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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

US Marines Save RussianTroops from Certain Defeat in China during the Boxer Rebellion

The impact of the bullets sent fragments of stone flying in all directions.  Knifing through the air like tiny missiles, they cut into any flesh they struck.  Peering over the wall, Captain John Meyers, United States Marine Corps and commander of the American forces, watched the oncoming rush.  It had been nine days since the siege had begun on 20 June, 1900 and it looked like it was not going to end anytime soon.   There was no point in exposing themselves to the rifle fire.   They knew where it was coming from.  The Boxers had marksmen posted on the roof tops of most buildings along the perimeter and in hidden positions on the ground.  Besides, the real attack would not start until the “band” began to play.  To call it a band was actually a sarcastic description of the tinny sound made by the various trumpets and drums which heralded a new attack.

The blaring of horns was soon accompanied by a cacophony of screams and shouts as a new wave of the Black clothed Boxers began their assault.  Armed with rifles, swords, and spears, the fanatic followers of I Ho Ch’uan, carried long siege ladders with which to scale the Tartar wall.  At forty-five feet tall and forty feet thick, the wall made an imposing barrier.  Unfortunately, with only 409 armed troops to guard a perimeter of 2,180 yards, every man was critical and unnecessary exposure to the rifle fire was not allowed.  Firing through the crenellations, the US Marines and German Troops assigned to hat section attempted to drive back the maddened mob.  As the human wave crashed against the base, the ladders were thrown forward and thumped against the wall. 

 Despite all efforts, the Chinese reached the top where the fighting became hand to hand.  Bayonets and rifle butts struck back against swords and spears. Under intense pressure, the Germans began to falter. First by one’s and two’s then as a flood, the German troops fell back from their section of the wall.  Capt. Meyers fully understood the ramifications of the loss of the wall.  If the Boxers gained control of the wall, their rifle fire would have made much of the Legation compound untenable. Turing half of his command to the left, the Marines charged east along the wall and struck the Boxers in the flank.  The fighting raged until dusk. When it was over the Americans still held control of the wall but the lack of firing from the Legations had allowed the Boxers to advance a barricade within a few hundred yards of the wall.  As Captain Meyers sank to a seated position behind the safety of the parapet, he wondered if they could hold the compound long enough to be relieved.  Unbeknownst to Meyers, he would be seriously wounded the next day leading a desperate assault outside the walls to drive back the Boxers from their barricades.

The “Boxer Rebellion” began in the north of China in early 1898.  This peasant movement originally had as its goal the driving out of both the Qing Dynasty which had controlled China for centuries and all the foreigners who had come to reap the economic rewards of China and to spread Christianity.  Known in China as the I Ho Ch’uan, which translated into Righteous and Harmonious Fist, the followers were tagged with the handle of “Boxers” due to the rituals of boxing and calisthenics which they thought made them impervious to bullets. By late 1899 the Boxers were taking their vengeance out on all the foreign missionaries and Christian Chinese converts.  They murdered all they came in contact considering them heretics.  As the Boxers influence spread throughout the country, the Empress Dowager Cixi decided to save her dynastic heritage and made a deal with them.  In exchange for support of their movement, the Boxers agreed to drop their assault on the Qing Dynasty. 

By early 1900, the Boxer movement reached the capitol city of Peking (modern day Beijing).  Each of the foreign powers had a minister, what we would refer to as an ambassador, which resided in the section of the city referred to as the Legations. This area occupied a section of Peking approximately two miles long and one mile wide.  These ministers included representatives from the United States, Great Brittan, Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and Russia.  With each day, the ring around the Legations tightened.  Acts of violence against foreigners and Christians were rampant and eventually no one could venture out into the city without an armed escort.  Eventually, all 900 foreigners and almost 2,800 Christian Chinese barricaded themselves within the Legation Sector.  Appeals to the Empress for protection were ignored and often Imperial troops were seen standing by as the assaults took place.  Finally, after an ultimatum from the Empress to leave the city, the Boxer siege of the foreign section of the city began on 20 June, 1900 and was destined to last for 55 days.  It was finally lifted during an assault by the combined International relief forces on 14 August 1900.   

The relief expedition

At the urging of the American Foreign Minister in Peking, the US State Department demanded the War Department send additional troops to defend the Legations.  At the same time, all the other ministers were issuing similar pleas to their Governments.  The closest U.S. troops immediately available were the units currently stationed in the Philippines.  The U.S. was currently involved in putting down a revolt by the Moro natives on the islands and it was determined that only a small force of US Marines could be spared.  All Additional troops would have to come from the Continental United States.   On 12 June, 1900 Major Littleton Waller with six officers and 101 U.S. Marines boarded the USS Newark at the Cavite Naval Station in the Philippine Islands and sailed for China. 

Arriving at the Chinese port of Taku on 18 June 1900, Waller and his troops were met by two additional officers and thirty Marines from the USS Nashville.  The eight officers and 132 US Marines disembarked into an unfriendly city. There was a decided anti-foreigner feel coursing through the population.  The small size of the landing force did not cause a general alarm within the city and they landed without incident.  Later, when the main international force came ashore, it was met by fierce resistance and was forced to take the port by siege. After consolidating their position and landing all their supplies which included a Colt machine gun and a 3-inch artillery gun, they began to move forward.  In attempt to catch the Russian column of about 400 troops already on the move, the Marines headed for the Taku railway station.  On 20 June 1900, the Americans loaded up on railroad cars for the journey west. 

The trip was not an easy one.  The Boxers had torn up the track in several places which had to be repaired to proceed.  The U.S. troops caught the Russians about eight miles from Taku at the small hamlet of Tong-Ku.  Disembarking from the train, the Marines and Russians continued to advance to a point about twelve miles outside of the city of Tientsin.  About 2:30 in the afternoon, the troops went into stopped and made camp.  While unloading their gear, the Marines found out the 3-inch gun they had been hauling was damaged to the point of worthlessness.  The road to Tientsin was almost impassable and would have to be improved before continuing further.  Not wanting to haul a useless artillery piece and its accompanying ammunition, Waller decided to disassemble the piece and throw the entire gun into a nearby canal thereby denying the Boxers its future use.   Once settled, a council of war was called where, it was decided the Allies would await additional reinforcements before advancing into the town.  Even at twelve miles distant, the firing could be heard from Tientsin where about 2,000 allied troops were besieged while trying to hold the all-important railroad station and protect the 4,000 Chinese Christians residing there.  The foreigners in the city were barricade and resisting the Boxer onslaught with the hope of being relieved.  Unbeknownst to the Allied forces however, the Empress had decided to take a part in the uprising.  While not authorizing the use of Imperial troops for the assault on the Legations in Peking, she had dispatched them to stop any attempt to relieve the besieged foreigners in Tientsin or Peking.    

June 21, 1900

 At approximately 2:30 in the morning on 21 June, 1900 Major Waller was again summoned by the Russian Commander to a council of war.  At the council, Russian Major-General Anatoly Stessel informed the Americans he intended to march immediately toward Tientsin in an attempt to relieve the besieged Westerners.  Waller was struck by this change in plans.  He was under the impression their advanced force was going to wait until they were reinforced.  Currently, British Vice-Admiral Edward Seymour was advancing with 2,000 sailors and marines representing the nations of the Legations and was anticipated reach their position about dusk on the 21st.  In reply, Stessel informed the assembled officers that he had orders to relieve the Tientsin garrison regardless of the cost. In his opinion, the volume of fire that could be heard indicated the entrenched Russian and French forces holding the town were hard pressed.  After much discussion, Waller relented and agreed to join the advance.

US Marines - Peking, China
As they moved out, the Russian infantry provided the advanced scouts for the column.  The Colt machine gun under command of First Lieutenant W.G. Powell was placed at the head of the main force and was followed by the remainder of the Russian troops.  The American Marines brought up the rear of the column.  The combined force reached the outskirts of Tientsin about 06:30 meeting little resistance along the way.  Threading their way through the town, relief column arrived at a point near the Imperial Arsenal about 7 am.    As the leading files reached the building, they came under sporadic rifle fire from a group of Boxers occupying a mud wall along the right side of the rout of march.  As the column began to take fire, Waller ordered up a platoon of his Marines to suppress the Boxers.  Unlike their Russian counterparts, the U.S. Marines were trained as marksmen.  The accurate fire from their Kraig-Jorgensen rifles killed several Boxers and sent the others flying for cover. 
Within a few minutes, the head of the column began to receive heavy fire from about 300 yards to its front.  But instead of the unorganized Boxers they anticipated sweeping aside, the Russians were facing between 1,500 and 2,000 trained Imperial Troops who were entrenched in front of the arsenal and were delivering accurate fire.  The Colt machine gun quickly went into action while the about 200 of the Russians deployed to force the Chinese from their position.  The entrenched Chinese were confident of their position but the machine gun proved to be the equalizer.  Unable to advance against the gun, the Imperial Troops supported by Boxers began to move around to the flanks of the Allied force.   Rifle fire from the left flank caused the Russians to extend their line in that direction in an attempt to keep from being overrun.

While the Russians were heavily engaged on their front and left flank, Waller advanced his Marines to the right flank.  Using a stone wall as cover, the Americans attempted to drive back the Chinese.  As the US rifle fire increased, the Chinese began to work their way toward the American right.  This forced Waller to lengthen his line, side stepping to the right to keep his flank secure.  This lengthening of the line thinned his Marines and made any attempt at concentrated their fire on a weak spot ineffective.  Waller was soon faced with his right flank becoming completely enveloped and threatening to both cut off his retreat and get into the rear of the Marines.   Turning to an officer standing close by, he instructed Lt. Wayne to refuse the right flank of the line.  Pivoting it at ninety degrees, the American line was now bent at a right angle. With the right hard pressed, about 100 Russian troops moved under the cover of the railroad embankment to the far right of the American line in an attempt to stabilize it. The Allied lines were now in a horseshoe shape with the enemy on three sides.  With the wounded and dead mounting, the situation was becoming desperate. 

Colt Machine Gun
The pressure on the Russians became too much.  Slowly and then as a flood, the Russian troops began to break.  Soon the front line was held by only 17 Russian soldiers and Lt. Powell’s machine gun crew.  Even though the front line basically no longer existed, the fire from the Colt machine gun kept the Chinese in their trenches.  Soon the remaining Russians began to disappear.  With their support gone, Corporal Lannigan was killed.   Within a few minutes, the Private feeding the ammunition was wounded when the gun jammed.  Left without any options, Lt. Powell moved quickly to disable the gun so it was unusable and grabbing the wounded man drug him to the safety of the ever shrinking American perimeter.

 By 8:15 the Chinese made a final push.  With the Russians in full retreat, Waller and his Marines were left to hold the line.  Unable to stem the tide, the Marines fell back acting as a rear guard for the retreating column.  The deadly accuracy of the Marine riflemen reeked terrible damage on the advancing Boxers and Imperial troops.  Firing and falling back, they made a stand at any defensible position holding it as long as possible then retreating to the next.  For four hours, the remainder of the original 132 U.S. troops fought the Chinese to a standstill while covering the retreating Russian column.  Arriving back at their encampment about 2 pm, the Americans had been in constant combat for five and one-half hours and covered a total of thirty miles.    Admiral Seymour arrived that evening and the next day, the combined force again assaulted the town with much better success.

 During the retreat, the Marines did not leave a single wounded man behind.  Unable to recover their dead, they hauled their wounded with them as they fought a running fight.   The U.S. suffered four men killed in action and nine wounded.  During the action, Lieutenants S.D. Butler, A.E. Harding, W.L. Jolly and Henry Leonard were cited for gallantry above and beyond the call of duty. Each of these men braved intense rifle fire to save the life of a gravely wounded man.    Lt. Powell was cited for his composure under fire and the direction of the Colt machine gun, while Lt. Wayne received a citation for steadfast courage and leadership under fire.  For his action in the Boxer rebellion, Waller would eventually receive the Marine Corps Brevet Medal

Friday, January 31, 2014

Battlefield Interpretation 101-


The concept of Terrain and Line of Sight

  For the serious historian there seems to be a natural progression from the well-read enthusiast to the hardcore scholar. While the enthusiast gets caught up in the pomp, pageantry, heroics, and devastation wrought by war, the scholar looks deeper into the subject. He or she must be a student of not only events, but how different parts of a battle come together to determine the outcome. The scholarly historian must study not only strategy, but operational and tactical implementation of overall strategy. They must understand how an army, a regiment, a company, and indeed the common soldier preforms its individual function. To be a good military historian, especially one who is providing an interpretation of an individual battle, one must walk the ground to get the feel of what each soldier faced. You must have a thorough understanding of terrain and line of sight. Once you understand this concept, the historian must be able to visualize how it affected actions on the battlefield. It is with these concepts that we begin our study on how to properly interpret a battlefield.

I recently took a little trip east with my research partner Wayne Fielder and my son to visit some Civil War Battlefields. Several I had visited before, but our visit to the Bull Run (or Manassas) battlefield was a first for me. As we climbed Henry House Hill towards the position of Ricketts Battery, I was struck by how close Rickets position was to the Position of Stonewall Jacksons 1st Virginia.
Figure 1: Ricketts Battery at the Crest of Henery House

 As Ricketts crested the hill; the Virginians were out of sight and would remain so until the Federals began to unlimber their pieces (figure 1). Almost immediately,
the Battery was taking rifle fire. The Virginians advanced against the Federals on the hill pushing them away from the Henry house and eventually down the hill. The Confederate counterattack on Henry House Hill cost Rickets many men and more importantly a large number of horses. Without the ability to remove all his guns, several were abandoned to the Confederate onslaught.

  My initial reaction was one of wonderment at the obvious folly of trying to deploy the artillery battery under the concentrated fire of the Confederate infantry and artillery. After examining the situation however, Wayne and I came to the same conclusion. There is no way Ricketts either saw the Confederates or at a minimum did not appreciate the danger. As Ricketts Battery thundered up the hill from the ford, they stopped just short of the crest and swung their teams around brining the field pieces to bear. This was done very rapidly as they rushed to get into position. More than likely, the artillerymen did not even look to the far ridge where Jackson had posted his guns. They most certainly did not see Jackson’s brigade as it sheltered itself behind the ridge a few hundred yards away, or the Confederate infantry in the low ground immediately to their front. The Picture in Figure
2 is taken from the position of Ricketts Battery looking toward Jacksons Line which is marked by his monument and the artillery. The seemingly flat ground directly in front of the marker is deceiving. The ground slopes rapidly down into a draw where the tall grass now lies. Unless Ricketts was looking down, he probably did not notice the Infantry until it was too late.

Figure 2: Jacksons Position (stone marker and statue) as seen from Ricketts Battery Position.
What struck me most about this event was the fact that the Confederate troops and batteries were not purposely concealed by some elaborate rou├ęs, but by the masking effect of the surrounding terrain. The ebb and flow of the landscape kept Jackson’s men hidden until the battery had crested the hill and began to unlimber. The two lessons which must be learned from this is first, how terrain and specifically line of sight effected not only the overall strategic decision of Ricketts and how his tactical objectives were supported or disrupted by the terrain. Secondly, it is important for the battlefield or military historian to understand how a horse drawn artillery battery would go into action. How they unlimbered, where they positioned their caissons, how long it took to unlimber the battery and all the other details. It is important to appreciate that these guns did not just appear. The combination of these two factors created a situation where the battery commander was lulled to a false sense of security about his intended position.


Important Things to Consider

To fully understand why line of sight and terrain have such an impact on the battlefield through the eighteenth and nineteenth century’s one must understand a few key concepts. All artillery, up until the late (really late) 1800’s, were line-of-sight weapons. For field artillery to be effective the gunner must be able to see the target. Even shell and case shot, which exploded on or above the attacking enemy, had to have a visible target for the gunner to hit. Some elevation was possible. Early field and naval guns could be elevated by inserting or removing wooden wedges under the breach. Later, most guns were equipped with an elevating screw. Even with these devices, all artillery lacked an over the horizon ability. In other words, they could not fire over hills and drop shells onto concealed troops. Most guns had a maximum elevation of no more than five degrees which allowed them to shoot up hill or against fortifications. There were mortars available which could fire shells high over terrain and fortifications, but they were unwieldy and little used unless during a siege.

Another key concept that needs understanding is the tactical doctrine of the time. Unlike modern soldiers, troops of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries fought standing in mass formations utilizing long battle lines to maximize the effect of their musket fire. In this respect, with the exception of men assigned as skirmishers, troops did not move stealthily up to the brow of a hill and snipe at the enemy. The assaulting forces would begin receiving incoming rifle fire as they began to expose their head and shoulders above the crest of a terrain feature. They would be unable to return the fire until they had crested the hill to an elevation where they could bring their arms to bear. A stark example of this situation occurred during the battle of Antietam. As the Federals advanced against the Confederates positioned along the Sunken Road, known also as Bloody Lane, they were initially exposed to rifle fire as they crossed a small ridge taking terrible casualties. As they continued to advance, they dropped into a draw which completely masked them. This intervening terrain feature allowed the Federals to reach a point directly above the lane and deliver terrible slaughter on the defenders. In this case, the terrain masked the attacking Federals long enough for them to reach a position with their attack largely intact.


Walking the Field

To truly understand the why’s and how’s of a battle, it is of critical importance the historian walk the terrain in the area of study. It is simple enough to read from historical sources that a certain position was here and what it did, but from a flat map or a textbook one cannot see how the terrain dictated the outcome of the defense or strength of the attack. It is important to understand what could be seen and when it could be seen. Sometimes this makes all the difference in understanding the historical record. Additionally, sometimes it is the historical record which can be called into question. If an account relates information that, after the examination of the ground, cannot possibly be seen, we are justified in calling that source and possibly its whole interpretation of the event into question.

 When examining terrain the historian must keep some information in mind. First, unless the trees are very large, they probably did not exist during the battle. Although the tree’s age is based on several factors such as the species and growing conditions we can make some generalizations about the age of the trees without cutting them down (figures 3 & 4). Let’s examine, for example, a Red Oak tree. If it is about ten inches in diameter it is probably only about seventy-five years old.

Figure 3: New Growth Trees at an Artillery Position on the Antietam Battlefield
If the same Oak tree has a diameter of thirty inches it could easily be over two-hundred years old. Battlefield interpretation can be particularly confusing when the view shed is blocked by new growth trees or even whole wood lots. It should be noted however, that the diameter of a tree must not completely eliminate it from the picture. The historian must make a careful comparison of the historical record and the terrain. Some wooded areas or tree lines may indeed be in their original position but the replacement of old growth by new growth may give a false impression of the age of the standing timber as it relates to the battle. Secondly, the locations of water course or streams can change over time. While these changes are usually subtle they can create a false impression and confuse the historian when attempting to align oneself along a critical event during the battle. Finally, farming, road construction, and construction of housing disturb the landscape in various ways. They change the terrain by grading and creating erosion runoff which will raise valleys and lower hills over time. It is therefore important for the historian to understand what the property has been used for since the event took place and any changes which have affected the line of sight

Figure 4: Tree Age based on Diameter


What if I can’t take a field trip?

While I cannot stress the importance of the field visit for understanding battlefields, one cannot always do so. If I were writing an article about the battle of Balaklava in the Crimea It would be cost prohibitive to catch a plane to Turkey for a quick walk. You do however have another option. While it is should not be substituted unless necessary, Google Earth with its street view feature can give you a good look at the view shed. It will allow you to look over the terrain from a view parallel to the ground and get an idea of what it is like without leaving your desk. Additionally, you can use it as a tool to confirm a hypothesis or as a method of doing reconnaissance prior to a site visit.

Another neat feature of Google Earth is the overlay function. While working on a recent project, I needed to reference a map drawn in 1862 to the actual terrain on the ground now. I needed this to reconcile between what I understood of the actions and the current layout of the area. To do this, first I pulled up Google Earth for the area I was working in. Then, using the overlay function, I placed the old map on top of the new one. After some positioning and lining up known landmarks, the old map draped over the terrain like a table cloth following the dimensional terrain displayed in Google Earth. With the overlay I could see exactly what the original map maker saw from the modern perspective. Figure 5: Google Earth with Historic Map Overlay

Figure 5: Google Earth with Historic Map Overlay
Regardless of your reason for studying a particular event, it is very important to understand the role terrain and line of site will play on the outcome of the event. Interpretation of the battle begins with reading and understanding as many of the available historical sources as possible. The second act is to visit the site either virtually or physically and walk the ground to find those key points and identify how the view shed impacted the actions of the actors. With the widespread availability of digital cameras it can be very useful to take as many pictures as you can from multiple angles. These photos can be used as a later date to refresh your memory or shore up a theory. Being good military historian requires more than a cursory study of primary source material. Unlike other historians, the military historian is required to understand how terrain and lines of sight affect the course of the battle. Without a serious study of terrain, it is difficult for a military historian to accurately convey the actions of the combatants in the proper light.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Daniel Boone- The human Battering Ram

For those of us who study history there are often times when we come across stories which seem just too good to be true but there is no way you could make it up. I had such an incident while doing some reading and researching about the early settlement of Kentucky and the Revolutionary War Period.

As it was settled, Kentucky was divided into three Counties. Each of these counties contained a central fortification which provided not only some governmental control of the province but more importantly a safe refuge for colonists in times of peril. The first permanent fort was Fort Harrod located in present day Harrodsburg, KY, the second was Fort Logan located in what is known as Stanford and the last and probably most well know was Boonsboro situated near the Kentucky River between Winchester and Lexington.

Boonsboro, established by noted pioneer and explorer Daniel Boone, was a collection of cabins, blacksmith

Fort Boonsboro
shop, armory, and food storage facilities surrounded by a log stockade with the corners anchored by blockhouses. These stout frontier fortifications were necessary to withstand the periodic raids by bands of Shawnee, Wyandot, and Cherokee Indians who were determined to push the whites from their traditional hunting grounds. The threat increased with the start of the Revolutionary War. The British used their long standing connections with the tribes of the Ohio Valley to bribe them into waging a frontier war against the whites in an attempt to force the Continental army to pull badly needed troops away from the eastern theater of the war to defend the frontier.

Simon Kenton

While the assistance of Continental troops would have been welcomed, it was not practical. To counter the threat, the Colonies supplied arms and powder for a militia force to defend the frontier. Included in these forces were men who through their woodcraft and knowledge of the wilderness area would become scouts and foragers. Their task was to keep the forts supplied with meat and keep an eye out for any sign of
increased Indian activity. On such man was Simon Kenton who was also known as Simon Butler due to an unfortunate incident in his youth that required him to flee to the frontier and hide his identity. Kenton was perhaps the best woodsman ever to trod the leaf covered trails of the Ohio valley. Standing almost six feet tall, he has broad shoulders and powerful legs from repeated trips back to the fort with an elk strapped on his back. He was a dead shot with a rifle being able to hit a target from any position and on the run. He was an excellent trapper and it was said he was a silent as a mouse when stalking game or scouting. It is with Kenton our story begins.

Simon Kenton had been assigned to Fort Boonsboro which was under the command of Daniel Boone to serve as forager and scout. On the Morning of April 24, 1777, Kenton and two other guards were standing outside the main gate of Boonsboro as the sun began to creep above the eastern horizon. Presently, two men exited the fort and walked across the cleared meadow and began to collect firewood. With their arms full they started back for the fort. Suddenly, the air was ripped by a volley of musket shots. One of the men dropped to the ground and the second shed his load of wood and started a frantic run towards the fort. As the smoke cleared, five Shawnee Indians burst from the tree line.

Springing into a run, Kenton and the other guards dashed forward to rescue the other man who was attempting to crawl to the fort. Unfortunately, the Indians reached the men first. The lead Indian reached the man and buried his tomahawk in his back. He had begun to scalp the helpless victim when a rifle ball smashed into his chest. At a dead run Simon Kenton had triggered a shot at fifty yards. As the sound of the shot subsided, Daniel Boone and ten men rushed from the fort and began to chase the remaining Indians. Curiously, instead of running to the woods, they turned and fled parallel to the fort across the field. As Boone and his men perused the Indians, a trap was sprung. Coming from the woods between Boone’s men and the Fort were a force of about one-hundred additional Shawnee. Realizing the dire situation he was in, there were only eight men left to defend the fort, Boone ordered his men to make his run for the gate.

Turning around to see if the men would make it back to the fort, Kenton saw a Shawnee warrior kneeling and taking aim at Boone. Simon snapped the rifle to his shoulder and fired. The ball struck the warrior and with a scream he crumpled to the ground. This was the first of three times Kenton would save Boone’s life before they reached the safety of the fort. Reloading on the run, Kenton headed for the fort. With supporting fire from the fort, the Shawnee began to take cover. One of these concealed warriors rose up and shot an unsuspecting Boone in the leg, breaking it. Sensing an easy kill, the warrior raised up with his tomahawk to finish Boone. The Shawnee brought his arm forward to deliver the below a rifle ball ripped through his chest. Kenton had saved Boone a second time! Turning, Kenton sprinted toward the down Boone who was urging him to return to the fort.

Reaching Boone, Kenton dropped his rifle and scooped him up in his arms and began to run to the fort. This was a herculean effort, Boone weighed over 200 pounds. With the safety of the fort only moments away, two Shawnee rushed to cut them off. Instead of trying to dodge the warriors, Kenton ran straight at them. As they readied for an easy kill, Kenton did the unexpected. He heaved the injured Boone at the

Simon Kenton Rescues Daniel Boone
waiting Indians. Propelled by Simon’s immense strength, Boone struck the two Indians sending both spilling to the ground. One can only imagine the pain Boone was in. One warrior was knocked senseless while the second tried to pull his knife from his belt. Kenton snatched his tomahawk from his belt and dispatched the knife wielding Indian with a vicious chop. Kicking the stunned Indian in the head to make sure he stayed down, Simone dragged Boone into the safety of the fort.

During this harrowing day, Kenton had saved Boone’s life a total of three times. Boone would recover and go on to help build the state of Kentucky while Kenton continued to scout and trap in the unknown wilderness.

For further Reading on this and many more such incidents, please consult my source for this by reading The Frontiersmen by Allen Eckert.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Vicksburg: A family's Heritage- A Father and Sons Journey

In June of this year I was forced to make a humbling journey. My best friend growing up, Major Robert Lemire, had passed away and my youngest son and I trekked to Mississippi for the funeral. Bob and I had been friends for over 30 years. I was blessed to be accompanied by my son. Not only did we do some needed bonding but he acted as a support system for me in this trying time. In an effort to make some part of this trip a little less solemn, we made a side trip to the Vicksburg National Battlefield as we started home.

Vicksburg holds a special place for our family because my Great (insert many here) Grandfather Captain William Cundiff and his brother Lt. Thomas Cundiff participated in the battle. Their moment of glory came on May 22, 1863 when as members of the 19th Kentucky Volunteers they assaulted the Confederate fortifications at the Railroad Redoubt. For those who are not familiar with this term, it refers to an earthen field fortification usually defended by artillery. The men of the 19th, along with the rest of Landrum’s and Lawler's brigade were the only Federals to break the Confederate lines at Vicksburg by assault. After capturing the redoubt, they held the ground for 5 long hours until finally being forced out by a brigade of brave Texans. Had they held the breach, Vicksburg would likely have fallen two months earlier.

The May 22nd attack was the second assault on the Confederate city. The day before, General Grant had ordered a grand assault all along the city’s defenses in an attempt to take the town by storm. With this assault’s failure, he decided to launch one more grand attack on the 22nd. As dawn broke on the next day the troops of Landrum’s (77th Ill, 97th Ill, 130th Ill, 48th OH and 19th KY) and Lawler’s (21st IA, 22nd IA, 23rd IA, and 11th WI) Brigades moved into positions. When all was ready, the Federal guns opened up on the Confederate works. Hearts crowed with fear, the Union troops prepared to once again crash their wave against the rocky Confederate coast.

The men of the 19th were from the towns and farms around Somerset, Kentucky. With farming as the primary occupation, they had grown accustom to hard work. Mustered in October 1861, the regiment had participated in the Cumberland Gap Campaign and was now engaged in Grants Vicksburg endeavor. Their commanding officer, William J. Landrum, had been promoted to Brigade command and along with the members of his brigade, he stepped off at 10 AM to assault the fortifications.

The terrain in front of the Confederate Lines consisted of rolling hills with a deep valley just before the trenches. Mounting a bayonet attack against the trenches, the men of Landrum’s and Lawler’s Brigades pushed the 31st Alabama and two other regiments out of the works. With the Colors planted on the crest they held the fort for several hours. Finally, a push by a Texas regiment forced the federals to retire about 5 pm.

So with the sun shining in our faces, my son and I climbed the works once again and stood where our family fought. It was a very proud moment being able to share this piece of family history with my son. We may never be able to make the trip to Vicksburg again but Chris and I were able to share a close moment on those works.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

To Save an Army: George Washington and the Battle of Trenton 1776

One of the most iconic images of the American Revolution is that famous painting of George Washington Crossing the Delaware proudly standing with his stalwart soldiers rowing. This picture has been used to teach children about the American Revolution for as long as I can remember. While this painting has inspired generations of Americans and historians, the truth behind the event is even a more fascinating story.

In the fall of 1776, Washington was facing a crisis. His army had been forced to abandon New York and had by necessity to retreat from New Jersey into Pennsylvania. Unlike conflicts in the future where recruits would flock to join the ranks, the Continental Army was in serious want of men. While Washington had limited militia troops at his disposal, he held no faith in their ability. Seeing Militia flee time and again during both the French and Indian War and on garrison duty on the Virginia frontier, and their dismal performance thus far, he had no faith in their ability to stand against trained English troops. By December of 1776, the only thing Washington had to oppose Howe’s army and protect Philadelphia, the home of the Continental Congress, was a bare 2,500 Continental troops and a scant few militia.

To compound these problems, the Continental Army faced an even graver threat. The enlistments of all the troops in the regular Continental forces were due to expire at midnight on December 31st. In a confidential letter, Washington wrote “If every nerve is not strained to recruit the new army with all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty near up…..”.[1] Each time the enlistments of troops expired, Washington was forced to spend valuable time in an attempt to re-train the new army. Without a core of veterans there was no way the Colonials could stand against the troops of the British Empire.
Not only was he facing the might of the British Army but his own army was about to walk away. While Washington pushed regimental officers to get their troops to re-enlist the tree had not bared any fruit. And why should the army re-enlist? They were ill clothed, ill fed, and largely ill led. After a series of constant defeats and forced retreats, many thought the cause was all but lost.

What Washington needed was one of two outcomes. He needed some sort of action to spur the army into re-enlisting. The army must be brought to believe they could win against British troops. He hoped that with a substantial victory they would gladly sign their new enlistment papers. On the other hand, if the army was to abandon the course of Liberty, he was determined to use it while he had it to keep Howe at bay long enough to train the new army.
So as it grew dark on December 25, 1776, Washington and his 7,900 Continentals (he had recently been augmented by 2,000 men of Lees command and 600 from Gates Command) started for the fords and boats to cross the Delaware. In the early dawn they attacked the town to Trenton New Jersey along 3 axis. In the ensuing battle, they managed to kill twenty-five to thirty of the Hessian mercenaries and capture 918, the most of the kings troops ever captured up to this point in the war. I would encourage my readers to brush up on Trenton as it provides the military historian with a great example river crossing operations. Quickly following this victory, the Continentals took the city of Burlington and the army was firmly back on New Jersey soil.

On December 29, 1776 Washington stepped in front of the regiments from New England and played his last card. In a speech that could only be described as passionate he touted the recent victories and explained that they would not have been possible without veteran soldiers. On his own accord, without congressional approval, he offered the troops a ten dollar bounty and a promise of more victories if these troops would only enlist for six additional weeks in order to get the new levies into fighting shape. Not a man moved. Was this the answer, heaping disgrace on top of humiliation?

With one final attempt, he pleaded his case with the assembled troops. As the drums beat their final tattoo, a few men stepped forward. Then in twos and threes they came forward with only those who were too sick or feeble remaining behind. These stalwart men became the core of the new Continental Army. Many would stay beyond the six weeks and served to the end of the war. Imagine what would have happened to the revolution if Washington had simply let the army fade away. As soon as the ice was thick enough on the Delaware, Howe could have crossed and crushed the new recruits and with them the American Revolution.

Freeman, Douglas Southall. Washington. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968.

[1] This book is an abridged version of the original 7 volume work. Douglas Southall Freeman, Washington (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968), 317.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

American Riflemen Change the World

If you ask military historians, many will tell you that America had very little influence on military science until the later part of the 20th century. Most of the military techniques which were used by the US Army were adaptations from French and English field manuals. The evolution of the line and troop maneuvering procedures came directly from the European style of combat. America did however provide quite possibly the greatest innovation to warfare since the advent of gunpowder. When the Colonial militia began to employ the rifle in addition ot the traditional smooth bore musket against British troops in 1774 they introduced the world to the power of accurate fire and ushered in a new form of warfare.

Although rifles have been in service around the world since the 1600’s, they really came into their own during the American Revolution. What is truly fascinating is that even though the Americans proved how effective the rifle could be, they did not come into general use as a military arm until the 1850’s. The lesson of the rifle on the battlefield and its effects were learned by the British but seldom acknowledged in other European countries.

In the American Revolution, frontier riflemen were used a not only skirmishers, fighting from concealed positions, but as true force multipliers. Under the British military system, the leadership was what we would call today a top down eastern bloc leadership style. Officers issued orders and sergeants and corporals carried out those orders. The individual infantrymen were largely uneducated and not allowed to make independent decisions. The loss of leadership would cripple the ability of English battalions to perform in the field. The American riflemen were notorious for targeting the officers and sergeants. They could deliver effective killing shots at ranges that far exceeded the range of the English Tower (or Brown Bess) musket. As the officers fell, the attacking battalion disintegrated into a disorganized mob. Thus a company of riflemen had the ability to hold off and scatter a battalion of the Kings infantry.

Instead of dressing in the uniform of the Continental Army, the riflemen typically dressed in the fringed hunting coats of the frontier. Just the sight of troops dressed thus would strike fear into the hearts of the English officers on the battlefield. The fear was so great General Washington, when short of riflemen, dressed some of his regular troops in frock coats for the shock effect.

After the Revolution, the English began to develop a rifle of their own. By 1800, they began to field the Baker Rifle. This new gun was shorter than the traditional long rifle and sported a 24-inch sword bayonet instead of the traditional triangular one. The Baker did not see general use; they were reserved for elite regiments and selected skirmish companies in various battalions. The most famous of these units was the 95th Rifles. Clad in their green jackets and trousers, these “grasshoppers” as they were called were able to wreak havoc on the French troops. None of the French units during the Napoleonic period were armed with rifles due primarily to Napoleon’s opinion that the rifle was too slow to load and thus reduced their firepower. The green jacks did the same to the French that American Riflemen had done to them. The focused on killing the officers and NCO’s throwing the battalions into chaos.

By the American Civil War, most of the world’s armies had a rifle of some form. What is distressing is that when the rifle went into general use, they completely forgot the lessons of the American frontier riflemen and the English green jackets. With the rifle in general use among field armies, leaders reverted to the standard liner battle tactics use with the smooth bore musket. Relying on mass and liner formation, the carnage was horrific.

It is interesting to see that the rifle started is military tradition in the United States and truly came into its own 100 years later in the United States. From that point on, the American rifleman has defended these shores against all who threaten her peace and security.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ride’n for the Brand

The last couple of posts have been about the Civil War so let’s jump forward just a bit to the American west. There is a term used by western men which I believe is becoming a lost ideal in the world. When a western man said he was riding for the brand it meant something. But what does this truly mean?

The brand was the cattle outfit or ranch a man worked at. At its most basic level, the brand was a marking placed on cattle to identify the owner during the free range days of the westward expansion. Brands such as the Rocking K, B-Bar, and Running S were used as markers for the various ranches. But, in reality, the brand meant much more. It represented the men who worked the cattle and a code of honor.

To say you rode for the brand meant you supported it through thick and thin. You worked hard days and long nights, fought weather outlaws, and Indians. If a cow hand or the ranch came into trouble, the men who rode for the brand came to the defense. A pity to the man who went after a Flying T hand because when he turned around he was facing all the hands of the T. Just like a family, the hands might fight among themselves but would defend the ranch and each other to the end. You could also count on the men of the brand to help and protect your family when you were not around.

Today, we still have brands although we often don’t recognize them. Your brand may be your family name, or an organization you support. It is also may be your job. A man who stands behind the brand will not do things to damage the place he works or his family or jump ship to another firm doing the same thing for personal gain. What ever your choice is, when the brand is attacked you jump to its defense.

This is not true for all people. Some are weak of constitution and have no honor. These poor souls who shrink from a fight for self preservation or fear of standing alone have no place among men. What these folks must realize is that when you stand with the brand, you are never alone. I know that whenever trouble starts all the riders will come running. To choose to ride for the brand is tough. It is never the easy path but the rewards can be more than you hoped.

The next time someone asks you where you stand, tell them you “Ride for the Brand”