This Day in U.S. Military History……December 31

31 December
1775 – George Washington ordered recruiting officers to accept free blacks into the army.
1775 – During the American Revolution, Patriot forces under generals Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery are defeated by the British defenders of the city of Quebec in Canada. On December 2, Arnold and Montgomery met on the outskirts of Quebec and demanded the surrender of the city. Governor Sir Guy Carleton rejected their demand, and on December 9 the Patriots commenced a bombardment of Quebec, which was met by a counterbattery by the British defenders that disabled several of the Patriots’ guns. At approximately 4 a.m. on December 31, the Patriot forces advanced on the city under the cover of a blizzard. The British defenders were ready, however, and when Montgomery’s forces came within 50 yards of the fortified city they opened fire with a barrage of artillery and musket fire. Montgomery was killed in the first assault, and, after several more attempts at penetrating Quebec’s defenses, his men were forced into retreat. Meanwhile, Arnold’s division suffered a similar fate during their attack of the northern wall of the city. A two-gun battery opened fire on the advancing Americans, killing a number of Americans and wounding Benedict Arnold in the leg. Patriot Daniel Morgan assumed command, made progress against the defenders, but halted at the second wall of fortifications to wait for reinforcements. By the time the rest of Arnold’s army finally arrived, the British had reorganized and the attack was called off. Of the 900 Americans who participated in the siege, 60 were killed and wounded and more than 400 were captured. The remaining Patriot forces then retreated from the invasion of Canada. As the Americans crossed the St. Lawrence River to safety, Benedict Arnold remained in Canadian territory until the last of his soldiers had escaped. With the pursuing British forces almost in firing range, Arnold checked one last time to make sure all his men had escaped. He then shot his horse and fled down the St. Lawrence in a canoe. Less than five years later, Benedict Arnold, as commander of West Point, famously became a traitor when he agreed to surrender the important Hudson River fort to the British for a bribe of ý20,000. The plot was uncovered after British spy John Andrý was captured with incriminating papers, forcing Arnold to flee to British protection and join in their fight against the country that he once so valiantly served.
1783 – Import of African slaves was banned by all of the Northern American states.
1815 – George Gordon Meade (d.1872), Union general, was born. He defeated Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg.
1861 – Biloxi, Mississippi, surrendered to a landing party of seamen and Marines covered by U.S.S. Water Witch, New London, and Henry Lewis; a small Confederate battery was destroyed, two guns and schooner Captain Spedden captured.
1861 – Naval squadron under Commander C. R. P. Rodgers, including gunboats Ottawa, Pembina, and Seneca and four armed boats carrying howitzers, joined General Stevens’ troops in successful am¬phibious attack on Confederate positions at Port Royal Ferry and on Coosaw River. Gunboat fire covered the troop advance, and guns and naval gunners were landed as artillery support. Army signal officers acted as gunfire observers and coordinators on board the ships. The action disrupted Confederate plans to erect batteries and build troop strength in the area intending to close Coosaw River and iso¬late Federal troops on Port Royal Island. General Stevens wrote: “I would do great injustice to my own feelings did I fail to express my satisfaction and delight with the recent cooperation of the command of Captain Rodgers in our celebration of New Year’s Day. Whether regard be had to his beau¬tiful working of the gunboats in the narrow channel of Port Royal, the thorough concert of action established through the signal officers, or the masterly handling of the guns against the enemy, noth¬ing remained to be desired. Such a cooperation . . . augurs everything, propitious for the welfare of our cause in this quarter of the country.”1862 – President Lincoln signed an act admitting West Virginia to the Union.
1862 – Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest narrowly escapes capture during a raid in western Tennessee. Despite the close call, the raid was instrumental in forcing Union General Ulysses S. Grant to abandon his first attempt to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi. Forrest set out from Columbus, Tennessee, on December 11 to raid Union supply lines. He defeated a Union force at Lexington, Tennessee, on December 18 and spent the week of Christmas destroying Federal rail lines north of Jackson, Tennessee. By the end of December, several Union forces were bearing down on Forrest’s cavalry. As the Confederates approached Parker’s Crossroads, they detected a Yankee force ahead and Forrest decided to attack. Forrest approached the Union troops and sent part of his force around their flank. His dismounted cavalry were enjoying great success when firing suddenly sounded behind Forrest’s troops. Another Yankee detachment had surprised the Confederates. The men assigned to hold the horses of the attacking Confederates were now fleeing in panic right past Forrest. At one point, Forrest himself came upon Union troops, who demanded that he surrender. He agreed and rode off to gather his force. The Rebel commander then calmly surveyed the situation and reportedly said, “Charge them both ways.” He diverted part of his men from the initial attack to turn against the Federals coming from behind. Though 300 of Forrest’s men were captured, the bulk of his forces escaped. The close call only served to enhance Forrest’s reputation as a brilliant battlefield commander. Despite the loses, the raid–combined with General Earl Van Dorn’s raid on Union supply lines further to the west–convinced Grant to abort his attempt on Vicksburg.
1862 – The Battle of Stones River (Murfeesboro) begins in central Tennessee. The armies struggled in the bitter cold for three days before the Union army, commanded by General William Rosecrans, defeated the Confederates under Braxton Bragg.
1879 – In the first public demonstration of his incandescent lightbulb, American inventor Thomas Alva Edison lights up a street in Menlo Park, New Jersey. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company ran special trains to Menlo Park on the day of the demonstration in response to public enthusiasm over the event. Although the first incandescent lamp had been produced 40 years earlier, no inventor had been able to come up with a practical design until Edison embraced the challenge in the late 1870s. After countless tests, he developed a high-resistance carbon-thread filament that burned steadily for hours and an electric generator sophisticated enough to power a large lighting system. Born in Milan, Ohio, in 1847, Edison received little formal schooling, which was customary for most Americans at the time. He developed serious hearing problems at an early age, and this disability provided the motivation for many of his inventions. At age 16, he found work as a telegraph operator and soon was devoting much of his energy and natural ingenuity toward improving the telegraph system itself. By 1869, he was pursuing invention full-time and in 1876 moved into a laboratory and machine shop in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Edison’s experiments were guided by his remarkable intuition, but he also took care to employ assistants who provided the mathematical and technical expertise he lacked. At Menlo Park, Edison continued his work on the telegraph, and in 1877 he stumbled on one of his great inventions–the phonograph–while working on a way to record telephone communication. Public demonstrations of the phonograph made the Yankee inventor world famous, and he was dubbed the “Wizard of Menlo Park.” Although the discovery of a way to record and play back sound ensured him a place in the annals of history, the phonograph was only the first of several Edison creations that would transform late 19th-century life. Among other notable inventions, Edison and his assistants developed the first practical incandescent lightbulb in 1879 and a forerunner of the movie camera and projector in the late 1880s. In 1887, he opened the world’s first industrial research laboratory at West Orange, where he employed dozens of workers to investigate systematically a given subject. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the modern industrial world came from his work in electricity. He developed a complete electrical distribution system for light and power, set up the world’s first power plant in New York City, and invented the alkaline battery, the first electric railroad, and a host of other inventions that laid the basis for the modern electrical world. One of the most prolific inventors in history, he continued to work into his 80s and acquired 1,093 patents in his lifetime. He died in 1931 at the age of 84.
1880 – George Catlett Marshall, Chief of Staff who led the U.S. Army to victory in World War II and later became Secretary of State for President Harry Truman, was born. He won Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for the Marshall Plan.
1941 – American and Filipino forces form a new defense line north of the Bataan Peninsula, on Luzon.
1941 – General Brett takes command of US forces in Australia.
1941 – Admiral Chester W. Nimitz assumes command of U.S. Pacific Fleet.
1941 – America’s last automobiles with chrome-plated trim were manufactured on this day. Starting in 1942, chrome plating became illegal. It was part of an effort to conserve resources for the American war effort. The chrome wasn’t missed too much. Virtually no automobiles were produced in the U.S. from 1942 through the end of World War II.
1942 – Commissioning of USS Essex (CV-9), first of new class of aircraft carriers, at Norfolk, VA
1942 – After five months of battle, Emperor Hirohito allowed the Japanese commanders at Guadalcanal to retreat.
1943 – Both the US 5th Army and the British 8th Army continue their offensive operation in Italy without significant success.
1944 – On Leyte, various Japanese counterattacks in the northwest are repulsed by American forces. Up to this point, the Japanese have suffered about 70,000 casualties, almost all killed, in the battles on Leyte. American casualties number 15,500 dead and wounded. The US 6th Army is being withdrawn from the island, in preparation for the invasion of Luzon, and the US 8th Army is replacing it.
1944 – The British 30th Corps (part of US 1st Army) captures Rochefort on the western tip of the German-held Ardennes salient.
1945 – The ratification of the UN Charter was completed.
1946 – President Truman officially proclaimed the end of hostilities in World War II.
1948 – Last annual report by a Secretary of the Navy to Congress and the President filed by SECNAV John L. Sullivan. Thereafter the Secretary of Defense would report annually to Congress.
1950 – The Chinese began their Third-Phase Offensive.
1950 – The 726th Transportation Truck Company, the first Army National Guard unit in Korea, arrived at Pusan.
1951 – The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Marshall fired over 5,600 five-inch shells at enemy positions in eastern Korea during the month of December. This was more than she had fired against the enemy during all of her service in World War II.
1958 – Cuba’s dictator Juan Batista fled as Rebels under Fidel Castro marched into Havana.
1961 – The Marshall Plan expired after distributing more than $12 billion in foreign aid.
1964 – Syrian-based al-Fatah guerrillas of Yasser Arafat launched their 1st raid on Israel with the aim of provoking a retaliation and sparking an Arab war against Israel. Fatah, a Palestinian movement for independence, made the first terror attack on Israel and initiated the armed struggle for a state.
1968 – The bloodiest year of the war comes to an end. At year’s end, 536,040 American servicemen were stationed in Vietnam, an increase of over 50,000 from 1967. Estimates from Headquarters U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam indicated that 181,150 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese were killed during the year. However, Allied losses were also up: 27,915 South Vietnamese, 14,584 Americans (a 56 percent increase over 1967), and 979 South Koreans, Australians, New Zealanders, and Thais were reported killed during 1968. Since January 1961, more than 31,000 U.S. servicemen had been killed in Vietnam and over 200,000 U.S. personnel had been wounded. Contributing to the high casualty number was the Tet Offensive launched by the communists. Conducted in the early weeks of the year, it was a crushing military defeat for the communists, but the size and scope of the attacks caught the American and South Vietnamese allies completely by surprise. The early reporting of a smashing communist victory went largely uncorrected in the media and this led to a psychological victory for the communists. The heavy U.S. casualties incurred during the offensive coupled with the disillusionment over the earlier overly optimistic reports of progress in the war accelerated the growing disenchantment with President Johnson’s conduct of the war. Johnson, frustrated with his inability to reach a solution in Vietnam, announced on March 31, 1968, that he would neither seek nor accept the Democratic nomination for president. Johnson’s announcement did not dampen the wave of antiwar protests that climaxed with the bloody confrontation between protesters and police outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.
1970 – Congress authorized the Eisenhower dollar coin.
1971 – The gradual U.S. withdrawal from the conflict in Southeast Asia is reflected in reduced annual casualty figures. The number of Americans killed in action dropped to 1,386 from the previous year total of 4,204. South Vietnam losses for the year totalled 21,500 men, while the combined Viet Cong and North Vietnamese total was estimated at 97,000 killed in action. After 10 years of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, a total of 45,627 American soldiers had been killed. The U.S. troop levels, which started the year at 280,000, were down to 159,000. This troop reduction was a direct result of the shifting American goal for the Vietnam War-no longer attempting a military victory, the U.S. was trying to gracefully extricate itself from the situation by transferring responsibility for the war to the South Vietnamese.
1972 – With the end of Linebacker II, the most intense U.S. bombing operation of the Vietnam War, U.S. and communist negotiators prepare to return to the secret Paris peace talks scheduled to reconvene on January 2. In a statement issued in Paris, the Hanoi delegation to the public peace talks asserted that the U.S. bombing did not succeed in “subjugating the Vietnamese people,” and called attention to the losses of U.S. planes and the unfavorable world reaction to the raids. Despite the public denial that the Linebacker II raids forced them back, the communists returned to the negotiating table. When the negotiators met in January, the talks moved along quickly and on January 23, 1973, the United States, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and the Viet Cong signed a cease-fire agreement that took effect five days later. In 1972, the American troop level in South Vietnam was reduced from 159,000 to only 24,000. Under the terms of the Paris Peace Accords, all of the personnel would be withdrawn by March 1973.
1974 – Private U.S. citizens were allowed to buy and own gold for the first time in more than 40 years.
1978 – Flags at both the American embassy in Taipei and the Taiwanese embassy in the United States are lowered for the last time as U.S. relations with Taiwan officially come to an end. On January 1, 1979 the United States officially recognized the government of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing. The American decision to sever relations with Taiwan and grant recognition to the People’s Republic of China was hotly resented by representatives of the Chinese Nationalist government. In a brief ceremony accompanying the lowering of the Taiwanese flag, a Chinese Nationalist official declared that the action “did not mean that we are giving up our fight against communism.” He strongly criticized American President Jimmy Carter for cutting off ties with “a loyal friend and ally of the United States” in exchange for normalizing relations with “our enemy, the Chinese Communist regime.” American officials had little comment, except to assure those seeking visas and other services in Taiwan that the U.S. embassy would continue to help them until March 1, 1979. At that time, a “nongovernmental” office would take over those duties. It was a rather quiet end to nearly 30 years of American refusal to grant official recognition to the communist government of mainland China. The U.S. decision to maintain strong relations with the Nationalist government on Taiwan had been the main roadblock to diplomatic relations between America and the People’s Republic of China. By the late 1970s, the desire for closer economic relations with communist China and the belief that diplomatic relations with the PRC might act as a buffer against Soviet aggression led U.S. officials to view continued relations with Taiwan as counterproductive. President Carter’s decision to sever relations with Taiwan removed that obstacle. One of the oldest and most antagonistic relationships of the Cold War seemed to be thawing.
1991 – This was the last day of existence for the USSR.
1992 – President Bush visited Somalia, where he saw firsthand the famine racking the east African nation. He praised U.S. troops that provided relief to the starving population.
1994 – Bosnian government officials and Bosnian Serb leaders signed a U.N.-brokered cease-fire agreement.
1995 – The first US tanks crossed a pontoon bridge over the Sava River from Croatia to Bosnia to start the deployment of 20,000 US troops under IFOR, the Implementation Force under NATO command.
1995 – Bosnian government officials and Bosnian Serb leaders signed a UN-brokered cease-fire agreement.
1997 – The US State Dept. reported that Iraq had ordered the summary execution of “hundreds if not thousands” of political detainees in recent weeks. The exiled Iraqi Communist party in London said 1,500 prisoners were killed on Nov 21. The exiled Iraqi National Congress said 800 prisoners were recently executed. A former Dutch foreign minister and UN Human Rights investigator said about 200 were reportedly executed. Iraq denied the charges.
1999 – The US was by a 1977 treaty required to give up control of the Panama Canal and withdraw its forces by this date. The treaty also required the US to pay for environmental cleanup.
2000 – The US signed a treaty for the creation of the 1st permanent int’l. court despite objections by conservatives and the Pentagon.
2001 – The US designated 6 more entities as suspected terrorist organizations. 5 groups were active in the UK, the 6th was active in Spain.
2001 – The US planned to deploy elements of the 101st Airborne Division to replace Marines near Kandahar. US troops moved by helicopter to Helmand province, the region where Mohammed Omar was suspected to be.
2002 – President Bush told reporters an attack by Saddam Hussein or a terrorist ally “would cripple our economy.”
2002 – Two U.N. nuclear inspectors expelled by North Korea arrived in China, leaving the communist nation’s nuclear program isolated from international scrutiny.
2003 – In Iraq gunfire erupted in Kirkuk as hundreds of Arabs and Turkmen marched in protest over fears of Kurdish domination in the oil-rich northern city.
2003 – The U.S. Department of Defense says that the task of importing gasoline for civilian use in Iraq will be handled by the Defense Energy Support Center, a Department of Defense agency that supplies fuel to the military, instead of a subsidiary of Halliburton Company. Halliburton had been criticized for allegedly overcharging the government under its no-bid contract. Almost a year later those allegations will be found groundless.
2004 – Ricardo Palmera (54) became the first leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to be sent to face prosecution in a U.S. federal court.

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