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MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: There was a POW Camp in the middle of Mississippi

Located in Clinton, Mississippi, Camp Clinton was a POW facility and the home of about 3,000 German and Italian POWs during World War II. A lot of them were members of the Afrika Corps who were captured in Africa. That’s right: World War II included battles in a continent many people never realize was even a part of the war.

Wait…Africa Was Part of WWII? 

Africa’s involvement in the war had more to do with the big powers in the war using North Africa strategically rather than those countries having their own stake in it. That’s why Britain, German and Italian soldiers went into places like Libya, Tunisia and Egypt in the first place in 1940. 

The US didn’t arrive in the fight on the North African front until 1942. Their attack from the west with Britain’s attack from the east trapped German and Italian soldiers in the middle. And those so-called German and Italian “Afrika Corps” are the ones who became POWs. 

Camp Clinton was the best of the bunch

In total, the US took about 275,000 of those Soldiers as POWs, and 3,400 of them came to Camp Clinton. Of the four main POW base camps in Mississippi, Camp Clinton was the most “prestigious.” It held the high-ranking German officers, including generals, colonels, majors and captains. The highest-ranking of them all even had special housing.

camp clinton POW camp

Many POWs chose to work, with a modest sum of 80 cents a day. After all, there was nothing else to do. They mostly picked cotton and planted trees, not surprising considering their Mississippi locale.

Not All German POWs Were True Nazis 

And here’s another thing you might find surprising: the majority of the German POWs were not all-out Nazis. They were just guys who had gone to war when their country needed them. However, a few of the POWs did indeed subscribe fully to the Nazi ideology. One of them even got so crazy that he ended up killing a non-fanatical German POW. That’s when the US government realized that the animosity between the Nazi fanatics and the rest of the POWs could get out of hand, and they quickly shipped off the fanatics to Oklahoma. 

World War II ended in May 1945, which normally would mean the POWs would return home right away. However, thanks to the labor shortage in the US, which wasn’t the case this time. President Truman had many of the German POWs stay and work until the middle of 1946.

Years later, some of those German POWs came back to Mississippi to visit and pay homage to their experiences. If that doesn’t prove how decently they were treated, I don’t know what would. You might even venture to say that going to the Mississippi POW facilities like Camp Clinton saved their lives. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have survived the war at all. 

Related: The 8 most famous US military recruiting posters of World War II

MIGHTY HISTORY

How doughnuts have a storied history in the trenches of WWI

Necessity is the mother of invention — and war is often the catalyst. Sure, we can look at all of the obvious military advancements that trickled down to the civilian sector, like fixed-winged aircraft, GPS, the microwave, and the can opener, but it’s a little-known fact that a lot of contemporary American foods also got their start on the battlefield.

The doughnut, one of the most American deserts known to man, got its start when troops needed a tactical desert to get their minds off the horrors of WWI.


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Looks just like the line at your local Krispy Kreme — some things never change.

(National Archives)

During WWI, the Salvation Army actually deployed overseas with the troops, offering a wide variety of support for the troops. This support ranged from preparing home-cooked meals to sending money back home to sewing their uniforms when needed. The organization was entirely independent from the Armed Forces, but they followed units around the battlefield — oftentimes going to the front lines with them.

Two women assigned to assist the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division, Ensign Helen Purviance and Ensign Margaret Sheldon, endured the hellish environment of Monte-sur-Soux, France, just as the soldiers did. It rained for thirty days and supplies were running thin. They needed to come up with something — anything — to boost the abysmal morale.

They searched the countryside for ingredients and came back with eggs, milk, yeast, sugar, and a bit of vanilla. Perfect ingredients to make a cake, but that wouldn’t be enough for all the troops. They made some dough, used a wine bottle to work it, and cooked the cake batter on a frying pan in some grease. They served it up — and the soldiers loved it.

Soldiers would gather from all around when they smelled the doughnuts being cooked. It was said that the lines were so long that troops would miss duty or formation because they just wanted a single doughnut. One soldier eventually asked Ensign Purvaince, “can’t you make a doughnut with a hole in it?” She obliged this request by cutting the middle of the doughnut out with an empty condensed milk can and used the rest of the batter for other doughnuts.

Doughnuts quickly spread across the U.S. front and other Salvation Army officers started making them for the troops in their care. It didn’t take long for the women making the sweets to be given the nickname of “doughnut girls” or “doughnut lassies” — despite the numerous other ways in which they aided troops.

So, when National Doughnut Day rolls around on the first Friday of June, know that it’s about more than the glazed treat you used to cheat on your diet this morning. It’s a day in honor of the women who served on the front-lines with the troops, preparing tasty treats in hopes of cheering them up.

To learn more about Doughnut Girls or real meaning behind National Doughnut Day, check out the video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Russia tried to join NATO

NATO, as we know it today, is a de facto bulwark against Russian (née Soviet) expansionism into Western Europe and potentially elsewhere. It must have come as a complete surprise when France, Great Britain, and the United States all received letters of intent from the Soviet Foreign Ministry about joining the alliance.

Against themselves.

Originally a political alliance in Western Europe when it was formed in 1949, NATO became a solid military alliance as well when the Korean War made the idea of Communist expansion by force all too real. The same year the Soviets detonated their first nuclear weapon, the West formed an alliance to neutralize that threat. But before the Soviet-dominated countries of Eastern Europe formed the Eastern Bloc in 1955, Russia made an attempt to join NATO.


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Guess who’s coming to dinner.

Longtime Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin finally died in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev was the new communist sheriff in town. So in 1954, when Soviets sent the letters of intent to NATO members, there was a renewed spirit of easing tensions. The Soviets reasoned that the aggressive nature of the NATO alliance would be much less dangerous to world peace if their former anti-Hitler ally were allowed to be a member.

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Forgot about An-dre.

But in order to join the alliance, the Soviet Union would have to allow NATO to dictate its military planning and allow the basic tenets of democratic freedoms to bloom in all areas under its control. The debate about potentially allowing Russia to join reminded the member states that the alliance was formed to address threats to world peace when the UN couldn’t — usually because of Russia’s veto power on the Security Council.

Allowing the Russians to have a say in NATO affairs would neutralize NATO the way they neutralized the UN Security Council.

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Can’t blame them for trying.

NATO told the Russians exactly that when the alliance rejected Russia’s application for membership, urging it and other Soviet satellites to allow the UN to do its job in keeping the world secure. It was not an unexpected response for the USSR.

“Most likely, the organizers of the North Atlantic bloc will react negatively to this step of the Soviet government and will advance many different objections. In that event the governments of the three powers will have exposed themselves, once again, as the organizers of a military bloc against other states and it would strengthen the position of social forces conducting a struggle against the formation of the European Defense Community,” Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov wrote.

Nine days later, Russia and those satellites formed the Warsaw Pact, its Eastern Bloc counter-alliance. Europe was officially split for the next 40-plus years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Britain’s highly successful balloon attack against the Nazis

In perhaps one of the oddest British strategies against Nazi Germany, British troops launched almost 100,000 hydrogen-filled latex balloons into Nazi-controlled territory to set fires and short out power wires as part of Operation Outward.


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Women’s Auxiliary Air Force members recover a kite balloon.

(Royal Air Force)

Operation Outward was the result of an accident. Barrage and observation balloons in World War I got more coverage than in World War II, but the floating sacks of hydrogen were widely used in both conflicts. You can actually spot them in some of the more famous D-Day photos from later in the day or over the days and weeks that followed.

(The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion was the only Black combat unit that came ashore on D-Day, though plenty of Black logistic and engineer units were there on June 6.)

But in September 1940, a few British barrage balloons broke free during a storm and drifted across Scandinavia, pissing the Scandinavians all the way off. The steel tethers these balloons dragged behind them had a pesky habit of shorting out power lines and otherwise damaging infrastructure.

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A U.S. Army Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, known as JLENS.

(U.S. Arny)

Ya know, about like what happened when that JLENS aerostat (blimp, basically) broke free in October 2015.

But when it happened in the Scandinavian countries in 1940, the Brits were all, “Wait, what’s bad for the goose is bad for the gander, so let’s apologize to Scandinavia but then do the same thing, on purpose, to Hitler’s Third Reich. Screw those guys.”

The British relied on a couple infrastructure advantages for this plan. Britain’s electrical grid was more developed, and therefore more susceptible to disruption, but it also featured faster circuit breakers. This meant that Britain’s grid, if hit with balloons trailing wires, would suffer relatively little damage. Germany’s, with slower breakers, had a real risk of losing entire sections of the grid or even power plants to balloon disruptions.

So, even if it led to a balloon trading war, Britain could expect to hold the upper hand. And so weather balloons were filled with hydrogen, fitted with either spools of wire or incendiary devices, and floated over the channel into Germany.

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An “incendiary sock” like those used to burn German towns.

(UK National Archives)

The wires were relatively thin. Experimentation showed the designers that they didn’t need the thick steel of normal tethers to short lines, cause electrical arcs, and damage German power distribution. The electrical arcs were the real killer, draining power from the grid, overworking the components of the power generation, and weakening the transmission lines so they would later break in high winds.

The incendiary devices were filled with wood shavings and paraffin wax.

Both types were made to fly over the channel at a little over 20,000 feet, then descend to 1,000 feet and do their work. They needed winds of about 10 mph or more to be as effective as possible.

And they worked, well. The idea wasn’t to cripple Germany in a single blow, but to cost them more in economic damage and defensive requirements than it cost Britain to deploy them. And, thanks to the low-cost materials Britain used, Britain only had to pay around the U.S.equivalent of .50 per balloon. Shooting a balloon down could cost much more than that in ammo, and that was if it was shot down by air defenders. If fighters had to launch, the fuel and maintenance would be astronomical.

And balloons that weren’t shot down could easily do hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage. In 1942, a balloon launch overloaded a power plant at Böhlen so badly that the plant was completely destroyed. And while the power was off in this and other events, German units were made less ready for combat, and German wartime production was slowed.

Assessments found during and after the war painted a picture of constant disruption on the German side. In occupied France, there were 4,946 power interruptions during the program, most of them caused by the balloons. In 11 months from early 1942 to early 1943, Germany had 520 major disruptions of high-voltage lines.

And at a cost of .50 a balloon plus the wages of balloon launchers, mostly members of the Women’s Royal Navy Service, the more than 99,000 balloons launched were a hell of a deal.

Articles

These are 6 of the worst places American troops fought during Christmas

American troops have never shied away from taking the fight to the nation’s enemies, no matter the season.


But it’s a particular downer when U.S. forces are deployed to battlefields during the holidays. Here are six of the worst places the American military had to fight during Christmas.

1. Valley Forge (1777)

Just a year earlier, on Christmas Day 1776, Washington had led his troops across the Delaware and won a decisive victory at the Battle of Trenton.

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Washington at Valley Forge. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

When Washington marched that same army into Valley Forge on December 19, 1777, the 12,000 Continentals were weary, under-fed, and under-equipped. Only about one in four still had shoes after the many long marches had literally worn them right off their feet.

The weather was also bitterly cold, which combined with the other problems facing the army led to over 2,500 soldiers dying due to starvation, disease, and exposure.

The bright spot of the army’s stay at Valley Forge was the training received by the Prussian drill master Baron Von Steuben. Thanks to his efforts, the Continentals began 1778 a much more professional fighting force than they had been.

2. The Winter Line (1943)

Central Italy may not be known to most for terrible winters. But for the American and Allied troops facing the German Winter Line at the end of 1943, it was far from favorable.

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Fighting in the Italian Alps during Christmas during World War II. (Photo from 10th Mountain Division history page)

Stiff German defenses in the Apennine Mountains had brought the Allied advance to a standstill with tremendous numbers of casualties. To make matters worse, bitter winter weather had moved in dumping snow on the weary troops and dropping visibility to near zero.

Despite the weather conditions and determined German resistance the men of the 36th Infantry Division, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and the 1st Special Service Force fought on — particularly on Christmas Day, when the 1st Special Service Force captured a strategic hill on the Winter Line with heavy casualties.

3. Bastogne (1944)

When American troops think of a terrible Christmas this one usually tops the list.

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Photo: US Army

The Battered Bastards of Bastogne (the 101st Airborne Division, elements of the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions, and other support elements) had arrived to hold the key crossroads against the German onslaught just in time for Christmas 1944.

As the Battle of the Bulge progressed, the paratroopers and soldiers were surrounded, short of supplies, and desperately lacking in winter gear to battle the freezing temperatures they had to endure. Despite the conditions they faced when the Germans requested the Americans’ surrender Gen. Anthony McAuliffe simply responded with “Nuts!”

After fending off a German attack on Christmas Day the defenders were relieved by elements of Patton’s Third Army.

4. Basically anywhere in Korea (1950)

Christmas 1950 in Korea was an ignominious affair. After the brilliant victory at Inchon and the drive towards the Yalu River, China had entered the fray and handed the UN Forces their first defeat since breakout of Pusan.

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In response, MacArthur launched the Home-by-Christmas Offensive to bring a quick conclusion to the war. But the Chinese were ready for it and decisively defeated American forces.  The 1st Marine Division had narrowly avoided annihilation at the Chosin Reservoir, but many other units weren’t so lucky.

For the Eighth Army in Korea morale was low and the temperatures were even lower. Not only were they not going to be home by Christmas, but New Year’s didn’t bring better tidings either.

Another Chinese offensive sent the demoralized Americans reeling and recaptured the South Korean capital of Seoul. Christmas 1950 was one of the lowest points in the war for the Americans.

5. Operation Linebacker II (1972)

By the end of 1972 the war in Vietnam was supposed to be all but over. President Richard Nixon’s program of Vietnamization had allowed large numbers of U.S. troops to withdraw from the country.

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A U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52F Stratofortress drops bombs over Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo))

However, negotiations in Paris were not going well for the Americans, so Nixon ordered a massive bombing campaign against the North in order to extract concessions from North Vietnam. Massive formations of B-52’s escorted by fighters took to the skies over North Vietnam in what became known as the Christmas Bombings.

From December 19 to December 29, 1972 the bombers flew 729 sorties against targets around Hanoi and Haiphong.

Unfortunately these bombings claimed 16 B-52s and numerous fighter aircraft, with the surviving crewmembers being interred as POWs just in time for Christmas. In all 43 airmen were killed and another 49 captured with a total of 28 aircraft lost to enemy action in the span of just over a week.

For a war that was drawing to a close flying into highly-contested airspace was a miserable way to spend the war’s last Christmas.

6. The lonely Combat Outposts of Afghanistan and Iraq (2001 – present)

As the War on Terror approaches its 15th Christmas with who knows how many more ahead, the soldiers stationed in the remote reaches of those war torn countries have to be included on any list of worst places to spend Christmas.

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Gilliand Hudson, a carpenter with FLOUR, acts as Santa Claus and poses alongside U.S. soldiers with 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, on Forward Operating Base Clark, Afghanistan, Dec. 25, 2013. Hudson dressed as Santa Claus to spread holiday cheer for soldiers away from home for the holidays. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Amber Stephens / Released)

With the unprecedented length of these wars, there are likely American troops spending yet another Christmas overseas. In World War II even the first units to deploy would have only spent three Christmas’s in a combat zone; there is a good chance that thousands of troops have spent more than that at this point since 9/11.

Those holidays are even more difficult at the tiny combat outposts in the middle of nowhere. If the troops are lucky, there might have been something resembling a Christmas dinner flown in that they can eat while standing guard in a cold little shack or tower.

If they aren’t so lucky, Christmas dinner is just another MRE and the best gift they can hope for is a quiet day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the shovel became a deadlier weapon than a bayonet

As far as modern conventional warfare is concerned, the bullet or small explosive device are the standard, go-to weapon. And even today, many units around the world still adapt a bayonet into the unit crest.


But no weapon turns more heads while cracking the most skulls quite like the shovel.

To the uninformed, the shovel seems casual enough. It’s even played up for comic effect in cartoons, usually with a wacky sound effect. There’s even a video game called Shovel Knight that treats the titular character’s weapon as a joke.

Young privates don’t believe the shovel’s history as a weapon because they don’t know military history and only heard it used as a weapon from an salty old Sergeant First Class who has a story about his buddy “getting an e-tool kill.”

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This isn’t like those stories about a guy killing three men in a bar with a pencil. The spade had many uses back in the day, especially during the trench warfare of WWI and WWII. It wasn’t the most effective melee combat weapon, but damn was it handy.

But the bayonet has practically lost its importance. It is usually the fashion now to charge with bombs and spades only. The sharpened spade is a more handy and many-sided weapon; not only can it be used for jabbing a man under the chin, but it is much better for striking with because of its greater weight; and if one hits between the neck and shoulder it easily cleaves as far down as the chest. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Much of the fighting was done between opposing trenches and occasionally the unfortunate bastards who found themselves in no-man’s land. But to even take an inch from the enemy, you had to over take their trench.

Raiding parties generally cleared portions of the trenches with hand grenades and shotguns. When it came time to fight the stragglers, the longer rifle and bayonet combo just wasn’t effective in narrow and often swamped trenches. Even the beauty of the trench knife – which included a knife for stabbing, brass knuckles for punching, and a spiked pummel for puncturing the enemy’s head– just didn’t have the range or power needed.

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Even though the only thing deadlier than a Marine is a pissed-off Marine with a knife. (Image via LIFE Magazine)

Troops being raided quickly adapted the tool they used to dig those trenches into a deadly weapon to defend those trenches. The sharp edge, originally purposed to cut through roots, found it’s way into the necks of their enemy. The additional weight behind it meant it could also break bones where the bayonet just pierced.

If the bayonet became the successor to a spear with a firearm, the spade was a mix of a battle ax with a club. Of course, troops would carry both into battle. But if one were to get lodged too deep in the enemy, which would make more sense to leave on the battlefield?

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These Brits with capes and shovels are far more of a bad ass than any butterbar who learns they’re authorized to wear a cape to events.

Stories about troops using a shovel as a weapon continue well through the Vietnam War. Even the modern E-Tool is designed as a call back to the glory days of it being an unexpectedly deadly weapon.

For more information on and the inspiration for this article, watch the video below.

(YouTube, InRangeTV)

popular

Listen to these D-Day ‘frogmen’ explain their crazy role in the historic battle

Despite a limited number of submarines and other surveillance assets, naval forces in World War II had to find a way to spot enemy obstructions and defenses at fortified islands and beaches.

Into the gap stepped the frogmen and recon swimmers, brave sailors and Marines who swam into enemy waters and surveyed defenses with just snorkels and fins, often with enemy fire raining around them.

On D-Day, these brave men played a critical role ensuring that landing craft could make it to shore and take part in one of the most daring, important assaults of World War II. Hear what it was like to be in the waters at Normandy on that fateful day from the frogmen who were actually there in the interview below:


But the heroics of Naval Combat Demolition Units didn’t stop at D-Day; they played key roles in many defining operations of World War II:

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Navy and Marine Corps personnel landing at Tarawa had to do so with limited intelligence and with nearly all obstacles in place at the start of the battle. (U.S. Marine Corps painting Sergeant Tom Lovell)

 

Beach landings around the world, but especially the frequent landings in the Pacific during World War II, require good intelligence. Enemy mines and underwater obstacles can cripple a landing force when it’s most vulnerable. To ensure the landing works, attackers have to either avoid or clear such obstacles before the landings are affected.

The Navy learned this lesson the hard way when forces landing at Tarawa just hours after their arrival were forced to fight past a reef, beach obstacles and mines, and machine gun positions that had all been underestimated because no one got eyes directly on them before the fight. The invaders had relied on aerial imagery that couldn’t expose all the hazards.

But when the Navy is short on stealthy assets, like submarines, someone else has to get up close and personal and see where the obstructions are.

“Frogmen,” recon swimmers whose efforts would lead to today’s Navy SEALs, filled this role by jumping out of small boats while wearing just shorts, snorkels, swim masks, and fins. From there, they had to swim along enemy beaches and make mental notes of anywhere they saw natural or man-made obstacles that could hinder a landing.

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A Navy frogman in relatively advanced gear for the time. Many frogmen during World War II, especially in the Pacific, made do with just snorkels, masks, and fins. (National Archives and Records Administration)

 

If the obstacles were thick and foreboding enough, they had to destroy them, swimming up to mines and other countermeasures and dismantling them in place or blowing them up. Most frogmen served in units named for this task, the “Underwater Demolition Teams,” or UDTs.

Worse, if there was any question of the shore composition, the frogmen were tasked with swimming up to the beach itself, gathering sand, and swimming back with their samples.

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Marines landing at Iwo Jima benefited from the swimmers who ensured the approaches were clear of obstacles and checked whether the volcanic sand would allow for the free movement of tracked vehicles. (U.S. Marine Corps)

While Iwo Jima was revealed to be largely bare of obstacles, the swimmers had to collect the volcanic ash of the beach as Japanese defenders in pillboxes were laying down a thick blanket of fire on the swimmers and their fire support ships. The hail of bullets was so thick that the ships frequently had to leave the line to put out fires and repair damage.

The swimmers had no such safe space. When they landed at Utah and Omaha beaches on D-Day, the Utah team suffered 17 casualties and the Omaha team lost 91 killed and wounded. 37 men died on the two beaches to reduce the threat to the follow-on attackers.

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Members of a Naval Combat Demolition Unit hit the beach during training.

 

They had to sneak up to obstacles and place dozens of pounds of explosives on them to prepare them for destruction, sometimes while close enough to German patrols and sentries to hear them speaking to each other.

One swimmer, part of a Naval Combat Demolition Unit, interviewed a few years ago by Stars and Stripes, recalled a woman on the beach waving to him from her beachfront house as the sailor laid the foundation for the invasion that would start in less than an hour.

According to a book review of Iwo Jima Recon by the Marine Corps Association Foundation,

The frogmen avoided mortar and small-arms fire by ducking underwater as they swam into the beach. One diver’s account simply stated, “Bullets drifted down like falling leaves.” Amazingly, all but one of the divers returned safely.

Their sacrifices, while great, saved lives. Have a look at the video at the bottom to learn more about the frogmen on D-Day.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the greatest artillery exchange of the Civil War

The Civil War was a revolutionary conflict for the planet with steam power, repeating rifles, and improved cannons all changing the face of warfare. European powers sent observers to see how battles were fought, and how the rules of combat evolved as the conflict wore on.


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A cannon sits on Powers Hill at Gettysburg National Military Park.

(National Park Service)

This changing industrial warfare led to butchery on a grand scale. There are a lot of ways to measure the war, but one of the greatest artillery exchanges of the war was an almost two-hour duel at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that, tragically for the Confederate infantrymen, immediately preceded Pickett’s Charge but failed to dislodge the Union guns.

The exchange came on the morning of July 3, 1863. Two days earlier, on July 1, Confederate scouts had pushed against Union forces near the crossroads at the center of the small town of Gettysburg. Neither side’s generals had chosen the ground, but they both reinforced their men in contact and stumbled into one of the most iconic and deadly battles of the war.

On July 2, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee attacked Union positions on hilltops near the city, attempting to push them off the high ground before more Union reinforcements arrived. Confederate troops were in Union territory, and the balance of power would shift against them more and more the longer the battle wore on.

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Civil War reenactors play as Confederate artillery crews in 2008.

(Daniel Schwen, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The July 2 attacks were fierce, and Union forces suffered heavy losses and ran low on ammo in some positions. On Little Round Top, for example, Union forces barely survived by launching a bayonet charge down the hill after most of the men ran out of shot, leaving them vulnerable to a Confederate assault.

By July 3, it was clear that Lee’s invasion of the north would have to either succeed on this day or likely fail altogether. The Union troops, on the other hand, despite some missteps, had improved their positions, and it would take great skill and a bit of luck to dislodge them.

Union forces under Maj. Gen. George Meade were arrayed on a series of ridges, and attackers were able to push Confederate troops out of a nearby field in the early hours of the morning. In a bid to re-seize the initiative and soften Union defenses in the early afternoon, Lee ordered a massive artillery bombardment of the Union troops, focused on Seminary and Cemetery ridges where he hoped to attack and pierce the lines.

Battle of Gettysburg – The Artillery Duel

www.youtube.com

The total number of guns on each side was similar. A Civil War Trust map of the artillery positions shows 126 Confederate guns and 128 Union guns covering the battlefield, with over 50 Union guns either on Cemetery Ridge or immediately adjacent to it. A HistoryNet count of the weapons engaged pegs it at 150 Confederate guns that took part against 75 Union guns.

When the afternoon artillery duel began, guns on each side began a disciplined but heavy bombardment of the opposing forces. For over 90 minutes, Confederate artillery tried to pick off Union guns and crews as the men ran back and forth from the caissons and ammo dumps to the guns to keep the rate of fire up. Good crews on either side could fire two rounds per minute. Thousands of rounds crisscrossed the field.

It’s the largest artillery barrage ever in the western hemisphere. The Union leaders ordered many of their crews to cease fire in an attempt to fool the Confederates into thinking the Union cannon crews were broken.

If the Confederate bombardment were successful, it would create a temporary gap in the Union defenses, an area where battered riflemen and depleted artillery crews would be hard-pressed to hold the line while reinforcements were moved in.

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Union artillery holds its position at the Battle of Gettysburg.

(Alfred Waud)

Lee prepared a massive infantry column, the core of the assault coming from Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s 4,500-man division, with about 10,000 more men coming from other brigades, for an attack directly into the Union center. This would break the Army of the Potomac in half and force Union Maj. Gen. George C. Meade to withdraw or allow his men to be cut apart.

Despite the quiet Union guns, despite the massive infantry column, some of the Confederate generals still believed that the infantrymen could not possibly capture the hill. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet was one of the top detractors of the plan, respectfully telling Lee that he didn’t think 15,000 men existed who could take the hill.

He would be proven right. The Union guns had been mostly sheltered by trees and fortifications during the exchange, and they survived the Confederate artillery attack in good order. Many of the guns on Cemetery Ridge were still in perfect order with ready crews manning them.

The 15,000 Confederate troops faced a march with .75 miles of open ground between the last spot of cover and the first Union defenses. For the entire distance, the Union cannon crews could hit them with balls and shot.

In what would become known as Pickett’s Charge, the Confederates came anyway. The artillery shredded their lines, but still, the Confederates advanced. Units faltered and were slaughtered wholesale on the open field, but the Confederates were undeterred. Fences at the start and end of the march had to be climbed or dismantled under fire, but the Confederates came anyway.

Union troops who had suffered devastating losses the year before at the Battle of Fredericksburg were merciless as the Confederate troops fell, yelling “Fredericksburg” at the fallen.

The Confederate troops did make it into infantry range, once charging at Union lines from only 80 yards away, but Union troops behind stone walls, fallen timbers, or raised terrain slaughtered even these attackers.

In total, Union forces lost 1,500 soldiers. The Confederate losses are estimated to have been over 6,000. The day featured what was, by some measurements, the greatest artillery exchange in Western Hemisphere history. It was an easy contender, by most measures, as the top exchange of the Civil War.

But it had failed to carry the day, failed to achieve its objective.

Articles

The last soldier killed in WWI died one minute before the war ended

Sergeant Henry Gunther was actually a private the day he charged a German machine gun nest for the last time in World War I. He had just been busted down in rank for criticizing the war in a letter he wrote home, and he wasn’t happy about it.


Luckily for millions of other soldiers and civilians in Europe, everyone knew the Armistice would come into effect on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

This is why so many question why Sgt. Gunter charged a German machine gun nest at 10:59 that same day.

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A memorial to Gunther built on Nov. 11, 2010 at his gravesite in Baltimore.

Gunther and his unit came across a German position north of Verdun on Nov. 11, 1918. As they took cover from the machine guns, they received word that the war would be over in less than an hour.

That’s when Sgt. Gunther charged the position with a fixed bayonet.

The Germans fired a number of warning shots and tried to yell at Gunther – in English – to stop.

But Gunter wasn’t the only troop to die in that last hour of World War I. Some 3,000 men died in that short time. Some historians even speculate that Gunther was ordered to charge the machine guns.

Even though so many others died around the same time, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force General John J. Pershing declared that Gunther would be known as the last man killed in action in the war.

Sergeant Henry Gunther was engaged before the war started and just secured a job as a bookkeeper in the Baltimore area before he was drafted in 1917.

After his death was recorded at 10:59, his fellow troops moved his body and buried him near where his company was posted. His remains were moved to the United States in 1923.

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A man in WWI-era French uniform stands beside a memorial stone at the spot where Henry Gunther fell on Nov. 11, 1918. The stone was unveiled by the French government as part of a 90th anniversary event in 2008. (Photo by American War Memorials Overseas)

On Veteran’s Day 2008, a memorial was constructed on the site where he was killed in Chaumont-devant-Damvillers, France.

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46 years later: Reviewing the timeline of the Watergate Scandal

In 1974, the country saw both the Watergate scandal come to an end and Richard Nixon’s presidency come to a close. The scandal that began on June 17, 1972, took two long years to unfold. In the end, the sitting President was impeached and subsequently resigned the office of the presidency, making him the first and only President ever to do so.

It’s been 46 years, but to this day, Watergate remains one of the most infamous political scandals in American history, complete with intrigue, cover-ups, money trails, secret informants and proverbial smoking guns.

For today’s history lesson, here’s a quick refresher and a timeline of events in the Watergate Scandal leading up to the resignation of former President Richard M. Nixon.


June 17, 1972

Five men — James McCord, Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker and two accomplices — were arrested while trying to bug the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate hotel. Among their possessions were rolls of film, bugging devices and thousands of dollars in cash.

Bob Woodward, a young Washington Post reporter, was sent to the arraignment of the Watergate burglars, and another young reporter, Carl Bernstein, starts to do some digging of his own.

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Government Exhibit 1: The Watergate Complex. (Wikimedia Commons)

June 20, 1972

Bob Woodward had his first contact with “Deep Throat,” his source and informant for the story. Deep Throat’s identity remained hidden for 30 years. In 2005, (at the age of 91) Mark Felt, the Associate Director of the FBI (as the scandal played out), admitted that he was, in fact, Deep Throat.

June 22, 1972

At a press conference regarding the incident, President Nixon denied that the White House was involved in the incident, stating unequivocally, “The White House has no involvement in this particular incident.”

June 25, 1972

Alfred Baldwin, a former FBI agent involved with the scandal, agreed to cooperate with authorities in the investigation. Baldwin names E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy as two of Nixon’s campaign aides who were involved in the burglary.

Aug. 1, 1972

The Washington Post reported that a ,000 check (funds intended for Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign) was deposited in the bank account Bernard Barker — of one of the Watergate burglars.

August 29, 1972

Nixon continues to deny any involvement in the Watergate Burglary, telling reporters, “I can say categorically that his investigation indicates that no one on the White House staff, no one in this administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.”

In the same news conference, Nixon insists that there is no need for a special Watergate prosecutor.

September 1972

Deep Throat told Bob Woodward that the money for the burglary was controlled by assistants to Former Attorney General John Mitchell, who incidentally was now serving as the chief of Nixon’s re-election campaign. In words that would become Rule #1 in any good investigation, Felt told Woodward to “follow the money.”

September 29, 1972

The Washington Post reports that John Mitchell did, in fact, have control over that secret fund, while he was serving as Attorney General. When they reached out to Mitchell for comment, instead of cooperating, an enraged Mitchell threatened the reporters and Katherine Graham (publisher of The Washington Post). Woodward and Bernstein did not back down; instead, they printed Mitchell’s threat in the Post.

Oct. 10, 1972

Woodward and Bernstein report that the FBI made the connection between Nixon’s aides and the Watergate break-in.

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On Thursday, August 8, 1974, Nixon announced his resignation at 9 PM on national television. Afterward, White House staff contemplated the fallout. From left, George Joulwan, a special assistant to the president, Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, Special Counsel to the President for Watergate James St. Clair, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. (Wikimedia Commons)

November 7, 1972

Richard Nixon is elected to a second term in office; winning by a landslide against George McGovern.

Jan. 8, 1973

The Watergate break-in trials begin. Seven men go on trial, five of whom plead guilty.

Jan. 30, 1973

G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord were convicted for their roles in the Watergate break-in.

March 23, 1973

James McCord wrote a letter to Judge Sirica, who presided over the Watergate trial. The letter points to a conspiracy and a cover-up in the White House. The letter is read in open court.

April 30, 1973 

President Richard Nixon accepted responsibility for the scandal but maintained that he had no prior knowledge of it.

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View of Senate Watergate Committee hearing. (Wikimedia Commons)

May 17th, 1973

Senate Watergate Committee begins public hearings that were nationally televised. During these hearing, Senator Howard Baker, R-Tenn., (Vice-Chairman of the committee) famously asked, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”

May 18, 1973

Archibald Cox was appointed as a special prosecutor to lead the investigation into both Nixon’s re-election campaign and Watergate.

July 23, 1973

President Nixon was known to have recorded his calls in the Oval Office. It was believed he was in possession of dozens of tapes that proved his involvement in the cover-up; those tapes became known as the “Nixon Tapes.” The Senate Watergate Committee issues subpoenas for The Nixon Tapes after the President refused to turn them over.

July 27 -30, 1974

The articles of impeachment were approved by The House Judiciary Committee and proceedings begin. The articles of impeachment included obstruction of justice (impeding the Watergate investigation), abuse of power and violating public trust, and contempt of Congress by failing to comply with congressional subpoenas.

August 5, 1974

Folding under intense pressure, President Nixon finally releases the transcript of his conversations with then chief-of-staff, H. R. Haldeman. These transcripts proved that the President ordered a cover-up of the burglary at the Watergate Hotel on June 23. 1972, six days after the burglary.

August 8, 1974

In a nationally televised speech, the 37th President of the United States formally resigned, making him the first and only President ever to do so.

August 9, 1974

Richard Nixon signed his letter of resignation, and Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States.

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How an illegal immigrant was drafted and earned the Medal of Honor

These days, it’s a common political debate. “Dreamers,” illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as infant children and grew up with full lives and roots in the U.S., are sometimes completely unaware they were undocumented until later in life. Back in the days of the Second World War, we didn’t call them “Dreamers,” but the phenomenon was the same: People like Silvestre Herrera didn’t know they were in the United States illegally until they received a draft notice from the Army.

But finding out he wasn’t technically a citizen wasn’t going to stop Herrera from serving the country that gave him so much.


Herrera was born in Chihuahua, Mexico to loving parents in 1917, but they succumbed to the worldwide Spanish Influenza epidemic that killed millions around the globe the very next year. When he was around one year old, his uncle brought him to the United States and raised him as a farmhand in Texas. Silvestre Herrera grew up believing his uncle was his father and that he was born in El Paso, Texas.

Even when he married an American, had American children, and moved to Arizona, Herrera believed he was living a typical Mexican-American life in the Southwest. It wasn’t until he got his draft notice for the Texas National Guard in 1944 did he find out the truth about his entire life.

“Son, you don’t have to go,” his uncle told him soberly. “They can’t draft you.” The reason for this is because the U.S. Army can’t draft a Mexican citizen. But Herrera wasn’t about to avoid serving in the military and was enthusiastic about giving back to the United States.

“I didn’t want anybody to die in my place,” he later said. “My adopted country had been so nice to me.”

Latinos fighting in American wars is nothing new, even by World War II standards. People of Hispanic descent have fought in every American conflict from the Revolution to the War in Afghanistan. Mexicans raised in the U.S. was also a common occurrence by 1944. People of Mexican descent in the U.S. were twice as likely to have been born and raised in the States than not. Those who served were fiercely dedicated to their adoptive homes and Silvestre Herrera was going to be one of those.

“I am a Mexican-American and we have a tradition,” He once said. “We’re supposed to be men, not sissies.”

The 27-year-old Herrera eventually ended up in the 142nd Infantry Regiment and found himself in the Alsace region of France in March, 1945. Though the war in Europe would be over in a few short months, the fighting on the Western front was as fierce as ever. The 142nd was a critical part of Operation Undertone, a 75-kilometer front designed to push the Nazi back across the Rhine and secure bridgeheads to cross the river.

Herrera’s platoon was just five miles from their objective at the occupied city of Haguenau when they took coordinated machine gun fire – one from a nearby wood and another across a minefield. As the rest of the men in the platoon took cover, Herrera charged one machine gun nest, firing his M1 Garand rifle from the hip and chucking two grenades into the nest. Eight enemy soldiers surrendered to Herrera in that action.

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Reenactors recreating the 142nd 36th Infantry Division’s push into Germany in 1945 during the 2018 Camp Mabry Open House in Austin, Texas. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sergeant Michael Leslie)

 

His platoon still found itself pinned down by another machine gun nest, this time protected by a minefield. Knowing full well the grass in front of him was a minefield, Herrera grabbed a two by four, pushing it along in front of him as he crawled across the minefield. Frustrated with his slow progress toward the nest, he tossed it away, stood up, and dashed for the gun emplacement. As he approached, he stepped on two mines, one on each foot. The resulting explosions blew off both of his feet.

He continued forward toward the enemy, running on his knees. The bleeding Mexican-American GI fell to his stomach and laid down rifle fire, keeping the attention of the Nazi machine gun as his platoon flanked the position and knocked it out. Bleeding profusely, Herrera still somehow managed to stay conscious. The Army was able to save Herrera’s knees and were eventually able to fit him with prosthetic feet.

 

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Herrera receives the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman, 1945. (Wikimedia Commons)

When he was to be awarded the Medal of Honor for the heroism that cost him his feet, President Truman was unsure if the man, still bed-ridden from his wounds, would be able to be present for the award. Sure enough, when the time came, Herrera was in full uniform as he rolled his wheelchair to the President of the United States.

“He told me he would rather be awarded the Medal of Honor than be president of the United States,” Herrera told the Arizona Republic in 2005. “That made me even more proud.”

Silvestra herrera
Herrera is escorted by members of the Arizona National Guard, Nov. 11, 2007, during Phoenix’s annual Veterans Day parade. Herrera served as the parade’s grand marshal. He was the first Arizonian to receive the Medal of Honor (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Benjamin Cossel, Operation Jump Start – Arizona Public Affairs)

Just one year after receiving the U.S. military’s highest award for valor in combat, the Mexican government decided to award him Mexico’s Order of Military Merit, its highest award for valor in combat. Herrera is the only soldier ever to wear both. Most importantly, as Arizona’s first World War II Medal of Honor recipient, citizens of Arizona started a campaign to get Silvestre Herrera U.S. citizenship and even raised ,000 to help him purchase his first home.

After the war, Herrera went back to work, prosthetic limbs and all, for much of the rest of his life. According to his surviving relatives, his war injuries never kept him from doing anything physical or raising his family. He died in 2007, sixteen years after his beloved wife, Ramona.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How 87 paratroopers captured one of the world’s strongest forts

Belgium’s Fort Eben-Emael was the crown jewel of the country’s defense from invasion, boasting huge gun emplacements, defensive ditches and canals, and hundreds of artillery troops, all to protect the heartland and capital.


And the whole thing fell to 87 German paratroopers after barely a day of fighting from May 10-11, 1940.

The fort was built in the early 1930s to prevent the exact situation it faced in 1940: an invasion of the country from the east. It had large guns to sweep fire across three key bridges that would be vital to an invasion. The bridges were also wired for demolition in case the defenders and the fort couldn’t keep the enemy from them.

 

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The defensive canals at Fort Eben Emael were massive but the Germans simply flew over them. (Photo: German Bundesarchiv CC BY-SA 3.0)

Defensive canals, barbed wire, and anti-tank ditches made a land assault nearly suicidal, especially since the thick steel and concrete walls could shrug off most munitions launched by artillery or tanks of the day.

A few anti-aircraft guns were present on top of the fort and cupolas — guns with large domes to protect the crews — could fire across the top and kill any attackers who landed there.

Also read: 5 of the most badass snipers of all time

But the fort was vulnerable to airborne assault. It had been constructed by digging into an existing large hill, and the miles of tunnels and thick walls made it tough to assault on foot, but did almost nothing to protect it from the sky.

And that’s how the Germans got in. A special force of 420 paratroopers trained for six months in absolute secrecy to take the three bridges and the fort. The highly complex operation was risky but could save the German Army weeks or months of fighting if successful.

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A German Gotcha Go-242 glider in flight. (Photo: U.S. War Department)

Three assault forces would hit the bridges and attempt to take them from the defenders while a fourth would hit the fort and prevent the guns from firing on the others. The assault force hitting the fort was carrying a new weapon of war to cut through the defenses, shaped charges.

But, the highly trained and well-armed commandos at the fort would be outnumbered nearly 10 to 1.

The Germans landed on the fort in gliders specially modified to stop in the short space, and German paratroopers rushed out to hit the defenders. Belgian gun crews, who knew a probable assault was coming, quickly opened fire — but they didn’t have the canister shot that could quickly decimate the paratroopers.

Instead, the paratroopers were able to rush improperly maintained machine guns as they misfired and other gun crews as they reloaded. One of the defensive guns was taken out when a paratrooper threw a stick of dynamite through a small opening. Two others were destroyed by the special shaped-charge explosives. One crew was killed by a flamethrower.

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The defensive works at Fort Eben-Emael were impressive, but were not well situated to deal with an airborne assault. (Photo: U.S. Army Master Sgt. Crista Mary Mack)

And there were less defenders than there should have been. The fort relied on conscripts to flesh out its ranks, and many had finished their period or been pulled away to positions in the Belgian Army. Other troops were sick or on leave.

The fort was supposed to have 1,200 men but was being defended by closer to 750.

Within the first 10 minutes, the paratroopers had taken out nine defensive positions and forced many of the defenders to go underground behind barriers. Within 15 minutes, the Germans had neutralized the major defenses that threatened the fort attackers, as well as many of the guns that could hit the bridges.

The Belgians didn’t accept this laying down, of course. Soon after the attack began, the fort commander ordered nearby artillery to fire on the fort, killing some of the German attackers.

But the Germans sheltered in the wrecked cupolas and other positions and rode out the worst of the artillery.

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(Photo: Public Domain)

As the Luftwaffe sent planes to silence the Belgian guns, the paratroopers used their shaped charges and other weapons to seal off exits from the fort and to wreck the few remaining positions that could fire outside.

And the bridge crews had successfully captured two bridges intact and one more that was damaged but repairable. Only 28 hours after the start of the attack, the road into Belgium was open.

The paratroopers had suffered six dead and 15 wounded by the time that the Belgian troops began surrendering.

The attackers all received high awards for valor and Hitler captured the country soon after.

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11 rarely seen photos from the Civil War

Photography’s growing influence in the world during the Civil War allowed the conflict to be documented in a whole new way. There are hundreds of images that have become a lasting and well-known part of the historical record, but there are thousands of photos in archives around the country that have remained in relative obscurity.

Here are 11 from the National Archives and Records Administration:


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(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

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(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

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(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

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(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

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(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

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(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

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(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

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(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

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(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

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(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

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