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Columns

June 15, 2013

Three battles to know in U.S. history

(Continued)

But the brilliant work of U.S. codebreaker Joseph Rochefort had revealed Japan’s intentions, which gave Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher a chance to lure Nagumo into an ambush. In what British historian John Keegan called “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare,” all four Japanese carriers were sunk. Imperial Japan had reached its high-water mark, and could never hope to recover from such a catastrophic defeat.

• The Siege of Vicksburg (May 18 to July 4, 1863). In an era before motorized road transport, waterways and railroads lines were the key to Civil War military logistics. Vicksburg, Miss., the so-called “Gibraltar of the Confederacy,” was a fortress city from which the Confederacy could dominate the southern Mississippi River. This fact wasn’t lost on President Abraham Lincoln, who wrote “Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until the key is in our pocket.”

The city was captured in a bold, daring campaign by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who cleverly launched feint attacks while marching around Vicksburg from the south to catch the Confederate forces flat-footed. The Siege of Vicksburg, which coincided with the widely known Battle of Gettysburg, marked the war’s turning point.

• The Battles of Saratoga (Sept. 19 to Oct. 7, 1777). British Gen. John Burgoyne’s plan to quash the American colonial insurrection involved marching south from Quebec to the Hudson River Valley in a maneuver that would have split New England from the rest of the colonies. He met resistance from Gen. Horatio Gates, who erected roadblocks and destroyed bridges to slow the advance of Burgoyne’s weary, undersupplied force.

“Gentleman Johnny” was hoping the rebels would offer pitched battle, but Gates gave him a gutter brawl instead. Gates let Daniel Morgan’s sharpshooters harass Burgoyne as the latter approached Saratoga, and Morgan’s men took out numerous British officers.

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