1898 The Battle of San Juan Hill As part of their campaign to capture Spanish-held Santiago de Cuba on the southern coast of Cuba, the U.S. Army Fifth Corps engages Spanish forces at El Caney and San Juan Hill. In May 1898, one month after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, a Spanish fleet docked in the Santiago de Cuba harbor after racing across the Atlantic from Spain. A superior U.S. naval force arrived soon after and blockaded the harbor entrance. In June, the U.S. Army Fifth Corps landed on Cuba with the aim of marching to Santiago and launching a coordinated land and sea assault on the Spanish stronghold. Included among the U.S. ground troops were the Theodore Roosevelt-led “Rough Riders,” a collection of Western cowboys and Eastern blue bloods officially known as the First U.S. Voluntary Cavalry. The U.S. Army Fifth Corps fought its way to Santiago’s outer defenses, and on July 1 U.S. General William Shafter ordered an attack on the village of El Caney and San Juan Hill. Shafter hoped to capture El Caney before besieging the fortified heights of San Juan Hill, but the 500 Spanish defenders of the village put up a fierce resistance and held off 10 times their number for most of the day. Although El Caney was not secure, some 8,000 Americans pressed forward toward San Juan Hill. Hundreds fell under Spanish gunfire before reaching the base of the heights, where the force split up into two flanks to take San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill. The Rough Riders were among the troops in the right flank attacking Kettle Hill. When the order was given by Lieutenant John Miley that “the heights must be taken at all hazards,” the Rough Riders, who had been forced to leave their horses behind because of transportation difficulties, led the charge up the hills. The Rough Riders and the black soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments were the first up Kettle Hill, and San Juan Hill was taken soon after. From the crest, the Americans found themselves overlooking Santiago, and the next day they began a siege of the city. On July 3, the Spanish fleet was destroyed off Santiago by U.S. warships under Admiral William Sampson, and on July 17 the Spanish surrendered the city–and thus Cuba–to the Americans. 1916 Battle of the Somme begins At 7:30 a.m., the British launch a massive offensive against German forces in the Somme River region of France. During the preceding week, 250,000 Allied shells had pounded German positions near the Somme, and 100,000 British soldiers poured out of their trenches and into no-man’s-land on July 1, expecting to find the way cleared for them. However, scores of heavy German machine guns had survived the artillery onslaught, and the infantry were massacred. By the end of the day, 20,000 British soldiers were dead and 40,000 wounded. It was the single heaviest day of casualties in British military history. The disastrous Battle of the Somme stretched on for more than four months, with the Allies advancing a total of just five miles. When World War I broke out in August 1914, great throngs of British men lined up to enlist in the war effort. At the time, it was generally thought that the war would be over within six months. However, by the end of 1914 well over a million soldiers of various nationalities had been killed on the battlefields of Europe, and a final victory was not in sight for either the Allies or the Central Powers. On the Western Front—the battle line that stretched across northern France and Belgium—the combatants had settled down in the trenches for a terrible war of attrition. Maimed and shell-shocked troops returning to Britain with tales of machine guns, artillery barrages, and poison gas seriously dampened the enthusiasm of potential new volunteers. With the aim of raising enough men to launch a decisive offensive against Germany, Britain replaced voluntary service with conscription in January 1916, when it passed an act calling for the enlistment of all unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 41. After Germany launched a massive offensive of its own against Verdun in February, Britain expanded the Military Service Act, calling for the conscription of all men, married and unmarried, between the ages of 18 and 41. Near the end of June, with the Battle of Verdun still raging, Britain prepared for its major offensive along a 21-mile stretch of the Western Front north of the Somme River. For a week, the British bombarded the German trenches as a prelude to the attack. British Field Marshal Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, thought the artillery would decimate the German defenses and allow a British breakthrough; in fact, it served primarily to remove the element of surprise. When the bombardment died down on the morning of July 1, the German machine crews emerged from their fortified trenches and set up their weapons. At 7:30 a.m., 11 British divisions attacked at once, and the majority of them were gunned down. The soldiers optimistically carried heavy supplies for a long march, but few made it more than a couple of hundred yards. Five French divisions that attacked south of the Somme at the same time fared a little better, but without British success little could be done to exploit their gains. After the initial disaster, Haig resigned himself to smaller but equally ineffectual advances, and more than 1,000 Allied lives were extinguished for every 100 yards gained on the Germans. Even Britain’s September 15 introduction of tanks into warfare for the first time in history failed to break the deadlock in the Battle of the Somme. In October, heavy rains turned the battlefield into a sea of mud, and on November 18 Haig called off the Somme offensive after more than four months of mass slaughter. Except for its effect of diverting German troops from the Battle of Verdun, the offensive was a miserable disaster. It amounted to a total gain of just 125 square miles for the Allies, with more than 600,000 British and French soldiers killed, wounded, or missing in the action. German casualties were more than 650,000. Although Haig was severely criticized for the costly battle, his willingness to commit massive amounts of men and resources to the stalemate along the Western Front did eventually contribute to the collapse of an exhausted Germany in 1918. 1863 The Battle of Gettysburg begins One of the largest military conflicts in North American history begins on July 1, 1863, when Union and Confederate forces collide at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The epic battle lasted three days and resulted in a retreat to Virginia by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Two months prior to Gettysburg, Lee had dealt a stunning defeat to the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville, Virginia. He then made plans for a Northern invasion in order to relieve pressure on war-weary Virginia and to seize the initiative from the Yankees. His army, numbering about 80,000, began moving on June 3. The Army of the Potomac, commanded by Joseph Hooker and numbering just under 100,000, began moving shortly thereafter, staying between Lee and Washington, D.C. But on June 28, frustrated by the Lincoln administration’s restrictions on his autonomy as commander, Hooker resigned and was replaced by George G. Meade. Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac as Lee’s army moved into Pennsylvania. On the morning of July 1, advance units of the forces came into contact with one another just outside of Gettysburg. The sound of battle attracted other units, and by noon the conflict was raging. During the first hours of battle, Union General John Reynolds was killed, and the Yankees found that they were outnumbered. The battle lines ran around the northwestern rim of Gettysburg. The Confederates applied pressure all along the Union front, and they slowly drove the Yankees through the town. By evening, the Federal troops rallied on high ground on the southeastern edge of Gettysburg. As more troops arrived, Meade’s army formed a three-mile long, fishhook-shaped line running from Culp’s Hill on the right flank, along Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge, to the base of Little Round Top. The Confederates held Gettysburg, and stretched along a six-mile arc around the Union position. Lee’s forces would continue to batter each end of the Union position, before launching the infamous Pickett’s Charge against the Union center on July 3.