How a nice Jewish Boy from Baltimore made it this far. The trials and tribulations, not to mention the fun and frolics of every day life.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Today in History - September 29th

September 29 - 30, 1864, Battles of Chaffin's Farm also known as New Market Heights and Fort Harrison, fought in the American Civil War.


The attack north of the river occurred on September 29. Troops under Federal Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler launched attacks on two fronts. The Union X Corps advanced against New Market Heights north of Deep Bottom, while the XVIII Corps attacked Fort Harrison.

New Market Heights

Maj. Gen. David B. Birney moved the X Corps north from the Deep Bottom bridgehead toward the Confederate works atop New Market Heights manned by Brig. Gen. John Gregg. A brigade of U.S. Colored Troops attacked the heights but was repulsed. In this attack, Christian Fleetwood's actions would later earn him the Medal of Honor. Birney reinforced the assault force and stormed the heights again. Alfred H. Terry's division managed to turn the Confederate left flank, thus turning the tide of the battle. Word of Union success against Fort Harrison then reached Gregg, compelling him to pull Confederate troops back to Forts Gregg, Gilmer and Johnson.

Once Birney's troops had taken New Market Heights, the X Corps turned to the northwest along the New Market Road and moved against a secondary line of works guarding Richmond north of Fort Harrison. Brig. Gen. Robert S. Foster's X Corps division assaulted a small salient known as Fort Gilmer. David Birney's brother, Brig. Gen. William Birney, led a brigade of U.S. Colored Troops against Fort Gregg south of Fort Gilmer. These attacks were marked by heroism among the Colored Troops but were ultimately repulsed.

Fort Harrison

At roughly the same time Birney's first attack moved forward, the Union XVIII Corps under Major General Edward Ord, assaulted Fort Harrison to the west of New Market Heights. Ord's assault was led by Brig. Gen. George Stannard, a veteran of Gettysburg. Stannard's men rushed across an open field and took cover in a slight depression just in front of the fort and, after a moment's rest, took the fort. The Confederate defenders broke to the rear, seeking refuge behind a secondary line. Brig. Gen. Hiram Burnham was killed during the attack; Union troops renamed the captured fort in his honor.

Once inside the fort, the Union attackers became disorganized. Stannard was wounded and all three of his brigade commanders were also wounded or killed. A supporting column under Brig. Gen. Charles Heckman veered far off to the north and was repulsed. Ord personally attempted to rally the troops to exploit their success, but he too fell with a critical wound. The loss of commanders and the presence of Confederate ironclads on the James put an end to the XVIII Corps' drive on Chaffin's Bluff along the James River.

Robert E. Lee realized the severity of the loss of Fort Harrison and personally brought 10,000 reinforcements under Maj. Gen. Charles Field north from Petersburg. On September 30, Lee ordered a counterattack to retake Fort Harrison, now commanded by Major General Godfrey Weitzel, replacing the wounded Ord. The Confederate attacks were uncoordinated and were easily handled.


Just as Grant had anticipated, the fighting around Chaffin's Farm forced Lee to shift his resources and helped the Union army south of Petersburg win the Battle of Peebles' Farm. After October, the two armies settled into trench warfare that continued until the end of the war. The fighting around Chaffin's Farm cost the nation nearly 5,000 casualties.

Map of Battle of Chaffin's Farm

Saturday, September 27, 2008

This Day in History - September 27th

The Battle of Busaco

Peninsular War

Date: 27th September 1810

Place: Central Portugal

Combatants: British against the French

Generals: Lieutenant General Viscount Wellington against Marshal André Massena, Prince of Essling and Duke of Rivoli.

The Battle of Busaco
The Battle of Busaco

Size of the armies: 50,000 British and Portuguese against 65,000 French.

Uniforms, arms and equipment: The British foot wore red, waist length jackets, grey trousers and stovepipe shakos. The two rifle regiments wore green. The Portuguese infantry wore blue and their Caçadores green. The Highland regiments wore the kilt and feather bonnets.

The British dragoons wore red jackets with a Roman style helmet. The light dragoons wore light blue and a shako. The British artillery wore blue.

The French infantry wore blue tunics and shakos. The French cavalry comprised Dragoons dressed in green tunics and helmets with horse hair crests. The French artillery wore uniforms similar to the infantry, the horse artillery in hussar uniform.

The standard infantry weapon for both armies was the musket, which could be fired three or four times a minute, throwing a heavy ball inaccurately for a hundred metres. Each infantryman carried a bayonet that fitted on the muzzle of his musket.

The British rifle battalions were armed with the Baker rifle, a more accurate weapon but slower to fire, and a sword bayonet.

Field guns fired a ball projectile, by its nature of limited use against troops in the field, unless closely formed. Guns also fired case shot or canister which fragmented, but was effective only at a short range. Exploding shells fired by howitzers, as yet in their infancy, were of particular use against buildings. The British had the development of ‘shrapnel’ or fragmenting shell.

Winner: Busaco was a victory for Wellington. While immediately after the battle Wellington’s army continued its retreat to Lisbon, the French casualties were significantly larger than Wellington’s and all their attacks on the Busaco ridge failed.

Account: In May 1810 Marshal Massena took command of the Army of Portugal with orders from the Emperor Napoleon to capture Lisbon and drive Wellington and his British army out of the Peninsular.

During the winter of 1809/10 Wellington’s engineers had built fortifications across the Lisbon isthmus, known as the Lines of Torres Vedras. As Massena began his advance into Portugal the British and Portuguese Army fell back towards the capital.

Massena captured the Spanish town of Ciudad Rodrigo on the border and on 26th August 1810 he took the Portuguese fortress of Almeida. On 15th September 1810 Massena resumed his advance through Portugal towards Lisbon, harassed by Brigadier General Robert Craufurd’s Light Division.

Wellington, intending to fight a delaying battle, positioned his army at the convent of Busaco. The convent lay on a long high ridge that stretched from the Mondego River for some ten miles to the North. The road to Coimbra and Lisbon climbed up the ridge and passed the convent, while a second lesser road crossed the ridge further south. The ridge rose steeply to 300 metres from the valley in places. A rough track meandered along the top.

The British and Portuguese regiments were positioned along the ridge with the main concentration at the northern end and the reserves further south.

Marshal Ney led the French advanced guard towards Busaco on the evening of 25th September 1810. His assessment was that only a British rearguard held the ridge and that it could be easily driven off by a frontal assault. Massena came forward and agreed with him, ordering the assault for the next morning.

The first attack was carried out by Reynier’s corps, advancing up the lesser southern road, Massena’s assumption being that this would take the French behind the British right flank.

Map of the Battle of Busaco
Map of the Battle of Busaco

Once Reynier was established on the crest Ney’s corps would advance up the main road to the Busaco convent at the northern end of the ridge. Far from being held by a rearguard, on the ridge were all 50,000 British and Portuguese infantry supported by 60 guns.

Early morning mist hampered the first movements and observations. Heudelet’s division, setting off at 6am, followed the southern road up to the crest of the ridge where they were engaged by the 74th Foot, two Portuguese battalions and 12 guns. The firefight continued for the whole of the battle, Heudelet’s division refusing to give ground.

Merle’s division reached the crest to the north of Heudelet’s. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Wallace of the 88th Connaught Rangers had seen the French column climbing the hill and hurried his regiment to the threatened point with several companies of the 45th Foot. Wallace led his men in a fierce attack on the French and drove them back down the hill.

The final element of Reynier’s attack was carried out by Brigadier Foy who took his brigade to the top of the ridge and remained there until he was driven out by Leith’s British Brigade of the 5th Division, the counter attack being headed by the 9th Foot.

Reynier’s corps suffered 2,000 casualties in its abortive assault.
Ney, from his position further north, thought that Reynier had taken the crest and ordered his corps to begin the assault up the main road to the convent.

Loison’s division advanced up the hill with its left on the road. As it reached the crest, the 43rd and 52nd Foot of Craufurd’s Light Division rose from their positions in the sunken section of the road and poured a volley into the French column at 25 yards. The two light infantry regiments then attacked with the bayonet driving the French back down the hillside. A watching artillery officer described the fight as “carnage”.

The 43rd and 52nd Light Infantry attack Lolsin's Division

Mermet’s division attacking alongside was halted by a Portuguese brigade.
Seeing the failure of all the attacks Massena called off the assault and began a reconnaissance to the North, discovering a road that circumvented the ridge. As the French marched away to the flank, Wellington’s army withdrew south towards Lisbon, having inflicted a serious reverse on Massena’s Army of Portugal.

Friday, September 26, 2008

September 26th, This Day in History

September 26, 1918: American forces begin their Meuse-Argonne offensive in WWI.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the greatest American battle of the First World War. In six weeks the AEF lost 26,277 killed and 95,786 wounded. It was a very complex operation involving a majority of the AEF ground forces fighting through rough, hilly terrain the German Army had spent four years fortifying. Its objective was the capture of the railroad hub at Sedan which would break the rail net supporting the German Army in France and Flanders and force the enemy's withdrawal from the occupied territories.

The bulk of the forces engaged in the initial onslaught had to be transferred from the St. Mihiel Salient ---- assaulted less than two weeks earlier ---- to a new jump off line north and northwest of Verdun. This new section of the front extended thirty miles east to west . The reshifting of forces in such a short period of time was one of the great accomplishments of the Great War. These logistics were planned and directed by Col. George C. Marshall establishing his reputation and preparing him to lead -- in the distant future --- American forces to victory in the Second World War.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Andrew at 8 months and 24 days

It is still one of greatest pleasures to watch my grandson grow. He is now 8 months and 24 days old and already has 4 teeth and is crawling all over the place. He will craw to me, reach up and pull himself to a standing position, grab my hands and have me guide him as he walks around. He knows his name and responds to it and he understands the command "NO". He is weighing in at 25 pounds and 5 ounces. Oy, is he a big boy. But the doctor is not worried about that at all, saying he is right for his height. Here are some of the latest pictures of him.

Military History Daily Calendar of Events

Starting with this post I will instituting new entries (hopefully) every day that lists a number of events, mostly with some military historical significance. Now I don't necessarily have entries for every day of the year and naturally, the entries I do have are not all inclusive. I am starting with September 23rd, as I don't have anything for September 24th or 25th. I will try to include some commentary on most events and hope to include an illustration for the event. So without further ado here we go.

September 23, 480 B.C. The Battle of Salamis

The Battle of Salamis (Ancient Greek: Ναυμαχία τῆς Σαλαμῖνος), was a decisive naval battle between the Greek city-states and Persia in September, 480 BC in the strait between Piraeus and Salamis Island, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens.

The Greeks were not in accord as to how to defend against the Persian army, but Athens under Themistocles used their navy to defeat the much larger Persian navy and force King Xerxes I of Persia to retreat. The Greek victory marked the turning point of the campaign, leading to the eventual Persian defeat.

Battle of Salamis
Part of the Persian Wars

September 23, 1803 The Battle of Assaye

On the 20th September, in pursuit of the Marathas, General Wellesley and Colonel Stevenson separated at Bednapur, to make use of two narrow roads. Stevenson advanced through a valley some 14 miles (23 km) west of Wellesley's line of march. He and Wellesley planned to rejoin forces at a village twelve miles (19 km) from Bokerdunon on the 24 September. But Wellesley encountered the army of Sindhia and Ragojee Bhonsla on 23 September. The latter numbered between 40,000 and 50,000 strong, including three brigades of regular infantry, the largest under the command of Anton Pohlmann, a Hanoverian,[1] who had previously been a sergeant in the East India Company before defecting to the Marathas. The Maratha forces had taken position on a tongue of land between the Kaitna and the Juah rivers, a position that the princes thought could be only attacked from across the Kaitna. Despite the numbers facing him, Wellesley determined to attack.

Wellesley could have been prudent, digging in to a defensive position, and awaiting the arrival the following day of Stevenson's troops. However, he judged that an immediate attack, even against the astounding odds of one to seven, had a chance of success, considering the brittle morale and looser discipline of the Maratha soldiers.

In the event, Wellesley marched his little army along the river looking for a place to cross. Despite the vigorous assertions of his native guides that no crossing existed thereabouts, he found a ford near the village of Assaye. He then attempted to attack a flank of the princes' army. This manœuver failed because his party was spotted as they crossed the river; the Indian army, in an example of excellent discipline, turned their front so that they were again facing the British. But a valorous charge led by two Scottish battalions, HM 74th Highlanders (which lost all its officers) and 78th Highlanders, shattered the combined forces, and the armies of the princes fled. The Maratha casualties numbered about 6,000 men, while the British lost approximately 1,500. Despite sustaining such heavy casualties in their frontal attack, the British/Indian combined force had won a considerable victory; but having fought the battle after a 24-mile (39 km) march, Wellesley's exhausted army was unable to pursue the defeated enemy.

This was 34 year old Wellesley's first major success, and one that he always held in the highest estimation, even when compared to his later triumphant career. According to anecdotal evidence, in his retirement years Wellington considered this his finest battle, surpassing even his victory at the Battle of Waterloo.

British East India Company Maratha Confederacy

4,500 Infantry
2,000 Cavalry
20 cannons
20,000 Infantry
30,000 Cavalry
100 cannons
Casualties and losses
428 killed
1,156 wounded
1,200 killed
4,800 wounded
98 cannons lost

Battle of Assaye
Part of Second Maratha War

The 74th (Highlanders) Regiment of Foot at Assaye