This Day In History: Stonewall Jackson Succumbs to Wounds Inflicted By Own Troops

On this day in 1863, Confederate Lt. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson succumbed to injuries suffered at the hands of his own troops. Military historians regard Jackson as one of the most gifted tactical commanders in U.S. history, and his death proved to be a severe setback for the Confederacy, affecting not only its military prospects, but also the morale of its army and the general public.

Born on January 21, 1824 in Clarksburg, Virginia, Jackson graduated from West Point in 1846. He began his official military career with the U.S. Army as a lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Artillery, and saw action at the Siege of Veracruz and Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). In 1851, Jackson accepted a professorship at the Virginia Military Institute. He taught artillery and natural philosophy (similar to modern physics) at VMI for ten years until Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861. While Jackson was disliked by some cadets for his bluntness and eccentricities, he gained a reputation as an honest and dutiful man of devout faith who refused to gamble, drink, or smoke.

“General Jackson” by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau

Jackson earned his famous nickname at the First Battle of Bull Run. As he quickly relocated his troops to close a gap in the Confederate line and secure the upper hand in the battle, one of his fellow generals, Barnard Bee, exclaimed, “Look, men, there is Jackson standing like a stonewall!!”. According to Providence Academy U.S. History teacher Mr. Edward Hester, “Stonewall” Jackson played a very significant role in many of the Confederacy’s early victories. “Following the First Battle of Bull Run,” Hester noted, “Jackson had a great impact on Southern troops as a heroic image and figurehead; his presence on the battlefield always resulted in a noteworthy morale boost for Confederate soldiers.” Hester continued, saying, “later, it was Jackson’s strategic leadership that made the difference – with his cavalry, he employed flanking maneuvers more effectively than nearly any other general”.

In 1864 Jackson was memorialized on the Confederate $500 banknote

In 1862, Jackson was tasked with defending Virginia from Union advances. Viewed by many as one of the greatest campaigns in military history, “Stonewall” and his less-than 18,000 troops outmaneuvered and outfought a federal army of 60,000 in the Shenandoah Valley. Even when President Lincoln divided the Union forces into three separate armies, Jackson remained unbeaten, taking pressure off of the Confederates pinned down on the James Peninsula. His troops – termed “foot cavalry” for their swiftness – confused and disoriented the separate Union armies. By the summer of 1862, Jackson had become the Confederacy’s most celebrated soldier and the trusted right-hand man of General Robert E. Lee. He and his soldiers played crucial roles at the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Antietam, and the Battle of Fredericksburg.

General Jackson’s “Chancellorsville” portrait, taken at a Spotsylvania County farm on April 26, 1863, seven days before he was wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville

Certainly, Lee and Jackson’s partnership reached a climax in the Battle of Chancellorsville. This was their greatest victory; facing a Union army of 130,000 with only 60,000 troops, Lee boldly split his army and ordered Jackson around the Union flank. Jackson and his 28,000 men marched 12 miles undetected and dealt a severe and decisive blow to the Union army, routing its right flank. This action resulted in one of the Army of the Potomac’s most stunning defeats of the war.

However, tragedy struck for the Confederates on the evening of May 2, making the victory at Chancellorsville a pyrrhic one. After halting the attack at dusk, Jackson and his staff rode forward to scout the territory for an attack the next day. As they returned to camp, they were mistaken for Union cavalry by the 18th North Carolina Infantry Brigade and fired upon. As Jackson and his men frantically identified themselves, Major John D. Barry retorted, “it’s a damned Yankee trick! Fire!” Jackson was hit three times, and several others were killed; his left arm was shattered, but the confusion and falling darkness prevented him from receiving immediate medical care. Hester places most of the blame on Jackson himself, arguing that “he should never have been beyond his picket line at dusk, when Confederate troops would have been most wary – especially following his own deceptive tactics against the Union army earlier in the day”. After having his left arm amputated, Jackson – weakened by his wounds – died of pneumonia eight days later. At his death, he remarked, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

“The Death of Stonewall Jackson” – Currier and Ives (1872)

Hester affirmed Jackson’s skills as a general, saying, “though he didn’t get the chance to really demonstrate this in a long-term way, his spirit of battle, drive, and laser focus allowed him to be an influential presence on the battlefield”. Jackson’s death directly affected the Confederate loss at Gettysburg, where J.E.B. Stuart had been given his command. A great horseman with a flair for the dramatic, Hester noted Stuart lacked Jackson’s ability to understand the big picture, and – after almost losing at Brandy Station, attempting a flanking maneuver, and getting completely cut off from the Confederate army –  left Lee in the dark as to the Union army’s position ahead of the battle. “Jackson always obeyed Lee’s orders to the letter, and would never have gone off on his own in such a way”, Hester stated. “It is not hard to picture a different outcome at Gettysburg if Jackson had been present, as well as an elongated Civil War, even if the Union remained ultimately victorious.”

“General Lee’s Last Visit to Stonewall Jackson’s Grave” by Louis Eckhardt (1872)

General Lee articulated Jackson’s value to the Confederacy best: “Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead…you have lost your left arm, but I have lost my right”.


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This Day In History: San Francisco Rocked By Great Earthquake of 1906

On this day in 1906, a massive earthquake shook San Francisco, destroying nearly 500 city blocks and igniting several large fires that would rage for days. One of the worst disasters in United States history, the catastrophic quake left over 80% of the city in ruins, killing more than 3,000 people and leveling the homes of hundreds of thousands.

The San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906 ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time. Following a strong foreshock by about 20 to 25 seconds, it occurred at approximately 5:12 a.m. Rupturing 296 miles of the San Andreas fault to the north and south of the city, the great tremor could be felt from Oregon to Los Angeles and as far inland as central Nevada. For comparison, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake had a rupture length of only about 25 miles.

Much of San Francisco was turned to rubble.

The 1906 earthquake preceded the development of the Richter magnitude scale by three decades, but the most widely accepted estimate for the magnitude of the quake is 7.9, described as “major” to “great”. Astonishingly, it permanently shifted the course of the Salinas River near its mouth, diverting it six miles to the south to a new channel.

The fault trace or fracture accompanying the earthquake is inconspicuous, although the horizontal displacement is considerable.

As the epicenter, or “focus”, of the earthquake, San Francisco experienced overwhelming devastation. Though the violent shaking lasted only 45 to 60 seconds, large fires ignited quickly due to bursting gas mains, and much of the city was soon ablaze. Moreover, initial tremors had destroyed San Francisco’s water mains, and firefighters were left with no means of putting out the conflagration. Some firefighters, untrained in the use of dynamite, accidentally ignited more buildings while trying to create firebreaks to slow the advancing flames. Additionally, many San Francisco insurers covered fire damage but not earthquake damage. This led some people to intentionally set fire to damaged properties in order to claim them on their insurance. Capt. Leonard D. Wildman of the U.S. Army Signal Corps confirmed that he was told by a fireman that “people in that neighborhood were firing their houses…they were told that they would not get their insurance on buildings damaged by the earthquake unless they were damaged by fire”.

Hundreds of thousands of residents were rendered homeless by the massive earthquake.

Within a day, 225,000 of San Francisco’s 400,000 citizens were homeless. The survivors slept in tents in city parks and the Presidio, an old Army fort. They waited in long lines for food, and were required to do their cooking in the street to prevent additional fires. After the earthquake struck, the Army was quickly called in to keep the peace, guard important buildings, and assist the thousands of suffering, displaced residents. Riots and looting only added to the chaos. Consequently, San Francisco Mayor Eugene Schmitz announced that “the Federal Troops, the members of the Regular Police Force and all Special Police Officers have been authorized by me to kill any and all persons found engaged in Looting or in the Commission of Any Other Crime”.  All told, over 4,000 troops aided relief efforts during the emergency, finally withdrawing on July 1, 1906.

Many San Francisco residents were forced to live in tents.

The San Francisco earthquake led to a number of scientific studies of the San Andreas fault, and demonstrated the damage and destruction that can accompany a major quake. Providence Academy English teacher Mr. Adam Schmalzbauer visited the city over Spring Break, and while he experience no earthquakes, literal or figurative, he was quite impressed with the Golden Gate Bridge. “That thing is amazing”, he enthused, noting its need to be both strong and flexible in order to survive such disasters. “Otherwise they’d be rebuilding the bridge every six months”, Schmalzbauer said. In fact, the bridge has only been closed three times due to weather since its opening in 1936, all due to winds in excess of 70 mph. Schmalzbauer stated that 80,000 miles of cable support the suspension bridge, enough to go around the earth more than three times.

The Golden Gate Bridge, an engineering marvel.

In total, over 28,000 buildings were destroyed during the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Property damage – including that from fires – was estimated to have been more than $400 million, well over $10 billion in 2019. Famous author Jack London remarked, “surrender was complete”.

Following the disaster, many politicians and business leaders strongly downplayed the negative effects of the earthquake, fearing the loss of badly needed outside investment. Reconstruction was swift, and completed for the most part by 1915 in time for the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition celebrating the rebuilding of the city and its “rise from the ashes”. As California governor George Pardee stated in response to the destruction, “this is not the first time that San Francisco has been destroyed by fire, I have not the slightest doubt that the City by the Golden Gate will be speedily rebuilt, and will, almost before we know it, resume her former great activity”.

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This Day in History: The Tet Offensive Ends

On this day in 1968, the Tet Offensive ended. This series of North Vietnamese surprise attacks on over 100 cities, hamlets, and military positions in South Vietnam crushed U.S. morale. U.S. and South Vietnamese troops pushed back communist forces after initial losses, inflicting heavy casualties. However, American news reported the carnage and growing U.S. body count, stunning the public and undermining support.

U.S. Marines defend Khe Sahn

One year before the Tet Offensive, Gallup Polls reported that most Americans regretted U.S. involvement in Vietnam. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration worked tirelessly to change this. Defense officials insisted that South Vietnam was on the verge of victory. In a National Press Club speech on November 21, 1967, General William C. Westmoreland declared, “We have reached a point where the end begins to come into view […] the enemy’s hopes are bankrupt”. Reports seemed to show that Westmoreland’s war of attrition was working. Simply put, the message to the American people was one of optimism and confidence – that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

U.S. troops retake Hue

For many Americans, this “light” vanished in January of 1968, when Khe Sanh, a Marine base in South Vietnam, was besieged. Working to avoid a catastrophic defeat, American leaders focused their efforts on breaking the encirclement. President Johnson, ever involved, had a scale model of the battlefield built in the White House. As U.S. leaders strove to relieve the Marines at Khe Sahn, the North Vietnamese prepared an even bigger attack.

Most of American troops were concentrated in this region.

Tet – Vietnamese for “festival” – is the Vietnamese lunar new year and the most important holiday on the Vietnamese calendar. Previously, an informal ceasefire truce had been observed during the three-day holiday so both sides could celebrate in peace. In early 1968, however, North Vietnamese commander General Vo Nguyen Giap planned a surprise attack during this lull. Giap hoped a country-wide assault by Viet Cong guerrillas would cause the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) to disintegrate, along with the U.S.-South Vietnamese alliance. On January 31, the second day of Tet, the first attack was launched. Hue, a critical city, was captured: not to be retaken until March. This became one of the longest and bloodiest battles. Over 3,000 civilians were executed. Heavy fighting occurred in and around the citadel; causing massive damage to the American and South Vietnamese forces. Much of the month-long conflict was filmed and broadcast back home, jarring the public.

U.S. troops quickly secured the embassy in Saigon

Attacks in Saigon sparked further uproar. Viet Cong fighters briefly breached the courtyard of the U.S. Embassy. In the confusion, the Associated Press and NBC reported that the first floor of the embassy was in enemy hands, and U.S. reinforcements were unable to expel them. While these reports were later corrected, the damage had been done; footage of the carnage had a profound political and psychological impact. The United States had been fighting in Vietnam for over three years, and despite the 500,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam, the Viet Cong had managed to penetrate the U.S. Embassy. Only days before, the head of the newly created Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support program, Robert Komer, stated that due to increases in South Vietnamese police strength, “our intelligence [is] significantly better in the countryside”. These words, and the positive comments of many U.S. officials just months before now sounded hollow to many Americans.

The Tet Offensive was a major failure for the North Vietnamese. They hadn’t gained any new cities, they suffered heavy casualties, and the South Vietnamese people rallied around the Americans. Over 45,000 North soldiers were killed, compared to under 9,000 total U.S. and South Vietnamese troops. The Viet Cong was completely wiped out.

More significantly, the Tet Offensive damaged America’s faith in the war. Though the North Vietnamese suffered heavy losses, the war was far from over. CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, after a brief visit to Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, solemnly informed his viewers that  the war was un-winnable – prompting President Johnson to quip, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America”. Providence Academy librarian Mrs. Commers recalled her sister joining the anti-war movement in 1968. At eight years old, Commers observed, “an increase in tension not just in my family, but in the country as a whole”. President Johnson would soon replace General Westmoreland, order his successor to end large-scale U.S. operations, and initiate peace negotiations. In a March address to the nation, the tired president declared that he was reducing bombing North Vietnam, and would not run for reelection.

American soldiers take cover in Hue

The Vietnam War was the first televised war. As General Earle Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, commented, “the efforts of the American press […] have created a public impression, I gather, that we’re hanging on here by our teeth, barely able to stay in the stadium.”


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A Better War by Lewis Sorley

March for Life 2019: “We Shall Overcome”

For over 40 years, pro-life advocates have gathered in Washington, D.C. to encourage lawmakers to overturn the monumental Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions. Together, the two cases declared abortion a constitutional right and reversed most laws against abortion in U.S. states; more specifically, Roe legalized abortion nationwide during the first trimester of a pregnancy. However, as this year’s March for Life made clear, the tide may finally be turning.

The March for Life advances down Constitution Avenue.

“Pro-life is pro-science” was a major theme of the 46th annual March for Life. Many speakers emphasized that science now confirms life begins at conception. During a live recording of The Ben Shapiro Show, Ben Shapiro refuted 10 of the most common justifications of abortion. He was careful to note that in debunking these 10 arguments, he never once needed the help of religion. Shapiro refrained from using religious reasoning until after he had exposed the flaws of the 10 claims through logic and scientific examination.

Daniel Caballero ‘19, an attendee of the 2019 March for Life, stated, “I believe the movement will succeed because it is no longer motivated purely by religion. Technological advances have provided us with much scientific evidence showing conception as the beginning of life. This gives the pro-life cause a much stronger argument.”

Interestingly enough, many mainstream media pieces on Shapiro’s talk focused more on criticizing his brief use of an analogy involving “baby Hitler” instead of the many other logically sound arguments he put forth. This angle was soon repeated by more and more news organizations, perhaps signaling an unwillingness or inability by these journalists to engage and/or defeat Shapiro’s assertions.

Ben Shapiro speaks to pro-life marchers during a live recording of his program, The Ben Shapiro Show.

Bipartisan support makes the success of the movement much more possible. The pro-life cause is not restricted to one gender, race, or political party. It is accessible and literally vital to all. Caballero remarked, “it was inspiring to see how many people came to D.C. from all over the world to support the pro-life cause. We encountered people from as far away as France.”

Both Democratic and Republican congressmen and women spoke at the March. Vice President Pence appeared as a special guest on Ben Shapiro’s program, and later addressed the marchers in person, declaring, “we gather here because we believe as our founders did that we are, all of us, born and unborn, endowed by our creator, with certain unalienable rights and first among these rights is the right to life”.

President Trump spoke to the crowd via video, reflecting, “we know that every life has meaning and that every life is worth protecting”. He also promised to veto any legislation that “weakens the protection of human life”.

Providence Academy Headmaster Dr. Todd Flanders is “hopeful for progress [with regard to pro-life legislation] because the science and logic are so absolutely clear”.

Vice President Pence addresses the crowd during a live recording of The Ben Shapiro Show.

Most inspiring to Flanders, however, were the estimated 250,000 plus people “standing for truth and dignity”. He noted that “peace, love, and hope properly understood allowed for a peaceful event where genuine love of human persons and our differences was conveyed in a respectful way. I’m proud to live in this country where we can offer our concerns, converse, and express disagreement.”

The mission of the March for Life is to “end abortion by uniting, educating, and mobilizing pro-life people in the public square”.

As Fr. Richard John Neuhaus expressed at the 2008 convention of the National Right to Life Committee, “until every human being created in the image and likeness of God is protected in law and cared for in life, we shall not weary, we shall not rest. And, in this great human rights struggle of our time and all times, we shall overcome”.

The March for Life ended in front of the United States Supreme Court Building.


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March for Life – Reasons for Hope:

Huff Post – Ben Shapiro Wouldn’t Kill Baby Hitler:

The Ben Shapiro Show Ep. 698 – The March for Life:

This Day in History: Amundsen Reaches the South Pole

On this day in 1911, Roald Amundsen and his expedition reached the South Pole. Using dog sleds and Inuit methods, the Norwegian explorer beat Englishman Robert Falcon Scott in their Antarctic race, gaining worldwide attention and fame. Few adventurers can match Amundsen’s accomplishments: he is recognized as the first person to reach both poles of the Earth, and he was the first person to lead an expedition traversing the Northwest Passage in the Arctic.

Roald Amundsen, born near Oslo, Norway on July 16, 1872, was already an accomplished explorer by the time he set out for the South Pole. In 1897, Amundsen sailed as first mate on a Belgian expedition: the first to winter in the Antarctic. Locked in

Amundsen and his expedition trek to the South Pole.

sea ice for months, Amundsen credited the ship’s doctor and his frequent hunting excursions with saving the crew from scurvy. The fresh meat brought back by American Frederick Cook and its ability to prevent or partially treat the disease would serve as an important lesson for Amundsen’s future journeys.

In 1903, Amundsen led the first expedition to successfully travel the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. Along the journey, they spent two whole winters living on King William Island in northern Canada, learning Arctic survival skills from the local Netsilik Inuit people. This knowledge would prove to be invaluable during Amundsen’s later expedition to the South Pole. Amundsen and his team returned to Oslo in November 1906, after nearly four years abroad.

Amundsen next planned to head for the North Pole. However, he switched targets after Americans Robert Peary and Frederick Cook (the doctor who sailed with Amundsen in 1897) both claimed to have reached the North Pole during two separate expeditions. Amundsen quickly changed course and embarked for the South Pole. He hoped to beat Englishman Robert F. Scott, who was already preparing to sail there. His ship, the Fram, departed in June 1910, and he informed Scott with a telegram: “BEG TO INFORM YOU FRAM PROCEEDING ANTARCTIC–AMUNDSEN.

In Antarctica, Amundsen and his team wore Inuit-style fur skins. These kept warm when wet better than the heavy wool clothing donned by other Antarctic explorers. He also used skis and dog sleds for transportation, as did his Inuit friends, and he planned to kill some of the dogs so that the men would always have some fresh meat. After being delayed by extremely low temperatures, Amundsen and a small group attempted to reach the South Pole with 52 dogs and four sleds. They were able to travel 20 miles a day, and while Scott was burdened by scientific obligations, Amundsen had only one goal: reaching the Pole.

The use of dog sleds provided Amundsen with a distinct advantage over Scott

“Science,” he later admitted, “would have to look after itself.” As the expedition wore on, Amundsen wrote that he “had the same feeling that I can remember as a little boy on the night before Christmas Eve—an intense expectation of what was going to happen.” On Dec. 14, the five men, with only 16 dogs left, arrived at 90° 0′ S. Amundsen and his crew set up a tent, a Norwegian flag, and smoked celebratory cigars. They also left a letter stating their accomplishment in the event that they perished before returning to base camp. On January 17, 1912, Scott’s group arrived at the South Pole. After a grueling trek, they were devastated to find that Amundsen’s had reached it first. Scott bemoaned in his diary, “great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without reward of priority.”

On March 7, 1912, Amundsen publicly announced his success from Australia. When the world learned that Scott and several others in his expedition died attempting to return from the South Pole, many Englishmen hailed him as the true hero. They believed that Amundsen had accomplished this feat in an underhanded way; he had only told Scott and the world of his intentions after he had already left for Antarctica.  Amundsen would continue to explore, ultimately disappearing in 1928 attempting to rescue a fellow explorer in the Arctic.

The extreme outdoorsman attributed much of his success to preparation: “I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order—luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck”.

Explorer Roald Amundsen in Inuit fur skins.


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