This Day in U.S. Military History…… July 17

17 July
1801 – The U.S. fleet arrived in Tripoli after Pasha Yusuf Karamanli declared war for being refused tribute.
1821 – Spain ceded Florida to the United States.
1821 – Andrew Jackson became the governor of Florida.
1858 – U.S. sloop Niagara departs Queenstown, Ireland, to assist in laying first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable.
1861 – At Manassas, VA, Gen Beauregard requested reinforcements for his 22,000 men and Gen Johnston was ordered to Manassas.
1862 – In a big step toward emancipation, President Lincoln approves the Confiscation Act, which declares that any slaves whose owners were in rebellion against the government, would be freed when they came into contact with the Union army.
1862 – Congress passed an act which established that “every officer, seaman, or marine, disabled in the line of duty, shall be intitled to receive for life, or during his disability, a pension from the United States.” Gradations were set according to the nature and degree of disability, and monthly pay.
1862 – Twenty Marines from U.S.S. Potomac participated in an expedition up Pascagoula Rivet, Mississippi. Under First Lieutenant George W. Collier, the Marines, whose force was augmented by an equal number of sailors, acted with U.S.S. New London and Grey Cloud to capture or destroy a steamer and two schooners rumored to be loading with cotton, and to destroy telegraphic communications between Pascagoula and Mobile. The expedition succeeded in disrupting communications, but, pursuing the Confederate vessels upstream, it was engaged by cavalry and infantry troops and forced to turn back to care for the wounded.
1863 – U.S. ram Monarch, with troops embarked, participated in the reoccupation of Hickman, Kentucky, which had been taken by Confederate cavalry 2 days earlier. Brigadier General Alexander Asboth had high praise for the ram and her mobility: ”It would be in the best interests of the service to place the ram Monarch on the Mississippi between Island No. 10 and Columbus, where she could operate with my land forces appearing at any point threatened or attacked on this part of the river, so much exposed to rebel raids. Without the cooperation of a ram or gunboat it will be difficult for my very limited force to act with efficiency and the desired degree of success. . . .”
1863 – The combined attack on Fort Wagner, Charleston harbor, was renewed. Rear Admiral Dahlgren’s force consisted of U.S.S. Montauk, New Ironsides, Catskill, Nantucket, Weehauken, and Patapsco. The gunboats U.S.S. Paul Jones, Ottawa, Seneca, Chipewa, and Wissahickon provided long-range support with effect. The heavy fire from the ironclads commenced shortly after noon, the range closing as the tide permitted to 300 yards. The naval bombardment at this distance silenced the fort “so that for this day not a shot was fired afterwards at the vessels. . . .” At sunset Gillmore ordered his troops to attack the fort. “To this moment,” Dahlgren reported, an incessant and accurate fire had been maintained by the vessels, but now it was impossible [in the dim light to distinguish whether it took effect on friend or foe, and of necessity was suspended.” Deprived of naval gunfire support, the Union assault ashore was repulsed with heavy losses.
1864 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis replaces General Joseph Johnston with John Bell Hood as commander of the Army of Tennessee. Davis, impatient with Johnston’s defensive strategy in the Atlanta campaign, felt that Hood stood a better chance of saving Atlanta from the forces of Union General William T. Sherman. For nearly three months, Johnston and Sherman had maneuvered around the rugged corridor from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Although there was constant skirmishing, there were few major battles; Sherman kept trying to outflank Johnston, but his advances were blocked. Though this kept losses to a minimum, there was also a limit to how long Johnston could maintain this strategy as each move brought the armies closer to Atlanta. By July 17, 1864, Johnston was backed into the outskirts of Atlanta. Johnston felt his strategy was the only way to preserve the Army of Tennessee, but Davis felt that he had given up too much territory. In a telegram informing Johnston of his decision, Davis wrote, “”you failed to arrest the advance of the enemy to the vicinity of Atlanta, far in the interior of Georgia, and express no confidence that you can defeat or repel him, you are hereby relieved from command of the Army and Department of Tennessee, which you will immediately turn over to General Hood.” Davis selected Hood for his reputation as a fighting general, in contrast to Johnston’s cautious nature. Hood did what Davis wanted and quickly attacked Sherman at Peachtree Creek on July 20 but with disastrous results. Hood attacked two more times, losing both and destroying his army’s offensive capabilities.
1870 – A drunken brawl turns deadly when “Wild Bill” Hickok shoots two soldiers in self-defense, mortally wounding one of them. William Hickok had earned his reputation as a gunslinger a decade earlier after shooting three men in a gunfight in Nebraska. He parlayed his standing as a sure-shooting gunman into a haphazard career in law enforcement. In 1869, he was elected interim sheriff of Ellis County, Kansas. Hays City, the county seat, was a rough-and-tumble frontier town, and the citizens hoped Hickok could bring order to the chaos. Unfortunately, after Hickok had killed two men in the line of duty after just five weeks, they concluded that he was too wild for their tastes and they elected his deputy to replace him in November. Unemployed, Hickok passed his time gambling, drinking, and occasionally working as a hunting guide. He quickly became bored and was considering taking work at the nearby Fort Hays as an army scout. On this day in 1870, Hickok had been drinking hard at Drum’s Saloon in Hays City. Five soldiers from the 7th Cavalry stationed at Fort Hays were also at the bar. They were drunk and began to exchange words with the notoriously prickly “Wild Bill.” A brawl broke out, and the soldiers threw Hickok to the floor. One trooper tried to shoot Hickok, but the gun misfired. Hickok quickly pulled his own pistols and opened fire. He wounded one private in the knee and wrist, and another in the torso. The three remaining soldiers backed off, and Hickok exited the saloon and immediately left town. A clear case of self-defense, Hickok was cleared of any wrongdoing. Yet, one of the soldiers, Private John Kile, later died of his wound and Hickok’s chances of becoming an army scout evaporated. He spent the next six years working in law enforcement, gambling, and appearing in Wild West shows. He was murdered in a Deadwood, South Dakota, saloon in 1876.
1877 – Riots and violence erupted in several major American cities stemming from strikes against railroads in protest of wage cuts. Strikes started against the Baltimore & Ohio, and quickly spread west, with riots erupting in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago and St. Louis. Nine were killed when Federal troops were sent into Martinsburg, West Virginia. On July 21, 26 were killed and the Union Depot and machine shops were burned down.
1897 – The Steamer Portland arrived into Seattle from Alaska with 68 prospectors carrying more than a ton of gold. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer announced that men with gold from Alaska were landing. This unleashed the Klondike gold rush and tens of thousands headed for the Yukon. The Klondike gold rush gave America and Canada a psychological boost in getting the economy moving again after the terrible depression that followed the 1893 crash.
1898 – U.S. troops under General William R. Shafter took Santiago de Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
1927 – First organized dive bombing attack in combat by Marine Corps pilots against Nicaraguan bandits who were surrounding U.S. Marine garrison at Ocotal, Nicaragua.
1936 – Gen. Francisco Franco was flown from the Canary Island, where he served as military governor, to Spanish Morocco where he led a rebellion against the elected Popular Front. This began the Spanish civil war.
1940 – A new Cabinet headed by Prince Konoye is appointed. Matsuoka is the new Foreign Minister and will be very influential. The Cabinet also includes a number of supporters of a more aggressive policy. The most important is General Tojo who becomes Minister of War.
1943 – Americans conduct a large air raid on Bougainville. Shipping offshore and airfields between Buin and Faisi are targeted. One Japanese destroyer is sunk.
1943 – Elements of the Australian 3rd and American 41st Divisions move toward Salamaua in a holding action against the Japanese.
1943 – US forces capture Agrigento and Porto Empedocle
1944 – Forces of US 1st Army penetrate into the town of St. Lo.
1944 – An explosion at Port Chicago, now the Concord Naval Weapons Station in Ca., killed 320 seamen when a pair of ammunition ships exploded. 10,000 tons of ammunition exploded. 202 of the victims were black enlisted men. The Navy court-martialed 50 black sailors for refusing to go back to work after the catastrophe. They were released from prison in 1946 with dishonorable discharges and reductions in rank. In 1999 Pres. Clinton issued a pardon to Freddie Meeks, one of the last living convicted African American sailors.
1944 – The 31st Infantry Division, nicknamed “Dixie” because its Guard units came from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, lands here relieving the Regular Army’s 6th Infantry Division. The 31st engages in limited combat with the few remaining Japanese defenders. Mostly the division provided security for engineers, including their own 106th Engineer Battalion (MS), to build roads, bridges and dock facilities so the island can be used as a staging base for the attack on Morotai Island in September.
1945 – The final “Big Three” meeting between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain takes place towards the end of World War II. The decisions reached at the conference ostensibly settled many of the pressing issues between the three wartime allies, but the meeting was also marked by growing suspicion and tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. U.S. President Harry S. Truman, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met in the Berlin suburb of Potsdam to discuss issues relating to postwar Europe and plans to deal with the ongoing conflict with Japan. By the time the meeting began, U.S. and British suspicions concerning Soviet intentions in Europe were intensifying. Russian armies occupied most of Eastern Europe, including nearly half of Germany, and Stalin showed no inclination to remove his control of the region. Truman, who had only been president since Franklin D. Roosevelt died three months earlier, arrived at the meeting determined to be “tough” with Stalin. He was encouraged in this course of action by news that American scientists had just successfully tested the atomic bomb. The conference soon bogged down on the issue of postwar Germany. The Soviets wanted a united but disarmed Germany, with each of the Allied powers determining the destiny of the defeated power. Truman and his advisors, fearing the spread of Soviet influence over all Germany–and, by extension, all of western Europe–fought for and achieved an agreement whereby each Allied power (including France) would administer a zone of occupation in Germany. Russian influence, therefore, would be limited to its own eastern zone. The United States also limited the amount of reparations Russia could take from Germany. Discussion of the continuing Soviet occupation of Poland floundered. When the conference ended on August 2, 1945, matters stood much where they had before the meeting. There would be no further wartime conferences. Four days after the conference concluded, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in Japan; on August 9, another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. World War II officially came to an end on August 14, 1945.
1945 – The first Anglo-American carrier air strike on the Tokyo area is conducted by the forces of the British Pacific Fleet (Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlings), designated Task Force 37, and the US 3rd Fleet (Admiral Halsey). During the night (July 17-18), the HMS King George V and 5 US battleships bombard Hitachi on Honshu. The Allied battleships fire some 2000 tons of shells on Hitachi in fifty minutes.
1952 – The U.S. 2nd Infantry Division’s 23rd Infantry Regiment sustained heavy casualties, including 39 killed and 84 missing in action, during the Battle for Old Baldy.
1953 – Lieutenant Guy P. “Lucky Pierre” Bordelon scored his fifth aerial victory and qualified as the only U.S. Navy ace of the Korean War and the only Korean War ace who did not fly an F-86 Sabre jet. Bordelon, detached to K-6 airfield from the carrier USS Princeton, flew an F4U-5N Corsair named “Annie Mo.” All his victories were the so-called “Bedcheck Charlies” engaged on nighttime harassment bombing missions.
1960 – Francis Gary Powers pleaded guilty to spying charges in a Moscow court after his U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union.
1966 – Ho Chi Minh ordered a partial mobilization of North Vietnam to defend against American airstrikes.
1967 – Race riots took place in Cairo, Illinois.
1968 – The Arab Socialist Baath Party staged a bloodless coup in Iraq and gained control as the Revolution Command Council. Abdul Rahman Arif, brother of Abdul Salam Arif (d.1966), was ousted in the Baathist coup and exiled to Istanbul. Ahmed Hasan-al-Bakr became president of Iraq after the July 17 coup. Saddam Hussein gained control over the military wing and internal security services and became recognized as the strongman of the regime. This became a national holiday until it was abolished in 2003.
1972 – South Vietnamese paratroopers fight their way to within 200 yards of the Citadel in Quang Tri City, which was described by reporters who accompanied the troops as a city of rubble and ash. Citizens emerging from neighborhoods retaken by the paratroopers joined the refugees, who had been streaming south toward Hue on Route 1 to get out of the way of continued fighting in Quang Tri. North Vietnamese troops had captured Quang Tri City on May 1 as part of their Nguyen Hue Offensive (later called the “Easter Offensive”), a massive invasion by North Vietnamese forces that had been launched on March 31. The attacking force included 14 infantry divisions and 26 separate regiments, with more than 120,000 troops and approximately 1,200 tanks and other armored vehicles. The main North Vietnamese objectives, in addition to Quang Tri in the north, were Kontum in the Central Highlands, and An Loc farther to the south. Initially, the South Vietnamese defenders were almost overwhelmed, particularly in the northernmost provinces, where they abandoned their positions in Quang Tri. At Kontum and An Loc, the South Vietnamese were more successful in defending against the attacks, but only after weeks of bitter fighting. Although the defenders suffered heavy casualties, they managed to hold their own with the aid of American advisors and airpower. Fighting continued all over South Vietnam into the summer months. After months of heavy fighting, the South Vietnamese forces finally retook Quang Tri province entirely in September. With the communist invasion blunted, President Nixon declared that the South Vietnamese victory proved the viability of “Vietnamization,” a program that he had instituted in 1969 to increase the combat capability of the South Vietnamese armed forces so U.S. troops could be withdrawn.
1973 – In Afghanistan Zahir Shah was on vacation in Europe, when his government was overthrown in a military coup headed by Daoud Khan. King Mohammad Zahir Shah was in Italy undergoing eye surgery as well as therapy for lumbago, his cousin, Mohammad Daoud Khan, who 10 years earlier had been forced to resign as Afghanistan’s Prime Minister by King Zahir, staged the coup d’état and established a republican government. The king abdicated the following month rather than risk an all-out civil war. After seizing power, President Mohammed Daoud Khan established his own political party, the National Revolutionary Party. This party became the sole focus of political activity in the country. The Loya jirga approved a new constitution establishing a presidential one party system of government in January 1977, with political opponents being violently persecuted. During Daoud’s presidency, relations with the Soviet Union eventually deteriorated. They saw his shift to a more Western-friendly leadership as dangerous, including criticism of Cuba’s membership in the Non-aligned Movement and the expulsion of Soviet military and economic advisers. The suppression of political opposition furthermore turned the Soviet-backed People’s Democratic Party (PDPA), an important ally in the 1973 coup against the king, against him. In 1976, Daoud established a seven-year economic plan for the country. He started military training programs with India and commenced economic development talks with Imperial Iran. Daoud also turned his attention to oil rich Middle Eastern nations such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait among others for financial assistance. By 1978, however, Daoud had achieved little of what he had set out to accomplish. The Afghan economy hadn’t made any real progress and the Afghan standard of living had not risen. Daoud had also garnered much criticism for his single party constitution in 1977 which alienated him from his political supporters. By this time, the two main factions of the PDPA, previously locked in a power struggle, had reached a fragile agreement for reconciliation. Communist-sympathizing army officials were by then already planning a move against the government. According to Hafizullah Amin, who became Afghan head of state in 1979, the PDPA had started plotting the coup in 1976, two years before it materialized. The PDPA seized power in a military coup in 1978 which is best known as the Saur Revolution.
1975 – As part of a mission aimed at developing space rescue capability, the U.S. spacecraft Apollo 18 and the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz 19 rendezvous and dock in space. As the hatch was opened between the two vessels, commanders Thomas P. Safford and Aleksei Leonov shook hands and exchanged gifts in celebration of the first such meeting between the two Cold War adversaries in space. Back on Earth, United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim congratulated the two superpowers for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project and praised their unprecedented spirit of cooperation and peace in planning and executing the mission. During the 44-hour Apollo-Soyuz embrace, the astronauts and cosmonauts conducted experiments, shared meals, and held a joint news conference. Apollo-Soyuz, which came almost three years after the sixth and last U.S. lunar landing, was the final Apollo program mission conducted by NASA. It was fitting that the Apollo program, which first visited the moon under the banner of “We came in peace for all mankind,” should end on a note of peace and international cooperation.
1987 – Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and rear Admiral John Poindexter began testifying to Congress at the “Iran-Contra” hearings.
1989 – The controversial B-2 Stealth bomber underwent its first test flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California, two days after a technical problem forced a postponement.
1990 – In a speech, Saddam Hussein accuses certain Gulf States of harming Iraq by pushing down oil prices. He also accuses the United States of conspiring to lower oil prices, and threatens that “action will have to be taken to restore matters to their normal course.”
1992 – A historic accord for deep cuts in tanks and other non-nuclear arms in Europe went into effect, nearly two years after it was signed by NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
1994 – CGC Polar Sea departed from Victoria, British Columbia on operation Arctic Ocean Section 1994 and became the first U.S. surface vessel to reach the North Pole. She then transited the Arctic Ocean back to her homeport in Seattle, Washington.
1997 – The Columbia space shuttle and it crew of 7 returned after a 16-day mission. On the Mir space station, the 3-man crew struggled to stabilize a free-spin after a cable to a key computer system was mistakenly pulled.
1998 – The Clinton administration sought approval to use funds for covert operations against Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein.
1998 – In Rome delegates from more than 100 countries overwhelmingly approved (120-7) a historic treaty, the Statue of Rome, creating the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, with jurisdiction over individuals, ignoring strenuous U.S. objections over certain provisions. The US, China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar and Yemen voted against the (ICC) International Criminal Court Treaty. In 2002 the US moved to withdraw its signature.
2001 – A USAF F-16 crashed in northeast San Bernadino County, Ca. Maj. Aaron George, pilot, and Judson Brohmer, photographer, were killed.
2002 – Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa reported that some 200 Army personnel had used government charge cards to get cash to spend at strip clubs near military bases. Soldiers ran up a $38,000 bill.
2003 – President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair forcefully defended their decision to topple Saddam Hussein during a joint White House news conference. In a speech to the U.S. Congress, Blair said even if they were proven wrong about Iraq’s weapons capabilities, “We will have destroyed a threat that at its least is responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering.”
2003 – The US combat death toll in Iraq hit a milestone as the Pentagon acknowledged its casualties from hostile fire reached 147, the same number of troops who died at enemy hands in the first Gulf War. Gen. John Abizaid, head of central command, said loyalists are fighting an increasingly organized “guerrilla-type campaign.”
2003 – Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced the creation of a 500-member grand council, or loya jirga, to approve a new constitution for the country this year.
2004 – A car bomb struck the Iraqi justice minister’s convoy as it passed through western Baghdad, killing four of his bodyguards. The minister was unhurt in the blast.
2006 – Task Force Orion (Canadian) was ordered to retake the captured towns of Nawa and Garmsir, which they did after intense fighting on 18 July. They stayed for another week in Helmand. All these operations affected Canadian operations in the area of the Panjwaii region. The Canadians were assisted by three US special forces teams.
2014 – Syria’s Shaer gas field in the Homs Governorate was seized by the Islamic State. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 90 National Defence Force guards defending the field were killed, as were 21 ISIS fighters. The SOHR later put the death toll from the fighting and executions at 270 soldiers, militiamen and staff, and at least 40 ISIS fighters.

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