Posts Tagged ‘Military History’

What does Cairo have in common with the Mississippi River?

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
Civil War era image of USS Cairo

Civil War era image of USS Cairo

The answer is the USS Cairo, which is actually pronounced “kare-o”. It was one of seven ironclad gunboats named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers. In January, 1862, during the Civil War, it was commissioned by the North as a way to gain control over the lower Mississippi – part of a plan to split the South in two. Unfortunately, the USS Cairo had a short life and was the first ship to be sunk by an electronically detonated torpedo on December 12, 1862. Two explosions ripped open the hull of the ship causing it to sink 35 feet into the river in only 12 minutes – amazingly with no loss of life.Time passed with no way of retrieving the USS Cairowhich remained at the bottom of the river. Over the years, the story was forgotten and locals weren’t really sure what happened—if members of the crew had died, or even of the gunboat’s exact location.

In 1956, Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader Ed Bearss, started analyzing contemporary documents and maps. As Historian at the Vicksburg National Military Park, he and his companions Don Jacks and Warren Grabau made it their goal to uncover the gunboat, which was now buried under almost one hundred years of silt and mud. While they believed they had found the site of the ship, it wasn’t until three years later that Cairo’s armored port covers were brought to the surface, confirming the find.

It took several additional years to gain public interest and funding, and then there was the issue of actually raising an ironclad gunboat from the bottom of a river. After securing funding, the decision was made to split the USS Cairo into three parts in order to lift them to the surface. The entire ship was finally raised on December 12, 1964—exactly 102 years after it sank. After a long preservation process, it is now on display at the Vicksburg National Military Park.

The USS Cairo Gunboat today, Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service

The USS Cairo Gunboat today, Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service

Which Civil War locations have you visited? Share Below.

An Unlikely Survivor of the Battle of Little Bighorn

Monday, April 26th, 2010
Comanche, the only U.S. Army survivor in the Battle of Little Bighorn, photographed in 1887

Comanche, the only U.S. Army survivor in the Battle of Little Bighorn, photographed in 1887

There were many notable characters that history has documented from the Battle of Little Bighorn.

First, there was the notorious Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, a former Civil War hero with an ego and recklessness that led him and his men to complete defeat in Montana. As the military leader of the U.S. Army’s 7th Calvary, he led 263 soldiers and various personnel into Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne territory on June 25, 1876, with tragic results.

Then there was Crazy Horse, a well-respected Oglala Lakota warrior who was instrumental in the defeat of Custer. He led a surprise attack with more than 1,500 Lakota and Cheyenne fighters against Brigadier General George Crook’s own force of 1,000 and his allied crew of 300 Crow and Shoshone warriors. This separate conflict, called the Battle of the Rosebud, meant that Crook could not join the 7th Cavalry at Little Bighorn and left Custer without enough men. The result was only one survivor.

The only survivor of the U.S. 7th Cavalry at Little Bighorn was actually a horse of mustang lineage named Comanche. A burial party that was investigating the site two days later found the severely wounded horse. He was then sent to Fort Lincoln, 950 miles away, to spend the next year recuperating from his injuries. Even though the horse remained with the 7th Calvary, it was ordered that he never be ridden again and be formally excused from all duties. The horse’s primary responsibility going forward was at formal military functions where he was draped in black, with stirrups and boots reversed, at the head of the Regiment.

Comanche eventually died at the age of 29 of colic on November 7, 1891. The officers of the 7th Calvary wanted to preserve the horse, so after the taxidermist completed the project, Comanche was put on display in the Chicago Exposition of 1893.

Today, you can visit Comanche at Dyche Hall at the University of Kansas. The Museum of Natural History at the University now keeps him on display to the public in a  humidity controlled glass case.

Who is your favorite famous horse from history? Share Below.