Thursday, 8 July 2010
The Historic First Week of July
On the 4th of July recently past, your humble scribe, like millions of the citizens of these United States, celebrated the declaration of independence of the original thirteen colonies from Great Britain. In the tiny village of Cornwall, NY, this involved a dog show, pie-eating contest, food stands, arts and crafts vendors, inflatable playgrounds for the kiddies, and a fine, small town parade. There were color guards, a pipe band, other marching bands, replicas of Hudson’s Half Moon and Fulton’s Clermont, antique automobiles with rumble seats, classic Corvettes, Boy Scouts, flatbed trailers with exhibits and children too young or jazz musicians too old to march, and the venerable Knights of Columbus, marching in full regalia—formal uniforms, short capes, plumed hats and sabers. The parade was replicated in nearby Highland Falls, Saugerties, and a thousand and one small towns across the nation. But the first week in July is remarkable for other historic events all but forgotten. Herein a primer on the very historic first week of July.
On 1 July 1863, Union and Confederate forces began the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, PA, as rebel units sought to appropriate supplies of shoes believed to be there, and Union cavalry resisted. Thirty-five years later, on 1 July 1898, the U.S. Army Fifth Corps attacked San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill in Cuba. 1LT Dennis M. Michie, Class of 1892 and father of Army football, would fall in battle that day along with over 1,400 others. LT John “Black Jack” Pershing, Class of 1886, served with a dismounted unit of the 10th Cavalry "Buffalo Soldiers," supported by the 24th and 25th Colored Infantry regiments. CPT Ammon A. Augur, Class of 1877, commanded Company H of the 24th while his classmate, CPT John J. Brereton, had Company G. After casualties among the senior leaders, CPT Henry Wygant, Class of 1872 and commander of the 2nd Battalion, actually commanded the regiment during the assault on San Juan Hill. 1LT John D. Miley, Class of 1887 and aide to the Fifth Corps commander, LTG W. Rufus Shafter, gave the order to attack San Juan Hill: “The heights must be taken at all hazard. A retreat now would be a disastrous defeat.” 2LT John H. Parker, Class of 1892, brought up a battery of .30 caliber Gatling guns to lend fire support.
On 2 July 1776, the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia unanimously (except for New York abstaining) adopts Richard Henry Lee’s resolution declaring independence from Great Britain. On 3 July 1775, George Washington assumed command of the Continental Army on Cambridge Commons in Massachusetts. On 3 July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg ends as GEN Robert E. Lee, second man in the Class of 1829, risks all with a magnificent but futile Infantry charge named for MG George Edward Pickett, CSA, last man of the Class of 1846. Lee’s old war horse, LTG James Longstreet, second from last man in the Class of 1842, opposes it but is overruled. Earlier he had deemed the federal positions impregnable.
On 4 July 1776, all know that Congress declared independence, 442 days after the “shots heard ‘round the world” were fired by minutemen at Lexington and Concord, MA. On 4 July 1826, however, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third presidents of the United States, both deeply involved in the drafting of the declaration, died within hours of each other on the 50th anniversary of its passage. On 4 July 1863, GEN Grant forced the surrender of Vicksburg; the town would not celebrate the 4th of July for 81 years, until World War II. On 4 July 1917, units of the American Expeditionary Forces marched through the streets of Paris to the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette in Picpus Cemetery. LTC Charles E. Stanton is credited with remarking, “Lafayette, we are here.”
Following the attack upon the Republic of Korea (South Korea) by the North Korean People’s Army on the night of 25 June 1950, a task force was hastily assembled from occupation forces in Japan and dispatched via air. Reinforced by A Battery, 52nd Field Artillery commanded by LTC Miller O. Perry ‘31, it was called Task Force Smith, named for LTC Charles B. Smith ’39, a veteran of Guadalcanal and commander of the Infantry element, the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, 24th Infantry Division. The task force had only six rounds of high explosive anti-tank artillery ammunition, the ineffective 2.36 inch rocket launcher and two 75 mm. recoilless rifles for anti-tank defense. Nevertheless, four enemy tanks were destroyed and over 120 casualties inflicted on foot troops before TF Smith was forced to retire under heavy pressure.
Early on 6 July 1964, NVA and Viet Cong forces attacked the Special Forces camp at Nam Dong, RVN, resulting in the first award of the Medal of Honor of the Viet Nam War to then-CPT Roger Donlon, ex-’59. After five hours of heavy fighting, the enemy forces withdrew when daylight approached. Americans MSG Gabriel Alamo and SGT John L. Houston and WO II Kevin G. Conway of Australia gave their lives in the battle. Conway was the first Australian killed in action during the war. Two days earlier, the SF camp at Polei Krong was attacked, but the A-detachment there successfully evaded capture when the camp was overrun.
On 7 July 1976, 119 women were admitted to West Point as new cadets. On 28 May 1980, 62 graduated. In the ensuing 30 years the first woman graduate achieved general officer rank, BG (Ret.) Becky Halstead ’81, and ten were selected as Rhodes Scholars, including two women graduates each from the Classes of 1990, 2000 and 2010. Women have won outright or contributed to national championships in such disparate activities as Model U.N., crew, orienteering, and pistol. Women’s Army Rugby (WAR) is consistently ranked high, and Women’s Team Handball placed second and third nationally this year. Women’s volleyball beat out perennial powerhouse American University and became the first service academy women’s team to reach the NCAA Division I Tournament, while Women’s Basketball reached the NCAA post-season tournament under Coach Maggie Dixon several years ago. On 7 July 1969, the first U.S. troops, from the 9th Infantry Division, were withdrawn from Viet Nam.
Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire.
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