The headline read:
"Heavy Firing off Cape Cod;
Think Sea Battle is On"
On this day in 1917, less than two weeks after Congress declared war on Germany during World War I as requested by President Woodrow Wilson, heavy gunfire was heard off the tip of Cape Cod, leading Coast Guard officials to believe that American and German warships were engaged in battle.
Under a headline reading "Heavy Firing off Cape Cod; Think Sea Battle is On," the Oelwein (Iowa) Daily Register informed its readers that "reports of heavy gunfire at the entrance of Massachusetts Bay sent a thrill along the coast. Three Coast Guard stations on Cape Cod successively reported to the navy yard here (in Boston) that they had counted distinct and repeated shots from the north and northwest of the Cape.
"It was believed at the navy yard," the Daily Register reported, "that American vessels were engaged with the enemy." No warships were sighted from the three stations and the firing stopped after 30 minutes.
One theory about the origin of the gunfire was that "ships of the allies which are constantly on patrol duty might have come up with friendly warships and salutes might have been exchanged," according to the Daily Register. "Naval men could not understand, however, why warships on active duty should betray their location merely for the sake of naval etiquette."
That such an engagement could occur off the Cape was not a stretch, as it turned out. The following year, on July 21, 1918, a German submarine surfaced off Nauset Harbor and shelled a tugboat and four empty coal barges towed behind it.
The barges were sunk without loss of life and several shells missed and struck the shoreline beyond. Remembered today as "The Battle of Orleans," it was the only time during World War I that German shells landed on American soil.
Above is an artists rendition of the Battle on Lexington Green.
On this day in 1775, the first shots were fired in the cause of American independence. In Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous poem, "the shot heard 'round the world" came from the musket of a Concord militiaman. In reality, the first blood was shed hours before the Redcoats reached the Old North Bridge.
The confrontation on Lexington Common between 77 militiamen and nearly ten times that number of British Regulars ended with the death of eight Lexington men.
The Redcoats moved on to Concord. When they got there, they found several thousand farmer-soldiers who had already heard of the bloodshed at Lexington. With their nerves steeled, the Americans drove the Redcoats back to Boston and placed the city under siege. The Revolution had begun.
To learn more read "Battle Begins on Lexington Common" on MassMoments.org. Read the Emerson poem below.