War, like math, is a universal language shared by every strata of civilization. Warriors from all cultures have, in one form or another, prepared themselves physically and mentally for the task at hand using rituals. More often than not, stepping onto the battlefield meant risking bodily death.
With the end of natural life so near, many warriors would confer with the divine, looking for their blessing to carry them to victory. Some conjured animal spirits to lend them their strength while others requested that deities guide their blades.
These are the rituals that prepared the champions of various cultures to meet their fate.
Berserkers used mind-altering drugs to induce rage
The berserker was an elite Norse warrior that used pure rage to find success in battle. To achieve the status of a berserker, one had to live in the wilderness and become possessed by one of three animals, from which they’d conjure strength: the bear, the boar, or the wolf. The warrior then had to drink the blood of the chosen animal and wear its pelt when summoning its strength in battle.
But it wasn’t all possessions and summonings. Historians theorize that berserkers would eat Amanita muscaria (a hallucinogenic mushroom) and rub henbane leaves onto the skin (which causes a numbing sensation) to better endure pain in battle. Copious amounts of alcohol combined with mind-altering chemicals would send these warriors into a rage, effectively summoning severe aggression on demand.
The Maori tribes developed a war cry dance to intimidate the enemy at the outset of battle and to inspire their warriors into a frenzy. They, like many other cultures, called upon the God of War using a ritual dance called the perperu haka when a fight was imminent.
Over time, the haka evolved into several distinct versions, each used in a specific ceremony. There are hakas for national events in New Zealand, weddings, funerals, and special guests. Each dance has a cultural significance and a rich history woven into the choreography.
The Greeks used sacrifices to predict the outcome of battles
The ancient Greeks did not take superstition lightly and often sought the guidance and protection of their Gods before battle. Before the Battle of Plataea, which took place near Boeotia, Greece, in 479 B.C., both the Armies of Xerxes I and the Greek alliance consorted with their respective seers to determine the outcome of the battle. Each offered ritual sacrifices to their Gods, looking for the signal of imminent victory. The sacrifices revealed omens that defeat belonged to whichever side initiated combat.
After days of indecision, the Persian general Mardonius decided that he had waited long enough and attacked. He lost.
Kamikaze pilots drank magical sake
The term ‘Kamikaze‘ comes from the Mongols’ failed invasion of Japan in 1281. A typhoon completely destroyed the invaders and became known as the Divine Wind, or the Kamikaze, that saved Japan. The victory at the Battle of Midway by the U.S. Pacific Fleet in 1942 forced Vice Admiral Takashiro of the Japanese First Air Fleet to use suicidal pilots to inflict damage upon U.S. vessels.
The Kamikaze was a call to action that drew university students from all walks of life. The ceremony these pilots would undertake before flying their last consisted of drinking sake ‘infused’ with magic to provide ‘spiritual lifting.’ They were thanked by their officers and boarded their planes with 550-pound bombs. Out of approximately 2,800 Kamikaze pilots, 14% of Kamikaze hit U.S. ships and only 8.5% managed to sink them.
Some African tribes still practice scarification
To this day, tribes in Ethiopia engage in ceremonial stick duels between 20 or more young men of rival villages to earn respect from their families and community. Before a duel takes place, a witch doctor will bless the fighters with sacred leaves and cut patterns into their skin with razors. These patterns serve as a supernatural defense against serious harm. In most cases, these duels aren’t usually deadly — ‘usually’ being the operative word.
The cutting ritual, also known as scarification, is a lengthy and painful pre-battle requirement. Showing courage during this process also grants the young man the right to marry a wife. If a fighter cannot bear the pain of scarification, he will not be seen as worthy to bear the responsibilities of marriage.
There are videos out there for the strong-stomached, but we’ll not be providing one.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller wasn’t just a great warfighter, he was an icon of Marine military prowess and culture, embodying and helping shape what it would mean to be a 20th-Century Marine. Here are five times that Puller proved himself to be one of the greatest Marines, from heroics to hard work to partying, this is the warrior your platoon sergeants told you about:
His legendary breakout from Chosin Reservoir
It was possibly Puller’s most heroic feat. Puller was temporarily in command of the 1st Marine Division when Chinese forces overwhelmed American and UN troops at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. The entire X Corps was vulnerable to annihilation at the hands of the Chinese, but the top commanders had a workable plan to save the tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines. That plan relied on 1st Marine Division.
The Marines, under Chesty, served at times as both vanguard and rearguard for the “advance in a different direction” that was, effectively, a withdrawal. Puller kept his men’s morale up as they knocked three Chinese divisions out of the fight despite constant supply shortages and the necessity of leapfrogging their artillery. This saved thousands of American lives and helped ensure that the Chinese advance could be halted before South Korea was lost.
Guadalcanal, from smoking under bombardment to directing naval artillery
Then-Lt. Col. Puller landed on Guadalcanal in September, 1942, as the proud commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. Unfortunately, he was the only member of the unit with combat experience, and he had to keep his men on the straight and narrow. On their first night, the Marines came under naval bombardment and many had failed to dig their assigned foxholes.
The jungle fighting was fierce, and Puller was in charge of leading jungle raids and patrols against rebels in Haiti and then Nicaragua. It was in Nicaragua that he earned his first two Navy Crosses, both awarded for valor under fire. One was for leading five successful raids on an extensive mission, and the other was for leading his platoon back safely after defeating multiple well-prepared ambushes that left Gunnery Sgt. William “Ironman” Lee wounded.
A dedication to close combat that included mounting bayonets on flamethrowers
Puller was known, at least in part, for his bomb quotes. You know, things like, “don’t forget that you’re First Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!” and “hit hard, hit fast, hit often.” But one of his most iconic quotes came when he first saw a flamethrower demonstration.
“Where the Hell do you put the bayonet?” he asked. And like all three of those quotes show, Puller believed in violence of action, in closing with the enemy and killing them before they could kill you. That mentality was part of what made him such an icon in a Marine Corps on the rise, transforming itself from a largely reserve force of the Civil War to one of the dominant fighting forces of World War II, Korea, and today.
A tendency to accrue legends, some based in fact and others in fiction
And, like the Marine Corps itself, Puller had a tendency to accrue legends — some completely true, some plausible, and some over-the-top. The true ones included things like when he led an overnight defense against a mile-long assault by Japanese forces on Guadalcanal and the aforementioned victories at Chosin and in Nicaragua.
One of Nazi Germany’s most deadly weapons wasn’t really a weapon at all – at least not when it first took flight. However, it did eventually became a deadly foe; not for what it could drop, but for what it could see. It also set the pattern for two iconic planes of the Cold War.
The Focke-Wolf Fw 200 Condor began its life as an airliner for Lufthansa, according to aircraftaces.com. As a civilian transport, it generated some export orders to Denmark and Brazil. As an airliner, the Fw 200 held 26 passengers, and was able to fly from Berlin to New York non-stop.
In World War II, the airliner versions were used as military transports by the Germans. But the real impact would come because the prototype for a reconnaissance version requested by the Imperial Japanese Navy. According to uboat.net, the Luftwaffe looked at the prototype, and requested that designer Kurt Tank make some changes.
What emerged was a plane that could fly for 14 hours, and carry 2,000 pounds of bombs. By February 1941 they were responsible for putting 363,000 tons of merchant shipping on the bottom of the Atlantic. That is the rough equivalent of four Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
But the Condor’s real lethality wasn’t from what it dropped, it was from what it told the Germans — namely the locations of Allied convoys necessary to keep England in the war. That allowed Karl Donitz to vector in U-boat “wolfpacks” to attack the convoys some more.
Ultimately, when the British began to field catapult-armed merchantmen and eventually escort carriers, the Germans had the Condors avoid combat and just report the positions. By 1943, though, the Condor had been shifted to transport missions.
At the end of the war, the Fw 200 returned to the maritime strike role, carrying Hs 293 anti-ship missiles.
The ultimate legacy of the Fw 200 Condor: P-8A Poseidon aircraft No. 760 takes off from a Boeing facility in Seattle, Wash., for delivery to fleet operators in Jacksonville, Fla., marking the 20th overall production P-8A aircraft for the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Boeing Defense)
The Fw 200, even though it was on the losing side of World War II, was a ground-breaking concept. In the Cold War, two major maritime patrol aircraft used by Germany’s World War II enemies — the Lockheed P-3 Orion and the British Aerospace Nimrod — were based on airliners themselves (the Lockheed Electra and the de Havilland Comet). The Boeing P-8 Poseidon, replacing the Orion and Nimrod, is based on the Boeing 737.
The Condor has a long legacy – one that continues to this day.
An old sailor’s myth claims that any ship which fails to break a bottle of champagne during its christening ceremony is cursed forever.
This seemed to be exactly the case with the Soviet ballistic missile submarine K-19, later nicknamed “Hiroshima” by its crew after an accident in 1961 which almost resulted in a nuclear accident which would have rivaled the size and effect of Chernobyl, years later.
If it was any consolation to the horrified sailors who witnessed the champagne bottle bounce intact off the K-19’s stern during its induction ceremony, the sub was already thought to be cursed thanks to the deaths of a number of shipyard workers involved in its construction. Upon its acceptance to the Soviet Navy, its 35-year old captain, Nikolai Zateyev called the ship unfit for service, noting that the USSR’s rush to catch up to American submarine advances had caused the country to cut corners in designing its new vessels.
Regardless, the K-19 entered into active service and set sail on its maiden voyage in 1961, operating in the North Atlantic below the shipping lanes that crisscrossed the Atlantic. On the 4th of July — while millions of families made their way to parks to barbecue and watch fireworks in the United States — the K-19’s powerplant experienced a leak in its cooling system while the vessel was submerged southeast of Greenland.
If something wasn’t done to solve the cooling issue immediately, a nuclear meltdown would have followed, causing untold amounts of radiation to spew over the North Atlantic, and almost certainly travel over into Western Europe or even parts of Canada and the United States.
Zateyev ordered his crew to devise a “jury-rigged” cooling system, using scrounged-up parts and components of the submarine to re-route water into tubes around the reactors. In the meanwhile, members of the crew volunteered to go into the reactor spaces to attempt to fix the system, receiving fatal doses of radiation almost instantaneously.
None of the ship’s engineering crew would survive, and many more died from radiation poisoning in the years after the near-meltdown. Many of these sailors were later buried in lead coffins, quietly and away from the public eye.
According to David Miller in his book “Submarine Disasters,” a distress signal emitted from the K-19 was soon picked up by nearby American warships, whose crew offered to assist the stricken sub and her complement. However, Zateyev, worried about losing his ship to the United States — then the enemy during the height of the Cold War — decided instead to sail towards a nearby Soviet diesel submarine. That linkup allowed the K-19’s crew to offload safely.
In the aftermath of the near-catastrophe, the Soviet Navy sought to downplay the nature of the incident, forcing the crew of the K-19’s 1961 cruise to swear an oath of secrecy; violations would result in a lengthy stay at a gulag.
Nevertheless, a number were still decorated for bravery and their role in preventing what could have been an unmitigated disaster. Zateyev went on to serve in the Soviet Navy for another 25 years, passing away eventually from lung disease. The official report on the condition of the sick sailors stated that they were suffering from a form of mental illness.
That, however, wasn’t the end of K-19’s story. Now widely known throughout the Soviet Navy as “Hiroshima,” the ship was repaired and reentered into active duty.
In 1969, a collision with an American submarine disfigured Hiroshima, ending its patrol prematurely. In the 1970s, the submarine suffered a series of fires that killed 30 sailors and wounded scores more. The K-19 was clearly, by this point, living up to its curse.
The oath inflicted upon the 1961 cruise sailors was lifted after the fall of the Soviet Union, and what was once a closely-guarded secret was told to the world. In 2006, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev made public the courageousness of the crew in a letter to the Nobel Prize committee, nominating the survivors for a Nobel Peace Prize.
K-19 was finally retired from service in 1991 having been active for nearly 30 years, and accumulating hundreds of thousands of miles transiting through the world’s oceans. Instead of preserving the ship as a monument to the men who served aboard her, and had a hand in saving millions from nuclear poisoning, the Russian government elected to dismantle and dispose of the vessel, finally ridding its navy of the cursed ship.
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel pulled himself out of poverty by joining a gang headed by immigrant Meyer Lansky. During the Prohibition Era, Lansky and Siegel ran a large bootlegging operation and were influential in Jewish and Italian immigrant crime syndicate communities. In the 1930s, after organized crime made the mobster fabulously wealthy, Siegel moved to sunny Southern California, where he would continue his illegal activities.
It was there he met Dorothy di Frasso, an Italian Countess, at one of the her extravagant Beverly Hills parties. They began to travel the world together. Eventually, they invested in a new explosive called “radium-atomite” and sail for Italy in 1941, hoping to sell it to Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini.
Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s son-in-law and foreign minister, was skeptical of the invention after the demonstration of the weapons went poorly. Ciano took a pass. Unfortunately for the Italians that very next year, the scientist developing the explosive would refine his product into a form of jellied nitroglycerin, an explosive more powerful and cheaper to produce than TNT and easier to transport than liquid nitroglycerin. When that scientist patented the explosive, Di Frasso’s name was on the patent as the owner.
While Siegel and Di Frasso were in Rome, the Nazi Luftwaffe commander, Gestapo founder, and Reichstag President Hermann Göring was there as well — fresh from annexing Czechoslovakia and ready to discuss the invasion of Poland. Meanwhile, the Beverly Hills couple were meeting all sorts of notable figures, including the new Pope Pius XII, Italian King Victor Immanuel II and his son Umberto II, and Mussolini himself.
Siegel and di Frasso eventually ran into Reichsmarschall Göring. The mobster’s daughter, who was eight-years-old at this time, remembered that her father was so angered by one of the men he met in Italy that he “wished he had shot him.” The story goes that the villa the couple were supposed to stay in as guests of the Italian government was taken by Göring, so the couple would have to be moved to less lavish quarters. Siegel, a Jewish American, unhappy with the treatment of Jews in Nazi-occupied areas and with the government anti-Semitic ideology, told friends and associates he wanted to kill the German Reichsmarschall, after meeting Göring just one time.
Göring does have one of history’s most punchable faces . . .
It was rumored Siegel also wanted to take out infamous Nazis Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler, but those rumors are unsubstantiated. The mobster would outlive Göring. The Reichsmarschall would famously kill himself with cyanide before he could be hanged at Nuremburg after the war.
For his part, Siegel would be gunned down in his Beverly Hills home by a different mistress in 1947.
In 1947, British officer Yahya Khan offered his colleague 1,000 rupees for his spiffy red motorcycle. His colleague, Sam Manekshaw, agreed. But before Khan could pay, he was off to what was going to become Pakistan. The British split its Indian colony, and things on the subcontinent have been pretty tense ever since. To top it all off, Yahya Khan didn’t pay for the motorbike.
But he would, even if it took almost 25 years.
Manekshaw (middle) whose mustache game was top notch.
The Partition of India was much more than the splitting of the British Raj into two independent states. It was a catastrophic split that tore apart the country and created millions of refugees, cost millions of lives, and split the armed forces of the country in two, all based on religion. Violence erupted almost immediately between the two groups on such a large scale that much of it has never been forgotten or forgiven. Animosity continued between both sides for decades, and the two have fought war after war because of the myriad issues left unaddressed.
By 1970, Sam Manekshaw was a Field Marshal, the Chief of Staff of India’s Army, and war hero known to the people as “Sam the Brave.” Yahya Khan was a General who fought for Pakistan against India in 1947 and again in 1965. Now he was the president of Pakistan who had taken power using the Pakistani military. East Pakistani refugees were flooding into India because Yahya would not accept the most recent elections, and India’s President, Indira Gandhi, told Manekshaw she wanted Pakistan split into two by force, creating the new country of Bangladesh. Gandhi gave him free rein to do it however he could.
Khan would be deposed and die under house arrest after being stripped of his honors during the rest of the decade.
In Pakistan, the ever-present tensions with India were ready to boil over once again. But the Pakistanis didn’t send the Army to India; they sent it into East Pakistan – where the Pakistanis immediately began slaughtering Bengalis in East Pakistan. By 1971 Bengalis in Pakistan declared independence from Pakistan in response. India immediately supported the new country, first vocally, then though training the Bangladeshis, and next with air support. Finally, in 1971, Manekshaw was ready. He had spent much of the year readying and positioning Indian armor, infantry, and air units. On Dec. 3, 1971, he struck.
The Pakistani Navy’s fuel reserves were destroyed. The Indian Air Force hit Pakistan with almost 6,000 sorties in the next two weeks, destroying much of Pakistan’s Air Force on the ground as the Indian Army advanced, capturing some 15,000 square kilometers. Within two weeks, Pakistan folded like a card table. All Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered to India, the genocide ended, and Bangladesh was born.
After the surrender agreement was signed, Manekshaw was said to have remarked:
“Yahya never paid me the 1,000 rupees for my motorbike, but now he has paid with half his country.”
At the height of World War I, British intelligence provided the United States with a secret telegram sent from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman to the government of Mexico. The telegram promised the Mexicans a military alliance if the United States entered the war against Germany. The Germans promised Mexico it would help them recover the American territories of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico it lost in the Mexican-American War.
The interception of the telegram was one of the earliest big wins for signals intelligence. Maybe the Kaiser shouldn’t have sent it via Western Union.
“Hopefully no one breaks this code STOP It would mean we lose the war STOP We’re paying by the word STOP”
The note from Zimmerman was sent to the German ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, letting him know that the German high command intended to resume its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in the coming days. This strategy, while effective at keeping the British Isles from getting its necessary supplies also had the adverse effect of killing innocent civilians from neutral countries – countries like the United States.
On May 7, 1915, this policy resulted in the sinking of the luxury liner RMS Lusitania, killing some 1,128 people. And 128 of those people were American civilians bound for England. The incident was illegal under international law and sparked widespread anti-German outrage in the U.S. You know relations are strained when Americans rename their food to sound less German.
“Sauerkraut” is still “Liberty Cabbage” to me.
The note read:
We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain, and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President’s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace. Signed, ZIMMERMANN
This wasn’t even the first time the Germans tried to incite the Mexicans against the U.S. There were at least five other occasions when the German Empire funded or assisted efforts to create tensions in North America. President Wilson even had to send U.S. troops to occupy Veracruz during his administration. What the Germans didn’t take into account was the fact that Mexico was already in the middle of its own civil war, Mexico didn’t stand a chance against the U.S., even then, there was already a peace agreement in place, and Mexico knew Germany couldn’t actually support it in any meaningful way.
“Mexico: We are with you. But not like… there. We have to be here. But good luck in your war with the US.”
The British sent the telegram to the U.S. Ambassador to Britain, who eventually got it to President Wilson. Wilson promptly gave it to the American media. When delivered to the American people, who were already anti-Mexican and anti-German, the result was explosive. To make matters worse, Zimmerman admitted the telegram was genuine in a speech to the Reichstag, and the Germans soon sunk two American merchant ships with u-boats. Three months later, in the face of American public opinion, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war.
This past week was a special anniversary for Americans.
We observed the 75th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, and specifically, on Feb. 23, we honored the 75th anniversary of the raising of the flag and the immortal photo taken by Joe Rosenthal.
Around the country, there were special celebrations to honor the men who served in that ferocious and terrible battle. Many politicians, notable figures and average Joe’s took to social media to honor the men who fought and died on Iwo.
With the passage of time, there are fewer and fewer men who fought on the volcanic rock, so events honoring them get more and more special.
Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams was honored at a Washington Capitals game over the weekend. Williams, who earned Medal of Honor as a flamethrower on Iwo Jima, was showered with applause and adulation by the Capitals fans, players and members of the opposing team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Williams is the last recipient living of the 27 men who were awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery during Iwo Jima.
Watch Williams being honored at the game:
Williams took to Twitter (yes, Medal of Honor Iwo Jima vets have Twitter too) to express his excitement of being at the game.
Williams, aged 96, shows no sign of stopping. He will be giving a TEDx talk this March at Marshall University.
While many other events took place around the country, a very special commemoration took place in California.
Twenty-eight Iwo Jima veterans and members of the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee posae for a picture after an event commemoratiing the 75th annivesary of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.
Camp Pendleton hosted a reunion of over two dozen Iwo Jima veterans last week. Over the course of three days, the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee held events on Pendleton to honor the men that fought there. Sadly, the Marine Corps put out a statement saying that this would probably be the last formal event as fewer and fewer veterans are alive and in shape to travel.
But as they say, tell that to the Marines.
“It’s very special to be a part of this ceremony,” said William “Bill” Wayne, an Iwo Jima veteran whose fellow Marines of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, raised the flag on Mount Suribachi. “I get a real kick out of coming and seeing everyone and talking to the young Marines.”
The American Civil War was a bloody, brutal time in the history of the United States. It not only pitted “brother against brother,” as the saying goes, it was a fight over the soul of the country for (at least) the next 150 years.
But while most people know the broad brushstrokes of the war’s causes and conflicts, there are some little known facts that for some might cast America’s bloodiest war in a whole new light.
1. The first soldier killed in the war died entirely by accident.
The opening salvos of the Civil War were fired during the siege of Fort Sumter in South Carolina. When P.G.T Beauregard accepted the surrender of the fort, there were zero fatalities on either side. When the Union troops lowered the American flag, they gave it a 100-gun salute.
2. The Civil War began and ended at the same guy’s house.
While the opening shots of the war were in Charleston Harbor, the first major battle was fought nearly three months later at the First Battle of Bull Run, also known as “First Manassas.” General Beauregard used the house of Virginian Wilmer McLean as his headquarters during the fight. McLean moved his family away from the area shortly after to a two-story house at a place called Appomattox Court House.
3. Battles have multiple names because the of the backgrounds of their soldiers.
The bulk of the Union troops were city dwellers and townspeople. When they talked about a battle, the notable things they saw were the natural features of the battlefield. Confederates were by and large from rural areas. When they remember a battle, their inclination is to talk about the manufactured, populated, or otherwise man-made features of the area.
For example, both times the two forces met near Manassas Rail Station, the Southerners dubbed the fights First and Second Battle of Manassas, while the Union troops named it after Bull Run, the nearby stream. At least 230 such Civil War combat actions are known to have multiple names.
4. Black soldiers refused their pay in protest for 18 months.
In 1864, Congress ordered they be paid equal wages, with full pay, retroactive to the start of their enlistment. In a seemingly odd historical contrast, black soldiers fighting for the South were paid equal wages from the start of the war.
5. A disproportionate number of black men and immigrants fought the Civil War.
Meanwhile, roughly 25 percent of recruits for the Union army were immigrants. By 1860, 13 percent of Americans were born overseas and 43 percent of the armed forces were either immigrants or the sons of immigrants. Foreigners lined up at U.S. diplomatic legations abroad to join the Union cause — so many that the U.S. minister to Berlin had to put a sign up to tell people his office was not a recruiter, for example.
6. Slavery didn’t end until eight months after the war ended.
President Lincoln outlawed slavery in U.S. territories in 1862. He freed slaves who had masters in the Confederate Army. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves held in rebel states. The President worked to eliminate slavery from the U.S. in the most piecemeal fashion he could. There was no formal law abolishing slavery until the passage of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery — except by punishment of a crime.
The 13th Amendment was passed on January 31, 1865, but that didn’t end slavery there. For an amendment to be added to the Constitution, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the States – including those in rebellion. When the war ended in April 1865, the amendment needed 27 of the 36 states, but only had 22. Georgia became the 27th when it ratified the 13th amendment on December 6th, 1865. About 45,000 slaves were freed in the last two slave states (Delaware and Kentucky) 12 days later.
7. Men drafted by the Union during the Civil War could hire a substitute.
The first-ever forced conscription in American history was enacted by the Confederacy. White men between ages 18 and 35 (and later, 45 as the war dragged on) had a three-year mandatory service obligation. The Confederate draft was very unpopular because it was viewed as a government violation of personal rights — the reason the South was fighting the Civil War.
8. Lincoln’s first War Secretary thought Gen. William T. Sherman was insane.
It was Sherman’s capture of Atlanta that won Lincoln’s re-election in 1864, ending the Democratic Party’s call for peace talks. His March to the Sea and subsequent uncontested sweep through the Carolinas devastated the South and hastened the end of the war.
But in 1861, Sherman wasn’t himself. When then-War Secretary Simon Cameron asked Sherman how many men he needed to defend the North, the general’s request for 260,000 men caused Cameron to remove Sherman from command and send him to Kentucky under the command of a Brigadier of U.S. Volunteers, Ulysses S. Grant. Sherman had a nervous breakdown and was considered unfit for duty.
After Grant’s rise to prominence in the Union Army, Sherman was moved to Grant’s old command and the rest is history. When Congress moved to have Sherman elevated to Grant’s position, Sherman wrote to them:
General Grant is a great general. I know him well. He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always.
9. Neither side could actually afford to fight the war.
The Union, as any high school history class teaches us, was the manufacturing center of the United States in 1861, while the South had a mostly agrarian economy. With this industrial base, the North was able to produce the goods needed to fight the war while the South had to make do with what it could scrape together.
But history shows neither side could really afford the war. The Union’s total income through taxes could only account for 15 percent of its spending. Even with increased tariffs, the first income tax, and other excises taxes, the Federal government only ever made a quarter of what it spent. The Union was forced to take on foreign debt to finance itself – $2.7 billion worth.
The South fared no better, of course. Its tax revenues only earned 11 percent of its fiscal needs. A third of its revenues came from printing money, as opposed to 18 percent in the North. Where the North’s borrowed money would lead to a post-war boom, the interest on Confederate debt being bought in England and the Netherlands began to cost more than the war itself. Tax revenues in the South actually declined as the war continued.
10. The Civil War killed more American troops than any other war, and 2/3 died of disease.
An estimated 625,000 people were killed in the Civil War, and that number only includes those who died fighting. There an estimated 225,000 civilian casualties, which would set the total as high as 850,000.
The number one killer of Civil War troops was disease – the most prevalent were dysentery, typhoid fever, malaria, pneumonia, and simple childhood troubles like measles and mumps. Flies, mosquitoes, ticks, lice, maggots, and fleas were rampant and germ theory was not yet accepted medical practice.
11. The Rebel Flag isn’t really the Confederate Flag.
The now-controversial and highly recognizable rebel flag, or “Dixie Flag,” wasn’t the official banner of the Confederate States of America. The crossed bar flag was actually just the battle flag of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
A few states still base their flag on different iterations of the actual, official CSA flag, including North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee. The “Stars and Bars” flag that represented the Southern states features three bars and seven stars. The battle flag was used to make it easier to distinguish it from the North’s flag in combat.
12. The U.S. government is still paying a Civil War pension.
“Whenever there is no surviving spouse entitled to pension, the Secretary shall pay to the children of each Civil War veteran who met the service requirements of section 1532 of this title a pension at the monthly rate of $73.13 for one child.” Thus reads the text of Title 38 of the U.S. Code regarding the rules for veterans’ benefits to spouses and dependents of former soldiers.
In 2014, the Wall Street Journal found Irene Triplett, the 86-year-old daughter of Civil War veteran Mose Triplett (a rebel, in case you were curious, who deserted and joined the Union). Mose died in 1938, but his daughter still receives the $73.13 owed to her from Department of Veterans Affairs.
In November 1947, the United Nations voted to partition what was then called “Palestine.” The plan called for a complete British withdrawal, separate Jewish and Palestinian states, and an international regime to control the ancient, holy city of Jerusalem. The partition plan was rejected by Arab nations in the region on the grounds that it violated the UN charter’s principles of self-determination. Before May 1948, the conflict consisted of separate Arab and Jewish fighting for supremacy and fighting to expel the British. On May 15, 1948, the Jewish people of the region declared independence as the state of Israel and the world hasn’t been the same since.
The Partition of Palestine passed in the UN General Assembly in November 1947. Immediately after the partition vote passed, the country descended into a civil war for control of the political and cultural hearts of the region. May 14th, 1948 was the day the British announced their intent to end their UN mandate. Shortly before midnight that day, Jewish political leader David Ben Gurion declared an independent Israel.
The Jewish people in Palestine didn’t just get independence handed to them. The conflict that started the day after the partition vote now exploded into a full-scale war, the day the British were to leave. The neighboring Arab states Egypt, Transjordan (now modern Jordan), Iraq, and Syria immediately invaded the territory declared to be Israel. Jewish paramilitary groups that were once considered terrorists under the British Mandate coalesced into the Israel Defence Forces. These groups were already engaged in conflict with Palestinian Arab units throughout the area, including the Arab Liberation Army and Holy War Army. The British were functionally gone anyway and the major cities of Tiberias, Jaffa, Haifa, and Acre had already fallen to the Israelis.
Syrian forces would invade from the North, linking up with Iraqi and Jordanians forces in Nazareth, then pushing West to take the coastal city of Haifa. The Egyptians were supposed to capture Tel Aviv from the South. The Jordanian King Abdullah I didn’t want to invade any area given to the Jewish state under the UN partition, and the plan was changed. The Egyptians, by far the largest of the invading armies, were still to invade from the South and capture Tel Aviv. Two weeks after the Israeli declaration of independence, Egyptians were knocking at the door, ready to move on Tel Aviv. The defense of the city fell to one man, Lou Lenart. Lenart would enter the history books as the man who devised and executed the IDF’s first aerial strike.
Lenart was a seasoned combat airman. He joined the Marine Corps in 1940 with the singular goal of killing Nazis. He would go to flight school later in his career, which saw him serve as air support for Marines on Okinawa and participate in bombing raids over Japan. After the war, he found out he lost 14 family members in the Holocaust. That loss galvanized his feelings on an independent Jewish state. By the time he arrived in Israel, he was an experienced combat pilot.
Lenart and three fellow pilots (Ezer Weizmann, Mudy Alon, and Eddie Cohen) flew four Czech Avia S-99 airplanes, cobbled together with the remains of Nazi Messerschmitt fighters. Armed with a machine gun and four 150-pound bombs, the four flew south to Ashdod where they’d heard the Egyptians were camped. They had no radar, no radios, and communicated with hand signals. Finding masses of Egyptian troops, trucks, and tanks, the Jewish pilots dropped low, dropped their bombs and shot up anything they could see.
“They didn’t even know Israel had an air force,” Lenart would say later. “The Arabs had everything, we had nothing. And we still won. When I’m asked how we did it, I say: ‘We just didn’t have a choice. That was our secret weapon.'”
They encountered what turned out to be an armored column of 10,000 Egyptian troops and 500 vehicles. Cohen was killed in the attack and Alon was shot down (he would be killed later in the war). The Egyptians were stunned and scattered. By the time they recovered, Egypt had lost the initiative.
This was the beginning of Operation Pleshet. Israeli forces would then harass the Egyptians and group for a counter attack. Though that counter was not successful, Egypt’s strategy turned from offensive to defensive and to this day, the bold Israeli airstrike is credited for saving Tel Aviv. The (first) war for Israel’s existence would drag on until March 1949 but Tel Aviv would never fall to an Arab army.
Lenart died in 2015 at the ripe old age of 94. His efforts in the 1948 war were never forgotten.
A recent Navy Times article notes that the crew of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) joined the “Order of the Blue Nose” — a distinction reserved for ships and crew that crossing the Arctic Circle.
That list includes both well-known orders and not-so-well known orders. They are for notable feats — and in some cases, dubious ones.
Perhaps the most well-known is the “Order of the Shellback,” given to those sailors who have crossed the equator. The “Crossing the Line” ceremony has been portrayed both in the PBS documentary series “Carrier,” as well as being the plot point for an episode of “JAG” in the 1990s.
But there is more than one kind of shellback.
If you cross the equator at the International Date Line (about 900 miles east of Nauru), you become a “Golden Shellback” (since those who cross the International Date Line are called Golden Dragons).
If you cross the equator at the Prime Meridian (a position about 460 miles to the west of Sao Tome and Principe), you become an “Emerald Shellback.”
Now, we can move to some lesser-known, and even dubious orders.
The “Order of the Caterpillar” is awarded to anyone who has to leave a plane on the spur of the moment due to the plane being unable to continue flying. You even get a golden caterpillar pin.
The eyes of the caterpillar will then explain the circumstances of said departure. The Naval History and Heritage Command, for instance, notes that ruby red eyes denote a midair collision.
Then, there is the becoming a member of the “Goldfish Club.” That involves spending time in a life raft. If you’re in the raft for more than 24 hours, you become a “Sea Squatter.”
Using the Panama Canal makes you a member of the “Order of the Ditch.”
Oh, and in case you are wondering, crossing the Antarctic Circle makes you a “Red Nose.”
Walter Chalaire was an American newspaper reporter turned British pilot during World War I whose life was saved while he was being shot down thanks to the enemy bullet becoming lodged in a round on Chalaire’s cartridge belt.
The lucky pilot was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1895 and went to college in New York. During school, he made money as a reporter while studying law before graduating in 1916. That was just in time to head to Europe and fight the Germans.
Cadet Walter Chalaire, at right, later became a Royal Air Force lieutenant and was saved during a pitched aerial fight when this cartridge belt stopped a German round. (Photo: PhotoBucket/njaviator)
On August 14, 1918, Chalaire was piloting a De Havilland DH-4 on a mission near Ostend, Belgium, and got separated from the other observation plane. Chalaire and his observer, a British sergeant, were alone in contested skies when they spotted two flights of German planes. The first was above them and the second was below and behind.
The Germans turned on the sole English plane and started peppering it with fire. Chalaire and his observer returned fire, downing two of the enemy. But the Allied crew was outgunned and rounds flew through the plane, cutting cables, puncturing the tank, and wounding the observer seven times.
Chalaire was still trying to fight his way east when a German burst hit him. One round went into his shoulder but the other was caught by his cartridge belt, driving its way into one of Chalaire’s unused rounds.
Royal Air Force Lt. Walter Chalaire’s cartridge belt and goggles were photographed after he returned to friendly lines. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)
That was when the American finally bugged out as hard as he could, sending the plane into a steep dive and praying that the damaged plane didn’t collapse as the air rushed over it.
During the Wild West, many towns popped up along the trail and eventually went on to become ghost towns. Military bases, though, have sometimes become “ghost bases” – abandoned and left to rot.
Some of these ghost bases are near cities like the Big Apple. Others, like Johnston Atoll, are pretty far off – a nice getaway spot, if not for the history of being used as a storage center for Agent Orange and other interesting stuff.
The climates can be very different – from the burning sands of Johnston Atoll to the frozen flatlands of North Dakota, where America briefly operated a ballistic-missile defense system known as SAFEGUARD.
One base in Croatia that once was home for almost 50 fighter jets was abandoned during the Yugoslav civil war of 1991 – and the wrecks are mostly used by folks seeking some adventure. That base still gets “official” use for law enforcement training.
A damaged runway at the Zeljava Air Base in Croatia. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
You can even check out one abandoned facility that will soon fall into the Pacific. No, not Johnston Atoll (it was a re-claimed coral atoll built over the years long before China did the same thing in the South China Sea), but instead the Devil’s Slide bunker on the California coast. A lack of maintenance and the natural process of erosion will eventually send this coastal-defense bunker tumbling from commanding heights and into the Pacific.
But if you want one “ghost base” that has captured imaginations worldwide, you can go to either the Ukraine or Siberia to see the Duga Radar Array – an early-warning system meant to detect American missiles. Or just pick up the video games “Call of Duty: Black Ops” and “Stalker” to see representations of the array used.
So, take a peek at this video that tells more about these and some other “ghost bases” – and tell us which “ghost base” you would like to know more about.