Posts Tagged ‘World War II

23
Jun
09

On This Day, June 23: Hitler Tours Paris

June 23, 1940

Hitler takes a tour of Paris

On this day in 1940, Adolf Hitler surveys notable sites in the French capital, now German-occupied territory.

In his first and only visit to Paris, Hitler made Napoleon’s tomb among the sites to see. “That was the greatest and finest moment of my life,” he said upon leaving. Comparisons between the Fuhrer and Napoleon have been made many times: They were both foreigners to the countries they ruled (Napoleon was Italian, Hitler was Austrian); both planned invasions of Russia while preparing invasions of England; both captured the Russian city of Vilna on June 24; both had photographic memories; both were under 5 feet 9 inches tall, among other coincidences.

As a tribute to the French emperor, Hitler ordered that the remains of Napoleon’s son be moved from Vienna to lie beside his father.

But Hitler being Hitler, he came to do more than gawk at the tourist attractions. He ordered the destruction of two World War I monuments: one to General Charles Mangin, a French war hero, and one to Edith Cavell, a British nurse who was executed by a German firing squad for helping Allied soldiers escape German-occupied Brussels. The last thing Hitler wanted were such visible reminders of past German defeat.

Hitler would gush about Paris for months afterward. He was so impressed, he ordered architect and friend Albert Speer to revive plans for a massive construction program of new public buildings in Berlin, an attempt to destroy Paris, not with bombs, but with superior architecture. “Wasn’t Paris beautiful?” Hitler asked Speer. “But Berlin must be far more beautiful. [W]hen we are finished in Berlin, Paris will only be a shadow.”

“Hitler takes a tour of Paris,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=6465 [accessed Jun 23, 2009]

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22
Jun
09

On This Day, June 22: FDR Signs the G.I. Bill

June 22, 1944

FDR signs GI bill

On this day in 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the GI bill to provide financial aid to veterans returning from World War II. Upon signing the legislation, Roosevelt voiced his belief that ensuring veterans’ employability was critical to “a sound postwar economy.”

The “GI” bill, named after the slang term for soldiers whose wartime goods and services were “government issued,” provided funding for education, home loans, unemployment insurance, job counseling and the construction of veterans’ hospital facilities. It also greatly strengthened the authority of and scope of services provided by the Veterans Administration. Tuition for advanced education or technical training was covered up to $500 per school year, along with a monthly living allowance while the veteran was in school. GIs could also apply for guaranteed home and business loans.

In his speech at the signing of the bill, Roosevelt acknowledged the sacrifices of America’s men and women in uniform and emphasized the moral responsibility of the American people not to let their veterans down once they returned to civilian life. He and his economic advisors foresaw potential problems as the then-robust wartime economy transitioned to peacetime. He hoped that the GI bill would help prevent a situation in which the return of 2.2 million servicemen from war created massive unemployment, economic depression or social unrest. Also in his speech, Roosevelt appealed to Congress to enact some sort of future legislation that would reassure current civilian workers that their services would still be needed in a post-war economy.

Roosevelt urged that “the goal after the war should be the maximum utilization of our human and material resources.” After his death and the end of the Second World War, veterans of wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and U.N.-led coalition conflicts continued to benefit from an evolving GI bill.

“FDR signs GI bill,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=665 [accessed Jun 22, 2009]

 

1807 – British seamen board the USS Chesapeake, a provocation leading to the War of 1812.

1933 – Germany became a one political party country when Hitler banned parties other than the Nazis.

1940 – France and Germany signed an armistice at Compiegne, on terms dictated by the Nazis.

1942 – A Japanese submarine shelled Fort Stevens at the mouth of the Columbia River.

1964 – The U.S. Supreme Court voted that Henry Miller’s book, “Tropic of Cancer”, could not be banned.

1969 – Judy Garland died from an accidental overdose of prescription sleeping aids. She was 47.

1977 – John N. Mitchell became the first former U.S. Attorney General to go to prison as he began serving a sentence for his role in the Watergate cover-up. He served 19 months.

 

June 22, 1941

Germany launches Operation Barbarossa–the invasion of Russia

On this day in 1941, over 3 million German troops invade Russia in three parallel offensives, in what is the most powerful invasion force in history. Nineteen panzer divisions, 3,000 tanks, 2,500 aircraft, and 7,000 artillery pieces pour across a thousand-mile front as Hitler goes to war on a second front.

Despite the fact that Germany and Russia had signed a “pact” in 1939, each guaranteeing the other a specific region of influence without interference from the other, suspicion remained high. When the Soviet Union invaded Rumania in 1940, Hitler saw a threat to his Balkan oil supply. He immediately responded by moving two armored and 10 infantry divisions into Poland, posing a counterthreat to Russia. But what began as a defensive move turned into a plan for a German first-strike. Despite warnings from his advisers that Germany could not fight the war on two fronts (as Germany’s experience in World War I proved), Hitler became convinced that England was holding out against German assaults, refusing to surrender, because it had struck a secret deal with Russia. Fearing he would be “strangled” from the East and the West, he created, in December 1940, “Directive No. 21: Case Barbarossa”–the plan to invade and occupy the very nation he had actually asked to join the Axis only a!

month before!

On June 22, 1941, having postponed the invasion of Russia after Italy’s attack on Greece forced Hitler to bail out his struggling ally in order to keep the Allies from gaining a foothold in the Balkans, three German army groups struck Russia hard by surprise. The Russian army was larger than German intelligence had anticipated, but they were demobilized. Stalin had shrugged off warnings from his own advisers, even Winston Churchill himself, that a German attack was imminent. (Although Hitler had telegraphed his territorial designs on Russia as early as 1925–in his autobiography, Mein Kampf.) By the end of the first day of the invasion, the German air force had destroyed more than 1,000 Soviet aircraft. And despite the toughness of the Russian troops, and the number of tanks and other armaments at their disposal, the Red Army was disorganized, enabling the Germans to penetrate up to 300 miles into Russian territory within the next few days.

“Germany launches Operation Barbarossa–the invasion of Russia,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=6494 [accessed Jun 22, 2009]

11
Jun
09

On This Day, June 11: Allies Consolidate Position

June 11, 1944

D-Day landing forces converge

Five days after the D-Day landing, the five Allied landing groups, made up of some 330,000 troops, link up in Normandy to form a single solid front across northwestern France.

On June 6, 1944, after a year of meticulous planning conducted in secrecy by a joint Anglo-American staff, the largest combined sea, air, and land military operation in history began on the French coast at Normandy. The Allied invasion force included 3 million men, 13,000 aircraft, 1,200 warships, 2,700 merchant ships, and 2,500 landing craft.

Fifteen minutes after midnight on June 6, the first of 23,000 U.S., British, and Canadian paratroopers and glider troops plunged into the darkness over Normandy. Just before dawn, Allied aircraft and ships bombed the French coast along the Baie de la Seine, and at daybreak the bombardment ended as 135,000 Allied troops stormed ashore at five landing sites. Despite the formidable German coastal defenses, beachheads were achieved at all five landing locations. At one site–Omaha Beach–German resistance was especially strong, and the Allied position was only secured after hours of bloody fighting by the Americans assigned to it. By the evening, some 150,000 American, British, and Canadian troops were ashore, and the Allies held about 80 square miles. During the next five days, Allied forces in Normandy moved steadily forward in all sectors against fierce German resistance. On June 11, the five landing groups met up, and Operation Overlord–the code name for the Allied invasion of northwestern Europe–proceeded as planned.

“D-Day landing forces converge,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=5086 [accessed Jun 11, 2009]

On This Day

1509 – King Henry VIII married his first of six wives, Catherine of Aragon.

1798 – Napoleon Bonaparte took the island of Malta.

1880 – Jeanette Rankin was born. She became the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress.

1910 – Jacques-Yves Cousteau was born. He was the French underwater explorer that invented the Aqua-Lung diving apparatus.

1927 – Charles A. Lindberg was presented the first Distinguished Flying Cross.

1940 – The Italian Air Force bombed the British fortress at Malta in the Mediterranean.

1947 – The U.S. government announced an end to sugar rationing.

1963 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Florida for trying to integrate restaurants.

1963 – Buddhist monk Quang Duc immolated himself on a Saigon street to protest the government of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.

1963 – Alabama Gov. George Wallace allowed two black students to enroll at the University of Alabama.

1993 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people who commit “hate crimes” could be sentenced to extra punishment. The court also ruled in favor of religious groups saying that they indeed had a constitutional right to sacrifice animals during worship services.

1998 – Mitsubishi of America agreed to pay $34 million to end the largest sexual harassment case filed by the U.S. government. The federal lawsuit claimed that hundreds of women at a plant in Normal, IL, had endured groping and crude jokes from male workers.

June 11, 1989

China issues warrant for Tiananmen dissident

In the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, China issues a warrant for a leading Chinese dissident who had taken refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing. The diplomatic standoff lasted for a year, and the refusal of the United States to hand the dissident over to Chinese officials was further evidence of American disapproval of China’s crackdown on political protesters.

In April and May 1989, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Beijing to call for greater political democracy in communist China. On June 4, Chinese soldiers and police swarmed into the center of protest activity, Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds and arresting thousands. The Chinese government used this brutal crackdown as a pretext for issuing an arrest warrant for Fang Lizhi, an internationally respected astrophysicist and leading Chinese dissident. Although Fang had not participated in the Tiananmen Square protests, he had been a consistent advocate of greater political democracy and a persistent critic of government policies. In February 1989, more than one hundred Chinese security personnel forcibly prevented Fang from meeting with visiting President George Bush.

In the June arrest warrant, Fang and his wife, Li Shuxian, were charged with “committing crimes of counter-revolutionary propaganda and instigation.” Fang and Li immediately took refuge in the U.S. embassy. Chinese officials demanded that the American government hand over the pair, but the U.S. refused. Almost exactly one year later, Fang and Li were given free passage out of the country and they left the U.S. embassy for the first time since June 1989. The action was part of a wider effort by the Chinese government to repair some of the international damage done to its reputation in the wake of the Tiananmen Square incident. In addition to Fang and Li, hundreds of other political prisoners were also released. Fang and Li traveled to the United States and took up residence. Fang continued his dissident activities against the Chinese government and taught in both America and Great Britain.

The incident indicated that feelings about what had occurred in Tiananmen Square ran high, both in the United States and China. For America, the brutal attack on the protesters repulsed most people and led Congress to pass economic sanctions against the Chinese government. In China, the refusal to hand over Fang and the U.S. criticisms of what the Chinese government considered to be a purely internal matter generated a tremendous amount of resentment. The issue of human rights in China continued to be a major issue in relations between the U.S. and China throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century.

“China issues warrant for Tiananmen dissident,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2695 [accessed Jun 11, 2009]

06
Jun
09

The Sixth of June

My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

Franklin D. Roosevelt – June 6, 1944

http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/fdr-prayer.htm

 

June 6, 1944

Allies invade France

On this day in 1944, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the go-ahead for the largest amphibious military operation in history: Operation Overlord, code named D-Day, the Allied invasion of northern France.

By daybreak, 18,000 British and American parachutists were already on the ground. At 6:30 a.m., American troops came ashore at Utah and Omaha beaches. At Omaha, the U.S. First Division battled high seas, mist, mines, burning vehicles—and German coastal batteries, including an elite infantry division, which spewed heavy fire. Many wounded Americans ultimately drowned in the high tide. British divisions, which landed at Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, and Canadian troops also met with heavy German fire, but by the end of the day they were able to push inland.

Despite the German resistance, Allied casualties overall were relatively light. The United States and Britain each lost about 1,000 men, and Canada 355. Before the day was over, 155,000 Allied troops would be in Normandy. However, the United States managed to get only half of the 14,000 vehicles and a quarter of the 14,500 tons of supplies they intended on shore.

Three factors were decisive in the success of the Allied invasion. First, German counterattacks were firm but sparse, enabling the Allies to create a broad bridgehead, or advanced position, from which they were able to build up enormous troop strength. Second, Allied air cover, which destroyed bridges over the Seine, forced the Germans to suffer long detours, and naval gunfire proved decisive in protecting the invasion troops. And third, division and confusion within the German ranks as to where the invasion would start and how best to defend their position helped the Allies. (Hitler, convinced another invasion was coming the next day east of the Seine River, refused to allow reserves to be pulled from that area.)

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of Britain’s Twenty-first Army Group (but under the overall command of General Eisenhower, for whom Montgomery, and his ego, proved a perennial thorn in the side), often claimed later that the invasion had come off exactly as planned. That was a boast, as evidenced by the failure to take Caen on the first day, as scheduled. While the operation was a decided success, considering the number of troops put ashore and light casualties, improvisation by courageous and quick-witted commanders also played an enormous role.

The D-Day invasion has been the basis for several movies, from The Longest Day (1962), which boasted an all-star cast that included Richard Burton, Sean Connery, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum, to Saving Private Ryan (1998), which includes some of the most grippingly realistic war scenes ever filmed, captured in the style of the famous Robert Capa still photos of the actual invasion.

“Allies invade France,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=52586 [accessed Jun 6, 2009]

28
May
09

On This Day, May 28: Belgium Surrenders

May 28, 1940

Belgium surrenders unconditionally

On this day in 1940, after 18 days of ceaseless German bombardment, the king of Belgium, having asked for an armistice, is given only unconditional surrender as an option. He takes it.

German forces had moved into Belgium on May 10, part of Hitler’s initial western offensive. Despite some support by British forces, the Belgians were simply outnumbered and outgunned from the beginning. The first surrender of Belgium territory took place only one day after the invasion, when the defenders of Fort Eben-Emael surrendered.

Disregarding the odds, King Leopold III of Belgium had tried to rally his forces, evoking the Belgian victory during World War I. The Belgian forces fought on, courageously, but were continually overcome by the invaders.

By May 27, the king of Belgium, realizing that his army was depleted and that even retreat was no longer an option, sent an emissary through the German lines to request an armistice, a cease-fire. It was rejected. The Germans demanded unconditional surrender. Belgium’s government in exile, stationed in Paris, repudiated the surrender, but to no avail. Belgium had no army left to fight. In the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill defended King Leopold’s decision, despite the fact that it made the British troops’ position, attempting to evacuate Dunkirk, in northern France, more precarious.

King Leopold refused to flee the country and was taken prisoner by the Nazis during their occupation, and confined to his palace. A Belgian underground army grew up during the occupation; its work including protecting the port of Antwerp, the most important provisioning point for Allied troops on the Continent, from destruction by the Germans.

“Belgium surrenders unconditionally,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=6467 [accessed May 28, 2009]

On This Day

1533 – England’s Archbishop declared the marriage of King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn valid.

1774 – The First Continental Congress convened in Virginia.

1863 – The first black regiment left Boston to fight in the U.S. Civil War.

1928 – Chrysler Corporation merged with Dodge Brothers, Inc.

1937 – U.S. President Roosevelt pushed a button in Washington, DC, signaling that vehicular traffic could cross the newly opened Golden Gate Bridge in California.

1961 – Amnesty International, a human rights organization, was founded.

1976 – The Peaceful Nuclear Explosion Treaty was signed, limiting any nuclear explosion – regardless of its purpose – to a yield of 150 kilotons.

1998 – Dr. Susan Terebey discoved a planet outside of our solar system with the use of photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

May 28, 1987

Matthias Rust lands his plane in Red Square

Matthias Rust, a 19-year-old amateur pilot from West Germany, takes off from Helsinki, Finland, travels through more than 400 miles of Soviet airspace, and lands his small Cessna aircraft in Red Square by the Kremlin. The event proved to be an immense embarrassment to the Soviet government and military.

Rust, described by his mother as a “quiet young man…with a passion for flying,” apparently had no political or social agenda when he took off from the international airport in Helsinki and headed for Moscow. He entered Soviet airspace, but was either undetected or ignored as he pushed farther and farther into the Soviet Union. Early on the morning of May 28, 1987, he arrived over Moscow, circled Red Square a few times, and then landed just a few hundred yards from the Kremlin. Curious onlookers and tourists, many believing that Rust was part of an air show, immediately surrounded him. Very quickly, however, Rust was arrested and whisked away. He was tried for violating Soviet airspace and sentenced to prison. He served 18 months before being released.

The repercussions in the Soviet Union were immediate. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sacked his minister of defense, and the entire Russian military was humiliated by Rust’s flight into Moscow. U.S. officials had a field day with the event–one American diplomat in the Soviet Union joked, “Maybe we should build a bunch of Cessnas.” Soviet officials were less amused. Four years earlier, the Soviets had been harshly criticized for shooting down a Korean Airlines passenger jet that veered into Russian airspace. Now, the Soviets were laughingstocks for not being able to stop one teenager’s “invasion” of the country. One Russian spokesperson bluntly declared, “You criticize us for shooting down a plane, and now you criticize us for not shooting down a plane.”

“Matthias Rust lands his plane in Red Square,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2681 [accessed May 28, 2009]

16
May
09

World War II American Bombers: North American B-25 Mitchell

IMG_9297

This twin-engine bomber served the United States well during World War II, serving in the Pacific and Mediterranean theaters.

IMG_9344

B-25 Mitchell bombers led by Lt Colonel James Doolittle managed America’s first attack on Japan, taking off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and bombing several targets in Tokyo and other Japanese cities.

IMG_9345

According to the EAA Museum website the B-25 when fitted with a 75mm cannon was the first plane ever to carry artillery.

IMG_9437

Over 10,000 B-25s were produced.

IMG_9438

One primary use of the B-25 involved flying in low, ensuring accuracy of the strike.  Using this technique the bombs would be fitted with parachutes so the bombs wouldn’t strike the ground too soon and damage the plane.

IMG_9439

Another technique employed by B-25 crews involved skip-bombing.  The bombers would fly in low over the sea and skip their bombs across the water and into enemy ships, the same way you would skip a stone across water.

IMG_9446

Arguably the best medium bomber of World War II this warplane can be found at the EAA Airventure Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

For more information please see: B-25 Mitchell

08
May
09

On This Day, May 8: V-E Day

May 8, 1945

V-E Day is celebrated in America and Britain

On this day in 1945, both Great Britain and the United States celebrate Victory in Europe Day. Cities in both nations, as well as formerly occupied cities in Western Europe, put out flags and banners, rejoicing in the defeat of the Nazi war machine.

The eighth of May spelled the day when German troops throughout Europe finally laid down their arms: In Prague, Germans surrendered to their Soviet antagonists, after the latter had lost more than 8,000 soldiers, and the Germans considerably more; in Copenhagen and Oslo; at Karlshorst, near Berlin; in northern Latvia; on the Channel Island of Sark–the German surrender was realized in a final cease-fire. More surrender documents were signed in Berlin and in eastern Germany.

The main concern of many German soldiers was to elude the grasp of Soviet forces, to keep from being taken prisoner. About 1 million Germans attempted a mass exodus to the West when the fighting in Czechoslovakia ended, but were stopped by the Russians and taken captive. The Russians took approximately 2 million prisoners in the period just before and after the German surrender.

Meanwhile, more than 13,000 British POWs were released and sent back to Great Britain.

Pockets of German-Soviet confrontation would continue into the next day. On May 9, the Soviets would lose 600 more soldiers in Silesia before the Germans finally surrendered. Consequently, V-E Day was not celebrated until the ninth in Moscow, with a radio broadcast salute from Stalin himself: “The age-long struggle of the Slav nations…has ended in victory. Your courage has defeated the Nazis. The war is over.”

“V-E Day is celebrated in American and Britain,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=6447 [accessed May 8, 2009]

 

On This Day

1541 – Hernando de Soto reached the Mississippi River. He called it Rio de Espiritu Santo.

1794 – Antoine Lavoisier was executed by guillotine. He was the French chemist that discovered oxygen.

1794 – The United States Post Office was established.

1914 – The U.S. Congress passed a Joint Resolution that designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

1945 – U.S. President Harry Truman announced that World War II had ended in Europe.

1958 – U.S. President Eisenhower ordered the National Guard out of Little Rock as Ernest Green became the first black to graduate from an Arkansas public school.

1970 – Construction workers broke up an anti-war protest on New York City’s Wall Street.

1973 – Militant American Indians who had held the South Dakota hamlet of Wounded Knee for 10 weeks surrendered.

1984 – The Soviet Union announced that they would not participate in the 1984 Summer Olympics Games in Los Angeles.

1986 – Reporters were told that 84,000 people had been evacuated from areas near the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Soviet Ukraine.

May 8, 1864

Lee beats Grant to Spotsylvania

On this day, Yankee troops arrive at Spotsylvania Court House to find the Rebels already there. After the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-6), Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac marched south in the drive to take Richmond. Grant hoped to control the strategic crossroads at Spotsylvania Court House, so he could draw Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia into open ground.

Spotsylvania was important for a number of reasons. The crossroads were situated between the Wilderness and Hanover Junction, where the two railroads that supplied Lee’s army met. The area also lay past Lee’s left flank, so if Grant beat him there he would not only have a head start toward Richmond, but also the clearest path. Lee would then be forced to attack Grant or race him to Richmond along poor roads.

Unbeknownst to Grant, Lee had received reports of Union cavalry movements to the south of the Wilderness battle lines. On the evening of May 7, Lee ordered James Longstreet’s corps, which were under the direction of Richard Anderson after Longstreet had been shot the previous day, to march at night to Spotsylvania. Anderson’s men marched the 11 miles entirely in the dark, and won the race to the crossroads, where they took refuge behind hastily constructed breastworks and waited. Now it would be up to Grant to force the Confederates from their position. The stage was set for one of the bloodiest engagements of the war.

“Lee beats Grant to Spotsylvania,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2017 [accessed May 8, 2009]




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