The Truth About “Honest Abe” and American Slavery

Howdy, everyone! What’s up? Today we are going to talk about a really  controversial subject: Abraham Lincoln (or “Honest Abe” as the American public calls him) and American slavery.

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th, 1809, in Kentucky (yes, Lincoln was a Southerner). He grew up through a rather troubled childhood. His mother died from milk sickness (vomiting and trembling), but Lincoln managed to educate himself and eventually moved on in life, eventually becoming a lawyer. Lincoln was a Whig and a follower of politician Henry Clay. In 1846, he was elected to the House of Representatives.

This is not going to be about Lincoln’s life. Instead, I want to delve into his legend. Lincoln has often been identified as “the Great Emancipator” or “savior of the Union,” etc. But, in actual fact, Lincoln never did have concern over slavery. He said this many times during his career, and, during a debate in Illinois in 1858, he stated ,”I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races.” Lincoln also was said to have despised blacks, saying that they were “inferior.” When approached with the idea of emancipation, Lincoln again stated, “Free them and make them socially and politically our equals? My own feelings will not admit this.”

While we are on the topic of slavery, let’s look at what slavery was in the South.  When most people see the word “slavery,” what usually pops up is a vision of African-Americans working in fields while being constantly whipped, beaten, and harassed, which is inaccurate. For a start, let’s look at facts and simple logic. Slavery was a very controversial matter. It was wrong, and and many considered it sinful to own slaves, yet both Northerners and Southerners owned slaves. Even when the colonies began banning the slave trade in the 18th century, the first colonies to do so were Virginia and Georgia–even before the American Revolution began. The first practice of slaveholding was not in the South but the North (Massachusetts, to be exact). Now for the logic. In the Dominican Republic (Haiti back then), we have solid evidence that slaves were horribly treated, being whipped and even murdered. This mistreatment became so serious that the slaves revolted and massacred their masters. Napoleon Bonaparte had to send a army to try to suppress the rebellion. If slaves revolted against such oppression in Haiti, why didn’t they revolt in the American South?

Now, I’m not saying slaves weren’t ever whipped or mistreated. Yes, many were –but not as is portrayed in popular books and films; nor were there ears and tongues cut off. That was northern abolitionist propaganda, which was used in the hopes that slaves would rise up against their owners. Less than 10% of Southerners actually owned slaves. The rest were just laborers, some of whom were so successful they ended up owning their own slaves! Most Southern slave-owners were not wealthy aristocrats sipping mint juleps on their verandas. In fact, most had to work their farms right along with their slaves and hired help to make ends meet. On top of that, they had to provide adequate shelter and medical care to keep their workers fit. If they had abused their workers, they wouldn’t have anyone to help them and could never have survived. If you read the diaries of the time, you find that slaves could purchase their own livestock, keep their own gardens, and even sell what they produced back to their masters. It was a working relationship that slaveowners had every reason to protect rather than abuse. No one wanted a repeat of Haiti in America.

A lot of Southerners were merchants in the coastal cities. Some worked in factories, but a large portion worked in farming, because the North and South had two very different economic systems. The North (population 22 million)  was industrial and had a large number of factories in its cities. The South (population 9 million) was agrarian, meaning the majority of people were farmers and had quite a small industrial capacity. Even so, four of the Northern states (Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware, and, by some accounts, New Jersey should be included as a fifth) were slave-holding states throughout the duration of the War Between the States.

Now, back to Lincoln. We’ve established that Lincoln was a racist and did not want equality of the races, but how about his political side? When Lincoln gave orders to mobilize troops, he did it without the consent of Congress, violating the Constitution. He also arrested thousands of northern citizens (including an Ohio senator) and shut down newspapers that spoke ill of him. Lincoln also suspended the writ of Habeus Corpus (which requires evidence before someone can be arrested or convicted) and ordered Federal troops to intervene in elections. These are all the acts of a dictator rather than a constitutional president.

Another conflicting factor is that when Union general John C. Freemont invaded Missouri, he declared that all slaves were to be freed, but Lincoln immediately dismissed Freemont and negated this policy. Slaves caught coming through the North were sent back to their owners, or, in some cases, the slaves were put to work doing every kind of menial task, down to polishing Union soldiers’ boots. Slaves who did run away didn’t do so because they were badly treated but because war had erupted, and the South was being ravaged. It was a matter of survival. The slaves who used the underground railway to escape ended up having to migrate into Canada, as blacks could not legally move into most northern states without paying exorbitant bonds ($500-$1000 per person) and producing proof of certain needed skills. In Lincoln’s own Illinois, blacks who didn’t have the proper paperwork showing they had paid a bond could be sold at public auction, according to a law passed in 1853! Alexis de Tocqueville famously wrote in his book, Democracy in America, “[R]ace prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known.”

In analyzing Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation, we find it was a shrewd political move–not the work of a compassionate lover of enslaved people. In 1863, the Confederates were winning battle after battle, and Robert E. Lee had even crossed the border into Maryland, threatening the U.S. Capitol itself. Lincoln was desperate for a political victory to shore up support among Northerners who were weary of the war. After the battle of Sharpsburg (or Antietam) , he quickly drew up the proclamation, declaring that all slaves in states still in rebellion were now free. However, the document never mentioned the slaves still in the North, and the proclamation had little to no effect, as the president had no power in the states he claimed were still in rebellion. No Northern slaves were freed, and Lincoln had no way to enforce the proclamation in the South. It was a classic political maneuver that made the president look righteous without actually costing him anything.

so as you can see looking deep into the facts unlocks deep questions, as it turns out Lincoln wasn’t the greatest president ever, instead he was a dictator, he violated the constitution, he destroyed the right to secede and started a war that killed over 620,000 American lives.

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Napoleon’s Italian Campaign

Hello, history nerds! Today we are going to discuss Napoleon’s Italian campaign. As you probably know by now, Napoleon was a great general known for his tactical planning, his skilled leadership, and his incredible empire. Today we are going to discuss his first campaign.

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Napoleon as a dashing youngster.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born August 15th, 1769, on the Island of Corsica to Carlo and Letizia Bonaparte. His father initially opposed the French occupation of Corsica but later embraced it, which meant he landed a cushy job and could afford to send his two sons to an exclusive French school. After five years, Napoleon moved on to a military school. When his father died, it reduced the family’s income, but Napoleon nevertheless graduated in 1785 as a second lieutenant. When the French Revolution broke out, Napoleon was appointed commander of the artillery forces at Toulon. The siege was a success, and Napoleon was appointed brigadier general at age 24. After the failed royalist attempt to overthrow the Republic in Paris (which Napoleon defended, thanks to his “Whiff of Grapeshot”), Napoleon was given command of the French army of Italy.

The French government (The Directory) was anxious to lose the ambitious young officer and saw the Army of Italy as a perfect way to distract Napoleon. On Paper, the Army of Italy numbered 63,000 men, but it actually had 35,000 starving, barefoot men, unpaid and lacking 1,000 muskets,  while facing 30,000 Piedmontese (Piedmont was a monarchy in northwest Italy)  and 25,000 Austrian troops. Rather than retreat to France, Napoleon instead went on the offensive. His plan was to break into the rich Lombard plain, where he could feed his men, providing partial pay and telling them that they he would lead them to “honor, glory, and riches.” On April 10th Napoleon opened an offensive against the Piedmontese. The Piedmontese troops were spread out to block Napoleon’s advance into Italy. This strategy was good but flawed at the same time. Although they were blocking Napoleon’s advance, the Piedmontese could not reinforce their troops. Napoleon quickly took the advantage, and, using superior numbers, he divided the Austrians from the Piedmontese and drove the Austrians back

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Napoleon leads his troops against the Austrians

Fearing the collapse of their kingdom, the Piedmontese signed a treaty, giving the French full access to their land as well as a reparation. After feeding his army, beefing it up with captured artillery and muskets, and–above all–shoes and pay, Napoleon boasted that he would be in “the mountains of Tyrol” next.The Austrian general Beaulieu thought of a plan to defend the city of Milan with his 20,000 troops, but Bonaparte fooled Beaulieu into thinking that he would make a head-on assault with only two divisions. Actually, Napoleon would force march the rest of his army 115 kilometers in two days.

With the Austrians retreating, Napoleon moved to strike the key fortress of Mantua, which was defended by 25,000 Austrians. Napoleon knew the Austrians would try to relieve the garrison, and entrenched his army around the fortress. But the French Government which needed money ordered Napoleon to dispatched a division to extract riches from the Papal states and Tuscany (Southern Italy). Despite having yielded 30 million francs the expedition allowed the Austrians time to Raise a new army under General Dagobert Wurmser, Dagobert tried to relive the siege by sending too columns along lake Garda.

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Battle of Castiglione, 5 August 1796

Napoleon needed to lift the siege of Mantua to meet this threat. Napoleon concentrated on on one column at a time while both were still divided, and through incredible marching feats, defeated one column at Lonato, giving Napoleon the advantage. Wurmser and his 25,000 men were defeated in the battle of Castiglione by Bonaparte’s 30,000 men, forcing Wurmser back. In early September, Wurmser tried again; this time with more men. He moved down the Brenta Valley while he sent a second force under General Davidovich, who marched on the east side of Lake Garda. But Napoleon used his same strategy, marching behind and hitting Wurmser’s rear on September 8 at the battle of Bassano. Once again, Napoleon had superior numbers (20,000 French vs 10,000 Austrians), and the battle was a major French success. 3,000 Austrians were captured, including all of their ammunition, cannons, baggage, and supplies. The reminder of the surviving Austrians retreated into Mantua, just at the point when the Austrians were running out of food.

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Napoleon after the Battle of Bassano

But Napoleon’s army was not as powerful as it seemed. Popular rebellions started in his rear. Harsh measures were taken, and Napoleon even established two puppet states–the Transpandane and Cisalpline Republics. This was Napoleon’s first time organizing a government, and it would help him in the future when he would eventually become First Consul of France.

October was uneventful. The winter reduced the French army to 25,000 effectives, while the Austrians mustered yet again another army for the third relief attempt of Mantua, this time under the command of General Josef Alvinczy. Alvinczy sent his main column across the Venetian plain, while General Davidovich with 20,000 men went down through the Adige valley. Starting his offensive on November 1, Alvinczy faced minor resistance from General Massena and General Augereau (Napoleon’s division commanders). The Austrians advanced to Caldiero, and on November 12 repulsed a frontal attack made by Napoleon. Meanwhile, Davidovich pushed the weak French forces away from the Adige Valley and halted at the Rivoli Plateau.

Napoleon realized that he would be defeated if the Austrians crossed the Rivoli plateau, so he decided to attack through the Adige Valley and strike at the Austrian left flank, including their rear. Napoleon attacked the Austrians across the bridge near the town of Arcole, where he famously grabbed a regimental flag and led his forces across the bridge, where he was forced back. But after three days of hard, confused fighting, Napoleon won. Alvinczy withdrew, battered and bruised. French losses were also quite heavy: nine generals were killed. Despite the desperate fighting, Napoleon’s strategy had worked. When Davidovich finally attacked the Rivoli position, Napoleon could face him, and by November 19, the Austrians were in full retreat. As the year 1796 drew to a close, Napoleon had control of most of Italy, while the Austrians still retained control of Mantua.

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Napoleon leading his troops across the bridge at Arcole

Alvinczy regrouped and had nearly 45,000 men and was prepared to yet again try to relieve Mantua. This time he sent five columns (28,000 men and 90 cannons) to try to overwhelm General Barthelemy Joubert (one of Napoleon’s division commanders). If he could break through Barthelemy’s lines, he would be in a position to relieve Mantua. Alvinczy attacked on January the 14th, but Joubert’s 8,000 men held a stiff resistance, and Alvinczy was forced back. Napoleon arrived shortly thereafter with small detachments coming one by one. Alvinczy and his separated columns would try to do the same plan over again, but Napoleon’s position was strong. Even though outnumbered (23,000 French men and 40 cannons), he still had his best troops by his side: battle-experienced soldiers versus the hastily organized Austrians.

The battle at first went quite well for the Austrians. Austrian cannon forced the French to withdraw from most of their positions. Napoleon put pressure against General Davidovich, who advanced. The battle began to turn when the Austrian columns were forced through a narrow gorge, where Napoleon had set up a battery of 15 guns. The Austrian columns were massacred. Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s able cavalry man, attacked the Austrian flank and routed them. Immediately, Napoleon rushed to Mantua and captured another Austrian column that was trying to relieve Mantua. The garrison of Mantua surrendered on February 2nd, and Napoleon now had complete control of Italy. He marched to Vienna next. The Austrians appointed their best commander, Archduke Charles, but Charles lost hope. Napoleon was 100 miles from Vienna and closing in. The Austrians agreed to sue for peace.

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Napoleon receives the keys to Vienna.

So, there you have it, history nerds: the conclusion of Napoleon’s epic Italian campaign. Through incredible tactics and amazing courage, Napoleon had secured peace for France. Little did he know that seven years later, he would crown himself emperor of the French. But that’s for another post!

The British Army of the 18th-19th Centuries

Hey, guys. Today we are going to focus on one subject: the British army, Hope you enjoy.

Before Napoleon had risen to power (or was even born, for that matter), the British empire was the largest and richest empire in the 18th century. Britain had the biggest navy in the world with an army that was feared worldwide.

The British army was at the time of the American Revolutionary War the most modern, well-equipped, well-trained, and, above all, well-disciplined. Following large military victories and the establishment of the British empire, the British army had fought against the French empire during the French and Indian War. The war had won them massive amounts of territory and also caused much of the world to fear its army even more.

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At the outbreak of the American Revolution, the British army suffered a serious setback at the battle of Bunker Hill. Following the battle of Lexington, the American forces occupied the Charlestown peninsula. This presented a danger to British troops in Boston, as the Americans could bring artillery to the peninsula and bombard Boston. 2,500 line troops and some light infantry (troops trained for special tasks) under General William Howe were ordered to attack the ill-defended Breed’s Hill on the peninsula. (Through a mixup in geography, the battle was incorrectly named “Bunker Hill.”) The 1,500 Americans that were on top of Breed’s hill were sharpshooters, dug in behind a defensive line of stone walls and fences they had constructed. The British landed and soon began attacking the hill. The famous order, “Don’t shoot till you see the whites of their eyes,” given by American commander Israel Putnam, had deadly results. The British were slaughtered. Three times the charged up the hill, and three times they were slaughtered. 1,060 British troops were killed or wounded, but the Americans began to run out of ammunition and soon were forced to retreat. Their losses were 300 captured and 100 killed and wounded.But for most of the war, the British were to win victories.

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The British attack Breed’s Hill

Now let’s examine why the British were so effective in battle. The effectiveness of the British soldier was due mainly to his sharp discipline and his training, The British generals commanding the forces were usually lords or dukes. The British soldier was not, however, as many people described “a drunken civilian beaten into a disciplined soldier,” but a civilian with great respect for his commanding officer as well as his country and king. The British system of disciplined volley fire was essential to their victories. The Americans were defeated time and time again, usually due to British strategy and discipline. The British tactic was to get close at a range of 30 to 40 yards. This was accomplished under great battle strain. The Americans would usually fire at 60 to 70 yards, and their fire was insignificant. After firing a volley, the British general or colonel would order a bayonet charge (the British bayonet was so sharp that some soldiers preferred to kill themselves rather than be stabbed), and usually the Americans would be routed. Now that we have examined their discipline, we shall talk about the so-called “massacres” the British committed.

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Banastre Tarleton

Today most Americans are taught that the British army committed massacres against the Americans–pillaging, burning, and committing atrocities. This is propaganda and is not true. The British government saw its subjects in the 13 colonies as brethren and knew perfectly that killing and pillaging civilians would only stir up more anger and strife against them, prolonging the war and increasing the death toll on both sides. The one massacre that started all the stories was the battle of Waxhaws, where Banastre Tarleton commanded the British forces. Abraham Buford commanded the American Revolutionaries, and, as you probably guessed, the Americans lost. Tarleton himself rode up to a hundred American prisoners and accepted their surrender, but, all of a sudden, a shot rang out and hit Tarleton’s horse, badly injuring Tarleton In the process. His men were outraged, thinking the Americans were lying about the truce. They began shooting American prisoners, while Tarleton was trapped in under his horse and could not restore order. After the battle, Americans began using this incident as propaganda, calling Tarleton a “murderer” or–more famously–as a “butcher.”

This is all propaganda, yet it is still being taught in American schools and shown in movies and documentaries (most recently, in “The Patriot.”) The reason this is taught in schools and shown in movies is because the victor can rewrite history in his favor. America was the victor, as the British commanding general, Cornwallis, was surrounded at Yorktown and surrendered his men to General George Washington.

That wraps up the discussion, Next time we might discuss the RMS Titanic or Napoleon’s Italian campaign.

Gettysburg: Day Three

Hello, history buffs! Today we are going to conclude the final chapter of the battle of Gettysburg.

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Gen.Meade

After their attempts to encircle the Federal army had failed, the Confederates fell back to their positions on Seminary Ridge. Robert E. Lee knew the that, unless he won quickly, he would have to fall back into Virginia. The Federal line had been battered and bruised but not broken, yet George Meade, the Federal commander, feared a massive defeat still. The Federal 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 11th and 12th corps had all been heavily engaged, and the Union forces had lost many good commanders and men (most notably the 1st Minnesota Regiment, which had charged into the fight with 262 men and returned with just 47).

 

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Gen. Lee

Lee saw a weakness in the Union lines. The Union center was battered and without reinforcement. If he moved fast, Lee could cave in the Union center and destroy the Union armies–a tactic Napoleon had used. But Lee’s generals were cautious. Their troops would have to march over open ground while Union guns pounded them. Lee knew this, but he knew if his commanders coordinated well, they could break through and win. Lee wanted to use the same strategy he had used the previous day. Robert Rodes and his division would attack the Federal position on Cemetery Ridge, while Jubal Early and Edward Johnston’s division would attack the Federal forces on Culp’s Hill. James Longstreet and his corps would assault the Union center.

 

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Stuart’s Brigade renewing the attack on Culp’s Hill

However, the attack on Culp’s Hill was badly coordinated, and the Federal forces counter-attacked, driving the Confederates back. Lee then decided to attack the Federal center. He had Longstreet’s and A.P Hill’s corps to back him up. George Pickett’s fresh division–part of Longstreet’s corp–had arrived. Lee planned a massive assault on the Federal forces, during which 150 Confederate cannons would be used. At 1pm, the Confederates opened fire on the Union center, commanded by Second Corps Commander Winfield Scott Hancock. The artillery barrage could be heard in all the way in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 38 miles to the north. The barrage had little effect on the Union artillery, but a massive psychological effect on the Union troops. Many panicked and ran. Others stood close to the cannons. Many Federal commanders 0rdered their guns not to respond. Lee knew that the bombardment had little effect, but he was ready for the attack. The Confederates assaulted the Federal center under blazing heat. The Federal guns responded by unleashing devastating fire from their guns.

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Federals firing across the stone wall at Confederate troops

 

 

The three divisions (two part of A.P Hill’s corps) assaulted the Federal position, but, again due to poor coordination, their attacks met with failure. Three brigades in Pickett’s corps were slaughtered. Gen. Lewis Armistead, commanding the largest brigade in Pickett’s division, rallied the remains of the corps and led them toward the Federal line. At close range, the Confederates unleashed devastating volleys on the Federals. The Federal brigade facing General Armistead, comprised of men from Philadelphia, fell back in terror, and many men ran for their lives. Alexander Webb, the Union commander, desperately tried to form his brigade for a counter-attack. Armistead and 200 others rushed toward the stone wall at the Federal center as Union troops ran for their lives. The Confederates formed a foothold, but soon wave upon wave of Federal troops counter-attacked. The first waves of Federal troops were driven back, but, gradually, the Federals received reinforcements, driving the Confederates back with serious losses. Armistead was mortally wounded in the fight. “Pickett’s Charge,” as it was later called,  ended the battle of Gettysburg.

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Pickett’s Charge

The next day Lee waited for the counter-attack, which he expected from Meade. But Meade wisely choose not to, because  open ground lay between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge. Meade and his men would have to attack across open ground–the same thing Lee’s troops had done the previous day. Meade’s men were also suffering from extreme exhaustion, as they had made a forced march to get to Gettysburg and had fought a huge battle, which they barely won. The battle was strategic for the Federals, because it forced the South to fight a defensive war and give up trying to go on the offensive above the Mason-Dixon line. But the spirit of the Army of Northern Virginia was not broken, and the war was far from over.

Gettysburg: Day Two

Hello, folks. I’m sorry I haven’t published as frequently lately; I just had a few scheduling glitches, as you probably saw, but I’ve sorted them out! Today we are going to talk about the second day of the battle of Gettysburg, which was the most tenacious part of the battle.

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After their horrifying defeat, the Federals had fallen back on the ridges and hills south of Gettysburg. Their defense was in the shape of a fishhook, where the Federals positioned four of their corps (1st, 2nd, 12th, and 11th) on the hills of Gettysburg. Although this was a strong position, Federal Commander George Meade was cautious and sent only one corps at a time. Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Hill, and Cemetery Ridge were occupied by the Federals, but Round Top and Little Round Top  were not occupied, and Lee saw his chance. Scouts confirmed both were unoccupied, so Lee gave orders to Longstreet to attack with his fresh corps.

James_LongstreetHowever, Longstreet was against this decision and wanted to move south, where they could come between Meade and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Gen. Lee saw the advantage he would have in taking Round Top and Little Round Top and was keen to keep it. Longstreet hesitated, which allowed the Union’s 3rd Corps (10,500) to arrive. Longstreet and his men would now have to attack a fortified enemy on high ground behind large rocks and thick trees. But the Federals were about to make a terrible mistake.

Daniel Sickles, commanding the Union Third Corps, had positioned his men on the Round Tops below Cemetery Ridge. But, thinking his men vulnerable to artillery fire, he moved his entire corps away from the Round Tops near a high ridge opposite a peach orchard. Longstreet saw this weakness and immediately ordered an attack at 3 pm. However, the attacks were not properly coordinated, and 10 brigades in Longstreet’s command attacked two at a time instead of all together. Although small, these attacks were quite deadly, and the Federal center was smashed.

The Federal First Division of the Second Corps was brought up to stabilize the Federal center, but they were sent in one at a time–commonly known as “piecemeal.” The Federal center, which was a wheat field, was vital to both sides. The four brigades of the Federal First Division attacked, one by one, but were repulsed and slaughtered. The two Confederate brigades, under the command of Joseph B. Kershaw and George T. Anderson, counterattacked and drove the exhausted Federals back. The Federals recovered behind a stone wall, where they unleashed a devastating volley of fire that pushed the Confederates back, but the Confederates still had control of the wheatfield. At the same time, the Confederate Mississippi Brigade, under the command of William Barksdale, took the peach orchard.

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Attach at the peach orchard

South of the wheatfield, a far more savage fight was going on. The two Round Tops were still not under Federal control. Longstreet ordered John Bell Hood’s Texas and Georgia divisions to take Little Round Top, but Hood protested that his division would have to cross a place filled with sharp rocks and tough wood. There was also a large brigade of New York regiments concealed in this place, which was known locally as “devil’s den.” Hood wanted to take the big Round top so he would be able to flank the Federals. Longstreet ordered him to take Little Round Top anyway.

The Confederates attacked like water upon rock, pushing back the New York regiments. Throughout the day, devil’s den would be captured and recaptured by both sides six times until, finally, the Confederates would keep it. A few brigades of the Federal 5th Corps had arrived on the Little Round Top. Colonel Strong Vincent commanded one of the brigades  protecting Little Round Top when the Confederates started their tenacious assault, but their attacks were not coordinated, and the Federals pushed them back. A bayonet charge spearheaded by the 20th Maine regiment pushed the Confederates back. The battle on the left flank was over, but the battle on the right flank was about to begin.

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The battle on the left flank could have been a major disaster for the Union army, but because of poor planning, bad coordination, and reluctance on the part of the Confederates, disaster was averted. The Confederates soon started to attack the Federal Position at Cemetery Hill, guarded by weak Eleventh Corps soldiers. Two Confederate brigades easily took the advantage. They smashed the Eleventh Corps back, however, they were not supported by Robert Rodes’ division and were driven back by fresh Federal forces.

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Culp’s Hill

Meanwhile, at Culps’ Hill, the Confederate division under Edward Johnston attempted to drive the Federals off. This time, however, there were no Federal reinforcements–only 1,400 men under George S. Greene. However, the Confederates didn’t coordinate their attacks. Instead they attacked piecemeal and were pushed back. The Confederate troops are not demoralized and attacked again, this time capturing half of Culp’s Hill. A few Confederate companies actually attacked behind the Federal lines below Culp’s Hill, but because of growing darkness, they were forced stop and return to their own lines. The day’s fighting had been savage. Thousands of men had fallen: dead, wounded, captured.

Next time we will conclude the battle.

 

 

 

 

Gettysburg: Day One

Hello, guys; today we are going to travel to the United states of America to a small town called Gettysburg. This is one of three articles about this three-day battle, which decided the fate of the North American continent in 1863.

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Bombardment of Ft. Sumter

By June of 1863, the American Civil War (more accurately known as the “War Between the States”) had been raging for over two years. The conflict started when the South fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, after previously forming the Confederate States of America when Abraham Lincoln was elected president. Despite the fact that no U.S. soldiers had died during the bombardment of the fort, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln quickly took the excuse and declared war without the consent of Congress (which was unconstitutional).

After a disastrous defeat at the First Battle of Manassas, the North fought back, winning massive victories. But the South rallied in May 1862, and the Southern armies under Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson won impressive victories and nearly captured Washington, D.C. However, they had failed to actually stop the war. In June, 1863, in a desperate effort to end the bloodshed that had by then claimed 200,000 American lives and stop the chaos, General Lee moved his 75,000-strong Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac river into Maryland to begin the final invasion of the North. Lee’s objective was to drag the fighting away from the South and stoke the fire of a massive peace movement in the North (northerners were already tired of the war and wanted it to end).

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Lee and his generals

The Union Army of the Potomac had endured a series of horrible defeats–Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville–that had made the once grand Army of the Potomac a laughingstock and still echoed through the northern public. Northern troops were demoralized and angry, because their commanders were, in their eyes, only butchers who cared nothing about them. Their strength was a skeleton of its former glory, having lost so many good officers and men in bloody battles like Fredericksburg and Antietam (Sharpsburg to Southerners). Most of the current officers were new, and the men under their command were inexperienced. Facing them were battle-hardened Southerners who had a deep hatred for the Northerner invaders.

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Gen. Robert E. Lee

Lee knew that if he could win another victory for the South on northern soil, it would cause northern politicians to pressure Lincoln for peace. Lee’s army crossed over the Potomac River and into Pennsylvania. Pressured by Lincoln, the commander of the Union army, Joseph Hooker,  resigned, and Union General George Gordon Meade took command. The Army of the Potomac had less than 90,000 men, of whom 11,000 were cavalry.  40% of the Army of the Potomac was new and inexperienced.

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Gen. George G. Meade

Meade sent his cavalry to find Lee’s army. Meade’s fear was that Lee would get as far as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. John Buford, commanding a division of cavalry under Meade, spotted Confederate forces marching towards Gettysburg. Lee’s army was spread out, his three corps numbering 25,000. The First was commanded by James Longstreet, the Second by Richard Ewell (who had taken command of Thomas Jackson’s corps after Jackson died shortly after the battle of Chancellorsville), and Ambrose P. Hill, who commanded the Third Corps.

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Henry Heth

Two brigades from Henry Heth’s division, which was a part of Hill’s corps, encountered Buford’s Cavalry on July 1st. After a lengthy exchange of gunfire, Buford had pushed back Heth–but at a heavy cost. Heth reorganized his division and attacked again. This time, the Federal First Corps had arrived and pushed back Heth. Lee ordered Ewell’s corps to assault the “Yankees” (slang for northerners). Longstreet was still bringing up his corps. The Eleventh Corps had arrived on the field after a forced march, and they made a bad mistake by taking a vulnerable position.

On the Union Left, things were going very badly for the Yankees. The beloved commander of the First Corps, John F. Reynolds, was killed by a sharpshooter’s bullet whilst directing a Wisconsin Regiment forward. The Federal counterattack had been badly planned, and without Reynolds, it collapsed into a hasty defense. Dorsey Pender, who commanded the Second Division in Hill’s corps, attacked and broke through, routing the Yankees. Ewell’s corps attacked the Federal Right and routed it as well. The Federal Eleventh and First Corps fled through the streets of Gettysburg, hotly pursued by the Confederates. The Exhausted corps finally fell back to the hills beyond Gettysburg. With the Federals routed, Lee sent a message to General Ewell to take the two hills beyond the town with the phrase “if practicable.” Ewell decided not to, and today his decision is widely criticized by military historians. Thomas Jackson would have, as his men put it, “kept the blue bellies running.” The losses for the first day were staggering: 10,000 Federal and 7,000 Confederate. Nearly 5,000 Federals were captured and another 5,000 killed and wounded.

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Next time we will talk about the second day of this historic battle.

 

 

 

 

 

Anglo-Zulu War: Part II

Hello, folks! Today we are going to talk about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift and the Battle of Ulundi, which were decisive victories for the British empire.

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King Cetshwayo

The battle of Rorke’s drift was an amazing battle in history, and both sides showed incredible bravery and courage. After the disaster of Isandlwana, the Zulu king, Cetshwayo, ordered all of his Zulu commanders not to attack the Boer territory. He did not want to appear as a savage aggressor; he wanted the eyes of the world to see the British as invaders and his people as defenders. This is exactly what they were doing until a Zulu general called Dabulamanzi Kampande screwed it up. Without permission, he ordered his army of nearly 4,000 Zulus (who did not fight at the battle of Isandlwana) to attack the tiny station of Rorke’s Drift, where a small number of British soldiers were encamped. These soldiers, who numbered 150 in total, were a part of the British force who had fought at Isandlwana. They stopped to rest and recuperate at Rorke’s Drift, because many of the soldiers were sick and wounded.

Upon hearing of their defeat at Isandlwana, British commander Lieutenant John Chard and second-in-command Gonville Bromhead started turning Rorke’s Drift into a fortress, building seven-foot high walls made of mealie (a type of seed) bags. A large force of Boer cavalry (Natal native horse, or NNH) arrived and informed Chard that 4,000 Zulus were heading towards Rorke’s Drift. Commander Lieutenant Henderson said his men were tired and running short of ammo. Chard asked if Henderson could delay or stall  the Zulus to buy time. Henderson agreed and ordered his cavalry to deploy to the east. At 4:20, the battle began. After a few volleys, the NNH cavalry fled, and Henderson told Chard he was heading for Helpmekkaar. Thinking the situation lost, the few horseman positioned nearby under Captain Stevenson fled. Enraged, Chard ordered his men to shoot Stevenson’s horsemen, and one man was killed.

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The Zulus started attacking in hordes, but the Zulu tactic “the horns of the buffalo” was useless against a well-entrenched foe, and such was the case at Rorke’s Drift, where volley fire decimated the Zulus. The Zulus had not even planned nor prepared their assault, and their attacks were not even coordinated. This battle is magnificently portrayed in the 1964 movie “Zulu,” which made Micheal Caine a star. This was also the prequel to the movie “Zulu Dawn,” made 15 years later. This film is, however, not historically accurate, but it brilliantly shows how both sides were incredibly brave. Anyway, the Zulu attacks nearly broke through due to sheer weight of numbers, but the British volley fire system always stopped this from happening.The Zulus started to attack the hospital and managed to break through, but Chard had made a second defensive line of boxes, behind which his men fell back (as seen in the painting above). Through the night, the Zulus attacked the cattle kraal, which was evacuated at around 10 pm, leaving the British with a small position around the storehouse. The British were exhausted, having fought nearly 10 hours against constant Zulu assault.

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The Defense of Rorke’s Drift

At dawn the British found out that the Zulus were gone. The battle had been a terrible mistake for the overconfident Zulus. It made them look like savages out to murder wounded British  soldiers. In other words, they looked like the aggressor. Now the British reinforced and started a second invasion. On July 4, 1879, 5,000 British and African troops neared Ulundi, the capital, facing  15,000 Zulus. But this time the British had a tactic that was to counter the “Horns of the Buffalo.” They formed a “massive square,” and this tactic meant that they could not be flanked by the Zulus. The British also had 10 cannons and two Gatling guns. The Zulus attacked, but the British were ready. The combination of the Martini rifle, the Gatling gun, and canister shot was too much for the Zulus, and they ran. Then the British burnt Ulundi. This was the last battle of the Anglo-Zulu war but not the end of the history of the Zulu people.

The Zulu War, the Burning of Ulundi

 

The Anglo-Zulu War: Part I

Hey, guys; what’s up? Last time we talked about Napoleon and how Wellington decisively defeated him at Waterloo. Today we are going to jump 64 years ahead and travel to South Africa. This article is about the Anglo-Zulu war, although I won’t talk about all the battles. Today I’m going to write about the Battle of Isandlwana.

By 1879, Britain was at the peak of its power. Its empire covered nearly a quarter of the globe, and it had the most modern and powerful navy–far stronger than any other at the time. At the time, explorers from all over the world were still discovering Africa. South Africa was made up of lots of tribes, but the warriors of the large and very amazing Zulu tribe were said to be the most fierce fighters of their day. A small tribe which was usually occupied by other African tribes, the Zulus managed to grow into a massive warrior nation, thanks to the efforts of their greatest king, Shaka, who modernized the Zulu army and adopted an awesome strategy known as “the horns of the buffalo.” The Zulus adopted a unique strategy to defeat their enemies. They would allow the enemy to approach the “chest,” and then reserves would form “horns” on either side by encircling the enemy, flanking them and cutting off their escape, as shown in the diagram below:

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Anyway, the Zulus had been seen by Dutch “Boers” (farmers) as a threat to their lifestyle, partially because Zulu youths had been raiding and attacking Dutch settlers. The Zulus, on the other hand, thought of the Boers as taking their territory and stealing their cattle. Both sides had conflicting views, but, to be honest, neither side could be called “the good guys.” The Boers could easily push the Zulus off their land, owing to the fact that they were skilled riflemen. The Zulus were ruthless warriors who were brought up as a warrior nation.

The discovery of diamond mines in Kimberley had started a “Diamond Rush.” The British were always on the lookout for resources to fuel the empire and wanted to annex more territory, but they didn’t want to engage in a war, because wars were very expensive. However, British administrator Sir Bartle Frere, who was totally in favor of war, issued an ultimatum to Zulu King Cetshwayo (without the permission of the British Government) that was practically impossible to answer. Even though the diamond mines weren’t in Zulu territory, the British didn’t want to have to negotiate rights to travel through Zulu land to reach them. The Boers also wanted to settle more land without the threat of Zulu interference.

British and South African (a mixture of Boer and native blacks) forces totaling 15,500 men (6,500 British; 9,000 South Africans) crossed into Zulu land, hoping to lure the Zulu army out into the open and destroy it. The Zulu army numbered an estimated 35,000 warriors. Despite being outnumbered, the British had the most efficiently trained army in the world, armed with the state-of-the-art Martini-Henry rifle ,including a rocket battery. The Zulus, on the other hand, were armed with the traditional assegai spears, iklwa clubs, and throwing spears.

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Let’s focus on the battle of Isandlwana. Lord Chelmsford, the commander, tried to draw the Zulus into battle where they could destroy them. But the Zulus didn’t fall for it. Instead, they waited for an opportunity which would allow them to use their “buffalo” tactic to their advantage. Chelmsford foolishly made a terrible mistake and divided his army, taking one half to try to find the Zulus, leaving another encamped at the mountain of Isandlwana. The Zulus quickly took the advantage and prepared to attack. The British at Isandlwana had not dug in, thinking their rifles and wagons were enough. This was partially true, since the British Martini-Henry Rifle could fire 23 rounds a minute, and its bullet had a 60% chance of going through two people at once. (However, after firing 24 rounds, the rifle had a 50% chance of jamming.)

The British tactic of defense was quite impregnable. This tactic was to group the soldiers three to four lines deep. First one rank would fire, then they would the crouch while the second rank would fire, and so on. This tactic was incredibly deadly, especially with a rifle that could fire 23 rounds a minute. These soldiers had fought other tribes, but never a tribe of highly elite warriors like the Zulus. Logically, they still should have annihilated the Zulus, or at least inflicted huge losses, but the British commanders Colonel Anthony Durnford and Colonel Henry Pulleine had no experience commanding a large force.

On the morning of January 22, British Scouts (possibly Boer) spotted 20,000 Zulu warriors in a valley eight miles from the camp. Horrified, they rushed back to inform their commanders. Pulleine started to deploy his men, but in the worst formation: a thin line of troops two ranks deep. Not only was Pulleine was not defending his position; he was trying to meet the Zulus head on and check them with firepower, confident that the Zulus would run at the fire of one volley. But the Zulus concealed their forces by using the landscape to hide their movements. The Zulus soon started to deploy their traditional “horns of the buffalo” strategy with the aim of encircling the British position.

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The first British line…

Pulleine deployed Durnford’s cavalry on his flanks but placed his rockets in a isolated sector where they were soon overrun. Pulleine and his force of more than 1,500 men, including 800 British soldiers and the rest of the Natal Native Contingent (NNC), still had a massive amount of firepower they could unleash if they had positioned themselves in the camp and had deployed three lines of infantry. But they didn’t, which allowed the Zulus to use their tactics.

The British lines quickly managed to check the main portion of Zulus (head of the buffalo), whilst British cavalry tried to stall them. But by the time the British had fired more than 24 volleys, a third of the British guns began to jam. The excuse made by the British was that their quartermasters weren’t handing out ammunition, but archaeological evidence shows that the British had a huge amount–nearly 400,000 rounds. Now the Zulus used their melee training and rushed at the British, who put up a brave fight. But soon the British were driven back through the camp, and the Zulus soon started encircling the camp. Many British soldiers fell back and organized an efficient line of fire, and, since the Zulu warriors first started coming at them in small piecemeal waves, the British managed to hold them off. But the Zulus soon had the numbers, and the British were forced to make a brave last stand. Only 24 British soldiers escaped. Those fortunate enough to have horses managed to skirmish and harass the Zulus and escape.

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The Last Stand

It was Britain’s worst defeat against a technologically inferior force. The British, who deployed 1,500 men, had lost 1,300 men, while the Zulus, who committed only 15,000 out of 20,000 had lost 1,000 dead and 2,000 wounded–a severe loss but a great victory. Isandlwana stands as one of the worst British defeats in history. Although the British could have won,  due to bad leadership  and poor planning, they lost. Next time, I’ll talk about the battle of Rorkes Drift, which is one of my favorite battles in history.

If you want a good movie about Isandlwana, I suggest “Zulu Dawn,” starring Burt Lancaster and Peter O’Toole.

Waterloo

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Lord Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. (c) English Heritage, The Wellington Collection, Apsley House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Hey, guys, let’s talk about the battle of Waterloo. This is going to be rather long, but you really can’t skip the important parts. I have narrowed it down as best I can, and thanks for reading! (If you haven’t read my background on Napoleon, read that post first.)

Napoleon Bonaparte knew that he needed a quick victory to defeat the Seventh Coalition. In June 1815, with 130,000 infantry, cavalry, artillery, etc., Napoleon invaded Belgium, taking the allies by surprise and dividing the armies of Gebhard Blucher and the Duke of Wellington. He defeated both in the battles of Ligny and Quatras Bras, but his marshals didn’t follow through with the attacks, so Wellington and Blucher escaped with their armies. Napoleon then ordered 30,000 men under Marshal Grouchy (pronounced “Groo-SHE”) to pursue the Prussians while Napoleon pursued Wellington.

On the night of June 17th, Wellington positioned his 67,000 men on the ridge of Mont Saint Jean. Napoleon followed with 75,000 men. On June 18th, Wellington fortified the farmhouse of La Haye Saint and the chateau of Houguomut. This was a strategic advantage, because it prevented a full-scale assault. Basically, Napoleon couldn’t use his superior force against Wellington because the French would have to attack the farmhouses and be caught in a deadly crossfire.

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Houguomut

It is unclear when the battle started. After extensive research, I think it started at  11:50 a.m., although some sources think it was at 12:00 or 1:00. Anyway, Napoleon ordered a division under his brother, Jerome, to take Houguomut, which was guarded by 1,500 Coldstream Guards (elite British infantry) and a few squadrons of Nassau Skirmishers. Jerome, however, is stated to have “mishandled” his division. The guards held their ground, inflicting 2,000 casualties on the French. The French attacked Houguomut all day, but the Guard continued to hold its ground.

Napoleon ordered Marshal D’Erlon’s corps to attack Wellington’s Left. Erlon attacked and was meet by General Thomas Picton’s division.

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Closing the gates at Houguomut

The fighting was savage, and Picton was killed and his division forced back. Wellington ordered the British cavalry to attack Erlon’s men. The Scots Greys (heavy cavalry) were held in reserve, but as the British calvary (Household Brigade) was driven back, the Scots Greys were ordered to charge. The Scottish members of the infantry saw the “Greys” and started shouting, “Go at them! The Greys! Scotland for Ever!” and rushed back with them into the fight, annihilating Erlon’s men. But the Scots rode too far and were attacked in the flank by French lancers. Although most of them managed to escape, a large portion were killed or captured.

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“Scotland Forever” (The charge of the Scots Greys)

With his attack pushed back and no signs of breakthrough at Houguomut, Napoleon decided to attack Wellington’s center, Le Haye Sainte, garrisoned by 420 King’s German Legion (KGL) rifleman. Marshal Ney was ordered to attack the farmhouse, but the Germans had a great advantage; they were equipped with rifles. The difference between a musket and a rifle is that a rifle has a greater range than a musket due to the “rifling” inside the barrel, which allows the bullet to go farther. Amazingly, the riflemen held their ground, inflicting 600 casualties.

Napoleon was worried, not about his failed attack, but about something else. The Prussian forces under Blucher had been sighted nearby approaching the village of Plancenoit. Napoleon dispatched his young guard (elite) to stall them. Ney was at the head of the line when he noticed the British were falling back. It was actually a minor adjustment Wellington was making. He mistook it for a withdrawal and launched 12,000 cavalry against Wellington’s center.

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British Square formation

The British formed hollow squares. This tactic was all about animal psychology: a horse would not go near a row of sharp pointed bayonets. The French attacked again and again but were repulsed. However, Ney took Le Haye Sainte. Of the 420 brave riflemen (KGL), only 80 survived. Their tenacious defense bought time for Wellington to reorganize his line. But now Napoleon could bring artillery and batter Wellington’s center. But he needed troops to exploit this, and he had no line infantry. All he had was his Imperial Guard and a few battalions of middle guard (Old Guard). He gathered every soldier he could find and ordered the guard to attack the center. The guard had never been defeated, and now they were expected to win the day for Napoleon.

The 4,500 men advanced, and Wellington ordered 1,500 Coldstream Guards to lie down to protect them from the artillery. As the Old Guard approached, Wellington showed his big surprise, shouting, “Now, Maitland!” Suddenly, they rose up and delivered a murderous volley at point blank range. The guard began dropping as if by command, then Wellington ordered his men to advance. Wellington’s artillery soon started to fire canister (a hollow can full of musket balls that bursts when it fires). The guard was practically being annihilated. It was too much, and the guard broke.

Soon the word started down the line, “The guard has broken.” Only a large force of Old Guard grenadiers held their ground covering the retreat. The Prussians broke through at Plancenoit and Napoleon’s army was destroyed. The remains of the guard formed a square and were soon surrounded by Wellington’s men. Wellington offered them surrender. There are several sources as to what Pierre Cambronne, a guard general who was in the square, said. The Popular theory is that he said “merde” which is French for “crap,” while a more reliable source reports that he said, “The guard dies; it does not surrender.”

Whatever the reply was, it was clear that the guard would die defending their emperor. It soon became a heroic last stand. Cambronne was captured. The casualties were enormous: 40,000 French were killed, wounded, and captured, while Wellington suffered considerable losses–17,000 men dead wounded.

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Lord Hay demands surrender.

This battle wasn’t really as significant to world history as historians say it is,  because, even if Napoleon had won Waterloo, it is doubtful that he could have held off the enormous Austro-Russian armies. But it’s important because it shows Napoleon’s exit from the world stage.

Next article is your choice! Request a topic in the comments, and I’ll write about that!