This Day in History… April 1, 1865, 1883 and 1954

Union Wins Battle of Five Forks
Birth of Lon Chaney
Creation of U.S. Air Force Academy

U.S. #4980 pictures an 1885 painting by French artist Paul Dominique Philippoteaux.

Sheridan Wins Battle of Five Forks

On April 1, 1865, Philip Sheridan earned a key Union victory at the Battle of Five Forks.

By the spring of 1865, Robert E. Lee’s army had been under siege for nearly a year. Ulysses S. Grant’s trenches stretched for 25 miles from Petersburg to Richmond, Virginia. The Union ranks were steadily reinforced and its troops well fed, while the dwindling Confederate Army was desperate for food, clothing, and ammunition.

On March 25, Lee attacked a portion of the Union trenches, hoping to break the siege. When he failed, Grant mobilized his men and sent General Philip Sheridan after Lee’s army.

U.S. #787 pictures Union generals William T. Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, and Philip Sheridan.

The Confederates stopped Sheridan’s advance, but their supply line ran through a small intersection named Five Forks. Aware of the implications if the line was severed, Lee ordered General George Pickett to “hold Five Forks at all hazards.”

On April 1, 1865 Sheridan’s troops attacked. Pickett was having lunch with his staff, miles away. The 22,000 Union troops crushed Pickett’s force of 10,000. Nearly half the Confederate troops were killed, wounded, or captured, further reducing the size of Lee’s army.

With Five Forks in Union hands and his supply line cut, Lee evacuated Petersburg and Richmond. The Confederate general’s only hope was to move his troops west before Grant could capture them.

Also on This Day in History… April 1, 1883

Birth of Lon Chaney

U.S. #2822 pictures a caricature of Chaney as Quasimodo.

Lon Chaney was born Leonidas Frank Chaney in Colorado Springs, Colorado on April 1, 1883.

Called the “Man of a Thousand Faces,” Lon Chaney’s macabre characterizations have become classics of the silent screen. Born of deaf-mute parents, Chaney learned pantomime at an early age, and later became a prop man, director, and actor in his brother’s traveling show.

U.S. #3168 was part of the 1997 Classic Movie Monsters set.

Beginning his film career as an extra, he became an overnight success after starring in The Miracle Man (1919). During the next ten years, Chaney earned a reputation as the finest character actor in films, playing such memorable roles as Quasimodo the hunchback in the Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and the dual role of police inspector/vampire in London After Midnight (1927). But his greatest achievement was his characterization of Eric, the demented, acid-scarred musician who haunted the subterranean passages of the Paris Opera in The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

A versatile actor, he also won acclaim for his realistic performances in Tell It to the Marines (1927), While the City Sleeps (1928), and Thunder (1929).

Plus on This Day in History… April 1, 1954

U.S. Air Force Academy Established

U.S. #3838 commemorates the Academy’s 50th anniversary.

On April 1, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower created the Air Force Academy to train officers.

As far back as 1918, there were calls for an aeronautical academy, similar, but separate from those of the Army and Navy. As Lieutenant Colonel A.J. Hanlon said, “As the Military and Naval Academies are the backbone of the Army and Navy, so must the Aeronautical Academy be the backbone of the Air Service. No service can flourish without some such institution to inculcate into its embryonic officers love of country, proper conception of duty, and highest regard for honor.”

Congressman Charles F. Curry submitted legislation calling for an academy in 1919, but concerns over costs forced it to be dropped. And in 1925, air power pioneer Billy Mitchell addressed Capitol Hill saying that it was necessary “to have an air academy to form a basis for the permanent backbone of your air service.”

Then, after World War II, the Air Force became its own branch of the military as part of the National Security Act of 1947. For the next several years, Army and Navy school graduates were allowed to receive their commissions in the Air Force, but disagreements between the services quickly arose. Then in 1950, the Service Academy Board, headed by Columbia University President Dwight Eisenhower, decided that the current system wasn’t working and that the Air Force needed its own school.

U.S. #C49 commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Air Force.

By the time the board’s recommendation was approved by Congress, Eisenhower was President of the United States and signed the legislation creating the Air Force Academy on April 1, 1954. Charles Lindbergh and Carl Spaatz were among those on the panel that selected the school’s location – Colorado Springs, Colorado.

In July 1955, the first class of 306 cadets began training at a temporary facility at Lowry Air Force Base, near Denver, Colorado. The academy moved to its permanent 18,000-acre location in 1958.

The Air Force Academy’s mission is to prepare young men and women to serve as officers in the Air Force. Cadets study for four years to earn a Bachelor of Science degree. They also receive military training to earn regular commissions in the Air Force. Upon entering the academy, students agree to serve four years as cadets and at least five years as Air Force officers.

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