A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting Historical Occurrences

This Week in History: A battle at Pleasant Hill, a man orbits the earth, and samurai duel.

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The Lost Battalion Dispatch #41 for the Week of April 9, 2023
Battle of Pleasant Hill Reenactment
After being beaten at the Battle of Mansfield, General Nathaniel P. Banks fell back to Pleasant Hill to regroup for a combined army-navy push on Shreveport, the capital of Louisiana, and the headquarters of the Confederate Department of Trans-Mississippi. The chief of the Trans-Mississippi Department, General Edmund Kirby Smith, ordered his men to keep the pressure on Banks, and on April 9th, 1864, General Dick Taylor engaged the Federals at Pleasant Hill.

Both sides had about 12,000 men. The Confederate force was augmented by 18 cannons recently acquired from the Union at the Battle of Mansfield. The Confederates attacked along the whole line simultaneously. They drove back the Union left and center, but General Hamilton Bee’s columns on the Union right were held up by a surprise attack from Union troops hiding in the woods east of Pleasant Hill Road. The rest of the Union line rallied, and the Confederates fell back after fighting for about two hours. Casualties were heavy for such a small, short engagement. Both sides lost over 10% of the forces engages.

The combination of the heavy casualties suffered at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill and low water on the Red River, which prevent a further advance by Admiral David Porter’s gunboats, prompted Hill to retreat and abandon the Red River campaign.

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Captian John Smith
John Smith was named President of the Jamestown Colony on April 10th, 1608. In December of 1607, Smith and been captured while hunting by the Opechancanough. This tribe was part of a confederation formed by chief Powhattan, so Smith was carried off to the chief. He befriended Pocahontas, the chief’s daughter. By some account she saved him from execution. It’s possible that the “execution” was only a mock execution ritual intended to adopt Smith as a member of the tribe.

As president, Smiths sent a force to occupy a nearby island and drive away the native inhabitant. He also bought a nearby village for the price of some cooper and the bonded servitude of young settler Henry Spelman. The boy learned the Algonquin and served as interpreter to broker trade deals.

Smith tried to get English setters to move to the island and the village, which he renamed Nonsuch, but these efforts failed. In October of 1609 he returned to England for treatment of injuries suffered when gunpower exploded in his canoe. He never visited Jamestown again.

For the first time in the U.S. Weather Bureau’s history, an entire Bureau Office’s jurisdiction was under Tornado Warning on April 11th, 1965. In Northern Indiana, this was the beginning of the Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak. 55 confirmed tornados ripped across Arkansas, Iowa, and Wisconsin, with several deadly F4 scale storms hitting hard in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.

Two hundred sixty-six people were killed, and 1500 were injured in all. One tornado in Howard County, Indiana, leveled the towns of Alton and Kokomo before severely damaging Greentown and crashing into Marion, where it tore the roof off the VA Hospital and wrecked the Panorama shopping center (which was promptly looted). Over 200 homes were destroyed by this single storm.

In the aftermath, it was concluded that the high death toll could be attributed to many people being outdoors, enjoying the first day of seasonable weather or attending Church services, and not receiving weather updates from radio or television. As a result, several victims were killed in their cars. Furthermore, the Weather Service determined that the public did not discern the difference between a Forecast and an Alert. They implemented “tornado watch” and “tornado warning.”

Aerial View of Alto, Indiana after F4 Tornado on April 11, 1965
Yuri Gagarin
The Soviet Union took the lead in the Space Race on April 12, 1961, when Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into outer space. His Vostok I capsule was controlled entirely by automatic systems and commands from ground stations because medical staff and engineers were concerned that the effects of weightlessness might render him unable to control the craft. A code to unlock his controls was placed aboard in a sealed envelope, but Nikolia Kamamin, head of cosmonaut training, told Gagarin the code before launch anyway.

The single orbit went smoothly with only a minor SNAFU when the service and reentry modules did not separate properly during descent. However, the wires connecting the two soon burned away, allowing the reentry to go as planned. As planned, Gagarin ejected from the reentry module about 4 miles above the ground, and both landed separately via parachute.

The first people Gagarin encountered were a farmer and his daughter, who began backing away from him in fear, “Don’t be afraid,” he told them, “I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space, and I must find a telephone to call Moscow.”

Statue of the Duel between Miyamoto Musashi Sasaki Kojirō
The most famous of all samurai duels took place on April 13, 1612. Miyamoto Musashi agreed to meet Sasaki Kojirō to answer the question: Who is the greatest swordsman in Japan?

Sasaki Kojirō was known as the “Demon of the Western Provinces” because his nodachi-style sword was often depicted as the sword borne by demons. Kojirō’s weapon was also unusually long, 35.5 inches, given in the nickname “The Laundry Drying Pole.” He was also known as Ganryu after the school of swordsmanship he taught, “large rock style.” His most renowned move was “the turning swallow’s cut,” where a second cut on a different line of attack rapidly followed the initial stroke.

Musashi later became famous for fighting with two swords, a long katana and a short wakizashi. But he brought no blade at all to this fight.

Musashi arrived two hours late for the duel. Some cite this as a psychological tactic; others say he overslept and then took his time eating breakfast. While he was being rowed out to the island where the duel was to take place, legend has it that Musashi carved a bokken, a long wooden sword, out of one of the oars.

When Musashi finally arrived, Kojirō was furious. He rushed to the beach and said, “Are you late because you are scared?” He then pulled his sword out of the scabbard and flung the scabbard into the sea. Musashi replied, “If you have no further use for your scabbard, you are already dead.”

The outraged Kojirō struck first, using his famous “turning swallow’s cut.” Musashi avoided the blows, although some sources say one of them was so close that it severed Musashi’s headband. His counterblow with the heavy wooden bokken struck Kojirō squarely on the forehead, driving him to his knees. The stunned Kojirō lashed out at Musashi’s legs but failed to connect. Musashi’s second strike came down on Kojirō’s chest, breaking a rib and driving it into his heart. The duel was over.

Miyamoto Musashi would go on to spend many years studying Buddhism and swordsmanship. His enigmatic writings on the subjects are preserved in The Book of Five Rings, a manuscript he gave to his closest disciple days before he died in 1645.

Lincoln Assasination
On Good Friday, April 14th, 1865, an assassin shot President Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre, where the President and First Lady were attending a performance of the comedy Our American Cousin. As the killer attempted to escape by jumping out of the balcony booth where the Lincoln party was sitting, Major Henry Rathbone seized his coat. The assailant had dropped his gun but slashed Rathbone with a knife to make good his escape.

At that exact moment, another conspirator attacked the home of Secretary of State Willaim Seward. Seward was ill, and the would-be assassin posed as a courier delivering medicine. Seward’s son Frederick became suspicious and prevented the man from entering his father’s bedroom. The assailant tried to shoot Frederick, but the gun misfired. In the ensuing scuffle, the man struck Frederick on the head with the gun and managed to burst into the bedroom. He stabbed Steward five times in the face and neck before a guard, and a nurse pulled him off.

A third conspirator had been assigned to attack Vice President Andrew Johnson, but he chickened out and went drinking instead.

Lincoln died at 7:22 on April 15th. Andrew Johnson was sworn in as President. Seward, though several wondered, recovered.

The Seward assailant was captured two days later when he returned to the boarding house the conspirators had occupied. Johnson’s would-be assassin was tracked to a barn on a relative’s property in Maryland and arrested on April 20th. Finally, Lincoln’s assassin and the man who held the getaway horse were hunted down in a Virginia barn on April 26th. The horse holder surrendered. The assassin was killed. All three men who took direct roles in the assassination attempts and the woman who owned the boarding house where the conspiracy was planned were sentenced to hanging by a military tribunal. Four others were sentenced to prison. One did behind bars. The remainder had their sentences commuted by Andrew Johnson in 1889.

On April 15, 1955, Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald’s franchise restaurant in Des Plaine, IL. Kroc and the founding McDonald brothers fought for control of the company until Kroc borrowed the money for a $2.7 million buy-out in 1961. With Kroc at the helm, McDonald’s became the world’s largest restaurant chain. It serves 69 million customers daily in 100 countries. In 2021 the company had a net income of over $7,500 million in the US alone. Whatever you might think about the quality of fast food or the working conditions, there can be no doubt about the financial success Ray Kroc’s vision brought to McDonald’s.
Ray Kroc’s McDonald’s in Des Plaines, 1955

A Spirited Game of Sergeants at Adepticon 2023

Big things have come out of our trip to the convention! Look for announcements about new products and other great stuff in the coming months!

About the Lost Battalion Dispatch

This weekly newsletter is brought to you by Cher Ami, the homing pigeon whose heroic flight helped bring relief from a barrage of friendly fire to the First Battalion, 308th Infantry of 77th New York Infantry Division and alerted high command that over 500 American troops were holding out against all odds while surrounded in the Argonne Forest during World War One.

At Lost Battalion Publishing we take inspiration from the historical Lost Battalion that never gave up, never lost hope, and persevered despite a series of devastating setbacks.

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