The miracles that saved America – The Daily News Online






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MEDINA — History is full of “what if?”

What if Adolph Hitler got into art college? What if the South won the American Civil War?

Lee Siamson, a former Niagara County legislator who spends his retirement exploring the past, gave a presentation on Monday at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library about eight instances of those “what if” scenarios nearly being a reality, easily leading to a different American history than what’s known today.

“A lot of strange things have happened in history,” he said. “A lot of unexplained circumstances, mysterious twists and turns — unexpected outcomes.

“I’m going to discuss several events that occurred between 1755 and 1942, that not only saved our country, but caused many people — including eyewitnesses that were there — to actually question what happened.”

June 4, 1942 — World War II — Battle of Midway

Following Pearl Harbor, the United States was reeling from one defeat after another. Going into the battle, the Japanese military was advancing on every front and its campaign to control the Pacific was becoming very real.

But that all changed with the Battle of Midway.

Setting the stage, the Americans were able to break the Japanese code and figure out that a location referred to as “AF” was going to be attacked. While the United States wasn’t sure what it referred to, Capt. Joseph Rochefort and his team suspected it was Midway.

Lt. Comm. Jasper Holmes suggested the commander at Midway send a fake distress message stating, “we only have enough water for two weeks, please supply us immediately.”

The bait worked, and a few days later the Japanese sent an encrypted message saying AF had water problems.

With proof AF was Midway, Admiral Chester Nimitz started planning to ambush the Japanese fleet, but didn’t have much to work with.

“He was going to be grossly outnumbered, but the Americans gambled and put all their eggs in one basket,” said Siamson.

The first wave of American torpedo planes suffered the full force of Japanese defense. Out of 30 pilots and crew in Torpedo Squadron 8 from the USS Hornet, only one man survived.

The efforts were not in vain as American dive-bombing squadrons from the United States carriers Enterprise and Yorktown, led by Buffalo native Lt. Cmdr. Wade McClusky arrived minutes later.

Flying at a much higher altitude and navigating by instinct, McClusky had his crew had continued the search for the Japanese fleet despite going beyond the point of no return because the planes were so low on fuel. He then spotted the wake of a Japanese destroyer and followed it to find four Japanese aircraft carriers, the heart of the entire Japanese naval force.

At that moment, most of the Japanese planes were being refueled and rearmed after wiping out the first American squadrons. In a few minutes, the Americans inflicted damage so heavy that three Japanese aircraft carriers sank.

“In just moments, the entire Japanese naval force was cut in half. The Japanese were so shocked, its government kept the Battle of Midway a secret from the Japanese people,” Siamson said.

McClusky’s team fought off attacks from two Japanese fighters but he still managed to land safely with less than a gallon of fuel in his tanks.

Sept. 13-19, 1814 — War of 1812 — The British Attack on Fort McHenry

Major George Armistead was stationed at Ft. Niagara, but couldn’t tolerate the cold winters and asked for a transfer.

Assigned to Ft. McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812 —in round two of Britain versus the United States — the war was the American Revolution all over again.

Britain sent 19 of its most-powerful warships to Baltimore, and Armistead knew Fort McHenry would be the key to defending the city.

If the fort fell, Baltimore would fall, and there was a good chance America would fall as well.

One of the British ships included the H.M.S Volcano, a state-of-the-art ship which could shoot a 90-pound cast-iron bomb designed to explode in the air two miles. The fort’s cannons had less than half that range, so the fort would need to sit and accept its punishment, waiting for the British to run out of ammunition.

“Armistead and his men were painfully aware that the fort’s powder magazine — the place where they stored the fort’s gunpowder — was extremely vulnerable to mortar fire,” Siamson said. “During one incredible moment, the American defenders could see an incoming mortar shell heading straight toward the powder magazine.”

The shell made a direct hit, but nothing happened.

The next morning, the British fleet ran out of ammunition and threw in the towel. In all, Fort McHenry withstood a bombardment of 1,800 bombs in a 24-hour period, but only four Americans were killed and the buildings were only slightly damaged.

Armistead hosted the big flag over the fort, and Francis Scott Key, a prisoner on the British ship, penned “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Jan. 8, 1815 — War of 1812 — The Battle of New Orleans

Four months after the attack on Fort McHenry, the British decided to invade the poorly-defended city of New Orleans.

There were 11,000 battle-hardened British soldiers who outnumbered the untrained American militia three-to-one.

It would be impossible for the British to lose.

Yet they did, in no small part thanks to the French pirate, Jean Lafitte.

Lafitte ran a prosperous smuggling operation in the bayous and swamps south of New Orleans, and American authorities had been chasing him for years despite never attacking an American ship. He was popular with the local citizens and something of a folk hero.

“Lafitte thought he could control the Americans far more than he could ever control the British,” Siamson said. “So despite being bribed by the British to work for the British, he offered his services to the Americans.

“The deal was this: To help the Americans, they would release his brother from jail, all his men would receive pardons and he would be left alone.”

Gen. Andrew Jackson took him on, and Lafitte brought on not only hundreds of experienced fighters, but also a massive amount of artillery, weapons and gunpowder — all stolen property.

The night before the battle at the Ursuline convent in New Orleans, the nuns — joined by many of the faithful — prayed throughout the night for an American victory. The next morning, another service was held and the prioress made a vow to have an annual mass of Thanksgiving if a victory was granted to the Americans.

At the moment of communion, a courier came running into the service shouting the Americans had won the battle.

The mass of Thanksgiving has been faithfully served every year since 1815 by the Ursuline nuns.

Following the victory, citizens for the very first time referred to themselves not by the states they hailed from, but as Americans.

Sept. 23, 1780 — The American Revolution — ANDRE CAPTURE AT Tarrytown

Gen. Benedict Arnold was one of George Washington’s most trusted advisors, but on Aug. 30, 1780 he conspired with the British to surrender West Point — America’s most important fortress — for today’s equivalent of $1 million.

Arnold met with a British spy, Major John Andre, and to help him escape through American lines, Arnold provided him with civilian clothes and a passport with the alias “John Anderson.” Arnold told Andre to put the papers in his socks.

On the morning of Sept. 23, 1780, Andre got on his horse and began to ride back to his British contacts when he was stopped and questioned by three American militiamen in Tarrytown. The men were local farmers and only one could read.

“Strangely, even though all of Andre’s papers were in order, they searched him once, they searched him twice and then inexplicably they searched him a third time,” Siamson said. “They told Andre to take his boots and socks off. That’s when they discovered the papers.”

Refusing Andre’s bribe to let him go and instead delivered him to the Continental Army, where he would later be hung as a spy.

Washington was shocked at the betrayal of Arnold, but thrilled with the turn of events.

Aug. 29, 1776 — The American Revolution — Battle of Brooklyn

It was the first major battle after the Declaration of Independence was signed, and 9,000 poorly trained, ill-equipped American troops were engaged in the first major battle of the war in Brooklyn.

The Americans were cornered with their backs against the sea and the British were within hours of a stunning victory.

“That’s the entire American army by the way. That’s everybody, all in one place, at the same time,” Siamson said. “America was about to lose all of it, and the idea of becoming an independent country was going to be snuffed out before it got started.”

Washington needed to retreat, and decided to evacuate by boats and ferries to Manhattan island in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, there wouldn’t be enough time to get everyone across the East River before dawn broke. The British would see them escape, and take countermeasures, and sure enough when the sun began to rise only half of the Americans had been able to make it across the river.

That’s when a thick fog rolled in and provided perfect cover for retreat in the morning. At 7 a.m., Washington and the last American troops landed in Manhattan — all 9,000 men had been evacuated and not a single man was lost.

July 9, 1755 — The French and Indian War — Battle of the Wilderness

The French and Indian War was a war between the French and English with most of the Native Americans on the French side. The English wanted the French out of the Ohio Valley.

George Washington was 23-years-old and working for the British as the top aid for British Gen. Edward Braddock. Accompanying Braddock and 1,000 men into the Pennsylvania country to confront the French when they were ambushed outside of Pittsburg.

“It was like shooting fish in a barrel. The French and (Native Americans) hid behind trees, and the British had no idea how to fight (Native American) style,” Siamson said. “They stood there in the open and it was a slaughter.”

Out of the 1,000 British soldiers, 700 were killed compared to the 30 on the French side. Braddock was killed but Washington didn’t suffer a scratch. Native Americans later testified they had singled Washington out.

Aug. 24, 1814 — War of 1812 — Burning of Washington D.C.

The British sent 7,000 troops to invade Washington D.C. which had little to no defenses.

When the British walked in through the front door of the White House, they saw a dinner for 40 people had been prepared, so rather then having the food go to waste the British army enjoyed a meal. After dinner, they ransacked the place and set the White House on fire before moving on to the Capital Building and the U.S. Treasury building.

“There was one more point; the Green Leaf Arsenal where the Americans stored all their weapons and gunpowder,” Siamson said. “When the British arrived, they found 150 barrels of gunpowder. Faced with the problem of destroying so much powder, the British soldiers threw the barrels into a very deep well, but there were so many barrels many of them ended up above the water line.”

Meanwhile a storm of Biblical proportions comes out of nowhere — Washington D.C. had never seen anything like it before nor anything like it since. The wind picked up a lit fuse and blew it into the well stacked with gunpowder. The earth shook and a huge column of fire shot from the well, followed almost instantly afterwards with the rest of the arsenal blowing up, tearing British soldiers apart and throwing their mangled bodies into the air.

The concussion of the explosion was felt across the city and the smoke, flames and flying debris was visible for miles. On top of that, the fires were extinguished by a torrent of rain and violent weather.

A British commander holed up in a building trying to wait out a storm was with an American woman. He asked her if this type of storm was what they were accustomed to, and the woman replied with, “No sir. This is a special interspersion of providence to drive enemies from our city.”

The British needed to retreat within 24 hours of taking the city and there were more British soldiers injured and killed by the weather then by any American defense.

July 2, 1863 — The American Civil War — The Battle of Little Round Top

The Battle of Gettysburg was a bloodbath and the turning point of the American Civil War. A total of 164,000 men fought at Gettysburg and 53,000 died.

On the way to fight at Gettysburg, Col. Joshua Chamberlain and his regiment — the 20th Maine — reached a fork in the road and were unsure which direction to take. Suddenly, an imposing figure appeared on horseback to lead them to the spot they were supposed to defend. Some soldiers recognized him as Gen. George Washington from his portrait, despite the president dying 64 years prior to the Civil War.

The location on Little Round Top came to be the most important position in the battle.

Chamberlain and his men repelled the first wave of Confederate advances, then a second wave.

When Chamberlain left Maine, he had 1,000 men. Now he was down to just 80 when the Confederates launched a third attack.

“To add injury to insult, Chamberlain were all out of ammunition. The Confederates outnumbered Chamberlain’s men five to one and knew Chamberlain were on the ropes,” Siamson said. “One more push, and they would be able to break through his line and win the Battle of Gettysburg.”

Unable to retreat or shoot, Chamberlain ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge down the hill into the Confederate force. Shocked at the horde of American soldiers running screaming down the hill, the soldiers from Alabama retreated, running for their lives.

The miracles that saved America – The Daily News Online

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