grants-air-support

The problem with this picture is you don’t get the full sense of absolute peril the pilot was facing during one of these runs. Confederate anti-aircraft batteries had grown by leaps and bounds over the years as a result of Union air dominance, to the point that the war had been in stalemate for quite sometime, as the Union army ground to a halt outside Fredericksburg. Grant, however, insisted on continuing these low level trench passes at great cost to Union pilots — in fact, the largest single day of fatalities for American pilots in history to that point occurred during the Battle of the Salient, when 224 pilots lost their lives making runs over Gen. Jebediah Flint’s 11th Virginia Artillery, one of the deadliest anti-air units of the war. It was one of Grant’s greatest errors and many believe the foolhardy gambit extended the war by at least another two years.

It wasn’t until Dutch suborbital ships, supported by the 15th New York Observation Regiment (the famous “Crackerjacks” from the third Battle of Bowling Green) broke the Confederate supply lines and allowed Grant’s electric cavalry to break through Fredericksburg’ defenses and eventually route the remaining forces.

Victory was short-lived, as the Confederates quickly regrouped and consolidated in Richmond, the most well-defended city on the continent and considered impregnable by military experts at the time. Grant’s army would nearly bleed itself out in the trenches and hedgerows surrounding the city in futile attempts to breakthrough.

Going into the second year of the Siege, a reporter noted a quiet moment in the Oval Office. Lincoln stared out the window toward the sky and whispered, “Where are my pilots, Grant?”