The Final Days of Winston Churchill

Pat Horan - January 29, 2015

Possessing an almost superhuman energy, Sir Winston Churchill attempted to remain in public life until the very end. While he had spent his entire life battling political obstacles and depression and eventually triumphing over these challenges, by the 1960s, his indefatigable character had begun to give way to physical and mental deterioration.

Although the Conservatives increased their numbers in the 1959 election, Churchill’s majority fell precipitously. A series of strokes and a bad fall in 1962 crippled him, and he was unable to attend the 1963 White House ceremony making him an honorary citizen of the United States. He suffered a final stroke in January 1965. read more »

How Jackson Repelled British at New Orleans

Pat Horan - January 8, 2015

Thursday is the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans, perhaps the most important battle fought after a peace deal had already been made.

By the end of 1814, the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain had been raging for two and a half years, and both sides were weary. The British had burned Washington, D.C., and largely crippled the American economy, but they had failed to take Baltimore and suffered a decisive loss at the Battle of Plattsburgh in New York. American General William Henry Harrison had defeated Great Britain and her Indian allies at the Battle of the Thames near Ontario. The Indian coalition’s leader, Tecumseh, died in the battle, and the coalition crumbled after his death. read more »

Why We Sing Auld Lang Syne

Pat Horan - December 30, 2014

New Year’s – as the clock strikes midnight, we pop open the champagne, watch the Times Square ball drop, kiss our loved ones, and sing the well-known Scottish poem-turned-song. But why? None of the lyrics invoke the arrival of January 1st.

Using lyrics of an older ballad, the Scottish Romantic poet Robert Burns penned the famous verses in 1788. The words would be only be modified for non-Scots to understand, and the song is still widely sung around the world, particularly in English-speaking countries. read more »

Christmas Truce on the Western Front

Pat Horan - December 24, 2014

By December 1914, World War I’s Western Front had turned into a stalemate of trench warfare and barbed wires. The quick end to the war that both the Allies and the Central Powers had envisioned never materialized. Pope Benedict XV implored the belligerent governments for a Christmas ceasefire, so “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.” His request was officially refused.

Despite the rejection of the pope’s call for peace and military prohibitions against fraternizing with the enemy, thousands of soldiers – as many as 100,000 – made their own truce that year. On Christmas Eve, British troops saw lights from Christmas trees and heard German voices singing carols across the narrow “No Man’s Land” as night fell. The British joined in singing. read more »

German Juggernaut Halted at Stalingrad

Pat Horan - November 19, 2014

Seventy-two years ago on Nov. 19, the Soviet Red Army began Operation Uranus, the counteroffensive that led to the encirclement of German forces at the Battle of Stalingrad.

Nazi Germany unleashed its massive invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 with Operation Barbarossa. Despite early successes and a deep advance into enemy territory, the operation failed as the Soviets repelled the assault against Moscow and as the campaign at Leningrad broke down into a two-year siege. Barbarossa’s failure in the autumn and winter of that year was disastrous for the Third Reich. With supply lines of 2,000 miles, it now faced an Eastern Front that stretched from Leningrad in the north to the Black Sea in the south. Hitler and his commanders had underestimated his enemy along with its critical ally, the Russian Winter, as well as Germany’s ability to supply and reinforce its own troops.

In 1942, Axis forces directed their offensives south toward the industrial city of Stalingrad and the oil-rich Caucasus. Hitler decided to split the campaign into two groups: Army Group A would push toward the oil fields, while Army Group B would protect its flank along the Volga River and capture Stalingrad, whose name was a matter of pride to the feuding dictators and of propaganda value to both sides. read more »

Sherman Unleashes Total War on Confederacy

Pat Horan - November 12, 2014

Nov. 12 marks the 150th anniversary of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous burning of Atlanta in the American Civil War.

Sherman had defeated Southern General John Bell Hood at the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864. After a long siege, the city finally fell on Sept. 2. Sherman’s victories were well-timed as they helped Abraham Lincoln sail to presidential victory that year against the “peace” candidate, Democrat and former Union General George McClellan (a few months earlier, Lincoln’s reelection hopes had seemed dim as the North had suffered heavy losses that summer at the Battles of the Crater and Cold Harbor).

By 1864, as commanding Union General Ulysses Grant and Confederate General Robert Lee became locked in stalemate, Sherman and Grant had come to understand that the conventional, Napoleonic style of warfare would not be enough to end the war without the American public losing morale. They decided that the Confederacy’s economic capacity and its will to fight had to be broken. He planned to march his army toward Savannah on the coast, destroying infrastructure and foraging for supplies along the way. read more »

MacArthur Makes His Famous Return

Pat Horan - October 19, 2014

A few hours after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese bombers and Zero fighters began a devastating offensive against the U.S. Far East Air Force based in the Philippines. Japanese soldiers landed ashore the same day. For several months, American and Philippine troops battled the Japanese onslaught. Despite a fierce defense of the Bataan Peninsula and heavy enemy casualties, President Roosevelt ordered the commanding general, Douglas MacArthur, to retreat to Australia before the Philippines was cut off completely.

Before leaving and then again upon arrival in Australia, MacArthur bitterly vowed, “I shall return.” Seventy years ago on Monday, MacArthur fulfilled his promise. read more »

The Life and Death of Desert Fox

Pat Horan - October 13, 2014

On Oct. 14, 1944, Germany’s most respected commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, was forced to commit suicide for his involvement with the failed July 20 assassination attempt and coup against Adolf Hitler.

Unlike most of the German High Command that came from Prussian aristocracy, Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel was born to a southern Swabian German family whose father was a school headmaster and professor. A bright youth with a technical mind, Rommel considered becoming an engineer, but instead chose the military route at the behest of his father. During World War I, Rommel earned a reputation for his bravery and his ability to defeat and capture forces overwhelmingly larger than his own as he served in France, Romania, and Italy. Wounded three times during the war, Rommel was awarded the Iron Cross twice as well as the Pour le Mérite (Imperial Germany’s equivalent of the Medal of Honor). read more »

How Belgium Held Off Mighty German Army

Pat Horan - October 7, 2014

This month marks the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Yser in the Great War, where Belgian forces stemmed a brutal German offensive that had already consumed the vast majority of the country’s territory.

To defeat France, the German Empire used a plan, originally developed years before the war by Count Alfred von Schlieffen, to invade Belgium and then turn south to outflank and encircle France’s armies. Germany’s execution of the Schlieffen Plan, however, prompted Britain’s entry into the war as it had guaranteed Belgium’s neutrality in a treaty signed in 1839. German forces began their attack on Aug. 4, 1914. Although Belgian troops surprised the Germans with a fierce defense, they ultimately were defeated at the Battle of Liege. Brussels then fell on Aug. 20.

After the German advance into France had been stopped at the First Battle of the Marne in September, the Franco-British and German armies attempted to outmaneuver one another north toward the Belgian coast in what became known as the “Race to the Sea.” Meanwhile, Belgian forces were forced to withdraw from the besieged city of Antwerp and to dig in along the Yser River near the English Channel and the French border. Belgium retained only a small corner of its territory in western Flanders, but King Albert I refused to leave his country. read more »

The Midnight Ride ... of William Dawes

Caleb E. Smith - April 21, 2014

Monday is Patriots’ Day, a holiday celebrated in Massachusetts, Maine, and Wisconsin. Though it is better known as the day on which the Boston Marathon is run (and sadly, now associated with a terrorist attack), this day officially commemorates the beginning of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord, a conflict preceded by the famed midnight ride of Paul Revere.

Revere was memorialized in Henry Longfellow’s epic 1861 poem “the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” written to inspire the courage of Americans as they faced the coming horrors of the Civil War. Though it made Revere a household name to all future generations of Americans, this poem has long been decried by historians as a piece of fiction which massacres the actual narrative of April 18 and 19, 1775. Perhaps most lamentably, it does not pay any credit to the dozens of other riders and patriots who co-labored in spreading the alarm, most especially the other two main riders that night, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott.

Growing concerned by the build-up of arms and militia in the countryside surrounding the occupied city of Boston, and knowing that war was growing more inevitable, the British military authorities were laying plans to make raids into the countryside to seize guns and ammunition from the Colonists. Even as the British were carefully watching the movements of famous patriots and gathering their own intelligence, men like Revere developed a network by which the alarm could be spread whenever the soldiers set out on their raids. read more »

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