseidon, replacing the Orion and Nimrod, is based on the Boeing 737.
The Condor has a long legacy – one that continues to this day.
The World War I-era U.S. Army was unprepared for fighting a global confrontation in the 20th Century. Hell, it was unprepared for any modern confrontation at the turn of the century. As America prepared to enter the Great War, the War Department called on its military minds to develop a lightweight, short-range, trench-clearing game changer. The result was the Thompson submachine gun.
The “Tommy Gun,” as it came to be called, used the Colt M1911 grip and its dependable .45-caliber ammunition. By 1919, the fully-automatic weapon was perfected, and it was capable of using a 20-round block magazine or a 50- to 100-round drum magazine. But the war was over and the surplus was sold on the civilian market to anyone who could afford one – including notorious gangsters.
It was the outlaws and gangsters who made the Tommy Gun iconic.
Legendary gangster John Dillinger with Tommy Gun.
In nearly every photo of the era, the gangsters can be seen using the drum magazines, which provided them more ammunition for the weapon’s high rate of fire. It makes sense for an outlaw to use more ammo when trying to make a quick, clean getaway from the fuzz. Shouldn’t it make sense for U.S. troops to do the same when advancing in World War II?
The answer is no, and not just because a 100-round magazine will help deplete ammunition much faster than having to conserve 20- or 30-round box mags. It turns out, the Thompson was really bulky and not so easy to carry while slung with a drum magazine. More than just being unwieldy, the rounds tended to rattle inside the drum magazine and produced a lot of unwanted noise, noise that could get an entire unit killed in combat.
But the most important reason was reloading.
Yeah, gangsters look cool and all, but have you ever seen Marines fighting to take Okinawa?
Switching between a drum magazine and a box magazine required an extra set of tools. To load a drum magazine also required the user to have a special tool that would lock the bolt back to the rear. And, unlike spring-loaded box mags that were already under tension, reloading a drum magazine required a tool to rotate the spring in the magazine enough to put the rounds under the necessary tension.
Worst of all, if you lost any of the tools needed to reload the weapon, you would be hard-pressed to actually be able to do it without assistance. Drum mags also weighed more and took up more space in a very limited kit. Whereas the box magazine could be loaded and dropped from the rifle in seconds, shared with a buddy, and reloaded just as fast.
The difference between 30 second and 3 seconds under fire in World War II could have been the difference between life and death. In gangland Chicago, all you needed was time for your V8 Packard to speed away before the Untouchables swooped in.
Leaving the sights and sounds of modern day Saigon, we began our journey to the Central Highlands of Vietnam. As we left the city that I had come to feel comfortable in and approached the outlying rural areas, I felt a heightened sense of awareness.
Even though I knew this was 2017 and the war was far behind, my head was on a swivel and my eyes were constantly searching for threats. Intellectually, I understood that the jungles and hills of Vietnam held no threats, but my emotional side equally felt the need to be aware.
The pungent smells of the countryside – logs and vegetation burning to clear land, outdoor cooking alongside the road, and unrestricted vehicle exhaust were the same smells I had encountered years before and brought back a familiar feeling and sense of nostalgia. The remembered rubber plantations from my previous years in Vietnam have given way to rolling fields of coffee, but the same farmers living at the edges of the fields are the same people, just doing what needs to be done to provide for their families.
The brown soil of the areas around Saigon turned to red clay as we moved into the plateaus of the Central Highlands and the lowland farmers begin to turn in to descendants of the Montagnard tribes that I had worked with years ago.
Passing through Gia Nghia I think of an old friend, Martha Raye – comedienne, nurse, Army Reserve Officer and teammate of many Green Berets.
Stopping at a truck stop for a lunch of Pho, Jason’s favorite dish, I can look west across a valley and in the distance can see what I’m pretty sure is Cambodia. I spent a lot of time there and it feels surreal to see it in such a serene setting.
Driving into the lowering night and through a heavy rain storm, I feel my gut tightening as we approach the city of Buon Ma Thuot. It’s almost a physical action to push down the emotions that are starting to well up inside me as we get closer and closer to the city.
In July 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee hatched an audacious plan to invade the North, defeat the Union Army, and force an end to the war – with a Confederate victory. Everything – perhaps the entire Civil War – depended on the outcome at Gettysburg.
So maybe Lee should have stayed home to recover from his heart attack.
A study from the National Institute of Health’s Center for Biotechnology Information reviewed the general’s medical history in 1992. Despite his relatively good medical condition from 1864 to 1867, by the end of the decade, he suffered from exertional (stable) angina – chest pain from blocked arteries caused by activity. By 1870, his angina became unstable and he died at age 63.
“It often was stated that the loss of the war broke the heart of Lee, but in view of our modern day understanding, it probably is more accurate to say that advancing coronary atherosclerosis was the culprit,” the NIH said.
Harvard studies show the cardiac impact of six major risk factors: high total cholesterol, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and smoking. Anyone with two or more of these factors has a 69 percent chance of developing a cardiovascular disease – and 11 fewer years of life.
Lee had been suffering from what his doctors diagnosed as pericarditis since March 1863, which had a sudden onset and came with pain in his chest, back, and arms. It affected his ability to ride a horse and he was known to be anxious and depressed in the days and years after, both common conditions after heart attacks.
“It came on in paroxysms, was quite sharp,” he wrote. Doctors look at “my lungs, my heart, circulation, etc. and I believe they pronounced me tolerable sound.”
Pericarditis is an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart but the NIH study refutes that diagnosis because American doctors were unfamiliar with the idea of angina. The researchers proposed instead that Lee suffered from ischemic heart disease, which would keep blood and oxygen from getting to the muscles of the heart.
His heart disease may have affected his judgement in all areas of life, which would explain some of the inexplicable and uncharacteristic decisions he ordered that day, namely Pickett’s Charge.
Lee’s March 1863 episode was a heart attack, not Pericarditis. As the NIH diagnosis says, the loss at Gettysburg didn’t break Lee’s heart, it was broken when he got there.
In the chaotic days of the American Civil War, troops from both the sides used to storm the battlefield and go head-to-head in a ruthless campaign to destroy the opposition — an opposition filled with those they once called fellow countrymen. The multi-year war was the deadliest to ever take place on American soil. Approximately 620,000 people were killed during the war, leaving several Southern states in ruin.
To fight a ground war, troops need supplies. But back in the mid-19th century, the way we outfitted our troops was very different from today. Budgets and technologies were limited.
Outside of itchy and hot uniforms, the gear each man carried was very similar on both sides.
There was a small variety of weapons to choose from. Most ground troops took up either a Lorenz, Springfield, or a Colt revolving rifle. In order to fire those weapons, they needed ammo, percussion caps, and black powder. All these items were usually stored in a cartridge box, typically mounted on a troop’s belt for easy access.
In the event that the enemy was quickly approaching and there wasn’t any time to reload, troops always kept a sharp bayonet close by. Swords and sabers were commonly used by officers and NCOs to cut through the enemy. When these blades weren’t tearing through blue or grey uniforms, they were used for directing troops.
It’s reported that many ground troops had to purchase their own mess kits, which usually contained a metal plate and cup. They would often store around three days’ worth of food in their haversacks. Tobacco, fruit, and some soap could also be found in their pouches.
Outside of food and ammo, troops often carried a copy of the Bible, a mirror, a sewing kit, and some playing cards. They didn’t have the weapon systems we have today, but modern infantrymen still carry virtually the same types of gear today — but our versions have seen some upgrades.