The frontier was a rough place during the colonial era, and after the American Revolution is was even more so. As America started moving West a series of forts were built along strategic points. The forts were built to keep an eye on the natives and British. Over time they quickly became hubs for settlers and merchants that looked to bring civilization to the wild lands.
In 1803 on the shores of Lake Michigan where the Chicago river feeds into a Fort Dearborn was built, named after the Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn. Once the fort was built it did not take long for it to become a thriving center of frontier life. So of course it would become a target.
During the War of 1812, the outpost commander General William Hull looked around and decided that being on the frontier, surrounded by enemies and with help a long way away it would be best to abandon the fort temporarily. A such he ordered an evacuation. Unfortunately in the middle of the evacuation a group of approximately 500 Potawatomi Indians took issue with that and proceeded to attack the evacuees. Killing a good number of them and selling the rest to the British. For good measure they burned down the fort.
The fort was rebuilt in 1816. It served on and off again to host garrisons during the various Indian uprisings of the era. In 1837 is was turned over to the city and basically decommissioned. Through the years construction, fire and the need for more land has destroyed most traces of the fort. The original placement is still marked in Chicago at the intersection of Wacker Drive and Michigan Ave. The model above shows the first iteration of the fort and is hosted at the Illinois State Military Museum.
During the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848) the US forces matched up against a Mexican Army that was on one hand, well-trained professional soldiers and untrained peasants on the other. While outnumbered in almost every battle the US forces were able to dominate almost every battlefield and successfully win their first war on foreign soil. Winning this war gave the United States most of the Southwest portion of the country.
One of the most colorful units of the Mexican Army was the Tulancing Cuirassiers. They were a heavy cavalry unit that saw action in many battles of the war. The chest piece (or cuirass) and helmet above belonged to one of the soldiers from that unit. In effect these men were tanks. Large, heavily armored and used for smashing into the lines of enemy infantry. Normally they would carry a long sword and two pistols.
The Tulancing Cuirassiers uniform was reportedly something spectacular. The officers (which the piece above probably belonged to) wore a sky-blue coat with crimson cuffs an collars. Their pantaloons were crimson, and most likely had a sky-blue stripe. The helmet made of solid brass with a long black horsetail plume attached. Around the base of the helmet was a band of jaguar skin. They were patterned on the classic French Cuirassier units from the Napoleonic Wars, with a bit of hometown flair.
The piece above is missing some parts and it’s a little hard to imagine what it looked like back in the day. The picture under the display gives you an idea of what the full piece looked like. The gentleman in the middle shows the entire uniform in all its glory. All in all, while not much actual protection on the battlefield, but they certainly made for some snappy dressers.
That above is an M60 Patton. The M60 and its variants served as the main battle tank for the US Army up until it was finally replaced by the M1A1 Abrams in 1997. Coming into service in 1960 it was manufactured until 1987 with over 15,000 units being built during that time. Of course, there are still numerous units in service not only in the US military but in the military of many countries around the world. The story though is how it came about.
Not ones to miss an opportunity the British examined the armor and armament of the tank and were impressed. The T54 mounted a 100mm gun, much more powerful than what the NATO forces of the time could muster. Soon the British and Americans were working on 105mm cannons and were looking for chassis to place them on. The US decided that they would use the M48 chassis, with the new 105mm cannon. The new design was christened the 105mm Gun Full Tracked Combat Tank M60. Unofficially it carried over the Patton designation and began a stellar career that stretched across many wars and continents.
Though officially retired in 2005 the US still maintains a number of them in storage. Even more impressive is that some of the special variants. The M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle and the M60AVLB still are in service.
Pictured above is the M60 machine gun. 7.62MM, belt fed, gas operated, air cooled, iron sights and can fire 500-650 rounds per minute. The standard 100 round ammunition belt consists of four ball rounds followed by a tracer round allowing the gunners to “walk” the fire onto the targets.
Since it was officially introduced in 1957 it has served with every branch of the American armed forces and with many countries around the world. Sixty years later it is still being produced even with newer models entering active service.
And it almost never was…
The M60 was based on some of the more popular German WWII machine guns namely the MG42 which in a modified version was seriously considered as the official replacement to the Browning M1918 and M1919A6. But there was a problem. Congress had placed serious restrictions on the army that demanded preference being give in to domestic manufacturers for all contracts. While on the surface this may seem like an effort to stimulate domestic production, the true source of this requirement was out of a desire to not have to pay licensing fees to foreign manufactures, thus saving a buck. This sometimes led to superior weapon designs being left on the table in favor of cheaper, but domestically produced weapons systems.
Luckily it has proven over time to be one to best weapons systems developed and though many different revision have come out during its history the basis of the system has stayed in place. Seriously who could imagine Rambo tearing through the jungle with anything else. All because Congress wanted to save a buck.
That leg in the carriage above belonged to Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. False though it may be the man who owned it is an amazing part of American History. With the nickname “Napoleon of the West” one would expect a man of great ability and military skill, but in reality you would find a politician that talked a good game who found himself as “president” over ten times none for very long.
In 1835 Texas, which at the time was a part of Mexico settled mainly by Americans (look it gets complicated) rebelled against the Mexican government. In 1836 it declared itself an independent state. Santa Anna led the Mexican army north to deal with the rebels. Along the way he stopped at the Alamo where he crushed and murdered the out numbered defenders. In April 1836 at the battle of San Jacinto the Texans defeated Santa Anna and captured him. He was forced into signing a treaty granting Texas its sovereignty.
Once that was settled he found himself facing the French, losing his leg in battle at Veracruz. That win however could not keep him in power and he was forced into exiled. Fast forward now about ten years to 1846 and the Mexican American War.
VS United States
At the start of hostilities, Santa Anna (still in exile) started communications on both sides. He promised the Mexican President that if he were allowed to return he would work with him to drive the Americans out. Meanwhile he told the Americans that if they helped put him back in power he would end the war. Even promising to sell them the Southwest. Everyone agreed to his terms. Soon found himself back in Mexico, reneging on both deals and taking power for himself.
On April 18th, 1847 the Mexican Army led by Santa Anna personally fought the US Army at Cerro Gordo and lost badly. Such was the route that soldiers from the 4th Illinois came upon Santa Anna’s carriage which had been abandoned in haste. In it they found his artificial leg, his roast chicken lunch (still warm) and $18,000 in coins. Numerous times since the war Mexico has asked that the leg be returned. Yet it still sits on display at the Illinois State Military History Museum.
Santa Anna himself was exiled after the end of the war. He passed time living in many places from Cuba to New York. Finally his incredible journey came to an end in 1876 at his villa in Mexico City.
M3 .45 Caliber machine gun entered the service of the US Army in December 1942 with the idea that it would eventually replace the Thompson sub-machine gun on the front lines of WWII. Picking up the nickname “Grease Gun” from the similarities to the actual Grease Gun used by mechanics. The design was based on the very effective German MP40 and British Sten.
With a fairly long service record, 1942 up till 1992 in the United States, the M3 and the revised version the M3A1. The design was such that it was meant to be disposable, if it jammed or broke, it was tossed. In fact when it was first put into service there were no provisions made for spare parts at the depots, no specific tools for work on the unit and eventually this became in issue as production could not keep up with the demand. Finally in 1944 a number of replacement parts were produced to keep the grease gun greasing.
Even with approximately 700,000 were produced during WWII it was never able to actually replace the Thompson which topped over 1.5 million. While the US was still using it until the Gulf War the M3 and its variants have seen service with a number of countries and a fair number of conflicts, among the highlights were the Chinese Civil War, Korean War, The Bay of Pigs Invasion, Vietnam, The Falklands and then the Gulf War. In fact as late as 2004 the Philippine military brought the M3 out of reserve due to the inexpensive nature of the unit.
People, Places and Things from US Military History