Category: Life During Wartime (Page 1 of 3)
The first known casualty of the Korean War, on this day in 1950. A mostly forgotten man in a mostly forgotten war.
About 90 minutes after Task Force Smith began its withdrawal from the Battle of Osan, the 34th Infantry sent Shadrick as part of a small scouting force northward to the village of Sojong-ni, 5 miles (8.0 km) south of Osan. The small force, under the command of Lieutenant Charles E. Payne and consisting mostly of bazooka teams and infantry, halted at a graveyard in the village, where they spotted a North Korean T-34/85 tank on a road to the north. Shadrick and the other bazooka operators began firing on the tank from long-range concealed positions at around 16:00. With them was Sergeant Charles R. Turnbull, a US Army combat photographer. Turnbull asked Shadrick to time a bazooka shot so its flash could be caught in Turnbull’s photograph, and Shadrick complied. Shadrick made the shot and paused, then rose from his concealed position to see if he had successfully hit the tank, exposing himself. The T-34 returned fire with its machine gun, and two bullets struck Shadrick in the chest and arm. Shadrick died moments later.
Subsequent publications have shed doubt on the accuracy of the claims of Shadrick’s distinction. Eyewitness accounts at the Battle of Osan point to the first death as a machine gunner in the 21st Infantry Regiment, who had been killed at around 08:30, eight hours before Shadrick’s death. This soldier was killed when a different T-34 tank was disabled at the battle and one of its crew members attacked nearby troops with a PPSh-41 “Burp Gun”. In the confusion of the battle, many of the wounded and dead troops were left behind by retreating American troops, and a large part of the force was also captured; consequently, the identity of this first combat fatality remains a mystery.
Either way, the carnage that began in Sarjevo in 1914 continued its long march through the Twentieth Century. We’re still not done with it today.
On this day in 1914, a Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, setting in motion a series of events that led to a century of warfare and helped create the world we live in today. The Middle East, Soviet Russia, the Cold War, the hegemony of the United States- all these came from this one act of violence. The world has never been the same.
On this day in 1864, Union General William T. Sherman (known locally as “that bastard from Cleveland”) launches a major attack on Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s army at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia.
In the days leading up to the assault at Kennesaw Mountain, Sherman tried to flank Johnston. Since one of Johnston’s generals, John Bell Hood, attacked at Kolb’s Farm, Georgia, and lost 1,500 precious Confederate soldiers, Sherman believed that Johnston’s line was stretched thin and that an assault would break the Rebels. So he changed his tactics and planned a move against the center of the Confederate lines around Kennesaw Mountain. He feigned attacks on both of Johnston’s flanks, then hurled 8,000 men at the Confederate center. It was a disaster. Entrenched Southerners bombarded the Yankees, who were attacking uphill. Three thousand Union troops fell, compared with just 500 Confederates.
All this area was my old stomping grounds- I grew up in Smyrna, Georgia, which is just slightly southwest of Kennesaw Mountain. The area around Kennesaw, Marietta, and Smyrna is dotted with the battlefields of the Battle of Atlanta. If you have any curiosity at all you cannot help but get steeped in Civil War lore.
Before the growth of Atlanta exploded in the Seventies, the whole area was nothing but farms and sleepy little southern towns. Everyone had ancestors and family who had been affected by the Sherman’s leadup to the March to the Sea. On every back road and many small fields were the familiar signs telling of this and that short battle that happened while the armies marched back and forth north of Atlanta.
Alas, except for the signs, all that is gone now, swallowed by the megalopolis that Atlanta has become. The towns and the byways that I grew up in no longer exist- only the names remain, and a suburban sameness.
It was not hard to leave there.
That said, I’ll always remember how it was ‘way back when; the walks at Cheatham Hill, the old monument to the soldiers of Illinois that stood there, the guns that still stood on top of the Mountain where you could see the impossible task of the Union soldiers who charged up the slopes, and all the quiet places now buried under concrete and asphalt.
On this day in history in 1865 General Kirby Smith, Commander of the Confederate forces west of the Mississippi, surrendered, bringing about the traditional end of the American Civil War. Whether the War actually ended then or that the South actually lost are still undecided, considering current events…