On this day in 1864, students from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington participate in the Battle of New Market, Virginia, part of the multiple phase Union offensive in the spring of 1864 designed to take Virginia out of the war. Though this would be considered a side show, the struggle in the Shenandoah Valley would have dire consequences for the total outcome of the war.
On this day in 1968, Donald E. Ballard, Corpsman U.S. Navy, is awarded the Medal of Honor for action this date in Quang Tri Province. Ballard, from Kansas City, Missouri, was a corpsman with Company M, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. He had just finished evacuating two Marines with heatstroke when his unit was surprised by a Viet Cong ambush. Immediately racing to the aid of a casualty, Ballard applied a field dressing and was directing four Marines in the removal of the wounded man when an enemy soldier tossed a grenade into the group. With a warning shout of, “Grenade!” Ballard vaulted over the stretcher and pulled the grenade under his body. The grenade did not go off. Nevertheless, he received the Medal of Honor for his selfless act of courage. Ballard was only the second man whose valor was rewarded despite the fact that the deadly missile did not actually explode.
On this day in 1943, a B-17 of the 8th Airforce named Memphis Belle would fly her 25th and final combat mission over Lorient, France. It was a submarine base and considered a “milk run.” After the mission, the crew was received by the King & Queen of England and sent home to do war bond tours and to train pilots and men on new crews.
On this day in 1944, the Polish Corps, part of a multinational Allied Eighth Army offensive in southern Italy, finally pushes into Monte Cassino as the battle to break German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s defensive Gustav Line nears its end.
On this day in 1588, a massive Spanish fleet, known as the “Invincible Armada,” sets sail from Lisbon on a mission to secure control of the English Channel and transport a Spanish invasion army to Britain from the Netherlands.
On this day in 1940, the German army in northern France reaches the English Channel.
In reaching Abbeville, German armored columns, led by General Heinz Guderian (a tank expert), severed all communication between the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the north and the main French army in the south. He also cut off the Force from its supplies in the west. The Germans now faced the sea, England in sight. Winston Churchill was prepared for such a pass, having already made plans for the withdrawal of the BEF (the BEF was a home-based army force that went to northern France at the start of both World Wars in order to support the French armies) and having called on the British Admiralty to prepare “a large number of vessels” to cross over to France if necessary. With German tanks at the Channel, Churchill prepared for a possible invasion of England itself, approving a plan to put into place gun posts and barbed wire roadblocks to protect government offices in Whitehall as well as the prime minister’s dwelling, 10 Downing Street.
On this day in 1863, Nathaniel Banks, commander of the Union Department of the Gulf, surrounds the Confederate stronghold at Port Hudson, Louisiana, and attacks. Fortifications were built at Port Hudson in 1863 to protect New Orleans from a Union attack down the Mississippi River. On April 25, 1862, New Orleans had fallen into Union hands following an attack from the Gulf of Mexico by Admiral David Farragut. Still, Port Hudson was considered an important installation for the South since it was a significant threat to Federal ships on the Mississippi River.