The lore of the "lost Confederate treasure" - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

There have long been myths about buried treasure and Confederate soldiers. It’s said that Mary Lee herself buried family valuables before fleeing what would eventually become Arlington National Cemetery. Meanwhile, families stashed goods before leaving their homes for safety. Stories about soldiers of the South fleeing with chests of valuables have been passed from generation to generation. Gold coins, money and other personal belongings were said to be packed up and stashed for safekeeping as Union soldiers overtook their stations. But perhaps no tale is as big as the entire Confederacy’s treasure … and what became of it.

If there is any truth to it, however, remains to be seen. But if so, if there was a long-lost treasure, what happened to all of the goods anyway?

Let’s take a look at these reports and follow along for a better glimpse of what happened to these key valuables during the Civil War. 

Gathering of the treasure

It’s said Confederate soldiers left Richmond, VA in a hurry. As the capital of the Confederacy and holding the party’s entire financials; Richmond held many key valuables, including their currency. On April 2, 1865, the Union reached Richmond. Confederate forces were tired and exhausted from the fight. Lee realized the front was lost, and send word they needed to flee, as the fall of their capital was only a matter of time. He instructed President Jefferson Davis to leave as soon as possible. Davis and other government officials set out for Danville, VA. 

Jefferson Davis in 1853 (Public Domain)

Late that night they left by train, holding the South’s hard currency for the Confederate States of America. Accounts list hundreds of containers that held jewelry (donated by Southern women for their value), and gold and silver. An additional $450,000 in gold was brought from bank reserves as well. In all, it’s estimated that approximately $1 million traveled by train with the Confederate government members. However, as Confederate records were burned as Richmond was seized, an exact amount is unknown. Some say that several million were taken by train to an alternate location.

But here’s where it gets tricky. There’s no account of them arriving — they certainly arrived somewhere; the war was not surrendered for several more weeks. But the whereabouts of their valuables gets muddled.

The rumor mill went wild when Jefferson Davis himself was captured some six weeks later and found without the well-known funds. People began passing stories of transients who stole the funds and ran. The value was inflated and stories abounded.

In modern times, the speculation hasn’t ended. There are countless rumors and movies that tell about searching for the treasure. Stories of buried gold waiting for the South to rise again, outlaws on a mission to get rich quick, or good-old-boys clubs who simply kept mum to keep the gold out of certain hands. The treasure is mentioned in Gone with the Wind, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly it’s found in a cemetery grave, in Timecop it’s hijacked via laser-sighting, in Sahara it was taken to Africa, and in the TV show Alcatraz the gold was found buried underneath the famous prison. And so on. 

But where did it really go?

Confederate States of America’s Secretary of Treasury, George Trenholm, was arrested by the federal government for allegedly stealing the gold, but was later acquitted. 

Other accounts state that Union soldiers took the goods for themselves upon capturing Jefferson Davis and other treasure-carrying soldiers. Other tales say it was lost over Lake Michigan, being forever sunk at the bottom of its banks. Some $86,000 was supposed to be smugged to England, but supposedly never made it across the pond. Other accounts tell of armed horse-riding robbers who grabbed coins from trains. 

All-in-all, there’s no account of what actually happened to the treasure. Only speculation and an unlimited amount of stories. Perhaps all of the above is true and, little-by-little it was whittled away. Maybe it’s still out there, waiting to be discovered. The only thing we can count on to be true is that it is, indeed, a mystery.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what the pilot who scored the stunning first kill with the F-15 saw

On June 27, 1979, aviation history was made when the F-15 Eagle scored its first kill in a dogfight between Israeli and Syrian aircraft.


Since then, the F-15 has scored over a hundred kills — with no air-to-air losses. The F-15 is a powerful plane, capable of carrying eight air-to-air missiles, and the M61 Gatling gun.

 

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

That is one hot bird. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Erin Trower)

On that day, four Israeli F-15s were flying top cover for strikes against PLO targets in Lebanon when two flights, each with four Syrian Air Force MiG-21 Fishbed interceptors, flew in to intercept the strike.

The Israeli pilots were given clearance to fire, and they started off with a Sparrow engagement. The first Sparrow shots missed, then the F-15s closed.

Moshe Melnik, in the second of the four F-15s, took on the enemy fighters. He selected his infra-red guided missiles for the attack. It wasn’t an American-made Sidewinder, though. The Israelis had their own dogfight missile, the Python 3. Melnik selected one, and fired.

The missile tracked in, taking out one of the Fishbeds. It was thirty seconds into the engagement.

Melnik had secured a place in history as the first pilot to shoot down an enemy plane with the F-15 Eagle. Since then, between small-scale engagements and major conflicts like the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot and Operation Desert Storm, the F-15 has dominated the skies, only yielding as the premiere air-to-air platform when the F-22 Raptor entered service.

 

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Okay, the Raptor is pretty cool, too. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alejandro Pena)

Ironically, while Melnik would make history, he would not be considered the hero of the engagement where the F-15 scored its first kill. That honor would go to another Israeli pilot, Eitan Ben-Eliyahu.

Melnik’s kill had been with an air-to-air missile. Ben-Eliyahu, though, used his F-15’s M61 to score his kill. In an interview that aired on History Channel’s “Dogfights,” even Melnik conceded Ben-Eliyahu was the hero.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”
Israeli F-15Is, the most modern version of the Eagle in the IDF. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)

 

You can see Melnik’s view of his history-making kill in the F-15, checkout the video from Smithsonian Channel below.

Articles

These 74 dead sailors from the Vietnam War are not honored on the Wall

The most notable part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. is “The Wall,” which features a list of 58,315 personnel killed during the Vietnam War. An effort to add the names of 74 sailors, though, has been rebuffed by the Navy.


According to a report by FoxNews.com, the 74 sailors were killed when the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754) was rammed by the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (R 21) during a South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) exercise.

The destroyer was cut in half, with the bow sinking in a matter of minutes, taking 73 sailors with it. A single body was recovered from the South China Sea, bringing the total to 74 lives lost.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”
The Wall, the most prominent part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Among the dead were the three Sage brothers from Niobrara, Nebraska – the worst loss any family had suffered since the Sullivan brothers were killed when the anti-aircraft cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52) was sunk during the Guadalcanal campaign.

The portion of the Frank E. Evans that remained afloat was taken to Subic Bay, where it was decommissioned on July 1, 1969. On Oct. 10, 1969, the ship was sunk as a target.

The Navy’s initial refusal to place those 74 names on the Wall was due to the fact that the destroyer was outside the “Vietnam combat zone.”

According to U.S. Navy criteria, “Vietnam and contiguous waters” was defined as “an area which includes Vietnam and the water adjacent thereto within the following specified limits: From a point on the East Coast of Vietnam at the juncture of Vietnam with China southeastward to 21 N. Latitude, 108° 15’E. Longitude; thence, southward to 18° N. Latitude, 108° 15’E. Longitude; thence southeastward to 17° 30’N. Latitude, 111° E. Longitude; thence southward to 11° N. Latitude; 111° E. Longitude, thence southwestward to 7° N. Latitude, 105° E. Longitude; thence westward to 7° N. Latitude, 103° E. longitude, thence northward to 9° 30’N. Latitude, 103° E. Longitude, thence northeastward to 10° 15’N. Latitude, 104° 27’E. Longitude, thence northward to a point on the West Coast of Vietnam at the juncture of Vietnam with Cambodia.”

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”
The aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (R21), which rammed US Frank E. Evans (DD 754). (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

According to the website of the Frank E. Evans Association, the accident occurred 110 miles from the Vietnam Combat Zone.

FoxNews.com reported that the Navy has offered to place an exhibit about the collision in a planned Vietnam Veterans Memorial educational center, but many families are skeptical due to lagging efforts at fundraising for the proposed $130 million project.

Articles

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

Hollywood might often showcase submarines hunting down and attacking other submarines in a variety of movies and TV shows, but it’s actually been a very rare event in history.


In fact, the only time a submarine has ever been known for successfully hunting down and destroying an enemy submarine while underwater was in February 1945, with the destruction of the U-864, a German Type IX U-boat off the coast of Norway by a Royal Navy sub.

Towards the end of the war in Europe, U-864 under the command of Ralf-Reimar Wolfram, was sent out on a secret transport mission as part of Operation Caesar to smuggle jet engine components and schematics, bottles of mercury for constructing explosives, advisors and engineers to Japan undetected by Allied warships prowling around for U-boats.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”
Captured German U-boats outside a Norwegian submarine pen. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

The faltering German higher command had hoped that even if they were unsuccessful in their theater of war, the Japanese military could benefit from the advanced technology they sent over, continuing the war effort and eventually affording Germany a chance to get back in the fight.

In December 1944, the U-864 left its submarine pen in Kiel, Germany, for a trip to occupied-Norway where it would be refitted with a new snorkel before departing on its mission. The problematic refit and damage sustained from accidentally running aground pushed its deployment back until January of the next year.

Unbeknownst to the German navy, Allied forces were already aware of Operation Caesar, having cracked the Enigma code which was used by the German military to encrypt its classified communications. As a response to Caesar, the Royal Air Force and Navy bombed a number of submarine pens in Norway, including one where U-864 was temporarily housed in for repairs.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”
Lt. Jimmy Launders during the commissioning of the Venturer in Holy Loch, Scotland (Photo Royal Navy)

The U-864 eventually deployed on Operation Caesar, slipping away undetected by nearby Allied warships. However, a monkey wrench was thrown into the covert mission’s gears when the Royal Navy – unwilling to take unnecessary chances – tasked the HMS Venturer to hunt down and kill the U-864 before it could make a dash for the open oceans.

Venturer was commanded by Lt. Jimmy Launders, a highly-respected and brilliantly-minded tactician. Within days of reaching the U-864’s last suspected position, Launders “spotted” his quarry, thanks to noises emanating from the German warship’s engines.

Wolfram, unaware of the Venturer’s presence, had ordered his sub to turn around and head for port when it began experiencing engine troubles which created considerable noise – something he feared would easily give away their position. But by then, it was too late.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”
HMS Venturer in port in 1943, two years before sinking the U-864 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Launders began tracking the U-864 using a hydrophone instead of his sonar, as the “pings” from the sonar system would have likely alerted his prey to his existence. After a lengthy tracking phase, Launders fired off a spread of four torpedoes — half of his entire armament — and awaited the fruits of his efforts.

Wolfram’s bridge crew realized they were under attack when the noise from the inbound torpedoes reached the ears of their own hydrophone operators. Ordering the U-864 to take evasive maneuvers, Wolfram and his crew powered their submarine up in an attempt to speed out of the area.

Out of the four torpedoes launched by the Venturer, one hit its mark directly, fracturing the U-boat’s pressure hull and immediately sending it and its entire crew to the bottom. Launders and the crew of the Venturer had just effected the first and only submarine vs. submarine kill in history — a feat that has never been matched to this very day.

The wreck of the U-864 was discovered in 2003 by the Norwegian Navy, near where the Royal Navy had earlier reported a possible kill. Its cargo of mercury has since been exposed to the sea, severely contaminating the area around the shipwreck.

In the years since its rediscovery, the U-864 has been buried under thousands of pounds of rocks and artificial debris in order to stop the spread of its chemical cargo. It will remain there for decades to come while the metal of the destroyed submarine slowly disintegrates away.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Space Force can learn from this NASA spacecraft mutiny

Just before New Year’s Eve 1973, NASA’s mission control center in Houston lost contact with the crew of Skylab 4. For 90 minutes, no one on the ground knew anything about what was happening in Earth’s orbit. The three crew members had been in space longer than any other humans before them. The astronauts were all in orbit for the first time.

All NASA knew is that the rookie astronauts had a tremendous workload but roughly similar to that of previous Skylab missions. They didn’t know that the crew had announced a strike and had stopped working altogether.


The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Skylab 4 Commander Gerald P. Carr, floating in Skylab.

(NASA)

The Skylab crew had been up in space for six weeks, working a particularly rigorous schedule. Since the cost of a days work in space was estimated to be million or more, there was little time to lose. NASA didn’t see the problem, since previous crews had worked the same workloads. The crew of the latest – and last – Skylab mission, however, had been there with a rigorous schedule for longer than anyone before.

Skylab missions were designed to go beyond the quick trips into space that had marked previous NASA missions. The astronauts were now trying to live in space and research ways to prevent the afflictions that affected previous astronauts who spent extended time in weightless orbit. Medical and scientific experiments dominated the schedules, which amounted to a 24-hour workday. On top of that, there was the cosmic research and spacewalks required to maintain the station.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Skylab 4

(NASA)

NASA had purposely pushed the crew even harder than other missions when they fell behind, creating a stressful environment among the crew and animosity toward mission control. Mission control had become a dominating, stressful presence who only forced the crew to work excruciatingly long hours with little rest.

So after being fed up with having every hour of the stay in space scheduled, they decided to take a breather and cut contact with the ground. Some reports say they simply floated in the Skylab, watching the Earth from the windows. After the “mutiny” ended and communications were restored, the astronauts were allowed to complete their work on their own schedule, with less interference from below. They even got a reduced workload.

But none of the astronauts ever left the Earth again.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the all-out US war plan for the entire Middle East

The days after the September 11th attacks were very different from the United States’ “business as usual” of post-Cold War days gone by. As the days stretched into weeks, the culture of the U.S. changed a little bit, and you could see it everywhere, from entertainment media to individuals across the country. The mood suddenly shifted.

For retired four-star general Wesley Clark, the mood shift was an entirely different level when he met old friends at the Pentagon.


The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Clark was a Presidential candidate in 2004.

In a 2007 interview, Clark tells Democracy Now that life at the Pentagon was markedly different from the military world he knew after 34 years in the Army. The former NATO Supreme Allied Commander got a little insight from his old friends about how the United States was preparing to respond to the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

Some ten days after the attacks, Clark says he was in the Pentagon visiting friends at the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he was called into a former colleague’s office. Without divulging which colleague, Clark tells Democracy Now that the general told him they were preparing for a war with Iraq. This was just ten days after Sept. 11, 2001. Clark confirmed that there was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but the general was firm on the decision to invade.

“I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail,” Clark remembered the general saying.

Clark returned to the Pentagon a few weeks later. By this time, the United States was conducting bombing operations in Afghanistan. He poked his head into the same four-star colleague’s office and asked if the war was still on – it was. Not only was the war with Iraq still going on as planned, but the plan had since been expanded to also include other countries that were traditionally hostile to the efforts of the United States.

The general showed Clark a classified memo from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that listed seven countries that were to be toppled by the U.S. military in the coming five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. In that order.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Clark believes Iran needed the US to oust Saddam Hussein, something it could never do.

Clark believed that by that time, Iran already saw itself at war with the U.S., considering the calls for regime change and the ongoing proxy war in neighboring Iraq. In 2007, the United States military was implementing the famous “surge” strategy for defeating the insurgency in Iraq, a strategy that had not yet reaped benefits by the time of Clark’s interview. Clark was trying to stop the momentum for war with Iran.

Of course, the list of countries mentioned by Gen. Clark’s friend in the Pentagon have their own set of issues or were later beset with them. Libya and Syria fell victim to the Arab Spring five years later. The government of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya eventually fell, which led to his death. The government of Bashar al-Asad in Syria was rescued from collapse by Russian intervention in the country’s ongoing civil war. Lebanon was wrecked by an Israeli invasion in 2006. Sudan has since split into two countries as a result of civil strife, and Iraq would infamously suffer at the hands of ISIS after the U.S. withdrawal.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Navy tried to prevent accidents 60 years ago

For a long time, the Navy has been trying to reduce the frequency of accidents — and it’s easy to see why. The recent collisions involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) left 17 sailors dead, many others hurt, and both destroyers out of action for months. Other safety mishaps have been less costly, but each accident takes time and effort to clean up — ultimately taking time and effort away from other, more important things, like fighting the enemy.

For years, the Navy put forth the Friday Funnies, which used humor (most of the time) to push sailors to be careful, often using the sailors involved in accidents and mishaps as the butt of the joke pour encourager les autres — to help others learn from their mistakes. If you didn’t want to be made fun of in the bulletin, well, you knew what not to do.


One area in which things can quickly turn fatal is within aviation. When things go wrong on a plane or when somebody messes up, crashes can happen, and those tend to be deadly. So, not surprisingly, the Navy created safety bulletins that focused on the flight line. The messages were clear and designed to prevent simple (but costly) mistakes, like forgetting to put the landing gear down, which happened to both a C-17 crew in 2009 and an A-4 Skyhawk flown by a contractor in 2015.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

The 1966 fire on USS Oriskany (CV 34) was started when a flare accidentally ignited.

(US Navy)

But accidents don’t just happen in the air. The ground (or the carrier) is also a high-risk environment. There were huge fires on the carriers USS Oriskany (CV 34), USS Forrestal (CV 59), and USS Enterprise (CVN 65) during the Vietnam War that collectively claimed the lives of 206 sailors.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Some accidents are through error – like a C-17 crew forgetting to make sure the landing gear is down.

(USAF)

Even if nobody gets hurt, accidents can lead to damaging valuable combat planes. These days, when an F-35 costs about 0 million, nobody wants that to happen.

See how the Navy taught sailors to avoid accidents 60 years ago in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyuJ8rUefc8

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Articles

The first man killed in the Vietnam War was murdered by a fellow airman

On June 8, 1956, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Richard Fitzgibbon died of gunshot wounds sustained in South Vietnam. He was the first casualty of what would be known to history as the Vietnam War.


Except it wasn’t a Viet Cong bullet that killed Fitzgibbon — it was a fellow airman.

Fitzgibbon was assigned to the Military Assistance Advisory Group, training South Vietnamese airmen in Saigon. A crew chief, he confronted the plane’s radio operator when they came under fire mid-flight, making sure the operator did his job.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”
An early aircrew patch from MAAG Vietnam.

After the mission, the radio operator stewed over the altercation, heading to a bar to have a few drinks and loosen up. Except he drank heavily, and the incident only intensified his anger.

Later that day, the man approached Fitzgibbon on the porch of his barracks room as he handed out candy to Vietnamese children and shot the crew chief to death.

Fitzgibbon was a Navy veteran of World War II who later joined the Air Force. His son Richard joined the Marines and fought in Vietnam. He was killed in combat near Quang Tin in 1965.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”
Richard Fitzgibbon Jr., left, and Richard Fitzgibbon III. The father was killed in Vietnam in 1956, while the son died there in 1965. (Photo from Sen. Ed Markey)

Technical Sergeant Fitzgibbon’s name wasn’t added to the Vietnam Memorial Wall until 1999, after a lobbying campaign from his family, with the help of Senator Ed Markey. The Department of Defense had to first change the criteria for adding a name — specifically identifying the start of the war.

The DoD now recognizes the date the MAAG was set up, Nov. 1, 1955, as the start of the conflict in Vietnam — the earliest date to qualify for having a casualty’s name added to the memorial wall.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”
Richard Fitzgibbon’s name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

The Fitzgibbons were one of three father-son pairs who died in the Vietnam War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Germany scuttled its own navy in sneaky scheme

In June 1919, the bulk of the German High Seas Fleet was sitting at anchor at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. The cruiser Emden sent out the message, “Paragraph 11; confirm.” Then, all 74 of the warships in the natural harbor attempted to scuttle themselves en masse, and 52 successfully destroyed themselves before British sailors were able to beach them or stop their sinking.


21st June 1919: The German fleet is scuttled at Scapa Flow

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It’s important to remember for this story that wars have two ending points. There’s the armistice that stops the actual fighting, and then a lengthy peace process will usually result in a full treaty ending the war. After the armistice ended World War I fighting on Nov. 11, 1918, a large portion of the German navy was interned for the treaty process.

The navy had been largely sidelined during the war thanks to a British blockade, so it was largely intact that November. And the Allied powers, in order to ensure that Germany went through with the peace process, demanded that the nation’s most powerful and modern fleet be sequestered at a neutral port.

But, no nearby neutral port agreed to accept the ships, and so 70 of Germany’s best vessels were sent to the British harbor at Scapa Flow, a natural harbor that housed one of the British fleets. Four other German ships would later meet them there.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Three German ships, the Emden, Frankfurt, and Bremse, enter Scapa Flow on November 24, 1918.

(Royal Navy)

When the German ships were officially handed over on November 21, literally hundreds of ships and thousands of people were present to watch the event. Over 190 Allied ships escorted the first batch of 70 German ships to surrender, making that day the largest concentration of naval power in the history of mankind, even if 70 of the ships had breech blocks in their guns to prevent a sudden return to hostilities.

But the fleet languished there for months. Morale on the German ships was bad during the war and worse while they were confined to ships on short rations in British territory. And the German commander had an order from his superiors to prevent the seizure of the ships by any means necessary.

The German navy seems to have believed that the ships would eventually be returned, Britain wanted to see them scrapped, and the rest of the Allies wanted to divvy them up. But as the negotiations in France made it clear that Germany would not get the ships back, German Adm. Ludwig von Reuter planned for how to destroy his own fleet.

A German destroyer largely flooded at Scapa Flow in 1919.

(Royal Navy)

He knew that the deadline for Germany to sign the treaty or face a resumption of hostilities was June 21, 1919. So, at 10:30 a.m., after he saw the bulk of the British fleet at Scapa Flow depart for maneuvers, he sent out the innocuous-sounding signal to scuttle the fleet, “Paragraph 11; confirm.”

He didn’t know that the deadline had been extended to June 23, but this actually worked out well for him. The British commander had plans to seize the German ships on June 23 if the German diplomats still hadn’t signed the treaty by then.

And so the ships suddenly began to sink. The German sailors raised their German navy flags from their masts for the first time since they had arrived in the harbor. British sailors in the harbor quickly alerted their own fleet as to what was happening, and the fleet rushed back to save what it could.

The sight they met when they re-entered the harbor was surreal. As Sub-Lieutenant Edward Hugh Markham David said when he wrote to his mother of the events:

A good half of the German fleet had already disappeared, the water was one mass of wreckage of every description, boats, carley floats, chairs, tables and human beings, and the ‘Bayern’ the largest German battleship, her bow reared vertically out of the water was in the act of crashing finally bottomwards, which she did a few seconds later, in a cloud of smoke bursting her boilers as she went.

The German admiral proceeded to the British flagship and declared that he had “come to surrender my men and myself. I have nudding else.”

British sailors were quickly dispatched to the sinking ships to re-close the valves and pump water out. Some British sailors nearly drowned in this endeavor, but they saved 22 of the ships as 52 settled into the mud at the bottom.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

A salvage crew works on the largely underwater German battleship Baden after the Scuttling at Scapa Flow. The partially submerged ship at the left is the cruiser Frankfurt.

(Royal Navy)

The British sailors were under orders to only kill those Germans who refused to close valves when ordered or who resisted British actions to save the vessels. Nine German sailors were killed, but there is some controversy over whether all these sailors had resisted or not.

Still, it was the single largest loss of naval power in one day in human history, even though it was a calm day and no battle had actually taken place.

Salvage operators bought some of the ships in the later decades. One man, Ernest Cox, successfully ran the salvage of 30 ships before calling it quits. But many of the vessels sunk that day still remain on the harbor floor where they are now popular spots for divers.

Articles

The US Army’s plan to win the Plains Wars was to kill every American Bison

One of the reasons the U.S. Army is so capable and successful is its ability to think outside the box to achieve its major objective. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean it includes unintended consequences into its calculations.

One of the major examples of this include using Agent Orange to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam. The United States could see the enemy on the ground after using Agent Orange, but it also gave everyone cancer, from the soldiers and airmen who used it to generations of Vietnamese people, decades after the war ended.

The Army’s disregard of the laws of unintended consequences isn’t strictly a 20th Century occurrence (it’s also not limited to the Army, or to the United States). In the drive to push Indian Tribes onto reservations during the last part of the 1800s, the Army’s plan to subdue the hunter-gatherer tribes of the American West involved an unorthodox, but not well thought-out idea: destroy their resources. 

At the time the frontier was disappearing, the U.S. government and U.S. Army was full of Civil War veterans, who saw victory on the battlefields through destroying the meager resources of the Confederacy. The trio that managed the final destruction of the Confederate Armies, President Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. Philip Sheridan, and Gen. William Techumseh Sherman devised a plan to do the same to the Indian tribes in the West. 

The Indians didn’t have farms, factories, or shipping ports, though. If they did, the U.S. Army would have been less inclined to engineer the tribes’ destruction. Their goal was to get the roving bands of Native tribesmen off the plains and onto plows, where they would stop harassing settlers, destroying rail and telegraph lines, and stop killing soldiers.  

In 1868, the massive buffalo herds that once roamed North America had dwindled into two giant herds, but the tribes still relied on them for everything from clothing and shelter to food. Army leadership recognized that destruction of the herds was the only means of controlling the native population. While the Army never officially adopted a policy of slaughtering buffalo, they helped it along. 

“Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone,” Col. Richard Dodge said of the slaughter.  “Kill every buffalo you can.”

Col. Richard Dodge/Wikipedia Commons

So they made a most uniquely American solution, promoting a market-based solution to the destruction of the herds. A 2016 article from the Atlantic notes that buffalo hides in 1868 fetched $3.50 each, nearly $70 today. Cartridges for the popular hunting rifles of the time cost just under $5 each in 2021 dollars. It could be a big business, and it was. Killing bison was a cheaper alternative to cattle ranching.

Businessmen hunting hides decimated what was left of the herds, taking what would sell and leaving the meat to rot in the plains of the frontier. In just a few short years, the American Bison was facing extinction and the Grant Administration would do nothing to protect them. By the turn of the 20th century, there were just 300 left. 

In the end, the plan worked. Tribes who were most affected by Sheridan’s plan, the Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne and Arapaho were eventually forced onto their reservations as their food sources dwindled away. Since the buffalo was so important to their society, the tribes also became heavily dependent on the U.S. government for food and other supplies.

The bison survived by migrating to the protected lands on Yellowstone National Park. Today the American Bison is making a comeback, with more than 500,000 in public and private herds, including the herds Native tribes have also reintroduced onto their lands.

Featured image: Left: Screenshot – Red Cry, YouTube; Right: stock image

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy

The Civil War ironclad USS Indianola was rushed into the war, guarding Cincinnati in 1862 before she was even complete. But at the start of 1863, she was cutting through Confederate defenses on the Red River to support Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ campaign there. But when a crisis hit, Union Navy officers had to figure out how to prevent it from falling into Confederate hands.


The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

(US Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Indianola was part of the Mississippi River Squadron tasked with severing Confederate logistics and defenses on that river and the surrounding waters. But in early 1863, the Confederacy still held 240 miles of water from Vicksburg, Mississippi, down to the Gulf of Mexico. The fiery Rear Adm. David D. Porter sent ships down the Red River to disrupt Confederate shipping at the end of January.

For a few weeks, the Union ships captured Confederate ones and typically seized any supplies and paroled the crews. But the Union vessels took damage in engagement after engagement and were not able to seize as much fuel as they needed to continue operations so, on February 13, Porter sent the Indianola with two coal barges past the Confederate guns at Vicksburg to reinforce and refuel those ships already downriver.

For a few days, the Indianola stayed downriver and chased off Confederate vessels, but it was headed back upriver on February 24 when a group of Confederate rams hunted it down as darkness fell.

The Indianola was already heavy thanks to its armor, and it maneuvered slowly in the river with the two coal barges attached, so the Confederate rams were able to slam into it quickly and then pour fire into its portholes. The Union sailors fired their artillery as quickly as they could, but their fire was largely ineffective in the poor moonlight.

Lt. Cmdr. George Brown exposed himself to enemy fire repeatedly in his efforts to save the ship and repel the Confederate attack. He fired his revolver against the Confederate sailors, and he was seen ordering his engineers and defenders even when incoming fire was bouncing around him.

The Union ship quickly began to sink, but the commander and crew worked to destroy the signal books and get the vessel to deep water before surrendering it so the rebels could not recapture it. But, in an effort to save himself and his crew, Brown surrendered the ship a bit too soon, and the Confederates were able to take it in tow.

It sank soon after, but the Confederates were able to tow it to a sandbar before it did so, leaving most of the ship exposed and giving the Confederacy a solid chance to raise it and turn it against the Union forces. Rear Adm. Porter was loathing to risk sending more ships past Vicksburg’s guns to prevent the salvage, but he really didn’t want to face the Indianola in rebel hands.

So, he looked around for some cash, bought up some scrap wood and iron, and quickly constructed a fake ironside warship built on top of an old flatboat. It had smokestacks complete with thick smoke, fake artillery positions with blackened wood cannons, as well as typical structures like the pilothouse. In all, it cost .63, about 0 in 2018 dollars.

As a little cheeky addition, “Deluded People Cave In” was painted on the paddle wheel housings.

On the night of February 25, Porter had the Black Terror, as the ship was dubbed, released into the current with no crew. It was quickly spotted by a Confederate ship that raced downriver ahead of it to warn other rebels of the approach of a Union “ironclad.” When it reached the Indianola, the order was given to scuttle and destroy the ship rather than risk its recapture.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

(US Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Confederate salvage team spiked the guns and threw them in the river, they burned the hull down to the waterline, and set off all the powder. Almost nothing remained of the Indianola when the Black Terror came down the river. But, of course, the Black Terror just kept drifting, eventually running aground two miles downriver.

The Southerners, already confused by the lack of Union fire, were made even more suspicious when there was no sign of crew activity after the Black Terror ran aground. So, a small team rowed out to the vessel and discovered that they had been tricked.

Despite the fact that the second ironsides attack was a fake and the first was defeated, the bulk of the Confederate fleet still withdrew from the river. The land defenses at Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and a few others, held the line until the following year when land offensives captured them, cementing Union control of the river and choking off what remained of Confederate resupply. After the capture of Vicksburg, the Union recovered the wreck of the Indianola.

And a large contributor to the success was an .63 expenditure on scrap wood and iron.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Army’s desperate World War I fight for privates’ parts

When America entered World War I, it brought more radical changes than just fresh troops and a huge manufacturing base. It also introduced novel tactics in the fight against venereal disease — the war for infantrymen’s penises.


The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Specifically, “go and don’t bring back venereal diseases.”

(The Museum of New Zealand)

See, while World War I was a bone-crunching and horrible war, those who rotated off the front were still willing to stand at attention for a little morale improvement. Unfortunately, troops wouldn’t always report it if their li’l Joes encountered some biological warfare on the battlefield.

All euphemisms aside, lots of troops were sleeping with lots of women whenever they got the chance, leading to an outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases. Because of social stigmas, many troops wouldn’t report it when they contracted one of the STDs, further propelling the problem.

As American troops and their physicians made their way to the front, leaders had to decide how to prevent the same issue among U.S. ranks. While the European powers had embraced a program of abstinence, the U.S. Army created a four-pronged attack on venereal disease.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Alcohol wasn’t popular in the U.S. before or after the war. Remember, America entered World War I just three years before it enacted Prohibition.

(United Committee on War Temperance)

The first two prongs were social: First, the U.S. cracked down on access to alcohol and prostitutes in the ranks. While this, obviously, eliminated American forces from most of the fun trenches of France, it would also serve to cut down on how often the soldiers were exposed to venereal disease. Then, authorities launched an education campaign, ostensibly to help men “Just Say No” to diseased genitals.

Oddly enough, this second prong, “education,” was actually controversial. Birth control education was actually illegal in America during World War I and had been since 1873. In fact, a high-profile arrest in 1916 occurred when a woman opened America’s first birth control clinic.

The next prong represented the biggest shift from Europe abstinence program. The U.S. distributed “prophylactics,” or condoms. Condoms help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and infections, especially gonorrhea and chlamydia, which were big threats in France at the times. Condoms also cut down on the transmission of syphilis, another widespread disease.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

It wasn’t just prostitutes that American G.I.s were able to attract, either. Remember that Britain and France had been at war for almost three years when America came along, and huge numbers of their military-age males were already dead. Plenty of women looking for boyfriends and husbands had few options beyond traveling soldiers.

(Imperial War Museum)

This was also illegal in World War I in some parts of the country and would remain so until 1965 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law banning birth control — but hey, troops get certain exemptions. When you bend the rules to ask a guy to kill for you, you should probably loosen the rules about teaching him how to get laid without contracting disease or conceiving a baby.

These three prongs helped but, of course, even if the troops never got drunk with a prostitute and used a new condom every time they had sex, some guys would still get unlucky and contract a disease or two. So, prong four of the plan was an emphasis on medical care. Report the disease when you’re sick, come to the clinic, and get diagnosed and treated.

All of these efforts were buffed by other programs advocated by Army doctors, like the “furnishing of healthy social conditions and of opportunities for diversion….” Basically, keep the troops too busy with the YMCA and and other social organizations that they wouldn’t get so bored they’d slip out of camp to look for prostitutes.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

This was the treatment for gonorrhea in those days, an injection into the urethra. We can’t understand why troops might’ve avoided seeing the doctor.

(Public domain)

And there was a stick that backed up the carrot. Any soldier who contracted an STI and didn’t seek treatment would face trial and imprisonment.

Yeah, get the drip-drop and don’t report to the docs, you’re going to the stocks.

And the policies worked, to an extent. Of course some guys got sick and passed the disease along before getting treatment, but disease levels were lower in the U.S. camps than in British and French ones.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Front and back cover on a War Department pamphlet advocating veterans engage in a war against venereal disease back in the U.S.

(War Department)

So the allies followed suit, distributing condoms and providing distractions. Again, no plan was perfect, and there were limits to what medicine was capable of at the time, so not all troops who got sick were guaranteed recovery with treatment.

The efforts to protect troops from STDs in World War I were repeated in World War II — and led to the slow expansion of birth control and disease prevention at home. Troops were sent home with books about venereal disease, but these typically advocated abstinence in place of the condoms and medical treatment provided in the trenches.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were the WWI ‘Harlem Hell Fighters’

It’s African-American History Month and a fitting time to recall the black soldiers of the New York National Guard’s 15th Infantry Regiment, who never got a parade when they left for World War I in 1917.

There were New York City parades for the Guardsmen of the 27th Division and the 42nd Division and the draftee soldiers of the 77th Division.


But when the commander of the 15th Infantry asked to march with the 42nd — nicknamed the Rainbow Division — he was reportedly told that “black is not a color of the rainbow” as part of the no.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Children wait to cheer the Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment as they parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home. More than 2,000 Soldiers took part in the parade up Fifth Avenue. The Soldiers marched seven miles from downtown Manhattan to Harlem.

(National Archives)

But on Feb. 17, 1919, when those 2,900 soldiers came home as the “Harlem Hell Fighters” of the 369th Infantry Regiment, New York City residents, both white and black, packed the streets as they paraded up Fifth Avenue.

“Fifth Avenue Cheers Negro Veterans,” said the headline in the New York Times.

“Men of 369th back from fields of valor acclaimed by thousands. Fine show of discipline. Harlem mad with joy over the return of its own. ‘Black Death hailed as conquering hero'” headlines announced, descending the newspaper column, in the style of the day.

“Hayward leads heroic 369th in triumphal march,” the New York Sun wrote.

“Throngs pay tribute to the Heroic 15th,” proclaimed the New York Tribune.

“Theirs is the finest of records,” the New York Tribune wrote in its coverage of the parade. “The entire regiment was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Under fire for 191 days they never lost a prisoner or a foot of ground.”

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

For that day, the soldiers the French had nicknamed “Men of Bronze” were finally heroes in their hometown.

In the early 20th Century, black Americans could not join the New York National Guard. While there were African-American regiments in the Army there were none in the New York National Guard.

In 1916, New York Gov. Charles S. Whitman authorized the creation of the 15th New York Infantry to be manned by African-Americans — with white officers — and headquartered in Harlem where 50,000 of the 60,000 black residents of Manhattan lived in 1910.

When the New York National Guard went to war in 1917, so did the 15th New York. But when the unit showed up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to train, the soldiers met discrimination at every turn.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

New York City residents cram the sidewalks, roofs, and fire escape to see the Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment march up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

To get his men out of South Carolina, Col. William Hayward, the commander, pushed for his unit to go to France as soon as possible. So in December 1917, well before most American soldiers, the men from Harlem arrived in France.

At first they served unloading supply ships.

But the French Army needed soldiers and the U.S. Army was ambivalent about black troops. So the 15th New York, now renamed the 369th Infantry, was sent to fight under French command, solving a problem for both armies.

In March 1918, the 369th was in combat. And while the American commander, Gen. John J. Pershing, restricted press reports on soldiers and units under his command, the French Army did not.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

When Pvt. Henry Johnson and Pvt. Needham Roberts won the French Croix de Guerre for fighting off a German patrol it was big news in the United States. A country hungry for war news and American heroes discovered the 369th.

The 369th was in combat for 191 days; never losing a position, never losing a man as a prisoner, and only failing once to gain an objective. Their unit band, led by famed bandleader James Europe, became famous across France for playing jazz music.

When the 369th arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on Feb. 10, 1919, the New York City Mayor’s Committee of Welcome to the Homecoming Troops began planning the party.

On Monday, Feb. 17, the soldiers traveled by ferry from Long Island and landed at East 34th Street.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Sgt. Henry Johnson waves to well-wishers during the 369th Infantry Regiment march up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

They marched up Fifth Avenue and passed a reviewing stand that included Gov. Al Smith and Mayor John Hylan at Sixtieth Street. The official parade route would cover more than seven miles from 23rd Street to 145th Street and Lennox Avenue in Harlem.

“The negro soldiers were astonished at the hundreds of thousands who turned out to see them and New Yorkers, in their turn, were mightily impressed by the magnificent appearance of these fighting men,” the New York times reported.

“Swinging up the avenue, keeping a step spring with the swagger of men proud of themselves and their organization, their rows of bayonets glancing in the sun, dull-painted steel basins on their heads, they made a spectacle that might justify pity for the Germans and explain why the boches gave them the title of the “Blutdurstig schwartze manner” or “Bloodthirsty Black men,” the Times reporter wrote.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Wounded Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment are driven up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

Lt. James Reese Europe marched with his band, the New York Tribune noted, while Sgt. Henry Johnson, who had killed four Germans and chased away 24 others, rode in a car because he had a “silver plate in his foot as a relic of that memorable occasion.”

“He stood up in the car and clutched a great bouquet of lilies an admirer had handed him,” the Tribune wrote about Johnson. “Waving this offering in one hand and his overseas hat in the other, the ebony hero’s way up Fifth Avenue was a veritable triumph.”

“Shouts of ‘Oh you Henry Johnson’ and ‘Oh you Black Death,’ resounded every few feet for seven long miles followed by condolences for the Kaiser’s men,” the New York Times reported.

Along the route of the march soldiers were tossed candy and cigarettes and flowers, the newspapers noted. Millionaire Henry Frick stood on the steps of his Fifth Avenue mansion and waved an American flag and cheered as the men marched past.

When the 369th turned off Fifth Avenue onto Lennox Avenue for the march into Harlem the welcome grew even louder, the New York Sun reported.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

“There were roars of welcome that made all the music of the day shrink into itself,” the Sun reporter wrote. And although the 369th Band had 100 musicians nobody could hear the music above the crowd noise, the reporter added.

People crammed themselves onto the sidewalk and into the windows of the buildings along the route to see their soldiers come home.

“Thousands and thousands of rattlesnakes, the emblem of the 369th, each snake coiled, ready to strike, appeared everywhere, in buttonholes, in shop windows and on banners carried by the crowd,” the New York Times reported.

“By the time the men reached 135th Street they were decorated with flowers like brides, husky black doughboys plunking along with bouquets under their arms and grins on their faces that one could see to read by,” the Sun reported.

At 145th Street the parade came to its end and families went looking for their soldiers.

“The fathers and mothers and wives and sweethearts of the men would no longer be denied and they swooped through police lines like water through a sieve,” the Sun wrote.

“The soldiers were too well trained to break ranks but when a mother spied her son and threw her arms around his neck with joy at getting him back again, he just hugged her off her feet,” the paper wrote.

The lore of the “lost Confederate treasure”

The color guard of the 369th Infantry Regiment parades up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

With the parade over, the men were guided into subway cars and headed to the Park Avenue Amory, home of the 71st Regiment, for a chicken dinner and more socializing. The regimental band, which had begun playing at 6 a.m. and performed all day, finally got a break during the dinner and the men lay down to rest.

The New York Times noted that the band boasted five kettle drums presented to the unit by the French Army “as a mark of esteem.” They also had a drum captured from a German unit that had been “driven back so rapidly that they lost interest in bulky impedimentia.”

The New York Times estimated that 10,000 people waited outside the armory and “all the spaces about the Armory were packed with negro women and girls.” The soldiers inside ate quickly and came back out to find their families.

“I saw the allied parade in Paris and thought that was about the biggest thing that had ever happened, but this had it stopped,” Lt. James Reese Europe, the band’s commander, told the New York Sun reporter as the party ran down.

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