Forgotten Civil War hero honored

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/forgotten-civil-war-hero-honored

Sergeant William Harvey Carney is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery on July 18, 1863, while fighting for the Union cause as a member of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry. He was the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor, which is the nation’s highest military honor.

The 54th Massachusetts, formed in early 1863, served as the prototype for African American regiments in the Union army. On July 16, 1863, the regiment saw its first action at James Island, South Carolina, performing admirably in a confrontation with experienced Confederate troops. Three days later, the 54th volunteered to lead the assault on Fort Wagner, a highly fortified outpost on Morris Island that was part of the Confederate defense of Charleston Harbor.

Struggling against a lethal barrage of cannon and rifle fire, the regiment fought their way to the top of the fort’s parapet over several hours. Sergeant William Harvey Carney was wounded there while planting the U.S. flag. The regiment’s white commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, was killed, and his soldiers were overwhelmed by the fort’s defenders and had to fall back. Despite his wound, Carney refused to retreat until he removed the flag, and though successful, he was shot again in the process. The 54th lost 281 of its 600 men in its brave attempt to take Fort Wagner, which throughout the war never fell by force of arms. The 54th went on to perform honorably in expeditions in Georgia and Florida, most notably at the Battle of Olustee. Carney eventually recovered and was discharged with disability on June 30, 1864.

High-ranking Nazi official Adolf Eichmann captured

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/eichmann-captured

On May 23, 1960, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announces to the world that Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann has been captured and will stand trial in Israel. Eichmann, the Nazi SS officer who organized Adolf Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish question,” was seized by Israeli agents in Argentina on May 11 and smuggled to Israel nine days later.

Eichmann was born in Solingen, Germany, in 1906. In November 1932, he joined the Nazi’s elite SS (Schutzstaffel) organization, whose members came to have broad responsibilities in Nazi Germany, including policing, intelligence, and the enforcement of Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. Eichmann steadily rose in the SS hierarchy, and with the German annexation of Austria in 1938, he was sent to Vienna with the mission of ridding the city of Jews. He set up an efficient Jewish deportment center and in 1939 was sent to Prague on a similar mission. That year, Eichmann was appointed to the Jewish section of the SS central security office in Berlin.

In January 1942, Eichmann met with top Nazi officials at the Wannsee Conference near Berlin for the purpose of planning a “final solution of the Jewish question,” as Nazi leader Hermann Goring put it. The Nazis decided to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population. Eichmann was appointed to coordinate the identification, assembly, and transportation of millions of Jews from occupied Europe to the Nazi death camps, where Jews were gassed or worked to death. He carried this duty out with horrifying efficiency, and between three to four million Jews perished in the extermination camps before the end of World War II. Close to 2 million were executed elsewhere.

Following the war, Eichmann was captured by U.S. troops, but he escaped the prison camp in 1946 before having to face the Nuremberg International War Crimes Tribunal. Eichmann traveled under an assumed identity between Europe and the Middle East and in 1950 arrived in Argentina, which maintained lax immigration policies and was a safe haven for many Nazi war criminals. In 1957, a German prosecutor secretly informed Israel that Eichmann was living in Argentina. Agents from Israel’s intelligence service, the Mossad, were deployed to Argentina, and in early 1960 they finally located Eichmann. He was living in the San Fernando section of Buenos Aires, under the name Ricardo Klement.

In May 1960, Argentina was celebrating the 150th anniversary of its revolution against Spain, and many tourists were traveling to Argentina from abroad to attend the festivities. The Mossad used the opportunity to smuggle more agents into the country. Israel, knowing that Argentina might never extradite Eichmann for trial, had decided to abduct him and take him to Israel illegally. On May 11, Mossad operatives descended on Garibaldi Street in San Fernando and snatched Eichmann away as he was walking from the bus to his home. His family called local hospitals but not the police, and Argentina knew nothing of the operation. On May 20, a drugged Eichmann was flown out of Argentina disguised as an Israeli airline worker who had suffered head trauma in an accident. Three days later, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion announced that Eichmann was in Israeli custody.

Argentina demanded Eichmann’s return, but Israel argued that his status as an international war criminal gave it the right to proceed with a trial. On April 11, 1961, Eichmann’s trial began in Jerusalem. It was the first trial to be televised in history. Eichmann faced 15 charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and war crimes. He claimed he was just following orders, but the judges disagreed, finding him guilty on all counts on December 15 and sentencing him to die. On May 31, 1962, he was hanged near Tel Aviv. His body was subsequently cremated and his ashes thrown into the sea.

Negotiators differ on diplomatic exchange

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/negotiators-differ-on-diplomatic-exchange

Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, at the 18th plenary session of the Paris peace talks, says he finds common ground for discussion in the proposals of President Richard Nixon and the National Liberation Front. In reply, Nguyen Thanh Le, spokesman for the North Vietnamese, said the programs were “as different as day and night.”

At the 16th plenary session of the Paris talks on May 8, the National Liberation Front had presented a 10-point program for an “overall solution” to the war. This proposal included an unconditional withdrawal of United States and Allied troops from Vietnam; the establishment of a coalition government and the holding of free elections; the demand that the South Vietnamese settle their own affairs “without foreign interference”; and the eventual reunification of North and South Vietnam.

In a speech to the American public on 14 May, President Nixon responded to the communist plan with a proposal of his own. He proposed a phased, mutual withdrawal of major portions of U.S. Allied and North Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam over a 12-month period. The remaining non-South Vietnamese forces would withdraw to enclaves and abide by a cease-fire until withdrawals were completed. Nixon also insisted that North Vietnamese forces withdraw from Cambodia and Laos at the same time and offered internationally supervised elections for South Vietnam. Nixon’s offer of a “simultaneous start on withdrawal” represented a revision of the last formal proposal offered by the Johnson administration in October 1966. In the earlier proposal, known as the “Manila formula,” the United States stated that the withdrawal of U.S. forces would be completed within six months after the North Vietnamese left South Vietnam.

In the end, Nguyen Thanh Le’s observation was on target. The communists’ proposal and Nixon’s counteroffer were very different and there was, in fact, almost no common ground. Neither side relented and nothing meaningful came from this diplomatic exchange.

U.S. Secretary of State accuses North Vietnam of aggression in South Vietnam

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rusk-warns-north-vietnamese

In a major speech before the American Law Institute in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State Dean Rusk explicitly accuses North Vietnam of initiating and directing the aggression in South Vietnam. U.S. withdrawal, said Rusk, “would mean not only grievous losses to the free world in Southeast and Southern Asia but a drastic loss of confidence in the will and capacity of the free world.” He concluded: “There is a simple prescription for peace–leave your neighbors alone.” In the fall, there was incontrovertible evidence that North Vietnamese regular troops were moviing down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to join the Viet Cong in their war against the Saigon government and its forces.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Thailand mobilized its border provinces against incursions by the communist Pathet Lao forces from Laos and agreed to the use of bases by the U.S. Air Force for reconnaissance, search and rescue, and even attacks against the Pathet Lao. By the end of the year, some 75 U.S. aircraft would be based in Thailand to assist in operations against the Pathet Lao. Eventually, Thailand permitted the United States to use its air bases for operations against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese in South Vietnam, and ultimately to launch bombing raids against North Vietnam. In addition, Thailand sent combat troops to South Vietnam, numbering 11,000 at the height of the Thai commitment.

Crisis mounts in Austria-Hungary amid hunger and discontent

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/crisis-in-austria-hungary

With hunger and discontent spreading among the civilian and military populations of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a crisis mounts within its government, as Hungarian Prime Minister Istvan Tisza resigns at the request of the Austrian emperor, Karl I, on May 22, 1917.

A great power in decline when World War I broke out in 1914, Austria-Hungary was a predominately agricultural society but was not agriculturally self-sufficient. The war had cut off the empire’s two main sources of food, Russia and Romania, and the military effort cut domestic production significantly: by 1917, Austria’s output of wheat had fallen to less than half of its 1913 total, and that of rye and oats had fallen even more. To make matters worse, Hungary—Austria’s less powerful partner in the so-called Dual Monarchy—had closed its frontier with Austria in 1914 and ceased to consider its agricultural produce as a common resource, choosing instead to sell whatever surplus it had to the army and to Germany. Defeat on the battlefield against Russia in the first years of war forced Austria-Hungary to rely heavily on its ally, Germany, to keep them in the war effort, and the Italian entrance into the war in 1915 forced the Austrians to fight on yet another front, to the south.

On November 21, 1916, Emperor Franz Josef died; he was succeeded by his great-nephew, Karl I, who assumed supreme command of the army, dismissing longtime chief of the general staff, Conrad von Hotzendorff. Though the new emperor promised to institute reforms and build consensus within the Dual Monarchy, his efforts led initially to disorder and dissent. Karl’s liberalism posed a direct challenge to the Hungarian government and its prime minister, Ivan Tisza. His reformist opposition within Hungary, Party of Independence, led by Mihaly Karolyi, favored a total break with Austria when the compromise between the two nations came up for renewal in 1917.

Socialists and revolutionaries supported Karolyi, who organized major demonstrations in Budapest on May 1, 1917. Meanwhile, though he had urged restraint in 1914, Tisza was by now associated in the mind of the Hungarian public with the aggressive prosecution of a war effort many had come to see as hopeless, and had begun to lose much-needed support. At the emperor’s request, he tendered his resignation on May 22, 1917. He was succeeded by Moritz Esterhazy, who expressed his desire to build “Hungarian democracy”; the new deal between Austria and Hungary, signed in December, would last just two years, not the expected 20. Still blamed for the continued war effort, and its impending failure, Tisza was assassinated on October 31, 1918, by Magyar members of the Communist Red Guard.

Meanwhile, barely a week after Tisza’s resignation in May 1917, Austria-Hungary experienced the first of a series of mutinies within its army. Led by nationalist groups, the first mutiny involved a group of Slovenes; no sooner had it been suppressed than others broke out, led by Serbs, Rusyns (or Ruthenians) and Czechs.

Great Emigration departs for Oregon

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/great-emigration-departs-for-oregon

A massive wagon train, made up of 1,000 settlers and 1,000 head of cattle, sets off down the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri. Known as the “Great Emigration,” the expedition came two years after the first modest party of settlers made the long, overland journey to Oregon.

After leaving Independence, the giant wagon train followed the Sante Fe Trail for some 40 miles and then turned northwest to the Platte River, which it followed along its northern route to Fort Laramie, Wyoming. From there, it traveled on to the Rocky Mountains, which it passed through by way of the broad, level South Pass that led to the basin of the Colorado River. The travelers then went southwest to Fort Bridger, northwest across a divide to Fort Hall on the Snake River, and on to Fort Boise, where they gained supplies for the difficult journey over the Blue Mountains and into Oregon. The Great Emigration finally arrived in October, completing the 2,000-mile journey from Independence in five months.

In the next year, four more wagon trains made the journey, and in 1845 the number of emigrants who used the Oregon Trail exceeded 3,000. Travel along the trail gradually declined with the advent of the railroads, and the route was finally abandoned in the 1870s.

Operation Chattanooga Choo-Choo is launched

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/operation-chattanooga-choo-choo-is-launched

On this day in 1944, U.S. and British aircraft begin a systematic bombing raid on railroads in Germany and other parts of northern Europe, called Operation Chattanooga Choo-Choo. The operation is a success; Germany is forced to scramble for laborers, including foreign slave laborers, to repair the widespread damage exacted on its railway network.

The Pact of Steel is signed; the Axis is formed

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-pact-of-steel-is-signed-the-axis-is-formed

On this day in 1939, Italy and Germany agree to a military and political alliance, giving birth formally to the Axis powers, which will ultimately include Japan.

Mussolini coined the nickname “Pact of Steel” (he had also come up with the metaphor of an “axis” binding Rome and Berlin) after reconsidering his first choice, “Pact of Blood,” to describe this historic agreement with Germany. The Duce saw this partnership as not only a defensive alliance, protection from the Western democracies, with whom he anticipated war, but also a source of backing for his Balkan adventures. Both sides were fearful and distrustful of the other, and only sketchily shared their prospective plans. The result was both Italy and Germany, rather than acting in unison, would often “react” to the precipitate military action of the other. In September 1940, the Pact of Steel would become the Tripartite Pact, with Japan making up the third constituent of the triad.

President Nixon arrives in Moscow for historic summit

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/president-nixon-in-moscow

On this day, President Richard Nixon arrives in Moscow for a summit with Soviet leaders.

Although it was Nixon’s first visit to the Soviet Union as president, he had visited Moscow once before–as U.S. vice president. As Eisenhower’s vice president, Nixon made frequent official trips abroad, including a 1959 trip to Moscow to tour the Soviet capital and to attend the U.S. Trade and Cultural Fair in Sokolniki Park. Soon after Vice President Nixon arrived in July 1959, he opened an informal debate with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev about the merits and disadvantages of their governments’ political and economic systems. Known as the “Kitchen Debate” because of a particularly heated exchange between Khrushchev and Nixon that occurred in the kitchen of a model U.S. home at the American fair, the dialogue was a defining moment in the Cold War.

Nixon’s second visit to Moscow in May 1972, this time as president, was for a more conciliatory purpose. During a week of summit meetings with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and other Soviet officials, the United States and the USSR reached a number of agreements, including one that laid the groundwork for a joint space flight in 1975. On May 26, Nixon and Brezhnev signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), the most significant of the agreements reached during the summit. The treaty limited the United States and the USSR to 200 antiballistic missiles each, which were to be divided between two defensive systems. President Nixon returned to the United States on May 30.