This Day in U.S. Military History…… May 21

21 May
1542 – On the banks of the Mississippi River in present-day Louisiana, Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto dies, ending a three-year journey for gold that took him halfway across what is now the United States. In order that Indians would not learn of his death, and thus disprove de Soto’s claims of divinity, his men buried his body in the Mississippi River. In late May 1539, de Soto landed on the west coast of Florida with 600 troops, servants, and staff, 200 horses, and a pack of bloodhounds. From there, the army set about subduing the natives, seizing any valuables they stumbled upon, and preparing the region for eventual Spanish colonization. Traveling through Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, across the Appalachians, and back to Alabama, de Soto failed to find the gold and silver he desired, but he did seize a valuable collection of pearls at Cofitachequi, in present-day Georgia. Decisive conquest also eluded the Spaniards, as what would become the United States lacked the large, centralized civilizations of Mexico and Peru. As was the method of Spanish conquest elsewhere in the Americas, de Soto ill-treated and enslaved the natives he encountered. For the most part, the Indian warriors they encountered were intimidated by the Spanish horsemen and kept their distance. In October 1540, however, the tables were turned when a confederation of Indians attacked the Spaniards at the fortified Indian town of Mabila, near present-day Mobile, Alabama. All the Indians were killed, along with 20 of de Soto’s men. Several hundred Spaniards were wounded. In addition, the Indian conscripts they had come to depend on to bear their supplies had all fled with baggage. De Soto could have marched south to reconvene with his ships along the Gulf Coast, but instead he ordered his expedition north-westward in search of America’s elusive riches. In May 1541, the army reached and crossed the Mississippi River, probably the first Europeans ever to do so. From there, they traveled through Arkansas and Louisiana, still with few material gains to show for their efforts. Turning back to the Mississippi, de Soto died of a fever on its banks on May 21, 1542. The Spaniards, now under the command of Luis de Moscoso, traveled west again, crossing into north Texas before returning to the Mississippi. With nearly half of the original expedition dead, the Spaniards built rafts and traveled down the river to the sea, and then made their way down the Texas coast to New Spain, finally reaching Veracruz, Mexico, in late 1543.
1758 – Ten-year-old Mary Campbell is abducted in Pennsylvania by Lenape tribesmen during the French and Indian War. She is returned six and a half years later.
1850 – Washington Navy Yard begins work on first castings for the Dahlgren guns.
1856 – Lawrence, Kansas, was captured and sacked by pro-slavery forces. The Sacking of Lawrence occurred when pro-slavery activists attacked and ransacked the town of Lawrence, Kansas, which had been founded by anti-slavery settlers to help ensure that Kansas would become a “free state”. The incident made worse the guerrilla war in Kansas Territory that became known as Bleeding Kansas.
1863 – Nathaniel Banks, commander of the Union Department of the Gulf, surrounds the Confederate stronghold at Port Hudson and attacks. Fortifications were built at Port Hudson in 1863 to protect New Orleans from a Union attack down the Mississippi River. On April 25, 1862, New Orleans had fallen into Union hands following an attack from the Gulf of Mexico by Admiral David Farragut. Still, Port Hudson was considered an important installation for the South since it was a significant threat to Federal ships on the Mississippi River. In 1863, the Union command began to focus attention on clearing the Mississippi of all Rebels. The major thrust of this effort was taking Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Confederate stronghold to the north of Port Hudson. In April, Ulysses S. Grant summoned Nathaniel Banks to participate in the campaign against Vicksburg. Banks wavered at first, preferring instead to wage an independent campaign against Confederates in Louisiana. But in May, he set out to take Port Hudson, then under the command of Franklin Gardner. Banks had some 30,000 troops under his command, while Gardner possessed a force of just 3,500. When Banks began to encircle Port Hudson, Gardner made some feeble attacks to drive him away. On May 21, Gardner received orders from Joseph Johnston, operating in Mississippi, to abandon the fort. But Gardner refused, and asked for reinforcements. This was a fatal mistake, and Banks soon had Gardner surrounded. For the next three weeks, Banks attempted to capture Port Hudson but failed each time. It was not until Vicksburg surrendered on July 4 that Gardner also surrendered.
1863 – Under Lieutenant Commander J. G. Walker, U.S.S. Baron De Kalb, Choctaw, Forest Rose, Linden, and Petrel pushed up the Yazoo River from Haynes’ Bluff to Yazoo City, Mississippi. As the gunboats approached the city, Commander Isaac N. Brown, CSN, who had commanded the heroic ram C.S.S. Arkansas the preceding summer, was forced to destroy three ”powerful steamers, rams and a “fine navy yard, with machine shops of all kinds, sawmills, blacksmith shops, etc. . . to prevent their capture. Porter noted that ”what he had begun our forces finished,” as the city was evacuated by the Southerners. The Confederate steamers destroyed were Mobile, Republic, and ”a monster, 310 feet long and 70 feet beam.” Had the latter been completed, ”she would have given us much trouble.” Porter’s prediction to Secretary Welles at the end of the expedition, though overly optimistic in terms of the time that would be required, was nonetheless a clear summary of the effect of the gunboats’ sweep up the Yazoo: ”It is a mere question of a few hours, and then, with the exception of Port Hudson (which will follow Vicksburg), the Mississippi will be open its entire length.”
1864 – Gen. David Hunter took command of Dept. of West Virginia.
1864 – Gunfire from ironclad steamer U.S.S. Atlanta, Acting Lieutenant Thomas J. Woodward, and U.S.S. Dawn, Acting Lieutenant John W. Simmons, dispersed Confederate cavalry attacking Fort Powhatan on the James River, Virginia. Dawn, a wooden steamer, remained above the fort during the night to prevent another attack.
1881 – In Washington, D.C., humanitarians Clara Barton and Adolphus Solomons found the American National Red Cross, an organization established to provide humanitarian aid to victims of wars and natural disasters in congruence with the International Red Cross. Barton, born in Massachusetts in 1821, worked with the sick and wounded during the American Civil War and became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” for her tireless dedication. In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln commissioned her to search for lost prisoners of war, and with the extensive records she had compiled during the war she succeeded in identifying thousands of the Union dead at the Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp. She was in Europe in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War broke out, and she went behind the German lines to work for the International Red Cross. In 1873, she returned to the United States, and four years later she organized an American branch of the International Red Cross. The American Red Cross received its first U.S. federal charter in 1900. Barton headed the organization into her 80s and died in 1912.
1917 – USS Ericsson fires first US torpedo of World War I.
1927 – Charles Lindbergh touches down at Le Bourget Field in Paris, completing the world’s first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
1940 – Nazis surrounded the British Army at Dunkirk.
1941 – The first U.S. ship, the SS Robin Moor, was sunk by a U-boat. Roosevelt describes the sinking of the Robin Moor as “an act of intimidation” to which “we do not propose to yield.”
1944 – A small American force lands at Sperlonga, having embarked at Gaeta. Meanwhile, forces of the US 5th Army continue attacking. The US 2nd Corps captures Fondi while the French Expeditionary Corps takes Campodimele. German resistance in the Liri Valley and around Pico prevents significant gains in these areas.
1944 – The American beachhead at Arare is reinforces and the airfield at Wadke is repaired.
1944 – The Coast Guard-manned USS LST-69 exploded at Pearl Harbor. None of her crew were killed but 13 were seriously injured.
1945 – On Okinawa, US 3rd Amphibious Corps reports advances near the Horseshoe, Half Moon and Wana positions, on the western flank. On the east-side, US 7th and 96th Divisions (parts of US 24th Corps) attack near Yonabaru. Japanese forces begin to pull out of the Shuri Line.
1945 – Hermann Goring, former Reichsmarshal of the Luftwaffe, is transferred from the prisoner of war camp at Augsburg to the Palace Hotel at Mondorf where he joins other senior Nazi officials awaiting Allied interrogation.
1945 – The Japanese supply base at Malaybalay on Mindanao is captured by elements of the US 31st Division.
1951 – The U.S. Eighth Army counterattacked to drive the Communist Chinese and North Koreans out of South Korea.
1951 – The Coast Guard announced the formation, within the Washington, DC area, of a new Organized Reserve Training Unit (Vessel Augmentation). The mission of this new unit was to develop a force of experienced personnel, well-trained in all shipboard billets, with particular emphasis on anti-submarine warfare, and the use of radar, radio, and other branches of electronics. Training was to be directed towards readying personnel of the unit for immediate assignment to ships of the Coast Guard and Navy in the event of mobilization.
1956 – The first known airborne US hydrogen bomb was tested over Bikini Atoll in the Pacific.
1961 – Governor Patterson declared martial law in Montgomery, Alabama.
1964 – The Navy initiates a the standing carrier presence at “Yankee Station” in the South China Sea.
1964 – The UN Security Council meets to consider Cambodia’s charge that the United States directs South Vietnamese raids into Cambodia. US Ambassador Adali Stevenson calls for a clear marking of the border and the stationing of some force to police it.
1968 – The allied command in Saigon announces the start of a new program, Operation Hearts Together, designed to resettle Saigon area families.
1968 – The nuclear-powered U.S. submarine Scorpion, with 99 men aboard, was last heard from. The remains of the sub were later found on the ocean floor 400 miles southwest of the Azores.
1970 – The National Guard was mobilized to quell disturbances at Ohio State University.
1980 – Ensign Jean Marie Butler became the first woman to graduate from a U.S. service academy as she accepted her degree and commission from the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.
1987 – In the wake of the Iraqi attack on the U.S. frigate Stark that claimed 37 lives, the Senate approved a proposal requiring President Reagan to send Congress a report detailing the threat to U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf.
1992 – The Coast Guard announced that high-seas interdiction of Haitian refugees was being drastically scaled back because refugee camps at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, were filled.
1997 – The space shuttle Atlantis undocked from the Russian Mir space station.
2002 – The Bush administration announced that it would resume economic aid to Yugoslavia because it had met requirements to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
2003 – In Iraq US forces captured Aziz Saleh Numan, former Baath regional command chairman for west Baghdad. He was No. 8 on the most wanted list.
2003 – NATO’s 19 nations agreed unanimously to start planning to help Poland lead a multinational peacekeeping force in Iraq.
2004 – American AC-130 gunships and tanks bombarded militia positions near two shrines in the holy city of Karbala, killing 18 fighters loyal to a rebel cleric.
2009 – Four men are arrested for planning to bomb two synagogues and destroy military aircraft in New York, United States. The terrorist ring, led by James Cromitie, was tried and all were convicted. Cromitie, Onta Williams, David Williams, and Payen and were charged with conspiracy and weapons offenses at their first court appearance on May 21, 2009 and were ordered to be held without bail.
2011 – Dawn, Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper, begins publication of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables it has obtained in a deal with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. The cables show that the Pakistani military asked the United States to increase its drone attacks against insurgents on Pakistani territory, a request Pakistani authorities have not admitted in public.
2013 – U.S. Army Brigadier General Bryan T. Roberts, the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, is suspended from his duties because of an investigation into alleged adultery (which is treated as a criminal violation, not just a civil matter, in the U.S. military), and for allegedly being in a physical altercation.
2014 – Obama says he “will not stand” for misconduct at VA hospitals, but asks for time to allow the investigation to run its course. The same day, Shinseki rescinds Phoenix VA director Sharon Helman’s $8,495 bonus. Helman got the bonus in April, even as agency investigators were looking into allegations at the facility.

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