Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Murder! A Shock to the Entire Country - Edward R.S. Canby (1873)

A soldier for three and a half decades, Edward Richard Sprigg Canby (1813-1873) was the only full rank Regular Army general to die in hostilities against native-Americans. Born in Kentucky, and raised in Indiana, he was appointed to West Point and graduated second to last (30/31) in 1833.
He fought in the Second Seminole War (1840) and participated in the forced evacuation of the Creeks, Cherokees, and Choctaws to Arkansas, known as the “Trail of Tears.”Fighting with great distinction under Winfield Scott in the Mexican War, he won brevets to major and lieutenant colonel, and then served on the western frontier, including participation in the Mormon Expedition of 1857-8 under highest ranking Fallen Star Albert Sydney Johnson.
Trail of Tears
The outbreak of the Civil War found him at Fort Defiance, New Mexico Territory, There, on May 14, 1861, he was appointed colonel of the 19th Infantry Regiment and put in command of the Department of New Mexico, defending the west, especially California, against any Confederate incursion. With most regular army units committed to the battles in the East, he had precious little with which to hold the vast territories under his command.
Battle of Glorietta Pass
On January 1862, in one of the larger – and completely overlooked - battles in the far west, Canby was defeated at Valverde New Mexico by Confederate General Henry H. Sibley his one-time second in command. Canby was driven from the field but retained control of his forces and initiated a “Fabian” hit-and-run campaign, isolating Sibley from his lines of communication and finally bringing him to battle at Glorieta Pass where Sibley was decisively beaten and forced to withdraw to Texas. Historians refer to the victory as the “Gettysburg of the West.”
Battle of Mobile Bay
He was then recalled to Washington where he served on the adjutant general’s staff in the War Department. In July 1863, he was the officer ordered to New York City to restore order after the draft riots. Promotions and greater responsibilities followed. In fact, at one point he held three separate commissions as a general officer! After recovering from a serious wound received late in 1864, he returned to the field and was the architect of the capture of Mobile, Alabama on April 12, 1865 for which he received the “Thanks of the President and Congress”. A few days later, he accepted the surrender of the armies of Generals Richard Taylor and Edmund Kirby Smith.
The Murder of Canby
Now promoted to brigadier general in the regular army, he worked on various Reconstruction efforts, but his sympathy for the defeated south angered his superiors, especially Army Commander Philip Sheridan, who ordered him back to the west. At the height of the bitter struggle with the Modoc tribes, Canby arranged a parley on April 11, 1873 to discuss peace. Anxious to show his good will, and sincere in his desire to end the war, he went to the meeting unarmed. The Modoc Chief Captain Jack suddenly pulled a gun and killed Canby in the midst of the negotiations. It shocked the entire country. The senior officers of the army were outraged and Captain Jack was hunted down and hanged and in an appalling act of collective punishment, his people were deported to Arkansas en masse. It is certain that Canby would have opposed such an unjust action.

No fallen American flag officer killed in battle ever served longer as a general – 11 years.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A One of a Kind General Dies in a Military Disaster -- Richard Butler (1791)

One of the Five Butler Brothers - four of whom served as officers in the American Revolution, and three of the surviving four then serving together in the St. Clair Expedition of 1791, Richard Butler (1743-1791) was born in Ireland, and settled near Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1760. He began his military career during Pontiac’s War, serving as an ensign in the Bouquet Expedition of 1764 and then led a militia company against Pittsburgh,in the Dunmore’s War of 1774. During the Revolution, he fought with distinction at Bound Brook, Stony Point, Saratoga and Yorktown, and was described by Washington biographer Douglas Southall Freeman as “one of the best colonels in the Continental service.” Butler’s “Journal of the Siege of Yorktown” is cited by historians as a masterful inside account of that great victory.
Little Turtle

Following the war, Butler was appointed by the Articles of Confederation Congress as an Indian Commissioner and he played a major role in the harsh negotiations of the mid 1780’s with many of the tribes of the Ohio River valley. At the outbreak of hostilities in 1791, he was named Major General of U.S. Levies. Levies were short-term volunteers, organized and controlled by the federal government for a specific emergency and for a specified period of time – in this case, six months. After 1791, no such force was raised again until the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Arthur St. Clair
Butler commanded the right wing of General Arthur St. Clair’s disastrous expedition against the Miami tribes. On November 4, 1791, the Native-Americans attacked the levies’ camp and Butler was wounded in the leg and taken to his tent. Very soon afterward the battle turned into a rout, and his brother Edward, serving as a Captain, arrived to find both Richard and his other brother, Major Thomas Butler, severely wounded. He could carry only one, and Richard insisted that he carry out Thomas. Edward did so, later writing to his fourth brother, Percival, “We left the worthiest of brothers in the hands of the savages nearly dead.” The Native-Americans, who hated Butler for his part in the earlier humiliating, one-sided boundary negotiations, tomahawked and scalped him. They cut out his heart and offered the pieces to all of the tribes that fought in the battle.
Richard Butler was the first general to fall in battle against Native-Americans and the only U.S. General of Levies ever to die in battle. Arthur St. Clair, Commanding General of the Army, was disgraced and dismissed. A rare moment in American history. His defeat was the worst disaster of American arms in all the centuries-long skirmishes, battles and wars against the Native-Americans. More than 600 soldiers were killed and 300 wounded, out of a total force of 1,400, a staggering 64% casualty rate and matched only by the losses of the 1st Minnesota Regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg and more than twice the dead in Custer’s 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Heroic Cherokee Warrior - Ernest E. Evans (October 25, 1944)

“In no engagement of its entire history has the United States Navy shown more gallantry, guts and gumption than in those two morning hours between 0730 and 0930 off Samar.” Samuel Eliot Morison, Official Naval Historian
By the dawn of 25 October 1944 it looked like the battle – the biggest and most complex in naval history – would end in a tremendous American victory. Submarines, surface forces and naval aircraft each in turn pummeled the Japanese fleet and caused great damage. Three enemy battleships, two cruisers, and two destroyers had been sunk and the same number of ships had been badly damaged. Thousands of Japanese sailors had lost their lives. Our own losses – one light carrier sunk, a cruiser damaged, and a few dozen aircraft lost, as well as nearly a thousand men killed, wounded, or missing - had been relatively light compared to the damage inflicted. Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s Task Force 38 was at that moment hunting down the last of Admiral Ozawa’s carriers.

With the Japanese fleet now retiring in every direction, the 175,000 soldiers of the US Sixth Army in the Leyte beachhead and the fleet of transports lying unprotected off shore were safe. The Liberation of the Philippines – the realization of MacArthur’s promise to return and redeem the sacrifice of the men of Bataan and Corregidor – would proceed to its inevitable victorious conclusion. The elaborate Japanese SHO-1 plan had ended in total failure.
At daybreak of October 25, the JOHNSTON, a Fletcher-class destroyer, was protecting a Task Force of six small “jeep” escort carriers (radio call sign “Taffy Three”). Her captain, Lt. Comdr. Ernest E. Evans, an Oklahoma-born, barrel-chested Cherokee Indian, and graduate of the Naval Academy Class of ’31, was an experienced surface officer who had commanded the JOHNSTON for one year.
Before that, Evans had served as Executive Officer of the ALDEN, a “four piper” WWI-era destroyer that had survived the terrible early WWII battles which annihilated Admiral Thomas Hart’s U.S. Asiatic Fleet. After the final Allied defeat at the Battle of the Java Sea in late February 1942, the ALDEN had escaped to Australia turning her tail to the enemy and slinking off in the night. The experience seared Evan’s soul. In an unbelievable stroke of foreshadowing and echoing the famous words of John Paul Jones, Evans told his men on JOHNSTON's commissioning, “This is going to be a fighting ship. I intend to go in harms’ way and I will never again retreat in face of the enemy. Anyone who doesn’t want to go along had better get off right now.”
Just 20 minutes after sunrise, a patrol pilot over “Taffy Three” radioed a stunning message, his excited voice crackling over the ships’ radios. “Enemy surface force of 4 battleships, 7 cruisers, and 11 destroyers at 20 miles north your task group and closing 27 knots.”  Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s First Striking Force – the most powerful enemy surface fleet ever sortied - had suddenly appeared undetected and was bearing down on the helpless beachhead. Nothing stood between the enemy and the complete annihilation of the invasion forces except the tiny escort carriers of “Taffy Three”, their few outdated Wildcats and bombers, and their outgunned destroyers. Large caliber shells where already striking the vulnerable carriers, esp. GAMBIER BAY.
The JOHNSTON was closest to the enemy and without waiting for orders, Evans turned his ship directly into their path charging full steam ahead, guns blazing, torpedoes loosed. What followed brought Evans and his ship full circle from the retreat of the ALDEN. When it was over, Ernest Evans, JOHNSTON, GAMBIER BAY, and the tin cans HOEL and SAMUEL B. ROBERTS - as well as many hundreds of their men – would be at the bottom of the sea. But the beachhead and the Americans fighting there would be safe and victorious.
 In describing the suicidal charge of the destroyers, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz said “The history of the United States Navy records no more glorious two hours of resolution, sacrifice, and success.” The JOHNSTON’s senior surviving officer had a more personal observation, “The skipper was a fighting man from the soles of his broad feet to the ends of his straight black hair. He was an Oklahoman and proud of the Indian blood he had in him. We called him – though not to his face – the Chief. The Johnston was a fighting ship but he was the heart and soul of her” and communications officer Lt. Ed Digardi said, “He was the best Captain you could possibly have; the kind of man you would follow into hell … and we did.” The posthumous Medal of Honor awarded to Ernest Evans that day was as much to honor the men of Taffy Three as to single out the Cherokee warrior who gave his life leading the counterattack that turned back the enemy.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fighting Admiral of Guadalcanal - Daniel Judson Callaghan (1942)

Of the five American admirals lost during World War II – the only war in which we lost any – two were killed in action in the same desperate surface engagement. It was also the only time in our history that two flag officers – each posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor – fell on the same day, in the same battle. Part of the costly 6-month struggle for Guadalcanal, the furious and seemingly hopeless night battle of Friday, November 12-13, 1942 and the 48 hours of combat to follow – the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal - marked a turning point in the campaign. Defeat was no longer a real possibility. Few now recall how desperate those days were. The opening phase of that terrible night battle witnessed both heroism and mistakes of deployment and maneuver were made on both sides, but no one deserves more credit for the ultimate outcome - strategic victory - than does Daniel Judson Callaghan.
Born in San Francisco on July 26, 1890, Dan Callaghan came from a religious Catholic family that had immigrated to the United States fifty years earlier from County Cork, Ireland. Educated in parochial schools in the Bay Area, and inspired by Admiral James Raby, an uncle who had attended Annapolis, Dan won a senatorial appointment as first alternate to the Naval Academy, where he quickly earned a reputation for his steady and serious demeanor. He graduated #38 (of 193) in the Class of 1911, which also included his friend, Norman “Scotty” Scott of Indiana who ranked near the bottom of their class.
Transferred to the cruiser New Orleans as executive officer in 1916, he spent World War I on convoy escort duty and was promoted to Lieutenant in March 1918, followed by promotion to Lt. Commander in 1921. By1938, he was serving as Naval Aide to President Roosevelt (above photo with the King and Queen of Great Britain). Realizing that war was inevitable, however, he pushed hard for a transfer and in May of 1941, was named skipper of the 10,000-ton heavy cruiser USS San Francisco (CA-38). Known in the Navy as “Uncle Dan”, he was in Pearl Harbor for an overhaul on December 7, 1941 and was untouched.
Promoted to Rear Admiral, Dan Callaghan was next appointed Chief of Staff to Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, newly named Commander, South Pacific Area. When Ghormley was relieved, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey took over and Callaghan took command of a cruiser Task Force with his flag on the San Francisco. On the night of November 12-13, 1942, a powerful Japanese force of battleships, cruisers and destroyers came down the 'slot' to pound Henderson Field and knock it out once and for all.
Callaghan deployed his ships according to Battle Disposition “Baker One”, a single column of three groups - four destroyers in the Van Unit, followed by the five cruisers in the Base Unit, with four destroyers in the Rear Unit. This arrangement facilitated ease of navigation and maneuver in the narrow channels near Guadalcanal. The light cruiser USS Helena spotted the enemy early in the battle, but with the chance for surprise lost, the battle quickly became what one sailor described as, “a barroom brawl after the lights have been shot out.”
Callaghan realized that survival depended on maintaining the fire of his largest ships even at the risk of friendly fire. He issued his final command to the gunnery officer, “We Want the Big Ones; Get the Big Ones First!”  It was both an order and a prayer. The Japanese battleships continued to pound San Francisco, which suffered 45 large caliber and countless smaller hits during the battle. There was undoubtedly friendly fire in the night action. Two minutes later, Callaghan was dead along with Pearl Harbor Medal of Honor hero Captain Cassin Young. The badly damaged USS San Francisco fought the enemy to a standstill, helped cripple the Japanese Battleship Hiei sank a destroyer and was still on station when the enemy withdrew. Many crewmen were decorated.
Adm. Norman Scott
It was one of the most sunning reversals in naval history, evocative of the Battle of Samar 25 October 1944, also characterized by a great disparity in forces. But the cost of stopping the enemy was very heavy. In addition to the loss of several destroyers – along with their captains - the USS Atlanta was lost along with Dan's classmate and friend Admiral Norman "Scotty" Scott, commanding the other surface cruiser Task Force. During the battle the cruisers USS Portland and Juneau were badly damaged, and the latter was sunk the next day by enemy submarine I-26 along with Captain Lyman K. Swensen and nearly all hands, including all five Sullivan brothers.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The First to Die On Foreign Soil - Richard Montgomery (1775)

By the outbreak of the Revolution, Irish-born Richard Montgomery (1738-1775) had already enjoyed a distinguished career as a professional soldier. Son of an Irish Member of Parliament and educated at St. Andrews and Trinity College, he enlisted in the British Army at age 18, and fought in the French and Indian War. After returning to England, he attracted the attention of Edmund Burke and Charles Fox whose liberal views greatly influenced his political thinking. Determining that his future lay in the Americas, he sold his commission in 1772 and moved to NY, where he married Janet Livingston, a prominent member of the local aristocracy and he became a large land-owner and farmer.
Tall, bearing a fine military posture, and possessed of an attractive personality, Montgomery soon became an outspoken supporter of the colonial cause and in May 1775 was selected as a delegate to NY’s provincial congress. One month later, he was offered a commission as Brigadier General in the Continental Army, the second (and only non-New Englander) of the eight men selected to hold that rank. Assigned as second in command of Philip Schuyler’s first invasion of Canada, he took over when Schuyler fell ill. In spite of the poor quality of his troops and subordinates, and a myriad of logistical problems, he captured Montreal and was promoted Major General in the Continetal Army on December 9, 1775.
After linking up with a force under Col. Benedict Arnold, he was poised to capture Quebec and end the campaign with a great victory. Deciding against a siege, the two men led converging columns against the city in a blinding snowstorm. The British were waiting. Arnold was badly wounded and Montgomery was killed during the action, which ended in failure. Future Vice-President Aaron Burr, who was at his side when he fell, tried desperately to carry his body through the snowdrifts, but it was hopeless. He was forced to abandon the corpse on the battlefield. Recognized by his former English comrades, Montgomery was later buried with full honors near the spot he died. His death was immortalized in John Trumbull’s famous painting, the “Death of General Montgomery.”

Among the most eloquent eulogies spoken in his honor were those offered by his friends in Parliament. Even his foes praised him, including Lord North who described him as “brave, able, humane and generous.” Montgomery was the first American general officer killed while leading troops in the field and the first to die on foreign soil. In 1818, his remains were exchanged for those of Major John AndrĂ©, the spy who had been executed as a result of Arnold’s treason, and he was buried in New York City’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, right down the street from Ground Zero, September 11, 2001

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Greatest of All Fallen Stars - Albert Sidney Johnston (1862)

When war seemed inevitable Army Commander-in-Chief General Winfield Scott, 75, knew that he would not be able to lead the Union forces. The best man to do that was Albert Sidney Johnston (1803-1862), universally considered the nation’s most experienced and accomplished soldier. Johnston’s loyalty, however, lay with his adopted state of Texas, and it was while wearing the uniform of the Confederacy that he achieved his special status, the only American general to hold flag rank in three armies: Republic of Texas, United States, and Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis, his close friend from West Point days, said of him, “I hoped and expected that I had others who would prove generals, but I knew I had one, and that was Sidney Johnston.”

Appointed to West Point from his native state of Louisiana, he was an 1836 honors graduate (8/35) and served in the prestigious post of Cadet Adjutant. After service in the Second Seminole War, he resigned his commission to take care of his terminally ill wife. When she died he went to Texas to farm and joined the revolutionary army of the Republic of Texas as private, but rose within a year to be its commander and senior brigadier but not before fighting a duel with his predecessor, in which he was severely wounded. He served as secretary of war for the Republic of Texas, and also clashed with Sam Houston. He led the 1st Texas Rifles during the Mexican War.

Largely due to the urging of Zachary Taylor, Johnston rejoined the U.S. Army and on April 2, 1856, was promoted Colonel of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. It was a legendary outfit. Serving under Johnston, was his deputy, Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, the two senior squadron commanders were Major George “Rock of Chickamauga” Thomas and future Confederate Corps Commander, Major William Hardee. Among the junior officers was Lt. John Bell Hood. Johnston later led the bloodless Morman Expedition, for which service he was brevetted brigadier general.

After waiting to be officially relieved, he resigned a final time from the Army and traveled to Richmond overland in 1861. His friend, now President Davis, named him the second senior (to Samuel Cooper) general in the Confederate Army with responsibility of the Western Theater. He established a thin defensive line, which stretched from the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains. Determined to break the line was a man desperate to redeem his reputation, Ulysses S. Grant. When Sam Grant did that, and took Forts Henry and Donelson, Johnston was forced to abandon Kentucky and most of Tennessee and withdraw into northern Mississippi. There, he concentrated his forces and waited.

On April 6, 1862, attacking out of the woods at dawn, he took Grant’s army by surprise in its camp at Pittsburg Landing, near a church called Shiloh, from the Hebrew meaning "Peace". Driving deep into the rear, the breakthrough was slowed by looting, but by late morning Johnston believed he had won a great victory. “We are sweeping the field,” he told Beauregard, “and I think we shall press them to the river.” Union soldiers were making a stand along a line that became known as the “Hornet’s Nest.” There was also hard fighting in a peach orchard and Johnston himself led the final charge that drove the Union defenders out of it. Shortly afterward he was hit in the leg by a Minnie ball which severed his femoral artery. Having sent his surgeon to tend to group of wounded Federal prisoners, he bled to death for lack of quick medical attention.

Beauregard took over and the next day Grant rallied at the banks of the river and saved his army, helped by the command disruption caused by Johnston’s death and the timely arrival of Union general Don Carlos which forced a confederate withdrawal. Grant’s appraisal of the man he had twice defeated, “My judgment now is that he was vacillating and undecided in his actions.” Had Johnston been alive on the morning of April 7, Grant’s opinion might have been more respectful.

Cadets at West Point during the first half of the nineteenth century knew the lessons of Napoleon well. Johnston had done one of the most difficult things: mounted an offensive from a defensive position. Cut down at the pinnacle of his career as a soldier, and believing that he had won a great victory, Albert Sidney Johnston, the most senior American general ever killed in action, died for lack of a tourniquet.


Friday, October 18, 2013

“I Came to France to Fight”- Henry Root Hill (1918)

Henry Root Hill’s (1876-1918) path to a general’s death was truly unique. A bachelor and furniture dealer from Quincy, Illinois, he enlisted as a private in the Illinois National Guard in 1894. Although mobilized several times, including service on the Mexican border in 1916, Hill had not seen combat by the time he was appointed a brigadier general in the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Division in 1914.

Even after the declaration of war in April 1917, Hill retained his commission though many National Guard general officers fell victim to the “old boy network” of regulars who were determined to maintain their dominance of the top posts in the rapidly expanding army. When the 33rd Division, then under Major General George Bell, Jr., shipped out to France to join the conflict in 1918, its 65th Brigade was still under the command of Brigadier General Henry Root Hill.

In an incident still clouded in mystery, Hill was relieved of command and placed under arrest during a routine training exercise in July 1918 while in the field. Portions of the record of this episode still remain sealed, but one oft-repeated version is that MG Bell, a not very impressive, pompous West Pointer (1880) who looked like a caricature of the fat, incompetent general, found that some of Hill’s men were not wearing their steel helmets during training, violating one of the division commander’s favorite orders. It is not clear whether Hill was even present during this particular training drill. While the relief of a national guard officer was not exactly unique, the trivial nature of the complaint and the harshness of the punishment is striking. So, too, was Hill’s subsequent fate.
The supply unit to which Hill was temporarily reassigned had no use for a cashiered brigadier, so he faced the choice of either going back to the US or the command of an infantry battalion as a major. Hill reportedly replied, “I came to France to fight” and took over a battalion in the 128th Regiment, 33nd Division. On October 16, 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, near the small village of Romagne-sous- Montfaucon, Hill personally led his battalion over the top, and assisted as his men cleaned out enemy machine gun nests. Armed with a captured pistol, Hill noticed several machine gunners preparing to open fire on his flank so he immediately lunged forward to engage them. Three of the gun crew immediately surrendered, but one soldier turned the machine gun on Hill, who was killed when his trophy weapon misfired.
Hill was awarded the DSC and buried in his hometown of Quincy and was accorded all the honors due a brigadier general earned by a valorous death in the combat he had sought his whole life.