This Day in U.S. Military History…… May 23

23 May
1609 – Official ratification of the Second Charter of Virginia takes place.
1701 – At London’s Execution Dock, British privateer William Kidd, popularly known as Captain Kidd, is hanged for piracy and murder. Born in Strathclyde, Scotland, Kidd established himself as a sea captain before settling in New York in 1690, where he bought property and married. At various times he was commissioned by New York and other American colonies to rid the coast of enemy privateers. In 1695, while on a trip to London, the recently appointed governor of New York commissioned him to defend English ships from pirates in the Red Sea. In 1696, Kidd sailed to New York aboard the Adventure Galley, enlisted men for the mission, and set sail for the Indian Ocean. The expedition met with little success and failed to capture a major prize until February 1698, when the Quedagh Merchant, an Indian vessel allegedly sailing under a French pass, was taken. Word of Kidd’s capture of the boat, which was loaded with gold, jewels, silk, sugar, and guns, aroused significant controversy in Britain, as the ship had an English captain. Suspicions that he had turned to piracy were apparently confirmed when he sailed to St. Mary’s, Madagascar, an infamous pirate haven. From there, he traveled to the West Indies on the Quedagh Merchant, where he learned of the piracy charges against him. Intending to clear his name, he sailed to New York and delivered himself to the colonial authorities, claiming that the vessels he had attacked were lawful prizes. He was arrested and taken to London. In 1701, he was tried on five charges of piracy and one charge of murdering a crewman. The Tories used the trial as a political opportunity to embarrass his Whig sponsors, and the latter chose to give up Kidd as a scapegoat rather than back his possibly correct claims to legitimacy. Convicted on all counts, he was executed by hanging on May 23, 1701. In later years, a colorful legend grew up around the story of William Kidd, including reports of lost buried treasure that fortune seekers have pursued for centuries.
1788 – South Carolina became the eighth state to ratify the U. S. Constitution.
1846 – President Mariano Paredes of Mexico unofficially declares war on the United States.
1850 – Navy sends USS Advance and USS Rescue to attempt rescue of Sir John Franklin’s expedition, lost in Arctic.
1861 – Virginia citizens voted 3 to 1 in favor of secession, becoming the last Confederate state.
1861 – Pro Union and pro Confederate forces clashed in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
1861 – U.S.S. Mississippi. Flag Officer William Mervine, was compelled to put back into Boston for repairs because of sabotage damage to her condensers.
1862 – Stonewall Jackson took Fort Royal, Virginia, in the Valley Campaign.
1864 – The campaign between Union commander Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, continues southward to the North Anna River around Hanover Junction. In early May, Grant crossed the Rapidan River with the Army of the Potomac and then clashed with Lee’s forces in the Wilderness on May 5 and 6 before racing to Spotsylvania Court House for an epic 12-day battle. Grant’s continuous pressure on Lee would ultimately win the war, but he was racking up casualties at a rate that was difficult for the Northern public to stomach. Grant believed that Lee could not maintain his position at Spotsylvania because two other Union armies under the command of Franz Sigel and Benjamin Butler were attempting to cut off the Confederate supply line in the Shenandoah Valley and the Rebel stronghold south of Richmond. But both were failing miserably. By May 19, Grant had had enough of Spotsylvania. He pulled his troops to try another run around Lee to Richmond. Correctly predicting Grant’s move, just as he had done two weeks before when Grant left the Wilderness for Spotsylvania, Lee raced the Yankees 20 miles south and beat Grant’s troops to the North Anna River. The rail center here was crucial to his supplies. At the North Anna, Grant found Lee’s position to be even stronger than at Spotsylvania. The river had high banks, and Lee’s side was higher than the Union side in several places. Still, Grant made an attempt to dislodge the Rebels. He made two assaults, but neither came close to breaking the Confederate lines. He would try again the next day before moving south to Cold Harbor.
1864 – U.S.S. Columbine, Acting Ensign Sanborn, was captured after a heated engagement with Confederate batteries and riflemen at Horse Landing, near Palatka, Florida. Columbine, a 130-ton side-wheeler operating in support of Union Army forces and with soldiers embarked, lost steering control and ran onto a mud bank, where she was riddled by the accurate Confederate fire. With some 20 men killed and wounded, Sanborn surrendered “to prevent the further useless expenditure of human life.” Shortly after taking the prize, the Southerners destroyed her to avoid recapture by U.S.S. Ottawa, Lieutenant Commander Breese. Ottawa, cooperating with the Army in the same operation, had also been fired upon the night before and suffered damage but no casualties before compelling the Confederate battery at Brown’s Landing to withdraw.
1865 – The American flag was flown at full staff over White House for the 1st time since Lincoln was shot. Union Army’s Grand Review began in Washington DC.
1881 – Kit Carson, frontiersman, died.
1899 – Marines arrived to secure Cavite Naval Base, Philippines.
1900 – Sergeant William Harvey Carney is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery on July 18, 1863, while fighting for the Union cause as a member of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry. He was the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor, which is the nation’s highest military honor. The 54th Massachusetts, formed in early 1863, served as the prototype for African American regiments in the Union army. On July 16, 1863, the regiment saw its first action at James Island, South Carolina, performing admirably in a confrontation with experienced Confederate troops. Three days later, the 54th volunteered to lead the assault on Fort Wagner, a highly fortified outpost on Morris Island that was part of the Confederate defense of Charleston Harbor. Struggling against a lethal barrage of cannon and rifle fire, the regiment fought their way to the top of the fort’s parapet over several hours. Sergeant William Harvey Carney was wounded there while planting the U.S. flag. The regiment’s white commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, was killed, and his soldiers were overwhelmed by the fort’s defenders and had to fall back. Despite his wound, Carney refused to retreat until he removed the flag, and though successful, he was shot again in the process. The 54th lost 281 of its 600 men in its brave attempt to take Fort Wagner, which throughout the war never fell by force of arms. The 54th went on to perform honorably in expeditions in Georgia and Florida, most notably at the Battle of Olustee. Carney eventually recovered and was discharged with disability on June 30, 1864.
1908 – Part of the Great White Fleet arrived in Puget Sound, Washington.
1930 – Lieutenant Commander Elmer F. Stone received a medal from Congress for extraordinary achievement in making the first successful trans-Atlantic flight in 1919. Stone was the pilot of the Navy’s NC-4.
1934 – The Auto-Lite strike culminates in the “Battle of Toledo”, a five-day melée between 1,300 troops of the Ohio National Guard and 6,000 picketers.
1939 – The US submarine Squalus sank off the coast of New Hampshire. A diving bell designed by Charles “Swede” Momsen (d.1967) brought 33 survivors (26 perished) safely to the surface. This was the first successful undersea rescue operation to retrieve a sunken submarine crew.

1943 – The USS New Jersey, Admiral “Bull” Halsey’s flagship during WWII and the only Battleship to provide gunfire support during the Vietnam War, is commissioned in Philadelphia, PA for service in WWII. BB62 was built at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and launched December 7, 1942- just a year after the Pearl Harbor Attack brought America into WWII. The USS New Jersey (BB62) was actually the second ship to be called “New Jersey”, the first being BB16, a turn of the century (19th century) battleship. The first Battleship New Jersey (BB-16) was a Virginia class pre-dreadnought that served from 1906 until she was sunk as a bombing target in 1922. She sailed with the Great White Fleet and served her country in World War I as a training vessel. New Jersey was decommissioned on February 8, 1991 in Long Beach, California and later towed to Bremerton, Washington where she resided until heading home to New Jersey. She was officially stricken from the Navy list on February 12,1995 but was then ordered reinstated by an order of congress as a mobilization asset under Bill 1024 section 1011. On January 4, 1999 New Jersey was again stricken from the Navy list and IOWA replaced her as a mobilization asset. On September 12, 1999 New Jersey began her Final Voyage home from Bremerton, where she had rested in mothballs for the last 8 years. On November 11th, she arrived at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Since that time, she has been restored, opened and established as an educational museum and a tribute to the brave sailors who served on her during her long and distinguished career. The Battleship New Jersey opened as a Museum and Memorial in October 2001.
1944 – The US 6th Corps in the Anzio beachhead launches an attack on Cisterna. German resistance results in high Allied casualties. Meanwhile, the US 5th Army continues offensive operations. US 2nd Corps patrols reach Terracina. Both the French Expeditionary Corps and the Canadian 1st Corps penetrate the German-held Senger Line. The Canadians break through by the end of the day.
1944 – American forces encounter heavy resistance in their advance westward from Arare toward Sarmi. At Aitape, Japanese attacks continue to force the Americans to fall back.
1944 – US Task Group 58.2 (Admiral Montgomery) launches air raids on Japanese positions on Wake Island.
1945 – American attacks bring shipping at Yokohama to a halt.
1945 – On Okinawa, after occupying Naha, the US 6th Marine Division (part of US 3rd Amphibious Corps) encounters heavy Japanese resistance to attempts to advance further south.
1945 – At Flensburg, the successor government of the Third Reich, including Karl Donitz, the nominal Fuhrer, as well as the German military leadership, are all arrested on the orders of General Eisenhower. At Luneburg, Heinrich Himmler commits suicide while being examined by a doctor at the headquarters of the British 2nd Army. He had been stripped and searched but bit down on a hidden phial of cyanide when the doctor attempted to stick a finger in his mouth. At St. Johann, US troops uncover $4 million in mixed currencies believed to belong to Himmler. In Bavaria, the former leading Nazi anti-Semitic propagandist, Julius Streicher, is arrested by Americans.
1946 – The end of World War II unleashed a torrent of labor activity. Workers, whose wages had been frozen in the name of the war effort, strove not only to boost their take-home pay, but to preserve the modest cost of living that wartime price caps had helped establish. On this day in 1946, the nation’s rail workers got into the act and headed to the picket line to agitate for fairer compensation. The ensuing strike, led by the Railroad Trainmen and Locomotive Brotherhoods, effectively stopped up the nation’s still rail-heavy transportation network and enabled the workers to win better wages. The thrill of this victory was short-lived, however, as the rail unions, along with other labor organizations, failed in their quest to maintain price controls. Under heavy pressure from business leaders, who were more concerned with their respective bottom-lines than the ravages of inflation, President Harry Truman eventually acquiesced and rolled back price controls. As the unions had feared, the demise of price caps sparked a heady wave of inflation that washed away the rail workers’ post-war wage gains.
1946 – Commodore Edward M. Webster, USCG, headed the US Delegation to the International Meeting on Radio Aids to Marine Navigation, which was held in London, England. As a result of this meeting, the principal maritime nations of the world agreed to make an intensive study of the World War II-developed devices of radar, LORAN, radar beacons, and other navigational aids with a view to adapt them to peacetime use. This was the first time that the wartime technical secrets of radar and LORAN were generally disclosed to the public.
1949 – The Federal Republic of Germany (popularly known as West Germany) is formally established as a separate and independent nation. This action marked the effective end to any discussion of reuniting East and West Germany. In the period after World War II, Germany was divided into four occupation zones, with the British, French, Americans, and Soviets each controlling one zone. The city of Berlin was also divided in a like fashion. This arrangement was supposed to be temporary, but as Cold War animosities began to harden, it became increasingly evident that the division between the communist and non-communist controlled sections of Germany and Berlin would become permanent. In May 1946, the United States halted reparation payments from West Germany to the Soviet Union. In December, the United States and Great Britain combined their occupation zones into what came to be known as Bizonia. France agreed to become part of this arrangement, and in May 1949, the three zones became one. On May 23, the West German Parliamentary Council met and formally declared the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany. Although Konrad Adenauer, the president of the council and future president of West Germany, proudly proclaimed, “Today a new Germany arises,” the occasion was not a festive one. Many of the German representatives at the meeting were subdued, for they had harbored the faint hope that Germany might be reunified. Two communist members of the council refused to sign the proclamation establishing the new state. The Soviets reacted quickly to the action in West Germany. In October 1949, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was officially announced. These actions in 1949 marked the end of any talk of a reunified Germany. For the next 41 years, East and West Germany served as symbols of the divided world, and of the Cold War animosities between the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1990, with Soviet strength ebbing and the Communist Party in East Germany steadily losing its grip on power, East and West Germany were finally reunited as one nation.
1951 – Eighth Army advanced toward the Kansas and Wyoming Lines to the base of the Iron Triangle against stiffening enemy resistance. By the end of May, the communists had suffered 17,000 killed and an equal number were taken prisoner.
1958 – The satellite Explorer 1 ceases transmission.
1961 – Vice-President Johnson reports to President Kennedy on his visit to Asia. Giving Thailand and Vietnam pivotal significance, he reports that the United States must either aid these countries or ‘pull back our defenses to San Francisco and a “Fortress America” concept.’ he feels Asian leaders would welcome US troops if openly attacked.
1962 – Launch of Aurora 7 (Mercury 7), piloted by LCDR Malcolm Scott Carpenter, USN, who completed 3 orbits in 4 hours, 56 minutes at an altitude up to 166.8 statute miles at 17,549 mph. He was picked up by HSS-2 helicopters from USS Intrepid (CVS-11). The capsule was recovered by USS John R. Pierce (DD-753).
1964 – Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy directs the drawing up of a three-day scenario that, while publicly pretending that the US and South Vietnam are trying to avoid widening the war, assumes that the US will begin full-scale bombing against the North.
1967 – A public controversy over the M-16, the basic combat rifle in Vietnam, begins after Representative James J. Howard (D-New Jersey) reads a letter to the House of Representatives in which a Marine in Vietnam claims that almost all Americans killed in the battle for Hill 881 died as a result of their new M-16 rifles jamming. The Defense Department acknowledged on August 28 that there had been a “serious increase in frequency of malfunctions in the M-16.” The M-16 had become the standard U.S. infantry rifle in Vietnam earlier in 1967, replacing the M-14. Almost two pounds lighter and five inches shorter than the M-14, but with the same effective range of over 500 yards, it fired a smaller, lighter 5.56-mm cartridge. The M-16 could be fired fully automatic (like a machine gun) or one shot at a time. Because the M-16 was rushed into mass production, early models were plagued by stoppages that caused some units to request a reissue of the M-14. Technical investigation revealed a variety of causes for the defect, in both the weapon and ammunition design, and in care and cleaning in the field. With these deficiencies corrected, the M-16 became a popular infantry rifle that was able to hold its own against the Soviet-made AK-47 assault rifle used by the enemy.
1968 – At the conclusion of an experimental civic affairs program in Longan province, John Paul Vann and other US advisors issue a report recommending widespread changes in the pacification effort. The report states that Saigon has little understanding of its people’s needs and has consistently failed to provide adequate funds and services for grass-roots programs. As a result, the Vietcong continue to collect taxes and recruit troops from many hamlets that the government claims it has pacified.
1971 – North Vietnamese demolition experts infiltrate the major U.S. air base at Cam Ranh Bay, blowing up six tanks of aviation fuel, which resulted in the loss of about 1.5 million gallons. U.S. commander Creighton Abrams criticized the inadequate security.
1972 – Heavy U.S. air attacks that began with an order by President Richard Nixon on May 8 are widened to include more industrial and non-military sites. In 190 strikes, the United States lost one plane but shot down four. The new strikes were part of the ongoing Operation Linebacker, an effort launched in response to the massive North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam on March 30. The purpose of the raids were to interdict supplies from outside sources and the movement of equipment and supplies to the North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam. The strikes concentrated on rail lines around Hanoi and Haiphong, bridges, pipelines, power plants, troops and troop training facilities, and rail lines to China.
1977 – The US Supreme Court refused to hear appeals of former Nixon White House aides H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman & John Mitchell in connection with their Watergate convictions.
1988 – The V-22 Osprey, the world’s first production tilt-rotor aircraft, made its debut during rollout ceremonies at Bell Helicopter Textron’s Arlington, Texas, facility. More than 1,000 representatives from the military, industry, and media, gathered to hear various speakers, including Gen Alfred Gray, Commandant of the Marine Corps, praise the versatile rotor craft designed to meet the needs of 21st Century battlefields.
1992 – Pres. Bush ordered the Coast Guard to intercept boats with Haitian refugees.
1992 – The United States and four former Soviet republics signed an agreement in Lisbon, Portugal, to implement the START missile-reduction treaty that had been agreed to by the Soviet Union prior to its dissolution.
1995 – The nine-story hulk of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was demolished. That day, James Nichols, whose brother and a friend were charged in the Oklahoma bombing, was released from federal custody.
1995 – The first version of the Java programming language is released.
1999 – In Iraq US planes bombed Iraqi defense systems.
2001 – Iraq threatens to halt oil exports if a British-US proposed Security Council resolution on a new sanctions regime is enacted.
2002 – The Pentagon reported that the Defense Dept. sprayed live nerve and biological agents over Navy ships in 6 six tests between 1964-1968. The Project shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD) experiments included the use of sarin and VX nerve gases and the staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB).
2002 – The UN voted to extend the mandate for an int’l. force in Afghanistan for 6 months but with no expansion of troops or presence beyond Kabul.
2003 – The Iraqi Army is disbanded.
2004 – In Iraq US troops battled fighters loyal to a radical Muslim cleric in his stronghold of Kufa, and at least 32 insurgents were killed. Gunmen killed a police captain and a university student who were headed by car to Baghdad from Baqouba. Insurants loyal to al-Sadr gave up control of central Karbala.
2007 – PFC Anzack, one of three captured US soldiers in Iraq is found dead, during an extensive manhunt which occupied nearly 3% of US troops. On 12 May 2007, a U.S. military observation post near Mahmoudiyah in Iraq was attacked. Four American and one Iraqi soldiers manning the post were killed, three other Americans: PFC Joseph Anzack, PVT Byron Fouty, and SPC Alex Jimenez, were abducted and found killed later. Anzack’s body was pulled out of the Euphrates River, with a gunshot wound in the head.
2012 – The Iranian navy assists an American cargo ship that was attacked by pirates off the United Arab Emirates.

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