History Happenings August: WWII, Civil War | Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours

History Happenings August: WWII, Civil War

Anti-aircraft during Siege of LeningradBefore we jump into History Happenings in World War II and the American Civil War for August, we have a quote that we’d like to share with you about the month, which is especially apropo for those of us who live here in the Gulf South:

“The children start school now in August. They say it has to do with air-conditioning, but I know sadism when I see it.” 
― Rick BraggMy Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South

World War II

23 August 1939 – Two sworn enemies, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to a non-aggression pact. Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov met with the ultimate goal of attacking Poland. Britain and France both urged the Poles to refrain from mobilizing—British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain felt that Poland should make concessions to Hitler’s demands. Poland refused and Hitler ordered the strike for 26 August. He called it off because of the mutual defense treaty between Great Britain and Poland. He also balked because of his Italian ally, Benito Mussolini, who proclaimed neutrality. Hitler proceeded with his plan and invaded on 1 September. Chamberlain was compelled to declare war on Germany, only after the British Parliament forced his hand.

20 August 1940 – Josef Stalin (Josef Vissarionovich Dzugashvili) saw to it that his hated rival, Leon Trotsky met his end. Trotsky was a committed Bolshevik leader who had fled for his life to avoid arrest and imprisonment for his opposition to Stalin. As a committed socialist, he believed in an idealized revolution for the proletariat throughout the world, whereas Stalin wanted complete central control of the Soviet state. He had been in exile in Mexico City when he was done in with an ice pick to the back of the head. His assassin was Roman Mercader, a Spanish Catalan recruited by the NKVD especially for that mission. After his arrest, Mercader spent twenty years in a Mexican prison. Upon his release, he first went to Havana under the protection of Fidel Castro, then to Moscow. He died in 1978. 

22 August 1941 – Leningrad, formerly St. Petersburg and Russia’s “Window to the West,” prepared for the onslaught of the German Army Group North under Field Marshal Wilhelm von Leeb. The 900-day siege was about to begin. On the Soviet side, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov called all citizens and soldiers to arms, vowing that the Nazis will never set foot in the city. The Third Reich’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, claimed that the 750,000 Wehrmacht would grind the city “to rubble.” Photo: The fire of anti-aircraft guns deployed in the neighborhood of St. Isaac’s cathedral during the defense of Leningrad in 1941.

3-15 August 1942 – In Shantung Province China, the Japanese army took advantage of discord and open mutiny of Communist troops against Nationalist Chinese forces to surround and capture thousands of soldiers and their officers. Nationalist General Yu-Hsueh-Chung had to escape disguised as a peasant shepherd after his headquarters was taken by defectors. 

16 August 1945 – Winston Churchill, now Leader of the Opposition despite having lost the election in July to the Labor Party, presaged his famous “Iron Curtain” speech. He expressed his concerns that a “tragedy on a prodigious scale is imposing itself behind the Iron Curtain which at present divides Europe in twain.” He would deliver his definitive talk the following March in the U.S. when he declared, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent.”

American Civil War

27 August 1861 – Once the war began, the General of the U.S. Army, Winfield Scott, put the Anaconda Plan into action to restrict all shipping from Southern seaports. Rather than suffocate Confederate trade, it prompted blockade runners to spring into action. With a long coastline punctuated by numerous bays and estuaries, enforcement was difficult. One area was Cape Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina. The Confederates had constructed two forts there to protect their runners and they became the target of a Federal naval attack. After a two-day artillery battle and beach landings of Union Marines, the forts surrendered. Although not significant militarily, it was positive propaganda to furnish to the Northern press.

24 August 1862 – The CSS Alabama received its commission as a Confederate Navy cruiser and loaded necessary armaments and supplies near the Azores in the Atlantic. The vessel had been built in Liverpool, England in total secrecy. Once under sail, the Alabama wreaked havoc on Union shipping while ranging from the coast of New England to the Caribbean.

21 August 1863 – Confederate sympathizers and Missouri guerillas under William Quantrill raided the town of Lawrence, Kansas killing 150 men and boys and destroying the town. They did this to retaliate for the Union army’s raid on Osceola, Missouri, part of a continuing war between the Free-staters of Kansas and pro-Southern Missourians. Lawrence was the center of the Kansas anti-slavery movement and had gone through similar violence in 1856.

21 August 1864 – Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest led 2,000 men in a raid on Union occupied Memphis, Tennessee. Striking in the pre-dawn hours, Forrest had wanted to capture the commanding U.S. generals and free prisoners held there. General Cadwallader Washburn was able to escape from the raiders in his nightshirt, in what is today called “Washburn Alley.” Although not completely successful, Forrest came away with stores of gold, prisoners and horses, and his mission proved to be a great embarrassment for the Federals.

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