This Day in U.S. Military History…… May 24

24 May
1607 – Captain Christopher Newport and 105 followers founded the colony of Jamestown on the mouth of the James River in Virginia. They had left England with 144 members, 39 died on the way over. The colony was near the large Indian village of Werowocomoco, home of Pocahontas, the daughter Powhatan, an Algonquin chief. In 2003 archeologists believed that they had found the site of the village.
1624 – After years of unprofitable operation, Virginia’s charter was revoked and it became a royal colony.
1764 – Bostonian lawyer James Otis denounced “taxation without representation” and called for the colonies to unite in demonstrating their opposition to Britain’s new tax measures.
1818 – Gen. Andrew Jackson captured Pensacola, Florida.
1830 – The first passenger railroad in the United States began service between Baltimore and Elliott’s Mills, Md.
1830 – Navy officers, under furlough from the Navy until April 1832, were given commissions in the Revenue Service.
1844 – In a demonstration witnessed by members of Congress, American inventor Samuel F.B. Morse dispatches a telegraph message from the U.S. Capitol to Alfred Vail at a railroad station in Baltimore, Maryland. The message–“What Hath God Wrought?”–was telegraphed back to the Capitol a moment later by Vail. The question, taken from the Bible (Numbers 23:23), had been suggested to Morse by Annie Ellworth, the daughter of the commissioner of patents. Morse, an accomplished painter, learned of a French inventor’s idea of an electric telegraph in 1832 and then spent the next 12 years attempting to perfect a working telegraph instrument. During this period, he composed the Morse code, a set of signals that could represent language in telegraph messages, and convinced Congress to finance a Washington-to-Baltimore telegraph line. On May 24, 1844, he inaugurated the world’s first commercial telegraph line with a message that was fitting given the invention’s future effects on American life. Just a decade after the first line opened, more than 20,000 miles of telegraph cable crisscrossed the country. The rapid communication it enabled greatly aided American expansion, making railroad travel safer as it provided a boost to business conducted across the great distances of a growing United States.
1846 – General Zachary Taylor captured Monterey in the Mexican War.
1856 – The Potawatomi Massacre took place in Kansas. John Brown, American abolitionist and horse thief, presided over the hacking to death with machetes of five unarmed pro-slavery Border Ruffians in Potawatomi, Kansas.
1861 – General Benjamin Butler declared slaves to be the contraband of war.
1861 – Commander Rowan, commanding U.S.S. Pawnee, demanded surrender of Alexandria, Virginia; amphibious expedition departed Washington Navy Yard, after embarking secretly at night under Commander Dahlgren’s supervision, and occupied Alexandria. Admiral D. D. Porter later noted of this event: “The first landing of Northern troops upon the Virginia shores was under cover of these improvised gunboats [U.S.S. Thomas Freeborn, Anacostia, and Resolute at Alexandria . . . Alexandria was evacuated by the Confederates upon demand of a naval officer-Commander S. C. Rowan . . . and . . the American flag was hoisted on the Custom House and other prominent places by the officer in charge of a landing party of sailors-Lieutenant R. B. Lowry. This . . . gave indication of the feelings of the Navy, and how ready was the service to put down secession on the first opportunity offered.”
1861 – As Union troops enter the vital port city of Arlington across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, they moved to secure it against rebel resistance. Colonel Elmer Ellsworth noticed a Confederate flag flying from the roof of a tavern and was shot and killed while removing it. Ellsworth, 24, gained national fame in the years prior to the Civil War by commanding two distinctive uniformed volunteer units which put on drill performances for the paying public. His first company was the “U.S. Zouave Cadets of Chicago” and the second was the “11th New York Fire Zouaves” a regimental-sized organization composed entirely of NYC fireman. ‘Zouave’ units were based upon the French North African troops of the same designation and had world renown for their particularly elaborate form of drill and tactical evolutions. They sported distinctive dress uniforms usually composed of a red fez or white turban, short embroidered jacket, baggy red or white trousers and white gaiters. Despite the high costs of these uniforms the style quickly caught on with young men serving in militia companies both North and South just prior to the Civil War. Ellsworth was a talented showman promoting himself and his troop’s performances with posters, music song sheet covers, calendars and newspaper ads. While performing in Chicago he met Abraham Lincoln and they became fast friends. When not on the road he worked to help Lincoln win the presidency. Just before the start of the Civil War Ellsworth moved to New York City and linked up with the 11th Regiment and was soon elected its colonel. Immediately upon the outbreak of war he traveled with the regiment to Washington at the invitation of Lincoln. He stayed at the White House and often accompanied the president around town as an unofficial aide. Lincoln was devastated at his death. His body lay in state in the White House before a federal train to carried it back to Chicago for burial. Ellsworth was the first noteworthy person to die in the war. In the north his image appeared everywhere in memoriam and many men ‘joined the colors’ angered at his killing. In death he became a “poster boy” for the Union cause.
1863 – Bushwackers led by Captain William Marchbanks attacked a Federal militia party in Nevada, Missouri.
1863 – Confederates fired on the commissary and quartermaster boat of the Marine Brigade under Brigadier General A. V. Ellet above Austin, Mississippi, on the evening of 23 May. Before dawn, this date, Ellet’s forces went ashore, engaged Confederate cavalry some 8 miles outside of Austin, and, after a 2-hour engagement, compelled the Southerners to withdraw. Finding evidence of smuggling and in reprisal for the firing of the previous evening, Ellet ordered the town burned. ”As the fire progressed,” Ellet reported, ”the discharge of firearms was rapid and frequent in the burning buildings, showing that fire is more penetrating in its search [for hidden weapons] than my men had been, two heavy explosions of powder also occurred during the conflagration.
1864 – Accurate gunfire from wooden steamer U.S.S. Dawn, Acting Lieutenant Simmons, compelled Confederate troops to break off an attack on the Union Army position at Wilson’s Wharf on the James River. Other ships quickly moved to support the troops.
1864 – Union General Ulysses S. Grant continues to pound away at Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the engagement along the North Anna River that had begun the day before. Since early May, Lee and Grant had been slugging it out along an arc from the Wilderness to Spotsylvania and to Hanover Junction, on the North Anna River. Grant was doing what other Union commanders had failed to do since 1861: ensuring that the Army of Northern Virginia was in constant action to prevent them from retooling. The cost in men, however, was frighteningly high. Grant had lost 33,000 troops in the fighting at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Worse, he could not gain the upper hand over Lee. As they raced along the arc, Lee had the advantage of moving along the interior lines, while Grant moved on the outside. As a result, Lee always had a shorter distance to the next point on the waltz around Richmond. At North Anna, Lee beat Grant to the river and quickly assumed a strong position on the high, steep banks. Grant had made two attacks the previous day but each failed. On May 24, the Yankees again probed Lee’s position but could not penetrate the Confederate defenses. On another part of the line, a Union brigade carried out an unauthorized assault by a general named James Ledlie, who was evidently drunk. Crossing near Ox Ford in the strongest part of the Confederate line, Ledlie’s men nearly broke through before retreating. Surprisingly, Ledlie never faced any punishment, despite the fact that 220 men were lost in the charge. The engagement at North Anna was small by the standards of this campaign. Grant was wise to refrain from an all-out assault on the Confederate position. Unfortunately, he was not as cautious just a week later at Cold Harbor, where Northern soldiers were butchered wholesale in a devastating attack on fortified Rebels.
1869 – John Wesley Powell departed Green River City, Wyoming, with 9 men on an expedition to explore the canyons of the Green and Colorado River. Over 3 years he led two expeditions to explore the Grand Canyon. Three members of the first expedition were killed, reportedly by Indians. His written account was suspected to be inflated if not fictitious.
1900 – Marines landed at Taku, China, to establish Legation Guard at Peking.
1916 – US pilot William Thaw shot down a German Fokker.
1917 – First U.S. convoy to cross North Atlantic during World War I leaves Hampton Roads, VA.
1918 – USS Olympia anchors at Kola Inlet, Murmansk, Russia, to protect refugees during Russian Revolution.
1939 – First and only use of VADM Allan McCann’s Rescue Chamber to rescue 33 men from sunken USS Squalus (SS-192).
1940 – Hitler ordered a halt to his forces converging on Dunkirk and the British, who were backed to the sea. This event and the next 4 days were described in the 1999 book: “Five Days in London, May 1940″ by John Lukacs.
1941 – The German battleship Bismarck sank the British dreadnought HMS Hood in the North Atlantic. 1416 died with only three survivors. CGC Modoc sighted the German battleship SMS Bismarck while the cutter searched for survivors of a convoy southeast of Cape Farewell, Greenland. British Swordfish torpedo planes from the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Victorious circled Modoc as they flew towards the German battleship’s position. The Modoc’s crew then spotted the flashes caused by anti-aircraft fire from the Bismarck and then sighted British warships on the opposite horizon. The cutter then maneuvered to avoid contact with any of the warships and managed to steam out of the area unscathed.
1940 – Igor Sikorsky performs the first successful single-rotor helicopter flight.
1941 – Authorization of construction or acquisition of 550,000 tons of auxiliary shipping for Navy.
1942 – U.S. General Stilwell arrives in Delhi after a 140 mile retreat through the Burma jungle. In a press interview he is quoted say: “I claim we got a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is as humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back and re-take it.”
1942 – When the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 115th Fighter Squadron lands at Alaska’s Annette Island, a US Customs officer refuses to let the pilots out of their planes until they pay duty on their arms and equipment. It takes a message from Secretary of State Cordell Hull granting the Canadians Distinguished Foreign Visitor status to end this idiocy.
1943 – On Attu American forces make some progress along the Clevesy Pass. There is heavy fighting over Fish Hook Ridge.
1944 – Attacks by the US 5th Army and the British 8th Army continue. The Canadian 1st Corps captures Pontecorvo and elements reach the Melfa River and establish a bridgehead. The US 2nd Corps takes Terracina against heavy opposition from the German 29th Panzergrenadier Division. At Anzio forces of US 6th Corps reach Route 7 near Latina, to the south of German-held Cisterna. Meanwhile, north of Rome, RAF Spitfires shoot down 8 German Fw190 fighter bombers.
1945 – On Kyushu, aircraft from US Task Force 58 raid several airfields used by the Kamikaze forces attacking American naval forces around Okinawa. Meanwhile about 520 US bombers strike Tokyo, dropping some 3646 tons of bombs.
1945 – On Okinawa, during the night, Japanese paratroopers on a suicide mission are landed on American held Yontan airfield and destroy a significant number of aircraft before being wiped out. Meanwhile, Japanese troops conduct vigorous counterattacks in the direction of Yonabaru and make a small penetration into the lines of the US 32nd Division.
1951 – Lines Kansas and Wyoming became increasingly important with the possibility of a cease-fire and the demilitarized zone that might be required.
1962 – American astronaut Scott Carpenter orbits the Earth three times in the Aurora 7 space capsule.
1962 – USS Gurke notices signals from 12 men from Truk who were caught in a storm, drifted at sea for 2 months before being stranded on a island for 1 month. USS Southerland investigated, notified Truk, and provided provisions and supplies to repair their outrigger canoe. The men would be picked up on 7 June by the motor launch Kaselehlia.
1964 – Senator Barry Goldwater, regarded as a serious contender for the Republican nomination for the presidency, gives an interview in which he proposes the use of low-yield atomic bombs to defoliate forests and the bombing of bridges, rods, and railroad lines bringing supplies form Communist China. During the storm of criticism that follows, Goldwater tries to back away from these drastic proposals stating that he was repeating suggestions made by military advisors. Johnson will capitalize on the controversy and paint Goldwater as an extremist.
1967 – In response to Secretary of Defense McNamara’s order for a new study of bombing alternatives on 20 May, the Joint Chiefs submit three memoranda renewing earlier recommendations for more then 200,000 new troops and for air attacks on Haiphong, mining of Haiphong Harbor, and raids on eight major railways leading to China.
1968 – Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) separatists bomb the U.S. consulate in Quebec City.
1980 – Iran rejected a call by the World Court in The Hague to release the American hostages.
1994 – Four men convicted of bombing New York’s World Trade Center were each sentenced to 240 years in prison. The attack was planned by a group of terrorists including Ramzi Yousef, Mahmud Abouhalima, Mohammad Salameh, Nidal A. Ayyad, Abdul Rahman Yasin and Ahmed Ajaj. They received financing from Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, Yousef’s uncle. The charges included conspiracy, explosive destruction of property, and interstate transportation of explosives. In November 1997, two more were convicted: Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the bombings, and Eyad Ismoil, who drove the truck carrying the bomb.
1997 – The space shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth, bringing with it NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger, who had spent four months aboard the Russian Mir space station.
1999 – Iraqi oil officials state that, despite a lack of spare parts, Iraq is capable of boosting output from its northern oil fields to 1.2 million barrels per day during the proposed sixth phase of the “oil-for-food”deal with the United Nations, from around 0.8 million barrels per day in the fifth phase.
2002 – Presidents Bush and Putin signed the Treaty of Moscow, an agreement to reduce nuclear stockpiles by two-thirds over the next 10 years.
2002 – In Afghanistan coalition forces captured 50 people from a compound that was said to be a refuge for senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders.
2003 – Coalition forces captured two more wanted Iraqis: Sayf al-Din al-Mashadani, No. 46 on the list and Sad Abd al-Majid al-Faysal, No. 55.
2003 – The U.S.-led coalition ordered Iraqis to give up their weapons by mid-June.
2004 – Pres. Bush offered a 5 step plan in Iraq: 1) hand over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government; 2) Help establish security; 3) Continue rebuilding the infrastructure; 4) Encourage more int’l. support; 5) Move toward a national election.
2004 – In Liberia an American citizen working with a U.S. military assessment team was killed in his hotel room in the capital Monrovia.

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