March 2, 1865: End of the War in the Valley

 

300px-Waynesboro_svg

 

It had been a long and grueling War in the Shenandoah Valley with some towns changing hands some seventy times between Union and Confederate forces.  On March 2, 1865 it came to an end.  Jubal Early’s force, stripped over the winter to shore up Lee’s thin ranks holding the lines at Petersburg, was now reduced to 1500 men.  Sheridan was moving South, initially under orders to move into North Carolina and link up with Sherman advancing into North Carolina.  Not wanting to leave Early in his rear, Sheridan sent twenty-five year old Brigadier General George Armstrong with a division of cavalry, 2,500 men, to find Early.

Custer had graduated dead last in his class at West Point in 1861, making him the class goat.  The “goat” had a spectacularly successful War, rising in rank from Second Lieutenant to Major General of Volunteers. (He had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General of Volunteers, passing over the intervening ranks, in 1863.)  Daring and combative, Custer had helped transform Union cavalry from lackluster to an able strike force.

Early posted his small force on a ridge due west of Waynesboro, Virginia.  Arriving at 2:00 PM on March 2, Custer quickly saw that Early had fortified his position and that head on attacks would probably not work, but that Early’s left could be turned.  (Early had thought that a thick wood adequately protected this flank.)  Sending one brigade to turn the Confederate left while he attacked frontally with two brigades worked  to perfection.  Virtually the entire Confederate force was taken prisoner with Early and fifteen to twenty Confederates escaping.  Here is Sheridan’s account of the battle from his Memoirs: (more…)

Lee Ponders the Coming Campaign

Lee Ponders Defeat

One hundred and fifty years ago, Winter still held the nation in its grip, but all knew that Spring was coming, and with Spring an inevitable push by Grant against Lee to end the War.  In a letter of February 22, 1865 to Longstreet, Lee considers the options of the Army of Northern Virginia in the coming campaign.  Like a master chess player who is losing a game, all the moves are clear to Lee, but a path to victory for the Confederacy is not.  At best Lee can contemplate his Army either striking Grant or Sherman’s army but leaving unsaid what Longstreet already knew:  that either Grant or Sherman’s forces were strong enough to defeat the Army of Northern Virginia in open battle.  Here is the text of Lee’s letter: (more…)

Published in: on March 1, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Church’s One Foundation

 

Something for the weekend, The Church’s One Foundation.  Written by Church of England minister Samuel J. Stone, it is sung to the tune Aurelia by Samuel S.Wesley.  I have always enjoyed this hymn and I have cherished the memory of Stone for it, and for this poem The Soliloquy of a Rationalistic Chicken: (more…)

Published in: on February 28, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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James Forrestal and his Prophecy

Flag Raising Iwo Jima

 

The last cabinet level Secretary of the Navy, and the first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal was not content to remain in Washington.  As Secretary of the Navy during World War II he often visited the sites of active combat operations.  Thus it was that he was present on Iwo Jima when the flag was raised on Mount Suribachi.  What he said then has entered the lore of the Marine Corps:

The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years.

Appointed the first Secretary of Defense in 1947, Forrestal fought against budget cuts proposed by President Truman that he thought endangered the nation’s security.  He also opposed the proposal to unify the services which would gut the Navy and eliminate the Marine Corps.  On March 31, 1949, Harry Truman, angered over Forrestal’s opposition to his policies, fired him.  Tragically, Forrestal, who had worked non-stop on Defense issues since he joined the Roosevelt administration in 1940, had a nervous breakdown.  While undergoing psychiatric treatment he committed suicide by jumping from the 16th floor of the National Naval Medical Center.  He left behind a note with a quotation from Sophocles’ Ajax:

Fair Salamis, the billows’ roar,

Wander around thee yet,

And sailors gaze upon thy shore

Firm in the Ocean set.

Thy son is in a foreign clime

Where Ida feeds her countless flocks,

Far from thy dear, remembered rocks,

Worn by the waste of time–

Comfortless, nameless, hopeless save

In the dark prospect of the yawning grave….

Woe to the mother in her close of day,

Woe to her desolate heart and temples gray,

When she shall hear

Her loved one’s story whispered in her ear!

“Woe, woe!’ will be the cry–

No quiet murmur like the tremulous wail

Of the lone bird, the querulous nightingale– (more…)

Quotes Suitable for Framing: William Manchester

 

He was a thundering paradox of a man, noble and ignoble, inspiring and outrageous, arrogant and shy, the best of men and the worst of men, the most protean, most ridiculous, and most sublime. No more baffling, exasperating soldier ever wore a uniform. Flamboyant, imperious, and apocalyptic, he carried the plumage of a flamingo, could not acknowledge errors, and tried to cover up his mistakes with sly, childish tricks. Yet he was also endowed with great personal charm, a will of iron, and a soaring intellect. Unquestionably he was the most gifted man-at arms- this nation has produced.

William Manchester in a great one paragraph description of Douglas MacArthur, American Caesar

One sure way to get a fight started among American students of military history is to mention Douglas MacArthur.  About 40% will regard him as a vastly overrated egotistical incompetent, and another 40% will regard him as perhaps America’s greatest general.  Twenty percent will try to say that both sides have their points, just before a heated debate begins.  My own perspective is that we are still too close to MacArthur’s stormy time to render a judicious verdict on his career.  MacArthur is both the hero and villain of his biography and it will take generations to sort him out.

Published in: on February 26, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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February 25, 1865: Lee Will Not Give Up the Texas Brigade

 

 

 

..”Attention Texas Brigade” was rung upon the morning air, by Gen. Gregg, “the eyes of General Lee are upon you, forward, march.” Scarce had we moved a step, when Gen. Lee, in front of the whole command, raised himself in his stirrups, uncovered his grey hairs, and with an earnest, yet anxious voice, exclaimed above the din and confusion of the hour, “Texans always move them.”
…never before in my lifetime or since, did I ever witness such a scene as was enacted when Lee pronounced these words, with the appealing look that he gave. A yell rent the air that must have been heard for miles around, and but few eyes in that old brigade of veterans and heroes of many a bloody field was undimmed by honest, heart-felt tears. Leonard Gee, a courier to Gen. Gregg, and riding  by my side, with tears coursing down his cheeks and yells issuing from his throat exclaimed, “I would charge hell itself for that old man.”

 

Private Robert Campell, 5th Texas Infantry

The fighting erupted early on the second day of the Battle of the Wilderness.  Grant assumed that Hill’s corps had been fought out on the first day and could be overrun with a strong attack.  At 5:00 AM Hancock attacked with three divisions, with two in support.  By 6:00 AM Hill’s corps was in full retreat and disaster loomed for Lee.  At that time the 800 man Texas Brigade, perhaps the elite fighting unit in the Army of Northern Virginia, the vanguard of Longstreet’s corps arrived and saved the day.  Longstreet launched a two division counterattack up the Orange Plank Road, with the Texans, who suffered 650 casualties, leading the attack on the north side of the Road.

This action by the Texan Brigade, and similar actions on many other fields, caused Lee to treasure the unit as his shock troops.  This caused Lee to deny a request by the Governor of Texas in February of 1865.  The request and the denial are contained in this letter from Jefferson Davis to the Governor of  Texas: (more…)

Published in: on February 25, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Battle of Manila

 

Seventy years ago the major urban battle was underway in Manila, which raged from February 3,1945-March 3, 1945.

Approximately a million Filipinos died during the military occupation of the Philippines by the Japanese.  The video above depicts the battle of Manila in which 100,000 Filipino civilians died.  During lulls in the fighting, Japanese troops would engage in orgies of rape and murder, with decapitation being a common method of killing.

 

Special targets were Red Cross workers, young women, children, nuns, priests, prisoners of war and hospital patients.  Go here to read accounts of the atrocities, but only if you have a very strong stomach.

MacArthur initially restricted the use of artillery and bombing in an attempt to spare the city he loved from destruction.  This merely lengthened the battle and Manila still ended up being destroyed.

Victory by the US and its allies brought this Asian Holocaust to a stop, something that too few people seem to recall today.

Published in: on February 24, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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February 23, 1945: The Mass on Mount Suribachi

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Seventy years ago today the Marines raised the flag over Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima and a mass was said at the summit.  Iwo Jima probably has the sad distinction of being the most expensive piece of worthless real estate in the history of the globe.  Expensive not in something as minor as money, but costly in something as all important as human lives.  In 1943 the island had a civilian population of 1018 who scratched a precarious living from sulfur mining, some sugar cane farming and fishing.  All rice and consumer goods had to be imported from the Home Islands of Japan.  Economic prospects for the island were dismal.  Eight square miles, almost all flat and sandy, the dominant feature is Mount Suribachi on the southern tip of the island, 546 feet high, the caldera of the dormant volcano that created the island.  Iwo Jima prior to World War II truly was “of the world forgetting, and by the world forgot”.

 

The advent of World War II changed all of that.  A cursory look at a map shows that Iwo Jima is located 660 miles south of Tokyo, well within the range of American bombers and fighter escorts, a fact obvious to both the militaries of the US and Imperial Japan.  The Japanese forcibly evacuated the civilian population of Iwo Jima in July of 1944.  Awaiting the invading Marines was a garrison of approximately 23,000 Japanese troops, skillfully deployed by General Tadamichi Kuribayashi  in hidden fortified positions throughout the island, connected in many cases by 11 miles of tunnels.  The Japanese commander was under no illusions that the island could be held, but he was determined to make the Americans pay a high cost in blood for Iwo.

Tasked with the mission of seizing the island was the V Marine Amphibious Corp, under the command of General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, consisting of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Divisions.

On February 18th, 1945 Navy Lieutenant, (the Marine Corps, although Marines are often loathe to admit it, is a component of the Department of the Navy, and the Navy supplies all the chaplains that serve with it) Charles Suver, Society of Jesus, was part of the 5th Marine Division and anxiously awaiting the end of the bombardment and the beginning of the invasion the next day.  Chaplain Suver was one of 19 Catholic priests participating in the invasion as a chaplain.

Father Suver had been born in Ellensburg, Washington in 1907.    Graduating from Seattle College in 1924, he was ordained as a priest in 1937, having taught at Gonzaga University in Spokane.   Prior to the war, while teaching at Seattle Prep, he rigorously enforced the no running rules in the hall, even going so far as to tackle one errant student!  Father Suver was remembered as a strict disciplinarian but also a fine teacher. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, he joined the navy as a chaplain.  (more…)

Iwo Jima: Valor Was a Common Virtue

 

 

Seventy years ago the battle of Iwo Jima was under way.  The ferocity of the fighting can be gauged by this stark fact:  there were 82 Medals of Honor earned by Marines during the entire war in the Pacific, 22 of them were awarded for heroism on Iwo.  Here, chosen at random, is the citation for the Medal of Honor earned by Sergeant Darrell Cole.  Prior to serving on Iwo he had fought on Guadalcanal, Kwajalein, Tinian and Saipan.  At twenty-four, his entire adult life had been spent fighting in the Pacific.  Here is his citation:

 

 

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Leader of a Machine-gun Section of Company B, First Battalion, Twenty-Third Marines, Fourth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces during the assault on Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands, 19 February 1945. Assailed by a tremendous volume of small-arms, mortar and artillery fire as he advanced with one squad of his section in the initial assault wave, Sergeant Cole boldly led his men up the sloping beach toward Airfield Number One despite the blanketing curtain of flying shrapnel and, personally destroying with hand grenades two hostile emplacements which menaced the progress of his unit, continued to move forward until a merciless barrage of fire emanating from three Japanese pillboxes halted the advance. Instantly placing his one remaining machine gun in action, he delivered a shattering fusillade and succeeded in silencing the nearest and most threatening emplacement before his weapon jammed and the enemy, reopening fire with knee mortars and grenades, pinned down his unit for the second time. Shrewdly gauging the tactical situation and evolving a daring plan of counterattack, Sergeant Cole, armed solely with a pistol and one grenade, coolly advanced alone to the hostile pillboxes. Hurling his one grenade at the enemy in sudden, swift attack, he quickly withdrew, returned to his own lines for additional grenades and again advanced, attacked, and withdrew. With enemy guns still active, he ran the gauntlet of slashing fire a third time to complete the total destruction of the Japanese strong point and the annihilation of the defending garrison in this final assault. Although instantly killed by an enemy grenade as he returned to his squad, Sergeant Cole had eliminated a formidable Japanese position, thereby enabling his company to storm the remaining fortifications, continue the advance and seize the objective. By his dauntless initiative, unfaltering courage and indomitable determination during a critical period of action, Sergeant Cole served as an inspiration to his comrades, and his stouthearted leadership in the face of almost certain death sustained and enhanced the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country. (more…)

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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John Wayne and The Sands of Iwo Jima

They told me to get you into shape so you can handle a piece of this war.

That’s what I’m gonna do and that means I’m gonna tell you what to do every day,

how to button your buttons and when to blow your noses.

If you do something I don’t like I’m gonna jump and when I land it’ll hurt.

I’ll ride you until you can’t stand up. When you do, you’ll be marines.

John Wayne as  Sgt. John M. Stryker, Sands of Iwo Jima

Something for the weekend.  The Marines’ Hymn.  Seventy years ago the battle of Iwo Jima was underway as the Marines took a giant step forward towards Tokyo.  The film  Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) earned John Wayne his first Oscar nomination as best actor.  (Broderick Crawford would win for his stunning performance in All The King’s Men.)   Wayne was initially reluctant to take the role, partly because he had not fought in World War II, and partly because he saw script problems and didn’t like the character of Sergeant Styker as initially written in the screen play.  (There is evidence that Wayne, 34 at the time of Pearl Harbor, and with 3 kids, did attempt to volunteer in 1943 for the Marine Corps with assignment to John Ford’s OSS Field Photographic Unit, but was turned down.) 

Wayne was convinced to take the role because the film had the enthusiastic backing of the Marine Corps, which viewed it as a fitting tribute to the Marines who fought in the Pacific, and to help combat a move in Congress to abolish the Corps.  Marine Commandant Clifton B. Cates went to see Wayne to request that he take the role and Wayne immediately agreed.  (Thus began a long association of John Wayne with the Marine Corps, including Wayne narrating a tribute to Marine Lieutenant General Chesty Puller.)

Appearing in the film were several Marine veterans of the Pacific, including Colonel David Shoup, who earned a Medal of Honor for his heroism at Tarawa, and who would later serve as a Commandant of the Corps, and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Crow who led a Marine battalion at Tarawa.  The Marines’ Hymn is sung in the film after the death of Wayne’s character, one of ten films in which a Wayne character died, and as the raising of the flag is recreated.

Taking part in the flag raising were Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes and John Bradley, the three survivors of the six flag raisers.  (The three men who raised the flag and subsequently died in the battle were Franklin Sousely, Harlon Block and Michael Strank.)  (First Lieutenant Harold Schrier, who led the flag raising party that raised the first, smaller, flag on Mount Suribachi, and who was awarded a Navy Cross and a Silver Star for his heroism on Iwo Jima, also appeared in the film.)  The flag on top of Mount Suribachi could be seen across the island, and was greeted with cheers by the Marines and blaring horns by the ships of the Navy.  A mass was said on Mount Suribachi at the time of the flag raising and I have written about that here. (more…)

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