The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in 'Forrest Gump' - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’

Before joining the Army, Sammy Davis worked at the restaurant inside his hometown bowling alley. As he was working, he watched a clip of Roger Donlon receiving the Medal of Honor for his bravery. That brief moment inspired him and, after he graduated from high school, Davis enlisted in the U.S. Army.


Sammy Davis was the son of a proud artilleryman and, like many teenagers, wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. After completing his artillery training, David requested to serve in Vietnam and was soon shipped out. Once there, he served as part of a field artillery crew that provided close support to the men serving in the infantry.

On Nov. 18, 1967, Davis’ unit was airlifted to Cai Lay, Vietnam, where an Army major informed them that they were 100-percent certain the enemy was to attack that day.

 

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Cai Lay, Vietnam. (Medal Of Honor Book YouTube)

So, the men armed their 155mm Howitzer and fired their weapon in conjunction with the allied forces already on the ground. Just before dark, the enemy broke contact, causing the artillery crew to ease up on their massive weapon’s trigger. Later on, Davis heard the sound of mortars sliding down the tubes nearby. The only problem was that no Americans on deck had a mortar system to prep.

The battle was about to begin anew.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
A 155 mm Howitzer similar to what Davis had in Vietnam.

The enemy’s mortars rained down on top of the allied troops. Then, out of nowhere, they just quit. An eerie feeling blanketed the area. Something was bound to happen, but no one knew when the full attack would commence.

Then, suddenly, a barrage of whistles rang out. The attack was on and allied forces were ready. Wave after wave of bombardment destroyed the area as American troops courageously fought off their opposition. During the chaos, David was knocked unconscious by heavy artillery fire, suffering severe blast wounds from the lower torso to his mid-back (including his buttocks).

Davis awoke to the realization that he was about to be overrun. So, he picked up his rifle and got back into the fight. Davis then reloaded his Howitzer and fired that sucker.

The flame lit up the sky.

Then, Davis heard someone shout, “don’t shoot, I’m a GI” from a nearby river. Davis spotted found one of his brothers-in-arms across the river and realized he needed help. Despite his own wounds and inability to swim, Davis used an air mattress and paddled to the other side of the river and discovered a foxhole with three more wounded men inside.

Sammy Davis managed to carry the three severely wounded men to safety — at one time. On Nov. 19, 1968, Davis received the Medal of Honor and his citation inspired source materials for the 1994 film, Forrest Gump.

Check out Medal of Honor Book‘s video below to listen to the courageous story from the legend himself.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Angel of the Battlefield’ changed how wounded and missing troops are treated

Everyone wants to make a big deal of the fact that women now get to serve on the front line in combat units. But women participating in American wars goes all the way back to the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. As a matter of fact, women have been pitching in and helping fight for a lot longer than that.


One woman changed the way Americans handle our wounded and missing troops forever.

It was in the Civil War that Clarissa (Clara) Barton paved the way for nurses in the military and provided soldiers care, both behind and on the front lines of battle — for both the North and the South.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Clara Barton’s calling was saving lives. Period.

Clara was born in North Oxford on Dec. 21, 1821 and started studying to be a nurse at the young age of 11 while helping care for her sick brother. She decided at this young age that her calling was to help others, in any way that she could.

When she was 15, Clara continued to flourish in her humanitarianism by becoming a teacher and opened a free public school in New Jersey. Her passion for helping others extended far beyond herself. She was willing to risk her own life to help those in need of care.

In 1862, Clara provided aid in field hospitals during the Civil War, putting herself in harm’s way on numerous occasions to care for injured soldiers and bring them supplies. Barton garnered the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield” because of her remarkable compassion for the soldiers she tended.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
An etching of Barton at work.

Extraordinarily, she recounted an instance where a bullet nearly took her life, stating that she “felt her sleeve move, [as] a bullet had gone through it and killed the man she was tending.” Surprisingly, the near-death experience didn’t shake her convictions or her need to help.

Related: 22 female war heroes you’ve never heard of

Clara’s work didn’t end with the Civil War. In 1865, she was appointed by Abraham Lincoln to go out and search for missing soldiers on the battlefield. She called this initiative, “Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army.” She was able to identify a total of 22,000 soldiers that would have remained lost if not for her efforts.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Barton was unafraid of hazardous duty.

Impressively, Clara also founded the American Red Cross at the age of 60 in 1881 after her trip to Europe, where she aided in the works of the International Red Cross. Clara’s passion for helping those in disastrous situations made the American Red Cross what it is today. She spearheaded the organization for 23 years until she resigned as president at age 83 in 1904.

Today, Clara Barton’s memory lives on within the good works of The American Red Cross, in not only disaster relief, but in providing our military personnel services overseas and at home, in war and peacetime.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Navy ship scored America’s first submarine kill of WWII

The destroyer USS Ward (DD 139/APD 16) is famous for being the first American ship to sink a Japanese vessel, a mini-sub, just hours before the main attack on Pearl Harbor. But less famous is the first American ship to sink a Nazi U-boat. That impact of that ship’s kill, incidentally, would reverberate over six decades later.


The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
USS Roper shortly after she was commissioned in 1919. (US Navy photo)

That vessel was USS Roper (DD 147), a Wickes-class destroyer. Wickes-class destroyers were built during World War I and carried four four-inch guns, a single three-inch gun, and a dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes. These vessels were feeling their age as World War II bubbled up on the horizon but were pressed into service to hold the line until newer vessels came into the fleet.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Aerial view of USS Roper. (US Navy photo)

According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, the Roper had taken part in a variety of deployments in the peacetime Navy between World Wars. The vessel had been off Cape Cod when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After a quick refit, she was escorting convoys. Then came the fateful encounter.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
On March 31, 1942, USS Roper rescued 70 survivors, including this mother and child. (US Navy photo)

U-Boat.net reports that on April 14, 1942, the Roper detected U-85 on the surface, about 20 miles from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, two weeks after rescuing 70 survivors from a sunken merchant ship. First, the destroyer opened fire, scoring a number of hits. As the fatally stricken U-boat slipped beneath the surface, the destroyer unleashed a salvo of depth charges to ensure a kill. None of U-85’s crew survived.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
This photo, showing members of the crew of the Nazi submarine U-85, was recovered by USS Roper after the sinking. (US Navy photo)

Almost six decades after the kill, the U-85’s wreck was looted and private divers made off with an Enigma machine. In the wake of that incident, Congress passed the Sunken Military Craft Act, which provides tough penalties for looting submerged war graves.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
This damage, done by a 1945 kamikaze hit, ended the wartime service of USS Roper. (US Navy photo)

After that kill, the Roper still served, doing a number of convoy runs. Then, she was converted to a destroyer transport and re-designated APD 20. In 1945, she was damaged by a kamikaze. Repairs were still underway when Japan surrendered. She was sold for scrap in 1946.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This German submarine was looted by American divers

It is always interesting to dive on wrecks. This can include wrecks of sunken warships, which can serve as an eerie glimpse into the past. Some ships, like the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34), are old warships being put to use as artificial reefs.


Others were sent to Davy Jone’s Locker the hard way during the war. One such vessel is the German U-boat U-85. According to U-Boat.net, this sub sank three vessels during its wartime service before it ran into USS Roper (DD 147). The Roper put U-85 on the bottom of the Atlantic. All hands went down with the German sub less than twenty miles off the coast of North Carolina.

 

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
The German submarine U-52, a Type VIIB U-boat similar to U-85. (British government photo)

The story, though, doesn’t end there. According to Outer Banks Sentinel’s web site, in 2001, divers Jim Bunch, Roger Hunting, and Rich Hunting retrieved the sub’s Enigma machine. The site claimed that Navy divers had attempted a similar objective shortly after the U-boat sank in 1942. The Sentinel noted that the Enigma was worth as much as $200,000, although appraisals supposedly for tax purposes were in the range of $50,000 to $75,000.

A 2003 release by the United States Navy’s Naval Historical Center noted that “the retrieval of the Enigma machine by the private divers was illegal without proper authorization from the German government to do so.” The Navy, the divers, and the German government later arranged for the Engima machine in question to be donated to the Atlantic Graveyard Museum, where it is today.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
A collection of enigma machines at the National Cryptologic Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The looting of war graves has become an epidemic in the East Indies, including the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, and a number of other allied vessels.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A brief history of the Combat Infantryman Badge

Of the many accouterments on a U.S. Army uniform, nothing lets everyone know that they’re in the presence of a badass like the Combat Infantryman Badge. While the Combat Medic Badge (for medics, obviously) and Combat Action Badge (for everyone else) are highly respected, there’s a certain prestige that comes along with the CIB.


Creation

On Oct. 27, 1943, the War Department officially established the Combat Infantryman Badge under Section I, War Department Circular 269. It was created to award infantrymen for their hard work and dedication to their country.

It was also seen, in part, as a recruitment tool, considering that being an infantryman wasn’t a very coveted job at the time. They suffered the worst casualties and received the least recognition. The badge would at least try to address the latter.

 

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
In case you were wondering why the CIB outranks the CAB… That’s why. (Image courtesy of U.S. National Archive)

Expert Infantryman Badge

Created alongside the Combat Action Badge was the Expert Infantrymen Badge (EIB). It was meant to build esprit de corps among the infantrymen who trained harder than others. On March 26, 1944, 100 NCOs from the 100th Infantry Division were selected to undergo three days of hell to prove their worth. Only ten made it through and were personally presented the award by Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair.

If you earned both the CIB and the EIB, you are only authorized to wear one.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Since one says you know infantry stuff and one says you’ve done infantry stuff, many choose the CIB. (Photo by Spc. Patrick Kirby)

Extra Pay

They may not have been the ones to make the sky blue, but Congress loved the infantry, too.

Between the time it was created in 1943 until 1948, recipients of the Combat Infantryman Badge (and eventually the Combat Medical Badge) were awarded an extra ten dollars a month pay. When adjusted for inflation, that’s about $146 a month.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Since infantrymen never change, we all know where that $10 went. (Image courtesy of the National Archive)

Three-time recipients

The CIB can be awarded multiple times for fighting in different eras. The four qualifying eras are WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam and other Cold War conflicts, and the Global War on Terrorism. Back in the day, it wasn’t too uncommon to find a CIB with a single star above it and, even today, you can still find salty infantrymen who fought in Somalia in 1994. To date, there are 324 recognized infantrymen who have earned the award three times — all for fighting in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

It’s kind of impossible to have earned the CIB for Korea, Vietnam, and the Global War on Terrorism because that’s a 48-year time gap and the soldier with the longest time in service, Gen. John William Vessey, gave Uncle Sam 42 years.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
But being a three-timer gets you a permanent spot in the National Infantry Museum! (Photo by Z. F. Hanner at the National Infantry Museum)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This WWII 101st Airborne vet celebrated his 100th birthday with a jump fest

On June 6, 1944, the free men of the world joined together to liberate Europe from the clutches of Hitler. One of these men was 23-year-old Jim “Pee Wee” Martin. A paratrooper in G Company, 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Martin was one of the original 101st Airborne troopers who went through jump school at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. It was during his airborne training that Martin received the nickname “Pee Wee” for his small stature. He went on to fight with the Screaming Eagles in Normandy, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. During WWII, he earned the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. In April 2021, Martin celebrated his 100th birthday with a massive jump fest near his hometown of Xenia, Ohio.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Jim “Pee Wee” Martin in his Army uniform

One of the last surviving “Toccoa Men”, Martin’s birthday is April 29. To facilitate the festivities, his birthday celebration was held over the weekend from April 23-25. Distinguished guests in attendance included Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Engler of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. Other 101st Airborne veterans, all of whom are over 90, showed up to celebrate their brother in arms’ birthday.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Reenactors drop from restored WWII planes during the birthday celebration (U.S. Army)

The Commemorative Air Force also supported the festivities with restored WWII planes. Using two Douglas C-47 Skytrains and a C-53 Skytrooper, the CAF conducted a flyover and mass parachute drop with reenactors on all three days. After the main drop, tandem parachuting was opened to the public as well.

On the evening of April 24, Martin was presented with multiple gifts and awards. Notably, the city of Xenia declared April 29 as Jim “Pee Wee” Martin Day in honor of his WWII service. Martin also served as an advisor on Band of Brothers, the HBO miniseries that made the 101st Airborne a household name.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Representatives of the 101st Airborne came out to celebrate Martin’s birthday (U.S. Army)

Despite the weekend of festivities dedicated to him, Martin remains humble. He places emphasis on the achievements of his unit. “The Airborne, that patch got you any place you wanted to go and you didn’t have to lie or anything like that,” Martin said. “All you had to do is see that patch and people knew what you’d been doing. I’m very proud of the service that we did, and it’s not an individual thing about me; it’s what the unit did. I don’t go off of individuals.”

Martin also shared words of wisdom with the new generation of 101st troopers. “My advice is go in there, work hard, do everything right, don’t make any missteps, and remember this: all of us older guys are looking to you.”

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (left) greets Jim “Pee Wee” Martin (second from the right) a happy birthday (U.S. Army)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The “Souvenir King” was one of the best soldiers on the Western Front

War trophies and battlefield loot were especially common during the two World Wars. However, one allied soldier’s hijacking habits during WWI earned him the nickname the “Souvenir King”. Despite his lack of military discipline, the Souvenir King was also one of the bravest soldiers in the trenches.

Private No 2296 John Hines, also known as Barney, was born in Liverpool, England in 1873. From a young age, Hines was a rebel. At the age of 14, he ran away from home to join the Army before his mother caught him. Undeterred, he joined the Royal Navy two years later and served on a gunboat during the Boxer Rebellion chasing pirates in the China Sea. The next year, he was discharged and began a globetrotting expedition in search of gold.

While searching for his fortune in South Africa, the Boer War broke out. Unofficially, he served as a scout for many British units during the war. Afterwards, Hines continued his quest for gold in the United States, South America, and New Zealand. Coming up dry each time, he made his way to Australia and found work at a sawmill before WWI broke out in August 1914. Though he was now in his early 40s, Hines tried to enlist but was rejected for medical reasons. Still, he jumped from recruiting post to recruiting post until he was accepted in 1916 as part of a reinforcement for the Australian 45th Battalion.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Soldiers pose with a Lewis Gun like the one that Hines used (Public Domain)

In France, Hines found a distaste for the standard-issue Lee-Enfield .303 rifle. Instead, with his large stature and immense strength, Hines preferred to go into battle with a pair of sandbags filled with Mills bomb hand grenades. Seeing the potential of a soldier like Hines, his commanding officer gave the Souvenir King a Lewis machine gun. This turned out to be a match made in heaven. “This thing’ll do me,” Hines assessed in his Liverpudlian accent. “You can hose the bastards down.”

Hines’ fearlessness and excitement on the battlefield also earned him the nickname “Wild Eyes”. “I always felt secure when Wild Eyes was about,” Hines’ commanding officer said. “He was a tower of strength in the line—I don’t think he knew what fear was and he naturally inspired confidence in the officers and men.” Of course, Hines’ strongest reputation was still as the Souvenir King.

Annoyed by the harassing sniper fire from a German pillbox, Hines charged the position, leapt on its roof and performed a war dance taunting the Germans to come out. When his taunts went unanswered, Hines lobbed a handful of Mills bombs through the gun port. Shocked and disorientated, the 63 German soldiers that survived came out and surrendered to Hines who proceeded to collect souvenirs of badges, helmets, and watches before marching them back to the Australian lines. Hines would squirrel away any battlefield loot that he could get his hands on.

On another occasion, Hines came across a heavily shelled German aid station. Ironically, the only survivor was a British soldier who Hines scooped up and bravely carried back to allied lines. Sadly, the Tommy died before they returned. After delivering his fallen comrade to friendly hands, Hines returned to aid station and looted it. Still, he set his sights higher.

At Villers-Bretonneux, Hines acquired a piano which he managed to hold on to for a few days before he was forced to give it up. Another large souvenir was a grandfather clock. However, after its hourly chimes started to draw German fire, Hines’ battle buddies ironically destroyed it with one of Hines’ favorite weapons—Mills bombs. At Armentieres, Hines found a keg of Bass Ale which he rolled back to friendly lines. However, he was stopped by military police who wouldn’t let him take the keg back to the trenches. In classic Hines style, he returned with a friend to drink the whole thing on the spot.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’

Perhaps Hines’ finest souvenir hunt came at Amiens. After disappearing for a few hours, Hines was caught by British soldiers looting the vaults in the Bank of France. The Souvenir King had already stuffed his pockets full of banknotes and packed another million Francs in a set of suitcases. Unable to press charges against an Australian soldier, the Brits turned him back over to the Aussies. Hines later boasted that, while the heist cost him 14 days’ pay, he had been allowed to keep the loot stuffed in his pockets.

Hines wasn’t invincible though. At Passchendale, he was the only survivor of a direct hit on his Lewis gun nest. Despite being thrown 20 meters and having the soles blown off of his boots, Hines crawled back to his gun and returned fire until he passed out from his leg wounds. At Villers-Bretonneux, Hines threw a trench party catered with champagne and tinned delicacies that he had looted. He and his friends even dressed up in top hats and dress suits. Take a wild guess as to how they got their hands on those. However, following the party, Hines was wounded above his eye, in his leg, and received a whiff of deadly gas. Despite his protests, the wounded and nearly blinded Souvenir King was taken to a hospital at Etaples.

Still, Hines continued to display unusual bravery and valor. A few days after he was admitted, the Germans bombed the hospital and caused over 3,000 casualties. During the bombardment, Hines crawled out of bed and found a broom for a crutch. Despite his own injuries, Hines spent the entire night carrying the other patients to safety. After the war, Hines was invalided and returned to Australia.

He lived in a lean-to made of cloth bags on the outskirts of Sydney. The lean-to was surrounded by a fence on which he hung his various souvenirs. He lived off of his Army pension and worked various odd jobs. However, Hines found renewed fame in the early 1930s when several magazines and newspapers published stories about his wartime exploits and current living conditions. Several veterans sent him money and the government doubled his pension. Still, the Souvenir King remained humble, donating a suitcase of vegetables from his garden to fellow soldiers being treated at Concord Repatriation Hospital in Sydney.

When WWII broke, despite being in his 60s, Hines volunteered for combat. When he was rejected, he tried to stowaway on a troop ship before his was found out and returned to shore. Hines died on January 28, 1958 at Concord Repatriation Hospital. The legacy of the Souvenir King lives on in the famous photo of him surrounded by his loot at the Battle of Polygon Wood.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Hines counting stolen money at Polygon Wood. Note the looted German hat, weapons, and other personal equipment (Public Domain)

Articles

This animated map shows Gettysburg in a whole new way

The Civil War Trust, known for its great maps and historical accounts of the war, has branched into animated maps that show move-by-move accounts of important battles like Antietam, Vicksburg and Shiloh.


The trust’s still maps are known for their accuracy and detail, and these new animated maps continue that tradition. The big difference is the motion; it’s like watching the battle play out on a sand table during a ROC drill.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
(GIF: YouTube/Civil War Trust)

A narrator provides context for the action, telling viewers everything from how the crippling heat affected the repeated clashes at Little Round Top to why Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles made his ill-advised deployment of artillery on the Union’s front.

Meanwhile, short video clips try to put the viewer on the ground with soldiers during the most fierce and important events, showing things like when Maj. Gen. John Reynolds was shot in the neck and killed.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
(GIF: YouTube/Civil War Trust)

The full videos for each battle are a little long, about 15-20 minutes each. But they let you get a better understanding of each battle that you can knock out in a lunch break. Check out Gettysburg below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUKreep2P1M
MIGHTY HISTORY

This single joke by Reagan put the Soviet military on alert

So, President Ronald Reagan managed to make it into the news about 15 years after his death due to some leaked audio with inflammatory, racist remarks. But, oddly enough, 20 years before his death, Reagan accidentally sent Soviet forces in Vladivostok into high alert thanks to another bit of leaked audio. Specifically, he told an ill-advised joke about outlawing Russia.


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.

So, the engineers came out and set up. As they were going through the mic checks, they asked him to say a few words to make sure they had all the levels right. Reagan agreed and went off on a quick riff:

My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’

Ronald Reagan gives a televised address from the Oval Office, outlining his plan for Tax Reduction Legislation in July 1981.

(White House Photo)

The engineers in the room got that it was a joke, and they were part of a deal not to release informal or off-the-record audio. So they chuckled, got the levels right, and let the president give his actual, scheduled address.

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.

The story is disputed, but it says the troops were told to stand down about 30 minutes later as the Soviet officer wasn’t actually allowed to issue that level of alert. Also, obviously, if the August 11 remarks about bombing the Soviet Union in five minutes were real, there wouldn’t be an undamaged Soviet Union on August 13.

Reagan was overwhelmingly re-elected despite the blowback from the joke, and he actually established a productive relationship with Soviet Mikhail Gorbachev in the late ’80s.

Lists

The 12 most essential Civil War books

The Civil War is cemented in history as the deadliest war fought on American soil. For four years, the Unioners of the North fought the Confederates of the South, hoping to dismantle the institution of slavery. This led to the loss of over 600,000 lives and, ultimately, the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865.

Thousands of Civil War books have been written since the first shot rang out in 1861. Though no single book can attempt to cover the endless tragedies or important events that occurred over those four years, the following works add valuable new perspectives to the narrative. Between fictionalized accounts and battle retellings to soldiers’ eye-opening diaries, this list will satisfy any Civil War history buff.


1. Dee Brown on the Civil War

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Open Road Media

By Dee Brown

This trilogy focuses on the some of the Civil War’s most influential but lesser-known figures. In Grierson’s Raid, a former music teacher leads almost 2,000 Union troopers from Tennessee to Louisiana. Their attack diverts attention from General Grant’s crossing of the Mississippi—an instrumental distraction for the subsequent Siege of Vicksburg.

The Bold Cavaliers stars Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, whose cavalrymen wreak havoc on Alabama. Meanwhile, The Galvanized Yankees tells the widely unknown story of a group of captured Confederate soldiers. Faced with the prospect of serving time in a prison camp or in the Union Army, they choose the latter. When they’re tapped to guard outposts in the Western frontier, their experiences have profound effects on their own loyalties—and make for a fascinating Civil War story.

2. Battle Cry of Freedom

By James. M. McPherson

This Pulitzer Prize-winning book charts the period between the 1846 outbreak of the Mexican-American War to Robert E. Lee’s surrender in 1865. Author James McPherson examines the economic, political, and social factors that led to the Civil War, particularly how small, violent outbursts evolved into America’s deadliest war. Both sides believed they were fighting for freedom—though their definitions of this freedom differed greatly. With in-depth analyses of nearly every major event, Battle Cry of Freedom is an indispensable addition to any history buff’s collection.

3. The Civil War: A Narrative

By Shelby Foote

In the first book of Foote’s three-volume series, the author opens with Jefferson Davis’ resignation from the US Senate. The Democratic politician was destined for another, bigger role: the first presidency of the Confederate States. So begins an extensively researched account of the events—and war—that followed, which culminates in the Union’s victory four years later. Maps are a welcome addition to the narrative, providing useful visuals of important battle sites and travel routes.

4. Mary Chesnut’s Diary

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Penguin Classics

By Mary Chesnut

A native of South Carolina, Mary Chesnut kept a detailed account of her life as an upper class woman during the Civil War. Though her husband was a senator and a Confederate officer, Mary secretly hated the institution of slavery. From her reflections on witnessing the first shots fired in Charleston to hearing parts of her husband’s meetings, Chesnut’s diary is one of the few complete firsthand accounts of the war written by a non-soldier.

5. For Cause and Comrades

By James M. McPherson

After countless bloody battles and widespread death, how did Civil War soldiers find the will to keep fighting? In For Case and Comrades, James McPherson explores what drove them—namely, their unshakeable belief in the necessity of their actions. For both sides, victory was worth everything.

McPherson analyzed over 250 diaries and 25,000 letters to truly understand the soldiers’ thought processes. He was shocked by their eloquence and honesty, and the frequency with which they wrote of their daily lives. Their writings reveal how they were not just hardened men of war—but brothers, sons, fathers, and husbands who simply wanted to go home with their dignity in tact. The result is a humanizing study of war, and of the men who fought unwaveringly for their ideals.

6. The Black Flower

By Howard Bahr

As a war veteran and novelist, Bahr was a master of well-paced, engaging Civil War fiction—and lucky for us, he wrote three books. The first installment in his Civil War trilogy is The Black Flower, a New York Times Notable Book. When a 26-year-old Confederate soldier is wounded, the bond he forms with a medic gives him hope for a brighter, post-war future.

The Year of Jubilo sees a similar hero: Gawain Harper, who only fights in the Confederate army to be with the woman he loves. His return home is not as charmed as he anticipated when he discovers the rebels’ plot to incite new warfare—which Gawain must stop.

In the final book, The Judas Field, Civil War veteran Cass accompanies a friend to Tennessee, where they’ll retrieve the bodies of her brother and father. As they pass through devastated Southern towns, Cass cannot escape his haunting memories of the battlefield. All three novels explore the violence of warfare, the endurance of hope, and the lengths to which men and women fought to return to their loved ones.

7. The North and South Trilogy

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Open Road Media

By John Jakes

In the trilogy that has sold millions of copies, John Jakes examines how war can disintegrate even the closest of bonds. While training at West Point, Southerner Orry Mains quickly befriends Northerner George Hazard. But when the Civil War places them on opposite sides of the battlefield, tensions reverberate through their relationship, their families, and the rest of Jakes’ bestselling trilogy. Part war story, part family drama, the books were adapted into a wildly popular miniseries starring Patrick Swayze and James Read.

8. Murder at Manassas

By Michael Kilian

With the Civil War still in its earliest days, Virginian Harrison Raines is torn between his abhorrence of slavery and his love for his home state. He is also in love with actress Caitlin Howard—though her affection for John Wilkes Booth (yes, that one) poses a serious threat. Raines’ personal dramas reach new heights when, after taking Caitlin to watch the Battle of Bull Run, he becomes embroiled in a murder mystery involving a wrongly-disgraced major. What ensues is a fast-paced whodunit full of rich historical detail and real-life figures like Abe Lincoln.

9. Cold Mountain

By Charles Frazier

Nothing, not even war, can prevent Inman from reaching his true love, Ada, in North Carolina. After being gravely wounded in battle, Inman deserts the Confederate army, determined to return to the woman he left behind. As he journeys across the ravaged American landscape, Ada struggles to restore her late father’s farm back to its former glory. But with only a few moments shared between them, have Inman and Ada pinned their hopes on a foolish dream?

Frazier’s National Book Award-winning novel is based on stories he heard from his great-great-grandfather as a child. Gorgeously written and unrelentingly heartbreaking, Cold Mountain is at once an unforgettable tale of war and a deeply moving love story.

10. The Killer Angels

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Ballantine Books

By Michael Shaara

Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel recreates the bloodiest battle in American history: Gettysburg. Over the four days of fighting, countless men died—men with families, men with futures, men who might have done great things for the nation. Shaara imagines who these men, whether Northern or Southern, may have been.

Told through the perspectives of multiple historical figures, the story begins with a very confident Robert E. Lee as he and his troops travel to Pennsylvania. But instead of finding the victory they envisioned, Lee and his fellow Confederates are demoralized by the battle—and many know they’re unlikely to win the war, or even see its end.

11. Cain at Gettysburg

By Ralph Peters

Another Gettysburg-centered novel, Cain at Gettysburg is a fictional retelling of what is considered “the turning point of the Civil War.” It follows a misfit group of characters—including desperate generals, a German refugee, and an Irishman who fled the famine—as they fight for their cause, unsure of their futures. Compelling and jam-packed with action, Cain at Gettysburg is a fascinating tale of battle, bravery, and brotherhood that no lover of Civil War history should miss.

12. Gone with the Wind

By Margaret Mitchell

If you ever had access to the Turner Classic Movie channel, then you’ve probably heard of the film version of Gone with the Wind. But before Vivien Leigh starred as Scarlett O’Hara, there was Margaret Mitchell’s epic book, which offers a more detailed look at Georgia during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. At the center, of course, is Scarlett—a Southern belle and the daughter of a wealthy planter—who is forced to change her spoiled ways once war divides the country. Though her enduring relationship with Rhett Butler is considered one of the greatest love stories of all time, the novel is also one of the best portraits of the effects of war on a place and its people.

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

Articles

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

The United States owes its success in the Revolutionary War to help from France. The chief architect of that help was Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette. In America, we simply call him “Lafayette.”

When France needed help during World War I, a squadron of American airmen volunteered their skills to fight against Germany. They called themselves the Lafayette Escadrille. When American troops finally arrived in France years later, their leaders walked into the tomb of the nobleman and announced, “Lafayette, we are here.”

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
The Escadrille Lafayette in July 1917 (U.S. Air Force photo)

The relationship between the Marquis and the United States has endured for many centuries because of his admiration and service to a country that was not his own. That admiration runs so deep, that the nobleman is buried in American soil – in Paris. 

When the Marquis de Lafayette came to the United States to fight the British in the Revolution, he was so committed to the cause that he volunteered to serve without pay. Unlike other French officers volunteering, Lafayette had the military pedigree to be of use and soon came to be the right hand man to Gen. George Washington himself. 

That pedigree didn’t come with much experience. Lafayette would be learning as he served the American cause. Luckily, as a wealthy man, his personal contributions more than made up for what he lacked in military experience. But as he gained that valuable experience, he proved himself an able commander.

A dedicated Enlightenment thinker, his devotion to the cause of American ideals led him to fight in several battles, to be wounded at the battle of Brandywine, and encourage France to recognize American independence. Most crucially, it was Lafayette’s forces that harassed Cornwallis on his way to Yorktown.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
John Ward Dunsmore’s 1907 depiction of Lafayette (right) and Washington at Valley Forge (Wikimedia Commons)

This forced the British to move across the James River, where they were eventually trapped by Washington, Lafayette and Comte de Rochambeau  by land and the French fleet by sea. He was forced to surrender his army after an almost three-week siege. It was the beginning of the end of the war, and the start of the American experiment.

Lafayette fought in the Continental Army all over the colonies, from New England to the Mid-Atlantic to the South, and was one of the few things that all the new states of the United States had in common. He so loved the ideals of the American Revolution that he tried to export them to France when he returned home. 

His advocacy for American liberty would serve him and his wife well in the coming years of the French Revolution. The French admiration for American values saved the lives of the noble and his wife. 

Lafayette would return to the United States many times in the years following the revolution. His visits would confirm the idea that the Founding Fathers had created a functioning democracy, based on the egalitarian values of the Enlightenment. He came to love the United States and proclaimed that he wanted to be buried in American soil.

Marquis de Lafayette
Lafayette’s grave (Wikimedia Commons)

On his final visit to the United States, Lafayette filled a trunk full of earth from the land near Boston’s Bunker Hill. When the noble died in 1834, his son interred him in the dirt from America. The American flag has flown over his grave continuously since 1850, a simple site behind an innocuous high stone wall.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things you may not know about the Korean War

Brutal cold, rough terrain, and intense firefights were just some of the dangers the allied troops dealt with on a daily basis while engaging enemy forces in the Korean War.


In the summer of 1950, approximately 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th parallel, making the invasion the first military act of the Cold War.

It was a crazy time in American history.

Related: A piece of the White House was stolen by the Freemasons

Check out History Channel’s list of Korean War facts you probably don’t know.

1.  The 38th Parallel

After the Japanese surrendered, the U.S. took control of the southern half of Korea while the Soviets took the north. The two halves were divided by a line called the “38th parallel” that split the peninsula.

As both sides heavily disliked the idea of having the country split in two, the action caused several armed skirmishes to break out along the divided border.

 

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
The informational sign of the 38th Parallel dividing the Korea. (Source: United Nations Command)

2. Containment

The U.S. was deeply concerned about the spread of communism, which they viewed as a direct threat to American democracy. Former U.S. President Harry Truman wanted to prevent Russia from gaining any more territory and believed if the Soviets managed to take North Korea they would be one step closer to world domination.

Therefore, Truman believed he had no choice but to stop the North Korean invasion.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Truman addresses the American people about the conflict in Korea. (Source: History Channel YouTube)

3. The slog of war

At first, North Korean forces were productive as they pushed American and South Korean forces further back past the 38th Parallel in the fall of 1950. With the help of the United Nations, resupply began to arrive in the allies’ hands, which allowed them to recapture the Korean capital of Seoul.

Although they were managing to combat enemy forces, the bitter cold of winter struck coalition forces — and along with it, disease, frostbite, and malnutrition, causing numerous casualties.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Allied troops enduring the brutal cold together.

4. Stalemate

Gen. Douglas MacArthur believed that total victory in Korea was the only acceptable outcome for the U.S. but Truman disagreed with MacArthur’s tactics and ideology during the general’s time in power — they continuously bumped heads.

Truman eventually relieved MacArthur from his command for his so-called insubordination. While this was happening, North Korean forces drove allied forces back across the infamous 38th parallel once again.

For the next two years, neither side gained any positive ground while pursuing ultimate victory — although intense fighting continued.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
A newspaper article tells the world about the POTUS relieving the general. (Source: History Channel YouTube)

Also Read: The ‘Chosin Few’ gather to dedicate a monument to Korean War battle

5. Peace?

In the summer of 1951, peace talks began shortly after the stalemate appeared to be coming to a close. In 1953, Eisenhower took office and was determined to end the skirmish, negotiating for several months before accomplishing his goal.

In the end, approximately 36,000 U.S. troops died, and another 100,000 were wounded. Reportedly, 620,000 soldiers from both North and South Korea were killed, and a staggering 1.6 million civilians perished during the bloody conflict.

Unfortunately, the 38th parallel continues to separate the divided peninsula to this today.

Check out the History channel’s video below to get the full scoop of these Korean War

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the safest place to be in a US bomber flying through German flak in WW2

While most movies and TV series on the war over Germany in World War II focuses on the aerial duals between American P-51 Mustangs, British Spitfires and Luftwaffe fighters like the Bf-109, the Bf-110, and the FW-190, the bulk of the air casualties came from anti-aircraft guns, or “flak.”


 

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
Bf 109E off North Africa. (Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s how to put those losses into some form of perspective — during one bomber raid in October, 1943, three-fourths of the bombers suffered some sort of damage from anti-aircraft fire. The German guns ranged from 20mm auto-cannon to big 128mm pieces. Perhaps the most common was the German 88mm gun, which was not only a potent anti-aircraft gun, but also a lethal tank-killer.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
A German 88mm flak gun. (Wikimedia Commons)

The crewmen who had it worst from the flak were the waist gunners, who accounted for 21.6 percent of casualties. Bombardiers and navigators, who were stationed in the very front of the plane and who had only a glass nose between them and a very long drop, also had a bad time of it, accounting for 15 percent and 13.2 percent of casualties respectively.

The safest crew member was the ball turret gunner (5.5 percent), the pilot (7.7 percent), and co-pilot (6.6 percent), who together accounted for 19.8 percent of casualties).

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
A U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress flying through flak over a target. A hit by flak lead to the capture of Brigadier General Arthur Vanaman, placing ULTRA at risk. (USAF photo)

They were most likely to be hit in the legs (44 percent of the time), followed by the arms (31 percent). The development of flak vests meant that only 9 percent of casualties were hit in the chest and abdomen, while 16 percent of hits were in the head.

The story of Sammy Davis inspired the war scenes in ‘Forrest Gump’
A B-24 that was hit by German flak on April 10, 1945. One crewman survived. (USAF photo)

You can see a video on how and why German flak was such a threat below.

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